“We cast a shadow on something wherever we stand, and it is no good moving from place to place to save things; because the shadow always follows. Choose a place where you won’t do harm – yes, choose a place where you won’t do very much harm, and stand in it for all you are worth, facing the sunshine.”
— E.M. Forster (A Room With a View)
August 23, 2010 at 9:08 am (Uncategorized)
It’s 8:30 am on the last Monday of summer vacation, and I, my friends, am postponing the inevitable.
I’ve been up since 4:30, thanks to my dog Wesley. The kids, though? They’re still asleep. Never mind that school starts on Thursday, and they’ll both have to get up at the staggeringly wee hour of 6 am. Yes, instead of training their internal clocks to rise earlier, I’m letting them wring out the remaining moments of uninterrupted rest before they’ll have to smack the jarring alarm clock, jam a toothbrush in their mouths, and stagger off to the bus stop.
What, I ask you, am I thinking?
I’d like to say that postponing the inevitable is not my way. I’d like to say that my grass, like my children’s hair, never gets so long that it looks like it needs a cut. I’d like to say that I never stuff the closets with clutter I’ve picked up at T-minus 5 minutes before guests arrive. I’d like to say the dirty dishes who take up residence in my sink are on the hourly rate rather than the extended stay special. But, alas, I sometimes postpone what I don’t really want to do…and eventually I pay. Oh yes, I pay. Case in point: I have to do laundry before I can get dressed this morning.
Oh yeah, you get the picture. (And don’t tell me you’ve never been there yourself.)
Not only am I guilty of selective procrastination, but I am a hypocrite of a parent who really gave it to her twelve-year-old son over the weekend for not practicing his band piece and then having the nerve to cover it up. He missed band camp in favor of a prior commitment and was supposed to learn the piece himself, because, hey, we’re musical, right? Well, after he had assured me for two weeks that he had mastered the piece, a hail of sour notes showed me that he’d staged an elaborate ruse to avoid (excuse this) facing the music. Words were exchanged. Mechanical shortcomings were cited. Parents lectured. Tears fell. And believe me, I now know that when a kid is in that kind of state, blowing the trumpet instead of blowing your nose does not yield good results.
So what are my takeaways?
First, step it up, Mom—keeping in mind the wisdom of the Barenaked Ladies, who said “Anyone perfect must be lying,” I’ve realized this: I’ve got robust adequateness down—and that’s not nothing. I’ve always admired the real get-it-done girls, so it’s about time I become one, right?
Second, I’ll be sure to sit with the kid—not ON the kid, but WITH him to make sure he’s completely equipped to do what he needs to do. And I’ll remember that he is me, and I am my Dad, and that openness to parental oversight is never the smoothest of roads.
Finally, I’ll forgive myself and move on. Every day is a new day, and tomorrow is the first day of the rest of my kids’ summer vacation. There’s no time like the present to get on track.
Plus the rest of summer vacation is only 2 and a half days long, so it’ll all be over soon.
July 5, 2010 at 9:46 am (Uncategorized)
Possibly in subconscious reaction to last year’s Independence Day (when we sat on a NJ beach, looking up and down the sand and saying things like, “The flies are biting me!” “Hide the dog—the cops are coming!” and “Was that the fireworks?”), the Scheir family attended the good old downtown Dover 4th of July festivities.
First, we biked a couple of blocks, sat on a hot brick wall, and watched the 6 pm parade—which, notably, featured a man in a bamboo cage chillingly simulating a prisoner of war, unicycles, chihuahuas, drill sergeants, Mustangs, Corvettes, and enough candidates to make me wonder things like, “With a name like Bennett, shouldn’t that guy be running for Senate?” I was particularly impressed by US Rep hopeful Mr. Urquhart, whose campaign is built on spongy foam, heart-shaped “stress ball” giveaways, an RV with a giant picture of his head on its side, and his own theme song.
