Wednesday, August 05, 2009

A Minivan Named Gratitude

 In A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche Dubois utters the famous line, “I have always relied on the kindness of strangers.”
Today, I know exactly how she feels.
It all began with a two hour drive to Indiana so my son and daughter could fulfill one of their dreams: seats in the fifth row of a Dave Matthews Band concert.
Just shy of our destination outside of Indianapolis, people in other cars started honking, waving and pointing to us. Realizing they were probably not expressing their deep admiration for my eight year old minivan, my kids pointed out that they seemed to be pointing to my tire. Upon pulling over, it was easy to see the flat tire was about as useless as my knowledge of fixing it.
Buying air from a gas station pump (who said air is free?), I managed to buy a little more time and get the kids to their concert venue. Then, I set out to figure out where on earth my spare tire actually was, and what on earth I would do with it, once I found it.
Within minutes, the newly replaced air was hissing out of my tire. Finally finding my way to another gas station, my hopes became as deflated as my tire when I realized that gas station didn’t even have an air pump.
At this point, I had a flat tire 120 miles from home, by myself, at 6:00 on a Saturday night. And of course, just to complete the mood, it started to rain.
That’s when I uttered a prayer –admittedly more of a complaint than a petition. “Lord, You have to help me here –I have no idea what to do.”
And then, just shy of a chorus of angels singing harmonies in my head, directly across the street, I saw a muffler shop with an open garage door.
Approaching the garage, I noticed they had closed an hour earlier, but three grease covered mechanics were still inside working.
Playing the damsel in distress more than I really wanted to, I interrupted them, hoping one might at least know where the allusive spare tire was on a Honda Odyssey minivan.
When all was said and done, they not only knew where the tire was, but without hesitating, they also put the van on their car rack and changed the tire for me. All of this was more than an hour after they had closed on a Saturday night.
Overcome with gratitude I choked back tears as I asked how much I owed them.
“Don’t worry about it, Ma’am,” the young mechanic replied.
Once back in my van, I allowed the tears to flow as I thanked God for the kindness of strangers, and all the angels he sends into our lives –especially the strangers who are angels who are sometimes covered in grease.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Megan's Rainbow

Some life moments wash over us as if they were scripted by Hollywood. The time is so intense we are certain that at any instant we might hear a director yelling, “Cue the music!” as the dramatic scene plays out before us.
Thus, I was waiting for the swell of the soundtrack of my life to begin playing last night while on a walk with my first born.
Her suitcase was waiting by the door.
Her passport was waiting in her purse.
Her future was waiting around the corner.
This was the night before she was to leave for Guatemala as part of a program to help Guatemalan women find life skills and careers that will keep them from being at the mercy of others. It’s a wonderful program–--one I fully believe in ---–for other people’s daughters. For my daughter, after she graduated from college, I was thinking more along the lines of a job within fifteen minutes of home, one she could drive to and from in an armored vehicle, with or without an escort from the National Guard. So it was, this detour from the life-bubble I wanted to keep her in was smacking me in the face while we walked on the eve of her endeavor.
It was an unseasonably cool summer night. The light mist of rain was a perfect setting for the mood I was wallowing in. We walked and talked and I hugged her as much as I could.
As we arrived back to where we began, we sat for a moment on the front porch, looking out at the cloud covered horizon. She indulged me as I blabbered on about how quickly the years had gone ---how proud I was of her –how hard letting go sometimes is.
And then, just as the misting rain was watering my wallowing, a ray of sun squeaked through the dusk sky. “Look,” my daughter pointed at what the ray had brought us.
There, right above us, was a rainbow. And at that moment I felt a blanket of comfort covering me, reassuring me, reminding me.
When my first born was a baby, her daddy used to sing her a song that became her theme song. The refrain is:
“Look, look, look to the rainbow
Follow it over the hills and streams
Look, look, look to the rainbow
Follow the fellow who follows a dream”.
As I remembered those words of her song, I realized that is exactly what she is doing ---following her rainbow –following her dream.
And if a director were to be shooting that scene of my life, he would have at that moment yelled, “Cue the music.” And the scene would fade with my arms lovingly wrapped around my baby girl.
For at least a few more minutes.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Tammy's Tat

