Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Who says we don't have pets?

Allow me to introduce you to a corner of my daughter's world. It is a rather large corner of furry friends with real names and in her mind, real personalities and feelings. Her sincere, emotional attachment for inanimate objects has been thriving since I can remember, and it is part of the reason why I hold my breath and wonder how she will respond when one of the true injustices of the world affects a real live person in her life. ANYway. Instead of having to search my mind for accurate descriptive words for these latest obstacles to a clean room, allow me to illustrate with a picture of just a few of these "Pet Shops" that she owns and currently displays on top of her computer:

From left to right we have Max, Blueberry, Milkshake, Emerald, Ducky, Hoppy, and Parakeet. In case you think I am exaggerating the importance of these creatures in my daughter's life, I would like to offer a close-up of her favorite, "Milkshake":

"Milkshake" is enough of an integral part of our family that she has her own seatbelt in the car - it was made by Samantha and sits comfortably in the corner of the car window.

So perhaps this sheds a little light on today's dilemma. When picking up the kids from school I noticed a look of distress in Samantha's demeanor, but she wasn't forthcoming with her reasons why. So I braced myself and asked, knowing that these looks were usually a result of a serious infraction such as, "Drew didn't do everything I told him to on our walk over here." But it was more than that.

"Milkshake" was M.I.A.

The incident occurred while playing a game at recess with her friends where they went to the field (a.k.a. the football-sized-covered-in-two-feet-of-snow-pit-of-despair) and stood with their backs to the snow, threw their "pet shops" in the air and then went searching for them in the two feet of powder. Apparently the game was going well until Samantha's great arm got the best of her and Milkshake flew into oblivion. They searched and searched during both recesses but to no avail.

As I listened to her tale and witnessed the onset of tears, I resisted the urge to say all the things a mother wants to say in this situation and surprised myself by saying, "Well then, let's go look for it." We slowly made our way to the field over ice and snow and Samantha pointed me to the area where the festivities had taken place. We looked and looked. Samantha and Drew were digging with their hands in random spots and I searched all over. "I prayed like 19 times that I would find it but it didn't work," Samantha lamented. Oh boy. I looked harder. After about twenty minutes I glanced in a separate direction and saw a small depression in the snow that looked promising. I inched closer, then when I reached a position that allowed me to see straight down I saw those bulging eyes staring up at me and reached down to make the rescue. With a triumphant pose I held "Milkshake" in the air and beckoned for my daughter's attention.

"MOOOM!! YOU FOUND HER!!!" She ran toward me with as much lightning speed as you can while wearing boots in knee deep snow. "YOU'RE THE BEST MOM IN THE WHOLE WORLD!" She grabbed me around the waist and started sobbing, and continued to sing my praises all the way home...and all afternoon...and continued up until Cory came home at which point she recounted the whole saga.

And I learned something: sometimes you have to surrender the lecture. And with any luck, you could walk away a hero.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Teacher! He hit me! And other reasons why I would homeschool if I wouldn't actually suck at it

Wednesday, January 24th

Today I spent a couple of hours taking pictures of elementary school kids during recess. My goal was to capture candid photos of young children laughing and playing and enjoying each other, and was surprised at how difficult this task would prove. I watched fourth grade boys play touch football, and by “touch” I mean they tackled each other on five inches of ice to get the ball. While they argued over first downs, a tumultuous exchange of serious accusations arose between two girls gone wild near the tetherball court. Once I realized that the yard duty teacher had that under control, I ventured to the field to observe the action there. That resulted in my breaking up a wrestling match gone wrong between four boys. I made them stand and apologize and lectured them on how to treat their friends. Two girls followed me around for nearly half an hour because when you’re a mom with a camera at a school taking pictures that might end up in the yearbook you’re actually considered cool by surrounding ten-year-olds. And I also think they were lonely. After spending my two hours in a commercial for home school I decided to move on.

Then later tonight I was doing my job with my youth girls from church. It is my favorite job to be with them. They are the kind of girls you either hope your daughters grow up to be or that you hope your sons choose to marry. But while listening to these girls interact with each other I learned something that should come as no surprise – that despite the fact that these girls are being raised in loving homes with sincere values and commitment to each other, they are not spared from all the crap. In fact, they’re hardly spared from any of it.

My oldest is only months away from Middle School and this reality is completely starting to freak me out. Will she survive with her esteem in tact? Will she be strong when her values are challenged? Will she recover when certain friends turn their back on her? Will she finally start to question my sanity? (Let’s face it, it’s only a matter of time.) I can’t help but ask these questions. I’m hoping for three “yes’s” and one “no”. What do you think of my chances?

Monday, January 22, 2007

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It...I mean MAKE IT STOP!!!!

The thing is, if you ever lived in Colorado you would know that this isn’t normal. People who have lived here their entire lives have said they have never experienced a winter like this. Because normally in Colorado, it will snow and melt within 24 hours, usually less, and MAYBE two days max. But the days turning into weeks and the weeks now turning into a month of not being able to see the bottom of the street and suffering a new storm every stinkin’ weekend is slowly sucking any positive reserves we Colorodans have left.

I have decided to take matters into my own hands, and since I actually have no real power what that means is that I am going to keep complaining until this stops. As part of my vocal campaign, I am launching Operation: “Free the Carolers”. The carolers I am referring to are the result of a crafting day that my church sponsored a number of years ago. For the past several years they have graced our front yard so as to present the illusion that we here at the Steele home have an abundance of Christmas spirit. Normally they take their place on the semi-covered porch, but this year I decided that putting them on the lawn would place them in a more prominent position and possibly raise our level of Christmas spirit credibility.

They have been trapped ever since.

This was a few weeks ago:
A few days ago:
This morning:
On the positive side, (‘cuz I just feel like branching out) snow is also pretty. Here are some pics I took outside this morning in my backyard:




Nevertheless, my sentiments still come closer to some that my daughter shared on the way home from school the other day when she said, "Winter is officially NOT my favorite season." Not long after she remarked, "I hope it's not a White Valentine's Day."

Amen sister.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Pour Some Sugar On Me

Seven years ago I reunited with some high school friends over lunch when I happened to be visiting in their town. I had just recently given birth to Drew and as one who gains an enormous amount of weight during pregnancy, was still months away from shedding the extra pounds. One of our lunch-goers was a surprise guest who was found a couple of days prior by a chance meeting in a grocery store, and she decided to join us. She had dropped about forty pounds since high school, looked amazing, and was eager to talk about her route to success. “The Suzanne Somers Diet!” she exclaimed as if the cameras were rolling.

After that meeting I went out and bought my very first diet book: “Eat Great – Lose Weight” by Suzanne Somers. Since then I have also purchased “Dr. Phil’s Ultimate Weight Loss Solution”, “40-30-30 Balanced Nutrition”, and “Body For Life”. The “South Beach Diet” has also recently been added to our collection of books written by people who are now rich because of my problems. Later I would reach a low point while making a drop off run to the Goodwill truck where duty hadn’t yet begun – evidence of a visitor before me was made clear by a big white bag that had been left on the steps. Poking out of the top was a “Weight Watchers Cookbook” and I stopped to think. “Hmmm…would it be stealing if…?” I decided that the book was meant to be donated, so why not donate it to me? So I took it home. But having ultimately failed at every one of these attempts to get my body in better shape, I vowed not to invest any more money (or theft) in stupid diet books.

I didn’t keep my promise.

