Monday, October 26, 2015

Mom of the year

This story is about ice cream. In order to fully appreciate the story, we might have to go back to the beginning.

My dad was a tall, lanky Dutchman with a hard-working attitude and appetite to match. His family of tall, lanky Dutchmen was rough around the edges and maintained a tenuous (at best) relationship with civilized people.

My mother and her parents, on the other hand, were diminutive people who had a sitting room and ate ice cream in tiny little bowls with all the manners required of polite society.

In 1980, when my mom and dad were dating (how that came about is a different story), he would drive 30 minutes to her house to see her after working all day on the farm. From what I've been told the 30 minutes were like seconds in his mind because of his great love for her. But that's beside the point; this is about ice cream.

My mother's parents would dutifully serve my dad a little dish of ice cream as they visited courteously and he would accept it with the utmost graciousness, eating it in two bites. Then my mom and dad got married.

Did I mention my dad's farm sold its milk to Darigold? Well, my parents got married and Darigold products soon filled their home. Milk, of course, but also sour cream, butter, cream. Now that the vows had been recited and the deal had been sealed, my mom got to see a different side of my dad. A side that scoffed good-naturedly at tiny dishes and could eat a whole carton of ice cream in one sitting.

And so it was that I grew up learning the ways of the ice cream lover. I took to the habit with natural skill and can, to this day, also eat a whole carton of ice cream in one sitting...almost. Now, our budget doesn't allow for frivolous dairy purchases, nor can our waistlines accommodate it, but we do tend to stock our freezer with a decent variety of ice cream. My favorite is anything with lots and lots of chocolate in it.

So that brings us to a parenting moment that might not win me any Mother of the Year Awards, but it is one that I have no doubt my dad would understand, if he were here today.

After dinner, I occasionally let my kids have a cup of ice cream from my stash. However, there'd been a carton of ice cream in my freezer for awhile that I was having trouble finishing off. In fact, it had been mocking me. I rarely meet an ice cream flavor I don't like but I just wasn't a fan of this one (it will remain unnamed because I don't have the heart to call out a dairy product that has done nothing wrong). So, my kids had done a good job eating their dinner and I had an idea.

The fact that it was close to bedtime did not deter me, nor did the fact that the kids had dentist appointments coming up. I took out the unwanted ice cream, which was freezer-burned almost beyond recognition, and scooped them out big, heaping bowls. I mean, I piled it on. This carton was not going back in my freezer.

My kids were delighted and didn't even question why I wasn't having any myself. Not being ice cream connoisseurs, they didn't notice the weird flavor or the freezer burn and I let them enjoy their moment. Then I happily threw the carton in the garbage and got the kids ready for bed. Can anyone guess what happened next?

As soon as the ranks were in their respective beds and the lights were off, I went back to the freezer for my own ice cream. Something more to my liking. Double Triple Chocolate with Fudge Swirls and Peanut Butter Cups or something like that. I didn't bother with a bowl, I just took the carton and a spoon and sat down on the couch.

As often happens, one of the boys came back upstairs a little while later to go the bathroom.

"You're eating ice cream without us?" he asked, half asleep but awake enough to be incredulous.

I took another huge bite of chocolate goodness right in his fact and snickered. "You already had yours."

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

World domination

My two boys are lucky enough to have two good friends living across the street from them. The four boys have always liked playing together but recently their friendship has taken on a new dimension.

Now that they can read and write (sort of), they are able to make plans with each other through written communication. First there were maps detailing good hiding places and ideal locations from which to attack bad guys. Then there were descriptions of what the boys would do together when they grew up, such as "make a movie called Lego Movie Creature Attack."

Then I discovered a little book, made of computer paper stapled together. The title of the book was "Battel Plans" and it pitted the two older boys against the two younger ones. Thankfully, one of the "rools of battel" found inside was "use wepens carefelee." The book also made it clear that after a battle, both sides would shake hands and say "good battel."

Anyway, my second son was fascinated with this idea of making plans and apparently wanted to create some sort of response to the battle manifesto of the older boys. So yesterday I found him at the table with three or four sheets of paper spread out. He was making drawings of some kind but it was hard to tell what exactly they were about. His scheme for total world domination, I assumed. But I was too curious to settle for a guess.

"What are you doing, buddy?" I asked.

"Making plans," he said, without even looking up.

"Plans for what?" I asked. "For fortifying your strongholds?"

"No," he said, with disgust and disdain at my cluelessness. His pencil continued moving swiftly across his paper as he reluctantly told me what he was up to. "I'm building my umpire."

Now, I'm pretty sure he meant "empire," but either way I'm proud of him for thinking big and using his imagination. There's no limit to what you can do, buddy. Never forget that.

Monday, October 12, 2015


There's an adage that goes: "Having a place to go is a home. Having someone to love is a family. Having both is a blessing."

