Don't forget to visit my website! Jackie Coleman - Author

Sunday, January 27, 2013


I read a lot … news, books (fiction and non-fiction), blogs, etc.  Writing is my all-time favorite pastime, but reading comes in a close second ... with author/agent editor blogs and articles being some of my favorites.  I recently found a blog by a published author who began her blog just as she was published for the first time. 

Some of my favorite passages on her blog are from her debut at a big convention in New York City.  She stayed at a very nice hotel, courtesy of her agent/publisher, and spoke of her wide-eyed wonder with all she experienced … and particularly her ecstasy at seeing her name and book name and art on a banner hanging for all to see as soon as they walked into the convention hall.  There are pictures of her posing and pointing upward to the banner.  The pride on her face is unmistakable.

I enjoyed reading of the thrill of seeing her work showcased in such a grand way for the very first time, of her reliving all the amazing things she had never experienced before.  I could completely see myself having the same reactions, perhaps even more so, as I understand this author had been to New York City before, and I have never visited there.

Everyone likes a rags to riches story … and by "riches", I mean the fulfillment of a dream, not the type of riches that pad a bank account.  Going from unpublished to published is a monumental milestone in the career of an author, and I enjoyed reading of her success … and hoping my own story will be just as inspiring for another aspiring author someday!

I can't wait to share that kind of news to the world … which will have to wait until I quit jumping up and down and screaming in excitement like a little kid being told they're going to Disneyland!  Until that day, I must wait ...

A quote by Jean Jacques Rousseau sums it up quite nicely … Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Critique My Pitch!

I have entered my latest novel, A Summer in Ocracoke, into the Romance category of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest this year.  

Round One is judged solely on the appeal of "the pitch".  According to the rules, the pitch is "A well-written description of your book that addresses more than just a summary; it needs to be a well-written explanation of what the book is about. Talk about your novel's strengths, and highlights what differentiates it from other novels in its genre. with respect to how it is being evaluated."

Upon review of the above rule, I tweaked my pitch just a bit.  The submission phase will close soon, but until then, I can still revise it. Please leave a comment and let me know what you think ...

          It had been seventeen years since Tara Martin had been to the tiny island of Ocracoke, North Carolina. It was easy to remember how long it had been; it was the last vacation she had taken with her father. They had spent two glorious weeks at her grandmother's cottage that July. After her father drowned a few months later, the thought of being on a tiny strip of sand in the Atlantic terrified her, and she never set foot on Ocracoke again. Until today.

           Within hours of arriving, Tara discovers puzzling clues from her grandmother's life. With each new clue more confusing than the last, she's left wondering how well she really knew the woman who raised her. Despite her promise to stay the entire summer, her plans are to leave Ocracoke as soon as her grandmother's cottage is ready to sale. But then she meets Larry Taylor, a handsome local contractor, who came to Ocracoke a few years before to escape his own demons, and found life on the isolated island a soothing balm to his fractured soul. Finally at peace, Larry patiently pursues a reluctant Tara. Plagued by insecurities and self-doubt, Tara slowly allows Larry into the recesses of her heart, second-guessing and questioning his motives, as well as her own, every step of the way — but it's the unraveling of the mysteries surrounding her grandmother that leave her heart reeling.

           Set in the picturesque village of Ocracoke, North Carolina, A Summer in Ocracoke is not just another predictable romance novel. It's not only the story of new love, but the mature love of the elderly, and the discovery of the sacrifices made in the name of love that ultimately cost them everything. Fresh and inspiring, readers of all ages will be moved by this unique tale.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

I Dreamed a Dream

I think every author yearning to be published has a movie playing in their head about the moment they are “discovered”.  Let me set the scene ...

It’s nighttime in New York City.  Lights dot intermittent windows of the high rise buildings adjacent to her office.  Long after the rest of the office has gone home, a lone agent sits at her desk, staring at the never-ending queue of unread query letters in her inbox.  She’s tired, hungry, and dreaming of nothing more than a hot dinner followed by luxurious bubble bath by candlelight, but decides to read one more letter before she leaves.

To placate her hunger, she eats a cold french fry left over from lunch as she double-clicks a query at random, her hands at the ready fire off the same “thanks, but no thanks” letter that she sends far too often.  But something in this letter gives her pause.  She sits up straighter in her chair, leaning closer to the screen to make sure she’s not seeing things.  This one is really good.  The letter is eloquent and to the point.  The story line fits perfectly with the type of manuscripts publishers are buying and the type of client she’s accepting.  The plot is both unique and intriguing.

“Oh,” she says aloud, “this is really good.  I must talk to this woman!  I must offer to represent her before someone else snaps her up and rides this gravy train to the top!”

Now … to fully understand the joy in her heart and the expression on her face, think of the judges faces, Simon Cowell’s in particular, when Susan Boyle began singing I Dreamed a Dream on Britain’s Got Talent.  Heck, think of your face when she began singing!  No one in that crowded arena or watching on television expected what happened when Susan Boyle began to sing. 

Yes … I’m exaggerating, but there is a lot of truth to it!  We all like to think that someone is going to read our query letter … and rather of giving it a cursory glance followed by (if you’re lucky) a rejection letter/email so that you can quit wondering if they are interested or not … that they will instead sit a little straighter and re-read the letter, more slowly and thoughtfully this time, all the while scanning the list of publishers in their head and wondering to whom they should offer it first.

Honestly, I don’t really know how excited they get when they find the rare pearl in the sea of oysters.  I do know that for every offer of representation, they read thousands of poorly written query letters for poorly written manuscripts.  Given the sludge they have to wade through each day, I suppose it’s no wonder that they read the queries with one hand on the delete key.

But for those of us who have yet to attain our goals … for those of us who stay up writing long after what is considered a “respectable” bedtime … for those of us who lie in bed writing in our heads when we know we should be sleeping … for those of us who have read more “How To Get Published” books than most know even exist … for those of us yearning for validation …. we’re really hoping that whoever reads our next query letter doesn’t do so after a fight with their significant other … or the day they didn’t realize the baby threw up down their back until they got to work … or just after they spilled hot coffee all over their new white shirt.  We’re hoping whoever reads our query letter is in a good mood, that it’s one of those days they are glad to be in their chosen profession, and that they read the letter with an open mind that perhaps this one will be worth their time.

Until that day comes, I guess I’ll keep plucking away on my laptop, penning more novels, writing more blog entries, and updating my website … waiting for a call from the person who one day reads some of my work and thinks …“Wow — this is really good.”

Every so often, I will get online and watch the first time Susan Boyle sang for the judges.  I don't know how many times I've watched it, yet it still gives me goosebumps.  I find it inspirational.  

It tells me to keep trying ... and it reminds me that it's never too late to see your dreams to come true.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Pavlov's Response

I have found that I am proof-positive of the validity of Pavlov's response. Not in relation to a salivating when I hear a dinner bell, but something much more sinister.