Today I purchased what I hope to be, for REAL, my last diet book. Ever. Really. I mean it this time. It is called “The Best Life Diet” by Bob Greene. The author said he’s hoping to pay for his new baby’s college tuition with the proceeds from this book, which is comforting because then if I fail I'm at least educating a child. Along with my literary purchase I also bought a box of “Sugar Babies” to eat while reading this new enlightened approach to weight loss because…well because I saw them, and then realized that I hadn’t had them in years, and if I was going to eat some I’d better do it now because it just might be my last chance. This had better be a good book.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The PTCO (Parents That Can't Overachieve)

After being exposed to the school system for six years now, I have observed that there are basically three main kinds of parent school volunteers. First, there are the laissez faire who prefer that the school do everything. They don’t particularly care whether their child has juice, popcorn and games for their Christmas party unless other parents happen to be coordinating it. Second, there are the MWDE’s, or the “Moms Who Do Everything”. These parents spend several hours a week at the school grading papers, decorating the hallways, organizing the library etc. They coordinate movie nights and other fundraisers trying to sell you a loaf of bread for ten dollars or wrapping paper for three times what you could get it for at the store. These are the parents who take off work so they can not only make sure that their children have juice and popcorn for their holiday party, but so they can spend the whole day with their child at school. I do not understand these people and quite frankly, I feel guilty in their presence.

The third category of parents tend to exercise what I feel to be a reasonable balance. They don’t take a vacation day to hand out sugar cookies but they show up when they can to be of service. I mostly fall into this category, but not very nobly because I happen to resent it. If I were to live authentically I would courageously admit that I have the strongest tendencies toward being a category one parent volunteer. For starters, I don’t remember a parent volunteer ever being in any classroom of mine growing up and yet we still managed to create a highly productive and nurtured generation (if I do say so myself). And let me be perfectly honest so as to create a few enemies, I also don’t care if my child is privy to holiday parties. If they’re going to have three hours on the last day of school to do nothing but eat cupcakes and watch a movie, I would rather take them home than have to show up and disperse said cupcakes with a dollop of frosting and a plastic knife.

And just in case I didn’t have enough to feel hostile about I have learned since my oldest child started school that they sell YEARBOOKS for ELEMENTARY schools now. Whether you agree with me on anything else I have said here, am I alone to think this is absurd? Over the past few years my daughter has requested that I purchase a copy of these yearbooks and I have refused on the simple grounds of staying true to my principles. And because I think it’s a waste of money. And because in two more years she won’t care anymore. And because if they were selling used gum wrappers she still would have wanted me to buy them.

So you can imagine how perplexing it is when I consider the hours and hours I have spent over the last couple of weeks trying to perfect the pages of our yearbook for a February deadline. A hypocrite extraordinaire, I was persuaded by an MWDE to help out and I am now officially in charge of the creative portion (or as my partner in crime put it, “the fun part”) of our 2006-07 elementary school yearbook. This MWDE is a better person than I am for several reasons, most notably in this case because she cares that her son has a decent yearbook to document his final elementary year. As for me, I will do my best to fulfill my commitment for the year and practice not being motivated by guilt. Ha. Wish me luck.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Party Pooper

We need to send out a national memo regarding baby showers and certain games that should never, EVER be played at them. About two years ago I attended a shower where I was coerced into playing a game where various candy bars were melted into diapers and we had to pass them around and smell them to see if we could guess which candy bar was in which diaper. Have you ever had to play this game??? It completely cured me of any chocolate cravings for like…ten minutes. Not long after that I was chosen to compete with one other guest to suck juice out of a bottle to see who could suck out the most in the allotted time. I won. I don’t remember what prize I took home that was supposed to dispel my humiliation from bottle sucking and diaper smelling – whatever it was, it was not enough.

I doubled my cell phone bill that month because I had to call my friend Ganelle after that shower was over and rant about the world gone wrong and how I, as a grown woman, felt above these ridiculous games. [I should point out my hypocrisy – a year later after my rant to Ganelle I made people play the candy bar game at HER baby shower. However, this was only because her third shower was part of a practical joke. We do that a lot.] Part of my problem is that I tend to be loud in a crowd among friends and have a healthy sense of humor. This makes people think that if there is degradation and ridiculousness involved, sign Kristy up! Most of the time, they would be right. Want me to dance to MC Hammer's "Can't touch this" in a Georgetown bar where I'm the only one NOT drinking? Been there. Care to stick me in a prom dress from Goodwill and take pictures at Wal-Mart? Done that. But ask me to sit in a circle with a bunch of women sniffing Reese's mashed in Pampers? That's where I draw the line.

So today I was attending a lovely gathering of many people I love and adore for a very sweet young woman I used to teach in our church youth program. Things were going very nicely. One of the first activities (one you have surely participated in if you have ever attended a baby shower) involved wrapping a strand of string around the swollen waist of the mother-to-be. Then we had to cut off an amount of string that we felt would come closest to the “real” one. Innocent enough. I had no complaints although I did pose one question: “Do we get extra credit if OUR waist measures the same as HERS?” I got a few laughs but no extra points, which was unfortunate because out of sheer curiosity I DID measure mine against hers and we were the same. In case you have not connected the dots, let me clarify: MY WAIST IS THE SAME AS A WOMAN WHO IS EIGHT WEEKS AWAY FROM GIVING BIRTH. Let me at least say that she is very tall and thin and hardly looks seven months along. Really. No, REALLY.

ANYWAY, the games finally took a turn for the worse when our delightful hostess revealed several baby bottles filled to the brim and said, “Okay, who wants to do the bottle sucking game?” An evil group across the room all pointed to me and said, “HER! KRISTY! She’ll do it!” The hostess turned toward me with her hand outstretched as if eager to meet a willing participant.

“HEY! HEY! HEY! You evil people over there, none of that!” I retorted. In order to stay true to the vow I had made to myself two years prior, I declined. I’m hoping that the hostess didn’t take it personally. Some other lucky contender gulped down the water and won the prize while I ate my cake and went home. Until next time, all is well!

Friday, January 12, 2007

The word on the street

Two words for you today – THREE DEGREES. That’s the temperature in my neck of the woods today and it’s supposed to stay there for another week. Oh, and it wouldn’t be right if we weren’t also receiving MORE SNOW. We passed our annual average in the first storm, had our trash picked up for the FIRST time in three weeks yesterday, and the plows just barely showed up in our neighborhood on Wednesday to essentially level the ice. The roads are full of potholes and ruts formed from previous melting spells, and they are so treacherous to drive over that my fellow school mom commented, “It’s like you have to wear a sports bra to drive down the street!” She’s so right. I am over winter.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Blogging 101

When I was in high school (ugh…give me a moment…these flashbacks sometimes require special breathing techniques…*sigh*…OK, here we go) my picture could be found in the dictionary next to “insecure”. I know. Everybody’s picture probably belonged there, but I think I may have been an extreme case. To this day I don’t understand the source of my debilitating angst during that time but whatever, it happened.

During my sophomore year I had two friends who were trying to get me to try out for the basketball team. I was athletic, I was tall, and in 1986 you didn’t have to be much more than that. Still, I was more willing at that time to shove bamboo splinters up my fingernails than try out for the team. Everyday I was harassed by my friends to try out, and every day I said “no”. Finally, my friend Nicole brought me the form at lunchtime. “Here,” she said as she handed it to me. It was all filled out. “Sign it,” she said. And so it was on a sunny afternoon in San Diego a young high school girl, under duress, signed a form, put on gym shorts and tried out for the basketball team. I would play for the next three years and attend the State Championships in Los Angeles during my Senior year. If it hadn’t been for the…let’s call it encouragement from my friends, I would have missed out on some great experiences.

