Friday, August 31, 2012

My first 'Duh!'

My kids are in high school and middle school, which means — despite my college degree, work and life experience — I am officially the dumbest person in the house.

I spent the first half of their lives answering profound questions such as why is the sky blue and which is tougher a rhino or a crocodile, and suddenly, I’m relinquished to giving advice that I know is unnecessary.

My son went on a white water rafting trip with Boy Scouts, for example. Knowing he’s getting older and will be fine doesn’t stop me from giving him advice. Not knowing much about rafting, however, presented a problem. I found myself saying things like, “Do what they tell you to do.”

Real profound, Mom, real profound, his look and my inner voice said.

Then I added a few more the next day: Bring your bathing suit, wear your sunscreen, oh, and bug spray. Wear your bug spray. Bugs are bad this year. Sometimes I wonder if it weren’t for sunburn and mosquitoes if moms would be of much use to boys his age.

As they got ready to leave, my husband held up a handful of things. I couldn’t tell what they were, just saw that they were all shapes and sizes.

“Look what we’re bringing,” he said.

“What are they?” I asked, thinking perhaps they were flashlights.

“Knives,” he answered.

To which my son, my favorite son, added: “Duh!”

I looked in amazement. Less than a month into middle school, and I had gotten my very first “Duh.”

“I can’t believe you just did that to me,” I said.

Misunderstanding what I meant, he said, “I’m sorry, Mom. I forgot to hug you,” and came over and gave me such a happy squeeze that I forgave him instantly.

I know if I really want to impress him, I could take the time to learn about guns, knives and sports. I’m aware that I have a lot of room to grow in that area. I once called a touchdown a home run, which is apparently a sin, especially in the South, where you’re supposed to be born knowing better.

But I have been a mom long enough to know that a milkshake after the game will cause him to soon forget, and forgive, my ignorance. And what impresses him more is not my knowledge, but the fact that I’m willing to take him to Wal-mart at 8:30 p.m. after a long day of work to let him buy a tank that shoots airsoft pellets, an item he knows I care nothing about.

I may not know the difference between a Tommy (airsoft) gun or a semi-automatic, but I’ve allowed him to try to teach me to shoot one, and I’ve made him laugh when the one time I hit the target was when I looked away. I may not be able to recognize a knife when I see one, but I hope he’ll remember the time I insisted we find a knife store so he could stop and buy a souvenir before we left Alaska.

My husband always talks about how his mother would take him to the Army/Navy store and let him spend hours looking. She could not have cared less about anything camouflage, but she loved her son, and he knew it. I hope my son will feel the same way, too.

And, someday, when he’s an adult, and I tell him I love him, I hope he’ll look at me and say, “Duh!”

Friday, August 24, 2012

Christina the great

It was 4:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning, and I could hear my friend, Christina, stirring in the kitchen.

I rolled over in my warm bed and thought how relieved I was to have showed her where the key to the deadbolt was the night before. I started to close my eyes and drift back to sleep when my inner voice shouted at me – You ought to be ashamed. Get your lazy self out of bed!

My inner voice is a real you-know-what sometimes. And it’s often quite right.

“If Christina can get up to do a triathlon, then there’s no earthly reason I cannot get out of bed, wish her luck and tell her good-bye,” I thought.

She was packed and ready to go when I walked in the kitchen.

“Good morning!” she said enthusiastically, and I marveled at how two people can go to bed at the same time yet wake up in totally different moods. “How are you?”

At this, I went into my list of daily complaints. I’m not sure how I have so many when I’ve done nothing but sleep the night before, yet they rolled off my tongue.

“Awww, poor baby, do you need me to drop you off at the ER on the way to my triathlon?” said Christina playfully in her wonderful German accent that allows her to say anything and get away with it.

“No, look at what you are doing. My problems are minor,” I said, sucking in my self-pity and focusing on preparing her for the race.

We loaded up her bike, and she headed south for the 2012 Tri PTC Sprint Triathlon. In case you are wondering, a sprint for a triathlon usually means a 750- meter swim, followed by a 12-mile bike ride and topped off with a 5K. This is half the distance of an Olympic triathlon and less than a quarter of the distance of the Ironman, which my friend aspires to do.

If it makes you tired just reading it, then you should really go watch like I did. I was unable to see Christina – and the approximately 750 other participates - swim across the beautiful, but shallow and mucky, Lake Peachtree. I did, however, get to see her as she came out the water and entered what is called the transition area.

