Tag Archives: Children

First Year on the Bus

On September days, I quadruple travel time, waiting behind school buses. The route doesn’t matter. My car is a bus magnet.

I’m never bored, though. A school bus at a stoplight entertains me more than Animal Planet.

I recall the first year Bus Number 3’s doors flapped open, when I scaled a steep stairway in early steps toward an education. I stopped dead at the top, nearly sending older brother Ned flopping backward.

The bus driver, Mr. Feeney, resembled a giant frog wearing a flannel shirt. Would he catch flies?

Nope. Shucks.

Instead, he nodded a silent greeting. When I dropped into a seat beside Ned, Mr. Feeney grunted, and my brother squawked. I was sitting on the boys’ side! I had violated The Aisle.

Why didn’t they color the girls’ side pink? I shrank into the seat behind Mr. Feeney. To my joy, a classmate soon joined me. Mary Jo and I sat there the remainder of the year. Why? With autumn’s arrival, the heater baked our ankles like apples.

Mr. Feeney often checked his big rearview mirror, from which he monitored the western hemisphere. He controlled our bus through the radio. When crowd noise reached 747-landing levels, he turned off “A Summer Place” or “Alley-Oop” or “Purple People Eater.”

Perhaps we six-year-olds found his big, red-and-black-checkered back comforting. Wiggly minnows in an ocean of big kids, we rode with teenagers big as God and my daddy.

Teen girls pushed cancanned skirts through narrow aisles. But these lost their goddess standing when I discovered their guy obsession. Didn’t they know about boy cooties? Still, I learned a whole new set of life skills, including “going steady,” by observing romance negotiations across The Aisle

            JIMMY’S FRIEND: Brenda, do you like Jimmy?

            (BRENDA hugs the window and stares at cows.)

            BRENDA’S FRIEND: She thinks he’s dreamy!

            (Snickers and catcalls from the boys’ side. JIMMY punches his FRIENDS.)

            (BRENDA’S FRIENDS giggle for 60 minutes straight.)

Undignified, almost indecent. Why didn’t Mr. Feeney do something?

After a girl bagged her male prey, official rules required she bring angora yarn aboard and wrap her prize: the boy’s ring. Those big, sparkly high school rings beat Cracker Jack® prizes every time.

Once, a lovesick couple sat together. The universe tilted. Mr. Feeney began to pull over, frightening the guilty parties into desperate dives back across The Aisle.

Now, waiting behind buses, I wonder if these children will follow one 50 years hence. No. By then, mothers will beam their kids to first grade.

At times, I wish I hadn’t spent hours riding school buses.

But think of all the education I would have missed.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Did you ride a school bus as a kid?

In Defense of Muzak

Yes, it’s true. Without bribery, I listen to Muzak®, aka elevator music, aka easy listening.

Writers who discuss music of any kind may as well bungee jump into a volcano. Pulitzer Prize winner Dave Barry learned this when he dissed singer Neil Diamond. When a flabbergasted Barry received piles of hate mail, his delighted publisher commissioned Barry to write an entire book about music he loathed. And hired an army of lawyers.

No one’s hired even one for me, so I’ll stick to easy listening’s positive aspects — though nobody admits to liking Muzak®. Like scorn for gluten, happy endings and the Pledge of Allegiance, disdain for elevator music has become fashionable.

Critics dismiss it as simple — God protect us from simplicity! — and even happy.

Everyone knows happiness is for lightweights like Jane Bennet in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, who flunked Mr. Darcy’s standards: “Miss Bennet he admitted to be pretty, but she smiled too much.”

Contemporary Mr. Darcys believe Muzak® should be banished to avoid annoying unhappy people who want to stay that way.

Still, I don’t rubber-stamp all easy listening songs, Frank and Nancy Sinatra’s hit, “Somethin’ Stupid,” sounded stupid in 1967 and still does. When I am put on hold with “Send in the Clowns,” I can grind my teeth with any Muzak® hater.

Still, is it fair to label all elevator music as unworthy of elevators? Many arrangements, instrumentalists, and vocalists are superior to the originals.

While you writhe in shock, allow me to mention other Muzak® positives:

  • It sounds better than “Your call is important to us. Please stay on the line for the next decade or until you die, whichever comes first.”
  • Elevator music evokes naps, which benefit all humankind.
  • It employs hungry musicians, so they’re less likely to play under our windows on Saturday nights.
  • It provides opportunities to sing along in stores, mortifying children and grandchildren.
  • Actually, elevator music brings generations together. Oldie lovers feel smug because they know what “real” music is. Critics of yesterday’s hits flaunt trendy musical taste. Everyone feels superior — truly a win-win situation.
  • Easy listening music also transports one to the past e.g., dancing at the prom. Sure, Muzak® also may provoke memories of a date painful as shin splints, or a breakup that resembled a Sylvester Stallone film. Given enough violins, though, such misery can be transmogrified into sweet melancholy at the remembrance of young love. At worst, you can congratulate yourself that you dodged that bullet.
  • Finally, Muzak®, in provoking memories, proves I still have one.

