Monday, October 27, 2014

Short and Sweet: The Big Bro

My son Berto made me proud on Saturday. I saw the love of God shining through him several times in his interactions with his younger siblings.

I will tell you that, as oldest siblings are quite likely to do, he often is hard on his younger sisters and brother, telling Ana to speak up, for heavens sake, and then telling all the younger kids to shush up in turns. He tries to parent them, scolding and sometimes boldly remarking that I don't discipline them enough. He rolls his eyes and crosses his arms when Ella's teacher praises her for being so caring and responsible, murmuring that she should see how Ella Boo behaves at home. He barks at all of them to stop singing, dancing or watching him play video games. He tells Daniel to stop acting like a baby.

But then there are the moments when I catch him being the ultimate big brother. I pass by the recliner where he is letting Boo snuggle up to him to watch weekend TV. I see him playing football with four-year-old Danny and letting him win. I hear him advise Ana kindly and wisely about school issues.

And on Saturday tears came to my eyes watching my oldest boy's big heart manifest itself in little ways.

Ana and Berto play for their Papa's soccer team. During this past game a boy from the opposing team and Ana collided with each other. Ana bounced to her feet right away, so that she could help the other player up. He ignored her proffered hand, but Berto walked behind his sister and laid his hand on her shoulder. It was a momentary thing, but it expressed a good deal: Hey, teammate, glad you're okay; Don't worry about it; Come on, let's kick this game into gear!

We went to our good friend Kim's Halloween party that evening. Danny Sam is shy sometimes. He doesn't even want to stay for bubbles after library story time every week, because he would have to mingle too much, I think. At Kim's party he was too nervous to jump into the games. Berto, instead of running off with his friends to get started, encouraged his little brother to join the mummy wrap.

"C'mon, Daniel," he said, kneeling down and speaking cheerfully but gently. "You can wrap me up! You want to?"
No matter how many times he tried to persuade Danny, he couldn't get him to go. Daniel hugged the porch railing. I told Berto not to worry about it, and Danny called after him uncertainly, "Maybe later, okay Berto?"

When it got dark the huge piñata was hung for the children to admire, covet, and beat the carp out of it. Kim's husband Deane is an expert piñata manipulator. The children were blindfolded and got three swings a piece, but though a couple dozen superheroes, princesses and monsters took a crack at it, it didn't break. There were many swings that didn't connect to the bouncing, colorful ball. However, every time it hemorrhaged some candy, kids rushed in at their own peril while their compatriots were still batting. It was heck for us parents to keep swatting them back to a safe distance. We knew that once it shattered, those little pirates would pile on that grass, shoving each other out of the way, with wild abandon.

So it was no surprise that Danny was too afraid to get in on the candy-snatching mayhem when it showered out, despite the fact that parents were throwing extra treats into the mix from outside the commotion. He came up to Matthew and me, crying and holding out his treat bag.

"Danny, what's wrong?"

"I didn't get any candy," my little red-eyed fellar said, slumping into me.

"That's okay," I assured him as I held him close. "You brother and sisters will share with you!"

His little face was still droopy and dejected. Ella came up and gave him a piece. Two more older friends dropped treats into his hand. Then big bro showed up, the pop star kneeling once more by his little firefighter dude. I watched them as Daniel told Berto that he didn't get any of the candy. Berto listened carefully, said some soothing words, and then surreptitiously threw some candy behind Daniel's back.

"Look, Daniel!" he exclaimed. "There's some!" As Danny scooped it up eagerly, Berto cheered, "And you grabbed it all by yourself!"

That's when my eyes welled up. I looked up at Matthew. His eyes looked moist, too.

"He's such a good big brother," I said, leaning against my man.

We both gazed on our oldest with pride.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Losing It In Tandem

Guest post by Daniel T Hylton

I am shocked - shocked! - to know that I am sixty years old. And my lovely wife, though she doesn't look it, is fifty-nine, for crying out loud.

