Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Ramblings from My Attic #117
My MillyMom
She turned 80 this week, my MillyMom.  Not that she looks it.  Once a blue-eyed belle of the ball, a Chevy Chase debutante, she long ago shunned fancy make-up and hair-dos, and now her pixyish sandybrownsilver hair suits her just fine, thank you very much. I want to be her when I grow up.
My mom did not have a mother-in-law for me to model a relationship on, for better or worse; and she died seven months after I married Allen.  Milly has been there for me 22 years and counting; her delicate hand with its long artistic fingers holding or being held by mine; reminding me viscerally and spiritually of my own mother. 
We have had missteps and meltdowns; our temperaments too alike to avoid it. And I think that is one of the reasons we’ve gotten so close.  Like the marriage that brought Milly into my life, our relationship has met and bested challenges; morphed around my daughters’ ages and stages; and grown ever stronger because of honesty and humor.
I have so much to thank her for: for creating the whole wonderful, wacky, brilliant and humble Huffman clan with my dear father-in-law Richard; for always welcoming me with open arms and a soul warming smile; for engendering our extended families with such strong roots and loyalties; for propping me up when I need it; for reality checks when I need them; for the locket that frames my parent’s pictures close to my heart; for the camping cook stove which has got to rank up there as one of the most unique and best birthday gifts ever; for always listening and never being heavy-handed with me or my kids; for always saying “I think” instead of “you should;” for supporting my writing; for speaking the truth; for trusting me; for always having a new puzzle to work on; for letting me do the dishes; for sharing recipes; for loving me.
I never imagined that a daughter-in-law and mother-in-law could understand each other so well.
Happy Birthday, MillyMom!
I love you.
Ramblings from My Attic #116
Here, Now
It’s morning, blissful morning and though a work day, it is that splendid time when the sun is still tilted into my study window, the kids have trundled off to school, Allen to work and the dog and I back from our woodsy walk.
The newspaper sits on my footstool unread because my thoughts are forcing my fingers to record them; untangle them.  I’m in the midst of a prolonged high; what Allen and I have always called a love rush.  Though “Better Living Through (prescribed) Chemistry” may be a partial ingredient, I want to assure my many pre-menopausal friends that it’s not just the hormonal and chemical changes that I credit.  Watching my teen alternately tangling and untangling her own life, I realize that I am liberated by not living with future plans and decisions dominating my thoughts. 
This is the true joy of middle age.  I get to live in the moment because the moment is all mine.  It is what I value.  Even as we help our progeny and friends take steps to ensure satisfactory futures for themselves, we dames of a certain age get to preen and prance again.  I feel that every new accomplishment is now extra credit; bonus points. The gift I hope to impart to my girls as they struggle through adolescence and towards a nebulous future is the importance of balancing society’s benchmarks of accomplishments with self-satisfaction and humor.
With all the high hopes and high abilities that my high school junior has as she enters the college application mill, she also has her crazy, mercurial C-student mom modeling the joys of imperfection and flexibility.
Life is good.

Ramblings from My Attic #115
Be Still
Leaves crunching under her hooves, she inched towards us a few steps at a time.  At each pause she delicately lifted her stick thin front right leg, then stomp stomp stomp in quick succession.  Her large brown mule ears bent forward straining for clues; the long nose twitched; her dark eyes never wavered from the exhausted Golden Retriever clutched by a crouched figure mostly obscured by panting red-gold dog.
Despite the racket Moe and I make crashing through the woods behind the school on our daily walk, we often catch sight of deer either petrified stock still at a distance or leaping frantically away.  Never before had a doe approached us.   As we stayed locked in this stare-down another doe and a younger deer continued to forage behind her, paying us little mind.
Thanks to the deer and the dog and the creeks and woods close to home, I don’t go stark raving mad.  We are so tethered to our cell phones and computers and constant contact with family, friends and co-workers that reflection time barely exists. Electronic instant gratification now nibbles away at any remaining downtime in our lives.  Not only is the average American family racing between jobs, school, sports, extracurricular activities, but they are constantly communicating changes in schedules to each other.  I do it, my kids do it, and my friends do it.  We are locked in a frenzy of activity.
Lying in a hammock in Panama, my eldest this summer learned for the first time in her 16 years to enjoy stretches of inactivity.  “Mom,” she told me when she returned, “our lives are way too hectic.”  She enjoyed the slower pace, the time to talk to and really get to know the families she lived with, shared meals with.  Now as a high school junior, she’s juggling driver’s education, SAT prep, sports, a heavy course load and the college selection process.  Not much hammock time in sight.
Even adolescent romance is on the impersonal fast-track of instant messaging.   My 11 year old was thrilled to stumble upon the yellowing “love notes” I had passed to Ricky Katz in 7th grade French class.  She giggled at our tender exchanges that included lines like “That comment you made was so dumb.  Can I have your phone number? Love, Lori.”   It’s especially funny to her, because she exchanges similar innocent sentiments  on-line, all without pre-meditated thought or physical presence and to me, sadly impersonal. No daughter or grand-daughter of hers will have any tangible proof of her silliness.
I eased myself from a crouch to a sitting position behind Moe and waited to see how close the doe would come.  She finally stopped about 12 feet away.  If a buck had approached with stomping feet, I would have had the sense to vacate the premises, but she was simply conveying her boundaries and politely asking us to leave.  Eventually, respectfully, Moe and I retreated and left the trio to themselves in the dappled wood.  
March 16, 2009
Ramblings from My Attic #114
Greater Truths
When Brooke was born I longed for the how-to manual. She was an early-bird, and Allen and I felt hopelessly inadequate in the day-to-day care of a preemie. But we managed. We were studious. Sixteen years later I feel that we have finally become experts in the care, feeding and nurturing of Brooke. Trouble is, she has downsized her staff and dismissed all but the banker and the chauffer (now relegated to the passenger side; even the chauffer’s days are numbered).
A slacker mom extraordinaire, I increasingly subscribe to the benign-neglect school of parenting. And somehow my kids still live. Bold, bright and beautiful, my daughters need me for so little now. Or so they think. I still get hit with questions plumbing Life’s Greater Truths:
Will a terrorist strike while we are at the inauguration?
Don’t know, but we’ll be together, and security will be massive (so massive it turns out we never made it to the actual inauguration)
Will I ever grow boobs?
If you don’t, you’ll always look awesome in spaghetti strap dresses.
Will I ever have a best friend again?
(And now that she does…) What happens to best friendships when you go to college?
I followed my best friend to the college she chose and our best-friendship disintegrated by the middle of freshman year. College was great, but note to self – don’t share all your stupid mistakes with daughters.
Or the question texted one late afternoon to my co-worker from her 17 year old son: “Mom, I finished all of my broccoli. Can I go to [my girlfriend’s] house now?”
In the raucous tell-all of a book club retreat dinner one mom relayed a tale of not picking up teenage son’s clothes off the floor anymore and leaving him to do his own laundry. He then fumed through the house in his underwear to the laundry room, grabbed his pants off the floor, stomped back through the house not realizing that the dog had chewed out the back of them while they lounged on the laundry room floor.
Another co-worker was taken aback by an invitation to a young man’s wedding. Always self-effacing, she told this 20-something friend of her son that he really didn’t have to invite her. “Of course I do Mrs._____, I had my first sex in your basement!”
I guess we won’t always have the right answers but it sure is fun hearing what comes out of our mouths (often our mother’s voices) and theirs (definitely NOT our mothers’ voices).

