Confessions of a Swiss Army Wife

Because 1/7 of your life is spent on Monday.

Confessions of a Swiss Army Wife

My husband calls me his Swiss Army Wife. To understand why, picture this: When I was six months pregnant with our first son, the kitchen faucet developed a leak around the base. Even though I was so large that nurses frequently asked when my twins were due, I managed to wedge myself into the cabinet and connect a new faucet while my husband handed me tools. Eventually I was able to get out again.

To give him credit, his job is stressful and he works a lot of overtime, but basically my husband’s only responsibility around the house is maintaining the lawn. I tried to help him out with it over Memorial Day weekend when he took the kids camping, but my sister chose that day to be ill on vacation.

She and her husband and two babies (a two-year-old and a five-monthold) were returning home when the stomach flu got them, so they made an emergency stop at my house because driving was, well, uncomfortable. I rushed through the mowing so I could care for the baby while my brotherin- law ran to the store for diapers and my sister and niece passed out in the guest room. (A few days later when I came down with it, I called her to say thanks for sharing and to tell her I’m glad I could be there for her. At the time, without the benefit of first-hand experience, I really had no idea how much she was suffering, but now I feel wiser and infinitely more empathetic.)

When my husband returned the next day, he pointed out my shortcomings as a mower of lawns and set our son to work making it look beautiful.

Guess what is now the one chore I refuse to do.

The correct answer is mowing. Perhaps it’s a little passive aggressive, but I don’t care. Besides, my son is old enough to do it now, and why else do you have children except to put them to work doing things you don’t want to do and then laughing at them while you sip cold beverages and explain how they’re building character.

You might be wondering why I didn’t go camping that weekend with my kids. Because I wasn’t invited. It was boys only, not boys and tomboys. But that’s okay, too, because I like to use time alone to do things I can’t do with my family around. The first day they were gone I sprawled on the couch watching science fiction and eating barbecue chips. This was a rare treat because my husband does not like science fiction, but he does like barbecue chips, so I never get enough of either. The second day I built my younger son a desk and replaced the baseboards in the entryway. (For some reason the previous owner had used crown molding for baseboards. Recall that crown molding is designed to be installed at an angle. When installed flat and upside down along the floor, the lip makes a wonderful dust and debris collector.) The third day…well, you know about that.

We live in an old house. My husband said I could have it if I took care of the fixing up. It’s a running joke among our friends that all the tools in the house are mine. For Christmas he buys me things like compound miter saws and brad nailers. Ask me if I can do something, and 95% of the time I’ll say yes, even if I’ve never tried it before. I’m no home project expert by any means, but my father was a builder and I used to watch his men work and think, “If that guy can learn to do it, so can I.”

The other running joke among our friends, unfortunately, is that my projects rarely get completed. The porch and entry are only partly painted, I’ve been in the process of making kitchen curtains for about three years now, and I’ve built several bookcases and never stained or painted them…yet. But I’ll get to it. Sometime.

The thing about being a Swiss Army Wife is that when you’re interested in everything, it’s hard to finish anything, especially in an old house with two rambunctious boys. There are constant home improvement projects, not least due to the destructive capabilities of little boys (are they born vandals?).

Then there is the housekeeping—the constant cleaning and re-cleaning (again, due in large part to the destructive capabilities of little boys). Not to mention meals, shopping, conflict resolution and dispute mediation, first aid, homework, chauffeur duties, laundry, divining the location of missing items, gardening, and my job. To stay on top of it all, I use a timer and a little technique called triage.

My son’s desk was completely built and painted over Memorial Day weekend. My husband was so proud of me. Maybe for the 4th of July—a mere 12 months after I started—I’ll finish painting the porch. He’d like that.

© 2011 Terri McClain. All rights reserved. This article was printed with permission in the July 2011 issue of Hannibal Magazine.

When I Grow Up

Let’s just say I’m over 35. I don’t feel old, at least not until I sit Indian style on the floor too long. And I’m still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.

Young children can make you overly conscious of ascending numbers. When they wave their treasures in front of my face, about an inch from my eyes, I tilt my head back to make better use of my bifocals. A couple years ago, when they were little and wanted pony rides, I insisted on playing in the room with the thickest rug. When they wanted to be tossed into bed, I lifted them carefully so I didn’t strain my back. I started working out again because I wanted to be able to catch my three-year-old future Olympic champion when he escaped the cart and sprinted down the grocery store aisles. Now that he’s bigger, I need to be able to run alongside that bike while he learns to ride.

Running isn’t as easy as it used to be because I broke my leg ice skating last year, and apparently the older you get the slower you heal. Lesson learned. Consider my ice skating days behind me. On the plus side, the small child who fell down in front of me, causing me to perform the most graceless spontaneous pirouette in history, escaped without injury and remains blissfully ignorant of the trauma she caused. Kids take things for granted, you see, and rarely ask questions like, “Why is that lady crawling across the ice with her teeth clenched?” My kids said, “Mommy, where are you going?
I don’t want to leave yet!” Are they used to seeing me crawl on hard surfaces? Indeed not! This is what I mean—a child’s idea of normal is not like ours. I’m lucky no one thought I was offering pony rides.

I catch myself saying things like, “When I was a kid, back in the 20th century, we didn’t have DVDs or Wii.” (Or seat belts and bicycle helmets, but I don’t tell them that.) In fact, at our house we didn’t even have color TV. During the summer, we weren’t allowed in the house except to use the bathroom. My mother used to bring us our lunch on the screened porch and hose us off at the end of the day. I don’t remember being allowed in just because “it’s hot and I’m itchy!” Jeez, I’m a wimpy mom, to fall for that one.

But I digress.

I flip flop daily between feelings of satisfaction and inadequacy. The kids are happy and healthy. I must be doing it right! They’re frustrated, the house is a wreck, I’m short tempered and pushing a deadline. I’m a mess, completely inadequate! Whose stupid idea was it to put someone like me in charge? I haven’t even figured out what to be when I grow up!

It’s the career thing that puts the stress in out lives. Nowadays we think we’re not respectable without a title. Mommy and Mrs. don’t count as respectable titles, you know. We need more to define us. And it’s always there, on every form we fill out, every conversation with a new acquaintance. “And what do you do?”

I’m told this is considered rude in other countries. Here, it’s just one of the many ways we catalog one another. Put me under C for creative.

I can see the gears turning. “Oh, but you look so plaid flannel for an artsy type. I never would have guessed. Aren’t you supposed to dress all in black or something?”

I debate whether to give the honest answer: I used to dress in fashionably monochromatic tones, but then I had children. You see, black just doesn’t hide the spit up and peanut butter fingerprints like plaid flannel can.

Their eyes slide downward, toward the shoes. Are they sensible? Hmm. Canvas sneakers. Very urban. What does that mean?

It means I like my feet not to hurt. Also, they help when sprinting down grocery store aisles.

Who wants to be categorized, anyway? My children get to wear cowboy hats with camouflage shorts, white socks and snow boots, and no one criticizes their fashion choices.

It should be obvious by now that I’m self-employed. I love the flexibility that goes with that. It means I get to spend more time with my kids. Occasionally, I take a few days off and just wear my Mommy hat. The kids play in the yard and eat juice-cicles while I sit in the shade with a gardening magazine and a frozen citrus treat of my own. Lovely. Life is good.

I can’t imaging what family life would be like if I worked full time across town like I used to, got home about the same time as my husband, and had only a couple hours with the kids each evening before bedtime. But that’s what most women do, bless their hearts.

So I know I have it good. I’m very fortunate to have the life I do. I have everything I need and most of what I want. I am blessed beyond measure, yet contentment often remains elusive. I pondered these things today as I sipped my frozen treat in the shade of a cherry tree and admired my roses, the mundane sounds of bickering children providing a comfortable background for my thoughts.

So I asked myself again, what do I want to be when I grow up?

Epiphany! Career categories and job titles aren’t the answer, I realized. Nope, what I need are adjectives. Like Fun. Healthy. Kind. Cheerful. Nurturing. Wise.

In fact, the answer has been hanging on my refrigerator all along, one of “Mommy’s Life Lessons” that the kids get so tired of hearing: Behave like the kind of person you want to be.

Next question: Am I who I want to be? No. Can I be? Yes.

It’s all in the adjectives.

© 2011 Terri McClain. All rights reserved. This article was printed with permission in the August 2011 issue of Hannibal Magazine.

Back to School Blues

What is it about back to school that turns us moms into raging banshees? I’m not alone. Other moms have confessed to me that their throats are actually sore from yelling things like, “Put on your shoes!” or “Use toothpaste when you brush your teeth!” or “No, you may not wear that!” or my personal favorite, “Hurry means walk faster, not slower.”

And we’re not just screeching these things once per morning— more like 12 or 13 times in a row. (This is why I gave my children short names. Who wants to yell “Sebastian, Sebastian, Sebastian” over and over?)

You don’t even have to raise your voice to become hoarse. The sheer volume of repetitive phrases is enough to do serious damage to the vocal chords.

After I get the little darlings out of bed, I dare not leave the room. I feel like a puppeteer—if I’m not present and controlling their movements, there will be no movement at all. Having them lay out their clothes the night before only marginally improves the pace. This morning I left the room for five minutes, and when I came back, they were sitting on bean bag chairs, completely immobile. One had a sock halfway up his foot. The other was wearing nothing but underpants. The little one complained that he didn’t sleep at all, which led to his brother complaining that he snored. This was vehemently denied, to which the elder replied, loudly, “You can’t hear yourself when you’re sleeping, but I can hear you!”

Then the real bickering began. Animation at last! Two half naked children bobbing and weaving, screaming that childhood litany I remember so well— “Yes, you do!” “No, I don’t!” “Yes, you do!” “No, I don’t!” Apparently the immature vocal chords are much more durable.

No matter how early or late they go to bed, my morning routine goes something like this:

“Good morning, my darlings. Time to get up.”

