Wednesday, August 21, 2013

We never know what kiss will awaken a child

Here is another of the columns I wrote about my daughter when I worked for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Her birthday is Friday. This was published on August 23, 1985.


In the Walt Disney movie Sleeping Beauty, baby Princess Aurora is visited by her fairy godmothers, each of whom gives her a gift.

They give wonderful things, such as the gift of beauty, and song. I always loved that scene, because
I thought it was the dream of all parents - to know what wonderful gifts your child possessed. Even when the scene was interrupted by the wicked Maleficent, I still felt that Aurora's parents had the better of it.

Maleficent, in a fit of rage, cursed the child so she would prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die. However, one of the good little godmothers hadn't given Aurora her gift yet and so was able to mitigate the curse. Aurora still would prick her finger, but she wouldn't die. She would simply sleep until awakened by true love's kiss.

But as bad as that still was, at least Aurora’s parents had some idea of what to expect.

What parents wouldn't like even a small clue as to what gifts were embodied in their child and what the future holds for her or him?

Unlike Aurora's parents, we can only wait to see what gifts will emerge in our children. We have to await patiently the unveiling of the marvelous secrets they hold within.

Twenty years ago today, a nurse handed me a tiny bundle whose eyes and fists were so tightly shut I was convinced they never would open. No sooner had the door shut behind her, though, than those fists unclenched and one tiny hand closed around my little finger. At the same time, those eyes opened and I found myself looking into the bluest blue eyes I had seen up to then, or since.

And I fell instantly, irrevocably, head-over-heels. sky-rockets-and-brass-bands, earth-shakingly, totally, in love.

She and I looked at each other for a long time. I don't know what she saw, but I saw the most magnificent blending of her father and me that could be imagined. Somehow, the best of both of us had gone into her making and out of two such different people had come this unique individual.

Some of the gifts became visible early on. Even as a small child, she could draw well. She understood color and line and space early, and it shows in her artwork, in her room and in her clothes.

She has a stubborn streak that is serving her better all the time as she figures out how to manage it. She has an uncanny instinct about people, and I've learned to pay attention to her first impressions. She loves animals, music, family gatherings when her uncles start telling jokes, and fast cars.

She has a generous spirit, and no meanness exists in her soul. She is gentle and can tell a joke well. She is loyal and will brook no slight to those she loves. She is a good letter-writer and loves to read.
She already knows how to forgive and is learning patience.

I'm not saying Maleficent left her alone. She doesn't leave anyone alone. She moves about, playing tricks on us all, dealing out a short temper here, giving out selfishness there, and robbing most of us of the ability to see our gifts.

This last is Maleficent’s favorite trick, I suspect. All people, with the exception of a lucky few, have to fight through lack of belief in themselves before they can become comfortable in the world. Some never make it and go through life convinced they are impostors, undeserving of the success they've achieved.

If I had three wishes to give our children, t would give them the ability to believe in themselves, to see the gifts they already possess and to be open to those gifts that haven’t fully revealed themselves to them yet.

But when the babies arrive, there aren't any fairy godmothers, and there aren't any instructions. We parents have to simply do the best we can with what we have at the time.

So it happens that when parents think of their children, our minds form that eternal parental question: How goes it with the child?

As I consider my child on the 20th anniversary of her birth, I realize that there is never going to be an answer to that question for me.

The only answer that matters has to come from her, for her.

The hard truth is, no parent can provide the kiss, the answer that will awaken the child's sleeping self.

Parents can only provide an atmosphere in which the kiss can happen that brings the child into full awareness of her or his or her capabilities.

But there are some gifts we can give them. One is keeping quiet so they will have a chance to hear that answer when it comes.

And the other is to let them know they are loved, that they do not sleep unguarded.

Happy birthday, my darling. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Packing the house and heading for college

Here is another of the columns I wrote about my daughter when I worked for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. This was published September 12, 1985.


I spent this last weekend protecting my possessions from invaders from the east.

