New Place

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Ok.  I did it again.  I changed my blog name and location.  I’m really not that ADD – I’m just trying to find my place in the blogosphere.  On the advice of some smart people, I relocated my blog to Area Voices.  A place where I may have a stronger local presence.  I’m going to stop this nonsense now… I promise.  This is it.  Probably.

Still me.  Same blog, same content – just a different name.  I’m still experimenting with the appearance – so it may be changed up each time you come back until I get it just how I want it.

I would love your company and comments In the Middle – it’s where I always seem to find myself anyway.  Thanks so much.

http://inthemiddle.areavoices.com/

That Hurt

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I’ve never had great spatial skills when it comes to personal space.  I’ve opened cupboard doors into my forehead – once even gave myself a shiner, jammed my fingers while guiding a sliding pocket door back into the wall (my middle finger usually gets the brunt of that maneuver), and have a permanent bluish ellipse of bruises on my thigh where I continually bumped into tables in my Kindergarten classroom.  However, I wasn’t aware of how these dangerous behaviors could be passed on to my children just by proxy.

Last night, we had another “Head ’em out, move ’em up” bedtime dash.  I was in deep concentration (actually just pondering the  feasibility of fish with parachutes) while listening to my daughter read a rather dramatic interpretation of Dr. Seuss’ McElligot’s Pool.  The other was brushing his teeth with the least amount of effort possible.  We finished up quickly and I ducked into the next room to sincerely (but in a bit of hurry) discuss how fish really like spinner bait on cold days and Gulp bait on sunny days and blah, blah, blah. (Sorry, Buddy – it was just getting too late.)  I rounded out that conversation, did the routine of good nights, and headed to my usual 9:00 pm destination: the laundry room.

Not three minutes later, I heard footsteps coming down the stairs.  I thought, “What now? Why can’t they just embrace the bed!?”  I dropped my basket and headed toward the footsteps – in a little bit of a huff.  At the midpoint of the stairs I found my son with an apparent explosion of the Kleenex box held to his face.  I calmed down.  “What happened?”  And this is where I realized that I, alone, have doomed my children to a lifetime of trying to explain to their future friends how in the world they cut their nose with a zipper… or how in the heck did they possibly get such a large paper cut across their forehead.

He went on to explain that while he was trying to pull the charger for his iPod out of the wall by his bed, it somehow slipped out of his hand, and his own fist came back and bopped him square in the nose… so much that he now had a bloody nose.  He wasn’t crying (which is a good sign, as this affliction seems to be chronic).  He just wanted to tell me that he was surprised how much it smarts when you take a fist to the nose.

We stopped the bleeding and laughed while he reenacted the incident several times for me.  I showed him a few of my scars that were totally self-inflicted, and then apologized to him for the bruises, cuts, gashes, and blows he will no doubt experience at his own hands in the future.  At least we can suffer together. I put my arm around him, guided him back to bed and couldn’t help but think, actions speak louder than words, it’s true… but actions hurt more, too.

Needless Worry… I Think

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I’ve always been a worrier.  A trait I’m not particularly proud of, but mine none the less.  For example, if I have a tingle in my left arm – I google up “stroke symptoms.”  If my daughter complains of an itchy scalp – I assume there must have been a lice outbreak at school – in the locker next to hers.  When my parents report that the surf was rough on the beach – I suspect a Tsunami must be on the way.  I once spent an entire school year obsessing about how I was going acquire medical supplies for my family when we all undoubtedly would contract Bird Flu.

This evening, my children asked me what I think is the hardest part about being a mom.  Before I could speak, my son offered, “I bet I know what it is… having to buy all the groceries and then we eat it all up before you can cook it – is that it?”  Then my daughter added, “No… I bet it’s when she does all of our laundry and we just keep gettin’ dirty.”  I smiled and assured them that, yes, those chores can be frustrating, but they aren’t hard – and I expect them to eat and get dirty on a daily basis.

