Archive for the ‘Events’ Category

Wasted

Wednesday, October 1, 2014
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As a band mom, I experience high school football from a different perspective than most people.wasted

First, I never actually get to see a home game. I only have a sense of what’s happening based on the roar of the crowd. That’s because I’m too busy serving up nachos and Mountain Dew to even get a glimpse of the game.

On the flip side, I get some insight into the secret lives of teenagers.

That’s because, with the exception of my children’s friends, no one pays the least bit of attention to the middle-aged woman taking their food orders and their money.

I’m grateful that I often witness generosity. Many teens are more than willing to hand money to the stranger ahead of them in line who bought more food than he/she could afford. They are also inclined to throw their extra change into the band boosters donation bucket.

While I’m impressed with these gestures, I also wonder if they even value the money they are so willing giving to others.

I’m not just being cynical.

That’s because, as a band mom, I’m generally one of the last people to leave the football stadium. Band boosters are responsible for cleaning the mess people leave behind, and we are often there long after the last of the fans are gone. What they leave behind isn’t pretty. To quote another band parent after the homecoming game last Friday night “people are complete slobs.”

While I agreed with her, I was struck by another thought. “People are so wasteful.”

I’ve been shocked at the dozens of nearly full bottles of blue and red Gatorade ($2.00 each at the concession stand) that were left in the women’s bathroom.  Pizza, hot dogs and nachos are left half eaten in the stands, and the trash cans also overflow with the same.

My parents never told me I had to eat everything on my plate because there were starving children in Africa, but they did expect that I wouldn’t waste food.  If you didn’t plan to eat something, you didn’t put it on your plate and you certainly didn’t buy it.  And if your eyes were bigger than your stomach, you packed up the food and took it home for later.

Maybe I’m getting old and maybe my memory is faulty, but I certainly don’t remember people wasting food like they do now, especially in a time when food insecurity has been in the spotlight.

Volunteer backpack organizations are constantly seeking donations so they can send food home with low-income children. Food pantries often run low on staples and many churches offer meals for those who can’t afford them.

And yet people at high school football games seem to buy food only to throw it away as though it has no value.

A part of me wonders if any hungry children attend those games and look with disbelief at all the waste. Another part of me recognizes that most hungry children probably can’t afford the price for a high school football game, not to mention the transportation to and from it. They certainly aren’t among the teens who hand me $20 and even $50 bills on a Friday night with the knowledge they will go home to a refrigerator full of food.

Many kind-hearted, caring people go out of their way to ensure others don’t go hungry, but we are somehow failing to address the other side of the same coin: waste and greed.

My children have been asked to participate in countless food drives, but I’m not sure they’ve ever been taught the actual value of food.

And while I’m trying to follow in my parents footsteps and  teach that food is a resource just like money and our environment, I fear all I’ve done is to teach my children to enjoy food and that my efforts are, well, wasted.

As Time Goes By

Wednesday, August 27, 2014
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I have friends who swear their  bodies are the clearest indicator of the passage of time.

I disagree.birthday cake

Granted, every time I bend my knees, they crack and creak. Every day when I look in the mirror, I see another wrinkle on my face. And every effort to read small type has become an exercise in futility.

But my aging body isn’t what really makes me feel the passage of time.

That comes with watching my children grow up.

Last Friday, my youngest turned 13. The night before Kendall’s birthday, I walked into the family room as she and her father were looking at her baby book. She was laughing at the funny stories I had documented in the  pages and was looking at photos taken on her fourth birthday. In one picture, she was smiling at the camera while her friend Joey had his arm slung around her shoulder as he gazed at her.

“Oh yes, Joey,” I said looking over Kendall’s shoulder at the book. “He told us he was going to marry you.”

Kendall rolled her eyes and continued to flip through the pages of her baby book while her father and I looked at each other.

That photo had been taken nine years earlier, but Giles and I felt as though we had been joking about Joey’s intentions only yesterday. To Kendall, Joey is a distant, if non-existent, memory. My perspective of time appears to be out of whack.

For example, at church on Sunday I was talking to a woman whose daughter just started high school – at least in my mind she had just started high school.  But when I asked how she was doing, her mother reminded me that she is a senior in college. I couldn’t believe that many years had passed, and I thought about how college is just around the corner for my son, a high school junior.

Even though Giles and I have been making payments on Shepherd’s pre-paid college plan since he was born, I’m having a difficult time realizing that the time to make use of that fund is almost here.

I was holding a newborn in my arms the day we bought the plan. At that time,  my son’s college education was only a vague concept for the distant future when I would be a worn-out  middle-aged woman.

I like to think the years were too short for me to be that old and worn out. They did, after all, go much more quickly than when I was a child and summers went on forever and Christmas seemed as though it would never arrive.

