Tuesday, November 25, 2008

It was an ACCIDENT!

Last night, I killed the cat.

If I were a blogging girl, my last two entries would have been on how I really disliked that cat. But this horrific mishap could have happened to anybody, and I will forever declare my innocence in her tragic demise. How could I have known that “Shredder” had jumped into the dryer under all the heavy camping clothes I was quickly transferring from the washing machine? In my haste to get kids in bed after a weekend away, I slammed shut the dryer door without a thought, pressed the deadly “ON” button, and quickly escaped exited.

Fifteen minutes later, my husband made the terrible discovery, clued in by our five year-old twins yelling, “Something stinks in here!” The loud “THUMP, THUMP, THUMP” coming from the extra capacity Kenmore was another dead giveaway, pun intended, that something was amiss. When he proceeded to gently inform first me, and then the kids, that Shredder had just perished in this grisly manner, there was understandably a cacophony of emotion. Let’s just say, a LOT of drama. Loud weeping from the grief, of course. And deep, deep down, amid all my tears and disbelief, maybe an ounce of relief accompanied my burden of guilt.

Shredder was my daughters’ pet, found as a stray eight-ounce kitten four months ago. Now almost full grown, she had at first been a bright spot in our lives. All seven of us had taken turns bottle-feeding her, cooing over her frisky kitten antics. But the “frisky” had, of late, turned into “freakish.” Shredder, true to her name, mercilessly tore at our ankles, arms and faces with her claws, and spread kitty litter EVERYWHERE (where in the house is the best place to put an open box of poop, for heaven’s sake?). In her innate feline curiosity, she would NOT stay in the house, thereby bringing in fleas that, after nibbling on her, left her skin slightly bloody. Convinced she had the run of the house, she deposited remnants of flea blood in lovely locations like the bathroom sinks or the kitchen counter. Despite our scrubbing and ointments, her fleas were an issue that were putting me over the edge. On top of that, Shredder’s psyche couldn’t handle the excitement of a house full of humans. So any time we sat down or reclined in bed exhausted, she attacked every wiggle of our toes or bat of our eyelashes. “This cat needs to be a barn cat!,” I’ve been declaring adamantly these last few days: “We are getting RID of this CAT!” Even as I started the laundry last night, my resolve was firm. And now, she’s dead. The irony is so thick.

To make matters worse, our track record lately with pets is bleak. I think if we ever tried to replace Shredder with another family pet, Animal Control would come after us. We’ve now endured the tearful loss of three pets in the last year and a half. The summer before last, my daughter’s first cat was (we assume) eaten by a coyote. Second, our son’s black lab was euthanized for incurable aggression issues. As if these sorrows were not devastating enough, now Shredder has suffered, well…murder. Actually, I think it’s called manslaughter when the victim is killed unintentionally. After graciously cleaning the crime scene last night, my husband said, “It’s a shame, too, because Sergeant actually survived the dry cycle.” Sergeant, our son’s pet hamster, was a Houdini who insisted on gnawing his way out of his cage and finding refuge in appliances. One day years ago, he pulled some serious Gs in the dryer, but lived to triumphantly consume one and a half pant legs on my husband’s favorite khakis. A few months later, the hamster was sold to an unsuspecting family, much to the kids’ chagrin.

However, last night’s Kenmore catastrophe takes the cake, and has forced upon me some honest self-critiquing about my pet history. I killed my pet rabbit once, too. There. I said it. This is the dark secret of my life: that when I was twelve, my rabbit starved to death. My dad warned me that I wasn’t taking care of Thumper as I’d promised, and in his “tough love” approach, he let me learn Pet Responsibility 101. I got an “F.” And a dead rabbit. For years, I defensively said Thumper “got sick,” but now, I’m coming out of the closet. I committed manslaughter….killed Thumper “without malice aforethought.”

While I’m at it, I need to admit the truth about ‘the snake incident.’ My son’s ball python was at one time the pride of his life, but the weekly mouse purchase to keep Legolas fed slowly turned into a week and two days turned into a week and a half turned into two weeks. I think that, deep in the recesses of my overworked brain, I mused that any mother who allows her nine year-old boy’s ball python dream to come true, especially when she has to load up newborn twins and two little sisters to drive to the mouse store, deserves a little slack. Or a straight jacket. So on the day that Legolas was stiff and unresponsive in his aquarium, indicting images of Thumper’s frigid death flashed across my brain like terrifying scenes from a horror movie. I knew that my report card from Pet Responsibility 101 was haunting me again, and I was racked with remorse. Of course, I told my son (and others) that Legolas, like Thumper before him, “got sick.” But I am now cathartically confessing another closet pet crime: I accidentally killed the snake. Death by starvation…again. With great shame, I offer myself for the public lashing that is due me.

It might be obvious that I’m not an animal person. I think this is because, as a child, my beloved puppy Mabel was run over by a car: that emotional wound has probably blocked my heart from bonding again with anything that has fur. However, as a dutiful mother, I’ve allowed the acquisition of hermit crabs and fish in addition to the ones who’ve taught my kids solid Grief Management skills. The only reason I ever said yes to our first family pet, Sadie the dachshund, was because a dog, I was told, enhances children’s lives.

Lest anyone think I can’t be trusted with Sadie, let me assure you that not only has she has managed to survive in my care for nine years, but she is quite well-fed. PLUMP even. Sadie loves me dearly because I provide down cushions for her by day and buttered popcorn by night. Which is why lots of people say she’s FAT. Deep down, I gloat proudly in these disapproving comments about her weight because it means that maybe, perhaps, there’s hope for me. Maybe I can shirk my past while I boast in the one animal who has not only survived me, but loves me. She’s nestled in her down pillow right now, scratching annoyingly at the fleas Shredder passed on to her before her death—the cat’s living legacy, of sorts. Despite needing a flea bath, Sadie has been on her best behavior since last night’s trauma.

I think she’s afraid I might run her through the dishwasher.

Top Notch Swill would like to thank Ronna Bauman for writing and sharing this post. Ronna loves being an Air Force wife and mom to 5 forgiving children, whom she diligently feeds three times a day. She calls Colorado home, and has one family pet. As of this morning.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


My friend Angy got in a car accident on Saturday. She said it was mostly her fault, but the man whose car she bumped into treated her very poorly. His tone went from kindly apologetic, to patronizing, to acidic when Angy didn’t fall into the role of the quiet, obliging woman. He told her that he didn’t want to get the police involved, lied about his part in the accident and when she tried to disagree, put his hand upon her arm and patronizingly told her, “Let’s not argue.” Once the police came, he spoke for both of them, and then spitefully insisted a report be filed although the police informed them it wasn’t necessary. Angy was holding her crying, thirsty baby, and felt utterly frustrated and bewildered. She blurted out in her anger, “You are a mean man!” Now, she looks back on Saturday’s incident with a twinge of remorse. “I sounded like a first grader. I should have cursed at him.” I laughed with her. I could identify with that feeling…of wishing you had reacted differently in a situation….coming up with the perfect retort hours after the moment passed. But later I started to wonder about it. Would cursing have made her sound more grownup? Would it have gotten her point across more effectively? Maybe it just would have felt better.

Although I’m somewhat ashamed to admit it, I’m not against the occasional curse word. I’ve been known in my home to blurt them out unintentionally AND intentionally. Usually I regret it afterward, especially if I was within earshot of any witnesses, but there is something sort of cathartic about cursing. And who doesn’t hold a bit of grudging respect for a person who can really use curse words creatively or string them together with flair? I didn’t grow up cursing and neither did my husband and so when we catch each other ripping off a four letter word, it usually makes the other giggle since it sounds so silly coming out of our mouths. So unnatural. I guess that’s probably a good thing. We wouldn’t want cursing to become a regular thing around our home.

