Sunday, November 12, 2017

Change is Hard

Last week, the Mom of No's mobile device died.

It had been a lingering disaster in the making, as the battery life got shorter and shorter until finally the Smartphone of No was spending more time on the charger than off of it, and then finally it just decided that it was really just done with charging entirely. It was clear: the time had come to suck it up and get a new phone.  Enforced change was coming.

Back in the ancient days Before Internet, one of the first things I had to do as a newly minted college graduate and contributor to society was set up phone and electricity accounts for my first grown-up apartment.  This process involved making two phone calls and writing out two deposit checks.  The big decision was whether or not I wanted call waiting.  I probably could have gotten cable TV but since it was my own money being spent and I was feeling newly frugal, I decided I could probably live with the five free channels on offer. 

Then cell phones and the Internet happened and "do you want call waiting?" turned into "iPhone or Android? Cable or satellite dish or some kind of internet related method that everyone (but you) seems to understand? How much data do you use per month? Do you stream videos? Do you want a hotspot for your house? How many devices do you have?".

Not only was I on some grandfathered data plan with my cell phone carrier, but I'd gotten an URGENT e-mail from our TV and internet provider informing me that our agreement with them was expiring and we needed to call IMMEDIATELY to find out what FANTASTIC deals we could get!   Before the Dad of No and I could do that, we had to answer the bigger question, did we even want to stay with our current provider? The internet service had been OK, but the TV service, not so much.  So what did we want to do? Cable? Satellite? Something about a "stick"?   I made a sad attempt at research and gave up when I realized I was completely confused. I did what any self-respecting change-hater would do: I delegated the decision to the Dad of No under the premise that he watches more TV than I do, so he had more interest in the outcome.  

Then all of a sudden I had this dying mobile phone, and I had to rapidly come to terms with the undisputable fact that more change was coming.  I really just wanted the iPhone fairy to come to my house and slide a functioning phone under my pillow as I slept, kind of like the tooth fairy but for grownups, but that doesn't happen in real life, at least not to me.

The last time I'd gotten a new phone, the service provider had tried to talk me into a program in which you kept the phone for six months, and then you could get a new phone, but you didn't actually own the phone, so there was a "payment plan" added to the bill, but you could only get certain data plans if you signed up for this plan, and if you wanted to buy the phone then you had other data plans and they weren't as good as the first data plan, and after about five minutes I was really confused because no one actually would answer the most important question of all, which was, "How much is this actually going to cost? or the second most important question of all, which was "What happens when something happens to the not-paid for phone?".

But you can get an upgrade every SIX MONTHS! The representative kept telling me. Twice a year, you can have a NEW PHONE! I finally had to tell the enthusiastic young salesman that it takes me a year to figure out how to use the darn thing.  The minute the words left my mouth I realized that was exactly something the Grandpa of No would say, which made me feel even older, because I really just wanted a phone that worked with a data plan I could understand and a price that made sense, and none of those things seemed to be happening for me. I know choice is supposed to be good but this was too much choice; I just wanted a phone!

So, feeling a sense of angst-ridden deja-vu,  I ventured once again to the store of the mobile devices. As it turned out the process had been revised somewhat in the last five years so once we went through the whole thing of "Wow, this phone is a relic! I can't believe it was still working for you!" the whippersnapper saleslady was able to find me a plan with unlimited data and a discount on a TV plan that included the channel that has The Simpsons, all at a  price I could live with, so I even managed to do the near impossible, which was to make everyone in the household happy at the same time.

Plus, now I have a phone that doesn't require a charge every five minutes, which I intend to keep for the next five years, because that is probably how long it will take me to figure out how it works.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Face to Face

Lately, I've been pondering my relationship with Facebook.

At first, Facebook seems like an introvert's dream.  I can keep up with my friends without having to talk to them on the phone. Facebook and smartphones were made for people like me.

Sometimes, however, it seems like Facebook causes more problems than it's worth. 

