My Top Ten Pieces of Parenting Advice

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  • I know all this free-range business is giving you new parents something to stress about, because your instinct is to hold up your precious William’s little bottom on the playscape so he doesn’t fall and free-rangers are all “let-him rip! Skin up those knees! You’re a nerdball-helicopter-control-freak if you watch your child run across the field!” Whatever, ladies. Chill the heck out and watch him as long as it feels comfortable.
  • Over the weekend our neighbors had a party and my children felt like swimming at 7 pm. They begged to return home for swimsuits. Naturally, I said no because I am a responsible parent. Thus, I continued to visit with grown-ups and ate more barbeque tacos. I then saw my children giggling and gathering up more children like they were ring leaders of a pre-school prison gang and they all decided to enter the hot tub in mass in their FULL ON CLOTHING. I stood looking at them like “Well, I could intervene, but I’m sitting here eating tacos.” So strike that on free range. It’s really quite lovely. Embrace disobedience in the name of creative exploration.
  • The other day my son had his 5th birthday party and another mom was like “this is the very first time my son has ever had soda in a can.” I sat there stunned, like “Seriously? The very first time? And this monumental event occurred at my house?” She spent five long years pushing watered-down fruit juice and all of a sudden here’s soda. I didn’t know if I should be proud of her or humiliated that I was letting kids slurp on Country Time Lite. It even had fake sugar, which means all these kids will get cancer and it’s on my head. OMG what have I done. But then I told myself to relax. We hardly ever drink these things. Curb the comparisons. Remember this if you want to have a Dora-the-Exploror party and Pinterest would scoff at your lack of creativity or absence of milk bottles with paper straws or you serve oreo’s instead of peppers with hummus. It’s fine. Little Mackenzie doesn’t even like peppers.
  • It’s raining and flooding here like the days of Noah so my children have had a ball with the cardboard house I let them make in the living room. Which is cool for a day but then the requests are like “can we eat our fried eggs in the little house?” and “can we sleep in the little house?” and “can we make furniture for this stupid little house and haul in all the leftover cans and milk cartons to the complete exhaustion of your sanity?” Kids, unless this little house comes with a housekeeper it’s being torn down on Sunday afternoon.   Then they cry and say you’re a horrible mother and how can they possibly live without this house/fort stuck together with duct tape filled with egg cartons. I’m not sure what advice I have for you on matters like this except that tomorrow they’ll move on to something else, so bake brownies.
  • There’s loads of guilt for not volunteering at school. Stop it with the guilt. I’m working full time so I usually volunteer for things like “napkins” and “games at the holiday party” and leave the lunch helpers to other mothers who really want to sit there with 20 or so loud children. And when I forget to bring snacks I’m that mom that shows up with a bag of carrots and a bottle of dressing, which shows my obvious effort, and when I forget my son’s blanket or pillow I’m like “somehow figure this out, people/surely you guys have a beach towel around this place that will work.” Now this might seem cruel to you, but from one mother to another I’m telling you your kid doesn’t mind eating carrots on a napkin or covering up for one stinking day with a towel. And if he or she minds, you have bigger problems. Come to my house and I’ll give them a soda.
  • Eating vegetables is an age-old battle. They have magical stomachs that can’t possibly stuff down one more green bean and yet there’s a reservoir for ice cream that never overflows. My suggestion is to simply tell them they have to eat their vegetables or no dessert, no matter the fact that sautéed spinach makes them gag or roasted beets taste like the bottom of a shoe or they’d rather starve until September than eat one more asparagus. You simply must never give in or show any emotion and treat dessert like an ex-boyfriend you don’t even give any second of thought to anymore. Then when they get smart and say “well I don’t want that stupid strawberry ice cream anyhow” you can bribe them with leftover Halloween candy. I’ve also heard statements like “EAT THAT STUPID KALE OR I’M TAKING AWAY TV TOMORROW FOR THE LOVE YOU ARE DRIVING ME MAD” may work on a pinch if you’re on your way to basketball practice in ten minutes.
  • Let’s discuss making beds. I think it’s stupid because we just get back into them in a day’s time so I’m the worst person to give advice in this area. My house always looks like it’s been broken into and the burglars took long naps.
  • I will point out, because I’m feeling like a bad mother making my kid eat vegetables and cover up with towels, that one particular year I didn’t bring carrots for snacks but instead followed a very detailed pinterest design. It involved making pencils for the beginning of the year out of cheese sticks, pieces of pepperoni, and bugle chips. I jubilantly hauled them to school to showcase my amazing mothering and my daughter was like “really mom? Do you have to walk these in?” So the lesson here is Pinterest is stupid and your kids care more about a love note written on a day-old napkin and stuffed in their lunch next to a cheese sandwich.
  • Get them all off devices. It robs them of all creativity and imagination. But then again, your house is a wreck, you have forts and books and roly poly collections and worm farms, so maybe limited device time is better than you becoming an alcoholic. So PBS and Little House on the Prairie only. Maybe a few others. Only once a day, maybe twice. Oh what do I know I’m such a pushover.
  • Honestly I don’t know what advice to give, except that reading to your children is never a waste of time, even when you’re bone tired, and never, ever, ever, withhold love. Love until your arms are sore. Love when they throw things and say they hate you. Love when they leave and say they will never come home. Love until your last dying breath. Love like nothing else has any hope of working, and when you feel all worn out just love some more.

