Travel Diary, Day Four (and Three): There’s no place like home

No post yesterday … too long a day!

Started with lunch at Misty’s … yes, we are eating our way through Nebraska.  Met up with my friend Mary for lunch and she gamely tagged along with me and one 8YO to Morrill Hall, which houses fossils from various sites across Nebraska, including Archie, a mammoth who is as much a part of the University of Nebraska landscape as Herbie Husker (Archie needs to work on his sideline antics, however).  We then trekked via car through and around the campus, which is so very different from when we went to school:  a lot more university housing, new class room buildings (but Oldfather, Bessey, Andrews, and Burnett still look like they did 20 years ago – and I’m sure they still smell like mothballs), lots of parking garages (nice change from the lot on north 14th that was colloquially known as “Rape Lot”, whether from actual crimes committed or just collegiate urban legend, who knows).  We then ventured to East Campus, where I never set foot when I was a student – East Campus being home to Ag, Dental, and Law (what those things have in common I have no idea).  But East Campus also houses The Dairy – part of the Ag stuff; yes, the University makes ice cream and cheeses and of course, it was awesome.  (I said I was eating my way through Nebraska … I see a lot of burpees in my future.)

Saturday night was dinner at Sonja’s – with slip and slide for the kids and just chatting with us three old college friends.  The topics have changed – from boys and classes to our kids and jobs – but in spite of having not seen each other for many years, it’s like we didn’t miss a beat. We’ve already picked out a weekend to try to get together next summer – never easy with kids, jobs, and other life stuff but we’re gonna try.  Facebook is grand, but it doesn’t replace seeing old friends.

Today was the trek from Lincoln to Omaha.  First stop:  movie theater to see the Minions, which was very cute but has the very annoying side effect of making my child speak Minion for the rest of the day (every word sounds like a 2YO trying to say “banana”.  “Did you wash your hair yet, Katie?”  “Boonahnah!”).  Lunch at the 11Worth Cafe with LOTS of family who was nice enough to take time out of their Sunday to meet up with us over ginormous plates of eggs, sausage & biscuits with gravy, and lots of other yummy food (had never been there before … gonna be a regular stop when we come through Omaha again.  The waitress called everyone “honey”, which is ALWAYS a sign of gastro greatness.  I’ll definitely be back, assuming I can bank enough burpees ahead of time.)

And then guess what?  We met up with Skip!  He took advantage of his weekend to fly into Omaha then drive to Des Moines to catch up with one of his friends at the Republican candidate gathering thing in Ames (he arrived too late to see Trump self-implode, apparently).  So we were able to spend some time with him before he headed to the airport for what’s looking to be a very, very late night for him.

Tomorrow it’s Zoo time – Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo is often rated the #1 zoo in the country if not the world, although I saw recently where it had slipped a bit.  It’ll be like I’m in third grade all over again – I think it was mandatory that every kid go there at least once a year on a field trip, and our family always bought the “membership” to gain us basically unlimited access to the zoo all summer.  I remember trekking coolers with lunch to the zoo and buying popcorn to feed the frenzied carp off of the bridge over the lagoon.  No coolers for us tomorrow .. but I did save money for popcorn.

My life as a softball mom

When Katie turned three, and everyone else was starting up with soccer, I devoutly stayed away from all things organized sports.  She’s three, I’m thinking, and I’m silently laughing at all of my friends shuttling kids here, there and everywhere at zero dark thirty on a Saturday morning, or sweltering in 95 degree July heat at 9am, while I’m home reading the paper and drinking coffee (you didn’t really think I was sleeping in, did you?  God made the perfect alarm clock in the form of a small child.)  I didn’t really see the point … she’s three.  How much coaching can you give a kid who will still pick junk up from the floor, and covered in hair or not, promptly pop it into her mouth, no matter how loudly and insistently you yell NONONO!!!?  The same 3YO who resolutely, absolutely, stubbornly refused to potty train?  Yeah, great idea – add in the fact that a baseball bat is just another weapon and sign me up, Jack!

At five, though, I finally relented … in part because the teachers at Katie’s daycare kept telling us she’s athletic (the jock gene apparently skips a generation … or two, maybe) and because some neighborhood moms strongly encouraged me to get Katie involved in a variety of different activities, with different girls – that way, when the Mean Girls come out and Katie’s on the outside with one group, she still has other friends she can run with.

So off to Plano Sports Authority, aka PSA to the Plano luxury SUV-drivin’, wine-drinkin momma set (not drinking AND driving – oh no … definitely not at the same time – that’d be gauche).   Katie had just finished Kindergarten, so T-Ball it is – I go online, pick up co-ed T-Ball, sign Katie up, punch in my Visa number and anxiously await her team assignment.  Since we hadn’t done this before, and since there wasn’t a group of neighborhood moms with a team already going, I knew PSA would place her onto a team that needed another player, or that she’d end up with the rest of the kids whose moms were slackers  just now signing their kids up without benefit of a preformed “team”.

