The Rockwood Files: Talking to Women, 101

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

We women have an obligation to the young men in our lives. We must teach them how to keep their manly feet out of their big mouths while talking to women.

Sometimes a man runs into trouble not because of the specific words he does or does not say but because his body language says things without him even knowing it. Our sons, ages 14 and 11, recently witnessed an example of this.

I’d just tried on a new pair of jeans I was unsure about. I found Tom cooking burgers in the kitchen and asked for his opinion on whether or not I should return the jeans or keep them.

Him: “No. I don’t like them. Not at all. Those are hugging you in all the wrong places.”

Me: (Stunned shock with aghast facial expression.)

Him: “What? You asked for my opinion. Did you not want me to tell you?”

Sensing one of their own was under attack, the boys came to their father’s aid.

Teenage son: “Yeah, Mom! You said you wanted his opinion and he told you.”

surprise emojiMe: “Okay, listen boys. For future reference, when a woman tries something on and asks if you like the jeans or the dress or the bathing suit or whatever it is, you have every right to say you don’t like it. But what you should NOT do is act like you’re witnessing a train wreck. You don’t want the expression on your face to say ‘Oh, the horror!’ And you definitely don’t want to use a phrase like ‘all the wrong places’ because it implies that the woman has ‘wrong places.’ See what I mean?”

Tom: “No, boys. Just remember that this kind of question is always a trap. Just say you have to use the bathroom and then sprint out of the room.”

Caught in the midst of a verbal tennis match, the boys looked to me for the answering volley.

Me: “That’s not true, boys. Women want an honest opinion but they want you to say it in a gentle way. You could say, ‘Hmmm…I guess those jeans are okay, but I think your other jeans are much better. You look great in your other jeans, but that pair isn’t my favorite.’ See? It’s less about what you say than how you say it. Understand?”

The boys and their father looked at me blank-faced, as if they honestly couldn’t tell the difference between my softer, gentler response and the one their father had delivered while grimacing, as if the sight of those ill-fitting jeans caused him actual pain.

Me: “Never mind. Go eat your burgers. I’m taking these jeans back to the mall.”

blue bell chocolate ice creamWe must also teach our young sons when to say nothing at all. A few days after the jeans incident, I’d had a particularly frustrating day at work and decided to reward myself for getting through it. I retrieved the tub of chocolate ice cream from the freezer, promising myself I’d only “clean up the edges” and then put it away.

I’d lost count of how many edges I’d cleaned up when 11-year-old Jack walked into the room. He peered into the ice cream container and said, “Geez, Mom.” As you might imagine, I didn’t appreciate his tone, not to mention those judgey eyes.

Me: “Listen, boy. Here’s an important life lesson. If you ever walk into a room and see a woman eating directly out of a carton of ice cream, you should say nothing. I mean zero. Don’t even look at her. Pretend you weren’t there at all. Just walk away.”

Jack nodded his head and backed safely out of the room without another word. I think these guys are finally catching on.

Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. 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: Your childhood is calling

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

phone2Eighteen years ago, I got a call from my best friend, Jennifer. I was sitting at my desk in the newsroom, surrounded by the chatter of other reporters, ringing phones and humming computers.

“I’ve got something to tell you,” she said. We’d been friends since fifth grade so I could tell by her voice it was big news, maybe even bigger than when we turned 16 and she called to say she was coming over because her parents had just handed her the keys to A RED CAR!

(We put a lot of miles on her car that day, most of which happened while cruising Main Street and circling Sonic so that as many people as possible could witness our coolness.)

“What’s up?” I said. I wondered if maybe she and her husband were going on a fun trip.

“I’m having a baby!”

Suddenly the noisy newsroom fell away and I could hear nothing but the echo of the word “baby” in my mind.

“You there?” she asked.

I shook off the shock and said, “Yes, but I can’t believe what you just said. This is amazing!”

I asked her questions about the due date and possible baby names. I was completely, genuinely happy for her – which made it hard to understand why I was also blinking back tears.

When we said goodbye, I sat there stunned, certain that what had just happened marked a seismic shift in our lives. We would never again be just girls, giggling in the middle of the night during a sleepover. We would never again drive our mopeds to the pool and eat Snickers bars and drink Cherry Cokes. We would never share another bus seat as we rode to an out-of-town football game to perform with the marching band.

Of course, I hadn’t really expected we would do those things again but there was something about one of us becoming a mother that made it official. Our childhood was over, and an entirely new kind of adventure was beginning.

Fast forward 18 years. I got another call from Jennifer this week. (Technically, it was a text message – the technologically advanced offspring of yesteryear’s phone call.) She asked if I could help her do some calligraphy on her daughter’s graduation invitations.

