This Parent Said “NO”

The care and feeding of teenagers is not always fun. The horrible truth is that parents are just saggy, older teenagers. It takes me a few seconds every morning to adjust to the fact that I am not a teenager and don’t have to make my bed if I don’t want to. (Not strictly true as it is so deeply ingrained in my soul that an unmade bed is the major source of chaos in the universe that I sometimes make my husband’s side if he gets up to go to the bathroom during the night.)

I only know everything when I’m lecturing my kids. Inside my head there are warning bells, my mother’s voice, house plans, yogurt flavors, vacuum cleaners, puppies, wine, shoes, zebras and calorie counts all swirling haplessly. It’s amazing I can even keep a straight face when giving advice or laying down rules. Truthfully, even my kids call me a pushover. I know I am. I HATE arguments and don’t like it when anyone in my family is unhappy with anyone else. I am a born peacekeeper to the extreme. I fully embrace “Can’t we all get along?” and have probably made a lot of “don’t be your kids’ friend” mistakes.

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So, it has come as a surprise to my second child, my numba wan son, that I have said NO to spring break. Spring break. Are there any two words that can as quickly cause a parent to smile and reminisce, remembering their own debauchery and, perhaps, their mug shot, and, at the same time, wince? While we may have lived through our own antics, no parent can possibly think a teenager let loose in Daytona or Panama City is a good thing. Amazingly, though, there are thousands who apparently do. I have been told that I am the only living parent in the southern states who has said NO. The only one. I have influenced his father, who is now in cahoots with me. We are both irrational, deluded and untrusting. These are the arguments with which we’ve been presented:

You think I’m a bad kid. (No, just a kid who will not receive his adult brain until the brain fairy brings it along about 25. )

A parent will be there. (Yes, a parent we don’t know, in charge of 1,346 kids.)

I have a big car. I’ll be safe. (We have a big car that we allow you to drive. You’ve had two minor wrecks and we’ve been called by a state trooper who caught you going 86 in a 55…)

The wrecks were not my fault. It was in the ice. (Was Frosty driving? I’m confused.)

I didn’t get a ticket. (Because the trooper thought we could punish you worse than the courts. Boy, did he have the wrong mom. )

I won’t drink…much. (Hahahahahahahahahaha!)

Everyone is going but me. (Then might we be in danger of the continent tipping over when all that weight shifts to Florida?)

I can take care of myself. (I’ve seen you try to match socks.)

You can’t baby me forever. (Ha. I’m remarkably strong for my advanced age and adult diapers come in all sizes. I feel sure I could tackle, powder and diaper a 150 pound child with little to no injury to myself.)

You can’t even argue with my valid points. (By this time, I’m just mimicking him. He does have valid points but my instinct still tells me no. Jim Jones probably made valid points and look what happened there. )

My son is the ONLY person he knows who will not be among those at the beach this break. In years past, we’ve had multitudes of kids stay with us at the lake. Some breaks have been good and some haven’t. Now that they are 16 and 17, our boys want to venture beyond, where there are buffets of bikini clad girls beckoning drunkly at every turn.

I don’t care about the girls. Good luck to these guys. I’ve made it safely through that stage with my daughter and I say every mother for herself on that one. Any good mom knows it’s a boy’s single unwavering compulsion to get lucky and she should arm her daughters with that knowledge. I’m not even uptight about a few beers. I am a realistic parent. Teenagers drink. I drank. My husband drank. We did worse. Our parenting theory on drinking was to offer sips when our children were young. They would try a sip, grimace and that would hold them for a year or two. This strategy worked so well that our daughter was 19 before she tried again. Even now, she has a good head on her shoulders and never rebelled by drinking. (Extreme eyeliner was another story, but, thankfully, that passed without harm to either of us.) Our son, well, our plan has worked, but only moderately.

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When our son was 15, an older kid that we didn’t know brought alcohol in through our basement door and got our son and his friend rip roaring drunk. While I don’t like this kid, I don’t blame him as I’m sure my son was a willing participant. Throwing up drunk. Sick, sick, sick drunk. My husband went downstairs to find our son, naked, sick and lying in the shower. He described him as looking like ET by the creek. We took great enjoyment the next day in rousing the two boys up early in the morning and making them work, in the July sun, on the dock all the next day. It was extremely pleasurable on our part, and taught the boys a big lesson. The other boy does not drink at all and our son has a huge respect for alcohol as well as a distrust of blue drinks.

Still, our kid and most of his friends do drink some. We have a policy about no questions if they are somewhere, have as much as a sip and need someone to pick them up so they don’t have to drive. It’s hard to keep mum when driving a car load of singing boys home at midnight. In speaking with other parents, I find they have a similar policy. To tell a kid not to drink and then expect them to obey is a great thought, but a reality that could end disastrously. I’d rather be safe. Every parent out there allowing their child to go to spring break is telling them the same thing. “No drinking”. As if. Even in a stable, two parent home with a curfew we have to keep a constant eye on them. At 17 their brains have not fully formed, all their thoughts are in their pants and they are so loaded up with testosterone that they fully believe themselves to be Wolverine. Not a good combination to turn loose with thousands of others kids, all feeling the same way.

