Ah, That’s The Problem

My teenagers hated me. Of course they didn’t really, but their behavior seemed to convey that. You know, that snarky, barely acceptable language, accompanied by the mandatory eye roll, (what was in that calvareum that was so interesting that they kept looking up there), the “You’re Embarrassing Me” charge (what, what was I doing breathing?) flew from their mouths constantly.

I tried everything in the Mother’s Make Believe Handbook. I went at them directly like a lion tamer. “No rude behavior, you shouldn’t talk to me that way”. “I am the adult here.” But my efforts of taming my teen lions with a whip and a chair were a disaster, all I did was turn up the heat and make the lion hungrier.

Then I tried guilt. “After all I do for you this is how you treat me?” All that got was so many eye rolls I almost called 911 to make sure my child wasn’t seizing.

I wasn’t above the bribe. I sat at my kitchen table drumming my fingers. “No, Goldfish won’t do it. Gummies are a big no. iTunes gift card? It turns out I couldn’t reward them for being stinkers. It was against the moral code of my motherly religion. Boy this wasn’t easy. You should see the things I used to get them to do for a smiling orange fish cracker. Now I had the feeling if I couldn’t provide something 5’8” and female they weren’t going to be very interested.

Shucks. What I had here was a real problem. But I had to do something. Unchecked these wonderful kids could turn out to be rotten and I wasn’t about to let that happen after eighteen, sixteen, and fourteen years of investment in them.

A problem. A problem. A problem. Then I got it! It was a problem, a math problem and here was the equation

My kid + X = Respectful human being

All I had to do was solve for x, and I was a little ahead of the game since I had already failed a bunch of times. Note, this is the ironic secret magic of managing teens, if we can outlast them, then the game is half won.

So I kept trying. I lowered my New Jersey accented voice in public, I car pooled like I was training with Michael Phelps, Yummy dinners appeared on my table. There was a slight improvement that could only be measured on an incredibly accurate scientific scale, but I still wasn’t getting the warm, respectful tones I yearned for, it felt more like walking on land  mines.

But I love math. There’s always an answer and the one thing I had was plenty of will power and investment. So this time I tried silence. I super glued my lips and used my hair dryer on my ears to make sure the path to my brain wouldn’t be hindered by, well, you know.

It worked. After a few days of only listening, only supporting, not jumping in with “the answer” their tone changed. Their shoulders softened and I think the eye roll quotient reached an all time low. And that’s when I struck. “Guys I will always embarrass you, it’s a law of the universe as sure as gravity and it happens between children and their parents since the beginning of time. But if you quietly and respectfully tell me how I can change, I will do my best to respect you. But I won’t tolerate rude or pararude behavior. I am not intentionally embarrassing you, but you are intentionally acting unacceptably and hurtfully to me.”

Wow, before my eyes, my equation was solved. Instead of rolling their eye, an actual  light of understanding appeared.  Smiles, better behavior….for now. Then onto the next math problem… At least now I am prepared.

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The Day My Puppy Tried Out To Be the Good Year Blimp

I didn’t realize the dog was ambitious. After all, mostly what he did in our New Orleans home is sleep, chew shoes and chase squirrels, who would curse his barking in squirrel slang, until the puppy got bored and refocused his interest on a blade of grass, a bug, or the heavenly smell of cat poo.

He was a two month old yellow lab. Except for his tail and his nose, you could barely make out his front from his bottom he was such a darned cute fuzz ball.

Well, this event happened in New Orleans where even non events manage event status. It was King Cake season which is an awful lot of fun. For the uninitiated, a King Cake is a Mardi Gras essential. It is a beautiful ring of sweet bread, covered with glittery gold, green, and purple sprinkles. And the most exciting thing about this sparkly confection is that there is a little plastic baby hidden somewhere in it’s doughy existence.

Watching kids go at a King Cake is a little bit like watching Sherlock Holms solve a mystery. There would be about ten seconds of staring at the cake, imagining where the baby was and then diving in with a plastic knife at a piece where they thought they could unearth the treasure. This is a big thing.

As a novice bread maker, I decided to have a try at baking a King Cake. At the time I had three boys under four, two dogs, one of which was the aforementioned puppy and a husband. On my King Cake Day I ignored them all. I measured, I kneaded, I set clocks and made sure I had the freshest ingredients. I practically willed the first rise, tensely marching back and forth in the kitchen as if I was an expecting parent.

