O my God, thank You for entrusting three wonderful, beautiful children to me. And, OMG, thank You that now that they’re busy caring for their own kids, I could eat this whole thing on Mother’s Day without sharing a single bite.
In the Oregon desert where I lived two years, the few thunderstorms rated newspaper headlines. People ran for cover as if King Kong had invaded. They spoke in hushed tones of thunder, lightning and the deluge that made them search for the nearest Ark to rent.
Those storms hardly would have rated an umbrella in Indiana. Still, my father’s congregation trembled when he assumed the storm watcher persona he adopted long before The Weather Channel. Piles of purple clouds — if rotating, all the better — called for his scrutiny.
Mom, however, insisted that my siblings and I remain safe inside. How boring.
Later, back in Indiana, I was a passenger in a car that defied a white sheet of rain stretched across the road. Tree branches ripped, grabbing sparking power lines as they crashed. A chimney exploded.
The driver very appropriately prayed, “Dear Jesus, keep us safe. But if not, please take us to heaven.”
This struck me as unnecessarily pessimistic. In one of my less holy moments, I yelled at the top of my 18-year-old lungs, “Knock it off, Jo. Quit giving me last rites, okay?”
God in His mercy listened to Jo and ignored me.
I later succumbed to Boring Mother Disease during storm season. One spring, my small children and I spent so much time snuggled in our bathtub, they regarded it as a second library, the normal place to read storybooks.
My husband, bone-tired from a 24/7 medical practice, refused to budge from his nice warm bed just because pesky tornadoes suffered from insomnia.
Our next house featured an ancient basement. Hubby still favored Oz during tornado warnings. The kids and I, however, preferred the dungeon to our former cramped porcelain refuge. We added Play-Doh and Yahtzee tournaments to the storm regimen.
Now empty-nesters, Steve and I again live in a one-story ranch. Upon purchase, I assured myself that no storm could hoist my post-middle-age body more than a few feet.
Soon, however, lightning seemingly sizzled around my pillow, and moaning wind and rain drowned my husband’s snores. I craved my former dungeon, but tried to reassure myself.
You’ll laugh about this tomorrow.
The next morning, our ceiling had not moved. Peeking out windows, I saw no branches on the ground — not even many twigs. Why had I been such a nervous Nellie?
Back to Bathtub Story Hour for me.
Are you a storm watcher? Or do you run for a basement–or bathtub?
[Note: Wrote this several years ago. But some things never change!]
The Center for Disease Control has never dealt with one of the most devastating maladies to afflict humankind: Grandma Withdrawal Syndrome.
Attacks can be prevented by regular doses of grandchildren. Too often, though, busy lives sidetrack good intentions, and early symptoms appear. These include showing photos to convenience store clerks and flagmen.
Untreated grandmas actually take on their grandchildren’s characteristics. In advanced cases, women throw tantrums if they can’t have chocolate milk or sandwiches without crusts or 17 readings of The Poky Little Puppy.
After the 18th reading, my husband no longer asked why I had to see our grandchildren. He packed my bag, filled up the car and clicked me into my car seat.
Knocking on my daughter’s door, I felt an immediate surge of wellness. My granddaughter bounced onto my lap, asking if I’d buy Girl Scout Cookies. One grandson wanted me to play. A toddler Velcroed chubby arms around my knees and applied his snotty nose to my jeans. Could there be any better cure for Grandma Withdrawal Syndrome?
Despite my 10-box Thin Mints® purchase, I decorated cookies with my granddaughter. She noted frankly that ours were nothing like those baked by their perfect sitter.
Her brother and I played with Bendaroos, waxy, colorful, string things. He said he was making a purple caterpillar bigger than God.
“How big is God?” I asked.
He threw his hands open wide. God is 31 and 300 and thousands big! Bigger than the sun! Bigger than the sky!
“Is your caterpillar as big as the sun?”
He shook his head. Was his caterpillar as big as God? Another head shake.
Some adults refuse to admit that God’s handiwork outshines their own. But my grandson didn’t sweat it.
The toddler liked peekaboo games 20 hours straight. He cracked up when I poked my finger through holes in a plastic something or other from his toy box. I wiggled my finger. He giggled and fell down. Every time.
I returned home, health improved. But I’d barely unpacked when an SOS arrived: my younger daughter’s sitter fell through.
