“Have You Seen Her?” (The Night My Children Issued A Ginger Alert)

I’ve been awoken by all manner of things throughout my tenure as a mom:

-Phones ringing
-Children mauling  (me or one another)
-Dogs barking
-Toddlers itching
-Teens retching

Yet nothing prepared me for the first words I heard out of my husbands mouth yesterday…

What did you do to our children last night?” He asked, staring in disbelief at a group text on his cell phone.

Nothing! Why? What? I’ve been right here sleeping!” I snapped, making a grab for his phone so I could see what the heck he was referring to.

He turned his body just out of my reach, “They’re pretty freaked out!” he continued, scrolling through the exchange.

I gave up trying to confiscate his phone and fumbled around the nightstand for mine.

Sure enough, he was right. There was indeed a frantic series of messages in our family group chat, whereby my children were searching high and low for THEIR VERY OWN MOTHER!

A Ginger Alert had been issued in the wee hours of the morning by a sibling.

As I scanned their conversation, my empathy grew. Been there, felt that. I could totally relate.

“Has anyone heard from Mom?” texted my 19 year old son. “She said she was on her way here over an hour ago and she never arrived. And, she’s not answering her cell!”

At this point his siblings helpfully recollected their most recent interactions with me. One offered up a slightly stale memory of a lecture I delivered hours earlier, while another vividly recalled a money transfer I made into their account somewhere between 8 and 9 pm.

They all remembered me fondly, but no one had seen or heard from me since around 10:30. Not since I texted my son that I was getting out of bed, changing out of my pajamas and meeting him an hour away at a bar in College Town.

I can explain.

It’s Mom’s weekend down at the university. Lots of fun mother/child events planned – I’ve been following it on Facebook with joyful anticipation since February.

I was completely stoked, until my son reminded me that he was in a stage show that had performances slated every few hours throughout the entire weekend. So naturally, I bought tickets to the matinee on Saturday and crumpled up my registration form for all the other fun events I would not be enjoying with my son-gone-performer.

Around 10:30 Friday night, I texted him to see how the evening’s performance went, only to find out he had changed his mind about attending the first event. He had strolled over to a bar and was the, “only boy there without a mom.

How it pained me to think of my little boy at a bar orphaned and “momless!” (His word – hand to heart) Never mind that the previous night I was on the phone with him until midnight co-editeding an Economics paper he had due in the morning.

 

That’s when I thought it would be amusing to tease, “I’m on my way, just as fast as I can change out of my jammies!” I followed that by textmonishing him to, “tell the other moms how helpful I was with your paper last night!”

Somehow, he didn’t detect my tongue-in-cheekiness, and a few hours later he was worried sick.

And he wasn’t the only one. My youngest went outside and surveyed the driveway, attempting to reassure everyone, “Her car is here!”

But that was insufficient for the older siblings. His big sister text-shouted,

GO INTO MOM AND DAD’S ROOM RIGHT THIS MINUTE AND CHECK IF SHE IS IN HER BED!!!

So, there I sat the next morning,  drinking my coffee, perusing the aftermath of texts, riddled with guilt.

For about a minute.

Until it hit meMY kids were looking for someone who said they were going to be somewhere by sometime o’clock, who then no-showed and was now NOT answering their cell?  In a million weekend nights we could never be even for all the sleepless hours  I have endured worrying about them.

As an added bonus, I got additional delight picturing their precious faces as it dawned on them – with mom gone, the remainder of their collective upbringings would be in the hands of Dad. Just Dad.  That’s 50% of the Bad Cop/Good Cop Parenting Formula.

As in Bad Cop only.

“We’re so screwed” they surely must’ve thought. We must find her.

Ginger Alert- I had lunch with a couple of friends a few days earlier and we discussed the challenges of building empathy in our children. While I certainly didn’t set out purposely to create a life lesson here, I admit I’ll take all the help I can get.

 

“Little Pink Houses” (How I Got My Marriage Off To A Peachy Start…)

I wonder how many times we moved before I finally thought to label the box so it would go straight to the attic?

It’s wedding season. Not only is this the time of year people get married, but it’s also the season of my life when a lot of my friends’ kids are getting married. So, I’m spending a lot of time hanging out online perusing (and apparently judging) wedding registries.

