16 Dec

The Wedding Anniversary Voucher

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By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

On my wedding anniversary, the man who made vows to love, honor and cherish me all the days of his life called my cell phone.

“Hey, honey,” he said.

“Are you still at the airport?”

“Yeah, and I’m not going to make it home in time for us to go out for dinner tonight,” he said.

“Bad weather in Chicago?” I asked.

american-airlines-planeNot exactly.”

“Is something wrong with the plane?”

“No, the plane is taking off right now.”

“Then why aren’t you going to be here?”

“Well, the flight was overbooked. And the flight attendant asked for a volunteer to get off the plane and take a later flight, but no one was volunteering because it’s Friday night and everybody wants to get home.”


“And then she started offering a travel voucher for 100 dollars, then 200, then 300… She got all the way up to 500 dollars.”

“Are you trying to tell me that you’re not going to be here for our anniversary dinner because you took a travel voucher instead?”

“I did,” he said. “And the flight attendant was so grateful that I volunteered that she bumped up the travel voucher to 600 dollars.” The uneasy tone in his voice told me he was nervous about selling out to American Airlines on the night of our anniversary.

I paused for a moment, realizing that the steak dinner I’d been looking forward to was about to turn into a frozen pizza with the kids. Then I said something full of the kind of real-life practicality that comes along with 16 years of marriage and mortgages and kids: “They gave you six hundred dollars? SCORE! Where should we go when we use it?”

We spent the next few minutes deciding how to use the travel voucher while I texted the babysitter and asked if she could come watch the kids the following night instead. By the time Tom came home dragging his suitcase behind him, there were stale pizza crusts on the kitchen counter and the kids and I had fallen asleep while watching reruns of Shark Tank.

If this had happened on the night of our first wedding anniversary, I probably would have passively-aggressively told Tom I was “fine” and then spent the next hour alone in a weepy heap on the sofa, tormented by how he could do such an awful thing to me on our anniversary. Then I would have worked up a full steam of righteous anger and expressed it over a week’s worth of icy cold shoulders and stink eye.

I still had a lot to learn in Year One. We both did. But now we have a few years of “for better or worse” under our belts, and life has a way of teaching you which things to get upset over and which ones just don’t rise to the level of “big deal.”

There are lots of great things about marriage but one of the best is the sense of calm you get as the years go by. Your happiness doesn’t hinge on a missed dinner appointment or a disagreement. You have the reassurance that your commitment is more durable than that. Of course, that doesn’t mean we don’t get frustrated with each other and sometimes even downright mad. It just means we have the sense that, even in those times, it’ll be okay. And that’s a blessing.

We finally decided what to do with that 600-dollar travel voucher. After the holiday chaos ends, we’re using it to take our oldest son to see the sights in Washington, D.C. to celebrate his 13th birthday. See how we turned a missed anniversary dinner into an awesome birthday gift? And while we’re there, we’re definitely getting that steak dinner.

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

09 Dec

Moms, Managers and the Holidays

christmas decor

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

About this time of year, I sympathize with store managers. Although I’ve never worked in retail during the holiday rush, I have worked as a mother for nearly 13 years now. Moms and managers need the same skill sets to survive the weeks leading up to Christmas.

Crowd control: From now until the last after-Christmas sale ends, store managers have to deal with lots of extra people — many of whom act like hyperactive children when they’re drunk on deep discounts and high on the possibility of getting the last copy of this year’s must-have video game.

Moms also understand what it’s like when the house is full of extra people. Someone is always in somebody else’s way and the bathroom is constantly running out of toilet paper. We’re like air traffic controllers trying to figure out seating and sleeping arrangements and how to keep people moving in an orderly fashion.

christmas decorPresentation: Go to any store during the holiday season and you’ll know exactly what the store manager and his or her staff have been doing — stocking shelves, folding sweaters and filling displays. As soon as another delivery truck shows up, items must be emptied, sorted and put out for purchase and — because it’s the holidays — everything needs to look amazing. We shoppers expect a little more razzle-dazzle in December.

