Apr 072015

I asked Madeline to write an essay about a book she didn’t like, and I gave her the liberty to choose any book; it didn’t have to be a book we’d read for school. She surveyed the bookshelves for a while reminiscing about different books she’d read. She’d pull a book out, turn it over, and flip though the pages to decide whether or not she disliked it enough to write her essay about it. Finally, she chose The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.


She looked up from the bookshelf, “Why? Is it too short? Do you want me to pick another one?”

“No! I’m happy you picked that one.”

I can remember reading it to the children one evening after one of them had received it as a birthday gift. I was excited to have the book because I liked the simple whimsical illustration on the cover and it seemed everyone in my mom circle thought it was such a sweet book. I read the book to the kids, closed it, and put it back on the shelf. I didn’t like it. The book has stayed on the shelf for more than twenty years. I never read it to the kids again. The kids have read most of the books on our shelves, so I guess at some point, probably enticed by the whimsical illustrations, Madeline picked it up and read it.

The kid in that book is a parent’s nightmare. Why would we read that book to our kids? Do we want them to grow up thinking it’s okay, even expected, for them to take, take, take and never give anything back?

Or maybe it’s a good thing that they read the book. Maybe it’s a litmus test of sorts. How will they react to the book?

We never learn the boy’s name, but through the illustrations we learn that his initials are M.E. — Subtle. We all have M.E.s somewhere in our lives: in the branches of our family tree, at work, and in our various communities. These people are exhausting. If we let them, they’ll leave us stumps. I wish I had some nugget to share about how to deal with M.E.s, but I don’t. Over the last couple years I’ve tried to take a few steps away from some of the M.E.s in my life which has been both good and sad.

If we let them, they’ll leave us stumps.

Madeline turned in her essay. It had some grammar and usage errors, and she might have misspelled “fertilized,” but she recognized that the kid in the story is pathologically self-absorbed and the relationship is unhealthy. Her litmus test revealed that she is wise and insightful beyond her years. I gave her an A+.

I think the kids are doing fine. Not because I figured out how to parent in that perfect way, but because these people I get to call my own are kind and loving people. I’ve never told them to thank me for dinner, but they do. I have told them a thousand times not to put their elbows on the table, and they still do. So it isn’t anything I’ve done. I’m grateful, though. I know what a gift it is to have the husband and kids I have. I hope they feel unconditionally loved. I hope they know that if I were to write a book about a kid and a tree the last illustration in the book would be of a well-watered and fertilized old tree surrounded by many kids, their families, friends, and other trees in a beautiful forest. Unconditionally loved. 

Aug 302014

Mother of pearl! I got tagged.

I admitted out loud that I have a bad attitude about doing it. So the dinnertime conversation last night went something like this, “Mom, what if the first person who was tagged didn’t do it? Or what if she just donated money but didn’t tag anyone else to do the donating, too? They would have raised like $300.00, not $100,000,000. Mom, think about it, even if it is a fluke one-time thing, more can be done with $100 million than with $2.7 million. What if you tag a person and the person you tag tags a person who then tags a person who tags a gazillionaire who can donate a gazillion dollars? Please pass the salt.” Also, the kids are threatening to dump a bucket of icy water on my head when I’m least expecting it while one of them videotapes the whole affair.

So I’ve been mulling it over.

According to the website, “the challenge involves people getting doused with buckets of ice water on video, posting that video to social media, then nominating others to do the same, all in an effort to raise ALS awareness. People can either accept the challenge or make a donation to an ALS Charity of their choice, or do both.” As of August 30th $100 million has been raised since July 29th. That’s approximately $97.3 million more than the same period of time last year. That’s great! It really is great.

But I really don’t want to do it. I’m not exactly sure why either. I think mostly it’s pride: I don’t like being told what to do, and I really don’t like being guilted into doing things, and I really really don’t like seeing myself in videos. And there is a sense in which this isn’t my “baby,” so to speak. I watch as Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, lung cancer, breast cancer, brain tumors, Ewing’s sarcoma, hypoplastic left heart syndrome, and Cushing’s disease are reality in the lives of people I love.

There are also the “causes”: the education of girls, the mission field, the unborn babies, the environment, the sex trafficking, the mothers against drunk driving, and the fair trade coffee just to name a few. And then there is autism awareness, suicide and depression awareness, peanut allergy awareness, and bullying awareness.

All of that doesn’t mean that amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) isn’t a terrible disease that deserves awareness and funding. But. I’m just keeping it real here and trying to figure out why I don’t want to do this thing.

Certainly, it’s not because I’m afraid of getting doused with ice cold water, because just a few weeks ago I jumped from a 30 foot rock into an ICE COLD mountain lake. Jumped all the way in. (Where the heck was this challenge in June?) I did that for fun.

Certainly, it’s not because I don’t care about raising money and curing disease.

Certainly, it’s not because those viral videos of people struggling with ALS don’t move me. 

The guy at the next table had arranged his glass of beer next to his laptop on which he had some snazzy website (Penn State?) pulled up. He brushed a piece of lint off the screen and lifted his iPhone, squared it just right, and snapped a picture. He moved the beer ever so slightly, adjusted the screen tilt on the laptop, and snapped another picture. (Yeah, I’m a stalker.) It was a beautiful day to sit on the patio of an eclectic and ultra-cool downtown coffee house.

My friend returned from the restroom and we continued enjoying our lunch and our conversation.

I thought about that guy again later when I thought about the fact that I had just been tagged in the ever so annoying popular ALS ice bucket challenge. It really was a unique glass. Kind of round without being frilly, and modern without being boring. Filled with amber liquid and just the right amount of foam, it looked delicious, and I don’t really love beer. The beads of condensation sliding down the glass were artistic and inviting. Would that guy have enjoyed his beer and the quiet peaceful afternoon as much had he not “shared” it with his social media world in a public display of solitude? (In the spirit of keeping it real, I have done that exact thing with a steaming cup of coffee and with a deep burgundy glass of wine. Same exact thing! So I’m not judging, just observing.)

