Category Archives: My Published Articles

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

Remembering “Slug Bug”

In honor of Spring Break this week, and the many families that are “hitting the road” for a family trip by car (including us), I thought I’d “re-release” a column/essay of mine that ran in The Dallas Morning News on June 29, 2001 under the heading, “Slug Bugs Are A Hit With Kids”.
Update 4/2/10: I think it’s a hoot that VW is now using this game to promote its cars.  Have you seen the ads for “Punch Dub” Days? And to think the guy I interviewed for this story said Volkswagen didn’t want to associate themselves with it…)
 
I heard a sound coming from the backseat of my minivan a few weeks ago that I hadn’t heard in at least 25 years, and it made me smile– “SLUG BUG!! No Tag-backs!!”  Now that Volkswagen has breathed new life into its Beetle, it seems the Slug Bug game has been resurrected as well, and mysteriously, both my six-year-old AND my two-year-old know how to play. (For those of you who somehow missed out on that, when you see a Beetle on the road, you’re supposed to elbow the person next to you while yelling out, “Slug Bug!” Some kids keep a running tally going to see who can spot the most.  The “no tag-backs” line is added by more seasoned players, meaning, You Can’t Elbow Me If You See the Same One!)

I never cease to be amazed at how games, myths, jokes, and rhymes get passed down through the ages and across the country.  My husband grew up in Texas and I grew up in Iowa, yet as kids, we both knew every word to the Batman version of Jingle Bells, long before the Internet and Cable TV.  And, we both played the Slug Bug game.

I think I still have marks on me from all the slugs I got from my brother,” says a Volkswagen public relations representative who wishes to remain unnamed. While  Volkswagen of America, Inc. has no official printed history or rules for the game (the unnamed PR representative said they wouldn’t want to associate with anything where children could get hurt),  a local VW enthusiast says it originated at least 40 years ago. 

I remember first knowing the Slug Bug game in the early 1960’s,” says Louis Harris, 61, of Dallas, who, along with his wife, Janet, is the local representative for the Vintage VW Club of America. He says though the Beetle was first brought to the U.S. in 1949, the game probably didn’t become popular in the United States until there were enough Beetles on the road to make Slug Bug playable.  “The Beetle really took off in popularity in the middle to late 1950’s.”  He says his two daughters, now aged 25 and 30, loved to play the game as kids, and says his wife credits the game for helping the girls learn colors. “They’d call out ‘Slug Bug!’ and she’d ask them to identify its color.”  

New Slug Bug-ers (or even “veterans” like myself) may not know that for each year that the Beetle has been around, there are probably just as many interpretations of the game, based on the Slug Bug websites I found. One says that if you grew up on the East Coast, you may know it as “Punch Buggy” (yep, that sounds pretty Ivy League, all right). Another discusses the finer points of the rules, such as “you can not slug the owner of a Beetle if you see their car” and “looking away from the Beetle and looking back does not give you the chance to slug again”.  (But walking away from one in a parking lot and seeing the same one again when you leave is eligible for slugging again.)   Another website extols the fun of the “adult” version of the game (using points, not slugs) and lists a printable point chart, including more points if the Beetle is yellow or if it’s a convertible (you really hit the jackpot if it’s a yellow convertible), and negative points for shouting out when a Beetle’s not there. This site even has a Slug Bug Council which you can contact for a ruling on Slug Bug game disputes, such as “Does the Beetle count if it’s on TV?” (yes, they say, as long as the other players are present).  

While some of you may be thinking, ‘Get a life, people’, the Slug Bug game, even in its simplest version, can sure make riding in traffic or on long car trips a lot more interesting, and even fun, provided any slugging is done with restraint.  And it must be a marketing and advertising bonus for Volkswagen. Think about it. Kids delight in spotting the brightly colored cars while playing the game and may dream of someday driving one. 

Based on the amount of daily slugbugging that has been going on within earshot of me lately, a lot of people ARE driving them.  Even Barbie drives one.  And now that our neighbors across the street have a bright greenish-yellow one, I get to hear the word yelled inside my house as well as in the car (and I get to experience getting slugged in the leg while opening the front door!).  All pain and noise aside, in this world of fast changes and sophisticated technology, it’s nice to know that some simple things stick around. 

There is a new game in town, however.  Just when I was wondering if another car manufacturer would ever try to start up a game like Slug Bug, it seems they (or their kids) already have.  A teenager riding in our car the other day yelled out “P.T. Cruiser Bruiser! No tag-backs!” and elbowed my six-year-old when she saw the unique-looking car rolling along beside us. 


Sorry, Chrysler, but it just didn’t have the same ring.  If you’re going to slug, it’s got to be a Bug.

