Open Wide

Five out of seven family members have had their wisdom teeth removed…and we aren’t so wise anymore.

Before you have that wisdom yanked, use it first for crying out loud, and choose full anesthesia.

I’m a card-carrying member of the “Coward’s Club” and flash it on occasions such as this. I wouldn’t scar myself for life with memories of a giant man putting both hands into my mouth and a foot on my chest trying to yank out a molar while using colorful phrases under his breath.

‘Cause I think that’s how it went down when my turn came. I grow very strong bones and teeth, and frankly, there’s nothing about me that doesn’t surrender without a fight.

As each of my children take their turn at the oral surgeon (three down, two to go), I remind them that wisdom runs deep in our family. And it must go.

The latest was my 19 year old who successfully delayed the event for a good three years. I caught her in a moment of weakness and pushed her through the door.

Then I waited in the lobby speed-reading all the magazines.

Why don’t I ever have time to read them except at the dentist office?

Too soon, she was finished, and I was told to drive around to the back of the building and pick her up. I guess they don’t want mangled patients scaring off the incoming victims. Good idea.

I park just outside a door opening into a dim hallway.

She is sitting in the middle of a long row of recliners that are empty except the one next to hers, which contains a young man. Both of them are gesturing wildly to each other, making jumbled moans and shrieks through their gauze-stuffed mouths.

This is not what I was expecting.

A small nurse helps my daughter up from her recliner and attempts to escort her down the hall and out to my waiting car. This is not easy, as my daughter easily tops her by 12 inches or so and is staggering along like a very inebriated yet incredibly happy drunk. Her eyes are wide and sparkling.

“Whatever she had,” I tell the nurse, “I want some.”

“Mjjothelslugthtsburttm!” mumbles my daughter through a bloody smile.

We sit her in the car. I tighten her seatbelt in case she wants to go for a walk while we’re driving.

“Somehow she knows our other patient,” explained the nurse. “They came in separately and recognized each other here in recovery. I had to pick your daughter up off the floor twice.”

We look at her. She grins as widely as she can at us. “Mjjotherlstugthstburtm!” she insists.

We look back down the hall at her buddy still in his chair. He leans forward and waves wildly to us, indicating that we are the best thing he has ever laid eyes on would really really love to come along with us if only he could figure out how to make his legs work.

The nurse rushes back inside as he totters on the edge of his seat.

Ok then. My work here is done. I call out my thanks, take the prescription paper and drive gingerly away.

It was a long while later, after some gauze changes and a couple naps that my kid was able to explain her exciting morning at the oral surgeon’s.

She had woken up, drugged, next to her high school prom date.

If a scenario like that had to occur in your daughter’s life, this has to be the only acceptable way, don’t you think?

The fact that I laughed about it explains a lot.

Yup, wisdom gone. From both of us.

Growing Pains

Something I wrote a while ago and I want to remember it.

I’m in mourning.  My unsuspecting child hit the point of no return on his timeline.  The moment when a boy becomes a man.  I do not refer to the rite of passage wherein he must kill his first bear or be tied to an anthill to prove his valor.  He just turned 13.

And he will never be the same.

My biggest newborn was a hefty 9 pounds, 7 ounces, and a happier baby you will never meet nor a sweeter little boy.  My son has always looked out for others, taken his turn, held my hand, tried to please.  He followed my fashion advice.  He excelled in school.  My kind and gentle giant.

But not today.

My poor innocent was poisoned with testosterone overnight and in his place is the Dr. Jekyll of teens.  It is suddenly asking too much to make eye contact, let alone enunciate, when he speaks.  A conversation of grunts is the new norm.  My tall handsome son has taken on a hunched shoulder and a slovenly hairdo.  Burping and body odor are no longer unfortunate incidents but matters of personal pride.

Oh my lovely boy, where have you gone?

Bill Cosby once said that he and his wife had five children “because they did not want six”.  I whole-heartedly agree.  Five is a wonderful number if you can pull it off.  Mine span ten years and I only hope that’s enough.  The timing with our family plan was that when the younger children were entering the delusional entitled teen years, the older ones would be exiting them with a new-found sense of gratitude and maturity.  This way, there would always be somebody in the house who still thought I might know something.


Our eldest son just came home from a year-long commitment on AmeriCorps.  At the tender age of 21, he returned to much fanfare and chicken enchiladas.

Sometime the next day, he pulled me aside and confessed that during his wanderings he realized that his parents had actually “busted their butts” raising him and his siblings and he appreciated it.  He met many, many kids out there with parents that they themselves were having to parent.

Home is a place for our kids to be kids but that may be a rarer thing than I assumed.

