Saturday, July 15, 2017

Not the Mom Judge

A few weeks ago, a Facebook friend of mine posted a link to an online "mommy" article. It was one of those "Dear Fellow Mom, let me explain all the stuff you are doing wrong and I am doing right"  columns that gives advice to other mothers on how we should all be raising our little cherubs.  In this case, it took the form of a mom who had observed another family allowing their offspring to use their technology while eating a meal in public, and this mom took the opportunity to explain to other parents why, based on a one-time short term observation, she felt that letting your kids play on their technology during dinner in a restaurant is a BAD IDEA and you should NOT DO IT.

Um, uh-oh.  You better send me that application for the Bad Mom Club, because I definitely qualify for membership on that criteria.  Although, now that I think about it, I probably joined the Bad Mom Club years ago.  Disregard that application.

The day the Son of Never Stops Eating discovered Angry Birds, it was like a gift from Above.  I loaded up the app on an old iPhone  and took it with me wherever I went. If he started getting a little impatient and I wasn't done with what I needed to do, out came the Angry Birds phone.  I'm sure someone, somewhere, looked at the kid blissfully playing Angry Birds (sound turned way down, of course- I do have some compassion for my fellow human beings) and thought, what a terrible mother that woman must be, letting her kid play Angry Birds while (fill in activity).  It was either that or thirty minutes of "Are we done yet? I'm done. Let's go, Mom.  Time to go. I'm done. Talking is closed. Are we done yet?".  Pick one.

For some reason, those articles become less frequent the older the kids get, or maybe I just notice them less, but that is one good thing about having teenagers as opposed to small kids: either there is less Mom judging, or I'm just at the point in my Mom career where I'm purposefully oblivious to it because I have other stuff on my mind, like nagging my teenager about college applications or wondering why there is no milk in the fridge when I know that we bought four gallons two days ago.

A few months ago, I was in a restaurant with The Teenager after a campus tour. We were both wiped out and ravenously hungry after hiking about six miles all over a college campus while listening to a perky student tour guide explain why this particular university was an amazing place, and all we could think about was food.  When we sat down after ordering, a younger mother with a very cute little boy sat down near us, and the little boy started doing what little boys do: he got up and started moving around.

What I was thinking: Boy, do I wish I had that much energy, because, oy vey, my feet are killing me and my brain is on information overload.

She looked over at me and, looking bashful, apologized for her son. I suspect she might have been expecting a torrent of Mom judging. I just laughed and told her not to worry about it.  I was honestly so tired that a circus could have set up shop in that restaurant and the only thing on my mind would have been "Feet hurt. Bring food".

At least her son was fully dressed. I once chased a naked toddler around a department store while the toddler yelled gleefully, "Pants are OFF!" and other shoppers stood with mouths gaping wide open at the very public demonstration of my inept mothering skills, so I am definitely in no position to judge anyone else's parenting technique.  That might have actually been when I first joined the Bad Mom Club.

So, to all the young mothers out there, just know this: you don't need to apologize to me for your little kids being little kids.  Other people might express annoyance, or start telling you what you really should be doing.  If you see me looking at you,  I'm probably mentally reminiscing about the days my own kids were young and doing pretty much the same things your kids are probably doing right now.  So if you need to pull out your version of the Angry Birds phone to get something accomplished, go for it.  I'm certainly not going to judge you.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Let the Plans Begin

As the Teenager moves into her senior year and starts to make those important decisions about what she's going to do after high school, I keep thinking that in three years, I will have another rising senior in high school, but his senior year experience will likely be very different.  As a parent with one typical kid and one kid on the autism spectrum, I've learned that transitions can be bittersweet- as one prepares to fledge the nest, I'm reminded anew that the other nestling will probably be sticking around for awhile. 

As long as he leaves me enough milk for my morning coffee, he's welcome to stay, but he can't stay in our nest forever. 

I've recently seen several articles about "autism-friendly" master-planned developments being planned or built.  These planned communities offer lovely homes, employment and transition planning, social skills therapy and recreation opportunities, and almost anything else that a young adult with autism could possibly want.  These communities seem wonderful, and they do present a solution to those with the resources to make it work.

However, what gets lost in social media, in the articles about how wonderful these communities are that leave people with a glowing feel-good sensation of success- problem solved, moving on now, nothing to see here- is that the cost is high; it's out of reach for many families (including the Family of No), and it's not a temporary expense.