The Twelve Days of Fishmas


(an edited version of the following, written by me, was printed in the Dallas Morning News on Jan. 31, 2001.)

“On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a really cool fish tank.”


My oldest daughter turned six on Thanksgiving Day, and we surprised her with something she’s wanted for a year: an aquarium.  Only this is no ordinary aquarium.  This is the 1.5 gallon Undersea Encounter Aquarium, ordered from the JC Penney Christmas catalog, complete with “underwater viewing scope” which moves up and down and rotates so kids can get a “face to fish” view!  And the tank has a “3-D undersea environment” with a fake volcano that bubbles if you buy an optional air pump! “Just add water and live fish!”  Even though I know from when I was a kid how hard it is to keep goldfish alive, I think maybe this time things will be different.  Surely things have changed since the 60’s and 70’s.  I mean, when I was a kid, my goldfish were in a bowl from Woolworth’s and didn’t have a fancy pump.  And I never had printed INSTRUCTIONS, for goodness sake. So I have high hopes that this time will be a success. My daughter eagerly awaits the trip to the fish store to choose the fish.

“On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me, two goldfish, and a really cool fish tank.”


After all the other things we had to do finally got done, she and I got to the fish store about thirty minutes before they closed.  I read the aquarium instructions for the first time while sitting in the car in the parking lot of the store.  “Oops,” I tell my daughter.  “It says here that you have to sit the water in an open container for 24 hours before pouring it into the fish tank.  We may not be able to get the fish tonight, but we’ll get the supplies.” Disappointed but still hopeful, she bounds into the store.   Instruction sheet in hand, I tick off the list of supplies we need, to the clerk.


“Gravel, a cellulose sponge, an air stone, three feet of tubing, goldfish food, water conditioner, and a small air pump.  Oh, and it says that the water has to sit for 24 hours before adding the fish.  Is that true?” I ask. “No,” the clerk says.  He tells me that as long as I put the instant water conditioner in, the water will be safe.  Great, I think.  I never had water conditioner when I was a kid.  Then another thought occurs to me.  “But another reason they say to sit out the water is to get it to room temperature.  If I get it straight from the tap, won’t it be too cold?” I ask.  “No, goldfish are cold water fish.  They’ll be fine,” he assures me.  Allison stands in front of a tank brimming with frisky goldfish that all look alike, trying to decide which to choose.  She chooses one that looks like it has a white mask on, and a non-descript looking one, and the clerk puts them in a plastic bag filled with water.  She carefully holds the bag of fish on her lap on the drive home, and by the time we get there, she has decided on names.  The white-masked one is christened Glowy, and the regular-looking one is Goldie.  She says that today is the happiest day of her life.

“On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, three prayers, two goldfish, and a really cool fish tank.”


Allison says she didn’t sleep well because the air pump hums too loud.  Still, she is extremely happy and sits in her bedroom watching the fish before we go to church. Goldie and Glowy do not look so happy.  They are swimming listlessly and do not dart to the top when we sprinkle on a little food. When Glowy finally eats, she appears to regurgitate it back into the water.  (Great, I think.  I have a cat that throws up and now a fish.)  I think the air pump is churning and bubbling much too hard for such a tiny tank.  Maybe that’s why they are distressed.  I turn it off.  I worry that the fish may not be alive when we get back from church.  While there, I say an extra prayer for Allison that she will be able to handle it if they die.  When we return after lunch, they’re alive.  Hallelujah.


 


“On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, four admonishments, three prayers, two goldfish, and a really cool fish tank.”


Allison actually gets ready for school on time this morning because she can’t wait to get to school to tell her friend, Emily, about her new pet fish.  Though the fish appeared to perk up for a short while yesterday, this morning they again refuse to eat and look like they’re breathing heavily. The water is cloudy. After Allison goes to school, I bundle up the baby and we head back to the fish store.  This time, Barry, the owner, is there.  He reminds me of “Nick Burns, the Computer Guy” on the Saturday Night Live skit– he is an expert in his field and can’t believe everyone else isn’t smarter about this stuff.  Barry rolls his eyes at my predicament and declares my aquarium a “toy”.  He informs me that I shouldn’t be feeding them every day at first, that I should have sat out the water to let chlorine escape into the air before I added the fish, and that I should turn the pump back on.  I buy an “air control valve” to help the pump not churn so much, and he promises to stop by my house later that day to check out the set-up. He says he wants to see what this new toy is all about, in person. Later that day, he stops by and has a good laugh.  He looks at my instructions and shows me which ones are completely wrong.  He vows to e-mail the company with a complaint. I say great, but my daughter loves this aquarium, can’t we make it work? He helps me hook up the air control valve, and shows me the proper amount to feed.  He says the cloudiness is normal with a new aquarium.   He says to page him if I have any more questions.  He leaves shaking his head, saying he’s tired of toy manufacturers getting into the business of selling aquariums, because they don’t do it right and then kids have a bad first experience with fish and don’t ever want to have them again.  I am hoping that is not the case with my child.


