The Karaoke Tribe

Hal had received some books from his grandmother for his ninth birthday. I hadn’t looked at them closely but they looked like biographies of less famous American historical figures geared toward younger children. I noticed him reading one of them one morning as he waited for me to be ready to take him to school.

“What book were you reading?” I asked as we headed down the driveway.

“The Journal of Jesse Smoke.”

“Smoke? S-M-O-K-E?”


“How is it?”

“Good. It’s written like it’s his diary except he doesn’t share his feelings.”

“OK. I don’t know Jesse Smoke. Who was he? It’s a true story, isn’t it?”

“I think so but I don’t know he was. I haven’t read much of it yet.”

“Well, when you get further into it, please tell me about him. I’d like to learn.”

And with that, he absorbed himself in the book (which had to be tricky since he had just finished wrapping himself up as a pretzel inside his hoodie to protect against that oh-gosh-so-awfully-cold-Texas-October morning weather).

After a few minutes of silence from the backseat, he announced, “Mommy, I don’t think this is a true story. A bunch of people just turned themselves into bears to go down a hole. And – if you are a real human, you can’t just turn yourself into a bear.”

I was fairly certain this was an historical book, so I took a guess and said, “Well, there were Indian tribes who basically believed they could turn themselves into animals. Maybe he’s telling one of his people’s stories as if he believes it to be true.”

There was a slight pause.

“He’s a Karaoke boy.”

“A what?”

“A Karaoke boy.”

“Spell it.”

“C-H…. E…. R-O…. K-E-E.”

I was very careful not to laugh. “Cherokee, honey. The word is Cherokee. They are an Indian tribe, Native Americans.”

One of the most fun parts of being a parent has been listening to my young readers try to pronounce the words that they’ve only seen in print. To combine Hal’s mispronunciations with Daryl’s most famous from years ago, it sounds like Jesse Smoke comes from a family of Karaoke Madge-i-cans. (Magicians).

A Little Bit Older

We are all getting old. Some of us more than others, but still. We’re getting old. And forgetful. And sometimes we all get forgetful at the same time in ways that actually help each other out in our own forgetfulness. And sometimes it’s good for a laugh or two. Which is good.

I had a birthday recently. It was something more than 40 but less than 50. Closer to 40, at least for a little bit longer. I don’t publicize my birthday on Facebook, don’t tell a bunch of people, don’t remind folks, and… our administrative assistant quit posting them on the bulletin board at the end of last year. So I wasn’t expecting much. Life met expectations.

My husband and daughter wished me a happy birthday in the morning, but not my sons. My best friend from now and my best friend from days past each sent me a message in the morning before I got to work. My mom tried to call me around the actual time of my birth but got busy and called about 15 minutes late. I wasn’t at my desk so we didn’t talk until she called back later that evening. My eldest son then wished me a happy birthday when we met up at the restaurant complaining that “no one told me! I didn’t know!”

And that was that. And I was fine.

As we turned off the light and prepared for bed that night, my husband asked me if I had talked to either of my parents that day. I told him about my well-wishers and then said, “But it was strange. Penny didn’t say anything to me at work. She always wishes everyone a happy birthday. She’s got them all marked on her calendar on the wall.”

“Oh, shoot!” I said suddenly. “Grant’s birthday is coming up and I don’t have any more birthday cards in my desk! I’ve got to remember to get cards tomorrow.”

At which point I gave a mental thank you to Penny for forgetting my birthday and thus reminding me not to forget Grant’s.

The next morning, Penny slid into my office and I knew what was coming. “I forgot your birthday yesterday!” she said. “I’m really sorry. With this new job, I just don’t seem to look over at my calendar as much.”

“That’s ok,” I said, and then told her about my conversation the night before. “So, see. You helped me out. Thank you!”

But as you might guess, I forgot to buy a card for Grant that evening. I woke up the next morning, the day before Grant’s birthday and the last day of the work week. I was making small talk with my husband and told him about how Penny had given me belated birthday wishes the day before.

“Oh, shoot!” I exclaimed. “I forgot to buy Grant a card! Crap! I’ll have to stop at the store on my way to work, but man, I like to slip them in their office when they aren’t there. That’s going to be hard to do now.”

“You better hurry then,” he said, “so you can get in before Grant does.”

“Oh, it’s too late for that!” I said, laughing. “He’s already there.” Grant was always at work by 7, the time on the clock at that moment.

