Tag Archives: children

The Blue Dresser

How did the dresser start out in life? I don’t know, but its size and plain, sturdy lines said, “I belong to a kid.”

The dresser’s original kid probably wadded clothes Mom had folded and stuffed them into its drawers. Perhaps he yanked out drawers, climbed the “stairs” and jumped off the top with an umbrella parachute.

Years later, I discovered that dresser in a secondhand store, marked half-price. It would do until my three-year-old son started school. However, it wore a woebegone, cast-off aura.

My mother, two thousand miles away, whispered in my mind, “Nice find. Great price. But this little dresser needs happy paint.”

As a teen, I’d rolled my eyes when Mom painted end tables orange and a bedroom suite blue. Who did that?

Well … I did. After a critical paint chip comparison, I began painting the chest eye-popping blue. I planned to paint its handles equally vivid red.

Then my young husband needed an emergency appendectomy. While Hubby slowly recovered from complications, I slowly finished the dresser. Late at night, I added a second coat, a third, maybe more — I don’t remember. I experienced a glad moment when I hauled the completed dresser upstairs to my son’s bedroom. An even happier one when I brought his daddy home.

David, flanked by his older sisters, was a toddler when I painted the dresser a vivid blue.

Both had jobs to do. Daddy returned to work. The dresser once more endured yanks, shoves and a “helpful” kid who stuffed clothes Mom had folded into its drawers. (He also attempted to climb to the dresser top, but I stopped him on the second step.)

A doggie bank constructed from a Pringles can resided on it, along with half-consumed PB&J sandwiches and piles of baseball cards. With ABC curtains, Mickey Mouse sheets, and a carpet perpetually layered with toys, the dresser helped make the room my kid’s haven.

But adolescence sneaked in. The first clouds of Eau de Gym Shoe settled over his room and, with them, a dark cloud of protest: Mickey Mouse sheets? Seriously? Did he really need ABCs displayed on his curtains?

David with his wife and their first baby.

I changed his décor to manly navy blue. Strangely, he didn’t ask me to lose the dresser.

Perhaps, even he realized he didn’t need a bigger one. Why, when his wardrobe resided in heaps on the floor?

Plus, the doggie bank’s big smile still matched the dresser perfectly.

One day, he departed for college, then marriage. The cheerful blue dresser, deprived of its kid, looked a little sad.

Now, though, it proudly houses coloring books, finger paints, and Play-Doh for grandchildren.

That dresser was made for kids.

And this old kid still loves it.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What furniture in your home tells your family’s story?

The Eyes Have It

My stylish glasses worn in fifth grade.

“Rachael needs glasses.”

My mother stared at my teacher. Neither she nor Dad wore glasses. How could their six-year-old mistake “Dick” for “Jane” on the blackboard? But my siblings also misread “Boys” and “Girls” on restroom doors. Mom soon made weekly visits to the grocery and the optometrist’s.

Meanwhile, my husband languished with poor vision longer than his parents realized. They coaxed him to the optometrist’s, promising his bat would connect with the baseball better.

“Ball?” Steve said. “They throw a ball?”

As a Phillips, he probably took good care of his glasses.

My siblings and I, however, used them as fresh opportunities to annoy our parents. We don’t recall the color of brother Ned’s glasses because Mom was always swathing his bent/ fractured/twisted spectacles with new duct tape.

We all discovered innovative ways to lose our glasses. We left them on school lunch trays. Baby brothers flushed them down toilets and dropped them down heating vents. On vacation, Jean left her glasses in Louisville … or Memphis? The wind blew mine from my face as I rode in the back of Dad’s pickup.

My high school singing group, Debuteens. I’m sitting on the front row, far right, sans glasses.

Eventually, I graduated to the ultimate cool: contact lenses. Why I bothered, I don’t know. My bangs reached my nostrils. My own mother had forgotten my eye color. Eyes? What eyes?

I couldn’t wear soft lenses, so I paid hard-earned dollars for pieces of glass I stuck into my eyes like tacks. They worked great — except on sunny, dry days. Or cold, windy days. Or when I opened my eyes.

After several masochistic years, I decided they weren’t worth it. My boyfriend-turned husband didn’t mind my glasses at all. Not surprisingly, we produced three bespectacled children.

Inheriting my fussy corneas, our eldest gave up on contacts, too. Apparently, gentlemen still made passes at lasses in glasses, because her future husband saw past hers. When our family shed spectacles for a swim, though, he discovered we couldn’t tell time on the hotel’s large clock.