I’ve come to recognize the days will continue to grow shorter and the years will continue to fly by. I’ve also come to recognize that even though there is nothing I can do to slow time down, there is a great deal I can do to ensure I treasure every minute of it.

Beneath the Surface

Wednesday, August 13, 2014
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I have a friend who grew up with an unhealthy fear of thunderstorms.

Her fear was unhealthy not because she hid at the first sign of a storm or trembled at the sound of thunder. It was unhealthy because it was based on a lie.

Her fear was built on a belief that her cousin had been killed when struck by lightning.

Only after years and a well-cultivated phobia of lightning did her parents reveal that her cousin had actually committed suicide.

I was thinking of this Monday night when both of my children wanted to talk about Robin William’s suicide. My daughter asked how he could asphyxiate himself. My son just wanted to express his shock. Since I was also in shock, I had very little to add to the conversation even though I knew I should. I don’t want my children to be afraid of thunderstorms any more than I want them to think suicide is about a person’s final act.

Instead, suicide is about everything other people don’t act upon.

I first realized this when the brother of one my daughter Kendall’s classmate’s killed himself. The boy was in middle school at the time, and my daughter relayed the same story that the media did: the boy had been bullied. That revelation was followed by the typical outcry to address bullying by calling out people whose words and behavior are hurtful.

What I didn’t hear was an outcry to simply to pay attention to each other despite labels or diagnoses or cliques or fame.

Some people might say that Robin Williams, one of the funniest men in the world, and an overweight middle school student had nothing in common, but they are wrong.

They had a great deal in common.

They were both people. They both had feelings. They both struggled to meet the expectations of others. They both wanted to belong to a world that often doesn’t make sense. They both fought internal battles that others couldn’t or didn’t see. Because of this, they both hurt inside. And they both committed suicide.

Like millions of others, I feel the loss of Robin Williams, but I can’t claim I knew him any more than I knew the brother of Kendall’s classmate.

I never had the opportunity to share a smile, listen to, interact with or show my compassion for either of them, and I never will.

But I do have the opportunity to do all those with a neglected child, a homeless adult, a rebellious teenager, a lonely senior, a rude customer or client and an overly-talkative neighbor. Not only do I have the opportunity, I have the obligation. All of them are my fellow human beings who have feelings, struggle to meet the expectations of others and have a simple desire to belong to a world.

And they, like me, generally show only a small piece of themselves to the rest of the world. We keep what lies just below the surface hidden in hopes that we don’t reveal our vulnerabilities to a society that is quick to exploit them.

I can’t imagine Robin Williams ever approved of such a world. Instead, I choose to believe that he wanted all of us to recognize that imperfect people make the world interesting and meaningful. I believe he knew we should all look beyond the superficial to where imperfection and insecurities lie. And he  would want us to dive into whatever depth we are capable of reaching with others so we can work together to save all those who are drowning.

I also believe he would encourage all of us not to fear the thunderstorm and instead to dance in the rain that comes with it.

The Great Indoors

Monday, July 7, 2014
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Maybe next year she can go someplace that lets her catch things.

Maybe next year she can go someplace that lets her catch things.

When I think back to my childhood, I realize that I didn’t do a lot in the summer.  I rode my bike through the Kanawha City streets (but never across MacCorkle Avenue), bought Slush Puppies at a  7-11 convenient store, ran through a sprinkler hooked to the garden hose in the front yard, and I watched HBO after my parents went to bed. One day rolled into the next, set to the labored hum of a large window-unit air conditioner that was bought from Sears and Roebuck (yes, both of them).

Some years, we took a vacation to Wrightsville Beach, N.C. or Williamsburg, Va.  Some years we couldn’t.

But never, ever did I go to camp.

And I sort of wish I had.

Last summer, as I lounged by the pool half-watching my girls cannonball off the diving board, I became engrossed in an article in Town & Country magazine.  The writer reflected on his summers at camp — an exclusive, preppy, hard-to-get-into-and-even-harder-to-pay-for place tucked away in the forests of “old” New England.  This sleep-away camp was the place where mosquitoes bit but fish didn’t, canoes capsized but nobody drowned, and hearts ached for home.  For a little while, that is.

The writer still believes that camp is a rite of passage in childhood; a necessary “roughing it” that removes some of the shelter in kids’ lives — physically and emotionally. Back then, going off to camp (for at least three weeks) was a way to connect with the world.  Today, it’s a way of making kids unplug from it.

The article romanticized camp in a way that made me actually look into places for my daughters, ages 11 and 8.  I follow a few camps for girls on Facebook and through images posted on Instagram and Pinterest — all of which make the experience look downright enchanting.

Ava doesn’t see it that way.

