The Rockwood Files: Larry’s Legacy

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

This is not the column I planned to write today. What I had in mind was something light and funny, but if I tried to write those words today, they’d be hollow. Even worse, they’d be fake.

Because today isn’t light and funny. Today all I can think about is how our friend Jackie is dealing with the worst phone call of her life.

She’s had to follow that phone call with dozens more of her own, letting family and friends know that Larry, her husband of more than 25 years, died suddenly last night, even before the ambulance could get him to the hospital. She was on a business trip when the call came.

The shock of it is intense – not because Larry’s health had been perfect these past few years. He’d battled some serious health issues, but he’d come through the worst of them. The shock has more to do with how impossible it seems that a personality as big and wonderful as Larry’s could go silent in a matter of minutes. Even as I write these words, I’m still trying to believe it.

Though we aren’t related by blood, my kids have always called them “Uncle Larry and Aunt Jackie.” It bothered me that our kids didn’t have uncles and aunts who lived in the same town or even in the same state, and Larry and Jackie were our “old friends” – the kind you’ve known for a long time, the kind you’ll be friends with forever, the kind who have always felt like family. So honorary uncle and aunt status just seemed right, and my kids were blessed to know this local uncle and aunt who always brought the best snacks and played the fun games when we got together at the lake.

The last time I saw Larry was a few months ago at the grocery store, which was perfect because there was a long-standing joke about how much he loved making a daily trip to Walmart. Most men hate shopping, but I think I understand why Larry wasn’t one of them. He loved people and he loved food, and where else but the grocery store are you going to find both in such great supply?

bologna sandwichLarry was what I’d call “the real deal.” Though he’d had a long, successful career in business, he was never the least bit snobby. He loved catching up with friends and acquaintances. He knew exactly how to tell a funny story, and he could get just as excited about a bologna sandwich as he could about a steak dinner. When you talked to him, you got the gut feeling that he’d not only be willing to help you if you needed it but that he also wanted to help. He was the perfect combination of the three G’s – gregarious, generous and genuine.

Once the message on our voice mail about Larry’s death had registered in my brain, I heard four words pop into my head and I know exactly who put them there: “Take care of her.” And we will, Larry. We and the many people who’ve been blessed by your friendship will take care of the wife you loved so dearly. You can count on it.

So dear readers, if you believe in the power of prayer, like we do, I hope you will say one today for Jackie, who is suffering a tremendous loss. And perhaps we should say one for ourselves, too, that we might all realize just how quickly life can turn. Like him, may we leave behind a legacy of immeasurable love and kindness.

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: 5 steps for getting your way

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

Whether you’re forty-something or only 4, we all want our own way. Toddlers are especially insistent about getting their own way which is why you’ll often see one out in public having a meltdown when things haven’t gone well.

As we get older, we learn to relax a little but, underneath the seemingly mature, reasonable façade, we all want what we want.

So here’s a handy how-to guide for how to shift the odds in your favor, especially when dealing with kids. (Feel free to try them on spouses and co-workers, too.) Some might think these steps are sneaky or manipulative. I’d just call them “effective.”

Step 1: Make it easy for them to do it your way.

We humans always want the quickest, easiest way to get something done. If this weren’t true, the remote control wouldn’t exist. Arrange the circumstances so that “your way” is also the easiest and simplest way, and your odds of success shoot way up.

The only reason our kids have shoes on is because I set up shoe cubbies right by the car in our garage so it’s easy to dump shoes into a bin before they go into the house. Without this system, the kids would track mud into the house daily and never be able to find a pair of matching shoes when it’s time to leave.

Step 2: Brag, don’t nag.

Okay, so maybe there’s no way to eliminate nagging completely. But it is easier to get people to do stuff when they think that you think they’re awesome at that particular task. I once made our oldest organize a closet and the results were so good that I bragged on it for months. Now when I need something organized, I recruit him for the job and he reports for duty with much less grumbling because he knows I admire his skills.

pizza-sliceStep 3: Incentivize with pizza.

This one’s easy and is especially effective during growth spurts when kids get hungry about once every 17 minutes. When they don’t want to do it your way, tell them there’s a pizza in it for them. Works every time.

Step 4: Play a mind game.

There are two times in a kid’s life – toddlerhood and the teenage years – when he or she is sure they do NOT want to do anything that you think might be a good idea. During these phases, you may need a strategically-timed mind game.

