Everyone’s Fighting a Mighty Battle

It started with my dog, Whistler. Most of my troubles can be traced to him. When my son, Ryan, left the breakfast table to use the restroom, Whistler snagged Ryan’s bagel and gulped it down…didn’t even bother to spread some cream cheese on it first. His sister Paige stood by and watched.

It was negligence on the scale of passive observation to the holocaust. Ryan was ready to haul his twin to the Hague and have her tried in front of an international tribunal.

I was brokering peace accords and grabbing jackets and blocking the refrigerator with a chair (battery’s dead on Whistler’s invisible fence collar, so he’s back to opening the fridge for snacks). I climbed into the car, started the engine, and realized Katie wasn’t in her car seat.

So I’m back in the house on a frantic search mission only to find her huddled in the corner of her closet wearing just her panties and crying. She had “nothing to wear.” Hard to believe that the There’s-nothing-in-my-closet gene on that second X chromosome had switched on already. She’s six!

I offered up five shirts and two pairs of jeans before Katie agreed to get dressed for school. By then we were running late, and Ryan’s wrath had transferred from one sister to the other.

We pulled up to the school. As Ryan exited the car, he slugged Katie’s arm for making everyone late. Katie snarled and took off after her brother, slinging her lunch box at him for hitting her.

It was a fine start to a beautiful autumn day in Washington. The leaves were turning red and falling off the trees. My kids were seeing red and falling out of bed. Megan was at home with a cold. Not the full-on symptoms of swine flu, but piglet flu, perhaps?

Thank goodness I’d spend the day in meetings with mature and professional adults.

I work on a virtual team producing a weekly program for public radio. Reporter assignments are made from Chapel Hill to journalists around the world. Scripts are edited in Boston; the show is tracked by our host in Dallas or Chicago; the program is mixed in Seattle and posted to ftp sites for public radio stations across the country to download.

It’s invigorating to work with a group of amazingly intelligent colleagues, but distance has its difficulties. We try to have in-person meetings at least twice a year to plan our shows and work through production and editorial issues. This time, we were meeting in Seattle.

I was planning to start the meetings with a Powerpoint presentation on our program–financials, web analytics, web marketing results–but my computer caught a virus and was in the intensive care ward of our IS department.

Hotel shuttles delayed team members at the airport the night before. The hotel had placed someone in a first floor handicapped room which wasn’t acceptable to her. They were served fake eggs at the hotel breakfast buffet. WiFi wasn’t working at the hotel or in the office for them.

By the afternoon, I was beginning to feel overlooked by the Nobel committee; bitter that Obama had received the honor.

But no time for self-pity. My phone indicated my nanny was trying to reach me. The kids had set off the car alarm while she had taken one child to the bathroom.

By five ‘o clock, I rushed home to placate my frazzled nanny, hand off the kids to their dad, and then back out the door for dinner with my staff. At the restaurant, our server took copious notes of food orders and special needs. Shell-fish allergies. Mushroom allergies. (Just some types of mushrooms. Fine with the hallucinogenic variety.) Gluten-free meals. Vegan diets. Preferences for free-range poultry and locally grown organic ingredients.

I silently wondered if our server would deliver our dishes with napkin-wrapped EpiPens. I imagined our group in a third world feeding center and wondered if I could get them to eat Unimix. Maybe plumpy nut would be a better choice for this team…

In the course of our conversations, I listened as team members told me about a parent fighting cancer; dealing with the aftermath of a spouse’s death; worries over mothers/sons/daughters/spouses; and their own health issues.

That was Day 1 of our week’s meetings. After dinner, I picked up my kids from their dad’s and headed home to read stories, make lunches, run a load of laundry and clean the cat litter. Whistler met us with the cat litter box door stuck around his head like an Elizabethan collar.

I started to pack lunches, only to discover that Whistler had pushed aside the chair in front of the fridge and helped himself to the roast beef for the kids’ sandwiches.

The Shirelles sang, “Mama said there’ll be days like this, there’ll be days like this, Mama said…”

But Plato said it better: Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

ImageA mighty battle, indeed.

