Category: Family life

“Are you in lockdown?”

An incident at school Wednesday, followed by a flurry of confusing text messages from my son, had me texting him this question:

“Are you in lockdown?”

IMG_2859I didn’t ask this frivolously. It was the only way I could think of to interpret the incoming messages. The only way I could figure out whether the incident he was describing occurred off school grounds or was happening in real time. And to determine whether he was in danger.

The magnitude of that exchange did not hit me until the next morning. This is where we are, folks. A place and time where I can text my child this question as a matter of course.

This is where we are.

Never in my life did I believe I would accept something so scary, so chilling, as a commonplace question. A practical means to an end.

Our kids are under siege. What the hell are we going to do about it?

As parents we suffer so many anxieties, worries, frustrations and fears. But that our kids will be shot in a school, mall or church? At a concert or movie? Seriously? That is not sane.

This isn’t a war-torn country. IMG_2858We don’t live in Somalia or Syria or Afghanistan. This is the United States of America. A country I still believe to be the greatest in the world. But a great country protects its future and we are not doing that. Why have we come so far and fought so hard if we’re willing to sacrifice our children to outdated and dangerous ideals?

I don’t have all the answer and I don’t believe this problem can be completely solved with stricter gun laws. But your gun vs. my kid? I don’t even have to draw a breath to respond to that one.

This is the real world where many of us live and I want you to see it and hear it. To think about the kid, my kid, who got THAT text and had to answer THAT question. To his mom. In the middle of his school day. And I want you to realize it could easily be yours tomorrow or next week or next month.

Lockdown isn’t normal. Active shooter drills aren’t normal. None of this is normal.

Please, oh God, please – don’t let this be the new normal.


The promise of an empty room

empty room

For reasons too long to go into here, my living room is completely empty. To some people that might seem incredibly stark and sad. I’ve seen the faces of the few who’ve happened by, the startled looks as they say, before they can stop themselves, “Oh—you have no furniture in here.”

But I don’t find it sad. When I enter this empty room, I feel a sense of release. And possibility.

This room hasn’t been much used. Why? It’s the central part of the house, a space where I always envision my family gathered on rainy afternoons and winter evenings. Where I want to bring friends together to laugh and celebrate.

I believe the room was not hospitable. It didn’t welcome anyone. Or at least it hasn’t for a very long time.

Well, that’s going to change. But in order to fill your space with only things you love, you have to start with an empty room.

I’ve brought in a little color. There will be more. And then there will be some texture. I want textures that you can’t help but pass your hand across. And light. For years, I’ve been sitting in a dark room when I want lots and lots of light. I want to illuminate the corners. I want to soak it up. So I will.

I want warmth. I want my room to take the chill off its inhabitants. And I believe I can make that happen.

That’s the promise of an empty room. You can see it as a vacancy or you can see it as the biggest opportunity of your life.

Envision it full.

J is for Just in Time

Screenshot 2015-03-31 21.10.53

I have to credit the blogger at Momsanity for this one – I had “just” about run out of ideas for blogging on J when she suggested Just, as in Just a Mom…but I’m amending it to Just in Time – which is what I am since it is 11:00 p.m. and I’m barely going to stay on schedule for Blogging A to Z.

It has made me realize just how often I am Just in Time – for the dentist, for the start of the movie, for the carpool pick-up. I’m not early. I’m not late. I’m Just in Time.

I imagine some might call me disorganized. I say no. No one told the Japanese automakers they were disorganized when they followed JIT inventory principles. They were called EFFICIENT. They were called COST EFFECTIVE. We were told they produced QUALITY output.

So why should I show up even a minute early? In that minute, I can throw in another load of laundry.

On Monday…K is for Kale

 Read the series at A is for About

I is for Instructions

Screenshot 2015-03-31 21.10.53

Tired of coming home to a place that looks like a flophouse, I’m instituting a new system. I’ve swapped my insistent (but somewhat good-natured) nagging for a series of notes taped up around the house. Here is an example:

Put your coat on a hanger, and hang it up in the closet.

Note the specificity – if I just say “put your coat in the closet” there is a reasonable chance it will end up on the floor. Here is another example:

Rinse your dishes and put them in the dishwasher. Make sure the dishwasher is not full of clean dishes first!

A timely reminder, as I pulled a dirty plate and fork out of a clean load of dishes just today. It defeats the purpose of having a clean load of dishes, although it might help the kids avoid this instruction:

Empty the dishwasher before you turn on the XBox.

I know it doesn’t sound like these two things are related, but I assure you they are. Since the XBox seems always to be on when I return home, I know it is taking precedent over any number of tasks I would prefer. At least I have put them in a logical order.

And finally:

When you are finished brushing your teeth:

  1. Pick up a cup and rinse the nasty, disgusting toothpaste out of the sink – all of it
  2. Hang up the towel (yes, you did use it last)
  3. Pick up any clothes belonging to you from the floor and deposit them in the hamper
  4. Turn off the light when you leave.

