Sweet Talk

My dear reader,

Today is the day you’ve all been waiting for…


Kidding. Or not, since your local Mexican joint is probably the only restaurant within a 50-mile radius that has any last-minute reservations available… in case you forgot to book a table for…


That red-letter day everyone anticipates with fluttery hearts and flowery expectations… ok, maybe just the starry-eyed lovebirds who met their soulmate on Match.com a couple weeks back (and a handful of Hallmark and Hershey’s stockholders, perhaps).

Last week, my daughter came home from school and told me her girlfriends were buying up Val-o-Grams like clearance lip gloss and bubble gum.

“What on God’s green earth is Val-o-Gram?” I tried to hide my concern that some enterprising sixth-grader was selling his mom’s anxiety medication out of his gym locker. Again. Yes, this had already “been a thing” when one of our older boys was in junior high. (I’ve made a couple trips around the block, kids.)

“It’s really just a blank valentine. You buy it for a dollar and write a note to somebody, then the Val-o-Grams get delivered on Valentine’s Day.”

I can hear the sales pitch now:

Here, kid, buy some blank paper for a buck and scribble a note on it…

You’re a Bae/Hottie/(flame emoji).

I Heart You

Be My Boo

I Like Big Butts I Cannot Lie (you just know some 7th grade boy is gonna go there. Punk.)

Student Announcer: “And our Valentine Valets will hand-deliver your sweet sentiments all the way down the hall and around the corner to Mr. Brown’s science lab.”

Enterprising, indeed.

My brain leapt from felony prescription drug charges to ill-fated junior high crushes… and then my heart sank.

“I remember that whole scene. Only for us, it was carnations. Red for true love. Pink for friendship. And white for secret admirer.”

Chloe gave me the question-mark eyebrows. Kid was clearly not tracking.

“‘Secret admirer’ means you’re crushing hard.  Anonymously,” I added for clarification.

“Mom, I know what a secret admirer is.” Sigh. Eye roll.

“But you did that thing with your eyebrows,” I insisted. She did. I  swear she did.

“Yeah, because…  Flowers?! For guys too?” Apparently the manly men at HIJH (nearly all of whom are doused in copious amounts of Axe Body Spray and sporting peach fuzz) wouldn’t be caught dead clutching pink carnations on February 14th or any other day of the year.

“The guys dug it,” I said, matter-of-factly. Because they did. And because I thought it was a cute little play-on-words. Flowers. Soil. Dig?

“That’s weird.” Meaning, Mom’s weird. Her friends are weird. The 80s were weird. She has a point there. (But we can talk about women’s shoulder pads and men’s mullets and Brooke Shields’ undies and Madonna’s armpits another time.)

“I’m not gonna send any Val-o-Grams. I’m gonna save my money and do my own thing.”

Smart cookie, that one. (She’s got 60 bucks in babysitting money, and she isn’t gonna blow it on BLANK PAPER.)

What I didn’t say was… WHEW!  Thank God you’re not (literally and figuratively) buying into the Public-Proclamation-of-Pubescent-Popularity Contest. Because honestly, that’s what it is. It’s a social hierarchy spectacle and not-so-subtle indicator of junior high-and-mighty. And the Valentine Valets know it. And they are profiting from the vulnerability and insecurities of 11 to 14-year-olds. For shame.

I remember Carnation Delivery Day like it was yesterday. (Actually, I don’t remember that much from yesterday. Except the hot yoga and cold pizza. I highly recommend both.) For me, February 14th eerily resembled the rising action of “Sixteen Candles.” Plenty of awkward moments and mortifying embarrassment and maybe, just maybe, a little thrill of hopeful romanticism thrown in. But for the most part, Valentine’s Day denoted a whole lot of dread. I dreaded the possibility of getting a red or white carnation from someone who – like me – was gawky and geeky and self-conscious… and mingled mainly with the “Mathletics” crowd. I dreaded the thought of getting one pink carnation from a well-meaning, merciful, misguided friend trying to deliver me from enduring an entire day empty-handed and forlorn. Or the worst fate of all. Zero carnations. None. No love, no friendship, no admiration. Another high-level equation for me and my mathletics team:

0 Carnations + 7 (48-minute) Class Periods = Valentine’s Day Despair.

One girl I knew regularly collected bountiful bouquets during the annual school-wide flower shower. It was an embarrassment of red, white, and pink riches for this girl. I think she topped out at 37 carnations* one year. (If you’re reading this, Hi Gretch!) She was one of those perky/pretty/popular/party girls who made all the boys’ heads turn and cheeks burn (and caused other physiological and anatomical responses as well, but it would be inappropriate for me to elaborate in this family-friendly corner of the world wide web).

