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.

Columns

Soup’s On

Trying to count my blessings during our current Snowpocalypse has been, well, trying. I got my white Christmas, but now I am so over snow.

The one good thing about Snowmageddon is that it’s perfect soup and stew weather.

There’s nothing more soothing on a snowy day than slicing and dicing an array of vegetables or meat, concocting a savory broth, and then letting it bubble on the back of the stove or in the depths of the crockpot.

Delicious aromas fill the house and serving the hungry hoards is simple. All you need is a bowl, a spoon, and a side of crusty sourdough, flaky biscuits or tasty cornbread.

At least I thought this was a good thing, but the other night, Sam, 17, asked what we were having for dinner.

“Steak soup,” I replied.

“You sure have been making a lot of soup, lately,” he said, sighing.

In my defense, January is national soup month. Also, I’ve been working hard on two book projects, so planning five-course menus is a bit of a stretch.

And honestly, the only time soup doesn’t sound good to me is on a 90-degree summer day when we’re dining on the Delightful Deck, and even then a chilled cucumber soup tastes yummy.

The other night as white chicken chili simmered on the stove, I thought of our son Alex who lives in Ohio.

I texted him, “Guess what’s for dinner?”

“Oh, man!” he replied. “I LOVE your white chicken chili. I miss it so much.”

Which I interpreted as, “Oh, Mom! I love you and I miss you so much!”

My heart was as warm as my tummy during dinner that night.

In fact, Alex enjoys that soup so much, it was what he always asked me to make for his birthday dinner. His birthday is in April, and my chicken chili and from-scratch apple pie isn’t exactly seasonal, but it’s his favorite meal. Cooking my kid’s favorite meals makes this mom happy, so it’s a win-win.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when I asked my firstborn what he wanted for his birthday dinner on Sunday, and he replied, “Potato soup!”

“You want soup for your birthday?” I asked. “Not steak or ribs?”

“Nope,” he replied. “I want your homemade potato soup and chocolate cake with chocolate frosting.”

So, that’s what he got, plus a container of soup to take home with him. Single guys need all the homemade food they can get.

Though Sam professes to be weary of soup, he’ll always clean up a pot of my beef chili. While technically not a soup, it’s still a one-pot, slow-simmer meal. A bowl of it topped with corn chips, olives, cheddar and chopped onions can satisfy even an always-hungry teen.

Zachary looks forward to Thanksgiving, not so much for the turkey and trimmings but for the huge vat of turkey noodle soup I make the next day.

Soup can be served in celebration, but it’s also appropriate when solace is needed.

After I miscarried our first child I couldn’t eat. Nothing would go past the lump of grief in my throat. Then my mother brought over a container of homemade soup. Suddenly, my appetite returned. I slowly spooned a mouthful, its taste a bit saltier for my tears, and I knew my mom had probably shed a few of her own as she chopped, sliced and simmered. I ate an entire bowl and understood the true meaning of comfort food.

In fact I often think when there’s a death in a family, instead of the flood of fried chicken and casseroles people tend to bring – a big pot of soup might be more palatable.

As I write, the ingredients for tonight’s hamburger soup are ready on the kitchen counter. Sometime between now and deadline, I’ll assemble the soup, and while I finish today’s assignments it will slowly simmer on the back of the stove.

That’s another wonderful thing about soup; it may be labor intensive on the front end, but once it’s cooking you can sit back and let the flavors mingle and evolve on their own, until it’s time to sit down and enjoy the results.

Just like raising children.

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

Decorations hold decades of memories

She’s still radiant at 65. Her blue satin dress shimmers, matching the glint of her round cerulean eyes. Silvery wings arch above a crown that has a distinct tinfoil gleam. A slim silver belt circles her waist and a glittering star adorns her collar. Her prim red lips are pursed in permanent pucker.

moms-angel

My parents bought the angel at a downtown drugstore for their first Christmas in 1951. They purchased a tree at a nearby lot, and Dad hefted it over his shoulder and they walked the few blocks to their first apartment on Pine Street.

Several weeks ago our youngest son, Sam, helped Mom unearth her decorations. She stopped putting up a tree when Dad died, but she still displays the angel every Christmas. Sam hung lights around her front window while she regaled him with the angel anecdote and tales of Christmas past.

I’ve been thinking about those stories while preparing to pack away my own decorations. What goes up must come down, including Christmas trees – especially fresh trees. The needles are starting to fall and it’s time to take the tree to the curb. But I linger over the ornaments – it seems each one tells a story.

