The Wailing Child

My neighbor has a daughter that’s roughly somewhere between three and five years old. Honestly, I’m not a good judge of age so I’m going to stop at that pretty wide estimate. She’s small, much like a kid around that age should be, but this girl has got a set of PIPES on her. Holy heaven she can wail like a banshee.

The other day the weather was so nice I decided to enjoy the breeze so I popped my windows open to catch some of the nice aromas of the surrounding wilderness. Piercing through the serenity of the great outdoors came this unnaturally loud bellow. It was the little girl, just letting loose everything in her superhuman lungs. She was standing maybe five feet from my bedroom window (where I was trying to relax) yodeling away. If she would have told me she was trying to communicate with life on another planet I would’ve found her volume level perfectly acceptable and understandable.

The real reason she was letting out this blood curdling shriek? She was calling—nay, screaming—for her friend who lived all of two doors down.  Let me step back for a second and explain that prior to the aforementioned assault on the senses, these two girls had had a loud conversation (also right next to my bedroom window) that centered round the one girl having to go home for dinner and that she’d be back later. The wailing child (aptly named) was apparently not thrilled with this plan. So. She waited all of five minutes to start the kind of howling that would make any banshee proud.

Maybe she wasn’t allowed to leave her yard alone, hence my guess at her young age. Maybe she was super lazy and didn’t want to walk the twenty seconds it would take to reach her friend’s front door and knock on it. Who knows? All I know is that after a half hour she had gifted me a fresh migraine and frayed nerves from all the yelling she did.

She was screaming so loud I couldn’t even tell what she was saying. Her volume was so high that the message couldn’t get through the deafening barrage of sound. I made out her friend’s name but that was it. Besides that, it was all gibberish. Extremely loud gibberish.

And there I am in my house, dumbfounded that she’s able to continue on like a raving lunatic for sooo long. Where the hell were her parents? I know I’ve written a few times about people who have questioned my parenting methods. Allow me to turn the tables and tell you all that I certainly think her parents could use a little tune up in the personal decency department. I would never have allowed my kids to stand out there and just randomly scream like that. It’s not exactly what I would call neighborly behavior.

When I got pregnant (both times) everyone told me “oh this will finally make you realize how great kids are.”  Yeah, my kids. They’re awesome. Other people’s kids? Not so much. They still haven’t rubbed off on me quite yet and probably never will if they keep on trying to raise the dead outside my window. Remember kids: Silence is golden.

The Scream by Edvard Munch

The Scream by Edvard Munch

Summer Nostalgia

Summer is well under way and with it comes a wave of nostalgia. Usually these memories stay happily dormant in the back of my head only to be brought up at family dinners where too much wine is flowing and too many “back in the day” stories are being told much to the embarrassment of my brother and me. I thought I would share a bit here with all of you. Bear with me as I know this is longer than my usual entry but I hope you enjoy it nonetheless.

So as luck would have it, my parents grew up together — so before they were even betrothed their families were close. It sure made visiting easier when my brother and I were young. Whenever we would spend summers with them in West Virginia, it was always a two-for-one deal. Two sets of grandparents in only one trip.  Both sets of grandparents lived off the beaten path, to put it nicely. More like the boonies or boondocks, which made for an interesting time as a kid.

My paternal grandparents lived way down a gravel road that curved around past their house and into a darkened wooded area that was always creepy as hell even on the brightest of days. Their house was surrounded by over 20 acres of pasture with a very cool barn directly behind the house.  I delighted in wandering through the pastures because it was so beautiful and quiet and reeked of adventure to anyone with an imagination.

My maternal grandparents lived in a “holler,” their home nestled cozily between two mountains. Let me tell you, it was no easy feat to get from the main road down to their place. You took a leap of faith off the hard road, onto a shale covered dirt road barely big enough for one car, over a rickety home-made wooden bridge to their house.

Oh, and I say a leap of faith because when you went from the hard road to the dirt road, the front tires of your car hovered in midair for a moment before connecting with the dirt road. Fun times. Then while one side of the car was snug against the mountain, the other side merely flirted with…well…nothing.  Seriously, you could’ve opened the passenger side door and just stepped out into air.  My brother and I used to torment my mother to no end by scooting over to that side of the car and jumping our little butts up and down to see if we could make the car fall over the edge.  Honestly, I don’t know how she held onto her sanity sometimes.