“Boys, you need to get up.”

“Boys, I said to get out of bed. Do it now.”

“Five, four, three, two…” (If I get to one, they go to bed 15 minutes early, so at this point they’re rolling out of bed but angry with me for counting.)

So far so good. Next comes, “Put on your clothes. Get dressed. Put your pants on. Put your pants on. Put your pants on. Put on your shirt. Put on your socks. Put on your socks. Put on your socks. Where are your shoes? Where’s the other shoe? I don’t know where it is because I wasn’t wearing it. Where is your shoe? When you take off your shoes, put them away and then they don’t get lost. No, it is not in Daddy’s closet. Yes, you have to wear shoes.”

Today, we never found that shoe. He had to wear the disintegrating summer play shoes.


Then there’s breakfast, which today went something like this: “I want waffles.” “We don’t have waffles. You can have eggs, toast, or cereal.” “I don’t want those. I want waffles.”

Can you see where this is going?

I got him to eat peanut butter toast by telling him that we were late because of the shoes, so there was no time for toast. Suddenly, toast was ambrosia. The world would end if he did not get to eat toast.

Meanwhile, the elder one was trying to help me parent while he polished his halo.

By the way, Daddy misses this every morning because he leaves for work about the time I’m saying, “Good morning, my darlings.” He smiles as he leaves—I’m afraid to ask why. Is he delighted with his storybook family moment or is he just happy to get away before they’re out of bed and the chaos begins?

Once they’re gone, I collapse on the couch for a few precious moments alone with my caffeine before facing the work day. By the time they get home I’m happy to see them again, my morning crusade against chaos momentarily forgotten. Play time, homework, dinner, warm baths and reading in bed. Aren’t they sweet when they’re sleeping?

Saturday morning rolls around. At last, no need to set the alarm. I know they’ll be bouncing on my bed at 6:00 am sharp.

© 2011 Terri McClain. All rights reserved. This article was printed with permission in the September 2011 issue of Hannibal Magazine.

Scary Stories

I can’t say I’m a big fan of Halloween. Too ghoulish for me. My sister-in-law, however, has a deep affection for the macabre and goes all out on the kids’ costumes. It’s her favorite holiday. Mine’s Thanksgiving. Different strokes.

I prefer to buy costumes that are (a) cheap and (b) toy box appropriate. I want one my son can wear to the grocery store. He had a lion costume he wore everywhere for months until the sleeves were near his elbows. I loved seeing his little sweaty face under that bushy mane while he climbed in and out of the shopping cart, begging for treats. I don’t know how many washings the lion went through, the mane slowly losing its soft fuzziness until finally my little guy appeared to be wearing short gold dreadlocks.

Eventually, my son became a pirate, and the lion was put to rest in the bottom of the toy box. Throughout the year, he is occasionally a pirate, a transformer, or a storm trooper running about the yard waving a blaster that shoots foam darts. His brother is Darth Vader. Sometimes they’re Marines in camouflage shorts, Harry Potter and friends with makeshift wands, or knights with plastic swords, helmets, and flowing capes. Occasionally, Robin Hood comes down to the dinner table, but he must remove his green feathered cap, and he may not eat off his knife or stand on the table—I don’t care if Errol Flynn did it in the movie! In my house Robin Hood will use proper table manners.

I don’t go for the horror show at Halloween. No 4-foot-tall axe murderers or zombies on my watch. It’s not something I want them to play, and it’s not something I want rolling around in their little imaginations. And those imaginations are beautiful, aren’t they?

What goes into a child’s mind is probably more important than what goes in their tummies. Imaginative play is exercise for the mind. Children who only play sports and video games don’t develop their creativity to potential. “So what?” you might ask. “What place does make-believe have in real life?”
A very important place, in fact. As a writer, I’ve had occasion to interview people from all walks of life, and the most successful of them put their imaginations to very good use. For example, doctors and scientists must use creativity to design experiments and studies that provide simple answers to complex problems. Do you think Einstein lacked creativity? Mensa even gives an award for creative thinking. Successful educators use creative strategies to enhance learning. Entrepreneurs must creatively develop and market products and services.

Video games may give kids quick reflexes and sports will help develop healthy bodies and team player attitudes, but will they help your kid become a novelist, an architect, or a ground-breaking scientific thinker? Kids need imaginative play to build those creative muscles.

And not only that, they need imaginative play to practice life and social skills. The ability to visualize potential responses to stressful situations is priceless. First responders use visualization to build their mental muscles. When a crisis occurs, they already have important neural pathways laid down, cutting reaction time and bypassing those inconvenient “now what do I do?” moments.

Now that I think about it, parents everywhere should visualize what to do when children’s noggins fall victim to deadly sibling-launched projectiles or other potential crises.

I used visualization skills to great effect when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, first at age 30 and then again when my children were only six and three. As I endured painful surgeries and the nausea and exhaustion of treatment, I saw myself well. I imagined my white blood cells were knights tilting victoriously against my cancer. I held tightly to the image of my boys’ darling little faces, so full of promise. They needed me, and I had no intention of leaving them.

I can’t take all the credit, of course. I had a wonderful support system. My husband was a rock. My mother was a powerhouse. My sister took time off to help with the kids. My true friends stepped up and made me let them help. It turns out my true friends weren’t always who I thought they’d be. Life is full of surprises.

The most difficult part of the whole experience for me, strangely, was losing my hair. I could push through the discomfort. I could steel myself for the pain. But wearing that bald head like a badge was distressing. It elicited pity, which I didn’t want. It meant I had to talk about it.

Now, here’s an odd thing about having cancer: A lot of people just don’t know what to say. They’re uncomfortable as they attempt comfort, and the sick person ends up trying to make them feel better. I didn’t want to have to make everyone else feel better. I was too tired, what with a hyperactive toddler and a precocious, analytical, questioning first-grader. So for me, bald was scary.

I’m all better now. Stronger. Wiser. And happy to let my kids give their imaginations a workout. Now that wasn’t so scary, was it?

© 2011 Terri McClain. All rights reserved. This article was printed with permission in the October 2011 issue of Hannibal Magazine.

It’s About Gratitude

In the month defined by Thanksgiving, I’d like to start my monthly rambling by making a couple complaints.

I am not grateful for the fact that retail Christmas displays go up about the same time the halloween treats go on sale… roughly early September when parents are still dealing with backto- school chaos. Like we really need that extra whining every time we go to the store: “Can we have candy? Can we have candy? Can we have candy? Can I be ninja ghoul for Halloween? No, Mommy, I want the smell good markers. That’s the (insert current obsession) lunch box I want.

I hate the one you got me! Nathan gets spiral cheese puffs in his lunch. Why don’t I get spiral cheese puffs? Ohhhh, look! I want that for Christmas!”

All I’m concerned about at that point is (1) what is the healthiest dinner I can make that will generate the fewest yucks and groans, and (2) where can I find shoes that magically grow with their giant feet and aren’t covered with superhero decals?

In a country obsessed with stuff, is it any wonder that the day devoted to family and gratitude has practically disappeared from public view, lost between the twin consumer orgies of Halloween and Christmas?mThe two biggest holidays of the year— combined with huge, obscenely expensive birthday parties—are teaching our children to feel entitlement, not gratitude.

On Halloween, we dress our little ones as monsters and murderers, then send them out to demand candy from strangers. Think about it.

Some friends of ours, whose parents are fairly well off financially, have a path from the front door to the kitchen during the Christmas season. The pile of gifts spilling out from under the tree almost completely fills the family room. What do you want to bet that half that stuff is in the trash before the next December? Will their children truly value those gifts, or will they start to feel that it’s their annual due?

Another friend of ours said, “If three gifts were good enough for Jesus, three gifts apiece are good enough for my kids.” Hmm. Not a bad thought.

Americans often seek pleasure in stuff. Our houses have to be decorated just so, and our kitchens need granite countertops. We need giant flatscreened TVs and DVRs. I would argue that you don’t even need a dishwasher or a microwave.

Yes, we want them, particularly since everyone else has one, and they definitely make life simpler. But that doesn’t mean we need them. We’ve begun to mistake luxuries for necessities. But the simple truth is, while stuff makes life more comfortable, it doesn’t make us happy.

The key to happiness is really quite simple. I have it posted on my refrigerator for my kids to see (one of Mommy’s Life Lessons). I hope they pay attention.

The key to happiness is gratitude.

Just gratitude.

That’s what Thanksgiving is about. Whether or not you believe in a deity, gratitude is essential. Thanksgiving is for everyone. And I don’t buy the argument that it celebrates the genocide of Native Americans. When the Pilgrims were in danger of starvation and looking decidedly pathetic, no one could foresee that Europeans would swarm across the continent over the next two centuries. Thanksgiving celebrates the cooperation between European settlers and Native Americans. It celebrates how the Indians saved the Pilgrims’ butts and taught them survival skills in a dangerous environment. And for this they were… grateful.

If you want to be a happier person, count your blessings. Here, in the most bountiful country in the world, we take most of them for granted. Try this: Every evening before you fall asleep, think of three things in your life for which you are grateful. Soon you’ll be unable to keep the list down to three, because acknowledging our blessings makes us more aware of how abundant our lives truly are.

So this Thanksgiving, let us all create a new mindset to carry with us into the Christmas season. Give thanks for what you have, think less on what you don’t have. Find joy in gratitude. Give joy in love.
Count your blessings.

© 2011 Terri McClain. All rights reserved. This article was printed with permission in the November 2011 issue of Hannibal Magazine.

Feeling Grinchy

I vote we keep it Daylight Savings Time all year round. Who’s with me? I’m not really a morning person anyway, so getting up in the light or the dark is equally painful. In some ways dark is better—easier on the eyeballs, and it sort of feels like an adventure, the day ready to unfold around you and full of promise. I kinda like that. But no, the official keepers of time forced me to set my clock back, and now I desperately miss afternoons.

