Tag Archives: growing up

It Was All About the Jeans in 6th Grade

Back in the Olden Days, as my kids call my childhood, I lived on the north side of Helena, Montana, in a neighbor with small ramblers filled with kids, lotsa kids.

In my neighborhood, we were nearly all the same.  We had moms and dads living in our homes.  Our moms sewed and gardened and made homemade cookies. We kids rode bikes, built forts, went swimming at the Municipal Pool,  and played baseball for hours in the old cemetery.

My life changed in 6th grade.  Our elementary school only went up to 5th grade, so we all trudged up Lamborn Ave. to another elementary school on the hill.

It was a newer building, with new playground equipment and unblemished sidewalks without weeds in the cracks. The building didn’t have crumbling stucco painted  institutional light green, but had new bricks with clean mortar.

More than the building was different in this new world. The kids on the hill wore new clothes. They went on vacations with their families. They skied. They had hair styles, not hair cuts, because their moms didn’t cut their hair. They had cool shoes and even cool tube socks.

Suddenly, my world had division -  THEM and US.

In my view, the biggest division came with the jeans. 


The kids in my old world wore jeans without name, the fancy stitching, or the pocket décor.


In my new world, the coolest girls wore HASH jeans.  They were $50.  I couldn’t fathom having or spending that much on one pair of jeans. At $.75 per hour, I would have had to babysit for 67 hours for one pair of jeans.  Wasn’t going to happen.


But a girl could dream how good she’d look in these jeans.

And it wasn’t only what was on the back pockets, it was what was in the front pockets.

I had lint, change and an occasional note from a friend, they had money.  Not change, bills.  When we shopped at Terry’s Convenience Store at lunch time or after school, they could buy  from any shelf in the store, while my friends and I hovered around the bottom shelf of the first aisle with the penny candy and the Ferrara Pan boxes that cost $.10.

On a Fall sunny Saturday, I  walked my little sister up to my new school on the hill and let her play on the playground. Another kid was already there, but he wasn’t in a friend-making mood.  From Terry’s, he had purchased an entire box of ice-cream sandwiches, something we’d rarely had. To keep our  ice-cream loving family of eight satisfied, my mom purchased a big bucket of vanilla and Neapolitan ice-cream weekly. It lasted a lot longer than a box of specialty treats.

He sat on the swing and ate and ate and ate.  My sister and I must have glanced his way more than once, and he knew we were mentally counting the number of ice-cream bars in the box, the number he could reasonably eat, and the number of people on the playground. I expected sharing to be a universal language.

He stood up, pulled out the last two ice-cream sandwiches, held them out towards us with a sick grin, then mashed them between his fingers, smiling the whole time.  I can still see vanilla ice cream and bits of mangled chocolate cookie dripping between his fingers.

I was filled with shame because he had noticed our desire and took joy in crushing our expectation of kindness.

During the year I was also educated on what else those allowances could buy. Another unfaded memory is one of the Snob Knob (the hill with expensive houses)  kids explaining to me what pot was, why they would want to smoke it and how beer tasted.

As the year progressed and I experienced THEM and US morphing together into the 6th grade class, I learned a lot of important life lessons.

  • There were nice kids and mean kids from the top and the bottom of the hill.
  • Having money didn’t mean you’d be happy, nor did the lack of money mean you’d be unhappy.
  • How much or how little you spent on your clothing wasn’t as important as how you behaved in your clothing.
  • Anybody could achieve success in academics or athletics.
  • Differences don’t have to divide.  They can just be differences.
  • There were labels you bought and labels you earned, and the latter couldn’t be easily changed.
  • Girls in HASH jeans and girls in Plain Pocket jeans could  be friends.
  • Being content with what you had was easier than longing for the impossible.
  • I saw that families could cause pain. It made me extremely thankful for my big, happy family and being raised with the wealth of love and laughter.

Walking up that hill in my JC Penney jeans into a new world was a great experience, because in 6th grade, my life was changed.

It wasn’t about the jeans, after all.


Where Have All My Babies Gone?

