Modest Humor

My husband and I recently had a weekend away from the kids. We’ve done this nearly every year for the last 4 years. We drop the kids off at grandma’s and then travel an hour further away to setup a booth at an arts festival. It’s a lot of work but we enjoy spending time together, just the two of us.

This year, however, things were different. The separation was not as complete now that Jane has a cell phone.

Early afternoon, I received a text that included a picture of Hal, asleep in the car with a string of candy hanging out of his mouth. Jane said, “Hal got tired while eating candy in the car.”

The following exchange ensued:

At this point, I shared the exchange with my husband, commenting on our daughter’s remarkable sense of modesty. He took the phone and typed a response:

I nearly choked laughing so hard at her response. We couldn’t have asked for a better reaction from her. It was remarkable that she had rightly discerned that that was how her father would talk to her, not her mother. It just hadn’t occurred to her that just because it was my phone didn’t mean it was me talking. He took the phone again.

I then texted her, hoping to gently chastise her for being so full of herself.

We may not have to worry too much about low self-esteem, but we may need to keep an eye out for an over-inflated sense of self worth. The latter can be just as destructive as the former.

Context Clues

Daryl and I were checking off the spices in our kitchen that we found on his “Products of the Rainforest” checklist for school the other morning. Hal had followed us into the kitchen and was making a menace of himself. I needed to be at work early so was trying to conduct the search as efficiently as possible. Several times, I told Hal, who was a considerable distraction, to go cuddle with his Daddy. But he stayed.

I had set the box of “Christmas” spices on the dining room table in front of Daryl and I was searching the lazy susans in the cabinet. “Where’s the ginger?” I asked. “I know we have some ginger. Where is it?”

Hal called out from the table, “Here it is!”

I kept my sigh internal. I also refrained from trying to send him from the room yet again. Somehow I also resisted pointing out to him that he doesn’t know how to read. Instead, I adopted a patient mother face and walked toward him to see which spice he was holding. I had just enough good grace stored up to sweetly tell him that it wasn’t ginger, but thanks for trying to help.

Instead, I saw that he was, indeed, triumphantly holding the ground ginger above his head. I did not hide my surprise well but turned it into joyful praise.

“Way to go, Hal! That is the ginger! High five!” I raised my hand and he slapped it with his. “How did you know it was the ginger? Was it the little gingerbread man and gingerbread woman on the front?”

He nodded that it was and just beamed with pride.

I thought about this throughout the day that followed. I was reminded of how my older kids have been taught in school to look for context clues when they read. It’s actually something they have to teach kids.

Yet the average preschooler does it all day long. He knows the building is McDonald’s because of the golden arches. He can recognize a Wal-Mart in another town. He can even make out what is a restaurant vs. a gas station vs. a store. He can figure all these things out without reading… all the way down to finding the ginger in a box full of spices.

It made me wonder if we get a bit lazy once we learn to read. If, by reading, we come to expect the words to clearly tell us what we need to know. If a dry cleaners didn’t have the words “Dry Cleaning” above the windows, who would recognize the place for what it is first? Me or my child? Ok, bad example. We never go to the dry cleaners.

My point remains though. I’m so busy looking for the words that tell me what a thing is that I fail to look at the other indicators. I will see them eventually, maybe, but I look for the words first. I think this is why adults who never learned to read can do such an excellent job of hiding their deficiency from the rest of us. They never lost that ability to interpret the context clues quickly and accurately.

Keeping it Together… With a Little Help From Friends

You ever have those moments when you feel like all the other parents and their kids have it together more than your family does?

Yeah, I feel like that a lot. Daryl is particularly helpful in fostering that feeling in me. Last week, I was surfing Facebook while I waited for the carhop to bring out our food at Sonic. I’m sure all the got-it-together moms were serving their kids baked chicken with fresh broccoli and a side of fruit. The family probably even said a blessing and then talked about their day as they sat around the dinner table.

