Arkie Mama: From sexpot to gone to pot

Behold the youthful Cathy, with her big, Texas hair and dramatic makeup —

College days, during my dating-musicians phase

Waiting for our dates

Those were the days when I could wear corduroy without the fear that someone could hear my thighs making that swish-swish sound as I walked. The days when it was fun to spend an hour (or two) on hair and makeup. Since becoming a mother — well, my standards have sunk.

It started with pregnancy.

When you look as though you're carrying a litter in front AND in back, you know things are bad.

No, I'm not leaving a bar. I'm in the vomitous stage of labor, on the way to the hospital to have baby No. 2.

This cut & style was dangerously close to Mom Hair.

Why hello, Hubs! Wanna try for a third? I know you want me.

This month, my kids turned 5 and 7. I’m just now losing the baby weight. My hair is finally getting back to normal. I’m ditching the mom jeans. Mostly.

So hello, 40! I embrace you.

Girls' Night Out Birthday Bash. More photos tomorrow.

Arkie Mama: Bullies and the bullied

A few years ago, on the way home one evening, a car pulled out in front of me and — being the eloquent former Texan that I am — I let a few well-chosen words fly.

And then Tootie piped up:

“Mama, was that a bad car?”

“Yes, sweetie. That person didn’t wait for her turn. We have to take turns when we’re driving or else we might hit each other.”

“Hitting’s bad,” Tootie replied.

And then she added: “Except when a boy pushes you down. Then it’s OK.”

Pause.

Oh, hell, what’s the appropriate response here?

We don’t hit in our house. I know many parents spank, and I’m not casting judgment. I think one parents by instinct and lingers in a chosen comfort zone. For me, spanking — or any type of hitting — just doesn’t feel right. And so we don’t.

But if someone pushes her down … ? Hmmm. Does she just sit there meekly, waiting to be rescued? What kind of message does that send? Or does she put a stop to things then and there by pushing back, by standing her ground?

People tell their children to “ignore” the bullies. Yeah, right. It doesn’t work. It never worked for me, and it hasn’t worked for countless other children either. “Telling” is acceptable only during the very early grade-school years. After that, it only adds to the helpless-victim image. And plus you’re a snitch.

Imagine being the kid who’s subjected to such misery from kindergarten on? Imagine the kid who doesn’t see an improvement in high school?

I’ve often wondered/worried about whether one — or both — of my children could ever be that kid. How would I handle it?

Since I’m a neurotic freak who often imagines dire scenarios just so I can carry on entire conversations in my head with the imaginary people who have wronged me or my offspring, I mull the what-ifs, over and over.

Because quite frankly, if Tootie or the E-man came home, day after day, year after year, bullied and beaten down, the Mama Mean-Ass Shrew in me would want to huff over to the high school cafeteria and — abandoning my no-hitting beliefs — smack the holy crap out of the offenders.

A few years ago, I wrote an in-depth story on a family who was grappling with this issue. Their teenage son was developmentally delayed, and, sadly, an easy target. They already had switched schools once in an effort to stop the abuse. It didn’t work.

He was punched. The kids broke his glasses. Twice. Called him a faggot and made fun of his mannerisms. They followed him through the halls, making threats and laughing when he cowered.

His teachers said he should ignore the kids. Didn’t work. The principal, whom I interviewed, was openly frustrated. “We don’t know what to do,” he told me. “We’re at a loss.”

How comforting.

I went to the boy’s house one morning, before school, and I remember the cajoling required to get him into the car so that his dad could drive him to the campus. I rode with them, and it was awful. This boy’s misery radiated from every pore. He was nearly in tears by the time we arrived. I watched him pull on his backpack, square his thin shoulders and trudge to the front doors.

I wasn’t a mother then. But it hurt, physically, watching that boy, and feeling his dread.

Awhile back, I read Jodi Picoult’s Nineteen Minutes, a novel that dissects a school shooting — and bullying — from all perspectives. It was a tough read. Because even as I was appalled by the shooter’s coldness, I read his mother’s thoughts and the descriptions of her anguish, and I wondered, yet again, what do we as parents do?

