Easter is the ultimate spring cleaning

We have a near obsession with clean, myself included.

I love clean windows, but they rarely are.

I enjoy a clean kitchen, but it’s a continual battle.

I love clean sheets and fresh towels, especially if someone else ran them through the washer and dryer.

My bent toward clean was groomed by parents who were children of the Depression. “Being poor is no excuse for being dirty. Soap is cheap.”

Our regard for clean even permeates our language: a clean sweep, a fresh start, clean as a whistle.

As much as we like clean, it never seems to last. The sink is full of pots and pans again, the laundry has piled up and I’m tempted to write “Wash Me” in the dirt on my own car. Once again, the mess triumphs.

When we don’t have the energy, inclination or resources to address the mess, we work to conceal it. We close the door, pile the clutter higher or toss something in the back of a closet, telling ourselves we’ll get to it later. And it builds and builds and builds.

Our interpersonal messes are capable of fueling palpable anxiety, anger, depression and worse. These are the messes beyond the power of a closet organization system or household cleaners. Lady Macbeth, complicit in murder, famously rubbed her hand, crying, “Out damned spot. Out I say.” Not even a Magic Eraser could touch that.

Messes are the nagging reminders that we fall short, that we could have done better. Messes are the embarrassing signposts that we’re not as great as others think we are— we’re not even half as good as we think we are.

My mess affects your mess, your mess affects mine, and it seems the very Earth we live on demands that we address the issue of the mess. The snow melts, the ground thaws, the trees bud, that first nice Saturday arrives and we’re flocking to the hardware stores, tackling that home fix-it project or looking over the violas and pansies. We need a touch of fresh.

Spring explodes with the promise of fresh. For Christians, this is especially true. Spring arrives with Holy Week in tow, commemorating the triumphant entry of Christ, his betrayal, death and resurrection. In mess terminology, the crucifixion of Christ on Good Friday was the ultimate trash day.

At the foot of that cross lay our every mess. It was a virtual dumping ground of self-centeredness, secret sins, devious desires, brutal ambition, violence, lies, haughtiness, quiet callousness and outright hatred. He bore the penalty of our mess as though it were his own.

This Easter, Christians worldwide will celebrate that Christ paid the price for our garbage and rose victorious over sin and death. We celebrate an undeserved cleaning of the deepest dirt and grime completely washed away. Our mess has been replaced by God’s offer of all things new: new hearts, new lives, new beginnings.

Easter morning? Hope beyond the mess, the ultimate clean sweep.

The parade you don’t want to miss

It was a last-minute deal. I left dirty dishes in the sink, grabbed two flags from the garage and met the husband mid-town. I parked my car at a Chili’s (thanks Chili’s), hopped in his car and we zipped to the airport.

ParadeAll week long an Indianapolis radio station had been inviting the public to greet World War II veterans returning from an Honor Flight to visit their memorial in Washington, D.C.

By the time we arrived a good-size crowd had gathered, lining ropes marking off a pathway from B Concourse into the main terminal. A bagpipe ensemble milled about and 20-somethings in vintage 1940s clothing lingered by the escalator.

There were families with kids, grandkids and great-grandkids holding signs that said, “Welcome Back, Raymond” and “We’re proud of you Pa.”

As the crowd grew, so did the wait. The elderly took refuge in chairs; children plopped on the ground. A volunteer occasionally strolled by with updates. “They’ve landed.” “They’re taking bathroom breaks.” “Be patient; they’re older than you are.”

Finally, the bagpipes sounded, the drums echoed and the parade into the terminal began.

Each veteran was accompanied by a family member holding a large poster with the veteran’s name, rank, duty and theater of service beneath a huge picture of the soldier in uniform years ago. The photographs were of young men fresh-faced, clean-scrubbed, thick hair, wry smiles, still in their late teens.

They’d sure been lookers in their time.

“How much for that movie star poster of you as a soldier, sir?”

“It’d be pretty expensive. Don’t think you could afford it!”

