Tuesday, November 9, 2010

He is Here

I lost my first copy of this story and had to re-write (and record it) at like 3 in the morning, so its due for some major rewrites . . . but my niece, Kayla, danced to it on Sunday for my dad's memorial - so I think it was pretty perfect. Thanks, everyone, who came out - it was a fitting service for a pretty awesome dude!

"He is Here"

When they reached the point they could no longer follow, and Papa courageously and graciously went on on his own, Nanny and the rest of the family watched him go, their tears and each other being the only things to sustain them. When they could no longer see him on the horizon, they just stood there, staring blankly, not quite sure what to do. When they looked around and saw each other, they realized how tightly they were gripping onto each other’s hands. Then they realized they didn’t know where to go. They were lost. Without papa there, they weren’t sure where the marsh was, how far their trip would be, or even if it was worth going back. They wanted to run as fast as they could to get back, where they felt warm, where they felt loved, where they felt whole. But buckets of tears are heavy, and a dark path is hard to navigate.

They wandered in the dark wood and thought they’d never find the way home. Little lights started to twinkle in the night - the little ones thought maybe they were stars coming down from the sky - but slowly the twinkle started to grow into a warm glow, and they realized that the light came from the eyes of their many forest friends. With their help, the dark path was brightened enough to know which direction to choose.

Then there were times when they just couldn’t go on, when they missed Papa so much it hurt. These days they didn’t get very far - and sometimes they’d lose their way again. But they knew that Papa wanted them to get back to the good times, back to the jokes, and the stories and the games and the songs - so they pushed on. And Nanny led them with a brave smile on her face and the little ones reminded everyone that laughter really is the best medicine.

One day, a particularly hot day, the pricks from the branches and the muddy patches in the road and the wrong turns and the crying babies just got to be too much for Nanny to bear. She sat down on a big rock, closed her eyes, and turned her face to the sky. Tears streamed down her cheeks, and her arms fell by her side while the sobs took over her body. She raised her head to the sky in exasperation and her mouth opened as she prepared to yell out, “Why?”, when she heard the leaves rustle under her feet. As her tear-soaked eyes opened, she thought she awakened from a dream . . . she knew where she was - she knew how to get home! And as if the wind was pushing them all, the whole family ran as fast as they could to follow her there.

As they turned the final corner on their long voyage home, the littlest one cried out, “Papa, Papa!” Nanny was instantly sad as she turned to tell the little mouse that papa would not be there. But as she came to the tree limb that he prepared for her those many years ago, and as she smelled him in the leaves that lined their happy little marsh, as she heard the kids’ laughter as they told stories they heard first from their dad, and looked up to the sky to see the birds flying in the formations he created, and felt the cool breeze that always brought a smile to her face. . . she realized he was there. And there he will always be.

Part 1: The Popopotomous

Part 2: Forever

Maybe one day, I'll revisit these and fix inconsistencies and work on a story book . . . my dad, the ultimate storyteller, would expect nothing less. Right now, I'll just continue to fight through all the crap that comes with losing your dad - and watching your mom hurt - and holding your kids as they cry.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Popopotomous

I wrote this story in my dad's birthday card this year.

The dedication: To my favorite story tell and the hippest Po I know . . . my dad, on his 57th birthday:

Deep in the heart of the Kruger National Park, south of the Sahara Desert in East Africa, is a large swampy area known to locals (which there aren't very many you can find, you know) as the Big Mashed Potato. Now, Africans aren't very familiar with potatoes, so having something named after one makes the place seem very exotic, and VERY expensive. So with sub-Saharan Africa and all of its poverty and nakedness, too many people and creatures think it waaaaaay out of their price range (they usually vacation at the Hairy Leaf, or the all-inclusive Ebony Tusk, the Purple Nurple even gets a good Spring Break crowd.) But anyways, The Bigh Mashed Potato just sits around being marshy and empty - just the way it ONE resident likes it.

A rather large, stocky Hippo, Popopotomous likes to sit alone at the deep end of the marsh, flicking mosquitoes off his hide and watching the jungle around him like it was a prime time television series. He got his name from the sound he makes when he walks on dry land - his knees pop, his ears pop, his teeth pop and sometimes he makes the sound of microwave popcorn as the air comes out of his tush. Popopotomous is a legend in the jungle. So few people have seen him, but he is known all over the land. He has a keen sixth sense and a loud booming voice, and he uses them both to talk to the birds flying above.

One day, while watching them fly through the sky between the clearing in the trees, he had a great idea.

"Hey birds," he boomed in a language I don't know, "why do you fly just this way and that? IT doesn't seem safe and doesn't make much sense and, truthfully, it's kinda boring to watch."

