Tag Archives: Parenting

All Hail the King

beds

My local friends witness my frenetic lifestyle firsthand, specifically, that my husband’s consulting job takes him out of state for three weeks each month.  With the exception of weekends when he’s home, I have become adept at managing our homestead — and the people in it —  in his absence.

Given the fact my youngest is eleven and can (kinda sorta) wipe his own behind, this is not an absurdly impossible feat.  At least most of the time.

Nine parent teacher conferences in one night?  No sweat.

Sports practices every evening?  Got it.

Haircuts, homework, doctors, dentists and an occasional nightly meal?  Supermom, present.

I’ll even see you volunteering as a CCD teacher and raise you lunch money to boot. No problem.

So it was with mild amusement (and perhaps teeny hidden contempt) that I would listen to my darling spouse talk over the phone lines about all his free time.  With nobody to worry about but himself for 4-5 days, he was eating healthier, running more, keeping his recent weight-loss off.  All good.  Excellent, actually.

That’s great sweetie, I’d coo, before washing down the last of my Pop tart (dinner) with some Pinot (dessert).

Grrrrrrr……

Now, let’s be real here.  I have rolled my eyes at this unbalanced lifestyle before — even (shockingly) written about it -– but I really do keep the matter light.  As difficult as my days and night seem at times, I know his life out of a suitcase isn’t always fine wines and turn down service.  (Rather, it better not be.  Enter psycho wife if that ever surfaced…)

He works extremely hard and spends countless hours waiting in airports, missing important family occasions and playing catch-up on the days he’s finally home.  It’s not easy, I will admit.

So imagine my surprise when my Traveling Wilbury arrived home one weekend and declared that our queen-size mattress was unacceptable and most intolerable and immediately had to be replaced with a king.  Apparently after months of sleeping in hotels, he had stumbled onto the Holy Grail of wellness:  in addition to healing his aching back, ailing knee and other middle-aged irritations, a bigger mattress would surely help him sleep better because well, he sleeps just great while away.

Diva Dad had spoken.  I believe my Facebook status for that day read, “Sorry about Christmas, kids.  Take all complaints to the big guy…”

Despite the fact we are not fancy people (point made by the bulky 19-inch television relic that’s still kicking in our bedroom), I shrugged and said sure.  The practical side of me could list a slew of reasons why it made sense and the frugal side of me had a slew of coupons to rely on when it came time to pick out bedding.

So after nearly a quarter of a century inhaling each other’s less-than amorous sleep aromas … we have upgraded to an additional sixteen inches of slumbered bliss.

My husband & I will celebrate our 22ndwedding anniversary in a few months.  Sometimes we do things really, really badly.

Like the happy-hour-induced-hole in the sheetrock in my college apartment?  Probably not our finest moment.

Or the humiliating $500 pyramid scheme bandwagon we jumped into in 1992?  Seriously….. what dummies.

Even the two interstate moves in ten months (four kids in tow) for an oops career move?  (Hindsight, that actually turned out pretty damn good in the long run but truth:  who does that???)

But every once in a while we get something right.

The king-sized mattress is one of these times.  Raising children in an environment where the Family Bed has been frowned upon?   Definitely another one.

The best part:  I’m only sharing it a portion of the time.

 

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The Good, The Bad & the “Girls”

Girls_HBO_Poster

 

In my perpetual quest to remain hip I try to keep my eyes and ears open.  I sniff out emerging trends (Red jeans?  Of course!  Tucked into black boots? Hell no – Santa Alert) and admittedly, jump on a lot of late bandwagons (thank you, HBO OnDemand, for the perfection that is True Detective).

That said, after hearing my 17-year-old daughter gush over the HBO series “Girls,” a show about modern-day 20-something female friends trying to make their way in the world after college, I decided to give it a whirl.

I really didn’t care for it but she nudged me on.

I tried a few more episodes yet still got a weird, uneasy feeling in my stomach.  I told her I just wasn’t that into it.

“Maybe you’re just too old” she shrugged.

What?  Pffffft.  I think not.

Bolstered by a slew of Golden Globe nominations, I gave it yet another shot.  Still nothing.  Nary a chuckle.

I got through all 10 episodes of the entire first season and numbly thought of all the miles I could’ve clocked on my treadmill had I just gotten off the couch once in those five hours…

But I believe I’ve figured out why an undeniably hip show is eluding my undeniably hip sense of humor.

The female characters are crude.  Not in the Sex-and-the-City-Samantha-Jones cheeky kind of way but in a crass, Good-God-I-hope-my-daughter-doesn’t-do-that kind of way.

I get it.  It’s a comedy.  And I love comedy.  But the whole desensitization of really (really) private things seriously gives me the heebie jeebies.

Also, I’m not entirely convinced college educated young women are so  … I don’t know … self-loathing.  Their flippant banter about oral sex and office harassment left me wondering if young women really do talk like this. (I’m kinda hoping to hear from a few after this …   and I’m really hoping to be told I’m out to lunch.  If you’re young and hip and reading this – please check in!)

I remember feeling the exact same way when my oldest son (now a semi-grown man at 19) used to watch those man-cave scratching movies like “Knocked Up” and “Pineapple Express.”  Those movies made masturbation and getting stoned look like the epitome of hilarity.  And (worse) normalcy.  Poor, poor Seth Rogen’s mother …..

