Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Dance of the Demented

We spent the weekend at the state track meet so I thought I’d share some of the thoughts I had while spending approximately 37 hours planted to a metal stadium bench.

*Spoiler alert: kids ran, jumped, threw, some people won, more people didn’t win, everyone tried, hot dogs were consumed, sunburns were acquired.  Jacob was thrilled with his performance.  And he turned eighteen.  

He’s a legal adult.  

I’m . . . just . . . gimme a minute . . . nope it’s never going to get better.  

Honestly, adulthood should be something you have to certify in.  Like pass a test and get a license or a certificate or something.  Just because someone is twenty-nine or forty-three or fifty-two doesn’t mean they should automatically be awarded adulthood, let alone at eighteen.  C’mon, prove you can actually manage a turn signal, a voter registration, and a tax return.  Then you can be an adult. Probably, though, if you have hot flashes, prostate trouble, or readers on your nose you can automatically qualify.  I think that’s fair.

Moving on.

Parenting is like dancing the Two Step.  Well, not really like the Two Step because that would mean we would be making some sort of progress.  And everyone would be enjoying the activity.  More like the two steps forward, two steps back, two steps sideways, two steps catty-corner, bleh. 

Relax whilst I regale you with this morning’s adventures.  Ahem.

Jonathan and Matthew are discussing their antics in the stadium the day before.  We were sitting in a jammed-full section near the finish line.  People to front, side, and rear.  The boys were, of course, basically wrestling.  Why?  Who knows.  As they were laughing about it this morning, because jabbing random strangers in the eye with an errant elbow is sooooo funny, Matthew says, “I was going to put my foot in your face, but then I thought I probably shouldn't do that in public.”

(cue music, the choral finale from Beethoven’s 9th fills the air)

WE.
HAVE.
CONTACT!!!

This is a moment not every parent will truly understand.  I’ve heard of these exotic children who figure out while still in the single digits that certain behaviors, such as jamming your foot into someone’s face, should not be done in public venues.  My children are not of this variety.  For me, waiting for the moment when that particular ball drops can often be a long, long wait.  And it often has to drop several times to actually stay dropped.  And it’s just so beautiful.  Sniff.  Excuse me a moment while I compose myself.

But before I can, while we are waiting for elevator, a tiny, tiny “ding” sounds somewhere and my boys are in full WWE mode.  Let me take a moment to remind everyone that the two boys I am writing about are twelve and fourteen.  Not two and four.  Add a whole decade.  Why are they scrapping on the ground?  Elevator buttons.  Yes, they are squabbling over who gets to push the elevator button.  All that lovely progress we made over not cramming our feet into other people’s faces in public has disappeared in a pile of limbs on the (none too clean) elevator floor.

I quietly lean over and push the button.  I want to cry a little.  Or possibly just leave them in the elevator and go on to the meet by myself.  But, unfortunately, they notice the elevator is moving and they stop.  Sheesh.

As we exit the elevator and walk across the lobby, a thought springs to life in my mind.  The boys are all carrying their own gear.  Gear they themselves packed.  And I don’t even know what they packed because that’s not something I have to worry about anymore.  Well, actually I do know that one of them packed a grand total of a toothbrush and a sweatshirt for a three-day trip, but he used the toothbrush.  So I count that as a win. Progress!!!

We exit the lobby.  The mumbling begins. 

A bit of explanation is necessary at this point.  We’ve recently had to ban “Shotgun,” the age-old and time-revered method of claiming the passenger side front seat.  The incident happened on a Tuesday morning and resulted in a thumb in the eye, an elbow to the ribs, and a dent in my car.  And a barrelful of cats worth of screaming and yelling.  So the new rule is one kid gets it on even numbered days and the other kid gets it on odd numbered days.  Apparently, this rule now applies to everything, including elevator button pushing.  And here I’d thought we’d left toddler-hood behind.  Nope.

Back to the mumbling. 

