Nothing says happy birthday like ear piercing

Ear piercing trumped all as a birthday gift.

Ear piercing trumped all birthday gifts. And doesn’t it look like fun?!

We don’t necessarily notice we’re getting older through our own birthdays or self-monitoring. But it’s a different story when aging is viewed against the backdrop of watching your children grow. Even though I didn’t have them until my late 30s, they quickly grew to the point they were able to beat out time in synchronized cadence with my biological clock.
Connor turned 13 in November. The fact I was now the biological parent of a teenager wasn’t a big deal, possibly because my son doesn’t make a big deal out of anything. More pragmatic than dramatic, his list of birthday demands was small, comprised of a German chocolate birthday cake, a couple of new articles of clothing and an outing where he and a favorite buddy got to shoot paintballs at zombies. He was good to go.
Kate was a different story. She turned 12 just last week, an event that had been in the planning stages longer and was more painstakingly choreographed than the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Beginning the day after she turned 11, we couldn’t go by a bakery without her pointing at some extravagant cake and commenting, “Can I have one like that for my next birthday?”
We couldn’t go by a fine hotel without Kate announcing her intention to have me rent a large block of rooms to accommodate her and several friends for her 12th birthday. Except for when she thought she should go on a kiddie cruise with just her and a dozen of her closest friends.
She would also scan store ads, catalogs and websites, looking for the most extravagant party decorations money could buy, presumably toward upgrading the upcoming event into a momentous occasion. She considered hiring a band and knew exactly what she would be wearing down to which hue of lip gloss and nail polish.
I finally had to burst Kate’s bubble and let her know that the family that hasn’t been able to afford to take a real vacation, themselves, for the past four years would not be booking a cruise, related air travel or even an overnight hotel room (somewhere we’d be too afraid to sleep!). Her dream was diametrically opposed with my own fantasy of being able to afford to heat our home this winter. Therefore, my daughter needed to scale back her 12th birthday extravaganza to reality size.
However, even with that in mind and long before I’d scrounged for enough returnable pop bottles to pay for our annual New Year’s Eve family bowling outing, Kate had announced I needed to grill steaks (“And really good ones!”) for her and her entourage as part of her revamped birthday bash. Really!
How to handle this? Was there anything I could offer up to successfully stop the birthday machine in its tracks? A stick I could throw in the opposite direction for her to retrieve? Then it came to me: I would play on a time-honored rite of passage, the equivalent of laying down an unavoidable, supremely sticky glue trap in which to mire the birthday mouse.
“Hey, why don’t we schedule your birthday party sleepover for six months from now, in July, when we can do something really fun outdoors?” I tossed this out over breakfast the week before her birthday. My daughter began frowning, so I quickly and casually tacked on, “And on your actual birthday, we’ll go to the mall and get your ears pierced.”
At the earring store, it immediately registered the place represents everything I abhor about American culture: everything is too bright, glitzy, poorly-made and over-priced. I cringed at the multiple variations on BFF (best friends forever) jewelry and the extensive facial piercings of the employee who pierced Kate’s ears. Even more than I did at the moment when the piercing tool punctured my former baby’s ear (see blog photo as of 1-29-14).
I sweetened the pot by wrapping up for Kate her very own triple-bladed razor to unwrap when we got home. She took to it like a duck to water, although it was intended as a decoy to keep her away from mine. So glad I managed to bag the birthday baloney before it bankrupted me.

Guilt trips permissible, just on limited basis

As an errant scholar and writer, I keep an ear to the ground regarding unusual research I can use to validate the pseudo points I am fond of making. That said, while recently scanning a research publication, I discovered an article about family caregivers for aging Holocaust survivors. Despite being an earnest student of the Holocaust, I had never considered it according to what  impact a high level of early life trauma might have on an already overloaded caregiving plate.

Apparently, later life resurfacing of post-traumatic stress among many Holocaust survivors makes life difficult for family caregivers attempting to assist them with activities of daily living (i.e. showering, toileting and feeding). Compounded by a lifetime of guilt heaped on by the Holocaust survivors, caregiving may feel extra burdensome to the caregiving adult children.

