Sunday, December 30, 2012

Holiday sequels and other misfortunes

In the glow of the tree's Light Emitting Diodes, Ittybit's cheeks blazed crimson and her eyes glistened …

Her brother was already nestled all snug in his bed …

Well before bedtime.

But it wasn't the impending arrival of the right, jolly ol' elf that I suspected.

T'was the flu before Christmas.

She had complained of a sore throat, but I had blamed songs we'd belted out while caroling in the cold.

I gave her a soothing drink and sent her off to dreamland.

She didn't want to be sick for Christmas.

You're just a little hoarse. Nothing to worry about,” I told her as I pulled the covers up to her chin and kissed her warm forehead. “Tomorrow you'll be right as rain.”

Whatever that means: Right as rain.

Snow is right for Christmas; rain, not so much.

She closed her eyes and didn't question my weak, metaphorical talisman.

Sadly, my superstitious wishes didn't come true. For when they opened their eyes on Christmas morning, my children met Santa's loot with feverish brows and only lukewarm excitement.

Even the coveted electronic contraptions, which should have been Santa's finest work, were met with subdued disbelief and the intent to test out … later.

Honestly, the reaction might have pleased me were it the result of the their burning desire to play with LEGOs instead. But the magic goes right out of Christmas when the little ones only want play with their toys by proxy because they just don't have the energy to do it themselves.

Please build me a LEGO,” begged the boy. “The helicopter one with the superheroes,” he directed from his nest on the couch.

He put his hand on my knee as I struggled through the instructions and didn't once complain of my ineptitude. He barely registered distain when I put the helicopter blades on backwards, as true a sign of the creeping Christmas crud as if he'd asked to go back to bed.

Had The Champ been tip-top, he'd have wrestled that chopper from my fumbling paws and put it together by just looking at the picture on the box. He'd have had it together in no time and announce his feat by squinting and speaking in pirate.

I couldn't help but think this skewed image of Holiday Cheer-turned-Holiday Make-The-Best-Of-It seemed worse than if Santa had crossed us off his list completely.

Oh, how I had pictured a different sort of Christmas: Me and the mister would be drinking coffee in our bathrobes. The kids would be ripping though wrapping paper, playing with a new toy every hour on the hour. The morning favorite would eventually give way to the gift we'd thought was a bust. Eventually, we'd all get bundled up and go visit the neighbors to spread a little holiday cheer.

Visiting now would just spread holiday ho-hum bugs.

Instead, we canceled dinner and sat, each one of us, nestled in all snug in our comforters in front of the TV ready to relax with cable's finest holiday offerings.

Of course, we couldn't find those in the listings so we settled instead for their sequels; the red-headed stepchildren of Hollywood's classics.

We sat, ate frozen pops and even laughed a little as Ralphie and Randy – now a teen and tween in A Christmas Story 2 -- relived the good old days of Red Rider BB guns and Little Orphan Annie decoder rings and planned for the future (most likely another straight-to-video installment).”

My kids were thinking of the not-too-distant future, too.

When the new year comes will it still be 2012?” asked the boy. “Will we still be sick?” asked the girl.

No, Sweets, it will be 2013 and hopefully we will all feel like celebrating.”

And if we're lucky, we won't be watching this sequel next year.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

What children believe, we can deliver

I hadn't expected to bring my kids to school that day. I'd planned to send them off with the bus just as I had every Monday morning.

But we woke up late, and I wanted to make sure they had eaten breakfast ...

That's not true. I wanted to make sure I didn't spend the last few minutes of our time together -- the day after a long weekend of disbelief that a young man walked into a school and murdered 26 people, most of them children -- yelling at them to get ready lest they miss their ride.

There was ample time to wolf down a bowl of cereal. But making it through dressing and teeth brushing and packing backpacks and lunches would take a drill sergeant.

And I didn't have it in me.

We arrived at school on time.