*I feel obliged to place an asterisk beside this statistic because she may have already begun dating the guy she eventually wed, raised a family with, and remains happily hitched to. (Hi Scott!)

Chloe went off to school this morning sporting her sparkly valentine necklace and bearing candy conversation hearts and Ring Pops for her friends. She may or may not return home with a Val-o-Gram or a flower (of any color or variety). Either way, I hope she will bound in the front door with a bright smile and a happy heart, because she is loved. Like crazy.

But if my girl comes home empty-handed and forlorn, I will tell her this:

You know what carnations and Val-o-Grams (and fancy chocolates and fine jewelry) do, sweet girl? They make us feel noticed, cherished, wanted… wonderful. It’s not really the swag we crave; it’s the kindness, care, and crazy-about-you vibes. Not the expense, but the esteem.

I read once that there are only two things in life we really long for:

Security and significance.

Every single one of us wants to feel safe and special. We want to be protected and prized. If we’re completely honest, we are all quite desperate for attention, affirmation, affection. We want somebody to tell us we matter, notice beauty in us, talk sweetly to us, and listen and truly hear us. Someone trustworthy to unburden ourselves – bare our souls – to. Someone who will uplift and refresh us, or comfort and console us. When we’re lovable and lovely… and when we’re ugly too. Someone who will look past the unbecoming and see the hidden exquisite. Someone who gets us; who’s got our back; who’ll help us become the very best version of ourselves.  Somebody who’s willing to run the whole 26.2 miles with us, pacing us, cheering us, giving us water, urging us onward… toward the finish line. (And then stick around to hug and high-five us in the post-race party tent!)


Someone who’s near.

Someone whose love for you will not fade or falter or fail.

Someone who will never, ever leave. No matter what you do or say or don’t do or don’t say.

He has written you a soul-searing love letter… and grown fields of wildflowers for you.

He sees you. Knows you. Hears you. He defends you. And He delights in you. He adores you, draws you close, sings sweetly over you. When you call out, He will save and strengthen you. Hold you and help you. He gives hope when you don’t have a razor-thin glimmer and drenches you in His good grace. He loves you so wildly and boundlessly that…

He would die for you. (Already has.)

He’s the love of your life… and ever after.

His name is Jesus.

Be His.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

With all my heart,


P.S. I do hope Chloe gets at least one Val-0-Gram. But far more than that, I hope she knows how dearly and deeply and endlessly she is loved. By the One whose name is Love. And a whole bunch of others: family, friends, maybe even a secret admirer. On second thought, let’s postpone the latter. (Her Daddy is so not ready for that.)


Tantrums & Time-Outs

My dear reader,

First, let’s take a moment to celebrate the fact that we somehow managed to survive the month of January. (Insert party popper emojis here!) No small feat when you consider the somewhat tense transfer-of-power, the political polarization of our populace, the unavoidable problems/pressures/pains of daily life, and the rather pitiful forecast – both civilly and meteorologically-speaking.


And kudos for continuing onward, you fierce, fab Feb-fighter!

You and me, we’ve deftly maneuvered through the greys and the grind of January… and now we must forge ahead through this dismal stretch otherwise known as February. There’s that desk (sink) piled high with paperwork (pots and pans), the stinky laundry and that sticky situation, the screaming baby (boss) we can’t ignore, a worrisome text or two (or ten), and that blasted, broken fuel pump/furnace/family. Who’s going to repair that?

If life is a highway, there sure are a lot of potholes, detours and blowouts along the way. (And more than a few impaired drivers, if you ask me.)

I remember when the boys were little… Well, actually, I don’t remember much of anything from back then. The kids’ medical records are what I like to call “historical fiction.” They are based on real events, but the dates/breaks/ sicknesses/surgeries are mostly my best guesstimates. (Stitches?  Yep, pretty sure he had a few. Circa 1996. Ish.)

