This time needs to be the last time

Since our accountant joined a bigger firm, we can no longer just say hello to the ladies at the front desk and breeze into his office. We check in at a counter with sliding glass windows and are then buzzed in through a locked door.

The firm has security precautions because they house valuable personal and financial data.

We went to a concert at the beautiful, historic Chicago Theater not long ago.  We passed through two rounds of security before we were admitted. The theater is committed to protecting the performers, the audience and the venue.

We can’t go to a professional football, baseball or basketball game without going through security. Sports arenas have security to protect players, fans and the athletic complexes.

We allow a good 30 minutes to pass through security when we fly somewhere. Security measures are in place to protect passengers, pilots, crew, staff and the aircrafts.

We can’t report for jury duty or fill out an absentee ballot without going through security. Government buildings have scanners and armed officers to protect judges, jurors, employees and the inner-workings of local, state and federal government.

The husband and I attended several campaign rallies during the last presidential election. We both started our careers as photojournalists. Between the two of us, we have photographed every president since Nixon and wanted to keep the collection current. Every rally had security. Some of the security measures rivaled those of airports.

After the bank where we do business was robbed several years ago, they installed two sets of locked doors and scanners you must pass through to enter the bank. They’re wisely insuring there’s not a repeat of what happened before.

We have tight security for celebrities, entertainers and audiences, professional athletes and their fans, judges, jurors, government workers, corporate office buildings, pilots, planes, passengers, presidential candidates, our money and our tax records.

We have security in schools, too. It varies from school to school and, in many cases, it’s not particularly daunting.

Some schools have an armed officer, some don’t. Every school requires you sign-in at the front desk. Some buzz you in, some require picture ID, some have a camera that prints out a fuzzy picture of your face on a nametag that you slap on your chest.

But school shooters don’t check in at the front desk.

Our children are priceless—every bit worthy of the security we provide pilots, planes, airline passengers, professional athletes, celebrities, entertainers, our courts, our banks and our tax records.

We need immediate implementation of strengthened and uniform security measures at every school, just like we have implemented tightened and uniform security measures at every airport and government building.

We can’t wait for a next time. This needs to be the last time.

Fear undoubtedly a certain part of parenting

Before Orville and Wilbur Wright spread their wings, they ran a small bicycle shop in Dayton, Ohio. They were cutting edge, both the Wright brothers and bicycles. Bicycles were the next big thing of the day. But not everyone was on board. There were voices of concern from parents. Why? Because a child who could not go far from home by walking could now be a mile away—in only 15 minutes.


We chuckle at that now. The bicycle has been eclipsed by a myriad of vehicles and technological innovations. Today a child can be a virtual continent away in a mere click.

Every generation of parents has faced the fear of the unknown, but if you believed all the press releases filling my inbox, you’d think this generation is the first.

I receive a daily barrage of warnings, cautions, advisories, alarms and alerts regarding household dangers, tech dangers, environmental dangers, social media dangers, drug dependencies, behavior abnormalities, and diseases and disorders of all sorts, which lie in wait for our children.

The warnings are not without credibility and fear can serve a useful purpose; a red flag warning of imminent danger. But the constant drum of fear is debilitating, exhausting and weakens us all.

Before you know it, every small cut needs a tourniquet, every child who says no is psychotic and every kid who won’t eat peas is nurturing an eating disorder.

Parents begin living in the shadow of fear. Those blasted bicycles simply move too fast.

If parents live in fear, how will the children live? The need for safe spaces on college campuses didn’t materialize out of thin air.

Parents must be prudent, savvy and sensible, but parents must also live boldly. And parents must teach children how to live boldly.

How? The best way parents have always taught – by example.

If we cower, our children will cower.

I recently encountered a young mother from an affluent neighborhood who said she doesn’t allow her child to play in the backyard for fear neighbors will call the police and report her for child neglect.

She doesn’t fear for her child’s safety as much as she fears her neighbors’ fears.

Fear is highly contagious. But so is courage.

Karson Vega, a 13-year-old middle school student in Texas, recently took charge of a school bus when the driver suffered a medical emergency. Vega safely brought the bus to a stop on a bridge over the Colorado River. He learned to act decisively somewhere. Chances are he learned it at home.

Parenting has never been for the fearful. Embrace it all, the good, the rotten and the in-between, and teach your kids that life is a mix. It always has been.

You get one shot at this parenting thing. There are no do-overs.

Your first shot is your best shot and your only shot.

Leave fear in the dust and give it all you’ve got.

 

 

She ‘nose’ something is adrift

My nose is no longer reliable.