My Mom’s childhood home (Grandma Mooney and clan) sat in the low center of the holler.  The house itself was set up higher than the road.  To keep the yard from simply eroding and falling into the road, it was shored up in the front with a rock wall that was even with the yard but about 3 feet high off the road – a rock wall from which my brother, in pure locomotive action, accidentally catapulted himself when he was little….hanging in midair like Wile E. Coyote before gravity overtook him and he finally fell to earth… waaayy on the other side of the dirt road. I still grin when I think of it.  Not sure what that says about me.

There were distinct differences at the two places. At my Dad’s place we had a lot of freedom.  My mother had only two rules really: 1)Always keep the house in sight (didn’t quite follow that one) and 2)Stay away from the bull (definitely paid attention to that one). When I got old enough to ride the ATV there was another rule: 3)Don’t wreck and run over yourself (fair enough, right?). And the only thing I can think of is that this must have happened to a cousin at some point in time because otherwise, why need that particular rule?  Luckily I never did quite figure out how you could wreck and run over yourself at the same time.

Looking back, I think my mother gave me a lot more credit than I probably deserved. I don’t know why she thought I had more common sense than I did, but those three rules seemed to be enough for her.

Had she known what little sense I actually had she’d have made more rules. Perhaps one would have been centered around not chasing cars down the gravel road when you’re riding your cousin’s bike which is too big for you, especially when there’s a steep decline right by an apple tree that has dropped slippery decayed fruit onto the road turning it into a stretch of goo that bike tires can’t really handle. Maybe the rule would revolve around that. I don’t know, I’m just spit-balling here. Don’t worry, the scars didn’t last. And surprisingly, my mother’s sanity held.

Things were a bit more regimented with my grandparents who lived in the holler. The places we could go were more clearly defined.  For instance, we could wander along the shale-covered road all we wanted but we couldn’t go up the hard road alone.   We could go down to the creek to hunt for lizards and crawdads, but we had to watch out for water moccasins. What can I say, life in the country does involve taking into consideration that a poisonous snake might jump out and sink its fangs into your shin at any given moment. In an odd way I kinda miss that thrill.

The rules here were just as practical and served the same purpose as the ones for the “pasture house.” They were all instituted so we wouldn’t accidentally kill ourselves or be destroyed by wildlife.

The rules for the holler were: 1)Watch out for water moccasins, 2)Don’t go up the hard road alone, 3)Stay off the grapevines, and 4)Watch out for and avoid bears.  The fourth rule only applied when we were going up the mountain back behind the house.   Like the bull, this was a rule we all happily obeyed. Rule #1 was pretty easy to follow as well. Generally speaking, any rule where the punishment was an animal killing us, we stuck to it.  Rule # 2 was another one we didn’t have an issue with… mainly because there was nothing to do up the hard road anyway.

The grapevines rule…well, not so much. The vines were thick and ran up the sides of trees. Most of the time, the vines could hold a person and you could use them as a rope and swing.  But it was boring just swinging around the base of a tree…usually scraping the tree in the process or else boomeranging back and whacking the tree full force.  Lucky for us, there was a spot up the road where the grapevines reached out over a ledge…we had our friend CW (may he rest in peace) to thank for the lowdown on the secret location.

Well, kids being kids, I’m sure you can guess what we did next. Yep, we’d use those vines to swing out over the side and into…empty space. Like Tarzan of the Jungle. It never occurred to us that they might break midair or that we could get seriously hurt as we leaped out into that void. All we knew was the sheer joy of feeling the wind as we flew.

As a parent myself, with the world as it is now, it seems like those summers are a lifetime away, and I guess they are.  It never seemed like we were living life on the edge or putting ourselves in mortal danger but I suppose in a way we were. Still, we survived. We survived the wildlife and the angry bull, the ATVs and the unstable grapevines.

Not only did we survive, we thrived.

I wish my kids had been able to enjoy such freedom and fun as we had during those summers. I mean, nowadays, we warn our kids…look both ways before you cross the street,  keep an eye out for strangers, stay together when wandering through the mall, take your phone and text me when you get there.

