Grumpy Charisma

I’ve been thinking about people’s names again.  This time, it’s not the name pronunciation that has my brain wheels spinning, but the choice of a name that plainly means something in simple English.

Felicity. Hope. Faith. Grace. Harmony. Chastity. Charisma.

It’s that last one that prompted the deep thoughts. I was at a volleyball tournament for 13 and 14 year-olds recently. There was a really sour-faced girl on the team playing right in front of me. I don’t know if she’s always that grumpy, but she looked the part that day.

A woman in the bleachers behind me called out to her, “Charisma! You better drop the attitude or I’ll pull you off the court!”

Or something like that. I stopped listening when she gave the consequence because I was thinking that the girl sure didn’t look like she possessed much charisma. In my mind, charisma is something that draws people to you. It’s not cheerfulness per se, but a sour person seems unlikely to charm people and draw them to herself.

Now, I know that this girl may have just been in a bad mood, not an unlikely possibility for a teenager, and that she’s actually quite charismatic. That’s not the point. She was just the launching point for these thoughts.

Do parents name these children these names because they themselves possess these qualities? Is it because they just like the way the name sounds? Or are they hoping that having the name will impart the qualities on their child?

I have a friend from high school named Felicity. She may very well be the happiest person I know. Was this just serendipitous naming? Was she a particularly happy baby? Or did the name help shape who she is? And if the latter, can a parent really count on that?

What if Faith grows up to be atheist?

What if Grace is clumsy or uncharitable?

What if Hope struggles with depression?

What if Chastity… well… you know…

Do they just go by their middle names? Should parents take the possibility of a disconnect between name and personality into account? John, Nathan, Jennifer, Rachel, Michael: None of these names tell the person meeting them what they should expect.

A coworker recently gained legal guardianship of his pre-teen niece. She had not been to school in several months and on the day they were to take her to school in their town, she refused to go. She wrapped herself in a blanket on the floor and fought them. They finally got her in the car without brushed hair or teeth and still in her pajamas and barefoot. Her name? Harmony.

I don’t think that household was feeling particularly harmonious that morning.

When I discussed this with people, I wasn’t thinking about Hope or Grace but they were consistently tossed back to me. Perhaps because I know several people with those names, they no longer confer their English meaning to me when I hear them given as a name. But the three I’ve mentioned here sure do.

The other observation I’ve made is that this is a more common occurrence with girl’s names. Someone asked me about a risk-averse guy named Chance; but really, if I hear someone is named Chance, I don’t associate it with risk. I’m not sure why. Still, there’s Chase. Chance. Cash… the list seems shorter.

Why do we seem more interested in imbuing certain qualities in our girls? I guess we should be pleased that we use positive terms, unlike the horrible habit of naming girls in India “unwanted.”

Still. Do we name them these things because we feel the need to dictate the direction of their lives? Are boys given more room to develop who they are? Am I going off the deep end with my rambling thoughts on the matter?

One final thought that just didn’t fit in anywhere else. I noticed this week that a boy at Hal’s preschool is named Saint. I wonder if his last name is Thomas? What if he turns out rotten? Well?

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What Happens While He Is Away

Things happen while spouses are away. I think this is a variation of Murphy’s Law. It’s true. You can handle almost anything while two of you are at the helm; but as soon as one of you jumps ship, the other is treading water.

Last year, we went through a series of weekends where my husband was gone and a different kid got injured each time. These weren’t minor injuries – they were “should I go ahead and take her to the emergency room?” kinds of injuries. By the third weekend he was gone, I was worried sick about the yet-to-be-injured child. He fortunately escaped the weekend unscathed.

When I joined a Boy Scouts Venture Crew on their 2 week hike at Philmont Scout Ranch back in 2005 when Jane and Daryl were almost 5 and almost 2, I called my husband from base camp before we hit the trail. He was flustered and sounded almost angry at me. Why? Because Jane had rolled out of bed in the middle of the night, cutting her back on the corner of the nightstand, resulting in a deep cut whose scar is still visible today.

