Bubble Wrapping Your Kids is Ill-advised

It’s been years since I watched the made-for-TV movie, “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble.” So many that when I recently watched it, I discovered my only memory had been confused with a Seinfeld episode. The mention of Moors or Moops is not in the 1976 television movie, starring a young and pale John Travolta. Apparently, my mental hard drive may need rebooting.

Even though I detested the film, it made me wonder how many parents now lock up their children in a proverbial bubble. As a new mother, I sanitized everything. The fear of sickness was overwhelming at times. I wanted to Bubble Wrap my children, but our pediatrician opposed the idea.

Growing up in the ’70s, no one heard of hand sanitizer. It was called a bar of soap and some elbow grease. There was no such thing as disinfectant wipes — no need. All required for the quick clean up was the mildewed dishcloth, laced with a touch of salmonella, which had been hanging over the kitchen faucet for a week.

Of course, after two children, the five-second rule became the norm and the phrase, “a little dirt won’t hurt” spewed out of my mouth, finally turning me into a ’70s mother. I haven’t worried too much about diseases the last few years. My daughters wash their hands after visiting the public restroom; they no longer lick grocery carts, and don’t marinate in the baby pool.

However, there have been a few mornings my husband has gasped at the breakfast table while reading the paper. Since I can’t stand not knowing what he’s reading, I insist he share the gasp-worthy story. First it was Ebola, then the Zika outbreak. And just when you think your children are safe, CRE makes the papers and a DIY plastic bubble design is drawn on the back of grocery lists.

Just a refresher course for those of you who may have awaken from a coma, or don’t own a computer or television: Ebola is a hemorrhagic fever disease with a high-fatality rate.

Zika is the new Ebola, except this tragic virus especially affects babies in utero, causing them to be born with extremely small heads. Folks say this Brazilian germ is mosquito transmitted, so I hope no one wants to increase their family size during the upcoming Olympics. My suggestion to the Olympic officials: remove all the green M&Ms from your country and close all pubs or bars at 9 p.m.

My current health obsession is the antibiotic resistant CRE bacteria. I’m fairly sure it stands for CREepy or CRuditÉs. If you have a strong immune system or don’t hang out in hospitals, you should be fine, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports, “Infections with these germs can be deadly.” This one takes me back to junior high history books when I first learned of the bubonic plague. Ew, I doth say!

Don’t tell anyone, but I heard from a reputable farmer these three strains of human blight are causing odd green lights to hover over a hill in Montana. Researchers are also looking for a link to crop circles brought over by sprightly monkeys from India.

Actually, this scene might be from a sci-fi movie I saw in college. I really should reboot my mental hard drive

previously published in The Kansas City Star on June 11, 2016

 

Fish Tales from a Princess Perspective

IMG_1036Hi, my name is Stacey and I’m vocationally challenged.

Every 10 years I suck all the marrow from one career and move on, which makes for a roller-coaster ride of a resume. Like Mr. Sinatra crooning, I’ve been an actor, a singer, a dancer, bookkeeper and pediatric nurse. A blogger, an author and newspaper columnist. Administrative assistant was the worst. That’s life — at least mine.

The only interesting job I haven’t done yet is fishing pro. I’d love to relax on a pond or lake all day, slathered in bug spray and sunscreen; however, anyone who has fished with me will say I have a scaly green thumb.

On last year’s fishing trip, my husband and I watched our daughters snag an overflowing line of rainbow trout, using miniature hot pink Barbie poles and worms. My adult-sized, dirt brown pole produced zero fish. So I used the girls’ pole, thinking it was the lucky charm, but my numbers didn’t increase.

“Oh, Barbie. You did me wrong!” Leaving the fully stocked fish hatchery that day empty-handed gave me more drive to learn the secret.

So when planning a recent fishing trip, I remained hopeful but realistic. The only way to catch a fish was if I cast out whopper fish tales, the type of story where after repeating it to everyone within earshot, your fish morphs into a 250-pounder. This type of lie is quite acceptable in fisherman circles.

Our pond was well-stocked with a menagerie of gilled Midwest prospects: catfish, bass, blue gill, marlin and mahi-mahi — at least that’s how I remember it. I set my hopes high and was all about the bass, no tuna. In fact, when one of the guides took me out on the pond with an aerated cooler full of minnows, I had never felt so professional, and out of my comfort zone.

It was a 50-degree morning and I was wrapped up tighter than a cryogenically sealed pack of tilapia. Fighting my windbreaker, jacket and two layers of clothing, while balancing the boat with my legs, was the beginning of my trials. I looked like a deranged toddler wrangling the slippery minnows beneath my feet in a cooler. Every time I opened the cooler, my center of gravity shifted and so did the boat. How in the Sea World do you keep your pole on board while wrestling minnows and posed in the disaster drill position?