You can tell a lot about a girl’s plans by her wedding registry.   So representative of the elegant life the young bride is envisioning for herself. So sweet, so naive, so hopeful.

I couldn’t help but find myself wondering how these girls might feel in about 30 years about the items they registered.

Take my registry (circa 1984) for example:

I registered for pink china. In my defense, pink was considered rather chic in 1984.  I wouldn’t go so far as to claim the color was a neutral, but it did pair nicely with navy and mint green – my accent colors. I registered and received several thousand dollars worth of china that I’ve used twice in 33 years. Once for an Easter dinner and once for an “It’s a Girl!” themed baby shower.

I notice a lot of today’s sophisticated young brides are opting for cream or white dinnerware.  At least they learned something from the 80s.

The crystal I selected was equally lovely. The bowl was a clear lead crystal with a frosted pink tulip-style stem.  Guaranteed to look lovely with my china pattern.

Mind you, these selections were made before Pink Zinfandel burst forth on the wine scene as “affordable and approachable,” (a perfect pour in my pink stemware) but after John Mellencamp’s  “Pink Houses” (1984) became a hit and a potential lifestyle choice.

I did manage to use my crystal more than I used my fine china. It was all broken by our fourth move and/or our third child.

No matter!  By the 90s, pink had become synonymous for Breast Cancer Awareness and jewel tones were all the rage on the domestic front.

I went to Pier 1 at some point along the way and bought a box of plastic wine glasses I thought were classier than drinking Franzia straight out of the plastic spigot attached to the box.

One of my Bridal Showers was themed, “Anything Peach!” You guessed it – guests were invited to bring a gift that was peach colored. That’s a tall order. Looking back, I bet some chics were pretty darn annoyed. I received a ton of peach towels and sheets which, quite frankly, clashed with all my pink.

I also registered something my mom called “Silver Plate” eating utensils. It was considered nicer than Oneida stainless, but not nearly as expensive as sterling silver. My mom felt certain I could get all 12 place settings required to be a happy housewife. I got 7, so Doris insisted on helping me “complete the service” for the next few birthdays and Christmases.

On my next birthday, I turned 22 and the bloom was literally off the rose. I was completely over the bridal thing.  Not to portray myself as a diva, but I remember really wanting clothes and boots on those occasions more than 2 forks, 2 spoons and a knife. Even if they were coated with real silver.

Determined not to let my eating utensils go the way of my china and crystal, I actually used it as my “Everyday.” (A term my mom uses to distinguish ordinary, average days from the days in which I entertained formally…)

Which was never.

The last time I saw a piece of my “Silver Plate,” it was 1/2 buried in our sandbox in Phoenix.

This is not to say that I didn’t accidentally register for and receive some practical and useful gifts. My cousin gave me a cheese slicer. I can’t believe I still have it. I think of her every time I use it.

Which is often, because cheese goes well with a cold box of wine.

I’m not casting aspersions on anyone else’s hopes and dreams. I ordered all 6 of my 2017 brides something elegant off their registry. I’m merely suggesting, in 10 or 15 years it could very well end up in their sandbox.

“Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” (How to Divvy Up The Dirty Work in Marriage…)

 

My husband and I raised our 5 children to believe that a girl could do anything a boy could do and vice versa. While we preached the message – I admit we didn’t always lead by example.

When we set up housekeeping in the early 80s, we attempted to establish an equitable, well-defined division of labor. Especially in domestic areas such as housecleaning and raising kids. Rejecting all sexist notions of “women’s work” and “men’s work,” I introduced what I refer to as the Passion Scale. My personally devised system for determining who should do what.

The Passion Scale is quite simple. It merely suggests that the marital partner who cares the most, on a scale of 1-10, about a particular chore/task/issue should be the one to handle it. For instance, if I’m at a “3” about the overflowing trash can (I barely noticed it) and you are at an “8” (it’s driving you crazy) then YOU are probably taking out the trash. Because you are more “passionate” about trash disposal.

By allocating each responsibility to the partner who cares the most about a particular matter, you effectively make it their bailiwick.

This sounds like a foolproof and flawless plan right?

It is.

