Posted by: Patti Dickinson | 07/16/2017

Heeding the call

I’ve never really given much thought to why I do what I do, why I am drawn in one direction and not another. I suppose I sort of meander my way through life, ducking and dodging, being alternately fierce and soft spoken, stamping my feet or hurrying, sliding into home plate or running just behind enough that I miss the bus.

What exactly is that call? And who’s making it? Is it shouted or is it a quiet whisper? In other words, how did I wind up just where I am on this particular day? I guess it would be the culmination of all of my decisions that landed me at this literal and figurative latitude and longitude.

So a look back at the milestone moments….an over-the-shoulder gaze into the rearview mirror of my life….daunting, eh?

Ever play the “what if’ game? It makes life one big aha. Change one little thing and the landscape of your life would look completely different. For me? Take away a chance encounter at a sophomore Sion mixer on an April 25 evening long ago and I wouldn’t be married to the man I am. Really – it was an across-the-crowded room kind of thing. Take away a chance glimpse on the Kansas City Kansas School District website and the job of teaching struggling kids wouldn’t have hit my radar. A chance reading of the Kansas City Star Sunday magazine put us in touch with the attorney that facilitated the adoption of our first kiddo.

A dance, a website and a newspaper. Who knew the power of those everyday things.

But as I tell my kids — every single time there is a crisis/meltdown/oh no moment, there is no element of chance. There is only the hand of God, gently pushing us in the direction where we belong at that moment in time. No coincidences. No wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time. Nope. Every single time it’s the right-place-at-the-right-time.

Every. Single. Time.

Posted by: Patti Dickinson | 07/10/2017

Too Much Baggage


We humans are a funny breed. Take a reasonably intelligent person and give them a suitcase and watch them try and jam a “carry on” into a too- small overhead airplane compartment. And try repeatedly to slam the compartment door on said suitcase, despite the fact that it’s hanging out of the bin.

It’s probably appropriate at this point to acknowledge the infinite patience of flight attendants everywhere, who stand by and watch this ridiculousness, when I want to hop out of my seat and scream, “Seriously?   Are you trying to mash that too-big suitcase into too-small a space, meanwhile holding up 200+ passengers all trying to make their way down the aisle while you continue this exercise in futility?” Or “That monster suitcase isn’t a carry on, fella. That’s big enough to hold a medium-sized elephant. It won’t fit in the overhead.”

Airplanes provide such good people-watching opportunities. But I am always taken aback when the person in front of me decides that they are going to forgo the “upright position” of the seat and slam it backwards into a recline, in effect, putting their head in my lap. Really? Could you move your head a little to the left so that I can put my food tray down?

Or the guy in Row 6 who bounces out of his seat before the seatbelt sign goes off, grabs his carry on and manages to be the first one off the plane. Did he miss the how-to-line-up tutorial in Kindergarten? I bet this clown has no idea how to conduct a successful “merge” on the highway, either.

Or how about the person who decides it’s time to use the miniscule restroom when two flight attendant-manned carts are in the aisle, distributing drinks.  Can’t you hold it?

And those little bags of peanuts? Five of those would make a nice snack. And the packaging grates on my environmental sensibilities. That’s lots of foil for the landfill.

And how about the guy who has the aisle seat and instead of standing to let me get to my seat, angles his legs about four degrees so I have to come as close as I will ever come to a lap dance to get by him?

I could just slap half the humans boarding the plane. Why is it that flying seems to bring out the absolute worst in people?

Posted by: Patti Dickinson | 05/04/2017

#parentfail misses the point

Several weeks ago in Kansas City, there was a tragic car accident involving nine 14 and 15 year olds, riding around in a car at 4 in the morning. The carful of kids, driving 80 mph in a residential area without headlights, refused to stop for a police officer and a short time later, crashed into a tree, killing both the driver and the front seat passenger. The seven in the back seat walked away. The police called the Mitsubishi sedan “over-occupied”. How’s that for an understatement?

The next day, facebook was loaded up with #parentfail sorts of posts. You can probably guess — “They weren’t even old enough to drive. And at 4 a.m.?” and “I wouldn’t allow my kid to be out at 4 in the morning.” You get the picture.

But that’s only the beginning of the discussion. Those comments miss the point. Or maybe they just don’t go far enough. The point is that peer influence and pressure trump good sense. Often. Nine young teens….and not one of them thought/considered/said, “Hey dudes, this isn’t a good idea” or “I don’t know about this……? That pull of fitting in and being viewed as cool overrules good judgment. There you have it. Just Say No? Just a slogan. A tired slogan. Say no and lose face and street cred with your homies? Not a chance.

