Friday, March 24, 2017

The Safety Rules

Over spring break, the Teenager and I planned and executed a mother-daughter road trip to visit some universities she is interested in attending.  We stopped and visited the Grandpa of No and ate his food for two days, then ventured out further.  It was a lot of fun; we had some bonding time and we got lost a couple of times, but we made it home safely.

One thing I have noticed about each of the six universities that we have visited is that, at some point along the campus tour, the student leading the group will stop and say something about campus security and how the university takes student safety seriously.  Then they'll go into the spiel about the campus security call boxes and the process through which a student can get an escort back to the dorm or a vehicle if they don't feel safe.  The safety measures are all pretty much the same.  If you are a student and need to get safely back to your car after that 2 AM library study session, they have you covered. 

I know the purpose of this stop on the tour: Don't worry, Mom and Dad. At (insert name of school), we have your young adult's safety covered. No worries here; time to move along now to the brand new biology building and the rec center which is free for students because you are paying for it with their student services fees!

The Teenager, however, seems to have given the subject of her safety a bit more comprehensive thought.  Before we hit the open road, we decided to eat lunch at a local burger place.  While we were waiting for our food to arrive, somehow the conversation got around to the topic of "The rules of safety when I go away to college". 

Don't worry, Mom, she told me.  I know the rules about college.  Bring your own drinks to parties.  If you walk away from your drink, throw it away when you come back and get another one, or use that nail polish that tells you if there's drugs in your drink.  If you go out with a guy, take his picture or a picture of his car before you leave on your date and text it to your friends so if something happens to you, your friends can tell the police who you were with.  And if he won't let you take his picture, then maybe you shouldn't go out with him. 

I have to admit, I was a bit impressed.  I was also hoping that those drinks she was referring to would be non-alcoholic ones, since she's nowhere near 21, and that by "party" what she was actually referring to was "going to the campus library to study quietly with people I know from class who are also serious about their academic success".

Am I getting a bit nervous about sending my daughter off to college? Yes.  Yes, I am. I am the Mom of I am Going to Text You Twelve Times Every Single Day.

I know, because I have been there myself, at some point in her young adulthood she will make an error in judgment.  We all do. I wish I hadn't done that.  I wish I had made a different choice. I wasn't thinking it through.  I can only hope that her mistakes aren't life changing ones, or, worse, life ending ones.  Our society seems to give young men who make bad mistakes a break (we don't want to ruin his future because of one mistake) while penalizing young women (she shouldn't have been drunk in the first place!) However, I'm nearly to the point where I have to cross my fingers and send her out into the world, hoping that her risk assessment skills are functional enough to keep her out of real trouble.

I also wonder what conversations the parents of young men about to go off to college are having with their sons.  Do you know that the conversations those of us with daughters are having seem to indicate that it is safer for them to assume that your sons are up to no good until proven otherwise? I know plenty of wonderful young men; I don't want to think that about your sons.

I can only hope that we are all having a similar conversation: Be responsible.  Be respectful of others, no matter their gender. Speak up when you see something going wrong for someone else. Don't take advantage of other people. And text your mother at least once a day, even if it's just to ask for pizza money. Studying hard will make you hungry. 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

When I'm Rich

Recently, the Mom of No decided it was time to become the Mom of Eating Healthier, and I subscribed to a cooking magazine that promised healthy and tasty recipes that my entire family would enjoy.  After perusing the recipes in the first issue, I realized that these might be healthy recipes, but they were also the kind that often require trips to more than one grocery store.

Nevertheless, I decided that I would persevere, especially since I'd already acquired some of the ingredients at grocery store #1. The Son of Never Stops Eating and I started roaming the aisles of grocery store #2 looking for 9 oz. frozen artichoke hearts, and it was then that he decided it was time to initiate an intense philosophical discussion about wealth and what one could accomplish with it.

Son: Mom, would you like to be rich?
Me:  I'd like to have enough money so that I could take care of everyone I loved.
Son: But what would you buy?
Me:  I don't know, maybe a new car.
(I had a feeling this was a "teachable moment", but I was hyper focused on finding the artichoke hearts in the freezer- were they with the broccoli? The edamame? the French-cut green beans?)
Son: I'd like a giant tortoise for a pet.  When I get rich and have my own apartment, I'm going to have a pet giant tortoise.