Monday, September 22, 2008

Ramblings from my attic #112
Don’t Cross Me

Since her first foray across the street to school, holding my hand and trying to quell the butterflies dancing in her little five year-old belly, she had wanted to be a crossing-guard. And not just any crossing guard. She wanted to be the crossing guard at HER corner, a gnarly sight-impaired four-way stop that tries the patience of every driver and walker each school day. She carefully observed each year’s trio of fifth graders that ruled her corner. There have been the jolly patrols, the comatose patrols, the singing patrols, the polite patrols, the silly patrols, the chronically late patrols, the dedicated life-saver patrols.

Near the end of fourth grade she turned in her job choices for 5th, an Arlington elementary school tradition. Topping her list was crossing guard. She sighed as she told me that she didn’t think she stood a chance; too many kids wanted to be patrols. A week or so later she got the news. She was a crossing guard, and at HER corner! All was well in the world.

“Mom,” she said after their first training day, “I’m with all boys, and that’s ok, but they must be trying us out because there were four of us today. I hope I’m not cut.”

A few days passed with Lindsay, normally dragging to school just in time for the bell, racing down the street 30 minutes early proudly wearing her orange patrol training belt. One of those mornings I got a call from the mom of one of the boys. She explained that he had been assigned to patrol closer to the school, was partnered with a girl, was totally miserable and kept sneaking up to the four-way stop to be with his friends.

Wouldn’t my daughter like to switch to be with her girl friends? I thought for a moment, and then told the mom as graciously as I could I really didn’t think she wanted to; she, too, was friends with the boys at the corner, and was delighted to be stationed there. I like the mom; our kids have been in classes together for years. We decided that I would test the waters to see if there was any interest in changing. I soon reported back to her that I was sorry, but Lindsay was pleased as punch where she was and had no interest in moving to a position near her girl friends.

School ended. Summer came and went.

Labor Day evening Lindsay packed her lunch and laid out her first day clothes, shoes, back-pack and patrol belt. The next morning she bolted out the door to race down to the school before I could even get out of the shower to kiss her goodbye and good luck. It’s begun, I thought. She’s ten; the umbilical cord is almost severed. I agreed to let her walk herself home, secretly hoping that I would beat her there.

My cell phone rang as I was racing home that afternoon. “Mom?” said a quaking little voice. “Lindsay, honey, what’s wrong? How was your first day of school?” I asked. “Mom, they want me to trade places” she sobbed. That morning the teacher who supervised the patrols had pulled Lindsay and the other patrols together before they walked back up to their stations, and announced to Lindsay and the boy who wanted to take Lindsay’s place, “You two can switch positions if you want to.”

So the begging and teasing began. “Please Lindsay, please please please trade places. Why do you want to be with the boys? Come on; let me be with my friends!” His friends picked up the chant and she spent her first full morning and afternoon in her dream job being asked to leave it. Another family later reported to me that Lindsay had done a great job “crossing” them, but they noticed that she looked upset. The dad had said, “Hey kiddo, everything ok?” to which she responded “I’m fine, just got a little something in my eye” and smiled weakly.

“What do you want to do?” I asked her. “I want to stay on my corner, but everybody’s mad at me, Mom. It’s just a big mess!” she cried. “I’ve upset everybody.” With Lindsay there is always drama. But this time, her tears were real and I struggled to give her the right words, the right message.

“Honey, do not switch if you don’t want to! Just because you are being asked to doesn’t mean you should give up something important to you, something you know you’re good at. You don’t always have to please people. You don’t always have to be with the girls. Sometimes you just have to stick up for yourself, and let everybody else just get over it!” When I got home she was calmer; we hugged.

The next afternoon I asked her how things had gone. “No problem” she said. “I just told him, sorry, I wasn’t going to switch. He was disappointed, but he got over it.”

She smiled and suddenly looked older to me. My little blondie, she’s gonna’ be ok.
Ramblings from My Attic #110
Pilgrims Unrest
The chain was up across the quasi dirt road. That was good. The 10-acre lake had half emptied the previous week when the drain pipe and dam sprung a leak; and a squatter had taken residence in the farm house. That was bad.

It was our fourth annual book club retreat weekend, and my pal Daphne and I were heading to her farm, Pilgrim’s Rest, early to tidy up before the rest of us got there.
We turned the corner to the house and were relieved to see the plain gray farmhouse still standing. Daphne didn’t know quite what to expect after her husband drove down to the farm a week before to inspect the dam damage only to surprise a young man who was quite plainly living in the house.

He found the beer bottles and cigarette butts before coming face to face with their “guest.” Turns out the kid (23 years old so young enough to be progeny to any of us) was the son of a farmer they knew, and unbeknownst to his dad, had decided that while down on his luck he could just sneak his way into this house and party down until spring. Caught off guard and big hearted, husband told him to be gone by the next Friday or he’d break the news to the boy’s dad. His biggest threat….”Just be glad it wasn’t my wife and her friends that found you, then you’d really be in trouble!”

As we approach the house, the morning sun outlines hundreds of cigarette butts in the grass and highlights the broken beer bottle glass glistening on the brick steps. Daphne’s shackles are up and every sweeping glance is taking inventory. We open the door. Ok. The place was not in shambles. We throw open doors and windows, then proceed through the house together.
As we walk through the main hall, Daphne notices two small pictures hung on the wall to our left. They used to be on a living room wall. Huh. She lifts one to find a hole punched in the wall, in the shape of a rifle butt. Colorful language ensues.