I have done enough research on the guy to uncover that back in April, he said it was Hitler who first used the phrase “separation of church and state” (it wasn’t) and encouraged the audience, “The next time your liberal friends ask you about the separation of church and state, ask them why they are Nazis.” Oh my—time for a new theme song.
Fast forward to 9 pm when we parked the car downtown, then entered the sea of humanity that is Dover’s Legislative Mall on the 4th of July. It seemed like every camp chair in town converged on the dry grass in front of Legislative Hall to take in the show, which was preceded by an Army band doing a darn good job of getting us all in the mood. The nice and possibly intoxicated gentleman who insisted that we lay our blanket in the 4 foot by 4 foot space in front of him did a nice job walking his group through what to expect (“The lights will dim, the 1812 Overture will start, the fireworks will go up! I don’t know why, but it brings tears to my eyes, man!”). Unfortunately, he was about 4 songs too early, but that was OK. We were too busy to notice because we were retrieving our superbouncing koosh ball from the quiet and a little shocked looking immigrant family on the blanket next to us (and I mean RIGHT next to us).
Anyway, right after “Stars and Stripes Forever” the Overture did start, and lo and behold there was actual CANNON FIRE!!! I know that’s the way it’s supposed to be, but I still didn’t see it coming, and even if I did, I would have expected a recording, and let me tell you, it was kind of awesome. Then, with the cannon fire were fireworks, which lasted about 10 seconds, leading us all to ask, in the tradition of last year, “Was that it?”
But that wasn’t it! No, the Dover organizers put on an amazing fireworks show cued to—wait for it—the Greatest Hits of the 1980’s. Van Halen! Journey! Madonna! Prince! What says “I Love America” more than the theme from “The A-Team”??!!?! Let me tell you—not much. Never did bon Jovi’s rock anthem “Dead or Alive” sound more patriotic to me than last night. Jon bon Jovi sings, “I’ve seen a million faces, and I’ve rocked them all!” and you think, “Yeah man, just like George Washington! He rode a horse too…and maybe sang a little in his spare time in his parlor. Or whistled through his wooden teeth. Whatever, man. ROCK ON FOUNDING FATHERS!”
All in all a great, kinda kitschy evening—enough to make us want to stay local every July 4th. But if we miss it, we can always go up the road to Smyrna, which is celebrating the 4th on the 5th. Or we could have gone to Aunt Bebble’s condo, which celebrated the 4th last Wednesday. Maybe I’ll celebrate the 4th on March 13th next year—I’m thinking a tribute to Judas Priest might work. Interested?
July 3, 2010 at 7:17 am (Uncategorized)
I can report with confidence now that summer vacation is in full swing. My evidence for this assessment is that my children have been docked two weeks’ allowance for making it so that whenever you pull the string in my, their mother’s, back, I frantically repeat the words, “stop it…stop it…stop it…” while making a list of every single thing I can take away from them.
Saturday it was the complaining, punching, and kicking. Sunday it was the sand-throwing (and punching and kicking). Then it started in again yesterday with the grouching and exasperated sighing, and it peaked yesterday afternoon when their blatant disregard of my instructions landed them at opposite ends of the couch for half an hour doing absolutely nothing.
In case you’re wondering, the couch thing wasn’t so much a punishment as it was a last ditch rubber room type effort to put them somewhere that they couldn’t emotionally or physically hurt themselves, the house, or me, thus earning themselves a 20-year stay in their rooms and a middle school through post-grad correspondence program.
I’ll spare you the gory details, but I’ll say that the whole experience, and the events which followed, ironically have kind of renewed my faith in my children. Our accidental family motto could be, “Don’t make a bad thing out of a good thing,” and I’m proud to say that the kids really snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. After the punishments were handed down, and the couch sitting ended, they moped, but remarkably recovered. Once the frowns grudgingly turned upside down, we shared laughs and snacks, and then took our planned evening trip to our local pool. It was there that some magic happened.