 


“On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, seven scoops of dirt, six tiny flowers, five salty tears, four admonishments, three prayers, two goldfish, and a really cool fish tank.”


When I was picking up in Allison’s room today, I looked in the tank, and there was Glowy, showing the obvious signs of fish rigor mortis.  Ah, how I remember it as a child– the blank staring look, the body on its side, curved into a “c” shape.  My mother-in-law had told me that if one of the fish died, to just replace it and Allison would never know the difference.  But of course the one that died just had to be the one with the unique white-masked face.  Damn. 


And there was Goldie, still looking distressed.  I found a paper cup and scooped out Glowy.  I decided to let Allison decide what to do with her when she got home from school.  I broke the news in the car on the way home.  She cried.  “At least you still have one,” I said.  What I didn’t know was that Glowy was her favorite of the two, and she was really upset, and cried all the way home.  This is the worst day of my life, she declared.  She decided to bury her in a backyard flowerbed.  “Can I go back and dig her up when I want to look at her?” she asked.  “No, I don’t think that would be a good idea,” I answered. Later that afternoon, I fed Goldie a little bit and she seemed to perk up.  Oh well, I thought, Barry said the tank was too small for two fish, anyway.


 


“On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, eight cups of cloudy water, seven scoops of dirt, six tiny flowers, five salty tears, four admonishments, three prayers, two goldfish, and a really cool fish tank.”

Well, the fish really didn’t even make it twelve days…when I went to wake up Allison for school, I saw that Goldie was now dead as well.  I tried to stand in front of the aquarium as Allison wiped the sleep from her eyes and sat up.  I was hoping she might be able to get to school without noticing– sometimes she got ready and didn’t look at the tank.  Not this morning. As soon as I left the room, she noticed.  She came into my room and softly said, “Mom, come here.  I think Goldie’s dead.” Yes, she is, I assured her.  She was sad, but didn’t seem to take it as hard.  She says she wants a beta to replace the goldfish, and a new aquarium.  I say okay to the new fish, but not a new aquarium.  “We’ll do things correctly from the start this time,” I say.  Before she leaves for school, she tells me she sprinkled some food in the tank, hoping it might revive Goldie.  Later that morning, I can’t believe I’m burying the second goldfish and will soon be elbow deep in the aquarium, sponging off the walls instead of “decking the halls” of my house…              
###
(Author’s update: the fish tank has forever since been stored in the garage, and we never got any fish again.  Our next pet after that was a long-haired guinea pig named Snickers.  Allison was allergic to its hair.)

Time to Celebrate

Isn’t “Fall Back Day” the greatest? You know, the day we “fall back” to Standard Time. The day that Daylight Saving Time ends.  I like it so much, it just might be my favorite holiday.  Oh, I know, it’s not really an “official” holiday.  But it should be.  In fact, they ought to just call it Mother’s Day and forget about that inferior shorter day in May. 

After all, if you’re a mother with kids still at home, isn’t time the one thing you wish you had more of? Time for yourself or your family or your laundry.  Time to make it to places on time. Time to do things you never do, like catch up in the family scrapbook/photo album, have lunch with a friend, fix your broken earrings, read a book, get 8 hours of sleep.  If you’re not a mother, you probably wish you had more time, too.  And the only day that actually gives you extra time is Fall Back Day, coming to a clock near you this Sunday.

Yeah, I know, it’s only an hour, but beggars can’t be choosers.  My to-do list is so long right now I’d be happy to take advantage of even 15 extra minutes. (And life just seems to go in slow motion when you need to get things done, doesn’t it?) And evidently with DST, thought up by Ben Franklin in 1784, a little time goes a long way.  According to webexhibits.org, an online “museum”, Daylight Saving Time reduces energy usage in some locations, and helps the economy (more daylight time to shop!). 

This year, the end of Daylight Saving falls on the day before my birthday, and I couldn’t think of a better present.  How will I spend those 60 precious extra minutes? Maybe reading the newspaper. Or cleaning my house, since my 85-year-old mother arrives on the same day to spend two weeks with us.  (Fall Back Day would also make a great “National Day of Service”, where everyone would pledge to use the extra 60 minutes to volunteer in their community.)

Maybe I should follow my own advice, published nine years ago in the Dallas Morning News, on how to make the most of this unique day (updates are in purple):
 

-Plan to use the extra time first thing in the morning, before distractions get in the way. Make sure you let your kids stay up an hour or so later than usual the night before. Otherwise they’ll wake up at the usual time (which in my house, can be the same time I arise or earlier
for my 10-year-old) and your precious moments of freedom could disappear. (That is, unless the one thing you never have enough time for is your family. In that case, rise and shine, everybody!) (If you’re a walker, early morning is smart because pedestrian fatalities increase three-fold in the evening right after the switch.)

