Friday, April 30, 2010

I Always Dreamed of Being Really Cool

It’s ironic that I only seem to achieve my dream of coolness when I completely surrender trying. I’ve always had a lot to aspire to, because I grew up with siblings that were on the cutting edge of a nearly unattainable coolness.

My big brother is the most charming, likable guy you’ve ever met. Growing up, everyone loved him, and still does. He always had a huge circle of friends. He knew awesome stuff about power tools, horses, and R/C models. Old ladies would remark about how he was going to be handsome and six feet tall, like our dad. I didn’t know why being six feet tall was so desirable, but I thought, “He’s my dad, too, why don’t they tell me I’m going to be six feet tall?” In treasured moments, when my brother taught me how to throw a ball, when he invited me to explore the crawl space under the house, when he drove my jeep in the bracket drags and beat out muscle cars, moments when I felt his coolness rub off on me, I just wished I had some of my own for the rest of the time.

My sister, too, had coolness to spare. Her coolness came from her utter self-assurance. She did whatever she wanted. No matter what anyone said to her, she did not care. She cut her hair the way she wanted. She wore her clothes the way she wanted. She pierced her ear with a needle, because you didn’t need a permission form. It was so hard to be her big sister, because she was so cool and I was so not cool. Whenever I bumped up against her personality, I lost. It wasn’t even a fight. I was unarmed. I couldn’t compete, because everything she did was original, so copying her wouldn’t make me cool, it would make me a copy. I longed to be an original.

Somewhere along the way, I surrendered. Not all at once, but over years of discovery, I came to the conclusion that being un-cool was my ultimate ticket to coolness. In a certain sense, driving a mail jeep was cool. No one else had one, right? Working at McDonald’s? Maybe I should have pursued an internship, or something that paid better, but I liked my job, even though people thought it was funny. Living in the freshman dorms for three, long years – un-cool. Having my student teaching observed while wearing tights that were two shades different from my shirt, because I got dressed in the dark – un-cool. Using the bathroom with my toddler on my lap – un-cool.  Making home Star Wars movies – un-cool.

This week I put my extreme un-coolness on display in a public forum. I miscommunicated with the A/V team so that the kids singing couldn’t be heard over the music; I relocate a kid away from the microphone too harshly (and probably too close to the microphone); I told a kid he won an award and then failed to give him his prize; I dropped a statuette when I was presenting it; I forgot to recognize the cooks who make us dinner every week and I forgot my husband who is the co-leader of the youth group. Un-cool!

I drive a convertible. That probably sounds cool, right? It has family seating and a roll bar.

Un-coolness. It’s an art.

If I have to brag, I will brag about how weak I am. 2 Corinthians 11:30

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Sometimes I build my kids up, only to deflate them.

We were at the food court at the mall.  One kid wanted Taco Bell and one wanted Arby’s.  I knew that going to Arby’s was going to mean drinking a Jamocha shake, so I opted to get in the Taco Bell line with my younger daughter.  Always looking for opportunities to foster independence (and make my life simpler), I gave my older daughter a few bucks and encouraged her to try going to the Arby’s counter by herself.  She could order her regular favorites of a ham & cheese, curly fries, and a shake.  On second thought, I realized that their value menu wasn’t all a dollar, so I gave her another dollar and suggested, “Be sure you tell them you want everything off the value menu.”  I didn’t want them to give her the regular sized shake or fries, because she might not have enough money.

I went back to wait in the long Taco Bell line, but she came running over moments later, needing more money; they said she didn’t have enough.  So I shelled out a couple more bucks, a little annoyed that they sold her the bigger shake, but at least she was learning to do things for herself.  When I finally turned around with my tray of tacos and empanadas, I looked over to see my girl coming toward me with a tray that was jam-packed with food and drinks.  She read my look of shock and her face immediately fell.

“Were you hungry for all that food?” I asked, incredulous.

She looked confused and embarrassed, “They said I didn’t have enough money to get everything off the value menu, so I just got these.”

It was my fault.  My parting words to her had been, “Tell them you want everything off the value menu.”  My daughter was, above all things, obedient.  I starting laughing so hard my eyes started to water.

My miscommunication cost me about four extra bucks, and my daughter’s pride, because she still thinks that the mistake was hers.  We’re going to have to have a talk this morning.  She was really proud of herself for going to counter and getting her own lunch and I pulled the rug out from under her the moment I signalled disappointment to her.  She shouldn’t feel bad, it all worked out.  We even managed to eat the turnover.

