Sunday, April 2, 2017

Thanks for Nothing, April the Giraffe. Really- I Mean That!

Courtesy: Animal Adventure Park 
If you would have told me a month ago that I'd be spending what little free time I have watching a pregnant giraffe pace around her pen and not have a baby...well, I probably wouldn't have answered because I was very busy watching a pregnant giraffe pace around her pen not have a baby. I mean, seriously- April has been "close to labor" FOREVER. I'm starting to think I might give birth to a baby giraffe before she does. But back to my original point, if you had told me TWO months ago that I'd be spending ANY time watching a pregnant giraffe do ANYTHING, I would have said you were nuts. And yet, here I am, locked in a dysfunctional relationship via my computer screen with a silent animal hundreds of miles away. Ain't technology grand?

For those of you who haven't yet been formally introduced, April's story simple: it's a classic girl giraffe meets boy giraffe meets livestream webcam meets entire world kind of thing. And I, like millions of other people, can't seem to get enough.

Though April has been a viral internet sensation for some time, the first few times I tuned in, I didn't really see the appeal. After all, she was just standing there, looking...well, giraffe-ish. You know, enormous and spotted and gangly-legged. I watched for a few minutes and then turned it off, because it was kind of boring. It's not like giraffes make a lot of noise, or do much of any interest besides eat and poop...and quite frankly I see enough of those behaviors around my house. There just wasn't much happening.

But then for some reason, I kept checking back, and the more I did, the more I realized that was the best part: there just wasn't much happening. I've watched her eat, drink, walk around and occasionally canoodle with her baby daddy Oliver. Some days, I've even watched her sleep. It's about as simplistic as entertainment gets, and given the ever-crazier-by-the-minute world we're living in, that's a pretty amazing thing.

When you get right down to it, April is just a big, goofy-looking animal who is perfectly content in her own patchwork quilt skin. Some say giraffes are an example of God's majesty, but I think they point more to his sense of humor.

She's having a baby, which many of us can relate to, but she sure is a heck of a lot more calm about it than any expecting mom I've ever seen. I was two weeks overdue with my first child, and had there been a live broadcast of my behavior, my husband and I would still be paying off the FCC fines.

With April, there's no obsessive compulsion to decorate the nursery, or guilt at not having done so. No mommy wars of any sort. There's also no talk of Russian scandals, executive orders, or FBI investigations. I haven't asked her, but I think it's pretty safe to say April is a non-partisan giraffe with no opinion on the current administration, the role of the media, or the proposed federal budget.

She's just a mom-to-be, waiting on nature to take its course, and reminding us that it will happen when it happens. I believe that's a special something many of us used to possess called "patience."

I've heard some experts speculate that April's lure has something to do with giving us a glimpse into a world we'd otherwise not see. But I think it has less to do with the lure of the exotic than the calm of the familiar.

When I see April, I remember long, sweet walks through the zoo with my dad when I was a little girl, and the way he pronounced it "gee-RAHF." I remember my own world before my babies came into it- the hopes, dreams, and expectations I carried right along with each pregnancy. I remember that it is possible to just be.

To be honest, I'm not even interested in watching the birth of the baby- that sound very messy. So for now, I will soak in these last minutes with April and be thankful that relief and escape are just a livestream away.

Friday, February 3, 2017

He Put on a Hat and Everything Changed

I've never been a hat person. I have way too much hair and it's far too unruly to be contained under any dome-shaped contraption. If I try, it will either adhere itself directly to my head, or rebel completely and explode out the sides. Or both. Hats are just not my friend.

And now, I have another bone to pick with hats. You see, my oldest son- he's almost ten. In so many ways, he's still a child, and even though he's getting bigger and stronger, deep down he's still my little boy with the baby-soft skin and the stuffed animals lined up on his bed. But he grew up one day all at once, and I blame his hat.

It was a chilly November morning and he was getting ready to run a local 5k. My son came downstairs in his version of winter weather-appropriate running gear, which is another way of saying "shorts and a t-shirt."

"You'll need to bundle up- it's really cold out there," I told him, which of course is Mom Code for "You are NOT leaving the house like that!"

He went into the mudroom and put on a sweatshirt, gloves, a knit hat with tassels, and at least five years.

As he walked back into the kitchen, my jaw hung low as I searched in vain for my child who seemed to have been replaced by this much older, more confident boy with the hat on his head.

