July 28, 2018

'Fair' is an Opportunity, not an Outcome

On a recent sunny morning I took my son, one of his pals, and 2 fresh donuts to a playground. As Pal lifted his for the first bite he dropped it in the dirt. He wasn't into either the 5 second rule or my son's offer to share his un-dropped donut, so he looked on dejectedly as my son enjoyed his treat.

Hey Mom, Son whispered. To make it fair, can we go get him another donut? I replied that they were due at camp in a little while and we didn't have time for another donut run. To make it fair. Hmm.

To me, fairness lies in the opportunity. Fair means having equal opportunity to observe or experience or achieve. What we do with opportunity is up to us. Sometimes it's easy. Sometimes it's brutally difficult. But we decide to do or not do. It's not about fairness.

To my young son, fairness is an outcome. Fair means ending up equal, everything's even when the dust settles. Regardless of effort or decisions made along the way, everyone nets out the same. That's fair.

That night I asked my son why he thought the situation was unfair. Because I had a donut and he didn't.

But he did have a donut. He started out with a donut just like you did. Yes, but he dropped his and I didn't. And it wasn't fair to him because then he didn't have a treat.

Could he have chosen to clean his donut off and eat the part that didn't touch the ground? I guess so, but he thought that was gross.

OK. But it was an option. Maybe not a great option, but one he could have chosen. And didn't you offer to share your donut with him? Yes, but his was chocolate and mine was vanilla, and he didn't want vanilla. He wanted chocolate.

OK, so he chose to reject half of a vanilla donut because he wanted a whole chocolate one. That's a valid choice, and it was his to make. Nothing wrong with that. But it doesn't make it unfair that he ended up without any donut. I see what you mean, but... I felt bad for him.

Of course you did. I'd be disappointed if you didn't. But that doesn't mean it was unfair. It was unfortunate, and he was sad, but it wasn't unfair. You had the same opportunity and you handled it differently, so you had different outcomes. That's not fair or unfair. That's life.

June 28, 2018

I Love Everything About Pets
Except Having Them

Every morning while the coffee brews I change the birds' water and feed the fish & bunnies. I like to start my day with the animals and leave the afternoon and night pet duty to the kids. I like it for the first 30 seconds or so. The pet chore routine is like one of those self-inflating life rafts. It doesn't seem like much until you pull the cord. Then the whole thing blows up in your face.

The parrot is a rowdy, territorial character who loves The Girl, likes The Dad, tolerates The Son, and hates my guts. If he found me bleeding to death on the side of the road he'd bob his head and keep walking. Then he'd turn back and poop in my eye.

He poops in his water and goes all Jackson Pollock on the rim of the dish, so no matter how careful I am I end up with bluegreenwhite parrot poop on and in between my fingers. What I could really live without is his daily tug-of-war, when he clamps his beak on the dish and pulls against me. He's a master of comedic timing, this one, and clearly in it for the cheap laugh. He waits for me to tug that little bit harder... then he lets go and snickers as his nasty toilet smoothie sloshes all over my hand and sleeve.

Our male canary is generally placid, but he takes the occasion of a water change to fling himself around the cage like there's a hungry cat in hot pursuit. Eventually he'll pause and cling - panting - to the side wall, glaring at me as his tiny heart nearly heaves out of his tiny chest. Are you seriously going to have a heart attack because I'm changing your water? Death by benevolent hydration. I'd never live it down.

Our female canary shares a corner window with him, and they beak-kiss sweetly between their cages. She spends most of the day shredding paper for a nest she doesn't build for eggs she doesn't lay. We had them together in hopes of breeding, but she lost interest before he did, and her frequent "headaches" aggravated him to the brink of #MeToo, so we separated them.

The bunnies are great. They're beautiful, soft and so cuddly you'd never guess they produce urine caustic enough to make your eyes water. After 4 years my nasal passages are burned out like a coked-up disco queen from the 70's. We keep the basement windows closed anytime there's the slightest breeze because I'm afraid the neighbors will catch a whiff and think we're running a meth lab down there.