Oh sure, I can still stick it into other people’s business where it doesn’t belong, but as for tracking scents, it’s no longer dependable. Some days it works; some days it doesn’t.

I used to be able to smell garlic in a parking lot surrounded by five restaurants and identify which restaurant it was coming from and what dish they were making.

I used to be able to identify women’s perfumes by a mere whiff. I startled more than a few women in elevators and theater seats by shouting out, “Estee Lauder” or “Chanel.”

It was like I was on a game show with no competitors and no prizes, which is too bad, because I could have won a new car and trip to the Caribbean.

Fortunately, I have passed my once very keen sense of scent on to one of the grands.

The child will walk into the house and say, “I smell basil.” She’ll be 100 percent correct.

Last week she opened the pantry cupboard and said, “I smell coconut.” Bingo!

Sometimes I use her as my taster when I cook. She’s excellent with guacamole.

“How’s this?” I ask.

“Needs more salt.”

“Better?”

“Needs a little more lemon juice.”

There are days when my sense of scent rallies and I can still smell with laser precision. A few months ago, I was outside and smelled the scent they put in natural gas.

I called the gas company and they sent a service rep. I led him around the yard with his detector wand until we found just the right spot and he located the leak.

He punched five holes in the gas line by the street and said I’d be smelling it even more until it was fixed.

I didn’t smell a thing.

Last week, I was operating on nothing but coffee when I went to the ‘fridge and got a slice of cheese. As I closed the refrigerator door, I smelled smoke in the kitchen. I didn’t see smoke, but I definitely smelled it. I checked all the outlets and the light switches and nothing felt warm.

I returned to the computer with my snack. I still smelled smoke. I checked the surge suppressor and began sniffing high and low to see if my nose would lead me to the source of the scent.

Nothing.

I walked through every room in the house. I could still detect smoke, but for the life of me I couldn’t tell where it was coming from.

I walked through every room a second time and still smelled smoke.

I was about to call the husband inside to help find where the smoke smell was coming from when I finished off the last bit of cheese.

Even my hand smelled smoky.

This is crazy, I thought. I wondered if my clothes smelled smoky, too.

Then I remembered—the sliced cheese I’d bought at the store, and was now eating, was smoky cheddar.

Some days I miss my sense of scent. Other days I miss my mind.

The best way to mend a broken heart

She’s always been the kid deliriously in love with life—the one that flies out the door, looks up at menacing clouds darkening the sky and bursts into song, “Oh, it’s a beautiful day! Oh, it’s a beautiful day! Beautiful, beautiful day!”

She’s a 7-year-old whose eyes dance, whose arms and legs dance and who is always in motion because that is the nature of joy overflowing.

And then her daddy started to travel for work. Not a lot, just a few days every few weeks.

She grew quiet. The color drained out of her face and she got this sad, faraway look.

Her eyes stopped dancing and she quit singing.

Oh, to be a father so deeply loved.

They told her crying wouldn’t help. She cried anyway. One day she cried for two hours.

He got her a special nightshirt to sleep in when he’s gone. She still cried.

He called or Facetimed with her every day when he was gone, but her eyes still didn’t dance and she still didn’t sing.

Then one day I asked her momma to hem something for me. It was only fair, since her momma had possession of my sewing machine.

She watched her mother at the machine and announced she wanted to learn to sew. She began sewing straight lines on fabric scraps. Then she sewed the scraps together and made patterns.

Her mother found a child’s sewing machine safe for her to sew on by herself. She was off. The crying began to ebb.

She asked if I knew how to make an apron. I spread tissue paper on the floor the same way a great-aunt had done for me years ago and had her lie down on it. Then I traced her and showed her how to pin the pattern and cut the fabric.

She took it home, stitched the edges down, sewed on ribbon ties and added a pocket. The color came back to her cheeks.

The last time her daddy was gone, she sewed a skirt for her little sister. It’s so tight her little sister can’t walk when she has it on, but they’re both proud of it.

When I left home and moved 2,000 miles away, my mother embroidered a coverlet with beautiful red roses and then quilted it by hand one stitch at a time.

When I had my first two babies and was still far from home, I hooked a rug. I’d never made a rug. I worked on it at night when the babies were asleep and my husband worked evenings.

It’s funny how your hands can take your mind off your heart, how doing something for someone else is always a good elixir.

The young seamstress is working on a Paris pillowcase. It’s pink fabric printed with the Eiffel Tower. Her dad is out of town again, but she’s so busy she hardly notices.

Her little sewing machine is humming and so is she.

A little conversation, please

I am missing wit today. Not mine—that train left the station long ago—but the wit of others. I miss hearing friendly banter, lively repartee and the clever twist of a phrase.

