Friday, December 31, 2010

A Korean Spa Adventure, part one

Background info - some of you will think we're crazy.

Trey said, "You're going to talk about this with your friends, and they're going to think we're nuts!"

"No way, man," I replied, "I'm blogging about it!"

On to the story:

Many, many years ago (okay, just ten years ago) we decided that for our anniversary we would not give one another gifts. Instead, we decided to always do something fun together. We've mostly taken random road trips -- to Houston, Fort Worth, the Gaylord Texan for the ICE exhibit, etc.

Another random fact applicable to this post is that we really, really love spas. A couple of years ago we decided to never go to a spa until the last day of a trip because we are too tempted to go over and over again while on a vacation. We may have done this in Mexico a time or two, but I'll never confirm it for sure.

And so, as our tenth anniversary approached, we began looking for affordable, yet enjoyable, road trips. Spas are not generally affordable, so I started researching other fun things to do. Trey, however, did not give up the spa idea and managed to find King Spa and Sauna in Dallas. Then the real research began.

We read reviews on yelp and tripadvisor and visited the web site about a million times, and I was still skeptical. Finally when Trey read that it is a family place - that kids are welcome and accommodated for -- I decided that it was probably not creepy. I was in, and we committed to The King Spa Adventure.

Here's what we knew: there are only two facilities of its kind in the US (Dallas and Chicago); you are only allowed to wear the uniform they give you upon arrival so that you don't disturb the balance of the place; no shoes are allowed beyond the entrance; it's open 24 hours so that families can vacation there (they are perfectly happy for you to stay the night); the spa is not for people who are modest about nudity, but men and women are never together unless it's in a uniformed area.

Are you wondering yet what on earth we were thinking?  Sounds pretty weird, huh?

While Trey and I love our routine and our calm life, we also really love crazy adventures. Reference the dune buggy exploits in Mexico a few years back. We were excited about this spa, even if a little freaked out. We felt comfortable that it wasn't a place of ne'er-do-wells, so off we went.

Thursday morning we woke up early at our hotel, had an impressive continental breakfast, and headed for the King Spa. We arrived at about 9:15 and scheduled massages and body scrubs for 10:30. Interestingly, you can get a body scrub only, but you can't get a massage without first getting a body scrub. We took off our shoes, picked up our short and shirt uniforms, found the "male" and "female" entrances, agreed to meet back after our massages, and jumped right into a place like no other I have ever seen.

I entered the female-only section of the spa and went straight for my locker. I opened it and realized it was about twelve inches wide and six inches high. It wouldn't hold anything other than my shoes. I looked at my purse and the comfy sweats I'd put on for my spa day, and I plotted how I was going to stuff them all into this tiny space. After I stared blankly for a full minute, I decided that the purse would never fit and that I would have to go put it back in the car. An employee of the spa (I knew this because she wore a red-shirted uniform instead of the spa-goer's pink one) noticed my bewilderment. She informed me that the locker I was staring blankly into was only for my shoes, and that I had another locker for my clothes so that they didn't have to be together.

Of course!  I put my shoes in the locker and decided explore the place a little to see what other etiquette I could figure out so that I didn't make a fool of myself.

To my almost surprise (I expected it, but can you ever really expect this?), there were naked women everywhere. Every age, size, shape, color (although 99.9% of them were Asian). They were brushing their teeth or drying off from the pools area or getting dressed or walking across the room, and all of them were in some stage of nakedness -- most of them in the completely naked stage.

Okay, so we're all naked here. Got it.

Then I surveyed the facility. The room I was standing in was huge. It had rows of lockers, many sinks with toiletries neatly packaged for guest use, places to sit and get dressed, a large water cooler, a desk where an employee sat working on a computer (she appeared to be scheduling massages and the like). Off to the side there was a smaller room with restroom stalls. Right in the middle of the immaculately clean large vanities there was a set of double shower doors covered in steam. I figured that had to be the spa area.

Well, the spa is what I came for, so here I go.

Sidebar: As I mentioned earlier, I have been to many spas, some of them quite expensive (at least in my book). The spas at Caesar's Palace in Vegas and Moon Palace in Cancun come to mind. In all of these places, there are spas shared by women who are naked. However, getting into these spas is incredibly awkward. Women enter the room covered in gargantuan towels or robes, position themselves right next to the water, turn away from any people in the room, and miraculously remove the robes or towels while simultaneously entering the water in order to cover their entire bodies up to their necks. I, myself, have taken part in this great ritual, and it is, in fact, the only spa experience I've known.

From the looks of things, the Korean spa has a much different take.

I was here for relaxation, so I...well...suited down and ran as fast as I could through the shower doors, trying to look confident and undisturbed.

I must have really looked crazy when I entered the spa area because what I saw left me in awe. I think I stood at the door with my mouth agape for a few seconds before I could compose myself.

The room was enormous. One entire side was covered in shower stalls, each stocked with soap, shampoo, and conditioner. There were standing showers and sit-down showers with hand-held shower heads, and signs everywhere indicated that you must shower WITH SOAP before entering any of the pools. One prominently displayed sign read "Please let employee know immediately if you uncomfortable because see someone enter pool without shower WITH SOAP."

A half wall partitioned off the room opposite the showers, and I could see massage tables lined up behind it.

In the center, there were three enormous spas, each with a temperature gauge reading from 104 degrees to 109 degrees. The back of the room held a smaller spa with jets that directed at your back if you sat on the ledge beneath the water, a cold pool with a temperature gauge reading 70 degrees, and a large steam room containing smooth rocks for you to sit on while inside.

It was everything you could want from a spa all in one room (or so I thought -- the place had more amazing facilities that we found later). There were probably twenty or so women there, from the very old to a few little girls who had to be around four or five. It was quiet and respectful and perfectly clean. Families were there together. A grandmother scrubbed her little granddaughter in one of the showers, women chatted and relaxed in the heated pools, and everything was, well, normal.

I spent the next hour and a half moving from one pool to the other with a sort of spa ADD. I stayed in the steam room until I couldn't stand it, and then I sat on the edge of the cold pool because I couldn't bare to do more than dip my toes in. Once I cooled off, I rested in the 109 degree spa. I realized about fifteen minutes in that I had forgotten  we were all naked. It was so relaxing that I didn't even care.

I could live here, I thought. This is the greatest place on earth, and I could live here. I wondered if I would ever be brave enough to bring a group of friends and sit in the spas to relax and chat away the day. And just when I thought it couldn't get any better (or weirder), a nice young Korean lady came to get me for my massage and body scrub.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

2010 - Holidays in Review

I'm in a serious blog drought. My excuse is that I have a couple of projects, both work-school and grad school, that require a great deal of writing, so when I feel like writing something it should be about teaching and learning or intern experiences, neither of which are exactly funny or entertaining. My life is no less hysterical. I'm just not writing for fun much these days.  So what follows is my own personal entry of what I want to make sure I remember about this holiday season. 

We lit the advent candle at the Christmas Eve service. The boys were very excited, and Tucker practiced his part until it was perfect. Keaton loved being the candle-lighter. Here's video evidence (that probably only my mom and dad are interested in seeing, let's be honest :)

Keaton and Tucker both sang with their church choirs on Christmas Eve. I managed to get video of Keaton, but ran out of battery before Tucker's performance. I had plugged the USB on the camera into the computer for something like eight hours prior to church to make sure I had enough battery, so I was furious to find that the camera was dead. Soon after I realized that it runs on two double A batteries. Fail. 

Here's Keaton's performance (sorry, Tuck):

Christmas gifts of note: Santa brought Tucker a cell phone. While we might be insane for allowing this to happen, it has already come in very handy a few times when we could text him to say "Come home now!' while he played with friends down the street. Warning: DO NOT give him your phone number unless you want to receive random sports-related texts from an almost eight year old.

Keaton FINALLY got a guitar. I've always said he was my musical child, and he's spent hours just plucking away on the thing. Throw in a kid-sized microphone, and you've got entertainment for hours (for both kids). Here's an example:

Trey and I will celebrate our tenth anniversary on Thursday with a little trip to Fort Worth and a visit to our favorite restaurant and a relaxing spa. It seems like yesterday that we got married, but it also seems like we've always been quite the pair. As is our custom, we have already watched the video and marveled on how much older we look and who is and isn't in our lives anymore and who has passed away. We laughed at how even during our own wedding we cut up with our own private jokes, and it's all captured on video. I think I'll upload it to youtube for safekeeping.

