“I think I’m going to write a blog about smoking,” I told my son. Soggy and sandy from our day at the beach, the two of us were alone in our van.
“Hmmm,” my 13-year-old son replied, hardly vibrating his vocal cords and barely nodding his head in acknowledgement of my having spoken.
“You see,” I went on, “I actually think folk have the right to smoke if they want. I have my own share of unhealthy habits.”
At this my son perked up. (He does so love a chance to disagree with me.) “Yeah, but Mom, do your unhealthy habits make other people unhealthy?”
In truth, my unhealthy habits could cause my family members pain in the future. If I do not choose to eat right and to exercise, I could suffer the physical effects of such bad behaviors. Some forms of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other diseases are caused by unhealthy habits. If I were to contract one of these diseases, my family, my loved ones would suffer unnecessarily because of my negligence.
But that was not what my son meant and I knew it. He had asthma as a young child but had outpaced it as he grew up. Still, he remembered the times he had to duck through doorways and rush through parking lots to avoid errant fumes. Yet this time, he was not referring to his own struggles. This time, we were both frustrated by the limitations forced upon his sister by the unhealthy habit of others.
“What I mean, Baker, is that I am not prepared to say people don’t have the right to smoke. It’s a choice they should be allowed to make. The problem is that this choice puts my child at risk.”
“Right. Because they chose to smoke a cigarette on the beach Margaret could have an asthma attack. She could wind up in the hospital.”
Our frustration was at a high point because we’d been unable to find a place to park our umbrella that was not downwind from smokers. They were everywhere. Margaret had to stay in the water or at least in the surf to avoid the fumes.
And it was not just the beach. Later we went out to eat, to a non-smoking restaurant of course.
“Mommy, smokers,” Margaret whispered to me when we were 50 feet from the entrance. Yep. Cloaking the entrance with a cloud of wheeze-inducing funk, were several folks tugging the last puffs from their smokes. They had every right; it’s a free country. Yet there was no getting in the place without walking through their haze of freedom: a haze that placed significant bonds on my child.
Lest you think I’m an over reactive mom, know that once last summer we were in a restaurant whose (ahem) smoking section was on the opposite side of the room from their non-smoking (or what we would call their Not-Quite-As-Dense-But-Still-Really-Smoky) area. We opted to stay. The kids were hungry; it was late; and Margaret had been breathing effortlessly (something, I can’t not mention, that the rest of us do without note). Fifteen minutes later, we paid what we owed and left—with a wheezing daughter who wound up on breathing treatments for the three days following the dining debacle.
Life experience. I try to learn from it.
But back to our week at the beach. It seems to have set the tone for the summer. Everywhere we have gone, we’ve had to dodge smokers. Admittedly, Margaret has had a hard time with her asthma this summer, and I am hyper aware, but geez. Smokers greet you at the mall, the drug store, the convenience mart and the grocery. They stroll over the grounds at Biltmore Estate and cheer in the stands of ball games. And hear me here: I think smokers have a right to smoke, I do. But what is my kid supposed to do to be able to breathe?
I tell Margaret life’s not fair and that we all have to deal with stuff. I remind her that considering what others have to deal with, this isn’t that bad. I tell her we could get her a filter mask thingy to wear. (She says she’d rather wheeze.)
I tell her those things. I do. And I believe smokers have rights. I do. But first, I’m Margaret’s mommy and when she’s fighting to breathe because secondhand smoke has triggered an asthma attack, I forget all those things. Because when it comes to balancing her right to breathe and the right of others to smoke—I don’t care squat about fairness. ‘Cuz I’m a mother, that’s why. And it’s my right to play favorites.
15 May 2009 Here’s a conversation Margaret and I had on the way home from school one day last week. I thought you might enjoy eavesdropping. (I’ve changed names and identifying details of all other kids mentioned—well, except for Charlie who is indeed a kid in his own mind . . . and I suppose in ours too. . . .)