I wonder why we feel that way about it. After all, curse words are just words, right? Is it that different if we replace them with more tame language that expresses exactly the same sentiment? Isn’t it the attitude behind them that is the problem? Why are curse words off-limits? Maybe it’s because when we curse, we are afraid it gives the impression to those around us that we are a certain “type” of person. They might peg us as a coarse, vulgar, or uneducated person who didn’t have good manners. Or at least a good vocabulary. I guess we don’t want people to put us in a box and get the wrong idea about who we are.

But what about the things we say, or rather don’t say, that really do reflect who we are? What about talking about the things we believe? Why is that off-limits in good company as well? Why is it bad manners to talk about religion and politics? After all, don’t our convictions and beliefs make up a good bit of who we are? I wouldn’t want my friends to shy away from sharing what they truly think about things. I want them to feel comfortable to share those with me. To be vulnerable enough to tell me the truth about what they believe is the truth. That’s important! That gives me a clearer picture of who they are. I find that sort of transparency very attractive in a friend.

But when the tables are turned, whoa! Back up, girl! I am not eager to do the same. I play my cards close to the vest. I’d much rather talk about my flaws, my struggles, my experiences, or even my sex life than have to talk about what I believe or my political convictions. Why? I usually would offer the excuse that I don’t want to offend anyone. I don’t want to have to say, “I think this, so that means I disagree with you. I think you are wrong.” Because I assume someone’s feelings might get hurt. But maybe it’s because I don’t want my beliefs to be exposed….to possibly be ridiculed. Held up for closer inspection. Or that I might be put in the frightening and intimidating position of having to defend them. Or perhaps the real issue is that I might not be liked as well as I was before.

But is that true? I wonder. If I have to hide who I really am and what I really think, then do my friends actually know me? Do they actually like the real me? If I’m hiding, chances are they don’t even know who the real me is. And I don’t know about you, but I can only do surface friendships for so long. They are tiring. And boring. I like my friendships with a little spice. A little fluff AND depth. The deep friendships go the distance. The friends who know me inside and out and still love me, and vice versa…the ones with whom you can let your hair down and your guard too and just let it all hang out. Those are the friendships that I truly enjoy and know will last. And I know part of the journey to developing those kinds of friendships requires a willingness to be vulnerable and transparent and let your friends see who you are, as well as an openness to accept who they really are too.

This all reminds me of my favorite episode from Seinfeld. Maybe you remember it too…the character Elaine is dating Puddy and is shocked to discover after a long period of dating that Puddy is a Christian. How could she not know such vital information about her own boyfriend? The funny thing is that this is not the most upsetting thing to her. What upsets her is that Puddy has never tried to persuade her to convert and thus save her from the pit of Hell. She knows full well she would never convert, but she is totally put out that he doesn’t care for her enough to even try. If he really loved her, wouldn’t he at least try to save her? I rolled with laughter when I saw the episode because I thought how true it rang with my own relationships. Do I care enough about the people in my life to really share with them who I am and what I believe? Are my convictions so strong that I would even try to persuade others? Am I passionate about them? What would be different if I not only lived what I believed but let others in on it too? How would the words that come out of my mouth be changed if I didn’t filter them so much? If I spoke from my heart and my mind with more freedom?

It’s a question I’m pondering these days. When should I keep quiet and when should I pipe up? I hope I discover the answer soon because I don’t want to lose too much time letting important things go unsaid. Better to have risked some transparency and said them than curse the missed opportunity. And besides, as Angy says, there are so many other things that she’d rather people not talk about….like their husband’s salaries or their gifted children’s grades…now those are better left unsaid. I agree. Because when those subjects come up, it just makes me want to curse.


John came home from Iraq Wednesday and things were not as I expected. Let’s just say this entire year has not gone as expected. It has been one big surprise party, minus the presents but with all the clean-up and unexpected guests. We found out in April that he would be deploying to for a year, leaving me alone with our four kids, two unruly dogs, and one fish, just on this side of eternity. After the hysterics died down, I got down to planning. I’m a big planner. Planning calms me…if I can just map out a guide for us, navigate all the imagined pitfalls and have a backup for each harrowing scenario, I feel oh so much better. I told John optimistically, “This year, I’m hoping not just to survive, but THRIVE!”

Then he left. And it became apparent that thriving was being optimistic to a fault, and surviving might even be in question. In the first month, our dining room chandelier blew up, taking out the electric in the house for a week, the four kids came down with a raging case of puke-a-palooza, which took out the second week. I found myself both the instigator and victim in two, yes TWO, car accidents, my first accidents ever, and when a helpful friend came to take a look at the car, he left the window open and, yes, it rained, and yes, our car’s electric shorted out. This was only to be topped by the humdinger of all the nasty surprises….I discovered our toilet had been leaking sewage into our yard for years, leaving us swimming in…errrr…one big nasty mess. And this was just the FIRST month. It was going to be a very, very long year.

In spite of these disasters, however, I was determined that after surviving nine months of his deployment, his brief two-week hiatus home should be perfect. My optimism juices resurged and I plowed full throttle into planning mode. I cleaned, put our finances in order, made the long delayed trip to the beautician, and even submitted to a semi-masochistic waxing. I dropped the big bucks on some new additions to my dusty lingerie drawer. Every “i” was dotted, every “t” crossed. We were ready.

And then came Wednesday. After seeing my last daughter off on the school bus, I made an immediate run to the commode and settled in for the long haul. My stellar run of vomit-free years had come to a violent end and I began to see my perfect welcome home plan for John slipping away. Not only were we not able to greet him at the airport with flag and banner waving, we weren’t even there to drive him home. When he arrived home via taxi, he found his once coiffed wife hunched over the toilet, retching, sour and smelly. Smelly didn’t even begin to describe my condition the next morning, when I awoke to the unpleasant surprise that my bowels had awakened before me. Now THAT was a big, nasty mess. Each of us over the next few days succumbed to the stomach virus, upsetting both our plans for John’s grand welcome and our expensive reservations at the local water park hotel.

We were just bidding the tummy bug farewell, when, hello! Here came the pinworms. Suffice it to say that the pinworms were not content to infest my children alone, but moved on to bigger better buffets in bigger better bodies, and that diagnosing the condition the FIRST time, involved my poor husband as chief inspector of the bottoms. I’m sure that THIS was not the vision of his family he had expected to take back with him to Iraq. Discovering them was shocking and disgusting but ridding ourselves of them was even worse. The medicine we had to take tasted awful, and the laundry associated with pinworm de-infestation was unequaled in quantity and consistency. We bleached down every possible surface of our house and then suffered the intense, wracking humiliation of a second coming of the pinworm a mere four weeks later. Diagnosis on the SECOND go-around was self-directed and involved a flashlight, a full length mirror and several curse words. It was awful.

Talk about plans going awry. I sent my sweet husband back to Iraq at the end of this, backup pinworm meds in hand and not quite as rested as I’m sure he had hoped. His trip home was not the romantic idyll that I planned for, but it no doubt gave him a good picture of what life had been like while he was deployed, and inadvertently buoyed his enthusiasm to return to Iraq. He could return slightly more prepared to dodge those rockets and manage his troops because after surviving pinworms and puking, life in a war-zone seemed just a little less bad. And I have to say, the experience wasn’t without merit for me too. I learned that plans are no match for Life’s surprise parties, and the best way to handle deployment from the homefront is with a sense of humor, a bucket at the ready to catch the next surprise (or clean up after it), and some pinworm medication tucked in your back pocket, for good measure.


My friend Dair recently said to me, “You have to come over to see my new woman space!” Her husband had just built her a beautiful paver patio in the backyard and she was spending her limited free time to herself out on the patio with a glass of wine and good friends. Or just herself and her glass of wine. A space just for her. Her woman space. When she came to see my house for the first time, I showed her my woman space. It was a closet on the landing of our staircase. It was a rather big and awkward closet with a window in it, so I had taken the door off and painted the inside and moved in a bookcase and desk and file cabinet and put up a shelf and had it wired for my phone and computer. My own woman space! “I love it!” Dair had exclaimed. And so do I. I love it.