It finally dawned on me why these types of movies grate on my nerves and polarize me:  seeing these “characters” puts a face on my very vision of parental failing.  These larger than life portrayals of such flawed and unfazed youth are the stuff of my nightmares:  kids with no direction, no money, no motivation, and the worst:  no apartment of their own – Jesus Christ, they’re the scarlet letter symbolizing my utter failure as a mom.

No, no, NO!

I don’t want my kid spending his meager paycheck on weed.

And I’d rather die a thousand deaths than know my daughter was tolerating her boss’ hand on her skirt.

I honestly don’t know what I’d do – in real life – if these situations in these comedies were playing out in real time in my kids’ lives.   What I do know is that I would find it decidedly Unfunny.  (Quick aside:  for an EXTREMELY funny look at flawed — yet SUCCESSFUL — Generation X, Y, whatevers ….  check out “The Mindy Project” on FOX.  She just rocks, is all.)

So yeah, maybe I’m not as hip as I used to be.

Maybe I’m simply more scared.

Damn this parenting thing.

Signed,

Stifler’s Mother

 

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Through the Looking Glass (gulp)

babytyping

 

My daughter recently asked me to read her college essay.

 

I was honored.  She’s a stroke of brilliance, that gal is, so I was secretly delighted. I’m not a notorious helicopter parent in the least so – as it was with my oldest son – I didn’t know a thing about it.  I wasn’t even entirely certain where she was sending it either.

 

As a rule, I keep out of the whole college thing.  Really, I do.  Sure, we talk about it and have dinner discussions and car conversations and all that jazz but I hardly embed myself in the minutia that most parents do. Why?  Because I honestly believe that if a teenager cannot successfully get him/herself into college without a parent’s help, well, then perhaps they’re not quite ready for such a massive, maturity-driven endeavor. That’s just me.

 

By his senior year, my oldest son was a classic ding dong in high school.  I love him like mad but good grief, that kid held a 22-average in Math, barely got out of bed, and made me believe I spawned Satan that year.

 

It’s easy to understand why I embrace this hands-off approach:  I was so pissed at him the whole stinking year I was ready to stand with my arms crossed across my chest and gloat like a madwoman with a slew of “I told you so”s by the time graduation arrived.

 

Cue in visual of bubble popping.  It never happened.

 

Because …

 

HE, my adored ding dong …

 

got himself into college – every one he applied to – without one iota of help from me.

 

(caution, parental brag ahead:  He then went on to throw the Irony discus at me and got himself into the Air Force Reserves as well.  He graduated with honors from there and is in his freshman year at college as I type.)

 

Go figure.  Life.  Funny, right?

 

 

So here I am doing the college thing again.  Only this time I’m a wee more interested because my daughter is soooo not a ding dong,

 

I was excited to read her essay because as an AP/Honors/All-Around Super Student, hallelujah, I was due, man…. I knew it would be terrific.

 

I poured a glass of wine and started.

 

It began with the words, “My mother writes a blog.”

 

Um …..

 

 

What?

 

I took a hearty swig before continuing.

 

 

 

 

I won’t go into detail about the content except to say that when I finished, the swelling of pride in my heart equaled the shotgun-like-blast to my temple.

 

Hooooooo boy.

 

 

Think about it:  pick one person who knows you the most, can see your soul the clearest and well, let’s not sugar-coat it, alternates between loving and loathing you the fiercest.  Now ask that person to describe you.  Now ask that person to provide greater detail about those descriptions.

 

Talk about enlightening.  Have I mentioned the whole love/loathe thing?

 

If she sends this out beyond admissions offices, she will become famous.  I, in turn, will become screwed (although, perhaps immediately appealing to Chelsea Handler as well…  not too shabby).

 

I write about my life  and the people in it all the time  I tell what I believe to be humorous accounts of my family, I detail the days and the friends that make me frustrated or sad or joyous and, okay, sure, I rant about the idiot sports parents that make me furious.  I don’t really think twice about the content too much because – and here’s the Aha Moment – I assume that since what I’m writing is true … then it certainly can’t be … wrong.  Right?

 

The shoe being on the other foot was interesting indeed.

 

Truth is, I like it way better being behind the thoughts and words than in front of them.

 

(Loud?  Am I loud?  Really? Are you sure?)

 

Yikes.

 

 

Of course the piece was brilliant.

 

I never had a doubt.

 

 

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Happily Hangin’ with the Dirty Boys

ski sign

My friends already know I gave up skiing a few years ago.  It really wasn’t a stretch.  I honestly never loved it and once my youngest began to fly past my embarrassing attempt at it, I was done.  I immediately acknowledged that the role reversal of children now looking after mom on the slopes was an unnecessary irony.  (Hey now.  This admission isn’t indicative of my athleticism.  I’m fairly certain I can still execute a near-perfect cartwheel – in heels if I haven’t been drinking – so there’s no shame here.)

Still, owning a ski timeshare week in Vermont tends to keep the sport alive and well in our family whether I like it or not.

Whereas I used to take one for the team, I now take one for myself.  Actually I take more than one.  I take a few.

Minutes, of course.  Minutes of precious, evasive time.