Wasn't it just last week that we were teen-aged lovers, standing beneath the lilacs in front of her father's house, stealing kisses as her brothers made the porch light flicker?

Alas - no, we are no longer so young.  But, really; how did sixty get here so fast?

This year, I was made to know my age, like it or not.  Back in March, three days before my sixtieth birthday, I was squatting down, watching my grandson play a game on his bedroom floor.  My legs began to ache, so I stood up - too quickly.  I blacked out and over I went, performing an exquisite face-plant on the carpet, breaking my nose, three teeth, my jaw in two places, and my skull in one.  These fractures, though of a hairline nature and consequently inoperable, nonetheless allowed an infection in which temporarily ruined my health and destroyed nearly all of 2014 for me.  I have never been so sick for so long in the whole course of my life.  Sixty, apparently, for me, anyway, arrived like an out-of-control locomotive.

Now, my lovely wife has never had a good memory, nor an ability to manage time.  These aren't new developments, no product of age; they were true when I met her - and she was seventeen at the time.  So, I always figured that if she started to slip mentally, I might not notice, at least for a while.  What concerns me now is that I might not notice her starting to lose it because I'm beginning to slip.

I have always possessed a great, precise, and wonderfully dependable memory.  Don't take my word for it; ask anyone that knows me.  It's been a blessing throughout my life.  Now, however, I'm a bit concerned.  Here; allow me to illustrate with a story which is, sadly, true.  A few months ago.....

In July, we went to a family reunion which was held at a large hotel in Nevada.  Karen and I stayed in the "new part" of the hotel, a section that had recently been added on to the main building.  Because of this we were required to take two different elevators in order to get to our room which was on the fourth floor, one from the lobby in the "old part" up to the second floor where we would then angle around a corner and board a second elevator to go on up to our room.

In my defense, it must be noted that both hallways - the one on the second floor, and ours, up on the fourth, look exactly alike, same carpet, same mirrors, same paintings, same everything.  Bear that in mind, if you would.  Besides that, remember, I had just busted my head on the bedroom floor a scant four months earlier.

One morning, Dad and Mom wanted to meet their children in the coffee shop by the lobby for donuts and hot beverages.  Karen, who had worked very hard right up to the moment we left on the trip, was given leave to sleep in while I went down to join my parents, brothers, and sisters.

We visited, laughed, and talked while consuming way too many donuts and enjoying cappuccinos, lattes, and the like.  Finally, after a couple of hours, I decided to go up and retrieve my lovely wife so that we might begin the day's festivities.

I got on the elevator, went up to the second floor and, still chuckling at my older brother's anecdotes, slipped off the elevator and went down the hall to "our" room.

Now, we were in room 4017.  Leaving the elevator, forgetting to angle around the corner, I went straight down the look-alike hall to the look-alike door of 2017, pulled out my room card and then stared in disbelief at the key slot to our room.

There was a blue "guest has checked out, please clean" tab stuck into it.

Well, more than a bit annoyed, I indignantly yanked that sucker out and slid in my room card. 

Nothing happened.  No green light telling me to go on in.  Nothing but red. 

Even more annoyed, I knocked, calling for Karen to answer.


Knocked again.  Harder.  Yelled again.  Louder.

Tried the key card again.


Knocked again.  Yelled again.  No answer.

I was really annoyed now - and a bit worried.  The whole situation was beginning to get me rattled.  
I mean, locked out of my room, sign says we've checked out, my wife won't answer.  

What's Going On?

I was rapidly climbing the emotional scale toward high dudgeon.  I looked around.  Two doors away, one of the ladies that do housekeeping was standing by her cart, frowning at my display of distress.

"My wife is in there - we haven't checked out!"  I told her, too loudly.  In my irritation, I waved the blue tab at her.  "This thing is wrong!  We have not checked out!"

