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  • Ode to Granny McKee

    January 31, 2006

    Dear Granny McKee,

    You had long passed away by the time I married into your family, but I feel like I know you from the stories your children and grandchildren like to tell of you. Now that I have a child of my own, it is all the more that I admire you.

    On those days when I’m exhausted from the constant struggle of trying to shape one pint-sized caveman into a civilized human being and I’m up to my eyeballs in self-pity, I try to imagine what your life was like living out on the North Texas prairie in the early years of the century with seven children. It is then that I sober up and laugh at the absurdity of my mistaken notion of hardship.

    Sometimes I feel put upon to have to make yet another trip to the store (in my nice car and with my bottomless credit card) to buy disposable diapers and wipes and diaper genie refills to manage the never-ending cycle of diapers. Then I think of you with your two sets of twins less than three years apart. No indoor plumbing and no electricity — nothing but a bucket of water from the well and a scrub board. I know you could tell me a thing or two about never-ending diapers.

    Then there are times I imagine myself a martyr because I occasionally sacrifice the few hours of free time I have in a week to lend someone a hand. But then I recall my mother-in-law telling me how as a little girl she would hear you leave the house in the middle of the night to go deliver a baby or care for someone who was sick or to sit up with the dead, as they did in those days. I guess the fact that I no longer have time to sit down and read a novel anymore doesn’t really qualify as a sacrifice, does it?

    You would probably find it ridiculous that I groan about having to go to the grocery store when everything on your table was put there after a season of planting, tending, harvesting, peeling, chopping and cooking. And when the Texas skies were stingy with the rain, as they often are, then even all that work didn’t yield enough to feed nine mouths sufficiently. Your children like to tell of how never a Sunday passed that you didn’t invite the traveling preacher and his family home for Sunday dinner and then how afterwards you would send them on their way with a basket of leftovers. In spite of having to work so hard for so little, you shared what little you had, often at the expense of your own family.

    And after you had raised all of your seven children and were at a point in your life when you could indulge your own desires, you raised your oldest grandson. Except for Sarah Lee pound cake in your later years, self-indulgence was something with which you were unfamiliar.

    Thank you Granny McKee for the example of your noble life. I am so proud that my son shares in your heritage. I pray that he has inherited your steely spine and your heart for sacrifice and service.

    Love,

    Sean’s Mom

    Hello Minnie, is Clint there?

    January 27, 2006

    As I stated in a previous post, discipline is not my forte. Not because I’m a softie or a pushover, because I’m not. I have very little tolerance for blatant disobedience or disrespect. The problem is that I have no convincing authority. I channel Clint Eastwood and get Minnie Mouse.

    Before Sean turned two and he was starting to test the boundaries, I would sometimes put him in his playpen for time out. He would stand in it and chat me up from across the room in Klingon. He would do a few Vaudeville skits. He would practice his chimpanzee imitation and wave his hands wildly over his head and make oo-oo-oo sounds. I tried various versions of time out but he didn’t quite get that he was being disciplined. In summary, I could stretch him out on a bed of nails and he would have a good time. But this should not surprise me because I was exactly the same way.

    I went to a Catholic grade school where, in those days, they could get away with a lot in the name of discipline. Sitting quietly was not what I did best in second grade and at least once a day I was the recipient of Sr. Edwina’s creative correction. Sometimes I was sent into the “cloak room”. Now really — just the fact that they called it a cloak room tells you all you need to know. The good sister would put me in the cloak room and shut the door leaving me in the dark to contemplate my misdeeds. As I was repenting in earnest (snort) I would take the opportunity to try on a few coats, check the pockets, see what some of the kids had brought for lunch. When Sister was in a more psychologically abusive mood (rather than physically abusive) she would make me stand in the waste basket in front of the class. So that I would draw the correlation that I was trash? But (luckily) it was lost on me. I didn’t mind at all because, being a scavenger at heart, it was a gold mine! In second grade, I was the first person to come up with the idea of data mining.