A laminated blue star features a kindergarten-era, gap-toothed smiling Sam. Next to it dangles a silvery orb with a photo of 6th grade Sam – his childhood documented in decorations.

Zachary’s snowflakes are suspended next to a bejeweled ball, each gem affixed with copious amounts of glue. Zach’s always been an if a little bit is good, a lot is better kind of guy.

Alexander and Ethan angels hang with a multitude of heavenly hosts near the top of the tree, and speaking of angels, our tree is topped by one in a gold-trimmed burgundy gown.

Unlike Mom, I no longer have our original angel. One year when the boys were small, our tree topper threw herself from the tree to the stairs below, cracking her head beyond repair. The boys insist they saw her fly, it was just the landing she failed to nail.

Her aborted flight came a few days before Christmas, and we needed an angel ASAP. In haste, my husband and sons decamped to the Dollar Store and returned with a replacement. This golden gal was lovely to behold, but when Derek plopped her atop the tree, our oldest son burst into laughter and pointed out with glee, “She has two left hands!”

Indeed, she did.

Her awkward appendages distracted me, so during the post-holiday sales, I bought our current, more anatomically accurate, angel. However, I wrapped her afflicted sister in tissue, and the next time all the boys are home for Christmas I plan to give her another shining moment at the top.

Many of our ornaments reflect our interests, like my stack of antique books suspended from a blue satin ribbon. And one that always gets front-of-the-tree honor – a string of gingerbread hearts that reads NOEL. It’s the only craft I actually completed during the many years I was a member of a Moms of Preschoolers group. I’m craft-impaired and glue gun-challenged, so this was a major accomplishment.

Derek’s cross-country skier and a ball featuring the Norwegian flag honor his heritage and his love of the slopes. For some reason he always forgets to hang his 2007 ornament that proudly proclaims “Real men like cats.”

I hang it for him in a prominent spot, preferably where the light can catch it. I’m thoughtful like that.

Mindful of these memories, I’ve been taking lots of photos of decorations cradled in piney boughs before I pack them away for another year.

More than dated ornaments dangling from a tree, it’s the reminders of Christmases past they represent that add joy to the present and brings hope for Christmas future.

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

Real? Fake? The great tree debate continues.

Dazzled, I gazed at the 7-foot pine trimmed with glittering lights that switched from colored to white with the flip of a switch.

“Isn’t it gorgeous?” my husband enthused.

I prodded the prickly branches, testing their strength. In a surreal almost out-of-the-body moment, I heard my voice as if from a great distance.

“Yes,” I said. “Yes, I like it. I think I’m ready.”

Derek beamed. He’s been lobbying for an artificial tree for years, but the boys and I have been unwilling to compromise our Christmas cheer. They have fond memories of traipsing through deep snow out in Green Bluff to find the perfect fir. When they got too busy to devote a day to tree-fetching, they happily agreed to spend an hour with their dad at our neighborhood tree lot.

But when Zachary moves to Nashville this spring, we’ll lose our designated tree-picker. Zach has the gift of the perfect pick. From forest, to farm, to tree lot, he’s always been able to discover a symmetrically pleasing pine – one that’s just the right height and width, with branches that will bear heavier ornaments and no unsightly holes to hide.

Derek rushed to get a cart before I could change my mind. He didn’t rush fast enough. Thoughts of our third son gave me pause.

“Wait,” I said. “We should talk with the boys, first.”

Sighing, he put the cart back.

It was a good thing too, because Zach was horrified at the thought.

“This is probably my last Christmas at home,” he said. “You can get a fake tree when I leave.”

His younger brother sighed.

“Great. I’ll be the kid who gets to pull a tree out of a box every year,” Sam muttered.

I knew we’d made the right call when the three of them came home with a stunning natural beauty. Our home filled with the glorious smell of pine.

Then we heard a slurping noise.

“Thor!” Derek yelled. “Quit drinking the tree water!’

Thor is a connoisseur of fine water. Nevermind that he has an actual cat water fountain that continually splashes fresh water into his bowl. No, Thor prefers more exotic refreshment. The bathroom sink is his preferred source of liquid, until the Christmas tree arrives. Then he is obsessed with drinking pine-scented water from the tree stand.

At first, we were sure he would die from his unseemly addiction. We tried wrapping the bowl in foil, plastic wrap, etc. But no matter what method of prevention we used, Thor found a way to satisfy his thirst. It’s been five Christmases and he’s still here, so I guess it’s not a deadly habit. It’s just annoying.

After the tree was decorated, we plugged in the lights, turned off the house lights and sat down to enjoy its splendor. Then we heard a chewing sound.

“Who’s eating in the living room?” I asked.

