Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Waning Days of Summer by Jenny Gardiner

What happened to summer? Just a few short weeks ago I was lamenting the laundry list of all tasks that my at-home-for-the-summer brood are incapable of performing (and that would include laundry). That was when summer still held the promise of all the exciting things it held in store for us. When the leaves on the trees had just transitioned from that newborn yellow-green to the get-down-to-business green meant to provide comfortable shade and respite from the heat.

Respite we’ve had. My lounge lizard of a youngest child has spent much of the summer supine on the couch, peaceably indulging in book after book, unwilling to venture into the blistering heat that defines summer in the South. My oldest, too, has enjoyed lazy sleep-ins and leisurely breakfasts that last into lunchtime. My middle? Well, she defies the standard and has worked industriously all summer in various odd-jobs, in addition to swimming often 3 hours a day for swim team practice.

Because of grinding schedules of two of them, and the frequently not-at-home third, it seems as if a fog of lethargy settled down upon us, meaning nothing got done except making sure that things were undone.

And so, in no particular order, here’s what didn’t happen this summer:

•replacing empty toilet paper rolls (or tossing cardboard rolls out when empty)
•flushing toilets on a regular basis
•rinsing dishes
•carrying dishes to sink
•washing dishes
•squeezing excess water from kitchen sponge
•putting rank-odored, mildewed, sopping wet kitchen sponge into laundry hamper
•wiping counters
•putting shoes away
•moving shoes from where they were taken off (not kicking those left in middle of the floor as if they are soccer balls)
•turning off lights
•feeding the pets
•filling the car’s tank with gas
•picking up wet towels from floor
•answering the phones
•hanging up phone, which is left to wedge beneath the sofa cushions, lost, sound muffled so as to be un-findable
•responding to requests for duties to be done
•finding food for selves in fridge (if not in front of face it doesn't exist, much like a newborn)
•finding food for selves in food pantry (see above)

As much as these transgressions plucked my last nerve one month ago, now I can do nothing but wring my hands in anticipation of what will be in less than three weeks: none of this. Instead we will have an oldest child who is off to college, no longer around very often to make the messes he doesn’t clean up. A middle who will not only mourn the loss of her cherished older brother, but also her summer love, also heading off to college. And a youngest who reluctantly ventures into the brave new world of high school, leaving her friends behind at another school, to her deep chagrin.

In a few weeks we will face great transition in our household. There will be much disequilibrium. It will be quieter. It will be cleaner, more organized. It will be heartbreaking.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

What a Short, Wonderful Trip It's Been*

by Judy Merrill Larsen

Twenty-two years and four months ago today, I delivered my first child, a beautiful, tiny, baby boy born in the wee hours (minutes, really) of Easter Sunday morning. He arrived a month early. (I don't think he's been early for anything since.)

One week ago today, I delivered that same baby, now a beautiful young man to his new life in Seattle where he has an apartment overlooking Puget Sound, a job he's been dreaming about since he started college 4 years ago, and, at least as far as I can see it, the world by a string.

And it all passed in the blink of an eye.

How did it all happen, I found myself wondering on our 2200 mile drive west. Where did the time go? In his grin and in his sweetness, I can still see the little boy who fell out of his chair just about every day in 1st grade. And I also saw his intelligence and determination as he figured out, several times, how to back up the 17-foot truck with a car being towed behind it. Often when I'd pulled it a smidge too close to the gas pump or the curb or the building wall in the alley. I'd first seen those qualities when he'd finish a puzzle without wanting any help or follow the painstaking directions putting a Lego project together.

I remember back to those precious quiet moments you only get with your first baby, those hours of rocking and nursing and staring at this person who relied on me for everything (that's true terror!), wondering who he might grow up to be. I hoped he'd find a career he'd love, a career that would fill him in all good ways. I wanted a life for him filled with passion and joy and challenge and satisfaction. And he's making it happen. He picked his dream city and he sent out letters and resumes and he now gets to claim his life. I'm thrilled and humbled.

We had lots of time to talk on our drive, and it was a luxury I haven't had with him in I don't know how long. At home, we chat, but it seems always in passing. When he's been away at school, there's the occasional relaxing phone call, but more often it's a quick "How are you? Love you. Bye." But the road stretched out before us, mountains and plains and rivers, and we talked. About politics and the environment and music. But a good deal of the time was spent reminiscing. As parents, I think we often wonder what they'll take away from their childhoods. What will they remember and hold fast to? I wasn't always patient or creative. I remember being tired much of the time. Should I have done more of this or less of that? We wonder and worry and try our hardest and hope for the best. But even then we don't always know.

But then, somewhere in South Dakota (after the keys had been locked in the truck but before we'd discovered the brakes were a tad touchy), he told me what a great childhood he'd had, how he loved those summers of adding on to his fort in the backyard and exploring in the woods near the park, how our neighborhood had been just right, filled with kids of all ages to play with and learn from, and how he was glad he'd had such unprogrammed summers filled with inventions and activities the kids dreamed up, and I felt myself relax. I'd done good. And so had he.

So, after the drive and the unloading and the short few hours of sleep before my flight home, when I hugged him goodbye at the airport and kissed his neck, I knew we were both ready for this next part of our lives together. People have asked if I'm sad he's so far away or if I cried when I said goodbye. And I'm not and I didn't. There's nothing to be sad or weepy about--22 very short years ago, I set out on a promise to give him roots and wings. And looking at him now, I think I accomplished both.

* With apologies to Jerry and the rest of the band for the paraphrase

(Cross-posted at Not Afraid of the "F" Word)

p.s. Be sure to tune in next week when I put my funny-writer-hat back on and write about kissing politicians. Seriously.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

I'm Not Really a Short, Clumsy Housewife; I Just Play One on TV

By Melanie Lynne Hauser

So this is how I spent my day yesterday. Seriously.

Two of the four halogen light bulbs in the bathroom went out. Well, actually only one of them went out; the other one had been out for a long time, and my husband hadn’t replaced it, claiming that the bulbs were too expensive and we could get by on three lights. But I’m getting a little, ahem - older. And the truth is, I NEED strong light in order to see my face well enough to put on my eyeliner without poking myself in the eyeball. So….

I went out and bought two light bulbs. They were $8 each, which I guess is a trifle expensive, but oh well. I turned off the light switch so I didn’t electrocute myself, which was risky because there’s no window in there so I was operating in the dark. I also had to haul a chair upstairs and climb up on top of the bathroom counter to reach the fixture. Which I did. I carefully replaced the light bulbs, making sure not to actually touch them because the person at the lighting store told me that oil from my hands would make the bulbs burn out a lot more quickly. I didn’t want that to happen to my $16 worth of bulbs. So I used a tissue to hold them in place while I twisted them into their sockets. Then I climbed down, turned on the light switch — and watched in horror as one of the OTHER 2 bulbs that I hadn’t replaced burnt out.

So I got in my car and drove to the light store (these are fancy bathroom lights that require fancy bulbs). I spent $8 on another bulb. I came home, repeated the operation — only this time I accidentally dropped the bulb (it’s tricky to hold it in place with a tissue!) and it broke.

I climbed back down from the counter. I got in my car. I drove to the light store.

I bought 2 bulbs, just in case. (Grand total spent on light bulbs, if you’re not keeping track: $40.)

I climbed back up on the counter. I replaced the bulb — this time I didn’t break it. I climbed back down, flipped the light switch, and held my breath.

All the lights worked! Yay!

I hauled the chair downstairs. By this time it was dusk out. I turned on the outside lights. One of them was out.

I sighed. Again. But by now my sons were home and since they’re taller than me, I made one of them change the bulb. We flipped the switch back on — both lights burned brightly. Yay!

I went into the kitchen to start dinner. I turned on the lights above the sink. One of them burned out.

I cursed. A LOT. (Fortunately the boys were upstairs in their rooms with their MP3 players blaring, and they didn’t hear me.) I pulled another chair over to the kitchen cabinet where we store the light bulbs. I cursed again, at my parents this time, for giving me their short person genes. I climbed up, searched the cabinet, but we were out of light bulbs.

I climbed back down from the chair, decided that I was not going to spend another dime on light bulbs, not on this day, and attempted to fix dinner in the dusk. It turned out all right. If you overlook the fact that I accidentally put cinnamon on the chicken instead of paprika.

And as I cleaned up after dinner, I reflected that it’s a good thing I’m a writer and that I have a blog. Because if I wasn’t, and I didn’t, the day would have been a sad, pathetic waste of time.

But instead, it became a semi-amusing blog entry. And perhaps a character-enlightening paragraph in a future novel about a short housewife with poor eyesight and clumsy fingers.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Eyes Have It

By Margy McCarthy

One afternoon when I was in the seventh grade, I took some of my paper route money and selected a pot of Cover Girl lavender crème eyeshadow from the mythic wall of womanhood- the cosmetics section of our local Pamida discount store. It took forever to make my choice, and I felt very grown up counting out my change for the cashier. I was buying makeup.

After breakfast the next morning, I stole into the bathroom and gave my lids a thick, shimmery coat of purple goo. When I kissed my mom goodbye, she stopped me and asked, “What happened to your eyelids?” I stated the obvious: Mo-o-ommm... It's eyeshadow. “Does your dad know?” she asked. I said yes. Not technically the truth yet, but he would in a matter of minutes. Sure enough, on the way to school Dad turned to me and asked, “Does your mother know you’re wearing makeup?”

Well, yes, as a matter of fact. Yes. She did.

Shriek appeared in the kitchen the other morning, dressed and ready for an out of town shopping trip with Silly and her mom. Although I greeted her when she passed my chair, I was terribly involved with a sudoku, and it wasn’t until Sparky announced, “I am never buying you contact lenses, and that’s final.” that I really looked at my daughter.

Her complexion was flawless, her long blonde hair swung glossy and smooth, her mouth was a pale shiny pink, and her eyes- even behind the glasses- were like a Disney princess. Huge. Blue. Mascaraed.