If anyone can relate to the pressure of a good presentation, it’s a mom. Some women started working on Christmas decorations before the Thanksgiving turkey ever went into the oven. As much as we may love it, holiday decor has become a beast. What used to be the simple act of putting up a Christmas tree has morphed into a day-long ordeal. Not only is there the Christmas tree, there’s also the table centerpieces, the ceramic knick-knacks, the outdoor lights, the wreath, the Elf on the Shelf, the holiday plates and cups, and the list goes on.

Conflict resolution: It’s almost a given that at some point during the weeks leading up to Christmas, you’ll either say or hear the following phrase when you’re out shopping: “I need to talk to your store manager.” Those are probably the most hated eight words in the English language for managers. Because when somebody says it, it’s not because they want to tell the manager about what a pleasant experience they’ve just had. It’s because they’re mad — really mad, and they want to gripe about it.

Moms can relate because, for the most part, we are ignored by the crowds of people in our house until there’s a problem to solve. That’s when we’re expected to step in and referee the fight or diffuse the tension. Inevitably, a house full of people at a Christmas gathering will include at least one uncle saying something inappropriate and one sister-in-law passing judgment on a third cousin. It’s bound to happen, and it’s usually up to the mom to smooth things over.

Overtime: As much as store managers try to staff up for the holiday rush, there’s never enough people to cover the long shifts during Black Friday and December. And getting a day off from work is about as rare as a sighting of the indomitable snowman.

Moms also work a lot of overtime because we need to deck the halls, cook the food, buy the gifts, wrap the presents, attend the parties, pack for trips and visit the relatives. We practically sleep-walk through the last half of December because managing all the merriment has already worn us out.

The moral of this story? The “most wonderful time of the year” is also an intensely busy one for many of us. Extra patience and kindness is perhaps one of the best gifts you can give. So remember to share a little “peace on Earth” with your town’s store managers — and be sweet to your mama, too.

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

25 Nov

True story of an aspiring somebody


By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

I got my first real job 19 years ago by replying to a classified ad that asked for resumes from “aspiring journalists.” Fresh out of college with an English degree and absolutely no idea what to do with it, I didn’t know if I was qualified to be a journalist. But I did know I was “aspiring” for something — even though I wasn’t clear on what. So I took my resume down to the newspaper office and dropped it off.

A few days later, I got a call from the executive editor, which made me feel fancy and grown-up. I put on a dress I imagined a business woman might wear and went to the interview. I don’t remember much of what he asked or how I answered. I was crazy nervous and kept telling myself that if I accidentally said something grammatically incorrect, I’d blow the whole interview.

The only part I remember was when he told me the job would be mostly administrative — that I’d be typing in school lunch menus, wedding announcements and obituaries and that I’d answer the phone a lot and take messages. Did I still want the job? After all, I’d graduated college with honors and the job didn’t pay much.

broom-Broom_icon.svgI looked around the newsroom, full of reporters, editors and photographers who were rushing around, typing and talking loudly over the sound of too many ringing phones. The only thing I knew for sure was that they were paid to work with words. And in that moment, that’s all I wanted. So I said something dramatic and desperate: “I will sweep the floors in this place if it means I get to work with words.”

To this day, I don’t know if he hired me because of that line or in spite of it or because he really needed somebody to type in those wordy wedding announcements. I like to believe it was a “God thing.”

After more than a year as the assistant, that same editor sent me downtown one afternoon in late November to write a story about the city’s holiday decorations and activities. It was a tiny story but I felt like he’d just handed me the assignment of a lifetime. I walked around the town square worried sick that I wouldn’t describe things just right. I clutched my little tape recorder and forced myself out of a shy-girl shell so I could interview the man who drove the decorated horse-drawn carriage. I remember playing the tape back later that night as I sat in the newsroom, groaning because I could barely hear the man’s comments over the loud jingle bells and the clip-clop of the horse’s hooves on pavement.

I turned in the story on time and the next day I had my first newspaper byline. It was a start — an exciting, imperfect, nerve-wracking start. A few months after that, I was writing and editing business stories and, eventually, I talked that same editor into giving me a chance to write a column — this column. I’ve been blessed with so many business and creative adventures since then, and I couldn’t have imagined any of them the day I answered that classified ad.

