Other People

I have a real love-hate relationship with cleaning ladies. On one hand I love them because who wants to clean their own house? (Hint: not me.)  On the other hand, it’s expensive and what kind of lazy bones can’t clean her own house? What am I so busy doing that I can’t scrub it myself? Or make my minions do it? (Oh yes, I’m being a mom to six kids and a Relief Society President). Sometimes we’re too broke to have a cleaning lady. Sometimes we’re desperate enough to pony up the money. Lately it’s been the latter.  Also, I’m the only person in my neighborhood who cleans her own house. Seriously!  But then I watch Downton Abbey and they don’t even do their own hair, let alone scrub their own toilets. So then I feel totally cool with it.

Mister is not a big fan of my lackadaisical housekeeping skills. I’ll scrub toilets til the cows come home–there is nothing grosser to me than a stinky, dirty toilet. Even if I’m about to throw up I’ll be madly scrubbing the toilet first. But my floor mopping schedule is a little more–how shall I put it–elastic. So Mister finally insisted that I find someone to come in every week or two to do the dirty work.

In the past we’ve always managed to have really sexy cleaning ladies. They always come in sweats, though, not in French Maid outfits. Although one time our Russian maid, Tanya, came dressed in teeny tiny hot pants and high heels. It looked like she was going to go dancing afterwards, but those Russians–they can dress oddly at times.  On that particular day I walked into the bathroom while Tanya was bent over scrubbing the tub and wow! Did I ever get an eyeful.  I can now say with absolute assurity that that woman did not have an ounce of cellulite anywhere. It’s probably a good thing that Mister wasn’t working from home.

We had Flavia after that. She was a Brazilian girl with a rocking bod. She’d wear skin tight cropped tank tops and sweatpants rolled down to just under her pelvic bone. Flavia always wore her thick wavy hair cascading down her golden brown shoulders. It was almost waist-length and she never wore it in a ponytail. I can’t imagine that it was very convenient but it looked really pretty while she was wiping off my appliances.  She was a real butter-face, though. You know, everything is fantastic but her face. She was as sweet as sugar and loved babies which I had about a million of at the time.

This week I finally got around to finding a new cleaning lady. Carmen came highly recommended by one of my friends. And she also sounded pretty cheap. Definitely a bonus. Carmen speaks Spanish and that’s all. She didn’t even know the English word for broom or mop–definitely a handicap in her profession, I would think.

The way our cleaning ladies have always worked is that they charge by the house, not by the hour. So cleaning my house is always X dollars, whether it takes them two hours or five hours. Their first visit always lasts a little bit longer since they have to do everything. They won’t be dusting the blinds and cleaning the baseboards every time, but they start out the first visit by getting everything done.

So Carmen (who is not even slightly sexy) came over on Wednesday morning right after my kids left for school. After pantomiming a list of what supplies she needed I scurried off to fill her order. It took three tries of bringing back the wrong item before I figured out she needed a step ladder.  All those years of French have really come in handy. Not.

I let Carmen get to business while I spent most of the day planning my trip to Europe in a couple of months. Hmmm, I guess I’m more of a spoiled American than I thought.  After three hours Carmen was still in my room. Slightly humiliating, I guess. My room was apparently dirtier than I thought.

It got worse. I told Carmen only to vacuum the kids’ rooms. Their dressers are piled with all sorts of random kid crap and some of their beds weren’t made. But of course she made everyone’s beds, straightened everything up, dusted and vacuumed. I half expected her to leave their towels folded into origami animals like when you go on a cruise.  The lady didn’t even take a break and was still at it when Mister got home from work.

All in all Carmen was there for eight hours. Eight hours. She did a great job but compared to our regular cleaning lady (me and/or my slovenly children), it didn’t matter much. I’m not that picky. As long as I’m not the one doing the cleaning, I’m happy. I got over my shame of hiring a cleaning lady right quick.  Now I just need to figure out how to say “mildew” in Spanish.

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I’ll be buying this outfit for Carmen, of course.

 

This Halloween, more than all the others, has really driven home the fact that my kids are growing up. On one hand it’s really nice because teenagers are much more fun to talk to than babies. They also clean up the house (theoretically) and do chores.  But most of the time it’s just kind of sad.  We did our usual dinner at Chipotle ($3 per person if you’re in a costume!). We hardly ever eat out as a family because it’s just too expensive so this is a nice treat for us. Plus Chipotle is a nice healthy start to the sugar-fest.

