There’s no question that parents raise their youngest kid differently from their oldest. A few of the more meaningless “standards” are apt to fall by the wayside. Anyone who denies this truth, is either lying to you or to themselves. And, without a doubt, the further apart your children are spaced, and the more kids you have – the greater the disparity. With a 14 year chasm between our oldest and youngest, our Childrearing Metamorphosis is shockingly pronounced. There are some moments when we are barely recognizable as the same set of parents…
Case in point, when our oldest was 6, I was standing outside her first grade classroom with a group of mothers. The topic of discussion was an upcoming field trip to the zoo and which mothers would be willing to drive. My hand shot right up. I couldn’t volunteer fast enough. My immediate impulse was, “Pick me! Pick me!” One of Emilie’s classmate’s mother was a battle-hardened veteran Mom, whose first grader was her 5th and youngest child. She responded, quite emphatically, “You couldn’t pay me to drive that field trip!” I was horrified by her cynicism and lack of enthusiasm. Sharing my observation with Jimmy the second he got home, I lamented in despair, “Why would a person even have children, if that’s their attitude?”
Fast forward 23 years and here’s what I know:
When a young girl/woman has children, she optimistically believes that her duties are going to be 90% shaping and molding character, with approximately 10% tedious administrative-style parenting responsibilities sprinkled in. That’s exactly backwards. As a parent, you spend 90% of your time driving your children around. If you’re lucky, you’ll get the rare opportunity to influence your youngsters in any meaningful way. (Conservatively – LESS THAN 10% of the time.)
I would suggest to you that you’re a “Glorified Chauffeur,” but I think “Glorified,” is overstating things a bit…
One recent Saturday night, Tommy (the youngest of our 5) went to a local “Teen Hangout,” with a group of friends. One of his friends’ parents volunteered to drive them there. Since they were all spending the night at our house later, we let the other parents know that we would be responsible for getting the boys home. We figured it would be around midnight. Saturday Night Live would be over, and we knew we would, at best, be trying to hold our eyes open. So, Jimmy suggested that Tommy download the Uber app to his phone.
My hurdle was to sell our plan to the other “First-Time-Teen-Parents.” These folks are just now entering the Teen Scene from the parenting side of things, and are not yet jaded, or sufficiently burned out. I feel uniquely qualified to reason with these parents, because I was them just a few short years ago.
I went at it from this direction: “This is the ideal time for the boys to Uber! No one is desperate right now, so we can always go fetch them if there’s a problem. But this way, in the future, they’ll have the app on their phones, and they’ll know the ropes. If they ever DO NEED to Uber, (for whatever reason) they’ll be confidently familiar with how it works!”
For further persuasion, I added, “Take it from me, don’t blink, the day they NEED an Uber will be here sooner than you think!”
My friend, Leslie, (mother to one of Tommy’s buddies – her firstborn son) listened to my logic and said, “Give me a minute to marinate on that…”
I responded, “Take all the time you need!” I wasn’t too concerned, Jimmy and I had already agreed that whomsoever nixeth our Uber plan, was driving the midnight pick-up shift themselves.
Leslie saw the light; the group of boys übered home and were safely in my den, killing villains on our Xbox, by midnight.
What I didn’t see coming, was the following weekend: Late on a Saturday night, while dining out with friends, we received a text from Tommy asking if he could uber over to his friend Max’s house. We looked at one another and shrugged. Other than Max’s parents thinking we sucked, we could find no legitimate reason to say no. For $5 he übered over and a few hours later, $5 got him right back home.
Now, I find myself reminiscing over my entire 29 years of parenting and wondering where the hell Uber has been all these years. I could just cry thinking about how many tennis lessons, dance classes and football practices, I dragged a breastfeeding infant or a screaming toddler into my mini-van, in order to transport their older sibling somewhere. Uber could’ve been right up there with Sonic, Fruit Snacks and Disney Videos on my list of Approved Parenting Tools.
I mean, they thoroughly vet those Uber drivers, right? I see no reason why Mollie couldn’t have been übered around town the year she sold a record number of Girl Scout Cookies. No amount of money would’ve been too much to pay for that service.