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So, my poor unfortunate kid, with the fabulous car, the designer clothes, credit card and, I feel, dang lenient parents, is NOT going to be at the beach with his friends. He won’t be getting a ticket driving down, he won’t be in the wreck on the side of 75, the tragedy broadcast on 26 stations. He won’t be getting lucky and getting herpes, poor kid, and he won’t be getting stitches at the Panama City hospital. He won’t be in the sand, with 4 oiled up, sandy babes plastered to him. He won’t be getting plastered at all unless it’s with his mom, on umbrella drinks, while doing yard work. (Nothing says fun like partying with Mom…) My poor tortured boy will somehow be living through this incredible stretch of time (7 days), alone, without his ever circulating fraternity, to emerge alive and unincarcerated sometime in mid-April. I know, cry me a river and call DFCS. This parent said NO.

 

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Yes, I Know, it’s Another Animal Rant

My dog just asked me for a chewy bone.  While she didn’t actually say this in English, there was no doubt I heard her, loudly and clearly.  We all do it.  I know my goofy Jack Russell, Finn, speaks in a grammatically challenged, raspy voice.  I know my other, more cultured Russell, Matilda, sounds a lot like the Dowager from Downton Abby.

Like every dog owner, I see the bright (in Matilda’s case at least – Finn might not be called exactly bright) intelligence, willingness to obey, desire to please and need to be accepted and loved  I can’t imagine my household without these non-human counterparts.  This is probably what has led to my, um, animal abundance.

Image(Matilda and Finn on the boat.  Although it might look like Finn is bright, due to the lightbulb over his head, he is not, but he is snuggly and pretty.  Sometimes, that’s enough.)

Yes, I have a barn full of oddballs, living together in what is, mostly, harmony.  There is a distinct hierarchy to my barnyard that I could sit and watch, silently, for hours.  My largest, Gracie, is a horse who is nearing 30.  Bought when my daughter was a 5th grader, she is known as “bomb-proof”.  The perfect horse for a girl.  But in looking back as to why she has this personality, it’s sad to remember that before she came to me she had several other homes, where she had friends and formed families but was separated, over and over, and came, originally, from a rent-a-horse ranch.  She was most likely whipped, beaten and berated into submission.  Now, she’s too old to ride and views me with distain.  I can’t blame her.  People probably haven’t been that nice to her.  At this elderly stage of her life she shares her stall with pigs, chickens, donkeys, sheep and an emu.  It’s not the retirement home of her dreams.  I try to make up for it by making her golden years as stress free as possible and giving her senior feed that costs $18,000,000 per bag.

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(And no, I do not know why, when allowed to graze outside the pasture, both Gracie and Bethlehem will choose to stand in the one place there is no lush grass, the porch.)

The undisputed queen of the barn is a sheep I bought from the classifieds.  She was a whim, 13 years ago, and the first of my oddballs.  When I got to the farm selling sheep, I was disturbed to find out that “them was eatin’ sheep”.  I wish I could have taken them all.  Clementine is the most intelligent animal I’ve ever known.  Smarter than dogs, smarter than many children, she rules the roost.  No one eats without her permission and Gracie and my donkey Bethlehem (Not that brilliant as for years he wouldn’t walk across my black driveway, afraid he’d fall in.) vie for her affection.  We have long called her “My Pretty Pony” because when we had more horses, each would court her to stand underneath them, and be their little sidecar.  When one orders lamb at a restaurant, it has caused the terror, pain, and death of a creature who is smarter than one of my children when they were in kindergarten. (I won’t say which one.)

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(Clockwise: Clarence as a baby, Clementine shocked to be found in the kitchen, Clementine getting lots of love from me during her annual haircut, a most humiliating adventure)

The pigs each have such engaging personalities and the interactions between the distinct families of chickens could fill a sun drenched day with entertainment. I really can’t fathom, when I’m in there with them, the fact that one day, a long long time ago, someone said “hmmm, I’d like to kill and eat that”.  Blows my mind.  I wonder if dogs tasted like bacon if people would be so quick to torture and kill them?  Pigs are smarter than dogs, you know. My pigs are engaged in a constant battle over a certain blanket in the barn, whether due to its texture, its color or print is the object of their intense desire.  Mediating between them takes both me and Clementine.  We’ve decided on an odd day/even day schedule for sharing. No one is happy about this.

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The reason I’m saying all this is because knowing the thoughts and feelings of these guys has caused me to spend my life worrying over dogs I see from my car, trapped in tiny pens wondering what crime they committed to be kept in a cell, cats freezing behind grocery stores, birds in tiny cages.  There is a family near me that keeps two big birds in a minuscule cage hanging by their garage no matter what the temperature.  It’s killing me.