We’ll see if it works out in the end, unmade beds and all.

 

photo:

(threew’s).flickr.com/photos/7698062@N04/4077647468/in/photolist-7dk1wG-61AfRy-97TGEf-oHxSZc-6iZzjq-aFhbna-aFkZnE-aFhbzc-aFkZpj-aFhbFB-aFhbsP-aFkZD5-aFkZuj-aFhbui-aFhbKc-aFhbPM-aFkZfL-aFkZcu-aFhbHk-aFhbqx-aFkZB3-aFhbAR-9uUjg8-e6yzFf-4pTBV6-4pH7Ma-9aPAv5-8QQhcr-jkKx1g-7oB56E-7RhbNG-9RYtR4-9RYtXt-aM5Xf6-aM5WV4-btSRsf-9TSUfe-5xnkDh-5xhWcR-5xhVhr-5xhWU4-5xnkwq-5xnjBm-5xnjFQ-5xhXeD-5xhVvD-5xnjU7-5xhVor-aM5ZbF-gDPVrB

Farewell, Frog

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The other morning, upon running late, shooing children out the door, and wearing a pencil skirt with leopard-print pumps of all things, my son makes a discovery.  A tiny little frog had hopped into the garage – fresh from the rain puddles I suppose, and had found himself juxtaposed between a corner and a large 4-year-old boy with beautiful eyes and a fascination for reptiles. He didn’t have a chance, really.

“Can we take him to school?” my son asked.  He was jumping and his eyes were smiling.  But we didn’t have time.  I was in heels.  There has been zero consumption of caffeine.  We have exactly eighteen seconds to get in the car and peel out of the driveway or both kids would be late.  “Please, mom? Can we can we can we?” I looked in his little eyes, those eyelashes batting up and down.

Damnit with the eyelashes.

So back in the house we go, the superman Tupperware shaped for sandwiches being brutally sacrificed for the love of frogs, so I stab air holes in the lid and hobble back out in my heels and ridiculously thin skirt and try to catch the slippery thing.  Finally with the help of a piece of paper and my transferring-frogs-into-tupperware-skillz that I learned in parenting school, I captured him, to the delight of my screeching son, who was happier than I saw him last Christmas morning.  Which means this Christmas I’m just going to fill the house with frogs.  Thanks a lot, gears-gears-gears. You were a waste of $60.

Off to school we go, after rounds of Taylor Swift for my daughter and having to endure the interior light so she can read her book on dogs who talk and save the earth, and I somehow get the children dropped off at their respective places with statements of love and happiness, through the Starbucks line, and I’m happily in rush-hour traffic toward my office.  Fast forward eight lovely hours, whereby I skipped lunch to review contracts and I’m back in my car, which is hot enough to roast marshmallows because it’s Texas and it never freaking gets cold despite it being October. And then I see it.  Right there next to his seat.

Death.  It permeates the Lexus.

The poor thing suffocated.  It had no hope.  We even put a leaf in the little container for it to eat, although let’s be honest small baby-like frogs don’t munch on leaves like potato chips, but to my son every living thing eats leaves so let’s not ruin the whole story over semantics.  I am forced to make a pit stop in suburbia one block away from my son’s preschool and pull over, opening the lid to throw the dead body out on the pavement below.  I can’t exactly explain to him that we simply “forgot the frog” or “it suffocated in the heat, dying a slow miserable death whilst plastered to a converse blue image of a superhero he will never become,” now can I.

I had to bang the Tupperware against my car for him to fall out because his little water-starved body was stuck to the side. I know, I know. It’s horrific.  I crossed myself although I’m not Catholic and said a little prayer as it lay there lifeless on the pavement below, soon to be run over by the wheels of my own car most likely, but what exactly do you do in this situation? Stupid Texas heat. If we lived in Chicago the sweet little frog might be fat and happy munching on that leaf all afternoon.

I hid the Tupperware in the front seat so my kid wouldn’t ask questions.  I said we could have mac-and-cheese for dinner.  I tried all my tactics to keep him upbeat and not be suspicious.  Until he saw it.  The Tupperware lid peering from underneath my blazer.  Oh, friends.  Let the tears roll.

I told him I let it out by his school, so he could frolic and play with his friends since we forgot to take him in, which at first blush may seem a wee bit untruthful but his froggy friends could so totally be frog zombies. He was mostly angry I didn’t let him out at home, so he could find him (until I offered oreos and then would forget), his long-lost friend (that he forgot) and wanted so badly to save (that he just met this morning it’s not like you guys are BFFs, geez.  Plus he’s a frog).

