In A Flash

They say you never really appreciate your parents until you grow up.  I knew I’d always valued them, but I have come to the conclusion that one cannot be fully grateful for everything your parents did until you become a parent yourself.  My father worked every day but Sundays.  He owned a painting business and had a clientele mostly for residential houses, both interior and exterior.  He also did large projects, like painting the First Baptist Church of Dallas.  He and my mother made sacrifices so that she could stay home with me.  Looking back though I notice we had an abundance of books — my mother’s on classical art and music, my father’s on politics and history, and mine which contained Newbery and Caldecott Medal award-winning children’s books.  We took advantage of free outdoor concerts in the summer like the symphony and Shakespeare in the park, we utilized our local library, and tried to make museum days when they were free.  We also watched cool nature documentaries on TV.  I particularly loved watching, “The Wonderful World of Disney” on Sunday evenings with my parents.  Looking back I see how well they educated me on their own outside of the schoolroom.  They instilled in me a love of learning and thirst for knowledge which continues to this day.  I remember it was very important to my father that I learn phonetics.  He was never very good with them and wanted me to be better.  I do not know why, over the years, I have managed to tell myself I was naturally gifted with languages and spelling.  As I have recently been working with my kindergartener over her 72 “sight words” I have been transported back into the long-forgotten days of whining, writhing, and wailing.  To my horror I realized what my little one is doing to me is the same thing I did to my mother as she thanklessly and tirelessly worked with me on my flashcards.  Now the cards are in my hands.  I must do for my daughter what my mother did for me.  When my little one proclaimed it was too hard I told her that for most people learning isn’t something automatically acquired; it requires persistence and hard work.  Sometimes it is fun and sometimes it is unbridled Hell.  Peering through the veils of time, I remember my parents helping me study to make it to the regional Spelling Bee after I became my elementary school champion.  That didn’t just happen; I remember them working with me and checking the words as I got them right.  I have noticed with each small victory my little one becomes less “agonized” and, therefore, so do I.  The retired American four-star army general Colin Powell said, “There are no secrets to success.  It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.”  Just as my parents wanted for me, my husband and I want for our child to successful, in whatever form that may take.  One day I wonder if my little one will recall these early days of learning and have the same revelation about me that I did about my mother.  If or when she does, she’ll know it in a flash.

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Throw Kindness Like Confetti