The transition area is row after row of bikes and gear where the athletes change (and eat). I can’t even remember where I parked my car after shopping at Publix, so I can’t imagine finding my bike in that sea of equipment.

Yet, they do, and once they have it, they push past cheering spectators and family members. I spoke to the lady next to me and learned she was there to support her husband. He was 60 years old and started doing triathlons at 50. Ironically, he came out of the water just behind my friend.

I saw another older man taking his time drying off while his college-age kids yelled, “We love you, Daddy!”

I saw a girl with one arm run past with her bike, her hair still damp from her swim. I saw a man with a prosthetic leg. I saw young juniors whom we may one day see in the Olympics zip past, I saw middle aged people, I saw older people, I saw kids as young as 9 (Participates write their ages on the back of their calves.)

The one thing I did not see – save for the juniors and a couple of 28 year olds – was any perfect bodies. I expected everyone to look like they stepped out of a fitness magazine. They did not .They were all shapes and sizes, and they were spectacular.

I moved from event to event to cheer them on, wishing I had gotten my children out of bed to join me.

As someone who takes to water like a cat and dislikes the discomfort of being on a bike seat, I had no grand illusions of participating, though it did occur to me that if, like my friend had done, I set it as my goal and trained – day by day, bit by bit – it was humanly possible.

And that is very inspiring. Thank you, Christina.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Seven things I love about me

When I was a child, I couldn’t wait to grow up so I could eat and drink anything I wanted, stay up all night and drive a convertible, preferably all at the same time. As an adult, I often wish I were still a child, so I could eat and drink anything I wanted, go to bed early, and, well, I still want the convertible.

Alas, there’s a pesky thing called reality, which means I’m gluten intolerant and have to follow a strict diet, both margaritas and Coca-Cola give me an instant headache, I forget what time I go to bed, I just daydream of a restful night’s sleep, and I do not [yet] drive a convertible.

To sum it up, reality bites. However, I have lived long enough to realize that, as a wise person once said, “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored,” which brings me to my present state — focusing on the things that I can change.

First, I made a list of those things. I pulled out a big notebook and sharpened my pencil and got ready to right all the wrongs of the world. Number one, I wrote, myself. Number two, hmmm ... to my surprise, there was no number two.

As part of the exercise, I also wrote a list of things I can’t change. I continued that list until I got a hand cramp. Turns out I do not control the universe, thank God. I mean that literally, thank you, God.

So, reflecting on my most recent birthday milestone, I decided that I would work on changing myself for the better. And I’m making some headway. I have gotten up bright and early (well, the past two days anyway). I’m eating healthy, and I have an exercise plan in place just waiting to be implemented. I also started reading more, and I don’t mean books like “50 Shades of Gray.” I mean, motivational books, though from what I’ve heard, “50 Shades” might qualify.

The first book I read suggested that one write seven things he or she loves about him or herself.

That will be easy. I thought, and pulled out my pencil and notebook, and there this writer sat, with nothing much to say.

Hmm ... perhaps I could put modesty as one, I thought, but that in and of itself defeats the principle of modesty.

So, I contemplated a little harder, and I came up with the following:

I do not give up easily. When I was a child, I believe this was referred to as “stubborn.” As an adult, I’m going to call it “determined” or “tenacious.”

I have a good sense of humor. When I was a child, this was sometimes called being a “smart mouth,” and it wasn’t always funny to adults. Now that I’m adult, I prefer to call it, “witty,” and it still isn’t always funny to adults.

I’m friendly. This is great for my job because people tend to open up and tell me things but not as much fun when it’s the grocery store clerk, and I just want to buy my bread and go home.

I am not materialistic. Above reference to convertible notwithstanding.

I am a good mom. Aren’t I, kids? Tell them. Tell them now or go to your room. (Just kidding. See number two)

I can write, though I think everyone holds this gift. If you had a wonderful encouraging teacher like I did, you may discover it one day. Thanks, Mrs. Faires.

I’m a prolific list maker. Books I want to read, songs I want to download, words I want to know the meaning of, quotes I like, things I need to do, things I’ve done ... the very act of creating a list makes me happy, especially the one that said I only control one thing in this world. Now, that’s something to love.