Needless to say it was a big ordeal, only to be healed by a television show and love from his dear mother (who committed frogslaughter and dumped the body).   The most important thing about all this is that I managed to kneel down in a pencil skirt.  If you see any frog remains in front of a brick house I don’t know what you are talking about.

You guys can judge all day, but just wait until this happens to you.  Let’s hope it’s just a beetle, who “overdid it on the leaf eating.”  They are less frightening when dead. Not that I know anything about that.

Let’s all have oreos. K?

photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/125791999@N06/14815693604/sizes/m/in/photolist-ozdixb-aEMcB5-8iSSBF-bYL3sS-oeMB1H-frJm9V-afehCU-afbuXR-diibw6-fPkXDZ-e7AHBd-nJEnGP-cuLtuw-fmKcbz-bYdh9h-eYhuLL-a3QXZi-8vQEc6-ar5Pqq-ar5MA3-a7xzoR-gawWdG-cY3ubd-n2RsAZ-n2RzzB-95bS3U-p7uwkv-8NSef1-fhXu9g-o22gME-fJHrBS-9U6BNz-8zbaEB-aGfTcP-it5PQC-9n11Qh-8e8PTF-8sxVNX-8fxwty-bbRNfR-9U6Dw6-9U6CAV-9Nhus2-7GMaLY-jJnqsc-8qF36E-dNU7LR-nHabUq-8A75Dc-afvex1-7PaxWm/

 

Things I Tell My Six-Year-Old

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(1) Yes, I realize that feeding the dog one scoop of food is something we have to do every single day, and this chore is extremely onerous.  But somehow, I know you’ll overcome.

(2) Yes, you have lovely teeth. No, they don’t at all look large, protruding like boulders out of your very small mouth.

(3) Please stop squirting room spray on your pillow to help you fall asleep.  Your hair will smell nothing like ocean breezes.  This stuff is swill.

(4) No, you can’t have a Chai tea.  What are you, like 27? Have I ever ordered you that at Starbucks?  You can have an apple juice and a healthy dose of normal childhood, thank-you-very-much.

(5) I’m sorry I ironed on the Daisy pedals in the wrong order but in like five minutes you go through a transition bridging ceremony and you’ll be an official Brownie and won’t need this Daisy vest anyway so please get up off the floor for heaven’s sakes.

(6) It’s not a cartwheel when you land on both feet.  Is that a round-off?  Oh sweetie – did you just fall over?  Oh I see.  It’s your made-up gymnastics move.  Clever.

(7) Please stop eating all the gruyere.  They make icky American cheese for you children of the world who don’t really give a rip.

(8) Yes, take your purse.  You never know when you might need sparkling lip gloss, a bar of soap, and an empty wallet with fake money in it when we go to the grocery store.

(9) Why is there a bar of soap in your purse?

(10)               It’s really just eggs and potatoes and onions with herbs but instead of all that let’s call it Fancy French Eggs.  Au Revoir!

(11)               You will play piano because I said so, and it will increase your skills in all areas of life, and will provide you a ticket into the “I used to play piano when I was little but I hated all that practice but I gave it up and now all I can play is chopsticks” world of adulthood.  You’re welcome.  It’s better than “we sang opera in our underwear.”  At least I’m giving you something you can actually use.

(12)               No, we cannot plant corn in the front flowerbed.  I know that would be “so awesome” but so is the Batmobile and you don’t see me rocking that in the carpool line.

(13)               It’s true that I love you more than the entire world combined.  Because God shines through your veins like a flashlight, illuminating the world with good.  Please don’t stop accepting my love, even when I’m old and stinky.

photo:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/21749115@N00/141286730/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Odd and Curious Thoughts of the Week

I’m about to head to the coast for a family vacay, so I thought I’d leave you with these thought-provoking things.  Welcome to a week in my life. . .

(1) Stop it already with the swim coaches referring to the freestyle stroke as some sort of exaggerated ice-cream-scooping maneuver.  This is the third swim coach who’s yelled at my daughter to “Scoop!  Lift those arms and scoop that ice cream!”  Who comes up with these hair-brained examples that all swim coaches feel compelled to use? When’s the last time you raised your arms above your head in a swan-like fashion and dug your bare fingernails into a vat of ice cream? Any normal person would use a metal device with much less work involved, put the chocolate directly into a cone, and sit back licking it before it melts.  A normal person would not fervently kick while scooping over and over again, only coming up to breathe.  That person has a horrible bulimic binging problem and needs therapy.

(2) My son this morning decided he didn’t want to wear clothes.  A battle ensued with a slightly grey-haired 37-year-old and a 2-year-old.  I won, but only by a hair.  He beat me on the shoes.  I had to give a little.

