The Refinement of Parenting: Or Just Grateful Nothing Got Flushed

In one of the quotes of the great Roman philosopher Cicero, he mentioned that, “gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”  That idea intrigues me. Gratitude is a virtue like kindness, loyalty, humility, forgiveness, honesty, trust and compassion, but what makes gratitude the greatest--the parent?

I ponder a successful parent’s performance.  I watch the example of my daughter and my two granddaughters-- born 16 months apart and I imagine her trundling and them toddling and the sampler of virtues that she personifies in her everyday parenting.  In the space of one Face-time conversation, she is charitable with the one who wakes angry, compassionate to the teether, forgives the biter, exemplifies patience with the freeze-tag-hide and seeker, and she does it all with kindness and a cheerful demeanor. 

The responsibility of parenting has made her different—it has refined.  Successful parenting demands that we refine our virtuous selves.  Each virtuous attribute we strive to attain offers a  challenge, and requires mental and at times physical submission.  Each builds on another, kindness, forgiveness, patience, compassion—each demands the tampering of flaws and tempering of the natural being and if successful, refines us to a higher mind, to deeper thought and to responsible communal action.  That is what a parent hopes for, through all of her own efforts—to raise virtuous progeny. 

It may seem simplistic, but in a drought of gratitude, none of the other virtues can flourish.  Each becomes burdened by all-consuming self-ness of pride. Patience becomes a matter of willpower, humility is demeaning,  forgiveness is granted spitefully, compassion is condescending, and kindness becomes mere tolerance.  

My daughter uses gratitude as a simple-yet effective way to persist through the doldrums of daily effort.  Not only because each of her days are filled with gratitude, “I’m just grateful I caught it before it was a bigger mess,” or “before she fell further,” “before she dumped all of it together,” “before it flushed,” “before it crashed,” and my personal favorite, “before it started on fire.”  It’s a life that is filled with edge-walking excitement and she spends it grateful for tender mercies as she lives, “just in time.” 

Gratitude can ennoble when one is supremely thankful for one’s circumstances.   And when her day ends with, “I’m so grateful they are asleep!” it is because she has reached the apex of the challenges to her strength of will.  She has bested a mortal body that has spent its day becoming refined by sacrifice and love unfeigned.  And it is those parenting attributes that are what help us mere mortals begin to understand the penultimate virtue, Charity; the Pure Love of Christ.  


...the flu before Christmas

Twas the weeks before Christmas and all the house knew,
The plans were on hold, because Mom had the flu.


It was a new concept—getting sick before the holiday stress begins, thereby eliminating all the work. It’s a great way to simplify Christmas, but I can’t recommend it.

I started the turkey and a sore throat together on Thanksgiving morning, and they dried out and crusted over together. By pie time, my eyes were flambé and my head, fricassee.

A day later, while the family consumed the leftovers, I moved up my post-holiday strep test, but there would be no simple antibiotic antidote. The doctor recited the viral litany; "Rest, drink plenty of liquids and come back." ...and pay more next week, when you’re worse?

Hope was soon dashed when each day dawned the same.
The Mom writhed and wretched, as the days waxed and waned.


There are very few opportunities for male heroics in our house because I can break the jar getting the lid off as well as any man, but this moment was defining. Alexander the Great has nothing on a guy faced with a flu siege, who will fortify and guard the children, wade into sibling battle skirmishes, forage for supplies, and not sacrifice at least one pet in the process.

On top of all that, my husband not only held the holiday bombardment at bay, but attacked it. Of course, his success set me up for his he-man debate later on, but at that moment I did not care.

The room was in quarantine, sequestered in bed,
while visions of absurdities danced in her head.


Days and nights melded as I woke only to hallucinations, imagining the distant hum of the washer and dryer, the illusion of tiptoeing footsteps, and the ridiculous idea of peaceful homework. I was roused several times by the vague scent of food, (and responded in typical flu-like fashion), but nothing completed my delusions like a vision of the Grinch decorating the Christmas tree.

