Thursday, June 30, 2011

Junior High Camp Redux

I am 50-hrmk years old. I lived happily in a foreign country for more than three years, and successfully co-parented four children into adulthood without misplacing any of them. I can (sort of) play the piano and (oh, yeah) tie a cherry stem into a knot with my tongue.

So why, yesterday morning, were my hands sweating when I stepped out of the elevator?

Because I am 12 years old and it was the first day of summer camp again.

I didn't know a soul at this conference, and my normally battened-down social anxiety was in full-on blast mode. Did I have the right clothes? Would anyone sit with me at lunch? Who were the popular kids and could I avoid them? Would I know the right rock stars and buzzwords so that I didn't look like a hick?

But then we set off for the first field trip of the day and a woman from New Jersey fell in step beside me. "Your first time at the conference?" she asked, and by the time we had waited at the stop light for the cautionary don't-even-think-of-walking hand to disappear (and branded ourselves as tourists while all the natives ignored us and the hand), I knew half a dozen things about this Easterner and her school.

Then we arrived, and whoa, I felt like a pilgrim arriving at Mecca. If you're not in the biz, you may not know that the Chronicle of Higher Education is the gold standard for college reporting. In my line of work, if you've gotten your school in the Chronicle, and it doesn't have a headline like "What's Up With Freshmen? Are They All This Stupid?," you're going to be trotting in to ask your boss for a raise.

As it turns out, the editors and reporters are people. HUMAN BEINGS. Who knew? And they were charming and friendly and I left with half a dozen story ideas swirling around in the part of my brain that says "Hey, I bet someone would like to read about this."

As the day went on I found that I know a lot more than I thought I did, and what do you know, everyone else does pretty much the same thing we do at my college, and hey, this is actually pretty fun.

I think I'll stay another day.

The editor of the Chronicle. A human being.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Smart. Aleck.

Husband and I are off to the nation's capital today, where I am attending a conference and he is the trailing spouse who will be sleeping late and reading books while I attend seminars. (Something is wrong with this picture.) This provoked the following instant-message exchange with Boy#1, who is now living in the self-same capital:

One: You all packed?

MomQueenBee: Not even started. I think I'm in denial that I'm leaving for the better part of a week in just a few hours.

One: That's the best plan.

MQB: I keep thinking "I'm going to see One!" and not "My other children need to eat!" or "My flowers need to be watered and will probably die!"

One: Your other children can fend for themselves. So can the flowers.

MQB: Yes, and no. Am I a bad mother that I'm worried about the flowers and dog more than I am about my own offspring?

One: Naw.

MQB: That's a relief.

One: Well, let me rephrase. You're a bad mother for many other reasons.


One: But those aren't near the top of the list.

MQB: Hahaha. Ha. Haha.

One: Not funny?

MQB: Only marginally.

He may have to pick up his own tab when we take him out for his birthday.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Moving: A Mathematical Explanation

When the last of the Boys flew away from the nest, Husband and I thought "Yay! We're done moving stuff!"

Weren't we cute, so young and innocent?

As it turns out, moving kids to their first dorm room is only the first of an infinite number of moves during college that can be expressed mathematically:

Stuff x (Years of Accumulation) x (Numbers of Friends Storing Things for the Month Between End of Old Lease and Beginning of New Lease) x (Number of Pick-Ups Available) x  (Flights of Stairs Between Apartment and Pick-Ups) / (Number of Young Knees Carrying Things Up and Down Stairs) = Ibuprofen

As a music major, Boy#3 had accumulated a fairly impressive amount of stuff. (Three trombones? Really?) He also lived on the second floor, which is a wonderful thing for avoiding road traffic and watching crowds go by on the way to the football game, but not so wonderful a thing when it comes to moving out large pieces of furniture.

Husband and his trusty tool kit got busy dismantling as much as could be dismantled...

...but some pieces are irreducible. Here goes the box springs:

And there goes the mattress:

If you look closely in the picture above, you'll notice that the backwards-walker is a tiny little pocket-sized girl. Folks, this was one valiant furniture carrier, who fit right in with all the manly men also toting drawers and bookcases and boxes down the 18 steps from the apartment to the ground floor.

