A quick defense and an extra surprising empowerment

A quick defense and an extra surprising empowerment - www.alliepottswrites.com How an introduction to self defense reminded me how powerful I can be

background image courtesy of http://www.pixabay.com

“Just when I thought I was out . . . they pull me back in.” – Michael Corleone, The Godfather part III

The quote pretty much sums up my feelings on our recent weather. Just a few days ago I was outside in short sleeves. The children were passing their weekends in treehouses and exploring creek beds. Flowers bloomed. I’d even seen a dusting of pollen. We thought spring was well on its way. Then, just as we thought we could pack away the cold weather gear, winter returned with a vengeance.

I suppose it could be worse. We only received a light dusting of snow when those living in states just a few hours away are once again under blizzard conditions, but they knew what they were getting into when they decided to remain in an area so used to this sort of weather they named an entire pattern system after it (Nor’easter), but I digress.

For some reason, the Zombie Bear has yet to be this year’s must-have toy

This weekend Lamont mentioned he’d found an intro to self-defense class geared for runners who happen to use Raleigh’s many greenway systems and hosted by a local Brazilian Jui Jitsu center. Now, even though I do occasionally guilt myself into going for a light jog, I do not in any shape or form consider myself a runner. (That is unless a bear or zombie – or worse a Zombie Bear – is chasing me, in which case, watch me go). I am even less skilled in martial arts. However, I do use the greenway system (at least, I do when it is warmer) and it happens my current project’s main character could benefit from similar skills, so off we went.

Class began. The task was simple. All we had to do was pretend to be resting on the side of the trail and hop up in the method and manner demonstrated resulting in a wide-legged stance, perpendicular to the threat. Lamont and I faced off. I would be the victim. He would play my attacker. He approached, entering my over-sized personal bubble of space. I forgot everything. Instead of getting up, I kicked and kicked, looking much like a roach flipped on its back.

I tried again with similar results. Now normally I don’t consider myself a slow learner, but in this case, instincts have a way of taking over, even if they aren’t always the most cooperative instincts.

We swapped places. Lamont hopped up in a ready stance as I rushed him. Lamont is over a foot taller than me and outweighs me. Suddenly I felt ridiculous and couldn’t stop giggling. If I’d really been out to do him harm, I would have had just as much luck running head first into a wall.

We switched roles again as we moved to the next exercise involving a block to the attacker’s neck followed by a slap to the ear. Now, this I took to so well, I wonder if I missed my calling as a soap opera star. My giggling reduced as I started taking what we were learning more seriously.

Then it was back to the floor exercises. The designated attacker (Lamont again) was to straddle the victim (me). Lock your hands on one arm and pin the attacker’s leg to your side, our instructors advised. Check. Now lift your hips. Here goes nothing. Lamont fell to the ground and I got away.


I sent Lamont back to the mats. Lamont, who I can wear three-inch heels around and still feel petite. Lamont, who is responsible for opening jars that just won’t budge for me or hauling heavy things away. I toppled that Lamont.

I was no longer giggling. No, instead of feeling ridiculous, I now felt something else entirely.


Now clearly, this wasn’t a real life situation. Lamont was sitting on me, but he wasn’t fighting me. He allowed me to get my grips and leg locks precisely where they’d be most effective – a courtesy I wouldn’t expect from a real attacker. I know, one class does not an expert make and much more practice is required. Even so, I left the class feeling more confident in my ability and myself than I had the hour prior.

It got me thinking about all the other areas in my life and career where I’ve underestimated my ability simply because I was smaller, too young, too old, too relatively unknown, or any other reasons that caused me to back down or give up without really ever trying.

Yes, I am rarely the largest presence in the room and I know I will hit the mat from time to time, but this experience proved I don’t have to stay there.

I might not be the Godfather, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still have muscle. I can kick. I can slap. I can block and I can charge. I can use other’s strength against them and I will not go down without a fight. And I know, most of all, that as long as I can find the proper leverage, I have it within me to challenge giants or move mountains be they physical or more metaphorical kind.