I braved snowy interstates to play with another twenty-month-old. Using a puppet, I devoured Fisher-Price “people” and spit them out 3,129 times with a loud “Ptui!” We raced cereal boxes. We practiced hugs and kisses. His “bye-bye” warmed me all the dark, icy way home.
I was completely cured of Grandma Withdrawal Syndrome.
For a few days.
Your turn. Tell me, have you ever experienced Grandma Withdrawal Syndrome?
Today, my birthday eyes me from the calendar like a big dog craving a cheeseburger.
When did the magic disappear?
When I was little, February dragged in slow-mo. But TV’s Captain Kangaroo always sang and dedicated a candle-laden cake on my special day. (That he serenaded thousands of kids born in March didn’t occur to me.)
Mom asked what I would like for dinner. No washing dishes! I received gifts, including my first bicycle at age 11.
Hiking the distance to my magical 16th birthday took forever. Not only would I drive then, but pimples would vanish, and long-overdue curves would appear.
The next day, still cursed with a negative bust measurement, I suffered the first inklings of cynicism.
Five years later, even with girlfriends celebrating and 21 roses arriving from my long-distance fiancé, a cold, adult realization icicled the hoopla.
Birthdays wouldn’t stop.
When I turned 30, Hubby tried to soften the blow with a pretty plant — cheaper than roses. Our baby refrained from puking on me that day, though she refused to skip diaper changes.
Three children steered birthdays toward a new frontier of McDonald’s parties, giggly sleepovers and laser-tag wars. Years before, I didn’t think I’d live until my birthday. Now I hoped I would survive theirs.
The year my husband and I turned 40, birthday carolers wearing pajamas serenaded us. They brought a beautifully decorated cemetery cake, complete with a figure crawling out of a grave.
Hubby served on a board that accidentally established a unique birthday tradition. During a meeting, someone arranged for a cake to celebrate a new member’s birthday. The guy’s surprise was even bigger than we anticipated, as his birthday would not arrive for months. We had so much fun that wrong-day bashes for new members became a yearly ritual.
Years sprinted past, and my birthdays faded in favor of grandchildren’s head-splitting, joyous celebrations.
Not long ago, I changed decades. Immersed in a writing project, I barely looked up from my desk. A birthday only meant I was growing older, fatter and weirder.
Upon arrival, we didn’t see his car. I kidded, “Hope they remember they asked us.”
Hubby smiled as he opened the door. Our children and their spouses hugged me. All the grandkids. And dear friends, gifts unmatched by any they could bring.
Birthday magic was back. Better than ever.
Has growing older proved magical for you lately?
More than 12 years ago, while eating out with our daughter and her husband, they informed us we would become grandparents the following spring.
I should have celebrated big time. After all, many grandma wannabes lock their children with spouses in guest rooms until they agree to produce offspring. I did not — not because I didn’t want to become a grandmother. I just planned to do it 100 years hence.
So I indulged in a few weeks of “But I don’t take Geritol.” Then I reacted like any grandma.
Now, after acquiring six grandchildren, I share the Ten Commandments for New Grandparents, based on what my husband and I have learned:
- Commandment 1: When informed, thou shalt throw a New York City ticker-tape parade — unless thy children aren’t excited. In that case, distribute hugs, then throw a private ticker-tape parade.
- Commandment 2: Thou shalt not demand to know the baby’s gender. Instead, use bribery. Offer a free college education early during the pregnancy, beating out the other set of grandparents. (Hint: Regardless of ultrasounds, you may exert your influence. For example, you can ensure a grandson’s birth by purchasing every little pink, ruffled dress within 50 miles.)
- Commandment 3: Thou shalt express enthusiasm at thy children’s choice of names. Thou shalt not require them to name their child after you nor after Uncle Ferd, though your family has included a Ferd every generation the past 3,000 years. Instead, cheerfully enter into the family Bible the name of a video game warlord from the planet Pzorxx.
- Commandment 4: When news of imminent birth reaches thee, thou shalt not assault the officer who stops thee for speeding. Thy new descendant does not need a convicted felon for a grandparent.
- Commandment 5: Thou shalt enter labor and delivery only when asked. Then, thou shalt not point thy phone at the mother and tell her to smile.
- Commandment 6: Thou shalt not mug visitors who dare suggest thy future Miss America is bald. See Commandment 4 regarding assaults.
- Commandment 7: Thou shalt resist the urge to sterilize their family dog’s tongue.
- Commandment 8: Thou shalt reassure the mother that newborn upchucking will not result in a reduced IQ.