Finally, on a sadder note, my grandfather is dying during this holiday season. My mom and dad and my mom's siblings, along with a few cousins, have been taking turns caring for him around the clock, doing everything they can to make him comfortable and keep him from having to go to a nursing home. This is, of course, heartbreaking as I think of losing the only grandfather I've really known (my dad's father died when I was very young), and my mom and aunts and uncles losing their only living parent. However, faith takes us to a different place. 

My mom's facebook status last week said, "A couple from daddy's church came by. Prayed and thanked God for all the places he had seen and all the people he had met. That's a good prayer."

I am reminded that this man has lived an amazing life - retired from the Air Force, leading people to Christ for many years as a pastor, married to the love of his life for over 50 years and then managing somehow to find joy and comfort in the five years he's lived without her. He's lived a good life, and he is finishing his days surrounded by people who love him dearly.

And so for the new year, I wish you all the peace that accompanies a life well-lived.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Smell of Desperation

We knew this day would come. We just thought it would be in another five or six years at least.

Our home has an odor problem.

At first we were perplexed by the faint smell of funk wafting from random rooms of the house. One day the problem would be in the bathroom, the next in the kitchen. We took out the garbage and checked under the couch for chocolate milk cups gone awry (not that that could happen in our house), but we found nothing.

One time, after a rainstorm, I smelled the smell in my car. I thought perhaps my carpets had gotten wet and would need to be cleaned, but the next day the smell was gone. It became one of life's great mysteries.

And then we found it.

The nasty, funky, nauseating smell is coming from Keaton's feet.

I cannot express to you how bad his shoes/socks/feet smell. At the end of the day, it rapidly permeates the air in every room Keaton enters. This problem doesn't just occur when he takes his shoes off like a normal person. No, you can smell his feet through his shoes. It's quite magnificent when you think about it.

When we realized the smell was feet, my first thoughts centered around my poor smelly kid at school. Is my kid the smelly kid?  Have people noticed that the disgusting smell only shows up when Keaton's around? Does the teacher think we don't bathe him? Do kids refuse to sit by him because of the rank nastiness of his feet?  Is my child's life ruined?  What have I done?

I started looking for solutions.  Immediately we began making him take his shoes straight to the garage to keep the smell out of the house, but then there are his socks. We can not put these deadly toxic items in the laundry hamper because of the pollution. We're still working on a plan for that.

Upon Uncle Mike's suggestion, I bought baby powder and began filling his shoes with it every night. He really likes this idea as after the powder application he takes a big whiff of the shoes and says "They smell so fresh!"  It makes me throw up in my mouth a little.

Another friend suggested that perhaps the shoes got wet and have mildewed under the padding, causing the smell. I thought (and I guess I still think) this is possible, but tonight I found evidence that the day-to-day sweat is the major root cause.

I took off his nasty shoes and socks and told him to get in the bath. As he walked away, I discovered that his feet looked like white, wrinkly prunes. Yes, friends, his feet sweat so much that at the end of the day he's pruny.  I was shocked! Surely this must be a serious medical condition.

So...moms, dads, aunts, uncles, random people with feet - help us! Should we seek medical advice? What kind of shoes can we buy this child?  He has wide feet (sort of like flippers), so shoes are already hard to find. Are there potions or ointments or something that can cure the sweat and the subsequent smell?  I don't think we can live this way until college, and it's probably going to get worse.

Desperation has set in, and it smells like feet.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Living Generously

I don't really know how to start out this post, so I guess I'll use jump right in.

Trey and I would really like to be able to give substantially to people and organizations that need financial help, but we're not there yet. We have a four year plan to get to a very positive financial place, and we're about a year and a half in. In the meantime, we often discuss how we can give in other ways, mainly by serving others in our everyday lives. With Trey's true heart of a servant, he's very good at this. He's one of the most giving people I know, and I find it amazing the ways that he helps people every single day.

I have plenty of other role models, too. As long as I can remember, my parents have given freely of their time and other resources. My mom served on the city council and PTO for many years, and Dad served on the school board. They showed up at church early to make sure the heater had been turned on, picked up elderly people and took them to church or on other errands, and just took care of others around them. I have vivid memories of things like hitchhikers or homeless people showing up at the doors of the church and my dad and his friend driving them to the closest hotel and paying for the room for a night or two. While I'm not there to personally witness their continued service, I'm sure it still happens. Church, PTO, and Meals on Wheels are just a few areas where I know they give their time.

And so at the beginning of this school year I reflected on the wonderful servant examples I have in my life and decided to do my very best to live generously. Now, I perceive this to be the busiest year of my life so far. I'm finishing grad school, teaching one more class than I did last year, teaching two new preps, and taking on various other projects that are somewhat long term. Time is more precious to me this year than ever before, and living generously is sometimes a great challenge.

Instead, I find myself occasionally becoming a little self-righteous. I know I've said more than once, "If I have time to get it done, then everyone has time to get it done." This is not entirely true, however, because even though I'm busy, I have an awesome husband and great friends and family who support me,  so I have the capacity to be busier than other people.

But sometimes I pull off the whole "living generously" thing, like on Friday when I was actually leaving the building at the end of the school day and a student stopped me in the hallway and asked me to review his timed writing with him. I reminded myself of my commitment and turned back down the hallway and unlocked my classroom to meet with him, smiling and chatting and trying to make sure he knew I didn't mind. It was a productive meeting, and it only cost me about ten minutes.

Today, however, I came face to face with an opportunity.

It's fifty-something degrees here in Texas, so, of course, I'm freezing. It was cold in church and colder in the restaurant where we went to eat. On the way home from the restaurant, Trey suggested we stop for coffee to warm us up on this cold, dreary day. We pulled into Hastings, and while we ordered our coffee the boys shopped for books. They each had one dollar, and they needed to spend it. Too bad you can't get anything for one dollar.

Keaton found a book for $3.99, and I told him he could have it, but then Tucker needed to find a book for $3.99, and it became a huge ordeal. For forty five minutes Trey and I followed the boys around Hastings.

Finally we made our way to the children's section at the very back of the store. Quite suddenly I saw an older woman wrapped in a ragged coat rush in and take a seat at the table located in the middle of the children's books. She muttered to herself as she pulled a small grocery sack from her tattered purse. I was trying not to look at her, but I couldn't help noticing her unkempt hair and layered clothing. Her eyes darted all around as if keeping watch, and then she pulled a lunchbox-sized bag of chips from the grocery bag and began to eat them, muttering and keeping watch all the while.

Immediately I remembered how cold I had been all day. Cold in my warm church and my heated restaurant eating warm food. I remembered that the whole reason we had stopped at Hastings was to get some coffee and warm up. And at that moment the woman looked colder than I had ever felt in my life.

Now, I believe that God speaks to us, and if we listen, then he'll tell us what to do. You may not believe that and I'm not asking you to, but I believe that's what happened today.

For five full minutes I had been holding my cup of coffee, and I hadn't taken a sip. In fact, I hadn't even taken out the little stopper to start drinking it. I realized I was holding that lady's cup of coffee.

Nerves overtook me. How was I supposed to tell this muttering woman that I had her coffee?  What if she went crazy and started yelling at me? What if she wasn't really in bad shape but only having a bad day and I insulted her? I argued with myself, deciding that most people don't run to the back of a bookstore to eat a bag of chips on a cold day. Then I was nervous again.

"You know," I rattled, "I think they made me the wrong kind of coffee. Would you like this one?  I don't  think I want this kind, and I'd hate for it to go to waste."

She looked at me from the corner of her eye, thought for just a second, and stammered, "No thanks. I don't like coffee."

I think I should have been bummed, but I wasn't.

It felt good to have heard the Holy Spirit tell me what to do and to take the leap and do it. It felt really good. And it reminded me of all the people in my life who live generously all the time without even having to think of it.

Courtney, who makes the pre-AP copies magically appear in my box before I even realize I need them.

Trey, who makes the coffee and sets the timer so it will be ready when I get up in the mornings.

Tiffany, who lets me steal candy from her magical closet of goodness, listens to me whine on occasion, and agrees with me when she knows I just need someone to agree with me.

Erin, who let me borrow her truck and didn't think twice about it.

Freda, who is always there joyously offering to help and never makes me feel like I'm barking out orders when I give her things to do.