Another one says: "No matter how poor a man is, if he has family he is rich."

These sayings are on my mind today because tomorrow will be our first day of foster care training. Four training sessions are required to begin the process of becoming a licensed foster family.

Family is an interesting thing, isn't it? We love them, we hate them, we ignore them, we take them for granted. We avoid them, we help them, we depend on them. We can't live without them. When I turned 18 and moved away from my family, they were still my family. Nothing beats that.

But what if you didn't have a family? What if, through no fault of your own, you were alone in the world? Some people choose this, certainly. They walk away from their families on purpose. But others, such as foster kids, have no choice. The choice was made for them when their parents violated the basic rules of humanity by failing to care for them and the powers that be were forced to remove them from their homes.

What about those kids? Suddenly they have no home, no family, and the world is a big, scary place. What will happen to them? Ideally, their parents will get their act together and get them back. But that doesn't always happen. And even if it does, what if it takes a while? What happens in between?

Those are some of the questions that compelled us to sign up for the foster care training sessions. We love and appreciate family, and I don't just mean flesh and blood. Family is much more than that. So we thought maybe a kid who's been separated from her family might find it a little easier to bear if she knew she had another family waiting to support her. To be there for the in between.

We want to be that family. How about you? Which makes me think of another saying: "You don't have to be perfect to be a perfect parent." Thank goodness for that.

Check out to learn more about foster care in America and even see pictures of kids in the foster care system who are waiting to be adopted because their parents have given up all their rights. Please check it out and consider what you can do to help. Because where would we be without family?

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Memories of saying goodbye

It was pretty nice as far as nursing homes go. Maybe the nicest I'd ever seen. But I hated it.

Walking down the hall to Room 117, I gripped my children's hands and dragged them along behind me. They weren't any happier than me to be there but they knew enough to be quiet. They knew enough to be scared.

The door was closed so I knocked lightly.

"Come in," I heard. I sighed a heavy sigh. Here goes nothing.

"Hi grandma," I said to the petite, frail woman with white hair sitting on the bed. Please let her remember me.

"Oh!" she exclaimed. "Katie!" Phew.

Even with all her things in there, her room looked foreign and unfamiliar. I had sworn I'd never let one of my own family members end up in a place like this. My husband and I had even had plans drawn up to remodel our house, complete with a handicap bathroom, so my grandma could come live with us. But when Alzheimer's begins its cruel work in earnest, everything changes.

Grandma sang the "Teddy Bear's Picnic" song to the kids and we visited. Then we left Room 117 and walked around the inside of the building, my grandma's slow shuffle appearing painful because of her hunched back. My kids stared at old women shouting at houseplants and old men sobbing in wheelchairs. I couldn't believe it had come to this.

At first my grandma spoke with a measure of normalcy about her disdain for "this place," her distaste for the food, and her disbelief that grandpa would leave her here. As if he had a choice. Then, before my eyes, she transported herself to a different time, years ago, and found herself on a boat. She could no longer see what I saw or know what I knew. Curse you, Alzheimer's. Curse you to the depths.

I was emotionally exhausted by the time my grandma found her way back to the present, and my kids can only take so much, so I told my grandma it was time.

"We've gotta get going, grandma," I said.

I knew she would be disappointed but nothing could prepare me for the look of desolation that passed over her face. Her eyes seemed to ask a hundred questions at once: How could you leave me here? Where am I? What's going to happen to me? Who are you? But she didn't say any of those things.

"You'll come back and visit again, won't you?" she asked instead.

I answered, but as soon as the word "yes" left my mouth, I knew in my heart it wasn't true. I knew that even if I had the chance to drive the six hours to visit her again, she wouldn't be here. She would be lost forever in the murky, gray fifth dimension of Alzheimer's disease and I would never talk to her again. This was really goodbye. I knew it as clearly as I knew the sun was shining outside.

I leaned down to give her a gentle hug, hating myself for being so anxious to get out of a place she'd never get to leave. My eyes were misty but I forced a smile. My words stuck in my throat but I forced them out. "Goodbye, grandma. I love you."

"Goodbye dear," she said. Then she sat down in a chair and peered down the hallway at another world, folding her hands neatly in her lap. "I'll just wait here for the train."

Monday, October 5, 2015


I'm spitting in the face of one of my biggest fears here by sharing with you all a song I wrote. It kind of feels like standing outside on an icy January day with no pants on.

My song is called October, and it's about change, which is appropriate for this time of year. The leaves are turning colors, the air is turning colder, and the days are getting shorter.

Change is a part of life. Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's bad. Sometimes a change that didn't seem good at first was necessary to get you where you needed to go. Sometimes letting go of one thing allowed something new and better to take its place.

But even when everything looks like it's fading away...dying even...we know that in the spring new life will come.