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  • Lessons in Parenting from the Zoo

    December 31, 2005

    Photos Temporarily Unavailable

    There’s one in every family. And apparently this is no less true for the animal kingdom.

    Earlier in the week, we took Sean to the zoo. Sean has been able to identify obscure zoo animals, like the “dik dik” since he was a year old — an obvious display of brilliance. He loves the zoo, so we bought memberships and go there often. And most of the time, the people gawking at the bored or sleeping animals are as interesting to watch as the bored or sleeping animals.

    But on this particular day, the mother lion was lounging with her four babies on the edge of the precipice that separates her from her favorite lunch – spectators. The babies were jumping on her back and gnawing at her ears and playing with her tail, which she was tolerating, but one baby cub in particular was really pushing her buttons and getting on her nerves. Anyone relating? At one point she gave the cub (probably a middle-child cub) a big show of her sharp white teeth and a gentle whack with her sizeable paw and he settled down. For about 3 seconds. But it wasn’t long before he tumbled off the edge and down the 30-foot sloped concrete wall into the ditch.

    As though we were on a boat that had suddenly listed, everyone let out a collective gasp and leaned waaay over the guardrail to see the fate of the baby cub. The little guy was unharmed, but frightened and confused and indicated this by looking up pitifully at his mother and siblings and screeching “aaaak!” And then the crowd would refrain, “aaaaaw!” And then the cub would screech “aaaak!” And the crowd would go “aaaaw!” This went on for several rounds like a Ray Charles song.

    The general consensus among the humans was that something was wrong with that mother lion. We all expected that when her baby fell off the edge of the world that she would leap to his rescue, because that’s what we would do, because we are smart humans with the many parenting resources of Dr. Phil at our disposal. But she just rolled her eyes and yawned and let the cub sit in the ditch and “aaack!” for a while. Meanwhile the other cubs were running back and forth along the edge, wringing their paws and freaking out, all worried and concerned about their sibling, sometimes even considering making the leap too but then thinking better of it.

    Finally, after a few minutes, the mother lion got up and sauntered down into the ditch and just sat while the baby cub continued to spaz out and “aaak” and run back and forth. The baby cub made 10 or 15 heroic attempts at climbing up the concrete slope but never made it far before sliding down to the bottom in a demoralized heap, but at least with a fresh manicure. And with each effort, the crowd would cheer “Go! Go! Go!” and the mother would look up at us with an expression that clearly said “idiots.”

    Mama Lion made no effort whatsoever to solve the cub’s problem. She kept one eye on the three cubs up top, occasionally giving them a snarl and a look that said, “Don’t make me come up there” and one eye on the prodigal cub. After about 30 minutes the baby cub found the steps by accident and in tiny shaky steps made his way back up to the top able to own his victory. After the cub was safely back with his siblings, the mother lion bounded up the steps in two easy leaps in a display of mighty muscle and majesty.

    And it was about that time that I was really appreciating the concrete divide that separated her from me and my cub. And it was also then that I appreciated the unexpected lesson in parenting.

    Top Photo: Mama Lion needs coffee
    Middle Photo: Problem child needs correction
    Bottom Photo: Where’d Bubba go?

    Lint as a metaphor for my life…

    December 28, 2005

    There is a piece of lint on the rug by the front door. It is taunting me. It has been there for, well, let’s just say several days. I pass by this piece of lint, oh, about 20 times a day. And every time I pass, I look down and see it, just sitting there. But not just sitting there quietly and unobtrusively like all the other unexplained bits of life on the floor. This piece of lint is white and screams “Look! At! Me! Pick me up! I won’t be ignored!”

    You would think that I would just bend over and pick it up and throw it out the front door, or put it in my pocket or even eat it, just to relieve myself of the mental torture of being taunted by lint. But no, I don’t, because I can’t. That obnoxious piece of lint represents all the little details in my life and household that remain bothersome and undone. If I give attention to that piece of lint then all the other lint in my life will start causing trouble and wanting attention too, so best to just leave it alone.