Kelly, who did not make me feel like a troll over the incident with her bike (perhaps another blog to come).

The list could go on and on. These are just the things I can think of from the last 48 hours. I am surrounded by people who give without ever stopping to think of what's in it for them.

Today has left me feeling blessed beyond measure and motivated to find a way to live generously each day. I was so excited, in fact, that I had to share.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The mediocre mommy has returned.

It's Red Ribbon Week at schools across the nation, and with it comes different dress up instructions for each day of the week. At my sons' school, Monday was wear your shirt backwards day ("Turn Your Back on Drugs"), Tuesday was wear red ("Take a Stand for a Drug Free Land"), and Wednesday, today, is dress as your favorite book character day ("It Takes Character to Take a Stand Against Drugs").
Seriously?  Dress as your favorite book character?

This sounded complicated when I glanced over the Red Ribbon Week flyer in the abyss of both boys' Monday folders last week, but it turned out not to be so complicated because I promptly forgot all about it. I suppose I subconsciously thought it sounded like too much work and totally blocked it out.

Too bad Tucker Hickman is my kid. Tucker likes to do what he's told (unless his parents tell him to do something, but that's a different blog), and that includes when he's told to dress a certain way. While I had forgotten all about the dress up day, Tucker had been plotting his costume.

Tucker came home Tuesday and filled me in on his plan, "Mom, I'm going to be Ronde and Jackson is going to be Tiki. I need a Bucs jersey for tomorrow."

Seriously? How on earth was I to find a Ronde Barber Tampa Bay Buccaneers jersey in College Station, Texas, in one night? I didn't know what to do, so I gave him the standard Mediocre Mommy reply, "Let's talk about it after baths," secretly hoping he would forget all about it.

But he's Tucker, and I know better.

He hatched an elaborate plan to paint a white tee shirt into a jersey, and he even knew about fabric paint we had that I had forgotten all about. "All we need is brown," he instructed, and Trey and I immediately got sucked into his scheme.

As we talked this jersey-creation through, Keaton came proudly into the living room holding an old Batman costume and a Batman book. He was ready for dress like a book character day without me even lifting a finger. I love that kid.

But his display of independence was not up to Tucker's standards. Here's the conversation that ensued:

Tucker: Keaton, you cannot be Batman. He is not a book character.

Me: He's holding a Batman book in his hands right now.

Tucker: It doesn't matter. Batman is a movie. You are not allowed to dress as a character from a movie. There can be a movie about the book, but the book had to come first.

Me: Who says?

Tucker: Mrs. C. (his super-awesome GT teacher). We talked about how it's not really a book character unless the first place the character appeared is in a book. He can't be Batman. It's not dress like a movie character day. We talked about it in class. He can't do it.

Me (beginning to get frustrated with Mr. Literal): Well, maybe when you're in kindergarten you can dress like Batman. And Batman was a comic book first, anyway (I'm not sure if that's true, but I said it convincingly). And you worry about your own costume, not Keaton's. He can make his own decisions about things, you know.

But the battle was lost. Tucker said Keaton couldn't be Batman, so Keaton wouldn't, under any circumstances, be Batman. I wish I had that kind of pull, but hey, I'm just the mom.

Keaton and I flopped ourselves down in front of the bookshelf and began pouring through books. "I know!" he said, "I'll be a panda from Panda Bear, Panda Bear." Then "I know! I'll be Buzz Lightyear!"  Clearly he was unaware that Buzz didn't fit Tucker's stringent criteria for costumes, but it didn't matter because we don't happen to have a Buzz costume laying around the house.

Finally, at 8:00 p.m., just 30 minutes before bed time, I gave up. I told Trey I was going to Walmart to get brown paint and that while I was gone he needed to convince Keaton to be Max from Where the Wild Things Are. I planned to get a headband and attach some wolf ears, put him in pants and sweatshirt, and we'd be good to go.

At Walmart, I marched straight back to the craft section and began glaring, wide-eyed, at all of the possible craft products. Wolf ears. What could I make wolf ears out of?  I left there with brown felt, pipe cleaners, and a headband.

I ran back into the house around 8:20, and I threw the brown paint at Trey and asked where Keaton was.

"In his room crying," he said. "I gave up."

Determined, I went to his room and scooped him up into my arms. He wasn't just crying, he was sobbing quiet little puffs of tears as if his whole world had been ruined by this one dress up day. I felt like my poor planning had caused this great despair and I knew I had to fix it. I managed to calm him down, and back to the bookshelf we went.

I came up with three choices: Max from Where the Wild Things Are, a cowboy from Lasso the Moon, or a builder from I Love Trucks. The builder was a stretch because the book is just about big construction trucks, but, whatever, I was desperate.

He was happy for a moment, and then he once again dissolved into broken-hearted sobs. I realized then that this was a futile effort. He was too tired to care about a costume and until he got some sleep it would never be right. I put him in his bed, covered him up, and stretched out beside him hoping he would cry himself to sleep.

As his eyes began to slowly close and open, close and open, he asked, "What about my costume?"

"Baby, I will make all three costumes and lay them out in the living room floor and you can choose any one that you want when you get up in the morning," I cooed into his ear.

Wait. What? What did I just say I would do?  I looked around the room to see if anyone else was there. Was that me talking?  Did I just say I would put together three costumes between now and tomorrow?  Someone must have slipped me something because I was clearly out of my mind.

To make matters worse, this possibility perked Keaton right up. "I want to help you put them together. Let's do it now!" he exclaimed, and realizing that this situation was getting worse by the minute, I agreed.

I assigned him the task of finding tools for the builder costume, and I joined Trey at the table where he was furiously fabric-painting Barber's Bucs jersey. Quickly, I broke out the pipe cleaners for the wolf ears. It was then that I remembered something very important.

I am not crafty.

I stared blankly at the felt and the pipe cleaners, and it occurred to me that they should sell hard liquor next to the craft supplies at Walmart. After a moment of hesitation, I dove in, cutting pipe cleaners into ear-shaped thingys and twisting them around the headband. It looked pretty good, if I do say so myself, but then I had another problem.

How in the hell was I going to get felt onto pipe cleaners?

I folded and cut and wrapped and unfolded and unwrapped, but the task seemed impossible. There was no way this was going to work, and I really wanted to just drop it all on the table and crawl into bed and pretend that "dress like a book character day" had never even been mentioned in our house.

But Keaton saved me. He got so excited looking for tools that after we finished putting together the builder costume he forgot about the other two. Trey finished blow-drying the back of the Barber jersey, successfully painted the jersey front, and the boys went to bed only 30 minutes past bedtime.

Miracle of miracles, this morning Keaton woke up, put his builder costume and "tool belt" on (I affixed tools to a regular belt with pipe cleaners -- I guess they were good for something after all), and proudly went off to school carrying a copy of I Love Trucks.

And dress like a book character day was a success. A painful one, but a success nonetheless.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Mutton-Chopped Vampires

So I have this thyroid problem. It's not really a problem, I guess, it just doesn't seem to work. It quit right after Tucker was born and caused me some temporary, yet very real, insanity. Since then I just have to take a tiny pill every day so I can pretend my thyroid works like it should.

I'm supposed to take my medicine ate least two hours after eating and at least one hour before eating. This means that the window lies somewhere between second and third periods. Each morning when I get to school I put my little pill on my desk so I won't forget to take it during optimal-thyroid-replacement-hormone-time.  But that's not why I'm blogging. It's just background information.

Every year or so I have to get my blood drawn and see the doctor to make sure my medication level is correct. Usually I can extend that year by a month or so by calling and begging for a refill of my prescription and promising to get in for blood work right away. Finally, I get to a point where I'm sure the doctor's office won't take my calls, and I reluctantly make my way to the lab at Scott and White.

Now, I do not mind blood, especially blood that belongs to other people. I am ridiculously calm during a crisis, and I've yet to completely panic about even the most severe injuries I've witnessed in my life. For example, I rode the bus exactly one day throughout my high school career (because I'm very resourceful and I dated boys with trucks, of course), but on that day one kid stopped on his way off the bus to break the nose of another kid seated on the bus. I opened the first aid kit for bandages, nursed the broken-nosed boy ("lean forward so you don't choke or swallow too much blood"), and directed the freaked out bus driver to stop at the nearest gas station so we could go inside and call 911. I spoke to the paramedics and even had to be washed down with that magic bleach stuff they have because I was covered in the kid's blood. The bus looked like a massacre had taken place. It was gross, but it didn't phase me.

