Friday, December 17, 2010

So Last Century

Published in The Stillwater NewsPress, December 2011

Sometime on or around Christmas Eve, my mom would bake festive cookies and arrange them onto plates.  Had we simply been able to enjoy eating them around the kitchen table – as I was pretty sure most families did with their holiday treats - those cookies would have posed no threat.

But we knew what they meant.

The cookies first meant making a decision – which name to add to the list.  Each of us had to contribute one name.  Mom didn’t negotiate on this point.  One house per kid, no exceptions.

When we were young we simply chose a best friend or favorite teacher.  But coming up with a name during our teenage years was excruciating.  We spent hours agonizing, carefully selecting people based on how far removed they were from our social network. Generally speaking, even the best of friends couldn’t be trusted to remain silent.

Silence was essential because it would not do to have details of our family’s cookie delivery method spreading like wildfire through the halls of Stillwater High School.  In our family, ringing the doorbell and saying Merry Christmas while handing over a plate of cookies was too mundane.  My parents had something more grandiose in mind. 

Every year, the teenagers made it a point to explain to my mom that Christmas caroling had become obsolete around the turn of the century and was entirely too over-the-top for modern society.  Mom remained unmoved by this historical fact.  Caroling was just as much a part of Christmas as the tree and the gifts underneath it.  So we climbed into the car and went caroling every year – despite obstacles such as freezing temperatures or protesting teenagers.

We posed a formidable caroling assemblage.  I remember once when a teenage boy opened his front door to find us standing there belting out Christmas cheer with varying degrees of enthusiasm.  He froze.  His parents hadn’t briefed him on caroling protocol before leaving for the evening and the poor kid had no idea how to proceed.  So he stood there bravely, shifting uncomfortably, until he could finally grab the cookies and mumble “thanks” before shutting the door.  As a fellow teenager I empathized deeply with the ordeal we had put him through and felt he had earned the right to eat every last cookie on that plate.

My dad contributed to the caroling list, and one year he chose a friend who lived in Perry (a thirty minute drive from Stillwater).  We trudged wearily through the darkness onto the porch of that final house, rang the doorbell, and began singing.  The door was cautiously opened by my dad’s friend’s next door neighbors.  We were suddenly alert, a little panic-stricken.  My youngest sister was the most traumatized, as she was standing front and center holding our last plate of cookies.  Following my parents’ hand signals, she did her best to nonchalantly slide the cookies behind her back.  With all of the courage we could muster in the face of extreme awkwardness, we sang our songs, shouted out an apologetic “Merry Christmas,” and trotted next door.

That one still makes me cringe.  I believe we owe a certain family in Perry an enormous plate of cookies.  If anyone has any information that would help me locate that family, please send it my way.

But the reactions to our caroling didn’t end there.  We experienced clapping, smiling, dancing, giggling, and even crying.  And countless expressions of gratitude.  At some point in the evening - often despite ourselves - our hearts would be moved by someone’s reaction and we would feel something more than just cold.  It was then that I would understand on some level why Mom insisted we go, why she didn’t give in to our pleading to just let us stay home eating all the cookies.

That was over twenty years ago.  I know exactly how my two teenagers will react when they see the cookies I bake on or around Christmas Eve this year.  Caroling is so last century, they will explain. And they will most definitely roll their eyes when I ask about names for the caroling list. 

But I will remain resolute.  Because I remember how I felt when I went caroling as a kid, as a teenager even, and will insist that everyone - including my protesting teenagers - climb into the car to go caroling.

I am the first to admit that caroling can be a difficult pill to swallow - especially for those who weren’t born into over-the-top caroling families like I was.  But continuing (or beginning) traditions that help us and the people we love feel the holiday spirit is worthy of consideration - even if we have to embarrass the eye-rolling teenagers in the process.

Monday, November 8, 2010

In Loving Memory of Lawrence Angerbauer

My father-in-law, Lawrence Goring Angerbauer, passed away last night in his home.  He was 90 years old.  The following is my inadequate yet sincere attempt to pay tribute to this remarkable man.      
At the age of forty-four, when most fathers are sending their kids off to proms or footing the bill for college expenses, my father-in-law Lawrence was married for the first time to his sweetheart Merilyn Tew.  Having waited patiently many years to find each other, they deeply appreciated their new-found happiness.  I often heard him say, “With Merilyn, it was worth the wait!”  Six children followed in rapid succession: four sons (number four being my husband Jeff), a daughter, and then one more son. 