“It’s the 27th, that means it was MY turn.”
“No it doesn’t.”
“Yes it does.”
“It’s not a car.”
“Doesn’t matter.”
Me:  “Knock it off.”
(Silence for 3.4 feet)
“You just don’t understand rules.”
“You just love rules.” (mumbles even lower “moron”)
“That’s my middle name.”
“Your middle name is Moron?”
Me: (in a whispershout (all moms know what this is): SILENCE)

I hear more mutterings but decide to be deaf.  No physical contact is happening, no damage to my person or belongings, and no public witnesses.  They can mutter all the want as long as they keep their wretched hands to themselves.


And thus we danced the Dance of the Demented through the day.  And every day.  One step forward, one step back.  One step sideways, one step diagonally.  One step  up, one step down.  And then forward again. We eventually do make progress, but it’s anything but a straight line.  Straight lines are for suckers with no imagination, anyway.  I like my squiggles.  They are cute, if a bit whiffy.  And they're pretty funny.  But they better stop denting my car.


Monday, May 22, 2017

The Pickle Fork, Life-Size Giraffe, and the Round Peg

I don't like parenting advice articles, which is ironic since I kind of write one.  Well, it's not really advice so much as "here's the crazy crap my kids did today, now don't you feel better about your child's misdemeanors," blog.  Maybe I'm just a snob (very likely) or I'm just lazy (also very likely) but parenting "experts" get on my nerves.  I'm not an expert by professional standards, I just have twenty-six years experience parenting six (bonkers) kids and fortymumble years experience being the oldest child of seven (also bonkers).  Every time I log on to FaceBook, there seem to be fifteen new articles displaying a wide offering of parenting advice, generally neatly numbered and listed for our easy perusal.  Occasionally I try to read them but they are usually either obvious or wrong.  And written by someone whose oldest child is still in the single digits.  Honey, we'll chat again when you hit the sweat-drenching hell known as Fourteen.

In my own blog, I try to show the humor and utter insanity that is parenting and offer up some laughter as the cheapest therapy around.  Honestly, all of us need a good laugh.  Then we can get back in saddle and back to dealing with whatever it is that is currently making us want to stab our eyeball out with a pickle fork.  That's what I hope to provide--the laughter, not the pickle fork.

I want to address a particular issue today, however, in a more direct manner.   I've known A LOT of parents in a lot of different parenting situations, in a lot of different states.  There are some things we all have in common, however, no matter the situation.  One thing I hear, and I've said myself (more than once), from a lot of parents is "What did I do wrong?"  That's what I want to talk about today, from a couple different perspectives.

Do parents make mistakes?  Of course.  And guess what: every parent out there has made, is probably currently making, and will continue to make mistakes.  Many mistakes, including you, including me. (meaning we all make mistakes, not that we are the mistakes.  Ahem.) HOWEVER, in my experience, setting aside actual illegal mistakes that fall in the category of "child abuse," there really is only one mistake parents make that's worth discussing.  Just about anything else is small potatoes.

This is the one mistake:  It's not about YOU.  It's about your child.  This is true whether your child is doing everything wrong OR doing everything right.  Parenting is not about YOU.

A brief aside to introduce to a couple of amazing rockstars any human would be blessed to know: Dara and Glenn.  I could write a ten-part mini series on how awesome they are, but I'll keep it to this quick example.  A couple years ago while Dara and I were on our annual girls trip with the third member of our trio, Cheryl, Dara got a message from Glenn.  He had brought home from China a LIFE SIZE ADULT GIRAFFE STATUE.  Dara groaned.  The next day he messaged her again.  He had cemented it in to the front yard while she was gone so that she couldn't stop him.  Cement.  As in permanent.  And here's the best part -- when she got home she DIDN'T EVEN KILL HIM!  This year he repeated the stunt with a LIFE SIZE BULL ELEPHANT HEAD.  As a thank you for letting him live on the previous occasion, he removed this one.  And put it INSIDE the house.  You can't make up awesomeness like that.