“Hey, Mommy! Hey, Charlie! Come sit with me, buddy. That’s a good boy.” Margaret buckled up as our beagle stepped into her lap.
“Hey Margaret, how was your day at school?”
Margaret shook her head. “Not so good: there was a tornado warning.”
“Yeah, I heard about that.”
“It was awful because I needed to go to the restroom, but we had to sit in the hall with our heads down and we were in the downstairs hall with the kindergartners and first and second graders and it was really crowded and hot and boring.”
“You had to go to the restroom?”
“Yeah but at first I didn’t have to go that bad so I told Mrs. Seals I could wait but then after like 20 minutes or something I told her that I really did have to go and so I went but it was so embarrassing because there were girls sitting in the bathroom—because see the hall was so crowded that some girls had to sit in there the whole time—and so all those girls knew I was going to the bathroom. . .”
“I bet that was embarrassing.”
“Yeah, it sure was. Oh, but Mommy, some kids were really scared about the tornado and some were even crying. I’m talking about kids who don’t ever cry, they were crying. Like Natalie she never cries but she started crying because she has family in Black Mountain and somebody said the tornado was headed out to Black Mountain, you know, and so she started crying and Brandon he started crying—you know Brandon he is that big tough boy—and he never cries, you know, he never cries, ever, and he cried, because he was worried about his grandparents, because they don’t watch TV or listen to the radio, so he was scared they would be caught in the tornado because they hadn’t heard about it, and how would they hear about it if they didn’t listen to the news, you know? and then of course Taylor cried because her family lives in a mobile home and, I don’t know if you knew this Mommy, but—did you know this?—it is really, really, super dangerous to be in a mobile home when there is a tornado, and her whole house could have just blown away, so of course she was crying—I mean, who could blame her?”
“Yeah that was really scary for her. A lot of kids were crying . . .”
“Were you scared?"
“Not at all? Come on.”
“Well, I was a little worried about Charlie.” Hearing his name, Charlie turned to face her, expectant. “Yeah, I was worried about my little buddy,” Margaret told him, scratching his ears as he leaned into her.
“Yeah, Charlie pretty much freaked out,” I told her, “You know how he gets in a storm.”
“Was he shaking?” She asked, knowing. She wrapped her arms around him, pulling him close.
I chuckled. “More like quaking.”
“Poor Charlie,” Margaret said shaking her head, “I knew it; I just knew it.”
“So that was all you were worried about, really?”
“Yep,” she said, repositioning Charlie so his white-tipped tail could swing free.
“Good for you, Margaret. I’m glad you were not fearful.”
“Well,” she said, shrugging her shoulders and stroking her beagle’s back, “I figured if there was anything to be worried about, Daddy would take care of it.”
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” Matthew 5:26-27
It was like any other day.
Daddy said we would have a big surprise later
And I thought maybe we would go get ice cream,
Or go to the Five & Dime to buy paper dolls,
Or maybe company was coming.
I colored pictures and I played in the kitchen center.
I listened to music and watched the record going round and round on the player.
I heard the office phone ring.
It rang the same way it did on any other day.
“Aileen, Dawn! Your Daddy is on the phone, come quick.”
And we did.
I reached for the phone, black and heavy, its top half snaking across the desk.
Tippy toed, I pressed the receiver to my ear.
“Hey, Girlbaby!” (Daddy always called me Girlbaby.) “Guess what?”
“You have a baby brother!”
I was a big sister now.
But really, it was a day just like any other day.
It was the day my brother was born.
Published March 22, 2009
Yesterday, I spent a few hours with a library cat named Dewey. I was driving back from a conference—a five hour trip—and as I drove, I listened to the audio book, Dewey the Library Cat, by Vicki Myron. I'm a sap for a good animal story (see last week’s post); in addition to that, I absolutely love libraries. Dewey then seemed a perfect fit. Yet, after just a chapter or two, I found myself strangely envious of the foundling kitty. Why? Dewey got to live in a library. Sigh.
