Monthly Archives: March 2008

McOops

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Several inches of snow made the park an unappealing choice for Katie’s day off from school on Friday, so instead I took the kids to McDonalds for an afternoon french fry snack and an hour of wild rumpus in the playland’s giant gerbil tunnels.

I wasn’t the only parent hoping to burn off some excess kid energy under the golden arches; there were probably thirty children careening around the plastic structure, screeching and laughing and bouncing off the walls like electrons in an excited molecule. As you might imagine, the nine or so tables in the playland area were full; we were lucky enough to walk through the door just as another family was leaving, and seated ourselves with relief. After the kids hoovered their fries, they scampered off to play, leaving me alone at the fourtop amidst the confetti of crumpled up napkins and empty ketchup packets.

I may have been imagining the dirty looks in my direction as I took up a whole table by myself, but when I sensed the presence of someone standing behind me, waiting for a place to sit down, I gladly turned to offer the empty side of my table.

Smiling what I hoped was a friendly smile, I leaned toward the mother and baby and said, “Excuse me, ma’am–would you like to share my table?”

The moment he opened his mouth to speak, I realized that the “mother” was a man. “No, thank you. We’re just waiting for my wife and son to get back with the food.”

“Oh, okay,” I said, my face suddenly aflame. Quickly, I turned around and busied myself in cleaning up the fast food detritus scattered over the table. Oh no oh no oh no! I can’t believe I called him “ma’am”! Did he hear me? It’s pretty loud in here. Maybe he thought I said “man”? I hope, I hope, I hope…

“Excuse me,” his voice intruded on my self-recriminations. His wife hovered behind him, tray in hand. “Could we take you up on your offer after all? Our son would like to play for a while before we eat.”

I motioned weakly to the empty chairs across from me, and they sat down. At this close proximity, I was able to see the man more clearly. How could I have thought he was a woman? He was holding a small baby, sure, and carrying a diaper bag, and in his ears he sported a pair of silver hoops, but that was where the resemblance stopped. If he did hear me, would it have made him feel better or worse to know that I didn’t think him a particularly attractive woman?

Usually after saying something embarrassing (and believe me, it happens more than I’d like), I flee the scene. But with my kids lost somewhere in the middle of a rocking and rolling plastic jungle, I was tethered to my seat. Looking up from where I was hiding behind my bucket of Diet Coke, I accidentally made eye contact with the baby, who was grinning at me as if she knew how uncomfortable I was.

Oh, well, I thought. If he’s going to pretend it didn’t happen, so am I. Surprisingly, we ended up having a pleasant conversation, during which I learned that they were just passing through town on their way from Seattle to Missoula (so I’ll never see them again, thank goodness.) Ten minutes passed before I was able, at last, to disentangle my children from the horde, get their shoes back on, and wish the young family well on their journey before making a merciful retreat.

My face is finally cooling and the sense of embarrassment is fading away, but just to be on the safe side, I’ve decided that from now on I might give up gender-specific addresses altogether and opt instead for a hearty “Hey, you!” when talking to people I don’t know.  It may not recommend me to Miss Manners, but I hope at least it will keep me from becoming someone else’s blog fodder!

Somnus Interruptus

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“Mommy! Come quick!”

I bolted upright at my son’s cry and was two steps down the hall before I even realized I was awake. At least, I think I was awake. The jolting in my heart as a surge of adrenaline rocket-powered my body to the kids’ room conveyed a sort of nightmarish quality to the darkened scene. I raced to Caleb’s bedside, ready to confront wild-eyed marauders, foul sewer-dwelling beasts, or, at the very least, a case of the middle-of-the-night heaves.

“What is it, Caleb? What’s wrong?” I spluttered, still trying to shake the sleep from my head.

“I can’t find Shu Shu!” he wailed.

Shu Shu? My brain stripped a gear trying to process the nonsensical phrase until I remembered. Yesterday, Katie found a discarded baby doll of hers in the closet and, loftily declaring herself too old for dolls, gave it to Caleb with the magnanimous air of a queen imparting a grand favor. For his part, Caleb glommed onto Shu Shu right away*; he informed Paul and I that he was her Daddy and then spent the day poking a plastic baby bottle into her face and wrapping her up in his old baby blankets. When we tucked him in last night, he insisted on making a bed for Shu Shu down at the foot of his bed, complete with a tiny doll pillow and a small stuffed Hello Kitty Happy Meal toy for her “teddy”.

