The Day My Father Threw a Doll out the Window



Kids today are spoiled.  They are lacking good solid stories as they get older about how they had to walk home from school while vomiting or had to share one large yellow phone on the wall in the kitchen. They have it a lot better than we did when we were young, our own childhoods akin to a long and tortious drive through Nebraska.  I know this, because I’ve driven through Nebraska. The cornfields, I tell ya.

Once when I was little, I defied my father and hid strawberry shortcake dolls inside my travel bag on a long-distance trip to Kansas. Yes, they did smell like fruity chemicals. But so does lotion named “sun ripened raspberry” and you don’t see anyone complaining.  My favorite was the evil Purple pie man, who stole all of the berries from the innocent girls with a mischievous grin. Needless to say I loved these little dolls, which is why I thought I needed them on the 13 hour drive to nowhere (aka Kansas).

But you don’t know my father. He hated smells.  He could tell if we painted our nails two days prior.  He aired out the house at the whiff of burned toast.  One sniff of cute little Apple Dumplin’ and he was like the Jack and the Beanstalk giant, fo-fumming that he smelled the blood of something that did not actually smell like apples.

“HAND IT TO ME,” he bellowed.  You can imagine the horror on my face, my father’s looming hand reaching into the back seat of the station wagon.  Scared, timid, and feeling small, I handed him one with flaming orange hair.

To my shock, he hand-cranked down the glass, which could only mean one thing.  He wasn’t placing a to-go order.  He wasn’t spitting.  He was about to throw, with all his might, my dolls out the window, somewhere outside of Oklahoma.  There were no apologies.  There was no “daddy lost his temper, sweetheart” moment.  Nothing akin to “we’ll buy you a new one” or “let’s talk about how this makes you feel.” It was swift, painful, and effective. All the dolls. Flump, flump, flump. In a moment, they were gone. My mother sat still and stoic, like this is just what fathers do when daughters bring along dolls that are fragranced with perfumed asbestos.

So maybe I’m overly concerned about how my children are feeling, and whether their emotions are seen as valid and real.  I worry that I’m not providing enough creative opportunity. Scared that they aren’t talking about their feelings. They are watching television instead of making birdhouses from scrap wood and metal screws.

For heaven’s sakes.

When we were kids, we’d get up as early as we could, watch as many shows as we could cram into a five-hour period, and take turns making each other breakfast.  One time my sister just walked in with plates covered in icing and we’d sit shooting sprinkles from the plastic container directly into our mouths.

So when my daughter threw a fit and I took away her allowance, I stopped for a moment and thought.  This is my right as a parent to invoke this discipline.  To enact order.  To make sure she understands that rules are rules.  And when she continued to defy me, I took a toy that she got last year for Christmas and put it in the Goodwill pile. There were no second chances.  I laid down the parameters.  She went past them.

Judging by her screaming, I was the worst mother ever. And that guilt started to creep in – was this too much? But I remembered my childhood, and how completely unaffected or scarred I am from the memories. So I braced myself for her outrage.  I allowed her to get angry. But in the end the toy was gone, and so was the discussion.  The next day was a new day, fresh and clean and happy.

As twangy as this sounds, being that I’m from Texas and all, we need to calm the hell down and firm up our resolve.  Let’s be parents, and be bold, and say that lines that are crossed have real and meaningful consequences. After all, they do in real life, where there are no time-outs or apologies.  There are only cops with little pads writing tickets and accidents that can end in death and despair.

Sometimes I think back about that little doll with orange hair, somewhere on the roadside, smashed by a truck or pecked at by birds, dead now by contaminated plastic, smelling of something other than apples.  And it makes me smile.  My father and his aversion to smells.  The large red station wagon with hand-cranked windows. And the look of my mother.

This is life, kiddo, she said with her eyes.  Get over it.



(three w’s)

A Lunch Hour Prayer


I’m writing this on my lunch hour, the phone timer set so my imaginary demons won’t report to the world that I’m spending work time on personal business.  Because I feel such guilt over walking out the door at 4 or when I spend too long in the break room and my heart is always forever pushing back shards of shame.  It’s my former government employee and youth director mentality I’ve never been able to get over, punctual and ethical in all things. Do more, exceed expectations, never lie and always proofread. But guilt is a wrecking ball, and after so many years it chips away at an otherwise stalwart heart.

