LSS: Build surprising fun out of something silly

Sometimes in life, it’s the little things that keep us going. Sometimes it’s fun to turn one of those little things into a full-scale diversion.
For most of the last eight years, I’ve counted my blessings to spend the day after Christmas with one of my best friends in the whole wide world. Cathy and I met in college. She was a junior. I was a freshman. She was the president-elect of the student organization we were both very involved with, and we both studied English.
When Cathy suggested that we room together the next fall, I couldn’t believe she thought enough of me to propose such a notion — and was thrilled at the prospect. She may not even remember that, but it’s one of those moments stuck on a loop in my head.
Even back then, Cathy was a serious girl full of self-discipline. She could also be loads of fun, but she was a girl focused on getting things done. Through the years, we’ve been there for each other. We graduated from college and were in each other’s weddings. Eventually, she and her husband became missionaries to Burkina Faso, a landlocked country in West Africa. When she came back to the States to have her first child, I traveled across the country to be with her. For the twelve years she lived in Africa, we wrote letters — boxes and boxes of letters, long before the Internet came on the scene (at least Internet in a remote African village). Finally, I was able to go to Africa to visit her and her family — a trip that profoundly changed my life.
Cathy is a steadfast girl. I can only imagine the highs and lows of living in one of the world’s poorest countries. While there, she did what she could do to make it a better place. Eight years ago, they moved back to the States where she has continued her service to others. As long as I’ve known her, I’ve never known her to call attention to herself.
Until three weeks ago.
When I got a phone call from her that still blows my mind.
“Jan, I’ve decided to enter a clothing company’s modeling contest. If I win, I’ll go to Minneapolis and be featured in their upcoming catalog. When I entered, I thought it was basically an essay contest. So, I wrote a short piece about my life as a mother, daughter, sister and friend. Then I realized it’s one of those contests that requires people to vote online. So, I’m wondering if you could help me get some votes.”
Had she called and told me she was leaving for the moon on Tuesday, I would have been less surprised.
After a moment of stunned silence, I rallied and said, “Sign me up, girl. Consider me your self-appointed campaign manager.”
The combination of Cathy’s sweet-stay-in-the-background nature and surprising request has inspired many of her friends and family members to get on the ball. In fact, I submit that some of us have gotten a teeny-bit obsessed with voting the maximum 10 times every 24 hours. I’ve been heartened by some of my friends — people who have never met Cathy, have gotten on board and are recruiting their friends to vote 10 times every single day. The silliness of it all has made us a bit giddy.
I speculate on what inspired Cathy and the rest of us to embrace this contest. I think she may have been looking for a little extra excitement in her life. Even though we all recognize that in the big picture this contest is an inconsequential diversion, Cathy has had fun. With more than 30,000 votes in her favor, she has a solid hold on third place for now, but the contest doesn’t end until midnight Dec. 31. Hopefully, between now and then, we can pull out a victory for Cathy.
Yes, it’s silly, but sometimes embracing the silly is good for us all.

LSS: Parental love and George Washington Carver

When I called home Tuesday afternoon, Greer, my 13-year-old daughter, answered the phone. We chatted for a moment before I asked to speak to my 8-year-old daughter.
There was a pause as the phone exchange was made. It was one of those pauses all mothers recognize. Something was going on between the two children.
I heard my 13 year old say something (in the exasperated tone I’ve come to know so well). I said, “What did you say?”
Greer replied, “I was telling Piper it was you on the phone. Here she is.”
And she gave the phone to her chipper, younger sister, who said, “Hello, Mother, love of my life, peanut to my butter.”
I couldn’t quite understand what she had said, but her tone was full of all the stuff that makes parenthood work. I asked her to slowly repeat the last part of what she had said.
“PEANUT. TO. MY. BUTTER,” she said, loudly enunciating every consonant and vowel available.
I’ve since learned that she must have heard the saying on a television show, but that takes nothing away from the moment for me.
Parenthood is exhausting. When I’m barely lucid, hair unkempt and house a mess, and a friend tells me she’s contemplating not having children, I nod my head and mumble, “That could be a good decision.”
And then, I call home and in a voice as sweet as a voice could be, an 8-year-old girl who happens to be from the other side of the world says, “Hello, Mother, love of my life, peanut to my butter.”
She says those words to me.
And, in that moment, parenthood is as heady as any drug or power could be. In reality, that moment lasts for a few seconds, but in the broader scope of life, that moment lasts forever, because my heart is never the same after instants like that. In a flash, my heart grows like the Grinch’s.
Lately several people have initiated conversations with me about the difference in a mother’s love for biological children and for adopted children. I don’t have to give a moment’s thought to know my stance on that question, but I’ve taken a hard look at it to try and understand the power of love nurture instills. I’ve tried to step back and analyze it because I’m fascinated with what I know to be possible and true.
As the mother of a biological child and an adopted child, I assure any and everyone who asks that a mother’s love is a mother’s love. Prior to adopting, I would have never believed that. Truth be told, I worried in the months before we met our second daughter. I knew there was no way I could love her the same as I loved my first-born.
I was wrong.
The minute that baby, who grew to be the peanut to my butter was placed in my arms, magic happened. In the eight years since, that magic has grown just the Grinch’s heart. Turns out that for us, the location of the pre-natal gestation of a child ended up not mattering at all.
A parent’s love is a parent’s love.
For many who haven’t experienced this love, I’m certain it’s difficult to fathom. Some doubters believe any mother worth her salt would say as much because it’s the politically correct thing to say. To them, I say try it for yourself. Eight years down the road, when you call home and get “peanut to my butter” on the other end of the line, let me know me what you think about the whole situation then.