That’s it. Public display of… altruism. Everything is so public. Look at ME! I’m donating! Look! Look! Look!

I feel a weird combination of wonder and annoyance: wonderment at the enormous number of people dumping water over their heads and at the amount of money raised, and annoyance that it took such a public display of altruism to get it done.

Is this a new trend? I don’t think so. Think about the telethons and the folks who’d call in so they could hear their names on television. Or the charity balls. Talk about a public display. And certainly, guilt isn’t a new tactic to get people to donate money. It’s really difficult to look a firefighter in the eye at a stoplight and say, ummm… no, I don’t want to drop a few coins in your boot, but thank you for being willing to rush through deadly flames to save me if the need arises; have a nice day.

I guess we’ve always capitalized on human nature.

I’ve admitted that I don’t want to do this thing and I’ve admitted that the stream of videos is a little wearisome, but I’ll also admit that reading the posts from the critics is even more bothersome. Most of the critics, ironically, use the same medium to convey their lofty ideas about narcissism (in order to draw attention to themselves and their philosophical genius).

I keep thinking about the six degrees of separation between me and the gazillionaire. Should I just add ALS to my list of causes, dump some ice water, donate some money, and just move on? If this was my cause, if my mom, husband, or friend suffered from ALS it would be a no-brainer, but then, I’d probably already be a supporter. So that’s what this is about. If it wasn’t for the annoying videos, I, who don’t personally know anyone with ALS, wouldn’t be sitting here mulling this over. Wait a minute… It worked.

This isn’t my “baby” but that doesn’t mean I should throw it out with the bathwater…errr… ice water. It might be your mom, husband, or friend, so yes, I will stick my stupid pride and annoyance in a bucket of ice water and add it to my list of causes in a public display of altruism. But seriously, I don’t have any more time to analyze my feelings about it because I’ve been challenged to come up with the ten books that have influenced me and shaped me into the person I am today. Where is that book about overanalyzing every bloody thing?

Have you dumped ice water over your head yet?

My perfectly toned man muscles violently reject cold water

My perfectly toned man muscles violently reject cold water*

John Paul II Medical Research Institute:

ALS Association: (donors may stipulate that their funds not be invested in embryonic stem cell studies or any stem cell project.)

My ice bucket video

*Old Spice Ice Bucket Challenge

Jul 272014


Precious baby sister tears

A dad's heart is only as strong as it is tender.

A dad’s heart is only as strong as it is tender.

He’s off on his next grand adventure. His car’s all packed and he’s loaded the directions on his phone. We all stand in the driveway and wave and call out, “I love you! Be careful! I love you!” as the car drives off, and we wipe the tears. The last 60 days went by so fast. The last four years went by so fast. The last 23 years went by so fast.



I know it’s suddenly super unpopular to say that time goes so fast, and it’s super duper unpopular to encourage anyone to cherish each moment. I’ve read the blogs about “that annoying woman at the grocery store who had the audacity to tell me to cherish these days!” (The nerve!) The author will usually spell out all the exhausting, menial, and repetitive elements in her day and accuse the well-wisher of being trite and unfeeling. But oh! People, people, people, listen to me: that the little old lady with cloudy blue eyes who stops the new mom in the grocery store to tell her how precious these days are and how time goes by so fast knows something. Her sentiment is not trite and no, she hasn’t forgotten those long days followed by sleepless nights. (Remember, she most likely used cloth diapers and didn’t have a Starbucks drive thru.) Maybe there is wisdom and depth behind her words. Maybe she knows exactly what she’s saying.

Time does go by so fast! So so very fast. Those long sleepless nights sitting in a dark room rocking a fussy baby are worth cherishing. Cleaning up an eleven-year-old’s throw up at four o’clock in the morning for the third time since midnight is not somehow separate from the beautiful days and moments of parenting. Those moments in the grocery store line when a toddler is testing every last fiber of a parent’s sanity count toward that sentiment that we should cherish every minute. Don’t throw those moments away just because they aren’t the picture perfect ones.

This is what that little old lady in the grocery store knows: you should cherish all of it. It’s true. Cherish all of it, even the difficult days and moments. Those difficult moments are the ones that allow that toddler to know that you love him enough to hold him through the temper tantrum even though other people are glaring daggers at you. After all, when we are behaving in a lovable way, it’s no surprise that people love us, right? He will understand in a way he can’t express that you are his safe place. When you hold the washcloth against his fevered head and kneel to clean the throw up from behind the headboard of the bed, he will know true love, and he’ll sleep another fevered hour in peace because you’re sitting at the end of the bed. You will remember and cherish that unglamorous moment with as much tenderness as the moment he walked across the stage to pick up a gleaming award he earned. Actually, you may find that you cherish it even more because it was moment in time that only you know, whereas the gleaming-award moment doesn’t belong just to you.

I remember a night about twelve years ago when we were living in Annapolis. The night had been a long one spent cleaning up after a sick eleven-year-old. It was late. It was gross. I was covered in disgustingness. I was exhausted. Everyone else was sound asleep. My back ached from the weight of seven months of pregnancy. I remember that night journaling that I wouldn’t have traded that spot on the cold tile floor or that moment in time with anyone. I am the mom. I am the one who cleans up the mess, and I am the comfort in the storm. Those things can’t be separated. I am the place where it’s safe to land. Not just when it’s a picture perfect moment, but always.

I’m going to be super duper unpopular and say it: Cherish the moments. All of them. Because time flies. Oh how it flies.

Godspeed my son. I love you. Be careful. Be wise. And I’m counting the days until I see you again. I know they will fly by …

Don’t ever forget that I love you!

