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Navigating the Middle

through adolescents, menopause, aging parents & other flying debris

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parenting

Weird Parenting

My sister got on my case the other night when I told her that I wouldn’t be joining her in DC for our annual girls’ weekend. Her expectations were not unwarranted. We try to take a sister-trip every year, one that usually revolves around her work as an insurance agent. However, due to serious illnesses on both our parts, we’d missed the last two years. Suffice it to say, I was really looking forward to our time together. But you know what they say about best laid plans.

After quickly mentioning that her conference would be in DC this year (while downsizing her home; running a business; and being a single parent), details from my sister dried up. It wasn’t until she literally forwarded her hotel confirmation email, that I noticed the dates: dueling schedules which meant that I would be on the West Coast, dropping my Number 1 son at college, during Stephanie’s visit to our area. While I hate to miss out on the late night talks, socializing, and enjoying one too many glasses of wine together, this could be one of the last mother-son activities that Chris and I will ever share. EVER may seem like a really strong word here, but he’s moving on. I’m the one who’s being left behind, along with his dad and two younger brothers.

I remember being his age, barely able to contain my excitement over leaving home to pursue my new, grown-up life. Back then, I didn’t know there was a difference between becoming an adult and being a grown-up. And being a grown-up means you make grown-up decisions, like committing to seeing your firstborn through his transition to college, even if he is 18.

Since Stephanie also has a teenaged son, I knew she was kidding when she teased, “I can’t believe you’re chosing to take your kid to college instead of seeing me! What kind of WEIRD PARENTING is that? Just because he’s going to school in another country…”

I might not have been a semi-finalist in the NGB (okay, that’s not really a thing), National Geographic Bee, but I am certain that Seattle is in the U.S; I told her so.

But Stephanie just responded, “Um. It may as well be another country.” (Spoken like a true Texan.) She had a point. For about the same distance, (give or take 80 miles and a student visa) he might as well be going to school in Ecuador! And that’s on another continent and below the equator!! THANKS SIS! I hadn’t considered any of this before talking to you. I feel much better now.

I also finally understand why some moms delivered the cartoon-eye-popping-stare when I told them that Chris would be leaving our mid-Atlantic home for the Pacific Northwest. “You’re going to let him go that far away? Could he go any farther away?” were the two most commonly asked questions, followed by: “Aren’t you going to miss him?”

Well, yeah…to all inquiries. (1) He was allowed to apply to any university, provided he was able to secure scholarship money, which he did; (2) He could have gone farther away…like Ecuador (see previous paragraph); and (3) You’d miss your child if he went away to school, regardless of the distance.

Perhaps that was the point some of my friends were trying to make. They couldn’t fathom the thought of having their college kid so far from home. I get it. But we are the parents who attended college across the country (Jeff) and who moved to Hawaii after graduate school (me). In our WEIRD PARENTING world, our son moving 2,300+ miles away seems like a natural choice.

Besides, I am confident that we have done a good job raising him. He will make mistakes, just like we did. And he will figure things out; he’s a smart kid. After all, we trusted him enough to fly across the country (without us) for college tours. I look forward to visiting his campus for the first time when I deliver him there later next month. (WEIRD PARENTING, right?)

And while I might not feel the need to squeeze out every living, breathing moment with him before he takes off, I do want to enjoy this rite of passage before he pushes me out to make room for his new life. He’s a teenager, so the pushing is well underway. Like labor, it’s painful but hopefully seeing your beautiful baby boy turn into a caring, responsible, kind and productive man helps erase the pain.

So as much as I love spending time with my sister, and I really do, I won’t be able to join her this year. I’ve got more WEIRD PARENTING to do.

Stupid Cheerios

I have two teenage boys, which means that most of the time, the pretend not to like me; rarely initiate spending time with me; and they LIVE to hole-up in their bedrooms: doors shut, headphones on.

So the other day as I sat alone on the sofa, watching TV, a little 30-second commercial grabbed my heart. It featured a working-class family, after the dad returned home from shift work. He was tired. In the background, sat a little boy, about nine years old, eating breakfast. Listening.

The next time we see him, it’s dark out. And he’s getting out of bed. The light from the refrigerator shows him retrieving a half gallon of milk, while carrying a box of Cheerios. His dad walks into the kitchen and demands to know why the kid is out of bed…just before “Max” confesses that he got up because he wanted to have breakfast with his dad.