The other night, a friend of The Boy’s called and asked if we were missing a pig.  As if my pigs, Babette and Orson, are going to leave their Little Mermaid sleeping bags and snug barn on a cold night.  I called my neighbor and asked if he was missing either of his two.  We laughed because we were having such an absurd conversation.  Nope, not his.  So we went on about our lives.  That night, in the dark of the night waking that happens to middle aged women, I began worrying.  Whose pig was it?  Where was she sleeping?  Was she cold? (Well, duh, she was cold!)  Pigs have IQs that rival that of children 3 – 5 years old.  Can you just imagine the sad and confused thoughts of your preschooler, lost and alone?  Pigs don’t like the dark.  They sleep at night, just like us.  They’re scared of everything that’s unfamiliar.  It’s a shame someone just put her out because she was no longer a cute little piglet.

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Dogs are the same way. They fully believe us when we get them as puppies and tell them they’re our babies.  They don’t get it when we get tired of them one day and send them to the shelter.  I get so many entreaties to take dogs that people no longer want or “can no longer take care of”.  It happens with bunnies and chicks that are given as Easter pets too.  My heart can’t take what we as humans do to these little souls.

I’m not all that knowledgeable about birds.  Recently, a friend posted this story on Alex, an African Grey parrot.  I knew they were smart but had no idea they were thinking like this.  If you have time, this is a real eye opener. (http://youtu.be/SzPiTwDE0bE).  Yet, everyday, parrots die, imported or bred, insane because of their care.  Arrrgggh!

I’ve got no snappy, funny wrap up. I usually see things from a humorous angle but this has really been on my mind lately.  We’ve become a society that throws away our animals because they’re inconvenient.  We don’t take care of our elderly and our children are being raised by iPads and TV. I think we’ve stopped making connections altogether.

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My point is, take in a stray, spay and neuter, leave notes in the mailboxes of assholes who are keeping dogs in the cold, in tiny pens.  My dad once stole a dog that was being mistreated.  That’s what I’m talking about.  Do something for those that can’t help themselves. Give up meat for a day a week, then two days, then maybe everyday. Rail against circuses and Sea World for taking these intelligent species, with family units, separating mothers from their children and beating them into doing tricks.  Elephants don’t naturally wear hats and carry poodles on their backs. They are whipped until they cry.

We wonder why children are mistreated, our elderly are disrespected, and people can be gunned down in theaters?  It’s because, down deep, at our very evil human core, we’ve forgotten to respect anything and everything that was given to us, by God, to care for.  Maybe today, or tomorrow, we can all put ourselves second, just for a day or two, and do something for someone smaller than us, who needs our help. It’s not that hard to show love to another species.

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I’m sorry I continue to post animal rants every now and again instead of talking about shoes and wine  I have to do it or explode. It keeps me from committing crimes.

Middle Aged Dating

The Goose was raised in such a bland, 60s American household that he looks with distrust at anything that smacks of the exotic, such as bagels.  Croissants are suspect as well.  Goat cheese, avocados, Fiats, purple grapes and Brazil nuts are way out of his scope of well being.  God forbid someone suggest gelato, which he insists on mistakenly calling “spezio”, causing Cricket and me to snort water out our noses every time he does it.

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For 18 years, while growing up, he knew to expect roast on Sunday, hash on Monday, Tacos on Tuesday, and chopped steak on Wednesdays.  You get the picture.  I’m happy to say this put no undue expectations on him marrying a good cook.  At 50, he still expects his food to be brown and white and finds brussel sprouts out of the question.

He is now trying to change his diet.  Not because he is overweight.  On the contrary, he is one of the lucky bastards who can awaken in the middle of the night, consume a sleeve of cookies and go back to dreaming the dreams of those with outrageous metabolisms and no body fat.  During the night, his calories creep across two dogs and a cat on the bed and over to me.  While I exist on the only foods that don’t cause me middle aged digestive trouble now, kale, gluten free rice crackers and chardonnay, he dives nightly into two bowls of ice cream, pans of brownies, and chocolate turtles all washed down with liters of Mountain Dew, the undisputed nectar of the gods.

All my preaching of vegetarian, water-drinking, low sugar lifestyle has fallen on deaf ears as I clench my jaws in a show of sheer will while I watch his free-wheeling sugar orgy.

Now, he’s read an article that says sugar isn’t good for you.  Oh, really?  You don’t say? And, in a turn of events as unexpected as him donning a dress, he has ventured into the organic and alternative section of the grocery store, without wincing.  Twice he has taken a walk and yesterday, just yesterday, he hiked with Cricket and me.

