Chafing Is No Joke

Apr 30 2012

Chafing is no joke, you guys.

Chafing is no joke, and this is how I know…

I corresponded last week with my friend, Fiona, who wrote many beautiful and wonderful things. We connected. Deeply. About Important Stuff. Like Faith and Parenting. And Irreverence and Laughter. And being Real, Complex People (read: Completely Bonkers).

About Welcoming Others.

About Being Vulnerable and Open.

About Finding Our Place in the World.

And Fiona, of the Tea with a Friend blog, ended her e-mail with this:

I’d better go and do something about my pile of laundry.


It’s almost up to the ceiling.

And whilst I’m trying to tell myself that the reason I put clean pyjamas on this morning after showering was because we’re staying at home all day today, I need to face the reality, which is thus: I couldn’t find any clean undies, and I can’t quite bring myself to go commando under jeans.

Chafing is no joke.

OK. Now go back and read that in a Mary Poppins accent, ’cause the “whilst” and “which is thus” are simply better that way.

Oh, how I giggled.

I chortled.

And then I spent the whole weekend thinking about chafing.

And also thinking about how much cooler pajamas are when they’re spelled with a “y.” Pyjamas. So exotic!

…But mostly I thought about chafing.

I thought about how I’m all counter-cultural in my refusal buy into America’s shorts-wearing agenda anymore. You say shorts; my thighs say capris. Also, capris? SO MUCH MORE FABRIC for kids to wipe their faces on. Win/win, guys. Win/win.

I thought about women who have that most novel of feminine novelties – Legs Which Do Not Rub Together – and I wondered what that must be like, to live a life free from the constant threat of chafing. When I find myself walking behind a woman like that, I am fascinated. I stare and I stare, dropping my head down and to the side for a better view, until I realize that it must look like I’m staring at her butt, and then I desperately hope that no one notices because it’s not like I can say, “But did you see her thighs?! THEY RESPECT EACH OTHER’S PERSONAL SPACE. I mean, come on; that’s, like, WOW!”

I thought about running and the way that endurance events (why, hello, life!) have a way of revealing which parts move well and which parts hang a little too low or rub me the wrong way. What? I have a rash where?

And then I thought about how my sense of uneasiness and transformation lately feels a lot like chafing – as though my most delicate places (you know, like my heart and my soul – sheesh!) are a little red, a little rough, a little sore and uncomfortable – and how that’s to be expected when you change… or when you run life’s race like you mean it… or when you discard your barriers.

Emotional and spiritual chafing: it’s sort of like going commando with life. Freeing. Risky. Vulnerable. Painful. And intermittently hilarious.

As far as I can tell, the trick is in figuring out which of our barriers help protect us in good ways (xoxo, panties), and which barriers need to come tumbling down because they hold us back (this means you, insecurity).

In the end, though, I thought about my gratitude for the friends we meet along the road. The friends who are outrageously inappropriate in acknowledging their humanity. And especially the friends who make me laugh when I’m feeling rather raw and exposed.



On Poltergeists and Scratching Etiquette

Apr 27 2012

I’m not saying which son, because I very, very, very much (times one thousand) want my children to someday visit me in the Old Folks’ Home, but one of my boys regularly channels the spirit of a 104-year-old man.

I know this is true because my son awakens every night at midnight, approximately 4 hours after he goes to bed. He opens his creaky door, and he wanders into the hall. Fifteen minutes later, due to the nearly inert velocity at which he shuffles, he arrives three doors down, in my bedroom, mumbling, “Where am I? Where, oh where, am I?”

Except, of course, at midnight and when you’re a 104-year-old man, consonants are too, too hard to use, so he sounds like he’s performing a vocal exercise for theatre or choir, complete with scales and dramatic intonation.

“WHEH eh I?” he asks. “WHEH, oh, WHEH eh Iieeee?”

It’s sort of like being haunted by a benevolent but rather misguided thespian ghost who has lost his GPS and needs directions to his next gig. And who also mistakenly thinks that holding onto his front bits helps him with his balance.

