Little Big Momma Gets Her Back to School Freakshow On

It’s my last day of summer. No, I don’t live in one of those northern, unforgiving environments where it might top off at 60 degrees before blizzard season hits. I live in one of those southern, unforgiving environments where the forecast usually calls for a high around hellish. On a good day, we are treated to mildly hellish with a chance of showers.

Summer is over because I’m a teacher. I feel a little as if this summer signifies the closing of chapter entitled “Rare and Elusive Sanity”, as I’m back to teaching full-time for the first time since May ’06. Realistically though, I’ve always been neurotic, regardless of the work hours, and I frequently teeter on the edge of the abyss. I never exaggerate. And I’m not at all sarcastic, either.

The big question is, am I ready for school to start? I’d love to give a decisive answer, but my brain is a house divided. Periodically in my on/off again teaching career, I’ve mourned the loss of stay-at-home-mom-dom. As anger is part of any grieving process, naturally I get mad at God.

“You’ve robbed me of these precious years with my children!!!!” I would cry, defiant fist held high. “Think of the children!!!”

I imagine this response from the Almighty, elbow resting on the side of the throne, chin in hand, replying tonelessly, “Really? You wanna go there?”

Hmm. Probably not.

First, I can’t say that I’m always the best steward of my time. This summer, I’m juggling time with the girls, a mountain of work to do in preparation for school, and stealing time to write. We’re coming dangerously close to having a leadership team together for our new church, and I will be assisting with a women’s bible study for the next couple of months. Without really thinking about whether I had time or not, I started training for a marathon and fundraising for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. I’ve got stuff to do. And yet, this is how I spent my morning–

In my defense, an open bible was sitting right next to me on the bed the whole time. I did read it...

In my defense, an open bible was sitting right next to me on the bed the whole time. I did read it…

Before we hit the road for Texas a few weeks ago, I attempted to get the house good and clean. “No one wants to come home to a dirty house,” my mom used to say as she handed out assignments for the kids to complete. Ewww…she’s right. We want to enter a clean home after a day in the car.

So I set about accomplishing this task, after a couple (or three…maybe more) monstrous tantrums at Wal-Mart wherein I had to explain to that sweet, well-meaning stock boy that the five year old shrieking on the aisle 5 floor was not lost. She’s just…mine.

And that’s how it’s done in the summer. Spend a few hours at the pool, have your will to live ironically sucked out of you at the mega chain which claims to help you “live better,” and then try to force a chore list onto your cherubic heirs.

I endured a couple more tantrums because my older daughter, who has always been a little OCD about cleanliness, chose that particular day to decide that she no longer likes to clean and most certainly is NOT mommy’s little helper. Well, excuuuuse me. This is the child who got in big trouble–more than once, mind you–for cleaning her sister’s room without permission. Without my permission. Without her sister’s permission–i.e., throwing away things (artwork) that look like trash and any item (toy) that she can’t find a place for because “she doesn’t even use it!” Good heavens, child. I can’t even get away with that.

Then Little Sister makes a good show of her temper, and I was about to cave because, who am I kidding, I can do it better in a fraction of the time. But suddenly, a miracle. She decides that cleaning’s not so bad with frequent costume changes. She scrubbed the bathroom in her finale outfit. It was stunning–the outfit and the bathroom. I wouldn’t have to re-do it. Huzzah!

Pause the drama for a quick pic.

At this, I can finally turn my attention to the kitchen, which has been too long neglected. While I’m holding my nose, digging through a stack of dishes out of a filthy sink, Eden is vacuuming with a machine whose filter has likewise been neglected. It is doing a fine job of sucking dog hair from the floor evermore blowing dust out the back.

I hung my head in shame at the realization that the backseat of my car is cleaner than my house. Maybe after a day in the car we should just…stay in the car. It’s a miracle God trusted me with children, much less staying home with them all day, year-round.

But today, I moved things along by promising a trip to the pool. I finished up the above nonsense on Facebook and turned my attention to my journal, which is really the only way I can pray with the kids in the house. They had continuously interrupted everything all morning and sure didn’t slow down because I was in talks with God. Emma Kate was babbling excitedly when I finally rose from my bed work station. Then she said something kind of garbled–like the teacher in the old Peanuts cartoons–something about mouthwash and Big Momma.

“Did you just call me…Big…Momma?” I asked incredulously. And what are you insinuating about my breath???

She was too happy about swimming to be contrite. She giggled, “Yeees.”

