Tuesday, December 23, 2008


It seemed to me as child that my grandma's sisters were born old. They were nervous women by nature, and as both were childless, the presence of kids seemed to put them on edge during family gatherings. They constantly clucked about the possibility of bad weather, freak accidents, and the threat of pneumonia. In a world of so much dread, they did take comfort in the attention that my mother and her sister, both nurses, would dote on them. After a holiday meal, like clockwork, the blood pressure cuff and stethoscope would suddenly appear, and those ladies would finally find a moment of joy that otherwise eluded them. Other families might have holiday ritual rooted in friendly competition card-playing or charades, but not mine; we children had to be quiet so that the nurses could listen to imaginary palpitations and consumptive wheezes. Worse yet for us, was seeing their aged bodies, stripped down to half-slips and other obsolete undergarments. Ew, let's get out of here. They're naked!

But worst of all, was the after-dinner conversation. While these
strait-laced Swedish ladies would never dream of telling an off-color joke, they had no problem discussing every aspect of their "loose stools", "snaky-shaped bowel movements", and all else related to their excrement. My mother and her sister, Jennifer, would listen patiently, attempting to lessen all their intestinal anxiety. While I grew to appreciate the nurses in my family and their patience, even as a young adult, I preferred to leave the room for the bowel debriefings. As it turned out, even my mom had her limits.

As my grandmother aged, my mom took over the responsibility of the holiday dinners that had once been Grandma's domain. One Easter Sunday, my mother had served a beautiful dinner of roast beef, asparagus tips, rolls, and mashed potatoes and gravy. We were just cleaning up in the kitchen when my husband Richard emerged from the den where the male members of the family were watching a basketball game on television.

"Aunty Ingrid is in the bathroom and she's calling for assistance. She's been in there quite awhile."

"MOM! Aunty Ingrid needs you in the bathroom."

My mother looked at me pleadingly, but she knew it was a lost cause. She was the nurse, and she knew that there was nothing in the world she could say or do to get me in that bathroom.

She was in and then out again, and there was a mad dash for rags and cleaning supplies. There was a lot of hissing and profanity. It seemed that Aunty Ingrid had had an adverse and explosive reaction to something she had eaten. She had tried to make it, but those frail legs and those ridiculous undergarments had been too much of a hindrance. What ensued was a force that didn't seem consistent with gravity or frailty. My mother's clean-up job included the windowsill, the vanity, the medicine cabinet, the shower stall, and the curtains. I still don't comprehend the magnitude of it. No matter how much I want to reject the image, I can't resist some effort to conceptualize the physics of it. The only thing that comes to mind is the vision of a sprinkler gone terribly awry.

My grandmother and Aunty Eva remained in the living room throughout the ordeal, speculating on the cause of their sister's distress. My grandmother frowned and said, "Well, the same thing happened to her when she was last at our house for dinner. But don't say anything to her when she comes out of the bathroom."

I assured both of them that talking to Aunty Ingrid about her mishap was the last thing on my mind. As I said this, my great-aunt emerged slowly on bony white legs, clad in my mom's fuzzy pink bathrobe. I don't think I had ever seen her without her thick support stockings before.

"Ingrid," My grandmother spoke admonishingly. "You know you can't eat gravy."

This would have been the end of it once we had properly aired out the house and finished the load of washing, but like all family traditions, there is a timeless element involving my great-aunts' innards that evoke a perpetual sense of déjà vu.

It was only two months later. The same people were seated around my mother's beautiful table, passing dishes that looked remarkably similar to those served on Easter Sunday. It was Mother's Day. There was roast beef, buttered corn, dinner rolls and butter, potatoes and...gravy. I did everything I could to impede its progress around the table. As I watched Aunty Ingrid spoon a modest heap of mashed potatoes on her plate, I sent the butter to her instead, and then pretended I didn't hear her persistent requests, "Will someone please pass me the gravy?" Eventually, someone did.

My mother and I had cleared the table and were preparing coffee and dessert. My husband was in the den with the rest of my male relatives taking in a baseball game. I started to laugh when he came out to the kitchen.

"Your Aunty Ingrid is in the bathroom. She's been in there a long time and she's...she's calling out for your mom."

"Yeah, right. That's a cruel joke. Go watch your game or pour some coffee."

