All Write, Columns

Rock on! And I don’t mean in a chair

18882142_1433976726640950_512120073299930773_n[1]Derek and I had a peaceful easy feeling in May when we joined several thousand of our closest friends to hear the Eagles in concert at the Spokane Arena.

From the moment the opening a cappella strains of “Seven Bridges Road” soared through the venue, till the final sweet notes of “Desperado” echoed, we were enthralled and entertained.

The Eagles are a band even my parents would have approved of … except for the somewhat controversial “Hotel California.”

When I was growing up parental approval did not extend to the “devil’s music,” so I started rocking later than most of my peers.

Our home was filled with the music of the Gaither Vocal Band and Dottie Rambo, and of course, Elvis – gospel and hymn recordings only.

In the ’80s backward masking was on the nightly news. We teens were told the subliminal messages contained in albums by certain bands would turn us into devil worshippers.

We attended seminars at the Spokane Convention Center where speakers warned us that subliminal messages weren’t limited to records. Even eating crackers could send one spiraling into sin due to the word “SEX” being spelled out in the dots of a Ritz cracker.

That explains why I still prefer Wheat Thins, and why my first concert was Ronnie Milsap. I’d never heard of him, but my best friend really wanted to go. My parents thought country music wasn’t as dangerous as rock ’n’ roll.

Of course, I listened to the American Top 40 on the radio so I could keep current with the sinful state of the world. That radio rebellion must have corrupted me. How else to explain the first album I purchased was Quiet Riot’s “Metal Health.”

But metal never moved me much, especially once I discovered Bon Jovi. Their music was the soundtrack of my teen and young adult years.

My husband was an avid concertgoer in his teens, and when we met he was astonished by my rock ’n’ roll ignorance.

“Just think if you hadn’t married me you would know nothing about Van Halen. Nothing!” he often says.

During our early married years, the cost of raising four kids put concert attendance out of our reach.

We did splurge on Jim Brickman tickets when he came to the INB Performing Arts Center around the time of our anniversary one year. My parents would also approve of Jim; our children, however, were mortified.

“My gosh! If John Denver was still alive, you’d probably pay money to see him, too!” our teenager groaned.

“Well, duh!” I replied, and launched into a spirited rendition of “Grandma’s Feather Bed.”

As our kids grew older, our wallets grew less lean, but I was still shocked when five years ago Derek surprised me with tickets to Bon Jovi.

He’d already taken the boys to see Van Halen when they were in Tacoma the previous year, and he wanted me to be able to hear my favorite band in concert, too.

But the biggest surprise was how much Derek, a Bon Jovi-scoffer, loved the show.

“That was absolutely amazing! Best concert I’ve ever attended!” he said afterward.

Since then we’ve seen a slew of bands and performers. Our son treated us to Bob Dylan in Seattle. And we got our ’80s groove on with Foreigner, Styx, Loverboy, Joan Jett (twice), Pat Benatar and Melissa Etheridge when they’ve performed at Northern Quest.

But it was seeing Blondie in 2015 that reminded Derek of the passage of time.

“Debbie Harry is still so hot!” he enthused.

I grinned.

“Not bad for 70, huh?”

Stricken, Derek gasped, “She’s almost as old as my mother!”

Time has not been good for all bands, however.

Derek was delighted when the newspaper asked me to review Def Leppard when they came to town last summer with Tesla and Poison.

The show was fine, and Leppard fans were pleased, but there was a lot of sweat and a lot of screaming – both on stage and in the audience. For the first time, we both had to wear ear plugs.

The difference between metal bands and more mellow bands becomes apparent as the members age.

“You can actually understand the lyrics when the Eagles and Bon Jovi sing,” he said. “Van Halen and Def Leppard just play louder to compensate for their fading vocals.”

There you have it. We’ve reached the age where the words matter just as much as the music.

Some folks do their rocking in chairs, but we’re going to keep doing ours at concert venues – at least while we can still hear the lyrics.

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Columns

Sometimes the Simplest Prayers Mean Most

We eagerly scanned the swarms of blue-robed students filing into the McCarthey Athletic Center on Friday evening. The strains of “Pomp and Circumstance” swelled, and then we spotted our baby boy – not much of a baby anymore.

As Sam received his diploma and was recognized as an honors student who’s already earned 87 credits through the Running Start program at Eastern Washington University, another chapter in our parenting lives closed.

Our fourth and final son graduated from high school.