A Mouse Tale

There are many grand, classic novels delving into the themes of transgression, forgiveness and, sometimes, redemption. I’m adding another one to the list: Beverly Cleary’s, “The Mouse and the Motorcycle.”

I know. We’re not talking Victor Hugo and the bishop’s candlesticks here. But it so happens that Ralph the Mouse and Jean Valjean both know a thing or two about the transforming nature of grace.

I had forgotten this, ahem, mouse tale, until I dug it out and read it aloud to my kids last week. Whimsical is so overused, but the story really is a fun and fanciful story of young Ralph who lives at the decaying Mountain View Inn and Keith, a little boy who checks into the hotel with his family.

Keith has a shiny toy motorcycle that Ralph rides around the hotel until the fateful day that Ralph lands in a heap of bed linens and, in a desperate attempt to escape the washing machine, loses Keith’s motorcycle.

At first, Keith is devastated and angry. The motorcycle was his favorite toy—the one he had saved his allowance to buy. But after a day, Keith initiates a conversation with the guilt-ridden mouse and asks what Ralph and his family would like for breakfast.

“You mean we still get room service? After what I did?”

“Sure.” Keith pulled his knees up under his chin and wrapped his arms around his legs.

“You mean you aren’t mad at me anymore?” asked Ralph.

“I guess you might say I’m mad but not real mad,” Keith decided. “I’ve been lying here thinking. It wouldn’t be right for me to be real mad, because I get into messes myself. My mom and dad tell me I don’t stop to use my head.”

Ralph and Keith begin to swap stories of the ways they’ve gotten into trouble. They’re both hasty to jump into things before learning how to do something properly. They commiserate over their impatience to grow up. And in the stories of their common struggles, their friendship is rekindled.

I’m trying to remember to switch from mouse voice to little boy voice as I’m reading aloud, but mostly, my mind is thinking about what Keith said: “It wouldn’t be right for me to be real mad, because I get into messes myself.”

Kind of reminds me of the story of the servant, forgiven by the King of his staggering debt, who responds by rushing out and demanding compensation from a debtor who owed him a trifling amount. I’m like that at times—forgetful of the unmerited grace I have received; harboring my anger at someone who’s done me wrong. All the while, I’m oblivious, or worse yet, indifferent, to the ways I’ve hurt those around me.

I’m not minimizing the wrongs that happen in this world. On a grand scale, genocides, slavery, robbing children of their innocence—all of these are horrific injustices that deserve our outrage. On a more day-to-day level, we struggle with betrayals of trust and friendship. Or we are the victims of slander. Or adultery. Or just plain mean-spiritedness. Somebody cheats or steals or lies and seems to get away with it. Sometimes, on every level, we really are right.

My pastor friend, Clarence Schilt, astutely observes, “We do the most sinning when we are right, and right is not happening.” When terrible things happen to us, we are angry. Self-pitying. We want a heart-felt apology and some groveling or retribution. Mysteriously, though, we want grace, not justice, applied to our own transgressions.

The kids and I threw out our bedtime protocols of one chapter a night and read the final three chapters in a single evening.

I never feel myself growing, Keith tells Ralph near the end of the tale.

“You wait long enough, and you will be a grown-up.” Ralph felt as if he had said something very wise as he slipped the rubber band on his crash helmet around his whiskers.

“I guess so.” Keith slumped back on the pillows. “But it takes so long.”

“I grew up, didn’t I?” asked Ralph. “You said yourself I had become a responsible mouse.”

“Yes, you did,” said Keith thoughtfully. “I guess that’s part of the secret. Just getting bigger isn’t enough. You have to learn things like not taking off down a steep hill on a bicycle when you aren’t used to hand brakes. Stuff like that.”

Once again, Keith is right. Getting bigger isn’t enough. Growing up is learning about grace from a boy and a mouse and a motorcycle.

Whistler’s Mother

My father recently sent me an email about the steadfastness of dogs. It read: “Want to know who truly loves you? Lock your husband and your dog in the trunk of your car for two hours. When you open the trunk, see who greets you with tail-wagging kisses.”