"I'm not kidding. I am really not kidding. I think there's a problem."

My mom looked at me helplessly and said, "I'll pay you a hundred
dollars. I will write you a check and hand it to you right now, if you will please go in there and see what she wants."

"I can't Mom. I will gag. I will gag and then throw up and we will have an even bigger mess on our hands. I want to help you, but I just can't. I'm not medically qualified."

My mom flashed me a look of pure disgust, and went off to witness another miracle of physics.

My grandmother and her sisters didn't get out much in the years that followed that Easter Sunday. It wasn't long before all three were confined to nursing homes and getting out became too difficult, but I do remember that we did gather together that fall for Thanksgiving and then again at Christmas. Those holiday dinners stand out in my mind in sharp contrast to all the others. For the first and only time, next to the golden brown turkey and dressing, salad, rolls, corn, yam, and cranberry sauce, was...a big bowl of white rice.

Rebecca Bauer was born in Swedish Hospital in Minneapolis, only a few miles from where she currently lives. This may explain her tendency toward long, nasal vowels and hot dish on cold, dark winter nights. She is the mother of two growing boys, Nicholas and Noah, who proudly can consume a gallon of ice cream in less than three days. She has been married to her dashing Panamanian-German husband, Richard, for over two decades. During the day she can be found in her classroom where she tries to teach English to a very large number of teenagers who alternately love and loathe her depending on the barometer, wind chill, and availability of a bathroom pass. She has always had a passion for writing, but uses it most often these days as a way to look too busy for folding laundry or correcting papers.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


This morning, as I was getting my four year old dressed for school, she coined a term for her nipples that I had never heard before. It both shocked and amused me.

I had grown up feeling very uncomfortable about naming any of those kinds of body parts…I didn’t even want to acknowledge that those kinds of parts existed, much less create special names for them. My older daughters had called them, “Nickels”, after one of them mispronounced the word Nipples and then was overcome with delight when the word elicited such profuse giggles from her parents. As many times as they said, “Nickels”, it never ceased to produce a chuckle or a smile at the very least. My girlfriend told me that she called them, “Nibbles”, which caused a severe negative reaction on my part. Like when someone starts describing their husband naked, or talking about peeling a scab. Ew. I don’t want to hear about that. Keep that to yourself. Nibbles. Blech. Gracie’s word this morning was nothing close to Nickels, or Nibbles, or Nipples. It was….Boobie Stars.


Boobie Stars. Okay. I guess they do sort of resemble stars. And maybe the nipples are the star of the boob. At least it wasn’t Nibbles.

But it got me to thinking about names. How they are so personal. How they elicit a response. Negative and positive associations. How I belabored and agonized over the names for my children. Even for my blog! A name can change the entire way you think about something or someone. It’s a prejudice really. Judging a book by its cover…even if a rose by any other name is still as sweet, if it’s got a stinko name, would we seriously take the time to bend down and take a whiff?

So, it’s got me thinking. Pondering. And I’m remembering how my own name was not something I loved. When I started Kindergarten there were FOUR other Lisas in my class. It was the age of “Lisa Marie” after Lisa Marie Presley. I was a Lisa Grace and how I WISHED I was a Lisa Marie. Grace was so old fashioned and duddy. My name meant “Consecrated to God”, which sounded even duddier to me. It sounded like it should be emblazoned above the doors to a convent or a nunnery. Consecrated to God. I wanted something cute and fun and feminine…like…Kate…or Kelly….or something really versatile like Elizabeth. I loved that Elizabeth had so many nicknames and variations. Lisa Grace was not my fave.

And yet....40 years later, I named my own daughter Grace. Because at 40, I wanted her name to mean something. Not just be cute or fun. I wanted it to stand for something. Represent my desires for her. My blessing on her life. Because now the idea of being Consecrated to God means something altogether different for me. It means, in my mind, to be set aside for His special purpose. To be loved by the One Who made me and loves me best. Better than anyone could. Grace's name refers back to the perfect, loving Grace of God....the gift He gives of which we could never be deserving. I'm so thankful for God's grace and for his gift of my little Grace to me. And no, we will never feel deserving that He blessed us with her. I hope that as she grows up, she will embrace that name and that blessing and wish for her life. I hope in 40 years, she’ll feel compelled to pass it on. Not just the name. The meaning behind it. And all the love and emotion that it conveys.