Being an involved father to six children is no easy task; when that job begins at age forty-five, the job could seem overwhelming.  But Lawrence was up to the challenge.  He had served a two-year mission for the Mormon church, earned a Purple Heart in World War II, and was a successful real estate developer. Lawrence fast learned that these experiences were mere stepping stones to his most significant job of all:  Fatherhood.  It was the role of a lifetime, and he filled it with pride.

Idleness was not a part of his vocabulary, and Lawrence did all he could to ensure that his children learned the value of hard work, both physical and intellectual.  Each child had his or her own jobs in their extensive garden and his or her own spot at the family’s homework table in the library.  He would wait up at that table reading a book by lamplight until every teenage child had returned home safely.  Annoying as this seemed, the children now recognize and appreciate it as an act of sacrifice and love.

Jeff describes a childhood filled with delightful memories. The family made frequent car trips to Southern California, Yellowstone, Southern Utah, and the beautiful nearby canyons.  An extensive slide collection tells stories of camping, hiking, biking, boogie-boarding, and sight-seeing.  

While raising his family, Lawrence followed in his father’s career footsteps and became a valuable employee of the United States Postal Service.  Retirement, however, presented Lawrence with an unusual dilemma:   all six of his children were still at home, necessitating further employment. So at the age of 60, when most men begin scheduling more tee times and vacations, Lawrence began the arduous task of finding a job - without the benefit of a college degree. 

One humbling rejection followed another, until at length he was hired by the Mormon Church to be the custodian of a nearby meetinghouse.  Putting aside his pride, he took great satisfaction in his new employment.  There was not a meetinghouse anywhere that could equal his in landscaping or cleanliness.  The parishioners were appreciative of and grateful for the building’s meticulous care.

Lawrence’s biggest trial, however, was still to come.  In 1985, his beloved Merilyn was diagnosed with bone cancer.  The next five years were filled with surgeries, hospital stays, chemotherapy, and eventually the amputation of Merilyn’s right leg.  It was a difficult time.  His children were in junior high, high school, college, and serving missions for the Mormon Church.  Lawrence met these many challenges with characteristic dignity, perseverance and an abiding faith in God.

Merilyn lost her battle to cancer on December 15, 1990, leaving Lawrence to continue his watchful and diligent care over their family.  The family has since grown to include 28 grandchildren, whom he treasured and adored.

Lawrence “officially” retired at the age of 75, but unofficially he worked in his garden, workshop, and kitchen until the end.   And there was always a book sitting on the table beside the lamp, waiting to be read.

When I feel tired or overwhelmed by life, I think of my father-in-law’s pattern of showing courage, perseverance and faith in the face of severe challenges.  His example inspires me to face my own difficulties with greater determination.  And when my kids face their own hardships, I’m grateful that they have their grandfather’s example to inspire them to never lose faith.

Lawrence’s absence will be felt deeply in our family.  After 20 years of being separated from his beloved Merilyn, I can only imagine their joyful reunion. He has returned home.  I am confident that Lawrence and Merilyn will continue their watchful and loving care over their family from the other side.

Lawrence would often say that he lived an unremarkable life.  I beg to differ.

Lawrence had incredible strength, determination, hard work, dignity, faith.  We love, honor, and will always remember this remarkable man.
Grandpa A's 89th Birthday Cake Inscription (penned by a grandchild): Happy Birthday Grandpa A! Please live longer!
Merilyn's gravesite, Mother's Day 2009
Lawrence, me, Jeff @ Lawrence's 90th Birthday, May 2010
With 5 of his 6 children & his sister Marion on his 90th birthday
Jeff & his Dad, November 7, 2009 - Jeff's 40th Birthday.  Lawrence passed away on November 7, 2010 - Jeff's 41st Birthday

Friday, November 5, 2010

Reflections of a mother and her teenage daughter

by Julia Pratt (who articulates in this poem exactly the way I feel)

We look in the mirror.
            You ask, “Is this outfit alright?
                        Is it too tight?”
Suddenly I see
            A shadow of me
                        Two decades ago.

Is it your asking eyes,
            Your pinched brow,
                        Or the way you stand?
I don’t quite know.
            But in you, I catch a glimpse
                        Of the forgotten me.

We would have been best friends!
            I’d never have to say
                        “No you can’t wear that”
                        “Clean your room”
                        “Get off the phone!”

We would have talked for hours
            And shared out secrets,
                        And I would have kept those
                        Secrets a secret. . . .
And I will now
            If you give me the chance.

We would have “hung out” together
            For we enjoy the same things,
                        Some of which I can’t do now-
But if you invite me,
            We can still have fun.