    We recently decided to try putting Sean in a corner to be consistent with what they do at pre-school. The other day when I sent him to the corner, he ran to it like it was the door to Chuck-E-Cheese. Either he is extremely compliant (not) or he doesn’t get it (likely) or my authority is completely ineffective and lost on him (extremely likely). As he was standing in the corner singing “Jesus Loves Me” he would periodically jump out and yell “Boo!” complete with a Broadway finish on one knee and both arms extended. All he needed was a top hat. I couldn’t resist that million dollar grin that is punctuated with the cutest little dimples ever. I violated the cardinal rule of parenting and I gave in to a chuckle.

    Oh Clint Eastwood, where are you??

    A Bucket of Tears for an Ocean of Joy

    January 25, 2006

    Heaven goes by grace.
    If it went by merit
    you would stay out
    and your dog would go in.
    ~ Mark Twain

    Long before I had a child, someone who knows me very well and knows how much I loved my dog, once posed this question: If your dog and your child were both drowning, who would you save? Without answering that question, let me just say that Sean is really coming along with those swimming lessons.

    I come from a long line of dog lovers. Most people I know who have dogs are crazy about them. But my people are stupid crazy when it comes to dogs.  Very few are the days in my life that I have not been owned by a dog.

    One year ago today, we gave the gift of mercy to our 13-year-old Schipperke, Cooper Ann. She was suffering beyond measure with acute kidney and liver failure. When we last saw her, the shell of her beautiful black form remained, but her spirit had fled. There was nothing but suffering behind the eyes that once were so piercingly bright and alert.

    Contrary to what you might think, and what I have always thought, the decision to let her go was not a hard one. After pursuing and exhausting every medical treatment, there was nothing that could be done. When Sean asks why he has to go to college on scholarship, we’ll just show him the little cedar box with Coop’s ashes and the vet bill. It was one of those things that no amount of money could fix and I really hate that.

    From the day we brought Sean home from the hospital, Cooper Ann viewed him as another member of her staff to supervise. In those early days, when Sean slept in our room and had to be fed every two hours, Cooper (who slept under our bed) would get up with me and help make the formula. She was nice enough to lick it up when I spilled it, which was about half the time. She would then sit by the changing table as I changed him and then by the rocker while I fed him. Only after Sean was again asleep and I was back in bed would she resume her post under the bed.

    In her mind, Cooper Ann was the ferocious protector of the house and it’s occupants, but in reality, she wasn’t capable of harming a ladybug. As Sean learned to pull up on the sofa where Cooper was usually spread out on her back in the dead cockroach position, he’d pull at her feet and she’d snarl and show her teeth. But usually her lip would get stuck on her tooth and she just looked more psychotic than threatening. A dog with its lip stuck on its tooth is universally funny, even to a baby, so Sean didn’t get that he was supposed to afraid. And so he’d pull at her feet again. And she’d give another snarl to indicate, “Hey, I’m a dog. I could bite you. Really. I could bite… if I wanted to. But lucky for you, it’s naptime.” And Sean would throw his head back and make one of those gurgle-y baby squeals of delight and grab her feet again. Cooper would then give a big “What-EV-uur ”sigh and move to the other end of the sofa.

    I acquired Cooper Ann in a rescue situation in 1993 – not a horrible rescue situation, but she belonged to someone who couldn’t care for her in the manner to which Schipperke’s like to become accustomed — constant petting, suitable transportation (car, stroller, bicycle basket, red wagon, shopping cart, limo, yacht), bay windows from which to survey the kingdom, at least two walks a day, a steady stream of new toys, a management position in the household with a full staff and rights to open all presents and packages. Little did I know that a year later she would rescue me.

    I remember very clearly after I was widowed in 1994 feeling that I would never laugh or find joy in anything ever again. But it wasn’t long before Cooper did some funny little Schipperke thing and I heard the sound of my own laughter. It seemed to pierce the shroud of grief, and if only for a moment, let a stream of sunlight into the darkness that had become my being. I knew then that I must still be alive and somehow or another I would eventually be okay.

