Hypochondria almost killed me


Have you ever thought you were dying of colon cancer, and while planning how to make your children’s life bearable after you pass, you bought them a puppy?

If you haven’t, my suggestion is to wait for your official diagnosis before picking up the dog. Perhaps researching the breed beforehand would have also been a good choice. But instead I thought, “Boy that puppy is so cute and fluffy; plus, my neighbor’s mom’s, dog groomer’s proctologist said this breed isn’t supposed to shed and is hypoallergenic, so it’s got to be perfect for us!”

Unfortunately, this was me two weeks ago, and I can’t find enough Calgon to take me away. It’s not that I don’t like dogs, but I’ve been warned never to get a puppy and I’m old enough to know better. This dying thing caught me off guard, plus you should have seen her widdle picture!

Despite the fact my family had begged for a dog for years, the pressure to give in to their request before my imminent demise felt real and strong.

Like flossing before going to the dentist, I usually make sound, well thought out decisions; however when I do lose logical perspective, my analytical husband – my yin to my yang – will point me in the right direction. He’s my “spell-checker” of logical ideas.

But this one time, our system failed!

I should have noticed the hubby wanted a dog again, when he started drawing plans to build a fence instead of checking my DNR or Advanced Directive at the medical plaza, but I really thought I was a goner.

People, hypochondria can slowly take over your brain without a warning. Every ache and pain of mine couldn’t be normal for someone the mere age of 29 (plus a few decades), but since I’d never experienced the age before, I didn’t recognize the signs.

Looking back over the last few years, age had been doing a number on my health realities. In fact, a health data-checker would be the perfect app for me. It would ask:

1. Are you breathing?
2. Do you have a pulse?
3. Are you having severe intestinal issues?
4. Are you considering getting a puppy? DON’T!!

Not only would this mobile app have protected me, but I can only assume the population would save a bunch on health care expenses. [Note to reader: if you design this mobile app, I expect 20-percent of all gross sales.]

So, the puppy is a keeper. I must be positive and keep the whining for the puppy and my pre-teens. I will invest in a nice crate and tall playpen. I’ll take stock in quality earplugs and doggie pee pads. Then I’ll plan on getting rid of everything in our house within the next year. This way if any shoe or windowsill survives death by mastication, it will be a pleasant surprise and a bonus!

Despite my mere diagnosis of gastric reflux, I’m healthy! My girls are thrilled to have a new fuzzy friend, and my husband finally has someone to chase sticks in the newly fenced in backyard.

Excuse me. I need to let out the dog. It’s been over 15 minutes.

I’m sure all of these changes and stressors won’t affect my reflux one bit.

(previously published in The Kansas City Star)

Cheers to all the Good Coaches


Both of my daughters are gifted in many areas. They are talented dancers, singers, students and master throwers of clothing on the floor. However, when it comes to competitive sports, their genetic code was mangled because they could care less about winning and sometimes even participating in team sports.

“Why would I play soccer at recess when I could be writing musicals and choreographing my backup dancers?” I can imagine those words coming out of either girl.

So at the end of summer, when I asked my youngest if there was something new she wanted to try in the fall, her answer was the last thing I expected. Even a root canal or mammogram would have surprised me less.

“Hmm, I think I’ll try soccer,” she said, without missing a beat.

I inhaled one of those deep “parent breaths” so my next phrase would sound positive and supportive. “Really? That sounds like fun!”

Now the problem with this is, in our area, soccer is a competitive sport. Hard core.

Most young athletes start playing in preschool and diligently progress through grade school. My daughter was going into fourth grade without any experience or knowledge. (She did play “soccer” in kindergarten, but it was more like herding kittens; plus, halfway through the season, my funny girl decided she was her team’s mascot, “Magic Hatton.” I kid you not!)

Now I didn’t want to burst my child’s sports bubble by telling her she’d be horribly behind, but I hated to see her disappointment at the first practice. So I signed her up and told her with lots of practice and teamwork, she would have a great time and maybe meet some new girls from another school since no one at her school was playing recreational soccer anymore.

My youngest is self-assured and has never met a stranger. She is my actress, comedian, and according to one principal of her school, she’s the social director of the student body. So I wasn’t worried about her not getting along with new teammates.

First practice, she sidled up and began learning the difference between a ball and shin guards. Thanks to her coach.

I’m not trying to suck up to the coach so my girl will get more game time. In fact on many game days, my opinionated daughter spouts her dislike of the sport and begs to get back into acting classes. But here lies the dilemma. This coach is amazing. Not only does he know and love the sport, but he also deals with these tween girls better than Judy Blume would.

Coach notices when a girl gets a side cramp and needs to be pulled out. If an asthmatic is struggling, he has a signal the girl is instructed to do. Heck, I know men who for weeks hadn’t noticed that I changed my hair color and had five inches cut off.

So when my daughter decided to do something embarrassing, in hopes of getting yanked out of soccer, I insisted she write an apology letter to the coach. My creative gal wrote a beautiful letter, full of kindness, raw emotion and remorse. She’s a keeper!

