The Rockwood Files: Ripple in the gene pool

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

Sometimes genetics can be cruel. Often the things you hope won’t get passed down to your kids are the very things that show up and start banging on the door.

In our family of five people, there are 18 eyes, if you count all the glasses and contact lenses it takes for us to navigate around the house without bumping into things. So far, only 10-year-old Jack has managed to cruise out of the eye doctor’s office without a prescription for glasses or contacts.

I might say he’s the lucky one of our group, but genetics has a way of evening things out. He’s also the one who is destined for not one but two sets of braces on his teeth, thanks to some seriously jacked up dental DNA he got from me. Sorry, kid.

Since Tom and I are both nearsighted, we knew our kids would most likely need glasses one day, too. We’ve been keeping an eye out for the tell-tale signs of glasses katevision problems – squinting, sitting too close to the TV, or running up to hug strangers and calling them Dad.

As a kid, I managed to skate through four years’ worth of annual eye exams before the school nurse figured out I was guessing at all the answers and, in fact, couldn’t see 80 percent of what other kids saw. When an eye doctor confirmed that I did, indeed, need glasses, it felt like a social death sentence. In the early 80s, it was not cool to wear glasses. Not even a little bit.

Back then, manufacturers weren’t designing and marketing to tweens and teens the way they do now, so there were only about 3 different styles of glasses for kids my age. The one thing those styles had in common was that they were all ugly. You just picked a certain color of ugly and that was that. “Here’s your glasses, kid. Good luck being a nerd in middle school.”

I put on those cursed glasses and walked dejectedly out of the eye doctor’s office, staring down at my feet. My mother led me out onto the sidewalk of Main Street and I looked up and saw the world for what felt like the first time. I noticed the leaves before anything else. What had once been fuzzy blobs hovering around tree trunks suddenly transformed into amazing shapes with defined edges and rich colors.

Then I looked down Main Street and marveled at how I could clearly read the word “stop” on the bright red sign even though it was a few blocks away. It felt like a revelation. That’s when I decided that even though glasses were ugly, seeing clearly is beautiful.

Glasses and fashion have changed dramatically since I was a kid because now there are a million cute frames to choose from. And the “smart look” is most decidedly “in.”

Seven-year-old Kate recently joined our family’s four-eyes club, and her bright blue frames look great with her blonde hair and blue eyes. But here’s one more odd ripple in the gene pool: Kate has 20/20 vision yet still needs glasses for reading. She sees things at a distance perfectly, but hold a book in front of her and she sees two books, or two lines of piano music, or two math worksheets. Thanks to special lenses that correct double vision, Kate’s life is a whole lot less crowded these days.

Genetics can be both friend and foe and none of us ever quite know what we’re going to get. All we can do is hope for the best and keep smiling as we backstroke through the mysterious gene pool.

gwen rockwoodGwen 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 new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

The Rockwood Files: Back to school angst

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

Our 12-year-old groans every time he sees a back-to-school commercial, which lately seems to happen once every five seconds. (I can’t blame him. When adults go on vacation, the last thing we want is to be constantly reminded that our regular jobs are about to start up again on Monday morning.) So my kids are milking these last few days of freedom for all they’re worth – wearing pajamas until noon, playing Marco Polo in the pool and enjoying lazy evenings without a hint of homework.

back-to-school3The kids may think I’m ancient, but I’m young enough to remember the special brand of angst that comes with the first day of school. The one that stands out most in my mind is the night before the first day of fifth grade.

Fifth grade was a big deal because, in the town where I grew up, it was a kid’s first departure from the sheltered simplicity of elementary school. It was separated from all the other grades and housed in a building across town – sort of like Lord of the Flies, only with backpacks. I’m not sure if school officials set fifth grade apart because there was no room in the elementary school building or because they wanted to protect the rest of the town, just in case all that pre-teen hyperactivity were to spontaneously combust.

I spent the last half of the summer of 1983 worrying about what I should wear on the first day of fifth grade. It had to be something way cooler than what kids wore to elementary school – that much was certain. So my mother took me back-to-school shopping at the Belk department store on Main Street and I found a red and white outfit made by Esprit, a brand that was uber-cool for 10-year-old girls. The jeans had this red belt that put the final, fashionable touch on what I hoped would be the outfit to launch me into fifth grade popularity.

The night before the first day of school, I laid out my new outfit so everything would be ready to go the next morning. But where was the cute red belt? It was missing! I double and triple checked my closet. I looked in the laundry room, the shopping bag, the car, and every square inch of our house. It was just gone, and I was devastated.

My mother kept saying something ridiculous like, “Just wear a different belt,” as if that was the obvious solution to a trivial problem. And I didn’t have enough tearful words to explain to her how my entire fifth grade identity and future happiness hinged on that one red belt that was now, in a cruel twist of fate, lost forever – probably floating around in the same black hole where stray socks, sunglasses and signed permission slips go.

