Journey to the Center of My Pocket Protector (and Beyond)

When I was pregnant forever ago, I dreamed I was observing my daughter as an adolescent, living her daily life, becoming independent. I remember wondering, as I woke up, if I’d ever be able to look at her without being emotionally overwhelmed by love and fear and everything else. I knew I wanted to give her the world, but how? Parenthood seemed like such a symphony of emergencies when I was full-bellied-with-baby.

Then she went to kindergarten.

Began reading.

Discovered her own music.

And, suddenly, she was on auto-pilot — needing me to only serve as a bumper guard for her awkward, burgeoning life. (I’m not fooled, though; this is what I’ve been rehearsing for since my kid was born.)

With the potential for so much sensory overload, it’s important to steer our surly junior high replicas down good paths whether they seem to like it or not. Being a valuable parent is about making choices for our children and then allowing them to choose their own options from there. It’s not rocket science.

Or, maybe, it is partially rocket science.

Continue reading

The Antoine Dodson seventh grade semester exam study method revealed!

Drowning herself in the deep, deep waters of last-minute academia, The Bell spent this past week waffling between a variety of semester exam study methods:

  1. The helpful “Mom” oral quiz, which usually ended in some kind of Google search for information about emancipation;
  2. Staring at the ceiling while silently reciting whatever she’d written in the study sheet below her sightline;
  3. Spending hours creating The Coolest Acronyms Ever so that she not only had to remember the awesome acronyms, but also what they stood for.

Maybe you remember that frustrating ball of wax from your own seventh grade yesteryear?

On Day Four of Total Cranium Cram Meltdooowwwnnn 2011, The Bell decided to use a new and improved approach to remembering some of the items she was having problems learning. In typical fashion, there was nothing very typical about her fashion.

But first! You remember Antoine Dodson, right?

He’s the brother of a women from the Lincoln Park area who was an attempted rape victim. The full story — in case you have been living under a rock — is tediously chronicled on Antoine’s not-to-be-missed Wiki page. Because Antoine’s television interview was an unexpected well of ***AWESOME***, Auto-Tune the News quickly picked it up and released what is now a ginormous iTunes hit.

Alright, so getting back to Bella and The Great Cram: I was pretty psyched tonight when I overheard a brand new version of Antoine’s song…with lyrics about Texas history…as sung by The Bell…minus the auto-tuning. Aw, yeah.

Rock hands. Put them up.

“We have Comanches in the Great Plains of Texas/They’re getting kinda hostile/ They’re getting kinda sick of you/Trying to preach and colonize/Hide your cows/Hide your wife/Hide your cows/Hide your wife/And tell the Spanish ‘cos they’re gonna make life miserable for invaders, also…”

There was a part about Stephen F. Austin and Jane Long and Rosa Maria and the Chicken War, but I was too bewildered to take clear notice. I mean, hell, two things here:

  1. Out of all the songs in recorded history to use as a study guide, my kid chooses this?
  2. Tomorrow, The Bell is going to [fingers crossed] ace a huge test by singing her version of a song that was originally a melodramatic sound byte from an Alabammy news report about a foiled rape attempt.

*scratches head. (I know. I am always pointing out two very important things. Gaw.)

I guess it could be worse. Heh.

Just hide your cows. Hide your wife.

The Bell’s NASA Space Shuttle Discovery Dresser, kinda sorta

For most of the year, Bella’s been walking around with a flash drive full of writing projects stashed in her pocket so she could snag a few minutes here and there from any computer with an owner willing to loan it out. I figured her resourcefulness deserved rewarding.

My kid is awesome even incognito.

After some head-scratching, the whole family chipped in and bought her a really freaking nice computer. It’s the kind of thing a kid with parents in her socioeconomic bracket usually would never consider, but Bella is a great writer. I figure if she doesn’t write her stuff now, she’s gonna whine and moan for the rest of her life about how she missed some kind of boat (and that will only keep her from winning the Nobel Peace Prize for curing cancer and eradicating world hunger, duh). Simply put: Bella needed a badass computer for the good of mankind.