My own blood bothers me only slightly more unless it's being intentionally withdrawn into a little glass tube. I find this process to be unnatural. The fact that someone is drawing out my blood and measuring it into a tiny container is akin to something from a science fiction movie. My mind races during the procedure, wondering, "What are they going to do with the blood when they're done? How much blood do they have stored in this lab? Does anyone ever spill it?  Who has to clean that up?"

You can see why it is unfortunate that I am forced to attend regularly scheduled blood drawings once every year or so.

Alas, today I went to have my blood drawn, which is the real point of this post. I approached the window to find a young, mutton-chopped man in a lab coat sitting casually in an office chair.

Mutton-chop guy: Here for a blood draw?
Me: Yep.
Mutton-chop guy: I'm sorry.  BWAAHAHAHAHAHA!

This was strange, but I decided the guy was probably a fill in for the receptionist and let it go. Ten minutes later he appeared in the doorway and called, "Stormy Hickman?"

I followed him back to a small cubicle, and he pulled the curtain closed. That's when I realized that mutton-chop, laughing, "I'm sorry" guy was about to stab me to death with a needle. I became a little nervous.

Mutton-chop guy: Right arm or left?
Me (offering up both arms): Whichever you think is best.

He then proceeded to spend a full minute staring at the insides of my elbows, making little grunting noises like "hmph" and "mmmmm." Finally, he responded, "I think the left one is best."

I realized at that moment that I had a choice to make.  I could flee, run for my life to ensure my children don't have to live through a motherless future. I could maintain my composure and ask to see his credentials to calm my nerves. I had to save myself!

But I only started breathing hard and smiling bigger, hoping to ease this mutton-chopped blood-taker's nerves so that he didn't screw up.

He prepared his instruments of my torture and applied the tourniquet to my upper arm. Then he had another decision to make.  Which vein?

For yet another full minute he poked and prodded the veins on the inside of my left elbow, "humphing" and "mmmming" all the while. All I could think was "He will not stick me twice. I will leave. I do not need my thyroid medicine that much. Maybe if I stop taking it my thyroid will realize that I really do need it and it will jump in and start doing its job again. What if I pass out?  Will they know who to call to come get me? How come I never programmed that ICE number in my cell phone like Brian Nock told me to?"

He must have sensed my anxiety, perhaps because I was sweating profusely, and he laughed, "I didn't mean to scare you. Both veins are just so great!"

It was at that moment that I decided he must have been a vampire. Not a real vampire (I know those don't exist), but the kind of vampires that they do Dateline specials about. You know the kind I'm talking about, misunderstood, oft-mutton-chopped people who think they gain strength from drinking the fresh blood of thirty-something high school teachers. He was one of those, I decided.

But the procedure proceeded, and as the blood flowed freely from my arm into the tiny glass container that no doubt would later be fitted with a straw, I truly, honestly believed I would pass out. I wondered if the needle would remain in my arm on the way down or if it would be yanked out as I fell to the floor. I planned for which way I should fall to sustain the least injury.

And then it was over.

"Have a good day!" mutton-chop guy said cheerily.

"Thanks!  You, too!" I replied.

And that was that. It may have been the longest five minutes of my life. But if I see the doctor on Thursday and he doesn't have my test results, a little part of me will wonder if my super-happy, very competent phlebotomist didn't take my sample home with him.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Pioneer Woman

Several of my friends enjoy reading the Pioneer Woman's blog. I must say that while I don't usually search it out, I love reading the posts they forward to me.  This evening as I cooked dinner, it occurred to me that I could,  perhaps, be a pioneer woman.

If you were here, you would hear the drip, drip of milk on my keyboard. Milk that I've been stopping every few minutes and soaking my fingers in to try to counteract the intense burning sensation left after I seeded jalapenos from my garden. See? I'm just like a pioneer!  I accidentally grew my own dangerously hot jalapenos and also drove to HEB to buy milk to soak my fingers in. They were accidental because I planted them last August, forgot about them, and just uncovered the plants to find lost of peppers ripe and ready. But that's neither here or there.

While at HEB I also bought a $6 bottle of wine which I opened all by myself. That's right, friends, I can open my own wine. It wasn't even screw top.

I had bacon wrapped, cream cheese stuffed jalapenos, corn on the cob, and seasoned steaks ready to go on the grill. I was feeling, dare I say it, domestic? Look out, Pioneer Woman, because the Mediocre Mommy is hot on your heels!

I went outside to light the grill, and just when I reached in to move the grates and strike up the heat, a mouse scurried out from under them.

And I screamed like a girl.

And I made Trey go outside to scare away the nasty mouse and light the grill.

Alas, now I must continue in my journey toward perfect Sunday night wifedom. My grill awaits, and I've waited sufficiently long enough for Trey to take over my cooking endeavors while I sit at the bar with my wine and good conversation (that's what usually happens, but not tonight, I guess).

That and there are now blisters forming on two of my fingers, and I can't type anymore.

Dear Pioneer Woman,
The title is all yours.
Love always,

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Crazy Love

I spent a large part of my life believing that if you weren't suffering, then you were doing it wrong.

I'm talking about Christianity, of course.

Our Sunday school class is doing a study of the book Crazy Love by Frances Chan. Chapter four of the book is about lukewarm Christianity, and it left me a little perplexed.

The chapter is meant to be very convicting, and many people in our group undoubtedly felt that conviction. I, however, just got a little perturbed. I remarked that  "I'm just over-analytical of books in general," but I admit that I may feel a little twinge of jealousy for those who got more out of the chapter than I. In fact, I found the author arrogant and manipulative, which is probably what closed my mind to the message he was trying to get across.

Statements like these fueled my fire:

  • "According to the account in Luke chapter eight, when a crowd started following Him, Jesus started speaking in parables -- 'so that' those who weren't genuinely listening wouldn't hear it. The fact is, He just wasn't interested in those who fake it" (66).
  • My thought: So Jesus only wanted to talk to those who wanted to hear?  How does this resolve itself with the Great Commission?  This statement implies that Jesus was being tricky to weed out the "unchosen." I read the scripture, and I'm having a hard time reconciling it to the Jesus who reaches out to those who need him most desperately. This feels like a predestination conversation, and I'm not up for that right now. I should definitely study this further. 

  • "I think most American churchgoers are the soil that chokes the seed because of all the thorns" (67). 
  • My thought: This is a gross overgeneralization. I don't know this man, and I'm reasonably certain that he's never been to College Station, Texas, Rice, Texas, or any other number of places in America.  It's simply not possible for him to have the realm of experience to decide that "most American churchgoers" are anything. To determine that the people of the church are the hindrance that keeps others from growing in Christ is ludicrous.  At least that's what I think.

  • "Lukewarm people are thankful for their luxuries and comforts, and rarely consider trying to give as much as possible to the poor. They are quick to point out, 'Jesus never said money is the root of all evil, only that the love of money is.' Untold numbers of lukewarm people feel 'called' to minister to the rich; very few feel 'called' to minister to the poor" (75).
  • My thought: Are we just not supposed to notice the "love of" part?  Is it okay to notice it as long as we don't point it out?  What exactly are these rich people ministries he speaks of?  Are rich people immune to the need for ministry simply because they have wealth? 

As you can see, I was so wrapped up in my vehement disagreement with these statements and others that I found it impossible to search for the positives. I've read the chapter again, and I did find redeeming qualities -- the fact that I don't always (I'll go so far as to say "often") put Christ first and the idea that I don't save up love for those who have wronged me (or my family) again and again. There is one person in particular whom I have deliberately shut out from my life because I find him to be "not worth it." It's sad, but it's true, and I freely admit it. I suppose there is an element of conviction there.

But what is conviction? This author gives me the impression that it's finding reasons to feel really terrible about yourself, and I have a hard time with that. It goes back to what I spent a big part of my life believing -- that if I wasn't suffering, then I wasn't being a good Christian.

Scriptures like "The joy of the Lord is your strength" (from Nehemiah 8) and "delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart" (from Psalm 37) teach me that going around in a funk all the time is no way to be. Radical Christianity is not necessarily living in poverty, weeping constantly at the terrible ills of the world.

