A Siren is a Siren…Isn’t It?

Even though it’s mid-winter, the tornado practice siren peals every Tuesday morning at 10:00 a.m.

Since I know that with snow on the ground the likelihood of a tornado is slim. And yet every time I hear that darn siren, I get a burst of adrenaline.

And it always reminds me of the first summer I lived in this house.

Lilapsophobia:  irrational fear of tornadoes and hurricanes

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First, let me set the record straight.  When I was growing up 20 miles northwest of here, when you heard a siren, it meant serious business. Living in tornado alley means you don’t mess with warnings–you simply take action immediately.

I can count half a dozen tornadoes that came through our area when I was growing up.  The first, I was told, occurred when I was an infant.  The rest of the family ran for cover in the “under the stairs” closet.  Meanwhile, I was left in the bassinet in my parent’s bedroom.  I guess that comes with being Bonus Child No. 7: totally forgotten in everyone’s haste.  My parents still refuse to apologize and often say, “We would have figured out you were missing at some point.”  I think not.

The next time, I was a toddler.  Thankfully, my oldest sister remembered that I existed and shuttled me to the closet, along with my other siblings and our German Shepherd.  Shoved together with several kids in this small space, I got stuck with the butt end of the dog in my face.  Pepper kept smacking me with his tail, dealing with his own canine version of lilapsophobia. When my parents came home from the store, they said the car lifted off the ground as they were driving.  Yikes.

The third time I remember most vividly because I was older, and the tornado came through our back yard and had the nerve to take my swing set with it.  The concept blew my mind (pardon the pun).  The weather can TAKE STUFF FROM YOU?  What kind of world was I living in?

There were several other pretty scary storms that likely contributed to my fear of tornadoes, so what happened in 2002 shouldn’t have been a surprise.

Check the Fine Print

I remarried in 2002 and moved into my husband’s home with my then-seven-year-old daughter.  Life was peachy, and we looked forward to our first summer in a great new neighborhood.

Then it happened.  One July night at 11:00 p.m., I could hear the city’s sirens going off.  Adrenaline shot me out of bed so quickly I wasn’t sure where I was…and where the closet under the stairs was…and where Pepper was…and where the swing set…wait a minute!  Where was my daughter?

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I ran into her bedroom and picked her up, trying not to wake or scare her.  This was, of course, impossible, considering I was stealing her from sleep and acting like a maniac.  I grabbed the first things I thought of to protect her:  a pillow, her gym shoes and her bike helmet.

She was half asleep as we ran past my husband, who was sitting quietly in the living room, watching television with the front door open.  The wind was whipping the trees into a frenzy and rain was shooting down in anger. Out of the corner of my eye I caught that menacing scroll at the bottom of the TV screen.  I knew it must be describing the peril coming our way.

“What in the world are you doing?” he hollered as I scampered down the basement steps.  I ignored him.  It was every man for himself.

Once in the basement, I found the nook under the stairs and, as swift as could be, put the bike helmet on my daughter. By now, she was fully awake and terrified that life in the new house came with such nightmarish circumstances.  As she was asking me questions, I quickly put on her gym shoes (“We may have to run if the tornado picks up the house”) and then grabbed the futon mattress to put over us.

“What is going on?” My husband was now standing at the top of the stairs.

Was he deaf?  Could he not hear that we were going to die?  The sirens don’t lie.

“There’s a tornado coming,” I yelled up the stairs from our bunker. ” You need to take cover too!”

He had the nerve to chuckle.  Probably just like the tornado that stole my swing set. “It’s just a watch,” he said.  “It sounds once for a watch and two times for a warning.”

I didn’t believe him.  Who changed the rules?  Why was I not consulted?  Why wasn’t a national memo distributed?

Evidently a letter had come from the city a few weeks prior indicating they were putting a revised warning system in place.  Well that explains it.

How Does One Move On?