There’s a playfulness to conversation that is slowly disappearing. But then conversation itself is disappearing.

There is a growing brevity to our conversations today. They tend to be condensed. Telegraphic. We’re all in a hurry multi-tasking. It’s not easy doing six things at once and none of them well.It’s nearly an imposition to ask for someone’s time and presence. Plus, who needs a face-to-face when you’ve probably already covered the nuts and bolts of what you needed to say in an email, Facebook message or text. Or an emoji. Or a combination thereof.

“Happy Anniversary. I (heart) you.”

Check and done.

But conversation isn’t always about need; sometimes it’s about delight.

As we were led to our seats at a restaurant, we passed an alcove with low lights, beautiful décor and four different couples seated at tables for two. Three of the four couples were radiant—basking in the glow of their cell phones.

The fourth couple weren’t on electronic devices but looked as dull and glazed over as the couples on their cells. Maybe they were lamenting having left their phones at home.

I’ve never understood why people make plans with other people, clean up, drive to a mutually-agreed-upon place and then ignore present company while they interact with others in cyberspace?

There was a day a woman would have walked out on a man for asking her to dinner, then spending the evening ignoring her and talking to someone else.

I was at a deli where a 2-year-old was on her mother’s cell phone while the mother and grandmother ate and talked. Occasionally the child would grunt, thrust the phone at her mother and the mother would retrieve the desired screen for the child. When it was time to leave, the tot screeched and screamed, refusing to relinquish the phone. The mother pleaded and cajoled, then pulled out the big guns: “Give me that phone or you can’t watch cartoons when we get home!”

Does anyone ever talk to the child? Or does the child simply move from one screen to another all day? In some corners, even conversing with one’s child has gone from a pleasure to a duty.

I grew up in a family of talkers, as did the husband. Both sets of parents often had friends over for the evening, to have dinner, play cards or simply sit outside on a warm night with a cool drink and talk. They talked and laughed, and teased and talked, and talked some more, voices drifting down the hallway or through open windows hours after we’d been sent to bed for the night.

I’d lie awake listening, thinking what grown-up fun that must be to talk and laugh with your friends long after dark. I thought to myself, I’ll do that someday.”

We do. But not as often as we once did.

Meet the online calculator for snow days

I recently discovered an online calculator that can predict snow days.

There’s a catch to the Snow Day calculator—to get results you must enter your zip code and what type of school you attend. It only works for kids.

There are no snow days for grown-ups. So go warm up the car and drag out the ice melt.

And yet.

Our son who lives in Chicago says he instinctively knows when it snows at night and can’t sleep anticipating daybreak. He’s an 8-year-old kid trapped in the body of a 36 year-old man.

The snow they’ve been sounding alarms here for days has finally arrived. Frankly, it isn’t looking all that great. Not that I’ve had my nose pressed against the window monitoring it. Well, maybe a little.

The snow is granular—like dishwasher detergent before it came in pods.

You can barely call it a snowfall. It’s more like a snow sputter.

It’s been coming down for several hours and is barely covering the grass, just nestling in between the blades.

You can’t help but wonder if there is a heavier snowfall happening somewhere else. The snow is always deeper on the other side of the fence. One of the grands calls to say snow has covered the ground at her house.

Her mother can be heard in the background saying snow has not covered the ground.

“But it will,” says the voice on the other end, brimming with hope.

Flakes that look like dishwasher detergent now mingle with larger flakes looking like cotton balls. Not fresh, fluffy cotton balls, but teased out, scraggly looking cotton-balls.

This is what the hype was about? Ratty-looking cotton balls mixed with dishwasher detergent?

A while later there is a commotion outside. Snow is falling at an angle and birds are flocking to the feeder.

I grab a camera and freeze a chickadee on takeoff.

A bird in flight is an amazing wonder of beauty and engineering. The feet propel the launch, then the bird draws them in tight. Wings spread in graceful arcs and the bird’s beak, cresting the smooth curves of the dome-shaped head, slices through the air.

Birds land and depart and jostle one another around the feeder. It’s as frenetic as LaGuardia or Atlanta.

Snow is picking up and more uniform now. There is no swirling or spinning, just a fine sawdust cascading from a craftsman’s workbench.

By late afternoon, every inch of ground, every tree, car, mailbox and roof-top, have been layered with a blanket of down.

Daylight fades and the snow takes on a beautiful cast of blue. The blue grows deeper, darker and richer, culminating in a breathtaking sapphire before fading into night.

Maybe snow days aren’t just for kids after all.

 

A tale of tiny tutus

Dance class started today. No, not for us. We did that once—worst money ever spent. Sorry, Arthur Murray. It wasn’t you; it was us. We lasted for one fox trot and half a waltz before we two-stepped right out the door.