People have different expectations of Facebook interactions.  Some people use it to promote their small business; others use it to share photos of their adorable offspring or of their teenagers rolling their eyes on the first day of school.  Sometimes people sign up for Facebook with an expectation that it will be a great way to discuss deep philosophical issues with a wider audience, or that it will be like meeting up with friends at the local coffee shop for lively discussion without actually having to put on socially appropriate garments and leaving the house.  Some people sign up for an account to spy on their teenagers and then find out that teenagers don't really seem to use Facebook, so they never log in.  Some people use it as a platform to express their political views.  Many people probably use it for some combination of most of the above.

The Mom of No uses Facebook to post great nature photos taken at her local nature preserve, the occasional snarky commentary on current political issues, and as a resource to remember things like where the local breakfast club is meeting.  I feel like I should warn people when they send me a friend request: I post a lot of snake photos (and other weird nature stuff), and I have a really weird sense of humor.  Proceed at your own risk.

Often, Facebook seems like one big giant 21st century etiquette minefield.  What is the appropriate rule for friending certain people, like your new boss or your child's teacher? If someone starts annoying you on a regular basis, should you unfollow them or unfriend them?  If you unfollow them, what should you say when, several weeks later, they ask if you saw something they posted on their page? How should you act when someone unfriends you and then you see them a week later?  If someone takes a screen shot of a conversation you've had with them on Messenger and posts it for public consumption, what is the best way to handle that?  Facebook etiquette goes way beyond the "Say please and thank you and write thank you notes" that I learned as a kid.

And the potential for misunderstandings- that's bigger than the Son of Never Stops Eating's appetite right after an hour-long swim practice.

I like using Facebook.  I'm definitely not considering giving it up entirely.   Lately, however, I've started to feel like the care and feeding of my Facebook life is taking over my real life, and I'm not quite sure how to proceed.  Facebook seems to be so embedded in 21st century American life that, although I know there are people who survive (probably quite well) without any social media accounts, I don't think I could do it.  I like seeing people post about books they've read, or their cool nature finds, or videos of the marching band show.  I am good friends with people I might not have met if I had not been on Facebook.

Sometimes, however, it's hard to walk away from something on Facebook that would probably be better off left alone. I have spent hours mulling over a controversial or pot-stirring post, mentally composing a great response in my head (and those responses always sounds better in my head than it reads when typed out).  In the last few months, I've started getting a strong feeling that this is probably time that would be better spent doing other things.  Perhaps it's because I'm about to have a birthday and, as happens every year, I'm in somewhat of a funk about what I'm doing with my life and wondering if I've somehow missed accomplishing some big thing because of all the time I've spent on Facebook.

So, I've decided to make a conscious effort to spend less time online and more time doing other things, like reading more books, or trying to learn how to use the camera I got a year ago instead of just using the auto function for everything, or actually talking to people.  Yesterday, I spent some time trying out a ginger cookie recipe I saw in a magazine.  That is a whole other story for another day, but I will say that when I looked at the cookie photo, I thought I was going to be getting a big cookie and what I got was the size of a quarter. Instead of eating one cookie (okay, two) I have to eat five (okay, ten).

I'll still be on Facebook, however, just not as much.  Someone has to post great photographs of snakes found during nature hikes.  You never know, there might be a cookie review or two to share at some point. I am the Mom of Cookies Should be Bigger Than A Quarter.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Home Alone

This past weekend, I was faced with a situation I have rarely encountered since becoming a mom seventeen years ago.  The Son of Never Stops Eating and the Dad of No were going to the state Special Olympics swim meet, and the Teenager was going to a band competition that was being held several hours away. 

I was going to be home by myself.

This hardly ever happens to me.  Several years ago, the Dad of No decided to take the kids to visit his parents, who lived in another state at the time, and I was going to be home alone for three entire days.  The morning after they left, I ended up in the ER with abdominal pain which required the removal of my gallbladder to resolve. Instead of being home by myself for three days of introvert heaven, I ended up in the hospital. That was not what I had planned at all.

Also, it turned out the anesthesiologist didn't accept my insurance. That's a whole other story.