Nevertheless, I hustled along, actually remembered to stop at the store, and made it to work in just over an hour.

“You are lucky I’m here,” said Grant when I stopped to check on a project we were working on together. Expecting a tale of near-death, I listened with a certain amount of apprehension, but as the story went on, I became confused.

He and his wife had attended a wedding the night before. Which was strange, being a Thursday. The wedding had been at mealtime and the reception had been light on food. Was he telling me he nearly starved to death?

Not knowing the bride or groom at all, being present merely to support the groom’s parents, they slipped out soon after the reception ended and went out to eat. Ok, so maybe a near wreck somewhere along the way?

No, no wreck. They made it home safely. Spent a quiet remainder of the evening. So what had caused him to almost not make it to work?

The story continued to the morning. He woke up. He went into the kitchen. He started taking care of some bills or something. Like he always does. He heard his wife wake up so he put on the coffee for her. She soon came into the room.

“What are you still doing here?” she asked.

He was confused. “What do you mean?” he asked.

“But she wasn’t giving it up,” he told me, starting to chuckle. “She was going to make me work for it.”

Eventually, she said, “You think it’s Saturday, don’t you?”

He was sitting in his pajamas, contemplating whether to fix sausage and eggs, when he would normally have already been at work.

“It’s funny you should say that,” I said. And then I proceeded to tell him first about Penny forgetting my birthday and thus reminding me not to forget his. And then me forgetting to buy a card anyway and remembering as I told my husband about Penny remembering the next day. And then my husband telling me to hurry and me telling him that Grant was already at work. “Except you weren’t, were you?”

“No!” he said laughing. “I was still in my pajamas.”

We laughed some more and he told me I didn’t have to give him a card and I told him I would anyway. And later on, after he found the card on his desk – me having successfully placed it undetected while he was sitting there, he came in to my office to thank me and say again that it wasn’t necessary, and that now he understood why I had had a bit of glitter on my lip earlier. The card having had several colors of glittered balloons and gifts on the front.

There are a number of very young people in our work area now and they sometimes make me feel very old, older than I actually am. But moments like this help me keep it in perspective. There’s a lot of “old” going around. And we manage to have a good time with it.


Mom’s Special Day

I called my mom on her birthday. I was really good this year – I called her by 8:30 in the morning. Maybe she decided to sleep in though because she didn’t answer her phone.

I was sitting at my desk at work and as I listened to her voicemail recording, I quickly tried to decide whether to leave a message and, if so, what to say. In my heart of hearts I knew what I had to do.

Quietly, I sang “Happy Birthday to you…” I almost lapsed into childhood with “you live in a zoo…” but even though I was singing very softly so as not to be overheard by any co-workers, I went the safe route. “… Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday dear Mommmmmeeee, Happy Birthday to you!”

I then explained that I sang it softly because I was at work but that I hoped she had a good birthday and I hoped she’d give me a call back. I had just settled into reading my email when a co-worker poked her head into my office.

“Were you just singing happy birthday?” she asked, sounding puzzled.

I turned a little pink. So much for singing softly.

The day zoomed by with work and church and dinner and basketball practice and laundry and first grade homework and book reading. About 9:15, my husband said something about talking to his dad.

“I better try to call mom again,” I said.

Again, she didn’t answer her phone.

“I just want you to know that it’s not my fault I didn’t talk to you on your birthday,” I said to her voicemail. “I’ve tried twice now.”

After awhile, I began to worry. Not a lot – surely her boyfriend or mother or sister or other sister or someone would have called me if something was wrong. But still, maybe better safe than sorry.

So I sent my brother a text.

“Have you talked to mom today?” I asked.

“No, should I?” he responded.

“Really, Aaron?”

“I don’t talk to her everyday,” he said, adding “What’s going on?” before I could reply.

“Neither do I but I try to make it a habit to call her on her birthday.”


He later tried to tell me that he’d been playing referee with his kids all day after schools were cancelled.

“Excuses excuses,” I said.

“Hey, you haven’t talked to her either”

Ahhhh, dear brother… but I tried. At least I tried. And remembered. TWICE! I ought to get bonus points for that!

Of course, while I was blogging about this, he probably called and she probably answered. Or maybe he sent her a text and when I send mine in a few minutes, it’ll look like he came first. Not that I’m competitive with my brother, mind you. I just want credit where credit is due.

Well, and to talk to my mommy. I kinda like the lady.