My kids barely noticed all the police officers and school officials gathered in the main lobby as they scampered around their friendly custodian, who was giving high-fives as he directed foot traffic.

There may have been more adults than usual on this day, but they were all familiar faces.

I didn't hug my children as they ran to their classrooms. I didn't follow them and speak to their teachers. I know them well, and know my kids are in excellent hands. And my children never looked back as they scampered away.

They are fearless like that.

Instead, I found a familiar face. A former principal who was standing by the office – a woman so devoted to the school she had helmed that she has remained involved despite having to step down from her position as she battles lung cancer.

She assured me they would do their best, but they had no idea what they were facing. Who knew what? Who understood what? They would be there to comfort.

I hugged her and told her I appreciated the time she took trying to comfort me.

I wished it had been different, but I can't say I was surprised when my daughter, a fully-fledged third grader, came home that afternoon in tears with a single question:

Why would someone do something like that?”

No one knows. There is no good answer. Meanness. Spite. Evil … are all words that came to mind. There is no rational explanation.

This is the worst thing that she's ever heard in her life. This is the moment when she realizes truly awful, frightening things happen to innocent people at the hands of other human beings.

I was a little younger than her when that moment visited me. It was the early '70s and my family was in D.C., traveling to see relatives. My sister and I sat as far apart from each other on the backseat as humanly possible, as the news on the car radio reported that a woman had murdered her children.

So many questions whirled around my head as my father drove through the rain-slicked city, and my mother looked out of the window straining to read street signs. Neither had registered the news. Neither had realized I had.

I watched my mother that whole trip as if she were an alien creature, wondering if she were capable …

But I never asked any questions. ...

Unlike my daughter, who, sitting on my lap on a rickety kitchen stool, wanted to know everything I'd left out that her friends at school had filled in.

He killed his mom, too?”


Did his mother really give him the guns?”

I'm not sure that she gave them to him; he may have taken them without permission.”

He killed children?”

Yes, he did.”

She wanted to know everything. How many? How old? Did people survive? What did the teachers do to protect them? What were their names?

I answered as best as I could.

And then the question I was dreading …

Has this happened before?”

Yes. It has.”

Why haven't we stopped it?”

It's hard to explain.”

You don't have to. I know it's because they don't want to get rid of guns.”

The thing is, our children believe we can make the world a better place even when we think it's a lost cause.

What can I do?”

Be kind.”

I was never so glad to have someone else's words than I was that moment:

I want to read you something our president said:

'There’s only one thing we can be sure of, and that is the love that we have for our children, for our families, for each other. The warmth of a small child’s embrace, that is true. 
'The memories we have of them, the joy that they bring, the wonder we see through their eyes, that fierce and boundless love we feel for them, a love that takes us out of ourselves and binds us to something larger, we know that’s what matters.
 'We know we’re always doing right when we’re taking care of them, when we’re teaching them well, when we’re showing acts of kindness. We don’t go wrong when we do that'.”

With kindness and courage we will affect the change our children believe is possible.

I believe it, too.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Fruit salad

My head was spinning.

There we were, the four of us, driving to the mall to do the unthinkable: purchase an electronic tablet for Ittybit from the famous computerized fruit stand.

Two weeks before Christmas.

And it wouldn't even go under the tree.

Santa wasn't buying this one; She was.

She had earned it, paid for in part with a lifetime of birthday money, tooth fairy savings and one summer's worth of laundry chores. The other part came from parental matching funds, as promised.

That was our deal and a bargain's a bargain.

Not to mention that the cute and tiny version of this virtual window on the world – coming in at a lower cost than what she'd budgeted – would actually be a bargain for her.

She'd done her homework. She'd watched the prices. She'd browsed for educational games and appropriate books. She knew all the basic provisos.

No lording it over her brother.
No toting the tablet to school.
No reading at the dinner table.
No surfing during bath time.
And absolutely NO applications that aren't parent approved.
Also … No lording it over her brother. (Can't hurt to reaffirm this point).