Names. What an impact they have. And come on…which would you rather be? A nipple? Or a BOOBIE STAR? I’ll take Boobie Star….any day of the week. A name and a meaning and an emotion which I can get behind and proudly sport. In appropriate and private environments, of course.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


Before I became "La Gringa" (a mildly offensive Spanish term for a North American female), or better yet, "La Gringa Nalgona" (a decidedly offensive term for a North American female with a behind larger or rounder than those typically associated with the northern hemisphere), I was just Rebecca, a girl who showed up to meet her Panamanian future mother-in-law wearing a dress that would not stay up.

On my second date with Richard, I had chosen to wear a strapless, clingy,white dress that tied in the back with the kind of bow that typified that oversized look of 1986. It was a poor choice of apparel for a night of dancing. Even under the least strenuous conditions, it was a challenge to wear and it became apparent after just a few minutes of shaking it up to the latest Madonna hit that I was in trouble. The cotton fibers of the tightly knotted bow was no match for the Material Girl or my C-cups moving in time. I looked like a demented chicken with my wrists tucked under my armpits, doing anything to keep the dress from slipping.

"Look", Richard said. "My parents live very close by. I am sure my mom must have something you could put on over the dress. We'll get it and come back. You'll be so much more comfortable." I agreed sheepishly, and within a few minutes we had pulled into the driveway of a stately suburban two-story. Several people came to the door as we entered and suddenly I was ushered into an effleurage of kisses from Richard's two brothers, several cousins, an aunt, his step-father, his mother, and two miniature poodles.

Everyone talked at once and I was soon answering questions about my own family, my studies in college, my part-time job at the local television where Richard and I met, and a host of other inquiries that came more quickly than I could process. They praised my attempts to respond to some questions in a halting Spanish. I knew that Richard's mom and the rest of a large extended family were from Panama. Richard spoke Spanish fluently himself, and I suddenly felt self-conscious of my awkward attempts to understand the flurry of words around me.

When the conversation finally waned, Richard's mother invited me to a back bedroom where she began the search for a suitable cover for my dress. I praised her choice of a black sequined top that would compliment my outfit perfectly and continued to express my gratitude while I waited for her to leave the room.

She didn't move.

"Try it on." She insisted. She had a certain tone that didn't leave room for negotiation. Edna was a smallish woman with piercing black eyes, short dark hair, flawless olive skin, and an accent that was at times impenetrable after almost three decades of living in Minnesota.

As I tried to shimmy my way through the bottom of the sparkling beadwork, she took command. "No, it's better dis way." She pulled and tucked from another direction, leaving me momentarily caught in the black folds of the top. With the top still only half on, she stood back to assess the situation. "You know what your problem is? You know why your dress don want to stay up when you dancing? Tu eres una tetona."

The words were lost on me. "Sorry, I don't-----"

"Tetona. Te-to-na. You have big teets."

I remained frozen with black sequins pressing against my eyelids, trying to process the words. What? Tits? Oh, my God! What? No one I knew ever used that word. It was crass. Indecent. Degrading. My mother always said that a cow had tits - a woman had breasts. I pushed my head through the top as my face grew hot with embarrassment. I was uncertain if I should declare my feminist convictions about the offending word. Again, there was something about the wave of her hand that told me it wouldn't make any difference.

"You know, my father always told me, 'Edna, never ever be a pig and wear dirty brassiere'. You know. Brassiere. Bra. He say, 'A woman always need to have a white, white brasiere. No gray brasiere.' He say,'Your brasiere should be white like the clouds in the sky.' I know American womans don have the bras white. They walk around like pigs in dirty gray bras. They don know how to wash clothes to get white."

I looked down through the neck of the shirt and into my own cleavage for a quick survey of my own bra situation. Mine was strapless and almost brand new.

"When you have beeg teets, you probably don wear the right brasiere to fit you." She stood back and looked at me from another angle. "Y tambien, eres una nalgona. Sabes ques es? You know what is las nalgas?"

Again, I looked at her blankly.

"It means you don have de butt like American womans. You skinny but you must be part chombita cuz it stick out like a black womans."

I am totally at a loss. I survey all the responses I could or should give but there is nothing in my life experience on which I can draw. I can continue to gape until I am left with no options beyond an uncertain smile.