I take some time off of work to join them.  I take some time to catch up on reading, and writing, and relaxing in a quiet condo or lodge (or, who are we kidding, Black Bear Tavern) while my family tears up the slopes and it is amazing.

Totally and unabashedly a-m-a-z-i-n-g.

Even better, I’m at the point where I have completely removed myself from the skiing process entirely:  the planning, the packing and all the procedures that go with it.  I throw some stuff in a duffle bag, shop for some snacks and basically well, show up.   Because of this, I do realize my right to eyeroll is diminished significantly for a few days.

During the ride up, when my minivan of testosterone unanimously voted on a dinner of Taco Bell with a side of KFC – even though I have been trying really, REALLY hard to cut calories —  I didn’t complain.

When the remainder of the car ride subsequently became a gaseous, toxic tsunami of unbearable proportion, I didn’t flinch.  Even when a voice from the back cried out through the hysterical laughter,   “Ewww, I think I just felt blood…”  Nope.  No Mom-reaction at all.

When, upon arrival, the entire contents of the van came spilling out onto the snowy ground the moment a kid opened the back hatch, not a snicker left my lips.  Shrug.  Wasn’t me who packed loose underwear in a laundry basket.  Wasn’t my shampoo and deodorant (and said underwear) that went rolling under cars.  Fun fact:  we unreasonable nagging moms tend to remember to zip OUR duffle bags.  Just sayin.

When I saw a toothbrush sitting untouched and dry on the kitchen table all weekend, I truly didn’t care. I was on vacation.

When I realized that 50% of the four teenage boys in tow never saw the inside of a shower stall the whole time, I didn’t even care about that either.

When, at day’s end, the outnumbering gender took over the main living area and zoned out in front of ESPN for (what seemed like) hours, I sat among them, indifferent and accommodating.

I didn’t ignore my happy little ski crew — I met them all for lunch and dinner in between their runs and ran around taking pictures like I’m supposed to – but I just sorta did my own thing.

Blissfully.

I relished a quiet condo and did things I never, ever do.  I perused Facebook aimlessly – only this time without a judging, clucking spouse glaring at me from across the room.

I watched supremely bad television.  Remember Jaws 2?   I had it on every television in the unit so that while I went tidying and picking up throughout the various rooms I wouldn’t miss a minute.  That.  Was.  Awesome.

In my time alone I even left on CMT (cough, that’s Country Music Television for those in the dark) all day long and, with no minions around to mock me, felt no indignity whatsoever.  Again:  awesome.

Even on the car ride home I refused to let their mayhem and (awful) music permeate my happy space.  Hearing them all shamelessly sing (shout?) the lyrics to “I’m a Stoner,” “Talk Dirty to Me,” and “Drunk in Love” actually made me chuckle instead of wince.  Hearing their man-child  falsettos nail a four-part harmony to Katy Perry’s new song made me laugh out loud.  Boys are funny aren’t they?

So it was a great time.

Unlike in years past, when I was a bumbling, scowling, cursing and freezing family naysayer, our winter bonding is now a win-win for all involved.

In fact, I may even bring up a non-skiing girlfriend next year to make it the ultimate in family vacations.

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When Bad Kids Happen to Good Parents

NJ Teen

 

 

This NJ parent-suing-cheerleader case is making me see red.

Because it totally could have been me a few years ago.

I wouldn’t consider myself a mean mom, but I have been known to hand my kids a scraper and say “Get to work,” after finding dried boogers on the wall next to their beds.

 

Some days, parenting is easy.

 

Honor Roll allows a kid to keep a cell phone.

A clean bathroom gets another out the door on Friday night.

 

Clearly my parenting philosophy doesn’t involve much head-scratching so I have to admit, I was ready for the adolescence of my children.  Growing up on Long Island in the unsupervised 80s, my friends and I had mastered the art of outsmarting authority and evading evidence of typical teen shenanigans.

 

I had this, I thought.   Bring on the acne.

 

I never imagined it would culminate with a composed call to the police, asking them to come get my child.

 

It was especially trying — and surprising — when my second born, a daughter, went through her head-spinning-Linda-Blair stage first, at fourteen.  While she was screaming and carrying on about calling Child Protective Services and attempting to bore holes into our foreheads with her fury, my oldest son just flew under the radar.  A junior in high school, he was a typical, well, boy.  Immature, uninterested in school and willing to eke by with the minimum of work exerted.  By most standards, the textbook teen.

 

He was always a bit young for his age but rather than dwell on his mediocre grades we tried to focus on his charm, and magnetism.  Extremely good looking, he was similarly well-liked, mainly due to his good nature.  He was —  mother’s pride aside —  a delight and I just loved the stuffing outta him.  Always have.

 

Turns out, this extreme love came in handy when I began to hate him.

 

I don’t recall exactly when the metamorphosis of my good-boy-gone-bad began but I do remember every detail of warning, every red-flag.