It was an occasion I couldn’t even imagine 18 years ago when he struggled for every breath in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at now-Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center.

On a golden September day, Sam, our grand finale, had entered the world weighing in at a whopping 9 pounds, 9 ounces. He had his father’s broad shoulders and the trace of a dimple in his chin.

He also had a hole in his diaphragm.

Within hours of his birth we were told our baby had congenital diaphragmatic hernia. A hole in his diaphragm hadn’t closed early in gestation. As a result, his internal organs pushed into his chest cavity, squashing his developing lungs. Only Sam’s right lung was fully formed. Our newborn was given a 50/50 chance of survival.

Milestones like a commencement ceremony remind us of how close we came to losing this child.

Late Friday night following the celebration, while the rest of the household slept, Derek and I quietly recalled Sam’s desperate first days.

He’d been flown by helicopter from Holy Family Hospital to Sacred Heart Medical Center an hour after his birth. Having just given birth I was forced to stay behind while Derek drove downtown.

“When I walked into the NICU, they had Sam restrained on a table,” he recalled. “His back was arched, his face red. He was screaming his head off. They told me he was a fighter, but that I needed to leave the room for a minute. They said they were going to sedate him, that his blood pressure was dangerously high. When they let me back in, Sam was silent and still. So very still.”

And 18 years later, the tears fell as he remembered his helplessness in the face of his son’s need.

My own memories of that day still haunt.

Twelve hours after his birth, I stood next to Sam’s bed. Tubes and wires protruded from the top of his head to the soles of his feet. The ominous whooshing of the ventilator and the beeping and whirring of machines filled the room. He was so fragile that the sound of a voice raised above a whisper sent his blood pressure skyrocketing.

I believe in the power of prayer. I always have. But that morning I could find no words. So I reached two fingers under the maze of wires, rested them on his laboring chest and whispered, please. When he exhaled I whispered thank you.

In the weeks that followed those words became a ritual.

Even as he grew healthy and strong, with no lingering complications, each breath simply seemed miraculous to me. Life is a gift, but how casually we treat it, until we’re forced to confront its fragility.

More nights than I can count, I’d slip into Sam’s room, lay my hand on his chest and whisper please and thank you as he breathed. Over the years that prayer grew to encompass much more than his physical health.

Like his dad, Sam’s going to continue his education at EWU. He plans to become a high school English teacher and will live at home for a while, so our nest won’t be empty anytime soon.

Following the commencement ceremony, we posed for photos. Sam now towers above me, and when I wrap my arms around him, my head rests near his heart.

Once again I found myself whispering please when he inhaled, thank you when he exhaled.

It’s a prayer that’s served me well.

Sam's graduation

Columns

Auditing my childhood wish list

Nothing brings life into focus like finding a list of things you wanted when you were a kid, and measuring it against the reality of your adult life.

That happened to me recently while going through a box of “Cindy” things my Mom has kept since my childhood.

But first can we talk about those locks of hair? I mean, why?

What am I supposed to do with the locks of honey gold hair in the Ziploc sandwich bag? My mother has saved these for 50 years. They’ve traveled across the ocean and back, not even attached to my head.

The artsy-craftsy among you might suggest making some kind of shadow box, so that my once-golden hair will be forever preserved behind glass. I guess I could stick my baby teeth in there, too. Yes. Mom also saved my teeth.

I have to admit that I saved my oldest child’s first tooth as well, and I can’t seem to toss it. I saved another son’s first tooth, but didn’t label it, so now it’s in a sandwich bag in my jewelry box.

And no, I don’t know why it seemed important to save those teeth. I blame my mother.

But back to my hair.

Facebook friends suggested the hair and teeth can be used for DNA purposes. I hope they meant tracing my genetic heritage, and they’re not referring to making a positive ID of my corpse, or using the DNA to tie me to a crime scene.

That’s almost as creepy as the friend who suggested I use it to make a voodoo doll.

The fishermen of my acquaintance suggested my golden locks might be used to make fishing lures. Also creepy.

Others suggested making a keychain or using it to make a clone of myself. And one fashion-retro friend said I could weave it in my hair to make a mini rat tail.

For now, it’s in my jewelry box with my kid’s unlabeled tooth.

While the hair and the teeth were a bit disturbing, Mom also saved quite a bit of my early writing – including a list titled “Things I Want.”