After we were done eating the older four kids scattered to the wind to hang out with friends. I didn’t even make it home with all the kids before they started taking off. Which means that I didn’t get any pictures of the whole family together. Naturally the older kids went trick or treating because FREE CANDY! But they weren’t interested in going with their super lame mom. Even Arabella went with a friend for the first time. She said they just “didn’t click tonight” so it ended up being a little awkward.

Which left me with just the babies. So easy. No need to holler ahead the whole time and tell the older kids to slow down. Once you have six kids, just hanging with two is very odd, though. It seems super lonely and quiet. So we all went over to my friend Anna’s house and sorted our candy with her kids. It was much noisier and I felt a lot more at ease.

The older kids finally showed up around 10. They don’t bother sorting or trading anymore and the whole thing is just sad, sad, sad.

Here are the photos I did get. Arabella wore the same costume as last year because it was really difficult to make and expensive so she’d better get some use out of it. The only difference is that this year Martha Washington/Marie Antoinette has braces. Totally authentic.

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Jasper and Ada were cowboys. Ada has been telling me for months that she wanted to be a cowgirl with red boots. So I had plenty of time to prepare. Jasper was unsure what he wanted to be up until the last minute, when he saw Ada’s costume and decided to get in on the wild west fun. Fortunately I had extra fabric left over and it took literally twenty minutes to make another vest. And Target had cowboy boots on sale so we were all set.

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It was a quiet Halloween and we were a little cold since it was only 70°. That’s practically arctic by Texas standards. But it was much less hectic than usual so I have to give it a thumbs up.

Today is our school’s Homecoming. The football game is this evening and the dance is tomorrow. The game is, obviously, the big deal but there’s another big deal: the Homecoming Mum. That’s mum as in Chrysanthemum, not mum as in mother. It’s basically a Corsage of Insanity. They’re a tradition all over Texas but not anywhere else. And like most Texas traditions they’re completely over the top. Not only is there a giant fake mum, there are ribbons in the school colors, and all sorts of dangly things hanging from the ribbons: little footballs/musical notes/cheerleading things depending on the interests of the person. And of course cowbells. Smallish cowbells are hung from ribbons so it sounds like Santa is coming down the hallway. India says that the teachers get pretty fed up by all the noisy mums but it’s only one day a year. Some of the girls get pretty carried away and will have up to four giant mums all clumped together, resembling a flowery breastplate with feather boas hanging from them to complete the classy look.

Here are India and her boyfriend modelling theirs:
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Oh yeah, the guy wears one too. Only it’s smaller and goes around his arm. It’s called a garter and the girl makes one for her homecoming date/boyfriend and he makes the mum for the girl (or sometimes parents make them for kids or kids make them for themselves. It’s all socially acceptable.)  Only It’s usually the moms that get roped into these things. But Ethan and India decided to do theirs all on their own. So crafty! Even though these are corsages, they aren’t worn to the dance; only to school and to the game.

Homecoming mum green

A lot of people stick little teddy bears in the middle of the mum flower (for real), but my kids aren’t into that sort of cheese so they actually glued plastic animals into the middle after the photos were taken. It turned out pretty funny and different than all the other mums. Seriously, if you want your jaw to drop, just google “Homecoming mums” and take a look at the pictures. Usually it’s the smallest towns that go the most overboard. Some schools have strict rules about mums: one mum per grade (so a freshman would have one flower in her mum but a senior would have four), Juniors wear silver mums and Seniors wear gold. But I guess our school doesn’t have quite that much school spirit. Plus that seems like more of a Dallas-y thing. And you know those Dallas people!

Our exciting news about homecoming is that India was elected a Homecoming Princess. Tonight during halftime at the football game, Mister has to walk her out and present her. And then the Homecoming Queen is announced (she’ll be chosen from among the Princesses). It’s all pretty surreal since India–with her steady uniform of Dr. Who T-shirts and Converse tennies–isn’t really the sort of girl that I imagine as being in the Homecoming Court, but she is pretty cool. Apparently the kids at school recognize awesomeness after all.

The bad news is that orginially I had talked India into skipping the dance. It is such a pain trying to find a modest dress! But now that she’s in the homecoming court she has to go. So we’ve been trying to modest-ize a dress all week and it’s really not turning out how I was hoping. And she has to wear the stupid thing in front of an entire crowd tonight so I’ve got to whip it into shape.

York announced yesterday that he’s going to Homecoming now too. Fortunately he can just wear his black suit. But his date was most emphatic about not wanting a mum, so we’re off the hook. Which is lucky for us because mum supplies go fast. All the craft stores carry mum junk around here.

