Monday, September 26, 2011

The snack factor

As I watched my daughter make a great shot on the volleyball court, one thought ran through my mind, "Oh, no! I think it's my turn to bring snack!"

Who among us has not experienced that fear? And how is it that forgetting to bring cheese-its and juice boxes can cause such panic?

A friend of mine said her daughter called her from school recently. She became very concerned because her daughter's normally booming voice was barely decipherable.

"Mom, today wasn't our turn to provide the meal before the game, was it?" she whispered into the phone. It wasn't, but, apparently, some poor mom had forgotten, and 20 hungry girls were about to revolt.

I'm not sure how this trend of providing snacks for not only games but practices came to be. When I grew up, we didn't even have snacks at home, except perhaps the occasional popsicle. And those were made with Kool-Aid, toothpicks and an ice cube tray.

There were no prepackaged, individual cookies or crackers. No bottles of water or Gatorade. We had Tang and later Hawaiian Punch, and we didn't share with our playmates, much less the whole ball team.

Yet, today, almost every event calls for a snack. I recently watched little church league cheerleaders stand up, do one cheer, and then sit down and have a snack. Sometimes I think it defeats the exercise factor.

It seems to be an evolving phenomenon. When my oldest was young, orange slices were all that was required. She never ate them at home but was served them during halftime at the soccer game and she loved them. As time progressed, however, so did her and her teammates' taste in snacks. Soon, only Chick-fil-a sandwiches or Dominos pizza would do.

There's no denying that the sudden realization that you've forgotten snacks is one of the worst feelings in the world. It's also expensive. There've been many a time that I've had to run to the nearest convenience store or concession stand to buy 20 pieces of candy and bottles of Gatorade. Not providing it is like not providing a goody bag after a birthday party. (Who started that trend anyway?)

During my most recent bout of snack amnesia, my daughter texted my husband, who came to the rescue, showing up in the nick of time with crackers, cookies and a cooler full of ice cold Coca-Colas.

After the game, the girls turned up their cans of Coke like Mean Joe Green in the classic commercial, except this time I was the one who smiled. We weren't parental failures, after all. We hadn't let our daughter or her team down, and, best of all, we could enjoy the rest of the season and not break into cold sweats the next time we overheard one of the girls say, "I'm hungry. Who brought snacks?"

Friday, September 23, 2011

Mom's football practice

“I don’t know if this blood is mine or somebody else’s,” my son said rather casually as he trotted off the football field. His coach apparently has a “No bleeding on the field policy;” otherwise, he’d still be out there.

Then I said something I don’t believe I’ve said in the ten years since he was born: “Well, I sure hope it’s your blood!”

I’ve always been amazed at the things I’ve found myself saying since I became a mother, and I can certainly add this to my list. I think I’ll put it between, “No, babies are not born by crawling out of their mothers’ mouths,” and “No, the tooth fairy does not give raises.”

Back to football. Realizing that it was, in fact, his blood, I jumped up and sprang into action. Since my husband was at our daughter’s sporting event across town, I had to balance the right amount of motherly concern versus fatherly “Get back out there and get you some!” It’s a fine line.

Somehow, despite the fact that I gave my husband three first aid kits for Father’s Day – don’t ask – I discovered I didn’t have a Band-Aid to save my life or, in this case, to bandage a superficial scratch. I went from mom to mom and waited while they dug into their purses, watching my son patiently inspect the blood that continued to drip down his arm. Finally, one sweet and prepared mom offered to run to her car to get one. She quickly reappeared with wipes, Band-Aids, and even a trash bag to throw the biohazard away. I’ve always said it takes a village.

I got his cut cleaned up, and he was soon back on the field. The coach called a water break not long afterwards, and my son came trotting over again, “My Band-aid fell off already.”

Fortunately, the wound had sealed, and he could go back to head-banging, I mean, football. I have to admit, I’m not the best football mom, but I’m learning. One thing I’ve learned is I need to sit as far away from the action as possible. This prevents me from hearing his grunts and moans and the clanking of his head getting banged, and it also prevents him from having the urge to look pitifully at me. Not that we are making him play, mind you. He loves it and wants to do it. Except perhaps when he practicing nose guard over and over and over again.

On nights like that, I try to maintain a healthy distance, though it takes just as much strength for me not to march out on the field, shake my finger at the bigger kids for hitting my boy and then give him a big hug. But, I don’t. I may not know much about football, but I was raised in the South, and I know how much it means to boys - of all ages.