My mother took us to the public library when we were wee ones; my heart still races with remembered anticipation when I think back on those special days. All those books! Shelf upon shelf, row after row, one room then another. Heaven on earth.
Indeed, while some kids played princesses and others played pirates, I played librarian (well, when I wasn't playing student to my sister the teacher . . . but that’s another story). A few years ago, I wrote a story about a time when I took my library play to a new level. Enjoy.
Library in a Box
©July 2006 Aileen Mitchell Lawrimore
"Wow! That is so cool." I could not believe something so completely wonderful, had landed at our little house. After all, Daddy was a Baptist preacher, and Mother just worked part-time as a substitute teacher. Where did we get a treasure of this magnitude?
"You like it?" My parents beamed at the new sleeper sofa they had purchased for our family room.
"I love it! Do we get to keep it?" My 10 year old mind stirred with plans for our new addition.
"Well, of course we. . ." my mother turned to face me, and saw I was not looking at the sofa. She started backtracking. "We are going to keep the sofa, is that what you mean?"
It wasn't. Forget the sofa. I wanted the box. It was huge. It had walls. It had a floor, a ceiling. It was big enough for at least five kids. I could see it already. The circulation desk would be at the entrance to the box. I could draw shelves on the floor and use bookends to hold the books in place. I would track usage of books using note cards and I would assign each of my friends a library card. It would be perfect.
Mother could not refuse and I got to keep my cardboard library. To my surprise, the neighborhood children were not nearly as excited as I was about my library. Thus, circulation numbers remained manageable. The lack of community involvement didn't bother me too much though. It was my very own library and I loved it. And hey! It came with a sleeper sofa.
Published March 9, 2009
Over the weekend, I took my youngest, now 11, to the swimming pool at the YMCA. She went with a friend one day; we took brother Baker with her the next. Both days, I took the kids, signed them in at the pool, then went upstairs to exercise. Blissful. Watching parents of younger kids do the locker room shuffle—get the bathing suits on the kids, get them rinsed, get their towels and goggles—then head out to the pool to swim with their little ones, I was reminded of one aspect of parenting preschoolers that I do not miss: the swimming pool rigmarole. I did it, because I really felt like swimming was an important skill to learn, but I really did not like it. Set aside the major frustration of managing three kids in the locker room; I don't like to swim. (Actually it’s the getting wet that I don't like but they seem to be connected.)
So, in recollection of those bygone days, I thought I'd pull out a classic from six years ago when my kids were 8, 6, and 4. At that time, I was teaching a kids’ fitness class at the YMCA. Enjoy—at my expense.
UGGH! I've been known to walk into a store, hand over my wallet, and promise the clerk that if she will just find me a suit in which I would feel moderately comfortable, she can claim the purse as her own. I really don't like it. Not one bit. That's why I've had the same two bathing suits for years.
So, you can imagine my frustration when I took the children to the indoor pool last week and realized I'd forgotten one of the two suits I will wear in public. Trellace, my 8 year old, had the solution, "They have extras you could borrow, Mama! Just look in lost and found."
Ahha. The lost and found. Great. Well, it was Spring Break. I'd promised to take them swimming. What was a Mama to do? I dug through the Lost & Found barrel (working there, I know everything in there has been laundered) and found a suit in my size.
In the locker room, careful not to pass on any negative body messages to my two girls, I said, "I don't know if I can wear this swimsuit, girls. It looks like a granny bathing suit."
"Mama!" Trellace said. "It looks like Gangi's bathing suit; I like it."
"Trellace. Gangi is my MOTHER!"
"Right. But she's not a granny or an old lady or something."
Would that the story ended there.
"Mommy I like that bathing suit," Baker said when I exited the locker room.
"With that skirt on it, you look like a ballerina."
"A ballerina? Thanks Baker. We'll go with ballerina then."
But there is more.
"Hey Miss Aileen!" One of the children in my homeschool gym class had just joined us in the pool area.