Is this just the nature of teens? Some will push the boundaries….sneaking out of the house, trying to impress their peers. I guess the sheer number of kids involved makes this so concerning….you can understand one numbskull kid having a really bad idea and bringing his friend along. But one kid with a bad idea and bringing eight others along? That’s herd mentality. That’s the power of the need to belong. Even if the price of belonging is being a passenger in a car wrapped around a tree.

Is this a matter of parents talking to their kids? Or parents being vigilant? Or hyper-vigilant? Or is this the price of having a teen – knowing that kids are going to make ridiculous choices and you just have to pray that your kid has a helicopter guardian angel? One that never sleeps.

My heart aches for the parents of the kids who lost their lives. And the seven survivors, who will live with the trauma of that accident for their whole lives.  Yup, there is something to that frontal cortex science.

Posted by: Patti Dickinson | 04/19/2017

Rusty and out of practice: Have we lost our touch?

I thought my parenting experience times eight would see me through any grandkid eventuality down the road. Heck, I raised 2/3 of a dozen kids and I managed to keep all of them alive through their eighteenth birthday. So my husband and I were “booked” for a Saturday night. Two kids. One six-week old grandson, Nathan, and my daughter’s college friend’s daughter, eight-month old Nina.

Wood and I arrive at my daughter’s house at 5:30. Their plan is to go to dinner — a quick two, two and a half hour outing.

Out the door they go. Left behind —- Nathan, fresh off the breast. Full tank. Nina. Just finished some baby food concoction, topped off with a good-sized bottle. Two clean diaper-shod bottoms.

Two minutes into this gig and we manage to have two babies crying. Not-stopping-anytime-soon crying. We do what comes back to us — bounce, pat, croon, sway, rearrange the blanket, burp, walk, pace, over-the-shoulder, on-the-knee, in the swing, on my hip, in the bouncer, on the couch, the pacifier, a different pacifier, plastic, primary-colored keys jangling. Then we exchange babies. And repeat. Exchange. Trade. The grandparenting version of Hot Potato.

Stereophonic wailing. I look at my watch. We are 13 minutes into this. If traffic is good and they make all the stoplights on the way back, we have an hour and 47 minutes to go, at the minimum. 2 hours and 17 minutes on the outside.

Ahhh. I remember those days. Those days when there was just no pleasing whichever little human was having a meltdown. And how hard it is to bring into focus the wide shot. That this is fleeting. That these days melt into weeks, months, years. Each successive year jam-packed with kid-experience.

But this evening taught us that there is no handbook for parenting/grandparenting. We had to find what worked eight different times over, as parents. Just when that smug feeling took over, another kid made their appearance and banished that smugness right out of us. There is no one right answer. No if…..then, that works every time.

But I love this grandparent gig anyway. Wailing and all.

Posted by: Patti Dickinson | 04/19/2017

Even in Chicago

My daughter, Kathleen, called from Chicago this morning. This adventurer of mine — she rented a U-Haul right out of Knox College and moved to Chicago to work in theatre —- burst into tears as soon as I said hello. Yup, Easter Sunday, a family holiday and she’s homesick.

Between sniffing, throat clearing and hiccupping, she managed to tell me that she’d had a rough morning. Took off for the grocery store first thing, before she had to be at the theatre. She got to the grocery store and realized that she’d left her wallet at home, after walking a couple of dozen blocks. She retraced her steps, arrived back at the store, filled her cart and got in line. She said she started to feel faint….ringing in her ears and some black splotches in her peripheral vision. She turned to the woman in line behind her and said, “I’m sorry, but I have to sit down for a minute.”

And so the woman behind her helped her collapse onto the floor, rubbed her back, reassured her that it was all going to be okay. This woman, Pam, just happened to be a nurse. So Pam, in full-blown nurse-mode, told Kathleen to put her head between her knees. Who knew – my daughter’s own cobbled together on-site medical clinic on the grocery store linoleum. Kathleen stands back up, pays, and Pam informs her that an Uber is on its way to take Kathleen home. And Pam pays for the Uber, and turns a deaf ear to all of Kathleen’s protests.

Ah, Pam. Stand-in mom when I couldn’t be.

You are the village. You are the best of the village. You are the person that we all hope is around when we find ourselves at our most vulnerable. You saw fragile and took over.