The bunnies love fresh dandelions, so we pick a lot of them in the spring and summer. By 'we' I mean 'me.' I wear my fingers raw tearing leaves and pulling roots while the kids mostly stagger around the vacant lot moaning It's soooooooooo hot! Come oooon, Mom! We have e-NOUGH!

We have a fish, too. He's a male beta who lives alone because he's prone to attack anyone who invades his personal space. I can relate. He needs sunlight to fend off his seasonal affective disorder, but too close to a window and an algae forest blooms in his bowl overnight. That's super fun to clean. He's stunning to look at; unfortunately he knows it. He won't eat food that's been wet more than 3 seconds - so basically he's hand fed - and he requires a 25% water change precisely once a week. Get over yourself.

Remembering to buy seeds, pellets, flakes, hay, vitamins, mineral sticks, and toys.

Paying for seeds, pellets, flakes, hay, vitamins, mineral sticks, and toys.

Visits to the vet. Pet sitters for vacations. Animal antibiotics, travel cages, timed light dimmers, groomings, trimmings, walking-harnesses, and the legacy of an incomplete bunny spay.

And yet... as I left the room this morning the parrot screamed, "Love you! Love you!" with such feeling I got a little teary-eyed and thought, That makes it all worthwhile. Then I realized he was looking in the mirror.

May 30, 2018

Summer Time

I've noticed we tell time differently in the summer. We go by our experiences rather than the clock. It's not 11:30. It's How many minutes until the popsicles are ready? And 10 minutes to bedtime becomes When the peepers stop singing, it's off to bed. I like it. A lot.

How long can we stay at the lake?

When will the grill be hot?

It’s time for more sunscreen.

Can we make it to the end of the pier before the sun sets?

How long can we keep it?

Which is faster – urgent care or the emergency room?

It’s time for the cottonwood to fly.

How many more days until it comes out of the cocoon?

How long can I hold my breath under water? Time me!

When will the fireworks start?

Do we have time to look for rocks?

It takes longer to hike the blue trail than the red one.

Is it time to make s’mores yet?

How many more days until the blackberries are ripe?

Do we have time for one more ride?

And my favorite. When can we do this again?

I hope you enjoy your time this summer!

May 21, 2018

This Time of Year

This time of year it's impossible to find clothes for a tween girl. Shorts, tops, bathing suits... the styles jump from Sparkle Unicorn to Call Girl with nothing in between.

This time of year I encourage my kids to lose jackets and sandwich containers at school so I don't have to wash them. The grass looks good enough to eat. Even 3rd grade math can make a person cry.

I'm teaching my kids to forge my signature. Permission slips, practice charts, lunch money accounts, bus passes, fund raisers, camp registrations, team snack schedules, volunteer applications, teacher appreciation sign ups... they can handle it all.

This time of year good parents are as attentive to sleep and nutrition as they were in September. I'm not one of them. If you can walk and talk, you're plenty rested and fed.

It's puddles, polliwogs, peepers, pansies, parks, picnics, paddling, and pedaling.

This time of year I stab safety pins into everything. Ragged backpacks, ripped gym shorts, frayed flashcards, split lunchboxes, torn orchestra music, whatever. I just need them to hold together for a few more weeks.

This time of year I get drunk on the night air. I'd donate an entire playground in exchange for Not.One.More. piece of paper coming home from school. I'd rather spend half a day in the garden than half an hour at my desk.

This time of year is enchanting beyond expectation. And it is worth the wait.
[I came upon this little fawn placidly enjoying the beautiful day.]