-Don’t set your clock back before you go to bed – wait ’til the next day. There’s more dramatic impact when you wake up, look at the clock and for a brief moment think something like, “If I don’t get up now, I’m going to be late for church!” and then realize, “Aahh, it’s really only 6:30 a.m., not 7:30!” That is the blissful, annual moment when time is actually handed to you on a silver platter – so set yourself up to savor it.

-Plan ahead what you’re going to do once the time has arrived. 

 -Be thankful that you live in Texas (well, at least on that day), as opposed to Arizona, Hawaii and the eastern half of Indiana, where daylight-saving time is not observed. (Horrors!)  (Indiana is now on board)

 -Be flexible and have a sense of humor. Your best-made plans may have to be put off another year after being up all night with a sick child, or a neighborhood kid selling something rings your doorbell early in the morning and wakes everyone up.
Then again, you could always vow to take your next vacation across a couple of time zones…
###

Time to Celebrate

Isn’t “Fall Back Day” the greatest? You know, the day we “fall back” to Standard Time. The day that Daylight Saving Time ends.  I like it so much, it just might be my favorite holiday.  Oh, I know, it’s not really an “official” holiday.  But it should be.  In fact, they ought to just call it Mother’s Day and forget about that inferior shorter day in May. 

After all, if you’re a mother with kids still at home, isn’t time the one thing you wish you had more of? Time for yourself or your family or your laundry.  Time to make it to places on time. Time to do things you never do, like catch up in the family scrapbook/photo album, have lunch with a friend, fix your broken earrings, read a book, get 8 hours of sleep.  If you’re not a mother, you probably wish you had more time, too.  And the only day that actually gives you extra time is Fall Back Day, coming to a clock near you this Sunday.

Yeah, I know, it’s only an hour, but beggars can’t be choosers.  My to-do list is so long right now I’d be happy to take advantage of even 15 extra minutes. (And life just seems to go in slow motion when you need to get things done, doesn’t it?) And evidently with DST, thought up by Ben Franklin in 1784, a little time goes a long way.  According to webexhibits.org, an online “museum”, Daylight Saving Time reduces energy usage in some locations, and helps the economy (more daylight time to shop!). 

This year, the end of Daylight Saving falls on the day before my birthday, and I couldn’t think of a better present.  How will I spend those 60 precious extra minutes? Maybe reading the newspaper. Or cleaning my house, since my 85-year-old mother arrives on the same day to spend two weeks with us.  (Fall Back Day would also make a great “National Day of Service”, where everyone would pledge to use the extra 60 minutes to volunteer in their community.)

Maybe I should follow my own advice, published nine years ago in the Dallas Morning News, on how to make the most of this unique day (updates are in purple):
 

-Plan to use the extra time first thing in the morning, before distractions get in the way. Make sure you let your kids stay up an hour or so later than usual the night before. Otherwise they’ll wake up at the usual time (which in my house, can be the same time I arise or earlier
for my 10-year-old) and your precious moments of freedom could disappear. (That is, unless the one thing you never have enough time for is your family. In that case, rise and shine, everybody!) (If you’re a walker, early morning is smart because pedestrian fatalities increase three-fold in the evening right after the switch.)

-Don’t set your clock back before you go to bed – wait ’til the next day. There’s more dramatic impact when you wake up, look at the clock and for a brief moment think something like, “If I don’t get up now, I’m going to be late for church!” and then realize, “Aahh, it’s really only 6:30 a.m., not 7:30!” That is the blissful, annual moment when time is actually handed to you on a silver platter – so set yourself up to savor it.

-Plan ahead what you’re going to do once the time has arrived. 

 -Be thankful that you live in Texas (well, at least on that day), as opposed to Arizona, Hawaii and the eastern half of Indiana, where daylight-saving time is not observed. (Horrors!)  (Indiana is now on board)

 -Be flexible and have a sense of humor. Your best-made plans may have to be put off another year after being up all night with a sick child, or a neighborhood kid selling something rings your doorbell early in the morning and wakes everyone up.
Then again, you could always vow to take your next vacation across a couple of time zones…
###