God has given me an amazing gift of perseverance.  I’ve faced near-death and cancer and divorce and heartbreak and turmoil and yet somehow my internal clock still beats incredibly strong, and my default sensors are always half-full, and I tend to always get back up and start whistling.  But the devil’s found this loophole, you see. An enormous guilt that sweeps over me like a sulfur wind. Because God expects me to do certain things in His image and I’ve gone off and failed him.  And Jesus died for my sins and I can’t manage to carry out the stupid trash or concentrate on a managed care contract.  Seriously, what good am I.

So here goes the rampage of emptiness that fills my heart – a guilt that starts like a small fire I can so totally control.  But let’s be honest: we all know fire jumps protective lines and travels where it should not and thus I allow guilt to creep into my smile and my laugh and my brain and all the various crevices of me. And what remains is a hollowed-out version.

Oh, precious children whom I love.  There are moments I want to hold you so tight you might suffocate and I sit cross-legged in your rooms and watch how you contort your lips like a fish and my whole body is full of you.  I draw little hearts alongside of you on crisp white paper and make up silly songs and for fifteen glorious minutes I build castles out of magnatiles with the pointy ceilings that click together just so. And I hold your hands on our long family walks so we can discuss wildflowers and beetles but then like a flash I simply want to get off the floor and tell you to find your own peace and quit fighting and watch a show because can’t you see I need a minute? Can’t you see I need to sit alone on this front porch and see if he’s texted or if updates have arrived because I have to awkwardly navigate the real world with a broken heart?  I need to be free of you for a little while.

And these beautiful ones say so softly “Put the phone down momma. Why don’t you ever play with us anymore?” Because one moment I’m hot and another I’m cold. And my entire life’s fortune is in front of me blinking and the guilt of knowing this ravages a hole into my heart.

Oh, God whom I gave my life years ago.  My weak, sagging life has always been unequivocally yours, from the moment I gave it to you in that small chapel with dirty stone floors.  My servant-hood has never varied, and you know this.  And yet I do not seize you. I do not throw myself in worship and I am not an example as I wish to be.  You know me. I so love the piercing shrill of a curse word and I like to sip on sparkling champagne on a summer night too often and I’d rather read fiction than Colossians and I don’t want to give up things and not do things and the Bible is sometimes just a wee bit more boring than I’d like.  You know I want to eat broccoli and yet sometimes I have a hangover and I sulk on the garden floor half-heartedly pulling weeds and visit with you behind clenched teeth.  I need to be free of my suffocating expectations. Can’t you just let me feel happiness for once and not rip it out from underneath me?

Oh, relationships that end.  Come on, now. I have blue eyes and I’m funny and bubbly and supportive and smart. I wear a slinky dress one day and cowboy boots the next. Isn’t this something that’s desirable to the hearts of man? And yet when things don’t work out for good solid reasons that are mature and understandable I sulk and stomp because why wouldn’t men want me despite the crushing odds? Can’t we all just walk through life in a blissful state of romance and turn the truck around and you show up on doorsteps with bundles of flowers? Is this really too much to ask? I am so excellent with being alone, but lonely is another issue entirely.  I recoil and spin in all directions and have no willpower.  And because I’m dramatic I then tear up and cast side glances to God and wander around my home and my town and the aisles of Whole Foods and I feel all random and tied up in knots.  Maybe I didn’t try hard enough. Maybe I should have done more.  Maybe it’s me that is the reason for the leaving. The guilt in reaching out too much and playing my hand and being too open with my emotions fills me with dread.  Damn guilt, it crept in again through an open portal.

There are times I am not a writer and not a lawyer and not a mother and not a lover and I’m just a flat-out mess as real life walks over me like a homeless bum, desperate and lacking.  There are days I want to lay flat on my back and just stare at the ceiling for hours upon end and hope the day passes to another sun and another moon and another season and another everything.  And yet we are to use the time given to us and delight in the toil and trust that God will forever be faithful, so guilt creeps upon my eyeglasses and taps though the glass into my one working eyeball.  “Hello in there? You realize how lucky you’ve got it, woman?” And I rise again, crawling to sit and half-rising off the bed to sore feet and a bruised heart and I half-ass my way through another day, another life, another dinner, another weekend.

But slowly a hint of a smile returns.  And quietly a voice starts to hum from inside, where the spirit lives.  It’s barely audible, the prayer that forms. But it’s there, like an imprint God has sewn into the fabric:

Enough. I have done enough and loved hard enough and God is enough and therefore I release you, stupid ugly guilt that has crawled through my veins and is tearing at my spirit.  I will walk down the hallway after eating this protein bar for lunch toward the restroom, since the timer is about to go off.  I will go to a meeting.  I will respond to emails with thoughtfulness and I will refrain from making bad decisions and will not reach back to the past. I will take deep breaths and drink more water. I will hug my children today when I see them.  But if I don’t? If I sulk for a few more days and still do stupid things and drink a soda and tell my children to watch another show and text the dude? That does not define me. That does not make my life less worthy.  And it certainly has nothing to do with how much God delights in me, and desires me, and loves me.  Oh, God, let me refocus my life not for me, but to delight again in you.  To find peace in a love that is calm and replenishing. That is enough.  My dear Father, that has always been enough.