If any of us adult children of non-Holocaust survivors thought our parents were great at laying on guilt trips, we’re easily trumped by this one cited in the family research that came from the 53-year-old daughter of a Holocaust survivor. Whenever she or her siblings did something wrong, both of her parents verbally guilted them with, “I survived Hitler for this?”

Even with my most bold of childhood sassy mouths, I would have had no possible response that wouldn’t have made me the biggest bully this side of Bergen-Belson. In the same article, a 43-year-old niece of a Holocaust survivor reported members of her generation had been named after relatives who died in the Holocaust. Being namesakes of deceased relatives denied of life opportunity provided extreme pressure survivor guilt to be successful.

Just try explaining a history test failure to parents who’d named you after a cherished relative who’d perished in one of history’s most tragic events. I can’t imagine it. It was hard enough to creatively come up with and guiltily deliver excuses to parents who, arguably, on occasion deserved them.

Children of Holocaust survivors were clearly exposed to more than their share of unhealthy guilt. This raises the interesting question of whether any amount of guilty might be healthy. Last year, Finnish researcher Kaisa Aunola reported her team of social scientists had studied 150 first graders, their parents and their teachers. Through daily diaries that detailed the results of various guilt tactics, they learned children generally recognize adult attempts to manipulate them through guilt. It also was obvious adults are more likely to employ guilt strategies when tired, stressed or upset, which basically describes my single-parent existence.

Notably, the effects of even the most easily detected guilt tactics are residual, causing children continued distress and anger well into the next day. But get this, the negative feelings the guilted children experienced were even worse when it was their fathers twisting the guilt knife into their hearts.

This puts single mother me at a severe disadvantage in leveraging guilt as a parenting tool. Plus, excessive guilt is known to worsen behavior long-term, as children who feel highly guilty may act out in worse ways in attempts to exorcise it. That, of course, raises another important question: what length of guilt trip is permissible and most effective to book for one’s children?

I ask because during their elementary years, one of my children won a fire safety coloring contest by drawing an elaborate picture of my ex-husband’s home and the fire escape route from it. Problem was, the drawing was not actually of his home, but a hybrid composite of both of our houses and grounds. Architectural features, my fruit trees and his flowers were combined into a fictional dwelling to make the drawing more colorful and interesting.

Banking on a guilty reaction, I typed a letter on fake letterhead, allegedly from the selection committee, and mailed it to my child. The letter stated the committee had been so impressed with the drawing, its members had driven out to view the home, but found it didn’t exist.

Thirty seconds of “oh crap” guilt that struck upon reading that letter was all it took to scare my child straight – at least temporarily. I furtively hope I am forgiven for that and similarly smarmy guilt tactics by the time my children are needed to caregive for this aging parent.


Keeping kids in the popularity name game

Have you kept up on the latest baby names? I have. Can’t help myself. I have always been fascinated with who names his/her child what. Names can either be a blessing or a curse. They come with powerful associations and great expectations. Or not.

For an extensive listing of which names were the most popular during 2013, go online to I did after I recently became great aunt to “Sawyer,” which, incidentally ranks only 55th in popularity among boys’ names. What kind of bearing will that have on his life? Will he feel he measures up? Will he make a living painting fences or delegating that job to others?

More importantly, will he fare as well as other males born during 2013 who were named Liam, Noah or Oliver, the top three boys names on the popularity list? Should parents who are looking to give their children every possible advantage study the movement of the names on the list like they would stock market activity to ensure they invest in the best name possible?

I noticed the list of most popular boys’ names still had its share of perennial favorites, Lucas, Benjamin, Alexander and Jack. But what’s the name “Declan” doing in the number eight spot? It sounds like a veterinary procedure I had performed on my cat when she wouldn’t stop scratching the furniture. It would sound better backward, as “Nalced,” even though that would be a better product name for something you take for acid reflux.