I imagine Dave Barry, my fellow bungee-volcano jumper, would agree this discussion is worth it.

“Sweet Caroline,” anyone?

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Do you secretly like Muzak®?

How to Bail Out a Tent

Though Hubby and I now own a pop-up camper, we remained tent campers for two decades. As still-married experts, we offer advice to those planning to bail out tents.

A truly memorable experience depends on preparation.

  • Get away from it all, a hundred miles from the nearest laundromat. Confirm beforehand that hand dryers in the campground’s restrooms haven’t worked since 1979.
  • Pack anything that holds more than one teaspoon under your spare tire. Then forget where you packed your bailing aids.
  • Do not pack clothing and towels in waterproof garbage bags. Plan to stack them in your tent so during a deluge, every fiber will absorb its proper quota of water. Your clothes may sprout toadstools. Your towels will weigh more than chunks of firewood. But you won’t drown. You want to survive to do this again, don’t you?

Tips, once you’ve arrived at your site:

  • Place air mattresses under sleeping bags. These will promote comfort and dryness — unless the youth group that borrowed them wore cleats.
  • Store all food in your tent so 37 hungry raccoons will assist in your bailing experience.
  • Given that all bailing vessels are buried under your spare tire, a husband’s tennis shoes work well, especially if you’re mad because he talked you into tent camping.
  • If a nagging wife’s sleeping bag has remained dry while yours is drenched, use hers to sop up the flood.
  • A more relaxed approach: If spouses awaken to find air mattresses afloat, she can remind him he always wanted to go white water rafting. He can remind her she always wanted a pool. Add sunglasses and drinks with little paper umbrellas, then enjoy a facsimile of the vacation you really wanted.

The above assumes no children accompanied you. If they have, thunder will send them diving, slimy and screaming, into your sleeping bag. Remember, you and your spouse must set a positive example for future years, should they marry people with tents.

  • Instigate a family sing-along while you bail. “The Ants Go Marching” lends a steady rhythm to keep everyone working in the fun tradition of galley slaves. Avoid “There Shall Be Showers of Blessing.” Despite the song’s superior spiritual content, neighbors — also bailing — may not appreciate its profundity.
  • Start a water fight. You can’t get much wetter, right? (So what, if it’s 4:30 a.m.)
  • If water rises past kids’ knees, give them impromptu swimming lessons.
  • If water rises to your youngest child’s neck, enjoy sleeping in the car. Family togetherness — that’s why you planned this, right? Because you’ve always dreamed of sleeping, entwined with two kids, under a steering wheel …

And achieving that special marital chemistry that comes only with bailing out a tent.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What tent camping tips can you offer?

OMG, It’s Monday! Prayer: Baseball DNA

O Lord, You know I spent many summer nights, sitting on hard bleachers, watching our baseball-crazy son and his team play T-ball. I slapped at mosquitoes and applauded every player (“Yay! You only missed that catch by 20 feet!”). OMG, You didn’t tell me that one day, I would watch my son coach his son too. 

Our son, circa 1990, taking a swing at his birthday T-ball while Great-Grandpa cheers him on.
Our son, who disliked his beauty parlor sponsor, nevertheless encourages his son to welcome his funeral parlor sponsor.

Elevator Experiences: Eeek! And Otherwise

I’ve often attended Christian writers’ conferences with hundreds of participants. Attendees squish so close into hotel elevators that we could receive organ transplants by osmosis.

Such unsolicited togetherness recalls college days when other music students and I — considerably skinnier than now — packed into elevators like Pringles® into a can. We made room for tuba players. Once, we squeezed the string bass section in and dropped a floor.

Dormitory elevators also presented perils. Picture riding morning elevators with a thousand women, all having a bad hair day. Or sneaking to your room at 3 a.m., hoping to avoid trash can terrorists. These attackers prowled outside elevator doors with full cans of water, waiting to douse their victims.

As a child, though, I loved elevators. An early memory recalls a department store where the elevator operator exchanged pleasantries with me. Like a fairy godmother, she made the windowless little room rise as if it possessed wings.

I gasped, then giggled. Other nice people in the elevator laughed with me.

“Look at her eyes.” One gentleman sounded as if he wanted to borrow my joy.

