Thursday, August 14, 2014

Well. That's a Problem.

From The Miami News-Record, July 6, 2014

Growing up we lived in a house in the country with rural water, so when the electricity went out and all our neighbors on wells were without water we were still drinkin’ water and flushin’ toilets with wild abandon.  Paul and I lived in town for 5 years on city water then moved to our Hudson Creek house which was again on rural water. There was only a short 10 month period as newlyweds that we had a well. It took a section of pipe with a hole in it to throw us into a waterless two day span marking what this spoiled girl thought was the seventh level of Hell. Fast forward to one day last week at our Wyandotte house when the kids and I were happily washing dinner dishes and the water just kind of fizzled out then …. stopped. I turned the water off and turned it back on, as if that magical routine would fix the problem. It didn’t. So then I did what I always do when something goes wrong: hollered for my husband.

He called the brother that lives closest. They both crawled under the house, scratched their heads a few times, then they called the other brother. Then they called a neighbor. Well, called the neighbor after Paul came in and asked if we had any money. I said we did, but not to get all high-falootin’ with that notion. He nodded and rushed back outside. Not long after that it was declared that some wires or something or ‘nother was shorted or burned or cut or possibly sabotaged by garden gnomes, heck I don’t know. Regardless of the actual problem, there was a bigger problem: by this point, all of us girls had to pee. The boys take advantage of Nature’s Toilet quite frequently out here, but we girls are a bit more delicate. Actually, I used to be quite adept at the ol’ pop-a-squat, but age and short chubby legs make it a bit more challenging these days. I mean, if I want to do yoga, I’ll ju—oh, who am I kidding, I’m never going to want to do yoga. Anyway, my girls just screeched at the thought of going outside even though their daddy told them to just get over it and go. I was going to, until I got out there, got myself all limbered up and then the coyotes that I’m pretty sure were attracted to the whites of my thighs started in with the howling and I vapor locked.

It is in times like these that I am glad I am a worrier with doomsday prepper tendencies because, see, I’ve been hoarding water in jugs since we moved out here. We moved in the middle of the winter to the top of a hill where the power lines run through the jungles of Wyandotte. The threat of ice storms periodically through the winter had me planning ahead for power outages. I’d nearly tackle a family member heading for the trash with a milk jug or juice bottle. Those were the precious receptacles of flush-water, I told them. They scoffed. I stood firm in my hoarding. When no ice storms came, I told them to just wait until the spring storm season. And even that has been mild. So turns out, I was just preparing for a shorted something or ‘nother in our well pump.

Because the well guy obviously had a life outside of coming to fix our well at 9pm, we were left with no choice but to employ the motto “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down,” further into the next day than any of us wanted. To be honest, you just don’t realize how pampered you really are until you are forced to piggy back your – ahem –efforts with family members and flush your toilet with hoarded water. We are definitely spoiled and incredibly fortunate, but more than anything, glad that’s over. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Of Sister and Sprouts

From The Miami News-Record, July 13, 2014

My sister, Heather, is three and a half years younger than I am. We didn’t get along very well when we were kids and to this day, Mom still tells teary tales of lying in bed at night, crying, wondering what she did wrong to make us hate each other so much. The thing is, we didn’t hate each other, we were just….annoyed and annoying. I being the annoyED one, Sis being the annoyING one. It’s an ages-old tale, the one of siblings and the eternal cycle of bickering, pestering, fussing, and downright fisticuffs on occasion. My own kids do it. Sometimes it’s nearly enough to drive me to drink. However, I can’t think of bickering siblings without remembering the first time Sis and I had a “sister moment”, an unspoken reconciliation of sorts. We were probably 14 and 17 and it was the first time we realized we were on the same team. Of course, we still fussed from time to time after that, but it was just … different from that moment on.
We were sitting at the bar in our kitchen in the usual configuration and scenario: Dad at the end, Mom on the short side, Sis and I across from her on the long side. As usual, elbows were jabbed at each other, Sis thumped her feet against the cabinet, I exasperatingly squealed my disgust, insults were slung under our breaths, various other antics were displayed. Mom had made brussel sprouts for dinner and I DID NOT (still don’t) like brussel sprouts. The rule was we had to try new food once and if we didn’t like it, we were cleared from having to eat it when it was served. But every few years or so, we would have to re-try the foods to see if our “taste buds had changed”, as Mom put it. I always thought that to be a load of bull, but it was the rule. For some reason, that day Mom decided I needed to re-try the sprouts and put one on my plate. I whined. She added another. Before I got wise and shut up, I ended up with three of the nasty things on my plate. I ate everything but those tiny orbs of revulsion and Mom said I should get busy. I sat. Humor was a big thing in our house, so I tried that, making jokes about being allergic and did she want the possibility of my death hanging over her head for the rest of her days, but she didn’t buy into my cuteness. You would think that at 17 I’d have just eaten one and been done, but no, my mouth got me stuck with three and there seemed to be no way of getting around it.
Mom got up to refill her tea, her back to the bar, and quick as a flash, two sprouts disappeared from my plate and were in my sister’s mouth. She gave me a look and through a mouthful of green mumbled, “Chew!” When Mom turned back around, she saw her darling oldest child chewing away and her youngest intent on her own plate, shaking. Dad just stared. Mom asked, “Are they good? Do you like them?” Still “chewing”, I just nodded and made some noises I hoped would convince her that I was chowing down. I don’t know if it was my cartoonish “swallow” or the fact that Sis was about to have an aneurism from holding back her laughter, but I was found out. Then Mom did what any good mother would do: she force fed me the remaining sprout on my plate. All of us girls were laughing hysterically and before it was said and done, I had brussel sprout in my eyebrows and ears, green vegetable was slung all willy nilly and Dad just sat shaking his head.
But suddenly, annoyED and annoyING became friends. And we still are today.