This subject comes up again and again every time I’m together with a bunch of moms; do you force your child to keep taking piano lessons even when he starts to hate it and complains endlessly?  Most parents were allowed to quit and always bemoan the fact that their parents didn’t make them keep with it. I come from the opposite side: my mother wouldn’t allow me to quit. “You’ll thank me one day!” she loved to say.

I never liked playing the piano. Never. It was not the instrument that spoke to me. I wanted to play the harp. “That’s much too expensive!” my mother informed me on more than one occasion; expensive unlike, say . . . a piano? Because pianos are dirt cheap, don’t you know.  Anyway, playing the piano–and eventually the organ–was my mother’s dream. The woman loves an audience and the thought of playing in front of the church congregation every week was her fondest wish. But she had nine siblings and her mom let her quit when she complained, blahblahblah. We all know where she was coming from. So my mother decided that she would force her children to play the piano until they graduated from high school no matter what. They would praise her name for it one day!

When I started piano lessons at age 8 it wasn’t too bad, but within a year I grew to hate it. I hated the lessons, I hated the piano in general and I especially hated my mother for forcing me to play. By the time I was ten I would get terrible stress headaches every lesson day and I would cry most of the way to my teacher’s house. My mother refused to budge. “Just think how wonderful it will be when you can play the organ in front of everyone,” she would sigh. Not being the kind of person who likes to perform at all, this was the most horrible scenario I could imagine. “You’ll thank me one day,” she would shout from the car as I dragged myself to the piano teacher’s sliding glass door. One day I snapped. I narrowed my eyes and said in a very even, cold tone, “once I turn eighteen I will never touch the piano again.”

I don’t think it ever occurred to my mother that her daughter would be more stubborn than she was. Even after a go at organ lessons, which my mother thought would be “exhilarating” (“wait, now I have to play with not only my hands but my feet too? Forget it!”), I continued to hate all of it.

Fate smiled on me when I was sixteen. I was in a car accident and my arm was badly broken. Not only did I have a cast but because my arm had broken backwards (The bruising was horrifying), the muscles and tendons were a complete mess and I needed physical therapy for months.

I finally got to quit piano lessons.

Once my arm recovered and I probably could have resumed playing, I never did. I was as good as my word; I never played the piano again. And as a side benefit I grew to hate my mother for disregarding my feelings by forcing me to do something I so clearly hated.  Now if I sit down at the piano I can kind of pick out a tune with one hand; I barely remember anything.  Am I sad about this? Not at all. I hated playing the piano. It was my mother’s dream, not mine. There is no regret at all.

So now I have children of my own. And the idea of music lessons eventually came up when they were little. I do believe that learning music is very important; I believe that learning to play an instrument can teach discipline and responsibility. But so can lots of other things. In the Mormon culture especially, learning an instrument is very important. So this is what I have done with my children: they have all had to take music lessons, usually on the piano.  The minimum for lessons is one year; that is non-negotiable. Every human being should learn how to read music; even if it’s just to sing an unfamiliar hymn in church. It’s just a life skill like learning to make your bed.

After one year we reassess. If the child wants to continue to play the piano, that’s great. If they want to go on to another instrument that’s fine too. Finn went on to play the trumpet, York quit completely (he is just not the kind of person who is drawn to playing an instrument. It is not where his talents lie and even at the age of eight I realized that about him and I was OK with that.) India continued playing the piano for a few years and then we had a couple of years off because we could not find a teacher that she gelled with. She continued to play on her own nearly every day and finally we found her a great piano teacher last year. She’s doing well and still enjoys it.  Arabella has finished her second year of lessons (we got a late start with her), rarely needs to be reminded to practice and has never mentioned quitting. Maybe she’ll stick with the piano, maybe she won’t. She’s shown some interest in the hammered dulcimer than I have sitting around and if she wants to take lesson in that instead I have no problem with that.

My musical story has a happy ending (besides the fact that I don’t hate my mother anymore). When I was about 32 I decided to finally take harp lessons. I had loved the harp all these years and realized that it wasn’t too late to learn something new (why have we decided that childhood is the only time you can learn anything new???). I found a wonderful teacher and rented a harp. Let me tell you something, it is a million times easier to learn an instrument as an adult! All that music theory my piano teachers tried to explain over and over and over? It finally made perfect sense. I loved the harp and was mature enough to practice every day. I progressed a jillion times faster than I had as a child. When we moved to Texas I turned my harp back in and with six kids under age 11, I just didn’t have the time to start it up again down here.

