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.


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.

21 Jan

How I failed when it was time to make the donuts

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

One of the great things about being young and broke is that it forces you into new situations. After my second year of college, I decided I was old enough to get my own apartment and stay in my college town instead of going home for the summer. My parents agreed. They also thought that, given my grown-up decision-making ability, I was also grown-up enough to get a summer job and pay my own grown-up rent.

So I filled out applications and one of the first places to call me for an interview was a newly opened Wal-Mart Supercenter. Back then, the Supercenter had a few workers who sped around the store on roller skates to make fetching items quicker. I wanted to be one of those “skaters,” since my years of going to the roller rink on weekends had given me the exact skill-set I needed for such a job. But all the skater positions were taken so I ended up making donuts in the store’s bakery.

My main responsibility was to fry the donuts. After pouring batter into a funnel-shaped machine that hovered over a huge vat of liquid grease, I was taught to pull the machine’s lever so that it would squirt out an exact amount of batter into a perfect circle. Then I’d shift the funnel over and deposit another circle of donut with sprinklesbatter next to it where it would float, sizzle and sputter in the hot grease. My boss, a cranky woman who used far too much black hair dye, was specific about putting six donuts in each row, and I followed her directions closely — for a while.

After I’d been making donuts for a few weeks, I figured out that, if I was fast with the lever and precise in my placement, I could fit not six but seven donuts into a row. Proud of how I’d figured out a quicker, more efficient way to make the donuts, I didn’t mention it to the cranky boss because I was a humble girl. Didn’t want to brag. I worked all night and finished frying donuts earlier than usual, thanks to my more efficient system. I moved over to the donut decorating table to start the next task.

That’s when my boss showed up and asked why the donuts I’d just made had bumps on them.

“Bumps?” I asked.

“Yes, bumps. Did you put too many donuts in a row?”

“Well, I put seven donuts in each row, but they fit in there perfectly.”

“They only fit perfectly when they’re still batter. When they plump up, they crowd into each other and fuse together and then they have these bumps on the side,” she said and held up one of the offending donuts. “I told you to put six donuts per row, didn’t I?”

There was no point arguing with the bumpy evidence. I’d screwed up, and I doubted that offering to eat the mistakes was going to help my case. I apologized and said I’d do it exactly the way she instructed from that point on. And I did, partly because she was a scary boss and mostly because I wanted to make pretty donuts.

In the end, it turned out to be a good lesson about art, work and life. Even though we live in a fast-paced world where “more” seems to be “better,” there are still times when restraint and patience are exactly what we need. There’s still a market for craftsmanship and beauty, and sometimes those things can’t be rushed or forced or outsmarted. Sometimes we need to let time “plump up” our projects until they become exactly what they’re destined to be.

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 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

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 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

18 Nov

Worst Case Scenario Syndrome

electrical fire

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

I have a condition many parents suffer from: Worst Case Scenario Syndrome or WCSS. It’s not in the official book of diseases because I just made it up but that doesn’t make it any less real. Make no mistake — it’s real, and I have the freshly sprouted gray hairs to prove it.

This sanity-threatening condition reared its paranoid head just last week. When I sat down in my home office to begin the day’s work, I smelled a faint but distinctive smell of something burning. It smelled hot with a hint of a chemical scent, the way an overworked engine might smell just before bursting into flames.

I walked around the room, sniffing the printer, computer, lamp, computer modem and television, but I couldn’t determine the source of that ominous smell. I unplugged everything, just to be safe.

An hour later, the smell had intensified. That’s when my internal light bulb went off and I realized the problem might be overhead — in the light bulb. I looked up and eyed the ceiling-mounted light fixture suspiciously. What if some faulty electrical wiring was causing sinister sparks to ignite within the walls and ceiling where I couldn’t see?

So I did what I imagine any concerned woman would do. I climbed up onto my desk and sniffed as close to the light fixture as possible, and then I climbed back down and called my husband.

“Honey, there’s a bad smell in my office and I think it might be an electrical fire.”

“What? Do you see smoke?”

“Well, no, there’s no smoke but there’s a terrible smell — like a mix of chemicals burning. The weird thing is that I can only smell it in my office.”

“Did you check all the electrical outlets?”

electrical fire“Yes, and I unplugged everything in this room, but the smell is getting worse. I think it might be in the light fixture on the ceiling. I got as close to it as I could so I could sniff it.”