Another Almost-Botched Birthday

We came close to botching another birthday this past weekend.  At least this time, I had help from the birthday girl.  Jane made some friends at summer camp this past summer and her birthday wish was to get to see them.  She assured me that this was attainable because “we all live within 2 1/2 hours of camp.”

There is no point in employing logic when planning with a teenager.  It is lost on them that two people that are 2 1/2 hours from a given location are not necessarily close to each other.  They could, indeed, be a solid 5 hours from each other.  And when only one or two of these people can drive, it seems unlikely that parents would be willing to drive them somewhere to meet another kid from camp.  As she named the towns they each lived in, I found it unlikely we could make this get-together work.

But I am a loving and devoted mother who wants to give my children what they want when possible.  So I first said to find out who was available on that particular Saturday and who was able to travel.  She crafted the text request in such a way that no one answered about whether they were able to travel any distance away from their homes.  One answered that he would be taking the SAT in the morning but was free after.  One said maybe.  One said yes.  One said no.  The local girls, who would be transported with us wherever we went, said yes.

So I said, “Ok.  Tell them that we are going to have your party somewhere at 3:00 Saturday afternoon.  We will pick the somewhere to be as accommodating as possible for the people who are able to come.  See who can be there at that time.”  Same answers.

So then I checked a map.  I already felt like I was having to pull teeth to get any decisions made on this get-together.  After studying the map, I picked a town that was just over an hour from us and also from each of the two yeses.  It would be a longer journey for the maybe, but maybe he could get to the guy closest to him and catch a ride.

“Ok,” I said.  “Tell them the party will be at a park in Townville and see who can still come.”

“Which park?” she asked.

“I’m not going to spend the time picking a park until I know for sure that people can go there.  If either one of those guys bails, then we’ll move the party to the other person’s town.”

“Mom!  We are not irresponsible 10 year olds who say yes to parties when we don’t know whether we can go.  We are responsible teenagers who know what we are doing!  They said they could go.  They know it will be in the {general nearby metro} area.”

“I’m done with this conversation,” I said, and walked away.  Her notion of space is weak as the chosen town is not in the area she described.  After getting dinner in the oven, I tried again.

“Jake can’t come.  He says it’s too far,” she said.  I bit back the urge to point out which one of us had been right about the need to share the location with people.  I merely asked her to confirm with the other person whether he could travel or whether we should travel to his town.

“So at this point,” my husband asked me later, “we are planning a party around one person?”

“Basically,” I said.  But surely one of these friends would be better than none?  I told her to give the boy my phone number so his mother could call and talk if need be.  Several days went by with me pinging her each one.  By Wednesday, I still didn’t know what we were doing.  It distinctly felt like everything was falling apart.

Finally, the boy responded.  His mother said it was too far away and reminded him that he had another party to go to that day anyway.  Ok.  So now what?

She fretted over not being able to get people together for her birthday.  She mentioned a popular girl at school that had dozens at her party.  I said the quantity of people at the party was not nearly as important as how much they mean to you and vice versa.  She seemed to be getting down.

Finally, she named a science museum she wanted to take her local girlfriends to.  I stayed home with the boys.  My husband took the four girls and dropped them off at the museum while he checked out a nearby art museum.  Then he took them to her chosen hamburger joint and a Hot Topic, where they got matching shirts.  One of them then spent the night.  The next day, I delivered her to a movie theater that was showing the “one weekend only” One Direction concert movie.  She didn’t take any friends because none of them are One Direction fans.  Just her.

All in all, I think she had a good birthday.  But it was looking kind of sketchy there for a bit.

Looking at Me


I spent a lot of time looking at my hands this past week. I don’t know when they started looking so old. The skin is thin and the veins are always visible and if I extend my fingers out fully, there are thousands of tiny little wrinkles. The hands don’t match how I think of myself.

I got a card from my mom and she had written on the back of the envelope:


I burst into tears when I saw it. Why? Because she had articulated some of that bad feeling I was having about my birthday. She doesn’t think of herself as old enough to be the mother of a forty year old. Where does time go?

At a recent women’s luncheon, a woman in her eighties made some remark. A woman in her thirties sitting next to me whispered, “Oh! Aren’t they so cute?!”

I wondered what the older woman would think of being called cute. I bet she still thinks of herself in much the same way she did when she was younger. Don’t get me wrong, she knows her body is old and doesn’t work as well anymore. But the woman inside – that woman is the same. But we don’t see her. We just see the old woman. And we call her cute. Which undermines everything she has to say. Whether we meant to do that or not.