We had to throw her off the trail, though, when she saw me getting out of the car with a bag from Apple. Luckily, Russ is extraordinarily good at making fake invoices for things a thirteen year-old girl would never want, like a Space Shuttle Discovery Bedroom Dresser and matching Rocket Booster Shoe Holders from the “NASA Space Store.” Said invoices are especially effective when you accidentally leave them laying around and tell Bella to stay out of the garage.

What no teenager wants for Christmas -- ever.

This afternoon, we hid the MacBook in a box under her old netbook that kicked the bucket last year. Then we covered the entire affair in a nest of chairs and stools and boxes and pillows and lots of other crud draped in sheets. It definitely didn’t look like anything cool after we were done.

Spoiler alert: Get Kleenex.

In about three minutes, all the extra hours I worked this holiday were totally worth it. My spawn is super cool. I can’t wait to read her stuff. Such good fortune.

Perfect Chemis-what? Oh, pleez, tween book writers!

After dinner, Russell took Bella to the bookstore so she could pick out some new wordy rappinghoods for making straight A’s.

“Hey, are you next to your computer?”

I was…duh.

“Can you look up a book or two?”

“Sure. What did she pick out?”

In his super-secret library voice, Russell explained it was something called Perfect Chemistry, to which we both kinda cracked up over immediately.

“Dude, really? Perfect Chemistry? Gag. Ok, looking through Google…searching…here it is.”

And that is when I discovered the total deal breaker for Bella (but the best thing for me since the 2009 Gathering of the Juggalos Infomercial). As I watched the accompanying “rap” video for the book Bella selected — no doubt, with her fists clenched in tween hopefulness — my inner, non-fiction soldier ranted mercilessly at my right brain as it cowered in the corner of my cranium.


“Yeah? And?”

“Tell her to put that crap back on the shelf.”

In the background, I heard Bella mutter, “Ok, ok.” She knew.


No, I didn’t want free checking with my metal, thank you.

“When your Uncle John and I were small children, Mother used to give us each a quarter to ride the bus into town to see a double feature at the Ridglea Theater. One day, John and I decided to just stay on the bus to see where we’d end up. The driver eventually intervened, and we got home safely, but we didn’t make it to the movies that day. Times have changed, haven’t they?”

Indeed, Mom’s right. Life isn’t what it was in the early 1950′s, but one thing is the same: Ridglea Theater is still a great place to see a show, even several generations later.

That is, at least for now.

The Little Bell and Wesley (and Dio, duh)

Yesterday I received a disturbing email from my husband, Russell (who’s done so many shows for Fastlane Concerts at Ridglea that the theater jokingly put a sign on one of its doors which reads: “Russell’s Room”). After scoping his included link to Kevin Buchanan’s article, I flipped out. Apparently, Bank of America is considering purchasing the historic Fort Worth building and transforming it into a financial institution sans music and community fellowship and my dear old mother’s childhood memories. What an enormous slap to the face of North Texas.

For the last twelve years, Wesley Hathaway and Richard Van Zandt have leased the beautiful, old theater on Camp Bowie. The couple, who met in college and have been together for the past thirty-two years, utilized the Ridglea’s architecture and distinct artwork as a backdrop to showcase local, national, and international musical acts for the Fort Worth area. Aside from providing a unique venue for crowds of one thousand plus, Wesley and Richard’s theater is also responsible for a lot of customer traffic at surrounding restaurants, gas stations, and small businesses within the immediate block. Wesley, formerly the Assistant Science Curator to the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, says she only learned day before yesterday of Bank of America’s intentions. “I didn’t know until a reporter from the [Fort Worth] Star Telegram called and asked me what I thought about it. That’s how I found out! We still have almost a year left on our lease, so we don’t know what’s going to happen.” She and Richard, who also previously worked in the same prestigious, north Texan museum as the Omni Theater Director, confirmed they are booked with lots of upcoming shows and have heard nothing from Bank of America at this time that would suggest cancellations of any kind. In fact, they haven’t heard from BOA about anything, and that’s unsettling for not only Wesley and Richard, but also for an estimated thirty employees who stand to lose work after the demolition.

