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

07 May

The unveiling: Opening the box

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

I stood there for five minutes holding a pair of scissors, staring down at the big white box that had been in our hall closet for more than 14 years. Encased in a plastic sleeve, the box has moved with us over the years, and it always finds a place in the deep recesses of the closet we use the least. Today I took the scissors to it.

SONY DSCThe box held my wedding dress, and I nearly talked myself out of opening it. After you get married, one of the first things on your married “to do” list is to get your wedding dress “professionally preserved”—which means you pay a ridiculous amount of money to a dry cleaner who cleans the dress, stuffs it with tissue paper and seals it up in a special storage box where it will stay – much like Sleeping Beauty – until a day far, far into the future when your daughter might possibly want to wear it at her own wedding.

As I pressed the blade of the scissors into the seal, part of me expected to hear a bridal alarm siren go off. “Security breach! Seal has been broken!” But all I heard was the steady slice of tape surrounding the box.

I opened the lid and gently scooped up the familiar gown as tissue paper floated to the floor. The light still hit the beading and the faux pearls just enough to make it sparkle, and the ivory silk was as lovely as always. I slipped the gown onto a dress form, which is like a headless mannequin on a wooden stand. Then I stood it in the corner of my bedroom, took a few steps back and admired the way the A-line skirt flowed out around the base. It felt like an old friend had walked into the room.

The day I wore that dress was the first time someone called me Mrs. Rockwood. It was the last time I danced with my big brother, who passed away two years later. I wore it on the day I made the most important decision of my life – a day that led to three more joyous days in hospital delivery rooms when we held our babies for the first time.

I unboxed the dress today because a front-page story in the newspaper made me realize that keeping special things “preserved” is just an illusion. The article reported on the horrors that people in my home state endured after a tornado ripped through their small towns. The front-page photo showed a 17-year-old girl sifting through rubble, holding onto a graduation cap she found among the ruins of her home. She hadn’t even had a chance to wear it yet because graduation was two weeks away when the tornado leveled her family’s home and killed her father and two of her sisters.

That heart wrenching photo made me realize that, as much as we want to preserve the special things in our lives, we can’t always do it. Our lives, much like the delicate silk of a wedding gown, are fragile and temporary. Plans, treasures and even people can be blown away in minutes.

It’s a humbling reminder that life and all its trappings should be embraced and enjoyed. No more saving the pretty bath salts for another day. No more storing the good dishes in a high cabinet. No more assuming we can encase special parts of our lives in protective plastic, to be enjoyed sometime in the future.

Here’s hoping we’ll all revel in even the small moments of our lives and pray for those who are picking up the pieces of theirs.

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

29 Apr

There’s a hole in the bucket

Dear Mystery Appointment Person,

Even though I have no idea who or what you are, I’m sorry. If I left you waiting or wondering why I didn’t do what I must have said I’d do, please know that I didn’t mean to not be in the right place or do that thing we probably talked about – whatever it was. Let me explain.

For three days now, I’ve been staring on and off at a note I’d scribbled down on my jumbo-sized “to do” list which sits next to my laptop. It says “THURSDAY – NOON.” That’s all it says. When I wrote it down, I’m sure I knew exactly what it meant. It must have made so much sense at the time that I foolishly thought there was no danger of me forgetting it. In hindsight, my brain was clearly giving itself way too much credit.

Because for the past three days, I’ve stared at that note wondering what I was supposed to have done by Thursday at noon or who I was supposed to have met that day. I’ve searched through emails and my smartphone calendar, trying to turn up clues to jog my memory. I’ve even searched the house for stray reminder Post-It notes. But I’ve got nothing – no inkling as to why Thursday at noon mattered.

And here’s the kicker: I circled those vague words not once but TWICE. And that makes this whole thing even more confounding. A double-circled note must mean something important, right? I mean, what kind of person circles something twice using ink and then doesn’t remember why it was worthy of a double circle?

I’ll tell you what kind of person does such a thing – a person with a leaky brain. The past few months have been extra busy, and my brain has filled up with facts, figures, and a longer-than-usual list of things that must be remembered and taken care of before a certain date that’s coming up soon.