I said, “Take off your glasses and look at me, Honey.” She did, and I laughed. When did she learn to do this? Subtle. Appropriate. No purple garage doors in sight. “You look beautiful.” I said, “Now look at your dad.”

A shudder ran through him. “No contacts,” he repeated. “Not now, not ever.”

“Why not, Daddy?” she asked, in an all-new reasonable tone to match her Barbie doll face, “What terrible thing do you think will happen when I get contacts?”

He shuddered again. “Boys.”

Because I later realized how ridiculous I must have looked with my lavender garage doors, I have made it a point to keep Shriek supplied with lip glosses and appropriate (cast-off) color cosmetics for a couple of years now, just for fun. Occasionally, she and her girlfriends have played with them during a slumber party, but until the other day no serious interest has been shown in makeup for daily use. She was a jump-out-of-bed at the last minute kind of girl. Get dressed, grab some toast, brush your hair, brush your teeth, and go. Fifteen minutes from pillow to passenger seat. And that was fine with us.

But now…

Now she needs her hair cut like Elliott on Scrubs. She swears she will get up early enough to style it before school. Now she needs tighter-fitting polo shirts for her school uniform- none of those we chose last year are the “right kind.” Now she needs her own mascara and mineral powder, because after the unveiling of the glamorous new Shriek, I discovered my makeup box in total disarray- and I love her like crazy, but I’ve seen those magnified pictures of the eyelash bugs- I am not sharing my makeup.

And now she will get her contacts.

God help us all.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Mid-Life Madness by Barb McKone

Mid-Life Madness   by Barb McKone

I have decided to grow out my hair.

I am of the age (which shall remain temporarily unidentified) that seems to suggest sporting a shorter, unfettered hairstyle.  I've had short hair for years.  I admit it, I look pretty cute with short hair.  My neck and shoulders are two of the few parts of me that still look pretty good, especially from the back.  I think.  But, I realized, last winter, the bleakest winter of my life to date, that I no longer felt... pretty.  Things just look different.  Saggy.  Life has seemed a little darker this year, a little off-kilter, and things on me seem to be reflecting that.  The circles under my eyes are darker, the whole lower half of me is off-kilter.  And regarding the hair growing, believe me, it's not that I think long hair is prettier than short- I've been wondering for two years now why Halle Berry decided to grow out instead of stay stunningly shorn. But for me, right now, change is good.  I want to see if I can do it, one more time before I possibly start caring about looking "age-appropriate."  And if I let the long hair hang in my face, I might (like the woman in the commercial from last season for some sort of beauty product) get carded when buying beer.  Just once more.

I realize that this clog is really supposed to focus on the parenting of teens.  But, let's face it, most of those of us who are parenting teens are "of a certain age."  Middle age, here we are.

You see, I'm denying my way through a, I believe, mid-life crisis.  Job, kids, appearance, skin care, health and vitamins, cooking, housekeeping, financial status, gardening, fear of Alzheimer's, fear of my daughter leaving for college, being a good child, being a good parent- it's all under the microscope like never before and leading to a lack of sleep and increase in late-night writings. It's all being questioned and analyzed.  Re-worked.  Scrutinized.  I never dreamed it would happen.   "Mid-life crisis?!" I scoffed.  "Not me!" I don't know how or when it started, exactly, but I think that at least the aging part of it had to do with a visit to my friend Katie two summers ago.  

I went for nineteen years without eating sugar.  I was experiencing some anxiety issues back in my single-and-in-New York- actress days (and when I say single, I mean still childless- my husband was wonderful during this crisis) and went to see a counselor I'd heard about through the soap-opera grapevine.  He told me he believed that my blood sugar, considering I was living on Mentos and Coke, (please note that's with "aCola" on the end) was drastically affecting my physical and mental health.  He was right.  Although we still had some "issues" to talk about, the elimination of sugar as the base of my personal food pyramid was key in regaining my stability.  God bless Dr. Cannon, wherever you are.  I stuck to this for years.  I didn't take Motrin because of the sugary coating.  No white flour.  Nothing.

Then, five or so years ago on vacation,  I tried a bite of a plain cake Dunkin' Donut.  No sugar strangeness, no dizziness.  The next day I ate a whole donut.  Perfectly fine.  Better than fine, really.  I felt elated.  Freed.  I guessed that after all those years, my body chemistry had changed.  It's supposed to happen every seven years.  Not only was my friend sugar unexpectedly back in my life, but the crustiness and perfect caky texture of my new deep-fried obsession kept me up at night.  You see, I'd forgotten that nineteen years before being reintroduced to these Dunkin' circles from heaven, I had been a sugar addict.  In one week I was a goner.  Hooked.  I didn't feel crazy, probably because I didn't live in New York anymore.  My kids and husband were shocked and happy.  My lack of sugar hadn't really affected their lives too much, but suddenly, I was eating pie on vacation.  That might lead to (gasp-) birthday cake in the future!  Over the next few weeks and months, I added all types of sugar back into my diet, testing.  I was a full-fledged sugar-head again, and loving it.

Since then, I've gone through sugar lulls and binges regularly.  Actually, I think I'm pretty normal.  Most of my friends are like me, enjoying sugar and taking breaks from it when they overindulge.  The only difference is that they weren't completely sworn off the stuff for years, and they don't (probably, I haven't asked) have days in which they'd kill something at three p.m. to get the stuff, and when they do, proceed to eat said item immediately, in the parking lot of the convenience store.  This is a sad symptom of my sugar plight.

The other symptom is a five-year-fifteen-pound upswing in weight.  It's been gradual, but it's noticeable.  I look older, (I AM older, I tell myself in defense) and puffier.  I've lost some of the definition in my face, and all of the definition in my waist.  It's affected not only how I look, but how I feel, physically and emotionally.  But, because I don't want to offend my sweet sugary companion, I've been trying to ignore the lumpiness of my thighs.

So, standing on my college sorority daughter and great friend Katie's front porch two years ago, getting ready to surprise her after not seeing her in a few years, I was wondering how she'd look.  I hadn't thought too much about how I looked.  I was in the midst of a cross-country trip in which we turned out to be picking up my daughter from Lacrosse Camp in the Chicago area just blocks from Katie's house.  Let me preface this story by saying that of all my friends, Katie has retained the most youthful glow.  She's adorable, tiny, and too nice for words, damn her wonderful self.  I might have given more thought to how I looked, travel-worn and disheveled, but I knew that Katie wouldn't care. But it wasn't Katie who answered the door.  It was her son Will's babysitter.  Will was about six at the time.  I don't know the babysitter's name, but for the story, let's call her Katya.  Here, paraphrased, is our front porch conversation:

Me:  Hi!  (looking past her into the hallway) Is Katie home?

Katya:  (heavily accented) No, no, not home.  (Smiling broadly, welcoming.)  You the grand mother?

Me, stunned.  

Me, stammering:  The grandmother?  No, no- (fumbling for words) I'm her friend from college. (Trying to stress that Katie and I are, but for one year, the SAME AGE.) I'm just traveling through town-- is there any way to talk to her?

Katya: (Still nodding and smiling, which is starting to annoy me a little) You here to pick up? Grand mother?

Me, trying to retain composure: No, (smiling back) NOT the grandmother.  Do you have Katie's cell phone number?  Could I call her?

After some awkward conversation, I managed to leave my cell phone number for Katie on a scrap of paper, and minutes after leaving the porch, got a call from her begging us to turn around a come back.  Stay for dinner.  Let's catch up!!  During our delightful evening together, I tried not to dwell on the doorstep conversation.  But after relaying the story to my husband and his subsequent laughing attack, the story was also shared with Katie and her husband over a glass of wine.  She was, of course, horrified.  "Oh my God, Barb," she said.  "I'm so sorry.  You look great!"  I love Katie, and appreciated her efforts.  But I knew that Katya had said it all. Sugar-coated or not, I was starting to show my age.

So, I've decided to go into my, okay, I'll give- forty-NINTH year with a new goal.  Get healthy, and in turn, maybe look a little younger.  I know I shouldn't care too much, but I care enough. Save the health club money and work out at home.  My dogs and my gas tank will love me for it. Resolve the mid-life issues that I can't change, change the ones I can, and know the difference. Realize that while wine is sugar, it also aids my sleep, and in so, negates the negative.   

I'm sure Erma would tell me to roll with the mid-life thing.  I am at the middle of my life, after all.  Old is smart.  The goal is gonna get me.  She's say something pithy and playful.  I should go back through her quotes and find a few to post on my office wall.  My adorable friend Katie has lots of self-help quotes on her wall, scrawled in pink marker on torn sheets of paper. My favorite is:  "A Hundred Years From Now... All New People."  I know it should make me think less about the importance of my thighs, but it really just doesn't.

Anyone else getting mid-lifey?  Let's talk.

On my fiftieth birthday, I'll give a report of my successes (perhaps) to my Clog-Mates.  Or better yet, I invite you to come to St. Louis in May and help me celebrate, success or not.  We'll have a BIG SUGARY CAKE.  

And, in post-script, my visit with Katie ended in a revelation.  Her son Will had been hosting a play date with a school friend the afternoon I showed up on Katie's doorstep.  Katya had been expecting Will's friend's mother to pick him up at about the time I arrived on the scene.  His name was Grant. 

Grant's mother.

Isn't life just funny like that sometimes?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

My Daughter the Vampire by Jenny Gardiner

There are certain things I cannot get over. One of those is the "no waking the child" policy borne of desperation in those early days of parenthood when sleep deprivation got the better of me and I caved like a prisoner of war under interrogation, flinging aside my wise grandfather's advice. That wisdom issued forth on one rare moment when he dispensed his nugget of knowledge to me when upon a visit late in my first pregnancy: "Don't go tiptoeing around the goddamned babies. Let them get used to noises in the house." My grandfather had a salty tongue, by the way.

So I was determined to employ this wise counsel from this father of seven, grandfather of 21. Clearly he must've known whereof he spoke. No way would I worry about whether my kids woke or not, noise be damned.

