Please be a Bad Mother

On August 18th of this year, a 15-year old girl went missing from her home in Elgin, SC.  Gabbie Swainson was last seen by her mother.  She was safe in her own bed with her cell phone in her hand when her mother left to go to work at approximately 4:00 am.  When Gabbie’s mother came home from work, her daughter was gone.

Gabbie Swainson

She was a good girl, a cheerleader, an honor student and not the type of 15-year old girl who might run away from home and not answer repeated calls to her cell phone.  It was quickly determined that she was abducted.  As the story was broadcast on local news stations, all mothers of young teenage girls held them a little closer and prayed for Gabbie’s safe return.  I remember becoming physically ill one morning on my way to the airport because I had just left my own daughter at home at 6:30 am.  From that moment on, I didn’t leave Tink alone.

Young teenage girls were scared.  I remember trying to reassure Tink by telling her that in most of these situations the abductor is someone who knows the family and has access to the home.  I explained to her that we didn’t have that situation in our family and we talked through all the people who had keys to our home and what to do if adult friends show up unannounced at her school or at home.

Very quickly a “friend of the family” was labeled as a person of interest and then as a suspect.  The local sheriff gave multiple news conferences and each time he was asked if there was any relationship between the suspect and Gabbie’s mother, the answer was always “he’s just a family friend.”  I felt somewhat relieved and pointed out to Tink that my prediction was correct.

Groups gathered to show support and people assisted the police in searching for Gabbie.  Tink even attended a cheerleader rally to “Bring Gabbie Home” because Gabbie was a cheerleader at her high school.  I prayed for Gabbie’s safe return but I also fervently prayed for her mother.  I couldn’t imagine her horror.  After 3 weeks, my prayers changed.  If Gabbie couldn’t come home, could she please not be suffering anymore.

Gabbie – an outgoing 15-year old cheerleader

When the news finally broke that the main suspect, Freddie Grant, was a person with whom Gabbie’s mother had once had a romantic relationship, that he had spent the night in the home on more than one occasion, and that he possessed a key to the home, many people were outraged.

I remember a conversation with the mother of one of Tink’s friends:  “I knew something was off with that woman at the memorial service.  There weren’t nearly enough tears for me!  And now she says that man had a key to her home and spent the night there?  No, there’s something wrong with that woman and she did something to her daughter!”

Now the lack of tears did not spark suspicion in me.  When Tink was 9 years old, she wandered off during our vacation at Disney World.  I had methodically searched every stall in the bathroom before I went to the front desk and reported my daughter missing.  I’ll never forget that young man’s words on the phone, “I have an actual missing child”.  My husband was frantic and panicked.  My outward appearance was eerily calm as I described what Tink was wearing and retrieved a picture from my wallet.  I was in the process of spelling out her name and ours when she came wheeling around the corner in her heelies.  (shoes with wheels that were extremely popular at the time)  I ran, grabbed Tink and made sure she was safe and unharmed.  Then I promptly fell apart.  I didn’t have to be strong anymore because I’d found my daughter.  So I don’t blame Gabbie’s mom for not crying enough at the Memorial Service.  She was trying to be strong.

I said that people were outraged.  Really, we were relieved.  Because now we could point our self-righteous fingers at Gabbie’s mother and say, “You are a bad mother.  You did things I would never do and that is why this happened to you.”  But the entire time we are also secretly thinking, “Therefore, it can’t happen to me.”

As of today, Gabbie is still missing.  Duct tape with her blood on it was found in the home of the suspect, Freddie Grant.  Most of us assume that Gabbie is deceased.  Almost everyone except, of course, Gabbie’s mother.  I don’t believe Gabbie’s mother did anything wrong.  I believe she was a single woman who had a relationship with a man whom she thought was safe to have around her daughter.  I think she would give her life and soul to go back in time and never allow Freddie Grant on her property much less near her family.  I believe she is a good mother.  And that’s extremely hard to do.  Not because she wasn’t a good mother to Gabbie, but because if something this horrific can happen to a good mother and her family, then it can happen to me and my family.