“Son,” I say, “you’re confused. You’re sleeping. Go back to bed.”

And he says, “I’m confused?” in his confused voice which, of course, comes out, “Iieee unUSE?”

And I say, “Yes. And you’re still asleep. Go back to bed.”

And he says, “I’m still asleep?” in his sleepy voice. “Iieee EEL uhWEEP?”

And I say, “The important part is, go back to bed.”

And he says, “Oo mah bed?” in his confused, sleepy voice.

He starts to scratch using big, wide, sweeping scratches. His belly. His neck. His pits. His bits.

You know what? Sometimes things just need to be scratched, folks. I know it’s true. You know it’s true. We all know it’s true. But hear this: not everything that needs to be scratched needs to be scratched in the presence of others. This is a foundational concept in the parenting of children, and yet it appears in no parenting book. NOT ONE.  I challenge you, find the parenting book with a chapter on techniques for reliably teaching appropriate scratching and picking etiquette, and that is a parenting book I will actually buy.

And I say, “Mister, listen very carefully. Go back to bed, and scratch when you’re alone.

And, for reasons I do not understand, he finally reaches midnight conversation saturation, nods his head and shuffles out the door.

Fifteen minutes later, he arrives in his room and goes back to bed, peacefully and blissfully asleep. He’ll have no recollection of this in the morning because he slept through the entire exchange.

Sleep well, 104-year-old boy child. Sleep well. And I will try to do the same.

For tomorrow we do this again.



It’s World Malaria Day!

Apr 25 2012

World Malaria Day. Ah, the memories!

Today – April 25th – is World Malaria Day. I know you’ve had it circled on your calendars, and I’m probably interfering with your own malarial memories, so I’ll try to keep this short. No guarantees, though, since I suck at brevity.

Once upon a time, I was 13 years old with feathered Farrah Fawcett hair and a penchant for lying to my parents.

Hey, now. Don’t judge. ‘Cause you know what? My parents always told me stuff like, “Play to your strengths, Beth,” and I was a really good liar. So who’s to blame — me or them? Yes. I think so, too. Poor parenting on their part.

Whew! I’m glad we settled that little dispute right up front.


Once upon a time, I was 13 years old. And I woke up one morning not wanting to go to school, which, if you’ve ever met a 13-year-old, will undoubtedly strike you as completely typical.

I did what any 13-year-old in my situation would do.

I faked sick.

Now, I’m an excellent sick-faker, if I do say so myself. And I’ll give you – for free – my VERY BEST, numero uno, sick-faking secret which I discovered at age 8.

Sick-Faking Tip #1
Never, ever, EVER break character.

Never, ever break character, not even when you think the school nurse isn’t looking. Because I am here to tell you that that mean lady will definitely catch you if you decide to dance on your sick bed for the entertainment of the other sick children and she will send you right back to class with a note that will require you to explain yourself to your teacher. You will be humiliated. Trust me.

By the time I was 13, I was a champion at faking sick. I stayed in character all the time. I moaned in the bathroom. I practiced grimacing in the mirror. I wet my face at the sink so I looked clammy and my skin was cool to the touch.

Sick-Faking Tip #2
Fevers are hard to fake, but pale and clammy is almost always as good.

I stumbled to my bed. And I did all of this even if I was home alone.

I was, like, the Supreme Method Actor of faking sick! So you can understand why, on the morning I told my parents that I was dying of a dreadful disease, they took me very, very seriously.

Of course, our family also happened to live at that time in a part of Indonesia that was an incubator for malaria. So that whole malaria thing might have had a teeny, tiny impact on their consideration of my case.

It turns out that I was so good at sick-faking, you guys, that I mimicked nearly all of the symptoms for malaria. I had chills, sweats, a pounding headache, general aches, nausea – all of the unproveable classics, just to seal the No School deal. WOOT! Go, me!

Sick-Faking Tip #3
Don’t do it. It’s not worth it.
Karma is mean like the school nurse, and Karma will call your bluff

My parents took me for a blood test.