    Boxing Day – An Underappreciated Holiday

    December 26, 2005

    Today, December 26th is Boxing Day. It is not a holiday that we celebrate here in the US, but one that I think we should, because after Christmas we need to squeeze in another Hallmark holiday before Valentine’s Day, don’t you think?

    For those of you who are unfamiliar with Boxing Day, it is a holiday that originated in the Middle Ages in England. The very day after Christmas, the uppercrusties would box up all the things they got for Christmas that they didn’t want and offload it to unsuspecting people they didn’t like very much, people they called “the poor.” Or I could just be making that up, I’m not sure. Anyway, we have our own variation on that tradition here in the US, but we call it a White Elephant party.

    So in an effort to get an official Boxing Day going here in the US, I’ll be boxing up some exquisite previously gifted items and passing them along to those who are far more deserving.

    To the neighbor who chased my dog out of her yard with a broom, I’m giving the fruitcake that has been passed down in our family through the generations. Yes, I know that it has been three years since the broom incident. Dis me and I’ll forgive and forget, but don’t dis my kid and certainly don’t dis my dog. Never has fruitcake been a more appropriate gift.

    To the clerk at Sam’s who called me Grandma two years ago I’m giving the all-time favorite Christmas novelty item – the wacky little reindeer that bops his little reindeer head while singing “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” with a charming southern accent. May this little ditty play in your head in perpetuity.

    To the hairdresser who talked me into a perm in 1981, I am giving the perennial holiday favorite, the Chia head. Nothing says “thanks a lot” like a Chia head.

    As you can see from my list, it’s never to late to give a gift or resurrect an insult.

    To the house guest who wears so much cologne that your aura remains several days after you’ve left, I am giving you an economy-size bottle of Windsong perfume, which just like the ads say, it stays on your mind – and in your drapes, upholstery, carpet and everything else. Forever.

    My box of bad gifts is a deep one, so don’t cross me unless you want to open your door the day after Christmas to find an I Love Lucy clock that cries “Waaah!” at the top of the hour. Or toe socks or a Precious Moments figurine — selected especially for you!

    Happy Boxing Day!

    Hot Dog!

    December 25, 2005

    Photo Temporarily Unavailable

     “Hot Dog!” — The most honest expression of Christmas joy heard all season exclaimed by Sean upon opening a box containing Crayola Color Wonder markers, paints, paper and coloring book from Aunt Jane, Uncle Jim and Cousins Scott and Cody (or Cot and Sody as Sean says).

    “Way cool!” — The second most honest expression of Christmas joy heard all season exclaimed by me when I read the words “Mess Free” on the packaging. Thanks Jane!

    Photo: Sean is hoping that Mommy got some Crayola Color Wonder stuff too!

    Happy Birthday Memaw!

    December 24, 2005

    Dear Cleo –

    Today we celebrate not only Christmas Eve, but the 79th birthday of you and your handsome twin brother Leo! The miracle of every life is worth celebrating whether it be a life of two years or 79 years.

    I just wanted to say Merry Christmas, Happy Birthday and thank you. Like a lost puppy, you and George took me into your family the instant your son brought me home nine years ago. Never have I felt more welcomed and wanted anywhere. I realize now the reason you were so happy to see me is that you had hopes that finally someone had come along who could de-crust the crusty old bachelor that your youngest son had become. I know your life long dream has been that he would marry and have children and remove his motorcycle from your garage. Well, what do you think? Since the little boy has come along, we are all a lot less crusty and a lot more soggy wouldn’t you say? I don’t know what to tell you about the motorcycle. There’s just so much I can do.