I'm not a morning person. Never have been, never will be. When my kids were little I was forced to get up early. While my body complied, it complained. I remember before I had kids. Andy Griffith used to come on at 8:30 on Sunday mornings. I would never wake up in time to watch. I used to wish I could wake up early enough to watch Andy. After I had kids, I would dream of getting to sleep until Andy came on!

I was elated when the kids were finally all old enough to get up on the weekends without constant adult supervision. I was back to my old sleeping habits overnight. There was no sleeping later gradually — it was instantaneous.

I've always wished I were a morning person — for a couple of reasons. The first is that it would be so nice to wake up and not feel like crying because I had to get out of bed. How nice would it be to wake up and want to get up? I've come to the conclusion that particular scenario is never going to happen. I figure when I'm an old lady, the nurses will keep coming in to check on me, thinking I must be dead. Once they know I'm a late sleeper, I'll be dead for a day before they realize I'm not just sleeping later than usual!

The second reason is that morning people always make you feel lazy if you sleep in, which irks me to no end ... so the next sentence will draw ire from every morning person within a one hundred cyber-mile radius of this article. Ready?

Personally, I think morning people are lazy! There ... I said it!

They like to brag about how they got up at 4:30 and how much they're able to get done "while you were just laying in bed". Okay, let's just set the record straight right here — I wasn't "just laying" in bed — I was sleeping in bed, which is what you're supposed to do in bed. For crying out loud, it's the very reason beds were invented!

So, for that hour or so they were up before me, they were able to get and hour or so worth of work done — while I was "just laying around in bed". 

Big. Hairy. Deal.

They go to bed at 8:00. I go to bed at midnight — on an early night. And, while they are "just laying in bed", I'm reading, writing, cleaning, painting, and doing all sorts of productive things (sometimes). That means I get several more hours of productivity than they do! Until those morning people get up when I'm turning in for the night (i.e., sometime in the wee hours of the morning), they're accomplishing a whole lot less in their waking hours than I do in mine.

They say they get up and do their laundry early. So what? I get mine done after work. But, they say, they come home and cook dinner — "and I don't have to do laundry after work — it's already done". 

Well La-Te-Da!!

I come home and cook dinner while I'm doing the laundry — and then my laundry is done — and I didn't have to get up early to do it!! Doing laundry while cooking dinner really isn't a burden — it's called multi-tasking. And let's face it — laundry may not be fun, but it's pretty easy to do!

Morning people don't do more work than I do, they just do it at a different time. And, since they're tired so much earlier, they fall asleep while I still have plenty of energy — which gives me many more hours in my day — and I don't have to get up early! That's a win-win combination, is it not?!

That said — you're probably wondering how Pavlov plays into this, right?! Okay. here goes:

It doesn't matter how many times I wake up through the night or how much trouble I have falling asleep, there is one sure-fire thing that will knock me out faster than an anesthesiologist can send a sedative through an IV — the sound of my alarm clock. When I hear that annoying (insert expletive) ring, I am immediately so tired I can barely lift my arm to silence it. I can be lying there, contemplating getting up, but when I hear that sound, my first instinct is to fall back to sleep — instantly.

I've often thought that I should set the alarm to go off periodically throughout the night. Hearing that sound would ensure I would never be awake more than a few seconds, and on the rare occasion that I was, the sound of my alarm would send me right back into my coma. The sound of my alarm clock is the equivalent of getting knocked in the head with a hammer — I'm momentarily stunned, then I'm immediately rendered unconscious. 

Pavlov undoubtedly spent a lot of money and put a lot of effort into his scientific research. Too bad I wasn't around back then — he could have just sat in a chair in my bedroom to prove his theory. Of course, he would have had to invent the alarm clock first, but I'm guessing Pavlov was a morning person — so he could work on that alarm clock thing while I'm "just laying in bed"!

The Oregon Trail

I'm very grateful that I didn't have to raise my kids in the 1800's. I'm even more grateful I didn't have to cross the country in a covered wagon with them. I think it's safe to assume that after a week with my children, we would be in more danger from our fellow pioneers than the Indians or the elements. 

My kids woke up plenty early as babies, but they aren't babies anymore, and if they don't have to be at school or work, they don't emerge from their nightly hibernation until noon - on a good day. That business of hitting the trail before the sun was up, well, it would be nothing but a dream for those accompanying us on our journey west. With my kids dragging us down, we wouldn't see the ocean in a mere four to six months - it would be more like four to six years! 

Migrating a good century before Ronald McDonald ever thought of making burgers quickly, pioneers were forced to cook all their meals over campfires - which were fueled by cow pies. Yes, food was cooked over cow poop! Yum! Good luck getting my girls to pick up one of those things in the days before rubber gloves were invented. Heck, good luck getting my girls to pick one of those things up while wearing rubber gloves! And while we're on the subject, good luck getting my girls to eat anything cooked over poop! And honestly, how many of the cow pies my son picked up would actually make it to the fire instead of being chucked at one of his sisters ... or me? 

I'm guessing we would be the only covered wagon without a fire. We'd have to get our nutrition eating spoonfuls of raw flour and lard, and taking turns at gnawing on a slab of salt-pork. 

Now here's a little known fact - when people made the trip westward, only the driver, infants, the sick, and the infirm rode in the wagon. Everyone else ... walked. Yes, that's right. They walked from Independence, Missouri, over the Rocky Mountains and the Seirra-Nevada's, clear to the Pacific Ocean. If you think it's hard to travel across town in air conditioned comfort while watching a DVD with your kids is difficult, try making them walk from April to October! After listening to my kids whine "How much loooooongerrrrrrrrrrr?" I can pretty much guarantee you that in order to silence them, I would have invented duct tape before we made it out of Kansas.

When I think of pioneer children I would least like to travel with, my first thought is of Nelly Olsen. Sadly, my kids could make the lazy, ill-tempered Nelly appear sweet and industrious. Indeed ... if Nelly were part of our wagon train, she would be held up as a role model to my children ... "Why can't you kids be more like Nelly?" 

So, yes ... I will forever be eternally grateful that I never had to travel across the country in a covered wagon with my kids for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which is that I've never been what one would consider a lucky person. It's pretty much a given we would have had the misfortune of being part of the Donner Party ... and I have a pretty good idea which family they would have eaten first.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Mama's Dressing

My mother was an excellent cook, and she almost always made everything from scratch. In the beginning of her marriage, I’m guessing she did it out of necessity rather than desire. But I was one of the younger kids, and she was still cooking from scratch when I grew up. Everything she made was always delicious.

You’d think that someone who enjoyed cooking as much as she did would want to pass on her culinary skills to her daughters, but she never once asked me if I wanted to help or offered to show me how to make anything. I always loved Mama’s chili, so I did get that recipe. Now that she’s gone, I’m wishing I had asked her for a lot of her other recipes, too. 

My mother always cooked Thanksgiving dinner all by herself. She made cranberry relish ... the kind with real cranberries, oranges, nuts, and sugar. And she made THE best dressing in the world! Daddy liked oyster dressing, so she made oyster dressing and regular dressing.