Two years ago, Tootie’s best friend was a bully. She came over to our house twice. Both times she stalked the E-man and tormented him for no apparent reason. When I found out that this little girl also was bullying other kids who tried to play with Tootie at recess, I put the brakes on that friendship, explaining to Tootie that we don’t hang out with people who treat others that way. The bully transferred to another school around that time, so that was that.

We live in an Alpha Society. Always have, really, but now, new precedents have been set. We see more, hear more, want more, have more.

We strive to be Alpha Moms, Alpha Career Women, Alpha SAHMs. Our partners do the same. Because, really, who wants to remain at the bottom of the heap, especially as “more” and “better” become increasingly available?

But we are adults with maturity (allegedly) and experience to draw from.

Our children, while they see and feel the pull of Alpha, don’t have the capacity to manage it.

And so they bully. Or they cower.

And I wonder, as a parent, which is worse for my child? Life as one of those snotty girls I hated in junior high? Or life as the kid who agonizes each day over where to sit in the cafeteria?

How do I help them find the happy medium in the social shark pool that is school?

We tell them, “Use your words.”

Yes. Well. The only words that work with bullies are strong ones, delivered with a certain attitude. Must I chip away at the sensitivity I love in both my kids, harden them up and teach them my arsenal of cuss words?

What troubles me is that children who are chronic victims in school often remain victims even after they enter the adult world. I’ve seen what’s out there. I write about it, on a regular basis. I don’t want them to be quite as cynical as I am, but I hope they will develop a don’t-eff-with-me sort of armor.

But how to balance this? How to develop it, without cultivating a bully in the process?

I treasure my children’s innate empathy and kindness. I also worry these traits will make them vulnerable.

Kids need to learn how to deal with bullies when they’re young. Because even as adults, they will still encounter them — at work, within the social scene, at PTA meetings, everywhere.

Right now my instructions to the kids are these: Try to ignore a bully at first. If that doesn’t work, use your words. Strong and powerful words, forceful even. Make sure the bully knows you mean business. And if a kid attacks, hit, kick, do whatever’s necessary to defend yourself until a teacher arrives.

When she was 5, Tootie came home one day and told me a boy had sat on her and tried to make her eat a crayon.

“What did you do?” I asked.

“Nothing,” she replied. “I just kept my mouth closed.”

I told her the next time a boy pulled that kind of stunt, she had my permission to do whatever was necessary to get the kid off of her.

I refrained from explaining exactly where to hit or kick.

For now.

Arkie Mama: Daddy/Mama dancing for Wordless Wednesday

This year, Hubs and I are participating in the father/daughter and mother/daughter routines for Tootie’s dance recital. And so are Moody Mom and her hubby.

First, I have to say that Hubs is a marvelous dancer, so his routine has been moving along nicely. As for me? Well, I can dance by myself, but I’m finding it difficult to lead my daughter, especially when it comes to twirling her.

Here’s a sampling from last Saturday. The men’s dance is “My Girl” and the women’s is “Respect.”

Music starts. Hubs is the guy in the black shirt.

Music begins. Hubs is in the black shirt.

Men walk along in jivey fashion, snapping their fingers.

Now the men walk out, snapping their fingers and veering left and right.

Little girls scamper out to join their daddies.

The girls scamper out to join their daddies.

The dip.

The dip.

A twirl.

A twirl.

The kiss. Each time they did this, the E-man yelled, "BLECH!"

The kiss. Which prompted the E-man to yell, "BLECH!"

Fancy stepping.

Fancy footwork.

Another dip. If he tried this with me, I would either fall or otherwise incapacitate myself.

Another dip.

Finishing with flair.

Finishing with flair.

OK, moving on. You’ll note that Moody Mom and I had a bit more trouble mastering our dance. By the end, we were laughing so hard it’s a wonder we didn’t trip over our children.

Note my concentration and Tootie's uncertainty.

Note my focus and Tootie's skepticism.

Moody Mom and I attempt the footwork.

This isn't too bad.

The E-man finally stopped yelling, "Blech!"

The E-man finally quit yelling, "Blech!"

I have absolutetly no idea what the child is doing. His father was supposed to be watching him.

Oh, look, somebody's child isn't behaving.

