The Rockwood Files: The Name Game

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

In Dale Carnegie’s famous book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” he wrote that you should use a person’s name when you’re talking to them because “…a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”

I’m not here to argue with Dale Carnegie because five million books sold can’t be wrong. But I do wonder if the sound of your own name is always as appealing as he says it is.

The other day I sat across from a woman at the orthodontist’s office who was running my credit card so I could pay for our son’s braces. She glanced at the name on my card and said, “Oh, that’s a nice name. I really like it. It’s not a name you hear very often.”

I thanked her for the compliment. But what she doesn’t know is that a name like Gwen rhymes with way too many common words used in normal conversations – words like “when” and “then” and “in” and “pen” and the list goes on. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spun around to answer someone who wasn’t even talking to me and just happened to be within earshot. For example:

Stranger 1: “Hey, did I tell you I’m going to Hawaii?”

Stranger 2: “Oh my gosh! WHEN?”

Me (turning around to face them): “Yes?”

Strangers 1 and 2 (who are confused and assume I must be a weirdo): “What?”

Me: “Oh, I thought you said my name.”

Stranger 2: “Um, no.”

So I say “Oh, sorry” and then I act like I’m in a big hurry to get somewhere important, which is true because I’m in a huge hurry to be anywhere but there, dealing with my mistaken name shame. This has happened more times than I care to admit.

So my new policy is to ignore it when I think I hear my name because there’s a good chance I’m wrong. And if the person really is calling my name, he or she will probably repeat it a few times or just give up and send me a text, which is the more practical way to go anyway.

My mother once told me that she had planned to name me “Gwendolyn Jane,” but my father didn’t like it and made fun of it so often while she was pregnant that she shortened it to “Gwen Ann.” My maiden name, Rule, was also very short so the whole thing together was three stupid syllables. Drove me nuts.

jennifer keychainI wanted a sophisticated, multi-syllable name like Elizabeth, Jennifer, Kimberly or Christina – the kinds of names you could always find on key chains at the Six Flags gift shop. (I never once found a key chain with the name Gwen on it, but my best friend Jennifer had key chains out the wazoo. Not that I’m bitter.)

Names are also great tools for teasing attacks on the elementary school playground. One day in second grade, this jerky little boy came up to me and called out “Gwen, Gwen, the big fat hen!” which was ironic because I was the kind of kid who was so awkwardly skinny that you could count my ribs anytime I inhaled deeply. And even though it’s ancient history, I can still sometimes hear that sing-song chant in my head. (Do you think people named Jessica or Jonathan ever have these issues? I wonder.)

But the good news is that the years have taught me to appreciate my short, not-too-common but rhymes-with-everything name. It’s simple and unassuming, and so am I. And as fate would have it, I married a man with a two-syllable last name which made me feel downright fancy.

Who needs your lousy personalized key chain? My last name has not three, not four, but eight whole letters and rhymes with almost nothing! Life is good.

gwen headshot 2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

The Rockwood Files: Have trash, will travel

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

When I noticed the delivery box on the front steps, I flung open the door and greedily grabbed it. I hauled it to the kitchen, grabbed a pair of scissors and sliced through the packing tape in one stroke.

“What’s that?” Tom asked.

“It’s my new trash can,” I said.

“In that small box?” he said.

“It’s a trash can for the car,” I explained.

“Another one? What is this crazy obsession you have with car trash cans?” he said.

“It’s not an obsession, Tom. It’s a necessity. Your children are very messy and I’m usually the one hauling them all over town.”

He rolled his eyes because the kids are always “his” when they’re leaving a trail of crumbs, dirt and used tissues in their wake. (They’re mine again when they’re getting good grades or being especially cute.)

Tom’s car is mostly free of all the kid baggage that clutters mine up – the duffel bag full of ballet shoes, backpacks, stray school papers, gum wrappers, fast-food cups left behind and – the tissues. Don’t get me started on the tissues. Cold and flu season and now spring allergies keep us knee-deep in used tissues, and I just can’t stand the thought of plucking another one out of the car’s cup holders. It’s disgusting.

So I’ve been on a quest to find a suitable trash can for this on-the-go lifestyle. It’s tricky because it has to fit in a place where it won’t be repeatedly knocked over and spilled. And I don’t like the kind that hang from the back of a headrest because then the backseat passengers are eye-level with trash.

My last attempt at a car sanitation system involved a plastic bin with a flip-top lid, and I was pretty proud of my do-it-yourself solution. I lined the bin with a plastic shopping bag and tried to anchor it to the back of the center console, where the kids could easily reach it. But it tipped over time and time again. Too top heavy. So I tried putting Velcro strips on the bottom, but that didn’t work either. Then I tried using extra shoelaces I’d found in the junk drawer to tie the trash bin to the center console. But the laces kept slipping and so did the tippy bin.

After scouring the Internet, I finally found a car trash can with good reviews from other shoppers. It’s waterproof and has a weighted bottom that keeps it car trash cananchored even in tight hairpin turns around the Chick-fil-A drive-thru lane. Very impressive.