I had just delicately shaped the four pounds of dough into a resemblance of a circle, when I realized that I didn’t have enough sprinkles, which is like saying you don’t have any beads, or tabasco sauce or beans (these are confessable crimes).

I warned my husband that I was making a short trip to the supermarket which was less than a mile from the house. I’m not going to lie to you. I had spent so many hours with that King Cake I was a bit misty about leaving it.

I rushed through the store, made my purchase and returned home. And this is what I saw. No King Cake. I whipped my head around, four pounds of rising dough is hard to miss. I pinched myself. Had I dreamt my whole experience? When in toddles my puppy, or something that looked a little like a puppy. His stomach was HUGE! As if someone had given him a Mr. Potato head stomach from a St. Bernard. And he lilted as if he was on a ship. And the final bit of evidence was his sparkly lips, you got it, purple, green and gold.

I do what I reflexively do when something is going wrong. I yelled for my husband.

“What happened,” I said shaking my finger pointing to the dog who was getting bigger as we spoke. At first my husband was confused. He is seldom heralded into the kitchen, but I persisted pointing to our “rising” dog.

“Wow, that’s something,” he said giving the dog an appreciative nod as this was the new replacement for Monday Night Football. As if.

I was mortified. My day of careful planning was a bust, but now I was a little worried about my dog. I wasn’t sure our leashes would keep him tethered to the floor his tummy was growing so fast.

I called the emergency vet, who remained ultra calm. It appears several dogs attempt suicide by King Cake every year. Labs are gluttens. She told us what to do and a few minutes later I was holding the dog while my husband stalled.

“I’m a surgeon,” he said as he counted his fingers. We had to make the dog vomit. Even a two month old Lab has an impressive bite.

“Fine, I’ll do it.” We traded positions and with the help of some Kosher Salt we managed to get my dog to expectorate the partially digested King Cake. A few weeks later, the baby appeared in a lump of steamy refuse. The dog looked back at me proudly as if he were the actual King of Mardi Gras, and all I could manage was “Don’t throw me that Mister.”

Mother’s Day

First of all I’d like to wish everyone a very, happy Mother’s Day. Whether you are a newbie wet with breast milk and pee stains, or a veteran empty nester, or a virtual mom, those delightfully generous people who don’t have children but make your children’s life that much richer.

Phew. That’s over. Now let’s talk about the beast. The holiday. Actual Mother’s Day. As many of you know I have three boys, some unspoken wishes that I’ve had for Mother’s Day are no pee anywhere on a bathroom floor, leftovers that would last two nights,  conversation without grunts, more eye contact and spontaneous help around the house (garbage full? let me empty it, recycles need to go out in 30 degree weather? I’ll do it) and of course less electric time, more face time looking at their actual faces.

So I’m never disappointed with my card flowers and cleaned out car (nothing says I love you better than degrunging my van from three boys, one of which plays on soccer turf fields and leaves little turf turds behind him as if he was Hansel and Gretel).

But this Mother’s Day we have one of those crazy crises regarding soccer tryouts and an elective practice on, you guessed it, Mother’s Day. There’s a bit of drama this year with soccer. Some opportunities did not go well, elevating the meaning of this elective practice.

My son who is not a basset hound but can transform his beautiful blue eyes to cisterns of sadness says “Mom, it’s Mother’s Day we don’t have to go.” My husband was already nodding in agreement, but something in me alerted as if I was checking on a crying baby, or doing an intricate carpool move, or administering Motrin to a sweaty, sick head. After a moment or two of confusion, I recognized the sensation. It was my Mom alarm, the intrinsic half mystical, half practical, half lysol, part of me that recognized that my child had a need.

“Of course you’re going to the practice,” I said smiling proudly. “It’s Mother’s Day, the best day in the world to demonstrate how much I value being your mother.

Jaws were dropped, game controllers went silent.  “But it’s Mother’s Day,” he insisted as four pair of eyes searched my face for signs of early Alzheimer’s.

“I love being your mother, and if can do something for you as simple as getting you to this practice then I am going to be very happy.” After all, trying to be a good mom on Mother’s Day kind of makes sense.

Silence, uncomfortable shuffling, looks of gaping doubt. I just smiled. It always feels good to be a mother when you know you can do something important for your child, especially since my kids are beyond juice boxes and Goldfish. It’s harder to come to their rescue or find something that physically demonstrates your love. I had this important opportunity and I seized it. I couldn’t think of a better way to convey how much I loved being their mom, than showing them that their needs were more important than an imposed day of adulation.