Now, it’s back to work. There are contracts a-waitin, and they ain’t gonna write themselves.


Confessions of a Messy Housekeeper


I have always wanted to be a good housekeeper.  I visit friends whose houses are clean and clutter-free and envy them, like a far-reaching star that I just admire.  My pattern is typically this: a super-clean house for a day, then three days of “oh dear, I really need to get to that,” then a total nightmare where I don’t want neighbors stopping by for muffins.  At that point I drop off my children at school, roll up my sleeves, and clean it like we all just might be licking icing off the travertine.  We go in three-day cycles of sparkling and disaster around here, and when it gets too much I just call in the professionals.  My lovely housekeeper, Esther, doesn’t speak much English and no matter how many jugs of Meyers cleaning spray I set on the counter I still get notes that say “buy more Tilex!!” and “pick up before, maybe?”  I honestly don’t know why she even deals with me anymore.

My ex-husband was very neat.  His sink never had toothpaste residue, his counters clean.  He put his clothes in the hamper and rinsed out his dishes. It just never occurred to him that if you get something out of a certain place that it would be returned anywhere but there.  That is really admirable, if you ask me. And when I stood there smiling and shining with a roast chicken and root vegetables on a platter in my hands, he would glance behind me and see the gravity of what was left behind.  Pans and open containers and a stickiness abounding.  But I made a homemade gravy! And there’s apple pie for dessert! It’s like I couldn’t ever really see it, or was too focused to pay attention, and when I feel the call to write or read or garden or make a care package for a friend on a random Wednesday, picking up the house was just not on my radar.  This life is so short, and making beds seems like an incredible waste of time when there’s mantles to be arranged with pumpkins.

So I sigh and look around me now, piles of papers and cereal bowls in the sink.  There is laundry to be done and things to be folded and I just wish for a moment that I put more of a priority on the business of housekeeping.  That I made a few less banana muffins and a few more runs with a mop over the kitchen floor.  The truth is that I don’t want to be this way.  I wish there was a course at the local community college about how to maintain your house more efficiently, or put as much priority on laundry as one does on reading books, because I am a living example to my children, who see me singing and dancing and writing chalkboard sayings in the kitchen with seven pairs of shoes strung around the floor. And if there’s a dinner party to be had, I’m focused on the table décor without much thought given to the state of the countertops.

When I quit my job a while back, I tried to improve upon this.  I did somewhat.  I had more time during the day to load and wash and sterilize and scrub.  But now that I’m looking to go back to work it’s going to be up to poor Esther again, sighing and telling me to buy more Tilex.

We are all born with certain talents.  Some motivate and others encourage.  Some are good listeners and others lead.  And as women we have this feeling of worth that’s connected with an orderly home, as if we must succeed at this or we are failures in our God-given roles.  Well I’m born with many talents, but keeping a perfect home isn’t one of them. I can barely get my kid’s t-shirts run through the wash, and we are often searching for keys and lost shoes.  But what I have come to accept is that my worth is not tied to the state of my bathroom sink, although it does get gross and seriously, can I not just bust out a washcloth from time to time, or learn to put my make-up in a drawer?

So I’ve started to give my daughter simple chores, and we try to have clean races and sweeping parties, and I’m going to wake up every new day trying to be a better example to my children as a housekeeper.  But I’m going to fail at times, and that’s okay.  Because pretty soon I’m going downstairs to make that kitchen sparkle.  Just as soon as I finish writing, editing, calling my bestie, and drinking coffee.  Immediately after I read a few more chapters, pay some bills, check on how my carrots are coming up, and take a hot shower. Then, really.  You’d be so proud.  It will smell like Pine-Sol and Fall harvest up in here.

Deficiencies are just areas to improve upon with every day, the way I see it.  They are not flaws that eat us alive.  So loosen the grip on guilt at whatever you’re not perfect at, and realize that you make up for it in other ways.  Then roll up your sleeves and get to work, whether it be practicing the violin or making beds or writing or cooking dinner, because there is always some bit of sparkle at the end of the rainbow.  And that holds us over for a while — the constant struggle to improve, the glory of overcoming, and the feeling that you’ve put yourself back together, one dish and folded towel at a time.