After my mom died, us kids quit getting together for Thanksgiving. After Bonnie had a baby, I asked her if she wanted to start having Thanksgiving with me and my kids ... and we’ve had Thanksgiving together ever since. Our first Thanksgiving together I fixed the whole meal. Bonnie had just had a baby and was exhausted. Besides, Bonnie is not a gifted cook. It’s widely known in our family that Bonnie is ... how shall I say this ... culinarily challenged. I made Stove Top dressing, which apparently didn't sit well with Bonnie's sophistocated palette. 

"Why didn't you make Mama's dressing?" she asked.

"Because it's too much trouble," I replied innocently, completely unaware of the noose slipping around my neck.

"Well, I'm making it next year," Bonnie declared. We all quit eating and looked at each other in horror, then all eyes came to rest on me. I swallowed hard.

Tears pooled in their frightened eyes, which spoke the words they dared not say ... 

"Oh, Dear Lord, Jackie. What ... have ... you ... done?!!"

The next year Bonnie decided to make Mama’s cranberry relish and Mama’s dressing. She got the recipes from my sister Pam. To everyone's complete and utter amazement, year after year, the cranberry relish is always wonderful. And to everyone's gastrinomical terror ... and despite the fact that each year we think it can't be any more dreadful than the last ... the dressing gets progressively ... worse.

We’ve had five Thanksgivings together, four of which Bonnie has made the "dressing" (and I use that term loosely). The first year it was at least edible. No one actually enjoyed it, but at least we were able to swallow it without making gagging noises (we all learned long ago to take small "test" bites of anything Bonnie has cooked ... particularly dressing). Unfortunately, that first year was her best attempt ... it’s gone downhill ever since. Most years we are actually able to force ourselves to swallow her "dressing", but last year, we were spitting it out it napkins. 

Bonnie is determined to try to make Mama’s dressing again this year. She is optimistic, but those of us who have endured "The Dressings of Thanksgivings Past" aren't expecting much. There’s never any cranberry relish left, but there’s always plenty of dressing! Her dogs won't even eat it ... and they've been known to eat their own poop!

One time Bonnie’s husband, Larry, was complaining about all the weight he’d gained since he had married Bonnie. I burst out laughing. I told him ”If you gained weight being married to Bonnie, then you have no one to blame but yourself. Bonnie’s cooking didn’t have anything to do with it!” Heck, all of us had side bets going about how long it would be before he starved to death! We didn't bet on how long the marriage would last ... just how long Larry could! It's safe to say we all assume their marriage will end when one of them dies ... and we all have a pretty good idea of who would die first ... and how.

In Bonnie's defense, Larry knew what he was getting into. They dated for a couple of years before they married. I think back then the only thing Bonnie could make was linguini salad and chocolate milk, so it's not like she lured him in with her fancy cuisine. We all sleep easier knowing Larry really loves Bonnie ... that he's not just using her for a live-in chef!

Bonnie drew my name for Christmas this year. (It's okay ... she gives good gifts ... as long as you don't ask for food!). I was at Wal-mart the other day when I figured out what Bonnie could get me. I called her up and told her I knew what I wanted ... drill bits! ”Drill bits?” she said, wondering if she heard correctly. ”Jackie, that’s a stupid present!”

I immediately defended my gift choice. ”No it’s not. Ask Larry!” Larry was a guy ... he’d appreciate the value of drill bits!

”I can’t,” Bonnie said, ”He’s looking at a cookbook right now.”

I started laughing, then came to my senses. ”I understand, Bonnie ... he’s hungry!"

Bonnie can make a few things. She makes some kind of chicken in milk gravy that’s really quite good. We call it her Lemon Chicken. (Note: If you’re not an Everybody Loves Raymond fan, that won’t be very funny!)

Little Larry called me one evening and said ”Mama said she made pork chops for dinner, but it’s not pork chops.” I asked him what it was and he said ”It’s chicken. She says its pork chops, but it’s not.” I’m not sure if it was good, so he figured it had to be chicken or just thought pork chops was a funny name for food!!

A few nights later Bonnie made grilled cheese sandwiches ... even Bonnie can’t screw up grilled cheese! Little Larry took a bite and told her, ”Mama, you make the best food ever!”

Big Larry laughed and said ”Bet you don’t hear that very often, do you?” 

(Note: It’s safe to assume that Bonnie had never heard that before!)

Little Larry chimed in enthusiastically, ”Well, you’re hearin’ it now!!”

I’ve told Bonnie many times that she’s doing Little Larry’s future wife a favor. With such low expectations, whatever that woman cooks will be like manna from heaven! I mean, really ... what are the chances that kid will marry a woman who cooks worse than his mother?!! 

I like dressing, but I can live without it ... and it’s a good thing, ‘cause Bonnie is hell-bent on making it again this year. (Insert nervous, trembling sob!). Each year we hope that this year will be "The Year of the Dressing", but it’s probably more realistic to simply hope that we can swallow it, that it doesn't take draino to flush it from our system ... and then pray we can find something potent enough to wash the taste out of our mouths!!

My Sister's Birthday

My sister Jill turns 50 today ... and I have to make a big deal out of it!!

Jill is exactly two years, two months, and one week older than me, which means I was a mere ten years old when she turned thirteen. And for exactly two years, two months, and one week, she never let me forget that she was teenager, and I was not.

Soooooo, I think it’s only fair that I rub it in that Jill will be in her FIFTIES exactly two years, two months, and one week while I’ll still be in my forties!

Jill and I are good friends now, but we didn’t always get along when we were growing up. Oh, who am I kidding? We never got along when we were growing up!! It was always her fault though, never mine. I was always completely innocent. (Excuse me for a moment while I adjust my halo!) There is, of course, some exaggeration to that ... but she really was pretty mean to me. I guess the “power” of being the oldest of us four little kids went to her head.

(All of you middle children out there know exactly what I’m talking about, don’t you?)

Not always, but quite often, the oldest is always the bossiest and the meanest, while the youngest can get away with just about anything. And us poor middle kids? Well, we have to just fend for ourselves. We're generally not big enough to take out the oldest, and where's the sport in beating up your little sisters? Besides, being mean to Penny or Bonnie would be like kicking a puppy. For some reason, though, Jill didn't see it that way ... she saw me as fair game.

Out of eight kids, I was in the middle of bottom set of four kids. So you see, you really couldn’t get much more middle than me. Therefore, it’s safe for all of you to assume I was a near-perfect sibling ... neither bossy, nor mean ... and that my misdeeds seldom went unnoticed or unpunished. 

Jill and I shared a room for many years. That was fun! Do you have any idea what it’s like to share a room with someone who thinks they can do no wrong ... and you can do no right? Back when we shared a room, Jill was a first-class slob, and I, being a neat freak, was her polar opposite.

(Think Felix and Oscar from “The Odd Couple”)

Walking on Jill's side of the room was strictly forbidden unless I needed something from the closet, which was on her side. But, if Jill was in the room, I wasn’t even allowed to retrieve my own clothing from my own closet ... because she could hand it to me. ”You don’t need to come over here,” she would tell me. “I can hand you whatever it is you need.”