A renewed sense of shock came over me as I realized that the “I’m going to have a baby” phone call had evolved into news about her daughter’s high school graduation. Her baby has already grown up, just like we did. She graduation cap2can drive. She can vote. She can move away from home. Were our mothers as surprised by this as we are? And how is it possible that she’s an adult when we barely feel like one ourselves?

I don’t know the answers to those questions, but I do know childhood is a precious, fleeting thing. My own three kids have gone from snuggly babies to teens and tweens in what feels like a short commercial break.

As I worked on graduation envelopes, I glanced at the wallet-size photo of Jennifer’s daughter in her cap and gown, looking much like her mother looked in her senior portrait – minus the tragically high hair that plagued us in the early 90s. I hope she’s had the same amount of fun her mom and I had as kids. And I hope she’s blessed with the same kind of lasting friendship that can go all the way from fifth grade to grown kids. What a grand adventure.

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. 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: Daisy Duke, what have you done?

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

As a mom of three, part of my job is to buy clothes for whichever kid happens to be in the midst of a growth spurt. Right now it’s 9-year-old Kate, who will probably be another inch taller by the time you finish reading this column.

Last weekend, Kate and I went to the mall to find shirts and pants. With the weather warming up, she wanted some shorts, too. As we walked through several stores, I felt a quiet rage growing in my gut, just like it did last Spring and the one before that. I’d hoped that by now the fashion pendulum would have swung back the other way – away from the kind of shorts that are just a whisper away from a butt cheek.

Instead, the rash of “shorty-shorts” has spread from the teens and tweens departments to the sections intended for girls as young as Kindergarten. Not only does the fashion world want me to “drink the Kool-Aid,” they’re shorty shortsalso trying to convince me that the Kool-Aid is as wholesome as water. One pair of ultra-short denim cut-offs had a promotional sign hanging over it that read “Short and Sweet.”

Short and sweet? Um, no. Sweet is not the s-word I’d use to describe it. The word sultry might work. Or how about slightly creepy? Perhaps the most accurate s-word for it is “sick.” There’s something wrong about R-rated shorts on girls young enough to write letters to Santa.

Maybe I’m just a big ol’ prude. Maybe I’m channeling my inner Church Lady. But when my daughter gets dressed, I want her to look like she’s headed for third grade, not to the set of Solid Gold.

I asked a store clerk if she had something a little longer, and she said, “Oh, yes. Every year we have mothers who ask for longer shorts, and we do have this one style over here.” She led me to one rack of white denim shorts that came down to mid-thigh.

That was it. One option. Meanwhile, over in the boys and men’s departments, there’s not a pair of shorty-shorts in sight. Instead there are comfy, loose-fitting, knee-length athletic shorts. It begs the question: If shorty-shorts are so “sweet” on little girls, why aren’t the boys wearing them, too?

There are plenty of good moms and dads who don’t think this is a big deal. But what might not be a big deal today has a way of snowballing with time. If parents put a stamp of approval on shorty-shorts for a 9-year-old, what is she going to wear when she turns 15 and wants to be shocking? A sheer body stocking, maybe? I don’t want to find out.

Despite the frustration, there’s at least a hint of hope because, according to that sales clerk, I’m not the only mother asking for a more modest option. The fashion world might not know it yet, but some of us are trying to turn our girls into strong, kind women – not successful exotic dancers.

So to all my fellow parents who are with me in the trenches, thank you for searching for something respectable in a sea of shorty-shorts.

Thanks also to dance teachers who refuse to put performers in midriff-baring outfits just because all the other dancers are doing it. Throwing a few sequins on scraps of spandex and calling it a “costume” doesn’t make it right.

Thank you to the school principals who enforce a dress code that demands decency. And thank you to the few stores offering clothes that are cute and fun but don’t cross the line into “sassy and sexy.”

Without all of you, I might consider packing up and heading for Amish country.

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. 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: The myth of being caught up

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

Now and then something rare and remarkable happens, like a solar eclipse, or the birth of a hamster with two noses, or a mother of three who gets completely caught up on the laundry.

LaundryThat last one happened to me over the weekend and it felt great – for about five minutes. I surveyed the empty laundry baskets and congratulated myself because, for once, I seemed to be on top of things. Then I realized that, despite my total laundry domination, I was behind in at least half a dozen other areas. (Insert heavy sigh here.)

Normal people probably resign themselves to the reality of an overflowing inbox and an always-growing “to-do” list that never gets done. But I’m just stubborn enough to believe that, if I work harder and become more efficient, I’ll cross the last task off the list and feel a deep sense of peace and accomplishment.