- Commandment 9: When events fall outside the other commandments, duct tape thy mouth — and that of thy spouse — shut. Then thou shalt cook, clean, and launder, bringing joy, gladness and clean underwear to their household.
- Commandment 10: All of the days of thy life, thou shalt love, nurture, and pray for this grandchild. Then someday, with deep gratitude to God, hand these commandments over to thy children.
What commandments do you suggest make the new-grandparent list?
Every mother, no matter how devoted, experiences moments when she yearns to … go wild.
I should have known on a day when I dared sleep in, trouble would soon follow.
Sleeping in was unknown luxury during my years as a young mother, a fairy-tale fantasy that inevitably dissolved in a shower of Cheerios and the wiggles and jiggles and messy, precious kisses of my preschoolers.
Sleeping in existed in a different solar system — or perhaps in a different galaxy far, far away.
But that knowledge evaporated as I lay in a bed I wouldn’t have to make, savoring the ecstasy of a quiet — yes, quiet — 16th-floor hotel room.
My husband already had left for his conference. I went wild and indulged in forbidden pleasures: a cup of real coffee (double cream) in bed, steaming hot from the first mellow sip to the very last; a television program in which most people already knew how to count to ten; and a long, sinful bath filled to the top, with no Mr. Bubble or rubber duckies in sight.
After bathing, I ignored my ratty plaid bathrobe hanging on the hook. I didn’t decide what to wear. Instead, I wandered around the room, carefree and content as Eve in the Garden of Eden.
Prolonging my wild mama fling — unhampered by diaper bags, car seats, nap times or must-have blankies — I pondered how I would spend an entire day without children or Happy Meals.
Intoxicated with my liberty, I forgot my mother’s advice to always close the drapes and faced the room-sized picture windows. The panoramic view of city streets and smaller buildings far below dazzled my eyes, my soul. Embracing the endless, azure sky, I sang, “I’m free! Free!”
I hit the floor as if attacked by enemy fire. I yanked the bedspread (Too late?) across my prostrate, naked form.
Had he seen me?
The traffic helicopter pilot waved.
Then he and his mighty machine swept off to corners of the universe where other derelict mothers in need of reform might lurk.
How about you? Ever have a day when you morphed into a wild mama?
If asked my address as a six-year-old, I would have answered, “I live in God’s house.”
After missionary service, my family lived in two back rooms of our home church. We children didn’t know we were homeless and nearly penniless. Jesus, our invisible Best Friend, had invited us to stay with Him, like we did with cousins. Boy, were we lucky!
Our mother, having recently delivered her fourth child, might not have regarded this sojourn in God’s house so positively. Her life consisted of endless hundred-yard dashes to the restrooms located in the church’s foyer, kids hanging from her skirts. We took baths at sympathetic neighbors’.
My parents and baby brother slept in one room. The other contained a tiny kitchen, table and chairs, and a built-in wooden bed, where my preschool brother and I slept. Our toddler sister slept on a sofa pushed against it. The sofa’s curved back made a great slide. Every morning my brother and I zoomed down upon our sister in a glorious tangle of arms and legs.
Church trash cans hid treasures. After a wedding, my mother found discarded blue netting and made a glamorous dress for my doll.
“We’ll just steal this,” she’d said, laughing. She thought no more about it — until I told wide-eyed parishioners we stole church stuff.
The sanctuary proved the best perk. Our parents forbade us children to linger there after bathroom runs. But exploring the sanctuary alone, we gained a kindergarten sense of the holy.
Sometimes I sat quietly and watched sunlight streaming into the huge, echo-y room. God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. Though I didn’t know the Bible verse, I absorbed that truth in those serene, stolen moments.
The sanctuary gave us creative ideas. “If we filled up the baptistery, we could take baths there,” I suggested to Dad. “It would make a great swimming pool, too!”
He disagreed. But unknown to Dad, my brother and I walked along its narrow edge, pretending we were tightrope walkers.
We also discovered mysterious, shiny tubes inside the organ. I spread small hands gently over the piano’s keys, imagining myself playing God’s songs, like Mom.
We found free chewing gum stuck under the pews! Sadly, Mom did not recognize God’s miracle of provision. She made us spit it out.
My own children did not live like gypsies. My kids experienced unborrowed bathtubs, doll clothes that weren’t swiped from trash, and soft gum imprinted with no one else’s teeth. As a mom, I am thankful for such blessings.