Suffice it to say, I’m uber into ubering. It’s rapidly gone from being an adjective and a noun in my home, to a verb. And, I’ll even go a step further – in the course of driving my kid around, if that Uber Driver chances to notice a character issue in any one of my kids, that they think needs a little tweak, they are encouraged to address it. At this stage of the game, I’m obviously not above a little assistance.
People always seem to want to criticize today’s parents for “living vicariously” through their children, but sometimes, perfectly innocent parents are thrust into that role through absolutely no fault of their own. Sometimes, the real culprit is actually their child…
When our daughter was home from college recently she uploaded (or is it downloaded? I literally have no idea) her Instagram account onto my iPad. I’m not 100% sure why she did this, but I can speculate. I’m betting it’s not because her eyesight is failing and she can’t see her friends’ pictures without the benefit of a larger screen; I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that her phone was dead and my iPad was the only device that was charged-up at the moment, so she simply helped herself. After she performed this download/upload task, she cyber-socialized a bit and then drove herself back to the university and the Mansion where she lives down there; they call it “The House.” That was on a Sunday afternoon.
Things were quiet for a few days. (For those of you not blessed with college students, these kids are super dedicated to their studies, and your investment, 3 days out of 7, so there’s not a lot of traffic on the social interstate Monday – Wednesday.) It was a few days later, the following Thursday night, when I was lying in my ibed reading my ibook, minding my ibusiness, when all Hell broke loose. “Notifications” start dinging away across the top of my screen, as though The Transylvanian Orchestra had set up right there inside my ipad to play me my own personal lullaby. I fell asleep long before I had a chance to become annoyed, but it appears as though the dinging continued merrily throughout the night.
The next morning was a little like waking up to that first snowfall of the season. When I poured my coffee and attempted to check my email, my screen saver had been blanketed overnight with a flurry of “LIKES.” Around 300! I didn’t even know what I had done, much less who I had done it with, or more importantly, how I looked doing it. But, what I did know, was that my daughter, Gracie was buried somewhere under this avalanche of social validation…
I waited a very polite 5 hours before I texted her. (We have different time schedules.) When I asked her about it, SHE actually had the audacity to fuss at ME.
“Whatever you do, Mom, DO NOT HIT THE “LIKE” BUTTON ON THOSE PICTURES! You have no idea how Instagram even works! You’ve actually done that before, and since that’s MY account on your IPad, it’d be the equivalent to Me liking my own pictures! I’m really not trying to hurt your feelings, but it’d probably be best if you just steered clear of my Instagram account for now.”
That was on Friday morning.
That night, around the same time, maybe a tad later, the same thing happened. It seemed as though I was just as popular as I was the night before, with even more people dinging my praises! Ever curious, I couldn’t help myself, I closed out my book app and tapped on that camera-looking-thingy, devoting the rest of the evening to “steering” my way around her Instagram. I’m a firm believer in, “learning by doing,” “trial and error,” and, if all else fails, I’m not above a short YouTube tutorial.
Jimmy and I had such an entertaining weekend getting to know our daughter’s friends over Instagram. It was like Parents Weekend, without all the unnecessary travel and costly hotel and restaurant charges.
And those kids had the cutest names! They reminded me of those old CB Handles from the 1970s.
They were semi-incognito – like “maddieboddie.” Pretty sure that’s my niece. Hey Madeline – Aunt Sessie loves you!
“Imbringingsexyjack!” He’s bringing clever back is what he’s doing.
What about, “thrillyjilly?” I bet that gal can really bring the party.
I had a CB name when I was a kid – it was “Brillo Pad!” I’ll give you one guess why…
With Jimmy’s demanding career and our family being as large as it is, he really relies on me to keep tabs on all of our children. (That’s one of the reasons I’m so keen on updating my social media skills. It’s imperative that I stay sharp and current.) This morning, he asked me if I’d heard anything from Gracie yet this weekend, I answered, “Not so far, but I can show you a cute picture of her from last night on Instagram!”
Just as he reached out for my ipad, I started to admonish him, “Don’t touch the screen…” But it was too late. A red heart emoticon popped up right over the fluffy blonde head of “bythegracieofgod.”