Many times throughout the day, I pop in to visit my woman space. I’ll come in to answer the phone and just sit back in my chair for a few minutes while I chat to a girlfriend. Or I’ll come in to check my email. Or look over my mail. I put all my projects that I hope to accomplish in there…some of which I actually get to. I can’t describe the feelings that flood over me when I pop myself into my desk chair and turn on my computer at my desk. I’m surrounded by bulletin boards that have pictures of my family and friends on them….pictures I took with my best girlfriends on evenings out together or on our little weekend trips we’ve had…my wedding picture and a picture of John and me that my son took….drawings that my kids have done for me for Mother’s Day or just “I love you, Mama” days. Bible verses that inspire and encourage me. I have my cds in there and an old boombox. It’s a little messy in there, and sometimes I have to make a space on my desk through all the papers just to set down my coffee cup, but I love it. I feel happy and content and productive in there. In this whole crazy house, where we are often on top of one another or voices layer voices asking Mama for one thing or another, I have a place that is mine. A hideout from the craziness sometimes. A place where I feel that I can actually be productive in a house where most days feel very unproductive..

I come in here and I am efficient. I am creative. I am somewhat organized. I feel on top of things and that I can accomplish things that are important to me. I am rejuvenated. The rest of my day I spend doing things that are far more important usually, but it’s harder to see the results of my efforts with them. The laundry gets done, but by evening, the hamper is full again. I clean my house from top to bottom and by evening, it’s usually a pit again. I feed my family but go figure, they are always hungry soon after! I try and teach my kids, but it will take years to see if any of the lessons took hold in their hearts. But in my woman space, I can have a checklist and go down the list and actually get some things done and checked off! I can clear papers off my desk. I can book appointments, pay bills, write thank you notes! I can see progress.

Sometimes I catch my kids in here. They like to look through my desk, look at the family photo albums that I keep in here (because I am forever hoping to get them updated!), and draw on my computer paper. I remember doing that when I was little too. Maybe that’s why I still get so excited in office supply stores. I loved looking through my Daddy’s home office, peeking around in his desk drawers at all the little things organized in their boxes. I can understand the draw.

My woman spaces have transitioned over the years I’ve been out of my parent’s house. Usually, for me, it is associated with my desk. I was given a desk when I was in sixth grade and I have it still. It has taken up residence in my dorm rooms, my bedroom, the dining room, the kitchen, the laundry room, an alcove off the kitchen, and has now finally retired to the garage. It’s been replaced by a swanky new desk in the closet renovated into my space. But wherever it sat previously was considered my woman space.

I think that every woman could benefit from having a little corner of her home which belongs to her…a little place where she can sit down and be reminded that she is still, under all the other hats she wears, a woman. A thinking woman. Someone who has ideas, thoughts, priorities, needs. A woman space. It can be a desk, a chair set aside for reading her favorite books and magazines, a spot on her patio that is private for her, a corner where she practices her yoga, a kitchen stool next to a drawer with her organizers and coupons and address books within it and a place she rests her coffee cup on top of it. Any place where you can take a few seconds of your day to quiet your spirit and remember who you are and what you want out of your day. My friend Jill had a chair, a big comfortable chair with a reading light above it where she sat every morning while she read her Bible. She said she would put on a little music sometimes too and sit and meditate or pray or just soak in the music or what she had just read. That was how she started her day. Another friend Ronna has a little room off her kitchen with a tv. She told me when she puts her kids to bed, she liked to come into the room and read or watch tv with a big buttery bowl of popcorn every night. That was how she ended her day. A little ritual for her sanity. Or my friend Chenoa has a desk where she thinks all her great thinks and organizes her day or writes in her journal. It is in her family room but separated by a screen she made out of old, rustic doors. It’s just enough privacy to feel like her own little world for a while. That’s her woman space. Dorthy has a spot in her basement where she goes to paint. That’s hers. I gave my daughter Lily a vanity a few years ago. I had always wanted one and so, as most things go, I gave her one of my dreams. But she keeps clearing out the vanity-related items like hair bows and brushes, and replacing them with pens and pencils and papers. “I want it to be my desk, mama,” she says. She is already feeling the need at eight years old for her little woman space.

Do you have a woman space? A corner of the world where you can get away for a little private time? I hope so. We need them. Take a few minutes to look around your house and carve out a niche for yourself. Even if it just your front stoop or a chair on your patio, take the time to make a place just for you.


When I was pregnant with my daughter, Lily, I thought I had this whole labor and delivery thing all figured out. My first child, Jack, had been delivered via c-section, and the army hospital had lost the records from his birth, so my doctor and I had decided it was best to do a scheduled c-section for Lily, just to be safe. Since I’m a safety girl, I was delighted. I could make checklists…I could plan. I wouldn’t have to worry about which day she would be born, having my water break while I was in the line at Target, or some such public place, whether there would be child care available for Jack or if my husband would be off flying somewhere…..I would be able to put everything in place to assure a smooth birth. It looked like a perfect plan. I had my bags all packed, my parents arrived to care for Jack, Lily’s birth-day was circled on the calendar…everything was set. Since it was my second c-section, I knew what to expect and what my recovery would be like. I was ON TOP of things for once.

Then came Lily. The epidural that was supposed to feel like a slight prick caused me to let out a small scream after my anesthesiologist missed his target for the SECOND time. The c-section that was to last about 20 minutes lasted much, much longer due to unforeseen scar tissue. After the delivery, I was supposed to get up and walk to help with the recovery….but I couldn’t! I was in such terrible, terrible, terrible pain, I couldn’t even walk. The pain radiated from my back and hips down my right leg and I was in agony day and night. I couldn’t even focus on my beautiful new daughter because it was so encompassing. I could barely hold her. I had a hard time breast feeding her, and then I had to resort to pumping and dumping my milk, and bottle feeding her; something I was not thrilled about.

The days following the c-section that I thought would be filled with happiness and celebration were not at all what I expected. None of this had been figured into my perfect plan. There had been no room for surprises. And this was a big surprise. The ruptured disc in my back would require immediate back surgery, the recovery would be much longer and more involved than I expected, and I would need far more help. I wouldn’t be able to carry Lily, or care for Jack, or drive, or do much else at first, other than sit in a LazyBoy and yell directions to whichever poor sap volunteered for the job. This was not what I expected.

And yet, here I found myself five days after giving birth, at a staggering weight (I enjoy the “eating for two” rule during my pregnancies), propped up on all fours, bandaged on the front from my recent c-section, while a neurologist and his intern (who just happened to be a former classmate of my husband’s…oh the humiliation continues) operated on my back, wondering, “What happened to my plan?”

I have discovered that many times, my experiences with motherhood have been very much like my birth experience with Lily. It has been so unpredictable. One minute I am so on top of things, and the next I’m laying there wondering how things could have turned so crazy so fast. In a heartbeat, things can go from smooth to choppy. Suddenly, someone is throwing up or someone lost one shoe or someone just pooped their pants, and we were running late to start with. Or the child I know so well suddenly throws me for a loop and I’m knocked off my feet. The great eater turns picky. The obedient child becomes rebellious. I’m only twelve years into this mothering thing, and I’m still figuring it out, every day, wondering what is going to happen next. It is a surprise each day.

Thankfully for me, the surprises have for the most part, been small bumps or twists and turns as we’ve journeyed along this road. We haven’t had to endure the accidents and tragedies that others have been hit with. But when I’m in the moment…when the unexpected occurs…when my plans for the day are suddenly topsy-turvy…I tend not to see the big picture. I start to boil up and frustration overflows. Too often, I let the surprises get me down…and that’s not good. I’ve had to consider better responses to motherhood’s small surprises.

