Thursday, October 31, 2013

I Hate Halloween, or Do I?

I hate Halloween. There, I've said it.

While I'm at it, I hate the way we celebrate Easter as well, but that's a whole different ballgame.

Back to Halloween. As I've said. I hate it. I hate the candy, the costumes, the entire ritual of going door to door like mafia goons and extorting goodies.

My distaste for the celebration has a deep rooted cause in my childhood, I know.

First of all, candy was never a thing I developed a real taste for. I've always considered a candied or caramel apple the waste of a perfectly good apple. There are two or three candies I can abide, and then only on occasion. So the whole ritual didn't have a lot of attraction for me. Baked goods are a whole different set of temptations, but no one gives those out on Halloween, so what's the point? Most of my Halloween loot wound up being thrown away sometime around Thanksgiving.

Then there was the actual ritual itself. I grew up in the country and my folks wouldn't have dreamed of importing me to town to trick-or-treat. You went to your neighbors' homes. Wearing a coat over your costume. With your parents in tow. And they always had to visit a minute. Wow, great fun.

Sure, dressing up is fun when you're a kid. And I had fun putting together costumes for my children when they were small. But now people spend as much on a one-shot Halloween costume that a kid really doesn't care anything about as I do on Sunday clothes. And I absolutely never got adults dressing up and going to work. Really? I don't care how cool of a costume you can come up with, I don't want to see it when I come to your place of business.

All of that combined meant when I moved to Surry County, Halloween disappeared from my field of required celebrations, even if my kids were only 7 and 12. I didn't really know my neighbors and lived on a dead end road in the middle of nowhere with no other children, so I didn't have to prepare for other trick-or-treaters and I didn't really know where to take mine. That's it. No more Halloween.

I wonder if my children were irreparably scarred.

In the intervening years, I've participated in Halloween a few times at other people's homes and found some fun in it. There are neighborhoods where they get a lot of trick-or-treaters and throw parties to celebrate the occasion. I can get that. I also get decorating and trying to entertain the little visitors. I get trick-or-treating downtown.

Believe me, I get it. It's just one of those things I don't really enjoy personally. I dread the day when both of the girls' parents are working and I'm in charge of taking them trick-or-treating. I know it will happen, and I'll do it. But I won't pretend I'm looking forward to it.

Yet, I've already taken them to a fundraising Halloween event where I did find it entertaining to watch their reactions to the rambling zombies, witches and costumed dogs. And today we are butchering a poor innocent pumpkin so that it can glow through the night, so maybe I'll come around.

Despite my loathing for the day, there is one Halloween that I recall fondly after moving to my current home. Brace yourself kids, I'm going to tell the toilet paper tale. It's a night that made me famous in certain circles.

I had worked late and came home to find a strange vehicle parked on the side of the road just out of sight of the house. When we got to where we could see the house, we found all of our trees draped in toilet paper. Yep, my daughter was in high school and her friends were driving and we had been targeted for their Halloween celebration. It was a mess but one I didn't take lightly.

At that time I had a pit bull named Snickers that I had raised from birth who stayed in a lot. I went and got her on a leash, left her with my kids on the porch and walked back to the car. I could hear my not-so-little trick-or-treaters in the woods, so I knew they were listening.

"Okay, so you can come out now and clean up the mess, or I'm letting the air out of your tires," I said. That proclamation was greeted with more rustling, but no one 'fessing up. I took an ink pen and applied it to the valve, letting the air out of one tire. Once again I informed them of what I was doing and still no one appeared. I let the air out of a second tire, walked back to the house and joined my kids and dogs on the porch.

Soon a group of teenagers came walking down the road and turned up my driveway. Led by a fellow band member, whose car I had just disabled, they shambled up the driveway. "We thought we'd just change the tire rather than coming back," he confessed, "but there were two flats."

"I've got a tank of air," I said. "I'll refill your tires when this mess is cleaned up."

Soon most of the trees were bare of their Halloween d├ęcor and I fetched my air tank and refilled their tires. I'm sure they were more careful in the future. I know they came back and did it again on Veteran's Day, but with a guilty conscience, especially after they were subsequently pulled over by a state trooper.

At some point my daughter went with them on their ramblings with the only warning not to do real damage or get caught -- I'm not a total ogre.

Remembering that night, I wonder if I really hate Halloween quite as much as I think I do. Or if, like a lot of American celebrations, I hate what it has turned into -- the excess at every level from outrageous costumes to how much candy kids can collect when descending like locusts on some well-heeled neighborhoods.

I think three little girls and a bit of magic in their eyes, whether it is from watching people in costume when they are small, or from sneaking out to do a little harmless mischief when they are older, can make me like the night again.

Just don't expect me to decorate -- well, unless you ask real nice and remind me how much you love me.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

We Never Get Anywhere On Time

Three out of five nights nowadays, the girls and I are off and running. But no matter where we are running to -- my exercise classes on Monday, Awana on the other side of town on Wednesday, or gymnastics on Thursday -- we're never on time.

I'm delighted if I get to class on Monday in time for the warm-up routine. If we make it to Awana early enough to eat with the other children, it's a bonus. On Thursday, E1 usually gets to enjoy most of her class, even if the smaller ones and I have to make a run to the store for snack food because I didn't have time to pack it.

Prompt was never my middle name, but I once managed to get where I needed to go when I needed to get there.

It was an illusion of self-control washed away on the tide of last minute potty trips, lost shoes, and cranky toddlers who weren't ready to get up and get going.

When E1 came along, we didn't have a lot of motivation to go anywhere. If I wanted to take her out, it wasn't a big deal. But I'd only been out of work eight months when she was born and for a while I was still enjoying not having to go anywhere. It was great to schlep around in old clothes and no makeup. There was so much I could get done around the house because, after all, she napped.

The arrival of E2 complicated things and for a long time I just gave up on going anywhere. Part of it, no doubt, was the fact that I was still driving the convertible and putting the babies in the back was a literal pain. I hated to drive it in nice weather with the top up, and they complained about the wind.

But Mommy had the idea that her wide open toddler would like gymnastics, so after she turned 2, we began a weekly trip to Flyers where I helped E1 while trying to keep tabs on E2. E2 did a lot of early crawling and toddling on the cushioned floor of the gymnastics studio. We were almost always on time for class.

Last year with the knowledge that E3 was en route, I traded my convertible in for an SUV with enough back seat room for three safety seats. As our fun time summer faded to fall, I also realized that two bigger girls, not to mention their grandma, would enjoy getting out and doing something just for fun once a week. Our Friday adventures were born.

Granted that first Friday was an "Oh, my gosh! It's freaking RAINING AGAIN! What am I gonna do?" What I did was take the kids to McDonald's, feed them an unhealthy lunch and join them for 45 minutes of playland. Yes, that's me, the crazy adult in the kids' playground coming down the sled with two curly haired curls in my lap and scolding your little boy for pushing one high up in the top where you can't see what's going on. (Oh, wait, that's a different story.)

But we did other things as well. We went to the Blue Ridge Music Center and listened to an old-time music jam session and hiked the trail toward Fisher Peak. Another trip took us to Rockford General Store where we had a diner style lunch and the girls drooled over the old-time candy bins and explored the remains of a historic hotel. And many weeks, when the weather took a nasty turn, we went back to McDonald's where we traded nutrition for a lot of healthy exercise.

I guess it was those weekly adventures that once again created the idea that I could do more.

This summer we took on Vacation Bible School at the Salem Fork Baptist Church where a friend of mine goes. The girls, who go with the rest of the family to Fellowship Baptist on Sundays, enjoyed it so much that when they introduced Awana (a youth program) on Wednesdays, preceded by a meal, I decided we would do that as well. I thought exposure to a different group of kids and teachers would be good for them. Socializing, learning and craft time are a blast for them and I manage to control E3 most of the time. Luckily, their nursery teachers are very patient and don't mind if they miss the opening program or most night's we'd be missing the meal.

And Mommy decided E2, who already had learned a lot following her sister through nearly two years of gymnastics class, would like to try the program as well. E1 had moved up to the preschool class, so E2 and I are now in the mom and tot class with E3 in the role of baby crawling behind us on the floor. That means nearly two hours of gymnastics, if we get there on time.

