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]