Category: kids


This past Friday night I had the privilege to enjoy one of life’s rare, almost perfect, dare I say glorious evenings with my family. Not only with my husband and our two children who are still at home, but my parents, my brother, and my oldest son who lives now in Texas. It’s a rarity for all of us to be in the same place at the same time: my brother is in town between chef jobs at an exclusive hunting lodge in the Midwest and Alex is home for a week – the first time since Christmas.

I love to cook, and I try to be creative, but I am absolutely no match for my brother. He is a self-taught chef and in a word, amazing. “Chef Bo” has an instinctive sixth sense about technique, taste, texture, and presentation. Meats, fish, seafood, veggies, potatoes, sauces, fruits, desserts, you name it – he has a recipe somewhere in his head. I don’t even understand about half of what he does or how. But one thing is certain: it is always delicious. I don’t just mean “wow, that’s really good.” I mean, “How did you do that? That’s ridiculous good! Yes, more. Right there on my plate. Yep, keep it coming.”

So last Friday we decided on a menu, took our field trip for food shopping, and met at my house to begin preparing for the gorging that lay ahead. My mom was leaving town the next day for a choir trip so we were celebrating an early Father’s Day. And it was all hands on deck: I was working on the meat, Chef Bo was directing the appetizers and preparing side dishes, kids were chopping fruit and cutting blocks of cheese, Richard was cooking bacon. Everyone right there in the kitchen, together, doing something.

Knives flying, oven heating, refrigerator and pantry opened and closed, it all started coming together. Add a little move-your-feet music to the mix (U-verse, my family thanks you) and we had Paula Deen meets MasterChef.  We were laughing, talking, feeding ourselves a bite over here and playfully stealing a bite from someone else over there. By the time my parents arrived, the house smelled delicious. And we had artfully arranged the appetizers on a new (smaller) dish to disguise how much had already been consumed.

My responsibility for this particular feast was the meat: BBQ boneless ribs. Mmmm, my mouth waters just thinking about them. I’ve baked them many times before but I don’t remember ever cooking them when my brother was going to be eating them (did I mentioned he’s a chef?). Talk about pressure. The main attraction, the one thing everything else on the table centered on – even the appetizers – was my responsibility! Aye-yi-yi! I have to admit, I was tempted to change things up a bit, try something new, do them just a little different, but I stayed true to my personal recipe and slid the baking dishes into the oven.

Chef Bo, with a raised eyebrow asked, “Are you sure about those ribs? You know we’re eating in 2 ½ hours right?” I acknowledged the clock and his question with a simple, “uh-huh” and a smile.

Fast forward to 7pm. Appetizers consumed. Table set. Side dishes working on the stove and in the oven. Clock ticking. Laughter. Conversation. Billiards tournament underway in the basement.  And then it was time: time to pour the drinks, summon everyone to the table, and let the feasting begin. Everyone who knows me knows I love having my family around the table together (Norman Rockwell, my grandmothers and my mother, I thank you). So on any other day, just the fact that we were all together would have been enough. Not this evening. Not this meal. The ribs had to be perfect: tender and juicy but not watery, with sauce that wasn’t too thick or pasty. We all sat down and held hands to bless the food and our time together. Dishes began to move around the table in every direction, forks and spoons clinking, passing this, sharing that. And then the moment of truth: Chef Bo took a bite of those cooked-to-perfection ribs. I placed my napkin in my lap and sat back in my chair waiting, watching.

A big, surprised expression in those cat-like green eyes of his followed by a huge smile answered my unspoken question. “Wow! Those are amazing! How did you do that?”

Ah, yes, the sweetness of a food triumph.

What followed was in a word, carnage. We ate ribs until we couldn’t lift our forks. We ate homemade mac n’ cheese made from lasagna noodles (I told you, he’s a chef!). We ate a most unusual and delicious green bean and sweet pea concoction I feel very sure I could not re-create. Chef Bo asked my secret for the ribs followed immediately by, “No, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know. You can keep that culinary secret and I’ll just keep eating.”

