Go…Pack…Go!!

When my girls were growing up, we were a football family. The NFL dominated our big-screen TV during football season, and we attended several games in St. Louis, San Diego, and Indianapolis. Mack played tackle football for three years and flag football for two, and the rest of us delighted in watching her play. We participated in a Pratt family football pool, and we all owned NFL apparel. Even Savannah, who did not embrace the game with Mackenzie’s high-energy enthusiasm, requested a Miami Dolphins winter coat for Christmas one year. And although Kevin had the least amount of interest in the game, he genuinely liked cheering for the Rams after they moved to St. Louis.

In Springfield, we lived between Chicago Bear and St. Louis Ram territories, but Mack became a devoted Packers fan. She did not, I assure you, get this Packer thing from her momma, as I have been a San Diego Chargers fan for thirty-five years. I am not really sure why Mack chose Green Bay. Perhaps it was something simple; perhaps the color green tickled the Irish in her. For Halloween in kindergarten, she asked for a Packer uniform, so her interest in the team definitely started by the time she was five. Perhaps it was even earlier than that, because the Packers won the Super Bowl in 1997, and we hosted a party that year. Yes, I guess that Super Bowl was likely the start of her green and gold fandom, now that I think about it. On Sundays during football season, Mack and I would watch our respective teams, tuning to the Packers at noon and then focusing on my west-coast Chargers at 3. We wore our own team’s colors, but we always cheered for each other’s teams. I cherished those cold, winter Sundays, curled up with my knowledgeable and rabid little football fanatic.

packers4

Mack grew up loving those Packers and the indomitable Brett Favre, and as soon as she was able to choose her own number in sports, it was always number 4 for her beloved quarterback. When she got a Build-a-Bear for her birthday one year, she dressed her in a football uniform and christened her Brett. She counted a Packer winter coat in her vast collection of Packer apparel, and she wore one favorite Green Bay sweatshirt for ten years…long after she had outgrown it! She often sported a braided Green Bay necklace, possessed one of those crazy foam-cheese-wedge hats, and loudly protested whenever sports announcers failed to recognize the talents of wide receiver Donald Driver, her second favorite player. As well, my sweet little girl became an impressive, and often foul-mouthed, trash talker; and her enthusiastic celebrations following a Green Bay victory, especially when enjoyed in the company of a forlorn Chicago Bears fan, rivaled the jubilant qualities of the Lambeau Leap.

Kevin, Savannah, and I all thought it was quite adorable that our little Macko loved football so much, and I was not even a little mad that she had chosen the Packers over my Chargers. Hell, I was just thrilled she wasn’t a Raiders fan! However, the members of the Chicago McDermott clan—blinded by their love for the Bears and their sad level of comfort with games in which no touchdowns are scored—were far less accepting. At McDermott family events, especially at Christmas as the Packers were soaring into the playoffs and the Bears were struggling for their third or fourth win of the season, Mack delighted in extolling the virtues of her team’s Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks, first Brett Favre and then Aaron Rodgers. She would then ask her grandpa, her uncles, and many of her cousins how it felt to never have their own quality quarterback to love, and she would press them for answers as to why they threw away their devotion on the bad-news Bears.

When Mack reached high school, typical teenager activities and her three varsity sports crowded out football. Yet she remained a Green Bay fan for life. “Mack for the Pack,” she always said. Occasionally, she would still sit down to watch a big Packer game or an NFL playoff game with her momma bear. She also continued to keep up with her team’s roster and their wins and losses, and she never tired of poking fun at her misguided Chicago Bear kin. At summer outings at the family cabin in central Wisconsin, Mack always packed (pun intended) Green Bay apparel, happy to play the role of an annoying cheese-head. When the mischievous cabin neighbor, a fun-loving Wisconsin native, installed a large Packer logo on the way-up, tip-top peak of the McDermott cabin—far out of the reach of a common, household ladder—Mack offered him her hearty congratulations for carrying out such a fantastic, diabolical plan. Every single time Mack saw that logo on the McDermott cabin, she would laugh and laugh, acknowledging that it was, without a single doubt, one of her favorite things in all of the world.