Fast forward to those bleak sleepless weeks/months/years when an hour's sleep was far more precious than any sparkling gemstone unearthed in a DeBeers mine in South Africa. Those were the days, when I resorted to desperate measures to ensure that my children remained soundly asleep.

I'll never forget my lowest of low points, when my youngest was a baby. Now, unlike my oldest, who took NINE MONTHS to sleep through the night, she slept six straight hours the very day she came home from the hospital.I got used to her accommodating my needs. But then she pulled the old bait and switch, and at six months began waking constantly, not such a courteous gesture for a mom managing three kids under the age of four. So one night, after re-settling her down in a completely darkened bedroom, I slowly lowered myself to the floor and onto my hands and knees. From there I slunk down to my belly. And then I ever-so-gradually inched myself backwards out of the room, kamikaze-style, as if barbed wire and bullets was what I was dodging rather than a wakeful baby. The theme song to Irma LaDouce, "If They Could See Me Now" was playing on an endless loop in my head. Because I couldn't believe how far I'd fallen from the carefree and well-rested girl I once was, in such dire need of sleep that I'd evacuate a child's bedroom as if fleeing a snoozing Nazi captor.

Since then I have been entirely unable (and unwilling) to wake any of my children from sleep. To the point of maternal failure.

Take for example my youngest. The wakeful one 13-1/2 years ago? These days she keeps vampire hours. Sleeps in a darkness-cloaked cave of a bedroom, eye mask firmly in place, sometimes until 2. In the afternoon. She has a leisurely "breakfast" around 3:30. Lunch becomes a suggestion for her just about when I'm pondering dinner options. I think she finally decides upon dinner well after we've gone to bed at night. Because my day begins at 5:30, mine is well on its way to completion by the time she lifts her sweet head from the pillow.

A few weeks ago I got up around 2:30 and saw lights on in the hallway, only to discover her having just switched out laundry loads. At 2:30 in the morning!

Honestly, I'm starting to think I should look for fangs, perhaps vials of blood laying around that are sustaining her in this nighttime vigil of wakefulness.

Now, of course my older two went through this crazy sleep mode. And I refused to allow myself to wake them either. Nowadays they arise at far more reasonable hours. I have an awful lot of empathy for the crazy demands on their lives during the school year. It's as if the summer is their time to compensate for the sheer exhaustion of their daily grind.

And yet I cannot shake this child-waking aversion. Up at dawn, I go to extreme lengths to enforce a modest level of quiet in the house. Even after the other two awaken, instinctually I flinch at noise while she sleeps on. And on. And on. When the dog barks (which she does constantly), I reprimand her in a hushed voice. When the doorbell rings, I wince. But then I remind myself: It's afternoon! the girl's not a vampire.

Or is she?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Am I Blue?

by Judy Merrill Larsen

Being a mom means you're gonna make mistakes with your kids. We all know that, right? I freely admit lots of screw-ups and I am also very free with my apologies (saying "I'm sorry" also makes it harder for them to stay mad at me.). Here are just a few mistakes:

~lack of vegetables. Yes, I serve plenty of salad. And fruit. But I have never served peas (other than peapods) in my kitchen and I never will. I hated them as a kid. Yuck. I also don't like many other cooked vegetables. Too mushy. If I don't like 'em, I'm not cooking 'em. Mushrooms are also on the list.

~lack of baby books/scrapbooks. I took tons of pictures. I saved report cards and "special" papers. The pictures are in photo albums up until about age 8, the rest are in boxes up in my office. But at least the boxes are labeled. The scrapbooks are pristinely new and empty.

~um, I sometimes yelled. Lost my temper when it wasn't really their fault. Cursed in their presence. Didn't always set a good example. Might have been inconsistent.

~My #1 Son (dubbed "Earthworm" by his brother; "Greenboy" by me) complains that I still don't have a compost heap in my backyard. Sorry, mea culpa, I'm just not a person who wants to trot out back with my egg shells and banana peels. I do recycle though.

But, you know what? I can totally relax now because all these things (well, except for the compost heap. And peas.) are reversible. Correctible. Unlike my cousin (distant cousin, I want to add) who turned his family blue. Yes. He really did. And it's permanent. Seriously. It can't be undone.

Now, it's not smurf blue.

It's not even as bad as that guy who was on Oprah talking to Dr. Oz a few months back who was really blue.

But, there is a distinct blue undertone to their skin nonetheless. And it won't fade or go away. It's there. Apparently, the rest of his family (but not him. That's telling.) were advocates of some dietary supplement. He felt it was too expensive. So, rather than buy it from their handy dandy local drugstore, he figured he'd make his own version. I mean, heck, why not? He'd had a chemistry set as a kid.

How complicated could it be? So he sent away to some mail order place and ordered all the ingredients and mixed them up. Look at all the money he was saving, he probably bragged to them. But, oops, there was a glitch of sorts. Rumor has it that he ordered a slightly different version of aluminum than people are supposed to ingest. And a few weeks after they'd started taking his formula, somebody commented that they were all (except for him who didn't believe in the supplement) looking a tad blue. Just a tinge, but noticeable. Oh, and did I mention it's PERMANENT?!

So, when I'm reviewing my litany of parental offenses, I take great pride in knowing I've never changed the color of my children's skin. Perhaps I'll still get that Mother-of-the-year award after all.

p.s. I'm on the last leg of my 2200+ mile road trip in a U-Haul from St. Louis to Seattle today, so I won't be commenting until tomorrow. Road trip stories to follow!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Thoughts on the Emmy Award Nominations...

By Melanie Lynne Hauser

Well, dang. Last Thursday was a pretty crummy day. I woke up only to find that, once again, I did not receive an Emmy Award nomination.

Really, I’m disappointed. Best Performance by a Middle Aged Woman Trying to Fit Into Low Rider Jeans? Why, I thought I was a shoo-in for that nomination. How about the category of Best Adapted Permission Slip Signature? I was robbed! Best Original Excuse For Not Buying Your 16-year-old A New Car Because You're Tired of Reminding Him That You're Poor? I SO owned that category.

But seriously, folks. My realization that I will not, in all probability, ever get to dress up in a designer gown and be accosted by Ryan Seacrest on the red carpet has me pretty down. It seems that, lately, there have been a lot of realizations like this — for instance, it’s probably too late for me to win the Olympic Gold Medal in Women’s Gymnastics. Or represent the Great State of Illinois in the Miss America pageant. Or win that prize for the best new author under the age of 40.

Life is about little deadlines like that, and I’m passing some of them at terrifying speed, and it’s bumming me out.

Just yesterday, my husband and I came to a pretty sober conclusion regarding some of the plans we had for our house. We always thought this small house would, eventually, be a much nicer, slightly larger house. When we moved in we accepted its flaws gratefully but there was always the notion that “one day” we’d fix them. The garage is a pet peeve of Hubby's. It’s not a garage, really; more like a bomb shelter built into the backyard and it leaks so terribly that you can’t store anything in it, and the foundation’s so cracked you can’t drive a car on it. But we always knew that one day we’d tear it down and get a new one. Same thing with air conditioning. We don’t have any. Not Central Air, anyway. But one day…oh, you know the drill.

Well, yesterday we sat down with bills, and we looked ahead, to college tuition payments for not just one son, but two, and we realized that “one day” had come and gone. The kids have fully taken over with their unreasonable desire to continue their education (not to mention their ongoing habit of needing twenty bucks whenever they see us). Leeches!

And just like that, we accepted — not that gracefully; I believe several cans of beer were opened and wept into — that this was it. It’s not going to get any better than this; in fact it will probably be all downhill from here. Just like my quest for Olympic Gold, we were suddenly past the expiration date for Dream House.

So Academy of Television Arts and Sciences? Let me just say, next year I should be a lock for Best Performance by a Pre Menopausal Woman Pretending to be Happy She Had Kids Because Who Needs Air Conditioning in Chicago in the Middle of July, Anyway?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Nocturne for the Nocturnal

By Margy McCarthy

Several years ago, we used to go camping with some frequency. We would pack our gear and a weekend’s worth of groceries and head up into the mountains of Southern California, just a few hours’ drive out of the desert where we would enjoy a couple of days respite from the heat and hustle-bustle of our lives.

We weren’t the cold cereal and hot dogs brand of campers. We were the cook-real-food-from-scratch-over-the-fire, breakfast burritos in the morning and chicken and veggies in a foil pouch buried in the coals for dinner kind of campers.

I woke one morning to discover the raccoons had found their way into the (latched and weighted) food boxes and coolers. The bacon and sausages were gone, and my cheese was in a tree halfway up the hill.

Interestingly enough, that is almost exactly what my kitchen looked like this morning.

It is eight a.m. as I write these words, and both of my kids are sleeping. Before they drag themselves from their beds, I shall have written this post, folded two baskets of laundry, loaded the dishwasher, and set something out to thaw for dinner. There is also the remote possibility that I might bake a double batch of chocolate chip cookies, although these spurts of domesticity seem futile lately, as evidenced by the orange slice cookies I baked two days ago that were all MIA as of dinnertime yesterday.

I think they were eaten by raccoons.

My kids are still abed because they have become nocturnal this summer. I relax the rules during a vacation from school, and so long as they are both present- or at least accounted for- by the time I hit the hay, I do not impose a regular bedtime.

But this has gotten downright silly. They swoop through the darkness like bats. Like owls, without the mythical association to stolid wisdom. Like those pesky raccoons who sneak in and destroy a whole weekend’s worth of provisions in one fell swoop- leaving only tiny handprints to evidence their treachery. Once Sparky and I have called it a day, our little creatures of the night remain awake, watching TV, surfing the ‘net, coating the kitchen countertops with peanut butter and jelly…and eating all the cookies.

