04 Mar

Revenge of the Girl Scout Cookies

trefoil cookies

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the kitchen, they’re baaaaaack. It’s the Girl Scout cookies. There’s a whole gang of them hanging out on our kitchen counter this week, just waiting for some poor unsuspecting schmuck to walk by and fall in love with them – again.

It’s not that I don’t like the cookies. Quite the opposite. The problem is that I really like the cookies. And when I really like the cookies, the cookies decide they really like my thighs and want to set up camp there as extra body fat. And that makes me not like the cookies nearly as much anymore. It’s a love hate thing. It gets messy.

Ironically, the sinister cookies were delivered here by the sweetest little blonde-headed Girl Scout you’ve ever seen. She was like a little merit badge-wearing angel. She handed me four boxes of cookies, and I handed her a check. Then she skipped back down the sidewalk, turning to wave goodbye and say thank you. I waved back at her, shut the door and that’s when the cookie showdown began.

I’ve been trying to keep a safe distance from them, but I swear I can hear those cookies whispering all the way up the stairs. It’s the Trefoils that call to me trefoil cookiesmost. Some people think the unassuming Trefoils are the most boring of all the Girl Scout cookie varieties, but I couldn’t disagree more. While it’s true that the Trefoils are a simple shortbread cookie, what they lack in color and texture, they more than make up for in pure sugary goodness.

They’re not as showy as the Samoas or as multi-layered as the Thin Mints, but they have an undeniable charm that can only be appreciated by a true cookie purist. The only problem with the Trefoils is how easy it is to rip through half a sleeve of those babies before you even realize it. They go down so easily with a glass of cold milk that it’s easy to lose count. (Your thighs and the bathroom scale, however, never lose count, and therein lies the problem.)

At least I’m not alone in this cookie conundrum. If Tom hadn’t left town for a few days on a business trip, I can almost guarantee that the box of Samoas would already be ancient history. He has to go to a different zip code to avoid scarfing down those coconut confections.

And our cookie-loving 10-year-old is coping with a pretty serious Thin Mint addiction right now. Every time I see him lately, he has traces of chocolate in the corners of his mouth along with minty fresh breath that didn’t come from mouthwash.

The only box of cookies that hasn’t been cracked open yet is a new variety called Rah-Rah Raisin. The description says it’s a “hearty oatmeal cookie made with whole grain oats and packed with plump raisins and Greek yogurt-flavored chunks.” The somewhat healthy sounding description is probably the only thing that has saved this box from the kids. But once they’ve torn through all the Thin Mints and their cookie craving ramps back up again, the Rah-Rah Raisins will have to make a rah-rah run for it if they have any hope of surviving the week.

The good news is that, at the rate we’re going, the Girl Scout cookie invasion won’t last long. By this time next week, the cookies will have been vanquished and their flattened boxes will be at the bottom of the recycling bin. The Samoas, Thin Mints, Rah-Rah Raisins and my beloved Trefoils will all be a distant memory. Now… if only my thighs would forget them, too.

gwen headshot 2014Gwen 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.

13 Feb

The Rockwood Files: Letter to my future daughters-in-law and son-in-law

letter heart

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

Dear Future Daughters-in-law and Son-in-law,

Even though right now you’re just kids and we haven’t even met, I think about you. Sometimes it happens when I notice how tall one of my sons has grown. Sometimes it happens when my daughter says something that makes her sound less like the 8-year-old that she is and more like a young lady. During those moments, I realize that – long before I’m ready – my babies will grow up, move out and start looking for you.

I wonder sometimes how you’ll find each other. Will you bump into each other in a college classroom? Will you meet in the company break room of the first real job after college graduation? Will it be a blind date, the way Tom and I met more than 16 years ago?

I’m looking forward to hearing those how-we-met stories. I worry sometimes about how many disappointments and broken hearts might happen before the timing is right for you and one of my kids to meet. Even though I know those heartaches are sometimes necessary to help us grow up and get smarter, it’s never easy for a mom to watch her kid get hurt – especially when there’s not much we can do about it.

