Archive for the ‘Humor’ Category

The Great Snow Shovel Showdown

Wednesday, February 18, 2015
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snowmageddonI am once again braced for the drama that winter’s harsh storms bring to my neighborhood.

My caution doesn’t stem from concern about breaking bones when I slip on ice – even though that is a likely outcome every time there’s a snow storm. I’ve broken bones in both of my hands and still have scars from a shattered wrist, a result of my general lack of grace on ice.

Nor is my concern about getting into a car accident – although I have had numerous close calls on snow-packed roads.

Instead, I am on high alert with the realization that I MUST be the first in my neighborhood to clear the driveway. Anything else is an indication of my failure to accept my neighbors’ challenge for a snow shovel showdown.

My husband claims that I’m imagining such a competition and insists I’m using it as an excuse to once again indulge my tendency to be a bit obsessive.

While I admit to being obsessive, I am also very observant. Since I walk my German Shepherd every day before dawn and again after work, I know the rhythm of the neighborhood. I know who goes to work early, who works a strange schedule and who doesn’t work at all. I know who takes meticulous care of their yard and who takes shortcuts. I know who is friendly, who likes dogs and who pretends they have no neighbors at all. I also know which  neighbors are avid competitors in the snow shovel showdown.

They are the individuals who keep close tabs on the latest weather report to determine the precise time they should tackle their driveway. Their mission? To ensure their driveway is black asphalt bordered with piles of snow by the time the first car drives by.

A few years ago, some neighbors tried to gain an unfair advantage by purchasing snow blowers that created perfectly straight lines along their driveways rather than the uneven mounds of snow. Since no one in my neighborhood has a particularly long or unwieldy driveway, the straight edges of snow never gained any respect.

What does gain respect is the sound of a snow shovel scraping pavement.

I woke to that sound the other morning after a recent snow fall and immediately recognized it as a call to arms.

I should have known my next-door neighbor would be out before me.

The night before, I had heard a strange noise and asked my husband to verify my suspicions. I called him to the bedroom window to peer into the quickly fading light and watch my neighbor walking up and down his driveway.

He was getting a jump start on clearing his driveway by using a leaf blower to remove the snow as soon as it fell. A leaf blower wouldn’t leave the evidence of cheating hat a snow blower does.

I lay awake most of the night listening for any additional sounds of someone getting a head start on their driveway until I finally fell asleep to the sounds of the city snow plow. I actually dreamed about shoveling snow, so I shouldn’t have been surprised to wake up to the sound of scrape, scrape sound of metal on asphalt.

While I would have preferred to wrap myself tighter in my blankets and stay in bed, I am just too competitive.

I jumped out of bed and pulled on tights, leggings, wool socks, two shirts, a coat, gloves and a hat. I was prepared to tackle the driveway in five degree weather.

Rodney, the German Shepherd, had other ideas. He was prepared to go for his normal, morning walk. Since the kids didn’t have to go to school and my husband didn’t have to leave for work until much later in the day, I didn’t want Rodney whining and barking, And so, I took him for a short spin around the neighborhood. Unfortunately, that drastically set me back on my driveway clearing schedule.

By the time we returned, my neighbor’s driveway was already cleared.

I didn’t see him gloat, but neither did I see any cars drive by.

If I hurried to clear our driveway, no one would know what had transpired.  Neither would they know that I already have my eye on this weekend’s forecast for more snow. I’ve always been a really early riser on weekends.

Game on.

Trina Bartlett lives with her husband, Giles Snyder, their teenage son and daughter, two cats and one enormous German Shepherd. When she’s not being a mom, volunteering, writing, biking or walking the giant German Shepherd, Trina works full time as a director at a nonprofit, social service organization.

Becoming a mom has turned me into a slob

Monday, February 16, 2015
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It’s Sunday, and once again my to-do list is sitting on the kitchen counter, items uncrossed; a glaring reminder of another weekend of potential productivity lost. I could blame the state of my house on my current cold, but even if I’d felt 100 percent, I still would not have completed my chores.

