Thursday, August 21, 2014

Keep Waving That Duck

ca. 1992
It's the first day of school in Small Town this week! Wooo! And for the first time in, oh, FOREVER, we are not sending at least one darling moppet off to school. (We are excluding anyone who has already received at least one college degree, and Boy#2, I'm looking at you when I say I hope you wrote your name on each and every one of your crayons before you showed up in the lab for your fourth year of doctoral studies this morning.)

My Facebook feed has been positively lousy with shiny-faced first day students and I was feeling a little left out until I remembered that this is TBT* and who cares if I've never participated before? Today is a whole new shiny-faced day. 

The picture that illustrates today's post is not from the first day of school but it was taken shortly thereafter, and it makes me laugh. In it the Boys range from seven months to six years old (clockwise from top: #1, #3, #4, #2) and I distinctly remember the taking of that picture among the hundreds we've taken over the years.

It was shot at the preschool where Two and Three spent two mornings each week, and I had brought One in from the "real" school where he was now a first grader so that we could have a Christmas-letter-worthy portrait. The photographer was waving a stuffed duck over the camera to bring out the smiles but because he was a first grader One was just too cool for this baby school and he was. not. going to smile.

"Ooooh, look at Mr. Quackers!" the photographer cooed. "He's going to quack up if everyone doesn't smile!"

The youngers thought it was hilarious. One did not.

"Come on, One, smile," I coaxed him.

Still nothing. So I brought out the big guns.

"If you don't smile, there will be no Happy Meal for you. Just one little smile."

So one little smile, a tiny little fake quirking up of one side of a mouth. was just what we got in that picture. That, and an indication that we were at the starting line of a run during which we would be reminded over and over again that as parents, we can be the boss of when and where they go to school, and of when and where they eat and sleep, and pretty much of any external you can name, but we are not the boss of their emotions and you can wave that stuffed duck as much as you want but a big smile is not happening.

Good luck, all you parents of school-aged children out there. Keep waving that duck.

 *Throwback Thursday, aka the day bloggers who don't have a topic are off the hook.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Fitting Reward

In all the out-of-routine uproar of the trip to Mexico, I completely missed documenting an important life event in the MomQueenBee extended family a couple of weeks ago.

My father, as I've mentioned here many times, is a pretty amazing guy. He grew up on a hardscrabble dairy farm, getting up before the sun so that he could milk cows before going off to grade school. Then when he was 17 his parents signed permission for him to join the Navy and he was off to load torpedoes on the U.S.S.Richmond. He worked his way through college with the help of the GI Bill, married my mother and co-raised five children, then earned his doctorate while he building a vocational college into an industry leader. Today he spends his time in volunteer work while he's not off winning gold medals in Senior Olympics swimming competitions.

That's why we weren't really surprised when he was asked to throw out the opening pitch at a national baseball tournament. It was senior citizen recognition night, and let's face it, there aren't many 87-year-olds who can get the ball over the plate. He had plenty of people who loved him cheering as he walked out to the pitcher's mound, took his wind-up and let fly.

Taking into account the senior citizen discount (one bounce) Dad's pitch was straight over the plate and into the glove of the whippersnapper catcher who bounded out to congratulate my father.

It took Dad about 10 minutes to get back to his seat behind home plate. Fans stopped him to shake his hand and to congratulate him, and he heaved a sigh of relief as he sat down. That's when one fan stepped up beside him and handed him a plastic bag containing three perfect homegrown tomatoes.

"Sir, I want to thank you for fighting for our freedom," the man told my father.

I'm not sure what this man had planned to do with those tomatoes when he arrived at the ballpark; it's not as if a farmer's market was likely to spontaneously erupt in the bullpen. But what an apt tribute to the essence of my father's life. Homegrown tomatoes are the gardener's reward for the hard work that produces a successful garden.

My father has worked hard. He will say he's been blessed by God, and he's not wrong about that, but each of those blessings has been accompanied by sweat equity. Any recognition he receives now is a nod to the decades of time and effort he has invested.

I can't think of a more fitting reward than a perfect homegrown tomato.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Friday Orts and a Blurb

I know you've missed seeing what I'm shoveling into my mouth so we begin this week's edition of Friday orts with a look at one of the meals put in front of me during my week in Mexico.

Yes. This was ONE MEAL. It was all for me, and in the interest of being a good guest and not an Ugly American, I "forced" myself to eat all of it. Plus, the beautiful 17-year-old senoritas at the table were eating exactly this same plate of food and they weighed about 98 pounds each, so how could it be fattening?

And that, my friends, is how you manage to gain four pounds on a one-week mission trip.