Please say a prayer to bring Gabbie home.  We all need Gabbie to come home.  Her mother needs her to come home.

(Click here for an interview with Gabbie’s Mother)

I Was Once an Expert At Parenting

It’s true!  You may not believe it, but I was once an expert at parenting and imparting valuable advice to poor, befuddled parents.  I had all the answers and knew just what to do in every situation.  So what happened?  Where did all this knowledge go?  Well the answer to that is simple:  I had a child of my own.  And suddenly I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was.

Before Tink was born, there was Connor.  Really, when I think back, it’s a miracle there is a Tink considering her cousin Connor came first.  Connor was my Sister-in-Law, Jenn, and her second husband’s first child.  Go ahead and re-read that sentence if you need to.  By the time Connor was 2, he was an expert too.  An expert at throwing tantrums.  Good heavens he was a willful child!  You couldn’t be in the same room with him for more than an hour without him throwing a tantrum about something.  It was so bad, invitations to family gatherings went something like this, “Oh, we’re all getting together for dinner tomorrow?  Jenn coming?  Bringing Connor?  Yes, I suppose he is part of the family too.  No, no there’s no problem, it’s just that I was going to wash my hair tomorrow and I don’t know if I can make it.”

The family as a group never spoke of Connor’s … um …. wilfulness, but whenever two of us were alone together we inevitably compared our thoughts as to what would be best for him.  I was certain that if Jenn and her husband would just be more firm, refuse to give in to his whinny tactics, and maybe paddle his behind more often, he would be a much more pleasant child.

“I don’t know any parents that look into the eyes of a newborn baby and say, ‘How can we screw this kid up?’” – Russell Bishop

One Thanksgiving, when Connor was 2 and half, I was watching him as he played outside while other, more talented cooks prepared the feast.  I thought I had the “easy” job, playing with the “baby”.  HA!  The house Jenn and her husband were renting wasn’t really child-friendly and it was also located perilously close to a major roadway.  I had forbidden Connor from playing near the steps that led up to the sidewalk and into the road.  I will never, in my whole life, forget the twinkle in his eye as Connor looked at me, then turned and ran up those steps.  He was 2 and a half, but he flew up those steps, reached the sidewalk and was headed straight for the 4-lane highway in 2 seconds flat!  Luckily, I ran too and I lifted him by the back of his shirt and in my memory I see his foot dangling over the street but I’m told I had him firmly in my grasp several steps earlier.  Oh.  My.  God.  I think this moment is less about Connor’s wilfulness than about the fact that this was my first clue that I might not be an expert on children and how to parent them after all.

Expert? Spock wasn’t even from Earth what did he know about babies?

Anyway, I continued to list to anyone who would listen, all of Connor’s parents’ shortcomings and what they must do differently.  I expressed these opinions through all 9 months of my pregnancy and right up until Tink’s first tantrum.  Yep, after that I was officially no longer an expert.

What made me think of all of this was a picture Connor’s sister posted of him on Facebook the other day.  It was a picture from the local newspaper.  Today, Connor is the 6’3″ starting Quarterback of his High School football team and he will graduate in May in the top 10% of his class.  And he is the most pleasant, polite and wonderfully brilliant young man.  So, what conclusions can we draw from this story?  Well, there are several, but here’s what I think is most important:  Thank goodness I was there to give Connor’s parents all that great advice!

I knew he’d be athletic when he ran up those steps!

Were you ever an expert about something until you found out you weren’t?

So Much For Banker’s Hours

image via graphicsfactory.com

So it’s 8:30 pm and I’m just sitting in front of the TV watching Pawn Stars and I hear a faint ringing.  [Hey – Pawn Stars is on the History channel so don’t judge me!]  I turned my cell phone down during our meeting at the bank earlier in the day and I almost didn’t hear it.  I see it’s a local exchange but not a number I have saved in my phone and therefore must be a wrong number so I didn’t answer.  Besides, they are trying to figure out how much an Olympic Torch from the 1984 Olympics should cost – this is riveting stuff!

