Saturday, July 31, 2010

Yellowstone Light

I usually try not to give parents advice on how to raise their kids, because I figure my track record is not quite perfect yet (close, but not quite). However, I do have one suggestion I think is excellent:

If at all possible, have your child win a trip to Yellowstone that allows you to tag along.

I don't mean as a chaperon. Ohhh no, that involves way too much work. I mean "tag along" as in enjoy all the benefits and none of the responsibilities. It's nice work if you can get it. And, thanks to the nice corporate sponsors-- but most of all to the Little Princess, her three fellow Princesses and their Queenly moms -- I got it.

We had a wonderful time, riding on the coattails of our Siemen's "We Can Change The World" Challenge second-place winning daughters. I'm afraid this might be the Little Princess' "Get Out of Juvie Free" card for a little while. The subtle, yet effective rebuff will go something like this:

Me: "Little Princess! I told you to clean up your room! I mean now, missy!"
LP: "Hmm, do you remember the Grilled Organic Chicken Breast with Artichokes, Olives and Pine Nuts we had at Yellowstone? Or what about those Honey Whole Wheat Blueberry Pancakes?"
Me: "Uh...yeah..well. Um, whenever you get around to it, darling."

Of course, it wasn't all catered meals, expertly guided tours and Phillipe Cousteau (such a cutie!). There was airline travel involved, after all. Our initial flight out of Cedar Rapids International was canceled, meaning we would miss the first of only two daily flights our airline had from Minneapolis to Bozeman, Montana. We had a choice of waiting nine hours in CR, or in Minneapolis. It was a tough choice -- the cities being so much alike and all -- but we decided to head north ASAP.

If you have to be stuck in an airport with four pre-teen girls for nine hours, the four Little Princesses are a good group to be stuck with. We probably could have spent all our time just wandering around Minneapolis-St. Paul International, but we opted to hop the light rail for a quick trip to the Mall of America. The trip organizers told us to be prepared to do a lot of hiking. We just didn't realize it would all take place before we even got to Yellowstone.

My last flight was pre-9-11, but I had been coaching myself for several weeks to suppress my natural tendency to make flippant (some would say "smart-ass") remarks. Apparently air-line security scanners are now so sensitive that they can actually pick up errant thoughts. How else to explain the fact that I was pulled aside for a pat-down? Twice. Once on the initial flight out of Cedar Rapids (while I was biting my tongue so hard it nearly bled) and on the return flight out of Bozeman.

OK, so I might have whispered some subversive comments to the Little Princess the second time. It's not my fault the TSA needs to read their postings for content. I mean, they tell you the name on your ID and boarding pass must match, but they never say it has to be your name. And requesting we "treat security personnel with the respect they deserve" is just asking for trouble. Granted, if I worked in that little closet they call a security checkpoint in Bozeman, my behavior probably wouldn't deserve much respect either.

It's a tough job, and better them than me, but come on now, getting pulled aside for a pat-down twice? If they tried it a third time I was going to demand they buy me dinner and flowers first.

I was just surprised I didn't get hauled into any of the many security checkpoints we walked by on our return through MSP International. Sometime after the second pat-down and re-packaging the 3-oz. liquids I foolishly didn't cram into my checked bag, I developed a massive traveler's zit. I was fairly certain I would have to pay for a second seat just for my blemish. I swear the security guys looked at it like they were considering waving their magic wands over it. Who knows what I could have concealed in there! If we had to make an emergency landing, they could have deployed my zit to cushion the crash.

The Yellowstone portion of the trip more than made up for the travel troubles. In addition to learning about the wildlife, ecosystem and geology of the world's first National Park, we learned a few other more practical tips for Yellowstone visitors:
  • Don't hike across a cactus-strewn field wearing flip-flops.
  • Don't walk through sagebrush wearing shorts.
  • Do always watch were you walk. There's a lot of poop in "them thar hills."

But most of all, I learned to be quiet and listen. To look and marvel at the splendor of nature. And to laugh and enjoy life with the ebullience of a pre-teen Princess.

Thank you, Little Princess. All four of you. For an experience I'll never forget.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Celebration Blog Dance

The following was written in Dolby Digital Surround. To maximize your reading experience, you are encouraged to break into spontaneous cheering, singing, fist-pumping and random dancing. Warning: you may want to close the door and pull the curtains first.

O.M.G! Woo Hoo! Woo Hoo! Woohoowoohoowoohoo! WOO HOO!

In the immortal words of Mister Parker in "A Christmas Story," I have won a Major Award! And yes, I am considering hanging the framed certificate in my front window.

I do not see this as bragging or boasting. I am sharing my excitement over good -- GREAT -- news with friends. Come join the celebration folks. It may be noisy, because I'm tooting my own horn.

You know how I hate to cut to the chase. So let me tell you the story behind the winning.

Sometime back in the dark, dreary days of the last Iowa winter, I was feeling the need to confirm that I was, indeed, a semi-productive member of society (it had been a particularly difficult day of herding kindergarteners – I mean substitute teaching). I decided that in lieu of finding a cure for the common cold, I would finally enter a writing contest I found on-line.

After months of planning my entry, (Actually a year and months. It was a biennial contest.) I waited until the last minute to write my story. By “last minute,” I mean the email had to be sent by midnight and I finished it at 12:01 a.m. The entry form had two classifications, “local” and “national.” I figured people are people, but my little musings may not be of interest to someone living in California (heck, they may not be of interest to my next door neighbor) so I checked the box marked “local.”

As I clicked “send,” (at 12:03 a.m.) it occurred to me that Ohio (where the entry was being sent) is on Eastern time. This would make my entry one hour and three minutes late, not just three minutes late. A quick check of the contest web site confirmed my fear. It also revealed that “local” referred to Dayton, Ohio, not “local” in the sense of “limited scope of interest.” I figure my entry went directly into the file marked “DUH” for “slack-jawed mouth breathers too stupid to follow directions.”

