Special thanks to some special people

Author: natalie  //  Category: Baytown, Texas

If you’re a regular reader of my column, you’re quite aware that I’ve hosted some pretty extravagant pity parties. I’m ashamed to admit that I can do them up right complete with decorations and mouth-watering hors d’oeuvres.

Self-pity is defined as a psychological state of mind where an individual in perceived adverse situations has not accepted the circumstances and does not have the confidence or ability to cope. Not becoming at all.

I think “perceived” is the key word there. And what gets my proverbial goat 99.9 percent of the time hardly qualifies under the definition of “adverse”.

While looking for ways to right that wrong, I encountered a recurring theme among the advice: Basically, I need to get out of my head and occupy myself with doing for others.

Recall that I have a husband; three children ages 11, 13, and 17; a dog; a cat; and two hamsters under my care. It would be an understatement to say that I already spend the bulk of my time in service to others. Three on the aforementioned list tolerate my services at best, but do complain when I slack on the job.

With that fresh on my mind, it was a no-brainer when long-time emcee of the Baytown Special Olympics, Steve Liles, mentioned that volunteers were needed for the annual event hosted by the City of Baytown last Saturday.

I couldn’t wait. And now that I’ve been, I don’t know what took me so long to get there.

As I stood in the volunteer check-in line with my two younger children, Erin and Jeremy, it became clear there was no shortage of people prepared to spend the day giving far more than time. I learned later that the volunteers outnumbered the athletes by more than 2-to-1!  A round of applause for the folks of Baytown!

My kiddos and I were assigned — along with many others — to be finish-line judges. I showed up that morning ready to work and do whatever was needed to make the day enjoyable for the participants. What really happened can only be chalked up to fate surely guided by The Big Guy. He knows when I need a swift kick in the backside.

During the opening ceremony, an athlete from Cy-Fair moved out onto the track in front of her team and began belting out The National Anthem . . . over the voice of the person singing with the microphone. She knew every word. I was standing, but thought I was going to fall to my knees. She got a standing ovation.

When the games began, we took our places at the relay finish line. Soon after the pop of the starting shot, I realized why I was there. Thank goodness for sunglasses because the waterworks commenced.

What do I know about struggling against adversity and making it down the track to the finish line with a bigger-than-life smile on my face – even though I wasn’t the “winner”?

Many thanks to the City of Baytown staff for all their hard work on a well-coordinated event. And from the bottom of my heart:  A big thank-you to the amazing athletes, their parents, and coaches. In the end, it was you who gave to me – a precious gift I’ll carry to the finish line.

© 2010 Natalie Whatley

Life under the big top sounds sweet

Author: natalie  //  Category: It's all about me, Life with children

“Hurry! Hurry! Hurry!  Get your tickets here!  Step right up and enjoy the show!”

Legal disclaimer: Unlike the Ringling Brothers, I cannot guarantee to wow and amaze or even provide “The Greatest Show on Earth”. The price of admission: a few minutes of your time. Sorry, unable to give refunds.  

After admitting I was in a similar predicament as Buridan’s indecisive donkey — dying of starvation and thirst while standing between a pail of water and a haystack — I got a phone call from the wise Gladys “Granny” Adcox of Highlands. I open my ears wide when she speaks because at ninety-four years young she has heard, seen, and practically lived through it all. I count myself lucky to know her.  

“Popcorn! Get your fresh popcorn!”

A sympathetic Granny accurately diagnosed my ailment — the midlife blahs — and offered counsel that gave me great hope: This too shall pass. It may take every bit of ten years to find the exit door, but leave it will. Having something to look forward to is nice.

Her words were such relief. The pressure to completely revamp my life post the-most-labor-intensive-child-rearing years has caused me considerable mental anguish.

“Soda! Ice cold soda, here!”

 The phrase “get a life” sounds simple enough to execute, but I’m not known for taking the easiest route anywhere. Stubborn or just not the brightest bulb? Feel free to reach your own conclusion. No offense will be taken either way.

Trying to figure out the next ten years as opposed to the rest of my life (hypothetically speaking, of course – I don’t forget for one second that there’s no guarantee of a tomorrow) feels so much more like the living in the moment I’m striving to reach.

“Peanuts! Hot roasted peanuts!”

After much reading, deliberation, and a mindset bent on lighting the endless circle of blahs into a ring of fire to somersault through, I have decided to join the circus.

World travel, nomadic life, and glitzy costumes can all be mine. I won’t have to answer to anyone except the audience. Who wouldn’t like to stand before a cheering crowd begging for an encore? My stomach and heart flutter just thinking about it.

“Get your swirling light sticks! Twelve dollars!”

At the bare minimum, I could feed the animals. They would appreciate it and look forward to seeing me. In the other extreme, I have years of experience as a ring leader. Those who can only run three rings have nothing on me, and I can crack a whip like nobody’s business.

As a mom, I’ve been contorting and walking a high wire while performing acrobatics for years. No wonder I’m feeling like I’ve been fired from a cannon.

Many days, life under the bog top sounds sweet, but of course I’m clowning around. A girl can dream. A hormonal woman stuck in midlife knows her best shot at circus employment probably involves being the side-show bearded woman.   

“Cotton candy!”