I just feel less productive, like my brain is telling me it’s late now and I must stop doing anything resembling work. By the time you get all your work done, ready to heave a satisfied sigh and park your butt while you let the day slip away gently, it’s night already. I really hate that. Plus, you have to turn the lights on well before dinner, because if you sit in the dark—however peaceful that may be—people worry about you and suggest therapy or eating more chocolate. And, of course, the children are there with you, wreaking havoc, flipping on every light in the house and making enormous amounts of noise, because however much you may enjoy sitting quietly in the dark (with or without chocolate), you don’t want them playing outside in it. On a good day, if there are no after-school activities, you may get an hour of outside playtime before the little banshees have to come in and turn the lights on.
Speaking of lights, can anyone tell me why mercury-filled light bulbs that have to be handled with biohazard suits and manufactured in China (where OSHA has limited influence) are so much better for the environment? Really? We can’t do better than that? And I don’t care what anyone says, flourescent lights still hum and give me a headache, just like they did when I was a kid, only now they’re ubiquitous and I’m afraid if the kids break one my cat will die. We don’t have a biohazard suit in her size. I’m sure that eventually LEDs will emit a nice soft light and cost less than $14 a bulb. Eventually. On the other hand, I love snowy evenings. There’s a glow outside, even after the sun goes down, that’s almost magical. When I look out at it, feeling the quiet, I relive those childhood sensations of hushed joy and expectation. Fresh snow, softly reflecting the moonlight, has such promise. The world looks different, sounds different.

But then the kids get up, screeching with joy, track up every yard in the neighborhood, change their gloves about a dozen times, and leave mounds of clothes and fat boots dripping in the kitchen while they drink cups of hot chocolate. Funny, but I don’t actually mind any of that. I’ll probably really miss it in a couple years.

Just like I’ll probably miss all the bright, gawdy things they make and bring me for Christmas. I usually either put that stuff on the bottom row of the tree or hang it on a string across the mantle. I’m thinking of getting them their own tree, so none of the multi-colored stuff needs to go on mine.
Yes, I said mine.

You see, I’m particular about the tree. It’s my canvas, and gawdy multi-color baubles are not allowed. Only white lights, gold, glass, chrystal, silver, red, or a distinctive peacock blue. That is all. The family decorates it together, and then, after they go to bed, I rearrange everything. I can’t help it. I’m not even a type A personality or markedly into the holiday spirit. Generally, I’m laid back and rather grinchy.

Maybe I have control issues. Maybe I’m just an artistic person who hates ugly trees. Take your pick. I also don’t like people to get me stuff. I want what I want, and I don’t want anything else. We already have too much stuff.

I only want power tools or the books on my Amazon wishlist. Maybe a kitchen remodel. Hey, kids! Look what Santa brought us—a new floor! But that probably wouldn’t elicit the excitement of a cheap plastic toy in a really cool box.

Yeah, I’m feeling grinchy. I don’t even want my husband and kids to get much stuff. There’s nothing they really need. I tell them all year to be grateful, because we already have everything we need and most of what we want, and I spend half the year trying to figure out how to get rid of all the stuff that makes its way into our closets. Where does it all come from? Does it sneak in when we’re not looking?

That’s something I’ll have to ponder in January, when the urge to purge really sets in. In the meantime, I want sun in the afternoon, $14 lightbulbs, snowy evenings, books, and power tools (so I can remodel the kitchen). And maybe some brown leather boots. But that’s all.

© 2011 Terri McClain. All rights reserved. This article was printed with permission in the December 2011 issue of Hannibal Magazine.

Spring Cleaning

I remember when I was organized.

“The good old days,” my husband says with a sigh, staring wistfully into the distance.

“What are you looking at?” say I.

“Memories. Just memories,” says he.

Okay, so I made most of that up. But I really was a highly organized person at one time. My drawers were tidy. My closets were tidy. In the kitchen cabinets, my glasses stood at attention in tidy ranks, like brave little soldiers. I never lost stuff. I knew what I had and where to find it.

However, I believe I can pinpoint with great accuracy exactly when that power slipped from my grasp. It was the second trimester of my second pregnancy.

I had a toddler. I was tired. I felt yucky. And we began to acquire more stuff. With the first child, I was über organized. His clothes were all stored according to size and season. When he outgrew things they were duly rotated out of the drawer and into a marked box, ready for the eventual arrival of child number two. I knew every toy he owned and where it belonged. He was a dumper: every day he dumped out buckets of toys and emptied his lower drawers, and every day I patiently helped him to put it all away again.

Then, with the imminent arrival of child number two, my patience began to wane. It was tough enough just to see my feet, let alone pick up scattered onesies and drool-covered toys over and over and over again. I woke one day from a nap to discover that he had woken before me and marked up his bedroom wall with a Sharpie that I kept in his room and (supposedly) out of reach for the purpose of labeling boxes of outgrown clothes and toys. The next day I opened the windows, got out the paint can (labeled, of course) and covered over the marker. Satisfied with my work, I left the paint can on top of the changing table while my sweet little toddler and I went to lie down on my bed for a nap.
When I woke, he was still there beside me, cute as ever. I smiled at his cherubic sleeping face, marvelling as mothers do, at the miracle of childhood. Hmm. I must have gotten some paint on him accidentally. A lot of paint.

I screeched. I leapt to my feet. I ran to his room. Or perhaps I flailed my way to the side of the bed, heaved myself to my feet, and waddled. You get the picture.

As a doting mother, I could have thought something along the lines of, “My, what a creative little boy I have!” or “How smart he is to have figured out how to climb up there, open the paint can, and get down again without ever waking me!”

I think my first thought was more like, “That little stinker! He’s ruined his dresser!” My second thought was to recognize how deeply I must have been sleeping. I was briefly overcome with a feeling of stark terror. What else might he have done without my knowledge? Ever plagued with a vivid imagination, I pictured him falling down the stairs, climbing up on the kitchen counters to find knives and other dangers, putting cleaning products in his mouth.

One reason I was so exhausted was that I worked after he went to bed, sometimes late into the night. This could not go on. I enrolled him in preschool. Things got a little better after that. Baby number two arrived. The organized boxes came down out of the closet, one by one. But somehow, I could no longer keep up with the outgrown clothes and toys. Drawers became messier, not just in their room, but everywhere. Closets became dumping grounds for stuff quickly scooped up before guests arrived.
My once organized home was filled with… chaos.

It creeps up on you, slowly building strength, sneaking out the closets while you sleep, eventually taking over. I sensed its presence but felt helpless to stop its encroachment. The power struggle was over before I knew it, and I was the loser. No longer queen of my universe, I began to feel inadequate.

But that is so yesterday. I’m ready to empower myself again. I’m ready to clean a closet and throw things away. I have the urge to purge! I will seize the day and conquer chaos!

That’s my resolution, anyway. I’ll let you know how it goes.

© 2012 Terri McClain. All rights reserved. This article was printed with permission in the January 2012 issue of Hannibal Magazine.

That Old Spring Feeling

It’s kind of like an itch, but in the back of your mind where you can’t scratch it. For me, it’s akin to the feeling I get when the creative juices start to flow but haven’t taken form yet. There’s a crescendo of expectation, a sense that anything is possible.

It’s called spring fever and—guess what!—I don’t have it. Everyone seems to have it but me. When the bulbs starting peeking up out of the ground, the kids were delighted. The forsythia bloomed, and folks cheefully announced to each other that it was time to plant. Me? I was annoyed. Annoyed with spring.
I couldn’t figure it out. What was wrong with me? After all, I really like having the windows open. My favorite temperature is 60–70 degrees. (Warmer than that I start gasping, “Too hot! Too hot!”) Finally, as I stood glaring at the weeds in my flower garden and enjoying the cool breeze on my face, it hit me: I’ve been really, really busy lately, and spring means even more work. I’m just not in the mood for more work right now.

My husband has begun puttering contentedly around the lawn, dropping not so subtle hints that my rose garden is looking a little rough. He’s been making noises about cleaning the garage and wants to pare down my lumber stash. Is he kidding? I may need that. The kids are asking when I’m going to finish painting their fort… and add a door and shutters and a rope bucket and a canopy on top… Good grief.

No more excuses for ignoring all those projects that I could cheerfully put on the back burner during the cold months. No, spring decided to come early this year. Bummer.

My 75-year-old neighbor was outside the other day on a ladder, cleaning all her windows. Et tu, neighbor? Does everyone have to show me up?

Forget window cleaning. I can’t even keep up with the regular housekeeping. We have dust creatures. They’ve evolved way beyond dust bunnies into something considerably more menacing.

I’ve told the kids to make a running leap into bed—the creatures lurking under there may become aggressive, even carnivorous. Best not to take any chances. And keep a flashlight under your pillow, just in case. (Don’t worry, they’ll grow up to be perfectly normal adults.)

Then again, isn’t that why we have a cat? Do your darned job, Captain Cat! You’re brave enough to stalk garden bunnies, so why not dust bunnies? If you’d done your job before they mutated, this would be a non-issue. Sheesh.

So what’s on my list? Let’s see. New living room baseboards. Finish the hall baseboards. Repair plaster. Paint. Finish trim work in boys’ room. Paint. Sew office curtains. Paint office shelves I built but never finished. Fix bathroom ceiling. Paint.

Outside, caulk the fort. And paint. Put door and shutters on fort so rain doesn’t continue to soak pint sized assault gear. Get someone to bust up that ugly concrete. Lay attractive flagstones. Repair and paint the fence. Help clean out the garage (no, not the lumber).

Then there’s the gardening. I want to put in a raised bed for vegetables. The roses need pruning already. Wild onions are overwhelming the beds, and there are some bare spots in the garden that need color. Daisies could be nice.

Ah, spring.

Followed by summer. When it’s above 70 degrees. A lot.

Yep, I’d better get to work. Spring doesn’t last forever, you know.