Last weekend (9 days ago – not yesterday), my husband left with some colleagues to attend a conference several states away. Since he’s the stay-at-home parent who takes and picks up our children to and from school, this was a significant burden to me. I lined up a friend to pick them up from school some days but it still didn’t seem likely that I would escape the week without spending some vacation hours.

We played games at some friends’ house the night before he left and were out late. When we got home close to 11:00 pm, I noticed water on the floor around the toilet in the kids’ bathroom. We thought maybe it came from Jane’s shower and dried it up. Then I used the bathroom, flushed, and… surprise! Water on the floor.

We dried it up and, out of curiosity, my husband flushed our toilet on the other side of the wall. Surprise! Water on the floor, oozing out from under the wall.

“Do you want to deal with this on your own tomorrow or do you want to investigate now?” He asked.

Some crowbar pulls later, he had torn the bottom edge of the paneling behind the toilet loose to reveal rotted drywall and green pipes. We repeated the flushing experiments and watched the water ooze out. Actually, with the wall gone, we could now see that the water was gushing out… and running down the wall behind the vanity. The ooze we could see previously was just the overflow. The drain was backing up each time we flushed. Obviously, we had waited too long to get our septic tanks pumped and the heavy rain that day had done us in.

We laid our tools across the toilet lid to signal to the children not to use the toilet and I headed to bed shortly after midnight. There’s a third toilet at the other end, on a separate tank, so all is good… right?

His alarm went off at 5 am Sunday morning and he quickly moved to the other end of the house to keep from disturbing me. At one point he came back and whispered in my ear, “Sweetheart? The other toilet won’t flush either. Do you want to stay at the Hampton?”

Hmm. Stay in a hotel room with three kids. Go to bed when they do unless I get a suite. Return home at least twice a day to take care of the dog. Or board the dog too? This conference is getting expensive, indeed.

I returned to sleep for a brief time where I had a vividly stressful dream that involved showing up to church and being responsible for everything from breakfast to bell ringing to reading the liturgy. And nothing was going well.  It was foreshadowing for my week.

I struggled out of bed a short time later and rustled the children, who had fortunately all showered the afternoon before. I told Jane to use the far toilet and not flush. I told the boys to pee outside. I took on the uncomfortable task of waiting until we got to church to relieve myself.

We hurried out the door and as I locked it, I heard commotion over at the truck. Apparently, the boys had been playing in the truck the day before and Hal had left the back window wide open. Right before the major thunderstorm. The seats were soaked.

I was fairly sure I was going to break under the pressure. We arrived at church and Jane setup for breakfast while I prepared my Sunday School lesson and took care of my other responsibilities. The bell choir director asked me to play a chime part in the choral response. One of the other bell ringers asked me to play her part in the final hymn. Was it my nightmare coming to life?

Actually, no. The morning ended up being everything you wish that worship would be for you every single Sunday. I had to slip into the choir loft while they sang the anthem so I’d be there for the choral response. I sat on a step out-of-sight and leaned against their pews and listened to them sing The Old Rugged Cross. I sank down into a deep happy, peaceful place.

I entered the church building that morning feeling broken and defeated and dreading the week. I left with all the same problems but feeling capable of taking them on. It wasn’t easy, but I knew I could do it.

Which turned out to be a good thing, because…

I tried to do a load of laundry Sunday afternoon and learned that it, too, feeds into a septic tank. I had fun quickly pulling everything off the shelves next to the washing machine so I could try to soak up all the water rushing down the wall with only 10 and 5 year old boys as my assistants.

On Monday, I called the septic clean-out company the organist had recommended and was lucky to get a same-day appointment. Better yet, I could pay over the phone and didn’t have to be present.