 

With each incident I tried to keep perspective.  I even rationalized.  I did this, too.  The drinking.  The pot.  The skipped school.  The scummy friends.  Wasn’t this typical teen territory?  I even admitted, at times sheepishly, I did far worse (thank you, 1988).  So I tried to keep a cool head and held firm with consequences.  Even though much of the time I felt like I was swimming against a tide (a tide of parents who unfathomably presented cars for sixteenth birthdays and provided smartphones through school suspensions) I did what I was supposed to do.  My litany of repercussions included (but were not limited to):  grounding, taking phones, taking plates off cars, paying for NOTHING (yearbook, class trips, clothing, toiletries, prom, car insurance) ….. Good God, we took away everything.  We joked with friends that my son lived an Amish lifestyle.

 

He Just.  Didn’t.  Care.   About anything, it seemed.

 

When enough was enough, we finally took his four-year-college off the table.  We had done our part:  attended freshman orientation, bought the sweatshirts and travel mugs, kept our hopes high for some show of maturity.   It didn’t come.  As senior year came to an end, he still hadn’t gotten it.

 

No way, we said.  There was no chance we were going to strap ourselves paying for a university when he wasn’t even getting himself to high school – for free. We told him he needed to get his act together, prove himself responsible and start with a junior college.  It was all we had left.  We privately envisioned that kid – that headline-storied kid each year – that ends up dead in a dorm room from alcohol before classes have even started.

 

Nothing seemed to work.  So we told him to rethink his plans for the future.

 

Turns out, our Great American Parenting Plan backfired because well, he left.

 

He just left.

 

He called it moving out.  But conventional wisdom would argue that throwing some clothes in a duffle bag and heading out the door without an inkling of what’s happening the next day is no such thing.  He had run away.

 

He had had it with our outrageous rules, our absurd expectations and our irrational belief that teens should be responsible and respectful on their journey to adulthood.  So — without any angry fanfare or slamming doors —  my oldest child left our home six days before his high school graduation.

 

The situation, as an understatement, was hard.  Devastating, in fact.  It was the ultimate in rejection for a mother:  a child that doesn’t want her.

 

And I didn’t pretend to understand it.

 

But he was a good kid and we were good parents.

 

And I guess I knew deep down that he’d be back one day.

 

He was.  After a long and fretful 47 days.

 

When he returned we spent what was left of the summer reconnecting as a family and licking our wounds.  Damage had been done and both sides were duly cautious about a recurring Groundhog Day of past occurrences.

 

But things were far from perfect.  In time, familiar nagging doubts started creeping in.  There was a level of distrust that I just couldn’t shake.  At times I seemed sadder now that he was home than when he’d been gone.  Things didn’t seem much better and I wondered if I would ever again feel joy when my son walked into a room.

 

Disrespect is a mighty deal breaker in my home and I do not believe a refrain of “This is my home and these are my rules” should be up for interpretation. When my beloved son’s behavior started down the slippery slope of insolence once again, I felt stronger and wiser when I addressed it.

 

Not long after he returned, he decided once again that our curfew was unreasonable and didn’t come home.

 

When he did…  his room was packed up, our locks were changed and we were waiting.

 

I told him since he wasn’t ready to resume living in MY home with MY rules, he needed to leave. He refused.   I showed him all his things.   He still refused to leave.  I then called the police.

 

I wasn’t afraid of the neighbors seeing, or knowing, or talking.

 

I wasn’t afraid of him actually leaving either.  I realized I’d survived the last time he left, and would this time, too.  And this time, it was going to be on MY terms.

 

I realized I wasn’t afraid of anything. And that the absence of fear was indescribably empowering.

 

We sat together calmly, in silence, and waited for the police to arrive.

 

I have to say, when they walked in they seemed surprised to encounter a domestic disturbance that wasn’t terribly disturbing at all.

 

The officer in charge kindly – but sternly – let my teenager know the deal:  It was 48 hours before my son’s eighteenth birthday, therefore by law, we were required to care for him.  But only for two more days.  After that, should they get called again, they would have to take him out of the home.

It is my honest belief that a couple of changed locks and a few police cars will do wonders for a teen’s psyche.   It changed everything for us.

 

My son learned a lot of things that day.  He learned we were absolutely done. And he learned (thank you, officer) that if you expect to live in your parents’ home, you should expect to follow their rules.  Period.

 

I believe – no, I know – that once this became clear to him, it may have been his personal epiphany.  It was as if his rebellion started to break away and let some clarity emerge.  Hell, maybe it was simply a badge … or a look of “Really, kid?” coming from someone other than his own parents.

 

I have absolutely no idea why it never sank in before that moment.  I likely never will.

 

It was a dark and rocky couple of years and – no joke – at times paled in comparison to my daughter’s fright fest at age fourteen – but we got through it.  Good parents raising good kids usually do.

 

It was excruciating and difficult to do what most parents don’t seem to have the strength to do:  follow through with consequences and demand respect.  But we did.  Even though it damn well felt as if our family was in tatters, we held strong.

 

The joy of my firstborn, while on hiatus for a heartbreaking while, eventually returned.

These days as he’s careening into manhood – an Air Force Reservist and college student —  I still love the stuffing outta him and my face lights up again whenever he enters the room.

 

But I am keenly aware there are still a couple of house rules that make him squawk.

 

Ah well.

 

Too bad, right?

 

 

I so hope this story gets to those sad parents in New Jersey because their beautiful cheerleader needs a reality check.  And soon.