Why does it have to be so fleeting? The flowers are lovely, and bumble bees make me smile. My cherry tree is gorgeous in bloom. The fresh air feels great and smells sweet. The birds are singing cheerfully. I think I’ll sit outside with Captain Cat and a nice, cool beverage, soaking it all in. Maybe my neighbor will be so overcome by spring fever that she offers to clean my windows, too. Anything’s possible.

© 2012 Terri McClain. All rights reserved. This article was printed with permission in the April 2012 issue of Hannibal Magazine.

Ode to the Mum.
Or, My Mother Made Me Do It

A few months ago I wrote that I planned to finish painting my porch. Hooray, it’s painted!

Okay, so my mother did it. Everything I know about being a Swiss Army Wife, I learned from her. For vacation, she and her tools come to visit and make themselves useful. She does this for all three of her children. Rumor has it that when she last visited my brother he got a new bathroom. I can’t vouch for this because he lives in New York and airfare is ridiculous these days. But I do know that my sister got a new kitchen floor installed. (She lives closer and is less inclined to exaggeration.)

The Mum is wonderfully generous and cheerful and wise. As a teenager I was plagued with angst—I really wanted to rebel, but it seemed a pretty stupid idea because I knew she was always right about everything. I was incredibly frustrated—forced into goodness by my own common sense!

Also, she was always prettier than I was. She still has the better figure. The woman wore a bikini into her 50s, for pity’s sake! She was often mistaken for my sister, which tickled her pink, of course. I’m just relieved she wasn’t mistaken for my younger sister. I’m sure my younger sister feels the same.

Speaking of my sister… For some reason she never suffered the same misgivings about rebellion that I did. She taught me that a higher IQ does not necessarily equate to greater common sense. As a high school student, she once borrowed my car while I was home from college. I’m still not sure what went on that night, but the next morning my mother had her outside at the crack of dawn cleaning the mud from the interior with a bucket of water and a toothbrush. It took the poor kid most of the day, but the results were stunning.

Which brings me to another point. I don’t have daughters, but sometimes I really wish I did because there are a lot of lessons I’ve learned in life that would be valuable to pass on to the next generation of girls. Most I learned from my mother’s example.

First, she taught me that feminine is not synonymous with girlie. She is exquisitely feminine, but never frivolous or frilly. She could throw a baseball like a man, so hard that catching it hurt through the glove. She could work all day alongside my dad stringing a barbed wire fence—dirty jeans, leather gloves, sweat, and grime— then shower and change into an evening gown and be the most tasteful, elegant woman at the ball.

Second, she taught me the value of dignity—to expect a certain level of respect and decorum from others, and to get it by treating others with respect and behaving with decorum. Listen, girls: cursing and drinking like a sailor (sorry, sailors) does not make you appear more cool, tough or attractive. I know this because the Mum is one of the strongest, most elegant women I’ve ever known, even with a beer in her hand, and men gravitate to her. Her poise makes it clear she is their equal. She is beautiful but down-to-earth. And it doesn’t hurt that she exercises both her body and her brain, keeps informed, and can carry on a conversation on nearly any subject. But the most important thing she taught me was the value of unconditional love. When times were tough (and they often were) she could turn adversity into an adventure. She is a tigress when it comes to protecting her children and grandchildren, but she always expected a lot from us. It’s about balance. Experiencing emotion without overindulging in it, being a free spirit who understands the importance of self-discipline, finding joy and beauty in the moment, and in the ones you love.

If I can be half the woman and mother she is, I’ll make myself proud. Thank you, Mum. Happy Mother’s Day. Your strength, courage, wisdom, love and generosity have blessed your children more than you know.

© 2012 Terri McClain. All rights reserved. This article was printed with permission in the May 2012 issue of Hannibal Magazine.

Ode to the Pop

What can I say about my dad? Thanks to him, I had an eccentric and often delightful childhood (growing up to become a somewhat eccentric and, I hope, delightful adult). My siblings have their quirks, as well, but I seem to have gotten the bulk of it.

It could be because my parents were teenagers when I was born. Pop is only 19 years older than I, and he says we grew up together. His nickname for me was Fred or Freddie. Who knows why. He and my uncle gave everyone nicknames. (One of my brothers answered to Worm.) Once when he introduced me to a business associate, she turned and gave him a terrible scold. She had assumed from the way he talked about me that his eldest was a boy.

Life was always a game to Pop. At least he made us kids think so. On family trips through the Appalachians we kept a rapt eye out for Cherokee Chief Falling Rock (the signs said to “Watch for Falling Rock”) and Volkswagon beetles ( for the neverending, bruising game of slugbug). He got us to quit squirming in the car by saying, “You better be still. Remember what happened to your brother Robert!” “We don’t have a brother Robert,” said I. “Not anymore,” said Pop, mysteriously. That kept us thinking quietly for a good 50 miles. (My sister gave her son the middle name of Robert in honor of our mythical lost sibling.) We always laughed a lot as a family. I remember often laughing so hard it hurt to breathe.

My father loves to learn. He’s a voracious reader, entirely self educated. He never graduated high school but made it clear that we would all go to college despite our humble economic circumstances. We stopped and read every roadside historic marker we came upon. He told us wonderful, exciting stories about adventurous people and distant events that made us hunger to read more for ourselves. Dinner conversation was always stimulating, covering every topic imaginable—or sometimes just silly fun.
When my brother came home from college with his shiny new engineering degree, he thought he could teach the old man a thing or two. No such luck. Pop had been a builder for a long time; he understood every concept my brother threw at him, and then some. The lad was duly humbled.

The gifts he gave me are beyond counting, but perhaps the most important was confidence to be myself. I was terribly shy as a child until he told me, “Don’t worry about what others think of you, because they’re not thinking of you. They’re worrying what you think of them.” And when I was reluctant to try something new for fear of failure, he’d say, brightly, “Nothin’ to it but to do it.”

Happy Father’s Day, Pop. You taught me to embrace life and love learning. You gave me laughter and courage. I love you.

© 2012 Terri McClain. All rights reserved. This article was printed with permission in the June 2012 issue of Hannibal Magazine.

Relaxing Is Hard Work. And did you notice the porch needs painting again?

Ah, the long, languid days of summer. At least, that’s how I remember them from childhood. Even young adulthood.

Now the summer flies by in whirl of tedious activity. I’m always busy, looking to snatch that precious few minutes when I can sit and do nothing at all without feeling guilt or anxiety about it. Like Cinderella without the mice. I actually use a timer on my breaks. Sad, right? But maybe work and chores are kind of like kids… When you try to get away from them, they glom onto you like Play-Doh® on a Persian rug. Giving them a just a little quality time, however, will provide the reassurance they need to pry themselves off your pants leg, stop whining and cheerfully entertain themselves by wreaking havoc elsewhere in the home.

I don’t know. Maybe that’s a bad analogy.

Here are some recent observations: When my family is planning a relaxing day, I have to work really, really hard to prepare for it. I wonder if they’re playing some elaborate game of fetch with me. Hmmm.
I like fixing things up and making them nice. It’s doing it over and over that gets old. That’s what’s wrong with housework. And parenting.

Kids are lazy. But they have a disconcerting level of energy if (a) you tell them not to run, or (b) you tell them they don’t have to do any chores. Here’s a parenting tip: If you want your kids to move more slowly, just tell them you’re in a hurry. Works like a charm every time. And if you want the neighbor kid to go home, invite him to eat dinner with you after dreamily extolling the health benefits of broccoli and green peppers.

So, what happened to summer, huh? I’ll tell you. If you’re feeling the same way I am, you’ll want to hear this. (Then again, maybe you’re more evolved than I am, and you already figured this out. If so, say, “Duh!” in a kindly tone and indulge me.)

Okay, here it is… We took responsibility not only for ourselves but for everyone around us. And frankly, that’s a lot to take on.

Here’s the test. Can you obliviously sit and watch TV or read a book while someone else is cleaning or puttering around you? Are you comfortable asking someone else to get you a sandwich without having to tip? Can you go an entire day without hiding in the bathroom for just a couple extra minutes of solitude?

I have to answer no, no, no. Everyone else who lives here would answer, “I don’t get the question.” Then they give each other knowing glances and twirl their fingers around their ears.

You see? They’re bored and I’m boring. I’ve tried convincing them it’s the other way around, but no luck.

I remember when I could happily spend an entire Sunday watching old movies without a care. I was 27, unmarried, childless, and renting.

There you have it. The threelegged stool of responsibility— marriage, parenthood and home ownership. The analogy breaks down when you add an employment/ self-employment leg, but play along. Some of you are teetering on two legs. Maybe you’re sitting on all those responsibilities but have no qualms asking your spouse to fetch you a sandwich. We’ll name no names, but you know who are. Don’t tip your stool, dude. Seriously. You’re just asking for trouble.

In my house we had a longstanding stool-tipping issue. I don’t drink coffee. My husband drinks coffee and wanted me to fix him a pot of coffee every morning while he was getting ready for work. Then I had to clean up the coffee. It irked me to do it but I felt childish about the fact that it was irksome, so I never said anything about it. I just continued grumpily to fix coffee every morning. Then my mother got us one of those single cup coffee brewers and—voila!–problem solved. We’re both happy. He likes his new toy, and I think he’s kind of cute puttering around in the kitchen.

Now we’re planning a vacation. Time to roll up my sleeves and get to work. Packing lists, shopping lists, laundry, pet arrangements, projects to wrap up… By the time we get to the beach, I’ll be exhausted. Good thing I have a vacation coming.

© 2012 Terri McClain. All rights reserved. This article was printed with permission in the July 2012 issue of Hannibal Magazine.

This and That

We all know it’s blistering hot outside this year, so I won’t complain too much about that, except to say it was nice going to Florida to cool off. Is Missouri somehow drawing closer to the sun?