So this Mother’s Day I will be in my clean car doing what I do best, car pooling my kids to activities that they are passionate about. And I couldn’t be happier about the whole thing.

Happy Mother’s Day, because the secret is that it is truly a day of mutual admiration, a little for me and my whole heart full for them.

The Obtuse Magic of the Right Fielder

Okay. We have all been there. Our six and seven year olds are  either good athletes or they are more like blind botanists pulling weeds from the grass than they are a ballplayer. A child who would gladly volunteer his “cup” to provide water to the flowers he is collecting rather than whatever that uncomfortable thing it is doing anyway. Every team has one . And I can’t speak to to the collective history of the right fielder, whether they start loving sports and move to the infield, go up in the batting order, or in our case, just became more proficient at picking flowers, bugs, dirt, anything that wasn’t a baseball.

What to do? For a while they made him goalie on the soccer team, not because of skill, but because he didn’t like to run.

Those games were PAINFUL to watch. Not because we were embarassed (or not only because we were embarrassed) but because he looked so unhappy.

Most of my best mothering is reactive, I mean in hindsight. This son didn’t have the words to give me a two hour discourse on why he prefer being on a stage. I don’t think he could have articulated what would have made him happy because he hadn’t experienced it yet.

So I had a problem. I had two younger kids who loved sports and one child who mildly acquiesced to them but showed to real interest.

What’s a mother to do? It wasn’t a skill problem. My son didn’t care about getting better and beside, how good do you have to be at six? But it was effecting him adversely, no one wanted to pick him for teams, it was torture to see his little face so unhappy on a beautiful day beneath baby blue skies.

And that’s when I turned into Detective Perot. I started watching him, not merely making sure he brushed his teeth, got dressed, changed underwear but really started noticing what made him smile.

The answer arrived in Kindergarten. With outfits more elaborate than some seen on Broadway, our kindergarten curriculum put on a lot of shows. He wasn’t subtle. He was the kid standing a foot closer to the audience even thought they were supposed to be in straight lines. He was the kid who knew all the words to the song as well as the hand movements, and probably the composer too. And you could hear his voice soaring over 29 other kids because he had been told that singing loudly was synonymous with singing well.

I sat back in absolute wonder. He was an artist. A performer. He wasn’t not interested in sports, he was extremely interested in the arts.

From that point on life got better. Not just for him, although he bloomed a little bit bigger with every program we found, but for us. To have this child be driven by something foreign to his parents turned into one of family’s best blessings.

Because of him, we have been to Broadway, because of him, his middle brother who hurt his back is in school plays, because of him we have the most eclectic, wonderful musical library the world could imagine. And as he got confident in these little ways, he became more confident in big ways. Acting is communication and it is hardly any surprise now that he is a gifted writer. And that confidence of knowing who you are and becoming better and better at it is a gift he gives himself and us everyday.

So be careful if you have a Right Fielder, he might be the next great thing!

Learning How To Love…Again

Okay, no one died or got divorced, but at 50 I find myself once again a student of love. I am trying to relearn how to mother and love my three adolescent boys who at 18, 16, and 14 are surprisingly different creatures than the smiling toddlers I swirled and twirled around the room.

I can’t carry them anymore, literally or figuratively. A Goldfish cracker doesn’t elicit the rapture and love that they once did. I am not always in charge. Their new activities are fascinating, driving, girlfriends, enigmatic computer games, but none of those things require my participation. The world may not be flat, but our solar system has changed. I am not the thing they rotate around anymore.

And that’s good. But it’s hard. As an involved (hopefully not Tiger, or Helicopter) parent I still love these boys. In fact, I love them even more than when they came out of the womb bald and bawling. But how do I express myself to these three children who are finding their independence as they get older?

I’m learning. I listen a lot. No one seems to care if I know a better way to do something or how hard to study for their SATs or what girl to take to prom or what clothes to wear. 

I sneak kisses and hugs wherever I can find them. And I try to tell them that I love them everyday. 

I inquire a lot more because I am no longer the director of their days.

I try to support them verbally as they make good choices. And I try hard to let them have some independence.

It’s hard. But it’s worth it, they are never going to be babies again, but I will always be their mother. And so I will always be on the look out for the best way to love them.  

 

Why Math Is Important, Or Look Out For That Tree!

Yes. I am a certain age that requires reading glasses not only to read, but to pluck coarse black evil looking hairs from my chin. Yes it is true that my daily need for calculus may be slightly diminished like a favorite picture collecting dust on your mantle. I don’t remember higher math, but I do remember being one of the nerdier girls who look great pleasure in figuring out a proof, a derivative, remembering all the small pieces hiding the the elegance of a singular   equation.