But kids grow up. Eventually I, like other grown-ups, discovered official Elevator Etiquette, listed below:

  • Never look other passengers in the eye or initiate friendly conversation. These will make the elevator drop.
  • The person whose destination is the farthest must occupy the front. She is required to bring seven suitcases, a rolling office, and a large, predatory parrot on her shoulder.
  • No elevator’s population should exceed that of Indianapolis.
  • Smiling is restricted unless adults are accompanied by children.
  • Lighted numbers must be scrutinized by all passengers. Otherwise, the elevator will drop.
  • Passengers under age 12 are required by law to jump up and down, preferably while eating ice cream cones.
  • Adults should not. But they may bring overflowing cups of beer.
  • Follow posted emergency procedures — even if the fire alarm, gunshot or rattlesnake’s warning is only mimicked by a passenger’s cell phone ringtone.
  • In a glass elevator, passengers must never face outward. Otherwise, atrium spectators will be denied a traveling view of their backs and butts.
Fellow author Christy Miller and I attended the awards banquet at the 2016 American Christian Fiction Writers Conference.

Fortunately, most attendees of the aforementioned conferences break these rules. Though we compete for space, oxygen and publication of our writing, we smile a lot. We introduce ourselves: “Oh, so the elbow mutilating my right kidney belongs to you. Glad to meet you. Where are you from?”

We press buttons for others and hold our collective breath to accommodate new passengers. Twice, a fellow passenger took my heavy box of office folders, giving me a temporary, but much-needed, break.

Flouting Elevator Etiquette together helps make it an uplifting experience for all.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Do you like to ride elevators?

OMG, It’s Monday! Prayer: Children + Computer = Unique Zoom Meetings.

O Lord, even in my empty nest, I find working at home a challenge. But, OMG, please give my daughter and other parents braving the joys of computer-savvy children the courage to carry on. Help the kids survive, too.

Classic Post: Dandelion Treasure

This post first appeared on March 16, 2016.

As I walk past our nearby elementary school, I search for the first fuzzy yellow dandelions. Although I want them out of my yard, deep in my grown-up heart, I still like them.

As a six-year-old, I heard God sprinkled dandelions on lawns like manna. Sometimes, He turned them to gold during the night. The financial possibilities made it worth a try.

The gold coin story did not pan out, but I still welcomed dandelions. Softer than my baby brother’s hair, they dotted the gray-brown Indiana landscape, reminding me better than any catechism that God loves color.

I showered my mother with bouquets. She never turned them down.

One evening Mama surprised my siblings and me. We would pick dandelions for supper! I did not realize they were good to eat. Or that our old refrigerator was empty. Mama acted as if we were going on a picnic.

“These look good.” She bent and nipped off leaves.

Grown-ups rarely made sense. “Aren’t we going to eat the flowers?”

“No. Some people make wine with them, but we’re eating just the greens.”

“Can’t we make wine?”

Mama’s eyebrows rose. “Probably not a good idea.”

My pastor father’s congregation might not take kindly to a bootleg wine-making operation in the church basement.

My seven-year-old brother grabbed the big greens first.

“Thank you.” Mama shook dirt from our offerings. “But little ones are best.”

Ha! My spindly greens topped his!

I asked, “What do cooked dandelions taste like?”

“Spinach.”

I’d never eaten spinach. But on TV, Popeye’s spinach helped him clobber the bad guys!

Maybe dandelions possessed the same magic. I insisted on a big bowl for supper. Muscles would pop out on my skinny arms. I would teach Kevin, the mouthy kid across the alley, some manners!

I took my first bite.

Maybe we should have made wine.

Though I gulped several spoonfuls, I didn’t hear Popeye’s happy music. My arms still looked like plucked chicken wings. Maybe if the dandelions had come from a can instead of the churchyard, the spell might have worked.

Decades later, dandelion greens, no longer a dubious alternative to going hungry, are chopped, pickled and curried in hundreds of international recipes.

I take home the fresh, green pile I’ve gathered. When I find the right recipe, I’ll dine on four-star fare for lunch. My personal skeptic insists I’ll be eating weeds. Ignoring her, I search the Internet for recipes.

Who knows? Chopped in my repent-after-the-holidays salad, dandelions might make me as skinny as Olive Oyl.

Fat chance.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Do you have a favorite dandelion recipe?

Once Upon a Blizzard

This post first appeared on January 13, 2016.

We Midwesterners share a rich heritage of blizzard stories. Deprived tropics dwellers can’t appreciate our anticipation when The Weather Channel threatens wild winds, arctic cold and snow up the wazoo. Nor do they understand the joy of swapping lies — er, stories — of bravery amid Snowmageddon. A lifetime Hoosier, I have plenty to share.

A preschooler during my first blizzard, I recall my mother’s positive thinking. Despite three days in a two-room apartment with three little ones, she described the trees as “chocolate with white icing.” The Frosty we built resembled a malnourished alien, but we waved at him from our window. It seemed a friendly blizzard.

