Posted by: Patti Dickinson | 10/04/2017

The kids don’t want our stuff………WHAT?????

autumn background with leaves and pumpkins, thanksgiving and halloween cardA year ago we downsized.  Significantly.  From a big house where we raised eight kids, to a house that would be just right for the two of us.  Less to heat and air-condition, less yard to mow, lower property taxes and just less upkeep.  Implicit in that plan, was that we were going to cull through our stuff and either toss, donate, give to one of the kids, or keep.

Tossing was easy.  That included a broken stapler, a cracked plastic bin, and a broom so old it had pinking-shear-like bristles, stray keys that we’d held onto for decades that we didn’t have the faintest idea what they could unlock. Manuals for appliances that we no longer owned and a hand-held can opener that refused to cooperate.

Donating wasn’t so easy. That was anything that didn’t fit or was badly frayed or furniture that we didn’t have space for.  That was the beginning of the trouble.  The discomfort.  The anxiety in the pit of the stomach.  Case in point:  We have placemats that are a pale shade of blue — pale because they’re so old, but now a very faded shade of Williamsburg blue.  Vintage.  We have twelve of them, and they’re reversible – checks on one side, stripes on the other.  I put them in the donate pile.  My husband walks by the stuff that’s heading out the door and he stops dead in his tracks and says, in complete disbelief,  “You giving these away?????”  I said, in a measured, admittedly clipped tone,  “Yup, every time I use these I have to tuck the wayward threads in…they’re just shot.”  The reply, “Oh…..well….. they just remind me of all our family dinners.” Out of the donate pile, back into the drawer.

We are getting nowhere in a great big hurry.

Giving stuff to the kids was ridiculous.  Seems this generation of Dickinson kids doesn’t like much of what I have to offer.  I have talked to other parents with kids my kids’ age and they say much the same thing.  When I was in one of my don’t-get-in-my-way-I’m-all-about-getting-rid-of moods, I had my cell phone in easy reach.  I’d call a kid, say “I have this bench, it’s about  4 feet long, it’s the greenish-blue one from the bedroom that I had plants on…” and I could almost feel them wracking their collective frontal lobes coming up with a nice way to say, “No thanks.”

But I didn’t give up easily.  This was going to be no easy surrender on my part.  I would make suggestions about where in their house it would look wonderful.  Or how when they moved to a bigger house, it would be a nice start or how it would only increase in value.  Or list 341 uses for said item.  Nope. They were nothing if not steadfast. I should mention that ultimately the kids in their collective understanding of mom guilt-tripping them into taking stuff they didn’t want, would answer the phone with, “No.”  Not “Hello”, Not “Hi, mom.”  “NO.” One of the downsides of caller id. In fact, I suspect that there was some collusion involved….as in a group text, “Hey, just an fyi.  Mom is on one of her cleaning frenzies and she’s got us all on speed dial.  Consider yourself warned.”

I remember when we were starting out as a newly-married couple.  Wood’s mom had a sofa/loveseat that she wanted us to have. They were very faded nubby, itchy, and worn out.   The kicker?  They didn’t have arms.  Mid-century modern in all its ugliness.  To go with it?  A coffee table that had a laminate top that was peeling loose from whatever it was glued to.  The table was shaped like an amoeba.  Kind of a free-flowing kind of look.  All our friends thought this living room was a riot.  We also inherited Wood’s grandmother’s dining room set.  I think it was walnut.  It was large enough to do some decent over-the-road hauling.  The legs were twice the size of Hulk Hogan’s.  The sideboard was heavy enough to bury a man well over six feet six inches tall.  Frankly, when all this furniture was put into the room I wondered if the subfloor and joists were strong enough to handle this kind of weight. Awful, awful stuff.

But our tastes changed.  I thought eventually I was going to have a brand spanking new Ethan Allen dining room. Glaringly smooth and shiny.  But time passed, the ugly stuff held up and kids came along and we found an old farmhouse table in Greenwood, a small town outside Kansas City.  It has mismatched chairs and is weathered just the right amount.  This is stuff that Sotheby’s would look at and get rushed by ambulance to the ICU. This is distressed.  Beat up enough that the kids could do homework at this table, play cards, have family meetings, smush playdough into, or spill anything and it would be just fine.

It was where we celebrated birthdays, First Communions, election to the Student Council, great ACT scores, carved pumpkins, dipped candles for Advent, and conversely, it was where family meetings got heated, where we reminisced the first Thanksgiving after my dad died, going-away dinners before we launched another kid to a University, how to subtract fractions, struggled through a World Geography class, and solved boyfriend and girlfriend problems.