Somehow 12-year-old Jake ended up in a leadership role among the late night boys’ crowd who, at the urging of the lifeguards, participated in an impromptu water treading competition. The winners? My children. Those two little heads just sat there in that water forever. While other kids razzed the guards, got booted for cheating, and generally floundered, my kids just stayed where they were and kept on treading. Hayley managed about 20 minutes—far more than most of the boys (when she got out of the pool, I whispered, “Girls can do anything boys can do.” And she whispered back, “Better.”). Then Jake treaded for an astonishing 30 minutes and was declared the winner mostly because the guards were tired of watching him. Wet, shivering, and wrinkled, he told me that his marathon effort was really inspired by a grudge against a girl who always outlasted him in swim class—like 4 years ago. She wasn’t there, but he had something to prove, and he did it.
So the day ended on a high, if wet, note, and everyone closed the night tired and happy. Nice.
Now for today…
The kids are just back to school after Spring Break, and, looking back, I’m astonished at the number of pleasant surprises that can happen in one week off.
First, the weather—temperatures in the ’80s for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of last week. Just when I finally got both of my children outfitted in pants that fit, here comes the sweltering spring sunshine that makes you want to drag out your shorts. No matter. With our late winter wet down, the heat was a welcome change for me, and for my growing grass.
That’s another pleasant surprise—the growing, growing, growing. Growing kids are quite amazing. They report over 2 cm each, since Christmas!! No wonder they needed new clothes. Then there’s the growing flora all over my yard—it’s a joy! The bushes at the corner of my driveway have merged into one fuzzy, tentacled muppet of a thing—so crazy and enchanting! And another pleasant spring break surprise—the church I grew up in, where I visited yesterday, has grown to an astonishing size. What a pleasant surprise to be there with old faces and new, a new pastor, a fresh outlook, a super cool antique of a building with a new coat of paint. It wasn’t at all what I was expecting, but, again, I’ll take it.
Another surprise—the green of spring! And as I mowed down the new growth, inspiring yet more, I noticed that the once one square foot of ground cover under the bushes in my backyard has expanded to take up the entire end-to-end span of the back of my house, about 75 square feet! Perennial progress—a pleasant surprise! And as I surveyed the yard, I wondered, how many shades of green are there in nature? I count at least 2 in my yard, 3 on my bushes, and 3 or 4 more in the lawnscape outside where I’m writing. As I mowed the grass yesterday I noticed darks and light, color variations from new growth, my favorite blue greens to set off the tried and true forest greens.
Speaking of forest green, I was pleasantly surprised on my Spring Break excursion to my parents’ home in New Jersey, as I drove my husband and children to my high school alma mater, the school colors of which were (brace yourself) forest green and gold (Ugh!). All of us were bowled over by the amazing natural setting that I appreciated pretty much not at all back when I was a teenager. As we drove up the hill to approach the school, there were only trees all around, just budding with the first inkling of leaves. And my son said, “I want to go camping here!” I was retroactively thrilled to have had the opportunity to traverse such a beautiful space every day for so long. A long forgotten memory, pleasantly recalled.
On that NJ trip we made more pleasant discoveries—the crazy Fort Nonsense, built atop a steep hill as a fortification for the Continental Army; Jockey Hollow, home to some of George Washington’s troops, who slept 12 men to a cabin, through the worst winter of the 18th century; Ralston Park, a can’t miss community playground that Hayley spotted from the road, and wouldn’t let us forget until we stopped so she could play there.
There were other pleasant surprises last week: a clearing in my schedule that allowed me to make a long-desired visit to a sick friend; a quick stop at the Borders bookstore by the hospital where the $4 bargain bestsellers were practically throwing themselves into my handbag; clear breathing for the asthmatics in the group in a place that usually wheezes them out.