She nodded vigorously.

We sighed heavily as traffic inched along into the shopping center like clogs in an artery.

The kids asked if we'd turn up the radio.

My husband turned up the volume as I sat and looked out the passenger window, white-knuckled and twitching.

“This wasn't a big deal,” I whispered over and over. “It's just a tool she'll have to learn how to use sooner or later. …

“So what are the rules for email?” My husband asked.

“E ... mail? … I hadn't even considered the possibility. Email. Email. My eight-year-old will have email?

But my husband couldn't hear my confusion over Katy Perry's “Firework” exploding from the car's speakers.

“What are the rules?” he asked again, without a hint of irony. “Rules? As if I have any idea.”

The great big world of internet seems a lot like the wild west at times.
A place where people spread rumors, harass, and otherwise torment other inhabitants of the planet Earth. It's a place where people bare their most private thoughts in the most public way imaginable. It's a place where rules become as obsolete as your computer operating system in six months' time.

And with six months of practice on this device I have no doubt she'll know more than I do about how this virtual world works.

I have to remind myself that the Internet is also a place that opens up possibilities for amazing connections. Unimaginable kindnesses, too.

A place that is always changing. Always growing. Sometimes collapsing under its own weight and starting again.

By the time she's half-way through high school she'll know how to hide her entire life from me; virtual and real. I will only be able to cross my fingers and hope the choices she makes are not to spite me.

It felt strange that I hadn't thought rules in such a specific way until we were scouting for spaces in an ocean of SUVs. We are opening this window and we haven't even thought about how high we are off the ground.

There has to be a safety net.

The basics. …

No secrets. That's the whole thing. Privacy isn't something you can assume. Screen captures. Copy and paste. Out-right hackery …

Anything you send … picture it going to the person you'd be mortified to have read it. … and them assume they could see it anyway.

That's the Internet. Not as anonymous as it might seem.

“Bottom line is the rules will probably change, and we have the final say. Period.”

She just nodded, her head as if on a spring.

Her crazy parents. Thinking in circles again.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

It's not in the book

The boy has circled every toy in the catalog.

Every. Single. Toy.

Each one is ringed in a different color. Red, it seems, delineates the playthings of greatest importance. Blue, as he's explained several dozen times, means items he would prefer to arrive before Christmas. Green is for things he would like to be preassembled if at all possible. And yellow signifies gifts that could wait until spring … although he'd gladly accept them with the other presents should cluster delivery prove more convenient.

He's thoughtful that way.

He has even colored-coded the girl-marketed toys in rings of pink and purple, explaining quite matter-of-factly, that Santa might bring them for Ittybit if there were any more room in the sled.

His sister smiled, thrust out her hip, waggled her finger and said, in her best Big-Sister-Voice, “Oh, brother.”

It's not as if she's immune to the infection that is consumerism, she's just more realistic.

She's long known the Santa who comes to our house rarely brings things you want, let alone ALL of the things you want.

It also helps that, as she peruses his list with the experience and maturity of a nearly nine-year-old, she has no use for three-duck pull toy that really quacks or a colorful crib mobile.

She's already been there, done that, and received a few shekels for them at a yard sale.

No, no. no. Santa is NEVER going to bring you all that,” she tells him adroitly as she wrestles the ink-drenched wish list from his kung-fu grip and dumps it into the recycling bin. “You have to search your heart not a catalog.”

I swooned.

You see, we'd just been to a presentation made by former Peace Corps volunteer Lynn Minderman, whose work in Lesotho, a rural village in Africa, is sponsored by the Ittybit's 4-H club.

Minderman told us about how they'd helped the orphanage in the isolated mountain village raise chickens, obtain a milking cow and grown their own garden.