Try your list and let me know what’s on it.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Taking time to wrap my knees

Most of the time, I’d like to think I’m a proper Southern lady. I write thank-you notes. I say please and bless her heart, but there are times when people make me so angry that I can’t even employ the Southern lady way of killing them with kindness.

Take this past spring at one of my son’s baseball game, for example. I paced behind home plate as my son squatted in his catcher’s gear, sweat running down his face and red clay in his eyes.

He had caught every game without relief with the exception of one inning, when a boy filling in was promptly carried off the field after being clocked in the head by a wayward ball.

I paced not because I was nervous that my son would suffer the same fate. I’ve been a boy’s mama long enough to know that he probably would get hurt -- and he’d probably get over it pretty fast.

No, I paced because there was a rabid fan in the stands. I’m sure you know the type. They holler, yell and berate the players. That’s fine for major or even minor league baseball, but these were 10- and 11-year-old kids. And I don’t even think he was related to any of them.

I listened, fumed, paced and shot him dirty looks, trying to politely let him know that he was distracting the kids and ruining an otherwise peaceful evening at the ball park, to which he was oblivious.

Frustrated, I did the next thing I knew to do – tell my husband.

“Can’t you just ignore him?” he said.

I tried for about 30 seconds until the next hoot, holler and obnoxious rant started and decided that was impossible. So, I stood up and sized up the situation and concluded it was a good thing God made me a 5 foot, 2 inch woman and not a man, because I’d be wrapping my knees right now.

Wrapping one’s knees is a technique my daddy always employed when we were growing up. He’d get so angry – usually because someone did or said something out of line to one of his girls – my mom, my sister and me – that he’d be ready to fight. But before he could fight, he had to wrap his knees. Years of weightlifting had taken its toll, and they had to be wrapped and wrapped tightly before any physical activity, especially putting a whooping on someone.

Fortunately, Dad carried knee wraps in his back pocket for just this sort of situation. And, even more fortunate for the other guy, my mom, my sister and I were always on hand to talk Dad out of killing someone.

I can remember it clearly. He’d stomp in, red faced, telling us just what he was going to do to that “you-know-what.”

We’d say “No, Daddy, don’t fight him!” all the while Dad would wound the wrap around his knees tighter and tighter. By the time he got them wrapped, the redness had left his face; he’d calmed down enough to realize that perhaps pulverizing the guy wasn’t the best method.

It wasn’t until I was an adult that I understood why Daddy had to wrap his knees. Sure, he had bad joints, but it also gave him time to calm down and put things in perspective.

I may not be an Olympic weightlifter, and I may not be a man, but I certainly get angry enough – on and off the ball field – that I, too, have had to go “wrap my knees.”

Whether that be taking a walk or writing a column or going to get a Coke at the concession stand for 20 minutes, it works, fortunately -- for the other guy, that is.

Friday, August 10, 2012

I'm tired

I watched the classic movie “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” for the first time recently. While the film is brimming with memorable characters and quotes, the one I can relate to the most is the old man who keeps repeating, “I’m tired!”
It’s back-to-school week, and I have uttered the same phrase a dozen times – each day. I can’t imagine what the teachers and kids must feel like.

I can honestly say we spent the past few weeks getting adjusted to a normal bedtime and an early wakeup – the only problem is it wasn’t in our time zone.

You see, we visited my sister in Alaska and readily adjusted to her family’s schedule, albeit four hours behind us. Turns out, it’s much harder to revert back to one’s own time zone. On our return trip, we traveled all night – the sun never seeming to go down – and finally landed in Atlanta at 1:30 in the afternoon.

Once home, my son fell asleep and woke up six hours later.

“What time is it?” he asked.

“It’s 8:30,” I said.

“A.M. or P.M.?” he said.

It was then that I knew we were in trouble.

Fortunately, we recovered from our jet lag. Unfortunately, it was just in time to spend the weekend school shopping.

In case you have not had to do this in a while, it’s bad enough to make one want to endure a seven-hour flight next to Beetlejuice back to Alaska. No, I didn’t just watch that movie, too. My son and I actually sat next to him on the way home. At least he looked, sounded, and, I’m certain, smelled like him.

As he slipped his shoes off and starting snoring, I even tried saying “Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice!” to see if it would make him disappear. Alas, no such luck.

As unpleasant as it was, it still beat shopping amongst anxious kids and even more anxious moms, especially since we had to go to a certain big box store in town. Sure, their prices are low, and they have everything, but does anyone, anyone, really enjoy going there? Anyone?