Mack never asked that I try to find two elusive and expensive tickets to a game at Lambeau Field, and I do not recall her even suggesting that we try to see them in a visiting stadium. Once when she was very little, we visited Green Bay, Wisconsin, and the Packer Hall of Fame; and we watched a Packer practice, peering through a chain-link fence to catch of a glimpse of Brett Favre. I have some great pictures of that trip, including a blurry one in which Mack is kicking a football on a little-kid’s gridiron, surrounded by cardboard cutouts of Packer players. But despite that trip to the Packer Holy Land, I can tell you that I very much regret never taking her to see her Packers play.

No doubt, Mack would probably tell me it did not matter then, and that it does not matter now. What mattered was that football and the Packers were just two of those trivial but enjoyable things she loved. I also think she would say that embracing football was about having fun and sharing a passion with her momma bear; and that loving the Packers made her unique in our family and gave her a weapon with which to expose the angry vein on the forehead of her Grandpa Bill, whom she loved to tease but always adored.

Partly because my team failed to reach the playoffs, but mostly because Green Bay was Mack’s team, I am going to cheer my heart out for the Packers this weekend and, hopefully, in the Super Bowl as well. Rooting for Mack’s Pack, I will reflect on all of those special Sundays on the couch with her, and perhaps those sweet memories will carry me through another difficult day without her. I will close my eyes and picture Mack’s grown-up self all stuffed into that favorite little-kid Green Bay sweatshirt. I will hear her singing: “bum bum bum…bada…bum bum bum… GO…PACK…GO!” And maybe for good measure, I’ll prepare some Mack-quality trash-talking to throw at her grandpa as well.

Now come on, Aaron Rodgers, bring us two more victories this lonely football season. Go…Pack…Go!!! (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ob7T1w9_NJk)

That favorite sweatshirt…

packers2  packers3

My favorite number 4ever…

packers1number4-1number4-3number4-2number4-5number4-4

Frisky and Macko

I had the privilege and the great fun to have two full-time comedians in my personal life: my dad and my younger daughter. Both Jim and Mack enjoyed life, made the absolute most of each day, and soaked up every ounce of sunshine that came their way. But the rarest human quality shared by this goofy pair was the ability to see humor and fun in the most unlikely of places. When these two characters found humor or manufactured their own, they both laughed from way down deep in their bellies and their souls. While their childlike demeanor sometimes had the capacity to annoy more serious members of their peer group or family circle (like me), mostly, their good cheer was welcome and infectious.

There were many, many reasons why his family and friends called my dad Frisky, because he had more energy than a classroom full of kindergarteners, always bouncing, cackling, teasing, and making a competitive game out of the most ridiculous activities. One time when we were visiting him in southern Missouri, where he had settled into quasi-retirement, he greeted my girls with one of those 100-count boxes of colorful, tubular popsicles. He immediately began encouraging Savannah and Mackenzie to consume them two or three at a time; but, of course, just eating them was not enough. At some point in our weekend visit, probably late into the night after hours and hours of playing cards and consuming horrifying quantities of Hostess Ding Dongs, Doritos, and Pepsi, he organized a tasting game out of those damn frozen treats. He sorted them out, prepared bundles of every color for each one of us, and then conducted a blind taste test. We were all charged with tasting each color—red, green, orange, yellow, and blue—and with reporting the flavor of each, while blindfolded for added drama, of course. Jim made a great deal of fanfare over the entire test, dragging it out and providing lively, running commentary, carefully recording the results and, in the end, declaring a winner. I have no memory of who won, but I can tell you that we all laughed and laughed and ate way too many popsicles. My kids always remembered that silly experience with their silly grandfather; and, I am certain, such interactions with my dad made a deep impact on my little Macko.