Jun 042014

In the last several decades the only reason I’ve been to the doctor is to give birth or have an occasional check-up. I’ve been blessed with great health.

But I guess I’m getting old.

I had a general idea what the word meant, but as soon as I got home, I looked it up. I wanted the precise definition.




1. causing insidious harm or ruin; ruinous; injurious; hurtful: pernicious teachings; a pernicious lie.
2. deadly; fatal: a pernicious disease.


She said I have Pernicious Anemia.

For the first two weeks I drove to town, waited in the waiting room, sat in the little office waiting for the PA, got my shot, and drove 45 minutes home. On the third Monday of my new reality Caroline and Josh were visiting from New York, and the idea of spending two hours getting a stupid shot was about as irritating as the idea of losing my neurological functions (which is what will happen if I don’t get said shot).

Caroline promised to support me and cheer me on as I attempted to give myself the shot. She stood encouragingly in the corner of the bathroom saying things like, “Oh my gosh, are you REALLY going to do it?” and, “Ewwww, it’s red,” and, “Are you sure you know what you’re doing?”

I was comforted.

I really dislike needles, but I did it! It really wasn’t so bad.

Actually, the first time I did it, I don’t think I went deep enough, because I had no idea what I was doing, so I ended up pretty bruised. The second time was a charm: no bruise, no marks, no pain.

The third time, this past Monday, I must have done something wrong. I must have bumped the very tip of the needle without knowing it, because it would not, and I mean WOULD NOT, go in. It hurt like heck. I got shaky and sweaty. After a few failed attempts,  I switched the needle with my sweaty shaky hands. The several attempts left me with attractive marks on my thighs. Welcome to aging!

So now I have one of those pill boxes with “M” for Monday, “T” for Tuesday… marks on my thighs, and a renewed sense of gratitude for the fact that I live in a first world country with a plethora of alcohol swabs, clean needles, and easy (albeit expensive) access to medications.

While I was at the doctor’s appointment that led to the investigation of the word pernicious, I was referred to another doctor because upon looking at my back the nurse practitioner exclaimed, “Wow! That’s something you should get checked out.”

When Caroline was home I showed her my back. The veritable fount of solace that she is, she exclaimed, “Eww, freak of nature.” My shoulder blade kind of sticks out and puckers and looks gross. Picture a gargoyle.

So I put bandaids on my thighs and got dressed for my doctor’s appointment. Have I mentioned that I dislike going to the doctor?

I showed the doctor my back, and he said something like, “Hmmmm,” followed by a pause, and then, “I’ve never seen this before.”

I was comforted.

He fiddled with his laptop. I got the distinct impression that he was on Google. Perhaps googling “freak of nature.” He turned his laptop toward me and showed me some pictures of similar looking backs.

Okay. I can do this at home. Is this what the medical community has come to? We are all just webMDs now?

Anyway, he said he had not seen this before, but that he would research it. In the meantime, I’m supposed to go to the hospital and have tests done. Tests involving needles being put in the area to see if I have nerve damage. Have I mentioned that I dislike needles?

With all due respect, this doctor was old enough to have seen stuff. Lots of stuff.

I left the office feeling like a freak of nature.

I drove over to Barnes and Noble and stood staring aimlessly at the shelves of SAT test prep books. There are approximately 70 different SAT prep books. I want the best one. I don’t want to spend too much money. I want my children to succeed. This could be the most important test they take. I want to empower them with the right tools. Why is this one called The Ultimate SAT Guide and this one called The Premium SAT Test Guide? Is ultimate better than premium? I tend to overanalyze. So I called Ken. He talked me down from the ledge of SAT prep guide purchasing. I purchased the College Board’s Official SAT Study Guide. I brought the book into the house and upon close inspection I realized that it looked kind of familiar. The boys told me that we already own that exact book. I think maybe I should have started taking the brain-saving injections years ago.

So the kids make fun of my pill box and my gargoyle-shoulder and my pile of books that I need to return to Barnes and Noble. I’m getting old. It would be really easy to say that getting old sucks.

I have wrinkles on my face. They are there because I’ve squinted up at the sun on the shores of the Caspian Sea, the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the beautiful Shawano Lake. I’ve laughed until I’ve cried. I’ve furrowed my brow in deep thought. I’ve been to the desert and I’ve been to the mountain top.

I have stooped shoulders because I’ve had my arms filled with blessings so innumerable the weight of them can’t even be measured. I’ve carried burdens for friends, and I’ve bent over stoves, schoolbooks, scraped knees, flowerbeds, and deathbeds.

The skin on my hands is wearing thin because I’ve shaped, patted, and soothed. I’ve worked and clapped. I’ve been known to shake my fist in anger and frustration. I’ve held the hand of my beloved and I’ve folded my hands in prayer.

My mind is so filled with names, places, pictures, languages, love letters, math formulas, hopes, dreams, landscapes, rules, songs, directions, memories, and the voice of my mother that sometimes there just isn’t room to remember that I already bought the College Board’s Official SAT Study Guide.

It would be really easy to say that growing old sucks.

But it doesn’t.

Growing old is awesome!

If I’m privileged and blessed I will squint into the sun for many many more days, hold many many more blessings, and fill my mind with many many more memories before my days are up. Old Age, bring it!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go get my pill box and look under the “W” to see which pills I have to take today.

Apr 022014

He would speed up. Slow down. Slow down some more. Speed up. Ugh.

I glanced at the speedometer again feeling slightly annoyed by the truck ahead of me. I noted that he was now slowing below the posted speed limit and driving erratically. I hummed along to the tune on the radio and consciously counted one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three… in order to ensure a safe distance — just in case the driver of the truck had spent his afternoon not at a book club but at a happy hour.