I’ve never liked to clean, but I like everything to be clean. Since becoming an adult, I’ve been one of those “make the bed every morning or else my day won’t start right” kind of people. My husband knows the key to my heart is to help keep the house clean. When I decide something needs done, it needs done right away, leading to many a late night vacuuming or bathroom cleaning sessions. In my house, everything had a place, a place that is not on a countertop or on the floor.

Then, I became a mom.

I call these my "cleaning cheats"

I call these my “cleaning cheats”

Right now, as I look around my living room, I see a vacuum cleaner sitting out and plugged in (but yet to be used), a dirty tissue on our ottoman, a car seat in the middle of the floor, and baby blankets and play things flung haphazardly on our rug with a dog toy here or there. I don’t dare get down to discover the amount of dog and cat hair permeating our rug. Hairballs blow like tumbleweeds on our hardwood floor.

If I turn my head and look into our dining area, I see a bottle of syrup on the table, left over from morning waffles, placemats that need ironed, leftover napkins, Valentine’s Day cards and wilting flowers, a diaper bag, and more dog toys. I don’t even want to look in our kitchen and don’t even think about asking me about the upstairs. I’m happy if I can manage to create a path to walk in our bedroom.

I also see a baby, smiling up at me from her play gym, wanting attention. She’s flailing her arms around, trying to crawl, but she’s not quite strong enough…yet.

Sure, I could maybe squeeze in some time during the week to clean and pick up, after AJ goes to bed. But I’m normally bone tired, and sitting down for a few minutes before I fall asleep to read a book or watch Downton Abbey is how I keep my sanity. So I put off house chores until the weekend, but when the weekend comes I’d rather spend it playing with my baby, or spending time with my husband, family or friends.

On the days I do go on a cleaning rampage, when I’m finished the peace that comes with a clean house falls over me. But then I feel a certain melancholy, knowing I’ve missed several precious hours with my baby, who is changing by the minute.

My pre-baby self would surely look upon my home’s current state in shock and disgust. But I’m not my pre-baby self anymore. I keep telling myself that one day, one day our house will be spotless (maybe when AJ moves out?). But for now, I’ll take the mess – every spill, every stain is a little reminder of all the wonderful life happening in our home.

Mommy Fails

Friday, December 5, 2014
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Dear AJ,

Despite what you may think, your mom is not perfect. She is still getting used to this whole motherhood thing. We’ve had some minor bumps in the road, but thankfully they have all been something we can laugh about. I thought you (and my fellow moms and other readers) may enjoy learning about some of my many “mommy fails” from these first few months. Enjoy:

Some days, you go through so many outfits that you end up just hanging out in your diaper. Don’t worry, it’s warm in our house.

Going through an entire bottle of laundry detergent before realizing it was actually fabric softener. At least it was the sensitive skin kind?

Clipping your skin instead of your nail the first time I tried to clip those itty bitty baby fingernails. You didn’t seem to notice. But when I did it again a few weeks later…screams ensued. Maybe we should leave that task to your dad from now on.

Every single voice mail I leave the pediatrician’s office. I’ve made several middle-of-the-night calls that include something along the lines of, “I think…but maybe not…but I read this online…well I just wanted to make sure…I’m sorry I can’t remember…again my name is…” I’m sure they love me. (Side note – The return calls have always been, “She’s fine.”)

Accidentally giving you your acid reflux medicine with day-old leftover milk that I had failed to put in the sink instead of the milk that I got out of the fridge to use. I was a walking zombie at the time and only discovered my mistake after you were finished with the bottle. You weren’t phased.

Always, always forgetting to bring some sort of baby item and then always needing said baby item. Most common items include burp clothes, extra clothes and the entire diaper bag.

Finding out you had not been added to our insurance because I failed to click the final “confirm and submit” button on the online form, which led to many phone calls to make sure you were added and covered and many tears on my part. Apparently extreme sleep deprivation leads to a sharp decline in reading comprehension and computer skills. In the end, everything was resolved and I owe a big thanks to the people who helped me.