Then I got a call that afternoon. The man was out at my house and had a problem. There are three tanks. One at one end and two chained together at the other end. He couldn’t find the one at one end (servicing a toilet and the washing machine). He could only reach the second one on the other end (the other two toilets and the showers) because the lid on the first one was collapsed and filled with mud. He didn’t think there would be a point to draining the second one if he couldn’t reach the first one. We’d need someone with a backhoe to clean it out and then repair it.  And I’d need to find the cleanout for the other one if I wanted the man to pump it for me.

Since we had to go to Middle School Open House and Destination Imagination practice and run to Lowe’s and Wal-Mart, it was dark by the time we got home. I had cleared the waiting-to-go-to-the-dump debris stacked where I suspected the cleanout to be in the short time I was home between work and the evening activities, but then had to shovel by flashlight after the boys went to bed in order to find the cleanout, which had gotten buried by the foundation repair people a year or so ago (I’m guessing). Jane just loved helping me out by holding the flashlight. While texting. The septic guy was booked on Tuesday so it’d be Wednesday. Another evening of the boys peeing outside and the girls not flushing.

Oh, and while at Lowe’s, I discovered that I had lost my Visa card. Somewhere. And while shoveling outside, I discovered at least one place where the mice have easy access into the house when I watched one run away from the flashlight and in through the dryer vent. Jane liked witnessing that too.

The next day, I verified with the septic guy that he needed not just the cleanout clear but the space above the actual septic tank as well.  The tank whose exact location was unknown.  That evening was filled with volleyball practice and the elementary school open house so again, that work had to wait until after dark.  But at least I discovered before dark that my credit card was lying near one of the septic tanks, having slipped out of my pocket the previous day.

Jane absolutely had to do a load of laundry so I pulled the hose out of the drain and stuck it out the window, attached to a garden hose so the water wouldn’t drain too close to the house.  Then I moved all that debris a second time to make sure it wasn’t over where the septic tank was likely to be.  I just knew, looking around, that the tank was under the riding lawn mower.  The mower with two flat tires.  Between Jane, me, and the truck and tow-straps, we got it moved.  And I learned the next day that that was, indeed, exactly where the tank was.

That night also involved a difficult conversation with Jane about choices she was making concerning her friends and how she was treating them.  The next day, we had a working septic system again – yay! – but her attempt to reconcile with her friend had gone poorly.  So more heart-to-heart.  The teenage drama continued the next night when volleyball practice did not go well and her stressful worrying about the estranged friend continued.

I must say, though, that even though I was on a raw emotional edge by Thursday evening, it was still easier to deal with my teen’s problems when I wasn’t also worrying about where people would poop.  I also decided, at my husband’s urging, to go ahead and require the dog to sleep in her crate instead of our bedroom so I could get a good night’s sleep (her snoring and sudden decisions to explore cause me problems).

And it worked.  I was getting a great night’s sleep Thursday night when I was awakened by someone pounding on the front door.  I knew that they must have been banging for awhile because it dragged me out of a very deep sleep.  I flew out of bed and grabbed my phone off the charger: 2:00 am.  I stumbled to my bedroom door and as I prepared to open it, the heater kicked off.  All the noise confusion stopped and I stood there, trying to figure out why I was up.  Whoever it was had stopped banging on the door.  But, wait.  Wouldn’t the dog be going nuts if someone was really at the door?  Yes, no one was at the door.  I suspect now that the knocking was the heater.  Something else to investigate.  And so much for a good night’s sleep.

The weekend brought a volleyball tournament a little over an hour from home and – lucky us! – we had to be there at 7:30 in the morning both Saturday and Sunday.  I love waking my children at 5:30 in the morning on weekends.  And because of the earlier-than-expected start on Sunday, we got to spend several hours at the church Saturday afternoon so Jane could get her National Junior Honor Society volunteer hours, no longer being able to fix breakfast for the church as planned.

