A Good Laugh

I really don’t think it was the wine.

I mean, I am more prone to laughter if I’ve had something to drink and it was red wine, which is stronger than my usual sweet white… but it’d been three hours since I drank the wine and it had only been one glass.

No, I can’t blame the wine.  I blame Dave Ramsey.

I already found stuff like this a little bit funny but thanks to Dave, the timing really tickled my funny bone.  We paid off one of our vehicles last month while taking Financial Peace University.  It felt soooooo good!

Then last night, I noticed a voicemail message on my phone.  As the message began to play, I started to grin.  Then the grin became a smile.  Which became a chuckle.  Which grew into some gentle laughter.  Which grew into stronger laughter and finally became quite raucous indeed.  Until my husband was looking up, asking me what was so funny as I hung up the phone.

The call was from the credit union that had carried our loan.  She started off by congratulating us on paying off our vehicle.  Yeah, right.  Sure you are happy about that. {grin}

She then said she wanted to check in to see if there was anything else they could do for us. {smile}

“And we also wanted to let you know about our special vehicle promotion we are offering if you finance through us…” {chuckle}  I bet you are!

“…no payments for 90 days…” {gentle laughter}  Oh, Dave would love that one.

“…and $100 cash…” {strong laughter}  Do you really think that’ll work?

“…plus 2 tickets to Desperado Park…” {raucous laughter as she continued} “…on our special customer appreciation night, which is September 13th…”

Translation:  We are very disappointed that you took away our revenue by paying off your loan so early and we are desperately looking for another way to get money out of you.  Even though you paid off your loan substantially early, we still think we might be able to entice you with “90 days same as cash”.  We just won’t mention that the interest will continue to accrue.  And even though you just shelled out several thousand dollars in cash to pay off that loan, we think we might be able to get you to take out a new loan by offering you a hundred dollars.  And if that’s not enough, then surely a couple of tickets to the relatively small amusement park you frequented as a child that is now hours from your home will rope you in.  Although you’ll have to go on a particular day.  We can’t afford to be too generous.  Because, you know, some of our customers bailed early on us last month.  Like you.

I hate to sound like a Dave Ramsey sales pitch because I really do hate all the hype surrounding the man.  But, seriously.  That course has paid dividends for us!  On top of all the more obvious benefits, if you want to be amused by a sales pitch too, all it takes is some Financial Peace.  And maybe a glass of wine.


The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: Modeling Behavior

Is it easier to see your bad qualities in your children or your good?

Does your answer to that question say something about your personality?

Does seeing your bad qualities in them make you a better person?

If it makes you a better person, is it worth it?

These are some of the questions I’ve been pondering lately.  And for the record, as I’m sure you’ll see in this post, my answer to the first is that it’s easier for me to see my bad qualities in them than my good.  The stuff I admire in them almost always reminds me of their dad.  And, yes, I think that says a lot about my personality.  I’m without a doubt my harshest critic.  So keep that in mind as I talk about all the bad stuff here.

Anyway… onto my observations… My family is kind of explosive and quick to react.  The kids immediately assume when something bad happens that someone did it to them on purpose.  They yell.  And when they disagree with each other, it ratchets up at an alarmingly rapid pace, with each getting more indignant.  The are hard on each other when one makes a mistake or is slow to figure something out or says something stupid.  They have no patience with each other.  They hold grudges.  They over-analyze each other.

It’s exhausting.

It’s me.

I’ve become increasingly tired of all the negative energy.  Especially as I’ve watched it blossom in the youngest.  I’ve been asking myself: Why are they like this?  Where did they learn it?  Is it me?  Am I a terrible mother?  Have we failed them?

Children model what they see.  So while I’m willing to accept that I am not actually a terrible mother, I do know where they learned it.  Yes, they learned it from their parents.  From us.  They’ve learned plenty of good things from us too, but it’s the bad traits that I’m talking about today.

I’ve been watching them.  I’ve been saddened by them.  I’ve been learning from them.

I’m reading a book called The Emotionally Healthy Church by Peter L. Scazzero.  In one chapter, he talks about the importance of understanding how our family background impacts who we are now and how we interact with others.  He encourages his readers to constantly look back at their childhood and family to see what positive and negative reactions they have that are automatic because of their upbringing.  He believes this will help inform you about the hidden motivations behind your decisions and thus allow you to make changes.