Fast forward to 2004 - I was visiting with my neighbor in my front yard. “Are you a blogger?” she asked.

Is she hitting on me? I thought. “I’m sorry, what?”

“Are you a blogger? Do you blog?”

“Do I clog? No. My roommate used to clog in the quad of our college apartment complex but…”

“NO, do you BLOG?”

I was totally and completely confused as I had never heard the word “blog” before. “I’m sorry, I just barely got a cell phone so...."

I think the look on my face was causing her to regret her line of questioning - it was turning out to be far more work than I believe she had anticipated. Nevertheless, she was patient with me and gave me a brief rundown of the blogging world, which apparently doesn’t involve noisy shoes at all. After my 101 crash course I decided to check out her daughter’s website and thus ensued my introduction to the blogosphere. I decided to try it out on my own on a smaller scale and have sporadically emailed family and friends with random topics from my life. It has been very fun for me, and the feedback from all of my great friends and family has been much appreciated.

Then the other night I was talking with one of my brothers who started talking me into doing this on a more regular basis using a blog format. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have known where to start. In essence, he has filled out the forms for me and by being here I have signed the dotted line. While no anticipation of State Championships lies on the horizon, it should be a fun ride!

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

What's in a name?

If you are wondering why I chose "Rabbit In The Headlights" as the name for this blog, let me explain. Before I had children I worked as a sales administrator in downtown Denver. Have you ever seen the TV show "The Office"? That was my boss. Technically, he was my 2nd boss in that office. He was a nice guy who never should have been promoted as a manager and had NO CLUE how to motivate a sales team. He tried, but noticeably absent was his ability to use figures of speech correctly.

When the attention of the executives was on us and expectations were high my boss would say, "Guys, we really need to perform this month. WE'RE REALLY UNDER THE HOURGLASS." After that pep talk I drew the following stick figures on post-it notes and secured them in each cubicle for comic relief:



When attempting to give Customer Service a compliment for helping us out on a particular task, "KOO-DOO's" went out to them for a good job. When he made a mistake, he called it a "FOO-POO". One week he was so happy with our sales numbers that he said, "HANDS OFF TO YOU GUYS FOR A GREAT JOB!!" The rest of the day we pulled our hands inside our shirts and pretended to be without appendages.

And then came the day when he had a big meeting with the executives and all the district and regional managers. After a nice overwhelming dose of reality he came back down to our office and said, "I FEEL LIKE A RABBIT IN THE HEADLIGHTS." I didn't even bother to correct him.

Since then, I have made relentless fun of this former manager of mine. I used to say I thought he was so stupid it probably took him an hour and a half to watch "60 Minutes". As I brainstormed various ideas for the name of this blog, this is the only one that really excited me. And now, as I am my own boss, it seems fitting to pay respect to those who came before me. So "Harry", this one's for you.

Dear Santa: Next year I want...

DECEMBER 25, 2006

It’s Christmas, and the following is all true. I am very blessed. My family is together. We have a happy home. We have a roof over our heads and food on the table. But when carolers statewide sang their wishes for a white Christmas we didn’t exactly predict the degree to which that wish would be granted. TWO FEET OF SNOW granted. Airport closed granted. Stores out of milk and eggs because trucks can’t reach them granted. Cory made it home safely without getting stuck that first day and yet another wish…granted.

The kids slept in until after 7:00 today, presents were opened by 7:30, and a hot breakfast of scrambled eggs, streusel coffee cake and apple juice was consumed a little after 8:00. The kids have built snow caves and sledding trails in our very own front yard. They have hardly had a disagreement the entire livelong day and we watched the sky turn pink, purple and silver while the sun went down during an evening sledding venture at the park. I’ve had a peppermint bubble bath, Cory made dinner and is doing the dishes this very minute, and the kids are snuggled in bed.

The following is also true. I am ready to explode. I’ve been in my house for over a week and while I’ve got nothing on Anne Frank I have a hearty case of cabin fever and I’m feeling about one hunch away from the fetal position. Desperate to get out of the house earlier I decided to go for a walk. So I bundled up and went out my front door, stepped off the first step and slipped on the ice only to fall backward to hit my back and elbow on the step and have the wind knocked out of me. When my breath finally came back I started to yell for Cory but he couldn’t hear me, so I started to cry…rather heavily. A month’s worth of “I hate Christmas and what is all the fuss about and I don’t think Jesus would be impressed” sentiment came blubbering out of a poorly dressed bundle of Scrooge.

My disinterest in all the crazy things we do for Christmas has been brewing over the past few years. There’s stuff EVERYWHERE. It seems like there is constant mess. There is a clothing cemetery at each entry to my house filled with wet gloves, pants, boots, hats, and socks. The only remaining perk for me is better mail, and I haven’t even had THAT for a WEEK because the mail trucks can’t make it through my neighborhood. I want to yell, “Hey Virginia! GUESS WHAT? There's NO SANTA CLAUS you stupid girl!”

Looks like along with the true spirit of Christmas I’ve gone and lost my mind. Guess I know what to ask for next year.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Time To Pony Up

11-14-06

Seven years ago when Cory and I were trying to figure out how to celebrate our birthdays (which are only 4 days apart) I had a brilliant idea. [Memo to new readers: anytime I say I had a brilliant anything is probably foreshadowing to the contrary.] There was a restaurant/club downtown where they had a salsa instructor who would come out and teach everyone salsa dancing after dinner. I thought it sounded fun and interesting and much better than a run of the mill gift exchange. In hindsight, I probably would have preferred a pair of earrings. At any rate, we invited several friends to join us and prepared for a fun night. And when I say “prepared”, what I mean is that I, a 5’ 10”, and at the time a five-month pregnant woman went shopping for something to wear.

The only criteria I was trying to meet in my search was simply something NOT LAME. I was pregnant for heaven’s sakes and I was about to go salsa dancing. I didn’t need to look like Jennifer Lopez I just didn’t want to look like a complete idiot. In the end I wore maternity khakis, a sweater vest and I’m pretty sure there was a bow in my hair - I felt SO out of place. I was like Rosie O’Donnell at the Republican Convention. Surrounded by tiny women with skimpy black dresses and hips that could mix a James Bond drink on their own, I apologized to my friends and promised I would never make them do that again.

Which is why I’m trying to figure out how I ended up in a salsa class today. It’s November in Colorado, which pretty much means that exercising in the outdoors is on hold for a while. So lately I have resumed the use of my gym membership and have been religiously utilizing their treadmills and cross-trainers. But when I got to the gym today I didn’t feel like jumping on the treadmill, so I went to see what classes were going on. According to the schedule I was only ten minutes away from being able to do a class called “Cowboy Boogie” followed by, you guessed it, “Salsa”.

Can I just say something here? Whatever happened to step aerobics? I can do step aerobics. I did it for ten years and it worked for me. But those classes don’t exist anymore and I am forced to endure thirty minutes of instruction from a perky former cheerleader wearing a cowboy hat who is telling me to “pony up”.

Then came the salsa, and the humiliation of ’99 came flashing back to me. Perky former cheerleader girl was now wearing a black, flashy sarong and was telling me to shimmy. “If you don’t have anything to shimmy,” she said, “then you shouldn’t be in my class!!” Apparently, I really belonged there. I felt like a puppet under the control of an epileptic in mid-seizure. Honestly.