“I can almost see numbers,” our daughter said.

“I can make out the hands,” I told him. “Sort of.”

“What clock?” said Hubby and our son in unison.

Brave soul, the boyfriend married into our family anyway.

Eventually, I did the bobble-headed thing while adjusting to new bifocals. Now the media hypes laser surgery for cool Boomers.

I prefer to blow my wad elsewhere. Besides, not-so-great vision can prove positive.

Seeing the blackboard clearly for the first time, my six-year-old self never would have believed it. At this life stage, though, Hubby and I don’t miss seeing gray hairs, wrinkles or love handles.

A little blindness can be a blessing.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Describe your first pair of glasses. Or do you possess perfect vision?

Touring Away from Other Tourists

If you’re like my friends and me, you’re still mulling your summer trips. Whether traveling by plane, train or hang glider, or staying in tent, hotel or castle, we all agree on one issue: We try to avoid places where other tourists go.

We require hotels much quieter — and cleaner — than our homes. Campers hope no one will locate within a mile of their Winnebagos. Both kinds of vacationers pray their rowdy, late-night parties will not be disturbed by some other rowdy, late-night party.

Patrons at both rough-it and refined ends of the getaway spectrum seek restaurants that attract no screamy children but their own.

We want to fill cyberspace — especially the pages of envious relatives — with amazing photos of eye-popping attractions. Attractions that should never draw other visitors, yet must include:

  • Infinite-sized, free parking lots.
  • Plentiful, pristine restrooms with no lines.
  • Classy, dirt-cheap souvenirs.
  • Educational adventures even grandmas and insurance companies consider safe.

Children, however, have long considered “education” and “vacation” a contradiction in terms. They love tourist traps.

Hubby and his brother, who as children stayed at their grandparents’ Wisconsin lake cottage, could have fed their morning cereal to deer peeking in the windows. Still, no vacation was complete without visiting nearby Diddly’s Delightful Deer Farm.

Today’s media-soaked children still reverence such attractions. Admission fees are in direct proportion to their pointlessness, reflected in souvenirs, e.g., oozy green livers from Mutant Body Parts Wax Museum and litter-shaped candy from Pretty Kitty’s Cat Condo.

Even teens welcome such enticements — if they can ditch parents.

Surprisingly, our college-aged daughter once asked me to journey with her in Honduras, where she’d spent the semester.

My airplane seatmate, a native who had moved to Texas, advised me to remove my necklace before we landed: “Pickpockets jerk them off.” She also counseled me to avoid taxis if I didn’t know the driver personally.

Long and scary story short, my daughter and I did rendezvous, enjoying a tropical paradise together. We also shared a bus ride along a favorite hijacker route to another seaside town. A town where bank security guards carried automatic rifles and strips of ammunition crisscrossing their chests. There, we unknowingly risked our lives watching a tribal dance at night.

At our mountainside 1950s-style hotel, a white cat with malignant eyes kept vigil on the front desk. Sen֮or Blanco listened to our complaints about no locks on our door. The often-AWOL owner didn’t.

But we never had to stand in line.

My daring daughter is currently planning a South American visit. Her husband will go adventuring with her to places tourists never visit.

As for me? Diddly’s Delightful Deer Farm, here I come.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite away-from-the-tourists vacation spot?

Waking Up

If you’re reading this, you woke up today.

If you’re reading this, but didn’t wake up, please contact me immediately. I’d like to ghostwrite your best seller.

Waking up has changed since our childhood years. Do you remember when you and Teddy jumped on your parents’ bed to help them celebrate morning?

Later, Mom wreaked vengeance by dragging us out of bed for school, scrubbing our ears and necks before we escaped her clutches.

People have been awakening us ever since.

At college, I assumed I would decree my wake-up time. My dorm, however, housed 500 girls, all armed with high-voltage stereos and supersonic hairdryers. Exercise classes met outside my room — at 1 a.m.

Those years prepared me for apartment life.

“Someday, I’ll own my own house,” I said. “No more party animals. No more percussion teachers upstairs.”

My husband and I did buy a house — and filled it with babies, aka, screaming meanies allergic to sleep. Especially ours.

Not content with that, Hubby delivered babies — and took care of sick people. I frequently awoke to discussions of blood sugar readings and stool reports. And advice on how to kick insomnia.

