Saturday, November 23, 2013

BE KIND ON THURSDAY

On Thursday, you may find yourself seated at a table next to someone who does not eat meat. Yes, that means, this person, may indeed say "no thank you" as the turkey is passed around the table.

Rest assured, this person, will (in all likelihood) NOT try to keep you from eating your own turkey. In fact, she will probably not say a thing as she hands you the platter of meat despite the fact that she could tell you some really horrifying things about how the turkey ended up on your table.

So extend her the same courtesy and don't try to discuss her food choice.

I live with two vegetarians now. Both have come to this point after much thoughtful consideration and yes they have indeed considered their protein intake and even what the Bible says about eating meat although I don't know of any other time the Bible is consulted about what to eat for most Protestants.

Anyway, I just ask that you try to be courteous on Thursday and not comment on the whole thing. For some reason, this seems to be a fun pastime for some uncles and grandpas and even dads.

So maybe it's time for a quick review on how to eat around a vegetarian....yep, this  is last part is a reprint as I am under the weather and have been for some time. But here goes.Let me explain her decision quite simply: she does not eat animals for the same reason you do not cook your dog for dinner. 

She kind of has the high ground on this one--there is no moral reason at all that we eat cows and pigs but not cats and dogs. It's just our culture. And I probably don't have to remind you that cows and pigs aren't exactly treated as well as our cats and dogs prior to their slaughter. 

So you can see her point, even if you don't want to stop eating meat yourself.

Now I know you don't want to be one of those people who responds in a goofy manner so I will give you a few tips you might use Thursday:

1. Please don't ask why she is a vegetarian: I know, I used to do this all the time too thinking I was making clever conversation--but the fact is most vegetarians have chosen not to eat meat for ethical reasons not health reasons so there's your answer. Additionally, it is just more polite not to require an explanation for the same reason you are not required to explain why you put so much butter on your potatoes. It is tiresome.

2. Don't worry about the protein: People, adults especially, like to tell vegetarians they won't get enough protein if they don't eat meat. This is a big fat myth. The American diet is loaded with protein. If you eat an egg for breakfast, a piece of cheese for lunch, and some beans for dinner you have just had more protein than most of the world has in a week.

3. Don't worry about what to feed a vegetarian: Hostesses often stress over this, "But what does she eat!" Umm, let's review...EVERYTHING but meat. You do not need to make a tofu turkey or anything, she'll eat the veggies and rolls thank you. But what about her protein, you will ask--no worries, she's only eating one meal at your house, she already got her daily protein (see above).

4. Do not say "You don't eat meat? Not even chicken?": Really people, this one is pretty simple--she does not eat animals. Yes, fish and chicken are animals. If you TRULY don't get this one, a basic biology class may be in order.

5. Do not try to convert her back: She will not give YOU a lecture for eating meat (though she could) so do not give her one for abstaining. 

Well, there you have it--the basics on how to politely communicate with a vegetarian. She is a friend to all animals, healthier than us, and a better steward of the earth's resources (the quantity of grain and water needed to raise one cow is crazy).

So if you sit next to a vegetarian on Thursday, instead of rolling your eyes or asking "Why?" just smile and say, "Good for you! and HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO US ALL!!"

Sunday, August 18, 2013

AS THE NEST EMPTIES


These two are emptying our nest next weekend.

The thing I did not realize about this whole empty nest thing is how it happens in stages over a really long period of time. Unless you have an only child of course,  but for those of us with two or more, it is not an all-or nothing prospect.  I mean, all your kids don’t just get up and move out of the house one day and you and your husband are left alone.

No. Just as you did not fill the nest all at once you do not empty the nest all at once either.

And just as each child changed the dynamics and the nature of your household when you brought him or her home from the hospital, the same thing will happen as each one moves out to whatever is beyond life at home full-time.

Left behind will be a new, changed family.

The more kids you start out with on the front end, the more new families you get to parent on the back-end.

I first noticed this last fall when Atticus left and things were different right away. For example, I could keep up with laundry for the first time in years. And if I made a girly meal with things like quinoa and kale in them, no one said, “Umm, did you make meat with that?” and when we went to restaurants and hotels we found life was a lot easier getting a table or a room for four instead of five.

I found I talked a lot more to Grace than ever before. I have to admit, Atticus had been my go to guy for conversation for some simple reasons: he was there first and when the girls came along he was the first to move to the front seat next to me as we drove through life so I just talked to him more.

This is probably typical for the oldest but it does mean the second just doesn’t get the time to talk to mom as much.

Until the oldest moves away.

With Atticus gone I was free to talk to Grace and get to know her better. I liked her very much and realized there are many upsides to emptying the nest little by little.

Also, last year for the first time she was the oldest Ludwig at school and she finally had a chance to shine as she found herself out from under the long shadow her big brother has always cast.

It was a delightful year to watch her blossom then bloom.
The same thing happened to her relationship with Lilly: with the two of them left as the only kids, they grew even closer and it was great fun to watch as they explored life as two teen girls kind of owning the place (and the car!) together.

Their new life involved a lot of Starbucks trips and clothes sharing and at first a little more squabbling than normal (because it turns out big brother also served as a buffer) but ultimately less squabbling as a new equilibrium was established.

I started thinking about how this phenomenon must affect other families in the neighborhood who surely have experienced this same thing—the ever-changing family and the affects on the left-behind sibs. Like neighbor, Carrie O., mother extraordinaire of four kids.