(3) My daughter had another swim lesson today.  “Scoop, sweetie!”

(4) My daughter watched a movie this week called “Polly World,” whereby small Polly Pocket dolls come to life.  In this movie, which I assume is meant generally for children since the characters are pink and sparkles come busting out of their behinds, Polly’s mom died and her father was about to get remarried to an evil woman who wanted to ship Polly to boarding school.  Polly lands on stage at the talent show with perfect hair, along with her all-girl band, wearing a strapless dress.  I’m so pissed off at the writers of this movie, whereby I have to explain things like “moms dying” and “not all children get to grow up being in a rock band” and “you can’t wear a string bikini.  You’re five.”

(5) My daughter has announced that for her birthday, she would like every single Polly Pocket set ever created on this planet.  Alert: you’re getting a set of molding clay, an unabridged version of Heidi, and a set of oil pastels.  Deal wit it.

(6) I have a sudden urge for ice cream.  I just want to wallow in it.

(7) Stupidly, I answered a work phone call this week while I had both children with me.  Apparently my son wanted a certain book that my daughter took away from him and he was shrieking for it back and my daughter was holding it hostage. “Excuse me one second,” I said into the receiver.  “Give that back to him right now!” I yelled at my daughter.  “I need to take this call!”  Whatever works to create five minutes of quiet. My daughter gave me the most dejected and panicked look.  “But it’s the New Testament!” she said.  “He’ll ruin it!”  I grabbed it and handed it to my son.  It’s fine.  Jesus will understand.

(8) Of the food items that I’ve packed to go to the beach house, paprika made the list.  Who knew paprika would ever make a list of anything but useless spice one puts atop deviled eggs?  Who knew?

(9) “You really don’t have many wrinkles,” my daughter tells me.  “You have a few.  But you don’t look that old.”

(10)               It’s the weirdest thing.  The Polly Pocket movie has gone missing. I think Polly might be off scooping ice cream in an endless sparking river of cotton-candy with sprinkles.  She’s kicking like a movie star to make it to the other side, where her deceased mother has come back to life in order to hand Polly her first training bra and a designer glitter-bag chock full of inappropriate topics for children.  Yeah Polly!  Scoop that ice cream!  You can do it!

little house, big tears


(my daughter, looking very old fashioned)

When my daughter was sick last year, my mom came into town to stay with her so I could go to work.  The old-fashioned, no-cable, non-Disney people that we are, we thought it might be a good idea to start a lifetime of Little House on the Prairie episodes.  After all, there’s lots of “we’ll totally make it through the winter on one sack of wheat” and “golly pops – a peppermint stick in my stocking is what I’ve always wanted” and finally, “let’s pray.”  I thought it might be a good lesson in family values.  Perhaps force the message that home is really where the heart is.

Between a budget meeting and a conference call, my phone rings.  It’s my mother.

“I have something to tell you,” she said.  My heart sank.  My daughter probably spiked another fever.  Maybe the dog unearthed a dead bird or my china was shattered into a million pieces. She continued, but in a low whisper.    

“It’s about Little House on the Prairie,” she said, her voice barely audible.  I sighed with relief.  What about it?  Maybe Pa and Ma had to stay up late tending to the fields.  Quite possibly, poor little Laura got her chalkboard thrown on the ground and a valuable lesson was learned. I had a call in a few minutes.  What was so urgent already?

“Some man died,” my mother continued.  “On the show, I mean. He was working in the mines.  There was an explosion.  His body was blown to bits.  Pa had to go find the dead man’s child to let him know that his father died in a horrific accident.  He took his wife the man’s belongings.”

Anyone that knows my daughter knows how incredibly sensitive she is.  That she cries for humanity and for lost dogs and for fictional characters in cartoons.  “How bad is she?” I asked my mother.

“She’s sobbing.  We are trying to focus on puzzles.  Maybe she can have some ice cream?”

I’m pissed off.  What’s next?  Is Laura’s mother going to abandon her and leave her at home eating nothing but roasted field mice and corn? Will she have her arm severed?  Get smallpox? Will Ma and Pa get a divorce due to some illicit affair with the blacksmith?  When I got home later that night, I was prepared.  I was expecting to have to answer questions about dying or abandonment or other topics four-year-olds shouldn’t know anything about.

Instead, life was surprisingly normal.  My daughter was wearing stickers on her ears like earrings.  And playing with her new doll house.  She made a book tied together with ribbons.  She danced during her bath and pranced her way into the bedroom for stories.

I suppose there’s a reason why we don’t remember all the negative stuff buried in TV shows.  We only take the good – straining through all the junk to find what’s worth keeping.  In time, she’ll forget about the time this father died in the mine.  She’ll remember Laura’s braids.  And long winters. And gumballs in large glass jars at the general store.

Children see the world in its finest light – hopeful and happy, sparking and new.  They believe and trust.  The Gospels speak of it in this way: “I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18:17).

