Friday, July 30, 2010

Faux Families

K3 writes:

I don’t get it. I just don’t get it. Have you noticed the “families” that aren’t? They make me crazy. Let me give you an example.

As a youngster, I had the opportunity on occasion to have dinner with a friend or two at their home. What they experienced as “dinner time” was completely foreign to me. The kids would all come to the designated eating place – table, kitchen counter, where ever and a plate of food would be plunked down that contained very kid friendly foods. Now I’m not one to argue over fish sticks and French fries, but then the mom (and it was usually the mom) would continue making the real dinner for the adults. Later on, the grownups would dig in to some other fabulous meal somewhere else while the kids were relegated to some other activity.

I didn’t get it…and I still don’t.

Personally, I thought one reason to have children was to have a family, not some kind of pet that you keep separately from the rest of the “real” people and trot out on special occasions in their clean and white starched outfits. Get a well trained Golden Retriever!

In my family of origin, kids were part of everything. If you lived in the house, you were expected to be a part of the household. Dinner was a family affair and everyone helped with something; folding the napkins, making carrot sticks, setting the table. Dinner was what dinner was and everyone ate it. My mom was an “early adopter” when it came to health food. We had the stone-ground, whole wheat bread with the rocks still in it on a daily basis. Some of her culinary delights included stewed soybeans with canned tomato, onion, celery and garlic and a dish that my sister named “hamburger ragazootsi”. I have NO idea what was in that, except ground beef and about a bazillion different kinds of beans. But having dinner together – and sharing a common meal did a couple of things. First, it taught children how to interact with adults. Face it, parents are adults and having conversations about work, and school, and politics, and family issues, and current events, and laundry, and pets, and homework, and , well EVERYTHING helped the kids in my family form ideas on life, the universe and, well, you get the idea.

Eating together also gave us the opportunity to develop a complex palate. Chances are, when you go out to a fancy restaurant, with that oh-so-special true love, chicken nuggets are going to be nowhere on the menu. Our house had the two bite rule. You had some of everything that was served and you had to try at least two bites – real sized bites – before you could declare your decision not to finish whatever it was. Believe me, it took awhile sometimes for that okra or eggplant to make that leap into my mouth, but I can say now with some certainty that I don’t care for lima beans and that braised tongue is not my favorite. My parents observed the patterns and after a significant amount of protestation and the unfortunate “return” of some egg plant I had attempted to stomach, I was not compelled to continue the two bite mandate when it came to that vegetable.

Travel was also a family affair. Now, I don’t begrudge parents wanting some “alone time”, but you also chose to have a family and introducing children to travel is part of that commitment, in my humble opinion. I used to hear of friends’ parents traipsing off to exotic places like Hawaii or Europe or Pismo Beach for long vacations without them. That was unheard of for me. I think if my parents had done that, there would have been rioting. We were family! The five Musketeers! All for one and one for all! We were in this together! Granted, we never took exotic vacations, but usually for the month of July, you would find the five of us plus dog, in the station wagon pulling a pop-up tent trailer. It was hot, it was cozy, it was our family reality and I was introduced to all kinds of things. I can clean fish, cook over an open fire, and create an evaporation cooler. I’ve seen national parks and monuments and learned history from actually being there. I went to plays and concerts and museums because that’s what our FAMILY did.

Sure, there were things that only parents did, and places only they went. Of course, there were things that only kids did and special places for them, but my parents made a commitment to have a FAMILY and bring their children up to be a part of the world and share with the people they encountered – not sitting alone at the children’s table nibbling on white bread and chicken nuggets.

How to Feed a Crowd

Millie writes:

Today in Bachelor Camp we will be having a lesson in Investment Cooking. That’s where you cook yourself limp for several hours and end up with enough food to last you for a week or so. My planned menu – which I adapted from a magazine article a couple of decades ago – is very ground-beef intensive and features foods most kids will eat. It even has a few sneaky vegetables tucked in there and if you shred instead of chop the kid doesn’t even have to know it’s eating zucchini!

The shopping list and recipes are included below.

Yesterday we did Bachelor Camp: the Marketing Edition in order to get ready for today’s cooking frenzy. Included in that lesson was how to choose produce, how to choose meat (and what to make from the different cuts) and comparison shopping (our kids being OUR kids, they all already do that, but a refresher never hurts). We doubled the recipes (since we’re cooking for 6 – 8, not 3 – 4) and our grocery bill for 5 dinners was around $120. It could have been lower (for example, we could have cooked our own dried beans and made our own chicken stock instead of buying canned) but we were trying to use things that bachelors would be likely to have on hand.