The second blizzard wasn’t. Winds howled like wolves, savaging electricity for several days. Cupboards emptied. Fortunately, shivering neighbors brought groceries when they came to enjoy our gas heat. Thirteen shared our three-bedroom, one-bathroom house. Survivor had nothing on us.

But we nine kids — playing infinite games of Monopoly, Candy Land, and the unofficial but essential Freak the Grown-ups — considered it fun. Our parents, with extended therapy and medication, finally recovered.

A young married couple when the Big One hit in 1978, our car refused to navigate three-foot drifts. My medical student husband hiked to a police station, catching a ride to a hospital. For three days, he, another student, and a young resident physician — aided by stranded visitors — cared for little patients on a pediatric wing.

Meanwhile, I baked bread. A nearby fellow medical student wife, whose husband also was missing in action, helped eat it. Walking home, I foundered in a sea of snow-covered landmarks. Only a faint traffic signal in ghostly darkness sent me the right direction. Then a tall shadow blocked my way.

Gulp. The only rapist crazy enough to be out in this?

“How’s it goin’?” he rasped.

“F-f-fine.” I squeaked.

He passed by. I slogged home. When the snow finally stopped, my husband appeared, fell over like a tree and slept.

Not content with that harrowing weather, we moved north near South Bend, Indiana, where blizzard stories abound even more than blizzards. Babies and emergencies ignored storm warnings, expecting my doctor husband to show up. How rude.

School snow days brought hungry hoards incapable of studying algebra, but well able to conduct snow wars outside our house. Once, I was trapped with snow-dueling middle schoolers, teens armed with boom boxes, and soon-to-be-separated college sweethearts — along with remodelers who braved the storm to sledgehammer walls.

Blizzard days two decades later prove far less traumatic, but can stop our lives cold. Yet even if I must search for leftover Christmas candles to light my longhand efforts, I’ll do my usual January thing: tell blizzard stories.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite Snowmageddon tale?

“Fear Not” — Are You Kidding Me?

(Note: I wrote this piece in 2019, with no idea of what lay ahead. Reviewing it, I thought it might prove even more relevant for Christmas 2020.) 

Children nowadays text Santa with requests. Some use PowerPoint presentations. (“Last year, you brought a baby brother instead of a puppy. Seriously, Santa, you and Amazon Prime really messed up.”)  

Yet, up-close-and-personal encounters continue as children assure Santa they’ve been good. He probably doesn’t do background checks, because even mean kids make out like Christmas bandits.

The majority, however, look scared.

Reading storybooks on Mommy’s lap about jolly St. Nick felt cozy and familiar.

Sitting on a big, bearded hippie’s lap doesn’t. Children inform the entire mall this wasn’t their idea. The only photos taken feature close-ups of tonsils. Or kids’ calling Uber for a ride to Bongo Bongo.

Yet loving grown-ups assure them, “Don’t be afraid.”

They’d never endanger children. Even hired Santas probably would have found easier work — like digging ditches — if they didn’t care about kids.

The children are safe. Cherished.

I find similar, odd “fear nots” in the biblical Christmas story.

When the angel Gabriel told Mary about her impossible pregnancy. When another urged Joseph to marry her, carrying a Child not his. When shepherds hit the ground before a regiment of angels. Mary, Joseph and the shepherds had real reasons to be afraid.

These strange visitors weren’t wearing wings and halos from Dollar Tree. Seeing genuine angels today while shoveling snow or brewing coffee — who wouldn’t set Olympic records for the 10-mile dash?

Besides, the angels’ words smacked of the revolutionary.    

In Mary’s culture, a woman pregnant with a supposedly illegitimate Child might be stoned.  A man who married her would bear her stigma, affecting relationships and his job. Having left flocks untended, the shepherds also might lose their meager livelihood.

Worse, the angels proclaimed the Baby was a King. Paranoid Herod, who killed family members, considered that high treason. Also, Romans readily crucified anyone who didn’t worship Caesar.

Crazy times. Terrible times. Yet God’s message rang out: “Fear not.”

Today, we want to call Uber and escape this scary mess. Go to Bongo Bongo. Or Neptune.

Adult Jesus did, too. He knew His enemies would kill him. Yet, His life vibrated with that theme: “Fear not.”

Jesus could have blown away his foes. Instead, He used His murder to pay for human sin. Then, He laughed at death — that thing we fear most — and rose again.

Jesus wants us to know if we believe in Him, we are safe. Now. Forever. Loved. Cherished.

“Fear not.”

He wasn’t kidding Mary, Joseph or the shepherds. He isn’t kidding us, either. Or our children and grandchildren bawling on Santa’s lap.

Joy and peace to you this Christmas.

Really.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Are you trusting Jesus for 2021 — and your forever?

 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. —John 3:16 NIV