I was about to delicately tell them about how I worry about them, and how I don’t look forward to them growing up and leaving to live their own lives.  I wanted to frame it in a healthy way and not break down into a menopausal mess in front of them.  Before I could get that out, my daughter raised her voice and announced, “I’ve got it!  She’s afraid that when she’s not around we might smoke cigarettes and drink alka-law – whatever that is… anyway, I don’t know why she worries about that because I don’t even like chicken, so I have no idea why she thinks I’m going to stick yucky stuff in my mouth!”  And then the next bomb dropped.  My son retorted, “No she only worries about weird stuff like birds getting sick and stuff.”

I think the real question is: What’s the hardest part about being raised by a kooky mom?  And great – now I gotta add alka-law and cigarettes to the list.

 

The Real Meaning of a Free Lunch

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Several days ago, we headed out to our local Mexican food joint to “celebrate” the end of spring break.  My husband was still out-of-town, so my sister joined me and my two children for an evening of yummy food and silly laughter.  In an unusual turn of events, both my sister and I took a gander at the cocktail menu and on a whim, both ordered up some tropical, fruity margaritas – not our usual Thursday night fare.  And when the kids asked (like they always do) for an order of the super yummy, special, secret cheese dip – I indulged them this time. The sun was shining – which can be unusual for supper time in March and the birds may as well have been singing – we were livin’ big!

The kids gave their accounts of our recent trip to the Gulf of Mexico – sea slugs, Man-o-war jellyfish, two stops to the yogurt stand, sand castles, fishing off the beach with Papa, collecting shells with Nana, mini golf and holes in one – all stories that needed to be told.  We all got the giggles when my sister ordered her dinner with her non-existent Spanish accent: “Tah-Keeeeeee-tohs” – always good fun for the little sister in me.  To the random on-looker, I’m sure our demeanor and laughter truthfully displayed a happy gathering.

As we were finishing up our rather indulgent meal, the waitress dropped off the bill.  I put the appropriate plastic in the folder without looking at the total and set it out to be handled by our very pleasant (and patient) waitress.  We continued to gobble up the remaining chips and salsa as I half-heartedly searched for the waitress to come by.  She circled our table without really noticing I was waiting for her – which seemed uncharacteristic based on the service she previously been delivering.  When my belly could no longer handle any more food being mindlessly stuffed down my gullet, I (more aggressively) just waved my hand with the bill in it to try to get her attention.  She paused slightly, and then finally responded to my waving.  She took the bill, casually opened up the folder, took my debit card out, and handed it back to me.  It was like the whole thing happened in slow motion.  I was obviously confused.

“Your bill has been taken care of,” she said.  “Wha – huh?” I very intelligently replied.  “Your bill has already been paid.  The lady that was sitting just over there to your left asked me if she could pay for your meal, but she wanted me to wait until she was gone to tell you.”  I was in complete shock.  I have heard of this happening to others – like in magazine articles, but I was completely at a loss for words – which doesn’t happen enough in my husband’s opinion.  My sister and I looked at each other and rattled off some more blather about “What?  Who?  Are you sure?  Is she still here?  Can we pay your tip?  Are you really sure?”

The waitress continued to reassure us in a very kind manner, so we gathered our things and left with happy dazes on our faces.  I still have no idea why the kind woman decided to take care of our burritos, cheese dip, tacos, margaritas, and tah-keeeee-tohs, but we were all so grateful.  Not just because it was a completely generous and random act of kindness, but because it was contagious.  The kids wanted to immediately find someone whose dinner they could secretly pay for.  They brainstormed ideas in the back of the van on the way home of other ways to secretly help someone – “Let’s pay for somebody else’s food the next time we go to Panera!  Yeah – or no, let’s leave extra money at the dry cleaners for someone else’s Dads’ shirts!  No – let’s buy some Happy Meals for the car behind us next time we go through a drive-thru!”  Ultimately, all the parenting, churching, modeling, preachin’ and praying sometimes just doesn’t hit home on how to really be selfless – until it is experienced in the flesh.

So, to the anonymous angel out there who paid for our meal, with our sincerest gratitude we thank you.  Your kindness and example of generosity did not go unnoticed.  Pay it forward lesson learned?  Check.

Lucky Streak

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I found this letter on the breakfast island this morning.