© 2010 Natalie Whatley

Stuck in the middle

Author: natalie  //  Category: Home sweet home, Life with children

I’m not one to sit and watch television. There isn’t much offered in that medium that grabs my attention and leaves me wanting more. I am, however, suffering through the last season of “Lost” – only because when I start something I like to finish. I’m nearing the finish line of the final season and quite frankly, I’m still . . . lost. Sigh. But that’s not what has my mind a-whizzing as I sit down to pen my weekly offering.

It’s no secret that I’m spending some time muddling around in life’s middle ground. It’s a place I knew I’d visit “someday” but who knew I would arrive when I did. Every time I checked the roadmap, it always seemed far, far away.  Now, here I am, supposedly in the heartland. Yeah, it’s a region of special importance all right, and I could wax eloquent about its specialness ad nauseum. Let’s just say it’s an OK place to visit, but I don’t want to live here, or is it there? Doesn’t matter. The passing of time guarantees I won’t be staying.

That brings me back to television programming. (You know I have a quirky habit of flying around the runway a bit before landing the plane. Please remain seated and I promise to make a point.) Have you seen the television show “The Middle” with Patricia Heaton as Frankie Heck, the mom?  It airs on channel 13 at 7:30 Wednesday nights and is about a middle-class family, living in the middle of Indiana. I’m convinced the writers of the show have hidden cameras in my house and follow me around. Sure, they switched up a few minor details for cover, but the underlying themes: my middle life.  

For a long time I operated under the notion that middle ground was a great destination – a place of harmonious compromise where all parties were at least somewhat agreeable. HA! Ever heard of Buridan’s Donkey? He stands an equal distance between a stack of hay and a pail of water, but dies of hunger and thirst because he couldn’t make a rational decision to choose one over the other. I’m that donkey! And I’ll tell you why I can’t make a rational decision: mid-life. Believe me when I say I’d take a simple crisis over what this craziness has become any day.

I’m stuck on high center – front and rear wheels spinning like mad. I’m not allowed to go back and as hard as I may rock, I can’t quite get traction on forward, either. To make matters worse, I’ve learned I could spend a decade here! Starvation and dehydration are looking attractive.

Back to the show: The writers of “The Middle” are brilliant. Take the premise and consider the family’s last name: Heck. We all know what other word that one can fill in for while in polite company. (I’m a little embarrassed since I’ve used it here frequently.) I can’t help but to think the name is intentional.  I get it, and I take some comfort in knowing somebody somewhere, fictional or not, understands why being stuck here in the middle has turned me into the biggest donkey ever.  After all, it is asinine to stand still and expect to get anywhere.

© 2010 Natalie Whatley

An ‘eggsit’ strategy, a change

Author: natalie  //  Category: Holidays, National

While reflecting upon Easter and planning for the traditions that have become associated with the holiday’s promise of new beginnings, it occurred to me that sometimes folks get stuck in their pursuit of a colorful life – possibly inside a Styrofoam egg carton. 

The dyeing of eggs is a custom that can be traced back to the Middle Ages. Colors used, methods, and styles of decoration vary to reflect ideals important to specific cultures. However, the symbolism of the egg representing new life remains constant. For hundreds of years those symbols have been carefully prepared and offered as gifts signifying wishes for new life and fresh starts. I don’t know about you, but I’ll take all the rejuvenation I can get. I’m trying to coexist with teenagers. Need I say more? You know where to send the eggs.  

Since I’ve been working on my rather fluid insides – preparing for the necessary hard boil that will hopefully sustain me through some trials and tribulations – I decided my outer shell is quite ready to sport a bright, new paint job. I’m thinking something sophisticated with strategically-placed jewels to draw the eyes away from imperfections. Optical illusion is the name of the outer-shell game, is it not?

As is my life, boiling water was readied only for me to discover that I wouldn’t be enjoying the innards-hardening hot bath because I was glued to the carton. At some point in transit I cracked and oozed. Since the fissure was located just below the cup line of my cozy left-bottom-corner compartment – hidden to onlookers – my intact traveling companions were unaware of my unfortunate circumstances and left me all alone.

 I carefully considered eggstrication options which presented quite the dilemma: Pull too hard . . . my shell would break up, and I’d be quite the Humpty-Dumpty mess. If I did nothing, I’d surely rot; the smell would be most unpleasant.

Cemented in the realization that there would be no removing me from the carton, I thought maybe I could remove the carton from me. Piece by tiny piece I picked away until . . . Free at last! I didn’t look or feel so bad save for the tiny flecks of pastel-green lumpiness that were the Styrofoam sutures still holding me together.  Those would have to stay lest I wanted to perish.

Although the journey took a little longer than anticipated, I reached hard-boiled status and got a fresh, new outer look to boot. Notice I skipped the glitzy gems and went with colors and materials that complement green foam. (I’m spinning so you can get a good look.) Not eggsactly the level of refinement and high fashion I had envisioned, but I need those pieces of the carton that stuck with me during difficult times and my subsequent dive into hot water – good reminders of where I came from.

Remember the words of Bernard Meltzer, “A true friend is someone who thinks you are a good egg even though he knows that you are slightly cracked”. Happy Easter, friends!

© 2010 Natalie Whatley