Dropping the humidifier into your crib AS YOU ARE SLEEPING in said crib. Luckily I didn’t drop it ON you. Water went everywhere. You were napping and startled awake when the humidifier hit the mattress, but went right back to sleep and didn’t move an inch while the water soaked your entire backside before I could pick you up. Turns out the first time that plastic baby mattress came in handy was because of mommy, not AJ.

And last but not least, you have no clean pajamas or towels at the moment.

As you can see AJ, I’m navigating this new life just like you are. But despite my mishaps, I think we make a pretty good team. And most importantly, please know I am trying my very hardest to be the best mommy to you that I can be!

Love,

Mommy

An honest answer to a common question: How are you feeling?

Friday, July 25, 2014
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“How are you feeling?”

It’s the question I’ve been asked by at least one person every day since I announced my pregnancy. A simple question that shows the asker’s concern and that they care. Although it’s a logical question to ask a pregnant woman, it perplexes me every time it is directed my way.

I think there’s a few reasons why this simple, seemingly straightforward question always makes me pause before I respond.

My first thought is always, “Do you really want to know the answer?” I could talk for hours about how I’m “feeling” if someone really wants to know. So I try to gauge – does this person really want to know how I’m feeling or are they just trying to be nice? Are they really interested in my pregnancy or just making conversation? The answers to these questions can significantly affect how I answer their question, or more likely how scared the person is after I give them a 10-minute answer involving phrases like “dropped” when all they really wanted was a quick, “I feel fine!”

Next, I move to, “How am I actually feeling?” A pregnant woman feels a thousand things at once. Her mental feelings often do not match her physical feelings either. Unbeknown to the asker, their question can set off a string of thoughts that can totally change my mood. I don’t like to say “bad” or “good,” because most of the time it’s a little of both.

So for those that really want to know, this is how I’m feeling:

My hands are so swollen that my skin is burning; my head hurts; my mind is scattered and I can’t focus on one thought; I need a nap after walking from the basement to the upstairs; I kind of feel like crying but have no idea why; I could use something sweet; I have to pee; I feel like there is a ball of fire in my esophagus; the inside of my stomach is sore from a small person kicking me; I’m so excited I don’t know how to contain myself; my legs are sore for no apparent reason; and I’m not quite sure how I’m going to make it several more weeks.

As you can see, asking me this question could get you way more information than you bargained for. I guess a shortened answer would be, “I feel like I’m growing a baby.”

Asker beware: If you ask a pregnant woman how she’s feeling, make sure you’re ready to hear the honest answer!

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.

 

Dreaming of a Double Shot Espresso (and other Pre-Pregnancy Luxuries)

Friday, July 4, 2014
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I probably shouldn’t be thinking about this yet, considering I still have a month and a half (or more) to go; but I’m sitting here with my swollen feet and face, in one of the few items of maternity clothing that fits me anymore, and I’m daydreaming about all the things I miss from my pre-pregnancy days.

In the beginning, it was almost fun to have to give up things. Since I didn’t have morning sickness and wasn’t showing yet, it made the pregnancy seem more real. I felt special saying, “I can’t eat deli meat” or “What ‘mocktails’ can you make?” I was happy the first time my clothes didn’t fit me, because it meant I was finally getting a bump and my baby was growing.

Those feelings have passed, and I am definitely looking forward to enjoying certain things a pregnant woman cannot. Here’s what I’m looking forward to doing and enjoying post-pregnancy:

Normal body positions and movement

It really is amazing how limited you become in movement and the ways you can position yourself when pregnant. I never knew how much I liked to lie on my stomach until I couldn’t anymore. And there’s something wonderful about being able to flop onto a couch or a bed – now it’s a careful maneuver with several groans as I try to find a comfortable position. Although I can technically still tie my shoes, it’s not a pretty sight. It will be nice to be able to lie on my stomach and tie my shoes with ease again.