The birds just looked at each other and kept flying on . . . you see, birds flock together and don't really have a leader so they weren't really sure who would decide where to go or how they would choose what to do.

Seeing their confusion, and sensing their dilemma (remember, I told you he had a keen sixth sense), he offered his guidance.

"If I told you what to do and showed you where to go, would you do it?" They agreed unanimously (as any group without a leader would have to do) and started working together to create one of the most beautiful things you can see in the sky.

As he sat in that swampy marsh, swatting flies with his stubby tail and watching the birds fly overhead in formations he created, carving the sky like brushstrokes on a canvas and making the birds into more than they started out to be, he knew he was doing what he was meant to do.

Word spread all around the jungle and soon all birds flew together to create art in the sky. Popopotomous had job security, fulfillment of his place in life, but still felt he was missing something.

Because he was a famous flocking plotter, birds far and wide knew of him and could find his swamp if they looked hard enough. A couple flighty flamingoes would sneak over every once in a while and sure, they were fun and all (and boy, were they pretty!) but none had the Stick Around Stuff that he looked for - you know, like the cougars have.

Yeah, he sure did like the cougars . . . their fur was always taken care of, sometimes out of whack - but perfectly out of whack, nice legs and a great but . . . and there was always this ONE cougar who always "accidentally" mistook his swamp for her designated watering hole. A little, "Oops, my bad, hope I'm not disturbing you," every once in a while, made him wish it happened more often in a while.

But, she did always bring friends with here - yippy, yappy friends - and those damned giraffes she always hung out with . . . sticking their necks in everyone's business!

Eventually, he found himself primping and waiting for her more often than he was comfortable with. He would scope out shaded limbs that overlooked the water that would be the perfect spot for her to lounge on as they talked about the future and what dreams would come.

One day, she stopped by to bring him his favorite Pinwheel flowers to eat. She perched on that limb and never left. They talked and talked and talked until day turned into night and night turned into forever . . .

I signed it, Happy Birthday, Dad! I love you more and more each year - stick around as long as you can, you old coot!!!

It was the day he would have received it, his birthday, that they found the mass in his colon that turned out to be cancer. I wake up every morning and get to say "Hi, Pops," and hear, "Goodnight, baby" as I pop my head in before going to sleep. As sad as I have been the last month (it's been exactly that long since my mom called to tell me the cancer returned and they were sending him home) . . . I at least have that.

Life is so uncertain - make every word count.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


A little seedling sits in the middle of a beautiful garden, waiting for her turn to grow. She is scared to come out too bright. What if the sunflowers get jealous? Will the daisy’s still want to be her friend? She is not sure if she knows how to grow straight. What if her stem is not sturdy enough? Will she just wither and droop? She thinks she can never be as stunning as the blooms that open so near. What if she makes the garden look plain? Will even the bees come to say “Good morning”?

A grand Magnolia tree hangs over the seedling’s spot in the grass, giving shade to the poor soul’s pondering. As the wind picks up and spreads the leaves on her branches like the billowing hair of a pony’s mane, she bends just a little to whisper over the soft soil’s spread.

“Hello, precious. Welcome to the world.”

As surprised as she is that she is even noticed, the voice of the towering tree does not startle her. It intrigues her and she glances into the sun’s glare to get a closer look. My, it is a beautiful sight. Long limbs and a mighty trunk are softened by the perfect, taut and shiny leaves - reflecting the blue sky above her and the clouds all around, with the sun playing peek-a-boo between these deciduous digits. From the concave cup of one of the leaves, a drop of shining water splashes to the ground, quenching and feeding a thirst the little seedling never knew she had. Before she even knew what it was, the seedling now knew she was loved.

She was still just a small little thing, but she longed to be magnificent. She saw how the other flowers grew under the tall tree’s shade. She saw how the proud Magnolia nurtured her personal garden, and wondered if she would ever stand out from the crowd. She treasured every tending touch and grasped the glittering giggles they shared. Her fears as a withering seedling faded and she soon sprouted blooms so colorful and soft, happy to see how happy it made her wonderful tree.

Then one day, she thought it might be nice to be out in the open - out away from the safe, warm spot snuggled upon the trusted roots of the magnolia, and into the sunlight that made the grass seem so much brighter and under the open sky which made the other gardens seem so much closer. And the tree, sad to see her go but wanting to make sure she was there to help pick up any petals the flower would lose on the way, reached higher into the sky and stretched out her limbs as far as they would go. And she was never alone.