“WHAT? No walls?!” she exclaimed, as she leaned over my shoulder to study a large tent with its flaps peeled back to reveal giggly girls sitting on cots.

“What if it rains?!” she exclaimed.

You pull the flaps down, I guess.

“And bugs! Bears! No, Mama. NO,” Ava declared, stepping back from the computer as if it had malaria.  Her idea of camping is a cottage overlooking The Old White golf course at The Greenbrier.

Maryn, our youngest, took her sister’s spot over my shoulder.

“Cool!” she said.  “You get to sleep outside?”

Yes. For a month.

“Hmmm…” she pondered.  “How far away is it?”

You’d go to camp? I asked, shocked.  Maryn is our explorer, but she’s also the one who will sit and hold my hand when I’m bedridden in a nursing home.

It’s about two hours from here. You’d like to do that? 

“Maybe….” she said.

Well, let’s throw this little fish back in the water, I thought to myself.

Tomorrow (which will be “this morning” once the blog is published), Maryn will attend Fun With Words: A Young Writers Camp sponsored by the Central West Virginia Writing Project, a program overseen by Marshall University.  No, she won’t sleep in a tent (or a dorm), and no, she won’t be in the next state.  But, she will be gone during the day and she won’t have her sister sitting right next to her. She’s going off by herself, and I have to admit, I’m a little nervous.

Before I get ahead of myself, Maryn asked to attend camp. I didn’t sign her up for the sake of doing so.  She loves the arts, so this seemed like a good fit for her.  But, I’d be wrong if I hid an underlying motive for paying the rather steep tuition fee.

I wanted Ava, who will be starting middle school in about a month, to watch her little sister walk into a new environment without any familiar faces for comfort. It also takes some motivation to try new things, especially when they aren’t necessary or required.

My girl isn’t going to be sitting at the edge of Walden Pond penning the next great American novel.  Or, maybe she will — just not beside a bubbling brook.  And, she won’t be writing letters home detailing songs sung in unison around a fire, or merit badges won during archery contests or at the conclusion of wilderness survival tests (thank God).  But, she might write a story about meeting new friends and having new types of fun.  It may not be Lake Ossippe backdropped by the White Mountains of New Hampshire, but it will be an adventure … for all of us.

 

Commencement

Monday, May 19, 2014
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baby avaDear Ava,

Six years ago, your dad and I had one of our most memorable arguments. We struggled with the decision to send you to kindergarten. You’d just turned five, and separation anxiety was the name of your game. I wanted to delay your start another year until you felt more secure; your dad stressed that you should enroll because you were ready. Guess who won?

Now I’m writing as you wrap up your time in elementary school.  In a few months (weeks, really), you’ll be in what your dad and I called “junior high”.  This is the place where you’ll learn more about others than you will in college.  That’s where you’ll go to learn about yourself. These next few years are going to be the hardest — for you, as you work through situations that make no sense — and for us, as we work through fears of letting go. See, this separation anxiety business is inherited. That’s the gene you got from me.

You got a few other traits, too.  On a hot summer morning, you kicked your way into the world with a foot so long that it smeared off your birth certificate.  The finest blonde hair and darkest blue eyes were the prettiest things I’d ever seen.  And when you grabbed my finger and gave me a reassuring grin (which I refuse to consider was anything else), I knew that you were a cure for a lot of hurt.  No matter what anyone says, I’m a firm believer that we travel through this existence in desperate need of a mother.  Whether we liked or loved the one we were given makes no difference. If we’re lucky, it’s a presence that will get us through everything else that life throws at us.  If we weren’t so lucky, then we spend our days looking for something to fill that void.  You were given to me to fill that void. I’ll thank God every day for knowing what I needed, exactly when I needed it most.

You’re going to need help, too, but you’ll fight it. Hopefully, you won’t put up the fight that I did when I was a teenager — paybacks are hell — but I do expect a showdown every now and then.  We’re too much alike. You’re going to make mistakes, but I’ll make more.  I’m going to hang on too tight, stay too long, become too involved and say entirely too much.  You’ll do the same. But, I’ll forgive you as I hope you’ll forgive me.

Those mistakes, by the way, are learning experiences.  You’ve heard us say many times, “You can do this the easy way or the hard way.” It’s still your choice.  One of the saddest parts of being a parent is allowing a child to make mistakes. It’s brutally difficult to stand back and watch what’s sure to happen. However, you can avoid some of the headaches by remembering what we’ve always preached to both you and your sister:

If you don’t want it known, don’t say it.

If you don’t want it shared, don’t write it.

If you don’t want it remembered, don’t post it.

If you don’t want it saved, don’t pose for it.

If you don’t want it told, don’t do it.