Now if only I could find a way to shift this weather.

You have died of dysentery – and other thoughts on progress

You have died of dysentery and other thoughts on progress - www.alliepottswrites.com an essay about a childhood game and how technology changes words remain powerfulIt will no doubt stun my children to realize that their, oh, so young looking mother lived at a time when the majority of households lacked a personal computer.  I mean, personal computers existed, but they were the size of a microwave oven (or larger) and the cost more than a few car payments. As a result, the most exposure most kids received was in the computer lab at school. Considering the laws of supply and demand, the lack of household market also limited the number of available programs, especially those designed for young people.  However, our school system managed to find one that both educated and entertained (it helped it came bundled with the operating system). It was called – Oregon Trail.


Modern day adaptation. Image courtesy of http://www.flickr.com

The premise was this – you started out in Missouri in the 1800s as an intrepid settler determined journey to Oregon’s Williamette Valley, a mere 2,170-mile / 3,490 km jaunt to the Western side of the USA, via covered wagon with only your family, a bit of cash, and what you could carry. Along the way you had to deal with challenges such as broken axles, fording streams, and a little thing called death going by the names of typhoid, dysentery, drowning, starvation, and/or snake bite.

It’s good old-fashioned fun for the whole family!

Imagine my delight, then, to find the powers that be, hoping to tap into the current nostalgia trend as evidenced by recent remakes or reunions of movies and shows from my youth, produced the analog remastered Oregon Trail – The Card Game. I couldn’t hand over my money fast enough, buying it for a friend.

We laid out the cards. We attempted to read through the rules. I may have drunk too much wine. Somehow, before we had called it a night, we managed to play two games and my character hadn’t died once. It was a feat I’d rarely managed in the computer version and the game, a fun reminder of how far society, as well as our technology, has come.

image courtesy of http://www.xkcd.com

My sons, on the other hand, have never known life before computers small enough to carry in your pocket and it has become easier to manage the list of names of families lacking a smartphone than those who have one. As a result, this little device has gone from a luxury item to a tool more necessary for the smooth functioning of my household as well as my community than the mailbox outside our door.

For example, Kiddo’s school required me to download not one but three apps just to handle daily communication. There is Remind – an app used for school-wide memos such as upcoming teacher work-days, class photos, and past due library book notices, Shutterfly Sites – a program containing his class list of contacts and volunteer / school supply sign-ups, and his teacher’s personal favorite, Class Dojo, which allows here to post pictures of their educational day, highlight individual student performance, and save on paper in the form of printed weekly newsletters. As a result, the majority of my phone’s notifications are school-based, not that I’m complaining.

I didn’t think anything of it then, to receive a message from Kiddo’s teacher indicating that an attached letter would be coming home in Kiddo’s school bag. However, opening the attachment, I realized this was not just another noticed about a school fundraiser or upcoming assignment. Oh no, nothing fun like that at all. Lice had been found in Kiddo’s classroom.

The rest of the letter went through the basics – how the very real version of cooties can make their homes on the scalps of adults and children alike regardless of cleanliness or personal care and what to do if you see their nits in your child’s hair. We verified that Kiddo hadn’t been colonized as soon as he came home, then again the next morning, and later the following day. And yet, even though I knew he hadn’t brought uninvited guests home, my scalp started itching just thinking about the words on that page.

Admit it. You are considering scratching your head now too after reading this.

Thus proving that while trends come and go and methods of communication evolve, the words we use to do so, will remain ever powerful – so use yours well.

And always be on the lookout for snakes.

The adventure of the improbable boat

the adventure of the improbable boat www.alliepottswrites.com“Dad!” Our eldest son called out one morning from the direction of the garage. “Dad!” He called again.

“What,” his father yelled back from the den where we both sat still in our pajamas, nursing far too little coffee to match Kiddo’s level of activity.