I had staggered down the stairs on the sixth day and stood sobbing into my socks at the sight. My tears were no true barometer—I had wept earlier after finding my slippers by the bed rather than under it, but I could no longer contain my despair. I knew that seeing my husband voluntarily participating in a Christmas festivity meant that I was now certifiable. I had dropped over the edge of the wide abyss and would have to be committed.

Bring on cough drops and cold pills, make mustard in plaster
In a desperate attempt, to resolve this disaster.


I have a new, greater respect for illness and I’ve redefined the word patient. Midweek, I shivered over the candles on the five-year-old’s birthday cake and was reminded: Do not tempt the flu fates or they will curse you back into supplication! Back to bed with a new mélange of medication.

Bring me anything and I will take it. Diphenhydro-fexacloral-phenapropanala-mine, mine, mine! I don’t care that it’s been banned by the F.D.A. for five years. It worked last time I was sick. It’s not even the same symptoms, but I’ll take it anyway!

After exhausting my own personal pharmacy, I started the over-the-counter stuff. I sampled everything remotely related to flu, or colds, fever or aching.[1] I even stretched congestion to constipation, but this bug resisted it all.

When the M.D.’s advice bombed, I started--with advice of the A.D.T’s:[2] Honey with lemon, snorting horseradish and saline, fresh garlic and onions, even shark cartilage! I was desperate.

Finally in utter despair, I returned to the physician. For a mere hundreds of dollars, I was granted my idea of the Life-Blood Elixer—an antibiotic and a killer cough medicine. Hallelujah! I could now get better.

I’ve become allergic.

It felt as if the flu bug exited my body at midnight and crawled all over it, scratching welts until dawn. My brain raced and I wrote and illustrated ten books. So brilliant were my thoughts that I had to write them down… in tongues.

Finally off all of the medications, I’m left alone, broken and defeated.

When next I wake, the storm has passed and in its wake, lies the wreck on the beach. One side of the hair is four inches shorter than the other[3] and my face is a portend of myself at sixty.

The glitz of each card, the braggados of each letter
Should bring inklings of guilt, but it doesn’t upset her.


Only when you have made the prescribed sacrifice to the voodoo gods, will the curse be lifted. Chastened and humbled, I emerge from the sick room to disinfect the abode. I revisit my perception of the perfect holiday and prepare for the pared-down version. Nobody cares, no one notices, and I do it gratefully, stress-free.

And she heard the kids yell as they flew into sight,
Christmas break just begun, "Glad that's all put to right. 

Reality Bite: Where there is no mess, there is no clean up! I'll beat the January blasé bug too.

[1] Stuffy and runny, fixed with one product—ah, the marvels of medicine!
[2] Any DANG THING!
[3] For your information, that nineteenth century remedy doesn’t work.

...eye solution

…eye solution
To Me,
Now I’ve gone and done it! It is nearly February, and I’m wondering if anyone else’s resolutions are trashed yet? I broke down and got eye surgery. I know, against my better judgment and everything I espouse about conforming to the world and the preconceptions of plastic surgery. Castigation, begin! Love T.