My Day With Ted Kennedy and his Family

I don’t know why, but my tiny hometown (Burlington, Iowa, pop. 28,000) sure got its share of celebrity visits while I was growing up, and I got to experience a lot of them.  Red Skelton shook my hand, and Bob Hope signed my blue flowered autograph book not far from where my friend Debbie wrote “Roses are red, lillies are white, here’s my name, to prove I can write!”  I got to meet Chauncey, the famous cougar from the Mercury auto ads, and watched in total reverance as Miss America Phyllis George banged out “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” on the piano, onstage at Burlington Memorial Auditorium. Being part of the Iowa caucus political trail, Burlington was visited by many politicians– my mom and I snuck out of our Republican, ranch-style house early one morning to wait down by the Mississippi River to see President Jimmy Carter pull up on the Delta Queen– he walked back and tousled my hair when I told him “God bless you!” as he passed me in the receiving line.  And on a cold January day in 1980, as a senior in high school, I got to skip school and be a courier for CBS News as Ted Kennedy toured Southeast Iowa in his bid to become President. I had almost forgotten about that day, hanging out with his kids and meeting Ted and his wife, until the recent news of Sen. Kennedy’s death. A friend and I were talking about it and suddenly the memories came flooding back.  It prompted me to look through my piles of “stuff” to find the issue of my high school newspaper in which I recounted the experience.  It’s worth sharing, because I think you’d find it interesting, even though it’s written by an 18-year-old me and the encounter with his kids was like SNL’s “The Chris Farley Show”.  Here it is, awkwardness, wordiness and all (I’ve put commentary in red italics):

My Day With the Kennedy Family
From  Vol. 70, No. 9 of “The Purple and Gray”, student newspaper of Burlington Community High School, published Friday, January 18, 1980.


