Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Today I was working with D again and we were looking at an abbreviated, board book version of the book, The Carrot Seed.  While D showed his mastery of simple WH questions (yay!) by pointing as I asked, "Where is the carrot?" and "Where is the older brother?", I reflected, as I so often do, that three of the four characters in the book were unbelievably dumb. I understand the charm of the book, really I do. I love the illustrations. I love the indomitable spirit of the little boy, watering his carrot seed every day and pulling up the weeds, despite the naysayers. I used to have a vinyl record of the story that I played to my little students of long ago, back when we still had a record player, and I can still sing the tunes that went with some of the words. Heck, I bought the book when the record was no more.

But when I drop my willing suspension of disbelief, I find I can't understand the attitude of the parents at all. Okay, older brothers are born to say, "Nah, nah, it won't come up", but why should parents be so convinced that a seed won't grow? Grow is what seeds do. It's not as if the boy wrote to his favorite baseball player inviting him to dinner and lo and behold, there he is at the door.  It seems to me that people as stupid as the parents should not, unlike the carrot, be allowed to breed.

And I shared these thoughts with little D, a bad habit of mine when I know that my jaundiced comments are flying over a child's head and not likely to do any harm. Then I announced it was playtime.

I have been working for a long time to get D to say "I want truck" rather than just name the item he wants to play with. Despite the fact that he is now talking in sentences, short and ungrammatical as they may be, and despite a few successes, D just did not seem to get it.  So when I asked, "What do you want?" it was with the expectation of a long go-round to get those three words out of him, in order, in any kind of temporal proximity to each other.

And D said, as naturally as any other child, as if it had never been a problem, without any hesitation, "I want bus."

I think I get it now.

Oh, carrots grow from carrot seeds.
I planted one and grew it.
I watered it, I pulled the weeds.
Carrots grow from carrot seeds.

Monday, August 16, 2010


The post office at Fin del Mundo - the end of the world, or the ends of the earth

No matter how much I try to stand out in the world, I am really a walking cliche. I am part of the Baby Boom generation, so I have a lot of peers. I am overweight, like so many Americans are. I am middle class and white. I even have a blog, like how many million other people?

But the two cliches I embody the most are the two best. I have a husband who literally followed me to the ends of the earth, and a mom who literally walked through fire for me.

My husband did not want to go on an Antarctic cruise the first time I brought it up, or the second time, or the fifth time. After three years, I had given up on getting him to go when one day he said out of the blue, "So you want to go to Antarctica." Shortly after we paid the deposit in the fall of 2008, the stock market crashed, and he began having second thoughts, but we couldn't get the deposit back anyway, so we decided to prop up the world economy the best we could with our travels. The ship left from Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world, and home of the Unidad Postal Fin Del Mundo, the official end of the world. I love to brag that my husband followed me there.

Without my mom, though, I wouldn't have been alive to have those adventures. My "mom" is actually my stepmom. She came into my life when I was 8, three years after my mother died, so she's my mom, even though our relationship was rocky, to say the least. The only thing we seemed to have in common is being hypersensitive and quick to take offense. Otherwise, she was an extrovert high school drop out to whom family and friends were everything; I am a bookish introvert to whom friendships come hard and grades came easy. If we had been more easy-going people those differences might not have mattered, but they did.

But if she didn't accept me, adore me, or understand me, there is no doubting the woman loved me. One day, standing in our cold kitchen trying to make breakfast, I reached over the stove. My dad had left the oven on and the door open to heat the kitchen, and despite being a supposedly bright 14 year old I did not think to close the oven door first. Before I knew it, my robe was on fire. I panicked and screamed for my mom. Not knowing what else to do, she walked up to me and pulled my robe off me with her bare hands.  For the next two weeks, she had to have people help her with her intimate needs until her hands healed. For the next six weeks, I was in a hospital having third degree burns debrided and skin grafts in six different spots, but I was alive.

I would like to say that that incident was a turning point in our relationship, but it was not. We tried to reach out to each other but always wound up feeling mawkish and gave up. Mom did support me through my divorce from my ex, and she adored my son, but we were never close. I don't know if she ever did know how much I appreciated what she did for me.

So I am, as I said, an ordinary person, one of a large and undistinguished crowd. But I have a husband who followed me to the ends of the earth and a mom who walked through fire for me, and I wouldn't trade that for a Nobel Prize.

Friday, August 13, 2010


One hundred years from now,
It won't matter what car I drove,
What kind of house I lived in,
How much I had in my bank account,
Nor what my clothes looked like,
But, the world may be a little better
Because I was important in the life of a child. 