This really cramped my style, as I prefer the "sit-on-the-floor-in-front-of-the-closet-and-survey-your-wardrobe" approach before making a decision, and Jill’s rule of banishment really put a kink in my style. I couldn’t sit on the floor and stare into a closet of clothes while deciding what to wear ... I had to tell her what to hand me. And let me tell you, there was no changing your mind. No Siree, Bob. You had better choose wisely the first time, because you got one shot. As Jill so eloquently put it, she was ”not my slave” and she was ”not going to stand there handing me things all day”. 

In Jill’s defense, it’s not like I actually could have sat on the floor in front of the closet. There was no floor on Jill’s side of the room. Well, there was a floor, or at least, I assume there was a floor, but I can honestly say I never actually saw it. The floor on Jill’s side of the room served a multitude of uses. It didn’t just function as a flat surface on which to sit furniture; it also doubled as her closet, chest of drawers, book bag, toy box, etc. I never looked (because I was afraid of being caught on her side of the room and dragged out in her trademark fashion ... by the hair of my head ... caveman style) ... so I can’t say with any certainty, but judging by the sheer volume of stuff on her floor, I sincerely doubt there was anything in any of her drawers or that there was actually anything of hers hanging in the closet. As far as I could tell, she kept everything she owned ... as well as a good bit of what I owned ... on the floor ... on her side of the room. 

The imaginary line dividing our room wasn’t really all that invisible. It was pretty obvious, even to the uninitiated, where the demarcation line was. In order to step into her side of the room, you had to step ... up. You were a good six to ten inches taller on Jill’s side of the room. I made sure to keep the encroaching pile off my side, which required frequent shoveling to keep it from overflowing its boundaries, all the while fearing an avalanche would bury me where I would lay trapped, lost to my family forever ... or at least until Jill went away to college and they decided to bulldoze the debris she left in her wake.

I never understood why I had to share a room with Jill. My mom knew we got along about as well as two male pit bulls. I had two other sisters close to my age that I could have shared a room with. Why were they torturing me?

Wasn’t it enough that I was denied Mrs. Bealsey?

In all fairness, Penny was far too sweet to share a room with Jill ... and Bonnie was simply too innocent. It was survival of the fittest when dealing with Jill. She would have chewed them up and spit them out. Mama had to make a ”Sophie’s Choice” of sorts, and I guess she figured I had a better chance of making it out alive than Penny or Bonnie did. In order to preserve one-fourth of her brood, Mama had no alternative but to sentence me to spend my childhood incarcerated in a cell with Jill. Thus, Penny and Bonnie were spared. That’s okay, though ... I loved my two little sisters enough to sacrifice myself in order to save them. 

Am I a saint or what??!!

I see pieces of Jill in my oldest daughter, Tara (that "entitled oldest child syndrome" thing). I hear Tara saying and doing the exact same things to Jana that Jill said and did to me ... and it drives me up the wall! Apparently there must be some unwritten rule that the oldest is born knowing and the younger ones must learn the hard way (usually at the hand of the less than compassionate eldest). The rule, as it has been presented to me, is that “if the oldest sibling wants to wear something of the younger siblings, then she should be able to do so" ... but the younger one better not even think about wearing the older ones clothes!

I’ve been standing in the bathroom beside Jana while Tara lays into her about wearing her clothes without asking ... only too look over and see Tara wearing my clothes ... without asking! When dealing with the oldest child, it’s futile to point out the irony of the situation. If you try, they’ll always reply ”That’s different!” There’s no point in asking ”How is that different?” You’ll just be met with either a profound ”It just IS!" ... or a heavy sigh, an eye roll, and a view of the back of their head as they storm off, obviously insulted ... angry for having been born into a family too dense to grasp the concept of the rules for proper borrowing.

All of our fights and differences aside, Jill and I had our share of good times as well, but the bad times make for a more interesting blog. Regardless of our fights, I always loved Jill ... even if I didn’t always enjoy her. 

Being her little sister isn’t all bad ... especially right now ... mostly because I’m no longer her roommate!

YEA! Come on! Everyone! Join me in a conga line!!!

But also because for exactly two years, two months, and one week, I’ll still be in my forties ... while Jill is FIFTY YEARS OLD ... and counting!!!!

I love you, Jill. Happy Birthday from the best little sister in the whole wide world!

P.S. Okay, so maybe I'm not the best little sister in the whole wide world ... but give me some credit ... I didn't strangle you in your sleep, did I?!! 

Fear of Heights

With starling clarity, I can remember the precise moment I became afraid of heights. More accurately, I suppose, it was the moment I became aware of my fear of heights.

The summer social at our neighborhood church was the highlight of our young, semi-deprived lives. They had rides (which I loved), games of chance (which held no appeal) ... and cotton candy (which I lived for!). Aside from summer socials, the only time a child of my generation could get their hands on that delicious spun sugar was at the circus around Thanksgiving. For a cotton candy addict like myself, waiting so long between fixes was torture!

The summer social was a small affair and had only a handful of rides ... and I loved them all ... the swings, the octopus, the ferris wheel, etc. Nothing scared me or made me dizzy, and the volume of my enjoyment was limited only by the number of ride tickets I had the funds to purchase.

My sister Debbie was the best big sister in the world. Debbie is nine years older than me and I adored her. She was sweet and kind and generous ... and fun! Debbie was nothing if not fun. Debbie was so good to us four little kids. She paid for us to take swimming lessons when we were young. She had never learned to swim, and she wanted to make sure us little kids to knew how. 

She’d take us out for ice cream all the time. She had a brand new 4-speed Ford Pinto. Pinto’s had bucket seats, with the gear shift and emergency brake in between. Jill, being the oldest of us four little kids, always got to ride in the passenger seat. I really loved Debbie, and I didn’t want to be all the way in the back ... although in a Ford Pinto, backseat passengers are not really very far away from the driver! But I wanted to be as close to Debbie as possible ... so my designated seat was between the two front seats ... on the emergency brake. It wasn’t comfortable, but what was a little discomfort as long as I was close to Debbie?

I guess I was about eight years old or so when I rode the ferris wheel with Deb. After climbing on, we stopped at regular intervals to allow more passengers to board. I remember reaching the very top, smiling contentedly as I surveyed the scene from my high perch. I remember thinking to myself ... "Life is good!" ... I sat next to my beloved sister, my belly full of cotton candy, happy as I could be ... then Debbie shattered my carefree innocence with one casual comment. ”Look Jackie ... we’re higher than the church steeple!"


That wasn’t possible! The church steeple was the highest thing in the world! She had to be wrong! I looked up and sure enough ... we were higher than the church steeple!

I immediately froze. My tiny, white-knuckled hands gripped the bar so tightly I was sure I would crush it! That flimsy bar was the only thing standing between me and death! Debbie began rocking the car back and forth and I thought I was going to toss the cotton candy I had greedily gulped down only a few happy moments before. I begged Debbie to stop rocking the car, but she just laughed and told me how much fun I was having. I guess she thought I was kidding, but I wasn’t! 