Unfortunately, my kids had little time to know my father, as he died too young in 2001. I adopted some of his humor, and I have a penchant for various childhood delights (like cartoons, Disneyland, merciless teasing, and popsicles), but I turned out to be far too serious by Jim Pratt standards. Therefore, I am pleased that he was able to see some of his sunny perspective and humor in Mack; and had he lived longer, he would have been happy and proud to see how much like him she would ultimately become. Because somehow, either through genetics or that short seven years that their lives overlapped, Mack got the silly, happy, laughing genes of my father. Whenever she was chuckling over stupid jokes, badly singing a ridiculous song she had composed on the fly, or compelling her family members or friends to participate with her in a Mackified handshake or a made-up game, she reminded me so much of him…those sparkling brown eyes, all those freckles and that impish sense of humor.

As I continue to reflect on Mack’s good life and celebrate her character and qualities, I have begun to see much more clearly the connections between these two important people in my life. My dad would have been seventy-one this week, and as has become my custom, I will on his birthday enjoy a Pepsi, a beverage for which his love was legendary. But this year, without Mack to share that Pepsi and swap some crazy Grandpa Jim stories, I want to tell one of Mack’s favorite tales. No doubt she enjoyed this one partly because it reflected so well on her football knowledge and her Irish luck, but also because it was one she vividly recalled and for which she possessed a tangible memento.

Jim Pratt preferred that his family members share his devotion to the NFL; but he required them to participate in the Pratt Family NFL Football Contest Pool whether they loved football or not. While he let some family members, like my mother and my husband, mostly off the hook, all others were compelled to partake. Even girly little Savannah, who made her picks based upon the likability of the team mascots, enjoyed the fun. For years, my dad would call everyone up each week and record their picks in his Pratt Book of World Records (a ragged notebook smeared with the colorful felt-tip ink he always used). Bragging rights were the only reward for being a weekly or a season winner, yet we all trash-talked and fussed as if serious money was at stake. Mack was particularly good at the trash-talking, but she backed up her sass with an impressively accurate pick record. Not at all surprising, really, because she dutifully compared team records, assessed strengths of schedule, and evaluated injury reports before making those weekly picks; and her methods yielded frequent bragging rights.

In Week 7 of the 2000 NFL season, Mack did what no other person in the history of the Pratt Family NFL Football Contest Pool had ever done. Not my dad. Not me. Not anyone. That week, four teams were idle, but twenty-eight teams played fourteen games. Mack did her homework, selected her winners, and on October 19, after the Tennessee Titans defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars on Monday Night Football, she had accurately picked every winner. My dad was over the moon. He went nuts. He believed this may have been the single best Pratt family accomplishment EVER, and he decided it deserved much more than bragging rights. So at Christmas that year at my sister’s house, he orchestrated a mini award ceremony in front of the Christmas tree. He delivered a rousing speech, attesting to Mack’s impressive skills and the unworthiness of the rest of us slugs to compete in the same league with her. And with a great deal of drama, he presented Mack with a plaque, professionally engraved, recording her astounding achievement.

Now I ask you, is it really any wonder why Mackenzie was the happy goof that she always was? I think not. No doubt Grandpa Frisky had an important role to play in that youthful spirit that made my Macko so fun and so unique.

Macks perfect award 02      Macks perfect award 01Macks perfect award

What?!! All this for ME?

Raising Mack took a great deal of energy, because she was such a mischievous toddler and an active kid; and it took all of my organizational skills and gas money to transport her to practices and games for the nine different sports she played over the course of sixteen years. But in other ways, she was so, so easy. She was happy and silly on the outside, and she was tranquil and wise on the inside. She rarely sassed or grumbled and never felt sorry for herself. She would frequently with amusement report on the preteen and teenager drama of her classmates, but she never engaged in any of it herself. She was even-keeled, humble and sweet. For a child however, one of her most surprising and admirable traits was her gratitude. She was one of the most appreciative children I’ve ever known.

With the exception of frequently exercising her talents as a professional lobbyist for new pets, Mack never begged for material objects, especially items we could not afford. She never needed the most expensive bike, or jeans or golf clubs. She was never compelled to keep up with her peers in the accumulation of stuff. Mack was content and thankful for what she had, and she always felt a little guilty if we splurged for something like a quality catcher’s mitt or a pair of her favorite Nike sneakers that were not on sale. She adored a few precious objects—like Spot the little stuffed dog, her old-fashioned Nintendo games, her Buffy the Vampire box set, and a miniature “Dr. Who” Tardus made by the hand of a college friend. But mostly, material objects were of little importance to her.