Daphne is officially pissed off. She is now on a mission to find other signs of violation by this twerp. I weigh loyal companionship with the pending arrival of the rest of our book club in search of R&R. I grab a broom and disinfectant and start cleaning. She takes charge upstairs, and yells out in frustration every time she finds something amiss. I helpfully yell back, “Focus; they’ll be here soon.” Like Noah’s menagerie, our friends arrive two by two as the afternoon sun turns golden.

By the time the first car pulls up the drive, we have discovered spills throughout the house, a pan of sausage and grease reeking in the oven, missing cups and glasses, ruined linens sitting on the washing machine and a random piece of wood in the back yard that might belong to a chair, the generous donation of 4 shot glasses etched with phrases not meant for polite company. And worst of all, no toilet paper.

After placing a TP SOS to friends still en route, we finish cleaning (Note to self: cleaning is synonymous with destruction of evidence). A couple of us wander down the road through the fields to the lake to view the stumps poking up through remaining water,- stumps underwater for at least a half a century until now. A crane swoops down to perch on a recently exposed log and a fat brown beaver scampers across the mud into the water for a swim.

Ahhh, lightness and laughter push the tension aside and we all adjourn to the living room to enjoy our first glass of wine, a fine champagne. Siege mentality gives way to the happy realization that we have all arrived before dark on a Friday night; a first for our retreat, and we joyously clink our glasses to the setting sun. Then Daphne gazes up to the living room ceiling and pronounces with wonder, “That’s not my ceiling fan!”

Seems the squatter had found it necessary to replace her perfectly good ceiling fan with a $15 Wal Mart variety now barely connected to the ceiling. That would explain the glass found behind chairs and under sofas. Ok. So the specter of a party now emerges from the image of a lone guy hunkered down in the house with no place else to go. A few phone calls to her husband later and a locksmith is arranged to arrive the next morning to change all the locks. What next, she thinks, and we all shake our heads.

We are there after all, to eat, drink, and be merry so Sue prepares lasagna for the oven, more wine is poured, the banter is light, and a fire is started in the Franklin Stove. Wait, what’s this? Out of the ashes in the stove emerges a small piece of charred wood with a familiar look. It is the foot of a kitchen barstool. Now the piece of wood in the yard made sense. Why would he be burning the barstool when there was a huge pile of firewood in the shed? Because he or friends had broken it and how better to hide the evidence then to burn it.

As we lounge in the living room after dinner someone notices another hole punched in the wall, this one behind a sofa. We ponder these new discoveries, our cognitive abilities now enhanced by excellent Cabernet, sumptuous lasagnas and carmelized apple bread pudding. There are many miles between us and our responsibilities and life is good.

Our book club is a sanctuary; a group of women in various stages of paid employment and motherhood brought together by love of reading, and kept together by the pure pleasure of conversation and friendship. We include stay-at-home moms, an architect, a business owner, a lawyer, a life-coach, educator-librarian, musician, bookkeeper, writer, engineer and PTA presidents past and present; and we have survived ten years together through laughter and tears.It is fitting that Daphne endures the unfolding discovery of her farm’s invasion with all of us at her side. Our bravado that night increases with each uncorking of wine and by bed time no one is much worried about intruders.

Then Kristen pulls aside her covers on a bunk bed to find an interesting small gray plastic box. She comes back downstairs to ask if anyone knows what this may be. After playing around with the object that at first looks to me like a Game Boy, we decide what she has found is a drug scale. So our boy was dealing drugs here? That certainly upped the ante.

Night passes peacefully. Saturday morning dawns sunny and unexpectedly mild with a 7am phone call from my nine year old wondering when her basketball game is. I stagger into the kitchen to find Sue reading and Marian ready to fix a gourmet breakfast of Swedish pancakes with strawberries and cream sauce. God, how I love our farm weekends.

Daphne reminds us that there will be a man on the premises soon. The Locksmith is due anytime. Then while on the phone with her husband and renewing the inventory, she adds the sheriff to our expected list of visitors after discovering that a vintage shotgun and their 22 rifle are missing from their closet. It’s officially time for the Long Arm of the Law. So the momentous decision each of us make that morning is whether to greet all these visitors in jammies or jeans.

When the locksmith knocks on the door, we are all post-breakfast, standing around the kitchen island trying out an assortment of hand creams and skin defoliating products to make our hands softer and younger looking. I notice a bearded older man at the front door and saunter over, still clad in my modest plaid one-piece pajamas, and attempt to open the door with exfoliant still slathered on my hands. After a few tries and with the help of my pajama sleeve I finally manage to open the door. “Man in the House” I bellow. He is a kind man and an efficient locksmith unperturbed by the pajama clad women scurrying around him. He also knew the deceased former owner of the farm and gives Daphne some great tidbits of house history which she takes in with interest.

Then he departs and the Deputy Sheriff arrives. Daphne gets yet another surprise when the Deputy tells her he responded to a disturbance call to the farm at 4am a week ago to find at least 14 cars parked and people partying in and out of the house. This would have been just hours after her husband left, convinced that the boy would do the right thing and immediately clean things up and move out.

The Deputy is professional and efficient, and it becomes clear that the invader has brought upon himself a heap of trouble, with damages now moving the potential charges from misdemeanor to felony. Not to mention the handy little drug scale found upstairs. And he reminded us as we go about our business of retreating to save any thing that looked like evidence. Oops, too bad we were such conscientious cleaners the day before!

By the time breakfast is over, locks changed, dishes washed, Deputy briefed, showers begun, it is almost lunch time. Pat takes over the kitchen and out comes mouthwatering soup, bread, cheese and of course, a bottle or two of fine white wine. We gather in the sunny yellow dining room, pose for the camera, and begin a joyous and delicious repast.

Belva glances up from lunch, stares out the front window and startles us with “Who’s that?” Some of us are able to follow her glance in time to see a late model blue SUV racing down the dirt road between the fields to the lake. More colorful language, loosely translated: “What the hell?”
In a cacophony of suppositions, we determine as a group that the car belongs to the trespasser or one of his friends and they’ve caught wind that the Sheriff’s department is on their tail, so are racing to the lake to retrieve their drug/ammo stash. With wine glasses in hand, most of us are now standing, adrenaline vying with alcohol in our veins, heaping advice upon diminutive Daphne. She starts to call the boy’s father to find out who owns the blue vehicle, but we shout her down in favor of calling our fine friend the Deputy Sheriff.