I, on the other hand, only know there were 18 steps because I counted them carefully before I made my decision that my old knees had only so many steps left in them, and that I should bequeath my load-bearing role to the younger knees and stick my head in the oven. (Which, incidentally, had enough baked-on pumpkin pie filling that the furniture was completely loaded and moved before the oven sparkled.)

E, K, C, and Three, you're the bee's knees. Can we hire you again?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Together in the Tide Pool

The phone rang this morning at 7:30. It was C, the next-to-oldest of my best friends in the world. We met in eighth grade and survived geometry and music contests and bad haircuts together, then went to the same university before she moved to Alaska and I left for the Peace Corps.

We each married guys who were perfect for each of us, and had only Boys (she had one, I had four), and even when there were years between our visits our conversations always started, "As I was saying..." It was as if we were sea creatures sharing the same tide pool, and whether the tides were going in or coming out, we splashed around together in our shallow spot of the vast ocean. 

Today I worried when I heard her voice so early.

"Is everything okay?"

"No, things are in kind of a mess."

I knew almost without explanation what she was facing: Like so many of us baby boomers, C is helping her aging parents transition into the next life stage. This process is poignantly reminiscent to when we were responsible for the well-being of our young children. This time, though, C can't proceed with the authority of a parent helping a child decide whether to wear a green shirt or a red shirt, or which college to attend. Those were training moments; these are winding-down moments, made with loved ones whose option-weighing capabilities are withering rather than expanding. This situation requires sympathy, and respect for dignity, and the honor we choose to give our parents, even as we must make decisions they wouldn't necessarily choose as we deal with life complications they hoped to never face.

Being a parent to a child is sometimes achingly difficult, but no more difficult than being parent to a parent.

So in my heart all day has been a prayer that C is holding up with stamina and grace, and that the choices she is being forced to make for her parents are not breaking their hearts, or hers, because we all are swimming in this pool as the tide goes out.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

He's Cute AND Funny

Pepper can't believe it, either!
I'm harvesting tomatoes!

This morning I brought in four of the cherry variety (thumbnail sized) and one of the non-cherry variety (tennis ball sized). Husband was duly impressed.

"It does seem to me, though," he said, picking up one of the cherry tomatoes, "that you'd have to slice up quite a few of these to make a BLT."

Oh, such a comedian.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Summer Habits

As the mother of Boys, over the years I have instituted a few hard and fast house rules in an attempt to distinguish the MomQueenBee House from the fraternity house the guys may have been under the misconception they had been born into.

No drinking out of the milk carton. Or the orange juice jug.

No spitting in the kitchen sink. For any reason whatsoever.

No eating out of serving dishes with fingers.

And absolutely no double-dipping in the ice cream.

You know what I'm talking about. You want some ice cream, but you really shouldn't eat a full bowl, so you just take a spoonful. Oooh, that tasted really good. How about just one more taste?

As I reiterated the old rules during the early summer Boy influx, I reminded them of the no-double-dipping rule. "I don't care if you eat the entire carton of ice cream in one sitting," I told them. "Just put it in a bowl or get another spoon for each dip."

This morning I got up to find the celebratory Father's Day Edy's Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough almost gone. Take a guess as to how many bowls were in the sink?

One, small.

And how many spoons?

Twelve. One dozen. Una docena. One-twelfth of a gross.

I have taught them well.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Happy Birthday, Waffle Child

Boy #1, A Long Time Ago
The many, many mistakes we made as parents of Boy#1 started even before he was born, when my blood pressure skyrocketed and we forced him to be born nearly a month before his due date. He was tiny (less than five pounds) purple and didn't look at all like the pink, chubby newborns I'd seen on television. We had taken parenting classes and read books, but Husband and I still felt completely unprepared for the monumental job of being parents that stretched out ahead of us. I was more than half serious when I asked the doctor if he was sure we should take One home.

In spite of my inability to provide womb service until his due date, One passed all of the newborn tests and left the hospital on the normal less-than-48-hours-from-birth schedule. 