But don't worry. While I was fattening like a foie gras goose I remained beautiful and classy on a Lauren Bacall scale. Don't believe me? I have proof:

That parbroiled glow. That hat. The paint-speckled shirt. The yellow "manicure" (not shown here). I was movie-star glamorous.

This was move-in week at Small College and here are some of the things I love about having students around again: Their energy. Their wardrobes (because oddly, administrators don't dress like that). Their joie de vivre. Their payment of tuition so that I can be employed in a job I love.

Here are the things I don't love about having students around again: Their parking in all the parking spaces. Boooo.

And finally, a blurb: There are women in this world who humble me every time I read what they've written. Harper Lee. Erma Bombeck. Julia from Here Be Hippogriffs. And then, in a class completely by herself, there is Anne Lamott.

If you are not following Anne Lamott on Facebook you should be, because there is way too much time between her books and you surely need a booster shot of her wisdom when you are running low on your own. I read and re-read a post this week that started this way:
It has been one of the worst week in years, and that's saying something. You know exactly what I'm talking about, no matter how much you love your life and your pit crew; no matter how hard you strive to present a good face. It is so hard here. It's like Old Yeller meets the Hunger Games; plus the parking is terrible.
 If I could write like that I would be unable to fit through doorways because my head would be so enormously swelled.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

My Super Powers

Chuy, who is four years old
I may look like an ordinary young-ish middle-aged kind-of-old ageless woman on the outside, but the children we met this week at Children's Haven International know better. They know that I have two super-powers: I sweat on a scale heretofore unknown to humans, and I can touch my tongue to my nose. And because it was unbelievably  hellishly really, really hot in Reynosa last week, they were able to see both of my super-powers in action. 

You know that old saying that ladies glow, men perspire, and horses sweat? I think I have some equine DNA in my ancestry because hooboy, when I am warm every drop of moisture in my body suddenly departs through my facial pores. I practically projectile sweat, which is a nice natural safeguard for my personal space but does not win me any points in the charm department.

I was outside playing my role as the Reina de Burbujas when the kids discovered both of my super-powers. A drop of sweat ran down my nose and because my hands were occupied with cheating preschoolers and the soapy bubble wand, I absent-mindedly flicked the sweat drop off with my tongue.

This super-power, that of being able to touch the tongue to the nose, is one that a person either has or does not have. My father has it, I have it, none of my siblings or children have it. And apparently none of the children at CHI have it, if I'm to judge by the sudden silence that gripped those who had seen me. Four-year-old Chuy, who was waiting his turn in his Spongebob t-shirt, looked at me as if I'd just pulled a flaming baton out of my ear and for the rest of the evening I saw the moppets who surrounded me streeeeeetching their tongues upward.

Fast-forward to the next day. Boy#2 and I were in the un-air-conditioned dining hall waiting for lunch when Chuy climbed up on the chair next to me. I was absent-mindedly wiping super-power off my face with my bandana when I glanced at the moppet in the next chair.This is what I saw:

Chuy may not be able to touch his tongue to his nose, and certainly he is much more acclimated to the climate than his pale, avoirdupoir-intensive dining companion, but he has a super-power I'll never been able to claim:

That kid is adorable.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The International Language of Moms and Boys

Around these here parts I'm known as MomQueenBee. In parts more southerly, though, I have become known as the Reina de Burbujas, or the Queen of Bubbles. That's because I was the Benevolent But All-Powerful Monarch of the bubble jug  last week at Children's Haven International.

The guy in the group who has a lot more experience with kids than I do had brought along the giant economy size of bubbles for the kids to play with while we were outside in the evenings and his thought was to just put the jug on the table and walk away. Ha! HaHa, even! What occurred next was a scramble of such soapy intensity that I had to wade in saying sternly "NO ONE IS GOING TO PLAY WITH THE BURBUJAS IF WE CAN'T ALL PLAY WITH THE BURBUJAS NICELY!"

I haven't been a mom for 28 years for nothing: I parked myself next to the bubble jug, firmly (and arbitrarily) setting the personal limit on bubble blowing at five dips of the wand per turn for each child, and for the next four evenings I kept track of how many wands'-worth each child had blown already, determined who was next in line for a turn, and refereed whether each turn counted. (If not a single bubble emerged, either due to faulty blowing technique or mis-dipping, it did not.)

I was in my element. And if you don't believe me, look at the face of Juan, shown above, who had just told me "I've only done one!" to which I replied "No, you've done four." He wordlessly showed me what he thought of that (completely correct) judgment:

Just as with my own Boys, I was the meanest person ever in the world and the preschoolers were cheating cheaters who would cheat. It made me positively homesick. So I swooped him up and nuzzled his neck, and we were friends again, just as I would have done with my own boys. 

