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“If You’re Willing To Play The Game, It Will Be Coming Around Again” (The Revolving Door of Child-Rearing)

What does what does your cart say about you?

You can tell a lot about a person’s stage of life by examining their grocery cart. One glance at mine and you can plainly see the circle of life – the revolving door that is the American Family.

The stated goal of every parent is to raise your kids to grow up and fly away on their own. But, it seems like as soon as the mission is accomplished, we start wishing they were home again.

We pine for the days when they were small, adoring and entirely dependent.  We yearn to have our babies back.

In the checkout line of the grocery store this morning I was overcome with melancholy as I philosophized about my purchases. My basket was definitely a “Tell All” story of children coming and children going.

Starting with the fact that sitting right on top was an enormous box of Huggies…

I wonder if the cashier at Target was confused by the diapers and wondered if YOU were actually having a baby?!” my daughter pondered aloud as she unloaded bags.

I must admit that stung a bit.

I don’t look that old!” I snapped, “I could still have another baby if I wanted to!”

I realized it was the first box of diapers I’d bought in 15 years. When my First-born’s First-born arrives next month, it’ll be “all hands on deck” and I was thinking it might be wise to have a case or two of nappies lying around. (Sort’ve the grandmother version of a Hope Chest.)

One of the reasons my youngest daughter was even helping unload groceries was to supervise the hiding of the healthy food. The healthy food purchases are indicative of the fact that she is moving back in with us for her last year of college.

I’m so happy about this that I’m willing to accommodate her need for expensive organic food items – which we are compelled to hide from our menfolk.

But, the guys weren’t entirely forgotten. There was also an abundance of going-back-to-college supplies in my cart. A shower caddy, a blanket, a laundry hamper and some Tide pods, among other things.

The summer really flew by. It seems like my oldest son just got home and now he’s leaving again.

He told me the other day that he needed to talk to me when I got home. I worried as I drove home, wondering what was up. But it turned out he just wanted to give me a list of items he needed before he departs for College Town and also to thank me for letting him live with us this summer.

He added that it was an awesome time…

…proving that although our kids are large, they are still adoring and somewhat dependent.

It occurs to me, with a tinge of sadness, that this may have been his last summer to live at home. Maybe – maybe not. Who even knows anymore?

I guess I’m glad, for now, that our door swings in both directions and it certainly appears The Wee One is arriving just in time.

“Vacation – All I Ever Wanted!” (Peep My Family Vacation For What To Do And Not Do On Yours…)

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We just returned from our much-needed, long-awaited, highly-anticipated beach vacation. As with many families, our vacations always look better in the planning stages, than they do from the metaphorical Rear View Mirror of Real Life…

Every year I arrive home a poorer, slightly wiser version of myself. I’m no fancy Travel Blogger, but I did compile a short list of guidelines to refer to when planning next year’s vacation. You might find these tips helpful as well.

Don’t bring your kids…

We love our kids, we really do, but they’ve been known to rain on our parade. They simply introduce a different element to the “travel experience” with their likes/dislikes, high standards, unsolicited opinions and general disdain for anyone over the age of 35.

The only thing worse than listening to them snipe at one another, is when they join forces against their parents. Indeed, there were brief glimpses of sibling solidarity when united against a common foe – us.

They mocked our music, barely smirked at our jokes, spoke a slanguage we didn’t understand and then rolled their eyes when we asked for clarification or a definition. The Millennial Wordofthe-Week was “peep.” Once we looked it up in the Urban Dictionary and understood it contextually, we tried to use it as casually and often as possible.

(Example: “Peep your favorite Ginger as she stars in her kids’ Snap Chat Stories all week!”)

Honestly, leave your children at home. They’ll just cost you money and make you wait longer at restaurants for a table.

If you Do bring your kids, don’t let them bring friends…

You might read this and assume that maybe we didn’t like the kids our kids brought along on the trip. Au Contraire! In fact, we liked them more than we liked our own offspring.

It’s just that it didn’t take long before we remembered that NO FAMILY can withstand the intense level of scrutiny that comes from 7 straight days in a Condo with non-family members.

It’s like being under a microscope!

When tension inevitably erupted (every 5-6 minutes or so) I couldn’t help but obsess over what our young guests would be reporting back to their folks about us.

If I wanted our family drama peeped that closely, I would try to book us on our own Reality TV series and generate a little income. We had more than a few dicey vacation moments that would’ve made the Kardashians look downright “peace” in comparison.