It reminds me that often one brave or desperate attempt can lead to something special. Harper Lee, who wrote To Kill a Mockingbird, started out writing plane tickets as an agent for Eastern Airlines. Alexander Graham Bell set out to make something that would help his deaf wife communicate better, and he ended up inventing the telephone.

So here’s to all of us who aspire to try, who find a way to make something from nothing. It’s not an easy thing to do, and it would feel so much safer not to risk it. But here’s hoping we never forget that life is always — always — worth a try.

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com.  To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

04 Nov

On Pins and Needles

NOSTALGIA© 1998 PhotoSpinwww.powerphotos.com

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

There are two kinds of people in the world: grown-ups and fraidy-cats who are scared of needles. I’m in that second group.

fraidy catSomething happened yesterday that “outed” me with the kids, so now they know that their mother – who they always assumed was a bona fide grown-up – is actually a big ol’ fraidy cat.

Our insurance program sent us a couple of “biometric test kits” in the mail, requiring Tom and me to fill out a health questionnaire and submit a blood sample. The kit came with a little needle with which to perform the finger prick and a card that required three drops of blood.

Trust me when I say that I realize a finger prick is no big deal. I had three kids so I’ve seen my fair share of needles. When I was in the midst of active childbirth, I practically begged the anesthesiologist to bring the biggest needle he could find and stick it in my spine – anything that might dull the pain of contractions.

In those situations, however, I was focused on the goal of delivering a baby into the world. A needle seemed like a small price to pay for such a lofty mission. But a biometric test kit for a nosy insurance program? That offered no motivation whatsoever.

But I’m married to a grown-up who insisted we complete the test and send it back. After a 9-hour fasting period, he dutifully stabbed his finger and bled all over the test card before sealing it up in the return envelope. Then he looked at me and said, “Do you want to prick your own finger or do you want me to do it for you?”

“Neither?” I said.

“That wasn’t one of the options,” he said in that annoying, grown-up tone of voice.

Insisting I wasn’t ready yet, I hid out in our bedroom trying to talk my inner fraidy-cat into acting like a grown-up long enough to face the needle. I knew I couldn’t bring myself to stab my own finger which meant I’d have to let him do it. It’s one thing to let a trained medical professional stick you with a needle, and it’s another thing entirely to let someone stick you who has roughly the same medical expertise as Bozo the Clown.

Fortunately, my mother came over about that time and she offered to be the finger pricker, since she’s diabetic and has experience with such things. I reluctantly extended my hand and turned my head away from the carnage.

Admittedly, the finger prick didn’t hurt much. Had it ended with the needle stick, I would’ve been fine. But my finger wouldn’t bleed enough to get three big drops onto the test card, so Tom and my mother started squeezing the blood out of my hand, insisting they just needed one more drop.

All that squeezing and talking about blood started to make me feel woozy. Suddenly the back of my neck got hot and my stomach started a queasy somersault. Seven-year-old Kate appeared at my side, holding my other hand and reassuring me I’d be okay. Her 10-year-old brother also came to my aid, worried about how pale I looked.

Finally, after they literally squeezed the life blood out of me, the tormenters released me and I slid down to a more comfortable horizontal position on the floor where I continued to bleed. Tom fetched me a Band-Aid while the kids fanned me with the newspaper. It was not my finest moment.

Of course, all the grown-ups out there will roll their eyes and scoff at my silliness. But my fellow fraidy-cats? They understand.

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To check out Gwen’s  book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

16 Sep

Parenting in a Wi-Fi world

no littering

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

It was the summer of 1980 and the open field next to our house was overgrown with tall grass nearly waist-high. Then one day papers blew all over the field, getting snagged and tangled in the unruly grass, making it even more of an eyesore. So my mother sent me and my big brother out one afternoon to pick up the litter.