“Maybe one day you can write an article about it and tell me why you did it,” teased my father-in-law as he heard of my absolutely uncharacteristic “indiscretion” of the weekend before.
And as I now pivot my head to look in the full-length mirror, the reflection of my no-longer bare back takes me aback for just a moment.
A tattoo? Who-da- thunk it?
Yes, the weekend involved a college campus and a bit of peer pressure. But I swear no alcohol was involved.
I was attending a weekend workshop as part of my Masters’ classes at Miami University. The day marked the last day that my two daughters and I would all be students at Miami at the same time. With my oldest graduating the next month, the day was all the more sweet due to its significance.
“We need to do something big today,” one of my girls suggested. After a varying degree of propositions that took more time, money or nerve than I had that day, they both agreed on the best memory maker for us.
“You need to get the tattoo today.”
A few months earlier, when my younger daughter started at the same university as her sister, they decided to get matching tattoos. Their selection was a Celtic cross –the cross with the circle in the middle. When they unveiled this decision and tattoo to me for the first time, I have to admit it was a bit concerning to see the backs that I had rubbed with sunscreen all those years to protect from any permanent marks, now forever marked with a symbol. Still, I admit the idea of the symbol was intriguing. The cross of course, represents our faith; the circle of the cross, a symbol of eternal love. I actually thought it was a pretty nice tattoo for my daughters to share. When I mentioned it was, indeed, a nice bond, they suggested I join them in the bond. And I laughed at the impossibility of it all.
But somehow it didn’t seem so impossible when my daughters reminded me of their suggestion that day at Miami. Standing there with my two girls each now a young woman, on her own verge of the rest of her life, I wanted to freeze the moment. So I said yes.
And as I sat in the tattoo parlor in Oxford I could not stop smiling a ridiculously goofy smile at the strange scenario I was witnessing but could not fathom. This was a piece of my life’s puzzle you could never have told me would fit in with the other pieces of the last 48 years. It was so not me. And yet, knowing my girls wanted me to share in their bond, made me want to share in getting a tattoo I never would have imagined.
And as I stare at my back today, I think about writing that article to explain to my father-in-law and others why I did such a thing that is so different than anything else I have ever done. But maybe that is also part of the reason I did it.
Coloring inside the lines, thinking inside the box, doing the expected, is stable and decent and good. And that is pretty much how I have lived my life. I have prided myself in being dependable and therefore, pretty predictable. But there is something so liberating about getting older and waking up one day to realize you don’t need the approval of everyone after all. You have reached a beautiful zenith of life when you embrace the idea that you just don’t need to explain everything anymore.
So part of me was tempted to write that article explaining why I got my Celtic cross tattoo; but the other part of me doesn’t want to write it, because after 48 years, I finally know that I understand. And that’s enough.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009


Holidays when the kids are little have their own way of grabbing your attention as if in a face-hold and not allowing you a single thought until the moment is over. With those early years and the overwhelming need to protect, entertain, and feed our children, the reflective thoughts about the moment get put on the backburner for one day when you might actually entertain a free thought.
That day is today for me.
With my oldest now just graduated from college and my youngest in middle school, the days are full of busy-ness –but the time between the moments allow me to actually have a thought and process it.
This is what I reflected on while watching the 4th of July fireworks reflect from my rearview mirror this year.
Gone are the fourth of July days of preparing a bicycle for that early morning parade. No more purchases of crepe paper and mini flags to adorn a tricycle that will end up not being ridden when the little one decides he wants to be carried for the mile walk. No more packing a suitcase full of toys, snacks and mosquito repellent to take along for the waiting of the evening fireworks display.
This fourth of July had most in the family going their separate ways. Then as night began to fall, in anticipation of the fireworks, my son asked for a ride for him and his friends to go to the display. After dropping them off, I pulled over on the side of the road to watch the fireworks from my car.
At that moment it was the independence of my children I was reflecting on more than the independence of my country. But that night with every beautiful burst of light shooting across the sky, I started to believe the fireworks were symbolic of that precious thing called childhood.
With a burst of beauty, it all begins. At times loud, but always exciting, it has your full attention. You swear you will never take it for granted. But somehow you do. Then, when you think you have seen it all, something surprises you that takes your breath away, once again. Sometimes you think it’s preparing for the finale, but before you know it, you are given a little bit more. And a little bit more.
And then you start to kid yourself and pretend it will never end. But the fireworks and childhood always seem to end before you are completely ready to admit it’s time.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


The first definition my dictionary uses to define the word champion is: “Anything that takes first place in a competition”. After last weekend, I might argue that one.
My 13 year-old son’s baseball team, the Grinders, headed off for an overnight tournament. This was the first full-fledged-travel-four-hours-and-stay-in-a-hotel kind of tournament. The boys were in the big time now and they knew it. Spirits were high. Unfortunately, right before the first game, my son admitted his shoulder had been hurting since baseball camp earlier in the week. The motion of throwing a ball caused him to grimace in pain. Now, I don’t know a lot about baseball, but I do know that the motion of throwing a ball is fairly important to the game. He didn’t want to let his team down, but he knew he could only bat, not field for the weekend. The tournament began as the games were played; my son’s team managed to win both games on the first day. Heads were held high –spirits remained higher.
On the next day of the tournament, the Grinders started looking a bit grinded up. One player’s back had a muscle strain; one, just off crutches, had a swollen hand; another, a broken toe, a possible broken finger and broken glasses; yet another, something wrong with his foot. But still, they played. They pulled together, they encouraged each other. The boys were obviously hurting but they continued to play baseball. By the last game, my son had to field with his sore arm since the boy with the possible broken finger, who finished the game before, could not even begin to grip the bat now–and the team would have to forfeit if they couldn’t field nine players. So my son went on the field. The young boy with the back problem, needed to bat, even though he was quite certain he couldn’t run if he hit the ball. So he went on the field. And on it continued. Battered boys with bats hanging in there, playing ball, encouraging each other to keep on going. It may not have been pretty. But it seemed pretty wonderful.
According to the first definition in my dictionary, the Grinders were not the champions of the tournament.
They did not take first place.
Or even second.
But looking further down the list of definitions, the dictionary offers that a champion is also “a fighter or warrior”.
And there is not one person at that tournament who could deny that definition to the unrelenting team that seemed to have something wrong with every body part --- except their heart.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Happy Father's Day

