Monthly Archives: January 2007

To Katie on Her Eighth Birthday


Dear Katie,

You are eight years old today, and you are amazing. When I look at you, I no longer see the chubby baby, alternately fussy and funny as she solemnly examined everything and everyone in her world, or the energetic toddler, legs pumping as she tried to keep up with her daddy’s giant strides, or the little girl with the magnetic green eyes, reading everything she could get her hands on and tending an ever-growing family of stuffed animals.

All of that is still there, of course, but now, for the first time, I am starting to see the tiniest glimpses of the future Katie, the girl who will grow into a woman, who is not simply a mix of her dad and I, but her own very unique, very complete person, with an indomitable spirit and her own special gifts to offer the world.

Do you know how wonderful and terrifying it is to see the ground rushing past beneath my feet and know that one day, if I do my job right, you will walk out from under our roof and into a whole big world, to take your place in a future that isn’t even written yet? I love the thought of that day and hate it, in equal measures. And it makes me frantic to fill up these days that are left with moments and meaning and the heritage that is mine to pass on to you.

You’ve grown so much in the past year, darling daughter. You’re in second grade now, and becoming ever more confident and comfortable in the world outside our door. You have good friends, who both accept your limitations and cheer your successes. Your questions are coming as fast as ever, but now you’re starting to ask some that I can’t answer in a ten minute talk on the way to school. Questions like: Why are people mean to each other? How can God and Jesus be the same person and different people? What if something bad happens to me? You still listen to me and your dad, but you’re starting to weigh what you hear and see and make up your own mind about things.

If I could give you just one piece of advice this year, it would be this rather selfish one: Don’t rush. I know that sounds funny, coming from the one who’s always telling you to hurry and get ready or hurry and put your seatbelt on, but I mean it. Don’t rush. Don’t rush to grow up. Don’t rush to know everything there is to know right now. Don’t rush to wear makeup or like boys. There will be time for all that, but you only get one today. And so do I.

Let’s play. Let’s draw. Let’s spin. Let’s dance. Let’s read. Let’s pretend. Let’s tell knock-knock jokes (even the ones I’ve heard a hundred times.) Let’s make the most of all the days.

I’m so grateful to have you as a daughter, Katie. Your coming transformed me—from a girl with a clean house and a flexible schedule, who slept late and arrived early and never made plans in advance, to a woman who has toys where knick-knacks used to be, and who has developed a greater capacity for fear and love and sacrifice than she ever thought possible.

The past eight years have been wonderful, sweet girl, and I am looking forward to many more with you—my daughter, my teacher, my child.

Happy Birthday!


Holding Back Time


No time for a long post today. I’m baking birthday cake for my soon-to-be eight year old and wondering how in the world two thousand nine hundred nineteen days slipped by when I wasn’t looking.

I’ll post more tomorrow. Tonight, we celebrate! Bowling, cake, ice cream, presents, and lots and lots of hugs from a mommy who just realized that another decade isn’t so very long, after all.

80’s Gold


Take a good look at these songs. I need them for my iPod. And I will have them, all of them, even if I have to buy them two or three at a time out of the grocery money. You just can’t put a price on good music. (Well, I guess iTunes can.)

There’s always something there to remind me.

You Gotta Fight For Your Right to Potty!


The good news: Caleb is starting to use the potty fairly regularly, even without reminders.

The bad news: He has discovered the hidden power of the phrase “I have to go potty!” and is abusing it with regularity, using it to extend his bedtime, to get out of sitting still and quiet in church services, and to escape from the shopping cart when he’s tired of the child safety seat.

It’s a trade-off, to be sure, but one that I gladly accept in exchange for my youngest child taking responsibility for the management of his own bodily functions.

Goodbye, diapers! Adieu, PullUps! It’s been…absorbing.

Spelling Queen


I was the 7th Grade Spelling Bee Champion of Gwinnett County.

Naturally, I don’t talk about it much. The last thing I need is a cadre of adoring fans following me around and the paparazzi using telephoto lenses to take pictures of me on my exotic vacations to Multnomah Falls and Farragut State Park.

Of course, I’ve told my closest friends, and, being the down-to-earth people that they are, they don’t treat me like I’m different just because I happen to have superhuman spelling abilities. Which is good—except when I’m trying to get one of them to babysit my kids or take over my Sunday school class for me. A little star power might come in handy once in a while.

Anyway, it’s been a while since I wore my title openly, but apparently people still remember, because a couple of weeks ago, my friend Marci approached me with a spelling-bee-related request. And you know me; I hate to disappoint a fan.

It turns out that the private school where Marci and several of my other friends teach is hosting this year’s area-wide spelling bee. Marci, who is in charge of the whole affair, was in need of judges, pronouncers, and, most pressing of all, words for the four practice rounds. The mention of a spelling bee must have stirred my warrior blood and reminded me of my own glory days, because before I knew it, I was agreeing to help. (And, oh yeah, I’m sure my friendship with Marci had a little to do with it.)

