The end is near

Author: natalie  //  Category: Life with children

With the kickoff of Memorial Day weekend, summer is unofficially here.

Before I get to the topic rolling around in my noggin this week, let’s pause from the barbecuing and enjoying family and friends to remember the fine men and women of the U.S. military who gave their lives in the service of this country. Freedom must never be taken for granted, and I fully appreciate the price many families have paid. Thank you.

The summer solstice and official beginning of summer won’t roll around until June 21, but here in these parts we know the humidity and hot temps come long before then.

For me, the beginning of June is more miserable than July or August because I’m not yet acclimated to the heat . . . from the sun or the incessant bickering that begins when three siblings begin cohabitating all day, every day after school lets out. I’ve got a few sane hours before that unpleasantness begins, so I’ll move on to more cheerful thoughts.

This coming Wednesday will be a happy, happy day for me – one that has been twelve long years in the making. Emphasis on the long and I can add sixyears if I consider my own elementary school days. That’s almost half my life! But I digress.

My youngest, Erin, will participate in fifth grade graduation exercises at Stephen F. Austin, and I will be forever done with elementary school. Can I get a “Hallelujah!” and an “Amen”? I’m having trouble containing my jubilation. And make no mistake, SFA Elementary is a fine institution of learning packed with the greatest staff ever to grace any school grounds, but I’m weary and ready to move on. 

I’d like to say that I waited until her graduation to allow burn-out to rear its ugly head in the form of some extreme parental laziness, but I can’t. (Yikes! She still has seven years to go.) The Big Guy had it all planned out, though.

My last baby is and always has been an easy-going, can-do kind of girl needing minimal prodding. Had I known she’d be that way before she got here, I would’ve enjoyed carrying her around for nine months instead of fretting over managing her on top of two rambunctious boys.  

I think back to when the oldest started school and how as soon as he came off the bus I was rifling through his backpack – often annoying him with my running commentary of things he considered over and done with.

I can’t recall the last time I went through Erin’s school stuff. As bad as that sounds, up until she got ready-to-get-out-of-school-now-itis, she had been pretty good about alerting me to the items needing my attention. Wow. I transformed from obsessing over everything without provocation to needing things held up in front of my face with flashing lights and alarming sound effects. Sad, but true.

In the end, I’m sure her elementary graduation will be a bittersweet moment. I’ll probably bawl like a hormonal middle-aged woman, just before I do cartwheels down the street. Somebody pass me the Kleenex. I’ll need them when I fall and scrape my knees.

© 2010 Natalie Whatley

Living the wild life

Author: natalie  //  Category: Home sweet home

Being an adventurous sort, I have many days when I desire a little excitement outside of the mothering-teenagers variety. My wish came true last Sunday morning.

I try to be out of bed before everyone else because it’s important that I have some quiet time to gather my thoughts and goals for the day before semi-organized chaos ensues.

I was doing just that while catching up on some reading and enjoying a cup of hot tea in what’s referred to at The Whatley Estate as the computer room, which abuts the backyard. (More refined folks would call the room a “study”, thus my use of “abut”. My persona is carefully balanced between down-home and pretentious.)

Lost in what I was reading, the subconscious parts of my brain began alerting me to trouble.  Coming to, I realized there was an awful racket coming from the backyard. Then I remembered Shadow the cat (aka “Killer”) was outside. The squawking and screeching of what sounded like an entire flock of birds prompted me to my feet.

Glancing through a window before flinging the door open, I saw a wild menagerie. The violence so intense that I threw reason aside before running full bore into the scene . . . in my nightgown and completely unarmed save for a loud voice. (I had been reading a fascinating book by FBI special agent, Joe Navarro, discussing how to override the limbic system and go against the body’s natural ability to flee danger. I soldiered in. No doubt he would’ve been proud.)

Shadow was hunkered down, apparently on top of prey and was being attacked from above by a pack of Blue Jays. Deduction told me he’d caught a bird and that the family had swooped down to take revenge.

“Shadow! Come here!”

He minds far better than my children, and because I think he appreciated the back-up, Shadow quickly gathered his catch and bolted towards me – with a SQUIRREL, who didn’t appear to be doing so well, flailing under the pressure of his jaw!

