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  • The kids have figured out where to find me in the mornings. Somewhere near my coffee mug, for sure, but there’s one place I go any time the weather allows. Outside, in front of the house. I pull on a jacket if it’s cool, pour myself a cup of wakeup juice, and out I go.

    It’s odd, we have a big back yard with a patio and chairs. It’s closer to the coffee pot — you’d think that’s where I’d want to be. Maybe it’s the voyeur in me — the one that wants to check in on neighbors. Oh, not my human neighbors, I don’t worry much about what they’re doing, but I like to see how the baby bunnies are progressing with their hopping, see which birds now have empty nests, and I always enjoy a visit from the fat little toads that live in our landscaping.

    I have to wonder why houses no longer have front porches. I’ve lived in six different houses, and of them, only one had a true front porch. It was covered by roof, ran the full width of my little Westport bungalow and offered a swing, a rocking chair and several other seats for guests. On it, I served cold beverages and waffle breakfasts, chatted with my buddies, made “friends” out of “neighbors,” read books and relaxed. I could not have enjoyed it more.

    Maybe people are just more private than they used to be. A front porch opens a domain between “at home” and “out” that isn’t as private as a back deck. Finding select friends through a browser window may feel more comfortable than facing random neighbors from the front step. But I do both — sometimes even in my pajamas.

    My kids have followed the scent of my coffee and have become front step dwellers as well. We spend mornings and evenings there whenever the weather and mosquitoes will allow. Although we don’t have a true front porch, our house was retrofitted for front porch living with a stoop that has room for two, a bench and a climbing tree, perfect for two little monkeys. We even have potted mint, basil and rosemary — a built-in snack bar for the kids that become dinner and smoothies for the family.

    It seems we spend most of our time watching things fly. Birds, bats circling above, toads launching themselves forward, lightning bugs illuminating their little bug bottoms and the fastest little butterflies you’ve ever seen. I never knew my kids to be so still until the day they discovered that if they stood very still, a butterfly would land on them. If they held their finger in the air, the butterflies would light on their hands. Year after year, the same butterflies (or at least their kin) have returned to use my kids’ heads as landing pads.

    Someday, I will have a front porch again. I can picture how it could be built on this house, or perhaps we’ll move. But I won’t wait until I get one to continue my front porch living.

    Front Porch Smoothie

    A refreshing breakfast we love to enjoy outside

    Fresh mint leaves – about a cup (throw in some spinach leaves for added nutrition, I promise they won’t notice!)

    Frozen blueberries – about a cup

    Yogurt (plain or vanilla) – about a cup

    A splash of lemon juice

    Half an avocado (Or all of it. Or a banana.)

    Ice cubes – about a cup

    Whir it all in a blender, sweeten to taste, divide it among your monkeys and enjoy!

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    Something has been demanding my attention. It’s been one of those topics that has occurred over and over, seemingly out of the blue. Through random friends and acquaintances, freelance opportunities, volunteer requests, projects in my kids’ classes, and more, I have been roped into, immersed with and properly schooled on the topic of eating fresh, local, healthy produce. It’s in front of me, everywhere I turn.

    It all started last fall when I was asked by a friend to join her in volunteer efforts for an Urban Grown Farms and Gardens Tour — organized by Cultivate KC. I joked about joining in – you know, with me being so urban. And such a farmer. (Yo yo homegirl, hee haw.) I love growing plants —flowers, herbs, some Malabar spinach (an awesome vine), but “farmer,” I am not. However, I was soon roped in by the enthusiasm exuded by all those involved.

    I found myself in my sweet spot in my volunteer work —the point where I get to write about and research topics that intrigue me. Things that matter. I traveled to a couple of different farms where women grow produce to share. To sell. To feed our community. I wandered through an immense greenhouse full of plants to be sold and herbs to be harvested. I inhaled their aroma and tasted their freshness. Just seeing it — just being there —was all it took to inspire me.

    It’s a big topic these days. A movement. A revolution, even. Our culture is becoming more and more thoughtful about what we eat. New fangled diets focus less on calorie counting and more on the health impact on our bodies. We worry about the cumulative effect of foods we do — or do not — eat. What condition or disease will it cause (or prevent), and of course, how much junk will it add to our trunk?

    But we’re thinking deeper than that, now. Where did our food come from? What was sprayed on it? How much energy was expended to get it from the ground (or test tube) into our pie hole? And even complicated topics like where the very seeds originated – and did scientists monkey around with their DNA to create some sort of monster food? A three-legged chicken? Some sort of mutant that grows vigorously and aggressively and kills six-legged predators that munch on it? And how, exactly, does that affect us two-legged predators, much higher in the food chain?

    Whew — if you’re an over-thinker, you can have a heyday with this one! But don’t worry, if you prefer to under-think your food (like I do) there are simpler solutions. Visit the farmers markets. Put more whole, locally produced foods on your table. Support our restaurants that pledge to buy local —and thank them for doing so. There’s a gold mine of great, locally produced food available (produce, dairy and meat) and those who produce it are just itching to share their knowledge — and best of all, their yummy food with you. And thank goodness it’s so readily accessible. My kids have come home with all this information. Their schools are dedicating lots of wonderful time and effort into producing a healthy next-generation. We parents need to be up to speed and keep the goodness rolling at home!

    I can’t wait to take my family on the upcoming tour. I’m not sure I’m destined to till up my entire front yard and devote it to veggies, but I’d like to see, with my kids, how it’s possible. To remember that the food in the grocery store didn’t materialize in boxes. (Want to go? Check out www.cultivatekc.org.)

    Many of us have become so far removed from the production of our food that it’s a re-education process. But take the time. It’s good food for body and soul.

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    You know how it is when you blow up a balloon so full, it’s just about to pop? Its shiny surface stretches thin and transparent, barely keeping itself together, and the slight brush of a sharp object would be enough to burst it, reducing it to a scrap of useless rubber. But if instead of tying it off, you let it go, it swoops and loops and rockets through the air in an ecstatic display of silliness.

    This is what has happened to my son since summer break started. The pressures of the school year released, he’s been wildly zipping to and fro, making all kinds of unintelligible noises, with an enormous grin plastered across his face. He’s a veritable maniac. And a happy one, at that.

    I knew he was stressed out about school. It’s hard, these days, even in third grade. Academic expectations are high, the social food chain is as brutal as it’s ever been, and on top of that, he’s not interested in things that don’t interest him. Go figure.

    I didn’t realize just how much pressure he must have felt until I saw the dramatic difference in his mood. When in school, he seemed, well, taut… stretched thin… about to burst with the smallest provoking. Just like the balloon.

    But now his smile is huge, an eclectic mix of oversized adult teeth, undersized baby teeth and missing teeth, topped by rosy cheeks and sparkling eyes, bright with excitement. He sings and dances when nobody’s watching, and he laughs and talks incessantly. Although I sometimes wish for earplugs, it’s a complete joy to see him like this. You know, acting like a happy kid.

    And this makes me wonder… why isn’t he the same happy kid during school? And more importantly… what can I do to help him be this happy kid during school? I think that’s the real issue. Because school’s not going to get any easier. Social problems only become more difficult. Pressures and responsibilities build as we grow older.

    I’ve looked into stress relievers for kids. I think, maybe, the beginning of summer is the time to start the stress release. Right now when he’s so relaxed that he’s malleable. He’s not worried about anything — this seems like the perfect time to teach him a good coping skill or two.

    I’ve always theorized that parents sometimes tackle problems when they’re at their most severe. We try to teach our babies to sleep through the night when they’re waking up every 10 minutes, or force more vegetables when our kids are in a phase where everything tastes funny. Sometimes, I supposed, we have to do it that way. But I prefer to tackle an issue when it’s in a lull. Like now. Teach him to manage stress when he’s not stressed, so that when things get tougher, his skin will be thicker, and he’ll have effective stress management skill in place.

    It’s time for me to roll up my sleeves and do some research and figure out some activities that will work for us now, but also when days are jam-packed with school and homework. Hopefully by the time fall rolls around, we’ll be ready to face the challenge with a big, silly grin.

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    A few days ago, our dogs were in the back yard barking. We try to be good neighbors and not let the dogs bark incessantly, and they’re not the barkiest dogs, but something really had them going that morning. Seeing they weren’t going to come when I called, I went to the back yard to investigate.

    On top of our wooden fence was a small, very frightened, baby opossum. They barked at it from below, and it clung to the fence slat.

    I know not everyone, ok, make that hardly anyone loves opossums. With alligatory mouths full of sharp teeth, rat-like tails and rotten carrion breath, they’re not the most appealing creatures.

    Fact: Opossums clean themselves meticulously, even stopping to tidy up during their meals.

    But I’ll admit it. I have a soft spot for the scroungy little scavengers. I find them interesting, and I appreciate the fact that they just waddle around and don’t seem overly worried about me.

    So, I put the dogs in, then grabbed my kids, my camera and a pillow case, and we went out to check on the little guy. He clung to the fence with his fingery little claws, and hissed, revealing mouthful of tiny, sharp teeth – many of which were just tiny baby tooth nubs.

    Fact: Opossums have 50 teeth.

    The poor fellow trembled, and it didn’t seem inclined to get down from the fence. I held the pillow case open for it, hoping it might crawl in. It  just hissed and drooled and tried to hide its face, so I draped the pillow case across the fence and went inside.

    I returned later to find him gone. Until I picked up the pillow case and found him hiding beneath it. Having performed a little research, I inspected the opossum to determine if it was old enough to be on its own. It had long fur and was about six inches, which seemed about the right age to get off his momma’s back.

    Fact: Momma possums carry their babies on their back for a few weeks, then the possums drop off when they’re old enough to make it on their own.

    But I wasn’t sure. So I called around, and a nature center asked me to catch it and bring it in – they’d figure out if it needed care, or if it could just be returned the same place I found it. But outside the fence, away from the barking beagles.

    I called my husband. “I found this ‘possum and I’m going to catch it.”

    My husband, in his girl, you’re crazy tone said, “No, no, no, those things are dangerous. Have you seen their teeth?”

    I responded, “It’s not like I’ve never caught a ‘possum before. But I’m going to have to pick this one up, it won’t just run in my pillow case like the last one did.” I could hear his eyes rolling at me.

    Fact: Opossums are rarely aggressive, and are resistant to rabies. Around humans, they’re most likely to just play possum (flop over and pretend they’re dead.) But they do carry fleas.

    So I put on gloves and long sleeves, then used the pillow case to catch it. By which I mean, I picked it up and put it in one of those old, plastic egg crates. I peeked in at it, and it hissed some more, it’s face in a heinous snarl. Then it fell over on its side, its face still frozen. And I stopped to wonder, In what way does making a mean face then playing dead provide this species protection?

    I wanted the kids to come with me to the nature center when they got home from school, so I put a board over the top of the crate and left the possum in the garage. But an hour or so later, I went back to check on it. It was gone, escaped through the hole of the egg crate’s handle. As unimpressed as my husband was with my plans to catch the opossum, I suspected he’d be even less impressed with me catching it, then proceeding to let it go in our garage. I kept the garage doors cracked, hoping it would find its way out.

    When my husband arrived home, he asked, “So, what happened with the opossum?”

    Yeah…about that…

    Fact: My husband really knows how to roll with the punches.

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    Have you ever said, “That’s the best thing that’s happened all week?” I say it all the time, often to something relatively unremarkable. Maybe a comment struck me as particularly funny, or my favorite shampoo was on sale for 50 percent off. Sometimes a compliment earns the No. 1 ranking for the week — a warm fuzzy that makes me smile each time I think about it.

    The best thing that happened to me this week, so far, is that a neighbor helped me catch our beagles after they escaped the back yard and embarked on a neighborhood safari. While they explored uncharted (or at least unmowed) territory and marveled at suburban wildlife, I operated a search and rescue from my car, mainly worried they would run into the road and get hit. I finally spotted them. A neighbor had one of them by the collar and was calling the number on his tags. I was hugely relieved and felt quite lucky.
    At the end of the story, my dogs are sitting here beside me, just like they were before they ran away. If you take away the panicky search, you have a non-event. Many times the “good” things that happen are simply an absence of the bad that might have been. Especially when all is left to chance.

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    I’ve had a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that this is the last full week of school. Maybe it’s because the family’s parkas are still available at an arm’s length. Or that I haven’t even bothered to get the tubs of summer clothes from the basement. It might have something to do with not being sure that allergy season has even fully begun.
    But we’re going through all the motions, and whether or not the air conditioner is whirring, my kids are going to be home. All day. With me.
    When they were babies and toddlers, I was a raging mess. Their strong wills pre-dated their communication and reasoning capabilities. My husband worked nights, which meant that I was supposed to keep them relatively quiet by day so he could sleep, and he had to take long naps on Saturdays and Sundays.

    I couldn’t turn my back on them for a second, either. They had too many ideas that involved hoses and markers and mud. Scissors were too fascinating, tubes and bottles of anything — too tempting. So I ran around behind them, stopping at frequent intervals for any semblance of adult interaction on social media that I could find and constantly reminded myself that I needed to squeeze any enjoyment out of these temper tantrum-filled days that I could. And yes, some of the temper tantrums were mine, and I just felt stuck in my house — frozen in time.

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    Do you know what a meme is? They’re prevalent on Facebook — an image with a caption that conveys either a joke or a political stance or some wacky truism. Some memes are quite poignant, others are hysterically funny and some are just plain stupid.
    For a while last fall, there was a rash of memes going around about spanking. Most of them showed an ornery looking kid across a lap, being spanked, in some sort of studio setting. It appeared to be dated around the “Leave it to Beaver” era. Below it was a bunch of hoodlums. You could tell they were hoodlums by the fact that they had their hoods on and were holding guns.
    The caption was “If we had more of this (across the kid being spanked) we’d have less of this” (across the hoodlums). There were variations and a veritable movement of people urging others by meme to spank their children.

    I remember one day that I had seen this “hit your children now to make better adults later” sentiment expressed several times. Now, mind you, if you search for statistics on this theory, you will find that virtually all violent criminals were, indeed, spanked (severely). I know a woman who counsels suicidal children and teens. She says that pretty much every single one of them had at some point been spanked with some instrument other than a hand.

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    In their defense, they weren’t really wrong.
     
    My teal blue pants were brighter by daylight than they had been in my bedroom, or in the store. And the whole matchy-matchy thing I had tried with the floral shirt just added more color. I mean, just because the yellow shirt’s leaves exactly match the deep teal blue of the pants doesn’t mean I should wear them together, I guess. I knew it wasn’t the most fashionable choice I’d ever made.
    I ran it past my husband. “Is this too bright?” I asked.

    He looked at me. Really looked, truly evaluated, before saying, “It’s fine.”

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    A few days ago, our dogs were in the back yard barking. We try to be good neighbors and not let the dogs bark incessantly, and they’re not the barkiest dogs, but something really had them going that morning. Seeing they weren’t going to come when I called, I went to the back yard to investigate.

    On top of our wooden fence was a small, very frightened, baby opossum. They barked at it from below, and it clung to the fence slat.
    I know not everyone, OK, make that hardly anyone loves opossums. With alligator-y mouths full of sharp teeth, rat-like tails and rotten carrion breath, they’re not the most appealing creatures.

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    When it comes to my hobbies, I’ve always thought of myself as more of a starter than a finisher. It’s nothing to make me proud — to know that my basement is full of tubs, each containing an assortment of implements for a particular project. I have a tub from my tiling days, one from my batik and fabric dyeing days (which I have still not fully admitted to myself I’m done with), a slew of beads for making jewelry, a smaller tub from rubber stamping and a variety of others.
     
    I call myself an idea girl, too. The one who thinks up ideas by the hour, some so elaborate that they’d require a staff. Many of them drop by the wayside, never seeing the light of day. I sometimes look back at those ideas and wish I’d pursued them — which brings to light that I am often not even a starter. I guess that makes me just a dreamer.
    Maybe 41 is the magic number, though, because I’m seeing a new pattern of ideas (ohhh!) that become starts (oooh!) and even some victorious finishes (ahhh!). Or quite possibly, it’s not my age, but the new, more independent ages of my children that is making the difference. Whatever it is, I have a few figurative completion medals hanging on my imaginary trophy wall that gleam much brighter than my previous participation ribbons.

    Some things are small — so small. On my front step, there are pots of pansies and johnny jump ups planted, brightening this spring’s chilly start. They’ve been growing there since early March — and spent several days under a thick blanket of snow. This may not sound like much, but I can’t even remember how many springs I’ve said to myself, “Next year, I’ll plant pansies early so we’ll have some early color.” This year? KABINGO! I did it.

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    “So, what else could we say about Glitters the Guinea Pig?” I asked the group. I was working with some kids on creative writing skills, and we were developing a character together. We already knew that Glitters could fly, pooped rainbows, was fat, had children, was in prison and was some sort of mental health professional.

    Another kid volunteered.

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    On Easter morning, I was a little nervous. Our church does not offer kid programs on major holidays. This gives all the adults who otherwise would be teaching and crafting, and I’m sure a healthy amount of disciplining, a morning off. I used to stew the day before these holiday services, wondering if my kid would be the one to squawk, wondering if we’d have to disturb a whole row for a potty break, worrying that their boredom would turn to naughtiness.

    The first time we took our son into a holiday service, I was told, “Just teach him to sit there quietly.” Now, I don’t know about you, but to me, that didn’t sound practical. I think back to my early church service career when kids always attended the service. My parents were super-strict, and I was well-behaved. I could draw on the offering envelopes, but that’s about all I was allowed to do.

