I will be 10

I’m fortunate to live and work close to my grandparents, two of the most influential people in my life. Growing up, I went to an elementary school just blocks from their house and spent entire summers in my mother’s childhood home, doing crafts with Grandma and being completed spoiled rotten by her cooking. (My Maw Maw, Dad’s mom, is also an excellent cook — and baker. I could dedicate an entire post to Maw Maw’s tomato sandwiches, cookies and peanut butter cups, but that will have to tantalize you another day.)

A decade after I started high school and stopped going to Grandma and Grandpa’s daily, I’m still close with my grandparents and try to meet Grandma for lunch every few weeks. She usually has a collection of things to give me — old newspaper announcements from when I made honor roll or the dean’s list; handwritten recipes; photos of my sister and me as little girls. I’ve come to look forward — and almost expect — these small treasures to land in my hands, laughing with Gram at a shared memory from when I was a wild-haired toddler or sullen teen.

I’ve always been a writer. I penned my first book in second grade, about a bunny named Carrot; my teacher was so impressed that she read it to the class. By fifth grade, I’d written an entire family drama about a girl named Viola and her unruly twin brothers, then moved on to writing sequels to “Star Wars,” a middle school obsession, when I finally finished the original trilogy of films and didn’t think the plot headed in the right direction. (At 11, I was a Luke-and-Leia shipper. I just couldn’t get over that they were — gasp — brother and sister. There was love in their eyes, I tell you. Love.)

And in that time? Well, I started penning my memoirs. I’m not sure what a 9-year-old really had to say about life and love, but darn if I didn’t attempt it. Gram had a typewriter and she would often indulge me by setting it up with a few sheets of feather-light paper. It was so delicate, unmarred. A fast typer but never really an accurate one, I would often get frustrated by my typos and give up on the whole typewriter thing. I just didn’t want to mess up that perfect paper.

Plus, then the computer came along. So I started typing on that.

And now I feel old.

But it turns out typing wasn’t as fun as hand writing my stories, so I went back to honing my literary sentiments with markers and sheets of loose-leaf paper. That’s what you find above — one of my early attempts at introducing myself to the world (please note the “Hi!”, as if someone were peeking over my shoulder and anxious to read my thoughts.)

I’ve grown up quite a bit since my “I will be 10” days, but I still feel like that little girl sometimes. Full of a zest for life and eager to tell everyone about the things she loves: pink; Power Rangers; the piano. Though I didn’t turn out to be a scientist or archeologist (where did that come from?), I’m still curious about life and always ready to tell a story.

But now I get to do it on a slightly larger scale.

And for that? I’m eternally thankful. And hopeful for what’s to come.

Not quite as cool as archeology, but I still think 9-year-old Meg would be impressed. You know, if she could tear herself away from “Power Rangers.”

Getting wicked: Or why I’ll never, ever want to trade places with Dorothy

Of my many fears born in childhood, there are some that I’ve never quite been able to shake. I’m still afraid of spiders, for one — creepy; crawly; hiding in my shower, waiting to attack me when I’m just trying to get ready for work and OMG please just go down the drain already. Or I’m calling my dad. And don’t think I won’t do it.


We have my fear of heights — or, more accurately, my fear of falling. Fear of public embarrassment. Fear of lima beans (come on — you know they’re disgusting).

And my fear of the Wicked Witch of the West.

When other children were enjoying L. Frank Baum’s classic The Wizard Of Oz — in either book or film format — I was the kid cowering in the corner, weeping quietly to herself and shrieking whenever Dorothy would fall prey to the Wicked Witch’s schemes.

And that’s what I’ve always called her: The Wicked Witch.

I remember watching “The Wizard Of Oz” for the first time when I was around 3 years old. If you believe my mother’s  tale (which, you know, I guess I do), she was desperate for the chance to take a shower. An active child and, at that time, only child, Mom needed to occupy me long enough to get cleaned up. She plunked me down in front of the TV and scrolled through the channels until she stumbled upon the movie that would taint me forever.

