Monday, January 31, 2011

Definitely Management Material

Husband and I were in the check-out line at WalMart when I noticed a blast from the past in the candy display next to the register.

"Look!" I called to him. "I haven't seen Fruit Stripe gum around for years."

The check-out boy heard our exchange and joined the conversation as he scanned the grape tomatoes.

"Yeah, I just noticed that. How long has Fruit Stripe been around?"

"Oh, since I was a kid," I told the whippersnapper.

His reaction was wide-eyed and thunderstruck and summarized in a single syllable: "Wow."

And then he noticed my reaction to his comment and moved smoothly into his next sentence.

"So that must be, what, twenty or twenty-two years?"

That boy will go far.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Geezer Section

Working at a small college has had some unexpectedly wonderful perks, and one of the most unexpectedly wonderful has been free admission to athletic events.

Husband and I have reserved seats in the Geezer Section of our historic fieldhouse. It's the perfect spot for us--we feel decades younger, surrounded as we are by retired faculty members and alumni who played in this fieldhouse half a century ago. And while our section can get exuberant (holy cow, our two retired bishops have some lungs on them) we only stand for the national anthem and to go get popcorn. Old knees, you know.

Between games or during a lull in the action we bring out the crossword puzzles and knitting, and chat about our days.

None of these players will be playing professionally. They are the hot-shooting guard who's only 5'7", or the center who was just a touch too slow for Division I ball. But they play because they love to play and because they can get a terrific education at this college while they extend their athletic lives a couple more years. This isn't a school that gives full-ride athletic scholarships, though, so you'll find them stocking produce or sacking groceries in the off season.

They get to play, and the Geezers cheer them on, and then we all chat about sports as Saturday's stars help us reach that can just beyond our grasp on the top shelf at Dillons.

Boy#3 will be on national television tomorrow, playing in the courtside band when his big university takes on its cross-state arch-rival. There is a magic to this kind of spectacle, with ESPN cameras and Bobby Knight providing analysis. But there's also a quiet magic in knowing the players by name, and in sitting so close to the floor that we hear the coaches' instructions.

It's great to be a Geezer.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Achoo! (Part Deux)

Heating an 80-year-old house during the Kansas winter is complicated by the fact that we're also heating for a wide range of life stages.

We have the Boys, at least two of whom take great pride in wearing shorts from February through December.

We have the mother-in-law, whose BMI hovers around 10 and who parks the needle at the top of the thermostat, then mourns that it only goes to 85.

Then we have me, who can ricochet between these extremes at the drop of a hat.

The solution to this heating dilemma? Rice bags.

For the poor souls who haven't experienced the bliss that is a rice bag, these are the modern, non-leaking equivalent of a hot water bottle. A sturdy inner bag is half-filled with rice, then covered with a soft flannel outer sleeve. Throw it in the microwave for a few minutes, and voila! It's the perfect antidote to winter.

A heated rice bag can be slipped between cold sheets for pre-warming a bed, or wrapped around a shoulder aching from too much snow shoveling. It wraps around a face aching from sinus pressure and instantly warms cold hands.

I keep a basket of rice bags in the living room and offer them to visitors.

"I know we keep the house cold," I say, "so please help yourself to a rice bag and stay warm."

A few days ago we had friends over and I made the usual offer. "Just throw one in the microwave for three minutes or so, and it will keep you warm."

"You know," my friend said, "I have a cat who can do the same thing."

The difference is, of course, that it's a lot harder to get the cat to stay in the microwave.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


I miss the hugs and toothless smiles, I miss the dimpled knees and warm-smelling heads, I miss the footed pajamas and scribbled pictures.

I miss eleventy-nine things about not having babies around any more, but I do not miss having babies around when I'm sick.

Today I got to work and realized the cold I've been trying to outrun had caught me and was now pummeling me about the ears and sinuses. So I finished what I was doing, came home, and crawled into bed. Now that I've slept for a few hours, I think I'll make a cup of tea, then sleep some more.

