My mother has been in a nursing home for the last month while she recovers from injuries due to a fall. My mornings consist of dropping the kids off at school and then heading over to the nursing home to care for Mom until mid-day.
It’s a small nursing home with a very warm family feel. Since I’m there every day, I’ve gotten to know the staff and they’re very familiar with me. What I didn’t expect was how well I’d get to know several of the other residents and how comfortable they would become with me. In the last couple of weeks I’ve gone from merely greeting the residents to becoming a surrogate daughter/errand girl/sympathetic shoulder and milk carton opener. I’ve even been the called upon on several occasions to go back to a resident’s room to retrieve false teeth.
During our mornings in the dining hall at the nursing home, I’ve also received an unexpected education. Although I’ll probably never use these skills, I’ve learned more about the way to milk cows, how to turn an old dress into an apron and how to spot the bad guy on Gunsmoke.
The most valuable lesson I’ve learned is to cherish these new friendships for they will certainly be way too brief.
My sweet, wonderful, adorable husband, David, has always been notorious for adamantly slamming his foot into the ground on a subject only to become a malleable ball of mush when push comes to shove.
Who was it that made the big announcement that his children were NOT going to ingest sugar? Who was it that was caught slipping Matt a cookie when I had put him in time out one day? Yep, that would be mister foot slammer, David.
Who made the declaration that his kids were not going to watch TV? Who was and is still famous for his popcorn cups with a candy surprise in the bottom introduced to our family on Sunday nights while we all watched the Simpsons? Yep, once again that would be the “my foot is down” David.
When dogs where introduced into the Allen household, David was adamant that no dogs would ever be allowed on the furniture for any reason. We are puppy sitting Jess’ dog, Gauge for a few weeks while Jess has some remodelling done at her house. I came around the corner into the family room and this is what I saw.
David and Gauge
Enough said. Mr. “My foot is down” has struck again.
Kindergarten teachers should be made aware of the power that they wield. To the ever diligent parent, if Kindergarten goes off well, then the next 12 years of their child’s education will be a breeze. On the flip side, if you are already struggling in Kindergarten, there’s a good chance that the next 12 years will be ones best forgotten and many nightly prayers will include a line to “please just let little Jimmy graduate and find a good wife”.
The dreaded frownie face reared its ugly head in the Allen house at the end of Matt’s first week of Kindergarten. We waited anxiously in the pickup line with all the other parents ready to have our child back after the first full week of school. When it was almost our turn, one of the teachers placed Matt on a big red circle where we were supposed to pull up to pick him up. He stood there holding a brightly colored piece of paper in his hand kicking at an imaginary clump of dirt in the circle. I knew immediately, something was up. Matt got in the car and showed me his paper. There it was, this ugly little frownie face hastily drawn on the brightly colored paper next to the words “Talks excessively in Class”. Yikes.
We talked to Matt about not talking so much in class. We discussed the fact that talking while the teacher was talking was being disrespectful. He said he didn’t mean to be disrespectful but he had important things he needed to tell his friends. Desperate for a solution, Dave and I tried the reward system. For every week that Matt came home without a frownie face the entire family would go directly to Dairy Queen for an ice cream. Treats in the Allen house were few and far between and because of the Allen children’s propensity to be lactose intolerant, ice cream treats were almost non-existent. This ploy worked for a brief time. It was even resurrected briefly when the girls figured out that Ice Cream Friday coincided with no frownie faces on Matt’s paper. But alas, parental disappointment, tantalizing treats and begging from your sisters were no match for Matt’s unique version of “Chatty Kathy Syndrome”.
So, week after week found the Allen family all loaded in the car on Friday afternoon. The car would be filled with anxiety because everyone knew that Ice Cream Friday depended on whether Matt would be standing on his red dot kicking the ground while the ugly red frownie face made its appearance on the brightly colored piece of paper flapping in his hand.
Nothing thrilled David more than when the kids came home from school with a “project” for a class. He would spend hours combing every aisle at the hobby store seeking inspiration. David’s first foray into the child school project arena was with Matt at the age of 5 and the annual science fair entry. Matt’s assignment—put together a solar system. So, off David and Matt went to the hobby store looking for inspiration. The solar system ended up being a wide board painted shiny black with ½ foam balls in the appropriate size and location as representation of the planets. Saturn had rings of colored cardboard and the milky way was represented with tiny colored foam pieces. It was spectacular. That is until it was hauled into the school gymnasium and placed on a table amidst all the other dads, I mean kids, solar systems. It was at this moment that David realized he was going to have to step up his game if he expected to get a prize—I mean if the child expected to get a prize at the science fairs of the future. And this is how the Allen family project monster was born.