We would have laughed together.
            And you know,
                        We need to do more laughing.
Sometimes it all gets too serious.

We are not identical.
            Our differences would have offered
                        Variety and interest.
Let’s not let our differences
            Divide us now.
Because in two decades or so
            You’ll stand at the mirror
                        With your daughter. . .
And her outfit will be too tight.
            And you’ll hope she understands
                        And knows that you love her.

And then you’ll call your best friend
            For advice-
                        And it will be me.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

It Hurt Like . . .

A month ago, I took Kirsten to the dermatologist due to an enormously hideous and painful wart on the bottom of her foot.  As I suspected, the doctor said it needed to be frozen off.  Translation, of course, is burned off.  It's so cold, it burns.

"This might hurt, a large blister will form, and you'll have to come back in a month - after the blister has healed  - and we'll see if anything is left of the wart."

With little ceremony, the doctor proceeded to freeze the wart.  Over and over and over.  Kirsten - one of the toughest kids I know - started shaking with pain but held it together.  She even held it together as we walked towards the check-out desk.  But as I was paying, she turned white as a sheet, doubled over, almost fainted, and barely made it to the car.  She was in severe pain for several days.  As a family, we watched the blister with horrified fascination for the next few weeks.

Playing basketball every day at school proved challenging.

Fast forward a month to her follow-up appointment.  We walked into the office and were greeted by a different assistant than the one we had previously seen.  She asked a few questions and looked at Kirsten's foot  - the blister had healed but it was clear that the wart hadn't completely disappeared.

In a deep Texas drawl and with all the concern of a mother hen, the assistant then said,  "He is very aggressive with the freezing.  That must have hurt like [pause as she searched for a word other than "hell"] cock-a-doodle-doo!"

Did I just hear that right?  By the expression on Kirsten's face, it appeared that I did.  We restrained ourselves and didn't laugh until after she exited the room.

The doctor recommended either (1) one more freezing or (2) a month's worth of topical treatments.

I couldn't believe my ears when Kirsten opted for the freezing.  She figured she'd rather get it over with in one shot and not have it drag out forever.

As expected, it was considerably painful.

In fact, it hurt like [pause] cock-a-doodle-doo!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Magic Wands

Kirsten (9th grade) came home from school recently and said, “I hate it here.  I want to move back to Utah.”

I understand that the translation of her statement was probably something like, “Today pretty much sucked.”  I know that about teenage girls.  But, being her mom, I still wanted to wave a Magic Wand and make it all better.

I thought of a Magic Wand – of sorts.  So, I made arrangements for the boys to play at the Egans, packed an overnight bag, loaded up on snack food, checked Emma and Kirsten out of school, and we headed three and a half hours north to Deer Creek High School in Edmund, Oklahoma.  Kirsten’s cousin Alex, a senior in high school, was on the Football Homecoming Court that night.  Her 6-yr-old triplet sisters had been asked to be the attendants.  How cute is that?

It was a beautiful October night.   Alex and the other members of the court were escorted into the stadium, the triplets walked in carrying the crown on a pillow, Alex’s name was announced as the winner, the crown was placed on her head.  Cheers and clapping, hugs and pictures.  Friday night lights in all of its glory.

And we missed the entire thing.

The details are still so painful. Let’s just say I am directionally challenged in the first place, don’t own a GPS, relied on sketchy verbal directions instead of printing out a map, and was unable to reach the people via cell phone who would have been able to steer me back on course. I felt like a complete idiot. And lots of other things too - none of which are at all appropriate to type in this family-friendly post.

What in the name of all that is holy happened?  Magic wands are ridiculous (Kirsten’s favorite word). I fumed while wiping away angry tears. As I saw it, the entire evening was a disaster.  In fact, it pretty much sucked (Kirsten’s favorite phrase).

Hindsight, in its usual helpful form, has since given me some perspective.

I can’t think of the last time I had seven uninterrupted hours to talk with Kirsten. Seven is actually a slight exaggeration.  After her favorite radio stations faded out and she realized I hadn’t packed her Ipod (oops, my bad!), Kirsten talked to me.  No matter how much I wave a magic wand at home, this kind of conversation rarely happens.

Kirsten saw her cousin in her Homecoming dress - a dress that, shall we say, covered much more skin than the other dresses on the field.  She heard the stories of how the boys on the football team like and respect Alex – they respect the fact that she has maintained high ethical and moral standards throughout high school.  And she’s super cool and fun. This is why she was elected Homecoming Queen.   A more powerful lesson for Kirsten than any I could give her at home with hypothetical scenarios.