March 24, 2018

I'll Be the Change (I Want You to Make)

Beloved children, because I know you to be kind and thoughtful people, I begin each day assuming good intentions. If my harmony was less developed I might regard your daily trail of gum wrappers, clothes, and empty mechanical pencils as a calculated attempt to fray my last nerve, but I refuse to invite negativity into my life. I reframe it, choosing instead to take it as a sign that your attention is on more important things.

Perhaps you're thinking deeply about what to do for Mother's Day this year, or which would delight me more on a Saturday morning - waking up to a new book propped against a fresh pot of coffee or a vase of dewy daffodils on the counter.

This works really well until I come downstairs to (find once again) a sink half full of dirty dishes that weren't there when I went to bed the night before, and I see you merrily eating, drinking and melting your brains on Pixel Gun, without a care in the world.

When my inner harmony reminds me that you're not rotten little slobs, I wonder how, then, this can be (again). And it hits me. Gandhi was right. I should be the change I want to see. Of course! I'll be the change I want to see (in you).

And you, seeing me changed, will no longer do the things that drive me to the brink of despair. Like that thing you do when I'm in the bathroom. With the door closed. How you say things like, "Mom, is my blue hoodie clean?" and I say, "I'm not going to talk through a closed bathroom door. But yes, it's clean." Yeah. Not doing that anymore.

And how you bellow to me from 2 floors away to ask if I can drive you and your friends to the skating rink and I yell back, "Don't holler to me from 2 floors away! And yes, I can drive you!" Not doing that anymore either. I'll be the change.

I'm done separating your underwear from your pants when I'm doing the laundry. If you peel them off of your body together, that's how they'll stay, unless you pull them apart.

Maybe I'm a dweeb, but I love packing your lunch. I love the Mom-ishness of it. Even so, I'll no longer ask more than once what kind of sandwich or drink you want. If you can't be bothered to construct an intelligible answer about what you want to put in your body, perhaps an empty lunchbox is just what you need to get that gray matter firing.

Now that I'm getting warmed up, you should know I'm done driving too fast to get you somewhere on time to make up for the 27 times you Face Timed your friends about what they're wearing.

I will no longer set an alarm on my phone to hatch an Enderdragon egg, open a golden chest, wash a Boo, feed a mooshroom, declare a siege, or do any other thing so you don't Lose a Level while you're at school.

Not gonna swelter with the heat up to 89 in my car because you're too hip to wear a coat. In New York. In the winter.

If you ask, "What is there to eat?" I'll no longer sigh and say, "Child, I'm not a waitress. Look for yourself. Whatever you find is what there is." (5 seconds later) "I made a fruit salad this afternoon. It's in the fridge, bottom shelf, left side. And there's hummus in there. Or how 'bout that vegan bacon you like? There's some in the freezer. Pretzels and crackers in the pantry....Do you want something hot? I'll help you heat up some lasagna."

My loves, it's not all about what I'm not going to do. I'll still kiss you good night. I'll still ask about your day. I'll smile when I see you and cry when you sing. I'll share my clothes and hear your prayers and slip special treats in your backpack. I'll seek you out. I'll notice your efforts. I will still begin and end each day with gratitude for you. That will never change.

March 15, 2018

March 07, 2018

Musings on a Middle Schooler

The same kid who laughs to the point of tears at YouTubers making absolute fools of themselves for millions of strangers will die a thousand deaths if I quietly hum along to the radio while driving carpool.

Comments on a Middler's appearance - even positive ones - will be met with suspicion and a change of clothes.

Every school day is a 7-hour competition. For everything.

When summoned to help un-freeze a Chromebook, shrink a pair of black leggings, inflate a basketball, confirm a spelling, sign a permission slip, or write a check, I will be dismissed the very instant I'm no longer needed.

Most days your brain and your body don't speak the same language.

Feed, hug, praise, question, expect, reassure. Repeat.

What do you notice about your Middler?

