Musings from Home

Archive for January, 2012


I don’t watch much television, but there are a few shows I like to catch when I can. One of those is The Dr. Phil Show. I like Dr. Phil’s straight forward, pull-no-punches approach and I like that he offers help to his guests (expenses paid). Usually I’m drawn to a particular show from a human interest perspective, to listen to someone’s struggles (and often empathize) and to hear what Dr. Phil suggests they need to do next. But sometimes what I hear is very thought-provoking and teaches me something. The end of yesterday’s show offered just such a moment.

The show focused on the nationally covered (but unheard of to me until yesterday) story of a 9-year-old little girl who lost her battle with Huntington’s Disease this month, and who was taunted during the last two years of her life by adult neighbors. The neighbors admittedly created a Facebook page on which they posted pictures of the little girl, along with a skull and crossbones. They also allegedly screamed toward the little girl’s house that she should die already.

The stated point of yesterday’s show was so that they could apologize to the family of the little girl, just days after her death. And while the husband of the couple did offer a sincere sounding, tearful apology, the wife (who allegedly did most of the offending behavior) insisted that she did not do anything she is being accused of except for the Facebook page. She kept saying, “If I’ve done anything to hurt you, I am sorry,” or words to that effect. Most of the family members of the little girl who were present did not feel she was sincere and when asked by Dr. Phil if they could forgive her, said they could not.

The little girl’s dad was quiet throughout the show except when asked a direct question. He appeared to be crying throughout most of the show and looked incredulous at some of the neighbor’s denials. At one point, in answer to a question by Dr. Phil, he talked about his last half hour with his daughter and how he would have spent it differently if he’d known it were the last 30 minutes he’d ever have with her. When he was asked about his reaction to the neighbor now, he talked about how much time he spent focused on this drama and how much he regretted taking any time away from his beloved daughter. [Apparently, some of their disputes resulted in court action. I don’t know the details.]

When it was his turn at the end of the show to answer about forgiveness, he described his daughter, how loving she was, how she always had a smile on her face. He addressed the female neighbor to say that his daughter would have forgiven, so he does forgive her. He explained that he’s not saying the he likes her or wants to be her friend, but he wishes her well and hopes everyone will leave her alone. [Because of the media coverage, apparently she is a much hated woman — no wonder.] He expressed that he doesn’t want to spend any more time or any more energy on all of this. He is done and just wants to grieve for his daughter.

His response brought tears to my eyes, in part because he was crying, but mostly because he is a better person than I. I really don’t think I could forgive someone who acted that way toward my dying child (even just the Facebook page because that’s all we know for sure she did, since she admitted that). Hatefulness makes me angry, but in my view, hatefulness by an adult toward a child is unforgivable. That said, I love his attitude. I love that he can put what his daughter would have done first, and do it for her. He is a definite example and I will strive to remember his response the next time I am faced with the decision of whether or not to forgive. This was an extreme example and he took the high road.

Do you think you would be able to forgive an adult who taunted your child?



When I was little, my siblings and I wondered how our mom knew what we were doing even when she was turned away from us, so we eventually asked her. She told us that all moms have eyes in the back of their heads. Those eyes develop as soon as you become a mother. When each of my daughters was little and asked me the same question, I passed the story onto them. I don’t remember having as many questions in my youth about this particular anatomical development as my girls have had, but I’ve had to wing answers periodically as time goes on.

Emerald is old enough that she long ago figured me out.  Whenever this topic comes up now, she gets a glint in her eye and gives me a sly smile, as if we share a secret. It’s very similar to the smiles I got this past holiday season when Sapphire mentioned Santa or the Elf on a Shelf. Emerald loves being in on the secret. For her, it was a seamless transition from believing to not.

It is with Sapphire, however, that I have begun to fear this little story is about to jump out and bite me on the butt. Several months ago, Sapphire and I were in the car and she said, “Mom, look at me.” She was directly behind me and I was driving in traffic and unable to even glance at her in the mirror at that moment. So I told her I wanted to see what she was showing me, but I couldn’t turn around just at that moment. I would when we stopped. She replied, “Use the eyes in the back of your head.” Oh yeah, I’d forgotten about those.

After some quick thinking I told her that the headrest was blocking those eyes. That seemed to satisfy her and she happily waited until I could safely look with the eyes on the front of my head.