He pulled the hat down over his ears, the edges skimming chiseled cheekbones I'd never noticed, and framing eyes that held secrets no adult could not unlock, even if they tried to remember.

I marveled at the newly developed muscles rippling under his skin as he laced up his shoes.

I squinted in an attempt to bring the 9-year-old back in focus, and I caught a glimpse of something I'd never seen in him- never even considered might be lurking underneath.

A man?

I watched him without words, like you watch your favorite movie, my brain attempting to binge on the vision in front of me.

My heart was racing as if I'd already gone for a run. What had I done? I wanted to rip that hat off his head, to hold him close until the little boy reappeared- the one with the chubby cheeks who wore clothes sized with the letter "T" and smelled like baby wash and maple syrup.

But what kind of mother would I be if I sent my son out in the cold without his hat?

And so he ran- that older boy with the hat- he ran really fast. So fast that he worked up a sweat and removed the offending headwear. As he peeled it off to reveal his matted, damp hair, I saw his familiar goofy grin reflected in the finisher's medal around his neck and finally felt the earth return to its normal orbit. I exhaled for the first time in what seemed like hours and felt my breath slow right along with my little boy's.

He was back, and even as I squinted at him in the morning sun, I couldn't find any trace of the future man who had tried to take his place.

A few weeks ago we were at a large family gathering and when it was time for my father to go, he asked me to help him with his hat.

It was the same hat he's had since my childhood- the big, furry, oblong kind with flaps that come down over the ears. The kind more suited to winter in Siberia than suburban Detroit. I picked it up and took it over to him, and bent over his wheelchair so I could put it on his head.

As I held the hat in my hands, its soft, downy fur tickled my hands, melted my heart, and transported me three decades back. That hat smelled like Old Spice and Brylcreem, like winter mornings of my youth, when my dad, freshly showered and shaved, firmly pulled his rubber shoe protectors over his polished Rockports and placed his hat on his slicked-back hair before heading to work.

I looked at him and saw my 8-year-old self reflected back in his thick bifocals. I squinted and tried to bring the memory more sharply into focus, but before I could grab it, before I could dive back in time, it was gone.

I wanted to rip the hat off his head, to hold it close and keep it all to myself. But what kind of daughter would I be if I sent my dad out in the cold without his hat?

I focused all my attention on him as my son helped push the wheelchair out, the way you focus on the last few chapters of your favorite book, not wanting to miss a single word before the beautiful story concludes.

When it was time for us to leave I gathered up the kids, their shoes, coats and other assorted winter gear.

"Put your hats and mittens on- it's really cold out," I warned them.

"I didn't bring a hat, Mom," my oldest confessed.

"It's OK, my love," I told him as I bent down to kiss him, burying my face in his hair so he wouldn't see the relief in my eyes.

I put one hand on the top of his head- partly to guide him, and partly to steady myself- and together we headed out to brave the cold.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Snow Day Survival Guide

They are the two words every child wants to hear in the winter: "SNOW DAY!" But having kids home all day can be a challenge for parents. Here are a few ideas to get you through the day.

First and foremost, get the kids outside! If you don't already have child-sized shovels, they're a great investment. Snow toys like brick builders and snowball makers come in handy as well. One of our favorite things to do is to fill a squirt bottle with water and food coloring, and use that to make snow art. It's a great way for little ones to practice letter formation as well!

We also love to bring the snow make snow ice cream! The recipe is simple, the results are delicious!

And who says you need to go outside to make a snowman? No offense to Elsa and Anna, but the only ones I wanna build are made out of marshmallows.

Snowflakes are fun to make this time of year- they will take any adult right back to their childhood! For the simplest version, just use a coffee filter (what else are you going to do with that stack, now that you've switched to a Keurig?). If you're ready to get a bit more sophisticated, try a 3-D paper snowflake. They only require paper, tape, and scissors, and older kids can easily complete them. You'll find the instructions here.

Our final snowflake was a fun science experiment- it takes 8-12 hours, but hey- it's a snow day so you've got nothing but time! My oldest loved making these Borax rystal snowflakes, but we also made other cool shapes, including his initial. Instructions are here

I'm a big fan of projects the older kids can do with the younger ones, and homemade playdough and finger paint both fit that bill. With a little supervision at the stove, older kids can mix these up and then the whole crew can create...because you're never too old for arts and crafts! Both of these are made with common pantry ingredients and are non-toxic. 