Children must always obey their parents.  This pleases the Lord.  Parents, don't be hard on your children.  If you are, they might give up. Colossians 3:20-21

Friday, April 16, 2010

I Was Too Direct With the Salesperson

When he got completely tongue tied and disappeared into the back office for several minutes, my husband started cracking up.  At first, I didn't realize what I'd done.

We're trying to get a backyard playset for the girls without taking out a loan. Complicating our search, our older daughter is fascinated with monkey bars.  It is remarkably hard to find an affordable playset with monkey bars!  So we wandered into the various backyard playset stores, braced to hear unthinkable numbers, but hoping to find out what they could do with monkey bars.  At the first place, a low-key salesperson came over and showed us the options, giving us a catalog and price list so we could measure our needs against their offerings.

At the second place, we got the pitch.  When he heard "monkey bars," dollar signs seemed to circle his head like the tweeting birds on Tom & Jerry.  Monkey bars must be a serious jackpot for playset salespeople.  Instead of answering our questions, he picked out a monstrous castle with a million cargo nets and rope swings.  He informed us that we need to add on a bigger swing beam right at the get-go because our five year old isn't going to be satisfied with a ten foot beam.  If we don't get her the twelve foot beam, the whole multi-thousand-dollar playset is going to sit unused by our bored, ungrateful kids.

My husband, ever good-natured, was trying to wait the guy out, but every add-on we didn't challenge encouraged him to suggest another add-on.  I could see my life slipping away from me; time I could never get back.  So I asked him to pause his sales pitch and said, "I know it's going to sound like I haven't been listening to you explain your philosophy on challenging kids to grow into their playset, but you keep trying to up-sell us and I'd like to redirect you to down-sell us instead.  We're looking for a small fort with monkey bars," there were probably three sets in the room that were more like what we had asked for, so I gestured to one of them, "like this one here...can we put monkey bars on that?"

He stammered a little, but hadn't given up on the castle.  After pointing out a few features on the smaller set, he began to emphasize its limitations and was motioning back toward the castle.  I wasn't having it. "I'm sorry, but it seems like you are starting to try to up-sell us again.  We came in to find out about a playset we might want.  You need to give us the information we are asking for, instead of telling us what you think we should do, so we can make a decision about what we really want."  Then he stammered fitfully and retreated to the office.

I honestly thought I was being helpful to the guy.  We're not going to buy the castle.  He's wasting his time and ours, and he is also potentially missing out on selling us what we actually want.  My husband, who is an expert on "handling" me, pointed out the stammering and long absence (through his mirth).  The salesperson's discomfort hadn't actually registered with me, because I was focused on the task at hand - finding the right playset - not on the social implications of hurting a salesperson's feelings.  When he came back out, he did have better information for us, and even felt courageous enough to run back to the office and get his card to staple to the catalog (no price list) he gave my husband.

But now I feel bad.  I thought it was about a business transaction.  But, and in my line of work I should know this, nothing is just business.  Even between strangers, it's still about relationship; otherwise there wouldn't be road rage, right?  So I'm sorry Craig or Greg or whatever your name is.  I know you're just doing what you've been trained to do.  I'm not out to get you.  I just wanted to know about the smaller playsets.  Next time, I'll try and say it nicer.  I really didn’t want to be mean.  If it's any conciliation, there's a clerk at SmashBurger who hates me, too.  I declined to add a $5 side salad onto my daughter's kid's meal when she asked for roughage instead of fries.  I think she thought I should have bought the salad; our relationship hasn't been the same since.

You can tame a tiger, but you can't tame a tongue—it's never been done. James 3:7-8

Friday, April 9, 2010

I'm a Big Sissy

"Are your allergies bugging you today?"  My husband often lists my general emotional stability as my most attractive trait, so I'm sure he felt as overwhelmed as I did when his seemingly harmless question was met with a dam-burst of tears.  Obviously, not my first, or I wouldn't have had the red eyes that prompted his question!

My friend Jean Mehle's health has been in a slow decline for some time and we knew the day was not far off when we would hear the news of her earthly departure.  It still caught me unprepared on Wednesday night, about an hour before the kids and families would be arriving for our midweek church activities.  I hid myself up in the gym and tried to cool the burn with the distraction of Grand Prix preparations.  Focusing on checkered flags and chair arrangements, I hoped to stifle my emotions enough to get through the night and go home to grieve in private.