"You want I should buy you some good bras?" She asks me smiling back.

"Er. Well, I think maybe?"

"I buy you some bras. You'll see. They will fit you better so you can go dancing when you want and don have to worry about tits showing too much."

And sure enough, at our next meeting, only a week later, Edna met me at the door with a plastic shopping bag from K-Mart that held five brilliantly white bras.

In the twenty-two years since that strange encounter, I have learned a great deal. I learned that my mother-in-law has an unusual knack for saying exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time. I have learned that she is incredibly generous and that there is almost no malice in her inappropriate statements. I have learned that my politically correct soap box has no place in her world. Any attempts I have made (and I have made many) to set her straight or sensitize her to any issue is a complete waste of time and energy.

But more than anything else, I have learned that, when I am at her house at least, I should always wear the cleanest, best fitting underwear in my drawer.

Rebecca Bauer was born in Swedish Hospital in Minneapolis, only a few miles from where she currently lives. This may explain her tendency toward long, nasal vowels and hot dish on cold, dark winter nights. She is the mother of two growing boys, Nicholas and Noah, who proudly can consume a gallon of ice cream in less than three days. She has been married to her dashing Panamanian-German husband, Richard, for over two decades. During the day she can be found in her classroom where she tries to teach English to a very large number of teenagers who alternately love and loathe her depending on the barometer, wind chill, and availability of a bathroom pass. She has always had a passion for writing, but uses it most often these days as a way to look too busy for folding laundry or correcting papers.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


My son had given me very specific instructions. Bring the bag to the front office at the high school. Ask Linda the secretary to page him. Do not allow the staff to look inside the bag. If asked, just say it's a homework assignment. Give no other details.

It was the day of my son's big cross country meet. He's only a freshman but had been putting up some impressive times. Any other mother would have done the same--whatever it takes to give her son that extra edge. I double-bagged it, put my three year-old into her car seat and drove to the high school. "Maya," I said, "We're on a mission."

In the rust-colored office a surly-looking teenager was hunched in a chair. His legs stuck out into the room, his arms were crossed over his chest, and his hair covered his face. I wondered if he was sleeping.

"Can I help you?" A woman's head popped up over the top of the high counter.

"Hi! I'm Maya!" My daughter, the greeter.

"Well, hello," said the secretary. "I'm Linda." She wasn't used to such bubbly enthusiasm in the morning. The teenager in the chair didn't move.

"Do you have a brother or sister here?"

"Yes," I said, nudging Maya aside. "She has a brother. We just need to drop something off." I smiled. Linda waited. I've never been good with silence. "It's just a homework thing. That's all. Just a homework thing." I suppressed the urge to whistle.

"Yeah, that's ALL!" said Maya, jumping up and down.

"No problem," said the secretary. "I'll have one of our aides take it down to his classroom." She reached for the bag.

"No!" I hugged it to my chest. "I mean, no thank you. Wouldn't it be easier if you just paged him?" I let one arm, the bag arm, casually fall to my side and I raised the other to chew my thumb nail.

"I can't do that." She pointed to the construction workers outside. "They're working on the PA system today."

Maya crouched down in front of the teenager, trying to see under his hair. I picked her up and put her on the counter in front of me. This wasn't going as planned.

"Um, maybe you could send him a note to let him know that I'm here? It's an important assignment. Homework assignment."

"Sure, class gets out in just a couple of minutes." She wrote a message on a yellow pad of paper and handed it to a teenage girl in the next room. "When the bell rings, he'll know to come here."

"Perfect," I said. I took a deep breath. Mission accomplished. And then...

"It's underwear!" shouted Maya. "Underwear to cover your HINEY!"

Abort! Abort! Abort!

The secretary raised her eyebrows. "Your brother doesn't have any underwear?"

I put Maya back on the floor, none too gently. "He does," I said. "He does have underwear, but this is special underwear. He didn't wear the right kind today."

The teenager sat up and parted the hair in front of his face. Another secretary walked over and leaned on the counter.

"Oh dear." I puffed up my cheeks and blew out the air. "You see, there's a cross country meet today and, well, these underwear are more, you know, supportive." I made an upward cupping motion with my hands and then decided that was a bad idea and went back to biting my nail.