We can’t shelter our children from this world forever, no matter how hard we try.  We can only encourage them to look backward with joy, remembering the braids. The little window in the top room. Cast-iron kettles and cornbread.

Someday, my daughter will have to battle the same issues with her own offspring. “Back then,” she’ll tell me, “we didn’t have all this stuff to worry about.  Everything was good and honest and pure.”

That’s when I’ll remind her that fathers were blown to shreds in Little House on the Prairie.  That she got to eat cereal for dinner not because I was a cool mother but because I worked and sometimes didn’t have the energy to fry an egg.  And that one time we spent the night at a Motel Six?  Where she got to stay up late and mommy and daddy were having a bit of a loud discussion with strange four-letter words about lost reservations?

You’re right, my love.  Those were the days indeed.

martha stewart clean

I never thought I’d say this, but thank you, Martha Stewart.

 

Today, after we returned home from the grocery store with items sitting randomly about the kitchen table, my son grabbed a bottle of bathroom cleaner and waddled off.  I was at the stove cooking asparagus and wondered why my son was so quiet. I went to investigate. As it turned out, he unscrewed the lid and poured the entire bottle of bathroom cleaner on the carpet.  And I had no idea if he drank some.  I immediately called my doctor, who referred me to poison control, and the conversation went something like this:

 

“Hello?” I asked in a panic. “Poison control? I think my son might have ingested some bathroom cleaner. “

 

“Oh no,” a woman said.  I could hear the seriousness in her voice.  “What brand of cleaner was it?”  She was typing something into her computer.  Probably something along the lines of Yet another negligent mother who let her kid drink poison.  Call CPS immediately to have her parental rights revoked.

 

Martha Stewart Clean,” I said.

 

“Uh huh,” the lady said.  There was a pause.  “I think you’ll be fine.”

 

“But don’t you want to know the active ingredients?” I asked.  I really was hoping I didn’t have to get his stomach pumped, or worry about him being unconscious, or burning a hole though his intestines.  He didn’t seem sick.  He was laughing and pointing to my nose and trying to moo like a cow, but still. 

 

“Yeah sure,” she said as she bit into a sandwich, stuck in some cubical in Dallas.  “If you want.”  What’s wrong with these people?  Aren’t they experts in poison? Don’t they have some advice?

 

“Water, Citric Acid, and plant-based detergent.”

 

“Yeaaah,” the lady said, her mouth full of ham.  “I really wouldn’t worry about it.  That’s harmless.”

 

I wasn’t sure whether the judgment in her voice related to the fact that I am a negligent parent, not noticing that my son walked right past me holding a bottle of detergent, or whether I spent five dollars on a bottle of distilled water with a few drops of citric acid.

 

In any event, this stuff won’t kill your kid if they accidentally drink it, and it managed to create suds when I tried to soak it up from the carpet, so I’m never buying anything else.  I’m a loyal Martha Stewart Clean consumer (when it’s on sale). Or, conversely, maybe I should just pay more attention to my child when they walk by.   The next time, it might be a butcher knife.

one liners, part two

Five year olds are officially hilarious.  At least I think so.  Here’s some recent statements said around our house that made me laugh.  I laugh a lot.

(1) “You see that?” she asked as she pointed to my son’s privates.  “I’m going to call that a hankerdoodle.  So if I ever say the word hankerdoodle, you’ll know what I’m talking about.”

(2)  (a few weeks later, during a bath) “Mom, don’t forget to wash the hankerdoodle.”

(3) “Did you meet some new friends at school?” I ask.  She shrugs. “We didn’t have formal introductions.”

(4) “I scratched my arm and it feels like I’m being scraped by a giant cheese shredder. A GIANT CHEESE SHREDDER!

(5) “I’m going to call grandma and tell her I got crunched” (after her brother bit her in the face)

(6) “I love you infinity times infinity plus one and then times a hundred.  Plus two.”

(7) “Why can’t we ever go to Chunky Cheese-its? I think they have pizza.”

(8)  “You can just call it recess, mom” (rather than the more inferior “playground”)

(9) “One hole in my nose is all plugged up and I just don’t know what to do about it.”

(10)               “Why are all the states united?  What does united mean anyway?”

(11)               (Sobbing). . . “I just think it’s so sad that Angelina Ballerina lost her doll and that she didn’t get it back and I tried to look at another book that was happy to get over it but it just didn’t work.”

(12)               “I don’t want you to put bows in my hair.  I never want to wear bows.  Ribbons are okay.  Just no bows.”

(13)               “When I grow up, I want to be a cheerleader, a mommy, and a nurse,” she says.  (“Can’t you elevate that to doctor?” I ask.  “Maybe a dermatologist even?”) “No.  I want to be a nurse. Nurses get to leave the room first.”

(14)               “I don’t need a nap.  I’m not tired.  And I’m not being mean.”

(15)               “I’m so glad I have you for a mommy.”