Being able to run and exercise

Every doctor, baby book and website will tell you it’s important to stay fit through your pregnancy. But “fit” takes on a new definition when there is a baby pushing on your lungs. I had to stop running pretty early on in my pregnancy because it became too painful and uncomfortable. So I moved to spinning, which also quickly became painful. Then I stuck to Pilates, walking and weights. My body cannot do the Pilates positions anymore, the heat makes it almost unbearable to take a long walk, and even light lifting makes me lose my breath. I’m still trying to get in as much activity as I can, but I’m looking forward to getting back to my pre-pregnancy workout routine (happily knowing that I will now be pushing a jogging stroller on my runs).

Sushi, runny eggs, deli sandwiches

I think I might have my husband bring me sushi to the hospital. And eggs over easy. And a turkey sandwich. The food restrictions haven’t bothered me that much, but these three items are some of my favorite things to eat, and making lunch will be so much easier when I can eat deli meat again.

Alcoholic beverages

I miss them. I do. I know once the baby comes I won’t be downing margaritas every Friday night, and I don’t want to do that. But I do want to come home from a long day at work and enjoy a glass of red wine with dinner, or drink a beer while watching a football game.

My old clothes

It’s a little weird, but I miss throwing on my favorite t-shirt or sundress. I guess I just feel comfortable and confident in some of my favorite outfits, while I’m still not used to the awkward shape of maternity clothes. I actually had to put my pre-pregnancy clothes in another closet because it started to make me sad every time I looked at them. Not to mention I am so sick of stripes (everything maternity is striped it seems). I’m hoping once I can wear my normal clothes again they will feel brand new because I haven’t been able to wear them in so long…

Regular coffee

The general consensus is that it’s okay for pregnant women to have limited amounts of caffeine, and one cup of coffee a day is said to be fine. I made a personal decision to not drink caffeinated coffee while pregnant, so I’ve stuck to decaf in the hopes that I can trick my mind into thinking it’s regular. It doesn’t work. I’m convinced decaf coffee tastes different (and not as good) as regular coffee. August might be sweltering hot, but once I deliver I’ll be ordering a large vanilla latte.

I am loving the journey of pregnancy, the ups and the downs, but I’m looking forward to getting back some simple pleasures like sushi nights and long runs.

Womb with a view

Monday, June 30, 2014
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nibbles

A step up from bunnies.

I am blessed beyond words to have two daughters who don’t ask for anything. I mean nothing. They don’t ask for clothes, shoes, toys, gadgets…anything.  I have to beg them to go shopping with me, and I have to beg them to tell me what they like when we’re in stores.  I know, this too shall pass.

A typical conversation with our tweenager goes a little something like this:

“Ava, you need some new jeans.  Yours are too short.”

“Okay.”

“What kind do you like?”

“I don’t care.”

“You have to care. Gap? Target?”

“Doesn’t matter.”

Oh, but it will.

Our eight-year-old is as easy going, if not more.

“Maryn, your shoes are filthy.  You need a new pair.”

“Hmmm….they’re fine. They still fit.”

“Yes, but they’re awful.”

“It’s okay.”

And I suppose it is okay, but I can’t have my children wearing high waters and tennies the color of red mulch.

Then, there’s the issue of their bedroom, which they still share.  We live in a traditional Cape Cod home with closets built into the eaves. This means we have storage fit for a toddler.  You have to stoop down to enter the “walk-in closets”, and there’s no place to hang anything unless dresses and pants are to dust the floor.  Items have to be folded if they’re to remain clean (but not wrinkle-free).

Before long, the tweenager will demand a better closet and better clothes to put in it.

She’ll also notice that pink and blue polka dots are too young for middle schoolers, despite the rising third grader who occupies that space with her. Pastels and shapes are still acceptable.  The pictures of Peter Rabbit are still charming.  Or, they’ve been on the walls so long they’ve become ignored.

Yes. Beatrix Potter.

