Stephanie McMaster.

Everything’s Bigger in Texas, Including How Much I Miss My Kids

I’ve spent the past three weeks in Texas. More accurately, I’ve spent three weeks in a row in Texas, returning to Connecticut on the weekends, just long enough to unpack to pack.

I’m growing to love Texas. I love the people. I love the landscape. I love that there are places still in existence where time has stood still, unaffected by the addition of the word “selfie” to the dictionary and the prevalence of Miley Cyrus’ tongue. I love the food: The barbecue and texmex and sweet tea and overly enthusiastic politeness of Starbucks baristas — even if I have to explain to them what a red eye is. I love my job and that no two days are ever the same and that I don’t spend my hours staring at a cubicle wall wondering if anyone would notice if I disappeared to play Flappy Bird in the bathroom for the next two hours. 

In the past three weeks, I’ve driven across much of this absolutely fucking gigantic state and I’ve loved that the most. I drove from El Paso — where the main stretch of highway runs parallel to Juarez, Mexico, a chain-linked fence separating you from the most dangerous city in the world — to Midland. Even if there were no fence, you’d be able to see exactly where the border lies, there’s a visible contrast between one of America’s safest cities and the poverty that stretches as far as you can see out the passenger side window.

In Midland I was in awe of the oil fields and the fact that I had to go through border patrol while driving from one part of Texas to another. 

I arrived home on a flight from Midland via Houston around midnight, long after the kids were asleep. I kissed their sweet and soft foreheads as they slept. My son rolled over and farted and my daughter woke and mumbled something that sounded like rejected dialogue for the character Rust Cohle.

I was home just long enough to tend to everything waiting my attending — laundry, school forms, inspecting my daughter’s recent orthodontic addition. We snuggled. We played. We made the best of it. 

I landed in Austin at midnight the following Monday, and drove to Temple on some of the iciest roads I’ve ever driven. That night I took a vow to never make fun of southern drivers in the snow again.

I spent the rest of the week between Temple and Killeen before returning home long enough to squeeze the kids with everything I had as they left for their weekend at their dad’s. I picked them up to squeeze them again and tuck them into their beds and leave for the airport hours before the sun rose. 

I arrived in Lubbock this week by way of Denver and then drove to Abilene, from where I’ll drive to Dallas tomorrow for my flight back to NYC by way of Chicago. The drive to Abilene was breathtaking — isolated roads and tumbleweeds broken up by the iron gates of ranches. 

As much as I love Texas, I’m ready to go home. I try and compartmentalize so I don’t continually ache with missing them. I focus on work, on soaking in every detail of the culture my travels make me privy to.

I go home tomorrow and the thought of squeezing my two kids with as much strength as I can without it being child abuse and knowing that I’m not leaving again on Monday makes me want to fucking scream and wake up the people in the surrounding hotel rooms. This weekend I can unpack the suitcase I’ve been living out of and put it away (after letting it sit at the end of the bed where we’ll continually trip over it for three weeks). I can feel the little arms I miss so much wrapped around me and revel in the sound of their voices — even if they’re screaming directly into my ears. 

I just hope withdrawals from barbecue aren’t a thing.

High-res Put up the last of the lights on my multi-week LEGO display / building center / casual city. I might have a problem.

Put up the last of the lights on my multi-week LEGO display / building center / casual city. I might have a problem.

I’ve Been Chasing This Guy So Hard

You could call him the one that got away. I’ve never exhausted so much energy chasing any man before and I’ve never encountered a man so skilled at playing hard-to-get. After seven months of pining, lusting and trying to make him mine, I’m ready to admit he’s not just hard-to-get, but impossible-to-get.

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Meet Mr. Gold. If you don’t have kids or aren’t an avid AFOL* (If you don’t know what that stands for, you aren’t one. Congrats on actually getting laid regularly), I imagine you’re reading this with the same bewilderment I watch people on My Strange Addiction eat couch cushions with.

Quick history: In 2010 LEGO released its Minifigures series. A new series comes out every few months and each individual minifigure comes in a thick foil package making it a surprise as to which one you’re getting and thus increasing your desire to find and collect ‘em all. Brilliant on LEGO’s part, for sure. Those as LEGO obsessed as I quickly learned you can determine which minifigure a package contains with enough feeling of it. Who cares if you’re increasing your likelihood of having arthritis-riddled hands later in life? It’s for a little person made out of plastic! Fuck having functional hands!

This past May, to celebrate the 10th series, the brilliant folks at LEGO tossed Mr. Gold into the mix. Only 5,000 of the dapper little fucker were released worldwide. He was the golden ticket of the LEGO world. Someone even nerdier and more LEGO obsessed than I calculated the odds of finding him to be .21 percent. Those who found Mr. Gold and have decided to turn their good fortune/feeling into a profit are asking $700 for him on eBay. 

He’s kinda a big deal. 

While I had no initial lust for him (I mean, who the fuck did he think he was in that top hat of his?), my children began pining for him immediately. Nothing makes me happier than making them happy, so I began feeling packages. At first I felt out of parental obligation, but then I began feeling because … feelings. I had to have him. His evasive nature made me want him harder.

