Speak now, regret it forever

Nearly 25 years ago, Mike Royko wrote a sharp-edged column on the first roster of banned words, a list of potentially offensive words issued by a panel from my alma mater, the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

The original list included barracuda, airhead, burly, buxom, dear, dingbat, Eskimo kiss, Dutch treat, fried chicken, gorgeous, gyp, housewife, illegal alien, lazy, jock, john, pert, petite, senior citizen, shiftless, sweetie, ugh, watermelon and a short list of ethnic and racial slurs no civilized person would use.

Since that time, the list of insensitive words has grown exponentially. The word police were in Seattle recently ordering the words “illegal” and “brown bag” stricken from city documents. The word “illegal” could make illegals feel uncomfortable. And apparently there was once something called the brown bag test in which a brown paper bag was placed against a black person’s skin. If skin color was as light or lighter than the bag, the person was deemed socially acceptable. This “test” was used primarily by black social institutions more than 100 years ago, but nevertheless.

In some circles, penmanship is being changed to handwriting, freshman to first-year-student and watchman to security guard. The word bum is out as is criminal, Founding Fathers, psycho, factory and, of course, Christmas. Oh yes, please add terrorist, jihad and Islam.

We are not merely a softer, gentler, more sensitive people; we have become borderline crazy people. (By the way, crazy is on the list, too.)

Royko would shred each addendum to the list with his bare teeth were he alive today. So much sensitivity, so little sensibility.

At the Air Force Academy, cadets may now opt out of saying “so help me God” when they take the oath. Just curious, when you’re pinned down by enemy fire who else are you going to ask for help? It is doubtful Joe Biden’s wife will be bringing the family shotgun.

Not to be left out, Hallmark has released a tacky Christmas sweater ornament with the words, “Don we now our FUN apparel.”

In the spirit of thin skin and heightened sensitivity everywhere, I’d like to add a few of my own to the list: Twerk: Offensive. Lose the word and maybe I can lose the awful video clip in my mind. OMG: Whether initials or said in full, it is patently offensive, each and every time. Baby Momma: A slur to both the role of motherhood and fatherhood. Ho: Degrading. Acceptable only as a tool used to weed the garden or when said in rapid succession by Santa.

Now then, once we couple all your sensitivities with all my sensitivities, it should be no time at all before we omit words entirely and communicate strictly by hand gestures.

Until then, I will remain a proud member of the human race, respectful toward my fellow man, a petite woman with lousy penmanship, a party gal who sings about donning gay apparel in December and is married to a man on the verge of becoming a senior citizen, a man who often calls me Sweetie and sometimes takes his lunch in a brown paper bag. So help me God.

Last child’s first birthday a dud

For years I have been dogged by this vague memory of a kid’s birthday that didn’t go well. I couldn’t remember which kid it was or which year it was; just that it was something I Birthday cakedidn’t want to revisit.

We mothers work hard at keeping our less than stellar moments locked in the dark, but sometimes they have a way of slithering into the light.

We were looking at photo albums and came across first birthday parties. The oldest had a great party in the backyard with blue skies, lots of family friends and a giraffe cake. The second one had an adorable clown-themed party with a pink elephant cake with a licorice tail. The third one discovered she had been ripped off.

It was the bad memory I had worked to forget.

The four photos (considerably fewer than the two dozen documenting the other parties) show us in the kitchen with no balloons, no decorations, nothing, just a couple of beat-up Happy Meal boxes sitting on the counter in the background.

Our youngest said, “So it’s true, the last one really does get the shaft!”

The husband offered that we must have had a party for her at a later time.

“No,” I said, “that was it.”

“Where are all our friends?” she asked.

“We didn’t have any. We’d just moved 2,500 miles and were still getting to know people.”

“But where’s all the family?”

“Living out of town,” I said.

It was coming back to me with painful clarity. It had not been a great day. The 3-year-old had one of her epic breakdowns due to the upheaval of moving and the 5-year-old had jerked my chain one too many times. When the husband came home, I asked him to take the kids to McDonald’s. Since that was something we rarely did, I remember telling the oldest two they didn’t deserve a treat, so they’d better not enjoy it.