I know…I know…it’s time to free the rabbits Watership Down-style. It’s time to upgrade the bedroom into a big girl’s haven (that a little sister can tolerate).  A recent conversation went a little something like this:

“Girls, your dad and I want to give your room a facelift.  Redecorate. Turn the playroom into a real closet.  What do you think?”

They looked up from YouTube (Crafty Friday) long enough to force smiles.

“Okay…” they said in unison.

“What look do you want? Purples? Pinks? Flowers?”

“Sure,” Ava said.

“All of it or none of it?” I asked.

“That’s fine,” Maryn shrugged.

I felt anger building up.  “NO! You have to take an interest. Something has to appeal to you two. This is your space. You own it.  NOW WHAT KIND OF BEDROOM DO YOU WANT?!”

Maryn sat frozen-faced.  Ava began to bob her extra-long foot against the couch, a sign that she was thinking.  Plotting.  After a minute, she spoke.

“Lilly Pulitzer.”

Whaaaaaaat?

“Lilly. I love it.”

I looked at Maryn, who was still too afraid to move or speak.

“Do you know how much that stuff costs?!”

Ava smiled.  Of course she did.

Fine. I accept the challenge. Lilly it is.

I went online and typed in the name of the famous fashion designer from Palm Springs, Florida. The Queen of Prep died in 2012, but her style lives on through Garnet Hill catalogs and in coastal community boutiques and outdoor malls in Southern cities.  The cost of one twin comforter? $238.

Nervously, I searched Ebay.  The prices were higher.  And I needed TWO of everything.

I decided there had to be a better way of creating a space with bright colors and whimsical designs (of rabbits, I bet) without losing the whole house. I turned to Etsy, my new obsession, for help.  I found it. Lord love, I found it!

It turns out that you can do just about anything with a bolt of fabric.  Pillows, curtains, lamp shades and artwork can be made out of a few yards of the loudest designs you can imagine. Instead of buying actual Lilly pictures (worth thousands), I could frame a 12×12 square of fabric for wallhangings.  Instead of a $75 neckroll pillow sold in stores, I could have one made for $25.  Rather than going broke on two comforters, I could buy two solid white bed-in-a-bag sets and add a splash of Pulitzer by covering the headboard in a clashing (I mean, contrasting) print for $30 each.

AND — for that added touch — a sassy girl from the University of South Carolina could cut out the shape of West Virginia in a Lilly print and frame it for me…for a bargain price of $6.

Gotta pay those Delta Zeta dues, I guess.

I’m still in the process of transforming the girls’ room from Peter Rabbit to Lilly Pulitzer, but the process has been a lot of fun — for me, that is.  Ava and Maryn have enjoyed watching me squeal when a package arrives, a box containing a print of jellyfish, sea turtles and gigantic peonies the color of pink elephants.  But once the room is finished, I have to be prepared never to see the girls again.  If it turns out to be as festive as Pinterest entices and Etsy delivers, they’ll come out only for food and water.

And that’ll have to be “okay.”

 

 

Ugly Betty

Monday, June 9, 2014
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glamour-guide-for-teensOn the day my mother gave birth to her one and only child, she weighed 118 pounds.  On the day I gave birth to my first of two daughters, I weighed 181.

My mother also held me in her arms as she rode in the front seat of a sedan from Charleston Memorial Hospital to our Kanawha City home. A seat belt would’ve wrinkled her pre-pregnancy clothes, and she needed the freedom to move her arm to and from the ashtray so she could enjoy a familiar cigarette.

Somehow, I grew up without too many illnesses and injuries as a result of roiling around in the backseat of a station wagon and inhaling second hand Viceroys.  But my mother’s 1950s influence crept back into my life when I became a teenager, from the size of my waist to the condition of my skin.  There was no excuse for letting myself go.  A “foundation” was to cover the face and a “foundation” was to flatten the midriff. Imperfections required immediate attention.