But please tell us about it.  While I’m sure you won’t want my opinion every moment of every situation, and while I’m sure one of your greatest lessons will be learning how to solve your own problems, I want you to promise that you’ll always bring those thoughts home.  The rest of society (school) might judge you, but we won’t.  We’ll criticize your first dates, and we’ll scrutinize dresses for dances, though.  That’s our job.

Oh — one more thing:  If you get your heart broken, don’t show it. Dignity is your best friend. Protect her.

From the first day of elementary school to the approaching last, your dad and I have been immeasurably proud of you. And it’s just the beginning! We can’t wait to see what you do with all the potential that you hold back, but we know exists.  Hold your head up high (but hold your values higher), flash that smile, and walk like you’ve been there all along. It’s the first of many steps toward independence. And as you showed us six years ago, and as you’ll show us again in six more years, you’re going to go far. You’re ready.

With all our love,

Mom (and Dad)

 

 

 

Call Me Crazy (Part Two)

Monday, May 5, 2014
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I’ve calmed down since my last cell phone rant.  But not by much.

After a candid conversation with a few teenagers, I learned that middle schoolers need phones for several reasons:

1) Once the day is done, students are usually on their own. After a certain time, the school is locked and it’s difficult to make a telephone call from the office, which is also locked.

2) It’s a means of looking (and being) occupied during awkward social times, such as waiting for and riding on the bus, waiting for the first bell, waiting for the lunch period to end, and waiting for dismissal.  It’s a type of “don’t bother me, I’m busy” signal that a hardback book used to serve.

3) Group work is more common in middle school, which requires kids to spend time together out of class. It’s hard to coordinate logisitcs, and even harder to share files and pieces of the project without email and cell service.  For most kids, a phone is a homework tool.

4) The mother of a teenager chimed in to remind me that we live in a Columbine and Sandy Hook world. School lock downs can occur for any reason these days.  Wouldn’t I rather get a text from my daughter telling me that everything is OK, as opposed to calling the school for a half-hour trying to get answers?

And 5) There’s a lot of emphasis on knowing where our children are at all times.  But, we’re the ones who are picking them up.  Traffic jams, wrecks, detours, dangerous weather, meetings, etc., can keep us from getting to them on time.  Shouldn’t our kids know were WE are?

I relayed all of this information to my husband, and we determined that our rising sixth grader doesn’t need a cell phone for her birthday. Nothing good can come of it over the course of a summer vacation.  There’s too much downtime to get into friendship trouble due to potential misunderstandings. However, IF we do cave in and allow her to have a cell phone, it’ll happen the day before school starts. We’ll visit our guy at AT&T to select a phone that connects to our network so we can monitor every single move — incoming and outgoing.

But, if we discover improper use of the phone by our tween or her classmates, we’ll rethink our decision.  James Lehman, creator of The Total Transformation Program also produced a companion piece called “The Complete Guide to Consequences”.  Dr. Lehman gives parents tips on motivating children to practice responsible behavior.  However, much of his advice is geared toward managing indignant teens.  I needed specific help in the cell phone area, so I searched for blogs that focused on protecting our kids before trouble starts.

Dr. Laura Markham has been known to ruffle parents’ feathers, but in this instance, she is absolutely correct in her assessment of tween-age independence.  As Markham points out in the very first paragraph of an essay, the middle school years are children’s first steps toward total separation, but a cell phone keeps them connected to mom and dad.

Some other parenting experts say that’s the problem.  Cell phones turn parents and children into conjoined twins. Kids don’t know how to cope with problems.  They only know how to text their parents.

Markham admits that she worried for hours about her daughter misusing the phone to text after midnight, chat with strangers, download expensive apps and songs, post rude or thoughtless comments on social networking sites, and share less-than-flattering pictures with kids who could then send them on to the entire student body.

Yes, Dr. Laura, I hear you loud and clear.  Dr. James Lehman says we should trust our kids until they give us a reason not to.  We need to set firm expectations of how the cell phone and its features are to be used.  Contracts may seem silly, but every service provider requires customers to enter into agreements before any type of product can be sold. Parents are providing their child with a cell phone.  This device should come with a list of demands:

1. Phones are given back to parents at the end of each day.  Phones should not be allowed in a child’s bedroom overnight.

2. Phone numbers must be kept private, and given out only with permission from mom and/or dad.

3. Keep a life: A child (tween/teen) should not stop what they’re doing to answer friends’ texts or calls when they first come in.  However, if mom or dad calls, then the child MUST pick up. No excuses. No exceptions. If a call is missed, return it ASAP and be prepared to explain.

4. NEVER broadcast a location, or post/check-in on social networking sites.

5.  Know that the phone can be checked at any time, without warning.  Be prepared for all texts or messages/voice mails, etc., to be read or listened to. Privacy is reserved for bathrooms.