Her frown deepened.  She tried to explain to me that such matters weren't really in her purview - and that I needed to go down to the front desk to straighten it out.

This only heightened my sense of confusion and worry.

"No!"  I yelled.  "Listen to me!  My wife is in that room!  We have not checked out!"  

Way too loud.

Her eyes widened and she slipped back into the room she had been cleaning.  And shut the door.  And threw the safety bolt.

Just then, I remembered my cell phone.  I whipped it out and dialed Karen's cell.  And - thank God - she answered.

"Honey - open the door!"  I told her.  "I'm right outside and my key card won't work."

"Okay," she replied.  "I'll be right out."

Relieved, I hung up and waited expectantly by the door.


Minutes passed.  Where was she?  What in the world could she be doing?

What in Heaven's name is going on?

While once more rapping my by-now severely bruised knuckles yet again upon the door, yelling for Karen to Open Up, For Crying Out Loud - my eye fell upon the number, and, at last, my brain flipped over and slid into its proper slot.  

Crap, I thought, crap.  What an idiot - and an obnoxious one, to boot.

Glancing guiltily toward the room that sheltered the terrified housekeeper, I skulked down the hall, slunk around the corner, and took the elevator up to the fourth floor.

Where my key card, unsurprisingly, worked.

Karen was safely inside, sitting on the bed, looking up at me as I came in with what can only be described as an exceedingly puzzled expression on her pretty face.  I swear, at that moment, she looked like she was hearing the Twilight Zone theme song blaring loudly and insistently in her head. 

"I opened the door," she said.  "Where did you go?"

"I was in the wrong hallway," I explained.  "Why didn't you call me back on my cell?"

She blinked.  "The wrong hallway?"

"Yeah, I got off the elevator on 2 and, you know how the halls all look the same, and I forgot that I had to get on another to come up to 4, and, anyway - why didn't you call me back?"

She stared at me for a moment longer, still trying to process my explanation, and then frowned down at the cellphone in her hand.

"Because I couldn't remember Nevada's area code," she said.

I stared back at her and felt my residual frustration evaporate and a grin take possession and spread out over my features.  "Honey," I replied gently, "our phones are not from Nevada.  They're from Texas - like us.  Besides, all you have to do is activate the one that says 'Daniel'."

"Oh," she said, then.  "Yeah."

When it finally dawned on the both of us what had just happened, well, we laughed, and laughed, and laughed, and.....

"We can never tell anyone," she giggled, wiping her eyes.

"I know."

She grew serious then.  "No - I mean you can never tell anyone - okay?"

"Okay," I agreed.

And I won't, either, as long as my memory holds.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Birthday Attitude, Spoiled and Sweet Romance

This month I turned 35, and I decided at last to become a diva. It's a late start, I know. It's also a little challenging, because I have never dyed my hair, use a blow dryer and curling iron only on Sundays, am too cowardly to use liquid eyeliner, don't buy designer clothes (not even at reduced prices), and have never in my whole life - brace for this! - gotten a manicure or pedicure.

But true divas know that you can keep your naturally flat, boring hair, eclectic style, smeary eyes, and uncured nails and still knock the town sideways with your attitude. And I've got that in spades - especially at certain times of the month. Ask my husband.

So I prepared for my diva birthday by throwing out my previous down-to-earth plans for hiking and picnicking with my family and instead demanding that Matthew take me out to an ultra fancy restaurant, one like we have never known in all our married life. Though previously my frugal tendencies might have gotten in the way, I was about to turn 35, an age known for reckless enjoyment of surf and turf dinners.

I threatened to get my hair professionally done for the occasion. Matthew didn't flinch. He said I could get a mani/pedi, too - maybe even take a friend for moral support if I had a fear of uppity strangers filing my nails and exfoliating my feet with sharp utensils. So, as any true diva would, I demanded, "Why? Do you want me to get a manicure? Do you think I need one?"

"No, I don't think you need anything. I just thought it would be nice."

