Thursday, September 29, 2011

I used to be a great mom

Published on (click HERE for the link)

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 p.m. because I knew how important it is for developing brains to get a sufficient amount of sleep. They only watched G-rated movies, also on account of developing brains. And they definitely, definitely listened exclusively to brain- boosting music. Mostly classical and kids, but occasionally ’80s when nostalgia set in.

Wow was I good.

Things have changed since then — quite radically, I’m afraid. My former self would be dismayed with the shenanigans that go on at my house these days.

I find myself reading bedtime stories at 9:30 p.m. on school nights to my young kids. When my husband is unavailable, I sometimes have to be at an event with an older kid until then. Such bedtimes would have been unthinkable 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 (just to clarify, none of them were rated R either). Squeaky wheels simply get more grease at times. My former self would have been indignant, insisting that I give each child equal consideration and think of developing brains for gosh sakes.

I actually thought it was pretty sweet that I got to listen to “Napoleon Dynamite” twice on that trip.

I knew my younger children’s tastes in music were being shaped by their teenage siblings, but what I didn’t realize is how far the pendulum had swung. One day, I was in the car with only one kid in tow when I heard a loud voice, totally on key and in tempo, belting out:
“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

I looked around to make sure that I didn’t have any surprise stowaways. Nope. Just the one. My youngest, age 4.

A few days later, I heard the same voice singing these stirring words:
“I wanna be a billionaire
So freakin’ bad
Buy all of the things I never had …”

Perhaps things had gone too far.

“Hey,” I said the next day when all five kids were in the car, “let’s help your younger brother learn a kid song!”

Blank stares.

“Come on, don’t you remember all those songs we used to sing all the time?”

The next several seconds were silent as we (including me, to be completely honest) tried to think of such a song. We finally hit upon “Wheels on the Bus,” managing to remember more than one verse. My son eventually caught on and sang the last few chords, “… all through the town!”

My 4-year-old officially knew one kid song. Not much to brag about, but it's something.

Four days later, he ran through the house, 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”

I’m as concerned as I ever was about my kids’ developing brains. Every year, though, I understand just a little more that the parameters, requirements and demands of being a good mom are constantly shifting and changing — right along with my kids. This would have been virtually impossible for me to truly understand back in the days when all my kids were snugly tucked into bed by 7:30 p.m.

I guess “Wheels on the Bus” didn't take.

And I’m so OK with that.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Step it up!

Published on (click HERE for the link)

I’m always encouraging my kids to try new things. So once I had more or less figured out the cycling and Pilates classes at my gym, I decided it was time for me to follow my own advice and try something different. The following description of a step aerobics class caught my eye:

Step/Interval: Step it up! By varying intensity levels with intervals, you'll use the large muscles in the legs to burn fat and calories. Using hand weights for added resistance, you'll also build and strengthen your upper body! Great all around workout!

I looked carefully for any small print about needing previous stepping experience but found none. Burning fat and calories sounded promising, the class fit my schedule and I had learned how to fly under the radar in gym classes in case things proved too difficult. So I decided to give it a go.

I mean, how bad could it be?

Seconds after Pat Benatar belted out her first, “Hit me with your best shot,” I found out how bad it could be. Things were already proving too difficult, and I realized that it is categorically impossible to fly under the radar in step/interval classes on account of the thousands of lights and hundreds of mirrors.

I came very close to leaving right after the first song, but I thought about how great it would be to tell my kids the story of their mom trying a new class, so I stayed.

And thus commenced the single most humiliating hour of my life.

You see, I ran into a few complications.

The first was understanding the instructor.

With startling volume and precision, she started barking orders like, “Around the World,” “Corner to Corner,” “Grapevine,” “Helicopter” and “Mambo Cha-Cha-Cha.” Other than surmising that she was calling dance step names, I was at a complete loss.

The second was actually performing the steps.

I was surrounded by ladies who appeared to have mastered stepping right along with drinking out of sippy cups. Following them could have been within reach if not for the insanely fast tempo. Before I had observed and was able to execute one simple turn, the steppers had jumped, kicked and twirled a minimum of a half dozen times before returning to starting position. Where I still happened to be.

The third complication involved the full-length mirrors adhered to both the front and back walls.