Monday, August 11, 2014

I Got the Point

From The Miami News-Record, Sunday, August 10, 2014

In 1983 I was in fourth grade, smack in the middle of my awkward stage. I had a Little Orphan Annie perm (not as cute on me), was chunky, and none of my shirts ever fit quite right. I quickly learned to deal with awkwardness by using humor – I loved to make people laugh. I still do.

For PE we would trek to the old gym (that still smells like wet wood and pre-pubescent angst) to play kickball, dodgeball, jumprope, or tag. On really good days we got to play with the scooters. On really bad days we had to climb the rope. On this particular day, Kristy Fink was sitting on the bleachers alone. She looked glum. I decided to cheer her up. I trotted toward her and when I got close, lowered my backside to the bleachers and slid, my intention being to slide into her and make her laugh. Instead of making her laugh, though, I instead felt this intense pain in the back of my leg, just under my ….cheek. I immediately jumped up, holding my bum, jumping around and screaming, “I have a splinter in my leg!” I think people thought I was again using humor, what with all my dancing and butt-holding, but I was seriously hurting. Coach Phillips looked at me like I was crazy and said, “Bass, calm down. Splinters aren’t that bad.” I assured him it was indeed bad. Not knowing what else to do, he instructed “Fink” to escort me to the office.

At the office, Mrs. Gatewood, the secretary, had me lower my britches and show her the splinter in question. My escort, Kristy, was very dark-skinned and upon seeing the splinter, blanched as white as the white girl showing her bum in the school office. Mrs. Gatewood gasped. The “splinter” was as big around as a toothpick and twice as long. It had gone in right under the skin and was sticking out about a half inch. It. Was. Horrible.

Because my mom cleaned houses during the day and cell phones hadn’t been invented, I was stuck in the office until she got home. Because the wooden skewer lodged in me was perilously close to my bum, there was no way I could sit. All they knew to do was put me face down on the faux leather sofa right in front of the principal’s desk with my pants around my ankles, my lower half draped in the principal’s jacket. Why no one thought to remove my pants from my ankles I’ll never know. That day I heard several teacher/principal conversations, listened to a kid get reprimanded for shooting spit balls, and was witness to a kid getting swats. That poor kid was mortified I was in there watching him get busted; I was equally mortified that I was there with my pants around my ankles.

Finally Mom got home and came to get me. Because my pants were still at my ankles, I couldn’t walk (again, not sure why they weren’t just removed), so the principal carried me to the car -- which wouldn’t have been so bad if third graders hadn’t been coming in from PE at the precise moment we entered the lobby. There I was, dangling from the principal’s neck, pants-less, draped in a Wyandotte Bears jacket, crying from embarrassment while all the kids were whispering, “Oh my gosh, what’s wrong with her?”, “Is she dead?”,  “She’s not dead! She’s crying!”, “Why is she crying?”, “What happened to her??” It. Was. Horrible.

The doctor had to cut my skin and create an “exit” for the spear embedded in my leg. If he had pulled it by the piece sticking out, there was a chance it would splinter back and create a big ol’ mess right there on my backside. But by day’s end I had a new stuffed dog, a bottle of pink bubblegum antibiotics, and a bandage on my backside. Oh, and an intense fear of wooden bleachers.