I was ridiculous, but I still give myself kudos for trying something new. I will give myself even more credit for knowing when to stop. I am no better at the salsa now than I was back then. Seven years ago I tried to spice up our birthdays. Today I tried to spice up my workout. Today I also decided that sometimes boring is good, and tomorrow I will get back on the treadmill.

Trash and Treasure

7-9-06

My daughter Samantha is a really terrific kid. The other day she took some Post-It notes and wrote loving messages on them and hid them all over the house for each member of the family. One proclamation of love about being “the best brother on earth” was taped to Drew’s forehead, who was already sound asleep in his room. Mine was found on my jewelry box, Cory’s in his briefcase. A helpful sister, an appreciative daughter, a good eater, and a lover of My Little Ponies, I really have few complaints.

But there are a few.

For example, one of the side effects of having a very tender, thoughtful child is that she is very emotionally attached to EVERYTHING. So when I say, “Samantha, please clean your room”, what she actually hears is, “Samantha, move things around so it looks like you did something and be sure not to throw anything away, especially if it is broken or trash.” It is a nightmare. I’m not even a clean freak, but the degree to which the state of Samantha’s room drives me crazy is not even capable of being measured on the Richter scale. I know this matter seems trivial in the grand scheme of things, and indeed it is. However, I have (what I feel to be realistic) visions of my daughter at the age of 93, living alone with cats in a home stacked with TV Guides from 1934 to the present and complete doll collections purchased from the Home Shopping Network. Sometimes I envision a burglar coming upon her room, only to say to himself, “Hmmm…don’t remember coming in here but it looks like I already got this one.”

So sometimes I clean her room when she’s not home. I have a system – I know that every time I do this, I can successfully fill one trash bag with trash, another with “Things To Give Away”, and it looks so good when she sees the finished product that she doesn’t even notice what’s missing.

At least that’s what usually happens.

Yesterday was one such day where Samantha was invited to a friend’s house and I knew she would be gone for several hours. So I began to tackle her room, when something unexpected happened – the girls had decided to switch homes and were coming back HERE to play! I tried not to panic, but I knew the potential for trauma. After making nice to the friend’s mom at the door I ran to see just how much Samantha had already discovered. A couple of things had already been pulled out of the trash, but otherwise she seemed to be taking it well. We finished the project together, and although it didn’t go as smoothly as normal everything turned out okay…until this morning.

“Mom, did you throw that snowflake away that was on my window?”
“Yes, it was broken and on the floor.”
“Did the trash people already come and take it away?”
“Yes,” I lied. (Which I’m not advocating. You should never lie to your children. It’s just that DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT I’M UP AGAINST HERE???)
She stormed into her room, said she didn’t want to talk to anybody, shut the door and then cried with a fervor that seemed intended to reach all the families in our neighborhood. I shook my head in amazement over the drama that a plastic snowflake had brought into our house on this Sabbath Day of the week, and decided against the lecture about how this thing she so treasured was probably made by a girl her age in a Chinese sweat shop and she should just count her stinkin’ blessings. It wouldn’t have mattered – she just flailed her body on her bed and continued to cry.

Minutes later as I was preparing dinner, a voice from the garage declared, “MOM!! You LIED!!!”

I walked to the garage only to find my 10-year-old framing the doorway with a white trash bag in her hand. Oh boy. I calmly explained that if she was not capable of throwing away something that was broken then she had serious problems, thus cementing my fate of paying for her therapy instead of college. I told her I was not going to fish through the trash because if I did, she would want everything back. She swore that all she wanted was the snowflake, because her window “looked horrible” without it.

Then I was brilliant. I made a deal that I would fish out the snowflake in exchange for three other things from her room to either throw away or give away. It took her twenty minutes to find something, after which she came down with a handful of dry markers and some trash. “Uh…doesn’t count sweetie. Try again.” She didn’t seem surprised by this and returned without argument to her task at hand. Another fifteen minutes had passed when she came down with three playing cards. “Okay, I’ll count that as one thing.” Another ten minutes and she came down with SIX cards asking, “Does 6 cards count as TWO things?” Seriously. “Sorry – keep trying.” After about a total of an hour and a half we settled on the playing cards, a Strawberry Shortcake figurine and a plastic dolphin the size of my pinky.

So at the end of the day I’ve decided four things. One, don’t throw away things that are broken. Two, establish a back up trash can for the days you clean your child’s room and don’t tell your children where it is. Three, you shouldn’t lie to your kids unless you’re not going to get caught. And finally, never give up on college.

The Simple Life

1-5-06

About a week ago I decided to redecorate Drew’s room, and Saturday we took the first steps toward finishing our basement. If we were Scouts I dare say we would have earned a Home Improvement merit badge by now. During these two projects I have made an observation that is not necessarily news to anybody, but I find it amusing. And that is, that men are simpler than women.

For example, part of redecorating Drew’s room involved replacing the shade on his lamp. Since we had committed to a cowboy theme, I decided it would be brilliant to take a bandana, cut it up into pieces and use the art of “decoupage” to create a new lampshade. For those of you unfamiliar with this artform, I should explain that it is the process of adhering one object to another with enormous amounts of glue applied with a paintbrush. You paint the surface with a glue-like substance called “Mod Podge”, attach your fabric, and paint over it again. Let it dry, and voilá, you have officially decoupaged. Now, if you ask me, it seems like an awfully fancy word to say that you glued something.

Fast-forward to Saturday where we are not just transforming a twelve-inch circular surface into rustic delight, but we are actually BUILDING additional rooms in our house. We got 2x4’s, nails, hammers, screws, levels, tape measures, and circular saws, each one performing its duty exactly like it sounds. The only tool remotely confusing might be the stud finder, which as it turns out, is NOT what you take with you to a Single’s Bar.

To further my point, take the avid scrapbooker. If you were to look at any given page and ask a scrapbooker “how she did it?”, it would be completely reasonable to hear something like this:

“Well, I took the bazzil paper, ripped it along the edge, used my distress ink along the sides, cut a vellum square that I attached with brads, put the twistel through the eyelets, embellished the border with rickrack and made a title with my Sizzlits.”

Call me sexist for assuming that men are the more dominant gender to be found at Home Depot on a Saturday and women are the likelier candidates for scrapbooking, but yes, I believe men are simpler. Hallelujah. Can you imagine a basement built with raffia and glue dots?

Gimme an "S"!!

11-22-05

As a kid I liked playing Mouse Trap instead of Barbies. As a mother of a daughter I chose to dress her in tailored plaids over pink ruffles, and in high school I preferred playing basketball over cheerleading. I should clarify that the cheerleading coaches weren’t knocking down my door, but for some reason throughout my life the act of cheerleading has always rubbed me wrong. (And with my sensitivity to chafing, I always take things like that seriously.) I will never forget “Spirit Week” in 1987 when my friend came to school on “Nerd Day” dressed as a cheerleader. There was a big uproar among the perky and flexible at San Pasqual High School, but I was among the callous who laughed all day and I remember it fondly to this day.

In regards to my aforementioned daughter, pleated jumpers and denim dresses only remained a part of her repertoire until she was old enough to protest. Before having a child I anticipated this age to be somewhere around 10 or 11, but I haven’t had a say in my daughter’s wardrobe choices since Bill Clinton became a womanizer. To date Samantha owns at least 17 Barbies, has dressed as a different princess for the last three Halloweens, chooses ruffles and glitter over pleats any day, and takes gymnastics class over my regular suggestions to try something different. And today? Well, today is “Sports Day” at her Elementary school and my daughter is going dressed as…you guessed it, a cheerleader.