I suspect the list was written during a church service. My parents took us to church every Wednesday night and twice on Sunday, so I had ample time to hone my “sit still, be quiet” skills, and Mom kept a sheaf of scratch paper in her purse to keep me occupied.

I drew a lot of pictures and did even more writing. The writing took. The art, not so much.

The list reads as follows (remember I was 8, I spell much better now.)

A puple bike with training wheels

A 1000 dollars

A Maroon body shirt whith an Aqua skirk. And white go-go boots.

Some corel lipstik. And some peach lipclos. And some pink blosh. And some ponds lemon cold cream,

And some toys.

And a laveder dress with pink and lavender flowers.

But most of all I want God to come! Yas!

Obviously, I was 8 going on 18. Or I wanted to be my mother. Probably both.

Also apparent, I must have been hedging my bets on my wish list by making the good Lord’s return my most heartfelt desire.

So here’s the round-up.

I did NOT get a purple bike with training wheels. I got a blue bike with a red, white and blue striped banana seat. I tried to be grateful, but I was positive the patriotic color scheme meant it was a boys’ bike.

I did get $1,000, at some point in my life, but it was not gifted to me in any magical way. I had to work for it.

I did get a maroon body shirt. For those not familiar with ’70s fashion, body shirts were tight-fitting knit shirts with snap crotches. I suppose the idea was that your shirt would stay nicely tucked in, but let me tell you those snaps were awful, if you drank too much fruit punch at a birthday party and had to wait in line for the bathroom. That’s all I’m saying about that.

I don’t think I had an aqua skirt, but Mom had white plastic go-go boots that ended up in our dress-up box. I loved those boots. In fact, I just might find a pair online, so I’ll be prepared when they come back into fashion.

As for the makeup, I did wear coral lipstick topped with peach lip gloss in middle school, and I still wear pink blush. The Pond’s cold cream? Never used it, but Mom still does.

I don’t remember a lavender dress with pink flowers, but I did have some toys.

All in all, most of the things I longed for as an 8-year-old have come my way, so I can’t complain.

I folded the list and tucked in with the lock of hair and my baby teeth.

Someday my sons can figure out what to do with them. Cloning may be an option by then, and I’m sure having their mother cloned is every son’s dream.

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Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” Her previous columns are available online at www.spokesman.com/staff/ cindy-hval/ Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

 

 

 

 

 

Columns

Name that car!

My friend Sarah loves her car. Seriously loves it. So when a rogue deer did significant damage to it one dark February night, she was heartsick.

When she finally got it back from the body shop, she posted a photo of it on Instagram, rejoicing that her Honda Accord’s sleek midnight blue body had been restored.

A friend commented that she loved her car too, and asked Sarah if her car had a name.

Regular readers of this column won’t be surprised by her answer.

Some months ago I wrote about Sarah’s cat – a boy named Rose, with no middle name to give his feline status some dignity.

I suggested Rose Henry. Sarah’s husband balked.

“His name is Rose. Just Rose,” he insisted.

So, of course her beautiful blue car is currently nameless.

Our family vehicles have always had names. After all, sometimes I feel like I spend more time with my car than with my family. I can’t have that kind of intimate relationship with some nameless hunk of metal.

Currently, I drive a gold Oldsmobile Intrigue. Her name is Golda MyDear.

She wasn’t my idea.

When I was finally ready to downsize from the minivan mama life, I imagined my next car would be a ’65 cherry red Mustang convertible. Or a sporty SUV.

But my sister-in-law’s mother could no longer drive, and they wanted to get rid of her car, so as not to tempt her. It was in great condition, with very few miles, and it ended up in our driveway.

A four-door sedan formerly owned by a granny wasn’t what I’d planned, but after a few days behind the wheel, I began to appreciate her tight turn radius and easy ride.

Golda and I hit the road when my book, “War Bonds,” came out. She faithfully took me to bookstores across the state.

I thought everyone named their cars, and judging from the response to my social media post about Sarah’s nameless Honda, lots of people do christen their rides.

My friend, Annie, drives a Pilot named Pontius.

“When it was brand new, I became irritated with how concerned I was with it and to humble myself I named it Pontius,” she wrote.”I realize it’s not a Pilate, but Amelia Earhart seemed too long.”

Betsy has a Subaru named Ruby Sue.

Just reading that makes me happy.

The Curless rigs have more prosaic monikers. “Our truck is the Big Nasty, and the SUV is Grocery Getter,” wrote Gail.