Finally, I decided I had to have a little me time in the week and fell in love with a couple of Monday night workouts at Move2Melt. It was a chance to be around other adult women and let go of some of the tension of the week.

That seems like a lot of explanation for why we never get anywhere on time, but the fact of the matter is that these are things that are worthwhile for the girls and I or otherwise we'd simply throw up our hands.

There are, in fact, many evenings when I'd like to do just that. When I'm dragging the baby directly from crib to car seat and she's protesting the change in environment, or I'm having to wake E2 and heaven knows that I treasure every minute of her nap. When two out of three children are crying, and E1 is declaring that she can't put on her leotard. When I cannot think what to pack for snack. When I'm beginning the first of two or three trips to the car to get everyone and everything loaded. When I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and realize that I look tired and should probably stay home and not subject the rest of humanity to me, and by the way have I done anything with my hair today.

Besides, we need to be at Awana in five minutes, or gymnastics in 10, or my class in 30 and there is no way I can do the amount of driving required in time to get there.

The alternative, however, is staying home with all of us (well, except E3) having a bad attitude because the plan for the day was disrupted and that means the evening will be long and not get any better. The fact that I wind up a bit flustered and maybe more tired is really nothing compared to the payoff most days.

So we load up and drag in at whatever time we get there and make the most of the outing, however it goes. E1 frequently takes a power nap in the car and the other two are usually blissfully quiet. I sing along with KLOVE or whatever CD I have playing and do an emotional reset for the rest of the evening. And whatever time we get there, whatever we learn while we're there, we've had time to catch our collective breaths and I know that it will be time better spent than it would have been had we just stayed home.

So if you have young moms in your life, or old moms with young kids, I know that the joy of traveling with car seats and diaper bags and stuffed animals and lost shoes and sticky hands and emergency potty breaks is one we all like to forget, but don't. Remember when they come to your get together, show up for your class, make it to church, or even are wandering the aisles at Walmart with a child screaming for some treat they've been denied, that they've all been through a lot just to get there. Don't get aggravated because they're late or because they've disrupted your schedule or because their child is annoying you. Try to remember how hard it is to try to do it all and make it look easy and that sometimes it just doesn't work out. Smile and let it go, because you won't remember it nearly as much that way. And if you manage to make someone's day a little better by being compassionate instead of judgmental, you'll be remembered for it in a thankful way.

Friday Adventures have been off the table since there have been three at the house, but maybe, just maybe, remembering how much fun we had will be enough to get me going again as we say a fond farewell to summer. There are still places nearby that we haven't seen and the McDonald's playground is always available when the weather turns foul this winter.

But either way, you can count on it, we won't be on time, for anything, any time soon.

If we are, well, we'll just count that as our special blessing for the day.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Who Is That in the Mirror?

Last night during Zumba class I saw my mom's reflection in the mirror, although I've never seen her in those clothes or dancing like that.

This morning when I went to wash my face, she was there again, looking at me over my bathroom sink.

Both times it was just a glimpse, but more and more as I get older I see my mom in me. It's not necessarily a bad thing, because neither of us look our age. But it is something that you can often look forward to as you get older. That moment of looking down and seeing your parent's hands (YIKES!) or hearing a recording and realizing your voice is much like theirs. You may even feel an expression on your face that you know you'd recognize, or find yourself reacting in a way you know they would.

That's not a bad thing if you love your parent, if they have aged well, or if you consider them a good role model. It's also not unavoidable though the path to avoiding it can be a tough one.

My mom doesn't look like my grandmother. Like many of her generation, deprived as a child, my grandmother wound up being a little heavy as she aged. That extra weight eventually meant she couldn't get around like she enjoyed and it contributed to diabetes. Even when I was a child my mom was making the conscious decision not to follow in her footsteps.

Like my grandma, she worked hard physically in the garden during the summer, but when she couldn't be working, she also did some exercising. I can remember her with no special equipment at all, long before Jane Fonda made it hip, exercising with what was probably a local television show or sometimes following the routine on her own. It was nowhere near the fitness regime I demand of myself today, but it was still something that stuck in my mind. I saw her doing it less as I got older, and I don't even know if it is something she kept doing or not. I'm sure, however, that is why in her 70s, she still works in the garden and yard, enjoys taking hikes now and then, and looks as good as she does.

It's a lesson that has stuck with me because I don't think there's ever been a time I wasn't active to some degree.

When I was younger it was hiking with dogs. Even in high school my dog and I walked on a daily basis, usually a couple of miles. With young children, well, that requires a certain amount of full body workout every day. When they were older, I had a gym membership for a while. Now I guess my fitness routine is the most dedicated it has ever been with dog walking five mornings a week, PiYo and Zumba once a week, and wrestling three girls every weekday.

But I still wish it were more and that I found time on a regular basis for the Bowflex, or yoga, or even Zumba in the living room. I want to be sure I'm doing enough to be a healthy older person and still be able to do what I enjoy doing.

In my PiYo class, I've sometimes complained to the instructor that I'm not as flexible as I wish I was, although if I watch my fellow students, I'm not doing that bad most of the time. I confessed to her, however, that I wish I'd realized 20 or 30 years ago how important it was to keep that flexibility and worked on it sooner. She, of course, tells me I'm doing great because that's just the way she is. But the fact of the matter is, the sooner we start the easier it is to keep going. Maintenance is a whole lot easier than repairs, on anything.

And that in itself is a message to parents, or grandparents. Nevermind what kind of future you envision for yourself. When you look at your children, what do you want for them? Because like it or not, whether we feel like we have the time for it or not, they are learning from what you do, not just what you say or what the world around them tells them.

If you want them to be healthy and confident -- and surely we all want that -- then they need to see that as they grow up. Oh, believe me, I know how tough it is when you're wrestling a child all day to also exercise. Good grief, isn't that enough? But we all know it's not. Even at their most tiring, the children in our lives don't always exercise what needs it. If they didn't I wouldn't feel that wonderful stretch or any soreness from a good workout.

I have to realize that one of the most important things I can do is take care of myself and feel good about myself and share that with the little girls in my life. That is important not just so I can be there for them, but so they will have another good role model as they grow up.

Taking care of myself means watching what I eat and making sure they see me make good choices most of the time as well as not beating myself up when the choices aren't so good, being active wither that means walking and playing with them or three of us attempting yoga poses (and darn if I don't envy E1 her flexibility and encourage her to keep it), and taking time for myself now and then (they can't go to PiYo/Zumba, but they know that's where I am and sometimes we look up YouTube videos and so a few minutes in the living room).

Feeling good about myself is a tougher challenge some days, particularly with children who are so brutally honest. But it is equally important. I need to learn to brag on myself to them. To be happy with where I am in life so that they can feel good about who and where they are, not only now, when they are little children and the world revolves around them, but in 10 years when they are grappling with being teenagers, or 20 years when adulthood is bearing down on them, or 30 years when they're parenting their own children, or even 50 years, when they are spending time with grandchildren of their own.

I wonder if that is a lesson I passed on to my daughter. Can she look at me and see a confident person that she wants to follow in some ways? Did the things I did when she was young help or hurt the person she became? Just like my physical fitness, I wish I had thought about taking care of those areas when I was younger as well.

Either way, worrying about the past is about as effective as worrying about the face we see in the mirror. We're pretty much stuck with it (plastic surgery aside) and we learn to live with it.

What we can change is the view looking forward and what it is the young people in our lives see when they look in the mirror. We can give them an image that they are happy to see, instead of one they want to run from, by learning to take care of and love who we are so we can pass those lessons on to them.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Blue Monday, Think I'll Throw a Pity Party

I hate to start the week off on a down note, but sometimes we all slip up and throw ourselves a pity party.

Mine came rolling in on the heels of messed up schedules and a puking preschooler and my apparent inability to set aside two freaking hours in a week's time for myself for the second week in a row.

Walking dogs when I still hadn't had my first cup of coffee this morning, I gave in. Poor, pitiful me.

It was kind of pitiful, actually. Me and a trio of dogs flying down the road at their breakneck pace and me crying. Didn't take long for me to remind myself that a lot of people have things a lot worse. Or for me to decide that didn't really make me feel better.