"That bathing suit looks exactly like my mom's!"
"It surely does," Mom said. "But I lost mine. Can't find it anywhere."
Originally posted on March 3, 2009
I knew the day was coming; I just expected to have a little more notice. So when Baker came into the kitchen on Saturday morning, having grown overnight, and announced, “Hey Mom, look! I really am taller than you now,” it surprised me that he was indeed right. After all, Baker may be turning 13 in a few weeks, but he was just born a few moments ago.
Baker weighed nine pounds at birth and was three inches shy of two feet long. By the time he was three months old, he was in size six months clothes; nine months later, he was still wearing clothes for kids twice his age and was as tall as his three year old sister, Trellace. Over the years, his older sister caught up with him a time or two, but never for long and now never again.
From day one, Baker’s hands stretched way beyond the fingertips of the other babies in the nursery; his feet edged past the toes in other cribs. In no time, he began measuring his hands by mine, noting that his first grade fingers were nearly as long as his mommy’s. By the time he was 10, I could wear his shoes—and that’s no small feat (pardon the pun) as I’m rather sure footed myself at a size 9.5-10.
So there we were last Saturday, me, looking up at my son, his shoulders an inch and a half above mine. We stood side by side, looking in the mirror.
“Whoa. You are—no kidding—taller than your mother,” I said to my baby boy. “Come on, let’s go show Trellace.”
“Look Trellace.” Baker and I stood before her, shoulder not quite to shoulder, expectant.
She looked back, not getting it.
“Baker is taller than I am!”
She nodded, smiling a little, “Hmmm, he sure is.” She paused, knowing what a sap I am about my kids growing older, cocked her head to one side, then said with a smirk, “But don’t worry Mom, maybe you’re just losing bone mass.”
Published September 17, 2008
“Mom, you can't go out like that.” My daughter somehow managed to express horror, disgust, and the scantest level of pity in one glance as she took in my outfit.
I looked down at my t-shirt and denim shorts. I couldn’t imagine what fashion rule I was breaking with this most basic of outfits.
“Why?” I asked, clueless.
My 14-year-old’s eyes grew wide and unbelieving; she responded as if I were joking, “Mom, your shirt is tucked in.” She shook her head, exasperated and not a little defeated, and walked away.
I untucked, but it was too late. Once again I had proved to my teenager what she already knew to be true: I am the world’s most un-cool mom. But the thing is, she’s wrong: because I had the world’s most un-cool parents. And I'm not even kidding.
Start here: my children are being raised in the new millennium. I was raised in the seventies. My children’s parents wear “Life is Good™” shirts and “Levi’s™.”My daddy (a truly wonderful human being but a product of his times where fashion was concerned) wore plaid polyester leisure suits and ties that were at least six inches wide. In the 70’s, we didn't so much style our hair as glue it into place. . .or not. My mother had a lovely and lofty bouffant and my daddy, God love him, wore a toupee for at least a decade and a half. He stopped wearing it for good after our family vacation one year. He'd stripped the thing off when we'd pulled out of the driveway, curled it up so it looked not unlike a sleeping ferret, and placed it in the glove compartment of our 1973 Chrysler station wagon. Ten days later, the toupee had permanently molded into its rodent shape. Daddy, looking not nearly as upset as a person should have been after having lost an entire head of hair to a faux ferret, never replaced it.
My children’s parents can dance. We boogied in college and two-stepped as newlyweds. We're good. My children are delusional when they say we can't dance.
It’s different with my parents. Now, in all fairness, because Daddy was a Southern Baptist preacher, he didn't get much opportunity to practice. Had his career taken a different path, perhaps he could have been the next Fred Astaire. But things were what they were and Daddy’s dance moves were somewhat. . . well. . .let’s just say unrehearsed. Once, my brother--a teenager at the time--returned from a shopping trip with Daddy ashen-faced, “I think I'm going to be sick,” he said, plopping in Daddy’s recliner and covering his face with his hands. They'd been shopping for speakers for my brother’s car. Daddy, listening to the music as they tested quality, had, well there’s just no other way to say it, Daddy had busted a move. Busted it wide open.