In the 40 minutes I had to myself, I picked up the house, whipped up a cake and threw it in the oven.

“So the cake is that blob on my high chair?” our youngest asked, looking at the snapshots.

“Yeah, that mound with a candle shoved in it,” I said.

“What’s all the goo?”

“I had to frost it while it was still warm.”

“Did I have gifts?”

“Yep. They’re in that brown grocery bag.”

Mothers like to create the illusion that they are always on top of things. The last thing they want to do is admit that something didn’t go well. But, pure and simple, some days are a train wreck. Some days you do what you can with what you have and tell yourself that tomorrow will be better. Those days may seem like failures, but if you don’t quit and keep going, they are successes.

I told the kid that didn’t get much of a first birthday party that we could take her to Chuck E. Cheese’s for her birthday this year if she still felt ripped off. She just turned 28.

She’s still laughing.

Satisfied with being dissatisfied

Why is it we always seem so surprised when a poll tells us what we already know? A Pew Research poll found more than 80 percent of Americans are dissatisfied with the way things unhappy faceare going. Everywhere you turn, people are dissatisfied and they’re not afraid to talk about it.

A woman was voicing dissatisfaction with her grown son who recently moved back home. “We provide a roof over his head, cook his meals, do his laundry, make his car payment and even mute his cell so it doesn’t disturb him when he sleeps until noon, but he doesn’t seem motivated to get on his own two feet,” she fumed.

“At least he’s satisfied,” I said.

Two women on a morning news show were expressing their dissatisfaction with a certain pop star that had been shaking her pop star backside and behaving crudely.

“Appalling,” said one.

“Troubling,” said the other.

“Be sure to watch tomorrow when she’ll be here for a concert on the plaza!”

A neighbor was expressing dissatisfaction over his financial situation. “Groceries are skyrocketing, the cost of gasoline is a killer and our health care premiums are shooting through the roof. Our credit cards are maxed out and we’ve got nothing for college, let alone retirement.”

“Hang tough,” I said. “Say, is that delivery truck stopping here?”

“Yeah, that’s our new giant flat screen,” he said.

A young mother was expressing dissatisfaction with her family’s together time. “It’s just so hard to find time to connect,” she said, on the verge of tears.

“Always has been,” I said.

“Between dance lessons, music lessons, sports, plays, my late hours, Sam’s late hours and season football tickets, we hardly see each other.”

“Would you describe yourself as somewhat dissatisfied or very dissatisfied?” I asked.

She was about to answer when we were interrupted by a text on her cell. “Oh great,” she shrieked. “Now I have to reschedule Girls Night Out.”

The produce manager I chit chat with at the grocery was complaining about the circus in Washington. “Just the same-old, same-old,” he said, tossing eggplants into a bin. “Fraud, waste, entitlements, no accountability. They spend other people’s money with glee. Something needs to change,” he barked. “Sounds like you’re dissatisfied enough to get involved,” I said.

“Naw, what’s the point?” he growled, hurling another eggplant. It missed the bin and exploded on the floor.

A young friend expressed dissatisfaction with his children’s education. “It’s not just the academics, it’s the toxic culture,” he said.

“Would you say you’re mildly dissatisfied or somewhat dissatisfied?”

“We’re terribly dissatisfied,” he said. “But we talked about it and agreed to wait another year or two to see if things don’t improve. “

“At least you have a plan,” I said.

Never have so many been so dissatisfied and so unwilling to do anything about it.

Does this computer make me look paranoid?

To say the husband is security minded is tantamount to saying that the Pope is Catholic. I must admit, however, that over the years the husband has shaved off what he believes to be considerable time from the 30-minute home-security ritual he goes through every time we leave town.

Ten seconds.

All that to say, I should not have been surprised when he was working on his laptop at the kitchen table and I saw a small pink Post-it note stuck to the top of his computer.

“Is that a reminder for something?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “It’s in case anyone tries to hack through the wireless and access the webcam.”

