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."