That was 15 years ago, and try as I might, I can’t control the adrenaline when I hear the siren go off.  Even the test one every Tuesday morning at 10:00 a.m. It fools me every dang time, takes me several minutes of wondering why I would be hearing that screech when it’s a sunny day.  Was it one of those creep-up-on-you-and-it-sounds-like-a-freight-train-before-you-know-it kind of storms?

Phobias don’t die easily.  But they are spread easily.  Even at college, my now-22-year-old daughter instinctively panics at the sound of the siren or the annoying beep on T..V. indicating a need to watch the skies.

And yet I still can’t convince her to grab a bike helmet and a pair of gym shoes before she runs to the basement of her dorm.  Silly girl.  Doesn’t she know how ingenious that is?

Sugar: Spoiling Your Child or Ruining Your Child?

 

I couldn’t believe my eyes and could hardly contain myself.

I had stopped at a friend’s house to drop something off and saw her son, who had been kept home from school with the flu, eating a package of sugary “fruit” snacks.  Now I don’t want to be a nutrition snob, but I have mentioned so many times to anyone within ear shot that sugar suppresses the immune system.  How does she expect him to get better if her idea of helping him is letting him eat whatever tastes good?

  • kid candy
Photo by AdamCaudill

And then I thought, “Wait a minute.  My daughter invariably gets sick within a day of ingesting sugar, but does that mean everyone’s immune systems are sensitive to it?”  I finally decided to take a closer look to see what others were saying about this.

A Google search for the topic landed me on WebMD.com first (of course).  Their M.D. writer posted in June 2017, “Eating or drinking too much sugar curbs immune system cells that attack bacteria. This effect lasts for at least a few hours after downing a couple of sugary drinks.”  

Nancy Appleton, Ph.D., author of Lick the Sugar Habit, contends that sugar impairs the body’s defenses against infectious disease, citing a 1997 study reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, entitled “Depression of Lymphocyte Transformation Following Oral Glucose Ingestion”.  

And AskDrSears.com, the “Trusted Resource for Parents” says, “The immune-suppressing effect of sugar starts less than thirty minutes after ingestion and may last for five hours.”  

Many of today’s experts have Dr. Linus Pauling to thank for what we know about sugar and its effect on the immune system.  Dr. Pauling is famous for his research in the 1970s that revealed that Vitamin C helps white blood cells, our body’s infection fighters, to attack viruses and bacteria.  Therefore many of us grew up believing that popping Vitamin C when we are sick will cure us.  But the other side of the coin is this:  Dr. Pauling also discovered that when glucose levels are high from the ingestion of sugar, it competes with Vitamin C to enter white blood cells.  So sugar keeps Vitamin C out, slowing the immune system’s response and compromising its ability to recognize and fight invaders.

So why don’t more people, especially parents know this?  When I bring my daughter to a party and tell her to avoid the sugary treats, the moms and dads look at each other as if they should call Child Protective Services.  I’ve heard “just this once” more times than I can stand.  If I dare to say something about sugar and the immune system, people are aghast.

On the other hand, I don’t want to encourage people to use artificial sweeteners either.  Though the U.S. FDA claims that aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal and others) to be the most thoroughly tested and reviewed food additive, others claim that it is a neuro-toxin responsible for the uptick in cases of Multiple Sclerosis and Lupus.  Since I can’t prove who is right, I prefer to choose natural refined sugar alternatives like Stevia and Agave.  And my kid seems satisfied.

When my daughter was a toddler, my mom used to have a huge bowl of M&Ms out on the kitchen counter at her house.  She put them within reach because she knew that I didn’t give my child sugar, and she thought it was horribly mean.  I would let my daughter take one, and she would savor it for an hour because she knew she wasn’t getting any more.  Now 22, she is sugar savvy, knowing that any more than a little bit and she will rush headlong into a cold.  While many of her “no holds barred” sugar-ingesting friends have been sick with all of the viruses that are rampant this year, she hasn’t missed out on anything due to illness.  So who’s horribly mean now, Mom?

