Thursday, August 25, 2011

Thermos flushing

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

Every day at lunch in elementary school, I watched in wonderment as kids clicked open their beautifully embossed "Bionic Woman," "Incredible Hulk" or "Dukes of Hazard" lunchboxes and removed such delicacies as store-bought white bread sandwiches, chip bags and cream-filled pastries.

I would have given my left pinkie for a lunch like that.

Keenly aware of what my own lunch contained, I would strategically delay opening it until everyone appeared sufficiently distracted. I would then place my old, outdated lunchbox in my lap, take a lightning-quick bite of my sandwich and return it to my lap while chewing.

Lightning-quick was usually too slow.

Some curious kid would stare at my sandwich and ask, "What IS that?"

With as much swagger as I could muster, I would maturely reply, “A sandwich, duh.”

Yet it was a legitimate question. My mom baked 100 percent whole red wheat bread and rarely gave the yeast enough time to do its job. So my bread was a good 20 shades darker, two inches shorter and an inch thicker (because if you didn't cut it thick enough it would fall apart) than store-bought white bread, making it virtually unrecognizable to your typical elementary school kid.

I learned to cope with sandwich difficulties, but the fallout from my Thermos proved too much.

Since the family budget didn’t allow for cafeteria lunches, my mom felt duty-bound to provide hot meals on occasion. This was gallant in theory but painful in practice. No matter how far under the table I would hold my Thermos of lukewarm goulash or casserole while opening it, the odor would immediately permeate the air.

Kids would wrinkle their noses and ask, “What is that SMELL?”

Swagger is rather difficult to muster under such circumstances.

After years of recurring Thermos-opening angst, I decided that enough was enough. At the beginning of lunch one day, I casually walked into the restroom and flushed the entire contents of my Thermos down the toilet.

It was exhilarating.

Thenceforth, I Thermos flushed on a regular basis. It was going swimmingly until the day I emerged from the bathroom stall, empty Thermos in hand, and came face to face with my little sister.

I froze, carefully watching her reaction. Blackmailing possibilities were endless, to be sure. But my sister was too clever to be so short-sighted. She thought through the issue and understood its life-changing significance.

She, too, could Thermos flush, forever freeing herself from Thermos-opening angst. This was infinitely better than blackmailing her sister for the rest of eternity.

But my sister also realized that this freedom was assured only if Mom never, ever found out. If she knew about the flushing, Mom might do something unthinkable like station herself at both of our lunch tables to watch us eat every last bite of goulash.

So my sister and I became co-conspirators, flushing dozens — possibly hundreds — of lukewarm meals down the toilet during our remaining years of elementary school.

Fast forward several decades.

Technically, my kids have to make their own lunches. In reality, I frequently stand beside them and drop healthy food into their lunches since they often “forget” to do it themselves.

As my kids walk out the door and I remind them I love them and to please eat everything in their lunches, I know darn well that some apples or carrots or nuts or raisins will get thrown away.

But here’s what I’m banking on.

My kids will always feel somewhat guilty about their Thermos flushing.

My sister and I did.

My kids will understand at some point that no matter what their mom put in their lunches, she did it out of love.

My sister and I did.

Years later, my kids will blurt out a confession, apologize, and thank their mom for all the lunches over the years.

My sister and I did.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Back-to-school survival guide for moms

Published for Motherhood Matters on

Congratulations, moms! You made it through another summer.

Give yourself 10 points for every vacation, day trip, swim lesson, movie or game party, family reunion (20 points if yours was particularly taxing), and any other summer happening you deem point-worthy.

Add 50 points for each of your kids and 25 points for each of your kids’ friends or cousins if they inhabited your house more than 41 percent of the time. Take off one point for each time you wished your kids, kids’ friends or their cousins inhabited a different planet.

If your point balance is negative, creatively recalculate. All moms deserve a high number.