Shopping List:

Grocery Items
Vegetable oil
Red-wine vinegar
2 cups bread crumbs
1 2-ounce box onion soup mix
16 oz small pasta (for soup)
Spaghetti noodles

Canned foods
4 28-oz cans crushed tomatoes in puree
2 19-oz cans kidney beans
1 15-oz can tomato sauce
8 cups chicken broth
24 ounces brown gravy (or mix to make)
5 ounces sliced olives

Freezer Items
1 16-oz bag frozen chopped spinach

Chili Powder

8 ½ pounds ground beef

10 oz. shredded Cheddar
2 eggs
10 8-inch tortillas
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

2 pounds onions
2 pounds carrots
2 pounds zucchini or other squash
1 bulb fresh garlic (about ¼ cup chopped)

Directions for Aromatic Vegetables:

Chop onions, carrots and zucchini. Saute over medium heat in ¼ cup oil until almost tender (about 15 minutes). Transfer to a large bowl.

Directions for Basic Meat Sauce:

Put 4 teaspoons minced garlic and 3 pounds of ground beef into a deep pot; cook and stir over medium heat until the meat is broken up and thoroughly brown. Stir in 6 cups of the Aromatic Vegetables, the crushed tomatoes, the tomato sauce and 2 teaspoons salt. Simmer for 15 minutes. There will be 22 cups of meat sauce: separate into 7 for spaghetti, 8 for Picadillo Casserole, and 7 for chili.

Meal 1: Spaghetti

Heat up 7 cups of the Basic Meat Sauce. Serve over spaghetti noodles.

Meal 2: Zesty Chili

Drain the kidney beans and add to 7 cups Basic Meat Sauce. Add 2 TBSP chili powder (or more, to taste). Serve with sour cream, cheddar cheese and chopped onion.

Meal 3: Picadillo Casserole

Grease 2 pie pans (deep dish, if available). In a mixing bowl, combine 8 cups Basic Meat Sauce, ¼ cups sliced olives, 1 tbsp sugar, 2 tbsp red-wine vinegar, 2 tsp chili powder and 1 tsp cinnamon. Spread 2/3 cup sauce in the bottom of each pie pan and cover with a tortilla. Top the tortilla with 2/3 cup Basic Meat Sauce and ¼ cup shredded Cheddar cheese. Repeat until there are 4 tortilla layers in each pan, ending with cheese. Cover with foil and freeze, or bake at 375 for 30-35 minutes. Bake frozen casseroles 1 hour and 45 minutes at 350.

Meal 4: Salisbury Steaks with Vegetable Gravy

Steaks: Preheat oven to 375. In a large bowl mix 4 pounds ground beef, 2 cups dried bread crumbs, 1 box (2 ounces) onion soup mix, 2 eggs, ½ cup water and 1 tbsp minced garlic. Blend with hands and pack into 2 meatloaf pans. Bake 20-25 minutes until firm and no longer pink in the center. Cool.

Gravy: While the steaks are cooking, mix 2 cups of the Aromatic Vegetables, 3 cups brown gravy and 2 cups water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Cool.

Wrap the uncut steaks and put in fridge or freezer; put the gravy in containers and fridge or freeze. To serve right away, reheat steaks 20-25 minutes at 350; cut into 8 portions and cover with heated gravy. Otherwise unwrap steaks, cover in foil and heat at 350 for 35-40 minutes; cover with heated gravy.

Meal 5: Chicken Soup with Tiny Meatballs

Bring 8 cups chicken broth and 8 cups water to boil in a large pot. Add the pasta and cook for 5 minutes. Add the spinach and simmer 5 more minutes. In a large bowl, mix the last 1 ½ cups of ground beef with ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese and 1 tsp minced garlic. Form it into small meatballs (about a teaspoon of meat per meatball) and drop them GENTLY into the soup. Simmer 5 to 7 minutes until the insides of the meatballs are no longer pink. Stir in the rest of the Aromatic Vegetables. Cool soup and refrigerate, or cover tightly and freeze; reheat to serve.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

"Mothers' Underground Watch"

Mollie writes:

Before John and I retired and moved to Whidbey Island, we lived in the Portland, Oregon metropolitan area.  One of the ways I've been dealing with homesickness is by watching Northwest Cable News  - http://   - to keep up on what's going on 'back home.'  It's a sweet relief to see Brenda Braxton in the morning, relaying what's new in the Rose City.  It makes me feel connected.

