Life is absurd. And life is precious. Family is a lot of both.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Right on, Target

I don't like whiny bloggers so I try to steer clear of being one myself. Which means I typically stuff my negative feelings down down down. Where they pile up until I can't take it and then I explode all over my sweet family on what we might call "one of Mom's bad days". Not all that good or healthy or worth reading about.

However, I hereby suspend my self-imposed ban on whining in writing to bring up something that I really think should be a national topic of conversation: re-stocking the big box stores.

I have noticed over the last several years that both Target (my big box store of choice) and my weekly grocery store have taken to re-stocking the shelves at all hours and with extreme enthusiasm. This means I often come around a corner with my over-stuffed buggy (here we could talk about the different regions of the country and how they refer to the shopping cart/basket/buggy, but Texans call it a buggy, ya'll) and I find myself stuck between the shelves, an employee, and a huge cart piled with cardboard boxes.

I am overall congenial and long-suffering (unless it is "one of Mom's bad days") so the first few dozen times I experienced this inconvenience I smiled at the shelf stockers and apologized for intruding. Until one day. When I wondered why the heck I was apologizing for being in THEIR way while I was trying to spend MY money in THEIR store.

Nevertheless I continued to shop early mornings (right after school drop off is my preferred time) because, really, who can fight the need for Target? I tried fueling myself for the restocking obstacle course by stopping at the in-store Starbucks first. That kind of backfired as my intake of coffee directly influenced my need to get done shopping so I could visit the bathroom.

A hyped-up mom with a full bladder and a busy schedule is not the relaxed shopper who smiles and apologizes to the employees in her way.

Which is why the other morning, with three children in tow and trying to navigate five separate aisles that were partially blocked, all while juggling my hot latte, I snapped.

A red-shirted employee innocently asked, "Are you finding everything okay?"

I snipped, "Not really since it's so hard to reach around you."

Poor guy quickly looked away and I'm pretty sure he used his handy walkie-talkie to alert the other re-stockers with the "watch out for the Code Crazy [otherwise known as "Mom's Bad Day"] on aisle 11" button.

I passed three more re-stockers on my way to the cashier and not a single one made eye contact.

Finally ready to check out and go, after negotiating with my 3-year-old over the need for multiple Chapsticks, the manager of the store approached me. To tell me that my cart was too full for the return/exchange lane (which, by the way, reads "return/exchange and check out").

Rules follower that I am, I kindly moved my full cart and three children to another lane. I almost apologized for the incident until I remembered just how much of MY money I was about to spend in THEIR store.

So I turned around and told the manager the following: "It is all but impossible to shop with so many re-stockers on your floor. I think you should know how frustrating it is."

His reply, "You should come later in the day because we start re-stocking at 6 a.m. and often don't get done until noon."

Really? My fault for shopping early. When it's most convenient for me and their doors are open for customers.

He continued, "We've had to cut back on hours so it takes a little longer."

Really really? I spend so much money in your store (as do most of my friends) that it's hard to stomach that we must pay further by stepping around those huge re-stocking carts in order to help your bottom line.

I just smiled at him. I really am a nice person and get a pit in my stomach whenever I do officially complain.

We headed out to the car after paying. He offered to help me unload my cart at the curb. I declined.

Almost to my car, I turned to see him running up to me. On his lips was an apology for my inconvenience. In his hand was a coupon to reward me, I guess, for speaking up.

It's for $3.

Really really really?

I'll be back to Target before the week is over, because I know it's the same at other big-box stores. And I need stuff. A lot. But I'll go later on a Tuesday (best time according to Mr. Manager) and enjoy the quiet, open aisles.

I'll have my $3 coupon and, just to be on the safe side, I'll spend it on a coffee at the in-store Starbucks. I'm sure that will make everything all better.


Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Snakes of June

Ah, June. The season when the flowers bloom, the sun shines long, the birds chirp more than ever, and I don’t notice any of it because I am too busy looking around for snakes. Why? Because years ago, the first June we lived in this home, I was practically murdered on my own front porch by a deadly black snake poised to reach out, wrap itself around my innocent neck, and squeeze the life out of me before calmly slithering on to find its next victim.

Sure, common knowledge states that black snakes are “good” snakes, that they will not attack a human and certainly could not kill one even if they tried, that they are completely harmless at worst and helpful at best, willing to stalk and devour all those pesky mice and bugs but leave us people alone.