For me, this entails letting go of the ordered life that I crave, and learning to live each day, moment by moment, appreciating the small victories. Instead of sulking over how my plan is falling apart, I have to focus on the positive. Because when I get all wrapped up in my agenda and my expectations, things go downhill very quickly. I start yelling, rushing my kids, and pretty soon everyone is miserable. I don’t know why it keeps coming back to me, over and over again…why I can’t learn this lesson and move on…but I have to learn to be more flexible and build margin into my life for the surprises and the curveballs. I have to remind myself of it daily. Without it, I’m rigid and angry and disappointed and that’s no fun for anyone. But when I can let go, it gives everyone so much more room to grow and explore and adapt and thrive. Of course, letting go carries with it a big helping of mortification every once in a while…sometimes I’m going to be late. Sometimes, I’m going to screw up. Sometimes, I’m not going to look like the perfect mom with the perfect child living the perfect life and everyone is going to notice. And I have to be okay with that.

In addition, I’ve had to realize that I need help. I’ve had to let go of my pride and welcome loved ones into my life that can guide and counsel me in parenting. I’ve had to be willing to accept my husband’s constructive criticism and be honest enough to admit to my weaknesses in mothering. I’ve had to be able to laugh at myself and at the sheer chaos around here sometimes. I’ve leaned on my faith to keep my chin up and my spirit too. And though the recovery time is unpredictable and sometimes much longer than expected, hopefully each time I’ll be quicker to get back on my feet, and tuck another experience in my back pocket which may help me in the future.

You know, when the intern closed me up from my back surgery, he left me a little surprise. I didn’t know it at the time, but when I woke up from the surgery and was able to get up and walk, my hospital gown separated, giving those around me a peek at my glorious backside. My husband John said, “Hey…wait a second….something is on your back.” There, written in blue sharpie, were the words, “USAFA, ‘90”. He busted up laughing….”He left a spirit mission on your back!” Spirit missions were covert shenanigans that the cadets used to take part in at the Air Force Academy to buoy their class spirit. We got a good chuckle out of that, and it did buoy our spirit. I guess that’s also the very best prescription for dealing with the little surprises of motherhood. Because in my latter days, when the children are gone and my house is quiet and orderly, I want to remember a home filled not with neat agenda books, checklists and picture perfect children, but one filled with laughter and with spirit….and happy surprises.


We had big excitement on our block tonight. As I peeked out the front door, anticipating my husband’s arrival to pick up two very antsy daughters for Adventure Princess Campout, I spied not one, but THREE police cars parked a few houses down from us. Wow! I ran out without hesitation to join my neighbor and her daughter who had already come out to see what the fuss was about. We stared down the street, hypothesizing on what might be happening. Judging from the relaxed and jovial behavior of the policemen standing outside the house, we doubted anything serious had occurred. But it brought me back to a couple years ago when a similar scene was being played out in front of my home.

I had overindulged at a dinner date with my husband, John ~ not in alcohol, for me overindulgence always means food! My downfall! I prefer to eat my calories. J Anyhow, my tummy was upset on the way home, so we stopped at Dorothy Lane Market for some Gas-X, the wonderdrug. My friend, Dorthy says “Uberund” is her tummy deflator of choice, but for me, Gas-X rocks! Anyhow, I popped my Gas-X, got into my comfy old silky pajama shirt…the one I wore for hospital visitors after I had my babies (it’s huge and oh-so-comfy, but in my post-partum state, I believed the silky texture gave it some panache!)….and went to bed. After a few hours, however, I realized my Gas-X was not doing the trick and I started to wonder if perhaps a trip to the bathroom may be in order. Sitting on the potty was my last memory. John said he heard a THUD and when he came to check on me, he found me lying on the bathroom floor, panty-less, pajama shirt askew, out cold!

Through the fog and haze of unconsciousness, I heard John’s rather annoyed voice saying, “What are you doing down there, Lis?” Slightly annoyed, not worried. John is not a worrier…he leaves that to me, the professional. I opened my eyes and thought, “What AM I doing down here?!” I was staring at the bottom of my bathtub, my hands and arms splayed in a strange way in front of me. What on earth had happened? After debating a bit over whether my bizarre episode was worthy of a call to emergency services, we made the call. In our little haven here in Oakwood, it seems the emergency personnel arrive before you even finish relaying your address. I felt as though the words were still hanging in the air as they knocked on my door. Here I found myself, still quite clammy and much disheveled, answering the questions of my concerned safety officer while I pondered the whereabouts of my AWOL panties, when John thoughtfully and unexpectedly brought the wadded up undies into the room and plopped them on the desk next to me and the officer. How DO you discreetly and nonchalantly retrieve your underwear in such a situation? Is there an elegant way to do that? I don’t know. I opted for the grab and go.

Soon, I was more properly attired, if you can call old sweats “attire”, and it was decided that I should run up to the hospital and let them look me over. As we exited the house to enter the ambulance, I was met with the concerned faces of my neighbors. It’s hard to explain the mix of thankfulness and mortification that overwhelms you at a moment like that. I was so amazed that my neighbors would leave the comfort of their beds to come stand outside and see how they could help. Just to make sure we were okay. Of course, I would have preferred to greet them looking a little less scary, but at least I was wearing my underpants. For months afterward, it delighted my daughter Lily no end to tell people how her mommy fell off the potty and had to go to the hospital in the ambulance.

It was quite a little adventure for our family that night; full of lots of embarrassing moments (did I mention when I threw up in the MRI room, my hospital gown fell off?). But what stands out to me about that night was my neighbors’ kind and compassionate response. These days, we tend to do all we can to close ourselves off from community. I’m a chief offender! I email friends rather than phone, shop via internet rather than in brick and mortar stores, eat drive-thru in the car on the way home rather than go inside. Goodness! I don’t even have to interact with videostore clerks anymore in the age of Netflix! In many suburbs, people hunker down in their immense homes, surrounded by their immense yards, a virtual fortress of solitude and isolation. Even the communities themselves are isolated by gates.

But that’s not the trend here in Oakwood. It’s a small town, and many times I’ve heard people talk about the “close living”. It’s literally close! Our lot is about a tenth of an acre. I have tiny bathrooms and tiny closets and a tiny garage. But I love it. We moved here for the schools, but we found something far more valuable. We stayed for the COMMUNITY. Our neighbors here have actually been Neighborly! When we moved in, several of them welcomed us with delicious cookies and muffins. They’ve offered to help us on many occasions and were generous with their tools and time and experience. When we have vacationed, they have looked out for our home. When we brought home our new daughter, they celebrated her arrival. We have conversations over fences, thru windows, across streets and yards. They notice what is happening in our lives. We are friends. I like that. That is invaluable.

I’ve heard good fences make good neighbors, but our fence is awful. It’s a rusty old chain-link eyesore. I think good hearts make good neighbors. Hearts that look outside the boundaries of their own lives, their own homes, to what is happening next door. Hearts that are connected to hands and feet that move to serve and care and encourage. Hearts connected to voices that say, “Hi! How are you today? What’s new with your family?” We have been blessed to live among neighbors with hearts like these. It makes us want to stay. It makes my heart want to respond in kind. To imitate. To emulate. I want to be a good neighbor too.

The police have gone now. They mosied over to their cars and drove away with no fanfare. We are relieved that their behavior indicates that no emergency has befallen our neighbor. But I think rather than just hypothesizing about what may have happened, I will walk over and check on them. After all, they are not just my neighbors ~ they are my friends.