Yet from a very young age, Mack was a gracious receiver of gifts. She would enthusiastically unwrap them, beam brightly and offer genuine enjoyment and thankfulness. At birthdays and at Christmas she always wanted to assure me that I had chosen the perfect gifts and had wrapped them beautifully. For her, receiving a gift was about making her gift giver happy. Underneath that silly, little kid persona, Mack was in that way a wise old soul. Her effusive acceptance of gifts always made me smile, and I admired this subtle quality in her. She always exhibited surprise and excitement upon opening a gift; and frequently she teased about being unworthy of such abundance.

When Mack was selecting a college, she fell in love with Oberlin, an extraordinary little school with an extraordinary sticker price. She visited twice, was recruited by the basketball coach, made her application and crossed her fingers and toes for enough scholarship money to make it work. The scholarship was significant, but insufficient. It absolutely broke my heart and it put a pretty good crack in hers as well, but she accepted it with grace. Of course, in the end, that disappointment mattered not to Mack. She found a suitable second choice, an equally quirky and special liberal arts environment at Truman State University in northern Missouri. She did not dwell on what was not to be, instead she focused on what she had in front of her. I pined for Oberlin far longer than she did. Not only did Mack move on quickly from the dream of Oberlin, she also appreciated that even the far more affordable Truman was expensive. When she went off to college in the fall of 2012, we put our family on a tight budget so as to fund most of the expense along the way and to avoid oppressive student loans. Mack accepted this plan with enthusiasm, and her discipline to make it work was admirable. She dutifully followed her budget and never once complained. She always waited too long to ask for additional funds, she felt guilty when necessity required her to ask for money and she always exhibited sincere appreciation for all she received.

At times, I find myself wishing that Mack had been more demanding. Wishing that I had showered her with more of the things she might have enjoyed but for which she was too kind to ask. Wishing that I could have afforded to send her to Oberlin. Wishing that I would have spoiled her way more rotten than I did since, as it turned out, I had so little time to indulge her. But Mack did not sit around wishing for things that were not possible. She did not dwell on the past or worry about the future. She did what we all need to try harder to do: to live in the moment and to be content with what we have immediately in our midst and easily within our grasp.

What an amazing and sage kid she was. I knew it then. I know it better now. For Mack, the glass was always half full, not half empty. For Mack, the sky was partly sunny, not partly cloudy. For Mack, life was not about the quality or quantity of your material possessions. I am pretty certain that Mack would say to me now that her twenty years were, in her words, “all good.” And I’m pretty certain Mack would tell me now she had all she ever needed. I am trying hard to keep this in mind, and I am trying even harder to believe it.

Back Camera     all for me 2

A Mackenzie text from college…

asking for money

From Puppies to Pep Dog

Mack LOVED animals. While growing up, she was the adoring zookeeper of our collection of pets, consisting over the years of an enormous Labrador/Rottweiler mix (Barley), three Pugs, (Hops, Napoleon and Josephine), a Pomeranian (Pepper), two cats (Whiskers and Keyhlar), an iguana (Junior), two Guinea pigs (Snowball and Cleopatra), a giant goldfish (Phyllis), a teddy bear hamster (Strawberry), and various newts, fish, frogs and turtles. Even though we also raised three litters of Pug puppies and five litters of kittens (the ridiculously adorable spawn of our evil and slutty little Keyhlar), the McDermott Menagerie was never enough for Mack. No matter how many pets we had at any given time, Mack wanted more. Over the years, she asked for a house-sized pony, bunnies, an ocelot, a lemur, a penguin, a red panda and, most recently from college, a hedgehog. Whenever Mack saw a cute animal picture or video on the Internet, she would start a campaign for the adoption of her very own version of the animal starring within it.