A snow day is also a great chance to help your fine feathered friends...birds actually have a much harder time finding food when the snow hits, so take the opportunity to make a few easy bird feeders with your kids. You and the birds will reap the benefits all winter. Here are some ideas. 

Another great way to pass the time on a snow day is with some simple games- we keep busy with indoor obstacle races, and the many "Minute to Win It" style games you can find on Pinterest. One of our favorites is this one where the kids have 1 minute to move as many M&Ms as they can from one plate to another using a straw. 

Thanks to WDIV for having us on to share these ideas- happy snow day to all! 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Finding My Voice: From A Chance Encounter Years Ago To A New Year's Goal

Most broadcasters get their start in small markets- places like Glendive, Montana; or Alpena, Michigan, but my first gig was international.

It was 1994, I had recently graduated from college, and I was stranded in the Australian capital of Canberra. How I got there is a long story that involves first love, first heartbreak, and an overnight bus ride, but I'll save that for another time. Suffice it to say I found myself with several hours to kill in an unfamiliar place.

The sun was barely peeking out of the early morning sky, and in my teary, weary, travel-ragged state, I was hardly in the mood to tour the sights. Still, part of me knew this was quite possibly the only time in my life I'd have the chance to see Canberra, so I'd better pull myself together and take advantage of it. Surely there were national treasures, museums, and galleries that I should visit so that I could broaden my worldview and deepen my understanding of that great nation on the other side of the world.

Just one problem: it was 7am on a Sunday morning and all the bastions of Australian culture were closed. I had about 5 hours to kill before my next bus, so I stashed my backpack in a locker, grabbed a cup of coffee from a corner deli and wandered the streets.

About an hour into my aimless jaunt, I stumbled across a large building that looked interesting, and by that I mean it appeared to actually be open. It was the Australian Institute of Sport.

I walked up the steps, pushed open the door, and found myself face-to-face with a dark-haired, red-nosed man sitting behind a desk, surrounded by a pile of Kleenex, a manual of some sort, and a telephone.

"(Sniff) Well, good morning (cough cough cough)," he sputtered, and then continued in an extremely hoarse voice. "We're not quite open (sniff sniff) but now that you're here, I'm going to need to you do something..."

"Umm...what??" I replied nervously, as headlines of international kidnappings and trafficking rings flashed before my eyes, and I wondered why I couldn't have just wandered right past this place. It's not like I even understood cricket. Or rugby. Or Australian men. (oops, I digress again...)

"We just got a new phone system (GIANT COUGH) and I need to record (SNIFF) the outgoing message on it, but as you can see...or well, hear...(SNEEZE), I'm a bit under the weather. Could you do it for me?"

Relief flooded through me. "I guess I could, but in case you can't tell, I'm from the United States. Shouldn't the official message for the Australian Institute of Sport sound a little more....Australian?" I asked.

He looked right at me said, "You have a voice- that's what matters."

So right there and then, I scored my first paid job in the industry: I recorded the outgoing answering machine message, giving the days and hours the Institute was open in exchange for free admission and a refill of my coffee.

Shortly after my splashy debut on the international broadcasting scene, I caught a bus back to Sydney, and eventually a very long flight back to my regularly scheduled life in the US. I think it's safe to assume that my message has long since been erased from the phone system of the Australian Institute of Sport, but that random stranger's message to me was permanently archived on my brain: You have a voice- that's what matters.

I thought about it in those emotional, jet-lagged days upon my return to the States, where I felt lost and silent.

I thought about it in the years that followed, as I tried different career paths and countries; all those years when I said too much, struggling to fit in.

I think about it now, as I grow deeper into motherhood, when it often feels simultaneously like no one and everyone is listening.

It's no coincidence that "voice" and "vocation" come from the same root: the Latin "vocare," which means "to call." When I think of what it means to have a "voice," I think of the bridge that connects our inner and outer worlds. It's the sweet spot where body, heart, mind, and spirit overlap. It's not just the sound that comes from our mouths, but the one we make in the world.

As this new year begins, those words speak to me once again: "You have a voice- that's all that matters." Will I be strong enough to be a voice for justice and a voice for love? A voice of truth and compassion? A voice that says what it means, and isn't afraid to say no? A voice that is unafraid to speak alone? Because that's what matters.

About a month ago, my daughter gave her first book report of the school year. Despite being a voracious reader, and the daughter of a broadcast journalist, she's a shy flower who breaks out in a sweat at the mere thought of speaking in front of her class.