If you do let your kids bring guests, do treat them as if they were your very own…

Mid way through our week, my daughter’s friend twisted her ankle walking out of a restaurant. I want to stress that I neglected this child as if she were my very own flesh and blood – which is to say that I barely peeped the situation.

Imagine my chagrin when she ended up in a boot a few days after our trip was over. Apparently her parents insisted upon an X-ray when she hobbled back through their front door. And, I am pretty sure that’s when they imposed their own “travel ban.”

3 more Do’s and another Don’t

Do consider giving the kids a modest stipend…It might feel like you’re paying them to hang out with you, but you’re really paying them to not hang out with you

Don’t opt for a lump sum at the beginning of the trip…It’s best to divide the funds out “per diem style.” Otherwise, you’ll be back on your bank app doing money transfers – anything to buy them off for for the last few days of peace that would be had at a hefty price.

Do remember they’re called the “friendly skies” for a reason…  Not to say the 15 hour drive down with our kids wasn’t an absolute joy, but when we spontaneously decided to fly ourselves home and let our kids drive the car back, we high-fived ourselves all the way home from the airport. Trust me – You won’t miss another round of the car game, “20 Questions!”

Do snap as many pictures as possible the first few days…Young people get less photogenic and far less cooperative after limbs are fractured and the money stream has dried up.

“You Might As Well Jump!” (A Full Day’s Worth of Summer Activities to Enhance Mother/Daughter Bonding…)

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We are barely up to our ankles in summer and my family is already dancing all over each other’s last nerve…

The problem really isn’t my boys. I rarely ever lay eyes on my sons, but I am convinced they still live here by remnants of physical evidence and disappearing groceries. My daughter, on the other hand, is all over me like a spray tan.

While my sons are thriving/surviving summer break ostensibly by keeping different hours from me, my daughter is soaking up my essence as though she were my UNDERSTUDY memorizing my character for an upcoming Summerstock performance.

In this vein, I find it prudent to keep a full complement of Mother-Daughter activities to stave off the inevitable boredom and annoyance…

Watch “Chrisley Knows Best!”

What better way to bond than binge-watching reality television? We have DVR’d the entire series. I’m not exactly sure why, but my girl finds it thoroughly entertaining to watch a couple of highly-accomplished, opinionatedly-sassy southern parents navigate their way through a turbulent effort to usher their spoiled, ungrateful offspring into adulthood.

The stricter the parents try to be, the more my daughter appears to enjoy the episode. It’s baffling. Sometimes I watch it with her for courage, ideas and inspiration.

There are times I find the show oddly relatable.

Attend Boot Camp Together

If you start to feel bad about how long you’ve been vegging on the couch, why not attend boot camp together?

As we walked into the gym, my kid glanced over at me and shrieked,

“Are you wearing hoops? Take them out! Take them out! Oh my God!”

Confused, I hastily snatched the offending rings from my lobes before anyone else saw me.

My daughter attempted to clarify by explaining, “You don’t want to be the lady that wears hoop earrings to the gym…”

The first thing the Trainer had us do was jump rope. I smiled confidently. Not to brag, but I’ve jumped quite a bit of rope in my day.

I soon found out jumping rope boot-camp-style is different than when I was 12. It’s way more intense. You jump with both feet.

Fast.

As I swung the rope over my head, attempting to pass the first arc over my body, I noticed the rope suddenly refused to budge. It seemed to be hung up in something.

Turns out, it was tangled up in the grippy clip holding the mass of hair atop my head.

Fortunately, my group graduated on to tire-jumping in the time It took me to unsnarl the rope from my “high bun,” (all the while I was quietly giving thanks that I wasn’t the lady wearing hoop earrings.)

Make a Target run

On your way home, you might realize that you didn’t anticipate all the boot camp jumping when you were not taking kegels seriously during your pregnancies. You propose a quick Target-run to pick up some panty-liners.

Since it’s Target you’re suggesting, instead of Walmart, your daughter will be mostly agreeable.

We leave an hour later with milk, bread, eggs, lunch meat, yogurt and a plethora of sundry feminine products, including hair/nail vitamins, a hair straightener, a curling wand, (because … straighten before curling) a few new make-up brushes, Q-tips and some protein bars.

In our mutual self-absorption we totally forgot to grab a Father’s Day card.

Thank God my husband already knows we love him because I can’t afford to go back. Besides, I was thinking for Father’s Day I should just make him a card – styled like a coupon:

Good For One Free Day of Father/Daughter Bonding.”

