Words We Remember

The principal of our elementary school has signs on the wall in the school office with her motto, a quote from Aristotle: “We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence is not an act but a habit.” While that’s a great “mission statement”, the mere act of having that hanging on the wall (and published in our school newsletter, proclaimed during morning announcements, etc.) personifies an even stronger truth: We are what we repeatedly say.  My memories of that principal may dim as soon as Emmie moves on to Jr. High, but that saying will stick in my head longer, and it will help me to remember her. And I’ll bet the kids will remember her by that as well.


On this Memorial Day, I’m thinking of my dad, who was a Lt. Colonel in the Air Force during WW II, but usually when I think of him, I think of his “sayings” or mottos.  He was full of them.  “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” was a favorite of his (meaning, go for the sure thing rather than taking a chance– which both helped and hindered his life), as well as “Stick with me, kid, and you’ll be wearing radishes” (which meant, follow my advice and things will turn out for the best).  And when I think about his mottos, not only do I remember the words, but I remember how he said them. It’s like he’s right there, saying them again, with a smile and a twinkle in his eye (seriously, it was a twinkle!).  Oh, sure, parents give advice in other ways, but it’s those short phrases, repeatedly said, that stick in our head.  I used to think such “sayings” were corny and old-fashioned, as I’m sure many of my peers did, but now that Dad’s gone, I’m so glad his sayings remain.


Which of course leads me to wonder, do I repeatedly say anything that my kids will remember? Emmie would probably say it’s “Don’t forget to wear sunscreen” or “Carry your plate to the sink”.  But I also, once in awhile, say, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” and that would be a nice thing for them to remember.


What is your “motto” or favorite thing to say? If you don’t have one, make one up.  Or, borrow some that you like—I already mentioned Aristotle, and Dr. Seuss had some great ones, too, that aren’t found in his children’s books.  Google the name of someone you admire and put the word “quotes” next to their name and see what you can find.  Look for “famous quotes” books in any bookstore or library. Or, eat Chinese take-out, and get inspiration from the fortune cookies.  I think I got the “lemons” quote from a poster I once saw in a Scholastic Book catalog when I was a kid.  There are also many good “quotes and sayings” sites online, like www.Great-quotes.com, which divides quote topics by category, like Children, Love, Friendship, etc.


Just remember to keep your sayings short and simple so they’re easy for others to remember.  (Hey– “Keep things short and simple” or some incarnation of that– maybe “the less you say, the more people will listen” — would actually be a pretty good one… I know I could stand to follow that advice more often for many aspects of my life—telephone messages, speeches, disciplining my kids, composing emails, writing posts for this blog….) J

Unskilled for Living: “Chores” should not be a dirty word

Whenever Allison has to pack her own lunch bag before school, I often hear the “But nobody else has to make their own lunch!” complaint.  Many parents would probably say, “You don’t know everybody” to that one, or my answer, “Well, I feel sorry for them!”  but secretly I wonder that she just may be right, sadly.  When she was in a jr. high “Skills for Living” class (the politically correct title for what we knew as Home Ec), she came home on the first day to say that her teacher took a survey, and by a show of hands she was one of only a couple teens who did their own laundry, one of only a couple who’d ever sewn anything and the only one who’d ever cooked a meal for her family.  I don’t think she was sure whether to be proud of that or not.  “Mom, one girl was shocked and some people felt sorry for me,” she said.

I know another person who’d never washed dishes by hand or even loaded a dishwasher until they were in their early 20’s.  What has happened to our society?  Is this helicopter parenting at its finest?

“Oh, I’d love for them to help out, but my kids are too busy with homework and activities to have time to do chores or even clean their rooms,” I hear from many parents.  Yeah, so are mine, but there is always a weekend day where they have free time now and then. (And if your kids don’t even have that, you may want to seriously re-think your schedule.) And the chores I ask my kids to do on weekdays are small, like “Empty the downstairs trashcans”, or “Wipe the fingerprints off the microwave”.  The research and evidence is endless– chores (also known by the kinder, gentler, more modern name of household tasks) build character, and they diminish that sense of “entitlement” so many kids have these days.  Household tasks, shared by a family, diminish the stress felt by busy parents.  And learning living skills at a young age keeps kids from being “crippled” later in life because they don’t know how to live without Mom or Dad. 