Candy said her first car was a Ford Pinto named Bean.

Some folks give a nod to pop culture. Fans of the “Guardians of the Galaxy” films will recognize the origin of Rob Brewer’s Sequoia. Its name is Groot.

His wife calls their Acadia, Katie.

Go ahead. Say it out loud.

My friend Denise said she calls her car Honey, because when it tries to go up a hill without slowing down, she just has to say, “Oh, honey. …”

Susie says her car is “Andretti, because I’m Mario!”

Steven drives “Vandola,” a cross between a van and a gondola, and Kris has Flo the Ford Flex, and Sven the Volvo V70.

Our family fleet included the Red Dragon, my ’75 Pontiac LeMans that one hot summer in our glorious BC (before children) years, took Derek and me all the way to Disneyland with frequent stops due to vapor lock.

The first minivan I drove was christened The Miracle.

With a third child’s birth imminent, we desperately needed a bigger, more reliable vehicle than my aging Ford Tempo.

We couldn’t afford a car payment, so each night during bedtime prayers, our oldest sons prayed for God to send us a minivan.

A few weeks before Zachary’s birth, Derek’s brother and sister surprised us with a used Dodge Caravan.

“We just felt God wanted you to have this car,” his sister said.

“It’s our miracle!” our firstborn said.

Miraculous or not, our cars get us where we need to go. They help us provide for our families. If that’s not deserving of a name, I don’t know what is.

Alas, Sarah’s beloved Honda is still nameless.

My husband suggested she call it The Deer Slayer, but I haven’t had the heart to mention that to her. She’s dealing with far more important issues at the moment.

“Seriously,” she said. “I’ve been too busy trying to think of a middle name for our cats.”

Well. You have to respect her priorities.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” Her previous columns are available online at http://www.spokesman.com/staff/cindy-hval/. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

Columns

Painting over art-shaming scars

My reaction might have been a little over the top.

“I would rather have my eyelashes plucked out one by one while listening to alpine yodeling and drinking beet juice mixed with cod liver oil,” I said.

My friend raised her hands in surrender.

“Wow! OK then. We’ll skip paint night and just go to happy hour someplace.”

Some people might think a suggestion to have a glass of wine and create art with a good friend sounds delightful.

I’m not those people, and I have Mrs. Pendergast to thank for that.

Mrs. Pendergast was my second-grade teacher. While my reading skills soared under her tutelage, my art skills plummeted.

I dreaded art time more than I dreaded dodge ball during PE, and that’s saying something. My undiagnosed nearsightedness meant I never saw that pink rubber ball coming till it smacked me silly.

When Mrs. P. directed us to don our paint shirts, I groaned. Wearing my dad’s old button-down dress shirt was mortifying. It was dirty for heaven’s sake! It was crusty and stained, and it didn’t match my carefully coordinated outfit!

Of course, the reason it was stained was because I could never seem to gauge the right amount of paint. I would think I had just the right quantity of yellow for my sun, only to watch in dismay as golden globs streaked down the paper and smeared into my already-crusty sleeves.

“Oh, for Pete’s sake!” Mrs. P. scolded. “Your sun is bleeding all over your paper!”

With that she snatched my art attempt off the easel, crumpling it in disgust, commanding me to start over.

Her bleeding-sun comment inspired me.

I dipped my brush into what I hoped was just the right amount of scarlet, and painted a red sun, dripping droplets of blood from the sky.

“Good grief!” shouted Mrs. P. “That is disgraceful! What is the matter with you!?”

My classmates tittered as once again she ripped my paper from the easel.

When the class went out to recess, I stayed behind, waiting for the paint to dry so I could place my painting at the bottom of the stack, safe from mocking eyes.

So, you can see why my reaction to a friend’s suggestion of paint night was a tad vehement.

But a couple of years passed, and recently my husband came home and announced that we’d been invited to go to Pinot’s Palette with some friends.

Much to his surprise, I agreed.

It was time to silence the shaming voice of Mrs. Pendergast once and for all. My painting might stink, but at least I’d have a glass of wine to ease the sting.

On Jan. 26, I donned a paint-spattered apron, sat at an easel and picked up a brush.

To my joy I discovered we were going to replicate a painting of the northern lights. No sun in sight. And a perfect choice since we’d invited Derek’s sister and her Norwegian husband to join us. They’ve actually seen the northern lights.