Still, I would not trade those irreverently reverent days living in God’s house.
How did where you lived as a child influence you?
But that will change the day their oldest turns 16.
How can I forget that era? Our teens learned to drive. My husband and I learned to pray.
Our kids were responsible. So why did the sight of a driver’s education car squeeze my stomach even more than the course fees?
Some blame rests on Mr. Doom, my long-ago driver education teacher. His first words: “I don’t like women drivers.”
Among four 16-year-olds, we could not scrape up a single Y chromosome. If we girls took driver’s ed today, we could sue him for sexual harassment and his hideous neckties.
Instead, we gulped meekly and tried our best to kill him.
My friend Linda eclipsed us all by wrecking the department’s new 1970 Cutlass (odometer reading: 11 miles).
I attempted to console her: “You did what he said.”
How could Linda know that when Mr. Doom ordered, “Pull over,” he meant after we passed the telephone pole?
His inspirational thought for the day: “You’re all going to die within 10 years.”
But I survived. I even lived to list my minivan as my legal address during our children’s school years.
But me, their unofficial driving instructor? It was like Homer Simpson giving sensitivity lessons.
I found our second driving course at the cemetery, where most of the people were already dead.
Such parental dedication contributed to eventual success: all our children obtained drivers’ licenses. No longer did I drag out of bed to retrieve a teen worker at midnight. Nor did I risk mugging as I dozed in a dark parking lot, awaiting the end of a youth lock-in.
Instead, we parents languished at home, monitoring car rates on the Insurance Channel.
We were proud of our children’s safe driving records, though, crediting superior instruction, constant practice and boring cars. When our grandchildren turn 16, Steve and I will highly recommend the latter as an efficient means of ruining their fun.
Their parents will recall our shopping for their first cars. Chunky and colorless, the perfect choice sat, an empty space on either side (the other cars didn’t want to hang around it). The car had visited only the grocery, library and church with its aged owner. It had forgotten how to drive above 55.
If they did, they’re still not telling.
How about your first car? Anything you’re not telling your folks, either?
I’m excited, though now I’m a spectator. When convoys of buses and SUVs queue up in front of schools and the local parade of backpack-carrying children and stroller-pushing mothers march past, I feel like throwing confetti.
But a crazy lady, hopping up and down, yelling her head off, might scare the kids. Instead, I offer a silent, heartfelt prayer. (That’s still legal, isn’t it?)
Thank you for this opportunity for thousands of children to gain an education.
Many parents wondered if they and their offspring would live to see this day.
The back-to-school sales proved rugged tests. Brave mothers mediated arguments about who-gets-what that made Middle East diplomacy seem easy. Girls tried on 51 pairs of jeans, alternating cell phone consultations with their friends and their parents’ bankers. Little brothers suffered untold anguish when forced to accompany families to Intimate Departments.
By registration, some parents considered mortgaging their organs.
Thank you, Father, for talking them out of it. Thank You for never taking vacations during August, but remaining on the job to help everyone start the school year right.
This first morning hasn’t been easy, though kids jumped out of bed like kangaroos. Showers commenced with a minimum of hot-water controversy. The second-grader even used soap. But the middle-schooler discovered her first zit, and the teen, having spent four hours battling a bad hair day, had to be chained in the SUV.
Earplugs were distributed because of weeping and wailing.
Not the teen’s. The mom’s, because she was sending her youngest to kindergarten.
Who has experienced all of the above, plus planning lessons, decorating and attending group therapy sessions? Teachers, who wonder if their salaries will cover 963 boxes of Kleenex during flu season.
Yet You, Lord, have brought them all to this special morning.
Thanks for Your promise to be with everyone in coming days. New tennis shoes will blacken—by day two. Homework will be eaten by hungry dogs and sneaky computers. Trumpets will be forgotten/broken/hidden, or all of the above. Lesson plans that should soar will crash and burn. Taxi moms will handle schedules that defy the skills of an O’Hare International Airport flight controller.
Amid all these, You are there, Lord—the Father and Teacher of millions. Even recess duty is not beyond Your love and expertise.
You once were a student, so You know exactly how the first day of school feels. The second. And the one-hundred-third.
So as the back-to-school parade marches by, we know You — Who are immortal and invisible — jump for joy on the curb, throwing confetti. Please bless these students, parents, teachers and staff, and give them their best year ever. Amen.
What is your prayer for the coming school year?