I’m applying something similar as I watch my kids.  When I see them react, I look at how I might have modeled that behavior for them.  I think about times I’ve behaved the same way toward them.  I face the fact that they can only repeat what they know.  I try to find compassion for the poor children who don’t even understand why they are acting the way they are.  But I know.  It’s how I’ve shown them to act.

I think I’ve passed through the grief stage of this analysis.  I’ve tried to deny it.  I’ve gone through despair.  I’m moving through acceptance and into a place where I can attempt to model different behavior.

And this.  This decision to behave differently for the sake of my children.  This decision is the silver lining on this dark cloud.  It’s the bright spot in my disappointment in self.  I’m slowly becoming a better person – a better wife – a better mother.  I’m doing it for my children.  I don’t want them to be 40 with impatient, volatile children, slowly figuring out what they are doing wrong.  Or, worse, not figuring it out.  I want to get it right.  And I want it to rub off on them.  So when they are 40, they can work on the problems on the next tier down.

I hope I’m not too late.  But then that gets me to that last question.  Even if it’s too late to modify them, if it makes me a better person to have seen it in them, was it worth it?  If I’m better than I was and they are no worse than I was… did the world still get better?

I don’t know the answer.  All I do know is that I am doing the best I can.  And that best is getting just a little bit better every day.  And if I’ve modeled a boatload of bad behavior over the years, at least they are seeing me model the ability to change.  Or, at least, I hope they are seeing it – because it’s certainly there.

The Summer of 1989

I didn’t plan on posting anything today, and indeed there will be thousands upon thousands of blogs about Robin Williams today.  If there were not already thousands before I even roused from bed this morning.  I don’t have anything profound or significant to say about him or depression or suicide or even life.  I have no expectation to rise anywhere near the top or even any level of significance in the mass mourning of a great man.

What I do have is a fond memory from my pre-driving teenage years and since this memory involved him and resurfaced because of his death and because this blog is called mybrightspots and the memory is definitely a bright spot in my life, I will share that tale.

It was the summer of 1989.  I would be heading into tenth grade in the fall.  My best friend invited my mother and I to join her and her mother to watch Dead Poets Society at the theater.  I asked my mother if she wanted to go and was befuddled by her response.  There was no “Oh, I’d love to, but…”, no hesitation nor consideration.  Just a strange look on her face followed by, “No, that’s ok.  You guys have fun.”

My mother loved this friend and loved the friend’s mother as well.  She loved Robin Williams.  I couldn’t interpret the look on her face.  I couldn’t understand why she wanted to spend that Saturday afternoon cleaning house and doing laundry instead of watching this movie with these people.  I shrugged.  Oh, well.

I don’t recall if we went on opening day or if we just arrived late or what.  All I know is that when we walked into the theater, it was immediately obvious that we would not be sitting together.  I have never been in a more full theater in my life.  We found two seats near the back and I think my friend’s mother had my friend and I sit there before she wandered off to find her own seat.  I have a faint memory of guilt that mother and daughter did not sit together but relief that I was not cast out on my own.  I also remember thinking maybe it was best my mother hadn’t come.  Where would she have sat?

The movie was incredible.  Inspiring.  Moving.  Heart-breaking.  To this day, it remains one of my favorites.  And it’s at the top of my list of Robin Williams movies I want Jane to see this week.  My husband and I were up late last night, cruising IMDB and commonsensemedia.org to bring to mind all of his works that we loved.  I have this deep desire to show my children this wonderful actor, to help them understand what the world has lost.  Popeye for Hal.  Jumanji and Mrs. Doubtfire for Daryl.  Dead Poets Society and maybe Good Will Hunting for Jane. Maybe not The World According To Garp just yet. It feels important.  This honoring and remembering and educating.

Back to 1989, though.  I came home on an adrenaline rush.  I could barely contain my excitement as I burst into the house.  “Mom!” I exclaimed.  “Man, you should have been there!  That was awesome!”

The strange expression on her face from earlier was back but intensified.  “I’m glad you enjoyed it,” she said, in a mildly disconnected and certainly not enthusiastic way.

“You’ve got to go see it, mom!  That was the best movie ever!  Robin Williams was wonderful!”

“It was a movie?” she asked.

Now it was my turn to be confused.

“Um… yeeeessss…?  What did you think it was?”

“I thought you were going to some group that was going to sit around and listen to people read poems written by dead guys.  I couldn’t figure out why you wanted to go, but more power to you.”