It’s sort of ironic:  Parents report that they allow their tween to have a cell phone ONLY so they can stay in touch for safety purposes.  In this day and age, people are unreliable.  If you want your child to be able to get a hold of you, it’s because you know that a million things can happen, and a text might make the difference between a close call and a devastating one. However, when the child does something wrong, the cell phone is taken away.

Safety first? I wonder.

 

 

 

 

A Dirty Secret

Monday, April 21, 2014
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Did I save the trip? Yes. Then I guess I saved Spring Break.

I always laugh to myself when I hear people mention that they’re going on vacation. Only spouses and children go on vacation.  Mothers go out of town.

As a family, we have a “travel bucket list” of places we want to visit with the girls.  One of those destinations included a good ol’ retro Spring Break along the Grand Strand of Myrtle Beach. This idea was helped along by a call from a reservation specialist at Hilton, who told me that my husband had accumulated enough VIP membership points to earn six days at a resort in Kingston Plantation. And, since he was such a loyal customer, we qualified for a preview of fractional ownership opportunities at one of Hilton’s newest, most talked about properties.

Could he schedule a showing of an oceanfront condo that might better suit our needs on a future trip?

Oh, all right.  What’s an hour?

But life is never that accommodating. Shortly after securing this throwback week at Myrtle Beach, school board members decided to add a day and a half of classes back into the calendar.  Now the girls would miss makeup time and have additional homework before we could drive out of the zip code.

Oh, well.  What’s a few extra worksheets?

My husband had been traveling on business for the two weeks leading up to our family trip, so I was largely on my own when it came to servicing the vehicle, shopping for the house sitter, washing and packing clothes for four people, and picking up supplies for all of our pets.  I bought 25-pound sacks of dog and cat food to make sure their meals lasted while we were away, but our greedy Beagle decided he’d rather eat a sock. Instead of passing it one way or bringing it up another, the “foreign object” got stuck in the lower stomach and top half of the intestine. He was taken into surgery immediately, and we were left knowing that the next five days would be critical in case the two incisions leaked, or he suffered reactions to anesthesia.  Copper would also need intensive care for the first night, so we’d have to transport him to the emergency clinic for constant observation and pain relief treatment.

The beach was the farthest thing from my mind. Rather, Ava’s final honors music performance was that evening, and she had a snare drum part that I didn’t want to miss.  The concert started at 7:00, which was the exact time I had to transport Copper to the emergency clinic.  I promised I would drop and run — that I wouldn’t miss more than one or two numbers — and I’d see her rat-a-tat-tat her way into The Battle Hymn of the Republic. 

I missed every song but the last one.

After getting Copper settled and signing my life away (including my dog if I didn’t come back to get him by 7:15 a.m.), I drove with my flashers on to make it to Ava’s show.  I climbed the steps of the Cultural Center in pairs, a difficult task in muck boots worn to search the woods for our missing cat, which darted out of the house when tree trimmers started cutting down an oak in our yard.  Wearing a dirty shirt stained with my dog’s blood after he bit his tongue, I burst into the packed auditorium to watch Ava and her musician friends sing Sara Bareilles’ hit song, Brave.  Ava happened to look stage left, where I was propped up against the marble wall trying to forget that my back was throbbing from a sciatic nerve flare up.  She flashed a forgiving smile and returned to the hand-clapping tune that brought an entire crowd to its feet. When the show was over, she made her way through other kids’ parents to me.  I hugged her as tightly as I could and repeated how sorry I was for being late.  Ava told me that I could buy the DVD and watch it as many times as I wanted.  After the checks I’d been writing, what’s another $10?

The next morning, I ran into the school counselor who seemed to know I needed a hug of my own.  How’s it going, she asked.  I burst into tears.

“I missed Ava’s performance,” I cried.

After explaining what had caused this lapse in parenting, the counselor put her expertise to good use.

“Did you save the dog?” she asked.

I nodded pathetically.

“Then you saved the day.”

But the day wasn’t over. I had exactly 12 hours to make a decision about the beach.  It would be incredibly insensitive to leave a sick dog behind, but it would be a guilty shame to cancel a trip that two girls (and their dad) deserved.  I’d already missed a concert and class presentation that Ava had worked hard on, and I’d ignored everything at home (including our younger daughter) worrying about the dog. Fortunately, the veterinary hospital agreed that Copper needed extra care for several days, so he could be boarded while we were out of town. My house sitter agreed to visit him every day, and to manage things in case his situation changed.  What’s so bad about that?

I felt miserable for most of the drive down, which was oddly smooth given the time of year.  My back ached and my mind raced, and I fought a sour stomach that was churned by the stress of the last few days.  When we reached the resort, the thick scent of sea water seemed to loosen me up better than any muscle relaxer could, and I settled into “Salt Life” promising to trust that everything would be all right.