I blame the Puritans and that pesky work ethic they passed down through the generations. For many of us, a “good day” is one in which we get a lot done. Some of us have become productivity junkies. We’ve never met a productivity app we didn’t want to download, and if there’s a new article or book about how to get more done, we want to read it.

If I totaled up the hours I’ve spent making lists or reading productivity books, there’s no telling how many projects or loads of laundry I could have done in that amount of time.

But I’m beginning to think that being “caught up” is an urban myth, much like Bigfoot. People say it exists but nobody has seen it up close. Even the so-called photographic evidence is sketchy at best. The elusive beast is always disappearing into the woods, just out of reach.

I know many hard-working people. They’re smart, highly capable, disciplined and motivated. Sometimes I bump into them around town and ask how they’re doing. Not one of them has ever answered that question with “Great! I’m completely caught up on what I need to do.” Most of them respond with something like this: “Good. Just really busy. It seems like there’s so much going on all the time.”

I wonder if they ever feel like I do – like no matter how much I do, it’s never quite enough.

charlie brown footballIt reminds me of how Charlie Brown felt when he’d run full steam toward the football with every intention of kicking it, only to have Lucy pull it away at the last second. He’d end up flat on his back, wondering how it happened again.

But one of the reasons we love Charlie Brown is because he never gives up the quest to kick the ball. Even when the ball gets moved further away, even when he has tried and failed, he knows the ball is still out there. The possibility of kicking it keeps him running at it with all he’s got.

So perhaps we should redefine what it means to have a good day. Maybe a good day is one in which we have opportunities worth running toward – a day when we’re healthy enough to work at something, no matter how fast or slow we’re able to go. And if we have friends around who help us up when we fall, what more could we ask for?

As for me, I’ll just ask for time – time to run at it again tomorrow and time to rest when I’ve run too hard. As the wise, four-legged philosopher Snoopy once wrote, “Happiness is a new day.”

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. 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: Make a mistake

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

Chocolate chip cookies, the Slinky, Play-Doh, Post-It notes, and potato chips. The one thing they all have in common is this: They’re losers.

Big fat mistakes. Accidents. Epic fails. None of them turned out to be the thing they were intentionally meant to be, and yet they’ve become household names. How did the thing we all fear so much – failure – turn into a lucky break for the people behind the inventions?

cookie-1264231_640For the cookie, it was a simple matter of “failure to melt.” In 1930, a woman named Ruth Wakefield, who was co-owner of the Toll House Inn, was trying to make a chocolate dessert when she ran out of the chocolate she normally used. As a substitute, she used Nestle semi-sweet chocolate chips, but they didn’t melt as she’d hoped they would. The result? Cookies with chocolate chips inside. The failed recipe gave birth to the best cookie the world has ever known.

The popsicle was also a project that took a wrong turn at Albuquerque. In 1905, an 11-year-old boy named Frank Epperson tried to make homemade soda pop. As boys that age often do, he got distracted from his project and left a bowl of his homemade soda pop sitting outside with the stir stick still in the bowl.

The temperatures dropped overnight, and when Frank came back to the bowl the next morning, he had a sweet frozen treat on a stick. More than 100 years later, our hot summer days wouldn’t be the same without Frank’s mistake.

But perhaps my favorite example of failure-turned-phenomenon might just be the story about two scientists working for the 3M company in 1968. One of them, Spencer Silver, was having a rough day at the office when his mission to invent a really strong adhesive failed miserably. Instead, he ended up with an extremely weak adhesive that would allow paper to be peeled off of anything.

The wimpy adhesive sat on the shelf for almost six years until a fellow scientist named Arthur Fry needed a bookmark for his church hymnal, preferably something that wouldn’t hurt the book’s pages. He remembered the failed adhesive and its lightly sticky quality that allowed it to be easily moved, and an idea came to mind.

Most people at the company didn’t think it would work as a real product – these sticky yellow squares. But in 1980 they gave it a shot, and now desks and cubicles in more than 100 countries around the world are covered in Post-It notes.

What I like most about these true stories is how they reinforce the value of making mistakes. They show me that we’re meant to make them because we’re humans and not robots. Mistakes are the things that teach us the most and propel us forward – either on the path we were originally on or in a whole new direction. Either way, we’re moving, growing and gaining wisdom, which is so much better than staying safely stuck right where we mistake post it noteare.

Whether it’s making a sale, writing a book, creating art or baking a chocolate dessert, we must be willing to mess up, to look stupid, to waste our time. It’s hard to do, and a big part of me wants to resist it because mistakes can be heartbreaking, humiliating, frustrating and even scary. But they can also be the stepping stone to something amazing.

So perhaps we should all grab a pen and one of those wildly successful Post-It notes and write down this reminder: Be willing to make a mistake. You never know when it might turn into a chocolate chip cookie.

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. 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.