Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Cotton Candy

By Kelly

Ever since I was a little girl, I've been fascinated by cotton candy.

Maybe it was because it was such an rare treat. In the days of yore (read: the 1970s), cotton candy was reserved for the circus or the fair or some other infrequent-but-storied event. I loved to stand next to the cotton candy booth and watch the proprietor swirl a thin, paper cone in a seemingly empty bin and emerge with a cumulonimbus cloud of gossamer pink, precariously balanced on a tiny point.

"Here you go, sweetie," he would say to the lucky buyer, who would carefully take hold of the beautiful concoction and delicately try to find a place to bite.

So it goes without saying that, when our church was looking for volunteers to work at various booths during the annual community picnic, I jumped at the chance to work in the cotton candy booth.

It was a gorgeous Sunday night in late summer. The sun shone brightly; the light already held flecks of autumnal gold.

After the outdoor service, Corey and I gathered the kids and scooted through the dinner line (hot dogs, carrots, watermelon and chips) since I was first shift at the booth.

And that's how I found myself standing next to a machine that was spinning a cloud of pink sugar, clumsily wielding paper cones around the circle, passing off lopsided mounds of cotton candy to a throng of eager children.

The night was breezy, and I was near the edge of a picnic shelter. The wind caught errant wisps of candy and blew them into the crowd. Kids waiting in line opened their mouths to pluck a sparkling sample right out of the air. Delicate strands stuck to my arms, my face, my hair. (So intent and gleeful was I as Cotton Candy Maker Extraordinaire that I discovered this fact only when small children grinned my direction and shouted, "Mom, look at her hair!")

Halfway through my shift, I looked up and saw my daughter before me. Natalie was wearing plaid sherbet-colored shorts and a pink polo shirt. Her skin was tan, her hair pulled back in a pink headband. She looked utterly delighted.

“Why Natalie!” I exclaimed, as if she were my favorite customer, which, in fact, she was. “So happy to see you here tonight! Here you go!” And I handed her a cone heavy with sweetness.

“Thanks Mom,” she giggled, before turning to find Uncle Jon among the crowd.

Later, on the way home, when she was crashing like a little addict from an overdose of sugar, she sat in the back of the minivan and sobbed because the snow cone booth had run out of syrup before she'd gotten one. Suddenly, she sat up straight, found her composure and said, “Mom, do you know why I stood in your line to get cotton candy, besides the fact that yours was pink and that’s my favorite color?”

“No, Natalie," I answered, scanning her face in my rear view mirror. "Why?"

“Because you are my favorite person, Mom,” she said. "And I love you."

This post was originally published August 2008 on Kelly's personal blog, Love Well. She's at family camp this week, where she is too busy following her toddler around camp to write something new. But she'll be back next week, rested and refreshed, and extra happy for the toys at home.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


By Kelly

I set my squirming, squealing 17-month-old daughter into the bathtub last night, then ducked around the corner to grab a towel and washcloth out of the cabinet.

Her rage was immediate and deafening.

I apparently didn’t have permission to leave her side – to split atoms, as it were. In her mind, we are one right now. Mama-Teyla or Teyla-Mama. Always together, never apart.

Until we are. And then the world tips off its axis and threatens to implode under the weight of her mingled sorrow and wrath.

I don’t remember separation anxiety at this age with my older two children. (Of course, most days I feel grateful to remember my name, so maybe it’s just that my brain is melting like a snow cone in August.) They had their moment of tears in the nursery and their times of pouting when my husband and I would go on a date.

But this sweet little baby – she isn’t just sad when I walk out of the room. She’s furious that I would have the audacity to leave her behind. Even leaving the room ahead of her, especially if I need to walk around the corner out of sight, is grounds for a tantrum.

Lucky for her – and for those who’s eardrums are within range – I don’t leave her that often. And at this age, it’s easy to round the corner, pick her up and set everything right again. It only takes a tight hug, a couple of tickles and a reassurance that “Mama is still here.”