She has two girls close in age and then two boys close in age. So when I first met her, in the mid 90’s she had two girls and a new baby, and her house was a girly house and her girls dressed like girls from a girly house. They were rather famous for their FABULOUS giant, crisp white hair-bows and we all found it impressive because we struggled just to keep our girls’ hair combed decently, let alone adorned with a big, clean white bow.

But last year, her second daughter went off to college. And her house became a house of all boys; the kind of house where you don’t serve a lot of smoothies and I’ll bet it’s been some time since Carrie opened a drawer and found it full of white bows.

And I imagine sometimes it is weird to Carrie that she started with an all-girl house but ended up with an all-boy house.

As I said, this also affects the kids left home. I think of my friend Kelly, whose youngest, Charlie, has grown up as the youngest boy of four. He has only ever known what it’s like to be the mascot of a giant fun frat-house complete with all sporting activities and multiple trips to the ER. But some day, in the not too distant future, he will wake up and find himself not the part of a great raucous clan but—an only child! And he will remain the only child for several years. And how weird will that be?

I know Lilly is not looking forward to being an only child but here it comes. Because when the house changes next week, she will go from having been the baby for 14 years to being an only child.

Now there may be kids out there from larger families who look forward to being the only kid in the house but I have yet to meet one. Most of them are perfectly fine having run in the shadow of an older sib with little parental scrutiny. And they are not looking forward to having that cover ripped off.

Lilly dreads it.

So now, in addition to dealing with the grief –and I don’t think that is too strong of a word to describe what she will feel when Grace goes to school-- she will have to deal with the fact that her father and I look at her each night at dinner and ask her, and her alone, what happened at school that day. And there will be no one else to answer that question.

This past week, we were up at my parents’ home in Michigan for an end of summer visit. Neither Atticus nor Grace could join us so Lilly invited her best friend Lauren to come along. Now Lauren, as it turns out, is an expert at being an only child. She has been one for her entire 14 years and likes it quite a bit, thank you very much.

She even tried to help Lilly out. “Watch and learn,” she said. “I’ve been doing this a long time and I am going to teach you how to do it.” She tried to show Lilly the fine art of eavesdropping on the adults during cocktail hour. But man, Lilly had no game at all.

The girls sat playing Uno while we visited. I could see Lauren was half-listening but I could also see Lilly was actively NOT listening to us.

At one point, I saw Lauren’s ears pick up when we got to some juicy family gossip. Lilly continued to ignore us. I made eye contact with Lauren whose face was saying, “I know can you believe she just missed THAT?”.

After a few days of pointing out the benefits of being an only child without Lilly picking up any of it Lauren threw in the towel. “I see you have much to learn before you appreciate what you’re about to be given.”

So that’s where we are. It’s August, the nest will be two-thirds empty as of next weekend, I will be the parent of an only child for the first time, and Lilly is not even trying to embrace her impending only-childhood.

But just as we found much of the upside as the nest emptied of our first, I hope to find the upside of having Lilly as an only child.

And I know that some day, Charlie will also find much to love about at last being the center of his parents’ universe. Most of the time.

Best of luck to us all this month as many of our nests empty a little or a lot.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

MOMS AND JASON BOURNE SKILLS

Remember, special agent mom, never say yes to candy at the check-out counter. 

Jeff LOVES Matt Damon.  Well, who doesn't love Matt Damon? But he has a total man-crush on him and and admires Matt's considerable on-screen skills at evading the bad guys when he is playing Jason Bourne.

(Real quick, in case you do not know, Jason Bourne is like James Bond only he has amnesia so he does not even KNOW who the bad guy is at any given moment!)

Anyhoo, Jeff decided while we were on vacation, that he was going to scope out new hotel rooms and lobbies and coffee shops as if HE were Jason Bourne. Then he shared this fun activity with us.

Which is why the five of us were standing in the open foyer of our hotel in Half Moon Bay in Northern California, a few weeks ago, as Jeff explained how he would escape from the second-floor atrium if he were Jason Bourne and had to evade a bad-guy. This plan involved hurdling over the balcony, bouncing off the ottoman below, and parkouring against the elevator before shooting out the back exit. 

The next morning, when Jeff and I had our coffee and pastry at a little shop around the corner, we watched as a young mom with two young children came in the store, holding the kids' hands carefully, looking over her sunglasses, and then scanning the room at the same time.

"Have you ever noticed," Jeff said, nodding his head in her direction, "how moms with little kids come into a restaurant or store and sort of scope it out like she's doing? It's, well, it's kind of like..."

"Like Jason Bourne?" I finished. Oh yeah, I have noticed that before because:  That's. What. Good. Moms. Do. 

We watched her order, pay, get the necessary napkins and stirrers, dispense the food, and calmly exit through the side door with no fuss. She was quiet, not one of those loud, self-narrarating, talking in the third-person moms (what is up with that anyway?). In short, she was as cool as, well as an international spy on a special ops mission.

Afterwards, I spent much of the day thinking of all the ways she was like an international spy and I came up with this list of what Jason Bourne and effective moms have in common when going out to eat or shop. If you think of more, let me know.

1. You must be willing to abort the mission at ANY time: That's right. You may be Jason Bourne or a young mom but the number one rule of survival is that if something, anything goes amiss, you have to be willing to leave before the mission is accomplished.

It does not matter if you just traveled to Moscow in a van from Bucharest with that spy girl you met and have not eaten since Slovenia or you just traveled fifteen minutes from home in the mini-van after waiting almost 24 hours for that first sip of your perfect latte--if you spot a guy in the corner with a watch-cap pulled over his eye who looks like former KGB or if one of your kids is about to have a melt-down because you did not time breakfast just right--TOO BAD for you. 

