Category Archives: Favorites

16 Sep

Parenting in a Wi-Fi world

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

09 Sep

Why I Don’t Camp

By Gwen Rockwood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

02 Sep

C is for Capable

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

A wonderful thing is happening at our house. The kids are becoming… capable. That sounds weird, I know. It’s not like they were helpless blobs all this time, but lately I’ve noticed they can really do things – helpful things, necessary things – things Tom and I have been doing for them for more than a decade now.

Today I was busy cleaning up the kitchen and making a mental checklist of the things I’d need to get done before morning. I caught 12-year-old Adam as he was on his way up the stairs to play video games and said, “Before you play, I need you to make three sandwiches to go in tomorrow’s lunchboxes, okay?”

“Okay,” he said. Then he pulled out the sandwich-making supplies and I heard him call out to his little sister, “Kate, do you want cheese on your sandwich?” bologna sandwichShe answered and he continued his work. Moments later, I opened the fridge and found three bologna sandwiches sealed up in sandwich bags, ready to put into lunch bags the next morning.

Here’s the surprising part. He didn’t need my help. He didn’t complain. He didn’t act like I was asking him to perform brain surgery on the cat. The sandwiches looked just the way they’d look if I’d done it myself, and he put the bread, mustard and sandwich meat away when he was done.

It’s odd to be surprised by evidence that your kids are growing up because that’s what they’re supposed to do. That was the plan all along. But it feels like a minor miracle when you notice it’s really happening.

We spent so much time doing things for them when they were little that it became our new normal – tie the shoes, wash the clothes, make the meals, cut their meat. We’ve taught them things along the way, but there was a small part of us that assumed they’d always need us to help them navigate daily life.

Then today, either through instruction or observation or just household osmosis, the kid suddenly makes the sandwiches and cleans up the mess. No biggie. And it’s so… rewarding.

If I could, I’d send an email back in time to my younger self – the frazzled young mom who spent much of the day chasing a 5,3 and 1-year-old around the house, changing diapers and wiping noses. Here’s what I’d tell her:

Dear Younger Me,

You know this parenting thing that keeps you sprinting around 12 hours a day? It gets easier. One day they’re not only going to be able to find their own shoes but also put them on and tie the laces. They won’t need you in the bathroom anymore. They’ll stop watching Barney the Dinosaur and occasionally even watch the news and ask questions about the world. They’ll start to crack jokes – funny ones — not just that tired knock-knock joke about the banana and the orange.

Then one day, seemingly overnight, you’ll ask your oldest to make the sandwiches and he’ll just do it. Your middle child who refuses to change out of his Superman t-shirt for days on end? He’s going to be able to start and finish a load of clothes, so you’ll have help staying on top of that mountain of dirty laundry. And that sweet baby on your hip? She’s going to be 7 one day, and when you accidentally cut your finger in the kitchen, she’ll get the first aid kit and put the Band-Aid on for you. (Start putting some money aside for medical school. This kid has potential.)

So hang in there, mama. You’re doing good and important work. All this time in the not-so-glamorous parenting trenches is going to pay off. They get bigger and smarter and even more interesting. One day you’re going to look at them and realize that, not only do you love them intensely, you also respect and admire the people they’re turning out to be – capable people who can do things, partly because you loved and helped them through all the years when they couldn’t.

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

27 Aug

The Rockwood Files: DNA Disco

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Sometimes genetics can be cruel. Often the things you hope won’t get passed down to your kids are the very things that show up and start banging on the door.

In our family of five people, there are 18 eyes, if you count all the glasses and contact lenses it takes for us to navigate around the house without bumping into things. So far, only 10-year-old Jack has managed to cruise out of the eye doctor’s office without a prescription for glasses or contacts.

I might say he’s the lucky one of our group, but genetics has a way of evening things out. He’s also the one who is destined for not one but two sets of braces on his teeth, thanks to some seriously jacked up dental DNA he got from me. Sorry, kid.