That next afternoon, tension returned as we listened to a loud, eager sales associate preach the benefits of vacation timeshare.  With rock music piped into the room full of exhausted-looking couples, we reluctantly watched a flashy PowerPoint presentation advertising the luxuries of 63 Hilton properties that could be ours for approximately 20 days a year after putting $11,500 down and paying $734 a month at 11.9% interest until the $36,000 debt was paid off.  Much to the sales associate’s frustration, we declined all opportunities to “own a piece of the beach” by way of a deed to a “unit in Las Vegas” that could be transferred with the purchase of “at least 5,000 points” for a resort closer to home.

Home.

The rest of our time was spent dodging college students and seeking shelter from bone-chilling ocean winds.  We seemed to invest the same timeshare expense inland, riding the SkyWheel, racing go carts, eating overpriced, underwhelming seafood, and buying souvenir tee-shirts that marked our discounted trip to Myrtle Beach.  While it was nice to order a grande vanilla latte every morning, return from the outlet malls to a room freshened with fluffy towels and crisp bed sheets, and read Southern magazines from a striped cabana, I didn’t want to be there.  Clearly, the timing was off.  Sick dogs, missing cats, work deadlines, homework assignments, school performances, and wayward tree trimmers (that’s another story and another sizable check) were calling me back.  Simply put, I missed my mess.

Despite coral-colored shrimp and cheddar cheese grits baked in a cast iron skillet, pitchers of tea sweet enough to rot teeth, and being called ma’am more than Mom, I was actually homesick for the problems I tried to escape.  And that’s a funny thing about mothers:  We like to tell anyone who will listen that we desperately need to get away.  But the truth is, we don’t always want to make a run for it. We’re fixers. We don’t know how to leave our troubles behind. Contrary to how we act, we secretly love these dirty parts of life, because it reminds us that we play a vital role with a special purpose.  We are important to other people, projects…and yes, pets. Sun and surf can be good for the soul, but it doesn’t always provide rejuvenation.  Sometimes, it provides a reminder.

 

 

 

Snow what?

Monday, February 17, 2014
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olympic rings

Looming for art and social studies.

In the past two years of serving on academic committees, I’ve been pelted with the same question:  “Katy Brown, don’t you care about your child’s education?”

With your No. 2 pencil, fill in the bubble “YES”.

The long answer, in essay format, is written below:

I’ve been well known to irritate people for a laissez-faire attitude and leadership style.  Things will be OK.  Everything will work out. Just calm down.  This is a strange personality trait considering how much I worry and fret. But when it comes to my children’s education, I don’t panic. I’m teaching two elementary school-aged daughters to do the same thing:  Don’t wring your hands. Use them.

When we were sitting at home watching seven inches of snow fall in the same amount of hours, a number of learning opportunities popped up.  Olympic coverage was on NBC stations, which we observed with interest.

Where is Sochi?  Let’s look it up.

Why is it snowing on the mountain but not on the ground?  Let’s look it up.

Why do Americans not like Russia? Let’s look it up.

Where will the summer Olympics be held?  Let’s look it up.

Why do winners bite their gold medals? Let’s look it up.

Why does that man have red, swollen eyes?  Let’s look it up.

In one snowboarding competition, we learned that Sochi is really a tropical area of Russia, where snowcapped mountains overlook green palm trees.  Despite those 60-degree temperatures in February, we learned about The Cold War.  Much to my youngest daughter’s excitement, we discovered that the next summer Olympic games will be hosted by Brazil (and Rio 2 will be in theaters on April 11). Finally, as my daughter slurped back two teaspoons of Tamilfu, we learned all about conjunctivitis, Bob Costas and the Center for Disease Control.

We covered social studies, science, math and health all in an hour.

After that, we shoveled snow.

Is it true that no two snowflakes are alike?  That’s what scientists say, but let’s look it up.

This is hard work! My arms are tired!  It’s good cardio exercise.  Look it up!

Is this the type of snow that we can use to make a snowman?  (You know the drill….)

And in that hour, we learned about microenvironments.  A snowflake begins to form when water vapor condenses around a speck of dust high in the clouds—more than six miles (ten kilometers) high—and then crystallizes.  (Yes, I had to look that up.  Credit: National Geographic)

When we came inside — for lunch made with bottled water — I told the girls that I didn’t care what they read as long as they had a book in their hands. Fascinated by British culture, my oldest daughter read from “Who was…Queen Elizabeth” and “Who were …The Beatles” books.  Our youngest one read from the Baby Mouse series – “Skater Girl” and “Mad Scientist”.