Four practice rounds, five grades, and twelve contestants in each grade—that’s 240 words. I’m choosing them from the study lists Marci gave me, looking up the definitions and pronunciations, and using each one in a sentence, then copying all the information into a Microsoft Word document to be used on the day of the spelling bee.

It may sound tedious, but it’s actually kind of fun. Especially making up the sentences. For those of you unfamiliar with spelling bees, what happens is this: The speller is given a word to spell. He may spell it right away, or he may request the definition of the word or ask to hear it used in a sentence. Sometimes, as in the case of homophones (which sound the same, but are spelled differently), hearing the word in context can help the speller determine how it’s spelled. And from experience, I can tell you that the pressure of standing in front of the lights with all those eyes on you can make a usually familiar word sound like something from an exotic foreign language. Calling for a definition or a sentence is a good stalling tactic while you try to master your nerves.

I may be teasing about my celebrity status, but winning the Gwinnett County Spelling Bee as a mere seventh grader did temporarily catapult me into the spotlight at Shiloh Middle School, a place where the only talent I had previously displayed was the ability to fly under the radar socially—a small, invisible butterfly that escaped both notice and persecution. The spelling bee changed all that, at least temporarily. The highlight of my entire time in grades six through eight was the day that Troy Weber, the Cutest Boy in School, walked past me in the hallway and called out, “Hey! Way to go, Spelling Queen!”

I floated on that for weeks.

The day of the regional spelling bee (where all the champions from the various counties in our region of Georgia came to compete for a chance to go to the state bee), I was a bundle of nerves. The lights seemed brighter, the crowd seemed bigger, and the news cameras in the back of the auditorium made it clear that there was a little more at stake this time.

Though I was shaky, I made it through several rounds of the competition. Each time I stood up from my cold, metal folding chair on the stage and made my way to the spot lit podium in front of the judges, the walk seemed a little longer. As contestants dropped out on every side of me, I grew more anxious. Finally, standing there alone at the microphone, with my knees knocking together under my best dress and my feet rooted in place inside my church shoes, I met my demise.

It was the simplest word. “Wharf.”

wharf / [hwawrf, wawrf] –noun
a structure built on the shore of or projecting into a harbor, stream, etc., so that vessels may be moored alongside to load or unload or to lie at rest; quay; pier.

Somehow, in that moment, it seemed that I had never heard it before. I asked to hear it used in a sentence. I requested the definition. Nothing helped. In the end, I slowly and helplessly squeaked out, “w…..a…r….f.” The judge, not unkindly, shook his head and said the terrible words.

“I’m sorry, that is incorrect.”

Just like that, I was done. I walked numbly back to the row of seats where my mom was sitting. The tears came then, rushing forth to release all the pent up nervousness and dashed hopes inside of me. I knelt on the floor and cried with my head in my mother’s lap. I later found out that a newspaper reporter had taken a picture of me, my face buried in my arms while my mom stroked my hair and let me weep. It ran the next day at the top of an article about the spelling bee, with a caption reading: “The agony of defeat.” My mom wasn’t too happy about it, but that was the story, after all.

It didn’t take long for my life to return, more or less, to normal, and I must confess to feeling slightly relieved. No more studying, no more nervous butterflies in my stomach, no more pressure. And my slight brush with fame left me a little different than I had been before. A little more confident. A little less invisible. 100% more likely to spell wharf correctly every day for the rest of my life.

Now, back to reading the dictionary.

Night at the Supercenter


I’m not sure how the conversation started, but I do know what it was about. It was the undisputed subject du jour all over campus. Our small college town had just acquired its very own glowing beacon of capitalistic perfection—a Wal-Mart Supercenter. It had everything we had come to expect from Wal-Mart—bedding, light bulbs, toilet paper, duct tape, underwear—plus food! And as if that weren’t enough, this glorious fount of all-the-stuff-you-could-ever-need was open 24 hours a day!

That got us thinking, my friend Sheila and me. Everyone’s familiar with the Wal-Mart Time Rift. You run in for five minutes to pick up a 12-pack of Coke, and before you know it, it’s two and a half hours later and you’re standing next to your car with a basket full of merchandise and a receipt for three hundred dollars, shaking the fog out of your head and wondering what hit you.

“How long,” one of us wondered aloud (and I really don’t, after all this time, remember who), “is the longest someone has ever stayed at Wal-Mart?” Could a person spend four hours shopping there? Six? Ten?

What happened next is a little bit fuzzy, but I attribute it to typical college sleep-deprivation and the presence of an admiring audience. Somehow, Sheila and I hatched a plan to set the Searcy, Arkansas Wal-Mart Endurance Record. We would be the first (and maybe only) ever people to spend a solid twenty-four hours in the Wal-Mart Supercenter.

