Tag Archives: children

Playing Hooky in October

Is there anything more fun than sneaking a walk when you should be hard at work?

Perhaps balancing the national budget, achieving world peace and losing four dress sizes rank above it. None of these, however, appear imminent. So I pilfer little thrills, like kernels of candy corn, when I can.

Autumn’s tawny, sun-freckled face grins from every yard and field, a mischievous TP-er who messes with trees so we have to clean up many-hued clutter. Scraggly flowers, survivors with colorful personalities, mix well with show-off mums. Ragged, brown corn and soybeans look weathered and friendly as smiling scarecrows that guard small-town yards and grocery store produce sections.

Al mellow and unhurried. Autumn urges me to enjoy its relaxed aura while I can.

Apple trees, however, awaken my laid-back senses. Loaded with plump fruit, they tempt me to borrow just a few.

However, calling my husband to spring me from jail isn’t the best way to celebrate fall. Forcing my steps past, I promise myself a trip to an orchard.

Squirrels, sociopathic larcenists, don’t worry about raising bail. They freely steal fruit, walnuts and acorns, which they hide in my flower pots—their personal storage units. Fall squirrels are like spring dandelions, fluffy and cute. I love both … in other people’s yards.

All paths lead to the elementary school, easily evidenced by a trail of kid stuff: a flattened baseball hat; a pink bicycle abandoned near a stop sign; a plain strawberry Pop-Tart®, no doubt rejected because someone wanted frosted chocolate with sprinkles. Scholarly endeavors are verified by broken pencils and crinkled homework. How long has this rain-faded permission slip lain here?

Rows of cars at the school speak of the commitment of teachers, administrators and staff. I pray for them, as the place — even when recess is not in session — emits energy unmatched by Hoover Dam turbines.

Ditto for Taylor University. A substantial portion of its science building’s energy needs are supplied by geothermal, solar and wind power. However, the pulsating between-class rhythm of skateboarders, scooter-riders, cyclists and joggers who don’t even notice they’re jogging prompts another energy question: Couldn’t the remainder be supplied by students, who regard midnight as the start of prime time?

I seek quieter streets, where I can saunter, unmolested by the vigorous and motivated.

Instead, yards teem with home improvement projects, and on the town’s outskirts, farmers driving giant combines lumber into fields, braving clouds of chaff. All strive to complete their tasks before cold weather.

In the face of so much diligence, goofing off is downright tough. I head for home.

But that doesn’t mean autumn and I won’t try to play hooky tomorrow. …

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite goof-off season, and why?

 

 

 

Infallible Camping Lists

When our children were small, I maintained a camping list as complicated as a theological treatise. It grew so wise and wonderful that our daughter, now taking her family camping, borrowed it. “I don’t want to forget anything.”

Ha! Campers always forget something.

I balked at handing over my ragged, penciled/inked, 25-year-old list. Part of me celebrated. No more worries about taking Scooby-Doo Band-Aids, the only kind our five-year-old would accept. But I sniffled anew over our empty nest.

I sobbed, “My camping list. …”

Hubby’s face stiffened in his familiar you’re-insane-but-I-won’t-say-it expression. He didn’t protest, “But you hate lists.” Or even, “You didn’t lose it 25 years ago?”

Still, he couldn’t comprehend how listings of bug spray and Imodium® evoked tender memories a mother could cherish.

He did offer to make a new list.

Eyes shining, he plopped beside me. “What do we want on our camping list?”

“We”? I had sort of wanted to do … anything else.

He read me. “If we collaborate, we won’t forget anything.”

We discovered — gasp! — that we define “essentials” differently.

He cannot survive without disgustingly healthy oatmeal raisin cookies. I refuse to leave the driveway without my beloved Pecan Sandies Shortbread cookies. We do agree that a hike without trail mix is like a cruise — not that we’ve taken one — without a buffet.

Hubby stood firm on one point: no melty, messy chocolate chips.