I believe my best witness is to be positive and glorify God in all things, giving Him credit out loud for all of my blessings. I know I'm not worthy of any of the gifts I've received in my life, large or small, and the fact that I serve a God of grace is reason to rejoice rather than a reason to lament. Does that mean I am successful 100% of the time? Absolutely not! But I find little value in rolling around in my imperfections and great value in finding new ways to glorify God in my life.

All of this feels a little like "blah blah blah...I thought the book was stupid." That's not the case at all. I'm glad that the book has made a positive impact on many people, even many of the people I know. I'm looking forward to the next chapter that is titled "Serving Leftovers to a Holy God." I won't be in class for the discussion because I'll be at a baseball tournament. Should I feel more guilty about that than I do?

After this reading, discussion, and lengthy post, I've come to realize one thing.  That I am enough for God. I don't have to clean myself up and do a better job at Christianity to earn his love and grace. He gives that to me freely, whether this book offers me a great conviction or not. Do I want to do a better job serving my Father God every day? Definitely. Do I feel humbled and unworthy in the presence of my Savior?  Every day. Do I think the author of this text went a little overboard in his arrogant attempt to humble believers?  Yes, I do.

But I'll finish the book and maybe my opinion will change.

This post isn't funny or witty, but it's an exercise in what I tell students - sometimes writing about a subject is the best way to figure out how you feel about it.  Don't misconstrue my musings as me considering myself a Biblical scholar who has it all figured out because there's probably nothing farther from the truth.

Please don't decide to hate the book because of my one-sided, out of context excerpts because that's just not fair to Mr. Chan. You can visit his web site at  If you read or have read the book, let me know what you think. If nothing else, it's been very thought-provoking for me.

Friday, September 10, 2010

A Massage in the Mall

Today I reached a new level of bravery and uninhibitedness.  I got a massage in the mall.

For the last three days, I've had this weird crick in my neck.  (Hmmm...writing the word "crick" seems odd, but I don't know what else to call it.) It's traveled up and down my back right along my spine, and then it finally settled itself in right underneath my right shoulder blade. Suffering all weekend seemed like a terrible idea, and my brain recalled the little square in the mall with those massage chairs that just ooze relaxation.  I wavered, wondering if I could actually relax in the middle of the mall, but the crick beat out my modesty, and off to the mall I went.

I quickly walked up to a stern looking Chinese lady, wondering who was watching me sign up for the mall massage.  She pointed to the nearest chair, which I straddled and mounted under her direction. "There's nothing strange about doing this in the middle of the mall," I tried to convince myself.

Massage lady: You need thirty minutes, yes?

Me: Um...uh...I think I just need twenty minutes.

Massage Lady: Okay. Twenty minutes.  We start now.

And boy did she start!  She was the strongest massage lady I've ever been privileged to meet in my life, and I knew immediately that I had made a great decision in choosing this mall massage on this Friday afternoon.

After a few minutes, she tapped me on the shoulder. "

Massage Lady: Lady?

Me (as I looked up with my foggy, relaxed eyes): Yes

Massage Lady (holding up an ominous dark bottle with a green liquid inside and Chinese letters on the outside): You have very tight muscles.  You need traditional Chinese medicine, okay?

Me: Okay.

Massage Lady: Two dollars more.

Me: Yes, of course

Now, it never occurred to me to ask what she would do with this traditional Chinese medicine. After I nestled my head back into the face pillow she could have poured it over my head and I wouldn't have cared. I felt that by identifying my tight muscles she had seen into my soul.

I had just a moment when I thought I should lean back, pull up an actual chair, and unload the last week of my life upon her. "It's been a long week," I would say, and then I would proceed to tell her all about how sometimes I'm overemotional and take things to seriously and let others get the best of me and fail to see another person's perspective and how I just want what's best for everyone in this great green earth and why can we all get along and we are the world, we are the children, and imagine all the people.  I thought for a moment that perhaps I should tell her these things, and then she would give me a wise smile and some ancient Chinese words of wisdom and the tension in my muscles would melt away as if my magic and I would walk away a better person.

But, instead, she rubbed the green liquid on my upper back under my shirt, and I became keenly aware of the fact that this woman was giving me a rub down in the middle of the mall.

My acknowledgment of my surroundings was short-lived, however, as I soon became lost once again in the idea that massages are, in fact, the greatest thing in all the world and that this traditional Chinese medicine (which seemed a lot like traditional Chinese icy hot) had been passed down for thousands of years in order to my make day better.

Then she starting punching my butt.

Yes, friends, she starting punching my butt. And I remembered once again that I was in the mall.

I thought of the people walking by asking themselves who in their right mind would allow a stranger to punch her butt in the middle of the mall, right outside the food court.

The butt-punching soon ended, and then she began to punch my thighs and poke my calves, and I wavered back and forth between being mortified and so incredibly contented that I wanted to hug the Massage Lady and buy her a drink at Sonic.

Twenty minutes later, my experience was over. As I walked away from that little square in the mall, my neck and back felt better, and I felt I had grown as a person. I held my head high, knowing that the scorn of mall-watchers would never again keep me from these magical healing powers.

I suppose I was healed.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

First Week of School

I kept waiting this week for some phenomenally hilarious thing to happen during the first week of school so that I could blog about it, but it was a pretty boring week as first weeks of school go. My students were great, my kids liked their teachers and friends, and life shifted from summer laziness and fun to school year homework and grading like someone flipped a switch.  We at the Hickman house love routine, so everyone seems to be calmer and happier this week even though we're all pretty tired.

It was on Thursday that the school nurse called me right at the beginning of my conference period. Keaton was having an asthma attack, and he didn't have an inhaler at school yet. Just the day before I'd sent the medical permission form with Keaton and his mimi to the allergist so that we could send the inhaler to school legally. After several conversations and a phone call to Trey, we relented to the fact that our allergist only signs forms on Fridays, and no little thing like my son's health was going to change that.

Here I was, less than 24 hours later, rushing home to get an inhaler to Keaton's school on my conference period because he couldn't breathe. The nurse called two more times while I was on my way (a ten minute drive) because he was clearly in distress. By the time I got there he was struggling for breath, and it was pretty scary. With his medicine he recovered quickly, and I took him to his mimi's for the rest of the afternoon.

I was furious.  I cussed the allergist over and over again (alone, to myself in the car) for putting my son's health at risk and vowed to switch doctors immediately. I also reflected on the fact that I'd just taught my son on the fourth day of school that if you go to the nurse and look pitiful then someone will come to take you to Mimi's. He's a smart kid, so I knew he would use that to his best advantage.

Friday morning came, and Keaton refused to go to school. He said he was sick and needed to stay home. To us, he seemed to have a little cold, but overall he looked more like a kid who just wanted to hang out all day.

He kicked, he screamed, he flatly refused, he cried -- and still we sent him off to school.

Around eleven, Trey left work to give Keaton another dose of cold medicine, and when he arrived at the school he found Keaton already in the nurse's office. The nurse insisted that Keaton needed to see a doctor soon and that he couldn't stay at school. So off to Mimi's he went again, and Trey made a doctor's appointment for the afternoon.

As Keaton and I waited to see the doctor, we played a little battleship on my phone. When they called his name around 4:20, he quickly became short of breath. Before I could give him his inhaler, the nurses checked his oxygen levels, and that's when it got crazy.

Did you know that if your oxygen level is too low, then the little oxygen checker machine flashes red and makes loud beeping sounds?  Well, it does, and it did on Friday afternoon.

The pediatrician rushed in, they dosed Keaton with steroids and started a nebulizer treatment immediately.  All I could think was "And we kept sending him to school. We are the worst parents ever." Trey left work and joined us at the doctor. Minutes before he was breathing hard, but he was also playing battleship and shouting "YESSSS!!" every time he hit an enemy ship. Now this seemed like it could be serious.

One and a half hours, lots of prescriptions, two neb treatments, one dose of steroids, and a signed medical form for an inhaler at school later, we left the doctor's office.

After all that, Keaton is doing much better. He's taking oral steroids and inhaled steroids for five days, so I hope his teacher is prepared for Keaton on crack.

Remember my posts about Tucker on steroids?  How he gets really mean and violent?  Well, that doesn't happen to Keaton at all. In fact, the only way that Keaton on Steroids is like Tucker on Steroids is that his personality is exacerbated.