And while scientists would probably argue that the human brain is like a highly sophisticated piece of complex, computerized machinery, I feel like mine is more like a big bucket. (Well, at least I’d like to think it’s big.) It can and does hold lots of information and, most of the time, it processes the info just fine. But bucketsometimes, when life speeds up and new demands start to pour in, the level rises and sloshes right over the rim. I’m sure doctors have some fancy name for this situation, but I call it “brain leak.”

By the time Friday morning rolled around, I’d stopped frantically trying to remember what was supposed to happen by Thursday at noon. By then, it was too late. No angry phone calls came in that afternoon, no questioning text messages and no “what happened to you?” emails. I hope that’s a good sign. I feel terrible thinking about some mystery friend or acquaintance, sitting alone at a restaurant wondering when in the heck I’d show up for our lunch meeting. Was it a lunch meeting? Or a doctor’s appointment? Or a teeth cleaning? Or a haircut? I just don’t know.

Maybe I’ll get lucky and find out I didn’t let anyone down after all. Maybe somebody was supposed to come by my house on Thursday at noon and they never made it. Maybe I’m the one whose appointment was forgotten. I hope so. If you’re reading this and you were supposed to come by on Thursday, don’t worry about it. I’m not upset at all. I bet your brain just got extra full which caused something to leak out.

Happens to the best of us.


Your Bucket-Headed Friend — Gwen

# # #

22 Apr

Poopsy Pets: Epic fail in the toy aisle

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

My favorite humor writer, Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist Dave Barry, is famous for the line “I am not making this up.” He uses it when writing about things that are so absurd that any sane person would assume he’s taking creative liberties with his description when, in fact, the description happens to be ridiculous AND true. I thought of Dave’s famous line when my daughter spotted a toy recently and brought it over to the shopping cart to show me.

“Mom, this is kind of weird… and gross,” she said, holding it up for inspection.

The toy is called “Poopsy Pets,” and it’s part of the Moxie Girlz line of dolls made by the MGA Entertainment company. The package includes a doll holding a leash attached to a small pet. In the upper left corner of the package, there’s a speech bubble near the pet that says, “I poop JEWELS!” If that’s not quite descriptive enough for you, there’s also an up-close photo of the pet’s behind where you can plainly see small pink jewels protruding from said pet’s plastic poopsy petsanus.

“Kate, where did you get this?” I asked, wondering if this might be some kind of practical joke doll. She pointed to a low shelf, and, lo and behold, the Poopsy Pet had friends. Another doll had a bunny that said “I poop GLITTER!” The third one was a unicorn pet who proudly proclaimed: “I poop RAINBOWS!”

Now I’m not above a little gross humor. As the mother of two boys and a girl all under the age of 13, I’ve heard and enjoyed my share of funny bathroom jokes. But glitter-pooping bunnies? Unicorns defecating rainbows? Have toy-makers lost their collective marbles?

To be fair, I have heard of actual dogs pooping out jewels in the form of engagement rings that were accidentally gobbled up like treats. But I can guarantee they didn’t look as pretty coming out the back end as they do in those Poopsy Pet photos. And are rainbows still special if they come squirting out your pet’s behind? I think not.

But what amazes me most about these unusual poopers is that they made it all the way from the “crazy idea” stage to actual store shelves. Maybe it happened like this: Desperate product engineer walks his dog one day and stops to pick up the dog’s “deposit” in a pet poop bag. He thinks to himself, “Wouldn’t it be great if the dog pooped diamonds instead of this crap? Wait a second…EUREKA!”

Then that same guy sits in a brainstorming meeting at work and says something like this: “So what if we make a line of dolls with fantasy pets who poop jewels, glitter and rainbows? Wouldn’t that be awesome?” And then, in an equally stunning turn of events, the other people around the table say, “Oh my gosh, YES! That would be freaking awesome and not the least bit gross or disturbing. Feces is the new frontier of toy-making!”

It takes a relatively long time for a new toy to go from concept to product launch. How is it possible that Poopsy Pets made it through so many stages with no one slowing down to say, “This is kind of weird… and gross”? My 7-year-old knew it at first glance.

And let’s not forget how literal young kids can be. At this very moment, some of them are digging through poop piles in the backyard and the cat’s litter box, searching for the “jewels, rainbows and glitter” that must surely be hiding there. Imagine how disappointed and disgusted they and their parents will be when the search turns up nothing but a big pile of poo.

Sure do wish I was making this up.

