Neighborhood has Turned into the Wild, Wild West

courtesy of freestock.com

courtesy of freestock.com

Howdy! I reckon I’ll share a tale about this here settlement. Way out West in the small county of Johnson, a township was prospering. The kinfolk were, overall, a good people.

When the children weren’t larnin’, they spent their time in the woods riding on trails and fighting off monsters by the creek. The townsfolk spent their days tending to the farm and worrying about the weather.

Summer was gone, so with the cool breeze of autumn and the drone of cicadas dying down, the townsfolk settled into a familiar quiet life.

Folks was encouraged until that sunny day when Cowboy Joe, packing his Smith and Wesson 6-shooter, roamed the main street…

The year was 2016 and life as we knew it was changing.

It all happened one beautiful August evening. After a big rain, the obnoxious temperatures finally lowered. Kids were in the yards playing, while parents gossiped over the 4-foot fences. So on the one day when the temperatures were comfortable and mosquitos were at bay, the home dwellers surfaced.

“Hi there, Sheila! When did y’all move in? Last year, you say? …Well, welcome to our perfect corner of the world!”

It’s a regular Pleasantville!

That evening, in order to trick my children into exercising with me, I suggested we search for Pokémon Go monsters in our hood. The beauty of this phone app is kids have no idea how far they are walking; and as long as they are doing with me, they won’t wander in front of traffic. It’s a win-win.

We had only walked about five blocks searching for funny critters, when an old man out for a walk appeared. I shouldn’t have assumed he wouldn’t know about Pokémon, but we had intentionally stalked into a yard to put the sting on Jigglypuff. I didn’t want this man screaming, “Get outta my yard!” So I cheerily approached to assure him we weren’t threatening, unless he were a Pokémon.

After our howdy dos, he abruptly changed gears ranting about politics in front of my children. I must have been wearing that face saying, “You are either crazy or an idiot” because he literally shamed me for the beliefs he thought I had.

Within 2.2 seconds he spouted off the Second Amendment, without caring or knowing how I felt about it. Just assuming I was “wrong,” he proceeded to lift up his shirt to show me he had a gun tucked into his belted jean shorts.

I’m sure the next sound was a panicked mom gasping for air, as I fumbled to protect my children. After all, I didn’t know this Cowboy Joe from a hole in the ground.

My daughter, staring at his shorts said, “You have a Taser?”

I yelled a panicked “No!” to stop her questioning, or to keep the old cowboy from drawing his pistol. Thankfully my outburst surprised everyone and everyone stopped talking.

“It was so nice to meet you, sir!” I said with as much sincerity as I could force. “But we have a whole lot of Pokémon to capture.” Then with a fake smile, I pushed my daughters down the hill and high- tailed it out of Dodge. That theater training of mine does come in handy, Mom!

After running home the back way, locking all doors and closing blinds, we crouched in the safest part of the house to answer my skeered babies’ questions. Just because trouble comes visiting, doesn’t mean you offer it a place to sit.

After a sleepless night and a trip to the police station, I found out we are living in the Wild West. Last I heard, we lived in a state where you had to conceal your weapon, not show it off to young children. Apparently, I was wrong. As long as Cowboy Joe didn’t threaten us with his drawn weapon, we couldn’t call 9-1-1. That makes a mom feel safer. That’s sarcasm.

Cowboy Joe, here’s some free advice: I don’t care if you own a six-shooter, but don’t be exposing it to my kids. Plus, exercising with a gun on your hip sounds like danger ready to happen. If you stumble off a curb one day, you could shoot yerself in the yippee-kayee.

Pleasantville, my hide.

Cooling off Period is Universal for Kids

Ever hear of the annual two-week cooling off period? Ask any teacher or parent about the start of school, and you will get the “I’m totally with you!” head nod.

So why is it that every year all children misbehave, have bouts of unexplained crying and/or throw Barbies through the sheetrock in their rooms?