Over the next 15 years the kids brought home their projects. David and whichever of his three kids was the “project leader” would head out to the nearest hobby store in search of divine inspiration. No matter what the project was, David was always positive that this “whatever” would be the best “whatever” ever built.
After years of projects not getting the top prize, David was presented with what he realized was his one last chance. Jess was a senior in high school so this was his last chance to wow everyone with his project abilities. Jess’ mission—make a castle out of sugar cubes. So off to the store they went in search of sugar cube castle inspiration. Hours were spent discussing the merits of various techniques and building styles. To David’s chagrin, Jess was always the “I can do it myself” child so his help was not really as well received as it was when Matt the “I don’t care how it gets done as long as I get my grade” child was the project leader. Unfortunately, after one too many interjections, David, to his mortification, was shut out of the project. Jess didn’t want daddy’s help putting together her sugar cube castle. But David was not to be deterred from making sure Jess had the best sugar cube castle ever. He waited for Jess to go to school, he ran down to the store and bought all the sugar cubes he could get his hands on. He worked tirelessly throughout the school day building the perfect sugar cube castle. He just knew that when Jess came home from school and he presented her with his amazing work of art she would be thrilled. After hours of work his masterpiece was finally finished. He picked up Jess’ inferior castle and put it away and slid his amazing masterpiece in its place. David was delighted with himself. He had provided his precious little daughter with an amazing sugar cube castle that all of her friends at school would ooh and awe over. (Please note that the picture below is just a figment of David’s imagination and not the actual result of his hours of effort on the perfect sugar castle.)
David anxiously awaited Jess’ arrival home from school. He couldn’t wait to hear her squeal of delight when she saw what an amazing job he had done for her. Imagine his disappointment when Jess, the “I can do it myself” child turned the corner and saw that her castle was missing. Instead of the squeal of joy David was anticipating he was rewarded with the very angry voice of his youngest child demanding “Daddy, Where Is My Castle?!?”
I was reading an article this morning about a new educational curriculum and the difficulties that some of the parents and children were having with it. I spent close to 20 years of my life chasing three kids through the gauntlet of their educations. I thought I would share some of our adventures with you.
Christi came bouncing into the kitchen one afternoon happier than her usual happy little bouncy self excitedly waiving a paper from school in the air. She was very excited because they had to write their spelling words with crayons for homework tonight. Perfect, I thought to myself. She inherited her cute little blonde hair and blue eyes from me but her spelling and hand writing skills were all her daddy’s genes.
Every day since she entered kindergarten and was sent home with her first written homework assignment, it had been a struggle. Christi could tell you in words anything you wanted to know and then some but to get her to translate that information into some form of intelligent written word was a whole other matter. We spent hours working on her handwriting so that the letters looked at least similar to the English alphabet instead of hieroglyphics used by some long lost ancient civilization. We went over spelling words in the car, in the bathtub, while brushing her hair and getting ready for bed until she could spell every word on the list verbally. But when it came time to regurgitate all our hard work onto a piece of bright white paper she just struggled. It was a full time job to get this kid ready for her three letter spelling tests each week.
This night spelling homework time was a disaster. I made the ultimate mistake of pulling down the box of 64 crayons from the top of the refrigerator. With such a vast variety of colourful choices Christi couldn’t decide what color each letter should be. Long serious debates were had on the merit of each and every color as it related to the letter that it was going to be assigned to. I was unaware that the letter “L” was inferior to the letter “M” and therefore should not be written in a more important color. I was also unaware that there was a hierarchy of color in Christi’s cute little brain. But alas, there was and so it took forever to just to get the first word on the paper.
I understand the concept the teacher was attempting to get through to the child. If you attach a meaning to an item you are more likely to remember it. But when you have a child that is lovingly referred to as “Our butterfly brain” the only thing attached to this experience was frustration. We tried the color shock method for a several weeks and Christi scored the lowest ever on her spelling tests. When we got the last test back with all its red checkmarks and the big frowny face at the top, I sent the teacher a note explaining our difficulties and requested that we revert to the 1960’s method of writing each spelling word 10 times on a piece of notebook paper with a plain old number 2 pencil.
For some kids in Christi’s class the experiment had increased their ability to retain the spelling words and therefore it was a glowing success. From the Allen family perspective the color shock experiment had unintended consequences. To this day, David and I both shutter just a little every time we see words written with each letter in a different bright sunshiny color.
I snugged down into my seat, sandwiched between Dave and the window, visions of an ice cold Heineken dancing in my head. As the plane took off, I sighed a giant sigh of relief. For the past several months every spare minute of my time had been immediately consumed by thoughts of Christi and all things wedding. Finally after what seems like endless hours of making lists and checking them twice, dotting the “I’s” and crossing the “T’s” the big weekend has come and we were packed and on the plane headed west.