I’ve followed the trend of most female comedians and had my best source material  surgically removed. No more jokes about blindly slipping off the ski slope and dropping the glasses in the prom powder room.  Worse yet, the source of mirth for my children is gone. They can no longer wink behind my back, or laugh silently in front of my face. I’m freed from wearing the butt of their jokes, free from their cruel taunts and I’m no longer stuck in bed while the morning passes and finally the children seek me in the bedroom where I’m hoarse from yelling, “Help! I’ve dropped my glasses and I can’t get up!”
I’ve done it! I had my blindness fixed. No more thick glasses, no more blundering and sadly, no more excuses about misreading the ingredients on a recipe card. I can see!
It’s all they say it is and more! Instead of feeling as if I want to rip my eyes out in the evenings, it’s 100% of the time. Light of any kind is an irritant and the eye-drops taste bitter. (Trust me, the eyeball’s connected to the tastebud, and the tastebud’s connected to the…)
I’ve had no other side-effects, no pain, no burning, no extra tears, and if it weren’t for my trusty drug reaction, I would have nothing to write about.
I don’t remember much of that first day due to drugs. It happens every time. I warned the doctor that it would be better for everyone if I didn’t have the “relaxant.” I do “tense” so much better. The nurse reassured that five milligram tablets weren’t really anything to worry about. At least that’s what I think she said, by that time I was snoring softly into my chest. She asked the husband to tilt the chair back, hoping to stop the mouth gape and drool.
I vaguely remember meandering my way, with a double escort, to the operating table where I laid down with relief, but when they said skooch up to the top, I started giggling. I was pudding by that time and if they had told me to slosh on up, I might have attempted it. They tape your eyes open and the little machine sucks the eyeball up, which was a good thing because I couldn’t have managed that on my own. My memories end with me staring blankly at the blinking red light.
I slept like a baby from the office to the house and I don’t recall how I made it from the car. After about four hours of lying peacefully in a “lovely repose with hands crossed over the chest” (and obviously looking more at ease than the husband thought I deserved), I was forcibly awakened.
If I didn’t have to face people again, all would be well. It’s that drunk-at-the-company-party/morning-after that is mortifying. The next day, doctor and nurse were both very circumspect and only casually noted that I had been quite relaxed. The nurse remarked that it’s nice that I’m petite… Me?[44]  For the record, I'm not short, I'm just awkwardly shaped.
I remember now why I don’t do drugs during childbirth. It’s because of my big mouth. I have no discretion under the influence. The husband said that just as I was leaving, I announced to all-and-sundry that the reason the husband didn’t have this kind of reaction to medication was “due to his extensive history with drugs.”

Reality Bite: Please shoot me! Or just shoot me up again, so I don’t remember.

[44] I’m also heavier than I look. That’s what the ski patrol said when he piggy-backed me to the bottom. Oops, another story for another time.

…an eyeful

…an eyeful

Hey, I’m tentatively revising my wholehearted recommendation for eye surgery. I’m thinking that there are more downsides that are only just now becoming apparent.

It’s obvious that I have lost the sympathetic ear. “No, Mom, you can find your own keys. I know you can see to search now,” and “Dad says it’s safe for you to drive us.” I can no longer use the broken glasses/missing contact lens excuse for my haphazard mowing, sweeping, mopping and paper chaos.

To me
Life is filthy and some things are best left unseen, i.e., television and the whole of every election campaign. I’m thinking it’s a shame my hearing is still good. T.

I was legally blind and loving it! Even corrected, I could never really see as far as the floor and though my eye-doctor didn’t promise perfect vision, unfortunately mine is now good enough to notice dirt in the corners, the film on the mirrors, the dust on the pictures and the crust on the windows. I’ve decided that visually challenged was not necessarily a bad way to go through life.

Flying about blind as a bat had other heretofore unrealized benefits beyond never knowing that my shower was filthy. The afterbath is a whole new unfiltered experience now that I’m not tripping about with scratched glasses, peering through an altered perspective. 

 I've lived in my own little fogbank and there is so much more that is attractive that way.

Reality Bite: There is an upside. When I put in the milky antibiotic and life returns to a haze, everything can again be beautiful.




…a new life

Dear Diary,

It's the first day of school in the new city and we've walked to catch the bus on the corner. I put the children on and then I ask the driver how the kids will know where to get off. He said, "Not to worry," he would warn them.

That afternoon I'm busily snapping a photo  documenting the triumphal arrival of the homebound adventurers when the bus stops and the door opens.  The driver sits there and looks at me.

It was a video moment. Too bad I only had the still camera. He finally sighed and said, “They aren’t on here. Call the school.”

“Well, let’s see, I don’t have the school’s number, we moved here yesterday.”

“Don’t worry, the kids will call you.”

"How?" It is the era before cell phones and they don’t know the number. I barely remember the number as it was only connected that day!