“Let me tell you something. I’m no Big Momma. I’m Appropriately Sized Momma. The bulges are all…proportional…mostly…” She continues to giggle. Disappearing into the closet, I glance around, and given her assessment of my shape (as unfair and inaccurate as it is), I make a decision. “Girls, Momma can’t find her suit. I can’t get in the water. Shucks and darn it.”

Now we’re at the pool. I’m smiling because the girls are getting along, playing together, and wearing themselves completely out. We’ll be glad for that at bedtime. I continue smiling because there’s a woman here having more problems with her two girls than I am with mine. That little one’s shriek rivals EK’s, which is something most people describe using the words “bloody murder.” It’s okay, lady. Remember the steps. Call your sponsor. See you in group.

At night, I’ve been counting down the waning hours of my summer vacation with a phenomenon I’d completely forgotten about since I left teaching full-time.

Stress dreams.

You’ve had them, right? Anyone? Teachers, haven’t you had that dream in the late summer where you’re going over your procedures with a class of 8th graders on the first day of school and suddenly, to your horror, you realize that you’ve got nothing on but your skivvies? No? Just me?

This summer I’ve had some loo-loos, let me tell you, and the one I’m about to relate goes in the record books. I think its accurate interpretation would have something to do with the fact that Katie doesn’t do stress well and has too many irons in the fire. Here it goes…

In this dream we were staying at my friend Laurie’s house, which is less than a mile from where I live. This would, like most things in dreamland, make no sense if it weren’t for the fact that we stayed with Laurie and her family on about five occasions last year while we were making arrangements to move to Arkansas. I was, at that time, very, very stressed. Back to the dream, I’m feeling all this guilt that we are being an imposition to these lovely friends of ours for the umpteenth time. To compensate, I’m wrangling my children, trying to keep the peace and not be such a nuisance. At the same time, I have piles and piles of books with me, which act as an excruciating reminder that I have got to get out of there and go study. But how could I dump my kids on these poor folks when they have done so much for us already?

At this point, the dream merges with a recurring nightmare that I’ve been having since college, in which I’m late for school but no matter what I do, I can’t get out of the house. Ordinary things like breakfast and dressing take hours. Frantically I check the clock again and again. Each time my anxiety grows and grows. Eight thirty. Nine forty-five. Eleven o’clock…

In this version of the dream, I’m panicking over the hours on Laurie’s clock and trying to get my family out of her door. And just when I think the anxiety is more than I can bear, I realize that I simply can NOT leave the house without my…

Wait for it…

Jogbra.

You read that right. The climax to this drama broiling in my subconscious is the confounded absence of the appropriate women’s workout apparel. I’m turning over suitcases, rifling through closets and bureaus (not mine, remember), and running back and forth to each member of both the houses Beasley and Cox, wailing, “I’m LATE!! Where is it??? Where is my BRA????”

Now, Mr. Sandman, I don’t want to sound ungrateful. I’ve had some visits of late from your evil twin, Insomnia, and I’m okay with a bizarre dream here and there. But any latent phobia I may have regarding the availability of undergarments for high impact aerobic activity may stay safely housed in my unconscious. Please and thank you.

People keep asking me, “Are you ready for school to start?” I hardly know what to say.

So tell me, teachers? Are you ready? Feeling pressure? Weird dreams? Let’s hear it!

Confessions of a Christmas Junkie…or…Yes, Virginia, I Have Three Christmas Trees

 

The media wants us to be bitter about Christmas. Have you noticed that abrasive tone in commercials and TV shows? It’s like we’re expected to shift gears somewhere—as kids we are encouraged, nay, expected, to lose ourselves in the fantasy and believe. In what, I’m not sure; the media is pretty non-specific on what we’re putting our faith in. But then the brainwashers have us round a corner somewhere (right about the time we graduate college) and it becomes our holiday lot to dread the decorating, crowds, invading in-laws, wrapping gifts. If you’re skeptical about my take on this, check your TV listings. Dora saves Christmas. Two and a Half Men endure it by retelling the same jokes about Santa being a drunk. Or a pervert. Or both.

Me? I’m a Christmas junkie. The only thing I dread about Christmas is the day after—when I have eleven months to wait before I can get away with bringing out my Christmas trees. That’s right I said trees. Plural.

So here’s a little Christmas tale to lighten the hearts of even the Grinchiest Burgermeister.

Let me take you back to the days before Katie knew the truth about the fat bearded guy, when Christmas Eve was the most magical night of the year—the night of sugar plums, George Bailey, Ma in her kerchief, and all that jazz. And threats. Let’s not forget the Christmas threats. In the Prescott house in ’74, it went a little something like this.