We ate, we laughed, we told stories on each other. We shared a meal and we shared memories. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does it is truly unforgettable. No one rushed away from the dinner table, no one was anxious to go do something else or be somewhere else. Just family. Just perfect. And the email I received from my brother the next morning went something like this:

“About last night…it was grrreeeaaat. One of our best family times ever. And how exactly did you do those ribs???”

This weekend marked my maternal grandmother’s 97th birthday. Yes, 97. She looks like a spritely 75-year-old, is in excellent health, and until very recently could work circles around anyone half her age. I remember a few years ago when she was in the emergency room with an about-to-rupture gall bladder and the nurse asked her what medications she was currently taking. She said, ‘I don’t take anything’. The nurse turned to my mother and asked the same question, remarking that my grandmother didn’t hear or understand what she had asked. My grandmother, in excruciating pain, fired right back, “I heard you and I understood you. And I will tell you again, I don’t take any medication for anything.”

 My mother didn’t need to say a word.

 This weekend my family also celebrated my youngest son’s 10th birthday. Finally, double digits. My grandmother, his great-grandmother, “Memaw”, 87 years his senior.

 Although we don’t get to spend a tremendous amount of time together, my children adore their great-grandmother. And I’ve been thinking of a few things I hope they have learned from her, passed down generation to generation, reminding them of their roots and the legacy they’ve been given.

1. Family is everything. My earliest memories of my grandmother center around family gatherings. She and my Papa loved nothing more in the world than being surrounded by their children and grandchildren. They loved the churches my grandfather pastored and poured their hearts into the lives of its members, but nothing – and I mean nothing – brought them greater joy than having family around them.

2. Loyalty matters. My grandmother is fiercely loyal. She can correct, rebuke, and even punish a family member who gets out of line, but woe to the outsider who attempts to do the same. My Memaw is one of the sweetest, most gracious and forgiving Southern women you could ever hope to meet. Until you say something unkind about one of her own. Then I would suggest you head for the hills. Fast.

3. Growth is important. My grandmother was a teacher for most of her adult life using a teaching degree she earned in 1934. And at the age of 50, she received her Bachelor of Science degree in Education fromBerryCollege. Yes, going back to college was difficult. Yes, it took time, and energy, and commitment. But she did it. She also learned to drive. And for the record, she was a better student than she was a driver. The roots of my “Lead Foot Lucy” nickname can be traced straight back to her!

4. Change is inevitable. My grandfather was a pastor. Not at one church. Not at two or three churches. In his 57 years as a pastor, my Papa shepherded seven church congregations spread out over three states. My grandmother always made it an adventure, a calling, an opportunity. And she always made it home. No muss, no fuss. Just set up house, share the (one) bathroom, gather the family around the table for a home-cooked meal, and say the blessing. Make friends, embrace change, celebrate birthdays, holidays, and babies, and be grateful for the pillow on which you lay your head at night.

5. Marriage is forever. My grandparents were married for almost 60 years. When my Papa, her beloved Charles, was dying of cancer she was his advocate, his caretaker, his nurse, his meal planner, his gentle bath-giver, his prayer warrior. She was strong as he grew weaker, and she bravely held his hand as he left his earthly body to embrace immortality. Memaw taught us how to grieve loss and celebrate life in the same breath. She cried and she laughed and she hugged long and hard those who shared her grief. And she has faced head-on the years without him, sadly at times, accepting that it is not yet her time to be reunited with him. When it was suggested at one time that she consider re-marrying, she looked away and softly said, “it’s not for me; Charles was my one and only.”

6. The Bible is true. I don’t know how many times my Memaw has read through the Bible but she can teach it as if she wrote it herself! (No disrespect intended.) When she talks about her favorite passages or verses in the Bible, they truly come to life. Her love for God’s word is the foundation and cornerstone of her existence. And anyone who has ever met her knows that to be true about her. She doesn’t preach the Bible to those around her. She doesn’t have to because she lives it every single day.