“They grow up so fast.”

Older women always said this to me when my kids were little.  Sometimes they’d sigh, sometimes they would elaborate, but always there was a wistful longing in their voice. If they added anything it was about how precious little ones were or how wonderful my life must be.

I didn’t believe them. In fact, sometimes it annoyed me.  Like the time I was trying to take two toddlers potty because their Daddy was preaching and the hungry baby was crying.  It is hard to fully enjoy the moments when the demands overshadow the delight.

Technically, I knew it as true, but practically, there was not even a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. When you have two or three little ones that can’t feed, potty or dress themselves, there isn’t even enough time in the day to think on this phrase.

Every night could be an eternity, if you’re up with a fussy, nursing baby.  A  bed-wetter adds hours of laundry to each day. Diapers, potty training, laundry, meals, dishes, shopping, laundry, meals,  dishes, shopping….it’s a never-ending cycle of demand on a woman who never gets enough sleep, water, food or adult conversation.

In the midst of all the work, is the glorious reality of having beautiful little people adoring you all day long. 

Little fingers reaching, patting, pulling. 
Little voices singing, crying, calling.  
Little feet, running, falling, escaping. 
Little hearts learning, sharing, loving.

Like a perfect storm, intense love and hard work collide in a young mom’s life.

And then, it’s over.

My kids grew up, just like everyone said they would.

But it happened too fast.

I wasn’t ready.

One day I was handing  them toilet paper and teaching them to wipe, the next day I was handing them  car keys, the next day, boxes of all their belongings as they pack their cars.

If I had believed the older women I would have hugged and kissed them more.

Love Notes to Mom


I  would have saved EVERY note that said I was the best mom in the whole world or that I was loved and turned it into a book to read to myself every night at bedtime when they were teenagers.

I would have listened more when they wanted to tell me all their secrets.

I would have praised them more and been more gracious with their mistakes.

I would have slowed down time by not wishing they would grow up faster.  Because when they no longer need you, they no longer need you.

Young moms,  live your life as if you are my age looking back.  When the demands are high and your patience is low, how do you want them to remember that day?

As you’re faced with the decision of how to spend an hour, make the decision that will leave  you the least amount of regret.

Because, we older women are right.

They grow up too fast.

Making your home sing Mondays

I’m Like Totally A Cool Mom

It’s a joyous milestone when kids grow up and dress themselves.  We watch with parental pride, admiring their independence and finesse as they flounder to put on their socks or put both legs in the same pant leg. As with every stage, we praise and support our very, lovely children.


I didn’t mock them when they put a shirt on inside out. I would gently point out the tag is a flag to be waved on their back, inside their shirt,  and help them readjust.

I wouldn’t hurt their feelings and tell them a purple and orange striped shirt didn’t match a green and pink polka-dotted skirt. But, I might carefully praise their choice, ask them to choose which item was their favorite, then direct their decision to pick something that matched.  It was to keep from scarring them for life when they’re showing childhood photos to future spouses.

When they wanted to wear their dress-ups in public, I bore the quizzical stares and the raised eyebrows as a mother martyr would.  I allowed them the freedom to express themselves. I didn’t make fun of their style, not at all.  I didn’t walk really fast and pretend I wasn’t with them, no matter what they wore.  I didn’t roll my eyes at them, or heave patronizing sighs, or change my mind about going out with them in public.   I might release myself from the shame of the moment by saying, “Isn’t it cute what kids wear when they dress themselves?” 

The next milestone isn’t so joyous, the one where they pick out their own clothes, shoes and hair style according to what their peers have deemed cool.  Armed with newly-found discernment and their parents’ cash, they shop and get most rad hairstyle the ‘rents will allow. When fully clothed in cool, their eyes wander to those ‘rents who just funded their makeover and become painfully aware of their lack of style. They cringe at the jeans that don’t have the right width of pant legs or the right depth of the waistband.  Hair color and style are evaluated and gray hairs they caused will be randomly pulled from your head when they dare stick up around the new cool kid.

