Thursday, May 26, 2011

Hazards of Basketball and Making Promises

Published for Motherhood Matters - (click HERE for the link)

My first-grade son sat in the back seat of the car, arms folded. “I’m not playing today,” he said. “But the game starts in five minutes!” I countered. “I’m not going.” “You love basketball!” He shook his head.

I sat down beside him. “Why not, buddy?” He looked up at me and started to cry. “What if the basketball hits me in the face?” he said. “Did someone else get hit by the ball?” I asked. “No, but I’m afraid it might hit me,” he said.

The odds were so miniscule. In all my years of attending kid basketball games I had never once seen a ball hit a kid in the face. Plus it was cold and I wanted to get inside, so I leaned down until I was eye-level with my son and said, “Look at me, buddy. The basketball won’t hit you in the face. I promise.”

He dried his tears, took my hand, and we walked into the gym. I was glad that my son put so much trust in what I said. I had determined early on that if I did nothing else right as a mom, I could at least show my kids how to be honest and keep promises. It didn’t seem that difficult.

I was almost right. I had absolutely no difficulties -- until my kids learned to talk, and reason, and remember.

The news recently reported that a senator misrepresented the truth while debating on the Senate floor. When asked why he had lied, the senator’s spokesman replied that what the senator said “was not intended to be a factual statement.”

As appalled as I was by the poor example set by an elected representative, I felt some level of empathy for the guy. When every word you utter is heavily scrutinized and taken out of context only to be used against you at a later date, having a spokesman explain your original intentions doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.

I certainly could have used a spokesman after my son let go of my hand and ran onto the basketball court.

Minutes into the game, the basketball sailed off the backboard and smacked my son squarely in the face. Trying desperately to hold back his tears, the bravest kid on the planet was escorted off the court by the worst mom in history. At least that’s how I felt for a solid week.

I still suffer from occasional flashbacks.

I used to think nothing of making statements like, “We’ll go to the park as soon as your rooms are clean.” Not understanding, of course, that if it rained and we didn’t go to the park, one of my kids would randomly bring it up years later at Thanksgiving dinner, “Remember that time Mom lied about taking us to the park?”

The balance of my life will be spent dodging and defending promises I have unwittingly made over the years.

As my kids grow older and stealthier and devise new ways to paint me into corners, the list of promises I simply cannot make grows exponentially. I can’t promise my kids that they’ll get all A’s or find a clean shirt to wear or get a date to prom or go to Harvard or even that their hearts will never be broken.

But I can promise them one thing: I will love them always, unequivocally, no matter what. That will never change. I sincerely hope that the absolute truth behind my one single promise will make up for the many times when things don’t turn out as expected.

Like rain and ricocheting basketballs, for example.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Book Review: Dead by Midnight

Published: Saturday, May 21, 2011 3:00 p.m. MDT 
"DEAD BY MIDNIGHT," by Carolyn Hart, HarperCollins, $24.99, 282 pages (f)

Solving murders comes naturally to Annie Darling, owner of the popular mystery bookstore Death on Demand. So when her newest employee doesn't show up for work and is later found dead in her armchair, Annie suspects foul play, even though law enforcement insists that the death is a suicide.

Annie enlists the help of her charming husband, Max, and together they work tirelessly to learn the truth. As they gain momentum by unearthing incriminating evidence and interviewing suspects, their investigation takes an unexpected turn when two of their prime suspects end up dead.

"Dead by Midnight" is Carolyn Hart's 21st book in her popular Death on Demand series in which Annie and Max sleuth their way through murders of unending variety. For Hart fans, her newest book will not disappoint, but for readers not familiar with the Death on Demand series, it could. Overused cliches, a formulaic plot line and shallowly developed characters can be distractions to the overall enjoyment of the book.

The book does contains a few mild swear words, a secret affair described with tact and three murders void of gore but not blood.

"Dead by Midnight" is a quintessential whodunit murder mystery that will have readers racing through the pages to find out who the cold-blooded killer really is.

Best of all, it's a quick and easy read that can be read by midnight.

Cool lasts for a limited time only

This morning at breakfast, my second grade daughter asked - practically begged - me to come eat lunch with her at school.  Since her lunchtime is exactly when my preschooler needs to be picked up from school, the only way to make it happen is for me to pay extra money for him to stay for an extended period of time.  Inconvenient and expensive - that's what lunch with my daughter meant.  I almost said no.

Until I remembered asking my fourth grade son if I could come join him for lunch - he could even have food from the fast food establishment of his choice.  He very politely yet very firmly declined.  "It's OK, Mom.  Really.  You don't have to come.  Really."

And then there was the time I truly lost all my senses and asked my seventh grade son the same question. His response was less polite but equally firm.  "No way, Mom.  Absolutely. No. Way."

And finally, I recalled a recent conversation with my ninth grade daughter in which I mentioned the possibility of me teaching English some day soon at her high school.  "Anywhere else, Mom.  Anywhere.  Please!"  "Meaning I would embarrass you?  Am I strange?  Ugly?  Do I dress funny?  What is it?"  "It's just that you're my mom.  That's just too weird."