Each of the male vets had a set of red lip prints on their cheek. It must have been some welcome as they deplaned.

Fathers hoisted little ones to their shoulders for a better view. “Look!” a dad shouted to his kids. “That soldier was a Flying Tiger.”

There was a Tuskegee Airman, a veteran from the Battle of the Bulge, a veteran who had fought in the Philippines, a woman who served in the European theater, a man who survived D-Day and a man who served in WWII, Korea and Vietnam.

Many of them are in their 90s now, a number of them in wheelchairs; yet many still have the handshake. It was my father’s handshake, the grip that threatened to crush every bone in your hand, a reminder that he was strong and that he had served.

A friend says every time someone dies, they take an entire library with them. A great library of history was passing before us, page after page, face after face, ordinary men and women who forged history.

“I can’t believe this,” the veterans said, one after another, eyes glistening. When the last vet passed by, we left the parade route thinking we had been at the mid-way point. We’d actually been close to the front. People had lined the pathway 10 and 15-deep through the airport terminal, past the food vendors, beyond the information desk, the ticket counters and all the way to the main doors. Thousands found a way to pay tribute to American greatness.

If there’s an Honor Flight returning near you, go to the airport. As Will Rogers said, “We can’t all be heroes. Some of us have to stand on the curb and clap as they go by.”

Hand-me-down clothing quirks

Some families pass down brains and musical talent from one generation to the next. Others pass down angular noses and strong jaw lines. Ours passes down clothing quirks.

When our oldest daughter was a toddler, she had issues with socks. She’d go berserk over socks with seams across the toes.

“What’s wrong with your kid?” another mother would ask.

“Socks,” I would say.

The mother would nod and say, “Corduroy.”

That meant she understood the sock problem because her kid had the same problem with corduroy. Probably couldn’t stand the ridges or the sound it made when it rubbed together.

We shared a duplex with a family whose youngest daughter absolutely refused to wear long sleeves. It could be the middle of winter and she would be wearing sleeveless or a tank top.

One of our grandbabies has issues with pants. She can’t stand it if her pants don’t stay pulled down over her socks. She pulls her pants legs over her socks and then when she bends her knees up, her pants come up. So then she pulls them down, and then they go up, and then she . . . and there goes a Tuesday.

We can hardly wait until summer to see how she responds to capris. Shorts will be completely out of the question.

When our son was young, he had issues with shoes. He often did a mix and match thing with his tennis shoes. I figured as long as the kid could still walk, it wasn’t a matter of life and death.

His dress shoes he loathed. I looked out the kitchen window one day to see him digging a hole and burying something. He had put his dress shoes in a plastic bag and was sending them to that great shoe rack in the center of the earth.

I was thankful he had bagged the shoes and not thrown them directly into the dirt. A mother takes progress wherever she can find it.

Not too long ago, I picked up a new shirt for the husband. This is something I do every five years or so even though he claims it is completely unnecessary. It was a sharp looking shirt with small black and white checks. He wore the shirt once and said he was never wearing it again because all those checks in his peripheral vision drove him nuts.

As for my quirk, I can’t stand a button-down shirt under a pullover sweater. I will fight, claw and chainsaw my way out of such a claustrophobic situation every time. It’s so bad that when I see someone else wearing a button-down shirt under a sweater I want to rip it off of them, too.

So far I have restrained myself.

By the way, if your kid has issues with seams on the socks, buy some socks without toe seams in them. It’s not spoiling your kid; it’s a couple of bucks in the interest of mental health.

It only took me 30 years to figure that one out.

Kids at play new endangered species

There are six—no wait—make that seven boys playing in the street on this Saturday afternoon. A football is rolling downhill, one end over the other. Two of the boys are on skateboards, several are on bikes and the others are zigzagging across the street, running through yards, laughing and shouting.

signA mom comes out of a garage, stands in her driveway and surveys the action. She returns to the garage and reappears with a large, round pillow that she tosses down on the driveway. A brown mutt appears and curls up for a nap. The woman goes back in the house.