So, instead, when he comes off the field tired, sore and looking a little dejected and asks me if his head is bruised and shows me his battle wounds, I say, “Football is a tough sport – and you’re a tough kid. Now, do you want to get a milkshake?”

I’m not sure if this is the best way to handle it or not. He may be my third child, but most of the time, I feel like I’m just practicing. I do know one thing, however, and that is there’s not much a good milkshake can’t cure. Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Allene and me

I will always remember Allene's laugh. It was a laugh that came from down deep inside of her, not quite a chuckle, not quite a chortle, but definitely infectious. Though it's been over 18 years since I worked with her at the public library, I can recall it like it was yesterday. In part because it was usually something naïve I did or said to cause it.

Like the time I got promoted to desk clerk. After spending my teen years shelving books, I was finally allowed behind the coveted front desk. Allene was working with me and, like she always did, showing me the ropes. It was late on a Thursday night, and the phone rang.

"OK, now you answer it," she said after giving me a few quick lessons.

I picked it up and answered as I was taught while she nodded approval.

"Public library," I said, and Allene winked at me. So far, so good.

"My son is coming after me! I don't know what to do!" said the quivering voice of a woman on the other end of the line. I glanced around to ask for guidance and noticed Allene had gone to the back to retrieve a book for a customer. I was on my own and felt sure I knew the best way to handle it.

"Ma'am, this is the library!" I said and slammed the phone down.

About that time, Allene came from the back, "How did it go?"

"Well ..." I began, red-faced and outraged, "the lady wanted to know what to do about her son who was coming after her, and I told her."

"What did you tell her?" Allene said, growing concerned.

"I told her, 'Ma'am, this is the library!'"

At that point, Allene's eyes widened, she clasped her hand to her mouth, and I knew I was in big trouble. Then she bowed her head, and the next thing I know her body was shaking.

Boy, had I messed up.

"Leigh, what if she were in danger, and this was the only number she had to call?" she said.

"Well, it's still the library!" I said.

At which point, Allene bowed her head and shook it left and right. Her body shook harder, and I saw tears flow down her face. I was about to be fired, and, on top of that, I had probably killed somebody. I knew I was going to be relegated to re-shelving books after laptime from here to eternity.

And then I heard it -- Allene's laugh, and, though I was embarrassed, it was music to my ears.

"Ma'am, this is the library?" Allene repeated and then got so tickled, she put her hand on my shoulder, shook silently with laughter and then walked down the hall and back, trying to gain her composure but laughing at me every time she glanced my way.

I'd like to say this was the only faux pas I made, but it wasn't. Allene was there for many of them -- at the front desk and in life. Throughout both, she managed to offer advice and laugh with me as if I were her equal, though we were 28 years apart.

One day as I worked the front desk, a lady came in to apply for a library card. I tried to take down her name, but I could not spell it. She called the letters out to me, but I couldn't form them on paper. I looked up at her face and could only see half of it. I was young and expecting my first child in a month, and something was wrong. I went to Allene for help. By this time, my left arm and fingers had gone completely numb.

Allene rushed me out back, put me in her car and drove me -- terrified, but calmed by her presence -- to the hospital. She stayed with me while I was admitted. A week and dozens of tests later, it turned out to be nothing more than a complicated migraine.

Allene would later joke that she "practically delivered my first-born."

Had my older daughter been born that day, Allene would have never said, "Ma'am, this is the library!" though she probably would have joked about it. No, Allene would have done what needed to be done, and I would have been in great hands.

Today, Allene is in God's hands. She passed away last week in her sleep after working all day at the front desk. It was a very sad day for me, and I can't imagine what her family is going through. I just know that I lost a great ally that day -- one that can't be replaced.

Allene looked after me during those years -- from giving rides to and from work to advise to company. She kept up with me even as I moved on to other things. In fact, she called the day my first column was published and left a sweet message. I'm sad that I never called her back. I hope she forgave me. But then again, perhaps, knowing all about my phone skills, she just shook her head and laughed. At least, that's how I'd like to remember her.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Man vs. Wild

Usually when my family and I have an adventure, I go straight home and write about it. I hesitated on this one, however, largely because it took me a few months to find the humor in it.

You see, my husband surprised me by saying he'd like to go kayaking down the Flint River for Father's Day weekend. It had been a good 14 years since the last time we went. Back then, we used to go almost every weekend, and I remember it as being an easy, relaxing trip. I guess you could say those times have changed like the weather.