"Mommy- I don't want to do it," she cried that morning, her voice shaking with fear. "Why can't I let someone else read my book report for me?"

I took her on my lap, held her hands in mine, and looked right in her eyes.

"Because there's only one YOU," I told her firmly. "You don't have to be the loudest, you won't always have all the answers, and not everyone will always like what you have to say. But nobody, NOBODY can speak for you, sweet girl."

"You have a voice- that's what matters."

Friday, December 23, 2016

Have Yourself A Poopy Little Christmas: Finding Light In A Time Of Darkness

If love means never having to say "I'm sorry," then loving two little boys means never having to say "I'm sorry, this bathroom is just too clean for words!" Oh, there are plenty of words to describe the typical state of a bathroom in our house, but most of them are not fit to print.

I can't even identify some of the things I've found in the kids' bathroom, because quite frankly I don't want to get close enough to try. Let's be honest: boys are a symphony of gross, and the bathroom is their masterpiece concerto of yuck. And I don't want to completely let my little princess off the hook, since her bedroom could easily be featured on an episode of Elementary School Hoarders. Given that anatomy is on her side, she does generally manage to keep the toilet seat clean, although actually flushing the device is apparently frowned upon in her kingdom.

That goes for all the kids in the house; that's because right now we are three kids deep in one of the poopiest phases of parenting. Everyone is out of diapers, but now they're gripped with a fascination with all things excrement-related. Bathroom humor is the only kind of humor in our house. When they do Mad Libs, I can be relatively certain that the choice of nouns and verbs will fall into just two categories: bodily functions or the parts that produce them. My daughter, if given the opportunity to play with my phone, will bypass all the sweet, smiley faced emojis and head right for the picture of the toilet or the brown lump of poop. And the first time we traveled to Mackinac Island, Michigan's storied getaway where cars are not allowed and horse drawn carriages are a main mode of transportation, the bulk of the 4-hour trip north was devoted to the topic of horse poop. Do they just poop in the ROAD? Who cleans it up? Where do they put it? What happens to it after that?

So it should come as no surprise, given their obsession, that one of my children would find a way to bring poop into the picture of one of the most holy, divine moments in all of religion: the birth of Christ.

It was shortly after Thanksgiving and my youngest was setting up the nativity scene by the fireplace while I worked on the tree in the other room with his siblings.

"Mom, what's a manger?" he called out.

I peeked in to see him tossing the plastic manger in the air (we purchased a kid-friendly set after the unfortunate year where several donkeys were decapitated during a Bethlehem brawl).

"'s that thing in your know, the place where Mary laid baby Jesus after he was born?"

"But what IS it when He's not in it? Is it a bed...for a sheep?" he wondered, his chunky kindergarten fingers not finding success at shoving a plastic animal into the manger.

"Well, not exactly," I replied. "I think it's more like a food trough- the place where the animals ate. Remember how there was no room for Mary and Joseph inside? They had to stay out with the animals. Then Jesus was born, and Mary wrapped him up and put him in there.

He considered this thoughtfully for a second and then his face lit up with excitement.

"So all these animals were there?" he gestured to the plastic menagerie.



Clearly, the poop train had left the station. He became so engrossed in his recollection of barnyard poop (and reenacting it with the nativity scene animals) that he forgot he had even asked the question, so I took it upon myself to walk away and not have to deal with another poopy conversation. But his question stayed with me, and not just because I had to scrub the toilets that afternoon.

Though it's my most favorite time of year, I'd been having a hard time getting in the Christmas spirit. Despite the holiday lights all around, things just hadn't seemed very bright. Between the never-ending political drama in our country, the unthinkable atrocities unfolding in Syria, the bombing of churches in my family's homeland, the suffering of loved ones, and my own chronic pain from an injury that just won't heal, light had been in short supply.

Maybe that's why I started wondering- WAS there poop when Jesus was born?

I guess there probably was, both literally and figuratively. In our minds, in images, and in the songs we sing this time of year, the birth of Christ is such a gentle, magical time. We think of Christmas as a time of light, which of course it was (and is), but we often forget to mention that Jesus was born in the middle of a time of great darkness. The people of God were under oppressive rule. The nation of Israel was fracturing. Riots were common. Persecution was the way of life. 9 months pregnant, Mary and Joseph made an arduous, 100-mile journey by DONKEY over hills and streams, only to deliver the baby outdoors, without family or hospitality. These were very dark times, or as my kids my say, poopy. And that's not even talking about the animals.