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Middle age is a wacky time.  We’re both feeling a little confused as our parenting period comes to an end and we are faced with lots of hours to do what we want.  All these years our hobbies were our kids.  Yeah, there’s a lot of golf on his part and a good bit of running on mine, but now the horizon is wide and we are committing to taking a walk together most days.  I appreciate the fact that he suddenly cares about his health because I really don’t want him to die, causing me to have to go on a date.  Honestly, I am so thankful that he likes routine and has such ingrained inertia that he would never leave me.

I have several close friends who are dating again.  I have lots of questions about this that I am not too shy to ask.  Here are five:

  1. Are there bases at 50?  Are they the same as they were in high school, the last time I had a date?  I think there are new sexual things that have come into practice since then and so where do these fit?  Base second and a half?    Image
  2.  What about boobs?  I have a friend, Steve, who for years has said “Any boob is a good boob.” (Our mutual friend challenged this once by showing us her post mastectomy boob before she had a nipple tattooed on, but it’s all better now.) Middle aged bosoms though, are a little, um, changed.  Unless you were one of the lucky ones to get a boob job before you got old enough to know better, the rack might be affixed a little…lower.  Does one have to display it on one’s arm or, better yet, in a lacy number from the lingerie department? I guess this problem doesn’t just apply to women.  There are a lot of unperky manboobs at this age as well.  And along those same lines, do women have to lie only on their backs when naked so they can tuck the “extra” parts underneath them to look skinny and smooth? Image
  3. Just how truthful does one have to be?  I have a friend who has been married four times.  We only count two of them, though, because she was too young the first time and the third one was a rebound aberration whose name we don’t speak. Truly, these guys were jerks and she’s a remarkably normal girl.  In fact, she’s super cool.  I have another friend, twice married, who recently confided that he’s “PROBABLY” still married to wife number two.  This continues to make me laugh and I delve into this situation as often as I can without seeming creepy.  Apparently, they went their separate ways and just moved on without ever thinking about getting a divorce.  When should that come up in conversation?
  4. At what point can one pull back the curtain? My friend recently asked me when he should tell a girl how much he loves his cat.  Even I, animal person in the extreme, said NEVER.  A man also should not discuss the bathroom, how crazy his ex was, or the fact that he cries at movies.  I think, by middle age, women must surely be looking for normal and non-stressful, if it’s out there. Image
  5. What does one tell their kids?  If The Goose or I ever tried to date, our daughter would make sure every date failed.  She would be the step-daughter from hell.  Even though she’s almost 20, I can dig that.  I’m sure every kid wants their family to stay in tact.  Do middle aged daters spend as much time sneaking around behind their kids’ backs as we used to behind our parents’?  There really is nothing more disgusting than thinking of one’s parents, ANYONE’S parents, having a personal life.

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Its scary out there.  Dating must surely mean that these friends are not able to put their jammies on at 6:00 during the winter.  While it does mean that they’re getting good food, in real restaurants, with waiters and bartenders, it also means that they’re having to keep their bras on during these dinners, I guess.  (Maybe not.  Those are the dates I really enjoy hearing about.)  What is exciting, though, is that these friends are putting their best selves forward, trying new things, going to concerts instead of just watching them on TV, making new friend groups, fitting into their “going out” jeans every day, not just twice a month.  I guess that’s what we old wives could take from this so we won’t become old wives.  Damn, I guess that means I should probably change up my flannels with the penguins on them.

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Anyway, although I could spend hours on the phone listening to the exploits of my friends’ dates and envying their active social calendar, I’m off to blend up some vegetables, put some unsalted nuts with antioxidants in a bowl and pour The Goose a big, refreshing glass of water in the hopes of keeping him alive.  Truthfully, I’m scared about the type of old lady I’d be if I was turned loose on the dating world.

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My Angry Rant against Comcast

Everyone has days where things go wrong.  Today I had one.  It wasn’t big stuff.  No one was gruesomely injured.  We didn’t lose our house, our dog, our children.  Nothing burned.  Still, my day just sucked.  I put all of the blame squarely on Comcast, my mortal enemy.

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I believe that Comcast, married to Obama, could power a universe with their evil.  Set that to the music of Kenny G and it would form a trifecta from which Armageddon could be set into motion.

My family had been wailing daily of the slowness of our internet.  To me, it was fine.  I’m not running any power plants or controlling mutant dwarfs through imaginary lands, though.  I’m just tracking my calories, my steps, checking Facebook, ordering stuff and writing crap.  What do I know?

So, I got sucked into the Comcast myth.  The myth that it would be zippy fast and we would, indeed, be ushered into the world of the future.

This is its insidious path of destruction:

Since its installation I have seen The Goose shoot smoke from his ears.  I have seen him throw things that make the dogs run and cower. He has clung to our neighbor, begging for help.  The man has utilized his mighty powers of obscene swearing to the utmost.  Comcast shut his entire office down.  It has caused his printer (which is also my printer) not to accept things from me.  Apparently my sweet obedient Macbook is making romantic overtures, but the printer is in flannel pajamas.  Like an unhappy marriage, they can no longer communicate.