The telling question about my allergies was all it took for me to know that I could not hide my being the world's biggest sissy.  Jean was in her eighties and our friendship grew out of a Friday morning prayer meeting that provided a large portion of my spiritual sustenance through the first five years I was balancing ministry, motherhood, and a weekly 3-hours-each-way commute to seminary.  During that season of my life, I learned and grew immeasurably from watching Jean practice her faith, out of the blessings she prayed over me and my family, and by experiencing the warmth and depth of her love and friendship.

But Jean was beloved to all of us, not just me.  We're sisters-in-Christ, just like everyone else, so I really felt pathetic when everyone around me took the news and continued chewing on their spaghetti.  Here I'm the one who is supposed to be able to handle bad news and help other people get through it, and I couldn't make eye contact with anyone in the room or I'd start back up the waterworks.  Using every mental strategy I could muster, I somehow limped through an hour and a half of teaching the kids and youth, but I barely held it together when one of the youth volunteered to say our closing prayer and shared a beautiful, sweet tribute to Jean on our behalf.  God bless her for praying the prayer that I could not possibly have spoken.

So I'd like to make a request of my friends and family.  If your time comes, could you aim to avoid Wednesday or Sunday?  That would be a tremendous help to me.  I'm really a giant sissy, so when someone I care about passes away, I need a good two hour cry before I can be seen in public again.  Please be considerate.

...let your tears flow like a river day and night; give yourself no relief, your eyes no rest. Lamentations 2:18

Friday, April 2, 2010

I Let Santa Take the Rap

Don't be confused; I messed up plenty this week.  But I've got an old transgression I need to get off my chest.

When we first moved into our house, my younger daughter was only two.  Although she seemed to handle the transition for the most part, she immediately started fighting her nap.  At bedtime, she'd go right in and sleep like an angel, but for some reason she thought that her midday nap was the perfect time to flip out and drive her mom crazy.  On the days she was at daycare, they reported no such disruption, but on the days she was at home with me, it was a hard fought battle.  I kept repeating to myself that I only had to put her in bed as many times as she got out; I didn't have to be more stubborn that her, only just as stubborn.

A few weeks into our struggle, Thanksgiving passed and Advent began, bringing with it Santa sightings.  Quite to our surprise, our otherwise fearless daughter would claw her way up our torso to hide in our arms whenever Santa showed up in her proximity.  I'm sure to her, it seemed like there was a Santa at every turn.

One afternoon at naptime, I was again struggling to keep in her bed when some noise or creak startled my daughter.  Her eyes got huge as she whispered, "Is that Santa?"

Loving mother that I am, I replied, "I think so.  Maybe if you lay very still he won't know you're being naughty and I'll go check."  So I left her room, where she lay completely silent and swiftly fell asleep.  Oh, yeah.  I was on to something!

For the next week, naptime tantrums were history.  All I had to do was mention that Santa was on my quick dial.  But she got wise all too quickly and wanted proof.  She boldly responded to my threat one afternoon, "Tell him to come." 

To which I replied (Lord, forgive me.), "OK, but you should know - Santa spanks!"  Again with the huge eyes, so I confirmed, "Are you sure you want him to come?" 

A choked whisper, "Yes."

So next thing I knew, I was booking it to my bedroom closet to put on the red suit and wig.

I could probably write a chapter from each episode of our escalating visits from Spanking Santa who, for the record, never actually spanked.  There was the day she noticed Santa's eyes, "Santa's eyes are blue!"  Long, hard gaze, "Mommy's eyes are blue."  There were the cackling "ho-ho-ho's" that alerted a little girl that Spanking Santa was in the house (without Mom having to put on a wig).  And then came the missing stuffed dog.  I didn't know where the dog went, but my daughter kept complaining that it was missing.

I had no idea that she had developed a theory about her missing toy, but was surprised at her enthusiasm when we asked if she wanted to go see Santa at the mall.  We had expected a terrified little girl to tell us no.  Instead, she seemed very determined to go visit Santa.  She was nervous in line, but continued to move closer and closer to the "jolly" saint.  I asked the girls what they were going to ask Santa for.  My older daughter said she wanted an Annabelle doll.  My younger daughter was resolute, "I'm going to tell Santa to give me my puppy back!"

I was trapped in my lie.  I couldn't tell her that Spanking Santa didn't steal her toy without admitting that I was Spanking Santa!  So I said, "OK, tell him."

The Mall Santa had a little trouble understanding the angry demand of a two year old to get her puppy back, but he played it off well enough.  And my daughter eventually developed fondness for Santa Claus.  We even found her puppy wedged behind her headboard and gave it back to her.  What makes it hard for me to be contrite: she went back to taking her nap!

A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who pours out lies will not go free.  Proverbs 19:5