CODE RED CODE RED LEAVE THE PREMISES LEAVE NOW, I REPEAT LEAVE NOW

For Jason, it is a matter of life and death. For the young mother it is a little more important.

Because when you are on a mission out in the real world with kids you are not just trying to get to the store and get something and avoid being embarrassed but you are trying to parent on top of it all. Jason just has to stay alive.


My friend Mary W.B. taught me this lesson early on and it proved invaluable. She made her point by telling a story of an incident that had happened to her (this was many years ago: her kids are in college now). 

She had schemed for weeks to get out of the house with her tots and meet another mom and her kids for lunch at Applebees. As soon as they got there, one of her kids starting having a fit about something he wanted on the menu. Mary warned him once to knock it off or they would leave. He did not. He gambled that his mom was hungry enough and wanted to visit with her friend enough that she'd cave in and he'd get what he wanted.

Well, he picked the wrong mom. She DID want to visit with her friend. And she WAS hungry, but when he acted up again, she calmly put money on the table to cover the drinks, apologized to her friend, scooped up the kids and left. Everyone got peanut butter and jelly for lunch at home that day. 

And that never happened to her again.

Mary told that story, then looked around and said, "Remember, you have to be willing to leave at any time, otherwise they have the upper hand." She looked like she knew what she was talking about and I took note. And she's right, if you employ this tactic you will permanently disarm your terrorist. If you give in even once, you've put the weapon back in his hand.

Not even Jason Bourne has that kind of power.

2. Know where the bathroom is: Moms need to know where the bathrooms are for obvious reasons. But it isn't enough to know where it is--you also need to know if all the children with you will fit in the bathroom (if the kids are all very young) and if you do need to use the opposite sex bathroom (if the kids are a bit older but not old enough to go alone) how that is going to go down. 

Mom also needs to be able to go the bathroom herself while balancing any non-walking children on her lap and corralling the other kids in the stall, and she needs to figure out what can be used as a changing table if there isn't one available.

Jason Bourne needs to know where the bathroom is because the tiny window in that room is ALWAYS the ONLY way Jason will escape if the other exits are blocked.

It's possible Jason Bourne has the easier job here.

3. Spot the two or three areas of potential danger: While Jason Bourne is figuring out if there is an assassin behind the potted plant or a barista with poison, mom has her own issues to deal with. Is one of the kids what we call a toucher? The kid who has to touch everything? A clumsy toucher? Worse combo ever....quickly, she must get between her and that display of coffee mugs. Is one a curious dissembler--he likes to take things apart for fun? She must immediately get between him and the espresso machines for sale.

Young mom also knows to head all children off in front of the treat case by "selling" what they CAN have never what they CAN'T "Here's a nice muffin or fruit plate, which do you prefer?" as she keeps her gaze away from the cake-pop.

Meanwhile, Jason has figured out it's safe to go ahead and order an espresso. Or not.

4. Spot the two or three things that will serve as a distraction if needed: The flip side of  distracting a small child (or the leader of a terrorist cell) from trouble is to find something constructive to amuse them with first. 

This is why Jason Bourne always leads with a charm defense by chatting up or flirting with the spy before going for a throat punch. Much easier. 

The young mom sees quickly that the stir sticks make an awesome game of pickup sticks. Drinking little cups of creamer is a dream come true for most toddlers. And those toys for sale that the coffee shop manager has diabolically put on the bottom shelf at kid level--well you can just explain they are "not for sale because they live in the store and are to visit with". 

Distraction is great and here young mom does have an easier job than Jason Bourne because secret spies are seldom distracted by the flip-side of a paper placemat and a pile of crayons.

These are just some of the things that come to mind. There is probably a whole essay to be written on how Jason Bourne and young mothers keep enough clothing on hand at all times to completely change a disguise or a toddler's outfit after a total pull-up blow out.

My young mom days are long gone but I admire watching the new recruits as they learn and bring their own experience to the job.

So if you're new to the mom as black ops agent, please know I am like "M" (sorry, that is a James Bond reference but you get the idea) and I am watching and admiring your mad secret spy skills.

Monday, July 08, 2013

DISORIENTING

College orientation--for the parents--seems to vary greatly from school to school. After asking around I have heard everything from a parent who did not even know she was invited to orientation (her son's doing) to parents who go, stay in the dorm, attend a sample class, play quarter bounce with their underage kids and try to pledge a sorority. (All of that last one is true but the sorority).

Somewhere between these extremes lies my own experience now with two very different schools.

The Art Institute had a day of activity for the parents that mostly consisted of telling us how fabulous our artistic children are and that we were NOT crazy for paying for them to attend art school during the end of a depression. You can appreciate this is not an easy task for them but they were impressive and at one point I think they got the whole room to shout "The world needs more art not more lawyers" or some such nonsense that I actually believed for a second. 

That was last summer. 

This summer it was time for Grace to attend an overnight student/parent orientation at Valparaiso and we were invited.

I have to admit right here, I am not a fan of orientations. Anyones. Mine or my kids. Kindergarten through college. Don't like em. (And I actually ran the kindergarten one for a couple years).

Too much talking not enough information. Too many nervous parents spilling their fear all over me. Ick. Stop. I barely have it together myself without you raising things to worry about I never even considered!

But we go.

And there is ALWAYS "that woman" sitting behind me. I think she has followed me from Kindergarten orientation to college orientation. I mean this metaphorically, not literally. It is not the same exact woman but someone of her ilk.