I stood firm. Trail mix without chocolate is not trail mix.

Believe it or not, we completed the list before Christmas.

In hopes of rescuing your future campouts, I include tips on camping items that should never be forgotten:

  • Rain tarp. Leave behind extra clothing (who cares what you look/smell like?). But don’t forget a rain tarp, for which — at 2 a.m., with water drip-drip-dripping on your forehead and your children/grandchildren floating away — you would pay a million dollars.
  • Buckets. Bailing with your spouse’s shoe will make a tenuous situation worse.
  • Coffee. Overlook a drinker’s joe or means to brew it, and she may tie you to a tree and invite bears to dinner.
  • Entrance rug. Leave it behind just once and you’ll sleep with a stampede of muddy footprints across your pillow.
  • Pillows. You may have included enough bags of marshmallows to substitute, but you’ll share your sleeping bag with a tribe of hungry raccoons.
  • Swimsuit. Bring both pieces.
  • Blanky. Do not forget your child’s blanky, eyeless teddy bear or one-armed Barbie® Doll. If you do, for the sake of the entire campground, be prepared to break into a small-town Walmart at 3 a.m. to find a substitute.
  • Soap. Finally, pack separate soaps. Otherwise, you might find yourself outside the men’s showers, yelling at your dearly beloved to remember your needs, then explaining them to the park ranger.

The good news: even if we’ve forgotten camping list essentials, we’re still married.

But with a new, untried list … with no Scooby-Doo Band-Aids … will we survive the next camping trip?

 Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What item would make the top of your list? (Hint: Room service does not count.)   

The First-Day-of-School Drill

Empty nesters like me have forgotten the, er, thrill of the first-day-of-school drill, right?

Not quite.

I may forget where I left my car … in my garage, because I walked to the store.

But I still can feel Mom brushing my hair into a tight ponytail that relocated my eyes. Before the bus arrived, she asked if I’d changed my underwear, then hugged me goodbye.

Clutching a box of unbroken crayons, I entered a classroom that smelled of chalk dust and my teacher’s flowery perfume.

We were issued information cards to give our parents. I could read and knew my address and phone number. One blank, however, stumped me.

After school, I asked Mom, “What’s sex?”

She straightened.  “Honey, where did you hear about sex?”

“It’s on the cards—”

What cards?”

“The school cards.” I handed her mine.

Why did she chuckle? “The school wants to know if you’re a girl or boy.”

“I’m a girl!” Mystery solved. I felt immense relief.

She probably felt more.

Fast-forward 25 years. My eldest, starting kindergarten, also knew how to read. We had practiced our address and phone number. I had instructed her about sex blanks.

She donned her Strawberry Shortcake backpack. I plunked my toddler into a stroller.

The school, though located across the street, seemed a world away.

“Time to go,” I said brightly.

“I want to go by myself.”

My heart shriveled.  “But—but—all the other mothers get to come.”

“I don’t want you to come.”

“You might get lost!”

“We visited my room. Two whole times.”

How had she mastered a teenage eye-roll? “Uh—”

She looked carefully both ways and crossed the street. But at the school’s entrance, she paused.

She needed me! To my two-year-old’s delight, the stroller and I galloped madly toward the school.

But my kindergartener had disappeared.

Now I paused, chewiing my nails. Should I risk another eye-roll?

Instead, I slunk home and suffered. Had my child indeed found her classroom?

Or had aliens abducted her?

When the school’s dismissal bell rang, the sight of the familiar little figure saved my life. “How was school?”

“Okay. But I didn’t like the cookies.”

She’d found her room! She’d filled out her information card herself. She knew her sex.

But she had balked at the teacher’s listing her race as white. “I told her you said I was pinky-beige.” My daughter groused, “She put a ‘W’ in the blank anyway!”

Apparently, my child had taken our racial discussions to heart. …

Ah, the first day of school. I may be a spectator now, but I haven’t forgotten the thrill of the drill.

As if I ever could.