My mind was a whirlwind of activity. I thought of the toothless carnival worker who had put this ride together a few days ago ... the same one who had just helped us board. He obviously couldn’t even remember to brush his teeth!!! How could he be trusted to remember the proper assembly method and tighten every bolt?? 

I was dumb enough to go on the ferris wheel and other torture devices (like the Zipper), with her, and others, many more times. I found NO enjoyment riding these rides. If fact, I hated them. I rode them because they wouldn't take "No" for an answer. I rode them because people begged and pleaded until I couldn't take it anymore and simply gave in. 

A year or two after the ferris wheel fiasco, my sister Jill and I were on the Umbrella’s (sounds harmless enough, doesn’t it?) ... when it broke. And, of course, we were at the VERY TOP! We were stuck up there for close to an hour! That might not sound like a very long time, but it felt like an eternity! I guess I was hallucinating, but I was sure I saw the seasons changing! It wouldn’t have surprised me if we had stepped off that ride ... after it was finally fixed ... onto a blanket of snow!

In high school, our church youth choir went to Six Flags over Georgia. While there, I rode a ride that forever cured me of ever allowing myself to be manipulated into riding a ride I didn’t want to ride! I’ve provided a few very rough sketches in an effort to thoroughly convey the abject terror I experienced on this device.

In order to board this ride, one must first climb up a stairway the equivalent of a ten-story building. The drawing below shows the trajectory of this “ride”. The red arrows trace the first path, where riders are facing forward. The return trip follows this same path ... except now the riders are facing ... backwards.

Now ... in order to fully comprehend the astronomical level of terror I was subjected to, here is a sketch of the restraint system:

This may seem safe enough to the average rider, but I am NOT the average rider. Although I met the height requirement, you’ve got to keep in mind this ride is ridden by the height extremes of the entire adult population ... of which I fall at the ... how shall I say this ... the shallow end. The restraining bar was a good six inches above my shoulders, and more than that from my body. There was no seatbelt to hold you firmly in your seat. Hence, there was nothing of the "secure" restraining system actually touching my body ... but that would quickly change.

As the ride began its descent, I fell forward into the bar. After we made the first half of the loop, we began going down the other side ... keep in mind I am upside down at this point, with my body leaning forward against the restraining bar. As we descend, I fall up ... to the top of the restraining bar.

At this point, I am no longer touching ANY part of the ride except the restraining bar!

As terrified as I was, I came to a new and alarming realization ... once I reached the halfway point (as indicated by a blue “X” on the incredible trajectory sketch above) ... I had to do this again ... BACKWARDS!!!

I'm sure you're wondering why I didn't look at the ride more closely before I got on it. Quite frankly, at that moment, that is one of the thoughts that was running through my mind. I didn't have time to dwell on that, though ... I was too busy praying I wouldn't pass out from fear and fall to my death!

To say I was in a panic would be an understatement of monumental proportion. Had I been seized by terrorists at that moment, and had I possessed any nuclear secrets, I would have sung like a canary! I would have told them anything they wanted to know for the sheer pleasure of rotting in a foreign prison, eating bugs for the rest of my life!!!

The return trip was every bit as bad as I imagined it would be. I take that back ... it was worse!

They say when people have a near-death experience, their life flashes before their eyes. I can’t say that happened to me ... I was too busy experiencing my death!! There was no time to relive my life!

When the ride finally came to a stop, I was nearly catatonic, shaking so badly the entire structure was vibrating, and barely able to walk. The only reason I was able to walk down on my own was because of the intense desire to be on the ground, where I fully intended to stay! As the group of kids descended the stairs, they were all babbling things like ”That was fun!” and “Let’s ride it again!”, which brought a chorus of “Yeah!!” I didn’t say a word. I was still far too traumatized to talk. I was on the verge of collapse, holding onto the banister with both hands, willing myself to stay conscious until my feet reached the ground ... where they would stay ... forever!!!

As predicted, everyone wanted to go again and headed toward the boarding line.

I walked with them, but once we reached the line, I stood off to the side. ”Come on,” they shouted, beckoning me to join them.

”No,” I said, with a force that took my fellow choir-mates by surprise.

Everyone looked at me, completely shocked. I could tell they were all wondering ”Did that booming voice come from sweet, little Jackie or the heavens?!”

They did everything they could think of to persuade me into getting on that ride, but I stood firm. I wouldn’t budge. I had looked death squarely in the eye and lived to tell the tale. No amount of cajoling would EVER get me on a ride like that EVER AGAIN!! Instead of allowing their comments to make me feel foolish or silly or childish like they normally did, I stood there smiling and shaking my head. I couldn’t care less what they thought of me!

Besides, it gave me a new purpose in life ... it was now my official duty to hold purses and soft drinks at amusement parks.

A few times since then I have tried to conquer my fear of heights ... or severely underestimated my ability to cope.

While in my early twenty’s, my sister Pam and I were coming home from a weekend trip from Kenlake State Park in Kentucky when she spied a water tower overlooking the lake. The gate was open and she wanted a picture from the top. ”Okay,” I thought (without actually thinking!). About halfway up the reality of what I was doing hit me. My heart was beating so hard it actually hurt. It wouldn’t have surprised me if my chest was beat black and blue from the force of my heart crashing against it!

With Pam’s gentle urging, I found myself at the top ... where she wanted me to let go of the railing and take a picture of her!!! Somehow I found the courage to do so, but only because I loved her so much!!! I managed to make it back to dry ground again, but for a while we were both afraid the only way to get me down would quite possibly involve the fire department ... and jail time!

A few years ago the kids and I went to Savannah, Georgia. While there, we made a trip to nearby Tybee Island and the Tybee Island Lighthouse. For some reason, I decided to go up to the top of the lighthouse and video tape the surrounding area. I have no idea what made me think I was capable of doing that!!

The steps were open, so that you could see ... all ... the ... way ... down! I had to hold onto the banister with both hands to ascend the stairs. I came upon a mother and a little girl of perhaps four-years-old making their way down. The mother was holding the hand of the little girl, and the little girl was holding onto the banister. They stopped when they got to me. I clung to the banister for dear life. ”I can’t let go,” I told them. The mother observed my ashen color, my white knuckles, and the way the metal was bending under my vise-like grip, and knew I truly couldn’t let go. The little girl let go of the banister and walked by me. I was ashamed of myself ... but not ashamed enough to let go of the banister!

Once at the top, I emerged onto the landing, where I stood as close to the wall as I could get without actually burrowing into it, and waited for one of my kids to wander by. I saw Dave skipping by, not holding onto anything!!

“Davy,” I breathed, barely able to think in the thin oxygen at that altitude. Moving only my eyes, I motioned toward the camcorder, and stammered the closest thing to a sentence that my oxygen-deprived brain could form at that moment ... "Camera. Can’t. Down.”  He took the camera from me and started taping while I made my way back down to safety.

