Friday, April 27, 2012

Watering Carpet Trees

I'll admit it, I spent the early part of this week praying for rain. Not for the sake of my garden, it hasn't even been plowed yet, let alone a single seed planted to be in need of water. I was praying for rain because we were down to our last crust of stale bread, and a cup of yogurt that was a day a way from expiring. Call me a bad Mom, but I was hoping our Monday night baseball game would get rained out. My prayers were answered. Don't worry we have like twenty more games this season. Missing that one night, though, eliminated the need for a midnight grocery run and the overflowing hamper blues.

Most life jugglers face the challenge of making a choice at some point that will be unpopular with themselves, or their family. Rather than do that we hope for miraculous divine intervention. We know we can't possibly make it across town from badminton practice to Chinese checkers club in 2.7 minutes, so we hope the checkers coach will come down with the flu and cancel practice. If the decision is taken out of our hands we don't have to be the bad guy, right? Or maybe we just don't want to be responsible for the decision. Maybe my kid is destined to be the next Chinese checker Olympic Champion, and I'm destroying his chances by skipping too many practices.

Spring is a jam packed season. The school year is still in full swing, we have a full calendar of activities and beautiful weather beckons us outdoors. My ever growing to-do list has been cast aside. I think there are small oak trees sprouting out of the carpet from lack of vacuuming. They stand as a tribute to all of the un-answered rainstorms I've prayed for.

There is more and more pressure to work an extra full work week, and provide a host of events for your family. The guilt of not having "well rounded kids" keeps us from saying no. We fail to see that sometimes the whole family needs a break, and sometimes a skipped practice or game is better for us as a whole. With or without the rain. Finding a reasonable balance in our lives can provide a measure of sanity. We have to be brave enough to pray for the rain.

Sometimes we just need our decisions to be validated. If I keep up the pace of spring I will drop from exhaustion, but how do I choose which child's activity should be skipped? Cub Scouts or Cheertastics? What do I let slide, mopping or my expense report? One missed activity might put our peace of mind back on track. If a husband, virus or even Heavenly Father would intervene I could eliminate a few things from my plate without making the unpopular decision. The choice was taken out of my hands, but the needed results were there.

In this overloaded society we shouldn't feel guilty about praying for rain. In fact, we shouldn't feel bad about making the choices we need to in order to keep balance in our families. Since we're not wired that way quite yet, I'll keep my fingers crossed and one eye on the sky.

Are you brave enough to pray for rain, or do you need to water your carpet trees?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Devils Among Us: Chapter Two

You asked for more, so here it is! The second chapter from my novel Devils Among Us. How will Devin deal with the death of her partner and getting back to work? See the March 8th post The Unveiling if you missed chapter one.

Chapter 2

Devin stood outside the imposing brick church, staring at its massive red door. She didn’t want to be here in her best black suit with a band across her badge. It wasn’t a choice, though. Greg wasn’t just her partner; he and Marcy were like family. Maybe by slipping in at the last possible moment and sitting in the darkest back corner, she could cope with the funeral. Letting out her breath in a whoosh, Devin sprinted up the stairs, ignoring the burn of the stitches across her stomach and arm. Perhaps if she propelled herself through the door with enough speed, she wouldn’t have time to talk herself out of taking a seat inside. Unfortunately when she hit the dark interior of the foyer, she hesitated while her eyes adjusted.

“Devin, thank goodness you’re here! I need you to sit with me.” Marcy broke away from a group that Devin recognized as Greg’s family as they were preparing to file into the chapel and clung on to Devin like a drowning child.

His mother stepped forward, her mouth drawn into a tight, straight line, her disapproval evident. “Marcy, dear, I really don’t think the Detective would be comfortable sitting up front. It’s really just for fam—”

Marcy didn’t allow her to finish. “Devin is family to me, and she was family to Greg. She belongs with us.” Tiny little Marcy lifted her chin and set her shoulders as if a force of nature couldn’t move her.