 

 

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Calling All Moms: The Mother of all Celebrations

ltym cover

I’m breaking a bit of news here.

Fair warning:  It’s the kind of news that I will likely sneak into countless conversations for the next twenty years or so (because, well, the statute of limitations has run out on my Reality TV fame and my kids and spouse and friends and family and strangers say I’m not allowed to talk about that anymore).

Lucky for me I get another chance to become the Norma Desmond of the Suburban Sunset Boulevard.

You say insufferable …

I say …

(cue in visual of a victorious Mary Katherine Gallagher)

SUPERSTAAAAAAAAAAR!

(hey now, if one is repeatedly called lame by their children on a daily basis, this is not bragging.  Just wishful thinking.)

Honestly, we all know I have been (pitifully) regaling in my fifteen minutes of television notoriety for more than a (gulp) decade.  It turns out I now have something different to go on and on (and on and on) about for the next ten years.

While not exactly Eyerollingmom: The Musical, a most humbling of honors has come my way.

One of the obvious pitfalls of being a writer/blogger is the unavoidable consequence of personal exposure.  You put yourself out there with every written word and – if successful – you can incite genuine feelings in your readers.

If you’re me – and have made the conscious decision to divulge personal parenting truths AND at the same time raise literate children  – you know at some point these kids might actually read some of your stuff one day.

And likely … they’ll be pissed.

Eventually, though, your kids might mature (might) and perhaps if you’re lucky, one day think you’re kinda sorta (a lil bit) cool.  Fingers crossed, this will become one of those times.

A while back I wrote about my daughter, who was thirteen at the time.  When the piece, “The Thinking Girl’s Thong,” was published, it duly enraged her once she caught wind of it.  Naturally since that time I’ve found countless and creative other ways of ruining her life so really, we’re good now.

Still, it was – and is – one of my favorite pieces of writing I’ve ever produced.

Here’s why she can’t be mad about it ever again:  The essay has been selected to be a part of the “Listen to Your Mother” series of shows that have been staged throughout the country for the past few years.  “LTYM” is coming to Boston for the first time later this spring and I have been invited to be one of the inaugural “performers” and read my adored ode to my favorite teen queen.

I will be joined by fourteen other inspirational writers shining a deserved spotlight on all that is good and real and true about the phenomenon of being moms.  The good, the bad (the wine?) and the lessons needed to be shared.

So … if you are a friend …

Or a (blog) follower …

Or a (Reality TV) fan … (I kid, I kid)

I cordially invite you to “Listen to Your Mother, Boston,” a show devoted to “Giving Motherhood a Microphone,” on Saturday, April 26.

Get gussied up …

and grab your guy …

or grab a girlfriend (or seven) …

or better still (if you are so, so damn lucky) grab your mom

And come commemorate Mother’s Day the way it should be:  with moms, praising moms, celebrating moms.  Truth:  Nobody rocks the way we do.

At the very least, check out the event (in 32 cities!) and raise a glass to tales of motherhood, warts and all:

http://listentoyourmothershow.com/boston/

(…and, a promise:  if I do not faint on stage, I will be graciously accepting celebratory beverages after the show — at which time you may absolutely hand down a cease and desist order of when I must stop talking about this)

Spread this awesome news, share my Facebook page and treat yourself to a mighty mom time!

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WooooooooHooooooooo!!!!!!!!

(Too Much) Food for Thought

Image

            My college friend, who had graduated a year before me, came back to visit me one weekend during my senior year.  Still clinging to my freshman fifteen (cough, 3 years later), I was stunned to see her svelte figure.  What the…?  I could’ve sworn she was just like the rest of us — chunky from chicken wings and puffy from pizza — just the last time I saw her.   What was her secret?, I demanded to know over pitchers of full-caloried, non-lite beer.

 

            She shrugged.  “I eat to live — not the other way around.”  She was burning the midnight oil with her first teaching job and sometimes (deep breath here) forgot to eat — at times opening up a single can of corn and digging right in with a fork.  Dinner.  Imagine that. 

 

            It’s been a long time since that unsettling day but it turns out, away from the excess and decadence of all-you-can-eat cafeterias and 24-hour sub shops, I’m not much of a food person myself;  today her words seem hardly profound anymore.  Sure I’ve got  my favorites (I defy anyone to pass up a pig in a blanket) but I’ve realized that, like my friend, I’m not such a big fan of well, food.  In fact, I rarely ever even think about it let alone obsess over it like a few people I know.  

 

           I couldn’t tell you what I’ve eaten at any wedding (and definitely can’t recall what was served at my own) and it takes way more than a strand of hair in my plate to make me send any dish back.  I don’t salivate over brownie sundaes and I can’t even think about Chinese food in the summertime.  Going out to dinner is a simple joy based solely on the fact I’m not home scouring the sink.  Actually, as a mom, a dinner out is clumped into the same luxury as getting my teeth cleaned without simultaneously rocking an infant car seat with my foot (who hasn’t done THAT?).  For me, food’s always been an afterthought.  Lunch?  I don’t know, just how many leftover peanut butter and jelly crusts constitute an actual lunch?

 

            When I became engaged I didn’t register for china.  What for?  I’d argue.  Or better:  have you met my friends?  What in the world was I supposed to serve on expensive and delicate dinnerware to a group who typically raced the rising sun home to their beds after a night out?