It took awhile for the laughter to die down.

And even though Robin Williams is gone, it’ll take awhile for the laughter he left me with to die down.  If it ever does.

Rest in Peace, you talented, flawed, and wonderful man.

Elite Family Laundry Club

We were away from home for nine days and got back home about midnight Saturday night.  Even though I had done 2 loads of laundry while at my mother-in-law’s house, there was still more to be done when we got home.  So I started a load Sunday afternoon.

And then I joined the elite family laundry club.

I was sitting at the dining room table playing Candy Crush while Hal watched Max Steel, Daddy (our primary driver the day before) took a nap, and the older two hung out at friends’ (that didn’t take long, did it?).  I heard water that didn’t match the tone of the show Hal was watching.  Daddy must be using the hall bathroom, I thought.  The water stopped.  Then it started again.

“Hal? What are you doing?” I asked.

“Watching Max Steel.”

The water stopped.

The water started again.

I got up to investigate and realized the sound was coming from the opposite end of the house.  As I tracked the sound toward the laundry room, it suddenly hit me what I’d done.  I rushed into the room and punched the pause button so the water would stop pumping out of the drain tube onto the window sill and floor.

Yes, I had followed in the illustrious footsteps of my daughter and husband.  Of course, I had a good excuse.  I had spent the last week doing laundry somewhere that I didn’t have to snake a drain hose out a window first.  Then again, they had good excuses too.  The husband rarely does the laundry – that’s my chore.  The daughter rarely does laundry either.  She should do it more often… but she doesn’t.

Ok, I thought. I need to do something about this.  We can’t keep mopping up water with towels and running fans all night.  The real solution would be to fix the drain line for the washing machine.  But I don’t realistically see that happening anytime soon.

So I came up with a solution.2014-08-10 23.27.26

The solution was simple enough: covering the power button with a contraption built from a milk jug cap and some duct tape.  In Sharpee, I drew a red stop sign and wrote “Drain Out Window!”  You can lift the bottom of the button cover to push the button.  The assumption is that this action will be enough of a reminder to check the hose.

I’d like to think I went all MacGyver on this, showing my ingenuity and ability to use materials on hand to solve a problem.  Unfortunately, I think it may be more along the lines of “You may be a redneck if…”

Oh, well.  At least no one is likely to pump the laundry room full of water again.

Time For A Change

I have straight, thick, dark brown hair which has been long for most of my life.  A couple of times over the past few years, I’ve cut it off into a bob, donating the hair to Locks of Love.  I’ve always immediately started growing it out again.  Not because I’m a diehard supporter of wigs for kids fighting cancer, as noble as that would be.  No, it’s because I’m too lazy to make it back in to a hair salon on any sort of schedule.

I’ve also never been eager to do anything to my hair except brush it.  I often don’t even dry it – it takes entirely too long!  And forget putting any sort of “product” in it or *gasp* using a curling or flat iron.  I just don’t spend a lot of time on my appearance, hair included.

But here lately… I’ve grown tired of my hair.  I’ve started to find it plain and stringy looking.  It’d probably look better if I dried it, but… like I said… that takes too long.  And it gets in my face during yoga and, well, just about everything else I do.  I have to keep pony tail holders on hand.  It falls in my food.  It’s hot.

Well, I’m not sure how it came up, but we found ourselves talking about haircuts this week while visiting family in Denver.  To my surprise, my husband, who has always loved my long hair, expressed an interest in me getting a pixie cut.  My hair has never been that short before, but it’s along the lines of what I had been thinking about doing.

After some internet research and a lot of hesitation, I called a Denver hair salon named Pacesetters.  A woman answered the phone and I could tell I got booked with her.  That made me a bit nervous.  Surely if she was any good, she’d be busy cutting hair?

Anyway, I went in the next day for my haircut with Monica.  It cost more than I’m accustomed to and took an hour and a half, but Monica did an excellent job.  Turns out, she just moved to Colorado from California and despite having an impressive resume and 23 years experience, she’s yet to build up a clientele.  Lucky me.

My hair is now maybe an inch and a half long in the back, even shorter around my ears, spiky on the top back, and not quite to my eyebrows.  It is shockingly different.  I love it.  I wasn’t too sure at first, but it’s been a day and a half now and I’m loving it more and more as time goes on.  I haven’t once reached behind me in discomfort at my hair being gone.  I love it being completely out of my way.  I like touching it and I like my husband touching it.  I like how the wind lifts it.  I like how I look in the mirror.  It’s great.