We all sat rapt as Minderman described how nothing goes to waste: How boys are thrilled with the gift of wires and tin cans, the raw materials with which they make wagons; and how girls are all smiles to find bottle caps and feed sacks they fashion into skirts for dancing.

You know when your parents go to the store. Maybe on a shopping trip, and they bring a little something for you? Well when their parents go to a camp town, maybe 50 miles away to get supplies, little girls are hoping that they will bring home feed sacks and the boys are hoping they will bring home wire. … Anything they find to make their toys,” she explained, adding that she'd never seen happier children than those in her beloved Lesotho.

I'd imagined Ittybit was trying to make a similar point to her brother when she closed the book and told him to “search his heart.”

But alas ...

You mean I should only ask for a Nintendo 3DS in Cosmo Black?”

She nods her head. “It probably wouldn't hurt if you ask for a feed sack, too.”

Not there yet, but coming along.

Change, after all, is a gradual thing.

Qholaqhoe Mountain Connections is a 501c3 organization. One-hundred percent of all donations go toward two projects:  Qholaqhoe High School Scholarship Program and Likoting Village Orphan Garden. No salaries are paid and no expenses provided to the organization staff.
For more information about Lynn Minderman and her work, or to find out how you can help, visit

Sunday, December 02, 2012

First clue

First clue: Ittybit was unusually quiet.

The kind of quiet I remember vividly from my youth. The kind of quiet that usually means hurt feelings; missing toys; or her brother, brazenly touching her stuff. The kind of quiet that could also mean she lopped off the leg below her knee trying to shave ... after I told her (twice) to leave the pink plastic razor alone.

Or was that my mother?

Ignore the first clue. That's my motto. Ignore it and maybe it will go away.

Christmas and birthdays and other not-as-celebratory things are precariously balanced in my head, one more bit of worry added to the stack, I am sure, would topple the pile.

But her glum expression is set and tears well up.

What ever it is won't be ignored.

"YOUWERERIGHT! YOUWERERIGHT!" she bursts out, all red-faced and shameful. "I wasn't ready to get my ears pierced. You were right."

She unfurls the petals of her hand to reveal a blossoming infection. An over-stuffed pillow of earlobe with a sparkling gem-tufted center.

My heart sank. As the captain of the vessel that is our family, I'd relaxed my rule on unnecessary surgeries enough to allow for two holes to be shot into her lower lobes. But only after she'd done ample research into the care and complications of piercing external beauty. And as captain I had every intension of going down with that ship.

This wasn't an I-told-you-so-moment.

It was just rotten luck.

"This wasn't your fault," I told her, trying to get her to stop crying. She'd been diligent about her new chore and had done everything the instructions had instructed. She'd cleaned them twice a day, washed her hands, before and after; she had rotated the studs sporadically, but otherwise kept her hands away from her ears. She was careful to keep her clothes from snagging the baubles and keeping her hair from winding around the posts.

But there it was -- a painful, puffy, red ear that she could no longer ignore.

Yet, there I was unwilling to throw in the towel and admit defeat. Not just yet, anyway.

Calling a professional ... which I was sure would eventually come to pass ... would likely mean the removal of her hard-fought trophy and the subtle feeling that I should have adhered to my first rule would be hammered into my head like a nail.

I didn't want to be shrouded in an unmentioned cloud of disapproval while standing in a room with a medical professional.

I'd much rather do that anonymously, trolling through vast oceans of disreputable information from dubious sources on the hopes that one of them would offer a miracle cure.
*Snort. Just because that never happens doesn't mean one should stop trying.*

With a few clicks of the mouse, I had a place to start: Ice. Heat. Wash with anti-bacterial soap. Use more of the after-care liquid. Add a little anti-bacterial ointment.

And as we try to save face (and earrings) we run through a dance of possible fixes paired with suburban voodoo.

"Ok ... now douse your ear in this; turn around twice, while jumping on one leg; hold your breath while humming A,B,Cs and if that doesn't work ...

I'll call the doctor in the morning.