You know the one. She is the one who will ask a question that is really a way to brag about her kid. She will frequently ask about the gifted program--when do they get tested? Does it extend into middle school? 

In kindergarten she said, "My son already reads 'Harry Potter' books. What will he do all day?" 

Sheesh.

The teacher was not new and blithely answered, "We have a lot of children who read Harry Potter books and beyond. And we have many who do not know their ABCs. I teach them all." We almost applauded her.

At Valpo, "that woman" sat behind me (by the way this is always a woman, I don't know why, but the dads don't ask this stuff) who wanted to know if her daughter's AP credits would count and how that worked. She asked THREE specific questions related to her daughter's AP classes and something called IB (this is apparently an Indiana thing, not a stomach disorder) and this was in a lecture of over a hundred people. Apparently, she thought it was a private counseling session and we were spectators.


I mentioned "that woman" at a neighborhood grad party recently. Everyone laughed because everyone has heard these "questions". One of the dads (who ironically has a brilliant child he COULD brag about but never does) said that at the "What to expect when your kid goes to college" seminar "that woman" asked the following: "My son never studies and has terrible organizational skills but he always gets all A's. How will he do in college?"

The lecturer should have just said, "Shut up." 


Instead, he gamely tried to answer. I think it would be fun if he called her out on it and said, "Is this a real question or did you just want the chance to tell us your kid gets all A's without studying?"

Anyhoo, despite the questions from "that woman" the orientation was quite nice. We learned a few things and as is our norm, we skipped out early. This is our MO since we attended our first Lamaze class. The teacher went through the basics of childbirth (some details left me with my head between my knees) and then announced we would have a break. After the break, she said, the men will go in one room and the women will go in another and we will talk about our feelings. 
Jeff and I exchanged horrified glances, and without saying a word, left as soon as the instructor excused us for our break.

So after sitting through orientation lectures on Friday from 9 til 3 (and 5 more hours scheduled!) we skipped out and went back to the hotel.

This gave me the chance to have a mini-nervous breakdown about the fact that my daughter is leaving in the fall. Jeff helpfully suggested that getting a jump on my grief might make it easier in the fall, but I kind of doubt it.

So that's how orientation went for us. Grace got to meet her roommate for the first time, I got to get in an early cry, and we all got to hear about "that woman's" daughter who, if I understand it right, has enough credits going into college to skip to grad school.


As for how this compares to our own college orientation programs...well just like the whole process, I don't really remember my parents there at all. Were they even invited? One friend said she drove herself there. I think I might have too. I don't remember much about it except I thought everyone there was an arrogant ass and I had made a huge mistake choosing that school and cried myself to sleep in South Quad. Six weeks later I met the group of friends I still see annually. 

If you are attending a college orientation this summer I hope you have fun and be sure to say hi to "that woman" as she will surely sit behind you too.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

JUST FAKE THE DRIVING LOG

Lilly had her first drivers ed class on Monday and on the way home she asked if she could stop and drive for the first time. I said sure, and we went up to the high school parking lot which was empty and I let her practice accelerating and stopping.


She is my third child so this is the third time I've had the honor of driving with a young person for THE VERY FIRST TIME! This is no small rite of passage, especially in our car-centric society. Just remember how excited you were to finally drive, the doors it opened, the freedom it provided. It's a big deal and I was just happy and honored to be the one who got to share that moment with her.

Except.

I had forgotten the kind of lose-control-of-your-bodily-function inducing fear this "honor" can provoke.

I mean, for god's sake, she kept saying "Is this the 'go pedal' or the 'stop pedal'?" 

No. I really don't like driving with anyone who does not yet know how to drive. Nobody does.

And now, for the love of God, the state requires we drive with these people a minimum of fifty hours before allowing them to even test for their license. Really? And ten of those hours are supposed to be after dark, when I am already in my pajamas.

Who does this? 

Now, unlike the reading log which I confessed to faking, I will not confess to faking the driving log. Because that is against the law. And that has serious ramifications and surely someone will know of an inexperienced driver who came to great ill and they will send me hate mail. So I would never, ever suggest that you fake the driving log.

However, just theoretically, I am suggesting that maybe, not everyone drives the full fifty hours before they get their license. It is possible.

When we went to get Grace's license, we realized we had "forgotten" to log many of the final hours. Now, I knew from when I took Atticus that they "require" this log, but they don't actually ask to see it. So I assured Grace we did not need it. But she panicked and wanted to fill it out right there in the DMV parking lot. I think this is like emptying the bullets from the murder weapon just before going in to the courthouse.

Turns out it is very difficult to "recall" all the trips you have taken and we had a difficult time filling in the form. "For god's sake just make up some dates and times and say we drove to Grandma's" I helpfully suggested. 

Even this was hard, "Wait," I said, as I gave it a quick look-see, "who can believe we drove to Grandma's on a Monday morning in two hours but drove back the next day for six hours? And it took you an hour and half to drive to Dairy Bar?" But of course, as I predicted, they didn't even glance at the driving log when we went in to get the license.

Fifty hours. Around here, most of the trips we take are ten to twenty minutes. So if you break that down, well, you do the math. I think that means you have to let your kid drive every day for like the next twenty years. 

And I know a neighbor with 15-year-old quadruplets. What the hell is she supposed to do? Drive around with a teenaged chaffeur full-time for the next six months? There really isn't enough Xanax in the world.

And while I applaud the effort behind this law, (it makes perfect sense to make them practice a lot before they get their license) I just question how helpful it is to have a parent next to you for that long, clutching the dashboard and gritting her teeth trying to stay calm as you jump another curb or barely misses another garbage can.