Still, by Sunday afternoon, we were able to play a couple of games together and we had a nice home-cooked meal at the table, so I guess we finished strong.  But I was too beat by the time my husband got home around 11 pm to do anything more than raise my head from my pillow and say, “Glad you are home.  Good night.”

I really am glad he’s home.  And not just because I’m happy to return to team parenting.  I kinda like the guy.

Getting it Wrong While He Gets it Right

To say we had a busy weekend would be a tremendous understatement. I can’t remember the last time I arrived at work on Monday feeling this tired. My boss even asked me if I was ok.

The week leading into it was like the climb to the top of the roller coaster. Volleyball practice for the tournament on Saturday. Extra chimes practice for the concert on Sunday. Extra Destination Imagination practices as both of the older kids prepare for Regional competition next weekend. Extra Suzuki orchestra practice for the concert this week. Oh, and Friday was the Sweetheart Dance, which I had signed us up to chaperone back when life was marginally slower and family still lived in town.

The weekend itself was non-stop movement on the high-speed coaster, beginning with decorating for the dance Friday morning, a meeting at work, mom arriving that evening, and a late night, first at the dance and then helping my husband in the studio. Early rise on Saturday to head to the tournament an hour away, back home for bell choir practice and setup for the concert and dinner, a pleasant respite to celebrate National Margarita Day before finishing off Saturday with a DI performance. Sunday was filled with church and the concert/dinner with all the preparation crammed in between. I feel incredibly blessed to have had my mother and her boyfriend here to help out. The logistics were hopeless without them.

We knew the weekend would be full and we saw the week shaping up to be tight too. But we learned that there is always room for an emergency, whether you want it or not.

Late Thursday night, after I had gone to bed, my husband opened the fridge for a snack. Now, the freezer had been working overtime for about a week and we hadn’t been able to figure out why. That morning, his milk hadn’t seemed very cold but it didn’t trigger a clear thought as to why.

But that night, it became clear. The fridge was dead. He stayed up until 3 o’ clock in the morning, trying to diagnose and resurrect the refrigerator. No luck.

So Friday morning, I helped with the dance decorations (more on that in a later post) while he returned home with two tasks: continue repair attempts on the fridge and drag the old fridge back into the house. See, the dead fridge was actually new-to-us. The old one had been sitting on the front porch, right next to the front door, for months while we failed to get around to putting an ad in the paper.

That morning, we realized that we had forgotten to fix the fifty sandwiches we had committed to make for the dance so we made plans to each hit a different store: him to Wal-Mart for lunch meat, me to Braum’s for bread, and then meet at the church to assemble sandwiches and store in the church’s fridge.

I was miffed at him. I can’t remember why now. I think he was altering plans, probably because he didn’t remember what we had already settled on. I tried to call him at one point after we split for our set of rounds. I planned to pick up some breakfast while at Braum’s and wanted to know if he wanted something.

My first thought was to grab him a sausage biscuit. My second thought was that if he wanted something, he should have answered his phone. Not the most charitable thought, I know. Which finally gets me around to the point of this rambling post.

When he arrived at the church, he handed me a box of Junior Mints. “I thought they might help your day go better,” he said with a smile.

He then asked me if I had thought to get some breakfast at Braum’s. I confessed that I had for me but not him. I defended myself by saying that I had tried to call. But I felt terrible. The differences in our approach to a stressful day could not have been made more clear. Fortunately, he was in a charitable mood.

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

After traveling over an hour to my daughter’s last volleyball game and then sitting through the B team’s 3-match game, I needed to use the bathroom. I stood up and quietly told my husband where I was headed. As I started down the bleachers, Hal, who is always hopelessly bored at the volleyball games and looking for any possible source of distraction, hopped up and, running to catch up, called out, “Wait! I want to go with you!”

I laughed and said, “I’m just going to the bathroom, honey!”

He gave an embarrassed “Oh” and began to return to his seat. The couple sitting near where I was standing smiled. Then, as I turned to walk away, he called out again, “Wait! I want a hug!”