 

            My take-it-or-leave-it (not to be confused with my take-out) attitude has little to do with cooking.  I can cook and I do cook.  I’ve thrown dozens of parties but not once have I ever stressed out over a menu (my sister’s left eye is twitching right now at this admission; she, dear readers, is a foodie:  one who will stir homemade risotto for hours until her wrist snaps off).  Not me.  I’ve scanned hundreds of recipes in an attempt to try something new, only to get to an ingredient I’ve never heard of and turn the page (what exactly is bulgur?).   And, like millions of others, I’ve watched the Food Network in amazement, truly believing that my kids would develop a fondness for (pick one) beets, turnips or summer squash if only I knew how to julienne.

 

            Once for my birthday my husband thought it would be faaaaaabulous to treat me to a fine dining experience.  You know, one of those “It’s a surprise — just look pretty, honey, and get in the car.”  He found a unique French bistro that a local couple ran out of their home.

    The husband was (according to them) a renown European chef and the wife was (according to mildly nauseating innuendo and touching) his biggest fan and cheerleader.  Because various fine wines accompanied each course, (and because “wine tasting” is my own personal oxymoron) naturally we got shattered.

     Before too long, we couldn’t wait to leave.  By the time dessert was being presented we were offering up fake apologies and explanations of babysitter problems and texting friends underneath the table “Where R U?”  I know, I know, you can take the girl away from the Big Mac but….

 

            I must add that in no way is my family suffering from their mother’s lack of culinary class. They appreciate and embrace all kinds of foods.  One eats mussels while the other grabs the chair farthest from them.  One uses Tabasco on everything and the other has never once felt a lettuce leaf in his mouth.  We all fight over the last mozzarella stick.  Every.  Single.  Time.

 

        But it’s taken me far too long to realize my family is just as happy with omelets for dinner as the balanced array of protein, starch and vegetable I was falling down with exhaustion preparing for them each night.  It’s not that the effort wasn’t appreciated; it’s just that I finally noticed the banter (and burping) was exactly the same regardless of the caliber of the meal.

 

            The sheer width of my backside attests that I truly do love food.  I just don’t want to spend precious time talking about it.  Or thinking about it.  OR SEEING PICTURES OF IT ON FACEBOOK…..  

 

     The truth is I don’t care if it’s a baked potato or fries on the side and I think there are far too many salad dressings to choose from.  I want my dining experience to simmer with laughter.  I want my meal to boil over with glasses clinking and forks dropping and knees touching.  I want to pass around warm stories, not warm bread.  I want to share mouth-watering moments found in every day living.  Like when my little guy’s Spongebob underwear showed clear through his white tee-ball pants.  Delicious.  Like when I discovered that a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser will poof!  vaporize the scratches off my fender after I’ve screeched against the garage door.  Delectable.  Like when torrential downpours completely freed up my scheduled afternoon of back-to-back ball fields.  Scrumptious.  Like when friends are genuinely surprised at how late it is because the night just flew by.  Undeniably lip-smacking.

 

            These are the flavors I choose to savor and these are (mozzarella sticks aside) my favorite foods.  Bon appetite indeed. 

 

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Do(uche) We Really Need to Discuss This Now?

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All I remember is that it started with sperm.  There I was, frying up some egg sandwiches and before I knew what was happening, there were giggles and roars and it dawned on me that the boys were using the word sperm in their banter.  Third and fifth grade.  Terrific.  The thing is, I probably should’ve seen it coming – just last week one came in to rat on the other that he’d just been accused of having a mangina (you know, instead of a manhood).

 

Joyous.

I took a breath.  I can do this, I thought.  I’ve done it before.  A couple of years ago while driving around with my then-fifteen-year-old he referred to someone as a douche bag. (Flash-forward to today and this word has appallingly become part of the teenage vernacular, used in movies and television and sooooo not a big deal.  But back then it was merely on the horizon and I was aiming to halt it.)  In the best smart-ass-y voice I could muster, I asked,

“Hey, do you even know what a douche bag is?”

“No.” was his shrugged response.

“Well,” I started cheerfully, “it’s actually a bag of cleaning fluid a woman squishes up into her vagina to clean it out.”  Cue in wide grin.  “Cool, huh?”

He would’ve jumped out the window had he not been temporarily struck by mortification paralysis.  But I think it went well:  I never heard the word come out of his mouth again.

So apparently here was my déjà vu.  I had to dish out some more blunt, in-your-face reality but I was ready.  I was the master.  This was going to be cake.    Plus, as an added bonus, I had BOTH of them right there – I wasn’t going to have to go through this twice.   I looked at the two of them and began.

What I said was, “Do you even know what sperm is?”

What they heard was, “Unleash the titans.”

I spent the next twenty minutes fielding their questions…. and then extinguishing their subsequent fits of laughter at my responses.   When they weren’t falling off the counter stools in hysterics (at the thought of sperm shooting  out of the hot dogs they bite into) they were squealing at situations their sharp little brains conjured up (“…..so then Mom…where do….gay men…. put their… penises….into?”)

Good God.  All this and an explanation of porn before ten in the morning.