Add a couple of hours and my morning schedule, along with that of three little girls and their mom has been thoroughly disrupted. By the time they are generally arriving at my house, baby had broken a 20-year-old handthrown pot given me by a deceased friend, strewn wine corks all over the kitchen floor and emptied her diaper bag; E1 had spent nearly two hours curled up against me on the couch watching UNCTV before deciding she needed a snack and beginning to make a recovery; and E2 had colored their craft table and left the water running for some undetermined amount of time in the bathroom. Oh, and I still hadn't had my second cup of coffee.

It was time for balloons and cake at my pity party. Really, I was ready to get going good.

I gave a few minutes of thought to the moms all over the world doing the same all-important and thankless job, and then was even jealous of them because they have their peers who are doing the same thing. I have yet to find a support group or play group for stay-at-home grandmas or even know anyone in the same boat.

Then the phone rang. A friend was nearby and wondered about stopping by. I put away the balloons and told her to come on.

She stayed 15 minutes or so. The baby fell asleep in my lap and the other two snuggled on me as soon as baby was in her crib. Both wanted lunch, which meant the tummy bug might be losing its grip. There was even a possibility that schedules might work out and my workout still be a reality. The day took a quick reset.

It didn't take gifts, elaborate planning, or even going out for a little time with a friend to turn my day around.

After she left, instead of continuing on my blue Monday trend, I was left pondering how quickly and easily one person can make a difference in another's life. How often do we think about calling or stopping by, then decide we're too busy and go on our way? What opportunities do we miss to turn someone's day around? Or how often do we actually make a difference and go through our day unaware.

Perhaps I need to take a more proactive approach to getting away from the loneliness that sometimes seems overwhelming during long days with small children and dogs. Maybe there really are other grandmas like me in my community that share more in common than small children.

Maybe I can make a difference for someone other than myself by making a little effort. It really can't hurt to try.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Late Night Laughs

If my husband and I have one major disagreement, it's TV in the bedroom. During his years of bachelorhood, he was used to going to sleep with the TV on. Heck, I think it stayed on all night. While I can literally turn a deaf ear to the sound, the light bothers the heck out of me sometimes.

We get around that with different schedules most of the time. He's on an earlier work schedule than me and my shut down time is later than his, so by the time I head to bed either the TV timer is kicked off (he gets an hour) or I can cut it off to go to sleep.

One way we get around that is by occasionally finding something I find entertaining, or football. For some reason I can go to sleep to football.

Some people turn on the Late Show for laughs before sleep, but for me there's a plethora of laughable shows on such unlikely channels as History, Destination America and Animal Planet.

Seriously, if you've never watched Ancient Aliens, Mountain Monsters or, my favorite, Finding Bigfoot, then you don't know what you're missing.

On these shows (as well as some others, I'm sure), people essentially take a myth or legend and spend a lot of time and money "proving" it to be so. They apparently make a living and become famous doing it. They treat it like fact and discuss how what they are doing proves the "facts" about whatever myth they're discussing.

Especially Dave Mustaine on Ancient Aliens, who wraps his pseudo science in a serious atmosphere as if that gives it credibility. Frankly, that's probably one of the reasons why I find that show less entertaining, and apparently I'm not alone. When I went looking for images for the show, I found that he's become a meme in a host of languages. I was almost distracted from my original task by laughing at what had been done with his photo.

Basically, as the memes suggest, he takes a lot of historical things that are unexplained -- from construction to carved images -- and credits them to aliens. Because he wraps it up in a package that would make it appear to be real science, I find him irritating. I think that is because there are likely to be people who, because of the way it is presented and the fact that it's on the History Channel, will accept it as fact. Oh, please.

If it's true, then what did we do to piss off the aliens that they've quit helping us out? Seriously? If they could provide construction tips to ancient civilizations, why don't they back and show us some clean energy, or a cure for cancer, or impose world peace? So we don't have pyramids to carve their inexplicable images on. We'll put them on satellite TV for the whole world to see. But enough of that before I get irritated just thinking about it.

One I don't find irritating, although the fact that they apparently carry loaded firearms into the woods at night makes it a little frightening, is Mountain Monsters on Destination America.

This group of guys, who were either recruited in the back woods or grew beards to hide their true identities so they can go home without being laughed out of the community, travel around mountain regions investigating specific legends of terrifying creatures. They don't just want to find evidence it exists, they want to capture or kill whatever is out there. If something makes a noise in the wrong place, firearms are blazing and I wind up hoping everyone is on the safe side of the guns. Of course, they could be shooting blanks, depending on where these guys are really from. I sometimes think they may have recruited local talent for that particular show, in which case the bullets are live.

Then there is my favorite. If Finding Bigfoot is on the Animal Planet, it's a safe bedtime TV choice and eventually I may quit laughing enough to go to sleep.

No, there are no punch lines to share the next day, but the unlikely cast of characters, especially Bobo, are a blast. Bobo (who may actually be a bigfoot in disguise) mimics the "sound" of bigfoot, from whacking trees with limbs to unlikely calls. They talk about what bigfoot does and the habits of the species as though it were as well documented as the domestic cat. There are the sounds and foods that attract it, the places it frequents, what it eats in the wild. Their "knowledge" is extensive.

They travel around the country in search of bigfoot sightings to investigate and spend their time interviewing the locals, visiting the areas where the bigfoot was seen, and rambling around the woods at night, which I found had sparked another meme.

Unlike the Mountain Monster hunters, they don't have the goal of capturing or killing bigfoot (or sasquatch), just seeing him and recording his (or her) image on film. Yet despite all their time in the woods at night with infrared and night vision, they've done neither of those things.

I've suggested to my husband that in fact, the shows are all about the same thing. The ancient aliens are still among us, but now they are masquerading as mountain monsters and sasquatch. And the reason no one can find any evidence that they exist?

Well, if we get too close, or if they die, they simply teleport home.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Watching the Grim Reaper

Have you ever seen anyone die?

Unless you're a medical professional, emergency responder or hospice volunteer, the answer may well be no.

That's what most "normal" people get to say. My past profession as a journalist, however, puts me in a different category. Although I wasn't necessarily up close and personal with the people I saw die, I was standing nearby when I saw that the fight was over, when emergency responders stopped their frantic efforts. Sometimes they walked away. Sometimes here was another soul still trapped in the mangled wreckage of what used to be a car, and the efforts continued around a sheet draped body.

I can remember the majority of those deaths, even if I cannot tell you the names of the people who died. I remember where they were at and what happened. Depending on my overall mood, sometimes the roads I travel are virtually haunted by those memories.

Lately, however, I've been grappling with the memory of a different death. A song by Brandon Heath, "Dyin' Day," which is on the CD that has taken up residence in my SUV's stereo system, has me thinking about execution. It's about a man facing his execution, witnessing to the guard who has treated him decently. He explains that Jesus has come to visit him every day since he invited him in three years earler. That Jesus made him an innocent man.

Nearly a decade ago I was one of the official witnesses to an execution by the State of North Carolina. Steven McHone(Wikipedia helped me to recall the name) had shot and killed his mother and stepfather in a rage. Shortly before his execution, his siblings had begged the state to commute his sentence. His step siblings, however, were not as forgiving and neither was the state.

The morning of the execution, after driving the long route to Raleigh and passing by protestors in the chilly night air outside the prison gate, I was seated with other witnesses in a small room. The man, who looked far different than the man in the mug shots I'd seen, was on a hospital style bed on the other side of a large window. When the set hour arrived, the witnesses watched the life drain from his face and the pallor set in.

At the time, it seemed his death was, if anything, just too easy. His jailhouse conversion was too pat. I had seen too many people die when there were people fighting for their lives, when they had done nothing wrong other than circumstance. I'd watched a firefighter carry a dead toddler in his arms when her car was run over by a truck loaded with steel pipes and her car seat wasn't properly secured. I'd seen them weep when the CPR they'd administered to a 5-year-old boy wasn't enough to save him from the head injury he suffered after his drunken uncle slammed head on into another vehicle on Christmas Eve. I'd seen them put down IV bags and walk away from the remains of automobiles as others draped the vehicle in a tarp to protect it from prying eyes.

His mother died knowing her son had shot her and asking them not to blame him. His death was just too easy. The judgment was what he had earned. My biggest problem with it at the time was that it really served no purpose and cost so much. It was so isolated from society that it couldn't possibly be a deterrent because no one who had not witnessed it would believe in it -- and even then they would likely never envision themselves in his place.