I've told my kids that there are different kinds of rich and while we might not be rich in money we are rich in love for each other, or rich in friendships, or rich in the community that we've created for our family. When I'd tell the Teenager (who was then the Elementary School Student) this in response to questions about being rich, she'd usually roll her eyes and say "Mom, not that kind of rich. I mean the kind of rich where you can go on cruises every year".

Unless you're a parent trying to impart valuable life lessons about what should and should not be important, I suppose "rich" generally means money. Not just some money, but rooms full of money. Driving down the freeway tossing dollar bills out of cars money. 

Except, of course, for the Son of Never Stops Eating.  His definition of rich is apparently having enough money to have an apartment and a pet tortoise. I'm not actually sure that you can legally own a giant tortoise, or that  a landlord would agree to rent an apartment to someone who owned a pet giant tortoise, and I have no idea what would happen to the giant tortoise if it outlived its owner, which it would probably do since they live for a very long time.  The Mom of No is definitely the Mom of We Are Not Getting a Pet Tortoise.

Maybe he could be convinced to stick with hamsters. An apartment with a pet hamster seems like an achievable wealth-related goal, and we already own all the hamster-related equipment.

I decided to ask more questions, since we still hadn't located any frozen artichoke hearts (although by this time, we'd acquired some cookies we probably didn't need, and some potato salad; the healthy eating experiment was not really off to a promising start). Also, I was really curious as to what he considered "rich". 

Me: How much money do you think you need to be rich?
Son: Well, right now I have $50 in my change jar.
Me:  So, is that rich?
Son: No. I need $100. Then I'll be rich and I can go to the Lego store and buy anything I want!
Me: How do you plan to get rich?
Son: I haven't figured that out.  Mom, questions are closed. Can we go home now?

Since we were both done shopping, I opted to go with canned artichoke hearts instead of the frozen ones that apparently exist nowhere, and we left the grocery store.  It's all going in the crock pot, anyway. Canned, frozen, does it really matter?

Apparently, however, the conversation was not closed even if questions from Mom were. 

Son: Mom, are you rich?
Me:  I'm rich in love.
Son: But I can't have a pet tortoise, can I?
Me:  Ha ha, no. Good try, though.
Son: (deep sigh).

Saturday, March 11, 2017

It's Getting Real

When talking about offspring, people often like to compare teenagers and toddlers. Toddlers, I've heard it said, are just really short teenagers.  The two developmental stages do have some similarities- both toddlers and teenagers can throw down some attitude.  Another similarity I've noticed is that, just like people offer advice (most of it unwanted) to new mothers, they also like to offer advice to parents whose kids are in the last two years of high school. 

The difference here is that, while when I was a new mother, the last thing I would have admitted to anyone except my own mother was that I had no idea what I was doing (my Mom Manual got lost in the mail, and I was working on no sleep and instinct), right now I'm definitely prepared to admit this: I have no clue. Fill me in. Tell me what the secrets are, because this process seems to be a lot more confusing than I remember it being way back in the olden days when I was the one in high school trying to get it figured out.

I've noticed that we are getting a lot more actual mail these days, and almost none of it is addressed to me. Most of it is from colleges, many that I've never heard of, with photos of happy glowing students, promises of stellar learning opportunities, and gorgeous campuses.  This collegiate propaganda is definitely lacking in the most important detail, from a Mom point of view: Just how much money do you want?

The college-related mail that is addressed to me consists of flyers informing me of all kinds of classes and workshops that, I'm promised, will give me the secrets to College Admissions Success, or Financial Aid Application Success, or Secrets to SAT Success For Your High School Student.  Apparently this process is difficult enough that I need to pay people to walk me through the many steps that will culminate in The Dad of No and I dropping off one new college freshman in front of a dorm on a campus somewhere and driving off, with the Son of Never Stops Eating sitting in the back seat of the car gleefully yelling "YAY, NO SISTER!". 

The other night I sat down in front of a computer to complete a calculator one college had provided on their website to give parents and prospective students an idea of what tuition might actually cost.  I had thought this would be a quick and simple process, but after hunting down paycheck stubs, the previous year's income tax forms, the mortgage paperwork for our house, and the Teenager's kindergarten report card, I was reduced to yelling "What exactly is it that you want from me?" while the other family members backed slowly out of the room and fled for their lives.