I did my best, answered truthfully and stressed the seriousness of taking all private matters well, seriously.  It’s a tough paradigm shift:  Kids are exposed to so much junk in such comedic ways it’s no wonder they think every sexual scenario is out of a “Superbad” movie.

Chivalry may be dead but  now modesty is on a respirator.  Good times for kids.

So it was a morning for the books.  And –  for Mom getting through it –  an evening for Bud Light.

For the record, the discussion didn’t end at the kitchen counter.  My husband found a reason to grab my 10-year-old for a Sunday car ride and got through a much needed follow-up-father-son discussion without the added distraction of a younger brother (or – cringe — food references).

And alas, before the weekend came to a close, that crazy karma came sniffing around again.

 

“Mom, I have a question…..”  My son’s voice trailed off when he noticed his brother within hearing distance.  I gently inquired if it was a question which might be best asked in private.  “I don’t know… I just don’t understand a word.”

“It’s okay, just ask.”

“What does douche mean?”

 

Baaaaahhhhhh!

 

I got this one.

 

 

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You’re Number 1 (… and so are YOU, and YOU and …)

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I’ve been paying close attention to the ubiquitous catchphrase “Millennials,” which refers to the new crop of young adults who will be entering the workforce and taking over for the tens of thousands of retiring baby boomers.  Born between 1980 and 1995,  it seems this group has had the dubious distinction of being coddled their entire life and has subsequently spent the last two decades hearing doting parents and teachers alike insist “You’re special!” and “You’re number one!”

Funny.  It turns out if kids hear something like this long enoug,h kids tends to believe it:  according to the grumblings this future working class apparently has little regard for authority and worse, a less than reverent approach to protocol and procedure.  Look out people:  when the Millennials take over, flip flops on Fridays will be the least of their demands.

I’m becoming increasingly interested in this subject for a couple of reasons.  First off, my husband’s profession is smack-dab within employee recognition and – specifically – employee retention.  This oncoming cattle rush of E-Bay employees willing to take their services to the highest bidder whenever something doesn’t go their way concerns a corporate America that relies heavily on longevity and loyalty.  But that’s just him and his white collar world.  My main motivation for concern lies in the significant fact that I am presently nurturing two creatures that fall into this well, coddled category:  yep; teenagers.

For the record, I believe my kids are far from coddled.  I’d like to think I’m doing my part to keep society sane because – get a load of this: I don’t give my kids whatever they ask for — but it turns out I’m not exactly the majority.  Some days I feel as if I’m swimming against a tide of teenage entitlement because absurd entitlement abounds elsewhere in their lives.

On town ball fields my kids learned to play scoreless soccer.  Seriously.  Did it ever occur to anyone that if kids are old enough to understand the rules of a team sport…  they might also be able to count the number of times a ball gets kicked into a net?  And while official play books are manned and statistics are recorded during their little league games, nope, there’s no score kept there either.  Everybody plays.  Everybody runs around the bases. Everybody gets a big shiny trophy at the end of the season – just for participating.  For real.

I recently attended a school concert which began with not one but four vocal solos in a row.  None were outstanding.  At first I thought it was me; perhaps my benchmarks for preteen warbling were unrealistic (damn that dreaded “American Idol”) or worse, perhaps I’m completely tone deaf from all my screaming about chores.  When I casually looked around and saw other parents with pained, confused expressions, I knew it wasn’t just me.  While it was uncomfortable enough to sit through, it was more mind-boggling when the reason became clear:  those teenage girls were shamelessly standing alone at a microphone simply because they had asked to.  No exceptional talent was required because really, everyoneone is talented, right?

My kids have stayed after school to “finish” taking tests.   They’ve also taken a test and then have re-taken it again and again until the grade is acceptable to them.  Whatever happened to “time’s up/pencils down”?  And where were these teachers twenty-five years ago when I was taking my Calculus final?

It may not take a village but it’s certainly going to take more than just me to get things turned around here.  If I’m willing to endure round-the-clock declarations of unfairness or continuous accusations of “worst mom ever” I’d like a little support from the trenches.

I don’t need Dr. Phil; I just need other parents (and maybe the occasional coach or music teacher) to band with me and tell these kids that real life provides rewards for hard work.

And it is NOT okay to return to our homes indefinitely once college is over (God help me).

And there IS something wrong with showing up late to work.

And by the power of Thor, flip flops are always going to be wrong, wrong, wrong in a cubicle.

 

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Little Baby Fug

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I should have seen it coming.

I should have known.

I should have been prepared.

But why would I ever think the odds were going to tilt in favor of irony when Fate had been so kind to me before? I had tested her and tempted her on three separate occasions, and now fickle Fate was sending me a message: the well of good fortune had run dry and that was it.  We were done.

So my fourth baby came out, well, ugly.

He was tiny—for us—a scrawny eight pounds compared to his robust siblings, my smallest yet. My runt. I remember calling my bestie  Betsy and whispering into the phone from my hospital bed, “No… he’s really not like the others.” There was more surprise than shame in my voice, but it was okay; I could tell Betsy these things—we’re that close. Truth be told, she was the only one I did tell. We often joked that if either of us ever had an ugly baby, we’d be the kind of mother who knew it. None of this isn’t-he-beautiful-just-ignore-the-lazy-eye nonsense.   We had a clue. We would know. And so I knew.