Finally, I got the email from Coach Ian – she’s a Dodger!  So I look at the roster … Xander, Soren, Brent, Josh, Jack … hmmm.  No girl Dodgers.  I check every other team in the league … no girls.  Not.One.

Craaaaapppp … I’m new to this, did I screw up and sign her up for the wrong thing?  Checked PSA and nope – definitely co-ed … so, where are all of the girls?  I asked a friend if her daughter was playing T-Ball – and the answer was no, Eva’s playing softball.  DOH!

But Katie, my abhor-everything-pink and anything girlie girl, the girl who loves Darth Vader and video games – she LOVED being a Dodger.  She loved the uniforms, she loved practices, she loved the games, she loved her coaches, she loved her teammates.  Katie once famously said, as she confidently strutted onto the practice field: “I’m gonna show these boys how it’s done” – but other than that, she never really noticed that she was the only girl.  And, to be honest … she played better than a good number of the boys on the field.

Last fall, back to PSA I go with my used and abused Visa card, and now my only option is softball:  boys have baseball, girls softball.  And, being the fall league, there were very few girls and teams that signed up (softball being more of a spring sport) so we were ‘placed’ onto the Rangers, an established team centralized mostly around an elementary school other than Katie’s.  The Rangers managed to finish first both in the regular season and the fall tournament (OK, there were three whole teams, but still – FIRST PLACE BABY!)  And we were invited to join the Rangers again this spring.

So now the regular spring season is over, just when I’ve finally gotten to the point where not every girl with a ponytail looks the same, and I’m not saying “Good hit Ava!” and then going oh crud, that was Catherine (or vice-versa, I did that a LOT … but in my defense, it’s hard to tell them apart when they look like big bobbleheads with their batting helmets on).  Competition is a great bonding agent with the other moms and dads (as a nail-biting first tourney game tonight has proven), and it’s easy to see how any parent can become THAT parent in the heat of the moment, forgetting that the players are all but six and seven years old.    And yes, we have had our share of “those parents” (none wear Ranger pink, of course).

And other than being with all girls, softball hasn’t been much different for Katie than T-Ball.  “Ranger ready” means the same thing as “Dodger ready” which is coach code for “Quit playing in the dirt already!”  OK, so there’s maybe more crying in softball … Tom Hanks was wrong, there IS crying in 7YO softball; lots of it, for every possible reason from skinned knees to hurt feelings to somebody looked at me funny.

Katie still loves practice, her coaches, her team.  My abhor-all-things-pink girl never makes a fuss about her pink uniform shirt, and even asked if she should buy pink sunglasses for game days.  And she insisted on sugar cookies, shaped like softballs – and frosted pink – when it was our turn for team snacks.

As for me, the reluctant softball mom?  I love the chatter of the parents in the stands.  I love watching Katie in left center or at short stop, hustling after the ball, making plays.  I even love Katie in left center or at short stop, doing karate moves, playing in the dirt, or doing armpit farts (OK, maybe not the armpit farts so much).  I love the clink of the ball on the metal bat, the dirt that’s permanently embedded in her cleats and her glove, the chocolate-smeared, post game snack sticky fingers.  I love how all of the coaches are teaching the girls the fundamentals of fielding, defense, batting and throwing with kind words and instruction.  I love how Coach Kevan ends every game by asking the girls “Did you have fun?” and not being satisfied until people in the next county can hear 15 grimy, sweaty softball players all screaming “YEEEEESSSS!” at a pitch that only a gaggle of 7YO girls can seem to muster.

I love life as a softball mom.

“I keep thinking, this year, it will be easier”

My Mother’s Day gift for the last eight years has been a picture of Katie, taken by Skip, and placed in a beautiful silver frame that gets polished up and presented with the current year’s photo proudly displayed.  Skip even went so far as to buy a small album to hold prior years’ pictures.  It’s a very cool tradition Skip started; I love each of my eight pictures.

The other annual Mother’s Day tradition in the Harris Household is Skip uttering the words, “I keep thinking, this year it will be easier.”

Outtakes for this year include pictures of Katie with a big stick, pretending to be a Jedi (in fairness, if Darth Maul ever attacks our home, my money is on Katie) as well as several pictures of her doing armpit farts (to every parent whose child learned this lovely little “trick” from Katie:  I am sorry.  So, so, so, so, SO very sorry.  Very sorry.)

Katie, Jedi Master
Katie, Jedi Master
Katie's fine armpit fart form
Katie’s fine armpit fart form

Skip keeps thinking that each year, the pictures will be easier – that she’ll be more cooperative, better able to listen, more into the whole process than she’s been in previous years.  And every year, Katie manages to prove him wrong.