“I understand the owners [of the building] need to make money. It’s a business,” Hathaway stated, “However, this is the last beautiful, grand building of this type in our area. You lose part of your heritage every time you tear down something historical like this. I see it happening all over the country. People are just not cherishing heritage, and it is a tragedy for the community when things like this are allowed to happen.” Van Zandt added, “Do something with the building instead of demolishing it, you know. The west side of Fort Worth really needs a Community Arts Center. The city could host all kinds of classes and events here, things that would benefit people while preserving the structure.” Richard also pointed out the Ridglea Theater was eligible to have been noted officially as an historic landmark, but the last owner failed to designate it as such.

Richard Van Zandt, photo by permission of RVZ

“Of course, we’d be sad if we couldn’t continue to do these shows,” Wesley admitted. This all comes at a time when the theater is up, yet again, for “Best Venue” in the Fort Worth Weekly. Having previously won the same award for at least eight years, Wesley and Richard have been proud local music fans have selected their venue for similar accolades throughout the years in the Dallas Observer as well as on AOL and in the Fort Worth Star Telegram. She says the two of them will miss the musicians and fans she’s come to love — the very people from all over the world whom I know herald her as the pink-haired First Lady of Texas Metal. “This building — the beautiful mosaic floors and old paintings — it feels like home to the people who come here. The bank isn’t going to care about that.” Wesley fears if BOA is allowed to take over the building, the Ridglea’s historic art and music history will be lost forever.

Beyond the music and the magnificent mosaic flooring, losing the Ridglea Theater to something so sterile and impersonal as a bank would be, perhaps, the hardest blow of all. The Ridglea is the chassis for a slew of extremely personal memories for so many of us — not just Mom. Matt Arnold, my co-worker, was bummed to hear the news, “Are you serious? You know, I saw my first show in there.” He wouldn’t be the only one to claim that honor, of course. I’m sure all the kids who have attended Rock Camp USA during the summers at Ridglea thought it was pretty cool to say that was where they played their first show. I’ve seen a handful of couples become engaged there; Wesley says elderly people have approached her and relayed stories of when they decided to get married while at the Ridglea many years ago. When I asked which was her favorite memory of the theater so far, she paused and said, “I don’t know, Kristan. There have been weddings and so many wonderful events and music over the years. The place has a lot of history for so many people from all walks of life. I mean, it’s where Richard and I took our kids to see the very first Star Wars when it came out. I just don’t want us all to lose it.” I get that. None of us wants to walk into a bank and reminisce about . . . anything. We want to be able to stand in the entrance of the theater and relish it for what it really is: a multi-generational tribute to north Texans and the strong-willed, surviving champion of Fort Worth culture.

When my daughter graduated elementary school, Wesley and Richard gave her a beautiful piece of art, which read:

‘What do I get for this,’ I said, and the angel gave me a catalog filled with toasters and clock radios and a basketball signed by Michael Jordan, and I said, ‘But this is just stuff,’ and the angel smiled and swallowed me in her arms. ‘I’m so glad you said that,’ she whispered to me, ‘I knew you still had a chance.’

After I got off the phone with Wesley last night, I sat in Bella’s room and stared at the words in the painting. I thought about how appropriate they were now, how Wesley and Richard do what they love. Next to the graduation art, my Bella keeps a rubber band ball Wesley gave her years ago when they first met. The extra “Russell’s Room” sign is above the piano in our back room. These kind reminders amplify my sadness because they prove the Ridglea Theater isn’t just a place in Fort Worth that Bank of America wants to tear down. It’s a place in my home and in my heart, a place where my entire family has grown in both the very distant past as well as in the last few years. There is no price you can attach to a structure that serves as such a chapel of memories. The idea of passing by Where It Used To Be makes my stomach turn.

This isn’t set in stone, and there’s an opportunity to save the venue and building from the fate of Bank of America. Wesley has posted an official statement on the Ridglea’s website with information regarding where to write, etc.