Actually, this whole process raises another question entirely.  Exactly how much of this college preparation and application process is my responsibility? How much Mom nagging is too much Mom nagging?  For example, how many times should I ask the Teenager if she knows the application deadline for the schools she's interested in, or should I just work under the assumption that this is her business and if she doesn't do anything about it and misses the deadline for her heart's desire schools, then she is just out of luck?

After all, as the Grandpa of No likes to remind me, there's always the Navy, or the local community college.

For quite awhile, this process has seemed theoretical.  For everything, there was still plenty of time. Now the Teenager is getting close to her senior year in high school, and that time known as "After Graduation" doesn't seem so theoretical anymore.  I recently looked at the school district's calendar for the 2017-2018 school year, and when I looked at the last day of school, I realized that will be her last day of high school.  So here it comes.  Bring it on.  Let the check writing (me) and the decision making (the Teenager) begin.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Backpack Cleanout

The other day, I cleaned out my hiking backpack.

I was on a work trip, and when I arrived at my hotel, I realized that the shopping gods had smiled upon me. Right across the street from the hotel was my favorite store of all time, REI.  To make it even better, I actually had a legitimate reason to go into REI: I needed a new hiking day pack. My old one was ripped, the elastic that held my water bottle in place was going bad, and for some reason it seemed to be getting heavier every time I went out on the trail. 

Two hours later, I sat on the bed in my hotel room with both my old and new backpacks, and prepared to move my stuff from the old backpack into the new. This was exciting stuff.

I'd had the old backpack for several years, and it had been some time since I'd actually sat down and cleaned it out.  As soon as I started unpacking it, I discovered why it had started to get so heavy.  The backpack was full of stuff I'd put in there and never gotten around to removing.

In addition to the usual stuff- binoculars, sunscreen, bug spray, and an extra hat, I found the following items: six baggies that had once held PBJ and now held nothing (I knew they were PBJ bags because of the residual PB), one desiccated orange, one shriveled up apple, one broken seashell,  a five dollar bill, a hand towel, an empty bottle of hand sanitizer, a broken up granola bar, a small rock, a bunch of sand at the bottom, six bandannas, two quarters, a bunch of dried up hand wipes, a small notebook, four pens, a spoon, and several paper bags.

I tossed what needed to be tossed, put the $5 in my wallet, and put the rest of the unnecessary items in my suitcase. My new backpack felt considerably lighter when I put it on my back.  I kept asking myself, where did all that stuff come from?  I don't remember putting all that stuff in there. Obviously I did, planning on having a piece of fruit as a snack or thinking I'd throw away the baggies at the dumpster at the trailhead.  I just didn't realize how the weight of it all was adding up.

This is generally how my life is- I go about my daily business, collecting actual things, responsibilities, commitments, ideas, perceptions about life, beliefs, goals.  I never really stop to think about where I came by those things, or if I still need them, or if it's time to do a little cleanup and get rid of whatever I don't need or no longer use, or to consider whether some of my ideas, perceptions, beliefs or goals might be getting a little desiccated like that poor uneaten orange.

I thought about how this is the season of Lent, and although I'm not the most spiritually devout person on the planet, this is as good a time as any to do some mental, spiritual, and physical spring cleaning.  Maybe it's time to assess commitments and responsibilities, to see if I've acquired any in the last several years that need to be let go.  Maybe it's time to think about a long-held idea or belief, to consider if I still truly think that, or if it's just years of lazy habit and it's time to re-evaluate.  Some stuff will need to go.  Some stuff I'll definitely keep.

Maybe, from a practical point of view, it's time to finally tackle the overflowing box of assorted paperwork that resides in my sunroom.  It would feel great to get that taken care of.

When I returned home from my work trip, I took my new backpack on its inaugural journey on the trails.  For the first time in quite awhile, I was able to put my hand in my backpack and locate my binoculars without having to rummage through a lot of stuff to find them. A small success, but I'll take it; it's the first step in my 2017 spring cleaning. 

Saturday, March 4, 2017

You're Grownups. Act Like It

The Mom of No has had enough.