Several of us spill out onto the front yard, camera in hand, to search for signs of activity in the distant fields, while others call out to us from the house, “Are you nuts?” I hear a distant siren and rush inside yelling “The Sheriff’s coming! The Sheriff’s coming!” then race back out barely in time to grab a snapshot of two Sheriff’s sedans racing down the dirt road to the lake, lights flashing, sirens now silenced.

We are now a very excited bunch of ladies. Minutes pass. Some of us have again spilled out into the yard and I even admit that I’m listening for gunshots. Then Daphne’s cell phone rings inside the house, and we hear laughter, then a voice from the front door….the car belongs to a friend of Daphne’s.

I am reminded that I have always found life more entertaining than fiction, and charge back inside to find out what the heck is going on. Daphne is now on the phone with friend’s wife back in Arlington, explaining to her that her husband is standing knee-deep in mud at the farm, being questioned by sheriff’s deputies. Turns out friend’s husband is an amateur archaeologist and having heard that the lake was draining, had rushed down to search for artifacts. He interpreted his wife’s enjoinder to “not bother the ladies, they’re having a book club retreat” as an order to not bother them at all with even a “Hi, don’t mind me. I’m going down to the lake for a bit.” He later assures us that she has since loudly and vehemently corrected his interpretation.

One sheriff’s vehicle drives away while our nice Deputy Sheriff pulls back up to the house. Daphne and I sheepishly walk out to greet him. He accepts our apologies with a slight smile, and comments wryly “You don’t have to apologize to me, just to the cars we almost ran off the road racing to get here.” While he is standing there, up drives the trespasser’s father, humbled and embarrassed by his son’s actions. And about three minutes later the Arlington neighbor drives up from the lake to apologize to Daphne for the ruckus. I can’t resist running back inside, grabbing my camera and sneaking to an upstairs window to chronicle little Daphne surrounded by these three men in her sunny driveway.

In a postmortem e-mail, Kristen commented “I really, really thought that the whole trespasser story was an excuse to bring in male strippers and keep us from being suspicious. I was watching to see if the “locksmith,” the “deputy sheriff,” “the farmer,” the “Arlington neighbor” started to shake their bon-bons and work those rip-away pants.” Maybe next year.
Ramblings from My Attic #111
We were talking PTA business. I was passing the baton of Teacher Appreciation Week on to a younger parent and we sat in a window lined conference room at the school with our fourth graders raising holy terror outside in the balmy March weather.
She commented on my lack of gray. I responded that neither of my parents had any grey hair to speak of when they died, one at 52 and one at 55. That led to the discovery that as mothers we both are haunted by mortality.
We lost our mothers as we entered our third decades…we weren’t children. We each lost a wise friend and mentor as we became wives and mothers. And we both worry about leaving our kids motherless.
As daffodils and forsythia sway outside the window, I find that I am not the only one who habitually reads obituaries, paying particular note to the age of the deceased. And we chase our families around with cameras, devotedly cataloging every moment in photo albums and scrapbooks to ensure that our kids have tangible proof of our existence and pictures that will somehow demonstrate our great love for them. Even as goose bumps appeared on our arms, we laughed at our fear and its silly manifestations.
We both find it painful that our mothers didn’t get to meet our children; didn’t get to be grandmothers. We miss their support as we raise our own families, miss asking them questions about our own childhoods, questions that weren’t important until we were the ones sitting up all night with a sick baby or fighting with a spouse or sending a tween off to middle school and wondering if early or late periods run in the family or if some critical piece of family medical history went to the grave with our loved ones.
As I’m writing this my eyes keep jumping to a crumpled piece of paper on my desk. It’s a sheet of poems by children’s poet Kalli Dakos; a momento of her visit to Lindsay’s school last week. On it in brown marker, Lindsay has penned her own brief poem: “I’m scared to die…In front of my kid’s eye.”
Yikes, is my nine year old channeling my fears? Then my eyes move up the page to instructions she was following: “Here’s a picture of a classroom JAWS (a very sharp toothed and aggressive looking pencil sharpener) that my daughter, Alicia, drew. If you were a pencil, would you want to be sharpened in JAWS? You might want to write a poem to go with Alicia’s picture.”
Though I still battle occasionally with a bit of late-onset hypochondria, I feel more firmly planted on this earth now that I’ve hit that mid-century mark, and even as I draw closer to the age that my parents died, I no longer harbor the fear of dying before my kids are old enough to know me. They know me. I live loudly and demonstratively in my own skin, and through the two girls that embody me. Try as they might, I don’t think either would be able to forget me now!
Ramblings from my attic #109
November 23, 2007
Thanksgiving Day

Alone for a moment. Allen & the kids have driven “downtown” to explore the CLOSED signs of Kilmarnock on holiday. Moe has collapsed on the guest house floor, bronze sides still heaving from swimming in the rippling creek and running circles around Lindsay, Milly & I as we walked the first annual Huffman Turkey Trot up and down Ditchley Road.

Northern Neck is such an antidote to our manic lives. I woke this morning to Lindsay snuggling in to bed with Allen and I, but for the first time it was she, not me, who pulled aside the curtains to get the floor to ceiling view of day breaking on the pond and bay within a few yards of where we lay. The motion of her body disturbed the great blue heron feeding before us and into the lavender streaked dawn sky he flew with a sweep of dark wing and hopelessly skinny legs flowing behind. Lindsay gasped in delight.

It is noon now. The unseasonably warm gusts suck the bleached canvas drape into the screen, then repel it while just beyond pond grasses dance, some green, some golden in the sunlight. This is the quiet I crave. An old wind chime flutters and clatters lightly. The wind slaps creek water against the rip-rap and pilings. It feels therapeutic to let what I hear and see wander through me and escape through my fingertips into the computer.

What is in me that needs release? So much has happened since last Thanksgiving, the details of which can be mulched under. What I carry forward is the knowledge that Allen and I can deal with trauma and stress, and survive; that we have a circle of family, friends and co-workers that weather storms with us, as we will with them. I am fifty now, and have learned that making stupendously difficult decisions can lead to unforeseen miracles.