I love the school my daughter is lucky enough attend.  I made the most of my public education, and I am thankful for it.  But traversing the colorful, imaginative halls of her world I have found myself wishing I could have been as fortunate.  The school is passionate about children and learning.  It practices our faith; it is cheerful, inclusive, unpretentious, and —- most of all, kind.  I have discovered it is easy to be kind with one’s own social class, or with someone who holds the same beliefs.  More difficult I have found is showing kindness to one who does not like you for whatever reason, or who does not accept you, or who deems themself better than you.  From the time my child could understand I have told her what my father told me:  there will always be someone smarter than you, better looking than you, or greater than you in some skill.  And, should you happen to be the very best in all of those things, there will always be someone younger than you.  My father did not say this to discourage me — rather, he said it to strengthen me.  A highly competitive kid, I made the Honor Roll, won the school Spelling Bee, got every principal’s award, and gold medaled in both statewide singing and writing competitions.  I was also on the drill team, which was a huge deal in high school.  Still all the kids made fun of me for wearing the same clothes, and an adult even once joked about my father’s car in my presence.  I was silently labeled unfair things like being “loose” simply because we lived in an apartment.  It was my father who taught me that I define myself.  I remember asking him once why he wasn’t angry:  angry with the police for continually pulling my dark-skinned father over and always letting him go after “just checking;” angry that we could never seem to get ahead despite all his hard work and integrity; angry that people routinely referred to him as “Chief.”  He turned his piercing dark blue eyes on me and softly told me that no matter what, we could always choose to be kind.  There was no bitterness in him and in that moment I discovered how he had managed to rise above it all.  He chose not to judge and simply to be kind.  I was once hurt very badly by a boy I dated for a summer.  He was from our church and I felt his parents thought I was trying to better myself financially by going out with him.  We lived in an apartment in a very poor part of town and they had a house in the well-to-do part.  I just thought he was impossibly handsome and so good.  I think they politely tolerated me, biding their time until their son was in college.  I had already started community college and knew what my academic goals were; I had known for years actually.  I can still remember the pitying look on their faces when I proudly told them I’d be attending SMU in the future.  Their son was off to an expensive private college in state and it was “suggested” he date sorority girls.  (Translation — girls with money.)  I did not want to believe it and I went with my parents to see him when he was away at university.  It was like he was shocked to see me although he had invited me.  I was absolutely crushed.  What I would learn when I was accepted into SMU, was that in fact is was more often the rich who sought the same for monetary gain, rather than the poor supposedly on the hunt for money.  I know no one will believe this, but a few years later in the same university town where I got my heart broken I noticed a girl who looked so much like me it was quite startling.  She actually approached me and asked if my name was Laura.  It wasn’t a question, really; it was more of a statement.  Surprised, I said yes and we wound up talking for several minutes.  She asked me if I knew this guy (the one from my church) and I replied I did.  She then told me the guy dated her for awhile but that he repeatedly called her by my name.  I went from being instantly jealous to feeling very sorry for her.  I think she felt the same way about me.  So what is kindness, really?  Does it falsely hide under the guise of politeness?  I submit that true kindness does not feign anything.  I met my future husband because he did not know how to change the flat tire on his car.  After I replaced it for him he asked if he could buy me an ice cream cone.  He was the most handsome man I had ever met — but his kindness is what got me.  I have repeatedly told my daughter that kindness is the most important trait one can possess.  Money can come and go, looks may fade; but kindness remains.  This year her school has been practicing kindness.  When I happened upon this shirt I knew it would be perfect for her “free dress” day during kindness week.  Bob Goff is the American author of the New York Times best seller “Love Does.”  He is quoted as having said, “Throw kindness around like confetti.”  Kindness is something that must be practiced; it does not always come easy.  But our world would definitely be better if we all strove to throw kindness like confetti.

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Crazy Cats

Every four-legged in our home has a rescue story behind them.  We have kitties that are sweet, but anyone who has ever owned a cat knows they are also a bit rotten on some level.  I am reminded of the saying that dogs have masters and cats have staff.  The American science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein once quipped, “Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea.”  I realize that is rather sexist; however I do think there is some truth to that.  Yes they have shredded curtains and scratched the sofa, but they have also comforted me as I have wept into their fur.  Wolves are particularly sensitive and always know when one of our family is upset.  And few things can come close to being snuggled up in bed with a good book and a warm cat.  I have found our kitties hiding in cabinets and blatantly lounging on our clean laundry.  One even unrepentantly ran off with a hunk of the Thanksgiving turkey once.  I took this shot of Blue the other day after discovering he’d gotten himself locked in my husband’s closet.  I knew I heard him but I just couldn’t find him — until I looked up.  This was the adorable view that greeted me.  Whether canine or feline, time spent in their company is never wasted.  Our pets are family and we love them … even the crazy cats.  