I have missed playing the harp. Mister knows that. So my sweet husband tried to buy me a harp for my birthday. But it’s rather hard buying an instrument when you know nothing about it. So he had to spoil his surprise and tell me his plan. I was more than thrilled to help him find the perfect harp. We picked it up yesterday and I am over the moon.

I am too crazy busy with end-of-school stuff and a huge church party tonight and a Blog Her conference tomorrow and Friday to spend more than a few minutes here and there playing. But come Sunday, I’ll dust off my old harp books and go to town.

To answer my original question: should you make your kids keep taking music lessons when they complain about hating it? Please don’t make a blanket statement, yes or no. Think about your child; think about her personality. Ask if there’s another instrument she would rather play. My cousin really wanted to play the saxophone but her dad said no because saxophones aren’t in an orchestra which means it’s not a “real instrument”. She had to settle for the trumpet which she didn’t like much at all. Would your child be better suited for some other pursuit? York has the brain of an engineer that likes to invent and solve problems; playing music felt very dull and stifling to him. We accepted that facet of his personality and moved on. Not everyone in the world is suited to music.

Also ask yourself why you want your child to play so badly. What does it say about your hopes and desires? If you always dreamed of playing on the stage, don’t try to live out your fantasies through your kids; it’s going to backfire at some point. Why don’t you take lessons? You may be too old to become the next Van Cliburn, but you can still get pretty good and you’ll feel much so much prouder of yourself than you would of your child. It really isn’t too late to start your own musical training!

Believe it or not, your job as a parent isn’t to gild your child with hobbies and talents and trophies. Your job is to help your child find her interests (not to decide what they are for her), learn discipline and love herself. If music is a part of that, great. If not, that’s OK too. Be prepared to let it go. If your child is a prodigy, you’ll know early on. Be sensitive to what your child really needs. Not everyone wants to play in the high school marching band or accompany the church choir. Every child does need to be listened to and validated.

HEB (the best grocery store in Texas, hence the World) sent me some new Primo Picks to try out. Primo Picks are interesting/cool/extra awesome products that they feature at the store. Since I am always game to try new things, I was pretty jazzed.

I waited until the kids got home from school before I tried anything. I wanted to have more than one opinion than just my own. The clear favorites for them were these yummy things:

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The Lacey’s cookies are halfway between candy and a cookie. They’re two of toffee-esque cookies with a slather of dark chocolate in-between. I’ve seen them around before but never tried them. Ohhhh man, I wish I had never tried them. They’re now what I fantasize about when I have my cheat day. Since you can’t really send your kids to school with such sugar bombs (save those for Mommy, please), This Snacklemouth Salty Chocolate Clusters is a little more appropriate for every day. The kids snarfed down this stuff which is kind of like moist, chocolatey granola. It’s gluten-free and not very high in sugar. A perfect addition to the lunch boxes. Or at least it would have been if we hadn’t promptly eaten it all. Plus, don’t you dig the funky box? The guys has chocolate dripping from his mustache and eyeballs! Sweeeet!

The chips were also a big hit. As much as I love sweets, I love a nice salty potato chip as well (with a coke, naturally). I like the big crunch of Kettle Chips and these don’t disappoint. They have a really pronounced potato flavor which I appreciate when I eat chips; I don’t want to taste a bunch of chemicals, thankyouverymuch. Plus the bag is cute. I like the fonts. Yes, fonts matter!

I really appreciated the coconut oil and coconut water. Despite appearances to the contrary, I’m actually trying to make healthier choices for my family. Lately when I’ve cooked stuff in the frying pan I’ve been using olive oil. I’ve heard amazing things about coconut oil, so I was very happy to give HEB’s virgin Coconut Oil a try. I cooked up some Basa fish (have you heard of it? It’s some new kind of fish and it’s superyum) in the coconut oil and slathered it with guacamole (you don’t eat guacamole on your fish? What’s the matter with you?) The coconut oil gave it a subtle tropical-ish flavor. I like it. And it’s fantastically healthy (for a fat, I mean. It’s not healthier than a handful of fresh carrots.)