March 02, 2018

You on a Crack Pipe

I get up early every Thanksgiving morning. No, not to cook. To run a 2.5 mile Turkey Trot with you. Regardless of the snow, the holiday, and the fact that I am no kind of runner, I rouse you (sleepy, regretful you), stuff power bars in my sleeves, smile, cheer, and act like there's nothing I'd rather be doing.

I shiver in long lines for my turn at a smelly port-a-potty and prick my freezing fingers on our race bib pins. And even though you sand bag me every year and kick it on the final stretch like a terrified gazelle, I know I'll do it again next year and the year after that and the year after that. Because I never want to find you on the end of a crack pipe.

I've sorted, collated, and stapled nearly 10,000 pages of Scholastic Books fliers. I have convincingly feigned interest in My Little Pony, Star Trek, Minecraft, and Logan Paul. No one can tell I'm fake laughing at those not-at-all funny "Try Not to Laugh" videos you love. I've smeared enough peanut butter and sunflower seeds on enough pine cones to feed all the birds in all the world for the next 50 years. I once wore a hand painted macaroni and yarn necklace to a job interview because you made it for me. And homemade Slime. Yeah...

You asked me to join Kuk Sool Won (Korean martial art) with you, so I parked my pride on the shelf and became an adult newbie in a class of 8 year-old black belts who could take my head off if they wanted to. The only one in class with a bursitic shoulder and a torn up knee. The only one with hips, whose dobok fits snugly across their butt. Because I never want to find you on the end of a crack pipe.

I have researched whether or not jelly fish have eyes (they do), elephants can jump (they can't), and if the outer shell of a jelly bean is made from the same stuff as the inner bean (it's not). I have filled entire spreadsheets with detailed cost-benefit comparisons of different Nerf guns.

I've lost sleep over finding black pants for your school concerts - black pants that aren't denim, aren't leggings, aren't a polyester-elastic-waistband reject from the Grandma factory, and don't look like something your father or an LPGA pro would wear to work. Because I never want to find you on the end of a crack pipe.

I have solemnly dug graves for road kill frogs. Examined rabbit poop under a microscope. Pureed bushels of leaves for baby caterpillars. Tracked slime trails along the kitchen cabinets to find the snails you liberated from the fish tank. (Speaking of fish, I once spent a guilt-ridden week babysitting a few hundred newly hatched goldfish the size of eyelashes and flushing them one ladle full at a time as they fell victim to my inability.)

All this I've done of my own free will. I invest myself in you because I'm your mom and I love you. And you don't owe me anything in return. Regardless of how much you love me and no matter how close we are, most of the decisions you make in your life will be made with your interests in mind, not mine. I knew that going in.

What I mean by all this is I hope I've given enough. I hope you know you belong. I hope you've felt my strength and cultivated your own. I hope you see how much you matter. I hope you realize that the collective existence would be diminished without you in it. I hope I've shown you how to create enough of what's beautiful and true that you never fall for less. I hope you understand that you have within you everything you need.

Being your mother is an honor and a joy that takes my breath away. And I never want to find you on the end of a crack pipe.

February 28, 2018

Salt of the Earth

Hey, Mom?
Wanna know my favorite thing about playing on the dirt pile?
Sure, Pal.
When I'm in the dirt, nothing's complicated. I just dig and think.

February 27, 2018

I'm Just Not That Into Me

For most of my life I've had a casual attitude toward my appearance (ginormous understatement). I wear makeup very occasionally and shoes only for school functions and church. My kids have had friends since preschool who still don't recognize me without my pajamas.

My skin care routine is simple. If there's something on my face, I wipe it off with whatever's handy. Good to go.

I'm still not sure why, but I recently gave into an impulse and bought a full suite of skin care products. When I first saw the pristine jars nestled in their organic packing material, I thought, "Yeah! I should pamper myself a little bit. This will be nice." Then I looked at the directions.
1. Wash face and pat dry.
2. Using a circular motion, apply Deep Renewal Serum to entire face. Allow to absorb completely (15 minutes).
3. With a light touch, apply Instant Effects around eyes. Allow to absorb completely (15 minutes).
4. Using gentle upward sweeps, apply Neck Renewal to neck. Allow to absorb completely (15 minutes).
5. Apply Refresh and Radiate to entire face. Allow to absorb completely (15 minutes).
6. For best results repeat twice daily.

