Thursday, November 17, 2016

For Ms. Penick

Dear Ms. Penick-
As you may know, I have returned to Abilene (not unlike a bad penny), and as a good Abilenian and Wylie graduate, I read the Wylie Growl Magazine to keep up with all the Purple and Gold news.  I was utterly unsurprised to read that you had been named into the Hall of Honor and hope you can find time in your retirement to read one more of my long-winded essays. This one’s about you—knowing your humble nature, I wonder if the subject makes this one harder or easier for you to read? (I suspect the former.)
It feels like just yesterday that I was sitting in your classroom.  I remember it so clearly—in fact even down to the position of the desk where I sat during my freshman and junior years (except for that one odious day when I was banished to the principal’s office for my disgracefully troublesome jeans with the threadbare knees).  More importantly than my physical location in the classroom, though, I remember the most profound lesson you taught us: words matter. 
Novelists and readers alike know that words matter, but high school students, generally, do not.  This is just as evident listening to the way they speak to each other in the hallways during passing periods as it is when you ask them to expound on a passage from a well-written piece of prose.  Yet somewhat like a writer crafting a novel, as you edited and corrected our papers and our speech, you managed to convince so many of us that words indeed do matter. 
They matter on a page, certainly, even worn Shakespearean pages, because they describe and decode the mysteries of life and love and lust.  They matter when spoken in a presidential debate for all the world to hear or when whispered quietly between a mother and her son.  They matter when painted on billboards and used to convince us to buy material things, and they matter when smashed together after a hashtag in the name of a social movement.  They matter when they provide a welcome escape for a mind too frequently assaulted by the facts and figures of the didactic portions of dental school.  They matter when they are ancient and grounding words that speak to our souls of things unseen.  Perhaps most of all, they matter because they outlive us now, more than ever before, these words we write down on paper or online.
Your lesson gave me an understanding of the weight that words carry, and that understanding has helped me in my interpersonal relationships, my marriage, and my parenting of two beautiful and frighteningly impressionable little boys.  It has given me an outlet for my emotions and an escape for my mind.  Your lesson provided me with an introduction to two of the greatest loves in my life: reading and writing.
Is it any surprise that I have rambled on and on?  It seems I may have been in the principal’s office during your lesson on being concise.  Here is the thesis statement, Ms. Penick: You taught me that words matter, and your legacy of teaching that lesson matters very much to me and to so many of your protégés.  Please accept my most heartfelt congratulations on your honors and your retirement.

Sincerely and ever-indebted to you,


Lauren Oglesby Edwards

Monday, November 7, 2016

The Things You Leaf Behind

The weather finally turned a bit cooler, and over the next few weeks the trees will respond by gently releasing their leaves to fall to the ground.  As we watch them float in the West Texas wind, rake them together, and crunch them beneath our feet, we hear the wise words they whisper: Nothing lasts forever.  It is a message that sounds ominous or hopeful, depending on the season of life your heart is weathering when you hear it. 

