Monday, May 22, 2017

Summer Fun

The school year is winding down, and the Son of Never Stops Eating is eagerly looking forward to the first day of summer.  A few days ago, we had the following conversation:

Son: Mom, are you ready for school to be over?
Me: Well, school was over for me about 25 years ago.
Son: Everyone is ready for school to be out.  No one likes school.
Me:  So what are you going to do this summer?
Son: Sleep, eat and go swimming.  And play Minecraft.

I suspect that within about two hours of being freed from the onerous burdens of the formal educational process, he will begin uttering that summertime phrase dreaded by all parents:  I'm bored.

In preparation for that, as a pre-emptive strike, I have prepared a list of suggested activities for the offspring to engage in this summer.  Feel free to borrow shamelessly if you see anything you like.

Dear offspring:  Here is your summer 2017 "No Boredom" list of things to do.  If you are tempted to utter the phrase "I'm bored! There is nothing to do!",  review this list and select an activity that appeals to you.  Otherwise, an activity may be chosen for you.  It will probably involve cleaning something. 

Speaking of cleaning, show your own room some attention.  Your room can never be too clean. Besides, who knows what you will find in there?  Forgotten treasures? Overdue library books? Maybe even some money? You won't know unless you look! You could even go through your clothes and sort out what you still like from what needs to go away in preparation for back-to-school shopping.

Go to the library.  The library is filled with great books, and they are all available for the low price of free.  As a bonus, the library is very well air-conditioned.  You can cool off and read great works of literature at the same time. 

Invite some friends over for a Monopoly tournament (or Scrabble, or Clue, or dust off those old chess skills I paid big bucks for you to learn way back in elementary school). 

You can never, ever, have too much clarinet practice.

Bake your mother something delicious, like some brownies or chocolate cake.  Offer to cook dinner and clean the kitchen afterwards.  Summer is a great time to improve those cooking skills.  One of these days, you'll be in your own place.  When that happens, you will be free from stupid parental rules but you will also have to cook your own meals.  Eventually, you will get tired of cheese sandwiches. 

Don't you have some college applications to work on? I thought so.  Also, remember the magic phrase that makes your parents' hearts sing with joy: "Scholarship money".

Go outside.  Yes, I know it's hot.  What do you think people did back in the olden days when they had no air conditioning or television or iPads? They went outside.  Somewhere in the garage there's a Frisbee; you could play Frisbee at the park.  Take the dog for a walk (make sure it's not too hot for her paws).

Start a lemonade stand. You could even donate some of the profits to a good cause.

Find out what is at the dollar movie theater and call up a friend to go see a movie (okay, text a friend- yes, I know, no one actually calls anyone anymore).   Or hang out at the house and have a 1980's movie marathon; you can laugh at the 1980's technology. 

Call your grandfather.

Clean out your school backpack.  I know there is probably paperwork in there from October; chances are good you probably don't need it at this point.

Enjoy your summer.  Before you know it, you'll be a real adult, and then summer break will become a distant memory as you toil away at work- until you have your own kids, who will also likely be bored during summer vacation.  And don't forget that clarinet practice. 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017


Last Sunday, as you probably know, was Mother's Day, or as the Son of Never Stops Eating calls it, Mom Appreciation Day.  The family showered me with love and attention,  homemade Mother's Day cards, and lunch at a restaurant of my choice.  On Monday morning I woke up, got ready for work, and went into the kitchen to get some breakfast.  The Son of Never Stops Eating was already there, preparing his lunch.  I guess he felt like it was time for the Mother's Day festivities to formally end, because we had the following conversation:

Son:  Mom, Mom Appreciation Day is over.
Me:  Every day should be Mom Appreciation Day.
Son:  Mom, you have to give other people a chance for appreciation, too!

I wanted to ask him why we could only appreciate one group of people at a time, but he apparently had more important things to do like blow things up on Minecraft, or something like that.  Whatever he had to do, it did not involve putting away the peanut butter and bread; Mom Appreciation Day was clearly over.  I think he might have been a bit annoyed because I had informed him a few days prior to Mom Appreciation Day that there is no formal "Teenager Appreciation Day". 

I'll be honest; I like Mom Appreciation Day.  I think most people like to feel appreciated, even when it's not Mother's Day or Father's Day or any of the days or weeks set aside for appreciation for specific groups of people, like teachers or nurses.  But most of the time, it seems like instead of appreciating other people, we emphasize calling out the people who annoy us, or don't do what we want them to do, or who don't do what we think they should do. 