   In August, I shook hands with the President of the United States and four months later I did the same with his “understudy” (Vice President Walter Mondale had paid a visit to my high school).  Why then should I have gotten excited about the chance to meet a “mere” senator? Probably because he was a Kennedy, and probably because in the meantime, I would be hobnobbing with some big-name reporters. (Gee, always the journalist...)   These were my feelings on Friday, Jan. 4, when I was offered the chance to be a courier for CBS News during Senator Ted Kennedy’s visit to S.E. Iowa.  CBS often likes to have high school students assist reporters when they’re away on assignment. (Wonder if that’s still true…)
   I got involved through a series of conversations.  First, CBS called (local) radio station KBUR’s Bill Henry and told him of their need for a courier.  Then Henry called Mr. Cameron (an assistant principal with a buzz cut) at Burlington High School to relay the request.  Mr. Cameron in turn talked to Mrs. Oriano, the P & G advisor, thinking that a journalism student might be interested in the job and could also report on the event for the newspaper.  She excitedly asked me if I was interested.  (Thank you Mrs. O, wherever you are!) At first I envisioned myself greeting the Kennedys at Municipal Airport and riding in their limousine.  Later I found out my job wouldn’t be quite like that, after getting a phone call from Susan Zirinsky, a CBS news correspondent in Washington, D. C. (she’s now the executive producer of CBS’ 48 Hours and other special projects).  She told me to meet her in Keokuk (a city about 40 miles south of Burlington) on Jan. 7, the day of the senator’s visit.  She and the press traveled behind his limousine by bus, and she needed me to drive her back to the airport so she could fly back to Washington.  Then I would continue on with the rest of the press.  She also informed me that I would be getting paid (I think I got $75, which was huge to a high schooler back then!), and that it would be lots of fun.
   So, limousine or no, I still looked forward to the job– and besides, I was excused from a whole day of school! And I thought that maybe Ted’s wife, daughter, and “foxy” son Teddy would be with him…(Nothing screams the 80’s quite like the word, “foxy”, don’t you think?  Oh, just bring on the disco music right now...) “How nice to meet you, Teddy Jr.” I said in my daydream.  “You’d like me to visit you at your Massachusetts mansion? I’d love to!” (just as long as William Kennedy Smith isn’t there…)
  The night before the big day was filled with snow, ice, and hazardous road warnings, but Monday the 7th was sunny and beautiful.  Purple and Gray photographer Dedria Ford accompanied me on the trip.  She made the drive go faster and provided moral support (Dad let me take the brand new family car so I was a little edgy.) (I think it was a candy apple red Buick Skylark) We left early for Keokuk so I could find the airport, using a carefully drawn map from Dad.  That accomplished, we next looked for the Labor Temple, where Kennedy was to speak and where we would meet Susan.
   All we accomplished from being early was getting a good parking space; otherwise, Kennedy was over two hours late, and we had to stand those hours in a small room packed with people.  The only entertainment was the Secret Service men pacing back and forth to the beat of the Keokuk High School marching band.  The choppy sounds of “Rocky” and other inspiring songs filled the air.  Luckily, we spotted a familiar face.  Mr. Pat Hogan, our beloved BHS Social Studies teacher, is an active Kennedy supporter and Keokuk native, and was an organizer of the event.  He took the stage amid cheering fans, and soon started leading chants of “We want Ted!” (Looking back, this guy looked a lot like Howard Dean, especially when he was pumping up the crowd!) When the senator finally arrived, so did two Continental Trailways busloads of cameramen and reporters.  They poured into the room as I frantically looked for Susan.  Amid the rush, I only got a glimpse of Kennedy.
   I didn’t have to take Susan to the airport after all, but a lady from NBC needed me to drive some videotapes there instead. (Though rival networks, they shared a private plane.)   As I gave the bag of tapes to the pilot and said, “Someone will meet you in Des Moines,” I felt like I was in a spy movie.
   Next, we were to drive to Fort Madison (about halfway between Keokuk and Burlington) and be at the Consolidated Packaging Corporation, where Kennedy took a tour of the factory with his family– Yes, WITH HIS FAMILY! Since it was reporters only and no public, I was able to get a close view of them. (gee, such privileged ins
iders…)
  Dedria and I had to keep reminding ourselves that it was “for real.” But that wasn’t too hard– half of the tour was outside and we trudged along a smelly path of oil, wood chips, and gravel in the sub-freezing weather.
   Once again we left a few minutes ahead of the group for the next stop, Burlington.  Kennedy was scheduled to speak that night at the Holiday Inn (the Holiday Inn was once considered Burlington’s fanciest hotel, having recently remodeled and built a dome over the pool, complete with Astroturf, fake trees, black “iron” balconies and room fronts decorated to look like The French Quarter.)  Two adjoining rooms were turned into “filing rooms”, for phoning and typing, for the press (that would be making calls from land lines and typing on typewriters, not computers)(I remember Chris Wallace was there and many more familiar faces, but memory eludes me on that.) Dedria and I stayed in the rooms for a little while but got bored, so we sought other excitement  I got the idea of interviewing Teddy Jr. and Kara, the Kennedy teens.  Dan Bell, BHS senior and a Holiday Inn employee, wanted to help, (he must have been on a work study program to be out of school that day?) so he simply went up to their room and asked the Secret Service men if it could be arranged.  That effort failed.  We asked a security woman to help, but she was too busy.  Dedria and I finally resigned ourselves to ordering BLT sandwiches and eating them at a poolside table, near the Kennedy rooms “to try and catch a glimpse.”  Dan joined us.
   Well, we got more than a glimpse.  No sooner had I bitten into my sandwich than Kara and Teddy Jr. nonchalantly walked past our table and up to the bar.  A few spectators began talking to them and getting snapshots, so I thought, why not me, too? I wasn’t about to blow a chance like that! I walked up to Kara and tapped her on the arm.  She turned and smiled, puffing a cigarette. (Didn’t she eventually have lung cancer?)  I introduced myself and asked her if she and Teddy would join Dedria and I for an interview.  Kara didn’t like that idea too well, so I pleaded, “Well, at least sit and talk with us during dinner? I figure you’re pretty sick of all these adults.”  Kara replied,”I’ll see what Teddy wants to do.”
   But she didn’t ask him, so as he walked away from the bar with his beer (I think the legal drinking age in Iowa then was 18), I walked up to him, repeating the request to talk with them over dinner.  His reply was favorable, and soon Dedria, Dan, Teddy Jr., Kara and I were sitting at the black wrought-iron table.  I told myself I was going to be cool and collected, but it was hard to think of intelligent things to say.  Dedria began, “So, how do you like Iowa?”
   Teddy said that he really liked it, that it was interesting.
   “Yeah, like touring box plants?” I joked.
   “No, really,” he said.  “I like it.  I haven’t been out this way much at all.”  He’s also never been to New Orleans, and was fascinated by the Holidome’s unique decor. (surely he was also mesmerized by that word, “Holidome”…)
   Both Kara, 19, and Teddy, 18, attend college in Connecticut, she at Trinity and he at Wesleyan.  They’re taking off a semester to campaign.  They were surprised to learn that their cousin Joe had campaigned at Burlington High School. 
   When we asked why they weren’t surrounded by Secret Service men (although the men were stationed throughout the Holidome), Teddy and Kara looked at eachother, and he laughed and said, “Kara’s my bodyguard and I’m hers.”
   Before I could really feel at ease, Teddy had to cut the conversation short so he could do some telephoning to Iowa Democrats.  As he got up to leave, Kara followed him and they both cordially said good-bye.   All Dedria and I could do was keep remarking how we couldn’t believe we got to talk with them.
   But that wasn’t our last encounter.  After the senator spoke in the Regency Royale Room (Oooh, such gilded luxury.  I think that’s where one of my high school proms was held), we joined the reception line and shook hands with Ted, his wife, Joan, and the children.  To the children, I expressed how glad I was that they talked with us and wished them well in school.
   My final assignment as a courier was to drive to the Burlington airport and make sure the press plane took off safely.  (It did.) (If it didn’t, my job was to call Susan’s office.)   As we watched the journalists file off the buses for the last time, Dedria and I realized our big day would soon be a memory.  I was glad to have gotten a chance to peek at a family I’d read so much about, and to work with Susan.  (She said she’d call me again.) (She didn’t.) But I do have one complaint– I never got invited to Teddy’s mansion! (I’m still waiting!) ###