Dr. Spock warned me about this years ago, but he said it would happen when they were infants. As far as I can Google, he didn’t offer any suggestions for solving this problem with teens. So we’ll go with what information we have:

“When actively trying to switch a (new baby's) time clock, have bright lights on in the house during daylight hours. Keep up a steady stream of talking in normal conversational tones around your baby during the day. Play with her feet often, and make eye contact with her whenever you can.
“As soon as the sun begins to go down, purposely avoid all of these things. When you feed her, try not to make eye contact with her. Speak only in whispers or sing-song tones. Sing lullabies. Have the lights dim in the house. And don't stimulate their feet.”

Call me crazy, but I’m going to give it a try. I will not look at them during our candlelit dinner tonight, I will use my library voice, sing softly, and I will not under any circumstances tickle their feet after 9 p.m.

And tomorrow? I will wake them bright and early with a feather duster, a spotlight, and a bullhorn.

The raccoons will not prevail this time.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Our Friend Murphy by Barb McKone

Our Friend Murphy by Barb McKone

My daughter is at this very moment sitting on the couch with two of her friends, moping.  They took over an hour to get ready.  My bathroom smells like Bath and Body Works.  Hair straighteners, a half-spent bag of chips and smudgy cotton balls now litter the counter I wiped with care this morning.  Their summer dresses are frighteningly adorable and their bronzed summer skin is way too exposed for my liking.  After all that prep, it turns out that there is nothing to do on this beautiful summer night.  They've been in a huddle for a half-hour, working the phones.  I've suggested Ben and Jerry's, going to a movie, or perhaps just staying home and baking a peach-blueberry cobbler with The Mama.  Aprons all around!  I hadn't realized that the stress of the situation had drained all humor from these normally witty girls.  My daughter rolled her eyes in such a drastic arc it looked like it actually hurt.  They are, literally, all dressed up with nowhere to go.

I'm not surprised.  My daughter is my daughter, after all, and my relationship with our friend Murphy naturally follows her on her daily journey.  She's the map of Ireland, and Murphy's Law is her birthright.

Murphy lives with me.  He follows me to the grocery store and makes sure that, only when I'm rushing to meet a client, the lady in front of me has left her purse in the car, or the receipt paper roll has to be refilled "for the first time in ages."  

The grocery store isn't nearly as bad as the check-out line at Michael's.  Michael's, in case you don't have them in your community, is a hobby store chain.  Arts and crafts supplies.  I believe these stores actually specialize in stocking guilt.  They're filled with scrap booking supplies that remind you of the shoe boxes of kids' photos in the basement that are not yet in albums.  The photos date back to kindergarten; your daughter is getting ready to leave for college.  You are seriously behind.  

Checking out at Michael's is death by Murphy.  The person in front of you is has a cart full of silk flowers for a wedding, all at different price points.  Some are invariably not tagged.  Price check.  On the worst Michael's trips, I get the checker with the black up-do that sighs with each scan.  She looks for the bar code.  Can't find it.  Sighs.  Ever so slowly, she turns over the silk flower, finds the bar code and swipes it.  Misses.  Sighs.  Repeats.  All the other lines are zipping along, mind you.  I'm late for a rehearsal.  I just ran in to Michael's to get poster board for a school project.  I'm certain that Michael's has a contract with Murphy.

And why is it that all of the best social options in any given month fall on the same nights?  Or when a distant cousin happens to be motoring through town and calls for an evening on the couch?  And, of course, we all know that sick children get well in the doctor's waiting room and cough up God-knows-what an hour later on the way home.  Murph's handiwork.

I decided to accompany my son to tennis camp one morning last week in my pajamas.  They weren't cute pajamas.  They were old, mismatched, and tattered.  (The best kind, in other words.)  In a terrible who's-gonna-see-me-anyway moment, I grabbed the keys instead of changing my clothes.   I didn't want to be late.  Well, we didn't exactly break down, but my car had some strange, sluggish moments on the way home that made me realize how important it is to try to remember to put on a bra before leaving the house.    

I swear, I've always been a glass-half-full kind of person.  But every day lately, it seems that Murphy is trying to singlehandedly squelch my optimism.

The worst of Murphy's tricks are the ones that fall into the cruel "Pride Goeth Before a Fall" category.  I remember each time I've felt extra-great about myself or one of my children, only to be smacked down before the prideful glow can even rise on my cheeks.   I'll share with you just one, very true story.  

Seven or eight years ago, we added a master bedroom to the back of our house.  Our contractor tended to disappear, leaving the work to a team led by a grouchy, glass-always-completely-empty guy named, well, let's just call him "D."  "D" had been giving me the runaround for weeks, saying that things would be done that weren't even started, and not even showing up to work for days at a time.  We'd had to move to the basement.  I was trying to get my little family through a summer of total chaos, furniture and belongings scattered into different rooms and our lives turned upside-down, and "D" was pushing all of my buttons.  One sleepless night I decided that come sunrise, (if he actually showed up) I was going to give that "D" a piece of my mind.  

I awoke to the stirrings of workmen in the driveway and leapt up from the futon on the floor.  I didn't want to miss out on my opportunity to set "D" straight.  Eyes not yet adjusted,  I felt around in the dark basement for the stack of clean clothes I'd laid on the coffee table and came up with  my favorite jean skirt.  I was happy to also find a favorite t-shirt nearby.  Things were going great!  I threw them on and marched upstairs and out to the driveway.  I wouldn't call the next few minutes a tongue-lashing, exactly, (I almost always wimp my planned tirades down a little) but I certainly made my point.  I call these moments, when a woman feels like she can shake down the whole world by it's tail, "I am the tigress" moments.  It has to do with an episode of Murphy Brown.  Anyway, I was the tigress, and my victim was rendered temporarily speechless as I turned and led him by the arm to all of the things around the site that were not finished to my specifications.  I was ON.  I was powerful.  I was the tigress.  When he found his voice he agreed to get to setting things right.  Triumphant, I marched back inside to my children, whom I had left at the table eating Cheerios in front of "Arthur."

My daughter looked up at me like the sweet cherub she was at age seven and said cheerfully, "Mommy, what's that on your shirt?"

I looked down.  There was nothing on my shirt.

"No, Mommy," she said, "on the BACK."

I ran to the mirror in our remaining working bathroom and craned my neck around to see the back of my shirt.  There, stuck to the back of my t-shirt, was a mini-pad.  Clean, thank God, but adhered firmly, just below the left shoulder.  To this day, I have no idea how it got there. 

No wonder he'd been speechless.  

Oooh, that Murphy.

Now, when I feel annoyance about my Murphy moments,  I think of the ultimate "if something embarrassing can happen, it will" moment and try to just leave extra time for that grocery store line.  I'm going to need it.

And by the way, here a social update:  

The phone finally coughed up some action.  Two parties have just popped up!  Two!  Lip gloss reapplied, the surly girls on my couch are out the door.  Murphy must have retired early tonight.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Bag It by Jenny Gardiner

It’s hot out there. At least it should be hot. If it weren’t for that darned global warming that’s turned Virginia--with temperatures hovering in the extremely tolerable 85-degree range--into, well, Pennsylvania this summer. And because it’s hot--or at least should be--I don’t want to tax your brain with heady information that you must digest and process and ponder too much. In these dog days of summer, it’s best to just sit back with a cool drink (and because it’s probably morning while you're reading this, I suggest nothing stronger than iced tea), and brood over nothing more vexing than my plight with purses.

Purses should never be a source of controversy. Well, I suppose they could be, considering the amount of money some people spend on bags that are meant to just haul stuff from one place to another. When you think about it, really, it would be sufficient for us all to just reuse the bags we get every week at the grocery store. After all, half of what is dragged around in purses probably needs to be trashed anyhow (gum wrappers, unraveled personal care items, broken ponytail holders, faded, illegible receipts). I really like purses, but I also come from a long line of people who, shall I say, had issues with carrying things to and fro.

Take my mother, for example. Now, my mother has great taste in fashion and had a closet groaning with the finest of everything when I was a child. She had a purse that coordinated with every outfit, natch shoes to boot (excuse the pun). But that wasn’t her issue with purses. No. Hers was that she always, always, always carried her purse to the bathroom. I could never figure out what she thought we might do to that purse were she to leave it unattended for the brief diversion to the loo. Whatever it was, it was a source of humor in our household and something my mother never lived down.

Sort of like The Queen and her purse. What does a Queen need with a purse? Particularly an ugly purse, which is about the only type of purse you see The Queen carrying. But she always does have one in tow. I suppose if you’re The Queen and you want to carry an empty purse, well then you’re entitled to your little quirk.

When we talk about quirks and carrying devices, I would be remiss if I neglected to mention my father.

There was a time that I remember my father carrying a briefcase. But I think the phase was, uh, brief. Almost as far back as I can recall, my father hauled his stuff around in a box. To and from the office each day, his work would be piled into a box, the contents of the box would inevitably overflow the borders of the thing, the corners would give way, and he’d have to resort to taping it up with packing tape. Now, my father had a thing for tape. And he was cheap. So when his office carpets started to fray badly, instead of, say, replacing the carpet like most people, he would find the exact color of electrical tape and tape over the gaping maw in the carpet. The gaping maw smack in the middle of his professional office. Don’t ask. But my point---aside from mentioning my father’s pecuniary and rather idiosyncratic habits---is that my Dad hauled things in ever-enlarging boxes until he got a bad back. And even then, he persisted in trudging back and forth to work with a mountain of nonsense we all knew darned well he’d never get to that night, especially because he was usually snoring away in his recliner by 8 p.m.

I guess the thing is, I probably inherited a propensity to have hauling issues. And hauling issues I have had. I suppose there was a time when I carried a simple little purse into which I deposited a reasonable selection of things I might need while out. But then I had kids, and what I had to carry grew exponentially with each child. As a former Girl Scout, I was determined to be prepared for any eventuality, short of nuclear holocaust, and even for that I’ve contemplated my options, none of which can be squeezed into a purse.

