May 11, 2013

Happy Mother's Day, Mom!

I was sick a lot as I grew up. Pneumonia and/or bronchitis every year, sometimes ending up in the hospital because of it. My earliest memory was when I was 3 and I was in an oxygen tent; I remember my mom walking into the room. I have forgotten my daughter at church but THAT I remember. My first ulcer occurred at the age of 7, I've had viral meningitis twice, countless rounds of pneumonia, and Bell's Palsy a total of 5 times. At one point during that time the doctors apparently told my mom that my condition was dire but I never knew about it. When I look back at all those times of being sick, I just relate it to someone who gets a cold every winter. It's inconvenient and a nuisance, but you just deal with it.

Through it all, my mom always took care of me. She never once let on that any of it was any worse than just a typical cold. She just wiped my forehead, fed me chicken broth and did her best to cheer me up. As I got older, I tried to return the favor when she was sick, and I credit her with my tolerance and low-stress attitude when my kids are sick.

You know, it's funny...when you are little, your mom is your entire world. As you get older, you drift away, start to build up a little independence. Eventually, you're grown and when someone says you look/act/sound like your mother, you grumble and groan because no one wants to grow up to be their mother.

Can I be honest with you? I am JUST.LIKE.MY.MOTHER. And that isn't such a bad thing.

Both my parents are hard-working, do-it-to-the-best-of-your-ability people but I believe I inherited my mom's desire to be the best at whatever job I'm given. After deciding to close her successful, in-home hair salon, my mom sought full-time work outside the home and found a job as a receptionist at a mortgage loan company. She ended up learning the ropes and became a loan processor--with no prior training and no college degree.

My mom has always insisted that we can be anything we want to be and that there is nothing we can't accomplish. And she truly believes it. She has raised us 3 girls to stand up for ourselves against anyone, to not let anyone push us around and to always fight for what we believe in. And she proved it in her actions. All my life I remember her battling with her weight. A few years ago she finally decided it didn't matter what anyone else thought, she was going to change her life---for HER. And she did. Over the next 2 years she changed the way she cooked and ate and she became more mobile and lost 150 pounds.

From watching her and her sisters, we learned that your sisters are your best friends, that when everyone else fails, your sisters will still be there and no matter how much they may irritate you, you need to cherish that relationship.

Because of my mom. the scent of Lysol is the smell of freshly made beds, open windows with the spring breeze drifting in and a clean house. You always knew you had clean sheets on the bed when you could smell the Lysol. The smell of chocolate chip cookies in the oven means you are loved. It means you got to sneak bites of cookie dough while being warned against all the perils of raw eggs and then you got to eat warm, gooey cookies with a glass of milk. Just because. I associate banana bread, zucchini bread, pies, sugar cookies, molasses cookies, and fruit cake (even though I refuse to eat fruit cake) with warm kitchens, gift baskets, well-used aprons and love. Yes, I associate food with love. But when you grew up with a mom like mine, who could cook like mine (fried chicken, beef stroganoff, lentil soup, lasagna, chili, the best cinnamon rolls in the ENTIRE. WORLD.), you learn you're loved when someone goes through the effort to feed you like she did.

I love my mom, and not just because she made my bed and was a great cook. I love her because after I grew out of my desire to always dress like her in 4th grade-size business suits and pantyhose, and I found my own style that was completely opposite of hers, she would shop for me, knowing that if she hated the pattern or color, I would probably love it. And she'd shop for me anyway.

My love of books and reading came from her. There was never a trip or vacation or a day off that she didn't have a book in her hand.

I think my love of laundry came from her as well. I have very vivid memories of coming home from kindergarten and early elementary and finding her in front of the TV watching "Young and the Restless" or "Days of Our Lives" with piles of folded laundry around her.

She was involved in our schools, in our PTAs, in our lives. She knew our friends and the kids we went to school with. If we got excited about something, she helped us pursue it. She encouraged us, cheered us on and even gave us a kick in the butt when we needed it.

When our hearts were broken from boys or "friends", she was quick to reassure us that they weren't worth the tears or that they were just "jealous". Of what I never figured out but I appreciated the effort.

She's been an awesome grandma to her 7 grandkids and has always provided a warm, loving, stable home to all of them. All of her kids (and even those grandkids) have come back home to live with them at some point and she just opens her doors to them.