I love dogs. Always have. I grew up with two Shetland Sheepdogs, a Samoyed, three Bouvier des Flanders, and a German Shepherd—not all at the same time, but it can safely be said that I’m a dog person. Either that or I grew up in a kennel.

Even so, I wasn’t sure as an adult that I was ready to be a dog owner: the time commitment, the house-breaking (as in, truly breaking!), the care and feeding of a four-legged creature. I decided to have four children first, kinda as a trial run. Turns out four kids isn’t so tough.

I remember to feed them—usually. I give the kids fresh water every day. The potty-training took some time, but now they’re great about whining at the door when they need to go outside to do their business. All in all I was gaining some confidence that if I could raise four kids, I might just be ready to go to the next level and get a dog.

Guys at work were pretty helpful with dog breed suggestions. Jon told me to get a Labrador as they were great with little kids. John also recommended a Labrador because they were gentle and good-natured. (Yes, all of my friends are named John/Jon. I’m hoping this will simplify my life when senility sets in. And judging from this wide, scientific sample, all Jons/Johns like Labradors.)

As luck would have it, I was standing at a receptionist’s desk one morning and glimpsed a photo of some Labrador/Rhodesian Ridgeback pups on her desk. They were adorable puppies, as opposed to those non-adorable puppies whom I’ve never met. Sure they had ginormously big paws, but that’s what made them so cute. They were 7 weeks old and looking for homes…though not in the real estate sense.

I did the levelheaded thing and told my children that we were “just going to look” at some puppies. Then we were just going to cuddle the cute little guy who snuggled up on our lap…all the way home. Spontaneity requires afterthoughts, so we detoured to Petco on the way back to buy a few items for our new puppy: a water bowl, a food bowl, dog food, a leash, a collar, a dog crate, a puppy gate, piddle pads, chew toys, bones, and 15,000 other “critical-only” items needed for our new pet.

If I had taken the money we spent that evening and invested it in Petco stock, I’d have a controlling share of the corporation today. But really, who can put a price tag on puppy love? Well, yes, my father can give you a running total of the financial damage wrought by my dog to date, but deep, deep down, he secretly loves my dog.

We considered several names for our puppy: “Semiahmoo” based on a recent visit to the seaside resort; “Chewy-barka” because he chews and barks and we’re avid Star Wars nerds; and the first runner-up name suggested by my friend, Kari, was “B.I.” ‘cuz my last name is N-G-O, so Bingo was his name-O. In the end, we settled on Whistler.

Bob, a contractor who’s been to my house several times to repair puppy damage, calls Whistler his retirement account. It started with Whistler chewing on the corners of my wall—and chewing through the dry wall to the studs. I consulted the Jon/Johns at work about this. Oh yeah, Jon told me, suddenly remembering a few of the downsides to Labrador-ownership. Apparently Jon put metal plates on the corners of his walls for oh, say two or three years, until his dog outgrew the chewing phase.

Whistler is largely indiscriminate about his diet: Legos, Christmas ornaments, leather car interiors, underwear, Barbie dolls, American Girl dolls—he eats ‘em all. Soon, almost every doll around the house was an amputee. We have Sierra Leone Barbie, and Samantha, the American girl who needs an orthopaedic surgeon to re-attach her limbs.

Whistler has a special fondness for unattended cups of Starbucks coffee; also an intestinal intolerance for Target’s plastic bags. We learned this the hard way when he ate a bag and then tried to expel it at the dog park the next day. He squatted. Part of the bag made the journey out. Then, with the job half-done, the dog gave up and got back to the business of meeting new canine friends.

The dog-park dogs did the usual canine handshake of sniffing each other’s behinds, only Whistler had half a Target bag there to greet everyone. He was nonplussed. I was mortified. Especially when other dog owners started noticing the white bag hanging out of “that dog” and wondering who the owner was…

I’ve attempted to be a responsible dog owner, so I signed us up for Positive Approach dog-training classes and discovered that I was being very obedient to Whistler’s whims and fancies. (I’m thinking that Negative Approach classes might be the thing to explore.) Nowadays, I do my best to establish myself as the authority—the alpha dog in the family pack—but sometimes my instincts are off.

