The Rockwood Files: Dear Greg

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

Dear Greg,

April sucks. It really does. Each year as the calendar creeps closer to April 20th, the knot in my throat gets a little bigger each day until I’m nearly choking on the reality that I’ve missed you for another whole year.

It’s been 14 years now since I got that phone call that changed everything for me and for Mom and Dad. If I let myself, I can almost replay the conversation line by line. I can hear exactly how the police officer sounded when he told me you’d died.

“That can’t be right,” I said. “Are you sure? Are you sure?”

“We’re sure, ma’am. I’m sorry, but we’re sure.”

The days and months after that phone call are still a grey blur in my memory. When you’re 28 years old, you’re not supposed to write your brother’s obituary, so you try to block out as much of the shock and pain as your mind will allow.

The only things I remember clearly are a handful of moments that felt like some kind of text message straight from Heaven – a little sign here and there that made me feel like maybe you were still around, even though I couldn’t see you.

People who haven’t experienced a major loss might think those “signs” are just wishful thinking, and there’d be no point in trying to convince them otherwise. You believe it when it happens to you and not a moment sooner.

gregpic3Losing you has taught me so much about life and loss and grief and joy. I’ve learned that “getting through” a loss is the thing we have to hope for because the loss doesn’t really have a finish line, which makes “getting over” it impossible. When my kids do something funny that reminds me of us when we were growing up, I want to tell you about it so badly.

I want to sit around the table again with you and Mom and Dad and watch you eat more lasagna than any human should ever consume at one sitting and be partly grossed out and partly impressed at the same time. I want to hear the jokes you’d make about all the crazy things that have happened in the world since you left it. Nobody made me laugh the way you did.

Every time something happy or sad or funny or unbelievable happens and you’re not around, I feel the loss again – like a thousand little cuts that pierce deep enough to remind me about the grief that lives just under the surface.

But here’s the thing that makes it better. Now and then when I see something ridiculous on the news, the joke you probably would have made pops right into my head. So I just say it for you and take the credit. And my oldest son – the one who just turned 13 – he rolls his eyes almost exactly the way you did. Our middle kid, Jack, has hair that looks like yours did, and his little sister, Kate, hums while we’re in the car and it annoys her brothers the same way it annoyed you when I used to do it.

Gosh, I wish you were here to see it. But I also have a deep sense that you’re not really missing a thing – that you have a ringside seat to everything that happens and that you nudge a guardian angel in our direction any time we need it. Thanks for that. You always were a protective big brother. I’m lucky that way.

Love,

Gwen

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: Resting My Eyes

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

I opened my eyes and fought my way up toward the surface of consciousness after a deep, blissful sleep. The first thing I saw was 10-year-old Jack’s face, and I instantly recognized his expression of mildly frustrated disappointment.

I recognized it because, when I was his age, I felt and probably looked exactly the same way when my parents spent part of a weekend afternoon doing what I’d just done – sleep. I remember stomping around our house hoping the louder-than-usual footsteps would get my parents up from their comfortable positions on the sofa or in the recliner. Weren’t they bored by all this time doing nothing? Didn’t they know there were about a million more interesting things to do besides fall asleep with the Sunday newspaper folded across your chest?

I couldn’t understand how they could be so tired. I never felt tired. I was 10 years old and energy was as plentiful as air. Why were they so sleepy?

Thirty years later, I now know the answer to that question. And I understand exactly why sitting still for more than five minutes on anything remotely comfortable makes a parent’s eyes want to close. I even use the same line my mother used on me when one of my kids stands over me and asks a ridiculous question like this: “Mom! Mom! Are you sleeping?”

sleeping emoticon“Nope. Just resting my eyes. Now go play.”

When I was a kid, I thought my parents had the most tired eyes in the whole world. Maybe I inherited their eye fatigue because now that I’m a parent, my eyes often need rest on a Sunday afternoon, too.