(16)               “If I wasn’t born and another kid was born instead and you named her the same name as me, would you love her just the same?”

(17)               “You can always get more money.  Stores will give you change.”

(18)               “If he can’t say the word “passy,” (referring to her brother’s pacifier), it’s okay if he just says “assy.”

(19)               (Crying). . . “I miss my old teachers. I want to write them a card first thing tomorrow when I wake up.”

(20)               (The next morning). . . “Card? What card?”

Devotional for the screw-ups

Let’s just be honest.  I would NOT be perfectly happy living in a double-wide trailer, trying to decipher smudged expiration dates on ground beef packages in a Wal-mart somewhere in Oklahoma. Not in the land of opportunity.  Not in a country filled with air conditioning and sugar soda and live musicals.  I don’t need much.  I can take or leave Neiman’s.  But I’d work two jobs and struggle and save and find a way to move into an apartment with fake granite countertops and at least wear fancy dresses from Target.  This might mean I’m a horrible example to humanity.  Perhaps I treasure material goods over all else.  Well at 6 am, people, the only thing on my mind is a grande pike roast coffee with two raw sugars.  It’s just human nature, for goodness sakes.

 

Someone asked me recently how I professed to be a follower of Christ’s teachings when I am so ambitious and competitive.  “Those are goals of the world,” this person said, “as opposed to the teachings of Christ, which is to serve others over self.”  I was caught off guard.  I never really thought of the two as mutually exclusive, like to follow Christ you should just chill on the bottom rung of the ladder, eating peanut brittle and snickering, watching those other poor saps climb to the top.  If I had only known, I’d have never graduated college or gone to law school, clawing and scratching my way to wonderful, fulfilling jobs.  I could have gone to work at Wendy’s and saved me all that trouble.

 

I think there is a fine line between living the life God called you to live – using the talents and strengths you were born with to their fullest potential – and crossing the line toward an unyielding race for power and wealth.  As painful as it can be, I think it’s good for folks to question your faith and call you out in public once in a while.  It makes you actually wonder if you are living out the life God wants you to live.  And maybe, you’re not.

 

I like to be reminded of what’s most important in a way that’s real and honest.  A devotional for the screw-ups.  I want a mirror to constantly reflect my own life back in my face to make sure I’m using my talents for God’s glory and not my own.  But for goodness sakes people, don’t reflect life directly into your eyes.  You’ll see a long history of acid-washed jeans and huge bangs and pants that were intentionally baggy at the hips and tight at the ankles.  This might cause permanent blindness and defeat the whole point of the exercise.   Aim it at your cheek or something.  

 

I walked into a Christian bookstore to find such a book. Daily devotions for “real women.” I thought I’d just know it when I saw it, like there would be a woman on the cover with a red wine stain on her shirt and her hair pulled back in a greasy pony tail, attempting to make Chicken-with-40-Cloves-of-Garlic while her kids are in the background drawing on each other with markers. But as I would unfold the stories, day by day, I would unearth a person who was genuinely happy with her life.  Who had found her true calling. I’d be drawn to her and feel we were kindred spirits, reading with interest how she found time to worship when she needed to make peanut butter sandwiches. She would remind me in daily increments that I’ll totally make it, even if I did slip up and say a creative slew of curse words to my boss in a fit of anger about a budget report.  She would gently remind me that such behavior is not becoming to the person God calls me to be, and I’d agree, realizing that such words defame God and are icky and crass like the shoes that I refuse to give up to Goodwill. Do it! she’d say. Put them in a paper sack in your garage and haul them off!

 

Most of all, she would tell me that it will be okay.  That I didn’t have a choice to be ambitious.  After all, we all must answer to the call God gives us the best way we know how.  And just maybe, she’ll tell me about her own momma, sweet thing, who scrapped and saved in their double wide outside Tulsa to buy everyone Taco Bell.  Just to make sure I’m really getting the point.  Jesus spoke in parables too, but he used classy stuff like wine and wheat stalks instead of double cheese burritos.

 

So I looked for this book to tell me I was okay, most of the time. But all I saw staring back at me on the shelves were pictures of teacups, fake steam gently rising to the top, all calm and pink and reflective, sitting in pretty little displays. Women with great teeth and well-combed hair reflected in great detail how busy they are vacuuming and praying at soccer games.  They are probably kind and lovely women, I’m absolutely and/or possibly sure of it, but where were the milk stains and reading glasses?  Where were the unmade beds and dirty dishes?  What about the burritos? They didn’t chastise me for not praying every morning and tell me there is no valid excuse (none!) unless I’m in the hospital undergoing surgery for an abdominal infection.  Then, maybe I get a pass.  They just kept being nice and respectful.  They keep flashing that unrelenting, pasty smile. I need honestly, people. I need that gut-wrenching kick in the pants.

