One finger

One finger

I slammed the front door. 

I threw my dusty garden gloves on the floor and collapsed onto the stairs, hot tears flowing. 

“What’s wrong?” Keith put hand on my shoulder.

“I’m all gross. I wouldn’t touch me.” I’d been working on my lawn for 4.5 hours. No…not “lawn.” It’s a hill of dust and clay, covered in mounds and mounds of leaves. There is nothing “lawn” about it. 

“Did you hurt yourself?” He kept rubbing my shoulder. 

My lower back throbbed. I shook my head, which was buried in my folded arms, resting on my knees. Then I lifted it up to answer. 

“Well I was just about finished up with raking leaves and tilling up the stupid dirt and fertilizing and putting out grass seed and watering…well…and some of the leaf bags were barely on the road…because I had just watered the dirt below them, but I was going to move them back…but then this guy drives by and hits the bags on purpose with his truck and one busts all open! And he lives right there.” I point through my closed front door. It felt so mean, mostly because I was just so drained.

“The house on the corner?” Keith tried to see through the wall. 

“No, the one next to that.” I opened the front door and corrected my pointing. “That black truck.”

“Babe I’m really sorry. I mean technically you’re probably not allowed to have the leaf bags on the road at all.” He tried to be fair about his assessment. 

“People park all over this road. They put their trash cans on the road. Kids play basketball in the road. It’s not that uncommon for some obstacle to be on this road. They were barely on the road and I was just about to move them off. He ran into them on purpose, and he didn’t have to do that. Why would he?! I would never do that to someone out in her yard, working her ass off!” I cried some more angry tears. 

“No. He shouldn’t have done it.”

“Well…I marched up to the corner of the yard and flipped him off, but he never even looked up at me as he checked his mail. So then I said, ‘Sir…I think you need to have your eyes checked. You accidentally ran into my bags of leaves. I’m worried that you may not be safe on the road.’ And he just looks up at me and yells, ‘Keep your leaves off the road. I was in my lane, and they were in the way.’ Then he just walked off so I came inside.” Revenge is human nature…and plenty of ideas ran through my head. 

I wouldn’t do anything back to him. I know myself. I’ll calm down. It just hurt my feelings and pissed me off. And I’ll admit I shouldn’t have flipped him off.  I shouldn’t allow anyone to make me lose my character, no matter how cocky and rude they are. 

“Well…there’s nothing you can really do about it. I’ll move the bags off the road. Go take a shower.” Keith was calm and sweet. He went outside. I sat back on the stairs. 

I wanted to call the courtesy police of common decency to plea my case. It was just mean. And I didn’t know this guy, and was fine to continue my existence never having to meet him. Why would he introduce himself to me in this way?

“Well I went over to talk to the guy.” Keith came back into the house after moving the bags of leaves. 

“You did? What’d you say?” I love Keith.

“Well I was just going to talk to him calmly, but he came out of his house already mad and ready to argue, so I said, ‘Listen. I don’t appreciate you being a dick and making my wife cry. You could’ve handled that in a number of different ways besides the way you chose to.’ And then he was all, ‘Well there are kids on skateboards all over this road. I wasn’t about to drive into the other lane to miss the leaves because there could’ve been a kid on the other side of the hill.’ And so I asked him…okay, if the bag of leaves had been a kid if he would’ve hit the kid because it was in his lane. And he goes, ‘Well…no.’ And I asked if it had been a parked car, would he have hit the car…and again he said no. And I asked what would’ve been wrong with stopping and asking you to move it if he felt like he couldn’t safely drive past it. But he didn’t have an answer for that, just said your leaves shouldn’t have been on the road. So I looked him in the eye and said, ‘It was a dick move. And you know it.’ And then I came back over here.” My hero. I know if I was a guy, I wouldn’t want Keith as an enemy. 

“Thanks for sticking up for me, even though I guess it was my own fault for having them on the road.” I couldn’t have stuck up for myself in my exhausted condition. I would’ve just cried. 

“I love you. You’re my wife. I’m not going to let some asshole make you cry because he had a bad day at work or something. Come here.” He didn’t care that I was all dirty and sweaty. 

God, yes I did flip him off in anger, and I shouldn’t have done that. I’m sorry I did that. Did he deserve it? Well…maybe I felt he did, but I’ll let you sort that out. Please, please still bless my yard of dirt and help some grass grow. 

___________________________

So when I hear a story of one finger on a girl, I can’t exactly say that I cover my mouth with one lace-gloved hand as I fan myself in astonishment with the other. 