The boys, ranging from ages 7 to 12, are now dribbling basketballs, generating the sounds of play that draw you to a window, cause you to look outside and smile. The odd thing is that there is no obvious direct adult supervision. What an anomaly.

You wonder if the parents didn’t get the memo that you must never let kids out of your sight. We live in a world that thrives on pumping suspicion and fear.

Not that we didn’t teach our own children about stranger danger and cultivate a healthy awareness. And now we keep an eagle eye on our grands.

Yet here these kids are, a throwback to childhood of years gone by, playing hard in suburbia.

We let our kids set up a produce stand at the end of the block when they were this age. (This was before cities began cracking down on crime, busting kids operating lemonade stands without business licenses.) I checked on the kids periodically, but I didn’t sit with them.

One of our grown kids asked if we would let kids operate the Champ Produce stand today. It’s a good question.

A family around the corner lets their daughter have a lemonade stand. (Please don’t tell the city.) She’s personable, responsible and sharp. She is also in the sight line of the family’s front door.

Maybe I am relishing watching these boys running free because it smacks of a more care free time. Nobody’s dad is checking names on a roster and nobody’s mother is running behind them dragging a cooler filled with snacks.

In the simple act of play, these boys are learning to take risks and problem solve. They are finding out who has the best throwing arm, who is fast on a bike and who can balance on a skateboard. They’re also looking out for one another. A vehicle drives up the street and one of the older boys yells, “CAR!” They scatter and the car slowly passes.

They may even be forging community. Should one of these boys be bullied on the bus next week, he well could have a small platoon rising to stand beside him.

We have to be smart today, that’s for sure. Kids need to be savvy and on guard, but they also need the freedom to be kids.

The good, bad and the bossy

Dear Miss Bossy Pants,

You might not remember me, but I was one of the girls you bossed around when we were kids. I was the short one, kinda quiet, a little shy. I was one of the girls you mowed down in the lunch line, barreled over in gym class and dictated what games we had to play at recess.

I even had a jacket with your footprints running across my back. I was the one you interrupted, talked over and looked straight through. You were the one who designated yourself as in-charge. Even the teacher was afraid of you.

You were Lucy from the Peanuts gang and Margaret from Dennis the Menace. Bossy, bossy, bossy. Yak, yak, yak.

We’re not supposed to call girls like you bossy anymore because we could hurt your self-esteem. (Like that was ever in short supply.)

You must be pretty jazzed to have someone like Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook launching a Ban Bossy campaign on your behalf. Sandberg says calling girls bossy can keep them from their dreams of executive leadership. My dream was to get the ball back from you so I could play four square.

Sandberg was called bossy and look how it damaged her. She’s worth more than one billion dollars.

Sandberg has a lot of rich and famous women on board, including Condoleezza Rice, Beyonce, the head of the Girl Scouts and Yahoo. It’s a pretty downtrodden group all right. If their dreams of leadership were squashed, they sure recovered well.

Anyway, about banning this word bossy. I’m against it. I’m anti-censorship in general. I’m a freedom-and-liberty kind of gal. I’m not going to be hitting the like button on this one.

The thing is this, if someone calls you bossy, why not think about it? Maybe you are. And if you are, maybe you need to change. Maybe you’re not the only one with some ideas. Maybe you can be overbearing, obnoxious even.

And if you’re not bossy, let it roll. Don’t make a federal case – let alone a website, buttons and a social media campaign.

Sure, it’s not always kind to call someone bossy. But consider the options: domineering, controlling, aggressive, overbearing, self-absorbed or simply “the girl who hogs the tempera paints.”

Banning bossy won’t empower little girls, it will only victimize them. One more thing they are to be offended by.

And the argument that little girls are being held back has more holes in it than my kitchen colander. (I have a house now. Does that surprise you?) The average ratio of female to males entering college is 56 to 44. Females graduate college at a far higher rate and the latest Fortune 500 listed more female CEOS than ever before.

I will say I enjoy the irony of the Ban Bossy campaign—wealthy, powerful, successful women telling the rest of us what we can’t say.