As I watch friends whose kids who are on the spectrum and who are slightly older than the Son of Never Stops Eating begin to transition out of adolescence into early adulthood, it becomes clear that the rumors are true; the need is great and growing and that the resources are few.  Because autism is a spectrum, needs vary significantly.  The needs of adults with autism are not issues with easy resolutions.  This great need is not an issue that gets the voters stirred up; adults with autism don't have powerful lobbies or money to contribute to political campaigns.  Especially in the current political environment, one message is clear: if you have an adolescent with autism, you are on your own.

The Son of Never Stops Eating will likely be very capable of living independently with some moderate supports, although he might eat a lot of cheese sandwiches and skip the veggies more than his mother might like. In his ideal home, he has lots of hamsters  (unlike his parents' house, with a strict One Hamster At a Time rule) and a room just for Legos.  However, that isn't true of everyone. Some individuals need less assistance; some will need a great deal more.

It isn't just housing that must be considered.  I don't know yet if the Son of Never Stops Eating will be able to drive, but if he can't, then he will need to be able to access mass transportation or live somewhere he can walk to work.  It also needs to be affordable; which is a challenge in itself in our rapidly growing area.  He will need to be able to access medical care, the grocery store, his favorite Big Box store, a bank, and perhaps most importantly (at least to him) a good donut shop.

Determining  how much he can work without losing the benefits that will be enabling him to work in the first place- like job coaching- is like trying to untie a Gordian knot of government rules and regulations with one hand tied behind your back. His current job of choice, "Taking care of hamsters", has possibilities but none that will pay all his bills.  He'll need an understanding employer and co-workers who don't mind a conversation (or several) about "The Simpsons" or "The Loud House". 

Finally, he will need to find his community- friends, recreational opportunities, people who know him and will watch out for him. 

Our family still has a few years to work on our son's transition plan. I know all too well that these years are going to zoom on by.  I also suspect, because nothing autism-related is ever easy, that other issues will arise in our planning which I am, as of yet, blissfully unaware.  Like many before us, we are beginning the hike up the mountain of transition to adulthood planning with a faded map and few signs to mark the trail. However, it is time to start the journey; we shall see where the trail takes us.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Data Limit

Way back in the olden days, before Wi-Fi and smartphones, back when a word processor was a typewriter and if you wanted to listen to music on the go you had to get a device that would play cassette tapes, the Mom of No was a teenager with a part-time job.

Every two weeks I'd get paid, and then I'd head to the mall to spend my hard earned fortune on clothes and accessories, because that was what you did if you were a teenaged girl in the 1980's; you spent your money on neon Flashdance-styled sweatshirts, hair spray for that big hair look, and jelly shoes to go with your jumpsuits.  I owned a yellow and black jumpsuit that I considered at the time to be the height of fashion, but now I look at photos of me wearing it and realize that I really looked like a tall bumblebee with extremely fluffy hair.  My mother probably tried to warn me and I probably rolled my eyes at her and muttered "whatever" under my breath. 

No, I'm not telling anyone where those photos are.  They exist.  That's all you're going to get.

Evidently things have changed considerably, because teenagers- at least the ones living in the Household of No- don't spend their money on clothes.  One spends it all on Legos, and the other spends it on Starbucks and data.

If you had told me back in the 1980's that in about 30 years I'd have a teenager who spent her money on food and data, my reactions probably would have been, "Huh? Data? Like, where do you buy that? I've never seen a data store at the mall. And what is Starbucks? Coffee drinks? Oh, gag me with a spoon!".

When the Teenager got her first smartphone- claiming that she needed it "for school",with the age-old claim (that actually ended up to be true in this instance) that "everyone has a smartphone except me"- I added her to the family data plan and told her what her data limit was.  I was confident that she would not need more than the amount of data the plan provided; she had Wi-Fi at home and Wi-Fi at school, and who sits around playing on their phones when they're hanging out with their friends or out in places where there is no Wi-Fi?  After all, the purported use of this device was for "schoolwork".

Ha ha ha.  I was clearly the Mom of Na├»ve about Technology, because it soon became readily apparent that this phone was going to get a lot of use.  Almost immediately, I started getting text messages from the Household of No's cell phone service provider about "data use alerts".  Apparently, data was needed to listen to music while walking to and from school, and on the bus to band activities, and the "Wi-Fi speed at school isn't very good", and I learned that watching videos apparently eats a lot of data. 

When I formulated retorts to these arguments about why the data amount allocated to teenager use wasn't actually sufficient, I realized I was starting to sound like the Grandpa of No.  Why do you have to listen to music while walking around?  The chirping of the birds isn't enough music for you? Why are you using your phone at school? Aren't you supposed to be paying attention in class?  Do you ever actually talk to people, or do you just sit around on your phone looking at pictures of kittens and people doing insane stunts on You-Tube?