“You sniffed a light fixture? Did you use a ladder?”

“Well, no, I climbed up on the desk, but you’re missing the point. I’m not sure that’s where the smell is coming from, but I turned the light switch off, just in case.”

“Okay, well let’s see if the smell gets better now that the light is off.”

“But I’ve got to go run errands. What if the house catches on fire while I’m gone?”

“I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

“You don’t think we should call an electrician to come out here and check it?”

“We will if we need to, but let’s try to pinpoint what it is first.”

“Okay, but I’m telling you something is catching on fire in the ceiling.”

I wanted to go on record with my hunch so that if the house suddenly turned into a scene from the movie Backdraft, I could issue a stern “I told you so” as we sifted through the charred remains of our family memories.

After running errands, I returned home and walked into the office hoping the smell had dissipated – but it was even stronger. Charlie, our intrepid Beagle, trotted along beside me and went immediately to the trash can by my desk where he stopped and sniffed.

Following his lead, I leaned over and sniffed the trash can, too, and that’s when I saw it — a discarded bag of microwave popcorn with blackened kernels inside. Suddenly the memory of 7-year-old Kate bringing the burnt bag of popcorn to me the day before reentered my mind. I’d tossed it into the trash without a second thought.

And just so you know, burnt popcorn on Day 2 smells like an electrical fire. But before you have the fire trucks come screeching up to your house, you should probably empty the trash and open a window. Worst Case Scenario Syndrome can get pretty embarrassing.

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

06 Nov

Fed Up

i voted

By Gwen Rockwood

During the drive to school this morning, I turned down the radio when another political ad came on. “Ugh! At least today is the last day we’ll have to put up with the ads. It’s election day.”

“Stupid voting,” my 12-year-old son mumbled in agreement.

“No, it’s not stupid,” I said, realizing that weeks of irritating commercials have caused him to lump voting into the same unappealing category as those repetitive ads. He was about to throw the voting baby out with the advertising bathwater, which has become increasingly dirty these past few weeks.

i votedSo I tried to explain why it’s important that adults go vote: “Some of the ads are annoying — that’s true — but the voting part is important. People shouldn’t complain about government leaders if they’re not willing to vote on who gets into office. We’re lucky we get to vote.”

“I know,” he said. “The voting part is good, but I’m so sick of those stupid ads.”

And he is not alone. We’re all sick of them. I have to imagine that even the candidates themselves get tired of hearing their names either built up or torn down every other 30 seconds.

The DVR that allows me to record the news and TV shows and then speed through the commercials has never been more appreciated than it has been these past few months when it let me skip over the constant stream of political jabs. But even with a DVR, it’s impossible to avoid the ads completely. Part of me wanted to scold the candidates for all their non-stop bickering and then send them to separate corners to think about what they’ve done.

But maybe it’s unfair to blame the players for what is inherently an ugly game. The candidates, their political parties and their supporters know that people are more likely to vote for familiar names, for people they feel like they know something about. So they run their ads — morning, noon and night — and hope their commercials are a little less annoying than their competitors’ spots. They hope one of their messages will strike a nerve with voters who’ll remember it on Election Day.

A few weeks ago, our 7-year-old daughter told me she would not vote for a certain candidate because she heard about what he did and that he voted “no” on something important. She was almost angry at him, and she was convinced that he must not be a good person. So I tried to tell her that sometimes advertisements don’t tell the whole truth and that we can’t decide what kind of person someone is based on a 30-second commercial on television.

“Can the people on commercials tell lies?” she asked.

“Well, no, they’re not supposed to tell lies in commercials because that’s against the law, but sometimes they only tell part of the truth and not the whole story,” I answered. She looked at me blankly and went back to her bowl of Cheerios. (Want a tough parenting assignment? Try explaining political “spin” to a 7-year-old.)

Lately I’m wondering if we’re not all frustrated children, when it comes to truly understanding our political system and knowing the candidates. I wish I could say I always study each candidate objectively and understand the nuances of every amendment, but I don’t. Sometimes what I know comes from a series of sound-bites or headlines that never tell the full story. That’s just not good enough. I have to do better than that, not only for myself but as an example to the future voters I’m raising.

But for the record, I have to believe we could do better than our current system of back-biting, name-calling, mud-slinging campaigns that stretch on for months and completely turn off the young people who will one day be new voters.