I am no biblical scholar, but I do have to believe that was no accident. There's a reason the Son of God didn't arrive on a calm, clear day, with Mary and Joseph comfortably registered at the Labor and Delivery unit of their local hospital, birth plan in hand, with a crowd of family and friends in the waiting room as lavender essential oils were diffused into the birthing suite.

No, He was born into a world that I can't help but think was very similar to the one we're living in today: a broken, dark, and poopy one.

And that's where I guess this year I find the meaning of Christmas: in the poop. Christmas is about waiting for God to break forth into our world, despite the poop. It's waiting for the reassurance that hope is alive, that peace will prevail, that joy will be found, and that love will always win. It's the belief that nothing we can do as humans is so dark- not even the poopy condition in which we've left the world- that it can separate us from that light, and I've never found that thought more comforting than today.

Our world is a tough place to live in, but the Christmas story reminds us that just as hope, peace, joy and love started with an innocent child born in a humble manger surrounded (I surmise) by poop, it also starts at home in our poopy lives every single day. Christmas starts here. Christmas starts with us. It starts with cleaning up the poop.

Later that day, I found my sweet five-year-old, put him on my lap and asked him, "Buddy, do you remember earlier when you asked if there was poop when Jesus was born?"

After the requisite 10 minutes of laughing because MOM SAID POOP, he settled down. "Yeah..."

"Well, I wasn't there, and there's nothing written about that in the Bible, but I think we can guess there was. Like you said, there were all these animals, and animals poop. But that's not all. There were a lot of people behaving in a pretty poopy way back then. The world was dark and scary. And God wasn't afraid of any of that. Not the poop or the dark. He still isn't. He sent us light. That's a big part of Christmas- we need to look at all the ways we are poopy- not just in the bathroom, but in the way we talk, behave, and most of all, treat other people. We need to look for God, because he's here. We need to look for him in each other, in strangers, in people we can help. We need to look for that light, and we need to BE that light. And we REALLY need to clean up the poop in our lives."

I wanted to tell him so much more. I wanted to tell him how guilty I feel when I look around at all the poop that surrounds us- the politics, the pain, the suffering-  and realize how lucky I am that the majority of the excrement in my life is confined to the bathroom.

I wanted to tell him how every mother, of every creed and every color, in every part of the world, has seen the great light that's been passed down through history with the first glance into in her child's eyes.

How sometimes my heart simultaneously aches with equal parts joy and guilt when I think about how whole our life is in the midst of our very broken world.

I wanted to tell him all of that, but it seemed a bit heavy for a 5-year-old, so instead I just kissed the top of his curly head, held him a bit too long until he squirmed out of my arms, and told him to go clean the bathroom.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Angel: Seeing The World Through A Child's Eyes

Holiday celebrations are some of the best parts of living in a small town, and my town does not disappoint. As Christmas approaches, our Main Street. is decked out in wreaths and ribbons, with beautiful storefront window displays glittering and gleaming in the soft white lights.

Early in the season, the entire downtown closes to traffic for an evening to make room for Santa's sleigh, where, after several hours of music and merry-making, the crowd gathers for a countdown at the end of which Santa magically turns on the Christmas lights that surround downtown's centerpiece, the Millpond (we won't dwell on that one year we counted down like six times but the lights still wouldn't go on- even Santa has technical difficulties). It's a pretty big deal around here.

Many of the homes leading into downtown take their celebrations just as seriously. There's the house with the nearly 50-foot pine tree that is adorned from top to bottom with ornaments the size of watermelons. Smiling snowmen on every corner. Enough reindeer to pull a dozen sleighs. And my favorite- a giant lighted angel which stands in front of a quaint, brick gingerbread-style home on Main St. I look forward to seeing its warm glow every year, and then I forget about it until the next. Christmas angels aren't there when it's not Christmas, right?

Unless they are and you just don't see them.

Fortunately, someone in my world does.

I think it began around sometime around February or March. We'd be driving through downtown and all of a sudden, my then 6-year-old daughter would nearly leap out of her booster seat with excitement.

"Mama- there's the most beautiful angel standing there, and she's holding a present in her hands! What do you think is in it? Do you think it's for me?" She'd breathlessly blurt out as we navigated the roundabout in the middle of town.