“I thought it was a children’s classic!” she howls now, staring at me.

Even 20 years later, I remind her that she ruined my life.

Watching the woman in question morph from her dog-hating “human” self into the Wicked Witch of the West during a Kansas twister, my eyes were probably as large as globes. Some things happened in the movie — Dorothy gets far from home, meets a bunch of unusual characters, finds some ruby slippers, etc. — but I wasn’t concerned with any of that.

All I could see was that face. That big, green face.

The years have not been kind. Every time I think I’m “over” my fear of the Wicked Witch, something happens to send me right back to square one. Though I’ve seen “The Wizard of Oz” in snippets since childhood, I’ve absolutely never sat down to watch it again.

Of course, this is a source of hilarity for friends and family.

I’m going to say it loud and sincerely: I’m Deathly Afraid Of The Witch. So if you think this has kept my sister from torturing me with witch-related items over the years, you’re wrong.

Very wrong.

The first sign of trouble came on Christmas morning in 1988. My mom mistakenly believed that I’d actually loved “The Wizard of Oz” (um, what?) and bought me a set of dolls from the movie: Dorothy, of course, with a tiny plastic Toto; Glinda the Good Witch; and You-Know-Who.

We have home movies of me turning the box over in my hands, an expression of terror slowly creasing my features. I looked from my mom to my dad, wide-eyed, before I said slowly, “It’s the Wicka Witch.” (I hadn’t yet mastered words like “wicked.”)

My mom says she felt terrible, that she hadn’t realized I was afraid, but she’s laughing on the tape. Laughing.

My sister, kind soul that she is, has purchased dolls in various forms for me, plus birthday cards bearing the witch’s trademark cackle, T-shirts, etc. Since the ’80s, the Witch has followed me everywhere. I tried to combat my fears by even dressing as the witch for Halloween — pictured above in 1988 — but nothing worked.

I hate her.

When I cop to my terror about that green-faced nightmare, others smile and shake their heads. My aunt Jacki has reported that it wasn’t the witch that scared her so badly growing up, but the flying monkeys.

I’d totally take a barrel of flying monkeys over any witch. I’d even let them pick me up and fly away — as long as it was away from You-Know-Who.

So tell me. Am I alone in my witch fears? Has a character scarred you for life?

The Saga of Howard, and how he finally got back in touch

Howard was a sock monkey.

My sock monkey.

And when I went on a trip to Florida in 1998, he decided to jump ship.

Made from scratch and lovingly sewed by my mom as a Valentine’s Day gift when I was small (at right), Howard was the beloved brother of Harold — my sister’s sock monkey — and we were rarely apart. When we went to Miami and I got a horrendous sunburn (born of my own stupidity, yes), I wasn’t in my right mind. And somewhere in my overheated delirium, my beloved friend slipped away.

The picture below, snapped on a Florida balcony, is the very last time photo I have of Howard. (Please pay no attention to my terrible hair, Hanson hat and smug, sunburned smile. I was 12.) Though I considered splashing it on milk cartons across the nation, I never quite had the opportunity.

And Howard, in all his self-absorbed craziness, never bothered to send me a postcard from his new digs in South Beach.

Last week, I wrote a column for the newspapers where I work detailing my sock monkey’s abrupt disappearance from my life — and how, in the aftermath, I tend to see sock monkeys everywhere. I love them, of course — so much so that I bought one for Spencer and he got one for me for my birthday! I see sock monkeys on calendars, in commercials, on book covers. They’re everywhere.

In my column I talked about the summers Howard spent with Katie and me at my grandparents’ home, and how my mom re-glued his eyes and tied him a Valentine’s bow. I also expressed my displeasure that he wouldn’t even bother to call his own brother and let him know where he was headed . . . I mean, he and Harold are flesh and sock.

Well, the Saga of Howard was a big hit. Coworkers, friends, family and readers have emailed, called and popped in to inquire about my runaway monkey.