Mrs. Lumas turned on her heel and walked back toward the group, whispering fierce objections to her sons. She was the matriarch of a large Irish family that had been sending its sons into the police force for generations. Sons. Never daughters. Mrs. Lumas had never liked Devin; she felt it wasn't safe for Greg to be partnered with a woman, and she clearly held Devin responsible for her son’s death.

And she’s probably right, Devin thought grimly, but she pushed that thought away. Now was not the time.
Marcy tucked her arm through Devin’s and turned her huge eyes upward to look her in the eye. Her severe black dress made her eyes an even more vivid purple than normal. “You’re exactly where you’re supposed to be.” she whispered.

Devin knew that was the truth, but it didn’t mean she was where she wanted to be. Especially when she felt the pitying eyes of the mourners upon her as she and Marcy made their way up the aisle. Instead of being tucked away in the darkest back corner, Devin was up front and center. She could have reached out and touched Greg’s casket if she wanted to. She didn’t want to. Instead she concentrated on maintaining a peaceful, bereaved expression while taking her mind as far away as possible.

As the mass droned on, she flipped through mental images of her childhood in inner-city Richmond. Devin thought about her family’s numerous moves to new apartments, which had also meant new schools in hopes of finding “something a little better.” Buying red, white and blue sno cones at the park by the river on the 4th of July for a quarter, but not buying too many, so they’d have enough money to buy sparklers off the older kids. Studying martial arts with Master Chan in the rickety room above his granddaughter’s Asian grocery story until the plaster dust started falling on the customers and they had to move to the Y. Those were benign pieces of her past she could stand to examine. She didn’t think of her father, and she certainly didn’t think about Greg.

After the services at the cemetery, there was a reception in the back room of Luigi’s, Greg’s favorite Italian restaurant. It was where he proposed to Marcy and where all the detectives normally celebrated when they broke a big case. Devin was leaning against the wall with her arms crossed. Few mourners approached her, which suited her fine. She didn’t want their condolences; they should reserve those sentiments for Marcy. Greg’s mother held court in the center of the room, shooting haughty glares at Devin whenever should could. All of Greg’s coworkers and friends swarmed around Marcy, providing a protective barrier against any of Mrs. Lumas’ unpleasantness.

“Devin, don’t you want a whiskey? We’re about to do a round of toasts to Greg’s memory.” Alex Denton said. He was another detective in their precinct. He and his partner, Leon, had frequently worked with Devin and Greg, and they’d played a major part in this last operation.

Devin sighed and pushed off the wall “I’ll take a soda.”

He frowned and leaned in to whisper, “Can’t you make an exception? Everyone is having Irish whiskey. Mrs. Lumas is insisting on the tradition.”

Devin cocked an eyebrow at him and smirked. “As if drinking whiskey of any origin would make that woman like me. I’m not making an exception, and Greg wouldn’t have wanted me to.”

Alex gave up and went to find her a soda. Devin very rarely drank. Her father had spent the last thirty-five years drowning in a bottle, and from the time she was very small Devin had witnessed the devastation alcohol could cause. It was obvious the potential was in her DNA, and she didn’t want to tempt fate by indulging in liquor. So on rare occasions she made an exception, one which had ended her up in a casino wedding chapel, but mixing whiskey and grief did not seem like a smart combination. After many rounds of toasts, the group began to break up. They’d toasted to Greg’s joy for life, his dedication to his family, and his loyal friendship. Devin had toasted to his protection of the innocent, his unfailing search for truth and justice, and always having her back—which drew an angry huff from Mrs. Lumas. It was then that Captain Morris pulled her aside.

“Captain, I know you need my report,” Devin said. “I’ll be in tomorrow to get everything wrapped up.”
He looked at the floor, not wanting to make eye contact. “I’m not worried about your report. Tomorrow will be fine. I just wanted to discuss your leave.”

“My leave? I know I’ll need to work a desk until my stitches come out, but I wasn’t planning on taking any more days off.” She hadn’t been in to the precinct since she had been stabbed but knew she had to face Greg’s empty desk and clean his locker out for Marcy.