I listened carefully to the instructor.

“The first lesson is you must learn the difference between your wine glass and your water glass,” she said.

That was easy. My wine glass was the one without any paintbrushes in it. Yet.

The next lesson covered what to do if we accidentally got paint on our clothes. It seemed like the instructions were tailored just for me.

In the event of a paint emergency, our teacher told us to, “Run to the sink, scream, flail, and use Murphy’s Oil Soap.”

She paused. “But if it’s been more than 15 minutes you have a new outfit.”

With that we were ready to begin.

I panicked a bit. But my husband’s friend said, “Just dip your brush into your wine and drink your water.”

I did the opposite, and soon I was well on my way.

My brother-in-law wandered over to check out my progress.

“Cindy, you are a born artist!” he exclaimed.

He is a bit of a hogwash artist, but his encouragement was appreciated nonetheless.

“By now your canvas is covered with paint,” the instructor said.

And mine was. I’d followed instructions. I’d mixed blue and green and made teal. And I hadn’t dipped my sleeve in my palette. Yet.

Shades of doubt seeped in when I had trouble blending the first swooshes of white into the night sky, but soon we were on to stippling stars and my true talents emerged.

“I am the BEST at stars,” I proclaimed.

Of course, one glass of wine had turned into two at this point, but isn’t that why they call it liquid courage?

At the end of the evening my evergreens were a bit wonky, and I hadn’t mastered blending, but by golly, my stars sparkled.

I sat at the easel and lifted my glass in silent salute.

Good night Mrs. Pendergast, wherever you are.

artist_Hval

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at http://www.spokesman.com/staff/cindy-hval/ Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval

Columns

When It’s Hard to be Thankful

I stared at my writing calendar in disbelief.

How is it possible? I wondered. The Thanksgiving column, AGAIN!?

In 10-plus years of writing this twice-monthly column, I’m almost positive the Thanksgiving writing duty has mostly fallen in my lap.

Oh, I know colleague Stefanie Pettit has tackled it a time or two – but still, that’s a lot of gratitude, and frankly, I’ve been feeling less than grateful lately.

There’s no rule or commandment that says a column published on Thanksgiving Day must invoke that topic, yet I feel a certain obligation to at least acknowledge the holiday. Imagine having a column run on Christmas Day and writing about cats.

Never mind. I’ve probably done that.

Sighing, I pulled up my files and scanned my list of previous turkey day topics.

Thankful after windstorm? Check.

Eating at the kids’ table? Check.

Black Friday? Check.

Thankful for appliances? Check.

Empty chairs around the table? Check.

I poured another cup of coffee and pondered the problem. A slippery slope, because rumination opened a floodgate of negativity as I recalled the difficult past few weeks.

I’d rather write about the things I’m NOT thankful for, I thought.

And the column took shape in my mind.

I’m not thankful for a deeply personal betrayal and the resulting loss and grief.

I’m not thankful for a health scare that knocked me for a loop and made me miserable.

I’m not thankful for a change in finances that put upcoming travel plans in jeopardy.

I’m not thankful for another trip to the emergency room with my ailing mother.

I’m not thankful that the above issues resulted in me putting my Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteer work on hold.

Typing this list made me feel worse.

Abandoning the column-in-progress, I did what I so often do when stymied by a project. I laced up my walking shoes and headed out the door into a dank, gray November drizzle that perfectly reflected my mood.

Here’s the deal: I’ve never thought of myself as an optimist or a pessimist; I’m solidly in the realist camp. What is is, and feelings don’t change facts.

Yet as I shuffled through soggy leaves, I kept finding bits of gold and copper that gleamed against the asphalt, despite the dreary day. The juxtaposition sparked a glint of joy.

My mood lifted, my thoughts cleared and I mentally reviewed and reframed my list of woes.

That hurtful betrayal opened a door to healing in other, far more important relationships.

Dealing with a miserable illness made me realize just how blessed I’ve been with good health, and how easily I take that for granted.

The financial changes allowed Derek and me to reconsider our long-range plans, and we decided to pay off our mortgage. It felt amazing to walk out of the bank debt-free.

This ER visit with Mom had a profound difference. Not only did she check out fine, but instead of returning to an empty house, she returned to a safe community filled with kind people who watch over her.

Letting go of my volunteer responsibilities for a while has freed me to focus on family, and on friendships that are essential to surviving hard times.