Dear Prize Givers,

Thank you for considering me for this prize.  I love your puzzles!  It is very clever how you put in an added puzzle within the word search by making me look for a secret word after I found all the words.  If you select my name and give me the prize of $1,000, I will use it wisely.  I will give half to my sister and we will both put this toward our college plans.  Thank you again.

Sincerely,

A very thankful fifth grader, (very fancy signature)

I brought this to my son and asked him what he would like done with this very polite letter.  He found his worn and wrinkled puzzle book to proudly show me the back page where all the contest information was boldly displayed.  “Look at this, Mom!  There’s going to be 150 first prizes and 5 grand prize winners!”  He is my eternal optimist.  He went on, “They are going to announce the winners on March 18th, Mom, and that’s really close to my birthday!  Wouldn’t that be great if I get the money almost on my birthday?”  As his mother, I thought it might be my duty to explain that yes, he could win, but is more likely that he won’t.  “I know, Mom, but what if I do?  I know you think it’s just like those Claw Games – no one ever wins the good stuff – but somebody has to win this!”

So we found the address and read through the rules.  That’s where he discovered that all participants must be at least 18 to enter the drawing.  He suggested I just sign my name instead.  I explained that his letter was much more appropriate for him, and that we would need to rewrite the letter.  But then I started to get the prize-winning mojo with him, and I loved his words of sincere enthusiasm more than whatever dull, adult greeting I would write.  “Okay, Mom – just take out the part at the end about the fifth grader… and the part about the college plan.”  I stopped him there to compliment his choice to share with his sister and his plan to save for college.  I asked him about what he wants study in college.  “I don’t know, but I know I’m going to go, so I don’t have to stand on the corner outside with one of those stupid sale signs – and this prize money will be the perfect start!”

In the last couple of years of harder economic times, we’ve seen quite a few people holding signs on the corners at busy intersections advertising “Going Out of Business Sale” signs.  And I guess that on more than a few occasions, my husband or I have indicated our preference for our children to go to college… so they don’t have to stand outside with a sign for their profession.  Maybe we’ve been hitting that a bit too hard.  Anyway, I heard some shuffling and witnessed a few random papers flying out of our junk drawer.  The contest fever was getting hotter, “Where’s a stamp, Mom?  We need to get this in the mail by midnight!  Also, can I have a metal detector for my birthday?  I think I’m on a lucky streak!”  This had me thinking: I don’t know if it’s harder to raise the kid who wakes up with a snarl and is sure it’s going to rain – or the kid who jumps out of bed and is ready to bet all the marbles on the half-dead horse?

Note to self: Next lecture opportunity, add in a few words about the possible detriments of gambling.  I’ll keep you posted on the contest results… somebody has to win.

 

Only The Fish Knows

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Fishin’.  Sounds like a grand idea, right?  Just you and a lazy river, sunshine, birds chirpin’, a sandwich and a cool drink, throwin’ in a line.  Sounds like a relaxing way to whittle away a summer afternoon… unless you’re me.  When I hear, “Let’s go fishing!” it’s as good as “Let’s go accidentally break some expensive piece of fishing equipment that means a lot to someone else!” or “Let’s see who can cause an emergency room trip first!” I tried.  I really did.  I wanted to be that little fishin’ buddy my Dad longed for.  But it didn’t take.  I’m all about the snacks and a sunny afternoon… but me and fishing just never cemented our relationship.

One of my earliest memories of a failed fishing trip began as a simple outing to a park.  I assume that my mom had put my dad in charge of child duties for the day.  He had decided to while away the afternoon with a little fishing trip for me and my sister.  I know I couldn’t have been more than three years old – as I know the day included a ride on my Dad’s shoulders.  This particular trip’s demise wasn’t really my fault, but it should have been an omen for trips to come.  Just as we had settled in along the crusty shore of the quarry pit, and had our lines in, I had to use the restroom.  My Dad, no doubt a bit exasperated, scooped me up, took my sister by the hand and headed for the nearest park bathroom.  When I look back, I remember it being sort of a Bugs Bunny in the desert, searching for water montage – each time we approached a grassy hill, I was certain there would be a bathroom in sight.  And each time, the possibility turned out to be a mirage.  I was sure we had been hiking for hours by the time we finally reached a hovel of a restroom.  I did my thing, and we started the long journey back to the fishing hole.