"Well, I hate fake nails!"

"You don't have to get fake nails. They can do stuff with the nails you have, you know."

"Like what?" I asked suspiciously.

"Paint them."

"Oh...well, I can do that myself."

I skipped the forbidding mani/pedi and began devious diva plans by dragging my clan to the mall a week before my birthday, so that my entourage could help me pick out a new, enticing perfume for the date night (having just discovered that my man was so-so about the one I had been wearing). Inexperienced as I am in this, I caved in to sentimentality when I spied Elizabeth Arden Sunflowers in a perfume boutique. I jumped, clapped my hands like a simple girl, and exclaimed, "Ooh, you have Sunflowers?!" It wasn't even expensive, yet I had to have it. My brother Nate and sister Annie had bought it for my birthday when I was a teenager, and one spritz of that bright perfume took me straight back to Tennessee. Named as it is after big, yellow, happy flowers, its whole essence warmed me.

I knew a different, more expensive perfume was Matthew's favorite, so I asked with puppy-dog eyes and clasped hands, "Do you mind, Honey?"

He didn't. He understands I'm a sucker for nostalgia. I almost suggested we get both, but I wouldn't be greedy. So I dropped a hint about Christmas.

Afterward, I forced my peeps to shop for a pair of curvy jeans (because real divas have curves), and we spent in excess of $40 on the dark-washed, long-legged pair which made me feel quite naughty.

To top off a truly lovely, successful shopping trip, Matthew bought me a box of chocolates, all dark, and I stuffed some in my mouth before we even got home, as any self-respecting diva would.


There was something about this birthday. I don't fully understand myself what slapped me silly over this number. 30 barely got a nod from me, but 35 felt important. I would like to say my desire for a special evening was because I wanted to celebrate years of continuous blessings, because my life has been just that, but it wasn't that pure. Insecurity pinched my brain, too.

With a recent promotion at work, Matthew has been traveling more and has attended some very nice work dinners with his fellow professionals in town and out of it. Those fancy dinners made me jealous, I'm sorry to admit. Were all of Matthew's decadent meals to be eaten with coworkers? Was I destined to become the boring, homebody wife, not quite a bona-fide writer, with whom he ate take-out pizza on the occasional Friday night?

That was why I requested the fancy restaurant, and I wanted him to choose it for me. I wanted pampering; I wanted romance; and I wanted to make memories together over our own delicious entrees. Plus, I had a little black dress, purchased on a whim months before, that I had yet to wear. It would be perfect.

My 35th was on a Saturday, and we were going out on Sunday night. Though there was a small misunderstanding about who was supposed to find the restaurant, by Friday afternoon Matthew had it all planned.

My husband snuck out of our bedroom Saturday morning and kept shushing the kids, but I had trouble sleeping in; I was too excited. Some minutes after I heard my family leave for the store, I went out to see the birthday sign my children had made for me. I picked out each contribution to the banner easily; they all have their own distinct artistic styles and color preferences. The sign was so beautiful that I sent my husband a praising text.

I was cleaning our house for the new babysitter when Matthew and the children walked in with flowers, balloons, and a very tall salted-caramel mocha, my favorite. As I sipped my skinny, decaf mocha with whipped cream, slowly getting the jitters, Matthew told one of the kids to retrieve a small bag for him from their toy cupboard. Inside was a bottle of J'adore, that other expensive, sensual perfume.

"You shouldn't have," I told him bashfully. "We're going out for that fancy dinner."

That afternoon he made my cake while I watched an old movie with the kids, and later I painted my nails a deep coral color and became so mesmerized by them that I held my hands out in front of me like a sleepwalker, admiring them wherever I went. Having been years since I last painted them, I forgot how pretty they could look.

That day I was joyful, and there could not have been a better finale to it than to eat the pumpkin-chocolate cake that is my forever birthday cake. It has veggies, chocolate and spices without yucky frosting to mess the glorious combination up. The recipe is HERE.