I only wish it could always be that easy.

Kelly-Teyla also blogs at Love Well.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Soccer Mom

By Kelly

I earned a new badge today.

I am now, officially, a soccer mom.

My five-year-old son started practicing with a bunch of fellow pre-kindergarteners this morning. I don’t know who was more excited, him or me. Because this isn’t just his first venture into team sports – it’s also mine.

The way my parents tell it, back in the 1970s when I grew up, children weren’t automatically enrolled in sports as soon as they started to walk. In fact, the female children weren’t generally signed up for sports at all. (Especially in the South, where my Mom was raised. In those parts, a girl playing sports was sighed over, seeing as she was a bit confused about obvious gender roles.)

Thus, I grew up without ever playing a sport. And looking back, that might have been God’s first blessing over my life. Because my eyes are disparate, I have almost no depth perception. In practical terms, I can’t tell that the ball barreling toward my face is six inches from breaking my nose.

Which is a liability on the field.

Also? I throw like a girl.

By the time I got to high school, and it was acceptable and even encouraged for girls to play sports, I was way past the time period where I would risk my self-esteem by learning something new. So I left the sports playing to my brother – who is an incredible athlete – and I stuck to things that were easy for me, like writing and getting good grades and drama and talking on the phone.

Since God has a profound sense of humor, I married a jock. My husband has played and excelled at every sport known to man. When we were dating, it was a bit of game.

“Junior high.”
“Swim club.”
“Martial arts?”
“Black belt in four styles.”
“Never turned professional, but could have.”

You name it, he did it. To my amusement, his lifestyle preference continued even after the wedding. Suddenly, I was immersed in competitive softball and flag football. I learned to keep a scorebook (to earn my keep), and I spent many balmy evenings at the batting cage and driving range.

I didn’t play. But I started to see the value in sports. The teamwork. The camaraderie. The exercise. The discipline. The broken bones.

Deep in my soul, a nugget of regret took root. I wished I could go back and do it over. Chances are, I would never have excelled at t-ball or soccer. But maybe I would have been a great swimmer or diver or skater.


So when my son said he wanted to learn to play soccer this summer, I eagerly agreed. This is uncharted territory for both of us. But I’m excited to watch him try. I hope he learns to work hard, have fun and show grace in victory and defeat. I’m looking forward to sitting on the sidelines, marveling at his growth and cheering his every kick.

I just hope he doesn’t kick the ball toward me. Because soccer mom badge or not, I still won’t be able to duck before it smacks me in the face.

Kelly’s preferred sport these days is blogging, which she does at her personal blog, Love Well.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

An A+ Family

By Kelly

I tried not to eavesdrop, but it was hard not to listen.

“Some families are just out of control,” said one of the voices. “I mean, seriously.”

I glanced sideways at the table next to ours. We were sitting in the dining room of a nice hotel, enjoying the final moments of the breakfast buffet, along with a few other families and some late-rising stragglers.

The table next to us was in the second category. Three young men sat around it, looking like they’d just rolled out of bed. Wrinkled t-shirts, grungy jeans, unshaven faces, they nursed cups of coffee and toasted bagels as they winced at the noises surrounding them.

“I know,” said another young man at the table. “It’s like, can’t you control your kids? Who’s in charge here, anyway?”

I knew immediately who they were talking about.

At the other end of the dining room, a family was at Def-Con 1. A baby, probably around eight months old, was screaming – and I mean SCREAMING – in his high chair. His older sister, probably three, was doing laps around the table, incensed that her parents wouldn’t get her another bowl of Lucky Charms from the buffet. “But I want it! I WANT IT!” she shrieked.

Her parents, equal parts exasperated and mortified, were trying their best not to escalate the situation. “Honey, you need to sit down,” they hissed, attempting to ignore the dark looks shooting their way. “You’ve got to finish the Lucky Charms you have before you get more.”

“Noooooo! I don’t want to! I want more NOW!” countered the girl, as she squirmed out of her dad’s reach.

