Friday, April 30, 2010

Several years ago at at a retreat, one of the Saturday morning roundtable discussion questions was, “ Where is the most interesting place you’ve lived?” The answers were fascinating. One woman’s parents were missionaries, so she had spent her childhood in Africa. Because her father was in the military, another had lived in four different countries while she was growing up. I wasn’t sure how to answer. Then I remembered a very interesting place I had lived: a fifth wheel camper trailer.

When we moved to Branson years ago we were building a house and needed a place to rent for only six months. Most of the landlords didn’t want tenants with children or pets. Since we had three kids and a big dog, we were turned down repeatedly.

A friend offered his camper trailer. This was a true camper trailer, not one that costs more than some homes. It was too small to sleep all five of us so we parked it next to a cabin that wasn’t winterized. Jim wired up an intercom between the cabin and the trailer so we could at least hear what was going on with the kids. The trailer had a kitchen, a sleeping loft and a primitive bathroom of sorts. The cabin had a bunk bed with a trundle and another bathroom of sorts. I was mortified that my kids were living like this. They, however, thought it was an adventure.

If the bathroom was occupied, it was not a problem for the boys. We lived in the woods! The shower was so small it even hit ten-year-old Jason in the chest. Because the temperatures had dipped into the twenties, when I went to the cabin one morning to wake the kids for school, I found them asleep in their snowsuits! I was certain if anyone found this out, the authorities would be called.

I could barely raise half-hearted sympathy as the women laughed at my story knowing my situation was only temporary and by choice. They did agree it was interesting.

Sitting next to me, Lisa was the last to answer. She, her husband and two boys had moved from another part of the state ten years earlier. She taught second grade and her husband was a nurse at the local hospital.

“I really needed a break and this retreat is way beyond my expectations. The food, the wonderful spa and the heavenly beds are something at one point in my life I only could read and dream about. The most interesting place I have ever lived was in a car with my mother. For two years, when I was in high school, we were homeless. When Dad died Mom and I ended up losing everything,” she said. “I guess a car counts as unusual as well as interesting.”

No one knew what to say. That’s the day I fully realized my reality and someone else’s reality can be worlds apart. I experienced a temporary inconvenience. Lisa had been in a seemingly hopeless situation. I was going to move in to a new home and Lisa had just wanted to move out of her mother’s car.

Even though we live on the same earth, we do see and experience the horizon differently. I want to be more sensitive to that.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

“Making the decision to have a child - it’s monumental. It is as to decide forever to have you heart go walking around outside your body.” -Elizabeth Stone

I don’t think anyone ever really explains to about-to-be parents how profoundly their world will be rocked. Certainly no one can describe to them how their life will never, ever be the same on so many levels. Honestly, I don’t think there are adequate words for parenthood, but the Elizabeth Stone quote comes really close.

Right after Jason, Travis and Jill held their first borns, my first question to each of them was, “Do you get it now?” Each one just smiled and nodded. When your kids have kids your rationale about so many things suddenly makes sense to them.

Poor first borns. They’re like a crash test dummy for new parents. I’m a first born and Jason is my first born. He’s a grown man with a wife and three kids, but my mom feelings are still the same. He stepped off a ledge the other day and broke his foot. I think he’s temped to concoct a story about an extreme rescue he made saving someone’e life. Stepping off a ledge just sounds so lame.

I alway told my kids if you are gong to do something, don’t mess around, do it up big. His foot required surgery and a screw. I felt so badly for him. I just wanted to hold him in my lap again. He’s 6 foot 4. That might look a little odd. I talked to Jason a couple of hours after surgery. He said he was fine and wasn’t in pain. Of course he probably couldn’t feel anything anywhere at that point. The day after surgery was another story.

No matter how old your kids get, you don’t want to see them hurting or struggling. There’s not an age they get to where those feeling go away. Your heart strings will forever be tugged on. It’s one of the fine print footnotes in the instructions manual.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

My childhood front yard on Shannon Drive was the flattest on the block. Half of the neighborhood spent hours playing kickball there. One specific section of sidewalk was home plate, the holly bush in front of the house, first base, a shrub dividing our yard from the neighbor’s was second and an enormous pine tree was third. I would close my eyes and winch when I reached first base hoping to not grab stickers on the holly bush. The second base shrub had one bald side from being grabbed so many times and the bark had been peeled off hand high on the pine tree. Sliding in to the concrete home base was not advisable.

In the middle of one close game, the neighborhood trouble maker called the younger of two brothers a slowpoke shrimp. The older brother instantly tore in to the trouble maker. My younger brother tried to break up the fight and one of the neighbor kids got a front tooth knocked out. It was a baby tooth and my dad was a dentist. I’m sure the neighborhood gossip was good that week.

The trouble maker kid learned a very important thing in my front yard. You can call your own brother names, but there is high risk involved in calling someone else’s brother slowpoke shrimp. Brothers stick together that way.

Jim has an older brother, Joe, and a younger brother, Jerry. The Brawner brothers are a tight crew. They took care of each other and, I’m sure, covered for each other when necessary. Joe is several years older than Jim and Jerry and everyone knew not to mess with the younger Brawner boys. Joe is a protective kind of a guy.

Joe has been fighting for a year ... not with the neighborhood trouble maker, but with cancer. He knows his little brothers are in the fight with him. If they could, Jim and Jerry would give the bully a black eye and knock out a tooth. That’s just what brothers do.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

“Learn to say no and it will do you more good than being able to speak several foreign languages.” -Unknown

Two year olds know how to say no without hesitation. Who teaches them how to do it? No one, they’re simply being honest about what they want and don’t want to do. As we grow up we learn about the rules and regulations of life and what holds trouble at bay, but for some reason we get confused about saying no.

There are huge campaigns and billboards about saying no to drugs and sex so we have a constant reminder. But, what about when it comes to drawing some boundaries with our time and commitments? Most of us are in way over our heads when it comes to the number of things we say yes to.

“Oh, sure I can make 8 dozen cookies for the PTA bake sale fundraiser. Why yes, I’ll keep your three kids while you go to a retreat. It will give my three each a friend to play with. I’d be glad to lend you $500.00. No problem, I’ll take your carpool week,” and on and on we go.

“Well, the homeroom mothers would talk about me it I didn’t bake this year.” Guess what, they’re going to talk if you bake or if you don’t bake. So cut yourself some slack. Everyone can handle different sized loads. The other mothers may all act like they have it all together, but don’t be fooled.

Maybe the first response should be no. Then think about it and if it’s something you really would like to do, call back later and ask if help is still needed. It’s much easier to say no, then say yes the next day, than to say yes and have a panic attack trying to figure out how you are going to follow through.

I remember Mrs. Hen, my junior high English teacher, explaining “no” is a complete sentence. It’s not necessary to fill in all the reasons or explanations for why you say no. We feel obligated to justify the no because, if we don’t have what we feel others would call a really legitimate reason, we feel we’re less than capable.

No is not only a complete sentence, it’s a powerful word. Using it will keep us out of the tall weeds most of the time. Who told us it’s not OK to say no?