It’s called school is starting so let’s make it worse for Mom by acting demonic just for giggles.

The week before my children went back to school, I developed what I thought was possibly a tumor or a small bowling ball in my stomach. In the past, I’ve dealt with panic attacks but this was much different.

Could it be the box of ice cream sandwiches that I demolished? Perhaps. But I knew in my gut the first day of school was approaching and the infamous two weeks could finally do me in.

Nowhere in any parenting book have I seen why children act insane during the first two weeks of every school year. Why hadn’t generations before mentioned this temporary insanity diagnosis? Was it one of those, “Ah, they’ll figure it out. I finally have time to read War and Peace.”

It wasn’t until my eldest daughter was in kindergarten and I asked the teacher why my sweet child was demonstrating erratic behavior at home. She ought to have had some successful idea on what to do to turn my munchkin back into the kid I had before dropping her off at school. After all, the seasoned educator had taught hundreds of kids over the years.

The teacher informed me my daughter’s behavior at home was perfectly normal. “But you haven’t seen the change at home!” I interrupted. She added that nothing needed to be done but wait for the first two weeks to go by.

“So you see this happening with other kids?” I said shocked.

She admitted every child experiences this annually during the 14-day period of parental torture. After thanking her profusely and letting go of my clinging bear hug grasp, I returned home with an air of relief and smugness.

My kid is fine! The teacher told me so, I thought while patting myself on the back.

For some reason, the next year when I had one child entering kindergarten and the other moving up to first grade, I managed to forget the sage advice from the September before.

Why are my kids driving me crazy? Take me away, Calgon! Why isn’t anyone listening? Somebody please take me away!

Then at the peak of my wits end, the words came back to me, floating like one of those voiceovers in every Hallmark movie.

“They’re all like this for the first two weeks.”

And just like that, the wave of nausea and the tumor in my abdomen went away. My shoulders lowered and I exhaled — it was the beginning of school.

So if you are a parent who is looking haggard, sleep deprived or suddenly talking to yourself in public, please feel free to pass on the wise kindergarten teacher’s advice:

“Your child’s behavior is perfectly normal, and they’ll go back to their old selves in approximately 336 hours!”

But who’s counting, right?

(previously published in The Kansas City Star)

Good Deeds Deserves Bacon

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I’m not searching for signs in life. But after a few days of feeling like I pushed the repeat button on best lessons to be learned, I decided to listen.

It doesn’t take me four times being hit over the head to hear our world needs a wallop of kindness.

It started one day at the public library. My children were finding some reading material for the summer program, when an elderly man stopped me. I assumed he needed directions or to tell me my kids were cute as a button, but that didn’t happen.

He stopped, looked me straight in the eyes and said, “I hope you never lose that smile.”

This, of course, made me blush and smile even more, because when you’re on a summer library run early in the morning, with unwashed hair, no makeup and semi-matched clothing, your self-esteem tends to be a bit low.

After I thanked him or said something dumb like, “I don’t leave home without it,” this gentleman added, “You really light up a room.” Well, if that doesn’t beat all! He’s now coming for Thanksgiving dinner.

My daughter elbowed me as we walked away and said, “Mama that man was flirting with you!” “No he wasn’t!” was my quick reply. Come on! He’s in his 80s and picking up chicks in the library lobby?

“That man was just being nice,” was my firm answer before my mind wandered to Anna Nicole Smith. It’s amazing how rarely we see kindness firsthand from strangers. With just one sweet gift, only taking a few seconds out of his day, he made me feel as if I had never had floating library fines.

Normally I’d be all over a teachable moment as awesome as this. But before the story came out of my mouth, the girls darted to find books so I sashayed around the library, smiling more than any sane person should on a Tuesday morning.

A few days later, my grade-school-aged children let me sleep in. Does anyone else hear the “Halleluiah Chorus” when this happens?

Usually when my girls are letting me sleep, it’s because they’re trying to eke in more electronics time, so I wasn’t expecting more than the glazed-over stare of overly electronic-fied children.