Now, I'm not so sure. Judgment isn't mine to make and it would seem living with the knowledge of what he had done would be the more difficult of the two sentences. I'm looking at him through different eyes and after using the vision I'm used to for so long, I admit I find it troubling. I'm probably becoming one of those people who would have to say I could not impose the death penalty based on "religious" views.

I know all Christians, and a lot of non-Christians as well, don't take that point of view. I've heard it from the pulpit many times. But I've also heard that sin is sin and can be forgiven, no matter how minor or major we may see it. That judgment isn't up to us because we're all sinners. I'm not sure that I would go so far as to say I would be able to forgive him if the people he had killed were my loved ones. But it's a goal I'm working toward. I know that a friend who lost two of his children to a drunk driver and was able to forgive the man has a much easier load to bear than anyone who drags around anger mixed in with his grief for the rest of his life.

And I have to believe that if he was genuine in his profession of faith, that when he was executed he was welcomed in heaven. That he was greeted by Jesus, and perhaps his mother was among those who were there with open arms. That a forgiven killer is as innocent in God's eyes as a forgiven adulterer, as a child who has never sinned. That's a hard concept to wrap my head around.

Maybe it wasn't that his death was too easy after all, but that death for the rest of us is just too hard. Many of us don't get the chance to make peace with our family, time to seek salvation and forgiveness for our souls. We die suddenly from strokes and heart attacks, from someone's mistake on the highway, from violence -- from the mortal fallout of living in this world.

So this week, I've been working within myself to find the person who would answer yes to that man on his dyin' day. The person who would pray with him and share his last meal.

Because I know that every day I touch the hands of a sinner, even if they're only my own.

Friday, October 25, 2013

What Happened to the Boys of October?

Flipping through the channels last night between recorded television shows (face it, the only thing we watch live any more is football and kids' TV), we stopped briefly on the World Series.

Ok, first of all, it's not really the World Series. I know for a fact that they play baseball in places other than North America, but baseball isn't really my game so I'm not going to argue with them.

We watched part of an inning while getting our schedules aligned (OK, he watched one part, then I watched the other, but anyway). And well, I was shocked.

First of all there were the beards. Since I don't do baseball, I didn't know about the fear the beard. But I do understand athletes and fans who won't change something once a winning streak begins. I don't personally agree, but I get it.

The big thing that got me was, well, the size. "What happened to baseball players?" I asked my husband naively. As the man of the house, he is supposed to be the expert on all things sports related, right?

While never a big baseball fan, like any high schooler who could get out of class early by going to a baseball game, I have actually attended a few games. In high school the baseball team was made up of the athletes who weren't big enough for football, or tall enough for baseball. OK, so actually it was made up of the same bunch of jocks, but the ones who were good in baseball were the ones who played guard in basketball or quarterback in football. They were, by and large, smaller than the football stars. You were generally not going to look at a guy and be told he played sports and put him starring on the wrong team.

But with the possible exception of the pitchers, the guys I watched playing baseball looked like they'd be just as comfortable in a football jersey.

"Steroids," my husband replied.

"I thought they got those out," I resumed.

"Yes, well, this is what happened."

If I understand the process steroids turn everything to muscle, and when the steroids go away, well the muscle turns to what we used to call table muscle. Seriously, these guys were big. They didn't run, they lumbered. The only thing fast on the field was the pitch and it wasn't even as fast as the last time I tuned in to World Series (which seriously was about 12 years ago while I was redoing my living room floor and working late at night, so steroids were probably a factor).

Add the beards to the bellies and honestly, it looked like the team could have been recruited from the local bar. Or hauled in out of the bleachers.

I watched the Red Sox batter slug a home run into the bleachers and jog leisurely around the diamond. Well, it was a good thing he didn't have to really run, I thought before flipping back to recorded TV.

And then I thought to myself, I'm sad for baseball.

I'm sad for the little boys who start out playing Little League and really get interested in baseball and talk their parents into letting them watch the World Series. I'm sad for little boys who may get the idea that beards and bellies are a requirement and look at their little arms and legs and decide they may never be ball players.

Sure, the really athletic kids will get the coaching and encouragement they need to go on. But the other kids need their dreams and heroes, too.

Whatever baseball has been, it has always been called the American sport, the sport where the heroes weren't as likely to be thugs in their off time, even when steroids meant they were cheaters on the field. Now their image is sullied in other ways with fields full of guys who really don't look like athletes and who really need a shave.

Here's hoping it can, perhaps soon, really turn that image around into not just post-steroid, but to real athletes and real record breakers again.

The real fans and future generations of Little Leaguers deserve that.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Day at the Vet's

I hate to take my dog to the veterinarian for anything that involves leaving the dog. Any dog. Any veterinarian.

I didn't used to have that problem, but a dozen years ago I took my much beloved Jack Russell terrier, Lucy (1) for a checkup because she was dragging a bit. The vet kept her because there was more going on than I thought. She never came home.

Now I face every visit to the animal doctor with trepidation. I have, in fact, made two trips in one day to an emergency vet nearly an hour away to keep from leaving my dog overnight. I don't even like to leave one for the day for something as simple as a tooth cleaning, but I buck up and do it when absolutely necessary.

There's a terrible fear that something will happen and I won't even get to say goodbye. Because, tough as it is, I can handle goodbye. I expect to outlive my dogs (hope to, to be quite honest), but I do want that goodbye as painful as it may be for me. I want them to know I'm there, that they are loved, and then slip away. Not some surgical mishap or crash during treatment.

Abi, who followed Lucy as the Jack Russell terrier in my life, makes that difficult. Although you wouldn't think it by looking at her, even at 12 years old, Abi is quite the scrapper. In fact, since she's come into my life I've become quite adept at managing dog fights and treating wounds. I've learned where not to put my hands when separating dogs, whether it's tangling terriers or bristling bull dogs.

The first time Abi was in a serious to the death battle, or so it appeared, she and a sheltie were under my feet and I naively reached down to pull them apart. I think I was the only one who had to see a doctor that time, but for a while after that there were a lot of vet visits. The emergency trip was for Abi, who needed stitches behind her ear after another round with the sheltie. Then I got better at anticipating and handling the occasional bouts. And the sheltie, who was apparently Abi's nemesis, passed away a few summers ago, so Abi has generally been more mellow.

Her bestest buddy now is Lucy (2.0), who came to us as a gift when her owner lost his job. Lucy, while not quite the love puppy the original was, is generally not a fighter and they have gotten along well since day one. That is despite what I'm sure is an anti-Lucy complex that Abi has developed through years of hearing "Lucy never did that." They snooze in the sun, harass the rabbit and chickens, wait out naps and kennel visits and sleep at the foot of the bed. The black terrier mix, Mushu, is purely an accessory in their relationship.

But several weeks ago one of the Es dropped a bit of lunch into the floor and it was on. That's another thing about the terriers, although they had never been around babies, they are absolutely devoted to the girls and will apparently tolerate anything from them. When stressed, they tend to chew vigorously on a cow hoof or, without intervention, each other.

This time there was no warning. One dog grabbed the scrap, a gift from the girls she thought, and the other dog grabbed her. Separating two terriers is a bit like separating pit bulls, although on a smaller scale. They are tenacious. I've learned the best approach with the smaller dogs is to grab one by the back legs and pick her up so that I can shake the other one loose. That doesn't work with a pit bull, mainly because I'm not big enough to lift both of them. Any way, when Abi and Lucy released one another, Abi had wounds on her muzzle.

They healed. Then there was one that didn't. Turns out after a visit to the vet nearly two weeks ago that Lucy probably shattered the root of Abi's tooth when she bit her during that altercation. For the wound to heal, the tooth has to be removed.

Which is a round about way of saying Abi is at the vet and I'm hating the day.

I love my vet. She is very caring about the animals who come to her and I can always get an appointment. It's totally not personal. I'm just uneasy when my dog isn't here with me (which gives me a little reminder of how much trust people put in me when they board their dogs, even with no medical procedure involved).

So I'm anticipating 4 p.m. and heading back to pick her up. And down deep, dreading the scenario where that doesn't take place.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

10 Reasons to Love Fall

I hate fall. Truly I do. From the shortening days to the falling leaves, the sad farewell of the katydid to the honk of a southbound goose, the first frost to the first snowflake, it's worse than the end of the year. It's the good-bye to summer and all of its potential.