I still don’t know why we didn’t make it.  Maybe we would have gotten in an accident.  Maybe Kirsten needed to see that I don’t cuss when under extreme duress – but I do cry and rant, just the tiniest bit.  Maybe I needed to be humbled.  Okay, for sure I needed to be humbled.  I’ve given up trying to figure it out.

But this I do know.  Magic wands are tricky - they don’t always work how or when we want them to.  But this Magic Wand came through for me - the trip didn’t suck after all.

All of this being said, there will most definitely be a Magic Wand at the top of my Christmas list.  It’s called a GPS.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Judging the Slackers

He was our Home Teacher [someone assigned by the leaders in our congregation to visit our family once a month, assess our needs, offer assistance if needed], but we didn’t even know he had been assigned to us until about 6 months after we had been in the new congregation (in the Mormon faith, we call it the "ward').  The only time he and his teenage son visited was after Jeff saw him in the hall at church and mentioned we were free that afternoon.  We wrote him off as a nice enough guy but a complete slacker.  In fact, he was the worst home teacher we had ever had.

In the mean time, we were going through one of the most stressful times of our lives.  With a business that was going the way of the failing economy, we spent much time praying and agonizing about what to do.  Eventually, we decided to sell the business.  It was excruciating to sign the papers, thereby sealing in a colossal financial loss and closing the door on Jeff’s dream of small business ownership.  After signing the papers, Jeff went back to the office, our large outstanding business loan weighing heavily on his mind.

Minutes later, our Slacker Home Teacher walked into Jeff’s office.  They talked for a long time.  Unbeknownst to us, this man had been through his own difficult time.  The bank he worked for had folded, leaving him not only jobless but also with unwarranted allegations of wrongdoing swirling around him.  

He hadn’t been able to sleep the night before.  Not because of his own struggles, but because he felt guilty for not being a better home teacher.  He had felt overwhelmingly compelled to visit Jeff at work that day.

He had no idea what had just transpired.

Jeff’s biggest immediate need was to figure out how to negotiate with the bank on his business loan.  Our home teacher had been the person at his former bank who handled small business loan negotiations .  He, more than anyone else in the ward or stake, knew exactly what Jeff needed to do. 

Not knowing him well, we would have had no idea to even ask him.

During the next several months, our Slacker Home Teacher and his wife did the following for our family. Most of this was after Jeff had already started working in Dallas and I was left to put the house on the market and handle the kids on my own.
  • Replaced two sets of blinds, a broken light fixture, cracked glass, and repaired drywall & door hinges
  •  Brought dinner for me and the kids on more than one occasion
  • Shoveled our snow and took out our bulk trash
  • Bought , delivered, and installed a replacement battery for my van
  • Picked up my van, dropped it off to have it serviced, and brought it back at the end of the day
  • Offered to babysit the younger kids when I had to be at the church on a Wednesday night with the older ones
  • Was out of town when we actually moved, but completely organized cleaning, packing, and moving crews for the move
A few things said in the General Relief Society Broadcast [a meeting broadcasted from Church headquarters for all of the women in the church] last week really hit home to me.

The first was President Monson quoting Mother Teresa,

“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”

This is exactly what we had initially done to our home teacher.

The second was by Barbara Thompson when she spoke of visiting teaching [the female equivalent of home teaching]:

“The beauty of visiting teaching is seeing lives changed, tears wiped away, testimonies growing, people loved, families strengthened, people cheered, the hungry fed, the sick visited, and those who are mourning comforted. 

This is exactly what our home teacher did for us.

In fact, he was the best home teacher we have ever had.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Love Story

Published in The Stillwater NewsPress, October 2010 (click HERE for the link)

Growing up in Stillwater, Oklahoma, there were a few absolutes:  turtles meandering across the roads every summer, OSU’s Homecoming Parade every fall, and Braum’s Ice Cream and Dairy Store.  Some of my happiest and most poignant memories took place in Braum’s.

Braum’s was the undisputed destination after any special event in our family.  Such events generally highlighted one of us eight children – concert, recital, ball game – events worth celebrating.  Our family had limited funds, so only the special kid got to order anything on the menu.  The rest got to choose one scoop and one cone, regular or sugar.  Both decisions were excruciating, taking at least as long as the event that had precipitated the Braum’s visit in the first place, driving my parents and the downtrodden Braum’s employees to distraction.