You see, it turns out, when you first learn to drive you are VERY nervous about oncoming traffic so you tend  to hug the right side of the road. Which is where the nervous parent sits, constantly seeing you are about to drop off the side of the road or hit a pedestrian. 

When Atticus was taking lessons, I mentioned this to my friend Jan asking if her son ever drove too close to the side to which she simply answered, "Mailbox, mailbox, mailbox, MAILBOX!!" I guess that's a yes.

It's enough to drive us to subterfuge to move the process along. Like my friend "Mona" who DID do fifty hours with each of her kids but then confessed that after having a very difficult time getting child number 3 signed up for enough driving lessons realized child number 3 had a conflict she could not get out of. Knowing this put her at risk of not getting the lessons done in the alotted time and aware it was nearly impossible to reschedule, she did what any resourceful mom would do....she sent child number 2 (they look a lot alike, everyone mixes them up) to do the driving time disguised as child 3. I wonder if the instructor was curious at all as to why this kid looked so much more mature and drove so much better than she had the week before.

See what these ridiculous requirements drive us to? Pun. Ha ha.

And how does this compare to how we learned to drive? How many hours were we required to drive with our parents? Umm, well, let me see, add these numbers and then carry the one, oh yeah, NONE!

That's right folks. We took the class, we waited six months or whatever it was and then we went for the exam. I don't remember driving more than half a dozen times with my mom in the car.

However, I DO remember once before I had my license when trying to back out of the garage I accidentally left the car in drive and nearly rammed our mint green Ford LTD through the back wall of the garage. 

It scared the beejesus out of me but not my mom.

She wasn't in the car.


Thursday, May 23, 2013

SEASON OF DECEIT

It's May, I have a senior in high school, and EVERYTHING happens this month. Concerts, end-of-year banquets, the award ceremony, Prom, Senior Ditch Day, Graduation, and for our family-- both girls' birthdays.

For me, my main job in all of this, appears to be lying.

First, the girls asked me if they could skip PE (first period for both of them) to go out to breakfast on Lilly's birthday. Now here I should mention, (which is code for I will try to explain my bad behavior) this is the ONLY year the girls have been in the same school. They are very, very close, and they are not looking forward to their impending separation.

So I decided sure, why not. They can miss PE and make a memory for a lifetime.

The only problem was I had to "call them out" by calling the school to excuse their late arrival.

Now I hate to lie outright so I just said the girls had "a family commitment" which is kind of true.

A few days later, Grace wanted to get called out early to get ready for prom. Now here I should mention, prom is on a Friday night.  So really, how can a girl get ready if she waits until after school to start that process (never mind that the entire girls' soccer team managed to win regionals, get their trophy and still make it to prom looking ravishing--the rest of the class needed hours to get ready).

Since I hate to lie outright, this time I said, "Grace has to leave early. She has a doctor's appointment to get her hair done for prom."

Next up, you guessed it, Senior Ditch Day. Now here I should mention, even I, the biggest goody-two-shoes in the world partook in Senior Ditch Day (but I think we called it Senior Skip Day). Never mind, I see no harm in this either. The school year is SO done by now for the Seniors it is time to put a fork in it. She would miss nothing, she has all A's, so I agreed.

And since I hate to lie outright, I called the attendance office and said "Grace can't come to school today because she has to see the doctor about a bad case of Senioritis.

I am relieved to say that I do not have to lie anymore to the school. This year.

But tomorrow morning I have to come up with a lie because I am supposed to leave the house before Grace to attend the Awards Ceremony and for some reason, the school asks that we keep this a secret from the kids. I NEVER leave the house before the girls so--yes --I have to come up with a lie to tell Grace about why I'm leaving the house so early.

I'm thinking of telling Grace I have to go to the doctor to be seen for a bad case of sociopathic lying.

At least that would be partly true.

I hope you are enjoying the Merry Month of May and that you haven't had to lie too much.

Monday, May 13, 2013

MOVING OUT OF THE DORM


Because my friends are such competent, capable, graceful handlers of complicated logistics, they seldom make a fuss over achieving something herculean and difficult like moving a kid out of a college dorm. No, I have never heard any of them really discuss in detail how much of a pain in the ass this process can be.

Like my friend Ann, who mentions oh so casually that she will be flying to Dallas, renting a van, dissembling a loft, finding a storage space for her daughter's belongings, packing up the clothes and flying home with her this weekend. She does not complain and makes it sound like anyone could pull this off in a weekend, no problema.

So I went blindly and foolishly to pick up Atticus from his dorm in the city on Friday. How hard could that be?  I didn't have to fly anywhere or rent anything. Just drive down, fill up the car and drive home. Jeff offered to come help fill the car, then go in to work and take the train home. Even better! Easy peasy!

But when we got there, it turned out, nothing was easy or peasy.

I did not have ID on me (left it in the car, around the block in the parking garage) so the security guard at the front desk was pissed at me.

Atticus had lost his ID and his room-key the night before which meant he had not yet really gotten the administrative part of the moving process moving.

After looking through his stuff for half an hour we decided to give up on finding the key and ID and figure out how to move out without it. Think fees.

Now there was a waiting list for the moving bins so we began to move the crap ourselves by hand.

Three times we loaded ourselves up like Sherpas, waited forever for the elevator (he lives on the 15th floor) carried the stuff through the alley, past the three trucks and the forklift that were being used to load the entire set of the play "Big Fish" from the Oriental Theater that backs up to his dorm and the six smoking stage-crew guys, into the parking garage up eight flights (by elevator) and tried to cram it all in to Jeff's Lexus.