7. Prayer works. My Memaw has spent hundreds, probably thousands, of hours throughout her life praying for her family, her friends, her community, her country, and the world. When she awakens during the night, instead of getting a warm glass of milk and going back to sleep, she gets on her knees and prays for whoever is on her heart and mind. And she stays there until she feels a peace about climbing back under the covers. I’ve heard her tell of many a night when she prayed right on through the night until it was time to start the day’s work. My life is living proof that her prayers were heard and answered.

8. Eternity is forever. I can’t remember a time (almost ever) when my grandmother hasn’t reminded us all that she wants nothing more in the world than for her family to be together. Forever. Eternally. She reminds us all how important it is for us to stay in right relationship with God, to love Him above all else, and to be obedient to His leading. Through teary eyes and strained voice she pleads with us all to be sure, be absolutely sure, that we know where we will spend eternity. And then she smiles that sweet little smile, cocks her head and whispers, “I love you all so much.”

 Happy birthday, Memaw. Happy birthday, Stephen. As I find myself standing between the young and old, it occurs to me that the distance between 10 and 97 is not really very far. Not when it’s measured with love.

Last month I wrote about the mutual crush my 9-year-old son and I have shared since sometime around Christmas (see My Son’s New Crush on this blog site).  Sadly, the honeymoon is over.  I know this because I endured a shameful public break-up yesterday afternoon.  Stephen and I were perusing the aisles at our local Walgreen’s in search of tennis balls before he went to a friend’s house.  I detoured past the toilet paper aisle (we were dangerously down to two rolls, not a good plan at our house) and then over to the wall of refrigerated drinks to grab the 3/$5 bottles of Gatorade.  It’s travel baseball season and we go through Gatorade like most kids go through frozen popsicles during ‘adult swim’ at the pool.

Stephen and I reunited at the front of the store and headed for the cash register.  The man behind the register is the same familiar smiling face who usually rings up my purchases and is always quick to look through the flyer to see if I’ve missed a sale or a coupon.  He heard me call Stephen by name as we were standing there and after I ran my debit card through the machine, he looked at Stephen and asked, “Are you going to help Mom out today, Stephen?”

In a moment of in-your-face-alien-abduction my son shrugged his shoulders and answered, “Probably not.”  And then, to add utter humiliation to my shock and awe, he turned and walked toward the door with his tennis balls.  “Stephen Clay Hood! Turn around and get back over here [pause for effect and lower voice before continuing]. Right. Now.”  There was no mistaking the steely tone of my voice or the fiery darts shooting from my blue eyes.  It is unfortunate for me that so many people were in the check-out line to witness my son’s Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde moment.  It is indeed very fortunate for my son that there were so many witnesses to what could have been a horrific crime of parenting rage right there in front of the bubble gum and breath mints.

The only words I could muster after he lazily sauntered back over to the counter were, “We are still in the store young man, and I can easily return those tennis balls I just bought.  Now pick up the Gatorade and go to the car.”

Ruth Bell Graham was once asked during an interview if she had ever been tempted to divorce her world-famous evangelist husband, Billy.  She wittily replied, “Divorce? Never.  Murder? Yes.”  I know exactly how she felt.  Honestly, in that nano-second of anger and embarrassment I visualized several ways I could rid the free world of my son’s belligerent and disrespectful attitude.  There’s not a parent on Planet Earth who would convict me: we’ve all been there, done that, and hidden the t-shirt.

The ensuing car ride was stifling in its quiet.  Stephen dared not say a word and I was biting my lip afraid of what I might say if I opened my mouth.  By the time we turned back into our neighborhood I was able to calmly but firmly express that his behavior was inappropriate and unacceptable.  I’m fairly certain he got the message and is afraid to find out what the woods behind Walgreen’s look like after dark.

It will probably be a while before I summon the courage to shop again at my neighborhood Walgreen’s.  I can guarantee you it will be a long time before I walk through those doors with Stephen at my side.  I still love him and I know he still loves me.  But in a moment of stretching his proverbial wings, he knocked me off my pillar of sweetness and light.