He turned right. I turned right. He pulled over to his mailbox on the left, and I glanced over my shoulder and continued on. As I passed his truck and neared the bend in the road I noticed headlights. I glanced in the rearview mirror to find that he was now behind me. I kept one eye on the rearview mirror and kept driving.

He followed me down the road and all the way up my driveway to my back door.

I pulled into the detached garage and emerged from the mudroom door on the side to find the man walking toward me.

“You were just driving that red car?” He said pointing at the garage.

“Yes, can I help you?” Hmmm. Maybe he just wants to tell me I have a taillight out. But that thought wouldn’t override my gut which was telling me that this guy was trouble.

“Are your parents home?”

The blood ran hot and cold in my veins as he continued to walk toward me.

“My parents? Excuse me…”

This man thinks I am a teenager. A teenage girl? I mentally high-fived myself, then  within a millisecond my eyes widened as I realized that he thinks I am a teenage girl, and he followed me up to my back door inquiring if my parents were home. What if I was a teenage girl and my parents weren’t home? What if I was MY teenage girl and I wasn’t home? OH S#*T!

With my jaw clenched, I stammered, “I AM the parent.” He stopped in his tracks.

He let out an audible, “Oh!” paused a minute, and then as if thrown for a loop he started yelling at me.

“You. YOU are the WORST driver! Where the hell did you learn to drive?!”

“Me? I am the worst driver?” How dare… who in the world does this guy think he is? I asked for his name, and with the great self-appointed authority of one who is in charge in these them parts, he gave me his name. He wasn’t letting up, so I opened the kitchen door and leaned in, “Ken, sweetie, I think you need to come here.”

Ken emerged looking a little perplexed. Why is there a guy outside my back door yelling at my wife?

My level-headed husband moved the man away from the house. There really is no reasoning with an angry (drunk?) hot-headed control freak, so Ken asked him to leave. Then after a few more minutes of asking, demanded that he leave immediately.

Finally, the guy got in his truck and drove off.

We called 911.

Fast forward a couple months.

Ken was already at work as the kids and I headed out the door for Sunday school. After a considerable amount of debate about who got to sit where, we were on the road.

Along a straight section of dirt road the distance between me and the truck ahead of me, which looked vaguely and uncomfortably familiar, was shrinking until I determined that, yes, that’s quite possibly the guy. I said a silent prayer that he wouldn’t be turning left at the stop sign.

He turned left, and (surprise, surprise) proceeded to drive erratically. Slow. Slower. Faster. Slower. Seriously! His passenger (wife?) turned around a couple times. I kept a fair amount of distance between us.

The kids confirmed that he was indeed a wacky driver.

He took the same right turn that I needed to take. I took several deep breaths and sighed loudly.

Before I knew it, there were a couple more cars behind me. One was a white pick-up with dually tires. He was clearly irritated; his diesel engine roared and snorted angrily. After several miles of driving below the posted speed limit, Mr. White-Pick-Up-Truck had had enough. He pulled out in the opposite lane and stormed past the line of cars piled up behind the guy.

“See! He’s not just irritating me. He’s just plain irritating.” I kept my distance and continued on, grumbling and mumbling. “Oh my gosh! He’s doing it again. What a jerk.” My blood ran hot and cold again as I remembered him walking toward me asking if my parents were  home. My anger was resurfacing.

After about a half an hour and several turns we were still behind him, and one of the kids laughed and said, “Hey mom, wouldn’t it be funny if he was going to our church?”

Kids say the darnedest things, don’t they?

What would I do if he showed up in the seat next to me at church? 

The question is still with me.

What would you do?


But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies . . . (Luke 6:27)

Feb 252014

I’m about to completely ruin winter break for my boys. We have to do some math work before I leave town for a soccer tournament and I’m about to make that announcement. I’m going to be wildly unpopular!

Oh math, so often I hear parallels being drawn between you and life. Math and God. Math and beauty. Math and dessert. Sometimes these parallels are frustrating for those (like me!) who struggle with you. What? Do you mean I’ll never understand God or the order of the universe if I don’t understand De Moivre’s Theorem and the nth root of unity?

The boys take math classes on-line in real time with other homeschoolers. Since I maintain full responsibility for their education and since I help them and correct their work throughout the week, I tag along, meaning I plug my earbuds into one of their computers and I have my pencil and notepaper ready . . . Will I ever be finished with high school math? We are very fortunate to have an incredibly smart math teacher who enjoys math and is very good at teaching it.

She keeps saying it.

“You’re going to love this. This is going to be fun.”

“Oh! It’s the next section where it gets really fun!”

She says “fun” again and my internal Inigo Montoya screams, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Numbers and variables whiz by at an alarming rate. I’m so confused, but I do understand some of the words: words such as “the” and “when.”

The word “dot” flies by, and I realize that math can make a word like “dot” confusing. Vector dot multiplication or maybe it’s dot product of vectors. We say “dot” instead of “times.” That much I understand.

The word “orthogonal” appears on the computer screen and I blurt out “math with braces!” The boys look at me and roll their eyes. The teacher makes an analogy to the orthodontist and I grin. The boys look at me and sigh.

“See! I totally get this.” Then after their eyes roll back down in the correct position, I continue, “You get it, too, right? RIGHT?” Please, for the love of all that is sacred and holy and academic tell me you get it, because there is no way I am going to do a better job of explaining the dot product of vectors to you. 

Did you know that the word “dot” can also mean a woman’s marriage dowry? I guess if you are well-versed in civil law then you know that, but I didn’t know that. There’s so much I don’t know.

But this I do know: I am going to make the boys do math over winter break. First, and most importantly, because it needs to be done. Second, because doing math over winter break (when you feel like you should have the right to play video games and run around like wild men in the woods all week long) is teaching a whole lot more than just math. It’s teaching about life.