Matthew advised me to bring a shawl on our date. That was confusing. October in Phoenix is like June in other places. But I grabbed a fiery orange-red pashmina.

I had curled my hair, and for once it really turned out. It must have had something to do with that Freeze Hold hairspray I borrowed from my son. My new black dress, turquoise jewelry and older but sexy black heels complimented each other nicely. I did a smoky eye that didn't look like it'd been applied with a crayon and wore red lipstick.

We drove to Scottsdale and pulled up in front of Ruth's Chris Steakhouse. That was completely unexpected. Birthday confetti was thrown on our table. We had a veal ravioli appetizer that elicited sighs of satisfaction. We drank wine, and after one glass I was ready to sleep in that circular booth for a couple hours (it was already 8:30pm, after all), but then I ordered onion rings with my crab cakes - yes, onion rings - and they were the most delicious breaded onion slices I have ever had. Matthew and I both devoured them, and their wonderful seasoning perked me right up. The steamed mushrooms also were heaven, but the desert they brought with my name written beautifully in chocolate - in chocolate! - was truly divine.

Matthew took me on a short drive after the restaurant, and my anticipation and confusion grew as we slowly made our way up a manicured road to a golf club. It was deserted. As Matthew bent over his phone anxiously, I realized we weren't quite where we were supposed to be for the second act of our evening.

He soon found the place off a winding side street. It was a Hyatt Regency resort, hidden by gigantic palm trees, like sentinels in the darkness. Holding Matthew's hand as we threaded our way through the immaculate grounds and pristine lobby, I wondered why we were there. Were we going to see a jazz concert? Go dancing? Have another decadent chocolate desert? Were we getting a room?

Matthew asked the ladies at the concierge desk, "Where are the gondola rides?"

"You're taking me on a gondola ride?"

I felt a little weak in the knees.

The rides were in the small man-made lake behind the ridiculously ornate adult pool. Matthew had to jimmy the pool gate to gain access. Here more gorgeous, skyscraper palms marched beside the sparkling water. We turned a corner and spied the gondolier in his tell-tale striped shirt, black pants and mustache. Two couples were there before us, so we sat on the broad lip of a fire pit that sparked our clothes and smoked our hair, but its warmth was welcoming and romantic. I was grateful for it and the shawl and Matthew's encircling arm, despite the fact that he kept pinching my bum.

The enchantment increased when we heard the gondolier's powerful voice singing Italian somewhere over the water.

I was excited when out turn came, giggling over my difficulty in stepping down into the gondola with those shoes and that dress. We faced away from the gondolier who said after a minute, "So, obviously we're dating..."

I laughed. "We're married."

He asked if it was our anniversary. My birthday, I told him.

"I knew it must be special occasion. Both dressed to the nines."

He sang Happy Birthday to me, but I didn't recognize it - despite the fact that my name was mentioned - because it was sung slowly in Italian. We then told him we had been married 13 years, had two girls and two boys, and he told us of his own five boys and one daughter, the one his wife had been waiting for.

"Now, Hillary, where are you from?" he asked. He said I had an accent. Matthew and I laughed. I have been accused of having an accent all my life, but people are at a loss to place it. Am I French? Irish? Spanish? English? I've heard them all. I usually tell them Tennessee, and they respond skeptically, "Well, maybe that's it..."

Next he serenaded us with a charming Neapolitan song about kissing, explaining that in it a man was describing his girl's sweet little mouth with its cute pucker and how he couldn't resist it. It was performed so well in his clear tenor as we slid through that dark water beneath a crescent moon and stars, I was inspired and would have passionately kissed Matthew, but the gondolier was watching and seemed a little nervous we might get amorous.

As we stepped out at the end, he told us we didn't look old enough to be married 13 years with four kids, and I thanked him profusely, assuring him that we don't hear that often. Then Matthew and I strolled past the magnificent pool once more and through the rest of that grand resort, holding hands, headed home.