Moms and little boys are pretty much the same in any language.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Do Work, God

Boy#3 is a sports fan, but when it comes to watching his alma mater play football, he is a fanatic. I was watching a game with him once when the Wildcats had fallen behind but were making a furious comeback. It was the fourth quarter, and they had just gotten the ball.

"Do work, 'Cats. Do work," Three encouraged his team to get down to business. And they did work: They dug deep and scored to win the game.

I thought of that phrase often last week during my second trip to the Mexican children's home that has stolen my heart.

I've mentioned here before that I'm a woman of faith, one who could probably be described as a conservative Christian. Sometimes I feel as if I'm a Christian who's out of step with her denomination, though. I don't believe God has any opinion whatsoever on gun control or taxes or any other political issues except insofar as how they have an impact on how we treat each other. I also believe that the hungry and cold are unlikely to be looking for spiritual guidance until they are full and warm.

That's why I love Children's Haven. This organization removes children from the most unimaginably hellish conditions (including jail cells, drug dens, and abusive parents) and raises them in family settings where they are fed, clothed, educated, and loved. They are throw-away kids in one of Mexico's most dangerous cities, and they are given a second chance at life because of people who believed Jesus when He said "‘Whatever you do for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you do for me."

When I'm there, I see God doing work.

Our group of eight drove 16 hours each way to paint houses and prepare classrooms for "the least of these." It's work our unskilled group could do, freeing the house parents to deal with the serious business of loving the children into a new way of life. 

After we had finished our work days we played with the children. My cold, hard heart swelled 16 sizes to see Boy#2 (who had given up a precious week of vacation to go on the trip) bantering with giggling eight-year-old Yerica. "Eres un tomate!" "No, eres una zanahoria!" They accused each other of being vegetables until they both ran out of vocabulary. I loved seeing the high school athletes in our group bending down from their 6'5" height to help a tiny child bat a Wiffle ball.

I saw God doing work on the children, and I saw Him doing work on me. I believed, again, that a cup of water given in His name is His will--that He is so much bigger and more capable than political opportunists would want us to think. I remembered why I love Him, and these children, and these people who have followed His call to step in beside Him. When I got home at 1 a.m. Saturday I was already counting the weeks until I will go back next summer.

Do work, God. Do work.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

My Role in the Process

This week and next week are going to be packed with things that keep me away from my computer so don't be alarmed if I go several days without posting. However, I couldn't leave the topic of Boy#3's new piano without a few words about my role in the procurement process of said piano.

Here is what I did:
1. Went to the auction and said how beautiful the piano was, and how much I thought Three would love it.

Here is what Husband did:
1. Successfully bid on the piano.
2. Gulped really, really hard when he realized it had to be loaded into the pickup.
3. Visited the ATM machine to get some cash.

Here is what I did:
1. Walked around the auction assessing the muscles of young men who might be strong enough to lift a piano into a pickup.
2. Said something to each one along the lines of "Hey, sailor, want to make some quick cash?"

Here is what Husband said:
1. You asked them WHAT?

Here is what the four strong young men did:
1. Lifted the piano into the pickup.
2. Groaned loudly.
3. Bent over with their hands on their knees, subtly assessing any new hernias.

Here is what Husband did:
1. Gave each helper twice as much cash as he had originally intended, because he has had a hernia, and it is not actually as much fun as it sounds as if it should be.
2. Drove us home, carefully avoiding any potholes or sharp turns because the piano was floating unsecured in the back of the pickup and we had been warned that pianos have a tendency to tip over backwards if they are unsecured in the back of a pickup.

Here is what I did:
1.  Silently helped steer the truck using only my sphincter muscles and subtle body English, ensuring that we arrived at home without the piano tipping over backward in a crash of broken strings and dashed dreams.

Here is what Husband did:
1. Quickly screwed together a frame of 2x4's that wedged the instrument into the back of the pickup so securely that if we had dropped into a giant Guatemalan sinkhole the piano would have not budged an inch.

Here is what I did:
1. Made sandwiches.

Here is what Husband did:
1. Drove us the two hours to Boy#3's hometown, where Three was waiting with a team of weight-lifters and young muscles.
2. Strategized the journey up the five steps into the house.
3. Took the hinges off the door so the piano would fit through.
4. Hefted the back right corner.
5. Banged his knuckles on the hingeless door and didn't cry.
6. Made sure the piano was aligned with the wall, because non-parallel alignment must not be tolerated.

Here's what I did:

There is a lesson in this division of labor, and I believe the lesson is this: My sphincter muscles and subtle body English saved the day.

Three, you are welcome.