One time, the phone rang and Whistler, true to his breed, “retrieved” it for me. I was delighted. Wrong response. From then on, Whistler eagerly sought out phones—house phones, cell phones—to carry to me for my praise. Unfortunately, he has iron jaws, so the very act of carrying the phone to me has damaged endless handsets. I couldn’t believe how flimsy the plastic was, so I tested a phone by placing it in my own mouth and biting as hard as I could. That was the moment that my daughter Megan walked in, looked at me oddly, and wanted to know why I was carrying the phone around in my mouth…

When you get past the moments that Whistler’s gone swimming in the pond of a golf course, learned to open the refrigerator to help himself to luncheon meats and cheese, or ingested the fill material of my wrist weights causing the vet to insist that intestinal x-rays showed his stomach was full of buckshot, he’s actually a pretty wonderful pet.

Whistler loves his kids. He devotedly sits with Katie when she’s on a timeout. The dog gamely demonstrates the dangers of riding without a seatbelt in the car by body-slamming into the dashboard when I hit the brakes—a visual lesson for the children. He plays hide and seek with his kids. And he climbs onto the girls’ beds every evening to listen to nighttime stories.

In the aftermath of my divorce, Whistler was the one who kept me company when the kids were at their father’s place, moping almost more than I did when the kids walked out the door.

My kids are leaving, again?!

Whistler and I covered miles of trails and roads as I tried to clear my head on long walks and jogs. And when some friends from high school died in a plane crash a few months ago, that darn dog somehow had the sense to once again curl up at my side through a long, teary evening.

At the beginning of a conference call one afternoon, my work colleagues somehow started in on a litany of the things Whistler destroyed on visits to my home: car keys, shoes, purses. It was embarrassing to listen to the damage report. But when one of them suggested I get rid of the dog and find another, more suitable one, I found myself rising to his defense: You don’t just get rid of your pet because he’s difficult or destructive. It’s tough love. You work with the dog. You establish boundaries. You make accommodations. You stick with it and figure it out.

“Do you think that maybe you’re projecting your feelings about your marriage onto your dog?” my colleague asked.

“Of course I am,” I told her. “But come what may, Whistler and I are planning to take a cruise together for our 20th anniversary.”

And that’s the thing of it. Some dogs are perfect. Well-behaved and obedient. Naturally loyal and loving. Whistler is some of that. He’s also something of a work in progress. But that’s life, be it with pets or partners; friends or family or anyone worth loving. All relationships can be messy at times yet perhaps our pets have the unique ability to teach us the most about unconditional love.

Every Monday Matters – Part Deux

The kids have been celebrating Every Monday Matters for several weeks now. We’ve planted bulbs in flower pots to welcome new neighbors; baked brownies for some friends; wrote and decorated appreciation cards to people this month. I know. We’re the best boy scouts ever!

Truthfully, we’re going a little stir crazy with Seattle’s long, dark tea-time of the soul, aka the Endless Winter of 2009. I’m also up for any excuse not to go out in the backyard with the pooper scooper. Come to think of it, my neighbors might possibly be more delighted with my diligence in that area than with our gifts of flowers.

Still, we are persevering. Tonight, we made St. Patrick’s Day buckets and took them to a nearby retirement home to hand out. Lest this sound simple, I assure you, it was not. While trying to decide what to put in the green buckets, I was recalling the church group of my youth and the effort we took to make beeswax candles for the elderly at Christmas.

We sang carols at a local retirement home and handled out our sweet, homemade candles. The next year we were informed that we could visit and sing again, but our well-intentioned gifts had nearly burned down the retirement facility when residents lit them and fell asleep. Incredibly, our church leader had us make candles anyway…just minus the wicks. It must have been so meaningful for those dear folks to receive a glob of wax that year…

I swung by Target after work looking for age-appropriate gifts. I saw denture cleaning kits. Bathtub rail grips. K-Y Jelly. Nothing seemed quite right. Except, perhaps, the K-Y Jelly. (My mother used to work part-time as a medical records consultant for several convalescent homes and observed that many of them resembled Peyton Places with geezers claiming senility for being in the wrong beds.) But I didn’t want to explain K-Y Jelly to my kids.