The commotion made it harder to snoop on the band members. (Note: I don’t really know if they were part of a band. But that’s how I had them pegged at this point.)

“They should give grades to parents,” suggested one of the men.

“I know! Like, I’d give them a D-,” said another, gesturing toward the meltdown underway.

Snickers all around.

“And this family?” said another, jerking his head toward our table. (My ears pricked.) “I’d give this family an A+. These parents know what they’re doing.”

An A+?!?!

I looked at my tablemates. My kids were sitting nicely on their seats. Natalie was adding yet another packet of butter to her English muffin. Connor was eating his Raisin Bran silently, his eyes fixed on the situation at the other end of the dining room. Teyla was thoughtfully mashing a banana. Corey was stirring his coffee.

My heart and my head swelled to three times their normal size.

“Well,” I thought to myself. “Yes. Obviously, my children are angels. And we're not perfect, but Corey and I are pretty good parents. We try to have fun with our kids but still enforce boundaries. We would never let them….”

And then I started laughing to myself. Because as much as I wanted to pretend, I knew with every cell in my body that this A+ moment was just that – a moment. No family looks good all the time, and I doubted the family at the other end of the dining room was really as big of a disaster as they appeared.

Thankfully, we were at a different hotel the next morning, so the band wasn’t at breakfast when my older two decided to crawl on the carpet like miniature commandos because they were bored. They didn’t see the baby discover a piece of petrified bacon under one of the tables and pop it into her mouth before I could grab it. (Building her immunity. Building her immunity.) They didn’t see the sugar packets that were hastily stuffed back into the holder after the baby spilled them out for the third time, or the coffee that was sloshed, or the food that was wasted because “it doesn’t taste good anymore.”

Because the truth is, we can go from an A+ to a D- in 20 minutes flat.

My only hope is that we're eventually graded on a curve.

Kelly grades herself on a daily basis at her personal blog, Love Well.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Lilacs

By Kelly

The lilacs are blooming.

Nothing says early summer to me quite like a bush rich with amethyst blossoms. They are ubiquitous right now, strewn willy-nilly around the neighborhood, equally at home on a freeway overpass as they are in the front yard of a much-loved cottage. The air is perfumed with their innocent sweetness.

Next week, they’ll be gone. I’ve been furtively gathering small bouquets when I can – I keep clippers in my car – so I can savor the lilacs’ fleeting luxury.

But the best part about the lilacs this year is the realization that my children share this joy with me. They’ve been helping me spot neglected lilac bushes on public property, where we might stop to snag a few blossoms. They’ve buried their noses deep into the purple flowers and closed their eyes to sniff. “Mmmmm, Mom. That does smell good.” And just today, I heard my oldest daughter sigh and say, “The lilacs on that bush are already fading, Mom.”

It satisfies a longing in my heart that I didn’t even know I had until now – a longing for my children to share the sensory cues of “home” with me.

I spent most of my growing up years in Minnesota, and they were happy, carefree, innocent years. To me, home is the croaking of tree frogs on a summer’s night, the sight of sunlight sparkling on a crisp blue lake, ice skates slicing across a frozen pond, abundant green leaves changing to auburn and pumpkin and gold. It’s hockey and snow days and the fevered anticipation of spring and the joyride of summer and the State Fair and pine forests and water everywhere you look.

But since my husband and I moved to Southern California shortly after we got married, with the intent to stay in San Diego until The Big Earthquake carried us into the Pacific, I thought all those markers of home would be mine alone. I ventured that our future children would associate home with sunny days and cool nights, the sound of fighter jets roaring overhead and the smell of salt breezes off the ocean.

And while I accepted my future, I also secretly mourned the shared legacy of home. I knew that a trip back to the Midwest once a year wouldn’t be enough to put Minnesota into their DNA.

I never imagined that someday, my children would come to love the lilacs as much as I.

It is a gift as lovely and as delightful as the flower itself.

Kelly makes her home in the blogosphere at Love Well.