I trudged on. The clouds didn’t magically part. The rain didn’t lessen. Yet I was overcome with gratitude.

Like finding bits of gold in soggy November leaves, discovering joy in the midst of sadness changes perception and opens your heart to new possibilities.

And I have never been more thankful for the privilege of writing another Thanksgiving column.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

Columns

Tattoo Talk Turns Troublesome

A delicious family dinner on the Delightful Deck turned into a conversational minefield recently when my husband asked what my plans were for the following day.

“Oh, the usual,” I replied. “I have an interview for a magazine story in the morning, and I’m getting a tattoo in the afternoon.”

As the kids say, mic drop.

Sam, 17, recovered first.

“No,” he said. “No, you most certainly are not.”

Kids can be so bossy.

I just smiled.

Derek took a deep breath, shrugged and said, “OK, but only if you get it on your … .”

Let’s just say my husband wanted me to get a tattoo where he could see it, but I couldn’t.

Sam was still concerned, but Derek wasn’t. That’s because he vividly remembers our first childbirth class, some 27 years ago.

Everything went well until they took us on a tour of the birthing rooms. Mind you, we’d already seen the graphic movies of natural, medicated and cesarean births, and I was unfazed, but during the tour the nurse showed us the needle they use to administer epidurals.

I took one look and Derek said my face turned whiter than the stack of cloth diapers on the table near the bassinet.

Woozily, I backed out of the room and leaned against a wall. One of the soon-to-be dads had a similar reaction and slumped next to me.

“OK,” I said to Derek. “Natural childbirth it is. There is no way I’m letting that needle anywhere near me.”

“Me too,” said the guy next to me. “Natural childbirth all the way.”

I’m not sure his wife agreed with him.

All this to say, Derek wasn’t convinced my tattoo plan would come to pass because he was quite certain that I’d pass out at the sight of the needle.

He also knows how changeable I am. On any given day I change my mind about what to wear at least a half dozen times.

Permanent body art might be a stretch for a person whose accessories litter her dresser like flotsam the tide washed in, because she can’t decide between gold or silver earrings and then needs a bracelet to match.

The jumble of shoes on my closet floor is not a testament to a hoarding problem, but the result of my inability to stick with the shoes I’d carefully laid out the night before to go with the outfit that I no longer feel like wearing.

Ethan, our oldest son had a more pressing question – what would I get a tattoo of?

“I think tattoos should mark something meaningful,” he said. “A milestone, a memory – something important.”

I agree. The birth of each of my children was certainly meaningful, but those events have already documented on my skin in the form of stretch marks.

In fact, if I wanted important permanent reminders etched on my flesh, having my name and birthdate tattooed somewhere would be more useful. Or maybe the words “If found return to … .” As long as the info was inked where my husband has suggested.

At the end of the meal I admitted to my family that I was actually going to get a henna tattoo. I’ve always wanted one and my teenage niece, Lizzie, recently started doing them.

The next day I showed off the results; a beautiful mandala with a trailing leaf pattern, exquisitely etched on the inside of my arm.

My guys agreed Lizzie’s talents are exceptional, and they all thought the design was perfect. Best of all henna isn’t permanent, so I can get something different next time.

And there will be a next time, because when I posted a photo of my tattoo on Facebook, a friend commented, “A bold design choice. Known as two fighting cats – shows them swirling in anger and rage as their tails are poofed out and the spittle flies. Not everyone chooses this design so you are the brave.”

I’m pretty sure he was teasing, but his comment reminded me that the milestone additions of two cats to our family still hasn’t been marked in a meaningful way.

Yet.

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Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval

Columns

Caution: Kids at Work

The friendly bagger shook open my reusable bags on Saturday, and eyed the flood of goods making its way down the conveyer belt toward him.

“How heavy should I make these bags?” he asked.

“Load ’em up,” I replied. “I’ve got kids at home to bring them in.”

The cashier paused her scanning. “Your kids help you unload the groceries?” she asked, wide-eyed.

“Only if they want to eat,” I replied.

Her surprise baffled me. If I work to earn money to buy the food, and then shop for it, and turn it into delicious meals, why wouldn’t my kids at least carry the groceries into the house and put them away? It’s called being part of a family.

I’ve been amazed by how many parents I’ve encountered who don’t expect their children to help with the most basic tasks of family life. On the contrary, they’re struggling to do it all so their kids can have it all. But the newest video games, the fastest computers, the sleekest phones and being part of elite club sports teams can’t replace lifelong lessons learned at home.