I stayed in character while they pricked my finger and made a smear on the glass slide. I even went more pale at that point because I was that good. (And because there was blood. But whatever.)

The lab analyzed my blood.

I had malaria.

I. Had. Malaria.

Seriously. Malaria is what I had.

And then I got sick. Except it was real sick and not fake sick. And it lasted for three weeks while I took volumes of bitter medicine that made my ears ring and made me vomit and made my headache and gave me chills. Or maybe the malaria did those things. It’s hard to say for sure.

You guys, I have to hand it to malaria. It’s a way, WAY better method actor than me.

In the end, I dropped 10 pounds… and I dropped faking sick… and I dropped some of my lying. (But not all of my lying, because I eventually learned that if you call it fiction writing then no one gets mad.)

I also dropped vanilla pudding which is what my mom fed me during my prolonged No School deal. Truly I say unto you: there are only so many times you can yarf vanilla pudding before you relegate it, along with malaria, to depths of Things I Hope Never To Taste Again As Long As I Live.

And those, ladies and gentlemen, are my malarial memories. Brought to you by World Malaria Day and by vanilla pudding.

The End

P.S. I might not have ever confessed the malaria lie to my parents before now. Sorry you had to find out on my blog, Mom and Dad. (And, um, just kidding about the poor parenting thing.)

P.P.S. I also lied about who stole the Almond Roca from your top dresser drawer, Dad. It was delicious.


And A Much More Serious Post-Script


I get to be alive and to joke about my experience with malaria because my parents had access to medical care and money for treatment.

But malaria’s no joke.

According to the World Health Organization, there are 216 million (that’s MILLION) cases of malaria every year, resulting in 655,000 deaths. Most of those deaths are children under age 5.


I don’t know about you, but statistics like that can make me feel hopeless. It’s so easy to get bogged down in the scope of the problem and to feel heartbroken and small. But the incredible news for those of us who want to make a difference is that malaria is both preventable and treatable.

If you’re looking for a way to help children in desperate need,
<—- check out Sarah’s story. I’ll stake my reputation, such as it is, on the work Medical Teams International does around the world.


Image credit Medical Teams International


On Cherry Trees, Nanny McPhee, and Zombie Litigation

Apr 24 2012

It’s my favorite time of the year.

Not to be confused with my other favorite times of the year which include the first day of summer, the first day of school, Christmas break, the first day back at school after Christmas break, Spring break, the first day back at school after Spring break, and any sunny day in the Pacific Northwest.

But this – this – is the cherry tree time of the year.

The cherry trees that line the back of our property are overgrown and more than a little gnarly. Spindly and towering 30 feet tall, they’re absolutely nothing like the manicured trees in Washington DC and Japan, and their summer fruit will be all pit and no flesh as though they simply cannot be bothered with such mundane tasks as food production.

But I love them, I do, for the shade they provide and for their resilience and especially for giving me snow in April.

Not real snow, of course. But after the blossoms all bloom… way, WAY too high for us to really see them… there comes a time when they shed their flowers in favor of leaves. And that’s the week in April when the flurries of white float down with every breeze or rustle of a robin’s wings.

I sit outside on my back porch if the weather allows, like it did this week, and I revel in clean air that fills itself with petals.

It’s stunning and special and it feels like a private little show just for me.

My kids know I love this time of the year.

“Look, Mom!” they yell. “Your trees are snowing again!”

And then my kids show me how much they respect my cherry blossom reverence by letting me sit quietly with my coffee and breathe it all in.

Just to be clear, I sometimes confuse “letting me sit quietly,” with hearing legal arguments about who ran into whom with a bicycle – or who slammed whose head into the lawn during the wrestling that seems to be inherently required if one is born with a penis – or who promised that she would climb a tree with her brother and broke that promise again – and, of course, whether the prosecution should consider premeditation an important factor when bringing their charges to court. (“It was an accident!” and “But you hurt me!”) But I find that “letting me sit quietly” is such a lovely little untruth that I like to tell it to myself as often as possible.

Yesterday evening, our good weather stint was coming to an end. The wind was stirring, bringing gusts with the breezes, and more of the petals tumbled down.