 

My whole family was very excited to try the three flavors of BBQ sauce. Let me give you a little background, though. We used to always buy grocery store BBQ sauce and it’s always tasted fine. That’s because we didn’t live in Texas. Now we live in Texas where BBQ is taken terribly seriously. We usually buy a bottle of sauce at our favorite restaurants (I prefer the sauce at Southside in Elgin, TX and Mister Prefers the sauce at Rudy’s.) One time we ran out of restaurant sauce and I bought the same old BBQ sauce at the store like we used to buy. Only this time it was inedible. It tasted all wrong. It was weirdly sweet and had nasty chemical overtones. (I complain about food tasting like chemicals a lot. That’s because I’m spoiled and like homemade-tasting food. Unless it’s Funyons.) We scraped the sauce off and ate our dry meat without. So I was intrigued by the trio of sauces that HEB provided. If nothing else, it gave us an excuse to buy a heaping lot of brisket. The verdict? All three sauces were mighty good. No chemical flavors whatsoever.  Finn, Arabella and I preferred the Better Than Good Traditional Texas sauce. Mister and India like Mama’s Original sauce the best. York Preferred the Better Than Good Texas Moppin’ Sauce, and Ada doesn’t like meat at all so she just had a salad.  The Texas Moppin’ Sauce has a definite mustard overtone. I think mustard is simply the most disgusting condiment in the world so I didn’t care for it at all.  I was more than happy to find some grocery store sauces that I can be happy about using. Now I don’t have to buy spendy bottles at restaurants any more.

I’ve been thoroughly impressed with the Primo Picks at HEB. Pick up a few next time you’re at HEB. And if you don’t live in Texas, poor you.

 

 

I was compensated by HEB but, trust me, the opinions are all mine. You can’t buy my taste buds.

I started out kind of shy. I always felt incredibly nervous in a situation with people I didn’t know. The thought of introducing myself was enough to make me run away in petrified fright. I am super outgoing once I meet someone but the idea of breaking the ice has always scared me silly.

At some point I realized that this was stupid. I guess I talked to enough people to realize that we all feel intimidated by meeting others for the first time. I also was “the new person” enough times to know that there are very few things as wonderful as being in a new place or sitting by a stranger and having someone reach out a hand of friendship*. At some point I decided I just need to put the scaredness behind me and say hello to strangers.

Everyone feels shy sometimes. Nearly all of us feel slightly bashful about initiating a conversation or meeting somebody new. I was surprised to find out that even my mother–the most outgoing person ever born on Planet Earth–feels shy sometimes.  Here’s what I have to say about shyness: get over it. All shyness will ever do is hold you back in life.

I’m sure some of you will swear that this isn’t the case, but I really feel like being shy is just another facet of being scared. Whether it’s being scared of rejection, or being scared of making a fool of yourself or being scared of simply trying something new, it all boils down to getting over yourself.  You aren’t the prettiest or the funniest or the smartest. So what? You’re still an interesting person and your views on things are just as good as the views as the person sitting next to you. So stop being a quiet little mouse.

I know, I know. It’s easier to just tell yourself that people won’t like you or you don’t know what to say. Here’s the secret: people don’t really rememeber what you say, especially if you’re in a crowd or busy place. Think about the last time you met someone. Do you remember the exact conversation you had with them? No? I can’t remember either. I pretty much just remember that the last person I met was interesting to talk to and that she had just moved here from out of state. That’s it. So don’t overanalyze what you say when you meet someone, just say something. Don’t try to hard to be funny or interesting. Trying too hard is a recipe for disaster. Being a good listener is the ticket.

So what do you say? How do you start? It’s just like jumping into a swimming pool. It’s best just to do it; the more you think about it, the more freaked out you’ll get.  Here’s a scenario that works pretty much anywhere that you might be sitting next to a stranger. This could be at a concert, at church, at a meeting, at a college lecture. This is what you do: turn to the person and say, “Hi, I’m [insert your name]”  Hold your hand out to shake if it’s appropriate (not so much in High School English). Then pay them a compliment of some sort (this is for women, I don’t know that this works the same way for men. Probably men might be a little weirded out if you tell them they have nice hair). Here are some examples:

I love your sweater.

That purse is so adorable.

Your eyes are the prettiest shade of gold.

That necklace is really cool.

Don’t go overboard and don’t start talking about yourself and how you hate your purse but your sister bought it for you so you have to use it anyway. Or how you have blue eyes just like your grandmother. It’s our natural nervous reaction to talk about ourselves. Fight it. Please, please fight it.

Next, ask them something about themselves and how it relates to the place where you are.

Have you been to a concert here before?

How do you think this class is going so far?

Do you come to blog conferences a lot?

WARNING: if you are meeting someone new at a place you’ve been going to forever, it can be a little tricky asking them if they’re new. It can seem really terrible if they’ve been going to the same church/yoga class/book club for three months and you just barely noticed them . It can really sting when someone asks you if you’re new and you aren’t. So try not to ask, “are you new here?” They may be, but if they aren’t it’s going to seem really awkward. If you honestly haven’t noticed, try a phrase like, “I don’t think we’ve officially met” This is especially good when you’ve seen the person around but you’ve both been too shy to make introductions.