The next week, her coach hand wrote a note that I told her she should keep with her all the way through college. We might need to laminate it. His advice was simple and I’m paraphrasing: she should never give up; believe in herself and “it takes a lot of practice, confidence and failure to learn a lot of things in life.” How many adults get that type of life coaching…ever?

I’m sad my daughter will not be doing soccer next semester. I think she’s progressing well and when she puts her heart into it, she’s fun to watch. But to be honest, I’m more disappointed she will not have “Coach” in her life.

These types of life coaches are rare to find. I’m thrilled she had the opportunity to learn from him and will be able to take away his sage advice.

And even better, she’ll have his laminated letter to look back on for years to come.

Cheers to all the excellent coaches and teachers in this world. You make a huge difference!

(previously published in The Kansas City Star on Sept. 26, 2016)

Neighborhood has Turned into the Wild, Wild West

courtesy of freestock.com

courtesy of freestock.com

Howdy! I reckon I’ll share a tale about this here settlement. Way out West in the small county of Johnson, a township was prospering. The kinfolk were, overall, a good people.

When the children weren’t larnin’, they spent their time in the woods riding on trails and fighting off monsters by the creek. The townsfolk spent their days tending to the farm and worrying about the weather.

Summer was gone, so with the cool breeze of autumn and the drone of cicadas dying down, the townsfolk settled into a familiar quiet life.

Folks was encouraged until that sunny day when Cowboy Joe, packing his Smith and Wesson 6-shooter, roamed the main street…

The year was 2016 and life as we knew it was changing.

It all happened one beautiful August evening. After a big rain, the obnoxious temperatures finally lowered. Kids were in the yards playing, while parents gossiped over the 4-foot fences. So on the one day when the temperatures were comfortable and mosquitos were at bay, the home dwellers surfaced.

“Hi there, Sheila! When did y’all move in? Last year, you say? …Well, welcome to our perfect corner of the world!”

It’s a regular Pleasantville!

That evening, in order to trick my children into exercising with me, I suggested we search for Pokémon Go monsters in our hood. The beauty of this phone app is kids have no idea how far they are walking; and as long as they are doing with me, they won’t wander in front of traffic. It’s a win-win.

We had only walked about five blocks searching for funny critters, when an old man out for a walk appeared. I shouldn’t have assumed he wouldn’t know about Pokémon, but we had intentionally stalked into a yard to put the sting on Jigglypuff. I didn’t want this man screaming, “Get outta my yard!” So I cheerily approached to assure him we weren’t threatening, unless he were a Pokémon.

After our howdy dos, he abruptly changed gears ranting about politics in front of my children. I must have been wearing that face saying, “You are either crazy or an idiot” because he literally shamed me for the beliefs he thought I had.

Within 2.2 seconds he spouted off the Second Amendment, without caring or knowing how I felt about it. Just assuming I was “wrong,” he proceeded to lift up his shirt to show me he had a gun tucked into his belted jean shorts.

I’m sure the next sound was a panicked mom gasping for air, as I fumbled to protect my children. After all, I didn’t know this Cowboy Joe from a hole in the ground.

My daughter, staring at his shorts said, “You have a Taser?”

I yelled a panicked “No!” to stop her questioning, or to keep the old cowboy from drawing his pistol. Thankfully my outburst surprised everyone and everyone stopped talking.

“It was so nice to meet you, sir!” I said with as much sincerity as I could force. “But we have a whole lot of Pokémon to capture.” Then with a fake smile, I pushed my daughters down the hill and high- tailed it out of Dodge. That theater training of mine does come in handy, Mom!

After running home the back way, locking all doors and closing blinds, we crouched in the safest part of the house to answer my skeered babies’ questions. Just because trouble comes visiting, doesn’t mean you offer it a place to sit.

After a sleepless night and a trip to the police station, I found out we are living in the Wild West. Last I heard, we lived in a state where you had to conceal your weapon, not show it off to young children. Apparently, I was wrong. As long as Cowboy Joe didn’t threaten us with his drawn weapon, we couldn’t call 9-1-1. That makes a mom feel safer. That’s sarcasm.

Cowboy Joe, here’s some free advice: I don’t care if you own a six-shooter, but don’t be exposing it to my kids. Plus, exercising with a gun on your hip sounds like danger ready to happen. If you stumble off a curb one day, you could shoot yerself in the yippee-kayee.

Pleasantville, my hide.

Cooling off Period is Universal for Kids

Ever hear of the annual two-week cooling off period? Ask any teacher or parent about the start of school, and you will get the “I’m totally with you!” head nod.

So why is it that every year all children misbehave, have bouts of unexplained crying and/or throw Barbies through the sheetrock in their rooms?

It’s called school is starting so let’s make it worse for Mom by acting demonic just for giggles.

The week before my children went back to school, I developed what I thought was possibly a tumor or a small bowling ball in my stomach. In the past, I’ve dealt with panic attacks but this was much different.

Could it be the box of ice cream sandwiches that I demolished? Perhaps. But I knew in my gut the first day of school was approaching and the infamous two weeks could finally do me in.