It started with me stopping at the LEGO store on my walk to Grand Central from my office every now and then. Before long the employees at the LEGO store knew my name. One night they let me stay in the store after closing, gripping little golden packages with my cramping hands as they swept loose LEGO bricks from beneath the Pick-A-Brick wall. 

Weeks passed and I could identify every single minifigure in the series within seconds of touching a package. Each of my kids had full sets, with doubles of their favorites. If there were some sort of bizarre Olympics for feeling minifigures through their packages, I have no doubt I’d be writing this with a sweet ass gold medal hanging around my neck.

The summer came and with it, my daughter’s 9th birthday. When asked what she wanted, she simply replied “Mr. Gold.” 

I upped my feeling frenzy. I moved on from feeling only at the LEGO store to feeling everywhere I knew minifigures were sold: Barnes & Noble, Target, Walmart (so gross), other LEGO stores. I sought out any fine retailer that carried them wherever I went. I often travel for work so I felt my way through Denver, El Paso, Albany, Buffalo, NYC, Connecticut, Boston. 

One night, after feeling my way through hundreds of minifigures at a Toys R Us with a particularly large stock, I told my kids I didn’t think it was going to happen. My daughter chided me for giving up and told me that she remembered her mom telling her to chase down her dreams and to never just settle because it’s the easier thing to do. Touche’ little one. 

As Series 11 was released, finding Series 10 in the wild became more of a rarity every day. It had been weeks since I had seen that golden package when we attended LEGO Kids Fest in Hartford:

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Being that the folks at LEGO are brilliant people, there was, of course, a shop set up for Kids Fest-goers, drunk on bricks, to open their wallets. And there were boxes upon boxes of Series 10. We were elated. The kids excitedly jumped, as certain as I was that this was our day. Our time had come. This was it. All the persistence, all the cramped carpal muscles, all the hours spent looking like I escaped a psychiatric ward while standing silently at LEGO displays were about to pay off. I felt through six fresh boxes, each containing 60 packages. There were dozens of painters and sad clowns and baseball players and Medusas and skydivers and warrior women, but no Mr. Gold. 

As I put them to bed that night, the kids and I gushed about all the fun we’d had at the festival. My son’s attention turned to Mr. Gold.

"We didn’t find him, Mom."

"I tried, baby," I said, pulling the covers up to his chin.

"I know. You did a really good job."

"I looked everywhere I went. Sometimes life is just that way. But it’s okay that we didn’t find him. We have each other and we have a pretty good life."

"We have the best life," he replied, turning my heart into the consistency of the filling of a Hot Pocket fresh out of the microwave.

"Do you know why I looked so hard?" I asked, brushing his in-need-of-a-haircut blond hair from his adorable little forehead. 

"Why?"

"Because you guys wanted him. I mean, I want him too, but I knew he’d make you happy. And making you happy makes me happy because I love you."

"I knew that was why, I just wanted to hear you say it, even though I know it." He snuggled his face into his pillow embarrassed. "I know that sounds weird."

"It’s not weird at all sweetie," I said, kissing his forehead and launching into the lullaby portion of the evening. 

Accepting that I’m not Veruca Salt’s father and that it’s okay if my fingers never feel the shape of Mr. Gold’s top hat and long, narrow staff through foil packaging, I settled to do the next best thing and lie to my children.

I ordered two Mr. Gold replicas off eBay and two unopened Series 10 minifigures (surely already felt by the sellers). Due to a shipping snafu, they arrived today, two days late for Christmas. My kids are now at their father’s, but when they return, they’ll be greeted by two small packages wrapped in the same paper Santa used this year that I “mysteriously” found way behind the Christmas tree after they left. 

And when they open them, they’ll see the familiar shiny gold foil and will hopefully be too excited to notice that they’ve been resealed with glue and the inner plastic bag sealed with a lighter like it was part of a bizarre drug deal. And they’ll be happy. And I’ll be happy. Even if he still is the one that got away.

*Adult Fan of LEGO. It’s a thing.

High-res My mom is having a pretty serious surgery on Monday. But, I’m not thinking about that. Emotional procrastination is THE. BEST.
She lives with me so I was in her room earlier helping her pack. She’ll likely be in the hospital for several weeks. I was reaching into her bag when my hand was met by the cool touch of a relic of the past: A discman. After relishing in a moment of nostalgia, I asked my mom what the fuck was wrong with her and am now uploading all of her CDs to her phone. 
She has an interesting collection of music.

My mom is having a pretty serious surgery on Monday. But, I’m not thinking about that. Emotional procrastination is THE. BEST.

She lives with me so I was in her room earlier helping her pack. She’ll likely be in the hospital for several weeks. I was reaching into her bag when my hand was met by the cool touch of a relic of the past: A discman. After relishing in a moment of nostalgia, I asked my mom what the fuck was wrong with her and am now uploading all of her CDs to her phone. 

She has an interesting collection of music.