There was a recent incident at a school event involving a child and a rude gesture. Unfortunately, emotions often run high in sports, and I can’t even begin to compile a complete list of inappropriate things I’ve heard the adult fans say. 

It wasn’t the first time, nor will it be the last, that a student athlete (male or female) has used inappropriate language or gestures. And each time this happens, the students are rightfully chastised–whether by a ref, their own coach, their parents, the principal…or all of them. Her decision was unsportsmanlike, and she was properly punished by school officials. 

That’s it. The end. 

She is a child. If she is not your child, then concede to the proper authorities on this one–her school and her own parents only. She doesn’t deserve to have anyone else stand in line because they feel entitled to punish her further. It’s not your place. It’s been dealt with.

If some time in the future, some tables turn and I hear adults chastising your child and her character based on a poor choice, I will be the first one to jump in between. Poor choices are pretty common, but sadly compassion isn’t very common. 

If you look around for some moral high ground to prance around on, you might notice that it’s pretty crowded up there. If you’re honest with yourself about your own bad choices as a teen, you might find some empathy in your heart. Humility is a beautiful thing; pride not so much. And as for myself, remembering my own recent finger, I decided I better just take a seat right next to her. 

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Coffee is for adults

Coffee is for adults

You couldn’t handle it.

Relax and enjoy your leisurely kid time. 

When you grow up, you will have to do things like–eat peanut butter reindeer cookies and chocolate syrup coffee for breakfast. You will have to lay around all Sunday in your pajamas, ignoring piles of laundry and dishes, snuggling with a cat. Know why? Because you’re a grown ass woman, and no one can tell you that you can’t. 

Being a kid is so easy. You just have to go to school 35 hours a week, plus maybe 10-15 hours of overtime for extracurricular activities…and probably about 5-10hrs a week for papers, projects, and homework. And you get to do cool stuff like…never talk, scarf down your lunch in 12 minutes, work your tail off for no pay, sit in a hard chair all day, ask permission to go to the bathroom. 

Man, you got it made. No responsibilities. No expectations. No disrespect from any adult…ever. 

__________________________

I didn’t forget, and I won’t forget my own hard work as a child. Being a kid was never easy. 

Want to be a good parent? A respected teacher?

Don’t forget what life was really like as a child. Hold those memories and feelings so close. 

Did you…

Did you…

Did you think you weren’t my favorite daughter? Because you were. You were, you were. 

Please don’t ever think that. 

_____________________

“I hate you!!!! I hate you, Mom!!” Her feet are close to the edge of the broken floor tile. Her face is red rage and tears. 

“You can’t act this way, and it’s my job to make sure you know that.” I pick her up and carry her to the dining room and place her firmly on a chair. She doesn’t know that I’m getting her foot away from the tile. She doesn’t know that I’m getting her 4-year-old eyes out of the kitchen. 

“Aaaaaaaaa!!!!” She swings and kicks her legs so much that the chair bounces around.

“You. Better. Quit.” I kneel down in front of her, place a hand on either side of the chair to steady it. My face is calm. My heart is racing. She looks away first. 

“I hate you!!” She screams to the back of my head as I walk into the kitchen. I put a new, clean trash bag into the trash can and bring it back to the dining room. 

“Take off your new dress and put it in here. You will not be allowed to scream at me and hit and kick me wearing this dress I just bought you.” I hold the trash can out toward her. 

“I don’t care! I don’t want it! It’s ugly!” She takes it off and throws it in the trash. The giant jewel on the top of the dress hits me in the knuckle; I clench my jaw. 

“You won’t need this baby doll with a matching dress either.” I pick up her doll off the table and drop it into the clean trash bag. 

“I don’t care.” She opens her mouth slightly again, then closes it. Crosses her arms. 

“What’s it going take? Because I can keep going.” I can’t keep going. I can’t, but I will. 

My methods are probably all wrong. I don’t know what I’m doing. We don’t usually say it, but most moms…we think it. We don’t know what we are doing, or if it’ll work. 

I pick up her new iPod touch, drop it loudly into the trash, never looking away from her eyes. She doesn’t care. I don’t know what else to throw away. I don’t know how to break her rebellious attitude. 

Freddie bounces his way into the dining room, unwittingly. Her sweet, fluffy gray kitten. He bats at a dust particles swimming around in the light from the bay window. I scoop him up. 

Her eyes look worried.

“I guess you won’t be needing your kitten either.” I place him gingerly onto her dress in the trash can. 