When Mack was in middle school, she heard that the Animal Protective League (APL) in Springfield was looking for families to foster litters of puppies. Basically, these foster puppy families take in the puppies, love them, socialize them and nurse them through spaying and neutering surgeries until they are socialized and well enough for adoption. Mack believed with the full measure of her animal-loving heart that this was the single best idea in the entire galaxy. She could not believe she didn’t think of the idea herself, and she instituted a quiet but relentless campaign to become a foster parent of puppies. For months she lobbied for the job, begging her father and me to co-sign the agreement with her. She made some pretty good arguments about how much love she could offer them, how much experience we already had with baby animals, and what an amazing contribution we could make in the lives of poor orphaned dogs. As usual, Mack’s strategy was simple: be dogged and relentless and cheerful all the while. Almost every day she found a way to put puppies into the conversation in creative and different ways and she always put on her sweet how-can-you-deny-me little face.

Finally, after months of torture, we relented. It was late February 2008, and at that time our household consisted of Kevin, me, Mack, Napoleon and Keyhlar. So what the hell, right? I mean we were down to just three humans and two pets at 709 S. Lincoln, so why not add a litter of puppies to bolster our numbers? Mack and I went to APL to fill out paperwork and then we anxiously awaited some puppies. In early March, the call came; puppies were coming and we could pick them up on Friday. That Friday morning, Mack went off to school anticipating the arrival of her fur babies. I have to admit, I was kind of excited, too. Later that morning, a woman from APL called me at work to say that the puppies had come in with Parvo; and since we had animals in our home, we would not be able to take them until they were treated. “Oh no,” I thought (or maybe I even sighed and said it out loud). “Mack is going to cry,” I thought (or, again, maybe I sighed and said that out loud, too). I told the woman that we were disappointed, but we would be available to take the puppies just as soon as they were better. There was a brief silence on the other end of the phone. Now I know that the woman was assessing the degree of my disappointment. “Well,” she said slowly. “Perhaps you would like to come take a young dog to keep until the puppies are ready?” Then there was silence on my end of the phone. Oh, these people are good. The APL woman told me that they had just received a six-month-old Pomeranian mix that was not adjusting well to the kennel. The APL woman then told me that because this was a young lap dog, she would be quickly adopted; and then we could get a litter of puppies.

Well, I could not disappoint Mack, now could I? It was not what we had bargained for, exactly. But, it was a young dog; and a single pup would certainly be easier than a litter, right? I agreed to pick up the Pomeranian, and I also determined to do it before picking up Mack from school. I could assess the pup before presenting it to her as the consolation prize for her puppies. When I arrived at APL, the woman said that I should come back to the kennel with her so that I could lift the scared little pup out of the kennel myself. Did I tell you that these people are good? Oh, my, these people are good.

I scooped up that little black puff of fur, she burrowed into my chest, and I fell in love. I took her to school to surprise Mack; and when Mack arrived at the car, she squealed. She did not even ask about the puppies, as she scooped up that little black puff of fur and fell in love. And that is how we came to have Pepper. That is also how Mack’s career as a foster mom for puppies ended. For once we decided to keep our new Pepper the Pomeranian, Kevin forced Mack to retire from the puppy foster program. Mack was disappointed, but she admitted that, in a way, she had won. She had wanted temporary puppies, but she had gotten a permanent dog.

Pepper cuddled her way into the hearts of the McDermott family. When we lost our old Pug Napoleon and then our cat Keyhlar in one year, we all loved Pepper all the more. In June 2012 when Kevin moved to St. Louis six months ahead of the family, Pepper was a steady companion for Mack and me. When Mack went to college that August, Pepper kept me from feeling too lonely. Pepper was always Mack’s first order of business when she came home for a visit, because the one thing she disliked about college was living without her last surviving pet. That little dog, the last of the McDermott Menagerie, now provides Mack’s devastated parents with constant cuddles, unconditional love, and a great deal of comfort.

Thank you for being the dogged, determined little imp that you were, Mack. Thank you for loving animals with a heart the size of the sun. And thank you for bringing Pep Dog into our family. I promise to love her enough for us both.