Monday, April 26, 2010

I was in Joplin, Missouri over the weekend speaking at a women’s conference. The organizational committee ran the event like a team of elite athletes, they made it look simple. It was the 56th annual and I’m certain they are planning for next year’s event starting today.

Even though I was working, it felt like a break. It’s as if I was able to put all of life’s complexities at the end of my driveway for 48 hours and tend to them from a distance. I had the opportunity to meet interesting, sincere people, listen to new perspectives, and one night I slept eight uninterrupted hours.

As I drove toward Interstate 44 for home, Droid beeped a severe thunderstorm alert. He has so many friends. Not only do I get weather warnings, in one click I can watch Al Roker give the latest update on the Weather Channel.

I stopped at the Kum-n-Go to fill up and Chic-Fil-A for a chicken tender combo, then headed for home and the storm. I don’t like interstates with all the 18 wheelers to start with and I like them even less in a rain storm. I stayed in the right lane and went my speed.

It rained torrents even though I was on the edge of the storm the entire two hour drive. However, as I was gripping the steering wheel, I did remember the rain might give us a break from the choking pollen.

The storm was just a sprinkle by the time I turned in to my neighborhood. I made it! I looked in the rear view mirror and there it was, a gigantic rainbow. It slowly disappeared as I went down the hill to my house. A perfectly timed reminder; after you make it through a storm there’s always a chance for a rainbow.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sadly, statistics show those born after 1980 are leaving the church in droves, not a specific church, but churches in general. It’s not because there aren’t plenty of high tech power point presentations, contemporary music, casual dress and coffee, or a lack of small groups to address every issue that can be struggled with. The reason they're leaving is not because they have given up on their faith, they’ve given up on the church. Not the programs, but the people.

I asked someone in that age group recently, “Why do you think surveys are reporting so many people your age are choosing to not be involved with church?” The answer was truthful, but biting.

“I suppose they're tired of hearing one thing and seeing another. It’s real discouraging and somewhat confusing to watch people who have been in church for years, who can recite volumes of Scripture, who serve on several church committees and boards, but outside church they are mean, stingy, and unethical. I think my generation is basically fed up with fake. I think those who are leaving are more interested in spending their time with people who are honest and authentic. They may have a better understanding of what it means to be a Christian than those who profess one thing and live another,” she said.

Wow. She wasn’t angry or frustrated, but had a sadness in her tone. It made me sad, too, because I knew how she felt. Not long ago I ran into a churchgoing committee serving person who was pit bull mean. I had to hold my tongue, listen, and after a few minutes politely say I had to go. People who are hurting tend to hurt others. I guess since they’re unhappy, they think everyone else should be too, so they try their best to make it happen.

I saw a man in the Super Center in the frozen food department who’s tee shirt said: I DON’T LIKE MEAN PEOPLE. He and my young friend must know some of the same people. How sad it is we let other people ruin things for us.

I told my friend about something I read once that helped me when I was discouraged about all the say-one-thing-do-another people in church. It said, “I don’t follow those who say they follow Jesus. I follow Jesus.”

That’s simple and straight to the point. People are people and they will let us down. Jesus won’t.

“... and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”
1 Corinthians 13:2

Saturday, April 24, 2010

There’s an ad for an upcoming episode of a new TV show that caused me to pause as I was flipping through channels the other night. A mom walked in the bathroom of the family home to catch her daughter in the shower with her boyfriend. I don’t know who was more shocked, the mother or the teens or me. There was a lot of confusion and yelling then the boy left the house and the daughter went to her room.

The frazzled mom walked into her daughter’s bedroom, plopped down on the bed and asked what every mother would ask, “What were you thinking?”

Then the fireworks began. “But I love him,” the daughter whined. She sounded like a four year old who wanted a puppy. I was fascinated with her rationale. She had violated every rule of common sense and a dozen mom-set rules and her I-love-him answer was supposed to make her mom say,” Oh, OK.”

“You just don’t understand,” the daughter said, like her mom had just skipped being a teenager when she was growing up.

The mom explained, “Oh, honey I do understand. I love you and I just don’t want you to make the same mistake I made.”

Then in a half scream half cry the daughter said. “So, I’m your mistake. I can’t believe you said that. Please leave. I don’t want to talk to you now.”

At that point I didn’t care who was right or wrong, I changed the channel because I felt horrible for everyone. Knowing she had blown it, the daughter felt like no one understood and that she was her mother's "mistake". The mother was trying to convince her daughter she did understand how she was feeling. She was only trying to protect her from unnecessary pain. But the daughter turned the whole incident back around on her mother. What a mess!

Since I’m used to watching Big Bird and Oscar calmly problem solve on Sesame Street with the grandkids, this situation was a bit unsettling. However, things like this happen in real life that giant yellow birds and red monsters don’t have to deal with. It really caused me to think about the way we phrase things. Well-meaning words can be misunderstood, twisted and backfire.

Have you ever had someone say to you, “You look so much better.” I know it’s meant as a compliment, but it makes me wonder how badly things looked before. The TV mom’s intentions were to protect her daughter from the heartache she experienced as a teen mom. But all the girl heard her mom saying was she was only a bad mistake.

How we say things can leave deep wounds and long-lasting scars. We need to be keenly aware of the impact of our words. Maybe it will be a Bert and Ernie discussion on an upcoming episode.

Friday, April 23, 2010

It’s scary to think how little I knew about taking care of kids when I started having them. I don’t know, maybe there’s just so much more to be aware of now. Babies seem to need additional paraphernalia these days. And, it seems there are so many more diseases parents have to worry about.

Five-month-old Vivian is on the downhill side of RSV, Respiratory Syncytial Virus. I’d never heard of it before, but it’s rough. Evidently it can go into pneumonia and it picks on babies and the elderly. After a visit to the pediatrician she was prescribed a nebulizer. Viv looks like a mini Darth Vadar receiving foggy breathing treatments from a smiling penguin while Jill sings and dances to distract her. It’s quite a scene.

The girls’ stay in Missouri was extended because of the RSV. Jill sent me a text from the downstairs bedroom the other night. “Please find my phone charger and bring it down if you would. The battery is almost dead.” The guest bedroom looked like someone had ransacked it searching for valuables. There was baby stuff everywhere, so I carefully made my way to the bed not knowing what I might step on or in.

Viv was finally sound asleep on Jill’s chest. Not wanting to move she whispered, “Could you plug in the charger?”

I squeezed between the pack-and-play and the bed trying not to knock over the cool mist humidifier. Then I got down on my hands and knees under the bedside table to find the electrical socket. I was in total darkness fumbling for the plug in when I raised up banging my head on the table biting my tongue.

I sat down on the floor trying to laugh quietly. All of a sudden I remembered I had installed a new app on Droid, a flashlight. With two clicks I had a tiny beam and plugged in the charger.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “It’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” One little light made all the difference for me. Just like remembering I had a flashlight, I wish I could remember to always look for something positive in the midst of all the negative. Why, so many times, do we find ourselves complaining about everything that’s wrong instead of looking for something, no matter how small, that is good and right?