On this day of thanks I marvel anew that my friends are many, my work fulfilling, my family loving, my home a refuge. As often in times of calm as in times of chaos, I think “Why me, Lord?” How did I get so lucky? Life’s rhythm carries sublime joy and wrenching sorrow, with a more frequent cadence of laughter, peace and minor annoyances that float away on a sigh.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Oh Those 'Mones

Ramblings from my attic #106

I read a second review of Louann Brizendine’s The Female Brain (see last Sunday’s Post Style section) and would love to say to the men in our lives, “Ah Ha! That explains it!” “It” being the inevitable chasm in communication between even the most loving of couples, as in “Honey, you just don’t get it!”

Brizendine’s book posits that we all begin in the womb with a female brain, then testosterone washes through the male brain, killing some of his empathetic cells while boosting and growing his aggressive and sex drive cells. Well, duh! My apologies to my male audience of three: Andrew, Doc & Dave (coincidence that their initials together are A.D.D.? I think not!) I admit I do squirm when her theories also lay out nakedly hormonal explanations for female inclinations and behavior.

Except for one. Apparently, the estrogen retreat of menopause gives back feelings of independence that it stole during decades of soaking the female brain and inducing tendencies to nurture. According to Brizendine in David Brook’s review, “Women initiate 65 percent of divorces after age 50.” A friends’ friend may be on to something when she labeled that decade in a woman’s life the “f____ you fifties!”.

I’ve gone full circle. Though I’m a little disappointed to discover that my mid-life contentment and strength may not be the work of exercise, experience and wisdom, but instead a result of estrogen’s ebb; in my late teens and twenties I rebelled against every characteristic attributed to women’s hormonal fluxes. They were labels of weakness, insults. Don’t mind her…she’s on the rag. What’s the matter with you…is it your time of the month? Women were considered unpredictable, emotional and unreliable (due to pregnancies and child-care issues).

We have a show up in the gallery this month and next (see Washington Post Saturday, Sept. 30th, Style Section, Page 2, Gallery) that features work by Inga Frick, a Washington D.C. artist, photographer and educator who is as intriguing as her art. Intense and exacting with an artist’s acute sensibilities, her tall angular frame is crowned by soft, short salt-and-pepper curls. Her works range from large to giant and incorporate digital photography, painting and collage (collage as you may have never seen it before). Before reading about Brizendine’s theories, I looked at these dark, complex pieces as disquieting reminders of life’s ever changing demands on the soul. Now I see evolving washes of testosterone and estrogen, my viewing colored by my musings on Brizendine’s theories. I think Inga’s work captures life’s unpredictability on canvas in confusing layers as women are similarly entangled in the conflicting layers of biological heritage, ambition, family and societal demands.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Full of Wonder

“Mom, I want to celebrate Grandma and Grandpa’s 50th anniversary again. It was so much fun.”

“But Lindsay, their next anniversary will be their 52nd.”

“How long have you and Daddy been married?”

“Seventeen years.” Then I explained to her that our 25th anniversary would be very special.

“How far away is that, Mom?”

“Take 17 from 25 and what do you get?”


“So how old will you be in 8 years, Lindsay”

“Mmmm…15 years old. But how old will Brooke be, Mom?”

“How old is she now? Just add eight years.”

“Mmmm…she’ll be 21 years old.”

There was silence in the back seat as she processed the data.

“Mom, when you’re seven years old, you have a lot to wonder about!”

I wonder a lot, too, I thought, smiling. I wonder what it will be like to have a child entering middle school while the other finishes high school. I wonder what it will be like to turn 60 with my youngest in college. I wonder how my two girls could be so different from each other and if I am up to the challenge of guiding them on their seemly disparate paths. I wonder when I will be able to be in the same room with both girls at the same time and actually enjoy the experience. I wonder if they will love each other and stay close when we are child-like again and they are the decision makers, or when they are all each other has.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Ramblings from my attic #104

Stop, look, listenI love my kids. I showed my love to my eldest from age 5 to age 12 by putting thousands of miles on our cars driving her to soccer practices, soccer training, soccer games, soccer tournaments, with forays into softball and basketball overlapping the soccer. After seven intense years, she has quit soccer, taken up basketball in a much more low key way, and begun smiling and joking around again.

You may do the like for your children, be it dance, swimming, gymnastics, baseball. Or you may have chosen to avoid the madness but wondered if you were being selfish. The road to youth sports madness is insidious and paved with good intentions. I eventually want to create a checklist that parents of young kids can use to continually re-access who is benefiting from a family’s sports involvement or over-involvement, and who is suffering from it. Youth sports are fabulous for exercise, team work, bond building, self esteem building, you name it. Yet I am afraid that now youth sports are robbing kids of both their youth and time for free play. The intensity of their competitive schedules is also fracturing family life. Parents are ceding the parenting of young children to coaches who may not have their children’s best interests in mind. A Division One winning season may be critical for a coach’s ego but hazardous to a 10 or 11 year olds physical and mental health.

I have seen parents close-up who live and die by their children’s success and failure in organized sports and I have witnessed through their journaling a set of parents who have struggled to keep a terminally sick child alive and a family intact for two years, only to watch their eight-year old son die of leukemia three weeks before Christmas. How do you deal with the loss of a child? I can’t answer that one. Cameron was a treasure to those who knew him. The journal his parents kept on
www.supportcameron.com will break your heart. There is no fairness or explanation for the suffering and death of an innocent. There is no understanding of how parents can survive the aftermath. But as a friend and I agreed, stories like Cameron’s remind you what is real; what is important.

I don’t mean to marginalize Cameron’s story by weaving it into an essay on youth sports. But his family’s tragedy lives in my consciousness next to my supposition that some parents may, subconsciously, view their children as a long term investment to maximize for scholarship potential. If they have a talent, then every opportunity must be given to them to develop it and become the best. Our kids are not commodities to hone and refine. And I don’t think that it is necessarily our job to push them to find and hone their talents at an early age. Our encouragement to take lessons, try out for a better team, study with the best teachers or coaches puts our children in the position of having to just go along to please us or rebel against our pressure and face our disappointment and anger.

Clearly, it’s not just in sports that our over-enthusiasm can push kids away from something they love. I work at the McLean Project for the Arts, and the exhibitions director, Nancy Sausser has told me of her innate love of sculpture, how her parents were supportive, but that meant that they didn’t get her in way when she proceeded to turn a basement space into her own hard scrapple studio. Her goal was to create; not to be the best, not to seek out the best teacher. That all came in time and was driven by Nancy’s own inner passion and determination.