    Even so, I have a vivid memory of dropping to the floor between the pews, and taking in the eye-level sight of everyone’s Sunday shoes. I recall the polished men’s loafers and the women’s pumps topped by hose-clad cankles. But it gets worse. Where I was headed, I don’t know, but I remember worming my way underneath the pews to another row, I guess to visit a friend. I bumped my head on the bottoms of the bench seats, and brushed past the legs of startled church-goers. And I’ll repeat: I was a GOOD kid.

    My son had proven to be unpredictable, so I packed an emergency kit, filling my purse full of activities, snacks without loud wrappers, and airline booze bottles for anyone seated nearby. (Just kidding. They were all for me.) We entered bravely, and he was awestruck by the size of the room and the music. I realized that despite the numerous activities we attended there, he had never even been in the sanctuary before.

    We stood during the praise music. He hung on us, standing on our seats, eyes wide, then he laid down on the seats behind us. By the time the music was over, we turned around to find him asleep.

    Two women from the early child care program, well familiar with his (and all the other kids’) restlessness, were a row or two behind us. “It’s an Easter miracle!” they whispered to us, laughing. He was 3 years old.

    This year, when we arrived with our now 9- and 6-year-olds, we scooted into the aisle. “Are these seats saved?” I asked a woman, who stood alone in the middle of the row.

    She gestured to seats on her other side, indicating she was trying to save them. “Well, I’m saving some for my kids. But I don’t know if they’ll even be here. I can’t really rely on them to show up.” She told me her kids were in their 30s. She always sat in the same spot, so they could find her and sit with her if they were there. She soon gave up, and relinquished the seats on her other side.

    These days, my kids are more mature. I have faith that they can probably weather a service without the Parnells bursting out in a family brouhaha. I also know that there’s no lynch mob to track down the children who couldn’t resist whispering something important into their parents’ ears. My children both sat through the service perfectly, and even (having been bribed) were able to give three facts that they’d learned during the service.

    I, too, fully grasped a fact. What a blessing it is to have my kids at my side on Easter morning.

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    People have pointed out to me that we are a creative household. I do not dispute this. I came from a creative household, so I guess I just assumed that all people undertake enormous projects for the mere sake of creating something beautiful. I now realize this is not true. Evidently, some people go lifetimes without yearning to create art in one form or another.

    My husband and I both share this desire. We understand this about each other, and it strengthens our marriage. When he spent hours decorating our son’s birthday cake, I questioned allocating so much time to it. But when he said, “I need to do this,” I suddenly understood. He’d not been creating art. He needed to. He had to decorate the cake or else… or else… what happens? I don’t know. Right brain atrophy, or some sort of psychosis sets in. Or maybe you get better at math. Whatever it is, it’s horrific, I’m sure.

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    RERUN ALERT: This was first posted on Easter 2010.

    I sat near the maze of tunnels, far below the ruckus of squealing, giggling kids. My kids plus 5 or 6 others had been playing merrily for an hour or so.

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    There have been a lot of discussions in our house recently. I’m going to spell it out for you. Arguments. We’ve been arguing.

    Usually if someone tells me they’ve been arguing, my first question is, “What about?” Arguments begin with disputes. Or misunderstandings. They’re over errors, or infringements, or other sundry transgressions.

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    “I won concert tickets. Some band I’ve never heard of. But that’s OK. I won!” the man sitting behind me said. I’m currently working on a freelance assignment that requires me to be on-site. His exclamation broke the usual silence.

    I never win anything. I quit entering games of chance long ago. If I’m playing slots, the machine will strike for whoever sits down behind me. Never for me. I congratulated him.

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    “Well, I’m awake. I might as well get up,” are words that do not occur naturally in my brain before 7a.m. Well, at least they never did recently.

    I’ve never understood early risers. I know some, and I love them dearly, but their claims of “liking to get up before the world starts getting busy” always sounded kind of off. Crazy. Loony. I figured they were suffering some sort of overdrive affliction that prevented them from enjoying those precious best moments of sleep, those moments just before the alarm sounds. I doubted their sanity and their happiness.

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    Losing a first tooth is a big deal. How big of a deal? In our family, it’s gargantuan. Real news. Significant enough for mom to write about it for the newspaper. Worthy of phone calls, photos, Facebook posts.

    My daughter has been waiting for this momentous occasion with anticipation. As she felt it drawing near, she proudly demonstrated how wiggly her tooth was, speculating about how it would feel when it finally detached from her head.

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    “Oh my goodness, I am an amazing cook,” I tell my family as we sit down around the big bowl of steaming savory goodness. “I nailed it. It’s perfect,” I add while my husband raises his eyebrows at me from across the table.

    “Proud of yourself?” he asks.

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    “There’s a girl in my class, and she doesn’t believe in God or Jesus.”

    “Oh, she must be Jewish.”

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    Attn: Rude Loan Officer (aka Mr. Red)

    Subject: 50 Shades of Rude

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    “Emily! Emily!” My husband sounded frantic. “Come here quick, bring my phone!”

    He pulled our barefoot son out the front door into the chilly nighttime air and called for our daughter.

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    “Hey, Emily, do you want to do me a favor?”

    I’m a “yes” girl. My knee-jerk answer is usually affirmative. Within seconds, I had agreed to judge a writing contest for elementary kids.

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    Once in elementary school, I got caught up in a neighborhood crime spree.

    My mom’s best friend had two sons. My brother and I often played at their house while our moms did their mom stuff — endless blabbing while downing pots of coffee. There were many more boys in their row of townhouses, which meant I spent a fair amount of time playing with a passel of boys. They weren’t mean kids, per se, but a couple of them had acute ornery streaks.

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    My 8-year-old son, Cooper, is becoming aware of efforts people make to change their appearances. He’s made comments to me, such as, “Mom, why are you putting makeup on? What do you think, you’re 12 years old or something? Why do girls want to paint themselves up like clowns?”

    At a recent family dinner, he announced he likes the way Dad looks. “At least he’s not a dork,” he added. I was a bit perplexed, as Cooper resists the dapper, clean cut, Johnson County dad look, into which my husband fits. Some of the time.

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    I wish my dog would make a New Year’s resolution. Our big lug of a spotty mutt has made progress since we got him, but there is still opportunity for improvement. Happy, friendly Beetle came home from the shelter with no pre-installed polite behavior features. If he could climb it, he jumped on top. If he could eat it, he chomped. If he had to potty — well, he did, regardless of whether he was inside or out.

    Most of those behaviors have smoothed out now. He’s matured and mellowed and now is much more refined. But there’s still one thing he does that drives me nuts. You could say poor Beetle is enslaved by Newton’s first law of physics:

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    It was a typical band concert in many respects. Parents and grandparents toting cameras, black metal music stands, the cacophonous sounds of instruments warming up with brass booming and the occasional squeak of a reed instrument. The band director stood facing the half-circle of wind and percussion instruments while the audience watched expectantly from metal folding chairs painted that ubiquitous folding chair beige.

    But at this concert, there was a curious reversal. The younger generations filled the audience, and it was the older crowd that picked up instruments to play. We were there to watch my dad at the New Horizons band concert.

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    “The holidays can be sad.”

    So started the creative writing project displayed on the school’s wall. Each child wrote thoughtful ideas of how they could spread a little happiness among those who are sad.

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    “What’s your process?”

    “What software do you use?”

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    “Santa’s not coming this year,” my son told his little sister. “The whole world is going to end on December 21 this year.”

    His voice was dramatic and menacing. “Before Santa can even get here, the whole world will CRASH into the sun and everything will EXPLODE! It’s Doomsday. We’re all going to die!!! Bwa ha ha ha…”

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    This week, I did something that was a little bit hard to do. I pulled on a baggy shirt, shimmied myself into some yoga pants, moved my orthotics from my boots to my athletic shoes, tucked my tail between my legs, and skulked back to the exercise class I once regularly attended. I haven’t been there since before my son started kindergarten. I’ll do that math for you: more than three years.

    It’s one of those group exercise studios with a monthly membership, and I quit, cold turkey, as plans for other fitness routines filled my good intentions. I would branch out, lift more weights, contort myself into more yoga poses, and most importantly, I would self-motivate. Except, I didn’t.

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    It’s that time of year when consumers consume. Out we go with our wallets, ready to spend, spend, spend, just to show those we love how much we care.

    This year, I’m making a few little changes. Here are some ideas to help support our local economy:

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    “You made this pie crust from scratch? You know how to do that?”

    It seems making homemade pie crust is becoming a lost skill, and I don’t know why.

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    This year I gave myself a little gift.

    I’m not an extravagant person. My taste is generally simple, and I don’t like spending money if I don’t have to. I shop from the clearance section, buy online coupon deals and eat out at happy hour.

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    I watched a team of nurses roll my baby down a sterile hospital hall. His wonky bed-head hair was covered by a blue hospital cap, and his arms were wrapped tightly around an eclectic menagerie — a wooly mammoth, a gray striped cat and a teddy bear. The nurses had tucked heated blankets around him — simple white cotton blankets with blue stripes that reminded me of the head cloth worn by Mother Teresa.

    We’d been waiting in the pre-operating area for a while. Doctors and nurses stopped by to give post-op instructions, take his vitals and find out if he wanted more of the warm blankets. He squeezed his stuffed critters, his expression a manic, nervous grin.

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    “We need costumes,” I said in a panic, just two hours before my family’s annual Halloween party. How could I have been so unprepared?

    My husband, Thad, was sprawled on the sofa watching football.

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    I’m a foodie. Not a die hard, obsessed with culinary arts, dreams of owning a restaurant type foodie. I’d never go that far. But still, I appreciate a good meal, new tastes and unique preparations. I enjoy events that have meals as their centerpiece, and I especially like them when the meal is fabulous.

    Nine years ago, my sister-in-law, Nikkole (who is a higher-level foodie than I am), and I concocted a scheme to start a gourmet dinner club. We modeled it after her mom’s group, which they call simply, “Gourmet.” Nikkole and I devised a game plan, then typed it up and sent it out to a few friends we hoped would join us, and asked them to invite a few more.

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    Growing up, I spent a lot of time at my grandparents’ house. They lived near the airport, about 40 minutes from our south Kansas City home. My parents either drove us up there, or more often, my grandparents showed up at our house driving a brightly colored car – usually chosen by my Grandma because of its resemblance to an Easter Egg. (I’ll bet you’ve never thought of that criteria when car shopping!)

    Grandma and Grandpa were one of those couples made up of two opposites. Grandpa was grounded and pragmatic. Grandma was quirky and colorful. Grandma loved to tell crazy stories she made up to see if we’d believe her or not. Grandpa loved to tell us crazy stories too, but his were true. Grandpa liked to walk or ride bikes with us on the curvy road around the residential lake where they lived. Grandma liked to zoom around the corners in her crazy-colored car, honking her horn and yelling, “Watch out birds, here comes Grandma!”

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    You know this summer when it was so hot? I know, you’re trying to forget. I am too. It was too intense — a real killer. It felt like H-E-Double Hockey Sticks was relocating right here to the Midwest. The trees, the poor animals, everything was fried up extra crispy, and other than running up my water bill and trying to keep my personal property alive, there wasn’t a darned thing I could do.

    “Isn’t there something they can do about this?” I wondered. I guess by “they,” I meant scientists, or maybe the government. But changing Mother Nature and forcing seasons is the stuff of mad science, right? Cloud seeding has cost bazillions of dollars and requires rockets and other high-tech equipment. And it’s not very effective.

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    When my husband switched from working the graveyard shift to the daytime shift, some things had to change. I now listen to his nighttime snoring (and vice versa), he pops his post-shift beer at 6 p.m. rather than 8 a.m., and once again, we’re a two-car family.

    We had not become a one-car family by choice. My Pathfinder, my old faithful after 15 years of reliable service, came down with some sort of affliction that affected her electrical system and her ability to start. I know, it’s not a medical problem, but for all I know about mechanics, it could have been a virus.

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    “So, what made you decide to be a writer?”

    The question left me mumbling because, as with many writers, I’m not particularly great with conversation.

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    We recently attended back-to-school night. We visited our kids’ classrooms, where their teachers explained homework expectations, topics the kids would cover and, finally, the dreaded topic of controversy: classroom discipline.

    I do not claim to know the right way to wrangle 20 to 30 children on a daily basis, nor do I wish to try it. I will be the last to criticize those amazing teachers who somehow keep order in their classrooms, actually teach the kids something, and even maintain the affection of their students. But I did notice that each classroom took opposite approaches. It made me stop to ponder.

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    I remember the moment I finally conquered my back-to-school jitters. My backpack hanging heavily over one shoulder, I stood in the air-conditioned, echoing hall, collecting my nerves. I surveyed rows of people I’d never met before — a room full of strangers. There was no familiar face, no wave of recognition from a friend. Just strangers.

    I told myself it didn’t have to be so hard. The people in there didn’t know anyone either, and it was more likely a room full of friends than a room full of enemies. I decided to walk in with confidence and make a friend.

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    “I’ll bring baked beans,” I’ve said a hundred times.

    Potluck? Dinner at friends? Barbecue? Taking someone a meal? You can pretty well count on the Parnells showing up with a crockpot of hot, saucy, musical fruit. It’s one of those crowd-pleasing recipes that is often requested.

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    “Parenting is extremely hard, and it’s really all just guesswork,” said my friend. I sat with mom friends around a bottle of wine, gathering support and ideas on our current kid-related challenges. What disturbed me about her comment was that it was coming from a psychologist. Aren’t they the ones that are able to figure out the road map to behavioral success? And she’s calling it guesswork?

    We’ve been having a rough go here, recently, and I’ve been looking for solutions more definitive than “guesswork.”

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    “Honey, how do you spell ‘ignoramus’?” Thad called from the desk where he pecked away at the computer.

    “Um, you better check the dictionary,” I answered. “I think I know, but that’s one word you don’t want to spell wrong, or you’ll look like a … you know.” Then as an afterthought, I asked, “What are you doing?”

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    This time last year, I was positively giddy. I was counting down the hours, the minutes, the seconds until the moment I would take my kids to school and walk out the door a free woman. For the first time in five years, my little ball and chains would be secured to their teachers in rooms of other children, where they would stay for a full seven, blissful hours. Sorry if it sounds bad, I’m just being honest.

    I carefully scheduled and planned for those seven hours of freedom. My list of chores, goals and even a few fun activities was tattooed on the insides of my eyelids. I was going to spice up my persona with some Martha Stewart and some June Cleaver, resulting in the super mom and wife of my dreams.

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    The deafening rattle of summertime cicadas fills the evening air. The mature trees of our neighborhood must be chock full of the large, winged bugs. The rattling sound makes me think of thousands of rattle snakes, or a mass of children shaking homemade cans of dried beans.

    When Cooper first started walking, he loved to find the shells.

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    I am literally shaking right now. I’m in a coffee shop, miles from home in the faraway land of Lee’s Summit. My nerves are frayed and my confidence is shaken. I’m trying to recover from dropping my kids off at day camp.

    Getting the kids up, monitoring them as they dressed, feeding them, buckling them in the car, that all went OK. We found it, we were on time.

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    I wasn’t very naughty growing up. You could even say I was a goody-goody, especially in grade school. When I got in trouble, it was usually for things like forgetfulness, messiness or sometimes excess socializing. I rarely blatantly broke the rules.

    But there was one rule I’d completely disregard. One sneaky little crime I’d hide from the teacher. One forbidden activity I would defiantly do — even after I’d been expressly told to stop. I would read.

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    Do you ever pray? I do.

    We say our family prayers at dinner. We ask for wisdom and peace, and for God to give us a clue as to what we’re supposed to be doing here. We ask for help with our attitudes if they’re sour, and we thank God for all He’s given us. Because sitting smack dab in the middle of the middle class in the middle of America with an average-sized family and college educations and perfectly fine jobs is a pretty decent place to be. No complaints here.

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    About this time of year, a new compound word enters my vocabulary. It’s an oxymoron, a juxtaposition of the negative and the positive, a result of my pliable volition. A product of summer’s lazy pace and possibly heat exhaustion, my standard answer to the kids’ requests becomes “no-kay.”

    “Mom, can you find us a house for our new pet cockroach?”

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    “My dad is a vampire. He’s nocturnal — like a ‘possum. He sleeps in the basement in a coffin.” This is how my kids explained Thad’s sleeping patterns. I always warned teachers that we had a nontraditional schedule just in case the kids mentioned his monstrous alter-ego, Count Thadula.

    Thad was shell-shocked three years ago when he was offered the night shift. “Offered” as in, “we’re letting the night guy go so you’ll still have a job.” Printing has taken a hit in this electronic age (are you reading an actual paper or online right now?) and he was lucky they kept him on the payroll. Many others weren’t so lucky.

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    Sylvia dressed herself for our recent outing to the amusement park.

    At the age of 6, she’s delving into fashion. Lately, she’s become quite particular about what she will wear. She has a “look” in mind and prefers to achieve that look without my assistance. If I feel she’s missed the mark, I usually just take her to the mirror, point out what I see and ask her if she likes the way she looks. If she says “yes,” then I let her go with it. Sometimes she accepts my advice, others she doesn’t.

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    In the last few years, I’ve watched many friends become fathers. Each time, a transformation takes place. Regular guys suddenly realize that their destiny in life is to be a superhero to their little bundles of joy. The average Joe’s chest pops out with pride, and their shirts peek open to reveal the top of the “S” from their Superdad emblem.

    Soon my brother also will become a father. He’s a caretaker, a protector and a teacher — and that’s before having kids. He’ll be one of the best — I just know it.

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    One of our family’s early summer traditions is in full swing now — blueberry picking. I load up the kids and sometimes my husband, gather weather-appropriate gear and plenty of bug spray, and off we go. It’s become a requisite rite to usher in summer.