It was a rough 10 days for sweet baby Vivian. She was so sick, and we all wanted to curse the darkness. But, I had a chance to watch my daughter be a mother willing to dance and sing to make breathing treatments more fun for her daughter.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

I’d never really thought about it before. But it made sense when someone explained there’s no one genetically closer to you than your siblings. Each of you has half of your mother’s DNA and half of your father’s DNA. If that’s who you’re the closest to on this planet, why then, is it such a challenge to get along with them? Maybe because you are so much alike or because you both started life out in the same spot.

I got a note last week asking, “What do I do about my five and seven year old boys.” I am constantly settling arguments. One tells on the other and it turns into a crying ordeal. I’m exhausted.”

Most of the time, at least at our house, those scuffles were over crucial issues such as invasions of three feet of personal space or breathing too much of the other’s air. They will absolutely wear parents to a frazzel. So what do you do?

Sometime when things are calm, maybe over an ice cream cone, ask the boys what they think it would take for them to argue and fuss less. Let them make some suggestions. I think parents would be surprised if they put things off on the kids to solve.

It would be good to establish a no tattling rule unless there is danger involved. Ask the kids what they think should happen when someone tattles. Some of the answers might be considered illegal in the prison systems.

The sooner they learn how to settle minor issues on their own the better off they will be later on. I know adult sisters who still fight, stomp and scream at each other. Even now they call their mother trying to get her to take sides. Their behavior instantly time-warps backwards when they disagree.

I suppose our job as parents is; to help kids understand in the end there’s no one who’ll stick with you like a brother or sister, to teach them the art of negotiation and in case of emergency, how to duck a punch.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I think it’s interesting to learn about the food traditions and habits people grew up with. I don’t mean the ones connected with holidays, but just everyday type things, like roast on Thursdays. When I was a kid there was a family in our neighborhood who had cereal for dinner every Sunday night. I thought that was so cool. It’s like college food services shutting down on Sunday nights; let them eat cereal and give the cooks a night off.

My mom was a health Nazi before it was popular. I remember being concerned I wouldn’t fit in when I went to junior high because I didn’t like Cokes. Unfortunately I learned to like them, a lot. There was a cookie drawer my brother and I could get in to only after dinner. For some reason that rule didn’t apply for my kids. Mom even offered them treats from the drawer regardless of the time of day. That still bugs me.

For years, every Sunday night, our family had dinner with the Caseys. We would either go to their house, or they would come to ours and we would order out. Dad and I ran the dinner pick up. It usually came down to two choices; Minute Man, a non chain hamburger place, or Kentucky Fried Chicken. KFC usually won.

I suppose that’s why KFC is comfort food for me. I can smell hot frying oil and good memories flood in. I rarely eat fried chicken, but sometimes when my mental health needs attention, I visit the Colonel. If my life gets really sad or stressful a McDonald’s fish sandwich and hot fries makes it all better. I still can’t figure out what that’s all about.

We all have foods that link us emotionally to secure, warm times in our lives; Grandmother’s chocolate chip cookies, an aunt’s Karo nut pie, or your mom’s macaroni and cheese, which more than likely came of a blue Kraft box. Outside chicken soup for a cold or the flu, why is comfort food not necessarily the best for us? For some reason we just don’t turn to broccoli or squash to be consoled.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

One of the most mind boggling factoids I’ve read in the last few years is this: “The musical birthday card that’s tossed in the trash today, holds more computer power than even existed before 1948.” Now technology is upgrading so quickly a computer bought this week will be classified an antique in 24 months, or less. The information at our fingertips is overwhelming. How did we ever make it before googling? And, we are so connected. I’m in touch with friends I haven’t seen or heard from in 30-plus years.

Is the convenience worth the trade off for the ramped up pace we’re all trying to keep up with? Is it really good to be available 24-7 no matter where you might be? Are we honestly smarter or has easy access dumbed us down? I don’t even know my own kids’ phone numbers, Driod does.

I’m sure there are some statistics we could Google to find out if the increase in access to information is in direct proportion to the decrease of common sense. It doesn’t matter how much you know, if you don’t know what to do with the information, it’s worthless. Socially are we more advanced or are we drifting backwards?

Harriet Beecher Stowe once wrote, “Common Sense is the knack of seeing things as they are and doing things as they should be done.” That seems easy enough, but elements of personal responsibility and integrity, the art of decision making, and keeping commitments clearly are fading in this era of enlightenment. We might be seeing things as they are, but it’s becoming more evident, we are lost when it comes to doing things as they should be done. Sometimes I wonder ... if we went back to simple, would our lives be quite as tangled?

Monday, April 19, 2010

When I’m on a road trip and need a restroom, I stop at McDonald’s. Their restrooms are usually somewhat clean and I don’t feel obligated to buy anything. I figure I have spent somewhere just under $100,000.00 at McDonald’s all over the country in the last 35 years, so I feel I should be able to use any of their restrooms without a purchase, guilt free.

Most public restrooms make me uneasy for obvious reasons. I like the ones in fancy places where attendants pass out hand towels and lotion. A tip is expected, but everything always feels sanitary mostly because the person handing things out is wearing a uniform, almost like someone in the medical field.

A couple of years ago, New York City had a Charmin bathroom set up in Times Square. We rode a lovely escalator up two floors to a huge room lined with individual bathrooms. Only in NYC would there be such a fuss over the launching of a new line of toilet paper ... strong or soft. An attendant was in charge of each bathroom and cleaned up after each visitor exited. I don’t think that would be on my list of jobs to apply for.

Airport restrooms are the most challenging. The doors open inward setting up an obstacle course with a carry on bag and purse. When finally squeezing out of the stall there is usually a lineup at the sinks. And who decided paper towel dispensers are required to be installed just high enough the water runs down to your elbows while you’re trying to figure out if it’s a wave-in-front of or turn-the-knob dispenser. I will say, though, it’s easier to navigate in the airport bathroom than the broom closet sized one on the plane.

Walmart needs better signage for their restrooms. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve walked in to the men’s room. Not once has anyone stopped me. I think people like to watch to see how long it takes someone to realize their mistake.

I do understand why Mom used to say, “Use the bathroom before you leave home.”

Sunday, April 18, 2010

I learned about a new community this weekend, Nashville, Indiana. I’m again reminded there are countless fascinating places in the United States I don’t even know exist. I spent the late afternoon yesterday wandering the streets and alleys of the artist colony in the heart of Brown County. Galleries presenting local artists’ works are sprinkled among the shops and local eateries. It has the feel of the way things probably should be.

The area reminds me of one of my favorite places, Eureka Springs, Arkansas, maybe with a few less hippies. It seemed all the artistic, hippie type people migrated to Eureka Springs when I was in college. I visited there a couple of years ago and recognized some of the shop owners. They look the same, just older. Maybe it was my imagination, but some still had the faint smell of incense and marijuana.