Anyway, Dara shared with me a parenting experience she had a few years ago.  She and her husband had been blessed with three perfect children.  No, really.  Great grades, behaved at school, did their chores, studied their scriptures, ate their vegetables, and went to bed on time.  Every night.  AND they brushed their teeth without being asked.  You're wondering where that pickle fork is, aren't you?

They were pretty proud of themselves, quietly patting themselves on the back for their top-notch parenting skills.  If only other people would just do it the way they di . . . THEN their fourth child was born.  This one made up for all the others, all rolled into one cherubic grin.  Chores?  Ha.  Read? Are you kidding?  Bedtime?  Nope, out the door and roaming free in the neighborhood.  And vegetables aren't even worth discussing.  Very quickly, they began to ask themselves, what are we doing wrong?

Here's the thing--#4 had the SAME parents who did things the SAME way as with the other three.  What did they do wrong with #4?  Nothing.  #4 is simply a different person with different needs and struggles than #1, #2, and #3.  That's the beauty of genetics.  Every time a child is created, we shake up the Scrabble bag of tiles with our four-letter genetic alphabet, and an entirely new human pops into existence.

Did they need to change the way they did things to meet the needs of #4?  Of course.  And that's the entire point: parenting is not about getting the results YOU want from YOUR efforts.  Parenting is about meeting your child's needs in the way they need to have them met.

So often, we only think about "what we're doing" when our child is doing something we don't want them to do.  When our child is getting good grades and behaving, and always has, we are happy and relieved that we're getting it right.  You may very well be doing all the right things, but it is important to step back and recognize that this is because that particular child happens to respond positively to your current actions.

Let me explain it another way.  I have a set of round pegs.  The child just described happens to be a puzzle board covered in round holes.  Do all the pegs fit perfectly?  Yes, not because I'm a parenting genius, but because I happen to have the round pegs for that round-holed puzzle board.

So when a child comes along who is a puzzle board covered with square holes, or triangles, or something with eleven dimensions that couldn't possibly fit a peg anywhere, and shockingly my set of round pegs doesn't fit, have I done something wrong?  Has the child done something wrong?  Is that child damaged, evil, or beyond help?  Of course not.  I just need a new set of pegs.

That is where it becomes (and always has been) about the child -- finding the right approach to reach that child.  This is where parenting blogs and books and articles and professionals come in to play--as OPTIONS, not requirements.  Find parents who have had similar struggles to yours and find out what worked for them.  Talk to teachers.  Read.  Be creative. And keep trying.

Eventually they will become old enough to make their own decisions.  (That age entirely depends on what the decision is.  Three year olds get NO voice on whether or not they get to drive to school.  Seventeen year olds who have a job and an income do.  Three year olds do get a voice on potty training.  In fact, they get the only voice on this since they own the bladder.  Seventeen year olds do not get a voice in this.  If they choose not to use the toilet properly, you have my permission to drop them off at the zoo.) When they are old enough to reasonably make a decision on a particular issue, let them make it.  They may, and probably will, make dazzling stupid decisions. They will learn faster and better from them.  They may make great decisions, and your heart will sing with relief and happiness.  In either case, IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU.  It's about them.

Here are the only real parenting goals you need each day, in order of importance.

1.  Keep your child alive.  Millions of fish mommies fail at this every day.  If your kiddo is still alive at the end of the day, congrats!  You are doing 100% better than tons of fish moms.  Fish dads are no better.

2.  Tell your child you love him or her, by word or deed.  There are lots of reasons why "word" might be difficult for you on any one particular day and "deed" is going to have to suffice.  For example, once I had an argument with one of my teens where he accused me, in the same argument, of both "forcing him to take AP classes," and also "not pushing him academically." I showed him I loved him by NOT reaching down his throat and evulsing his vocal cords on the spot.  See, deeds can be powerful.  And by so doing, I also accomplished #1. Go me!