I would have loved just once to yell after them as a wooden screen door slammed behind them: “Hey!  Watch out for bears!

 

June 18, Bear in Yard

 

Father’s Day

On this beautiful Sunday, I want to say Happy Father’s Day to my Dad. I love my Dad and he loves me. We don’t always say it. In fact we hardly say it at all. But it’s there nonetheless. It’s one of the few things in life I’m sure of without need of validation. He has always given me a safe place to land in times of need for which I’m grateful. Thanks Dad.

father's day

LIE-BRARY

A little while ago my daughter and I found ourselves roaming through a library we had never been to before.  We visit our own library weekly but sometimes we feel the need to branch out to adjacent counties to see what they have to offer. While the content of this one was surely the same, the layout and design made us feel as if we were discovering a new domain. My daughter is a teenager but as we were exploring the terrain, we gravitated towards the children’s section which began an impromptu trip down Memory Lane. We picked out some of the old favorites with glee and memories of reading these to her when she was a wee child came flooding back. The sense of nostalgia was intense as we thumbed through several of Jan Brett’s books like Hedgie’s Surprise, The Trouble with Trolls, The Hat, and Honey, Honey, Lion! just to name a few.

Running our hands up and down the pages my daughter and I thought it would be fun to recreate that feeling when I’d read to her as she drifted off to sleep. It’s silly I know, here we are in a public library, my daughter almost old enough to drive, but we (as always) felt confident in our silliness. We’re goofy that way. Making our way to the check-out counter with a stack of books in tow, we were chattering excitedly about our evening’s reading itinerary. Our giddy daze was abruptly halted when we got to the counter and were met face to face with the sobering reality of a very stern, lace collar wearing, bi-focaled librarian who looked down at my 15 year old daughter with annoyance. Maybe we had been laughing a bit loud for the environment…but I’m not sure why my daughter bore the brunt of “the look.” Thankfully, the librarian tried to put on a happy face as I handed her my brand spanking new library card.

Scanning through our stack she asked, “So are you teaching a unit on Jan Brett to your class?” Needless to say, the question threw me off. I was a little confused but using my ample reserve of cool-under-fire suaveness I said, “Whaaat?” The librarian responded, “You’re a teacher, right?  Teaching a unit on Jan Brett?”  That seemed like a pretty great (and normal) conclusion to come to, so rather than explain our goofiness to someone who didn’t look at all like she would understand such goofiness, I quite simply and seriously replied, “Why, yes. Yes I am.”  I’m sure there is a special place in hell for those of us who lie to stern, elderly librarians. But that’s okay. I’ve already been told my place there is a given…guess this just sealed the deal.

 

librarian we get

librarian we get

 

very cool librarian

librarian we want

Parenting Re-do

Whoever here is perfect raise your hands please? If any of you had a shot at the title before thinking otherwise and keeping your hand firmly planted, good for you. Correct answer: no one is perfect. I think we can all agree on that. If we follow these delectable bread crumbs of knowledge where does the path logically lead? To the fact that since we’re not perfect, that must mean that we make mistakes. That’s another truism in life: we all make mistakes.

Michelle Obama makes mistakes. Ellen DeGeneres makes mistakes. Even Kate Middleton makes mistakes. Doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, or where you’re at now, you’re always going to make mistakes. I’m about to reveal one of mine that has been slightly harder to reconcile than a run-of-the-mill daily mistake like burning the toast or tripping up the steps.

Since we’ve already come to a consensus that every person makes mistakes, then that must mean that even parents err. Having a child doesn’t make us godly (even though we now have a tiny human looking at us as if we do hold all the answers). I would say that I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve made mistakes raising both my kids, but in reality, it’s something I stress over constantly. Probably more so as it pertains to my son. He’s the older of the two and kinda like the guinea pig to my attempt at what a mom should do. I’ll tell you what, steep learning curve with that one. Really, nothing prepares you to be a parent. You non-parents may think “oh yeah, we’ll I’ve raised dogs before” or “my garden is constantly thriving” and at this I laugh a big hearty cackle to your obliviousness. There is nothing like parenting.

