Clowning around the mulberry bush

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

Life has a way of taking on some predictable patterns. For many years that fact and semi-endless monotony brought me strange comfort, but while it’s nice to know to some degree what lies ahead a little unpredictability at least appears exciting.

The phrase “thinking outside the box” has been bantered around plenty in recent years. Generally, it’s used in business settings, but we all do it to get through the days when challenges arise. While I don’t mean to brag, my mind does a decent job of going outside the confines of my mostly self-imposed cardboard container. Lately I’m wondering if that’s a good thing.

Maybe I’ve leapt from the precipice of the mid-life crazies or gone stark-raving mad, but my travels outside of the box leave me exposed to novel ways that entice me to stay. The routine I held dear is no longer my friend.

Way back when (before I really had a clue) I decided how I thought my life should run, and quite literally put myself in a box. Eventually, a rather large spring formed from my two legs and anchored itself to the floor. One of my arms morphed into a crank with a red bulb handle – where a manicured nail once rested.

The outside stimuli I placed in my world became the hands that turned the crank and caused a terribly annoying song to play. Something along the lines of, “All around the mulberry bush; the monkey chased the weasel. The monkey thought ‘twas all in fun, Pop! Goes the weasel!” And people wonder why I get a little testy.

The crank turns at a speed not determined by me and I must spring up —with an enormous, frighteningly large, phony smile —every time, “Pop! Goes the weasel.”  There was a time when my popping garnered shrieks of delight and happy clapping; old habits diminish the surprise factor. Don’t even get me started on the garish clown suit or the awful, over-the-big-top circus make-up job. And it’s definitely not pleasant to be squashed back down under a lid that locks shut.

So I’ve been thinking: Wouldn’t it be great to sneak a pair of wire cutters and detach that spring? Just maybe I’d get my legs back, and I get a little giddy thinking about the shocked look on the faces around me when— unanchored— I pop into orbit. Of course I’d come crashing down, would probably even sustain serious injury, but momentary flight and the ensuing freedom might be worth it.

I’m ready for a different role. Maybe I’ll play the monkey. Monkeys always have a good time and chasing a weasel around the mulberry bush is at least a different form of tedium.  

It sounds like great fun, but I bet that sneaky weasel will eventually pop me back into reality and remind me that in all likelihood, without the box I’m just a clown.

© 2010 Natalie Whatley

I’m fumbling motherhood

Author: natalie  //  Category: Life with children

All right, team, since you’re here and suited up, huddle around. I’ll play quarterback and pretend I know what I’m talking about. My ego is very fragile, so while I won’t be miffed if you let the other team sack me, it would mean a lot if you would refrain from snickering over lame strategy until you’re at least out of my earshot.

As I’ve mentioned before, I am full of useless information. My brain has an appetite for the strange and unusual. Because I like to keep it happy, I stuff it full on a daily basis. It’s fun, and I often wow (at least that’s how I interpret the surprised look) people with obscure information. It’s problematic because my mind can only hold so much before the useless stuff squishes out storage space needed for more useful things.

The problem: Here I am, born and bred and in the southern United States of America, where football is a religion, and I don’t know squat. I’ve gotten along pretty well in life without a working knowledge of it, but as of last week I found myself for the third year having a son out on the gridiron.

While I’m fairly certain I possess the intelligence to gain understanding of the game, motivation to do so is a hurdle. Having a strapping young man made absolutely huge by added pads who delights in the knowledge that he can now physically best the woman who held him down and changed his diaper out on the field should push me in that direction. I did read a few pages of Football for Dummies. And make no mistake I am a dummy in this regard.

Sitting in the stands, I rely on cues from those sitting around me in order to know when to clap, cheer, insult the official, or stand while doing all three.  That method isn’t foolproof when fans of both teams are sitting in the same bleachers; yes, I’ve cheered for the other team and at inappropriate times. Embarrassing. That’s also why I don’t buy t-shirts with “Whatley” or “Jeremy’s Mom” printed on the back.

What’s even sadder is that while I have been told countless times that my boy plays right (“right” is probably some sort of directional clue) tackle and does some other special-team stuff (please don’t ask me because I’ll tell you he runs the bases for bogey, or something), I can’t find him on the field. Thank goodness for jerseys and 12-inch numbers. “Yea, Jeremy! Of course I saw you make that play! You ‘da man!!”   

I suppose it’s time I opened my mind wide and received a little knowledge on the pigskin, but somehow I know it will be an incomplete pass. There’s a refrigerator-sized guy blocking and causing interference; I tried to plow through and hit a brick wall. He flicked me away like a bothersome gnat.

Oh well. Jeremy always has possession of my heart, so it doesn’t matter if he’s swinging a bat for a field goal or running the football to home plate . . . every play is the winning touchdown in my mind.

Aren’t they grand?

