“I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” (How I Alternately and Unofficially Became The Perfect Mother)

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People always say that when you go back to your high school reunion, you’ll find that the kids who were “all that,” have plummeted in a downward spiral – unable to maintain their superior elevated status throughout adulthood.

So, naturally, I spent the lion-share of my 20s worried about my high school’s Homecoming Queen, Kay-Kay.

I’m just kind’ve sweet that way.

Imagine my relief when I arrived at my 10 year reunion to find her looking fabulous. She had not gained the weight, as promised. Her long blonde tresses were as thick and lustrous as ever. She had married an architect, had 2 kids, and was literally living in Florida.

Florida? Who lives in Florida? Florida is for rich people and also older folks, who’ve earned the right to live there. And Disney Princesses, I guess – which is probably how Kay-Kay landed there.

But, she couldn’t possibly be happy and there’s no way, after that fairy-tale high school existence, that she’s got what it takes to be a good mother.

Honestly, I really feel bad for these people who never experienced despair and disappointment in childhood. I don’t know how they even get through life, much less parenting.

Fortunately, I never had to worry about any of that. My teen years imbued me with character and resilience. The kind that formally prepares you for Real Life. Life as a mother in the other 49 states.

When I was 13, I tried out for cheerleader. I started practicing months in advance. I learned the routine backwards and forwards. I perfected my herkies in the yard every day until it got dark. Then I came in and stretched into my splits every night, limbering up while I watched tv, inching a little closer to the ground with each passing week. I wrote the book on work ethic and advance preparation.

The day of the tryouts finally arrived. Back then there was no such thing as Helicopter Parenting, so my mom seemed only vaguely aware that it was the most important, transforming day of my life thus far; a day that would haunt me well into my 50s. She wished me “good luck!” 1970s-style and off I went…

To not make it.

Remember, it was 1976; back before anyone realized that they needed a Redhead to round out the squad.

The Vice-Principal called out the names of the 8 girls who made it over the loud speaker in 4th hour. Later that day, Mrs, Dickerson, the Home-Ec teacher/Cheer Sponsor, called me into her classroom to reassure me that I had “the most spirit she’d ever seen,” and confide that I made “Alternate.” She smiled indulgently when I requested the administration might consider including that tidbit of information in the next morning’s PA announcements. I wasn’t kidding.

It was challenging to weave the fact that I was unofficially the “The Alternate Cheerleader” casually into conversations with my peers. In case your wondering, “The Alternate” doesn’t get to wear the uniform on game days or appear in the yearbook photo. She just sits with the other girls at lunch hoping a friend will die in a sentimental “Brian’s Song” kind’ve way, so she can step into her pleated skirt.

No one died. As you can tell from reading this, the whole ordeal just served to build my outstanding and impeccable character, as I sat around the lunch table everyday eyeing a suspicious mole on Diane or wondering if Sherry had a lingering cough.

Alas, my life as a cheerleader was postponed until after high school, when I became a wife and mother. I’ve cheered now for 33 years. Until I am hoarse. I have exhorted, encouraged and sung my team’s praises until I’m blue in the face. It’s been so great. In the breathy words of Cinderella, it’s been “more than I could’ve ever hoped for…”

Nonetheless, I think I might attend my next high school reunion.  Just to see if Kay-Kay’s architect has gone a little paunchy and balding, if she can still wriggle into that polyester skirt, but most importantly – if her kids turned out okay.

I’m just kind’ve sweet that way.

 

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“They Can’t Take That Away From Me…” (A Tribute To Perseverance)

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They say, “Into every life, a little rain must fall…”

Rain” being metaphorical for “life’s troubles,” except in Louisiana, where rain means…well, water.

More than 31″ in 15 hours.

6,900,000,000,000 gallons of rain in one week.

Enough to wash your life away right before your very eyes.

When my mother-in-law drove home last Friday evening, from the local art gallery, where she happily whiles away her retirement years painting with her varied assortment of colorful artist friends, it was indeed raining heavily outside. But, not enough to alarm or concern this 80 year old native of The Bayou State, whose extended family survived Hurricane Katrina almost 11 years ago.

Trust me, people in Louisiana are not skittish about a little moisture.

Yet, by the time she awoke early Saturday morning, a nearby river (a lazy young tributary that ordinarily meanders it’s way peacefully down to the Gulf of Mexico, many miles downstream) had overrun it’s banks and rudely entered her home without so much as an invite or an RSVP.