Apparently, Shu Shu didn’t show up for Caleb’s four a.m. roll call.

I have to tell you, when I found out what all the yelling was about, I was not exactly a model of motherly patience and forbearance.

Still, I am not immune to the pathetic cries of my offspring, no matter how irritated I am, so after reading Caleb a tiny riot act about how nighttime is for sleeping and not taking inventory, I felt around on the floor and found Shu Shu where she’d been kicked off the bed and into a pile of dirty clothes.

Nestling his baby back in his arms, Caleb promptly fell asleep.

I, however, lay awake until about twenty minutes before the alarm went off.

All I can say is that he better not expect me to babysit.

* And yes, Paul and I are totally cool with the whole “boys playing with dolls” thing. We figure that this way, Caleb’s future wife has a decent chance of getting him to change a diaper now and then.

Meeting the Bunny

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In Idaho, there’s a fifty-fifty chance that your Easter Egg Hunt will find you digging colorful plastic eggs out of the snow. As you can see from this photo, the icy conditions also provide much-needed camouflage for any Easter Bunny hoping to avoid being pelted with buckshot by some overeager hunter with a hankering for rabbit stew. (Perhaps we should have advised him to lose the polka dot vest…)

Easter 2008

Can’t Buy Me Love

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Paul knew I’d had a busy day today, full of running errands and catching up from our long weekend, and since he was going to be out with the guys tonight, he suggested we stop for fast food on the way home to relieve me of the chore of cooking dinner. I was easily persuaded.

We swung up to the McDonald’s drive-through, ordered our food, and pulled forward to pay for it. A couple of seconds after I had handed my debit card through the window to the smiling octogenarian at the register she handed it back to me, lowering her voice to tell me in embarrassed tones that it had been declined. Puzzled, we tried Paul’s card. Declined. Already my stomach was clenching with the panicky feeling I get whenever money matters go awry. We apologized, canceled our order, and turned toward home.

“I don’t understand!” I started in as we drove away, a note of hysteria creeping into my voice. “The checkbook register says we have plenty in our account! Could there be a problem with the actual cards? Maybe they were flagged for unusual activity or something? I bet we forgot to write something down! How could I have done that? Oh, man…”

My pitch and my agitation climbed in equal measure until Paul, with his customary calm, reminded me that we didn’t know anything yet, and told me not to worry–that he would look at our online account records when we got home to search out the problem.

“Don’t worry.” Ha! And again I say it: ha! I have a long track record of falling apart in the face of financial adversity. Like Chicken Little, I am convinced that the sky is falling at the least little pecuniary hiccup. Bounced check? Shrinking tax return? More month than money? Leave it to me to blow it up into a dark, foreboding future of living out of our car and scraping up nickels and dimes on the street to feed our starving children. That’s why, even though I pay the bills, when something goes wrong, Paul takes over. He’s the only one who can unravel a bank statement without moaning under his breath and beating his head on the table.

Anyway, despite my sepulchral warnings that we were never, ever going to resolve this mystery, the problem became clear within minutes of Paul opening our account records. Every month, I transfer 550 dollars from our savings account to our checking account, and then turn around and send a payment for that amount from our checking account to our student loan company. This month, the transfer didn’t go through, but the check did, and the result was several overdrafts.

Several.

Overdrafts.

With accompanying fees.

Chicken Little kicked it up a notch.

Bookkeeping error! Wasted money! Careless! Costly!

I went on speaking in exclamation points for a while, until Paul reached out for me, mid-rant, and pulled me close. Inside me, all went quiet. Then, touching his forehead to mine, he whispered, “This place doesn’t run on money, you know.”

And you know what? I do know.

But Chicken Little might need a reminder now and then.

Safe Sex

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This dire statistic led the news this week: according to a recent study, 1 in 4 teenage girls has a sexually transmitted disease. About twice that many are sexually active. Educators are aghast, while parents are shocked and dismayed, and why shouldn’t they be? After all, this is the enlightened age of comprehensive sex education, where condoms are passed out during health class and the safe sex mantra is splashed across prime time television in funny commercials and serious public service announcements alike. Students in public schools are presented with all the facts about intercourse, conception, and STD prevention at a very young age, armed with the knowledge which proponents of such education swear will keep young people safe from the traumas of sexually transmitted disease and unwanted pregnancy.