 

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What first-day-of-school memory stands out for you?

August Baby

To very-soon-mothers-to-be walking along my street, in malls, and parks: my heartfelt sympathy. I gave birth to an August baby, too.

My final month, I holed up in our bedroom, the rental’s only air-conditioned area. Trying to buckle my shoes, I wriggled like a June bug on my back for two hours, then sallied forth in bedroom slippers to buy slip-ons.

At the store, a terrified teen clerk eyed me.

“Bring me cute shoes without buckles,” I ordered. “Or else!”

He came through … and probably vowed lifetime celibacy to shield him from cranky, pregnant women. Women wreaking vengeance on people with flat stomachs, no stretch marks and normal body temperatures. On anyone not carrying August babies.

My helplessness gave way to well-shod confidence. No more June bug imitations. With God’s help, I could do this.

I even volunteered to conduct my church’s evangelistic survey. I walked on my heels, as with any shift toward my toes, my watermelon-sized stomach would have dropped me onto my nose.

But I wore cute shoes. With no buckles.

Most residents, after glances at my stomach, demonstrated kindness. Crusty homeowners collared Chihuahuas and offered glasses of water. One irate lady shooed me into her recliner. Did my mother know I was doing this?

Later, fellow volunteers and I discovered my survey had proved the most successful! However, our team leader nixed the others’ tucking pillows under their shirts for follow-up.

I did not participate. August Baby had other plans.

The day before her arrival, I weeded flower beds. Throughout my pregnancy, I had charted a religiously healthy diet. But that day, I deserved chili dogs drowned in beans, cheese, onions and mustard.

Stuffed, gritty and exhausted, I announced, “I’ll shower tomorrow.”

My husband, a sleep-deprived resident physician, yawned. “Me, too. Don’t go into labor tonight.”

We collapsed. But August Baby woke us at one a.m. to announce her imminent arrival.

Not only did I have to confess my heinous dietary lapse to the nurse, but every hospital staff member came to meet me.

That’s Dr. Phillips’ wife?”

“Yeah, the one with the dirty nails.”

August Baby, however, made me forget everything. So what if the overflowing obstetric wing made us spend our first hours together in a hallway? Since many staff were on vacation, my long-awaited bath was postponed. …

August Baby and I spent many sweet, sweaty, squally summer nights cuddled too close, her soft skin and hair damp against mine.

But my daughter learned early to go with the flow. Her sunshine-tinged hair, eyes, and smile always have reminded me of August richness, of the treasure I received, dirty nails or not.

August Baby, you were — and are — golden.

Vacation’s Over … Thank God!

Hubby and I have just returned from two weeks of camping, aka our vacation. Grateful to return with only 4,271 mosquito bites, I greet my calendar, which features a two-scene 1947 Norman Rockwell print entitled “Going and Coming.”

In the first, a grinning guy showing off a snazzy fedora and big cigar drives a station wagon topped by a boat. His smiling wife holds Little Sister on her lap. Junior and Fido hang out a window. Warm air flaps their ears and ours, and spit hits our windshields as they pass. Big Sis blows a bubble with her gum that could carry her to the lake by air. Little Bro holds his nose, giving the “You stink!” gesture that passed for rudeness during that era. Beside him, Grandma, sitting straight as a general, ignores the little heathens because of her poor eyesight.

At least, that’s the excuse we grandparents give.

In the second scene, the family returns from the beach. Dad sports only a stump of his cigar and bravado. Mom and toddler snooze. Even the boys and dog sit sedately, and Big Sis’s bubble has shrunk to earthbound size. Grandma, still ramrod straight, probably sleeps with her eyes open, a skill she’s perfected during church.

These Rockwell pictures shout their message so loud and clear even art experts can’t mess with it: “Vacation’s Over … Thank God!”

Each spring, epidemic celebrations offer a taste of summer, tantalizing as our first mouthful of strawberry shortcake. We view new territory, thumbing our noses at those less audacious, confident our bubble gum will taste good forever.