The Popopotomous lived forever with Nanny, his beautiful Puma. Their little family grew until there were not only the two of them, but a collection of different animals who changed the group as they came along - they had a little bird who had q huge heart, a crazy monkey with four hands to hold, a fuzzy earthworm who always spoke of joy, and a turtle whose soft underbelly was protected by his beautiful shell. There were days when the forest would sound off with their scuffles, or light up with their fireworks, or explode with their laughter - but they always seemed to cause
a commotion that others wished they could join. Over the yearsl they opened their home to four more little creatures - a sly, beautiful fox, a brave, tender tiger, a goofy, lovable koala bear, and a teeny, hungry mouse. Each nuzzled their own place into the warm, happy home, and made it glow brighter and laugh louder and made the puma and the Popopotomous prouder and happier than they ever could imagine.

Popopotomous was a great builder of dreams - he made his own a reality and helped others see what theirs were. He told stories with lessons and made teaching an art. He grew a flock of followers, but didn't let too many back to his marsh - it was full enough with ones he loved and they were all that he needed. He lived many years like this and helped the others grow and fly away, but always saved a place for them to come back. And he made that place beautiful - a fitting sanctuary for him and his love.

One day, a man called from a faraway land. He needed popopotomous to come share his stories with him and his people. Popa (as the little ones called him) did not want to go. He was happy where he was and had so much more he wanted to do, and he knew once he went to this man's land, he could never go back to his marsh, he could never see his family again. But the man was an old friend, and popa knew he wouldn't call if it wasnt the time. So, Popa rounded up his family and told them he would go soon. Everyone was angry and confused and sad, but He would show them how to be strong and how to love like there's no tomorrow. He grew tired and wary of his long journey ahead, but made time to share more stories, more laughter with his brood. When the time came for him to leave, he lifted his head up high and kissed everyone goodbye, holding on tight to nanny and promising to meet them all in their dreams. He turned to take his first step and fell onto his knees. He felt Nanny raise his chin for a kiss and she held his head in her hands, then each leg was carefully lifted by his kids. The little ones danced under his belly, and they all carried him on as far as they could go.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


Ten years ago, I got a call from my sister. I was in my basement apartment in Merriam, KS. She told me to sit down.

“Dad was in an accident…”

In the seconds before she breathed the next words, and before I could fathom taking another breath in, life took a pause – you know, one of those pauses that turns minutes into seconds and a blink into a dream – a pause that helps you contemplate the right answer for Jeopardy, or strategize the correct angle to hit the car that just pulled out in front of you, or the one you ignore when you jump in to finish someone’s sentence and it turns out you’re not so good at that after all. I thought in that nano-moment that I was getting that call. That call that they capture so well in the romantic comedies, or the war movies – that call that is going to change your life. I thought that I had lost my dad.

In that brief amount of time, I thought about all the awful things I had said to my father, and the even more awful things I had thought. I thought about the dinners at Krystal after dance class and the couple times he forgot to pick me up. I thought about the night he surprised me and picked me up from work my senior year of high school to take me to dinner and a movie – a night that was his way to say sorry, even though he didn’t know how to say those words. I thought of his stories he would tell – the ones of his long-ago past, and also the concocted tales of characters he made up just for us. I thought about the many pieces of wisdom he served to too-cool a set of ears. I thought about trips to the haunted house where he held my hand as I cried, and scared away the actors more than they could ever scare me. I thought of the many shopping trips with my fashion-forward dad and his unfortunate love of the color brown. I thought of my life spent trying to make my dad proud.

In this stretched-out set of seconds, I pleaded with my dad. I prayed that he give me one last gift. Just one last present that he always picked so well. Please, oh please, give me one more day. One more moment to say thank you. One more story to share. One more hug. Heck – one more lecture.

As my sister continued and time gained back its meter, I found my gift in her words. Dad was not dead – but he was broken. Completely. He ended up being in traction for 8 weeks and his burly body gained some pins and screws and his knees now froze in the winter.

But I got my gift. Every day, I opened a new one, sometimes forgetting they were there, but always happy to get them. Well, there were some days I would have liked to take back for a refund – or at least an exchange – but I am grateful for every one. Especially the ones that brought him to my wedding day, days that featured him in his best role EVER – as a grandpa, watching my favorite television shows with him on the other end of the telephone, my first time coming into the house that he worked so hard to build, having him tell me how proud he was of me, holding his hand as he fell asleep, getting to be the one to tell him that it was all going to be okay.

And now, like a greedy child watching the dwindling piles under the Christmas tree, I am totally wishing I had taken more time to cherish the ribbons, been careful to slip my finger under the tape just right as not to tear the paper, opened each present slowly to hold it in my hands and inspect it and try it out and taken a picture and wrote down how I felt to own every single one.