So I made arrangements with the preschool and joined my second grader for lunch.

She hugged me at least ten times during the 30 minute lunch period.  Other kids walked by our table and waved shyly at her while staring curiously at me.  I could see how proud she was that I was there.  She detailed the Measuring Olympics her class had held in the morning, pointed out a teacher who had been gone for 1 1/2 months for stomach surgery, showed me where her friends were sitting, and we discussed the ins and outs of bullying since the local police department was at the school passing out "No Bullying Zone" bracelets.

Before skipping to join her class in line, she kissed me on the cheek and told me she loved me.

My five-year-old son is happy to eat lunch with me every day and especially happy when that lunch is eaten at the park.   He holds my hand, sits on my lap when he gets tired, and kisses me on the lips.

I was crazy to hesitate for even a second.  Eating lunch with a kid who thinks I'm seriously cool is worth any inconvenience or expense.

For us moms, cool lasts for a limited time only.  I'll hang on to it for as long as I can.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Memories and family traditions made at the ice cream shop

Published on Motherhood Matters - (click HERE for the link)

My hometown neighborhood ice cream shop was the undisputed destination after any special event in our family. Such events generally highlighted one of us children participating in a concert, recital, or receiving a special recognition — events worth celebrating.

Our family had limited funds, so only the special kid got to order anything on the menu. The rest had to choose one scoop and one cone, regular or sugar.

"We knew from hard-earned experience that the celebrated kid would order significantly more than he or she could eat before feeling nauseous, leaving half-melted remains to anyone with a straw and a strong stomach."
Both decisions were excruciating, taking at least as long as the event that had precipitated the visit in the first place, and driving my parents and the employees to distraction. 

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

I remember sitting in the ice cream shop with a group of friends, wishing — as only a teenage girl can wish — that a certain boy were sitting next to me instead of 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. He became my first official boyfriend.

The world was unimaginably glorious ... until that same boy decided 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 the neighborhood shop with my best friend.

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

I missed my friends and family when I left for college, but the fact that my ice cream shop was several states away about did me in. I still celebrated events and cried over boys at ice cream parlors, but my favorite sundae was never on the menu, color schemes were all wrong, and none of those places could offer memories.
"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 the neighborhood shop with my best friend."
Some years later, I fell in love with a boy who understood that pastures don't get any greener and proposed. My family was immediately sold on him and he was immediately sold on the ice cream, so I sealed the deal and offered him my heart — which included a lifetime ice cream shop visits. 

But because we have moved several times, a few years had passed since a visit to the ice cream shop until a recent job change moved us close to a franchise location.

Shortly after the move, my husband came home to find that my day had been challenging to say the least. OK, I was about to lose it. There, I said it.

This was not lost on my husband. After a few minutes of indecision — these situations can be touchy; one wrong word and he could be sleeping on the couch — he suggested that we go for a drive.

He drove, talked, joked, and then pulled into the ice cream shop parking lot, walked up to the counter and ordered me my all-time favorite sundae.

I met my husband's eyes and my heart really, truly flip-flopped. While eating ice cream at the neighborhood shop with my best friend, I renewed the resolve I made years ago to never love another, meaning my husband.

But the sundae came in a very, very close second.

My son recently earned a rank advancement in Boy Scouts, an event worth celebrating. We took him to the neighborhood ice cream shop.

He got to order whatever he wanted.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

How to win friends and influence people

If you are a male Wal-Mart associate, it's pretty straightforward.

When a frumpy 40-something lady with no makeup and a massive headache who has just spent the last two hours on breakfast-making, lunch-preparing, hair-brushing, scripture-reading, backpack-packing, note-signing, shoe-finding, carpooling duties happens to come through your check-out line with a package of Sharpies in her cart, all you have to do is look down at her over the rim of your glasses and ask,

"Are you over 18, young lady?  You know you have to be over 18 to buy Sharpies, don't you?"

It's as simple as that.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Civil Dialogue and Validation

My Serious MomSense column has officially been picked up for Motherhood Matters, a new feature on  I've been publishing monthly up to this point but will be stepping it up for Motherhood Matters to a weekly column.  

This is great!!  It's also super scary and somewhat time-consuming. I spend inordinate amounts of time trying to get a column "just right."  Which will never happen, but I try.  I've come to the conclusion that sleep is overrated.

After so much work writing a column, I'm curious/nervous/excited to hear feedback. The KSL website encourages comments with this statement: comment boards are a forum for thoughtful commentary intended to enlighten your fellow readers with additional insight or counterpoints.

And so it was with great interest that I read the first comment on my latest column, "Mother's Day not a good time to overanalyze."  This is what it said:

I get that the tone of this article is humor, but if you need validation for a life decision that you made, maybe you made the wrong decision.

I get tired of hearing Mothers complain about all the hard work they do. Sorry, I really don't have much sympathy. You choose to do what you are doing, especially if you have 5 kids. Live with your choices and quit complaining. You don't appreciate the way your kids treat you? Maybe they don't appreciate the way YOU treat THEM.