“You look nice. Have a good day.”
And thus began a typical day for me.
It was the ‘70’s, I was on my way to school, and my dad was driving.
Fathers of this time were of a different generation. Their sole concern was that there was enough money to clothe the family, feed the family and educate the family. It was the mother’s job to raise the family.
My dad was not into reading books to pontificate parenting practices. Dads of this time were just in their kids’ lives –they didn’t worry about all that “bonding stuff” we worry about today.
For this reason, I enjoyed my rides to school with my daddy. Having him and his full attention to myself was a treat. And everyday it was the same routine. As we pulled into the school, I would kiss him on the cheek, at which point he would say the lines I had grown to expect, “You look nice. Have a good day.” And, I would exit the car, ready to start my day, full of the knowledge that my daddy thought I looked nice.
This routine remained unchanged for years, with the small exception of when I started Jr. High School. This was the time I informed him I was going to kiss him goodbye while he was still driving, before we actually got to school. This, of course, was due to my adolescent anxiety, fueled by the fear my classmates might realize I actually had parents, and heaven forbid, even liked them.
And he humored me and continued to reply those edifying words.
It was such a simple thing, but I am certain from that original exchange, blossomed a belief I was worth something. Years later, before I found my prince, while shuffling through many frogs, I remember on more than one occasion being displeased with something one of my dates might have said. The first thought to pop into my head was always, “My dad wouldn’t treat me that way.”
How true it is, that the first man in a little girl’s life is her daddy.
So, this year for Father’s Day, I know just what I’ll do. I am going to go right up to my dad and proudly say, “You look nice. Have a good day.” And then I will kiss him on the cheek.
No matter who is watching.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Someone's child

In three month’s time, three friends have lost a parent.
Somehow, that expression has always seemed strange to me as it seems better used to describe a child losing a parent in a crowd, panicking and crying for a minute and then finding them again. When we refer to the death of a loved one as losing that loved one, it negates the permanency of the situation. The implication of losing something is that it might ultimately be found. But in death, the loved one is not returning. And as much we can find comfort in our faith and rejoice in the promises of heaven of one day being together again, the death of a parent is one of those life moments you deny will ever happen even as a part of you understands it eventually will.
Because no matter how old you are, you are the child and they are the parent. Our words for them may change over the years. Da-da and Ma-ma become Mommy and Daddy which ultimately might morph into mom and dad, or mother and father. But while labels change, the role they play in our lives never completely changes.
We are their child.
Someone’s son.
Someone’s daughter.
We are someone’s child.
True, the rest of the world might recognize us as full-grown, competent adults, perhaps even answering to the labels of mom or dad ourselves; but to somebody somewhere, we are the child, the one they care for and love with an unconditional love. They’re our parents.
No matter how imperfect we are –or how imperfect our parents are--- there is a love that’s a love that forever defines what love is for us. There is a connection that connects us beyond genetic make-up and hereditary traits.
Maybe that’s it: we’ve always known we’ve had our mom or dad’s eyes, nose, mouth –but as we get older we come to realize we also have something so much more meaningful –we have their heart. And that is something we never lose.
Even after they’re gone.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sweet 16

A déjà vu moment washed over me as I sat on my front porch, the day of my son's 16th birthday.
Sweet 16 --- that magical day when the world collectively nods and confirms you are, indeed, growing up. Everything that 15 isn't ---16 is. My son’s birthday was one of those early spring days where the sun that had been hidden for too long finally shines with a brightness that seems to apologize for having held back. After I retrieved the mail on this day, the desire to soak in the sun beckoned me to sit for awhile.
Squinting as my eyes adjusted to the brightness, I caught sight of some elementary students on their walk home. The bounce in their steps made me smile with the memory it induced. Perhaps it was due to the special day, but my mind immediately landed on my birthday boy, to the time when he first informed me he could walk home on his own so many years earlier. For awhile after that declaration, I’d again sit on the porch after school waiting for him. Soon I would see him rounding the corner with a determined, confident gait. His young face would light up with an undeniable joy that only little ones allow to come over their faces upon seeing their parents. A few steps closer to home, he would break into a run, ending in a hug that would come close to knocking me down.
Too soon the preciousness of those days slipped away, giving way to after school sports practices, going to friends’ houses, and of course, simply knowing it's not cool to run into the waiting arms of your mother. And soon, a simple test will change the bounce of his step on the sidewalk to the hum of his engine in the driveway.
As I sat on my porch realizing how quickly the years are going, I could feel the pace of the world lapping at my heels. Still, I refuse to speed up. As a matter of fact, I resolve to try to slow down. Because I understand the little one I watched confidently walking home so many years ago, is every day, more and more confidently, walking further and further away.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Of Mermaids and Miami grads