We were all the special kid at some point, so didn’t mind one scoop.  Plus, we knew from hard-earned experience that the celebrated kid would definitely order way more than he or she could eat before feeling nauseous, leaving half-melted remains to anyone with a straw and a strong stomach.

I’ll always remember sitting in Braum’s with a group of friends, wishing - as only a young teenage girl can wish - that a certain boy were sitting next to me instead of clear across the room.  I dared look in his direction, saw that he was looking in mine, our eyes met – and my heart truly flip-flopped for the first time.  Soon afterwards, he became my first official boyfriend.  The world was unimaginably glorious. 

Until that same boy figured that other pastures were perhaps greener.

I cried over losing my first true love and declared that I would never love another.  This emotional resolve was made while eating ice cream at Braum’s with my best friend.

The poor fellow must have had quite a blow when he discovered his mistake.

When I left for college, I missed my friends and family.  But the fact that there was no Braum’s within a three state radius of my university about did me in.  I still celebrated events and cried over boys at ice cream parlors, but Pecan Caramel Fudge Sundaes were never on the menu, color schemes were all wrong, and none of those places could offer memories. 

Some years later, I fell in love with Jeff.  He understood that pastures don’t get any greener and proposed.  I brought him home to Stillwater, where I figured he needed to be introduced to the family and Braum’s.  The family was immediately sold on Jeff.  Jeff was immediately sold on Braum’s.  These new liaisons proved satisfactory on all fronts, so I sealed the deal with Jeff and offered him my heart, which included unlimited visits to Braum’s. 
Because we haven’t always lived close to a Braum’s, the gap between visits has been as long as a few years. This was recently the case until a job relocation moved us to within a ten minute drive from a Braum’s.  Shortly after the move, Jeff came home to find me in a less-than-cheerful frame of mind.  I wasn’t coping well after a challenging day.

Okay, I was about to lose it.  There, I said it.

This was not lost on Jeff.  After a few minutes of indecision – these situations are touchy, one wrong word and he could be sleeping on the couch - he suggested that we go for a drive.

Jeff drove for a while, he talked, he joked, he got me to crack a smile.  And then, without consulting me, he pulled into the Braum’s parking lot, walked up to the counter, and ordered me a Pecan Caramel Fudge Sundae.  

I met Jeff’s eyes and my heart really, truly flip-flopped.  While eating ice cream at Braum’s with my best friend, I renewed the resolve I made seventeen years ago to never love another.

Meaning Jeff.  But the Pecan Caramel Fudge Sundae came in a very, very close second. 
Our oldest daughter just made the high school basketball team, an event worth celebrating. We took her to Braum’s.

She got to order whatever she wanted.

FYI - If you'd like to browse the Braum's website, click HERE.  It's pretty interesting. They own their own dairy herd, farms & ranches, processing plant, & bakery.  Which is why their products are so yummy (I didn't mention that they have some of the planet's best-tasting milk and hamburgers), & why they haven't expanded beyond the Midwest.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Nit Picking

The Tuesday after Labor Day weekend was slated to be a glorious day. It was Caleb’s first day of preschool, leaving me with three hours of child-free time. For the first time in forever. Almost literally.

Three kids down, two to go, and my sister called from OKC to inform me that her 6 year old triplets have lice. This would have been merely regrettable news had those same triplets not spent Labor Day weekend with my children. Within the hour, lice-and-nit-and-egg infested Seth, Emma, and Caleb, Lice Killing Supplies, and extra laundry detergent were all with me back at home.

Where I had planned on spending three hours in sweet solitude. Sigh.

Instead, I launched Operation Lice Obliteration. It went something like this:

1) Treated 3 kids 2 times each for lice. First, Lice killing shampoo. Then, a gel and ultra-fine-tooth comb designed to aid in removal of lice, nits (baby lice) and eggs. I found my fingernails to be more effective at times. This was an extremely time-consuming process. When I told the kids they needed a second treatment, they were moved to tears.

2) Ran the washing machine & dryer non-stop. And non-stop again on day two. Any household item that could reasonably be put through the washing machine was washed. 20 loads, minimum.

3) Any household item that could not reasonably be put through the washing machine but was still soft or fluffy got stuffed into giant trash bags – 13 in total – so that any louse that dared inhabit said items will have suffocated and died by the time I open those bags 7 days hence.

4) Sprayed 6 beds, 2 giant bean bags, 4 couches, and 1 upholstered chair with Lice-Poison. We typically sit on the couches and jump on the love sacs, so I’m a little concerned about the bottle’s prominent warning: NOT FOR USE ON HUMANS.

