“A Bats-Over-Penguins Life,” Aug. 8, 2017


Bats over penguins. That’s how I describe things that defy expectations and leave me drop-jawed in surprise.

Years ago on a trip to Portland, my husband and I went to the Oregon Zoo mostly to see the penguins.

I love penguins. They’re like toddlers on a sugar high from too much birthday cake _ fun to watch, if you don’t have to chase them. I could hardly wait.

So we saw them. They were great. Then we left to go eat. But a funny thing happened on our way to find food. We stumbled upon an exhibit of, yes, bats.

Bear in mind, I grew up in the South, intimately acquainted with all manner of jaw-dropping critters. But never in my life had I seen anything like those bats. My husband, a California native/newspaper editor who prides himself on having seen it all, was duly impressed. But me? I was flat-out blown away.

The point of that story is this: Sometimes we expect to see penguins. Then, out of the blue, totally unexpected, we get blown away by bats.

We can’t make it happen. It’s a gift, a surprise that surpasses anything we hoped for. All we can do is smile and be thankful and know that we’ve been blessed.

This has been a bats-over-penguins kind of week.

My husband and I live in Las Vegas, a place with no shortage of jaw-dropping sights. But we were hungry to see family and friends in California. So we are spending a month by Monterey Bay, a place we once, and will forever, call home.

Our expectations are simple: To share as much time as possible with people we love. It’s a good goal, don’t you think, for a month or a lifetime?

Early this week, I got to pick up my grandson, Henry, from his first day of kindergarten. His mom, my daughter, is a teacher at his school. She needed to stay late, so she asked me to take him home. I met her outside his classroom and we waited with dozens of other mamas and daddies and nanas and papas _ and a convoy of younger siblings in strollers.

Watching my daughter wait for her little one, I remembered how I felt waiting for her on her first day of kindergarten. It’s such a joy getting to relive what it’s like to be a young mother, without having to do any of the work.

When the bell finally rang, I wish you could’ve seen all those little faces lighting up like the sun as they spotted someone waiting just for them.

It brought to mind a simple truth: Children are not races or nationalities or “differences” of any kind. They’re just children. And they belong, not only to their families, but to us all.

Then I saw Henry flash me a grin as he hugged his mom and for a moment, I forgot my name.

Two nights later, Randy, my youngest child’s 6-year-old, was all set to spend the night with us _ until he popped out his front tooth. But his mom told him the Tooth Fairy could find the house we’ve rented. Then she entrusted the boy and his tooth to our care.

That night, I told Randy this story. Long ago, when his dad lost his last baby tooth, he left a note under his pillow: “Dear Tooth Fairy,” he wrote, “Two teeth came out of my mouth but I lost one. Please give me double credit.”

Randy liked that story a lot. Then I tucked him in bed with his tooth under his pillow. And after he fell asleep, I helped the Tooth Fairy do her thing.

The next morning, Randy flipped up his pillow and found five whole dollars. He was thrilled. Especially after I told him it was five times as much as his dad got for “double credit.”

Our month by the bay with people we love will be filled, I am sure, with surprises. But this week will be hard to top.

Henry’s first day of school and Randy’s lost tooth were better than a zoo full of bats.

As my grandmother liked to say, it’s worth waking up every morning, and putting in your false teeth, just to see what on Earth will happen next.


  1. Barbara Novelli says

    Hi Sharon,
    I envy you spending time in Monterey. I miss it so much even though I do love Bend Oregon.
    We have lived here for 12 years now. I am no longer teaching but do teach teachers which I have been doing for 20 years, even while in the classroom. The reason we are here is our Grandkids and our Sons. Kyle is a commercial fisherman and has re married Amber Walton. You might remember her. They went most of their school careen and accidentally (probably not an accident thanks to the Good Lord) met while he was working in Monterey. They live in Newport and his son our Grandson Kody is working with him (21). Scott is teaching (might have known) here in Bend and is a coach for Football and wrestling (which is big here in Oregon). He is a coach like Randy .. makes memories every year. Is married to Erin Ramsey a Salina girl and are very happy . they have two children Tatum Grace almost 12 and going to middle school and Kapp Tillman going to be 9 and third grade (the one grade I never taught) I have such fond memories of Joanna and Nathan. I still think of Joanna walking into Kindergarten and sitting right in the middle of the circle. Tell them both hi for Mrs. Novelli and Hello and love from the Northwest Novelli’s. If you are ever up this way give us a call and come visit. (just don’t come the week of the eclipse.) It is going to be crazy here. All my love and thanks for what you do.. I am so glad I talked you into going back to work and hey look at your great kids. Didn’t hurt them a bit.

  2. Delightful article! Glad you’re enjoying visiting the Monterey Peninsula and your family.

  3. Kate Sciacca says

    I’m in California right now, watching my own grands! Their mom and dad snuck off to a Giants game and an overnight in the city… Yes, my own daughter has gone over to the Darkside. ? As another reader wrote, you must make a stop at Rosines ?
    Sad to say, I will be back again on Saturday for yet another friend’s funeral… Gone too soon in a motorcycle accident… Yes, we must enjoy every minute of every day!

    Enjoy your “winter” at the bay, sounds like a wonderful time ??

  4. This is so funny…mostly because today, after 68 years of living happily in my mouth, a baby canine was popped out of it by the dentist. He will replace it over the next 4 months with an implant. But, after the old tooth was out, the nurse asked me if I wanted it. I said,”Yes!” and she responded, “Of course, …to put under your pillow, right?” Wouldn’t it be great if I got 68 yrs worth of interest from the Tooth Fairy! Love your timely story

  5. PJ McCreary says

    I used to get a dime for my teeth. Talk about inflation. (of course, I am three score and ten!)

  6. Watching for you on Monterey Peninsula….maybe we’ll run into you at Rosine’s!

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