The kids have accidentally kicked it a few times, but that can’t be helped because three school-aged kids plus friends getting in and out of a car is a little like a herd of hyper horses, only far less graceful.

My new mobile trash can has been in place for about a week now, and having a container to corral the trash has helped my sense of order in the Universe. (I have this suspicion that a mother’s mental state is somehow linked to the condition of her car’s interior, her purse and her clothes closet.)

Experts say that, on average, Americans spend so many hours in the car that – over the course of a year – the time spent there adds up to almost a full month. (For those families that travel to out-of-state ballgames or dance competitions, I’d bet that the number is at least double.)

So it’s no wonder that a mother/chauffer like me would be so invested in finding the right trash can. It’s not a “crazy obsession,” honey. It’s survival of the cleanest.

gwen headshot 2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

The Rockwood Files: A special day in March

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

A remarkable thing happened this month. The Sound of Music (the movie) turned 50 years old and readers all over the world celebrated the birthday of the late Dr. Seuss on the very same day, March 2nd. It’s perfectly fitting that those two things happened simultaneously because, for many reasons, the movie and the books should be required viewing and reading for every kid on the planet.

Usually I don’t even like musicals. When I see one, I always end up thinking it’d be a better movie if people would just stop singing at each other all the time. But The Sound of Music is different. Even after 50 years, it still works.

I’ve already had my kids watch the movie for the past three consecutive Christmases and I hope they’re growing to love it the same way I do. What the movie reminds me of (and what I hope it’s showing the kids) are these three eternal truths:

maria favorite things1)    You don’t have to be perfect to have a perfectly good life. (After all, Maria was considered to be a “problem” nun-in-training and was even called a “flibbertijibbet,” which I’m guessing must be pretty strong language for a nun.)

2)    It’s better to focus on your blessings and the good things in life, even “when the dog bites, when the bee stings, when I’m feeling sad.”

3)    You have to “look for your life” and be willing to climb a few mountains to find what it is you’re meant to do.

More than anything, I hope the movie proves that some celebrities like Julie Andrews are the real deal. While Kim Kardashian attempts to “break the Internet” with snapshots of her naked behind, some women still rely not on their body but on their body of work to earn their place in history. I have to believe and hope that, 50 years from now, Kim Kardashian’s booty will be long forgotten.

As for Dr. Seuss, my kids are already fans because they grew up on his books, as so many of us did. Just above my writing desk, there’s a shelf that holds reference books I sometimes need – a dictionary, thesaurus, punctuation guide, and a few books on writing. But nestled between those more serious books is a small book by Dr. Seuss that I used to read to the kids every day because it was our favorite. It’s called “There’s a Wocket in My Pocket.”

wocket in my pocketEvery now and then, when I’m stuck for words and feel like I’ll never have another good idea as long as I live, I reach for that little yellow book and start turning the pages. “Did you ever have the feeling there’s a Zamp in the Lamp? Or a Nink in the Sink? Or a Woset in the Closet?” By the time I get to the last line of the book, the one about the “Zillow on the Pillow,” I always feel better. And I’m reminded that sometimes what our work needs most is play.

Dr. Seuss spent the early part of his career working in more traditional jobs as a writer and illustrator on advertising campaigns and for magazines. His first book was rejected 27 times before being finally published. And he was over 50 years old when he published “The Cat in the Hat,” the book that would earn him world-wide acclaim.

Can you imagine what a loss it would have been for millions of children if Dr. Seuss had never indulged his sense of play by creating those crazy poems and characters? Thank goodness he did. Thank goodness he didn’t give up when those 27 editors said it wouldn’t work. Because that little book about the Wocket in my Pocket has become, as Julie Andrews sang it so well, one of “my favorite things.”

gwen headshot 2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

The Rockwood Files: Revenge of the Girl Scout Cookies

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the kitchen, they’re baaaaaack. It’s the Girl Scout cookies. There’s a whole gang of them hanging out on our kitchen counter this week, just waiting for some poor unsuspecting schmuck to walk by and fall in love with them – again.

It’s not that I don’t like the cookies. Quite the opposite. The problem is that I really like the cookies. And when I really like the cookies, the cookies decide they really like my thighs and want to set up camp there as extra body fat. And that makes me not like the cookies nearly as much anymore. It’s a love hate thing. It gets messy.

Ironically, the sinister cookies were delivered here by the sweetest little blonde-headed Girl Scout you’ve ever seen. She was like a little merit badge-wearing angel. She handed me four boxes of cookies, and I handed her a check. Then she skipped back down the sidewalk, turning to wave goodbye and say thank you. I waved back at her, shut the door and that’s when the cookie showdown began.

I’ve been trying to keep a safe distance from them, but I swear I can hear those cookies whispering all the way up the stairs. It’s the Trefoils that call to me trefoil cookiesmost. Some people think the unassuming Trefoils are the most boring of all the Girl Scout cookie varieties, but I couldn’t disagree more. While it’s true that the Trefoils are a simple shortbread cookie, what they lack in color and texture, they more than make up for in pure sugary goodness.

