Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Uncle Bubba's

Chalk up one more way it's easier to vacation with only two instead of six: I'm fairly sure at least a couple, and possibly all four, of the Boys would have balked at eating at Uncle Bubba's Hot Spot Restaurant.

Hrmph. Just because it's the east end of of a Conoco gas station, some people are sooooo picky....

Anyway, the would-be balkers missed a delicious breakfast burrito, or egg and cheese kolaches, with unutterably wonderful mango/pepper salsa prepared fresh by Uncle Bubba himself.

And not one was around to ridicule me for taking pictures of my food.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

When Did I Become the Mom?

I am in the cool coffee shop on the edge of campus, while Boy the Eldest walks around campus seeing the buildings he missed when he was a student here a thousand years ago. There is a deer head on one wall, a stained glass window on another wall, and a laptop on every lap.

The scruffy-bearded kid sitting across from me just popped each of his 10 toes in sequence.

I'm proud of myself for not telling him to quit that, right now.


In some ways is just another summer camp out of dozens of summer camps.

Towels and sheets wrapped up in a sleeping bag. Sunscreen and bug spray in a Ziplock so they don't contaminate T-shirts and shorts in the duffel. Last-minute runs to WalMart for forgotten items. ("Yes, you should take a hat--it's going to be a thousand degrees here, and it's better to have one and not need it than need it and not have it.")

But this summer camp is oh, so different.

This is the one that sets the framework for the next four years. He'll meet the hundred other new freshmen who will be his classmates and roommates and teammates while he's at this university.

I found myself looking at the other campers, trying to not embarrass him but wondering what was behind those excited faces. Will you be the class clown? Are you the over-achiever? Will you be the organizer and cheerleader? Will you be the one who helps him get through calculus? Through the first weekend?

Who are you?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Dress Rehearsal

Boy#4 had one question the night before we left for the South.

"Will we still have the U-Haul when you drop me off?"

Boy the Eldest and I had to laugh. Obviously there are aspects of this move that we take for granted. It didn't occur to us that our youngest thought his new classmates might get their first view of him driving through campus like the Beverly Hillbillies, maybe with me sitting in a rocker strapped to the top of the trailer.

This is the dress rehearsal run for the big show that will begin in three weeks. Four's new university has an orientation camp in mid-summer designed to introduce their new students to each other, and to university traditions, and to the stultifying steam bath that is July in middle Texas.

We're all for multitasking in the QueenBee family, hence the U-Haul backed up to the garage-filled furniture two nights before the trip. Hey! Guess what? Kansas is a July stultifying steam bath, too!

But now we're here, the trailer is unloaded into Boy#2's storage space, and Boy the Eldest is off returning the U-Haul. In an hour or so we'll drop Four off at camp and drive away, but this time he'll be home again in a week.

I don't even know what metaphor to use for a mother's experience of this week. The revving of the engine before the race? The first tap of the hammer before driving the nail? The sample taste of ice cream before the ordering of the cone?

I think I'll go with the ice cream.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Homegrown Tomatoes

I am the Tiny Tim of gardening, enthusiastic but unskilled.

This year I planted six tomato plants in three different venues. One is an upside-down variety that hangs from a hook on the back deck. Two more were planted in my own special soil mix, made up of topsoil removed when we built a brick step landing and the compost I've lovingly created from my own potato peelings and coffee grounds. They live in large pots in a sunny spot in the back yard. The other three are the ugly stepchildren planted at the edge of a thriving local community garden.

So far the results are underwhelming. The topsy-turvy variety has produced one harvestable tomato, the size of a large golf ball. The "special" soil mix turned out to have the special consistency of concrete. These two plants are struggling just to survive and not giving much attention to potential offspring. The community garden plants have produced lovely foliage but no fruit.

I estimate my investment in plants, soil, fertilizer, and time, has been about $30.

Fortunately, my friends are much better gardeners than I, and keep me and my BLT habit fixed with lovely, luscious vine-ripened beauties.

I guess the country song is right: You can't buy love or homegrown tomatoes.

What I Found in My Living Room

What? You don't like the couch-on-couch look?

This is what happens when three boys need to furnish two unfurnished apartments. Boy the Eldest and I have sweated through a half dozen estate auctions this summer, and the garage is now completely filled with bookshelves, dishes, cooking utensils, tables, chairs, and other accoutrement of the off-campus university lifestyle. Boy#2's bedroom is, quite literally, a bed room--mattresses and box springs fill it from wall to wall.

Last night's auction was a good one. The owners were readers, so bookshelves were plentiful. And they didn't have pets, so soft furniture was an option. (Life is too short for trying to remove the left-over dander of someone else's cat from a $10 recliner.)

The only problem was that we've reached capacity of in-garage storage, so when the perfect extra-long, decor-neutral davenport came our way ($5! Woo!) the only place to store it was in the living room.