In the good old days, a sick day was just like any other day except...sicker. Stay-at-home-mom benefits don't include sick leave, so restorative naps are taken with one eye open. And usually, whatever germ had felled me had also had caught up with one or more of the Boys, so in addition to my own aches and fever, I would be coping with one or more cranky and inconsolable children. I may be whining today, but that was worse.

I feel crummy, yes, but this is a piece of cake.

Monday, January 24, 2011

My New Toy

I think I've mentioned here before that I am compulsively drawn to any kitchen gadget that plugs in. Well, I've discovered a twist on that addiction: A book that plugs in.

It's a Nook!

I have coveted this gizmo since the first day I saw it. Normally when I pack for a trip I take along clothes and books in approximately equal proportions, and on vacations, I practically have to buy a ticket for my reading material. Barnes & Noble hooked me with "Stores 10,000 books!" and reeled me in with "Stunning, full-color touchscreen!" and "Fun social features!"

In the MomQueenBee house, though, the not-inconsequential expenses of having four Boys in college take precedence over frivolities, even frivolities that are"The Ultimate Reading Experience!" Almost two years ago I started saving found money--those funds that are unexpected and uncommitted: Birthday gifts.Proceeds from playing at weddings and funerals. Quarters found on the sidewalk.

It's the modern equivalent of egg money, and even though the Nook set me back the equivalent of about 350 dozen eggs, I'm glad those figurative hens kept laying. It's been well worth the wait.

Not only have I read several books since Christmas, I also have crosswords and Sudoku at my fingertips during boring meetings quiet moments.

The only downside is that I've had to remind myself of some basic economics that I seem to have a hard time grasping. Over the weekend I had finished the book loaded on my reader and didn't find one that interested me on free download sites. I downloaded a sample of a novel, decided to buy it, then realized I could check it out at the public library.

"Ooooh," I thought to myself, "that means I have $10 I didn't have before."

There is a fallacy in this thinking, but darned if I can pinpoint what it is.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Another Reason I Married Him

So it turns out that when I wrote that Boy#2 was ON a plane heading toward North Carolina I was being optimistic. The phone rang at 6:40 last night, when Two should have been well on his way to the coast.

"The first flight was delayed by wind and I just missed my flight in Houston."

I knew exactly what to say. "Just a second, let me get your father on the phone."

I always love him, and I usually like him, but I never appreciate Husband more than in a logistical emergency. He is calm, rational, thinks of alternatives and holds the universe together.

"Okay, get on the flight to Charlotte, and I'll see about renting you a car. You'll be getting in late so I'll call the hotel and make sure they hold your reservation," he told Two.

By 11:30 our Boy was in Charlotte. His luggage was not. He called me at the house. "Your dad's at the office, waiting for you to let him know you made it," I told him, "call him there."

And I went to bed, knowing I had a long day of meetings today. This morning I found a note on the bathroom mirror: "He made it to the hotel at 2:10. Wake me up for any details."

Husband had talked Two down off the ledge, found him a WalMart so he could buy some cheap dress shoes to wear with the suit he had carried onto the plane, re-confirmed the hotel reservation, checked in with Two several times as he made the three-hour drive toward Durham, and delighted with him when the luggage arrived at the hotel.

When I was growing up, I thought the most romantic thing a man could do was send his beloved flowers. Some women adore diamonds, others swoon at the thought of a candlelit dinner.You can keep all of those things.

Nothing makes me love Husband more than when I see him being a good dad.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

On a Wing and a Prayer

At just about this moment, Boy#2 is getting on an airplane to fly halfway across the country. This is as close to a business trip as a college kid takes, one of those fork-in-the-road journeys that have the potential to decide a life direction.

So in addition to making sure his shampoo is in a three-ounce bottles and that he doesn't miss his plane, Two will be reminding himself to be friendly but not fawning, smart but not insufferable, confident but not arrogant, curious but not irritating. It's a lot to think about.

"Have a good time. Be safe. I'm praying for you," I e-mailed him this morning, and all day I've been doing just that. I've learned when I pray for my children that format goes out the window. These aren't prayers in block style that begin "Dear God," are left-justified through four paragraphs, and end "Very truly yours." This is simply whispering Two's name and linking it with God's presence.