One last thing...Happy Mother's Day!

Someday soon, I will explain why the assumptions so carefully laid out by this reader in no way reflect who I am or how I feel about being a mom.  But that's a different post.

For now, I'll just say that this was not an easy comment to read.  It felt mean-spirited, hurtful and didn't necessarily even speak to what my column was about.  

I understand that humor can be tricky and that everyone approaches life with different perspectives.  But it has been my experience that approaching such differences with civility yields much better results.

I need to let it go.  My article was a reminder not to judge my success as a mother based solely on Mother's Day experiences - just like I shouldn't judge my worth as a writer based solely on one person's remarks.  Validation comes in many forms and from many sources.

I understood all this intellectually and yet it stung.  To make me feel better, my 15-yr-old daughter said,  "That person just sits around all day making mean comments [she had seen that this reader topped the list of frequent comment-makers on ksl].  Plus, all of the other comments defended you.  Way to go, Mom!"

My husband reminded me of a saying his late father often said:  

"No one ever raised a statue to a critic."

My new goal is to be more aware of what I say and how those words might be interpreted by other people.  Especially my kids.

Here's to civil dialogue.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Mother's Day not a good time to overanalyze

Published in Motherhood Matters, (click HERE for the link)

I have mixed feelings about Mother’s Day.

Sure I don’t have to cook and the kids make cute cards and gifts and my husband looks at me through glazed-over eyes at the end of the one day a year where he does everything I usually do the other 364 days and tells me that there is no way on earth he could possibly do what I do.  Sure there’s that.

But then there’s the tough part.  Hearing praises for the mom who never raises her voice or prepares a hot meal every night of the week, seeing the moms whose kids actually wear matching socks or whose teenagers are willing to acknowledge them in public places.

I secretly hope that these moms have messy closets. 

The sad truth is, I yell when provoked, serve sandwiches for dinner, am largely unsuccessful at helping my kids find matching socks and have been known to approach my own teenage children in the mall to introduce myself.  The poor kids try desperately to pretend they’re shopping alone but I blow their cover every time.

So this year I decided to analyze my Mother’s Day cards and gifts to help me feel validated as a mom.

My 8-yr-old daughter made two cards.  The first said, “Thanks for giving me birth.  You’re the best mom ever!”  The second was a coupon that said, “1 Day Off.  Your Kids Will Do All Your Work.”  She only forgot one tiny detail - to ask her siblings beforehand for their consent.

The PowerPoint presentation created by my 10-yr-old son had a telling line, “I’m glad you’re my mom because you’re very fun.  And you got me most of my stuff and stuff to survive.”  Sappiness isn’t his thing.

I had resigned myself to the fact that my 15-yr-old daughter hadn’t given me anything, but thought about it and remembered that she gave up going to the lake to spend time with me, woke up early on Sunday morning to help and she even cleaned the bathroom.  She sacrificed what she would much rather have been doing to help me.  That was her gift.

My pragmatic 13-yr-old son handed me 3 coupons:  “A Free Favor,”  “40% off Dinner Jobs,” and “Free Babysitting.”  In very small print at the bottom of each coupon, it said, “May Not Be Combined With Any Other Offer!”  I clarified, “So this means I can’t give you more than one coupon on the same day?”  “Exactly.”  The coupons expire at the end of the month.

Despite my 2, 096 mothering faults, it appeared as if my kids still liked me.   Validation was just one gift away.

So I opened it.

Tied with a huge pink bow, the gift my 5-yr-old son brought home from preschool was nothing less than adorable and the whole family watched with great anticipation as I untied the bow and pulled out a dinner plate featuring his artwork.  He had carefully drawn and labeled a picture of the two of us standing next to each other.  Next to the picture he had meticulously written:  “I (heart) Dad.”

Trying to find validation through Mother’s Day cards and gifts can be a bad idea.

Enough scrutiny.  I hugged my kids and sat down to a delicious dinner I didn’t have to prepare.  I even got to use my new plate, lovingly crafted by a sweet 5-yr-old who seems to like his dad.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Love Letter

Had to share part of email I received yesterday.  It has a very strong opening.  This gal and I are either destined to be best friends or I'll have to block her from stalking me soon.  (shared with permission)

OK, I just read your blog & I feel compelled to tell you  -- I love you. I'm usually not so forward in my first email, but there it is. We are kindred spirits - I am also a mother of 5, I am a fellow bibliophile (I have to step over piles of books to get to my bed... & my kids' beds, which is OK with me!), I also speak a foreign language (Spanish is MUCH easier than German) & I laughed out LOUD (more than once) reading your blog!

To tell you the truth, I followed some link from Facebook or LDS Living or somewhere & found your entry about the expensive skateboard & a dangling child. So descriptive. So real. So touching. Sometimes we have to think inside the storm drain to help our kids bond. My mob of children are still trying to learn to get along by not touch each other... We'll get there. I'll update you in 20 years.

Your admirer (& no, I'm really not crazy... well, having 5 kids in 5 years can do that to you)

My husband's love letters have lost some spark over the years, so this ardent admiration is refreshing.