Pawn Stars

Image via Wikipedia

As my phone rings for a second time I reluctantly answer it.  I suppose it could be an emergency but most likely a wrong number.  I flash back to a time when cell phones were not as common as they are now and occasionally I would answer a late night call and hear something like “Hey baby, watch you doin’?”  Now those were WRONG numbers!

Anyway, I answer and the nice professional lady says, “Angry?”  Wow – what do you know, this call is for me!  “Hi, this is Lisa from the bank.  Do you have a moment to chat?”  Oh holy crap!  What could have gone so terribly wrong with our account that they are calling us at 8:32 pm??  “Um . . .” I stuttered, “Sure?”  I mean what the heck do you tell the BANK when they call you at NIGHT?  “No, I’m waiting to see how much this idiot gets for his Olympic Torch so he can go buy surf boards”?  (I just thought that line I didn’t say it to Lisa – she might judge me)  Lisa goes on to say that she’s ‘just working night and day lately’.  She’s calling me at 8:32 pm so evidently she really is.  Nothing was wrong, she just had a few questions so she could get our refinance paperwork started.  I guess when interest rates drop to 3.25%, Refinance Specialists don’t get to work banker’s hours.

Interestingly enough when we were AT the bank earlier in the day, discussing a 10 year loan and what our plans were for paying for our daughter’s college education I said to my husband, “Do you realize that in 10 years when we pay off the house, Tink will have graduated from college?”  We just sat there staring at each other.  That was a very sobering thought.  Neither of us could bring ourselves to imagine a world in which Tink was not living in our home with us.  It was a few hours later before it dawned on me that we could only HOPE that in 10 years the house is paid off , Tink has a 4-year degree in something other than Parks, Recreation and Tourism, a good paying job and her own place to live.  Equally as horrifying is if in 10, 15 or 20 years Tink, her husband Bubba and 4 children ARE living with us.

Anyway, bankers hours now last until at least 8:41 pm (when our conversation ended) and I’ve got to be prepared to write checks for college tuition in about 4.5 years.  I suppose I should tell Tink that if she’s looking for a 9 to 5 job when she grows up she should probably go ahead and scratch Banker off her list.

PS – It turns out there were quite a few 1984 Olympic Torches and it was only worth about $1200.  You know you were wondering how that turned out.

Sarajevo 1984 olympic torch, Olympic museum La...

1984 Olympic Torch Image via Wikipedia

Conversation with a 5-year old

Near to heaven

Heaven? (Image via Wikipedia)

A wonderful blogger, WorryWart, posted The Long Story of How Liver Becomes Pâté a few weeks ago and it gave me the idea of posting this conversation that I recorded in my journal between my daughter and I from over 8 years ago.  WorryWart is a terrific blogger and I’m sure you will love her story if you haven’t already read it.  I hope you like mine.

To give you a little background, my husband’s father passed away in February 2001.  My daughter, Tink, was not quite 2 years old at the time.  She had a vague memory of her Papa, but this particular summer she seemed to be putting together that he was “missing”.  My husband, Tink and I were visiting my sister-in-law and her family and had just returned from visiting my parents.  Here is mine and Tink’s conversation from Sunday July 27, 2003 when she was 5 years old:

Tink Age 5 - Full of questions!

T= Tink    M = Me

T – Is Nana at the beach?

M – Yes

T – Who is with her?

M – Adam and June, Alicia and Jessie and Aunt Barbara.

T – Is Papa, well you know I have a Papa at Grandmama’s house and I used to have a Papa at Nana’s house?  Is he at the beach too?

M – No he’s not

T – Well where is he?

M – He’s in heaven

T – Why?

M – Because he passed away a while back when you were a baby.

T – You mean he died?