HGTV is revoking my membership.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Free Space

My Wednesday night study group stole its name from a chapel sermon given by the hippest woman on campus. She compared Wednesday morning chapel at our college to the free space in Bingo--a spot no one has to earn, where acceptance is unconditional, and anyone can take a deep breath.

That's what we wanted our group to be. A safe place, a place we can challenge ourselves and question without judgment, a place of refuge. Most of all a place where God inhabits our relationships.

Over the years the dozen or so women who have been in the Free Space have laughed and cried and argued and consoled. This past year has been especially challenging. We have supported each other through death (of a spouse, a parent, a friend) and imprisonment (of a son), disease (cancer and MS) and discouragement. But there also has been limitless joy. We've told each other, in perfect sincerity, that the new grandbabies are the most beautiful ever born.

At the end of the spring, though, we were tired. It had been an especially grueling year for many and the summer was looking brutal. We decided to take a break until fall but every time we'd run into each other at the grocery store we sounded like junior high girls on Facebook after summer camp. "I miiiiissss you!"

This week I'd had enough of the missing. I cranked up some ice cream and turned on the porch light and six showed up.

It felt like putting on Birkenstocks at the end of the work day. So supportive, but so comfortable.

I often worried about my boys and their friendships. It took me many years to realize that men and women process friendships differently. The boys thoroughly enjoy their friends, but they are males. They wait for friendships and are happily surprised when friendships appear. Women crave and pursue these relationships.

They need the free space.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Dr. Mom

Yesterday Boy#4 had his college physical. I didn't go with him--there's something about being 18 years old and 6'3" that just screams "Oh, yes, Mom! Please go to my doctor's appointment with me!"

I lost track of the number of doctor appointments I'd go to with my children when the first one was still in utero. They've been treated for the normal things (colds, sprains, mysterious rashes) and for some pretty darned scary things (one broken femur, one congenital heart issue, two hospital-worthy asthmas).

I was the Dr. Mom of our house, and it was my job to keep track of symptoms.

"He started being short of breath yesterday and has had three breathing treatments, but didn't start retracting until midnight and that's when we decided to come in. If we could avoid FancyMed that would be great because it gives him insomnia."

Of course, I wasn't infallible. (You notice there are only three pink immunization records in the photo. Darned if I know where the fourth crucial set of documentation is.) But one of the highest compliments I ever received as a parent came from our beloved pediatrician.

Boy#3 had a rough start in life and the result was multiple hospitalizations. It makes a parent jumpy. One day, when I had taken him to the doctor because he, I apologized to Dr. H as he was charting the (non)symptoms.

"I hate to waste your time but I just have the feeling something's wrong."

Dr. H stopped writing and put down his pen to look me straight in the face.

"Don't ever apologize for asking me to check something out. You have good instincts."

Yesterday, just a few hours after my non-appearance at the college physical, I was in another doctor's office with my 88-year-old mother-in-law. She's recovering from a broken femur, and not recovering from the non-recoverable symptoms of having lived nearly nine decades. I didn't really think she needed to go to the doctor, so in spite of my love and admiration for the mother of my husband, I was mentally tapping my foot in irritation and thinking of the report I needed to be editing at work.

It's a whole new, and humbling, role for me. I can advise, and give opinions, and heaven knows I do plenty of both those things. I can be the remember-er of medical instructions and the communicator of diagnoses with other family members. But I cannot be Dr. Mom, because that's not what Mother-in-Law wants, even if it's what I think she needs.

Boy#4 got home from his physical with Band-Aids on each arm after booster shots, and told me, lip quivering melodramatically, "...and you weren't there to hold my hand and tell me it would only hurt for a moment."

Dr. Mom is retired.

Monday, July 19, 2010

My Life as a Border Collie

I couldn’t have been Michelle Duggar—not enough fingers.

One of the challenges of having four children aged five and under is keeping them corralled in uncontrolled spaces. Home is easy: You close the doors, and know they’re somewhere within the property lines.*

In public, though, it’s a different story. Once the boys were past strollers and leashes, keeping tabs involved counting. A lot of counting. I mentally tapped each of the blond heads hundreds of times every time we ventured out. In the mall: one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four. In the campground: one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four. In the park: one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four. And so on and so forth, ad infinitum.

Our congregation has just started a sermon series on spiritual gifts, those individual enablings the Holy Spirit shares to allow us to contribute well as part of the spiritual body. Yesterday Pastor S encouraged us to complete an online inventory that would help clarify our own spiritual gifts. I’ve taken these inventories before, but I had to laugh when the computer tallied my answers. What gift popped to number one on my list?


Of course.