There were many of them.  I didn’t inherit my mother’s (or my aunt’s) size 4 “figure”, and I didn’t inherit their alabaster skin.  Luckily, most of the girls in my junior high were “built” like I was, so I didn’t notice the mess I was becoming due to erratic hormones.  But those chemicals didn’t exist back in the day.  No, ma’am.  If you were fat and your skin was dry (or oily), it was because you ate the wrong foods and you had poor hygiene habits.  Yes, ma’am.  It was ALL YOUR FAULT.

Why am I reverting to such a painful time? Because those days are making a comeback. You can thank a woman named Betty Cornell for this return to old-fashioned adolescence. Or, you can hate her.  But an ugly attitude won’t make you the most popular girl in your set, she says.

In Cornell’s updated Teen-Age Popularity Guide, the former model shares her secrets for knowing what to do and how to act in any situation at any time.  “When you’re on parade all day, you learn pretty fast,” she writes. “You smooth off your rough edges in a hurry.”

Cornell believed in 1953 (and still preaches in 2014) that a teenage girl’s social success is all about poise. You don’t have to be the prettiest girl in school, but to be the most popular, you do have to be the most polished.

Polished? You may ask. Like your mother’s silver.  Here are a few tips:

Weight: “If you are sensible, you won’t have any figure problems. You’ll watch yourself and catch any bulges or depressions before they have a chance to multiply.”

Skin problems:  “Acne, of course, must be treated by a doctor since it involves more knowledge than any layman has. No teen-ager should take it upon herself to fool around with acne.”

Hair: “Beautiful hair is the most important thing a girl has. It can always overcome the handicap of a not-so-pretty face. Your hair can make or break you.”

Makeup: “Work under a strong light so you can see what you’re doing. That way, you can make sure you powder well up into the hairline and down into the area of the neck and ears.  Don’t leave any high-water marks.”

Modeling tricks: “Above all, do not change your style before your photography appointment — such experiments may turn out too disastrously, and you don’t want to go down in history looking like a freak.”

Good grooming: “I am firmly of the opinion that almost every teen needs a girdle – not a whaleboned ironclad trap, but some sort of lightweight affair to the control the curves.”

Clothes: “You are wiser to buy clothes that fit the biggest part of you (probably your hips) than to fit your smallest part (probably your waist). Never buy clothes that fit like sausage skins with the intention of losing weight.”

What to wear where: “For Heaven’s sake: Have a little pity on others and a lot of pride in yourself. Put on a skirt when you’re shopping.”

Look pretty, be pretty: “Don’t think that you need to turn into a teacher’s pet. Nothing is farther from the truth. Polishing the apple never turned anybody into a better person.”

It’s a date: “Always remember that public display of affection (even to a fiancé) is never, never done.”

Personality: “If you want to be a popular human being, then you have to stop being an oyster and come out of your shell.”

So what do all of these rules and regulations have to do with becoming a popular girl? Cornell writes that it all comes down to a teen’s ability to get along with people, and that requires having her own life well in hand. And if nothing else, when the bread basket is passed, look the other way.

For most middle and high school girls, carbs are the least of their problems. In a day and age of an “I’ll try anything” insecurity,  some teens actually believe model-turned-writer Betty Cornell is their last hope.  At least, that’s how 15-year-old Maya Van Wagenen felt when she tried every one of Cornell’s tips in an attempt to reverse her status at school. Now a published author (and much better known, if not envied by the movers and shakers), Van Wagenen described herself as among “the lowest level of people at school who aren’t paid to be here.”

Citing Cornell’s book as “vintage wisdom”, the teen commented that she wrote the book Popular to change her own life and to save her little sister from a middle school world of hurt.

After all, no one said pin curls were easy.

 

 

The Understudy

Monday, June 2, 2014
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What’s more challenging than playing the snare drum in an honors music recital before a packed audience, having a part in a musical before the entire school, traveling without a parent on a patrol trip, earning a certificate for faithful attendance, making the Principal’s List for straight A’s, receiving an acknowledgement from the President of the United States for academic achievement, getting promoted to the sixth grade, and turning 11 following that elementary school graduation?