What I can do is pray that you’re becoming the kind of person who is capable of deep love and loyalty. I pray you’re being raised by parents who can show you what real love looks like in the midst of real life – not the fake stuff you see in movies. I pray that, more than anything, you have a kind heart.

letter heartBecause one day you will have the hearts of the three people who claimed mine the moment that each of them was born. You’ll either make them happy or make them miserable. And since a mother’s happiness is inextricably intertwined with that of her children, you’re an awfully big deal to me, too. I hope I’ll love you and trust you to take care of these people who mean so much to me.

One day when they start dating, I’ll tell the kids just how important it is to choose wisely. I’ll try to convince them that deciding who to spend your life with is a much bigger decision than where to go to college. Bigger than what they’ll choose to study. Bigger than a career choice or where to live or what hobbies to pursue.

I hope they’ll believe me, but I can’t blame them if they don’t. Because when I was in my early 20s, I definitely didn’t grasp how huge this choice would be. I nearly messed it up a million different ways. I shudder to think what might have happened if I had kept on stubbornly ignoring that still, small voice we hear when we’re with someone who’s not good for us – that insistent, nagging feeling that something just isn’t right.

Now that I’m 16 years and three kids down the road from my own decision, I can appreciate how that blind date and the relationship that followed has had a bigger impact on my happiness than anything else.

So, listen. You don’t have to pretend to like my dismal cooking when you come for visits. And you don’t have to raise your kids the same way we raised ours. But I ask you from the bottom of my heart to do these two things: Love God and love my kid – as deeply and honestly as possible. And until we meet, I’ll be doing my best to raise the kind of person who can do those same things for you.

Love,

Your Future Mother-in-Law

gwen headshot 2014Gwen 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.

11 Feb

My PG-13 Life

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

This week’s column, as well as many of the conversations around my house lately, are rated PG-13. Be aware that the following material may not be suitable for children, pre-teens or anyone who’s easily offended. Consider yourself forewarned.

For those readers curious enough to move on to this second paragraph, let me explain. Our PG13 rating boxoldest kid turned 13 two months ago. This milestone, in and of itself, is enough to rattle parents who feel like it was just yesterday that we brought him home from the hospital wrapped up like a baby burrito with nothing but his tiny, blue-capped head peeking out.

A lightning-fast 13 years later, our first “baby” is now in middle school, where the traditional three R’s (reading, writing and arithmetic) have been joined by a modern-day “R” called reality. And the reality is that, whether or not parents choose to have “the talk” with their teenage kids, “the talk” is all around us. It’s everywhere.

If you don’t believe it, turn on the nightly news around 5:30 p.m. and wait a few minutes. I can almost guarantee that the annoying woman in the blue dress will pop up during one of the commercial breaks and have a heart-to-heart about the merits of Viagra. She doesn’t care one bit if your inquisitive 8-year-old daughter happens to be in the room eating a bowl of macaroni and cheese.

Between 1998 and today, the number of sexual scenes on television has doubled. According to CommonSenseMedia.com, music videos show about 93 sexual situations per hour, with about 11 of those scenes considered to be “hard-core.” As a parent of kids ranging from elementary school to middle school, I can tell you it’s scary. Because when I was growing up, this kind of stuff wasn’t as “in your face” as it is today and it definitely wasn’t only a click away. Now, it is.

Tom and I tackled “the talk” with our oldest kid about a year ago but it’s still an ongoing conversation. In fact, his middle school recently made it part of his homework. He just finished an 8-lesson course on sex education, and, after each class, he brought home a worksheet with questions he was supposed to ask his parents. He wrote down our answers to questions like these:

Are love and sex the same thing? How do you know when you’re in love? What advice would you give about setting boundaries in relationships? What are some of the most common sexually transmitted diseases?

After he asked me that last question, I rattled off a list of diseases while he took dictation and filled out the questionnaire.

“How do you spell that word, Mom?” he asked.

“It’s spelled G-O-N-O-R-R…”

As I spelled the word, I mentally floated out of my own body and looked down at the two of us in partial disbelief. “Here I am,” I thought, “helping my kid with homework by spelling this kind of word.” (And if you think spelling the word is tricky, try explaining how and why it’s so important to avoid it to a person you have always wanted to protect from the ugliest parts of the world.)