And the crush was crushed.

Sitting in front of my computer last night, catching up on emails, and reading a detailed online article about what an “After Rapture Party” is (for those who remain after May 21st), I saw a new ‘friend request’ on my facebook page.  I recognized the name and clicked on the picture to enlarge it.  Sure enough, it was one of my daughter’s classmates from school.  She and another friend had posed wearing spaghetti strap camisoles holding wine glasses up to their lips with what appeared to be white wine in their glasses.  I can only hope it was apple juice or sparkling cider. They were clearly trying to convey a seductive look (as much as a 12-year-old is capable of) and pass themselves off as older, sexier, and ready to party.

Mortified doesn’t even begin to describe my reaction.  This little girl (and yes, she is still a girl) is advertising herself on the internet very much like some of the ads you would be able to find on the back pages of any edition of Creative Loafing.  At first I was angry and reached for my phone to call her dad and tattle on her.  And then overwhelming sadness replaced the outrage.  I remembered that she’s had ‘boyfriends’ all the way back to fourth grade.  She was given a cell phone long before any of the other kids her age and has privileges at home that are part of the reason Rachel is not allowed to spend the night at her house. She’s a sweet, smart girl who refers to me as Mrs. Mom and runs to hug me every time we see each other.  Maybe that’s one of the reasons her facebook page bothered me so much.  If she were a ‘bad seed’ or a bully or just plain mean maybe it would be easier to write her off.  But she’s not. 

She’s one of millions of girls in our society today (yes, my daughter included) who are being blatantly told by the media, TV, music, and movies that the only thing they are good for is sex – and they better look the part.  It’s everywhere, in every form of communication.  Hip-hop and rap music seem to take it to an extreme but don’t be fooled.  It’s in country music, too.  And top 40.  And rock.  Pop artist Rhianna, who became the poster child for domestic violence about two years ago has now released a song containing the lyrics, “sticks and stones may break my bones but whips and chains excite me.”  What?!?!?  And my kids say the same thing to me that I said to my parents: “I don’t listen to the words. I just like the music.”  Yeah, right – as they sing every word to every song on the playlist.

Our county’s school system has a dress code.  Not uniforms mind you, but a certain degree of standards that must be adhered to during the school day.  And I’m happy to say they are quick to enforce it.  I’m also sad to note that I’ve actually heard parents complaining about it.  Yep.  Parents.  Dads griping because their daughters can’t wear ‘booty call’ shorts and Moms whining about the fact that their daughters’ midriff must be covered at all times.  Really?  You, as a parent, are incensed because the school system is requiring your daughters to be modest?  Who’s drinking the Kool-Aid now? 

Because of my cancer and the grueling reconstruction surgeries that followed treatment, my husband and I have become more than just acquaintances with my doctors.  We’ve gotten to know them and have taken the opportunity to talk about a myriad of topics other than just my particular procedures.  We were shocked to learn that my plastic surgeon’s office does breast enhancements on girls as young as 16!  My specific doctor does not, and as a whole the practice does not encourage it, but there are parents – right here in the Bible belt – giving their daughters plastic surgery procedures as high school graduation gifts.  Excuse me, what planet are you from???  It’s one thing for ‘the world’ to be telling our daughters to go to any lengths necessary to make themselves a hot mess, but it’s another thing altogether for their parents to be footing the bill.

This has been my soap box for years.  I’ve noticed even at our church – one of the largest Southern Baptist churches in the country – a growing number of girls and young women who obviously put a lot of thought into what they wear and how they wear it on Sunday.  And not in a good way.  It occurs to me, especially for the younger girls, that they are not old enough to drive nor hold down a job.  So who is taking them shopping and who is paying for these clothes?  Mom and Dad.  Which means that as they are walking to the car on Sunday morning (or any other day of the week) unless Mom and Dad are blind they see what their daughters are wearing – and the message it’s portraying.  I for one would have been locked in my closet for 30 years if I had ever tried to dress that way, much less leave the house.