Suddenly my nagging doesn’t sound so good natured. It’s a good thing they can read.

 Read the series at A is for About

A little Albuterol for my friend, here…

IMG_0094Did you know cats can have asthma? And did you know that you treat a cat with asthma much the same way you treat a human with asthma, inhaler and all?

And while we’re at it, did you know that diagnosing a cat with asthma can cost as much as putting a child in braces?

I knew none of these things. Until Thursday.

Cats have an almost legendary habit of not being ill until they are seriously ill, of lapsing from seemingly perfect health into death throes. To say this is alarming is the understatement of the year. To say that it causes you to drop everything you’re doing, cram the cat into a carrier, and race to the vet without a coat, your purse or your phone would be a little more accurate.

Our cat-astrophe occurred not only as I was leaving for a job interview, but also at a time when our veterinary office was closed for a staff meeting, ultimately resulting in two (2) emergency visits to two (2) veterinary clinics. (Did I mention this all cost more than my first car? Granted, it wasn’t much to look at, but it did get me and my sister around for a good, long time.)

Of course, the dizzying amount of money was worth it to avoid having the little darling die in my arms, to avoid having to tell my children about his sudden, alarming denouement. Of course it was! *weeps silently for a moment*

Now the patient is home, oxygen-infused, in seemingly perfect health, with his prescription for Prednisone and a new hatred of me, sharpened like his tiny, destructive claws, during his overnight stay in the “hospital”. It is clear he is unforgiving. Isn’t that typical? I save his life, and all he remembers is that he had to have a bandage on his leg, and boy, was that annoying.

In time, he will forget this trauma, and so will I. We will once again sit together on the couch on a Sunday morning, content. I will watch him for signs of a cough and treat him as needed. He will pick on the furniture and try to get into the food.

All I can say is it’s a good thing the veterinary clinic had oxygen at hand when they presented me with the bill.

Let me take a selfie

IMG_0480If you take a photo of yourself in the forest, and no one is there to see it, did it really happen?

I am baffled by the selfie. There’s something disturbing about capturing every moment of your life in a still. Especially when some of them make you look…well, unattractive.

My kids take selfies constantly. Most of them are cute and charming. (It helps to be a 90-pound teen with clear skin and only one chin.) But they’ll also willingly post pictures of themselves at their least attractive moments, where everyone they know will see them. And they don’t even care!

Well I, myself, care. I have spent the better part of my adult life trying to destroy unattractive photos of myself. This is no small effort in the days where everyone has a camera and is not afraid to use it.

I come from a long line of unphotogenic women. (I don’t think I’m saying anything my familial readers don’t know, but I apologize anyway for airing our genetic laundry.) We are camera-shy. There are so few pictures of us you’d think we’d descended from an all-male line.

My kids, fortunately, take after their father. He is annoyingly photogenic. You can shoot a picture of him after he’s spent a 90-degree day clearing brush, and he won’t even look shiny. For a while, his Facebook profile showed him shortly after a rugby injury. He looked handsome, healthy, and rugged – even though he’s bleeding from the eye. The nerve.

Selfies require skill I don’t have. Maybe my arms aren’t long enough. My selfies all look like they were taken by an ear, nose, and throat doctor. I’m trapped in a vicious circle – it takes some practice to take a good selfie, but I don’t want to practice. I don’t want to look at pictures of myself. If I were being interrogated, I would tell you anything to make you stop showing me unattractive pictures of myself. And they wouldn’t be very hard to come by.

On a recent vacation, while attempting to take a photo of my daughter on her phone, I took a selfie of my nether-regions. “Nice crotch shot, mama,” she said lovingly when she came across it. Snarky, but at least she didn’t post it anywhere.

Sadly, it was one of my better selfies. I actually considered saving it.

It seems so long ago


Today’s Daily Post photo challenge struck a nerve. The theme, Gone but not Forgotten, took me instantly back to a family vacation just a few months ago in beautiful northern Wisconsin. It feels like years ago.

In many ways, this has been a difficult fall. We’ve experienced love and loss, pursued new ventures and let go of comfortable, old habits. We’ve grown as a family and as individuals, although sometimes that growth has been accompanied by fear, or frustration, or sorrow.

This photo, while it captures a peaceful moment in my life, hurts me a little. I know it doesn’t look like it depicts a summer vacation. It was a strange August week – lots of rain, little sun. But I haven’t seen my family so relaxed and happy in years as they were in this place. When I look at this picture now, I am painfully aware that my kids are not as young as they were even just a few short months ago. They’ve gained some maturity. But they’ve lost some innocence.

Read the my original Up North post.

See other photo challenge posts.

And the winner is…

IMG_0307My children are competitive – really competitive. They come by it honestly. My husband and I have long since reconciled ourselves to the fact that we cannot play board games together. The opportunity for rapidly escalating, unseemly conflict is just too great.