As awkward as it is to have these conversations, I’m realizing more and more how important they are. Asking and answering the tough questions is so much better than leaving kids to gather scraps of unreliable information from friends, movies, dog-eared pages of steamy novels, and school bathroom rumors.

As the credits roll on this PG-13 column, I and so many of my fellow parents feel like we’re facing an incredibly tough job – to raise good, decent kids in a world where Superbowl burger commercials often look more like porn and the standards for what society will accept slip down even lower than necklines.

gwen headshot 2014Gwen 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.

04 Feb

Bracing myself for orthodontic reality

braces

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

This week, after taking the second of my three kids to a consultation appointment at the orthodontist’s office, I saw the reality of our situation in black, white and shades of grey when the doctor put two x-rays on the computer screen side by side.

One showed an x-ray from a year ago which the doctor said looked pretty normal. The x-ray next to it was the one he’d just taken and it was…a dental disaster. It looked like a cluster of bumper cars all pointing in different directions.

The orthodontist pointed at two impacted teeth that had somehow taken a wrong turn at Albuquerque and were now headed in the opposite direction. They’d need to be re-routed first with braces and then with oral surgery to attach tiny chains to the wayward pearly whites. braces

Then the doctor told me about my son’s missing permanent teeth that would one day require implants. Then there was the matter of the lower jaw that needed realignment with a custom-made orthodontic appliance.

The incessant ringing of a cash register echoed in my mind. As it turns out, a nice smile can get pretty pricey.

But there’s no one to blame…or is there? The problem of missing permanent teeth is usually a hereditary issue, so maybe it’s my fault. But if it’s my fault then that means it’s probably my parents’ fault, or their parents’ fault, or their parent’s fault. It’s impossible to tell how far up the family tree this DNA dilemma goes.

The only person happy about this situation is our middle child, who was the first kid to get saddled with braces about a year ago. (In some cruel twist of dental fate, he is destined for not one but two sets of braces to correct a “cross bite,” which is apparently a real thing and not just another thing to spend money on. I Googled it.)

When Jack found out his older brother was about to get braces, he smiled a wide, metallic smile and pulled a victorious fist in toward his chest as he said “Yes!” His dental misery is about to get some company in a world where popcorn and Laffy Taffy are strictly prohibited. Finally, someone in the family will literally “feel his pain.”

And speaking of pain, Tom and I are about to feel our share of it, too. Even with the Cadillac of dental insurance programs, we’ll still have to come up with several thousand dollars to get through the Great Orthodontic Crisis of 2015. (Goodbye, summer vacation. I may never walk on your sandy beaches but at least my kids will have properly aligned jawbones. Maybe I’ll have a margarita this summer while I stare into their metal mouths, imagining the way a sunset might look over the ocean. That’ll be relaxing.)

By the time the boys serve their time in braces, it’ll be just about time for their little sister to start her own dental disco. We’ll probably be dealing with wires, rubber bands and retainers for a collective seven years or more.

If I could, I would send a text message back in time to my younger self on the day when our youngest kid graduated from diapers to underwear — the day we felt like we’d be rich because we could finally stop buying diapers. Here’s what I’d say:

“Hold up, sister. Better start stockpiling those diaper dollars because you’re going to need them during the Great Orthodontic Crisis of 2015. I just got the bill and it is OMG.”

gwen headshot 2014Gwen 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.

30 Jan

Too much and not enough

grocery cart

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

It happened again yesterday. I went to the store for “just a few things.” An hour and more than a hundred dollars later, I pushed an overly full shopping cart out of the store and stuffed more than a dozen bags into the back of my SUV.

As I drove home, I went through a mental checklist of all the things I’d bought: Milk, bread, cereal, lunch meat, laundry detergent. Check, check, check. I had all the essentials plus lots of other things that seemed necessary when I’d cruised through the aisles.

But then a maddening question popped into my head: “How is it possible that I have a car grocery cartfull of groceries and still have no idea what to make for dinner?” Has this ever happened to you? It makes me crazy.

I actually considered pulling into the drive-through of Chick-fil-A because the thought of putting away all those groceries only to drag them out again and cook something seemed like more trouble than it was worth. (Plus, what does one make with ingredients like milk, Tide with Bleach, bologna and Cheerios? I’m pretty sure you can’t put that stuff in the crock pot and come back home to anything that’s edible.)