“NO!! Please NOT Freddie! I’m sorry.” Her sob changes, her voice softens. “I’m sorry, Mom. I’m sorry. I don’t hate you.”

She reaches for me. I can’t pick her up fast enough. I fold my arms under her baggy Dora panties. Her tiny butt rests on my forearm. 

We bend down together and pick up Freddie. He’s not worried. He wants down so he can attack the dust again. 

I collapse onto her chair and we hold on and rock each other. Paper mache streaks of snot-glazed hair.

Shh, shh…you are my baby forever. You are my favorite. 

I hold on. I rock. I think of all the things we never did do together, all the things I should’ve done better…

____________________

If you think a person can’t have five favorite daughters, then you obviously don’t have five daughters.

Jason sold 454 items. 

Jason sold 454 items. 

There was always that one kid, and it was never me. 

It didn’t matter what the competition medium was at Belle Point Elementary. It could be collecting old phone books, selling candy bars, a canned food drive for the homeless, Christmas wrapping paper…

I was the kid who scrounged around for change to buy 2 chocolate bars for myself, and then had to turn in an almost full box. Sorry. I just…that’s all I sold, and…yeah. 

I usually got to pick some kind of Chinese finger trap or kazoo or plastic flipping frog for my efforts. Well, all right. That’ll do for me. 

But there would be this one kid in class, and it would sound like such a lie.

“I sold 454 items. I’m getting…the Gameboy.”

“Yah, right.”

And somehow, he had. And I’m thinking–this kid can’t motivate himself to study enough to score over a 68 on our weekly spelling tests, and…wth? He can sell a square foot of wrapping paper for $16…454 times?

Okay, go on with your bad self then. I ain’t mad atcha. 

“My uncle Bob is bringing all the phone books I collected to school for me later. He is driving his full-size pickup with a trailer attached, all full of phone books. I collected 768. Our classroom will be getting the pizza party, don’t worry. Miss Napier’s class thinks they are getting it. Hahaha…no.”

“Yah right. Seriously? Where did you get that many phone books?!” I had brought 4, 2 from my own house…including the current one that my mom has been looking for angrily. Shhhhh. 

And it doesn’t matter what someone is selling. I’ll buy one thing from you once, but don’t come at me crazy; I will do crazy back. And joining you in the selling of it? Um…no, never. I’m sorry. I know myself. It’s just not going to be my thing ever. It’s just not. I’ll get the kazoo. 

It could be jewelry or face care products or children’s books or Tupperware, or makeup. It could be vitamins or cookware or local phone service. I don’t care which one. I will buy one thing for $8-12 once. That is all.

For whatever reason, I appear to have the necessary traits to be a seller, and everyone asks me. Everyone. Everyone. You are not the first person to think I should sell stuff. Probably because I’m pretty loud and sorta funny sometimes. Maybe people are envisioning–yes, she would sell the shit out of this stuff. You’re wrong; I wouldn’t; it’s not me. 

I wish you the best in the world, and I’ll buy one thing from you, once ever. And I’ll be clapping and cheering on the sidelines. I hope you get your Uncle Bob to bring a semi-truck full of phone books. I truly do. 

But me? No, no. Not me. Y’all go ahead. If you’re selling chocolate bars, I’ll even buy a few, but…

Hey…oh yeah. Hey, there’s this kid I went to elementary school with, and he’s your guy. He is your guy. Unstoppable combo. Find him

Eleanor, hand me a flag…

Eleanor, hand me a flag…

Up early, vacuuming under couches, scrubbing the stove top, reading articles, and now headed to Little Rock for a 9am appointment with the pediatric endocrinologist. 

Many thoughts and feelings bouncing around my head and heart. God, please guide us, please let us make the best decisions for Rebekah’s well-being, help us stay humble and kind, and please let my many concerns be assuaged and my many questions be answered satisfactorily. 

I don’t know that I would agree with her political views or her personal life, and I don’t know if she would agree with mine. But I certainly agree with and value many Eleanor Roosevelt quotes…

“No writing has any real value which is not the expression of genuine thought and feeling.”

“When life is too easy for us, we must beware or we may not be ready to meet the blows which sooner or later come to everyone, rich or poor.”

“I have never felt that anything really mattered but the satisfaction of knowing that you stood for the things in which you believed and had done the very best you could.”

“At all times, day by day, we have to continue fighting for freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom from want — for these are things that must be gained in peace as well as in war.”

“We must know what we think and speak out, even at the risk of unpopularity.”