    You have so many characteristics that I hope Sean inherits. You love to laugh and can laugh at yourself. You can sell anything to anyone. You have weathered the worst of what life has to offer and come out the other side with your faith and humor intact. You are generous with your friendship. You cry when others are hurting. I know this because you’ve cried with me and over me a number of times in the past nine years. You have a forgiving spirit — which I also know because you didn’t even get mad at me that time I yelled at you in right in the middle of Wal-Mart. I don’t know if these qualities were borne out of the hardship of growing up during The Depression on the North Texas prairie with six brothers and sisters or if that’s just how God made you. I just hope some of it is sifted down into the character of Sean.

    So Happy Birthday Cleo! My birthday wish for you is that the coming year will bring you many occasions to laugh and count your blessings. And my prayer for you is that there will be a lot more birthdays, a lot more milestones to celebrate and a lot more Memaw-time for Sean — and for all of us.

    Your Antique Daughter-in-Law

    Santa – What Not To Wear

    December 21, 2005

    Photo Temporarily Unavailable

    This past week, we took Sean to North Park Mall to have his picture taken with the North Park Santa, who is known far and wide in these parts as the best Santa around. And of course nothing but the best for my kid will do, so I took him to be traumatized by the best Santa in town.

    From what I could observe in the 30 hours I was in line — and I’m a quick study — is that tiny children do not want to sit in the lap of a strange man under glaring bright lights while a line of yet more strange people gawk at the spectacle of it all and somewhere off in the dark, a doofus with a camera in one hand and a jingle bell in the other is screeching “Smile!” This makes little children cry. And it made me cry too when I had to fork over $10 for a picture of my child whose face was unrecognizably screwed up in angst and terror. But then I will go to great lengths to capture the magic of Christmas.

    Not to be deterred from my quest for Christmas magic, I arranged for Dick, Sean’s beloved Godfather, to come by the house in a Santa suit thinking that a familiar voice and face in familiar surroundings might make it more of a magical experience. I could then snap a photo of my darling little boy all lit up with joy on Santa’s lap, capture the stupid magic and be done with it. The only magical thing that happened on Santa’s lap was that Sean did not spontaneously combust and catch the tree and drapes on fire, although not for lack of trying. Even after Dick took off the hat and beard, Sean could not be consoled. Only when Dick had completely changed into non-Santa clothing, was Sean happy again.

    Photo Temporarily Unavailable

    So I’ve decided it’s not Santa that is so traumatizing for Sean, it’s the fashion accident that is Santa. And that probably makes Mrs. Claus cry too.

    Photos: Apparently clothes do make the man. Same guy, same night, different clothes.

    Will the real Mom please stand up?

    December 19, 2005

    Way back in the last century, when TV only came in black and white, there was a game show called To Tell The Truth. This show featured a panel of obscure celebrities trying to guess the identity of an even more obscure celebrity from amongst two others claiming also to be said obscure celebrity — in a friendly identity theft sort of way. At the end of each episode, the announcer would say, “Would the real [obscure celebrity name here] please stand up?” The suspense was palpable to see who would stand as all three contestants jostled in their seats.

    Anyway, Kitty Carlisle was one of the regular panelists on the show and I remember thinking she embodied all things elegant. As a 7-year-old girl, I wanted my name to be Kitty Carlisle, except for when I was wanting my name to be Laura Petrie, but never did I want my name to be “Mom”– until I did and then I couldn’t. But then later, much later, my name was changed to Mom. And right around that same time, I noticed that everyone else seemed to be named Mom too. And boy is that confusing in places like Wal-Mart where there are a lot of pint-sized humanoids running amok screaming “Hey Mom!” And now even Antique Daddy refers to me as “Mama” at times. And that gets very weird at family gatherings when he calls into the kitchen from the den, “Hey Mama?” and my mother-in-law and I both answer “Yes?” in unison. Everyone in the house holds their breath in suspense to see who will stand as we both jostle in our seats.