3.  Feed your child.  Now, if you take a long look at human history, you will see that soooo much more of the world is more edible than we think it is.  Personally, I do not consider bugs, pre-chewed taro root, or reindeer blood to be edible.  But millions of other people do.  What does this mean for you?  It means if you did not manage to feed your child three perfectly balanced, whole grain, free-range, and organic meals today, it is ok.  Did your child scavenge old popcorn from the floor?  Congrats!  You achieved #1 & #3!  Did your child graze bovine-like from a bag of french fries and chicken nuggets?  Well done!  #1, #3, and you helped the national economy!  Is this ideal?  No.  Do we want to do this every day?  Probably not.  But we all have days where the big picture is the only one we're going to manage.  You fed your child.  Well done!

4.  Shelter your child.  And you can be creative here.  I had a sister who refused to clean her room so my mother evicted her to a tent in the backyard for the whole summer.  Please note that she was a preteen, it was summer, and they lived in the suburbs, so common sense safety was observed.  (And honestly, it ended up being a summer of glamping when she ran a power cord and a tv out to the tent.)  It doesn't have to be fancy.  It doesn't have to be decorated.  It just has to keep the rain/sun off and be safe.  Did you do this?  You rock!!

So, once we complete  1-4 each day, then we can worry about adding more goals.  They just need to be the right goals for your child in their current stage of development.  Kids are rotten, sneaky stinkers who change out their peg boards just as soon as you figure out which pegs are going to fit. And seriously, as soon as they get their acts together and start being pleasant company, they leave!  If you're lucky.  Seriously, kids.  I love you, but go.  Let me know when you arrive safely!  But you can't stay here. Hugs!

ps: I wrote this 3 or 4 years ago and then apparently forgot about it.  It was a fun find and I think something that's always pertinent.  So, I updated a few bits and did a little polishing.  And say hello to Dara and Glenn if you see them.  They're awesome :D



Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Disarming Bombs

Dum dum da da dum dum doo doo dum dum da da dum dum WAH WAH WAH . . . WAH WAH WAH . . .

(What, you don't recognize that sound track?  It's clearly James Bond.)

I sneak along the corridor.  I can hear the ticking bomb.  Thank goodness it ticks REALLY loudly so I can hear it all the way over here because the villain, contrary to all known Villainy Laws, has not attached a count down clock with big, red LED numbers conveniently letting anyone who might pass by know how much time is left until the big boom.  Very thoughtless.  But that is the nature of this villain.  Strikes without warning.  Or sometimes lots of warning.  Sometimes it smokes and fizzes like it has short circuited and you think it's been a false alarm.  But no.  It still gets you in the end.  And if you don't cut the correct wire first, you and the entire surrounding area are done.

And that's one of many things I don't understand about bomb makers.  Why are there so many friggin' wires?  And why can no one ever remember which wire to cut?  Why don't the wire makers just print right on the plastic coating "THIS ONE.  CUT THIS ONE." But no, the wire makers have inconsiderately not labeled which wire to cut.  Jerks.

I inch closer to the bomb.  I can feel sweat starting to trickle down my temples.  I have to get this right.  I foolishly ignored a smallish bomb the other day, thinking it wouldn't do any damage and now I have to call the maintenance crew.  Who knew how much damage a sneaker bomb could do?

Closer still.  I can feel the heat beginning to radiate from the bomb.  If I knew it weren't possible, I would swear the count down clock is speeding up.   The one that this bomb doesn't have. Time is running short.  I have to act.  And then . . . crap.  Duck and cover!

"GET OFF THE DUMPER!!  I GOTTA GET TO SCHOOL EARLY CUZ I HAVEN'T STARTED MY ESSAY YET!!!"

(muffled by the closed bathroom door) "I HAFTA POOP!  IT'S NOT MY FAULT IF YOU DIDN'T WRITE YOUR ESSAY!!

"JUST HOLD IT IN!" (pounding on bathroom door)

"IT'S POOP!  I CAN'T HOLD IT IN!"

"JUST RESIST THE URGE!  I DIDN'T POOP FOR FIVE DAYS AND I WAS JUST FINE!!"