5) Disinfected brushes, combs, various & assorted other hair accessories.

6) Vacuumed, vacuumed, vacuumed. There is something soothing about the diagonal lines on freshly-vacuumed carpet, even though lice don’t necessarily die upon finding themselves inside a vacuum.

7) Had the heebie jeebies, scratched my head repeatedly, certain that it was crawling with lice. It wasn’t. Thank goodness for small favors.

8) Felt like “that” mom, the mom who lets her kids live in squalor. To their credit, the school nurses & administrators were nice, nonchalant, said that it happens all the time. But since I’m pretty sure that my kids gave their cousins lice & not the other way around, I still obsess: Squalor.

9) Experienced sweet solitude only as I fell into bed, asleep before I even turned out the lights (thanks to Jeff for picking up that slack for me).

As I was picking nits, I got to thinking. The recipients, those being Nit-Picked, pretty much hate it. It’s annoying, it can hurt, it takes forever.

It’s more complicated for the Nit-Picker. Although initially unpleasant, picking nits can get addicting in a sick kind of way. The more you search for those nits, the more you find, and the more determined you are to get them out. The feelings of the Nit-Picked victim become much less important than rooting out every last Nit. It’s easy to become a Habitual Nit-Picker.

My New Resolve: Lighten up on the Verbal Nit-Picking.

It’s no fun for the Nit-Picked, it’s not healthy for the Nit-Picker. I need to think twice, a hundred times, the next time I feel compelled to Nit-Pick. Is it worth it? Must I really find each and every nit & extract them all, regardless? I think not.

I’ve thought of a new buzz phrase for parents: Baby Lice are the Only Nits that Need Picking.

Think it’ll catch on?
Leah, Emma, Jessie, Annie at the end of their Fun Weekend - Hairs are definitely touching . . .
Just some of the laundry I did - Ultimate Spring Cleaning
The Bags - May every louse inside be suffocated and DIE

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Hey Soul Sister

I used to be such a great mom.  I stand in awe of my former self.
My young kids were always in bed by 7:30 PM, because I knew how important sleep is for developing brains.  They only watched G-rated movies, also on account of developing brains.  And they definitely, definitely listened exclusively to developmentally appropriate, enriching, brain-boosting music.  Classical and kids, mostly.  Sometimes 80’s.
Wow was I good.
Exactly when and how things changed is all so fuzzy.
I now find myself reading bedtime stories at 9:30 PM.  On school nights.  To the little kids.  When my husband is out-of-pocket I occasionally have to be somewhere with a bigger kid until, say, 9:25.  Such bedtimes would have been unfathomable to my former self.
Out of the dozens of movies shown on the car’s DVD system during our most recent 22 hour road trip, not one of them was rated G.  Squeaky wheels simply get more grease at times, even though my former self would have been indignant, insisting that I give each child equal consideration and think of developing brains for gosh sakes.
I got to hear ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ twice on that trip.  Sweet.
The penultimate example of how far I’ve slipped as a mom?  From the back of the van, a loud, in-your-face voice, totally on key and in tempo, singing:
Hey soul sister
Ain’t that mister mister
On the radio, stereo
The way you move ain’t fair you know
Hey soul sister
I don’t wanna miss
A single thing you do

The voice was Caleb’s.  He’s four.
A few days later, the same loud voice,
I wanna be a billionaire
So friekin’ bad
Buy all of the things I never had . . .    

Still on key, in tempo, in your face.

Time to regain control.   “Hey!  Let’s help Caleb learn a kid song!  You know, like the kind of songs we used to sing all the time?”  After a several second silence wherein we were all desperately trying to think of such a song, we hit upon Wheels on the Bus, managing to remember more than one verse.  Caleb finally caught on and sang the last few chords of the last chorus, “. . . all through the town!”

Once upon a time, I was such a great mom.  Today, I'm a mostly tired, once in a while great mom.  The parameters, the requirements, the demands of being a great mom are constantly shifting and changing, along with my kids. This would have been difficult, maybe impossible, for me to understand back in the days when all my kids were snugly tucked into bed by 7:30 PM.