 

So I sighed and kept walking through the store.  Past the school supplies with “I Heart Jesus” scrolled in bubbly letters.  I strolled past the scripture mints and the bible covers and the ceramic plates that proclaimed the goodness of all things biblical.  They had complimentary coffee, but the house blend was empty.  Figures. I pondered for a moment whether my life would be exponentially better if I just owned a tea kettle emblazed with a quote from Psalms.

 

As it turns out, there isn’t a book geared for overworked moms who are intimidated by all those perfect teeth.  Maybe I’ll write it.  I’ll encourage these women to keep going, despite the fact that they drank one glass of wine too many and let their kids watch cartoons the following morning for three solid hours.  Despite the sippy cup that used to contain milk but somehow got stuck in-between the minivan seats and turned into curds and whey.  Despite missed life lessons and botched biblical opportunities and tangled tongues.  We can remind each other that tomorrow’s a new day.  There are more battles to overcome and morals to teach.  Keep praying!  Keep trying!  Refrain from insulting Oklahoma!

 

There goes that ambition again, wild and out of control. Maybe one day I’ll be lucky enough to sit through a tornado on the high plains, scared and shaking, wearing a cheap Wal-mart dress and hugging my knees.  I’ll hear God’s voice as clear as an arrow and realize that this world is but a wind that will pass.  That his love is forever.

 

It’s possible I might hear God where I am, through the limestone rock that encases my house, amidst the hum of the air conditioner, beneath the sound of my surround-sound stereo, over the laughter of my children, and despite the jangling of my Tiffany bracelet.  But I really have to listen. That’s what a devotional should really be about, anyway.  To drown out the nonsense and keep your ear to the ground.

 

Keep listening.  It’s easy in Oklahoma.  Not so much everywhere else.

the hammer

My son has no interest in toys actually meant for one-year-olds.  Just today, I set out a brand new lego table in our home office, all colorful and shiny with balls that roll and legos that fit together.  There were lights and music and a place for square blocks to rush through a tunnel into a holding area below. I whisked him up after nap and set him down into his wonderland of new shiny toddlerness, hoping for five minutes to myself.  I should have know better.

The reaction was the same as my husband’s facial expression when we visit Fredericksburg or worse, the mall.  The way he sits on the bench outside every store and would rather drive a stake through his heart than look at more dish towels or bracelets bearing the children’s initials or bread mixes at Williams-Sonoma.

“Do you think your folks could use this fish marinade?” I say as I poke my head out the front door.

I Don’t.  Freaking.  Care.”  He looks like he might be coming down with some sort of migraine.  What’s up with his eyes all squinty like that?  Is he gritting his teeth?

“You might be right,” I say as I pop back inside.  “I’ll get the barbeque sauce instead.”

This is how my son looks at the lego table. It’s not like I handed him a can of peas.  It’s a bright shiny table with buttons made for children, for goodness sakes.  So far, his interests seem to be focused on tractors, hammers, balls, and electronic devices connected to power sources.  The other day, to my surprise, he went directly to an outlet and, with an air of confidence, began peeling off the childproof outlet protectors one by one while looking at me.  And then, just to show me he could, he slowly pushed them each back in.  He sort-of shrugged and walked away looking for a wooden spoon and something to hit.

My son walks past the lego table like it’s not even there and heads directly for my computer, and with the speed of a special agent begins yanking the cord out of the wall and flipping the switch to the off position on my surge protector.  I jumped up to chase him, but he begins sprinting at lightening speed to the printer whereby he starts mashing all the buttons with intense curiosity.  What about the legos, for crying out loud?  What about the buttons and lights and blocks?  He notices me hot on his trail and heads for the shredder, undeterred.

Finally, I sat him down in front of the toy (you’ll darn well like it, boy) while I went back to the computer to check my emails.  He pops back up and heads to the desk where he yanked down the pencil holder, found a small blue bead, and stuck it in his mouth.  I finally had enough.  I set the new table in the middle of what we shall refer to as his “toddler play yard” (it’s really more of a torture device since he just sits in it and screams).  “I just want five minutes, buddy,” I said as I lifted him into the play yard, complete with a wall of more buttons and toys and the new table now within easy reach.   As if trained in such things, he immediately pushed over his new table, climbed on top of it, balanced himself, and tried to use it as leverage to crawl over the top in sweet escape.   Finally, he used brut force to simply push over a precarious seam in the yard’s construction whereby he climbed free and headed directly for a pair of scissors.  If I can at least prevent this child from dying as a result of an early-childhood flesh wound, I will consider the sum of our childrearing efforts a success.

So far, my son has a limited vocabulary.  He can say “mee-yee-um” for his sister and “ball” and “nana” and “hat” and “up.”  But mostly, he just likes to hit things and dive bomb off furniture, perplexed that the laws of physics apply. The other day at a play date, he tackled a perfectly innocent three-year-old who happened to want the same ball.  He went for the legs.  Really put his weight into it.  I’m a little worried that if he has a crush on a girl someday, he might just run into her with his car.