Imagine my surprise when they hit this milestone and didn’t  offer the same support and the  freedom to express myself I freely bestowed upon them just those few short years ago. The undying love and adoration they always felt for their ‘rents becomes slightly scribbled over with childish embarrassment as they realize their ‘rents are NOT cool.



WHAT?  Me, not cool? Are you, like, totally, like, out of your mind?


My clothes match, I don’t wear anything inside out or upside down, and I quit wearing dress-ups to the grocery store a few months ago.


What does it take to be a cool mom?


Dress just like her daughters?  No, that’s just wrong.  Moms can dress in style,  that’s ok, but like their daughters? No way. We’ve all seen those women.  We can’t become those women.

Use the hip phrases of time?  DUDE just doesn’t sound right on mom’s lips, even though it is contagious and sometimes we slip.Besides, when you use their words, you stand to be lectured on what those words mean and if you’re using them correctly.  Dude!  It’s just annoying!

Hairstyles?  A mom is supposed to have one? So combing my hair once a day whether it needs it or not doesn’t count as a hairstyle? Does anyone else find it ironic that the very ones who basically refused to comb their hair and brush their teeth for the first 12 years of their lives now find it necessary to monitor their parents’ grooming skills?


Who gets to define cool?

Her kids? 

Her kids’ friends?

Her husband? OK, if a husband doesn’t  notice new curtains, a haircut or new shade of lipstick, how can he be able to rank his wife’s coolness factor?  Besides, the kids who spent his hard-earned money to morph into coolness probably have their coolness radar detector out on Pops, too. And it’s probably not bleeping very much.

So, who gets to define cool? 

How about dictionary.com? They should be pretty neutral party, doncha’ think?

Let’s use some of their definitions to see if I rank on the coolness factor.





Yep, that fits me.  I don’t get excited when the ones I used to dress criticize how I dress.


I remain calm when they say, “Mom, you’re not going to wear that, are you?”


When they say, “Um, you’re kinda’  old to be wearing that,” I stay composed.


I remain cool when they face disaster by saying,  “You would look 20 years younger if you’d flat-iron  your hair.”









Apparently, my coolness can even diffuse a situation. When they realize their parents will never measure up to their standards, their intensity will lessen. Their disappointment will cool their earlier zealousness for converting  parents to coolness.

So, that, my friends, proves my point.


I am a cool mother.


And it’s a good thing my kids don’t read my blog.  It’ll keep them from using my line, “Isn’t it cute when my mother dresses herself?”

Making your home sing Mondays

You Can Pout or Improve



When I was very young, I spent my days at home with my mom, a little brother and two little sisters.  With the two Big Boys at school, I was Mommy’s Helper. Sometimes  I fetched cloth diapers from the changing table in the upstairs bathroom. Other times I’d make faces to make a fussy baby laugh for a very busy mommy.  When the babies napped, I  helped  in the kitchen or mom would read to me.  One special afternoon she taught me to make mud pies. I loved those moments of having my Mommy all to myself. 


With my Daddy, Christmas 1969

However, my dad got up early each morning to go to work and I wouldn’t see him all day.    In the early morning quiet in our old, two story home,  the quiet only known when the six children were sleeping,  I discovered if I got up early and padded downstairs, I could have a few minutes alone with my Daddy. He looked so important in his  dress clothes and lace-up Hush Puppies and was very, very tall to me. I had to tip my head way back to see his big smile and the curly ends of his mustache.

One morning, Daddy was excited about something he wanted to teach me.  He lifted my tiny jammy-clad body on the counter next to the fridge, a secret we probably wouldn’t tell Mommy, I guessed. If this adventure was important enough to allow me to sit up so high all by myself, then this would be an adventure I would embrace. Only once did I dare lean forward and look down at the floor.  It was a long ways down.  I didn’t look again.

Daddy monologued cheerfully while pulling out sandwich meat, cheese, lettuce, bread and Miracle Whip from the white, rounded refrigerator.  He handed me two pieces of bread and a butter knife.  He instructed how to put spread the topping on the bread and add a piece of meat, a slice of cheese and a crisp piece of lettuce. Then,  went to take his shower.