I would like to lead you down the path of sunshine and lollypops, telling you that everything was completely under control and that by the sheer virtue of Christi and my undying determination, everything wedding would be going off without a hitch. But that would be a giant lie. As we careened through the air on our westward flight, I was more than aware that we were technically without a venue for the actual wedding. Christi and Kenny decided to get married in Arches National Park in Moab, Utah. Because of the government shutdown, the park had been closed indefinitely. I guess I should be upset or worried or some other unidentifiable emotion but frankly, I am just basically resigned. I have a ton of super-skills: I can make a boo-boo stop hurting with a magic kiss; I can banish monsters with my magic foo-foo dust; I can make a tuna out of a dinosaur costume; I can create flower arrangements out of flower monkey vomit; I can talk young women off of emotional ledges with the best of them but one thing I cannot now nor will I ever be able to do is control the federal government.
Friday morning we were all up bright and early. First on the list was to review the reception venue with Laurie, the owner of the Sunset Grill. Thank goodness it seemed like my wedding karma meter was running high. Laurie knew that the park closing was putting us in a pickle. She had already worked out an alternative in her mind for us before we even got there. She offered us the use of their terrace for the ceremony part of the festivities if we didn’t locate another alternate venue. We left the Sunset Grill Friday morning thrilled that the wedding venue problem was addressed if not completely resolved. Later that morning an amazing thing happened, the Governor of Utah wired $1.67 million dollars to the federal government to cover the operational costs of Utah’s national parks system for 10 days. We heard the news but refused to get our hopes up. We are after all Allen’s. Our luck would have the parks re-opening on Sunday morning the day after the wedding. We got the call Friday afternoon; Arches National Park would officially reopen at sunset!
As we drove away from the ceremony site I smiled to myself. I felt like I had fed the wedding karma meter and had been duly rewarded. Christi and Kenny said “I Do” as planned standing on a bluff in one of the most beautiful places in the world.
Christi and Kenny Moab UT
Yep, its official, the flower monkey has definitely vomited in Christi’s kitchen.
Christi and Kenny have gone off to work and now Fuji, my granddog, and I are standing in the kitchen, me with a cup of coffee, Fuji with the crumbs of a just eaten treat on her lips, surveying the mass chaos of oranges and purples that are supposed to somehow morph themselves into wedding reception decor. This is where I begin to wonder what the heck I was thinking. I’m an accountant for crying out loud. We don’t do creative little flower arrangements; we do financial statements. We don’t take a handful of flowers and some ribbon and make something beautiful; we put hard numbers into pre-decided holes to come up with a concrete, already known by someone, answer. But nope, here I stand in the silent house, staring at the debris of a flower monkey’s stomach with Fuji eyeing me expectantly. In reality, Fuji is just hoping if she stares at me intently I will give her yet another treat but in my current state of overwhelming anxiety over falling short in the “we can do it” Mom category in Christi’s eyes, even the dog’s expectant look has turned critical.
Living in a world of “we can just” has sometimes been to my advantage. Take the time my friend Rhonda needed her son Kyle to be a Tuna for the school alphabet play. All we could find was a dinosaur costume pattern but I told her “don’t worry, we can just free hand some flippers on the legs and change the fabric colors and viola, we have a Tuna!” It was great fun and the flippers actually were attached to the legs so when Kyle walked it looked like they were flipping him along.
Bolstered with the confidence that if I could turn a dinosaur into a tuna I could surely turn the debris from a flower monkey’s stomach into beautiful flower arrangements for Christi’s reception, I grabbed up some coppery orange ribbon and set to work. Over next few days Christi and I cleaned glass, wired flowers, covered floral foam and even painted several pieces with the black paint left over from her bathroom renovation. And finally after only two smacks to the forehead from a silver hanging hook in Hobby Lobby (yes, the same one both times), a few burns on a hot glue gun, a couple of pinches from a pair of wire cutters and more than a few rounds of laughter (potentially caused by the slight buzz from not opening the garage door when painting the floral foams) Christi and I stood in her kitchen marveling at the beautiful flower arrangements we had created. A few more hours and all our hard work was packed up in three gray Rubbermaid bins awaiting their trip to Moab.
The Allen women had conquered the mound of flower monkey debris and we were riding high on our new found Flower Power!
Walking through the airport to collect my bag at baggage claim I came along a young man of about 18 sitting on the floor with the contents of his backpack spewed around him scratching wildly at the debris of his young life. He was on the phone with someone and as I approached I realized this poor young man was actually crying.