As you might imagine, she got an immediate notification on her smart phone that the good folks back home had not just liked her own picture on HER OWN INSTAGRAM account, But, actually maybe even just LOVED IT! She’s none too pleased and mentioned deleting her Instagram account off my IPad as first order of business when she gets home next week for Spring Break.
Problem is, Daddy and I are so enamored with Instagram now, that I’m going to be forced to revive my old CB HANDLE and start my own Instagram account…
“brillopad” didn’t just LIKE your picture, she freaking LOVED it!
That’s a big 10-4 Good Buddy!
Checkout this video on YouTube:
Every year, for as long as any of our children can remember, Jimmy and I have taken a “business trip” with his company. And every single year, my mother, may she rest in peace, (she’s fine, she’s just staying home and literally resting in peace) has faithfully and lovingly driven across the country, to babysit our 5 kids for the extended weekend.
This started way back in the 1990s, when our daughters were toddlers and has continued ever since.
We are now down to the last two kids in the nest – our boys – who launched a protest this year, maintaining that they are sufficiently mature enough to look after themselves when we travel.
Their mutiny happened to coincide with some minor health concerns of Grandma’s, so after lengthy discourse and fractious debate, we decided to take our sons up on their offer. After all, James IS 18 and LEGALLY an adult, (he can go to war if necessary and plans to vote in November) and Tommy is…well, he’s Tommy.
I did, nonetheless, exercise due diligence by sending a series of TEXT ALERTS to my next-door neighbors, a friend who happens to be the President of our Homeowner’s Association, 9 of my sons’ friends’ parents, as well as Our Girlfriend’s Mother – all because I genuinely embrace the Utopian-esque concept of ‘It Takes A Village To Raise A Child.’
But, my Ace-in-the-Hole was my reliance upon The Ultimate Village, the roadblock of all roadblocks, a fail-proof infrastructure that was established long before we ever had boys tarnishing the family name; dating all the way back to when our Little Tykes toys were exclusively pink.
The plan was in place, if necessary, to activate THE SISTERHOOD…
It is simply an inescapable and universal truth that no one is going to rat you out with more passion and fervor than your own flesh-and-blood sisters. Rather than call this tattle-telling, we choose to refer to this additional layer of security as “PROTECTING THE BRAND.”
…And, that’s exactly what went down at our house this past Saturday night, when our 3 daughters converged upon their unsuspecting brothers with more femme-fatale force than an episode of Charlie’s Angels.
It was Boots-On-The-Ground in Oklahoma; with technical and on-line support streaming directly out of Manhattan and Fayetteville.
And, what an impressive well-oiled machine…The Command Center at NASA conducting a Full Scale Space Mission has nothing on these ladies.
The Trinity of Angels communicating via group text:
Edmond – “There are unauthorized vehicles in the drive-way. We’re going in.”
Manhattan- “Copy that. Are you there Fayetteville?”
Fayetteville- “Standing-By Manhattan”.
Manhattan – “Godspeed Edmond. Text pictures ASAP!
Fortunately, or unfortunately, (depending on how badly you wanted to make a “bust”) each of our 5 teenaged guests that evening had been “Pre-Approved” prior to my departure. All Emilie actually had to do was verify their wristbands, check their names off the ‘Authorized Guests’ list, poke around a bit, issue an empty threat or two, text Mamasita a few candids and retreat.
As you can see by the time stamp on the following screenshot, the marvels of modern technology available in Mexico delayed news of The Raid by several hours. I too, was resting in peace; apparently by the time I was ‘in the loop,’ the delinquents were tucked in bed, lights out and rosaries prayed. Unnecessary force and legal action averted.
Viva La Village! Viva La Sisterhood!
It’s no secret that my boys eat me out of house and home. I’ve never been able to keep enough food in the house for them. This became apparent to me years ago, when James was about 7. I was chatting on the phone with the mother of his best friend, when she chanced to mention what she had fed the boys for dinner that night, which was odd, as James had busted through the door only minutes earlier asking what we were having for dinner because he, “was starving!” That’s when I realized that James had been eating dinner with them every evening and then coming home to eat dinner here. When I asked him why he was doing so, he patiently explained, “Because, Mom, that’s how I can have 2 dinners!”