The kindness of strangers. It’s there. We just have to look for it. That generous spirit will never be forgotten by Kathleen. And if all goes as it should, Kathleen will pay that forward.

And I? I stand in gratitude that gang-infested, crime-riddled Chicago, still is home to Pam, who just so happened to be on the same grocery shopping schedule as my daughter.

And even more importantly, Pam didn’t care whether she was easing a Democrat or a Republican onto the floor, whether her “patient” was gay, straight, educated, black, white or polka-dotted.

Posted by: Patti Dickinson | 04/16/2017

The face of God in disguise at Panera, on a Saturday morning


We moved last July to a Kansas City, Missouri neighborhood called Brookside. It’s in walking distance to just about anything you might need. Groceries, dry cleaner, about ten restaurants, and some one-of-a-kind retail stores. This morning Wood and I walked over there and stopped in Panera for a quick breakfast, before we hit the Brookside Farmer’s Market.

We sat at a table by the big window that looks out onto the street. Front row people watching. I glanced around the restaurant, and directly across from us, in a booth, sat a young woman who had all the trappings of someone who is homeless. Two backpacks. Blue jeans that were way too big. Boots. A way too-large green windbreaker. Her strawberry blond hair was braided. And she was hunched over. Really hunched over. Almost as though the world had slapped her once too often.

I looked at Wood, tears welling in my eyes. He said, “Go ahead.” He knew.

Without saying one word, he knew. I pulled some money out of my wallet….looked at Wood and amidst the tears said, “That could be one of our daughters.”

It isn’t. But it could be.

I approached. Placed my hand on her shoulder and said, “Here…this is for you” as I handed her the money. She looked up and mouthed, “Thank you. Thank you.” I asked her if she was okay. She said yes, even after I asked her if she was sure.

And I walked back to my table. And I made eye contact with an elderly couple who I had seen whispering about her, and now looked at me as though I was perpetuating homelessness and any other scourge.

This is someone’s daughter. Someone’s sister. She was someone’s student once upon a time. Someone’s friend. She is someone. Her life got run into the ditch. I don’t know why.   I don’t know how or when. But it really doesn’t matter.

I don’t believe in just throwing money at stuff to make the world better. I have fed the homeless in their camps. Distributed socks, mosquito spray, soap.

Ironically, this wasn’t a feel-good moment. I’ve thought about her all afternoon. Wishing her Godspeed on her journey, wherever it takes her.

“Whenever I meet someone in need, it is really Jesus in his most distressing disguise.” –Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Posted by: Patti Dickinson | 06/29/2016

Slow down…..beep beep

My last blog gave an overview of the Dickinson family’s automotive shortcomings.  This is an addendum to that post.

Wood and I drove to Lincoln, Nebraska early last week to visit our son, Andrew, who is a recent graduate of the University of Nebraska.  On the way home, I had a one-on-one, up close and personal conversation with a State Trooper.

Flashing lights in my rearview mirror…..the inevitable crunching of tires on the highway’s shoulder….

STATE TROOPER:  “Where you headed?”

ME:  “To Lincoln.  To visit our son.”  (At this point, I am thinking that the June Cleaver approach might play well….hands-on mother, dying to get to Lincoln to see her sixth born…)

STATE TROOPER:  Big smile, as he asks, “No felonies or warrants, right?”

ME:  “Oh no.  You won’t have to worry about using your handcuffs….”  I am trying to match him laugh for laugh….thinking that this just might wind up, with any luck at all, with a warning…

State Trooper takes my license and registration and proof of insurance………


STATE TROOPER:  Returns to car with my license and an insurance card that isn’t, unbelievably, expired and says, “Hey, you were right.  No felonies!”

ME:  “Well, they’d have a hard time catching me anyway.”

STATE TROOPER:  Big belly laugh..”Yeah, you could probably outrun us.”

And thud. He handed me a speeding ticket.

Lesson learned?  Realistically, probably not.

But I love a good, funny interaction with law enforcement.






Posted by: Patti Dickinson | 06/24/2016

Zoom zoom

109355180Okay. I’ll just put this out there. Collectively, the Dickinson’s are not very good drivers.

Don’t judge.

Fortunately, all of the car stories can be retold with an element of laughter. None of the car mishaps involved injury to other drivers, eighteen-wheelers or flipped-over vehicles. Nothing smacking of drama. No red and blue flashing lights. No screeching of sirens. No police leaning in the driver’s side window. No forgotten infant car seats on the roof. No one having any field sobriety issues.