I got a latte and a snicker doodle cookie and sat down on a bench across the street from an old white church to people watch. There were preteens wanting to be teens and teenagers wanting to be adults and old couples wishing they were young again. A dad with his young son and daughter sat on a bench just across from me. The little girl, about 5 years old, had a head full of blonde corkscrew curls that looked like they had just come off of hot rollers. She was curious and fascinated with sticks and seeds and sat down on the ground to dissect a cigarette butt. Life is so interesting at five.

I’d just finished speaking, so to sit, decompress, and mentally coast for a while was the best thing I could do. A woman at the conference shared with me about her intense need to take breaks. “I will go nonstop from sunup until I drop into bed if I don’t plan a time-out for myself. I literally set a timer and make myself stop, step away from the world and rest and regroup,” she explained.

“So you set a timer and put yourself in a time-out. What a brilliant idea! Do you determine time like you do for kids, one minute for every year of age? That would be awesome,” I said trying to figure out when I could start with self imposed time-outs too.

“I do,” she said. “At first it made me real nervous and just like for a kid, the time crawled. Now, I look forward to a time-out.”

I suppose yesterday afternoon was a time-out. I just didn’t set a timer. It gave me time to reflect and watch a community I didn’t know, until a few days ago, was even on the planet. I think it would be good for all of us to go to time-out and to take more naps.

Thanks, Brown County, for teaching me some valuable life lessons: Put yourself in time-out, browse art galleries, and eat at a non-chain restaurant whenever you can.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Sense of direction is not one of my gifts. I know it’s not on the Biblical list with mercy and serving and so on, but it has to be on a list somewhere. Either you have it or you don’t. I marvel at someone who can emerge from a building and instantly know which direction to go. I stay lost. I think it’s a defect my parents just didn’t want me to know I had.

I’ve lost count of the number of hotel room doors that have failed to open because I was on the wrong wing or floor. Parking lots and garages make my palms sweat and athletic arena’s are like giant mazes to me. I’m sure security camera replay films entertain the security guards. “Look Sam, there goes that blonde woman, again!”

I have learned to find a landmark to remind me of my location and which way to go. Signs, furniture, and artificial plants have become my friends offering directions.

My Dad’s health is seeing it’s ups and downs. A few days ago was a down day. He had dozed off on the couch and when he woke up he told his helper he wanted to go home. She said, “Look around. You are at home.”

He looked blankly around the room. Then he saw the watercolor Jason painted for my mom when he was in high school. It still has the First Place and Best Of Show ribbons hanging on the frame. He grinned and said, “Now I know.”

The painting offered him direction, a reminder of where he was. It’s become kind of a true north for him. After you find that, then everything else makes sense. We all need an anchor to steady us, guide us and remind us where we are and where we’re going. What’s true north for you?

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” -Proverbs 3:5

Friday, April 16, 2010

At an event not long ago, a women shook my hand and thanked me for coming to town to be a part of the annual banquet. She said, “I know you travel all over the country. That must be so much fun jetting off to different places ... kind of romantic.” I just smiled and nodded my head. No one has more fun at their job than I do, but the travel is the challenging part. I think she had read one too many romance novels.

Yesterday was one of my romantic travel days. After digging through three unfolded loads of laundry looking for a shirt, I loaded my pushing-the-weight-limit suitcase and stuffed carryon in the car, dashed in Subway for a Veggie Delight and drove the hour to the airport eating, trying to not spill.

I parked in the 30 minute free parking area, dragged the big suitcase inside, checked it and learned the flight was delayed. Then I went back to the car, parked in long term parking and dragged the smaller bag back into the terminal. After stripping down to almost my underwear and loading my computer and all the stuff into the little bins that go through the x-ray machine, I walked through the metal detector. While I’m walking around without shoes, I try to think of a beach somewhere instead of all the other bare feet that have preceded me. I was stunned when I made it though without being one of the select few for further screening. It’s almost like the TSA agents see a “Choose Me” written on my forehead.

After redressing and repacking I paid $3.00 for a bottle of water and found out the flight was delayed again. Finally on board, I relaxed ... for a minute. The man in front of me went in to loud detail to the woman across the aisle about his trip. He had given up cigarettes six years ago and the money he hadn’t smoked away he was using to travel. He was on his way Puerto Vallarta. As we rolled down the runway taking off, he hollered, “Yee haw, this baby’s got pick up,” like he was on a mechanical bull at Gilley’s bar and grill. He should have a warning label.

After a mile walk to my connecting gate, I boarded the next plane. The flight attendant came over the intercom system, “Ladies and gentlemen, I know it’s a bit uncomfortable. Our air conditioner is broken. They are bringing us a new one so be patient please.”

Thirty minutes later, just before people were about to panic, we had cool air and were taking off. This flight was a little quieter. I noticed the man across the aisle from me was rubbing his head, then his neck, then he started this tapping repetitive movement with his hand on his chest. I thought the heat before takeoff had gotten the best of him. It all seemed so normal to his wife, so I assumed he wan’t having a seizure. It was sunset so maybe it was a religious ritual of sorts. It was strange. I was glad that was a short flight.

Yeah, interesting travel, but romantic ... not so much. Maybe if someone packed my bags, I had a limo pickup with little sandwiches and bottled Perrier with a bendy straw, and a Fabio-looking guy carried my bags to a private plane that would count as romantic.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

One of my favorite cartoons is the Roadrunner. Wile E. Coyote is forever chasing Roadrunner who outsmarts Wile E. every episode. I wonder if Wile E. would know what to do if he ever caught him. Wile E. fumes with anger and Roadrunner always smiles and Beep-Beeps as he speeds away. Roadrunner clearly knows how to push the coyote’s hot buttons.

My hot buttons got bumped yesterday. It takes more than an irritation to get me riled up, and yesterday it happened. I was madder than hops. That saying literally means you’re so mad you’re ready to hop on someone and knock them from here to tomorrow. I was ready.

Like Wile E. Coyote, I’m not sure what I would have done if I’d gotten my hands on my anger source, but I’m certain it would have been ugly. I know anger’s foundation is built with unmet expectations, but good grief, is it too much to expect people to be honest and somewhat nice? When people are mean and mistreat others it makes me want to say things that aren’t lady-like.

Mom used to say, “When someone acts like a fool, don’t lower yourself to his level to respond.” That hit me about noon. I wished I would have remembered it earlier in the day and I wouldn’t have wasted time visualizing how I would present my shame-on-you speech. In the end, the anger causer would drop his head and apologize profusely promising to never behave that way ever again. It was a good visual, though, like the happily ever after part of a movie.

Honestly, what good would have confrontation done? None. So, I listened to my mother’s words of wisdom and hit reset. By 3:00 I had let it slide and got back to the rest of my day. At least I have my madder-than-hops script rehearsed if I ever need it.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

I met Mary Ann in the produce department at Hudson’s grocery thirty-four years ago this fall. She had a little girl and a baby boy. I had a little boy and a big belly. We became instant friends standing by the lettuce display.