City Councilman W.B. Zimmerman
, District 3 Office
, 1000 Throckmorton St., 
Fort Worth, Texas, 76102

Telephone: 817-392-8803 
Fax: 817-392-6187

Also, there’s a hefty discussion on the “Save the Ridglea” Facebook page:

Cherish heritage, one and all. Save this Ridglea Theater, Home Sweet Home.


Let Me See Your Sushi Roll, Your Sushi Roll!

“Bella, what sounds good for dinner?”

“Anything really.”


Insert total disgust and a heavy side eye here. “No way, Mom. Not that.”


Having failed so many previous sushi coercion attempts, I went straight for the bribe: “Ok, what if I sweetened the offer with extra computer time?”

Ding, ding, ding! “Really?”

“Yeah, but you have to act like it was all your idea and that you’re totally into trying new stuff with us so that Russell will think it’s opposite day and freak out.”

“Mom, you’re so weird.”


“Okay, it’s a deal if there is nothing too gross, like a fish head or…you know. That stuff.”

“Fair enough.”

And we shook on it.

An hour later, we sat at the sushi bar with one very confused Russell. “Bella, you wanted to eat sushi? What happened?”

“Nothing, Russ. I just really respect you and Mom and am trying to give the things you love a shot.”

Oh, brother.

When Russell stepped away, I leaned over, “That was over the top a little with the respect part and the ‘things we love’ and all that, but other than that, you’re doing an outstanding job.”

“Yeah, when I said that, I knew it was a little corny, but I’m kinda on the spot here, Mom.”

We exchanged a low key high five right as the sushi chef passed a “treat” over the glass for the three of us. I had zero clue what the heck it was other than some kind of fried chip with fish eggs and crab, I think, and a fish part. It was an ambitious beginning for poor Bell, who forced the fakest half-smile ever as she bit into half of the whatever-it-was. Then came the involuntary shiver. And the partial gag. And the hilarious: “Mmmm [gag], that was…what was that? That’s not fish egg, is it?”

Shock, shock, horror, horror. Shock, Shock, horror.

Russell told her it was Japanese Berry.

She leaned behind Russell and silently mouthed toward me, “Do I have to eat the rest of that stuff?” To which I gladly mouthed back, “No, no, that was awesome. Good job.” Man, whatever she wanted extra computer time for must’ve been important.

When the chef finished Bella’s sushi virgin order, the California roll, she looked panicked.

what bella saw when her california roll arrived

All the chefs were staring at her, making it even easier. I was proud, though, as Bella soldiered through this strange new food.

“What is this one?”


Blank stare and determination. “Okay.” Swallow. Water. More water. More blank staring. This was like when Dad used to drag me to pipe organ concerts. Poor Bella.

Noting Bell’s hesitation, the chef slipped her a tray of fried fish, trying to pass it off as the beloved children’s delicacy: le fishstick.

“Mmmm, now this is not bad! For real, Russ. What do you think?”

“Oh, this is delicious, Bella.”

“It is!”

“You know that’s baby harp seal, right?”

Bella started to spit it out on her tray and gagged abdominally. It took a few minutes to convince her Russell was joking, but even longer for the chefs and the people surrounding us to quit laughing. Nevertheless, Bella ate the entire serving of “harp seal”.

At the end of the meal, our server brought apples dipped in chocolate syrup, and I could tell my kid was scared there was going to be a fish eyeball or something stuck inside. Russell waited until she’d eaten them all to tell her it was “shark heart,” but it backfired with a barrage of irritated eyerolling.

Tomorrow The Bell gets her well-deserved extra computer time…and macaroni and cheese.

And that nerd Russell? Maybe I’ll make him some of this:

baby harp seal nigiri

Twilight Saga Lie of 2010: First of Many

Won't play "goofy."

With Stephenie Meyer’s third Twilight installment “Eclipse” slated for this summer’s inevitable box office domination, I realize all resistance is futile. This time, though, I’m not going down without a battle. I figure if Ms. Meyer is capable of controlling the iPod playlists of millions of tween Twi-bots, I should have a pretty good shot with just one kid — mine.