Caleb just walked by me, singing at the top of his lungs:
                                       Baby, are you down, down, down, down, down
                                       Do-ow-ow-ow-n, Do-ow-ow-ow-n
                                       Even if the sky is falling down
                                       Do-ow-ow-ow-n, Do-ow-ow-ow-n

Wheels on the Bus didn't take.  And I'm so okay with that.
 Just before piling into the car for the 22 hour road trip.
Susie, Caleb [4], Jeff
Kirsten [almost 15], Rob [13], Seth [9], Emma [7]

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Feeding Kids to the Wolves

The kids all started their new schools yesterday.  I had done my due diligence - prepared for every possible contingency.  I filled out forms, took kids to get shots, attended Meet the Teacher Nights and Orientations, asked scores of questions, bought school supplies, made sure they knew how to get to their classrooms.  I even outfitted each kid with exactly one pair of jeans that didn’t have huge holes in the knees.

We prayed.  I cooked them a healthy breakfast, gave them numerous hugs, took their pictures, told them how excited I was for them, that I loved them.
Then I proceeded to feed them to the wolves.
Contingencies are so dang difficult to predict.
I should have told Emma (2nd grade) that in her P.E. class, SALT means stand up, PEPPER means sit down, and GRAPES means gather round.  But I didn’t tell her.  Because I didn’t know that the P.E. teacher uses a food-based vocabulary to give commands.
I should have gone over a host of Spanish words with Seth (4th grade), because Spanish was his rotation on the first day and all the other kids had taken Spanish before and knew how to respond in Spanish when the teacher addressed them in Spanish.  But I didn’t tell him.  Because I don’t know Spanish, or even that he was going to Spanish on his first day.
 I should have had Rob (7th grade) disassemble his huge shrink-wrapped pack of school supplies and stuff as many as possible in his backpack, thereby avoiding the terribly embarrassing scenario of the shrink wrap finally giving way on his way to 5th period and the school supplies spilling all over the hallway.  But I didn’t tell him.  Because I figured that a teacher, at least, would see that he hadn’t been told what to do with his supplies, that he was in a bit of a pickle, and somehow come to his rescue.
 I should have told Kirsten (9th grade) one hundred additional times that she is talented and smart and beautiful and that she will make tons of friends in high school.   And reiterated that the friend-making wouldn’t happen overnight, so she would possibly have been more prepared when she had no one to sit with at lunch and no one to talk to in any of her classes, and she wouldn’t have climbed into the car at the end of the day with tears in her eyes.   But I didn’t tell her.  Because I thought maybe someone would say hi, smile, comment on her cute outfit.
That night, in tears, I beat myself up thinking about all the questions I should have asked, all the people I should have talked to.   But the painful truth is that sending my kids outside of the house will always be difficult, because I will never be able to prepare them for every possible contingency. 
But I can do a few things:  pray for them, cook them a healthy breakfast, hug them, be excited for them, love them.
So when they’re out there amongst the wolves, my kids will know for absolute certain that there is at least one person in this big sometimes scary world who will always be on their side, praying and cheering.   And that they can get through the day until it’s time to come home.
To where someone loves them best of all, no matter what, forever and ever.

P.S. From a smile perspective, it's a  good thing I took the pictures before school, not afterwards.
P.S.S. Today was the second day of school.  It’s already getting the tiniest bit better.

P.S.S.S. I can't forget, Caleb, who sill be starting PreK after Labor Day.  I'll make sure to ask a gazillion questions at Meet the Teacher, but I have a feeling that his first day won't be quite so complicated.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

I Wish He Were Mostly Dead

Published in The Stillwater News Press, November 2010
Published in The News Connection, April 2011

"He is so immature!  He is the most annoying brother on the planet, and doesn't even try to be nice to me."

"Give him time, sweetheart.  It may take a few more years.  I know this sounds crazy, but someday he'll be one of your best friends."

After making this statement, I try and throw in a few stories, attempting to back up my ridiculous claim that my teenage daughter and her younger brother might one day be friends.

I would fling myself onto my parents' bed, sobbing, "I hate him!  He's so mean to me!  Why did I have to get him for a brother?" I vacillated between wishing him mostly dead and wishing him entirely dead.

For good reason.

Dave (18 months older), my sister Debbie (21 months younger) and I once stayed up late watching the watered-down TV version of "Psycho," where the hotel proprietor dresses up as his mom - whom he has previously murdered - and slaughters hotel guests with a huge kitchen knife.  The uplifting content of the movie petrified us beyond words, so my sister and I decided to sleep right there in the living room when it was over.  Dave laughed, chanting "bawk! bawk!" as he left for bed.  Taunting had no effect.  Nothing on the planet would have compelled us to move a single solitary inch.

Minutes later, we heard a scream.  My mom had gotten out of bed, walked into the hallway, and come face-to-face with a middle-aged woman wearing a wig, nightgown, and carrying a huge kitchen knife.  She was lurking in the shadows near the living room, watching us huddled together, shaking, in the middle of the living room floor.  Instead of scaring the pee out of his fraidy-cat sisters, Dave nearly gave his poor mom a heart attack.