“Well, I want my kids to have good memories of me, I don’t want to be a mean mom if I ask my family to help out,” my own mother used to say.  My mom did so many other sweet and funny things when I was growing up, if she’d asked everyone to help clear off the table after meals, the good memories would not be diminished.  And she did teach me to do my own laundry when I was in 10th grade, and let me cook an entire meal one night each week, and I am grateful for that, not resentful!

Some parents think kids or teens aren’t capable of doing certain chores.  Huh? Yet those same parents would let them start driving a car at age 15? And buy them their own at 16? I think if they can’t clean up their room, cook a simple meal, put soap, water and clothes in a tub and turn a few dials (c’mon, it’s not rocket science), or maneuver a dust mop, they sure shouldn’t be allowed to maneuver 2,000+ pounds of bone-crushing steel. 

“My kids won’t do their chores,” I’ve heard, “and I just don’t have the time to argue with them.  I’m better off if I just do things myself.”  That’s one area, thankfully, where I don’t spend a lot of time arguing. Because it’s simple– kid doesn’t do a chore, kid has consequences.  At our house, for daily chores, it’s $1 off allowance for each chore not done.  I just mark it on a white board and move on.  And if your room’s not clean, you don’t get to go anywhere fun on the weekend or have friends over until it’s clean.  Yes, sometimes, those rooms get so messy it drives me crazy, and I just have to close their doors and hope things get done.  And it always does, eventually. And yes, sometimes I still get spluttering protests (“But, — I have to go now! I’ll clean my room tomorrow!) but I can stay cool as a cucumber, because I have the power.  I’m still the chauffeur.  “I’ll be happy to take you when you’re done,” I say.  And maybe next time they’ll realize if they just pick up a couple things each day, it won’t be a mountain on the weekend. (I’m still waiting for that to sink in.)

Laura Ingalls Wilder was teaching school at age 15.  (Thank you, Meg, for supplying the correct answer to last week’s Freebie Friday question and winning the book.)  Tell your teen that the next time they complain about what they “can’t” do!

My Car is the Betty White of Minivans

Recently my husband and I had a conversation about buying a new car for me. I didn’t get my hopes up, rightfully so, because it didn’t take long for him to say, “You know, for about $300, I think I can keep your car running another year and then we can get a new one.”  Umm, that’s what he said last year. And I’m pretty sure the year before that as well…  For someone who’s not “into” cars, Andy is a self-taught, amazingly crack mechanic in his spare time who has definitely saved us thousands of dollars and kept my car going year after year (after year). Not only does he like saving money, he gets a lot of satisfaction out of researching and solving problems, and I think he also likes “telling the guys”, like some guys brag about the big fish they caught, or the amazing golf putt they sank.


Yes, I do drive a 1997 Dodge Grand aravan with 184,208 miles on it. (That’s right—aravan.  It was once a Caravan, but one day last year when I didn’t pull in far enough in the garage, the automatic garage door scraped off the “C” as it was closing.) And yes, it still runs, but, when you enter your Golden Years, you should have some class, for goodness sakes! I mean, my car, like Betty White, is getting downright embarrassing in its old age. (Did she really have to cuss so much on SNL two weeks ago?   I think I’m scarred for life…). And calling my car embarrassing is a big statement from someone who was once proud to drive it as a badge of uncoolness. But it’s now gotten beyond uncool.  For starters, it’s dented on almost every panel from one thing or another (runaway shopping carts, angry kids, hail, carport posts that used to “get in the way” when I was backing out…).  And the inside? Fuh-getta-bout-it. The back seat rattles like a pair of loose false teeth.  Recently, when the ceiling fabric came unglued in one small area and started to gap, the kids thought it would be fun to pull it some more—so now it hangs down so much, it looks like a Bedouin tent inside my car, and the “tent” literally billows when I put the windows down to let in fresh spring air.  I’ve been seriously thinking of playing the soundtrack to Slumdog Millionaire on the car stereo and burning some incense to go with it. Maybe I’ll pick up Allison and her friends at high school one day and just say “Om” when they open the doors. Maybe I could even hand them all finger cymbals…


And if I choose not to put down my windows, and turn on the air conditioner instead, the car screeches intermittently.  Inside and out.  And I mean, it’s like the loudest nails-on-a blackboard sound you could ever imagine.  It’s like what a pterodactyl must have sounded like as it swooped in.  It’s like the music from “Psycho” on acid… 

A guy almost fell off his bike as I screeched past him yesterday.  The sound stopped another guy, previously hell-bent on running into CVS to buy cigarettes, in his tracks.