Then when One was two weeks old, we left the house for the first time that didn't involve a doctor visit, and I enjoyed a Fourth of July feast at Grandy's. Chicken, baked beans, cole slaw. You veteran mothers are gasping--I was subjecting his immature digestive system to what? 

This mistake he wasn't quite as ready to gloss over. For the next six weeks Husband and I took turns holding One day and night. Any slacking of attention or attempt to put One down provoked screams that would bloody a rock star's eardrums. I learned my lesson: After that experience and for as long as the two of us were sharing the food I put in my mouth, I kept my diet bland and nutritious.

I won't go into more of the countless blunders Husband and I made as we learned how to be parents. We often over-protected and over-pushed, often didn't allow enough slack or give enough credit. But we loved this kid fiercely, completely. I was a hippie-dippie pacifist (a Peace Corps volunteer, for crying out loud) and I distinctly remember looking into six-week-old One's sleeping face and thinking, "If someone tried to take him from me, I could kill that person."

And in spite of the blunders, One grew up to be smart and cool and funny and good-looking, a quirky kid who writes postcards to his grandparents from everywhere he visits or lives. He laughs at my jokes and makes me prouder than he knows.

When I was a kid I thought the best, most wonderful thing a girl could grow up to be was a mother. Twenty-five years ago today, and every day since, One has reminded me I was right.

The title of this post comes from the old saying that children are like waffles, and the first one should be thrown out. Nonsense.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Why I Don't Speak Spanish

A few days ago Husband and I ate at the local Mexican eatery, where, oh my goodness, the chips and salsa would be a complete meal unto themselves except that they're followed by a complete meal of steaming deliciousness.

We arrived before the rush and a new waitress was obviously nervous about taking our order. One of the "old" guys encouraged her, and because I spent a fairly large chunk of my early adulthood in Central America, I knew what was going on.

"No hablas ingles?" I asked her delightedly, because nothing makes me happier than the chance to speak some espanol. I love, love, love to speak Spanish but I rarely break out the rolled r's and fancy conjugations unless I'm absolutely certain my Spanish is better than the English of the person I'm talking with. I trace this reluctance to an incident during my first few weeks in Costa Rica.

I hadn't been in country long but I'd had a couple years of high school Spanish, and I was feeling fairly confident about my abilities when I strolled into the stationery store. I needed some airmail paper and this was a church-run business, so surely the clerks would have patience with my primitive communication skills.

I know! I'd explain I didn't speak Spanish, and that I was embarrassed about my ignorance, and that way no one would think I was stupid. I approached the manager, who was smiling in welcome.

"Buenos dias, padre," I told him. "Estoy embarazada porque no hablo espanol."

The smile disappeared from the manager's face. His eyes widened, and he stammered something I didn't understand as he hurried away. I was puzzled but I bought my paper using the point and shout method, shaking my head at the manager's odd reaction.

As it turns out, "embarrassed" is not one of those easy adjectives, such as perfecto and interesante, that slide back and forth with ease between English and Spanish. It wasn't until weeks later that I discovered I told a priest I was PREGNANT because I didn't speak Spanish.Even now, 30 years later, I squirm with verguenza as I look back on the incident.

It was fun to speak Spanish in the restaurant, but you can bet I didn't tell the waitress I was embarrassed by my accent. I don't need that kind of reputation around town.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


When Boy#1 and Boy#2 vacated their college apartment a month ago, we made sure it was in pristine condition. The men of the family were the movers, I was the cleaner, and we did our jobs well.

I scrubbed down the cupboards, sanitized the refrigerator inside and out, polished drip pans until they shone, and dabbed paint on a couple of scratches on the walls. The bathrooms were top-to-bottom sparkly when I finished, and the entire place had a clean, lemony scent.

The apartment looked great, even better than when they moved in.

Imagine our surprise this week when the damage deposit was returned, and most of it was, well, un-returned. One chunk was withheld for "light plates and doorstops," the former of which I distinctly remember cleaning and the latter of which had never existed. Another honkin' huge amount went to "cleaning and painting." Hrmph.