Being students, and in the habit of extensive documentation, we wrote it up as a proposal, including the starting and ending times, objectives we wanted to accomplish, and activities we could do to help us pass the time. Our friends, who were gathered around our table in the student center, alternated between clucking in disbelief and excitedly contributing ideas to our plan. With a date set and an agenda in hand, we agreed to meet in the Wal-Mart parking lot that Friday afternoon and walk in together to meet our destiny. (Insert inspiring music score here.)

Next comes the only part of the story I’m a little embarrassed about. You see, I’m usually a rule-follower. And rules were in ample supply at our conservative, Christian university. They weren’t generally oppressive, but one of them definitely stood in our way as Sheila and I reached out to achieve greatness: the midnight curfew. So I did something I had never done before. I signed out of the dorm to spend the night at a friend’s house, and somehow I ended up at Wal-Mart instead.

Here are just a few of the things from our Supercenter marathon To Do List:

*Fashion Show—Within a time limit, assemble the most mismatched, garishly hideous outfit imaginable (with accessories) and go to the dressing room to try it on. Model your creations. Take pictures.

*Scavenger Hunt—Hide slips of paper with clues written on them leading hither and yon across the store (between stacked muffin pans, inside the pocket of a jacket, or under a flower pot, for example) and send your partner off to find the item at the end of the clue trail. If she finds it, you have to buy it for her.

*Basket Relay—Fill a basket with ten assorted items of merchandise from all over the store. Your partner must find the proper place for each item and replace it where it goes before running back to the starting line. Switch. The person with the fastest time wins.

Sheila and I kept running journals of our adventure, and whenever we bumped into someone we knew, we explained what we were doing and had them sign our guest log. The comments ranged from “You two are crazy and clearly headed for a life of dubious outcome” to “This sounds like so much fun and you had better invite me next time!” Before long, friends were going back to campus and actually sending people to see us. I was starting to feel like a monkey in the zoo, but I am nothing if not a glutton for bananas. The star entry in my own guest log came from one of my professors, who stopped by way after curfew and signed in with a shake of her head and a conspiratorial wink.

When we were hungry, we bought food. When we got cold, we bought sweaters. When, in the wee hours of the dawn, we felt grubby and tired, we bought toothbrushes and washcloths and performed our morning ablutions over the white porcelain sink in the bathroom. Everything we needed was on hand, and we filled our minutes and hours easily, sitting and talking in the café, hiding from the Pine-Sol Zamboni, chatting with the night stockboys, and prowling unnoticed through the alleys and streets of our tiny kingdom.

Well, mostly unnoticed. There were a few close calls.

Once, in the middle of our scavenger hunt, a man came up to us and flashed a badge, explaining that he was an undercover policeman, hired by Wal-Mart to stop a rash of thefts. We must have looked panicked, because in the next breath he assured us that he could tell we weren’t stealing anything. What he wanted to know was what in the world we were doing. Relieved, we explained the scavenger hunt game (leaving out the part about spending the night in the store), and left him chuckling, I’m sure, about the foolishness of the young.

The only other censure came from the Wal-Mart employees themselves. We had brought in cameras to document the ensuing hilarity, and document we did. We took pictures of ourselves in all manner of poses—wrapped in life vests and carrying paddles from the sporting goods department while we pretended to shoot rapids, curled up “asleep” on the shelf between all the bed-in-a-bag sets, wearing lampshades on our heads—and we figured it would be the perfect capper on our self-contained adventure to have the photos printed at Wal-Mart’s very own One Hour Photo developer.

Not a good idea.

An hour after we dropped off the film, a voice on the intercom called us to the front. When we got there, we knew something was wrong. Fanning out the pictures of Sheila and I making free with the in-house environment, like a tough cop displaying the incriminating murder weapon to a suspect, a stern-faced employee explained that there was some rule against taking photos in the store (who knew?) and asked us to please leave.

Dilemma! It was only about nine-o’clock in the morning, and we still had several hours to go on our Wal-Mart marathon. After a quick huddle, we decided that, given the circumstances, adjourning to the parking lot would not affect the outcome of our challenge, since it was still, technically, part of the Wal-Mart grounds. We hung out for a couple of hours in Sheila’s car, and then snuck back inside and lost ourselves in the growing Saturday crowd.

You probably know the rest. We achieved our objective, lived to show our journals and pictures (which the Wal-Mart sentinels of corporate espionage did allow us to keep) to our friends, and the whole episode went down in our personal histories as a remarkable, if weird, college stunt.

Am I glad we did it? Yes. It stands out in my mind as a manifestation of the spontaneity and spirit of exploration that marked that unique time in my life.

Would I do it again? No. Because no matter how many times I washed them, the clothes I wore that night forever after retained a certain Wal-Mart-y smell. That’s a high price to pay for adventure.