“Now, Katherine,” Dad spoke sternly, “you have to go straight to bed and stay there. If you get out of bed and see Santa Claus, he won’t leave you any presents at all. You’ll be the only one with nothing to open.”

Sitting on the hearth dressed in her brand new pink footie jammies, little Katie nodded obediently before tucking her head in the fireplace for a look-see at the chimney innards. There it was—the point of entry. On this very night, Big Red himself would cram in that filthy space, feast on Mom’s famous Pringle cookies and milk, drop a treasure of gifts around our tree, and POOF—off he’ll go to repeat the process all through the neighborhood. All around town. All over the world!

Not that I needed any more convincing, but big brother Travis ratcheted things up a notch by whispering, “Last year, Katie, I actually heard the reindeer of the roof!” We were gazing up the dark chimney together.

I gasped. “Travis, really? You mean it?!”

“Uh-huh, and I heard sleigh bells right above my bedroom!”

Here I should make my apologies to readers who don’t “do” Santa. “Um-hmm. And THAT’S why we don’t do Santa Claus at our house! The lies! They lied to you!” Yes. Yes, they did. I admire you for going against the cultural grain and keeping your Christmas tradition focused solely on Jesus. He’s my very favorite, by the way, and we get and give a healthy dose of Him around our house. But, from a fundamentalist standpoint, this story from days of yore doesn’t improve any from here on, so I understand if you feel there’s more suitable reading material on another blog. Be warned, though. There’s a lot of belly aching out there over having to drag out all the Christmas ornaments, or about the obligatory office Christmas party and forced participation (growl) in the white elephant gift exchange. Or, even better, find one of those posts to give you the play by play on the atheists hell bent to bring down Christmas by asserting their right NOT to see baby Jesus on a courthouse lawn. Oy. Don’t get me wrong, it gets my back up when atheists mess with baby Jesus, and, yes, I feel I should be duly informed.  But for a few brief moments at Christmas, I will have my kerchief and my sugar plums.

Meanwhile, back to the fantasy…

Katie and her brand new Christmas jammies found themselves nestled, all snug in her bed, with echoes of Daddy’s Christmas Eve threat resounding in her head. Actually, to be more accurate, I wasn’t in my bed. Mimi and Poppie, beloved grandparents who had come to visit for Christmas, were in my bed. Anytime we had family in town, I gave up my room and slept in the study, which happened to be closest to the living room (ergo closest to the tree, presents, chimney, et al). This, I’m sure, is the reason why the threat on that Christmas Eve made such an impression.  Putting the four-year-old to sleep just feet away from all the action was risky. Dad was very specific. You are forbidden to see Santa.

I drifted off to sleep with Dad’s Santa sighting protocol mingling uneasily with Travis’ testimony of reindeer and sleigh bells. Something woke me up early the next morning. I’m not talking the typical 6:00 am Christmas morning kind of early. It was more like 3:30 am. I lay perfectly still, straining my ears for any jingling bells. After a few tense moments, I relaxed, convincing myself that it was a branch outside the window or the dog moving around on the patio. No sooner had I drifted off again, the sound jolted me awake once more. This time I sat straight up in bed, terrified. Gathering the covers around me, I listened intently. What IS that???

After a moment, my heart quit pounding so loudly in my ears that I was able to detect a soft droning sound, interrupted here and there by silence and startlingly loud snorts.

Any other night, I’d be reassured and calm. Snoring, that’s all. Someone in the house has a deviated septum. What a shame.

But I was not reassured nor in any way calm, because–like any other brainwashed toddler– I BELIEVED in Christmas. Therefore I KNEW that the only logical explanation was that the most famous overworked fat man in the whole world had succumbed to fatigue and fallen dead asleep in my living room. I mean, who could blame the guy? The whole wide world is a rather big place, and even if he skipped all the Jewish kids, all the fundamentalist humbugs, and Asia, he still had an awful lot of ground to cover in one night.

Woe is me! What do I do?

I remember with astonishing clarity the dilemma I faced as I listened to sawing logs just down the hall. On one hand, I recognized that it was my duty as a citizen of planet Earth to wake him up. Santa was a busy, busy man, and this was the big night! He most certainly had at least half the world left to visit. If he didn’t wake up, all those poor children around the globe would have nothing to open on Christmas day. Leaving him to snooze with his face in a plateful of Pringle cookies would be like wrapping kryptonite in Christmas paper and leaving it under Superman’s tree. On the other hand, if I intervened, as I knew I should, I would SEE Santa. Even though I could SAVE CHRISTMAS for every other boy and girl, my father had delineated the consequences of seeing Santa Claus in the clearest of terms. He won’t leave you any presents at all. You’ll be the only one with nothing to open.