I should have said it years ago, but I didn’t, so I’ll say it now: You’re not the boss of me.

Sincerely,

The short kid with curly brown hair

What to expect at gender reveal parties

The first gender reveal party I attended was in our front hallway. It was what you would call low-key. Our expectant daughter-in-law arrived with a box of homemade cookies. She’s not a baker, so my antennae were up.

Baby outfitThe cookies had pink frosting. I got it. Very cute.

The rest of the family just helped themselves to the cookies and said thanks.

Gender reveal parties are far bigger events these days. Some hire professional photographers, stream live video and make the big announcement with a fireworks display. All of which makes you wonder what they’ll do when the kid passes kindergarten. Surely a coronation will be in order.

Women of my generation had the big reveal in the delivery room. Our party guests were masked medical personnel. The party theme colors were hospital green and more hospital green. The only drinks served were ice chips and appetizers were strictly forbidden.

It was a good system. Most of the time.

When our second baby was finally born, I said, “Oh, it’s another boy!”

The nurse-midwife said, “No, it’s a girl.”

“But it looked like a boy.”

“That was the umbilical cord, dear. You had a long labor.”

Confusion happens.

Our middle one knew the sex of their twins early on because they do ultrasounds every 10 minutes when you are a high risk pregnancy expecting multiples. They knew it was two boys. Or maybe a boy and a girl. Or maybe two girls. And they were. Two girls.

She didn’t want to know the sex of their third baby. She wanted to be surprised.

Our youngest is the first to have an actual gender reveal party. It was a small family affair. We were to choose a blue or pink clothespin when we entered to signify our guess as to the baby’s sex. Nobody’s going to make me vote against a grandbaby before the baby is even born. I took one of each and prepared for a win/win.

A family friend had been given the ultrasound technician’s note as to the baby’s sex and bought an outfit, which the expectant couple slowly pulled from a gift bag. The first thing I saw was black and white stripes.

That’s different, I thought. We still don’t know if it is a boy or a girl, but apparently the baby is a convict. Ultrasounds have sure progressed from my day. Then they pulled out the entire outfit and it had bright pink trim. What a relief. Turns out it’s going to be a girl.

Our daughter, a kindergarten teacher, took the gift bag and little outfit to school the next day to share with her students who had been asking if the baby was a boy or a girl.

“Who can guess what I’m going to pull out of this bag?” she asked.

A little girl yelled, “A BABY!”

If only it were that easy.

Why, yes, I do box

When someone asks you to go boxing, it’s not the sort of invitation you accept without asking questions. I had two: “Are you going to hit me in the face?” and “Will there be blood?”

Lori BoxingThe retired United Methodist minister who invited me is congenial, witty, and not the sort of man you would picture taking a swing at your face and breaking your nose, but all the same I felt better asking.

As it turns out, nobody in Marvin’s boxing class hits anybody else. They box heavy bags, speed bags and practice with two female trainers—one a three-time world champion boxer.

Oh, did I mention that all the boxers in the class have Parkinson’s?

Marvin was diagnosed at 61, a few months after he retired. Seven years later he’s still boxing, working to stave off the progression of Parkinson’s.

With any affliction, challenge or brick wall, when the determined ones can’t pass through, they hunt for a way around, under or over. It’s called grit.

Grit is what they develop at Rock Steady Boxing. It’s an intense 90-minute workout. They start with warm-up exercises in a ring that used to be a backup ring at Madison Square Garden years ago.

After their warm up, they hit the exercise machines and after that they don the gloves. Then they box against the heavy bags and the speed bags. Periodically, a trainer yells to drop and give her three pushups. Some shake, some tremble, some falter, but nobody quits.

The drill with the jump rope is fascinating. One man jump ropes the length of the gym, others lay the jump rope on the floor and practice jumping over it, back and forth, back and forth. Making the feet move is hard for people with Parkinson’s. There is something about seeing a line that encourages the brain to tell the feet to step over it. Maybe it’s the same effect as signs that say “Wet Paint” or “Don’t Walk on the Grass.”