My brother, who must have been about 13 or 14 that year, grumbled about the chore all the way out to the field, while I trailed behind him. He griped loudly right up until the second he picked up the first piece of trash and realized what it was. I saw the paper, too, but my 7-year-old brain assumed it was simply a magazine photo of a lady wearing black underwear, her hair blown back and a long string of pearls draped around her neck, which was odd because she’d forgotten to put on her shirt.

My brother stared down at that crumpled page for a second and then spun around on his heels with the page held behind his back. “You can go home and play. I’ll pick these up by myself,” he said.

I didn’t argue since playing sounded much better than picking up litter in the field, so I skipped back home, leaving my brother alone with the trash he was suddenly eager to collect all on his own.

Years later, I realized that what my mother had assumed was just litter blowing around an overgrown field was actually pages from an abandoned Playboy no litteringmagazine. It took my brother a couple of hours to pick up all those pages, which he said he threw away. Looking back on it? We all know he didn’t throw them away. Those crumpled pages were probably smoothed out and passed around a large group of neighborhood boys who were likely amazed when my brother told them about that special “field of dreams.”

Fast forward nearly 35 years later. Here I am, the mother of a nearly 13-year-old boy as well as a 10-year-old boy, both of them traveling the on-ramp to puberty. And I’m realizing that the overgrown field is still right here – only now it’s not a literal place. It’s a web – a World Wide one. And we don’t even have to walk outside to see it. It’s on our computers. Our phones. Our iPads. Even our TV has access. We’re living right smack in the middle of that tangled, gnarly field, and keeping the trash picked up is a full-time job.

To be honest, it scares me. My boys don’t have to wait for the wind to blow somebody’s forgotten nudie magazine into the field. The pictures – and, even worse, the videos – are a click away. Even though Tom and I have spent days installing internet filters and monitoring software and parental controls, I worry that clearing this figurative field is impossible. The sickest parts of humanity will always bubble up through the cracks. Statistics say that, on average, kids first see porn online at the age of 11. And by the time boys become college freshman, about 60% of them are addicted to pornography.

After reading those stats, part of me wants to pack up and move to a cave in Antarctica where there’s no Wi-Fi. And the other part of me – the part that knows we can’t outrun the world – hopes we can somehow stay a technological step ahead of our kids’ next temptation. But even more than that, I pray – now more than ever – for the help we need to raise good human beings, even in the midst of so much trash.

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

09 Sep

Why I Don’t Camp

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By Gwen Rockwood

In a few weeks it will officially be fall, which means I can stop making excuses for why I can’t go camping.

I realize there are millions of people who go camping each summer and love it. They feel free, peaceful and closer to nature. They get a much-needed escape from the texts, pings, alerts and emails of our overly connected world. I love the idea of an escape, too. I just think turning off my cell phone can give me that same freedom, minus the bug bites and poison ivy.

Before we got married, I was honest with Tom about my aversion to spending the night in the great outdoors. He knew going into this thing that I was never going to be that girl who loves to wash her hair in the creek and spend the afternoon hiking around and pointing at birds. But men will be men, and occasionally they fall in love with the idea of a Grizzly Adams type of existence. Every summer, he tries to convince me that taking our three kids off on a camping vacation would be fun.

hiking iconBut I know myself. I know my limitations. And I know I’d be very “un-fun” on a camping trip. I tried it once back when I was in college. I was dating a guy who talked me into a short hike in the woods to see a nearby waterfall. It sounded simple enough and he assured me he was an experienced hiker who knew exactly what to do.

Several hours later, after reluctantly agreeing to take an alternate route back from the waterfall that was just “a little bit” longer, we were lost in the woods and had run out of water and snacks. The trail map was useless, and there was no one around to ask for directions.

After miles of wandering, we stumbled upon the road that led to the trail head where the car was parked. But we had no idea how far away the car actually was, and we were already dead on our feet. So we hitchhiked back to the car, which is another one of those activities I tend to avoid because it carries an elevated risk of “deadness.”

Since that first failed hiking experience years ago, I’ve noticed a pattern about the woods that’s hard for a cautious woman like me to ignore. Where do the police search when a criminal escapes from prison? The woods. Where do they search when someone goes missing and is feared dead? The woods. Where do the most unpleasant creatures like snakes, ticks and angry badgers tend to hang out the most? The woods.