To my great shame, I must admit, I didn’t save Christmas. I lay in bed, quaking in my footies, afraid to do the right thing, ashamed to do the wrong thing. That awful snoring continued—interminably, it seemed. I tossed and turned for an hour or two more, tortured by my misfortune, until my big brother broke through his bedroom door shouting, “It’s Christmas!”

Oh no, I thought somewhat guiltily, he’ll find Santa asleep in the cookies and he’ll lose all his presents. I had bought myself a spot on the naughty list for ‘75.

Sitting up in bed again, I heard the whole house come to life—shuffling, whispers, yawns, good mornings, and Travis’ running footsteps up and down the hall.  I could not face whatever waited for me on the other side of the study door. Someone’s Christmas was ruined, and I knew it should be mine.

About that time, Travis burst through my door, breathless. I fully expected him to announce that Santa was staying for breakfast and maybe we should drum up some carrots for the reindeer, but instead he blurted out, “Why are you still in bed??? It’s Christmas! Let’s go!!”

That’s all the prompting I needed. All must be well! And it was. The stockings were full to overflowing—just like last year and the year before—and toys, glorious toys, sat gleaming under the colored lights.

Years and years later, I pieced it all together. Travis must have clued in about Santa Claus that year. My mother certainly gave him a little pep talk to soothe any disappointment, which probably included the suggestion that he could now play along for Katie’s sake.

The snoring troubled me for years, though.  At one Christmas dinner when I was in my early twenties, my mother mentioned “the Christmas when Mimi and Poppie came to visit.” I remember the gift they gave me that year. It was a doll named Alice Ann that had belonged to my mother. They had gone to a lot of trouble to have the doll restored for me. The day after Christmas they took me shopping to buy some dresses for Alice Ann. It was a very special gift.

Though I vividly remember opening that present, for some reason, I never made the connection that they were in the house that Christmas Eve.  What I had taken for Santa Claus must have been Poppie, whose loud snores are the stuff of family legend. Everybody has at least one relative who snores like a jackhammer, right? Even down the hall and around the corner, he woke me out of a dead sleep.

It’s the day before Christmas Eve, and I’m about to head out to buy the last of the stocking fare and all the fixings for Christmas dinner. I’m undaunted by the crowds—even a Wal-Mart crowd, can you imagine? But I love it. Financially we can’t pull off the kind of Christmas we’ve had in the past, but I still love every bit of it. I love trees and lights, wrapping gifts, and Christmas music. I love little girls squealing with delight. I love cooking and baking everyone’s favorite recipes. It doesn’t bother me one bit to drag out the Christmas ornaments. And don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten for one second that Jesus is the reason for all this hoopla. He died so I could live.  I love Him, too, more than I can say.

So I’m off to finish the last of Santa’s list and spread good cheer. Beware the Scrooges, friends. Merry Christmas!

Mad Skillz–er–Skills. See Katie Spell.

Been on a job hunt lately? Dumb question. I’ve seen the unemployment numbers. Obviously a big chunk of the American population is looking. Let me make my apologies to any of you who are looking for a job because you lost one. Reading anything that I have to say on the subject is bound to aggravate you. I left my teaching job quite deliberately. My best friend said to me on the week I gave my notice, “Katie, you’re so funny. Everyone’s hanging on to their jobs for dear life and you just up and quit.” We used to have classrooms right next door to each other. She updates me periodically on the changes in the district, such as insurance. It’s not exactly a cut in salary, but when you don’t get as much help paying for insurance as before,  it amounts to less pay—a whole lot less if you happen to get sick.

Yep, I’ll bet the Beasleys are a touch irksome to people who didn’t leave a job by choice or whose pay doesn’t keep pace with increased living expenses.  “Katie, you’re so funny…” Yes, I’m hilarious.  I’m thoroughly amused by myself. I’m laughing all the way to the bank…to squeeze the last penny from our tax refund.

If you read my most recent post, you know that my husband and I are moving our family from Orange, Texas, to Little Rock. We made the decision to go this summer whether we had secured jobs or not. It’s been a year since my last paycheck, and Todd just gave up a perfectly good job so that we could free-fall into whatever God provides.  Ever heard that bible verse about waiting on the Lord and mounting up with wings like eagles? Well, I’m waiting on that eagle to swoop in before we go SPLAT!