I know my mom feels like she isn't appreciated, like we don't notice all the things she does. But we do. She is the one who taught me to leave notes in my kids' lunches, who taught me you don't have to have a man around but to appreciate it when you do, who taught me to never leave home without clean underwear in case you get in an accident, who taught me how to make blackberry cobbler when camping, who taught me to love really sappy love stories, who taught me how to make a bed so tight you can bounce a quarter off it, who taught me how to cook enough spaghetti to feed 8 but never how to cook for 1, who taught me that Vick's is a wonder drug, who taught me that when it comes to your kids you can become a rabid wolverine or a soft, snuggly mama cat--whatever the occasion calls for, who taught me it's never too late to go after something you want, who taught me to be true to yourself, even if it goes against what everyone else is doing.

I may try hard not to stress like she does or to limit my refrains of "were you born in a barn?", but I can't say that growing up to be like my mom could ever be considered a bad thing.

May 9, 2013

There's a Badge for That

I recently read that a study shows 69% of parents say raising boys is easier than raising girls. I happen to have 2 boys and 1 girl and was one of 3 daughters myself; I would have to agree with that claim. And if any additional proof was needed, I would encourage any doubters to take over my Girl Scout troop for the weekend and then tell me how much easier boys are.

Last weekend I took 11 of my 14 Girl Scouts on our first primitive troop campout. This meant tents, campfires, no electricity, bathrooms 3/4 of a mile away.  For (some) grown-ups, this is an adventure. For 10 and 11 year old girls, this is a true hardship. Most of the girls got to experience their first campout in February at an official Girl Scout camp--which meant cabins, a kitchen, close bathrooms--but this was taking it up a notch. I tried to prepare the girls and I answered all the questions that came up. And I mean ALL the questions, including:

"We have to set up the tents? I thought there was some kind of robotic...thingy that did it for us?"     Really?

"What do we do if a bear attacks us in our tent and then the tent is torn up and we spend the rest of the night cold?"     First, there are no bears. Second, if we are attacked, being cold won't be our first concern.

And my favorite...
"Can we bring makeup?"     You are 10. You shouldn't even be wearing makeup! Who are you going to impress--the squirrels?

Since I had the majority of the gear and all of the food, Suzy was loaded to capacity when we pulled up at our meeting spot. In fact, I had to unload totes and tents and folding chairs just so I could make room for 2 girls that I had to pick up. Once we were finally packed up and ready we hit the road--only 30 minutes late. Of course, that combined with weekend rush hour traffic and an accident right as we got on the freeway put us even later. We arrived at our site with about 20 minutes of day light left. Pretty much just enough time to scout out where we were going to pitch the tents.

I have to say that I'm impressed at how well the girls came together to put up the tents--even ones they weren't sleeping in. They worked really well the whole weekend whether it was on cooking duty or washing dishes or hauling all of our stuff in--and there was a LOT of hauling. Did they do it without complaint? No, but neither did us adults. The fact that they stuck it out though makes me proud of them.

And what would an outing be without learning something? We taught the girls how to tie knots (Real knots with names, not just jumbled messes. Impressed?), how to build their own campfire, wash dishes without a sink, put up a tent and identify poison ivy. And they actually taught me a thing or two as well.

Like, if it's dead, it will entertain them. It started with a petrified squirrel carcass at the school where we met before heading out and continued with a dead baby crawfish. I'm not sure why dead things fascinate them, but there ya go.

My girls aren't the only ones who missed the concept of "roughing it". In the mornings, with 15 girls standing in line to use the 2 bathroom stalls, we had to fight through the crowd of high school girls who were there on a class trip. See, they were all using the ONE outlet in the entire camp to STRAIGHTEN. THEIR. HAIR. I am not kidding. They had 2 flat irons plugged in and were taking turns in front of the only sink and mirror to get all gussied up. I remember camping when I was in high school. It did not involve fixing my hair or applying makeup that I would then just sweat off.

I have come to think of these girls as "mine". They are MY girls. And as such, when they come at me with attitude, I respond as if they were my kids. I admit that I went "mama" on them once or twice. In their defense, they went to bed really late, we wore them out, they were tired. In my defense, I was up even later and have zero tolerance for kids getting snippy with me. Deal.

I have a lack of fear of things in the woods. The first night something came exploring through our site, growling and sounding a bit put out that we had secured all the food and trash. At least, that's what I'm told. I slept through it. I even slept through my tent-mate and co-leader trying to wake me up when she was freaking out. I even braved the walk to the bathroom at 11pm at night with nothing but my little flashlight between me and whatever was following me in the brush because it meant I didn't have to wait on 11 girls to pee first.