And we all know how isolated the woods are. If a woman screams in the woods, does she make a sound? The answer is yes, she does. She makes all kinds of sounds, only nobody is there to hear her. And if by chance there is someone nearby, they can’t get a decent cell signal to call 911. (Conversely, when was the last time you were bit by a poisonous snake while strolling in the mall? Exactly never.)

So I’m looking forward to a beautiful fall spent in the city limits. I will wave fondly to the wilderness as I pass by it in the car. And next summer, if Tom insists on camping, I won’t stand in his way. But he’ll have to rough it alone because I’ll be enjoying the comforts of home, where I stand in wholehearted agreement with one of the greatest humor writers of all time, Dave Barry, who once wisely said: “Camping is nature’s way of promoting the motel business.”

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

05 Aug

The Rockwood Files: Lessons from the old school

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

I tossed a new book into the beach bag and headed out the door with the kids to swim team practice. We both dove in – me into a world of words and them into the bright blue water of the pool.

A few pages into the book, I realized I was pressing my thumb into the right-hand margin of the page, expecting it to automatically flip the same way it does when I read books on my Kindle or smartphone. Nothing happened, of course, and I laughed at how easy it was to forget that my old-school real-life book wasn’t going to react to a touch the same way an electronic one does.

As much as I love reading electronic books, it’s nice to hold the real deal in my hands again and use a pen to underline my favorite parts. New technology is great, but there are a few things worthy of a visit back to how it used to be.

One of the best things that has happened for my kids this summer is discovering the magic of an old-fashioned record player. It was a gift from our friends John and Susan, who have been so dear to our family for so long that they have earned honorary uncle and aunt status with my kids. When they arrived for a visit this summer, the kids looked skeptical when Uncle John hauled in a large carrying case with a Califone record player inside which he’d bought from eBay.

califone record player“Your kids are really going to like this,” he said as he set up the record player and slipped an ancient album out of its plastic sleeve and onto the turntable. “Trust me on this. Just give it a little time.”

At first, the kids stared at the record player as if Uncle John had just hauled a dusty dinosaur fossil into the house. They’d never seen anything like it. He showed them how to put a record on and how to switch the setting from 33 to 45, depending on the size of the record. Then he showed them how to set the needle down ever so gently on the rim of the record and watch it glide across the vinyl.

I loved the record player because it reminded me of the one I had in my bedroom as a kid. And I wished I’d kept all those old records I used to play over and over, like Eddie Rabbit’s “Drivin’ My Life Away” and Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” I remembered how excited I was the first time I got the Grease Album and unfolded it to see the movie photos of John Travolta and Olivia Newton John inside.

But it wasn’t nostalgic for my kids, who have never known any other way to play music other than touching a playlist on a smartphone. Would the magic exist for them, too?

After a few days of spinning records, the kids are hooked. Their favorite record so far is a Disney long-playing album that includes songs from The Jungle Book, Lady and the Tramp, Snow White and many more. When 7-year-old Kate goes missing, I can usually find her sitting by the record player listening to the song “Everybody Wants to Be a Cat.”

Uncle John said the only thing as much fun as playing records is finding more records at the thrift store for 50 cents or a dollar. The kids found one called “Never Smile at a Crocodile,” from the Peter Pan soundtrack, and we’ve heard it a few jillion times now – a new record for what is a very old record.

We love all things technology and gadgets and progress, but I’ve got to admit that there’s something pretty wonderful about an occasional spin back in time to the “old school.”

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

02 Jun

The 10-year Dash: Son teaches mom about Google Easter Eggs

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

A decade feels like a long time – right up until the day one of your kids turns 10 years old. Then it feels more like a fast 20 minutes. In just two short days, our middle child, Jack, will hit the big 1-0, and he can hardly wait to embrace his double-digit status.

When Jack’s older brother turned 10 a couple years ago, I felt weepy every time I thought about it. He was halfway to 20 and only 8 years away from leaving the nest for college. The lump in my throat felt as big as the birthday cake.