If you work with or have children, you have probably seen the paragraph above at least once in your life. Since I work at a non-profit pediatric rehabilitation center, I keep encountering it posted on bulletin boards and coworker's desks, and whenever I do, my reaction is the same. "One hundred years from now", I mutter to myself, "that kid'll be dead, too."

It's amazing how many untruths can be compressed into so few words. One hundred years from now it won't matter whether I drove a gas guzzler or a fuel efficient car? Won't matter whether my house was well-insulated and used solar energy as opposed to drafty and expensive to heat? Let me introduce you to Al Gore.

It won't matter how much I had in my bank account? Won't matter if I finish my years on welfare? Won't matter if my son spends what would have been his children's college fund supporting me in my old age? Let me see if I can find a bridge to sell you. That might help my bank account immensely.

Won't matter what my clothes looked like? Okay, that one is right, but try not wearing any clothes at all and use the "one hundred years from now" excuse. It matters now.

What does it even mean to say "it won't matter"? Won't matter to whom? To the people who will be alive one hundred years from now. They won't care what car I drove or what house I lived in, but if they don't care about me, then why on earth should I care what they are going to think? They don't even exist yet, and maybe never will, so when did they get a vote in my life choices? It matters to me, right now, what clothes I wear, what house I live in, what car I drive and what's in my bank account, and to try to argue me out of having a preference by pointing out that eventually I'll be dead and won't care strikes me as wrong-headed in the extreme. It's the kind of argument a mugger could use while stealing my car keys and spare cash - "Hey, lady, a hundred years from now you'll never even care."

The fact is that caring for children is an overly sentimentalized and underpaid task. If you can make people feel crass for even expecting to be paid for doing it, then you won't have to pay them (much). Sappy sentiments don't go far at the grocery store, I've noticed. Money does.

Besides, who knows what is going to have an impact on a child's life one hundred years from now? Maybe if I had traded in my eleven year old car and bought a new one five years ago, some car salesman would still have a job. Maybe the effect I had on the life of his child was to keep the kid out of college, or braces. Maybe if we had built that bigger house we talked about, some builder's child would be in medical school by now.

I propose a new meme. "One hundred years from now, it won't matter that the Saints won Superbowl XLIV, but even so, what I make for being important in the life of a child is 1/40 of  Drew Brees' base salary." It doesn't sound as poetic as the original, but it's something to think about.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Briar Patch

This has been out for a while, but I only recently learned about The Modesty Survey, which its designers bill as an exciting, anonymous discussion between Christian guys and girls who care about modesty. Its designers are Alex and Brett Harris, the younger brothers of Joshua Harris, the author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye.  I am actually familiar with that book, since my son's stepbrother, B,  gave it to my son as a college graduation present. My son's stepbrother and his wife married while in college and had their first child six months or so later, so I suppose it is fair to say that they did kiss dating goodbye. Their selection of the book as an appropriate gift for my son, however, prompted me to ask, "Has B ever actually met you?" 

To get back on topic -  I can easily understand how a discussion of bikinis, tight jeans, camisoles and fishnet stockings among those whose hormones are surging could get exciting. What I'm not sure about is where the "modesty" part comes in. The Harris twins billing this as  a "modesty survey" is on a par with Capitol One advertising their credit card as a way to save money, or the Lexus people trying to convince you that their cars are a bargain. Basically, the survey was a way for men to tell women what they found arousing. If the results had been published in Cosmopolitan, the article would have been titled "Christian Men Dish - What They Find Hawt!" Seventeen would have called it, "Christian Boys Confess, What Makes Them Blush". The rationale for calling it a Modesty Survey is that young ladies can use the results as a guide to wearing modest dress, rather than as a guide to what will turn men's heads. "One of the purposes of The Modesty Survey is to allow Christian guys to express their gratitude to their sisters in Christ who strive to dress modestly—to let them know that their efforts are both noticed and appreciated by their brothers in Christ". 

I've got you this time, Brer Rabbit," said Brer Fox, jumping up and shaking off the dust. "You've sassed me for the very last time. Now I wonder what I should do with you?"Brer Rabbit's eyes got very large. "Oh please Brer Fox, whatever you do, please don't throw me into the briar patch.""Maybe I should roast you over a fire and eat you," mused Brer Fox. "No, that's too much trouble. Maybe I'll hang you instead.""Roast me! Hang me! Do whatever you please," said Brer Rabbit. "Only please, Brer Fox, please don't throw me into the briar patch.""If I'm going to hang you, I'll need some string," said Brer Fox. "And I don't have any string handy. But the stream's not far away, so maybe I'll drown you instead.""Drown me! Roast me! Hang me! Do whatever you please," said Brer Rabbit. "Only please, Brer Fox, please don't throw me into the briar patch.""The briar patch, eh?" said Brer Fox. "What a wonderful idea! You'll be torn into little pieces!"