After the person has answered this question, I find that admitting how nervous you were about the situation creates instant camaraderie and let’s them know that you are honest and they can relax around you. When people feel like they can be themselves around you then you will both feel a lot less shy.

“I was so nervous walking in here. Everyone seems like they know what they’re doing”

“I’ve never been to this club and I was so nervous about where to park”

“I always feel so awkward sitting next to a total stranger”

“I was so nervous that I might not be smart enough to come to this book club.”

The awesome thing is that when you admit something that you were nervous or scared about, the other person will agree or show some sort of empathy. Always. This is just the American way to communicate. If you don’t live in America, you can try this but I have no idea if it works. If you are shy in the U.S., though, give this a try. Admitting you were scared is a fantastic ice-breaker.

After this you should be able to come up with some things to say. Remember, though, to ask questions of the other person. Don’t just talk about yourself. It’s tacky and boring to the other person. If you suddenly find a lull in conversation, ask them about themselves: where they grew up, if they have kids/siblings, what they studied in college. I’m sure you can come up with something.

I still get butterflies when I have to introduce myself to a complete stranger. Due to my job at church, though, I pretty much have to. It doesn’t matter if I’m in a funk or if they don’t look like someone who might not be my type. I’ve come to realize that we all want to feel like we belong. It’s your job as a decent human to put that shyness away and try to be friendly. Seriously, being shy is lame. I’m speaking as a sometimes-shy person. Really, the title of this post shouldn’t be “how to not feel shy”. Because I don’t really know how to to just not feel shy. I still feel shy all the time. Really I want you to learn how to get over it and be friendly even when it’s scary and you’re not in the mood. So what if you don’t want to? You’re a grown-up, do it anyway!

If it helps you can repeat this saying that I made up for my chronically bashful children:

Be the first one to say “hi”,

Even if you’re feeling shy.

 

*To this day I will always remember and be grateful to Suzie Cavolloro who stood next to me in the lunch line at my new school in 11th grade. She introduced herself, asked if I wanted to sit next to her in the lunchroom (YES!!! There is no event as horribly intimidating as the first time you walk into the lunchroom at a new school), and even invited me to a party she was planning that weekend. Your kindness has stayed with me all these years, Suzie!



 

Back in the early 80′s when I was an awkward pre-teen I fell in love with some animals. They weren’t real animals, they were much better than that; they were Critter Sitters. These were soft, adorable illustrations of animals dressed up all cutesy doing things that animals clearly aren’t meant to do: why would a koala rake leaves or talk on the phone? I never asked myself that question once. (Who decided there was anything cute about raking leaves anyway?) None of that mattered. I was madly in love with Critter Sitters.

I managed to get a few critter sitter folders since they were cheap and easy to find.

I also got a nightshirt that I wore to all slumber parties and sleepovers. I felt so attractive in it; like I was actually as adorable as the animals printed on the front. The holy grail of Critter Sitter items was, in my mind, panties. I saw a pack of panties with Critter Sitter characters on them and my heart nearly stopped. Now this was back in the day when everything came plain and you had to pay extra for cartoon characters. Nowadays it’s the opposite and I have to search high and low for plain, non-character clothing. Most of the underwear my mom bought for me was waist-high briefs printed with tiny rose buds. There was a pair with pink roses, a pair with blue roses and the most disdained: the pair with yellow roses.  I don’t know why I didn’t just spend my allowance and buy some critter sitter underwear, but that wasn’t even in the realm of possibility in my feeble 10-year-old brain. So I decided the next best option would be to paint Critter Sitters onto my own underwear. I was born uttering the phrase, “I’m sure I could do that. How hard can it be?” Now that I’m an adult, that viewpoint has really come in handy. But preteens are not so good at doing stuff.

I got out a pair of silky white granny panties and the only paints I owned–watercolors–and set to work. Within a couple of minutes it became clear that, as brilliant an artist as I was, I would not be able to recreate the Critter Sitter artwork in any way. Instead of shrugging my shoulders and tossing the panties in the sink to rinse them out, I had that furtive sense of guilt that kids always seem to have. My only option seemed to be to throw the underwear into the woods behind my house.

It was a wet, muddy morning but I slipped out the siding door in my socks and flung the underpants into the trees as far as I could. (Knowing me, that was about three feet.) I thought I was home free until I noticed my little brother Ben watching me. He was old enough to know something odd was going on but young enough to not be able to speak intelligently. That kid sat next to the sliding door pointing and making babbly toddler noises until finally my dad decided to go check out what was out there in the woods that Ben was so fascinated with.