My children’s parents are hip too. I watch American Idol; Jay watches Deal or No Deal. We both liked the Pirates of the Caribbean flicks and if that’s not cool, then what is? When I was a kid, we did not go to many movies. One of the few I remember us seeing as a family was Song of the South. After the movie, I was consumed by the idea of meeting the real Uncle Remus. My daddy, who had always told us Uncle Remus stories at bedtime, gave me the bad news: the actor who played Uncle Remus was not in fact the REAL Uncle Remus. Once I got over that bad report, I decided that meeting the actor would be sufficient. Poor Daddy, unable to break his promise never to lie to us, had more bad news. The movie we had just seen was in the theaters for a second run—it had come out a very long time ago; now even the actor who played Uncle Remus had gone on to the briar patch in the great beyond. Totally uncool.
As for TV, when I was 14, my parents were watching The Waltons and Little House on the Prairie. Actually, my sister and I wouldn't let them watch anything else because those were our favorite shows. Remember when John-boy fell in love with Jenny? Oh I loved that one--except, of course, for the knife-to-the-gut ending: “To Be Continued.” And who didn’t weep when Mary became blind or cheer for Laura and Manly? (Okay, so my parents were pretty cool about TV.)
Here’s the amazing thing when it comes to coolness and parenting, though. My kids think it is cute when Papa dances in public. Cute! They love the stories about Papa’s toupee and can't even imagine Gangi with big hair and therefore don't really believe the hype. “Gangi always looks so pretty,” they explain to us patiently. “She never tucks her shirt in.”
Update September 1, 2015
Since I published this seven years ago, Caleb Spady slipped from his earthly father's arms into the embrace of his Heavenly Father. He passed away 15 months after his diagnosis on July 21, 2009. Many others have been diagnosed with DIPG since then. It is a cruel and horrible disease.
But there is good news. Research is being done; treatments are being perfected. Because people are becoming more aware, more funding is available for all pediatric cancers. Don't be afraid to learn about pediatric cancer. Awareness doesn't lead to cancer diagnoses. Awareness leads to hope.
Knowledge. It really is a good thing.
September is Childhood Cancer Awareness month. Each year, Chili's holds a Donate-The-Profits day to benefit St. Jude's research hospital. This year, that day is Monday, September 14, 2015. Find a Chili's that day and eat up! Just by doing that, you'll be making a difference in the life a child.
Published on: Aug 29, 2008
Five months ago, at a huge party to celebrate a life that we already knew would be way too short, Paxten Andrew Mitchell gave me a big hug and a kiss. As he fell into my embrace, I rubbed his fuzzy head, feeling hair there for the first time in our year-long friendship. Later Paxten wrestled me to the floor and stood triumphantly above me giggling at my weakness.
In less than a month, Paxten’s fight against cancer ended at Heaven’s gate. Now my friend Kim Spady is fighting for the life of her son Caleb, a vibrant ten year old boy with a ticking bomb in his brain called a Diffused Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG).
Caleb, like his brothers, is the joy of his parents’ hearts and the pesky younger brother to Jacob and older brother to Seth and Luke. DIPG is totally random. Kim & Ken could not have protected Caleb from this monster by having the right genetic mix or by sealing Caleb in a bubble from birth. They could not have kept DIPG from attacking their son. But now they will move heaven and earth to win the fight over DIPG. (Caleb passed away on July 21, 2009. He was 11 years old.)
Surely we can all do something to stop these random pediatric cancers from ripping open our hearts and tearing out our children. Kim believes, and I know she is right, that the first step is awareness.
Would you visit one of these links and become a little more aware?
You don’t have to become an expert. Just learn one thing. You don’t have to spend your whole night on the internet (Kim’s already doing that). Just learn a little bit. I’ll never get another hug from Paxten on this side of Glory, but one way I can honor the gift God gave me in Paxten, is to spread the word about pediatric cancers.