I’m telling you that black snake laid in wait for me. On my front porch. Hanging right at eye level, where it had wrapped itself securely in my pretty flowered wreath.

You shuddered, didn’t you? It was HANGING IN MY WREATH!

In hindsight, we suspect that the snake was climbing its way up to the swallow’s nest in the rafters of our front porch. I should point out that I was not in favor of letting the swallows build their nest there. (And this was before I knew they would attract the deadly devil snake.) My soft-hearted husband did not want to knock the nest down and risk killing any innocent, pre-born birdies. So he left the nest, which enticed the snake, which climbed my door, and attempted to attack me.

It is clear who is to blame for the entire traumatic incident.

Lucky for me a brave neighbor was home (because the spouse sworn to love and protect me was not of course) and came to my rescue. The snake was apprehended and given the death penalty. Once bludgeoned and sent on to snake heaven (just kidding…no such thing), my neighbor offered to dispose of the body. But I stopped him because I knew my family would never believe me when I told them the story. I asked him to coil up the dead snake right by the door. I’m a little bit sadistic when it comes to soft-hearted husbands and big-mouthed kids.

There were varying reactions to the snake. After the initial surprise, my husband was shocked that it really was more than five feet long. My littlest ones were both intrigued and horrified to have such an up-close viewing. The eldest was distraught that the snake had to die (even when I told her it was convicted of trespassing and attempted murder).

In the end I think the experience served as some good exposure therapy for me. I had to throw away the wreath (and to this day my door is bare), I avoided using the front entry for several weeks, and I had goose bumps every time I thought about it that entire summer. But eventually the horror lessened and by the next year, I was not nearly as upset when another black snake came to visit.

Possibly because I’d become less afraid. Possibly because that time the snake decided to crawl out from under the front stoop at exactly the moment my husband, who had found my front-porch experience so hilarious, bent down to tie his shoe. Both man and serpent were surprised enough by each other that I’m fairly sure I heard two shrieks, and I learned it’s much more difficult to be terrified when you’re laughing so hard.

I've worked up to hanging a wreath on the INSIDE
of my front door. If I ever find a snake there,
I'll just have to move. To Ireland.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Golden Anniversary

My parents celebrated 50 years of marriage on June 5. That’s a lot of day-to-day-ness—exactly 18,262 days of sharing a house, a bed, a table, a garage, a bank account, a family, a future.
You could call my parents’ long relationship a beautiful American love story. And you’d be right in a way. But real life is not exactly like the movies or the novels. Though romance and drama and emotional mountaintops are all delicious, any long-married couple will tell you that those things are not part of the winning formula that gets you to a Golden 50. Because odds are that the longer you’re married, the mortgage statements and insurance forms will stack up faster than the heartfelt love letters. The evenings of mowing the lawn or rocking the crying baby or repairing the leaky toilet will occur way more often than the candlelit dinners out on the town. The “Can you make it home in time for the game?” and “Did you put gas in the car?” conversations replace most of the love-longing, eye-gazing romantic proclamations of courtship.

June 5, 1964

Depressing? Not to me. Because here’s the thing. I imagine my mom was pretty easy to fall in love with. She was a stunning brunette, an ambitious student, and a flirty-fun girl always up for adventure. Think of Gidget, but on the Texas plains instead of the beach. My dad was a hunk in a baseball uniform, driven to succeed as he worked his way through college, and the kind of guy who figured out a way to buy his bride a brand new car just because he knew she’d love it. They were young and optimistic and fresh and easy to adore.

Fast forward several decades. They’ve both gone gray. Dad limps on a bad knee. Mom fusses about wanting the roof fixed but fusses more when he climbs up the two-story ladder on his own. They have three children, all married and who gave them a total of 11 grandkids. There is a constant stream of birthday parties, sporting events, graduations, and other projects for them to attend and assist. They have defined “retirement” as raising cattle, tending goats, tutoring local students weekly, extensively researching family genealogy, and building a new family home. That’s just a regular week for them. On any given day at their ranch they have wrestled flat tires, ornery calves, rattlesnakes, or a cranky water pump.