My father came back inside a few minutes later holding a dripping pair of panties. “I don’t know what Ben was so interested in, but here’s some underwear I found outside,” he said, tossing them to me.  I froze and looked down. Instead of wondering why my underwear had painted stick figures all over them, my dad had only seen a pair of panties that had been rinsed out in the rain. I nearly fainted with relief. The idea that someone might find out that I had tried to paint my own underwear seemed beyond foolish and absurd; buying them at the store suddenly made perfect sense.

Now to come up with a plan to ride my bike on the freeway to the mall . . . . (oh yeah. It happened.)



It’s been Prom time around here. We have a no-dating-til-age-16 rule which means this was the first year that York and India were both old enough to go. India went with her boyfriend, Ethan, to both the school Prom and MoPro (Mormon Prom) where there aren’t so many skanky dresses and hoochie dancing. York just went to MoPro. Boys have a really easy time as far as the Prom is concerned: we bought him a nice suit, got his haircut, picked up a corsage and voilà! He was all set. For girls it is another story entirely. First there is the dress. It’s bad enough finding a dress that is cute and affordable, but when you’re Mormon it’s supposed to be modest too, meaning no crazy cleavage and shoulders must be covered. Choices are very limited locally. (I wish there were some sort of modest Prom Dress Excahange!) One of India’s friends loaned her a really pretty navy dress that we managed to modest-ize and I think it turned out well. Now that the Prom’s over we have to unpick all the modest additions so we can return it. Good thing they were just basted on.

It’s also a good thing that I know how to do nails, hair and makeup. There were a lot of girls who didn’t even bother to put on lipstick! For the Prom! It’s a good teaching opportunity to explain the difference between daytime and nighttime makeup. Of course India’s face showed up the best in all the pictures. I don’t take my beauty responsibilities lightly! Because India went to two Proms, that meant I got to spend two Saturdays in a row getting her all ready. (Luckily I used Angel Pro nail polish–with some silver glitter on the tips–so her manicure looked just as nice the second weekend as the first.)

Mister waited for India’s date to show up.

India’s boyfriend is the nicest boy. Terribly sweet and gentlemanly. Even so I had a little chat and told him that I’d punch him in the face if he drank any alcohol. I like to make sure that we’re on the same page.  I was sort of kidding, but not really.

The Prom was pretty nice and a good time was had until things started to get crazy and everyone was grinding on the dance floor.

The next weekend was MoPro. Since York doesn’t have his driver’s license yet, India had to drive him to pick up his date, Taylor. It was like some sort of bad Brady Bunch episode. Taylor is a pretty low-key, casual girl and York likes hanging out with her so they had a fun time.

I especially love this picture because York never–and I mean never–smiles for pictures. But lookie here! What a nice smile! I knew he could do it. York is not really into looking good (I picked him up from track practice a few weeks ago and he was wearing a dark green t-shirt, orange silky basketball shorts and black knee-high dress socks. He wears this ugly stuff proudly!). Finn, who is 14, is super into his looks. He actually had to tie York’s bow tie for him, help York style his hair and loaned him a nice watch to wear. It was pretty funny to see.

All the people going to MoPro together came over to our neighborhood and took pictures before heading off to dinner. What a cute bunch of kids!

Today we were on our way to church when a car pulled up beside us at s stop sign. It was a nice new convertible. The woman in the passenger seat was wearing a bathing suit and there was a young boy in the back. I heaved a big sigh because some Sundays I would much rather be hanging out and having another Saturday. Mormons are big-time Sabbath keepers. Sunday is the day for church and family, thinking about God, napping (being the Day of Rest and all) and maybe taking a leisurely stroll. There is no eating out, no swimming or sports and absolutely no shopping. The idea being that we don’t want to cause anyone to break the commandment of keeping the Sabbath Day holy.*

When we were travelling home from Arizona a couple of months ago, our trip spilled over onto a Sunday. Obviously if you’re travelling you have to buy gas and food and all even though it’s the Sabbath, so we decided to stop at the Costco in El Paso to grab some hot dogs. Holy Cow! Costco on Sunday is even crazier that Costco on Saturday! Maybe the El Paso Costco is always that way. But we could barely find a parking spot! Is this what Sunday is? The day of shopping? I had no idea!

Part of me really likes having a day that we don’t have to worry about most of the cares of the world. We don’t have to think about errands or kids’ birthday parties (a Sunday invitation is an automatic no). It’s a day to recharge ourselves spiritually and physically. I also love having my kids around me for an entire day without everyone scattering in a million different directions.