The first year, he fully anticipated being challenged – Katie wasn’t even two weeks old, so trying to get a good picture is definitely tough; I have a real appreciation for anyone who can get a good newborn picture (although I do notice that in a lot of those newborn pictures, the babies are all snoozing.  Is that cheating?)

I like this one (it looks like he caught her mid-sneeze):

First Mother's Day
First Mother’s Day

The following year, at just over one year old, got us a meltdown and a total lack of cooperation …

Katie Meltdown
Katie Meltdown
Katie's cute backside, but not quite what we were after
Katie’s cute backside, but not quite what we were after









There are dozens, if not hundreds, of “botched” pictures, all taken in the often fading hopes that one, just ONE dang it, will be a keeper.   And I got to thinking – this is a lot like parenting itself.  You keep thinking it’ll get easier when she’s sleeping through the night.  When she’s walking.  When she’s able to dress herself … feed herself … and on and on it goes.  But every “easier” comes with a trade off.   Being able to dress herself means picking out shorts, ski socks, tennis shoes and a sweatshirt.  All in clashing colors and in all likelihood, the shirt has some horrific stain.  Being able to walk means she runs and holy buckets kids can run fast (this momma runs WAAAAY slow), and kids always run straight to the things that induce immediate cardiac arrest (streets, swimming pools, large ugly dogs, etc. etc.)

But for every hard moment there are the good ones – the hugs, the sticky kisses, the “I love yous”.  The moment when your kid does the right thing – unprompted – and your heart swells so much it might just come out of your ears.  And the few good moments far outweigh the bad ones; I just hope that in most of your bad ones, you can also look back and laugh.

I’m just hopeful that Mother’s Day 2019 doesn’t make me long for the days of armpit farts.

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My big fat Greek wedding and holiday treks to Austin

Christmases and Thanksgivings in Omaha for me meant no fewer than 10-12 adults and at least five children of varying ages, smashed into a house that was probably all of 800 square feet (my maternal grandparents’ house on Spaulding Street) and maybe SLIGHTLY bigger at Grandma Kramer’s house on 49th Street, just up the street from Gorat’s steak house (or, as my deaf Grandpa called it:  “Go-Rats”.  Very appetizing.)

The one kitchen table would be laden down with too much food and acted as the buffet once it was time to eat.   The kitchen barely had enough room for one person to turn around, let alone three or four women all trying to juggle hot dishes coming out of the oven and managing the saucepans bubbling on the stovetop.  The kitchen table being otherwise occupied meant everyone was eating from plates balanced on laps or, if you were lucky, you got use of a metal TV tray that was just a whisker away from being toppled by an errant toddler or finally folding over on its own rickety legs that were bent and misshapen from having been stuffed in a closet the other 364 days of the year.

And while Christmas was usually cold in Omaha, the doors and windows were always open – partially to let out some of the heat from the ovens and the bodies, but also to let in some fresh air to clear the Pall Mall haze that hung three feet from the ceiling (HELLO … it was the 70s.  EVERYBODY smoked.  I also miraculously survived getting to said grandparents’ house without benefit of a car seat, or even a seat belt, and I’m here to tell the tale.)

But I loved those holidays, and playing with cousins that I seldom saw the rest of the year.  I remember playing Monopoly with my cousin Laura under the kitchen table, because setting up the board anywhere else meant we were in somebody’s way.  Going to Grandma Kramer’s meant great anticipation to see Kellie, Dee Dee, and Billie Jo who were from far far away (when you’re five, Iowa seems very very far from Omaha), and pestering Uncle Bill and Aunt Karol to please please PLEASE play Mousetrap with us?  (Especially after we ventured into Grandma’s very creepy basement to get it out of that dank, dark closet with the one lightbulb on a pull string …)

Childhood holiday memories for Skip are very different than mine.  Skip’s parents divorced when he was very young, and he was raised by his mother and his maternal grandparents.  While his dad remarried, gaining Skip step-siblings and eventually a brother, Skip was raised as an only child – and his mother was also an only child.  So  holidays with his mom’s side of the family meant small, quiet get-togethers.  Those times he did spend with his dad’s extended family came with some guilt and angst from being with one side of the family over the other, so that tempered some of the joy and excitement he might’ve otherwise felt.

The first time Skip experienced a Kramer gathering, it was a bit of a shock.  It’s wasn’t quite Toula and Ian, but having come from different families and traditions, it was different.  There were a lot of people, a lot of chaos, a lot of laughter and a LOT of snarkiness.    We’re the family that sat around one beautiful summer day and played word association … my cousin Shelly said ‘bugs’, cousin Nikkie said ‘annoying’, Aunt Sharon said ‘mother’.  Grandma Kramer was next up and not surprisingly, the game came to an abrupt halt.  And while Grandma was NOT amused, the rest of us laughed ourselves into tears.  Underneath all of that snarkiness and laughter is a lot of love for one another, but to an outsider … we do take some getting used to.