I’ve lived a semi-nomadic lifestyle for the last fifteen years or so. I guess anyone who would marry a military man has to have a little adventure in their blood. But I didn’t realize you needed a little gypsy in there too. When I married John, I didn’t think about all that. I saw a great guy with a good heart who looked pretty hot in his uniform, and that was all I needed to know. If you were in college when “Top Gun” came out, you can remember the appeal of a man in a flight suit. It didn’t occur to me until after the wedding that military people don’t stay put. Especially not pilots. Their job is to go! Their entire career is based upon the premise of leaving home….and where home is changes every couple of years. We used to have a plaque hanging in our home that said, “Home is where the Air Force sends you.” It came with six little plaques that hung beneath it for you to engrave with each place you moved to. I ran out of plaques a few years ago. We’ve lived in seven different places, in ten different homes (plus two stays in furnished apartments while we waited on housing) in the short time we’ve been married.

I guess it is a badge of honor to have survived so many moves and still have mental health intact….but I am a stay-putter, I have discovered. When we were younger, it was sort of exciting to see where we might be stationed next. Just when I would tire of decorating one house, I’d start daydreaming about what my next house might be like. I’d get the itch after a year or so to be in a new spot. But then I started to notice the pitfalls. We could never buy any furniture or curtains that were not completely versatile, since you never knew if they would fit in the next house. We would go from little houses to nice big ones and then back again to a small one. We once had a base house that we generously referred to as the “double-wide”. It was in California, and had no air-conditioning or garage, and was so full of lead and mold we received a warning from our housing department when we moved in. But it also came with some of the kindest neighbors we have ever had. Everyone on that base had such awful houses that it was fun to compare horror stories or see what you could possibly do to fix up such an abode. One of the fun things about base living was that there were only about four different house plans. Most people would walk into our home and say, “Oh! That’s where you put your TV? We have it on the opposite wall.” It was always a hoot to see how someone else would decorate a house that was exactly like ours. We stayed there the longest…three years. Then we were moving on.

Now I long to stay in one spot. To plant a garden or do landscaping and actually see it grow and mature! I remember in the first three years of our marriage, after we had already lived in three different houses, I whined to John, “I just want to plant some bulbs and get to see them bloom!” I long to make friends that I don’t have to say goodbye to, or make plans that aren’t hinged on whether we are staying or going. We have four children and they have reached the ages where they mourn the loss of their friends, their school, their home. For years we told our kids, “We will get a nice swing set, just as soon as we can stay settled in one place for a while.” They had a little fund they were saving for one…but they got tired of hearing, “Not this year. Not this house.” I look around my house and I think, “Man! I would love to do this or do that. But it’s no use putting too much money into a home we may sell soon.” Or I will see something that I would really love to buy, but my husband will remark, “Nooooo…we are already too close to our weight allowance. We can’t afford the extra weight.” When I think about things like these, I start to get very disappointed with the moving lifestyle. I wonder how much longer it will go on and where we will ever settle down…and my heart gets discouraged and resentful. It’s not a healthy thing for me to dwell on.

My husband once told me that the wife of one of his colleagues said that she loved moving. She thought it was a great adventure! I told him she was lying. I said no one loves moving this much. Or perhaps she was delusional. But now that I consider my attitude and how it affects my family (“the mother sets the tone of the home”, I hear ringing in my ears), I’ve decided maybe she wasn’t so delusional. Maybe it does help to see it as a big adventure. After all, we have never lived anywhere that we haven’t been sad to leave. We’ve often lived in places we never expected we’d travel to, much less live in. Upon moving there, we were sometimes sad to arrive, or even cried when we saw it (Have you SEEN Altus, Oklahoma? Blink and you’ll miss it!)….but when it was time to go on, we said nearly every time, “But I not ready to leave! I love it here!” We’ve made friends we would have never met otherwise and have grown to love. We’ve been able to whittle down our life to the material things that can hold in a moving van (under our weight allowance, of course)…the things that we really cherish and need. We don’t have a lot of clutter in our lives…it can’t travel easily and it may not fit in the next home! And we have learned to say goodbye and hello to new adventures, new friends, new experiences each time. Maybe moving does give you the opportunity to simplify your life and make the most of the time you have with your friends and family while they are around you…it keeps you in the present, since the future is so uncertain. Maybe it is a great adventure.

I don’t know if it helps to see it that way. But I am going to try and adopt the attitude. It can’t hurt, right? Besides, I don’t want to take any negative baggage along with me on my next move. I can’t afford the extra weight.

PS I just let my kids put up a swingset. It’s too heavy and will probably be left behind in our next move, but you have to seize the moment and live in the present, right? Carpe Diem!


Did anyone besides me watch THE NEXT FOOD NETWORK STAR? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? (My kids don’t get that. Heck…actually half my FRIENDS don’t get that and this TOTALLY depresses me…my husband DOES get it however and this is why I married him.) Anyhow, I watched it DEVOTEDLY and even made my husband watch with me (Yes, I am totally “gaying” him up with all my girly shows like Top Chef and Project Runway (I am in AWE of people who can create on demand!) and it all started with the awesomely wonderful and delicious Gilmore Girls…Oh! How the mighty have fallen! Don’t even get him STARTED on American Idol or So You Think You Can Dance…he will totally out himself and he IS in the military after all.) In case you missed it, poor you with your high-falutin’ good taste in television, in the first episode a chef, who was also a stand-up comedienne, was given the boot. Everyone kept hatin’ on her for not being funny. They were all, “You’re a comedienne, right? Are you going to say something funny? Say something funny! Be funny! Be funny!” and she totally tanked and was not funny.

I am so feeling her pain (although in private rather than on cable tv, thank you, Jesus!) because my friends recently referred to me as a “humorist”. I felt the immediate panic set in.


No one thinks people are funny when they are expected to be funny. And actually, I don’t even think I AM funny. I DO talk a lot and by sheer volume of what pours out of my mouth, I’m bound to hit the funny button every once in a while. That’s just science! Or math. I don’t know which because I’m terrible at both those subjects.

But the point is that I’m not actually that gifted with humor. I think that I just say what EVERYONE else is thinking but is too polite to actually say out loud. Sorry Mama, because I was paying attention all those years of superb parenting and I know I’m making you look bad. I just like to laugh more than I like manners…so it turns out I really am NOT funny or quick-witted even, although I might possibly be SLOW-witted and definitely impolite. And I am most DEFINITELY NOT A HUMORIST.

But it doesn’t matter now anyhow because my mind is a blank slate since I’ve had the humorist moniker thrust upon my shoulders and I can’t think of anything funny OR impolite to say. I’m a drooling idiot. All dried up because of the demon moniker. Ugh. How DID Erma Bombeck live with the weight of it? You are my hero, girl. Or, I guess, were.


While observing the male behavior at my house, it may appear that the adage “No man is an island” might be somewhat in question from time to time. My husband and son tend to test this theory. They love to get alone in their thoughts, their books, and will often rather burrow in their rooms than get together with friends. I am quite certain, however, that it definitely holds true for the opposite sex. No woman is an island. At least, no sane, healthy, happy woman of my acquaintance or experience. A chick needs her girlfriends. This one in particular. It’s taken me some time to really embrace this.

I can tend to hermit, and you know, I loves me my time to putter in my home. It is lovely when John takes all the kids out of the house for a bit so I can just have time to myself to roam the house, organize, re-organize, and daydream in peace and quiet. When it is completely quiet, I realize why on most days I feel so disquieted! So scattered and frazzled! It’s hard to think straight with lots of little voices in the house. Once it is quiet, I am at peace…for a while. If I get too much peace and quiet, pretty soon I’m discontent; pillaging my fridge and cupboards, looking around my empty house and seeing all that it is lacking. Looking at myself and seeing all that I am lacking. Although I would say I’m an introvert and too much time with others leaves me sometimes exhausted rather than recharged, I’ve noticed that the total absence of others can also leave me unhappy. Too much solitude for me is not a good thing.