A figurine of a Disney character may not represent for everyone the perfect college graduation gift. But for me, there was no other choice. The Little Mermaid’s Ariel had to be the gift given to my first-born daughter to commemorate the occasion of her walking across the stage at Miami University to receive a piece of paper that said she was officially, completely, without a doubt, now an adult.
The obvious connection is that it was the first Disney movie that secured my daughter’s passion for Disney princesses, as she watched it over and over and over. For a period of several months she would sing Ariel’s anthem to end in a dramatic finale of the line “…wish I could be….part of that …world” which would see her three-year-old body posed in a position identical to the animated Ariel who was perched on a rock in the sea.
I can see that image in my mind’s eye today, in spite of the woman’s body that has taken the place of the little girl’s.

Still, the main connection I think of while holding the mermaid figure all these years later is the theme of Ariel’s voice in the movie. The little mermaid, of course, traded her voice for the legs necessary to walk in the world where she wanted to go. And that voice is what I think of when I think of my daughter. Yes, the magnificent musicality of her voice is part of what defines her as she now entertains, singing songs beyond Disney sound tracks. But it goes deeper than that.
There is also her voice of compassion that shines through when a friend or even a stranger in a third world country is in need.
There is her voice of reason that has always been wise beyond her years.
There is her voice of change that will travel to Guatemala and places I cannot and probably do not want to imagine, simply for the reason that she might be able to make a difference there.
All these voices are inside one beautiful girl who is today learning to walk on legs that will take her into a whole new world.
But no matter where her voice… or her legs take her, I will always be blessed that she is, indeed, a part of my world.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Tree of Life

Nothing heralds in the overture of the spring season of rebirth like the blossomings of a Bradford pear and a magnolia tree. Every year I observe the coloration of the world with these beautiful branches awash in delicate pinks and whites, and I feel a sense of hope and connection to God.
Perhaps it’s the fact that the creation reminds me of my Creator. I can imagine God dipping His paint brush first into a delightful pure white paint to tint the trees that were the day before brown and dreary. With the stroke of His majestic brush, He then draws on delicate flowerets that from afar look to be puffy popcorn balls. Then, perhaps, God smiles at His Bradford pear tree before moving on.

For the next special masterpiece of the magnolia tree, God keeps just enough of the pear-tree white on His brush to blend with the sweetest shade of pink. With broader strokes this time, He paints pretty petals that will burst into life with the sunrise. I don’t know if the Creator then takes time to admire this beautiful creation, but I certainly hope He does.

And then, sometimes too soon, it seems God must decide to dry the paint by blowing on it. Gentle winds --- and not so gentle winds waft through the air, transporting the pretty petals. With each breath of wind, the gorgeous blossoms of the trees become more sparse, as the once bare ground beneath the trees becomes carpeted with perfect petals of pink or white. As a child, the blossom’s short life-cycle used to sadden me.

But with the gift of age, I’ve come to understand that a short life seems lengthened by the beauty left behind. Like sweet blossoms fallen on the ground, the memory of the departed wonder clings to our hearts making that wonder never far from us, even when it’s time to enter a new season of our lives.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

One Mama, Obama, and Notre Dame

I sat down at my computer to try to put into words my thoughts on the controversy of President Obama being invited to give the commencement address and receive an honorary degree from Notre Dame. Unfortunately, before I could even begin to process my thoughts, I heard language coming from my kitchen that was not the voice or character of any of my kids. The words spewing forth were derogatory, degrading, and profane. Upon investigating, I saw the source of the vile verbiage was not one I had given birth to, but one MTV had spawned. The show was one of those cable offerings that seem to be popular simply due to the number of times the participants, seeking their own fifteen minutes of fame, can squeeze in insulting conversation and gestures between being bleeped by the generous censures.
My turning off the television caused my thirteen-year-old, who was doing his homework in the kitchen, to lift his head and offer, “I was watching that.”
“I know,” I informed him, “and that’s the problem.”
“It’s just a show,” he attempted to reason. “Why can’t I watch it?”
“If I don’t allow you to talk in my house the way that guy was talking,” I explained, “why would I let some stranger from MTV talk like that in here?”
“But it’s not going to change me,” he tried to justify. “Just because I listen to it, doesn’t mean I am going to start talking like that.”
With four kids, this was an argument I had heard many times over the years. Whether pleading for a movie, video game, or song, each child would try to argue the same futile argument that their actions would not change just because of what they watched or listened to. They never won this argument, and my son wasn’t about to win this time either.
I took a deep breath and began an explanation I had given to his brother and sisters before. “It’s not about any lack of faith in you or how you might act if exposed to something I disagree with. But if something is completely against my beliefs and I welcome it into our home, I would be a hypocrite. You deserve better of me than that.”
And with the television turned off, I went back to my computer to pursue my original task of trying to explain my view on the most pro-abortion president being asked to give the commencement address to the graduates of the most visible Catholic university in America.
But then I realized, I just did.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Dr. Seuss DVD (and me)