I think it was the infinite rightness of the answers that drove my patience and let me hover over problems for hours. Yes, I like to write. Yes writing was a perfectly decorated cupcakes while math was checking the basement furnace, cluncky, darker, harder to talk about, harder to share. But I liked them both. For me, one inspired a group of answers from my soul (english) and the other demanded just a difficult discipline of my mind. That there was something soothing in a room where proofs worked, doing something correctly mattered, a right answer was always just slow ardent moments away. Doing math problems was the closest I ever was to being in a sorority, which would have been called the Patient Curious Sorority of Fairly Ugly Footwear, but I loved being in it that way I loved chocolate, sprinkles a sunset and all the other things that make the world seem magic.

So imagine my surprise when I gave birth to a math phobic son. As a mother, as a friend, wife, any close contact, we want to share our love for the mysteries of the world.He was an articulate kid. His first “word” was an order to pull off the road and give him a bottle which he had been patiently waiting during the miles we were driving in a new town trying to get our bearings.

So one day in sixth grade, this same orator of orators, AP bolstered humanities, presented to me a well thought out bullet proof example why long math was a redundant waste of his time. “If I know how to divide the first four times, and add and subtract, what if I make a stupid error at the end? The whole problem is wrong.

I listened. I wish I could tell you I was amazed at the reason and eloquence of his arguments. But my silence wasn’t colored with the rosy sheen of pride, it was a messy sticky loop of spider webs that I couldn’t get off my fingers.

Math not interesting? Math not important? Half of a math problem was good enough? I was silent which they took as success. but….

No.

No.

No.

We were in my van. He had an audience. Two younger brothers looking up through my rear view mirror with the delightful knowledge that I had been bested. Looking at the oldest as if he was superman and now they wouldn’t suffer the mean time soaking elements of math. They were already changing schedules to play more gun games and other video games.

But silence does always not confirm consent.

I drove off the road and stopped the car. Three unblemished foreheads puckered with concern. This was unusual even more me. There wasn’t a sound except the cars rushing past us.
“Well…” said the oldest, only slightly rattled that he had missed something in his perfect argument….

“Well,” I said in my neutral of tones, You just ran into a  tree. Math teaches forced attentiveness. Hidden math problems exist throughout our life. Patience, correctness, little steps matter…. I could go on.

And like anything, it’s not the answer but how you got it. How hard are you working? Can you overcome your fear?

Math is one of the few things even a helicoper mother can’t do, unless she does the homework. We do live in a world that is sometimes unfair (10 digit problems), and difficult,

but if we spend the time and avoid the trees, we get to our goals not only safely but better for our effort.

When A Tail Stops Wagging

This week we had to euthanize my 11 year old labrador Roux. The house is so quiet without his manly steps, the floor’s are a little drier without his exuberant drool, and the air is a little fresher without his…well you know.

I loved that dog.

And he loved me. I have children, a husband, parents, and friends, but none of them followed me around the house as if I deserved my own Secret Service Detail, none wagged their tail when they see me (some of them don’t seem happy to see me at all) and none trust me so much that they would roll on their back and show me their most vulnerable selves. 

These are things I learned from Roux, may you rest in peace, I would say chasing tennis balls in dog heaven, but you never retrieved anything but socks. 

1. Love is showing up. Not just meaning well, not sending a card, but actually showing physically up.  

2. Walking is a gift from God. So many smells, so many people, rain, sun, dark, bright, the world is a place of miracles just waiting to be uncovered.

3. Eating is fun. Paper, dog food, socks… you name it. Eating is a reason to celebrate.

4. Listening is really important. I don’t know what that dog understood, but he listened to me recite everything from periodic tables to angst of my darkest problems and he barely blinked he found it so riveting. He didn’t need to say a word (beside the fact that he couldn’t) his eyes and their intense love said it all for him. 

5. Pain is relative. If you have a family, a water bowl and food, nothing is a big deal until you literally can’t bear your own weight. Life and love are much more powerful than a little osteosarcoma. 

6. Touching is really important. Hugs, rubs, scratches, bellies… how many ways to say I love you.

7. It’s wonderful to live in a pack/be with a pack. Community is important, the smelly guy, the rich perfumed woman, they’re all interesting if you go close enough to give them a good smell. 

8. Life is a gift. So love as hard as you can until you literally take your last breathe. Image