I asked why he thought someone might weasel through his webcam and he said, “Well, they did it to Miss Teen USA and she wasn’t too happy about it.”

Because there is a delicate balance between honesty and love in the course of a marriage, I reminded him, ever-so-gently, “You are not Miss America.”

I may also have reminded him that he is a late middle-age male who never streaks through the house in the buff.

When we skyped with our son later, I told him about the Post-it on his dad’s computer. I asked what the thought a hacker might see. He began to imitate someone falling asleep at the computer. The husband was only mildly amused and said, “That’s not the only thing someone might see. They could also see me eating pretzels.”

He had us there. We had completely overlooked the pretzels. It would not be case of webcam sextortion, but a case of webcam carbtortion.

The husband also reminded us that the last iPhone update had a glitch that let anyone bypass the phone’s lock to hijack photos, texts and emails.

“Exactly why I didn’t update my phone,” I said. “I don’t want someone stealing my photo of that lovely apple pie I made or pictures of my herb bed.”

Everyone is at risk to intrusions from technology, yet there is a comfort, and no doubt a false sense of security, in knowing that we are boring—not necessarily to one another, but by any measure of today’s Kardashian standards.

I was working at my desktop, where I put a Post-it on the top of my computer screen as a sign of solidarity (even though my desktop monitor doesn’t have a webcam), when the husband came in to tell me something.

“What’s with that spoon in your hand?” I asked.

“Ice cream,” he said.

“Make sure your Post-it is in place, I said. The last thing we need is the world knowing that we’re so boring we even eat plain old vanilla bean.”

‘Don’t anybody touch my stuff’

I am with our twin granddaughters, who recently turned three, and their one-year-old sister in the attic of the old house where they live. The attic has small paned windows with thick High heelswavy glass on either side of where a chimney used to be. The gabled ceiling cocoons the wide open space, creating an idyllic place for play.

One of the twins announces she has to use the potty, which is down the stairs and at the end of the hall on the second floor.

She pauses at the top of the stairs, tosses back her head of curls, and sweetly says, “Don’t anybody touch my stuff.”

She could have said, “Be right back,” or “Will someone go with me?” but instead she fires a shot across the bow. Granted, it was a pink, fluffy shot covered in feathers, but it was a shot nonetheless.

She pauses halfway down the steps and sweetly calls out again, “Don’t anybody touch my stuff!”

We hear the creak of the door at the bottom of the stairs.

“Don’t anybody touch my stuff!” she sings.

“Nobody is touching your stuff!” her mother calls back. “We don’t even know what stuff is your stuff!”

Her stuff could be the small naked doll with the cloth body, the Elmo slippers or the purse in the shape of an alligator. It could be the plastic cozy coupe that has already been sideswiped twice this morning and rolled once. Whatever her stuff is, we know this much: We are not to touch it.

She leaves the door to the attic open. Footsteps pad down the hall. The toilet lid goes up. “Don’t anybody touch my stuff!” she shouts.

This is a child who usually insists on privacy, but today she is deeply concerned about her stuff.

The toilet flushes.

“Nobody touch my stuff!”

“Nobody is touching your stuff,” I yell back. “Your stuff is plastic and Grandma only likes plastic in the shape of small cards with magnetic stripes on the back.”

In the child’s defense, her younger sister is occasionally dubbed “Swiper” for grabbing whatever is of interest to the older girls. When you live with someone nicknamed Swiper, perhaps you are never truly at rest.

She clamors up the stairs still sing-songing, “Don’t anybody touch my stuff!”

It turns out, the stuff she is concerned about is a doll stroller and a pair of pink plastic high heels. This is the equivalent of a convertible to a man in midlife crisis and a pair of Jimmy Choo’s for a 20-something female.

We are all a touch possessive about our stuff. We can even be annoying about our stuff. But at least as adults, we’re too sophisticated to go around saying, “Don’t anybody touch my stuff!”

The one concerned about others touching her stuff seats herself at the little table and begins coloring with her twin, who has been quietly taking it all in. Swiper is in another corner of the attic, momentarily entertaining herself.