My little sister Penny and her family are coming here this summer, stopping in St. Louis on the way to check out a college for their oldest daughter. While there, they’re spending a day at Six Flags and invited all their Evansville kinfolk to meet them there and enjoy the park together!

"Uh, sorry, Penny, but I won't be able to make it. I'm having bamboo shoots driven under my fingernails that day!"

I love Penny dearly and would do anything for her ... anything, that is, except go to Six Flags!

The Talk

I have three kids with whom I had to have The Talk. Like countless parents nauseating their children before me, I had to talk to each one of them when they became curious enough to ask or when their changing bodies dictated it was time. Judging by their facial expressions, there’s nothing more excrutiating than having your mother describe, sometimes in great detail, what happens to a child’s body as they go through puberty ... or how to make a baby.

When my oldest daughter needed a bra, I decided it was time to talk to her about the changes her body would be undergoing shortly. I pulled her into my bedroom, locked the door, and sat beside her.

”I already know all this stuff, Mom,” my enlightened ten-year-old told me.

How, pray-tell, did she know "this stuff"?

”Oh, you do, do you?" 

”Yeah," she said, “Tiffany told me.” (Note: The names have been changed to protect the innocent.)

”Well, why don’t I go over it, just in case Tiffany left something important out.”

I had the talk with Jana a few years later. Tara, able to eat spaghetti while watching a show on intestinal surgery, is more matter of fact about bodily functions, and she took our talk about well as could be expected. Jana, on the other hand, looked like she might throw up! I must say, until that day, I had never actually seen anyone turn that particular shade of chartreuse! 

Before I knew it, it was Dave’s turn. I walked into the dining room, armed with my book on puberty and reproduction, with its caricature-like pictures, and sat down with Dave. Sweet, little Jannie sat at the other end of the table, innocently coloring.

”I’m going to talk to Davy about where babies come from,” I announced, the calm in my voice belying my nervousness.

Jana looked at me with the same fear I’d seen in countless horror movies growing up. You know the face ... the one right before the boogey-man hacks his victim to death.

And there was that pretty shade of chartreuse again!!

Visibly shaking, she anxiously gathered up her crayons and coloring book. ”I’ve already heard it once. I don’t want to hear it again.”

I watched her clean up her mess ... both amused at her distress and amazed that she could move so quickly!

Once Jana was as far away as she could possibly get from the dining room, I opened the book and began my well-rehearsed presentation, showing Davy the pictures of boys and girls bodies. I don’t really know that those pictures are very helpful. I know what the stuff looks like and what it does, and I have a hard time seeing it in those sketches! There is no way a kid could figure things out from those drawings!! I realize you couldn’t have actual photos or the books would be hidden under boys mattresses with Playboys or traded like currency on the playground, but they could do a little better job. The pictures even confuse me!

My sister had to have this talk with her three boys as they each came of age. One of them came upstairs a little after their talk and asked her, ”What’s that thing a ladies got? An iguana?”

My sister thought for a moment and said, ”Yeah, it’s an iguana.” 

Fortunately I never had to endure The Talk with my mother. I guess she figured we’d learn it in health class. She was wrong. Mr. Canterberry, my Sex Ed/Drivers Ed teacher (interesting combination, don’t you think?!), skipped those chapters altogether, opting instead to show us gory films of teenagers dying in car accidents. 

Given the squeamish look on Mr. Canterberry’s face when someone questioned why we skipped chapters fourtheen through twenty-one, I’m guessing Mr. Canterberry’s kids got their information the same way I did ... from a "Tiffany" more than willing to share her knowledge with those less fortunate!

Parenthood ... it’s truly not for the faint of heart!!

School Projects

One of the most dreaded sentences in the life of parents with school-aged kids is ”I’ve got a project due tomorrow.” Uttering those six simple words can often cause a grown man to cry like a little girl ... and give mothers chronic facial tics. If a child could crawl inside a parents head the moment those words leave their lips, they would hear the loan moan of a bass ... the kind you hear in suspense films ... the kind that always signal impending doom! 

Although the child has known about this project for well over a week, and sometimes considerably longer, the parent isn’t privy to this information until the very last moment. I guess kids consider parents to be on a “need to know” basis, and we apparently don’t need to know until just before, and sometimes after bedtime, the night before a project is due.

There’s nothing funner (I know "funner" isn't proper English, but it seems to fit this thought so well!) than digging through the basement, junk drawers, closets, and garage in a frantic search for all the supplies necessary before a looming deadline! Scavenger hunts are fun when you’re a kid at a slumber party ... they’re not so much fun for weary parents who were naively anticipating bedtime just a few moments earlier! If you’re lucky, and those instances are rare, you’ll already have all the items you need for the project. In reality, most school projects require a trip to Walmart or Lowe's just before bedtime.

If you ever walk into Walmart or Lowe's between the hours of eight o’clock and ten o’clock on a school night, note the number of parents scurrying around with poster boards or plaster of paris ... their nightclothes visible beneath the hem of their coats. (Note: These parents are not to be confused with those who shop on Saturday afternoon in their pajamas ... those are an entirely different breed!) And the ones in the craft department or the school/office supply aisles? Don’t be fooled into thinking they’re there to simply stock up or to buy yarn to crochet an afghan for Grandma! They’re trying to find supplies to build a replica of ancient Rome or the solar system or a Mount Vesuvius!

I had been moving since the moment my eyes popped open that morning. As the evening was winding down, I hurried through the last of my chores and headed to my room to relax! I didn’t get to settle into the comfy chair in my bedroom until after eight o’clock. No sooner had I sat down than Thing 3 informed me, ”Mom, I’ve got to make a pair of moccasins for school tomorrow.” 

(Cue the bases)


Sacagawea could undoubtedly stitch a pair in her sleep, but I, my friend, am no Sacagawea!! I looked at the clock. My son goes to bed at nine o’clock!! He couldn’t have told me this a couple of hours ago?!! Raising three kids who are as skilled at procrastinating as mine, you’d think I’d have seen this one coming, wouldn’t you?

”Okay,” I told him, springing to my feet like a soldier called to active duty. My weary, panicked mind immediately shifted into high gear. Then I muttered what every parent is required to ask at moments such as this ... one of those rhetorical questions to which no child ever has been able to successfully answer. ”Why didn't you tell me earlier?”

I had no animal hide dried and tanned, and buffalo are scarce in these parts ... which was fine with me ... I was tired and really didn’t want to hunt, skin, tan rawhide, AND whip up moccasins before bedtime! Then I remembered Thing 1 once had to make an Indian vest for school. Did I still have some of that pretend-rawhide fabric? And, if I recall correctly, Thing 2 had to make an Indian camp ... tee-pee, camp fire, babbling brook, etc. The tee-pee was made with the same cloth as the Indian vest had been and the moccasins would be ... providing I could find it. 