Of course, the true test for any parent who radically changes his or her appearance is the kid test.  Jane smiled and said she loved it, that I was beautiful.  This was better than when her daddy shaved his long beard and she cried.

Daryl was coming up the stairs at my mother-in-law’s house when he saw me.  His smile turned into a massive open-mouthed expression of shock.  He said I looked weird.  He asked if I was becoming one of those “boy women” (you know, women with short hair).

Hal took the cake by far.  When he saw me, he turned away and buried his face.  He refused to look up at all or approach me.  And then he called out from under his arms, “Mommy!  I’m never going to look at you again.  You are going to have to wear a hat for now on.”

Fortunately for both of us, he didn’t stick to that insistence.  I went hatless the next day and he survived just fine.  His unhappiness did remind me, with a little pang in my mother heart, that especially when he was littler, he’d grab hold of my hair while I held him.  It was so tender that just for a brief moment, I regretted the haircut.  But just for a moment.  I couldn’t be happier with the change and that, quite frankly, surprised me.  Guess I need to find a hair stylist at home now.

Finny and His Brother

We went to the park with the boys this week.  It was a new park that we had never been to before.  There were several fun things for Hal to play on but Daryl had been concerned that he might get bored.  We planned to pick up a Frisbee at Wal-Mart but they didn’t have any.  They did have these paddle sets on clearance: 1 ball and 2 paddles that had rows of suction cups on one side.  We bought two sets since there were four of us.

Upon our arrival, we were greeted by a little boy with fresh stitches across the bridge of his nose and a friendly, almost intrusive manner.  In fact, when I handed out a paddle to each of my boys, the little boy (who introduced himself as Finny) confidently announced that he wanted one.  His family was a short distance away under a pavilion.

I told Finny that he could play with it for a little while but when my boys’ daddy got here from the car, we’d need it back.

He asked for one of the balls.

I sighed and handed him the ball and then suggested that he and Hal play together.  I started playing catch with Daryl.  Before long, the younger boys had abandoned the paddles and were playing among the play equipment.  Daddy arrived and the three of us headed to the grass to play.  Eventually, Hal joined us.

But neither Hal nor Daddy cared much for the paddles.  They soon returned to the playground where Hal resumed his play and Daddy read a book.

Finny and his older brother (who was just a bit older than Hal, I think) found our second set of paddles and struck out to join Daryl and I.  I heard their adults tell them that the paddles weren’t theirs and they needed to put them down.  Either the boys told them they had permission or the adults decided not to fight the fight.  The paddles were not put down.

Before long, Daryl and I noticed them hovering near us.  We glanced their way.

The older boy said, “Hey!  Throw me the ball!”

Daryl calmly responded, “There’s another ball.  Where is it?”

The boy motioned behind him. “It’s over there somewhere.  We lost it.”

“Well we need to find it,” I said as I began to walk over to where they had been playing.

“Oh!  There it is!” the boy said, running over to a blue spot in the grass.

“Ok,” I said. “Why don’t you guys play with that one and we’ll play with this one.”

That worked for about a minute before they were hovering on the edge of the basketball court we had moved to.  They had again left the other ball behind.

“Where is the other ball?” I asked.

“I want to play with that ball,” the boy said.  “Here!  Throw it to me!”

Daryl was irritated.  So was I.  I glanced up at the pavilion toward the oblivious adults to whom these children belonged.  No one looked our way.  We tried to incorporate the boys but they were taking over.  They were demanding.  They were terrible at catching and throwing the balls.  They were terrible at taking turns.

I asked Daryl, who had shown no signs of wanting to stop before, if he was about ready to go to dinner.  He eagerly said yes.  I told the boys we would be leaving soon.  After a couple more frustrating minutes, I collected the paddles and balls and told Finny and his brother good-bye.

Now I know that many parents would have had no trouble telling those boys to move on or to play with the other set while letting us play with ours.  The thing is, I don’t mind sharing our toys.  And once I’ve shared the toys, I find it awkward to tell them to return them if we aren’t using them.  I try to be friendly.