Certainly not my son.

“Mom, just get me a couple of church and picture day shirts,” he said. “I don’t really care about matching. Now, can we go look at the air soft guns?”

I grabbed the last two golf shirts off the rack and followed him to his favorite section, watching his eyes light up at the sight of a remote-controlled tank.

“Look, Mom, we can put you in the bunker with the remote!” he said.

Seeing the advantages to that, we took it up front and stood in line for a price check. It cost three times the amount of his two shirts. It took all of my strength not to buy it. He was my baby, and he was starting middle school, and he doesn’t know it yet, but soon he’ll discover girls and care about having more than two shirts.

Soon, he won’t care if I’m in the bunker with him. In a blink of an eye, he’ll be flying on his own, and his mom will be waving behind at the airport.

I wanted to give in, but, instead, I told him he could do some chores around the house to earn money. It will help him learn to appreciate things, and, as for me? Well, I’m tired

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

I enjoy being a girl

“It’s so hard to pack,” I whined to my husband before a recent trip.

“What’s so hard about it? Just pick out what you are going to wear and put it in a bag,” he said.

At this point, I stuck my head out of the closet so I could get a look at his face. I couldn’t believe my eyes. He was dead serious.

“That’s the problem. I don’t know what to wear,” I said. You see, I dress by my mood, which changes often.

“You’ll probably just end up wearing your black tights (meaning workout pants) and your big sweatshirt,” he said.

“You mean, what I have on now?”

God forbid the hosts from the television show “What not to wear” get a hold of me. I’m sure the first item to go would be my favorite sweatshirt. I’ve had it for longer than I’ve been married. It’s gray and starting to fray around the seams a bit.

I love it — a lot. My husband doesn’t quite share the same enthusiasm for it. Perhaps it’s because it has the logo of a business competitor on it, or perhaps because it’s ugly and gray. Regardless, it’s going in the suitcase.
The other difficult part about packing is I feel like I have to try on everything before I pack it. This is important because I’ve discovered lately that chocolate makes my clothes shrink.

Another major problem with packing is shoes. One pair just isn’t enough. I don’t care where you are going or how short your stay is. Women need shoes, or, at least, this one does. They are like part of my identity.

Which brings me to another issue — clichés about women. I hate them. Is it because I’m a feminist? No, if I come to a door at the same time a man does, I will pause until he opens the door for me, and if he doesn’t, I become miffed and wonder if he were raised in a barn.
The truth is, clichés about women bother me because I continually perpetuate them.
For example, in addition to having nothing to wear, I never ever have my money ready for the cashier. Perhaps — subconsciously — I think if I wait patiently, the man behind me will pay, just like he holds the door open for me.

But, alas, even the best Southern gentleman isn’t that polite. So, instead, I inevitably hold up the line while fumbling for my credit card because, despite my dad’s wise advice to carry cash on me, that’s all I have.

I also tend to perpetuate the myth that women cannot be on time.

For the record, I can. I just choose not to most of the time. I used to blame it on the kids, but now that they are older, I have to fess up. Sometimes I’m just not in a hurry. My husband seems to think that loading the kids in the car and honking will hurry me up. It does not.

That is, unless my gray sweatshirt and black work-out pants are clean. In that case, I can put on my heels, grab my credit cards and race out the door. And, if I’m lucky, someone will hold it open for me.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The happiest place on earth

A friend of mine is taking a week-long trip to Disney with her husband and two young daughters. She said she hopes to come back relaxed and refreshed. It’s her first time, so I said they will love it. And, they will — when it’s over.

We’ve been quite a few times, and one thing I’ve learned is there’s nothing like being at “the Happiest Place on Earth” that makes a person more miserable.

Sure, the smiling mouse and other characters are great, but the long lines full of pushy parents who surround them for autographs that your child must have or else she’ll hold her breath until she passes out ­— not so much.

Our first trip to Disney was quite some time ago, when my oldest child was 4. We decided she’d probably want some company, so we brought my niece, also 4 at the time, along. In case, like me, math isn’t your strong suit, that’s two 4 years old plus one 10-hour drive, 50 potty stops, 150 “are we there yets?” and an infinite number of “she’s looking at me!” which totals two very exhausted and frustrated parents.