*Well, mostly easy. I’ll never forget my horror at answering the doorbell one beautiful spring morning and finding a perfect stranger on the porch holding the hand of three-year-old Boy #3. She had found him wandering along our busy street in his pajamas. And when I say “perfect” stranger, I mean she let me off with a lecture on proper parenting and didn’t turn me in to children’s services for neglecting my toddler. Who knew he had figured out how to open the storm door?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Summer Jobs

My boss and I disagree about how college kids should spend their summer hours.

He's of the opinion that no student should ever work "down." Even if it means taking a pay cut (or no pay), he believes those precious hours should, without exception, contribute to the resume. That means business majors should be willing to work for nothing as marketing interns, and biology majors ought to be helping with the oil spill clean-up.

Boy the Eldest and I, on the other hand, believe summers are for beefing up the bank account with the goal of avoiding student debt. If this means a paid internship that relates to a major, fine. If not, well, the brief intermission will clear the mind.

Either of these views is defensible, and heaven knows the boss is smarter and more educated than I am. In this case, though, I don't think we've parented poorly.

As we watched the storm clouds roll in last night and bumped up the air conditioning to siphon off some of the solidly-humid summer evening, Boy#3 was glad his weekend comes in mid-week and he wasn't patrolling the lake in the four-wheeler.

"Working at the lake makes me realize what a cushy job I had when I worked at the library," he admits.

It's essentially the same thing Boy#2 said a few years ago when he finished a summer of 12-hour shifts spent snapping gaskets into water coolers. It was hellishly hot, even on the 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. shifts, and no one cared that he had been in the gifted program. They only cared that he do his job fast and right and not slow up the rest of the line.

In a couple of years, both boys will graduate and the remainder of their working lives are likely to be climate controlled. But working a job solely to have money for the next school year hasn't hurt either of them. They have more respect for persons willing to take on the hot jobs, the dirty jobs, and the jobs that are mind-numbingly boring. Neither takes for granted jobs that have opportunity for advancement, interesting co-workers, and varied responsibilities.

And air conditioning.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Life Lessons

This has been an expensive summer for a couple of my boys.

All four of the kidlets are good and (mostly) careful drivers. But having all of your young reactive skills intact is sometimes not as useful as having your middle-aged caution switched on.

A couple of weeks ago Boy#3 discovered for the first time that the road he has driven to work for the past two summers has a speed limit of 55, rather than 65. The kindly cop who pulled him over was regretful about this misconception but wrote out the ticket anyway.

And yesterday, Boy#4 learned that those yellow lines in intersections? Are in effect even if no cars are coming in the opposite lane.

These are expensive lessons that the boys immediately translate into the common currency of hours worked. It hurts to know that ignorance isn't bliss, but is three days of cleaning out trash cans filled with nauseating debris by tipsy campers. It's painful to realize that the four seconds it took to get around that dawdling truck now will mean driving that delivery car for a full week to pay the fine.

They're expensive life lessons, but the next time either kid is tempted to shade the letter of the driving law, I'm guessing they'll resist. If that's the cost of keeping them safe, it's a bargain.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

An Observation About Arkansas

I have collected antique spittoons for the better part of three decades. In my collection are brass spittoons, copper spittoons, cast iron spittoons, porcelain spittoons. I have spittoons that are enormous and spittoons that are tiny and pretty much every size in between.

And in all the years I've collected spit collectors, I've never seen a place with more variety and selection than the northwest corner of Arkansas.

Not judging, just sayin'.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Full Circle

Before we bought this pick-up we made sure to try it on. All six of us had to fit so the older boys went in the back, Boy the Eldest drove, and Boy #4 sat on the console in the front. It was cozy, but manageable, to pull the pop-up on vacations with all the bicycles in the pick-up bed.

Now that Boy #4 is 6'3" (and not the tallest), the days of pick-up family togetherness are long past. We travel in the Suburban, and argue about who rides shotgun. ("Hey! I thought you said the tallest got to be in front." "Did I? I meant the oldest gets to be in front.")

Advantage #1 of Empty Nesting: All of the vacationers again fit in the pick-up.

Both of us.

Friday, July 2, 2010

What I Found on the Porch

My mother told us that an unexpected bonus of raising children on a farm was that she never had to tell us about the birds and the bees. As we went about our daily routine we saw pets and livestock and all kinds of creatures...uh,...bird-ing and bee-ing.

I could say the same thing about having kids work as lake rangers.

There probably should have been a day when I sat my boys down and said, "Sons, as you grow up, you'll see people doing all kinds of things that just can't be explained. Don't do those things."

Instead, Boys #1, #2, and #3 have spent several summers working as rangers at the local lake. They've seen all kinds of inexplicable behavior, including 50-year-old skinnydippers (and they may never remove their own clothes again), belligerent drunks (and they're now aware of just how very stupid this looks), and adult temper tantrums over trifles (a behavior that most people don't recognize in themselves).

Also in the "Don't do these things" category?

Taking a flame thrower on your camping trip.