When one of our boys was a vegetable-hating toddler, I made green peas for dinner and told him not to eat any because it was a grown-up food. Fast forward nine years. He still eats green peas as if they’re M&Ms.

Check. Mate.

Step 5: Play the “Mom Card.”

When all else fails, and it often does, I play the “Mom Card.” When they start whining about how hard their chores are, I remind them that giving birth wasn’t so easy either and that I did it not one but three times.

They roll their eyes immediately and say, “Aw, Mom! You always say that.” And they’re right. I do always say it because it’s always true and it’s impossible to trump the Mom Card. To maximize the effect of the Mom Card, just add exaggerated details of the birth or what happens if you have a surprise sneeze at the same time as a full bladder. They’ll do anything just to make you stop talking.

That’s it – five easy steps to world domination. Use one or multiple steps until you achieve the desired effect. Go forth and use your powers wisely.

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: Color me happy

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

As soon as I spotted it at the bookstore last week, I wanted to slap my forehead and say, “Of course! Brilliant! Why didn’t I think of that?”

I rushed my copy of the “Zen Coloring Book” up to the front counter so I could pay for it. Yes, I’m a 42-year-old woman who got giddy about a new coloring book. But this is not your preschooler’s coloring book. This one is for grown-ups.

adult coloring bookSimilar books are sometimes called “mandalas” or “adult coloring books.” (A friend pointed out that the phrase “adult coloring book” might make some people think that the pictures are of things you might see on a naughty pay-per-view channel. Trust me, it’s not that kind of book.)

For adults like me who never outgrew our love of coloring, these books are amazing. Most of them contain intricate patterns – geometrics, florals and the kinds of things you might see in a kaleidoscope or a stained glass window – and all they need is someone who finds it fun and relaxing to sit and color them in with a handful of fine-point Sharpie markers or gel pens. And it’s much easier to feel like a normal adult when you’re coloring complex patterns and shapes instead of your daughter’s book of Disney princesses. (Not that I’ve ever done that… more than a few times.)

Coloring books for grown-ups have recently exploded in popularity, with skyrocketing sales in stores and online. Reports documenting the trend have appeared in Time magazine and the Boston Globe. Most of the coloring books are marketed as “stress relievers.” And perhaps that helps explain why so many of us still love this simple hobby – because it forces us to be quiet and still and focused, three things we rarely get in our hurry-up-and-do-more society.

The stress relief is definitely an added bonus, but, for me, coloring offers a chance to do three important things: Number 1: It lets me do something that will stay done. I do laundry and dishes all the time but they get “undone” again in less than a day.

Number 2: Coloring lets me make something beautiful, and humans have a hard-wired need to create – whether it’s a meal, a book, a detailed report at the coloring zenoffice, or just a pretty picture.

Number 3: Coloring appeals to my inner control-freak. Talk to anybody who colors and they’ll eventually admit that controlling what color goes where gives us a little thrill. When one of my kids offers to “help” me color my picture, I promptly hand them one of their own pictures to color. (Is it not enough that I shared my body with you for 9 months, kid? Can I just color my own picture?)

At first I was worried that the kids would catch me coloring and think I’d mentally reverted back to preschool. Instead, they grabbed a few pens and a picture and sat down beside me because they still like to color, too.

Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a purple Sharpie with my name on it. And that picture isn’t going to color itself.

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: Sympathetic exhaustion

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

I crawled into bed last night earlier than usual feeling completely exhausted. That swim meet really wore me out.

But I didn’t swim a single stroke.

The kids did, though. They swam freestyle races, backstroke races, breaststroke races and a couple of relay races, too. And even though Tom and I were in the stands watching and cheering them on, by the end of the night it felt like I’d raced my heart out as well.

Every time the announcer said, “Swimmers, take your mark,” a ball of nervous energy ballooned up in my chest. Then when the starting buzzer sounded, I stood up as the kids dove into the pool and held my breath while they sliced through the water as fast as they could go.

“Go, Kate, go! Keep going, Jack. You’ve got it! You’ve got it!” I yelled from the stands which were at least 20 yards away and above the pool. It occurred to me several times that my little racers couldn’t hear a single word I was saying, particularly when their ears were under water while doing the backstroke.

But I kept cheering like a maniac anyway because it was the only way to deal with that ball of nervous energy swelling up in my chest. As they swam the length of the pool, I felt myself walking the length of the viewing stands, as if I could somehow help them swim faster if I drifted along with them.