Trying to dance while your other child is writhing around on the floor is quite difficult.

I wonder who he belongs to?

This is the part where the daughters are supposed to look like teenagers while we shake our fingers and pop our hips.

Here's the part where we all show "attitude."

Oops.

Oops.

Something went awry here.

Something clearly went awry here.

Moody Mom and I cannot stop laughing.

Meanwhile, our children beg for mercy.

For more entertainment (and photos) drop by Moody Mom’s. Note she did not include any pictures of herself!

For more Wordless Wednesday posts from our other Little Rock Mamas, go here:

Family Way

Baby & the Beasts

Blessed Mom

Hugs & Kisses

Mom on a Wire

Arkie Mama: My hips don’t swivel like they used to

I’ve mentioned before my love for Zumba, an aerobics class based on Latin fusion and hip-hop. It’s fun, doesn’t feel like exercise and you get to wear pants with streamers and tassles on them. (Hubs calls them “butt pasties.”)

I got this pair for Christmas.

I got this pair for Christmas.

Problem is, once you put on this pants, you want to set those hips in motion. And mine are rapidly approaching the 40-year mark.

Ever since I got those pants, I’ve been gyrating like a maniac. Last night, I got a little carried away during a merengue and pulled a muscle in my lower back.

Even so, I just ordered a purple pair of pants from my instructor. I may incapacitate myself before my birthday, but I can’t wait to make those tassles twirl!

Arkie Mama: I don’t do winter

I’d like to be one of those moms who gets all into bundling up right along with her little darlins’ and building snowmen.

But I’m not.

See below.

Winter Cathy

Winter Cathy

So while I’d like to see a bit of the white stuff for the kids’ sake, I’m more than happy to let Hubs handle all cold-weather activities. I prefer to sit on the couch with a cup of coffee and watch the fun through the window.

I’m a summer mom. Give me sunshine and blessed heat and I’m super fun.

I’ll hang out with the kids all day at the pool. Or a beach. Or any theme park.

See below.

I heart heat.

I heart heat.

So this whole business of single-digit temps?

Sucks.

Arkie Mama: For Thanksgiving, I made two casseroles, one dessert and broke a toe

Remember my post about my brother-in-law’s wife, Perfect Linda and how this was going to be my big year?

I had everything planned: my contributions to the dinner, my outfit and my children’s outfits. I imagined sweeping into Perfect Linda’s house, attired in my new sweater dress, carrying my food offerings and wearing a serene smile.

Instead, Hubs had to carry the food while I limped and hobbled along behind him.

So much for my moment of glory.

That afternoon, after whipping up a very pretty banana pudding, I somehow managed to stub the two last toes on my left foot. Trying to preserve at least a shred of dignity, I pulled myself up and hobbled into my father-in-law’s guest bedroom, where Hubs found me cussing a blue streak.

Putting on my tights and boots? AGONY. But I hadn’t brought anything else to wear to dinner.

By the time we drove the 3 1/2 hours home, my toes sported shades of blue and purple.

I’m quite certain the next-to-last toe is broken. Being a klutz, I’m no stranger to broken toes, sadly.

But while my grand entrance was marred, I did manage to get a few raves about my dishes.

My husband’s collage-age niece dashed into Perfect Linda’s kitchen, telling everyone how she couldn’t wait to load up on my banana pudding. And my brother-in-law praised my corn casserole.

So I’m declaring a victory this year, even though I had to cripple myself to pull it off!

Arkie Mama: Nooooooo! Not the Santa Shop!

In an effort to forever establish myself as the Grinch of Elementary School, I am going to publicly moan over the whole concept of the Santa Shop.

For those of you who don’t have kids in grade school — don’t quit reading this post because you think it doesn’t apply to you. One day, you too will have to fork over money so that your child can buy cheap, crappy dood-dads in the name of giving. (Or, more accurately, fund-raising.)

Egad, spare me.

Imagine Happy Meal-quality toys, the dregs of Hobby Lobby’s inventory and a rock collector’s rejects laid out on rows of tables in the cafeteria or gym. That’s your Santa Shop merchandise. Prices range from $1 to $7, sometimes as much as $12.