So after spending years of having a purse that grew and spread in size like an unwanted fungus in one’s garden, I reached a point at which I was prepared to declare my lugging emancipation. Casting aside my mega-purses, into which I would often find entire meals, drinks, snacks, kids’ books, medicine, diapers, wipes, ointments, masking tape (I am, after all, my father’s child, and the many uses of masking tape create a great diversion for children, and sometimes they’re even kind enough to tape over their mouths just for fun which gives you a few minutes of solitude), hairbrushes, decks of cards, first aid products, and, well, practically the kitchen sink. So I shunned any purse larger than a breadbox, intent instead on going for sandwich-size.

That lasted about a month till the seams gave way from overload.

I eventually conceded defeat and began to move back up the purse size ranks. But when the aches and pains of middle age became too many to ignore, I knew it was time to downsize to spare my back. Besides, my kids are teens now. I never have to carry anything they need. My girls can carry their own purses!

So in my handbag arpeggio, I’ve rolled back down the scale to a reasonably-sized tote. One that will fit all the essentials: phone, wallet, iPod, camera, pens, paper, nail file, gum, mints, cuticle stick (useful when stuck at red lights), lip balm, water bottle, reading glasses (curse the need for their space consumption), and of course my book. Okay, so my purse isn’t exactly small. But it’s now just my size. Only now, everyone in the family has decided that my purse is the repository of all things they don’t feel like carrying. Such as their books, wallets, iPods, shopping bags, cameras, sometimes even their smaller purses. Last winter, thanks to my son, I walked around with a camcorder in my purse for two weeks, wondering why the bag weighed so much. Even my husband gets in on the act, once surreptitiously tossing his mammoth book into my purse when I’m not looking. As if I wouldn’t notice a 2-lb. Harry Potter tome in my bag. Although I did miss out on the presence of that video camera for a while.

But I haven’t quite recovered for my need to overpack. Last week, while away on business, I tucked a little too much into my favorite black purse, one I save for nicer occasions. By the end of the night, the purse was dangling from one side: the strap pulled right out of the purse from the burden of its contents. I suppose I ought to contemplate a satchel next time. Or maybe a cardboard box.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

(Not So) Deep Thoughts

by Judy Merrill Larsen

It's mid-summer and can I just say I'm tired? The kids aren't--no, they've just realized the summer's half over and they're frantically trying to fit everything in--which apparently requires no sleep, my money, and me being on a need-to-know basis.

Some questions/observations adding to my fatigue:

~Have teenagers always been nocturnal? I mean even way back in the early part of the 1900's--when everyone lived on farms and milked cows and baled hay? Because I'm just wondering if maybe global warming has affected the sleep cycles of adolescents. Perhaps it's bad parenting on my part? Should I have not let them "cry it out" when they were little? Too few yams mixed in with their rice cereal? I mean they sleep through my vacuuming right outside their doors. God help us if the smoke alarm ever goes off before noon.

~I think I'll actually have more cash on hand when the kids go back to school this fall and I'm ONLY paying for tuition rather than groceries and filling up the gas tank. Can I apply my student loan money to my local supermarket?

~Have my husband and I totally lost our sense of youthful fun when we find ourselves (earlier and earlier every summer, it seems) looking forward to schedules and regular mealtimes and school nights? Every night is Friday night when you're a teenager in the summer. But it's not for the 'rents. And we're getting tired of being tired. (Yes, I do go to bed before they get home, but they have to wake me up and let me know they are home. Really messes with my REM cycles, not to mention my beauty sleep!)

~Remember back in the good old days when we were kids and we actually spoke to one another? Instead of texts? And how is it that the same kids who can't remember to turn off the bathroom fan and consistently put empty cereal boxes back on the pantry shelf can send messages at the speed of light all the while setting different ring tones for different callers? Yet, I'm the one who gets paid (well, in a sense) to write, but my texts always look like some mix of encoded, encrypted pig latin? Are their fingers just more fit? Younger?

And, now, when I read over this, I feel like I've turned into that cranky woman around the corner who wears sensible shoes, circulation hosiery, and a sweater that pills. I need to find my inner madcap, fun, understanding mom. I'm off to look for her . . . let me know if you find her.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

They're Either Too Young or Too Old...

Well, apparently I am cute. Damn cute. So cute that the other day at Kohl’s, a strange man (not strange, in that he was having fits or anything; strange in that he was unknown to me) stopped me, holding up two T-shirts to his manly chest.

“Excuse me, young lady-"

And of course, I stopped; he had me at "young"

"Which one of these fits me best?” He continued, coyly. He held two T-shirts up, I picked one, and commented that it would look nice for the 4th of July (red, white and blue, natch!). He admitted that was what it was for, and that he was looking forward to the fireworks.

“And speaking of fireworks, you're a cute little firecracker yourself," he said, suddenly leering.

Well. I giggled and blushed and said something stupid — my usual reaction when I’m being flirted with. Then I walked away.

Now, do you think this encounter made my day? Do you think I felt all cute and girlish and sexy, and went home and threw my husband down on the bed and asked him to talk dirty to me in a way that included many sexual innuendos regarding the explosive qualities of fireworks?

Nope. Because the man who flirted so shamelessly with me was about 102 years old.

Seriously. He was old. DAMN old. And I was just so depressed, because this was the first time anyone had flirted with me in ages. But now it’s obvious I’m only able to attract the Geritol generation, and that kind of sucks.

I remember reading somewhere that at a certain age, a woman starts to feel invisible — that she suddenly becomes aware that the world is full of younger, thinner, perkier women and that everyone’s eyes are naturally drawn to them, not the nice middle-aged lady in the khaki pants and tennis shoes, pushing a grocery cart full of bran flakes. That day has come, my friends. The only looks I’m going to get are from men with cataracts.

But on the bright side, there’s a nice nursing home just down the street from me. I guess, whenever I need a little feminine affirmation, I can drop in and offer to pick out their T-shirts for them. And to tell the truth, that does sound like more fun than Two-For-One Margarita Night at the local pub.

Now, excuse me while I go eat my bran flakes for breakfast.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The More Things Change... A Family Room Drama in Two Acts

By Margy McCarthy

Act I

(The curtain rises on a typical family room. It is evening. Lamps are lit. Two overstuffed chairs flank a small table, up stage right; a couch is along the wall stage left. A roll top desk with a computer is along the up stage wall. The TV, its back toward the audience, is down center. As the lights come up, we hear a familiar commercial jingle from the television, and see SHRIEK, a twelve-year old girl, sprawled in one of the chairs, watching TV. Her parents, SPARKY and MARGY, are cuddled on the couch. They kiss.)

SHRIEK: Oh, yuck, you two, do you mind? I don’t want to see you macking all over each other again!

MARGY: Macking? (laughs) What is macking?

SHRIEK: (Rolls her eyes.) Mo-ther!

MARGY: How can I be macking if I don’t even know what macking is? (She kisses SPARKY again.) Do you know what macking is, Honey?

SPARKY: I think it’s this. (He kisses MARGY several times, making “MACK” sounds with each one. MARGY laughs and does it too.)

SPARKY and MARGY: (together) Mmmmaaack! Mmmmaaack! Mmmmaaack!

SHRIEK: (covering her ears) Arrrggghhh! Come on! Really, you guys, I’m trying to watch this. Why don’t you get a room or something?

SPARKY: (to MARGY) This is our room, isn’t it, Honey?

MARGY: Last time I checked it was still attached to the house.

SPARKY: (authoritatively, to SHRIEK) This is our room. We ‘got this room’ fifteen years ago.

MARGY: Before you were even born.

SPARKY: Think how lucky you are-- if your mom and I never ‘macked all over’ each other, you wouldn’t even be here to complain.

MARGY: Come to think of it, maybe we should have named you Mack.

SPARKY: You and your brother, both.

SHRIEK: (covering ears, running off, stage left) AAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!

(SPARKY and MARGY look at each other, puzzled.)

MARGY: (Shaking her head.) You would think she’d be glad we still like each other.

SPARKY: Kids are weird.



Don’t you love intermission? Don’t you love being all dressed up looking at all the fancy people in the lobby sipping drinks and critiquing the show?

Well, grab some bubbly, and let’s find a quiet spot-- here’s what I think so far:

The girl who plays the ingénue, Shriek, is a truly gifted actress. Did you see the horrified expression on her face when she was running offstage? Perfect Stanislavski method.

My kids couldn’t pull that scene off. They never fail to complain about shows of affection between their father and myself, (we’re too old, it’s gross, disgusting, etc.) but while they’re complaining, they always break character just a little. I see a smidgen of a smile- an impish little twitch at the corners of their mouths. Maybe it’s due to our silly responses to their grumpiness, but even as they pronounce us shriveled up and over the hill, there is always a teeny little trace of delight that after almost twenty-five years we can stand to be cuddled up on the couch together.

I think they secretly sort of like it.

When I was little, I would squeeze myself between my parents when they were embracing each other; I wanted my share of love too. Later, as I realized that the smooches in the kitchen were indicative of something more happening somewhere else, I was less inclined to do that. And I certainly blocked my mind to any thoughts of further activity behind closed doors. But there was a real measure of comfort and security for me in the fact that they loved and enjoyed each other after all those years. I didn’t want to think about it very much, but I was glad it was there.

Oh! They’re blinking the lobby lights! We’d better get back to our seats before Act Two!

Act II

(The curtain rises on the scene. It is the following evening. MARGY is in the family room, typing a blog on the computer up stage center. SHRIEK is seated on the floor, Center, drawing; SNOOZE is sleeping on the couch. The phone rings. MARGY, stretching, picks up the receiver and crosses down left, to a stool in a spotlight. A second spot illuminates downstage right where MARGY’S mom, FOXY, is seated on a stool with a phone in her hand. There is an open suitcase near her feet.)
MARGY: Hello?

FOXY: Hi, Honey.

MARGY: Oh! Hi, Mom. Are you guys all packed? Are you ready to head back north for the summer?

FOXY: I sure hope so. It’s been a long day- lots of last-minute errands- and your dad wants to take off first thing in the morning.