“They’ll bring them home.”

Really? “Who is they?" and "How will they know where home is?”   We didn’t make time for a crash course in orienteering last night after we drove into town.

“I’m sure there is nothing to worry about.” 

Would that be because they have memorized their city, state and zip?

Dear Diary 1998 and Anyone Else Who Cares,

I found a calendar! It's August 17, and my breakdown was scheduled for the 14th. So, I'm taking it today.  Me, T. 

Flight of the Bumbled

I love flying, all kinds, except the kind that involves planes. I hate airplanes... not the plane itself, but the side effects of TSA on flight. I don't think that I fly often enough to become a TSA identified persons target for writing this, but even with that heightened risk, I can no longer hold myself back.

So, I'm taking flight into my own hands and I'm writing about it. Hopefully the writing therapy will work it's magic and cure all, as it has many crucial moments before.

To fly across this country, I am subjected to a myriad of restrictions which seem to tighten each time I fly. First yellow alert, then orange, and these levels limit what I can pack, what I can wear, and now it seems that we have escalated to high alert, RED and it's all about what I can and cannot say.

The last time we flew, it came down to this: My latest look.
Oh and with the new restriction I find I must add an extra five minutes--that extra five minutes is to grant the husband a head start through security.  

Something about guilt through association...

Flight of the Bumbles II

The treatment for plane phobia is the standard clinical recommendation--immersion, so I'm headed out to fly--cause I'm totally irrationally paranoid of airport security.

I'm at the airport hearing a faux voice over the loud speaker... "We are at an extra high security level," and despite it's monotone calm, my guts begin to unravel.
In my extra high state of insecurity, I perch at the edge of my seat and listen for the next announcement. My nerves are at a matching extra high level, and my reaction is knife sharp. I clutch at my husband, "Did you hear that? Did you? Extra high!"

He mumbles something from under the newspaper that he customarily settles over his face as soon as we alight in any of the nation's waiting areas.

"We are currently at orange."

"Orange?" "Orange," my nervous twinge releases in a snap!  The tightly drawn string releases with a reflexive outrage that is noticeable to other passengers, except to the husband who is still under his paper.

 I'm off on a tirade.

"Orange?" I repeat the comment giving it the correct derisive emphasis, "Orange?" "It's apparent that TSA has never raised children! Do they not understand the fine art of threats?" 

And the diatribe begins.

My verbal soliloquy to the newspaper covered lump continues, "Do they not know that you have to hold back. When you issuing threats, you must reserve something for the worst!  The human psyche becomes inured to the constancy of empty threats."  Hold something back for  "RED" for heaven's sake! 

"What are they going to say when it's red? Explain that? Does the lack of government vision extend even to the airlines?" I continue with rhetorical queries, but that verbal technique works with all government--whether Congress or TSA is involved.

"Has noone thought ahead? What are they going to say next?" I muse aloud. By this time, other potential flyers are overhearing, but I have my earbuds in, so they assume that I am accidentally speaking too loudly over my sound reducing earphones. They would be wrong.

"What comes after extra high level? What can they say next? We are currently experiencing "PEE YOUR PANTS" security levels?" and finally I ease into my ending.

"Please. Anyone with children knows that you must reserve your hyperbole. Hold something back for heaven sakes! That's why my best threats start at one and count to ten. Heaven help the child that doesn't move by five or six. Even a teen knows that to get to eight is life threatening--because by then, Mom has to get up and enforce--and you'd better duck if you make Momma move."

And I settle back into my waiting seat, noticing out of the corner of my eye each head that nods, and eyes that glint. I have made even more converts to the frustration that accompanies flight.

Another important risk in fear therapy is rational thought. It would be healthy to admit that our flight security levels are never--not ever-- going lower than orange. Just admit to myself that flying "extra high security, orange level, ' is forever.

'Cause even though Bin Laden has been assassinated, we're stuck with TSA because no government worker is ever laid off.

And there I go off. Off on another writing rant.

Hey, it's therapy!