Since Tom and I are both nearsighted, we knew our kids would most likely need glasses one day, too. We’ve been keeping an eye out for the tell-tale signs of glasses katevision problems – squinting, sitting too close to the TV, or running up to hug strangers and calling them Dad.

As a kid, I managed to skate through four years’ worth of annual eye exams before the school nurse figured out I was guessing at all the answers and, in fact, couldn’t see 80 percent of what other kids saw. When an eye doctor confirmed that I did, indeed, need glasses, it felt like a social death sentence. In the early 80s, it was not cool to wear glasses. Not even a little bit.

Back then, manufacturers weren’t designing and marketing to tweens and teens the way they do now, so there were only about 3 different styles of glasses for kids my age. The one thing those styles had in common was that they were all ugly. You just picked a certain color of ugly and that was that. “Here’s your glasses, kid. Good luck being a nerd in middle school.”

I put on those cursed glasses and walked dejectedly out of the eye doctor’s office, staring down at my feet. My mother led me out onto the sidewalk of Main Street and I looked up and saw the world for what felt like the first time. I noticed the leaves before anything else. What had once been fuzzy blobs hovering around tree trunks suddenly transformed into amazing shapes with defined edges and rich colors.

Then I looked down Main Street and marveled at how I could clearly read the word “stop” on the bright red sign even though it was a few blocks away. It felt like a revelation. That’s when I decided that even though glasses were ugly, seeing clearly is beautiful.

Glasses and fashion have changed dramatically since I was a kid because now there are a million cute frames to choose from. And the “smart look” is most decidedly “in.”

Seven-year-old Kate recently joined our family’s four-eyes club, and her bright blue frames look great with her blonde hair and blue eyes. But here’s one more odd ripple in the gene pool: Kate has 20/20 vision yet still needs glasses for reading. She sees things at a distance perfectly, but hold a book in front of her and she sees two books, or two lines of piano music, or two math worksheets. Thanks to special lenses that correct double vision, Kate’s life is a whole lot less crowded these days.

Genetics can be both friend and foe and none of us ever quite know what we’re going to get. All we can do is hope for the best and keep smiling as we backstroke through the mysterious gene pool.

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

18 Aug

The case of the missing red belt

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Our 12-year-old groans every time he sees a back-to-school commercial, which lately seems to happen once every five seconds. (I can’t blame him. When adults go on vacation, the last thing we want is to be constantly reminded that our regular jobs are about to start up again on Monday morning.) So my kids are milking these last few days of freedom for all they’re worth – wearing pajamas until noon, playing Marco Polo in the pool and enjoying lazy evenings without a hint of homework.

back-to-school3The kids may think I’m ancient, but I’m young enough to remember the special brand of angst that comes with the first day of school. The one that stands out most in my mind is the night before the first day of fifth grade.

Fifth grade was a big deal because, in the town where I grew up, it was a kid’s first departure from the sheltered simplicity of elementary school. It was separated from all the other grades and housed in a building across town – sort of like Lord of the Flies, only with backpacks. I’m not sure if school officials set fifth grade apart because there was no room in the elementary school building or because they wanted to protect the rest of the town, just in case all that pre-teen hyperactivity were to spontaneously combust.

I spent the last half of the summer of 1983 worrying about what I should wear on the first day of fifth grade. It had to be something way cooler than what kids wore to elementary school – that much was certain. So my mother took me back-to-school shopping at the Belk department store on Main Street and I found a red and white outfit made by Esprit, a brand that was uber-cool for 10-year-old girls. The jeans had this red belt that put the final, fashionable touch on what I hoped would be the outfit to launch me into fifth grade popularity.

The night before the first day of school, I laid out my new outfit so everything would be ready to go the next morning. But where was the cute red belt? It was missing! I double and triple checked my closet. I looked in the laundry room, the shopping bag, the car, and every square inch of our house. It was just gone, and I was devastated.