MARGY: Did you leave me a list?

FOXY: Yes. It’s on the kitchen counter. Nothing much left for you to do- I have some milk and food in the fridge, though- you’ll want to come by and pick those things up.

MARGY: Okay. I’ll do that.

FOXY: There’s lemon pie for Snooze, and those tortillas that Shriek likes so much.

MARGY: Thanks. They’ll love that.

FOXY: Oh, my, I’m tired. We did so much today. (Rummaging in suitcase) I’m ready for bed. (Digs through suitcase some more.) Hmm. That’s odd. I can’t find my nightgown in this suitcase. I know I put it in here this morning…

MARGY: Maybe it’s in a different bag.

FOXY: No- it was this one. (calling offstage) Bud? Did you move my nightgown?

MALE VOICE: (with a teasing tone- offstage) Of course not. Why would I do such a thing?

MARGY: (laughs) Really, Mom. Why would he do such a thing?

FOXY: Well, you know how men are. If he hides my nightgown, I won’t be able to wear it tonight. I think it’s one of his little tricks.

MARGY: Mom! Do you mean--?

FOXY: Well, of course, Dear! As soon as I hang up the phone, he’ll be macking all over me. What did you think? We may be old, but we’re not dead!

MARGY: (throwing phone into the air—she is horrified, but there is a trace of a smile on her lips as she exits stage left) AAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!

SNOOZE: (wakes groggily) Man—What’s wrong with Mom?

SHRIEK: (shrugs) Parents are weird.


Friday, July 11, 2008

Half-Time, Summertime by Barb McKone

Half-Time, Summertime  by Barb McKone

It's half-time.  Post July 4th, the summer zooming by, time to sit still for a moment and make a list of all the things we swore we'd do this special season that are not yet blips on our summertime radar screens.  Basically, it's time to edit. 

Our household is run on the school calendar.  My husband is a teacher/administrator, so (even though he works all summer) we plan our entire year around the September- June rotation.   I start dreaming of summer plans before I Christmas shop.  Long, glorious lazy summer afternoons lying by the pool in the sun with a good book and my kids, followed by evenings of local theater or strolling around our adorable little town, meeting friends for drinks or hosting teenagers in my home.  Tons of family time- wonderful dinners on the deck, stories of the day, lots of laughs.  Gardens filled with flowers long and strong enough to cut for beautiful arrangements around the house, and the fruits of summer baked into delicious pies on my kitchen counter. In my summer plans I'm a combination of Martha Stewart (minus the jumpsuit), Reese Witherspoon (minus the divorce) with her golden hair, chic summer style and seemingly effortless parenting, and my old New  Yorker self, with endless time (pre-kids) to wander through summer nights with my best friends.  
Now, we're at half-time.  No marching bands, no cheerleaders or wardrobe malfunctions. (Well, maybe a couple I'd at least re-think...)  Just me and the calendar, sparring for position in the second half.  Me battling me, my own worst enemy.  Reality is a nasty thing, isn't it? 

Half time is when I look at what's been accomplished and what I still want to do.  The truth burns deeper than the sunburn I haven't been outside long enough yet to get.  I find I have quite a list. 

First off, I need sleep.  My daughter has been home for three hours this summer.  Yes, she was with us at our family reunion, a point she has brought up repeatedly over the past several days, but honestly, I'm TIRED.  I can't seem to go to sleep before she gets home (one a.m. curfew) and I still feel the need to get up when she and my husband are heading to work (7:30 a.m.). My daughter is terribly frustrated with her summer so far- working so full-time (her choice, now re-thinking) that she hasn't been to our local pool more than once.  We have an unexpected teenaged house guest who is spending more time relaxing with our family than she is, sleeping in until all hours in our basement (should I wake her for lunch?), which only adds to my daughter's general "I'm missing out on everything" anxiety.  She's leaving for college in five weeks, one week of which will be spent on a family vacation, and is going through that desperate last-chance-to-see-my-friends-before-this-life-changing-experience time.  I remember it.  I understand it.  I just hope that I can live through it without falling asleep at the wheel while driving right past the pool I planned to laze in on my way to buy the fruit that will sit on my counter instead of being baked into delicious pies.  You get the picture.

The stack of summer reading books lie in wait.  They taunt me.  By now their pages should be smudged with suntan oil- oops, sorry- #45 sunscreen from my tanned fingers.  One thick tome still has the Barnes and Noble receipt sticking out between the pages.  I promise them daily, as I pass them to drive to work or tennis camp, that I will be back to crack them open.  Next week looks promising...

The three theater productions I wanted to see this summer are already closed.  One was the first week of summer- a lousy trick to play on those of us dealing with high school graduations.  The second got such bad reviews I decided to concentrate on getting ready for the family reunion instead of bucking up for the tickets.  The last I just couldn't seem to get to.  I drive past our local park where the marquis lit the title for at least three weeks-- and before I knew it, it was gone.  Never to be attended by my happy family in sunny summer attire after a delightful picnic in the park.  I will see a musical before the end of the season, dammit, and my family will sing along to the CD through our vacation.  We will!! 

Okay.  I now look over my summer plans and revise.  Time to get realistic and cut the plans in half.  Roll with it.  Here's the good news:

My gardens are beautiful, thanks to the hardiness of perennials.   Love those shasta daisies!! 

My son is a driver's ed' dream.  By the end of the summer, he'll be the best non-licensed driver in the 10th grade.  I sit in my passenger's seat, calm and cool.  I am the sensai of home driving school.

I still have plenty of time for deck entertaining, and my yard is looking decent.  It looks better at night.  I will have night parties with smart friends and lively conversation.  I will find the cute polka-dotted summer plates hiding in my basement somewhere, and serve pretty summer food on them. Fresh tomatoes, mozzarella and basil, you have plenty of time to be served.

I'm quite sure there is plenty of summer theater still to be seen.  I'll just revise my play list.

The pool is now officially warmed up.  Others are now on their summer vacations, so there will be plenty of room for me.  I haven't gotten much sun, but I've discovered that Coppertone's gradual self-tanner is so subtle that I don't get those icky fake-tan lines on my feet.  Good find!

The summer movies are decent this year.  Loved "Iron Man."  Indy is looking old, but he's still hot.  No Nazis this time, but one bad Russian.  I'll see it again in when it gets hotter.   Can't wait for "Mamma Mia!"

Intended-pie fruit makes great smoothies. 

Best of all, our family vacation, although shrinking in length due to my daughter's stress and my husband's algebra and differential equations tutoring skills, is on.  It will be wonderful- crab by the bagful on the beach in Chincoteague, one last visit to Yankee Stadium, and a reunion with my husband's family in beautiful, breezy upstate New York.   And, while my kids are bugging each other (some things never change) and watching "She's The Man" and "Nacho Libre" for the hundredth time in the back seat of the car, I'll be reading my poor neglected summer books in the front.  I can't wait!!

So, I revise.  I can't do anything about my kids' growing up and making less time for me or "The Producers" having moved on to another town, but I can slap on a tan, host a party or two, and go to the pool.  Which I'm leaving to do... right NOW.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Life's Not Fair (so deal with it) by Jenny Gardiner

One time years ago I was moaning to a girlfriend about a particularly unfair course of events. It was something that was absolutely wrong. The perpetrators should have apologized, but never did. It vexed me to no end. "It's just not fair!" I whined to her.

She looked me straight in the eye and said this: "Life's not fair. Deal with it."


But the more I thought about this, the more I realized she was right. Deal with the what is, not the what should be.

I've been trying to impart this wisdom to my oldest regarding his college admission. For those of you in the dark, this was the worst year ever to try to gain admission into college. The baby boom echo---the progeny of us baby boomers---peaked this year, with far too many of them.These, the overachieving spawn of the quintessential baby booming overachievers, rendered college admissions a practice in arms build-up. The armament, of course, being the far-too-many ridiculous levels of accomplishments these kids needed to achieve in order to land themselves a spot in the university of their choosing.

Alas, my child didn't quite discover the cure to cancer, so the ivies were out. Thank goodness, as we hadn't budgeted for them. But he was beyond qualified for pretty much everywhere he applied. Very high GPA, strong SAT scores. A litany of accomplishments that would put my entire generation to shame when we were that age. He earned scholarships---exclusive ones, ones that only a small handful of kids in the nation earned. Commendations out the wazoo.

And yet still, it wasn't enough to gain admission into the school of his dreams. A state school, no less, a school that would have been damned lucky to have someone like him, a wonderful combination of kind, clever, well-rounded, charming, funny and endearing, along with intellectually-inclined (I know I sound like a treacly boastful mother. But it's true!). He's a bright kid with actual social skills--always a plus in my opinion.

So instead of attending the school he'd dreamed of attending for the past five years, he's going to a different school, one he'd not really entertained much notion about. He's earned a scholarship there, so it's all good. Only it's not all good in his eyes. I think his rejection triggered a deep-seated anger him: Hey, I did what I was supposed to. I played the stupid game. I went to great lengths. I killed myself studying, playing varsity sports, heading up academic team, Model UN, and a host of other groups in which I was involved. I was a scholar at my school, took two college classes (and scored high A's at that very university which shunned me). I took 13 freaking AP classes. I got all 4's and 5's on my AP exams, even. I did what I was supposed to. It's not fair.

And you know what? It's not fair. It sucks, in fact. Everything about it sucks. And probably sucks more to know that in five short years, experts say these very colleges that had the luxury of refusing phenomenal students will be begging for those same types of students. He has every right to be angry about this situation. Hell, I feel bitter about it.

But the reality of this story is this: that's life. And life's not always fair. Justice was not served in this situation. But guess what? Life's not fair. Deal with it.

This is the message I'm trying to impart to my wonderful firstborn. The one who felt so empowered and ready to take the world by storm until being socked with this rejection and is now feeling an overwhelming sense of "what the hell?" Instead of empowered, he feels rejected, even though rejection isn't quite what happened to him. Screwed? Sure. Totally hosed? You bet. But tell that to a 17-year old. To him, he was rejected.