“You know for this type of incident the department requires a one month leave and a psych evaluation, and there are extenuating circumstances here.” Not only was Captain Morris not meeting her eyes, but he looked like the collar of his shirt was suddenly two sizes too small. Devin knew he wasn’t giving her the whole story, but she couldn’t tell what he was holding back.

“The ‘extenuating circumstances’ are exactly why I can’t take a month off. You’re already down a detective. Alex and Leon won’t be able to cover the whole case load, and I need to get back in there. I didn’t really think you’d enforce the leave. Surely you can bend the rules just a little and overlook the one-month requirement.  The press is writing our department up as heroes.” In truth, she was the one the press was calling a hero, but she didn’t like that kind of attention.

Captain Morris was beet red by this point, and his eyes were wild. Delicate conversations had never been his forte. He knew Devin would react badly, so he pulled the band-aid off quickly and burst out the news. “Devin, it’s not a month. It’s a mandatory three-month leave, and my hands are absolutely tied, so there’s no sense in getting worked up here.” His words were laughable, considering he was the one that looked like he was going to drop dead of a heart attack any moment.

 “Three months! Are you out of your ever-lovin’ mind? What the hell am I supposed to do for that long? I was stabbed, not run over by a Mack truck!” Devin looked the exact opposite of the Captain—when she was angry, her sun-kissed skin paled to its natural porcelain coloring, and her chocolate eyes turned black and ice cold with her fury. 

Several officers from their precinct were eyeing the two speculatively, as if they all knew what the conversation was about and they had wagers on just how ballistic Devin would go. She wondered briefly what kind of show they were expecting. Leon probably expects something showy like throwing a chair through the window and he wouldn’t think I would carry a weapon at a funeral. That’s where Alex knows me better, she could just hear him now. “Are you kidding? This is Devin, church or not, she’s carrying a gun.” He'd be right.

Now that everything was out in the open, Captain Morris let the details pour forth. “One-month is required leave for an injury like yours sustained in the line of duty. There’s another required for losing your partner in this manner, and the psych evaluations that go along with it . . .” He lost his momentum and faltered before telling her the rest.

Like her demeanor, Devin’s voice was icy and hard when she spoke. “What about the third month?” She could already sense she was not going to like his answer.

The captain sighed in defeat and met her eyes once again. “Internal Affairs needs the extra month to complete their investigation.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Investigation of what exactly?” she hissed out.

“They’re investigating you for alleged excessive force in the death of Ronald Turnsby and reckless endangerment of your fellow officers.”

The James River Killer had turned out to be named Ronald Turnsby, a mild-mannered software developer who’d spent his days quietly designing foreign language educational software in his cubicle that overlooked the James River and the meandering jogging trail that accompanied it.

“Use . . . of . . . excessive . . . force?” Her voice was tight as she tried to control her fury, but with each word, her voice climbed higher in both pitch and volume. “I was severely wounded and unarmed. What did they want me to do, tap him on the shoulder and ask him politely to stop shooting the nice policemen? This is crap, and you know it!” She punctuated her tirade by hurling her empty drink glass at the back wall. If anyone hadn’t heard the shouting, they surely heard the explosion of glass.

“Yes, Devin, I do know it’s crap, but that doesn’t change the fact that I can’t interfere with an IAB investigation. You’re not exactly on their Christmas card list as it is, so you’re just going to have to suck it up and wait this thing out.” It was no secret that Internal Affairs considered her volatile and a risk to the department. They were looking for any opportunity to bounce her into civilian life.

“It’ll be unpaid leave until IAB finishes their investigation. I’m so sorry, kid.” He left the rest unsaid—that it would a permanent unpaid leave if they found her guilty.

She dropped her voice and spoke under her breath. “I don’t care about the money. This is just their opportunity to vilify me more than the killer and convince everyone in the department that I’m responsible for Greg’s death.”