    There are a handful of patches around, but we always go to the same place, The Berry Patch in Cleveland, Mo. We love its family-friendly attitude and kid activities for when we finish picking — like a large tube they can roll each other around in and the seemingly out-of-place triceratops statue.

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    I remember the first time I learned about “opportunities.” It sounds like a good thing, right? Like open doors. Options. Good fortune. But in corporate speak, it’s just a euphemism for “problems.” Areas needing improvement. “Opportunities” to dig yourself out of trouble and meet expectations.

    When the kids came home with their last report cards of their second grade and kindergarten careers, I looked to see what “opportunities” had been identified.

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    I don’t recall Cooper’s offense, but must have been bad. Three weeks without screen time was a pretty severe punishment for him. He wailed, “It’s my LIFE, Mom! It’s all I care about.”

    For some kids, being grounded from the boob tube would be trivial. For Sylvia, it wouldn’t even be a punishment. She enjoys a movie now and then, but can take it or leave it. She likes dance video games, but she mostly just wants to watch me dance. (It’s funny.)

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    “Mom, mom, mom, mom, I need ten dollars. Mom? Where’s my ten dollars? Where’s your purse? I’ll get it.” He stood eight inches away from me, close enough for me to tell that he smelled like a sweaty boy who’s been playing outside.

    “Cooper, I’m in the middle of something,” I said. I held a stack of order forms for the school’s flower fundraiser. Thousands of plants surrounded me, waiting to be arranged by order.

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    “What do you want for Mother’s Day?” Oh dear, that question again.

    There’s something tricky about Mother’s Day — an inner struggle that plagues moms on “their” day. I see the conflicting feelings reflected in Mother’s Day surveys and the answers, revealed in colorful pie-charts.

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    The schools’ lunch program has been under scrutiny lately. This comes as no surprise. I’ve been there — I like to eat lunch with my kids every now and then — and what I’ve seen is not impressive. I’ve eaten some half-sandwiches sitting on my daughter’s plate before they went in the trash, but I’ve never gotten my own meal based on what I see. Fast food quality at best… but my guess is that a fast food restaurant serving that food wouldn’t stay open very long.

    What heartens me, when I go, is to see the optional items my kids put on their plates. My son fills all the open holes on his tray with fruit. They eat their raw vegetables first. They drink their milk. Not that I know what they do every single day, but I’ve seen them make good choices.

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    Note: This is a rerun from a couple years ago. Mama needed a break.

     

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    I was sick this week. Not on my deathbed sick. Not unable to scrape my head off the bathroom floor in order to vomit sick. Not the kind of sick where I call my mom and beg her to take the kids off my hands so I can be miserable in peace sick, either.

    It was really just a run-of-the-mill cold punctuated with an irksome frog in my throat. I would describe the mucus, headaches and drainage, but I’m pretty sure you’re familiar. I counted myself lucky that my headache could be controlled with common OTC meds, and I had no sore throat. It’s when my throat hurts — or head aches — or stomach problems kick in that I become a baby. Otherwise, I’m fairly brave.

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    Sylvia and I stood just inside the door of the gallery. We happened to arrive just as the aerial acrobatics dance was about to start. We were thrilled to snag primo perches for the show. Last First Friday, we had to stand outside and watch through the window.

    We stood ground as the crowd expanded behind us, protecting our front-row spot. With 10 minutes to kill, she shared 5-year-old observations.

    “Why is it stinky?” she asked, her sensitive kindergarten nose picking up odors I couldn’t detect.

    “I’m not sure, sniff our soap.” I handed her handmade soap we’d purchased from a street vendor just a few minutes before. I chose it for its exquisite blend of spices – admitting to the artisans that I kept bars of soap around just to smell. She inhaled the aroma, while taking care not to knock her purple balloon turtle from her wrist.

    We gabbed about the people sitting nearby, then the art on the walls. We looked at the paintings lining the perimeter of the room. Pastels borrowed from spring gardens splashed the canvasses, black squiggly lines ran across them. From afar, faces could be seen, formed by the squiggles, their expressions intense – even nefarious – in contrast to the happy colors.

    “What do you think of the art?” I asked her.

    “It’s scary,” she replied.

    A young woman on the other side of Sylvia commented to her – a comment I couldn’t hear in the crowded room.

    “It’s a little creepy. But the colors are pretty,” I observed, loudly so Sylvia could hear me in the crowd.

    Before the performers started their show, they pointed out the artist — the young woman on the other side of us. The girl who quite clearly heard Sylvia and I discussing her “scary” and “creepy” art. When the performance ended, I felt compelled to tell her, quite honestly, that I thought her work was intriguing. Creepy for a 5-year-old, but beautiful nonetheless. Her laugh was genuine.

    The acrobatic performance was just one segment of a colorful evening in the Crossroads. We’d walked among the artists, starting with our friend, a contest winner at a behavioral health facility. Her pride in her work was shy, but evident in her smile.

    From there, we browsed a display of blown glass lamps and vases, the artist’s wife telling us about the studio. At a busy corner, we were boggled by a magic show. A friend who joined us pulled out his phone to show us photos of his own work – to be on display at an upcoming artists’ bazaar. A balloon man explained in great detail what a “cliffhanger” is in a story to my 8-year-old son, the conversation inspired by Cooper’s Empire Strikes Back T-shirt.

    As it grew dark, a young, enthusiastic man showed us how beautiful illuminated seashells can be. He then described his aspiration to place lighting in parks and conduct a tour of his nighttime vision. A Native American described to us various artifacts he had for sale and their use in ceremonies. And a talented girl, sitting behind a table of whimsical sculptures, her paintings of pets and flowers behind her, told us about her artwork.

    “Sorry we’re not buying tonight,” I said.

    “I just appreciate you talking to me. A lot of people won’t even look at me,” she replied.

    What a shame, I thought. Artists put their private visions on display for the world. They bare their souls. Can we not acknowledge them? All we saw would have been interesting, inspiring, beautiful – by itself. But each artist stood bravely to reveal the person behind the art and watch reactions to their work.

    Exposing children to art is wonderful. But meeting the artists? That’s a rich experience indeed.

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    “Should we go on a family bike ride? I’ll get the bikes ready,” Thad suggested.

    It sounded like a great idea. I’ve trekked around with the kids’ bikes in the back of the car, taking them to paths and parking lots to practice. Thad and I have walked – then jogged – alongside the kids as they practiced.

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    Dear Easter Bunny:

    While at the store, our attention was directed to a sign announcing your visit. It listed hours and promised candy. "Come back tomorrow," said the greeter. Cooper, who’s 8, was uninterested. But Sylvia, my 5-year-old sweetheart, was overjoyed.

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    Mom! Mom! It’s Coopah’s birthday!”

    Sylvia’s hot breath tickled as she whisper-yelled into my ear. I opened my eyes, wondering how early she’d gotten up. She was excited for her brother.

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    Cleaning was not going as planned. Once again, I fired my squirt bottle of cleaner at our high-maintenance stainless steel refrigerator and polished. This time I was removing footprints. Sylvia, walking past the refrigerator, had lifted her leg high in the air and swiped her foot across the spotless surface, smearing sweaty footprints across it. I saw it with my own two eyes.

    I imagined myself doing the same thing — just walking along and deciding to raise my foot to my shoulder level and smearing the wall. Why? Would I even be able to if I wanted to? Obviously I had to try. Using the sofa for support, I lifted my own foot in the air, gauging my flexibility. Not too bad. I could probably leave a footprint at shoulder level.

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    Like a walrus, I laboriously scooted around my front yard. My hands were raw and red from the cold, my fingers and knees were wet and muddy. I dug hole after hole to plop 100 daffodil bulbs in the ground. The bulbs had been pre-cooled and were ready to start growing and blooming.

    Slugging along the border of a flower bed, I’d moved several feet from my box of bulbs. I looked over to them on the other end of the bed. So…far…away. Standing to walk 12 feet to retrieve them was unthinkable. Getting to my feet would be too taxing. I decided instead to roll sideways from hands and knees to a sitting position, then once more to my hands and knees — essentially rolling across the yard to my bulbs.

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    There I stood, elbow-deep in goopy paper pulp. I scrubbed and rubbed, willing the film of paper to come off the sweet faces of 25 kindergartners. I begged the images themselves to not peel away from the wooden plackets to which I affixed the sweet little mug shots. I prayed my fingerprints would remain on my fingers as I delicately rubbed off the filmy paper remnants, trying to perfectly imperfect the shabby-chic image transfers. I was not the only mom standing over my sink working on this project.

    A handful of moms had come together to create the class auction projects, I was just one of many. Our project was simple but complicated all at once. The process was straightforward, but required guesswork, trial and error and a hefty amount of elbow grease. Yet the moms were willing, knowing that the finished pieces — which would be sold to the parents with full profit benefiting the school — were a worthy cause.

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    One of the things I love about my daughter, Sylvia, is how good she is at being wrong. At age 5, she’s a pro at making mistakes.

    Neither of my children has any particular intellectual advantage above other kids, and they both make blunders. Schoolwork, behavior, social skills — you name it. Both do things that aren’t right. But the way they handle those mistakes defines them as polar opposites. Cooper will argue for a week straight that the sky is green and up is down. God love the poor chump that decides to take the bait and argue back.

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    There’s not a lot of rigidity in our family traditions. If we repeat an activity from year to year, it’s not because of the “rules” surrounding an event, it’s because it worked the year before. Our celebrations evolve — we may stick candles into birthday pie, our Christmas dinner may look like a fiesta.

    But there’s one tradition that I’ve perpetuated from the first year Thad and I were married. It’s the tradition that takes place on the first snow day every year. I make cream puffs.

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    It is with great humility that I offer this unusually public and very sincere apology to the parents of my son’s class, his classmates, his teacher and the photographer for being “That Mom” on midwinter picture day. It’s all my fault.

    School picture days are a nightmare around here. The kids and I pit against each other with strong opinions on proper attire. My standards for school portraits are extremely high. I demand they wear something like a solid or striped shirt. I want it to be clean with no wrinkles above the shoulders.

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    Towing around my munchkins, I’ve lost plenty of things in public places. I left my purse in a bathroom at the zoo. I’ve crawled on hands and knees in a department store looking for a baby shoe. I’ve dropped gloves, cash and water bottles — some I got back and others I didn’t. But (I’m knocking on wood right now) I have yet to misplace my kids in a public place.

    It could happen, oh, it could. Kids are explorers with no sense of direction. They’re short, easily disappearing behind trash cans or clothes racks. They become distracted — enthralled, even — by the mundane — like, say, a squirrel. If a mom takes her eyes off her kids for a nano-second to do something selfish and neglectful, maybe find a tissue to blow her nose or change the baby’s diaper, she runs the risk of losing a child.

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    I was sudsing shampoo through my hair when the name of a grade school acquaintance barged its way into my thoughts. She lived around the corner from my childhood home, and she and I were close to the same age.

    I remember her vividly, though we were never exactly close friends at any time. Jennifer had spinal bifida and needed a wheelchair. It took me about 30 seconds on the Internet to find that she passed away a couple years ago.

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    Some have accused me of coddling my children. It’s been suggested that my kids “play me” by faking illness or through bouts of dramatic grouchiness. To my critics, it looks like I’ve been duped by manipulative behavior and relaxed my standards. That’s not how I see it.

    The difference is partly generational. I occasionally read an article or book that talks about the nearly clinical parenting approach advocated a generation or two before I became a mommy. Holding babies, responding to crying, or otherwise over-nurturing their children was considered the makings of spoiled brats.

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    The second-grade book report assignment looked simple enough to me. Read the assigned biography about Sitting Bull, fill out the name, author and subject of the book, and write five things learned about the subject. Circle yes or no: Is the subject alive? Did he live in the United States?

    The conditions surrounding the book report, however, sent Cooper into a tizzy. He was upset that break was over. Reading is laborious for him. Writing is even harder than reading. And spelling? Fogettaboutit. Add to that the subject matter. I can understand why the famed tribal chief seemed like a good choice for Cooper, who talks incessantly about violence and killing. (Disturbing? Kind of.) But Cooper is only fond of pretend killing. The violence of the Wild West, because it’s true, proved upsetting.

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    I have a little hitch in my gittalong. My aging knees had been giving me a little trouble — a creak here, a twinge there — then a year ago, one got worse.

    The pain wasn’t usually too bad. During an inactive day, I might think about it a couple times. If I was on my feet a lot, running errands or doing housework, it ached a tad by the end of the day. But if I exercised? Wow. When I exercised, it sounded like I’d had a knee replacement by Drs. Snap, Crackle and Pop, and it hurt for days afterward.

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    In honor of New Year’s Day, and all the “best of” lists that commemorate the year, I decided to compile my very own “best of” list, pulling together my favorite quotes from my 5- and 7-year-old from 2011. I love little glimpses of the world from their perspectives.

    Sylvia: “Mommy, I feel bad. It feels kind of like allergies with lots of crying and yelling.”

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    Christmas Wish List by Cooper, 2nd grade

    Were you wondering what I wanted of Christmas? I whant a Exploter and the Shark-Timpil. I want Lord Garmdon. I whant evrythaing to have etrnl lif. I whant evry LEGO ATLATIS set. I whant to be a master. I whant a cumputer. The next thain I want is Santa to have a day off. I wish to have my prsanl elf. Wat do you whant?

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    Babe, you’ve got a little,” I pointed to my upper lip, showing Thad the location of the foreign matter on his face. Rubbing his mustache only embedded it deeper.

    A tiny piece of glitter was buried in his facial hair, brightly visible in the light. No big deal, and especially during the Yuletide season, not unusual.

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    Weeks ago, I took a look at my Mom2Mom family photo — the one of me, Cooper and Sylvia that’s been on the site for two years. We needed an update.

    The photo shows Cooper at the start of his kindergarten year and Sylvia at age 3, not yet in preschool. It was a pretty good picture — especially considering the turmoil that went into it.

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    Editor's note: Emily is taking a much-deserved break from blogging today, so we are running a "best of" blog from a couple years ago. Enjoy the read and try the recipe! Perfect for the holidays. Also, look for Emily's blog in a new KC Star publication premiering soon in Johnson County, "913."

                                                       ***

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    Both kids eyed the mugs of steaming hot liquid suspiciously.

    “Mom, is this throw up?” asked Cooper.

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    "Hey mom, what's that day when all the stores are closed and we're not allowed to eat anything but chicken?”  Sylvia had a hand on her hip, her little head cocked to one side.

    “Um, do you mean Thanksgiving?” I asked my bright-eyed girl.

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    My friend, I’ll call her Anne, is an exemplary mom; she and I are pretty close mommy friends.

    A single mom, Anne does the best she can for her daughter. Turns out, she’s a pretty skilled mama. She reads up on parenting books, adores her child, and puts her daughter first in everything, taking her mothering duties appropriately seriously.

    Dating was not simple for Anne. She didn’t have the luxury of just finding herself a compatible boyfriend. Anne had to keep her young daughter’s best interest in mind. She was perfectly willing to go it alone rather than introduce someone undependable.

    I was thrilled for Anne when she started dating someone from our circle of friends. He was nice, friendly, funny, and I chatted with him frequently – he even asked me for advice on how to woo Anne. We were a big, social group, and we spent plenty of time getting to know each other and each other’s families. One day he stopped by to show me the engagement ring he planned to give her.

    They were engaged for quite a while, but things didn’t go smoothly. It was called off, then back on, and then shortly before the big date, he called it off again. My heart ached for my sad friend, who seemed confused by his explanation. “You’ll have to ask him about it, it’s all him,” she told me.  I didn’t ask him – I just joined the Anne alliance and forgot about him.

    It wasn’t long before he was married – to someone else – with a baby. Ohhh, the elusive explanation came to light. Or so we all thought. Until one day…

    It was months, maybe more than a year later, when phones started buzzing and the rumor mill started grinding. Anne’s ex-fiancé was very publicly arrested in the middle of a workday. Thanks to the handy-dandy internet and lawyer friends who knew how search case.net, everyone knew he’d been arrested for sexually abusing a child. I won’t go into the details that were openly available on case.net; suffice it to say, it was really, really bad.

    Let me paint a picture of this man for you. He was financially successful, nice looking, social, fun-loving, smart, stood up for his employees, liked eating barbecue and watching football, was involved with his own family (siblings, parents), slightly on the geeky side, was nice to Anne, spoke highly of Anne’s daughter - just a regular guy. After he jilted Anne, he proudly showed off photos of his new baby.

    So everyone…EVERYONE…thought he’d been framed.

    But he confessed to the crime and went to prison. He was sentenced to 10 years for his crime, and was released after (pull up your trashcan, you’re going to vomit) serving only five months. He was quickly employed elsewhere - quite successfully, from what I hear.

    After he confessed, we all looked for clues. Because as terrifying as it is to think we knew someone who could do something so horrific – even worse was to think we’d not been suspicious of him. He had us all duped.

    In all honestly, I wouldn’t have thought twice about leaving my own children in his care if that circumstance had arisen. I can’t really picture what errand I might have had to run while he watched my kids, but I have to be honest with myself and admit that I would not have questioned his suitability to do so. I considered him a friend. I had no reason whatsoever, after knowing him pretty well for several years, to suspect that he might do something horrible to a child. Neither did Anne. She’d carefully chosen him as a suitable step-dad for her own beloved daughter.

    Anne’s no dummy, and she’s not naïve. The point here is that people with a horrible urge are going to go to great lengths to cover up their own weakness. They may be quite good at that cover-up, too.  Their inappropriate urges could only be a result of some mental illness. They don’t ask for those urges, and you can bet they’re going to do whatever they can to hide it.