“I’m fed up, and I approved this message.”

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

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

28 Oct

Picture This


By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

I felt it as soon as I woke up this morning – that familiar pang of dread in the pit of my stomach that can only mean one thing: It’s picture day.

Picture day is a huge deal for moms because family photos are the only way we can keep our kids at this age forever – a chance to freeze the magic of this point in their childhood and preserve it.

Our family doesn’t have family professional pictures made very often, but when we do, I want it to go well. And because I want it to go well, I get uptight. And because I get uptight, the whole picture day experience ends up feeling like a trip through a minefield. One false step and the whole thing could blow up.

Part of the problem is that I’m still dealing with the post-traumatic stress left over from picture days when the kids were much younger. When you’re trying to get a family picture that includes babies and toddlers, you can pretty much count on a meltdown. Kids who otherwise have huge smiles on their faces will suddenly decide they’re the most miserable, unhappy people in the world.

Why? Because they can. They’re drunk on the power they hold in their sticky little hands. And perhaps they’re amused at how hard their mother will work to cheer them up before the picture gets snapped.

camera1But by the time we’re posed for the picture, we mothers are already down to one very fragile last nerve. We’ve already spent days picking out the family’s clothes, washing and ironing, fixing hair and then keeping the kids from getting dirty before the picture is taken. We’re already worried that perhaps the quest of capturing our family’s joy in a photo is a fool’s dream.

I can remember plenty of times during family photos when I’ve said things like this through gritted, smiling teeth between camera snaps: “Jack, you’re not smiling. Why aren’t you smiling? Adam, stop fidgeting around! She put you in a spot and you have to stay there. Why are you looking down? Look at the camera! And smile! Kate, stop poking your brother. No, don’t look up at me. Look at the camera! And smile!”

When bossing them around fails to work, you transition into bribery mode. “If you do a good job of smiling for pictures, we’ll go get ice cream after this. Think about the ice cream you’re going to get! And smile! Are you smiling?”

And if the lure of ice cream doesn’t work, you start a death spiral of threatening: “I swear, kids, if you mess up this picture after I have worked so hard to get us all dressed, you will never get ice cream again in your entire life. And no pizza! Ever! Do you hear me? Do NOT mess this up.”

Worried that his wife might unhinge her jaw and swallow them all whole if this thing doesn’t go well, the poor husband plasters on a terrified smile. But no one wants to open a Christmas card and see fake smiles that look more like a case of manic constipation.

Fortunately, our family’s photographer is incredibly good. She has a gift for wrangling kids who would rather be somewhere else, and she knows how to put their anxious parents at ease. By some miracle, she cuts through the kids’ fidgeting, the mother’s uptight angst and the father’s “grin and bear it” smile until she finds a few moments of normalcy, of relaxed laughter, of joy. And she captures them just in time to tell a great story.

Thank goodness for happy endings.

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

21 Oct

Glory and the Geek


By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

I am a geek. Always have been. But now it’s easy – and almost cool – to admit it. Twenty-five years ago? Not so much. Back then, my glasses, braces and clarinet carrying case were all social life liabilities. In the 80s, if you aced a few spelling tests or a teacher praised you for being smart, you found yourself on the fast track to Geeksville, and nobody wanted to be there.

But times have changed and now we live in a much more geek-friendly world. Some of our coolest modern-day conveniences wouldn’t exist were it not for the i love geekslong hours and irrational obsessions nurtured by a few world-changing geeks. The next time you use a computer, Google something using a smartphone, or “like” a funny picture on Facebook, you have a geek to thank.

I’m happy to report that, thanks to a kinder, gentler geek-loving culture, smart kids are flourishing. About a month ago, I volunteered to help coach my son’s middle school Quiz Bowl team as they prepare for an upcoming tournament. Lucky for me, the coaching duties are easy. I mostly just ask the kids trivia questions and read off the answers when they miss one.

These limited duties work in my favor because these kids are way smarter than me. I marvel at how they can recall who invented the cotton gin or the main characters in a Shakespearian play. The sheer proximity to this wealth of brain power has turned me into one of “those parents” – the ones who get a little too enthusiastic about their kids’ extra-curricular activities.

After a few Quiz Bowl practices, I noticed a pattern in the types of questions the kids had trouble with, so I researched those subjects and made a study guide full of the kind of random facts that win Quiz Bowl competitions: a list of amendments to the U.S. Constitution, definitions for terms like “spondee” and “anapest” and everything you ever didn’t want to know about elements in the periodic table.