Soon visions of princesses danced in my head. According to any 1950s advice columnist, a damsel in distress should find a big, brave man to hook her bait. I would have spent days trying to talk a single minnow into jumping onto my hook.

Embarrassed that I needed help, I reconsidered using hook sushi. Worms I could handle! I’d overcome that fear a few years back and now prayed any fish would get a hankering for my segmented annelid.

I was setting a good example for my girls in the next boat.

IMG_1034No daughter of mine needed to fear bait.

After several attempts, I hooked a fish I was certain would need a hydraulic wench and rig to lift out of the water. I wasn’t far from my estimation because that bass was enormous. Fifty pounds or more!! Did I say 50? I meant 100!

This slick and feisty reward was all mine and I’m sure the folks in the next county over could hear my excitement. At last a real fish that I caught was coming into the boat.

 

Holy, Carp! There’s no way I’m touching that thing.

Batting my eyes, I begged my guide, “Could you help me get him off the hook? I don’t want to hurt him.” There was another fish tale.

That day with my family, I learned sometimes you must lower your standards. Summoning your inner princess and asking for help isn’t the end of the world. Plus, you can always change the story later.

(previously published in The Kansas City Star on May 28, 2016)

 

Heaven is a funnier place now

Sometimes crying can stop us in our tracks

080403d0145

Heaven is a Funnier Place

Whether it’s tears of joy, tears of relief, or tears during every single Hallmark commercial, they can range from a hiccup in your step to knocking you off your path. But the ones that pack the hardest punch are those Smokey Robinson tracks of tears triggered by great loss, and if it’s followed by a belly laugh — ah, catharsis.

The cemetery scene from the film “Steel Magnolias” is my favorite example. Just when the characters have hit the lowest point, a monumental joke causes viewers to scream of laughter through their tears, joining the characters on the screen. It’s a healing moment for everyone.

I’ve always tried to surround myself with funny people, those who lift my spirits at the most desirable time. So when my friend died unexpectedly, I was not only grieving the loss of someone dear to me, but also for the person who for decades had made me laugh harder and longer than anyone. Often I would be hoarse and exhausted by the time we hung up the telephone.

In my 20s, when I first struggled with severe anxiety, debilitating panic attacks would hold my body hostage, incapable of functioning. I started calling my comic buddy and within a few moments, the attack had passed and I could breathe again. His jokes were better than any drug. I only wish I had shared that with him.

It’s tragic to know the person who brought such joy to my life will never be there for me. There will be no calls when we have just sat down to dinner, or when I’m at the dentist, or the gynecologist. His timing was flawless — except with his exit from this world. The proverbial vaudeville hook nabbed him off the stage much too early.

I broke the news to my grade school daughters, explaining why I was weepy and distant the morning after his passing. My 9-year-old rushed around the breakfast table to give me one of her amazing hugs. As she nuzzled into my neck, I said to her, “I’ll be OK. He was one of my dearest friends, but he’s in heaven now. I’ll see him again some day.”

My girl continued to hold on a few more moments, until she whipped her head back and stared at me concerned.

“What if he’s in hell, Mama?”

My laughter exploded through my tears. When I had calmed down enough to talk, I told her my friend would have loved her question. I can still hear how his booming laugh would have filled the room with that one.

My daughter’s timing is perfect. She is capable of replacing the comic relief I will miss in my friend’s absence.

I guess my funny friend passed the giggle torch to my daughter. Thankfully, she’s young, because I’m planning on many years of her cracking me up. I only wish she could have learned from the master.

Loss is confusing and challenging, but one thing I take comfort in is that heaven is a funnier place now.

History of Prank Calls

baby girl with a mobile phoneWhen I was growing up, there were two kinds of phones. One had a 500-foot tangled cord and the other spun numbers around like a Sit ’N Spin. The older rotary-style telephone took forever to dial. It was so slow that sometimes, after you dialed all the numbers, you had to quickly hang up because you forgot who you called and why.

In the 1970s, you had two glorious color choices: goldenrod and split pea soup green. They even matched your refrigerator and Tupperware! When the vacuum at our house chewed up a cord, another color spiral would appear from the basement. You were considered rich if your family had the original phone cord.

Standard phone cords were 12 inches and rarely tangled; but if you had a teenager in residence, the 25-foot extended cord was mandatory. Now your kids could giggle in the stairwell two rooms over, and you wouldn’t have to hear any part of their conversation. Helicopter parenting hadn’t been invented yet.

As a child, I dabbled in prank phone calls. I was nowhere near making it an art form; but nonetheless, it was an adequate time killer. Actually, most prepubescent kids believed they were the masters of prank calls. No one older could be that clever or daring.