So while maybe they used to take long walks hand-in-hand and slow dance in the kitchen, now evenings together mean two glasses of iced tea and a Fox News Channel special. The normalcy of life has distilled their commitment to each other into a very simple formula. You + me = always. Life isn’t always pretty or easy or screen-worthy. But spending all the moments, both wonderful and horrible, side by side is what writes a beautiful story. Choosing to stick together when it might be easier to drift apart is what creates a love song worth singing.

I realize now that never having to worry about them letting go of each other was the biggest gift they gave me as a child. I’m still their kid and it’s still a gift.

Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad. I am forever grateful that you said, “I do.” And then you did.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Summertime -- in 15 Phrases

I really do love having all of my little ones home (from college to preschool) all summer. I do. I really do.

But I know what's coming:

Summer family memories are the best. (This was taken before a
two-hour ride in the car and after a stern warning about getting wet
since we had no dry clothes.)

1. There's nothing to eat in here.

2. Why do I have to go to bed when the sun is still up?

3. I don't need a bath, I played in the sprinkler.
Actually, skipping a bath after playing in soap and water is
completely justifiable.
4. We're just going to shoot off a few fireworks, but we'll be careful.

It's always fun until someone has to call the ambulance.

5. The car's out of gas.

6. I just mowed last week.

7. I can't find a job. No one's hiring.

8. I'm hungry. And so are my six friends who are with me.

You never know how many friends your kids have until it's
lunchtime on a summer day.

9. It's too hot to go outside.

10. I don't know who left the water hose on.

11. Mom, look! I'm pretty sure it's not poisonous.

12. Could you be a littler quieter in the morning? I'm trying to sleep in.

Okay, it's hard to stay irritated for long
when they look like sleeping angels.

13. My teacher was nicer than you.

14. But why can't we go to Disney World? Whywhywhywhywhywhywhy?

15. I'm bored. Wait, what? I didn't say I'm bored. Noooooo!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Dear Graduates

How many times in the last few days have you said, “I can’t believe it’s finally here!”? It’s finally your turn to wear the funny hats and process in with your class and listen to the speeches and cross the stage and wave your diploma and smile for a million photos. It’s The Class of 2014, baby, and no one is more excited than you…baby.

What you see.
 Please understand that though you are tall and mature and practically grown up in every way, all we really see as you’re walking that stage is a bunch of babies. Preschoolers. Gap-toothed elementary students. Awkward middle schoolers. Eager freshmen. Anything but the adults you just turned into while we blinked.

What I see.
We may cry. You’ll just have to try to understand. What’s happening on Sunday is a milestone. You’re a smart bunch so you can easily define milestone. The thing is, when it’s your own milestone you can recognize and celebrate it. But you keep on moving forward so it’s quickly behind you and you are focused on something new ahead. For those who love you, who have raised you, it’s a marker that boldly proclaims, “Things will never the same.” Ever.

You were tiny once. Then you crawled and we put away the dangerous things. Then you walked and we locked the cabinets and doors. Then you ran and we bought more bandaids. This was about the time you let go of our hands and went to school for the first time. You learned to read and didn’t ask us for bedtime stories quite as often. Then you started playing sports or joined clubs and you quit coming home right after school. Then you learned to drive and, well, we wondered aloud sometimes if you even still lived here. (Your full laundry hamper and our empty pantry shelves assured us you were still in residence even if we never saw you.)

These were all good things. Of course we wanted you to grow and become and do the things you were meant to do. So we celebrated each new milestone with a smile and a cheer. But as each one passed, we realized those milestones were scattered along a path that was taking you away. “Things will never be the same.” the milestones declared. And we wept while we cheered.

Which is exactly what we will do on Sunday.  You just grew up. And in many wild and wonderful ways, things will never be the same.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Space Invaders

We live in a pretty regular-sized house on a regular-sized lot. I am very content with our little spot in the city limits. However, other family members lobby occasionally to move “out in the country” because some want horses, chickens, gardens big enough to justify a tractor, and would like to walk out to get the mail wearing only underwear and mud boots.

Or, maybe, just boots.

I’d be okay with all of that but I have a hard time getting enthusiastic about the idea of a bigger place. It’s not that I don’t love the beauty of nature and the gorgeous views and the quiet isolation. I really enjoy visiting the homes of my friends who live on acreage. There is a serenity to the sweeping lawns, tree-lined lanes, and glimpses of wildlife out the kitchen window.