It is a very good thing, therefore, that I have my girlfriends. I’ve gone through different phases of “girlfriends” in my life. Playmates, best friends, new best friends (anyone else remember “first best friend”, “second best friend”?), roommates, girlfriends. I have girlfriends I’ve had most of my life, and girlfriends who I’ve known for only a couple of years before life pulled us apart. My husband is often surprised at how quickly women can form friendships or how involved we can become in each other’s lives. I think men form different sorts of friendships than we women. They hang together, bond over similar interests, but they don’t always share the deep stuff of their thoughts and feelings. It takes them longer usually to get to a place of intimacy and vulnerability. Girls are different. We meet and perhaps even before introductions, we are sharing our labor and delivery stories, our diet disasters, our “best bargains”, our struggles, our desires. One of my best friends and I met on a couch in a church bathroom while breastfeeding our daughters ~ now that’s intimacy and vulnerability!

I have a group of girlfriends I met when I moved to Oakwood. We all had children in the same pre-school class and would chit-chat together in the hallway while we waited for our kids to exit the classroom. When our kids went to kindergarten, we would gather at the bus stop and stay long after the bus had pulled away from the curb just to giggle and talk. We referred to each other as the “bus stop ladies”. Soon, the bus stop ladies were getting together weekly for “coffee”. Now, you know with women, coffee is never just coffee. Accompanying goodies are a must! And each year the “goodies” have become progressively more elaborate. Now, we have full-on luncheons every Friday afternoon. We gather in one of our homes, sit around the dining table and eat, eat, eat, and laugh, laugh, laugh. We catch up, commiserate, counsel, celebrate. It is certainly one of the major highlights of my week.

Sometimes, I groan on my way to one of my bus stop ladies coffees because I have too much to do, I think, to take an entire afternoon out to sit around and visit. But once I arrive, and definitely upon leaving, I feel entirely different. I realize something in my heart has been filled. Something in my spirit is lifted. I needed it.

This week, I was talking with my neighbor, Laurie, about the “girlfriend phenomenon”. She told me that her daughter’s grandmother-in-law had passed away and rather than bringing her ashes back home to Russia as planned, her family had decided to scatter them in a rose garden where her girlfriends often gathered for tea. There, she would be often remembered by the women who loved her and missed her. Laurie noted that in the end, it’s often just the “girls” who are left, so we had better take care of those girlfriend relationships! I can’t agree more. We women need our girls. Not just because they are all we will have left at the end of our lives, but because without them, the rest of our lives are not as full. Not as enriched. Not as happy.

Go put on a pot of coffee. Call up that girlfriend and open the doors to your dusty, chaotic home. Don’t let a busy day and a little dust keep you from something that will truly enrich your life and buoy your tired spirit ~ your girlfriends.


Recently, I seem to be surrounded by a lot of “girl drama”. I am the mother of three young daughters, so I well realize that the phenomenon of “girl drama” starts very, very early on. In fact, there is often a tight race among the three of them for the drama queen moniker. We’ve got the screaming, pouting, crying and finger pointing down pat. Sometimes their moods and overblown responses to life’s little curveballs are truly hilarious and other times quite frustrating, but it always amazes me how much drama they can squeeze out of supposed slights or unmet expectations. They get so worked up about whatever it is that has hurt their feelings and just have to let the whole world know how unhappy they are. They really want you to feel their pain. Come to the rescue. Avenge them. Give them satisfaction. As much as it annoys me, I can’t help but admire them sometimes. They are so out there with their feelings! They aren’t worried about how the other people around them might react; how their response will affect their friendships. They want to be heard!

The funny thing is that lately, I am not just dealing with preteen and toddler girl drama. It doesn’t seem to curtail with age. I’m talking 30 and 40 year old women still caught up in the drama. This person did that and made this person feel that and it goes round and round until everyone is upset and uncomfortable. And I’m guilty of it too! Part of me wants to say, “Oh for heaven’s sake. We are nearly middle aged. (My definition of middle aged, by the way, is further and further down the line the closer I get to it. 40 is the new 20!) Can we not let go of this petty stuff?”…but the part connected to my mouth more often says, “What’s that you say?” You know that old saying…”If you don’t have something nice to say…come sit by me!” The gossip is so tempting….I guess it makes the rest of us feel more successful in life if we hear about someone else’s struggles, more favored if they are now out of favor….and who doesn’t love a great story? Oh, the drama! And she said what? And then you said what? And then what did she say? Oh my! It’s so easy to get caught up and then we are hooked! We have to know about all the characters, and the plot, and the climax, and how did it all end? Who was the good guy? Who was the bad guy? We are smart women….we are good mothers….we teach our children well not to be cruel to others and that there are two sides to the story…but somehow, we cannot walk the talk. We cannot seem to overcome the drama and walk away…or directly confront those who have hurt us and work it out…we have to involve everyone else. Get their take on it before we are certain of our own. What is going on?

I find myself often living without integrity in this area. I blame it on my twisted interpretation of “nice” that my upbringing in Sunday school gave me. You know the “be nice” thing? That good girls were always nice; they made people around them feel good. They didn’t argue. They put others ahead of themselves….other’s needs before their own. You know. Be nice! To a point, I think that’s true. It’s nice to be nice. But I stretched it way out of proportion. My version of nice birthed a walk that didn’t match my talk. I wanted to be everyone’s friend, so that meant when the drama came my way, I was in a pickle. For too long, I have been content to try and make all parties feel good. Not take sides. I wanted everyone to think they were the good guy. The downside to this was that now I felt like the bad guy. I have had to ask myself the hard questions. When was it that I became so fixed on making the other person feel validated, that I was unwilling to be honest with them when I disagreed….especially when they were speaking poorly of someone I knew? Why was I so willing to listen when they were looking for a sympathetic ear? Why was I so hesitant to pipe up when I thought they had the story wrong? Or stay silent when I thought they were making a mistake? I want to have the courage to respond with integrity when the drama phenomenon envelopes me, but most times, it’s more tempting to just stay in my house and wait for it to pass. Is it really necessary? Don’t we have enough that drains our emotional energy without inviting more?

The more I think about it, however, the more I think that if you are going to step into the wonderful though sometimes tumultuous waters of relating to others, especially other women, this will mean from time to time, getting involved in the drama. It’s unavoidable. We are human…creatures with insecurities and flaws and we make mistakes and wound others and then we have to confront those inflicted wounds before they fester and really get ugly. When we step out into the world, we invite drama into our lives. So, what’s a girl to do?

I wish I knew. I wish I knew the secret to dealing effectively with the drama. I wish I knew how to diffuse and deflate it. How to be the peacemaker and but also trustworthy. Someone who is true to herself, true to her word, true to her friends. Someone who is not fanning the flames of dissension. I wish I was courageous enough to be like the hero in the movie that doesn’t slink back into comfort but steps forward to do the right thing. My favorite movie heroes are the unlikely ones. The ones who look like they are totally out of their element, or ill equipped for the battle, but step up anyway. They know in their hearts, it’s the right thing to do. I want to live that way. With integrity. Why is it so hard? How can I get my walk to match my talk?

I think the first steps for me might be to try and replace my own overblown responses to supposed slights and ill-informed paranoid delusions (“Do you think she is mad? She seems mad. What right does she have to be mad!? I can’t believe she’s mad!”), and my longing for the nodding affirmations that signal, “Go on, go on…” with asking some questions. Is it possible a misunderstanding or miscommunication has occurred? Is it possible to go directly to the source to clear it up? What can I do to bring about reconciliation? Is this consistent with my friend’s character? Am I dealing with assumptions rather than facts? It’s impossible to actually know another person’s motives, so shouldn’t I hesitate to assume what they may be? I want to give my girlfriends the benefit of the doubt rather than be so quick to judge. I’m hoping for the same in return. I’m hoping for some grace. In fact, I think I’ll need a whopping dose of maturity and grace to rise above the drama.