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A Break

With the advent of the new year I had been seeing all of these carpe diem slogans, along with vaguely scary admonitions that life can change in the blink of an eye.  Ten days ago, shortly after I’d dropped my little one off at school, I received a call from the nurse telling me I needed to come get my child because her arm was broken.  She wasn’t crying but said that her pain level was at a 10.  By the time I got there she was paler than paste, shivering and huddled under a blanket that had been wrapped carefully around her, and her eyes were rolling intermittently back in their sockets.  In that second I experienced something of what my mother must have felt when I was in kindergarten and came home with a severed finger:  abject terror and complete helplessness.  Emergency x-rays showed her elbow was indeed broken.  She was placed in a temporary cast and sling and she saw a pediatric orthopedist two days later.  Her arm was still incredibly swollen and they put her in another temporary cast to allow for the swelling to subside.  I kept her in her sling except during sleep and felt confident the bone would not move.  After all, there was only a 20 to 30 percent chance that it would; if it did it would require surgery.  I was absolutely stunned when they removed her cast a week later and another x-ray revealed a much bigger gap between her small bones, meaning of course that they’d moved.  I did not write my usual blog on Sunday; instead I elected to play endless rounds of My Little Pony’s Candy Land with my little one and this silly game where a fox puts chickens in his pants.  When his pants finally fall down, the first to get their chickens back to their coop wins.  I read more books with her, played more with her, and made up more stories for her.  I found time slowed, and my father always taught me that time is the one thing that cannot be replaced.  Early this morning my little six year old underwent major surgery and had two steel pins placed through her little bones to hold them properly in place.  Next week her arm will go into a hard cast for at least a month and at some point she will have it removed, along with the pins protruding from her elbow.  The Australian moral philosopher Peter Singer is quoted as having said:

”Sometimes we know the best thing to do, but fail to do it.  New year’s resolutions are often like that.  We make resolutions because we know it would be better for us to lose weight, or get fit, or spend more time with our children.  The problem is that a resolution is generally easier to break than it is to keep.”

Prior to this I’d dusted off last year’s resolutions, which included everything mentioned above and more.  While I was striving to do more, be more, and add more into my life I learned an invaluable lesson from my precious little one … all it took for me to see it was a break.

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New Year’s Eve

I have always loved to sing and music has invariably been an integral part of my life.  But even as a kid I found the traditional New Year’s Eve song, “Auld Lang Syne” depressing; I may have mentioned this before.  Never having been prone to feeling regularly sad, this is the one day with which I have consistently struggled.  For me there has just been something perpetually bittersweet and melancholy about this time of year, and specifically the last day of the year.  As I grew up I would feel sad if I stayed home.  For years after I was graduated from college if I went out I somehow knew my date would not be “the one” for me and I found that depressing.  Rather than birthdays, I have felt that this was the day for reflection; a litmus of sorts for the way I have spent the past year.  What did I accomplish?  Did I do any good for anyone else?  Am I better off than I was before?  Invariably my mind wanders to my loved ones who have passed on over the years.  How I miss them.  I am usually “the glass is half full” person — so why is THIS the day I incessantly find half empty?  The German-born Canadian author Eckhart Tolle said, “To know yourself as the Being underneath the thinker, the stillness underneath the mental noise, the love and joy underneath the pain, is freedom, salvation, enlightenment.”  I have always known myself — but I have not always been true to myself along the way in recent years.  I have tried SO HARD to please others, to prove myself, etc. and I have finally come to understand I can only strive to please God, my husband, our child, my late parents, and ultimately myself.  I was forever taught that I was strong.  A part of me I think died when my father passed and I was 28.  He was my rock and the greatest influence upon my life, along with my mother.  I have been lonely and adrift since my mother passed three years ago.  In the absence of their love and support I have forgotten that I am more than enough.  No one else can define your self worth.  If the British monarchy can truly welcome a divorced American who is half black into the royal family I have hope that my daughter will know she can stand strong and be loved for herself as well.  Past, present, and future — we should remember the past, celebrate the present, and have faith for the future.  So, as 2017 comes to a close, I am trying to reminisce the past without sadness, examine the present with pragmatism, and look toward the future with joy.  With this I am wishing all of you a very blessed 2018.  All God’s blessings to you this New Year’s Eve.