And maybe that’s the key.  My Mom taught me – by her example – what was appropriate.  She dressed like a lady.  When we went shopping together she would let me pick out what I liked.  If something didn’t fit properly or wasn’t appropriate we would discuss the why behind the ‘no’.  And after we talked about it, 90% of the time it was still a ‘no’ but she taught me to use good judgment and good sense and to be careful what I presented to others.  But here’s the key: she didn’t hesitate to say ‘no’.  My mom wasn’t so obsessed with being my best friend that she stopped being a parent.  And my Dad didn’t use the excuse of “giving me a competitive edge” to justify allowing inappropriate behavior.

Maybe we should add a new line to the children’s tune, “Oh be careful little eyes, what you see.”  It might go something like this:

“Oh be careful, Mom and Dad, what you buy.
 Oh be careful, Mom and Dad, what you buy. 
 For the world is standing by and your daughter will pay the price.
 Oh be careful, Mom and Dad, what you buy.”

An anonymous poet once said, “The pouring of compassion, combined with the mixing of gifts and generosity, blend together to serve miracles.”  The first time I saw this printed in a magazine, it was the artwork that caught my attention.  The artist had captured an old world feel, something between Renaissance and Renoir.  I read the words again, promptly tore the page out of the magazine, and taped it up on the wall where I could read it daily – sometimes several times a day.  In light of Mother’s Day I would like to tell you about a very special woman who epitomizes every word of this short but powerful prose – my Mom.
The pouring of compassion… my Mom feels things deeply and even though her strong Southern upbringing won’t always allow her to show it, her heart is as tender as fresh biscuit dough.  She will be the first volunteer to provide a meal for someone who’s sick or recovering from surgery.   When she and my Dad travel, she always tucks away the complimentary shampoo, conditioner, bath gels, and lotions from the hotel so she can deliver them to a local ministry helping underprivileged women.  Whether she’s praying (I’ve heard her) or writing in her journal (I’ve read a few entries), nine times out of ten it’s about someone else and their needs.  When I had breast cancer and was overwhelmed by everyone wanting to take care of me, she touched my arm and said gently, “Sweetie, they love you.  Let them.”
Combined with the mixing of gifts and generosity… my Mom has many gifts and she happily, generously shares them with anyone and everyone.  She has the gift of beauty but you won’t find one vain bone in her tiny frame.  She has the gift of hospitality and can instantly make anyone feel at home, ready to put their feet up on the sofa and stay a while.  She has the gift of creativity and can make the simplest meal beautiful and memorable.  She has the gift of music and sings with a joyful spirit.  She has the gift of reading.  That may sound strange but no one – and I mean no one – can read a story to a child like my Mom.  She can literally make time stand still in a story.  I’m thankful my children have been the benefactors of that one!  Everything she does is blanketed in generosity.  She regularly goes above and beyond and finds tremendous satisfaction in making life a little sweeter for others.
Blend together to serve miracles… my Mom always made our house a home.  We may not have had a lot in the world’s eyes but we didn’t know it.  She made birthdays, Christmas, and sometimes a regular old Saturday morning magical – usually on a shoe string budget.  She worked a full time job, volunteered (for everything) at our church, kept our house clean and the laundry done, carted my brother and me to all our social and sporting events, and taught me by example to be a gracious, kind, compassionate woman.  I learned to respect others by watching her respect others.  I learned to do my best by watching her touch everything with excellence.  I learned the deep satisfaction of a ‘Norman Rockwell’ moment by helping to prepare a special meal and gather her family around the kitchen table.  And I learned to be fiercely loyal to my family by understanding that sometimes it’s alright to not keep your mouth shut.
I lovingly refer to her as ‘Miss Daisy’ (when she’s not around), my children call her ‘Honey’, and our friends know her as ‘Mrs. C’.  She pours compassion, combines it with the mixing of gifts and generosity, and blends it all together to serve miracles.  She is simply, beautifully, my Mom.
 
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