M – Yes

T – Why?

M – His heart stopped beating.

T – It just stopped?

M – Yes

T – You mean it stopped beeping? (I made a note that Tink clasped her hands over her chest and her eyes were very big.  She also thought at this age that hearts “beeped” instead of “beat”)

M – Yes

T – Maybe he got old and got dead ’cause that happens when you get old?

M – Sometimes, yes.

T – But you’re not old Mommy, you’re not old (she was shaking her head)

M – No baby, I’m not old.  (I’m not trying to compliment myself here, but to ease the mind of my child you understand)  I say I’m old sometimes but I’m not really old.

T – You say you’re old, but you’re not really old?

M – That’s right baby.

There was a short pause while her little brain tried to wrap itself around our conversation.  Then Tink narrowed her eyes and looked at me and said:

T – You mean you LIED????

Just so you know, our conversation pattern has not changed all that much 8 years later.  Enjoy the weekend folks!  I’ll be back on Monday with more random ramblings!

Dodge Ball

The other day my daughter came home from school and told me that they are going to be playing Dodgeball during a few classes the following week.  My response was something along the lines of “Oh my God why???” 

People usually have one of two responses to Dodgeball – either they fondly remember bashing the crap out of fellow classmates with the ball and winning or, like me, the word strikes terror in your heart.  That the darn ball stung like hell and it didn’t matter that the teacher said “no hitting in the face,” us nerdy, wimpy, short, pale kids always got hit first and always in the face!  I distinctly remembering cowering and begging my teacher not to make me play dodgeball.  Please let me do anything other than this, but no, everyone had to participate.  Never fail, less than 90 seconds into the game the ball would smack me upside my head, usually thrown by that stupid mean boy, Billy Johnson, and I’d be out with a red streak down my face.  If only my teacher had listened I would be sitting down already minus the damn red streak on my face!

It seems that my daughter’s school was participating in a fund-raiser for the American Heart Association by having a dodgeball competition and kids had to pay $5 to participate.  I was even more confused that my daughter actually was willing to pay money to play this horrific, tortuous game.  I would have given twice that much in my day to avoid dodgeball!

Over 14 years ago when I was pregnant and found out I was having a girl, I imagined what my daughter would be like.  She would be incredibly smart, petite and beautiful.  She would love to read and write like me and we would spend hours discussing books together.  We would have so much in common and life would be full of flowers and butterflies.

I often point out to my family and friends that God has a sense of humor.  My daughter IS beautiful and smart but that’s where the similarities between us end.  (like how I gave myself a couple of compliments there but it looked as though I was complimenting my daughter?)  She is also athletic and already taller than me, both of which I admire and envy.  She gets these traits from her father.

This was just the latest example of how different my daughter is from me.  If she didn’t look like a mini-me I would march her down to the hospital and demand a DNA test to prove that she wasn’t switched with my real child.  My daughter has been a gymnast, a cheerleader, wanted to go out for basketball and volleyball and now wants to participate in a non-mandatory game of Dodgeball???  Sometimes I’m convinced that my real child, a teeny pale nerd wearing coke-bottle-bottom glasses, is out there somewhere re-reading War and Peace for extra credit. 

So after Day One of this Dodgeball, my daughter tells me that her team not only won but that she was never hit by the ball and was the last girl standing on her team.  I admit, I was impressed.  On Day Two she tells me what I dreaded.  She was smacked in the face with the ball.  Oh here is something that I can relate to!  I can sympathize with my daughter because this has happened to me!  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not happy that she was hit in the face, but I’m thinking that this is a topic that I know something about.  I can’t help her when she expresses her concern over not getting her back tuck at gymnastics.  Hell, I still don’t even know what a back tuck is!

So I ask, “What did you do?  Did you cry?  I used to cry.”  She says, “No,” shaking her head and getting angry all over again.  (Now that is something she gets from me, her anger!)  “The boys who hit me were kicked off their team for hitting me in the face.  Then I picked up the ball and slammed it into one of their player’s chests and we won the Championship!  Oh, I was the only girl left again.”