Being the eight-year-old sister who has to watch it.

It’s a tough time to be a second grader (correction: rising third grader). It’s a quiet time in childhood when nothing spectacular goes on. With the exception of being toothlessly cute, it’s a boring phase worsened by the fireworks that accompany every move a fifth grader (correction: rising sixth grader) makes.

It really has been All Ava All the Time.  Maryn has been a respectful spectator to the celebrations and coming-of-age occasions that shine a special light on her older sister.  Well, until last night when Maryn hauled off and smacked her.

Mike and I were downstairs engrossed in the final episode of Mad Men when we heard grumblings in the upstairs bedroom.  One voice got higher.  A second voice got louder.  Something crashed.  Someone cried.

We raced each other up the stairs and burst through the doorway of the girls’ bedroom.  The fingerpointing had begun.  Ava held her face.  Maryn held her stomach.

They had traded blows like Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed.

“WHAT HAS GOTTEN INTO YOU TWO?” bellowed Mike.  Not to be outdone, I chimed in with my own hysterics.

“WHO’S HURT?!”

The girls stepped on top of each other’s stories in an attempt to make their injuries sound more fatal.

“I got slapped!” Ava cried.

“I….got….hit….in the….stom….ach!”  Maryn gasped.

Mike and I took our competitors to the corners of the ring.  Maryn climbed onto my bed and rubbed her eyes with the back of her hand.  She sucked air and wailed some more.

After eight rounds of “And Then What Happened”, the fight was declared a draw.  It started over a pillow.  It ended with the loss of electronics.

“You cannot act like this,” I told Maryn as she sniffed away tears crawling down her cheeks.  “If you can’t solve the problem with words, then you come to your dad and me and let us decide.  But you have no right — no right — to physically hurt each other.”

She sat quietly, straining to hear the interrogation across the hall.

“You’re sick of her, aren’t you?” I began.  Maryn looked at me, surprised.  “She’s gotten all the attention for weeks, and you can’t stand it, can you?”

She shook her head no.  “You’re tired of hearing how great she is, how pretty she is, how well she’s done, how far she’ll go….am I right?”

She nodded her head yes.

“You’re mad.  You’re jealous.  Am I right about that, too?”

She nodded her head yes again.

“And your time will come.  I promise you that.  You’re going to have everything she has, and then some, because you’re the baby.  You’re our last child.  All of this will come to an end once you become a fifth grader.  Childhood wraps up with you.”

She wiped her nose again and bobbed her feet against the mattress.

“She’s good at a lot of things, but so are you,” I continued, opening the drawer of the nightside table.  “Sure, she can play the xylophone and she can do The Cup Song, but you…you’re good at art!”

I pulled out a self-portrait that Ava had drawn in the second grade.  “Look at this!” I tapped the picture colored with crayons and edged in smudged #2 pencil.  “This kid doesn’t have a neck!”

A chuckle escaped from Maryn’s throat.

“And here! Look! She drew Ringo,” I said, pulling out a sketch of our silver tabby cat.  “Have you ever seen an animal with eyes that far apart?”

She laughed harder.

So it’s unorthodox to poke fun at one kid to make the other one feel better.  But I had to lighten the moment.  Sure, our rising middler schooler is good at lots of things and she’s been decorated for it, but her life is about to change.  She’s not going to be such a big fish in a small pond.  She’s going to be a minnow in an ocean of sharks and killer whales.

“And when you’re in third grade — intermediate…no longer primary school — she’s going to wish for everything that you still have. She’ll no longer have extra playtime outside, Halloween parades, Valentine parties, COSI assemblies, or trips to the Clay Center.  Those days are over.”

Don’t be envious, I preached.  Every daughter has her day. A round of applause for one child may be a standing ovation for another.  And as hard as it is to play the role of little sister, the sidekick is often the one who steals the show.

 

 

 

 

 

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)