Abilene has been renowned for many things, but never for its trees.  Our mesquites lack the authority of the stately California redwoods, our scrubby red oaks lack the fortitude of the pines of Colorado, and our tallest elms are dwarfed by the heights of the sycamores in East Texas.  Nevertheless, the trees in Abilene grow strong and true, not unlike the people who grow alongside them in this dusty Texas town. 
For over 100 years now, Abilene soil has produced generation upon generation of tree, and generation upon generation of families, each one slowly unfurling new branches of possibility.  For some, Abilene is simply a starting point.  These folks soak up all the good this town has to offer, and then when a big enough breeze blows by, they fly like a dandelion seed in the West Texas wind to more hospitable soil (but a little bit of Abilene goes with them).  Others put down deep roots, stretching into the cool water tables that run below and drink steadily and deeply of all the quiet treasures Abilene has to offer.  These family trees become synonymous with Abilene, as much a part of the city itself as the skyline.  Some are like myself, leaves that have blown away for a time, only to return in a different season, bearing the fruit of new knowledge and new skills honed to improve our hometown. 
It is this idea of generations past and generations to come that has spurred the Abilene Cultural Affairs Council and friends to dream up a new park and sculpture garden, slated to open next summer near the Abilene Civic Center.  It will be vibrant and green and alive with sculptures from classic storybook tales like Charlotte’s Web.  Close to the center of this garden will stand a large metal tree, its tallest branches reaching up 15 feet to the sky.  On these branches, large oak-like metal leaves of green, silver, and gold will move with the breeze.  The tree represents all that is good and alive in Abilene, a town that knows how to grow happy and healthy families.  Each limb is a family’s journey to find its perfect place in the sun.  And each leaf, Abilenians, can represent you or someone you love.    
For a nominal price, you can be a part of Abilene’s past and a part of its future.  A donation of $100, $125, or $150 buys you a leaf of a certain color.  There will be a plaque next to the tree in a corresponding color, etched with the name of a person or couple you choose to honor through your donation.  For my part, I have chosen to honor my two children with a gold leaf each.  I imagine us going to play under this tree while they are young, watching as the metal of the sculpture grows cold and hot with the passing seasons, until their future children come to run their fingers along the names etched in the plaque. 
This is Abilene.  A town that grows greatness humbly, each generation embracing the next like rings of a tree encircling new growth to provide support and nourishment until it can stand alone.
Please consider donating to this project.  Consider whether you’d like to etch your name on this tree in this town that grew you and so many of the people you love.  Perhaps you would like to honor someone who gave keeps you rooted firmly in the ground.  Perhaps you’d like to honor someone who taught you how to let go of the safety of the branches and fly in the wind.  Maybe you simply want to be a part of something that beautifies this city and gives children wonder.  If nothing else, please take a moment to consider what you will “leaf” behind for the next generations in your town.  Because nothing lasts forever, except that which you give the next generation.   
Why did you do all this for me?' he asked. 'I don't deserve it. I've never done anything for you.' 'You have been my friend,' replied Charlotte. 'That in itself is a tremendous thing.”
E.B. White, Charlotte's Web

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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

That time we got locked in the zoo

A few weeks ago, Hendrick Hospital sponsored a 'Zoo Night' for all of its employees. The hospital paid for all employees and their families to visit the Abilene Zoo after hours. Being the zoo-lovers that we are, of course I knew that we had to go. 

We loaded up the boys and arrived just as it started. Skipping the train ride (the lines were just too long), we went directly to the nocturnal animal exhibit. As we passed through the doors I noticed a politely worded sign asking visitors not to use flash photography or bright lights in this particular building since all the nocturnal animals are very sensitive to light. Three feet away from this sign, I saw a grown man using his iPhone to see (and incidentally, blind) the ringtail raccoon. I shook my head and have a disapproving look, which neither the man nor the now-blinded raccoon saw, and went on my way. 

At the giraffe exhibit, the sweet zookeeper spent a minute going over instructions with Carter on how to feed the giraffe. He gave Carter the same spiel he gave everyone else: 'Hold the lettuce leaf out and the giraffe will take it from you. He might lick your hand even, and that's ok, but we ask that you please not pet the giraffes.'

Carter walked over and followed the instructions to the letter, as did most of the other children. However, suddenly I heard the zookeeper say sternly, 'Ma'am, please don't pet the giraffes.' I looked over to see a grown woman, nearing headlock closeness with one of the biggest giraffes, one arm around its neck and the other stroking its elongated face from top to nose. The zookeeper literally had to walk over to her and gently remove her from the giraffe to get her to quit. 

After those two instances of adult misbehavior, I wasn't terribly surprised at what happened next...

Jeffrey was holding Harrison and I was walking with Carter as we moved toward the exit to leave. Jeffrey and Harrison were a short distance ahead of us, as I was being forced to walk at 3-year-old speed, subject to the distraction of butterflies, gusts of wind, and random thoughts. I saw them exit ahead of us, but then as we arrived at the exit gate, a zoo employee hastily closed it in front of us. Confused, I went over to the zoo store, where I assumed we were now supposed to exit. An employee blocked my way into the store. 

I said, 'Can we get out through here?'

'No,' she responded, 'The zoo is on lockdown until further notice. We believe a bird has been stolen.'