"YOU ARE A MORON!  I'M NOT HOLDING IN MY POOP!"

"I'M GOING TO BE LATE!!" (pounding and kicking on bathroom door) "GET OUT!!"

Ok, the situation can be salvaged, I surmise, the bomb wasn't too bad  but there is definitely concern that shrapnel may get the bathroom door if I don't hurry.  It is, truly, the last door left upstairs without bomb damage.  Time to act.

"Matthew, stop it.  If you kick in another one of my doors, you will spend the summer doing yard work to pay for it."

(Looks at me, kicks the door.)  "I'M GUNNA BE LATE!!! HE DOESN'T NEED TO POOP!"

"We have enough time and you should have written your essay last night. And pooping is a basic human need."

I pause.  That was a mistake.  The villain has tricked me.  THERE WAS A SECOND BOMB HIDDEN INSIDE THE FIRST BOMB!!!

"MR. (redacted) HATES ME!! HE REJECTS ALL MY ARTICLES! WHY DO I HAVE TO BE ON THE SCHOOL PAPER?! WHY DOES EVERYBODY HATE ME?!"  (hand clench, teeth grind, eyes roll wildly.)

Sheesh.  Really, Cinderfella?  But still, if I'm going to save that last upstairs door, I have to move quickly and carefully.

"Listen, we have fifteen minutes to drive 3 miles.  You will be fine.  You can write your paper during Study Hall."

"HE'S DELIBERATELY POOPING TO MAKE ME LATE!"

Me:  (the "Are You Kidding Me" stare.)

Matthew: (the "Get Real Mom You Don't Even Know" glare.)

"Go get your  binder and go get in the car.  Jonathan will be out soon."

(Bathroom door opens.)  Ok, we have now entered the most dangerous moment of the bomb-disarming crisis.  A fully fueled and functioning flame thrower is approaching the ticking weapon of mass destruction.

"WHAT THE CRAP IS WRONG WITH YOU?!  RESIST THE URGE?!  WHO DOES THAT!!???"

I must act fast.  Time is gone.  The door (and the south wall, the north wall was hit by shrapnel last week) must be saved.

I step in between the bomb and the flame thrower.  I am a martyr.  I am saintly in my sacrifice.

"Nope.  We're done here.  Everyone get their binders and get in the car."

The flame thrower surges forward.  I can feel the heat threatening to burn the bomb and set off the detonation I've been trying to stop.  But no.  Not today.  Today I will save the door.

I lean in closer to the flame thrower.  "Car.  Now."

The bomb is still ticking and the flame thrower is radiating heat like a lava flow.  We buckle our seat belts.  Tension is crazy high.  I glance in the rear view mirror.  The bomb is giving me the Stink Eye and thinks I don't know.  But I am a genius and master of the rear view surveillance technique.

"I see you giving me the Side Stink Eye."

He turns and glares straight in to the rear view mirror.

"I see you giving me the Front Stink Eye."

And I have won.  He grins and turns around to face the back of the seat.

"I see you giving me the Back Stink Eye."

"Ok, now you're just lying," he says as he laughs.  But I've won.  We are laughing and coming up with variations on the Stink Eye.  But the anger is gone, the imminent threat of punching is gone, and my door is saved.  (Mostly because I moved the weapons from the upstairs hall to the car, but hey, that was part of the process.  And a tricky one.  They aren't toddlers any more whom I can just pick up and move.  They're both taller than me (but honestly, I could still take 'em if I had to.  And then spend a week in bed.  But still. I'd win.))

I am James Bond.  I can disarm bombs . . . er, teen boys.  I deserve a medal.  And a month-long vacation in Bora Bora.

ps:  This conversation is pretty much verbatim from this morning.

pps: And most mornings.

ppps:  But not the bit about "resisting the urge to poop."  What the heck, Matthew??

pppps:  I'm totally copying Jenny Lawson's brilliant use of "ps."  She's a genius.  You should read her books.

ppppps:  But serious f-bomb warnings.  Heads up.