See Me, I Command You!


I’d like to think that I’m not much of a complainer. You will probably never see a post on this blog entitled “My Top 25 Pet Peeves and the Horrible People Who Commit Them” (although I did once create a scrapbook page called “100 Things That Bug Me,*” so clearly I do have some issues.)

Tonight, though, going through the Wendy’s drive-thru (where I ordered a very healthful side salad and a bowl of chili, in keeping with the draconian demands of my now starchless existence), I experienced a sudden and atypical flare of irritation at the man-boy taking my order and my money. It wasn’t that he was rude, exactly. On the contrary, I think I would have preferred a little flash of rudeness to what I actually received, which was…blankness. Nothing. Zero. Nil. Not a single spark of recognition that I was, in fact, a human being interacting in time and space with another human being.
From the time I ordered my last medium fries (hey, the family still has to eat, you know), until I had finished paying and pulled away from his window, he didn’t speak one word or make one attempt at eye contact. And I was trying! I made a joke about the frigid weather. I smiled, a big one, because I thought he might need it (but, alas, he didn’t even see it since he never looked at my face.) I issued a sincere thank you before driving away, trying even at the last to capture one tiny nod or glimpse of humanity, but the blankness remained.
I admit it. It bothered me. As I drove away, I thought about it, and realized that I have encountered this same robotic, emotionless brand of customer “service” countless times and in many places. And, in spite of the other 95% of tellers, clerks, and hostesses who are perfectly warm and friendly, it’s starting to get to me.
Once upon a time, when mass-production industries were in their infancy, the anti-automation lobby painted a bleak picture of a futuristic America in which robots replaced human beings in almost every job imaginable. I always laughed about it, untroubled, knowing that nothing could replace the value of true human interaction in any meaningful way.
And I was right about that.
I need it.
Addendum #1: Okay, before I get completely lambasted in my comments for being unsympathetic to the plight of the proletariat (of which I am a member in good standing), let me just add that I, too, worked in food service for many years. I know the difficult customers, the thankless hard work, the agony of seeing someone walk in to the restaurant five minutes before the doors close and having to wait on them for an hour and a half when you really just want to go home. I have been there! But however annoyed I was on the inside, I never gave bad service (well, except for the time I accidentally poured milk in that lady’s purse), and I certainly never turned a deaf ear and blind eye to someone who was actually being friendly to me. Okay, that’s all I wanted to say about that.
Addendum #2: Let me clarify that many of the items on my “Things That Bug Me” list pertain only to me. For example, I am not put off by anyone else’s visible panty line (so you’re safe, Chad), and I could care less if other people’s homes are cluttered or their socks are hole-y. These are all things that only bother me when I have to deal with them. Otherwise, I would have written “people with visible panty line” and “people with holes in their socks.” So, dear friends, in closing, I am not a monster! And you can rest secure in our friendships, knowing that I am not secretly examining you for whiffs of morning breath and traces of dog drool.

*VPL: visible panty line, sprinkles on the public toilet seat, political smear campaigns, mold in the refrigerator, one-uppers, finding no toilet paper after I’ve already peed, bad customer service, cynical people, feminine product commercials, parents yelling at their kids in public, borrowers who don’t return things, dusting, skimpy clothes on little girls, finding litter when I’m out hiking, one bathroom for 4 people, stepping in gum, morning breath, bias in the media, cursing, being late, throwing up, infomercials, not enough sleep, clutter, forgetting things, bad tippers, cigarette smoke, razor stubble, whining, thinking of a good retort—a day too late, dirty fingernails, dead car battery, teenage “soap opera” shows, counting calories, wrong order at the drive-thru, false advertising, popcorn kernels in my teeth, getting a run in brand new pantyhose, Teletubbies, flat soda, misplacing things, looking forward to the last brownie only to find that someone else ate it first, inconsiderate drivers, gaining weight, holes in my socks, body odor, pop-up ads, allergies, dropping food on my shirt, icy roads, cold floor on bare feet, brussel sprouts, running out of cell phone minutes, mean people, the crack in my windshield, granny panties, propaganda, telemarketers, losing at Scrabble, spam email, waiting in line, graffiti, interruptions on the phone, hair in the drain, constant sniffing, dry skin, fast food wrappers in the car, overflowing trash can, too tight jeans, neverending chores: dishes and laundry, ants, guilt trips, clipping nails in public, smog, dog drool, dirty windows, junk mail, not saying thank you, balancing the checkbook, MTV, taking a knee, disorganization, disappearing pens, vinyl car seats in the hot summer, dishonesty, turbulence, sweat, do-nothing hair, dial-up internet service, saying “nucular” instead of “nuclear”, zits, buying something and finding it for less somewhere else, spoiled milk, credit card interest, broken promises, jogging, rap music, carpet stains, gossip, spiders*