What Do I Tell My Millennial About Freelancing?

Girl reading book

When my daughter recited the text of one of her picture books from memory at age 3 1/2, I knew this kid was going places.

I’m not talking about some pedestrian preschool writing like Seuss’s Hop on Pop; this was a book recommended for first through fourth graders.  The kind with full paragraphs per page.  I was so proud.

It wasn’t long after that my little girl was actually looking at the words and relating them to what her mind had stored.  She has been an avid reader ever since.

Not to mention she’s been a spelling and grammar fanatic since day one of formal education.  In fact, she had the nerve to repeatedly correct her first grade teacher who insisted that the word “gnat” started with “n”.  (Repeated apologies to Mrs. Zimmerman were offered for my daughter’s attitude, though I reveled in standing my ground that my daughter was indeed right.)

All throughout grammar school, junior high and high school, she never lost her passion for the written word.  She used free-time after school to write stories and read as many books as she could, with 19th century Brit Lit being her favorite.

Child sitting on books

As time went on, she wrote for and edited her high school newspaper.  She competed at the state journalism competition in the News Writing category.  She went away to college to pursue a degree in English, which was then revised to Journalism and changed once again to Professional Writing. She has written for her college newspaper and was a section editor. She’s honed the kind of writing that she likes and is proficient in, and has been published in small magazines so far.

Now What?

Now that my daughter is entering her fourth year of college, my panic has set in.  As a freelance writer/editor myself, I’m suddenly concerned that she doesn’t have a large enough portfolio.  “What do you mean Megan has a freelance contract this summer and Connor is working on getting his book published?”  Sweat breaks out as I wonder if the time she spent working her on-campus job to pay for her tuition would have been better spent vying for freelance gigs that may or may not have panned out.

So this summer she is pulling together the writings that she does have and is building her online portfolio.  She will be adding to it from her summer practicum of technical writing and marketing communications, as well as some piecemeal projects for companies.  However, my secret hope is that people will read her blog and see that she is an incredibly clever, funny and engaging writer in the same vein as a Nora Ephron, A.J. Jacobs or even Tina Fey.

Freelancing is a Great Life for a Millennial, Right?

Do I recommend that my daughter pursue full-time freelancing right out of the chute after graduation from college?

I imagine restarting my career at 21 as a freelancer, at a time when I had little cares, responsibilities or major expenses.  In the late ’80s, jobs were much easier to get and I assumed that you were a nobody if you didn’t have solid, steady, full-time employment after college.  After all, I graduated with honors from a challenging program, so of course I should be working 9 to 5 for a Fortune 500 company.

But I soon learned that I hated the corporate world.  The aggravation really started to fester when my daughter was born and I carted her off to daycare at 3 months of age.  The pressure to be present for my daughter grew and grew until one day I went to pick her up from daycare shortly after the change to daylight savings time in the fall.  She thought that since it was dark out, I had forgotten to pick her up and she was scared and crying.  That was it for me.

I finally decided to leave a full-time marketing communications job to freelance so I could be home for her.  At the time, I was 37 years old.  It was the best gig because the flexibility was unmatched and the opportunity so vast.  Never again would I miss seeing her after 3:00 p.m. and during the summer and holidays.  Little did my daughter know, and much to her chagrin later, I volunteered for absolutely everything related to school or sports from first through twelfth grade.  It was the most fun I’ve had in my life.

Coffee and notepad

So in my mind, freelancing is the best of both worlds.  If you do it right, you can have a steady income and still have a life.  I’ve told my daughter that for years.  So that’s what she has been looking forward to once she is done with the last of her classes.

Her father, on the other hand, has worked in the same industry in full-time employment for most of his post-college life.  Therefore, he has a completely different opinion of what she needs to do.  He believes that she needs to gain full-time employment after college to have a steady income for absolutely as long as possible.  We are definitely true to our personality profiles:  he the Determined Realist and me the Spontaneous Idealist.