The”nap and tuck” years – as I like to call them – were a blur. All fourteen of them. Breastfeeding, board books, baby wipes and booster seats, pacifiers and Play-Doh and pillow fights, Cheerios and Goldfish and swim lessons and speech therapy, diapers, Duplos and Disney merchandise, broken zippers, lost toys and spilled milk/juice/Pedialyte. An entire decade (the 90s) went by, and I’m not sure if I showered, sat, or slept more than 3 minutes in a row at any point, except on special occasions and Sundays.

*** At this time, I’d like to take a quick moment to acknowledge and bless our beloved babysitters, all the church nursery volunteers, my hardworking hairstylist who massaged a massive buildup of dry shampoo out of my hair every six weeks, the inventor of the Huggies Pull-Up (basically a “big boy” diaper that vaguely resembles underwear and makes it acceptable to send a not-quite-completely-toilet-trained two-year-old to preschool) my girlfriends who valiantly stood the ground alongside me in the trenches of toddlerhood, and my handsome, helpful husband, all of whom helped preserve my sanity during said decade. (For the most part, anyway.)  ***

The toughest thing about those years? It wasn’t really the sleep deprivation or choking hazards or ear infections or Pinkeye or head lice (I may have some mild post-traumatic stress symptoms lingering. Is it itchy in here?  Or is it just me?) or teething or training or tonsillectomies.  It was the tantrums, hands down. (And as I recall, tummy and toes were down too.  Hands and feet pounding the floor, head flailing, tears streaming, cheeks flushed, and vocal chords activated… full force.) Ah, the misty water-colored memories of the way we were. Pretty sure a couple of these gems are captured on the security camera videos at the Target on Route 59. For posterity.

Post-tantrum, the poor soul was left sweaty, sulky, and spent. Completely downcast, utterly demoralized… and invariably doomed for an early bedtime.

Point of clarification: I mean me.

Tantrums happen when we don’t get what we want. Glow-in-the-dark Nerf footballs, for instance. Or Skittles. Or a raise. Or a ring. Or some respect. (In case anybody asks, I’d like a Range Rover… and some R & R in the Riviera.)

Whether it’s candy, comfort, cooperation, or commendation, we want it. And we want it now.

(Chop, chop.)

Spoiled rotten, raging control freaks. Every last one of us. If you don’t think you are, just ask your parent/partner/precious offspring. They’ll set you straight.

Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves. You lust for what you don’t have and are willing to kill to get it. You want what isn’t yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it. You wouldn’t think of just asking God for it, would you? And why not? Because you know you’d be asking for what you have no right to. You’re spoiled children, each wanting your own way. (James 4:1-3, The Message)

Nearly every day, we encounter trials, tribulation, toil and trouble. And most of it involves some sort of power struggle. Parent vs. toddler… or teen. Boss vs. employee. Student vs. teacher. Wife vs. husband. Neighbor vs. neighbor. We face frenemies and passive-aggressors. Alpha dog-fights and catty co-workers. Manipulators, posers, and predators.  And the inevitable response kicks in:


We get mad… or run scared. We cling and claw and clamor for the upper hand. We judge, justify, jab and juke. We spite, spit, and spew. Or we… Simply. Shut. Down. We – I – unleash my razor-sharp tongue and go for the jugular. Or I clench my fists, grit my teeth, and silently seethe.  And maybe slam a few cabinets shut, just for effect.

Either way, what I really need is a time-out.

Be still and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10)

I need to take a step back and take a deep breath… and let God in. Let His grace and goodness wash over me. Soak in His peace and patience and kindness and gentleness.

Otherwise I can do some pretty colossal damage pretty darn quick.

I have a vivid memory of one particularly vexing day. My lively, lovely, bouncing bundles of boy became… stark raving lunatics. They were loud, rowdy, downright beastly. As soon as this one-woman cleanup crew would clear an area of kiddie debris, I would stumble upon another cataclysmic disaster zone. It was February (cabin fever raging), and it was the bewitching hour (that post-nap, pre-dinner period of peril). And the subzero wind chill had prevented me from locking them outside all day. Drat. So I just kept picking up, picking my battles, and issuing emphatic reprimands for disorderly conduct. (Translation: I spent the entire day yelling at the whole lot of ’em.)