But the best surprise of all, the one we couldn’t have predicted in a million Spring Breaks, was the one that I must swear you to keep secret from my sister, Linda, whose birthday is coming up on May 1st. Linda, if you’re reading, stop now…or else I won’t give you the cupcake that we got for you from Carlo’s Bakery in Hoboken, NJ, home of TV’s Cake Boss, Buddy Valastro. Yes, we road tripped it to Hoboken, expecting to buy a cake at the bakery, and happened on the entire extended Valastro family selling half-price cupcakes out on the sidewalk. We had no idea it was the 1st Annual Cupcake Day at Carlo’s. We ended up on film. We signed release forms. We shook Buddy’s hand. My poor father held a cupcake in his kung-fu grip for almost an hour on the ride home. Let me tell you, though, it was the highlight to end all highlights.
Unless you count the guy that we saw getting arrested on our way into town. Now that was totally awesome.
March 31, 2010 at 5:23 pm (Uncategorized)
The pendulum has swung.
Yesterday was my son Jake’s 12th birthday, and there couldn’t have been less hoopla. Not unless he was Harry Potter and still living in the cupboard under the stairs. No, I should correct myself. It’s not so much the hoopla quantity as it is the hoopla quality that counts.
When Jake was smaller, I was all about the big birthday. Family get-togethers! A dozen balloons! Major outings! All class parties! Homemade food! LOTS of homemade food!!!! Now that Jake is a big guy—and a cool guy at that—I’m all about the low key birthday. And, let me tell you, thank goodness he lets me get away with it.
I mean, if I were him, and didn’t have a summer birthday, and was stuck going to school AND to a mandatory scout meeting in the evening of MY BIRTHDAY, I would have been just a little bit of a pouting grouch. But Jake seemed to like it. When I delivered 6 inch (yes, homemade) chocolate chip cookies to his class, he actually seemed to enjoy it. When he got 3 rounds of presents from his dear old Dad and me, he seemed to revel in it. And when the presents gave way to an after-meeting, school night video game session, he actually seemed to glory in it.
I didn’t my low key treatment of the birthday would be enough, but it was just right. And I’m glad, because there’s that one birthday that I had as a kid, that didn’t even feel like a birthday, and I’m still bitter about it. For the life of me, I don’t remember anything about any other birthday I ever had, but darn if I don’t remember the one not-so-good one. My best friend forgot. We ate out at some diner. I might as well have eaten worms. Ugh. Why don’t I remember the good ones, huh? It’s just like me.
I know that birthdays can’t all be the best. But I’m glad that I’ve struck the right note this year, at least for Jake. And you know what? I just realized. My birthday’s next in the family.
All our snow days here in Delaware have conspired to provide not quite enough data points for grades so far this marking period. One bugaboo for Jake was a not up to par spelling test, which, with not much else to factor into the average, has brought his progress report to an all-time low. Not that I’m disappointed or worried (it’s not that low); it’s enough of an encouragement to me that Jake was disappointed (and worried), which tells me that he still has a conscience and everything’s going to be ok.
The funny thing is that in his effort to study up for the next spelling test, he wrote a set of flash cards based on this week’s spelling words as jotted down in his notebook. Unfortunately, he misspelled and then transcribed 4 out of 10 of them. They’re words like ‘maneuver’ (spelled ‘maneneuver’ by Jake) and ‘radio’ (spelled ‘raido’ by Jake). And then when he did the assignment of writing each word in alphabetical order, Jake wrote ‘orbitor’ instead of ‘orbiter’ (and told me that the ‘o’ was really an ‘e’ just without a very big tail).
Unfortunately, like forging a twenty dollar bill, your spelling test results are only as good as the model that you start with. Let’s hope that Jake’s middling performance in spelling doesn’t lead him into that kind of living.
February 8, 2010 at 10:15 am (Scheir Madness, Uncategorized)
Tags: Blizzard, Children, Digging, Discipline, Hogan's Heroes, Kids, Parenting, Richard Attenborough, Snow, Steve McQueen, The Cooler, The Great Escape, Tunnelling
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.