Of course, there's no need to remind God where Two is and what he's doing; this prayer's purpose is to remind me where God is and what He's doing: Today He's on an airplane, and He's in control.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Put a Coat on, Whippersnapper

There are days when knowing that exactly 50% of my family is two states away gives me pause. Not sadness, exactly, but just a "Huh, how did that happen?" moment.

Not today.

Today, as I drove to work in temperatures that hovered in the low 20s but seemed a heck of a lot colder, I noticed how many students were walking to class practically naked.

Okay, they had on pants, and shoes. And (full disclosure) coats. Heavy coats, some of them. But the coats were almost invariably unzipped, and the hands were ungloved, and the heads were uncovered.

I wanted to stop the car and tell them to march right back in the house and put on more clothes, young man. I was glad that the Three Bears are in balmy central Texas, where the high today is forecast at 61 degrees, and that Boy#3 received a nice, warm hat for Christmas. (No, that's not Three in the picture, but his head certainly looks warm, doesn't it?)

When I got to work, one of the whippersnappers who works in my office was complaining about the weather. "Look--my hair is FROZEN," he said in about as complain-y a voice as I've heard from him.

I refrained from going all MomQueenBee on him. He is, after all, grown up and working a job with benefits. But if he were one of the Boys, I would have given it to him straight.

Bundle up, young man, because baby, it's cold outside.

Monday, January 17, 2011

I'll Dress Warmly

(An actual transcript of an actual instant messaging conversation with an actual Boy that took place yesterday. Only the names have been changed to protect the online reputations of those involved. The theater seats are in an auditorium being renovated, and were free for the taking.)

me: I have to help your dad move some theater seats at 2, but we can work on your project later this afternoon.
Boy#1: OK
me: I'm a little nervous about this--we moved three seats on Friday night, and those suckers are heavy. Now we're going to move a row of five. I hope we don't permanently injure anyone.
Boy#1: Can't Boy#4 help you?
me: Uh, no. I believe he's two states away right now.
Boy#1: Well, just remember
Boy#1: If you get hurt doing this and permanently injure yourself
Boy#1: Your sons will put you on an ice floe and gently shove it out to sea
Boy#1: So don't do anything stupid.

He inherited his compassionate nature from me.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

A Requiem for Civility

I keep in close touch by e-mail with one my oldest and dearest friends. We talk about our families, and our jobs, and list the latest things we haven't been able to find because we put them somewhere we wouldn't lose them. We're not at the same point on the political spectrum, but that's okay with us, because we value our friendship and there's so much more to that friendship than whether we are red or blue voters.

That's why she felt safe to ask me yesterday whether I thought Sarah Palin was partially to blame for the Tucson shooting. No, I replied, I think a mentally ill man with access to guns was responsible, and the political venue of this shooting was completely random. The massacre could just as logically have happened at the school he attended, or the McDonald's where he got his coffee, or anywhere his misfiring brain perceived a slight.

The fact that we're even discussing whether the tragedy could be blamed on a political figure, though, makes me almost sick with sadness. It's a symptom of a loss that has occurred during my lifetime: The loss of civility.

Political and media stars no longer speak with eloquence and nuance. Positions are staked at extremes, and there these stars sit, damning everything outside of the narrow confines of their opinions. And because humans tend to imitate communication methods (look at the way a child learns to talk) the rest of us also begin to shout our opinions loudly, sticking our fingers in our ears and chanting "lalalalalacan'thearyou" when anything even remotely disagreeable intrudes. We take as our role models those least likely to inspire compromise or inclusion of varying viewpoints. Bill O'Reilly, but also Jon Stewart. Barney Franks, but also Sarah Palin.

Being stridently noncompromising, these figures have found, is highly profitable in terms of exposure, votes, and (perhaps most important) money.

I see this in politics, but I also see it in other venues. I was horrified by the Chinese Mother, and her total-control slave-driving style of parenthood. My knee-jerk reaction was to join the thousands of commenters who excoriated that style. But then I thought of the abysmal behavior I've seen from children whose parents think misbehaving three-year-olds are "cute" and I realized I have a bit of the Chinese Mother in me. I certainly wouldn't speak up to say so, though.

