The not-uptight parenting award of the year goes to…

…Randy and Theresa Mariner of Dover, Delaware, who had ten preteen boys (including mine) at their house for a sleepover last night, even though they are moving to Virginia TODAY!!!

I know it’s early in the year to award this annual prize, but when it comes to being calm under pressure, gluttons for punishment Randy and Theresa have this competition sewn up. Call them crazy, but they figured that the last minute farewell party would give their two boys a last hurrah with their friends, with the added benefit of providing lots of mouths to eat up all the remaining tater tots, chicken nuggets, and soda in the house. Who better to eat the whole thing than two basketball teams worth of Wii playing pre-adolescents? Yup, while Randy and Theresa dismantled furniture and packed up all their worldly goods, the boys hung out, ate up, played on, and said goodbye in the way that only boys can.

In a million years I never would have predicted that this going away party would be a sleepover—when Theresa said I should pick Jake up at noon I nearly dropped the phone. She and her husband must be two cool, yet authoritative, customers.

With Randy and Theresa’s example, though, Craig and I are wondering whether we have the worldwide high score on the uptight-o-meter. Ten boys would be a major stretch for us under normal circumstances, let alone in a packing and moving environment. Sometimes one boy is too much for us. Sometimes getting up in the morning is too much for us.

We are such weaklings.

The Return of Thankful Thursday

Due to the grueling trials of our record-breaking amounts of snow this winter, Thankful Thursday has been on vacation at a secret, unseasonably warm, undisclosed location where you never, ever, no matter how badly you play, ever get knocked out of the ping pong tournament by the pool. However, with temperatures rising (sort of), Thankful Thursday has returned (mostly because he’s afraid that Big Melt 2010 will create a new swimming pool–in his basement).

With all of that in mind, I must confess that I am most thankful today that my family and I have finally been able to observe in our lives real manifestations of self-control, a “fruit of the spirit” promised in the Bible. The evidence is this: we’ve had Girl Scout cookies in the house for 2 weeks now, and we’ve still got some left.

I can’t say the same for the Grandma Utz kettle cooked potato chips that we had with our sprout subs this evening. Those things are GONE.

Baby steps, right?

Wierd dining out experience

A strange mini-barn/shed behind the market at Spence's

Today at Spence’s Bazaar (bizarre?)–an Amish-ish market right here in Dover–I seriously saw two guys eat an entire rotisserie chicken with nothing but 2 plastic forks and their fingers. No drinks. No plates. No plastic container. They just bought that chicken, sat it on the table, tore open the foil wrapper, and ate it all up. Then they rewrapped the bones in the foil and tossed it all out.

Oh, and it was 8:45 in the morning. Hot, roasted chicken for breakfast–did I mention that??!

As for me, I am still traumatized. I’m thinking, what will be next? Bunless burgers shot directly into our mouths from a hydraulic tube at the drive thru? People publicly slurping soup from their cupped hands? Working men in their orange bibs drinking directly from coffee kegs?

I don’t know. I guess I’ll get over it. But maybe I should ask you–what is the wierdest public eating spectacle you’ve ever seen? And was it really so wrong?

Board silly

As I was watching the Vancouver Olympics snowboard half-pipe competition (and trying to shake the wincing terror I experienced every time one of those guys had a near miss with the hard corner), I couldn’t help but think, “If a sport is this young, then how old could the judges possibly be?”

For all I know, that judges’ box is populated with an experienced international panel of former boarder boomers, age 45 and up, but I’m picturing more a panel of ADHD 24-year-olds who are texting in their scores. So, in the interest of full disclosure, I give you the top 10 comments heard in my imaginary snowboard half-pipe judges’ box:

10. “Dude, where’s my Red Bull?”

9. “Pass the Doritos, man.”

8. “Look, these chairs spin!”

7. “I can’t hear you over my iPod!!!!!”

6. “Want another blow pop?”

5. “He didn’t just do a Squirrel Psycho, dork! That was a Swiss Cheese Air!”

4. “Can I bum $100 for the gas to get home?”

3. “You think that’s good? Well, my high score on Zelda Four Swords totally rocks!”

2. “I used to be Shaun White’s babysitter.”

1. “Nah, I gave up my board, and I’m dedicating all my free time to curling. Curling is freakin’ awesome.”

My Life

As you may already know, I’m reading a bio of Edgar Allan Poe right now, and I’m really learning a lot about someone whom I thought was mostly a homeless wine-o who wrote occasionally between binges. The “homeless” part isn’t quite accurate (although he often had three homes in one year), nor is the “occasionally” part (he was actually fairly prolific at times). But alcoholism was surely a part of his profile, and sometimes his writing dry spells were strongly connected to it.