So if there’s no other thing to really draw upon, how good should a first time mom or dad truly expect to be? Imagine that you’re really good at balancing on one foot in yoga class and then you’re supposed to walk a tightrope. Or you play a mean game of Duck Hunt and then someone hands you a double gauged Winchester. It’s sort of like that. Except with guilt.

My son is 22 today and he reigns as the absolute love of my life (something I tried to explain here). I am more proud of him than I am ever able to adequately express, but man, what I wouldn’t give for a couple of redo cards for when he was growing up. Not redoing anything about him, but me…all me.  There never seems like there’s enough time, does there? With a wave of my magic redo card I would conjure up more time spent playing games and less time spent stressing over homework. I’d use another redo card to sit back and marvel at his amazing Lego talent (the kid was a freakin’ savant and could build virtually anything using just a picture in his head) and not fuss so much over the messy aftermath of his architectural achievements. There’d be more bedtime stories and laughter and less stringent time management to make sure he hit his curfew.

I feel like these are common complaints. I wish for more good times and less frustrating oversight, but would there ever be enough good? Probably not. I’d probably be greedy for more carefree times no matter how chocked full of them his youth had been… but I’ll never know and I can’t shake the fact that maybe there weren’t enough. I was too worried about maintaining the perfect house and the perfect family and having him get perfect grades when I should’ve been paying more attention to the perfect little boy that I had right in front of me.

Luckily, no matter what stumbles in my first experiment at parenting yielded, he’s still perfect in my eyes. And he’s a damn good man to boot.

Jake as baby

My Baby

Jake as a teen

Handsome Teen

Jake

His Paul Bunyan Impression

Mother’s Day

On this lovely Mother’s Day afternoon, I want to send my yearly shout-out to my own Mother — I will never be able to thank you enough for everything you have and continue to do for me.  I love you.

Oh, and as always I want to express my sincere admiration for the curse you flung at me so many years ago….the one condemning me to have children who act just like me. Bang up job there, thanks.

 

happymothersdaytitle

God of Cookery

Recent meme I saw on Facebook: “I tried cooking something from scratch and ended up summoning a demon.” God, I wish I had thought up that statement because I swear that exact thought has crossed my mind on more than one occasion in recent years. I’ve come to find that cooking is not like riding a bike. You can definitely forget.

I used to be good. I have memories of when the things I pulled out of the oven were met with mmmmms instead of uggggggghs. This was another lifetime ago, though. A time before I had a family who wasn’t willing to try something new or eat something different. If it’s not a slab of beef, hot dogs, or chicken nuggets, they’re not having it. Any of it. And it has seriously destroyed my cooking game.

I used to come up with crazy concoctions on my own or take notes from gourmet cooking shows (to be put to good use at a later date). There I’d be in the kitchen, like a culinary wizard mixing up some great elixir. I’d toss in dashes of paprika, sprinkle in finely minced basil leaves, and have all the burners blasting under bubbling cauldrons or sizzling pans. Now, after years of inactivity in the creative department of the kitchen, I’ve lost the touch. I’ve tried dusting off the cooking bike and have fallen flat on my face numerous times. No matter how much care I put into it, everything I try (and I stress the word try) to make comes out mushy and burnt when it’s supposed to be firm and, well, not burnt. The spice levels are always out of whack. The consistency wavers. You name it and it’s off.

Thankfully no demons from hell have actually popped out due to one of the abominations I’ve created, although that’s probably not far off unless I get my chef chops back. Until then I’ll simply have to deal with the demons I already have in my house who are currently pounding the table for Kraft Mac n’ Cheese.

 

cooking from scratch pic

Walmart Kids (or, Why I Fear for the Future)

Just so you know, I hate everything about going to Walmart.  I hate the long drive there (absolutely nothing is close to me). I hate the sprawling chaotic parking lot. I hate the crowd of zombie consumers who, for whatever reason, always seem to do their shopping in their pajamas or underpants. I hate the store as a concept. I hate it all. I’d banish it from my mind forever if it wasn’t for one thing: candles. They have this amazing collection of the most delicious smelling candles that cost just pennies. It’s for these candles and these candles alone that I occasionally brave a visit to the 9th circle of  hell that is Walmart.