When the kids touched the finish wall, I jumped up and down and waved my arms around as if I was on fire so they could see me celebrating for them. I high-fived Tom and then flashed a thumbs-up to the kids as they wrapped a towel around their shoulders after climbing out of the pool.

Then I’d sit down, catch my breath and wait for their next race to start, which would begin the whole process anew. After eight starts and eight close finishes, the two-hour swim meet was over and we met our racers on the pool deck.

kate resizedOne of them was elated with two blue ribbons. One was devastated over a race lost by a fraction of a second. On the drive back home, I rode the waves of both high and low emotions spilling out of the back seat. Happy. Sad. Joyous. Frustrated. Thrilled. Downcast. We went to a burger joint and alternately celebrated and drowned our sorrows in a chocolate shake.

By the end of dinner and the bottom of the chocolate shake, the group consensus was that we were happy for the victories and looking forward to the chance to race for redemption some other day. (And really happy about the chocolate shakes.)

One of the many things they don’t tell you when you bring a baby home from the hospital is that you won’t just stand by watching your children’s adventures. Your heart will go on all those adventures with them. You feel the nerves and the adrenaline. And you most definitely feel the thrill of victory and the sting of defeat.

Their highs and lows get added to the ones you’ve already got on your own. It’s quite a roller coaster – one that sometimes requires an earlier bedtime just to recover and recharge. But oh, what a blessing to be on the ride.

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: Married to a frequent flyer

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

Well, that was a first. I just finished a conversation with my husband and there was 30,000 feet of vertical space between us at the time. Using the plane’s Wi-Fi connection – which they charge you for, of course – he texted me from a flight headed for… somewhere. He probably told me, but I’ve already forgotten. Chicago? D.C.? It might be one of those. At some point all the itineraries start to blur together.

Lately his job has him winging his way around the country pretty often, which has forced us to adjust to a new normal at our house. We’re getting used to american-airlines-planeseeing luggage by the door, and the kids know that although the end of the day might not bring Dad home, the end of the work week will.

When the kids were babies and toddlers, I thought Tom was lucky to go on trips. Business dinners with no chicken nuggets. Hotel rooms with housekeeping. Plenty of adult conversations. And a chance to temporarily escape the daily dirty diapers and the sibling arguments about who’s a “stupid head.” What’s not to like, right?

But now that the kids are older and I’m no longer supervising everyone’s bodily functions, it’s easier to run the family headquarters alone when Tom has to be away. But that doesn’t mean I like it. (Okay, truth be told, I kind of like it the first night he’s away because I get to watch whatever cheesy, dumb romantic comedy I want without hearing a single complaint or tolerating his eye-rolling. But after that first night of complete remote control domination, I start to miss him. His absence makes the week drag by, and my nerves seem to fray more easily.) Parenting just works better as a tag team sport.

Though I used to envy those business trips, I now often feel sorry for him as he packs up for yet another trip. Though I don’t travel extensively, the trips I’ve had through airports in the past few years have felt more like a cattle drive, only not as glamorous. (After all, cows are never badgered about the size of their carry-on luggage, and they don’t have to put their tiny shampoo bottles in Ziploc bags. Lucky bovines.)

For the most part, business trips require rushing, waiting and logistical juggling, not to mention the patience to endure a drastic reduction in your personal space while you and hundreds of strangers are crammed into increasingly tight spaces. (At least a cattle drive happens on the wide open range.) I’ll pass on the cute packets of airplane peanuts if it means I don’t have to shuffle and shimmy down a crowded airplane aisle and then lunge toward the last scrap of overhead bin space. I’d much rather sprawl out on the sofa at home and watch reruns of dumb romantic comedies. But maybe that’s just me.

Of course, there are plenty of great reasons to travel – reasons that make the not-so-pleasant parts of getting there more than worth it. Seeing the ocean for the first (or tenth) time; hugging family members who live several states away; tasting pineapple on the beaches of Hawaii – all great reasons. But schlepping through airports and nondescript hotel rooms to see the inside of yet another conference room is not nearly as exciting as it might seem on the surface.

So to my sometimes travel-weary beloved, and to all of those who earn a living while earning frequent flyer miles (even when they’d rather be home), you have my admiration and my sympathy, too. May your free upgrades to first class be frequent. May your headphones be noise-cancelling. And may you safely come home again soon.

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.