It was such a wonderful, unexpected gift from Matthew, the memory of how he surprised me with an idyllic gondola ride on my birthday. My 35th was really special, more so than this diva could have dreamed, thanks to my romantic man.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Sexualization of Our Girls Must Stop

Recently I read an interview in USA Weekend with the actors of "Men, Women and Children", a new film soon in theaters that I hope never to see, because it sounds completely cynical of human relationships, depressing, alien to my own view on life and filthy. The conversation centered around the effects of technology on modern existence, and though I am not hyper-connected through social media, I thought much of what was expressed was thought-provoking and a little terrifying. For instance, one of the teenaged actresses said she knew of many girls her age who regularly post revealing pictures of themselves on twitter or Instagram and that they are the ones who by far have the most likes and followers.

Now think about that. Teenage girls are dealing regularly in sexual commerce to gain validation. They are wielding their bodies as currency for acquiring recognition, power, and "followers". And their male counterparts are feeding on all these thin, heartless images. Sexting also continues to be a common practice. These girls will no doubt heartily regret these wholesale choices later when they grow wiser, smarter, and learn to value themselves as more than objects of sexual gratification.

The reality of this makes me furious, but if we think that our young women will be the only ones to suffer from this shallow pandering to the lowest common denominator of human interaction, we are blind. The young men are exposing themselves to a cancer of character that I believe will hamper successful, meaningful relationships with members of the opposite sex for their entire lives if they do not have positive role models.

The world is a crazy, lop-sided place, and it appears to be losing its depth with a lot of help from the media, social or otherwise. This has to stop, if not at large than at the home of concerned parents and guardians. To read more about the sexualization of girls, you can read this scary report by American Psychological Association.

What can we do? The article gives a few ideas, but there is also our own common sense and moral compass. Since, as the article points out, women are the ones far more likely to suffer from objectification and thus self-objectification, we can begin as moms by striving not to be vain and immodest ourselves and then by nulling the unhealthy emphasis on our daughters' appearance. I have seen little girls dressed up in crop shorts and halter tops, and it saddens me to think they may have lost a sense of their own childhood while being blasted with sexual messages from the mad world of computers, smartphones and television sets.

We also need to limit our daughters exposure to the sexualization of women and girls by turning off commercials that use women as erotic bait, by watching movies with our young kids and not allowing them to see ones with inappropriate sexual content, by speaking to our older children about media-literacy and by limiting their activity on social media and on smartphones until later teen years if at all possible, and by communicating with them often about this issue whenever an image, article or post brings it to the forefront.

But I also think it is absolutely vital that men, fathers especially, play a role in combating this. I think the most important thing a man can do for his children is to show love and respect for his wife, his mother, daughters and all women by his proper attitude toward them. In short he should revive the concept of honor and behave like a gentleman. A man's son and daughter should not hear him speak or see him ogle images of women that will lead them to believe that he values women based solely on their sexual desirability. That means not making a raunchy comment about the young woman in a low-cut blouse, jeggings or short skirt who passed you in the mall or sporting goods store.

It means we must all stop taking it for granted that women are being prostituted daily to the public eye, because it should not be that way. It is unfair; it is degrading; and it perpetuates the lie that we are valuable only if we meet demeaning standards of physical attractiveness and promiscuity, a lie that leads our young women to send a portfolio of suggestive pictures to boys who do not respect them and do not respect themselves. This is a vicious, poisonous cycle. Do we really want to live in that society? It has to stop. We need to teach our young men to reject the paper-thin world of erotica, to become gentlemen who know how to interact with real, whole women, to be respectful, self-controlled. And we need to teach our young women how to truly value their bodies, protect their dignity and be confident in their whole selves as talented, intelligent, compassionate people.

We must do this as parents. The media will not help us. Let's turn the tide for posterity.