This time, I told myself, no hospital.  I was going to enjoy the quiet solitude. No one would be complaining about how there wasn't any chocolate milk in the refrigerator, or asking me if I wanted to watch Simpsons videos on the iPad.  I could read a book, work on my iNaturalist observations, and eat what I wanted when I wanted. I could go to the grocery store without ravenous teenagers lobbying for snacks with no actual nutritional value. I was going to get a small taste of what being an empty nester is going to be like.  It was going to be awesome.

My first home alone project was to declutter the teenagers' rooms.  This project required me to confront the reality that both of my kids have hoarder tendencies.  One has enough Legos to stock a large toy store, and the other has enough books to open up her own library.  This creates an interesting parental dilemma- it seems wrong to say that your kid has too many books. You can never have too many books, except perhaps when you have a small house with minimal shelving space. 

I have no idea what she plans to do with these books when she goes off to college, but, after years of encouraging good reading habits, I just don't think I can utter the words "Stop buying books!". Yes, I know, an e-reader would be the perfect solution, but there's just something wonderful about hard-copy books that a digital reader can't duplicate.  I think I'm just going to have to accept that there are going to be piles of books in that room for awhile.

I also realized that I wasn't the only one in the house that was used to having other people around.  The dog started giving me baleful looks, and then I realized that she wanted her walks.  That's usually the Son of Never Stops Eating's job, but he wasn't there.  Every time I looked at that mutt, she'd look back at me with that expression that says "I am NOT getting enough attention here! Step it up!".

That dog sulked the entire weekend. Clearly, even though she was getting her walks, I was not providing the high level of service that she is used to.  Every now and then she'd look over at the garage door, expecting her real attention-giver to walk through the door at any minute to rectify the horrible situation she found herself in. I was, evidently, a poor substitute. 

At least the hamster seemed okay with the situation.

It was really quiet.  It was too quiet. I started to miss my family. 

Actually, that's not entirely true. I was really enjoying the quiet.  I was getting periodic updates from the Dad of No on the Son of Never Stops Eating's swimming successes. I was following the band on Facebook and e-mail updates. I felt like I was still in the loop while reaping all the benefits of solitude.  But the house was making weird sounds, and the dog was being judgmental about my dog-walking skills, and the dishwasher wasn't emptying itself.  Finally, the Teenager came home from her band trip, and I was no longer alone. 

I'm not sure I'm ready for empty-nesting just yet; the family mutt clearly isn't.  But I did the grocery shopping three days ago and we still have food, so the weekend did have some benefits.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Speaking Up

A few weeks ago, the Son of Never Stops Eating started complaining about the sidewalks around our house.  He'd tripped on the pavement while walking the family mutt.  He came home and pointed out his skinned knee and indignantly informed the Dad of No and I that someone needed to fix the sidewalks because it was hard to ride his scooter and walk the dog.

Don't complain to me, I told him.  I'm your mother, not the sidewalk repair fairy.  You need to complain to the city.  They're the ones responsible for repairing sidewalks.

How do I do that?  he asked me.  I suppose I could have done it for him via e-mail, but at that moment I realized that I was being presented with a valuable Mom Teaching Opportunity.

It's interesting to ask people what personal skills or qualities they think are most important for children to learn.  Often, people will say kindness, resilience, independence, inclusion, how to stand up to bullying, or how to handle adversity.  All of these are good and important. As a parent of a young man with a developmental disability, I think one of the most essential skills I need to teach him is self-advocacy.  It's important for all kids to learn this, but it's especially important for my son to learn how to speak up for himself, especially as he approaches adulthood. One day his mother won't be around to watch out for him, and he'll need to make his needs and wants known in a world that isn't always willing to listen.

I suggested to him that he go to the next City Council meeting and tell them about the sidewalks. Public speaking is something that makes a lot of people nervous, so I expected him to turn my suggestion down flat.  But he surprised me by expressing a desire to do exactly that.