The visitors had now been put into a situation uncomfortably similar to that of the zoo animals...literally caged in. The human animals, of course, did not take this forced incarceration well. I watched as patron after patron walked up to the gate and then were refused exit. Some paced angrily, like the leopards. Some looked despondent and tired, like the lion. Some chattered nervously, like the twittering birds. And adding insult to injury, we all watched as storm clouds began to roll in toward our makeshift, open-air cage. 

Carter, for his part, handled the delay quite well. As was the theme for the night, the children behaved much better than the adults. And after about 25 minutes of waiting, the lockdown was lifted and we made it to the car just as the first raindrops fell on the wild plains of Abilene. 

I never heard of the missing bird was found, if it was actually stolen or simply missing in action, or if they simply gave up looking. All I knew was that when they opened that gate, I had to get out of there before someone tried to stuff a rhino in their SUV. 

Monday, May 16, 2016

Mother's Day 2016

Last weekend was Mother's Day, and we decided to host the family at our house for lunch rather than fight the crowds at a restaurant. Around the table sat 4 mothers: Beth (my grandmother-in-law), Melinda (my mother-in-law), my mom, and me, as well as my dad, brother and sister-in-law, sister, and Jeffrey and the boys. 

Hosting a dinner comes with both pros and cons--for me, the prep work is somewhat difficult but still part of the fun. The only real downside in my opinion is the dishes afterward. But among the pros are getting to set the table with your finest china, arranging your favorite flowers, and being in charge of the organized activities. For my guests on Sunday, this meant that each one was obliged to share a funny or happy memory of his/her mom. 

Beth told about a time after she and her mom had picked her wedding veil. After what must have been a very proper afternoon in a bridal shop, her mom took a big drink of scalding hot coffee, and spit it right back out all over, saying (uncharacteristically and without apology), "Well some fools would've swallowed it!"

Leslie told about shopping for work clothes for her first 'real' job and also about one of the times she got a kidney stone on a previous Mother's Day. Leslie was feeling guilty for her health concern ruining what should have been a day to celebrate Mom. As they drove to the ER together, Leslie apologized for spoiling the day, and Mom just looked at her and said, "Leslie, this is great. This is me getting to be a mom!"

My brother, always the joker, told about the time in grade school when he was being picked on by another boy at school. After many days of enduring these insults and Mom recommending that he turn the other cheek, one day she said (uncharacteristically and without apology), "Well tell him he's a fat tub of lard." Bullying problem solved. 

Of course, I tried to take to heart the lesson learned from Beth and Greg's stories: a mother can spend her entire life saying and doing the right things, and her children will most vividly remember the single moment they slip!

Courtney admired her mom's commitment to consistency in parenting her and her twin sister, even to the point of fishing them out from underneath the bed with a yardstick to mete out (well-deserved) punishments. 

Jeffrey said that he didn't realize what a big deal it was at the time, but his mom was always present at his sporting events. In all weather, she drug herself and her two other children (one of whom has special needs) to cheer for Jeffrey as he competed. 

I told about the time Mom and I drove to my dental school interview in Houston together, Dad's directions getting us lost deep in a shady part of town at night. When the low fuel light turned on and we were forced to stop, Mom looked over at me and said, "If you hear gunshots, just go on without me. Even if you have to speed bump over my body, you get to that interview." (We both made it out alive.)

Mom talked about the special effort her mother made for her preferences with food and drink, making special arrangements for my moms likes and dislikes. She also shared how her mom literally ran to her rescue once when mom was injured. She could even recall what her mom was wearing that day as she sprinted up to the house to help her. 

Dad laughed as he recalled how his mom has always found slapstick comedy the most laugh-inducing, so one day when they were snow skiing, Dad noticed a particularly icy area around a curve where people were continually falling down. He called his mom over and they both watched as the next dozen or so people wiped out, and laughed and laughed together. 

Melinda said that she always felt like the 'favorite' child, although now she suspects that all three of Beth's children felt that way. One of the things that always made her feel special was that her mom always left her 15 cents in her office for Melinda to use to buy a coke and candy bar (amazing that 15 cents had that kind of purchasing power not too long ago!). 