Okay, I’m sure part of that $300 to fix up the car will include the air conditioner.  But what will break down next?  I’m not sure I wanna know.  At this point, it’s always something.  And Mechanic Dad has to squeeze car repair into our usually busy weekends, so things naturally take awhile to get done. 


I’m thinking about not driving the aravan anymore and walking/biking everywhere or taking the bus in protest.  But my husband really wouldn’t be affected by that, since he works many miles away, and I do so much driving during the afternoon, chauffering kids.  He’d probably say “Great!  Put the kids on bikes, too!”  As Dallas’ weather keeps getting more and more uncomfortable and my teen’s allergies get worse and worse, I don’t think getting back to nature is the answer….


The kids laugh when I joke with them that someday, I’m going to pull up to their school and my car is just going to fall apart, cartoon style, all at once, with nothing left but me in the driver’s seat and the steering wheel in my hands.  Maybe then I could get a new car…


Nah! Because a dismantled car would give Andy an even better fish tale: “ I rebuilt our minivan– from scratch!!!!  J

Little Miss Sunshine is Still Alive and Well: Seven-Year-Olds “Work It” to Single Ladies

Remember my post from March of last year entitled, Little Miss Sunshine is Alive and Well, about the little girls with suggestive dance moves I’ve seen for many years at dance conventions? Well if you’ve seen the video going viral these days (and featured on Good Morning America), of 7-year-olds bumping and grinding to “Single Ladies”, the topic is now a national debate.  Some people think it’s awful that the video is now so widespread (no pun intended) but I think it’s great because maybe, just maybe, dance studios will think twice from now on before choreographing and costuming this type of pedophile bait (click here to see it).  Of course, the parents interviewed on television see nothing wrong with it (and they probably think child beauty pageants are fine, too).  Some online commenters say, “Hey, leave them alone, they’re good dancers.” I liked this response: “Yeah? Strippers are good dancers, too!”

Freebie Friday- “Words From A Fearless Heart”

                  Kara Lindsay as Laura in “Little House on the Prairie: The Musical”

                          Words From A Fearless Heart: Laura Ingalls Wilder
In honor of the touring production of “Little House on the Prairie: The Musical” (we took Emmie and a friend to see it Wednesday night and it was wonderful), I am offering up a hardback copy of “Words From a Fearless Heart”, a small “gift book” of thoughts and witticisms by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Who knew she also wrote for adults? I recently found this collection of writings at a local Half Price Books, pieces penned several years before she began the Little House series.  It’s full of humor and insight about family, society, relationships, and life in general.  It also includes some “what really happened to the Ingalls family” history and is great for someone who likes to keep a positive read by their bedside, as well as any Wilder fan.  (If you want it, check out the trivia question at the bottom of this post and email me at patricia@uncoolmom.com with your answer. I’ll draw a winner on May 22 from all the correct answers.)


I’m a renewed Wilder fan after having seen the musical.  Starring Melissa Gilbert in the role of “Ma” (yes, that’s right–  Ma; she’s all grown up now, and one of her children is in the show as well) and also featuring a host of other talented performers, it presents a nice snapshot of Laura’a childhood and eventual marriage, in two hours of song and dance (no small feat considering there are over 10 books in the Little House series!)  The show reminded me of what I liked about the books—the “can-do” spirit.  As I sat in the audience, I smiled as I remembered a conversation between Allison and me a few weeks ago, when I was upset about “Spring Awakening” and she went on and on about how good it was because, “even though it includes sex and abortion, it is based on ‘reality’, and not some stupid fairy tale musical like The Sound of Music”.  Well, the Sound of Music was based on a true story, and so is Little House: The Musical.  And it doesn’t make life on the prairie look like a nonstop happy jig.  The problems keep on coming: starvation, sickness, blindness, fire, depression, … (I don’t think those Spring Awakening kids would’ve lasted an hour on the Ingalls homestead!)  But in spite of all the problems, you walk away with the feeling that these people faced their problems with grit and grace and that in spite of everything, they never gave up, and were truly happy. (And if you do a bit of research, you’ll find they really were— after years and years of even more problems! Nice to know that not every family is dysfunctional, huh? Or every musical…) One of my favorite sayings is “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade”, and those Ingalls were lemonade pros.  Definitely inspiring.