I remembered all the times I wanted to throw in the towel, give in to them, give up on them, or run away from them….but didn’t.  You practice doing the ‘tough love’ thing until you can balance the ‘tough’ with the ‘love’.

And eventually, if you don’t die of a broken heart first, they grow up.

I spent some years praying hard and loving our eldest furiously.  Sometimes it wasn’t pretty. I hoped his latest adventure would get his feet firmly planted and his head on straight.  And now his head, while definitely set much straighter, sports a fresh mohawk celebrating his graduation from the self-imposed straight and narrow. He stands tall and is ready to move on to the next part of his story.

He is kinder, he is gentler, he is thoughtful.

We make eye contact.

So in one month, I have lost a son and found a son.  There are places where the transfer is not yet complete; both need a haircut and who doesn’t love a good healthy belch?

I am going to miss my younger son terribly while he’s gone.  I see days coming where I will have to go ninja on him to save him from himself or perhaps hold tightly to some line in the sand while he figures out up from down.  But we are raising men and women of courage and values.

They will only know what that looks like by looking at us.

Of course, there is our youngest, yet untouched by teenager angst.  God knew exactly what He was doing when He provided the last-born comic relief for our family.  With all of the changes in our growing brood, his enthusiastic smiles and guileless dedication to childhood is refreshing. It reminds me that, like Peter Pan, that little sparkle of youth inside carries through, no matter what our age.

Growing up is a process of someone’s heart deciding who it wants to be and when.

There’s faith and hope and love during the wait.

And thankfully, plenty of laughter along the way.

The Pig in the Pot

I just crammed an eight pound pork roast into a three pound Crockpot.

I’m guessing here because the darn pig piece wouldn’t quite fit. I was putting a square pig into an oval hole.

Why do the butchers do this?  Does anyone make a square Crockpot? Would it still be a “pot” if it had corners?

My mom used to bake bread in large coffee cans. The loaves were round. It’s still “bread”.

Don’t they know we’ll be getting the kids out the door to school in the morning and then remember we were going to toss something into old faithful because it’s going to be “one of those days”? So we yank open the freezer door, rip open the rock hard meat chunk and go to plop it in, and….it comes screeching to a halt because the thing won’t fit.

Just a corner is still sticking out.

The clock is ticking.

“Get in the car!” you shout to the kids, “I’ll be right there!”

Now it’s down to you, the pig, the pot, and a kitchen variety of options.

I did the only logical thing that didn’t involve a hammer or a blowtorch. (You have those too, right? Mallets are for beating a chicken breast into chicken fried submission, and the torch is for lighting the birthday candles or caramelizing Barbie’s feet when she needs to be tortured when Mom’s not looking.)

Turning the pot to “High”, I gently balanced the lid on top of the roast in the pot and put the heaviest thing handy on top of the lid.

Then I ran out the door.

There’s a good 2-3” of water in the pot. The hot steamy water should melt the pig just enough to bend that corner into the pot. Or at least enough so that when I return I can whack that non-conforming pig bit off and commence the cooking.

It feels good to have a plan.

Later, upon kitchen re-entry, I discovered that the pig had melted just enough to leak juice over the edge of the pot as it plopped into submission. Naturally.

After cleaning it all up and claiming victory for dinners everywhere, it occurs to me: I legally had this raw meat sitting “out” for three hours. Sort of frozen, sort of steamed. This is where my mom’s voice runs across my inner forehead like a ticker-tape, all in capital letters.


If you think for one minute I’ll be starting over here, you’ve got another think coming.

I could season it with a couple dashes of Lysol and essence of bleach, but instead we’ll go with the original plan and cook the phooey out of it all day.

I’ll call it a luau. If I were to be authentic, we’d be pulling this bad boy out of a pit dug in the ground where it was surrounded with rocks and dirt and the bare feet of natives.

You’re lucky we’re not pulling bits of gravel out of our sliders tonight, so there.

Dance is for Life

The ladies curtsey. The gentlemen bow.

“Everybody forward and back!”

A banjo picks up the Virginia Reel that will take our class on to new heights of social cooperation and gender tolerance.

When you have five kids, you serve a life sentence volunteering in their elementary school.

Let’s just say I took my “job” in the music department pretty seriously after a while.

If you can get a fifth grade boy to take a fifth grade girl’s hand for even that one small moment of sashay, you have achieved a major accomplishment.

My goal: to carry these kids beyond the worry of social norms and into the pride of performing as a group.  To show them how the collective movement in a dance makes something much bigger than the pieces that are themselves.

Why a school district would overlook the obvious life skills involved in learning different forms of music is beyond me. It’s math, physical ed, manners, focus, self-esteem building, creative process, and team-work skills.

But it’s cleverly disguised as fun.

The students are hopping and turning around large straw hats on the floor.