My daughter is a Dreamy Idealist, so we know where her millennial heart is bent:  towards creating things, enjoying time freedom, making a difference in the world, living frugally, taking care of her health and having flexibility in the work that she does.

What would you say to your soon-to-be college graduate?  If I could go back 30 years, I know what I would do, and I’ve told her that.  It’s her decision, so we will see where she is five years from now.  Hopefully writing her third book on a world tour to serve the poor.

Big Brothers and the Creature from the Black Lagoon

Scream

There’s nothing I hate more than being chased.

I don’t mean being chased by someone with violent intent.  I mean the garden variety “I’m gonna get you” chase game that we played as kids.

It’s not that I don’t like fun.  Lord knows I’m always up for a game of Twister.  But “tag” and “chase” were never my favorites.  Even now as an adult, if my daughter is running up behind me, I squeal like a toddler.  I blame my brother Tim for this neurosis.

Tim is five years older than me, the third kid in our family of seven (me being the seventh and most adorable).  For some reason, he loved to scare the crap out of me when we were kids.  Maybe it was because he had an older brother who did the same and he was just sharing the McGlinn family brand of love that flowed downhill.

Whatever the reason, he loved to see me scared.

Why You Don’t Let Brothers Control the Television

My parents were too busy with all of us kids that they didn’t pay attention to what we were watching, and really, back in the ’70s, how much trouble could you find on TV?  My parents didn’t think anything of my brother sitting me down in front of “Creature Features”, “Night Gallery” and “Twilight Zone” episodes when I was five.

King Kong

Holy cow.  Imagine seeing The Creature From the Black Lagoon, the original King Kong and Godzilla movies without little kid adrenaline kicking in.  Each film produced such nightmares, that I would crawl out of bed upstairs, go down the stairs in the dark and scare my mom and dad awake and ask if I could sleep with them.  That alone should have tipped them off that something…or someone…was making me a fraidy cat.

But no.  The more scared I got, the more it busted my brother’s gut.  He would chase me up the stairs.  He would chase me down the stairs.  He would chase me around a pretend boxing ring in our living room before church on Sunday morning.

Then one day, vengeance was mine.

Why You Don’t Let Brothers Babysit

In my family, if you were the oldest in the crowd that was running around the neighborhood one day, you were the one in charge.  So sometimes  Tim was in charge of me and my sisters.

On one of many such occasions, we found ourselves in the garage of the kids across the street:  six boys who were always up for adventure and mischief-making.  One of the things they loved best was to tell ghost stories.  Even in the middle of a bright summer day, a ghost story can wreak havoc on a youngster who has seen a giant lizard crush Tokyo with his bare feet.

On this particular day, the story was about the cemetery across the highway that we could see from our neighbor’s house.  One of the boys was telling about how the “Hatchet Lady” rose up from her grave and attacked a young couple who were making out in their car.  (Note:  all of the stories involved teenagers who were kissing in cars.  Why was this the prevalent theme?  Was this a warning from our sweet Catholic school boy neighbors?  But I digress…)

running girl

I got so scared that I ran out of the garage and across the street to our house.  In my haste, I failed to notice that my brother Tim began chasing me, but then passed me so that he could beat me there.  Being five years older and faster, he made it to the back door of the house before me, dashed in, locked it and then stuck his tongue out at me through the plate glass window that I could barely reach.

Forget fear.  Anger kicked in.  I was so mad that he was laughing at my anguish over the Hatchet Lady that I started banging on the window.  In no time, it shattered.

By this point my brother was in hysterics.  He couldn’t wait until my parents got home to tell them that I was the culprit.  He was sure that my Dad would get out “the whacking belt” that was reserved for special displays of corporal punishment.

No sooner had he started laughing however, my parents arrived home from the grocery store.  They looked at him.  They looked at me crying. It took them no time to piece together the story.  I was the innocent victim.  Tim was the evil urchin.  He was hauled off to face my father’s wrath (who after grocery shopping with my mother had had enough “merriment” for the day already, so you can just imagine.)