"He wore SNOOPY today!" called Maya, trying to scale the half wall up to the counter. "Snoopy underwear to cover his HINEY!" The teenager laughed. One secretary covered her mouth and her shoulders pulsed up and down. The other leaned so far over I couldn't see her anymore.

Oh, this was definitely not going as planned. My heart raced. The bell rang. "My son's very shy. He forgot this morning about the meet and called me because his boxers are really long and baggy and would hang out of his cross country shorts. Have you seen those cross country shorts? Please don't say anything. "

"Here comes brother!" Maya yelled. The only visible secretary shrunk down out of sight.

He walked in casually. He gave me a knowing glance. He brushed up next to me and silently took the bag. There were muffled noises coming from behind the counter. The teenager stood up from his chair and slapped my son on the back as he walked past him. Maya spun in circles.

"Thanks, Mom," he whispered as he retreated through the glass door.

The secretaries stood up, gasping for air as if they'd been drowning. They laughed into each other's hair and hit the counter.

"You're a great mom," said one as she sighed and wiped her eyes.

"Oh yes," squeaked the other. "Extremely supportive!"

Maya took my hand as we left the school. "I like missions," she said, and we skipped through the fall leaves out to the car.

Eileen lives in Western Washington where rain gear is important but not quite as important as underwear. She has four children, two large dogs, and one medium-sized husband. When not attending to critical missions, she writes on their family blog at http://scravings.blogspot.com/

Monday, December 1, 2008


I was that woman. That harried overwhelmed mom of two who can barely get dressed, let alone take a shower. My two boys were five months and 26 months old, and I needed a break.

It was December, and our wedding anniversary was coming up. Back when my second son was born in July, I actually had the amazing brain power to pull off a surprise for my husband. For his birthday, I scored tickets to the Indianapolis Colts/Atlanta Falcons game. I figured this would get me major brownie points with my better half considering he had a deep man crush on Michael Vick, the Falcon’s quarterback. All other football players paled in comparison to Vick, and he couldn’t wait to go see him “in person.” And the bonus for me? The game was on the weekend of our anniversary: December 19.

That weekend loomed over me all fall. How would it feel to not be a slave to naps, feedings, and temper tantrums? We rustled up my parents to man the homefront, and we took off for our big weekend away.

When we arrived in Indianapolis, I was giddy. We can go to dinner whenever we want and actually have a conversation. We can go see a movie. We can sleep in! There was only one little obligation still looming over my head. I was still nursing.

No problem. I loaded up my “Pump in Style,” and planned to just pump enough to be comfortable and throw it all down the drain in one liberating swish. When we got to the hotel, I decided that I would go ahead and get the inevitable over with so that I could enjoy the rest of the evening with no responsibilities.

I set up camp in the living room area of our suite. Plug the pump in. Check. Hook said pump up to both “sides.” Check. Turn pump on. Check. Both sides are pumping away. Check. Milk is a flowin’. Check. Doorbell rings. Uh…check? Husband is going to answer doorbell. No. No. Not check! Husband is opening door. Aahhh! Husband is saying, “Sure, come on in.” Mayday. Mayday. Abort mission!

Now, had I been thinking clearly, I would have turned the pump off, calmly removed both apparati from myself, pulled my shirt down, crossed my arms, and calmly smiled at the hotel attendant. But I wasn’t thinking clearly. Instead, I was only thinking, “STOP! Don’t let this guy in the room. Don’t you remember I’m PUMPING?!” Of course, it was too late for stopping the inevitable. The poor unsuspecting man was already rounding the corner when I stood up, grasped both sides of the pump (still pumping away, mind you), and found myself half naked and face to face with the hotel employee dressed in his finest and bearing clean towels. “Uh…where would you like these ma’am?”

“Oh, just put them in the bathroom. Thanks. [pump pump. swish. pump pump. swish.]”

“Have a nice day, ma’am.” My humility was complete. My dignity was gone. And that guy was probably running down the hall to the breakroom armed with, “You guys are NEVER gonna believe this one…”

Retta Kelley is a wife to one and a mom to three, an English teacher turned stay-at-home mom, and a wannabe writer, interior designer, hand model, and personal shopper. She loves her faith, her cause (international adoption), her family, and oh yeah, her coffee.