When Poe once failed to deliver a promised new poem at a Boston lecture, reading instead an obscure and infinitely long snoozer of a poem he wrote when he was 11 years old, he covered by saying that he intended to make the substitution all along, as a way of mocking on the Bostonians and their already questionable taste level. I will make no such excuse for my own week long posting dry spell. The truth in my case is that the kids were off from school due to snow, etc. for about a week and a half, followed by 3 days of 2 hour delays, which takes its own kind of toll on the writing schedule.

So as I’m sitting here in bed, killing time before the delayed start of today’s school day, icing my aching Wii tennis shoulder, and marveling that a former classmate of mine has friended (not my favorite) high school English teacher on Facebook, I am restarting the writing process with some reflections about my life, inspired in part by last night’s Tivo-d viewing of the Vancouver Olympics:

If my life was a…

…weather prediction, it would be 2 millimeters of ice followed by 4 inches of powdery snow.

…piece of furniture, it would be a well used, super cozy chair-and-a-half.

…vacation spot, it would be the Wii Sports Resort.

…sport, it would be the biathlon. Uphill skiing crossed with shooting at a half dollar sized target a football field away? Oh yeah, it certainly feels that way sometimes.

…fruit, it would be a mango. So good, but so hard to get a grip on.

…song, I fear that it would be sung by a washed-up, big haired, spandex wearing, rock pompous flash in the pan from the ’80’s. I’d prefer Eric Clapton, but I’ll take whoever I can get.

…dance, Hayley says it would be the tango. I guess that’s better than the hokey pokey. I’m just thankful it’s not the chicken dance.

…school, it would have dried cranberries on the lunchroom menu every single day.

…musical instrument, it would be the bassoon. What other instrument sounds like it’s laughing pretty much all the time?

Another day…

…another snowstorm. True to the phrase, “Everyone always talks about the weather, but nobody ever does anything about it,” we here in DE are bracing for another 8-12 inches (more? less? who knows!) of snow. Bread aisle shelves are emptying. Killer icicles are forming. Businesses are shoveling off their roofs at a furious pace.

In fact, as I drove yesterday I even saw a man shoveling off his porch roof; clever boy had a rope tied to his waist in case, I presume, of slippage. Not sure what I would tie the other end to (a doorknob? a mahogany bedframe? barbells?), but from the street the guy looked like he knew what he was doing.

Needless to say, we’ve got the whole gang home today. School is closed. Craig’s office is even closed. We’ve got plenty of milk for cocoa, a couple of movies saved up, and a brand new board game that, after three aborted attempts, we just figured out how to play yesterday. Oh, and we’ve got Girl Scout cookies—lots and lots of Girl Scout cookies. And yes, if you’ve already ordered with us, you’ll have ample opportunity to reorder in case your original order is “misplaced” during the storm.

Surprisingly, this latest round of white stuff is not accompanied by the usual thrill and anticipation. If anything, the family seems to be getting a little tired of it. Hayley, for one, said that she wants to be able to walk on the green, green grass, instead of trudging up to her knees in snow. Craig, while on the eve of a day off, seemed actually to be a little down last night. I, on the other hand, am so excited that I can hardly contain myself.

Maybe it’s my slightly northerly origins. Maybe it’s great memories of tobogganing with my Dad. Maybe it’s just my freakish never-too-much-of-a-good-thing attitude. We’re all set for the snow, and I am psyched up. I love the excuse to hunker down, read books, bake cookies, watch the snowfall, and listen to the stillness and silence that almost never happens. I enjoy the change of scenery—not a change from last week, I know, but a change from the usual. I love thinking about the phenomenon of snow—how can so many tiny flakes add up to so darn much? It’s kind of amazing, don’t you think?

I’m thinking that whatever your snow-titude, you’ll be better off making peace with it, because this side of high tech weather manipulation, there just isn’t much you can do about it. Instead of bugging the kids about wearing their coats while they’re sledding, let ’em strip down, then slide down with ’em. Instead of standing in front of the truck that’s about to plow in the end of your driveway, give the poor driver a cup of cocoa. Instead of gunning to get back to work at the office, in the driveway, at the taxes, or in the basement, take a barefoot polar bear run across the lawn.

And instead of taking a shower when you’re finished shoveling, take a bath. Go ahead, drop a couple of snowballs in the water with you. You know you want to.

The Cooler

While the snow was falling on Saturday night, Craig, Jake, and I took in the classic movie The Great Escape. I had programmed it into our Tivo simply to bank up some watchable quality programs for the blizzard, but I soon realized that, considering our snowbound conditions, the movie’s emphasis on digging and tunneling was quite apropos.

If you haven’t seen it, The Great Escape is based on the true story of a group of Allied soldiers as they plan and execute their escape from a Nazi prison camp. With escape organizer “Big X” (a pre-Jurassic Park Richard Attenborough) in charge, the group worked tirelessly to tunnel under the camp compound, with hopes of escaping into the trees and disappearing altogether, fulfilling what I suspect to be every boy’s dream (except maybe without the Nazi element, that is).