When I landed my caffeine and a section of the paper, I found parked in front of my kitchen chair a grand surprise — a breakfast comprised of reheated pancakes, strawberries and bacon. I was so impressed I initially thought it was from my husband.

My youngest girl popped out, beaming with pride. She had used real plates and silverware and folded a napkin next to my plate.

“Do you like it, Mama? I even ate the burned bacon and gave you the good ones,” she said with a grin. I was blown away. We have called her the bacon bandit for some time.

Every family has a true bacon lover. The relative who you think of, when finding bacon-flavored chewing gum, all the while muffling gagging noises. Our bacon bandit can awake from a deep sleep and trace the bacon smell directly to the pan. What a sweet girl to share her favorite food with her mother.

My last sign was when a friend shared the loss of her 99-year-old grandfather.

She painted a sweet story of how he always said, “The good book says you need to do a good deed every day.” She said he couldn’t go to bed without doing a good act. Whether it’s paying for the person behind you in Starbucks, or complimenting someone, or holding the door for the person with his hands full. After nearly a century, can you imagine how many people this man touched?

It’s apparent that wisdom comes with age.

In one week, two older gentlemen knew the secret to the beautiful life. Being kind to one another. From the surplus of hate on the news to the political insanity, we all could use gentle reminders from a couple of guys who’ve lived long enough to know the difference.

Thank you, gentlemen, for helping me see through the signs.

Previously published on August 13, 2016 in THE KANSAS CITY STAR.

Mom in Doghouse for Baby-sitting Error

 

Wouldn’t you think after 10 years of raising daughters I would have seriously disappointed them?

I thought I had worked hard at that. I’m not bragging because I’m far from Mother of the Year, but I have caused many embarrassing events that surprisingly are a perk of parenting.

Long story short…my children no longer trust me.

There’s a touch of backstory needed. One of my daughters loves babies. Everywhere we go, there’s an infant oohing and awing back at her, and nearby dogs cock their heads while perturbed by her piercing, high-range baby voice.

We’ve called her the Baby Whisperer since she was 3. Years ago at the San Diego airport, our family was once again arguing where to stand at baggage claim — and in 2.63 seconds, our little one was gone.

We couldn’t even exit the airport before one of them is abducted? Great vacation!

Barking at my extended family to drop luggage and split up, I yelled, “Look for baby strollers! If there’s a baby in this terminal, she’s found it.” After the longest two minutes of our lives, we found her talking to her new best friend, a baby girl…in a stroller. Mother does know best.

So, recently when my 9- and 10-year-old daughters were asked to “baby-sit” a friend’s toddler during the older sister’s birthday party, you can imagine the hysterics . I insisted on being at the party in case there was cake, and also to assist my girls with not losing a child. I was a pro at this anyway.

For a month, baby-sitting was all my daughters could talk about. They counted down days on the calendar and spun stories of what might happen on that glorious day. They were positive they were already experts in baby-sitting.

On the big day, I woke up and checked my phone calendar to make sure we got there early enough. The clock dragged on and one o’clock took forever to arrive. But at 11 a.m., the mom of the birthday girl, texted me.

“Are you still coming to the party?”

I should have called her the day before to let her know we were still on.

I texted back we would arrive at one, then set my phone down to keep my girls entertained. At 12:30 I am pulling things together to leave and saw I had another text.

“The party was from 10 until noon,” she said.

After my soul melted into the cracks of the kitchen flooring, I begged my friend for forgiveness. Not only had I disappointed a friend, but also my girls were going to be livid!

I don’t know if anyone can imagine how many ways I varied the speech in my head. It was necessary to let my girls down easy, but there’s no scenario that could fix it. I had to rip off the Band-Aid and fess up.

I went to my older daughter first who hopefully would take the news well. She didn’t.