She told me of an artist friend whose son showed early artistic talent. The friend made sure the son had the best training available, went to the best art camps, only to be hurt and mortified when in his late teens he walked away from it all in disgust and exhaustion.

Last summer I had a long phone chat with Marymount Women’s Basketball Coach Bill Finney about the over-reach of sports in kids’ lives. He expressed disgust that he received calls for his players to “tutor” kids still in elementary school to give them a leg-up in basketball competition. Undoubtedly he has a financial interest in promoting kids involvement in basketball as he runs a series of popular youth basketball camps. But he bemoaned to me the amount of structure kids must have now. He loves basketball, he says. He loves it because he played pick-up basketball until he was tired, then walked home. He was allowed to play it, love it, on his own terms.

We don’t let our kids stop when they’re tired anymore. They play on a schedule, in increasing competition. Kids need sports, but the burn-out and competition is pushing many kids away from organized sports before they even get to high school, right at the age that parents count on sports distracting their teenagers from more troublesome pursuits and peers.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Ramblings from my attic #103

Lice – The Gift That Keeps on Giving
Ok, so you see two or more parents talking in the school hallways or on the playground or in the parking lot. Simultaneously they reach up and start vigorously scratching their heads. You know what they’re talking about.

I have friends on both ends of the lice panic spectrum. One friend; after dealing with three heads of girl hair, a two month infestation, and 3 million loads of laundry; breaks out in hives and reaches for a bottle of wine every time I bring up the subject. The other says she’s ready to set a place at the Thanksgiving table for the little critters, since they obviously like her kid so much, and in the grand scheme of things, she’s dealt with worse.

I felt smug last year after our first invasion of the dastardly little bugs. I saw them, I nuked them, and I cut their nits out, end of story. Then this September, when I thought all was right with the world and children were all where they should be, the innocuous piece of paper arrived from school stuck between a PTA fundraising request and my kid’s homework. “Head Lice Alert” shouted the heading. I sighed and asked, “Does anybody in your class have head lice?” and let my fingers take a perfunctory stroll through hair smooth on top but dense and tangled beneath. Finding only a bit of dandruff, I tossed the notice in the trash.

Two days later I noticed her furiously scratching at the base of her neck and behind her ears. I groaned. I spent hours chasing her matted head around the house until I finally spotted the little varmints. As lice infestations go, this was a small one. I hurried down to the local pharmacy and got the obligatory toxic shampoo to nuke her head, but because her hair was only superficially combed I couldn’t reach all the nits. “Honey, I need to trim your hair to chin length so I can get all the nits out.”

Arms crossed angrily over her chest. “No!”

I tried again. “I know you’d rather Hannah (our beloved hairdresser) cut your hair, but she can’t while you have bugs. I can do it first, and then we can have Hannah fix it up later when the bugs are gone.” Sounded pretty reasonable to me.

“No! You are not cutting my hair” she screamed, then began sobbing.

This was going well. Time for desperate measures. “I’ll give you five dollars if you let me cut your hair.”


Ok, now what? “How old are you? What if I give you seven dollars to spend in the National Museum of the American Indian gift shop when we go tomorrow?”

“No.” More sobbing and a dramatic stomping retreat up the stairs and to her room.

I resume my pleas from half way up the staircase. “Look. We have no choice. I have to be able to find the nits in your hair and right now your hair is too tangled for me to search.” Pause. “How about $12?”

“No, no, no, no! I’m never ever letting you cut my hair!” she shouted.

Feeling every bit a failure, even for a slacker mom, I slumped over to the dining room table and tried to distract myself from her continuing tirade by sipping coffee and reading the newspaper.

After a while, the stomping ended. I heard her door open followed by quiet footsteps on the stairs. I pretended not to notice as she glided into the room with a smile on her face. “Do I have to spend the $12 at the Indian Museum?”

She loved her new pixie cut; I thought we were lice free; and the Indian Museum became $12 richer.

Fast forward a few weeks, a few hundred loads of laundry later, a follow-up dose of lice shampoo behind us, and again I find lice in her hair. My sanity, already border-line, slipped out through a crack in an old window sill. After bearing the brunt of a few of my unintelligible tirades, my husband decides transplanting trees and bushes in our yard a small price to pay for being outside of my screaming range. That he also could be heavily armed with yard implements was a bonus.

“Honey, your hair is still too long for me to get all the nits out.”

“No, Mom, you are NOT cutting my hair again,” arms once again folded across her chest and her eyes dark.

Not having the patience to dicker like last time, I cut to the chase. “I don’t have any choice. We aren’t getting rid of the lice. You have to let me cut your hair. I’ll buy you a gift at Target as soon as you let me give you the haircut.”


A while later, I perched her on a stool in the bathtub, wet her hair, and proceeded to trim. Oh *#@# I shuddered after the first snip. Her chin length bangs were suddenly three inches above her eyebrows. Maybe kitchen shears in dim lighting wasn’t such a great idea. “Let me see, Mommy, let me see,” she said excitedly. “Not yet,” I said. “Let me finish.” A few minutes later the rest of her hair zigzagged up and down with the longest pieces just covering the very tip top of her ears. Nervously, I removed the towel around her neck and she went running into her room to check out her new “do” in her big mirror.

That’s when the screaming started. “It’s horrible, Mom. I look horrible,” she shrieked. My husband tried to calm her down, while muttering to me, “Why didn’t you take her to a hair salon?” Soon, we were all yelling, quickly followed by Lindsay and I each locking ourselves in our rooms. Hey, don’t look to me for good parenting tips!

Hubby finally managed to talk each of us out of our rooms, promising dinner at the mall and a movie. Two and half hours later we came home laughing and hugging, but careful to not disturb little one’s newly pierced ears, the antidote of choice to “looking like a boy, like you do, Mom.”

Thursday, September 22, 2005

The Huffman Hair Chronicles

Ramblings from my attic #102

My hair is the weak link in the Arlington Huffman genetic pool so thank goodness Allen’s thick silky tresses can now be found on my daughter’s heads. I keep mine cropped short (“Oh Mom, you look like a man” chime the girls). Allen is acknowledging mid-life and his joyful abundance of brown hair by shunning his usual summer buzz cut and has tendrils now flirting with his shirt collars.