The hunky hook of the group is Captain Hilts, played by Steve McQueen, who, within 20 minutes of his arrival at the camp, ends up in “the cooler” for, well, tossing his baseball where it doesn’t belong. The cooler, made possibly even more famous to my generation by Colonel Hogan, Colonel Klink, and the rest of the wacky (and strangely inappropriate, I think) prisoner of war peanut gallery, probably looked better in the movie than it did in real life, though I suspect it was as realistic as handing gardening tools to a couple hundred escape artist prisoners.

Again, though, I find myself gleaning real life application from cinematic story-telling. Just this morning, as my children broke into a chorus of “Give it back!” immediately after their father exited the front door, I invited them upstairs and meted out their punishment: 10 minutes in the cooler. That would be 10 minutes in solitary confinement in their rooms…which, I know, are equipped with iPods, reading and writing material, and, indeed, plenty of carving equipment. But it’s the thought that counts.

I’m not sure of the origins of the name, but for me the cooler (the room, the step, whatever) is a place to separate oneself from whatever “the problem” is in order to settle down, cool off, and get oneself back into a socially/morally/emotionally acceptable framework. For us, this morning, it worked. For Steve McQueen in the movie, not so much.

Then again, with a guy whose white slacks, leather jacket, and blue sweatshirt had little more than a few barbed wire holes by the end of the war, all I can say is this: the rules sure didn’t apply to him.

More on “Just Say Yes”

“Yes” is the parenting topic of the week, inspired by (a) Sunday’s roller skating jaunt, (b) more snow, more inevitable messes, and (c) my recent viewing of The Boys are Back which stars chameleon-like, cool customer Clive Owen as a fictionalized version of memoirist Simon Carr. After the death of his wife, Carr found himself sole parent in a house with two boys and instead of bogging them down with piles of rules he took the path of least resistance; wherever possible, he eliminated the negative, embracing a “just say yes” approach to his semi-desperation parenting.

I’d recommend the movie (and this piece about the movie by Carr himself), my favorite part of which was Carr’s suggestion that if his son stood under the clothesline to dress and stood in the washing machine to undress that they’d have a perfect laundry system. And hey, who of us cannot relate?

I’m not sure whether I fall into the “just say yes” parenting camp (more on that later this week), but I have described my son as a “long leash” kind of kid. When he was smaller, I kept a pretty short leash on him (not literally—oh my!), correcting him pretty frequently, kind of breathing down his neck to stay put, keep quiet, get to sleep, stay clean (what was I thinking?), and generally avoid being run over, burned, injured around the head or neck, rushed to the emergency room, or placed on a poison control frequent customer poster. Then I realized that the frustration of my breathing down his neck wasn’t giving him the freedom to make the right choices, learn from his mistakes, or pretty much do what kids do because they’re kids and it’s perfectly all right for them to do it. I lengthened the leash, started closing my mouth (and sometimes my eyes), and with the frustration (his and mine) gone, we all got along a lot better.

So, while I may not let my children dive into motel bathtubs like Carr did, I do let them empty out the pantry and mix up whatever concoction they’d like. I don’t let them walk on our semi-frozen lake, but I do let them run in the snow in their bare feet. And while I don’t let them climb out the window and onto the roof, I really don’t have to—because their Dad has already let them do that. And, boy, do we love him for that.

Just say yes-terday

On Saturday the snows came once again. Poor Jake had planned a date with friends James and Calvin, and while James’ parents have changed their cell numbers so frequently that he doesn’t even know what we should dial to get in touch with him, Calvin seemed like a good bet. At least on Friday.

So Sunday after church we called Calvin to confirm, and he told us that there was still snow on the ground so he couldn’t come over. Jake assured him that we’d be doing the driving, but Calvin checked with Mom and still he couldn’t play.

Poor Jake. Sad and bummed out. Stood up on a Sunday afternoon. A Sunday afternoon when Hayley’s Girl Scout sign language event was also cancelled. A Sunday afternoon when we could just sit at home and watch more TV. A Sunday afternoon when the Dover Skating Center was O-P-E-N.

Yes, that’s skating, as in roller, not ice, skating. Complete with the hokey pokey on skates and the chicken dance on skates and the funny “red light green light” game where the DJ tricks everybody into breaking from their freeze position by saying “Green light glow” instead of “go.” Yup. That kind of skating.

What I loved about our skating outing was that we were all just so glad to get out of the house, that there wasn’t much to be glum about. And that nice little change of scenery put me in a “just say yes” parenting mood. Hayley needs quarters for the dopey fake jewelry machines? OK! Jake wants to play on the video game machines. Sure! Nachos all around? You got it!

The only thing I said “no” to was holding Craig’s hand during the couples skate. Not because I don’t love him, but because I’m not sure that Kent General Hospital has his & hers rooms for 40-year-olds who don’t know their limitations on wheels.