Stupid Cheerios. You’re going to make me walk downstairs and have a bowl of cereal with my teenagers tomorrow morning, aren’t you?

 

Day 10: What I Miss Most

Over the years, my sisters and I wrapped an assortment of obligatory Father’s Day gifts: ties, socks, shaving kits, books, and coffee mugs. (Daddy always seemed to be harder to buy for than our Mother.) But the framed, fill-in-the-blank “World’s Greatest Dad” certificate that hung on his bedroom wall, must have been his favorite. It hung there for decades.

I have difficulty recounting most of the Father’s Days we spent together. Not because he wasn’t around, but because Father’s Day 1981 was a watershed moment. The Sunday fell on the day right before my birthday. My mother thought it would be cute to bake a cake, so that we could celebrate the two occasions together. Apparently, my father didn’t think so. He accused Mother of “really” baking the cake for me, and only claiming it was for both of us. After that day, I knew he would never be the “World’s Greatest Dad”.

But in 2005, there we were, gathered at our family church in Houston to celebrate Daddy as “Father of the Year.” He was all smiles as he stood center stage, holding an engraved plaque, surrounded by his wife, kids, grandchildren, sisters and extended family. A photographer snapped a picture. My father seemed pretty pleased, but later admitted that he received the award only after the church had nearly exhausted its list of dads. (He laughed about it; so did I.)

Daddy could make almost any story sound funny. Like the time he was visiting a (white) friend, when another (white) guest walked in, complaining that he’d tried moving from his neighborhood into another neighborhood, “But niggers is everywhere.” Or the time he rode the segregated train from college in Louisiana to Texas. Instead of going to the back of the train, he sat in the WHITES ONLY section, along side his buddy P., who could “pass.” (If you are imagining correctly, my father has brown skin, curly hair and brown eyes.) But that combination of charm, cockiness, and a football player’s frame gave Daddy the courage to remain in the south, long after others fled.

Not that I always appreciated his stories. Daddy admitted that he wasn’t prepared to get married or have a child at the age of 20. (Considering that I have an older sister, I doubt he was ready at 18 either.) But that’s who he was, a chronicler of life’s events for those who wanted to hear them, and those who did not.

It would take years before I could fully appreciate his skill for spinning a yarn. Friends would point out how funny Daddy was. I dismissed them, initially. But with the passing of time, I realized that I’d almost missed one of the best parts of my dad. He could take the most benign event and twist it into something wickedly funny or slightly inappropriate. He was an excellent storyteller.

It’s been almost five years since I’ve heard my father’s voice or any of his stories. He isn’t gone; nor is he completely with us. Yet I can still see him on Father’s Day, standing over a charcoal pit, smoking meat for the better part of the day. It’s the place where we talked, shared a beer, and swapped stories.

…stories that now belong to me.

Day 15: Always Strive and Prosper

Me: Your bus was a little late today, huh?
Son: Yeah, we had a bus driver that didn’t know the route.
Me: Oh, that’s not good, especially so close to the end of the school year.
Son: Do you know ASOP (sic) Rocky?
Me: Whaaat? (I was thinking : Esop’s Fables)
Son: He’s a rapper. He’s been our bus driver this year.

(This is not unlike many of the conversations I have with my 14 year-old son.) But for some reason, he was convinced that rapper, ASAP Rocky was his bus driver for most of the school year.

Since I had no idea who he was referring to, (and why would I? I’m a G-A-W), I took to Wikipedia to find out. According to the online encyclopedia:

ASAP Rocky sold drugs while moving around homeless shelters with his mother. By age 15, he had been selling crack cocaine in the Bronx.  He was arrested in July 2012 for beating a man in a New York clothing store, and two photographers who had been filming the altercation outside. The confrontation began after Shenick Alcine witnessed ASAP Rocky doing illegal drugs inside the clothing store, sparking the assault. Rocky then attacked two amateur photographers who were recording the incident. ASAP Rocky was eventually charged with assault and robbery for striking the photographers and attempting to take their cameras.[49] In December 2012, Rocky struck a plea deal in the criminal case, pleading guilty to attempted grand larceny, with the assault and robbery charges being dropped.[50]

Yes, I know! It’s impossible to believe that a character like this would be operating a school bus in a suburban Maryland neighborhood. So before I went all “Mom-zilla” and fired off an outraged email to the school’s assistant principal, I considered a couple of things:

1) A (successful) rapper from Harlem probably ISN’T driving a school bus here. And if he were a bus driver, wouldn’t he be taking kids to PS 175 or something like that?