And then there is the drill with the focus pads. Focus pads are the baseball gloves of boxing. Trainers put a focus pad on each hand, and boxers punch into them, working on speed, endurance and agility. A trainer calls out a large man with an unsteady and halting gait. He turns toward her and nearly loses his footing. He hesitates. He doesn’t say anything verbally, but it looks like a body language no.

She calls him again. He lumbers over, raises his gloves and throws a punch. His stance is uncertain. She yells and he throws another punch. Then another. Left, right, left, right. She demands more of him. More and more. She’s pushing him hard, and if he falls it won’t be easy getting him back up.

He throws faster and faster, harder and harder. He has found a rhythm that moments ago was beyond reach, or at least beyond my imagination. She slowly raises the focus pads higher and higher still yelling, challenging, encouraging. His punches follow her moves with a fluid grace. Her arms are extended as high as they will go. He reaches high and throws hard in complete and utter defiance to the forces working against him.

Determination 1, Challenges of Life, 0.

More dad moments, please

It truly was a dad-moment. Harry Connick, Jr., amazing musician, husband, father of three daughters and all-around nice guy, recently asked an “American Idol” contestant, who had just turned 18, to repeat the first line of the song she just sang.

“You got me down on the floor, so what you got me down here for,” she replied.

He asked her if she really wanted to be singing about, you know, being down on the floor.

She squirmed. The camera cut to her parents sitting in the audience. She squirmed a bit more and then said something along the lines of why yes, she did want to sing about being “down on the floor, so what you got me down here for” because it was about women, power and what women want.

The audience roared and her parents beamed.

The dad in Connick had trumped the entertainer and celebrity in him. He didn’t flinch. In challenging the girl with a pointed question, he was actually attempting to protect her. That’s a brave move in today’s world.

We’re an odd lot. We strive to give kids the best schools, the best experiences, brag that they’re talented and ahead of the curve, yet shrink from asking basic questions that reveal whether they can follow simple logic.

If you’re down on the floor when you’ve barely turned 18, where do you think you’ll be at 19?

We do better with friend-mode than dad-mode or mom-mode. Friend-mode is comfortable, less confrontational. Yet asking kids pointed questions helps them connect the dots. It’s nothing new. It’s the same way Socrates taught Plato.

The thing about pop culture is that it demands such strict allegiance that few have the courage to question it. If you don’t think pop culture inflicts a suffocating sameness, note that gaggle of girls at the mall, the ones striving for individuality, yet pressed into conformity. They’re all wearing the same leggings, the same boots and twirling the same highlighted hair.

We sidestepped much of pop culture when our kids were young simply because so much of it was (and still is) coarse and vulgar. They were cheeky enough without the encouragement of Bart Simpson.

Were we protective? Without apology.

When they were older and ready to date, we protected them again.

Boys interested in spending time with our girls were often invited to dinner. We would tease that three out of the five members of our family belonged to the NRA. They’d laugh a nervous laugh, which is what we were going for. The message was, “We’re a fun family, but don’t do anything stupid, son.”

A graduating high school senior once said that of all the girls he dated, we were the only parents who had ever talked to him.

Was parent-mode ever interpreted as aggressive? Yes.

Did it cause conflict? On occasion.

Are children worth it? Absolutely.

When a lovely young woman croons about being down on the floor, someone needs to slip into dad-mode. Someone needs to ask her hard questions and let her know that she’s worth so much more.

Bird’s eye view of work

I picked up the phone. Without so much as a hello, a voice said, “What’s new? We have an eagle in the backyard.”

EagleThere was a three-second brain lapse before I recognized the voice as my nephew’s. He was excited.

“It has a white head about the size of a baseball and a big yellow beak. He’s sitting in the top of a dead cottonwood tree at the back of our property. You know, where we used to keep the trailer.”

My nephew is visually impaired as we say today.

“It has white tail feathers that must be a foot long. He’s been there a long time. We’re sitting out in the sunroom watching him.”