I see links on Facebook pages that trumpet one political view, and if another point of view is proposed, the feeding frenzy that follows.

I'd like to call for a return to listening to the opinions of others, a return to discussion and respectfully disagreeing. I'd like to, but I'm afraid it's too late.

I'm afraid civility is dead.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Downsizing: A Gender Perspective

Husband and I are extraordinarily compatible. We generally agree on whether video games are a good use of time (no) and on acceptable amount of debt (paying interest makes both of us break out in hives), and when we aren't in total agreement, we normally show some flexibility. I humor his need to see The Sons of Katie Elder every time it's scheduled, and he doesn't roll his eyes (much) when I can't miss So You Think You Can Dance.

It's interesting, then, that our ideas of downsizing have taken different twists.

As we have reared the Boys, all accommodations have had to be supersized. The house at the corner of Drainage Street and Halfway Down the Hill is enormous, in excess of three times the size of the house where we lived before moving to Small Town. With its five bedrooms and eighty-gazillion windows, it has been the perfect house for a large family.

Similarly, when we were expecting Boy#3 22 years ago we switched from sedans to Suburbans. These planet-sized hunks of Detroit metal have just enough interior space for growing boys, plus the 16 duffel bags,  dozen laptops, eight or nine backpacks, coats, hats, earphones, ice chest, etc., required for a weekend trip, or for the 42 bags of groceries required for a Tuesday dinner.

We're discovering now that downsizing means different things to the two of us.

"You know, we probably ought to be looking for someplace smaller, like a condo," Husband remarked as he opened the last utility bill. I didn't respond, but my heart was accomplishing an anatomical impossibility by putting its foot down. "I don't think so!" Heart yelled. "Where would my precious snowflakes sleep when they come home from college? And after they get married, how will I have my 13 grandchildren over to play if we're in a CONDO?"

But then we went out to eat, and for the umpteen-hundredth time I wrestled our battleship into a parking place meant for a rowboat.

"Man, I can't wait until we get a smaller car," I said. There was silence, then a voice from the passenger seat.

"But if we get a smaller car, how will we all travel together?"

I'm not sure we have this figured out yet.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Brushes With Fame

I shook Jimmy Carter's hand at a political rally when I was 22, and my (now-deceased) great-aunt was personal secretary to (also-deceased) William Allen White.

Go ahead--stand in awe of my awesomeness in having such heart-stopping encounters with famous people.

Boy#1 seems to brush up against fame with regularity. When I asked him what famous people he had met he didn't even have to think hard before he could start listing them. Madeline Albright. Helen Thomas. Kofi Annan. Every Kansas senator since Nancy Kassebaum. Now, bragging about this list of famous people doesn't provoke much starstruck envy except in a pretty select geek-heavy circle, but look who's here in the second row next to Stevie Wonder and Bono at the 2009 Inaugural Ball!
Two minutes later, he was within spittin' distance when Barack and Michelle made their first dance as the First Couple. (Film courtesy of my camera taking pictures of the television set because I'm high-tech like that.)

Last night I found myself in a conversation during which I inexplicably felt compelled to drag out my fame connections.

"One of my favorite cousins--well, he's a favorite cousin, but we haven't really seen each other a lot--well, anyway, we saw each other last spring for the first time in about 30 years, and I asked what his kids were doing, and guess what? His son is dating ASHLEY TISDALE."

You can only imaging the hubbub this produced, which is to say, none at all.

I guess if you're going to try to impress a bunch of women who saw the Beatles' first appearance on Ed Sullivan, you have to drop a bigger name than a co-star of High School Musical.

Kofi Annan, maybe?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

(No) Snow Day

A colleague was scraping a couple inches of winter weather advisory off her windshield yesterday when she made what may be my all-time favorite comment about frozen precipitation.

"I see no reason whatsoever for snow unless it comes attached to a snow day."

Amen, sister!