But anyway, I digress. I was surfing Facebook and I saw a post from Daryl’s TAG teacher that the tryouts for the third grade play were the next day. I hadn’t heard anything about a play, so I asked Daryl about it. He glanced up from his Nintendo DS to confirm he knew about it. Then he looked up again with a panicked look on his face.

Apparently, the teachers had sent home lines that they were supposed to memorize but Daryl had lost his and forgotten to ask for another one. This started a marathon of phone calls and text messages as I scrambled to find someone with a copy of the lines.

First call went to his teacher, who didn’t have them at home with her. She checked with the other teacher while I called Daryl’s best friend’s mom. I think I might have gotten that poor boy in a bit of trouble because his parents also knew nothing about the play. Apparently Ian wasn’t interested in trying out so had failed to mention it.

Then I called another mother, who informed me that her daughter had left her copy (presumably after memorizing the lines well enough) at Applebee’s. She suggested yet another mom and gave me her number. Eventually two different moms took photos and emailed them to me. Then it was just a matter of retyping them so I could print and helping my son speed memorize right before bedtime.

That was last week. This week, about 8:00 on a busy evening, he suddenly remembered that he had a “products of the rain forest” checklist due the next day. He had somehow made it home without a copy of the checklist. I texted the two moms I knew in the class and managed to get a copy from each of them after Daryl went to bed.

I then roused him early in the morning so we could rummage through our spices and pantry and bathroom cabinets to find all the items that had components originating in the rain forest. The first thing he said when he saw the checklist was “but this is Aaron’s paper!”

Well, yes, son. When you wait until bedtime the night before, it’s highly likely that all the other kids have already filled theirs out. So if you are fortunate enough to get a copy, you’ll have to deal with his name already on it. Here’s a big fat red grease pencil. If you make your check marks with it, you’ll cover up his.

It was bad enough that I had to go begging for the checklist. What was even worse was to see the variety of fruits and vegetables that she had in her kitchen, compared to what I had. It was almost enough to make me find the whiteout so I could remove the evidence of my inadequacy.

I keep telling myself that we are all struggling to keep it together. That other families are just as messed up as ours. I’m still waiting for that text message asking for the homework assignment though. Just one would make me feel good.

Learning to Write… and to Listen

Eight months ago, I published my first blog post. Ninety-nine posts later, here we are: number 100. I want to mark the occasion with something a bit different. Instead of another tale of humor or angst from my life, I want to reflect on what this blogging journey has taught me.

I have learned many things about myself as a person, a mother, and a writer. This post is primarily about the writing lessons learned. I’d like to think my stories have become more engaging and better written as time has gone on.

I love to talk. That’s probably a fairly good quality for a blogger. You need to like to share or what’s the point? The problem with people that love to talk is that we often ramble. When I began telling stories on Facebook, the character limit forced me into brevity. Sometimes it felt restrictive but it almost always improved the telling of the tale.

Then I moved to a blog. Suddenly the stories could be as long as I wanted! Such freedom! And such a rambling mess… One thing I have learned is that I have to keep a tight rein on my words. Left to my own natural devices, I will glibly tell a ten word tale in a hundred.

I can point to the posts that I don’t think quite worked or that I was never satisfied with. They tend to be some of the longest ones. Sometimes I got caught up in the blow-by-blow, providing more detail than needed. Sometimes I was lazy and didn’t take the time to figure out how to say it better. Still other times, I wasn’t clear what story I was trying to tell.

Here’s a good example of that last point:

The whole time I was writing it, I felt like I wasn’t focusing on the true story. The story was the attempted smuggling of the rabbit into the house. The fact that the smuggling took place during a particularly crazy evening was irrelevant. But I couldn’t let go of telling about the entire evening. I wanted to whine about the boys not knowing where their sister was, the missing tortillas, my husband stranded. As a result, I squandered the opportunity to tell a succinct tale of two boys capturing a rabbit.