Then the other day while she and I were waiting for Emerald’s bus, we were playing a game in which one of us walked backwards and the other approached, walking forwards. She started out going backwards, but with our slopey driveway, I was afraid she would trip and fall since she couldn’t see where she was going, so I suggested we change direction. We did and soon after, she said, “Yes, this is better because you can see where you’re going.” Huh? Oh yes. 🙂 A smile formed on my lips. It was all I could do not to giggle.

That kid is going to tie me up in my stories if I’m not very careful and very clever. She is one smart thinker.

On a side note, I’ve mentioned before that both of my girls are baton twirlers. This weekend, Emerald hit a twirling milestone. She, after much practice over the last few months, caught her very first full turn (in which you toss your baton into the air off your thumb, spin in a full circle, and then catch the baton). She was very excited and I’m so very proud of her! Way to go Emerald!!!

Ad to Real Life?

There is a car ad running on our local radio station right now that says, “Are you still making payments on a car you’re not in love with anymore?” And follows with a message to come by their dealership; they can help to put you in a car you will love. Say what? Are we really talking about dumping our cars because we are not in love with them? Especially in this economy?

This struck me on two levels: one truly related to cars and the irresponsibility of exchanging one for another for this reason and the other dealing with the greater impact of the statement and the emotions that led to the advertisers thinking this might be an effective approach.

Dealing literally first, buying a car for pure lust (let’s call a spade a spade, OK?)  is not an option for most of us. If it were, I would probably be driving this:

But alas, I am not driving a Ferrari and let me count the reasons in no particular order: 1) I am not made of money, nor does money grow on those big trees in “the woods” surrounding my house; 2) My two kids, all their gear, and their friends would not fit; 3) Heck, even our weekly groceries would not fit; 4) A small scratch the size of an eyebrow hair would send me into a frenzy and the chances of NOT getting such a scratch (or bigger) in parking lots and garages is unheard of; 5) In my neighborhood, in my town? That’s like begging someone to stalk and rob you because no one else appears to have so much money; 6) Waaaay too pretentious; 7) Can you say “waste of money” even if I had it to waste? I can think of better ways to blow a quarter to a half million dollars (if I had it to blow); 8) Gas guzzling and guilt — enough said. And the list goes on.

Like most of you, I choose the vehicle I drive for reasons that have little to do with love/lust. Does it meet the needs of my family? Can we afford it and does the cost of it make sense for what you get? Does it get decent gas mileage? Does it have the features that we need without going overboard? Will it last us for a good while? Honestly, we trade in our old cars when the car no longer meets our needs or it needs so many repairs that it is not cost-effective to repair it. I have yet to replace a car because I was “no longer in love”. In fact, I tend to get attached to our vehicles to an extent. The car has earned my respect and I have confidence in it that it will get me and my precious cargo where we need to go safely. [If this changes, it’s time for it to go.] I also know where all the buttons and switches I need are. There’s a certain amount of security and comfort in that.

Now for the bigger implications. The advertisers know exactly what they’re doing. Our society is such that the idea of being in love with anything, even your car, is appealing to people. We want that rush of excitement, that “Oh, this is so cool” feeling. It’s bad enough to do it with things, like a car, but some also seem to do it with people. Their lives get too rote, too familiar, too day-to-day, so they go looking for new excitement. Some do it while trying to hold onto what they have at the same time. But what people (again, just some, but this number does seem high) don’t seem to realize is that the newness will wear off quickly with the current “love” also, just as that new car will lose its new car smell; its “state-of-the-art” gadgets will be outdated; and its crisp clean-ness will disappear before you can say, “I love this car” 20 times fast. And then you go looking for “love” again.

I imagine that ad may help sell cars, but its message just left me sad. Not sad about my life (or that I don’t drive a Ferrari), but sad that their message is rooted in the very structure of human gratification today.

[Disclaimer: If you know me, please do not start worrying about me. I am not talking from personal experience or even about my life at all (except for how I choose to get a new car), but rather about my emotional reaction to the car ad and what the advertisers’ choice of words said to me about our society.]


This morning, as Sapphire was getting ready to go to preschool, she walked down the stairs and by the door to the room I was in at the time. While she was on the stairs, I thought I heard her say “Rich bi_ _ _ ” but I was sure I must have heard her wrong. As she passed by my door, I heard her more clearly. She was most definitely saying rich and the word that starts with “b” and rhymes with “rich”.