Picture yourself watching dancers moving together in perfect sync on a stage. If one of them steps out of sync, it jolts you out of your revere, compelling you — almost against your will — to watch that dancer exclusively from that point on. With a sympathetic tongue click or two, you feel embarrassed for the poor thing and wonder why she ever got on stage in the first place.

Now picture yourself as that poor thing, only this particular dance lasts for 60 excruciating minutes.

My only respite was when we did intervals on the mat. I have never been so thrilled to do sit-ups and push-ups and lunges in all my life. But the intervals would inevitably end too soon, leaving ample time for more humiliation.

Despite my plans to skedaddle out of there the minute class ended, I was caught in a bottleneck at the door. Looking straight ahead, I avoided all eye contact, especially with the stepper be-bopping her way in my direction.

"You did a good job today! You really did," she said to me, huge smile on her face.

I’m no step aerobics expert, but I suspect she was sugar-coating the truth. Dozens of steppers in that room had performed beautifully that day, and I was most certainly not one of them. Her well-intentioned comment proved helpful in that it confirmed what I already feared: my disastrous stepping debut had been witnessed and noted by every single smiling stepper in that classroom.

Mercifully, Pat Benatar and the Bee Gees had drowned out the sounds of sympathetic tongue clicking.

I still encourage my kids to try new things. But if they try something and decide it might not be the best fit, I’m willing to listen.

Having been there myself, I completely understand.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Book Review: A Bitter Truth

Third Bess Crawford mystery, 'A Bitter Truth,' offers strong characters, intriguing plot

Published for Deseret News (click HERE for the link)

"A BITTER TRUTH," by Charles Todd, HarperCollins Publishers, $24.99, 340 pages (f)

Nurse Bess Crawford returns home to London for a well-deserved Christmas leave from the front lines of World War I only to find a lovely young woman, shivering and scared, seeking shelter in her doorway. Bess invites her inside and discovers an ugly bruise across her face as well as signs of a concussion.

By deciding to help her new friend in distress, Bess enters a world of family tragedies and long-held secrets. When a family friend is found murdered, Bess is plunged into a murder investigation in which she becomes one of the prime suspects.

Her untiring efforts to aid her friend and discover the killer’s identity before she becomes the next victim lead Bess to find both an ally and the truth in the most unlikely places.

Charles Todd, a mother-and-son writing team, combines believable characters, gut-wrenching suspense and a sobering commentary on the ravages of war in the third Bess Crawford mystery, “A Bitter Truth.”

The book transports readers to war-torn England and France in 1917, where soldiers suffer and often die despite the best efforts of doctors and nurses. Those who survive bring home emotional baggage, with the consequences of their actions while at war following them home.

“A Bitter Truth” describes injuries and death from war, discusses an illegitimate affair that results in the birth of a child and contains a few mild swear words. Charles Todd employs discretion with these adult themes, avoiding gratuitous language and detailed descriptions.

Readers familiar with the Bess Crawford series will find “A Bitter Truth” at least as engaging, if not more so, than her previous two mysteries. The characters in the book are believable and interesting in that they show a complex range of changing and conflicting emotions. Bess proves smart, sincere and as good a sleuth as she is a nurse.

In all of its complexity, the book can be confusing at times. Some passages beg re-reading as a means of clarification, especially in the final chapters as the story reaches its conclusion.

Overall, readers will enjoy the complex characters, significant amount of intrigue and the surprising conclusion offered in “A Bitter Truth.”

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The trivialities that lead to a parent's undoing

Published for KSL.con (click HERE for the link)

I watched my dad open the box on his dresser, looking for the fingernail clippers I had asked to borrow. He had hesitated — much longer than such a simple request warranted — and had agreed only under the condition that the clippers never leave his sight.

This strange behavior should have induced me to hightail it out of the room, but instead, I stayed to observe my dad's temporary undoing. Discovering that the clippers were not in the box, Dad began to twitch, rant, fume, gesture and utter strange noises.

Dad had officially fallen off his rocker.

Over a pair of nail clippers? Ridiculous. I was 12, and I promised my future children right then and there that I would never fly off the handle over such trivialities.

In hindsight, that particular promise may have been a bit rash.