The rotten thing about winter is housebound kids. Wii is no substitue for real activity. This year has provided my first experience with a housebound summer. I ask the kids to play outside, attempting to bribe them with icy treats, and all I get is, “Noooo! Please don’t make us go out there.” We’ve been reaquainting ourselves with a few board games, so it’s not all bad.

At least I got a new air conditioner before the worst of it. My coil was older than the technician, so we figured it might be time for an upgrade. I grumbled about the cost for a couple weeks. Then the thermometer jumped from Hot to Bowels of Hell and I began to give thanks. Most of all, I miss rain. Remember rain? That wet stuff that used to fall from the sky? The lawn started out so pretty this year. Now it is an interesting shade of golden brown. My husband dotes on his lawn, so you can imagine his grief. We gave up watering the lawn weeks ago. I’m just trying to keep the garden from shriveling up. Come fall, I’ll have to tend to some new bare spots.

I also gave up any thought of finishing those outdoor projects for awhile. I’ve had heat exhaustion, and it isn’t pretty. My advice is to let the paint peel. Stay inside and keep your health.

When you’re housebound, it’s a good time to try some new recipes as long as your stove doesn’t heat up the house too much. I thought I would share some of mine. The common theme is sour cream.

Swiss Army Wife Instant Three Bean Chili

  • A couple cans of black beans
  • A couple cans of red beans
  • A couple cans of brown beans
  • A couple cans of spicy diced tomatoes and peppers
  • A can of spicy tomato sauce
  • Meat
  • Chopped onion
  • Spices

Toss it all together in a slow cooker and cook it slow. Yum. It’s
really good with shredded cheese, sour cream and tortilla chips.

Swiss Army Wife Breakfast Burritos

  • Eggs
  • Chopped green pepper
  • Chopped onion
  • Tsp buttter
  • BBQ sauce
  • Dash of cumin
  • Sour cream
  • Shredded cheese
  • Salsa
  • Flour tortillas

Cook peppers and onions in butter, BBQ sauce and cumin
until softened to your particular taste. Scramble eggs. Heat
tortillas in microwave for 30 seconds. Slather with sour cream.
Add eggs, vegetables, cheese and salsa. Fold up the tortillas and

I can also serve up a mean grilled cheese sandwich. You didn’t really think I was a gourmet, did you?
Here’s what I like to do with old, blackened, squishy bananas:

Swiss Army Wife Banana Bread

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 large egg
  • 4 tsp lemon juice
  • 2 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2–4 mashed bananas
  • 1/2 cup nuts (walnuts or pecans) optional

Preheat oven to 350°F. Cream butter and sugar with mixer.
Beat in sour cream, egg and lemon juice. Sift together dry ingredients.
Fold into batter and blend. Last of all add bananas and nuts. Pour into a loaf pan and bake an hour or so.
I hope the foodies out there will not judge me too harshly. We actually do eat vegetables in my house. I like them steamed and still a little crisp. But for comfort food, this stuff ain’t half bad.

© 2012 Terri McClain. All rights reserved. This article was printed with permission in the August 2012 issue of Hannibal Magazine.


This month I have nothing to confess except that in August I forgot to include sugar in my banana bread recipe. To all of you brave enough to try guesstimating how much sugar to put in, bravo! The recipe actually calls for 3/4 cup.

I blame such memory lapses on motherhood (and, to a lesser degree, marriage). My brain is processing beyond capacity as it tries to retain too much data—information that should in all fairness be the responsibility of others. But as they cannot seem to retain such details for themselves, it falls on me to do so. I mean details like the precise location of every sock belonging to not one but four people, at least two of whom routinely hurl balled up socks in random directions in whatever room of the house they happen to be passing through—or out in the yard, as the case may be. Details like what time school starts and how to close the refrigerator door. Really.

But enough about my day. Let’s talk about some subjects relevant to October…

Did you know that Halloween is the nickname for All Hallow’s Eve? All Hallows, a.k.a. All Saints Day or Hallowmas, is November 1. November 2 is All Souls Day. For this reason many Christians affirm that Halloween is, in fact, a Christian holiday. Scholars disagree on the origins of many of the holiday’s traditions, but most agree that they are essentially pre-Christian. Some believe they are primarity Roman in origin. I lean toward the Irish camp and suspect that the holiday is in fact a Christian hostile takeover of the Celtic Samhain observance, that mysterious time of year when the veil between the realms of the living and the dead was dangerously thin…


October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. As a two-time breast cancer survivor, I would like to send my good wishes to everyone out there who is struggling with cancer and the fear, anxiety, depression, and sheer exhaustion that comes along with it. That goes for families and friends, as well.

I remember being asked how I managed to handle it so calmly (particularly as I was trying to care for a toddler and a firstgrader), and I replied, “What should I do? Run screaming down the street?” We hold it together and fight through and get well. And that’s when the real funk sets in—almost like post-traumatic stress. But that passes, too. Strength and peace return and life is beautiful. Just like you.

And we mustn’t forget the lovely cool weather. My kids were complaining about the morning chill, but Daddy said, “You’re really griping about the cold, after the summer we had? You should be grateful.” I know I’m grateful. Finally, I can get the little terrorists to play outside again. Too bad the days are so short. I suppose I could leave them out there in the dark… There’s not an ordinance against that, is there? I mean, the little shock collars keep them in yard, after all.

You know I’m kidding, right?

Autumn is my favorite time of year. I love the colors and the briskness of the air. I love the clothes. You can wear fun layers but forgo that bulky overcoat. I love that the kids are in school and sometimes I can take a day off and be aaalllll alone.

Now back to work. If you need me later, I’ll be outside breathing crisp, cool air and playing hide and seek with my kids in the dark.

© 2012 Terri McClain. All rights reserved. This article was printed with permission in the October 2012 issue of Hannibal Magazine.


I f that’s not a word, it should be. It’s how I feel every holiday season, full of resolve and ready to begin anew. I feel the power surging within me, pushing me toward newer, higher levels of achievement. This year I will be a better person. A better wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend. I’ll be better writer. I’ll take better care of my health and my home. I’ll be organized. I’ll do great things, and when my children are grown they’ll pass the legend of me on to their own children’s children! Along with some really great furniture I will someday build.

I’d better turn it back a notch, right? Aside from the part about being legendary, I remain an optimist. I can better myself. I’ve done it before. Life seems to be a two steps forward, one step back kind of thing, but that’s okay. It’s the journey, right?

Sometimes not so much. Sometimes it’s the outcome that matters and I really, really wish I had more superpowers. (Mommy smarts is a superpower, right?) If I could snap my fingers and have a clean house and new kitchen, I’d be a happy woman, because the whole journey toward achieving a clean house does nothing for me. I’d much rather journey toward a finished novel, but the whole dirty house thing keeps getting in my way.

Each New Year is a reminder of all the goals and dreams that have quietly gone adrift and floated away. Sometimes I watch them go with remorse or longing. But other times I feel a sense of freedom, because some goals are actually burdens we create for ourselves, or allow to be created for us, that drag us away from our true dreams. Did you ever hear the expression “I climbed the corporate ladder, only to find out it was leaning against the wrong wall”?

So, as we wax resolutionary, let’s make resolutions that really matter. Here are some of mine. I resolve to laugh more with my children and enjoy their company while they still enjoy mine. I’ve been marveling lately at how insightful and witty they’ve become already in their brief, brilliant lives. I also resolve to help them shine their own uniquely individual and beautifully eccentric lights for the world. It’s so easy to extinguish those lights with just a dismissive word spoken out of hand because we’re tired and overworked.

We may forget our words or the tone in an instant, but our children can change their course without our being aware of it simply because we make them feel small or silly or trivialize their dreams or achievements. Of course we want to shape their dreams somewhat—succeed in school, make nice friends, get a good job so you can move out my basement—but the last thing I want to do is make them feel that their attempts to be funny or creative or bold won’t be taken as seriously as my goals for them. What a burden I would be putting on their little shoulders! I want them to be strong, honorable men, but I also want them to be comfortable in their own shoes. So I resolve also to help them find their own wings and fly, hopefully higher than their father and I ever could.

I resolve to return to a more healthy, active lifestyle and shine by example. I’m sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. And the next step in this resolution is to make time for quietude. Creativity does not take root in a mind filled with noise, worry and stress. And if we find that peaceful place in our lives, even if only for a few moments each day, we become less likely to take our stress out on others. In my case, it means I am better able to achieve resolution number one, as well as this next one.

I resolve to be a better friend to my husband. It’s why we married, isn’t it? We were best friends. Now we’re so busy that we email each other instead of talking, and we give each other to-do lists instead of sharing jokes. It’s easy to get so swept up in life and the constant barrage of job demands and chores and scheduling and childcare that we forget to be friends. So, that quietude that I seek for myself I will also seek together with him, like best friends do.

Undemanding, understanding, a refuge for each other. I resolve to have friendship time outs, when it is against the rules to talk about business or finances or honey-do’s, and we rediscover what we really enjoyed about each other’s company to start with, because I don’t remember ticking items off checklists during every conversation when we were dating. I’m pretty sure that would have been just as tedious then as it is now.

I resolve to find joy in simple tasks, to focus on the moment, to love more, to shine brighter and to seek out the light in others. I resolve to look less at my own feet and more at what the world has to offer. I resolve to smile more. I resolve to let go of anger and resentments. I resolve let the strength of my resolve flow through me and from me to those I love.

Won’t that be resolutionary? I’m smiling more already.

© 2012 Terri McClain. All rights reserved. This article was printed with permission in the December 2012 issue of Hannibal Magazine.

It’s My Day, Darn It

So here we are again. Another year evaporated and Mother’s Day rears her ugly head. I admit to being in love with Mother’s Day when I first became a mother. I took advantage of my very first Mother’s Day to dress my infant son in a tiny little sailor suit that my husband really hated. It was the only time the little guy ever got to wear it, but there was never a negative comment from his father. My husband was way too smart to criticize the baby or me on my very first Mother’s Day. I even took a picture, so I could taunt them both with the sailor suit for all eternity.