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A Little Robin Might Show Me

My father often said the two saddest words in the English language were, “if only.”  I grew up in a two bedroom apartment for most of my life.  It had one big window in each room and it overlooked a huge field.  We had lovely antique furniture and my mother’s beautiful mahogany baby grand piano, which fit perfectly despite how very small our place was.  Her parents bought it for her when she was ten and my mother studied classically for twenty years.  I would often come home from school to find her playing “Claire de Lune,” which to this day is my favorite piece of music for the piano.  Starting in kindergarten my mother tried to teach me to play.  I loved to sing but never enjoyed learning the piano.  As I look back I realize I just did not appreciate the riches I had in her which were literally at my fingertips.  She tried for years but I fought her tooth and nail.  I did excel in music, but vocally.  And I regret not being able to play the piano well to this day.  Right before my mother died she bought her namesake an electric piano for her third birthday; a smiling cat whose teeth formed the keys.  I know she held a quiet hope that her granddaughter might want to study and play classical piano one day.  Of her own volition, when my little one entered into kindergarten this year she asked if she could take piano.  Looking into the cost, I discussed it with her father.  He agreed and the next week she began taking lessons from a young woman who is in the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.  I have an upright piano and, as I have sat these past several months with my daughter at the bench, more than anything I wish I could apologize to my mother; if only.  Now I am the teacher and I see the unending patience she had with me.  I also see the same anger and frustration coming out in my daughter that I had as a child when I didn’t get it right.  It’s surreal actually … sitting on both sides.  Apparently she is a very good student for her teacher.  Perhaps that was part of why I didn’t value my lessons, since it was “just” my mother teaching me.  And I honestly do not know how the poor woman survived without wine; I find it fortifying before I sit down to practice with my daughter.  This picture is a still frame from a video I took yesterday at a retirement home, where our six year old played her first recital.  She was not nervous at all and sat straight and tall at the keys; her little hands positioned perfectly.  She played her entire piece without one wrong note.  Her father was grinning ear to ear and I was so proud of her.  It would have meant so much to my mother.  I have often wondered if our loved ones can ever visit us somehow.  I believe God sends us signs, if we only recognize them.  Earlier that morning as my little one played her piece before we left, a robin appeared outside our window.  While they are not uncommon, I have never seen one in our yard or pond.  Suddenly I remembered the first song my mother ever taught me to play on the piano.  It was about a little robin singing from her woodland tree.  I had not thought about it since I was in kindergarten myself.  The American novelist and poet Josiah Gilbert Holland once wrote, “God gives every bird its food, but He does not throw it into its nest.”  I do not want my daughter to look back one day and say, “if only.”  I suppose only time will tell if she has an inherent love for playing … or maybe, if I am lucky, a little robin might show me.

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The Tooth Fairy

On Thanksgiving morning our little one woke up and declared she had a lose tooth.  Asking me to check, I meticulously went through each tiny one and all seemed firmly in place.  At her insistence I checked again and, upon closer inspection, I thought that maybe one of her bottom middle teeth might be the most infinitesimal bit loose.  Squealing with glee, she skipped off to check in the mirror.  She began wiggling it and I encouraged to her to keep it up during the day.  A little after noon she came up to me and asked me to test it.  Sure enough, her tiny tooth was indeed moving back and forth!  I asked her if I could try and move it and reluctantly she said yes.  I got one good, hard yank in … pulling it down toward the ground.  “OW!” my little one screamed, but I noticed her tiny tooth was surrounded by blood.  After admonishing me not to touch it, I had to endure it protruding out like a jack-o-lantern’s the rest of the day.  Finally, after our meal, I pleaded with her to let me try and move it again.  Following the same thing I did earlier, I got in one good downward pull before I saw her looking at me with complete and utter shock; her mouth hanging open and her eyes wide.  Looking back at her, I was stunned to see the hole that was now in her still open mouth.  “DON’T SWALLOW YOUR TOOTH!” I hollered.  She recovered enough to say indignantly that she did not.  I could still remember being so proud when she got that first tiny little tooth and now I held it in the palm of my hand.  It was another one of motherhood’s bittersweet moments.  HER FIRST BABY TOOTH!  And it came out on Thanksgiving night!  I could not believe it!  Suddenly grinning, my little one shrieked with the unbridled glee and innocence of youth and ran to look in the mirror.  She came back looking somehow older, with a tissue delicately swabbing at the blood, saying, “Mama I cannot believe I lost my first ‘toof!'”  “You sure did,” I said, my heart breaking just a little.  “I have something for you,” I said, going off into another room.  A couple of weeks earlier I discovered they had “tooth fairy pillows” in our church bookstore and I just a feeling.  I knew at some point she’d need it anyway.  “For ME?!” she squealed in delight, clutching the tiny pink pillow.  “No,” I said, “that is for the Tooth Fairy!” looking very serious.  “See?  It has a felt pocket shaped like a tooth.”  “And that’s where I’ll put it for her!” she exclaimed with glittering eyes.  The hardest part was getting up in the middle of the night to gently remove the tiny tooth from her tooth fairy pillow without her waking up.  The tooth fairy paid her a dollar!  When I was a kid it was a quarter.  The next day, as a family, we all proudly went down to the Dollar store where she made her first ever Black Friday purchase.  Her Daddy kicked in the eight cents (which she did not know about) for sales tax.  The American Major League Baseball manager of the championship New York Yankees, Casey Stengel, once said, “The trick is growing up without growing old.”  Both of my folks always maintained a youthful spirit; I believe Burk and I are the same way.  He and I still need childhood magic, but we do not need any more visits from the tooth fairy!