Like a gang of unruly juvenile delinquents, it vandalized her entire life – snatching up framed family photographs and violently smashing them against walls, rearranging her decor by hurling large pieces of furniture into different rooms and toppling her refrigerator as though it were made of cardboard.

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Ironically, many of these homes, including my mother-in-law’s, provided haven for refugees of the disastrous Hurricane Katrina that devastated New Orleans in 2005. These very walls that offered succor to displaced friends, neighbors and relatives (in many cases outright strangers) were washed away in a matter of hours.

The true extent of the damage wasn’t realized by our family until several days later when “Mimi’s” children and grandchildren were able to get back into the home to survey the chaotic remnants of their collective childhoods.

The more immediate and pressing problem on Saturday morning was getting their mother safely out of the house and into a boat – Mimi and 30,000 of her closest friends and neighbors.  (20/20 Hindsight: don’t forget Papa Joe – he’s in the urn!)

Initially, residents unaffected by the flood were urged by authorities to stay in their homes, but it wasn’t long before the scope and magnitude of the situation became evident and every “Thibodeaux with a pirogue” (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pirogue) was out rescuing distressed flood victims – many of whom were texting their addresses on Facebook and other social media channels to any available Good Samaritan in the area. (Shameless plug for social media.)

http://www.theadvocate.com/louisiana_flood_2016/article_bbf5263e-6646-11e6-a775-ebda9d5c17ae.html

After several panicked hours of watching floodwaters rise around her, Mimi was rescued by a boat that, for better or worse, was able to glide right up to her doorstep. She was eventually taken to a shelter, where she says she has never been more touched by the depths of humanity and human compassion, as volunteers responded to and anticipated her every need.

With the grace of God and a large dose of “can-do Cajun spirit,” almost everyone was saved over the course of the next two days, although 40,000 homes were destroyed in Livingston Parish alone.

On Monday morning as the water went down and the sun came up, the journey to reclaim and re-tame Louisiana began. Local residents feel optimistic that, just as in post-Katrina, the fierce Acadian determination, combined with sheer American grit will prevail and South Louisiana will flourish once again.

As for our Steel Magnolia, she’s grateful her children were able to salvage a few tangible memories of her past. She will start her new life with a few cherished photographs and her indomitable spirit intact. She has a long road ahead, but we know this thing hasn’t beaten her.

In the words of the nationally acclaimed Cajun Chef and Louisiana Humorist, Justin Wilson,
“I Gay-Ron-tee!”

"Suds!"

“There Must Be 50 Ways To Leave Your Mother” (3 Last Minute Things I Need To Teach My Son Before He Leaves For College This Week)

"Suds!"

“Suds for Everyone!”

We are packing to take our 18 year old son off to college at the end of this week. A small pile of sundry ‘Do Not Forget!’ items accumulating by the door serves as a startling reminder that I have less than a week to tie up a few loose parenting ends before I send him out into that wide blue yonder we call the Real World...

1. After We Pay Your Tuition, You Will Have More Money Than We Do

I’m so glad we had the “money talk” today. When you asked me how you would be obtaining cash flow while you were away at school and I explained, you seemed somewhat taken aback.

Son, we are providing for your tuition, books, lodging and we generously upgraded your meal plan to include more caloric energy per day than the rest of our family consumed the entire month you were born. I can’t imagine what else you think you’re going to need,  but I saw all those graduation checks that came rolling in last May. I happen to know you have more money in your bank account than I do.  Use it.

When you complained that you didn’t want to use your “precious money” to buy “things like shampoo,” I saw the likes of your Dad in you. He feels the same way. That’s why he takes all those business trips. It’s solely to obtain those tiny little bottles of free hotel shampoo. Got any business trips on your calendar? I didn’t think so. Just buy yourself some shampoo, okay?

And, look at it this way – when your Grandmothers ask you what you spent all your graduation money on, and you answer, “Suds,” you won’t really be lying.

2. Any Moron Can Do Laundry

People have been telling me forever that I was doing you a genuine disservice by doing your laundry all these years.  But, I didn’t mind doing your laundry while you played sports and made those stellar grades. When my concerned friends worried aloud in my presence that you “wouldn’t know how to do laundry when you left for college,” I assured them I could “teach any Moron to do laundry in 5 minutes!” and “planned to do so right before we left for College Town, USA!”  And, no, I did not just call you a moron. I’m your mother, I love you.