For that and a few other reasons, I was excited this week when James got his very first job at an upscale pizza restaurant that happens to be one of my personal favorites. I’m sure I came across a little over-eager when he asked me to help him study for his first menu test, but it has been years since I’ve had an opportunity (read: been qualified) to help him with his homework. I fetched my glasses and curled up on the couch with his study materials and started quizzing away, silently priding myself that ‘I may not know Calculus or Trig, but I sure as Hell know my Hummus and Figs.’
That’s when I discovered that I had actually managed to raise an AP Scholar, who powers his brain by eating 24/7, constantly and non-stop, yet is, ironically, a complete Culinary Illiterate.
In all fairness, I understand that a mere boy of 18 would not know how to pronounce “Aioli” but he also could not pronounce, “Arugula” or “Gorgonzola.” He claims he is not familiar with any of those delicacies. I was particularly dismayed when we hit another snag at the “Texas Goat Cheese,” as it is one of my favorite items on their menu. James simply couldn’t wrap his mind around the fact that anyone would bake cheese over Fig Preserves. He scripted it as, “Fig Preservatives.” When I corrected him, he asked what “preserves” even are (jelly!) and then, exasperatedly queried,
“What’s a *%!# ing Fig?”
I admit that in the interest of simplicity and convenience, I fed the boys at Little Caesers and Sonic, bought our jelly in those convenient little squeezy bottles, and opted to buy Oreos over Fig Newtons, but I had no idea the extent to which I had handicapped my own son. On a positive note, he breezed right through the “Buffalo Wings” “Meatball Sub” and “Chocolate Chip Cookie Pie,”descriptions, maintaining that those were foods that just “made sense” to him.
By 8 pm, I needed a glass of wine…
By 9 pm, I needed my jammies
By 10 pm, I had dissolved into tears and we had only covered appetizers, salads and desserts.
IF he passes the test tonight, we get to move on to the PIZZAS tomorrow. There’s no question we are in more familiar territory with pizza, but this restaurant takes pizza toppings way past pepperoni and mozzarella – they serve National Merit Pizzas. At this point, I’m really wishing I could just help him with his Calculus.
I decided not to write a Christmas letter this year, because I really feel that, for better or worse, Facebook has killed the oft-dreaded Christmas Letter, as we know it. Our friends and family and everyone else on the planet is fully aware what we’ve been up to this year, as few families have saturated social media like The Blanchards in 2015. However, like the proverbial tree that fell in the forest, my family feels like the year didn’t happen if I don’t write a Christmas letter..
If you are living under a rock (ie: not on Facebook) you may not know that Emilie, 29, got married in October. The Newlywedmans are now nestled into their first home, working non-stop to build their future. Occasionally, she tries to garner a little sympathy, by telling me and Jimmy how much they both work (24/7, Christmas Day, blah, blah, blah) but, when we were their age, we trod shoeless, over snow-covered hills to work on weekends and holidays, so her pleas fall upon deaf ears. On a positive note, she astutely pointed out the other day that she has noticed her “favored child status” with her Dad has soared ever since she ‘went off his books.’
Not to be outdone in the approval rating polls, a couple of weeks after Emilie’s wedding, Mollie, 26, was surprised with an engagement ring from her boyfriend-gone-fiancé, Jace. We secretly arranged to fly up there to meet them to celebrate, just hours after he popped the question. Fortunately, she said “yes,” or it would’ve been an awkward 3 days. They are both in their second year of law school in Manhattan, she at Fordham and he at Columbia. As if New York weren’t far enough away, they plan to study a semester in Amsterdam this Fall. They both graduate in May 2017 and will marry shortly after.
Gracie, 20, is studying Journalism at the University of Arkansas. Out of our 5, she is, without question, the most interesting blend of me and Jimmy. And, I’m not talking about facial features. After being, ‘Home for the Holidays’ for all of 24 hours, she had her fill of family and decided to dash down to Dallas for a night on the town with friends. I received an SOS text before she left, saying she was in my closet and needed assistance putting an outfit together. I received highest praises from her after the ensemble was cobbled together from:
-some pants of mine that I bought and haven’t worn yet
– a top she hadn’t yet seen that was supposed to be a Christmas present
-my cheetah boots
-finished off with 2 necklaces and a bracelet (all mine)
As she admired herself in the mirror, she said, “Thanks Les, you’re Clutch!” Could any mother ask for more than being “clutch” in a fashion crisis? I’ll take it.