"Mmm hmm...," I'm sure I muttered distractedly, the first few times, glancing up about 2 blocks after the fact, which is typically the time it takes a verbal message to trudge through the muck of my overloaded brain, and to trigger some sort of a response. Of course by then, I saw nothing.

But she wouldn't stop. Whether it was on the way to ballet, coming home from the grocery store, or heading to a friend's house, she saw an angel. I saw nothing but places to go, errands to run, and time ticking away on the clock.

Though she only mentioned the angel when the two of us were alone together in the car, on those rare occasions I was a passenger, I'd try to remind myself to look for it. Unfortunately, by the time we got close to downtown, my attention had been pulled away by a beep or a buzz or a tweet or a tap or a swipe. But never an angel.

Finally one day, I remembered. As we made our way downtown on the way to dance class, I told her to tell me when we were getting close to the angel. I slowed waaayyy down until I heard her gleefully  squeal: "There she is!"

Sure enough, she was right- there stood the frame of the giant lighted angel I so look forward to seeing each Christmas. I'll be honest- in the light of day, she looked a little shabby- just a twisted shell of metal and wires on a soggy, bare lawn.

"Oh, you mean the Christmas angel!" I said. "I didn't see her because the lights aren't on this time of year."

"She's not just a Christmas angel, mama- she's there all the time," she insisted. "It doesn't matter if the lights are on. She's an angel- she's always shining. I see her all the time. You just didn't LOOK for her. "


And just like that, my thought process sped through the roundabout and took a hard right turn into the oh-so-familiar parking lot of Mommy Guilt. Between work, activities, obligations, and the pressure of getting everyone from Point A to B (and points C-Z), what else had I been missing?

But then I realized- maybe we're not meant to see it all alone. Sure, my little girl sees things where I don't- she looks at a puddle and sees nothing but joy. I see a stealth mess that's looking to attach itself to a host so it can spread entirely new messes throughout the house. She sees cotton candy dinosaurs on a cloudy day, while I mourn the absence of the sun. And she sees angels shining even when the lights aren't on.

But I know it works both ways- it's my job to see things that she can't yet understand. To shield her as best I can from harmful germs and harmful strangers, bumps on her leg and bumps in the night. To guard her heart and raise her to see the world with both wisdom and joy.

Light and dark.

Angels and demons.

Between the two of us, I think it will work out just fine.

She'll be my angel and I'll be hers.

Monday, October 3, 2016

What Happened To the Magic Words? A Mom's Plea For More "Please" and "Thank You"

I've heard it said that parenting is a thankless job. The hours are awful, the pay is terrible, and the working conditions often include high-level HAZ MAT situations involving various forms of human DNA.

Sure, raising children is certainly difficult, often physically and mentally exhausting, and occasionally downright disgusting. But thankless? Hardly.

My kids are currently 9, 7, and 5 years old, and from the very beginning, we've done our best to instill in them the power of the "magic words" and the importance of a grateful spirit. They are far from perfect, but more often than not, they say "please" when they ask for something, and "thank you" when it's been received. So not only are we verbally receiving thanks multiple times per day, but we're "paid" in frequent hugs, deep belly laughs, and the cautious optimism that we're not raising entitled brats. Even with the 24-7 on-call shifts, I'd call that a hefty payoff. OK, a decent payoff. OK, fine- but I would still not call it "thankless."

Now dealing with adults, on the other hand- there's your thankless job. Actually, it's more like a "thanksless" job,  as in a shocking lack of use of the word "thanks." It can also be a "pleaseless" job, sometimes a "you're welcomeless" job, and almost always a "sorryless" one.

At least once a day I am shocked by the most basic lack of manners among adults, and I'm not even talking about the level of incivility that passes for discourse online. Believe me, I'd sooner put my bare hand in a blender than read the comments section of any news article, especially during election season.

I'm simply referring to what it feels like the almost total extinction of "please" and "thank you" in everyday life. You're probably familiar with the scenario: someone provides a service for another person. This could be anything from holding open a door to simply providing information via email, text, or other messaging means. Whatever the details, the response is often the same: Crickets. Nothing. Nada. AND IT MAKES ME CRAZY. When did saying "thank you" become optional? And when did so many people decide to opt out? The mom in me constantly fights an overwhelming urge to prompt people with a sugary, "What do we say?" or put a friend/acquaintance/total stranger in time out for what I consider abhorrent behavior.