UNLESS you happen to be married to someone so laid-back and chill that they don’t care about anything at more than a “2” or “3.”  Then it can backfire…

It’s true – The more you care, the more you do.

I know some people with this problem. They permanently exist at about a “9” or a “10” in all matters, while their mate hovers below a “4” on everything. Consequently, they do all the dirty work.

Thankfully, that’s not a problem in my marriage.

As the years flew by, my hubby and I both stepped up to the plate to perform the tasks we each cared the most about. Our problem is we have crippled one another’s ability to perform any duties that fall under our own umbrella.

Here’s how it settled out over time:

 

Me:

-Food Prep (he works in a restaurant, so he doesn’t really care if we eat.)
-Laundry (Despite his grumbling to the contrary, I actually do loads of laundry)
-Merchandising (This basically means I’m in charge of spending all our money.)

 

The Hubs:

-Household Maintenance (lawn care, light bulbs, trash cans, any and all repairs)
-Auto (driving, washing and maintenance of anything that has a motor)
-Money Management (He tries to save money)
-Electronics (anything and everything that is run by gas or electricity)
-Lawn and Garden (we currently don’t have a garden, because we both don’t care.)

As you can see with just a precursory glance at this list, despite my efforts, our responsibilities ended up leaning towards a predictable gender-bias. Apparently, men care about men-stuff and women care about women-stuff.

Last night my Honey was packing for a business trip and asked me to fold his shirts. He lavished praise, maintaining that he is astounded by the speed and efficacy of my shirt folding skills. Reminding me constantly that if things don’t work out with my writing, I can always work at The Gap or Banana Republic.

Flattered beyond measure, I attempted to teach him my method for folding shirts. (Hold shirt with front facing you, gripping at the shoulder seams. In one swift movement, whip the sides to the back while simultaneously bringing the collar to the hem.) He attempted to perform this maneuver over and over, failing miserably.

I kept explaining that it’s “all in the wrists,” but he couldn’t seem to master the technique. It didn’t matter – because after I demonstrated it several times, I had managed to fold every shirt he needed for his trip.

I was smug and superior for about 20 minutes. Until I decided to watch some television. That’s when I remembered…

I .
Can.
Not.
Turn.
Our.
TV.
On.

Utterly frustrated after a 10 minute effort, I hollered for help. Typically when he “helps” me, he ends up just turning it on for me. But today was different.  Fresh off the shirt-folding tutorial, I admonished him,

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day… teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime!”

“Don’t DO it for me, just SHOW me how to do it!”

After all, I shouldn’t need a man every time I want to watch a little television, plus he was about to leave town.

On a Passion Scale of 1-10, I was at a “9” or a “10” about watching TV. So after a few tries, I eventually (sort’ve) understood the operational intricacies of our remote.

Because marriage IS NEVER a competition, we are NOT keeping score. But I think I might’ve won last night. I can watch TV with or without my husband now, but he can’t ever leave me, because he would need me to help him pack.

“Ask Me No Questions And I’ll Tell You No Lies” (Confessions of a Grown Woman Alone in Her Own Home)

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I woke up this morning and we were out of coffee.

Again.

Third day in a row.

One would think, as much as I love my morning java, that I would’ve gone to the store to buy more. But ‘one would be wrong,‘ I think to myself, as I reach for a tea bag. Any brew will do! (That’s how fiercely determined I am to be on vacation from my ordinary responsibilities this week – including going to the grocery store.)

It’s Spring Break and my family has taken a trip without me for the second year in a row. For the past 2 days I’ve been home alone. Except for the coffee problem, it’s been pretty stinkin’ glorious.

I had something I had to do on Monday morning, but when I got home around noon, I put on my pajamas, fired up my Kindle, pulled the drapes and got in bed.

That’s where I spent the next 48 hours.

It was so dark in my room it was like a Vegas Casino. You couldn’t tell if it was daytime or nighttime.

Every hour or so, I either went to the bathroom or shuffled into the kitchen to scrounge for food. Or both.  Of course we didn’t have any food.

I managed to keep myself alive by eating tortilla chips with salsa. Delicious. It was like I was vacationing in Mexico. When the salsa was gone, I scraped the last of the chips across a stick of butter. When the chips were gone, I left the butter out on the counter to soften.