Specifically, skills learned while wielding a toilet brush or vacuum cleaner. Those skills will be far more useful in daily life than the super speedy thumb work needed to unlock a new achievement in “Gears of War 4.”

Work has never been a forbidden four-letter word at our house. The adage “Many hands make light work,” is so true, and with four sons, we had plenty of helping hands.

Toddlers love to help, so while our kids were still in diapers they learned to set the table for dinner. Picking up their toys before going to the park or watching a video became a breeze thanks to a simple song all four of them can still sing.

“Clean up; clean up, everybody, everywhere!

Clean up, clean up, everybody do your share”

Of course, as they got older getting them to do their work became an onerous chore for me. Arguments about whose turn it was to clean the bathroom, who was supposed to mow the front yard and who didn’t empty the dishwasher ruined many a Saturday morning.

That’s when I bought a white board and hung it in the basement. Each kid had a list of tasks. No television, no video games, and no hanging out with friends until their work was done.

This worked great until they became teenagers. Suddenly schoolwork, sports and socializing, made holding them accountable difficult, but as priorities shifted, so did the workload.

Thankfully, habits ingrained when they were younger paid off. Simple things like rinsing their plates and putting them in the dishwasher after a meal, or taking the trash out on Tuesday before leaving for school, were already second nature.

When I complained to my sister-in-law about my middle-schooler having a fit one morning because his favorite shirt wasn’t washed she said, “Why on earth are you still doing his laundry?”

Bingo! The next day, I gathered all four of them in the laundry room and showed them how to use the machines. To avoid fights, I assigned them each a laundry day. No one ever yelled at me again about not having clean clothes.

The only drawback to raising kids who know how to work is that as soon as they’re able, they want to work outside the house. You know, where people actually pay them money for their labor.

Our three older sons got jobs while still in high school. As long as they maintained a respectable GPA, made time for sports or social commitments and didn’t seem overwhelmed, we encouraged their efforts even though it meant a re-division of the workload at home.

Now, Sam has followed their example. Two weeks ago he started working at Shopko. As if that wasn’t enough change in our household routine, our middle son Zach is moving to Nashville.

I might want to start having my grocery bags packed just a little bit lighter.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval

Columns

Looking Ahead at an Empty Nest

Strains of ragtime music float through the house as I write. Zach’s learning a new tune on his banjo.

Nearby, explosions and machine gunfire flicker from the television while Sam advances in “Gears of War” on his Xbox. It could be “Call of Duty” – I’ve long since given up trying to identify video games.

I’ve also long since given up on having an office with a door. Ninety-five percent of all columns have been written in our unfinished basement family room. Family being the operative word. No matter how hard I try to carve out an empty house to write in, someone always comes home early. Or leaves late. Or brings a friend over. You get the picture.

Milo’s plaintive meows escalate as he tries to convince someone that he’s near starvation. Thor yawns while shifting his bulk onto my feet. He’d prefer to be reclining on my lap, but I’ve scooted my chair under my desk, so there’s no room for him. His thunderous purrs add to the cacophony.

It’s hard to imagine an empty, silent house, but one day soon these rooms will echo with memories instead of noise. Next month, Zach is moving to Nashville to further his music career. Our family that once numbered six (not including cats) will shrink to three, and sometime in the next few years Sam, too, will fly the coop.

Those empty-nest years I’ve both longed for and dreaded are fast approaching, and the feedback from friends who’ve walked this path ahead of me hasn’t exactly been encouraging.

You won’t have anything left to talk to your spouse about. You’ll be at greater risk for divorce.

Look out! Menopause and midlife crisis happen at the same time as empty nest.

Your finances will be more stressed than ever.

They’ll call all the time, yet never listen to a word you say.

They won’t call at all.

Don’t worry, they’ll come back. The hard part is getting them to leave again.

What empty nest? Those kids will never leave and still be living in your basement when they’re 30.

I take these dire pronouncements in stride, because I know plenty of folks who are reveling in their child-free homes, embracing this natural sequence of parenting with gusto and gumption.

Most days I think I’ll be one of them. In fact, I’ve already got my eye on a ’65 candy-apple red Mustang convertible. It’s my midlife crisis insurance policy.

I’m fine with the idea of my sons being out in the world, making their own lives, buying homes, building careers, and starting families. Honestly, I can’t wait to be a grandmother. “Nana Cindy” has a lovely ring to it.