The newspaper in which my new great nephew’s birth announcement appeared featured a hospital nursery mate named Amelia. She’s sure to go places, as her name is #2 among the most popular girl baby names. Apparently her parents were paying attention, as were those of another girl baby, named Luna, which was #44 on the hit parade. Thanks, Harry Potter series, for that shining name suggestion.

What’s surprised me in recent years is the movement of girls’ names nostalgically toward more traditional ones. In addition to Alice (#9), your friendly waitress at non-trendy-name Mel’s Diner; there’s Clara, befriender of nutcrackers (#42); and Ella (#20), who might turn out to be vocally gifted. Along dancing lines, don’t forget “Adelaide” (#43), whose parents will need to love her a bushel and a peck to offset the heck she will take for having a name like that.

Other girls’ names are more blatant throwbacks to a different era and might very well have been taken from the patient listing at a nursing home: Cora, Hazel and Evelyn (numbers 35, 36 and 37) are names I thought were buried with my dead grandmother’s pinochle partners. I wisely named my daughter Kate after that grandma, but also because it’s a name that carries well when you stick your head out the back door and yell “Kate!” to call her for dinner. The people naming their children Stella (#29) must have had similar thoughts. However, that name carries best when bellowed primally by a man clad in a wife-beater shirt.

The fact both Stella and Luna appear in the Top 40 of girls names had me thinking it would be a really creepy first- and middle-name combination as a nod to the Disney cartoon bat, Stellaluna, which combines two questionable names into one, larger questionable name. Are you batty yet?

“Charlotte” is currently the most popular baby name for girls. Interesting. Note to new parents, no matter what its popularity, you want to avoid naming your baby something that has an obvious negative rhyme to it. Before long, there will be droves of “Charlotte the Harlots” roaming middle school hallways. They will locker partner with the Luna the Tunas.

It’s also been fun to see product manufacturers name their products according to allegedly popular women’s names. In this week’s Macy’s sale flier, I noticed they are selling “Maliaa” boots and “Brena” slingbacks. They sound more exotic than Audrey flats (#9) or Penelope pumps (#30). Another store was selling “Tina” bar stools. Probably an inside joke about somebody’s barfly ex-girlfriend. The best way to win the name game is by choosing meaning over popularity. For instance, I was christened “Kristy” because my parents liked it. Ahem.

Resolving to build 2014 on ‘radical reliance’

Everyone’s been asking what I have selected as my new year’s resolution(s) for 2014. Like I’m the Goal Queen, or something. Hardly.  But I’ve been told, “It’s really fun to watch you go after something you want,” as if my life is a spectator sport they’re betting on. What people don’t realize, as it’s taken me forever to recognize, is that independent pursuit of what I think is best for me is actually more of a problem than a solution.

If my ability to set and achieve goals were all it took to make me successful, I would have been ruler of the world by now. Alas, it’s obviously not enough. That quote about climbing the ladder of success only to discover it was leaning against the wrong building fits me to a “T.” Sadly, it’s a one-sized T-shirt that fits too many of us in the same, untailored way.

I’ve been trying to get away from all the socially-generated, goal-oriented, high-achieving nonsense I’ve historically subscribed to as important. Instead, I’m going back to basics and consulting not multiple sources, but THE Source to get and keep me on the right track.

While all the time I should have been leading a highly effective life being authentically myself, as designed and purposed by The Maker, I’ve instead too often settled for being a second-rate version of myself, based on what I think I should be.

Everyone else was doing it. Seemed like a good idea at the time. Much of my career path has been paved with ignorant cultural conditioning. Unfortunately, I was not reared to pray for purpose. Most people I knew pragmatically followed the patterns of walking in family footsteps or going with the economic flow in careers that were either readily available or offered security. Me, too.

When I finally stumbled upon the last resort idea of consulting the ultimate Career Counselor for my next move, I tread lightly, not wanting to bother Him with something so seemingly insignificant compared to more life and death prayers.