We only lived in the same town for two years, but that was long enough to forge a lifelong friendship. I’ve moved twice and so has she and we both added third kids. She’s someone I may not talk to for six months, but when she calls, our conversation starts with, “And so then...” It’s as if we hung up the phone last night.

We’ve trekked through some rocky terrain together, raising kids, losing parents, surviving disappointments and a car wreck that almost took her life. Her latest conquest; breast cancer. She won.

We both have a gaggle of grandkids now and are both married to the same guys we were married to when we met. We agreed we were keeping our old husbands because it would be way too much work to break in new ones.

Yesterday Mary Ann and her daughter, Jennifer, were in town on a day trip celebrating and shopping for Jennifer’s birthday. We tried to meet for lunch, but had to settle with catching up in the Banana Republic dressing room at the outlet mall. Mary Ann, Jennifer, Jill, baby Vivian and the stroller and I took over the space. It was a sweet hour of laughing and conversation while Jennifer tried on a dozen outfits in search of a new look for her new corporate job.

When we said our good-bye’s, I knew more than likely, it would be several months or a year until I see Mary Ann again. But that’s OK. I know she’ll always be at the other end of the phone if I need her. She knows that about me too. Friends like that are priceless. Everyone needs a Mary Ann in their life.

“A friend loves at all times.” -Proverbs 17:17

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Hidden in the stacks of third class mail in the box last week was the first wedding invitation of the year. ‘Tis the season for invitations. Statistics show more weddings take place in June than any other time of year. These days not only does the envelope hold the actual invitation, but the reply card, the addressed and stamped reply card envelope, directions to the church and the reception, local hotel information and a gift registry suggestion card. It’s more like an information packet you receive when you tour a museum or a foreign country.

Not long after I married Jim Brawner, we drove to a small, rural community for a sorority sister’s wedding. We had allowed, what we thought was, ample time, but the trend of maps with invites hadn’t arrived yet and GPS systems were only in airplanes. After stopping three times for directions, we finally opened the door to the sanctuary and the bride and groom almost ran us over. That was one short ceremony. The reception is the best part anyway.

I cut my teeth on Jason and Travis’ weddings as the mother-of-the-groom, so I halfway knew what I was getting in to after Jill and David set a date. I quickly learned the MOG’s job of planning the rehearsal dinner, wearing beige, keeping her mouth shut and smiling had been easy compared to the realm I had entered as the MOB. Anyone with a question called me and most of the time the answer was “I’ll have to get back to you on that.” That was almost eight years ago. I think there are still unanswered questions.

The wedding industry generates $50 billion dollars a year with the average American wedding coming in at $22,000.00. The scariest statistic is there’s a 43% chance a marriage will end in divorce. That’s like gambling a chunk of money on a long shot at the Kentucky Derby.

No matter the cost of the wedding, when you get married, it’s a gamble of sorts. There’s way more at risk than money though, you risk your heart. You open yourself up to the vulnerability of pain and disappointment as well as joy and happiness. Building a marriage takes years of stops and starts and fits and do-overs and forgiveness. It takes a lifetime.

When I set the invitation from the mailbox on my desk, I hoped the couple spending all the time and money getting ready for their June wedding will always remember how they feel on their wedding day. I pray they have the gumption and determination to beat the odds and make it work. And, I hope they understand forever is a long time.

Monday, April 12, 2010

My kids’ birthdays are December 2nd, December 22nd and January 6th. All three were born within a four week period at Christmas time. Countless people have asked me what I was thinking. Obviously, I wasn’t.

I vowed just because their birthdays were close to Christmas we wouldn’t combo Christmas and birthday. We partied like it was the middle of July. We celebrated at the bowling alley, the roller rink, the movie theater, McDonald’s, Mazzio’s, Show Biz Pizza and Chuck E. Cheese. For Jason’s December 22nd, ninth birthday party we picked up six kids who parents really trusted us and drove them to the bowling alley. Two inches of ice had covered the streets the night before but we are kind of like the Postal Service, nothing stops the party.

There were several at home celebrations in the mix. After each party at our house, I remembered why I said I would never do it again, but kept forgetting. Blue icing on carpet is more permanent than a Sharpie marker.

Now we’re birthday partying with the grandkids. It’s all the fun minus the responsibility and the blue icing threat. Even though his birthday was almost three weeks ago, spring break and Easter pushed Jackson’s 7th birthday party to yesterday. There was enough excitement and energy in the backyard full of six and seven year olds to power a small city.

Not much has changed in birthday party protocol. Games or activity, gather to sing Happy Birthday, blow out the candles, and hope for the corner piece of cake. Open gifts, play some more, hand out party favors, send everyone home and bring out the jumbo black trash bags.

I used to wonder if all the fuss and work would ever be remembered, but it was. As adults, all three of my kids can recall party details and, if the truth be known, Jill still prefers McDonald’s birthday cake. It’s amazing how important seemingly simple things are in a child’s life.

After everyone had gone home with their whacky glasses and semi-melted chocolate bars, Jackson was, more than likely, already thinking about next year’s party. For him, like me, the details and planning are as much fun as the party. Whoever invented the birthday party had a fabulous idea.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

I straightened up, turned around and screamed. There stood Jim. Honestly, I thought he had left 10 minutes earlier and I was in my own world turned upside down drying my hair singing ... loudly.

“Good grief, Suz, I live here too.” I think I startled him as much as he did me.

“I thought you had already left.”

“Listen,” he said with a serious look on his face. “Did you get into the maps in the door pocket of my car? They were moved out of the door on to the driver’s seat.”

“I haven’t been in your maps or even in your car. Are you sure you didn’t move them looking for something and just forget?” We stick together because it takes two of us to make one brain sometimes.

“No. This is really strange. Maybe someone has been in our garage. How many people have you given the code to?” he asked like Law and Order SVU detectives do.

“Me? You’re the one who shares everything with everyone. I think you moved the maps and just forgot,” I said putting them back in the door pocket.

He rolled his eyes and pulled out of the driveway on an overnight trip leaving me to the detective work. What if someone had actually come in to our house while we were gone. Does the security system really work? I’ve seen the bad guys short circuit them in movies. What do we have that anyone would want? Why did he have to make that discovery just as he was leaving town?

And the paranoia grew. I even went online to see if we had crazy felons living in the neighborhood. I didn’t sleep much that night.

Two days later Jim found the maps on the seat again, but this time there was more evidence. Torn up bits of paper were stuffed the in door pocket. After following a paper trail, the bad guy short circuiting the alarm system turned out to be a chipmunk building a home in the car door. He had gnawed through a brief case handle and chewed up some book covers, but carefully moved the maps without damaging them at all.

Spike White used to tell me that assumptions can cause you nothing but trouble, so be careful. Runaway thoughts get darker and uglier the further they spin out of control. Assuming almost had me calling in the Taney County sheriff on a chipmunk.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

I read something the other day I instantly pushed back against. I understood the statement, because that’s what the world says and automatically thinks, but I don’t necessarily agree. The article said,” It’s a given ... teenagers will be controversial. So if you have a preteen, get ready. It’s just to be expected.”