As usual, I was right. We knocked that task out today in no time flat. All in all, you did well. I’m sorry your clothes came out wrinkled and you’re concerned about having to iron them. When I told you the solution was simply to do “smaller loads,” so your clothes could fluff out more freely, and you responded that “would take too long” and you, “didn’t want to spend all your free time doing laundry,” I was kind’ve stung. Did you realize when you spoke those words, that you were taking a personal swipe at my entire existence? I do laundry for a living, so ouch.

One more thing: as you get older, you’ll realize there is no such thing as “free time.” Any moron knows that. Okay, I think now I just called you a moron.

3. I Am Always Going To Parent You

By no means should you ever feel that I’m done parenting you. Last night you hung out at your friend’s house awfully late. I texted you when I was ready to go to bed to see what your plans were and you came across a wee bit CAVALIER. I know that this time next week you will be on your own and I won’t have “the luxury” of knowing right where you are, but I plan to parent you right up to the very last possible second – Up the dormitory staircase, down the dormitory hallway, right into the dorm room.

And, Spoiler Alert – when you come home for Christmas and Thanksgiving, I’m going to pick up right where I left off. If you don’t like the sound of that, you should plan some type of a business trip for those weeks. You can pick up some shampoo while you’re there.  That’s just a suggestion. It’s whatever you think. I’m not going to tell you what to do.

Wait- scratch that last part- actually,  I am.

 

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“Lord I Was Born a Ramblin’ Man” (Helping Your Older Kids Grasp Your Double-Standard…)

Back-to-School shopping from home this year!

(Back-to-School shopping from home this year!)

 

Approximately 87,600…

Admittedly, this is a bit of a rough estimate and I took the liberty of rounding the number off, but I am trying to figure out how many times I have driven my 5 kids places over the past 30 years, since my oldest child was born.

From the day after we brought Emilie home, when I strapped her into her car seat for her first Baby Well-Check, until I ran Tommy to soccer practice a few nights ago, I arrived at roughly 87,600 car rides – give or take the 7 or 8 times their dad actually shuttled them anywhere.

Which might explain the rather unorthodox reaction I am having to Tommy getting his driver’s license.

I am letting him drive.

Yesterday, when two of my daughters happened to be home, chatting in the kitchen, one of them looked up and asked,

Where’s Tommy?”

When I answered, “He’s at soccer practice!” they kindly offered to pick him up later, on their way back home from running an errand. This left me no option but to ‘fess up-

He drove himself there!

He drove?” They exclaimed, in unison and surprise. Apparently, according to the girls, getting one’s license around here was certainly a laudable milestone, but it didn’t translate into the level of personal freedom and autonomy their younger brothers enjoy.

Okay, I admit I might’ve put some rather stringent restrictions on my daughters when they were new drivers, freshly sprung from the loins of the DMV,  with their little plastic cards in their little plastic hands, but things were different then.

We had more rules and standards.   In fact, we may have had so many standards there appears to be a double-standard.

No listening to the radio while driving….No Backstreet Boys, No N’Sync, No Brittany Spears or Destiny’s Child. The boys, however, managed to convince us that they would drive better with the steady thrum of a savage rap beat.

No interstate driving. I mapped out elaborately circuitous routes for the girls in order to keep them off the interstate. This, apparently, took them through some sketchy parts of town. At one point, Mollie complained  that she thinks a stray bullet grazed her car. So, we allowed the boys to take more direct routes via the highways and byways of this great land.

No leopard print plushy steering wheel cover or pink rabbit’s foot rearview-mirror decor. Sorry, I know teenaged girls love to prettify their rides, but this is all just too distracting. I needed their hands on the actual steering wheel at 10 and 2, with nothing dangling and obstructing their view. Fortunately, the boys never wanted to trick out their vehicles with crap from Claire’s or Limited Too. Fast-food bags clutter the floorboards posing no safety threat.

The older kids can criticize me all they want.  They can call it a double-standard if they must, but I prefer to think of it as ‘evolving as a parent.’

Don’t get me wrong, I still worry up a blue streak.  It’s not as though utter lawlessness abounds;  we still have a few rules.  Tommy is required to text me when he arrives at his destination and when he leaves to return home, etc.  We haven’t gone so far as to embed a chip in him, but we do track his movements…

That’s how I came to notice, that as the 5th child of burned-out  parents, he’s kind’ve like your Visa Card – he’s everywhere he wants to be.

