"I'm officially making the decision to be brave and go gray. I'm putting my trust into the one who personally knows my hair as she tells me "you are going to rock the gray". I've read blogs and pinned styles on my Pinterest board for inspiration. And I've made the appropriate family announcement to which my lovely husband says "What gray hair?" (I love him and his "blindness"). I'm ready to do this. I think.
My glitter hair (glitter sounds so much younger than gray) started making its appearance when I was in my late 20's. Granted it was only a strand or two but it was there. Plucking was not an option especially when "two more will grow back in its place". (On top of that, plucking hurts.) So began my love/hate affair with Clairol. We've been through a lot together and eventually we came to an understanding that the lovely models are not real people; dark brown means black; carmel means orange; and cool vs warm has nothing to do with the weather. Eventually Clairol took a back seat to Natural Instincts. Natural and I became fast friends as she became my monthly routine. We were so in sync (see what I did there?) with our routine that I could literally roll out of bed and 20 minutes later those strands of glitter were once again a brilliant shade of "natural" light brown. Eventually though, she started to be a little more demanding of her time. What was once a monthly affair started to be a three week affair. I knew eventually she would want more of my time and more of my money. So began my thoughts of a new routine and a new shade. A shade of gray.
I know this is not going to be an easy journey (hence the words "be brave") and I know that there are going to be moments when Natural will beckon me to return to her but for today at least, I committed to seeing this through. I would be lying if I said I wasn't a bit nervous. There's definitely some apprehension about taking this step. I'm putting my true color out there. No more hiding behind Natural. This is who I am. And I'm gonna rock the gray. Stay tuned ....
The Wheels on the Bus
His name was Pete and for most of my childhood years, he was the first person I saw as I stepped out of my house early in the morning and often the last person I would see before walking into my house at the end of the day. He had a twinkle in his eye and a sweet, gentle smile as he greeted me first thing in the morning and as he bid me goodbye at the end of the day. He knew my real name but often referred to me as “Doll”. He was a quiet, gentle spirit of a man who had a way of making me feel safe and special with a wink of an eye and a welcoming smile on his aged face. He was my bus driver.
At the end of my 3rd grade year, my family moved to a very small town twelve miles away from my school. And so began my life as a “bus kid”. For the remainder of my school years, Pete drove bus #10 to and from school each day. Through rain, snow, or sun … he safely delivered “his kids” to school and then made sure we made it home safe and sound. But he was more than a bus driver. He was a source of comfort at the end of a bad school day and an encouraging friend when junior high years were not so kind. He knew when to tease and joke just as he knew when no words were needed or wanted. He put up with and accepted without complaint children who could be a little bit bratty, ornery, and less than kind. He endured loud, excited voices as the school year came to a close for holiday and summer breaks just as he endured sad, weepy, anxious children on the first day school. And when needed, he would stop the bus in order to deal with less than ideal behaviors and attitudes. He grinned with delight when we would shout at him from the back of the bus on those cold, wintry mornings to turn up the heat! ("Hey Pete, turn up the heat!") He was a saint, that man. And he was my friend.
After all these years, I can still recall his friendly face and his quiet voice as he greeted me … “Hey there, doll” and “Have a good night.” As the new school year begins, say a little prayer (ok … a big prayer) for the “Pete” in your child’s life. And encourage your children to tell him “Thanks for the ride, Pete!” We need more of you in our lives.
My Vote is for the Four Year Old
I doubt many of us can remember what it’s like to be four. Most of us can barely remember what took place yesterday, let alone what life was like as a four year old. I’ve determined that four year olds know how to live life to the fullest, though, and that we should all strive to live like a four year old. Four year olds giggle at the silliest things and talk to their food like they are life-long best friends. They dance when they walk and sing when they talk. They make awesome discoveries and are not shy about announcing what they are good at … like walking. Four year olds show quite the concern for people of all ages and demand that hands are to be held in the parking lot so you don’t get ran over (“you don’t want a car to smash you and then you bleed all over”). Four year olds think all turtles are Ninja turtles and that tiny grey mice are “so cute”. They are sweet in showing concern for baby sisters (“Don’t worry, sweetheart. I will always be here for you”) and for vacationing parents (“So how are YOU doing, mommy”). They can take any phrase and repeat it over and over and make it into a song that is sung … over and over (“we are sisters, we don’t know and we don’t care … we are sisters, we don’t know and we don’t care”). They freely toss out well-deserving compliments (“you’re the best, Mimi!”). And at the end of the day, when it’s time for bed, hugs are demanded and whispers of “sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite” are said as eyes are closing and four year old dreams take over. If only we could stay four … or maybe not (as I break up a squabble with a 4 year old and her younger sibling). Oh, to be four.
Just a few more sleeps ...
When our children were younger, we used the phrase “just a few more sleeps” to count down the number of days to whatever was coming. Whether it was a planned vacation, an anticipated sleep-over, or Christmas Day, saying “just ____ more sleeps” would usually satisfy the inevitable question of “when are we going” or “how many more days”. In just a few more sleeps, our youngest daughter will be getting married. She is the last to leave our nest and just like any other parent who has gone down this path, it is a nest full of all kinds of emotions.