Three days before Mother’s Day (hold on….the significance of that particular Hallmark holiday? I’m getting to that.) Kid #1 backing his car out of the garage. Kid #2 leaning out the kitchen door, yelling something. Kid #1 slows down a bit, opens his driver’s side door, continuing his exit from the garage, leaning out of the car in an effort to hear what his sister is yelling. This is what you call ill-advised multi-tasking. Kid # 1 is able to accomplish two, no three things — continue ever so slowly toward his destination, try to hear what his sister is screaming about and um, tear the door off the car with the side of the garage. And what was all the ruckus about from Kid # 2? “SIGN THIS MOTHER’S DAY CARD”. Yeah. I guess the silver lining is that Kid # 1 could, if he was so inclined, could now sit in the driver’s seat and pretend he is in a jeep.

First day of solo driving for another kid. Hands on the steering wheel at ten and two o’clock. Seatbelt on. Rear view mirror adjusted. Ditto the outside mirrors. Not sure if she kicked the tires or not. Drives down the driveway. Stops at the end, blinker on. But…but she is driving down the road with two wheels on the sidewalk. How can this be going so wrong, when her first two minutes in the car were chapter and verse out of the driver’s ed manual? She finally wobbled and then bounced her way back to four wheels on the street…….

Fender bender at the gas station. Not my kid’s fault. The teenage girl who hit my kid got out of her car, crying, distraught because she was already late for work. She begs my daughter to just take down her information and sort the details out later. Always accommodating, my kid agrees. The kids exchange information and my daughter drives off. A week later, I get a call from the kid’s mother. “Why didn’t you contact me about the collision your daughter caused at the gas station?”

Teaching an almost-ready-for-solo-driving kiddo how to put gas in the car. On our way out of town, it was her turn to put all her fill ‘er up skills to the test. Tank’s full and she removes the nozzle from the gas tank, only she forgets to stop pushing on the metal piece that activates the release of the gasoline. There is a virtual geyser of gasoline shooting in my direction while I scream “STOP”, heard by everyone in a ten-mile radius, while looking down at my sandaled feet that are being splashed with a continuous supply of fuel. I spent all afternoon worrying about how flammable I was.

Then there’s parking tickets. A kid who shall remain nameless has racked up enough campus parking ticket fines to put another kid or two through four years at an Ivy League school. He keeps telling me that it’s cheaper to get parking tickets than it is to get a parking pass. I am not sure he has done the math on that.

Lest I be accused of throwing the other family members under the bus, I will admit that I have a little issue with speeding. I have attempted any number of ways to try and talk my way out of said tickets. Last time I got pulled over, the policeman was so nice that I thought maybe he would humor me and go along with a deal I was attempting to make him. He said, “Do you know how fast you were going?” I said, “How about this? How about if I guess the right number, you could just give me a warning.” My husband, in the passenger seat, has his head in his hands. The policeman can’t figure out whether I am kidding or not playing with a full deck. A little of both. Fast forward to me having to mail in money for the ticket.

My speeding issue has only gotten worse, as technology has brought us increased ability to use GPS to get to a destination. Unfortunately for me, the GPS also tells the approximate time of arrival. Cuts right to the heart of my competitive spirit. GPS says arrival time is 4:37? I immediately go into how-many-minutes-can-I-knock-off-the-time mode. I am really over the top, and I recognize that. I am irritable when it’s time to fill up the gas tank, because it messes with my arrival time. Get something to eat? I think that a human being can go four or five days without food, so why would we need to stop? It kills me to pull back onto the highway after refueling and having to pass the same cars all over again.

Zoom zoom.

Posted by: Patti Dickinson | 08/08/2015

Who does what around here?

36607474Funny how early on in our married lives, we set the stage for what household chores we would be taking on.  Either until death do us part, or one of the partners throws up their hands and heads for the divorce lawyer.

I am married to a man who was ahead of his time.  He changed diapers, got up in the middle of the night with a screaming baby and kept me company while I nursed that bundle of aerobic noise back to sleep.

I mow the lawn more than he does.  It plays to my tendency for order and neatness.  In the house with eight stairsteps, there was not a shred of that, even though I tried.  Legos everywhere.  Puzzles dumped.  Tea party water spilled all over the living room couch.

But the lawn.  That was different.  It took a good week for it to need doing again.  I loved the pattern of zig-zagging whenever the spirit moved me, or doing the perimeter-to-the-middle pattern.  Vertical, horizontal or diagonal.  I loved the variety and I loved the endorphins coursing through me.