Their smiles grew bigger as he hurried down the steps and gave me a long, tight hug. As we began to release from it, he grabbed me again and said, “Wait! One more!”

I finally got him to let go and again attempted to resume my journey. I was almost to the bottom of the bleachers when he did it again. “Wait! Just one more!”

He raced back down to me for another hug and I began to wonder if I’d ever make it out of the gym. “I’m just going to the bathroom,” I said. “I won’t be gone that long.”

The couple was openly laughing at this point. I love this kid. And I love his hugs. And I love his enthusiasm. And I love the little happy moments he creates for the people nearby.

Clothes Hunt

Jane was digging through the clean laundry basket. She sat down on the couch with an armful of clothes and asked, “Do you know where my black shorts are?”

On volleyball game days, she’s allowed to wear her team T-shirt to school instead of the required polo shirt, but only if she wears black shorts instead of khaki. She only has one pair.

“I assume you wore them last Thursday?”

“Yes. And Monday too.”

“Oh, well if you wore them Monday then they are either still dirty or in the dryer. They should have been in the load you washed last night.”

“They weren’t! I don’t know where they are!”

“Well you might have wanted to start looking before this morning. Put those clothes back in the basket one at a time to make sure you didn’t miss them.” I then walked into her room to perform the Mommy Search.

I noticed an awful lot of clothes piled up on her desk. Quite a few were the dresses we had bought in Denver. I guess they had finally migrated out of the suitcase but not yet made it to the closet. It was difficult to dig through the clothes since they were interspersed with a dozen magazines, some posterboard, pencils, markers, school papers, cups, even a few breakable objects – just to keep me on my toes.

I found a workout shirt and a school polo, but no black shorts. So I turned to her chest of drawers. The top drawer was hanging open with so much stuff spilling out that I doubted its ability to close. I checked it anyway and then pushed it closed enough to open the second drawer. This one was mostly empty which meant it was very easy to spot the black shorts folded inside. She entered the room about that time so I handed them to her.

“What?! I never put clothes in my drawers so why would I look there?!”

I shrugged and returned to my room, where my husband handed me a pair of Jane’s khaki capri pants with the tags still on them. “Does she need these?”

I didn’t even ask why they were in our room. I just headed back across the hall and asked her if she needed them. As soon as she nodded, I tossed them on her bed and began to leave.

“Wait! They don’t belong there!”

“I know. They belong on your desk.”

I got the look.

“No! I was going to tell you to hand them to me so I could fold them up and put them in my drawer.”

Right. And she wonders why we find her unpredictable.

Playing the Game

We found ourselves in Kansas City for a wedding this past weekend.  My husband had done some homework and found that the Kansas City Royals would be playing the Detroit Tigers that Sunday afternoon.  For reasons that we do not understand, the Tigers is Daryl’s declared favorite team.  We do not understand this because a) we live nowhere near Michigan and b) we never watch baseball.  Our only guess is that they were the opposing team when we went to a Rangers game last year and Daryl likes to be contrary.

I had concerns about getting home sometime after midnight on a school night, but my husband insisted that the “family day” activities would be a great experience and a lot of fun.  And they could sleep in the car.  Right.

Anyway, he was right that it was a lot of fun.  We enjoyed the free face painting and balloon animals, carousel rides and miniature golf.  All the kids got a souvenir and got it signed by Slugger, the mascot.  We shared “nachos in a helmet” – a plastic batting helmet full of nachos.

As we settled in for the start of the game, however, I had a conversation with Jane that made me sad.  We had great seats – up high, but directly behind home plate.  They were announcing the players and people were finding their seats.

Seemingly out of the blue, Jane commented, “I can see why Auntie Grace gets so upset about equality.”

I looked around, wondering if there were some scantily-clad “cheerleaders” somewhere, but I didn’t find any.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, all the big sporting events that people go to see.  They are always men.  I mean, there are softball teams but there aren’t big stadiums and professional teams that people go to watch.  And women can’t even play football at all.  It’s really not fair.”