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

15 Apr

A Tale of Two Dishwashers

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

I’ve heard horror stories about how some spouses constantly butt heads with their in-laws. And I’m lucky because I don’t have those war stories. I love my husband’s family and he loves mine, and we’re blessed to get along the way we do.

But there’s one tiny bone of contention between my husband and my mother, and I land squarely in the middle of the debate. Perhaps you can be the judge. The question revolves around the proper loading of a dishwasher, and the issue comes up after we have Sunday lunch together and start the clean-up process.

In this corner is my mother, who has never once loaded a truly dirty dish into any dishwasher – hers or mine. She washes and rinses the dishes first and then puts them into the dishwasher for what she calls “sterilization.” In her mind, the dishwasher is an dishwasher2extra safety check to ensure the dishes have received “a good scald” and are therefore germ-free.

But rest assured you could safely eat from any plate she puts into the dishwasher well before she runs the wash cycle because it has already been scrubbed, rinsed and examined with a careful eye. She treats forks and spoons like a surgeon treats scalpels and retractors.

In the other corner is my husband, who has never once loaded anything resembling a clean dish into any dishwasher. He, like many men, takes the name “dishwasher” literally. If the machine is supposed to wash the dishes, then by all means, “let’s let it wash the dishes!” he insists. After all, there are other things to do and Sunday afternoon naps to be taken. Why waste time scrubbing lasagna remnants off of plates when we’ve invested in this expensive piece of machinery that’s supposed to do it for us?

But the debate doesn’t end there. When my mom loads the dishwasher, she’s careful to leave plenty of perimeter space around each and every dish and utensil. She worries that if the plates and bowls don’t have enough breathing room, they’ll be blocked off from all that hot, sanitizing water.

Tom, on the other hand, has a theory about how many dirty dishes will fit into the dishwasher. It goes something like this: “The number of dirty dishes in the kitchen is the same number that will safely fit into the dishwasher at any one time.” In his mind, the dirty dishes of two people or 20 people can and will fit into the dishwasher, if you just put your mind to it and pack them in there efficiently.

Remember that old commercial about how there’s “always room for Jell-O”? Tom applies that same logic to cups and plates, too. I must admit he is a master when it comes to finding that one last nook or cranny of available space.

A few weeks ago, as Tom squeezed yet another cup into what my mother deemed an overly full dishwasher, she actually put down her scrub brush, shook her head and said, “I just can’t watch this.” She had to avert her eyes from the horror of all those cups packed into the top rack like so many dirty sardines.

My philosophy is simple. Don’t criticize the cleaning method of anyone – mother or husband – who helps with the dishes because that criticism might dampen their willingness to help in the future.

But I can tell you this: When I unload the dishwasher, I can always tell which one of those two people loaded it, and I’m reminded of the opening line to that famous Dickens novel: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

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

08 Apr

How did I become my kids’ secretary?

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

For years, mothers have been expected to wear several hats to get the child-raising job done – cook, nurse, teacher, chauffeur, psychologist, housekeeper, event coordinator and detective. But I had no idea that “administrative assistant” would become such a big part of what I do each week.

It turns out that my kids – ages 12, 9 and 7 – need a full-time secretary to handle the reams of paperwork that modern-day child-rearing requires. They bring papers home almost daily that litter the kitchen counter tops until I round them up, fill them out, sign them, attach checks to them and put them back into their corresponding backpacks.

I just finished a half-hour of paperwork that two of the three kids needed done: school picture day order forms, field trip mom secretarypermission slips and registration packets for 5th and 2nd grades. The school picture paperwork and field trip forms are self-explanatory. Moms have been doing that stuff for decades. But I suspect this registration hoopla is a fairly new phenomenon.

These days, you don’t just register your kid for Kindergarten and then cruise through the following grades year after year. Now you have to jump through the “please sign up my kid for school” hoops every single year: Name, address, age, race, email address, emergency contact, back-up for emergency contact, list of people who can check your kid out of school, names of people living in the household, allergy info, etc. Then you sign your name and circle “yes” or “no” at the bottom of the page to indicate whether or not your kid will be coming to school in the next grade up the following fall.

When I was a kid, the routine was simpler. If your teacher didn’t call your parents to suggest that you repeat a grade, it was a fair bet you’d be back after summer break with new pencils and school clothes, ready to start the next grade. I’ll have to check with my mother to be sure of all this, but I don’t remember seeing her spend this much time filling out forms and returning registration packets. And that was before the Internet made everything “simple and easy.”