Except it isn’t working.

May I respectfully suggest that something is broken in the way we talk to kids about sex?

Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely believe in comprehensive sex education. I just don’t think ours is comprehensive enough.

Information about STD prevention and contraception are important, but too often our treatment of human sexuality in relation to teens stops there, light years away from finishing the picture and telling them other things they need to know about having sex–like how it can impact their emotions, their relationships, and their futures. For example, studies show that teenagers who are sexually active are almost three times as likely as their non-active peers to suffer from depression and to attempt suicide. There are correlations between teen sexual activity and a broad range of negative experiences, including increased drug use, higher dropout rates, and less successful marriages later on. In contrast, teenagers who abstain from sexual activity are 50 percent less likely to drop out of high school and twice as likely to graduate from college. They are less likely to engage in other risky behaviors and tend to form healthier, more emotionally mature relationships in adulthood. Even among teens themselves, there is a growing realization that early sexual activity is a mistake. Over half of teenage boys and nearly three-fourths of teenage girls who have engaged in sexual activity report that they wish they had waited. Sex is a whole lot more than a simple biological process; it’s also a complex mental, emotional, and spiritual act, and to ignore its far-reaching effects would be irresponsible.

There’s a pretty hot debate raging between proponents of current “safe sex” education and the “abstinence only” group, which believes that teaching kids about contraception and disease prevention is tantamount to sending them out in pairs with hotel keys in their hands. While I truly believe in teaching the whole truth of sexuality, I am concerned with the underlying anti-abstinence tone of those who tout “comprehensive” sex ed. From schools, from entertainment media, from politicians, the message a teen often hears is: “We know you’re going to have sex no matter what we say. With all those hormones swirling around, you just can’t help it. And frankly, if you don’t do it, we’ll think you’re a little weird.” It’s as if abstinence has been taken off the table as a realistic choice in today’s world. We need to challenge that assumption.

As a Christian, I’m teaching my children, as I was taught, that sex is wonderful, exciting, fun, and intended to be fully expressed only within the boundaries of a loving marriage. I knew, when I was growing up, that I was expected to wait, and though I sometimes struggled to honor that expectation, I did wait. Believe me, I experienced the same desires, the same passions, the same hormonal surges that teens everywhere experience, but I knew that I wasn’t a puppet of those forces.  I always believed, because it was what I’d been taught, that I was capable of controlling myself. I made choices, I drew hard lines in my relationships with the opposite sex, and I didn’t step outside of those lines, though the temptation was definitely there. At age 22, I came to the marriage bed a virgin, and twelve years of great sex later, I don’t have a single thing to regret in the experiences I passed up as a teenager. I truly hope that my daughter and my son will be able to say the same.

I realize I’m in the minority. And maybe you don’t agree with me that sex is meant for marriage, but can we at least agree to stop setting teens up for the fall with our message of helplessness and victimhood? Let’s empower them to make their own decisions about sex–first, by acknowledging that the impact of human sexuality reaches far beyond the physical to touch the very emotional center of a person; like a pebble dropped into a pond, it ripples out to effect every other part of a person’s life. And second, we can empower teens by showing our confidence in their ability to choose abstinence and self-control, even in the face of physical and societal pressures. Sure, they should know all the facts about protecting their bodies from pregnancy and disease, but they should also know that in the end, having sex is a choice, and not a biological inevitability.

Scribbles

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*I’m having a little trouble jumpstarting my Monday. I’m not even sure I’m completely awake, although a peremptory sniff of my armpits tells me that my body at least walked itself through my morning shower and deodorant ritual. The sky is gray. The snow is gray. The air even smells gray. The chill of late winter is still needling through my clothes, sliding its unwelcome gray tentacles into the open sleeve, the unbuttoned collar. Come, spring!

*I just talked to my sister on the phone. She and Daniel moved to Georgia right after the wedding, in pursuit of better job opportunities and housing prices. With their week long drive across the country, they’ve already started writing the story of their marriage, and it’s great to hear the note of sweet contentment in her voice. But oh, how I miss her already.

*By the way, I tried to find a bridesmaid’s dress. I looked all over town, and all over the next town. Amber went with me into Spokane to scour the bridal shops and department stores. Finally, exhausted and about to concede defeat, we were lamenting the lack of dark green gowns on the matrimonial landscape (it must not be the “in” color right now) when Amber lit up like a bulb and asked, “Why don’t you just wear the same dress I wore in your wedding?” So I did. It may not have been the sassy green cocktail dress of my dreams, but it was sublimely satisfying to stand beside Amber on her special day in the same dress she had worn on mine.