It was a lovely lunch and a sweet time to talk about memories made with our mothers. I was honored to be a part of it. 

(And my mom even did the dishes!)

Friday, April 1, 2016

Everyday greatness

Parenting is hard. I currently have a 1.5 year old and a 3.5 year old, so many of my days begin with a baseline level of frustration that comes from years of sleep deficit and the monotony of knowing that today, just like every day before it since I had children, I will complete the same menial tasks and answer the same unstoppable flow of questions.

But some magical days are like today, when you are able to wake up energized, happy, and ready to enjoy every bit of that beautiful monotony.

I think that a good portion of my good mood today started with my gentle wake up call from Carter. (Also, the wake up call didn't happen until 7:30...that doesn't hurt!) Jeffrey had already gone to work, but someone was in my bed. I heard the telltale sound of a cereal bar wrapper rustling and knew that my big boy was awake. "Mommy, it's a beautiful sunrise," he said (because I own a 3 year old who talks just like an 80 year old), "Can you please open my cereal bar?"

Following my wake up call, I went to the bathroom to brush my teeth, and found that carter had already put it on the counter and squeezed a very appropriate amount of toothpaste on it for me. We've worked at length on perfecting the pea sized dollop through much trial and error, but bless his heart, he loves helping mommy and that is one of the ways that his little hands can do so. You can't even get service like that at The Ritz.

Mr. Independent also decided to dress himself today. The outfit he picked (sort of) matches, but he forgot to take off his pajamas, so he's got long sleeved, long pants pajamas under his sweatpants and long sleeved shirt. He was so proud that he did it all himself that I didn't have the heart to point out his mistake. We'll just try to avoid going out in public today, I guess.

We went together to get baby brother, who was having a serious discussion with his stuffed puppy, Hot Dog. He greeted us happily as we came in, "Oh, heeeey, mama! Get out? Have sandwich?" If you've ever seen Harrison in person, you will not be surprised to hear that he would be thinking of having a very heavy meal first thing in the morning.

We ate breakfast together and they played while I got ready for the day, listening to some streaming music on my iPhone. When the song 'You give love a bad name' came on, Carter had lots of questions for me. "Why is that boy calling people bad names? We aren't supposed to say bad names."

"No, we aren't, buddy," I said, "But I think I think he's just saying that there was a girl he liked and she wasn't nice to him."

"So she was ugly to him? So we can call her bad names if she's ugly to us?" He asked.

By this point I was pretty much collapsed in laughter as I realized that I was attempting to use Bon Jovi lyrics to teach life lessons, so please someone tell Carter that we never call people bad names the next time you see him.

Yes, parenting is hard. Kids are crazy. Bon Jovi is probably a bad role model for a 3 year old, which is disappointing since his music is pretty great. But some mornings around here are really hilarious, and I'm so glad that this is my life.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Watching Boys Bloom

I mentioned in our Christmas letter about our time living on Grampy’s farm, but I must write down a little more, if only for my own personal record keeping.  It was such a special time for all of us but my memory is liable to throw out those precious moments along with last week’s grocery list and the lyrics to Britney Spears’ earliest hits. 