Instantly, I thought, “Where did she hear that?” Jim and I do not use that word and I can’t imagine where she would have heard that phrase. Could any of the movies/shows she’s watched have used it? I drew a blank. What would her preschool teachers think if she said that word in school?

Then I realized that the tone she used was kind of like she was reciting something, rather than calling someone something. She also clearly had no idea it was a word I didn’t want her to use. There was no coyness. There was no whispering. There was also no defiance. (Sapphire is rarely defiant.) That’s when I started to wonder if she was rhyming.

Very calmly, I said, “Sweetie, the second word you said, the one that starts with a “b”, that’s a bad word and we don’t say it, OK?”

“Oops!” she replied with a smile. “How about clitch? Rich clitch.”

“Ditch would work. Rich ditch,” I offered.

“Clitch. I like rich clitch.”

OK. 🙂

I love this stage. I love it a lot.


One thing that most people don’t know about me is that I am terrified — shaking-in-my-boots, watching the horizon, terrified — of sharks. I grew up going to the beach in South Florida every summer. I love the water. Jim, the girls, and I have spent two weeks most summers in Cape Cod. I want Emerald and Sapphire to love the water, too. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t scan the water in all directions looking for sharks, the entire time my kids are in the ocean. One of my biggest fears is that one of these large, carnivorous fish will show up out of nowhere and attack one of my precious girls.

Intellectually, I know the odds of a shark attack are low. I also know that most sharks do not like the taste of humans and many attacks happen “by accident”, with people being mistaken for animals that the sharks do eat. But this is one example when an “Oops, I’m sorry” doesn’t help a whole lot. I understand there’s usually only one bite, but oh what a bite.

I haven’t always had this fear. Growing up and even in my pre-kid adult days, I didn’t even think about sharks when I was in the water. I can pretty confidently trace the source of my overwhelming fear to the shark attack on 8-year-old Jessie Arbogast in July 2001. Emerald was just 5 months old. She hadn’t yet been to the beach. But here was this kid, wading knee-deep in the water, not far out in the ocean where I had always imagined the sharks would be. Since then, other shark attacks have occurred on kids who were splashing in shallow water, which is just what kids love to do, and which also makes them look like food to the animals.

So what do I do about this fear, other than scan the waves? Not much. We avoid swimming at dusk and at dawn. And certainly if the beach we were on were closed due to shark sightings, we would stay out of the water. But I don’t want to scare the kids. As I said, I want them to love the water. So I suffer in silence. I glance side to side, and I pray as they play.

Imagine the thoughts that went through my head when I ran across this story last week: “Killer App Lets You Track Great Whites”!  Why on earth would I want to track sharks??? The very thought of them makes me shudder, even if I’m nowhere near the beach.

But then just as that thought left my brain, another entered. “Wouldn’t it be great if we could know where all the sharks were while we were swimming?” I read the article and of course, they are talking about following 22 great white sharks for scientific data. I get it. I am a scientist after all. 🙂 But that didn’t stop my imagination. . . If enough people banded together, we could tag all the sharks in the world and know when it was safe to go into the water.

What I had in mind was a monitor room sort of like the one in the 1983 movie “War Games”:

This room could be staffed 24/7 and we would know every second when a shark was getting close to swimming areas. Think of it as a sort of “Big Brother” for sharks. It would be great! Swimmers everywhere would be safe.

Then the bubble burst and I realized that even if we could pull this off, I wouldn’t feel safe in the water. I’m too much of a worrywart. I would stand there in the water with one eye on my girls and the fun they were having, while the other eye scanned the horizon for that telltale fin. I would be sure that one of the sharks we failed to tag would be heading straight for my family. Or that even a tagged shark would  get by unnoticed. Or that it would all happen too quickly for any sort of warning . . .

OK, so much for that brilliant plan. Let’s leave the tagging for scientific study purposes and I’ll leave the spectator-monitoring of that tracking to those of  you who don’t shudder at the mere mention of the “s” word. And, I’ll go back to my own style of shark monitoring — every summer at the beach.

Would you be interested in this tracking app (the real one, not the one in my imagination)? Also, what are you deathly afraid of?

Live Alyssa!

Below is the link to a newspaper story about a little girl (and family) we know. Emerald used to take dance class with Alyssa and Alyssa’s mom was their dance teacher. Although we have lost touch with them (except for following them on Facebook and Caring Bridge), we hold these very special people dear to our hearts. For the past year, their family has been battling Alyssa’s rare form of cancer. Please keep this family in your thoughts and prayers. Thank you!