    In retrospect, there was one odd thing – one clue. He didn’t want to be alone with my friend’s daughter. He admitted this more than once, too. We all chalked it up to him being afraid he couldn’t handle the situation, and we laughed, asking him just what he thought a little girl was going to do to him. That wasn’t the right question. Fortunately, Anne’s daughter was unscathed by him.

    It could be anyone. The Sandusky case has brought this problem to the public eye. This Star’s article highlights how kids and parents alike can be charmed by a predator, and a predator can be anyone. ANYONE.

    As parents, we have to look at everyone, even those we love and trust, with discerning eyes. Neighbors. Coworkers. Church members. Friends. School employees. Respected members of the community. Other parents. Our own families. Most of them are the good-hearted people we believe them to be.

    But the monsters? They’re out there. And they work hard to blend in. They probably deny – and hate – what they know themselves to be. We mustn’t forget they’re there.

    A special thanks to my Super Mama friend, "Anne", for letting me share this story. I asked her to review it prior to posting, and she replied: "I hope it opens other parent's eyes to how normal this type of person can appear.  It's not as obvious as one might think."

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    I love First Friday in the Crossroads. It’s the night when the galleries in Kansas City’s thriving Crossroads art district stay open late, and throngs of people wander through the streets, moving from gallery to gallery. Street musicians play, some galleries offer wine and treats, and a good time is had by all.

    I like to look at the art. Sometimes the people looking at the art is more entertaining than the art itself. Then there are the people looking at the people looking at the art – they’re interesting too. Oh, and there are always the artists milling around, looking at the people looking at their own art. Some of them are pieces of (art)work themselves.

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    Last week was a mess. I’d try to think of a Shakespearean-inspired spell for what happened last week, but since I can’t readily think of words that rhyme with “triple”, I’ll focus on this week instead.  Macbeth’s Scottish witches would be dancing around their cauldron with glee, laughing at how their spell to increase my toil and trouble worked swimmingly. I don’t know where they found those newt eyeballs, and they must have had some extra strong bat saliva for their brew.

    This week, the residual of their spell was still working on me. I questioned my sanity as my mouse pointer hovered above the “send” button on the evite. I willed my finger to become paralyzed, unable to click the mouse button.  I watched in horror as the evite message appeared.

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    In the early days of working on computers, we all learned the importance of hitting "save" often. Sometimes our computer crashed mid-project, and hours of unsaved work disappeared. I remember a woman I worked with typed 6 hours on a document, before and after lunch, and apparently never saved it. I don't remember the details of how she lost it, but it was gone. She cried.

    That's what happened to me last night. Normally I write my blog in another program, save it, then post it here. I sat down around 11 pm, and hammered out a post about how crazy spinning busy I've been, and for several reasons, I just typed it directly on this site. Imagine my surprise to wake up and find it did not go live, and is in fact, missing.

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    You know how some words have double meanings – and one of those meanings can be kind of off-color? It becomes a measure of maturity. Can you sit in church and hear the words, “…he was riding an ass,” and not start giggling? If you can, you passed - you’re mature. If you giggle, well, you’re with me.

    One word that always trips me up is “whoopie”. Remember the old game show, the Newlywed Game? On their show, “whoopie" was code word for something else that they didn’t want to say on daytime network tv. I was pretty young, so I didn’t really know what the code was for, I just knew everyone started blushing when questions about “whoopie" came up.

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    It’s time to poop or get off the pot.

    Six years ago, Thad, Cooper and I took a little trip to Colorado. By the time we returned home, Sylvia had joined us as well, and our family of four had taken shape. Our full family adventure began surrounded by mountains.

    There were many things I didn’t know yet about myself. I had no idea that just a few months later I would timidly tell Thad my desire to quit my job to be a stay at home mom, and present my plan to sell our beloved Brookside home, move to a less expensive home in a reliable school district, and cut our income nearly in half. I could barely believe it when he agreed, and a few months after that, I stood unemployed, super-pregnant, in my nondescript suburban home.

    I didn’t know that being a SAHM was going to be so hard. Tedious days filled with trying to corral my children, keep them occupied, and scrambling to complete any freelance work I could get my hands on became the norm. My nerves often pulled so thin, sometimes snapping, struggling to keep up with laundry as my children rolled around in more dirt in the back yard, the pile of dishes that regenerated hourly, cutting back on expenses to manage in this shaky economy… I didn’t anticipate all that.

    But in this state, I’ve found a piece of me that had long gone missing. It all started with this website, emailed to me by my husband. “You like to write, you might like this.” I’d made a promise to myself to explore my love for writing, see if I could develop it into a career, and write the Great American Novel. I’ve had book ideas swimming in my brain for years – since I can remember, in fact – and every attempt I’d made to write one had fallen flat. I don’t know why.  But Thad saw Mom2Mom as an opportunity for me to practice my skills, chat with other moms, and maybe, just maybe, talk to other writers.

    From this site, I developed a friendship with a neighbor. She’s on this site, and is an editor for The Star. We have much in common, and she has something I covet – a writing career. Her encouraging disposition and friendly advice got me moving in the right direction. She suggested I inquire about the featured blogger position. She called me to tell me she enjoyed my blogs. She told me I could do it – and more than anyone else I know – I believed her. Because she’s a writer and knows what she’s talking about.

    Then, another relationship moved me even further. I sat in the pool with my kiddos at my side, and a girl with enormous sunglasses came and stood directly in front of me. “Emily Brown, how are you doing?” she asked. I tried to identify her, but with her glasses obscuring her eyes, one of her most distinguishing features, I struggled.

    “Who am I talking to?” I asked.

    “I’m going to make you guess,” she retorted.

    It was an old friend from high school, whom I quickly learned had completed one book and was working on her second. Our kids splashed and laughed together, and our friendship rekindled. And she gave me a proverbial kick in the butt to get going on a novel of my own, which I ignored. I couldn’t decide which idea to start with. I wasn’t entirely sure of how any of them would end. I’d read about elaborate character studies – which seemed so daunting to me. I was afraid to start, because I couldn’t bear the thought of failing.

    But a year later, my high school friend, who I’ll call Tenacious G, dragged me to a writing conference. Two local published novelists, obviously close friends who camp out together with their laptops and work on their series of novels, told how they write. They laughed at how they would start with barely a premise, and the books just unfolded beneath their fingertips.  They spent 10 minutes flippantly minimizing the things that scared me most about this whole novel-writing endeavor.

    A few days later, I sat down and started, unsure of where I was headed, realizing that the adage, “It’s better to try and fail than to never try at all,” was the place to hang my hat. And the words poured out. My setting returned to the places we'd visited in Colorado, and I began yet another adventure in that setting.

    It's so fun. I'm like a little kid, I can build towers with blocks, then crash them down, then build something new. My characters are exactly what I want them to be. My message is exactly what I want it to be. I can put in my favorite things, my darkest nightmares, my strangest thoughts, and if it doesn't fit, I can make it. I paint this picture, I choose the colors.

    I watched my word count grow, shocked as it hit 10,000, thrilled as I reached 20,000, and astonished when it neared 40,000, all in just a few weeks. I researched how many words books usually have to figure out how much I had left, and realized I was about halfway done, which fit nicely with where I was in my story.

    Three people, my abovementioned friends and a sister-in-law, gave me encouragement and advice. They read as I wrote, offering comments ranging from, "I love it!" to "keep going" to a well-deserved "that's awful, you should take that out." My sister-in-law helped me navigate legal details beyond my expertise. MyKC Star friend offered stylistic pointers. Tenacious G said simply, "I like it. Push through."

    "Tell me if I'm wasting my time and should quit," I asked with honesty.

    And then I quit. I’d written all I knew about my characters. I was busy at home. My kids had been living on pop tarts, frozen fruit and vegetables out of bags in the freezer, and they needed clean underwear. I needed to vacuum. It was time to come back to real life.

    Several months went by where I didn’t write a word. But, it turns out, I don’t have to be typing to write a book. My characters were marinating, the plot thickening, and the details falling into place. The makings of a New York Times best seller? Probably not. Will I be hounded with offers for movie rights? No way. But might I self-publish something good enough that a couple dozen people will read it and think, “That wasn’t too bad.”? Maybe. And that’s good enough for me.

    For some reason, I was afraid to open my manuscript, but when Tenacious G once again asked me to join her at a writing group, I knew the time had come. I have to get back into it, finish this thing, or quit dreaming.

    And why on earth would anyone choose to quit dreaming?

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    It's 11pm on Saturday night, and this post needs to be up by 6am. Normally by now, it's posted. Or at the very least, my idea has been marinating for a few days. Or hours.

    But this week has been a whirlwind. I don't know which side is up, and I can't focus on one thing before three more things command my attention. Busy is good, but this busy is insane.  I have freelance projects. I have a part time job that's keeping me hopping. I have housework that hasn't been done. I have projects for the kids for school. I have a couple social engagements.

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    Wow. Did we ever mess up that guy’s moment.

    I was busy doing the mommy cat-herding thing as we entered the grocery store. One child irresistibly drawn to the pumpkin display, the other eager to find the tiny kid-sized cart to push, I hovered between them, side stepping towards whichever kid seemed nearest disaster at any given moment. Shuffle right –the pumpkin pile may be coming down, grapevine left–she’s about to reach the antibacterial wipes, sashay right – he’s spotted the donuts…etc.

    My eyes have been practicing the chameleon move where one points one way and the other points a completely opposite direction, but I still get woozy when I fix them on 2 moving targets, so I was a bit off-kilter in my dance. Both children get that “loose dog” syndrome at the supermarket. You know how when a dog that’s usually fenced gets out and they get all excited and want to run willy-nilly all over the place? My kids get giddy like that at the store, though luckily they don’t sniff people’s hineys.

    I couldn’t see the tiny carts. They were probably all in use, so I suggested Sylvia get a basket while Cooper approached me, arms loaded with gourds and pumpkins. I asked Coop to put them back, and he predictably decided to sharpen up his debate skills, while Sylvia struggled with a basket.

    I then noticed the tiny carts just around the corner, and told Sylvia the good news. She put the basket back, and ran to the carts. We were an undulating amoeba with a mommy nucleus and my kids' arms and legs the wiggling cilia.

    As our unorganized group entered the store, a man broke past us. He exhaled sharply, rolled his eyes, shook his head, and looked utterly annoyed. Classic signs of roadblock rage. We, no doubt, had been holding him up. Heck, it had probably been upwards of 20 seconds he’d been waiting. Maybe even 30.

    He didn’t wait around for an apology, or even an “Oh, excuse us.” He just rumbled past us.

    I felt bad, and I understood. I’m no stranger to the tight timeframe in which you have exactly 2 minutes and 47 seconds to get in the store and back out with your item in hand. You just hope there will be no holdup at the checkout, you can’t waste precious time on a human amoeba blocking the front door. On top of that, he was probably over it by the time he hit the two buck chuck.

    But it kept bugging me. I tried to keep the three of us within the acceptable amount of space allotted for one adult. I cringed when Cooper got overly excited at the sight of the massive amounts of bananas. I felt intrusive when Sylvia wanted a second sample of cookies. And even though nobody else seemed impatient, many strangers smiled at us, and a few even made friendly small talk – with my kids – I couldn’t shake the gloomy feeling that we were annoying.

    I was talking to a friend later that evening. She’d had a similar experience, though she doesn’t have kids. “What makes people think they can just act annoyed with people? Don’t they realize it can ruin someone’s day?”

    I see it happen all the time.  Someone takes a little too long in the checkout line, or hits a mental speed bump and makes a mistake, or simply doesn’t notice they’re blocking someone else’s way. The eye roll, and the annoyance that creeps into someone’s voice can be so degrading.

    For instance, today at the grocery store, I overheard this conversation as a woman was handing out samples of cheese dip.

    “It’s pretty spicy,” she said, offering the sample.

    The woman who tried it was annoyed. “This is hot, and I don’t LIKE hot.”

    “Well, it’s spicy,” the woman with the samples replied apologetically.

    Condescension entered the sampler’s tone. “There’s a difference between spicy and hot. Garlic is spicy. Salt and pepper are spicy. Hot is hot.” (Never mind I completely disagree with this definition.)

    I didn’t stick around to see what happened next, or to tell the irritated lady that I was pretty sure “spicy” and “hot” are usually synonymous. But I did wonder if the woman passing out samples was having a good enough day to weather that sort of attitude. On a good day, those things roll off us. On bad days, though, they can get us down.

    I guess, the thing I wonder, is just how much rudeness is warranted by inconveniences? And what would happen if we replaced that rudeness with kindness?

    I remember someone doing that for me once. I was in a parking lot, and it was a really bad day. I had a divorce in the works, I lived in a town where I knew very few people, and I was very distracted and distraught by all this. So distracted that I backed my old, beat up SUV into a beautiful new Mercedes.  I jumped out in tears, apologizing all over myself, not expecting much mercy from whatever east coasterner I’d just inconvenienced with my back bumper.

    “It’s ok, honey, it’ll buff out,” she said, smiling. “Look, it’s nothing.” She ran her finger across a small scratch. I fished in my purse for my insurance card and she waved me off. “Just don’t worry about it,” she said.

    I’ll never, ever forget that she did that for me. I’m grateful to this day, in fact.

    When someone inconveniences us, we have three choices. We can act justifiably annoyed. We can act neutral. Or we can swing the opposite direction and be kind to that person – and it might be a moment in their life when they need kindness more than ever.

    Next time I’m annoyed, I hope I have the patience to be extra kind.

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    It’s late September. I guess the quarter ends at the end of October, and this week, we received a progress report for the Coopster.

    The kid leaves room for improvement, you know? He’s a work in progress. Not an embryo, more of a larva, I suppose. Half-baked. He proves this often with half-baked ideas, theories, and behavior. Raw and goopy in the middle, and not quite ready for presentation.

    He’s 7. The expectations I have for him need to be met....by the time he’s 18 and out of my home. But at 7? I can look at him and see he’s starting to set up, but still far from being a perfect golden brown on the top. And for now, that’s fine.

    His progress report shows that for whatever reason, he’s a bit behind his peers in a lot of areas, which was no jaw-dropper. He’s had some super-low scores on papers he's brought home. I try not to act too shocked when he brings home homework with good scores, although he even gets the occasional 100%.

    In reading, for example, he’s behind. His spleeng is atroshis.  

    He received a computer printout with scores to one test that were represented on a bar graph. There are lots of reasons why he might have done poorly on this test, so I chose not to worry much about his score of 40%, represented on a computer-generated bar graph, which he brought to me proudly.

    “Look, mom, here’s my reading test!”

    I looked at the bar graph and shook my head. Up and down. A nod. A positive action.

    “So, tell me how you did on this test,” I suggested, interested in his take on the situation.

    “I did GREAT, Mom!!” he exclaimed.

    “Oh yeah?” I asked. "How's that?"

    “Yeah, look! I’m almost halfway there!!”

    That’s where the conversation ended. He wasn’t discouraged, and I knew where we needed to practice. Good enough.

    So, when he got his progress report, I was thrilled to see no academic categories marked as needing improvement - not even reading. I’ve actually seen huge improvement on this in just the last month or so. (Some of his surprise 100%'s were even on spelling tests!)

    There were a few areas that needed improvement. Paying attention to the teacher, for one. No kidding? Shocker! (That was sarcasm, if you didn’t recognize it.)

    On the whole report, there was only one "plus". One measley category marked as above average. Just one thing that he is doing especially well. You’ve gotta be good at something, right?

    What was it? (I smile as I type this.) He excelled at being thoughtful towards others.

    And you know what? If I could pick only one skill for my sweet boy, that’s probably the one I would choose. The one that helps others. That's a strength that can carry you far.

    I didn't even wonder if it was a mistake (like I did the spelling test). I've seen his thoughtfulness in action. I've seen him come beside a child who didn't have friends and had nobody to play with, and welcome that child into his game. I've seen him expertly console his sister. He's watched out for the littler kids. The boy's got heart.

    Of course, there's still room for improvement even in this. He's not ready to come out of the oven yet. But on this particular portion of the recipe, I believe he's coming along quite nicely.

    My boy’s thoughtful. And I’m proud!!!

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    Housework ADD
    1192 Views

    I’m perched atop my toilet lid, nail clippers in hand, a file beside me.

    “What are you doing?” asks Thad.

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    It’s September 11th, 2011. Where’s the cake? It should be a good one, too. Not to be picky, but at least a little chocolate.  Sure, decorate it to the hilt, and some fancy napkins and plates would be good too! Yep, it’s a big holiday today. This calls for some decorations and party hats. Whoo hoo! Partay!

    Inappropriate?

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    The week before the kids returned to school, I decided we’d spent too much time frying. Yes, I’m talking about forgetting to reaply sunscreen, as well as the day my car’s thermometer read 118 degrees, but I’m also referring to the bazillion hours we clocked mushifying our brains with screen time.

    What started as “limited” TV watching, net surfing and video game playing times eventually stretched to mind-numbing watch-a-thons.

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    Her blue eyes were wide in wonder, watching the disco balls spin, colored lights circling. She slowly moved forward, carefully shifting her weight from side to side, arms out to her sides like a bird in flight. Songs, familiar from ambient pop culture blared overhead, and schoolmates passed us, some zooming smoothly, others lurching awkwardly.

    Pint-sized classmates puttering next to their own roller skate-clad parents called out excitedly, “Hi Sylvia!” as they recognized their friend from earlier that day. Even we parents smiled and waved at each other as if we hadn’t seen each other just hours ago, and wouldn’t be seeing each other every single school day for the next 9 months. Party greetings are a little more jovial than school hall greetings, you know.