Want some examples? The other day I was in the checkout line at the grocery store, when I noticed the child in the cart in front of me had dropped her toy. I picked it up and gave it to her mother, whose  only response was, "Oh geez, did she drop that again?" You're welcome. Later that same day,  I was out to dinner with my family, and I couldn't help but notice that when the waitress set down plates of food at the table next to us and they immediately said...grace. I'm all for that- really, I am. But shouldn't the process of giving thanks for one's food include thanking the person who brought it to the table? Directly, and not just through the intercession of a higher power?

Before you accuse me of being over-sensitive, consider what those words actually mean. Saying "thank you" isn't just a trivial throwaway. On the most basic level, it communicates acknowledgement of the act that took place, or receipt of the information that was communicated. Those things are rational, but saying "thank you" is mostly an emotional act. It connects one person to another. Saying "thank you" doesn't just acknowledge someone's effort, thoughtfulness, intent, or action. It acknowledges the person himself. And that is our basic responsibility as human beings living in community with each other. It's part of the unwritten contract we sign as co-inhabitants of the planet. And we're violating it right and left.

I often see "open letter" style thank yous, where people offer their profound gratitude very publicly to someone they often failed to thank privately. I'm sure you know the type of post I'm referring to- it usually has a title like: "To the Kind Woman In The Trader Joe's Parking Lot," or "Dear Lady Wearing The Black Swimsuit at the Splash Park." In the tradition of grand intellectuals like Emile Zola and Martin Luther King, Jr., the writer clearly feels his or her communication should not be limited to the mundane reality of either personal one-on-one missives. These letters often go viral, but they change nothing, and serve mainly to put the focus on the writer. That's not really what gratitude is all about. You know what I'd love to see go viral? Good old fashioned thanks.

A few years back I made what ultimately ended up to be a very brief stop in corporate America, taking a job in public relations. It was one of those "too good to pass up" opportunities, so even though I had a feeling it wasn't quite the right job for me, I gave it a go. A few days into the job, I needed to email a senior vice president for some information, which he promptly provided. "Thanks so much!" I replied. The same scenario played out over the next few days, and each time I replied with my thanks. Later that week, Mr. Very Important Senior Management Guy paid an unexpected visit to my desk.

"Hey, I get that you're new here and you're trying to be friendly," he boomed, loud enough for the entire cubicle farm to hear. "But you're clogging up my email with all your replies. You don't need to say 'thank you' for everything around here- we don't have time for that."

My jaw hit my my desk. "Umm...OK..." I stammered to his back as he importantly walked away. "Thanks...I mean, not thanks...I mean I'm sorry...wait, do we have time for 'sorry' here?"

For the record, I did thank him for the opportunity when I submitted my letter of resignation not long after that.

Contrast that to a day 35 years ago this month- one of my earliest memories of the power of the magic words. I came home from school to something my 8-year-old eyes had never seen: both my parents in tears. Anwar Sadat, the president of their native Egypt, had been assassinated as he marched in a parade commemorating the anniversary of the 1973 war with Israel. For days to come, we watched the footage over and over again, with audible sobs heard over the whir of the VCR in rewind mode. My parents and their Egyptian friends poured over news clippings taken from papers around the world, and discussed the implications in hushed voices.

I did not come close to understanding the nuances of the situation at that time- heck, I hardly do today. On the one hand, Sadat was a man who had not made life easy for Egypt's Christian minority, to which my family belongs. He had gone as far as to imprison the church patriarch in a remote desert monastery after accusing him of inciting sectarian unrest. On the other hand, he was the first Arab leader to sign a peace accord with Israel, a feat for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and which ultimately lead to his death at the hands of extremists who considered him a traitor.

As my parents struggled to digest all of that, what rose to the top on October 6, 1981, was that the leader of their beloved homeland had been killed, and from thousands of miles away, they mourned the piece of their history that died along with him.

In the days that followed, one of our closest family friends paid a visit. A devout Jew, she had been my parents' very first next door neighbor, and their relationship seemed a testament to the amazing possibilities this country held. No doubt, she was working to reconcile her own jumble of emotions over the events that had unfolded. But this was not the time for debate.

She walked over to my mom, took her hands, and held them to her heart.

They stood that way for some time, not speaking, both with tears streaming down their cheeks.

"Thank you," my mom eventually said.

And it was more than enough.