(photo taken by me with a Kodak “Pocket Instamatic”) Senator Ted Kennedy takes off his hardhat and approaches the microphone at Consolidated Packaging Corporation in Keokuk, Iowa, January 7, 1980. Wife Joan is at the right, and son Teddy Jr. is in the back, also in a CPC jacket.  Kara is to the left of Teddy. (Teddy Jr. looked very much like American Idol Season One runner-up Justin Guarini…)

Circle of Caregiving

The thought just hit me, as I was driving in my car this morning, that yesterday was the six-year anniversary of my father’s passing, at age 81.  In remembrance of that, I wanted to share a column I wrote that was published in the Dallas Morning News in the same year, 2003.  I think it speaks volumes to a lot of people but unfortunately it got buried on an inside, all black and white page among many ads, so I’m not sure a lot of people noticed.  I hope a lot of people will notice now.

                                                           

Caregivers’ Cares Span Generations
by Patricia Long Allbee




Never in my wildest imagination, when I was deciding to become a full-time Mom, did I think that someday my own mother would have someone in diapers shortly after I did. Granted, while her brand of choice is Depends and the person she’s taking care of is over seven decades older than my children, the similarities of our situations have been amazing.  At first I just noticed a few— I brush my 4-year-old’s teeth at night, she brushes Dad’s; I use a baby monitor to sometimes keep an ear on my children; she asked to borrow it so she could hear Dad better; she worried for weeks about what it would be like to take Dad on an airplane, ditto for me for my first plane trip with children. But when she phoned me one day in exasperation, saying, “I can never get anything done.  I never have any time for myself.  He’s calling to me, wanting something all the time!” it was a strong déjà vu experience, and I realized that the “circle of life” is much more than a song from a Disney musical. I have also realized that for the first time, I can be a shoulder for Mom to lean on, returning the favor of a lifetime of Mom always being the solid rock.

She is grateful for my empathy and words of encouragement.  I knew exactly what she meant when she e-mailed and said some days she can’t even take a shower for fear of him hurting himself.  I nodded knowingly when she told me that he was always bored if she took him along to the grocery store or hair salon but leaving him home would mean having to hire a sitter, and that could get expensive.  I shared her frustration at the story of her spending a physically demanding day of caregiving only to get yelled at by Dad at day’s end.  And boy could I relate about not getting any sleep due
to someone constantly needing something in the night —I remember being a walking zombie when my children were infants, and sometimes it’s still hard to get a complete night’s sleep.

“Finally, someone understands,” she says.

I am careful, however, not to be flippant and act like our situations are exactly the same, because I’m well aware that they’re not.  In spite of dealing with public tantrums, numerous lost shoes, and permanent marker stains on the wallpaper, there is a lot of joy that goes with my caregiving.  I’m nurturing and growing young people, looking forward to them reaching their fullest potential, with a husband to help me.  She’s watching someone slowly fade away—someone she’s loved and to which she’s devoted most of her life, and she’s doing it alone, 13 hours away from me and many more hours away from my siblings.

For extra support, I encouraged her to hire someone two or three days a week to sit with Dad and take care of tasks such as bathing and dressing.  “I have Mother’s Day Out,” I told her.  “You need one, too!” 

I also encouraged her to get together with friends who had gone through a similar experience.  I told her I’d found lots of my own support in neighbors, in my babysitting co-op and in a group called Mothers of Preschoolers. But even though she has numerous friends, she has never been one to share a lot of personal details, and didn’t want to be a “bother” to them.

So I continue to be Mom’s sounding board, trying to relate when I can, which is still surprisingly more often than not.

“I just can hardly take the stress anymore,” Mom said through tears one day.  “And I feel so bad because I told him so!” Ah, guilt… how often have I cried over how I sometimes react to my kids in a not-so-patient way and say things I wish I hadn’t.

A few months ago at a family wedding reception, she and I found ourselves in the same buffet line.  Mom lamented that she was ‘starving’ but that she couldn’t eat yet since she always has to fix a plate for Dad first.  Then she looked down at my plate, and, pointing to the kid-sized portions on it, laughed.

“You, too, huh?” she asked.
“Me, too,” I replied.