Because…always thinking ahead.

I went back to my bedroom, adjusted the thermostat to the “Winter Blizzard” setting and read more of my book. I think I might’ve dozed off a bit.

When I woke up, it was Monday night. I was cold and hungry. Like a little orphan. I went back into the kitchen and brewed some tea. I knew some toast would pair nicely with it.  We had 4 slices of stale bread.  Plus the butter was soft.

After I sustained myself on tea and toast, I read a little more. I might’ve been missing my husband a bit when I plugged in my heating pad. I guess I’m used to something warm radiating heat in the bed.

My makeshift “Heating Pad Hubby” worked so well that I may market it, because when I woke up again it was Tuesday. I shuffled into the kitchen, grimacing about the coffee situation as I brewed more tea. I donned a warm ugly sweatshirt (because it was super cold with the thermostat set so low), popped some popcorn and read my book.

All day.

Until Tuesday morphed into Wednesday. And then I remembered that Wednesday is the day my family comes home.

In a flurry of activity (okay not really, but if everything is as relative as they say, then it was indeed a flurry) I stripped the sheets off the bed to toss them in the washer. A few tortilla chips, toast crumbs and one kernel of popcorn fell off the fitted sheet. I’m glad I thought to wash them. I congratulated myself on my above-average housekeeping skills.

While I brewed more tea, I unloaded the dishwasher from the weekend.

When my family arrived home (a little earlier than I thought) I was in the laundry room folding laundry that had been resting comfortably in the dryer since Sunday. It was wrinkled, so I restarted the machine to give it a fluff.

I’m pretty sure that’s exactly where I was when they departed Monday morning.

As he unpacked his overnight bag, Jimmy asked me, “Whatcha been up to?” and I answered,

“Just catching up!”

I was a little surprised he refrained from saying anything smart-alecky.  (It’s like he senses he could be easily replaced by a $15 heating pad.)

Mostly I could tell he was relieved that I’m all caught up now.

And  I am.  I’m all caught up.

 

 

“I’d Rather Live In His World Than Live Without Him In Mine…” (3 Hacks To Having A Lit Conversation With Your Son)

Almost every woman I know struggled as a girl with the age-old dilemma – how to talk to boys.  It was no picnic when we were teens ourselves and it hasn’t gotten any easier now that we are Boy Moms.   Conversations with teenage boys are stilted, awkward and typically lop-sided.   After all, your son is just a slightly less-mature version of his ol’ man,  amiright?

So how does a girl get that Special Guy to open up to her – specifically when that boy is her son?


-“I Nudge, You Budge.”

The other day my 16 year old son came home from school.   I cheerfully asked him, per the usual, how his day was.   He answered dismissively, “Lit.”   Despite the groovy vernacular, something in his tone alerted my mom-gut his day wasn’t all that lit…

I put it another way,  “So, you had a good day?”

“Sure”

“It was great then?”

Just about the time I admonished myself to chill-the-heck-out, he responded…

“No, it sucked!”

The verbal floodgates opened. He proceeded to fill me in on all the injustices of the day.  I heard about the quiz the teacher surprised his class with, some weekend plans gone awry,  a girl he may or may not be crushing on and a plethora of other things.

Occasionally, behaving like an annoying sitcom mom pays off.   Oftentimes boys actually do want to talk, but they require an extra nudge.   In this case, re-framing the question a couple of times was just the thing.


-“Acting Bored is Better Than Waterboarding”

A friend of mine, mother to 3 boys and a girl, noted recently that she gets higher quality communication from her sons if she busies herself in the same room and talks to them while she’s engaged in another activity, (ie: back turned or without direct eye contact) for instance when she’s making dinner or loading the dishwasher and they’re in the kitchen getting a snack, doing homework or just passing through.

She has noticed her sons are far more effusive if she comes across mildly disconnected and not hyper-focused on them, whereas her daughter prefers her undiluted, undivided attention.  Teen boys get a little cagey and tend to clam-up if they feel like you’re overly invested in what they often perceive as an “information gathering” mission on your part.