Fair warning:  to this day, I can’t walk up a flight of stairs if someone is behind me.  I get that startle reflex that I hate.  So if you’re coming up behind me and I turn around and slug you, please don’t blame me.  Take it up with my brother.

It’s A Small Silly World After All

“Barbara Manatee…you are the one for me…”

I grew up in a cool time.  From the early ’70s on, my siblings and I lived like suburban Huckleberry Finns.  We would fly in and out of the front door, off on adventures that our parents didn’t ask about, or show any concern toward.

We were free to run around the neighborhood with about 40 kids we knew.  Just between our family and the one across the street there were 13 kids!  We had no problem coming up with games, pranks, construction projects, ways to light things on fire.  Typical kid stuff.

It was also a time of fabulous Saturdays.  We would hunker down in front of the TV with a bowl of Cap’n Crunch, Quisp or King Vitamin and watch the morning kid’s show lineup.  When I was young, it included Warner Brothers cartoons and Hanna Barbera live-action nonsense (HR Puffinstuff, The Bugaloos, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters) and Schoolhouse Rock.  The best of all was American Bandstand at noon.  We felt so cool seeing our favorite artists live on television and “voting” during the annual couples dance contest.

Then we’d be out the door until the streetlights came on and we had to go home for the Saturday night bath for church the next day.  Like I said, it was cool, especially because we had Mr. Bubble to look forward to every week.

Mr. Bubble

Fast Forward

Even though I raised my daughter like a total helicopter mom spazz, and every playtime and sport was organized, I still think she had a better childhood than I did. And I don’t regret being really involved in everything.  It was a blast to be her coach, recess mom, field trip mom and Brownie leader (did I mention that I was a helicopter mom?) because life is too short not to act like a big kid.

One of the things that stands out about the difference between her childhood and mine was Veggie Tales.  In case you aren’t familiar, Veggie Tales was an animated series of Bible stories placed in different times and settings, complete with vegetable characters like Larry the Cucumber and Bob the Tomato.  The first time I saw one, I thought, “Why in the world wasn’t someone clever enough to tell Bible stories in a hip and hysterical way when I was a kid?”  I felt cheated.

Written by Phil Vischer and Mike Nawrocki (who ended up setting up shop in Wheaton), these shows were so incredibly funny.  Like Bugs Bunny cartoons, they worked for both adults and kids.  My daughter and I watched a handful of them on video on rainy afternoons and were hooked. We especially loved their silly song interludes in between scenes that were so obscure as to be hilarious.  One of their songs “Barbara Manatee”–a love song written to a manatee–became a nickname of sorts for my daughter.  Over a decade later we still call her Anna Manatee.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago.  I use doTERRA essential oils and saw a Facebook listing that caught my eye.  As I looked closer, the seller’s name was Lisa Vischer.  Vischer.  Vischer.  Where do I know that name from?

Junior asparagus

WAIT A MINUTE!  Could she be related to PHIL Vischer?  Like a stalker I clicked on her FB profile and sure enough, she was Phil’s wife!  SHE WAS JUNIOR ASPARAGUS!  For the uninitiated, Junior Asparagus spoke in a little kid’s voice and played part in many of their stories and vignettes and was so adorable. In one of the videos, Junior sings a song, “God is bigger than the boogeyman; He’s bigger than Godzilla or the monsters on TV…” that we would sing when my daughter was frightened.  Junior and all of her vegetable compadres helped me parent my child!

So again, like a stalker, I sent a PM to Lisa Vischer telling her the above story (without as much drama–I didn’t want her to report me to some local authority).  She sent me the cutest response back, saying that she was happy that their videos were a blessing to our family.  Then she said the cutest thing that I could just hear in her little Junior Asparagus voice:  “Please pass along Jr’s greetings to Anna Manatee”.