Support, Support, Support

My girls competed on Saturday in their second ever baton twirling contest. Like with the first, I was very, very proud of both of them and their entire team — their performances, yes, but more importantly, their attitudes, their sportsmanship, and their pure enjoyment of the event. But Saturday’s competition inadvertently brought up another topic that I think is important.

In between (and after) our girls’ events, we had the wonderful opportunity to see other, very amazing twirlers in action. Several of these top twirlers were male. One in particular caught our attention several times. In fact, he caught the eyes of most of the people present. At one point, while he was performing in a duet twirling event with a very talented female twirler, the entire arena stopped to look. Twirlers who were in the practice area (separated from the performance floor by a curtain), judges who were judging other events but were between performances, and all performers (not participating in an event at that moment) and observers stopped what they were doing for the full two to three minutes to watch this pair. Their routine was breathtaking.

Later, we got to see this same male twirler perform a solo routine and he was just as incredible. The talent this young man has was palpable. The next day, I read a Facebook post by a friend and fellow twirling mom who mentioned what a great time the girls had and that they were excited to see Jonathan Burkin (who had been on America’s Got Talent) twirl.

Instantly, Jim and I both knew that this must be the young man we had watched with such wonder. I Googled him just to be sure. Yep, it was him. But what I saw regarding this extraordinary young man got me on my soapbox again.

On America’s Got Talent (as shown in the clip above) he and his mom both talked about how hard it was for him growing up as a twirler. Other kids teased him relentlessly and called him names. Other people (presumably adults) said unpleasant things as he twirled in parades. Thankfully, this young man had a family who supported him wholeheartedly, who loved him no matter what others thought.

Of course, the major issue he faced was that people view baton twirling as “girlie” and therefore can’t get behind a boy enjoying it. And worse than that, they have to demean him and try to interfere with his enjoyment of his chosen sport. It makes me so sad and so angry that we can’t just support each other in our interests. Why do we have to pass judgment and criticize?

Since both of our kids are girls, we haven’t run into this prejudice. But we have encountered another one regarding twirling: Many people don’t view twirling as a sport. Emerald and I have talked with several people who have asked her about her activities and when she mentions twirling with a huge smile on her face, they immediately follow up with “Do you play any sports?” I know they mean soccer or field hockey or the like. But, heeelllloooo! She just told you she loves twirling!! So far it hasn’t bothered Emerald, but after hearing about the treatment Jonathan Burkin received from his peers, I wonder if this is part of the problem, as well.

I’ve watched enough twirling, picked up the baton enough times myself, and walked alongside enough parades to know that this is most definitely a sport. If you don’t agree, do me a favor for just a few minutes. Pick up a baton, or even a stick. Move it around in your fingers (or twirl it if you know how). Now without stopping, toss it up in the air. Catch it and keep twirling. Pass it between your legs. Keep twirling. Roll it over your back. Toss it under your leg. Catch it. Keep twirling and kick your leg backward. Now toss the baton/stick in the air and while it’s up there, spin in a full circle and catch the baton/stick before it hits the ground. Don’t stop; keep twirling. Now roll it over your elbow and spring it up in the air. Catch it. Keep going for a total of two minutes. Take a bow. How do you feel? Are you winded?

If you didn’t try that, how about twirling your baton/stick and marching (with your knees high) the entire length of the main street in your town? Do you think you’d be winded then? I hope this has convinced you that twirling is at least an athletic event. Now let me address other things that make a sport a sport. My girls are part of a team. They have learned that their team depends on them to show up, to have all their equipment with them, to know their routines, and to give it their all, for the good of the whole group. They have learned to support each other, no matter whether a teammate is having a good performance day or a bad one. They’ve learned to say “Good job” whether their fellow twirler won first place or last and whether or not their teammate dropped the baton 20 times or none. They are performing and competing in athletic events and they are learning the lessons that I hope all kids learn from their sports. On top of that, they are having fun. Who could ask for more than that from any sport?

I look forward to a day on which we can support our fellow human beings in being themselves and in doing whatever sport or activity they enjoy. I look forward to the day that we can stop trying to make others feel bad about what they like to do and as Jonathan Burkin said about the judges on America’s Got Talent:

“I hope they realize how much dedication it takes to be good at anything.”


[Stepping down off my soapbox again now.]

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