Debbie and I spent an entire month plotting revenge but gave up.  Some things simply can't be outdone.

To be fair, Dave could be nice.  He had it in him.  Once as he was dropping me off at my class in elementary school, I remembered too late and with great anxiety that I had forgotten to bring a clipping from a redbud, Oklahoma’s state tree.  Fifteen minutes later, Dave showed up in the doorway of my classroom, redbud branch in hand.  He had scoured the neighborhood until finding one.  Only after delivering his gift did he go to his own classroom, a full twenty minutes late.

The Love Boat and Fantasy Island were our favorite TV shows - Debbie and I waited all week for Saturday night.  Dave did not share our same viewpoint.  If he walked into the room during one of those shows, we would scramble to our positions in front of the TV, arms out, risking life and several limbs to prevent him from changing the channel.  Dave's advantage was momentum, which he was able to gather while sprinting the full length of the room.  Being robbed of so many sappy endings was unjust, inhumane, just plain wrong.

Dave figured he was doing us a favor.  Which he probably was but still.

Big Jerk and Huge Retard were the meanest names I could think of, and I reserved them for Dave. I rarely verbalized them, but I sure as heck thought about it.  Especially when he did things like read my journal and unplug the phone while I was in the middle of a terribly important discussion about boys with my best friend.  But then he would do something that made me feel slightly guilty for the name-calling.  Like at the beginning of high school, when I hadn't yet figured out how to socially navigate the lunch hour, and Dave invited me to join him and some friends.

Thanks to Dave, the guilt never lasted long.  Bless his sweet little heart.

I was at Dave's complete mercy when it came to getting a ride to school, was always ready to leave before he was, and would watch in utter frustration as he put his shoes on very slowly just because. 

Until one morning.  For the first and only time in history, Dave was ready before me.   He pulled the car into the street and leaned on the horn.  Worried about annoying the neighbors, which Dave clearly wasn't, I ran to the car without shoes on and yanked the door open - just in time for Dave to drive forward a few yards.  Feet flapping on the concrete, I tried unsuccessfully to jump into the moving car.

He stopped briefly, but drove forward again, erasing any doubt as to whether the driving and stopping had been due to driver error.

Dave then stepped on the gas for the third time, making the unfortunate mistake of pushing his luck.  The right front tire, which had been creeping perilously close to me, rolled right over the top of my left foot.  Not my toes, not the edge of my foot - smack dab over the top.  Lucky for both of us - for entirely different reasons - no bones were broken, the scratches and bruises weren't even too bad.   But bones could have been broken, the scratches and bruises could have been very bad.  And Dave knew it. 

I was treated with caution and deference after the foot incident.  For several weeks in fact.  Dave even bought me donuts on the way to school.  Honestly, the caution and deference started to get on my nerves.  But never the donuts.

High school social life got a bit tricky.  Lots of girls were crazy about Dave.  I had suspected as much for a few years, and the phrase "Dave Boyce Is IT!" written in swirly letters on a bathroom stall at the high school confirmed my suspicions. There was no evidence of similar sentiments towards me amongst the boys, so that left me in the dubious social position of the girl whose brother was IT.

But we managed. Gradually, over time, things began to change.  We started talking.  We dated each others’ friends.  He helped me with math, even though I couldn't reciprocate.  I asked for his thumbs up or down on outfits - the oversized sweater with leg warmers or skinny jeans?   If he was being a jerk, I called him on it.  We went on a group date to prom.  I cried and he did what he could to make it better.

At some point, I no longer wished him entirely dead.  Mostly dead on occasion, but never entirely anymore.

Immediately after Dave graduated from high school, he left for an out-of-state summer job.  I still had a few days of school left.  A friend (Jeff Berry) saw me in the hall and asked, "So, do you miss Dave?"

I surprised myself by bursting into tears.  It occurred to me – probably for the first time - that it wasn't just my brother who had moved away.  It was one of my best friends.

And I really missed him.

My daughter always listens to my stories politely.  But then she sighs, occasionally rolls her eyes, and says, "Whatever, Mom.  That's never going to happen with us."

I guess I'll have to give her some time.

It may take a few more years.
Dave & I at a dance w/ friends - 1985
Prom - Senior for Dave, Junior for me - 1986
2010 - Mostly Grown Up
2010 - Rob (left), Kirsten (second from right) - They'll get there