I was thinking about this the last time that my parents visited, for Easter.  My mother became distraught at being in what was to her an unfamiliar place, and the visit, which had been planned for three days, ended in less than 24 hours.  My father looked tired and frustrated, and I thought after they left that caregivers to people with Alzheimer's must be among the most unappreciated people on the planet.  Our society is not the greatest at taking care of the caregivers.  We admire them, we express respect for them, but we don't really appreciate the work they do; if our society did, we'd make it easier on them.

So Dad, if you read this, I appreciate you. 

A few years ago, for Lent, I started a project that involved writing notes or e-mails or sending texts to people who I appreciated, for one reason or another.  I am sorry to report that this project lasted about two weeks; I got distracted by work and teenager stuff and then Lent was over.  Perhaps I should pick that project back up. 

I have a long list of people I appreciate:  I appreciate the counselors at the high school, because I can't imagine having to coordinate class schedules for four thousand students. I'm sure that is a gargantuan undertaking, and they probably get a lot of unhappy people before it's all done.  I appreciate my friends and fellow community members who have included my son in their conversations, even when I know they really don't want to talk about Legos or the evil Mr. Burns from The Simpsons.  After several hours driving around with a student driver, I definitely appreciate every person who works as a driver's education instructor. Anyone who does that for a living must have serious nerves of steel.

I know that showing more appreciation to others isn't going to bring about world peace or solve the major issues of our time, but maybe if we took the Son of Never Stops Eating's advice and gave out more appreciation and fewer complaints, it might make this cold, hard world a slightly better place.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Survey This

For some reason, May seems to be Survey Month.  In the last week or so, I've gotten surveys from my electricity provider, my bank, and a charity I donate to.  I've also gotten surveys from my employer asking about my satisfaction as an employee, where I think the leadership is successful, and where I think the leadership could improve. 

When it comes to that one, I suspect they're asking the wrong questions. We all know that no matter how many times I indicate I'd be happier with a 100% raise, that isn't going to happen.  I think they need to be asking the questions everyone needs clarified for workplace harmony, like:

Who, in your opinion, is responsible for cleaning out the break room fridge?
a) The administrative staff
b) The female employees
c) The person most repulsed by the two-month old unclaimed tuna sandwich
d) It should be on a rotating basis
e)  The person who spilled the tomato juice and didn't clean it up.

Or, this one:

What, in your opinion, is the appropriate first step to take when the printer jams?
a) Pretend it didn't happen
b) Call tech support
c) Attempt to fix it yourself by dismantling the entire machine
d) Tell the intern to fix it
e) Verbally threaten the printer with dire consequences and wait to see if that has an effect on its behavior.

Then, after I'd given it more thought, I wondered if maybe I should survey my offspring.  Completely anonymous, of course.  First, it would be helpful for household management purposes to see what the teenagers are really thinking; second, it would help improve morale by letting the teenagers know that I care about their thoughts and opinions; and finally, it would either confirm my success as a parent or indicate where I need to increase my efforts and improve my performance. For example:

The level of maternal nagging in this household is:
a) Too much- leave me alone!
b) Mostly okay but sometimes you get on my nerves
c) Just right
d) You could nag me a bit more; I'm feeling slightly under-nagged
e) I feel that substantially increased nagging would make me a better contributor to society.

What is your understanding of where money comes from?
a) The money tree in the backyard.
b)  Mom's paycheck
c)  You go to the bank and ask for some, and they give it to you!
d)  A little plastic card with your name on it
e)  I have no idea but I could use $20

When the dog starts whining to go outside, the appropriate response is to:
a)  Yell for a parent to do it
b)  Ignore it
c)  Insist that it's your sibling's turn because you did it last time
e)  Open the door, let the dog out, and then leave the door open and forget about it until someone asks, five hours later, why the back door is open.
d)  Let the dog out, let the dog back in, and shut the door.

When it comes to chores, I am:
a) Overworked and substantially underpaid
b) Paying my sibling in secret to do them for me
c)  Happy to do them; doing chores helps me contribute to the family.
d)  I want to do more! I'm ready to take on more responsibility!
e)  Looking forward to the day I move out and get my own place so I can do what I want instead of having to unload the dishwasher and vacuum the floor.