I was so proud to be given such an important task.

We repeated this for several days.  One morning,  my ego was wanting some praise for my role as Daddy’s Special Sandwich Maker, so I asked Dad how he liked my sandwiches. I waited for the praise I knew I deserved.

He paused, looked me in the eyes and said, “Well, you could use a little less Miracle Whip.” He described how too much made the toppings slide around and the sandwich was hard to eat.  He pulled out the knife and showed me, again, how to add a little dab and spread it into the corners.

I was mad. After he left, I was a tiny tot sitting on the kitchen counter with a big anger, ranting in my little brain against my Daddy.  I didn’t think he should have complained. I thought he was a big meanie.

When he came out to get his lunch, he saw I hadn’t taken his advice well. I was pouting and had refused to make his sandwich.  My very big Dad listened to my tantrum, then said in a gentle voice that still feels like a security blanket to this day, “Well, you can pout about it, or you can make a better sandwich.”

His kind words stopped the rant and the rage in my heart.  At five years old, I knew he was right.  I chose to make a better sandwich. The next day,  I chose to try to make it even better.  To this day, I still meticulously spread all my topping evenly to the far corners of my bread.



My life’s goal at nearly 50 is still the same as when I was 5. When faced with criticism I know I can pout or improve.

I choose to make a better sandwich.

I’ve Eaten Rattlesnake

In 1977, my seventh grade homeroom teacher was a Vietnam Vet.  Mr. Jewell was enthusiastic and encouraging, and  seemed too young to have the few streaks of gray hair that kept the girls from obsessing about him. But when he shared the rare stories of being in the jungles, we knew he’d earned his silver.

He tried to make Science fun.  For a bunch of teenagers more concerned if they could afford HASH jeans or if they were going to get asked to slow dance during the first Helena Junior High school dance, it was a challenge.

On a Saturday in September, he foraged into the Montana wilderness with a friend, a snake pole and a cage.  He came back with our new classroom pet, a rattlesnake.  The snake lived in the corner of the room where he was constantly watched by kids who absorbed his identity.


Having the only teacher with a rattlesnake in their homeroom, made you cool.

Snake was fed various creatures, but usually not during class time.

Growing up in Montana, you learned to watch for rattlesnakes, the original settlers.  You watched the sunny rocks while hiking, you listened for the rattle noise in the bushes. In the olden days, we were told to cut an X over an accidental  bite to suck the blood and venom and spit it out. We were taught to identify snake head and pattern shapes to know friend or foe.

Mr. Jewell taught us the foe could also be a friend.

Then, after a year of being the cool kids with the rattlesnake in their classroom, we took one step further into the adventure.

We ate our pet snake.

I know this sounds like a scene from Lord of the Flies, but there wasn’t anything ritualistic or sadistic about it.  He cooked the snake at home and brought it in, still snake shaped, in aluminum foil.

Mr. Jewell, the coolest teacher in the world, presented it to us in a way we couldn’t resist. It was our chance to do something unusual.  It was our chance to push ourselves to do something we were afraid of.

He told us, “You can brag about this the rest of your life.”

I listened to his urgings and like the majority of the other kids in the homeroom, timidly took a bite.  It tasted like chicken.

That summer, I moved from Montana to North Dakota. In trying to impress the flat-landers, on more than one occasion I was able to work into the conversation, “I ate rattlesnake one time.”

In college, when much bragging was done inside and outside of classrooms, I was able to casually mention, “Well, I’ve eaten rattlesnake.”

Moving to the the west coast where people love all kinds of exotic and ethnic foods, I’m still able to assert, “I’ve eaten rattlesnake.”

It wasn’t just about the snake, I know now.  It was about confidence and conquering.  It was about taking chances. It was about having no regrets.  (I’ve never been offered rattlesnake again.)  Overcoming fear.  Listening to an adult who knew more than you.  It was a life-changing experience.

Cuz’, you know what?

I’ve eaten rattlesnake.