I talked myself out of the fast-food drive-through mostly because it felt wrong to go out to eat when I’d spent all this time and money to bring food home. I put away the groceries and then stood in front of the pantry, gazing into it with a blank, hopeless stare.

That clueless feeling reminded me of those times when I look into a closet full of clothes and yet have “nothing to wear.” Men won’t relate to that feeling but women know it well. Even with a closet bursting at the seams, we only wear a fraction of what’s in there. And if the handful of favorite jeans and tops happen to be dirty, well, we may have to stay in a bathrobe all day because we don’t have a single thing to put on. Ridiculous? Yes, of course. But we feel it, nonetheless.

It’s the age-old problem of “too much and not enough.” I still don’t understand how those two things can exist in the same kitchen or closet or even the same universe, but they do.

Perhaps the most frustrating part of “too much and not enough” is far more personal than groceries or clothes. It whispers to the inner critic in all of us – that nasty little voice that tells us there’s “too much” to do and we’re “not enough” to do it successfully.

If only I was good at planning menus for the week, I wouldn’t end up with a shopping cart full of food and yet nothing to make for dinner. If only I was smarter about fashion, I’d know exactly how to assemble these random separates into an outfit that makes me look like I’ve got it all pulled together, inside and out.

But the truth is I don’t have it all pulled together. And some days are more chaotic than others. Just like the kitchen pantry and the bedroom closet, I am too much and not enough.

In times like these, I have to go back to the basics – back to what I know will work even when I’m short on time and inspiration. Jeans and a sweater to greet the day. And when the groceries are all put away and energy is waning, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for dinner will work in a pinch. It’s not fancy, but then again neither am I. I am too much and not enough and perfectly imperfect, just as God made me.

gwen headshot 2014Gwen 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.

13 Jan

Why I Don’t Like January

white carpet

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Even though there’s something comforting about getting back into a normal routine after a hectic holiday period, I don’t like January. It’s the one month of the year that puts me on edge and gives me performance anxiety.

My mother once gave me some valuable advice about carpet that also applies nicely to the month of January. She said, “Never buy white carpet.” When I was younger, I liked the idea of white or cream-colored carpet, mostly because it was so different than the dark brown color I’d grown up with. White carpet made rooms look bright and expansive. Fancy luxury hotels had white carpet, and magazine layouts of million-dollar rooms feature white carpet, so why shouldn’t I want white carpet, too?

Then I got married and moved into a house with white carpet. And I figured out exactly why my mother had spent so many years on an anti-white carpet crusade. White carpet makes you crazy. It dares you to make a mistake. And if you do, a glaring stain reminds you of your failure every time you walk in the room.

That’s exactly how January is, too. The New Year stretches out in front of you like a big swath of pure white carpet. You stand at the doorway, admiring how perfectly clean and unblemished that white rug is, and you tell yourself you’re going to do everything in your power to keep it spotless all year long. “This is the year I’ll do it all,” you chant internally. “This will be the Best Year Ever!”

white carpetThen a little thing called reality comes along and hands you an overly full glass of Cherry Kool-Aid and tells you to walk, run, hop, skip, jump and dance your way across the white room while you hold that glass in your hand. Reality says, “Good luck with that,” and then slaps you on the back and sends you on your way, ready or not.

All the resolutions and willpower in the world will not get you across that white rug without at least a drop or two sloshing over the rim and onto that sea of white. It’s inevitable. Motivation can’t make you immune from real life. Sooner or later, something has got to give. And that, according to my mother, is why you need “flecks.”

Mom has always been a big fan of a carpet with “a nice fleck in it.” The fleck is a darker color mixed into a neutral background — just small bits of color mixed throughout the rug to give it texture and depth. It grew in popularity because a fleck is so forgiving. A fleck understands you’re a mere mortal who will sometimes stumble, fall and make a mess of things. A flecked rug will allow you to clean up your mess as best you can, and then it’ll camouflage your screw-ups among its own dark spots. So when you look back on it, you can’t quite tell if it was a spill or a just a fleck. Who knows? So you pick up your glass of Cherry Kool-Aid and keep on going.