OK, I told him. You'll need to work on a speech.  You only have a few minutes so you have to get to the point. You can't ramble or talk about Legos or The Simpsons, and you have to make sure you wear a clean shirt.

I know what to do, Mom! You don't have to tell me everything! he told me, in his best exasperated adolescent voice.  I even got an eye roll.

I thought he'd probably forget about my suggestion, but when I reminded him a few weeks later that the council meeting was coming up, it turned out that he'd been practicing at school and that he had a speech all prepared, which he recited for me.  He was really serious about his sidewalk cause.

Do you think there will be a lot of people there?  he asked me. I told him I didn't know, and asked him if a crowd would make him not want to speak.  No, he told me.  I still want to do it.  Even if there are a lot of people.

We went to the meeting, filled out a speaker card, and he waited patiently for his turn as we watched our city government at work.  When his name was called, he went up to the podium, said what he'd come to say, and sat back down.  A city employee came over and talked to us about the area of concern.  I asked the Son of Never Stops Eating how he felt now that his speech was finished, and he told me he felt like he'd done a good job and that he was happy it was over.

I was full of Mom Pride.  I recalled to myself that when he was a toddler, he barely spoke.  It wasn't until after he started public preschool and began getting speech therapy that he began to talk.  Now here he was, several years later, voluntarily speaking in public to a room full of people about something he was concerned about.  He was learning that he has the right to speak up for himself, and to have his concerns heard. It was a very important learning experience for him.

I actually suspect he might have enjoyed it just a bit.  I wouldn't be completely surprised if he decides to take up another cause dear to his heart: more Legos for the library, a 24 hour Simpsons cartoon watching marathon in the town plaza, or a later start to the school day so that he can sleep in.  Watch out, world- here he comes.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Looking Younger Every Day

Last week was not the best week for the Mom of No- it could have been worse, of course, but it was not a sparkling diamond in the crown of 2017.  For the first four days of the week, I was home sick with some nasty respiratory crud which resulted in a horrible cough that could probably be heard for miles around my abode.   Finally, last Thursday, I felt well enough to venture from home and go to work.

As I sat at the kitchen table, eating my usual toasted raisin and cinnamon English muffin for breakfast, I felt something crunchy moving around in my mouth.  That's odd, I thought; these muffins are usually rather soft.  Maybe part of the crust was a little extra-toasted.  My brain still wasn't functioning at its optimal speed, so it took a few seconds for the message to get from my tongue to my brain: that crunchy bit wasn't English muffin.  That was part of a lower front tooth.

Awww, crap, I thought.  Just what I need.

I was informed by the dentist's office that they had an available appointment at 3 PM, which I gladly took.  My brain was working rapidly on producing extreme dental scenarios in which the rest of the tooth broke off at some point before dental rescue could take place, initiating much uncomfortable and expensive dental work. As far as I was concerned-and I am no fan of going to the dentist- 3 PM couldn't come fast enough.

Finally, after a day of obsessing over the hole in my tooth, I was in the dental chair being prepped by the assistant. While we were talking, a young man walked in, greeted me, said he'd be back in a minute, and walked out.

Who's that? I asked the dental assistant, thinking to myself that whoever that young man is, he looks like he's in high school. 

That's the new dentist, she said. He's going to come back in a minute and look at your tooth.

I was taught as a kid that it is rude to ask about how old people are, but I really had to know, and the Grandma of No wasn't around to give me a Mom Look.  I turned around and looked at the assistant and asked her.  I think he's 28, she said.  He really does look young.

Yes.  I am old enough to be my dentist's mother.  Even more than having a daughter about to graduate from high school or a son who is six inches taller than I am, that makes me feel like I am getting old.  The entire time he was working on my poor busted front tooth, my brain abandoned the "worst case dental scenario" thought process and started working on "This guy is a dentist and he is young enough to be your son and that is really giving me some angst". 