I looked through my Great Aunt Addie’s cedar chest in the dining room for the cloth. For some reason, I have always kept any cloth I buy in there. Aunt Addie, my Grandma’s sister, never married, but she dated Oscar for fifty years! When my mother gave me the cedar chest, it was stuffed full of Aunt Addie’s (ugly) purses, which were stuffed full of love letters from Oscar. I wish I’d kept them, but I threw them away with the purses! Why did I do that?

Aunt Addie was a good Christian woman who never, ever, EVER drank. The only alcohol to ever enter her bloodstream was in the form of homemade cough medicine ... and knowing what I know about Aunt Addie, I’m sure she had to be close to death before she would swallow any! 

As a little girl, my mother once accompanied Aunt Addie to the store to buy a bottle of whiskey to make cough medicine. On the way to the store, Aunt Addie tripped on the uneven sidewalk and fell down. After she bought the whiskey, they walked out of the store. I’m sure my prudish Aunt Addie was terrified someone had seen her make the purchase and would think she was going to drink it. Several men were loitering outside the store. My mother looked at the bag Aunt Addie was holding. Knowing it contained a glass bottle, and remembering that Aunt Addie had tripped and fallen on the way, my mother offered to carry it for her.

”Do you want me to carry it for you in case you fall down again?” my helpful, once-young mother asked.

Prim, proper Aunt Addie was mortified! My mother said she was afraid Aunt Addie would kill her on the spot. She grabbed my mother and practically dragged her home.

She also refused to let my mom go to the store with her ever again!

Aunt Addie was an accomplished seamstress (as was my mother), so it seems only fitting to keep fabric in her cedar chest. Anyway, I did find the fabric. And, of course, it was at the very bottom of the cedar chest. That fabric sure turned out to be a good investment ... good thing I bought so much!

Okay, I had the fabric ... but how do you make moccasins? I played around with ideas in my head, then came up with one I thought might work. Thing 3, who has never touched a needle or thread other than to hand it to me or move it out of his way, was obviously not going to be of any help. And trying to teach him to sew less than an hour before his bedtime ... well, I think we all know how that would turn out!

I cut the fabric, and, using his foot as a guide, proceeded to make a pair of moccasins. Thing 2 wandered through a few times, eyeing my progress, and said she wanted me to make her a pair! I didn't look up at her, but I can only assume she didn’t have her glasses on or her contacts in! Always the gentleman, he said she could have this pair! I was about halfway through the second shoe when he started naming off the list of other things he could have made. ”A drum ... ”

He rattled off half a dozen other things, but all I heard was ”a drum”.

A drum? A DRUM? He could have made a DRUM? Why couldn’t he have told me that before? I had a box of oats, the “rawhide” fabric, spray adhesive, various colors of yarn, some white string ... which we could have dyed using tea (how Indiany is that?), and a backyard full of sticks with which to beat the drum.

Or my son.

I’d already put so much work into the moccasins, I hated to abandon the project and start another, so I continued. As I was finishing the second shoe, Thing 1 came home from work and went straight to the bathroom. I told Thing 3 to pretend I was trying to make him wear them to school.

When she came out of the bathroom, I mock-scolded my son, ”Yes, you ARE going to wear them. You told me you wanted me to make you a pair of moccasins to wear to school and you’re going to wear them!”

”I’ll wear them!" Thing 2 shouted from the other room.

Thing 1 looked at the (rather pathetic) moccasins and said ”Quit whining and just wear them. There’s nothing wrong with them. You should see the ones the kids wearl! Those look a LOT better than the ones kids wear to my school.”

Holy cow! Kids wear shoes uglier than these ... in public? Where did she go to school ... Walnut Grove with the Little House on the Prairie children?!

”I want a pair!” Thing 2 reiterated from the other room. 

Thing 1 did her best to shame her brother into wearing them while his other sister kept reminding me ”I want a pair!” 

We eventually told Thing 1 we were teasing, that they were for a school project, that I wasn’t making them for him to wear to school. She remembered she had made an Indian vest (and by “she”, she meant ME). She said “she” got an A, and it was so good Mr. Spears still had it on display. 

My son said they were awful and that he was going to get an F. Thing 1 said they weren’t awful and there was no way he’d get an F ... "Mama always gets A’s on her projects!”

”That’s right, son,” I humbley said. ”I always get A’s on my school projects.” And I do! ... I’ve been getting A’s on my posters and projects since Thing 1 started Kindergarten!

Once I got the moccasins done, I told him to try them on. They aren’t exactly a match set, and being made of soft cloth, they're a bit difficult to walk in and keep on your feet. I burst out laughing and knew this was definitely a Kodak moment!! After promising him that I would only photograph his feet ... not his face ... he agreed to pose for the picture. My digital camera is old and the flash produces too much light and washes everything out ... and since he lost my latest flashlight (Note: he's lost all of the several hundred flashlights I've bought during his lifetime) ... the only way I could get a picture with enough light was to have him stand on a chair in the kitchen. I was laughing so hard I could barely focus the camera!

I went upstairs to transfer the images from the camera to my laptop. In one of the pictures, the one with the good close-up of the fringe, the skin tones were off on his legs. I played around with the image, trying to change hues and saturation levels ... and only succeeded in turning hiss legs green ... just his legs! Pretty much everything else in the picture stayed the correct color!! It looked like the Jolly Green Giant was modeling moccasins! For some reason, I found those green legs to be one of the funniest things I’d ever seen!

There I was, sitting in my bedroom ... all alone ... laughing so hard I had tears streaming down my face! I don’t know, maybe it’s from the lack of sleep I’ve endured over these last TWO DECADES, but I found those green legs hilarious!! I’m glad the kids didn’t hear me up there cackling ... they probably would have assumed I had finally snapped.

I purposely didn’t do a perfect good job on the moccasins ... I wanted it to look like my son had made them himself, or at the very least helped. I've always hated it when kids turned in projects their parents obviously did. Mrs. Bradshaw, the student teacher, told him they were wonderful, and she was so pleased that he made them by himself! (Should I be insulted? They weren't that bad, were they?) ”You did an excellent job. Most of the kids had their parents do theirs. I’m so proud of you!” Mrs. Bradshaw put them over her shoes, and as it turned out, they fit her perfectly! She wore them all through class!

With the moccasins crisis finally behind me, I started getting ready for to bed.

”When are you going to make me a pair?" Thing 2 asked from the other room. I pretended I didn’t hear her. I jumped into bed and pulled the covers over my head.

I’m sure by now you’re chomping at the bit to see them, so here they are ... a pair of moccasins any Indian Brave would be proud to call his own. I think the fringe and decorative stitching add an authentic flare, don’t you?!!

 And, just in case you're wanting to see what they'd look like on The Hulk ... 

Rites of Passage

My oldest daughter, Tara, graduates from high school in about a month. Life passages like this are tough on parents. I was fighting back tears when each of the kids "graduated" from fifth grade, so I've always known high school would be tough.

As I was waiting for the girls after the choir/band thing at school recently, it occurred to me that this would be the last time I would come to see Tara in a high school production, and the tears began to sting my eyes. As it turned out, it wouldn't be the last thing, so the tears were for naught!