That’s why I’m looking forward to February. January makes me feel like I’m tip-toeing across someone’s fancy white rug with no room for error. But February is full of flecks. By then, we’ve all realized that goals and resolutions are good and worthy of pursuit, but the pursuit itself will not be perfect. It can’t be. So we have to forgive ourselves and keep on going.

You were right all along, Mom. White carpet is crazy. Flecks are friends.

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

07 Jan

South Meets North

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

It pains me to say this, but it’s true: The people who live up North are tougher. There, I said it.

It’s hard to admit because my husband Tom grew up in Duluth, Minnesota, and I was born and raised in the South. And we Southerners aren’t wimps. Not at all. I grew up in Southern Arkansas where mosquitoes are roughly the size of single engine planes. They travel in swarms, flashing gang colors and building empires in flooded rice fields.

Until recently, I assumed Southerners and Northerners were equally tough. But I’ve just returned from two separate trips up North, and the evidence is overwhelming. Our first trip took us to Fargo for a family wedding. It was my first visit, and I was anxious to see if the stories about the intense cold were true.

When we landed at the Fargo airport, I looked out and thought, “This place doesn’t look that much different than our town.” I was almost disappointed that I wasn’t going to get the full Fargo experience.

But then we stepped outside the sliding airport doors and the frigid Fargo wind sliced right through me. I sucked in my breath at the shock of it. I might as well have been standing there in my underwear because temperatures in the teens combined with a fierce wind cut through my fleecy layers and jacket as if they were tissue paper.

cold person“Wow!” was all I could choke out as Tom hailed a cab.

“We’re not in Arkansas anymore,” he said.

Our cab driver didn’t even have on a coat. He put our bags in the trunk as the wind whipped up his shirttails and the whole time he chatted with us casually, as if he couldn’t even feel his insides turning to ice the way mine were. The people in Fargo have a saying: “40 below…It keeps out the riffraff.” I think they’re on to something.

Just yesterday, we returned home from a post-Christmas trip to Minneapolis to see my in-laws. We love our trips to Minneapolis, but I always forget just how demanding the cold can be. When we went snow tubing, the kids and I only lasted an hour or so before we got whiny and needed to thaw out in the lodge. Tom handled it far better because his Northern roots came back to him, the same way your feet automatically know how to pedal when you sit on a bike.

That’s the thing about Northerners. They don’t complain. They almost revel in their ability to not only survive but thrive in these crazy conditions. They will not be daunted. They laugh in the face of single-digit temperatures. They rev up their snow blowers in the morning the same way we Southerners walk outside to pick up the newspaper.

They don’t even seem to notice that their middle-of-the-night toilet seat temperature feels like sitting on the Arctic Circle. And they walk right out onto a frozen parking lot, sure-footed and confident, whereas I tip-toed around with my arms out like a teeth-chattering tightrope walker.

So yes, they’re tougher than we are. But they don’t know everything. I bet they can’t spot a funnel cloud as easily as we do. And if you try to order grits in one of their restaurants, they’ll stare at you blankly and hand you a bad glass of unsweetened tea. (Their fried cheese curds, however, are delicious.)

Now that I’m back home and my brain has thawed out a bit, I’ve realized there’s a reason why we’ve worked so hard to build roads crisscrossing the nation. There’s a reason why planes take off all day every day heading North, South, East and West. It’s good to see what you’re missing. And it’s also good to return home, where the tea is sweet and the middle-of-the-night potty seat temperature is a balmy 72 degrees.

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

30 Dec

Twas the Day After Christmas

december 26

This poem is featured in the book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” which you can find on Amazon. (Available in paperback or Kindle version.) Enjoy!

‘Twas the day after Christmas and all through the house

Not a creature was resting, not even a mouse.

Crumpled paper and boxes were heaped by the door

december 26in hopes that the trash men might take a little more.

The children were running and jumping with glee.

It was the day after Christmas. They had new toys, you see.

And Mom in her sweatshirt she bought at the Gap

knew it was highly unlikely the children would nap.