Tomorrow we head down to orientation to a school that is not only welcoming him with open arms, but embracing him powerfully. That has invited him into their honors program, their honors dorms, will grant him privileges far beyond those of the average student at that school. And yet in his youthful world of narcissism (yep, find me a teen who isn't, ultimately, all about themselves) he can't see all of this. He can only see what he didn't get, even though in truth, what he did end up with is ultimately far better.

And so all I can remind him is sure, you got screwed. No two ways about it. But things usually work out for a reason. And you know what? Life's not fair. Deal with it. And I only tell you this because I love you.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Ch-ch-ch-changes . . .

by Judy Merrill Larsen

This has become my summer of whiplash. No, I'm not teaching a kid to drive (thank God) or scheduling visits with a chiropractor.  I'm just experiencing those moments that point out to me how quickly time is passing.

This was crystallized for me at our annual 4th of July party last week.  I've been having this party every year since 1991.  I have the perfect front porch and yard for our annual get-together because we live two blocks from the park where they shoot off the fireworks, so while we party on the lawn, bathrooms and beverages handy, we are entertained by the parade of park-goers pulling wagons and coolers and hauling lawn chairs.  Folks who haven't managed to cultivate friendships with people who have houses close to the park.  Some years, we've been known to good naturedly heckle the folks walking by (never loudly enough for them to hear, just for our own amusement.  Well, except for the year an adult dressed as Uncle Sam sauntered past.  Is it too late to issue a formal apology?).  But, I digress.

These parties have a comfortable sameness to them.  Year after year.  It's a toehold.  A touchpoint.  My kids love the tradition, and the families who've been coming year after year don't even need an invitation.  The 4th of July?  We go to Judy's.  Simple.  The tubs of ice and beer will be under the same tree.  The speakers will be placed in the open window and Springsteen will be blaring out for all to hear.  

But, this year, sitting on the porch, sipping an icy drink, I glanced at the kids sitting under the tree laughing and talking.  And it hit me.  Half of them are adults.  Most of them are my height or more.  None of them needed help with a juice box straw.  I looked at the parents, all dear friends, and we don't seem older.  A few lines here or there, yes.  A paunch, maybe.  How did these kids dare to grow up on us?  Wasn't it just last year--or maybe the year before--that they were playing with dolls and legos and ninja turtles?  That we parents were overseeing the use of sparklers?  ("Careful!  Watch out for the little ones!  Not so close to his face!  Put them in the bucket of water when you're done!").  This year I actually discussed the merits and drawbacks of the Bacardi Mojito mix with the girl (now 22!) next door.  (Add some lime and mint and they are boffo.  Um, and dangerous.)  And when I lamented that we were running out of ice, another girl offered to drive her car and pick some up for us.  This was a girl who hadn't been born at our first party.

And it all got me to thinking about the years passing and how lucky I am to have these friends and traditions that serve as a yardstick of longevity. I always wanted to be the kind of mom who religiously marked my kids' height on the closet door or kept perfect scrapbooks documenting each step. Alas, I'm not. But I am the kind of mom who throws a great 4th of July party every year. And these same kids who grew up on us overnight, dammit, and who make food and beer requests as I prepare my grocery list, have these parties as a mid-summer marker in their memories. And these same kids will, in a few years (please, not too soon!!), bring their own babies to these parties and the chain will start all over.

And so, while I glance longingly backward at the little kids they once were, I also am looking into the future at the young ones who'll be joining us down the road. And I can sit here in the present, on this hot July day, and be happy for parties and traditions that seem to go on and on and on.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

To Make a Grown Man Tremble

This weekend was the first anniversary of my husband's summer hobby - a backyard theater. Which is just a fancy way of saying "a projector, a big screen, cheap speakers, lawn chairs and lots of bug spray."

But it's been a big hit with our neighbors, and it's done us a lot of good, socially. We've become quite the entertaining mavens. I think this summer, with the economy in the toilet, more people are very happy to descend upon our backyard and eat free popcorn, candy and see a free movie. And really, I can't blame them. And we really do enjoy having them.

I was reminded, though, of our initial effort last year, and how much trouble my husband had with the wording of the first invitation.

Of course, as the only person who actually gets paid to write around here, I am the Oracle of Grammar, Punctuation and Vocabulary. So as a "favor" - actually, as a "requirement" because I'm very anal about this kind of thing - I read various incarnations of the invitation, and kept pushing him to make one thing a tad clearer. And that one thing was — no small children allowed. I felt this had to be spelled out, because we were talking about an outdoor movie situation and I think many people could easily interpret that as an event for the entire family. Which is fine, except that wasn't what we had in mind.

Or course, you have to be careful because if you say “adults only” and you’re talking about movies, well — people can get confused. So you have to be pretty specific and focus on the “no kids” part.

Now, my husband is a Titan of Industry. Well, OK, he’s really not — he’s more like a Foot Soldier. But still, he’s a man who regularly walks into large businesses and meeting rooms full of corporate executives with absolutely no fear, ready to do battle with just a cell phone and a Power Point presentation. He’s ruthless. He’s respected. He’s powerful, in a nerdy, numbers-obsessed kind of way.

He’s also deathly afraid of the words “no kids allowed.” He even said that. He cowered, mumbled, and stuttered, “I can’t put that on the invitation. I’m afraid to.”

Afraid??? To have the temerity to say “no kids allowed” on his own party invitation???? I have to say, I sneered at him. Scoffed. Turned up my nose. Hinted that I might have to find someone else to play the role of “Brave Knight rescuing Fair Damsel in her Nightie” the next time I was feeling frisky.

Yet still, he trembled in fear. “I just can’t. I’m afraid.”

Well, you know - I'm not. Afraid. Afraid to tell people I’m inviting into my own home, for my own party, to please find a babysitter. Does that make me a total bee-yotch? I don’t think so. But somehow, kids have taken over society. And just when did that happen?

I admit, when I think of entertaining, I somehow imagine myself in a tight little cocktail dress with a big bouffant hairdo a la Jackie Kennedy in the early Sixties. I envision hip cocktails, Frank Sinatra on the turntable, men in skinny ties dancing the Twist. Back then, in the Camelot era, children and adults did not mix. Kids played during the day, adults during the night — when the kids were safely tucked into bed, watched by the neighborhood teenaged babysitter. The adults talked about things like the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Peace Corps, and Marilyn Monroe’s latest love affair — they did not talk about Thomas the Tank Engine, soccer games, and Dora the Explorer.

Yet today, we bring our kids along to everything. Even when they’re not there, they’re — there. Haunting our conversation, claiming our intelligence. Defining who we are — we’re Johnny’s dad, Sally’s mom from the PTA. Tell me, you parents, when was the last time you introduced yourself as simply you? Your own name, no “I’m Jeffrey’s mom — I’m the one who volunteers at Market Day” tacked on to the end?

I’m guilty of this, too. Even when people stop to ask me how my books are doing, I find myself steering the conversation back around to the kids — asking how theirs are doing, have they started the college search, has so-and-so gotten her Driver’s License yet? It’s like I’ve lived this life, this mom life, for so long, I’ve forgotten that I had an identity before. And maybe I’m afraid— as afraid as my husband was — to neglect to think about the children. The children! What about the children?? As if to have the guts to carry on a conversation without mentioning them labels me as, well — a bee-yotch. A selfish shrew. Only interested in myself.

Well, what’s wrong with that, actually? Not that I want us all to be selfish. Just interested in things that have nothing to do with our kids. Interested in politics, culture, art. Pulling our heads out of the nursery, for a change. Brave enough to stand on our own, be defined on our own.

I want to believe there’s nothing selfish about that. I need to believe we’re all capable of forgetting about the children. Not permanently or fatally. Just more than occasionally. Because for sure, they’re going to forget about us, one of these days.

I also need to believe there’s nothing wrong in not wanting to be around them. That I choose not to be in their company on occasion. Even when mine were younger — and cuter and cuddlier — I desperately needed time to be away from them now and then. And now that they’re pretty much grown, I want to be able to say to my friends who still have younger children, “I’d like to spend time with you. Just you. Not your kids. Play time is over.”

I shouldn’t be afraid to say that. I honestly believe so. And my husband shouldn’t have been afraid to say it on his party invitation, either.

So buck up, hubby. And everyone else out there afraid to say to the world, “Sorry. Kids are great. Just not all the time. I’d like to be able to enjoy the company of adults only — talking about adult things. I’d like to think we’re pretty interesting people, all on our own.” It used to be OK to say this. Now, for some reason, it’s not.

I like to think, that in my small way, I’m changing that. Take back the night, people! Take back the sophistication and glamour! Drink your martinis, dance the Twist, and leave the kids in the nursery where they belong.

Or, as I suggested, so sweetly, to my husband — Why don’t we all grow a pair, OK?

Monday, July 7, 2008

Taste Test

By Margy McCarthy

“Mom, do you have a few bucks I can borrow?”

You would think that after eighteen years, Snooze might have figured out how ridiculous this question is; I am, after all, a public school teacher. But then, for that matter, if you’d seen his SAT Verbals, you would also think he’d have a clearer understanding of the definition of the word “borrow.”

“I don’t know, but go ahead and check, Honey,” I answer, from my place in front of the stove, “I’ve got my hands full over here.”

The kitchen is fragrant with the mouthwatering scent of Bolognese sauce. Pancetta and onions, ground beef, carrots, celery, garlic, and allspice have been tempting us all afternoon from a creamy sauce of Marzano tomatoes and wine. On the back burner a kettle of water reaches a rolling boil. I open a box of mostaccioli and pour it into the pot as my first-born rifles through my purse.

“There’s just three bucks here.”

“Then I guess that’s how much I have.” I give the pasta a stir, and finish tossing the salad. “Contrary to what you seem to believe, ATM cash is not shorthand for ‘Always Take Mom’s.’” Snooze scowls at the three singles as I continue. “Hmm. Wait a minute! What happened to the change from the ten I gave you to buy a bag of ice with yesterday? You can take some of that. You’ll have to dig around a little. It’s probably loose in there.”