Where did I get the idea asking guidance would bother God, the Father? From personal experience. As a parent, I sometimes hate to be bothered. So I assume God hates it, too. But it’s more disappointing when my children don’t bother to consult me, take things into their own hands and do something radically misguided I might have helped prevent.

I’ve approached God similarly ambiguously, not wanting to bother him with the small stuff, although He clearly encourages it in Isaiah 58:9 (NAB), “Then you shall call, and the Lord shall answer; you shall call for help, and He will say: Here I am!” (Not, “I’m busy!”)

Problem is, the more small stuff I tried to take care of on my own, the more it increased my propensity to try and take care of the larger stuff on my own. Before I knew it, I was back flying solo at the control panel of my life, not even offering God co-pilot status.

Far too frequently, it’s only after my life’s crashed and burned, a victim of my own best thinking, that I seem able to again hear God’s voice in my ear, sounding like Dr. Phil: “How’s that working for you, Kristy?” It’s not.

So why do I continue to push my own agenda? Same reason you do. Because self-reliance is as tempting as it is overrated. We’re usually in a hurry to get things done – OUR WAY. It’s why we start assembling the bicycle before reading the directions or jump the gun at a race. The human race.

In his book, Radical Reliance, which I am re-reading, former Moody Bible Institute President Joseph Stowell observes, “The pursuit of intimacy is an intentional commitment to take steps toward God and, in the process of that Godward motion, to grow more deeply conscious of, connected to, and confident in Him alone as the only source to satisfy, sustain, and secure.” Good advice.

While it would be nice to manage time more effectively, become better organized and lose weight in 2014, my resolution is to surrender my own self-serving ambitions sooner so I can become more radically reliant on God’s direction for me.

There is no avoiding life’s “floor chocolate”

My kids and I were at Target late on the evening of December 23 following dinner at Ruby Tuesdays. Officially, we were on a mission to procure a new pair of black fashion boots for my daughter, who had outgrown her previous pair. Unofficially, we were there to watch the 10th-hour Christmas shoppers do their semi-frantic thing.

Just when you don't think retail work can get any crappier around the holidays, someone deposits crap on the floor near the checkout lanes.

Just when you don’t think retail work can get any crappier around the holidays, someone deposits crap on the floor near the checkout lanes.

Note: I refer to this group as 10th hour Christmas shoppers because it’s technically not 11th-hour Christmas shopping until the afternoon of December 24, the time at which you should position yourself at the local 24/7 truck stop for the absolute best in last-minute Christmas shopping people watching.

As someone who isn’t much into gift-giving, it’s especially entertaining for me to watch people who are, speedily trolling store aisles, snatching garments off racks, yanking novelty items off shelves and hastily hurling everything into a heaped cart of crap they pay for with a credit card. All to make sure they have Christmas “covered,” sure as the snow covers the ground each December.

I feel sorry for those who work in retail this time of year, as many customers seem short on reason during Christmas season. I worked at Robinson’s Department store in Battle Creek my first Christmas after graduation from high school and quickly had more than my fill of that variety of customer. I don’t suffer fools lightly and an abundance of them showed up like clockwork at our store that year to make 10th- and 11th-hour purchases. Their crappy, procrastinating attitudes suggested I had personally thrown Christmas, unannounced, onto their already heaped plate of December activities. And they were having digestion problems.

Someone must have had digestion problems December 23 at Target, because as we approached the checkout lane with our purchases, three Target employees and one security company official were attempting to clean up something gross on the floor.

“Please tell me that’s chocolate,” I said to the grimacing 20-something employee as I surveyed the suspicious-looking brownish patch of ick on the floor in our path.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m sure chocolate’s exactly what it is,” she said with an eye roll, struggling to put a replacement pad onto the small Swiffer mop with which she’d armed herself. But having grown up on a farm and having changed multiple diapers, I knew better.