Baby Pepper and Kid Mack…

Pep2      Pep

Pepper lounging in a pile of laundry in Mack’s messy room in Springfield…

pep in mack mess

Cuddling with Pepper in St. Louis…

Pep3     Pep6

Pep5

And now me with Pepper, alone…

Pep4

Macko the Terrible

Mack was the most determined little bruiser of a toddler I ever knew. She was strong beyond her size, and she always left a path of destruction behind her. Electronic devices, dishes, a stick of butter on the table, and her sister’s skinny shins are only a sampling of the objects that were not safe in her presence. As well, Mack was particularly mentally dogged, and brute strength and sheer will power frequently combined to make physical control of her problematic for me. Mack understood this combination knock-out punch all too well, and she frequently challenged my motherly mettle.

So, let’s talk about Mack the Toddler, or Mack the Destroyer. The latter might be the more accurate moniker, because Mack’s antics frequently destroyed my ability to maintain composure. Life with baby Macko often left us crying or laughing. On one particular car trip to Wisconsin, Mack was mad as hell about being confined in the seat, and she screamed all the way. For five hours, she wiggled and yelled. Kevin had a nervous breakdown and lost his will to live before we crossed the Wisconsin state border. I came close to releasing the little screaming devil from her car seat—her physical safety be damned—so that we all could have peace and sanity. And Savannah suggested that we leave Mack by the side of the road. Of course, as soon as we arrived and let Mack out of the car seat, she was just as happy as a clam. To our tales of her five-hour reign of terror over us, her grandparents were incredulous.

Venturing out in the world with Mack was always an adventure. Sometimes easy and fun, sometimes not so easy and not so fun, and sometimes an absolute hoot. I always started out so hopeful, and she would hold my hand as we toddled into a store. But then she would decide she was in no kind of mood for restraint, and she would begin her struggle just as I was trying to get her chunky little legs into the seat of a cart. Sometimes, I would give up right there and go home. Other times, when I was feeling particularly plucky, I would wrestle her into the strap and then attempt to speed shop, hoping beyond hope that I could get it done before her patience lapsed. But, in the end, she would scream. Or, more frequently, she would strain hard against the strap and attempt to launch herself headfirst out of the cart. I abandoned many shopping carts in the middle of aisles, exiting the building as quickly as possible and struggling all the while with my Macko the Terrible.

One day when Mack was running around the house in her diaper being wild, I had a momentary lapse of sanity. Even though she was clearly being crazy, I decided to return an item at a store. As I dressed her, she struggled and struggled and fussed and fussed; but I won the battle and we left the house. At the store, I put Mack in the big basket of the shopping cart and wheeled her to the service desk. She seemed happy to be in what I called the “big girl” part of the basket. As I stood at the counter filling out the return form, I heard a woman laughing behind me. I shrugged and continued to focus on the form. More laughing, and this time from more people. I then heard the giggle of my sweet, small child. I turned around to see Mack jumping up and down in the cart and laughing hysterically. She was naked. Her clothes and her diaper were strewn around the perimeter of the cart. The people in line were laughing. The cashier was laughing. Mack was laughing. So, I had to laugh, too.

The best and most notorious tale of Macko the Terrible revolves around a Little Tykes Sport Coupe. When Mack was nineteen months old, we took her trick-or-treating for the first time. She was too little, had no interest in the costume (I can’t even remember what it was), cared not at all about carrying her little pumpkin and was only mildly interested in the candy being placed within it. At one house, Savannah and Mack walked up to a porch, and I stayed at the curb. Savannah rang the doorbell, but Mack turned right at the door and out of sight. Savannah collected the candy, but she was unable to get Mack to exit the porch. She called me up to help, and there was Mack sitting in the Little Tykes car, her pumpkin discarded on the porch. As I wrestled her out of the car, her blood-curdling screams echoed in the chilly Halloween night.