There I sat in my classroom a little after noon,
awash in the Seussical sounds
of “One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish.”
In an instant, I was a little girl again giggling
over the way the wondrous words tripped over
my seven year old tongue.
For a brief moment I could bask in the task
of needing to do nothing more than soak in the world,
discovering the uncovering of words.
Then, with no time between rhymes,
I heard the familiar refrain involving the train and the rain:
“I do not like Green eggs and ham, I do not like them Sam I am.”
This time, though fast, the years had past.
The little girl I’d now find in my mind
was my daughter
who was no more than two,
reading by memory her favorite book.
“Would you, could you on a boat? Would you, could you with a goat?”
the precious voice from so many years ago
proudly recited each line in my mind.
And then the blast from the past gave way to today,
as I remembered that little girl
will be graduating from college in two months.
Two months and then she will be completely free.
No more my little girl.
No more Seuss.
No more youth.
The mere thought made me
wipe my eyes to try not to cry.
But before I could dry my eyes,
my movie wrapped with a quote
from a note that Dr. Seuss wrote
in his last years:
“How did it get so late so soon?
It's night before it's afternoon.
December is here before it's June.
My goodness how the time has flewn.
How did it get so late so soon?"

And as I stared at every letter,
I knew no one could say it better.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Happy Birthday, Barbie!

It’s a little known fact that a bleach bottle, when cut a certain way and filled with padding, makes a great chair. What is more, a box of tissues, covered in material, can become a perfect bed.
Those are just some of the ways I decorated my childhood Barbie house --- which was actually a three-tiered book case whose shelves I covered with left-over carpeting swatches.
Hundreds of hours of my childhood were spent with my less than one-foot friend, Barbie, and her friends, Skipper, Francie, and Ken, along with an occasional “adopted” baby from another line of toys. Together we would decorate that house, make more faux furniture, become singing sensations, get married, and have babies, all before lunch some days.
Back in those proverbial good-old-days, Barbie’s parent company, Mattel, didn’t release a new “must-have” dream house, sports car, or new, improved doll every season. Sure, I had a few of the commercial items like Barbie clothes and a mod-looking 1970’s camper, but my best memories of my Barbie days are of me pretending, stretching my imagination, being creative.
My bond with Barbie was such a part of my childhood that I felt it mandatory to break up with her when it was time for me to go to that necessary next level of my youth: Junior High School. I was, after all, almost a teenager, and teenagers certainly didn’t play with dolls, did they? Always a proponent of ripping the band-aid off instead of taking it off slowly, I reluctantly said goodbye to and then banished my dolls to my plastic Barbie case under my bed the day before 7th grade began, forcing myself to go cold turkey.
It wasn’t a painless rehab, but somehow I survived, only occasionally sneaking the cherished case out as if it were certified contraband all for the pleasure of checking on my old friends. Still, to this day, when I open up a new shower curtain and get a wondrous whiff of the brand new plastic, my senses take me back to the instant of getting that perfectly new Barbie case for Christmas one year and the childhood memories of my Barbie moments flood over me like refreshing rain.
Now my Barbie in the case is turning 50.
Some of those many years Barbie has been hidden, she might have been glad to be in seclusion Too much time and energy has been spent scaling Barbie’s measurements to that of a woman over five feet tall. It turns out if Barbie were true to size, her real life counter-part’s figure would measure 39-19-33. All that considered, it seems a miracle that during my youth I was fixated on cutting product boxes to make furniture for Barbie instead of cutting out lunch to make myself look more like her.
And now, as she celebrates her golden birthday, someone is sending her a birthday present in an invitation to a vacation to go away and never come back. All this because Mattel has come out with “Totally Stylin’ Tattoos” Barbie that allows little girls to temporarily tattoo Barbie (or themselves) with a symbol such as a butterfly, flower or star. This edgy Barbie is sending some parents and politicians over the edge. According to the Associated Press, West Virginia state lawmaker, Jeff Eldridge, wants to outlaw the sale of Barbie dolls, saying, "I just hate the image that we give to our kids that if you're beautiful, you're beautiful and you don't have to be smart.”
Maybe it’s the fact that my daughters, now in college, are old enough to get tattoos that aren’t temporary; or maybe I’ve been sniffing shower curtains again, but I don’t want anyone shoving my dear old friend forever in her case.
Perhaps it’s the timing of the whole thing. In a week that saw a reality show bachelor profess his love to a woman; break up with her; profess and propose to another; break up with her, and then bounce back to the previous lady he sent packing (who welcomed him with open arms), I don’t think my 11 ½ inch doll is going to be the blame for girls not understanding their true worth.
And in a time where a female singer is allegedly abused by her singing boyfriend, and then announces a happy reconciliation with him before the pictures of her bruised face are out of our minds, I doubt if the illogical proportions of Barbie, with or without a butterfly tattoo, will harm our children’s spirit more.
If only more kids took the opportunity to innocently play in a make-believe world with Barbie these days, maybe they would have the chance to slowly discover who they are without waiting for the “real” world to thrust unauthentic identities upon them. I wish upon the girls of today the hours of imaginative fun I had as a child before my self-imposed withdrawal. Truthfully, though, unless Barbie would appear in a new movie with a rating of PG 13 or acquire her own reality show, kids probably wouldn’t be as interested. There just doesn’t seem to be that much innocent, creative, unplugged play going on now. No more tissue box beds or bleach bottle chairs.
It all makes me a bit sad. Perhaps it’s time to sneak a look in my Barbie case again. Or maybe I’ll buy a new shower curtain.