We became parents on December 12, 1986. So for almost 30 years, our home has been inhabited with children. For 30 years, we have had experiences of being woken in the middle of the night to a crying baby, a sick toddler, a scared child, a wayward teenager, a young adult. As a mom, it’s what I know.
In just a few more sleeps, our home will be quiet with just the memories of such moments that have become such a part of our lives. In just a few more sleeps, our nights will no longer be interrupted with middle-of-the-night moments from children. In just a few more sleeps, our nest will be empty. It’s what we know.
Just a few more sleeps. Until then ... sleep well, little bird.
Did Someone Call Me Mom?
I can’t mom today. I just can’t. Instead, I’m going to head to the pool with a beach towel, a bottle of coconut scented tanning lotion (no SPF), a sappy fictional book, and a bag of cheetos. I’m going to spread my towel on the sun-baked pool deck at the farthest spot possible, slather the lotion on, and then jump feet first into the cold water, exhaling and sinking to the bottom of the pool. I’m going to stay under the water as long as my lungs will allow and then I will push myself to the surface, face first as I greet the summer sun. I will climb out of the pool and find my solitary spot on the pool deck and lay face down as I soak in the warmth of the cement and as I let the sun beat down on my back. I might close my eyes for just a few moments (or longer) while a game of Marco Polo is played nearby. And just when I think I can’t stand the heat any longer, I will repeat the process of jumping in the pool, feet first. Just don't call me mom today.
If only I can tell my brain that … instead my mom brain kicks in and I grab the bottle of SPF 30 sunscreen, a bottle of water and some carrot sticks. No books allowed – I must keep my eyes on the kids. I will grab a towel to place behind my head as I perch myself in a seated position on a pool deck lounger, read to jump in and save a child if necessary. I will lather on the sunscreen and wait as directed on the bottle before dipping my toes into the pool. My eagle eyes will be constantly searching and watching children as they play Marco Polo. And just when I think I can’t stand the heat any longer, I will gently splash water on my extremities while keeping my eyes on the children. Because that’s what moms do. Even on days when we can’t mom.
The Girl With The Hazel Eyes
One of the questions I get asked about my Hazel book is how did I come up with this story? I’m guessing people want to know what inspired me to write about a hippo with self-esteem issues. The answer is one that I am still trying to figure out myself. It’s not like I have had an obsession with hippos … though since all this has started I MAY have ordered an “I HEART HIPPOS” shirt and I am drawn to any and all things hippo. It sounds crazy but really the words just appeared in my thought bubble last fall while we were in Kansas visiting family (and just so you know, there is no hippo connection to Kansas or my family). After just a couple of hours, I had pretty much written her story.
Fast-forward several months and Hazel has officially made her appearance in the book world of a published children’s author! (That would be me.) Hazel has landed in the hands and hearts of those who read her story. If we are honest with ourselves (and really … let’s be honest), we can all relate to Hazel’s predicament. Fearing that we will not be accepted due to our looks has been a fear that we have all experienced at some point in our lives. And I would guess that for many, the fear never goes away. It may lessen, but that tiny little fear is still there. If you are so lucky to outgrow your fear, I bet you still remember moments, months, or more when you felt that you were less than “perfect” in order to be liked.
Recently I had the opportunity to read Hazel’s story to a class of kindergarten students. Afterwards, the children were invited to “ask-the-author” questions. One little guy asked “So why do we all look different?” (Of course he would have to ask THAT question.) After stumbling through a response that hopefully satisfied inquiring minds (“because that’s just how we are made” – genius), I then I asked “How boring would it be if we all looked the same?” It was a light-bulb moment for the youngster as he replied “I wouldn’t know who my friends were if we all looked the same!” His response was a light-bulb moment for me. While we chuckled over his response, the fact is that somewhere in our growing up years, we identified with who our friends were based on looks. Maybe that little guy was on to something. If we all looked alike, then friendships and acceptance would have to be based on something deeper than looks (imagine that).
Bird’s message to Hazel … “You were made to be you, perfectly so” goes far deeper than our own coat of skin. Don’t judge a book by its cover for if you do, you may just miss the best story ever.
Hippo Life Lessons
There’s always a bit of nervousness when it comes to doing something new. What if I fail? What if no one likes it? What if I’m not good enough? As I started the process of writing and publishing a children’s book for the first time, there was nervousness and the typical “what ifs”. But the biggest “what if” for me was “what if I never try?” And with the prompting of my supportive family, I took the “what if” leap and just a few short months later, I am a published children’s author.
Hazel the Hippo is about a sweet hippo who worries about her appearance and wonders “what if”as she compares her appearance to those around her. Hazel’s message teaches kids both big and little that we are perfectly made from our head to our toes regardless of our differences. So what if the book is read to a child who worries about his/her appearance? What if that child hears the message that no matter your size or color of your eyes … you are perfectly made? What if that child believes that he/she IS perfectly made?
In a world full of differences and what ifs, we need more Hazels. We need to hear the message that we are perfectly made, even in our differences. What if everyone took to heart the message that despite our differences, we are perfectly made. What if, indeed.
I hope you love Hazel as much as I enjoyed creating her. She is perfect and so are you!
Staci J. Allen has more than 15 years of experience teaching and working with preschoolers. She currently serves as the Director of Caring Ministries at The Summit Church. Staci and her husband Rick live in Lee's Summit, Missouri, and enjoy spending time with their adult children and grandchildren.