Our TV picture is now made of little squares, through which I must only imagine what is going on.  Our DVR doesn’t work.

Image To call Comcast, one must call the 800 number.  Oh, there’s a local number, but it routes one to the 800 number.  Sneaky.  Once answered, there is a series of digits that must be pressed to get to an operator.  This takes a good 45 minutes, if it indeed ever happens.  This is all done to the accompaniment of Kenny G.  It causes the equivalent of ice picks to my eardrums and goes on for eons. Dishwashers get unpacked and repacked. I stripped four beds, washed the sheets and remade them during one wait.  I think one day I drove to the grocery store, shopped and was putting away groceries before a human being answered.

When the operator comes on, the fun begins.

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I have no problem with India.  I loved the Marigold Hotel movie.  I liked Eat, Pray, Love.  I like my Indian orthopedic doctor.  I have a real problem, though, with someone six million miles away telling me they understand, could I please calm down.  When I hung up from the last call The Goose said “The man on the other end of that call is thanking Vishnu you’re not his wife”.  Damn straight.

I got so frustrated, I cried.  Not from sadness, but from sheer rage.

Three times I’ve managed to get a service person out here. It took 11 calls and 3 full man hours waiting on hold to accomplish this. In 30 days, three service people.  Each time, they have told me the last one didn’t know what he was doing.  Ya think? Yesterday, I was told my equipment, which was installed 30 days ago, was old.

My bill, my first bill, has a mysterious $125 extra charge on it.  I still have not reached anyone to ask about this but feel if I just ignore them for a while, someone will eventually contact me about it.

So, in the midst of this misery, I needed to mail stuff.  Stuff I couldn’t print.  I’ll take my laptop to the UPS store, thought I.  On the way my phone died. This probably was not the fault of Comcast, but one never knows.  I think the very presence of that unholy entity in our home could be sending poison throughout each and every electrical appliance as well as my brain.  I dropped my phone in with my dry cleaning and figured that out about an hour later after numerous panic filled searches through my car and purse.  Had to go back to the cleaners and try to explain that. In Korean.

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The UPS store couldn’t print my stuff. I still don’t understand why. I blame Comcast or Obama. I couldn’t call anyone and whine about it, though, because my phone still wouldn’t work.

Came home, tried to use the little printer that came with my computer two years ago.  Doesn’t work!  Keeps telling me it is out of paper.  I have told it, in a fatal move with a paper weight made of rock that it did, indeed, have paper after all, but that won’t matter to it where it’s going. I do blame Comcast here because I couldn’t use my regular printer because it is out, lost in the new internet stratosphere.

Image Why, you ask, do I waste time writing about this?  Because all of this started because my home office is FUBAR, all due to the inadequacy of Comcast. I’m hoping an angry mob will form.  A group that will complain loudly enough that someone will listen.  A sound loud enough to be heard all the way to India. Or even a group that will band together with me to systematically spray paint every truck and sign that says Comcast and change it to Combastard.

It’s 4:00 and I’m calling it a day.  I know when I’m beaten.  I am waiving the white wine, I mean white flag.  I find that these days are most often followed by a day where everything works beautifully.  I’m counting on one of those tomorrow and if I don’t get one I’m finding the first Comcast truck I see on the road.  You’ll read the headlines.

 Middle Aged Woman, in Cute Sparkle Boots, with Fabulous Necklace, Holds Comcast Employee Hostage.

Man is Made to Listen for Hours to Intense Whining and Bitching Set to the Tune of Kenny G.

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10 Steps to Great Parenting

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Haha.  Not really.  I just called it that because it’s funny.  I have no idea how to be a great parent.  I’m still constantly surprised that someone let me bring two babies home from the hospital with no adult in charge.

At 19, my daughter is more the parent in the house.  She was most likely the parent at 9. That’s just her nature. My observation is that we do the best we can to teach kids to be good and kind, keep them from setting expensive stuff on fire and keep them safe.  They really come fully programmed from the factory to be who they are. It’s just our job to guide them.

I had someone tell me not too long ago that I was too much a friend, not enough parent.  I am good at listening politely and then laughing when I hang up and so I did.  This from a parent whose child would rather die than spend time at home.  A self righteous parent who has no idea what their child is up to, doesn’t want to know, and is parenting by the “do not” method.  If there is a surefire way to produce a rebellious kid, it’s by the “do not” method.