Monday, February 23, 2009

"Mr. Colerain"

The lawn chair he always brought with him was green and white, but in his heart, everything was red… Cardinal red.

For thirty years, Colerain High School’s biggest fan, Norb Monning, aka: “Mr. Colerain”, attended every game imaginable. Through victory and defeat, he watched and cheered from that lawn chair, never letting the outcome of the game effect his team spirit. Offering words of wit and wisdom to the youthful players, he became a grandfather-figure who wouldn’t miss a game of one of his hundreds of “grandchildren”. And like all good grandfathers, Norb Monning would often be found with a camera, taking pictures he would later bestow on the athletes along with more of his generous praise. It was as much a part of the Colerain tradition as their cardinal mascot.

Then, the day one knows will come, but hopes never will, came to Colerain. "Mr. Colerain" didn’t show up for the girls’ basketball game; and the students noticed. He wouldn’t miss a game if he could help it. Something had to be wrong. Soon the news was broken that the heart that kept beat to the Colerain Cardinal’s fight song, had stopped beating. At the age of 85, Mr. Norb Monning passed away.

Sometimes teenagers aren't the best at showing the emotions they are feeling, especially for older adults. But the week after Norb Monning's death, the emotion was palpable. It was as if a dimmer switch had turned the brightness of the school down a level or two.

His family was kind enough to give the green and white lawn chair to the school to remind them of their number one fan. But if you ask any of the students "Mr. Colerain" cheered for and was there for over the last thirty years, the lawn chair isn’t necessary to hold his memory. That job is happily being done by the thousands of hearts that have been touched by a fan who turned out to be a true champion.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Weighty Issue

Someone once told me that each dawning day deposits something into the memory banks of our children. Lately, it is daunting to think what is being put in–or more correctly shoved in --my children’s memory banks with all the attention a young celebrity has received. Singer and reality star, Jessica Simpson, has been the talk of the tabloids lately for a picture of her sporting a less than flattering pair of jeans and a high-waisted belt. Soon headlines such as “Jessica Simpson’s Weighty Issue” and “Jessica’s Weight-gate” screamed from every newsstand in every grocery store.
The fact that a young lady who is most likely a size 6 is being scrutinized for being overweight is concerning enough. But what is even more upsetting is how this perpetuates the message the media keeps feeding our daughters about body size. Is it not bad enough that too many stars appear to starve themselves to maintain a look that is little more than a walking corpse with too much make-up? Don’t girls have enough to process from every teen “beauty” magazine that promises them the perfect diet and the perfect exercise for the perfect body?
The media plays lip service to preventing eating disorders, informing young girls of the perils of becoming obsessed with body image. Campaigns like Dove’s Real Beauty ads pop up to attempt to remind us that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. And then, faster than you can say, “anorexia nervosa”, society spends days analyzing and criticizing the eating and exercise habits of a young woman who dared to display a figure that was not the shape of a broom stick.
My college freshman daughter said she and her roommate saw the picture in question before it became fodder for editorial cartoonists and late-night talk show hosts everywhere. At the time, the girls’ reaction was simply, “That’s not a flattering belt.” Now, thanks to the media’s obsession with perceived perfection, they both have had deposits made in their memory banks to hammer home the American belief that, indeed, one can never be too thin.
To our young women everywhere, that can turn in to the weightiest issue of all.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Watered-down apology

Last summer, a young man dived into the waters in Beijing and came out an international celebrity.
And then, mere months later, after multi-million dollar endorsement deals, Michael Phelps falls from his podium with the publication of a picture of him with his mouth, not set firm in a competitive stare, but set casually on a water bong.
Damage control had to begin faster than Phelp’s could swim the freestyle. Soon, the one who broke the record, went on the record saying, "I engaged in behavior which was regrettable and demonstrated bad judgment. I am 23 years old and despite the successes I've had in the pool, I acted in a youthful and inappropriate way…”
I had to stopped listening to the watered-down apology there. Shoving the word youthful into the mea culpa ruined it for me. It was slipped in there to suggest we read between the lines and understand: “Boys will be boys” and he’s not the only 23 year old to smoke pot.But isn’t he one of only a few 23 year old role models who have signed contracts that earn them millions of dollars? And somewhere in those contracts, aren’t there clauses about leading their lives in a way that is a good reflection on the company they represent? And isn’t marijuana still illegal?
As a high school teacher and mom, I know all too well that kids make bad decisions every day. Some are easily forgotten and forgiven, while other decisions are life changing. And somehow kids still aren’t understanding that every decision they make is only a fifteen second download on a digital camera away from being broadcast to everyone.
When a multi-million dollar role model attends a party and willingly partakes in an activity which he knows is illegal, and which he has to understand can and will be filmed by anyone and everyone around him, he’s dived into the deep end of poor judgment.
If Michael Phelps can admit he made a mistake without a disclaimer about his age and if he sincerely learns from this, I am sure his career will not be all washed up. I sincerely wish him well. Still there was nothing golden about his first apology attempt. As a mom concerned with her children looking up to him, I happen to think it was all wet.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Winter Wonderland