James is in his Senior year at Bishop McGuinness Catholic High School. He divided his time this year between school, friends, football and his adorable girlfriend Annie. I went upstairs to clean his bathroom the other day, and all 6 light bulbs in both sections of the bathroom were burnt out. I couldn’t see any grime, mold or mildew for the darkness, and really wanted to pretend it was sparkly clean, but the scent contraindicated. As I clambered up onto the counter top with fresh bulbs, I wondered to myself,
“How does he manage to see himself in the mirror when he gets ready for school in the mornings?”
But then, I realized, when you’re a young manly buck of 18, you don’t need a few watts of light, or a mirror to affirm what you already know to be true.
Sometimes Jimmy and I look at one another and wonder if we were foolish or just plain crazy to have 5 children. It’s tremendously validating that Tommy is our favorite. It’s really hard not to not feel like “practice makes perfect!” I casually remarked to Gracie the other day how great he is – smart, and kind, with an unparalleled work ethic, all topped off with red hair. She responded, “He’s only 15, give him some time! He may disappoint you yet.”
He did actually try my patience a bit today. After weeks of me asking him what he wanted for Christmas and him insisting that he, “didn’t need a thing,” I went ahead and spent the per-person Christmas gift money on some school clothes for him. He notified me by text TODAY that he needs an X-Box. Apparently, it can put one behind the 8-ball socially, if you don’t have the same gaming system as your friends. Of course I’m going to make sure he gets it. Gingers don’t let Gingers get in a bind socially; we have each other’s backs. It’s a thing.
Jimmy and I went out for dinner last night to celebrate our 31st anniversary. We sat at the bar at Mahogany and gently debated who has had the harder job (greater “Ministry”) being married to the other. We never really settled it. We may never. But, we definitely agreed that if we ever allowed a camera in our “colorful” home to watch us co-parent, settle financial issues, navigate key marital moments and discuss world events, we would take the entire Kardashian Empire down. No one would find them interesting up against us.
When my children head back to their various schools and universities, after the Thanksgiving Holiday, I just need a few things to get my life back on track: a maid, a diet, and a budget.
Truth be told, I’m sure I’m exaggerating about the maid. When they stuff all their piles of junk back into their cars, and I can actually see my counter tops and floors again, I will probably realize that I don’t really need a maid. I cleaned before they arrived, so technically, nothing got dirty; I just need to unload and reload the dishwasher a few hundred times, and do a few mountains of laundry, that I couldn’t do while I was busy doing theirs. I know you’re probably thinking I shouldn’t do their laundry, but when I did Gracie’s laundry the other day, I found tons of things that were mine. BONUS! I felt rich-It was like being paid, albeit with things I already own, like leggings, jeans, my favorite running socks. Still, it was oddly rewarding.
I guess it isn’t really my kids’ fault that I need a serious diet and a Personal Trainer after they visit. But, it kind’ve is. Adult children fall into a weirdly ambiguous category when they come home for the holidays. They’re your kids, but they’re also your guests. I feel compelled to entertain them when they are home, even more than I did when I was raising them. And, like everyone else, I tend to entertain best around food. Whether we prepare it at home or dine out, eating is our chief source of entertainment. I’m sure right about now you’re wanting to tell me how, in your family, you play board games and charades. We do that too, we just do it with baked goods, creamy martinis, Baileys poured into hot cocoa. Jimmy and I have found that we enjoy our adult children infinitely more when we share a cocktail with them.