“I’m sure it’s not so bad,” she soothed across the miles. But I could tell what she was really thinking: It’s about time, bitch.

She was right. My first three kids were beautiful. Not beautiful in the  “all kids are beautiful” sense of things but seriously, really beautiful. The kind of beauty that may very well garner them an extra day for a term paper. Or perhaps a cab right away. Or maybe an undeserved second interview. That kind of beauty.

I suppose it was bound to happen eventually, but boy, did I feel bad for this little guy. Everyone—everyone—notices the obviously ugly, the decidedly different sibling. They’re the stories of legends. The Cinderella stepsisters. The Ashlee Simpsons, racing to plastic surgeons to keep up with sexy sisters. The sad little Shaun Cassidys forced to belt out lame pop ditties just to measure up to teen idol brothers (who doesn’t shudder at “Da Doo Ron Ron”?) The Titos, Jermaines and La Toyas of the world. What about all those other Baldwin brothers? Anyone know any of their first names?

This baby was doomed.

“He looks just like the others!” my mother shrieked with delight. But I knew the deep, dark truth.

My oldest son, eight, was the epitome of Gap commercial cuteness. My daughter, six, was a sassy, stunning siren. My toddler, 18 months, sported delicious ringlets and smiled constantly. Was it any wonder that I’d become jaded by perfect jaw lines and bedazzled by blue eyes?

When firstborn arrived, naturally he was perfection personified (as all firstborn are). There is no scrutiny or comparison with a firstborn. Ever.

When second-born came, she was the prototype First Girl in the family. She could have been born with antlers and we’d have eaten her up all the same.

When third-born joined us I hadn’t held an infant in my arms for a stretch of four years, so it was like having a firstborn all over again (only with two little potty-trained elves running around helping me fetch things). It was bliss. Third-born could have been Rosemary’s Baby, but I was so thrilled to have him I never would’ve noticed.

This fourth time (my predetermined final time) when forced to look at three other adorable frames of reference, I noticed.

I’d been traveling a precarious road all along, waiting for the other shoe to drop because really, our family is an oddity. My husband and I absolutely should not have the kids we do. Really. My husband is Greek, Puerto Rican, Irish, geez… too many more to mention. I am Irish, German, Italian, a dash of Hungarian… you name it, and we’ve got it. We are the United Nations of genetics. Also, we are dark—and not exactly, er…shall I say, slight (visualize a chunky caricature of Gabby and Carlos from Desperate Housewives.) Yet all four spawn are miraculously light and—how about that irony again—remarkably thin. Our children turned out wrong by every account.

So I imagine it was time. I loved my littlest creation and held him tightly for his first two years as he cried and cried and cried. I’d silently question the sincerity of people when they’d remark how cute, or delightful, or lovely he was (clearly they were just being polite). And life went on. Fourth baby got toted around to school assemblies and soccer fields and play dates like all other youngest siblings—like a little piece of Samsonite.

Ah, but it turns out that Fate’s got a grand sense of humor.

Somehow, sometime, when I’d stopped paying attention, my littlest creation sort of fell into line. He became un-ugly. Today, many years into his happy little life he is as easy on the eyes as the others and (perhaps for greater irony) may very well be our standout swan.

Which makes me wonder: Was my ugly duckling actually an ugly duckling all along, from the beginning? Probably not, judging by his photos (which are naturally fewer than his siblings.  Naturally, tthis is okay; it is the documented rule of birth order). And did he cry as incessantly as I remember, or was I perhaps a bit more frazzled and older and less patient to handle him? Likely. More, was I just being judgmental and shamefully hard on him? Regretfully, yes. (Paging Joan Crawford?)

But, oh, that fickle Fate. It’s funny how she works. My perfect firstborn? He’s a teen right now and sure, he’s a hottie. But let’s just say if I had a dollar for every missed homework or incomplete assignment Boy Wonder tosses into the big black hole of his life, I’d be sitting pretty right now. He is clueless beyond reason, without a strand of street smarts running through his veins. His beauty was a tradeoff: I gave him life, and he gave me a facial tic. And stunning second-born royalty is still a stunner, but her sarcasm is insufferable at times, bound to repel unsuspecting nice boys. She is destined for spinsterhood in the future if she doesn’t watch it. Third-born’s luscious ringlets are long gone, but he’s still a looker, only the laziest child I’ve ever met. Presently he’s attempting to complete the fourth grade without lifting his head off his desk. I watch the three of them and thank my lucky stars they are blessed with good looks, because I fear they will desperately, sorely need the boost in life.

And that ugly little fourth-born? He’s having the sweetest revenge of all. Not only is he smart and respectful and motivated; he is, well,if I have to admit,  my sweetheart. A living doll, enjoyed and loved by all who meet him. I’m hoping he never knows my first impression of our first meeting until he’s old enough to laugh about it.  And I am financially able to cover his therapy costs.

My ultimate confession to Betsy has become a running joke that continues in our lives. For years following our private exchange, she remarked in wonder every time she saw him, “Ah, here he is, Baby Quasimodo.” Her eyes twinkle with sarcasm, but I can always detect the dig in my good friend’s voice: It figures, bitch.

 

 

 

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