By late July, however, we surpass our quota of quality time together, especially in the car. We peel from the sun’s overfriendliness. Sand has made itself at home in cars, carpets and shorts. Kids have grown an extra epidermis comprised of sun block, Popsicle®, and dirt.

Oddly, something deep inside us craves an alarm clock — and regular bath times. We still love barbecues, but a Sunday roast with mashed potatoes and gravy sounds even better. We want our beds, our messy houses and our schedules.

Even messier because of vacations.

In Rockwell’s return scene, Dad will unload the car, including boat, gear, and sleeping children. Mom faces the formidable task of putting the remaining kids — freshly energized by their arrival home — to bed. (A side note: Both scenes feature children who appear entirely too clean. Mrs. Rockwell never would have painted them thus.)

Coming home is no picnic. Like this family, we continue to meet ourselves going and coming, coming and going. That’s life.

We wouldn’t miss it for anything.

 

Today, are you coming or going?

 

Crazy Cavers

Sixtyish adults who tent camp with grown children and grandchildren ranging from six months to age ten are certifiably insane. But my husband and I reached new levels of lunacy when we accompanied a large percentage of our family group to cave.

A forest hike would bond generations, educate little descendants, and keep them off campground roads inhabited by dinosaur-like RVs. They would view a cave like those immortalized in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

The cave’s yawning limestone mouth featured jagged teeth and an untidy moss mustache. Definitely the setting legends are made of.

However, half the campground’s population also had braved this wilderness journey. Unlike Aladdin, we stood in line … then remembered we hadn’t brought flashlights.

Despite my Boy Scout husband’s protests, the herd crept forward with only dim illumination from our phones and a son-in-law’s small flashlight. The temperature dropped 15 degrees. Chilly water dripped down my back.

Who knew what might dwell within these cold, drippy underground walls? Injun Joe, the murderous cave-dweller who terrorized Tom Sawyer? Dragons breathed down my neck. …

“I’ll bet this cave has bunches of bats!” my grandson enthused. “I think cave spiders just crawled up my leg.”

Shades of Shelob! With The-Lord-of-the-Rings passion, I brushed him from head to toe.

Now shaking off a hundred imaginary crawlies, I fervently wished he’d kept his scientific curiosity to himself.

The ceiling dropped. Walls closed in. My hips, still inflated by Christmas fat, might wedge in a fissure forever.

Would my skinnier descendants return to camp, mourning my demise, and console themselves with the four buckets of chocolate chip cookies I had baked? Would they not bring me even one to ease my passage into the next world?

Primeval fears solidified when someone called, “Time to crawl.”

My sanity finally kicked in. “No. I’m going back.”

Others turned thumbs down. The grandchildren registered a vehement protest. Our son-in-law sided with the kids. He pressed on, taking them and the only flashlight.

Now gripping my husband’s belt — I hoped — I trailed him through the darkness. Eventually, we arrived at the cave’s mouth. Whew!

Hiking to the cave’s exit, we awaited the adventurers. Anxious minutes dragged. …

Fortunately, they appeared before we summoned the National Guard. Everyone returned to camp to celebrate survival with an appropriately unsafe hot dog roast — and cookies.

 

Have you ever taken your kids/grandkids spelunking?

 

 

 

 

 

Little League Love

Fierce soprano voices yell “Hey, batter!” Super-sized helmets top skinny little necks. Pint-sized players wield mitts big as sofa pillows (and often about as effective).

A hometown crowd cheers and munches hot dogs and popcorn.

It’s the season of Little League Love.

Unlike most onlookers, my husband and I are at a comfortable spectator stage, our children grown.

So I can actually watch games, which I rarely did during my son’s baseball career. Like many moms, I spent years sitting on the bleachers with eyes tightly shut, only opening them when I visited the concession stand.

We fans really try to behave. But when offspring are involved, the most righteous dad sometimes lets loose a tirade. The gentlest, sweetest grandma grows fangs when the umpire dares call her grandson out.