I look out my ice-framed window at the wonderfully white winter wonderland that was simply my front yard the night before. The sun has finally come up to allow his rays to glisten on every ice cycle that envelops every bough of every tree within my vision. The blanket of newly fallen snow that the meteorologist will insist was only four inches looks to me to cover everything within sight. Its crystal surface shimmers in the new light of day. The mere brightness, or perhaps the mere beauty, makes my eyes begin to tear.
Where yesterday there was a messy mixture of mud and slush, hibernating brownish grass, and a driveway that has needed a new coat of blacktop for three years, today there is a faultless layer of sparkling perfection. At this moment, the moment before the first person dares to trod over the new fallen snow, before the dog runs out to do what dogs must do, this moment is the moment I am reminded of God’s grandeur. But even more, the purity, the clearness, the newness of the freshly fallen snow remind me of the grand gift of forgiveness.
Only God can change the ugliness of sin –all our mud and slush and everything about us that is not at all attractive. Only He can cover our inequities and imperfections with the sanctifying Grace of exquisite forgiveness. We still know what lies underneath; we are acutely aware of what we’ve done, and the limits of who we are. But when we ask, when we are very still, God’s grace falls upon us like forgiving flakes, permitting us to be new again.
And so I start the day by staring out my ice covered window, thanking God for the splendor of the seamless snow and the chance to glisten in the rising of the Son.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Hold me, Daddy

It’s not that I was surprised to be inspired. I was, after all, in church. It wasn’t so much the location of the inspiration as it was the source.
We had all just stood up. The homily was over and we were getting ready to profess our faith. I know I should have been focusing on the stream of words coming out of my mouth, but as too often happens, I allowed my wavering attention span to wander around, taking my focus with it until landing on the family a couple of pews in front of me.
And then I saw it.
A young girl stood next to her father, leaning into him as if her own body could not support her light weight. He continued to recite his profession of faith.
And that's when it happened.
Somewhere before our petition of prayers, the little girl must have decided the support from the lean wasn't enough, as she instinctively held her arms up to her daddy who picked her up without a moment’s hesitation.
The reason this caught my attention was that she appeared too old to be held. I wouldn’t have paid attention if she were three or under –but this little girl seemed years beyond the holding stage, and yet her father picked her up the moment she asked.
Without any prodding or pleading, he picked up his daughter and held her for the rest of the standing portion of the service. Contented, she nuzzled her head on his shoulder with a look of peace that we adults just can’t mimic.
It was that simple. She asked to be held and her daddy held her. And even though I was surprised by the request being made at her age, it somehow looked so right.
And of course, it made me think.
Why do we too often equate losing our ability to ask for help with losing our youth?
Many times in life we might find ourselves growing weary, hoping for someone to lean on.
But we’re too big, aren’t we? Shouldn’t we find a way to handle it all on our own?
Life would be so much simpler if we could all remember no matter how old or self-sufficient we think we are, we are still God’s children. Like the daddy in church, God is always there for us to lean on.
And when we need more than leaning for support, how happy it must make our Father if we could only remember to instinctively raise our arms to Him and ask to be held. For it is only in our Father’s arms that we might find the true peace of a contented child.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Merge Ahead