Occasionally, I slept through his wee-hour departures. His returns? Not so much. Most sleepers might awaken if a shadowy guy joined them in bed at 2 a.m. — particularly if his body temperature equaled an arctic seal’s. If he was tall, thin, and bearded, though, I turned over and dozed off. If short, fat, and/or clean-shaven — Houston, we had a problem.

While Hubby cannot claim my levels of martyrdom, he occasionally lets me awaken him for less compelling reasons, e.g., suspicious sounds in the laundry room at 4:30 a.m. I demanded he defend our dirty socks with his life.

One night, in a hotel room, I awoke, convinced Communists were monitoring us through the sprinkling system.

He also insists my snoring awakens him, but he’s upping my stats so his don’t look bad.

My brother has long been the family mischief maker.

However, neither of us will ever achieve my brother’s dastardly wake-up call. During a solo visit, he had buttered me up with a wonderful meal, fascinating tales of his Middle Eastern service, and (!) chocolates. Such behavior should have roused deepest suspicions. Instead, I thought he finally had grown up.

That night, I savored dreamless sleep — until the enormous clock in my room lit up like a carnival ride. An Arab voice belted out a call to prayer that probably awakened Atlanta.

I thought Judgment Day had arrived.

Eventually, I realized it had not yet come for me. But Judgment Day came for him.

Little Brother, if you’re reading this, my offer to ghostwrite your best seller still stands.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What is your least favorite way to wake up?

August: the Not-So-Special Month?

My daughter once wished for a different birthday month. I referred her to God for further discussion.

I do see her point, however. August boasts no holidays — not even a fake holiday like St. Patrick’s Day. Nobody throws big parties on the eve of August 1, as they do in January.

The hotter the weather, the more we chill. Dressing up is wearing matched right and left flip-flops. Days pass before we turn the calendar page.

When we do, though, a tiny tadpole of awareness wiggles into our days.

It’s August. Something’s different.

Outdoor projects delayed till warm weather now have been postponed till fall. Yards need extreme makeovers, but we’re so sick of yard work, we pay 4-Hers to release goat herds on our premises.

August presents an end-of-summer reality check. I purchased a “miracle” swimsuit in May. Now I realize the only miracle is that I paid big bucks for it.

August affects mothers in peculiar ways. They buy pencil boxes, though no one in human history has ever proved pencil boxes serve a useful purpose. Kids talk Mom into buying cool new backpacks, though 23 uncool backpacks languish at home.

Mothers also obsess about imminent changes in schedules: “Go to bed now so you’ll be ready when school starts.” My mother, who had five kids, did this. As of August 1, we went to bed at 4:00 p.m.

Even the sun listens to Mom and retires earlier in August. Yet during daytime, it unfurls golden rays as if leading an everlasting summer, ticker-tape parade. While eating home-grown, ice-cold watermelon in the backyard, we experience a different kind of reality check:

It’s been a great summer.

By August, every able-bodied person in the Midwest has ridden a Ferris wheel and consumed a warm, crisp elephant ear.

While still recovering from that gathering of DNA-related strangers known as a family reunion, we rendezvoused with cousins who long ago sneaked into drive-ins with us. We kissed sweet baby kin’s brand-new cheeks and gave grandmas and grandpas a smile.

In August, homeowners stop vying for the Yard of the Year. Instead, we concede the grand champion ribbon to God for His spectacular pastures of goldenrod, Queen Anne’s lace and Sweet Williams.

He treats us to evening concerts by cicada choirs that sing their best in August. Fireflies, now veteran presenters, perform spectacular light shows at dusk with few technical glitches.

Whether we own farms or only farmers’ tans, the ripe cornucopia of gardens, tasseled cornfields and leafy rows of soybeans reassure us: After harvest, we will celebrate with plenty of food on our tables.

All during August — the not-so-special month.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What do you like best about August?

Lovin’ Those Lilacs

My lifelong love affair with lilacs began when our family moved to a house with several bushes. Opening my second-story bedroom window, I inhaled a fragrance that made me want to write poetry.

“What’s that smell?” I asked my mother.

“Lilacs.” She took several long, luxurious sniffs, too.

Mom and I disagreed about short skirts, curfews and whether Herman of Herman’s Hermits needed a haircut. Lilacs made us one in heart, spirit and nose.

I didn’t know the Greek mythology behind lilacs — that a beautiful nymph named Syringa (now the botanical name for lilacs) was pursued aggressively by Pan, god of field and forest. Frightened, she hid by turning herself into a lilac bush.

Who was she kidding? No one remains in cognito smelling like that.

Case in point: few spies practice this form of espionage.