Convert your accumulated points into a budget-friendly dollar amount and schedule a pedicure. The ultra-organized moms, whose back-to-school shopping was finished by the end of last year’s after-Christmas sales, may actually be able to have their pedicures within the next few days.

The rest will have zero time for such frivolities until after school starts but are definitely permitted to cast envious glares in the general direction of any freshly-pedicured mom.

Complete remaining tasks on your back-to-school list. Pronto. These might include but are in no way limited to dental appointments, shots, meet-the-teacher visits, filling out 452 forms per kid, and shopping for school supplies and clothes.

If you run out of time or money to replace jeans and backpacks that have sprouted unsightly holes, consider using duct tape. It comes in a variety of fashionable colors these days and should hold up for quite some time.

Drive to a grocery store that is open 24 hours because heaven knows when you’ll finally be finished with everything else. Purchase all the food necessary to make a hearty breakfast, fill lunch boxes and bake special treats for after school. Toss a few boxes of tissues in your cart before checking out.


Drag yourself and any teenage kids out of bed. Greet any younger kids, who will have been dressed and ready to go since 4:30 a.m., at the breakfast table. Decide the hearty breakfast will have to wait and grab the cold cereal. Remind everyone how to get to their classrooms and to be extra nice to teachers and the new kids. Especially the new kids.

Hug your kids. Kiss them, even if they think they’re too old. Tell them you love them and to have a fabulous first day of school. Say good-bye.

Resume regular activities.

Cry as needed.

Some moms will cry because their oldest has just walked into kindergarten, others because their youngest is now a senior in high school. Moms of preschoolers might cry because their kids are still too young for school and they could use a break, and many moms will cry tears of pure delight that the kids are finally back in school.

Freshly-pedicured moms are not immune from crying.

Offer your kids treats and a listening ear after school. Be prepared to hear the tough things. One of your kids might feel invisible at a new high school, another drop school supplies all over the junior high hallway, and yet a third might not understand when the elementary gym teacher says, “Grapes,” he actually means, “Gather round.”

Distribute tissues when necessary.

Tell your kids how much better the next days and weeks will be. They will undoubtedly make friends, stash school supplies more securely in backpacks, and learn the gym teacher’s food-based vocabulary.

Explain to your kids that even though you can’t always be with them to stop unpleasant things from happening, someone who loves them best of all will always have their backs and be there for them to come home to. No matter what.

Remind yourself your best is enough.


Dream of your upcoming pedicure.

Sunday, August 14, 2011


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

The blinking game: I've played it on car trips, during church and at the dinner table.

To win, you simply had to be the last to blink. With eyes watering and stinging, the game seemed to last forever. In reality, though, it never lasted long.

No matter how hard you try or how much willpower you have, the next blink is simply inevitable.

As a kid, it felt like I was forever waiting. I waited for kindergarten to start, to have sleepovers, to go on vacations, for birthdays, for a job, for my first kiss and more independence. But as I walked across the stage at high school graduation, I clearly recalled my first day of kindergarten and realized that all my waiting amounted to a couple of blinks.

Kindergarten seemed like only yesterday. Surprisingly, I wanted to be in kindergarten again, if only for one day. I decided I would even take the day I sat in the corner of the playground and cried.

Then came college, during which I waited some more, to find my way around campus, get enough sleep, finish the next research paper, graduate and eventually get a real job.

That feels like just yesterday. I’d love to spend a day as a college student again, even if it has to be during finals week.

Marriage and five kids came with the next few blinks. I spent several years living in the fog of diapers, tantrums, sleepless nights and endless laundry. As difficult and unending as it seemed at times, my life was always balanced out and made magical with sweet baby smell, hugs and kisses, complete adoration of toddlers, and pure joy.

Only yesterday I was rocking my babies to sleep. I find myself longing for that stage of life again, even if it’s the day every single one of my kids had a fever.

I’d take that day in a heartbeat.

Reluctantly and as slowly as possible, I blinked again. But it was still too fast. My oldest will be turning 16 and my youngest starting kindergarten in a few weeks.