Constructing a well-told story is challenging. It’s one thing to convey the information. To engage, amuse, enchant, transport your reader, you have to take your writing to another level. It’s as much about construction as it is content. A tale told chronologically is in danger of being boring. Sometimes you need to shake up your timeline so you can maintain the element of surprise or add some spice.

You have to know how to start the story and how to end it and how to weave the individual parts together. Sometimes you have to cut scenes to make the whole better. You have to settle on a voice. Who is telling the story? What is their tone? Why does the story need to be shared?

Perhaps the most fascinating and rewarding part of the process for me has been writing the title. I found that I thoroughly enjoyed sitting back and pondering it. When one didn’t come to me, I got irritated. The title sells the story. Without it, it can’t “go to print”, so to speak. I have settled on mediocre titles at times (see the bunny post above) but usually I keep working on it. When the “right” title strikes, it’s euphoric.

That may sound melodramatic, but it’s true. I struggled with the title for this one:

I couldn’t decide if I wanted to highlight the sibling rivalry aspect, the game playing, or the cunning trickery of the youngest child. I felt that since I referenced a book, the title should somehow encompass both my story and the one from the book. When the scripture about the last being first floated through my head, I knew I had the title. The last always wants to be first. That was Hal’s motivation in swiping the Kindle and Almanzo’s in tying up the sheep. There it was: the perfect title.

One final thing I’ve learned is that I tend to write in bursts. I might write a dozen posts in a week and then go a week without writing anything. Those dry spells were troubling at first. Why can’t I write? There’s the obvious scenarios: I’m too busy or too tired. I’ve also learned that I can’t write when I’m in a bad mood. Sometimes, however, I want to write but nothing worth writing about has happened.

I’ve wondered about this. I’m not convinced that nothing blog-worthy is happening during those times. I’m beginning to suspect that I’m just not in the right frame of mind to see the stories. I can’t capture the story if I’m not paying attention. I have to listen and watch.

I’ve picked up a few followers over the past eight months. There are more people following me than I honestly expected to acquire when I started out. Many of you are bloggers so I’ll ask you:

What have you learned during the time you’ve spent blogging? What insights have you gained about your strengths and weaknesses? What tools have you added to your writing tool bag? What’s your favorite part of writing? Why do you do it?

Garage Sale Frenzy

A wise woman waits until her children go to bed and then quietly gathers up the outgrown clothes and excess toys, books, and movies for a garage sale. A foolish woman takes her children to the garage sale that is reselling their pilfered possessions.

A woman such as me can fall from wisdom to foolishness with alarming speed.

And thus we found ourselves at the church garage sale. Everyone found items that they just absolutely had to have, thereby nicely replenishing the dent I had made in the accumulated “stuff” at home.

Hal found a singing Valentine’s bear that played “Be My Baby” by the Ronettes while a lighted sign spun in a circle and displayed messages. I always knew where he was because I could hear the bear. So could everyone else.

He also found a Cars jacket that he absolutely loved. I explained that it had been his when he was two but didn’t fit him anymore. “It doesn’t?”

“No, honey. See? It says ‘Infant, 24 months’. You aren’t an infant, are you? Not a baby?”

He agreed to put it back and then proceeded to point out all his other clothing including his dear Superman pants and Cars pajamas.

Jane came running to me all excited because she had found her favorite pair of her friend Madison’s shorts. “And the best part is that I don’t even have to try them on because I already know they fit!”

Daryl was livid when he looked through the DVDs and found Spy Kids and Woody Woodpecker and… “G Force! Daddy! She gave away G Force!” He glared at me as if we had become mortal enemies.

At one point, he showed me a crystal shaped perfume bottle. “Mommy, I thought this was a light, like a night light or something so I pressed the bottom like this {he pressed the ‘bottom’, which was really the top because he was holding it upside down} and then it sprayed on my face!”

After we paid for all of our new treasures, we drove down the road in our little Prius. After a few minutes, I grimaced. “Daryl. I really wish you hadn’t mistaken that perfume bottle for a light.”