I've hated the recent reporting on the disappearance of Kyron Horman, the sweet little guy who will be a third grader at Skyline Elementary School in September.   I hate that he was last seen at school, I hate all the gossip that ensues about the family, and I hate it deeply.

Watching the local Portland news these days is painful, and I know that there isn't a mom out there that doesn't share Kyron's birth mother's grief.  She hopefully speculates that he is still alive, being 'stashed' somewhere, much like Jaycee Duggar, Elizabeth Smart and other kidnapped children.  We all pray that she is right and that providence will bring him home.

It begs the question:  "Why do we pray she's right?" What a horrible 'happy ending' to a terrible situation.  Where were we before all this happened?

Why do we have to settle for this?

I wrote yesterday about cognitive dissonance, and the havoc it plays with daily mothering.  We are seldom prepared for all of the second guessing, posture changing and chaos that goes on in our minds in the course of a normal day.  "Should I have grounded Peter from video games, should I have grounded Roger from TV" are my recurrent thoughts during the 90's.

We wonder what we should do in the case of a missing child.  Of course, we can pray, we can attend candle-light vigils and do the usual acts of a socially responsible citizen.  We can't all search for him; the police need to organize this and collect evidence and protect the absolute reality that Kyron's abductors will be found and prosecuted successfully.  It scares me to think that something one of us does could challenge justice.

What we can do is be aware citizens.  In the case of Jaycee Duggar, she and her two children were held hostage in a convicted sex offender's back yard for two decades.  Elizabeth Smart was paraded in public in a burka.  And nobody noticed.

Could we please start noticing things and report it to the authorities?  If a neighbor child is regularly bruised, could we ask the parents why?  What's wrong with putting that child's safety ahead of our social protocol?  And if we don't feel 'comfortable' with the results, could we stand up and say so?

Millie and I go on record of telling other parents to involve school counselors and other members of our childrens' 'safety networks.'  Parenting is too serious a vocation to let our fears of 'social retribution' force us to ignore the obvious.  And a backyard with a family living in lean-tos is obvious, for heaven's sake!

There used to be a tacit acceptance of drunk driving until MADD forced us to face reality.  Too many people looked away from spousal abuse until Nicole Brown Simpson was butchered.  And every day, children are neglected, exploited, ignored, beaten, and yes, kidnapped.  We have to change how we deal with this.

So become a conscientious adult citizen.  If you see children who don't have adequate supervision, speak to the parents.  If the neglect goes on, report them.  Put aside your personal needs for social status (and we all know that this is what keeps most of us quiet) and call Children's' Services, or whatever local organization helps distressed children.

I'm going sailing for a week.  I'll be a new citizen as a result of Kyron Horman.  I won't pretend ignorance if I see a child who looks like him, with his sweet smile and thick glasses.  And in the future, if my 'mommy alarm' goes off, I'll listen to it.  Perhaps a Children's Services investigation is an embarrassment for an innocent family, but we have to trust the authorities over our own fears.  And if one innocent child is recovered . . .

Millie writes:

The flip side of this, the side that many people fear, is the Nazi mindset of The State as the big brother to whom you go tattling. “Children report your parents; parents report your children; neighbors report each other” is the name of that tune, and it turns everyone into hermits huddled behind their own doors, eying one another with fear and suspicion.

Lance and I have been subjected to unfounded Big Brother-like investigations; once when Lance's children were babies and his MOTHER called in Children's Services (she didn't think the kids should be eating Cheerios—even though the pediatrician had recommended them for a toddler recovering from an upset stomach), and once when a middle school counselor—who was working with us on trying to turn around the sleep habits of a child who simply would NOT get out of bed in the morning—decided that me putting said child on the bus shoeless (but before lunchtime!) one morning warranted an abuse investigation.

School counselors, police officers, teachers and social workers are all fallible human beings. Like any group, there are some wonderful examples, some horrible examples and a whole lot of run-of-the-mill. That's why I really like the way Mollie put it: Speak to the parents.