Then the Teenager acquired a part-time job.  The first month she went over her data limit (twice), and I informed her that she owed me $20.  It's a good thing you have a job, I told her.  Now you can pay for your own data.

OK, she said, shrugging.  Just take it out of my debit account when I get paid.

You realize you worked almost three hours to pay for that data, right? I asked her.  Twenty bucks for something that isn't even real. 

MOM! I said I'd pay for it! she responded in that "Mom! Whatever!" tone of voice parents of teenagers know all so well. 

I now understand how my mother probably felt when she tried to warn me about the bumblebee jumpsuit in the dressing room at Macy's 30 years ago.  Now when I think about that atrocious fashion mistake, I wish I had saved my money instead- but at the time it seemed like the best possible use of my hard-earned wages.  As the Grandma of No said so many years ago when I would make dubious (to her) purchases with my own cash, "Hey, it's your money!".

At least data doesn't clutter up her room, get left on the floor, or outgrown. It doesn't fall out of fashion two days after it was bought, or become part of embarrassing photos from the 1980's best hidden away in old photo albums and stored in some undisclosed location.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

So Embarrassing

Our family is fortunate enough to live in a community which often offers fun events for the residents; during the summer, they offer weekly live music in a local park along with food trucks and a small Farmer's Market.  The Family of No likes to go there and hang out with friends; the Parents of No like it because it is good entertainment for the low price of free, and the Son of Never Stops Eating likes it because there is always a snow cone truck. 

Now, before I continue with the rest of this story, some background information: Dancing is not a Mom of No strength.  I have known this from an early age.  Somewhere in the family archives there is a photo of me, maybe 5 or 6 years old, in a leotard and tights, looking absolutely miserable.  I like to dance when the song is right, but I'm honestly not very good at it.  I'm fairly certain that other people are watching me going "what is she doing?".  Apparently my dancing is so bad that no one else realizes that is actually what I am doing. 

The closer I get to AARP membership eligibility, the more I don't care.

At the last outdoor concert,  the music was right, so I moved up to the stage with some friends and started dancing.  Right after the dancing festivities commenced, the Teenager walked by with some friends and saw me dancing.  It was apparent from her body language that she had seen me and that she was embarrassed by her mother's admittedly bad dancing. 

You know what?  I am fine with that - because as a parent, I consider it part of my job to embarrass my teenagers.  I would be remiss as a parent if I did not, at some point, between the ages of 13 and their departure from under my roof, do something to embarrass my teenagers.  I would be missing out on some great opportunities for stories to tell my grandchildren while feeding them huge bowls of ice cream  for dinner and telling them that Grandma thought that they should, indeed, be able to get a pony from Santa Claus.

This is why I had kids in the first place: I knew that in return for having my bladder kicked incessantly for two trimesters, maternal weight gain, late night feedings, endless diaper changes, cleaning up projectile vomiting residue from the upholstery in my car when someone ate too much sugar, soccer games in the rain, softball games in blazing heat, school projects involving hard to find materials, endless hours of chauffeuring offspring from place to place, staying up late to pull tooth fairy duty, getting up early on weekends to take offspring to (insert name of activity here), and all the other sacrifices that are part of rearing human young, I would one day get my revenge and the time for that revenge is now. 

Paybacks, kids.  Paybacks.  Remember the time you told that nice police officer that Mommy had started saying bad words that started with the letters "S" and "F" the second she saw your lights in the rear view mirror of the car? Paybacks.  Remember the time you threw a huge fit at the grocery store because Mommy said no to Oreo cookies?  Paybacks. Remember that time you kept throwing Legos at the sweet older couple in the pew in front of us at church and they were so nice about it but I could tell they thought I should be investing in a big wooden spoon?  Big time paybacks.

It is my parental right and privilege to embarrass my teenagers, and I plan to take every opportunity to do so until the moment that they move out of the house- and even then, I may not be quite ready to stop. Teenagers, you have been warned.  Not that I actually need to take any positive action on Operation Embarrassing Adolescents; sometimes I suspect that just my mere presence on the same Earth as my teenagers is embarrassment enough.  That's okay, too; it doesn't change the indisputable fact of life that She Who Pays the Auto Insurance Bill Makes The Rules. 

So, teenagers, I'm not sorry that you're embarrassed.  One day, you will have the same opportunity; what goes around comes around.  Meanwhile, I need some Aleve or Tylenol or something; dancing is hard on the middle-aged knees.  Embarrassing teenagers, however, is so worth it.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Mentor of Happiness

Recently, I was in a situation where the subject of mentoring came up.  Questions were being asked about experiences with mentoring and how people had formally or informally mentored others, and one of the participants in the discussion mentioned that he saw himself as the "Mentor of Happiness".  The phrase got stuck in my head, and I had to spend some time thinking about it.