I was so proud!  MY child, MY offspring, won the dodgeball championship!  I couldn’t believe it.  Ha!  The only thing better would have been if Billy Johnson’s son had been the boy my daughter hit for the win.  Now that would have been sweet!  Having a daughter who’s different from me is good.  It teaches me all kinds of things every day.  As it turns out, sometimes you are most proud when your children are very different from you and excel in things you never could.  AND . . .  She’s also a big help in the kitchen because she’s tall enough to reach everything in the cabinets!

Holiday Memories, Old and New

When I was a child, the biggest fight of the year between my parents was during the lighting of the Christmas tree.  Usually it was an artificial tree, but in those days it didn’t really matter.  Before any decorating could commence, the lights must be untangled and tested and strung on the tree.  Those were also the days when if one light went out the whole string went out so it was quite a frustrating process that culminated with neither parent speaking to each other and barely to me.  So there I would be, all alone, humming Jingle Bells to myself decorating the tree.  Ahh, holiday memories . . .

Flash forward to the year 2011, the day after Thanksgiving.  My husband decides he needs to tackle the leaves in our yard.  You actually couldn’t see any yard, only leaves.  While hubby was outside clearing leaves, my daughter and I decided to decorate.  Together we carefully opened the attic.  The scariest part for me is straightening out the stairs.  I’m just a little too short for the job so there is always a precarious moment as everything falls into place.  Then I was certain the boxes of decorations would be too heavy, but together, my daughter and I successfully brought everything down, including the tree, although we both laughed about the fact that we’d love to see a video of our efforts because they were quite creative. 

christmas decorations at virtusa

My daughter was in charge of the decorating and I of the cleaning.  I would dust, vacuum or clean the area and she would then decorate it.  She saved the tree for last but by then we were both getting a little tired.  I really wanted the job to be complete, return the empty boxes to the attic and collapse on the couch.  Tink (my daughter’s nickname short for Tinkerbell) began to do what I call “lolly-gag” around, ultimately accomplishing more television watching than tree decorating.  As I was putting up cleaning supplies after scrubbing toilets (note: I wasn’t cleaning them to be decorated, this was just part of a weekly routine) I noticed that she was holding the exact same decorations that she had in her hands several moments ago.  My exhaustion began to get to me and I called out, “Finish up already, that shouldn’t take all day!”  I must have been channeling my mother.

Speaking of my mother, a few months ago I was lamenting to her about Tink’s increasingly smart-alec mouth.  She’s 13 – if you’ve ever been the parent of teenagers you already understand.  My mother said, “Wait until she smarts off and you realize she’s right.  Then you have to figure out how to respond.”  I admit that my first thought was, “You mean there were times when I was a teenager that I was actually right and you knew it?” but even at my age I know better than to say that to my mother.  She might still ground me.

christmas decorations

Back to my story, I scolded Tink about her “lolly-gagging” and she replied, “I am, I am!” short pause, “If you want to help me you can.”  It wasn’t the words she spoke, it was the tone.  An unmistakable challenge to my authority as a mother oozing through them.  Although I realized the truth of what she said, I spouted back, “That’s just the kind of Smart-Alec attitude I won’t tolerate in my house!  No ma’am!”  I hurried into the next room thinking that even if she was right she should know better than to taunt me that way!  I almost starting to tear up.  This really was exactly like my childhood Christmases.

Our mutual moment of irritation soon passed, I finished cleaning the house and she finalized the decorating.  Tink did a beautiful job and I told her as much, complimenting her on some of the details.  Finally we were ready to return the boxes to the attic.