So, saying that Little House: The Musical is good family friendly theatre is an understatement.  Though I don’t think any of the songs are catchy enough to become time-worn classics, the music is beautiful. (check it out at www.littlehousethemusical.com). And Emmie and her friend were excited that they knew what “homesteading” was all about, since they’d just studied it in 5th grade Social Studies, so it’s a great history lesson as well.  I also liked the fact that it’s a show with lots of female leads, something that’s rare in musical theatre.

And, it gives modern-day parents something to think about when they see what 19th century children were capable of accomplishing.  Which brings me to the trivia question:


How old was Laura Ingalls when she left her family during the week to teach unruly kids at a one-room country school?

Helping our kids vs. “enabling” their bad habits: Sometimes, it’s a balancing act

For many years, I’ve been on board with the Love & Logic notion that “parents need to allow kids to make mistakes so that they learn from the consequences, so that they’re better prepared for adulthood and ‘the real world’ ”.  If a child throws one of their toys in anger and breaks it, either it doesn’t get replaced or they earn money by helping Mommy around the house in order to save money to replace it, and hopefully they’ll think twice next time.  If a teenager repeatedly “sleeps late” on school days and has to serve a detention because their parent won’t write an “illness note” to cover the absences, chances are the detention will get the message across that they need to be at school (or a job) on time.  But I think in the area of forgetfulness, that Love & Logic rule doesn’t always apply, and sometimes we need to just throw our hands up and realize that in the “real world”, life gets busy, and it’s impossible for our kids’ brains, and our own, to remember everything, all the time. In the real world, when people forget things, sometimes people help each other out. 


I’m not advocating that parents should be “enablers”, constantly running after their child, bringing them whatever they forget— coats, lunchboxes, etc.—  I’m saying that once in awhile, especially if it’s not a huge inconvenience to the parent, why not?  If you help them out, is that going to set them back from any progress you’ve made in teaching them to be responsible? I don’t think so, if we’re just talking about the “remembering things” aspect of responsibility, because I think progress there is only short-term, if you’re lucky enough to make any progress at all.  Life gets busy.


If days have a theme, last Monday’s was “Forgetfulness” around our house.  First my teenager, Allison, called at 9:15 a.m. to say she’d left two copies of a poem on the printer at home that she needed for English class and could I PLEEEEESE bring them up to school by 12:15?  I have said no before many times to similar requests, but on Monday, I said yes, since I was going grocery shopping and would be two blocks from her school.  As I drove to the school later that morning, I got a text that she also had left a math folder on the floor of her bedroom, and would I please bring that, too?  I didn’t turn around to go back to get it. She got points taken off on her Geometry homework since it had to be turned in the next day instead (and I noticed that on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, she stopped to ask herself “Do I have everything?” before leaving the house…)


Monday afternoon, as soon as my 5th-grader, Emmie, got home, she became upset because she’d left her book at school, the one she’s reading for a book report that’s due this week, the one in which she still has over 100 pages to read, the one she was planning to read all evening for the next two nights.  (Over the years, Emmie has left many things in a variety of places, never to see them again—even prized possessions she can’t replace, like a favorite pair of shoes and a water bottle autographed by Olympic gymnast Carly Patterson–  so you’d think the losses would make her less forgetful, but they haven’t.)  Since we would be near the elementary school when we picked up Allison from high school later that day, I agreed to drive her back to get her book.


As soon as Allison got in the car, I realized that someone else had forgotten something that day.  I was supposed to sew the straps on Allison’s toe shoes so she could wear them at her dance class, which started in 20 minutes.  I’d even written myself a note that day: SEW ON TOE SHOE STRAPS. Unfortunately, that note got buried.  I ended up skipping my own dance/exercise class and sitting on a bench at the dance studio, frantically stitching away, while she danced “flat-footed”.  I finished about the time her class was over.


“It’s okay, Mom,” she said.  After all, life gets busy.

A Day in the Life of a Mother’s Day

If you’re a mom, how did you spend Mother’s Day? If you’re not, did you do something special for your own mom, or a friend who is a mom, or someone who acts like a mom? I’d love to know. As always, I think the differences in how people celebrate a special day are fascinating.  (Remember those “Day in the Life” coffee table books from the late 80s? Where photographers all over America shared photos from one specific day? I think those are fascinating, too.) One of my friends, whose children are grown and who has grandchildren, celebrates Mother’s Day with all her family coming to town and heading to a favorite park, where they have a big picnic and family kickball tournament. They even make special T-shirts for everyone to wear. This year, Mother’s Day fell on her birthday so it was even more special.  Another friend of mine, who has four young boys and two very big dogs and works very hard being a mom, says nothing is ever done in her house to mark the occasion since her husband always has to work on Mother’s Day, and yesterday was no exception.  Another friend of mine spent the day in bed, ill.  I think her children napped with her.  Another friend got to sleep late and get taken to the Cheesecake Factory for lunch/dinner (yes, by the time their name was called, it was the middle of the afternoon…) I was thrilled that on my Mother’s Day, all of my family went to church together (the teenager usually stays home) and the girls each made me a Mother’s Day card.  I also got a “no-cook” day (Hooray!) and my husband bought me carnations.