“This freedom of which men speak, for which they fight, seems to some people a perilous thing. It has to be earned at a bitter cost and then — it has to be lived with. For freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility. For the person who is unwilling to grow up, the person who does not want to carry his own weight, this is a frightening prospect.We must all face an unpalatable fact that we have, too often, a tendency to skim over; we proceed on the assumption that all men want freedom. This is not as true as we would like it to be. Many men and women are far happier when they have relinquished their freedom, when someone else guides them, makes their decisions for them, takes the responsibility for them and their actions. They don’t want to make up their minds. They don’t want to stand on their own feet.”

“Will people ever be wise enough to refuse to follow bad leaders or to take away the freedom of other people?”

“One of the best ways of enslaving a people is to keep them from education… The second way of enslaving a people is to suppress the sources of information, not only by burning books but by controlling all the other ways in which ideas are transmitted.”

“In the long run there is no more exhilarating experience than to determine one’s position, state it bravely and then act boldly.”

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

“Women are like tea bags. You never know how strong they are until you put them in hot water.”

“Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.”

“I am who I am today because of the choices I made yesterday.”

Two minutes with a Toddler: Chocolate Milk, Anatomy of a Tantrum (with video)

Two minutes with a Toddler: Chocolate Milk, Anatomy of a Tantrum (with video)

She’s sweet, she’s sour. This is the full tantrum (video at bottom of blog). She’s gotten faster at getting back on track. She’s even had a few that were much faster than this one. And she has DEFINITELY had longer tantrums. 

Toddler wants chocolate milk: let’s break it down. Every tantrum, every fight at our house can be divided into these same parts–unacceptable behavior, gentle chance, a firm and predictable punishment, an apology, forgiveness, makeup. 

That’s it. It can be over that easily. You know…in theory. 

Part one–Unacceptable Behavior I didn’t get it all on video. She just woke from a nap and demanded chocolate milk in the her whiniest voice ever. No. Not a chance that I will reward that. 

Part two–Gentle Chance I explain how she’s acting and give her a chance to change her mind quickly. Sometimes it’s over RIGHT then, and we skip part three. Other times, part three is the longest step…her choice. 

Part three–Clear Punishment (or Consequences) If she chooses not to change her behavior, she will be punished–go sit on the couch. She tested me because I was filming, and she will usually test me if someone else is here as her audience…or if we are in public. 

Ideally, and theoretically, she gets ONE chance to obey. And if her mouth or body language “tell me no,” then I will go pick her up and put her on the couch. That’s “yes.” 

(But to be honest, I don’t always get up when she doesn’t obey the first time…as you see in the video. But if I’m making eye contact and I’ve told her TWICE, and she disobeys a second time…I will get up. Trust me. 

I have had to place her on the couch many times. I’ve had to catch her trying to run off as many as 12…possibly 20 times in a row, and I sit her back down, and back down, and back down…until she stays. 

Part four–An Apology She knows when she can get up. All she has to do is say, “I’m sorry.” This particular time, she chose to say it quickly. Cool. Fine by me. 

I have done things like set a timer for 5 minutes and ignore her until it goes off, and then give her the opportunity to apologize or sit longer. 

Clara is 2 years and 9 months now. She doesn’t usually need a full 5 minutes to change her behavior. Sometimes she chooses to take that long, but not often anymore. 

I learned a long time ago with toddlers–give them a choice, and make sure YOU are fine with either option. Example–Get yourself dressed in the next 5 minutes…or wear your pajamas to the store. It won’t embarrass me. 

Apologize…or sit there. Either way, I’m fine. 

Part five–Forgiveness I have a long list of personal habits that I hope my daughters don’t remember or learn. If they only remember one thing about growing up with me, I hope they remember my capacity to forgive. 

For practice with my toddlers and children, this is an unskippable step. And under my rule, unforgiveness will often get a punishment. 

Definitely at least a lecture–unforgiveness is your biggest character flaw, _______ (insert name). You need to learn not to do that, especially to your sisters. 

Part five–Makeup Remember it enough to learn from it, forget it enough to move on.  Making up usually looks like a hug at my house.

Forgiveness can be that quick with adults, too, but usually isn’t. 

As adults, we often get hurt by grudges, judgment, moral superiority, scoffs, repeated mistakes, jabs, criticism, gossip. But to be hurt, we have to consent to allow any of those reactions to hurt us, which has been an incredibly liberating realization for me. We don’t have to be hurt. 

Probably why I get along better with kids, and probably always will. I prefer their simplicity. 