I’m such a dork that it was like getting a phone call from the president.  I immediately messaged my daughter at college who thought it was very sweet, but wasn’t as effusive in her excitement as me.  How could she not be excited that I got a message from Junior Asparagus???

I think we clearly know who the more mature adult in this mother/daughter relationship is. That’s okay.  I’m going to go put on a Veggie Tales video this afternoon and listen to french peas speaking in a french accent, and laugh until I cry.

To Live is to Laugh

“You can always tell an Irishman…but you can’t tell him much.”

I’m 67% Irish.

If my father’s family had anything to say about it, I’d be 100 percent. But somehow my mother snuck in under the radar as a German Swede (and a Protestant at that).

She married my dad before the McGlynns were any the wiser. Our Irish relatives never let her live down her lack of Celtic and Catholic pedigree, talking and snickering behind her back at every family gathering.

Perhaps it was because she’s never been funny, and the Irish place a premium on funny. I don’t mean to overgeneralize, but Germans, at least the ones in my family, were not what you would call humorous.

And the Swedes? Well let’s just say my Swedish relatives were all work and no play. Maybe they were cutting jokes while they were cutting meat at the my great grandfather’s butcher shop, but I never heard any. At least not any REAL yucks.

Come forth, Lazarus! And he came fifth and lost the job. From Ulysses by James Joyce

But my dad’s relatives? It was an adventure every time we saw them. There are no better storytellers than the Irish, and every tale of family intrigue was hysterical. Not because the story was that interesting–in fact it could have been about a tree that fell in someone’s yard. Yet somehow the way it was told, it would leave everyone doubled over and trying to remember every word to share it with the next person. It’s a badge of honor in our family if you weave a yarn that leaves them laughing.

Dad army photo

Laugh to Keep from…Everything

For as long as I can remember, my dad has handled both the good and the bad of life with jokes and laughter. To be serious was to consider that life is difficult and that problems may be overwhelming. Being silly was a happy form of denial that made him feel less helpless and more in control over things that couldn’t be controlled. He truly had never learned any other way to communicate.

The instinct to be hysterical would most certainly kick in when any of my father’s seven children was sick.

In fact, when I had my gall bladder removed at age 17 and almost died, my Dad was the one who spent the most time with me in the hospital in the days following the surgery. Whether sitting next to me, or walking down the halls with me (IV cart in tow), he would tell me funny stories.

Envision busting a gut–LITERALLY. I was laughing so hard it was pulling at my sutures and making me cry in pain. But I wouldn’t have traded it for anything in the world. I knew that my dad loved me and was truly concerned because he was trying to make me laugh.

My Dad would be the one to incite a giggling wave throughout our family’s pew at a funeral. My Dad would be the one talking about how the tornado headed towards our house would do a great and desperately needed remodeling job. And my Dad would be the one to joke with the doctor when a prognosis was dismal, causing both doctor and patient to forget that anything was wrong.

Keep ‘Em Laughing…Whatever it Takes

Last month, we had to have my Dad join my Mom in a local nursing home as a resident. Though he’s dealing with several health issues and a wee bit of dementia, he is still trying to be as funny as ever, and using his humor to help him cope. He will call me on the phone and give me the weather report, in the style of George Carlin’s “Hippie Dippie Weatherman” skit. He will make faces as other residents go by to produce giggles. He will pull old family stories out of the shrinking storehouse in his brain to help us both feel a connection to a better time and a funnier place.

He gets frustrated that he is not as quick-witted as he once was. Besides being able to go home, nothing would make my dad happier than being able to be more humorous. So we throw easy joke bait to him and let him take a bite on a fabulous punch line of his own creation.

I’m sure that our combined sense of humor will keep us both going, since making merry is in our blood (or at least 67% of mine). But as his brain slips further away, we will have to resort to finding some new way to giggle, even if it’s simply sticking our tongues out at each other. To see that Irish twinkle in his eyes will be enough for me. Because as long as we’re laughing, we are living life to the full.