Yet, walking the dogs this morning and enjoying the fresh air and the clouds scuttling across the sky, I realized that my dislike of fall is really unfair. Not that fall cares either way.

I used to love fall as a time of beginning. It was the start of a new school year. I would be meeting new people, learning new things, and had a new back-to-school wardrobe to boot. There would be football games and what passed for a social life. Fall was a time of moving forward after the lazy days of summer.

And I don't dislike fall for itself so much as I do for what follows it. Because compared to how I feel about winter, my feelings for fall are mild dislike. But hating fall because winter follows it would be like hating pizza or Krispy Kreme donuts because a higher number on the scale follows consumption. And that's simply not going to happen.

So I decided to rethink my approach to fall and try to come up with reasons to love the season.

1. Cool mornings. I love walking the dogs when it's a nice temperature, when layers, and fingerless gloves and a brisk pace are enough to stay warm and, simultaneously, not melt. In the summer, I have to roll out of bed at the crack of dawn and start walking dogs before the sun creeps over the poplars behind the house or we all simply die. Fall, well, I can enjoy a cup or two of coffee before hitting the road.

2. Sweats. I adore sweats of all kinds. There's nothing like a hoodie to make me feel cozy. I have a shelf full in my closet and I wear them nearly year round. But in summer, they're an early morning, cool day kind of thing, with a pair of shorts. In fall I can wear them all day and add sweat pants as well.

3. Crocheting. I like to do needlework, but when the AC is working overtime to keep the house a comfortable temperature the last thing I want is a pile of yarn in my lap. When fall rolls around I can resume whatever project I put aside last spring. (I also like knitting, but the needles are too sharp and the stitches too easily dropped with little people in the house, so that won't count this year.)

4. Sleeping in a chilly bedroom. I love to snuggle under blankets in a cool room for sleeping. This fall, thanks to not turning on the heat pump before absolutely necessary, I've discovered that 63 on the central thermostat is my optimum sleeping temperature. Not gonna get that in summer when I'm on top of the sheets and still miserable.

5. Walks in the woods. Once warm weather arrives, the threat of poison oak and snakes keeps me pretty much on the beaten path all summer. When the temperature drops I grab an orange sweatshirt (I know the deer hunters are out there) and take to the woods again. My dogs and I can ramble by the river, climb the rock cliffs, lose ourselves in rhododendron hells. It's all good and we don't even have to carry water. Even the girls and I may venture out once again on a shorter hike.

6. Chicken stews. Although chicken stews was something I hadn't heard of until I moved one county south into North Carolina, they are the social highlight of the season and I adore them. Someone agrees to put on a pot of stew and the rest of us bring drinks and side dishes or desserts. We sit by the fire eating too much, enjoying the warmth on our backs and the heat on our fronts (or vice versus), and visiting. A cracking fire, a pot of stew and a glass of blackberry wine are hard to beat.

7. Bonfires, or around my house much needed brush fires. Even a well controlled blaze is no fun in summer, although I've torched a pile now and then on a less than ideal day. But come a cool fall day, that pile of storm downed limbs can turn into a fun activity and all those scraggly saplings we've been cutting, well, they just add to the fun.

8. Chainsaws. Ok, brush fires put me in mind of that. I love to cut limbs and crap with the chainsaw I got a few years ago for my birthday from the hubby who really knows me. I love the smell of the chainsaw exhaust and the feeling of accomplishment when the work is done. But it's only good when the weather is cool and I only fire it up as a necessity during the summer.

9. Football. Ever since those long ago high school days, I've loved football. I may not go to the games at the high school stadium any more, but the NFL and college games are a great way to pass an afternoon when I really need to relax. Football is the only sport I keep up with and really enjoy and I'm glad when the season returns and sad when it ends.

10. Leaves. I never paid a lot of mind to leaves growing up on a ridge in Virginia. Our leaves wound up somewhere down here in Carolina anyway, pushed by a cold northern breeze. But I remember Ma Mary down the road piling hers into the ditch and burning them. And my husband tends to want to pile them up here. Which is great for little girls who last fall discovered that leaves could be a lot of fun. And destroying Papi's hard work or burying Ma only adds to the excitement. Plus, once those last few leaves are put to bed, yard work is pretty much over for the year. And while I like yard mowing, I'm ready for the rest.

So there, I've come up with a list of reasons to enjoy one of my less than favorite seasons. If you're like me and a summer lover, then perhaps you can come up with your own. If not, feel free to borrow mine. Just get out and love the days we're given.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Fun and Frustration of Feeding Preschoolers

Do you remember the aggravation of feeding a small child?

I think it's one of the things we forget the quickest as our children grow. Oh, we remember in some drug-hazed way the pain of labor, recall the occasional embarrassment of department store tantrums, aggravation of potty training, and the bone deep exhaustion of interrupted sleep for months and months on end. We remember diapers, and car seats and children drawing on the walls.

Among all the things we have to cope with and manage when dealing with small children, I think the thing we forget most thoroughly, or at least it was true in my case, is how hard they are to feed.

I'm not talking about spooning baby food into the mouth of a small crawler who eats like a baby bird with her little mouth open. Unless it's a food she rejects, in which case you're scraping it off her chin, the high chair tray and possibly your clothing. Or even the general messiness as children learn to feed themselves, which can be dealt with somewhat like an organized serial killer with a lot of drop clothes and clean up, but even then you're likely to find food caked in strange places (enough for CSI to bust said serial killer).

No, I'm referring to children who can quite competently feed themselves and even manage (most of the time) to drink from a cup with no lid without a major catastrophe.

Those are the ones who drive their parents, and in my case grandmother, stark raving insane. Really, meal time can be so stressful that I wind up with a bowl of cereal at 10 p.m. because I just can't deal with them and try to eat, too. It's ridiculous.

Oh, I remember my children going through food cycles. I think I still do that myself. There would be days on end where, if asked, my son wanted nothing but peanut butter and jelly. My daughter, on the other hand, probably never wanted the same meal twice and still doesn't. I could deal with that by stocking up on their favorites. At least I would know they were eating.

Instead I'm dealing with two little girls who one day will devour a food and the next turn up their collective noses.

E1 is the ring leader in the food rebellion, as is often the case, and I know it's a three meal a day fiasco. Weighing in at a hefty 32 pounds and 4 years old (note sarcasm intended), we tend to worry about her eating enough. So when she requests a particular food for any meal in which individual orders are taken, we try to deliver. When that food is set in front of her, however, she's as likely to declare it "yucky," or spend 45 minutes rearranging it on her plate, as she is to eat it. Her list of go-to foods is really short and even then I sometimes don't feel like she eats enough. Of course, it is hard to remember that her stomach is really quite small so I never demand she clean her plate, as long as she samples what is on it.

Granted, she will almost always eat an apple or a stick of cheese, loves cold hot dogs (most of the time), turkey and ham, and will usually eat a carrot with some buttermilk dressing. But seriously, can you live on that?

Since she is quite outspoken, her food rebellion often overflows onto E2. If she declares it yucky -- a word I've banned at the table -- then of course her younger sibling will likewise turn up her nose. Never mind that neither of them have actually tasted the dish which usually contains only food I know they like.

At least once a day we try to sit down together for a balanced meal. Well, I may or may not eat then, but I do prepare a meal and sit with them. My meal time, however, is just as likely to be spent negotiating with E1 over how much she has to eat. If we can keep her drama to a minimum, E2 will often polish off her plate while we're debating. Often E2 finishes her meal and is excused before E1 and I have a food treaty ironed out.

We've had some balanced meal successes, although I'm always looking for more and have a stack of "kid friendly" recipes to try with my fingers crossed. I'm always on the lookout for something they might eat and expect that's a fairly common phenomenon.

Both love Lunchables because they put them together themselves, although I now get ingredients to assemble my own, serve them with carrots and they are allowed no more than once or twice a week; they expressed a love for Campbell's Chunky Chicken Noodle when I opened one for myself and they wound up eating it (but we've not tried a second round yet); virtually anything that smacks of pizza goes down well (think pizza casserole with whole wheat noodles and limited ingredients); they will consistently devour chicken breasts topped with a Greek yogurt and parmesan mixture; and the cheeseburger soup which we all made together turned out to be a hit even if it did dirty three pans and require a lot of chopping and preparation.