If you see a frustrated mother yelling at her kid in the grocery store, don't automatically assume that she's beating him with electrical wire at home; talk to her, and I don't mean condescendingly—speak Mom to Mom. If your neighbor kid is covered in bruises all the time, mention it to his parents; for Heaven's sake, DON'T try to play detective and grill the kid! Parenting styles differ. You may put a lot of emphasis on keeping your kid dressed in brand-new clothing and suspect neglect if you see a child who consistently wears torn jeans and unkempt hair. It may be that his parents are trying to let him express himself through his dress, or maybe he's clean but they can't afford Abercrombie and Fitch this year. Don't assume. Get to know them.

Mollie is 100% right: a “safety network” is necessary for ALL our children, and for it to work correctly the adults in their lives must communicate with each other. There will be times when the only right thing to do is to call the police. If it's a situation in which someone is in imminent danger of injury or loss of life, let the professionals handle it. However, if you call Children's Services because the neighbor kid is covered with bruises—and you've never actually TALKED to Neighbor Kid, so you aren't aware that he's recently taken up skateboarding—you're not only clogging up the system, you may be doing very real damage to a family.

We need to talk to each other. We need to know our neighbors. We need to know our kids' teachers, their school counselors and their friends' parents—and just as importantly, THEY need to know US. If it takes a village then we have to BE a village, not just a bunch of nosy old biddies peeping through our curtains with our fingers hovering over “911.” Mollie said it best: Be a conscientious adult citizen.

A final note: Kyron Horman attends school in the same district as my high school students, so we found out about his disappearance via phone tree the same day—before anyone knew it was a “disappearance” and thought it was just a “kid really late getting home after school.” When they said that his stepmother was the last person known to have seen him, my first thought was, “Great . . . blame the Wicked Stepmother!” Now that things are beginning to shape up the way they are I am a little angry about that; even if she turns out not to be involved in his disappearance, her behavior since then has returned America's perception of “stepmom” to the days of Snow White and the Wicked Queen.

You just never hear about the Wonderful Stepmothers. Maybe they're somewhere with the Social Worker who Saved 10 Children's Lives and the Nice DMV Clerks, having doughnuts. I hope so.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Chronic Cognitive Dissonance - Or Welcome To My World

Mollie writes:

"...Cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding contradictory ideas simultaneously. The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational driveto reduce dissonance. They do this by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and actions.[2] Dissonance is also reduced by justifying, blaming, and denying. It is one of the most influential and extensively studied theories in social psychology. . . ."  (

First, a big thank you to Wikipedia.  That's just about the best definition of my normal mental state during the mommy years.  I suspect that most parents go through stages of cognitive dissonance frequently in their lives.

Never let it be said that a Liberal Arts education is a waste.  Not only can I say "Do you want fries with that" in several languages, but I have a fancy-schmancy way of saying that I was in a perpetual state of confusion during my active mothering years.  This didn't keep me from making any mistakes parenting, as you can well guess.  It's just that I had to continually adjust my thinking to what we were experiencing as a family as our kids were growing up.

I think that the Mothering Mantra should be reasonableexpectations droned over and over.  You can't count the amount of times I've had to adjust my expectations to reality rather than to my ditzy idealism formed in the sixties and seventies.  And yes, this granola-crunching-baby-boomer-yuppie had her share of ditzy idealism.  It took me years to realize that it's nice to have ideals, but reality tends to hammer things into submission.  What I mean is that it would be nice to eat together as a family every night, but some nights, with soccer, hubby's travel, mom's book club, etc. family dinners are not always possible.  So go with the flow!

I believed that if you just took it easy, things would work out.  That looks nice on a sampler, but, frankly, sometimes stressing out IS a good thing.  Had I not stressed out when Roger had his seizures, I might not have made it to the ER as quickly.  There's something about adrenaline that just cancels calm action.  But I firmly believe that God gave us adrenaline for a reason, and it's usually to save our miserable keesters in times of trouble.

I swore I would never lie to my kids, but, frankly I often lied to them.  "Do you like this Transformer" was often answered with "'s awsome..." when the truth was closer to "...we wasted $19.99 on THAT?..."  Couple that with "Did you like Jurassic Park," (frankly, sweetie, it sucked)  "Do you like my purple hair," (no, I do not like your purple hair) or "Isn't macaroni and cheese the best" (only if vomit is second best) and you will have an idea how I had to deal with that area of cognitive dissonance constantly for twenty-some years.

But in the end, we manage to survive our own hypocrisies.  We never learn to love sci-fi (it just doesn't work for me), purple hair (gone when getting a job was a priority) or macaroni and cheese (nary a box has been in my house for 10 years now), but we learn to modify our stands on issues that just aren't critical.  The ultimate coming of age comes when we learn to deal with ourselves and how we function in the real world.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

More Power

Millie writes:

Okay, that was cute.