So now we’ve got our only child of an only child, and the roles are a bit reversed:  while my brother has married, there are no Kramer cousins, but down in Austin there are three sets of aunts and uncles and any family gathering brings as many as seven cousins of varying ages.  The Austin houses are bigger, meaning everyone actually gets to eat at a real table, but in spite of the bigger kitchens, everyone is still in the way of pulling something out of the oven or off of the stovetop.  There’s no smoke haze over dinner, but the joyous noise and chaos are the same – and there’s still too much food.   The best part now is that Katie gets to make her her own memories.  Looking for Grandma Betty Jo’s money-loaded Easter eggs in the yard, and Uncle Kip walking in, dressed as the Easter Bunny.  Jumping on the trampoline with the rest of the cousins, and saying good-bye even as she’s counting down the days until the next visit.  Skip understands, now, what my childhood memories are made of, and we’re both grateful to the extended family in Austin that gives Katie that opportunity for joyous noise and chaos.

The good things never change.

Don’t blink, you’ll miss it

Every once in a while I have a moment where I’m engaged in something with Katie and I feel like someone hit the fast forward button on my DVR.  Just some little thing she says or does makes it seem like she leapfrogged, exponentially, in her development, and I how did I miss the steps between the ground floor and the penthouse?  A lot of times it’s something  she says – a turn of phrase or a new vocabulary word – that will make me stop and wonder:  where did THAT come from?

We just got back from a walk around the neighborhood – well, I walked; Katie was on her scooter.  Just yesterday she was out on the same scooter, right foot planted solidly on the cross bar and left foot never stopping:  pushpushpush.  She’d wobble a little but that left foot never joined its pair up on the scooter platform – it just did its constant pushpushpush with the sidewalk, up the street and back down again.

Today, suddenly, it’s pushpushpushGLIDE …. pushpushpushGLIDE.

Several years ago, when Katie was between one and two, we were at the dealership waiting on car service.  Since Katie had just gotten her own wheels, so to speak, being a new walker, I let her roam the showroom while we waited.  At every car, Katie had to stop, get in the drivers seat, and pretend to drive.  She’d do that for a few minutes, then I’d say, “Time to go, Katie”, and she’d hop out, little legs propelling her onto the next car.

We were sitting in a convertible when a man with his teenaged daughter stopped.  He looked at his own daughter, and he looked at Katie, finally locking eyes with me.

“Don’t blink,” he said.  “You’ll miss it.”


My backseat … where goldfish go to die

As much as I’d like to take credit for the title, I can’t – saw it on a blog elsewhere.  But oh how it sums up the state of my car.

We bought the MDX when Katie was just two or three months old.  The key criteria in purchasing an SUV in those days was ensuring the big honking travel stroller system would fit into the back end, leaving room for other things (groceries are sorta important, some days).  In hindsight, we should have realized any stroller THAT FREAKING BIG was just asking for trouble – trying to manhandle that monster every time we went to the mall  ended up being an exercise in futility and frustration (it folds in a SNAP they said … never mind that it weighed three times as much as Katie).

I actually spent time this afternoon vacuuming my own car.  All in all it wasn’t in horrible shape, but there were dried out raisins (I know, how is a raisin ever NOT “dried out”), broken crayons, crumbs galore, and yes, sad little remnants of cheddar cheese goldfish, rotting away in the floor mats.  Going through this exercise made me think of my own parents, who kept their cars spotless – I remember many a Saturday afternoon my dad would wash and wax the Nova (yes, we were that cool).  I’m sure that every time we pick my parents up at the airport, and my dad’s loafers grind yet more goldfish into the floor mats and my mom moves the broken, paperless crayons out of the seat so she doesn’t end up with a rainbowed backside, they wonder where they failed me.

But all of that grime and gunk comes from memories.  Countless trips to Colorado, Nebraska, and Austin – to see family, friends, and football (not necessarily in that order).  Katie snoozing in her carseat, watching movies, playing on the iPad.   And yes, Katie eating and drinking, contributing to the detritus on the floor boards.  We changed a more than a few diapers in that car and, famously, Katie once puked from Wichita to the Nebraska-Kansas state line.

The MDX has ferried groceries, mulch, and softball equipment as part of its household chores.  It also shuttled a good amount of our belongings as we moved to an apartment and then to our current house.  It put on a lot of miles as it ran around town, took us on our adventures, and shuttled me back and forth to work  The MDX’s days as the Harris family car are about over; she’s got 130K miles and every time I go in for an oil change, there is ALWAYS something else that requires attention (and, seemingly, at least another $250).

But I’ll miss that car when it’s gone, dead goldfish and all.