Musings on DVD Players in Cars

Following is a column of mine that was published in the Dallas Morning News on July 11, 2001. Replace the word “VCR” with “DVD Player” and it’s still relevant.  Only now, things have gotten worse.  People are popping in DVDs just to drive their kid to the grocery store. Completely limits any family conversation that could take place during that journey. And once your kids turn age 5, the percentage of time they spend away from you (in school and other activities ) is forever greater than the time they spend with you– and, concurrently, a lot of the time you manage to have with them is spent in the car driving to activities, if you’re like a lot of busy families.  So why not make the most of the time you have?  Some of the most interesting questions from my kids have come while riding in the car…






Should Cars Have VCRs? I Can’t See It


By Patricia Long Allbee



When moms gather to gab, I’ve noticed in the last year that when the subject is summer vacation, there are always several people singing the praises of the tiny “travel VCR” for vacationing by auto. 


“It’s great,” said one mom.  “We just pop a tape in when we leave and keep popping them in until we get there, and hardly hear a peep out of the kids.”


I just smile and nod and say something like, “We’ll have to give it a try,” and then firmly bite my tongue.  While inside I’m thinking about how sad it is that the TV/VCR has invaded perhaps the last bastion of family togetherness.  I mean, first it invades the evening meal, then it encroaches upon bedtime stories, and now road trips? It’s almost a sacrilege.


I’ll admit, if travel VCRs had become commonplace several years ago, I might have gone for one as well.  When my oldest, now 6, was a baby, I wouldn’t consider making the 850-mile trip to my parents’ home via car.  The thought petrified me, and it didn’t get any better as she got older.  What would we do with a child in the car all that way? Wouldn’t it be hard? Wouldn’t it drive us crazy? It’s so FAR, it would take forever.  And my husband would have to take extra vacation days just to drive! So we flew, and because of the expense, not often. If someone had told me that a few Barney videos could solve all my problems, I might have been tempted.


But now I know better. A few years, a larger vehicle and a second child later, my husband suggested driving.  Before panic could fully grip me, he looked up the easiest, quickest route on an Internet map site and said, “It’s only 13 1/2 hours. If we left in the late afternoon and drove ‘til midnight, the kids would sleep a lot during that time, and the next day, we’d be there at lunchtime.” I exhaled.  That’s do-able, I thought. (Much better than his original “he-man” plan, which was to leave at night and drive straight through, non-stop.)   To fill in the non-sleeping hours, I decided to plan everything out, an “itinerary” so to speak. It went something like this: 3-3:30, Free Time for Mom and Dad- kids play with coloring books; 3:30-4, Snack Time and listen to kids’ music cassettes; 4:00, Stretch Break at the nearest park; 4:30, Mom gets in back and plays with one child; 5:00, Mom switches seats and plays games with other child while first child plays with basket of toys; 5:30 Auto Bingo; 6:00, Dinner break.


It appealed to the control freak /list-maker in me and was the only way I could see to manage it. (I also knew that if I simply began the trip by giving the kids a bag of toys and said, “Have fun!” they’d go through all of them before we ever got out of the city limits.) It was fun buying the snacks for the cooler and coming up with inexpensive  activities (my top picks: Books and matching audio cassettes from the library; Mad Libs word game tablets; hidden picture workbooks; and Viewmaster reels, all saved only for trips, to make them special.)  The kids had a great time, and needless to say, I haven’t bought another plane ticket to Grandma and Grandpa’s.


I know that some moms grimace at the thought of doing an “itinerary” and that a VCR seems so much easier.  But “doing fun things” isn’t the only benefit from not using a travel VCR. Without being glued to the tube, it’s much easier for kids to “See America First”.  I always think that if we had had a VCR over the last two years, my kids would’ve missed seeing the spectacular mountain scenery in Arkansas, or the McDonald’s that stretches completely over the highway in Kansas, or the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri, or the Sam Houston statue near Huntsville.  In fact, when given the chance, kids are usually so observant they’ll point out interesting things that aren’t even on the map.


And when we run out of things to do and sights to see, we’ve actually been known to talk (gasp!) or sing a bunch of songs (double gasp!) Okay, before this family starts sounding sickeningly sugar coated, I’ll admit that the trips are not perfect. Sometimes the kids don’t like all the toys, or the snacks, or both. Last summer, the time on my plans marked “Kids Sleep” was anything but that.  Yes, we heard, “Are we there yet?” way more than we wanted.  Yes, we were tired, and yes, it was hard. But not enough to make me cave in and get a VCR.  (Next time I’ll be sure to bring larger pillows.)

 Maybe if our trip was double or triple the miles, I might borrow one, but then use it only with limits.  Most kids, including mine, see too much video and TV on a daily basis at home.  Isn’t vacation supposed to be a break from routine? ###