Nowhere in any parenting book have I seen why children act insane during the first two weeks of every school year. Why hadn’t generations before mentioned this temporary insanity diagnosis? Was it one of those, “Ah, they’ll figure it out. I finally have time to read War and Peace.”

It wasn’t until my eldest daughter was in kindergarten and I asked the teacher why my sweet child was demonstrating erratic behavior at home. She ought to have had some successful idea on what to do to turn my munchkin back into the kid I had before dropping her off at school. After all, the seasoned educator had taught hundreds of kids over the years.

The teacher informed me my daughter’s behavior at home was perfectly normal. “But you haven’t seen the change at home!” I interrupted. She added that nothing needed to be done but wait for the first two weeks to go by.

“So you see this happening with other kids?” I said shocked.

She admitted every child experiences this annually during the 14-day period of parental torture. After thanking her profusely and letting go of my clinging bear hug grasp, I returned home with an air of relief and smugness.

My kid is fine! The teacher told me so, I thought while patting myself on the back.

For some reason, the next year when I had one child entering kindergarten and the other moving up to first grade, I managed to forget the sage advice from the September before.

Why are my kids driving me crazy? Take me away, Calgon! Why isn’t anyone listening? Somebody please take me away!

Then at the peak of my wits end, the words came back to me, floating like one of those voiceovers in every Hallmark movie.

“They’re all like this for the first two weeks.”

And just like that, the wave of nausea and the tumor in my abdomen went away. My shoulders lowered and I exhaled — it was the beginning of school.

So if you are a parent who is looking haggard, sleep deprived or suddenly talking to yourself in public, please feel free to pass on the wise kindergarten teacher’s advice:

“Your child’s behavior is perfectly normal, and they’ll go back to their old selves in approximately 336 hours!”

But who’s counting, right?

(previously published in The Kansas City Star)

Good Deeds Deserves Bacon

I’m not searching for signs in life. But after a few days of feeling like I pushed the repeat button on best lessons to be learned, I decided to listen.

It doesn’t take me four times being hit over the head to hear our world needs a wallop of kindness.

It started one day at the public library. My children were finding some reading material for the summer program, when an elderly man stopped me. I assumed he needed directions or to tell me my kids were cute as a button, but that didn’t happen.

He stopped, looked me straight in the eyes and said, “I hope you never lose that smile.”

This, of course, made me blush and smile even more, because when you’re on a summer library run early in the morning, with unwashed hair, no makeup and semi-matched clothing, your self-esteem tends to be a bit low.

After I thanked him or said something dumb like, “I don’t leave home without it,” this gentleman added, “You really light up a room.” Well, if that doesn’t beat all! He’s now coming for Thanksgiving dinner.

My daughter elbowed me as we walked away and said, “Mama that man was flirting with you!” “No he wasn’t!” was my quick reply. Come on! He’s in his 80s and picking up chicks in the library lobby?

“That man was just being nice,” was my firm answer before my mind wandered to Anna Nicole Smith. It’s amazing how rarely we see kindness firsthand from strangers. With just one sweet gift, only taking a few seconds out of his day, he made me feel as if I had never had floating library fines.

Normally I’d be all over a teachable moment as awesome as this. But before the story came out of my mouth, the girls darted to find books so I sashayed around the library, smiling more than any sane person should on a Tuesday morning.

A few days later, my grade-school-aged children let me sleep in. Does anyone else hear the “Halleluiah Chorus” when this happens?

Usually when my girls are letting me sleep, it’s because they’re trying to eke in more electronics time, so I wasn’t expecting more than the glazed-over stare of overly electronic-fied children.

When I landed my caffeine and a section of the paper, I found parked in front of my kitchen chair a grand surprise — a breakfast comprised of reheated pancakes, strawberries and bacon. I was so impressed I initially thought it was from my husband.

My youngest girl popped out, beaming with pride. She had used real plates and silverware and folded a napkin next to my plate.

“Do you like it, Mama? I even ate the burned bacon and gave you the good ones,” she said with a grin. I was blown away. We have called her the bacon bandit for some time.

Every family has a true bacon lover. The relative who you think of, when finding bacon-flavored chewing gum, all the while muffling gagging noises. Our bacon bandit can awake from a deep sleep and trace the bacon smell directly to the pan. What a sweet girl to share her favorite food with her mother.

My last sign was when a friend shared the loss of her 99-year-old grandfather.

She painted a sweet story of how he always said, “The good book says you need to do a good deed every day.” She said he couldn’t go to bed without doing a good act. Whether it’s paying for the person behind you in Starbucks, or complimenting someone, or holding the door for the person with his hands full. After nearly a century, can you imagine how many people this man touched?

It’s apparent that wisdom comes with age.

In one week, two older gentlemen knew the secret to the beautiful life. Being kind to one another. From the surplus of hate on the news to the political insanity, we all could use gentle reminders from a couple of guys who’ve lived long enough to know the difference.

Thank you, gentlemen, for helping me see through the signs.

Previously published on August 13, 2016 in THE KANSAS CITY STAR.