But I didn’t know I was dealing with children who had no sense of boundaries, or parents who would make no more than a perfunctory attempt to enforce a reasonable set of boundaries.  I never did see any of the adults in that pavilion look our way.  If they had, they surely could have seen that my son and I were no longer having fun.  I wonder if they are the kind of people who assume everyone else finds their kids as cute as they do.  Or the kind that are so eager for their children to be entertained away from them, that they operate on the assumption that we will enforce the boundaries if we have a problem.  Either way, I wasn’t impressed.

My husband and I differ on this point.  He thinks adults should act like adults and speak up if they don’t like the interaction they are having with other people’s kids.  While I agree to a point, I strongly believe that the parents of the offending children have an obligation whenever possible to remove the requirement for the annoyed adults to speak up.  In other words, no parent should ever assume that the adults in question are comfortable being up front with their kids.  They should attempt to remove their children from the situation.  Then, the kids learn appropriate boundaries.  And, if the adults don’t have a problem, they can always speak up and say, “Oh, it’s ok.  I don’t mind – really!”  But if they do have a problem, the parents act the bad guy and the others can go on about their business.

I guess at the end of the day, though, I need to grow a spine.  I’m freakin’ forty years old.  I shouldn’t be afraid of hurting a couple of little boys’ feelings by telling them that I would like to play catch with just my son.  I obviously can’t depend on their parents to step up, so if I’ve got a problem, I need to.

A Macabre Imagination

Hal wanted to play in the backyard at his Denver grandma’s house recently.  The problem is, he’s not allowed back there without someone watching him.  I stepped up to the task and joined him outside.  I was relieved that he wanted to do something besides either play a game on his Nintendo DS or stare in awe as his brother played Minecraft.

We were soon engaged in some very… imaginative… play.

He handed me a small tree branch with many, many thin limbs and announced that it was my sword.  He pointed to the largest one (still smaller in diameter than the average pencil) and said, “If this one breaks off, you have plenty of others to use instead.”  He brushed his hand across the other “blades”.  I swished it back and forth, which he appreciated.  I declared it a tickle sword and tickled his belly with it.  He shrieked and ran away.

He soon approached me with his laser death ray.  As he pointed it at me, I desperately swished my tickle sword in the air between us.  He declared me dead.  I objected, saying that my tickle sword had disrupted the air between us and his death ray had not made it to me.  He grudgingly admitted that I was indeed not dead.

We then went through several rounds of “Pretend that…”  That’s the game where only one person (the youngest) is permitted to use his or her imagination.  He’s the stage director, the script writer, the producer, and the main actor.  He helpfully supplies my lines each step of the way: “Pretend that you didn’t see me and you heard a sound.  And then say ‘Oh, no!  What is that sound?!'”

My husband joined us at some point.  He and I sat on the porch swing while Hal ran around and acted out his imagination.  At one point, he told us to close our eyes and pretend that he had been “over here sleeping” and we had failed to notice that he had sneaked out.  When Daddy didn’t close his eyes, Hal amended the instructions to just pretend we hadn’t seen him.  He then acted out a fantastical and dangerous scenario with dragons and then pretended to wake up and tell us that he had had this terrible dream!

To his delight, I hammed it up and joined in enthusiastically.  My husband glanced at me periodically with raised eyebrows.  I laughed even harder.

Eventually, Hal tired of being the sleeping boy and decided he was a “Zombie Pigman”.  He walked around the deck with outstretched arms and stiff legs, snorting loudly through his nose.  He approached me and attacked before I could fully raise my tickle sword in defense.  I tried in vain to fend him off but in the end, lost first my sword and then the battle.  The Zombie Pigman strutted triumphantly away.

He headed to the sleeping area of the little boy next.  “Aha!” he announced. “I am going to steal this little boy while he sleeps!”

I leaped from the swing.  “Oh no you don’t!” I announced. “You leave my little boy alone!”

I rushed toward him and he snatched the imaginary boy and took off.  I grabbed at him and he quickly pantomimed eating his victim.  I pulled away and declared triumph, cradling my precious cargo to my chest as I returned to the swing.  He claimed it was too late, he had already eaten my son.  I pretended to rock my child and explained that he had managed to eat only the right pinky finger before I had pulled him to safety.

The Zombie Pigman lunged toward the swing and reached for the child.  I pulled back.  He claimed he got it.  I disagreed.  “But I’m stronger than you!” he explained.

I laughed.  “Stronger than a fierce momma protecting her dear baby?!  I don’t think so!”

“Fine.” he said, walking away.  “I’ll just go find a baby that no one cares about.”