    After the funeral everyone went back to their lives, but Cooper Ann stuck around and made it her mission to make me laugh at least once a day. She required that I not merely exist, but that I live. And so eventually I did, because Schipperke’s do not take no for an answer. If not for her, I might still be laying on the sofa with the curtains drawn.

    A full year after her death, I still find dog hair in the scotch tape. I still hear her toe nails click-click-clicking on the hardwoods. I still expect her to greet me at the door to inspect my purchases. I still hear her in the night issuing muffled barks from beneath the bed where she chases squirrels in the land that lies between sleep and slumber. My arms still ache to hold her and I still long to bury my face in her fabulous black ruff of mink-like fur. I know the only medicine for what ails me is another dog.

    So many people have told me that after losing a dog they loved, they could never get another one; that they could never endure the heartbreak. If not for the thought of potty training a dog and a boy at the same time, we would have another dog by now. Anyone who has ever brought a dog home and into their heart, knows that someday there will be a price to be paid. For Cooper Ann, I paid a bucket of tears for an ocean of joy.

    And I would do it all over again.

    Gotta’ Dance!

    January 23, 2006

    The other night was one of the rare occasions when we had the television on before Sean went to bed. Sean hasn’t shown much interest in the television beyond shoving animal crackers into the VCR, so it hasn’t been an issue so far. But I remain concerned about the influence of television on his tender and malleable mind. While television can enable children to learn their ABC’s, it can also enable them to learn about other things like violence, or worse, ballroom dancing.

    Anyway, this new show called “Dancing with the Stars” came on – with the word “stars” being used in the most liberal sense. Since no one could find the real remote control to make a station change, we were all three sucked into the television like it was a giant Hoover. The pseudo celebs quick-stepped and fox trotted their way across the screen and we were powerless to turn away, especially after one of the contestants described himself as the “bad boy of ballroom.” That phrase alone made me do one of those snort-laughs. There was just something oxymoronic about that statement, with the emphasis on moronic.

    To make my point about the influence of television, since watching that show Sean trots out his best Travolta-like moves anytime any kind of music comes on anywhere. And apparently Sean has studied at the Elaine Benis Dance Academy. Sean is not aware that, like one of his (semi-bald) parents, he is not genetically predisposed to dancing.

    When a repairman came to the house the other day, his cell phone started playing the Lone Ranger theme and Sean showed him what he could do just on the spur of the moment — an impressive routine that included the splits.

    As we were driving to pre-school the other day, an old KC and the Sunshine Band song came on the radio and I looked in the rear view mirror to find Sean doing the stir dance in his car seat like the whitiest white boy that ever did a funky white boy dance. I called into the backseat “Sean! Get down with your bad self!” And he called back cheerfully, “I dancin’ Mommy! Wit my bad self!”

    Later that same day, after I picked him up from school, we made our daily trip to Wal-Mart. As we were standing there gazing at the tropical fish, Pink came on overhead singing “I’m comin’ up so you bettah get the party started, I’m coming up, so you bettah get the party started.” (repeat 30 or 40 times). At first he continued to look at the fish while bouncing to the beat. But then it was like he was in a Broadway musical and he spontaneously burst into an interpretative dance. What the heck. Life is short. So I joined him in a modified Frug.

    This is another one of those posts where there is no real point to this story other than perhaps this: Be careful what you let your kids watch on television and never miss an opportunity to dance like no one is watching. Unless you count fish and the security camera.

    Farewell Baby Bjorn – or Good Ridance

    January 21, 2006

    I looked around the house yesterday and noticed the high chair and the playpen were missing. Being reasonably large items, I knew that they probably weren’t in the sofa cushions — fairly sure anyway. Then I remembered they were hastily stashed in the garage to make way for Christmas. Christmas has come and gone and apparently so has our need for those things since it is just now that I have noticed they were missing.

    The garage has become the graveyard of forgotten and outgrown baby gear – bassinets, tubs, bouncers, jumpers, play mats, swings, slings and carriers, larger swings, bigger carriers, pushers, pullers and scooters — lots and lots of large cheerfully colored and noisy plastic things that the good people at Babies R Us convinced me that no mother could do without. Turns out that most of it I could have done without. Being the not-that-sentimental uber-organizer that I am, I decided it was time to sort through some of these things, pass them along and make way for a new shipment.