My mother kept saying something ridiculous like, “Just wear a different belt,” as if that was the obvious solution to a trivial problem. And I didn’t have enough tearful words to explain to her how my entire fifth grade identity and future happiness hinged on that one red belt that was now, in a cruel twist of fate, lost forever – probably floating around in the same black hole where stray socks, sunglasses and signed permission slips go.

More than 30 years later, it seems absurd that I shed tears over a red belt the night before fifth grade, but it made perfect sense at the time. Because the tears were really about fear – of the unknown, of not fitting in, of being in a new situation that you don’t feel old enough to handle. And of course there’s always the dread of dealing with “the jerk,” and every school year tends to come with at least one of those.

Sometimes we grown-ups don’t give kids enough credit for just getting through the first day of school. Every year it’s like clearing another emotional hurdle, and any number of things – like locker location, homeroom assignment or even a missing red belt – can trip a kid up. The first day of school requires much more than notebooks and No. 2 pencils. It takes guts. For all those kids facing yet another new adventure, good luck and Godspeed.

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

12 Aug

Weird is their middle name

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Today I read something in the newspaper that convinces me there are people in the world with entirely too much time on their hands. How else could we explain the fact that there’s a couple in Massachusetts named Melanie and Neal who have petitioned the state to legally change their middle names to the word “Seamonster.”

I read this information in a short news snippet so I don’t have any context for the story, but I doubt that additional information would make the request seem less weird. Perhaps they really love sea monsters? Perhaps their favorite uncle was a sea monster? Maybe they lost a bet made after five too many beers? It’s hard to say.

sea monsterWhat I do know is that petitioning a state to do almost anything requires a certain degree of paperwork and hassle. I imagine it’s at least twice as time-consuming and nearly as painful as having a sea monster tattooed on one’s ankle or arm. But for whatever reason, this couple needs their new middle name to be officially recognized by the great state of Massachusetts. (I’m guessing they couldn’t make it fit on a vanity license plate.)

But why the middle name? If you ask me, it shows a certain lack of commitment to the sea monsters they claim to love. A middle name is like an appendix. We’re pretty sure it was important at one time but nobody is quite sure why. You can certainly live without an appendix or a middle name. Just ask Prince and Madonna.

When’s the last time you even heard your middle name used out loud? The only time I ever heard my middle name was when my mother was mad at me and trying to make a point. It’s not like this couple will one day be in a restaurant waiting area only to hear the hostess say “Table for Neal Seamonster Coughlin? I can seat you now.”

Maybe I’m being too close-minded about it. Maybe this odd name change is an example of one of the freedoms that make our country great. Here in the United States, you can create your own identity and express it freely. Some people use that freedom to build companies or become great chefs or work as back-up dancers for Beyonce. The possibilities are endless, and you can be completely unique while creating something valuable or beautiful or serving a greater good.

But wouldn’t it be great if more people used that creative freedom to do things that, for lack of a better word, matter – at least a little bit? Doesn’t it seem like a lot of our modern day weirdness is motivated not by any discernable purpose but simply because it’s possible?

In America, we have this “just because we can” philosophy that sometimes gets out of hand. Why would you attempt to ride over Niagara Falls in a barrel? Just because you can. Why would you competitively scarf down more hot dogs than any other human in under a minute? Just because you can. Why would you intentionally squirt milk out of your eye? Just because you can. (Google the words “dumbest world records” to see more evidence of “just because you can” gone terribly wrong.)

Sure, these oddities might cause a small ripple in the constant stream of news and random facts we’re flooded with daily, but does that make them worthy of attention? Does it do any good?

Something that finds its way into the news or sets an unusual world record isn’t automatically admirable. And sometimes it’s only about as useful as having a middle name like Seamonster.