When in the guest bathroom there arose such a clatter,

we sprang from our sofa to see what was the matter.

Away to the noise we flew like a flash.

Had someone fallen? Did a finger get smashed?

When what to our sleep-deprived eyes should appear

but a wide-eyed toddler shedding real big tears.

He had stood by the toilet and then in a rush,

he pitched in small toys and gave a quick flush.

He panicked and hollered, so quickly we came,

and he stood there and cried while he called them by name:

“Oh Hot Wheels! Oh Sponge Bob! Oh Care Bear! Oh Doggie!”

None of them could swim and were all getting soggy.

From the tiny red race car to the square yellow doll,

they swirled away, swirled away, swirled away all!

Thought it might cost more than a brand new Hummer,

we had no choice but to call in a plumber.

As we consoled our toddler and were turning around,

down the driveway the plumber came with a bound.

He was dressed all in denim from his head to his feet.

It was beginning to snow and he was covered in sleet.

A bundle of tools he had flung on his back,

and he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

His eyes how they twinkled! His smile how merry!

From the patch on his shirt, I knew his name must be Larry.

He said not a word but went straight to his work.

He extracted the toys and then turned with a jerk.

We apologized for the work but he said it was fine.

After all, it was Sunday — he’d be paid overtime.

He said he loved kids and bent over Baby Jack

and despite what you’ve heard there was no plumber’s crack.

A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,

he gave me my invoice and there was nothing to dread.

He climbed in his pick0up and started it up.

He backed down the driveway with his red coffee cup.

But I heard him exclaim as he drove through the mush:

“Happy New Year to all, and don’t let that kid flush!”

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

23 Dec

My Letter to Santa

Dear Santa,

I’ll keep this short because I know you’re busy this week — so many things to do, places to go and people to delight. I don’t know how you do it all. I imagine that just managing the naughty and nice lists must be a full-time job, especially with all those Kardashians running around.

Even though your job is a big one, I’ve always imagined you as a perfectly happy, serene type of guy. In picture books and paintings, you never look frazzled or overwhelmed. Never distracted or discouraged by the daunting task before you. You’re never seen guzzling a Red Bull or doing shots of espresso.

So I’ve been wondering how you can be so calm and composed even during Christmas crunch week. Are the elves slipping something into your hot cocoa? Do you sit cross-legged and meditate?

I’ve considered several different theories but the one that makes the most sense has a lot north poleto do with location, location, location. Perhaps the North Pole has something to do with the secret of your success.

Even though your workshop is probably bustling with activity, you’re surrounded by a still, white blanket of snow. It hides you away from the rest of the world’s chaos. It keeps you at home and focused on your mission. I never bump into you at the mall or see you hanging out on Facebook. Your time is focused on just being you.

Even though Christmas Eve demands a globe-trotting whirlwind of activity, I imagine the rest of your year is a pretty peaceful existence, creating toys and spending time with Mrs. Claus, the elves and those famous reindeer. I imagine the Internet connection up there is nonexistent, and that alone probably simplifies life quite a bit.

So for Christmas this year, perhaps you could bring us all the gift of a little North Pole peace — unhurried time to spend with the people we love. No hustle. No bustle. No digital distractions. Just a warm home, good health and time to just “be.” With that in mind, Santa, here’s my Christmas wish list:

  • A few hours of uninterrupted time on the sofa to admire the Christmas tree, leaf through a few magazines and doze on and off.
  • At least one day so free of demands that getting out of pajamas is completely optional.
  • Enough downtime to say “Sure!” when the kids ask if I’ll play a game or watch a movie with them.
  • Great books by a crackling fire.
  • Chocolate

And more than anything, Santa, give me the wisdom to know how precious these days are. Help me to memorize the look of surprise and joy I see on my children’s faces. Sprinkle serenity around this house and give me the good sense to soak it in instead of wasting it on busy work, chores and needless distractions.

Make us as still and pure as that blanket of snow outside your North Pole window.

Good luck on your big night this year. The kids and I will be listening for those reindeer hooves on the rooftop. And we’ll do our best to make sure Tom doesn’t eat the chocolate chip cookies we leave out for you this year.

From our family to yours, Merry Christmas.

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

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…?”

“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

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