In a sweet voice barely above a whisper, the twin who has been at the table coloring all along looks at her sister and says, “The next time you leave, I’m gonna touch your stuff.”

Sifting the bad news for the good

It’s hard to read the news without thinking we have become a total train wreck. Terrorist attacks, mass killings, abductions, Sundaehome invasions, twerking, politicians sexting and leaders behaving like thugs.

Who dares leave the news on when small children are in the room? Parents have become adept at the remote control dive.

The world can be downright depressing. But the truth is, the world has always been dark to some degree because the world has always been populated by people. On top of that, bad news has always gotten better coverage than good news. You can be sure that the town crier who ran through the streets of D.C. screaming that Lincoln had been shot never ran through the streets yelling, “Sunny with a high of 75 tomorrow!”

There’s still good news out there, it just doesn’t get the splash play that the bad news does.

If you didn’t look beyond the big headlines, you might have missed the story about Glen James the homeless Boston man who turned in a backpack containing $42,000 in cash and travelers checks. The story behind the story is that Ethan Whittington of Virginia was so moved by the Good Samaritan that he set up an online account where people could donate money to James. The total to date is $147,000. The plan is to help James get a place to live, medical treatment and stability.

In the Atlanta area, when a young woman broke off her engagement less than 40 days before the wedding, her parents stood to lose money they had put down on a fancy venue, catering and entertainment. Instead of cancelling the reception, Willie and Carol Fowler called Hosea Feed the Hungry and offered a four-course dinner for 200. Initially, the nonprofit thought the call was a prank. Two hundred guests were transported to a villa for coconut shrimp and salmon.

If you’re up Minnesota way, maybe you heard about the kindness of a 19-year-old Dairy Queen manager. When one of his regulars, a visually impaired man, ordered a sundae he dropped a $20 bill on the floor as he walked away. A woman quickly picked up the bill. Manager Joey Prusak expected the woman would return the money to the man and was astonished to see her stuff it in her purse. He told the woman that he wouldn’t serve a customer that disrespectful. She could return the money to its rightful owner and be served, or she could leave. She left.

That’s when Prusak gave the man a 20 out of his own pocket. Other customers saw what happened and began sharing the story. Prusak had just been turned down for a raise, but his boss did write him a note saying, “You’re the type of man I’m proud to know.” And for the whipped cream and cherry on top, Prusak got a phone call from the man who owns Dairy Queen – Warren Buffet.

Closer to home, a friend began shopping at Wal-Mart when financial difficulties hit the family. Being warm and caring, she has befriended several of the employees. Not long ago she was leaving the store when someone yelled at her to stop. She looked around to see the greeter making her way outside to press some money in her hand.

We all like good news. Here’s an idea, don’t just read the good news: be the good news.

ALVIN! Look out for these ladies

I was with a group of women recently—granted, a dangerous thing, but as of this writing still legal and not yet met with punitive measures from the IRS—when the topic turned to the familiar.

You’re thinking I’m going to say men, aren’t you? You’re wrong. The topic was not men. Men think that the only thing women talk about is men, but that is not true. Women often talk about a wide array of fascinating topics, and at this particular moment our topic was rodents, chipmunks in particular.

One of the women said she was trapping as many as five a day.

Another woman, an experienced gardener with a rural background, said, “If you are trapping five a day, you are being overrun by chipmunks.”

I always appreciate the voice in the crowd offering numerical perspective. I might have panicked at two or three chipmunks and started screaming that we have been overrun, but now I will wait until I see five.

“What are you using for traps?” someone asked.

The woman overrun with chipmunks said she was using live traps that secure the chipmunk in a small cage. The chipmunks then wait for relocation or a casting call from Disney.

Chipmunks, albeit adorable, are destructive critters. They burrow under foundations, retaining walls and patios, gnaw through vegetable gardens, eat the heads off flowers and can chew through air conditioning coils. They also have horrible singing voices, which is reason enough to be rid of them.

The woman using live traps said that her husband (so the topic did turn to men) drives the chipmunks three miles out of town, across the interstate, and turns them loose in a field. Apparently chipmunks have pretty good built-in GPS and can find their way back under the three-mile mark.