My daughter was home from college for the weekend. As she was preparing to leave, I discovered among the things she was planning to take back to school:

  •         A 5-foot shelf that had been holding some of my books in the library.
  •         The extension cord I keep permanently on the vacuum cleaner so I can vacuum the entire house without changing outlets.
  •         My wonderful white cuddly terry cloth bathrobe.
  •         The brand new can of spray starch.
  •         A large carpet scrap that had been hanging in the garage against the day we needed it to patch the carpet in the house.
  •         A large red plastic storage container into which I had tossed packages of photographs I planned to organize someday before I'm 80.
  •         The lotion in the large bottle I keep by my bed. (The bottle was still there - the lotion had been poured into her bottle.)

As I discovered these things, her invariable response was, “Well, you never use it anyway."

Apparently, if it was not on my body or in my hand at the particular moment she decided it would look good in her dorm room or on her body, it was fair game.

As we began negotiating over what was to be put back and what she could take, I realized this child is missing her calling. She should be in our State Department, heading up our negotiating teams. We would not only have the Soviet Union totally disarmed within days, we might end up owning it - or at least a good portion of it would be in her dorm room.

As I was telling some friends about this raid on my household, I discovered mine is an experience common to most parents of college-age children who live away from home.

One woman told how it happened to her. Seems the father of a friend of her son had pulled a horse trailer equipped with hanging rods into their driveway. Her son proceeded to empty the entire contents of his closet into the trailer. (Two chairs also disappeared from his room.)

When his mother asked why he was taking everything to school instead of splitting it into warm weather clothes and cold weather clothes, he patiently explained that taking it all was easier than deciding.

I told some other friends of this phenomenon, whereupon one told of how she knew her oldest son had really left home for good. He borrowed a friend's van and began to load it with things from her house.

His two younger brothers watched the operation in silence (she wasn't at home). To this day, the two younger brothers refer to it as The Rape of Fort Worth.

Another woman I talked with on the phone later that same day told me her daughter left for college on the East Coast three weeks ago. So far, she is missing two chairs, one small bookcase, three saucepans, four blouses and a pair of slacks.

"At least that's all I've discovered so far," she said. "I haven’t been up in the attic yet.”

She said she should have been prepared. When her son left the year before, he not only took almost everything in his room plus four lawn chairs, he also tried to sneak the family dog into his car.

She was really pleased when her son came home so often for weekends (He’s going to school in Texas). Then she discovered his frequent visits home were because he missed the dog.

"He said, 'Well, gee, Mom, I can always talk to you on the phone,” she said. "It keeps things in perspective for you. I'm not sure I like the perspective, but what are you going to do?

“One good thing is that he'll never get homesick. He has most of home in his room.

"When they come home for Thanksgiving this year, I may have to conduct body searches before I let them out of the house to go back to school," she said.

Since I know dorm rooms at my daughter's school are about the size they were when I was in college, I can’t imagine where she is putting all this stuff. All I can think of is the scene in Walt Disney's The Sword in the Stone when Merlin packs the entire contents of his house into one small carpet bag. He does this by magic, of course, being Merlin. As some spritely music plays, everything in the house - pots and pans, beds, chairs, cabinets, chests - marches into the bag, each item getting littler and littler until it all fits. This is the only possible explanation - magic.

Still, I’m amazed she was able to get it all in one small car. It was a feat of packing that would be envied by professionals. There was not one wasted square inch in that car. She even moved the vase with a dozen red roses that her boyfriend sent her for her birthday.

Now she has-announced she's coming home next weekend, too. I would be flattered at all these visits home except that I know why she's coming.

She can do the laundry for free here. It costs money at school.

Monday, August 19, 2013

A child becomes a woman -- and I helped

My daughter's birthday is Friday. The other day when I was looking for something else, I came across some columns I wrote about her when I worked for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Here is one published August 22, 1983.


My daughter turns 18 tomorrow. We plan to celebrate by registering her to vote, then going out to lunch and generally making a fuss over her.

Eighteen. How did that happen? I remember the nurse putting that serene baby in my arms and my astonishment at her teensy perfect fingernails and tiny ears. She opened the most piercing blue eyes and looked right at me.