For real? The absorption time alone adds up to an hour-long gig, and I'm supposed to do it twice a day? Yeah, right. But since the money was spent I decided to give it a whirl.

Well, it's been 10 days, and I've done the whole routine only 9 times. I've missed e-l-e-v-e-n times!

The 15 minutes between steps is tough to manage. I'm rarely available 15 minutes after the last time I was available. I apply something and then I get on a conference call or drive a kiddo somewhere or work on a client project and by the time I remember my next application, half the day is gone, which makes the "twice daily" element a real challenge. I've had to set my alarm for 3 different times in the night to get all my potions on.

I don't dig having stuff on my face. Knowing it's on there makes me itch, and if I scratch my cheek I don't know if I should reapply the last potion to that section or just wait for the next one. I don't want to go through all these shenanigans and be left with one cheek that's less revitalized than the other.

And watching the clock for my next application. Staring at myself in the mirror. The circular motion and the upward sweeps. It feels so... self-absorbed. Not my thing.

Yes, I do realize I'm walking away from walking the years back, and I'm not going to achieve my full radiance potential. I'll happily settle for less than dewy perfection because frankly, I'm just not that into me.

February 15, 2018

Goldfish in My Freezer

I have dead goldfish in my freezer. Two of them. Suspended in ice side by side in little plastic containers. We're waiting for the spring thaw so we can bury them out back next to Lucky the unlucky turtle and Milo the canary.

My husband thinks it's creepy. The kids find it comforting. I'm uneasy. I worry that it's disrespectful to Goldie and Oscar. Their eyes accuse me every time I reach over them for the frozen peas.

February 11, 2018

It's Enough With the "Good Job" Already

Out with a friend yesterday, we stopped in the bathroom to wash our hands before lunch. In the few minutes that took, my friend bestowed 6... yes, six... "good job"s on her little girl.

One for turning the faucet on. Good job!
One for holding her hand under the automatic soap dispenser and catching the soap. Good job!
One for rubbing her hands together to create a lather. Good job!
One for successfully rinsing said lather off her hands. Good job!
One for tugging a paper towel from the dispenser. Good job!
One for throwing the paper towel in the trash bin. Good job!

I believe she had good intentions. I believe she was trying to encourage her daughter's independence. The problem is that over-praising does the opposite. It fosters dependence by setting the expectation of Behavior = Reward. When you do XYZ, I reward you with praise. You do, then I give. Over-praising fixes an external locus of control. You rely on me to validate you. (What happens if I'm not there or I'm talking to someone else, or I'm too tired or not in the mood to slap a Good job! on you?)

Of course praise can be motivating, and there's nothing wrong with giving it. But much of the value is in the judiciousness of the offering. If everything our children do is praised, the praise means less. And besides, who wants to constantly monitor every micro-move their kid makes and comment on it?

Tie and re-tie your shoes until you get it right? Good for you. Drill your math facts while waiting for the bus? Good use of your time. Dig deep, tough it out, buck up, push through, never say die? Good job! But rinse your hands? Tear a paper towel? I see that as learning self-care. It's important and necessary, but it's also expected; for most kiddos, it's not a function of exceptional effort.

I'm sure I've heaped unearned praise on my kids from time to time. (It's hard not to when their very existence is a daily marvel.) I'm a work in progress, and I've become much better at stopping myself.

The turning point for me was at a playground several years ago. I actually heard a little boy say, "Look Mommy! I'm good jobbing!" I kid you not. This little boy had no idea what he was doing well, but he was certain he was.

Stop. The. Madness.