My children feel no need to deescalate the tension. To them, everything is about winning, even if what they are trying to win isn’t worth the effort.

About once a day, I hear myself saying to my charming brood, “(Fill in the blank) is not a competition.” Which is just dead wrong. It’s all a competition. Where you sit in the car. Who gets the last piece of cornbread. Who gets to shower first. They even compete to see whose grades are the highest, although I gotta say, sometimes the bar is pretty low.

An urge to compete can be good. It can propel you to success others only dream of. It can spur you to excellence. Or it can just be darned annoying.

The other day, when I remarked, in response to a conflict, that “You people could make a competition out of tying your shoelaces,” my daughter replied, “And I would win that one for sure.”

And the other night, at the dinner table, my oldest son remarked, “I know this is not a competition to see who can eat the fastest, but if it were, I’d totally be winning it.”

To which my youngest child responded, pointing to his sister’s plate, “She didn’t finish hers, so there is no way I’m not going to ‘place’ tonight.”

That’s right, folks. At our dinner table it’s win, place, or show for the glory. For you slack others, it’s just the last of the dishes.

My kids seem unable to comprehend a world that is not about winning. When I took the photo to accompany this blog post, my oldest son, asked, “What is this for?”

“For a blog post on competition,” I said.

His next question? “What do you get if you win?”

Uh, I’m sorry son, that’s “on competition” not “in competition”. Unclear on the concept, I guess.

Nope, I didn’t finish

Shield-Nano-Blue-Brown-RGB-HiResI wrote only 11,000 of my targeted 50,000 words. I didn’t even blog that much. Here’s what I did instead…

  • Voted, even though it was an off-year election.
  • Took four teenagers to the funeral of one of their classmates to offer my love, support, and guidance. It was one of the saddest days of my life.
  • Wrote a post on teen suicide that went viral. It was surprising, and it was humbling because it introduced me to the powerful stories of some who are much closer to this issue than I.
  • Drove the carpool a dozen times.
  • Shoveled the first snow of the season. And the second snow of the season.
  • Cheered my daughter at her first dance team meet, and watched an honorary daughter, who I’ve known since she was a brand new baby, in a high school play.
  • Learned how to sequin a dance costume, a task at which I am marginally skilled. (I paid someone to do the second one.)
  • Watched a doe and her fawn on their daily trek through the yard.
  • Counseled my son on the proper use of social media. And then “counseled” him again two weeks later.
  • Discovered where the mice are entering the basement.
  • Cooked a Thanksgiving feast for just my family of five and let the kids eat in their pajamas which, as it turns out, is their favorite Thanksgiving “tradition”.
  • Retired a favorite pair of yoga pants.
  • Took my oldest and my youngest to a performance of the opera. An appreciation for opera happens to be one of the few things they have in common.
  • Helped my daughter address a knotty scheduling problem, and then let her cry it out  for 15 minutes afterwards, sitting in the car in an unheated garage.
  • Repainted the hearth. It has needed a new coat of paint for twenty years.

So no, I did not write 50,000 words. Are these excuses? Not really – just a partial accounting of my time so I can see where I go from here. Perhaps I’m not an author, but I’d like to think I’m slightly closer to a life well-lived.

And congrats to those who did hit the target, in particular to Cristina at Filling My Prayer Closet and Jennifer at The Deliberate Mom. As we opera goers say, “Brava”!

#1: Why I hate Halloween

holiday matrixIt’s not hard to figure out why this particular Sad and Desperate search term hit my site since I wrote a post titled Why I hate Halloween. That post, however, dealt with the specific and heinous practice of employees wearing costumes to work, a “tradition” I abhor. Dear reader, there are plenty of other reasons to dislike Halloween!

It destroys perfectly good linens. I don’t know about you, but I prefer not to lay my head on a pillowcase that has been dragged through every lawn in our neighborhood.

It’s heck on those costly braces. Chewy candy is bad. Bad, bad, bad. But how can one resist a whole pillowcase full of it?

It kicks off the holiday eating season, that depressing time of year when you watch the numbers on the scale go up while your energy and enthusiasm go down. (Although in my family, the holiday eating season kicks off even earlier with the celebration of Canadian Thanksgiving, not because we are Canadian, but to accommodate other family commitments, iffy November weather, and one family’s annual November 1 departure to Florida.)

The acceptable age to “trick-or-treat” seems to be going up, and the older the trick-or-treater, the less effort goes into the costume. I expect any year now to be opening the door to a bunch of college students dressed as, well, college students.

Over the years, I have found only one thing to like about Halloween – the neighbor one block over who hands out beer to the adults in the party. Thank you, dear friend.


A disclaimer: While it perhaps shouldn’t need saying, let me remind you that I have no credentials, training or certifications of any kind that would qualify me to mete out advice to anyone. This is a humor blog. If you don’t find it funny, well, that’s another issue.