I have to admit that when Samantha informed me of today’s dress theme and asked the whereabouts of the cheerleading costume, I had evil thoughts. First, I wanted to launch into a dissertation that rejects cheerleading as a sport. (Sorry.) Second, I thought about finding the costume before she did so I could hide it somewhere really inconspicuous like, say, the trash. Third, I remembered my friend on Nerd Day and I laughed all over again. Finally, in spite of my inner protests and being the stellar and non-controlling mother that I am I kept my mouth shut, retrieved the cheerleading outfit, and sent my daughter to school wearing something that made me cringe…and surely not for the last time.

Something Fishy is going on here...

10-3-05

Two weeks ago Cory received the ultimate testosterone fix by attending a fishing weekend with a bunch of guys from work. As an employee of a fishing equipment company, this trip was actually work-related. When he came home he regaled me with tales of their success – the ultimate hole, catching 22-inch salmon at a rate of one every five minutes, the beautiful location, etc. He concluded with a resolve to go there as a family sometime, perhaps soon. “Yes, honey. Great idea. We’ll do it sometime.” Well, sometime happened last weekend.

Truthfully, we had a great time. It was one of the peak weekends for fall colors and the weather was perfect. After our four-hour drive, we came within two miles of the cabin when Cory encountered his ultimate fishing spot and pulled over. He couldn’t wait to get on his gear, especially because the river in this part appeared unoccupied at the moment. Samantha questioned Cory for the 82nd time to clarify, “After you catch the fish you’re going to put it back, right?” (She’s a very sensitive soul that girl.) We walked through the brush to the river’s edge to watch the action, and it only took about five minutes before one of the salmon swimming upstream grabbed hold of Cory’s line and started tugging away. He reeled it in, we snapped a picture, Cory undid the hook, and back to the water went the fish. All-righty then, the kids and I were done. Cory, however, needed a couple more hours. So, we continued on to the cabin to check-in and survey our digs for the next 48 hours.

Our location, right on the river, could not have been more beautiful. After four hours of driving Samantha was simply delighted to discover a tetherball on the premises. Tetherball is her new favorite thing. As a former 2nd grade Tetherball champion myself, this pleases me. (What it means to be a tetherball champion at the ripe age of seven I’m not quite sure. What I do know is that I was one, and any chance I have to say I was the champion of anything I like to take advantage of it.) So, we began a game of tetherball and Samantha started talking. “Mom, I’m so glad you and dad aren’t divorced,” she began. Paying silent homage to the sentiment in her words, I said nothing and let her continue. “’Cuz if you guys were divorced, I’d probably still be stuck back there fishing with dad.” Samantha hates it when I laugh at things she says, but sometimes there’s not much I can do about it.

I have to admit, the kid has a point. I honestly don’t understand it. You stand there for hours, fighting all the nature that meets your line, struggle to bring it in, catch it, look at it, say “wow…cool”, and then toss it back into the river. What about all those “hunter/gatherer” theories? There was no gathering here people! That’s like my equivalent of going into a donut shop, looking at all the pretty donuts, smelling them, and walking out. First of all, that would never happen. Second of all, well, I just don’t get it.

So Cory fished, I read a book, the kids played outside, and we hung out with no TV. And you know what? It really was a great idea.

A String of Pearls

8-27-05

Tonight I went to dinner with my friend Laura. Laura is one of those people you feel like you’ve known forever after one conversation, and is one of the nicest people I have ever met. She is seldom seen in a pair of jeans, almost always sports a string of pearls, and will wrap her arms around you in a crisis without even knowing your name. However, don’t let her fool you; for Laura is a rare breed of naughty and nice. Once a debutante, I have witnessed her dish out relationship advice worthy of a fee from Dr. Ruth. Nevertheless, people are naturally drawn to Laura. I see it happen every time I am with her, and tonight she exhibited rare form with our waiter, Brad.

An experienced waiter, Brad was bored with his current responsibilities covering only two tables, one of which was ours. Between his boredom and Laura’s innate interest in people, we found ourselves guessing his age. I said 23, Laura guessed 18. Laura was right. He made a comment under his breath about some of his problems, to which I quipped, “Problems? You’re only 18. How bad could it be?” Laura cited me for a condescending tone, I apologized, and Brad carried on. “Well, let’s see. Two weeks ago my best friend killed himself, another friend tried unsuccessfully, I’ve been sober for about a year after becoming an alcoholic at 15, I dealt drugs in high school, my dad’s a jerk, at 17 I got engaged to my girlfriend because she got pregnant, she told me she had a miscarriage but lied and actually got an abortion, she broke up with me and now I’m still paying for the ring….” On and on his story went and I felt increasingly sheepish about my earlier insensitive comment. I soon learned that this young man had already endured more heartache in his young 18 years than I had encountered in my, ahem, young 34 years.

Before I knew it our entire section of the restaurant was vacant and Brad was sitting at our table while Laura inquired about his well-being. The whole situation was so odd to me! Never on a regular day, under any circumstances, would my waiter be sitting with his feet propped on a chair telling me all his troubles! As we left the restaurant, I expressed my amusement to Laura about the bizarre nature of the last few hours. All I could do was laugh, and all Laura could do was think about poor Brad and his difficult life. There are probably several morals of this story, but the one that sticks out to me is that if you’re ever in a crisis, I hope Laura’s the one you end up standing next to.

Never underestimate the power of an apron and some BBQ

8-11-05

My parents have been visiting this week and we’ve had a great time. After sight-seeing, completing a few home projects, and building a fence in the backyard for our new pet turtle, the last day of their visit arrived and my mom insisted on making dinner. I left to run a few errands and when I returned, I was welcomed with the aroma of BBQ and a greeting from my mother wearing an apron and a smile. I paused in my tracks to voice my contentment at such a sight (and smell!) This was the stuff Hallmark commercials were made of.

I don’t know why I have been so lucky in my life. Just four months ago I was on an airplane, heading toward Israel for the trip of a lifetime with the love of my life. Unfortunately, a crowded flight landed me next to a stranger instead of my husband for a ten hour stretch of our longest leg of the trip. A single gentleman sat on my left, and the seats to my right remained vacant long enough for me to salvage hope of Cory being able to move next to me. My hopes were in vain, and the seats soon became occupied by the cutest and most obnoxious 2-year-old and his mother. The little boy was right next to me, and it didn’t take long for me to realize that the next ten hours might feel like 74. He quickly engaged himself with games like, “Pull all the magazines out of the pouch and throw them on the floor” and “How far does this toy go when I throw it like THIS?” After a couple of hours I was minutes away from searching the plane for a doctor with a valium drip when the boy fell asleep. He sure looked cute that way.

Now I am no expert in world cultures, but as I observed this mother there were several indicators that she and I did not share the same first language. As such, I didn’t attempt conversation until she asked me a question in broken English about the duration of our flight. “Ten hours,” I answered. Her eyes opened wide with surprise and I thought to myself, “I know, I hope he doesn’t wake up either.” Nevertheless, I was grateful she had broken the ice. Although the language barrier posed a bit of an obstacle, I was able to decipher the reason for this woman’s trip. After fifteen years, she was going home. “Where is home?” I asked. “Somalia,” she replied. Bit by bit, I pieced together her story. “So much fighting, guns and shooting, people running around…my uncle grabbed me and took me to the border. He lied and said I was his daughter so he could take me to the United States. I have been there for fifteen years and I have not seen my family since.” Her uncle saved her life, but she had not seen her family in all this time. This was her first trip back, with only one of her two children (little Satan, who now appeared much more angelic). Experiences like these make me acutely aware of the blessings I’ve had in my life, but they also leave me feeling completely unsettled about the unfairness of the world. It wouldn’t be the only time on this trip that I would observe that.