I was not a happy person. (I believe the phrase I used was, "If I'd have known this was going to happen, we'd have just moved the stuff out and locked the doors behind us, and I most certainly would not have scrubbed that groady shower.")

As it turns out, though, there are some advantages to having a law student in the family. These property managers are notorious for cabbaging onto deposits so one of Boy#1's lawyer-ly professors had provded his classes a template for just such an occasion. One now knows phrases such as "pursuant to"  and "three times the portion of the deposit wrongfully withheld," and "further, Section 92.109(d) states" and "insufficient to justify retention of any portion," and he used all of these phrases (and more!) in the certified letter he fired off to the property managers.

We don't know if the letter will actually result in the return of the deposit, but we have learned a valuable lesson, which is this:  Having a lawyer in the family could turn out to be very useful.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011


One of the biggest challenges when the Boys were toddlers was keeping them in shoes. Not just making sure each child had at least one pair of shoes the approximate size of his feet (which, considering the rate at which the feet grew,  was in and of itself a challenge) but making sure a left shoe and a right shoe were available for each left foot and right foot leaving the house.

The problem was that somewhere our darling offspring had picked up the habit of shedding their shoes the moment they walked in the door. (What? Are you looking at my bare feet?) This meant four pairs of tiny sneakers floating around the floor and being kicked into various corners and disappearing.

The solution to this was a crock. Not the actual one shown in the picture here, because holy cow, for $595 I would have expected the crock seller to come to our house personally and round up the shoes. No, we found an old 10-gallon crock for the corner of the kitchen and all shoes were expected to go into the crock. Then when it was time to leave, the foot owner found his shoes in the crock and off we went.

Fast forward two decades.

Old habits die hard, and shoes still come off feet the second they're in the house, but the feet have changed. Instead of being tiny size T-1, the Boys' shoes are now clodhopper size 13. Instead of having a single pair of adorable wee rubber sandals, each Boy has work boots, tennis shoes, and manly leather sandals. Plus dress shoes for Sunday.

The old crock overflowed, and the flood of shoes spilling around its edges irked Husband mightily.

"All shoes go up to bedrooms!" he declared. When this declaration didn't work, I came home from work to find this lovely addition to the corner of my kitchen:

The MomQueenBee House simply reeks of klass. Also, very funny, Husband. Ha, ha.

Monday, June 13, 2011


Every Friday night of the summer, the Small Town City Band gives a concert on the steps of the community theatre. The parks department puts out benches, and people bring their own lawn chairs, and for an hour or so we listen to Sousa marches and the inspirational song of the week, and sing along to "Bicycle Built for Two."

If this sounds condescending, that is not my intent: This band is GOOD. The trumpeter above is finishing his doctorate in music, and at least a dozen band members make their living playing music. Another dozen are just as talented but chose to make their living some other way. The rest are enthusiastic amateurs who practice one night a week year-round so that they'll be ready for these summer concerts.

There is no age limit in this band and half a dozen or so of its members are high school students who have shown musical promise but didn't have their own instruments. So the band gives them instruments, and if they continue to participate through high school, they get to keep the instrument when they graduate. (Of course, no one "graduates" from city band; one clarinet player was part of the band from the time he was in high school until he died at 90+ years old.)

Last Friday a friend was visiting from nearby Big City. We sat under a tree in our comfy chairs and watched the kids playing in the grass, then getting a cookie from the lead trumpeter's wife when they finished the children's parade.

We chatted between songs, and applauded the guest conductor--a concert attendee who was celebrating her 88th birthday that day.

It was during the roll call of visitor hometowns that Cindy finally placed the similarity.

"Good grief," she said. "You live in The Music Man."

Oooooooh, there's nothin' halfway, about the Small Town way to treat you....

Friday, June 10, 2011

Leaving on a Jet Plane

If I were a better photographer, this picture of Boy#1 would be all special effect-y. When I snapped it I meant for Boy and his carry-on to be a blur, with the remainder of the photo crystal clear, instead of having the whole picture be a blur. My intention was too ambitious for my point-and-shoot camera, though.