Two of the little ones, cousins, have enrolled in dance class. We’re hoping they last longer than we did.

There’s nothing like low-to-the-ground, full-bodied toddlers swathed in bubbles of pink netting attempting to master the willowy bends and arcs of professional ballerinas.

There’s a buzz in the hallway before class. The teacher emerges from the classroom and introduces herself to each of the girls. Then come the good-byes, big hugs and lingering embraces.

“Mommy will be waiting! Be good! I LOVE YOU!”

It will be a long journey for the little ones—approximately 10 steps around the corner and into the dance studio. Parents are not allowed in the studio, but can watch on a monitor in a waiting area.

It appears the teacher’s goal today is to get eight preschoolers to stand in a straight line.

The teacher explains something to the group, then patiently goes down the line, on her knees on hardwood, and puts eight pieces of tape on the floor, instructing each girl to stand on the tape.

The teacher then goes down the line a second time, again positioning each dancer on her tape mark. Dancer No. 1, Dancer No. 2, Dancer No. 3, all the way to Dancer No. 8.

All eight are on their tape marks.

Class is halfway over.

Tiny dancers then sit on the floor and bend to touch their toes. Those with long arms are at an advantage.

Dance Class Lesson No. 1: All arms are not created equal and life is not fair.

Dancers advance to standing position, attempt to point their feet and lift their arms overhead.

The teacher then demonstrates how to skip. She motions for the girls to skip in a line. There is no line. Dancers are moving in every direction, crisscrossing, zig zagging and roaming in loose figure 8s.

The girls are not grasping the concept of following one another.

Girls are instructed to go to their backpacks and put on tap shoes.

One returns with sunglasses. Another removes her tutu in order to put on tap shoes. She tugs at her leotard and tights but apparently decides to leave them on.

They commence tapping their toes when the teacher turns to a little girl, picks her up and carries her to the camera. Did she want to wave to her mother?

No. The teacher indicates the girl needs to go potty.

Another dancer lines up behind the first dancer. The teacher indicates that this girl, too, needs to go potty. Then another dancer lines up. And another and another.

They can do something in succession! Line up for the potty!

Three little dancers remain on the dance floor.

Not a single one is on her tape mark.

Both eyes on the dentist

Our youngest just texted that her root canal was over and that she fell asleep in the dental chair. I wasn’t surprised. It’s a family tradition.

When our children were very young and exhausting (I was exhausted, not them), I once went to a dentist for a cleaning and fell sound asleep in the chair. The dentist had to shake my arm to wake me. It was the longest stretch of uninterrupted sleep I’d had in months. I asked if I could come back for another cleaning the next day, but he said no.

I’ve always wondered if dentists are offended when patients fall asleep in the chair. I’m one of those people who become very eye conscious when I go to the dentist. Are you supposed to keep your eyes open or your eyes closed? It’s like those awkward moments when you don’t know what to do with your arms and hands.

I was at the dentist recently to have a filling replaced. The spot was hard to reach. When the dentist’s hand, resting on the side of my face, moved for better positioning, it pulled my left eye closed.

I had one eye open and one eye closed. Do you open the closed eye, or close the open eye?

I’m in the group that keeps my eyes open because the dentist and I talk. That’s right, even shot full of Novocain, the entire side of my face numb and swollen, ice picks and a large vacuum in my mouth, I can still talk. I was telling the dentist something about one of the kids and he was trying to recall what her teeth looked like. I said, “Yoo no—da un hoo neher ushed ad ahays ad good tee.”

“Oh yes, the one who never brushed and always had good teeth.”

Our dentist is also very good at interpreting.

Once, at the hair salon a woman fell asleep under a hair dryer. Several stylists tried to wake her with no success. Someone was on the phone with 911 when the woman finally woke.

Not long ago, I was in rush hour traffic when a back-up began. Cars were swerving around a stalled vehicle. I swerved too, looked into the stopped car and saw the driver with his head back and his eyes closed. Another driver threw his car into park, jumped out, knocked on the car window and the man woke with a start.

Maybe sitting down for more than five minutes is so rare that our eyelids automatically slam shut these days and we start to snooze.

Dentists probably aren’t even aware of whether patients have their eyes open or closed, or if they have one eye open and one eye closed. All that really matters is that dentists keep their eyes open. And get a good night’s sleep before using that drill.

Putting a little polish on the new year

My mother was an excellent housekeeper. The woman never once wrote her name in the dust on a piece of furniture to decide if she needed to clean.

Nor did she ever stand on a chair to make herself the height of a tall son-in-law to see if she should wipe down the top of the refrigerator.