Of course, I had pretty good excuses for last weekend’s slumber. It was probably because we got up super early and went to the Easter sunrise service at church. Or maybe it was the Easter egg hunting or the big lunch we had afterward. There’s also a chance I was suffering from a sugar crash because I may or may not have helped my son eat the ears off a chocolate bunny. (You could ask the bunny about it, but I doubt he’d hear you.)

When I settled down on the sofa during that lazy afternoon, I knew there were at least 50 other things that needed doing. On any given day, I’m at least two loads of laundry behind and, at the rate I’m going, I might not get around to spring cleaning until fall.

As much as I crave that feeling we get when we’re super productive, I knew what I needed was nothing more than some time to do nothing. Even Jesus – the most productive person who ever lived – knew when it was time to rest. Sometimes he’d get in a boat and cross a lake just to get a little time away from the throngs of followers so desperate for more time, attention and miracles.

So to my sweet boy Jack, believe me when I tell you I really do understand how frustrating it is when your parents are “resting their eyes” on the sofa during what you hoped would be an exciting afternoon. I get it. I know it’s boring. But I also know that one day you, too, might be blessed with kids of your own and, if you are, you’ll suddenly understand exactly why those “parental pauses” are so necessary.

When it happens to you, you can drop off your little bundles of energy at my house and then go home and rest your eyes, too. I won’t judge. Because everybody should experience the miracle of a soul-renewing nap.

pause sign

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: How Spring Break nearly broke me

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

The world that exists inside your own head is a much kinder, gentler world than the one outside. I know this because, inside my head, I’m younger, I’m better looking and I’m physically and mentally tough. Outside my head? Not so much. What happened this week has made that much painfully clear.

Yesterday was the first day of our kids’ week-long Spring break from school. The sun was shining, the temperatures were rising and I was determined to get us all out of the house to embrace the day.

pink-pantherSo we laced up our tennis shoes, strapped on our bike helmets and headed toward the closest bike trail. The first few minutes of the bike ride were lovely. The sun and breeze on my face made me feel like it was only yesterday that I was an 8-year-old girl racing up and down the street on my Pink Panther bicycle. It had hot pink streamers on the handles and a picture of the panther himself on the seat, and I was convinced it was the coolest, fastest bike in the world.

The bike I have now is not nearly as cool as that one. In fact, I’m pretty sure my bike has some kind of defect because – when it was time to pedal up the first big hill on our street – my bike wanted to give up, go home and watch reruns of Shark Tank. (If you have any doubts about whether or not you’re in good physical shape, try to ride a bike up a hill. Once you’re about 30% of the way up the hill, the verdict will be clear.)

I’ll admit I had to walk the bike up the steepest part of the hill, but I told the kids that it was only because I’d failed to build up enough speed before I attempted it. Next time, I’ll make it to the top with no problem, I said. But they didn’t hear me because they’d already zoomed ahead of me on their much faster bikes powered by their much younger legs.

Lucky for me, Tom was bringing up the rear of our five-person bicycle gang and he sympathized with my struggle. He told me that, once we reached the bike bike route signtrail, the hills wouldn’t be so bad. And he was right. The slopes were gentle and the whole experience was perfect right up until I started to notice that the seat on my bicycle might just be the worst thing ever manufactured. I’m convinced it could be used as some sort of torture device to get criminals to confess. Sitting on a bear trap would have been more comfortable.

You know that common phrase “a pain in the butt”? The first person who ever uttered those five words was undoubtedly sitting on my bike when she said it.

I tried shifting into a different position and even pedaling while standing up, but nothing seemed to help. By the end of our 6-mile ride, I was sure I might never sit again. Even as I type these words, I’m standing at the kitchen counter with my laptop because I can’t sit down again until the ibuprofen kicks in.

So for today’s Spring Break adventure, we’re going to go play miniature golf because, inside my head, I’m a very good golfer who’s also young, good-looking and can ride a bike up a steep hill at breakneck speed. (And as an added bonus, mini-golf requires no sitting whatsoever.)

Here’s hoping these first few days of warmer weather have been kind to you. Because over at my house, Spring Break is reminding me that I’m no spring chicken.

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 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 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: 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 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.