Sunday, August 10, 2014


Any of you who have more than one child knows what sibling rivalry is and how it sucks your will to live most of the time. On the other hand, though, as a parent of more than one child you also probably know that when they get along, that time is fricking golden. GOLDEN, I'm telling you.

When my kids were little, they'd fuss over who was breathing whose air, whose bum was getting more of the backseat, who got more spaghetti at dinner. Those things were just a part of my daily - nay, hourly - life as a mother of toddlers, preschoolers, elementary-aged kids. While I was silently suffering on the inside, breaking up fights without even realizing I was doing it, and even becoming so adept I could change the youngest's diaper with my hands while keeping the other two from ripping out jugular veins with one leg extended behind me, my husband had far less patience with the harping, nagging, fussing, squealing, arguing, and sometimes downright caterwauling. He'd go from completely detached from the universe to threatening bodily harm in 2.1 seconds. I could endure for days. And I did. Maybe it was because I was young. Maybe it was because motherhood had been my lifelong dream. Maybe it was because I knew if I stopped being a stay-at-home mommy I'd have to get a job that involved wearing a bra on a daily basis.

So now I am the mother of teenagers. Two are full-fledged teenagers, one is mere months away from being there officially, although her attitude argues otherwise. (Girl is rockin' those teenage hormones and eyerolls these days. Ugh.) The fleeting moments of shining parental happiness when your children get along is no different when they become teenagers. In fact, I think it's even more precious. Now that they are older, the arguments are more in the range of who is louder, who is more obnoxious, who is my favorite, who gets all of our money when their dad and I finally kick the bucket, and those kinds of things. And with taller bodies, apparently comes longer vocal cords and increased lung capacity with which to throw insults and slams at much higher volumes than when they were little, compact, and cute. Days where the insults fly from sun-up to sun-down are exhausting for me. Since we homeschool, there is very little opportunity for me to ever get a break. I love them all dearly and am so happy that God has given us the chance, blessings, freedom, and grace to educate them at home, but I am being completely honest when I say this: there are days I have considered tying them all three together with duct tape and kicking them out of the car in front of the school, driving on with a smile on my face and going straight home to just sit on my couch in the complete silence. Not taking a nap or a hot bath. Just sitting. Where it's quiet. Never mind that our oldest child has graduated high school and would have no need to step foot on a high school campus - but that's the least of what I'm thinking of when I'm daydreaming.

But oh. There are days that I see their sibling relationships developing right before my very eyes, the dynamics of sister/sister, sister/brother, and all three together. I see how big brother looks out for little sister. I see how little brother asks big sister for advice. I see how big sister steps down from her lofty heights of being nearly 18 to help little sister with an outfit or hair. I try to focus on those precious, stolen moments when little sister is invading her older siblings' personal space or when brother is tormenting the dickens out of his sisters with stinky socks or his retainer. I see them taking selfies with each other, making stupid faces or being serious either one. I see how little sister looks up (literally) to big sister with little stars shooting out of her eyes. I see how little brother looks down (literally) on either sister with a grin of mischief and dare I say it - love. I hope and pray with all that is in me that their relationships only strengthen as they get older. They are going to need each other when they get out there in the real world. They are going to experience heartache that they won't want to come to me or their daddy about, but a phone call to big sister is going to make it better, perhaps put things in perspective. They are going to call each other as Paul and I age to share stories about how we're losing it or something senile we said or did. And they are going to become aunts and uncle to my amazing future grandchildren, telling the new offspring about their growing up and stories to embarrass and laugh over.

So I am taking these little moments of bliss and filing them away in my mind and in my heart. I pull them out and remember them on those days when a math lesson has left littlest sister crying and oldest sister rolling her eyes in disdain at such a display. I pull them out on other days as well. The days when I feel like I am the worst mother in the world. On the days I forget to make French toast even though she asked me four times, but I got busy. On the days I snap at someone for not understanding something the way I teach it the first time. On the days the new Pinterest recipe is a great big fat fail. On the days I feel like I am fat, ugly, unloved, un-special, unwanted, unimportant and so much more "un"everything.

Because on those days, the days I have a hard time loving myself, I just look at those three crazy, prayed-for kids and see the perfect combination of their father and myself, the ultimate expressions of our insane love and roller coaster marriage, the fulfillment of so many hopes and dreams, the proof that God loves me enough to entrust these three humans to me to mold, shape, teach, lead, and love on until He's ready to call us home.

And then on other days? I lock myself in the bathroom and go back to that daydream about duct tape and a drive-off.

We....the people

Originally published in The Miami News-Record, July 2020 Everything is different now. I’m not just talking about masks and social distancing...