“Bella, have you heard anything about the soundtrack for that ‘Eclipse’ movie?”

“The official track listings have not been released yet, Mom.”

Impressive. Most impressive, but she’s not a Jedi yet.

“Oh, well, I think I found something from it on YouTube.”

About thirty seconds into the twenty year-old Peter Murphy song, Bella rolled her eyes, “What is your source on this?”

“I don’t remember, Bell –”

“Because Stephenie Meyer wouldn’t use this music. It’s all wrong.”

Naturally, because Peter Murphy could never be a dark overlord or anything like that. Right. Pfft.

“Bella, look at him. He’s obviously one of those Euro vampires, you know, from the last movie.”

“No, not possible.”

“What do you mean?! This guy has got to be the KING of all vampires. He’s got black leather pants and the flying bird friend, and he’s running around in the forest. What doesn’t say ‘VAMPIRE’ here?”

She wasn’t having it: “Mom, this guy is straight-up goth. There is a difference. Vampires can be goth, but it doesn’t mean all goths are vampires or that all vampires are goth. And if there’s one thing all vampires are, it isn’t goofy.”


Well, then.

I am dying for the clarification of “Emo” now. Apparently, Hot Topic needs to refer to my petite nerdette for future t-shirt slogans because she has the age-old goth vs. vampire quandary completely settled. As for my weaselly attempt to trick her into liking Peter Murphy so that she’ll play something other than Taylor Swift on the guitar? Failure there, so Mom: 0; The Bell: Uno.

But, believe me, this is just the first round. Luckily, for The Bell, I can deliver goofy vampire music all the live-long day.

The Bell, Letter Writer Extraordinaire. Snap, snap, snap.


A while back I scanned some of Bella’s awesome letters — tattle telling quandaries and Mom-and-Dad billet-douxs, mostly. In a scavenger hunt through Photobucket tonight, I rediscovered a few of those.

The urgent letter to the Principal of W.T. Hanes Elementary:

Dear Mrs. Blevins

If I had to pick a favorite, the letter to Mrs. Blevins would probably be it. It’s got third-grade narcing, “panting,” and is signed with “love.” More importantly, this one demonstrates proper, early parenthetical usage, which makes this maternal word nerd’s heart swell times nine million. I remember scanning it, too, as I only had a few seconds to confiscate the note and replace it in order to avoid suspicion.

The Rick Perry Letter:

Oh, Rick Perry. You foolish politician, you.

The Perry letter was read aloud in a faculty meeting. THEN it was read again at an ATPE function later in the week. I’m tellin’ ya, the teachers really dug this one. I’ll never forget when Bella emerged from her room with her pen and notebook paper, wanting to know what Rick Perry’s address was. He never wrote back, but The Bell wasn’t worried about it. She told me, “Mom, didn’t you see the fake email address I put down there at the bottom? I didn’t want to hear his song and dance, but I didn’t wanna be rude either.”

I was confused, “Wait, huh?”

“Mom, it was a decoder email address. He wasn’t going to tell me anything I haven’t already heard before. Politicians. You know what I mean.”

“I think you mean a ‘decoy’, Bella.”

“Yes, that.”


The Colorado Vacation Letter:

Letter from Vacation with Nana

If I could spend just a few minutes with Bella again at any previous age, this would be the phase I’d revisit. She missed me “so much.” With an exclamation point, even. She wanted to know if Getoff’s baby was born yet, but, in typical Isobel fashion, didn’t want anyone to write back because she was belting out this letter on her way home in Nana’s rental car. The best part: a post script full of danger sure to freak out any mom included “…real prisoners and a dust devil and a cattle drive!”

The Birthday Card for Her Dad:

For Dad

It wasn’t so much the birthday card as it was the backstory. Inside the envelope, she’d enclosed a dollar and forty-seven cents. It was all of her money at the time. She’d overheard us arguing about bills.