We are dancing the Mexican Hat Dance.  The hat provides a buffer between rowdy partners that will fail altogether once we start the Chicken Dance.

What a great excuse to move in the middle of a highly structured day.  As the lessons progress, the random sillies and day’s frustrations make way for body awareness and timing.  They feel the rhythms and steps slowly remove tension from mind and body.

And they like it!

Buffalo Gals is the next step up towards square dancing. Only it’s in a circle.  A wagon wheel actually.  The Virginia Reel is square dancing in two lines.

Someday I would like to graduate to actually dancing in a square.  It takes more practice than the teacher’s schedule ever gave me and so after fifteen years I still don’t know how to do it.  But give me the chorus to Buffalo Gals and our kids will rock that wagon wheel.

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOhhhhh Macarena.  Seriously.  How is this dance still living?

We do the Electric Slide, the YMCA, your basic wedding reception dances.  The kids may as well have a nicely rounded education. If you can’t form a Conga line you are missing out.

We hold onto the person in front of us by the shoulders, not the waist, and I’m lucky they aren’t pulling shirts off backs as they centipede around the room.

Thankfully, the Bunny Hop allows for more individuality.

I try to have them make baby bunny hops, not giant rabbit from hell hops.

It doesn’t always sink in.

Here’s another favorite of mine: the Limbo Rock.  You dance it at luaus and who in So Cal is not going at some point in his life to one of those birthday parties?

I love this one because it is the great equalizer dance.  You have the line backers, the track stars, the class jocks who are way too cool to take these dances seriously.

Then you have the little guys.  The computer techies, the quiet fellows who are taking this all in and thinking somewhere in the back of their minds, “I am so finally going to impress a girl!”

And you are SO rooting for them!  The Limbo is their shining moment.

As the Great Danes crash going under that stick, the Chihuahuas are popping under with attitude and coming up to cheers.

By the end of the school year, I was making up hula dances to Lilo and Stitch and doing Native American Rain Dances complete with ribbon wands, bongo drums and a medicine man wig.

I loved my job.

Midlife Crisis

And now back to our regular programming…

Sorry guys. I took last week off, much against my will, and nearly did it again this week.

My writing has a roving eye and I was unfaithful to our blog.

Forgive me.

Judging from the heap of dirty tea mugs tossed in the sink, I’d say we have a problem.

This little blog is just shy of three years old. At approximately twice a week, we’re reaching 260 posts today, give or take, plus a Sister’s Retreat series I did last fall and two Ladies’ Sunday School series this year, a chick lit book, a historical fiction, and a Christian novel all in progress, (and I’m not counting emails from home or data entry at work…but I should) let’s just say I’ve made a LOT of words lately.

I have seven books spanning five genres in my “to read” pile.

I’m sure they’re all fantastic.

But I may never know.

Because at the back of everything I do, my blog is calling me.

“Write me!” it demands, “Make me brilliant and funny and heartfelt and famous!”

So, rather than sit down and write it, I moved heaven and earth and attended a local writer’s group yesterday, seeking inspiration. Of course it was fabulous to sit with other people who share my sense of pained procrastination.

I was the youngest in attendance by thirty years, but who’s counting?

“Just think,” I told myself as we shared our writing and our opinions and generally rolled around in the language of King James, “if I drag this out long enough, I can publish my first book when I’m 80!”

As usual, I’m the jack of all words and the master of none.

My blog is having a midlife crisis and I’m at my wit’s end for how to stop it.

Firstly, I sat down and scrutinized my writing and realized it was covered in commas. Covered. This is gonna take a lot of Botox. Where did all these commas come from?

Secondly, I went to coffee with a certain disciplinarian who reinforced the idea that I was fat with ideas. There are too many goodies on my plate and I want to eat them all even though I know it will hurt. I sat with an almond croissant in my mouth, nodding at his wisdom and wondering if I could market a book and magazine articles simultaneously.

Probably, yes.

Tick tock tick tock.

Nothing in my closet fits. I can’t button up my books, the blog needs regular ironing, and I can only wear the classes to church. I need to get a basic, classic, goes-with-everything project and go all Coco Chanel on the writing world.

I’m considering an Erma Bombeck transplant.

No one will know. It’ll be our little secret.

I’m ready to feel the Paris breeze beneath my laptop and walk among glamorous agents in sleek convention centers. I’m ready to jet across the country to sip champagne in New York publishing houses while rubbing elbows with famous authors.

I want to make a trophy book before I’m too old to read it.

In order to curb my imminent hysteria, I’ve taken up meditation.

You’ll find me in the library, eyes closed, inhaling the fragrance of aging paper.

Sitting somewhere between ‘Satire’ and ‘Tragedy’.