I probably need to start getting used to it, because sometimes the new employees at work look really young to me, and then I find out that they were born two years after I graduated from college and I'll think, hey, young whippersnapper, I've been working longer than you've been alive.  Or I'll say something about the Soviet Union, or that a certain 80's song was the theme of my high school class, or that I had to type college papers on a typewriter, and I start suspecting that the other person, who was probably born after I got my first e-mail address, is thinking, wow, this woman is practically ancient history.

The Son of Never Stops Eating, who is currently obsessed with The Simpsons, asked me several months ago if I had ever seen The Simpsons.  Sure, I told him.  I used to watch that show when I was in college.

Wow, Mom, he said, sounding impressed and awed.  You're older than Homer Simpson!

Yes.  I'm older than Homer Simpson,  I remember life before the Internet, and I'm old enough to be my dentist's mother, but hopefully I still got a lot of good years left in me.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Welcome to Adulting

The other day I was in the car with one of the offspring, and I was asked, Mom, what did you do at work all day?

Paperwork.  I did paperwork.

Apparently I use this answer a lot as a response to inquiries about how my day went, because the questioner (I'm pretty sure it was the Son of Never Stops Eating, so we'll go with that) responded with, Mom! That's all adults do! Paperwork! 

Yes, I am the Mom of Ceaselessly Filling Out Paperwork.

Actually, that's not entirely accurate.  Adults do other things, too: We stand in lines to submit paperwork.  We sit on hold to ask questions about paperwork.  We go online to figure out how to fill out paperwork.  We search through old documents to find birth certificates and old social security cards to provide supplemental evidence for paperwork.  We gasp in horror when we attempt to fill in paperwork on the internet and the computer gives us the blue screen of death just before we press the "submit" button. We sit in meetings that generate lots of paperwork. Other people send us paperwork that stacks up on kitchen counters, unread, until we really need to know what our homeowner's insurance policy really says.

I have filing cabinets full of paperwork that may or may not be important but that I'm afraid to get rid of because you never know, right?  Special education moms are paperwork magnets.

The Teenager is in the midst of the 21st century version of paperwork right now, filling out online college applications and applying for scholarships. The other day I applied for my very own FAFSA ID number so I could participate in filling out the very important FAFSA paperwork in October. I suspect that all this paperwork, and the prospect of still more paperwork to come, is causing the Teenager some stress. 

Welcome to adulthood, kid. I feel your suffering.

Sometimes when we're in overly stressful situations it's tempting to think that once you have lived through the challenging situation you find yourself in, life will become easier- once you finish high school and know what's next, whether it's college or the military or vocational school or a job, then life will be less stressful.  Then you start college, get married, buy a house, have a baby, get a new job that throws you some learning curves, or encounter any number of adulthood challenges and you start thinking, OK, I only have to get past this and everything will be great!

When I was the exhausted mother of young children, sometimes I'd look at families with older kids and think, "once my kids get to be that old, life will be so much easier!".  Then I became the mom with the older kids, and I realized that older kids come with their own challenges, so it wasn't really any easier; it was just different.

So, in the last few remaining months that I have to impart my Mom wisdom to the Teenager before she becomes the Young Adult and moves out and away from my constant influence and nagging, one lesson I can offer is this: learning healthy ways to manage stress is one of the best things that you can do for yourself.  Parents can stress you out.  School work can stress you out.  Thinking about the future can stress you out.  Financial stuff can stress you out.  Relationships can stress you out.  However, you are the one responsible for how you respond to that stress, because there will always be something or someone that is giving you stress.

Managing stress is not an easy skill to master;  I still let stress get the best of me at times and I'm practically eligible for AARP membership.   I find that taking lots of hikes in the woods and nature photography helps me manage stress; other people take yoga or martial arts or sing in bands or take painting classes or run;  different methods work for different people.  The important thing is to find something that works for you and to make that thing a priority. 

It won't get any easier from here; sometimes life will go smoothly and sometimes it won't, but there will almost always be something giving you stress, unless you are extraordinarily lucky or you're one of those few people who are immune to stress.  You'll find out if you are one of those people sometime next spring, when you get to fill out your first income tax return.