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    WEDNESDAY

    It’s 6:30 a.m. and my alarm is going off. Normally, that’s not cool, it’s a little early for me, but today is special. Today is my day. I’ve been waiting, prepping, counting down like a kid before Christmas, and it’s finally here. Santa Claus has come, the bunny hid the eggs, it’s time to blow out candles.

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    Every now and then you have to take a short cut. Or two. Or ten.

    This week was a doozy for me. I know I’m not the only busy one out there, what with school starting this week and all. So we had the school ice cream social, picking up last minute school items, meeting the teacher, all that.

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    Parading skeletons
    1436 Views

    Divorce has been all the talk lately among my friends. I am part of a little Bible study group on Thursdays, and soon, the scale will be tipped to where over 50% of us will have been divorced, myself included.

    My friend, facing this step that she’s fought against tooth and nail, is scared and apprehensive, and knows that very soon, she’ll need to tell her kids. Which reminded me, I never had told my own kids that I, myself, had been married to someone else before I met their dad. Hmmm...I’d planned to tell them sometime this summer. Just give them a little digestion time to think about it. 

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    The family bed
    1183 Views

    You know how sometimes there's equipment you think you need? Some sort of contraption that you just know is going to be the solution to some daily difficulty? You ream about how your new acquisition will simplify life. It promises great things, and you can think of even more uses for it than the manufacturer itself.

    And then you get it. It's bliss. My robotic vacuum that sweeps under the beds for me. My new laptop that's fast and goes where I do. My digital camera.

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    Time to Get a Job
    1324 Views

    Many years ago, I watched one of those cable makeover shows about a SAHM returning to the workforce. She’d stayed home with multiple kids from birth through high school, and hadn’t worked in some 20 years or so. Experts revamped her makeup, updated her haircut from mommy meh to a corporate crop, and she was given advice on creatively showing her strengths, honed during mommyhood, on her resume.

    I watched this pre-kids. In fact, it was probably pre-marriage. I was both intrigued and perplexed by the whole thing. First of all, I couldn’t imagine not working for 20 years. I couldn’t imagine the thousands of PB&J’s she’d slapped on plates, the miles she’d put on her minivan between soccer and gymnastics, the PTA hours, and all the other un glorious work that goes into being a SAHM. In fact, from my cubicle, it all sounded pretty easy.

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    Mystery Feng
    1211 Views

    I was the snoozing meat in a mommy melt sandwich, snuggled between two warm slices of kid bread. It’s not unusual to wake up like this, especially the morning after a thunderstorm, but I was quite startled to see Thad standing over me, carefully holding a big wad of paper towels in his hands.

    “I found something,” he said quietly, trying not to wake up the bread. I glanced at the clock and saw that it was 6:15 am.

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    When I was growing up, a Kansas City rite of passage for  5th graders was to enter the career world at The Learning Exchange. For weeks, we prepared for our day in Exchange City, learning about the workings of a real live city. We were each given a role to play, choosing from civic workers, shop owners and workers, a radio DJ, a doctor, and other various jobs that real live people would grow up to do, making the world go ‘round. Once there, we did our job for the day, with occasional breaks, and ran around the entire floor of a building that had been converted to a kid-sized city.

    The emphasis seemed to be on financials, as we each had a salary, the opportunity to buy things, and a checkbook with which to buy those items. Many people had financially oriented jobs to help manage all that fake money flying around.

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    My dad, for his birthday, wanted to go to a family favorite Mexican restaurant in South KC.  My whole family loves it, though each of us has a different reason.

    My mom likes to sing along with the mariachis who occasionally wander the place, and they love that she hums and sways and makes up words to their traditional Mexican songs.

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    Passion Fruit
    1430 Views

    Thad and I used to have an old house not far from the Plaza. It had been owned, at one time, by an avid gardener, and the backyard was artfully lined with flowering shrubs and trees. However, a non-gardening family owned the house for several years between us and the gardener, and the beautiful shrubbery had become overgrown, nearly choked out by euonymus and honeysuckle, voluntary trees planted haphazardly by squirrels, and a smattering of poison ivy.

    One day, despite warm, humid conditions, Thad and I put on long sleeves, jeans and gardening gloves, gathered our tools, and braved taming the dark, twisted jungle, also known as the Northwest Corner of Our Yard. For hours, upon hours, and a few more hours after that, we pulled and dug invasive weeds and vines, applied and reapplied bug spray, and felt hot, gritty sweat cover our bodies – even the unexposed parts. The task was monumental, but with my careful discernment of what could stay and what must go, and Thad’s brute strength and fearlessness (or was it ignorance?) of poison ivy, we released lilacs, Japanese irises, burning bushes, forsythias, flowering almonds, and verbenas from the chokehold of overgrowth and neglect.

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    “Bye bye, Sweet Papa Daddy,” called Sylvia out the window, waving at Thad as he left for work. This was probably 2 years ago, before she became the endless chatterer she now is. She now strings together all types of words, but at the time, this 3-worded compound title was very, very special. It warmed my heart. Quickly, “Sweet Papa Daddy” became one of my favorite pet names for Thad, partly because it reminds me of what a great daddy he is – and that his children know it - and partly because it sounds like a pimp name. Not that we’re running that kind of business around here, but it cracks me up.

    Daddy-O (another favorite name for him) is a fairly typical dad with enough creative edginess to knock him up a few notches on the daddyometer. For instance, he sports some shoulder-to-elbow tats on each arm, and even some gangster-styled ink on his knuckle. But he’s all about the family, in that each arm’s tattoo is one of our kids’ names, with art dedicated just to them, and the gangster tattoo is my initial – on his ring finger.

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    Mad Science
    1028 Views

    “Sylvia, do you think I’m skinny, or do you think I’m fat?” I asked her. A man would run away screaming, knowing he’d been framed, but my 5-year-old squinted her eyes at me critically.

    “You’re kind of skinny,” she said. I sighed, relieved. My ruse was still working. As long as I don’t tell anyone that I’m fat, no one will notice. Right?

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    "The Monster Attack"
    -a collaboration with guest blogger: Cooper Parnell

    Once upon a time, in an unregioned [undiscovered] galaxy, an inter-galactic space shuttle has been quarantined for two quillion light years. There are little tiny weirdos inside. They say, “doo…doo…dooo….doooo…do do…” They are really weird. They poo spinach and like to eat cupcakes.

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    Summer Visitors
    1406 Views

    I sat at my computer, engrossed in a design project.

    “Mommy, I need thithorthz and tape,” lisped Sylvia, a little art project spread out on the hall floor. She worked away, chattering happily to something. A doll? An imaginary friend? Littlest Pet Shop animals? Whatever. She was happy.

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    A month ago, I blogged about deciding not to give Cooper consequences for bad behavior anymore. It seemed like a bad plan, but it was a plan I’d pieced together after wading through mounds of parenting advice. Many sources alluded to the child whose behavior is made worse by consequences, but none of the sources full-on recommended just removing the consequences. But it was something to try, and Thad and I had tried everything else out there. I hoped it would help, and I figured it couldn’t hurt. And at least we have a plan.

    We’d spent months in a power struggle with a wily 7-year-old. The words “…or there will be a consequence” were the most frequently heard words from my lips. Unfortunately, I ran out of consequences looooong, long ago. Take away toys? Useless. Time out? Ha! Drop and give me 10? Actually one of the few that still seemed to help, though not because he hated doing pushups. It just changed the mood.

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    This year, I was room mom for Cooper’s 1st grade class. Room moms at our school have a list of responsibilities, all fun, but I walked in to the “welcome to being a room mom” meeting thinking, “I can round up cupcakes for a few parties,” and walked out with a much longer “to do” list than I anticipated. It was a little overwhelming, although looking back, I enjoyed it all.

    But I sit here today, trying to pin down plans for an end of year party. We’ve been told that this is usually just a pizza party, no games or anything, and I have a budget to buy pizza. 

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    “What do you want for Mother’s Day?” asked Thad.

    I cringed, as truth popped out of my mouth. I knew, beyond doubt, that I have turned into my mother. I have specific memories of criticizing my mom mercilessly when she gave me this same, exact answer.

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    This week, I undertook the monumental task of excavating Sylvia’s room. What would I find? Would the floors still be wood?  Piece by piece, I removed the 3” thick layer of clothes, tiny toys and stuffed animals, to reveal the room I once knew.

    Encouraged by my progress, I decided to do a little rearranging. I removed her toddler bed, and replaced it with a twin sized “big girl” bed, and started shoving furniture around the room. A variety of questions crossed my mind. What would make it easiest to get her dirty clothes out? How could I provide myself the easiest path to put away her clean clothes? How could I make her toy box most accessible, making it easiest for her to clean up after playing? What would be best in the event of a drive-by shooting?

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    The Power of Love
    1465 Views

    2006
    Well, that’s just stupid
    , I thought to myself, listening to the parenting expert with some umpteen years of experience in early childhood development under her belt. She was telling us some ridiculous theory that certain types of kids thrive on negative attention, and for those kids, the consequence is actually a reward. WhatEVAH.

    2011
    I’d been home alone with the kids the whole weekend. Thad had gone fishing, and I’d gone into parenting overdrive, attempting to speed read a book recommended by the school’s social worker, hoping to find the key to the problems we’ve been experiencing with Cooper. (If you're not up to date on this, you can find out about it in last week's blog.)

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    Two weeks ago, soon after my “Is anybody listening to me?” blog post, I sat at a school conference with Cooper’s teacher and the reading specialist. They’d asked me to discuss his behavior and reading, surprise, surprise. Not.

    After testing in January, he’d starting seeing the reading specialist at school. No major concerns, just a little slow on the fluency. Extra practice at home, extra practice at school, we’d get there, he’d already shown improvement.

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    Panty Raid
    2139 Views

    Sylvia has a little friend who we like to have over. Two or three times a month, she comes over and they disappear to Sylvia’s room where they try on fancy clothes, drag stuffed animals all over the floor, and twitter and giggle about rubber baby dolls. Every single time --- EVERY SINGLE TIME --- I hear a loud, “MOM, Your Little Daughter Friend wet her pa-ants.”

    I’m friends with this little girl’s mom. Actually, we were high school pals, and after a many years with no contact, we picked back up on our friendship fluently. Sylvia had a hard time committing her friend’s name to memory, so she called her “Your Little Daughter Friend”. It stuck, even after she could finally remember her friend’s name.

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    “Beetle!” I screech shout demand forcefully wail belt out, “get OFF the sofa!!!”

    His tail thumps against the cushion; he sits, eyeballing me curiously.

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    “Every day, children in our community face unspeakable atrocities,” began Elizabeth Alex, introducing the program on play therapy, and how it’s used at TLC for Children. (www.kidstlc.org).  The room was full of happy, excited children, buzzing with anticipation over the expected guests and it was a little hard to hear. But moms of young children can hear past chattery hoopla, and Ms. Alex’s words cut neatly through the happy cacophony, straight to my heart.

    Disney’s Toy Story III on Ice was in town, and Disney ambassadors, Buzz Lightyear and Woody, as well as some of the skaters, had scheduled a visit to TLC for Children to visit with the kids and donate tickets to the show to them. Along with a handful of other moms, I was invited to participate, learn more about the charity, learn about some play therapy techniques to use with our own families, do a Toy Story craft with our kids, and last, but not least, meet Buzz and Woody themselves.

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    Lifting a Burden
    1276 Views

    After an average day on the ski slopes, I have flopped head-over-heels like Raggedy Ann approximately 3 times, done the splits – both traditional and Chinese, face planted into a pile of ice, been hung by a toe on a tree branch, skidded down the hill on my back – head first – far enough to have snow in my underwear, and spent 45 minutes digging myself out of a snow drift. At least, that’s what it was like when I was younger and a little more resilient. Back when I was not satisfied to safely swoosh down a hill that didn’t challenge me.

    At the end of the day with my intestines hanging out one ear, and with my legs removed and reattached – but reversed, the last thing I wanted to do is stagger like Frankenstein’s snow monster in my stiff boots and carry my darn skis. But that’s what you have to do. You have to carry your heavy, awkward skis that cut painfully into your shoulders on your exhausted, stiff, achy, swelling, sometimes bleeding, body.

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    Fine Arts Camp
    1149 Views

    It was a low-budget, low-cost production, and my wages had already been paid in full, in the form of flattery.

    “I heard they were looking for a creative writing teacher for the fine arts camp, and I immediately thought of you!” said my friend.  The compliment filled my heart like sunshine, and I couldn’t say “no”. I didn’t even want to say no. I was excited and inspired, ready to embrace the challenge.

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    I once made a racist remark directly to a black friend of mine. Right to his face.

    “Oh, Emily, YOU of ALL PEOPLE.” He clutched both hands to his chest dramatically.

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    The 'F' Word
    1059 Views

    Our elementary school hosts an auction as the main school fundraiser. A country club hosts the event, where hundreds of donated items are auctioned to the families. We were lucky to have both my parents and Thad’s parents come along with us to enjoy the meal, visit with others, and of course, bid on some of the enticing auction items.

    I looked forward to chatting with parents we know, and perhaps meeting other parents. I’d heard some staff attends, and it made me happy to see Cooper’s teacher there. We sat down at a large table with some people we knew, and some others we didn't know. I noticed the name on their nametags. It looked familiar.

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    Oh, hello. Yes, um, it’s Emily… 

    Oh, you know who I am? I’m so flattered…

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    Hair Brain
    2224 Views

    I have better things to be worrying about. More pressing issues. A long to-do list that doesn’t need to have several entries devoted to hair-related concerns. But for whatever reason, hair has crept to the top of my “nagging issues” and “fleeting thoughts” lists lately.

    Dog Hair
    We’ve had these mutts since September.  At first, I noticed the house was unusually dusty, but I determined that it was more likely something to do with the furnace than it was dust clinging to the dogs after lounging outside for hours on end.  But sometime around the holidays, probably right before Christmas, I started noticing an excess of dog hair in the house.

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    It felt like the Devil himself crawled up into my armpits with a fanny pack stuffed full of poison ivy leaves. One by one, he’d pull them out and rub them all around my pits, then sit back and watch me squirm. It was that stinging, out loud, make me bug-eyed kind of itch. The kind that made me claw and think self-mutilating thoughts of surgically amputating my armpits with a Ginsu.

    I stopped using deodorant first. It was the obvious substance applied only to my armpits. In the shower, I scrubbed and scrubbed, trying to get any trace of the waxy stuff off of there.

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    “Mommy, when me and Tucker grow up, maybe we could be cowgirl and cowboy. And our kids, too. Maybe they can be cowkids.”

    Sylvia had a faraway look in her 4-year-old eyes, and a wistful, faint smile on her little pink lips.

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    “I’m Frances,” she barked gruffly in her low, gravely voice, as she barged her way in my front door. She dropped her heavy bag on the floor and looked around. Her withered face squinted, her long, greasy gray hair pulled back into a bun. An overwhelming smell of disinfectant filled the air around her. She was stout and short. Her clothing looked better than I’d expected, but her feet were wrapped in shiny silver duct tape, just as promised.

    New to Philadelphia, she’d been recommended as an affordable, reliable cleaning lady. She was homeless and lived in an old brown Ford. Many hand-written signs filled the windows of her car, warning anyone who would read them of government conspiracies and cover-ups.

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    How low can I go?
    1451 Views

    The lovely, fluffy snow softly filtered through the trees, blanketing the brown, hard ground in white. The temperature hovered in the high twenties, warm enough to be comfortable for playing, but cold enough that the snow was at no risk of melting.

    I was working towards a deadline, and unlike the kids, the snow did not relieve me of my daily duties. We invited a friend over for each, and I kept an eye on the overall picture while working on my project. It was nearing completion.

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    Is this some kind of cruel joke? I look at my baby birds, mouths open wide, hopping after me, screeching about the hunger in the pits of their bellies. Didn’t I JUST fix dinner? Oh, that was 24 hours ago? Well, lunch was only 3 hours ago.

    Fine. I’ll feed them.

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    I lived in Philadelphia for a couple of years during the late 90's in a nice suburb north of the city. Every day, I rode the commuter train to the heart of the city, which they call “Center City” rather than “downtown”. I worked just blocks away from the Liberty Bell, Ben Franklin’s old stomping grounds, and the art museum, its steps made famous by Sylvester Stallone running up and down them in the Rocky movies. These areas were pristine.

    There was a road, “Broad Street”, that went directly from my home to Center City, past the famous Temple University, well-traveled by people of all sorts and economic levels. Business people rolled along in their Mercedes and Lexus sedans on their way to work. 

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    Life is Tweet
    1528 Views

    December 25, 2010
    12:21 p.m.

    It may seem to some that I’m working (for free) on Christmas, writing this blog in the middle of the holiday. But I scheduled things this way on purpose.

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    Santa’s been having trouble this year.

    It’s the kind of trouble that shouldn’t really be trouble. It’s a case of a simple Christmas wish list, gone twistedly awry. A child’s perfectly reasonable request turned into weeks worth of work, doubt, and turmoil, hopefully not to end in disappointment.

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    Do you ever get an earworm? A song stuck in your head as it plays over and over and over again? This year, I find the song about Dominick the Christmas Donkey to be especially dangerous.

    But I’ve had another earworm recently, and it’s my theme song for this blog. This song’s lyrics are thought-provoking and really capture the Christmassy spirit of giving selflessly. It also, incidentally, inspires me to bust an awkward white-girl hip-hop raise the roof move every time I hear it. No, it’s not a Christmas song. It is also NOT (mostly) about what I originally guessed it to be about.

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    Here I sit, back to the Christmas tree listening to Spongebob crooning, “Don’t be a Jerk, it’s Christmas.” The tree is…lovely, though it leaves room for improvement. Improvement that will come in due time.