Keaton is happy, giggly, joyful, excited, ridiculous, and everything else he normally is, but times one hundred. He's been talking non-stop for three days, only it goes like this:

"Mom I need some drums for Christmas can Santa fit drums down the chimney? I found a place for them next to the piano but not on the side by the bathroom on the other side who will play the piano while I play my drums can you play the piano? maybe dad can play the piano because when I play my drums it will be awesome like dumdumdumdum and maybe I can play bust it because I like that song do you think tucker wants some drums? can I have some lemonade? Yum lemonade ice cold lemonade do we have any ice? i need ice cold lemonade with ice see it's ice cold because it has ice in it it's awesome."

Yesterday Trey actually asked him to go jump on his bed, and he happily obliged -- jumping and jumping and jumping and singing Don't Stop Believing at the top of his lungs and playing air guitar and calling things like lemonade and drums and Big Time Rush "awesome" over and over again.

In summary, we are the meanest parents in all the world, sending our very sick son to school twice, Keaton's allergist sucks big time and will be receiving a scathing letter as soon as I can get things set up at the new allergist, and Keaton is currently a hilarious crackhead.

All of this is to say that surely the second week of school will bring me something phenomenally hysterical.  Don't worry, I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Dear Ms. F,

Thank you for serving as Keaton's kindergarten teacher.  I know he will have wonderful educational experiences in your classroom, and I admire you for entering the noble profession of teaching our community's children.

When my oldest child went to kindergarten, my only real worry was that he would drive his teacher insane with his incessant questioning of everything. I suggested that she direct him to the classroom computer and google whenever necessary, and we had an uneventful year.

Keaton, however, is a different sort of kid. He's my baby, mostly because I baby him.  It's not entirely my fault, however, as I'm sure you witnessed during Meet the Teacher when his brother answered every single question for him. Keaton likes to be the baby, and we, unfortunately, have encouraged that in him.

I don't want to be that parent, but there are some things you should know.

1) Sometimes, not very often but sometimes, Keaton chooses to just pee where ever he is.  Please don't misunderstand, he is most certainly potty trained and has been since he was two. He just prefers to not stop whatever he's doing for the inconvenience of visiting the nearest bathroom. This may mean that he finds a tree or shrub on which to relieve himself, but it may also mean he'll just pee in his pants right where he is.

2) I know at Meet the Teacher is was cute when you asked him if he knew how to write his name and he said, "I know how. It's just boring."  I want to assure you that we don't encourage him to call schoolwork or other requests from adults "boring," he simply has his own opinions about what seems worth his effort. He does, in fact, know how to write his name.

3) Regarding schoolwork, we have had many conversations about always doing what the teacher asks even if it is boring.  Unfortunately, I'm not certain he is listening during these conversations because he is often playing air guitar and pretending to be a rock star during our serious moments. I find I can get his partial attention while he jumps on his bed and sings "Bust a Move," but I'm afraid that's the only time I can think of when he listens to me. Are there beds in kindergarten for him to jump on?

4) This lunch number thing might be a problem. It seems I left his lovely red parent information folder in my other son's classroom when we put away school supplies there, so I don't have it to drill into him this weekend.  I have considered writing it on his hand each morning, but I'm not convinced it will remain there until lunch. Don't worry about him going hungry, though, as I'm certain he will charm the other students into giving up their apples and pudding and chocolate milk. Speaking of hunger, no matter how pitiful he sounds when he says, "I'm STARVING!! I haven't eaten in SO LONG" we did feed him a hearty breakfast.

5) Please know that we do not encourage impromptu concerts, dance-offs, storytelling marathons, or climbing during instructional time. No matter what he tells you, we did not say it was okay for him to do that in class.

Dearest teacher, thank you for your commitment to our son, and may God richly bless you for what you're about to undertake. Our prayers are with you.

The Hickmans

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A Leper on Steroids, The Sequel

First, steroids make Tucker's face swell. Not in a weird elephant-man way, but more like a chipmunk storing acorns for the winter (Do chipmunks eat acorns?  Let's say yes for the sake of the simile).  Since he's a pretty scrawny little boy, the chipmunk face is pretty noticeable and quite adorable.

But that's where the cuteness ends.

Steroids take some of Tucker's personality traits and exacerbate them a great deal. For example, Tucker is a very smart little boy, a fact that he gladly shares on a regular basis by correcting other people and explaining random facts for no apparent reason. Today while we sat in the car wash he named 29 of the 44 U.S. presidents in seven minutes by playing Sporcle on my iphone. Perhaps it was the steroids that helped him remember people like Garfield and Taft.

In addition, he feels the need to make sure I know that he knows how to do virtually everything. Last night I was putting a DVD on for him and Keaton, and after I pushed "play" the next screen came up asking whether we wanted widescreen or normal screen (or whatever the second choice is called). Before I could even consider my screen choices, Tucker shouted at me, "You have to push play again! You have to pick a screen size!  You're not done!"

It's a good thing he was there to yell instructions because I've never started a DVD before in all my 33 years of life.  Arrrrggghhhhh!!!

As I said, these are some of his normal personality traits that just seem more pronounced since he started the drugs. But perhaps the most distinctive side effect of the steroids is the uninhibited rage displayed by my seven year old.

On day two of the 'roids, Keaton was asking Tucker a question about something, and Tucker was, of course, completely ignoring him as is his custom. Suddenly Tucker turned into the Incredible Hulk, veins bulging from his neck and forehead, fire shooting from his eyes, and from his mouth came this terrible demon voice screaming "MAKE HIM STOP TALKING I CAN'T STAND IT ANYMORE I'M ABOUT TO PUNCH HIM IF HE DOESN'T STOP RIGHT NOW!"

And I beleived he really would do it. I quickly snatched Keaton from Angry Tucker's reach and fled the room to concoct a plan to handle this monster that was now living in my house. Over the next hours and days we walked on egg shells around Tuck, trying not to rile the demon lying just below the surface. Keaton was brave, as little brothers are, and often taunted or picked at Tucker, at which time he became a tackling dummy that Tucker literally lifted off the ground and slammed into the carpet like a t.v. wrestler.  It was ugly.

So I did the thing every mother does when her kids are out of control. I sent them both to my mom's for a few days.

Alas, they had to come home eventually, and there were about four days of the medicine left. Keaton taunted Tucker, Tucker body-slammed him into the ground, and on and on and on.  Tucker even got so angry that his Incredible Hulk came out and, shaking uncontrollably, he shouted "I HATE KEATON HICKMAN!"  This is the first time we've heard this statement and a grand admonishment followed, steroids or not.

Finally, during one of Tucker's lighter moments when he realized he may have actually hurt Keaton, I decided to reason with the monster.

"Tucker, your medicine is fighting with your brain. Your brain knows what good choices are and what bad choices are, but your medicine only likes the bad choices. It's going straight to your brain and trying to convince it to make the bad choices.  You have to have a strong brain! Your brain has to beat the medicine, so you're going to have to think really hard about what you're doing until you're done taking it."

This seemed to hit home for Tuck, as he loves a brain challenge, and the next few minutes were uneventful. Small victories, right?

About fourteen minutes later the fighting and screaming started again, and we all decided to just count the days until the steroids were over and be happy that Tucker's skin was better and that he wasn't at school beating the hell out of random kids. At least he was beating up family, right?

It's been about five days since his last dose, and I can tell that the medicine is slowly leaving his system as his face deflates.  I can also tell it's not completely gone because as Keaton got out of the bath tonight and walked past Tucker, Tucker turned and punched him in the face.

Good times.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Leper on Steroids

If you or someone you know has suffered with eczema, then you understand that it's horrible and terrible.  

Ours is worse.

Okay, I don't really know that ours is worse, but if yours is worse than ours, then you are have some seriously terrible skin and we should form a support group together. 

We constantly battle the boys' bad skin. It looks good, then it flares, then it looks awful, then it's good, and such is our life. We valiantly fight staph a few times a year, but that's the only really exciting part. Our pediatrician has always done a good job helping us manage, and two years ago we went to the allergist who discovered both boys have egg allergies and Keaton also has a peanut allergy. In addition, Keaton is allergic to pretty much everything they tested him for (except cockroaches...weird), and he's been taking allergy shots since he was three. He is the best allergy-shot-taker in the world, and he has never cried. The allergy discovery pretty much cleared up Keaton's major skin problems, but Tucker is a different story.