June 21, 2013

Summer. The Season of Yes.

Summer... the season of yes. "Yes" to nothing but berries for breakfast. "Yes" to wading in the lake with your clothes on. "Yes" to getting out of bed two hours after bedtime because you saw fireflies through your window and want to chase them in the back yard. "Yes" to all day on the dirt pile, fresh dandelions for the bunnies, and sitting on the hot driveway watching an ice cube melt on your leg. Yes, yes, yes. Summer is here. Oh, yes. Sally

November 02, 2010

Happy Birthday Memorial

Today is my mother-in-law's birthday. Although she's no longer alive to celebrate it, I will always remember this as the day she was born.

Below is the eulogy I delivered at her funeral in June of 2007. I miss her very much and think of her every day. Thank you for celebrating her birthday with me.

My mother-in-law’s favorite song was The Girl From Ipanema. It's a beautiful bossa nova song that tells of a young woman's daily walk through town to the ocean, and how everyone who saw her was struck by her vibrance and carefree attitude.

The song was first popular at a wonderful time in Louise’s life, when she herself was that girl... a happy, carefree young woman whose faith and family were the center of her life. She lived near her parents and her sister Jean and a large assortment of cousins, aunts, and uncles.

Almost every weekend someone celebrated a birthday or a wedding or a baptism or a first communion... there was always a party in the works, and Louise loved parties.

She often walked along the water at Charlotte Beach eating ice cream and talking with her friends or meeting new people.

Louise was a newlywed at the time. She and Louie were introduced by her friend Agnes, and they married in May of 1959, when Louise was just 20 years old.

As the years unfolded, Louise took great pride in being a mother and homemaker. She was an excellent cook. She carefully selected the finest furnishings for her home. She was extremely fashion-conscious, and she made sure that her two sons, David and Dennis, were raised in the Catholic faith.

Even when time and circumstance took the vitality from Louise's earthly body, she held onto her youthful spirit. She never stopped seeing herself as the girl in the song, even when the rest of us did.

When someone is ill for a long period of time, as Louise was, the illness requires so much of us that it's easy to lose sight of the person living the life. But we gathered at the funeral home last night, and we're here today, to celebrate the person that Louise was, so I'd like to recall that with you.

Louise's favorite colors were pink and orange. The brighter the better.

Her favorite season was summer. It was never too hot for her.

Louise never drank milk. She liked her coffee cold. And her favorite drink was pineapple soda.

She was fascinated with the pyramids, and she loved Egyptian art.

She was a tireless shopper. One of her favorite pastimes was searching out the perfect gift for someone she cared about.

She also loved watching old movies, and she had perfect recall of Hollywood trivia from the 40's and 50's.

Louise was most content with her mother’s cooking, a good cup of coffee and her family around her.

Louise brought my husband into the world, and I will always love her for that.

A few days ago we packed up my mother-in-law’s belongings, and at one point I was overcome with sadness, and I asked God, “How did this happen? Where did her life go? How can it be that it all comes down to a pink hairbrush and half a lipstick?”

Then I opened the top drawer of her nightstand and I saw the collection of birthday cards, prayer cards, Mother’s Day cards, Christmas, Easter and “Just Thinking of You” cards that we had given Louise over the years. She kept them within reach of her bed, so that even when she could no longer get out of bed, she held her family close.

Then one of the nurses who had cared for Louise came into the room with tears and a big hug and told me how much she was going to miss Louise. Then another came in, and another, and another… and within a few minutes the room was full of people eager to share their favorite story of my mother-in-law or recount the last conversation they had with her or tell me how much Louise enjoyed the weekly visits with her family.

I believe that was God's reminder that Louise's life has not ended. It has merely changed form.

I like to think that now that she is relieved of the illness and physical suffering that marked her last years, my mother-in-law is free to once again be young and vibrant and carefree... the girl from Ipanema.

Happy Birthday, Mom B. We miss you!