Join me, okay? Together, we can strengthen the hope for a cure. Because as Kim says, “One day a child with DIPG will be healed. Maybe even today.”
Zach, the Palestinian who guided our tour of Israel, knew a little something about aging gracefully. A grandfather who had been considering retirement for months, Zach was hard at work, leading our group of 34 American tourists through his homeland. He walked all over Masada and Qumran in 100° heat. He hiked through Megiddo and strode up and down the ancient streets of Old Jerusalem. All the while, Zach shared his knowledge with us: telling the history of the area, quoting scripture chapter and verse, and recalling vignettes particular to the sites we visited. As far as I know, he never once sat to rest; he walked every step I did.
A month after my trip, my family and my sister’s headed to North Myrtle Beach, my parents’ hometown, for our annual vacation. My brother, Hal, and his family were already there. A few weeks earlier, they had moved back to the area and purchased a home right down the road from our parents.
Unfortunately, things were not going well. Because of a series of complications and botched repair jobs, Hal was still not in his new house. For six weeks, his family of five had been living with our parents while my brother became increasingly frustrated with the work crews he’d hired to make his home safe for his family. As we sat around Mother’s dinner table one night talking over my brother’s predicament, the doorbell rang.
“It’s Mr. Rothman,” Mother announced. “Come in Dick; have some supper.”
Mr. Rothman has been a family friend for 25 years (he watched my brother grow up). He passed retirement age at least 15 years ago. Since that time, he has nursed his beloved wife through Alzheimer’s, becoming her daily visitor when he made the gut-wrenching decision to place her in a nursing home. In addition to spending hours with his wife (who long ago had stopped recognizing him), he visited the other residents of the home. Mr. Rothman brought sunshine to the lonely, even when he was heartbroken with loneliness himself. More than ten years after she became ill, Mr. Rothman’s wife drew her last earthly breath, while her devoted husband looked on, weeping.
Also during the last 15 years, Dick Rothman has been running his own business. An electrician and an expert in air conditioning repair, Mr. Rothman has plenty of opportunities to stay busy. So by 9:00 every morning, Dick Rothman is out making his rounds, visiting customers who’ve relied on him for years.
“Hey, Hal,” Mr. Rothman began that night, “I’ve been thinking about that job you’ve got going on over there at your house.“ He had been over helping my brother with odd jobs while a larger company had replaced all of the duct work in the house and then worked to get the air conditioning running again. The company, though it had come highly recommended, seemed to be botching the job.
“Here’s what they’ve done,“ Mr. Rothman said, taking a ballpoint pen from his shirt pocket and drawing on a table napkin. Hal nodded in agreement. “And here’s what they should have done.“ He drew a different diagram.
“Uggh!” my brother groaned, “I knew it! I knew they were not doing it right.” Dejected, Hal slumped as he propped his elbows on the table and covered his forehead with his hands.
And then Mr. Rothman laughed aloud. “Oh now, Hal,” he said, “I didn’t come tell you this to get you worried. Let’s worry about it tomorrow if they don’t fix it.” He folded his hands in his lap, smiled and shook his head, seeming to recall some distant memory. “’Wait to worry.’ I’ve got that written all through my Bible. ‘Wait to Worry.’ I have to remind myself of that. But the thing is, we’ve got plenty of time to worry.” He patted my brother affectionately. “Let’s worry later.”
Hal knowing Mr. Rothman was right, laughed with his friend--a friend more than four decades older than he, a friend who had reached out to him and pulled him out of his despair.
“The olive tree never dies,“ Zach said. No matter what it has been through, no matter how old it gets, the olive tree keeps bearing fruit. Just like Zach. Just like Dick Rothman.*
On November 6, 2014, Dick Rothman celebrated his 90th birthday. Two days later, he passed from this world into the arms of his Savior, Jesus. Hal's air conditioning still works just fine.