There is still no guarantee on anything from one day to the next. Although using familiar foods and letting them "help" increases the odds of success, we have prepared foods in which they know all the ingredients but insist that together, today at least, they are not edible.

At the same time, sometimes some totally unlikely food will be snatched up and devoured. E1, for example, loves onions with no real rhyme or reason. Raw or in the form of onion rings, which she once declared "the best food ever."

I can hardly wait until E3, who so far resists anything beyond milk, enters the fray. Hopefully by then I'll have a repertoire to enable me to feed them without totally losing my mind.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Why I'm Thankful for Facebook

Thank you, Mark Zuckerberg.

I don't know what kind of mind it took to envision this virtual society we know as Facebook, but I know that for a virtually homebound person, it's a lifesaver. Well, maybe just a sanity saver.

Sure, if we let it, Facebook can turn into what has affectionately been called a "time suck." We sit down at the computer to pay a bill or check our bank balance. Once that's done, we decide to check in on Facebook and see what's happening. An hour or two later, our heads are spinning from conflicting political posts from our friends, we're wondering what happened to so-and-so who needs prayers, and we are tired of pictures of kittens and grumpy cats (or maybe not).

But when you spend a lot of time with companions who aren't much into adult conversation, like I do, it's a lifeline to the world.

If I pick up the phone and start talking, E1 can immediately tell she doesn't have my full attention and she'll either get into something, or more likely begin some urgent conversation with me that I cannot hear. If my phone conversation has no real point, then telling her it's rude to interrupt seems wrong somehow. Sure, if I'm trying to figure out some unrealistic charge on my credit card or book a doctor's appointment, I need to make the call while I'm thinking of it. If not, well, then she's probably more important than the phone call and I may well be the one being rude by ignoring the person in front of me for one miles away. Either way, it creates yet another conflict to be resolved.

On the other hand, with a smart phone I can be "visiting" with a lot of people, finding out what they are doing, giving my opinion, and sharing kitten images and mind-boggling political memes, without needing to fully engage myself. The Es don't know I'm not all in their world of puzzles, crayons, or racing around the yard pretending to be birds, and I can take a mental breath.

There are times when Facebook can get to be too much. In fact, rather than pursuing some outlandish number of friends, I've been weeding through my list on a daily basis. If people never tell me what they are doing or have a positive comment, well, why should they be allowed a window into my world? Or if all you ever do is post shares or copy/pastes, seriously, I've probably got other friends who will share the same thing, or if I agree with you I've already seen it. And yes, there are times I'm guilty of sharing a political post or silly picture. But it's because it speaks to me at some level. Feel free to delete me if I never "say" anything you want to hear.

Of course, there are also aggravating shares, which are the ones that require copying and pasting and declare that you will take those few seconds if you: love Jesus, love America, love Veterans, love your husband/sibling/children/parents/cousins, love animals, hate cancer, hate war, hate abuse of any kind, etc. Well, I don't know about other folks, but my mobile platforms don't enable me to do that and I really don't think that it proves anything. It's just annoying.

The ones that really get me are those that are total misinformation. How many dozen times have you seen the same ineffective privacy posts from your friends? Read the terms and conditions of your agreement to use Facebook. Yep. By and large what you share you give to them. It's not your diary or a letter to your closest friends. It's a social media platform and not only can the government and future employers look at it in as much detail as they choose, your friends can copy and paste, download and share anything you post. So be sure to trust your friends. Sometimes I care enough to check Snopes, but most of the time I just let it ride.

But I was talking about how I love Facebook, right?

I like that I can browse through my newsfeed and find out what a lot of my friends are doing. Their pictures and stories can brighten my day and may me feel as though, just for a moment, I was somewhere besides sitting at home arguing with a toddler who doesn't really want to lie still and take a nap. I can glean the most interesting news from local media, because if it has much interest someone will share it and since leaving journalism I pretty much boycott local news. Thanks to pages I like, I can look at a lot of information quickly and delve further with a click of my browser if I'm so inclined.

When the girls do something adorable, a click of my camera phone and a share can show their mom and dad at work, their other grandparents hours away, and extended family scattered around the country what they are doing. When something bad rocks my world, I can ask for prayer and feel the support of a network of friends that I may not talk to but a few times a year. When I want to share something funny, I can make roomfuls of people laugh or smile (come on, you know the stinkbug in the coffee made you smile). If I want to annoy a Conservative Republican friend (or maybe make them think), encourage "other" moms, share something that made me laugh, or even praise my Heavenly Father, I can share an image that someone or some site has shared with me.

Facebook has turned into one of the best methods for promoting and sharing my business, even without ever buying an ad. Friends can tell friends about what I'm doing and share a link to my page. Pictures of clients with tags to friends keep the number of "fans" growing, and although a lot of them will never set foot on the place, people all over the world occasionally read what I post, which is a neat feeling for a business owner and a writer.

Like anything, Facebook can be misused. But while they say don't blame the gun, blame the person, the same is true for Facebook. It's a tool with a lot of good uses. That people with bad intentions cause pain through its use isn't a good reason to blame the medium. Bad choices and an inability to disconnect are as more to blame than the medium.

Because no matter how much Facebook helps pass a day, it's important to remember that it is a virtual world, not the actual physical space we occupy. If we have a thousand Facebook friends, but no one we can really talk to, then we're still lonely. It's still more important that we interact with the world around us, watch the children playing in our own yards, feel the sun and wind on our faces, than it is to check in on what others are doing.

It's more important to live our lives than it is to share them, because if we fail to do one, we have nothing to contribute to the other.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

In Praise of Adult Entertainment

Made you look! But no, not that kind of entertainment.

When you spend your weekdays with preschoolers, your Saturday with hairy dogs and your Sunday at church, a little bit of adult recreation can be hard to come by. Generally, by the time I've finished my chores on Saturday, I'm happy to take a shower and curl up on the couch with a book or computer while my husband tunes into college football, which I may or may not watch.

Face it. Without a little coaxing, we married grown ups tend to slip into a "man, I'm tired mode" with our weekend free time. Usually, that's not a lie. We spend our weeks racing through our jobs and household responsibilities and down time in hard to come by. It's just too darn easy to not plan anything and let the TV host our activities.

But Saturday evening we went to a birthday party. Not a kids' birthday party -- been to a lot of those in the last few years -- but a surprise 40th birthday party for a friend. And we had a blast. I didn't even mind crawling into bed at 1 a.m. after cleaning up after a dog whose bladder had let loose sometime before we made it home. It was worth it.

I'll admit, we went not knowing what to expect, or who, beyond the guest of honor. When you're a kid and go to a party, chances are good you'll know the other kids. When you take kids to a party, you'll know the other kids' parents because you often move in a small circle. Once you get to be an adult, that circle expands and becomes people you work with, people you go to church with, and sometimes a friend or two with some history and common interests. Those circles often don't overlap.

So although the birthday girl and I are friends, our hubbies had been together twice. It isn't a close bond on their part. And we thoroughly expected to not know anyone else. Turned out that through my previous job and my current one, I did know some more people. And through motorcycles and riding, my husband had something in common with a lot of the male guests.

Soon it was two hours in and we were all laughing our heads off at the birthday girl opening her gifts. She was taken aback by the party and the friends her husband had rounded up and she was hamming it up for the gift opening. Add that to our comments on her presents and it was better than a comedy club. I was realizing I hadn't been to an adult party in I could not remember when.

Then she talked us into staying after the older generation left for some time in the basement and some music. Although the younger generation of teens was around, they were upstairs fighting over video games and cell phone chargers. There was no need for an adult to supervise.

An adult beverage in hand (nope, no juice boxes here), we adjourned to the basement for a few more hours of good times. We're not talking cranking up the CD player here. We're talking live music with guitars and drums and computerized lyrics if the vocalist forgot the words.