As Greg ushered the kids into the house, I took a few extra minutes to walk the path behind our house and greet the coming of the storm.

The skies turned grey.

It became the kind of evening where I was sure, if I squinted just right, I’d be able to see Nanny McPhee and Mary Poppins gliding along with their umbrellas on the wind, linked arm in arm, talking shop and giggling over their most recalcitrant charges.

It was somehow expectant. And mysterious. And like nature invited me to be part of something rather lovely and grand.

I turned around to come home, and I paused at the cherry tree line to look at my home with its bikes and bubbles, art projects and rubbish bins, endless messes and chores, and no nanny in sight. And I saw the cherry blossoms covering it all like sprinkles.

The warm light beckoned me inside where I settled down for a peaceful evening listening to kidlets present legal briefs on whether a Zombie enemy is technically conducting himself in good faith if he keeps inventing unauthorized roles, like Rock, and yelling, “I’m Rock! I’m Rock! You can’t beat me because I have no brain!”


This – this – is my favorite time of the year.

Jeff’s Gigantic Face

Apr 24 2012

Just for fun, because it’s Tuesday morning (and Tuesday morning should be fun), this is my brother’s Facebook banner and profile picture:

Although I didn’t ask permission before sharing it with you which was unspeakably rude of me, I DID block out his last name which makes it all OK.

Honestly, though, when all of your Facebook posts come with this profile shot?

(Oh, look! It’s Jeff and his gigantic face.)

With no explanation about its freaky-deaky application on the banner? You know, ever? Leaving people to wonder why – oh dear Heaven, why?? – you would electronically parade yourself about in this manner?

Well, it’s brilliant.

Brilliant, Jeff.


And also brilliant.

The End


P.S. Real post soon.

P.P.S. Maybe even today.

P.P.P.S. Feel free to leave comments for Jeff. They’ll make his day.

On Being Uneasy and Transformed

Apr 23 2012

Today, I’m uneasy.

I’m not uneasy every day.

But I’m not uneasy just today, either.

Today, my fingers are tingly and my stomach is fluttery and I feel a little bit off, a little bit uncomfortable, a little bit embarrassed to be me. (Sorry, me.)

Today, my thoughts won’t settle or shush. They’re a jumble of things that I’ve left undone, partly (if I’m going to be fair) because I actively choose not to do everything, and partly (if I’m going to be merciful) because there aren’t 35 hours in every day.

Today, my heart is jumpy. It flips and it flops and it’s not on speaking terms with my brain. My heart is trying be touchy-feely, to acknowledge where I’m needy and why I long to be More and Better and Bigger and Stronger. And my brain is trying to be logicky, telling me to write using real words, like logical, because life’s not about having fun, Beth; it’s about making sense!

Today, I’m writing in a stream of consciousness because my heart won. (Sorry, brain.)

Today, I’m thinking about faith and fear and the ways they both engage me – Me the Mama. Me the Wife. Me the Friend. Me the Writer. It’s like faith and fear are at the ends of life’s elastic, pitching me alternately forward into love and joy and strength… and then flinging me back into self-doubt and criticism and not-enoughness. Sometimes I make the trip from faith to fear and back again so rapidly that I’m surprised I don’t have whiplash.

Today, I’m thinking about my kids who are busy hatching from their shells.

It’s a strange thing, this practice of breaking free, discarding shells and rising from the muck that’s always part of a new birth. And one of the strangest of the strange things is the fact that kids so often hatch without their knowledge.

It’s like they’re made to hatch.

It’s like it’s an instinct.

It’s like they’re naturally driven to break free from the things that hold them back – from their shyness or their social angst or their stubbornness or their fear. Wildly and completely oblivious to their success, kids peck and wiggle to discard their prisons. They thrash and fuss in their efforts to change.

It’s like a miracle.

When I’m at my mama best – when I remember for just a minute to discard the blinders of Making It Through Today so I remember to look where we’ve been and anticipate where we’re headed – I can see it. I can see my kids, pushing through today’s shells, all wet and wobbly and new, and I can shout with glee, “You’re hatching! You’re hatching! Look at what you’re doing, Kid. Look at who you’re becoming! You are AMAZING!