I haven't decided yet, but I'm seriously considering this.  After all, it would be interesting to see the results. Also, since filling out surveys seems to be part of adult life, the teenagers could probably use the practice.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Class of 2018

Last Tuesday, the Teenager and I were summoned to the high school after hours for a very important meeting.  The theme of this meeting:  Class of 2018- Are You Ready?

Yes.  Yes, I am absolutely ready for this. I have been ready for this from the moment of the first adolescent eye roll.  I'm thinking of all the free time I'll have in the fall of 2018 when the Teenager is off to college and I'm free of Band Mom duties.  No more concession stand or pie sales for me.  I can reclaim the entire month of August for my own purposes.  I've mentally started planning the transition of her bedroom from teenager lair to Mom's Study, complete with an entire bookshelf set aside for my field guides.

Ok, wait a minute.  That entire last paragraph was a complete lie.  I am a blathering blob of emotions.  No, I am not ready for this.  We're talking about my baby here.  We're talking about the sweet little girl I brought home from the hospital back in 2000, swaddled in pink blankets, and there is no way that she is old enough to be a senior in high school.  This "Are you ready" bit is a sad story.  I'm going to sit here and cry about it, because I still have a bunch of Mom stuff that I need to do, and 12 months just isn't going to be enough time. 

I remember, several years ago, going to 6th grade orientation at the middle school, and as part of that orientation the school band played for the parents.  At the time, the Teenager had yet to start playing the clarinet (although I had already signed my life away to the instrument rental place to acquire one on a rent to own agreement), and I was still thinking of her as a little kid. The 7th and 8th grade band kids not only sounded like they knew what they were doing, they looked considerably more grown up that what I was prepared for.  I wanted to turn to her and say, "Go back! I'm not ready for this! Stop growing up!".

Actually, that's not entirely true either.  Part of me felt that way, but another part of me was excited that in a year, I'd be watching my 7th grader playing that clarinet for the new 6th graders, acquiring new skills, making new friends and becoming more independent. It was fascinating to watch the Teenager shed her childhood self, slowly growing into her adulthood. I could see bits and pieces of myself, the Dad of No, and her grandparents emerging in her appearance and her personality, and it was pretty darn cool to witness.

Actually, that last paragraph is almost completely bogus.  I cried like a baby at work the day she started 6th grade.  The woman in the stall next to me in the ladies room finally knocked on the door of the stall I was in and asked, "Are you OK?"  No, I told her.  My daughter is starting middle school today. "Oh, teenagers", she said in a knowing voice.  "Well, good luck to you", she said in a voice that really said "The Doom is upon you! Run away while you still can!". 

So am I ready?  I honestly have no idea if I'm ready.  I'm torn between "No! Wait! I don't want you to leave me! I'm not done yet!" and "Go, fly, my little fledgling, be free!". 

I think about all the firsts and milestones that have been scratched off the list: first day of school, first sleepaway Girl Scout camp, braces on, braces off,  first time behind the wheel of a car, first part-time job, first time marching out on the field with the high school marching band as a 9th grader.  Now, we start scratching off the list of lasts- last first day of school; last school pictures, last marching band season,  last time I nag her to clean her room and hang up her clothes. 

Am I ready? Yes, I am ready. No, I am not ready.  I have no idea.  I'm not sure how much it matters; it's coming for me anyway whether I am ready or not.  The Teenager seems to be ready; maybe that's the more important thing here anyway. 

I do know two thing to be unambiguously true:  (1) Evidently, I will be writing a lot of checks;  and (2) When the day finally comes to repurpose the Teenager's room,  I apparently have competition in the household.  The Son of Never Stops Eating has evidently been eyeing that space for his Lego Creation Studio.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Mom of Many Things

Recently, I was asked why I am the Mom of No.  Why not the Mom of Yes, or the Mom of Kindness, or the Mom of Because I Said So?  I realized then that maybe it's time for a refresher course on how the Mom of No became the Mom of No.

This is what happened: The Son of Never Stops Eating was sitting in the living room one night, and he decided to hit me up to buy something, probably a Lego set.  He asked me, and I said no, so his response was "Mom, don't be the Mom of No! Be the Mom of Yes!" I posted that on Facebook, and the Mom of No thing just kind of took off.

When I was a teenager, and my own parents were being the Parents of Not Letting the Teenager Do Anything Fun, I would sit in my room, sulking and writing in my diary statements like "When I have kids I am going to be the nicest  mom ever and let them do whatever they want instead of making them follow stupid made up rules that make no sense!"