Tears the size of beach balls welled up, the lip started trembling and a far-fetched story about never being able to baby-sit again in the neighborhood was all she could repeat. I have no idea where this creative drama comes from — probably her engineer father.

Next I slowly approached my youngest, the Baby Whisperer.

I expected an ugly reaction, and true to form she morphed into the teenager I had been and slammed a door in my face.

If they were this angry because the friend had canceled, I wouldn’t have put up with it. But this was my fault. I can’t even blame it on my electronics because this is not the first time I’ve had appointments end up on the wrong day or time.

My only hope was if I could get another baby-sitting gig from my friend that day. I called her and asked if they would like a date night that night. The girls and I would love to watch her children for free hopefully to set things right with all disappointed parties.

Who knew after entertaining 15 excitable kindergartners with loads of sugar and a bouncy house, the parents were relieved to have a break.

My children forgave me as soon as the toddler ran into their arms. The Baby Whisperer was now a professional since she was paid in party favors, unlimited time in the bouncy house and cake.

Even I forgave myself after the cake.

(Previously published in The Kansas City Star on July 22, 2016)

Organized Clutter Society is in Session

“Hello, my name is Stacey and I love cleaning my house!”

(The overcrowded room snorts and sputters, while tucking handfuls of receipts back into their wallets.)

When entering my junk pile I call home, anyone can see I don’t have a gift for the spotless. If it were just I, it would be a bit cleaner; but the people I chose to inhabit my house – husband and kids – don’t appreciate the need for order and I have a deep seeded aversion to picking up after people.

However, from the dining room table’s junk and the charitable contribution piles, to the continual remodeling job of the house, it’s clear the clutter is highly organized. I have an order to the chaos…so hands off the piles!

I must emphasize it is clean though. Not that I’m doing the cleaning, but the people who sanitize my surfaces are saints; and if push came to shove, I might choose the cleaners over some family members if forced to make that decision.

There is a fine line between organized clutter and hoarding. If you can still see the outline of all of your furniture, and your stacks and piles are neatly aligned, you too could be an organized clutter creature.

At the other hand, there are folks who thrive on cleanliness and order. Typically hypercleaners breed clutterful people – it must be from all the bleach fumes.

When growing up, I fondly remember my mother having a faint scent of bleach, Comet Cleanser and latex gloves. I actually love the smell of a freshly bleached home, but I must confess I don’t have a bottle of the wicked cleaner in my house.

My mother baby-sat my children the first three years of their lives while I was at work. During this time I never once cleaned my stovetop. In fact, sometimes I would intentionally leave it a mess to give her something to do while the girls napped. I’m nice that way. My gas range was black and chrome, so every bit of salt, crumbs and toddler fingerprints were magnified to the nth degree; but she could make it shine like the top of the Chrysler building.

The issue is while some children grow up in a spic and span environment, they tend to prefer a sterile home as an adult. Unfortunately, many aren’t capable or willing to put the same type of elbow grease into it as their hyperclean parent. This is a common scenario for many Organized Clutter Society members.

The time it comes to a frightening frenzy is when family or dinner guests are scheduled to arrive. Family members of the OCS member, sit quietly in the corner rocking and waiting for their next order to be barked at them.

As soon as I get done scrubbing the calcium stains off the water dispenser, I need one of you to shake the area rugs away from any sitting area in the backyard! Who’s it gonna be, troops?

I’ve been told more than once I am like a drill sergeant before Thanksgiving dinner. When I look like I am about to explode, the house abruptly gets quiet. They have learned the hard way that yelling or crying will occur within seconds, and it’s mostly me.

I’ve known other Organized Clutter Society members who are older than me, and have said the only way to heal from party angst is to get so old that you don’t care or convince your group to go out-to-eat on big holidays.

No cooking, no cleaning, no after mess … priceless!

I think my OCS treatment may be working. And in a few years, I see in my future a fancy restaurant with a standing reservation for the Hatton party of plenty.

(previously published in The Kansas City Star on July 7, 2016)