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 Jul

Road warriors back from battle

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

We made it. Dragging in past midnight, bleary-eyed with sore behinds from more than 10 hours sitting in the car, we each fell into our own beds after spending several nights away and decided that these are, in fact, the best beds in the whole world. The only thing as great as the excitement of vacation is the sweet relief of being home again.

road trip1I’ll admit that our generation has it much easier than our road-tripping ancestors. The portable DVD player, smartphones, audio books and iPads have been a game changer in getting families across the country in relative peace and harmony.

But that doesn’t mean the trip is without challenges. Here are three we faced while getting our family 650 miles up the road and back again.

Bathroom breaks: Some families love them and see them as a great excuse to get out, explore a little and stretch the legs. But those of us on a quest to “make good time” see them as an unavoidable nuisance.

Choosing the right place to stop reminds me of that old game show “Let’s Make a Deal,” when people had to pick a number and hope what was behind Door Number Three was something good and not a donkey wearing a sombrero. When you pick a bad bathroom stop, you’ll see things you can never un-see and there’s not enough hand sanitizer in the world to make you feel clean again.

Restaurant roulette: Ask a family of five where they want to stop for lunch and you’ll get five different answers. And so begins the inevitable 45-mile discussion on where we should stop. There are plenty of apps that’ll help you find good restaurants, but, as far as I know, there’s not an app called “Make these people agree on where to eat.” If you find that one in the App Store, let me know.

Getting to the restaurant from the freeway exit ramp can also be frustrating, particularly if your driver is skeptical about the GPS lady’s ability to navigate there successfully.

Me: “The GPS lady says we should turn left in 1.2 miles.”

Him: “What? That can’t be right. I don’t think she knows what she’s talking about. Do we have a map in here?”

Me (holding up the cellphone): “Yes, it’s called Google Maps and the lady is telling us where to go. Why do we even use the GPS if you’re not going to listen to her?”

Him: “I just think she’s wrong. If we end up getting lost, you’re going to wish we hadn’t listened to her.”

(Let the record show that if the GPS voice sounded more like a middle-aged father and less like a British lady, men would be much more agreeable on road trips.)

Sleep slump: All parents know that the best travelers are the unconscious ones. When I was a kid and my brother and I got whiny on road trips, Mom would tell us to go to sleep. And that was easy to do because we had one of those whale-sized station wagons where we could stretch out full-length with a pillow and a sleeping bag.

The sheer boredom mingled with the rhythmic sounds of the highway lulled us into a sleep that made hundreds of miles feel like minutes, and we’d only wake up when Dad stepped on the brakes too hard and sent us skidding into the back of the seat.

But these days we’re informed enough to know that seatbelts aren’t optional, so unless a kid can learn to sleep sitting up, there’s not much chance of scoring an extended nap.

Kids: “Mom, how much further is it?”

Me: “It’s about one and a half movie DVDs or 15 levels of Candy Crush, depending on how good you are. I’ll let you know when the GPS lady says we’re close.”

Him (muttering): “You can’t trust that lady.”

Did I mention it feels good to be home? Here’s hoping you and yours have a happy road trip.

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

23 Jul

My dignity on ice

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

My refrigerator made a fool of me today. This morning when I came downstairs to the kitchen, it was croaking – loudly. It sounded like an elderly frog was frog in rocking chairinside it, sitting in a creaky rocking chair that got louder each time he rocked back. I could hear it across the room.

So I did what most of us do when a complex piece of machinery starts to make a weird noise we don’t understand: I smacked it. But it went right on croaking at regular intervals, completely undeterred.

Having exhausted all my repair expertise with that unsuccessful smack on the side of the fridge, I called our appliance repair guy, Steve. I told him about the loud croaking noise and asked if he could swing by to check it out. With an out-of-town trip on the horizon, I wanted to make sure we didn’t come home to a dead fridge full of spoiled food.

A few hours later, Steve showed up at the door holding his appliance doctor bag, ready to inspect the refrigerator that sounded like it was croaking, both literally and figuratively. He followed me into the kitchen and we both sidled up to the refrigerator and listened – to nothing.

It had gone completely silent. All we could hear was the occasional clink of an ice cube falling into the freezer tray below.

