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

airplane png

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

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

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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

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