No, not enough of the teenagers doing teenager things- I expect a certain amount of eye rolling and arguing from the teenagers in my household.  I'm assured by the pediatrician, other mothers of teenagers, high school teachers, books on parenting teenagers, the Grandfather of No, and practically everyone else who has anything whatsoever to do with teenagers that whining, eye rolling, sulky behavior, arguing with others and messy rooms are developmentally normal at this age.  I would be happier if certain individuals would be a bit more consistent with the deodorant, but generally, I'm good with the teenagers.

I'm annoyed with my elected officials.  The Mom of No is now the Constituent of Appalled and it has a lot to do with behavior.  In other words, you're grownups.  Now, act like it.

In recent weeks, I've seen a locally elected official come close to losing it on Facebook when challenged on a controversial local issue. I've seen a video of a state-level elected official losing his composure when a bunch of middle school kids asked a legitimate question. I've read about federal-level elected officials refusing to meet with constituents. 

Seriously, guys? This is your idea of leadership? If so, that is a sad story, because you're honestly not very good at it. 

Here's some insight.  I don't expect to agree with everything my elected officials do.  I don't expect to agree with every vote, or every position, or every philosophy.  Sometimes I think you are right on, and sometimes I think that you must have been hangry when you made that vote, or weren't paying attention because you were texting and voting, and sometimes I think that you are just flat out clueless on a certain issue. 

Here's what I do expect: to be treated and to see others treated with decency and respect by a mature, responsible individual who can handle disagreement in a diplomatic way and is willing to take ownership of his or her actions.   I know it's not easy to sustain that kind of performance, and I know we're all human- but you're a leader, and the burden of responsible behavior is greater for you. 

Sometimes, however, even leaders make mistakes. When you screw up and have to make an apology, this is how it's done: "I was wrong.  I apologize.  I assure you that I will take every step to ensure it does not happen again, and I recognize that my behavior was hurtful and inappropriate.".  You don't try to place blame on others, or cite that their views were aggravating you, or imply that your behavior was actually excusable because your cause is, in your opinion, righteous.  Here's advice straight from The Teenager: apologize, and don't do it again. 

Now you should be embarrassed, because a 16 year old knows how to make a better apology than you do.

If I'm talking to you directly, I don't want to be patronized, or have my questions ignored, or be given non-answers.  I'm assuming most people don't like this.  I'm a grownup.  I can handle it if you don't agree with me, or if you think I have misunderstood the issue, or if I'm flat out wrong about something.  I can handle it if we have different views.  I might not vote for you, but I promise not to have a hissy fit about it (at least not in public- I might make some snarky comments to my friends on Facebook). I have a right to know your positions on issues.  That's your job.  If it's complicated, explain why.  I have a kid in special education.  I can relate to complicated.

Right now, in this nation, there is a political divide the size of the Grand Canyon.  Bad behavior from the people elected to represent us doesn't help narrow that gap any; it only makes it worse. Please grow up and be the leaders we need you to be.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Get A Job

The Teenager has decided it is time to get a part time job.  Part of this is probably due to her fondness for hanging out at Starbucks with her friends to study; all that hot chocolate and all those snacks cost money, and her allowance isn't going as far as it used to.  I am the Mom of Frugal, and it seems like my entire paycheck goes to buy shoes and groceries, so no raise will be forthcoming from the Bank of Mom and Dad.

The other night she sat down at the kitchen table to start filling out job applications.  When I was a teenager looking for a job, I went to the mall and visited all my favorite stores, asking who was hiring and could I have a job application, please.  Evidently now it's all done online.  Not being particularly extroverted, I would have much preferred the online method myself, but obviously that wasn't available back in the 1980's.

As she worked her way through the job applications, she started asking me the questions they were asking her, hoping for some great mom advice on the perfect answers to job application questions. Unfortunately, the questions they were asking stumped me, too.  Honesty is always a good policy, but when you're filling out a job application, it can make the process somewhat difficult.  Also, it's been a long time since I have filled out a job application.  I have no idea what the current "correct" answers are.

For example, there's that classic question, "Why do you want to work at (insert name of business here)?"  If you're a recent college graduate looking for your first full time job, you might do some research on the organizations you're applying to work for and develop some insightful answer about how you like their approach to solving consumer problems, or you admire their emphasis on research, or that they offer a quality product.  At least, that was the advice I was given back in the olden days.

But if you're a sixteen year old high school junior looking to work at (insert name of chain restaurant here), what is the best way to answer that question?