“Just give it a minute. It was definitely croaking this morning, and it was loud. Tom heard it, too,” I said, hoping that an ear witness would make me seem less crazy.

So we waited. And waited, enveloped by the sound of silence. Embarrassed that I’d made a big deal out of what was turning into nothing, I did the only thing that can make this kind of situation even more awkward – I did my best impression of the croaking sound and asked what might make that kind of noise.

Steve did some official-looking diagnostic things, hoping to prove I wasn’t as nuts as I sounded. He laid down on the kitchen floor with his flashlight and peered underneath the fridge. Then he took a long screwdriver and scraped something out from under it which turned out to be the largest grey dust bunny I’ve ever seen. It was more like a dust bear. I think I even saw it move once.

With no croaking and no answers in sight, Steve pulled the refrigerator out from the wall so he could get a look behind it. That’s when I learned something I’m guessing is universally true, no matter how clean you think your kitchen is. Behind the refrigerator, we’re all slobs. All of us. It’s a nightmare back there. I’ve seen things I can’t ever un-see.

“Steve, is it this bad behind most people’s refrigerators?” I asked, ashamed of the dead dust bear at his feet and the wasteland of dust balls, crumbs, bread twist ties, and unidentifiable food fragments under the fridge.

“Oh, sure,” he said in the most non-judgmental way. (And that’s how you know you’ve got a good repair guy because he will reassure you that you’re not disgusting even when it’s obvious that you are.)

Steve let me clean a few things behind the fridge before pushing it back toward the wall, where it will likely gather another nine years’ worth of God-knows-what. He packed up his bag and said the loud croaking could possibly be the refrigerator’s fan on the fritz. It’s hard to know for sure because the fridge played a game of “quiet mouse” as soon as Steve showed up, so we’ll have to wait it out.

When it starts croaking again – and you know it will – I’m going to record it so I’ll have proof. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice and I’m getting a new fridge.

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 Jul

Who’s afraid of the big “bag” wolf?

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Last night I let our Beagle Charlie out into the backyard for his usual “last call” potty break before going to bed for the night. I walked away from the door and soon after heard him start barking furiously.

Afraid he’d wake the neighbors, I rushed back to the door and turned on the outside lights so I could see if he’d treed a squirrel or spotted a rabbit. Instead, I saw our fearsome “guard dog” barking his fool head off at a large bag of garden topsoil that Tom had left in the yard earlier that day.

Charlie bwEven though Charlie’s bark sounded threatening, I could tell that the bag of topsoil was winning the fight. Charlie slowly circled it, leaving at least a 10-foot perimeter between him and the bag. Every now and then he’d flatten his belly to the ground and cower, as if the bag might sprout legs and chase after him at any second.

I stood there, wondering how long it would take before he figured out that the bag was a non-threatening, inanimate object. I wish I could tell you he realized it quickly. He didn’t. Even after he got close enough for an investigative sniff, he still ran away from it skittishly, afraid of just how much he did not know about the hulking yellow bag.

Of course, it’s easy for me to mock our scaredy-dog for being afraid of a bag of dirt. But the truth is, Charlie and I are not all that different. I worry about the “what if’s” as much or more than anybody.

When the kids were little, I, like many new moms, worried about strangers jumping out of bushes and kidnapping them. I couldn’t help myself. I kept a protective hand on them almost constantly and was always scanning crowds for anyone looking suspicious. It felt like it was hard-wired into my maternal DNA.

One day I was reading a news article about crime rates and was surprised when I read a statistic that said child abduction rates have actually gone down over the years and that the chances of a child being abducted by a stranger are actually less than the risk of a child being hit by lightning. I told Tom about it, and he said, “See? That means you can stop worrying so much. Doesn’t that make you feel better?”

A rational person would have said “Yes, it does,” but instead I said, “I had no idea that lightning was such a threat!” And from that point on, I was afraid of kidnappers AND thunderstorms. Tom just shook his head and muttered something about me being ridiculous which, I admit, was fairly accurate.