We all looked at each other. No candy canes, no chips, no snacks, but still a steady munching sound filled the room.

“Milo!” Derek shouted. “Stop eating the tree!”

Sure enough our older cat seems to have developed a taste for tree. Maybe he needs more fiber in his diet.

Cat irritations aside, the next afternoon as I began my holiday baking, I filled my lungs with the wonderful scent of freshly cut tree.

“Take a deep breath,” I said to Derek. “A fake tree won’t smell like this.”

He shrugged. “So, we’ll put out a couple bowls of Pine Sol.”

Horrified, I said/shrieked, “Pine Sol is a disinfectant! It smells like hospitals or toilet bowls!”

Undaunted, Derek replied, “OK. Get a bunch of those pine tree car air fresheners. We can hang them from our tree.”

I refused to dignify this with a response, but as I worked in the kitchen rolling out sugar cookie dough, the words that escaped my tightly clamped lips sounded remarkably like the Old Man in the “Christmas Story” movie, as he battled a recalcitrant furnace.

When I pulled a batch of nicely-browned cookies from the oven, I called to Derek.

“Don’t these cookies smell divine?”

He followed his nose and snatched one off the cooling rack.

“Mmm …” he said as he munched. “There’s nothing like the smell or the taste of your homemade sugar cookies.”

I smiled.

“I’m glad you’re enjoying them. Next year, I think I’ll just buy some at the grocery store. After all, with just three of us home, why go to all the hassle.”

He choked on the cookie.

I handed him a glass of eggnog.

“I know store-bought cookies won’t taste the same, but I can buy a Christmas cookie scented candle.”

Warming to my theme, I continued, “And I’ll hang a few vanilla scented car air fresheners on the fake tree. Really, you won’t know the difference.”

Derek sighed and grabbed another cookie.

“So, are you thinking pine or Noble fir next year?” he asked.

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. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval

Columns, War Bonds

Of Boys Lost and Boys Found

Spoiler alert: This week’s column has a happy ending. I wish all stories about lost children could end the same.

Stepping lively, I dodged traffic cones dotting the street, thankful the end of roadwork season is almost here.

I savored the glorious October sun, knowing my regular treks around the neighborhood will soon be replaced by boring indoor workouts at the gym.

Adjusting my headphones, I cranked up my walking music and my pace. A tug on my arm startled me. I’d been so focused on boosting my heart rate, I had failed to notice the approach of two small boys.

“Do you know where Standard Street is?” one of them asked. “We’re lost.”

If this scenario sounds familiar to readers, I’m not surprised. I seem to collect lost boys the way other folks collect license plates or trading cards. From a tiny autistic boy who’d escaped from his house to play on a busy street one Sunday morning, to Ricky who got confused when he got off the school bus one afternoon, I seem to be a lost-boy magnet. This time there were two of them looking at me with anxious eyes.

I’m embarrassed to admit my route is so familiar I don’t pay attention to street names.

“I think we’re on Standard,” I replied. “But there’s a sign on the corner – let’s check.”

We approached the sign and verified we were on Standard, but the boys weren’t reassured.

“Actually, we need to know where Lyons Street is,” the spokesboy said.

“What’s your address?” I asked.

Two pairs of eyes stared at me blankly.

“I don’t know it,” the smaller boy said.

“Me either,” his friend admitted. “But it’s apartments.”

Taking a deep breath, I asked them their names and ages.

“I’m Marc with a ‘c,’ and I’m 9,” the taller boy said.

“I’m Luis, and I’m 8,” his friend replied.

I asked them how they got lost.

“Well, we got off the bus at a friend’s house after school,” Marc said. “But he couldn’t play, so we decided to walk home, but we don’t really know where we are now.”

“What school do you go to?” I asked.

“Linwood Elementary,” he replied.

Linwood is about 2 miles away from my Shiloh Hills neighborhood and across bustling Division Street. They couldn’t remember where they’d gotten off the bus.

As we chatted, we kept walking because I assured them that Lyons was north of Standard, and if we kept walking north hopefully they would be able to spot their apartment building.

“How about I call your parents?” I offered as we walked. “Maybe one of them can come pick you up.”

It was 4:20 and the boys said the bus usually had them home by 3:30.

“We’ve probably been walking for HOURS,” opined Luis, who didn’t know his phone number.

Marc said his mom was home and gave me her number. I called repeatedly from my cellphone as we walked, but no one answered.

“She has MS and sometimes she doesn’t answer the phone,” he said. “Especially if she doesn’t know who’s calling.”

By this time we were almost to my house, and I estimated they still had at least a half-mile to walk.