Of course, all of this vanished as soon as I admitted to my husband that I had gotten east and west mixed up (How did we live without Garmin?) and managed to get us off the toll roads and into the parking lot of the hotel. It was a Doubletree, and we had chosen wisely — a little too wisely, perhaps.

The kids were greeted with fresh baked chocolate chip cookies. To our right was an arcade (How did we live without iPads), and right outside the door was a heavenly pool and waterfall. The girls were finally happy, so happy, in fact, that when it was time to head over to the park, they both planted their feet firmly into the ground, crossed their arms, stuck out their lips and said, “No! We won’t go!”

This would have been all well and good, but we had not taken out a second mortgage to buy park tickets for nothing. We were going to the Happiest Place on Earth, and we were going to have a good time or else, I told them. They responded by jumping back into the pool.


After much pleading and cajoling, I decided that I needed to take it to the next level — threatening.

“OK, girls, this is it! I mean it! Either you come out of that pool, and we go to Disney World, or we get back in the car and go home!” I said.

They scrambled out of the pool, got their towels, looked at me with their cute little faces and said, “OK, let’s go home now.”

Again, sigh.

We eventually made it to the park, and I don’t really remember much about the trip beyond this incident.

I do recall that instead of rushing to get there when the doors opened, we allowed them to eat a hearty breakfast, swim and play a few video games.

Of course, before we left to head home, we let them pick out a souvenir. My daughter’s was a stuffed animal — Brer Rabbit. I remember this because she wanted the one my niece picked out, but somehow they only had one of whatever critter that was, and my daughter cried and cried and cried.

And, you know what? That’s OK. Sometimes the Happiest Place on Earth just does that to you.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Eat your Wheaties

Have you had your Wheaties today? I got asked that every morning by my little sister during the summer of 1984.

No, she wasn’t worried -- like my grandmother -- that I was growing too thin. She was making sure I ate my daily bowl so she could collect the box top and claim her coveted Mary Lou Retton poster. I’m not sure how many mornings I spent mindlessly spooning the not-so-flavorful flakes into my mouth with the perky Retton smiling at me, but I believe we needed four box tops or perhaps it was 10. All I know is, I was as happy as she was to receive the poster.

In case you’ve forgotten, Retton was a gymnast who, after winning her second American Cup, the U.S. Nationals and the U.S. Olympic Trials in 1984, suffered a knee injury, according to Wikipedia. After undergoing an operation, she recovered just in time for the 1984 summer Olympics in Los Angeles. During the competition (which was boycotted by the Soviet bloc nations except Romania), Retton went head-to-head with a Romanian gymnast for the all-around title.

If I have to go on, it means you may not have owned a television set. As for my sister and me, we were glued to ours. It wasn’t a big screen like we have today, so we sat right dab in front of it, cheering wildly with the rest of America as Retton scored perfect 10s on the floor exercise and vault to win the all-around title by 0.05 points. Stocky with a brilliant smile, the spunky gymnast won our hearts -- and inspired us, particularly my gymnast sister, Christie. She practiced faithfully at the gym, even on Sundays, and at home. We actually had a gymnastics room, complete with mats and a balance beam, and this was a small three bedroom, two bath house.

Though I never had the courage to attempt a back handspring, and despite nightly stretches, I could never do a split, I spent many a weekend watching my sister and her team perform. They were a team with a lot of heart coached by a local legend – Cricket Shelnutt, whom I’m proud to say was given his nickname by my dad.
Most recently, that group of former gymnasts reconnected on Facebook to reminisce in honor of this year’s summer Olympic games in London, England. Pictures have been posted of the Newnan team, many of whom sported short Mary Lou Retton bobs. The group reminisced about other past gymnasts such as Bart Connor and Mitch Gaylord, whom we had the opportunity to meet, and all the good memories they have from those years in the gym.

This week the Fabulous Five (the nickname for the U.S. women’s Olympic team) earned the all-around team gold. The last time that occurred was right down the road during the 1996 Atlanta Games, when the Magnificent Seven became the first American women’s gymnastics team to claim the crown. Today, the names have changed, but the smiles have remained. Who knows what young gymnast or gymnast’s sibling, for that matter, may be watching and drawing inspiration?

There is something about the Olympics that gives people hope. Underdogs can win. Ordinary people can train and become great. I think the Olympics reminds people that life can be fair and that hard work and determination can pay off.

Just remember to eat your Wheaties.