What I also discovered is that if you present it right, you can get girls excited about poop. We played a Nature Bingo game. The girls were given blank Bingo cards that they then had to fill in with nature things they thought they might see. Animal poop was one of the things they came up with. And they got really creative with it, too, using big words like "scat" and "feces". I've never before seen girls go running toward their friend after hearing that friend shout, "I found scat!"

Something that I could've done without learning is that I have a lot more endurance than I thought. When I say we had a lot of gear, I mean we had hundreds of pounds of stuff that had to be carried in and out. We couldn't pull right into our site--we had to park about 3/4 of a mile away and walk it all in. We were smart and brought dollies to load everything on but when the path wasn't rocky and uneven, it dipped into a sand trough. Not fun. We had 3 coolers (1 filled with 8 gallons of drinks along with much of our food), 4 tents, 17 chairs, 6 totes, 2 campstoves, 2 folding tables, 3 lanterns and a bunch of firewood. There were other things we had to carry in as well as all of our personal gear. We discovered the only way to traverse the path was to strap as much as we could on a dolly and then walk with it being pulled along behind. And did I mention the ancient dollies were so heavy that I couldn't actually carry one by myself? By the time the weekend was over I'd had a serious workout. Zumba's got nothin' on primitive camping.

I also learned that I am a horrible judge of distance. My co-leader and I printed a map of the hiking trails
ahead of time and planned out a hike to end at a playground. After walking for 45 minutes and still not seeing a playground in sight, we gave up and turned around. And that 3/4 of a mile hike to our site? We grumbled all weekend because we were told it was only 1/4 of a mile. It sooo was not a 1/4 of a mile. Well, it turns out it wasn't 3/4 either. See, in an effort to keep my mind off being stalked by woodland creatures on my way back from the bathroom, I counted my steps. 749 steps from the bathroom to our campsite. Then I came home and measured my stride so I could prove to the park guides they were wrong. And they were. But so was I. It turns out we were just under a 1/3 of a mile away.

But don't tell my body. It still wants credit for that 3/4 mile workout.



May 3, 2013

Let's Hear It For The Boys

They say you're never too old to learn something new. I find that's especially true when you have children. Well, my children at least. It seems I'm learning something new every day with them. I suppose it keeps it interesting anyway.

This week I was able to accompany a group of 8th graders from Howdy's class on a field trip. When I heard they needed chaperones I asked Howdy, "Do you mind if I go?" He responded with, "Do you have to go?" At that point I had no option but to inform him that I WAS going and he could deal with it. I mean, it's not like I was going to (purposely) embarrass him (much). Sheesh!

So we loaded up 3 buses and 3 cars full of kids and adults and headed to the Perot Museum of Nature and Science. I was put in charge of my son and 7 other boys. I consider myself the cool mom (even though my kids refuse to corroborate my claim) and I saw this as an opportunity to garner more cool points--plus I was getting to check out the new museum for free! I figured it was the kids' trip, I'd just let them set the pace and look at whatever they wanted without me herding them anywhere. Of course, after we were let inside and told we had 1 hour (!) to explore the 6 levels before we had to meet back up to leave, a little herding might have occurred.

Despite having to rush through several exhibits and skipping one floor entirely, the trip was enjoyable and educational. And in my quest to open the minds of my followers, I will share with you what I learned.

1. That ripe onion smell is universal among middle schoolers. At first, I was irritated when there wasn't
enough room on the buses and a bunch of us parents had to drive. But when I finally had my group assembled and I got a whiff of that pungent odor that can only come from teenage sweat glands, I suddenly became grateful that I hadn't been surrounded by kids on the drive over.

2. Apparently the past tense of "squeeze" is "squaze". As in, rhymes with "ways". And that came from one of the parents.

3. No matter how you pronounce it, the word Uranus will always make kids giggle. So will cross sections of a human body...a human male body. The educational value is completely lost when it involves private parts.

4. The southern US is closest to the sun on Dec. 21st and farthest away on June 21st. Doesn't make sense to me either but I didn't create the universe. One of my kids read a factoid about the moon and responded with, "Hey, that's actually true!" Yes, because they filled an entire museum with made up stories. Good to know they got one thing right.

5. If it has buttons and lights, the kids will not be able to resist. It didn't matter if it was the life cycle of the fruit fly or a breakdown of fossilized dinosaur droppings, they had to stop and touch all the buttons and check out anything with a screen.

6. No matter how much his friends like me, my son will never think I'm cool. OK, so I don't actually know if any of Howdy's friends liked me; at least they were polite and well-behaved. But Howdy was careful to keep a minimum of 10' between us and up to 100' feet when possible. I get it, I do. Your own parents are never cool. But don't I at least get points for holding back and not humiliating the kid in public?