When Gracie and I weren’t laying around eating, drinking, stalking pictures of her friends on Instagram or watching documentaries on Netflix, we were shopping. I was really motivated to have her help me buy toys for the two precious children we “adopted” for Christmas. I think it’s good to have one’s offspring participate in this activity. It builds character. The first day we went out, we never got within a mile of a toy (or character, for that matter) Before we knew it, it was getting dark, we were exhausted and it was time to go home and shake up some martinis. We did better the next day, Target was our first store and we managed to get every item checked off the list before we beat a hasty path to the boutiques. We squeezed in some regular Christmas shopping for our own family as well. Gracie likes to shop one-on-one with me, due to the “Shopping Principle of 1:1,” which simply states that, “Mom will buy one thing for us, for every one thing she buys for others!”
We managed to blow through all the money I had allocated for Christmas before the Thanksgiving turkey was even thawed.
I really think all I need is about 6-8 weeks to get my life back to normal. With minimal effort, I should be able to get caught up around the house, drop 5 lbs and restore positive fiscal relations with Jimmy and Citibank Visa.
The only glitch is that I don’t have that much time. My kids will be back in less than 3 weeks for Christmas. And Christmas vacation lasts way longer than Thanksgiving. In fact, sometimes Thanksgiving feels like a practice holiday, to remind me what it’s going to be like having everyone home for a month!
To keep my spirits bright, as she packs to leave this morning, Gracie is humming a Christmas Carol – And I am inserting my own lyrics:
I’ll be home for Christmas
You can plan on me
Please have dough,
so we can go
on a shopping spree…
Christmas Eve will find us
Sharing an alcoholic drink
I’ll be home for Christmas…
…Sooner than you think!
It’s been 9 long months since we found out on January 1st that we were going to be blessed with our sixth child. A son that another family has already named Matthew. He is due on October 3rd of this year. At 6′, 170 lbs, Matt will be our biggest kid, but perhaps more significantly, the only one to arrive promptly on his due date.
Since I am one of the first of my group to add a member to their family via marriage, many of my friends are watching me in earnest. Ever since Emilie got engaged, I have been besieged with friends telling me that they hope I will get some “on-the-job-training” at the Art of Wedding Planning so that I can assist them when their time arrives. While I don’t have any desire to be an actual Wedding Planner, per se, I am intrigued by the concept of becoming a “Wedding Midwife.” I’m picturing myself in a purely supportive role – standing by with experience, wisdom, sage advice and an endless amount of empathy.
Here is my step-by-step overview on how to bring a new member into your family. As with all gestational periods, it can be less daunting if you break it down into manageable sections:
The first trimester:
A flurry of activity! You will conceptualize the entire event during this time. A ring is purchased and a date is circled prominently on the calendar. Immediately following the excitement of conception, and before you can even catch your breath, the development process begins. You start to give shape to seemingly minor details that, while barely visible to the naked eye at this stage, are extremely important down the road. A venue, caterer, florist, cake and DJ are selected. THE DRESS must be chosen with the utmost care and attention, sparing no expense. And, don’t forget to buy something flattering for your Bride to wear as well- you’ll want her to look pretty that day too.
The second trimester:
The second trimester is a bit calmer, as the major components for success are all in place. This period of time can and should be spent primarily on Growth Management. Lamentably and per the usual, we didn’t do this very well – our wedding is off-the-charts enormous. This won’t be the first time we brought a kid into our family with an appalling lack of commitment to the curtailment of excess. Don’t panic if this happens to you. Maintain your focus and after you bring this whole thing to fruition, you can rein yourself in, exercise some self-discipline and, hopefully, get things back to the way they were before you were expecting.
The third trimester:
At the beginning of the third trimester, it will occur to you that you are finally getting close. This is the time to check and double-check that everything is “good to go.” Sleep will start to elude you while you lay in bed imagining the approaching day in your mind. Along with joyful anticipation, vulnerability, fear and anxiety become your closest companions, as you start to visualize every single thing that can possibly go wrong that day. Towards the end of your last trimester, exhausted and spent from waiting and fretting, you’ll just want to get it over with, no matter how it turns out.
Your Big Day:
When the long-awaited day finally does arrive, you’ll be surrounded by well-wishers, supportive friends and family. Sure, you’ll be nervous, but you’ve prepared for this day for 9 months. Plus, there’s a really nice man who will hook you up to an IV and give you drugs to ease your way through the experience…
Scratch that last part, it’s just a bartender with a glass of champagne. I’ll probably say, “I do” and take two.