(Brief pause here to allow people to stop laughing so they can get back to reading)

I went through my twenties having blissfully forgotten that promise to myself about not making my kids follow stupid made up rules and then I became a parent myself. For the first 18 months or so of the Teenager's life I was the Mom of I have Never Been This Tired In My Entire Life as well as the Mom of Didn't We Just Buy A Package of Diapers? I discovered that there were all these different parenting "styles": Free Range. Helicopter. I even saw a book about something called "Dolphin Parenting".  My parenting style was more along the lines of "I have no idea what I'm doing, but I don't want anyone to know this".   I suspect now that most of the other mothers I knew at the time felt the same way, but none of us wanted to admit it.

Then my sweet little infants became toddlers, and I then discovered that you have to have rules otherwise the devious little darlings would overthrow the parents and reign over the household like little tyrants. 

That's when I became the Mom of Mean, because I wouldn't buy M&Ms every time we went to the grocery store, and I had rules that probably seemed arbitrary and silly to 4 year olds: for example, we do not flush toys down the toilet to see what will happen (answer: plumber, $250),  and a rule about how just because we are driving past a McDonald's does not mean we are going INTO the McDonald's, and a rule about how it is not nice to scream at the top of your lungs and throw goldfish crackers in the car when Mommy is sitting in a traffic jam on the interstate.

I could also be the Mom of Fun: I took the kids to the park and the zoo, and in the summer we went to the spray park. To be honest, some of this was because I was actually being sneaky and was in reality the Mom of Ulterior Motives because nothing wears out a 6 year old like spending five hours at a spray park. 

As the kids got older, I became the Mom of I'm Sorry You Have the Mean Teacher, but I'm Not Calling the School and the Mom of I am Not Doing Your Homework Because I Already Graduated.  But I'll also admit that when it came down to a choice between making the kids clean their rooms or going to the park on a beautiful, sunny day- I was the Mom of Who Cares if The House is Messy?

Now I have teenagers, and I am the Mom of I Don't Want You to Leave Me but I'm also the Mom of When You Move Out, I'm Turning Your Bedroom Into a Library.  I'm getting notices about "Class of 2018 Parent Meetings" and friends of mine are starting to talk about senior pictures.  The Teenager has her own part-time job and the Son of Never Stops Eating spends his free time talking on the phone to his friend about something called Minecraft.  On that one, I am the Mom of I Have No Idea What You are Talking About. 

So sometimes I am the Mom of Suck it Up, or the Mom of I am NOT Paying for That, and sometimes I am the Mom of Yes, Donuts for Breakfast! or the Mom of Letting the Teenagers Sleep In Instead of Waking Them Up to Do Chores.  When it comes to buying Legos, I am always the Mom of No- that is what his allowance money is for.  But like many other mothers out there, I am in reality the Mom of Many Things. 

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Low Bar Easter

Yes, I know.  You're reading this, thinking, hasn't Easter already happened? Yes, it has.  However, I couldn't write about this before, because then I'd be giving away the Household of No Easter Bunny secrets, and also because I didn't actually get around to doing any Easter stuff because I was busy doing other things, and all of a sudden it was the week before Easter and at that point, why bother to put up any decorations? I'd just have to take them down again.  I still actually have my Valentine's Day decorations up. (Side note: by decorations, what I am really referring to is a decorative plate on my fireplace mantel).

What happened was that I never got around to buying stuff for the adolescents' Easter baskets.  In past years I would get organized before Ash Wednesday, slowly buying little gifts and treats that I knew they would really like. This parenting tradition involved going to several stores and some creative thinking on my part.  This year, I just never got around to it.  Also, there was this little voice inside my brain that had started saying. "Um, aren't your kids getting a little old for the Easter Bunny?" 

Yes, I know. You are never really too old for the Easter Bunny. Or is that Santa Claus?  Oh, never mind.  I have no idea if there is a traditional age at which the Easter Bunny stops coming to your house, but whatever it is, my offspring are probably rapidly approaching it.

So the week before Easter, I was at Target with the Son of Never Stops Eating. Of course, they had Easter stuff all over the place, and that's when I realized that (1) Easter was in less than 7 days; (2) Now would be a good time to buy the Easter basket stuff, and (3), I had one of the adolescents with me.  I was going to have to be the Mom of Thinking Fast and Acting Quickly.