They aren't really happy tears, and they aren't really sad tears ... they're a combination of joy and hope ... and a little fear. It's like when you drop them off for Kindergarten and then you cry all the way to work for a week. You can't be there to protect them. You can't be there to guide them. You know they're going to get their feelings hurt at times. You know they are going to be afraid at times. You know they're going to wish you were there at times ... and you can't be. But, you also know they need to be at school, not only for the academics, but for the social and coping skills they will never develop if Mom is always hovering over them.

Knowing this, however, doesn't make it any easier. It's gut-wrenching. Even though you know you're not, you feel like you're abandoning them. They are so excited they can't see the turmoil and fear percolating inside you. After a kiss and a hug, they happily run off, leaving you standing there with your heart bleeding ... wishing you had just one more day, one more week, one more year to keep them carefree and innocent.

As Tara stands on the doorstep of adulthood, the choices she makes will have life-long consequences. I can guide her steps, and I can offer advice, but the decisions ultimately belong to her. I trust her. She's a good girl, but deep inside, she's still that little baby I gave birth to eighteen years ago ... the one I rocked to sleep and tried to coax meat baby food down by hiding it under applesauce (that didn't work ... she wouldn't even eat applesauce for a while after that!) ... and the desire to keep her close and safe and protected is as strong now as it was the first time I held her.

When I think of Tara, the first thing that comes to mind is when she was about four years old. She and Jana were playing something (I can't remember what), but since Jana is two years younger, she had a hard time following the rules Tara imposed ... rules Tara made up as she went, so there wasn't necessarily a strict set of rules for poor little Jannie to follow! Fed up with Jana's insubordination, Tara put her hands on her hips and chastised her ... "I've told you three times already. Are you blind?!"

I remember the time she asked if a friend could sleep over. I told her I'd call so-and-so's mom and see if she could spend the night. Tara got a strange look on her face and asked "Who's her mom gonna sleep with ... me or you?"

I remember Tara in the backyard at our old house, sitting in the grass near the fence. The neighbors dog, Rotten, cuddled up on the other side, as close as she could get to Tara. Tara would sit it out there with Rotten for hours, reading to the dog as she petted her through the fence.

I remember standing at the back door, watching Tara swing ... finally able to swing all by herself ... singing whatever came to mind, always at the top of her lungs. I remember her jumping rope on the sidewalk, riding her big wheel, blowing bubbles.

As emotional as I get with the little accomplishments and rites of passage that the kids have gone through, I know Tara's high school graduation will be the hardest ... so far. Each milestone they pass ... their first birthday, going to pre-school, going to Kindergarten, middle school, etc., is bittersweet. I loved the kids being babies. I loved being able to eat Little Debbie cakes while holding them and they had no idea!!

On their first birthday, you're so happy that they're becoming more independent, that they can play with you, and entertain themselves for a short time ... but a part of you aches, knowing that little baby who wanted nothing more than to lay peacefully in your arms is gone forever. I loved my kids at every age and stage of development, but I mourned the years that were gone ... the ones I'd never have again.

As I watch Tara graduate, I will be filled with pride, and joy, and happiness. And I'll be filled with that same bittersweet ache that my baby is that much closer to being grown and gone. I know that's what a parent is supposed to do. You're supposed to raise them to be able to take care of themselves and not need you anymore. I know kids always need their parents, but it's a different kind of need. My dad died 22 years ago, and my moms been gone for 13 years ... I haven't had the luxury of parents for so long I can hardly remember having them. I miss them ... and I need them.

I'm sure Tara considers herself quite capable ... I know I did when I was her age ... but for right now, she does still need me. This past February she wanted to make cupcakes for her boyfriend for Valentines Day. She called me in a panic. "Mom, I need to put the cupcakes in the oven. How long do I leave them in?"

Maybe I should know off the top of my head, but I didn't. "I don't know, honey, look on the box."

"I can't!!" Her voice was literally dripping with hysteria.

She'd obviously thrown the box away, but I had a solution ... Mom to the rescue! "Get the box out of the trash and see what it says."

"Mom," she replied (and I could actually hear her rolling her eyes), "I couldn't find any cupcake mix, so I had to buy cake mix!"

Okay ... I see the problem. It's (as we like to say in the computer field) ... "Insufficient User Resource"!!

Perhaps I shouldn't worry so much about the kids growing up and not needing me!!

I know I will cry throughout the entire commencement ceremony. All I have to do is think or even talk about it and I get choked up. As hard as it will be for me to watch the kids graduate, it will be nothing compared to when they get married! I will have to be sedated for that! I'll sit in the front row at the church, looking stunning in my new Mother-of-the-Bride dress ... semi-comatose and drooling.

Children are a part of their parents, literally and figuratively. I know watching them walk out the door for the "last" time will be sheer agony ... akin to losing a limb. The loss might be something you grow accustomed to, but you're always aware that something (someone) is missing.

If anyone ever invents a time machine, life on Earth will cease to exist; parents will never let their kids grow up to procreate. I wouldn't ... Dave would stay baby Davy ... a fat, happy, cuddly baby, always ready to play. Jannie would be perpetually four, making me plastic food and coffee in her Little Tikes kitchen while I babysit her dolls. And Tara would always be eight ... spending her days swinging, singing, having tea parties with her cat, and reading to the neighbors' dog.

When the kids were little, they had no idea how I was crumbling inside under the weight of my "burden", or how overwhelmed I was at raising three young children all alone. All they knew were picnics and playgrounds. They knew popsicles and a sprinkler on a hot summer day. They knew bike rides and walks. They knew tickle-fights and hugs and kisses. They knew colorful band-aids on their boo-boo's, a bedtime story, and getting rocked to sleep. They didn't know we were poor ... they felt safe and loved ... and they were happy. That's all kids really need ... time and love. And cookies.

Actually, everyone needs cookies!

Tara came to my room last night to talk to me. She lay on my bed, wearing a t-shirt and capris, and looking every inch a high school kid. She'll be nineteen at the end of summer ... with twenty just around the corner ... and was giggling about how close she is to not being a teenager anymore.

"I'll be a woman," she said, laughing and flipping her hair.

"Actually, you're a woman, now," I told her, with a lump in my throat. "Do you feel like a woman?" I asked.

"No," she said, still giggling, smiling that beautiful smile of hers.

"Good," I thought as I took her in my arms and hugged her.

I am so proud of Tara. She's sweet and beautiful and honest and dependable and trustworthy. And there's something indefinably special about her. She reminds me of the movie "Shallow Hal" after the spell was cast on him ... she truly does see people for who they are on the inside, not what they look like on the outside. She's a remarkable girl (woman) and I'm eternally grateful God gave her to me.

She's not only my daughter, she's my friend. I love the "woman" Tara has become ... but I will always miss the little girl she used to be.

Tara may be all grown up now ... but she still needs love.

And cookies ... Tara still needs cookies :)