Now that should be encouraging to every parent of a 10-year-old. It’s just like saying to parents of newborns, “Enjoy things now because the terrible twos are just around the corner.”

I guess there is some validity in putting teenagers and two-year-olds in the same category. They’re both facing phases of tremendous change and, honestly, who’s more confused, the kids or the parents?

Similar to the horror stories women feel compelled to share with someone who is pregnant, parents who are on the other side of parenting teens feel the need to be a beacon of warning, like it’s their calling, in a spiritual kind of a way. The saddest thing is for some reason, just because they live to tell about it, people will listen because they are confused and down right scared. The reason they are scared is because they listen to the horror stories. And on the cycle goes.

The truth is this; whatever you expect, you will most likely get. Clearly there are the situations parents are absolutely blindsided by random behavior, but by and large kids will behave to your expectations. If you expect controversy, there probably will be. It’s like the Cesar Milan theory: Use calm assertiveness with all dogs, even pit bulls. You are the leader and if you act like the leader, they will follow. If you show them respect, they will return the favor.

No way around it, raising kids you have to bring your A game every day. It does take a lot of time, energy, and creativity, but it doesn’t have to look like something from a bad movie. Parents tend to stop at Ephesians 6:1: “Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right”. The secret is found reading on to verse 4 “Fathers (mothers too) do not exasperate your children...” Somewhere in the middle is the sweet spot of balance.

Teenagers and two-year-olds ... challenging, yes, automatically controversial, not necessarily.

Friday, April 9, 2010

All we were planning to do yesterday was drive three hours to see my Dad in Conway. How difficult is that? Jill, baby Vivian, and I were taking one car. Jim has meetings during the two days we are in central Arkansas so he was taking another car. By the time we got the pack-and-play, activity center, tot gym, Jim’s business stuff and clothes for a couple of days in two cars we looked like we were on a cross country move instead of a road trip to see Paw Paw.

Our original plan was to leave midmorning. I have been working on an upper respiratory something for about four days and it finally nailed me overnight. I woke up feeling like the bottom of someone’s shoe, sounding like a coughing Kermit The Frog. Go time was instantly moved to noon.

I was getting things together when Jill turned white and dashed to the bathroom. Vivian was crying so I coated up to my shoulders in Purell and picked her up. We don’t need her sick too, but comforting a baby held at arms length just doesn’t do any good. Jill came out of the bathroom chanting, “I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine,” like she was trying to convince herself. We then decided 1:00 would be a more reasonable time to leave.

On his way home from Springfield Jim called thinking we were probably halfway to Conway. After a short recap of the morning he asked what he could do to help. He agreed to stop by Walgreens and pick up my prescriptions saving us a trip back in to town. Thirty minutes later he called explaining an insurance mix up that sounded like a 500 piece puzzle with one missing piece. I never did understand any of it except that he had the medicine. To be in the car by two o’clock was probably more feasible at this point.

I finally started the car at 3:00 only to remember it was sitting on empty! Vivian was asleep by the time we left the subdivision and Jill was teetering on OK. I still sounded like a coughing Kermit. We drove six miles to the Arkansas/Missouri border and rolled in to Wild Bill’s truck stop to fill up with gas and hopefully pick up some Imodium for Jill. After filling up the tank I parked at the store front to wait for Jill.

After catching my breath from a coughing spell, I sighed thinking maybe we should have just stayed home. Then came the flood of everything negative I could think of, underlining the feeling, I’m just not strong enough. I glanced at the truck stop door. All I saw was: BOLDLY GO EVERYWHERE. I felt like I was in a Jim Carrey movie scene.

Yeah, I can make this trip! I am strong! Good grief, I’ve given birth three times! Jill opened the car door interrupting the rousing pep talk with myself. “Wow Jill, look at that sign on the door. Go see what the ad is for. All I can see is the boldly go everywhere part,” I said.

She walked up to the door and came back grinning, “Perfect, Mom. It’s selling snuff.”

Oh well, it was good enough to crash my pity party. So we pulled out onto 65 south and headed to Conway.

“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self discipline.”
-2 Timothy 1:7

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Kaylin and Vivian, the two youngest in our herd of grandkids, met at McDonald’s for a visit yesterday. Life is but a tea party when you’re four and five months old. Vivian, the first born female in her family and a month older, looks to be explaining a few things to Kaylin, the baby sister to two big brothers. Wouldn’t it be interesting to know what they’re really thinking and trying to say?

Being older and bossier, Vivian is most likely saying, “Girl, can you believe our moms put these bows on our heads? It’s not our fault we don’t have any hair. We’re trying the best we can to grow some. Good grief, your bow is half as big as your head!”

I’m sure by the expression on her face, Kaylin is thinking, “You know what, Viv is right, but boy does she talk a lot. Maybe she’ll run out of energy and be quiet in a minute ... then maybe not.”

Life is pretty simple for the girls. They aren’t concerned about next week or even tomorrow. The market summary and mortgage rates aren’t anywhere on their radar of worry. And who cares about rising gas prices. If they have a full belly and a dry bottom, right now, life is good.

We can learn something very important from Vivian and Kaylin. It seems to be such a challenge to the grown-up world, but they have no problem living in the present and enjoying right now. There’s nothing to gain worrying forward about things we have absolutely no control over. I usually blame my worry on that irritating voice that keeps asking, “What are you going to do? What are you going to do? What are you going to do!”

I think it would be best if I just said out loud, “I don’t know right now, so shut up and sit down.” Maybe it would.

We waste the right now fretting over yesterday and worrying about tomorrow. I asked Karen, Jim’s brother’s wife, how she handles the stress of dealing with Joe’s raging cancer and all that comes with it. She said, “I open the door to today when I get up. I live today and face today what I need to face and enjoy what I can enjoy. At the end of the day I close the door. Tomorrow I’ll do the same.”

That’s brilliant. Really we should live every day like that, dealing with a deadly disease or not. Enjoy right now. The girls sure do.

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.”
-Matthew 6:34

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The picture says it all. Please twirl once before you leave home. No, I didn’t take this picture with Droid at the Super Center. If she wasn’t leaning on the push handle it might not be so bad. Have you ever noticed how many people lean on shopping carts shuffling along as if they are having blood sugar dip? Maybe they’re bored or just tired.

At Christmas time Alison was running errands in the rain with Jackson, Mollie Jane and baby Smith. She needed one last stop at Walmart before heading home. They were barely in the door when three-year-old Mollie Jane said she had to go potty. After juggling the baby, helping Mollie with a toilet seat cover and convincing Jackson it was OK for six-year-old boys to be in the ladies room, she decided she should take advantage of the bathroom herself while she was there.

After singing the alphabet while washing hands and gathering everyone up, they were off to conquer the list. They went up one aisle and were coming down the next when an older woman stopped and smiled, patted Jackson on the head, and commented how beautiful the children were. She then quietly said to Alison, “Dear, I think you have something stuck to the back of your skirt.” Then she quickly walked away.