Go find something to do, I told the Son of Never Stops Eating.  I don't really care what it is, as long as it doesn't involve me getting paged over the announcement system. 

Can I look at the Legos, he asked me.  Yes, I told him.  Just go.  He gave me a strange look, but he went.

I ran over to the Target Starbucks and bought a gift card, then I grabbed two bags of milk chocolate Easter eggs, one huge bag of Bubble Yum chewing gum (the Teenager's favorite) and a bag of M&M's (the Son of Never Stops Eating is a chocoholic).  Then I went through the checkout line and added a Target gift card to my pile.

Just as the cashier started checking me out, the Son of Never Stops Eating reappeared.  Go away, I told him.  Go out to the front. I'll be there in a minute.

Can I have a Lego City Lego set? He asked me. I gave him a Mom Glare.  He fled the scene, and I continued my top secret Easter Bunny shopping mission.

After having successfully done my Easter Bunny shopping without raising the suspicion of any nosy teenagers, I woke up early on Easter morning, put the Starbucks gift card with the gum and one package of chocolate eggs, the Target gift card with the M&Ms and the other package of chocolate eggs, wrapped rubber bands around the gift card and candy, and put the piles on the kitchen table. Then I went back to bed.  Yes, I could have put the candy in the Easter baskets, but the baskets were actually still in the attic.  Climbing up into the attic at 1 AM seemed like a bad safety practice.

When the Teenagers woke up later that morning (or, it might have been afternoon) they were both thrilled with their loot.  So there you go, the successful Low Bar Parenting Easter Basket. 

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Driving Toward Adulthood

When The Teenager was a newborn, one of the nurses brought her to me while we were still both in the hospital, and left her with me in the room for awhile.  This was when I realized that it had been a long time since I'd changed a diaper, and that it was not as easy as it appeared.  I think it probably took me ten minutes to change that first diaper. The postpartum nurses were likely telling each other in quiet whispers, "The parenting force is not with this one". Every baby-related task seemed to require a substantial amount of time, and forget multitasking.  If Mom Skills are supposed to descend upon you automatically at the birth of your firstborn, the bestowing passed me by.

Then the Son of Never Stops Eating was born, and I could change his diapers or feed him anywhere, anytime, usually while doing something else at the same time, often with his older sister yelling "MOMMY! WANT GO OUTSIDE NOW!" at the top of her lungs while simultaneously trying to climb up my leg. In a speed diaper changing contest, I could have definitely held my own.  The Mom Skills had, somehow, become instinctual.

The Dad of No and I are currently in the process of teaching the Teenager how to drive (prayers and good vibes welcome). It's made me realize how much of an instinctual process driving has become for me, after having had a driver's license for nearly 30 years.  I take knowing things for granted: how much time it will take me to stop my car at a certain rate of speed.  How long that light at the next intersection will stay green.  How long it will take that car barreling towards me from the other direction to reach the intersection I want to turn into.  The Teenager, being new to driving, hasn't acquired this instinctual knowing yet.

This is why we sit at intersections waiting to make turns for a longer period of time than drivers behind us might like, as sometimes indicated by the enthusiastic use of car horns. I tell the Teenager to not let that bother her;  I am the Mom of Please Drive Cautiously to Avoid Collisions With Oncoming Traffic. 

Learning how to drive is essentially the story of learning how to be an adult. As adults, we know things- or, as a friend of my daughter's told me a few weeks ago, adults are just really good at faking that we know things.  However, those of us who have been adults for awhile can sometimes forget that we didn't always know what we know now, because, like driving a car, we have been doing it for so long and it has become so routine that we just take it for granted that everyone knows the same things that we know. 

At least in the area I live in, there is often reluctance to let older kids and teenagers try on some independence and learn some risk assessment.  It's as if we operate under an assumption that when a kid turns 18, the ability to become an adult is somehow magically imparted to them. This is why, as the Teenager gets closer to that milestone birthday, I have to sometimes stop and take a deep breath and remember, I didn't know everything at her age either, although I thought I did. 

Getting a driver's license might be the first time a teenager is confronted with the reality that actions or mistakes can have serious real life consequences.  Driving a car is a huge responsibility, and a giant step towards adulthood.  The Teenager, much to her credit, is taking this responsibility seriously and proceeding cautiously. So if you are behind our car, and the Teenager is behind the wheel,  have some patience for us.  We're working on driving toward adulthood.