Now imagine handing your wee one some cash and a list, and then trusting said child to pick out appropriate “gifts” for family members. Or to truly grasp the meaning and spirit of giving.

Last year, Tootie bought a fake, plastic rose for her sister, some sort of plastic doo-hickey-thingy for her little brother and a rock for her older brother. Then she used the rest of the money to buy herself a bunch of crappy little knick-knacks. A quartz inside a used jewelry box, for example.

The Santa Shop is a PTA fund raiser and I will probably be bombarded with hate email for this post, but — SERIOUSLY? Who dreamed up this thing?

I’m all about encouraging kids to feel the warm glow of giving, but in my world, giving means you put some thought into what you buy.

Or, even better, make.

Or bake.

People who’ve had a year like ours — no raise, paycuts, etc… — don’t have the money to spend on junk.

Which is why I will be giving Tootie only a couple of dollars, and that’s only so won’t be the only one sitting in a classroom.

And I will tell her this:  For Christmas, Mommy and Daddy want one of your beautiful drawings or a painting. You and the E-man and I will make a photo book for Daddy. We’ll make something special and personalized for your sister and two brothers. For the family on Daddy’s side, we’ll put together a special book of Mammaw’s recipes. For Mommy’s side, we’ll make a calendar out of your and the E-man’s artwork.

Because these are gifts that will mean something to those who receive them. They’re from your heart and hands.

Not the Santa Shop.

My favorite Christmas decorations, courtesy of Tootie.

My favorite Christmas decorations, courtesy of Tootie.

Arkie Mama: Thanksgiving terror

My extended family is far-flung.

My mom grew up in Kentucky; my dad in Tennessee. They moved to Texas right before I was born.

During my early childhood years, we spent the Christmas holidays in either Kentucky or Tennessee. Or both. But my parents longed to celebrate the season in their own home, creating their own traditions. So over the next few years, more and more of our visits to my parents’ home states took place during the summer.

That meant our Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays were pretty quiet and intimate. And oh, how I loved the simplicity of it all. On Christmas Eve, either I or one of my two sisters would read the Christmas story aloud from the family Bible. Then we would open gifts one at a time so that everyone could take the time to express immediate thanks for each present.

Then I married into Hubs very large East Texas family and was thereby initiated into the world of Giant Family Holidays. I found it petrifying.

I still remember those first few Thanksgivings. Lord almighty, I had never seen such a crowd trying to cram into one modest three-bedroom house.

So many people. So much noise. Too many cooks in the kitchen but not enough seating at dinner.The table allowed for only eight, so everyone else sprawled on couches or found a chair outside on the deck.

And then there was Christmas. The present-opening was the biggest assault to my already overwhelmed senses. Everyone just started ripping paper and flinging bows around the living room. I had no idea who had gotten what from whom. It was confusing. Loud. Disorienting.

Except for last year. Christmas 2008 was a subdued affair. My mother-in-law was dying, and we all knew it would be her last Christmas.

My husband caught this image with his camera. See how my father-in-law is looking at his wife of five decades? It breaks your heart.

Overcome.

Overcome.

This Christmas will likely be subdued as well. Someone else will put up the tree and decorate the house with Mammaw’s many knicks and knacks. My father-in-law will miss the homey smell of dayslong baking. And I know that at some point, I’ll miss the rambunctious nature of Christmases past.

Arkie Mama: There’s not room for a rodent in my bedroom

“Did you move this box?” Hubs asked me Friday morning, gesturing toward a large cardboard box a few feet away from our bedroom door. (Said door leads to the deck.)

“No,” replied, not paying much attention. “I think the kids did it when they were playing in here.”

“Well, I moved it there before I left to go hunting,” Hubs said indignantly. “There’s a hole at the bottom of the door from all the rain. I didn’t want any wildlife to get in.”

Niiiiiiice, I thought. I love the way he didn’t bother to mention a critter-attracting hole BEFORE he left town. For a week.

Hubs continued puttering around the room and I left for work. He had the day off. So unfair.

Around 3 p.m., he called me.

“I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but — ” He paused.

“What?” I asked distractedly.