My on-line dictionary says the definition of “merge” is: to combine, blend, or unite gradually.
Unfortunately, I think the “in traffic” dictionary would say the definition of “merge” is: to come to a complete and exasperating standstill.
Recently, I had one of those white knuckle days; I was, of course, running late for work when I noticed the darkness before dawn was partially lit with the ominous site of ascending tail lights waiting on the road in front of me.
Was there an accident? Blocked road?
For five minutes and three light changes the parade of paused vehicles sat as nothing but shrinking levels of tolerance moved. At last we began to inch our ways back to some sort of semblance of motion. Fifteen minutes and 1/8 of a mile later, I saw the sign: Merge.
That was it. No accident. No blockage; just the simple directional sign trying to get two lines of traffic to combine into one.
Merging would be so easy –if only the other guy would get out of our way.
Unfortunately, the guy beside us doesn’t know this obvious rule of “it’s my turn”. Or perhaps he does and that’s the problem.
Merging forces us to step aside, work with each other, and give up a little bit to each other.
Unfortunately, it’s necessary not only in traffic, but also in life.
No where is this more relevant today than in politics. Right side? Left Side? Middle? We are now stuck in a traffic jam that is frustrating everyone and putting pressure on more than simply our white knuckles. We’ve honked our horns, counted to ten, and some have even used words and gestures that in some way made them feel better in their incessant waiting.
Perhaps now is the moment to merge.
Without a doubt, this coming together won’t be easy for any of us, no matter what direction you’re coming from.
My faith and heart color me with the label of conservative. Today, there are some life issues I hold dear that are threatened by our new president who has promised to put up a sign that might detour these issues, or close the road altogether.
Should those of us who hold these life issues as basic issues of life come to a complete stop now? Should we change our direction entirely?
Of course not. I wouldn’t begin to suggest we make a U-turn just to keep the country moving in some sort of semblance of motion.
A merge obliges us to work together, to try to find a way to actually make progress.
Those on the right give a little. Those on the left give a little. And, with God’s help, we’ll all arrive where we hope to be sooner, not later.
For too long we’ve been stuck in bottlenecked traffic. We’ve already tried, yelling and waving various fingers at those who disagree with us.
It’s time to combine, blend, or unite gradually.
It’s time to see the sign.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Home Improvement

There’s a pretty plaque in my kitchen that proclaims, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
I’m fond of that plaque. I pass the verse every day. And when I actually take time to register what it means, I like to think I am doing just what it says. I am building a house—a family-- that serves the Lord.
But am I really?
As yet another year dawns, it seems a perfect time to take a good look and reflect on the “house” my family and I are forming.
When looking at the value of any house, it’s important to study the foundation. Is it solid and sturdy? Does my “house” have God at the center –always? Or have I admittedly pushed God aside as the foundation when the world comes knocking with more immediate rewards and gratification?
Next, I have to ask what might need patching this year? Are there cracks in my house that I noticed in years past, but ignored, figuring they “weren’t that bad”? After all, other people’s houses had worse problems, didn’t they? Or what about the defects I tired to cover up? Has the fresh coat of paint, meant to distract from the imperfections only made it worse since I never addressed the root of the issue? Might these problems in my house now grow to a level where they will no longer be ignored?
And what about the roof over our heads? Does it give us all the shelter we need? Are we ready for the storms that lie ahead? Will our roof keep out the harmful elements – but still allow the Son to shine in and illuminate everything?
A new year offers us a fresh opportunity to look around and see what might need changing. A new year offers us hope that we will, indeed, resolve to be better. I know I am far from where God wants me to be, but I am grateful He hasn’t given up on me yet. As for me and my house, we will continue serve the Lord. And somehow, I suspect He will continue to bless our feeble efforts --- cracks and all.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Oh, Christmas Tree!

This year, my Christmas tree taught me some lessons I needed to learn.
We found the tree at the same tree farm we visit each year. Of course, in reality, it is just a lot in a shopping area that sells chopped down trees, but that doesn’t sound nearly as quaint as the words “tree farm”.
We went to this tree-farm/shopping lot and brought the too-big tree home, working hard to get it to stand upright in the corner of our family room. Finally the mission was accomplished and it was time to decorate.
Now, I am an admitted control freak when it comes to decorating my tree. I will spend hours putting up the lights, squinting to make sure each bulb is placed about the same distance from the next. Then, I will strategically place the ornaments. As the hours of decorating went on, I soon began running out of lights, ornaments and eventually time, so I stopped, leaving the back of the tree—the side that was shoved into the corner --- completely blank. I flipped the switch and marveled in Advent amazement at the beauty before me. The tree looked …tremendous.
Until Christmas Eve.
Because it was on Christmas Eve, right before we were to leave for Mass that I heard a loud thud, followed by my son affirming my immediate suspicions with the words, “Mom! The tree just fell!”
Running into the room, I saw my beautifully decorated tree looking not so beautiful, sprawled out across the floor, resting on a bed of broken ornaments.
We managed to get “old Tannenbaum” back up, but only by changing the direction the tree was leaning. Because it was such a heavy tree, my husband had to secure it with rope to the side window to keep it from falling again. Once this was finally accomplished, I realized that the only part now visible was the part of the tree I had not decorated since it was originally in the corner.
With mass and Christmas morning both right around the corner, it was going to have to stay this way. And so it was we celebrated Christmas with my humble-looking tree, tied with a rope to the window.
As always, I figured God was trying to tell me something. First of all, I’m sure there was a message there about being a control freak. But more than that, I couldn’t help but to think about the way we hide our less than attractive sides of ourselves everyday. We spend so much time making sure we are presenting to the world only the side that we want them to see. But then, when our balance is off, when we least expect it, we might fall and end up showing the world the side of ourselves we’re not so proud of.
For the coming year, I hope I remember several lessons from my fallen tree. I will try to have less to hide, even through life’s falls. I will also try to be less of a control freak. And yes, when next Christmas comes, I will remember to buy a smaller tree---or bigger rope.