More than 30 years later, it seems absurd that I shed tears over a red belt the night before fifth grade, but it made perfect sense at the time. Because the tears were really about fear – of the unknown, of not fitting in, of being in a new situation that you don’t feel old enough to handle. And of course there’s always the dread of dealing with “the jerk,” and every school year tends to come with at least one of those.

Sometimes we grown-ups don’t give kids enough credit for just getting through the first day of school. Every year it’s like clearing another emotional hurdle, and any number of things – like locker location, homeroom assignment or even a missing red belt – can trip a kid up. The first day of school requires much more than notebooks and No. 2 pencils. It takes guts. For all those kids facing yet another new adventure, good luck and Godspeed.

gwen rockwoodGwen 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 new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

The Rockwood Files: Lessons from the old school

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

I tossed a new book into the beach bag and headed out the door with the kids to swim team practice. We both dove in – me into a world of words and them into the bright blue water of the pool.

A few pages into the book, I realized I was pressing my thumb into the right-hand margin of the page, expecting it to automatically flip the same way it does when I read books on my Kindle or smartphone. Nothing happened, of course, and I laughed at how easy it was to forget that my old-school real-life book wasn’t going to react to a touch the same way an electronic one does.

As much as I love reading electronic books, it’s nice to hold the real deal in my hands again and use a pen to underline my favorite parts. New technology is great, but there are a few things worthy of a visit back to how it used to be.

One of the best things that has happened for my kids this summer is discovering the magic of an old-fashioned record player. It was a gift from our friends John and Susan, who have been so dear to our family for so long that they have earned honorary uncle and aunt status with my kids. When they arrived for a visit this summer, the kids looked skeptical when Uncle John hauled in a large carrying case with a Califone record player inside which he’d bought from eBay.

califone record player“Your kids are really going to like this,” he said as he set up the record player and slipped an ancient album out of its plastic sleeve and onto the turntable. “Trust me on this. Just give it a little time.”

At first, the kids stared at the record player as if Uncle John had just hauled a dusty dinosaur fossil into the house. They’d never seen anything like it. He showed them how to put a record on and how to switch the setting from 33 to 45, depending on the size of the record. Then he showed them how to set the needle down ever so gently on the rim of the record and watch it glide across the vinyl.

I loved the record player because it reminded me of the one I had in my bedroom as a kid. And I wished I’d kept all those old records I used to play over and over, like Eddie Rabbit’s “Drivin’ My Life Away” and Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” I remembered how excited I was the first time I got the Grease Album and unfolded it to see the movie photos of John Travolta and Olivia Newton John inside.

But it wasn’t nostalgic for my kids, who have never known any other way to play music other than touching a playlist on a smartphone. Would the magic exist for them, too?

After a few days of spinning records, the kids are hooked. Their favorite record so far is a Disney long-playing album that includes songs from The Jungle Book, Lady and the Tramp, Snow White and many more. When 7-year-old Kate goes missing, I can usually find her sitting by the record player listening to the song “Everybody Wants to Be a Cat.”

Uncle John said the only thing as much fun as playing records is finding more records at the thrift store for 50 cents or a dollar. The kids found one called “Never Smile at a Crocodile,” from the Peter Pan soundtrack, and we’ve heard it a few jillion times now – a new record for what is a very old record.

We love all things technology and gadgets and progress, but I’ve got to admit that there’s something pretty wonderful about an occasional spin back in time to the “old school.”

gwen rockwoodGwen 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 new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

The Rockwood Files: Road warriors back from battle

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

We made it. Dragging in past midnight, bleary-eyed with sore behinds from more than 10 hours sitting in the car, we each fell into our own beds after spending several nights away and decided that these are, in fact, the best beds in the whole world. The only thing as great as the excitement of vacation is the sweet relief of being home again.

road trip1I’ll admit that our generation has it much easier than our road-tripping ancestors. The portable DVD player, smartphones, audio books and iPads have been a game changer in getting families across the country in relative peace and harmony.

But that doesn’t mean the trip is without challenges. Here are three we faced while getting our family 650 miles up the road and back again.

Bathroom breaks: Some families love them and see them as a great excuse to get out, explore a little and stretch the legs. But those of us on a quest to “make good time” see them as an unavoidable nuisance.

Choosing the right place to stop reminds me of that old game show “Let’s Make a Deal,” when people had to pick a number and hope what was behind Door Number Three was something good and not a donkey wearing a sombrero. When you pick a bad bathroom stop, you’ll see things you can never un-see and there’s not enough hand sanitizer in the world to make you feel clean again.

Restaurant roulette: Ask a family of five where they want to stop for lunch and you’ll get five different answers. And so begins the inevitable 45-mile discussion on where we should stop. There are plenty of apps that’ll help you find good restaurants, but, as far as I know, there’s not an app called “Make these people agree on where to eat.” If you find that one in the App Store, let me know.