Somehow, while both of my children are gifted at the art of removing cash from my wallet, neither has developed the fine motor skills necessary to return bills to their proper place. Once stuffed into their pockets, crisp new tens and twenties close in upon themselves protectively, taking on the shape and texture of the subterranean larvae of an extinct species of moth. Paleontologists have been known to spend inordinate amounts of time dissecting crumpled bank notes.

So have mothers of teens.

“Um-- about that…” Snooze rattles off a list of expenses that includes his lunch of Pop-Tarts and Diet Coke the day before, a grievously belated Christmas gift for a friend, and a pint of gas for the car.

“Oh.” I sigh, checking the pasta. “So it’s gone?” He nods. I sigh again. “Then I guess you need to ask your dad.”

“Ask me what?” Sparky enters the kitchen, pulls open the freezer, and pops a bag of broccoli into the microwave. Reaching for the bread basket on the top of the fridge, he begins slicing a fresh loaf for dinner. “Shriek?” he calls, “Come set the table.”

“Snooze needs some cash,” I tell him, draining the pasta and folding it into the sauce.

“Well? You have a job, Son, what’s wrong with your debit card? Shriek? Come set the table, now!”

“I put my check into savings,” Snooze explains. “because if I put it into my debit account, I just end up spending all my money.”

Sparky rolls his eyes. “But if you put it all in savings, you end up spending all my money.”

“Right.” Snooze’s eyes can be just as sparkly as his father’s. “See how much better that works out? I’m saving a fortune!”

You gotta hand it to him. His SAT math wasn’t bad either.

Sparky carries the basket to the table, sidestepping our daughter as she saunters into the room, tossing silverware in the general direction of the table. He reaches for his wallet with a sigh. He peels off a few bills and hands them to our son. The microwave dings, heralding the readiness of the vegetable, and I ladle the pasta onto plates, grating fresh parmesano reggiano over each steaming serving.

“Thanks, Dad. Oh- Mom?” I look up at my son who is twirling a set of car keys around his index finger. “None for me, thanks. I’ve gotta run-- I’m meeting the guys for pizza. I’m really hungry for Italian food.”

Sparky and I stood slack-jawed, staring at our plates as the door swung shut.

“What does he think this is?” my husband asks.

I shrug. Maybe someday there will be a standardized test on international cuisine.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Independence? What Independence?

As you are reading this, I am stepping into the chaos I like to call our Bi-Annual July 4th Family Reunion. Every minute of this holiday I will be surrounded by aunts, crying babies and pregnant cousins, husbands trying to avoid the creek and pre-schoolers trying to sneak into it, frogs, poison ivy, and noise.  Sweet, glorious, family noise that cannot be duplicated by any other gathering.  There will be arguments and political discussions much snappier than any fireworks display, lots of hugging, sitting on laps, porch swinging, and water fights.  In short, if one thinks of "independent" as solitary in the least, my weekend will be anything but.  It will be, however, jam-packed with love, a tribute to all things family!  So, red, white and blue hats off to the all-American family picnic weekend, ants and all.  I will survive!!  Have a great holiday!! 

Thursday, July 3, 2008

All Washed Up by Jenny Gardiner

Wet towels have become the bane of my existence. I’m practically drowning in them. I find them everywhere. Damp towels on the bathroom floor, saturated swimming pool towels on the hardwood floors. Dripping hair towels soaking into the carpets.
With my three kids home all summer, the soggy towel factor has increased exponentially. It’s almost out of control. By my calculations I am faced with at the very least nine wet towels a day, and that’s if the kids only go to the pool once. If they go to swim team practice in the morning, that’s three more soaking wet towels. Don’t even get me started on swim meet days: two to three more sodden towels per kid (that is if they don’t lose them at the meet), bringing me to a grand total of six thousand four hundred and twenty four soggy towels per week, give or take a few.
I try to encourage the kids to hang up the towels, give them a chance to air dry. But they’re just so darned wet. The towels, not the kids. So even assuming the kids did hang their towels regularly, which they’re not, the damp towel dilemma has taken over my life.
I’m washing, and drying, drying and washing. But I don’t seem to make any headway.
And supposing I do get all my wet towels washed, there’s the other problem of the towels in the closet. Every day, I wash those towels. Fold them neatly. Place them in an orderly manner on the shelves of the linen closet. And every day I find the clean towel pile overturned. In an effort to get to their favorite towels, the kids pull from the bottom of the pile, allowing the stack to tumble. Dead soldier towels, strewn about the floor. At least they’re not wet.
My husband came up with a solution to our towel problem. Unfortunately he announced it at 11 o’clock at night to an audience of overly tired kids.
The idea was this: pit each kid against the other. Whoever finds a wet towel on the floor can confront the towel offender, and force a payment of 25 cents. My teen-aged son, who never met a get-rich-quick scheme he didn’t like, started to gleefully calculate how much money he could make annually off of his sisters by merely busting them violating the towel rule.
My older daughter, our number one towel offender--but aside from that all-around wonderful helper--burst into tears, feeling persecuted. We couldn’t calm her down for thirty minutes.
My other daughter, another towel violator, stomped off to her room, slamming the door shut.
Today, my son, the mercenary, happened into his sister’s room in search of our kitten, when what did he come upon, but a wet towel. Now mind you, at least it wasn’t heaped on the carpet. It was draped across a chair. But nevertheless, it was not in its designated spot on the towel rack. Excitedly he thrust the towel in his sister’s face. She shrieked at him, accusing him of sneaking into her room, her private space. He leered at her, that ire-inducing smirk that every brother in the world knows will elicit hatred, venom, retribution from a sister. Usually in the form of a slap, smack, pinch, punch or kick.
There’s a lot more noise in my house today. Whereas yesterday, I spent the day in relative peace, stooping to pick up the myriad of wet towels laying about, today, I had to don my striped shirt, secure my whistle over my neck, and adopt the role of referee. It hasn’t allowed me much time for washing towels.
I think my life was easier when all I had to worry about was picking up wet towels off of every horizontal surface in my house. Excuse me while I go run interference with my kids, I think it’s getting violent.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Declaration of Independence or, Common Sense, Baby!

by Judy Merrill Larsen

Don't worry, this isn't going to be a little history lesson. Or a quiz about who signed what and when. Uh uh. It's about the power of natural consequences and how letting those consequences take their natural course can lead everybody--parents and kids--to the independence that we all want. It's necessary, but sometimes it can be a painful struggle. Just ask the British.

As adults, we get this. If I eat less and move more I'll lose weight. Doesn't always make me do so, but that's a natural consequence I understand. Same with, oh, say, paying bills so the electricity stays on. In my fifteen years of teaching, I often found myself preaching this to my students. Especially when they'd ask about extra-credit. I'd launch into my song and dance about "Well, if you'd done the assigned work you wouldn't need extra-credit. now, would you, so why should I give you a chance to make more work for me?" That always brought them around, yes indeedy.

But as a mom, it was often much harder for me to hold to this. For a few years, when my sons were in elementary school, I was on a first-name basis with the night janitor at their school because we seemed to need to ask him to unlock a classroom door at least once a week to fetch something we needed to complete a homework assignment. Part of me knew I should let them deal with the consequences of not remembering. But it seemed so cold. Harsh.

No more. One thing teenagers teach you (and the sooner, the better) is that they often only respond to natural consequences. For example: (and I need to make a disclaimer here. Not all of these examples come from the children living under my roof. Some come from their friends. I swear. But they're all instructive.)

~If, when you are "assigned" community service by a judge because of some hi-jinks you were caught participating in, "forgetting" to perform said hours will cause those hours to be doubled. Plus you'll be fined. So maybe next time you shouldn't ignore your mom's nagging.

~If you keep calling in sick to a job you no longer like, you'll get fired. And the company who sends you your cell phone bill doesn't care the reason, they'll stop your service. And, no, they don't have to warn you in advance.

~If you blow through all your lunch money/allowance by noon on Tuesday, you're going to be hungry (or brown-bagging it) for the rest of the week. Not to mention that you can forget about any extra-curricular fun.

~If you buy clothes that scream "Skanky crack ho" to your parents, but "sneak-wear" them under your t-shirt, the school will likely call your parents to explain they don't mesh with the dress code and you'll be assigned a detention. Also, said clothes will likely disappear the next time your mom does the laundry.

~Speaking of which, if your mom tells you to put all your dirty clothes in the laundry basket outside your door so she can get the laundry done and you don't, there will be no clean clothes for you. Deal with it. Ha.

~And, if you decide your mom isn't all that bright and why can't you just put all your dirty clothes in the wash together (because she is no longer willing to do your laundry (see above)), don't expect that same stupid mom to replace your now pink underwear. But you can expect her to laugh at you when you make your request. And, if you've blown through your lunch money/allowance this week, you'll be wearing the pink underwear to school.

~If your economics professor has told you that your homework is all to be done on-line, and you sign up for the wrong on-line program, and then notice that your classmates have homework, but miraculously you don't, that doesn't mean you're off the hook; it means you'll be retaking the class in summer school. At 8 a.m. if your mom has anything to say about it.

~If the bank explains that if you bounce a check there will be fees assessed--which will deplete your checking account even more, they really mean it. It's not like when your mom used to tell you she'd fine you for having to go up to the elementary school at night to pick up your geography book. She remembers how cute you were at age 4. The bank doesn't, and even if they did, they wouldn't care.

Natural consequences. They rock. In part because your kids can't be mad at you or blame you. Not that they won't try, but even they have to realize that they brought it on themselves. And that's where the real power comes in--they have to take responsibility.

That's a pretty powerful lesson. And it leads to independence. Possibly even adult behaviors. And all you've had to do is sit back, watch it unfold and bite your tongue. And maybe sacrifice some tea tossed into a harbor.