Loading the dishwasher.  Now that is a point of contention.  We have a good dishwasher.  It is pretty forgiving re food remnants.  But no, Wood Dickinson has to rinse every plate until there is not one speck of food on it, before strategically placing it on the bottom left side of the dishwasher.  Me?  From table to dishwasher.  Bypassing the sink. Period.  Loading?  Haphazard.  I throw the silverware in any old way.  Wood has to have the part you eat with facing up.  Who cares?  Clearly I am not a domestic goddess.  If the spoon, facing down, comes out dirty or stuck to the one next to it with food-glue, just throw it back in the dishwasher for another try!

At least I put stuff in the dishwasher.  Sort of an unspoken rule when the kids lived at home was that if you opened the dishwasher and it had clean dishes in it, then you were the one who was supposed to empty it.  Ha.  Any, no all of my kids knew telepathically, when the dishwasher had clean dishes and no one would open it.  They would find a paper plate to eat on, drink milk right out of the carton, forego meals.  It was just ridiculous.

I am able to compartmentalize my compulsions.  I don’t care what the garage looks like.  We have leaves in there from 1974.  I am not even tempted to sweep them up.  Ditto the basement.  It’s mostly Wood’s stuff.  It’s a mess. I don’t care.

I am meticulous about the rest of the house.  I almost had to be hospitalized when I realized that our youngest cleaned out her fish bowl with the kitchen sponge.  She meant to throw it away.  That meant that I had fish-gunk all over all of our countertops.  Where is the Board of Health when you need them?

Taking the trash to the end of the driveway?  Mostly me.  And that is because I have chased the trash truck down the street, nightgown flapping in the wind, too many times.

Changing the oil in our cars?  We each take care of our own.  Frankly, I like sitting at Jiffy Lube seeing if just once I can get my oil changed for free if they don’t have it done in under thirty minutes.  Hasn’t happened yet, but I like listening to them go through the checklist on my car. “Belts good, fluids good… showing some wear……windshield wipers probably need to be replaced at your next visit…….”

It’s funny because there really isn’t any rhyme or reason to how this division of labor just sort of happened.  It wasn’t any conversation that we ever had.  But what both of us do, spoke to our strengths.

Although I must admit that when I do go to the basement, I sigh. Loudly).

Posted by: Patti Dickinson | 08/06/2015

Grouchy, tired, hot, thirsty, sweaty and bossy

16292994Schlepping a college kid’s stuff around Manhattan, Kansas, Wildcat Country. Home to K-State, where they bleed purple.

Long story short. Meghan moved houses. She had to be out of her old house seven days before she could get in her new house. Yup. The storage locker was the answer. Which essentially meant moving twice instead of once.

We went yesterday to do part two of the move. 162 in the shade. August in Kansas.  T-shirt soaked in under seven minutes. Of course she chose the bedroom on the second floor. Stairs with almost no depth that would never, ever pass building code inspection. Fourteen steps, I counted. Four of us working. Meghan and Isaac, Wood and I. The two women had lots of ideas on how to load the truck. Of course, none of those ideas meshed with what the men had in mind. It is part of my DNA (and apparently at least one of my offspring!) to freely express my opinions, especially where moving things is concerned. I just know, on a cellular level, how to get a dining room table through a doorway that upon first look, is too small. So I make a few suggestions. It’s not an I-want-my-way sort of thing, it’s more mentioning something that the others may not have thought of that would be a shortcut to getting this thankless job done in a great big hurry.

But it got done. And despite the heat, despite the aggravation, as we drove I-70 eastward back to Kansas City, Wood and I had one of those long talks – again. How did we go from diapers to a senior preparing to be a social worker? In a blink. How she is dating a young man very much like her dad. Respectful, a calm demeanor, funny, kind, gentle. Things that all moms want for their daughters. That poor guy loaded all her earthly belongings into a truck, only to drive 3 miles to unload it all again. He never complained. I had all that handled!

It’s about launching a kid. The very thing that makes it so hard to let out the apron strings, is the very thing that we made sure she knew how to do when it was time for that to happen. Figure out life. Order the truck in advance. Make sure you have the code to get in the gate of the storage locker. How to sign a lease, negotiate who gets which room, all of it.

I guess we teach without realizing it sometimes. We certainly didn’t practice signing leases when she was yay-high. It’s trial and error. It’s taking on more and more responsibility confidently. And what more can a mom want than to raise a daughter who knows who she is and knows her value. In a blink my little curly-haired kid with her thumb in her mouth, morphed into this beautiful young woman.

Lucky me.

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