I love squirrels and have since hand-feeding them as a child with my Pawpaw on his porch to the east in Nederland, Texas. It was a sad day when I removed the corn feeders from my trees months ago. But I’d taken in a killer (this wasn’t Shadow’s first squirrel rodeo) and felt it was cruel to entice my furry little friends to their demise.

“Shadow! Put that down!”

The wounded was dropped and it scurried into some high, decorative grass close-by and collapsed.

I know Shadow was doing what cats instinctively do. And I did what I instinctively do when a young male in my house perturbs me:  He was read the riot act.

Oh well, it was a good training exercise. I have a few wild males around here to tame. Thinking I should take a cue from the Blue Jays – swoop down, peck some sense, and make them believe I’ll take an eye out if necessary. They meant business!

Can a cat be trained to override his limbic system? I may need some back-up.

© 2010 Natalie Whatley

Hoarding sentimental thoughts

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

Leave it to me to have something as simple as a furniture delivery causing me to question the status of my mental health. I can’t help it.

Psychology is fascinating and studying it is a demented little hobby of mine. If I do the mental gymnastics required to wrap my mind around possible reincarnation, I realize that I could’ve possibly been Sigmund Freud or Carl Jung in a previous life. Or, at the very least, occupy a twig on their family tree.

That wouldn’t be a problem except that the more I learn the crazier I become. Psychology courses always start with the caveat, “Don’t diagnose yourself.” One can only read so much in the DSM IV —Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—before seeing bits and pieces of their own being in this psychosis or that neurosis.  However, it was actually a couple of television shows that alerted me to my potential disorder.

Disclaimer: This soul would never, in this lifetime or possibly others, poke fun at those with bona fide, certifiable “issues”. The following will simply be the inner ramblings of my really-does-have-bigger-things-to-worry-about conflicted mind.

My daughter was the lucky recipient of the new furnishings. The impending delivery date (we had a “back, back, back order slip”) gave us ample time to clean out and prepare for the big rearrangement of her room. She’s headed to junior high next year and that fact put her in just the right frame of mind to get rid of many things.

In the bittersweet end, we had cleared the room. It was a great feeling . . . until I realized just how much didn’t make the “donate” pile and had shifted to my bedroom for storage.

In an exhausted state, it hit me that I was going to have to clean out my closet to make room for a few things. And that, my friends, is where my troubles began.

I am the offspring of people who like to keep things – seemingly for sentimental reasons. And over the years as my parents cleaned out their homes they sent boxes to mine. The contents of said boxes were mostly unknown. A quick glance let me know the items were once prized possessions, but I didn’t fully inspect.  I kept it all because . . . well, that’s what I was supposed to do, right?

Having watched one too many episodes of Hoarders on A&E and TLC’s Hoarding: Buried Alive,—series that deal with the compulsive accumulation of too much stuff — I knew that holding on to things could generate massive problems over time.

Here’s what worries me: I had not a single worry standing over a rather large trash can and throwing away a good percentage of my closet contents.

Days later and completely unbothered I watched my “memories” loaded onto the garbage truck.  Then I wondered if the opposite of a hoarder is a cold, heartless, unsentimental shrew. No. The fact that I couldn’t possibly keep a lifetime of memories in my home doesn’t mean I can’t hoard memorable sentiments in my heart. There’s plenty of room in there, and the portability can’t be beat.

© 2010 Natalie Whatley

A week to remember

Author: natalie  //  Category: Baytown, Texas

First order of business, Happy Mother’s Day! I know you’re all expecting some words on motherhood, but since it’s my special day, too, and because I write about motherhood frequently, I’m putting my feet up and taking a break from the topic and the job. Plus, there’s something else important happening that I want you to know about.

While I try my best to appreciate those who work in public service year-round, next week is a special one where we can let our local police officers know how much we appreciate their protection and service.

In 1962 President John F. Kennedy designated May 15 as Peace Officers’ Memorial Day and the week surrounding that date as National Police Week. During this time, law enforcement officers past and present are to be commemorated for their courage and dedication in preserving the rights and security of all citizens. The week ends with a memorial service outside the U.S. Capitol honoring police officers killed in the line of duty from all over the United States.