Our aging group of friends includes some rockers who used to play at local venues and they had a couple of younger musicians in training as well. The neighbors don't mind if they rock it out in their basement, and so they did. They have a wide repertoire and took requests. The volume was loud, the drums were crashing and the guitars were great. If the singer lost their voice or the lyrics, we didn't seem to care. I even took the mic for an old Patsy Cline number I knew from growing up in a country music household where my mom used to belt it out when I was small. It was fun and a bit terrifying at the same time (kind of like ziplining).

Although it was a little tough dragging out of bed and toting a cup of coffee out in the brisk fall air to tend the dogs this morning, it was well worth the effort. I felt relaxed and reset and reminded myself that we don't do this enough. I think throughout the summer we've managed maybe three or four adult outings. Seriously, we need to do this more often.

So I think I'll put that on my to-do list along with my Monday fitness outing.

Make time once a month for something with at least one other adult couple. And if the first couple I invite doesn't have time (or perhaps is having one of those spells like we've had), then I'll by gosh call someone else. Even if it's just dinner and sitting around together watching TV, I think we can put it in the relaxation and resting category for our weekend. If we manage a little more, well, that's OK, too.

In the midst of work and children and making ends meet, we need to remember we need some adult entertainment sometimes, too.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Small Children and Dogs Really Aren't That Different

Most people probably don't look at it like I do, but then most people don't spend their days steeped in the similarities. When it comes right down to it, small children and dogs are a lot alike and, in a lot of ways, managing them requires the same skill set.

Before you get your panties in a bunch, no, that doesn't mean that everything that works for the two-legged creature works for the four-legged or vice versus, although both do respond to the bribery of a treat. And no, it doesn't mean I crate the grandchildren for time out. They do that themselves for fun.

Whatever the similarities early on, children, regardless of how they are raised, will outgrow living by instinct. Dogs left to their own devices will still be dogs.

If you look into the science, you'll find there are studies that support a lot of my conclusions. Babies and small children operate at an instinctive level, just like dogs, as their brain continues to develop. Both are chiefly concerned about their own needs, they react to stimulus at a level that doesn't have society's filters on it, they need house training (one of the toughest parts of dealing with either one), and no matter how well they listen at home, if you take them anywhere you may want a leash.

Seriously, whether you have children or dogs, you have to practice patience, you have to provide food and shelter, you have to protect them from the hazards of a world they don't completely understand (think dogs and streets), and above all you have to be the adult -- the part of the equation that keeps things balanced and doesn't forget that in most instances, no matter what you are dealing with, you are the biggest, scariest thing in the room.

Sometimes reminding myself of that helps me deal with both parts of my day.

For example, it is a waste of time and energy to ask either group why they did what they just did that has me ready to scream. Neither the Es nor the canines have any words to explain themselves, whether it is drawing on the walls (girls) or taking a whiz indoors when they've just been outside (dogs, in case you wonder). On those occasions, I have to work hard to remind myself I'm the only reasoning adult. I just need to breathe, tell them that was a bad choice in whatever language is appropriate for the audience, clean it up and move on. Really, 10 minutes later I'm likely to be the only one who remembers what happened.

Both will let you know when things aren't going well. With a dog it may be raised hackles, a low growl, cowering, snapping, or a determination to dominate another dog. When that happens, it's important for me to put a stop to it because it will only escalate. A bullied dog will fight back and someone could get hurt if I don't bring the aggressor under control. When a dog is getting out of control or needs a reminder of who is boss, like a child he may need a time out -- into the crate with you! For Pedro, the rescue pit bull I'm working with now whose social skills are pretty much non existent anyway, that means come to me and sit and let me throw my arm across your back. Dogs don't really like that position because it means you are the boss, which is why it works so well to ratchet him down a level. Then we play a game of fetch, which he loves, and move on.

For the girls, there can be less warning (no growls or hackles) before someone snaps and pushes someone else away from a toy. Sorting out who did what is harder, but the results are less likely to end in a visit to a medical professional, too. Usually the blame can be attached to the oldest sibling because, face it, she just has more to work with. And sometimes E1 is a lot like Pedro in that she has so much energy and needs something constructive to do and she begins to lose it. I know yelling at her would be as effective as shrieking at Pedro. Instead we've developed a breathe and count exercise -- take a deep breath, count to 10, take another deep breath -- that helps her reset. We stop whatever is sending her into overdrive and do the exercise together (honestly, sometimes it helps me, too). By the end she has usually regained control of herself and is ready to go on with something more positive.

And yes, sometimes spending time with one influences how I spend time with the other. But the lessons are more for me than they are for either the children or the dogs. How I manage my own behavior and emotions is the biggest factor in how either group learns and grows.

Whether working with children or dogs, seeing them cast aside a bad behavior for one you've helped them learn can be the sweetest victory. Hearing E1 stop and say she needed to count made me smile as I knew she was beginning to use that tool when she felt herself in danger of a bad outburst. Watching Pedro overcome his dog aggression even enough to walk confidently with a growing number of dogs makes me want to reward him with a whole bag of treats.

In both instances, making better choices myself leads to a better outcome for them and that's another area where dogs and children are alike. Whether we recognize the similarities or not, we are the ones in charge and, until our children enter the next phase of development somewhere around preschool, the ones most responsible for the outcome.

So take a deep breath and count to 10. Whatever you're dealing with, it's up to you to do it right.

Friday, October 18, 2013

I Think It's Time for a Breakup

Dear phone,

I'm afraid we've come to the point where a breakup is in store, but I don't know how to tell you. You may already know, as I slipped up the day and visited the online store of my cell phone provider on your browser, so I guess I may as well come clean. I'm considering terminating our relationship.

I know, you've become a big part of my life and that's one of the reasons I feel I need to move on. You go with me everywhere and keep tabs on everything I do. You interrupt my meals, entertain me when I'm between tasks, help me keep in touch with my friends, remind me of important events, give me music when I'm mowing or shopping and make me feel safer on the road.

But Dude, you're also letting me down.

Look at you. You're scratched and you've got a big crack down the left side of your screen that practically hides the whole left column of Words With Friends. Sure, that's partly my fault and I realize you took those injuries with me. But you'd think Gorilla Glass could stand being dropped on asphalt a few more times than that. Come on. I thought you were tough.

Granted, never during any of those falls did your battery pop out, not only ending the call but sending me crawling around in the grass on the shoulder of the road to find it and your back. But still... You're not the only phone that can do that you know

While I love your compact size and the fact that you fit easily into my pocket, I think a bigger screen might be easier on my eyes. Don't say it. I know. Size isn't everything and there was a time when I chose your size over larger models. A bigger phone will be harder to carry around. But it may also be harder to misplace. Especially in some color other than black.

And we both have to admit it. Neither of us have the memory we once did. But while mine is something I have to live with, yours isn't. What's happened to you that all of a sudden your SD card is full? Really. You'll only hold like nine pictures and three short video clips. When I want to capture the moment, you come up with an "SD card full" message. What kind of crap is that? And you've never been much at holding on to my music collection. I mean seriously, Christmas is just around the corner and if I want seasonal tunes I'll have to remove something. That's just awful.

I know, your memory has never been the greatest. My old phone held a ton of apps that I've never persuaded you to accept. I had to delete a couple just to squeeze in Words. Your memory has been full so many times I've deleted program updates, unsynced apps and everything I could think of or that the phone tech could recommend and you're still giving me the same messages and warnings. I'm tired of the drama. You should be able to embrace my world, not limit it.

But my biggest problem is one we've always had and that's your camera. Don't tell me you're a phone, not a camera. You're supposed to be a smart phone, which is more than either of those things. But your pictures tend to suck. Sure, once in a great while, if the light is perfect and no one moves, I can capture the moment (or at least I could until this memory stuff kicked up), but seriously. Blurs, flashpoint eyes, and dark images are the rule with you, not the exception.

You do realize that because you're with me all the time I shouldn't need to carry a camera, don't you? And I have three little girls who are forever doing adorable things that you won't let me photograph and share with their mom at work or all my friends who may or may not want to see them. That's part of your function in life and you just aren't getting the job done.

So I'm going to come clean with you. I've been looking at some on-line profiles and there are phones out there that seem capable of holding up their end of the relationship. They have bigger memories, room for expansion and 8+ mp cameras. You know how often I've looked at the great pictures the iPhone takes. Well, my carrier has those now. I know, I didn't want to get into that kind of relationship, but all of you Androids have been lacking a little. I think I could adjust.