It began subtly, the disappearance of stuff. Scissors. Tape. Pens and pencils. At first, I attributed it to the onset of senility. But when the misplaced items were recovered in places such as kids’ bedrooms, my suspicions shifted and I forced myself to face the truth that my kids were less than perfect.

So I took action.

Lovingly, I explained to the kids why items needed to be returned to their rightful places after use. The next week, an entire box of markers disappeared.

Sternly, I laid out the consequences should particular things not be found in their proper places. Soon afterwards, my daughter came in the house wielding a spoon and knife she had found partially buried under a tree in the backyard.

Menacingly, I attached larger penalties to specific infractions. A few weeks later, upon opening the hatch of my Suburban in the Target parking lot, I found one of our cordless phones on the rear bumper. How it hadn't fallen off in transit I'll never know.

Regrettably, "leaving phones on car bumpers" hadn’t been on the list of infractions.

I started to put items in impossible-to-access places. Kids accessed them. I hid things, only to have them found by resourceful search parties.

I refused to replace the Scotch tape. We actually went without it until I decided I was a little embarrassed to send kids to birthday parties toting gifts accessorized with packing tape. It was a pride thing.

I even offered duplicates. My teenage daughter received both a hair dryer and flat iron for Christmas, leaving me puzzled when mine went missing again so quickly. Turns out I hadn't figured quality into the equation. If the replacements aren't of equal or greater value to the original items, they are of no practical use to the recipients.

My patience finally disappeared along with my makeup. Seconds before reaching the end of my rope, I had an idea.

I decided that my daughter needed the gift of make-up for her birthday. Not just any make-up, but make-up that was better than mine. As luck would have it, this wouldn’t be hard on the budget since I spend next to nothing on cosmetics.

I congratulated myself for such a genius idea and watched my daughter transform in front of the bathroom mirror, testing various makeup shades and application techniques.

A week later, my favorite eye shadow was not in its drawer. Or any other drawer. Or purse. Or anywhere else I looked.

Twitching, I stepped into the hallway, walking in a trance towards my oldest daughter's room. I began to rant, fume, gesture and even utter strange noises.

I had officially come undone.

Even in this altered state, I remained lucid enough to notice my children's wide eyes peeking out from their bedroom doors. I was suddenly 12 years old again, watching my own dad's unhinging. Feeling utterly sheepish, I had two startling realizations.

One, I finally understood my dad's nail clipper episode.

Two, I knew exactly what my children were thinking.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Helping your children understand 9/11

Published on (click HERE for the link)

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I was walking in the door from grocery shopping when my sister-in-law called, said, “Turn on your TV,” and hung up.

Seconds later, I watched live footage of United Airlines Flight 175 crash into the south tower of the World Trade Center. Since United Airlines Flight 11 had hit the north tower just 16 minutes before, cameras were already rolling.

Horrified, I knew that the world would never quite be the same.

I watched hour after hour of news coverage. I cried. I hugged my kids. I called my husband and parents and grandparents to tell them I loved them. When I learned that my brother had taken a flight out of Boston (the origin of Flight 11) that same morning, I cried some more.

In an effort to assuage my feelings of powerlessness and vulnerability, I joined thousands of others and donated time and money to organizations that were formed to aid victims and rebuild lives. I spent even more time and mental energy learning about the victims and the reasons and motivations behind the attacks.

I observed as political divisiveness all but disappeared, making room for solidarity and patriotism. As a nation, we prayed together despite religious differences. Countless examples of unselfishness, resiliency and hope moved me to tears.

I vowed to never forget.

A few days before Sept. 11 last year, my seven-year-old daughter walked in the door from second grade and said to me, “Mom, did you know that some bad guys flew airplanes into two really tall buildings in New York City and killed lots of people? And that the bad guys even died when they crashed into the buildings?”

My heart sank as I saw the fear and confusion in her eyes. I realized that as far as my kids knew, I had all but forgotten.

On Sept. 11, 2001, three of my children were under the age of six and two had yet to be born. Sept. 11 is nothing but a page out of history to them — unless I help make it otherwise. I had done my children a huge disservice by not preparing them for what would undoubtedly be discussed or at least mentioned by teachers, other kids and adults.

I vowed to do better.

Since this year marks the 10th anniversary of the attacks, news coverage and discussions will be abundant.