Locally, and in honor of the Texas officers who made the ultimate sacrifice, the Baytown Police Department accompanied by surrounding agencies invites you to its annual Law Enforcement Police Memorial at noon on Friday, May 14 at St. Marks United Methodist Church, 3811 N. Main.

Four of the eleven officers lost in Texas this past year were from this general area. One, our very own Chambers County Deputy Sheriff, Shane Detwiler, was shot responding to the scene of a utility worker who had been fired upon. Recall how this community pulled together and hundreds lined Garth Rd. for his funeral procession.

As a graduate of the Baytown Police Department’s Citizens Police Academy I’ve had the opportunity to see the inner workings of the department and get to know some of the human beings behind the necessary authoritative personas and badges. Baytown is truly blessed. Our force is made up of a highly diverse, intelligent group who strive to ensure that our homes, families, and way of life are kept safe.

And on the very day I sat down to write this, I attended my third and youngest child’s graduation from the Baytown Police Department’s D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program.  What an impact these officers have on impressionable young minds as they visit classrooms week after week educating, forming positive relationships, and imparting the importance of plain old good decision making. Proactive. I like that.

Stop an officer this week and thank them for the job they do, and please join me next Friday in honoring Texas’ “law enforcement officers who, through their courageous deeds, have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their community . . . and let us recognize and pay respect to the survivors of our fallen heroes.” ~Presidential Proclamation John F. Kennedy  

A profession in law enforcement is a choice. Thank God for the special people willing to do it and willing to die for it. Precious lives are gone. Let’s make sure they’re not forgotten.

© 2010 Natalie Whatley

Last week looks good in the rear-view

Author: natalie  //  Category: Life with children

What a relief to see this past week in the rear-view mirror! For those of you removed from school-aged children, the last few days were filled with Texas’ brand of standardized testing — TAKS — Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, which is the current form designed to assess students’ attainment of reading, writing, math, science, and social studies skills required under Texas education standards.

As a mom who has spent the better part of a decade entrenched in the testing cycle, I’m not a fan. For the record, I fully understand the genesis of the whole mess and that it comes down from places far removed from our local educators.

There’s an extensive list of what gets me riled over it, but what had my pollen-dusted nose out of joint enough to cause me to write about it is this: The timing of the late spring tests couldn’t be worse. 

I get that the bulk of the school year is needed to teach the concepts students need in order to be successful, but geez . . . I can’t focus this time of year, and I (supposedly) have maturity on my side.

The sun is shining until very close to bedtime, birds are singing, the sweet fragrance of spring fills the air and it seems most folks just want to be outside doing something, anything, other than what falls under the scope of formal education.

Shoot, I’m writing this surrounded by the sweet fragrance of honeysuckle while sitting on the bank of Cedar Bayou (there are more beautiful bodies of water, but it’s a short walk from where I hang my hat) listening to the buzz of bees, watching the soft ripple of the water and the slight sway of the trees with a light breeze ruffling loose strands of my hair. Near perfection for a mind that needs to wander.

Memories of household chores try their best to interrupt these serene moments. I’m giving serious consideration to dragging the clothes down here and getting the laundry done the old-timey way. That’s as good an excuse as any I can think of to spend the day outdoors. I wonder if the family would mind their clothes smelling of eau de swampe instead of April fresh.

But getting back to testing, of course I put all the important dates on my calendar and made sure the youths in my charge were at least in their beds a little earlier than usual (making them fall asleep before they’re ready is a another issue entirely) and honed my skills as a short-order cook during the breakfast hour. 

These have become the only days I insist on breakfast consisting of something a few notches up from Pop-tarts on the nutritional scale. (I succumbed to the breakfast war a couple of years ago. Call it bad parenting if you’d like. For all intents and purposes, I have three teenagers – trust me when I say I have far bigger eggs to fry.)

Hats off to all the students, teachers, and parents who made it through! Let’s all wave goodbye to that rear-view image and set our sights back through the windshield.

© 2010 Natalie Whatley