Then…a surprising twist:  A text message appeared on my phone from Ava’s fifth grade teacher.  “For every day of school missed, students are required to complete activities online for math and reading.”  Achieve 3000 is a website filled with lessons that cover grammar, reading comprehension and writing assessments.  Math links cover estimates and decimals.  And, they had workbooks and textbooks in their backpacks.  They could read ahead, or in the case of our daughter who lost two more days due to illness, she could read again.

It was a full day of indirect study, but the girls stayed busy. It was mandatory. I had multiple deadlines to meet, including a series of press releases that needed to be translated from European styles to American linguistics and publishing formats.  Just because I work from home doesn’t mean I can blow off time.  As a parent, there are no sick days.  As a self-employed worker, there are no snow days.  If I don’t bill clients, I can’t pay my bills.

After a month of missed classes, I admit that I’m tired of the uncertainty, and I’m frustrated that we haven’t been on schedule since the beginning of November. I have my own concerns about year-round school and how 180 days of instruction are worked into the calendar. I do have strong opinions about standardized testing and Common Core curriculum.  But what I don’t worry about is what my daughters are missing during cancelled days due to icy roads and smelly water.

Now, I know that not every child has this type of support at home. There are critical issues to deal with such as adequate supervision, proper nutrition, enrichment learning and preparation for the next grade level. Children should be in school.  But when they aren’t because the central office says they can’t, then we as parents have to accept a little more responsibility.

What makes me so smart? I’ve got all the answers, huh? Hardly. I make more mistakes than you’ll ever know about. But I do know that an academic state of emergency requires individual problem solving. This is the time when parents are tested.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s in the pantry: Emergency supplies

Thursday, January 23, 2014
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Sample disaster kit (Newport News, Va.)

Sample disaster kit (Newport News, Va.)

A mixture of below freezing temperatures, snowstorms and 4-Methylcyclohexanemethanol forced my family to take stock of our emergency supplies.  Once again, we are not Doomsday Preppers.  I can’t even call myself a Girl Scout.  I quit the troop because I hated the green, bellbottom, polyester pants.

All kidding aside, we’re never “ready” for a surprise attack. I always have kitty litter on hand, but it’s never in the trunk of my car to help with tire traction. I don’t even think I have an ice scraper in the glove box.  Come to think of it, I don’t even have a pair of gloves in the glove box. Where’s my insurance card?

If you’re like us, you’re only organized in thoughts and good intentions. But those times are a’changin’.  What do you need to weather the next named storm or environmental disaster?  Here’s a little list, compiled from various websites and crazy people:

 HOW TO BUILD A BASIC DISASTER KIT (courtesy of FEMA)

  • Water; one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation (Writer’s note: I’d up this amount to two gallons per person, per day, for a week.)
  • Food; at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food
  • Battery-powered radio with tone alert and extra batteries
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • First aid kit, including all-purpose medications for adults and children
  • Noisemaker to signal for help
  • Dust mask to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
  • Manual can opener for food
  • Local maps or a GPS system
  • Cell phone with chargers or a solar charger

For extreme conditions, FEMA suggests additional emergency supplies:

  • Prescription medications and related accessories (such as diabetic test strips, etc.)
  • Infant formula and diapers
  • Pet food and extra water for your pet; leashes and pet carriers
  • Cash and change; a credit card
  • Important family documents such as copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account records in a waterproof, portable container.
  • Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person
  • Complete change of clothing including a long sleeved shirt, long pants and sturdy shoes
  • Clean, emptied containers
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Matches in a waterproof container
  • Feminine supplies and personal hygiene items
  • Mess kits, paper cups, plates, paper towels and plastic utensils
  • Writing supplies
  • Books, games, puzzles or other activities for children
  • Keep automobiles filled with gasoline, and if you’re on the move, a bin to haul these supplies

Another website suggested a patriarchal blessing and a Bible.  Ok, I’ll take along King James.

Whenever the media reports snow of any kind, people race to the store to hoard bread and milk.  The bread I understand.  But milk? I seem to be collecting gallons of water these days.  I’m also stocked up on waterless cleaners such as Cetaphil, dry shampoo, baby wipes, toilet paper and fire starter logs.  Despite the worries and headaches of living with tainted water, I kept thanking my lucky stars that we had electricity.  After experiencing a tornado and a derecho, living in the dark without heat or air conditioning seems worse.  We have our gas logs inspected for safety, and we make sure our charcoal grill is kept in good condition, should those items be needed to keep us warm or to heat meals. Keeping cool in the summer is more of a mental exercise. The Waltons didn’t have central air and they lived through years of heat waves.  WWJD:  What would John-Boy do?

Hopefully, this list will help you to keep calm so you can carry on.  But, if you’re like me, you’ll freak out and get carried away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Waterblogged

Monday, January 20, 2014
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Mac-n-cheese night.