The issue is knowing that even acres and acres of home land will do nothing to add to the actual space in which I get to live. My children are, frankly, like a swarm of gnats. Where I go, they go. Swatting at them just stirs them up. Never mind that they have plenty of square footage in which to spread out and enjoy. It seems they prefer to be right next to me. Always.

Take our master bedroom. It is a small, cozy room just the right size for a bed, two comfy chairs and a table, a couple of bookcases and a dresser. I love this room and how it feels like a retreat for us from the busy, noisy world. My children, unfortunately, also love it. Age 2 to 21, their favorite spot is on the end of my bed, snuggled in our soft green comforter. They all have soft, comfy beds of their own. But they prefer to hang out in ours until kicked out. Our master bath is small-ish too. But I regularly find myself trying to curl or straighten or rinse and spit with more than one child underfoot. This in spite of the fact that they have two bathrooms to share between them. Gnats, I tell you.

I have one tiny spot at the end of our dining table that is my work space. I don’t have an actual office because all those soft, comfy beds and extra bathrooms take up a lot of room. My “office” is truly about five square feet of chair, table top, and a few small piles. Because of those piles and the various computer cords, I prefer to keep two- and four-legged creatures out of my little corner. I think this is not too much to ask. But my 2-year-old and our dogs seem to think that particular corner is prime play space. If my feet are not being used as mountains for various Matchbox cars, my power cord is being yanked out by tussling puppies. I cannot understand why these creatures have the entire house and yard in which to play (that’s where ALL THE TOYS ARE, by the way) yet prefer to play practically in my lap all day long.

It's been this way for years.
Maybe if we moved out to the country I could find a place to hide and get some work done Who am I kidding? They’d find me and come running. Very likely wearing only rubber boots and underwear.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Windows Into God's Love

Things like what I am about to describe have happened too many times for me to doubt that there really ought to be a patron saint of shopping. (There's not...yet...I checked.)

Work with me here.

I don't spend much money on myself. I've never been one to hide receipts or run up credit card bills while submitting the family to beans and hot dogs. (I do, however, have other faults and my kids would likely prefer franks and beans to some of the healthy choices I offer. But that's a different blog.) I am thrifty with a capital T and get a thrill out of finding just what we need at a bargain. I also understand going without when necessary.

Which is why we still have old, stained carpeting until we find exactly what we need at exactly what we need to pay. I'd also like to replace the old window valances with light, airy sheer white panels. And I'd really like to do it before we host a huge graduation party here in May. But if you've priced window treatments lately, you know three large windows will run up into the hundreds. With so many other graduation-related expenses (like, um, college), carpet and curtains were going to have to wait.

Which brings me to today.

Feeling the tiniest bit sorry for myself, I decided to poke around online and at least get an idea of what I'd want when the time came. I landed at JCPenney. They're having a sale. Which ends today. And includes 50% off of all curtains and 40% off of hardware. I loaded my virtual cart with everything I wanted for the windows and typed in the sale code and watched the total droppity drop to just about half of what it would have been. Pluuuuuuuuus free shipping!

But, happy as that made me, it is not the miracle of the story.

The miracle is that, after several weeks of haggling and filing reports, I finally received the Paypal refund on a prom dress that was ordered but never shipped. Which meant all but about $20 of my curtain total was SITTING THERE WAITING ON ME. (Shut up, husbands, that is too how it works. Though I fully realize it was my money to begin with, getting it back months later makes it feel like a special prize just for me.)

Every now and then, when something unexpected and lovely happens to one of my kids, I say, "Wow, God really does love you." I said it just yesterday when an unhappy bedhead thought we were out of waffles but I found a forgotten box in the back of the freezer.

Maybe the breakfast of your choice is your love language.

Maybe it's spiffing up the living room in time for a party.

Whatever it is, I legitimately believe that God chooses to speak that language now and then just to see us smile.

And I'm pretty sure Saint Whatever-Her-Name-Is is helping. It would be nice if she'd get together soon with Saint Whoever's-In-Charge-Of-College-Scholarships and work on some more nice surprises.

I do know this for sure. When the dusty, dated valances are down and the pretty white sheers are blowing in the breeze during the party, I will undoubtedly be reminded, "Wow, God really does love me."

Silly? Maybe. But God's working with me here.