2) The company that hires drivers is supposed to conduct background checks. I imagine (and hope) they frown on ex-drug dealers and felons driving kids around.

3) ASAP Rocky is fairly busy working on his music, touring, and building his clothing brand. Judging by his Facebook page, a number of young women really seem to appreciate it.

But what disturbed me most was the thought that my son (and a number of his friends) might actually think that all black men, under the age of 30, look like rappers.

…including the bus driver.

 

 

 

Day 20: End-of-the-Year Burnout

IS IT JUST ME or has the last month of your life been a whirlwind of hyper activity? I’m talking to those with school-aged kids, who are just trying to survive the end of the school year without having EVERY hair on your head turn gray.

When my kids were young, I used-to dread the approach of summer. I couldn’t understand why friends with older children eagerly looked forward to summer break. I thought I was being a “bad” mother,

now I know better.

It’s because the wind-down of the school year is actually a ramp-up for every extracurricular and non-curricular activity imaginable. At least the Christmas holiday only lasts a week. By January 2nd, it’s all over.

But the end of the school year starts in May and doesn’t let up until it has zapped every ounce of strength from my “I-so-need-to-be-at-the-gym” biceps. Have a peek at our schedule. I didn’t have the energy to write a complete list; my forearms are too weak:

May 3 – Junior Prom
May 6 – 8th Grade Dance Committee meeting to address invitations
May 7 – Teacher Appreciation Week Volunteer serving Rita’s Ice in the teacher’s lounge
May 9 – Band Trip to Six Flags Great Adventure
May 12  – State Band Competition
May 17 – Mayfest PTA Volunteer serving nachos: “Would you like cheese on top or on the side?”
May 22 – 8th Grade Dance Ticket sales
May 23 – 8th Grade Cruise
May 29 – Spring Choral Concert and New Parent Athletic Orientation (same night; different schools)
May 30 – Field Day
Jun 3 – Spring Strings Concert chaperoning  3rd, 4th ,and 5th graders before their performances
Jun 4 – Summer Pops Concert and Enrichment Fair (same night; different schools)
Jun 6 – 8th Grade Dance committee-related task followed by Uniform Sales Set-Up (as an incoming freshman parent volunteer)
Jun 7 – Uniform Sales and SAT exam
Jun 10 – School Coffee & Conversation meeting followed by After School Driving Lesson
Jun 11 – 8th Grade Band Banquet
Jun 13 – 8th Grade Dance Volunteer serving dinner 
Jun 17-20 – Finals
Jun 19 – 5th Grade Promotion Ceremony Volunteer serving refreshments

Before you get the impression that I’m pulling a “my-list-is-longer-than-your-list,” think again! We are ALL working hard to support our children. I am one example among millions.

On a lighter note, I finally got the chance to spend a little time with a neighbor (and friend) who lives two houses away. I’m sure you’ve already guessed where we reconnected – at last night’s concert, of course.

Day 24: Silent Saturday

In silence and in self defense – I figured things out in my own little way. – Actress Loretta Young

Ever heard of “Silent Saturday?” It’s a nation-wide movement that started with soccer leagues to get parents to shut up and let the kids play the game. (Okay, that’s probably not the “official” mission statement, but you know what I’m talking about.)

Today, was our little leagues’ turn to participate, and there were two simple requests:

1.  Non-players were instructed to remain silent. Only light clapping was allowed.
2.  Spectators were asked to wear green – the color of growth, harmony, and balance.

That was it. Coaches, parents, and on-lookers sat virtually closemouthed while the players figured out how to play the game without input from the sidelines. The kids quickly began imitating their coaches; the head coach’s kid assumed the role of his father. They made decisions like when to steal bases, keep running, or how to play the infield, all without assistance from coaches or parents.