Someone said she knew a family who lives near the field three miles out of town, across the interstate, and they are totally and completely overrun with chipmunks. There you have it; one man’s solution becomes another man’s problem.

I was still pondering why the man drove them to the other side of the interstate. Was he thinking the chipmunks would be confused by signage? Did he think that once the chipmunks headed west they would continue west and not even consider doubling back across the interstate, where they would be instantly, well, you know.

I offered that we once rid ourselves of a fiercely destructive chipmunk that was doing considerable damage by way of a rat trap. I instantly felt I may have disturbed the very kind and tenderhearted woman using live traps.

Then, the youngest woman in the group, a mother of several small children, a beautiful, soft-spoken woman that I would take to be, if possible, even kinder and gentler than the woman using live traps, said she knew how to get rid of chipmunks.

This will be good, I thought. She probably makes them little houses with little beds, domesticates them, teaches them to dust the furniture and get along with cats.

She said, “You fill a five-gallon bucket half way with water, sprinkle sunflower seeds on top and perch a piece of wood like a ramp to the top of the bucket.”

It’s always the quiet ones that surprise you.

Blowing out the candles, but not the memories

After we married and began having babies, I determined I would write the children letters every year on their birthdays telling them about their physical, mental and spiritual growth. It was one of those ideas that sounded great in a moment of quiet, but shook out somewhat different in reality.

I came across the letters recently. It’s been awhile since I’d looked at them. They’re hardly the graceful prose I hoped I had written.

“You turned 3. This year will be the one we remember as the Year of the Tantrum. Normal for a lot of kids, but you took them to a royal degree. You can be showing great affection and then something small sets you off. Socks. Shoes. Heaven forbid there’s a wrinkle in your bedspread.”

The letters are filled with love, but they also contain the candor only a mother could provide.

“This is your first year at preschool. Your teacher says you are very serious and quiet in class. Hard to imagine.”

If any of our children conveniently forget what challenges they were, the letters provide ample reminders.

“A few weeks back, your brother lost his second tooth on top. You were wrestling and the report was that you kicked him and he swallowed it. No witnesses.”

Should I forget my own shortcomings, there are reminders of those as well: “On occasion, after I have apologized to you for losing my temper, you will say, ‘I forgive you.’ Then you bow your head, close your eyes and say, ‘God, you forgive her, too.’”

On the upside, it is nice to have proof that I wasn’t completely derelict in my responsibilities:

“Right now your army camouflage pants and hat are hot stuff. They make for great leverage when I catch you lying. I just put them up for a day and then you toe the mark.”

“Your bike was run over when you left it behind the minivan. You got a new one in February. Bought it with your own money. You’d been looking at it quite awhile and it went on clearance. You could finally afford it. It was quite an event.”

Some of the best parts are the small vignettes prone to fade from memory over time: “The best addition you made to the home this past year is your whistling. You love to whistle when you’re happy. I’ve heard you wake up and start to whistle, or whistle as you simply pass through the kitchen or are outside digging a hole by your tree house.”

“On Sunday nights, you dress up, move the furniture, watch Lawrence Welk reruns on PBS and dance with your sister or your dad.”

The letters reaffirm that many of the seeds were in place the moment they were born. Our job was to nurture those seeds, protect the tender shoots, and point them toward the sun.

I’m passing the letters on to the kids so that they can enjoy them and perhaps have a heads up as to why their own tender shoots grow the way they do.

Ribbing the family for their own good

We barbecued ribs over the weekend. Talk about an involved process. It was like taking two slabs of meat to a day spa.

The first step was to gently pat the ribs dry. The second step was to apply a rub. I halfway expected the third step to call for wrapping them in fluffy white towels.

Instead, the third step was to soak wood chips. Wood chips are the aromatherapy of the grilling world.

The step after that was to make a mop sauce to keep the ribs from drying out. Of course. Who doesn’t need moisturizer?