The blur would have been a good analogy for One during the past week. On Monday he was watching noon hour Law and Order re-runs with me and snarking about Jack McCoy's righteous indignation; four days later he's in his first full day of work back in the Washington law firm where he spent a year as support staff. This time he's at the firm as an intern, a state of limbo that isn't quite secretary and definitely isn't lawyer, but is inching along the path toward becoming a lawyer.

The e-mail that sent him packing Monday was memorable because it (a) affirmed that he had left a good impression and happy supervisors when he left our nation's capital a year ago, (b) meant he would have to scramble to find someplace to live or would be (as his father so optimistically predicted) living with the homeless people in the public library, and (c) effectively put a stop to all the projects I had lined up for him to do during his leisurely summer at home. If you see me with spattered glasses in the next few weeks, it's because I've been painting the back entry myself instead of sub-contracting it to One.

The blur is now reviewing literature and documents and surviving the East Coast heat wave. He's happy, and we're happy he's there.

But I miss my Law and Order commentator.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Amber Waves

(A conversation that took place yesterday as I was taking Boy#1 to the airport)

Me: I love harvest.

Boy: No, you love your memories of harvest.

Me: Well, I guess technically that's correct since I haven't been part of harvest for 30 years. But I loved harvest when I was a kid! The excitement, the adrenaline, the feeling that everything you'd worked for all year was leading up to this! It was like the Olympics every June.

Boy: A real Michael Phelps moment, right?

Hrmph. He obviously was raised in town--farm kids show more respect.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

All I Know About Being Married

All I know about being married, and most of what I know about life, comes from the example my parents set during my formative years.

Laugh often, work hard, forgive with grace.

Wink at each other without letting everyone else in on the secret.

Don't let the kids be more important than the spouse, or the spouse more important than the family, or the family more important than God.

You married this person because you love this person, not because you expected him or her to change.

You are part of something much bigger than yourself.

Mom and Dad were married on a scorching Kansas evening 58 years ago today. She wore the most beautiful wedding dress I've ever seen, and carried a bouquet of daisies. My sister and I wore the dress at our own weddings, and it's hanging in my closet today. It was only one way all of us have unconsciously modeled our own marriages after the best relationship we knew.

The photographer lost the negatives so only two of my parents' wedding pictures exist. One of these photos shows them cutting the wedding cake, their first responsibility as a married couple. They are so focused and earnest that I want to go back in time and give them a hug.

"Don't worry. You're going to do a great job," I want to tell them. "You're going to be the best parents ever, and you'll be in love until death do you part and beyond."

Happy anniversary, Dad and Mom. We remember.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Duck People (copyright pending)

Last week I was working in the convention office when a very nice lady came in. At least I assume she was very nice; there actually wasn't much indication of that in the way she informed the person in charge of her needs and deadlines.

She left a noticeable stir in the air when she left the office.

"Wow, that was a real Duck Person," I said.

To my surprise, no one in the room had ever heard of the term, but then I remembered I made it up to describe some of the people in my professional world, and had neglected to copyright the phrase. So I explained:

A Duck Person is someone who has a vision of what should happen in the future. This vision can be enormous (world peace!) or it can be less enormous (lunch!). Unfortunately, because the duck person has an huge beak and is looking over that beak to the vision in the future, it's impossible for the Duck Person to see any of the frantic paddling that is going on under the surface of the water that will move all toward completion of the vision.

So it's obvious that calling someone a Duck Person can be either a compliment ("Wow! What a vision!") or an insult ("Can you not see that I'm already working on lunch?"), and can spur either more selfless effort or exaggerated eyerolling. Interestingly, the Duck People themselves seldom recognize which variety of Duck Person is being referenced.

Duck Person. You read it here first, and you're welcome.

Monday, June 6, 2011

I Am Pumpkin

Seabiscuit and his jockey
One of the reasons I went to the convention over the weekend was to spend time with J., my (much) older sister. The amount of fun we have together probably should be illegal in the 50-and-over category, but my role in this was not just to have fun.

Among her many skills, J. is a wizard at organization. (I credit this talent to her being the oldest of five children, and her inborn need to keep all those siblings in line.) She has organized dozens of conventions and festivals and contests and camps, and she was the natural choice to be registrar for this convention.