Chagrined, but not disheartened, I found a link to another contest: the National Society of Newspaper Columnists was adding a blog category. After much consideration and input from the Little Princess, I selected three blog entries from the past year, printed them off and managed to get them to the post office before closing time. Then I sat back and waited. And promptly forgot about the whole thing.

When I received the first email stating my entry had been selected as one of the top three, I looked for the fine print that would tell me where to send the wire-transfer for my “cozin in Niarobi” to help "make speeding the red of the will."

There was no fine print. I started to do a little happy dance.

I was caught between a bump and a grind when I started to wonder how many entries there were. This was the first year for the "blog" category. Maybe no one else knew about it. Was there really much to celebrate if mine was the only entry? What if I got third place out of three entries? I decided I really didn't care and went back to my happy dance.

It was a deadly combination of Midwestern modesty and low self-esteem that kept me nervously checking my email. Every day I expected to find the message "Ooops. Sorry. We were trying to contact the author of 'Sandwich Mom on Bly,' a fan-blog for the poet Robert Bly." Or "Ooops, sorry. We're looking for a blogger named 'Ju Ann'." (To which I could reply, Dude! That is so totally me! The lawn care people have addressed our bill to Ju Ann for the last three years! I've thought about not paying it, but I'm afraid they'll come reposes our lawn.)

Finally, finally, finally the official announcement was made at the NSNC conference, and the official announcement email sent out and received. (Get ready to dance) Yes, indeed, your's truly did receive third place in the blog category! And there were two honorable mentions, so there were at least five entries! And all the other winners work for name-brand publications! First place even went to Roger Ebert -- the Roger Ebert, movie critic, not Roger Ebert, alligator wrassler (although I'm sure he'd write a fine blog, too).

The judge's comments were so nice I had to check to make sure that I wasn't related to him, or that the King hadn't recently written him a very large check. No and no. What followed next was a world-class session of happy dancing, hooting and hollering that rattled the windows and shook the walls. It also caught the attention of the Little Prince and Princess.

"What are you doing?" the Little Prince asked, looking confused and a little frightened.
"I'm dancing!" I said, stating the obvious.
"Don't," he said.
"Ever," the Little Princess added.

Thank goodness I have them around to keep me grounded.

Grounded, but still dancing.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Stifling Safety Mom

One of the best things about being a stay-at-home mom is the chance to have fun like a kid again.

One of the hardest things about being a stay-at-home mom is convincing my inner "Safety Mom" to relax long enough for me to have fun like a kid again. And getting her to let the kids have fun like kids again.

Last week I took the Little Prince and Princess to the Coralville Dam to witness the awesome power of nature uncorked by flood control. I knew from experience (having had fun as a kid) that when they've cranked open the dam to maximum outflow, it looks really cool.

Fun Mom thought standing next to the outflow chute watching all that water rushing past just a few yards away -- roiling and splashing and bubbling -- was amazing.

Safety Mom thought it was loud, stinky, and a little too splashy for comfort. Safety Mom worried that a rogue wave would somehow suck the children over, under or through the 4-foot high chain link fence. She suspected that at the very least the Little Angels would become completely soaked with the farm-chemical and fish-poo laden river water. And they would still expect to ride home in her car. Wetter and stinkier than usual.

Fun Mom thought climbing up the rip-rap retaining wall to get a better look at the outflow and to search for fossils would be exciting.

Safety Mom worried someone would twist an ankle climbing on the rocks. Or that the rocks would give way and we would all be caught in an avalanche and crushed to death. Or that the children would disturb a rock-dwelling rattle snake. Even if the snake didn't bite them, we would still be crushed in an avalanche started by heaving a boulder at the snake.

Fun Mom thought it would be cool to climb to the top of the spillway and see how much of the beach on the other side was under water.

Safety Mom worried someone would fall over the top of the spillway and drown. Never mind that we were at the far western edge of the spillway, which is only about 6-feet above the beach and the water was only about a foot deep there. It goes without saying that we did not walk along the (3-foot wide) top of the spillway.

Fun Mom thought it would be neat to feed the ducks at City Park.

Safety Mom wondered if ducks have teeth. And do ducks get rabies? And should we really be feeding Rice Krispie Treats to the ducks?

Currently, the Little Prince bears the brunt of Safety Mom's nervous warnings. Fun Mom knows that to a 9-year-old on a skateboard, scooter or bike, every bump in the road or sidewalk is a ramp to be jumped. Safety Mom scans the area for splint-making supplies and a clearing for the emergency AirCare landing pad.

Turning the Little Prince loose to ride his bike down Orange Street Hill -- the steepest hill in town -- requires no less than four admonitions to be careful:

Safety Mom: "Be careful."

Little Prince: "I will."

SM: "No, really. Be careful."

LP: "I will."

SM: "OK, now, just be careful. And tie your shoe. You don't want your shoelace to get caught in the chain."

LP: (Sigh)" I know. What do you think is going to happen?"

SM: "If your shoelace gets caught, your chain will jam, your bike will stop and you'll go flying over the handlebars and do a face plant in the middle of the road. Try to land on your helmet. And remember you have to stop at the bottom of the hill. And there are cars parked along side the road. Be careful!"

But he is already down the hill and has stopped at the stop sign. Safely.

The best part of the best day was hearing the Little Prince breathlessly tell his father (the minute he walked in the door) "...and we stood by the fence... and the wave were at least 10 ft. tall... and we found fossils... and we climbed... and it was steep...." Because all I heard was " we have to... when can we... what are we doing next... and what's after that...."

I can only hope that when I say "Be careful," what they hear is "I love you."