It’s teaching about being a grown-up. Sometimes being grown-up is going to feel like doing math homework and math exams over break. That’s life. Doing the hard stuff when you don’t want to do it is what the world calls maturity. (If you love math and spend your winter break figuring out the reduced row echelon form of a matrix for fun, then substitute in whatever you struggle with, and know that you are a mystery to me!)

My boys will thank me someday. They will be functioning members of society because of math. Not because they mastered the properties of the dot product (which they BETTER master!), but because they worked hard during winter break.

They need to know many formulas, facts, and figures to move on, progress, think critically, and finally graduate, which is why we spend a huge amount of time learning those things (over and over and over), but they’ll never know EVERYTHING. Heck, I didn’t know all the various meanings of “dot” until I was 47 years old! An excellent education will also teach them that sometimes math has to be done over winter break. Like it or not. Welcome to maturity. It’s great fun!

As I wander through life and bump into people of all ages, I can usually tell which folks were made to do math over winter break.

So, maybe, just maybe, I do understand more about the order of the universe than I thought.

And also, math, thank you for ruining winter break for my boys. No. Really. Thank you!

Jan 242014

The internet is a strange and wonderful place. It takes approximately three seconds to find out the average temperature in Phoenix in February, which is helpful when planning a trip to Phoenix in February. It takes about 15 seconds to figure out that the cat’s psychotic behavior doesn’t mean she’s demon possessed, but it means that she’s in heat, which is just great! (Not really!) Also, when you get a headache combined with some nausea it takes about 45 seconds to determine that you are either a little dehydrated OR you have a rare and fatal disease, which is not helpful at all. The internet is full of good and useful information AND full of unsolicited advice and lies, and it’s all just a click away.

I glanced to my right and noted that the clock read 10:15. It was a late dinner, even for us. The article I’d read earlier in the day came to mind. I looked across the table at my healthy children and wondered why I even read the article. I wasn’t looking for advice of any kind, let alone the kind the article was offering. What led me to click on that link?

Was it the catchy title? Was it the folks who were sharing it and “liking” it? It’s no secret that I expect all the kids to get a college degree, so reading “How I made sure all 12 of my kids could pay for college themselves” might have piqued my interest.

I passed the salt across the kitchen table an hour and forty-five minutes before the clock announced a new calendar day, and I realized that according to the article we were doing it all wrong.

I will give Mr. Thompson the benefit of the doubt and assume that he was trying to encourage young parents and give them tools. I will assume he wasn’t trying to give them a crushing burden accompanied by a magnificent guilt trip, all while polishing his halo.

Despite giving him the benefit of the doubt, the article bothered me. He put this article out there and it seems as though he’s a fan of critical thinking, what with his emphasis on education, AP classes, and college, so I assume it will be okay if I use a little of that critical thinking while I read.

I determined that Mr. Thompson and the Thompson family

  1. live in an alternate universe where the days are longer than our conventional 24 hour days (unlikely)
  2. must be suffering from nostalgia induced amnesia (likely), or
  3. must be lying (Hmmm . . . maybe I should say, “exaggerating”)

Since . . .

“All kids had to play some kind of sport . . . they had to play something. All kids had to be in some kind of club: Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, history, drama, etc. They were required to provide community service. We would volunteer within our community and at church.” So they participated in sports, clubs, and volunteered, and were home and ready to make dinner (consisting of all the food groups) that was served promptly at 5:30. Dinner was consumed and chores were done in time for the mandatory study hours between 6:00 and 8:00. I (only) have six children who participate in all the same sorts of activities and there is no way . . . unless . . . I suppose . . . the Thompsons could live in that alternate universe.

I determined that this family could pose (photoshopped, of course) for a poster heralding white privilege and poverty tourism. “For Eagle Scout projects, we would have the entire family help. Once we collected old clothes and took them to Mexico and passed them out. The kids saw what life was like for many families and how their collections made them so happy and made a difference.” Gather around kids, let’s pat ourselves on the back for giving away our sweat-stained t-shirts. Aren’t you glad our old tennis shoes and worn clothes can make these poor unfortunate people feel so happy? Aren’t we wonderful? Now hurry, we don’t want to miss our flight home!

I determined that I feel pity for the Mrs. Thompson in this family. She had all the fun of stretch marks and labor pains to look forward to, but for over 15 years she didn’t get to go on any vacations. “My wife would stay with the little ones. Remember, for 15 years, she was either pregnant or just had a baby. My kids and I hiked across the Grand Canyon, to the top of Mount Whitney, across the Continental Divide, across Yosemite.” I’m sure she enjoyed the lovely pictures of all the wonderful places her hubby took the kids.

I determined that this mother and father should win the Pulitzer Prize for guilt-inducing literature. (There is such a thing, right?) “We did not have snacks between meals. We always had the four food groups (meat, dairy, grain, fruits and vegetables) and nearly always had dessert of some kind. To this day, our kids are not afraid to try different foods, and have no allergies to foods. They try all kinds of new foods and eat only until they are full. Not one of our kids is even a little bit heavy. They are thin, athletic, and very healthy. With 12 kids, you would think that at least one would have some food allergies or food special needs.” No food allergies! And it’s all because they are such great parents. So if you have a child with a food allergy, or any issues really, then you’ve obviously done something wrong. If only you’d read this article sooner! Just imagine.

I determined that he is a big fan of consistency and rule following, “There were no exceptions to the rules.” I determine, however, that he himself is not a big fan of abiding by rules set by others. For example, “All the kids were required to take every Advanced Placement class there was. We did not let entrance scores be an impediment. We went to the school and demanded our kids be let in.” You say consistency, I say hypocrisy, let’s call the whole thing off.

Mr. Thompson put forth this “formula” for raising the perfect family. I think he has good intentions. I get it. Rules are good. Consistency is good. Independence is good. College is good. Unfortunately, the message that these things are good is lost on the folks who most need to hear it; the folks who struggle most with boundaries and consistency are the same folks who buy into the idea that there is a “formula.” They can’t figure out why the “formula” doesn’t seem to produce the same results for them, so they end up giving up. 