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Becoming A Marshmallow

I do not think I have very many pet peeves.  I cannot STAND price tags on ANYTHING — including cleaning supplies under the sink, and, as I have previously and recently mentioned, people who start holiday seasons too early.  Despite its origins, I love Thanksgiving.  With each year that passes it seems to diminish under the weight of skeletons and Christmas trees.  It was a chilly night this Thanksgiving and I love a nice fire; particularly a piñon one because of its heavenly scent.  It transports me straight to Santa Fe.  I had a fire blazing and had given in earlier and bought marshmallows for my little one, particularly since they’re gluten free.  So, when she asked if she could have some, I thought why not roast them in the fire?  I got a long stick and wet it before placing the giant, spongy confection of sugar on the end of it and holding it above the flames.  My little one was in awe.  I never got to be a Girl Scout and I only went camping a few times in the summer with my church youth group.  So essentially I had no prior marshmallow roasting memories, having grown up without a fireplace.  The result was an unexpected culinary delight, and I was immediately asked to make more.  The next thing I knew my little one wanted me to sing Christmas carols.  We were all still digesting my gluten free pecan pie and already I was pressed into singing my favorite hymns.  “Once In David’s Royal City” melded into “What Child Is This” (my two favorites) and then I found myself being requested to sing every Christmas song I ever knew.  No “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” though.  I do enjoy some secular songs but for Christians it is a sacred time leading up to and commemorating the birth of Christ.  On the secular side, however, my little one began wondering when her scout elf from Santa (Noel Magique) and her reindeer Chestnut Jingles would arrive.  (Yes, I named them and yes, I snicker a little every time I use Chestnut’s full name.)  I had already decided they were not going to be returning to our home until December 1st.  (I cannot possibly maintain that Martha Stewart level of creativity past 24 days.)  However, I had just broken down and bought us a new tree this year after a decade of our rotten cats housing themselves in our old one.  By the end of last season it stood drunkenly and swayed violently — plus the bottom half of the pre-lit lights decided to just give up about three years ago.  I looked for a new one online early; just checking to see if there were any good deals.  Turns out there were and we got a lovely tree that looks like our old one (silver and pre-lit with white lights) for half price plus no tax and free shipping!  Woo hoo!  So there I was, looking down into the fathomless, deep brown eyes of my only child, so much like my beloved’s, and I thought about the magic of Christmas.  It is one of the few times as an adult I still feel the giddiness and wonder of childhood.  The American actor Edward Norton said, “The more you can create that magic bubble, that suspension of disbelief, for a while, the better.”  In that moment I decided we could all use a little more magic and so we put up the new tree early — amid glass-breaking screams of excitement from our little one.  The Holy Family is not going outside though until the start of advent; I’m not becoming a marshmallow.