“Well, it appears to me to be an act of turd terrorism,” I announced, laughing. The Target employees began laughing, too, despite the disgusting circumstances. The security guy was laughing so hard he moved the bag into which the clean-up employee was attempting to deposit the soiled Swiffer pad. The pad dropped back onto the floor, respreading a round of holiday cheer. A collective “aarghh” swept the gathering crowd of gawkers.

I paid for my purchases with a sideways gaze trained in the direction of the fecesatrical production. Having cleaned up the respread mess, the Target employees attempted to move a nearby shopping cart out of the way, only to discover its wheels had made contact with the original piece of “chocolate.” Moving the cart left an even longer nasty brown streak across the store. Triple gross.

At that point, I did the only thing I could under the circumstances, short of volunteering to help with the clean-up: I whipped out my phone and took a photo of the disgusted looking employees attempting to wage battle against the Evil Excrement Empire. As if working retail wasn’t crappy enough around Christmas. I contented myself with the thought that at least I wasn’t the one stepping in it, for a change.

As our family drove away from the experience, the question that remained in our minds was what kind of animal would have deposited something like that near the store checkout lane? Or anywhere else in the store, for that matter. Maybe it had been a four-legged animal. I rather liked the noble idea it had fallen from a service dog. But most likely, it had been unleashed from a two-legged Homosapien.

Pampered pooch or Pampered pre-schooler, there’s no avoiding crap life sometimes deposits from out of nowhere into our paths. We might as well re-frame it as “floor chocolate,” and at least smile as we mop.

Disregard of convention elevates senior status

I turned 50 less than a week ago and don’t feel a bit different than I did at 49, except that other people seem to take the “act your age” adage a lot more seriously than I intend to take it.

Kristys Birthday

There seem to be all kinds of stereotypes I am apparently unaware of, but am supposed to be following. That, in itself, might very well be symptomatic of getting older. Who? What? Nobody tells me. Of course, it might also be more indicative of my Alfred E. Neuman approach to life: “What, me worry?”

There’s just no point in getting my (now granny) panties in a bunch over getting older. When I last checked, my biological clock was controlled by Mother Nature pretty much the same way some timepieces are radio-controlled by the atomic clock in Boulder, Colorado. Not a whole lot of operating system changes possible. Sure, you can keep the wristband looking okay, but the ongoing march of time cannot be completely de-activated.

My thought is that it’s a bunch of other people having their respective styles of underwear creeping upwards toward their brains that has them confused that getting older is an all-purpose excuse for letting themselves go to Hell in a wrinkly, sagging handbasket. Some may have misheard about the atomic clock and thought it meant all biological clocks detonate at 50, leading to geriatric fallout.

Fortunately, I don’t watch a lot of television, take to heart tabloid headlines, or regard Facebook postings as gospel. Uninfluenced by popular culture, I make up my own mind and determine my own outcomes. Healthy skepticism has kept me and my attitude healthy.

Someday, I want said about me what appeared in the obituary of a friend’s father, who died at age 87, “With his gentle and positive attitude, he was young at heart.” I spent last Sunday afternoon visiting with two friends of mine, one 98 and the other 103. During conversation, neither complained about their health, looks or lives. There were too many more interesting things to discuss, including how young 50 is.

Unfortunately, that may be the minority opinion. Some people think this refusing-to-succumb-to-senior-stereotypes person needs some help – mainly relationally, as evidenced by the number of senior dating service ads that appear in my email. I ignored them at first, but then started checking them out in hope the subsequent laughter would keep me feeling young. Maybe they’ll be good for you, too.

At, self-proclaimed, “the largest and most effective dating site for baby boomers and seniors,” I learned the service is a great platform to meet activity partners, travel companions, my dream lover or my soulmate. All that and no one under the age of 30 allowed!

That’s fine with me because I wouldn’t want to hook up with a 30-year-old guy. Sounds pretty cougarish to me! Grrrr. If 30-year-olds seemed too immature to date back when I was 30, why would I be interested two decades later? Plus, that arrangement did not end so well for actress Demi Moore. And I’m not frequently mistaken for her body double.