School started a week or two ago and so did my yelling: “Lindsay, you can’t go to school with your hair looking like that!” Lindsay, bring me your head and your brush or you won’t be having any play dates again for the rest of your life!” Lindsay, come out from under your covers. I’ve got to comb the tangles out!” “Lindsay, where are your eyes?” The hair wars had begun.

As I related a particular “hairy” fight scene that traumatized our entire household to my crack-of-dawn running buddies, I began to realize how stupid it all was. That realization was helped along by comments like…”My daughter had knots in her hair for months” and “Why are you pushing her to meltdowns over hair? Why does her smooth hair matter so much to you?” This is what my friends are for…when I present them with a “me vs. them (kid)” problem, they often help me realize that maybe it’s actually a “me vs. me” issue. Lindsay had just begun 2nd grade and though enjoying it, was struggling with the pressures of too little alone time and too many rules. Then I was demanding her hair be perfect because, well, it is so pretty, and, um, I couldn’t see her eyes, and, let’s see, I wanted her to look loved every day when she walked in her class door.

So after the fast-walking counseling session, I took a deep breath and relieved myself of the responsibility for Lindsay’s hair tidiness, at least for a while. “Lindsay” I said, while we were getting ready for school that morning, “I’m sorry I made such a fuss about your hair last night. For the next few weeks, you are in charge of your hair. I will only brush it when you invite me to. But you do need to keep it clean and make sure you can see to read and walk. If it’s too much for you, let me know and we’ll get your bangs cut. Deal?” “Deal!” she grinned.

Vesuvius subsided. My energies are now focused on getting her to do her homework instead of getting her to brush her hair. And I know I love my girls more than life itself even when one of them goes to school with gnarly hair and a part that resembles Harry Potters scar.

Meanwhile, Brooke spends at least 14 minutes of her 15 minute morning prep time combing, re-combing, putting up, taking down, putting up, taking down, combing again her lovely straight locks into a painfully tight pony tail until she has 1 minute left to sprint down the street to catch her bus. And yes, she, too, was once the subject of hair wars. So I know there’s hope! Or at least, maybe middle ground?

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Close Up

She wanted pictures of their garden. From the dock, she suggested. I was happy to oblige; happy behind a camera. And landscapes don’t blush, hide, ham or groan when you point your lens at them.

Resilience. That’s what my mother-in-law wanted to record. Full recovery two years after Isabel brought the Chesapeake Bay over the little peninsula where they live, coating all plant life with brine and seaweed and poisoning their drinking water.

From a distance the white-framed screened porch and green gable-roofed cottage with its green lawn and stony riffraff dominate, reflected beauty rippling in the creek. But the flowers drew me in, demanded my fussy attention. Was I in the right vantage point? Would the dew sparkle on the lush fuchsia peony petals when captured in my camera? Would the riot of color in the pot of argyranthumum (no, really) please on paper as they do to the naked eye? The purple Verbena, Lavender, flowering Chives, and robust Pansies were all at peak and inviting.

I stretched the task all through the Memorial Day weekend, playing with morning light and shadows; enjoying the midday sun that illuminated all; relishing languorous afternoon rays angling in from the mouth of Prentice Creek. Fifty frames later I had become intimate with my in-law’s flora (fauna were hiding under the house with their newborn).

Heaven knows, I’m not a gardener. But I am an observer and awe of nature is my religion, my life-line. How can you delve into the depths of that Peony and not see passion, not feel ignited? Botanists may tinker with a plant’s lineage yet the seduction of the animal kingdom by the plant world preceded our meddling.

Sunrises and sunsets; mountain views; nature in the grand aggregate has always impressed me. Now the whimsical, the delicate, the bold grab my attention like never before.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Ramblings from my attic #96

Expecto Patronum!

We’ve all been there (at least the mortal and imperfect among us). “I want that toy.” “No, we’re here to buy groceries, not toys.” “I WANT THAT TOY!” “No.” “I HATE YOU!”

Vesuvius erupts. You steel yourself to the disapproving glances of the uninitiated and the smug and manage to hold your shrieking tyke down in the child seat of the cart with one arm, unload and pay for your groceries with the other, then flee the store. The shrieking tyke is usually two, weighs 30 pounds or less, and is still gullible to the cheap tricks of distraction.

I have witnessed tantrums. I’ve thrown tantrums. I’ve caused tantrums. Through the wonders of age, wisdom, modern chemistry, and an elder child who has so far survived my parenting, I have found in recent weeks that I have the ability to withstand my six year old’s daily mercurial meltdowns without causing her (or allowing her to inflict on me) bodily harm. But a picnic it ain’t! Fifty pounds or more of raging illogic with teeth is a lot to try to fold into your arms. I have high hopes that consistency, consequences and more sleep will get her back on track.

Meanwhile, I fantasize that in the midst of her meltdowns she has become a Dementor, and all I need to do is master that spectacular spell of Harry’s, “Expecto Patronum!” My own patronus will chase away the soul-sucking dementor and all will be safe and calm at my castle again.*

But reality bites. And kicks and spits and screams. As I piloted the van home from soccer last night with Brooke beside me in the front seat, Lindsay buckled in but raging like a rodeo bull in the middle bench, and two of Brooke’s teammates in the way-back, I wondered what the older kids were thinking. Size one pink suede boots were banging against the back of my seat. Her screams were ear splitting; her wrath tangible. Pulling over was not an option in 7:15pm rush hour traffic on 495 or 66. Out of tricks, I slipped into a numb zone of not reacting. I concentrated on driving and imagined with a sigh that the older kids thought me a failure, a mom at her most lame.

Then Brooke reached for my hand. “Mom,” she whispered. “I’m so proud of you. I don’t think I could stay as calm as you. You’re doing a great job.”

We smiled at each other in the dim light and our hands stayed linked.

* [Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J.K. Rowling]

Ramblings from my attic #97

From the mouth of babes - Lindsay to me as she sat at the computer reading historical blurbs from the American Girl web site: “Mom, we got our independence in 1776. That’s close to when you were born!”

I’m a silence hypocrite. While I often inflict my un-modulated babbling on my family and the world at large, I increasingly cannot tolerate it from them. While some need the whirr of a fan, the distraction of a TV or radio to silence those nagging voices from within; I wish to hear them. I need to hear them.

As a teenager in Richmond, I went to sleep with the radio on, usually tuned to WRNL or WLEE, to drown out my bewildering thoughts. As a college student alcohol accomplished the same thing…so I’m lucky to be alive to have any thoughts at all. I understand the need to shut down.