Following some of Dr. Harold Koplewicz’s suggestions in his article “A Decade Later: Talking to Kids About 9/11” (, I plan on having individual, age-appropriate discussions with my kids. I won’t shy away from the basic facts, but I will decide what kind of details, footage and news coverage to share with each child.

I’ll explain that many ordinary Americans reacted to the attacks with extraordinary unselfishness. Some of these inspiring accounts can be found in this lesson prepared by Constitution Rights Foundation Chicago titled, “Good Citizens in a Time of Emergency” (

I want my kids to understand that it's possible for millions of diverse individuals to set aside their differences and work toward a common good. And that demonstrating unselfishness, resiliency and hope can improve and change countless lives, including our own.

I'll try to explain all these things, but I’m sure that these talks with my kids won’t all go perfectly. I’ll be far from ideal as a discussion moderator, some of my kids won’t seem to care very much, and at least one of them will probably become exceedingly worked up about the terrorist acts themselves.

But it’s worth my best efforts, because remembering 9/11 is simply too important to forget.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Picture perfect

Posted on (click HERE for the link)

Two things by way of preface:  (1) I owe my daughter big time for letting me post her pic with this story, and (2) I have since changed to outdoor pictures with a professional photographer.

Expecting nothing but junk, I was surprised to find a picture of my daughter in the far back corner of my junk drawer. I put it in the middle of the kitchen island and waited in giddy anticipation for her to come home from middle school. And because my daughter’s best friend happened to be with her, the ensuing drama far exceeded my expectations.

As soon as they spotted the picture, both girls lunged for it. My daughter was a split-second behind her friend and proceeded to chase her through the house in what proved to be a futile retrieval attempt.

Knowing that her friend was intent on widely distributing the picture at school the next day, my daughter stomped back into the kitchen and demanded, “Why did you ever let me wear those clothes for a picture? I look awful. Seriously, Mom, what were you thinking?”

“Interesting you should ask, Sweetheart. Do you remember that day?”

The poor girl suffered from selective memory loss, so I helped out by reminding her.

Once a year, I drag my kids to the picture studio. Since the pictures are framed and displayed on the same wall, I figure that coordinating clothing should be the minimum requirement for pictures.

When my daughter was 11 years old, I had opted for pastel golf shirts of varying colors. And since my daughter was huge on making her own decisions, the two golf shirts hanging in her closet would actually give her a choice.


Until she got wind of the wardrobe plans. It was so horribly unfair, she asserted, that I always told her what to do and never ever let her make her own decisions. Plus the shirts were simply horrible.

I felt I had the right to tell her what to wear once a year for a picture. She took exception.

My other kids were already buckled in the car and we were ridiculously late for our appointment, so I finally laid down the law. I watched her pull on a golf shirt, angrily run a comb through her hair and fight back tears.

I had won.

But the victory felt empty, more like defeat.

“Pick your battles,” I often remind myself. Coordinated wall photos were so worth fighting for. Plus I couldn’t back down, thereby showing my daughter that I’d give in if she threw a big enough fit.

Yet something told me to rethink my position. So I did, reluctantly.

I looked into my daughter’s beautiful eyes, swallowed some tears along with a chunk of home d├ęcor pride, and said, “You know what, sweetie? It doesn’t matter. You can wear whatever you want. I’ll be in the car with the other kids, so please hurry.”

A few minutes later, my daughter climbed into the car wearing boy jeans and a black long-sleeved running shirt. She wore a huge smile in the pictures, the black standing out in marked contrast amongst all that pastel.

Once her memory had sufficiently been jogged, my daughter was at a complete loss for words. She smiled sheepishly at me and apologized for being a brat.

She got it, irony and all.

Of course that didn’t stop her from begging her friend to cough up the picture in exchange for a snack. Fortunately for my daughter, her friend was hungry enough to take the bribe. The awful picture would never see the inside of their middle school.

To me, though, the picture is anything but awful. It reminds me that digging in my heels as a mom doesn’t always produce optimal results. In this case, stepping aside produced a picture that is perfect in every important way.

I wouldn’t trade that black T-shirt picture for a picture of my daughter wearing a pastel golf shirt. Not in a million years, not even for a million bucks.