    The tree is lit with hundreds of lights from the bottom up, with the top ¼ or so of the tree unlit. There’s a large divot in the tree, at about adult eye-level, where the broken branches have yet to be wired on.

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    It was a dark combination. I was harried and lacking patience, having rushed from working to housework to trying to find clothes for the photos back to housework, ridden by anxiety over the upcoming holiday feast at my house. Sylvia, the Princess of Whine, was unable to maintain her composure, sobbing at the slightest sideways glance or drop of spilled milk. Thad was tired. Very tired, having worked too much and not slept quite enough for the week. Then Cooper added his lead-weighted mood, an internal anger manifested in a disrespectful attitude that would rival any teen, an emotional turmoil that would rival any hormonal girl, and an explosiveness that would rival any tantruming 3-year-old, all rolled into the body of a first grader.

    We were going to have our family portrait taken. I’d sneaked shopping trips into errands to identify matching (enough) outfits, tights that would fit, and jeans that weren’t too short, all at the expense of cleaning my disastrous home, just 2 days before Thanksgiving. Cooper raged in the bathroom, announcing he was never, ever, getting his picture taken again. Never. Sylvia cried, apparently just because she could, wanting nothing but to hang on to me. And Thad grumped around, trying to be helpful, and trying to keep his cool as the rest of us lost our own small senses of cool.

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    You might have thought I was wearing a couple of gutted opossums on my hands, tails tied into pink, hairless bows at the wrists.

    They were my new mittens. Mittens for which I’d paid a bit of a premium price. Things have been tight lately – very tight – but my freelance and small business opportunities have been picking up. I’ve been working very hard, and thought I deserved a splurge.

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    It seems a case of the “life is tough blues” is going around. Finances, marital woes, health problems, and other major life crises have been bombing my friends and family from all directions in a bamboozling blitz of bad breaks.

    One unlucky soul is particularly stricken by devastation, and is handling it especially poorly. The one being dear Sylvia.

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    When my Aunt Gayla, my mom’s sister, announced that her days were numbered, the family gathered together in a vigil of sorts. The doctors were concerned by her condition and her body’s unwillingness to heal. My uncle (Gayla's brother-in-law), the theologian of the family, flew to Kansas City and counseled the family members who were all reeling from the shock of the possibility of losing Aunt Gayla.

    Sure enough, it was only a matter of days before we lost her. Something like 8,654 days, or 24 years.

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    Evil creatures are rallying together. They’re plotting and spreading through the land, invading and preying on whomever they can find, favoring the young and weak. They’re everywhere, unseen, flying deftly through a fog, slimy and silent. They colonize quickly, and attack in numbers.

    Mad scientists work feverishly, concocting potions and serums, waiting for victims to appear.

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    Halloween is one week away, and my children have no costumes! This is disturbing, and uncharacteristic for our family.

    In years past, our Halloween festivities started early – my rule was to not put up decorations until after my birthday – September 11.  That didn’t keep the kids from begging, though. Starting as early as, oh, January, they would sneak to the basement and bring up a plastic pumpkin or something from our Halloween decorations. Last year, Cooper requested Halloween lights in his room – which I went ahead and put up for him.

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    A couple weeks ago, an episode of Glee featured the divine and unexplained appearance of Jesus – on a grilled cheese sandwich. The apparition was (to me) obviously divine, as the sandwich was grilled on a Foreman grill, which would leave lines, not “Cheesus”.

    Finn, the dumb jock with a good heart who grilled up Cheesus was moved to prayer. Three times he prayed to Cheesus, and each time his prayers were magically answered. He prayed for high school boy stuff, including being reinstated as quarterback on the football team, and that his girlfriend would allow him to touch her, ahem, under her shirt. As the favors he asked of Cheesus were given to him, vending machine-style, his faith in a greater power blossomed.

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    Sylvia has a little friend named Tucker. Tucker is extremely popular with the 4-year-old crowd at church - the preschool equivalent of the captain of the football team. Which I guess is captain of the “silly team”.  His blue eyes smile all the time, and he’s goofy and happy. When Tucker walks in the room, all the kids shout, “Tucker’s here!”

    It’s not just the kids that are delighted by Tucker. The adults, too enjoy this jovial little fellow. He’s polite, follows directions, and plays well with others. Therein lies at least a portion of the key to his popularity, he entertains the other kids, making childcare a little bit easier for those in charge.

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    Pop Quiz
    812 Views

    School’s back in session. What unpleasant necessity comes along with school? Tests. Today we’re going to have a pop quiz. It will test previously covered materials, but there’s really no reason why you should know the answers to all the questions, so on some, you’ll have to guess. Yep, I’m that kind of teacher. 

    Since this is a shameless self-promotion for some of my favorite older blogs that you may not have read, and I realize this is no exciting Cosmo quiz, I’ve answered some of them for you, and linked to the blogs where you can find the answers.

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    At a moment of desperation, nagged at by a to-do list a mile long, I realized I was counting how many days left I had on various staples.

    2 breakfasts worth of eggs
    3 rolls of toilet paper
    no bread, but enough flour to make a loaf

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    Spa Treatment
    870 Views

    “Is your son wearing a red shirt?” asked the lady on the playground, walking towards me with purpose, no smile on her face. Her demeanor, raised eyebrows, and purposeful tone all screamed loud and clear, “Brace yourself.”

    The school playground is large. A mom who doesn’t know what color shirt her child is wearing won’t be able to pick them out if they’re on opposite sides of the schoolyard. Sylvia and I had been hanging out by the swings, and I’d glanced Cooper’s way often, seeing him running and climbing with a group of boys. I’d been able identify him by his red shirt and blonde hair.

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    Announcing....
    1145 Views

    A few years ago the nature of my birthday requests changed. Back in the day, before kids, I guess, I hoped for stylish new sweaters, jewelry, items for my home, etc. Luxury items meant for me, things I wanted but didn’t need. Items meant to improve image and lifestyle.

    Soon before the kids came along, my focus changed. For one thing, I’m kind of past the birthday party with all my friends bringing gifts stage. I have a few friends who still shower me with love and surprises, but it’s mostly just close family that gets me things.

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    Misunderstood
    1371 Views

    It’s so easy to jump to conclusions. Misunderstandings arise often. Daily. Sometimes hourly in our household. If something "falls on deaf ears," it seems that's a far cry better than falling on half-deaf ears.

    For instance, sometimes Thad, with slightly impared hearing from too much loud music when he was younger, will miss a key word in a sentence.

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    A Lame Poem
    797 Views

    Twas the day before blogging, my mind felt numb,
    No idea, not a story, my thoughts had gone dumb.
    The kids? They’d been ornery, why no tale could I spin?
    But each incident I nixed, turned down once and again.

    I felt under the weather, my throat covered with spots,
    Nose stuffed up and runny, ears plagued with loud pops.
    There were things to be done, and places to go,
    But my blog must be written, I hoped it would not blow.

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    Whatcha Got?
    926 Views

    Splashing around in the pool with my family, I spotted a familiar face. Swimming laps, then resting in the shade, was my friends’ dad, Paul. His daughters, Cindy and Val, have been my collective best friends for about 25 years.

    I’ve rarely seen him without his glasses, wet hair plastered to his head, so it took me just a moment to recognize him. (We laugh at Lois for not recognizing Clark as Superman, but I admit, I too was confused by absent spectacles.)

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    We Aw the Guwulz!
    1137 Views

    So, what exactly is a bon bon, anyway? I know that as a stay at home mom, I’m supposed to be lying around eating them, having tea parties, and preparing elaborate, balanced meals for my family. The components of our gourmet meal should be set on the table in serving dishes complimenting the centerpiece, with matching placemats. Each morning, I should be attending Jane Fonda style aerobics classes, and teaching my kids the fine arts of embroidery, macramé, and papermache. I should be reading Moby Dick aloud to my bright-eyed children, carting them to dance, soccer, and etiquette classes. Presumably, the etiquette teacher would be using them as examples of perfect grooming.

    OK, I admit, I never expected to be June Cleaver. But my vision of being a SAHM, prior to actually trying it, was much more glamorous and productive than what I’ve accomplished.

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    It’s not that I want entire albums worth of photos with my kids covered from head to toe in flour, brownie batter, blueberries, or blue icing. But it goes back to the old adage, “if life gives you messes, take pictures.” Or did I just make that up?

    Once upon a time, I dreamed of cooking with my kids. I have fond memories of cooking with my mom. I’d sit on the counter, twirling a spoon in the bowl as she showed me how to slowly stir, touching the bottom of a mixing bowl, to ensure that all ingredients were properly mixed.

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    I sat on the sofa, the kids tucked snugly in bed, soaking in some “me” time as I watched a rerun of Modern Family. My ears perked, detecting a barely audible sound in the dark hall. I peered into the darkness and gasped, spotting a shadowy figure lurking in the darkness. I stifled a scream as it moved quickly toward me. Moments later, weapon in hand, I pulled the trigger. The intruder writhed on the ground. I knew I’d dealt a lethal shot, but I couldn’t wait, I shot again.

    That story is 100% true, and took place earlier this week. The hardest part to believe (for me, anyway) is that I actually heard the large, common spider (I think a funnel web spider) running across my floor. (note to all you arachnophobes, please read on. I’m aiming to educate, and hopefully reassure.) This is the second such spider I’ve seen “make a run for it” from my front door to other parts of my home, proving that it’s spider season. Hence the handy dandy bottle of anti-spider spray I had sitting nearby.

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    Scrappy Mama
    920 Views

    “Well, that was hellish,” I muttered under my breath to my husband as we walked to the car.

    “Your discussion looked a little…heated,” he replied, clearly amused, and curious about what set me off enough to engage in a slightly escalated discussion with another mom, thigh-deep in the pool. “You got a little scrappy out there,” he added, with a hint of delight to his voice.

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    In one of those classic articles that swoops the internet, an advice columnist, Carolyn Hax, answers the bone-headed question: “Why don’t friends with kids have time?” (Click to Read)

    The woman who asked the question did a phenomenal job of belittling the efforts involved in mommyhood, allowing Ms. Hax to respond with a snappy comeback. With wit and sass, she succinctly described the challenges which moms (and dads) face on a daily basis. And although the questioner directed her scrutiny towards stay-home moms, the response applies to anyone in a parenting role.

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    Moving Up
    814 Views

    A veteran swimming lesson mom, I had no trouble packing the swim bag. Heck, it was already packed, since I’m also a veteran pool mom. With a quick glance into the bag, I mentally checked off everything I needed. Tear-free sunscreen (check), goggles (check), two towels (check). I used my super-slowing mommy vision to capture freeze-frame glimpses of the two blurs racing through the house to see swimsuits (check) and shoes suitable to get one across a parking lot (check).

    In the past I might have lugged water bottles, a camera, a book for myself, dry clothes for the kids, or other items that would have sat unused in the bottom of my bag.

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    A couple that camps together has a better chance at an enduring marriage. This is a finding from a study that I read about years ago, prior to marrying my sweetie. An article I’ve been unable to find since, so you’ll have to take my word on this one – you’ll just have to trust that I have my facts straight.

    The article was talking about common threads in marriages that fail, and marriages that stand the test of time. It listed some common sense, frequently published marital tips - nothing surprising. Communication, respect, yada yada. But as almost a side note, they mentioned that in the sampling of couples interviewed, the only measurable data that set the strong marriages apart from the failing marriages was camping. 

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    December 21

    Thad’s 40th birthday party was pulled off without a hitch! A good time was had by all, especially him. The turnout was good, the refreshments refreshing, and he even received some nice (though totally unnecessary) gifts! There’s just one thing I’m worried about – one of his gifts. A week-long fishing trip to Canada. A gift from his parents.

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    It’s 1978. Seven-year-old Emily giggles as she helps her mom wrap the birthday/Father’s day gift for her dad. Her mom’s ploy is genius, Emily thinks, as they plop the old-style can opener into the shoebox along with something much, much lighter. Dad will never guess what’s in here!

    Dad comes in the front door (home from work maybe?) and no one can wait to give him his gift. He opens it. He pulls the can opener out of the shoebox and looks at it quizzically. Emily will laugh for years about giving her dad a can opener as a gift. Not just any can opener, a rusty old can opener out of the kitchen drawer.

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    I’m one of those people who like to volunteer. It makes me happy to be a part of a team, offer creative input, be useful, function as a cog in the mechanism. Room mom, check. Member of committees for whatever groups I’m involved in, check. Provider of snacks, check. Volunteer for fundraisers, check.

    But ask me to volunteer for Vacation Bible School? Um, no thanks. At least, that’s how I felt two years ago, the first time I was strongly encouraged to help. They tried to bribe me, promising that my toddlers (who screamed every time I tried to leave them in childcare) would be taken care of and entertained. They offered a reduced schedule. They talked it up, touted its far-reaching benefits, promised I’d love it, assured me I would have fun, described an array of duties from which I could choose, but I wasn’t having it.

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    Hello My Name Is
    957 Views

    In an act of attempted self-preservation, I laid down an edict. Nobody took me seriously, of course, but I actually wasn’t kidding. At that moment, and many other moments over the past week, I really, truly, honestly from the bottom of my heart didn’t want to hear the word “mom” one more time. I’m not saying I never wanted to hear it again, but until it could be used appropriately – in moderation, responsibly, with acceptable inflection, I was prepared to just eliminate it from the daily verbal repertoire.

    Isn’t it funny how the very word that was so sweet coming out of the mouths of my precious babbling babies can now make me a little loopy? And I think the key word here is “babbling”. It’s still the word they use to practice their babbling. The repetitive “mamamamama” that once enraptured me is now arranged to new scores, and frankly, I’m ready for some new lyrics around here.

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    I just completed my first year with a child in public school. I chalk it up as a great success. Crazypants Cooper, or Tenacious C, as we sometimes call him, entered the school a wily, rambunctious, slow to follow directions, Oppositional with a capital O, button-pusher. His favorite pastime was finding the exception to the rule, thwarting the plan, and causing trouble without doing anything to get himself in trouble.

    He’d learn the rules of the game to see if he could “improve upon them”. He stared at the girl who didn’t want to be looked at. He called his sister pretty to make her cry, since she preferred to be “regular”. He turned stoic during excitement, and became excited during periods of calm. He required all my focus, and Thad and I grappled with strategies to steer a potential super-villain (with the superpower of turning any situation upside down) to the good side.

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    Lost Treasure
    783 Views

    "Mommy, I have a surprise for you," Sylvia announced with a sweet smile on her face. "It's under my pillow."

    Of course. Since we removed the side from her crib, allowing her free roam in her room, she’s stashed an assortment of items under her pillow. I’ve found little treasures of all kinds. Littlest Pet Shop animals, candy, candy wrappers, rubber snakes and bugs, real living bugs, a pile of raw broccoli, pencils, rocks – these things and more have been hoarded beneath her pillow.

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    “Schools out, schools out, teacher let the monkeys out!”

    I’ve been teaching my son this little ditty so he can celebrate properly on his last day of school. I remember the kids erupting in this song after the last bell on my last day of 8th grade – the end of my time at the Jr. High. As we jovially made our final trek to the bus, we all sang it together. Some kids got a bright idea of ripping all the pages out of their notebooks and throwing them out the bus windows. I did not participate in the littermobile, but I do remember the elated feeling that started in the pit of my stomach – and felt a little bit like nervousness.

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    “I’ll be in the back yard most of the day. Everyone will be over at 4:00 for dinner. I’m cooking, you don’t have to do anything except enjoy the kids.”

    Out went my husband to plant the redbud tree he got me. I sat there cradling my temporarily sleeping baby Sylvia, watching 2 year old Cooper eying the house, looking for some mischief to cause. Like I did every single day.

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    Apply Lotion
    705 Views

    As a mom of young kids, I am in a season of intense service to my family. After doing every little thing for my helpless infants, my preschoolers continue to require constant monitoring, care and attention.

    My hands have taken a beating during all this service. From morning till night, they clean everything from dishes to floors to poopy little bottoms. They dig worms, plant flowers, push swings, wipe noses, prepare meals, and clean the turtle tank, and I wash them between each and every task. It wasn’t long before they developed patches of eczema: itchy, oozy, blistering dry skin reminiscent of poison ivy. I tried to protect them, applied salves and creams, did all I could, but it just wouldn’t go away. It was time to seek professional help.

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    Just let me poison the environment in peace, I think to myself, my hands squeezed into child-sized Garfield gardening gloves. It’s not the first time the environmentalists have come after me, but this time, the assault is a doozy.

     

    It would be one thing if they made any sense, but they’re illiterate, uneducated hypocrites making inane claims about topics that frankly, I don’t think they’ve even researched. There’s one thing I have to give them though - they’re passionate.

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    The Kites
    Walking towards the fields of kites on the cool, windy day reminded me of a childhood trip to San Francisco. My family had explored San Francisco for days, chilled by the damp, overcast windy weather. We boarded one of the famed trolley cars, and rode up and down the steep hillsides. My aunt, always secretive about the surprises she held in store for us, hinted that we had almost reached our destination. The trolley halted, and we saw a crowded hillside park. The thick clouds had parted, revealing a brilliant blue sky dotted with brightly colored kites in shapes I’d never imagined. The grass lawn was flocked with kite enthusiasts, picnickers, and onlookers.

    The hillside at Longview lacked the salty bite in the air, but like the San Francisco park, the warm, sunny sky was filled with colorful kites of all shapes and sizes. A short hike from our parking spot brought us to a field filled with amateur kite-flyers with an assortment of kites, from old-fashioned box and diamond-shaped kites, fancy geometrical shapes, a giant octopus, a snake, dragons, Hello Kitty, Darth Vader’s Tie Fighter, butterflies, ladybugs, dogs, a pirate ship, the space shuttle, you name it, it was there, I could go on for pages.