And yesterday? Yesterday, I got an anonymous letter in the mail.

From Howard.

Kelly popped into my office with a plain white envelope. My name was written in careful script across the front and, in lieu of any return address, “Howard The Sock Monkey” sat in the corner. Inside was a single sheet of white paper with these typed words:

My Dearest Meg,

Hello, from Howard, your long-lost sock friend.

I’m sorry for the greetings I failed to send . . .

But do not fear, my life is good

Having so much fun that I thought I never could!

You see, Harold often cramped my style and stole the spotlight —

And to be quite honest, we often partook in sock fights!

But I so enjoyed Florida and visits to Grandma

Truly reveling in the many things I saw!

I hid in El Paso Hotel, for there was more I wanted to see . . .

But I regret the pain I caused of your missing me.

I’ll never forget my very best friend

Or your Mom’s love for my life and the many sewing mends.

Never forget — you were the best —

Hey, tell me, is Harold still a sock monkey pest?

From my calendar photos I’m doing well, as you can see —

They’ll forever keep memories alive for you, Meg,

From Howard, your ‘lil sock monkey.

I’m not going to lie to you guys — I’m pretty sure this is the coolest thing ever.

As soon as I was done reading the poem aloud to my coworkers, I sat in shocked silence. I mean, wow. My sister was the next one to hearing my rousing rendition of the verse, and by then I practically had the whole thing memorized. Spencer read it. My dad heard it while making pancakes. I’m emailing it to my mom, and reading it to my grandmother at lunch today.

It’s postmarked from Southern Maryland, where my column runs twice a week, but I know the truth: Howard is really out there.

And his writing skills have dramatically improved from when he was helping me with my seventh-grade English essays.

It’s hard to be angry in a Halloween costume, but I managed it

Because it’s Monday, the day after Halloween and I’m recovering from more dental surgery . . .

I’m sharing with you possibly the most hilarious, embarrassing photo of myself. Ever.

In 1994, I was a sassy 9-year-old who had grown weary of being photographed. I went through what I’d consider to be a years-long pout — basically, I was cranky, grumpy and didn’t like being told what to do.

(Well, I’m still not big on the whole “taking orders” thing. But, you know.)

I don’t remember the decision-making process that brought me to this moment: a reluctant fourth-grader being coerced into smiling for her mom, who was joyfully snapping pictures of her girls in our backyard. I’ve seen that annoyed glint in my eye on many occasions, and still spot it in snapshots here and there.

And I don’t remember choosing to be a sock-hop girl. Halloween costumes around my house were always very cute and creative. Growing up with a younger sister, many of our outfits actually matched — a fact that caused me grief. I do remember that I was alone as an angry poodle-skirt-wearing girl this year; Katie opted for another look entirely. But in other years, we were both beauty pageant winners and witches. And one year, Katie was Beauty from “Beauty And The Beast.” (And she carried a Beast doll, which was adorable.) I was a fairy godmother. (But probably not hers.)

This Halloween, we were home loading up on “Hocus Pocus,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Ernest Scared Stupid.” After carving our pumpkins, Spencer helped us round up the pumpkin seeds and toast them in the oven. Drenched in salt and crunchy, they were a fantastic seasonal treat.

But no costumes for me. And no angry poodle-skirt scowl, either.

How was everyone’s holiday? Any tales of tricks or treats?

Cleaning out my closet, Polly Pocket edition

In an effort to make the house less cluttered and way more liveable, my family and I have been on a rampage to destroy clutter any and everywhere we find it — just in time to get new furniture, do some painting and really give the place a makeover. We’ll have more space for relaxing and enjoy all the perks of rooms not crowded by belongings we haven’t touched in a decade. And I know that, once we get going, we’ll feel much more free.

And that’s all wonderful and inspiring, friends, except for one tiny issue: actually having to get rid of stuff.