“Well, this morning, when I was moving some things around in our bedroom, and this little furry thing went racing across the floor, so I chased it around the room, and then it ran back toward the door, where the hole is, only I’d put the box back in front of it, and then he disappeared, but I think he managed to squeeze behind the box and through the hole.”

“Furry?” I asked. “Like a mouse?”

Pause.

“Noooooooo,” Hubs said reluctantly. “I think maybe it was a small rat.”

Now I don’t know why, but whereas I can kind of convince myself that a mouse possesses a sort of whiskery cuteness, the thought of a rat brings up images of the beady, yellow-eyed rodent — with glistening fangs — in Lady and the Tramp. You know, the rodent that’s out to make a snack of the new baby.

“WHAT?!” I screeched. “Are you telling me that I’ve sharing my bedroom with a RAT while you were off hunting all week?!”

“Er, yes,” Hubs replied.

“Well, are you sure it’s gone?”

“Oh, yes,” my spouse assured me. “I’m positive.”

I spent the rest of the afternoon wondering what the rat had been up to each night. Had it perched on my nightstand, watching me sleep? I thought of the glistening fangs, of the long, creepy, stringy tail. Thank God it hadn’t made its presence known while Hubs was gone. The kids and I would have been squealing down the driveway on our way to a hotel if I’d caught even a glimpse of the littl varmint.

Hubs told he he’d patched up the hole, and by that evening, I’d put the sighting out of my mind. Until, that is, I heard a yelp in our bedroom.

“Cathy!” Hubs yelled. “Get in here, quick!”

I tossed the remote and ran for the bedroom. Hubs was crawling on all fours and looking underneath our bed.

“What is it?!” I shrieked, even though I already knew.

“It’s still here,” Hubs gasped, still circling the bed. “I chased it across the room and opened the door, but then it swerved and went under our bed. I need you to stand there and watch for it. Make sure it actually goes out the door this time.

Does the man really think I’m going to just stand here, waiting for a rat to emerge? Is he out of his mind?

I shut the door and returned to the living room.

Fifteen minutes later, Hubs emerged from the bedroom, panting yet victorious.

“I’m sure he’s gone this time,” Hubs said.

“Did you actually see him leave?”

“Well. No. But he isn’t anywhere in our room. I checked.”

“What if he got out before I shut the door?” I asked.

“I’m positive he went outside,” Hubs assured me.

“Yeah, that’s what you told me this morning, remember?”

Still unconvinced, I made Hubs scour the house. When we finally turned in, I made a running leap for the bed.

“What are you doing?” Hubs asked as I landed in an ungraceful heap.

“I’m not giving that thing a chance to sample human flesh,” I said. “It might develop a taste for it.”

Needless to say, I did not sleep well. The next day, Hubs set out a trap in our bedroom. Thus far, it remains untouched and there have been no further sightings.

This does not comfort me.

Because I just know that rat is waiting for Hubs to leave town again before making his presence known.

Hello, my sweet.

Hello, my sweet.

Arkie Mama: Britney’s suggesting a WHAT?!

For me, one of the side effects of aging is an inability to understand song lyrics. Another is the inability to recognize that former teen singers, like, say Britney, are now adults. Singing adult songs. With very adult meanings.

So for the past few weeks, every time her latest single, “3,” came on the radio, I cranked it up. I mean, it’s a great car-dancing song. And the kids like the whole counting thing. I couldn’t really understand the lyrics, but  really — it seemed to be a lot of counting and harmless, meaningless rhyming.

Last night, I pulled up the video. And as I watched the dancing, things suddenly clicked into place.

Whoops, I thought, speedily Googling the lyrics and wondering what on earth my daughter might have been trilling on the school playground lately.

A quick read of the lyrics revealed that the princess of pop was indeed singing about threesomes. As in, two on one. As in, menage a trois.

I don’t know why I was so surprised. I’m the woman who was probably the last on the planet to realize that Lady Gaga’s “Pokerface” wasn’t actually about poker. Duh.

I’m not a prude. And both songs will remain on my playlist because — hello!  — they’re great workout and dance songs.

But Tootie — well, let’s just say that she’ll no longer be counting along with Britney.