“The Mayor’s office loves the positive press right now. They’ll be on your side, and that carries a lot of power. You just need to sit tight and ride it out. Rest, take a vacation. Lord knows it’s been years since you’ve taken time off.”

Friday, April 13, 2012

Horizontal Stripes and Plastic Indians

Right now in America there are great quests happening. Important, life changing quests. That's right, it's time to shop for a swimsuit. There will be thousands of pages of magazine articles dedicated to tips and tricks for finding "your perfect suit". Talk shows will model this season's hottest styles for hiding your problem areas. You gentlemen might compare this to hunting down your perfect lawn mower. The biggest and baddest model that will give your yard that Wrigley Field look.

The strategy is to walk a fine line between shopping early when selection is best and waiting for the first sale of the season, so you don't pay full price. Then you must deal with the sea of options available, halter top, boy shorts, zero turn, fifty inch deck, horizontal stripes...not on your life! All 4,783 magazine articles will tell you horizontal stripes are going to make you look wider. Who on earth wants that? If you're not careful you could end up looking like your grandmother only thirty pounds heavier or mowing your back forty with a push mower.

What happens when you can't find what you're looking for? Despite mighty shopping marathons and Internet searches into the wee hours of the night you've come up empty handed. Do you settle for second best? You could just wait it out another year. Or, do you come up with a new solution.

The perspective changes a little bit when children are involved. My son, bless him, follows in my husband's genetic footsteps. I had rather hoped my kids would get a height boost from my side of the family, but so far it is not to be. Caden just fits into a size eight dress pant, and when I say just I mean it won't button past May. For his Easter outfit we tried eight styles and four purchases. The best fitting pair came only four inches past his toes. He wore his regular Sunday suit with a new shirt and tie for Easter. I'm contemplating dusting off my Mom's old sewing machine and my equally dusty Home Ec sewing skills.

That was a search that met in compromise, but sometimes in the world of childhood that won't do. Take for instance in second grade when students were to build their own Native American housing model. My son made a beautifully painted teepee with weeds from our yard as prairie grass. It was A+ quality work, but little Jim Bob's Dad had gathered real sticks from the woods to make a fire ring and Jim Bob's Mom got plastic cowboys and Indians to set all around his tent. What did Jim Bob actually do on this project?

The gauntlet had been thrown. There was no way we were turning in a teepee without plastic indians. The quite obvious point we were missing is that this type of play is no longer consider politically correct. After searching through every gift shop, gas station and toy aisle in a three county radius I was hysterically beginning to wonder if I could pass off ninjas and firefighters with out my son noticing. When there in a dusty corner of a dollar store was the last known pack of cowboys and indians. I grasped them to my chest and dashed for the register like I had found the only nourishment left on the planet after Armageddon. My son would not know disappointment this day! Plenty of other days, but not today!

Interesting how the drive to succeed in a quest changes per individual. Generally I will bide my time or find a creative new solution if I can't find what I'm looking for. We have an ancient dresser that is falling apart, but a new one is not in the cards right now. Enter built-in shelves for the closet and some storage bins, and we have a cheaper answer. If something is important to my husband he will keep searching until he finds exactly what he's looking for. That's how he got such a great wife. If it's not a big deal he'll take the first thing that comes along. That's how we got his last truck. Or do I have those two things backwards?

Maybe that's how we should take on life too. This is the path we're creating for ourselves. Why just settle when you could be out finding what you want. Whether it's more time with your kids, a spiritual make-over, or a new career path, go on that quest.Create a solution or hunt it down.

After all, you don't want a ninja outside your teepee do you?

Friday, April 6, 2012

And the Parent of the Year Award Goes to...

Not me! Why is it just when you think you're getting a handle on all the balls you're juggling your kids remind you that you're really losing your grip. Any thoughts you have that you might be on top of things is a complete illusion. If you think you're doing a good job as a parent, hold on to your hat, your kids are about to throw you for a loop.