“That’s true,” I said.  And I couldn’t think of anything else to say.

In fact, there’s not much to say that would make her feel better.  Here’s a girl – a very strong and athletic girl, who is just reaching a competitive sporting environment and what does she see ahead of her?  Those boys playing football are not working harder than she is.  They aren’t more competitive than her or more dedicated.  They practice more than her team does, but not because of a lack of dedication on the girls’ parts.  They practice more because we live in Texas and this state is bat-s**t crazy about football.

No, the fact is that this is the society we live in.  People go to watch men’s sports more than women’s sports simply because that’s the way it’s always been.  They grew up rooting for their favorite football or baseball team.  You can start a women’s professional basketball or soccer league and the players can be really good, but people aren’t going to go because… well… they aren’t invested in those teams.

Add to that the persistent perception so many have that women are the “weaker” sex.  And that most sports spectators are men and many of them have this fear that an interest in women’s sports might somehow reduce their manliness.  And then there’s just the general skew of society toward all things male and things aren’t likely to improve too much in her lifetime.

So what can I say?  I can point out men who do support women’s athletics, like my mom’s boyfriend.  I can remind her that in the long run, she’s better off depending on her mind than her prowess on the volleyball court anyway.  I can urge her to stand up for equality when she can.  I can try to teach her the nuances of living in this world female.  I can encourage her to fight for change but not get disheartened when it is slow to come.  I can point out how much better off she is than her great-great grandmother was.  And I can agree, that yes, it really is not fair. Now, honey, let’s enjoy the game anyway.

She’s Growing Up

Dear Papa Bill,

I was at work today, just sitting there writing a little program to collect statistics on CPU usage.  Nothing exciting at all, really, but I was content.  A small portion of my mind that wasn’t needed for focusing on the task at hand, that part dedicated to singing earworm songs and worrying about upcoming activities, was pondering how much Jane has grown up.

She made the school volleyball team and she’s really fired up about it.  She’s still playing the viola but I guess you were gone before she had even started that.  It’s hard to believe how much time has passed.  Now she’s in the band too, playing the flute.  It’s her favorite class.  She’s in all Pre-AP courses and working hard at them.  But it’s volleyball that I was thinking about as I toiled away at my keyboard.

When her Daddy took her to order her school-color workout clothes, she saw the letter jackets and was so very excited.  She can’t wait for the opportunity to letter in volleyball.  Then a couple of days ago, they poked their heads in the gym to watch the high school team play.  Each girl has a large poster with her picture on the wall of the gym.  Jane’s face lit up.  She’s already dreaming about being on one of those posters.

She works hard.  She’s not the best girl on the team but she’s big and strong and plays well.  We are anticipating traveling for games for many years to come.  And so it was that I was imagining mom and her boyfriend standing at the edge of the court, waiting to congratulate her on a game well-played.  Suddenly, it wasn’t Hugh standing next to mom; it was you.

I was immediately in tears.  My throat tightened up and hurt.  I turned my back to my cubicle door and grabbed a tissue.  I can’t even remember the last time I missed you so deeply; I thought I was well and truly past all that.

You would have been so proud of her.  You never showed a lot of emotion but in that little mental image, I saw the small smile that would have been on your face.  It felt so real.  So incredibly, achingly real.  You were special to her and I know she was to you as well, the first grandchild.  I never imagined that you wouldn’t be around to watch her grow up.  And then once you were gone, after awhile, I never thought about what you were missing.  Until today.  When I sat sobbing over what will never be while running CPU statistics on my screen and hoping no one would notice.

Some people believe they know for sure that our departed loved ones are watching from above.  I don’t know that.  I hope, but I don’t know.  In that brief moment, though, you were there and you were smiling.  Thank you for making it to one of her games, even if only in my imagination.

I love you,

Your daughter