Even though some schools have their own smartphone apps, there’s no shortage of administrative acrobatics going on in households with school-age kids. We sign reading logs and homework reports. We check daily emails from our kids’ teachers so we’ll have the most up-to-the-minute news on homework assignments and deadlines. Then we go through weekly folders that contain all the important documents that need our attention. In the Spring, we fill out these registration packets so we can do it all over again next fall.

The kids reminded me several times today that I should fill out the registration packets right away so they could get them back to school in time, thereby assuring their spots in the next grade up. They’re under the impression there might be a mad rush on the 2nd and 5th grades by a horde of eager new elementary school students, and they can’t take a chance on being the ones left standing when the elementary school music stops. I promised I’d make sure they got in before all the desks are taken.

I’m sure schools do these things because families move around and they need accurate head counts to prepare for the next school year. It makes sense, I suppose. I appreciate the level of detail school administrators are responsible for collecting from thousands of families.

It’s just that all the paperwork adds up over the course of a year, which sucks up time, triggers hand cramps and inspires a sincere appreciation for summer break.

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 new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

01 Apr

My sweet addiction: How sugar sabotaged my quest to lose weight

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

If you’d asked me a few months ago if I’m the kind of person who loves sweets, I’d have said no. And even though I didn’t know it at the time, that response would have been a big ol’ lie.

I would’ve answered “no” because I’ve always been able to walk right past a bowl of candy without hesitating. Even a plate of cookies won’t break my will. Chocolate fudge? Nope, I can do without it.

Upon further investigation, however, it turns out that yes – in fact, I am a raging sugar junkie even though I don’t crave what we sugartraditionally call “sweets.”

Here’s the thing: Sweets aren’t just for Skittles anymore. Sugar is everywhere. On my quest to drop about 10 to 15 pounds before the unforgiving arrival of swimsuit season, I’d been carefully counting calories but didn’t pay attention to sugar.

And it turns out that sugar had been kicking my diet’s butt.

Before we go farther, let me assure you I haven’t turned into one of those annoying people who brag about broccoli, preach the gospel of green tea and act disgusted when we mere mortals talk about eating a slice of pizza. I still love pizza, especially the thin crust of a hot, cheesy slice of pepperoni, and a “once in a while” dance on the dark side isn’t going to wreck anyone’s health or figure, in my humble, non-expert opinion.

But I’ve given up one of my favorite things in the world – Dr. Pepper. And it pains me to say it because I’ve started my day with a cold Dr. Pepper for as long as I remember. It’s been nearly a month now since I’ve sipped from that familiar maroon can and no one is more surprised than me.

It was my friend and Pilates teacher Jodi who convinced me to try giving it up. I was sure that one little miniature can of Dr. Pepper couldn’t possibly be the thing keeping my stubborn bathroom scale stuck at one number. Knowing I’d need hard cold facts to convince me, Jodi sent me dozens of links to research and news articles that spelled it all out.

Whether I want to admit it or not, sugar is my weakness. I might not have been eating it in jellybeans and brownies, but I was definitely scarfing it down in breakfast cereals, soft drinks, sweet tea, and packaged foods – some of which sound healthy but often have an alarmingly high amount of the white stuff.

Even harmless-sounding things like Raisin Bran have an eyebrow-raising level of sugar in them. Sugar was the ninja ingredient that was sneaking up to karate chop my progress, despite my best efforts to limit calories and get more exercise.

Sugar hides out near the bottom of most food labels where it attempts to play the sweet wallflower, so you really have to look for it and figure out how much is too much. I was amazed and more than a little sad when the research articles said that most women should only have about 6 teaspoons of sugar a day. Food labels don’t list it by teaspoons, so it’s important to know that 1 teaspoon equals about 4 grams of sugar, which means women need only about 24 grams a day. You can get more than that amount in one 6-ounce cup of Yoplait vanilla yogurt.

Perhaps one day, when I’ve detoxed from the extra sugar and I’ve learned better self-control, maybe I can sip a cold Dr. Pepper once in a blue moon without falling back down the sugary rabbit hole. But for now, I’m keeping an eye on those sneaky sugar ninjas and, slowly but surely, inching back down to a more bathing suit-friendly shape.

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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