Alison looked around to see a good eight feet of toilet paper trailing her like a wedding dress train. It was neatly tucked up under her skirt in to the waistband of her tights. Mortified, she yanked it off wondering how many people had watched her sashay down the shampoo aisle. In all the confusion with the kids, she forgot to twirl once.

More than likely no one else even noticed her white tail because they were all so preoccupied with Christmas shopping. At least that’s what I told Alison.

Our lives get so busy words are something else we forget to mentally twirl before we send them out. Words can sting like blow darts. Be careful to mentally edit what you say before you say it. If we leave home with a wardrobe faux pas, we can fix it. Once words are spoken they can’t be changed as easily as a pair of underwear.

Always remember to twirl once. Check your clothes. Check your words.

“He who guards his mouth and tongue keeps himself from calamity.”
-Proverbs 21:23

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

When Jameson was almost three he was all about Blue’s Clues, a popular interactive children’s program on Nickelodeon. The only human character was Steve. His job was to pose questions to the pint sized TV audience. A big blue dog helped the kids solve the mystery. When Steve or Blue had puzzling questions they would go to the thinking chair for a rest and a thinking spell. Jameson determined a chair in my family room was a perfect thinking chair.

I was sitting in my thinking chair the other day reading and came across this statement: A 20 year old has hidden potential but a 50 year old has wasted his potential. I thought about it for a while ... that’s what the thinking chair is for.

I decided I didn’t agree with the author, at all. Those on track to become concert pianists or NBA stars are one thing, but most flounder around and wander for a while trying this and that before they hit their stride. The route and timing varies person to person whether twenty or fifty. I really believe it’s never too late for hidden potential to be uncovered. Ten, twenty, even thirty year high school reunions prove that.

Ray Kroc and Harland Sanders were both late starters uncovering their hidden potential. Ray was a milk shake machine salesman who wondered why the McDonald brothers ordered so many shake mixers. After much consideration he bought their restaurant and eventually developed it into one of the most recognized food chains in the world. Ray Kroc sold his first hamburger when he was in his 50s.

Harland Sanders dropped out of school in seventh grade and ran away from home. He was a steamboat pilot, insurance salesman, farmer and soldier. In his 40s he cooked meals for people who stopped by his service station in Kentucky. At age 65 he used $105 from his first Social Security check to visit potential franchisees. I wonder if as a young man anyone thought the Colonel had hidden potential. At 60 do you think anyone said he had wasted potential?

Potential isn’t just hidden in career paths. More importantly we all have the possibility of being kind, patient souls who walk with integrity and purpose. Trying, failing, backing up and going at it again is part of finding out what works and what doesn’t work with all of our relationships as well.

Life usually takes a twisted, indirect route. There are really no overnight successes. There are years and sometimes decades of hard work behind what we see. The answer to the question, “Where did this guy come from?” ... he came from years of preparation.

We all have hidden potential. It won’t be wasted, even if we spend the rest of our lives discovering it. That, however, might take some time in the thinking chair.

“In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”
-Proverbs 16:9

Monday, April 5, 2010

Living in a rural community, I understand sharing space with wild animals. We’ve had raccoons rummaging through trash cans, possums in the dog food, and squirrels stealing from the bird feeders. After trying everything but a stick of dynamite to get rid of squirrels, we finally gave in and bought them their very own feeder so they would leave everything else alone.

One spring Jill flew in from Los Angeles to the Northwest Arkansas airport for a week-long visit. The route to pick her up was not just through rural, but remote sections of south Missouri and north Arkansas. It’s beautiful but so winding it can even make the driver carsick.

It was late so we picked up some dinner and a coffee to go. About halfway home both of us needed a bathroom break. We were so busy chatting we didn’t consider the consequences of a Grande Starbucks and a two hour backwoods drive. Just about to agree on chancing a skunk wandering up if we stopped for a woodsy toilet, we saw a light in the distance. Up over the next hill was a gas station/convenience store. We could buy something to justify use of the bathroom.

After seeing the ladies room, the outdoor facilities might not have been such a bad idea. Drying our hands on disintegrating toilet paper, we tried to find a packaged snack that had a viable expiration date and wasn’t totally covered in dust. We settled on a couple of bottled Dr. Peppers from the rusty cooler. It was dark and late and we were the only ones around, most likely, for miles. So when the man at the register asked, “You ladies traveling tonight?” it was a bit unsettling.

“Yes sir,” Jill answered with her big city confidence.

“I figured so,” he said as he exhaled the smoke from his Camel cigarette and squinted his left eye. You don’t look like you’re from around here.”

“No sir. Thank you,” Jill took her change and we turned to walk out quickly without being too obvious.

“Just a minute,” he said abruptly. I had already eyed some cans of beer at the front door I thought might work like hand grenades if he took one step toward us.

“Yes sir?” Jill turned back to the register. I was inching toward the beer cans.

“You ladies be real careful driving through these parts now. We got deer, lots of ‘um. Them deer ... them’s Kamikaze deer. They’ll run right in to you. My sister, last week, one of them deer run right in to her like it had a death wish. Her rig was plum tore up. So you two be on the lookout”

“Wow! Thanks so much for the warning. We will be careful. Good night,” I said as I opened the door.

We got in the car, locked to doors and laughed until we couldn’t breathe. Jill said as we pulled out onto the Kamikaze infested road, “I experience a lot of things in Los Angeles, but what just happened, would not be one of them.”

Sunday, April 4, 2010

I have openly admitted I am a creature of routine, habit, and schedule. I love the plan, I love to work the plan and I love it when a plan comes together. And yes, since I’m being so brutally honest, if I do something that isn’t on the to-do list, I write it down so I can mark it off. I’m kind of like a person in rehab. “Hi, I’m Suzette. I know I have a planning problem and I’m working on it.”

Giving myself some credit, I'm learning to roll with it if the plan changes or even if the wheels totally fall off. I suppose it’s OK to be near obsessive with planning if you understand that most likely, in real time, it won’t look like it does on paper.

Travis and Kari both like the plan so it’s no surprise Owen and Jameson do too. A couple of months ago the boys were at our house for a sleepover. We explained Big and Sue Sue’s house rules were a tad bit different from the ones at their house. We ate when and whenever and totally ignored the clock. The one thing we stuck to was bedtime devotional, even though is was an hour and a half later than the schedule at their house. Time just gets by when you’re jumping on the bed.

At home they were reading though a Bible story book and knew exactly which one was next. They listened intently as Jim read about Jesus and why God sent him to earth. At the end of the story were questions. The second question was, “Why did Jesus have to die?” With the authority and conviction of a Congressman three-year-old Owen said, “Because he made bad choices.”

Now that’s a stiff penalty for making bad choices. I almost bit my tongue off to keep from laughing. Jim calmly said, “Owen Jesus made all good choices. He died because we made the bad choices. God has a plan.”

“Oh, OK,” he said, considering something adults grapple with.

While I’m wrestling to make a plan, God’s working his. He’s the primo organizer and always has a day-to-day plan that’s better than anything I could dream up.