The term “visually impaired” lacks the full kick in the gut. He is blind.

Retinitis pigmentosa began stealing his sight when he was 12. He’s in his twenties now.

“It’s a big ol’ thing. Dad saw it fly in and said it must have a wingspan of six feet. We’ve got an eagle sitting out back. Can you believe it?”

I can believe they have the rare pleasure of spotting an eagle in the top of a cottonwood. What I can’t believe is that my nephew without sight is giving the color commentary. It shouldn’t be that surprising really.

His sight might be gone, but he sees plenty. From memory mostly, from conversation around him, from listening to television and radio. He has amazing recall. We took him into town with us when we were visiting once. Our GPS wouldn’t work, so he gave us directions. Turn by turn, complete with landmarks, approximate distance and cautions on curves in the road. He knew exactly where we were and got us to where we wanted to go.

Second to his family, there are two things that have been pivotal in this young man’s life: a guide dog and a job.

The guide dog unleashed confidence he didn’t know he had.

The job, well, as his dad said, “Having a job makes him like everybody else. Now he has something to come home and gripe about at the end of the day.”

I never have a conversation with my nephew without asking about his job in case he wants to gripe. If he does, I join the club and grouse a bit about my work, too.

But I know, and I know that he knows, work is a gift.

We were created to work. We were made to produce goods and services, invent, engineer and solve problems. Work, including the nonpaying work of mothers and caregivers, is what drags us out of bed in the morning.

Work gives us something to do and somewhere to go. If that doesn’t sound like a big deal, talk to someone unemployed. You might even help them paint over the claw marks running down their walls.

Work is how you prove that you have what it takes, to the world, and more importantly, to yourself. It is working hard that enhances the time that you don’t work, from kicking back and reading a book to watching an eagle.

Take the money, please

I hope I’m not asking too much, but could I just pay?

Could I just hand you some cash or swipe my credit card, take my purchase and go?

Why do you have to make me feel like a worm?

I’m friendly by nature, really I am. Surely you saw that when I approached the checkout counter and smiled.

We’re getting along fabulously, the transaction is going smoothly and then you have to sour it all by asking for my phone number.

Are you going to give me your phone number? I didn’t think so. I’m not giving you my phone number any more than I’m going to the parking lot and writing it in the dirt on the back windshields of pickup trucks. I don’t need a new best friend; I just need a new scrub brush I can fill with dish soap.

Now you look hurt and disappointed because I won’t give you my phone number. I feel terrible.

What’s that? You’d like my email address? No, you can’t have my email address.

What’s that? If I give you my email address, you’ll take five dollars off my next purchase? Look, I’ll pay you five dollars here and now if you’ll never ask me for personal information again. No? You can’t take cash? Too bad.

What’s that? Would I like to give you my street address? Why? Are you coming over? No, you can’t have my address. And if I see you follow me out of the store, I’m calling the police.

My zip code? All right. My zip code you can have. Now will you wipe that sad-puppy look off your face?

That’s better.

Did I know I could “like” your store on Facebook? Marvelous.

Would I like to donate to a charitable cause? If I say no, you’re going to think I’m cold and uncaring. What does it matter? You already think I’m a snob.

Would I like to take a survey? You’re circling the web address I can access to take a survey about my shopping experience today? If I say yes I’ll be lying, but if I say no you’re going to get that sad look again. I don’t say anything and now you’re certain I’m a snob, cold and uncaring.

Excuse me, I have a text: “Would you like a six-pack of Coke just for being you?”

How did the grocery get my cell? I never, ever, ever give out my cell. Blast that NSA!

For the record, the answer is no. No, I don’t want a six-pack of Coke; no, I don’t want to give you my phone number, my address, my email, my cell, my birth date, my Social Security number, my shoe size or my blood type. For the record, I make charitable contributions without solicitation and I probably won’t take time to go online and rate my shopping experience.

I’m leaving now. I feel like a jerk. I’m sorry it had to end this way. I just wanted to pay.