When we returned, there was only one fishing pole still lying on the shore – and it wasn’t mine.  This part is so fuzzy to me.  I have no idea why in the world my dad abandoned our poles with their lines in the water.  Maybe he too was thinking the restrooms were closer.  Or maybe that lack of multi-tasking skill forced him to take care of just one task at a time.  Maybe I was whining and crying, and throwing a holy fit.  Who knows?  More importantly, what I clearly remember is that he was not upset or angry.  He just laughed and said, “Wow, Julie!  That must have been one big fish that took your pole!”

There were many failed attempts at fishing enjoyment in the years to come.  However, this next one, was the last.  When I was about thirteen, we packed up the poles, some snacks, and a couple of cousins, and set out for another “relaxing” afternoon of shore fishing in southern Missouri where we had been visiting relatives.  The tricky piece about fishing with me was that my Dad always had to monkey around with the reel on my pole because I am left-handed.  On this trip, my Dad had set up a pole for each of my cousins, my sister, and finally me.  I had his best pole.  It  was the only one that would make the reel “switch-over” quickly.  I thanked him and set out along the shore to get in conversation-distance of my cousin.

Since I wasn’t so crazy about this fishing stuff anyway, I looked forward to the social opportunities.  I was walking sideways, carefully watching my line and making sure it wasn’t crossing anyone else’s.  I wasn’t watching my feet.  As you can guess, my feet weren’t watching either.  Somehow, I tripped over the tiniest, eensy-weensiest trunk of a shrub.  Because I was so bent on getting over to talk with my cousin and not tangling up any lines, and had both hands on the prized fishing pole, I went down like a totem pole that had been whacked at its base. Kah-whamp.  As I was lying on my side in the scratchy weeds, I realized my fist was still gripped tightly around something… but the pole was lying about two feet away from me in two pieces.  I had obliterated the prized fishing pole and the “switch-over” reel.  If I could have magically turned into a grasshopper,  I would have shamefully and quietly hopped away – never to be in pole breaking distance again.

In time, my Dad forgave my gaff, and he excitedly looked forward to purchasing a new pole – an even better one!  My Dad never stayed angry for long.  I think he secretly knew he should have left well enough alone.  The unknowing fish that went home with an entire pole that warm afternoon years before was wise beyond his years.

Fire and Ice

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Yesterday, my son was giving my husband the potential odds of falling through the ice on their upcoming ice fishing extravaganza.  He thought there was probably a 20% chance one of them might not make it.  He wanted to know what his dad would do if he broke through and couldn’t get out – to which my husband answered flatly, “Well, I guess I’ll see you in Heaven.”  Not a beat passed when my son replied, “I hope!”  With a bit of surprise, his dad questioned him.  “Are you worried about not going to Heaven?”  And as any ten-year old who has yet to commit any sins worse than a few white lies, he said, “I’m not worried about me!”

We’ve recently been studying the Ten Commandments at our house in preparation for our daughter’s First Communion this spring.  We covered the easy to understand ones through our parent/child classes at church, and then were sent home to discuss some of the more “abstract” ones at home.  The words “covet” and “adultery” came up during our conversation with our eight-year old.  She’s a bit of an old soul, so I thought I should just come out with the truth about what they mean – in kids terms.  She stared blankly out the kitchen window for a few moments after I tried to explain adultery in an eight year old kind of  way.  I asked if there was anything I could clear up for her.  She simply said, “Now I know why they sent us home to talk about this stuff – moms and dads are probably too embarrassed to talk about that stuff in front of a room full of other moms and dads.  Now… let’s get to the important stuff – Dad’s bad word problem.”

I’m guessing that this has been weighing on their minds more than the Quick-tempered Head of Household thought.  I’ve decided that it’s not entirely necessary to let your conscience guide you.  If you have children… that may be good enough.