As usual, for Mother’s Day I daydream about taking the day off. I could put their dad in charge (he’s quite willing), but I’ll still be jumping up every two minutes because he doesn’t know where any of their stuff is. And, apparently, neither do they.

Here’s the real problem: there’s ne escaping MIADHD—motherhood-induced attention deficit hyperactivity disorder—even on Mother’s Day. Unlike hyperactive children, we do not, in fact, have ants in our pants. Rather, we are forced into hyperactivity in our role as family fixer. I actually eat half my meals standing up. It’s more restful than sit-stand-sit- stand-sit-stand-bend.

It’s not so bad now that the kids are getting a little older, because I’m finally learning to say, “Get it/do it/find it yourself.” Sometimes I even say, “Ask Daddy.” So I guess in that sense I’m outgrowing the hyperactivity aspect of MIADHD. The attention part, unfortunately, shows little sign of improvement.

Here’s an example. I take a break from writing and put water on to boil for tea while I make a shopping list. Then I need to go upstairs and check how much toilet paper we have, so I gather up a pile of folded laundry to take with me. I drop some on my bed and take the rest to my sons’ room. While in their room, I see that one of them has gotten out my scissors and didn’t put them away. I pick up the scissors and carry them to the office, where I hear my email tone and decide I should check my work email because it might be important. Fifteen minutes later I become aware of a distant whistling sound, realize the water in my tea kettle is boiling away and hurtle downstairs to take it off the burner. The phone rings. A client is responding to the email I just dashed off. I run back up to my office to take care of something for my client. When that is finished, I realize that I’m thirsty and I never got my tea. So I go downstairs and sit down at the table with my tea to finish my shopping list, where I remember that I need to check how much toilet paper is upstairs. As I walk by the front door to the stairs, I see that the cat wants in, and she probably doesn’t have any food or water in her bowl. I feed her and add cat food to the shopping list. Now, about that toilet paper… As I pass the front door again, I decide I should check the mail. Oh, look. This piece of mail needs attention right away. Back up to the office. I take care of paperwork, check my email, get back to writing. Within minutes I am completely absorbed in my creative bubble. Hours pass. I sit back, stretching, glance at the clock, utter an expletive and grab my phone and keys. Time to get the kids.
But first I need to use the restroom. Hmmm. We seem to be low on toilet paper.

I pick up the kids and take them to the store with me. They cannot believe that I would again refuse to buy them gumballs and candy flavored breakfast cereal. They help carry the grocery bags and toilet paper into the house, misplace their shoes and belts (we will be looking for these in the morning as we are late getting ready for school because it apparently takes little boys three times longer to dress on days beginning with M, W or T), then cannot believe that I would again refuse to let them play video games before homework is done.

I break up a fight, fix dinner, fold some more laundry, check homework, and set the table. My husband comes home, looks around, sees piles of folded laundry in several rooms and a pile of unopened mail on the stairs and wonders aloud what I do all day.

I’m convinced that this is the real reason women earn less than men: we are unable to give our full attention to any of our bazillion tasks. Yes, we all multitask. No, we don’t all do it well. Women would be much more successful in our careers if we all had wives. You know, someone to take care of all the boring details of life, keep up with the toilet paper stockpile, and clean up the mess we left on the table as we charged off singlemindedly to conquer the world.

Who cleans up the mess when a child is ill in the middle of the night? My husband is a super great guy and all, but to my knowledge he has never been up washing pukey sheets and towels at 3:00 am while I slept. But that’s OK. I learned how to function without sleep a long time ago. Now, where did I put that toilet paper?

© 2013 Terri McClain. All rights reserved. This article was printed with permission in the May 2013 issue of Hannibal Magazine.

Angelina and Me

Angelina Jolie recently made headlines when she announced her plans to undergo a double (bilateral prophylactic) mastectomy—a sort of preemptive strike against the specter of breast cancer. The reason for this drastic move? She inherited the BRCA1 gene mutation, which greatly increases a woman’s odds of developing breast or ovarian cancer.

Women of the world, do not panic. BRCA1 affects only a very small percentage of the population. And even if you inherit the gene mutation, you may never develop cancer.

I was struck by Angelina’s announcement because I, too, have the BRCA1 gene mutation. She and I must have a common distant ancestor—a mere 600 degrees of separation.

She underwent genetic testing because of her mother’s tragic illness. I did it during my second bout of breast cancer. She’s being smart about it. Fake boobs are prettier if you get them before you have to.
That may sound flippant, but it’s not. Once you’ve had radiation treatment, your skin is not as stretchy, leaving fewer options for reconstruction. And some of the options, frankly, are downright creepy. For example, a “flap” reconstruction detaches part of a back or belly muscle and flips it over your chest to create a nice mound. Yuck. I had a 6-year-old and a very busy 3-year-old who still needed to be picked up occasionally, so I really needed my muscles to stay where God put them. I mean, sheesh, they’re just boobs.

Angelina needs hers for professional reasons. I just wanted a little something to keep me recognizably female in a swimsuit. But some gals find it extremely difficult to part with, well, the “gals.” A few women feel an actual loss of identity or womanhood after a mastectomy. Listen to Angelina, ladies. You are more than the sum of your bra size. Hear us roar.

My sister got tested after I did. Yep, she has it, too. She wanted babies, so she waited. Now she has babies, and she’s thinking a lot about how much they need their mommy. Also, she saw how difficult it was for me to mother small children effectively while undergoing cancer treatment. She doesn’t want that. She’s making the preemptive strike.

Angelina has a lot of kids. A lot. Don’t know if she wants more, but she already has a lot and they need their mom. The preemptive strike was a smart move. No more living in fear. However, it’s not a move I’d recommend for everyone. Remember, we make up only a small percentage of the population. For the rest of you, whose risk is much lower, weigh your options carefully before you have any body parts lopped off.

BRCA1 also increases a woman’s risk for ovarian cancer. That’s a much tougher decision. The ovaries are sort of the control panel for your body’s HVAC system. They also help keep road rage in check. I’m just saying.

Do I miss the old gals? Not really. Does my husband? Maybe a little. But when he looks at me he sees a complete woman. I’ve told my kids that I’m a cyborg now, and they think cyborgs are cool.
Angelina and me, we’re members of the same women’s cyborg club. (What should we name it, I wonder?) My sister won’t be a full member because she’s not bothering with the robo-boobs. Now that’s a woman with confidence.

© 2013 Terri McClain. All rights reserved. This article was printed with permission in the July 2013 issue of Hannibal Magazine.

Prepping for the Zombie Apocalypse

Well, it’s October, that time of year when all of us must face facts and acknowledge the coming zombie apocalypse, or the Z.A., as we call it in our house.

I hope we have enough candy. You should see how long I can make the Halloween candy last. It’s an art, really.

Fast forward: “Mom, what’s for dessert?” “The usual.” “Yay!” “And don’t take all night picking it out.” Kids’ voices: “We already know which two pieces of candy we want—one candy corn and one chocolate Easter egg. Can we watch the fireworks now?”

This is an unrealistic example, however, because I like candy corn, and their dad and I already ate all the best stuff back in the first week of November. But they don’t seem to mind. If it identifies as candy, it must be good.

What has this to do with the Z.A.,? Nothing really, except that Halloween is constantly in our faces beginning roughly early August, when the back-to-school sales are in full swing. And nothing says Halloween to me like a flesh-eating zombie.

The truth is, I’ve been putting a little aside for a rainy day, AKA shopping strategically. My kids tease me that I’m becoming a prepper. I tell them no, I am not prepping for the zombie apocalypse, just for minor emergencies. Our grandparents always had a little something set aside, because, folks, it’s just plain common sense. We’ve become complacent because there’s a convenience store on every corner, but emergencies happen, even in the Midwest. Ask Joplin.

Here’s an example. We went away for a weekend, and when we came back, we discovered our community was under a boil order for several days because of a large water main break. My neighbors were all boiling or buying water, but we were not. I had several gallons of water stashed for just such an emergency. I put some in each bathroom for teeth brushing and some in the kitchen for cooking and drinking, and we hardly felt the inconvenience.

Do you have a plan for minor emergencies? Major emergencies? What if you had to evacuate? What would you grab? Do you have your paperwork in order? Do you have a plan for pets? If your car breaks down, do you know what to do? Do you have water and walking shoes? My rule is no one is allowed in the car without some sort of foot wear, and I usually keep a pair of sturdy, comfortable shoes in the back for myself. Plus, an umbrella can provide valuable shelter from both the rain and the sun. What if there is a power outage in the middle of winter? Can you keep warm? In summer, can you keep your food from spoiling? Think about what your family needs to get by for two weeks, and keep that on hand. Just two weeks. That’s not even prepping: that’s just basic supplies. But I’ll bet not many of you have enough food for two weeks, let alone enough toilet paper.

Yes, buy toilet paper. (Look at Venezuela. Good toilet paper is like gold, there.) In fact, keep a roll of toilet paper in your car. You never know.

How many of us know the proper way to store food in bad conditions? Or even what to store? We don’t eat much canned food at our house, but I keep some on hand. You see, it is precooked. Yes, you can eat it out of the can if you must. Just keep the expiration date in mind and donate what you don’t use to a food pantry a couple or three months before it expires. And if you think putting aside a year’s worth of ramen noodles for less than a dollar a day will do the trick, I say that’s fine—as long as you’re OK with scurvy and rickets.

Maybe that’s how the Z.A. begins… scurvy and rickets. It might help explain the shuffling walk. Hmmm.

© 2013 Terri McClain. All rights reserved. This article was printed with permission in the October 2013 issue of Hannibal Magazine.

If Carrots Turn You Orange,Why Doesn’t Broccoli Make You Green?

The short answer is, I don’t know. There’s a lot of stuff I don’t know. Most of what I know is either really useful or incredibly trivial. (I took a lot of art history in college, but I also have a strong practical side.)