Another would come in the form of a woman in the Amsterdam airport. At first glance I noticed her tacky fake braid and made critical mental notes as if I had any credentials as a fashion police officer. Amsterdam was our last stop before continuing on to Israel and we would have 7 hours there to peruse the city. We filled our time with lunch at a sidewalk cafĂ© and a visit to the Anne Frank house. I had just finished Anne Frank’s diary for the first time and felt compelled to visit what was her hiding place during World War II. Wanting to leave plenty of time for check-in, we returned to the airport – this is where we resume our story with the tacky braid lady. She sat next to us in the second waiting area of what was to be a very lengthy security check. I’m not very social in these situations, but somehow a conversation ensued. “Where are you from?” I asked. “San Francisco,” she replied with a heavy accent not akin to Northern California. Sensing my puzzlement she added, “But I’m originally from Poland.” Two minutes later I would learn that my tacky braid friend was a Holocaust survivor. “I was 9 years old when they took me from my family.” (Tear ducts, engage – Samantha had celebrated her 9th birthday the day before we left for this trip.) Holding up all appendages on her right hand she emphasized, “Five brothers and sisters. None of us together. After it was over, I went looking for my family. I thought with so many siblings, maybe there would be at least one other left. No. I was the only one. No brothers. No sisters. No parents.” “How do you move on from something like that?” I implored, not knowing if it was okay to ask but unsure of how else to respond. She lifted her hand and placed it over her heart and muttered, “My heart...still hurts.” Somehow I felt like I owed her an apology. I didn’t, but again I was in awe of my lot in life.

I realize that there is still plenty of time for my life to turn completely disastrous and cause me pain commensurate to the two women I met on this trip. It’s not what I hope for, and it certainly hasn’t been my experience thus far. But when I hear these kinds of stories I plunge into helpless guilt mode. Helpless because I want to save the world and can’t, and guilty because I’ve been born into the best circumstances possible on this green earth. I’m not always sure what to make of that, but since saving the world isn’t an option, maybe I could just save someone’s day. Maybe I can create a helpful diversion for someone, offer sound advice (it could happen), or lend a listening ear. Maybe I can help my neighbor pack boxes, shovel someone’s driveway, or take cookies to somebody. And maybe 40 years from now I will don an apron, a smile, and some BBQ for the ones that matter most.

Mommy Madness

8-18-05

Today was a crazy day. It was the kind of non-stop day that left me yearning for a bubble bath and a good book. Instead it ended with Drew’s regular request, “Will you sleep with me a little?” I usually indulge this petition, but tonight I was so exhausted that I didn’t know if I had it in me. I told him to go lay down and I would come check on him in a few minutes, secretly hoping that he would fall asleep before I would have to perform any more motherly tasks. I continued my work on the computer of editing photos from an earlier session and made a mental note of everything I had packed into the last thirteen hours.

The Back To School “Meet & Greet” was among the list, an event that occurs a few days prior to school where the kids have an opportunity to go see their new class assignment and meet their new teacher. We had a twenty-minute window with which to accomplish this task and I began with Samantha and Drew in tow, weaving through the enormous crowds of parents and children rushing to the wall to find out whose tutorial death grip they might be under for the next 9 months. Samantha has a male teacher for the first time, which means I will likely be conducting my first Back To School background check. And Drew? Drew will be in afternoon Kindergarten.

In consideration of this fact I let my mind wander a few years back to when Cory and I decided to try and have another baby. As such, I was led to believe that I had many years before I would send my “last” kid to school. Well, things don’t always happen the way you think they will, and now I find myself entertaining the possibility that I might already be doing that. Then my brain took a road trip back even further to a time when the new millenium had officially been ushered in. Gladiators were making a comeback, the Y2K panic was settled, Michael Jackson’s integrity was still in question, and for reasons I can’t explain several women across America still insisted on wearing leggings.

But most importantly, Drew was being born. Without going into too much detail, let me just say that this experience was unbelievable for me the second time around. (Not with Drew, just with childbirth. You understand…?) I haven’t figured out whether it was the ultimate success after two sequential miscarriages, the sheer delight of not being pregnant anymore, the outburst of singing from friends who didn’t have to deal with me being pregnant anymore, or divine intervention, but it was (and is to this day) the single most happiest day of my life. I think the best word available in the English language might be JOY. It’s the only word that fits, and yet it still doesn’t seem to encompass how I felt. Nevertheless, I felt it and my friend still comments how I sounded when I called her from the delivery room that day.

Then I started remembering all of my kid’s “firsts”. Their first words, first steps, first filet mignon, and then I thought, “Who am I kidding? I don’t remember all that.” And then it occurred to me that even more than not remembering all of their “firsts” (without the help of their baby books anyway), I also couldn’t tell you about any of their “lasts”. When was the last time I rocked Samantha to sleep? When was the last time Drew called an elephant a “nophant”? When was the last time Samantha crawled into bed with me to sleep under my arm for another hour? When was the last time Drew fell while learning to walk? When was the last time Samantha actually ran to me after school because she was so excited to see me? When was the last time Drew ate sweet potatoes from a baby food jar?

And when would be the last time Drew would ask me to “Sleep with (him) a little?”

With that thought I got up and went to Drew’s room, and though his extra long “blinks” illustrated the degree of his fatigue, he was (thankfully) still awake. When I laid down next to him he picked up my arm to wrap around his tummy, secured it with his little hand, and without saying a word drifted into dreams that most certainly involved Power Rangers. The only thing I know for sure is that this would be the last time on a Thursday night before starting Kindergarten that Drew would ask me to put my arms around him while he slept, and I didn’t want to miss it.

Party of Four

7-23-05

I remember going out to dinner with my family when I was a little kid. A fact that may not seem impressive at first, but considering our limited finances resulting in maybe one night out a year, I dazzle myself with any recollection. Then again, maybe it’s because it was such a big deal that my memory serves me. At any rate, it was a reward that didn’t necessarily take the children into much consideration. Had it been, our twelve year old Chevy Suburban would have parked it’s over 100,000 mile self in the parking lot of the nearest McDonald’s. Instead, we visited my mom’s favorite – a Mexican restaurant named “Cocina Del Charro”. WITHOUT FAIL, every visit resulted in me chomping down on that one fatal jalapeno seed that left me gasping for air and begging for more water. (I would have used soda, but that’s a luxury we reserved for road trips only. And even then we only bought one, took turns passing it around the car, and watched carefully for any rule breakers who were taking “gulps” instead of “sips”. Aaaahh…memories.) Where was I? Oh yeah, anaphylactic shock brought on by offensive jalapeno seeds.

But as it turns out, I still love Mexican food.

So tonight we went to Mexican food, and I always think that my children will be as excited as I am to eat somewhere else. And they would be if…well, if we were going to McDonald’s. But alas, I have morphed into my mother and I would sooner crawl naked over broken glass than spend my Saturday night within a six mile radius of a Playland. Still I try to make the sell, but somehow “Look, free chips and salsa!” doesn’t capture their enthusiasm as much as “Hey, 38 kids in a room surrounded by glass so you can hear everything even LOUDER.” Nevertheless, I reject the young protestors, particularly because unlike myself at their age they have seen the interior of every Golden Arches this side of the Rocky Mountains. They don’t know how lucky they are, and they’re not very interested in hearing me explain it.