I saw folks sharing this link and praising the article. If this “formula” works for you, then great! (And please let me know where you found the portal to that alternate universe!) I worry because some lonely, tired, worn-out mom of a few kids living in an apartment complex in Sometown, U.S.A., is going to read this article and feel horrible about herself and her kids. I know a lot of moms just like her. She tends to compare herself to every other mother she comes across, and she’s optimistic and trusting. She doesn’t have the natural gift of skepticism and snarky logic. She isn’t capable of laughing at this man’s illogical conclusions because she’s too nice and because she’s too busy worrying and comparing and trying to figure out how to be in two places at once.

I want that mom to close that link and go read a book to her kids, even if it’s not the appointed time of the day for reading. I want her to kiss them on the tops of their heads and give them hugs and not worry so much that they’ve never built a car. It’s going to be okay if her kids never take their secondhand clothing to Mexico themselves. I want to tell this mom that even if she’d made her kid eat last night’s vegetables instead of that cookie for a snack he would still be allergic to peanuts and potatoes. I want her to know that it’s okay to go on vacation with the family, even if she’s pregnant and has toddlers in tow. It’s completely okay to go to a hotel! I want her to know her family needs her there with them more than they need to learn to pitch a tent in the rain.

I want her to know that her children are not robots and life is more than schedules and checklists.

The internet is a strange and wonderful place. It allows us to connect, but not always in meaningful and useful ways.

Here is some unsolicited advice: don’t look for your parenting role models on the internet. Look around in your real life where it’s difficult for you and other folks to hide blemishes and warts.

Most importantly, get to know your kids, so you will know what’s absolutely, unequivocally best for them. So get off the interwebs (after reading this, of course!) and go get to know your kid.

Nov 162013

We’ve moved a lot, so we have friends all over the country, which means that when our little friends around the country are in about the second grade and it’s Flat Stanley time, folks think of us. I’m flattered. They think we live in an interesting enough place that their second grader wouldn’t be embarrassed to send her project to us. I mean, the WHOLE class will know where he went. It’s a lot of pressure for a second grader.

The Flat Stanley book

Oh, wait. You haven’t met Flat Stanley? Well, Stanley Lambchop is a kid (in a children’s book) who goes to sleep one night, and while he’s asleep his bulletin board falls on him and flattens him as flat as a pancake. His family discovers him in this condition and decides to have breakfast . . . “Heavens.” “Gosh! Stanley’s flat!” “Darndest thing I’ve ever seen.” “Let’s have breakfast . . .” (Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.) Later, after breakfast, his dad takes him to the doctor and gets the diagnosis that Stanley is flat. (Helpful!) Stanley gets used to being flat and finds that he can benefit from his new condition. (He is able to make his brother incredibly jealous.) One day Stanley receives an invitation to visit his friend who has recently moved to California. The Lambchops lament that plane and train tickets are so very expensive … but then they get the idea to mail him to his friend’s house. So they stick him in an envelope, toss in an egg salad sandwich, plop him in a mailbox on the corner, and go home. (They did put “a great many” stamps on the envelope, so I guess that’s good.) Stanley has all sorts of fun and exciting adventures and returns to tell his family all about them.

At some point a second grade teacher decided to have his class make paper doll Stanleys and mail them to friends and family to learn about geography, letter writing, and faith in fellow man. And it caught on. Schoolchildren all over the country mail off their lovingly colored Flat Stanleys to friends and family and wait eagerly to see what wonderful adventures Stanley will have and what wonderful souvenirs he’ll bring back with him.

I have a confession: Flat Stanley makes me feel completely inadequate. I’m never sure if we’re doing the whole Flat Stanley “thing” right. I would love to see what the other families do with Flat Stanley; what do they send back with him? I have a vivid imagination, so I envision that all the other families send back unique treats found only in quaint regional shops along with tailor made flat clothing specific to the season and activities that Stan enjoys most. They include a huge poster-sized map with pins indicating all the fantastic places they took their guest. They probably include a display of glossy photos from the Disney cruise they took with Stanley where Stanley got to meet Selena Gomez and actually got to sing with her! They did all this and got Stanley safely back to his second grade home room within two weeks. I hate my imagination.

We’d recently received a text messages from my cousin wondering if Stanley was okay, and when he’d be returning. I assured her that Stanley was fine and that we had a couple more things planned to do with him, but he’d be back very soon.

We took Stanley up to the mountains to see some spectacular views. We chose a route we’d never been on before so it would be exciting for all of us, but the route wasn’t so spectacular. So that was a bummer. And some of the pictures turned out blurry.

Blurry picture from our drive up in the mountains. And Tommy might need smile lessons.


The next week we buckled Stanley into the car (safety first!) and headed over to the Air Force Academy.

Say hi to Stanley!

We took Stanley to the gift shop and took him to see some planes. In case you’re wondering, it’s really difficult to get a whole B-52 Bomber and Stanley in a shot so that Stanley doesn’t look like a speck.

Stanley's in the very bottom right corner. See him?

We planned to take him to the Garden of the Gods, but whoever was supposed to remember him, didn’t. So that took a couple tries.

We planned to take pictures of Stanley at the Cherry Creek reservoir and Botanical Gardens in Denver, but when we got to Denver we realized we’d forgotten to put him in the car. I wasn’t driving back up to Denver!

Another Monday rolled around, and I decided that we really did have to get poor Stanley back to Virginia. We hadn’t taken many pictures with Stanley around the ranch, so since Ken was off work and I was overwhelmed with English papers I handed him the paper doll and asked if he’d help me out by taking Stan down to the barn and taking a few photos of him with the horses and the cow.