Now that Jack is also turning 10, I’ve learned that I need to treat this milestone more like a carnival ride. As much as you want it to slow down, you also know the speed is part of the thrill. So you hang on tight and try to enjoy the adventure – even when it’s scaring the daylights out of you.

When Jack isn’t scarfing down carbohydrates and growing out of his shoes too fast, he likes to tinker around with computers. And one of the cool things about him getting older and wiser is that he can teach me things. The other day we went to our favorite deli to have soup and iced tea, and during lunch he told me all about Google “Easter eggs.” When I gave him a blank stare, he resisted the urge to roll his eyes and say “Duh, Mom” and instead grabbed my smartphone to google easter eggshow me an online “Easter egg” in action.

In case you, like me, are uneducated about hidden high-tech eggs, let me explain so you can score some “cool points” with kids who might think you’re ancient and clueless. A Google Easter egg is simply a hidden feature or trick tucked away in an online hidey-hole by the crazy smart computer nerds who run Google. To see an Easter egg in action, use the voice search function on your computer or smartphone and ask the question, “How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?” A computer voice will answer you right away.

My favorite Google Easter egg is a nod to Star Trek fans. Using the voice search function on your smartphone, say the words, “Beam me up, Scotty!” The computer voice will answer you just like Scotty always did: “I cannot do it, Captain. I do not have the power!” (Except your smartphone’s voice will say this famous line in the worst computerized Scottish accent I’ve ever heard, which only makes it funnier.)

If you don’t have voice search on your computer, try this one: Type in the name of any famous person and then the words “bacon number” right after his or her name. Google will immediately show you how many degrees of separation there are between the famous person and actor Kevin Bacon. (Anne Frank’s “Bacon number” is 3, by the way.) There are dozens of these high-tech Easter eggs hidden throughout Google, and apparently most 10-year-olds know where to find them. Now we do, too.

When Jack turns 10 in a couple days, we’ll have a big carbo-loading birthday party complete with his favorite lasagna and more garlic bread than should be legal. Then we’ll finish up with cake or cookies or both, if Jack has any say in it.

And when he falls asleep later that night, I’ll stop for a few moments in his doorway to look at him – marveling at how our baby could have grown into this amazing young person right before my eyes. It all happened so fast – in the blink of a decade.

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

20 May

Why I lied in second grade

rockwoodfiles2-205x300By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Ham salad sandwiches.

That’s what the school cafeteria lunch menu listed for Wednesday’s meal, which meant I’d be packing three lunches for school the next day. Ham salad? Those two words shouldn’t even go together. Did Michelle Obama sign off on this menu? Doubtful, I pulled the lunch-making necessities out of the fridge and started smearing mustard on six slices of bread.

I pack lunches in the evening and stick them in the fridge overnight for one important reason: We’re not morning people. I’ve heard there are real live people who are razor sharp and even cheerful early in the morning. At any other time of day, I’d say I admire those people and wish I could be more like them. But at 6 a.m., I want to throw things at those people and go back to sleep.

Our family of night owls tends to zombie-walk through school mornings, relying heavily on routine and things laid out the night before. If I packed lunches in the morning, the kids would open up their lunchboxes to find an apple, a stray sock and a stapler inside.

ham saladAs I assembled lunches for the zillionth time this school year, I wished my kids weren’t such picky eaters – although avoiding something called ham salad sounds less like picky eating and more like a survival strategy, if you ask me.

But the truth is they get their pickiness from me. When I was in second grade, there was a rule about trying one bite of everything on your lunch tray – a rule that was, no doubt, designed to coax picky eaters like me out of our chicken nugget rut. I was one of those quiet, law-abiding students terrified of breaking a rule so I went along with the cafeteria mandate right up until the day tuna fish sandwiches were on the tray.

I’ll try a bite of a lot of things – beets, turnips, breaded beef fingers – but I will not put tuna fish anywhere near my mouth. If possible, I’d rather the tuna fish be in a different zip code.

So I told my second grade teacher, Mrs. Wood, that I couldn’t try a bite of the tuna salad sandwich because I was allergic to it. The blatant dishonesty must have been written all over my terrified face because she said, “You’re allergic? Are you sure about that? If I call your mother and ask her, is she going to tell me that you’re allergic to tuna fish?”