And then it happened.

One of the boys (to this day, they all maintain their innocence) took approximately 72 Hallmark gold crown seals and firmly affixed them to our freshly-painted living room wall while I was upstairs trying to sort through all those tiny little pieces from the Game of Life. (Ironic, I know.) By the time I caught sight of our new wall decor, the adhesive was seriously, irreversibly stuck. I gasped, gaped, and gave the boys my most menacing glare. They could tell I was about to blow… and braced for impact.

And then something stopped me cold. And quick. (I’m sure it was the Good LORD Himself. Swooping in at exactly the right moment to make the rescue and save the little wretches. Amazing grace, to be sure.)

Right before I morphed into a Mad, Maniacal Momster whose shrill screams could be heard all the way down at the Department of Child and Family Services, I stopped… and turned the tables on them. Well, not literally. No children were crushed beneath kitchen furniture that day, although there was a time when Mitch tugged the chains inside our grandfather clock and pulled the entire thing right down on top of himself. Somehow in a terrifying, odds-defying happenstance, his little toddler body fit perfectly inside the compartment where the clock chimes were housed. And despite the unhinged door and shattered glass – and the sheer weight of the thing – miraculously, he emerged without a cut, bruise or broken bone. Not a single scratch on the little stinker. (Another astounding rescue! Wow, Jesus, You’re good at this stuff.)

Well, after a valiant attempt at scraping the gold seals off the wall with a fingernail, a spatula, and a paint scraper – to no avail – I calmly made an announcement that rendered my boys still and silent for nearly six seconds (a record that still holds):

“Boys, I’m giving myself a time-out.”

They stared at me, all shocked and awestruck. I walked slowly up the stairs and into my bedroom, closed the door, and then went into the master bath, and sat down on the edge of the tub. And sobbed.

I sobbed about my naughty little boys and my gold-sealed wall and my desperate lack of patience (and apparently, effective parenting skills). I wept and prayed and poured out my heart to my Father in heaven. I told Him I needed help with this monumental task of raising boys to become fine, strong, gentle (or at least slightly less destructive) men. I told Him I needed wisdom and strength. And a whole heap of patience. And a little glimmer of hope. And I know He heard me because next thing I knew there was a knight in shining Under Armour kneeling next to me on the bathroom floor and stroking my hair and handing me tissue and telling me everything would be ok.

“Listen, babe, there’s this great stuff called DIF that’ll lift those sticky seals right off the wall, lickety split. And the boys will have to help. So, no worries.”

Did I mention that my man is the best one I know?

Truly, he is.

And then Steve asked me the $64,000 question (well, actually I think it was around twenty bucks, including tax, tip, and delivery. I had a coupon.)

“Wanna order pizza tonight?”

We did (have pizza) and he did (get the stickers off the wall), and I did (get that tile grout clean) and God did (help me – and the boys – survive those nap-and-tuck years).

Our boys are 18, 20, 23, and 26 now. And, by God’s grace, they’ve grown up pretty good.

Chloe, however, has suddenly become a teenager. (Excuse me, but when and how did this happen?!?!) And she’s currently in the process of “individuating,” a term derived from medieval Latin and defined as “forming into a distinct entity.” According to Carl Jung it is the central process of human development. (According to me, it means “pushing back and/or talking back.”) Individuating is occasionally infuriating.

So every once in a while, I still give myself a time-out.

And God always meets me there.



P.S. Toddler moms, first let me say this: GOD BLESS YOU, BRAVE SOUL.  I know you had no idea what you were getting into during those trimesters you filled searching nursery decorating ideas on Pinterest and online shopping at BurtsBeesBaby.com. I know because I was once pregnant and clueless too. (Pretty sure it’s a universal occurrence amongst first-timers.)  Just hang in there, weary mama… eventually something freeing and revitalizing and revolutionary will happen. It’s called kindergarten. (If you’re planning to homeschool, I pray an extra measure of grace – and gumption – for you. Oh, and a grandma nearby.) In the meantime, you can find that magical substance called DIF at Lowe’s or Home Depot.