We ended up assembling buckets with vaseline lip balm, travel packets of tissue, hand and body lotion, and scented shower gels. Also chocolate kisses. We salvaged a few that Katie and Whistler hadn’t yet eaten during assembly. The kids labored over cards. Paige and Katie made hearts and flowers and stamped balloons on colored construction paper. Ryan decided to draw street signs that read: “Keep Out.” And, “No Trespassing.” Ominous cards, but what a GREAT speller!

At the retirement home, we explained what we wanted to do at the front desk. We didn’t have enough buckets for the whole place, so we asked who might most need a visitor or a gift to cheer them up. The staff had a spirited debate over who deserved a gift. Who needed someone. Who was too gruff to even merit a visit from small children. Then they had to discuss who was diabetic. Who had a roommate which required both residents to receive our St. Paddy’s Day treats. It was a delivery deliberation process worthy of a government Special Ops team.

Finally we were armed with a list of room numbers to visit, and we were off. Katie was beaming. Ryan was shy. Paige was winsome. Megan was observant as we handed out our buckets to ensure that we didn’t give lilac-scented bath gel to the gentlemen racing their electronic carts through the hallway.

Back in our car, we talked a bit about growing old. And maybe lonely. And maybe outliving your children or friends or spouses. Ryan wondered over how weathered and worn one man’s feet looked peeking out of the bed covers. Paige promised that she’d come and visit me when I get old one day—even if it smelled where I lived. That’s a nice promise.

It’s just that eventually you reach the point in the journey when your feet are weary and tired and where every day possibly blends into the next even as there are fewer days left to look forward to. I’m glad that not only does every Monday matter, but the days in between are rich with life’s moments too. Gotta make ’em count while you can…

Every Monday Matters

I am so not a morning person. But when Seattle Pacific University invited me last spring to their annual business breakfast to hear Carly Fiorina speak, it was enticing enough to make the sacrifice.

I set my alarm for 5:30 a.m. and drove into Seattle to eat a fruit compote and listen to the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard. I am sometimes suspicious of hype and fame, and had certainly read a bit about the controversial Carly—consistently Fortune’s #1 most powerful business woman in America.

Carly exceeded my expectations. She was articulate, intelligent, intuitive, and insightful. She spoke about the humiliation of being ousted from HP; she talked about staying relevant in the business world; she discussed her current efforts with micro loans to women in the developing world. But it was her discussion of the differences between managers and leaders that intrigued me.

Managers, Carly said, are those who keep things going in the business world. They ensure that teams meet their targets; policies are followed; products are created to meet consumer demands. Leaders, however, have different roles. They focus on leading indicators rather than lagging indicators—trends and new directions instead of last quarter’s financials.

Under Carly’s definition, leaders should anticipate the future, and prepare and shape the workforce to be ready to handle the changes and challenges on the horizon. (Were the leaders at Polaroid considering the shift from film to digital photography?)

Her presentation certainly made me think about my role as a manager and a leader at work, but it also made me think about my role as a manager and a leader at home. My household needs a manager: someone who pays the bills, makes the beds, prepares the meals and essentially keeps things running like a well-oiled machine. But frankly, if I’m just handling “manager” duties in my home, I could probably hire competent help to handle most of these chores. My children need more than Mom-the-Manager. They need a Mom who thinks like a leader—a parent who looks into the distance and ensures that day-to-day moments are informing their character, shaping their values, and preparing them for the future.

As a mom, I tend to over-focus on management and less on leadership. On any given day, when I’m not working outside the home, I spend the bulk of my energies on chores and preserving order. I like to rationalize that organization—a place for everything and everything in its place—allows me to be super spontaneous with the kids. Wanna go sledding? I know exactly which labeled storage bin contains mittens, hats, and snow clothes. Wanna head out of town for the weekend? I have pre-packed toiletry kits for everyone.