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A Cut Above

My husband really needs for his hair to be clean-cut at all times.  Fortunately he does not insist upon a buzz cut, but he will freak out if one curl starts to form at the base of his neck.  I say this without bias:  my husband has hair most men would kill for.  He is 44 and it’s still not grey, it’s not receding or thinning, and it is incredibly thick, dark brown, and with a slight wave.  For years I have begged him not to cut it every two weeks.  Hair does not even grow that fast!  It has taken an entire decade, but I have gotten him to go from two weeks to three and now (drumroll) to four!  His bangs no longer look like “Dumb and Dumber” since I’ve convinced him to stop going to cheap, walk-in places where he did not get the same stylist twice.  I have forbidden the use of clippers on his glorious hair and I have actually gone down to police whatever girl was making the back of his head look cheese shaped.  The trouble is, by the time he got an actual trained stylist, in my opinion it was way too much for us to be spending.  I knew how important his hair is to him so I’ve just tried to budget for it.  He never loved the place but at least he also never came out butchered.  (Cue the sound of angels singing.)  And then I discovered an “upscale barbershop.”  They’ve got old white guys, younger black men, clients with beards, no beards; you name it.  We decided to give it a try and I fell in love.  All the place needed was cigars!  Our little one did not have school that day and the receptionist, who was beautiful and sweet, led our six year old into a lounge/TV room and proceeded to put on My Little Ponies.  “May I get you something to drink?” she asked as I felt my eyes widen when I noticed the bar.  I whispered to my husband that men had finally cracked the code.  It’s the go-to-the-salon-and-have-a-glass-of-wine-so-you-can-relax-secret.  Only they had my kind of drinks — vodka, whiskey and gin that I noticed.  Burk had a gin and tonic (I call it the anorexic white ladies’ drink) and I had a whiskey with 7up.  They even had an orange juice for our little one.  Lounging in the big, leather recliner my little one peeled her eyes away from the television long enough to remark, “Now THIS is the life!”  “Kiddo, you have no idea,” I said, thinking of the special mother/daughter spa days we would have when she is older.  I knew I liked my husband’s stylist instantly.  She was sharp and I had no doubt he was in great hands.  When I booked his appointment the receptionist had actually taken notes!  Now that’s impressive.  Back in the TV room my little one remarked, “Mama they have massages here,” and I explained they were only for men.  I felt so comfortable sitting there, drink in hand, inhaling the gentle aroma of sandalwood.  It reminded me of my Daddy.  And I was so thrilled they let us stay!  As he was being shampooed my husband was treated to a steaming hot towel wrapped around his clean-shaven face.  I watched him visibly slump in the chair.  That is really saying something, because he doesn’t unwind very easily.  Other than his hair, he is highly concerned about his shoes looking nice.  Imagine our surprise when we discovered members can sign up and have their shoes shined for free at any time!  “He’d like to sign up for the year” I proclaimed as I watched my husband emerge actually relaxed and happy.  And here’s the kicker:  it is HALF the price of the salon he used to go to!!!  I appreciate the details and this place had it in spades.  Most importantly, his hair turned out great.  I think the American writer Greg Behrendt was on to something when he said:

“I do think that you can dress yourself out of a problem.  The way that a haircut and a new pair of pants can make you feel is better than any therapist, because when you look in the mirror, you see a different person – you are a different person.  It’s superficial change that can lead to real change.”

His two best girls were proud to see him looking so confident and handsome.  I have decided to go with him from now on … not because his stylist needs any supervision; I just want to relax and enjoy a drink!  This place is definitely a cut above.

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A Change

The pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said, “There is nothing permanent except change.”  I have always tended to be a feast or famine type of person.  If I’m in I’m all in.  For almost two years I have tried to post daily.  When I started, my little one was four.  She is now six.  I feel I need to be spending more quality time with my family, more time purging things we no longer need in our house, and cooking more meals.  Between those things, my business, and blogging every day I have neglected myself by not exercising.  I strive to be better and, I hope that will come through in my writing as well.  Beginning today I will be posting once weekly on Sundays.  I hope everyone will enjoy reading a little less of me for a change.  😉

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