It was where they learned not to chew with food in their mouth, to not interrupt and not burp and never ever double dip. It was where life happened.  It was a place for matters of the heart.  It was where kids came to unburden the sadness and celebrate the victories.  Lives were changed at this table.  Lessons were learned.  Tears were dried.  It was where the kids learned that they had a voice worth listening to.

It was where two double-stuff Oreos could be the salve to make things better.

Posted by: Patti Dickinson | 09/26/2017

Crossfit at sixty-something

36114206Just returned home after my first one-on-one session of Crossfit.  The pamphlet for this place has been on my desk for easily three months.  I hitched up my big girl pants and made the phone call.

It was time.  I have, for all intents and purposes, taken a ten-month sabbatical from exercise, other than walking.  No weights, no machines.  I had a knee replacement and believe me when I say that that surgery is not for the faint of heart.  Long recovery and some heavy-duty pain.

Post-workout musings:

Let’s just say that my core is shot.  Kaput.  Waving the white flag of surrender.

An hour post-workout, my body was in shock.  My muscles were still humming a little bit, and I was nauseous.  I had finally stopped sweating.  I had drunk enough water to float a small row boat.

About 35 minutes into this workout, I glanced at myself in the mirror.  You know, just to see if there were any obvious improvements yet — like some well-defined arm muscles, a la Michelle.   Calves that could turn heads, or an hourglass waist.  Nope.  What I did see was a woman with a maroon face, t-shirt all stretched out at the neck from using it to wipe the sweat off my face and my hair looked as though it had been caught in a blender, with a generous dose of fuzz.  Whoa.  And did I mention that I was breathing so hard I needed one of those inhalers.  I’ve never had an inhaler, but I thought this would be a good time to consider owning one.

Tim, the coach, was nothing but encouraging.  He didn’t even laugh when I nearly catapulted off the escalator-type stepper.  He played to my confidence level, telling me that I was stronger than I knew.  (I think he saw the look of disappointment when I looked in the mirror.)

He ran me through a routine called the “Gauntlet”.  I wondered, between swiping my forehead with my t-shirt, the craziness of paying good money to do so.  He talked of “clean” eating.  I gently reminded him that I was not adverse to an occasional Twinkie.  He smiled.

I am glad I went.  I told him, as I was leaving, that I almost called to cancel but knew that he’s probably heard every single excuse dozens of times before.  Besides, I can do anything —anything for an hour.

I have no intention of carrying this to an extreme.  I won’t be the woman with muscle thighs or having to let out my short-sleeved shirts to accommodate gigantic Popeye arms.  Nah, I just want to limber up a bit, push myself to see what kind of stuff I can do in the gym.

And oh yeah, remain vertical when getting off the escalator!

Posted by: Patti Dickinson | 09/22/2017

Prejudice at the pedicure place

9831868Epiphany:  (noun)  A moment when you suddenly feel that you understand, or suddenly become conscious of, something that is very important to you

Happened yesterday.

I was getting a pedicure.  It didn’t get off to a great start.  The woman put scalding water in the bowl where you put your feet and never, ever have my feet moved so quickly.  I had just stepped into what was degrees shy of scalding water.  I was so quick getting those size 9’s out of the water that I created my own little inpromptu science experiment, what scientists label a tsunami.  Resulting, of course, in water being sloshed all over the floor.  She refilled the bowl, this time the water was cold.  Her facial expression said, “There.  Satisfied?” leaving no room for “A little hotter, please.”  I left well enough alone.  This clearly was a woman of extremes.

Soon a young girl in her early twenties came in.  Big purse, hair in a messy bun, blond out-of-the-box hair.  Dressed in….well, I don’t remember what she was dressed in.  I only know that she was decorated with several tattoos.  And a nose piercing.  There were many gazing in her direction.  Waiting to see how she’d act, how she talked, if she was friendly, hostile, indifferent.  And it struck me, actually more like a slam backwards in my massage chair,  that there was an element of hostility you could feel.  And as bad as this was, here comes worse.  A women in her mid-sixties walks in, navy silk dress, high heels, gold oversized earrings and oh-the-cliché, pearls.  She didn’t disappoint.  Sat down next to this young girl and her body language, the expression on her face all screamed, “Get this inked-up kid another chair.”

And then I was blanketed by such sadness.  I fought tears.  Why oh why do we humans think it’s okay to judge without reason? Ink on an arm?  A nose with a hole in it?  Without even talking to this girl, you have eliminated her from your world?  Dismissed her.  Made her feel small.  No room at the table for this chick.

This stayed with me all evening, and into the morning hours today.

Because that inked-up kid is my daughter.

Posted by: Patti Dickinson | 07/16/2017

Heeding the call

Big granite rockI’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

19100816We 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

19155858Several 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?

32563496I 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

34766400My 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

693795We 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

27353490My 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.






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