Church shoes 

Church shoes 

“Dad. Dad.” I bug out my eyes and lean my head to the side a few times, toward the little girl who has become my shadow at Creekmore Park. She smiles at my dad. 

“Oh did you make a new friend?” Dad doesn’t see well. Are you kidding me? 

“We go to school together.” She makes the announcement proudly. 

She has a buzz haircut. Even as a second grader, I know this means she has lice that they couldn’t get rid of. Dust defines the creases in her elbows and knees. This is not my definition of friend. 

She’s wearing an oversized Rheem tshirt. We get these free from school; Rheem, an air conditioning company in town, is our school’s partner in education. No one wears the free tshirts they give to every student. Maybe as a night shirt. 

She followed me over to my dad, and she’s just standing here, waiting for me to go back to the playground equipment. No chance, Crystalina. Yeah…that’s her name. See what I mean?

Just because we ended up in the same class in public school, you think that means we are friends if I accidentally see you in public? This is also not my definition of friend. 

She rocks back on the heels of her pale pink Easter-dress church shoes, loses her balance a little, stumbles a few steps backward; her shoes tap and scrape loudly on the sidewalk pavement. 

“Do you want to go on the swings, Emily?” She’s scratching some mosquito bites on her ankle, forcing me to examine the condition of her fingernails. 

I feel my face expressing my heart. I don’t try to stop myself. She pulls up her dingy ankle sock out of her church shoe to tuck in the bloody mosquito bites. 

“No thanks. I think we are about to go.” I’m crossing my arms and looking at my dad, still bug-eyed. I’m not being subtle, and the clues are just bouncing off his skull. 

“Nah, we don’t have to go yet. Go play with your friend, Emmy.” Dad settles onto a shaded park bench, crosses one ankle onto his opposite knee. Nicknames are for the house; we’ve been over this. I will have to get Mom to explain it again. 

Crystalina twists her long red and white gingham cotton skirt around, lining up the seams. I’m not certain, but it looks like someone made it for her from a picnic tablecloth. 

“You go ahead, Crystalina. I’ll be over there in a minute.” I know tricks. I get on the bench with my dad.

Crystalina beams. She shuffles across the pavement, slides through the dewy grass, crashes into the pebbles, slams onto a swing. 

“Dad. Let’s go. She’s not my friend. She just goes to my school, and she’s really annoying.” I have to spell it out for him. 

“What’s annoying? Is she mean?She likes you and wants to play. She seems nice to me.” Dad is thumbing through his Bible. Maybe he can’t hear well either. I get the feeling that possibly…I’m already smarter than him, at least socially, for sure. 

“Well…no, she’s not mean. But like…she’s gross. Did you see her sock with the dried blood on the inside from her mosquito bites? Her clothes are always dirty, and like…” I feel like I’m being so obvious. Why isn’t he getting this?

“None of that is her fault. You never know what someone’s home life is like. You don’t know if she has running water or electricity. You don’t know any of that. You have to look at someone’s heart.” Maybe he did see well. 

“Some people don’t have water at their house? Every house I’ve ever been to has a kitchen and a bathroom.” Yep. What house, Dad? You’re making it up. 

“Emily. You have to pay for water. It doesn’t just flow from any sink.” His voice is gentle; he briefly looks up from his Bible at me. 

“Oh.” I remember lots of moments when I learned something that I never knew before. 

Dad never makes me feel stupid  when he teaches me things. I don’t like when someone acts like I should already know something. 

I sat for a while, swinging my feet slowly, letting love melt ice. 

“People are attracted to the Christ in you. You have to look past a lot of worldly values, and always try to see people how God sees them. The world might tell you who is annoying or gross or unworthy, but don’t listen. Get really quiet and listen to what God tells you about them.” Maybe Dad could hear. 

I felt ashamed. I played with the strings of my braided friendship bracelets; I must have had about 40 of them on one wrist. I felt tears well up in my eyes. I wasn’t trying to be mean. I mean…I don’t want to be mean. 

An idea. 

I wiped away my tears very quickly. I picked my favorite green and yellow friendship bracelet, and freed it from the others, wriggled it off my wrist. 

I hopped up and ran to the swings. As she swung, Crystalina had been holding the chain of an empty swing next to her, saving it for me.  She dragged her feet through the pebbles to stop herself quickly. 

“Thanks for saving me a swing. Here.” I handed her the friendship bracelet. It was a wide one, the kind I didn’t know how to make. 

“Thank you!!! This is my first one.” Crystalina eagerly put it on her wrist. 

Listen to your dad. Just…listen.