As I said, we have always managed it. But last year, in first grade, I think he started to notice that everyone else didn't look like a leper, too. Then, in summer baseball, we noticed the other kids asking Tucker about his skin, and we decided that we'd exhausted the resources of the pediatrician and allergist and it was time to see the dermatologist.

We did not, however, see the dermatologist in the way that we planned. 

In early July, Tucker a little bit of nasty staph on his skin. We can tell because we think we're doctors.  Keaton had staph about two weeks before, which confirmed our diagnosis. Tucker took an antibiotic that didn't do the trick, so I hauled him in to the pediatrician again. They put him on bactroban and we went on our merry way. 

Seven days later, we woke up to this all over his body (including his face):

Sidebar #1: Yes, I am the mother in the doctor's office taking a picture of her son's condition with her iphone. At some point it occurred to me that we'll all wonder some day if it was really as bad as we remembered, and I wanted future verification. 

He looked ridiculous. I called the pediatrician's office and took the first possible appointment. It wasn't our regular doctor, but I didn't care. The first pediatrician called in another pediatrician and a student doctor, and they together decided that he looked bad, and he needed to see a dermatologist quickly.

They prescribed him something for itching and made us another appointment. That afternoon we saw the dermatologist, who called in another dermatologist and a student, and together they worked through possible causes and treatments. 

I think they think he had a reaction to the bactroban (which he had taken many times before) because it is a sulfa drug. Please consult your doctor before believing anything medical that I say, but I think our bodies have a sort of sulfa threshold, and when the body reaches its maximum capacity it reacts.  In Tucker's case, it reacts badly. 

Sidebar #2: When you see six doctors in one day, you're doing something special. When we left the dermatologist's office he just shook his head and said, "One thing is for sure. I am certain that this is the worst case I'll see today."

In the days that followed, Tucker took a double dose of steroids, a large amount of anti-itch medicine, and participated in nightly "wet wraps" where we dipped his clothes in warm water, covered him with a steroid ointment, and them made him wear the wet clothes for 30 minutes, covering him in blankets straight from the dryer when the clothes started to make him cold. Good times. 

Have you ever been around a seven year old with "roid rage"?  What about a double dose of it? Let me tell you friends, it ain't pretty.

In fact, it's ugly enough to warrant its own post tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Why I Briefly Hated Baseball, game three

not really.  Game three was a fun, exciting game and we lost by about two points, I think. It was just like summer baseball should be.

This post, rather, serves as the culmination of the previous two regarding acceptable baseball behavior.  The following are the rules for heckling in baseball.

1) Never, ever heckle your own kid. When the ball rolled right between his legs, he knew he should have stopped it. Screaming those directions to him at the top of your lungs in front of his teammates and their parents will not "drive the message home" but will instead serve to humiliate him. Acceptable responses to a son who misses a ball include, "Good try," "You'll get it next time," or even the helpful "Don't forget to get your glove on the ground." I find that the last one works best if you follow it with some term of endearment. For example, "That's okay, babe, get your glove on the ground next time and you'll have it!"

2) Don't heckle your own team. I know there are certain major league franchises who deem this acceptable, but I do not. The other night at the Bombers game our pitcher was having some trouble, and a group of teenage boys behind me starting yelling about how awful his pitches were. In my head, I told them to take their prissy little butts to the visitor side if they didn't like our pitching, but I did not say this aloud (you're welcome, Trey). Teams encourage one another. They do not insult and degrade one another. Take this as a life lesson, if you will.

3) Clapping when someone on the other team strikes out is acceptable only in high school games or above. I have no rationale for this, except that I'm making these rules and I like this one.

4) Heckling of the opposite team is acceptable only in post-high school and above and only if it's funny. For example, at the Bombers games, when the opposing team does something stupid (like miss an easy ball), the announcer plays a sound bite of Homer Simpson, "Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you your moron." I know it sounds mean, but it's pretty darn funny so it's okay in my book.

In addition, the folks that sit in front of us are very good at heckling the other team.  One night our opponent's short stop had something like four errors in a row, so the Bombers fans below us kindly suggested that perhaps their coach would like for that young man to play pitcher as well. And first base. And catcher.  I don't think this was mean, as they were clearly trying to get the athlete more playing time and a more diverse baseball experience.

5) Before heckling an outfielder who has missed a fly ball, first confirm that there are no injuries.  Cheering and congratulating the player for earning your team another run just seems crass if he's obtained a broken leg in the process. I'm sure a simple thank you note later will suffice.

Ah, baseball.  I never knew how much I enjoyed it until I was an adult with children of my own. The steamy summer nights, the intense competition, and the $2 margaritas on Wednesdays really bring me much joy. If only all fans would adopt these heckling rules, all of my baseball experiences will be perfect.

That and $2 margaritas on Friday nights, too.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Why I Briefly Hated Baseball, game two

Game two.

All afternoon when Tucker brought up the game I reminded him how important it is to always play hard and never give up. We talked about character.

And somewhere in the bottom of my black heart I hoped for rain, hurricanes, tornadoes, and any other natural disaster that would destroy the baseball fields and cause the tournament season to be permanently suspended so we never had to play another game. Alas, the sun shone and we showed up at the field right on time.

As the members of the other team began to trickle in, I was shocked to see they were not the amazon children of the previous night. No, they were somewhat normal in size and did not even bring entourages.  My hopes soared - we might be able to get a few outs and score a few points in this game.

I texted Trey (who was still at work), "We should be able to hang with this team!"  Win or lose, it wouldn't be the discouraging beat-down of the previous night. I loved baseball again.

The whole thing was a nail-biter. They scored four runs in the top of the inning; we scored three runs in the bottom. They went three and out on offense in the top; we never got a kid on base in the bottom. It was thrilling, this little league battle of skill and focus. We shouted to our kids - "good play!" and "you'll get it next time!"  It actually occurred to me that this was what baseball should be like -- friendly competition and excitement.

Until somewhere around the fifth inning. One of the other team's parents was running the scoreboard, and he neglected to give us one of the points we'd earned. I've run the scoreboard before, and I spent the entire game in fear of getting screamed at for errors, so the missing point disturbed me but not to the point of concern.

Until we run-ruled the inning with five points. Our boys should have been in the dug-out getting their gloves, and instead we were sending another kid to the plate. I think one of the coaches must have noticed and told the umpire because he ended the inning.  This drew whisperings and then shouts of confusion from the stands.  We only had four recorded points according to the scoreboard, and people were confused as to why the inning was over. Parents in the stands began telling the scorekeeper that the board should read thirteen instead of twelve, but he wouldn't listen. In fact, he was adamant that we only had twelve points and refused to change it. Finally the umpire had to come over and make him add the point. In one instant, the game went from intense, friendly competition to some parallel universe where people's lives depend on the outcome of little league games.

And I got a little riled up. It was whisper-y crazy, in my defense, but crazy nonetheless. I was fired up about that point. Why would you think the parent's on your opponent's team would lie to you about a point?  The inning was over according to the official, so the evidence clearly supported that those parents were right and you had made a mistake. Why be so rude about it?

As I whispered these thoughts to Trey, he just stared at me with that "you're turning into the crazy mom" look, and I made a mental note to work on my self-control.

In the bottom of the sixth, we were down by two points. We quickly scored twice to tie up the game, and I'm not kidding when I tell you that the tension on that field and in the stands was rivaled only by a world cup game complete with horns. It was edge-of-your-seat, intense baseball -- played by seven year olds.

The next batter approached the plate and hit a beautiful grounder that the opposing team fielded, but an overthrow allowed our runner on third to run into home. The stands erupted with cheers from one team and gasps from the other as this battle of the titans came to an end, but our opponent's bench erupted with something else.

The coaches were screaming and taunting the umpire about how we had done something illegal.  The umpire said a few words we couldn't hear from the stands, and then he simply exited the field.  As we began collecting our water bottles and Keaton's toys, we saw the coach from the other team storm off the field, on a mission. Word passed through the stands that he was going to get the league official.

If I was fired up before, then now I was going to explode.  I'm afraid my mouth began moving faster than my brain at that moment (in a normal voice this time, no more whispers), "My son is out there and these people are teaching him that when you lose you should get angry and yell and throw a fit, and this is unacceptable!  I am appalled! We won, life will go on, I promise. Let it go!" And I hated baseball and swore to never let Tucker play summer ball again for the rest of his life.

