An oldie but a goodie

This piece of mine was originally published in 2005, back when I was still the parent of a preschooler. Enjoy!

Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It

Thursday, 11:20 am
We find Impossible Mission Special Agent (code name: Cheryl) on the way to the local mall. Her assignment: exchange two clothing items. She has only 25 minutes to get to the mall, park, get to the store, return the two items, choose two new ones, make the purchase, and get out of there. If she isn’t back to preschool for the noon pick-up, her four-year-old will self-destruct.

11:25 am
Parking goes off without a hitch. Kidless, our agent enters the mall, successfully dodging the super rip-off kiddie rides. She enters the store.

11:30 am
Our agent selects two properly fitting items and proceeds to the checkout counter to execute “the exchange.” Two counters are manned. Neither has the “I’m open” light on. The cashier at counter A is with a customer. When she’s finished, she flippantly informs our agent, “I’m closed,” and walks away. At counter B, the customer first in line has ten items and a credit card application. The second customer has a cell phone (on which he is speaking, loudly), but is otherwise empty-handed…a definite sign of trouble.

11:35 am
Our agent languishes behind Credit Application Girl and Cell Phone Man. She observes at least six other salespeople busying themselves around the store, including one who is unloading Pampered Chef boxes from the UPS man, while talking to the cashier who was formerly working. Our agent aggressively clears her throat.

11:40 am
The sole working cashier is now on the phone. She appears to be speaking to the credit card division, but our agent suspects that they are trading coded message about how to keep her there indefinitely. In a bold and unexpected move, our agent says loudly, “I don’t want to be rude, but this looks like it’s going to take a while. Can you please open another checkout?” Crippled as if by an electromagnetic pulse, everyone at the counter freezes. After reviving, Pampered Chef guy says, “Uh, sure,” and radios his underlings.

11:45 am
An unidentified sales operative appears at the counter furthest away from our agent’s present location. She feebly offers, “I’ll take the next customer in line.” Our agent waves Cell Phone Man on, then follows him to the Forbidden Outpost. Meanwhile, a fresh-faced couple takes their place behind Credit Card Girl, whose sale has just been completed.

11:50 am
Back at the Forbidden Outpost, the cashier has completed her quest to locate a rare and valuable store gift card for Cell Phone Man. But she has to call for back-up when her ID mysteriously comes up “invalid” and her system “locks up.” All heads turn back to the original checkout, where the fresh-faced couple has now come and gone, and the customer is now a grey-haired woman with a greyer-haired man (considering the circumstances, our agent discounts the possible use of an evil, rapid-aging formula). The cashier presses a few buttons, looks over at Pampered Chef Guy, and says, “I’m locked up too.” At that moment, we scream into the transmitter, “Abort! Abort! Abort!” The transmission terminates. We lose contact.

11:59 am
Cheryl pulls up in front of the preschool with one minute to spare. Sure, she broke a few (dozen) traffic laws to get there in time, but, hey, who would pull over a minivan? Relishing her final thirty seconds of free time before pick up, our agent leans back in her seat and sighs. Mission accomplished.

This piece originally appeared in FORUM, the national newsletter for Mothers & More.

Rock on, Momma

Just drove home from school at 8 am on the return trip from an emergency flute drop off. Tears—none. Band director blow-up the day before the concert—narrowly averted. Points scored with my fifth grader—infinite.

And, as I ease back into the self-satisfied comfort of my minivan, what should come on my Time Life collection of the ’70s CD? My new parenting anthem, that’s what:

“…it’s been no bed of roses, no pleasure cruise—I consider it a challenge before the whole human race, and I ain’t gonna lose!”

Thank you, Queen. Most triumphant…even for a 42-year-old mother of two who hasn’t quite taken a shower yet.

We (parents, that is) truly are the champions, aren’t we?

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 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.

The darndest things

Three things my children have said this week that I have loved:

  1. “Mom, something happened today that made me feel bad about myself.” I don’t love that something made Hayley feel bad about herself, but I love that she had the words to articulate how she was feeling. I usually label that sort of thing ‘insecurity,’ but I like what Hayley says better. I told her that when that bad feeling comes, she should look at herself and check whether she’s done anything wrong. If not, then the bad feeling, while there, should not be honored. Now if only I can apply this to myself, we’ll both be in really good shape.
  2. “Mom, are you a senior citizen?” I don’t love this because of the implied perception of premature aging. I love it because it was part of Jake’s diabolical plan to save us money at the car wash. Jake figures that if I pretend to be a senior citizen, then on senior day we’ll save a dollar. Good plan.
  3. “Mom, when we get home, will you play Wii with me?” This I love because the Wii Resort game has a cycling program and when two people play our little Mii’s are riding a bicycle built for two. I think that I can say for certain that there is no better feeling than cycling up a volcano on a tandem bike with your child steering clear of the lava. We took a 6-day tour in 20 minutes and came in 31st place. Not bad for a mother-son team, especially when the mother is nearly a senior citizen. That doesn’t make me feel bad about myself at all.

Death defying snow fun

Jake, Hayley, and friend Megan in their snow cave

Back when I was a teenager, as I had just fallen out of a canoe, without my life jacket, and into a set of rapids on the Delaware River, I remember having this realization: my Dad was so right. I should have had that life jacket on, just like I should have never ridden in the back of a pick-up truck or driven anywhere in the winter without a blanket in the car.