Unfortunately, this snow showed up unattached so the best thing about the 7-degree weather has been Husband's cool picture of a tire he saw in the parking lot.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Age of Majority

Somewhere while I wasn't watching my THIRD child turned 21. This means the majority of my children are now legal adults, and will behave like the mature, rational, thoughtful men they are.

Except when they are wrestling over the birthday cake, and their mother is shrieking "Stop that right now! You're going to knock it off the table! Really, I mean it! I can't get a picture of you that isn't blurred if you don't STAND STILL! Aw, c'mon, guys,"

It also was an occasion for me to grieve the baker I used to be when the Boys were little. Then the cakes were fine occasions for me to show off my artistic side, but apparently my artistic side is on a road trip somewhere with my ability to ride roller coasters and tolerate spicy food.

Think I'm kidding? I give you these examples of childhood birthday cakes:

A foot kicking a soccer ball, back in the days when we spent all of our time at the soccer field. And the foot is in a shoe that has licorice laces. Yup, that's how artsy I was.

Or this, the Winnie-the-Pooh that I drew FREE-HAND.

Darn. This looks like a mess in the picture, but it was the year Boy#3 and a friend smacked heads during a particularly raucous game at our church's New Year's Eve party and he spent his birthday in concussed confusion. The upper right hand corner of the cake features a muddled-looking face with question marks and fireworks shooting out of its scalp. We're all about the caring concern at MomQueenBee's house.

Also, I'm beginning to see why Three doesn't complain when his cake just says Happy Birthday.

Friday, January 7, 2011

I'll Miss This

For the past several months I've often awakened at 3 a.m. with the certainty that I would not be able to get back to sleep.

That happens to us middle-aged women. It's something, like thinning eyebrows, that NO ONE HAD WARNED ME ABOUT. Thanks a lot, friends who've already been down this path.*

Usually if I wake up at 3 a.m., after the initial panic I realize it's a great time for uninterrupted prayer. So I wait to see who comes to mind, and I have a peaceful minute or two or twenty placing that person at the feet of God.

Last night when I woke up I realized it hadn't been hormones but the pitter-patter of size 12 feet on our creaky wooden stairs that awakened me. That made my choice of prayer subjects easy, and I smiled as I placed them before the throne.

Thank you, God, for these Boys, and for the delight they bring me. May they be a joy to You as well.

And then I realized the other thing that woke me was the wafting smell of this:


*Boys, you will want to ignore this footnote. Husband was laughing as he brought me the paper last night and showed me this cartoon. Also this one. It's a good thing I have a sense of humor.

Thursday, January 6, 2011


My friend S. was in the foyer after the funeral this morning. Just a few weeks ago I played for her mother's memorial service, and I was worried that this might have been hard on her. She grinned, though, when I asked if the morning had been hard on her recent grief.

"Did it hit too close to home? No, if it weren't for funerals I wouldn't have any social life at all."

We laughed together, a bit ruefully, but we could commiserate about this stage in our lives: This was the third funeral in less than a month for the mother of one of my contemporaries, and we're now in the generation of older women.

Before I had children I dreamed of them growing from babyhood through childhood and into adulthood. Always in the background of the dream were their grandparents, though, and this seems to be the year the grandmothers are passing out of my friends' families.

Just as we're enjoying the joys of having adult children (and those joys are enormous and constantly emerging) I've found myself surprised by the abrupt transition to being the oldest generation. It's oddly similar to the transition that made me part of the middle generation.

Before I became a mother I read books about other mothers' experiences, and talked to every woman I knew about her mothering experience. Nothing could have prepared me, though, for the live-action 3D experience of motherhood itself. It was so vivid! So grey! So fun! So horrible! So magical! So unrelenting! So...everything. Still, I wouldn't have traded it for anything, except for when I would have traded it for, well, anything.

During this transition to being a mother, much as I loved and was supported by my husband, the hands that were holding me steady were women's hands. My own mother, my sisters, my friends, my mentors, women I saw in Wal-Mart who seemed to be parenting their children well.