“If it wasn’t for the coffee, I’d have no identifiable personality whatsover.”  – David Letterman

“We need your help,” Kiddo called out. “For the boat project! Don’t you remember?”

I glanced at my husband. “Boat project?” It was one of those times I had to debate with myself whether or not I really want to know.

Kiddo and one of his best friend’s recently came across a waterfall only a few short yards from our backyard. I’ve lived in this house for years, but only learned of its existence when Kiddo returned one afternoon drenched from knee to toe. I can only assume that prior to their discovery it only existed in one of those secret magical places that only children are equipped to find.

Like any proud discoverers, both boys had immediately claimed the waterfall and the surrounding creek bed as their own. Now, it would seem, they had decided that it was time to take their exploration to the next level by building a boat.

My husband helped the boys pull down a few supplies, but left them to their work as Kiddo does love to work on his inventions. Occasionally, one would pop in to raid the pantry for a snack. As I cleaned up the kitchen, I heard the distinctive sound of a power screwdriver. Unable to contain my misgivings curiosity any longer, I gave in and peeked at the work in progress. Their eyes lit up at my appearance. “Can you help?” the boys asked holding out a piece of particle board and a pair of mismatched screws from the various piles now littered across the garage floor.

“Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing up is like shoveling the walk before it stops snowing.” – Phyllis Diller

I eyeballed their creation. To my eye, its resemblance to a boat ended at – it’s made of wood. “Um, I am not sure how well that will float.” I mean it wasn’t impossible to think it might keep water out by the time they were done, but it appeared highly improbable.

“That’s why we need your help attaching the sides,” Kiddo’s friend replied showing me just how the pieces of mismatched wood were supposed to fit together.

Oh, is that all you need.

I made my exit shortly afterward, no more confident in their boat’s design than I was minutes earlier. I saw a flash of color run past a window. Perhaps, I thought the boys had given up or grown bored and gone to play another game. I saw another flash of color. Both kids reappeared in the garage, their arms now full of bright yellow pull ties and something I could only guess was the rubber shell of a bicycle tire ‘borrowed’ from the other house. Or, perhaps not.

the improbable boat

something tells me Kiddo isn’t going to be invited to work the shipyard anytime soon

By the end of the morning, their creation was no more boat-shaped than it was when they started (it looked more like a ramp), but it was theirs. Undeterred and full of smiles, the pair picked it up and took off toward the woods and the newest adventure, but within minutes they were once again in the garage.

“Didn’t work out like you thought?” I said, my heart full of sympathy. “That’s okay, at least you gave it a try.”

“Yeah,” Kiddo said with a grin. “We just need to build a dock.”

“All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure.” – Mark Twain

I found the boys in the woods later that day with another board, their ‘dock,’ laying on one side of the creek bed and their ‘boat’ drifting downstream, just out of arm’s reach. Obviously, their great plan to set sail across the seven seas to continents unknown hadn’t exactly worked out as they’d anticipated, but just as clearly it hadn’t stopped them from having an adventure all the same. And rather than focusing on the loss of one morning’s effort, they were already planning their next foray.

I am trying to be more like my children. It is the reason I tell these stories. It is the reason I keep coming back week after week even when I sometimes feel like quitting. I remind myself, I wouldn’t have known the creek existed had the children not risked exploring. I wouldn’t have thought there was a need for a boat (or a dock), as the water was only knee-deep on a child. But these children of mine, they never seem bothered by the reasons I might come up off the top of my head as to why not to do something or why something won’t work. They simply try and enjoy the experience.

Not everything is going to go to plan. Not every idea will float. I have to remind myself that is okay. Because while I may lose a few screws along the way, in the end, I know, regardless of the results, the mere attempt can often prove to be an adventure worth having.

*Quotes courtesy of http://www.brainyquote.com. Photography is my own.