-“Talk Training” Your Teen is not The Same as “Sleep Training” Your Baby…

I published an article recently about how we are “parenting our Millennials long after our bedtime.”  It was a light humor piece, whereby I complained that our teenagers bring their problems to us at all hours of the night.   I received quite a bit of flak in the comments section. More than a few readers wrote in to tell me my offspring were “Absolute Assholes” for bothering their parents in the wee hours.

It goes without saying that my kids can be brats –  they’re teenagers.  But, the bitter truth is that I was kidding-on-the-level in that article.  As parents, we are rarely “off the clock.”  In our household, we were never as successful “talk training” our boys as we were “sleep training” them.  I’m quite certain if we told our sons to stifle an issue until the morning light, we’d never hear about it again.

Unless we’re literally doing the hokey-pokey, we try to maintain an Open Door Policy.

Oh, and spoiler alert: After 30 years of parenting 5 teenagers, I’ve found it’s mostly late at night that teens feel the least inhibited and free to express their true emotions, especially boys.

If you’re feeling particularly enterprising,  you might even  try combining a few of these tricks. Next time your kid comes rolling in around curfew, you could jump out of bed and busy yourself matching up that pile of socks in the laundry room.  You just might find you’ve become quite the sounding board.

If not, at least you’ll get some socks paired and that’s totally lit.

“2 Out Of 3 Ain’t Bad” (Meatloaf and I Philosophize About Weighty Matters)

 

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I’m convinced that wives and mothers can’t lose weight.  I think all the 24/7 nurturing we do just keeps us hungry all the time…

But, apparently guys can.  Weight, I’ve come to find out, melts off dudes like a popsicle in July.

This epiphany started last November. We were facing down the front-end of the annual Holiday “Celebrate with Food Season,” but we kind’ve looked like we were already on the back-end. We decided to put the entire family on a Preemptive Holiday diet.

To keep everyone motivated, we assigned a cash prize for the individual family member who could lose the most weight by Christmas Day. My plan was to use my prize money to buy the tiny new jeans I would soon be requiring.

We weighed in.

Well, actually my husband and my son weighed in. I know it’s vain, but I spotted myself a couple of days to get to a more respectable “starting weight” before my first official weigh-in. (After all, we were writing the numbers down in a notebook where everyone could see them.)

That might sound like cheating, but it actually made it harder for me to win, as we were judging the contest by, “percentage of total body weight.”  In fact, the entire contest was a bit of a sham because everyone knows weight drops off faster when you have more to lose.

And also if you happen to be a guy.

I knew I was starting out at a disadvantage in this contest, but I didn’t mind because I was a shoo-in to win. Men don’t know crap about dieting. Moved by pity for them, I mercifully resolved to give them verbal encouragement, support and diet tips along the way.  And that’s just what I did.

Until the whole stinkin thing backfired on me, turning into one of those Brady Bunch episodes that ends with a critical life lesson. Remember the time Marcia befriended a “Plain Jane” girl at her school, gave her a makeover, loaned her some outfits, then taught her everything she knew about cheerleading?

The friend ends up not only making the cheer squad, but also beating Marcia out for her position as Cheer Captain. Then she turns on Marcia and becomes a cocky little brat. No good deed goes unpunished. Never ever ever.

That’s exactly what happened to me during our Biggest Loser Challenge. I taught them everything I’ve learned during a half-century of dieting – all the tricks of the trade. I started a Family Weight Loss Journal, whipped up protein smoothies, steamed vegetables and even texted inspirational quotes I found on Pinterest. In short, I acted as a free Personal Trainer/Life Coach.

The weight started dropping off.

Of my son and my husband.  Not me.

In fact, I’m pretty sure all the energy I devoted to the effort rendered me even more ravenous than usual.

My daughter came home this past weekend. It’s been a while since she had seen her dad and brother.

“Tommy and Dad are both so skinny!” She exclaimed.

“What exactly are you trying to say?” I responded.

“That Tommy and Dad are both so skinny???”

I was super irritated.  I stopped short of asking her if she was going to stand there and call me fat in my own kitchen.

Lest you think I’m just a sore loser I must hasten to assure you I’m proud of my menfolk. The two of them did so amazing with our challenge that it doesn’t even matter how I did. Wifery and motherhood transcend that level of self-interest. It’s more than enough for me that 2/3rds of us lost weight.