Now we were both feeling a little cocky at this point.  We’d already accomplished the hard part – getting the heavy boxes down from the attic.  At this point we were only returning empty boxes to the attic.  I opened the attic door and then reached up to pull down the stairs.  What happened next is a little fuzzy.  I arrived at that precarious moment and it quickly went from precarious to horrifying.  All I remember is a lot of wooden steps coming at me and Tink hollering repeatedly “Are you ok?  Are you ok??”  I would have thought that the sound of me yelling “Aaaahhhhhh!!!!” would have been the indication that I was not ok.  When the chaotic moment passed I was still standing, I knew I was probably hurt but not entirely sure where.  Tink’s eyes were as wide as saucers and again she asked, “ARE YOU OK?”  This time I shakily replied, “Give me just a moment.”  She hugged me tightly and then . . . we both burst out laughing.  She laughed so hard she collapsed to the floor.

There’s nothing like a near-death experience for producing riotous laughter.  It’s been the sustenance of America’s Funniest Videos for years.  As a matter of fact if we had that “attic attack” on video I’m sure we’d have a chance at the $10,000 prize.  After resting for a few minutes and inspecting my arms and legs for signs of broken bones I came to the conclusion that I was fine.  Together Tink and I loaded the empty boxes into the attic passing back and forth a lot of “be carefuls” and “you got its?”  But the dangerous part was over.  

My arms are black and blue and my right wrist is still swollen, but not a scratch on my face or any nasty bumps on my head.  Nothing that a little time won’t cure.  And together my daughter and I created some new memories.  Years from now as she’s decorating her own tree in her own home with her own children she’ll probably double over with laughter remembering the time I nearly died in a tragic attack of the attic stairs incident.  Ahh, Holiday Memories . . .

One Angry Mother

By now you’ve probably seen or heard about the You Tube video below:  Family Home Destroyed by Avalanche – Children to Blame.  If not check it out now:

There’s no way this really happened.  I cannot believe this mom is that calm.  It seems much more likely that this is some type of ploy like Balloon Boy.  If this is real then I need to know what meds this mom is on and I need a prescription for the same. 

If this happened at my house, my first thought would NOT have been to grab a camera and post it on You Tube for others to enjoy.  I would have locked my children in their room and called 911.  The call would have gone something like this: “Hello, please send a police car, an ambulance and DSS (Department of Social Services) to my house immediately.  2 children’s lives and their mama’s sanity are at stake.  Hurry, I don’t know how strong these bedroom locks are.” 

White Eggs in Carton

Ok, just to put this in perspective let’s assess what happened in my own home last weekend.  My husband went to the grocery store – God bless him – so I wouldn’t have to.  Now when my husband brings in the groceries, he believes that it should be done in one trip whether he bought $10 worth or $110.  So in he comes with 12 bags hanging from his arms and fingertips.  All of a sudden one bag goes SPLAT!  He immediatlely loudly utters an expletive beginning with SHH and ending in IT.  It was of course the bag with the dozen eggs.

Let’s analyse the situation.  It was only 1 dozen eggs and although you heard the cracking they were not loose all over the floor.  All 12 were contained within their foam carton and inside a grocery bag.  Upon further inspection, only 8 of the dozen eggs were cracked.  While I was wailing and gnashing my teeth and expounding on the fact that my husband should completely revise his grocery carrying strategies, he found a container and placed the 8 eggs into it.  (I need to add that he did all this without breaking any yolks.  That’s kind of impressive when you think about it.)  There was no mess for me to clean up, all 12 are still edible and the damn eggs only cost $0.89 to begin with but I was still furious! 

Perhaps I overreacted just a bit to my personal situation, (hell my name is Angry Middle Age Woman after all) but if those eggs were strewn all over my living room and my house destroyed I could not, would not be calm like this mother.  And where the heck did this woman keep her flour anyway?  I know toddlers can get into all kinds of situations in the blnk of an eye, but really?  I mean really??

Maybe I’m just too old.  It would never occur to me that a busted dozen eggs or empty bag of flour could win me a spot on reality TV.  I would just be one angry mother.

Ya’ll put up your flour and carry your eggs carefully this weekend.  See you again on Monday.