Maybe this is what I’ve been afraid of. That people will stop seeing me. That maybe they already have. Maybe I’m just the middle-aged white woman, which means whatever they’ve categorized that as in their head. I’m not a woman that has scaled mountains, ridden down small waterfalls, competed in collegiate co-ed roller hockey, built a kiln from scratch, given birth at home, preached sermons, won awards, created puzzles, stretched my horizons. A woman who married her high school sweetheart and made it work against all odds.

For some reason, turning 40 scared me. I truly didn’t expect it to. And, really, if people are dismissing me as a middle-aged white woman, they’ve been dismissing me as something or the other my whole life. I can strongly remember being distrusted or belittled by bank officials and employers when I was in my late teens and early twenties. It really didn’t matter who I was. My age was all that mattered.

Are we all just too busy to take the time to step out of our stereotyping habits? I had a serendipitous moment when I read this great blog post about being a black woman in a place where people don’t expect to see black women. The author expressed the desire to be seen for who she is, to be more than “the only black person in the room.”

I realized that was a bit of my concern, although on a much different scale, when I watched the older ladies at that meeting and I pondered getting older myself. I don’t want to be just the mom. Or just the old woman. I don’t want to be filed away as some stereotype. I want people to see me. To get to know me. And I’m afraid that people dismiss you more and more, the older you get.

Another Day Older

So I haven’t posted anything for five days now. For me, that’s a serious drought. I typically find something to say every day; worst case, I skip a day. It’s particularly humorous since I have 15 drafts waiting in various states, including one that I started at lunch 5 days ago and thought I’d wrap up that night.

This happens from time to time. I get busy or I get withdrawn and don’t feel like writing. I’ve never figured out if I can’t find something to write about because nothing is happening or if it looks to me like nothing is happening because I don’t feel like writing. Sometimes, as I think has happened this time, I’m pondering BIG ISSUES but I’m simply too tired to express my thoughts cohesively. That takes so much more work than relating a funny conversation with my kids.

My big issue right now is this. I recently turned 40 and I haven’t been able to figure out how I feel about it. In the days leading up to it, I felt like it ought to be a big deal and got depressed because I knew it wouldn’t be – it’d just be another day. And then I’d immediately think that it really isn’t a big deal and I didn’t want anyone to make it one.

In trying to explain some of my conflicting emotions to my husband, I told him, “They were talking about a survey on the radio and they said, ‘People in their twenties and thirties were more likely to…’ and I realized that in a few days, they won’t be talking about me.”

He responded simply that they already weren’t talking about me. He’s right. Stages of life are much more indicative than age.

My daughter went to a friend’s birthday party the night before my birthday. The mom had 8 game cards for the video games at the venue but only 6 kids present. The birthday girl argued she should get the extras since it was her birthday.

“But what if Jane’s mom and I want to use them?” her mother asked.

“It’s my birthday!” she countered.

“It’s my birthday too,” I said.

“Yours isn’t until tomorrow,” Jane said.

“So?” I asked, turning to look intently into the friend’s eyes, “This is the last day I will ever be in my thirties. I need something to help me feel young and carefree!”

The girl stared at me briefly before saying, “Ok. You win. Give her the card, mom.”

I laughed and waved it off. I didn’t actually feel like getting up from the couch. Besides, another mom, who turned 50 last year, sat down and we began to gossip, for lack of a more genteel term to describe our whispered discussions.

And that leads me to what I think was my overriding thought as I tried to figure out how I feel. I don’t feel any different. I’m not any different. I’m the same person I’ve always been. Older, maybe wiser, maybe a tad more confident, maybe more responsible, but still me. And this woman in her fifties is still the same. And the people we were talking about. There isn’t some generic personality that goes with a given age.

I think I had a problem with turning forty simply because it was an obvious milestone on my road to old age. I’ve had some fun joking about it though. Anything I could blame on age, I did.

The morning of my birthday, my husband and I lay in bed, each playing a game on our phone. I dropped mine. On my face. Twice. My husband took his eyes off his game to look at me.

“Give me a break! I’m old!”

I still don’t think I’ve processed it all. I will say that 40 plus a day was better than 40. And 40 plus two days was even better. And so on. So I think maybe I can adjust to this decade of life. I have some more thoughts that I’ll share soon. My thoughts have been so disjointed that I found it impossible to form into one cohesive post. Stay tuned… I’ll try not to keep you waiting another five days.