So please comment below and share what you did, or what you used to do, even if it’s only one sentence—I’d love to know! And I think it would be interesting for everyone to see the variety of ways people marked the day– even if we don’t have gorgeous coffee table book photographs to go along with the words!

Getting Older– Daunted? Flaunt It!

In honor of my friend Teresa turning 49 today, I’ve decided to re-run an essay of mine that was published in the Dallas Morning News on 10/18/05 under the title, “Crimp’s My Style”.  After it was published in the newspaper and online, I received over 40 letters from across the U.S., all positive and supportive (except two).  The most touching ones were from men, writing to say they wished their wives wouldn’t worry so much about aging and looking older, that they loved them “just the way they are” and would never want to trade them for a younger version.  Enjoy everyone—and Happy Birthday, T!!!!!!!


Recently, I threw a curve ball to a friend of mine who sells skin care and beauty products. As she was touting the anti-aging benefits of a new product (“clinically tested to reduce fine lines by 30 %”) I told her that, to be honest, even though I’m 43, I’m really not interested in hiding my wrinkles. She looked surprised. Who wouldn’t, in this youth-crazed society? I told another friend, who was depressed at turning 44, that she should not only flaunt her crow’s feet, but her gray hairs, too. “Why?” she asked. “Have you gone mad?”

Yes, but in a good way.

I have keenly become more aware of aging recently because my youngest child is now in elementary school—and, due to the roughly two-decade span of women’s child-birthing years, I have discovered that there are moms of kids in her class who are young enough to be my own child!!

As they parade their young bodies at picnics and PTA meetings in hip-hugger jeans and camisole tops, one would think it would make us older moms run, feeling frumpy and intimidated, to the closest plastic surgeon (or beauty consultant) for a complete body reconstruction and makeover.  (According to the boom in popularity of plastic surgery and all things botox, many do.) But why???

Pardon my French, but darnit, I don’t want people to think I’m that young. I may not have walked up a hill backwards in the snow for five miles to get to school, but… I’ve nursed two children for at least 8 months each and if my breasts sag a bit, hooray! That means my children got the healthy start they needed and a great bonding experience was had by all.

Crow’s feet? So what! Those lines near my eyes are from laughing at Red Skelton and Bob Hope, live and in person. From squinting in the Florida sun when Disney World first opened. From crying buckets when my boyfriend broke up with me because I didn’t share his love for the World Football League and the Pat Travers Band. From wearily getting up at 4 a.m. to watch Princess Diana get married on live TV.

My hair’s turning gray? Bring it on! Each gray strand represents a different moment in time. I’ve watched a brother float off to sea with the Navy during the Vietnam War in the 60s, waited in gas lines with my dad during the 70s, danced the “pogo” at college and waded through the trenches of single life in the 80s, and boarded the roller coaster of marriage and kids in the 90s. My parents were part of the Greatest Generation. I know where I was and what I was doing when the first man walked on the moon, when Elvis died, when the Gulf War began. I know what it feels like to have only three channels on a black and white TV, a phone that’s tethered to a base by a cord (horrors!), and fried hair from using a curling iron to look like Farrah Fawcett.

All the wrinkles and bags of old age are badges of honor, I think. Like calling cards that say, “I’m old enough to have lived awhile, to have some experience and wisdom.” What a thing to be proud of! And the older and more wrinkled, the prouder. Older women are not revered in this culture as they are in some others, so we must take it upon ourselves to hold our head high and be in constant inner and outer celebration.

And so, young mothers, when you see the spider veins on my legs that show when I wear shorts, don’t feel sorry for me. Come ask me for advice on potty training and temper tantrums. When you see the acne scars on my face I’ve chosen not to get removed with microdermabrasion, ask me what to do when your eight-year-old still sucks her thumb. Trust me, I won’t be offended