We’ve done the best we can to equip our children for life outside the cozy cocoon of home because we’ve always understood their presence here was fleeting at best.

But much like giving birth, the reality of the experience rarely dovetails with research. So, I do the best I can to prepare. Like stockpiling for a snowstorm I shore up friendships, knowing I’ll need the company of others to help ease the silence that will remain in my children’s absence.

We invest in our marriage with date nights and weekend trips, remembering what it was like when we were a family of two.

We have work and volunteer opportunities. We have siblings and extended family. We have cats. An empty nest doesn’t have to be lonely.

Yet as much as I long for silence, I’m glad our home is emptying slowly. Each son’s departure offers an opportunity to learn how to parent from afar, and ultimately how to parent less and friend more. And I’m profoundly thankful for the unexpected blessing of our fourth son. Sam’s presence has served as a bridge between so many parenting milestones, including this one.

And this I know; however far my sons soar, their homing instincts will occasionally guide them back to the nest – a place where they will always be safe, welcomed and loved.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com.

Columns

Magic Under the Big Top

Sawdust. Greasepaint. The wire stretched tautly high above the center ring.

The circus was never about the animals for me. It was about magic, make believe and those daring young men on the flying trapeze. Once upon a time it really was “The Greatest Show on Earth.”

Last week’s news that after 146 years, the curtain was coming down on the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, triggered a flood of memories.

While the industry’s sordid history of its deplorable treatment of animals is undeniable and inexcusable, the circus of my childhood was more than bullhooks and elephants.

I can still remember clutching my dad’s hand tightly as we went through the turnstile at the old Spokane Coliseum. My parents had taken me to the El Katif Shrine circus before, but this was my first exposure to the crème de la crème of circus magic – Ringling Bros. – the big time.

Even as a kid I loved old movies, and I’d seen the glamour and pathos of the circus in films like the Academy Award-winning “The Greatest Show on Earth” and Disney’s “Dumbo.”

But I’d recently seen “Trapeze” on television and I was enthralled with the idea of flinging myself through the air into the waiting hands of the well-muscled Burt Lancaster or pretty boy Tony Curtis.

My friends and I played “circus” on the playground at recess at Jefferson Elementary. We’d swing higher and higher, until the swing set rocked with our rhythm, then we’d let go of the chain and sail through the air to land in the gravel, hoping to nail a dismount worthy of Ringling Bros.

Mostly, we just got rocks in our shoes and occasional bloody knees and skinned palms.

Under the big top of the Coliseum, I sat entranced. From the red-coated ringmaster with his shiny black top hat, to dozens of clowns in a tiny car, to the lovely ladies in sparkling costumes riding atop high-stepping steeds, the circus held me in its grip. My eyes glittered like the sequins on the tightrope walker’s tutu as I tried to absorb the pageantry.

And then Gunther Gebel-Williams and his big cats took the floor. He strode into the center ring with a leopard around his shoulders, dimples flashing, blond hair flowing, bronzed abs rippling under the lights. Pure showmanship and undiluted magic.

I saw several other circuses, but nothing ever measured up to the first time I saw the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey.

However, by the time I reached my teens my Gunther Gebel-Williams poster had been replaced by Andy Gibb and Leif Garrett posters – the gaudy glow of the circus had dimmed, replaced by the flashing lights of disco fever.

Later, as a busy mom of four sons, my home often seemed like a three-ring circus complete with roaring animals and stunts as breathtaking as a toddler scaling a teetering bookcase. I had neither the time nor the inclination to leave my house to see one. My parents took my oldest son once, but my youngest at 17, has never been to the circus.

Now it looks as though he never will.

I’m OK with that, but I wonder what his generation’s equivalent will be. Running away to appear on “America’s Got Talent” doesn’t have the same allure.

Sure, they can watch death-defying stunts on YouTube, but seeing Johnny Knoxville catapulted in a Porta Potty will never equate to watching an aerial acrobat soar high above the ground, spinning into a triple somersault, stretching to grab his partner’s waiting hands.

In fact, today’s kids seem to have their eyes on electronic screens from the moment they wake up until the moment the clock on their cellphones, Kindles or iPads tell them it’s time to go to sleep.

Perhaps that was the best thing about the circus – it got us out of our houses, away from our screens and caused us to look up for just a moment.

 

Cindy Hval can be reached at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.