The league official did come to the field, and after some on-field conversation our runners went back to third and first and the opposing team grabbed their gloves and went back onto the field. I found out later that the concern was over the league rules regarding overthrows, and I still don't know if our run was legal or not. Apparently in the on-field conversation our coach said something to the effect of, "We won. But if you need us to play one more run we'll do it."

Our next batter jacked a fly ball to the outfield on the first pitch and our third base runner scored within a matter of seconds. Even with the preceding scene, the outcome of the game was not changed except for that last batter who now gets to tell stories of his spectacular hit.

And this team, this young, underdog team that had had the life pounded out of them the night before, got a win. A real-live big win, earned twice, and with a real-life example of good sportsmanship thrown in as a bonus.

And I loved baseball again.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Why I Briefly Hated Baseball, game one

or, as an alternate title, Heckling Etiquette for Baseball Fans.

This year, my son was eligible to try out for "All Stars" with our local Little League, only they didn't call it All Stars, just "Summer League," and rumor had it that all of the kids would make teams. Given Tucker's obsession with baseball and his natural athleticism (at least the seven year old version of athleticism), we were happy to let him try out.

The night of try outs arrived and we reached the ball field ready to watch our kid show his stuff. We soon realized that this wasn't just an itty-bitty "show what you can do" kind of evening. Around 60 kids were quickly being shuffled from one drill to the next - stop three grounders, catch three fly balls, figure out where the play is in a game situation, go, go, go.  At each station there were men, I assume coaches, taking down every awesome save and every grievous mistake on little clipboards. This was serious business.

Tucker was not the best kid out there, and he's kind of small for his age, so I left the tryouts happy that all the kids would make it because Tucker wasn't one of the top players, and I just flat out don't believe he's old enough to be told he isn't good enough for anything. He's seven, and he has lots of rejection to live through - it's part of life - but at seven he should think he is physically capable of absolutely anything.  I disliked the experience as a whole, and I suddenly hated baseball.

That Saturday we were supposed to get a call about what team he would be on, but no call came. Sunday, no call. Monday, no call.

Finally, I got an email from a dad we knew pretty well. His son and Tucker had played on the same soccer team when they were five, and we loved that team. All of the parents were nice and the kids were good - it was probably the best sports season Trey and I have had, and I feel like we've had quite a few. The dad, Brandon, said that Tucker would be on his team, and he gave some instructions about when they would practice, etc. The boys would practice Monday through Friday for the first two weeks of June. This sounded a little miserable to us, but Tucker was in absolute heaven.

When the roster of all the kids came, I realized that they were ALL seven. The age group was seven and eight year olds as of April 15th, so I knew there were nine year olds playing on the other teams. I knew immediately that our team was made up of the youngest players from tryouts - some of them barely seven.

But they were scrappy little seven year olds.  They worked so hard in practice, and we saw them improve so much. There were several really good coaches, and the practices were almost as serious as the tryouts, meant to make the boys better skill-wise. I was happy that Tucker had made this team, even if it looked like they might go two-and-out in the tournament. I loved baseball again.

The night of the first game finally arrived, and Tucker proudly wore his black jersey - the first uniform he's had with "Hickman" on the back. From the time he got up that morning, he was focused and pumped and excited. He was so excited, in fact, that we made it to the ball field around fifteen minutes before the designated arrival time because I couldn't listen to him beg to leave the house for the game anymore.

Just after I took my seat in the bleachers and opened the book I was reading as my pre-game warm-up, the other team - and their parents - swarmed the field. I was aghast! This couldn't be the team we were playing. The kids looked twelve. I double-checked to make sure we were at the right field, and I started hating baseball again.

The parents from the somewhat local team (a small town nearby) moved in on the field like troops going to battle, rolling up their coolers and unloading their lawn chairs right in front of the bleachers. In a matter of minutes, the entire fence behind home plate was lined with parents in their blue team shirts, creating a sea of intimidation for our young, hard working team.

Now, I must say that I've never understood the phenomenon of putting lawn chairs against the fence in front of the bleachers. Clearly, the bleachers are there so people can sit in them and watch the game, so the chairs in front of them eliminate the view from the entire first row.  This makes no sense to me.  And it wasn't the only thing that didn't make sense.

These parents were loud. Annoying loud. I can deal with shouts of encouragement, but I can only describe what they were doing as heckling their own children. It began in pregame warm-ups and continued throughout the game. If a kid missed the ball, his dad would shout "What are you doing? You should have had that!" On and on it went, and it made me a nervous wreck. I whispered to Trey that I had the most self-control of anyone in the whole world because I wanted, so badly wanted, to scold them.

Here's how it played out in my head:
Crazy Parent (jumps out his chair, screams at his own kid): Get your glove on the ground!  It went right by you!
Me: Sit down, ya loony! None of us want to see the sweat crease running down the crack of your shorts!
Crazy Parent (disgusted): Aw...why did you swing at that?
Me: Maybe if you wouldn't spend all your money on chaw and Lone Star, you could buy your poor kid some glasses.

And on and on it went in my head. They yelled, and I came up with hilarious, witty insults to throw back at them. And I chose to keep my mouth shut. My husband was very proud.

I think it goes without saying that the other team "drilled us" in Tucker's words. I don't remember the score, but they had somewhere around twenty, and the game was called for run-rule in the fourth inning. It was probably their parents never-ending heckling that made them so good.  Our formerly excited, baseball-loving kids were dejected and, I think, a little embarrassed.

And because the tournament was double-elimination, we had to play again the next night.

And I hated baseball.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


I'm raising slobs.

That's right. My kids would never consider actually picking up after themselves unless I threaten to remove all pleasure from their daily lives. I'm raising slobs, and it's all my fault.

See, I like things to be picked up. Don't check the backside of my ceiling fans or anything because cleaning is not exactly my strong point, but I can't stand it when there is crap everywhere (or the plural "craps" as my friend C would say). How do I make my life better?  I pick up the craps and put them away.

Every mom in the great green world knows that no matter what it is (cleaning included), it's easier just to do it yourself than to beg, plead, threaten, and beg again for the kids to do it. In addition, if I pick up the craps they will be put where they belong rather than under the bed, in the closet, in the dog's kennel or any other place where they can't be seen anymore.

Sidenote: Contrary to popular belief, just because something is out of sight does not mean it is "put away."

Alas, my kids are slobs because the husband and I pick up after them all of the time.  But the times they are a'changin.

It's summer, and my goal this summer is to teach my kids to voluntarily pick up their own craps. I know what you're thinking, sounds crazy, right?  Only in a perfect family utopia would kids actually get toys out, play with them, and then put them away, right?  Well, friends, we're on our way to that utopia right here in the Hickman house.

We haven't actually left the station yet, but I've started to believe it can be done, and that's probably half the battle, right?

I've decided I have to attack each child's sloppiness in a unique way. First, let's talk about Tucker because he's the easiest to intimidate. He knows rules and he follows them, much like his dad, so he's my first target. 

Tucker's life activities involve only baseball. He's either at baseball practice, tossing a ball in the air, watching baseball games, or analyzing the MLB draft (sometimes all at once).  You would think that playing baseball wouldn't be messy, needing only a glove and ball, but you'd be wrong. I don't think Tucker can so much as touch a ball without getting out his glove, his dad's glove, two bats, home plate, catcher's gear, a jersey for the team he wants to pretend to be on that day, and ten or twelve million wiffle balls.

My plan for Tucker is a Gale Greeson special.  I'm going to tell him once to pick up his stuff, and then I'm going to start loading it in a trash bag.  This genius plan operates under the assumption that if he leaves it out, it must be trash because of course he would put away things that are important to him, right?  If I'm firm and stick with the plan, I think I can have him on the utopia train in about a week.

Then if I can just convince him to pick up the "crust" of his pop tarts when he's done with them, we'll be in great shape. You may be thinking "aren't pop tarts all crust?"  Yes, they are, however, Tucker only eats the part that has filling in the middle and leaves the outside edges all over the place for someone else to come pick up. I wish I was kidding.

Keaton, on the other hand, is going to be a little more difficult. If I were to load up his stuff in a trash bag, he would cross his arms, set a scowl on his face, and announce "I don't care.  I don't like that stuff anyway." I know this from experience.

I have to find a way to bribe him. Money? Candy? Grapefruit? (he loves grapefruit)  If you have any ideas, please post a comment and enlighten me.

I can see the picked-up home utopia on the horizon, and I am determined to make it there before the fall. I am determined!