They’re not as showy as the Samoas or as multi-layered as the Thin Mints, but they have an undeniable charm that can only be appreciated by a true cookie purist. The only problem with the Trefoils is how easy it is to rip through half a sleeve of those babies before you even realize it. They go down so easily with a glass of cold milk that it’s easy to lose count. (Your thighs and the bathroom scale, however, never lose count, and therein lies the problem.)

At least I’m not alone in this cookie conundrum. If Tom hadn’t left town for a few days on a business trip, I can almost guarantee that the box of Samoas would already be ancient history. He has to go to a different zip code to avoid scarfing down those coconut confections.

And our cookie-loving 10-year-old is coping with a pretty serious Thin Mint addiction right now. Every time I see him lately, he has traces of chocolate in the corners of his mouth along with minty fresh breath that didn’t come from mouthwash.

The only box of cookies that hasn’t been cracked open yet is a new variety called Rah-Rah Raisin. The description says it’s a “hearty oatmeal cookie made with whole grain oats and packed with plump raisins and Greek yogurt-flavored chunks.” The somewhat healthy sounding description is probably the only thing that has saved this box from the kids. But once they’ve torn through all the Thin Mints and their cookie craving ramps back up again, the Rah-Rah Raisins will have to make a rah-rah run for it if they have any hope of surviving the week.

The good news is that, at the rate we’re going, the Girl Scout cookie invasion won’t last long. By this time next week, the cookies will have been vanquished and their flattened boxes will be at the bottom of the recycling bin. The Samoas, Thin Mints, Rah-Rah Raisins and my beloved Trefoils will all be a distant memory. Now… if only my thighs would forget them, too.

gwen headshot 2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

The Rockwood Files: Love Brands

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Tom did something shocking the other day. He came home from the store with a few things I’d asked him to pick up before the snowstorm hit. As I unloaded the shopping bags, I stopped short. I picked up one of the packages, turned it around in my hands in disbelief and then held it up to Tom, as if he’d accidentally brought home toxic waste.

“What is THIS?” I asked.

“It’s toilet paper,” he said, as if I’d somehow mistaken it for a Crock Pot.

“I know it’s toilet paper, but it’s not OUR toilet paper. Since when do we get this kind of toilet paper?” I asked.

Listen, the store was crowded and this brand was on the end of the aisle and it was on sale, so I just grabbed it,” he explained, as if any willy-nilly explanation could be good enough for switching toilet paper brands. “I’m sure it’s fine,” he added.

He walked out of the room to tend to more important things while I glared a hole in the back of his head. You can’t just go switching toilet paper brands on a person with no advance notice. Some things are just too personal.

By the next day, there was nearly half a foot of snow in the driveway so I had to make peace with Tom’s brand selection. I did not like it, mind you, but I tried my best not to complain since we were stuck with it for the time being. Three days later, the snow began to melt and so did Tom’s theory about impulsive brand substitutions. As we stood in the bathroom brushing our teeth, he said “You know, I don’t like that toilet paper. Next time we go to the store, let’s go back to our old brand.”

I smiled and nodded, but on the inside I was thinking “Yes, and next time let’s not grab the wrong brand just because it’s within arm’s reach. Some things are worth looking for.” (When you’re married for a long time, you learn which things are best said internally.)

What those three days with the wrong toilet paper taught me is that most of us are a lot more brand dependent than we’d like to admit. Sure, we may buy generics on a few things and pat ourselves on the back for saving money, but, for the most part, we love our brands. We grow up with them. And sometimes brands become our buddies.

I read an article recently about a study on brand attachment that was done last year at the USC Marshall School of Business. The results showed that people can be so attached to brands that we suffer separation anxiety when our favorite brands are replaced. (Snippy comments made to husbands are also a common side effect.)

Brand attachments explain why some people panic at the thought of being away from their iPhone for too long. It explains why Pepsi people scoff at the thought of having a Coke. It explains why some teenagers would consider selling a kidney just to have the “right” pair of jeans. Successful brand managers are like business wizards who cast a powerful spell over an unsuspecting public.

But I, for one, am not ashamed of my brand attachments. I know what I like and I stick to it. Give me a quality product, and I’m as loyal as a Labrador, consistent as a clock. So I offer this poetic vow of consumer devotion to what, for many of us, have become our “love brands”.

“I, average consumer, do take you, preferred brand, to be my constant shopping cart companion. You are the Apple® of my eye, and my Gain® is a generic brand’s loss. The purity of my commitment is like a Dove® taking flight at Dawn®, soaring across the Quilted Northern® plains. Despite the great Bounty® of brand variety, I will not Bounce® from one name to another, for I am Glad® to forsake all knock-offs and imitations. While others get swept away by the Tide® of change, I enjoy the gentle Febreze® of familiarity. I hold steadfast to my favorites and Nestle® my beloved brands safely into my shopping gwen headshot 2014bags. Truly, I love you All®.”

Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here.

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