“What A Fool Believes…” (A Fool-Proof Guide To Never Saying No To Your Kids)

Future attorney graces the cover of Parents Magazine

 

My mother immediately got me a subscription to Parents Magazine the day I told her I was pregnant with my first child. I remember thinking it was a rather odd gift, as I already knew everything there was to know about parenting, (as do all people who’ve never actually raised a child).

But eventually I concluded it couldn’t hurt to thumb through the mag every month – if for no other reason than to clip the diaper coupons.

That’s how I happened to stumble across a particularly life-changing article about “saying no” to one’s children. The author of the article warned young parents against being overly negative with their children. It suggested trying to eliminate the word “no” from your parenting vocabulary – replacing it with more affirming responses.

I fell for this hard, y’all. I was all in. Here was a concept that completely meshed with my naturally positive personality.

Besides, who wants to raise their family in a culture of negativity? Not me – that’s for sure! The word “no” hit the trash pile right alongside the shoulder-padded business suits I wouldn’t be needing as I headed into the 1990s. (Or ever, as it turns out.)

Here’s how it works –

Your child asks: “Mommy, can I have a Popsicle?

You say: “You sure can! Right after you eat all your green beans!”

Or…

Your Little Darling inquires: “Mommy can I ride a giraffe?”

You respond: “You betcha! As soon as you finish up at university, you can apply for your Zoo Keeper’s License and then you will have a trillion opportunities to ride the giraffes. Probably even the elephants and zebras too!”

You get the idea. This is a parenting skill any fool can master. Once you get the hang of it, it starts to flow naturally. You’ll become be a total Yes-Mom.

Remember, it’s not as much about “keeping it real,” as it is about “keeping it realmy.” In the realm of possibility – you know, to avoid killing their wee little dreams.

It wasn’t long before I realized this not only worked with young children, it worked like a charm with young husbands too. As in…

Your Husband suggests something you have absolutely no intention of ever doing:

You respond: “Yes, Honey, that sounds so fun! We will definitely take a look at doing that one day!”

I’m pretty sure from the late 80s through the first decade of the new millennium-
I.
Never.
Said.
No.

Be careful not to confuse this particular parenting theory with the “Permissive Parenting” movement that swept the country a few decades earlier. This doesn’t mean you can’t be strict and have standards. My kids weren’t running wild, doing things they ought not, per se. They were just running around unrealistically optimistic and ever-hopeful.

There’s only one little catch – it turns out, most of the parenting advice I read back in the day, was geared towards ambitious, energetic, enthusiastic young parents. (People whose offspring proffer tiny non-threatening, manageable toddler-esque requests.)

But, two interesting things happen as our kids hit their tweens, teens and twenties that start to render all this positivity a little less manageable.

A) Parents get worn out and start to lose their elasticity, just as…
B) The kids’ requests get more outrageous over time.

I mean, sure, your kid can cut the dog’s hair some day or ride his tricycle to Mars, but there’s no way in Hell he’s throwing a Beer Bash for 150 of his closest friends in your home.

So, eventually you’ll start to notice yourself turning into that Negative Parent you swore you’d never be…slipping in the occasional head shake, a “nuhuh” or perhaps even an actual, “ummmNot Nobut Hell No!” When your kid (completely unaccustomed to this unfamiliar vibe) gets a whiff of your bad attitude, he/she may become disoriented, disillusioned and confused.

Then, I guess the proverbial crap could hit the fan.

I never did run across any articles that advised what to do when that happens. But I did clip a ton of coupons that gave me $1.00 off a box of wipes with purchase of a 64-count box of Huggies.

“Give Me Love, Give Me Love, Give Me Peace On Earth” (How To Peace-Out Your Own Family…)

I remember when I was a kid we would start weeks in advance badgering my mother to tell us what she wanted for Mother’s Day. It went without saying she was going to get The Mother’s Day Special – Breakfast in Bed.

Consisting of:

-Eggs cooked to order (but served cold and rubbery)
-Congealed Grits
-Hockey Puck Biscuits (use your back teeth)
-Bacon  (You’ll be cleaning up grease ’til Christmas)

That breakfast fare was going down no matter what. It was a tradition. But we always asked her what else she wanted.

Every single year, without fail, she would request the exact same thing…

All I want for Mother’s Day is Peace and Harmony. I just want everyone in my family to love each other and get along!”

Hmmmm…no can do…what’s your second choice?

I can remember, as a young girl, thinking ‘she must have a tiny screw loose.’ We are offering to buy you a real gift Lady! With your own money! And we will more than likely fight over who got you the best thing. Also a tradition.