Online senior dating service members connect with one another on the basis of interests and qualities, including size and shape. Not unlike selecting fruit in the grocery store. However, I’m reminded of all the times I’d thought I procured the perfect melon only later to discover that I had selected an inferior product that was hollow, rotten or both.

Not to fear, supplies dating suggestions to maximize matchmaking. But the magical ideas I thought I sought instead ranged from tame to lame. A couple of them made me laugh. Just what do they mean by “random nighttime activities?” Would we sleepwalk together or go out and vandalize tombstones under the cover of darkness? And does “errand dating” really mean what it implies? Would we return library books, pay bills and do tag-team grocery shopping? The non-thrilling possibilities seemed endless and endlessly foolish.

Left to my own 50-year-old devices, I have reconnected with someone to whom age is only a number. Untethered by social constructions and able to make anything fun, we’ve already engaged in a variety of interesting activities. Act our ages? No way.

Turning 50 needn’t be a traumatic milestone

I was only 10 years old when my parents turned 40, but, judging by the smart-alecky comments made by their friends, colleagues and relatives, it must have been monumental. I can remember thinking they were ancient and teetering on the respective brinks of their graves. Dad was already getting gray and Mom, well, she’d acted 40ishly responsible for as long as I could remember, so over-the-hill seemed more like just around the bend.

For me, turning 40 was great. I had just moved to the house of my dreams and acquired the most prestigious job of my career. I had two young children just emerging from the diaper stage to keep me on my toes and no gray hair, wrinkles or cellulite. What wasn’t to like?

I remember well the words of one very wise gentleman, Walt Rutledge, who came to the senior center I directed. “Kristy,” he said, “Forty is both the youth of old age and the old age of youth. It’s all in how you look at it.”

If I hadn’t believed Walt’s wisdom then, I would have come to later. When he died, it was on his knees, beside his bed, his head bowed in prayer. What a way to go. Moreover, what a way to live. He was right. It is all in how you look at it. Not just age, but everything.

What would Walt have said about turning 50? Probably plenty. But I think he would encourage me to live it with the same enthusiasm he did his 80 plus years. He lined his life with faith and enthusiastic friends and caring relatives who helped sustain his positivity on the off days we all have, but into which he refused to give. When in doubt, he smiled and worked his way out of it by finding someone else to encourage. His cheerleading for others kept him in the game.

I was reminded of Walt’s positive testimony with a “JOY” plaque I purchased the other day as a gift for another friend who radiates a similar optimism. It read, “I’ve heard it said that JOY is a word that when taken letter by letter can make us understand just how such a small word makes things better. The J of course, is Jesus. The O, why that means others, the Y means you come last yourself, after all your sisters and brothers. So when you’re putting Jesus first in everything that you do, then it really is no wonder that others see JOY in you!”

The plaque resonated with me to the point I almost don’t want to give it to my friend and instead hang onto it as a reminder to myself. I haven’t ruled out going back and getting one for myself, but alas, I purchased it when out of town on business. Plus, keeping it might be venturing a wee bit into the selfish realm. So I’ve instead etched the thought into my heart.

Amidst the secular reminders of aging, including receiving AARP literature in my roadside mailbox and offers from senior dating services in my email box, I’ve decided not to become too wrapped up in the number “50” on my December 19th birthday. Granted, that’s easier when you don’t have any of the stereotypically-associated symptoms, such as gray hair (or care if you get any, which I know is easier to say when you don’t yet have any), still have children living at home and are not taking any prescription medications. However, caving in to aging is still a choice.

One of the many reasons I read the Bible is because it’s populated with characters who didn’t come into their own through God until they were of a significantly, “mature age,” shall we say, and got over themselves. God also regularly used fools for good. I’ve been steadily working on all three areas for some time.

In the words of one of my favorite famous pastors, Dr. Charles Stanley, “Rest in His care, wait on His timing, and trust Him to work on your behalf.” That’s what I intend to do during the rest of the second half of my life. I want more of what God has in store.

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