When we arrived at the farm, all of us were unsure of what this new normal would look like.  Grampy, being a widower of over 20 years, certainly had his own methods and routines established, and I was certain that the arrival of two young adults and two very young boys would disrupt most, if not all, of life as he knew it.  The same went for Cindy, who had been living on the farm for some time. 
But I had underestimated a farmer’s ability to adapt.  You see, farmers are the kings of adaptation.  They carefully watch every stalk of corn as it grows and learn to act just like it.  The corn stalk and the farmer brace against strong winds by having deep roots, attached to the land with a firm affection.  They weather the rains together, and raise their sun-wrinkled hands in a plea for more in the dry months.  And always, always, the farmer and the corn stalk look straight up to the sky for their guiding light.  So Grampy adjusted and adapted to life on the farm with his rag-tag Brady Bunch, gently bending to the whims of my boys and showing them the beauty of Texas farmland, as well as what it takes to be its caretaker.
I had also underestimated what fertile, Texas dirt can grow.  Have you ever seen boys bloom?  Being on the farm was like watching a time lapse film of a flower opening.  Although time seemed to tick by more slowly due to the leisurely pace of living we adopted in Rogers, Texas, somehow the boys developed faster.  The country air filled their lungs and filled their minds with imaginative games.  Sticks turned into swords and musical instruments, pecans were an impromptu snack or a grenade to throw in battle, and the old, old oak trees provided enough supervision for me to stay inside for a while and allow Carter to experience the freedoms afforded to country boys.  The soothing green of the grass and the dappled shade seemed to mollify whatever internal chaos was causing Harrison’s colic fits.  His crying became less frequent, and he settled into our routine of life on the farm.
Does it sound magical?  It should.  It was.  Where else can you learn how to plant black eyed peas and then watch as they sprout?  What better way to show how quickly crops grow than to stand next to them daily and witness the very moment when they outpace you?  How can you understand symbiosis if you’ve not felt the tickle of a ladybug crawl from your arm to the raised garden, and then tasted the crisp, fresh lettuce from the garden that was protected by the ladybug?  It was an education for all of us, and also an example, because one cannot help but to grow as a person when surrounded by so many other things that are growing tall and strong and true.
As they say, all good things must come to an end.  Our time under the ancient branches of the oaks was over in a few short months, but not before a few new ideas had been sown.  I blame Grampy, of course, for this ruin of our former ideas of the perfect homestead.  We used to dream of a big house in the city, close to a grocery store and near the good schools.  But after just a few months on the farm the dream shifted.  Now we can’t imagine putting down roots anywhere without enough space to unfurl our branches, and I hope it can be green, and I wish for nearby water for fishing, and ladybugs, and sticks, and blue skies, and an old man to teach us the old ways, and young boys to show us the pleasure of new things.  I can only hope that some of the things planted in us in that time will find a place to grow here in Abilene, strong and straight up to the sky, and always, always able to adapt.

So we're looking for a little bit of land...


Monday, January 11, 2016

Post Holiday Hangover

No, Mom, this post isn't about drinking. It's about how hard it is to go back to work after a long holiday break. I know, I know...all of the people out there who DIDN'T get a long holiday break are like, do you want some cheese with that wine? And I totally get your point. But the post-holiday hangover is pretty awful, no matter which way you slice it.

Here's how it went for me this year:

I woke up on Monday morning feeling rested and ready to tackle a new year. Jeffrey was already at work because his post-holiday hangover involved rounding on all his patients in the hospital and being greeted by 2 solid hours of paperwork, drug refills, signing lab orders, and returning phone calls. What a dream.

Back on the homestead, I fixed both boys breakfast and shuffled them into the living room for our ritual 'let's see how many toys we can get out while she's cleaning up breakfast' game. As I grabbed their clothes from their room and prepared to argue with my 3 year old (again) over why he cannot wear shorts in the dead of winter, I heard Carter yell from the living room, "Mommy! Throw up!" This falls squarely into my top 5 least favorite things to hear yelled at me.

I got into the living room just in time to see the dog heave one last bit of dog vomit on the (formerly) cream-colored carpet. I quickly ushered her outside and cleaned up her mess. Dressed the boys, then went to my room to get myself dressed...which is where I found the second mound of dog vomit. It turns out that her tummy had felt a little questionable in that room prior to her little show in the living room. So I cleaned up vomit. Again.

Got myself dressed and went back into the living room to check on the boys. Everybody was playing happily until the moment that Harrison started to throw up (you guessed it) on the living room carpet. He up chucked every last bit of the oatmeal I made for him only 30 minutes prior. I was completely flabbergasted as to why my child, who had no fever nor any other signs of malady should suddenly fall ill and barf of my oh-so-recently cleaned carpet. As I stripped his clothes off and wiped his face and hands, I noticed a peculiar color and consistency of disgusting that I had run into before. Harrison had found a tiny bit of dog barf on a chair in the living room, picked it up, ate it, found it disagreeable, and thrown it up with his breakfast.

So I cleaned him up,  dressed him again, cleaned up his vomit, cleaned up the errant bit of Dixie's vomit, cleaned the carpet, cleaned the chair, and went to work to REST!

Post-holiday hangover is no joke.