But life doesn’t let you do that. The tree sits there for a while and the presents still surround you like they just were opened. But soon, the needles lead a path to the curb and the gifts will be just a memory.

There are still packages to open. I’m not sure how many, and they may not shine the brightest, but I am thankful for every single one. Thank you, daddy – you always showed us your love in the gifts that you would give, I’ve never felt it more than today. I love you.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Gimme a K, Gimme a C, Gimme an MSD!!

Elections are games. They have winners, they have losers. They have brutal plays that leave players injured and the better-trained and naturally-talented are usually the victors. With only the press and community as the referees, some really dirty games get played. Depending on which team you are cheering for, you are either dejected or elated as victory is declared. But in the upcoming April 6th election for the Kansas City Missouri School Board, because the kids in the stands deserve the best, because this game has a few more viewers as a result of some busted brackets of its own, and because the future of my city and the future of my own kids' education depends on it, I want to make absolutely sure that I am rooting for the right team.

Like all games, some players are playing for the love of the sport, some are playing because it gets them through school, some are playing because they want to go pro, and some are playing for the endorsements and fame. They all get fans in their own way. Elections are different than regular games in that their fan base determines their success. So, I'm going to cheer from the sidelines and hope like hell I can get the stands to call back . . .

The most important race going on is the one for the 2 at large seats. Its a cage match between the Black United Front School Board Slate with Cokethea Hall and Kenneth Hughlon and Freedom, Inc - endorsed Kyleen Carroll and Crispin Rea. Carroll and Rea have also been endorsed by KCU4EA (Kansas Citians United for Educational Achievement). The other 2 people running for the seats are Rose Marie Bell and Robert (Bob) Peterson.

Like the full court press brought out 6 minutes too late in the KU/UNI game, things are getting heated and fouls are a-flying with the election just a couple weeks away.

I got wind of an email circulating around parents from my daughter's school, Academie Lafayette. AL is a charter school that is busting at the seams and the parents there want to make sure the schools that the district is going to lose because of the Right Sizing plan will be available for purchase by the 'competitor' schools in the district (i.e. charter and private schools). At a forum held in the school's auditorium last month, 4 of the at-large candidates were there (The Black Front was United in its absence). The big question was if elected to the board, would they vote to sell unused school buildings to charter schools . . . I was keeping time for the forum and paying close attention to my stop watch, but I got the gist of what was said, and the impressions that each answer gave.

The 5 candidates and one board member on the panel that night pretty much agreed - in their own language and bound by their own campaign message - that the school board would have to sell their buildings. Some, out of naivety or maybe keen political sense, were a little more enthusiastic to the crowd of mostly charter parents. But, there was nothing said or implied (that I was aware of) that would have urged someone to send out a message with this quote:

"If you want Académie Lafayette to have a new building (possibly buy one of the unused KCMSD buildings) then it would be advised not to vote for either Kyleen or Crispin. They do not want to sell buildings to charter schools.
At the recent forum that was held at the school, 2 of the at-large candidates in attendance did support selling KCMO school buildings to charter schools.
Those two candidates are Rose Marie Bell and Robert Peterson."

So, therefore, there are 3 options for sources of this email:

1. Strong supporter of either Rose Bell of Bob Peterson. Both are very great candidates and wonderful people that would be great on the board. If I knew either personally, I would believe that they could do great things for the school district. I would send out an email to all of my friends to get them to vote for them, especially when the big endorsements are headed in other directions.

2. A pro-charter parent who thinks that their child's education is the most important issue when it comes to the school board. A parent that wanted to hear 'yes, duh, of course we'll sell you whatever building you'd like' without thinking about the repercussions on the community or the impact it has on the district as a whole, or even the feasibility of the proposition. A parent to whom 'right now' is not quick enough.

3. Someone who wants to split the vote. Not being a fan of running the clock, or intentional fouling - just play the game, folks! - I hope this is not the case. But I can not help but suspect that this is a keen political move on the Black United Front's part to take a big, voting constituent - the politically-active Brookside choice-school parents - and split the vote between the 4 opponents to their candidates.

I personally support Kyleen and Crispin, two totally different candidates, but both strong enough and flexible enough to be great team players. Please spend some time looking into the candidates yourself, because this is one game we can't afford to lose!

Email lists for the candidates and campaign managers.

Pitch article on Kyleen Carroll

Pitch article on Crispin Rea

Pitch article on Ross Bell... I like Rose Bell.