She had a few surgeries over the years, and before each one she’d have my father move the stove out from the wall so she could clean behind it. Who can relax under a general anesthetic if you know there might be dust balls lurking behind the stove?

The entire house was neat and organized. Even the kitchen junk drawer knew better than to slouch in disarray. There was a place for everything and everything was in its place.

We had a clothesline in the backyard of our first house. Mom would hang the sheets outside for maximum clean and freshness. If storm clouds gathered, she would fly to the backyard, race down the lines, rip pins off and throw the sheets in the bag, then race back to the house as the rain started, satisfied that a major catastrophe had been averted.

We were spoiled rotten with fresh bedding, fresh linens and cookies fresh from the oven. There is a compelling allure to fresh: the beginning of a school year, the start of a marriage, the birth of a child, moving to a new place, starting a new job.

Fresh is the draw of the new year—turning the calendar to a new beginning that is not yet muddled and cluttered, marked with rings from coffee cups and neglected To Do lists scrawled in the margins.

A new year will dawn fresh. It always does.

The question is—will I?

Maybe I need to do some housekeeping myself. A good sweeping would find some interesting tidbits in the dust pan – a lazy habit or two and new challenges that fell by the wayside.

How about that layer of dust building? The sort you can write your name in. The dust goes by the name resentment and it is time for it to go.

Maybe it’s time to clean out all those drawers crammed with junk — the ones holding old tapes that replay the things I regret doing and the things I wish I had done.

I could use some polish as well — a readiness to listen more than I talk. Glass cleaner is in order, too—something to remove the smudges for a clearer view of the things that matter and things that don’t.

Cleaning is rarely my first choice of activities, but I have my broom, dustpan and furniture polish in hand, ready to go. Here’s to fresh starts and a new year.

Search is on for the missing Jesus

Jesus is missing.

We’ve unpacked all the decorations, hung the bulbs and lights on the tree, arranged the Christmas carolers on a shelf, looped artificial evergreens around the banister and smacked a wreath on the front of the house.

No Jesus. Can’t find him anywhere.

We bought him at a downtown dime store on our lunch hour the first year we were married, along with Mary and Joseph. Mary and Joseph came undone long ago, but baby Jesus held on.

Plastic. About 2 inches by 3 inches. Bright blue eyes, pink lips and full head of blond curls. He looks nothing at all like a true newborn, let alone a Middle Eastern Jewish newborn, but still. We have history together.

Until now. No Jesus. No peace.

There’s only so much hunting, fretting and stewing you can do before it’s time to move on. Still, it nags me that he is nowhere to be seen.

I dash to the grocery store, throw it in park, grab my wallet, cell phone and list. A Salvation Army bell ringer greets people with a big smile on the way in. Not now. I’m stressed by my own carelessness and in a hurry.

I race down the aisles, grab things and get in line. It’s the cashier with the bad teeth. Sometimes they hurt so that she squeezes the side of her head against her neck. Counter pressure to the pain. She has four teeth that need pulling but hasn’t had the money. As we talk, she says a health clinic run by a church downtown pulled her bad teeth. She feels better now. The constant pain is gone. She looks good today. She’s a stern woman, but I almost thought I saw her smile.

On the way out the door, I nearly smack into a woman who stopped abruptly by the bell ringer. I maneuver around her and see she is rustling through her handbag. She pulls out a couple of greenbacks, carefully folds them and tucks them into the red bucket.

“Merry Christmas!” the bell ringer booms.

The sun is setting and traffic is stalling. The wait at the stop light by the row of fast food franchises is interminable.

The usual characters are out, the ones with cardboard signs. You can never tell who is destitute and who is scamming.

A man in a hooded parka dodges between cars, crossing two lanes of traffic, clutching a Chick-fil-A bag. He places it in the hands of a weathered man with an even more weathered sign. They exchange nods and smiles and the man in the parka dashes away.

The sky has turned soft pink, swirled with brush strokes of orange and ripples of turquoise. I hit the radio. Two shootings, a baby beaten by the mother’s boyfriend and more sex scandals. Why did I turn it on?

Headlights and taillights glow as evening falls. I turn into the subdivision behind a friend’s car. She’s probably returning from her parents. She’s been caring for them for 10 years.

Sentence fragments and random phrases float through my mind.

I carry groceries into a dark house and walk from room to room flipping on the lights. The bare spot on the piano where the baby Jesus should be looks at me accusingly.

The sentence fragments meld together. “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you clothed me. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.” Matthew 25:35-36.

I wonder if I’ll ever see that small representation of Jesus again.

Maybe I just did.