The fourth trip we scored a dolly and managed to put everything leftover on it. We cleaned up, Atticus met with the RA, discussed the fees due when one loses his key and ID on move out day and were good to go.

We pushed the elevator button and miraculously it opened up almost immediately.

Then the fire alarm went off.

Now as any good city boy knows, you do NOT get on an elevator when the fire alarm goes off. Atticus told us to drop everything and head down stairs. Which I did. At the 9th floor I realized Jeff was not with us. He texted: It's a false alarm I am staying here. Elevators working, come back up.

So Atticus and I turned around and trudged back up several floors.

Then the nice men from the Chicago Fire Department came running past us in full gear with their axes out.

We texted Jeff to get his ass out and headed back down a dozen flights with a gaggle of art students.

Standing around outside we watched the Fire Department come and go with little urgency. The kids speculated it was another kitchen fire. The guy from Channel 7 (their studio is right there) came out and tried see if there was a story.

At last they let us all back in. We lined up obediently to wait for the elevators. A lot of the kids took the stairs. A small group took cuts. Atticus told us later they are from the Arab Emirates, royalty, and don't ever stand in line. Hmm.

Another half hour went by and we finally found ourselves with our last load at the car.

It became apparent that this final load was not going to fit.

"It will fit if there is only a driver," Jeff said.

So we gave Atticus a train pass, Jeff went back to work, and I drove the loaded car home by myself.

Which is how I managed to come home from my first time of moving my kid out of the dorm without one key element--my kid.

Ann on the other hand did just fine and even managed to buy some kitchen stuff for next year. She of course made it sound easy. Which I am quite sure it was not.


Friday, April 26, 2013

COLLEGE VISITS

It is official, child number two, Grace, has decided to attend Valparaiso University. She will be studying Choral Music Education so she can be a high school choir teacher.

Now to get in to a good Music Education program you have to audition--as in sing opera-y type songs in Italian and German and stuff. Luckily, Grace actually knows how to do that but I have to admit, until this year, I had NO idea our choir teachers were so gifted.

Anyhoo, now that she knows where she's going my fun has ended for a while because I don't get to do any college visits until Lilly goes in 2015 and frankly, she's so sick of being dragged along to some of the visits, she is threatening not to go to college.

Which would be a shame because it turns out, I really, really liked the college visits. What's not to like about a road-trip with one (or more) of your kids who are at an age when you barely see them let alone TALK to them?  I loved it all and consider it a perk of parenting.

Between March of 2011 and February 2013, first with Atticus, next with Grace, I visited more than a dozen colleges. Some of those were quick, informal drive-bys, but most were official visits. And since I am the only one in the family who went on ALL those trips, I am kind of the expert here.

Which makes me qualified to write one of my "what to expect" essays. So here goes:

Nail down a date for the visit: Good luck with this one. I am not sure there is anyone on earth busier than a high-school Junior unless that is a high-school Senior. But sometime between dances, concerts, school plays, exams, practices, and lessons you might find a day or two for a college visit. If you have to pull your kid from school to do this, surely the teachers will understand and be sympathetic, right? Wrong. They do not care why your student is missing school, they just hate it and will try to make your stressed out kid a little more stressed out.

This means you will make several of the college visits in the summer. Sounds nice but of course, who knows what a school really looks like without students? So you will probably end up having to come back during the year anyway. At least that will only be for the one or two schools that make the final cut.

Ask your student to register for a visit: If you have a slacker-child, skip this step and do it yourself. Really. If you have a responsible kid, this is not a big deal. I am speaking from experience.

Fly or drive to your destination and spend the night there so you will have plenty of time in the morning to get to find the Admissions Office: No matter how many times you do this, no matter how early you leave your hotel (or your home) no matter how many maps you have printed from the internet, you will somehow still be late for your campus tour. 

Except for the final visit when you FINALLY realize you not only have to get near the campus you have to drive around it repeatedly the night before until you are sure you can re-create the route in the morning. 

If you are traveling from home do not try to make up any lost time by speeding on the Tollway because you will get a ticket and then your child will really panic as she is being made late for her singing audition while the nice officer writes out your ticket and you will lose a day of your life when you have to go to the Daley Center to traffic court to get your license back. I mean, not that it happened to me, but it could.

Show up late for the campus tour: You would think it is not a big deal to be 10 to 15 minutes late for a campus tour. As a margin of error, it seems quite small when you consider the 24 or more hours you spent trying to get there. But It kind of is a big deal. Especially for your non-slacker child who hates to be late for anything. 


Your slacker will shrug it off and even laugh as you run back and forth between the parking structure and wherever it is they make you go to get the parking voucher (this is never the same in any of the schools and it's not clear at all when it matters or not and when you might get ticketed or towed but you will be a little paranoid if you went to school in Ann Arbor where ticketing and towing visitors is a municipal sport.)

Join the group wherever they may be: Sometimes they are still milling around over the coffee and donuts and sometimes they are already in the middle of the quad. No worries, you really can't miss a crowd of adorable (if anxious) high school kids, their dumpy (and soon to be poor) parents, led by an overly-eager college kid dressed in school colors and talking animatedly while walking backwards.

Take the tour: You will see lots and lots of buildings (which don't really tell you much about the quality of education do they?) and one sample dorm room (most of which are pretty much the same as when you went to school), and be invited to eat in the cafeteria (that  is not exactly fine dining but is SO much better than where you ate during your college years that you will start to get resentful) and the fitness center (ditto).