And now, as my friends and sisters and I go through this new transition, again I see women supporting women. I hugged M. this morning, and told her what a great job her mother had done, just as women had hugged me at Mom's funeral a year ago.

Transitions are the responsibility of the women.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

What's On My Counter (Post-Holiday Edition)

Mugs. Lots and lots of mugs. Mugs for coffee, and for milk, and for orange juice.Plus a couple of non-muggish drinking containers, an apple, and a box of chocolate flavored candy canes.

Oh, and a hambone, which means Our Dog Pepper looks forward to the post-Christmas ham and beans with more excitement than any of the men in the house do.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Revolving Door

The house at the corner of Drainage Street and Halfway Down the Hill has been a busy place this Christmas vacation, what with the bowl games and the visits to the farm and the Hey! It's the posse at the door! that go on here most of the time.
Let's recap:
  1. Boy#3 was first to get home a week before Christmas.
  2. Boys#2 and #4 finished finals a few days later and finished the trek from two states away two days before Christmas, along with
  3. Boy#1, whose finals aren't until February. 
  4. Boys#2, #3, and #4 left again the day after Christmas, so that they and their bands could (for all it helped) cheer their football teams in bowl games.
  5. Boy#1 headed for the big city to  visit friends, but I forget when that was and he was back the next day. But he visited Big City again a few days later, just at about the same time
  6. Husband and I left for the farm so we wouldn't miss my family's rockin' New Year's Eve party. My youngest brother has never lived down the moment when, as a six-year-old, he stripped to his skivvies and donned a year-dated sash to dash through the living room. We have waited in vain 40 years for a repeat performance. Obviously One had heard this legend because
  7. Boy#1 came straight to the farm from Big City. While he was at the farm,
  8. Boys#2 and #4 returned home from their bowl, and the next day,
  9. Husband, Boy#1 and I spent New Year's Day traveling back to Small Town.The following day,
  10. Boy#1 left to go back to Texas (his classes started with the new year) and
  11. Boy#3 arrived back in his college town and decided to stay there through the next basketball game. That sounded like more fun than sitting around watching America's Next Iron Chef with their mother, so
  12. Boys#2 and #4 visited Boy#3 at college town and celebrated his birthday, as well as playing at the basketball game. (Just to be clear, they're in the band, not on the team.)
  13. Today Two, Three and Four will be back at home. In three days the out-migration starts again.
So if you ask me, "Will the Boys be home for vacation?" forgive my blank stare. Some questions are too complicated to answer.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Start With a Family

Dad and the Quiet-But-Stubborn Daughter
It never crossed my father's mind that he would outlive his wife. He was, after all, four years older (which led to family stories of how "If I'd have taken your mother to the senior prom, I would have been going with an eighth grader,") and while Dad's always been the head of the household, Mom was the pivot point around which we orbited.

He was not, and is not, a chauvinist. A feisty wife and three mouthy daughters (well, two mouthy daughters and one quiet-but-stubborn daughter) made him realize early on that women's rights are nothing more than human rights. Still, he always walks on the street side of the sidewalk when he's with a female, just in case there's danger from the street. He never got over calling his secretaries "the girls," even when his wife and daughters pointed out that was not only politically incorrect but potentially offensive.

So even though he was an advocate for women and the endless possibilities they should have, he never learned to cook, or to sew on a button. He hadn't made his own bed since the day before he got married. Dad without Mom was unthinkable--until one year ago.

The first morning after we came home from the hospital without his wife, Dad woke up, climbed out of bed, and pulled up the sheets. Then he went to the kitchen where my brother taught him how to scramble an egg.

This year, at age 84, he has gone on a friendship trip to Panama. He has laid a wreath on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier as part of a World War II veterans flight. He has worked on committees, and advocated for his small town, and played the bass in the community orchestra. He won five gold medals swimming at the Senior Olympics "but I missed looking over and seeing your mother give me the thumbs up when I climbed out of the pool."

I don't know how other families cope when they lose their pivot point, but my siblings and I are lucky. We like each other, and we believe family is worth saving. We're following the lead of our father and adapting to our new reality.

We're pivoting around a different point.