Don’t compliment me on this stuff. It’s a serious disorder. Telling me I’m uber-organized is akin to telling an anorexic person that she looks lovely. I took 10 weeks off work when the twins were born. When I wasn’t feeding, burping and changing Ryan and Paige, I was re-organizing the kitchen cupboards and cleaning closets and organizing my socks. The week I returned to work, I asked Megan, 4 at the time, if she was sad that I wouldn’t be at home as much. “Well,” Megan said, “the house has been really, really clean while you’ve been home, Mommy.” Ouch.

So there’s a constant voice in my head prodding me to align my goals and values with my time and action. Ask me what I want my kids to be like when they grow up, and I’d answer that I want them to be caring, compassionate souls. I’d love to see them passionately engaged in work that makes a difference. I’d like them to be fun, joyful people who know how to play well and work hard. I want them to know God intimately and be able to love deeply because they know they are well-loved.

At the Q conference in New York last year, I received a terrific book called, Every Monday Matters: 52 Ways to Make a Difference. The idea is that everyone loves Fridays and dreads Mondays. Why not turn Mondays into an amazing, incredible day to do something meaningful? The book suggests 52 activities to engage in each Monday: Write a note of gratitude. Mentor a child. Learn CPR. Pick up litter. Help the hungry.

Four years ago the kids and I came up with backward dinner night on Thursdays. It’s crazy but fun, especially when friends come over or when the kids get to explain to waitresses at restaurants that we’re having dessert first.

This year, with the gnawing sense that I need to re-evaluate my priorities, we’ve started celebrating Every Monday Matters. The kids helped me shop and make cards to welcome a neighbor’s baby and then walked over to their home to deliver the basket. We made dinner together to deliver to a sick friend. We mailed a care package to the cousins this week.

It’s not just that I want my kids to think outside of themselves, though I certainly want that. I’m hoping that it helps them form an everyday habit of gratitude for what they have and a sense of pleasure and fun for doing things for others. Problems like world hunger, AIDS, war can seem daunting, but I’m hoping my kiddos will get a glimpse of what can be accomplished or changed by their efforts.

I’m grateful that Friday is here. It’s a great day heralding the weekend ahead. But looking further down the lane at those “leading indicators”? Well, I hope my kids will one day remember Every Monday Matters.

[You can check out Every Monday Matters at: www.everymondaymatters.com

Of Birds and Bees and Ryan’s New Squeeze

Megan’s the writer in our family. She started a blog which I stumbled upon, and, of course, read. How else would I know what’s going on in my preadolescent’s mind and life? And since she posted it, it wasn’t like I was picking a diary lock or something, though I probably would pick a diary lock if I thought it had any good scoop in it.

As it turns out, the blog was very helpful. It revealed that Megan has a strong vocabulary, a way with words, and a wry sense of humor. It also revealed that Ryan secretly confessed to Megan that he has a crush on Emily, a little girl in kindergarten–already starting with the younger women! Megan honored his secret by posting the news to the world-wide web.

“My 7-year-old brother has a crush on girl,” Megan wrote. “Good grief! When I was 7, I thought a crush meant that someone had stepped on your toes.”

Later that night, I was reading “The Longest Trip Home,” the memoir of John Grogan (author of “Marley and Me”). Grogan writes detailed recollections of his childhood awakenings to females starting with his request for a telescope so he could gaze at the next door neighbor sunbathing in her backyard. (His parents praised their son’s interest in astronomy… their “young Galileo.”)

Megan’s blog and Grogan’s insight into a young boy’s brain nagged at me. And I realized I hadn’t had THE TALK with Ryan or Paige. They’re young, but kids in school share things and allude to things, and I’d much rather be the one to share this with them and provide them with accurate information and at least a broad framework of what’s what. Specific details could be filled in later.

I have long thought that my kids should come upon this knowledge without coy analogies of “special hugs” “seeds” or talk about birds and bees. The conversation should be respectful. Honest. Direct. That way they wouldn’t think anything was dirty or something to be embarrassed about.

We sat down for dinner. I passed a bowl of broccoli to Paige and very casually asked the kids, “Do you guys know how babies are made?”