"Hi baby. I'm your mommy."

She went through college with me, learning to color in university libraries while I studied, playing with blocks while I typed papers. Only a couple times did she issue ultimatums. Once, during the week before finals, she raised herself up to her full 2-year-old height and pushed all my books off the kitchen table.

"No more books! Me!" she said.

I got the message. We went to the zoo and played for the rest of the day. The Houston Zoo was free, and we didn't have much money. We became fast friends with Oscar the Otter and learned to love the lions.

When I graduated and we moved to Fort Worth she was not yet 4. When I went to work at the Star-Telegram, l had to find a way to care for her. At Southcliff Baptist Church's day-care center we found Mrs. Travis, who made me feel my daughter was in good hands.

At the end of the first day, after worriedly rushing out to the church, I walked in and she asked, "Are you here already?" I decided we would both survive this. She stayed there until she was 11.

To those women at the church, I once again say thank you. The woman my child is, you helped to shape with your loving care.

The woman my child is...

Well, she's independent. She's smart, but she has no patience with things that bore her. She does not suffer fools gladly.

She has a temper worthy of her flaming hair. When she was little, and got angry with me, she would go into her room and close the door. Pretty soon, little pieces of paper would come sliding out.

"I'm very mad. Don't think you can come in here."

I'd write back, "Sorry you're mad. Let me know when you're ready to talk." 

After a while, here'd come another note.

"Do you love me? Check one box."

There would be three boxes drawn on the paper, one marked "More than anything in the world." Another would say 'A lot." The third would say "Most of the time."

I'd always check the first box with a big exclamation mark and slide the paper back into her room. Then she'd come out and hug me.

She handles her temper somewhat differently these days. She's more, well, vocal.

She is sentimental, and a true patsy for animals. She has a genius for line and color, and dresses with flair. She has a very organized mind and a sense of order, although looking at her room would cause one to doubt this.

She has a deep rooted sense of fairness. She still is youthfully unforgiving of people who don't live up to her standards, but her standards are worth aiming for.

She doesn't yet perceive the world in shades of gray.  With her, issues are delineated in black and white. It's interesting to listen to her think things through, though, for she often helps me see something I've missed.

Once she has a sure sense of what she wants, she doesn’t give up until she gets it. With things that are important to her, she doesn’t leave anything to chance. She plans and campaigns and lobbies with all the effectiveness of a Washington veteran.

She's taller than I am, and looks like her father, though sometimes I see parts of me echoed in her. Sometimes she likes thinking we are alike. Other times she wants distance and differences between us.

The years between 13 and 15 were not easy as she struggled to become her own person. There were days when I wondered if either one of us would live through that time.

She and I have been through some dark and scary times together and I'm not ashamed to admit there were days (and nights) when she propped me up and send back out into the fray.

On the days I come home depressed, she’s good at reassuring me that the world is worth the effort. When I’m grumpy, she has a good sense of when to leave me alone and when to jostle me out of the moodiness.

She still likes a hug now and then and is not averse to having me baby her from time to time, but then, she occasionally babies me too these days.

She can detect insincerity at 50 paces. She has been proven right in her impressions of people so often that I've learned to listen to her.

She drives me crazy with her messiness and her total inability to hang clothes up. She makes me want to strangle her with her whining some times. She irritates me when she tries to manipulate me with emotionalism and drama.

On the whole, however, l think August. 23, 1965, at St. Joseph's Hospital in Houston was a day worth celebrating. That serene baby has grown into a vital, assertive, interesting woman.

Happy birthday, baby.

Do I love you? More than anything in the whole world!


And I still do, sweetheart. And I have a lot of fun watching your oldest child act EXACTLY like you, especially the lobbying and the drama. Just sayin'. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Growing up with a friend called Neenie

My daughter's birthday is Friday. The other day when I was looking for something else, I came across some columns I wrote about her when I worked for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Here is one published December 11, 1983.


The little heart that said "I love you" started it all.

How can one resist a soft, huggable doll that tells you constantly and faithfully that she loves you?