Contemplating success at the corner bus stop

contemplating success at the corner bus stop - www.alliepottswrites.comIt was my morning with the kids and their cousins. My morning to supervise them as they pulled out every toy I had so painstakingly put away just days before. My morning to ensure they reached the bus stop with backpacks and lunch sacks intact.

Some mornings those tasks are easier than others.

I informed the crew that it was time to clean up. My youngest, LT, pouted. “Now, honey,” I started. He pouted some more. “Five-year-olds are big enough to pick up their own mess.” He grumbled and whined, but I was satisfied to see the toy go back into its spot.

Now typically on my morning, I drop LT off with the wonderful woman who watches him while I work before taking the rest of the kids to their destination. But this morning, one of the kids asked if LT might come to the bus stop with them instead. Another chimed in – they wanted to race. I looked at the clock. We’d have to wait outside longer than normal, were they sure?

Spring has come early to my neck of the woods this year. We’ve spent the last two weekends with the kids outside and the windows open. Already the trees and flowers are budding and small pink petals dot the streets. My concern about a few minutes extra exposure to the great outdoors fell on deaf ears.

Fine. I’d be democratic about it – this time.

I altered our course and soon we were at the stop. The children dumped their bags at the corner by my feet and congregated a few yards away – close enough for me to keep an eye on them, but far enough that they might whisper among themselves unheard. The next thing I knew they were running down the sidewalk back toward me.

Or more specifically, LT ran. Kiddo, my eldest, and my nephew, Casimir, took turns moving in what can only be described as spastic hop, yet tiny tip-toe sized step that might have only impressed a snail with progress. LT, passing them with ease, ran around me, grinning from ear to ear. As LT returned to their starting point/finish line both Kiddo and Casimir tried to one-up each other in exaggerated groans about how fast their youngest competitor now was. It was a far cry from the fits and tantrums we used to experience about ‘unfair’ contests and proof of how mature the boys had become.

Before long other children began to arrive, filling up the sidewalk and preventing further races. One child shouted “Bus,” like a whaler of old spotting a blowhole out at sea as the big yellow vehicle appeared from around the corner. The kids scrambled to pick up their backpacks and gathered in a line as LT returned to my side.

Picking him up, we waved at the faces grinning at us from the other side of the windows. “That’s going to be you soon,” I told my youngest as the bus pulled away. “Are you ready?”

He smiled and nodded, undoubtedly thinking that the coming school year would be filled with fun and games like the time he’d just had.

Recalling the display at being asked to put toys away, I decided to make this a teachable moment. “You know, when you are in school, you are going to have to listen to your teacher when he or she tells you to do things.”

LT looked at me and cocked his head to one side. “Why?”

“Because you don’t want to go to the principal’s office or get bad grades.”

The look of confusion on LT’s face only deepened. He repeated, “Why?”

“Because they will call mommy then or give mommy a bad report. You don’t want that.”

He chewed on my answer for a moment or two. “Okay mommy, I’ll listen to my teacher.” I smiled and patted his head. Then, so softly, I almost missed it, LT muttered, “sometimes.”

LT might think he is ready for school, but I now have to wonder if his school will be ready for him.

Later, our conversation made me think of my own plans for the future and some of the stumbling blocks I’ve already encountered. Often, I complain about how long these plans are taking as patience is not my best virtue. The morning then became a good reminder that while I might achieve the measures by which I currently judge my success, there will always be challenges I have yet to envision.

Therefore, I cannot, will not let those unforeseen bumps discourage me completely. I have to remind myself of those that traveled a similar path before me, of those who didn’t know then what they know now, and how they matured along the way. Every day, as I take another step down that path, I tell myself, I am closer now than ever before, even if I am forced to retrace a few steps or take the occasional detour.

Because that is what I do. That is what I’ve done.

Though it sometimes seems I still have a long way yet to go, I know that when (not if) I finally do reach the future of my dreams, the bigger question is now will my dreams be ready for me?