I have always thought of mentoring as a formal work-related arrangement, when the experienced older employee takes the young whippersnapper under his or her wing and shows them how to get stuff done without making political mistakes or serious career-ending missteps. In return, the mentee  might get the opportunity to give a great emotion-filled speech at his or her mentor's retirement ceremony after reaching his or her own pinnacle of professional success. 

Mentoring is broader that that, however.  We are all mentors of something, whether we want to be or not- probably whether we realize it or not, especially if you have children. Every parent knows the little turkeys are watching every move you make and every word you say and filing the information away for later use.  Parents are constantly the mentors of how to treat other people: when you're nasty or disrespectful to people, the message- intended or not- is that some people are worth less than others.  When you make snarky comments about another person's physical appearance, the message is that it's okay to be judgmental.

The reverse is also true; as parents we are also constantly in position to be mentors of how to treat other people with kindness and respect.  Sometimes we are unsuccessful and then we have the opportunity to be the mentors of how to apologize and make amends, because people make mistakes. 

When the Teenager became old enough to get a learner's permit for driving, I realized that I needed to start being the Mentor of Good Driving Skills.  It was time to stop all those questionable practices like speeding up to go through yellow lights, not really stopping at stop signs or making snarky comments about the driving skills of other drivers*. I wanted to avoid being in the awkward position of telling her not to do something and get that great teenager response: But Mom, YOU do it all the time! Most importantly, I wanted to model good defensive driving strategies and good driving habits to my teenaged learner. Telling her to always use her turn signal and failing to do it myself is not good mentoring.

My father was the mentor of managing money responsibly; he was also my mentor of the strategic use of good sarcasm (Shut that door! I don't want to air condition the entire state!). I found it annoying as a teenager but those skills came in really useful once I became an adult.  Thanks, Dad!

Some people are mentors of a bad attitude, or mentors of unnecessary drama.  Not only do they do it, but their actions are infectious. They can bring down a group of friends or even an entire organization.

Fortunately, some people are mentors of a good work ethic, or mentors of civic involvement, or mentors of working hard to improve the lives of other people. Not only do they embody those characteristics in their own lives, but they somehow manage to encourage other people to follow along just by example. Some people really are mentors of happiness; they are just always happy or optimistic, no matter what is happening, and when you are around them, you feel happy too.  The world needs all the good mentors it can get, so think about it- what kind of mentor are you?

*For the record, as a mentor of being honest about myself- I do sometimes still do this but I try to do it only when I'm driving by myself.  I try to limit it to the most egregious faults.  I'm working on it.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Summer Vacation

One recent Sunday, I was up early preparing to go on a hike with a friend.  The house was quiet, the air was still cool, and it seemed like everyone else in the household was asleep (except for the dog, who was sitting next to me hoping for a treat) until I looked up from lacing my hiking boots and saw the Son of Never Stops Eating standing in front of me.

Son: Mom, will you get donuts?
Me: I don't know.  Why should I get donuts?
Son: It's Sunday.  You always get donuts on Sunday.
Me: Maybe I want something in return.
Son: (looking concerned) Like what?
Me: Like more deodorant use in this house.
Son:  Mom, it's summer! No one uses deodorant in summer!

This is one of the fundamental differences between adulthood and childhood: when you are a kid, summer is different because you aren't in school and you can be lazy and sleep in.  When you're a grownup, the difference between summer and all the other seasons is that it's hotter and you spend more time praying to the A/C gods that the air conditioning doesn't break on the 4th of July. 

The Son of Never Stops Eating seems to think that summer vacation means that you don't have to do anything you don't want to do.  The other night he was lobbying heavily for an all-day trip to Legoland. He won two passes in a contest a few months ago, and he's been driving me crazy about it ever since.  Practically every day,he'll ask me if we can go to Legoland tomorrow, and I'll tell him I have to go to work.

Tell your boss, he says, that you need to take your son to Legoland.  That's more important than work.  Just take the day off, Mom!

If my boss is reading this (or even if he's not), I'd actually probably rather be at work. Seriously.  The image of being at Legoland with hundreds of screaming kids on summer vacation is migraine-inducing. I have a headache just thinking about it.  I actually prefer my cubicle, where it's quiet and no one is hitting me up to buy Minecraft Lego kits for $149.99. 