After the game, I asked my son how he enjoyed it. He said today’s game did seem more fun, but he wasn’t sure he’d want to play that way all the time.

The parents around our diamond seemed to embrace the rules, as well. Observers on both teams adhered to the mute status during play. An adjacent diamond wasn’t quite as impressed with Silent Saturday. They could be heard “cheering” from across the field. But who can blame them? It’s hard not to get excited when your kid is playing well…or not so well.

I’m not sure whether the kids benefited from participating in Silent Saturday. But they manged to win a baseball game and appeared to have fun. They usually have fun.

Maybe the lesson was for the parents: Give your kid a chance. He probably already knows what to do (and will do it)…without you YELLING at him.

 

Day 43: Being a Mother

By time I gave birth to my NUMBER THREE SON, my dad began calling me a veteran mom. I suppose it was better than calling me an old mom. I wasn’t like the moms I idolize today. You know the ones who are smart, talented, and adventurous.  They create intricate treasure hunts for their kids before revealing a surprise visit to Disney World. I handed my kids t-shirts to wear on the plane to Orlando. I thought I was being clever at the time.

Judging by today’s Facebook posts, most of us recognize our own mothers as the best example of motherhood. My mother sacrificed a college education; went to work outside the home BEFORE the creation of the “latch-key” kid; and takes care of my dad who is in a nursing home. She embodies love, joy, patience, peace, gentleness, self-control, kindness, goodness, faithfulness – every fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). I am grateful and blessed to call her “Mother”.

I make no distinction among mothers. Yours may be your biological mom, adopted mother, foster mom, step-mother, grandma, aunt, or sister. She may even be a childless “mother”. (For the record, I am not referring to the woman who chooses NOT to have children.) I am talking about women like “T.”

We spent an afternoon discussing her job at the university, which quickly morphed into a conversation about the young women she mentors. Her enthusiasm was evident. She cared for these students more than any of my professors ever did. Outside the classroom, she cooked for them, helped them study and offered motherly love and advice. I quietly listened to her beam about her girls before interrupting.

“Oh, so you’re a mom,” I reasoned.

T politely explained that she had no children, to which I responded, “You may not have had them, but they are definitely your kids.”

We are mothers by our actions. Some of us collect the title seconds after pushing out a 10 pound Butterball. (Oh, yes I did.) Others assume the title later.

So, for any childless “mother,” reading this blog, this day belongs to you too. Thank you.

Day 47: Looking Forward to Graduation

This is Teacher Appreciation Week. So here’s a shout out to all the extraordinary teachers who get up early, spend the day with our kids, and help to shape them into productive and thinking citizens.

In honor of the occasion, I spent part of the afternoon volunteering at my 10 year old’s school. My assignment? Serving Italian ice to the staff and administrators.

Handing out cups of frozen mango and cherry, I looked forward to leaving elementary school behind. Not because I disliked the school, but I was ready to claim my place in the middle and high school arenas, only.

Without warning, my fantasy ended. I recalled a friend saying, “I didn’t want to be one of those weird, old moms. So I had my kids before I got too old.”

SNAP!!

Is that how people see me?

It depends. When I walk into my oldest son’s high school, I don’t feel old. In fact, I feel fairly secure in my position as “age-appropriate” mom. You know – the ones your kid isn’t too embarrassed to be seen with. He may not be thrilled, but at least you don’t embarrass him.

On the other hand, if I volunteer at my  son’s middle school, I try to keep my head down. I am “barely -under-the-radar” mom. Some of the PTA moms have high school age kids, most don’t. However, since we’re in the midst of planning the upcoming 8th grade dance, I take comfort in knowing that EVERY one of us will have a high schooler NEXT year.

The elementary school is a completely different game. If you’ve paid attention, your local elementary school is probably brimming with cute 20-something teachers and college-aged interns who could pass for high school students. Even the parents are young. One minute, I’m helping with a class activity. The next minute, in strolls Ian’s mom. No seriously, she’s pushing a stroller…with a baby in it. “Big Boy” Ian is her oldest child and still plays with Lego’s. How sweet! My “baby” has two older brothers and is a master at Portal, a sci-fi puzzle game.

So, what am I looking forward to next…after turning 50?

…graduating from elementary school and taking my weird, old mom self to middle school.

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