So the night began with two pouting children. All the way to the restaurant I pondered how I managed to raise such spoiled individuals and grew increasingly frustrated the closer we got. While second thoughts of “why didn’t we just get a babysitter?” ran through my head, we sat down and began perusing our menus. “May I get you something to drink to get started?” Flashing back to age 9 I start to say, “just water” until I remind myself how much we’re saving by not hiring a babysitter and order sodas all around. Which is good, because then Drew can drink a solid 16 ounces of root beer before dinner even gets here. Samantha seems distracted by the ceiling fan turning circles over our heads and starts to complain because it’s making shadows. Drew begs to eat a packet of sugar - I explain why that’s unhealthy while he sips his carbonated, sugared drink through a straw and waits for his flour tortilla covered in melted cheese.

Cory and I try to begin a normal conversation but we are interrupted by Drew kicking Samantha’s feet under the table. I switch places with Samantha. Cory and I try to begin again. Samantha covers her head because the shadows on the wall from the fan are too much for her to bear. Dinner arrives – the kids eat about 3 bites each, which means we just spent seven dollars on some soda and cheese. By the time the check arrives Drew is under the table becoming acquainted with germs that are surely being investigated under a microscope somewhere in the world and I am seriously considering never eating out again. I have two kids, my parents had seven. Maybe the reason we only went out once a year had nothing to do with money after all…?

My Fifteen Seconds of Almost Fame

7-26-05

Oprah talks to all kinds of people. If you’ve performed a random act of kindness, shot your wife, lived secretly in filth, raised thousands of dollars for her Angel Network by selling lemonade on your street at the ripe age of seven, or dreamt about meeting Jessica Simpson, you could be on Oprah. Sometimes I wonder where she drums up some of her more derelict guests. After all, what kind of person replies to the “Are you a heterosexual man having secret relationships with men but you’re not gay?” inquiry? OOH! OOH! Pick me! Seriously.

Anyway, every once in a while I check on her website for “upcoming shows” and occasionally respond. I am pragmatic enough to realize that I am not likely to hear back other than to acknowledge that “due to the large volume of emails…blah blah blah…thanks for your interest…blah blah blah…can’t respond personally to everybody…blah blah blah.” So, you can imagine my surprise when I responded to a show topic and didn’t hear back with the “thanks for responding” courtesy letter right away. (And yes, I’m aware that it’s disturbing for me to know the “what happens when you write to Oprah” protocol.) I did, however, hear from her the next day.

But it wasn’t the usual “thanks for your email” kind of response.

She gushed about how inspiring my story was, SO inspiring that she was going to have a producer call me for more details on my availability to attend the taping on the subject. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I called Cory at work, who said he really wanted to hear about it but was in the middle of a meeting and would call me right back. I couldn’t wait a minute, and decided to call my friend Ganelle to see what she thought. She was skeptical until I read her the letter (which I deleted, DANG IT!) after which she shouted, “Holy crap, you’re going to Chicago!” In the middle of petitioning her right to go with me as my guest, the Voice of Reason beeped in. “Gotta go – it’s Cory. I’ll call you later.”

I proceeded to tell Cory the whole story…how I wrote the letter, I didn’t get the usual form letter back, “listen to this” as I read it to him verbatim, followed with a “whad’dya think?” I heard silence on the other end, the kind of Cory silence that I have grown accustomed to which, appropriately translated usually means, “How do I tell her what I really think without hurting her feelings?” So typical. He was such a skeptic. Still, I was armed and ready to tell him how I thought his skepticism was really misplaced this time. “So?? Really. Am I crazy for thinking I might actually be going on the Oprah show?” “Well,” he began slowly. “Do you really want to know what I think?” My heart began to slow down as I prepared myself for his logical opinion. “Yes, I really do.” “Um…” he began, “I wrote that.”

Stunned.

How is that possible? There weren’t even any spelling errors! So, I responded like any logical woman with a double XX chromosome and…I hung up on him. Unfair, really. I’m the first one to get in line on a practical joke and as I look back on it, I totally give him credit. But at the time I felt stupid. And I was kind of mad. I called Ganelle back…busy. Clearly she was forgetting rule #34 of our friendship which states that if one of us needs to talk about something, all else loses priority. Who the heck was she talking to and why didn’t she have call waiting like the rest of the free world??!! Come on, it’s FIVE LOUSY BUCKS A MONTH! Redial. Busy. Redial. Busy. Later I would learn that as soon as I hung up on Cory he called Ganelle to find out exactly how much trouble she thought he was in and what did he have to do to make it up to me. “Flowers,” she said. “You are sooooo buying flowers today.”

So, in honor of Oprah’s big “Wildest Dreams Come True” season I would like to pay homage to my good husband, who happens to be on occasion a very good practical joker, who also knows when to bring his wife flowers.

The Life of a Gypsy

7-9-05

One of the reasons that I love my dad is because he recognizes how blessed he is, and he shows his gratitude for it by being really nice to everybody. These qualities have generally served him well, unless he’s trying to sell you a car. Then he gets ripped off because he talks you down. Our home has been robbed three times and yet he and my mother make a hot breakfast for anyone who comes to the door asking for work, because they don’t have work but they do have food. A lot of people respect and love my dad, except for the gypsies who “borrowed” his guitar and never brought it back (and my dad was genuinely surprised). He is a lot of things that I am not, but this “nice” thing is a trait that occasionally rears its ugly head despite occasional inner protests. Today was one of those days where, so to speak, the gypsies stole my guitar.

In my defense (because I already need it), it was almost 100 degrees outside today. So when a young girl knocked on my door and asked if I would accept her gift of dish soap in exchange for my “quick” opinion of her vacuum cleaner I let her in. And quite honestly, I needed dish soap. The guy that I didn’t volunteer for came afterward, dripping sweat on my floor with a contraption the size of Michigan. “All right,” says the girl. “I’ll let Shawn show you the vacuum – I need to go help somebody else. It was nice to meet you.” Immediately I saw the writing on the wall, (okay, not quite immediately. Five minutes earlier would have been better.) This was like being set up on a bad blind date. When I asked him to clarify how long this would take he replied, “Oh, not long at all.” Forty- five minutes later when he was still demonstrating what an inadequate housekeeper I was, I said he needed to wrap it up and take a hike. “All right then, I’m gonna need the gift back. You only get the gift if I do the entire demonstration on your couch and mattress and I’ve only done your carpet.” “Are you kidding me?” I said. “Uh, no,” he said.

Now this is the part where I lost all traits inherited by my dad. I ranted about how he had lied to get in my door by saying this “wouldn’t take long at all”, how he and the other girl had practically ambushed their way into my house, and I was keeping the $3 bottle of dish soap thankyouverymuch. Of course, this all had to be reported to his boss via cell phone, which for all I know was his girlfriend at home. “Uh, hi. Sheila? Yeah, it looks like I’m getting kicked out for the first time today. They won’t let me do their couch and she’s keeping the gift. Is that going to be a problem?” I sat in silent disbelief that I had let these yahoos in my house. After he left I racked my brain to try and figure out how someone as paranoid as I managed to let a stranger in my house to show me a product that I didn’t need, wasting time I didn’t have, to please people I didn’t know. And then I remembered my dad, whose kindness and tolerance move beyond a bottle of soap to consider people’s feelings. Oh yeah, and then I remembered how I didn’t exactly do that.