I put the incident out of mind until one day not long after Halloween when we entered Lowe’s home improvement store. It was a quick trip, so I had decided against struggling with a cart. I was holding Mack’s hand when suddenly, she broke my grip and went running away at top speed. I immediately saw that she was headed for a display of Little Tykes toys, at the center of which was a Sport Coupe exactly like the one from the Halloween porch. Before I could do anything about it, Mack was in that car, the door was closed, and she was off to the races. Needless to say, prying her out of the car was unpleasant for both of us.

A few weeks later, Kevin’s father was in Springfield to help us with some home improvement projects. The men were headed to Lowe’s, and Bill—Mack’s doting but naïve grandfather— wanted to take Macko the Terrible along with them. I advised Bill against this unwise course of action, but he was insistent. I then told Kevin about the location of the Little Tykes display. I implored him to avoid it at all costs. I was insistent that his very life depended upon his success in keeping Mack from making eye contact with the little Sport Coupe. Kevin nodded, but, of course, he never listens to me. The three of them left on their ill-fated mission, and I stayed home and enjoyed some peace and quiet.

Bill frequently enjoys telling the story about what happened when they arrived at Lowe’s that day. Apparently, Kevin blithely approached the store. He had no plan to heed my advice. On the contrary, he dismissed it outright. He decided that it could not possibly be a bad thing for his sweet, little, precious girl to see that really cool car. As they passed through the double doors and emerged into the cavernous store, Kevin pointed out the Little Tykes display. He let Mack go running to it. He smiled with delight as she jumped into her car. But guess what happened when Kevin tried to extricate her from that car? Guess how hard Bill laughed as Kevin struggled to get her out of that car?

And guess what Mack got for Christmas just a few weeks later?

car 3          car 4     car 1     car 2

Hugs

If you were a person in Mack’s life, you knew that you were going to get hugs. Lots of hugs. From big bear hugs to hand hugs,* Mack hugged not only her own family members and her closest friends, but also her teammates, her coaches, her teachers and even some people she was just getting to know. She hugged you for pictures, she would sneak up on you to hug you, and there was no escape from her strong grip if she decided you needed one of her famous Big Mack squeezes. Mack was not a big talker, and she was never verbally effusive with her emotions. Instead, she chose to love people by physically embracing them. Mack was full of love and delight for the people who were special to her. But Mack’s hugs were more about her wish to make those she hugged feel unconditionally loved and accepted than they were about showing her own affection.

Mack’s hugs became legendary, especially among all of her various adopted moms. At the memorial service, one of those special women (Sonya, a basketball mom and good friend) told me that she always looked forward to getting settled in at the basketball games, because she knew that even if she had just seen her the night before, Mack would run up the bleachers and give her a huge hug as if she had not seen her in months. Another adopted mom (Ellen, who was the mother of one of Mack’s oldest friends) wrote to me about how much she loved those hugs, referring to Mack as “the human Great Dane who thought she was a lap puppy.”

Mack was, indeed, a bit like a big happy puppy dog. So many photographs of her with friends reveal her inner marshmallow. She loved people hard, and she hugged them harder. Sometimes she hugged me so hard, she squeezed the air right out of my lungs. If I had a bad day, a bear hug from my Mack could make all of my worries melt away. Often, she would wrap her long arms around my shoulders, pull my head onto her chest, rest her chin on the top of my head (always looking for an opportunity to acknowledge our significant height difference), pat my back and say, “momma knows, momma knows.” She was being goofy and ridiculous, but she was also showing love and tenderness in her own unique way.

God, I just loved those hugs. I cannot imagine how I will get through the rest of my life without them; and I would sell my soul to the devil for just one more.

 hug 3    hug 2hug 4    hug 5    hug 6 hug 7    hug 8

*Mack invented hand hugs sometime in high school and, I think, during a softball season. Basically, a hand hug is when two people press their palms together and wrap their own thumbs around the other person’s hand. It was just one of many silly rituals that Mack created to bond with teammates, be close with friends without being TOO gushy and gooey, and to give people around her an excuse to smile, laugh, and to be close to one another.