As it turns out, being the Border Collie in charge of rounding up and registering upwards of 300 women is a formidable task. J. spent hundreds of hours making sure each woman had somewhere to sleep, and the proper meal tickets, and name tags, etc., etc.  By the time convention opened, she was just a wee bit stressed. No one else could tell, because she kept a smile and positive attitude front and center, but I recognized the tell-tale signs of tension in her non-blinking eyes and uber-calm voice.

I happen to be reading a book right now that spoke to my role in this situation. Seabiscuit, by Laura Hillebrand, is a fascinating look at the famous Depression-era racehorse. While the book is riveting in its own right, it's also educational.

I learned that one problem with racehorses is that the very traits that make them fast (competitiveness, energy) can make being cooped up in a stall dangerous. The horses often buck or kick and injure themselves in the confined settings. To calm the high-dollar racers down, trainers bring in companion animals to share their stalls.

When Seabiscuit began thrashing in his stall, his trainer brought in an old, slow, placid horse named Pumpkin, and the more famous counterpart immediately calmed down. From that time on wherever Seabiscuit went, Pumpkin went as well. Pumpkin did not train, race, or otherwise work for the cushy accommodations and non-stop acclamation that went with being companion to nation's top animal athlete. All Pumpkin did was hang out and stay calm. Seabiscuit did all the work, Pumpkin reaped all the reward.

My job at the convention? I was Pumpkin.

Now if you'll excuse me, I think I'll go take a nap and rest up from all that strenuous non-working.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Girls Gone Wild

I'm leaving in a few minutes for a three-day convention of a women's group that's been part of my life since, well, since I've been alive. My grandmother belonged, and so did my mother, and I'll be rooming with my older sister.

I completely believe in the educational and philanthropic goals of this group, and the thought of three days to spend with my older sister while someone else does the cooking sounds heavenly. Most of us are of (or above) a certain age, though, and it's a pretty sedate group, so we are unlikely to spend much time braiding each others' hair and squealing over the Jonas Brothers.

Husband may not completely understand that the women who attend this convention are different from the wild-and-crazy accountant-types he meets at his seminars. When he left for work this morning he cautioned me about my behavior.

"Don't do anything that would embarrass your kids," he reminded me.

Well, dang. I guess we all won't be getting matching tattoos after all.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Best Present Ever

A few years ago I Santa was looking for Christmas stocking stuffers for the boys when an Amazon e-mail alerted me to a super sale item. It was this adorable stuffed monkey, with its equally adorable little blindfold. (Why? Is he about to be executed? Or playing Blind Man's Buff? We will never know, because he isn't talking.)

It was only a couple of dollars, so even though my youngest Boy was an oldish teenager, I added it to my order. A few minutes later I remembered that I have four children, so I looked for additional stuffed animals that would even out the gift-giving jollity. I found a pig, a frog, and a cow. None of these, unfortunately, was on sale, so my $2 impulse buy turned out to cost about $40, plus shipping, but I Santa had something to put in the stockings for Christmas morning.

As it turns out, Santa is a genius.

You see, these little stuffed toys are not just stuffed toys, they are WEAPONS. Grab the feet and head, stretch, and aim it toward a target and the blindfolded monkey becomes a slingshot projectile that not only lands with a satisfying whoomp, but also has some sort of gizmo inside that makes a truly startling shriek upon impact.

Could there be a more perfect boy toy?

As soon as they opened the stockings the Boys knew they had something special, and that I Santa had made a dreadful mistake. The rest of that day was spent dodging flying animals, and hoping none hit the full cup of coffee I was carrying because if that happened those animals were TOAST.

Life has taken a toll on the slingshot animals. The monkey is missing a paw (cleverly hidden in the picture) and the chicken? Well, let's just say it's now fully equipped for running around aimlessly.

But those defects have not lessened the thrill of seeing a sleepy brother come around the corner, and THROWING the slingshot animal at him to activate one horrifying scream from the animal and another from the brother.

Yesterday I got another Amazon alert: Special price on slingshot flying pig with oink sound! Maybe I should replace...