My Dad’s words of safety wisdom were reincarnated in my own parenting this week, when I found myself admiring a five foot deep snow cave that my son and his friend dug while I was inside wrapping Christmas presents. I should know by now that when my son says, “Mom, come out and see this!” that the children have somehow, yet again, escaped certain death.

Despite nightmarish visions of my son, trapped by a cave-in, gasping for the diminishing breathable air, I found myself looking at the snow cave and saying this: “Great job, guys! Quite an architectural achievement! How about I go get the camera and then you guys can go in (feet first!), and we’ll take your picture in the snow cave before it collapses on you and kills you?”

I tried to keep it light, really I did, patting them on the back for a good job and telling them that I was just worried because the temperature would be rising over the next couple of days. Craig, wise man that he is, had the good idea of paying them two bucks to fill in the cave—which they did, happily.

I was a little surprised the next day, though, when Jake told us that he and his friends had dug snow cave number two at a house around the corner. “It’s OK,” he said. “My friend’s parents were right there.”

“Right there to dig you out in the event of collapse?” Craig said.

Jake said, “Yup.”

So nice that the lesson wasn’t lost on him, isn’t it?

Drama Junkie

Yup, that’s me. I just realized it yesterday. As much as I dislike drama and its accompanying tension, emotion, and no-win decision-making, I find that I also kind of dig it—not in a weird, ambulance chaser kind of way, though. Maybe in more of an “I’m stressed, therefore I am” kind of way.

Imagine this scene. My poor husband, down since Friday night with a non-hospitalization-requiring case of H1N1, had to sit through me ranting and raving Tuesday morning—before 8 am, I might add—because I just had to, had to, had to get all my Boy Scout concerns off my chest. Why? Because a Boy Scout friend of my son’s said, “Dude, you need to go on the camping trip this weekend. That’s when you get your requirements signed off!” I don’t know what requirements the kid was talking about. I didn’t even know there was a camping trip coming up. But in no time, my fear that my son would never amount to anything rose up in me, breathed fire on my otherwise sensible brain, and convinced me that the world would come to an end if he didn’t go camping—and NOW!

I’m sure you’d agree that mental priority number one for my in-bed all week spouse is cramming a 2-night camping trip into his big recovery weekend when we already have a birthday sleepover, a theater outing, Junior Orchestra rehearsal, grandparents coming, faux Thanksgiving on Saturday, Junior Orchestra performance, Mom’s Symphony dress rehearsal, and Mom’s Symphony performance already.

No wonder his fever returned.

My stress, my constant companion, the recurring theme of this blog, my universe, and everything has been with me since I was a kid. Sometimes disguised as academic anxiety, sometimes as insomnia and nightmares, sometimes as pure, classic overreaction, my stress has periodically asked me, “You seem awfully calm right now—shouldn’t you be worrying about something? There’s always something to worry about.” Then I’d think for a moment and realize, yes, there is a test coming up or there is that kid who teases me on the bus or, barring anything else, there’s always those deadly diseases and random accidents lurking where you least expect them. And then, ahhh, I was somehow comforted to know that I wouldn’t have to grope my way through an unfamiliar, disturbingly peaceful, stress-free day.

Freakish, I know.

Now here I am, all grown up, with my drama potential multiplied by three other people, a dog, and their respective pandemic viruses, mean girl issues, pressure-perpetuating Boy Scout buddies, and enormous dietary missteps. But when you’re hammering a guy with a low grade fever and grade A bedhead about how he absolutely must e-mail the scoutmaster right now to see whether we can get in on 6 ½ hours of a 48 hour camping trip, the handwriting’s kind of on the wall.

So I’m officially declaring a 30-day rehab—maybe 45: drama-free through Christmas. I’m going to try it. My higher power and my higher reasoning should be enough to stave off my higher blood pressure. In the immortal words of Huey Lewis and the News, I want a new drug. Maybe instead of drama, I’ll get hooked on lateness, the result of no longer rushing everywhere, all the time. Maybe I’ll start running addictively—for exercise, that is. Maybe I’ll start overdoing it on sleep—that’d be a switch.

Whatever it is, it’ll be better for me, my family, and everybody. Except maybe all of you. I mean, without the stress, what will there be to write about?

Mean Girls

Dear Mom’s blog-o-buddies,

I’m 9 years old, and I have a problem. I have a friend who keeps telling me what other people think of me, and—let me tell you—it’s not good. My ‘friend’ told me that one of the girls in the neighborhood only likes to play with me because she likes my toys. And she said that another girl she knows just thinks I’m weird.

My dad says that the friend who keeps passing on bad news to me should keep her trap shut. My mom says that some girls are moody and kind of exclusive about who can be in their circle of friends and that makes them act unkindly to other people. My brother pretty much can’t stand any of my friends because once, one of them went into his room, stole his Rubik’s cube, and wrecked it.

What should I do?

Signed,

Feeling more insecure by the moment

(Insecure, that is, not unlike my mom, who had her share of mean girl medicine back when she was a kid and still gets a case of the galloping insecurities whenever someone says something to her like, “I’m so glad you stopped wearing baggy clothes” or “I’m not sure if it’s because of the way you make it, but turkey doesn’t seem to agree with me anymore.”)

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