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(metaphorically, Mom points her camera down at the ground in despair…)

 

“Take The Long Way Home” – Complimentary ‘Parent Therapy’ Is a Must After a Set-back…

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There are 34 equally lovely contestants backstage. The Emcee is about to call the names of the lucky 20 girls who made the NBA dance team my daughter is trying out for. She made it all the way to the final leg of this journey. We could not be prouder, even though my heart is visibly thumping out of my chest and my hands are shaking my program so badly that it looks like I’m fanning myself, but I’m not.

Several experts have told us, “It’s in the bag!” and “She’s got this!” But as parents we can’t help but let our thoughts drift to a potentially long car ride home and the ensuing months of “parent therapy” (the only kind we can afford) if things don’t go our way. If she doesn’t make it, it will take “all the Kings horses and all the Kings men,” plus a unified set of parents to put our little egg back together again.

One of the most difficult decisions you’ll ever face as a parent is just how much to “put your kid out there.” ie: what, if anything, should you encourage them to try out for. These decisions seem fairly benign when your children are young, but the effects on our children’s long term psyche and overall sense of well-being magnify as our kids mature and develop. Simply put, the stakes get higher. As a protective parent, there are times you can’t help but think – if they don’t try, they can’t fail…

When my kids were small, they’d jump in the car with hand-outs about Brownie Troops, Boy Scouts, basketball and soccer teams; perhaps even band. It was standard to allow/encourage their participation, as all participants were welcome. “As long as they don’t need me to be the Leader or Coach – of course you can join!”

Parenting didn’t get tricky until down the road a bit, when our kids started joining teams that involved try-outs, judges, coaches and the dreaded C-word “cuts!”

This is a whole different ballgame. Now you’re competing against other wannabes and their impressive entourage of parental backing. Everyone is saying the right thing, touting the party line, “We don’t care about the outcome either way, we’re just excited that ‘Junior’ likes it, does his best and has fun trying!”

These people are lying. When you’re not looking, they are hiring private shooting coaches, private batting coaches and buying protein bars that cost $5 a bite. They are hiring personal trainers, purchasing world class equipment, while renting private studio space for their daughter to pirouette in. Don’t believe them when they say their daughter is a “Tom-Boy Natural Beauty,” just like your girl, she’s been in your city’s finest salon all morning getting coiffed, spray tannned, her lashes extended, every stray hair plucked like a chicken.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of this, per se. You just have to be realistic, eyes wide open about what you’re getting yourselves and your kids into. Parents care a lot more than they are willing to admit about their kid beating your kid out for that last spot on a team. And, you probably care more than you think.

I’ll never forget how happy I was to see a familiar face when we showed up the very first day for my oldest son’s baseball practice on a new team. Innocently, and delighted, I said. “Oh, good! Bryce is going to be on James’ team!” The other boy’s dad looked me square in the eye and said, “No James is going to be on Bryce’s team!” Got it, thanks. The boys were all of 7.

If your child makes the team or squad, it’s a high like no other. I’ve never done drugs, but I imagine that’s what they must feel like. Conversely, if your child doesn’t make the cut, it will be the worst few days or weeks of your tenure as a parent and part-time Therapist. (The length of the recovery is a complicated formula involving the age of your child, multiplied by how long they prepared for this try-out, divided by your clever ability to distract them by dangling a new dream in front of them…)

If your kid is cut, you may very well ask yourself why y’all even bothered taking the risk. You may even find yourself wishing you did do drugs, but don’t, because you’re about to need all of your wits about you, to get your child through this.

As the young ladies names were called, we held our collective breath and listened to name after name, doing the quick math calculation to see how many spots were still left for our girl to fill. Her number was 3; twice the announcer called 33 and 13 and my heart leapt hopefully. When they called the final squad member it wasn’t our beautiful girl. Our hearts sank into our stomachs. Several caring strangers seated around us reached over to clamp our shoulders in disbelief and astonishment. “She was amazing! “We thought she had it!

Like all good mothers, I immediately blamed myself. Maybe when you believe in your kid and encourage them to “go for their dreams,” you also subconsciously set them up to endure this type of enormous let down. Secretly, I’m wishing we had just skipped all this “reaching for the stars” and enjoyed the rest of the summer just lying back and gazing at them instead.