I am currently living in the fog of carpools, sports, piano lessons, homework, broken hearts, cellphones, wanting to string kids up by their toes, frozen pizzas and endless laundry.

As difficult and unending as it seems at times, my life is always balanced out and made magical with trips to the ice cream store, vacations, debates and discussions with teenagers, unexpected hugs, and pure joy.

At some point in the future, it will admittedly be nice to have more time for hobbies and my career, and even my laundry. I’ve heard it rumored that some people actually get all of their laundry done in a single day.

But the irony is, when I’m standing in my perfectly clean and organized laundry room with nothing left to wash, it will seem like only yesterday when the laundry was endless. And I have a feeling that I will really truly wish for more laundry, even if it’s the laundry from the day the whole family ran outside in the rain, dragging in no less than a ton of mud on their clothing.

Please. No more blinking.

I’m not ready.

But it’ll happen. Because no matter how hard I try or how much willpower I have, the next blink is simply inevitable.

And when I’m standing on the curb waving goodbye, eyes watering and stinging, all the blinking in the world won’t be able to hold back the tears.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The best worst vacation ever

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

My eyes flew open to an awful burning smell. Minutes earlier, I had handed over the driver’s seat to my 15-year-old daughter fresh out of driver’s ed and closed my eyes for a second.

My five kids, one nephew and I had headed out six hours earlier on a 21-hour road trip. My husband planned on joining us nine days into our two-week trip booked to capacity with visits and a reunion.

My daughter said, “Mom, something’s wrong. I’m pushing down on the accelerator but the van’s losing power.”

“Pull over, pull over, pull over!”

Smoke was pouring out from under our van. Over the phone, my husband asked me to open the hood and give a report. Um, lots of liquid under the battery, I thought. I couldn’t tell what color. I was loads of help.

We started making phone calls.

Since the van shook every time a semi lumbered by, I didn’t think it prudent to let the kids out. So we opened the windows to get some relief from the 102-degree heat. Several flies took up residence in our van. Kids goofed around, someone got kicked, two kids cried, I tried not to.

Our situation was less than ideal.

After a bazillion hours, a shuttle van arrived. Weird that the clock said only two hours had passed.

We were driven 30 miles back to Amarillo, Texas, where we dumped our belongings at the service station and were whisked off to a McDonald’s to wait for the van to be towed to the station.

I was no expert but knew that the transmission had been rebuilt and the timing belt replaced three months prior — at great expense — so it definitely wasn’t those. Beyond that, I was at a complete loss.

Three hours and six dozen Happy Meals and ice cream cones later, a grim-faced mechanic sat down across from me in the small service station waiting room and delivered two pieces of unfortunate news.

Number one, our transmission was shot.

Number two, they would be closing in 10 minutes.

I missed the part during parenthood training where they explain what to do if you are ever stranded at a motel in Amarillo — sans car or husband — with six dreadfully unhappy kids.

While the kids splashed out excess energy in the pool, the motel manager suggested what turned out to be the perfect solution.

I called the friendly folks at "Big Texan," who sent a white limo complete with real longhorns as the hood ornament to drive us there in style. We were even lucky enough to watch a tall and remarkably skinny bearded man attempt to eat a 72-ounce steak dinner in an hour so he could get it for free.

Great food and high adventure, all wrapped up into one package.

Our van was delivered 24 hours later, and the service station owner, who had spent the past 12 hours working on the van, helped me load kids and bags back in. Having been stranded once, I was hesitant to continue on with the trip.

He then looked at me with concern and asked, “Do you have a towing service like AAA in case you should need it?”

His question did nothing to inspire confidence, but it did help me decide what to do.

We sent several prayers heavenwards and drove the six very long hours back home to a mechanic who had a vested interest in making the van roadworthy for us.

The term "staycation" took on an entirely new meaning.

My 10-year-old son described our trip with the irony it rightly deserved by declaring, “That was the best worst vacation ever!”

Perfectly said.