I hope you're not going to go all difficult on me now that the end is near. You've been a good phone and we've had a good run, but face it. These things never do last. I'm sure I'll have problems with a new phone, too. None of you are perfect. Just always remember that, up until now, you've been the best.



Thursday, October 17, 2013

In Praise of Grandpas -- Mine and My Better Half

When it comes to grandparents, it seems it's often grandma that gets to wear the halo. The big G. It's grandma's house, grandma's cooking, grandma's prayers, grandma's love.

We often undervalue the role of grandpa in this whole wonderful equation. He gets a back seat, whether he deserves it or not.

And I'll admit at my house, Papi does have the easy role. I think when he's dealing with three little people, the word "no" drops from his vocabulary. They have him so wrapped around their little fingers that I swear he should be able to tie himself in a knot. The only time he ever scolds one is if they are mean to one of the others. His presence around the house ratchets up the level of excitement a couple of degrees and makes a day hard to manage. He also tends to flee when meltdowns get too severe.

But I honestly cannot blame him. He didn't have the trial by fire that I've already survived. After making it to nearly 40 without getting married, he took on me and two nearly grown teenagers and never tried to step into shoes he was unprepared to fill. Until E1 rolled onto the scene four years ago, he'd never had to spend any time in a caretaker role of a small child. It was a tough adjustment and there are still times when he has to flee to his building for a breather.

At the same time, two little girls (baby hasn't managed to be a big part of the equation yet) have unveiled a streak of patience in him that I think would be hard to match. And in return, they adore him.

Looking at some photos I snapped yesterday while he was working on my new fence threw that into highlight for me.

The girls were delighted with his use of an auger to dig fence post holes, but when he started putting up posts, it went to a new level. Instead of sending them away, he let them "help."

They watched in amazement as he mixed and poured concrete (he is known for overkill, but these were corner posts). Then they helped scraped the last of the mix into the holes and tamp down the concrete around the posts. Always guided by his hands and never a raised voice.

Although I never worked alongside either of my grandpa's, I realize they must have had the same capacity and, in a different society a few decades back, played a key role in shaping the lives of my brother and first cousin. My brother adored my Pa Beamer and once he was old enough spent much of his summers at my paternal grandparents' home, helping with cattle and riding horses. Although I enjoyed some of the horseback trips, I was never quite included in the magic between them. My brother now lives on Pa's farm, working the cattle and the land and supporting his farming with a "real" job just as my grandpa did. My Pa Booker played the same role in my cousin's life and, like my brother, he now farms the land he worked with Pa.

And while I didn't work with Pa Booker, he set another example for me. Once I was grown, he was always the one who showed up to do things that needed doing. Whether it was me alone with two kids, or me with a husband who wasn't stepping up to do what he should be doing. I know he did the same with my cousins. There was wood carried in, ice scraped from windshields, yards mowed (that was his favorite) and host of other things that got done because of Pa.

My translation on this is that grandparents, freed from the 24-hour pressure of raising and meeting the needs of a child, have an all-important role. They are the ears that listen, the hands that help out, the patience children need when parents are tired, working, or just don't have enough hours in the day. They are a source of unconditional love and always open arms. They are an alternative adult that exposes children to different activities and interests that may influence the course of the child's life in a lot of ways.

When children don't have that (and in today's society it is hard to deliver when miles and divorces spread families thin), I think they simply have a harder time finding themselves and becoming all they should be. Some still manage, but we can look around and see that many struggle.

People once told me that as a grandparent I would love more than I did as a parent, but I also know that isn't true. It's simply that maturity and mortality make me appreciate more, and children need that. I know I did. And I'm glad the girls in my life are getting a good dose of it as well.

So when you're praising grandma's cookies, keep in mind grandpa's laugh, because both can be equally important in making sure a child gets all the love and attention he or she needs. And it's sometimes grandpa's laugh that gives grandma the patience to get the cookies baked.

And when fence building comes to a halt because E1 has spotted a granddaddy longlegs, "And they're the neatest spiders ever," well, you know that patience is there by the barrel full.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

It's Almost Flu Season, Have You Vaccinated?

As is occasionally the case in my role as Ma, yesterday the day wasn't full of fun and adventure.

It was a day spent building up to one of the most dreaded events in a parent's life -- shots.

Let me say up front that I know there are parents who chose not to vaccinate fearing the side effects of vaccines are damaging to their children, or citing religious reasons. We vaccinate because there is no question that polio, small pox, whooping cough and other diseases can kill, scar or cause long term damage. I had measles when I was a child and lost a whole summer to fever dreams and late night trips to the doctor. Everyone makes their own best informed decision, and as long as those unvaccinated children don't get sick and expose my baby who doesn't have full immunity, then I just hope their parents are making the best choice for them.

That's not what this about.

Most kids dread a vaccine of any kind, not because of any possible side effects, but just for the appearance of the needle itself and the fact that the friendly looking nurse sticks it into their body. I can't blame them for that. I just don't look and try to relax. You can't convince a child to do that.

Parents approach the whole vaccine situation with a mixture of reason, bribery, coaxing, and if necessary, force.

Up until recently, E1 has been the world's best kid about vaccines. She laughed at the idea of a needle. Cried if E3 needed a vaccine and she didn't get one. Doctors and nurses were amazed at her ability to watch with fascination and collect her "bam bam" (her word for bandage). She was frequently praised for her bravery. She occasionally says she's going to be a doctor.

Sometime this fall between her two year checkup and a trip to have blood work taken, something went off track. By the time the nurse tried to prick her finger, she was ready to fling herself out a window to get away. Well, maybe not that bad, but it took Mom and nurse to get it done (I had E2 and E3). It didn't help that she emerged from the lab with a bam bam that was not holding up its end of the bargain and blood dripping down her clothes and into the floor.

A trip with all three to get flu shots was not on my highly anticipated to do list. Especially since they'd just spent a fun-filled week at Disney World with their other grandmother -- sometimes I feel like the evil witch in The Wizard of Oz, paired up against a good witch Glenda. (Just a day now and then mind you, and no reflection on their Nanny, it's just how it is.)

The appointment was at the end of the day during a flu clinic, so we had all day to talk up the visit. E1 promised to be brave. She wasn't afraid at all. Papi was going along, which made the whole trip seem more of an adventure. Waiting our turn was full of games, especially since the older two are fascinated by the masks used to control germs. Even going back to the room was no big deal.

Then the nurse told us to go ahead and get their pants down (why do all the pictures on the Internet show babies getting shots in their arms?) and she'd be right back. E1 lost it. She retreated into a corner holding her pants up and crying as she argued with Papi that she just wasn't going to do it. Reasoning and bribery were out the window and coaxing set in.

I pulled down E2's pants and scooped E3 into the right position with her little jeans around her chubby thighs. I think the image of the needle going in hurt me more than the shot actually hurt her. She gave a surprised cry, I popped the pacifier in her mouth and handed her off to Papi and picked up E2. The nearly hysterical crying continued from E1. The 2-year-old likewise took her turn like a trooper. A little crying and she was done.

Then it was time to take on E1. At 4, she can sometimes be reasoned with. "Look, your sisters have already had theirs and they aren't crying," I said. "It's not that bad."

"No," she insisted. "I don't want it."

"Well, you really have no choice." At this point force becomes the only option. I pull her hands off her pants and loosen them, pulling down as she tries to pull up. The nurse says we'll probably have to lay her down and hold her. I ask E1 if she wants to be put down like a baby or sit up like a big girl. She opts for the big girl option but the nurse still asks me to hold her hands to keep her from scratching. Ouch, the little ones really do put up a fight!

The needle goes into the little thigh and E1 stops struggling, she starts laughing again. "That didn't hurt," she proclaims, watching the bandage go on.

Seriously? So what was all this drama?

I help her on with her pants and we collect our things and leave with me inquiring exactly why she had been crying. "I didn't cry when I got a shot," she said. Well, but before. There was no unraveling that piece of yarn. She had not cried when she got the shot, so everything else was out the window and she not only didn't know why, she more or less decided it had not happened.

A couple of stops where they sat in the car and enjoyed a DVD with Papi and we were headed home.

The little princess, however, had exhausted herself with her crying. She had to have a power nap before we were back in the driveway.

Come to think of it. I could have used one, too.