It’s MY room, Mother

Like all kids, Mack hated household chores: but like most good kids she would begrudging do many of those we required of her. However, there was one chore that she unabashedly refused to do and no amount of weekly allowance, begging, yelling, grounding, or bribes motivated her to oblige me. Mack’s bedroom was in a perpetual state of nuclear disaster, and it was a serious topic of contention in our mother/daughter relationship. While I did not expect her to possess my obsessive level of organization, it bothered me a great deal that she seemed not to care that glasses with an inch of iced-tea were growing mold, that her basketball uniforms were wadded up in a pile of dirty clothes, that her history text books were under the bed, or that there were more jeans and shoes in the middle of the room than here were in the drawers or in the closet. I would yell, and she would just look at me, shake her head, and say things like, “What’s the big deal, woman? It’s MY room, mother, and you don’t have to come in here.” Exasperated, she would lead me out and close the door.

Since our family was a busy one, days and weeks at a time would pass when I would just clench my teeth, shut my eyes and pretend I did not know the extent of the disorder on the other side of her bedroom door. Therefore, Mack’s room was most always a Super Fund site, her close friends grew accustomed to the mess, and even occasional visitors were witness to the disorder. One time, Mack was babysitting the three young daughters of some close friends of mine at our house. There was no time for a fight with her to clean her room, so I begged Mack to keep the kids downstairs and out of her bedroom. These little girls looked up to Mack, and I did not wish her to set a bad example. She rolled her eyes at me as if I was being unreasonable, but she agreed and I trusted she understood my point. After several hours, the adults returned from dinner, and our friends all went home. Apparently, as soon as the three children piled into their minivan upon leaving our house, they all started chattering about how much fun they had hanging out with Mack, how good she was at making boxed macaroni and cheese, and how freaking cool she was because her room was so messy!

Over the years, I learned to accept some level of messy. But on rare occasions when we needed her room for overnight guests or I had reached my limit, I would do battle. Sometimes, I could coax Mack into a good cleaning if I helped her and gave her money for iTunes or promised her a trip to Taste of Thai when we were done with the work. Mostly, she ignored both my shrill and my subtle efforts to make her more organized. At some point during high school, Mack shoved her twin bed into what had previously been a little study nook in her room. This rearrangement opened up some floor space in the middle of the main part of her bedroom perfect for bouncing or spinning her basketball or sitting around with her buddies. It also tended to be a larger space for much larger messes.

One summer morning before leaving for work, I stepped into Mack’s bedroom to say goodbye, and there were clothes all over her floor. I threw one of my best fits about the mess and told her how terrible she was because she couldn’t possibly know which heaps were clean and which were dirty. I angrily told her that she had damn well better have all the clothes sorted, folded and put away by the time I got home or she wasn’t going to be seeing her friends that night. She smiled that crooked grin through sleepy eyes and said, “yeah, yeah, mom, I know.” When I peeked into her room after work that day, I was astounded. The clothes were gone. There wasn’t a trace of dirty dishes, her desk was clear, and it even looked like she may have run a dust mop over the floor. I was so proud of her and I told her so. This was great progress she was making, and I even got her to admit that it did feel pretty good to exist in such a clean environment. And then, I let her go out with her friends that night.

The next morning when I called to her before leaving for work, she didn’t answer. I figured she was sleeping, so I slipped into her room and walked around the corner to her bed in the study nook to give her a soft kiss on the check. And this is what I found…

messy

So I will admit before all witnesses that this was a battle that I never won. Mack did not think keeping her room clean and organized was important, necessary, or worth her effort. I know now that on this point she was right and had been right all along. It did not really matter that her basketball uniform was wrinkled and stinky, that her favorite skinny jeans hadn’t been folded since the day she selected them from the shelf at American Eagle, or that one of our glass tumblers may have been sitting on her headboard for six months (even if it did have moldy tea inside of it). Looking back on it, I am glad she didn’t waste a lot of her precious time folding her clothes, dusting her bookshelves, or worrying about what people might think about the mess. She had far more important things to do in her life, like hosting Glee parties with her best friends, wrestling with one of our dogs, practicing her British accent, or just lounging on her bed in the study nook staring at the ceiling and enjoying that fact that she could so easily outsmart her Ph.D. mom.