If that thought is already stressing you out, then welcome to adulthood.  If it makes you feel any better, the rest of us are right there with you.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Frugal Package

A few days ago, I was sitting at the kitchen table sorting through a week's worth of household paperwork.  The Teenager walked into the kitchen and dropped a thick envelope on the table.

We had an assembly about ordering our caps and gowns this week, she told me.  Here's the information.

Ordering a cap and gown for a high school graduation seems like it should be a straightforward procedure. You don't have to select colors, or styles; just fill out a form and send money. I had a brief weepy Mom moment during which I mentally reminisced about the first baby outfit I bought the Teenager, when she was still in utero.  It was an adorable little Winnie-the-Pooh onesie with a matching hat. Now, here I was buying her graduation cap and gown. 

I opened the envelope. That the outside of the envelope informed me that payment plans were available should have been a warning.  If you have been through this process before and you tried to enlighten me to what lay ahead, I'm sorry; I didn't pay close enough attention.  If you have yet to go through this experience, I'm telling you now.  Nothing related to high school graduation is easy.  It's almost like planning a wedding except you don't have to have awkward dinners with the prospective in-laws. Instead of Bridezilla, however, the star of the show is a teenager stressed out about college applications and schoolwork.

Inside the envelope. I found several glossy brochures and sheets of paper.  I had many, many choices. I could order announcements, class jewelry, T-shirts, photo cards, hoodies, key chains, plaques.  To make my life easier, I was given the option of ordering the "school mascot package", which included everything that would make your graduating adolescent's dreams come true (except a new car) and came with a price tag to match.  I sorted through the paperwork, looking for what I needed to complete this process.  I was looking for the "Frugal Package"; the one that included the required cap and gown and the minimum number of official graduation announcements.

Such a thing did not seem to exist.

One of my pet peeves is going to buy something and then finding out that I can't just buy the item I want and leave;  I have to deal with the sales pitches for the "extra stuff"- the insurance, the maintenance packages, the added features.  When I tell the salesperson I don't want to add anything to my purchase, the more skilled among them have this amazing ability to make me feel like if I don't buy the extra stuff, I am making a colossal error in judgment that I will regret as soon as I walk out the door.

The last time I flew on an airplane, I used the self-check in, and the computer tried to upsell me on an aisle seat instead of the middle seat, for an additional $25. No, really, I told the computer, I just want to get on the plane.  When I bought my car, the salesman waited until I practically had the keys in my hands and then said "You will want to buy one of our extended warranty packages for your new car!".  No, really, I just want to drive that car off the lot.  When I bought a new washing machine, the cashier's final question was "Shall I add the extended service package?" No! I just want to go home!

This graduation year is one long process of being asked to buy a lot of extra stuff.  I'm trying to be zen about it but I'll admit that my attitude about it might not be the most chipper on occasion.

So here I was, looking through the glossy brochures for class jewelry, and fancy photo announcements, and Class of 2018 key chains and personalized address labels (I definitely don't need that; I have a ton of those from every charity I've ever donated to) seeking the information I needed: how to order one cap and gown set.  I might have been vocalizing my frustration a bit; the other human members of the household seemed to have disappeared, the dog had sought refuge under the coffee table, and the hamster was hiding under her wheel.

Finally, after I put my reading glasses on and flipped the order form to the back, my persistence paid off! I found the cap and gown line item in small print on the bottom of the order form. Success! I had found the Frugal Package, for the low price of $29.99.  After a brief internal debate,  I added 25 graduation announcements to the order.  The Dad of No and I come from small families, so I don't actually need 25 announcements;  I'll probably just randomly send out the extras to my friends.  If you are selected to receive an announcement, there's no obligation to send anything. I just suspect it will be easier for you to throw it out than it will be for me to do it.

I had been hoping that in three years, I would be able to use the same cap and gown for the Son of Never Stops Eating, but I don't think that is going to work; not only is he much taller than his older sister but I'm informed that the dye lots change so you have to order a new set of graduation regalia for every child.  At least now I know, however, where to find what I'm looking for on the cap and gown ordering form.