My sister sticking her tongue out at me.  Notice the expression of dismay and disappointment on Mom’s face…

Even as we got older, we remained as puzzled as ever by her annual heartfelt request…

Who does she think she is? One of The Beatles?

My siblings and I came of age during the height of this country’s peace movement. We grew up listening to all the hits cranked out by the former Beatles, who couldn’t seem to get along in the original group, but managed to take a stand afterward; constantly beseeching the world for peace after they were solo artists.

They each had a “peace song,” except for John Lennon, who had two.

None of us were averse to giving peace a chance, but we had been saving up our allowances for weeks and, budding Capitalists that we were, we wanted to go to the 5&Dime and give merchandise a chance.

In spite of her stubborn resistance, we managed to give Doris some fabulous gifts through the years:

I made us matching Mother/Daughter halter tops in 1972 during my halter-top making phase. Now that I think about it, I don’t recall ever seeing Mom in hers, but I sported mine on the daily.

A few years later, I saved $10 of my babysitting money and bought her a Collector’s Edition Plate from Avon. I rode home from the Avon lady’s house on my bike with the plate in a bag, which slid off my handlebars while I was trying to get my kick-stand down. Mama said the nick “gave the plate character!”

One year my brother, sister and I spent an entire day assembling Mom a scrapbook. We argued loudly and incessantly the entire afternoon over which pictures to include. The oldest child, my sister, always won – So I got the last word years later by writing a blog.

My sister, my brother and me getting scrappy over that scrapbook.

It was a boon if Dad stepped in with financial assistance, because his participation significantly increased our Mother’s Day gift budget. This allowed us to procure:
-perfume she didn’t use (an assault on her sinuses)
-necklaces she rarely wore (moms don’t like heart shaped jewelry as much as people think) and
-outfits she wouldn’t be caught dead in.

But the one thing I know for a fact – we never gave the woman the peace and harmony she so desperately craved.

But it’s okay. They say “Paybacks are Hell.” We are all 3 parents now, beseeching our own kids for peace and harmony.

And,  like The Beatles, we know we will never get it. But we’ll take a strong stand for it, nonetheless.

As we wait patiently for our own kids to be parents.

“I’m Not Talking ‘Bout Moving In And I Don’t Want To Change Your Life” (How To Survive Your College Student’s Temporary Return)

James texting the family for a little love today

Many of us have children returning home from college this week for the entire summer, so in the interest of peace and harmony, it might be a good time to set some boundaries.

Understandably, this can be a very challenging time, as you’ve been on your own since August, living your life however you please…but now your kids are back in the house.

The first time I ever heard the word, “boundaries,” I was running errands and listening to talk radio. (Talk radio in the 90s was affordable therapy and free life-coaching for those of us who married young and couldn’t afford the real thing.)

One day, one of the radio Life-Gurus was talking about “boundaries.” Enthralled, I tuned in. It was an entirely foreign concept to me.

“That is you and yours, this is me and mine. Here is the line you don’t cross!” A simple enough concept about respecting others. But nothing I thought would ever apply to my family.

My husband and I got married before we finished college. We never bothered to establish any pesky boundaries. Partly because it wasn’t a “thing” back then and partly because when you get married that young, you’re almost like siblings.

We have shared everything through the years…

Our morning Coffee
Multiple addresses
Jumbo popcorn at the movies
Influenza and other sundry viruses
Damp bath towels and
Memories

We switch the radio station without even asking and eat off each other’s plates. We also constantly interrupt each other and call it “interactive listening.

We muddled through life and managed okay in our boundary-free existence. And then when the babies came (in droves) we certainly never considered setting any boundaries between ourselves and our tiny issue.  Why would we?

But, things got dicey when our offspring reached their late teens and early twenties. These are the tricky years when our kids feel the need to start asserting their independence and putting up walls. They become less adorable and far less adoring almost overnight.  While this is an essential and requisite part of the maturation process, it’s super difficult.

For the parents.

Mostly because we can’t help but notice all the boundary setting. And it’s shockingly one-sided.

That’s right – our children have attempted to set boundaries for us and when we inevitably trespass, we risk the accusation that we’ve assaulted their fragile and budding adultness. Meanwhile, they traipse around our house dancing all over our rights like hippies at Woodstock in a rainstorm. It’s a bloody free-for-all around here for the millenials.