When you lose some, you win some

September 2001

There’s a misconception out there that playing games with your kids is a family bonding, tender moment kind of thing. It’s just not as easy as one might think. My daughter was born with a fierce competitive spirit, a trait I believe we give credit (blame?) to her dad. In Kindergarten they were learning to count, and sent the kids home one day with a “game you can play with your family”. There it was, the connotation that this is supposed to be all in good fun. It was a game that reinforced numbers and addition as you roll the dice to see how many spaces you advance. So my daughter pulled out this game and begged me to play. She thought it was going to be fun.

I knew better.

In an effort to be politically correct I asked the objectives to the game… “So, the first person who gets to the end, that means the game is over and we get to play again?” (Do you see that? Do you see how I never said “win” or “lose”? Do you see how I was trying to make it sound non-competitive? It’s all about the FUN of getting to play AGAIN!”) As the game proceeded I began to panic because I realized that I was going to “win”, and based on experience I didn’t think she would take it well. My game piece crossed the finish line and I waited for the outburst of unfairness, bouts of pouting, and stomping off. Except, in a rare turn of events, there was none of that. I couldn’t believe it! My head began spinning and I remembered all the times I tried to reinforce the “love of the game” over “winning” to my daughter and was giddy at the realization that my unbelievable parenting was finally paying off. I fantasized about an awards ceremony where I walked up to the podium to retrieve my well-earned, bronzed macaroni and cheese box that says “Best Overall Mom” when Samantha says, “Okay Mom, you win. Let’s write down your points.” (Points? Nobody said anything about points.) “The winner,” she continued, “gets 500 points.” (She wrote down my name with 500 points after it.) “The loser,” as she wrote down her name, “gets 600 points!”

Nevermind that trophy.

Frodo Saves The Day

9-2-05

I always want to remember what a good dad Cory is. I know I will always have a general knowledge about that being true, but sometimes there are specifics that I can’t allow to go unnoticed. Like today. It’s Friday, which means playing with a friend after school is allowed. So without much delay Samantha went searching the neighborhood for the nearest available child. It didn’t take long before she found Megan and began packing up a plastic bin full of Bratz dolls, toy cars with actual working radios, and doll clothes to cart to our house. Drew had not been quite as successful in the “finding a friend” quest and was left to consider Cory’s offer of, “Hey Drew, I’ll be your friend. Wanna play ‘Lord of the Rings’?” First of all, how sweet is that? (The offer, I mean. Not so much that Drew is familiar with “Lord of the Rings”.) Drew’s eyes lit up as he assumed the position of a grisly character wielding a sword and the two headed outside.

When Samantha and Megan returned with their baggage that could have been mistaken for Salvation Army Christmas donations, they were welcomed by Gandalf and Frodo in rare form. Cory sported his “staff”, a walking stick he collected on a camping trip we took to Trinidad, and a sword from Drew’s abundant collection. Drew was wearing his Frodo costume. (Yes, he has a costume that Cory purchased in a moment of weakness nowhere near Halloween.) So when the girls showed up, Cory quoted some valiant, brave phrase from the movie and ordered Drew to join him in charging the girls. Samantha gave Cory a look that blended a smile with a frown as if to say “I think I’m supposed to look irritated but I secretly love it”, and started to run away. Megan followed suit, and from the kitchen I watched a dad play with his kids in a way that only dads can. I looked out from the kitchen window, shook my head, and smiled to myself because I just can’t believe I’m this lucky.

Strength in Numbers

AUGUST 3, 2006

So, a couple of months ago I decided to run a 10K – the “Bolder Boulder” here in Colorado. Actually, my friends and I decided to do it together. It is no small affair, attracting approximately 50,000 runners every year. It seemed like a good idea at the time, until I realized that if one is going to run a 10K, one has to actually run. Right. Running is by far my least preferred method of exercise. However, having done this once before, I thought I might be able to pick it up again without too much humiliation. Wishful thinking. First of all, it has been four years and twenty pounds since I did this last. Second of all, well, there isn’t really a “second of all”. What I do know is that my first training workout was no picnic (although it did take place at a park), I met several legitimate opportunities to quit, and I got a shirt at the end.

As for my first training session, it took place on a beautiful spring-like day. Blue skies, frolicking children, chirping birds, and a woman jogging in sweat pants that were too short and a t-shirt that was too tight who begged for air while gripping her water bottle for dear life. (P.S. That woman might have been me.) Rewind to the chirping birds. As I rounded the bend near the playground I simply couldn’t help but pay particular attention to the sheer volume coming from the group of shrubs and trees where dozens of birds seemed to be having a Junior League meeting. I decided to try and focus on the beauty of the day and not the fact that I needed an oxygen mask. It worked for a minute – birds were cheerfully making plans for their next charity event, and I was happily breathing (gasping) the fresh air as I ran toward them and then IMMEDIATELY, and by immediately I mean RIGHT AWAY, the chirping STOPPED! It was DEAD SILENT as I sailed (staggered?) by and not until I was all the way past them did the gallivanting begin again. I’m telling you, it was like a flashback to the seventh grade. Now it’s possible that I’m just being sensitive, but I swear they were laughing at me.

I brushed aside my “mockingbird” moment and through the next several weeks, many roadblocks arose trying to keep me from preparing for this 10K. Sickness compromised two weeks of training, knee injuries ruined many more, and the loss of my niece, Clara Grace, was the final straw. For reasons unbeknownst to us, she wasn’t meant to survive past 8 ½ months in my sister’s womb. While the magnitude of this heartache is largely not mine to share, my own feelings are ultimately all I have. And since I ran this 10K three days after her memorial service, ON Memorial Day, my feeling was that I wanted to bring her with me. Each year the sponsors provide additional bibs that you may attach to your clothing if you want to write down the name of a friend or family serving in the military, or somebody else whose memory you wish to honor. I grabbed a bib, wrote her name in black permanent marker, and secured it to my shirt with safety pins; and just like that she was attached to me for the next 6.2 miles.

Miles 1 and 2 went by quickly. Mile 3 was lined with an Elvis impersonator, belly dancers, and well-wishers offering me free monkey bread and beer (see “Boulder, CO” in the dictionary). Mile 4 started to get harder, and that’s when I started talking to myself…and to Clara. It’s you and me girl. Just move and breathe. We’re almost there. It became a bit of a chant in my head for the last couple of miles. You and me girl. Move. Breathe. At about 5 miles I came up next to a father/son team - the son I would have guessed to be about 9 or 10 years old. It was time to bring out the encouraging words, and this dad rose to the occasion. “You’re doing great son. Keep it up. We’re almost there. I’m so proud of you.” I smiled. You and me girl. I swear I felt a push, and I ran a little faster for a moment. A woman passed me near the final stretch and said, “Yay, Clara Grace!” I wasn’t sure how to respond, but it gave me a little jolt. It meant something to me in that moment that someone besides my family was acknowledging my niece’s existence. It was as if her place in this world had been validated and people – strangers – were cheering her on. “Thank you.” I managed to mumble back.

Ultimately, I finished. WE finished. It was a good day. I drank a Mountain Dew, ate a snack and rode the bus home. Later we BBQ’d with friends and laughed while the kids jumped on the trampoline and played badminton. In a couple of days I will wear my t-shirt. In a few months I will receive mailers for the next running event as if this is something that I do now, and a year from now I might just be hurling my big butt over another finish line. Wish me luck.