Camera in one hand, Stanley in the other, he called to Madeline as he headed for the barn.

About twenty minutes later Ken walked in the front door slightly out of breath.

I thought he was joking so I smiled, winked, and went back to grading papers. He’s fond of making me laugh and catching me off guard; he has a quick wit and a wry sense of humor (there’s nothing sexier more adorable than a man who can make you laugh). I was marking up the paper and he was just standing there staring at me. “No, really. I’m not joking. The cow ate Flat Stanley.”

I still thought he was joking, so I gave him a forced smile: one that said, I have a ton of work to do, so could you please move on? He didn’t move. He just started laughing and trying to explain how it all happened. “I reached in and tried to grab him but it all happened so fast.”

“No. No. No. Please tell me you’re joking. Please. Please. Please.”

At that moment Madeline burst through the door, “MOM! Galadriel ate Stanley!

“Hey, Mom, why don’t you make a tombstone and put his name on it and send it back?”

“Hey, Mom, why don’t we send a piece of black construction paper and say it’s Stanley’s view from inside the stomach.”

“Send a picture of a flat hamburger or a flat steak with Stanley’s name on it.”

“Wait until tomorrow; he’ll be back out.”

My boys are so helpful.

After the hysterical laughter died down, the gravity of the situation became clear: we KILLED Flat Stanley. He was gone.

Unless . . .

My internet search for a “Flat Stanley printable template” nearly brought me to tears. Apparently, this version of Flat Stanley was a version that was

  • A. No longer in circulation
  • B. The creative genius of this particular second grade teacher in Virginia
  • C. In one of the preview-less downloadable files available for $15.95
  • D. A test to see if we are fit to be parents

I did, however, find Multicultural Flat Stanley, Flat Grannies on Safari, Flat Skinny, FEMA Flat Stanley, Flat Aisha, Flat Gramps, and Flat Fanny (no, I did not make that one up).

After a lengthy search, I finally found a Flat Stanley that was similar enough to the one we were entrusted with, but I can’t lie and send back a forged Flat Stanley because

  • A. It would be wrong to lie
  • B. We could never color him as well as Maya did
  • C. Even if we could color him as well as Maya did, Maya would know. (She’s one of the brightest kids I’ve ever met.)
  • D. All of the above

If we don’t send Stanley back at all, our little cousin is going to have to endure years of therapy just to trust anyone again. I can’t let that happen! I’m going to have to perform a miracle and resurrect Flat Stanley. (Just as soon as I find that big tub of crayons I know we have somewhere in this house . . .)

Meet Flat Stanley 2.0.

Flat Stanley 2.0

Ever feel completely inadequate, only to have life unequivocally confirm that you are indeed inadequate? Well, you’re not alone. We all fall short  . . . (I didn’t make that up.)  It’s a small consolation, but it’s all I’ve got.

Oh, I’ve also got unique treats found only in quaint regional shops along with tailor made flat clothing specific to the season and activities that Stanley enjoyed most. And a call in to Selena Gomez. I’m just waiting to hear back . . .  (Sometimes I might be tempted to overcompensate.)

ALSO! Here are links to the Ebook  and the PFD for the book Flat Stanley Visits Madeline in Colorado written by Madeline and me.

Jun 262013

On the right side of my mouth where a molar used to live, I now I have a hole in my head and a throbbing pain. On the left side of my mouth I have a new inlay which took the duration of the entire movie Maid in Manhattan to place.

Remember back in the ‘70s when dentists thought it was best to replace a speck of a cavity with a suitcase of a filling? Oh, those bygone days … which lead dentists today to laugh all the way to the bank.

Maid in Manhattan was over and it was time to remove the molar. I chose another movie.

At about the scene in Sleepless in Seattle when Annie decided to go to Seattle to “research” bereavement and call-in radio shows, my movie experience turned from romantic comedy to horror flick. Both the dentist and the dental assistant were no longer sitting in their little swivel chairs; they were standing over me (blocking my movie experience) in order to maximize leverage. They yanked and pulled and turned and yanked and OH MY GOODNESS! I could hear the tooth coming out. Yes. The stuff of nightmares.

The construction and excavation took close to four hours. I was exhausted!

With my mouth full of bloody gauze, I unlocked the car door and called Ken.

“I’m sthure I’m drooling. My fathce isth tired.” Sniffle. Sob. Bleed. Drool.

I went straight home. Which takes 45 minutes. Which felt like FOREVER.

I wanted to shut out the sound of the tooth releasing itself from the grip of my body. I wanted to forget the metallic taste. I wanted to forget that I had 49 things on my to-do list. I wanted the drool to go away. I just wanted to take a nap.

And be patted on the back and told how brave and strong I was, but really just a nap would do.

Nap. Take 1.

ZZZZzzzz . . .

Suddenly, I sat up. I could hear the kids in the kitchen. I could hear the refrigerator door open and close. It reminded me that I didn’t take any meat out of the freezer for dinner. I called out, “Tommy. Tommy. Robby. Sammy. Anybody.” I could only open my mouth 6 millimeters. The only sound that came out was a whisper. No one heard me. I had to get up and take something out of the freezer because the family would need to eat.

Nap. Take 2.

ZZZZzzzzzz . . .

The house phone rang.

And rang.

And rang.

There were four children home. Why weren’t they answering the phone? 

The phone continued to ring.

Then it stopped.

Then my cell phone rang.

I opened my eyes.

Maybe this was important. 

I found my phone.

It was Ken.

I’d missed the call.

I called back.

“Hi, I missed your call.”

“Hey! What are you doing?”

“I was sleeping. My face was throbbing so I sat down, and I must have fallen asleep.”

“You sound really tired.”

“Ummm. I was just sound aslee… never mind.”  Does anybody ever listen to what I actually say?

Nap. Take 3.

ZZZzzz . . .