“If I give you guys a ride do you think you could show me your apartment building?” I asked.

“Yes!” said Marc.

“My legs are really tired,” Luis admitted.

I offered them some water, but they declined.

“I’d like some crackers if you have some,” said Luis.

I dashed inside to grab my purse and discovered we were out of crackers.

“What are you doing?” my son, Sam, asked.

“Taking some lost boys home,” I replied.

“What? Again!?” he said, shaking his head.

The boys buckled up and Marc opined that my car was similar to his mom’s. He knew the make and model of her car. It would have been more helpful if he knew her address.

However, as we approached the neighborhood park, they got excited.

“Hey! I know where we are now!” Marc yelled. “We’re almost home!”

Sure enough, he spotted their apartment building and I dropped them off.

When I wrote about my afternoon adventure on Facebook, a friend said, “I hope you gave them a lecture about getting in cars with strangers once you safely delivered them home!”

Honestly, I was just so relieved I’d been able to get them home; I never thought to scold them. I did lecture them about learning their addresses.

“You need to know the name of the apartment complex and the street address,” I’d chided.

They’d both just shrugged and nodded.

My relief at the happy outcome gave way to dismay. I wished I’d scolded them about getting off the school bus at someone else’s house without first making sure they had permission. I was horrified that they seemed to think it was acceptable to go to a stranger’s house and then get into her car.

They were so trusting and sweet and had absolute confidence in my ability to get them home. And that’s what really made me sad.

Because I’d like to think we live in a world where grown-ups are trustworthy. Where parents have confidence that when their children are out of their sight, other adults are watching out for them.

And mostly, I want to believe that all lost boys return home safe and sound.

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

Third place isn’t so bad

044Today is my #3 son’s birthday. In his honor I’m posting the column I wrote for his 14th birthday, which seems like it must have just been yesterday.

When your mother is a writer, your life can be an open book. Just ask my sons. Their names regularly appear in this space as well as in books that are sold all over the world. And readers often ask if the boys are embarrassed to have their lives discussed so publicly. I get a kick out of that.

The fact is they love to see their names in print. “Am I in this column?” they’ll ask, and if I say no, they don’t bother to read it. I often run stories by them to make sure they’re OK with the content, and not once have I heard, “Please don’t share that.”

However, when I look through my files and clippings, I see that one name doesn’t appear quite as often as the others. That would be Zachary. He’s a middle child. As I type this I can almost feel the collective sighs of middle children all over the world. They can relate.

Our firstborn gets lots of print because even at 18, everything we experience with him is still new. He’s the first to do just about everything – including being the cause of my first gray hairs.

The second-born is the family athlete. He’s a bit on the wild side and accumulates adventures like other kids add Matchbox cars to their toy collections. He’s got the scars to prove it.

Then there’s the baby – everything he does has added poignancy because he’s my last glimpse into the world of childhood.

But Zachary was the third child added to our family in a five-year span. His brothers expressed mild interest in his arrival. And though I remember every excruciating detail of his birth, the months and years that followed seemed to whirl and blend together in a kaleidoscope of bustling boys and sleepless nights.

Thank God for video cameras. The magic of Zack’s first bite of solid food, first giggle and first steps are preserved on tape. His birth is also on tape, but as Zack would say, “It’s best not to talk about that.”

This middle child has always had a way with words, though his vocabulary got off to a shaky start. His first word was uttered from his high chair as he watched his two older brothers attempt to communicate entirely through belching. Frustrated that he’d not mastered that skill, he hollered, “Burp”

That provoked gales of gleeful laughter from his siblings and only encouraged the now verbal tot. “Burp!” he yelled. “Burp, burp.”

Fortunately, he’s continued to sharpen his wit. A few weeks ago, after his younger brother’s birthday party, we waited in the car for Zack, who was still somewhere in the bowels of Chuck E. Cheese.

Finally, the van door slid open and Zack announced with great disgust, “They didn’t want me to leave without a parent!” He slammed the door shut and added, “However, negotiations were brief.”

He’s always been full of surprises. When asked to share what he learned on his first day of kindergarten he was momentarily stumped. He pondered the question deeply and finally had an answer. “I learned this,” he said, and jumping up from the table he inserted his hand under his shirt and began flapping his arm wildly. He’d mastered the art of armpit flatulence.

“He’s gifted,” his oldest brother opined.

But for all his words and talents, what I most appreciate about this middle son is his affectionate nature. Our firstborn was reserved, and we could never catch the second-born long enough to cuddle. But Zachary’s warm and loving heart spills over into hugs, kisses and spontaneous bursts of affection.