Modesty, That Hard Battle

I'm just going to say it. I have struggled, and I still do struggle with modesty. I wore a tube top on my honeymoon, and unfortunately I have the pictures to prove it. (Stinkin pictures!) During the early years of marriage, I sometimes donned a tight, short jean dress that I can't believe I ever wore out in public. And even now I must confess that my favorite everyday look is a simple, brightly-hued tank top with a pair of  dark jeans.


What is so ironic about my past and present clothing choices is that there is nothing I hate so much in mainstream media as the constant glorification of immodesty. I absolutely despise ridiculous commercials with fully attired men gawking at women in string bikinis - worse yet if the women are giggling like idiots. I am furious that it is always women's bodies that are used as advertising bait for everything from alcohol to fast food to vehicles.

I do my best to turn these commercials as quickly as possible. My daughters should not be exposed to these cardboard cutouts of our sex or feel compelled to compete with flimsy portrayals of womanhood. I am upset that my 12-year-old son is bombarded with these cheap (because they are so very easy to come by) but alluring images as he watches anything from a football game to a sitcom. If I am not careful, all my sons and daughters will be slowly inculcated into a culture of progressive immodesty by a bombardment of redundant and insidious but attractive messages.

So I turn the channel as quick as I can, and likewise I turn the radio in the car when songs about hot girls in tight jeans or short dresses at a drunken party come on. (My kids all like country music, but the aforementioned lyrics are a common problem with the formulaic genre aptly dubbed "Bro Country" by a music critic.)

Women have always been judged more based on appearance than men. I know that. I also know it is the reason why so many of us struggle with modesty. An unhealthy competition among the female sex has been praised and an unhealthy appetite in males has been encouraged by all forms of media. And we pay for it in the ways we treat each other based on these appearances.

The last thing I want to do as a mother and wife is to speak one message while projecting another. I do not want to be a hypocrite. It's a hard battle. We none of us want to be frumpy or plain, but we also, I sincerely hope, do not want our cleavage or bum ogled by every weak male who passes by or to scandalize others with our "daring" wardrobe choices that rival the outfits of music video performers.

This has been brewing for awhile in my mind, and today I read some very interesting takes on modesty, and I thought they hot the nail straight on the head. They are from a Christian perspective, because I don't think modesty is valued very highly in the secular sphere, as is pretty obvious.

Modesty is an Opportunity to Love examines how modesty shows love and respect for ourselves and others, including the men in our community. Jennifer Fulwiler also wrote about how it improves female friendships in Modesty Helps Women Be Friends. That last one is spot on. Lies I Tell Myself About Modesty is perfect to share with daughters or young friends who are fighting to retain their dignity and freedom on this important issue.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

A Fall Tradition

I have not written lately, but I have excuses. This week I was making eucalyptus wreaths and baskets with my children. The wreaths are a yearly tradition. We usually make our first one in October.

The baskets I first dreamed of this year. Yes, neither wreath nor basket is perfect. They are not classically beautiful. They're, shall we say, interesting. Nevertheless, when I completed that first basket above, I giggled like a little girl as I bragged to my husband, "Can you believe I made a basket? A basket! And I almost gave up so many times!"

That is so very true. It cramped my fingers, stained their tips sage green, and strained my upper arm muscles as I attempted to jam supple, slender branches through the stacked wreaths to weave them. The lattice work on the bottom was pitiful, not properly patterned at all, but I believe it will hold.