    The first item I came to was a Baby Bjorn sack that is worn like a backpack only backwards, which would make it a frontpack. I remember the day I registered for it. I remember imagining myself walking around the block with my baby pressed in close to my heart, just like the happy lady with her happy baby on the front of the box. I imagined that all the neighbors would come running out of their houses to marvel over my fabulously smart and handsome baby. I remember the first time I tried to put it on. I remember that because it took an entire day and several gymnastic moves including a roundoff. I remember my body temperature rising high enough to melt tin foil while wearing it. I remember the feeling of warm spit up sliming down into my cleavage. I remember trying to get out of it like Houdini in a straight jacket. I remember throwing it in a corner and stomping on it with both feet. Good times. I smelled it hoping that maybe the scent of Sean’s babyhood had lingered. No. At least not the good smell. I tossed it in the Goodwill box. And then I took it out.

    Maybe we’ll have another. Not very likely. Tossed it back in. Maybe… Took it out. Nnnnno. Tossed it back in. I took it out and smelled it one last time and tossed it back in. We’ll get another one if we need to. Farewell Baby Bjorn.

    Whew. That’s enough for one day. One item down. 328 left to go.

    Seems logical to me…

    January 20, 2006

    This morning, this exchange:

    AM: And when all the water had dried up, Noah opened the door of the ark and let all of the animals out. Hmm…. Never thought about it before. Where do you suppose all those animals went?

    Sean: Back to the zoo!

    The Memaw Factor

    January 19, 2006

    Discipline is the parenting issue about which I have the least confidence. Because I haven’t read every book ever printed on the topic? Because I haven’t bent the ear of every person on the planet who has a child? Because my child is an angel and does not require discipline? No. No. And Almost. Oops. Make that No, Almost and then No.

    The problem isn’t even so much sorting through all the competing philosophies – Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, Dr. Phil, Dr. Karp, Dr. Spock, Dr. Seuss or even Dr. Scholls. The problem is that no matter what discipline philosophy you adopt, it doesn’t take into account the Memaw factor.

    On our last visit to Memaw’s house there was a particular item in her living room that Sean could not resist. After the third and final warning not to touch it, I whisked him off to the bedroom to have a discussion and it went like this:

    Scene: The interrogation room (or Memaw’s guest bedroom). The ceiling light has only one working bulb. The room is bathed in a dim ominous wash of green. The suspect is brought into the room and made to stand on the bed for interrogation. He is not offered an attorney or read his rights because, well, he has neither. His mother emerges from the shadows and stands by the bed to speak to him eyeball to eyeball:

    AM: (using her most authoritative tone, which by the way, never worked on the dog either) Sean, I asked you not to touch that, didn’t I?

    Sean: Yes Mommy.

    AM: But you touched it anyway, didn’t you?

    Sean: Yes Mommy.

    AM: You have been disobedient, so now Mommy has discipline you. Do you understand what Mommy is saying?

    Sean: Yes Mommy. (Pauses briefly and then calls into the living room) MEMAW! GET ME!

    Stifled giggles heard from the living room room.

    * * *

    What now Dr. Phil??

    The Scavenger

    January 17, 2006

    The summer I was about eight or nine, my girlfriend and I would walk to Vespa’s, the local family-owned grocery store about once a day. As we walked the quarter mile to the store, we would look in the shallow ditches for soda bottles. We’d usually find one or two or sometimes even three. Vespa’s would give us five cents for each bottle we brought in. We would then take our earnings directly across the street to B&B, a family-owned candy store, and spend 45 minutes to an hour studying the glass case trying to figure out how to best spend our earnings. That was the day of penny candy and you could get a generous bag of candy for 10 or 15 cents. So much to choose from — wax lips, candy cigarettes, Jolly Ranchers, Pixie Stix, Jaw Breakers, things that would fizz and pop in your mouth. And then without a care in the world, we would slowly walk home eating our way through the little waxy white bag of goodies and arguing over who was cuter, David Cassidy or Donny Osmond.