That first Raggedy Ann was given to her before she was born. It sat in a corner of her crib, smiling and waiting patiently for her arrival. After she came home from the hospital, it waited some more for her to get old enough to notice.

Raggedy suffered all the pats and pulls and teething tugs of the growing, exploring baby with undimmed eyes and complete softness.

When the baby was old enough to pull up, Raggedy was dragged along. She learned to walk holding Raggedy, and the doll's soft body even cushioned a tumble or two.

"Raggedy" was hard to say when she was learning to talk, and it came out "Neenie." And Neenie she stayed, long after talking was a perfected - and much used - skill.

Neenie was always around. She took her everywhere with her, dragging her along by the arm or leg, tossing her over a shoulder, putting her on a chair beside her at dinner, tucking her in beside her at night.

The soft round face got dirty with sticky kisses, and was even once stained with blood when she cut her forehead in a bad fall and I had to drive her to the doctor. She held onto Neenie and didn't cry. She was braver than I. But then, I didn't have a Neenie to hold.

Several times I had to sew Neenie's arm or a leg back on, and mend tears in her skirt.

New Raggedys appeared on the scene occasionally, usually at Christmas or birthdays, and they were much loved, too.

But Neenie was special, even when her yarn hair began to fall out, an eye came off, her nose wore through, and one foot tore completely off. (It was sewn back on, held in place with a plaid fabric that gave Neenie quite a jaunty air.)

The new Raggedys would be taken places, and would be included in games. One Raggedy was very big, almost the size of an red-haired 8-year-old. Her father carried it around in the trunk of his car for weeks before Christmas because there wasn't any other place big enough to hide it.

On Christmas morning, she discovered it under the tree and came running to tell me about the wonderful Raggedy that was just her size. This Raggedy sat on the window seat, smiling down at the gerbils in their cage, and occasionally cradling her head when she read a book.

Another was a handmade Raggedy bought at the Senior Citizens
Fair. It had a blue dress with lace on the hem, and brown hair, so it wasn't a "real" Raggedy. But it had that tiny heart.

We even had a Raggedy Andy, a sprightly little fellow who got pulled around on the back of a bike, and who rode on our border collie’s back in game after game.

We had Raggedy Ann and Andy books, and she had some Raggedy Ann and Andy bookends to hold them in place on her shelves. The Raggedys went on vacations with us, and even grandparents and uncles treated them with respect.

But Neenie was always the one. All the others were placed lovingly on the window seat at night. Neenie slept in the bed.

Neenie was the one wept upon during those horrible, deeply suffered tragedies of preteen years. When she was misunderstood, unfairly punished, or just generally mistreated by her obviously uncaring parents, she would shut herself in her room and tell Neenie how awful we were.

Neenie listened, and loved, and smiled.

Her smile was getting a bit crooked because some of the threads were pulling loose. But it just added character to her sweet face.

Neenie soaked up the tears of family changes, and cushioned her head when she flopped on the bed after that first date, ready to tell about her evening.

Neenie's other foot came off after being carried by her leg one too many times, causing instant remorse and hugs.

It got sewn back on with a patch of red fabric, which, with her plaid patch on the other foot, made her quite a snazzy lady,

The snazzy lady Neenie loved and lived with was growing up, and the room was changing around her. Dolls got packed away and posters went up. Toys were gone, and records appeared.

A stereo dominates the room. Pillows are heaped on the bed, and pictures of a special boy are everywhere.

Cats have joined the family and taken over some of the pillows. Stylish clothes hang in the closet (and in heaps on the floor. Sigh). Earrings and bracelets and necklaces and belts fill up spaces on the chest and the bookcases. Senior prom souvenirs and homecoming mums hang on the walls along with a treasured Outward Bound banner and certificate.

So much has changed. So much remains the same.

When that special boy makes her cry, Neenie still soaks up the tears.

When she's angry or upset, Neenie still gets hugged. When she's lying on the bed, reading, one hand almost unconsciously pats Neenie from time to time.

Neenie still reigns on the bed, smiling.

And the little heart still says, in slightly faded red, '”I Love You."


And I do too, sweetheart.