During a recent visit I had the pleasure of encountering two families which really tested what was already a very fragile patience.  The first was a Mom and her daughter trying to decide where to sit in the Ledos, a pizza restaurant.  If I have to go to Walmart, damn it, I’m eating at Ledos!  So anyway, this mother was letting the girl (maybe 9 years old) pick the table. She wanted to sit close to the TV so she could watch a baseball game. The mom squashed that and said, “Do you want a booth or table?” The girl replied, “The table so I can see the TV. Duh.” She threw her hands out in this dramatic pose, shrugged her shoulders, and made a face that could easily be translated as “You’re an unbelievable idiot, Mom.” If that were my kid, first, she would know that kind of behavior doesn’t fly with me. But should she forget and mime the word “moron” at me as she turned her back to walk way (as this girl did to her mother), she’d probably have gotten a swat to the back of the head before she got out of arm’s reach. And it’s darn sure we would’ve sat at the one table that did not have a view of the TV, just so she knows who really runs things around here. Or out of spite. Take your pick. Either works for me.

Then, in line at the Walmart (so close to being out !), I’m standing behind this Mom and her two kids, a boy and a girl.  The boy was 14. No, I’m not a stalker. I know his age because his little sister kept saying it.  She was probably 11 or 12. All three of them—mom, son, and daughter—were truly epitomizing the worst stereotypes that define a “redneck.”   They were quite the trio. The daughter was a whiner with a voice that seriously hurt my head, and she kept complaining that the boy was getting things that she wasn’t.  She and the boy kept wrestling (yes, full out wrestling)  in line while the mom prepared to buy a gun (an airsoft gun) to reward her son for his supposedly stellar report card. His sister wanted him to do something when they got home but the boy said, “No way, I’m gonna be busy with the gun.”

At this point the mother stepped in and said “No, you’re not.  You don’t get it until the report card arrives and I can see your grades.”  And the boy, with as much disrespect as is humanly possible snorts back, “Well, it doesn’t come to YOUR house.”  The mother retaliated with, “Well, you’re not touching it until I see the report card.”  And the boy, really snarling now, spits out, “I’ll just take it to my house then and you won’t have a choice.”

THEN the girl said to the (apparently noncustodial mom), “Look at you (cue sarcasm) buying a gun for a 14 year old.”  See?  Told you I wasn’t a stalker.  The mother said, “I haven’t bought it yet and he’s not going to get it until I see the report card and I can always bring it back.”  She was trying to be stern and provide discipline (I think) but it wasn’t really working. As the mother laid the gun on the counter the daughter said, “Well, NOW you’re buying it…for a 14 year old as a treat he doesn’t deserve.”

I wish I could adequately explain the voices these kids had. It was an incredible thing to witness, truly. Just full of condemnation, disrespect, and belligerence. It was oozing out of their mouths with no inhibition, no fear of consequence for their insubordination. It was simply phenomenal.  Needless to say, the boy walked out of there with the gun in hand.

Now I’ve never really been a “spanker,” and of course I would never condone striking someone else’s kids, but I can kind of understand why people might go nuts and lose their mind for a moment to reach out and give a much deserved smack to kids who don’t belong to them.  It’s like “juvenile road rage,” that brief nanosecond of insanity when you see a parent totally getting owned by their little tween offspring. That day in line, my hand fairly itched from inaction and my tongue was sore and bleeding from my attempts at keeping my own mouth in check.

Seeing such a display makes me fear for the future because these are the kids who are going to be non-productive adults when they get older and putting a kink into our whole societal system. Or worse yet, they’ll be in charge.

 

bad parentng toy story

Nightstand Jenga

Organizational skills aren’t things that everyone necessarily has. But, that being said, we all have our own systems that work, regardless of how they may appear to others. These systems might not be neat or tidy or make much sense, but they are what they are, even if what they are is a total mess.

Take my daughter’s nightstand for example. Crammed together and vying for any available square inch are piles of books, stacks of school materials, her cell phone, an iPod, snack food, cups, plates and an odd utensil or two. She swears everything is placed exactly where she needs it to be to get what she wants when she wants it, but there is no noticeable rhyme or reason.