I weighed my options – either put tuna fish in my mouth or deal with an angry mother and teacher – and I wholeheartedly embraced Door No. 2. I solemnly nodded that yes, my mother would confirm the tuna fish allergy. And as luck would have it, my teacher never called my mom, and I managed to slide past the “try one bite” rule that day.

Mrs. Wood, if you’re out there reading this, your suspicion was well-founded. I told a lie as bold as the fishy smell rolling off that cafeteria tray. It was wrong. I knew better. But, given the same set of circumstances, I’d do it again.

Picky eaters can be annoying, frustrating and even irrational sometimes, but we all listen to our gut instincts. For most people, that little voice is adventurous enough to give something called “ham salad” a whirl and see what happens. But for others, a certain smell, look or texture triggers an aversion strong enough to turn even a straight-laced second grader into a frightened fibber.

We’ll just pack our sack lunch and wait for the certainty of spaghetti and meat sauce and the comfort of a familiar chicken nugget. Bon appetite.

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

11 May

Reading to First Grade

rockwoodfiles2-205x300By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Today was my scheduled day to read picture books to our daughter’s first grade class, a fact I remembered minus one important detail – the time of the reading. After working in my home office for a few hours this morning, I checked to see what time I was supposed to be at the school, fairly certain I had an hour or so before I’d need to go. I sifted through my inbox until I found the right email and then – NO! The email said I should be in the classroom ready to read at 10:15 a.m. It was, at that very moment, 10:02 a.m.

I had exactly 13 minutes to get dressed, brush my teeth, fix my hair, put on makeup, find picture books to read, drive the 7-minute route to school, sign in at the front desk and sprint down the hallway to my daughter’s classroom. (Clearly, someone did not get good grades in “time management.”)

I flew to my closet, threw on the first presentable shirt and jeans I could find, grabbed my makeup bag, a breath mint and a handful of picture books and careened out of the garage headed toward school. Even though I knew it would make me a few minutes late, I spent a couple minutes in powder compactthe parking lot dabbing concealer on the dark circles and dusting powder on my face, followed by a quick smear of lipstick and a dash of mascara.

I knew, from a past experience reading to a group of elementary students, that even little kids will notice if you don’t look quite right. When our oldest was in Kindergarten and I read to his class, I skipped putting makeup on that day and one very observant 6-year-old boy — who had not yet developed that all-important social “filter” that prevents us from saying exactly what we’re thinking — called me out for it. “Are you sick or something? Why is your face so white?”

So today I sidestepped that problem by putting on just enough makeup so that it wouldn’t look like Casper the Friendly Ghost had come to read to the class. My daughter’s face lit up when she saw me standing at the classroom door, and that made all the rushing around more than worth it.

The reading went well, mostly because I’ve learned what to do and what not to do while reading to kids age 7 and under. It sounds mean, but it’s best to pretend not to see the kid who raises his hand about halfway through the book.

Because if you stop reading and ask him if he has a question, he will start telling you how his Aunt Susan has a dog just like the dog in the book and she lives in San Antonio and they went there one time and she said her dog is really naughty because he ate some crayons one time and she was so worried about him and took him to the vet and the vet said that dogs should never eat crayons but then he pooped out the crayons which he thinks was maybe a blue one and a green one and Aunt Susan’s dog was okay after that but the crayons weren’t okay.

That one sentence will take him at least 7 minutes to finish, and when he finally pauses for a breath, there’ll be a cascade of “eeeewwwww’s” from the girls and a bunch of “That’s awesome,” from the boys. And then at least four other kids will remember something gross that their own dogs did and they’ll be dying to tell you about it, which will begin an avalanche of distraction from which there is no recovery – unless a professional like the teacher steps in to rescue you.

So I pretended not to see that kid with the eager little arm in the air and went right on reading and turning pages, pointing to pictures and putting as much energy and fun as I could into the story until circle time was over, the kids lined up for lunch and I went back to a much easier day job.

The end.

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

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