Life now seems so hectic, yet so vital, that I need quiet to have any thoughts at all. Sometimes I wonder if my wiring has gone haywire. Is my brain so disorganized now that I require silence to think when I used to write on deadline in the most chaotic environments – fires, city council meetings, racetracks? My favorite places to scribble poetry in younger days were crowded doctors’ offices or city buses, absorbing energy from the masses. It’s true that writing focuses my thoughts. I imagine words careening madly around my brain until captured and funneled into straight lines down the interior of my arms through my fingers into the pen or keyboard.

I feel truckloads of guilt when I find myself commanding silence from my little one. I mercifully am able to choke back the damning words, “Do you EVER stop talking?” A friend reminisces about quietly reaching over to her youngster and placing a hand gently over her daughter’s little mouth to gain a moment of peace. My family labeled me “Chatty Cathy,” a label that stung later when I struggled with shyness; and I remember Brooke bursting into tears as her second grade teacher affectionately called her “Babbling Brooke.” But it is silence I crave.

After some blissfully quiet and companionable time with my book club at a friend’s farm last weekend, my thoughts keep circulating around the concept of fear. I turn off the radio now and try to pin down this new obsession of my inner voice.

Are we afraid of, embarrassed by fear? Fear is a necessary element of survival. In balance it lends caution to our passionate, curious selves. Childhood fear of the dark, adolescent fear of embarrassment, young adult fear of failure and loneliness – all propelled me forward in their own way. My risk-taking thirty-something self all too quickly confronted mortality upon giving birth. Suddenly, my being here on the earth, in one piece, had significance. I had children to raise. My health suddenly had value.

It’s strange to think of motherhood shadowed by the grim reaper, but for many women, I think there is a bit of a specter lurking in the shadows. Fear of disserting our children through untimely death becomes a fear that leads to positive measures. Survival through preventive medicine: mammograms, skin checks with dermatologists, chlorestoral testing, better diets, and attention to mental health. But I think sometimes we are afraid to admit fear. We are strong, resilient, the rocks of our families and friends. It takes guts to admit that something scary has us by the throat. To admit we’re vulnerable and need help. Our adult fears are often quite rational…unlike the invisible monsters under the bed. And it is these rational fears, amplified by all too much information from the medical community and our own genetic pre-dispositions that conspire to immobilize us. That’s where we must help each other. Help track down constructive information. Hold hands. Reassure ourselves that living each day to its fullest means sometimes acknowledging fear and sometimes kicking it into a box and claiming every grand and humbling moment of life.

Ramblings from my attic #98

A Crying Name

Sweaty and flushed, hair wisping around her face more out of the pony tail than in, she started to pad towards me. Her dance instructor reached out and enclosed her in strong arms; Suzanne’s blonde head bending down to rest on Lindsay’s. I could not hear their whispered words, but wondered why Lindsay had been singled out for comforting hugs. Had something happened during class? I helped her on with her shoes and led her out into the hallway.

“Is everything OK?” I asked.

“I was sad during class, so Miss Suzanne was worried about me” she answered, eyes watering and downcast.

“What were you sad about?”

“I told her I was sad because I missed Aunt Betty,” she sighed, squeezing a tear or two out from beneath dramatically opening and closing long lashes. I managed to keep a straight face, though I wanted desperately to laugh.

I’m not heartless, mind you. And I do cry for Aunt Betty, an Aunt I was very close to and whose hand I held as she lay dying. Aunt Betty died at age 87, several years ago. I have vivid memories of her memorial service when Lindsay, age 3, stood at the front of the church pulling the skirt of her dress over her face, letting it drop, pulling it up, letting it drop so that the gathered seniors of Pleasant Hill Retirement Community repeatedly got a nice view of her pink and white panties.

She didn’t cry when Aunt Betty died…she wasn’t old enough to understand the loss. Any first-hand memory Lindsay may have had of Aunt Betty has been supplanted by the image immortalized in a favorite picture. She and her Great Aunt are tossing a big green ball back and forth. They are in Aunt Betty’s Tennessee living room full of vinyl recliners and nick knacks. Aunt Betty is ensconced in her favorite chair, beaming; tickled pink to be playing with my little girl in overalls and pigtails.

“I miss Aunt Betty” is Lindsay code for unexplained sadness...an excuse for a good cry. I chortle to myself when I get the “Aunt Betty” explanation out of the blue from a child prone to high drama. But it makes sense that she has connected grief over the loss of a loved one with socially acceptable crying. She knows she’ll get hugs and comforting if she invokes the “Aunt Betty.” I picture Lindsay years from now. The tears start falling and her boyfriend asks, “What’s wrong, honey?”

“I miss Aunt Betty.”

Ramblings from my attic #99

Trash Talk

My friend Elise: tenacious staff director of a hard-hitting investigative committee by day; trash scavenger by night. She recently spearheaded the money laundering investigation that brought Riggs bank to its knees and simultaneously unveiled further evidence of the corruption of former Chilean dictator Pinochet which the Chilean government is using to bring him to trial.

Our crack-of-dawn talk-and-walks go something like this…

E – “We subpoenaed Enron executives yesterday.”
Me –“I drove in a soccer carpool.”
E – “I brokered a compromise amendment to the Intelligence bill”
Me – “I kept my kids from killing each other.”

But this particular morning after she had related the investigative successes of the day before, she said,”Lori, here’s the best story of all!”

Turns out she had taken her kids out for a bite to eat at Cowboy CafĂ© and after settling them into homework back home, her fourth grader came wailing those dreaded words: “Mom, I left my retainer in a napkin at the restaurant!”

Knowing time was of the essence in matters of table trash, she didn’t even pause to scream. On with her coat, into her car, and out to Lee Highway she raced. A waiter led her to the back kitchen where the trash had already been dumped. Bemused kitchen help listened to her tale, and pointed her to the trash bins. “I hung my coat on a hook on the back door and dug into a tall trash can up to my elbows,” she related. Soggy hamburger remains; ketchup stained napkins; well, you can imagine. Minutes passed. No luck.

Not to be outdone by mere trash, Elise kept searching until EUREKA, she felt the retainer. As she held it up, the kitchen staff all cheered! Back home and victorious, she marched in her front door hands over her head a la Rocky, shouting “Who’s the greatest,” and her kids shouted back, “You, Mom!” Now that’s success.