Deep in one of the closets was a plastic storage bin full of the items I’d say are pretty emblematic of my childhood. Among them? My Ewok and Alf dolls; a Teddy Ruxpin (with a cassette tape player, natch); stacks of children’s books, including Dr. Seuss’ One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish; my Cabbage Patch doll and her pony friend; My Little Ponies in a variety of colors, but mostly pink; Barbies in various states of disarray; Power Ranger action figures; and . . .

Polly Pockets.

I’m not talking about those new-fangled Pollys with the giant cars and changeable outfits that have basically turned them into miniature plastic Barbie dolls. No, friends, those are an insult to the “classic” Polly Pockets with which I was hopelessly devoted in the ’90s. I’m talking the ones that would fit in the palm of your hand with little “people” the size of your largest fingernail, the ones with pieces you’d lose about a hundred times a day.

The ones your little sister would “borrow,” then lose all of your favorite pieces. And not want to tell you for fear that you’d fly into a 9-year-old rage and have a fit the likes of which the world has never seen.

You know, hypothetically speaking.

As my sister and I were pawing through the bins, one of us would let out a periodic squeal of delight. I knew, logically, that I was supposed to be sorting through my old toys in the hope that I would be able to donate many of them to charity, but actually seeing this stuff again made my chest swell with a sense of don’t ever let this go. I was able to part with a few things and create more space in my bin, but the vast majority of the stuff stayed tight.

And how much room do vintage Polly Pockets take up, anyway? I mean, I can still fit my entire collection in one of the handbags I carry to and from work everyday. And I’m pretty sure I would rather be forced to carry these things around in my purse every single day than to ever part with them.

That green one pictured above? That’s a school, friends. A school with a teacher, a parent and a pigtail-wearing student — complete with cafeteria, restroom, art room, lecture hall, kitchen and dorm. With a swimming pool. A pool in which my Polly can take a little dip in between classes.

Though I’m 24 years old and haven’t felt the familiar click! of the Polly Pocket opening in more than a decade, if you think I sat down and gingerly pulled each tiny piece from the toy . . . you’re right. I might have also gotten my camera out and taken about 75 million macro photos of my Pollys, too.

As we sorted through everything stored in boxes and bins this weekend, the familiar refrain heard ’round my house was, “Well, maybe our kids will want to play with this someday.”

And you know? I have no idea if my future children — adorable little geniuses they’re sure to be — will someday want to play with Polly Pockets. From 1992.

But if they don’t? I will.

And that’s a promise.

Literary Megs, volume three

megans_islandWhen my sister and I were little, we would spend summers with our grandparents — hot, fun days filled with movies, games and, of course, reading! One of our favorite excursions was to the Super Crown or WaldenBooks in town, both of which are long gone now. And that’s where I remember picking up this little gem: Megan’s Island by Willo Davis Roberts, first published in 1990.

I grabbed it for obvious reasons — “Megan” is right there across the cover! — but I remember being sincerely freaked out by the story once I really got into it.

Here’s Amazon’s description:

Megan and her brother never thought about their tumbleweed life-style; Mother is on the go, always looking for a better job. But this time their mother packs them up without allowing Megan to tell her best friend. Megan and Sandy are worried; their mother seems frightened and tells them they’ll be “safe” with Grandfather in the lake country of Minnesota. Someone is looking for them, and though Grandfather doesn’t tell them everything, Megan is able to piece together the story. Years before, their father was jailed and Megan’s wealthy paternal grandfather tried to wrest Sandy and Megan from their mother.

A couple of bad guys show up, but they are foiled, leaving Megan and her family to sort out their problems and stop running at last. Appealing setting and engaging subplots add much to this entertaining, if somewhat predictable novel.

So our Megan here is at the heart of a big mystery and eventually takes a pretty active part in solving it all. I remember a lot of chasing scenes — imagery that left me feeling slight out-of-breath myself! I couldn’t tell you the ending to save my life, but I’m feeling (slightly) inspired to track this one down again and see. Anyone else come across this one in their travels?