Laughter Really is the Best Medicine

It had been a long and intense evening of discussion. Mother, father, daughter all holed up in her room, while the boys waited in another part of the house and wondered if they were going to get to eat dinner.

We discussed her school schedule and our disagreements about it. We discussed priorities, desires, boys, grades, cell phones, behavior, attitude. She got angry, calmed down, cried, tried to distract herself by cleaning her room. Every once in awhile, the dog or the preschooler or the dog and the preschooler made an appearance. Daryl tried to remind us there were other people in the house. The discussion lasted nearly two hours and left us all drained. Drained, but not really at odds with each other. From the parental perspective, the talk had gone well. We had accomplished our objectives.

Per the new cell phone directives, she handed me her phone as she resumed her homework. I looked down at her wall paper and asked who it was.

“Channing Tatum,” she replied, smiling up at me like she dared me to say something. She had recently had a mild argument with her aunt over whether he qualified as “hot”.

After a brief pause for effect, I smiled back and nodded. “You’ve got pretty good taste.”

“I know,” she said. And then under her breath but with a smile, “Unlike you.”

“What did you say?”

“Well… my dad’s really not all that, ya know.”

“What are you talking about?! He is the hottest man on the planet!”

Laughing, she put her hands up in protest. “Okay, you can stop now.”

“No, really. Your dad is hot!”

“That’s enough!”

“You should have seen him in high school…”

“Really! You don’t need to do this!”

“…He was so tall with broad shoulders…” I gazed longingly at him in the other room as she interrupted.

“Enough! Please! I don’t need to hear this!”

I adopted my best imitation of her swooning teenager voice. “I’m telling you. He was a man among boys!”

“Okaaayyy!!” The embarrassed laughter and friendly banter seemed to break through the slightly reserved interaction we had had a few minutes prior. As she laughed and kicked around, the smiley face eraser fell off her pencil and onto the floor. Rose dove in after it.

“Rose! No! Don’t eat my smiley face! Mom! She just ate my eraser!”

Rose certainly appeared to have something in her mouth so I reached down to fish it out while Jane nearly fell over from laughing. That’s when I noticed the eraser tucked behind a chair leg. We laughed some more. It felt good.

I had been down in the dumps all day, dreading the conversation. It is more difficult to parent a preteen/teenager than I ever could have imagined. The previous night, her dad and I had discussed what we needed to talk to Jane about. I was distressed and anxious. I didn’t want to be a parent of a twelve year old anymore. I didn’t want to do the hard work. I didn’t want to take the abuse. I didn’t want to have the arguments that are inevitable when what the parents think is best conflicts with what the child wants.

Then we talked. And it was hard. But not as bad as I had feared. And then we laughed and teased and I was in love with my daughter again. There will be more rough times ahead; but as long as we can find something to laugh about afterwards, maybe it will all be ok.

Catnip for Teenagers

I thought I wouldn’t have a blog post tonight. Today did not provide an obvious story and I didn’t feel up to digging through my old Facebook posts or journals to find some hidden nugget of childhood frivolity to share.

Then I took Hal into the bathroom to brush his teeth. His sister was in the shower. I saw the shower curtain, partially obscured by the toilet, move ever so slightly out of the corner of my eye. As it drew my attention, I saw a bit of flesh move slowly down from the curtain to the floor and then return equally slowly out of sight.

At first I assumed a foot, although I couldn’t fathom why she would momentarily step out of the shower nor why she would do it with such stealth. I had noticed a bit of red and I suddenly realized what was happening.


Since I heard no music as I entered the bathroom, I can only assume that she was texting while in the shower. She must have feared that I would look in the shower and catch her with the phone. Ironically, the act of returning the phone to the floor got her caught.

I tried one more time to explain basic common sense. “Jane, you do realize that if that phone gets too wet, it will stop working? We are not making arbitrary rules here. You will not have a phone if you keep doing that.”

Maybe the third time will be the charm. Somehow, I doubt it. Cell phones are like catnip for teenagers. They just can’t stay away.