*Friday night we had Girls’ Night Out in celebration of Jen‘s birthday. After falling upon a table full of Applebee’s half-price appetizers, we hit the theater to see Penelope, a warm-hearted fable about an aristocratic girl who is born with the face of a pig as the result of an old family curse. It sounds weird, right? I adored it. It probably didn’t hurt that James McAvoy was in it (and, as Kathy pointed out, who can better sympathize with a pig-faced girl than a man who very recently sported hooves?) The ending was lovely, and included a kiss which instantly catapulted onto my list of the Top Ten Movie Kisses of All Time (which I should share with you sometime.) I can’t wait to add it to my DVD collection.

*Paul and I just celebrated our twelfth anniversary! And as everyone knows, twelve is the Rock Icon Anniversary, so we commemorated it by buying Queen–The Platinum Collection: Greatest Hits I, II, & III. What? Queen isn’t your thing? Come on–you can’t tell me it doesn’t stir your blood to hear the opening stomp-stomp-clap of We Will Rock You or that kicking guitar riff from Bohemian Rhapsody. I know, we’ve got great taste. What can we say? We are the champions.

*Well, it’s time to go slice and dice some lunch. I’m trying to get back to my healthy meats and veggies after spiraling out of control on slices of leftover wedding cake. Fortunately, that delectable concoction is gone now, and I can once again eat a carrot without having to trick myself into choosing it over cream cheese frosting.

Wedding Drums

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Well, Amber is a married woman now.

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I know she’s 29 years old, but she’s still my baby sister, and seeing her in a wedding dress was every bit as surreal as the first time I witnessed my brother (the one who used to give me Indian rug burns and wrestle with me for control of the TV remote) changing diapers and answering to the name of “Daddy.” Still, the look on her face was beyond description. I suppose I could say that she was glowing, but it doesn’t seem to do her justice. When that kind of happiness, so deep and transforming, shines out from someone’s eyes, it’s almost too beautiful to look at. Seeing it radiating from my beloved sister warmed me straight through.

DA Wedding 1

The wedding was lovely. It was a perfect reflection of the two hearts being joined together that day. Daniel’s twin brother and best man, Samuel, sang a song in Shona, and Amber walked down the aisle to the sound of African drumbeats. Then she and Daniel faced each other before a crowd of smiling witnesses and promised to love each other always, to build their lives on God’s truth, and to be home to one another forever. After their first kiss (which was heralded by Daniel’s sincere “Woohooo!” of glee and the onlookers’ appreciative chuckles), the newly married couple a-wimoweh-ed back down the aisle together to the strains of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by The Tokens, grinning from ear to ear.

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DA Wedding 5

Thanks to the round-the-clock food preparation and decorating efforts of some very dedicated extended family, the reception was a vision of candlelight and white tablecloths, filled with the aromas of delicious Italian meatballs and skewered chicken. Our Aunt Linette made the wedding cake, a delectable Italian Cream cake festooned with red roses. Samuel made a sweet toast to the happy couple, and the bride and groom entertained the guests with their own harmonic performance, singing an array of songs, accompanied by their musical friends, Butch and Linda. A few brave souls even jumped up to strut their stuff on the dance floor; mostly the kids, who found it an excellent way to burn off their sugar high from the cream cheese frosting.

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DA Wedding 7

Finally, the cake was eaten, the bouquet was flung, and Daniel and Amber were ready to exchange the noisy wedding festivities for the quiet refuge of their reserved room at a nearby bed-and-breakfast. Instead of birdseed to hurl at the bride and groom (possibly causing grievous injury or inviting freak bird swarm attacks) the guests received glowsticks to wave around and light the path through the dark parking lot to Amber’s well-decorated car. With one last run through the cheering crowd, the freshly joined pair jumped into their escape vehicle and drove away to begin their new life.

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Just like that, the wedding was over.

The cleanup, however, was just beginning.

***

DA Wedding

Congratulations, Daniel and Amber. May God bless you with true friendship, self-sacrificing love, and more mountains than valleys. I wish you both very happy!

(Final photo courtesy of Mike McElhatton)