Kids tend to ask the tough questions. How do flies land on the ceiling? Why do cats purr and knead you with their really sharp claws when they like you? Why do adults like to just sit and talk instead of playing? (Wait! I know the answer to that one: We’re very tired.) Why did God make mosquitoes? What are feelings, and where are they in you? How come Daddy gets to eat in the living room?

My little nerdlings argue over whether a narwhal’s tusk is a horn or a tooth. Does it really matter? Apparently, it does. A lot.

The knowledge stockpiled in their little heads is amazing. 11-year-old doing homework asks aloud, “Who is the Greek goddess of spring? Is it Persephone?” Annoyed response from 8-year-old in next room: “Well, duh!”

They’re hungry for data and more data. Mostly it comes from school, books and documentaries. Hubby and I provide a good balance because we know different stuff. How do you survive in the woods for week with only a piece of string and a pack of gum? Go ask your father. How do you build a bookcase? Ask your mother. Why is Ulysses S. Grant nicknamed “Unconditional Surrender”? Go ask your father (turns out it wasn’t because of Appomattox Court House). Was King Arthur real? Ask your mother. Where are my shoes? Go ask your mother.

I love their love of learning. It’s one of the things I love about my husband, too. He never ceases trying to improve his mind and his character, which sets a fantastic example for the kids. I love being a family of dreamers and readers and explorers who believe in acquiring experiences more than things. Learning something new every day helps keep life from getting stale. Yesterday, my son told me humans need blue light to be happy because the light outside is blue. I never thought of that, but it makes sense.

Some of the best moments in our day start with a few simple words: “Hey, Mommy, did you know…”

© 2013 Terri McClain. All rights reserved. This article was printed with permission in the November 2013 issue of Hannibal Magazine.

Next Year: Take a Hard Look at What Really Matters

The holiday season is a time of joy, when we count our blessings and give from our hearts. It’s a time of renewal, as we look forward to the new year and hope to make our lives—and maybe the lives of others—a little better. We make resolutions, strive for self-improvement and more abundant lives.
But the holiday season is often a time of stress, as well. Many have fallen upon hard economic times, and they worry that they cannot give their children a happy Christmas. Some wonder if they can put food on the table or keep warm in the heart of winter. The coming new year offers no surge of hope to those in need, only the pain of desperation.

My children recently participated in Scouting for Food and food drives through their school. Their classes took field trips to help process gifts and staples for needy families. It made them realize how blessed they are, even if we can’t afford to get them iPads or smart phones like their friends have. The experiences made them take a hard look at how much they take for granted. It’s not fun to take a hard look at things, especially at yourself. As parents, we often shield our children from that discomfort, and thus from the consequences of their actions. When we discourage meaningful introspection, however, we are doing them no favor. In fact, we’re decreasing their chances to thrive once they’re out of our nurturing embrace.

A teacher once explained this with the metaphor of the butterfly that struggles to escape its cocoon. If you help it, it will not develop the physical strength it needs to survive. It must first struggle before it can spread its wings and successfully fly. As I tell my sons, if you never do anything difficult, you’ll never do anything to be proud of.

There’s lots of advice out there on how to de-stress during the holidays. All that shopping and putting up with our in-laws can really take it out of us! Most of the advice I see is about how to be kinder to yourself under these terrible conditions.

Good grief.

Do you want to know the real way to properly de-stress? Yes, you should get enough sleep and exercise and eat healthy food. You should be doing that anyway, because when you don’t you’re a real pill to be around because you feel wretched and you snap at people and sit around feeling sorry for yourself. You need to take care of your body like you take care of your house and your car and your delicate undergarments. It’s yours and no one is going to take care of it for you. And if you don’t take care of it, it falls apart and you have only yourself to blame.

So there’s that factor. There’s also a little thing called attitude. Where are you on the attitude spectrum? Are you positively or negatively charged?

If you really want to take some of the stress out of life, I suggest you begin by tossing out that advice about finding more efficient ways to pamper yourself and start being more kind and thoughtful to others. Sit down and don’t be afraid to take a tough look at yourself. It might hurt at first, acknowledging that you fall short of the giant you’d like to be, but you’ll never grow without meaningful introspection.

As we make our resolutions for the new year, let’s take a different approach, focusing less on things and more on achievement.

Part of the problem is our cultural shift toward trivial multitasking and the hours devoted to shallow discourse via social media. Roger Daltrey (you old folks will remember him from The Who) recently ranted, “We’re just busy doing nothing now. We’ve got no time to contemplate, no time to dream.”*
Turn off the electronics for a minute. Look inside and ask yourself, “Am I the person I want to be? How can I be better?” Stephen Covey, of “Seven Habits” fame, tells folks to identify their roles, then schedule an action for each role during your week. For example, my roles are family member, friend, writer, home manager. You might add something like neighbor, concerned citizen or Christian (don’t add too many or you’ll ramp the stress right back up). The point is to direct positive action through identifying the roles you play in your own life and in the lives of others.

But what about those pesky resolutions we make each year, to lose weight, save money, get a promotion? We should probably rethink that approach, too. Instead of defining the destination, how about just setting off on the right road. And your roadmap should point the way not to acquiring, but to achieving.

After all, do you want your loved ones to remember you for your impressive car, or for the quality of your character? If you try to de-stress your life by focusing primarily on your own comfort, you’re fixing the wrong problem, attacking the symptoms instead of what really ails you.

*Telegraph, November 17, 2013

© 2013 Terri McClain. All rights reserved. This article was printed with permission in the December 2013 issue of Hannibal Magazine.

One-Seventh of Your Life Is Spent on Monday

I ’m writing this on a Monday. Not the best day I’ve had lately.

Cranky kid recovering from the flu. Cranky husband with too much work to do and a smart phone glued to his hand. Me, begging aloud for the chance to pursue a task — any task! — for 10 entire minutes without interruption. And one kid happy-go-lucky, bouncing off the walls, hungry every hour, singing loudly off-key, exuberantly commenting on everything he experiences, and thoroughly frying the last nerves of everyone else in the house.

They were all in my office with me this afternoon, plus Captain Cat and one of the neighbor kids who came over to do homework with happy boy.

It’s not that big an office.

I feel like my nervous system has carpet burns.

That’s why it feels so weird to say that, in a way, it was kinda nice being all together and on the same schedule. You could really feel the love in between outbursts of “Stop it! I’m trying to [think/work/read] here!” and “I’m hungry.”

What, really, are the criteria for having a good day? For my husband, I suspect it has to do with how much is accomplished, be it menial tasks or healthy, edifying activities. For my kids, it’s how much fun was packed in relative to how many chores were shirked.

For me? Hard to quantify. All I know is, we spend huge chunks of our lives sleeping, grooming, eating, and experiencing Monday. We might as well make the most of it, don’t you think?

I fantasize about a full night’s sleep. Taking a shower or bath with no one banging on the door because they can’t find something that’s probably lying in plain sight. Sitting and savoring an entire dinner without leaving the table for more milk/a towel.

Monday morning usually means my first shot at solitude since 3:30 pm on Friday (unless, of course, I decided at some point over the weekend to forego sleep, thus experiencing lovely solitude during the wee hours of the night but morphing into evil Mommy beast the next day). Hubby gives me a kiss goodbye, then I wave cheerfully as the kids carpool to school.

Then I do a little happy dance and embrace the first day of the rest of my week. After all, one seventh of your life is spent on Monday. Make it count.

© 2014 Terri McClain. All rights reserved. This article was printed with permission in the January 2014 issue of Hannibal Magazine.

Spring Rabbits

At last … spring! Mornings are suddenly better, as I awake to the cheery sound of birdsong—whose absence was not noted until its abrupt return. I open my eyes with a rush of optimism, curiously aware of some change in the quality of the light. Warm floors welcome my bare feet. It is a time of positive transition. I sense that my entire family is stirred by it. Not restless, precisely, but stirred up. Motivated.

Spring is here. It’s time to get up off your butt and MOVE.

Don’t overthink it. Just do it. If you think about it, you’ll suddenly discover that your couch is more comfortable than you remembered, and your shoes are a little tight, and you’re actually kinda tired.

Just let that birdsong and sunshine draw you out. Sit a little outside. It’s a start. After a while, you may feel the urge to putter. Or, at the very least, to breathe deeply.

Not all transitions are positive, of course. We all struggle with transitions (some of us more than others). It’s a law of thermodynamics, so don’t feel bad. It really does take more energy to get out of that rut than it took to get in it.

I tend to get hyperfocused on things that interest me. My husband says I “go down rabbit holes” that intrigue but take me nowhere.

When I’m working and need to shift gears, it can be almost painful to stop what I’m doing and move to the next task. That’s why I find it helpful to get up, move around, and engage in a “transitional activity.”

Transitional activities have been a lifesaver for me. I use a timer (to avoid rabbit holes). Since I work from home, I can use housework as a transitional activity. The laundry, for example. Get up, stretch my muscles, pick up all the dirty cups and glasses in the office and transition them to the dishwasher. Fold a load of laundry and throw in a new one to be ready for the dryer on my next break. Then back to my desk with a clear head, ready to start a new task.

Sometimes I put my feet up for 15 minutes and read a book or a magazine. It doesn’t really matter what I do, as long as I do something that changes my focus.

Why does this work? I don’t know. Maybe it’s one of the perils of a creative mind. Maybe I have ADD. So what?

Transitional activities are particularly important when going from one drudgery to the next. I find it helps to set a goal and promise myself a nice break when I achieve it.

Strategies like this are key to the functionality of folks like myself (no labels, please). They also work well as a parenting tool. All parents know how difficult it can be to draw children away from a task they enjoy and direct them toward one they dislike. One of my sons often expresses intense dislike for activities that I know he enjoys, because transitioning from the activity in which he is currently engaged is a struggle. Why? Because he is so fully engaged. He throws himself into activities of his own choosing. Give him a few minutes, and he’ll get caught up in the activities others choose for him, too.