I just got off a flight from Tampa to Phoenix. I was on my way to pick up my bags, grab my rental car and head off in search of Christi’s house for a week long session of “everything wedding.” Hearing the distress in this boy’s voice was enough to ignite my inner “mother” and nothing I could do would keep her from going to his aide. As I stood by and eased dropped on his end of the conversation I figured out several things—a son flew home early to surprise his mom; a mom, having no children to tend to, has flown off on a quick vacation before her son returns home; and some nefarious creature has stolen a wallet and now the surprise is on the son because he has no money and no Mom to pick him up at the airport.
I moved a little closer and touched his shoulder. He looked up at me with startled blue eyes shining from tears that were still running freely down his cheeks. He spewed out his story between hiccups as tears still ran down the cheeks that were slowly turning red. He was clearly embarrasses to by crying like a child on the floor of the airport in front of a complete stranger. “Don’t worry, I’ll give you the cab money to get home.” I told him. His expression was one of surprise and confusion. Telling his mother to hold on, he dropped the phone to his shoulder and said, “I’m sorry?” Once again, I told him everything is okay, “I’ll give you the cab fare home; tell your Mom everything is okay.” He told me how much it should cost to get home via cab. I asked him the appropriate mom question, “When was the last time you ate?” He said earlier in the day and since I knew his mom wasn’t home and therefore there were probably scant few groceries lying around the house to go bad, I gave him a little bit extra to run through the McDonald’s on his way home so at least he had something to eat.
Okay, I didn’t just fall off the back of a turnip truck. I know that there is probably a covert run organization of crack addicts who recruit as front men those young people who can cry on command and have the look of a wholesome young college boy. I know that there is a chance that I just got scammed out of what I thought was cab fare and a Mickey-D’s hamburger but in reality was a couple rocks of crack and a pint of Boones Farm Tickle Pink wine. I knew all of this as I made my decision to hand over my cash to this young man. He offered to take my name and address and send me the money back. I talked to his mother on the phone and let her know that he had cab fare and would be getting home fine. She offered to send me the money when she got home. I said no. Every once in a while you are presented with the opportunity to do something for someone you don’t know just out of the goodness of your heart. I told the boy to keep the money but to remember that he owed a debt of kindness to the universe. Someday, it would be his turn to be someone’s knight in shining armor.
I was thanked, I was hugged and then with his eyes dried of tears he disappeared out the door toward the cab stand. Fleeced or not, I grabbed my bag and headed out to enjoy my week of all things wedding hoping that maybe I had banked a couple extra points in the Karma meter. Having two outdoor weddings this year, I know I need as many extra points as I can get.
Sitting on the upper deck of the beach house sipping pink champagne, watching as brave souls down the beach shot off fireworks at the stroke of midnight, Dave and I began to discuss what a wonderful year of new adventures 2013 has been.
We have said goodbye to our old faithful suburban that we bumbled around in for the past 10 years and replaced with a smaller, new Buick Enclave. Jessica, our youngest child, got married in April to Chambliss. The end of May found Dave and I on the adventure of a lifetime in Peru checking off the number one item on my bucket list—Machu Picchu. June found us in Miami sitting on a rooftop overlooking South Beach once again drinking champagne ringing in our 29th year of marriage. The summer was spent like every other summer on Longboat Key, sunning, golfing, and fishing but with the added fun of chasing down all things wedding for Christi. The end of June found me in Phoenix during what was called the hottest week in history pretending I was a florist helping Christi pull together arrangements for her reception and getting the call from Matt telling me that he was intending to propose to Kathleen. July found us on Cape San Blas, Florida searching for the perfect house on the beach. September started with us signing the papers on our new beach house. We spent the next month exploring our new summer home and the area surrounding it. October found us in Moab, Utah standing on a bluff in the Arches National Park watching as Christi, our middle child, said “I Do” to Kenny. Halloween, David’s favorite holiday, was celebrated 2 days in a row due to the threat of bad weather. David fully embraced both days happy as a clam for the extension. November found part of the Allen family gathered around the table for a wonderful Thanksgiving Dinner. December our house was engulfed with the smells of chocolate and baking cookies. Christmas found everyone except Christi and Kenny gathered around the Christmas tree. The day after Christmas we were back on the road headed south, taking Dave’s parents down to their condo on Longboat Key to stay for the snowbird season. December 30th we woke up alone for the first time since Dave’s parents moved in with us almost 4 years ago in our own beach house listening to the waves crash on the beach.
So with a clink of our glasses and a kiss for good luck we are off to see what amazing adventures await us 2014.
We wish you all a New Year full of family, fun and fabulous adventures!