Of course, I never acted like that. I do, however, admit to going a little overboard in motivating my child, egged on by another mom. My friend loudly informed her twelve-year-old that if he didn’t hit that ball, she was going to dance for the crowd’s entertainment. I informed my son that I would sing. High. And very loud.

Not only did our sons smack the ball as if their lives depended on it, we inspired the entire team.

Yet despite our critical role in the victory, nobody put our names on their trophy. Where was the Mom love in that?

A roar from the present crowd brings me back from nostalgia. On this diamond, where younger teams play, contact with the ball almost guarantees a home run and most successful defense is purely accidental.

The players appear deeply serious, but the coaches are less, and the crowd has a ball. Some mothers even watch with their eyes open.

They contrast with their glazed-eyed kids, several of whom snore at their positions, the sun having set. An infield player makes interesting dance moves, but I don’t think he anticipates a Dancing with the Stars career. He forgot to visit the restroom earlier, so the compassionate umpire grants a special time out.

It’s easy for me to laud the joys of Little League from my maybe-I’ll-go-maybe-not perspective. For parents who spend enough time to earn a college degree watching, waiting and transporting, Little League Love wears a little thin. But one sitting near us saw it as a win-win situation. If his son’s team won, they’d return the following night for another chance at the championship. If they lost, he could run a combine over his neglected lawn.

He’s a dad who cares, yet doesn’t care too much about the game’s outcome. And that’s the very best kind of Little League Love.

What’s your favorite kid baseball moment?

 

Sweet Time Travel to the Store

One of Murphy’s Laws plagues me repeatedly: If I aspire to pack a lunch, I am out of bread.

So I ride my bike to the local store. There is no better time machine than pedaling on a sunny morning, the fragrance of cut grass and hot blacktop whooshing past.

As a child, I gloried in my role as Mom’s personal shopper for bread, milk and tomato soup – especially if I could keep the change.

Charlie’s Store bore no sign, but everyone knew who conducted business in the 1940s-style building at the crossroads. The pop machine held a place of honor just inside. Opening it cooled me, even if I didn’t have a dime. Rows of bottles swam in ice-cold water: root beer, Upper 10, Nehi Grape, Orange Crush, and cherry red pop everyone called cream soda, though it wasn’t creamy.

I clinked bottles until I could haul out my choice. If I struggled to open it, some nearby grown-up popped off the cap.

If I had accumulated that much wealth, though, I craved nickel candy bars that stuck to my skinny ribs.

During leaner times, I bought penny candy. Though crusty, Charlie allowed herds of kids behind his counter, where we spent more time pondering choices than doing our homework.

Boxes of Tootsie Pops, Pixy Stix®, licorice, root beer barrels, wax lips and Lemonheads lined the wall.  Lik-M-Aid turned palms and tongues green, orange and purple.  Atomic FireBalls, though not radioactive, exerted a similar effect on teeth and digestive systems. Even the poorest kid could hunt for empty pop bottles, exchange them for a penny, and join the sticky masses in licking, sucking and gulping.

Charlie sold Bazooka Bubble Gum, two for a penny. Some steamy days, I sat on the store’s cool, uneven cement steps, chewing four pieces and reading comics.

Fifty-five years have passed. I can’t pedal there today. The checkers at my present hometown store greet me with a friendly “how’s it going?” The aisles bulge with food, clothing, canning jars, hardware, birdhouse chimes and roach killer. I dutifully visit the bread rack. Sweet old friends greet me from jars and displays near the registers. I purchase a piece of Bazooka Bubble Gum.

Chewing, pedaling and dangling my bag from the handlebars, I ride home, where (sigh) chores await. But I am glad for my neighbors’ flowers, thankful for the blue sky that hasn’t changed, though I have.

Hungry Hubby, too, appreciates my trip to the store.

Sometimes Murphy’s Law isn’t so bad.

 

As a child, where did you buy your bubble gum?