"I don't know". I finally admitted, after mulling it over for a few minutes.  "Tell them that your grandfather really likes to eat there". I said. That seemed like as good a reason as any.  The real reason she was applying there was because a friend of hers worked there, but that might not be the best thing to put on the application: "I want to work here because my friend works here".

I could tell from her body language that she wasn't overly impressed with my suggestion.  Also, I suspect that her grandfather likes to eat at this particular restaurant because senior citizens get free coffee, not necessarily because of the quality of the food.  He is extremely loyal to his senior citizen discounts.

"What about skills?" she asked. "The application is asking me what skills I have".

Somehow, "My mom says I am the best clarinet player she knows" doesn't seem like the right answer, either.

When she finally gets an interview, I wonder if they'll ask her that other classic, "Tell me your weakness".   I'm always tempted to say, "I have a really weird sense of humor and a lot of people don't get it", but that doesn't seem like something you'd want to hear from a potential employee.  If The Teenager asked me to name her weakness, it would be that, from a parental point of view, her room could be cleaner and more organized. That probably isn't the correct answer, either.

Soon, hopefully she will have the part time job of her dreams, and then we can move on to adult work-related life lesson #201:  Your paycheck is less than you thought it would be, and that is a sad story.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Plastic Bag Hypocrite

From time to time, the Mom of No and family participate in various trash clean ups.  I always come away from these activities with a hatred of plastic bags; after you've spent ten minutes trying to free a plastic shopping bag from a tree while getting stuck with all kinds of thorns, your perspective on convenient shopping accessories changes a little.  I usually get back in the car, covered in mud and poison ivy oils and scratched up from head to toe, and exclaim something to the effect of "I am done with plastic bags! No more plastic bags! Reusable bags only from now on!".

The offspring usually just sit in the back seat and look at me.  They are the Adolescents of We Have Heard This One Before.

Also, here is something you need to know about the Son of Never Stops Eating: he operates with no filter.  Whether this is something related to his autism, or something he inherited from his mother, who also has a filter problem from time to time, I'm not sure- but he says what he thinks.  Sometimes, this is refreshing and enjoyable. Sometimes, not so much.  He is also an ardent environmentalist.

So recently I had participated in a trash clean up and I came home with my usual complaints about plastic bags, plastic fishing line, plastic water bottles, plastic food containers, and plastic everything else, and how all this plastic was destroying the Earth and it would really just be better if plastic was banned and we all used reusable bags and bottles. 

Then the Son of Never Stops Eating and I went to the grocery store.

We selected our items and were proceeding to the checkout line when he spotted a large display of water bottles by the checkout lanes. 

"MOM!" he exclaimed.  "Look at these water bottles! People should not be buying these water bottles! They're plastic!".  A woman who was putting a 24 pack in her cart looked over at us.

"Maybe people are buying them for a special event, or they want to stock up for the zombie apocalypse".  I told him.  The Son of Never Stops Eating and I are both Walking Dead fans. "I'm quite certain that a zombie invasion would bring a halt to water treatment plant operations". 

"I thought you said plastic water bottles were bad!" he said. 

The cashier started checking us out, and I directed the Son of Never Stops Eating to start putting the food in bags while I signed over my paycheck.  He looked at me, stricken. 

"These are plastic bags!" he said.  "I thought you said we were using reusable bags now!"

"They might be in the car".  I told him.  Actually, I have quite a few, but they weren't in my car.  They are in the house somewhere, because the last time I decided it was time to ban plastic from my life I went to the grocery store with my reusable bags, filled them with groceries, took them in the house, and put them somewhere with a mental note to put them back in my car, but they're still sitting where I left them, wherever that is.

"MOM!" he said, exasperated. "I thought you were a friend to nature!"

"I am a friend to nature!" I responded. "I love nature!"

"But you're still using plastic bags!" he pointed out.  "Don't you care about the birds and the trees?"

Clearly I have some more work to do on my reduction of plastic use goals.  I have no doubt whatsoever that my son will be with me every step of the way, pointing out my failures and encouraging me to change my ways.  The Lorax would be proud.

And just for the record- we do use reusable water bottles, but I don't have quite enough yet to stock up water for the zombie apocalypse.  I'll probably have to supplement my stash with those evil plastic water bottles.