Here’s what it’s like to apply for jobs in a city, state, where you don’t yet have an address. Silence. Eerie, awful, prolonged silence. Not even the peaceful chirp of a solitary cricket. It’s so quiet, it’s deafening. For the first time since college, I was passed over for multiple teaching positions. The last few jobs that I really wanted, I got. Not so in The Natural State. I am plagued by the suspicion that a few superintendents got together and agreed, no doubt while exchanging sinister chuckles, “Yeah, we don’t want her kind around here!!”

None of that matters, though, because I now have a part-time position at a Christian school. Whew. Once again, I can’t doubt God’s existence when He so obviously provides what I need and not what I thought I needed. Full-time teaching jobs suck all the energy out of me. Had I been hired by a school district, I would have effectively put a writing career on hold–again. I admit, the full-time pay would be nice and meet a need. But my other half is still looking.

My husband and I both have seen how ridiculous it is to look for a job in a new city. How much more difficult a road to navigate when you apply for jobs outside of your field.  I actually got booted off of an online application for a job which listed a GED as the minimum education requirement. If I hadn’t already jumped off the cliff (still listening for the flap of an eagle’s wing), this would have sent me over the edge. It tossed me out of the pool of applicants because—get this—I’m not qualified to be a receptionist because I’ve never worked in an office. Do you know why I’ve never worked in an office, stupid nameless, faceless, cyber-whoever-you-are but-certainly-not-human­­­­­-resources? Because a teacher acts as her own secretary, that’s why. They take phone messages for me in the school office, but other than that, I handle all my own phone calls, emails, messages, files, documents, records.  I create, delegate, negotiate, evaluate, present, persuade, and placate. I am professional, I am articulate, and I have run away leadership skills. I taught eighth grade for eleven years. I CAN GET ALONG WITH ANYBODY. Seriously. There must be a better way to weed through applicants.

Even more daunting for a minister seeking secular employment, I’m sure. If it frustrates me being denied the opportunity to hand my resume in person to potential employers who might be ignorant of the skill it requires to teach kids, then certainly Todd’s job search is an uphill climb. Every one is somewhat familiar with a teacher’s daily routine.  But a minister? Most people probably have no frame of reference for Christian ministry to begin with. Until we started putting resumes together, even I was in the dark. I can tout my abilities to get a middle schooler to crank out five paragraphs, but I have a grade to hold over the child’s head. Ministers have volunteers to work with. I was in charge of a group of volunteers a few years ago, and listen, people, that’s like herding cats. Moreover, in the ministry the authority pyramid is warped a bit because, even though the minister is in charge, the congregation pays the salary. Talk about skill. Administration. Communication. Presentation. Negotiation. Persuasion. And all this with integrity and a sincere desire to make a difference. Companies should be climbing over each other to interview Todd.

Mulling this over in front of the TV last night, I realized that the obvious solution is starring in a reality series.  People with much less “real” work experience and virtually no education have far more earning potential. Ah! A solution! Let’s run through a quick list of possibilities, shall we?

Picking? Too much travel.

Little Rock is nowhere near an ice road, ocean, or swamp. Shucks.

Too dignified for Jersey, not near dysfunctional enough for Kardashian. Rats. That was secretly my first choice.

Wait a minute, babe. I’ve GOT it. Pest control! Rounding up a racoon and her brood is a little like herding cats. Transfer skill! First of all, the location is perfect! Plenty of critters in Arkansas, I’m sure. So let’s just check the requirements:

  • Wild man call? Not a problem.
  • Talk as ignorantly as possible? It will take some practice.
  • An accent so thick it requires subtitles? For the money, you can sure get one.
  • Experience working with animals? Some, yes. I recall a story about how you trapped a possum once. Whether you want to put your hand into muddy water to retrieve a snapping turtle is up in the air. We’ll see how desperate we get.
  • Catchy nickname? Keep in mind that Turtle Man is taken.
  • Big ol’ gap where your front teeth ought to be?

Aww, dad gummit!! That’s the deal breaker right there, babe. You have too many teeth. I know you won’t go for an extraction, and I don’t want to kiss a toothless face.

So where does this leave us? Right where we were. Leaping.  I read in Sarah Young’s devotional book Jesus Calling that “it is virtually impossible to stumble while walking in the Light with [the Lord].” Likewise, we can’t stumble during a free-fall.