Now why does that passage suddenly spring to mind?

When the survey came out, there was some confusion as to what the men who responded actually found immodest, since there is a list of statements they were asked to agree or disagree with and you have to click on each statement, one at a time, to find out which ones the guys found to be "stumbling blocks". ("Stumbling block" in this context does not, as logic would suggest, refer to clothing which the young gentleman finds difficult to remove from the young lady. It refers to clothing that causes the young gentleman to think about the young lady in a less than gentlemanly way.) So it is not true that jeans which are not tight, plain hose, and the mere sight of a young woman's calves are going to fire the average young man in your church's youth group up. That takes tight jeans, especially with a design on the back pocket, fishnet tights, bikinis, translucent shirts that turn see through in bright light, boobs that bounce when you walk or run (ie, boobs, period), a purse worn with the strap across your chest, or bending over or stretching. 

So, ladies, do you want to get young Ezekiel's attention at the next youth barbecue? Here's what you do. You put on your shortest shorts and a tank top with spaghetti straps, and make sure your parents see you, so that they can tell you that no daughter of theirs is leaving the house dressed that way. Then you go to your room and change into a pair of jeans which you have dressed up by gluing a Jesus fish applique to the back pocket. Top that with a white V-neck T-shirt, and accessorize with a cross on a chain just long enough that only part of the cross is visible above the V. Cover up with a sweatshirt that has something like "Yale" emblazoned across the front, and carry a shoulder strap purse across your chest. Scowl and mutter "I hope you're happy now" at your parents as you leave.

When you get to the barbecue, edge up to Ezekiel and say, "Wow, it's hot in here. Can you hold my purse while I get out of this sweatshirt?" While most of the boys polled did not find shirts with words across the front or girls removing pullovers to be immodest, a significant minority did. Turn your back to him modestly, so that you can pretend your watchband is caught on your sleeve, making it necessary for you to lean forward while you take off the shirt. That will expose an inch or so of your back (Over half the survey agreed that's immodest. You aren't supposed to have a back.) When you stand up to pull the shirt off, stretch. Survey says seeing a girl stretching is a stumbling block, or as the rest of the world calls it, a turn-on. Now position yourself and your white shirt near a light source. Zeke will be putty in your hands.

Brer Rabbit says so.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Praise Jesus Snow Cone Stand Amen

Water tower in Clinton

Back in July my husband and I drove north to the small town of Clinton, Louisiana for their Red, White, and Blueberry Festival. Driving up there took us along Highway 67, and brought back old memories. For a while in the 1980's, when I was a single mother, I supplemented my paycheck with a second job doing home health visits, and usually wound up in the far flung parts of the parish, or the ones nearby. I was convinced that if the directions to get to a patient included the words "gravel road", "cattle gap" or "trailer park", they automatically gave it to me.

My ride up Highway 67 involved none of the above; it just took me to a sheltered workshop in the town of Zachary. For the first few months that I made the trip, there was a snow cone stand by the side of the road called the Praise Jesus Snow Cone Stand Amen.

Actually, the place wasn't called the Praise Jesus Snow Cone Stand Amen. The sign out front said "Snow Cone Stand" and above those words the owner had written "Praise Jesus" and below them, "Amen", so the sign read, from top to bottom:

Praise Jesus!
Snow Cone Stand

But of course the words all blended together in my mind into the name of the snow cone stand. 

I lead a surrealistic life. On the day I first passed The Praise Jesus Snow Cone Stand Amen, my first day at the workshop, I was greeted in the hall by a naked man, one of the clients who had become disturbed about something and was running away from the staff member who was trying to get him dressed. That was not a common occurrence at the workshop, fortunately, which made it all the more memorable. If I'd known that was about to happen I might have thought to fortify myself with a snow cone on the way, but given the sign out front I doubt they made any with whiskey in them.

The snow cone stand closed, alas, and my drive became more  ordinary. It often occurred to me that The Praise Jesus Snow Cone Stand Amen would make a wonderful title for a book of just-this-side-of-precious short stories about a small town in the south. Come to think of it, it would make an even better title for a book of just-the-other-side-of-precious short stories about a small town in the south. Unfortunately, the snow cone stand is gone, along with other landmarks of my home health days: the general store in Hardwood that also served as a post office, the Star Hill Post Office and the antique shop that now sells chainsaw sculptures and garden pots from Mexico.

On the way back, we did pass the Miller and Daughter Mortuary. It's nice to know that some of the old  landmarks remain. I wish I'd taken a picture.