My friends and I heard if you dialed a number that wasn’t in the phone book, you could call accidentally call China. We could only imagine that it would cost a fortune! So we would search for the funniest last names in the White Pages, throw around some primo dialog, and pray we could hang up before our friends listening on the other line exploded with laughter.

The next generation of prank calls occurred on cellphones the size of a miniature Schnauzer. You plugged the phone into the cigarette lighter holder in your parent’s car and if you held your head still you could keep from losing reception. If the car were running, reception would be lost and since these witty verbal exchanges were with the opposite sex, you didn’t want to chance that. Thank goodness, we didn’t have caller ID!

BlackBerrys were for adults only. It missed adolescent silliness all together.

With flip phones, toddlers added to the pranking world. Clumsily pushing buttons, they imitated parents any time they could get their sticky fingers on it. Nothing is better than taking a shower and discovering the police are leaning on your doorbell and searching your shrubbery for intoxicated oafs. The percentage of young children being able to dial 911 is much higher than one would think.

Smartphones turned up the heat with pranks. Not only could a child text anyone on your contact list, but if you were silly and thought it was a good idea to teach your children to read and write, you might find yourself explaining ridiculous texts to strangers.

“I love bacon an Imeanit!!”

Take my word — it’s not fun explaining why your child is violent about cured pork products.

Thank goodness my young kids never figured out they could do FaceTime. I can only imagine what our accountant would think if a half-dressed toddler showed up on his work computer.

And as technology history shows us, it’s only going to get worse, folks!

Lord, help us all.
(Previously printed in The Kansas City Star on March 26, 2016.)

Older Parents versus Young Ones

I never gave much thought to being part of the  older parent’s club. Parenting wasn’t in the cards for me when I was in my twenties. I couldn’t care for mini humans, while downing cheap beer and noshing on 7-Eleven frozen burritos at 2:00 am.

In my early thirties my outlook drastically changed. My biological clock began striking like Big Ben, but finding a striking partner wasn’t working as well. My friends called me the “Queen of First Dates.” But why buy the cow, when he’s boring and full of himself?

By my mid-thirties, I married a wonderful man, who wanted to start a family right away. I concurred. You would think by thirty-five, I’d be well equipped for what was coming; but the Great Baby Hurricane of 2005 rocked us off our foundation.

Like most new parents, I quickly learned my wild years were behind me. Sure my babies were cute while they screamed like feral animals, but since my girls were only 14 months apart, my past needed to be hung up to dry out. Add some running shoes and a large vat of Ben Gay, and this old gal was prepped to train for the parenthood marathon.

Would I have had more stamina or patience as a younger mom? If I had started a family right out of college, would I have been able to provide for my kids financially as well, or give them the emotional support that only time can afford? There’s an enormous difference between 35 and 21. Just ask my stretch marks.

I would like to think the young me would have nurtured my children into adulthood; but I’ve always thought I made the right decision waiting. Until a few years ago…

While making my weekly Target trip for the family, I moseyed over to the glasses kiosk. Glancing over my shoulder to ensure no one I knew was watching me, I moved toward the type of glasses which many ladies have attached to a chain dangling around their neck, while maneuvering tiles during their weekly Mahjong game.

Yes, the time had come for me to start wearing readers. I managed to convince myself it was because my arms had grown too short. Blissful ignorance and avoiding reality is what keeps me young.

If you’ve ever tried on “cheaters,” there’s an entire production before you purchase the correct pair. I thought I’d find the pretty ones, check if I could see out of them and be done. Wrong.

First, if you are lucky enough to see the prescription numbers on the label, you are ahead of the game. Since I had small children, and rarely had time to myself to try on 32 pairs in one trip, I waited longer than I should have.

As the directions state, first you must stand 14 inches away from the mirror.

Did they mean from the tip of my nose or were my toes to be that far from the shelving?

Since the instructions weren’t clear enough for me, I automatically assumed the manufacturers didn’t know what they were talking about.

I perched the pretty pair on my nose and began searching for small print. What I needed was a can of tomato paste. The lettering on those tiny cans is so small, I’ve had to change dinner plans mid meal preparation. But there in my cart was the font I needed, on the back of the Huggies’ Pull-Ups.

Readers and diapers – the irony is priceless and ridiculous. There are few moments in my life where I heartily laugh at myself. The kind of laugh where you can’t breathe, your face reddens and tears stream down your cheeks.

Good thing I didn’t have my daughters with me because I’m sure someone would have ruined my laughing cleanse by telling me how cute my granddaughters were.

That hypothetical person is very lucky I didn’t hurl a jumbo pack of Huggies at her.

And with my new trendy specs, I would have nailed her.