He and my daughter are so very different.  She’s a thinker.  She is a five-year-old trapped inside a grown-up’s body.  Just today, she asked me for the name of a vegetable filled with sugar.  “You mean a beet?” I asked, remembering saying something about beets in passing at the grocery store.  She nodded.  “That’s it.  I have little places in my brain where I keep these things.  I just forgot to remember this one.  I’ll put it in one of those little places.”  I almost drove into the curb.  Who says such things?  My son just grunted and kicked my seat.

But it’s so lovely to have children who are different.  They get excited at different things.  My daughter sings and dances and colors and reads.  She uses words like “version” and “dapper” and “violet.” My son likes to run and explore and sweat and feel.  I can see the intensity in his little tiny eyes.  I can see the independent spirit.  He abhors constraint.  Don’t make me use those toddler play yards, I’m telling you.  I need room.  Freedom. It doesn’t matter if he has on shoes or pants or hits his head or starts to bleed.  He’ll just keep going.  I think he’ll be our outdoor one.  The one who likes to stand in the middle of a mountain stream and hike in the Rockies and feel his shoulders breaking wind like a knife when he runs through the storms.  Maybe he’ll be good at fixing cars, knowing when it’s the carburetor or when it’s just the battery. He shall someday be a good protector.  Strong.  Focused.  Intense.   He resembles my husband that way.

Someday, the whole family will again head to Fredericksburg.  I’ll leave my son sitting outside with his father, both of them making air guns motions to their temples while my daughter and I giggle about candle fragrances and tea bags.   I’m not intentionally raising my children to be different.  I don’t force my daughter to play with dolls or drag my son outside.  But God gave them very diverse hearts.  They are filled with opposite instincts.  I think it’s my job to just encourage what God has intended, to support them however they feel most free, and not try and manufacture their happiness with preconceived ideals I’ve created.

In this vein, I’m giving the lego table to goodwill.  It looks like I’ll be buying a lot more hammers.

double shot

You know those moms who speak loudly and wear wrinkled clothes and are seemingly oblivious to how annoying they are?  Today, I was totally that mom.

My five-year-old daughter had a gift card to Barnes & Noble, so after work, I hauled both kids to the bookstore, stopping first at Starbucks (the one located inside the store that never has good pastries).  I began to question the lady at the register.

“So, in your estimation, how much caffeine is actually in this?”

“Uh, not much,” she said.

“What?  Not much caffeine in a freaking frappuccino?”  I stared at it like it was dead to me.  Like without caffeine, it was just a worthless, swirling mass of nothingness.  “How much compared to an espresso shot?  Do you know the milligrams?  Can you look it up in one of your handy little binders?”

“I really couldn’t say,” she said.  She rolled her eyes and tapped her little fingers on the register.  The lady behind me just gave me dirty looks.

So I gave up and headed for the children’s book section, heaving my one-year-old son forward in the stroller as my daughter went on ahead.  “Look, honey,” I said to my son, absentmindedly. “This one’s a pop up!”  I noticed an employee glaring at my son with disgust, so I rounded the stroller to check out the frontal view.

My daughter had apparently taken the opportunity during my caffeine rant to feed him old expired cookies found in the diaper bag, and now my son was chilling out, his shirt a bit too small and exposing his belly, covered in crumbs, with a book in his mouth.  He looked like a drunk guy eating a bag of chips.  Except creepier because he was eating a book.  With an incomplete set of teeth.

I wiped off the crumbs and re-shelved the books, and I heard my daughter.  “Hey mom!” she yelled.  “I have something to shoooow you!”  Another mom was sitting there reading quietly to her son and looked up – annoyed – to see if I could get this loud kid of mine under control.  When I finally eased the stroller down the aisle, cookie crumbs littering the carpet as I went bumbling by, my daughter showed me a pink box of crayons covered in princesses.

“What about books?” I cried. But it was her gift after all, and she could use it as she saw fit.  So I directed our little party to checkout.

There, some bored kid declared the price and grabbed the card from my daughter’s hand, swiping it before she had the chance.

“Wait!” I said.  “She wanted to do that!”

“Sorry,” he muttered.  “Too late.”

We were short, so at least my daughter was able to hand him an extra dollar.  I made a big deal out of it, handing her the money, instructing her to give it to the nice gentleman, to say thank you, and to ask for a receipt.  I glared at this punk with my alternate evil eye.

They probably all got together after work, the Starbucks lady and the children’s book shelver and the punk kid with braces.

“Did you hear that mom berating me about caffeine?”

“You mean the one who let her kid chew on a book like a rat and let her daughter scream across the store?”

“Yeah,” the punk says.  “She totally needs a life.  And an ironing board.”

The next time I head into Barnes & Noble, I’m not ordering a frappuccino.  I’m getting a double shot.  I’ll pay for it with pennies, dug out of my wrinkled pockets.