Easter is God’s big plan. Enjoy the feasts, the bunnies and the eggs, but more importantly, consider the plan.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

At one county fair the blue ribbon in the sled pull competition was awarded to a horse hauling 9,000 pounds. Second place came in with 8,000 pounds. Their owners were curious to see what the two horses could do together. Assuming their combined efforts would produce the total weight of 17,000 pounds, they were stunned when the team was able to drag 30,000 pounds.

The purpose of this type of competition is a mystery to me. Years ago, maybe during a drought when the farmers had extra time on their hands, one guy probably said, “I bet $5.00 my horse is stronger than yours.” Game on!

Organized competition is one thing, but why do we wrestle with this need to prove who is better, stronger, faster, smarter, wealthier or better looking. Like the farmers, we would be amazed at our combined efforts.

Geese fly in formation and when the lead guy gets tired he drops back and someone else takes over. The flapping of their wings creates supportive wind currents and the geese honk to encourage each other. In hot weather a hive of bees will take turns gathering pollen and flapping their wings to cool inside the hive. I don’t imagine they whine about having to take a longer hive cooling stint if it’s what the team needs. If creatures can understand the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, why do we struggle with it?

As harsh as it is to admit, I think underneath it all is selfishness. If we were more concerned with the greater good than recognition, clearly we would be surprised, too, at what we could accomplish. Coach Bear Bryant said, “If anything goes bad, I did it. If anything goes semi-bad we did it. If anything goes real good, you did it.” If everyone kept that motto, the “stepping on others to get where you want to go” would become extinct.

When I was five years old, one of the first things I learned in Red Cross swimming lessons at the Y was, “Don’t swim alone. Always use the buddy system.” It works not only at the pool, but in a family, a marriage, business and friendships. Each of us needs a team of sorts ... everyone looking out for the best interest of everyone else. Just like the bees and geese, there is safety in numbers, but those numbers are working together.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Several years ago my Aunt Jo said there were two things she wanted to do before she died; see Jill get married and tour the William Clinton Presidential Library. I could understand the first, but questioned the second. She has lived in Little Rock most of her life, so maybe that was it. Mom used to say in polite circles, it’s always safe to avoid politics. I considered that situation a polite circle.

A couple of years after Jill’s wedding, the Clinton Library opened. Aunt Jo said it would be perfect if Jill, David, Jim and I would go with my uncle and her to tour the library. So we did. I reminded David and Jill about the polite circle thing. Political persuasion aside, it was interesting and crammed full of history and Aunt Jo was thrilled. She must have reset her list of things she wants to do before she dies. She’s still here.

After wandering for about an hour we noticed person after person wearing egg-yolk-yellow T-shirts with black lettering; Brown Family Reunion. They were everywhere. We laughed knowing a Brawner family reunion would never make it to a presidential library. Family reunion for us translates into water activity.

Late one August, Jim’s parents, sister, two brothers, and their families met at our house for a reunion. Twenty Brawners anywhere is wild, but all under one roof for 4 days was a little out of control. We didn’t assign bedrooms or even beds, but floor space.

The third day we spent on Lake Taneycomo. Normal people trout fish in the 48 degree lake water, but we had a ski boat and water weenie set for the afternoon. Five of the kids rode first. Even with our black Labrador Retriever propped on the front, there were no wipeouts.

Up next: Grannie, PawPaw, Jim’s sister, Janet, Jerry’s wife, Rayanna and me on the back. We were all doing fine until Jim and Jerry got a little cocky with the boat driving. I could understand if it was just the girls, but good grief, their 70 year old parents were riding too.

Heading back to shore the last turn was just enough too sharp and fast to cause a slow motion tump-over. In unison all five of us screamed NOOOOO as we, like the peal of a chorus line, one-by-one fell into the stinging cold water. The normally sweet and soft-spoken Janet came to the surface and yelled one, very loud expletive, PawPaw was scrambling to rescue his dentures before they sank, and Grannie said she was swimming for the curb. Rayanna and I were laughing that laugh so hard you don’t make any noise.

I think it shocked Jim and Jerry they had actually dumped their parents into the ice cold lake. The guys helped Grannie and PawPaw in to the boat first, apologizing over and over. Janet got in, punched her brothers, threatening to do things to them that could land her in jail. Rayanna and I were still laughing.

That night we grilled steaks and heard the water weenie incident retold from those who had watched from the shore. Of course it grew with each reenactment. PawPaw listened intently, smiling, proud to have saved his dentures. Obviously we don’t need a museum or library or matching yellow shirts for an outstanding family reunion.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

As much as I don’t like traffic and interstates, I do get excited about a road trip. Really I think I get more excited about the idea of the trip than the actual traveling part. We put hundreds of thousands of miles on minivans traveling with our kids. Even though it took me at least two weeks to recover after a trip, it was worth it. Since I’ve not traveled with three kids lately, that’s easy to say.

The adventure possibilities on a road trip are endless and intriguing. We’ve been caught in a whiteout blizzard, stopped by a herd of mule deer and have changed flat tires on a hillside. One year a woman named Madge served us Christmas dinner at, I’m sure, one of the country’s finest truck stops.

Jim’s older brother, Joe, and his wife, Karen, made ridiculously long trips from south Texas to Wisconsin with their sons. If I had traveled that far in a car, it would have been either the kids or me taking Benadryl. A lot of it.

They liked to drive during the night, especially in the summer. It was cooler, the kids slept, and they took turns driving, so it worked. Years ago, on a summer trip back to Texas, around 4:00am Joe needed a pit stop. Karen and the boys were sound asleep in the station wagon, so he hated to pull in to a gas station with blaring lights. He found a roadside rest stop where he probably wouldn’t have stopped, even in the daylight, but he was the only one getting out. He left the car running, locked it and took the door key with him. He got back in the station wagon, proud of himself for not waking anyone up, and took off.

About an hour later when the sun was coming up, Jonathan woke up: “Umm, Dad.”

“Hey buddy. You’re up,” Joe whispered. “You want to sneak up here and ride with me?”


“Shhh! Don’t wake up Mom and Steven.”

“Dad! Where is Mom? She’s not in the way back seat!” Jonathan said waking up Steven who instantly started crying, “Mom’s gone! Dad, how could you lose Mom?”

The tire marks are probably still on a stretch of highway in the middle of nowhere Texas. After the car came to a stop, Joe made a U-turn and gunned it back to the not-so-safe-looking rest stop. He went 90 miles an hour hoping a state trooper would stop him. No luck. Trying to calm down the kids, he assured them he would find Mom while he drove like Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and prayed. I’m not sure if he was praying more for Karen’s safety or his own when he got back to the rest stop.

When the wagon skidded to a stop, there was barefooted Karen sitting on a picnic table where she had been for an hour. After realizing she had been left, she hid in a bathroom stall for the first hour until the sun came up. She didn’t want to wake the boys so she hadn’t bothered to dig around for shoes before she got out of the car.

None of us ever got full details of what happened next. One thing I do know; after a stop on road trips, Joe never again failed to check the back seat.