I hear screams from the family room….sounds like another drama is unfolding. Wouldn’t it be lovely if my girls could see in their mama a great example of how to confront and rise above the drama rather than a woman in the thick of it? I hope that in taking some uncomfortable first steps, I will find not only the courage and integrity to deal with the drama surrounding my life, but also the willingness to close the curtain on some of the drama within it. I’m ready for that closing act…at forty, I’m sure I’m due….no encores, please.


Several years ago, my sister-in-law said to me, “I’m on a one-woman mission to bring hats back!” She was determined to influence the face of American fashion and see everyone in stylish chapeaus. Judging from the bare heads surrounding me at Starbucks, I would say her mission was not the success she hoped, but that’s okay. She moved to England soon after where there are hat wearing women a-plenty.

I’m not too keen on hats (Hello? Hat hair?), but I’ve worn quite a few, metaphorically speaking. Daughter, Student, Secretary, Teacher, Wife, Mother, etc. Recently, my friends challenged me to try on a new hat. Writer. Now, that is one that I have tried on with a lot of hesitation and fear and it’s fitting quite awkwardly. I feel completely unqualified to even wear it in public! It’s far too enormous and fancy for me. Because, as you might have guessed, I am not a writer. I did not study writing. I’ve never written anything for a publication before. I didn’t major in English in college. I can’t even claim to be a great reader! If it isn’t a romance novel, or an issue of People magazine, my eyes glaze over. I thought I would look ridiculous in that hat.

My friends, however, saw something different. They saw, for some reason, potential and possibility. They thought I should just try and put something together. Can you imagine how terrifying that prospect was for me? I couldn’t imagine creating something and then turning it in to have it judged, criticized, analyzed, and possibly rejected. Ugh. That sounded torturous. You might as well splay me naked in front of everyone…completely vulnerable. It would be my c-section experiences in the military teaching hospitals all over again. Twenty people in the OR, and me, shivering, nauseated, and exposed before them all. Ouch. And beyond that, I didn’t even know what to write about. I live a very ordinary life in a community where many women lead very similar lives. I couldn’t think of anything to write that would be special or different from what any other woman I knew could write about. I had nothing unique to say.

But one day, something came up and spurred my thinking and I thought….hmmmm….what if I wrote down what I thought about that? What if it turned into something that somewhat resembled a column? And I thought about it some more…and more…and eventually the thoughts spilled out of my head and onto my computer. And it felt kinda good. It felt good to create something. I was too scared to submit what I wrote, but it gave me some satisfaction to have fed that need to create. I would just tuck it away for safekeeping, and safely secure my Mommy hat.

From time to time, I would try out my new “hat” in the privacy of my home, and after a while, I had a small stack of writing samples. They gave me immense pleasure and also terrible anxiety. I was still too afraid to show them to anyone. I was afraid to give anyone the impression that I thought my thoughts were worth their time. That I fancied myself a writer! To hear someone else confirm what I already feared, that I was a crummy writer. And I was also afraid to hope that they would like what I had done. Afraid to be disappointed. I didn’t want to set myself up for that failure and pain. I wondered if the joy in creating for me would be limited by whether or not others responded enthusiastically to what I had made. I wondered if the spectacle of me in my new hat would be The Emperor’s New Clothes all over again. But eventually, I mustered the courage to send them in.

I have started to bring my new hat out of the closet and show it to my close friends. When they discover I am writing, they will often remark, “Lisa! I didn’t know you were a writer!” to which I always quickly reply, “I’m not!” It still is too new a venture to know if it will pan out. If I will ever grow into that hat. Some days I feel that the last column I wrote was my very last. I have no more thoughts on anything. Nothing left to say. I’ll assume my career as a writer was a short-lived fantasy and ended as abruptly and surprisingly as it started. But usually, God will plop me in the middle of a conversation or situation again which leads me to pondering and pondering to writing….I’m thankful He keeps filling my tank. Even if some columns are not as stellar as others, or no one else gets from them the satisfaction I do, it has been gratifying to try something scary and new and go for it.

It has taken a good dollop of courage midway through life to redefine who I am and what I am willing to try. In high school, I was so shy and intimidated, I would not try anything new…and in college, I so wanted to succeed, I wouldn’t try anything that might incur failure…and in my adulthood, I’ve been so busy just trying to survive everyday life, I haven’t made time for new adventures. But I’m tiring of living the safe life. I’m longing now to attempt the rockier path with the steep drop-offs, and take some chances, learn something new, gain some new skills, risk a little humiliation or rejection. Try a new hat on for size. I’m willing to try partly because I think it might be fun, but also because I want to set a new example for my kids. I don’t want them to live in fear, or hide in the shadows and the background because they are unwilling to step out into who they might become. I want them to take some chances at going after what they want, be brave enough to be vulnerable…to embrace life with gusto instead of timidity. That’s part of my dream for them.

Last spring I attended my first Smith School Talent Show. Children got up in front of all their classmates and their classmates’ families and performed. They danced, sang, showed off their skills. They were so heroic to me! I admired how brave they were to get up there and risk the humiliation….how I wish I could be that brave. But I’m getting there. I don’t know if I will ever feel comfortable in the writer hat, or will feel worthy of it, but I am writing. I might be more comfortable with a smaller, less ostentatious hat for now….maybe columnist. Seems to imply less presumed talent and more factual information. It’s a start anyway. Writer, no. Columnist, hmmm…maybe. Mom, ahhhhh…..now that’s a hat of which I’ll never feel worthy and yet……it fits just right.


My father has “the gift.” He is not a psychic, or a fortune teller, but he can tell you exactly what is going to happen next….especially if it involves calamity. He can see right down the line from action to reaction to disaster, and he does not hesitate to forewarn. Some would call it the gift of prophecy, but usually his predictions are far closer to just good common sense than supernatural revelations. “I can see what’s going to happen…” he starts…and then will come the caution. “That boy is going to put his eye out with that stick!” “You are going to be sorry.” “Someone is bound to knock over that grape juice.”

When I was growing up, I would listen to his warnings, but then often ignore them because they seemed so ridiculous sometimes. I have common sense! I’m sure I’ll see the hurdle coming in time to jump it. The infuriating thing is that his predictions always seemed to come true…more than likely BECAUSE I didn’t heed the warning. In addition to, or maybe because of his gift, he also was a realist. “Lord willing, tomorrow I will….” he would say. It was a touch morbid since it implied he could be called home to Heaven at any moment, but he was always quick to remind us that God was always watching over us, had a plan for us. I think he hoped that he would imbue my sister and me with both caution and comfort. He wanted to keep us safe.

And now it appears I have inherited his gift because I too can always seem to spot impending disaster and am thus a safety girl. I’m cautious. Although I’m embarrassed to admit it, better safe than sorry is often the motto running through my head. And it’s probably in the voice of my father! And I’m even passing the trait along to a new generation; I’m a safety mom. Nothing in the world is as precious to me as my children…there is no way I’m going to take chances with them. And most of the time, I think that’s the way it should be. I’m the mama…I’m the mama bear actually….I’m just taking good care of my little cubs. But every once in a while….I get to thinking. Because my son is not a safety boy. And he isn’t too happy about the safety mom sometimes. He doesn’t appreciate the gift.

It has affected his life since Jack was little and we contemplated what sports he participated in. I signed him up for tennis and swimming and t-ball and soccer because I thought those were not only great sports, but relatively safe…non-contact. When he was a little older, I let him venture into karate and flag football, but that was on the outer limits of my safety scope. They were getting just a little too close to full contact for my comfort. But for Jack, he has always wanted what was way off my radar screen….he didn’t even want to play traditional sports. He wanted extreme! He loved climbing trees when he was just a little boy, and he would climb so high, I would actually feel nauseated. I could hear my father saying, “He’s going to fall out of that tree. He’s climbing too high.” And a few times, he did. He, however, thought it was hilarious and was always rearing to go back up for more….then he discovered skateboarding and BMX. Danger, danger, and more danger! The gravitational pull was too much for this mother to overcome….now he wants to do paintball and shoot bb guns and other activities that are sure to result in heart failure for his mama.