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    I enter a small boutique, more upscale than my normal large chain shopping haunts. My eye immediately wanders the room until it finally spots the clearance rack. Old habits die hard. I head to the small rack near the back of the room, but stop before I get there, distracted by a beautiful, funky, fun-but-chic dress. I cringe at the triple-digit price tag, but find my size and take it to the dressing room anyway. After all, this is a very special occasion.

    Dressing for the evening, I can’t help but run back one last time to view my beautiful dress in the mirror. While larger, flashy jewelry would be in order, I’ve chosen the delicate, simple necklace Thad gave me the night before our wedding. This special night is about us. It’s about promises we’ve made to each other and to ourselves. We’re celebrating accomplishment, joint venture, family goals. Through one giant act of teamwork, we’re finally realizing this shared dream.

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    I sat near the maze of tunnels, far below the ruckus of squealing, giggling kids. My kids plus 5 or 6 others had been playing merrily for an hour or so.

    Sylvia emerged from the covered slide at ground level, looking forlorn. She came to me, climbed into my lap, and sadly said, “Mom, those kids won’t play with me. Why won’t those kids play with me?” A tear rolled down her flushed little cheek, and she laid her head against me.

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    Our hypothetical kids are extremely well-behaved. They make us so darn proud! They have responded to our consistent, firm-but-loving parenting techniques, have absorbed every bit of knowledge and guidance they’ve been exposed to, and are healthy and polite, mostly due to the excellent training they’ve received.

    But our real kids make a strong case for the nature side of the nurture vs. nature debate. This debate asks the question of whether kids are products of their surroundings, or if they’re just born the way they are, period, and we can’t do anything about it.

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    As I said in last week’s blog, Cooper turned 6 last week. And while I reflected on the six years since he was born, I failed to mention a very important thing. His birthday party.

    Believe me, his birthday was foremost on my mind. We tend to go all-out for these things. But as I’ve divulged in previous blogs, I kind of flip out when getting ready for a party. I’ve learned several things from this pre-celebration hysteria. For one thing, it’s not fun. For another, it’s exhausting. And another – it’s centered almost solely around trying to get my house spotless and keep it that way long enough to get the party underway.

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    Slow As...
    975 Views

    “Can you believe he’s turning six?” my mom asked. “I just can’t believe it! Six!”

    I shook my head in agreement. “No, I can’t believe it.”

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    Freelance Fairy
    1008 Views

    Once upon a time, there was a tiny fairy named Bianca. Bianca lived in the magical land of fairies, surrounded by her fairy family and friends. She had completed the fairy academy, graduated from Fairy U with a degree in drama (as if fairies need any help being dramatic) and was ready to set out into fairy kingdom on her own.

    Bianca had located a charming knothole in a towering, historic oak tree, close to the popular nectar establishments. Young fairies and pixies flocked to the area businesses to watch goblin bands and participate in ring dances. She knew it was exactly where she wanted to live. But first, she would have to find a job to pay the rent.

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    First Dive
    876 Views

    When Thad and I were planning our honeymoon, Thad thought it would be fun for us to learn how to scuba dive and work that into our honeymoon. While researching places to scuba, he identified Florida as a place with beautiful coral reefs, freshwater caves to dive and explore, and the unique opportunity to snorkel with manatees. 

    I had never considered taking up scuba. I didn’t know that deep caves full of freshwater aquarium fish (like guppies) existed, and although I’d heard of manatees, I wasn’t really sure what they were. But, impressed by his research and planning skills, and willing to fake a somewhat stronger sense of adventure than the one God had actually bestowed on me (in order to impress the man I loved), I agreed.

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    The scarred, crumpled piece of paper laid on the table. A pencil with a broken tip sat nearby, three other pencils lined up beside it, sharpened and ready to go. The paper had his name written across the top in a mixture of capital and lower case letters, several of the letters written backwards. A grid on the paper, ten squares wide, ten squares tall, waited to be filled in with the numbers one through one hundred.

    One through forty had been filled in, then down the right side, ten through one hundred, in tens. The “1” was written hard, with enough pressure to break the tip of a pencil, scribbled up and down to make a very thick number. Most of the numbers were written backwards.

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    Valentine’s Day is a holiday I’ve always enjoyed. It’s taken on different shapes and forms, some Valentine’s Days memorably romantic, others memorably sucky, and quite a few that I truly can’t recall.

    So, the thing about this Valentine’s Day is that, like for so many others out there, money’s been tight. We’re not complaining for one moment – Thad’s kept his job through difficult times, and we’ve been very thankful for that. But the delicate balance of our bank account cannot withstand much excess fluff.

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    Space Case(s)
    1022 Views

    Cooper’s relaxed little hand fit loosely in my own as we headed into the restaurant. We ran unnecessarily across the drive-through lane, the only car in it parked safely in front of the pickup window, waiting for their food.

    My son and I had a lunch date, and I agreed to treat him to his favorite restaurant, filling a time gap between picking him up from school and showing up for his dentist appointment. He was happy and relaxed, and I knew this, but it was coming off as dazed and confused.

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    As I walked into my parent’s house, picking up my kids from an afternoon visit, I saw some mail addressed to me, set out on the piano. It's my childhood home, I lived there the first 20 years of my life. As an adult, I lived there for a few months during a move. Old friends with whom I’ve lost touch have looked me up through their address. And statements from one of my retirement accounts gets mailed to them – because I have never bothered to update my address. The envelope waiting there was from my retirement account.

    Written on the envelope was a first name. It’s an unusual name, that of an old friend. I was pretty sure the name referenced my old friend – and I was correct.

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    Growth Spurt
    1012 Views

    “Mom, I’m hungry. I need something to eat right now. While I’m eating it, can you start fixing something else so it will be ready when I’m done with this? Is it ready yet? Can I have more? Do we have any peas? More blueberries!!! Could I have another banana? I need apples, mom, right now. Are we out of strawberries? Would you please fix me a piece of toast with butter? I need soup, mom, could you make some soup? How long will it take? I need soup! What’s this stuff called again? Yay! Broccoli!”


    Their tones range from pleading and desperate to demanding and angry. My ravenous little piranhas devour everything in sight in a never-ending feeding frenzy. They wake up early, standing at the side of my bed, staring in my face saying “I’m hungry.” At night, as I tuck them in, they weakly lament, “I’m still hungry.”

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    I have this pesky parrot. He’s invisible to everyone else, but he rides around on my shoulder squawking and talking in my ear, sometimes nipping at me with his sharp beak, occasionally pooping down my back. His name’s Chip.

    He’s not a very nice bird - kind of a bully who thinks he’s funny, pointing out my mistakes, and telling me things that may or may not be true.

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    January Pool Mom
    1012 Views

    The day I discovered the public pool was a fine, fine day in my life as a SAHM (stay at home mom).

    Of course I knew they were there. You can see them from the road. Their signs clearly state that it’s a pool. I saw people walking to or from them, wearing swimsuits, carrying beach towels. Yep, I was aware that they existed.

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    Y2K+10
    890 Views

    On New Year’s Eve, at 9:30, my husband and I sat in our darkened family room. We sprawled on our sofas wearing our sweats.

    This wasn’t our plan. Thad’s stomach was throwing a fit, so we abandoned our original agenda to hit three parties, and instead hit the couch.

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    I love to throw parties and entertain. I enjoy putting out a buffet of delectable goodies beautifully displayed on platters. I take pride in my home, seasonally decorated and inviting. I look forward to visiting with friends and family, laughing into the wee hours of the night. It’s one of my favorite things to do.

    Theoretically.

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    Spouses come with surprises. Some are pleasant surprises, others are less pleasant. I suppose those who don’t date long prior to getting married, get the biggest surprises.

    Thad and I knew each other about a year and a half before getting married. This is a short enough period of time that we’ve both gotten some surprises over the last 8 years of our marriage. None have been too bad – but as the word “surprise” implies, they’ve been unexpected.

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    It’s mid-December. Time to create some holiday magic.

    Christmas magic has always seemed real to me, whispering into the air in late November, swirling through the nights through December, and finally lighting like a soft snow on everything on Christmas morning.

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    I have a memory of sitting next to my Grandma (my mom’s mother) on her lime green metal swing, overlooking the cove of the lake.

    I don’t remember what question I asked her, or the answer she gave me, but I will never, ever forget the conversation that followed.

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    Some of my most meaningful conversations take place at the park, these days. As my kids’ friendships are budding, I’ve built and been strengthened by friendships with the moms of their playmates.

    Whether I’m meeting up with old friends, getting to better know new friends, or chatting with complete strangers, while our children play, we mommies sit down together on the "park bench confessional”.

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    City Christmas tree lighting ceremonies take place. Neighbor’s houses shine bright with twinkling lights. The week of Thanksgiving kicks off the Christmas season with a bang.

    In our home, we celebrate Christmas with all the jingle bells and candy whistles, sprinkling nativities, snowmen, Rudolphs, and advent calendars throughout our home. Elves sneak in every night to leave treats for the kids in their advent calendars. Something else, that to me seems like a perversion of the season, also worms its way in – I call it Santa Discipline.

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    The first Thanksgiving I spent with my husband Thad’s family was on his grandparent’s farm in a tiny rural Missouri town north of Trenton. We’d been dating for several months, and he invited me to spend the holiday with him.

    I felt awkward, driving up to spend two nights with their large family. I hadn’t even met some of the family members, including his sister. She rode with us on the 100-mile drive to their grandparent’s modest farmhouse.

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    Oh, To Tutu Too
    976 Views

    You’ve heard of “pica.” It’s a disorder that can occur where someone has strong cravings to eat non-food items. Usually the craving is for dirt, or chalk or paper - something that you’re not going to serve up at the dinner table.

    Pica indicates a malnourishment. People who experience this are often pregnant, probably in need of extra minerals that can be found in earth. Of course, all kinds of dangerous things are in dirt, so rather than indulging in a mud pie, they’re advised to go to the doctor.

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    My husband says I make all the decisions about the kids. Is this true? Maybe. Partly. Not so much because I insist (or maybe that’s part of it) but he usually defers to my highly-Googled, thoroughly researched opinions. I’m sure he doesn’t always think I’m right. I know I’m not always right.

    So although I would like to attribute this mistake to him, the sports junkie, the former soccer player, the guy who still reminisces about high school sports, I’m actually the one who made this bone-headed decision.

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    Since he was tiny, Cooper has had an obsession with the macabre. For someone with an affinity for the spooky, Halloween is a pretty exciting time of year. As a baby, we drove him around in the evenings to listen to him squeal and howl at every illuminated ghost, jack-o-lantern, and tombstone stuck in peoples’ yards. He now looks forward to Halloween all year. As soon as the pools close, he’s ready to get out our decorations.

    He’s been known to include all things Halloween in his prayers. At a family dinner, he wanted to say the blessing. Surrounded by my in-laws, including my husband’s sister, parents, and grandparents, Cooper’s prayer went something like this:

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    5-year-old Cooper has found his calling in life. He’s going to be a toymaker, with aspirations to eventually move to the North Pole to aid Santa and his elves.

    It all started with an eel. A friend helped Cooper make a sock puppet, providing a sock and some felt pieces to glue on. But it was clear to Cooper that this sock should be stuffed, extended, and sewn closed.

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    If anyone is reading this, please help!

    I’m being held prisoner. I’m locked in my bedroom right now, hopefully long enough to finish this message.

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    It might look like a park to you. But these days, I view it as more of a refugee camp. A haven for moms of wily preschoolers, who have more in common with Gremlins than they do with the humans they will soon grow in to. They’re wide eyed, endearing, cuddly and cute, but something as innocuous as water could instantaneously transform then into savage little creatures.

    There are very few public venues where we moms can take our little kids and feel like we belong. They touch things, break things, make noise, spill things, run amuck, emit bodily fluids, and sometimes smell bad. We are not welcome just anywhere.

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    When I was maybe 9 or 10, I remember being left with my younger brother under the care of our grandpa on the Fourth of July.

    Grandpa cooked up the same breakfast he made us hundreds of times. I can still see his hands whirring the hand-cranked eggbeater, fluffing the egg whites in the blue ceramic bowl to add to the waffle batter. He fried up sausage patties, and boiled maple extract with sugar for home-made syrup.

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    “I am a soccer mom,” I say to myself in the mirror in a Stuart Smalley-style affirmation. I face up to the fact that I’ve hit one of the hurdles of parenthood that I have most dreaded. Not that there’s anything wrong with soccer, or soccer moms, or kids who play soccer. But I suffer from a disorder that puts me at a disadvantage. I call it SADD, Sports Attention Deficit Disorder. “The inability to focus on any competition involving sticks and/or rolling or flying objects.”

    I’ve had this affliction since a very young age. I remember in kindergarten, sitting in a circle of kids at recess, tossing a red, rubber playground ball back and forth across the circle. The ball came to me, and rather than catching the ball, I sat still, flinching slightly, as it pegged me in the face. I apparently didn’t even close my eyes, as I suffered a painful corneal abrasion (scratched eyeball) from the incident and had to wear a patch for a few days.

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    Who do you call?
    1042 Views

    My kids, Cooper and Sylvia, have befriended our friendly, retired neighbor behind us. He meets them at the back fence, scratches our dog on the head, and shares lengthy conversations with them. He’s admitted that he sometimes doesn’t understand much of what they tell him, but he nods and smiles and talks to them.

    One day this spring, Cooper came running in and said, “Mom, Jim’s going to give us some peas.” Sure enough, Jim strolled over, bringing us some little starts of sweet peas, pink, white and blue, in tiny peat pots, ready to plop in the ground. Jim informed us that the white would be fragrant, and the others were ornamental, not fragrant, but they would all be edible when the peas grew.

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    On the way out of the pediatrician’s office, my soon to be 5-year-old son, Cooper, and I stepped aside to let a family pass us. The entering family included an unusually large dad. He was quite round.
     
    As we stepped through the door into the hallway, Cooper looked up at me and said, “Mom, that man…” Fearing how he would finish his sentence, certain it would be 3-lettered word describing the man’s weight, I immediately tried to distract my son.
     
    “Hey, Cooper, do you…”
     
    But Cooper was not to be distracted. He stopped in his tracks and looked up at me. The door behind me was very slowly closing, the slowing mechanism on the heavy door effectively doing its job to keep the door from slamming.
     
    Cooper repeated himself, “Mom! That man was really…”
     
    “Look!” I said in an excited voice, pointing down the hall at nothing, hoping again to distract him.
     
    How was it possible that the door still hadn’t closed? Desperation flooded through me. If he could only wait just a few more seconds before saying it, until the door was firmly closed behind us.
     
    Cooper thought I was ignoring him and decided to try again, but much louder. “MOM! THAT MAN WAS REALLY…”
     
    I had no time to think. In a split second my son would shout loudly, using some unknown verbiage, outside a door that had still not shut, that a man, still in earshot, was obese. I had to stop him. So I did what any self-respecting mom would do. I knocked him down. Yep, I tripped my own kid and even gave him a little “assist” to the floor. I caught his arm to break the fall, and before he could scramble back to his feet, dragged him a bit farther away from the door. Mercifully, I heard the click and thud of the door finally shutting as I said to my poor son with all honesty, “I’m sorry I tripped you,” and with a little less honesty, “I didn’t mean to do that.”

    Did I mean to? I’m not sure. I acted impulsively, quickly, in a situation that I felt called for desperate measures. I certainly didn’t want to harm him, just jolt the impending words back into his little mouth for a moment longer. As we started down the hall, shocked at what I’d just done, I wrestled with the moral implications. Sure, he’s rarely harmed when playing rough and tumble games with his friends. Falling down is something he does on a regular basis, sometimes just for fun. But still, it’s something mommies generally try to prevent, not cause.
     
    Cooper shot his enormous, bewildered eyes up at me to see if I was listening to him yet. “Mom!!!!” he repeated yet again. “That man was really, really big!” I was slightly relieved by his choice of words, and extremely relieved that he didn’t appear to realize that mommy had been instrumental in his little tumble. I hurried down the hall, Cooper scurrying after me. A jauntily dressed pharmaceutical salesperson wheeled his suitcase of literature past us.
     
    “Honey, it’s not nice to point out things like that.”
     
    “What, mom? You mean that he’s fat?”

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    Commentator 1: Welcome, ladies and gentleman, to this morning’s match. It’s preschool photo day here in Overland Park, and in this morning’s challenge, we’ll be watching Mommy defend her “BOSS” title against 4-year-old Cooper.

     

    Commentator 2:  Entering the ring, wearing slouchy sweatpants, old t-shirt with paint on the sleeve, weighing in at ideal weight plus 20 lbs baby weight that won’t come off, with  last night’s mascara smeared under her eyes, we have MOMMY!

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    Oh, how I appreciate good customer service. Like when you call the bank and say, “how the HECK did I get this overdraft charge, which then led to another overdraft charge, and yet another?” and they explain their new posting procedures and then pleasantly remove the charges. Or, when I order something, then realize it wasn’t what I was expecting, then they get me what I really thought I was ordering – not because they were at fault, or because I asked - but because they value me, the customer.

     

    But those are examples of issues that probably arise frequently. Or at least often enough that procedures would be in place for such situations. But sometimes, I, the customer, really challenge a customer service representative – as I did yesterday.

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    Over 5 years ago, when kicking around the possibility of growing our family, I had no strong desire to have kids. When walking past strollers, I didn’t crane my neck to see the bundle of joy lounging inside. I didn’t feel for the poor little fella screaming his lungs out at the mall because he wanted a cookie. I politely declined when asked if I wanted to hold an infant, lest it pee on me or I drop it. The decision-making process wasn’t driven by a biological clock ticking incessantly, so it had to be something more cerebral.