So I’m a friend, so what?  My kids, at 17 and 19, choose to spend time with me, their friends hang out here and in that way, I can be a real parent, keeping them safe and knowing what’s what.  They have both survived, so far, as good and lovely humans, even with a parent like me.  They are lucky The Goose came with an adult gene to keep us all in line.  So, to other happy hippie parents everywhere, these are my ten observations:

  1. Don’t keep Sharpies within reach until kids get a driver’s license and then only with limited access.  No amount of Kilz will make this go away. Once applied in indelible ink, a hallway will still say “poop” 16 years later no matter how many coats of “Creme No. 5644” have been applied.Image
  2. Cultivate a “nothing” face, so when your kids tell you who among their friends is getting into trouble and being generally stupid you can make them think you are non-plussed by this while you cultivate a plan.  I have heard volumes of information from both of my kids, who think I”m cool enough to handle it, and in this way, I have steered them from harm.  I should be used by the FBI as a secret weapon.
  3. Don’t brag about your kids to other parents.  They don’t care.  If your child cures cancer, another parent will still find her child more fascinating because she got the the spirit stick at cheer.  Everyone thinks their kid is the best.  That’s the beauty of being a parent.  No matter how fat, skinny, tall, short, smelly, freckled, wart covered, glittery or down right stupid a child might be, to Mom and Dad, they’re da bomb.  Just keep their vibrant glory to yourself, no one else is interested, especially at parties. Nothing harshes my party mellow than pictures of someone else’s kid. Especially when I know mine are the best.Image
  4. Any time a child is expected to be quiet or respectful, like at church or at their grandparent’s anniversary party, they will inevitably belt out something rude or toot loudly and fall down laughing.  Be prepared to explain that they have had a recent concussion and come armed with medical terms.Image
  5. A child will rat you out to grandparents every chance they get.  They will tell them you didn’t actually go to church but, instead, stayed in your jammies all day watching tv, with your door closed, while expecting the kids to eat reheated Bagel Bites.  They will pull up the hems of their skirts to show the clever way their mom uses duct tape. They will tell their teachers and Sunday school teachers every infraction you commit.  They will supply the answer “wine” when their Kindergarten teacher asks what their mother’s favorite thing to make for dinner is.  They will pull on your coat and say “nuh-uh, Mommy, you quit your job!” when you tell their teacher you can’t help with field day because you’re working.  This is their revenge.  Expect it.  Stay ahead of the curve and occupy them with something, anything, when trying to speak to another adult.Image
  6. Be the “fun” house.  Always let kids come over and have fun.  Be a little bit nicer than other moms and in this way you can covertly eavesdrop and know all.  Yes, it’s messy, yes, kids want to eat constantly, but, of all the things I did right, this was one of them. I know lots more than I really want to, but at least I’m not in denial. My kids’ friends have confided in me, my kids have told all and I think I’ve had a grasp on the real situation out there.  High school is a super scary place.  It’s good to be aware.

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  7. Your 11 year old travel baseball player?  Probably not going pro.  Your daughter who spends 6 days a week at dance class?  Yeah, most likely not going to be doing that at 25.  All these things are fantastic if the kids love it.  Many times, though, it’s the parents’ dream.  For crying out loud, let the kid have a day off to catch salamanders and get dirty.  Lock up the xbox and send that little precious outside to play.  A kid that has to be stripped in the garage and carried to the tub because he’s encrusted in mud is a happy kid.  It’s like a secret recipe.  Kid + water + sunshine = kid that doesn’t wear black and listen to death music.  Imagination is an awesome thing.Image
  8. Don’t try to make kids be who they’re not.  I saw a video once, called The Animal School and it changed me.  I highly recommend looking it up if you have kids in school. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wN7QfjIcVvA or, look up “Raising Small Souls” and find it there. It is the most beautifully done video for understanding individual children I’ve ever seen.) If your kid is really NOT a math kid, quit shoving it down his throat.  Chances are, he’ll do something with his real talents that don’t involve solving for X. Let kids explore their talents and abilities.  If they spend all their time trying to be good at something they’re not, they never get to be really good at what they naturally tend towards.  Kids today are over scheduled, stressed and confused.  Teach them real skills like how to balance a checkbook, how to use the front loading washer with 42 settings and how to say “yes ma’am” and “I’m sorry”.   It’ll take them a long way.
  9. Be flexible.  Kids are going to try stuff.  Be ready to keep them safe through it all.  My 16 year old called me from a party and said “I drank some beers, come get me”.  I wasn’t happy about the drinking, less happy about driving 30 miles in my jammies, in hair curlers (not really, but my hair was almost as embarrassing) but I was so happy he’d called me.  When I got there, he seemed perfectly fine.  When I commented on this he said, “yeah, I had two beers four hours ago but I promised you I’d never drive after having a sip”.  How can I be mad at that?  Kids are going to experiment, better to be able to talk about it and hope they learn.Image
  10. Teach kindness.  I raised vegetarian kids. I told them that God loves all his creation, two footed, four footed, swimming or crawling.  The one thing I’ve stressed is goodness and kindness to animals and others.  I see this deep within them, no matter what phase we’ve been in, and there have been plenty.  Sometimes teenagers aren’t happy creatures with whom to share a home.  Still, there is a carefulness for the feelings of others, a swerving for squirrels, a moving of turtles, a scooting outside of spiders that lives in them that thrills me. Show me a person who has compassion for animals and I’ll show you a person who is good to the core and won’t grow up to keep human heads in their refrigerator.