Pitch article on Robert Peterson

Pitch article on Cokethea and Kenneth These two candidates highlight what the Kansas City school district can turn out when they get the job right. They have already accomplished great things in life and will go on to do even better. Their alignment with the Slate and resistance to the superintendent gives me great reluctance to support them in this election.

Tony's post on Freedom, Inc's endorsements

Dan Ryan's post at KCFreepress on the 6 at-large candidates

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Trust Me.

I trust people. A little too much, but I do. I like the freedom it affords me. I like being able to leave my house and not worry that all the windows are locked. I like not having to gather all my belongings when I go to the bathroom at the library. I like being able to look at and listen to people without cynicism. I have been burned a couple of times, and it hurts like hell, but it has honed my Street Smarts and I can be a little more cautious, yet remain steadfast in my carefree, trusting ways.

So, this past summer, when I was pulling into the Wendy's to get some late night snacks before a marathon of t-shirt making, and a lady in the parking lot flagged me down - I stopped. It changed my life forever.

Her name was Sandy, just like mine but spelled differently. She had three kids and just wanted to get back to them. She didn't want money, she just wanted a ride.

It didn't feel right, and anyone else would have just continued to the drive thru with a "Sorry" and a "Good Luck". But her name was Sandy. She was middle-aged and overweight. I was pretty sure I could take her in a fight - I definitely could have won a Indian Leg Wrestling match (I size everybody up for a good ILWM). She had sad eyes and I thought I could give her something that would make that go temporarily away.

I should have known when I smelled the alcohol as soon as she took the front seat, but she was homeless and I was taking her back to the shelter, so that would be unfair. I should have known when the look of relief that I was expecting just continued as a look of despair, but who wouldn't be desperate when forced to rely on strangers? I should have known when my stomach lurched as I drove onto the unlit highway, but that would've let fear control me. So, I drove on to a shelter I knew existed with a woman who needed my help - whose kids would go to bed hungry, but they'd at least have their mom to tuck them in.

It was about a 15-20 minute drive to The Anthony House. I tried to fill the time with chatty banter that I have never been good with. I was picking Elle up at the airport the next day so I was telling her that I couldn't wait to see my baby. My other baby.

"Oh, you have more kids?" Sandy asked.

"Yeah, my 3 month old is in the backseat."

She started crying.

It was the scariest moment of my life. I knew then that I had been scammed. Wasn't sure how, but I needed to take control of this situation.

I asked her about her kids. She told me she was a bad mom and didn't know how she was going to go on. I told her that I would give her my 6 dollars that I had so that she could put gas in her car and take them to Orlando the next day. There was a shelter there that would help her. We all have hard times that challenge us, but we humans are strong and us moms are even stronger.

She told me she couldn't take my money, then what would I use to eat with. I told her I had friends and family in town and they would take care of me. It was late, I could just go to bed. Didn't I have a debit card, she asked.

I started crying. She asked me why I was crying. I told her it was because I couldn't do anything more to help her. But I was crying because I was the bad mom. I put my baby in danger. I was scared as hell.

I took my phone out and pretended to look at my map. I wanted to call for help. I wanted to type out a note to Elle and my mom and my sisters and my husband. I wanted to push the Ejector Seat button and get this lady out of my life. We were 2 minutes away.

I kept calling her by her name and telling her a story which was far from my reality, but probably much closer to hers. I told her I had come from a bad place and had finally started my ascent from the deepest hole - the one where you don't think you can escape from. But I had done it - and she could, too. I talked about a God I hadn't much thought about in 10 or more years.

We got to the shelter. There was a house right before it where her kids were sleeping, and the car she described as being the one that was out of gas. As I was pulling into the open parking lot, I remembered a bag of food that I had left over from our road trip from Kansas City just a few days before. I handed it to her and told her that her kids didn't have to go to bed hungry after all.

She thanked me and got out of my car.

The wave of relief that started with the slamming of the door was frozen solid as I watched her walk towards, not the house with her supposed kids, but a large man in the middle of the darkened street. She was waving him off, which distracted him enough to allow me to squeal out and back on to the open highway - with just a glance of her hitting him in the chest in my rearview mirror.

I sobbed the whole way back. I sobbed because I was stupid. I sobbed because I was sad. I sobbed because I was angry. I sobbed because I was scared. Because I'm not sure if I wouldn't do it again. What if it was all like she said? What if my fear was just born out of other people's insecurities? What would I do if I was truly a mom who couldn't feed her kids? What would I be willing to do?

I'm just thankful today that I'm not faced with those decisions. I'm also thankful to have yet another reason to avoid Wendy's.

I'm taking in all the happenings in Kansas City and saving you all the trouble . . . I'll let you know whether to soak it up or squeeze it out!!