Last week I was driving the kids home after school. Traffic was heavy and my temper was short. “I love you, Mom.” Zack said. “I love you, too,” I replied distractedly.

We were quiet for a few blocks and then Zack said, “I want my last words to you to be ‘I love you,’ because you never know how long we have.”

He has a knack for reminding me what really matters.

His Sunday school teacher once said that Zack has the soul of a poet, and I agree. I’ve worried about his tender heart, watching the way unkind words can wound him. I’m torn between hoping that he’ll toughen up so he won’t get hurt so often, and praying that his heart stays soft. The world could use a little more tenderness.

A couple of years ago he asked for a guitar for Christmas. With wonder, I’ve watched the way he’s made a place for himself through music. He plays beautifully. Each afternoon, strains of Marley’s “Redemption Song,” or Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower,” wail through the house as our son unwinds from an arduous day of middle school.

Today is Zachary’s 14th birthday, and this column is for him. Zack, every home needs music, and I’m so grateful that you are the song in ours.

Columns

In which I enjoy being a girl

Today’s Spokesman Review column finds me attempting to update an old song.

If there’s one remark guaranteed to rain down the wrath of Mom upon my sons, it’s when one of them says to the other, “Don’t be such a girl!”

Using gender as an insult is a nonstarter in my house.

Besides, as Doris Day famously sang, “I enjoy being a girl” – at least most of the time.

The 1958 Rodgers and Hammerstein show tune is fun to sing, but the lyrics are definitely not contemporary.

I’m a girl, and by me that’s only great!

I am proud that my silhouette is curvy,

That I walk with a sweet and girlish gait

With my hips kind of swivelly and swervy.

Let’s be honest here. After birthing four sons and reaching my fifth decade my silhouette’s curves are decidedly more pronounced. Are spheres curves? I’m not sure. I didn’t do well in geometry.

Also, my gait is no longer girlish. In fact, many mornings I limp to the kitchen to get my first cup of coffee due to a strained Achilles.

I still take the stairs two at a time, if by two at a time you mean carefully placing one foot and then the other on each stair before descending.

I adore being dressed in something frilly

When my date comes to get me at my place.

Out I go with my Joe or John or Billy,

Like a filly who is ready for the race!

We’ve already established that I’m not racing anywhere. I also no longer wear something frilly due to the aforementioned dangerous curves.

Fifty may be the new 30, but 30-year-olds are dressing like teenagers, so shopping is complicated. I recently bought some trendy jeans, artistically ripped in strategic places.

My husband said, “I could take a razor to your old jeans and save you a lot of money.”

“But, I’ve got bling! On my butt!” I replied, twirling around to show him my jewel-encrusted back pockets.

He started humming “Rhinestone Cowboy.”

I hummed “Sleeping Single in a Double Bed.”

Game. Set. Match.

When I have a brand new hairdo

With my eyelashes all in curl,

I float as the clouds on air do,

I enjoy being a girl!

My sons used to pluck out a stray gray hair whenever they’d appear. A few years ago, my youngest announced, “I don’t think we should be pulling out your grays – you’re gonna get bald.”

So, now my new hairdo involves regular appointments for highlights – not to cover the gray, but to camouflage it. It doesn’t cause me to float on air, but it does lighten my wallet considerably.

When men say I’m cute and funny

And my teeth aren’t teeth, but pearl,

I just lap it up like honey

I enjoy being a girl!

Men do say I’m cute and funny and I love that. Of course, the men who tell me that now are generally over 70 or under 20.

Also, my teeth aren’t pearls, but there’s definitely some silver and a few crowns involved.

I flip when a fellow sends me flowers,

I drool over dresses made of lace,

I talk on the telephone for hours

With a pound and a half of cream upon my face!

OK, here’s the deal. I learned long ago, that while flowers from a guy are sweet, I can buy my own roses any time I want – no need to wait around for Valentine’s Day. And I like lace as much as the next gal, but not necessarily where it can be seen by the public, if you know what I mean.

I’ve come to terms with moisturizers, eye cream, toners and “miracle” repair, but I draw the line at a pound and a half of cold cream. Actually, the only cold cream I have is in the refrigerator and I pour it in my morning coffee.

Who talks on the phone for hours anymore? Texting and instant messaging are much more efficient. However, I rarely use emoticons. Especially after I sent what I thought was a chocolate cupcake to a friend on her birthday. Apparently, there are poop emojis. Lesson learned.

And one lesson I hope my sons have learned is that “being a girl” is not an insult. After all, without this girl, they wouldn’t even be here.

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.