The door to the room flew open and a ten-year-old screamed, “It’s 5:28! We’re going to be late!”

I sat up and focused on the clock. I then focused on the ten-year-old. Then focused on the clock. The clock said 2:58, not 5:28. Digital clocks can be misread. Apology accepted. Why couldn’t she just close the door on her way out?

Nap. Take 4. (Perhaps it was prophetic that I’d chosen a movie with the word “sleepless” in it.)


My face generally hurt. But the worst pain came if I laughed.

Madeline had a soccer game, so I drove her in to town. Throb. Throb. Drool. Sniffle.

Ken offered to meet at the field as soon as he got off work. We met. He made me laugh. I don’t remember what he said, I only remember telling him to stop making me laugh. He also offered to do the Costco shopping for me, which meant I’d just quickly swing through the regular grocery store for the few items Costco didn’t have and then I could go home.

As I stood in the aisle at the grocery store, I texted him his part of the list, taking great pains to be very specific. He’s been known to buy 17 boxes of Nutri-Grain bars because he thought I liked them. I think I’d once said, “Gosh, I really don’t like these Nutri-Grain bars. I don’t see what all the fuss is about.” But I don’t think he heard me right. I really don’t think anybody listens to what I actually say. 

We were texting back and forth.

The most proficient texter he is not. This is what his texts look like:

He wanted to know if he should buy the bag of small cucumbers. Also that I should run away.

I was doubled over in the aisle of the grocery store trying, without success, not to laugh. Then I was crying because OH MY GOSH it hurt SO much to laugh. And the texts just kept coming.

Of course, the people in the aisle with me couldn’t SEE the hole in my head, or the stitches, or the bloody gauze, or the throbbing. What they could see was a nutty woman holding her face in her hands, laugh-crying. No one patted me on the back and said that I was brave and strong. They just stared.

Throb. Throb. Drool. Sob. Laugh. Sob.

Since I didn’t get much of a nap and it was getting late, I decided to forego making dinner and buy take-out Chinese food.

Look at this! My fortune:

My fortune.

According to Chinese fortune cookie wisdom my mind is cleansed. Thoroughly!

I don’t usually think about laughter. I just laugh. How terrible to take laughter for granted! Laughter and napping.

And molars.

May 092013

I’m kind of down on humanity right now.

Someone smashed the driver’s side car window to bits in order to take what didn’t belong to him.

The man from the bank said the thief had made purchases already. The phone’s battery was at 6%. Don’t put me on hold. Please, no! I can’t wait. Then it was 4%. My energy was draining quickly.

The air was cold and crisp and the window was sitting in a shattered heap in a parking lot. It was gone and I shivered both from the cold and from the awareness that my license with my address and my house keys were in my purse.

Then as the sun set behind the mountain and the darkness set over the plains the realization dawned on me that my regular glasses were in my purse. I don’t believe it was just my sunglasses that made the world seem darker that night.

“Did you leave something valuable in sight?” Oh, dear friend, why, yes. As a matter of fact, my purse was in sight, thank you so much for asking. Because I don’t feel betrayed enough already. Oh, humanity, I can’t help but be down on you right now.

It’s just a material object. A thing. It’s replaceable. I’m reminded over and over to be glad we are all safe and unharmed. Yes, I know. I know. And I am grateful. More grateful than I can ever express. More grateful than you know. Truly, I am. In the whole scheme of things this is small, but it’s still discouraging.

Ken bought the purse as a gift, and because he knows me, it was perfect. He knows I wouldn’t want a trendy thing, or thing that can be easily had. No, that kind of thing wouldn’t have been right. This thing, this material object was sought out; it was unique. It even had a “personality.” He read the descriptions for each of the various styles and chose this: intended for one who is “Phlegmatic or Choleric or Melancholy,” because sometimes I’m conflicted. Sometimes I’m incredibly grateful and incredibly discouraged in the very same moment. He knows that, and loves me in spite of (or maybe because of) it. Sigh. It’s only a thing. I know.

I resigned myself to wearing my old glasses for a few more years. (Glasses are expensive, don’t you know!) Every time I looked in the mirror and saw my reflection I felt mad. I didn’t want to wear my old glasses; I liked my new glasses. Then I felt guilty for feeling mad, because at least I do have my old glasses, and we are all fine. We are safe. And everything is fine. Next, I went downstairs and pulled out an old purse and borrowed a wallet from Madeline. (Not that I had anything to put in a wallet.)


I got a call from a lady who had been cycling in Old Colorado City and noticed my license on the ground. She stopped doing what she was doing and picked it up. She took the time to do some research and found my number and called me. She said she’d put the license in the mail. Okay, fine. Humanity might not be so bad.

The phone rang a few days later. It was the officer who took my report. I felt like I was getting a call from a friend. I mean when you spend a considerable amount of time discussing something as personal as the contents of your purse with someone… Anyway, she said she’d heard someone in the station talk about items that were turned in that morning. She stopped what she was doing and went upstairs to see if by chance my purse was up there. And it was! She said that city workers found it near a utility area (whatever that is) and brought it to the police station. People stopped what they were doing and went out of their way to do the right thing. Isn’t humanity just AWESOME!

Purse. Wallet. Keys. Glasses. Sure, it's just stuff, but it's stuff I'm so happy to have back!

A wise friend commented that, “That creep doesn’t know who he’s messin’ with!” On our way home the night of the theft, Sammy and I had our seats pulled all the way forward so the heat, which was turned on full blast, might just brush against our frozen skin before rushing out the broken window, and we prayed for the thief. When we arrived home we added “the person who stole mom’s purse” to our prayer jar. I pray that God gets busy messin’ with that creep. I don’t know what that will look like for him or her, but I know the kind of God I serve. He is a God of second (or seven times seventy) chances. He is a God of amazing grace. How do I know? I know because he saved a wretch like me.