Ask your questions: You will get surprisingly candid answers sometimes even though you are asking people who are supposed to be selling their school. My two favorite were the weary financial advisor at one small conservatory-type college in Ohio who pretty much told us there was no money for our kids unless they were quite poor, and the K-College professor of photography who more or less said there was no reason he knew of why someone would want to pursue a career in photography.  In both cases, I am fairly certain these gentlemen had smoked something semi-legal before meeting with us.

Feel nostalgic and resentful: You are only human if being on campus (your own or anyone else's) brings back vivid and fond memories of your years at the old ivy-covered alma mater. However, you will quickly remember too that nearly every vivid memory involves boys or alcohol or both. Even if the boy in your memory is now the father of the very child you are with, resist the temptation to share ANY of those stories. The last person on the face of the earth who wants to hear about your college escapades is your own child (or perhaps your mother). So zip it and share it later with your hubby.

And finally, let the bitterness go: You may feel some regret or resentment that your child actually has a plethora of colleges to choose from. Some of which look like a whole lot more fun or a better fit than where you went. Let this go. It was the 70s and no on was taking college visits (unless you were a Kennedy). Most of my peers have shared that their first "college visit" was something called "freshmen orientation."  
And we all turned out just fine.

If you have the privilege of taking a child to college visits, I hope you have as much fun as we have. And remember, don't speed on the Tollway, and don't talk about that game of quarters at Dooley's and you'll do just fine.



Friday, April 12, 2013

THAT NEARLY EMPTY NEST

Text from my neighbor:

Just watching "The Middle"  
Is it us?

It was funny to get that text last night because I happened to be watching "The Middle" at the same time and it wasn't even on right then: both of us were watching it a day late on our DVR.

I also happened to be thinking the same thing.

For those of you who don't watch the show, it is a family sit-com starring Patricia Heaton as a mom in "The Middle" meaning the mid-west but it could also mean the middle years. It is uncannily accurate in the portrayal of a 50 ish mom.

In this episode, her character, Frankie, was trying to get a job and the employers kept asking her "So who IS Frankie?" which had set off an identity crisis. After 19 years of parenting three kids she was not so sure anymore. (Parenting three kids for 19 years. Why does that sound familiar?)

My neighbor is a true empty-nester--her singlet is a junior in college. I still have the girls at home--but not for long. Now that everyone is in high-school and beyond...well I haven't moved into the empty nest but I certainly need to start shopping for one.

This is a way harder time than other moms let on. Sometimes you catch a glimpse of honesty on the topic. As I re-read (for at least the tenth time) A Gift from the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh while on vacation last month, I came upon this paragraph I had not recalled, in an epilogue she had added some 20 years after first writing the essay book on parenting and marriage:

"When I wrote Gift from the Sea, I was still in the stage of life I called "the oyster bed," symbol of a spreading family and growing children. The oyster bed, as the tide of life ebbed and the children went away to school, college, marriage or careers, was left high and dry. A most uncomfortable stage followed not sufficiently anticipated and barely hinted at in my book. In bleak honesty it can only be called "the abandoned shell." Plenty of solitude, and sudden panic at how to fill it, characterize this period. With me, it was not a question of simply filling up the space or time. I had many activities and even a well-established vocation to pursue. But when a mother is left, the lone hub of a wheel, with no other lives revolving about her, she faces a total re-orientation. It takes time to re-find the center of gravity."

Many of you have careers outside the home so perhaps do not feel quite so lost or lost at all. For those of us fortunate enough to make the choice to be stay-at-home moms, well, I feel like the reverse of that t-shirt that said "Oops, I forgot to have babies"! Mine could say, "Oops, I forgot to go back to work".

So now what? For many of us, age, health concerns, and ailing parents, not to mention a job market that is not exactly looking for a woman who hasn't worked in 20 years, keeps us from readily re-entering that world.

Many will overcome those obstacles; many already have.

I don't know what's next. Like Frankie Heck, I don't know quite how to answer that question, "So who IS Judy."

But at least I know I am not doing it alone. Because if my neighbor feels that way, and the writers of "The Middle" know it, and Anne Morrow Lindbergh in 1975 wrote about it....it's pretty universal.

Best wishes to us all as we seek to "re-find the center of gravity."



Monday, April 01, 2013

SHOPPING FOR BIG BROTHER

My fashion plate. Notice, no winter coat but it was very cold that day.
Yesterday Atticus (who was home for Easter) spent most of the day in his boxer shorts. He did put pants on when Grace's boyfriend, Billy came in. I said, "Hey maybe even a shirt?" and he glanced down at the pile of clothing on the floor and said, "Oh, yeah, here's a shirt."

I should mention the pants he did put on were pajama bottoms my mom made him for Christmas because he prefers a sort of lounge-wear look.

Later, as we set the table for Easter dinner he said, "I think I'll put regular pants on," and went upstairs to change into jeans. He did this on his own. So proud of my big boy.

His baby sister commented, "Hey, you're wearing big-boy pants. They look good. Did I pick those out for you?"

"Yep."

To say my son does not care about clothing is clearly an understatement. There was, as you may recall, the unfortunate 7th grade incident in which he accidentally wore his sister's jeans to school. Perhaps that is why he prefers pajama bottoms now. Yes, that's it--it's not that he's a lazy slob--it's because he suffers from PTSD. And there's the fact that he doesn't wear (or even own anymore, I stopped buying them) a winter coat despite the fact that he goes to college in downtown Chicago but that perhaps is another blog altogether.