And it’s not just sports. He wants independence. He wants to ride his bike where he wants and walk places by himself…places that are not that far or dangerous…but still. It makes my tummy turn and my heart flutter. Because what if something happens to him? What if I’m not there? What if I can’t protect him and keep him safe? What if he, like I, ignores the warnings of his parent? What then? My “gift” can come up with too many nightmarish scenarios.

My friend Ronna seems to have no issue with this as I do. She encourages her son to be “wild at heart”….live a life on the edge. Her son does all kinds of wild things…dirt biking, rock climbing, snowboarding, hunting ….things that I told her would turn me into a schizophrenic mom. I would be in one breath saying, “That’s awesome! Go for it!” immediately followed by, “Get off that thing before you kill yourself!!!!!! Get away from the edge!” I don’t think I could take it. The whole thing has me so conflicted. Where do you draw the line? When do you give your child the longer leash and the freedom that they desire? When do you let go of the safety handbook and let them step out, unprotected? When do you muffle the “gift”?

I guess I have to consider what kind of man I want Jack to be. Do I want him to live in fear…always cautious…always safe…but never going for his dreams? Do I want my gift of cautionary wisdom to turn into a curse for his life….something that robs him of new experiences and thrills and heart-pounding excitement and surprising victories? Or do I want him to experience a life on the edge....on the extreme, where he is so happy? I have the choice and the privilege to pass on a new gift….courage. Hopefully, he has experienced life with his safety mom long enough to balance out the courage with some wisdom and common sense. It looks like it may be time to get a much longer leash and let my boy grow. Give him the freedom he desires and draw strength from my father’s old assurances…God is watching over my boy. He has a plan for him.

I can still hear my dad’s voice of caution. I can hear him beckoning me to keep his grandson safe, because he loves him so much. But I need to let him go further out to explore life on the edge….it might be the edge of insanity for me…but I’m sure the view is spectacular.


My husband was coming home for a break from his deployment to Iraq and I was racing around, sprucing everything up. After cleaning the house and coiffing my hair, I took a look down south and decided I could benefit from a little spring cleaning there as well. I tend to go whole hog on any endeavor I undertake, and so rather than doing a modest landscaping, I decided to bite the bullet and go all the way. After all, no pain, no gain, right? And I figured a little pain would be worth the end result. Little did I know that “little” would not even begin to cover it when I made an appointment at my local spa for a Brazilian Bikini Wax.

For those of you wise women who have not gone to Brazil, let me explain. A normal bikini wax basically strips bare the area revealed in a swimsuit. You can take it pretty extreme, just leaving the “landing strip”, if you prefer. But a trip to Brazil means it all comes off, baby. It’s a one-way ticket…no hair, no where. No front-hair. No back. No booty-crack. Nothing. Now, this wasn’t my maiden voyage to Brazil, but the first trip had ended rather unsuccessfully. I had attempted a home wax job on my bikini area but after a valiant effort, I still couldn’t get the area as bare as I had hoped, and so I followed up the waxing with a big dollop of Nair. BIG, BIG MISTAKE. NEVER EVER TO BE REPEATED. Let me just say that I spent the rest of the day with a cold diet coke wedged between my legs, in agony. The intense burning was unimaginable. Like lemon juice on a fresh wound. I was not about to trust that rather tender spot to my own folly again. I was heading to a pro.

I told the spa receptionist, “I am half Jamaican. Do you know what that means? Has she worked on anyone with really stubborn hair before?” She assured me that the aesthetician was VERY good and not to worry. Apparently, she didn’t pass that tidbit on, because when my sweet blonde aesthetician got a gander at me full frontal, I could see the anxiety beginning.
I’m not a wolf-woman or anything, but I do have very, very stubborn hair. I can shave my legs and have five o-clock shadow by 10am. I am NEVER going to go bald. I don’t think ANYONE in my family, for generations, has had hair loss. So, for my aesthetician to pull any hair out of any part of my body completely defies nature. And believe me, Mother Nature was not about to lose.

She tugged for over an hour with no results. When she wasn’t getting anywhere with my front, she flipped me over to try the back. She started out very gently, with my torso covered demurely by a sheet. We had light-hearted conversation and high optimism. By the end though, she was huffing and puffing, the sheet had fallen to the floor and I was bracing myself against the bed in the birthing position. No more conversation or laughter or pretenses at modesty. She was up close and personal with my yoo-hoo, giving it her full concentration and full strength, all to no avail. “I…CAN…NOT…BE…LIEVE…THIS!”, she gasped as she tugged away furiously. I asked her, between grimaces, “So…are you busy with lots of women coming in for Brazilians now that summer is coming?” and she replied, between huffs, “Actually….(GRUNT)…you are my first.” OY. SAY NO MORE. Talk about baptism by fire. Yikes.

She finally gave up, defeated, discouraged and probably exhausted from her hour long tug o’ war, and charged me for just a regular bikini wax. Both she and my bikini area were a little worse for the wear. She came away haggard, her confidence slightly tattered, and my bikini area, red, welty, and slightly balder. I’m sure the image of it still haunts her. It had been a bloody battle but we both had learned some valuable lessons. First, Mother Nature can be a royal biotche, kicks booty at Tug o’ war and sometimes you just have to know when not to cross her. For Jamaicans, that point is most DEFINITELY the bikini line. And second, in regard to Brazilian waxes, sometimes it is just all pain, no gain. Tough way to learn them though. Real tough.


I’ve discovered that I am some sort of idiot savant at annoying and embarrassing my teenage son. I had no idea I was so adept at all the intricacies and nuances of teenage humiliation, but apparently, I’m a pro. I’m doing it all the time without any effort or even being AWARE that it is happening. I have found this week at least 10 surefire ways to alienate or embarrass my sweet boy and if you do not wish to follow my example, please take note of the following. Absolutely, under no circumstances, should you:

1. Wave at son’s friends.

2. Wave at son when he is with aforementioned friends or when aforementioned friends or other potential friends might possibly be within a one to three mile viewing distance.

3. Actually, wave at son AT ALL. And NOT just because waving makes your arm-chub jiggle.

4. Listen to music in the car when son is present and easily viewed by passersby. Singing along induces absolute hysteria. God forbid you do any of this with the windows DOWN.

5. Label son’s new school supplies. Especially NOT with his Dad’s return address labels because you were too lazy to find batteries for the label maker.

6. Say, “Das whack, G!” or “Wassup!” or “Dude!” particularly while feigning rapper hand/arm movements.

7. Dance. Not in your kitchen while you fry taco meat. Not in the living room with the vacuum cleaner or while impersonating the kids from So You Think You Can Dance. Mothers dancing are bad, bad, bad. This is a close tie with making son accompany family to the Justice store to buy his three sisters’ back to school clothes. Son will not even cross the threshold of Justice and prefers risk of kidnapping and torture to being seen inside Justice. And actually, I think both of these are pretty justified on his part. They ARE way embarrassing.

8. Talk about breastfeeding.

9. Make him talk/sit/eat with or nearby you in public. For SURE, not at the community swimming pool while you are in your TRIMSHAPER swimsuit or at the community end of summer ice cream social.

10. And last, but not least, the number one thing to avoid is……….Taking son’s picture on the first day of school in front of the house while classmates are walking past! AGH! Say it isn’t so!
Even with all that parental humiliation, he somehow managed to survive the week, which is very encouraging. Because if he can survive his mother, he can pretty much take anything.


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