    I’ve read that even before a baby is born, he can distinguish the sound of his mother’s voice from any other. You would think that would work in reverse, but no, it doesn’t. To me every toddler screaming “Mommy!” sounds like Sean and sends my momtenna up like a rocket and my head spinning like Linda Blair thus relieving me of what precious little adrenaline I have on a given day. So as a way to ration my adrenaline reserves and to eliminate confusion, I’m thinking of having Sean call me Kitty Carlisle instead.

    Have a Kleenex June

    December 16, 2005

    Some reasons I make June Cleaver cry:

    – Sean and I eat banana popsicles for dessert. After breakfast.
    – Sometimes we leave Sunday school early to go to the playground.
    – We wear socks outside. In December.
    – I consider ice cream a calcium supplement.
    – Bribery is central to my parenting philosophy.
    – Eating vegetables is a lifestyle choice.
    – My floor is not clean enough to eat off of.
    – I sometimes end a sentence with a preposition.
    – Instead of the 5-second rule, we have the 5-minute rule.
    – I told Sean that Santa is just a character, like Mickey Mouse.
    – Yogurt is a finger food.
    – I say No. A lot.

    And the list grows longer by the day…

    Our Best Hope for Survivor

    I’ve been a fan of the show Survivor since the beginning. Every season Antique Daddy and I watch each episode and play armchair quarterback criticizing the players strategies citing everything we would do differently and how we would win the million dollars.

    The truth be told, we would be the first two voted off. He would be voted off the first week after creating ingenious systems and schedules and insisting that everyone adhere to them. Some people, and I won’t say who exactly, find this annoying. They don’t like to be told what to do even if it is better. Thankfully there are people who will pay him money for that kind of thing. I would get kicked off the second week for decorating the camp and picking up after everyone – which also can be annoying to some people.

    So I’ve decided that Sean is the least annoying member of our tribe and the most likely Survivor candidate in our family who could win the million dollars. And his tax bracket is way better too.

    Top 10 Reasons Why Sean Could Win Survivor

    1 – He’s not that fond of food. Not eating for 39 days is not even a challenge.
    2 – Not bathing for 39 days is even better.
    3 – Eating bugs? Been there done that.
    4 – Not ashamed to be naked in front of strangers.
    5 – Likes to pee outside.
    6 – Can lie with a straight face.
    7 – Never gets tired.
    8 – Knows how to work a crowd.
    9 – Everyone likes him.
    10 – Can outwit, outlast and outsmart two adults without breaking a sweat.

    Antique Scrooge

    December 15, 2005

    I have bought two books for my son for Christmas and that may be all he gets. I know what you’re thinking: First she leaves his monkey in Florida and now she’s going to Scrooge him on Christmas?! Yes I did and yes I am.

    I am officially opting out of the rampant materialism that is our zip code. It already looks like the Fisher Price factory exploded in our den and ten more large plastic things will not a merry Christmas make. After you factor in the grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends, the fact that Sean is getting only two books from his parents is equivalent to trying to lighten a jet by withholding the pretzels. It won’t make that much difference.

    I really was going to try to give my child the kind of Christmas that you see in the store ads where a beautiful family, all with perfect teeth and good hair, sit by a blazing fire in plaid pajamas surrounded by a mountain of gifts that look as though Martha Stewart personally wrapped each one. I was. I was going to do all that, but then I had a child and I quickly realized what a stupid idea that was! That was going to take waaay too much energy and I am just too tired for that much pretense! And there is no better time to ration energy and cut out pretense than at Christmas time. Actually the best time to do that is when you bring the baby home from the hospital.

    Having said that, I’m like all the other parents out there who want to overcompensate for the inadequacies of their own childhoods by providing their kids with all the things they didn’t have growing up. Having Sean as late in life as I did means that money is no obstacle to buying him every toy on the market and honestly, it’s hard not to give in to that temptation. That would certainly salve my inner poor child, but it wouldn’t be good for him or my den. So I’m not going to do it.

    That’s my excuse for getting out of Christmas shopping and I’m stickin’ to it.