The problem is, one little tremor, one accidental kick, even a hard enough sneeze, and everything would go tumbling to the floor in a cacophonous avalanche. It’s what I call her own personal game of Nightstand Jenga and she plays it every night. It makes me wonder what systems others may have that look like pigsties but somehow make perfect sense to the architect.

Tales of a Tattooed Mom

Have you ever had one of those arguments where the logic the person you’re arguing with doesn’t make any sort of sense? He or she tries to draw conclusions using steps that just aren’t connected at all. Like saying, “Well, of course your car needs a new battery. You were drinking orange juice earlier today and there’s a 25% chance of rain.” Frustrating right??

A while back I had one of these sorts of highly intelligent debates with a family member who just so happens to be an all-around creepy sort of individual (no, really, he is). It was about (yet again) my “bad parenting.” Right off the bat let me say that I understand that everyone has their own style and I let them be.  I would appreciate the same in return. Of course if you’re dropping your baby on the head every time you pick him up, we might have a pow wow on proper cradling techniques. Otherwise, I am a firm believer that you can find your own path and strongly advocate in staying true to what feels like good parenting to you.  But in this case the frustration and annoyance were exacerbated because the insults….umm….I mean advice….were so off the wall as to be considered mere hateful barbs rather than any attempt at being useful.

This familial idiot (it’s okay to talk about your own family this way, right?) had the following gems of debate that he doled out to me in what I’m sure was a well-meaning rant (he’s helpful like that):

1)      Because I have tattoos I’m a bad parent. Apparently, tattoos mean that you can’t properly raise a child. Apparently, as a tattooed mother, you would be teaching your kids something horribly wrong and inappropriate if said children should ever gaze upon your tattoos.  We’re not talking about showing off “down there” tattoos or something wildly controversial and therefore scarring the children for life…we’re talking fairies on the arms….a Celtic knot on the wrist….that sort of thing.  Apparently tattoos in and of themselves are somehow immoral and thereby teach an immoral lifestyle to the children.

2)      Because I use curse words on my Facebook page I’m a terrible role model to all of those impressionable kids reading my oh-so-exciting status updates and looking to me for idolatry.

Well, I can kind of see his point.  You see, in case you didn’t know it, I’m apparently a role model for the millions of children who are on Facebook.   Ahhh…no.   Seriously, about the Facebook buffoonery, let me tell you, I do not have a legion of pre-teens with malleable minds at my beck and call. I have no clue where this idea came from.  For various reasons my Facebook is locked down pretty tight. The only kids I’m friends with on Facebook are my own children and they tend to start worrying about me when they notice that I’m not using curse words.   “Mom, mom, are you okay today??   You don’t seem yourself.” It’s not like I’m spouting obscenities like a Chris Rock special, but words are words (we’ve covered this in another post so I’ll spare you the discourse).

The tattoo argument… I don’t even know how to start wrapping my head around that one. Parenting isn’t about teaching your child empathy or the difference in right and wrong apparently. It’s all about the ink. It just irritated me that in addition to my real-world language use, my body art  now somehow damns me from ever being a good, proper mother.  As if I don’t have enough issues to deal with on my slip and slide path to Hell. Oh wait, didn’t I mention I’m going to Hell!? Supposedly they have a “special place” for me, but I’m not so sure about that.  I’ve never once managed to get behind the velvet rope in my life.

I shouldn’t have been surprised at his rant really, all things considered. This family member and I — Well, we tend to not see eye to eye on a lot of things. Which I’m sure stems from the fact that I’ve never been one to adhere to the old “in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant” way of life.  And worse yet, I’m raising my daughter to have a voice of her own. I know. I’m awful.

All this from a guy in the latter years of middle-age who believes that Toddlers and Tiaras is an appropriate parenting resource and guide for young girls.  Oh, and while cursing by me is wrong, borderline inappropriate flirting with teen girls by a middle-aged male authority figure such as himself is perfectly fine. Told you. He’s creepy. And why is it always the creepy ones who have no qualms about sharing their “morality” viewpoints anyway?

I guess when I look at all that we don’t have in common I should take his criticism as a good thing. If it’s something he doesn’t agree with, well then it’s probably a pretty good sign I’m doing something right.