Anyhoo, over Christmas break I asked his sisters to take him shopping. "Buy him some new jeans and maybe a shirt that is NOT a black t-shirt with an ironic saying."

The girls leaped at the chance to play "What Not to Wear" (which is our FAVORITE show) and one afternoon, when I was not feeling well, they grabbed the credit card and their brother and took off to the mall.

While they were gone I got a frantic text from Grace, "He has NO idea what he's doing. He does not even know how a dressing room works." Hmm, maybe all those years I ran into Kohl's and grabbed two pairs of jeans and three new shirts for him while he was at school did not serve him well in the real world. For him, that was the extent of his "back-to-school" shopping.

They came home successful. The girls proudly showed me their acquisitions. Two pairs of jeans that were actually in fashion (as opposed to the carpenter jeans he's been wearing for four years), a few nice shirts and even a cardigan sweater.

Then they showed me the two tops they had bought themselves as a "reward" for their trouble. Ahem. I had to reiterate the house rule that all unauthorized purchases must be returned or mom must be reimbursed.

It was a full month later I got Atticus's version of events. He told me his sisters were ruthless and even--get this-- MADE HIM TRY THE CLOTHES ON! The nerve. He begged them not to try anything on but then, as he tells it, "Grace got those crazy eyes and said Mom would not pay for anything if I didn't try them on. You know I do anything she says when she gets like that."

God bless Grace and her crazy eyes. If you know her well you've seen them. Wonder if Billy has seen those yet?

I digress. The point is, well as usual there is no real point, it's just funny but let's say the point is this--when you have kids it's fun to get the ones who like to do something to make the one who doesn't like do something do it. (Ha ha, I can just see Laurent my English as a second language friend puzzling over that awful sentence). Then you can just lie on the couch until you feel better.

And in the end, you might have someone who voluntarily changes from pajamas to jeans for a semi-formal dinner.

Baby steps.

Monday, March 18, 2013

TURNABOUT AND THE PHOTO SHOOT


Saturday Lilly went to the Turnabout Dance in Glenview. That is the dance where the girls ask the boys. We called it Sadie Hawkins where I grew up but it's just another reason to have a formal dance and that's all good.

There are a lot of customs and rituals to follow for THE BIG DANCE and I realized that between our three kids and all the high school dances this was the 13th time around for Jeff and me which one might think makes us kind of experts.

I will share how things usually go from the parents' point of view.

1. For weeks before the big dance there will be much drama about who asked whom and who said yes and how the boy was asked. If you have a girl you will hear about this ad nauseum until your ears bleed. If you have a boy you will not even know there is a dance until just a few days before when he announces he needs a sport coat and a corsage.

2. There will be more drama as your girl searches for the perfect dress, shoes, and hairstyle. If you have a boy there will be much drama as you try to drag his dis-interested ass to the store and get him to try on a sport coat.

If you are lucky, your girl will agree to wear a dress already in the house from previous events or siblings. Just make sure the dress still fits, as in covers all her parts sufficiently. Trust me on this one--this is a mistake anyone can make--even if this is not their first time around.


3. For Turnabout the girls do the planning. Actually, they do the planning for all the dances. If done properly, this will involve restaurant reservations and spreadsheets to figure out who is driving whom (or a party bus ordered).

A wise mom (Carrie O) advised me early on NOT to get involved in any of this process. A bossy girl always takes care of this.

This is excellent advice. Just make sure your daughter did not volunteer to organize rides but did not actually do that and you don't find out until the picture-taking when a mom asks you for the driving schedule that your daughter did (but didn't really). Trust me, this could happen to anyone, even if they've done this a few times.

4. Picture-taking: This is where you go to someone's house or a public venue (like the Park District lobby) so you can take pictures of the 20 or so kids in your kid's group. You will only know one or two of the kids and one or two of the parents.

There is a lot of energy as everyone is anxious, looking around to see if they are properly dressed, and hoping to fit in. The kids are a little nervous too.

You will take a picture of your kid and his/her date as they try to figure out how to put a wrist corsage on or worse pin one on a lapel. Mom will end up pinning the corsage.

If you are lucky, the mother hosting the picture-taking assumes the role of assembling the kids for pictures. If you are unlucky no one will assume this roll and you will stand around a lot until a bossy girl takes over.

If you are really unlucky, the mom-host will see the entire evening as a photo-shoot followed by that annoying dinner and dance. After about 20 minutes of this nonsense (we remember one in particular where the girls were asked to jump up and down, now dance crazy, now put your hands like a train...you get the idea) feel free to leave.

You will take several pictures of your kid and his/her date as they stand awkwardly together because most of them go as "just friends".

Then you are obliged to take a group shot of all the girls. This takes forever as they come up with ridiculous formations to show off their finery.

Finally someone wil have all the kids line up.

At some point you will take a picture or two of the boys altogether. Or not.

You will post one or two of these on Facebook. The rest you will delete.

5. And finally: You and your husband will go for a much-deserved cocktail and discuss how grown up the girls looked and how lost the boys looked. You will note which girl was dressed most inappropriately --as in not proper coverage--and hopefully it will not be your own daughter. But I am not saying that will always be the case, even if you are a veteran.

So that's pretty much how it goes. And even when you think you sort of understand how it goes, things can go awry. Which is true of all great parenting ventures so why would this be any different?

If you got to be a part of this fun ritual last week, I hope you had as much fun as we did. The kids? Oh yeah, I think they had fun too.