    An annoying computer geek I knew created a spreadsheet listing and comparing all the pros and cons of getting married to aid he and his over-evaluated sweetie as they decided whether or not to spend the rest of their lives together. Each item was assigned a score, and then he “ran the numbers” to make their decision. On the left, they would be able to combine finances for a stronger portfolio. Score: 9. On the right, he would have to ask for permission before buying his next piece of computer paraphernalia. Score: 5. It was romance-sapping to see such an emotional decision broken down on paper, but “married” had a higher score and he bought a ring. I wonder if reality lived up to his expectations.

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    While driving home from an errand, my 4-year-old son, C, asked me, “Mommy, where does Jesus live?” We were near the corner of 95th and Wornall. My eyes searched the landscape for something to help me answer, spotting billowing white clouds in the blue sky, the Presbyterian church with its tall black spire towering above us on a hill, the former synagogue, now for sale, sprawling below us, it’s unique wavy roof like misplaced sand dunes.

    “Well,” I said, “He’s with us everywhere.”

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    Sink or Swim
    335 Views

    In one day, less than 8 hours, actually, my 4-year-old son “C” made me so proud I could pop, and soon after burst my bubble with the type of behavior that makes a mom not want to claim her own kid.

    It was the last day of swimming lessons. The day the kids get to go down the slide or off the diving board. The day they complete their tests, proving their worthiness to move to the next level. C is skin and bones, and it’s hard to float without that buoyant fat layer that adults acquire. But C wants to swim. Nearly every day, whether or not he had his morning swimming lesson, we would troupe to the pool in the afternoon where he would flail and flutter, flop and sputter, and maintain the state of near-drowning that he has always required while in the pool.

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    Baby's Got Spunk
    388 Views

    My beautiful daughter, S, at just 2 years of age, had her first throw-down this week. She and another little girl started scrapping at the baby pool, and I must say, girl trouble starts out pretty petty from the get-go.

    On a hot day, I sat on the edge of the baby pool, once again wondering if soaking my feet in urine and chlorine spiked water is of any benefit to my skin. My son had dismantled his toy submarine and given sections of it to other boys at the pool so they each could have their own submarine. Our floaty Styrofoam noodles were being utilized by other toddling pool-goers, and I was a proud mother hen, impressed by how well my children shared their belongings.

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    That Kid's Mom
    481 Views

    I’m that kid’s mom. You’ve seen me – and you noticed me too. You scrutinized me to see exactly what kind of mom would turn out a kid like that.

    He’s been in swimming lessons for the last couple of weeks. When my son was the one spewing fountains out of his mouth – sometimes directly at the other kids in his class - you glanced at me to see if I noticed this. When he tried to console the crying girl in his class and failed, he concluded the only logical thing for him to do was terrorize her for the rest of the class. He stood too close to her, grinned too big at her, splashed her, and growled at her, danced in front of her and talked to her. I saw you turning to see what I would do. You may have wondered why I didn’t immediately jump up to pull him aside, or why I waited to see if he would respond to his instructor’s requests – which he eventually did.

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    Got soy milk?
    344 Views

    Hey, what happened to my son, C? Who is this imposter that’s been sent in his place? Where is my child???? You know the one I’m talking about, the cuss-word slinging, banshee-cry shrieker full of determination and volatile mood swings. Where DID he go? Suddenly, in his place, this new little blonde child with brown eyes the size of Oreo cookies, has been….cooperative….compliant….apologetic….aiming to please. What on earth happened? Did aliens come in the night and suck out all his evil powers to fuel their upcoming attack on the planet earth? Did the government swipe him to study his never-ending energy to see if they could use the technology to make more fuel-efficient cars?

    I’m thinking back. When did it happen? I can almost pinpoint the hour. Tuesday after a tortured day of his orneriness driving me close to calling the padded wagon for a ride to the nearest insane asylum, my mom offered to watch C and my daughter, S. During this recent stage of apparent psychosis, C has not only behaved in every imaginable unpleasant manner, but he’s also refused to be peeled away from my side. So though grandparents and daddy have offered to spend time with him, their offers have dangled just out of reach as the poor kid clung to my leg, sobbing and crying. With no real pressing reason for me to leave and the would-be babysitters being frightened out of their socks by what they saw, I turned their generous offers down. So it was on Tuesday. But I did drop my angelic daughter S off at grandma’s so she could at least get a break. C and I headed to Whole Foods for a few items.

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    Still feelin' it
    356 Views

    For over 5 weeks, I’ve been on a mission to get my flabby rear in gear and get in shape! And I must say, I can tell a big difference already. Where I once felt only soft, flabby skin, I can now detect muscle. Real muscle, and not just little hints, but substantial, meaty, strong muscle. My knee, which I was so cautious of when I first started, no longer bothers me at all. For months, I’d gingerly gone up stairs, altering my posture so I would have to bend my knee as little as possible for fear it would twaaaang and then hurt for days. It’s been at least a couple of weeks since I consciously tried to baby that knee.

    And then, there are the changes in my workout. At first, I had to drag myself using threats and bribery to get myself into the exercise room. I’d push through my workouts, and with all my wimpy muscles quivering, drag myself back up the stairs, hoping I wouldn’t collapse on the way. Soon I decided to work in some of my favorite exercise videos, a couple of strength videos from the Firm, and also some yoga. I started looking forward to my workouts and feeling more invigorated after doing them. 

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    My poor son, he has lost his ever-lovin’ mind. He has entered a stage in which his little brain is in such overdrive, and his little mood is so oppositional that he will argue absolutely anything – whether anyone else is arguing with him or not. He will exclaim with utter certainty that up is down, and down is also down, and up is sometimes up but only when he says, and no one else is even allowed to say the words “up” or “down” and he is quite certain that the only way up will ever be up again is if I will give him some candy right now. This solo argument might be accompanied by shrieking, screaming, crying, stomping, and any other physical exclamation points he could think to throw in.

    Fortunately, these outbursts are occasional, and for the most part, he’s pretty fun and easy to get along with. But when he goes into psycho-boy mode, it’s a spectacle you won’t soon forget.

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    Week 3 check-in
    314 Views

    This week, my fitness frenzy wasn’t my first priority. We hosted a family barbecue on Saturday, inducing a cleaning frenzy that trumped my workout schedule a couple of days. I spent every spare moment vacuuming, dusting, and scrubbing our house – something that frankly was long overdue. I did fit in a couple of my workouts, I mowed our yard with our lawn mower that is not self-propelled and walked with a friend, but I came up short on 3 days worth of the exercise program. I’ll need to do better than this to get anywhere.

    However, I did manage to get my house clean, and spent Sunday morning after our barbecue restoring its pre-barbecue sparkle. We vacuumed, mopped, and cleaned the kitchen back up on Sunday morning instead of slumping into our normal post-party relaxed state that quickly turns back into a messy house. The toys are starting to sporadically dot the floors, but I’m hoping that I’ll be able to go back on clean house maintenance. For a few brief weeks this winter, I was able to clean a room a day and pretty painlessly keep the house nearly spotless (at least, as clean as it’s going to get with two preschoolers running around here all the time). The system failed miserably when I acquired a bad cold that knocked me on my behind for about a week.

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    I’m sure I’m not the only mom who has broken down and had a tantrum. After all, it’s the behavior that is modeled to me all day, every day by my 2 and 4 year olds. It’s getting harder and harder to remember what I’m actually supposed to do when I don’t like whatever is going on.

    As I juggle my daily duties, trying to keep the house in reasonable order, play freeze tag, attempt to have clothes for everyone – clean, folded and put away, and make meal after meal after meal, fairly dole out discipline and guidance and endure hours upon hours of toddler's demands, I try to keep my cool. But sometimes, I can’t. Sometimes I lose it, and in the fashion of a 4-year-old who wants some candy, I let my opinion be known to everyone in the house, and a 100 foot radius outside our house.

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    It seemed fitting that I go ahead and blog on this week’s fitness efforts. I think I’ll commit to a little Monday tradition of writing about my ongoing efforts to diffuse the buoyancy of my trampoline butt.

    Week two of my “get in shape” campaign was a little rockier than the first week. Week one I exercised 6 days in a row, enjoying the burn, and relishing the slight soreness afterwards. Week two, I didn’t seem to have it in me. I was sleepy! That’s not what I expected from reintroducing exercise into my daily routine! I spent my days out in the sunshine with the beautiful weather, my daughter is actually sleeping through the night (4 nights and counting that she hasn’t made an appearance in our bed!), why wouldn’t I be feeling energetic and spry?

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    Every day at 2:00, I hear our mail carrier singing to her Ipod as she delivers our mail to the front door. As soon as I know she’s past our house (I don’t want her to think I’m obsessed with the mail, even though I am), I run out to the mailbox to see what goodies my little black box contains. Under its creaky, rusty lid, with strings of plastic jewels hanging out and a skull and crossbones taped to the front (from my son’s not-so-recent birthday party) I look for treasure. The usual array of junk includes bills, coupons, solicitations from charities to ride my bike or walk for them, and an astounding number of Pottery Barn catalogues. Occasionally an issue of some health-related magazine brings a moment of happiness, but what I’m really waiting for is a rejection letter for an article or query I’ve sent off to a publisher somewhere.

    You may see in my bio that I’m a freelance writer. This is true. I get paid for writing or editing software manuals on occasion, and I’ve reviewed a few E-books on taxes and other excruciatingly boring financial matters. I even have one article slated to publish in a local magazine this fall. This represents a tiny seedling of a career that I’m hoping will grow and someday pay – if not all the bills – at least a bill or two. Enough to help preserve my precious SAHM status for a while longer.

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    Well, it’s been a week since I broke out The Women’s Bible Sculpting (TWBS) Bible. I am happy to say that I followed the workout and exercised 6 days in a row last week.

    I am sensing my progress will be slow. Why I thought it would be a good idea to step on the scales yesterday, Mother’s Day, which had already gotten off to a rocky start, I don’t know. I was actually up a pound. I’m not sure how to type the sound that I made when I saw that. I’ve heard cats make that noise.  I do realize that fluctuations are normal and muscle weighs more than fat, etc. I simply should have stayed off the scales on Mother’s Day. My son bouncing off my butt several times should have told me all I needed to know.

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    I keep my computer on the bar in the kitchen. It’s up high enough that sticky little fingers attached to stumpy little legs must first find a tiny chair for their dirty little feet to stand on if they want to peck at the keys. When I’m at the computer, I stand. Lots of times, when I’m standing there, my son likes to remind me he’s there by bouncing off my ample rump over and over and over again. He does this while I’m washing dishes or preparing dinner, too. It must be really fun. It must be really…bouncy. He’s never bounced against my posterior and yelped, “Ouch! That hurts! Mommy, your bottom is too hard!” Nope, that isn’t likely to happen. If my son tried to bounce off my stomach, he’d just find himself sucked into a soft, jiggling pillow. He might even get stuck, and that wouldn’t be nearly as fun as bouncing off my hind end.

    I’m not impressed by my physical condition these days. Having babies at 30 something was not kind to my body. My body inflated to contain first my son, then my daughter, and like a good mom, stored enough body fat to keep us alive should we be stranded for several weeks without food. I’m still storing that extra, but the food deprivation still hasn’t taken place. I need to lose this baby weight and get back in shape!

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    Two years ago right now, I was sitting on this couch, in this room, lights off, in labor. DS, just barely two years old, was asleep in his room. DH was slowly moving around the house trying to not forget my shampoo like he did when DS was born, and I was thinking “wow, these contractions seem like they’re getting closer together…really fast.” My mom showed up to stay with DS, and although I was feeling some urgency to get moving to the hospital, I was trying to be nonchalant.

     

    “Oh, sure, you say you’re in labor, it’ll probably be a couple more days,” my mom said. I was three days overdue, and although I’d been having contractions for almost a month, I’d never gone as far as actually getting ready to go to the hospital. She loves to be devil’s advocate, whether the devil has a case or not.

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    Hey, guys,

    If y'all like watching videos (especially if you're a Smashing Pumpkins fan) here's a video DH did for a contest. It's pretty fun, DS loves to watch it over and over...

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    My first introduction to Crocs was kind of gross. A friend who is a nurse came over after his shift. He pointed out his new black Crocs, and explained that they’re popular in the healthcare field because they could be hosed off should they be doused by a patient’s bodily fluids. He also said they were great for standing for long periods of time. At the time (prior to having children), I had no reason to believe I would be doused by anyone’s bodily fluids, and aside from the little time I spent in the kitchen, I didn’t spend long periods of time standing on hard surfaces.

     

    A year or two later, I caught another friend, a mom, wearing Crocs. By this time, I’d seen them around town. Grown men wearing highlighter yellow rubber shoes full of holes could be spotted traipsing through the grocery store. Kids of all sizes wore these shoes in an astonishing variety of colors. Crocs hung from trees in stores, their “on sale” prices well over $20, when they looked like they had about $1.00 of materials in them. “What are you doing wearing Crocs?” I asked my friend, amazed that she’d jumped on the Croc’s tail. Of course, she answered with the standard Croc defense, “They’re so comfortable! Yada…yada… great for yardwork.” Other friends started to come clean, admitting that they slipped these mushroomy shoes onto their feet the moment they got home.

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    Watching our beautiful daughter growing up is such a joy. DD is a May Day baby, about to turn two. From the moment she entered this world, she’s been a polar opposite of her brother in many ways. She’s quiet - he’s loud. She’s obedient - him, not so much. She reaches up to hold my finger and walk beside me - he runs away at top speed. I’m not sure DD would do anything ornery if she didn’t see him do it first – but of course, she must imitate her idol, her big brother.

    I was reflecting on their differences, and mealtime came to mind. DD has fairly typical two-year-old manners. She may or may not want to sit down to dinner. When using utensils becomes too cumbersome, she just eats straight out of the bowl – like a dog. She often stuffs too much food in her mouth, then spits it out, then puts it back in her mouth, but in smaller portions. And if she’s sitting in a chair at the table instead of her high chair, she’ll sneak up and sit on top of the table if she gets a chance.

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    I’ve created a monster. Or, rather, I’m accessory to a monster creating himself. It all started with a They Might Be Giants song that airs on Noggin about the number zero. This ode to the zero celebrates zero’s mathematical significance and its nothingness. After watching this song, I’m not sure why, but DS "C" came in and said to me, “Mommy, you are zero!”.

    “Oh, honey, that’s not a very nice thing to say.” BIG mistake on my part. Why, oh why, did I bother to bring to his attention that this might be considered an insult?

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    Poor old Lucy, our rotund rat terrier, is probably around 14 years old. I say "probably" because she was a rescue dog, and I was never sure of her age when I first brought her home. She’s seen me through thick and thin - a lousy marriage, a move to the east coast and back, a new, much improved marriage, and the acquisition of two kids.  She’s lived with me in 5 different houses, slept on the foot of my bed for around 13 years, and is wonderfully tolerant with our two preschoolers.

    Lucy’s shaped more like a watermelon than a green bean, which has led to the types of health problems one might expect from being elderly and carrying too much weight. She hobbles around, snores a lot, and she’s become a bit incontinent. In the last few months, we’ve been finding puddles around the house. Each time we do, DH mutters something about taking her to the vet. A final trip. I don’t find this funny.

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    Ahh, spring. My list of complaints about the dawning of the new season is short, but topping the list is a doozy. This morning the kids and I wandered into the back yard to soak up some of the glorious sunshine. Our cat grinned at us as we passed him resting in a bed of sunlight. While surveying the grass for “doggy landmines”, my eyes rested on the first victim of the annual bloodbath, explaining the look of satisfaction on Ricky’s fuzzy face. A decapitated, bloody rabbit carcass rested just a few yards from our back door. The infant mortality rate for bunnies in our immediate vicinity is heartbreakingly high.

    Glimpsing the first blood sacrifice of the season, my mind flashed back to a horrifying incident last year. My DS, who had just turned 3, was playing happily in the back yard. I heard him talking tenderly to someone – or something. “Look, mommy!” he shouted, and he came to me cradling a tiny (but freshly dead) bunny. Its fluffy little body was still limp and warm, fully intact other than missing the entire right side of its face.

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    Dear Lord, give me strength. And no offense, God, but I’m not talking about the faint feeling of reassurance that I will not totally screw up, and that both my kids will most likely grow up successful and not hating me. I’m not looking for a moment of peace where the kids are playing pleasantly together. I’m not even asking for a phone call from my mom offering to watch the kids for a couple of hours this evening so I can go have some fun. Nope, God, I’d like some real live super powers here. And not just one, I need a small arsenal.

     

    Next time I get out of the shower, when I wrap my towel around me, I’d like to feel lift as my flying powers kick in. I promise not to fly in public wearing only my bath towel, and I will put nice towels in the bathroom right now so I’ll look good on my first CNN appearance. I know this is a tall order, but really, Lord, I don’t know how else I’m going to get my daughter’s teddy bear off the roof, my son’s shoe out of the tree, or the strawberry jam off the ceiling.

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    My son C is joyfully negative. With a radiant smile on his face and the word “no” gleefully tumbling from his mouth, he opposes every rule, pushes every limit, and tries to mold the world into a new creation as conceived by his 4-year-old mind. He’s a happy, affectionate, fun-loving, humorous little boy, and he is at his absolute happiest when he’s declaring the opposite of whatever the prevailing opinion.


    C’s 4th birthday party was last weekend, and I decided today was the day to start our thank you notes. I got the list of gifts and givers, put his sister to bed for her nap, and dragged out a pile of paper and markers.

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