Author: natalie  //  Category: Holidays, Life with children, National

In a few short weeks you’re likely to find me railing against holidays. The big, over-commercialized ones are around the corner. Retailers make certain I’m aware far earlier than I find necessary. Annoyed, I look away. Some would say it’s a form of denial, but I prefer to think of it as thumbing my nose at the ridiculous.

That said, today is a special day and one that I’ve never allowed to go unnoticed here in my little corner of the paper. Today —the first Sunday after Labor Day, and as presidentially proclaimed in 1978—is Grandparents Day.

I walk a fine line here in that I know if I continue to build this one up, the retailers will come. But this is one I feel doesn’t get enough recognition.

When I think of the word grandparent, I hear emphasis on the grand. That sentiment increases when one can add great in front of it, and I was fortunate enough to have had great-grandparents far enough into my life that I have many fond memories of them: The funniest being that I called my great-grandfather “granddaughter” until I was well into my teens.

I started calling him that as a toddler and no one ever corrected me (that I can remember). It took my Aunt Bonnie, who is only five years my senior and known for telling things like they are, to set me straight. Yes, I was embarrassed. But, hey, I still love “Granddotter” (that’s how it was spelled in my misinformed-by-omission mind), the late Johnnie Spaulding, and think of his ever-so-sweet coin-doling self frequently.

As I move down the family tree and remember those I’ve lost, I’m happy to report that I still have “Granddotter’s” daughter, my grandmother. She recently moved to town, and some of you may have met her: Ruby Watson. If you know her already, you no doubt see where I get the fiery spunk that stays hidden beneath a genteel exterior. (We’re those publicly quiet types who surprise people with what we say when we decide to speak.)

Then I get to my children’s grandparents. It’s hard to know where to begin with this bunch. As I think of them and their contributions the thought of “where would we be without them?” is what repeatedly surfaces. These folks have come to the rescue countless times.

They talked me down from the parenting ledge during many instances when I struggled to survive their darling grandbabies. And on those days when I thought I’d snap, they graciously swooped in and carted off my offspring for days of spoiling. That was always a win-win.

The kids always had a great time under the doting glow of patient people who thought they could do no wrong, the grandparents got to enjoy some mostly-not-responsible-for-the-daily-grind kid fun, and I regained a shred of sanity. Not one of my children recognizes how much they owe their very lives to these people. Recall that I’ve spoken of why animals eat their young.

Many thanks and Happy Grandparents Day to those of you who make life grand!

© 2010 Natalie Whatley

My labor is not loved

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

Happy Labor Day weekend to you all! I hope you’re enjoying a last summer hurrah as we conclude this seasonal chapter.

Back in the day, school children would be preparing for their return to the classroom, but here in modern times we already have two full weeks of instruction under our belts.

It’s always a little weird to get those weeks in and then have a long weekend. I suppose it’s a good thing, though, as the first days are an exhausting exercise in getting sleep schedules back on track (you know I allowed my kiddos to sleep until noon all summer – the less time I had to endure bickering the better), learning new teachers’ personalities and getting in some semblance of a routine.

Let me preface the tirade that is forthcoming with a statement: No, I don’t look for things to complain about. These things find me, and I seem rather adept at voicing my displeasure. Honed skill or obnoxious habit? You decide.

The routine for the 2010-2011 school year will be that every single person in my house is on a different schedule. I’m tough and will adapt. However, I swear by Betty Crocker that I’m on the cusp of throwing in the apron when it comes to meals.

How many times has it been pounded in our collective head that family meal times are important? And that all sorts of familial crises can be averted if parents would just sit down and eat at least one meal a day with their children. I try, and I’d love to, but . . . By the time everyone rejoins me at home in the evenings, I don’t want to eat – my body’s screaming, “it’s bedtime!” or I’ve already succumbed to starvation and chewed my arm off while waiting. I’d attempt breakfast if anyone was sociable at that hour.

Since I let the pantry run bare just prior to school starting, I had some massive grocery shopping trips shortly after school started. And this is how the food has been rotating: I drag overflowing carts to my car, load the trunk while sweating profusely and deliver it all home where it’s unloaded and put away. Still sweating. Then, in a labor of love and sweating yet again over a hot stove, I use said groceries to prepare a meal that sits uneaten by at least three-fifths of the family. Since I can’t stand to see it go to waste, I pack it up and move it to the refrigerator. A few days later I’m pushing the remains down the garbage disposal.  And while I don’t have violent tendencies, the next person who says, “There’s nothing to eat”, may provide the garbage disposal with something a little more substantial to chew up.

It’s apparent I’m the one who will have to be more flexible. But I must draw the line at performing dinner-time gymnastics. I have upheld my end of the household labor agreement. If folks residing at The Whatley Estate aren’t careful, a strike may be in order. This laborer and her trusty disposal are fed up!

© 2010 Natalie Whatley