But they don’t see that they’re sitting the in middle of their own tremendous transformation – not yet – and so they’re half pleased with my raucous celebration and half resentful, wondering whether I’m right or whether I’m just crazy – wanting to believe me but afraid to trust what they don’t yet know for themselves.

Today, I’m uneasy.

Today, my fingers are tingly and my stomach is fluttery and I feel a little bit off, a little bit awkward, a little bit embarrassed to be me.

Today, I feel the fear-flinging breeze in my hair as the elastic pulls me backwards into self-doubt and criticism and not-enoughness.

But today, it occurred to me to wonder if my wobbly vulnerability might be part of the angst of transformation. If I might be rather like my children. If I somehow confused my status as a grown-up with being, well, grown up. All done. Finished.

And so, today – just in case I’m not done – I will dig my heels in deep. And I will ask God to help me pull the emergency brake so we can fight this flight toward fear. I will keep my eyes open to the possibility that I’m growing and changing and transforming.

Today, even though it’s the hardest chore on my list, I will do my very best to remember for just a minute to discard the blinders of Making It Through Today so I can remember where I’ve been and anticipate where I’m headed…

…and to listen to the Voice that says, “You’re hatching! You’re hatching! Look at what you’re doing, Kid. Look at who you’re becoming! You are AMAZING!


My Niece, My Prodigy

Apr 20 2012

My niece: I want french fries.

Her dad: Well, I want good listeners.

My niece: But Daddy, we HAVE french fries.


My little brother, Jeff, is a daddy.

Jeff and Kim have three kids.

Their kids are aged 3, 2 and almost 1.

That’s three kids aged 3 and under.

Three kids aged 3 and under is slightly less overwhelming than three kids aged 2 and under, which is what they had a few months ago.

FYI, “slightly less overwhelming” in this context is like how drowning in a lake is slightly less overwhelming than drowning in an ocean.

Or maybe I’m projecting.


Three kids! In less than three years!

Jeff and Kim did not have trouble with fertility like Greg and I did.

Jeff doesn’t like it when I talk about fertility.

Talking about fertility is kind of like talking about sex.

And, if I understand my brother’s position correctly from our last one hundred thousand conversations about sex, “OH MY WORD, Beth, HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO TELL YOU NOT TO TALK ABOUT SEX IN FRONT OF ME?”


I spent years – years, you guys – getting my Ph. D. in driving my brother insane. I conducted research. I ran thousands of experiments. I devised daily strategies for mental torture.

All of which was Jeff’s fault. For, you know, being born. And especially for always putting his finger just barely on my side of the boundary line in the car which I think we can all agree was heartless, and, well, crossing a line. Say what you like about peaceful resolutions and respecting others and choosing mercy, sometimes brothers must be punished. And if the parents aren’t going to do it, well, what’s a righteous sister to do?

Now, I admit, sometimes I took my teasing just a touch too far and I had to sneak into his room in the middle of the night and wake him up and beg him to forgive me because if I died in my sleep I was for sure going straight to Hell with all of the other Meany McMeanpants big sisters.

But whatever. I’m totally a grown-up now, so I’ve put my childish ways behind me. I have turned over a new sibling leaf. I am, officially, an adult. And adults are mature.

I no longer condone teasing of any kind, because teasing is mean and destructive. And never hilarious.

And that’s exactly why, when my brother posted this exchange with his 3-year-old daughter on his Facebook page…

My niece: I want french fries.

My little brother, her father: Well, I want good listeners.

My niece: But Daddy, we HAVE french fries.

…I did not wet myself laughing.

And I did not say to my computer, “Go, Niece!”

And I did not mentally bow my head in a moment of respectful silence and then pass the Torture Torch to her with much fanfare and pride and a gigantic bowl of imaginary candy.

My niece is 3 years old.

She’s going to live at home for AT LEAST the next 15 years.

With her father.

Who is my brother.