I know this is going to sound a little cheesy, but I’ve always wanted to be the kind of mom who really uses the “You are special today!” plate. Do you know the kind I mean? It’s red, with lively white writing around the rim, writing that states unequivocally that when it comes to specialness, you (whoever you are) are it.
There are moms (and maybe some of my readers) who manage to use those kinds of plates with astonishing purpose, maybe rotating their placement at the table to recognize a different family member every day of the week or storing the plate until a birthday rolls around and then miraculously remembering (a) where it is and (b) to actually use it.
Unfortunately for my family, I am not that kind of mom. I forget. I misplace. The last birthday party I scheduled was three months after the fact, for goodness sake—you think I’m really going to be able to keep the “You are special today!” plate tradition spinning?
But yesterday, it hit me. Yesterday was January 21st. My birthday is June 21st. It was a half day of school, so I was trying to create a little something out of nothing anyway, and I came up with this scheme: every month, each member of the family, on whatever day of any month corresponds with his or her birthday (the 21st for me, the 25th for Craig, etc.), will have the opportunity to choose some small-scale fun thing to do, buy, or eat, subject, of course, to approval based on cost, time, and availability. My fun thing? Half price slushies at Sonic Drive-in’s 2-4 pm Happy Hour and fajitas for dinner.
Not much, but kind of awesome, no?
In writing this piece and trying to find the “You are special today!” plate online, I happened upon the website for an event planning company called The Special Day. In my once-a-month special-ness project, I may adopt their purpose statement as my own:
The Special Day will be the recognized creator of innovative events and momentous celebrations worldwide. Our eminent clients will exult in awe-inspiring experiences that generate smiles and memories for their distinguished honorees and guests.
The Special Day is about You and Your personalized experience. When it really counts, you can trust The Special Day to understand the significance you place on the special days of your lives. Rest assured… with our planning expertise, dedicated assistance, creative flair and global knowledge, your events will be revered for a lifetime.
My celebrations, momentous? My children, eminent? Their experiences, awe-inspiring? Our events, revered for a lifetime? Maybe, maybe not. More like it, we’ll just be glad if Hayley plans board game night on her special day and we end up without any crying or bloodshed.
I’m sort of over the intentional “making memories” approach to parenting. My approach is more along the lines of enrich them like crazy with stuff that’s fun for all of us and then let the chips fall where they may. I’m about us getting better and better at getting from point A to point B. I’m about helping us—all of us—to see more, do more, learn more, and get more secure with ourselves. For me, the special day thing will be one more way for my kids (and myself) to feel like individuals who have a little control over our lives, who aren’t just subject to the whirlwind that’s going on around us, and who can pause and hand ourselves a nice break once in a while.
Plate or not, I think it might work.
Yesterday I actually used in conversation these two new, if inelegant, terms, invented my me:
1. BURNIE, as in “When I turned the corner, I smelled fumes, but it didn’t smell so much gassy as it did burnie.” Homphone: the proper noun ‘Bernie,’ as in “Don’t Bernie me!”
2. GYMMIE, as in “Without the blue protective mats on the wall, the church’s multi-purpose room would look a lot less gymmie.” Homophone: the proper noun ‘Jimmy,’ the lock-picking term ‘jimmie,’ and the singular of the chocolate sprinkles synonym, ‘jimmies.’
Yes, I recognize that adding an ‘-ie’ to a noun does not a new word make (and does the speaker sound like a 6-year-old make?!), but, hey, that’s why I’m a writer and not a professional orator. Thinking about it, I have a feeling that I’m more of an -ie person than an -ish person, though I do dig words like ‘cartoonish’ and ‘impish.’ Then again, those are real words. At least I don’t use the non-word ‘ish,’ as in “Sure, I’m working now…ish.”
So here’s what I want to know. When it comes to made-up words, are you an -ie person or an -ish person?