Enjoy it.  I spent years worrying over the cleanliness of my floors and the dust on my tables instead of sitting down and coloring.  Now, when it’s late in the game and I’ve seen the loss of several of my kids’ friends, I sit when they want to, I go when they ask me along and I enjoy every minute until they move out and I have to call them several times a day.  It does go by fast, even though those preschool years seem to go by in long sleepless dog years.  Young mothers, it gets better.  It gets fun.

I’m no model parent.  I am silly, can’t stick to the rules, cannot help with math.  I have been described by my son as a pushover and, sadly, by my daughter as “shrinking” (surely not, I still say I am just slumping). I see all these parents with ten million rules, expectations and demands and think they might just be missing the point.  I’m not saying my kids will invent a new source of power, but they might.  They may not make billions, but they could.  They may not change the world, but they have changed my world, and I have changed theirs.  That’s pretty cool in itself.

The Bittersweetness of Dogs

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As a child, I was not allowed to watch Lassie.  Oh, at first it seemed like a perfect match, coming on after Disney on Sunday nights when my child mind was still filled with magic.  But, after a few episodes that left me sobbing in an uncontrollable tyke puddle on our multi-colored shag carpet, my mother, wisely, put an end to it.

It seems I can rationalize all evil in the world except for sad stories with animals.  To this day, The Goose will shout out “For crying out, DON’T LOOK” when we pass an animal dead on the road.

Yesterday, I played hooky from The Boy’s lacrosse game and, unwisely, watched Lassie.  I don’t know why, it was just on. Before I knew it, I was sitting on the edge of the bed, hooked.  By the time my son and his friend got home, I was a mess.

Trying to explain this caused typical guffaws of laughter from my family, but my son’s good buddy, inexplicably named Mad Dog, understood.  He had just lost his family dog last week.

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Pulling up pictures of his friend, Lucy, in her last moments, brought sympathetic sighs from all of us.  It reminded me of all those little loves who I’ve lost.  Who, among us, hasn’t had to make that terrible decision to end the life of what we call a pet, but is really more like a fuzzy chunk of our heart?

I had a Golden Retriever, unimaginatively named Brandy, that I got when I was 11. I can still smell his puppy breath, see his wiggly little body wrapped in a beach towel and feel the disbelief that I was lucky enough to get him.  He went absolutely everywhere with me, from childhood through my teen years. He was a well known dog.  When I spoke to him, he talked loudly back in whines and barks that were just his frustrated way of saying “Damn this snout, I’ve got something to SAY!”

While Brandy was with me, I met The Goose, got married and moved three times.  We added Maddy, who we called our “first child” and she became Brandy’s bride, becoming the mother of 10 outstanding puppies whose new families sent home Christmas cards and update letters about their perfection. For eight years, they were our family, and when our friends bragged about their slobbery hairless babies, we boasted the fact that our kids could hold a treat on their nose until we told them to flip them into their mouth. All other Oskoshbgosh clad kids paled in comparison.

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By the time I was 27, Brandy was skinny, lumpy and smelled like parmesan cheese gone bad.  Not once but twice did someone stop, ring my doorbell and sadly try to break the news that there was a dead dog in my yard.  Since he could no longer hear, I would walk over and touch his shoulder and his cloudy eyes would look up at me and he would wag knowing I was his constant and he was my always there.

Everyone knows when that moment comes.  Our’s came on Christmas Eve and we had a vet kind enough to help us out.  It was the first tragedy of my young life.  I remember The Goose telling me it was just preparing me for worse things to come as we got older, and, sure enough, even in a life as wonderful as mine, there have been some heart-wrenching losses. Losing that dog, though, was like losing a brother, companion, son and friend all in one, just on a slightly smaller, hairier scale.

I’ve had some other dogs who I’ve loved just as much, and who surely occupied just as much of my heart, but none with the uncomplicated love that an 11 year old can give a dog.

And so, I’m sad for Mad Dog and his family.  It has caused me to observe my Matilda, who has been stiff and elderly since she was a puppy, with a worried eye.  She’s 9.  Because she’s my first small dog, I have great hopes that she’ll live even longer than Brandy’s span of 16 years, amazing for a big dog. I don’t ever want to have to sleep without her curled up behind my knees.  I have observed our Finn, shoe chewer extraordinaire, and pictured him elderly.  At least once a day I hear his Jack Russell feet pounding through the house, like he’s being chased by a demon, until at last, he finds me, puts his head on me and gazes as me as if to say, “I here, Mom.  Whew.  I here”. In my mind, he speaks in a voice that hasn’t quite mastered grammar.  It is too horrible to think of him getting old.