And then we made another one today, my children and I. We sat on a picnic blanket between the two huge Eucalyptus trees in the front yard, and we trimmed young, green branches from the tree, stripped their leaves gently, and then rolled them into several small wreaths. After that concentrated effort of an hour or so, most of my children left the communal quilt to seek the relaxation of television indoors. Analisa and I stayed. She collected Bermuda hay for a witch's broom she had designed from a sturdy, gnarled branch. I broke the poor fingers of our generous Eucalyptus again and again as I weaved and fumed. Yet I prevailed. Our completed, collaborative basket is the one on the left. Not too bad, if I do say so myself.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Goodnight Sweetheart

I have always sung special songs to my children. Some I have made up. Some are songs written by my dad or by the Canadian folk singer Gordon Lightfoot. Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight by the Spaniels was always a favorite for my Analisa. I changed the lyrics to these:

Goodnight Sweet Ana
It's time to sleep
Goodnight Sweet Ana
It's time to sleep
I hate to leave you
But I must say
Goodnight Sweet Ana, Goodnight

Goodnight Sweet Ana
I love you, I do
Goodnight Sweet Ana
Pleasant dreams for you...

Nearly every night of her babyhood and toddler years I sang it as I swayed about the room with her in my arms.

Another classic, Hush, Little Baby, is the song I have sung most often to my babies. But, no, it's not the version most know.

On my oldest son Berto's first Christmas, my sister Vinca sent him a new version written and illustrated by Sylvia Long. In the introduction to it, she wrote that the original version about a parent offering to buy her baby all sorts of things always bothered her. So she created one to "encourage children to find comfort in the natural things around them and in the warmth of a mother's love." She did a beautiful job writing about a hummingbird, the evening sky, an old teddy bear, lightning bugs, and a harvest moon. I learned her book by heart, and its words are those I sang to my Berto. I am still singing it every night to his four-year-old brother. Danny holds my hair in his hands as I sit on the floor by his bed, and if he thinks he may not get his song, he is distraught. So sometimes when Papa has tucked him into bed, has sung him The Gambler - yes, The Gambler - and told him it's time to sleep, I have snuck in to see my little guy for a quick Hush Little Baby to cure his tears.

For my Gabriella I broke the norm and created an all new song this past year in honor of her love of Batman:

Neener, neener, neener...Batgirl!
Neener, neener....Goodnight!
Neener, neener, neener...Batgirl!
Sleep Tight
Fight crime!

(Oonie is her much-loved and now quite raggedy teddy bear.)

I bring all this up to say that in trying to lovingly sooth my babies to sleep for years, I created memories for all of us. Ana, 10-years-old, recently got misty-eyed as she said, "Mama, I love your songs. I like listening to them. I miss them." My daughter has a big heart that gives lots of love but also needs much to fill it, and she is not afraid to be a child and soak up all she can. I feel Ana does not quite get what she needs sometimes, because her little brother and sister are very assertive in making demands on Mama's time and attention. She craves those small, precious moments with me still. I started singing Goodnight Sweet Ana again.

Last night I settled my hips into the small recliner by Ana to read for her from the Little House book, On the Banks of Plum Creek. I had just finished patiently listening to Gabriella read from Amelia Bedelia and brushing her teeth. Ella decided to come listen, too, as I read. It was time for her to be in bed, but I thought, Oh, what the heck. Just a few more minutes. I'm sorry to say the chair got a little crowded, especially with my pushy hips.

"Here, girls, you can snuggle. It's too crowded. I'm going to this chair," I said.

Gabriella happily settled right in, and Ana put her arm around her. As I looked at Ana to gauge her reaction, she began to laugh and then to quake.

"Is that okay, Ana?" I asked.

But she just laughed strangely, covering her face with her hand. Her laugh was not happy; it was one of resignation to a probable outcome. I saw tears leaking from the side of her eyes, and I knew what I had to do.

"Alright, Gabriella. It's time for bed."



She tried to protest, but I held out my arms as I began her Batman song with gusto. After carrying her to her room, I kissed her and tucked her in with that old Oonie.

Then I came back and sat in the chair with Ana, and she snuggled up to me, drying her tears.

"Thank you, Mama," she said.

I knew. I knew. And you can bet I sang Goodnight Sweetheart Goodnight to my big-hearted girl who just wanted Mama all to herself again....for just a little while.