A bump in the night and why not to be afraid

A bump in the night and why not to be afraid - www.alliepottswrites.com

background image courtesy of http://www.pexels.com

Bump. Muffle. Jingle. Thump.

My eyes snapped open. The room was dark, except for the clock’s display which showed it was only a few minutes past three in the morning.

Bump. Muffle. Jingle. Thump.

My heart raced. However, my husband’s rhythmic breathing to my side was a clear indicator that the sound from the downstairs hadn’t yet penetrated through his dreams as it had mine. It wasn’t the first time I cursed the sensitivity of my ‘mom’ ears.

Bump. Muffle. Jingle. Thump.

I sat up as I tried to imagine what could be causing the sound. We’d had unseasonably warm weather recently, enjoying a weekend of open doors and windows. Could an animal have gotten inside? It wouldn’t be the first time. I still recall the time several years ago when a neighbor’s cat managed to sneak through a pet door only to become confused and disoriented inside. But, I reminded myself, the pet doors were now sealed.

Bump. Muffle. Jingle. Thump.

My imagination expanded in the darkness. While the sound was quiet enough to be caused by an animal, it seemed unnaturally controlled and repetitive to be caused by something wild, but still not out of the realm of possibilities. I turned to my sleeping husband. Someone was going to have to risk the unknown. Someone had to go investigate. Someone needed to wake up.

Bump. Muffle. Jingle. Thump.

It seemed my preferred someone had developed an immunity to my glares over our years of marriage. I debated shaking him awake. Reminding myself that I am a strong woman capable of fighting my own battles (or at least screaming loud enough to alert the neighbors), I decided against it. It wasn’t as if I was going back to sleep without knowing the cause of the sound. While telling myself the sound could be a mouse, our dog or maybe even one of our children, as I’d caught Kiddo sleepwalking once before, I left the bed and slowly opened the bedroom door.

Bump. Muffle. Jingle. Thump.

Swallowing my fear, I crept toward the staircase and peered over the banister.

Bump. Muffle. Jingle. Thump.

Movement caught my eye.

Bump. Muffle. Thump.

The sound was coming from . . . I squinted in the darkness . . .

Bump. Muffle. Thump.

. . . the robotic sweeper vacuum I’d received for Christmas, a device we’d programmed to clean while we slept. An array of blue LEDs appeared in the darkness as the white disk-shaped robot attempted to maneuver its way out from under our dining room table. Bump. Hitting one of the chair legs, it rotated a fraction of an inch and tried again.

Bump. Whirl.

The robot turned once more, disappearing once again under the table only to return a moment later for another attempt at escape.

Adrenaline fled my system, as my body reminded me exactly how early it was. Now that I understood where the sound was coming from, there was no more reason to fear. Instead, it became no more than white noise and something I could ignore. I returned to bed as the robot continued its chore.

It seems that we are being bombarded by new things to fear. Things to lose sleep over. I am reminded often of the words of Franklin Roosevelt who said during his first inaugural address, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

But there is even more to the speech than this one memorable quote. He went on to call this fear of fear a “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

He called upon the American people to recognize that it was fear, above all, that was the nation’s enemy and introduced the policy of the good neighbor – “the neighbor who resolutely respects himself and, because he does so, respects the rights of others.”

History has a way of repeating itself and I find the words of this particular speech as true now as they were during the time they were first spoken. It is only the size of the stage that has changed.

We are in danger of losing our ability to respect the views of others – those that live differently, speak differently, pray differently or in cases, vote differently and in doing so jeopardize respect for ourselves. We are in danger of losing the battle with fear. And so I implore you, no matter where you call home, or side of an issue’s spectrum you take, to never lay awake in fear at the sound of a bump in the night. Instead, get out of your comfort zone. Investigate its source so that you might better understand it from all angles.

That bump in the night may prove to be something terrible, to be fought, but it might just as easily be something or someone trying to help you as best they can. You’ll only know for sure how best to react if you first break the paralysis of fear, step forward and risk a look.