    My son will never have to scavenge soda bottles for candy. And that is unfortunate. I am in a position to give him anything and everything except for the one thing I would really like to give him, something that has been lost to the ages — a lazy carefree, unscheduled, unsupervised summer afternoon of enterprising scavenging with a friend.

    There are no sidewalks with ditches around here. There is no family-owned corner store. There are no more penny candies. There is no candy store. And even if there were I would never let him get a quarter mile out of my sight.

    The new millennium has brought us so many good things — so many things that will make his life better and longer. But as I look at a little boy who will never know what it’s like to be the boss of his summer day or feel the wind blowing through his hair as he independently explores and discovers the world on his bike, I think I would like to give back some technology in exchange for some innocence.

    I Love A Parade – Once Every Five Years

    January 16, 2006

     There’s an old song that starts out “I love’a parade!” Well, I don’t. Parades, fireworks and the state fair all fall into the same category for me under the heading “Been There Done That.” If I see a parade once every five years, I’m good.

    Saturday morning there was a parage at the annual stock show and rodeo. And since I’d seen a parade in the last five years, I wasn’t all that thrilled about going. But Antique Daddy and the boy love that kind of thing and I’m a go-along-get-along kind of gal, so I went. It was a sunny and cool morning, and if you had to go to a parade, it was a great day for it.

    Parades in some parts of the country might mean floats and balloons and clowns and that Macy’s kind of thing. In Texas, parade means horses. Lots and lots of horses.

    So it wasn’t surprising that first up were the horses. And it was kind of fun the first 25 or so horses. Sean called out “Vilver!” to every horse that passed. Vilver – or Wilbur – is the name of Godmother Gigi’s miniature horse and therefore every horse in the universe is named Wilbur. Ooooh! A spotted horse! (Vilver!) Oh how cute — sparkles on her spotted butt. Oops. Make that his butt. OK Mr. Horse, we get it, you’re a he. Now put that thing away. Oh, and a bow in his tail. No wonder he looks humiliated. Oh. Gosh. Wasn’t expecting that. I didn’t know horses ate bran muffins. So much for the bow.

    Oh look. A brown horse. (Vilver!) And a black horse. (Vilver!) And a brown and black horse. (Vilver! Vilver!) And a white horse. And a gray horse. And a white and gray horse. And a big horse. And a little horse. And a very little horse. Old men on horses, old ladies on horses, fat old ladies on horses. Poor horses! Ladies in ruffled dresses on horses, prom queens on horses, Cowboys for Christ on horses, bankers and realtors on horses. Even Chihuahuas on horses. (Vilver! Vilver! Vilver!) I think I’ve just written a Dr. Suess book.

    45 minutes and 1,472 bran-muffin-eating horses later, I’m wondering if there are any horses in the state of Texas that are not in downtown Ft. Worth and where did I put my surgical mask? Sean is no longer calling Vilver! to every horse, but picking gum off the sidewalk and I’m thinking of joining him.

    Next up, a middle school marching band. No wait. That’s a high school marching band. Well, maybe not marching. Apparently they aren’t too thrilled about being here. I guess if I were marching behind the horses I’d wear that expression too. And a surgical mask. And boots. Or maybe I’d duck out and pick gum off the sidewalk instead.

    And then there were more horses and that was the end of the parade.

    That oughta’ do me for another five.

    Photo: temporarily unavailable.

    Must be the new math…

    January 14, 2006

    This recent exchange with the cashier at the grocery store:

    AM: There was a sign that said red peppers were two for $3.
    Cashier: No ma’am, they are $1.50 each. Do you still want both of them?
    AM: Yes, I want both of them. That would be $3. Two for $3.  $1.50 x 2.
    Cashier: (rolling her eyes and twisting her eyebrow ring)  Ma’am they are $1.50 each, do you want both of them or not?
    AM: Umm…  Okay, $1.50 each and not a penny more.