“Yes,” Megan said. “Can we talk about something else?”

“Well, I kinda know, like I know some things,” Ryan said.

“Mom!” Megan interrupted. “My stomach is totally nauseous. Can we NOT talk about this or I’ll be sick.”

“Yeah, Mom,” Paige said. “Like that stuff is really eewey and gross. Let’s not talk about it.”

So much for exploring the beauty of God’s plan for procreation. Eewey and gross. A vomit-inducing conversation. After the week we’ve had, I suppose I should avoid any discussions of bodily fluids and functions. So I shelved the talk and somehow we moved on to how some men (and all gentlemen) pull out a chair to seat a woman. We interrupted our meal to demonstrate this with me holding Paige’s chair out for her and instructing her to stay standing until the chair touched the back of her knees–you can’t push in a chair with a woman plopped down on it.

Ryan jumped up to demonstrate his fine manners. He marched over to Paige and barked at her, “Get out of your chair, Paige, so I can seat you.” Wow, the hearts you could win with that approach!

I give up. I think I’ll hit Amazon for a good ol’ book to educate the young the way that generations before me have handled this. And while I’m at it, maybe Emily Post will have a thing or two to share with Ryan about Emily etiquette.

My Secret Fantasy Life

In 2007, Michael J. Easley, then President of the conservative Moody Bible Institute, stood up and shared with the intimate crowd of six or seven hundred National Religious Broadcasters that he no longer had sexual fantasies; he had father fantasies. In these dreams, Easley would ask his children to help him rake the leaves in their yard, and his three teenagers would eagerly grab the rakes and thank him for the opportunity to contribute to the care and maintenance of their household.

Easley went on to fantasize about the day that his teenagers would stop sharing their list of needs with him and instead stop him to say, “Thank you, O Father, for thy bountiful provision and ways that you have provided for us.”

We all have our dreams. Mine were interrupted this morning at 4:30 a.m. by the third of my four children to be stricken with the stomach flu. If I could have videotaped the next 30 minutes of my life, the footage would be a powerful teaching tool for teenage abstinence or for better contraceptive use among couples.

Ryan, somehow, thought it necessary to run from his room to the bathroom to my room, barfing along the way, to let me know that he was sick. (In case I wouldn’t have figured it out by the trail along the carpet.) So I’ve been up cleaning the hallway carpet since 4:30 a.m. (Stupidly served the kids rice with their dinner…and I probably should not go on with any more detail.) I’m cleaning and thinking that mother’s day should be a week-long celebration. Heck, make that a month-long worship-fest to the mother/god.

I’m cleaning and thinking of my friend Erinn’s Facebook note about the pleasures of being single and sans children. I’m happy for her. Okay, I’m a bit wistful of her situation. Fine, I’ll admit it. I’m Incredible Hulk-green with envy of her as I think about her day likely starting hours later than mine this morning.

I’ve also been having imaginary conversations with a non-existent spouse. He’s saying to me, “It’s okay, dear. Why don’t you go to bed and I’ll clean this up.” As you can see, I have a vivid imagination by the time 5:00 a.m. rolls around. Or maybe I’ve been breathing the fumes from the carpet cleaner?

I’m picking up a pile of clothes that got left in the hallway–a pile which Ryan apparently stumbled over and uh, well, another laundry challenge. I’m drifting to the next fantasy conversation where I coo to my spouse, “Don’t worry about helping me, honey. You have to go to work tomorrow in that strenuous job you have as an underwear model (when you’re not managing those hedge funds), so why don’t you let me clean this up since I’ll just be napping and eating bon bons after the kids go to school.”

My spouse flashes a dazzling smile at me. He rubs my shoulders and tells me how great and sexy I look at 5:00 a.m. wearing those rubber gloves and wielding my spray bottle of Resolve Carpet Cleaner. He tells me he’ll be home early to fix us dinner now that he’s dropped his consulting work for the American Association for Nuclear Physicists and is cutting back his volunteer hours for Habitat for Humanity.

Sometimes it’s hard to know if you’re awake or still dreaming. The odor is usually one clue…