After the pat down, the rub, the aromatherapy and the moisturizer, the recipe got technical as to where things went in the grill. The charcoal was at point A which was parallel to a pan of water at point B which was perpendicular to the meat at point C which was at an angle from the wood chips at point D. Once I figured all that out, I went inside to make myself an engineering certificate to hang alongside my new fake masseuse license.

But that wasn’t the best part.

The aroma of smoked ribs? Great, but not the best part.

The tangy sweet mop sauce? Great, but not the best part.

Taunting neighbors and teasing family? Satisfying, but not the best part.

The best part was the very last line of the recipe: “After letting the ribs rest for 30 minutes, share them only with those who deserve them.” It was like the Little Red Hen had written a recipe for baby back ribs.

When you think about it, shouldn’t every recipe end like that?

I made a point of telling the family that the rib recipe gave explicit instructions that the ribs were to be shared only with those who deserved them.

A son-in-law jumped up and offered to help set the table, a daughter lunged from her chair and volunteered to make a salad and our son offered to build a sunroom onto the back of the house.

I’d never seen such excitement, such enthusiasm, such interest in meal preparation. When the fervor appeared to wane, I simply dashed to the grill, lifted the lid and fanned the hickory smoke in the direction of the crowd.

Did I need anything chopped?

Why, yes, and jewelry would be nice, too.

Did I want ice in the glasses?

Lovely – and don’t forget, I do accept gift cards.

For a moment there, it looked like I would never again be alone in the kitchen. For any woman who has ever found herself isolated in the kitchen while the festivities bubble without her, it was a dream come true.

Then we brought the pampered ribs inside and consumed them with appropriate quantities of adulation, licking the platter clean. As quickly as they had appeared, they disappeared. Yes, the ribs and the family were gone.

It was nice while it lasted. I can tell you right now what we’re having for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The beauty of a PC sharing TLC

Technology does wonderful things. On Sunday it brought a friend to church.

She had a cough for awhile, went to the doctor one day and started chemo the next. Stage four lung cancer. Life changes on a dime.

Someone brought an iPad and connected with her on Skype so she could be part of worship time at church. As she could see the service, a few of us within eyeshot of the iPad, could see her.

Sweet smile, bright eyes, a pretty scarf, she looks around, taking it all in. The singing begins and her lips move with the words.

O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder, Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made; I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder; Thy power throughout the universe displayed. Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee, How great Thou art, How great Thou art.

She’s sick, really sick from the chemo and can’t risk being around germs. She’s watching the service, and I really should be, too, but still I steal glances. She’s seated in a chair at a desk in her living room.

A pretty young face leans in from the left side of the screen and kisses my friend on the cheek. It’s her daughter. I heard she and her brother were flying in from the Pacific Northwest. They must be here. A morning kiss. How lovely.

Our church, not one to be bound by seasons, moves to a hymn most consider a Christmas carol.

When I am a seeker, I seek both night and day; I seek the Lord to help me, And He shows me the way; Go, Tell It On The Mountain, Over the hills and everywhere.

I steal another glance and she’s singing along. Clearly she is enjoying Sunday morning at home with 600 of her closest friends

The pretty head again leans in from the left, hair falling over her young face. Another kiss.

Oh, I see.

That first kiss hadn’t been a good morning kiss, and neither was this one. It was an I Love You kiss, an I’m Glad I’m Here kiss, an I’m Glad You’re My Mom kiss.

We’re singing the old standbys today. There is great comfort in the songbook of generations.

Where doubt and darkness once had been, They saw Him and their hearts believed. But blessed are those who have not seen, Yet, sing hallelujah.

Our friend is fighting hard against the darkness of cancer. She’s determined to win and has an unflappable quality about her. She will tell you it is the peace of Christ, the peace that passes understanding.

It’s greeting time when people lean over pews, dart down aisles, shake hands, exchange hugs and say hello. People race to the iPad to lean in before the lens and say hello. She’s grinning from ear to ear amid a flurry of virtual hugs and kisses.

How marvelous and beautiful and wonderful that microchips, wireless connections and tiny cameras let someone who could feel alone and isolated experience the fullness of community.

Maybe if I scratch my nose, I can wipe away the tears at the same time.