Mac-n-cheese night.

It’s been a long, exhausting week and my brain is dried up. Yes, this blog is another tainted water post, but it’ll be a tad shorter. I’m in conservation mode.

Even though our area’s water was restored on the seventh day of the crisis, we still used the licorice-smelling liquid with extreme caution.  We flushed our taps, we stuck our noses to the stream and we inhaled…and then coughed.  Perhaps it was the strong smell, or perhaps it was the cold/sinus/allergy crud that filtered through our house at the same time.

So, we’ve been sick and we’ve been sad.  We also said farewell to my late aunt’s Corgi, Winston, which passed away last Sunday morning. We’ve been watching her Beagle mix, Mickey, for signs of grief and there are many to choose from.  She paces through the house searching for her buddy, and then she panics when we leave the room for any reason.  That reason includes washing twenty loads of laundry and making runs to the grocery store for meals that don’t have to be cooked with water.

We also locked up my aunt’s house for the last time. A lovely couple closed on the deal this week, and we couldn’t have asked for better neighbors.  But, instead of leaving a bouquet of flowers on the mantle for them, we stocked their refrigerator with bottles of water.  They’ll need it.  They have a new baby.  They’re changing routines, too.

We’re not brushing our teeth with tap water and we’re not drinking it, not that we ever did, really.  We’ve always been bottle guzzlers, using the taps only for the 2:00 a.m. headache that required a slug of H2O from a Dixie cup to chase down Advil.  But, when it came to laundry and dishes, I had to release my fears.  We were out of essential undergarments, and paper products were filling recycling bags like Santa’s toy sack.

Like most kids, our daughters haven’t been to school in about a month counting Christmas vacation and a couple of dangerous weather days.  I hope there’s a section on the 2014 Westest that covers complex patterns of Rainbow Looming.  They’ll ace it.

As I count my blessings — for the ability to buy supplies and the comfort of working from home — I admit that life has changed.  I don’t gaze at the Kanawha River with wonder anymore.  I used to search for boats or something fun going on at Haddad Riverfront Park.  Now, I look over to see if there’s a sheen of some sort floating on the water.  When we take our daughters to their grandparents’ house for a visit, my nose flips in the air to detect signs of another leak.  They live within waking distance of the Elk River, and a slightly longer walk to the actual site where the chemical spill occurred. I give strict orders not to give them tap water for any reason.  I make them promise they won’t.

Our bathroom caddy used to be filled with various hairstyling products and tools.  Now, it holds eight bottles of water and a sleeve of paper cups.  My kitchen counter is decorated with jugs of distilled, spring and purified blends of water. I didn’t realize how often we boiled pastas, soup broths, marinades for Crockpot meals, and pots and pots of coffee.

I’ve reset the clothes washer on the shortest setting to cut the time our items sit in water.  No more soaking white socks to make them brighter.  No more extra long cycles for towels and sheets.  We’ve become “knock-the-dirt-off-and-go” people.

Our dogs, cats, rabbit and guinea pig (leave me alone — I rescue) aren’t getting tap water, either. For the first few days, “Even my dog wouldn’t drink it” became a reoccurring post on social media sites.  Our cat, Ringo, tried to cover up his water bowl with his paw.  The odor was that foul.

Lastly, my sense of humor has become contaminated.  I try to move through life lightheartedly, but the chemical spill has left a residue that affects how I feel about my city. When asked by a writer at the Daily Mail if this crisis had caused me to consider moving, I had to admit that I wouldn’t shoot down a transfer option as quickly as I would’ve six months ago.  Are we house hunting? No.  We’re here.  We’re settled.  If we’d move, we’d inherit that area’s problems, which might even be worse.  I’ll take chemical valley over tornado valley any day.  But, I don’t trust what goes on around me anymore.  I want someone to give us a clear answer, since the water isn’t.

Yes, it’s safe. Drink it.  Bathe in it.

No, it’s still a threat. Avoid it.

Instead, we’re advised to rely on our best judgment.  Consume and use tap water at your own risk.

We’ll eventually stop talking about the #wvwatercrisis and #wvchemspill.  We won’t forget it, but we’ll stop bringing it up in every conversation. Some morning, we’ll get up, travel to the bathroom vanity, turn on the faucet and apply a strip of toothpaste to a brush saturated with water we once feared.  We’ll swish and spit with suspicion. But hopefully, in time, this too shall pass.

Katy Brown is the author of a children’s book, Sellie & Sam, and a book of essays, Kat Tales: Stories of a house…broken. She lives in Charleston with her husband and two daughters. Write to her at katybrownwrites@gmail.com.

Next time:  Apps are a Snap. Literally.