What I’m realizing lately is that we all have something that scares us that probably shouldn’t. For me, it’s the beginning of a novel I started writing months ago and have been too afraid to continue writing because, well, it might be really bad. Or even terrible. What if I finish it only to find that it’s an embarrassment, a 50,000-word failure? That unfinished novel is a big bag of the scary unknown – just like Charlie’s bag of topsoil. So I bark my excuses at it and keep skittishly avoiding it even though part of me wants to take it on just to see if I can.

I guess the real trick in life is knowing the difference between a healthy fear that keeps you safe as opposed to an intimidating fear that keeps you stuck. The former will keep you alive and the latter will keep you from truly living.

For Charlie, for me and perhaps for you, too? It’s time to stop barking at bags.

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

01 Jul

I don’t mean to brag, but…

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

My mom taught me not to brag, but I’ll make an exception this one time. Because after my last few trips to the grocery store, I’ve decided I am the best of the best when it comes to the following three special skills:

1. Picking the wrong cart.

I have an almost magnetic pull to bad shopping carts. Because I have such a long history of picking the wrong cart, I size up my options before I pick one, grocery-carthopeful that maybe this time I’ll get a good one.

I check the wheels to make sure there’s not a gigantic wad of gum stuck there. Then I check inside the cart to make sure it’s not harboring any suspicious-looking tissues. (Choosing a cart with a crumpled up tissue inside it is the grocery store equivalent of rolling around in a big pile of bubonic plague. You just don’t do it.) Without heavy rubber gloves and a gun to my head, there’s no way I’m touching a stranger’s crumpled up tissue.

About a dozen steps inside the store, I realize my cart has mechanical issues. I hear a strange “thwump” sound at regular intervals that only speeds up when I do. Or I’ll notice the cart pulls hard to the left, no matter where I steer it. If shopping carts were cars, I’m the lady driving around a rusted-out 1982 Chevette with cheap tires and alignment problems.

2. Picking the wrong line.

When it becomes obvious my cart is a clunker, I don’t trade it for a different one because, odds are, I’m going to pick another lemon anyway. So I tell myself I’m not going to be there long anyway (an obvious self-delusion). Eventually I “thump-thwump-thwump” my way to the front of the store and pick the absolute worst check-out line.

Do I want to be in the slowest line? Of course not. I do what we all do – cruise past each line, scoping it out to see how many people are waiting, how much stuff they have in their carts, and how speedy the check-out clerk appears to be. I take all these factors into consideration before picking a lane. Then about five minutes after making a lane commitment, I realize I’ve chosen a line that moves at about the same speed as toxic sludge.

I consider bailing out and starting over, certain there must be a faster line out there somewhere. But then I hesitate, afraid that if I give up now, I might get stuck in an even slower line, and then I will have done all this waiting for nothing. So I stand there and wait while the person in front of me divides her items into three separate orders or pulls out a shoebox full of coupons or pays with a temporary check that requires multiple forms of I.D., a blood test and approval from four different managers.

3. Picking the wrong item.

After wrangling the wrong cart and waiting in the wrong line, I’m always relieved when it’s finally my turn to check-out – except when the check-out clerk holds up an item and says those infamous three little words: “There’s no barcode.”

“Do you remember how much this was?” she asks. Then I’m faced with a dilemma: Do I tell the truth, that I really don’t remember exactly how much it was? Or do I make up an approximate price and hope she doesn’t put me on a Wal-Mart “watch list” for getting it wrong.

I default to honesty and tell her I’m not sure, which results in her turning on her lane flashers and asking for a time-consuming price check – which makes the other people in line want to throw their produce at me or run over me with their superior shopping carts.

What can I do? I give them my best “I’m sorry” eyes and try to take solace in these unusual bragging rights: Of all the shoppers in all the stores in all the world, nobody does it as badly as me.

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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