Speaking of weather, did you know that this past June the Flint River was near or below an all-time historic low level, according to a monitoring station that's been active since 1901? Neither did we. Until we tried to kayak down it with five kids and two other adults, one of whom gave up a day in his recliner, thanks to us.

"Come on, it will be fun," we told him. "All you have to do is sit in your boat and float. We'll take the half-day trip, and you can be in your recliner by noon."

Little did any of us know that nine hours later we'd be dragging our wet, grumpy, sunburned, thirsty and hungry selves out of the water, minus one kayak. The trip was a little like the movie "Deliverance," except this time the rednecks were the heroes. And, no, I don't mean us. Here's what happened:

We started out before the crack of dawn and drove to Thomaston to be ferried upstream so we could float the kayaks we brought back to our vehicle. The van driver was eerily quiet as we joked and laughed and excitedly began our journey. He dumped us and the boats out and hightailed it out before we could ask, "Where's the water?"
"Perhaps it gets deeper downstream," we said, as we hit our first rock located about a foot from where we pushed off.

No one warned us that the river's stream flow was normally five times greater than it was on this faithful day. Somehow, despite our best steering efforts, we managed to get stuck on rock after rock after rock. And, there's only one thing to do when you are -- try not to cuss, get out and drag the kayak off it. That's when we discovered that the Flint River is full of jagged rocks and deep drop-offs. We also discovered that Crocs make great dock shoes and very poor river shoes, and flip flops are equally hopeless.

Fortunately, I was in the kayak with my son, who is still young enough that he likes to prove how strong he is. God forbid the day when he outgrows that. It wasn't long before the kids grew hot and bored and tired and began asking, "Are we there yet?"
We soon pulled our boats up to the nearest flat rock, stretch out and had a great picnic.

"Surely, we are half-way," we said. Yeah, half-way to "H-E-double hockey sticks!"
"Why don't you take my kayak? You seemed to be making better headway than I am," my husband said.

So, I took my son and his friend all the food, a dry bag full of cell phones and sunscreen and pushed off. Immediately, we hit rapids, and, in the midst of it all, a bee stung me on the back. Soon thereafter our kayak flipped, emptying its contents and dragging us across sharp rocks as we clung desperately to the boat until I yelled to the boys to let it go. I managed to lose my shorts in the process, leaving me in my bathing suit and with very little dignity. For the record, my husband's version differs. He swears the water was only knee-deep. He doesn't factor in the fact he is a foot taller.

Once I passed the rapids, I got out and stumbled on the rocks, breaking my flip-flop and spirit in the process.

"I can't do this without shoes!" I screamed and threw the broken flip-flop down as hard as I could.

"Do you want my shoes, Ms. Leigh," asked my daughter's sweet friend.

"Yes, thank you," I said and snatched them before she could change her mind. I still owe her a pair of shoes.

It wasn't long before we learned that the kayak I was in had a hole in the bottom and was quickly filling up with water. My husband and daughter worked with it as the rest of us dragged our kayaks downstream. Soon, they were out of sight. My friend caught up to us and reported, "They said to go ahead without them. They are going to float back."

I felt uneasy but agreed. In the meantime, our friend with recliner dreams in his head left me and my son behind. As soon as he was out of sight, I remembered he had rescued all of our necessities that had gotten away.

For the next four hours, we made our way slowly -- without sunscreen, food or water -- until we could see the bridge and the boat ramp --our final destination --beyond it. It soon became like a mirage, taking us a good hour to reach it.

At one point I uttered these profound words of wisdom to my son: "You just can't beat Mother Nature. You can try as hard as you want, but, in the end, she's the winner."

"Yes, ma'am," he said, as he patiently dragged our kayak out of the weeds. "Can we do this again when the water's up?"

We made it to the boat ramp, and, as I tried to exit, lost my footing and flipped backwards.

We waited about 45 minutes until I saw a beautiful sight -- two canoes navigated by the most redneck-looking people I've ever seen. They were dragging an upside down kayak behind them. Inside their canoes sat my husband and daughter.

"We saw them a way back and knew they'd never make it. We ain't gonna leave nobody on the river," said the redneck boy, causing tears to fill my eyes.

I guess my son and I both learned lessons that day. He learned to appreciate Mother Nature, and I learned that one should never, ever judge a book by its cover. I could probably add that my husband and his friend learned a lesson as well -- when in doubt, opt for the recliner, especially on Father's Day.