My dad had a terrible dog, Boo, who no one liked except my dad.  She loathed me with raw, exposed sibling rivalry.  When my dad was dying, Boo began failing.  She pined and wasted when he was in the hospital and died, just one day before my dad.  Although I cannot imagine a Heaven that contains that despicable hellion, I know, begrudgingly, that she was there, glossy and black, wagging her stump of a tail, joyful at my Dad’s arrival.  I don’t know how my Mom has reconciled the fact of Boo in their celestial home, but I know that for Dad, she makes his afterlife complete.

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It’s hard to remember when a puppy has chewed up a favorite shoe that the unfairness of a dog’s love is that their lives are way too short.  It’s surely a cosmic mix-up that they can’t be our companions for life.  No one loves us more than our dogs, their love undiluted by our fallibilities.  They are children who never grow up, never get sassy, never know it all and never leave us.  Just our appearance through the door is a miracle to them every single time.

While I was reading books on Heaven not too long ago, I was so happy to read about tales of animals there told by those brought back from the brink.  When Brandy died, I had him cremated and found a beautiful antique box for his remains.  He sits, unobtrusively, on a chest in my foyer.  No one would know what the box was unless they stopped to read the poem there, which I think sums it all up:

I said to St. Peter, I’d rather stay here, outside the pearly gate.

I won’t be a nuisance, I won’t even bark.  I’ll be very patient and wait.

I’ll be here, chewing on a celestial bone,

no matter how long you may be.

I’d miss you so much if I went in alone;

it wouldn’t be Heaven for me.

Candy Crush Shame

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I just spent 15 minutes tearing around my house in a middle aged rage, all because I could not, once again, locate my cell phone.

This is a common occurrence in our house.  I feel belligerent and rebellious about being tethered to this device.  At my age, I no longer want to care for a needy baby, especially one made of glass and costing almost as much as a human newborn.  My family constantly begs the question of me, “why do you even have a phone?”.

The problem with the misplacement comes because I keep the device on silent.  I do this because I secretly, and with much shame and self-loathing, play Candy Crush.

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There, I’ve said it.  I keep it quiet so that when the game pops up, the music doesn’t erupt and alert my family to the fact that I’m not doing something selfless and focused solely on them.  I frequently sigh and mutter about lowering bills and checking grades when I’m on my phone.  I feign exhaustion from work emails.  I do not advertise on Facebook that I need lives.  I hide my secret shame.

But, like any other junkie scum, I have passed my addiction on to my offspring, roping Cricket in with the typical gateway words of “here, try this, you’ll like it”.  Only with her, alone in the darkened den, after the decent family has gone to bed, do I share the level of my evil (128).  Only to her can I talk freely of doughnut bombs and striped candy.  Only she understands my slurred “Divine!”. 

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Game addiction is not new to me.  When I was first pregnant, miserably and surprisingly pregnant, a good friend gave me a Nintendo to keep me and my bags of Cheddar Cheese Ruffles company.  At this time, The Goose and I were living with my parents while we built a house.  When The Goose would come home from work, stunning in a suit and tie, there I’d be, glassy eyed and sweaty, trying to save Princess Peach.  I dreamed about eating mushrooms, the cartoon kind, not the Jefferson Airplane kind.  I couldn’t pass a flower without wanting to jump on it in hopes of super powers.  It became my job.

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The Goose gave me a stern talking to.  He has no head for games, dare I say no ability, and was, understandably, shaken by the visual of the larger and pajama clad me, surrounded by chip crumbs and slamming my mothers pound cake.

I agreed to step away from the game.  Once I had been “clean” for 30 days and had moved into my new house leaving the machine behind, I came back to visit my folks walking in to find them in their matching recliners, jaws slack, knuckles swollen on the remotes, cigarette hanging from my fathers mouth with a two inch ash, while they battled the pills on Dr. Mario.  It’s a sickness.

Image   The Trophy Wife and I once shared a handheld Tetris game for 11 hours and over two states while driving back from south Florida.  We traded back and forth at rest stops and  gas stations, texting foul and taunting messages at each other, insulting the other’s mother and soul, while I eviscerated her with a high score that has yet to be challenged.  Yes, I said it, I still hold highest score.  And while the device has been dead for years, there is a picture that I can produce any time she gets mouthy about her abilities

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For this reason I never got my kids any video games.  I know it’s a problem,  pale chubby kids sequestered away in dank basements, developing muscles only in their thumbs. The Boy played outside with fire and gas, knives and BB guns, like a boy should.  Each holiday I warily offered them one, but they always declined, The Boy asking for hatchets and explosives and Cricket, from age 3, asking for agendas, white boards and software, like any good nerd.

But now the problem has reared it’s ugly head with Candy Crush.  I just saw where a friend has publicly renounced the game and has sworn to abstain for 9 months, during the school year.  I’m not ready to do this yet, but after looking for my silent phone all over the house this morning, only to find it tucked inside my BRA, (This begs other questions about my rack that I am not yet ready to address.) I might be able to make the first step and admit I might have a problem.  Is there a 12 step for this?

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