I needed to talk to one of the women in the ward when I was at church today. I hadn’t seen her during Sacrament meeting so I asked one of her friends if she would be there for either of the other meetings (church is three hours long and consists of three separate meetings). “No, she was really tired and wanted to sleep in and just have an at-home day”, her friend told me. I really felt like screaming. I would like nothing more than sleeping in and having an at-home day too! What makes her think that we all love being at church? It’s like being on a diet and having someone tell you that they can’t diet because they like sweets too much. I like sweets too!

A lot of time doing the right thing is the harder, less fun choice. And yes, I think going to church is the right choice. No matter what religion you are, spending time thinking about something other than yourself and what you feel like doing is a good thing. Especially if you’re encouraged to be loving and kind to other people. But it’s not a fun choice. It’s not entertaining. It’s like eating vegetables. It’s the best choice as far as eating goes, but it’s not exactly the tastiest choice. Some people really love veggies–to the point of being a vegetarian–but there are a lot of people who go days–or even weeks–without eating their veg. I think we could all agree that vegetables will never taste as good as a cookie.  But you need to eat food that is nourishing. And church is kind of like vegetables. Maybe not the funnest or most exciting but it’s the thing that will keep your spirit healthiest.

And so the family in the convertible turned right today; going to the lake or maybe to the water park. We turned left as we always do and went to church. Just like every week.

 

*There are plenty of crappy Mormons who shop/go boating/eat out on Sundays. If we see them we usually shout, “booooo” and thrown rotten food at them. Just kidding. I’ve struggled with Sabbath-keeping at different points in my life. We all make choices and will have to deal with the consequences, whatever they may be. But it’s one of the Ten Commandments, so you can’t really argue with that.

I went to see that new Jackie Robinson movie yesterday. I snuck out in the middle of the day and went to the fancy theatre that has super cushy recliners. It was all fine and dandy until I spilled an entire Coke Zero on my pants. But I’m a tough broad so I just ignored the soaking wet denim. I was actually wearing a raincoat but do you think I spilled the Coke on that? Of course not.

The movie was good, if formulaic. It’s always so crazy to see how racist people used to be. (I’m sure there are still incredibly racist normal people–normal, as in “not skinheads”–but it’s got to be pretty underground.)  When I see movies like 42 or The Help it’s very hard to understand that’s how things were for black people not that long ago. Part of me wonders if was really that bad because how could people have been so hateful because of someone’s skin color?

I grew up in a different environment than most white people, I guess.  Detroit, where I was born and raised, is mostly black. I lived in the first suburb north of the city. It was lower- to middle-class and was probably the first stop when people wanted to move on up from Detroit proper. I would say that the schools I went to were pretty evenly split between black and white, especially as I entered my teen years. Unlike the South, though, there really was no sort of “us vs. them” mentality. The most popular boys in my fifth grade class were Jahmod (A black kid) and Jason (a Jewish kid). (Oh yeah, there was a huge Jewish population in our town too. Which meant white Christians were totally the minority. We loved Jewish kids because that meant we got a whole bunch of Jewish holidays off of school too; not just the regular Christian ones.) Being Mormon and white? Super minority. I was pretty much the only one in middle and high school.

The mall closest to our house was called Northland and was the first modern shopping mall in America.  I remember going there and being the only white person I’d see. It didn’t make me feel uncomfortable or weird; it just was the way it was. I took Mister to that same mall when we went back to visit Detroit for my dad’s funeral back in the early 90′s. Man, did he almost have a heart attack! Being from Portland, OR, he was never exposed to many black people. He thought for sure someone was going to attack us. I just laughed and told him how I’d been shopping there dozens of times by myself at night. I can only blame the media for giving him the idea that young black men are all thugs; how else would he have developed that opinion?

We had lots of black people at church. Our bishop was eventually a black man, as were some of my primary teachers and Young Women Leaders. Our ward spread deep into Detroit and we had a real variety of members.Not just blacks but some members of Arabic descent too. It all seemed completely normal. I don’t recall the race card ever being mentioned.

When I look back on the relations between blacks and whites growing up, I wonder if maybe I was just clueless. But I remember blacks and whites sitting at the same tables at lunch; blacks and whites going to dances together and hanging out. Maybe our town was unique or maybe I just remember things differently, being a white girl.

 

*Yep, that’s me, Jennie Hildegard Davis, in the third row of the school picture; rocking the braces and feathered bangs. Viva Eighth Grade!