The point is, he does not get bored. It’s a beautiful thing, really, after you drag him kicking and screaming away from whatever he was doing before.

Springtime offers the best of transitions. Here in Missouri, it’s the break—often too brief—between bitter cold and brutal heat.

Here’s a picture of my son fishing the other day. He did not want to go camping. He wanted to play video games. After he got to the river, he didn’t want to come home.

Spring break is over. Now he doesn’t want to go to school. I think I will transition him by making him clean his room.

As for me, I will transition into summer by looking at this beautiful gardening magazine that just arrived in the mail. Maybe I’ll read outside where the birds are. With my feet up.

Oh, look—a rabbit!

© 2014 Terri McClain. All rights reserved. This article was printed with permission in the April 2014 issue of Hannibal Magazine.

Mother’s Day: A (Very Brief) History

Americans have officially been celebrating Mother’s Day since 1914, but it was dreamed up by some chick named Anna Jarvis in 1908. She wanted to honor the sacrifices of mothers everywhere, particularly the work of her own mother, who promoted reconciliation, proper sanitation, and responsible childcare in the Appalachians after the Civil War.

Anna apparently harbored idealistic fantasies of how mothers should be honored, because later in life she denounced the commercialization of her holiday and spent her twilight years trying to get it removed from the calendar. Interestingly, she never had children of her own, which explains how she had so much time on her hands to agonize over how florists and card designers were taking ruthless advantage of her creation.

Precursors to our “queen for a day” holiday can be found in both pagan and Christian traditions. Spring being the proper, appointed time of year to celebrate the fertility and rebirth, pagans held festivals in favor of the mother goddess in her many guises. They weren’t always very nice festivals, but hey, a party’s a party.

Closer to our own era, Christians used to celebrate something called “Mothering Sunday,” when they returned to their “mother church” on the fourth Sunday in Lent in honor of the Virgin Mary. Kids gave Mom flowers because it was spring and they were fresh. (Kids being what they are, the little hoodlums probably picked them from other people’s gardens.)

Julia Ward Howe, who wrote “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” suggested Mother’s Day way back in 1872, but more as part of a grassroots political movement for peace than a way to honor your personal favorite nurturing female.

Today, Mother’s Day is celebrated around the world. Many countries celebrate on the same day that Americans do. Other nations have aligned the observance with days of relevant cultural significance.
Personally, I have always dreamed of celebrating Mother’s Day by getting away from my kids and the man who spawned them for a few precious hours. Unfortunately, this suggestion has routinely been greeted with such horror that I’ve been forced to abandon the idea. I’m thinking of sleeping most of the day as a compromise.

Happy Mother’s Day!

© 2014 Terri McClain. All rights reserved. This article was printed with permission in the May 2014 issue of Hannibal Magazine.

Hickory Floors and Industrial Tables

Life would be beyond peachy if only I had more time, energy, and money. My kitchen renovation project has stalled somewhat due to the demands of work and family, as well as that pesky need for sleep. I still need to build shelves, hang a door, put up the crown molding, tile the backsplash, and trim out a window. So, while I cannot reveal the finished kitchen yet, I am delighted to share a couple accomplishments.

First, the new, beautiful hickory floor that my mother and I laid. It’s not the first floor we’ve installed together, but it is definitely the best. Hickory was not my first choice. I thought that I wanted a wide plank floor stained weathered gray, but the floor we ordered was not the floor we received, so we had to make a quick substitution from what was available in stock. With one of my cabinet panels in hand to help us match the wood tones, Mum and I discovered that narrow, natural hickory planks were what I really wanted… and they were on sale.

In retrospect, a gray floor would have been a terrible mistake. Plus, while the narrow planks involved more cutting, they compensated better for my out-of-square, 100-year-old undulating subfloors than the wide planks could have.

My industrial-style table got the gray stain. I built the base of the table with iron plumbing pipe, spray painted a dark, antique bronze. The pipes and fittings simply screw together, so the legs are adjustable. I put rubber feet on the legs and screwed the base to the table top with flanges. The table top is made from 2×8 boards glued and fastened together using a Kreg Jig.® The finished product is extremely durable and sturdy.

Next month, if all goes well, my new industrial-cottage kitchen will be ready for the big reveal.

© 2014 Terri McClain. All rights reserved. This article was printed with permission in the August 2014 issue of Hannibal Magazine.

Turf War

Well, it’s spring time again, and I have a to do list so long it makes my head hurt. There’s a lot of deferred maintenance that has my husband threatening to take charge of my garden and everything else.
I admit that last year my garden was a huge disappointment. It was very hot and dry, and I was busy remodeling my kitchen instead of puttering outside. Our home’s curb appeal took a definite nosedive. Worse, all my herbs died, and my favorite carpet roses got a nasty virus. I dug up the roses in the fall and disposed of them, wiping away a tear or two as I did so. The resulting bare spot apparently was more than my husband could handle, because yesterday he planted a rhododendron there after shopping alone and unsupervised.

He said he’s going to “take charge” of things more because I have too many projects. I stood there in silence and watched him work as long as I could, finally blurting out, “You know those only bloom once, then they’re just scraggly, and I’ve never had any luck with them in our clay.” I really prefer all-season bloomers, but I’m trying to respect his efforts and his feelings. “That’s okay,” he replied, shoveling contentedly.

He asked how big it would get. Too big for that spot, I’m thinking.

“What does the tag say?” I asked back.

He looked. “Four feet by four feet.”

“Then it will be six by six,” say I. “And you put it right in front of the porch.” (Everything in that garden gets huge. My carpet roses were nearly three feet high.)

“We can trim it,” says he.

Hmmph. “I wanted a hydrangea.”

“You can move this when you get one.”

Great. Another project. I’ll put it on the bottom of the list.

I went in the house at that point. He was disturbing my equilibrium. I mean, one doesn’t simply impulse-buy shrubs. Plants must be researched and gardens must be planned. You don’t just buy a bush and plant it without at least reading the tag! I hope he loosened the root ball a little. And didn’t plant the shrub too deep. And gave it enough water.

If he keeps this up I’ll be a wreck. What if he wants to plant other things? He might actually put something new in my vegetable garden without my knowledge, or rearrange my tools. I know he’s been itching to throw out some of my lumber stash to make more room for camping and fishing gear.

That rhododendron may look pretty right now, with its delicate pink blossoms brightening up the front garden, but it is a harbinger of things to come. An omen.

This could very well be the beginning of a turf war.

I actually had hopes of taking charge of a few things, myself. Hubby babies his grass. He pauses to admire the grass when we go to the botanical garden, and he’s never forgiven me for planting a rose bush by the steps where he worked three years to grow grass after rock salt killed it. But, seriously, the yard needed roses there.

If I expand a planting bed, he mourns the grass I removed and worries that weeds will begin to encroach on his lawn. To be fair, that has happened before when beds went untended too long. But I think the yard could feel more private and charming if we dug up some grass and planted more trees and beds around the periphery. I also want to expand my vegetable garden with self-watering raised and vertical beds.

Okay, he says, as long as you don’t kill any of my grass.

Oh, yeah. Turf war is coming. I hope the children won’t be forced to choose sides.

One could see the rhododendron and my husband’s incursion into my garden as a fair trade for the lawn I’ve annexed in the past. Or, one could view his trespassing as an existential threat to the natural order of things.

I simply cannot allow him to seize the high ground. He’ll cover it with grass and then I’ll never get my hydrangeas! Next he’ll be proposing something ridiculous, like working as a team or something.
No good can come of this.

There’s only one solution: Preemptive gardening.

I’d better get out there before he buys another shrub.

© 2015 Terri McClain. All rights reserved. This article was printed with permission in the April 2015 issue of Hannibal Magazine.

Home Making for Dummies

Why is it, with all the information and modern conveniences available at our fingertips, we are far worse homemakers than our mothers and grandmothers?

We have nifty appliances to save us time and make us more efficient — food processors and dehydrators and single cup coffee makers, high capacity washers and dryers, ice makers, and vacuum cleaners with a hundred attachments. We have the world at our fingertips every moment. How do I grow my own herbs? Google it. How do I replace the heating element in my dryer? Google it. Want some DIY decorating ideas? Pinterest will suck up hours of your day.

We have entire television networks dedicated to showing us how to be great homemakers. How to decorate. How to cook. How to fix up an old house. Beyond that, how to dress, how to organize, how to train your dog or teach your kids to read before they can talk.

Oh, wait. I think I just answered my own question. We are in denial. First of all, my mother’s job was being a mom and running a household. That’s a full-time job, folks, especially with four kids. She was very good at her job.

Was she a fantastic, gourmet cook? No. She fed us simple, tasty, healthy meals on a budget. Was our house decorated just so? No. It was neat, clean, and attractive on a budget, with a place for everything and everything in its place. Could she fix the dryer if she needed to? Yes. But she had to go to the library or ask an expert. She budgeted that into her schedule.

Do you see where I’m going with this? Most of us work outside the home, and it takes up our whole day. We then cram all the things our mothers and grandmothers had to manage into a few precious hours. Or we spend at least some of that those hours watching HGTV or daydreaming on Pinterest about how we can give our kids a home as great as the one our moms gave us. Why? Because we’re tired, that’s why. Then, we take our hard-earned money and buy another appliance that will make it all easier.

Our parents lived with less, but they lived well. How did they make good homes? By actually doing it. There’s nothing like learning on the job, I guess. Without glamorizing housework (it can be really tedious), there’s something to be said for just rolling up your sleeves and getting it done, however imperfectly.

I need to budget that into my schedule.

© 2015 Terri McClain. All rights reserved. This article was printed with permission in the May 2015 issue of Hannibal Magazine.

All Confessions of a Swiss Army Wife articles © Terri McClain. All rights reserved. 
Articles were printed with permission in Hannibal Magazine. No work for hire agreement was signed by the author, who retains all rights to the work.