I made copies of all this study-guide gold and then assembled the pages on my living room floor one night, hole-punching, organizing and putting them into 3-ring binders. That’s when it hit me that perhaps I’d caught a bad case of geek fever.

In the midst of all the hole-punching, I looked over to Tom who was watching television like a normal person and said, “Honey, have I gone too far here? The kids are going to think I’m weird, right?”

“No, it’s… nice that you’re being helpful,” he said, (which I’m pretty sure was code for “Oh no, what have I done? I married a Super Nerd.”)

During the next practice session, I passed out my super geeky study guide binders to the kids on the Quiz Bowl team, hoping it might give them a competitive edge in the upcoming tournament. None of them rolled their tween-age eyes at me, and – even though perhaps they should have – no one told me to go get a life. And that just reinforces what I love most about great geeks – the way they not only accept but embrace what used to be shunned as geeky.

They don’t dumb themselves down so that they’ll blend more easily into the typical teenage social scene. But they don’t let their intelligence turn them arrogant, either. They’re smart and quirky but also kind and funny – four of the best adjectives you can be.

I’m grateful to be raising kids during a time when parents can be happy if their kids excel at sports but also equally thrilled when kids find their niche in other areas that require just as much skill and strategy.

As the super-smart, quirky people often say, the “geek shall inherit the Earth.”

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

14 Oct

Procrastination: Shoulda Woulda Coulda

should graphic

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Like most writers, I have a dance partner whose name is Procrastination. I hate his guts. What a slacker. And yet we keep on dancing. We side-step and disco-delay until I’m up against a wall and have no choice but to kick him out and get down to work.

So in an effort to “know my enemy,” I’m reading a book about procrastination. (And yes, I’m fully aware that reading a book about procrastination might just be another way I’m procrastinating doing the actual work. But I’ve already admitted there’s a problem, so give a girl some credit.)

I’m about halfway through the book, which is titled The Now Habit, by Neil Fiore. It promises to not only explain how to stop procrastinating but also offer insight on why we do it in the first place.

Most people think procrastinators are sprawled out on the sofa watching the Kardashians get weirder by the second, while their work goes untouched and obligations get ignored. But that’s a misconception. Because a lot of procrastinators are a whirlwind of activity. We are what I’d call “productive procrastinators.”

It’s amazing the amount of work I can get done on other chores when there’s a more important project I’m actively avoiding. If my kitchen is spotless, it’s because I’ve been seeking escape at the bottom of a sink of sudsy dishes. If the pantry is pristine, it’s because I’m looking behind cans of green beans for the willpower to start that looming project.

I’m not alone in this, right? Please tell me I’m not alone. There are more than 1,700 books about procrastination on Amazon, so apparently many of us struggle with this push-pull between work and distraction. If you, like me, are sick of waiting around for that magical, extended block of inspired time to tackle a project, here are three things I’ve learned so far:

should graphicShoot the “should.” Most of us spend a large part of the day thinking about what we “should” do. But that’s kind of like carrying a cranky, finger-pointing school teacher around in our head all day, and our response is to resist the authority. The book advises us to recognize that what we do – or not do – is our choice, regardless of the consequences. So “choose” to do something or not to do it. Shoot the should.

Aim for half. Not half the project. Just half an hour. You can do almost anything for half an hour, right? Set a timer, work for 30 minutes and then stop or switch to something easier. That half-hour of time is long enough to get started (which is always the hardest part) but not long enough to feel like drudgery. Then (and this part is important) give yourself credit for that short burst of focused work. Write down each half-hour and total them up each week.

Nurture your inner toddler. When my kids were little, I’d often get them to clean up their toys by promising that we could go outside and play afterward. It made it easier for them to do the boring stuff because they knew fun stuff was coming up next.

Similarly, the book advises procrastinators to schedule our own version of playtime, like lunch with a friend, a trip to get coffee or some time to sit and do nothing. Knowing you’re carving out time to relax makes it easier to focus during work. And free time feels a lot more “free” when you’re not mentally beating yourself up about what you “should” be doing.

Finally, here’s a great line from the book, which speaks to the heart of any perfection-loving procrastinator: “Work for an imperfect, perfectly human first effort.”

Projects can’t ever get better if they never get started.

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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