Sometimes people with newborns ask me what my favorite age has been of Bella’s. Truly, I have loved them all just as much as they’ve each been challenging in their own ways. When I see her these days trying so hard to be a teenager, but without the teen suffix just yet, I feel incredibly close to her even though she’s pushing me further and further away. Recently, I read a fantastic quote in Mary Pipher’s book about adolescent girls Bella’s age, Reviving Ophelia, in which a mother perfectly sums up every thought in my head at this point:

“I hurl you into the universe and pray.”

The clever, young girl who wrote these letters surely deserves an addendum to the above quote, though, and that makes me less nervous, if nothing else:

“I hurl you into the universe and pray — for others.

I love, love, love this child forever.

The Quickest Way to Mom’s Laser of Death


photo by russell turns

photo by russell turns

My mother will be furious when she discovers I have posted this here. She’s under the delusion this story paints her in poor lighting, but I think we can all agree it just makes her seem like an extreme badass — or at the very least a heroine to all who’ve paid ten bucks to see a movie only to have it ruined by some holier-than-thou prick and his cell phone. In fact, when I originally wrote this bit, which appeared in a local print version for a handful of readers, Mom wrote an angry letter to the editor, in which she referred to me not as her daughter but as “Ms. Austin.” I’m not immune to the corrective, quirky wrath of Mom, most certainly, but it’s my sincere privilege to admire it at such close range as her understudy.

Now, with that said, behold my fantastic mother:

I have seen my daughter anxious to leave her Nana’s house, but I’ve never seen her sprint to the truck before. As Bella closed the door, she locked it, and said, “Mom, drive. Hurry.”

I knew it was gonna be a great story – something for my feisty mother’s five-hour, future eulogistic outline, even.

“Nana was so embarrassing at the theater.”

“Like, embarrassing for real or embarrassing for cool fifth graders like you?”

“I mean it, Mom. This time she went over the edge.” 

She explained: Mom and Bella decided to attend a matinee. During the previews, a man in the front of the theater began a text marathon. I could see exactly where this was headed. Poor Bella.

“…then the movie started, and he didn’t stop.”

Oh, no.

…so Nana stood up and yelled, ‘Quit texting! It’s distracting! Stop it!’ “

“Excellent. Really?”

“YES. She REALLY did that, Mom, but it gets better because…”

The guy had the audacity to tell my mother to sit down. MY mother. Then he foolishly entered Mom’s No Man’s Land when he added, “Just watch the movie and quit looking at my phone, Lady!”

Bella and I shared a moment of fearful silence. I was worried this all was going to end at the police station or something, but, nah. As Bella promised, it got better.

“Mom, Nana pulled a laser out of her purse and beamed it onto the screen of that guy’s phone so he couldn’t text anymore.”

“She pulled out a what?!”

“A laser! Like, on one of those key chain things. You know.”

“Oh, ok! What did the guy do?!”

“He stood up and screamed at her [in Bella's best screaming guy voice], What do you think you’re doing?! Stop it! NOW! And then Nana screamed back [awesome Nana voice here], Stop texting! And then he yelled, No! And she shot the laser again, and it hit him in the eyes!”


“Yeah, and he put his hands on his face and totally was yelling, Are you crazy? You could blind me with that! You could blind somebody. And Nana said, Well, then turn around and watch the screen and quit looking at me!

"It was so embarrassing."

"It was so embarrassing."

I was sooo incredibly glad I wasn’t there. Kind of. 

“Anyway, Mom, then he ran out of the theater to tell on her. I was so embarrassed. The guy’s wife was also very embarrassed. When the manager came back, the guy was angry because he was told not to text anymore.”

That was not really what Mom’s ego needed at that point, especially while she was brandishing a sci-fi, sight-stealing laser.

“And then twenty minutes later, we decided to leave because the movie was really not very entertaining.” She paused. “And that was it. How was your day?”

There you have it. No texting during the movie. You never know; the theater might have an anti-SMS plant in the form of my mother. She is armed and unafraid to punish.