Getting to the restaurant from the freeway exit ramp can also be frustrating, particularly if your driver is skeptical about the GPS lady’s ability to navigate there successfully.

Me: “The GPS lady says we should turn left in 1.2 miles.”

Him: “What? That can’t be right. I don’t think she knows what she’s talking about. Do we have a map in here?”

Me (holding up the cellphone): “Yes, it’s called Google Maps and the lady is telling us where to go. Why do we even use the GPS if you’re not going to listen to her?”

Him: “I just think she’s wrong. If we end up getting lost, you’re going to wish we hadn’t listened to her.”

(Let the record show that if the GPS voice sounded more like a middle-aged father and less like a British lady, men would be much more agreeable on road trips.)

Sleep slump: All parents know that the best travelers are the unconscious ones. When I was a kid and my brother and I got whiny on road trips, Mom would tell us to go to sleep. And that was easy to do because we had one of those whale-sized station wagons where we could stretch out full-length with a pillow and a sleeping bag.

The sheer boredom mingled with the rhythmic sounds of the highway lulled us into a sleep that made hundreds of miles feel like minutes, and we’d only wake up when Dad stepped on the brakes too hard and sent us skidding into the back of the seat.

But these days we’re informed enough to know that seatbelts aren’t optional, so unless a kid can learn to sleep sitting up, there’s not much chance of scoring an extended nap.

Kids: “Mom, how much further is it?”

Me: “It’s about one and a half movie DVDs or 15 levels of Candy Crush, depending on how good you are. I’ll let you know when the GPS lady says we’re close.”

Him (muttering): “You can’t trust that lady.”

Did I mention it feels good to be home? Here’s hoping you and yours have a happy road trip.

gwen rockwoodGwen 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 new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

The Rockwood Files: Refrigerator shame

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

My refrigerator made a fool of me today. This morning when I came downstairs to the kitchen, it was croaking – loudly. It sounded like an elderly frog was frog in rocking chairinside it, sitting in a creaky rocking chair that got louder each time he rocked back. I could hear it across the room.

So I did what most of us do when a complex piece of machinery starts to make a weird noise we don’t understand: I smacked it. But it went right on croaking at regular intervals, completely undeterred.

Having exhausted all my repair expertise with that unsuccessful smack on the side of the fridge, I called our appliance repair guy, Steve. I told him about the loud croaking noise and asked if he could swing by to check it out. With an out-of-town trip on the horizon, I wanted to make sure we didn’t come home to a dead fridge full of spoiled food.

A few hours later, Steve showed up at the door holding his appliance doctor bag, ready to inspect the refrigerator that sounded like it was croaking, both literally and figuratively. He followed me into the kitchen and we both sidled up to the refrigerator and listened – to nothing.

It had gone completely silent. All we could hear was the occasional clink of an ice cube falling into the freezer tray below.

“Just give it a minute. It was definitely croaking this morning, and it was loud. Tom heard it, too,” I said, hoping that an ear witness would make me seem less crazy.

So we waited. And waited, enveloped by the sound of silence. Embarrassed that I’d made a big deal out of what was turning into nothing, I did the only thing that can make this kind of situation even more awkward – I did my best impression of the croaking sound and asked what might make that kind of noise.

Steve did some official-looking diagnostic things, hoping to prove I wasn’t as nuts as I sounded. He laid down on the kitchen floor with his flashlight and peered underneath the fridge. Then he took a long screwdriver and scraped something out from under it which turned out to be the largest grey dust bunny I’ve ever seen. It was more like a dust bear. I think I even saw it move once.

With no croaking and no answers in sight, Steve pulled the refrigerator out from the wall so he could get a look behind it. That’s when I learned something I’m guessing is universally true, no matter how clean you think your kitchen is. Behind the refrigerator, we’re all slobs. All of us. It’s a nightmare back there. I’ve seen things I can’t ever un-see.

“Steve, is it this bad behind most people’s refrigerators?” I asked, ashamed of the dead dust bear at his feet and the wasteland of dust balls, crumbs, bread twist ties, and unidentifiable food fragments under the fridge.

“Oh, sure,” he said in the most non-judgmental way. (And that’s how you know you’ve got a good repair guy because he will reassure you that you’re not disgusting even when it’s obvious that you are.)

Steve let me clean a few things behind the fridge before pushing it back toward the wall, where it will likely gather another nine years’ worth of God-knows-what. He packed up his bag and said the loud croaking could possibly be the refrigerator’s fan on the fritz. It’s hard to know for sure because the fridge played a game of “quiet mouse” as soon as Steve showed up, so we’ll have to wait it out.

When it starts croaking again – and you know it will – I’m going to record it so I’ll have proof. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice and I’m getting a new fridge.

gwen rockwoodGwen 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 new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

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