LSS: Glo-ooooooooooooooooooooo-ria

The group of five 8-year-old girls were preparing for their Christmas program.
“Gloria, in excelsis Deo!” the little girls sang in voices pure enough to melt my heart, as I was sneaking in to listen to the last five minutes of my youngest daughter’s choir rehearsal.
When the chorus came around for the second time, the choir director stopped the music.
“It’s in eggshells sea day oh,” Mrs. Norma Jean Luckey said. “It’s not ex cell or eck shell. It’s eggshells, and be careful on the day-oh part too. Some of you are saying day yo. There’s no yo. Simply oh — in eggshells sea day oh, that’s how you sing it. OK, from the top.”
The direct instructions on the proper pronunciation of Angels We Have Heard on High’s chorus took me immediately back to another time and place.
When I was eight, standing in the midst of a larger group of friends singing the same tune and words, my choir director, Mrs. Susan Lampkin, stopped the music and said the very same words to me.
Verbatim.
“It’s eggshells seas day oh,” she said more menacingly than Mrs. Luckey could ever muster. “I better not hear anyone here say ex- cell.”
And we didn’t.
They must learn it in choir director school.
All I know is that these years later, every single time I sing that song, I pronounce the words in a way I believe would make Mrs. Lampkin proud, even still.
Choir directors are a special breed. Christmas is their season to shine and run themselves ragged in the process.
Through the years, I’ve watched, sang and listened long enough to realize that there’s a lot more to putting on a successful holiday music program than pronouncing eggshells seas day oh correctly. Choir directors deserve our thanks.
Ironically enough, well into my writing this piece, I learned today is World Choral Day. National and international choral associations have selected the United Nations’ theme for 2010, The rapprochement of cultures, as the aim of World Choral Day. Truth be told, I didn’t know what rapprochement meant. (It comes from the French word rapprocher, which means to bring together — a re-establishment of cordial relations, as between two countries.)
The aim for the day is to promote the social values of choral singing, inviting millions of singers around the globe to join in concerts and celebrate the unity of music.
Social values through singing makes sense to me. Social values through singing the songs of Christmas and winter holidays makes me…want to sing, and music takes us places, even when we’re running our air-conditioners at night and heaters the next morning. We can still sing of winter wonderlands:
Sleigh bells ring, are you listening? In the land, snow is glistening.
Or, perhaps it’s other cold-weather songs.
I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony. I’d like to hold it in my arms and keep it company. (I think that’s the spirit of rapprochement, right?)
Each of us, no matter how hardened we’ve become, surely remembers at least one, if not a dozen, of the holiday numbers we learned as a child — most likely taught to us by an over-worked music teacher.
I never knew then the mileage I would get from those words and tune.
So, to all of those who teach the world to sing in perfect harmony (or beautiful unison), I hope and pray this day finds you well and basking in your accomplishments.
In eggshell seas day oh to each of you.

Long Story Short: Decorate a tree or else

Decorating a Christmas tree is not always the joyous occasion one might envision.
With Nat King Cole blaring carols, visions of sugarplums dancing in our heads and a fake-log fire a-blazing, my 8-year-old daughter and I were giddy as we opened the tub-o-ornaments and set the garland in place.
The 13-year-old daughter was not quite as thrilled.
To put it mildly.
I asked her permission and was granted such to tell the simple story of putting up our tree. I even read her my thoughts before I sent them on. She sat, listened and mumbled, “It’s good.” Her blessing demonstrates the wisdom she holds that peeks through her 13-year-oldness from time to time.
Right or wrong, I forced her to participate in our tree-decorating exercise — such is the essence of Christmas, right? Through moans and groans and general over-all exasperation, I told her what I find myself telling my kids on a regular basis: “Sorry, Charlie Brown, you’re stuck with me. Make the best of it.”
So, she did.
And, as anyone who’s ever witnessed a 13-year-old forced to decorate a Christmas tree may attest, it was not a scene worthy of a Hallmark holiday special. No angels sang. No stars aligned.
During the hour or so we decorated, there may have been brief moments when she smiled, but I can’t be certain.
What I do know is this: being 13 is not easy.
What with the brooding/crankiness mandates and required blasé attitude toward anything that might be of import to a female parental unit, much energy is required.
As with so many of her generation, she demands adequate time to check out from what’s going on around her and sit quietly and focus on a gadget (or in her case, oftentimes a book). In response, I believe part of my obligation as her parent is to do whatever it takes (invite/ask/demand) that she put the gadget-of-the-day down for large portions of time and participate in whatever activity the rest of us are doing. Even when her doing so lowers the general merriment level for the rest of us, I believe that’s just the price we all have to pay to be the family we need to be. The event will still create memories that we will one day likely laugh about.
As her sister and I flitted and fluttered with Christmas thingamajigs, doodads and knick-knacks and did our best to hang a shining star upon the highest bough, my bah-humbug husband begrudgingly joined in the hoopla. Because his nature is more similar to hers, he has an automatic empathy for our oldest that is more difficult for me to reach.
What I wish I could tell her (in a way that wouldn’t seem nagging or designed to induce guilt) is that, although it’s been said many times, many ways, there will come a day when she would give more than she is capable of realizing to have a taste of what it’s like to be back in the living room of her childhood.
Even if she simply sits in the corner easy chair and reads her latest Percy Jackson book as her parents and younger sister buzz about, there is comfort in the setting that is impossible to realize until later.
Like Milton Eisenhower said, “The essence of nostalgia is an awareness that what has been will never be again.”