This past Tuesday I had a plan for the evening. Famous last words. The boys were headed off to Cub Scouts, leaving the girls and I to a quiet house and a few chores. The girls decided they would take their shower before picking up their mess, but they wanted to use my shower. My poor husband doesn't actually own anything according to our kids. It's Mommy's room, Mommy's bed, Mommy's shower, Mommy's tub, even the car is mine. The truck and van are "our's", they belong to the whole family. Daddy gets the clothes on his back and the tools in the garage.

I made the deal and allowed the girls to head off to my bathroom while I caught up on some administrative work. Why the two of them like squishing into that small shower is beyond me. Five minutes later from the opposite side of the wall I heard terrified screams in stereo. Before I cleared the doorway I could make out the words "It's bleeding! It's bleeding!". The room looked like a scene from a B rated horror flick. Macy had jumped out of the shower and was frantically flailing her hand about, throwing streaks of blood on the walls and floor. Her sister was staring in wide eyed terror through the clear shower curtain. With out pausing I pulled a bath towel off the rack and pressed her hand tightly in it while guiding her to the sink. She was sobbing to hard to understand so I asked her sister what happened. Makayla pointed to my razor, which had gone from the top of the shower to the floor. "It fell." That's all I got.

Trying to pull off the towel to wash the wound was no good, there was too much blood pouring out to see anything. We switched to paper towels, but they soaked through in seconds. It was time to go to the emergency room. I sent Makayla to get dressed as fast as possible while I slipped one of my t-shirts over Macy, wet hair and all.  Makayla met me at the car wearing a yellow t-shirt sporting a  neon rainbow, navy and pink hand-me-down sweat shorts and chunky brown boots with no socks. She cut me off before I could say anything. "I was in a hurry, I grabbed the clothes on top!" What could I say, other than "Great job, honey."

It was a struggle strapping Macy into her booster seat. She was terrified of going to the hospital and apparently wanted the neighbors to know about her predicament. Trying to calm her down her sister and I sang church primary songs. She became less vocal, but no less scared. Halfway to the hospital I checked in with my husband at scouts. He wanted to know if I was sure she needed to be treated at the ER. Looking in the rear view at the napkin she had soaked through most recently, I was certain.

Wrapping her hand back in the bath towel I carried her into the hospital. If you want quick service with no waiting in an emergency room, carry in a crying child wrapped in a bloody towel. We were instantly taken back to a room. The nurse we had was absolutely amazing, she took great care of my baby and put her at ease. It turned out that only one finger had been cut. Yeah! I hadn't been able to tell because I couldn't get a good look at it. To Macy's great joy there was no sewing involved, only because there wasn't enough material to work with. Basically she peeled her finger like a potato. There were no edges to pull together and  there was nothing to clot, hence the continued bleeding. Using a special pad from the surgical unit that causes clotting and would seal off the wound, her hand was bandaged into a mitten. Special precaution was taken because if she bumped the injury and broke it open the bleeding would start again. Without the special sealant the bleeding could last for hours.

Maybe it was the twin connection, because they certainly never had time to discuss their story, but both the girls stuck with the "it fell" version for the rest of the evening. It was nice to see them stick together, but not against me! Both Caden and Makayla insisted on riding home with their injured sister and helping her get buckled into her seat. The one silver lining to the whole incident, seeing siblings show their love and concern for each other.

When her father carried her to the car that evening Macy told him really it was Mommy's fault. "It was Mommy's shower and Mommy's razor. She was the one who let us in there." Thank you Macy. I was already feeling the guilt of this incident, thank you for icing the cake. Should they have known better then to climb up and get my razor? Absolutely. Does that mean it doesn't need repeating from time to time? Apparently not. Does it also mean that I should be paying more attention when my girls are in the shower? Of course. So thank you Macy for waking me up and giving me a reality check, and for giving me a large dose of guilt to carry around. I've been so preoccupied with toting them around to activities and managing their school load that I'd started to overlook the simpler details of their daily life that keeps them safe.

Beware, if you're getting comfortable with how you're managing life a curve ball may be coming to knock you off balance. Would it take bloodshed to refocus your priorities?

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