Nonetheless, the second my hubby stepped off the scales yesterday, I was ready for him. I shut down his daily gloat with a dirty look and some eye rolling before he even had a chance to start tossing numbers about.

He seemed a bit miffed.

“Why can’t you just be happy for ME?”

“I AM happy for you. I just don’t want to talk about it all night!” I quipped petulantly, as I took another bite from a miniature container of Haagen Dazs.”*

In the words of the great musician and 20th century philosopher, Meatloaf, “Baby we could talk all night, but that ain’t getting us nowhere…2 out of 3 ain’t bad.”

Speaking of meatloaf, we haven’t had it in awhile. I think I’ll make it for dinner tonight.

All this nurturing is making me hungry.

*A Ginger Snapped Fail-Proof Diet Tip – purchase only the miniature containers of Haagen Dazs.  Way less calories.

 

“Love Means Never Having To Say You’re Sorry” (Wait – That Can’t Be Right…)

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When our daughter and son-in-law became engaged, our church required them to spend a few evenings with a “Mentor Couple” prior to the ceremony to examine the various aspects and challenges of marriage.

My husband and I were mildly affronted, as we obviously fancy ourselves their “Go-to Mentor Couple.”

Yet, we were never so offended as we were the evening they were assigned to discuss the topic of “Marital Conflict” with these well-meaning strangers.

After 33 years of marriage, 11 cross-country moves and 5 kids, my husband and I may not have written the book on marital conflict, but we certainly contributed a few chapters. Marital Conflict is our jam. We can mentor the hell out of our own adult children and their Intendeds in this area, thank you very much.

I’m not trying to suggest we’ve hosted as many fights as Madison Square Gardens, but we’ve had a spat or two. The most recent that springs to mind is the time my husband drove off and left me at our son’s high school graduation. He justified this action by claiming that I “stood around gabbing too long.” Everyone around us was brushing off crumbs when this Ginger snapped.

As such, I always feel a little validated when I hear about friends of ours in rock solid marriages experiencing conflict. Once at a joint family dinner with old college friends, the subject of marital strife arose and our friends’ daughter enthusiastically jumped into the conversation.

“I’ll never forget The Battle of The Crepe Myrtle Trees!”

Eager for every detail, I scooted my chair closer. Our Goddaughter proceeded to regale us with a delightful story about a time her dad got over-zealous with his new chain saw and pruned her mom’s prized Crepe Myrtles down to the nubs.

“She was furious!” she continued, “I’ve never seen her so mad!”

“What happened next?” I goaded.

“She said, ‘Get in the car Kelli, we’re going to Starbucks before I say something to your dad I can’t take back!'”

What a let-down. I expected more fireworks from my feisty friend. After all, she’s the one who taught me the term “A-hole” back in ’82.  As hard as it may be to believe, at the tender age of 19, I’d never been exposed to this word. And maybe I didn’t know it at the time, but it would eventually become an essential part of my marital lexicon.

My friend has clearly mellowed over time.

Another friend, one of the kindest, most “chill” women I know, told us over lunch about a text her adult daughter sent in their family’s group-chat recently.

“Remember that food-fight you and Dad got into that one time?”

Her husband was quick to respond and reassured everyone that the episode “was all in fun” and no one was “actually mad,” but my friend went on to confide,

Oh, I was mad all right. The nearest thing to me at the moment was a squeeze bottle of mustard, so I squirted him with it!”

Now that’s validating. If you can’t put your hands on actual Mustard Gas, I guess regular old table mustard will do in a pinch.

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My Sister-in-law, who is a Realtor, told me that she attended a closing recently whereby a widower was selling his and his deceased wife’s home of 40+ years. As the older man signed on the dotted line, he teared up and mused,

We had some great fights in that old house…”

I couldn’t help but be struck by the irony – all those days, weeks, months and years of building a home and a life together – it was their arguments that he commented on and seemed to miss the most.

Perhaps the rest just went without saying…but, if those walls could talk, I’m sure they’d say that couple loved each other.

The highly acclaimed movie, “Love Story,” (1970) starring Ali McGraw and Ryan O’Neal misled an entire generation with the phrase, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry…”.

Love means frequently having to say you’re sorry, and also “Pass the French’s please.”