The Son of Never Stops Eating has already started in on the "I'm bored!" ritual of summer vacation.  My suggestions usually don't go over well.  For example, I suggested the other day that if he was bored, he could clean his room.

Mom, he responded,  kids don't want to clean their rooms on summer vacation.  They want to have fun! They want to do fun things like go swimming and getting snow cones and going to Legoland and Target!

Well, we can go to Target, I told him.  We can get stuff to clean your room.

MOM! He replied, exasperated.  I want to go to Target to get fun stuff! Not cleaning stuff and NOT school supplies!

Maybe I need to adopt the same attitude towards summer.  I need the Mom summer vacation.  No cleaning, no paperwork, no chauffeur services (You want to go to the snow cone stand?  Start walking!), no banking transactions (Oh, you want your allowance? Sorry, the Bank of Mom is closed for summer vacation! See you in September!). I could even take a vacation from nagging my offspring (the Teenager would probably love that).  Out of snacks? That is a sad story! I'll get some after school starts. Until then, help yourself to the carrot sticks!

Summer vacation, as the teenager is finding out, is an ephemeral thing; there is no real vacation from adulthood.  In all seriousness, I want the Son of Never Stops Eating to enjoy summer while it lasts for him. I'll even spring for some snow cones and drive him to the pool.  But, unfortunately for him, there is no summer vacation from deodorant.  

Friday, June 9, 2017

Working Woman

The other day, the Teenager and a friend went to Target. When the Teenager returned home, she had exciting news for me: she'd seen a book there she thought I should buy. It was a book of advice for working women.  Since I am also the Mom of Frugal, I decided that I'd rather keep my $20. If it shows up at the local library, I might give this intriguing work of literature a try.

I've been working since I was sixteen.  At this point in my working life,  I could probably write a book about being a working woman. I'm fairly certain that no one would actually read it, though; I'm not famous and/or wealthy.  Also, the problem with these kinds of books is that they usually don't really help you solve the underlying problems that cause you to read these books in the first place. When I was a young working mother I would read books on how to be a successful working mother and survive, but eventually I realized that what I really needed was for Grandma to move in next door, and that wasn't going to be happening.

I've been working for over 30 years, and I've learned a few things, some of which I will share with you.  Put your money away; the Mom of No is going to be the Mom of Sharing Great Information for Free.

The crock-pot is your friend. You can cook almost anything in a crock-pot, and it usually tastes rather good. If for some reason your crock-pot meal is not edible, there is no shame in going through a drive-thru.  Some people have amazing time management skills and are able to work a full day and then put a gourmet meal on the table for their family. I am not one of those people, and if you aren't, either, then that is okay.

If you are snarky with your boss, you will probably get fired. I learned this lesson the hard way; when I was a college kid, I had a summer job at a locally well known waterpark. My first day of work, I was driving down the highway and the timing belt of my aging vehicle decided to break.  I was late for work (not the best first impression) and the job went downhill from there.  After putting up with a few weeks of what I (and most of my co-workers) considered to be ridiculous rules, my mouth got the better of me and I got myself fired.

The corollary lesson here is that just because a certain location is a fun place to go hang out with your friends doesn't mean that it's a fun place to work.  Also, this experience has made me somewhat paranoid about timing belts. 

If you ever have to take a breast pump through airport security, you will probably be asked about what it is and how it works, especially if the security agent scanning your carry-on bag is a man.  You really can't do anything about that; just be prepared to explain without your face turning bright red with embarrassment.

You can safely assume that the day you have a very important meeting or a very important conference call is also the same day that your child's daycare or school will call you to inform you that you need to pick up your child right now because they have a 100 degree fever and a weird rash.  If at all possible, have a backup plan.

Your relationships with your co-workers will stand a better chance of being decent if you aren't the person who never cleans old leftovers out of the refrigerator. Bring donuts every now and then- unless you work with health fanatics, and then bring a healthy treat like cut up seasonal fruit along with the donuts. 

Stay out of the stay at home vs working mother argument.  It is one of those ongoing debates that will probably never be resolved.  Find a couple of other working mothers and text each other supportive thoughts, links to great crock pot recipes and, perhaps most importantly, the snarky comments you can't say to your boss.

If you ever find yourself sitting alone in your car in a parking lot screaming 'I am so tired!" or other cries of frustration, congratulations; you are not alone.  Scream away. It won't solve any of your problems but you will probably feel better, at least temporarily.  Also, it's free.

If any of these tried and true tips work for you, then I think that's great, and I'm glad I could help. If they don't, just remember that at least it didn't cost you anything except a few minutes of time to read them.