It was going to be a long drive home for sure. Good thing I packed necessary provisions:
-tissues (for me, my girl isn’t much for crying)
-a few verses (Jeremiah 29-11, “For I know the plans I have for you declared The Lord)
-my therapist schtick
-the tiny cheerleader that lives inside me, always
-an ice cream sundae (I didn’t pack it because I knew it would melt, but there’s plenty of places we can stop along the way and get one)

We are going to take the long way home…

keep dancing to his song...

“Heard It In A Love Song” – You Can Change Someone if You Live With Them Long Enough…

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Just keep dancing to his song…

I’m always wary of people who say, “you can’t change your spouse…”  How preposterous. Why of course you can change your spouse!  In fact, If you’ve played house with the same person for 20 years or more and haven’t managed to change them – you might not be doing it right. You might even be considered a slacker.

Take a look at my marriage for example.  My family-of-origin is very LOUD. Simply put, we love the sound of ourselves. So naturally  (per the the time honored principle of pairing with opposites) I married a quiet man. But over the course of 30+ years, I’ve unintentionally converted him into a veritable noise-machine.

Recently I was watching a home video with our kids from way back when they were babies (circa 1996). About 45 minutes into the video, the younger version of my hubby deigns to utter a brief comment and the camera quickly pans over to him. But he was done. That quiet remark was all he had.  Shocked, my children inquired if their dad had been in the room the entire time…

…The chance of being in the vacinity of my spouse these days for more than a minute and not be fully aware of him is highly unlikely.  He is the force that we reckon with.

It’s really apparent if he gets a song stuck in his head.  When that happens,  it’s going to be YOUR song for the entire day, as well.  I’m not talking about a subtle Vulcan Mind-Meld, like from Star Trek. I’m talking about something far more insidious, a full-on bombardment of the senses.

Yesterday’s song du jour was Bruce Springsteen’s, “Born To Run.” That tune and it’s metaphorical message of desperation, rebellion and youthful empowerment assaulted my psyche for the better part of 24 hours.

He. sang. it. all. day. long.

He claims he’s only “into” the instrumental part of the music  and I’m way too caught up in the meaning behind lyrics. But that didn’t cut down on the number of times throughout the day that I was cordially invited to strap myself round his engines.  Maybe he’s right, and I am overly-invested in lyrics, but by mid-day I had my fill of analyzing my husband’s runaway American dreams.

When he wasn’t singing it, he was whistling it.  Piercingly proud. Whistling is his jam – he could win a Grammy for it.  This particular song inspires a truly ferocious whistle riff – it’s low, it’s high, it dips and crescendos. It’s the ideal melody for showcasing one’s remarkably vast whistling range.

And then, just to keep things flex, he switches over to the “neer-neer-neer.” This is the savage sound a male human-being makes when he’s amping up his air guitar.

1-2-3-4!
NEER…. (pause) neer,neer,neer,neer (pause) NEER, NEER!

Truthfully, it didn’t really annoy me all that much yesterday. After all, when one’s spouse is singing, whistling or neer-neer-neering, they’re happy right? And who doesn’t want their very own spouse to be happy?

But early this morning, he entered the room to ask me if I needed anything from Lowes – when I said, “No thanks!” he belted out “tramps like us!” Like it was our official Couple Anthem.  It was just so overwhelmingly yesterday.

I know it’s entirely my fault that my husband is so in-your-facey now. Obviously, I rubbed off on him through the years and have no one but myself to blame. But still…this tramp was thinking, ‘different day – different song. ‘ I’m even willing to return to last weekend when, for an unrelenting 24 hours, he wore me out by latching on to a twangy rendition of a Marshall Tucker Band favorite.

I ain’t never been with a woman long enough for my songs to get old…”   You’re almost there Big Guy.  You are almost there.

“We Don’t Need No Education” (Me & Pink Floyd)

The only thing that’s more of a reality check than hearing yourself on the radio, is hearing AND seeing yourself on YouTube. I’ve had my share of both lately. I made a quick note of things I need to pick up before my next public speaking gig…

Shopping List:
1. headbands Really wide and dual purpose, to cover gray roots at the hairline and hide a few forehead wrinkles.

2. consonants  For the love of od, et some Gs. Every sentence that’s supposed to end in “ing” only ends in “in” when I’m speakin’.

“We were comin’, goin’, drivin’ and talkin’… I’m an Oklahoma version of Sarah Palin.”

The “Listen To Your Mother 2016” videos are available. Click on the link if you feel like listenin’:

*Fun Summer activity if you’re bored: Say “Shoulder Surgery” 3 times really fast!

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