Sadly, no lilacs graced my subsequent homes. I indulged in sniffing them at church, where an enormous grove dominated the side yard. Every year when the allergic choir director threatened to dynamite my beloved bushes, I trembled.

Eventually, I married and moved to apartments and houses with no lilacs. Fortunately, many neighbors owned bushes covered with bouquets of blossoms. While walking with my toddlers, I cautioned that we couldn’t pick the lilacs. However, if we were very, very careful, we could borrow the smell. If you had followed us on our regular alley rounds, you would have seen little girls — and their mommy — standing on tiptoe, hands clasped behind backs, sniffing lilacs.

One kind lilac loaner brought a huge bouquet to my hospital room when my son was born. Her logic: with another sniffer added to our family, her blossoms might not survive long, anyway.

Once, I discovered a new neighbor had axed my favorites. They lay beside the road crushed, like green and purple roadkill.

“You may be chief lilac sniffer, but your name is not on the deed,” Hubby reminded me.

So instead of vandalizing their house, I moved into a home with a big lilac bush. Every spring, I filled my dining room with luscious fragrance.

Supposedly, no one can kill lilacs, yet I did the impossible. Inconsolable, I figured if we could conduct a dozen hamster funerals in the flower bed, we could hold a lilac funeral. But no one agreed.

My husband planted another lilac. But the following year we moved, and I had to say goodbye.

We now live in a house with a rather reserved bush that poises its large lavender parasol of blossoms far above sniff level. Still, it perfumes the garden and even graciously offers a few clusters for my olfactory pleasure.

One sniff on a busy morning makes all the difference in my day. Amazing what a little lilac love can do.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite sniffing flower?

Springtime in the Trailer Park

On frozen days like today, I want to press my nose against the window pane, spread my fingers and push winter away, as I attempted when a preschooler, living in the trailer park.

When spring showed up for real, our mother would no longer imprison my four-year-old brother and me in snowsuits. She’d stop slathering us with Vicks® VapoRub ®. She’d let us go outside.

We didn’t dislike the tiny yellow trailer we called home. The kitchenette smelled like bubbling bean soup and love. Our play area: the closet-sized living room. We slept on the sofa, Ned at one end, and I at the other. Long before ESPN’s kickboxing competitions, we conducted world-class foot fights at bedtime — until the Head Referee called emphatic fouls on us both.

A little later, my sister, brother and I (pictured with my mom) all shared a for-real bedroom in a bigger trailer.

Finally, a hundred robins outside sounded an all-clear. Before sending us outdoors, Mom drilled us: Thou shalt not play around the railroad tracks. Thou shalt look both ways before crossing the drive to the playground. Thou shalt never speak to strangers. But the First Commandment eclipsed them all: Thou shalt not shed thy jacket.

Fully catechized, Ned and I darted to freedom. We stopped and looked both ways before splashing across the gravel road that circled the playground, the center of the trailer court and our world.

Paradise awaited, with a clangy old merry-go-round that spun us into an ecstasy of nausea.  Ned and his buddies defied God, gravity and their mothers, walking the teeter-totters instead of sitting. Kathy and I soared on swings, singing Perry Como’s hit, “Catch a Falling Star,” as we touched heaven with our toes. Sometimes, we all simply galloped like a wild-pony herd around the playground.

As suppertime approached, Ned and I picked up dandelions like golden coins to take to Mommy. When Daddy’s old blue Chevy turned into the drive, we raced toward it. Daddy stopped and threw the back door open. Ned and I rode home, waving to friends as if in a parade.

Eating soup and johnnycakes, we fought sagging eyelids like an enemy. We wanted to watch Rawhide, with our favorite cowboy, Rowdy (a very young Clint Eastwood). I wanted to sit on Daddy’s shoulders, eat popcorn and comb his wavy, Elvis-black hair. But it had been such a long, wonderful … spring … day … zzzz.

What do you mean, fall asleep? Not me! It’s springtime! That lazy, good-for-nothing sun has finally shown up. I’ve got more to-do items on my list than candles on my last birthday cake: garage to clean, closets to organize. Plus, a new book to write …

But first, I’m going out to play.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What childhood spring memories warm your mind?

OMG, It’s Monday! Prayer: Thank You for Laughs

My grandsons made a “homemade meme,” the star’s name above his head.

O my God, thank You for people who help us laugh. For Jim Davis, the creator of Garfield, who grew up on a farm in our county. And, OMG, thanks especially for special people who laugh with me!