So I’m determined to be proactive. I’ll start with the following guidelines for peace, but reserve the option to add on as deemed necessary:

-If you put your clothes in my washing machine and that action necessitates moving the previous load into my dryer, which then results in a load of clean dry clothes in need of folding, please fold them. I will do the same for you and I give you my word, by summer’s end, I will have logged more folded loads than everyone in our household combined.

Mom for the win.  Not that it’s a contest.

-If you should return home to find (as Santana sang in the 70s) the house is dark and my pots are cold,” I’m probably hanging out with Jean and Joan and who-knows-who. Please feel free to prepare your own dinner.

-Likewise, if you open the refrigerator or the pantry and don’t find the soy burgers, almond milk or the particular brand of organic granola you prefer, please find your way to the grocery store.  You can leave your receipt on the counter.   Since we don’t eat that crap around here, I tend not to buy it.

And one more thing….as hard as it may be to believe, if my bedroom door is shut, I might just be trying to get away from you. Yes, YOU my pet. So if you perceive an injustice, or have an opposing religious or political viewpoint you want to rail about, consider putting it into a text or an email. I promise to read it and get back to you with a rebuttal.

Lastly, to all my fellow parents out there who, like me, find themselves running a glorified B & B (Bed & Boundaries) this summer, always remember: “If you love something, set it free. If it comes back to you, it’s probably your college student.”

“Bad Company Til The Day I Die” (The Fail-Proof Way To Ensure Your Home Is The Local Teen Hang-Out)

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The happiest days of my life were obviously my wedding day and the 5 days I gave birth to my 5 children. Blah-blah-blah. But following those memorable days, suspiciously close, in the number 7 -? slots, are all the glorious days in my life that my cleaning lady comes.

Which is why the verbal exchange I had with my youngest child this morning was so enormously disconcerting.

Son –  giving me a quick hug as he departs for a long and tedious day at the local high school:

Can I have friends over tomorrow night?”

Can you have friends over tomorrow?” I repeat back to him slowly, as though English is not my first language – buying myself some time – while I mentally flip through my glamorous social calendar for any and all unlikely conflicts.

(You never know, it’s possible I could be hosting a large party tomorrow night at our home, which would be entirely incompatible with his plans to have a swarm of teenage boys milling about in our driveway… unless they are a Valet Service.)

But no. So I offered up the only deterrent I could think of.

My cleaning lady is coming tomorrow.”

It has come to my attention lately that we have a large and rowdy group of teenagers at our house every other weekend on the reg. And for some inexplicable reason, these large social gatherings are totally in sync with the schedule my cleaning lady is on. Every other Friday I pay her a handsome amount of money to clean my home and every other Friday, just a few short hours later, these kids arrive to entirely eradicate my bliss.

You just wouldn’t believe the domestic destruction. Every other Saturday morning, my home looks like a hard rock band from the 70s stayed over while blazing their way through a 38-city tour.

But, all of that aside, it was my son’s next utterance that truly filled me with the dismay that only a mother’s heart can know.  I will never be able to un-hear these words:

Do we even really need her?”   

Do we even really need her?” I repeated back slowly.  Again, no comprende.

As I mulled over my response, I realized I wasn’t completely sure if he was suggesting we might not need her tomorrow, as the place looked relatively clean and presentable enough for his friends, or if he might’ve been suggesting that we might not need her EVER.

Perhaps he was insinuating that I could reasonably be expected to handle the deep-cleaning of our abode these days. (Now that all other superfluous offspring are grown and have fled the nest, and we are down to a sensible amount of children) (one) (him).

I could see where he might possibly come to this conclusion, as I was still lying in bed when he came to tell me goodbye this morning, earnestly trying to catch up on the past 30 years of no sleep.

“She needs the money, I can’t cancel on her,” I responded yanking my blanket higher around myself, somewhat defensively.

I don’t really know why I chose to answer in this manner. I just did. I actually have no idea if my cleaning lady needs the money. She might not. It’s entirely possible she shows up here every other Friday purely out of pity for me. I have a knack for bringing that out in people who aren’t my own children.

Rather than turn things around on him and ask if “we really need” a passel of teenagers here tomorrow night, I chose to take the high road and spark an intellectual discourse on Economic Interdependence in a Free Market Society. The very hallmark of superior parenting…or a guilty and exhausted mother.

For whatever reason, he chose not to engage me and left immediately for school.

There’s no way I’m letting go of my cleaning lady.  It could be way worse.  I can assure you, if I was the one solely responsible for cleaning this house, we would never dream of having Bad Company over here for a sleepover. Not the rock group or the local teen-scene.

Nonetheless, I might consider switching my lady to Mondays…