Lance and the boys just headed out the back door, wielding wrenches and grunting as they approach today's Bachelor Camp lesson: turning off the power.

Well, maybe cute's the wrong word; there's some serious brawn involved when four men armed with tools set out to conquer a few unsuspecting valves. Men and tools are serious business, to be approached with serious faces and more than a little testosterone. (They just came back into the house exchanging “bones” and high-fives, grabbed Rocky's toolbox and headed down into the basement.) If you've ever wondered how men bond with their sons, this is how – it smells of grease and sawdust and the outdoors and it has its own vocabulary, which you'll be the one to teach your sons not to use in other settings.

The deep talking that men – even junior men – do with each other takes place under cars, in duck blinds or on basketball courts. It's just easier to talk if they're all DOING something. Right now my sons are learning how to locate and shut off the water, gas and electricity mains coming into the house, and how to change a faucet washer to stop a leak – but they're also learning how to solve problems, how to take pride in their work, and how to take care of other people. You know – they're learning how to be men, and they're learning it from Lance.

They're back for a moment to show me the “bad” washer. They must search through our washer collection for a good replacement – Rocky selects a perfect fit and does the “I was right” dance. Red and Jack practice the dance in case they are ever right sometime. Now they're trooping off to the garage for something, three lanky ducklings cavorting behind the steady gander.

The downstairs faucet will no longer leak, and that's good. We won't have to worry that when the boys are on their own they might smell gas and not know what to do about it, and that's good too.

But the most important lesson they're learning while they're all DOING something is how a good man acts. They are very lucky boys.

Lance just came in anxiously querying, “Sweetheart? Where's the Vaseline?” I'm not even going to ask.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Bachelor Summer Camp – July 26

Millie writes:

Let’s see. So far we’ve done: How to make fruit salad, Knives, ironing, mending/buttons/darning, how to tie a necktie (four-in-hand and full Windsor), Intro to Car Work, and a lot of cooking stuff. We were going to do Locate Your Home’s Utility Shutoffs today but Lance had to go run some errands; guess I’ll need to think of something else!

Through great good fortune (and impeccable choosing on Joy’s part), we have access to a Black Belt and Roger is going to teach a self-defense class or two (which I can’t wait to attend myself). Joy, on the other hand, is gearing up to teach Intro to Ballroom Dancing. I’m so thrilled that the whole Bachelor Camp idea is taking on a life of its own – Joy and I were talking about it last weekend and she came up with the idea of Mommy Day Camp. She’s thinking that we should do a similar thing when she and Roger start preparing to have children – how to diaper, how to make baby food, and all that other wisdom that Millies and Mollies have accumulated that would give new parents an edge. Sounds like fun to me!

I’d love to be able to attend some Adult Summer Camps myself. How ‘bout 007 Camp, where you learn to defuse bombs, drive anything with wheels, and be a crack shot with any firearm? Or MacGyver School – they’d issue you a Swiss Army Knife, drop you in a locked warehouse with instructors armed with laser-tag rifles, and you have to get out unscathed. How ‘bout Drama Camp for adults? I can’t be the only one who daydreams about singing the lead in My Fair Lady when I’m up to my armpits in vegetable peelings.

If we’re lucky, we never stop learning, and that’s what Bachelor Summer Camp is about – reminding people how much fun that can be!

Edit: We ended up teaching How to Give an Impromptu Toast and How to Open Wine. We also had the opportunity to teach What to Do if the Cork Breaks in Half; seize all teachable moments, I always say!

Avoiding Empty Nest Syndrome

Mollie writes:

Empty Nest Syndrome is a phase of parenthood that we all face eventually.  It sneaks up on us like a stealth bomber; one day we are hauling kids to school, after-school activities, slumber parties and trips to the zoo and the next thing you know, they are graduating from high school and deciding what to do with the rest of their lives.

Peter and Roger were like that.  I got my first dose of empty nest when Peter got his driver's license.  It was such a shock to have a kid who could haul his own keester to Radio Shack!  But there he was, in MY car, leaving me stranded while he priced whatever teenage boys price at an electronics store.  And just about the time I had that under my belt, he graduated from high school and went off to college, leaving me with his 16 year old brother, who, amazingly, got HIS driver's license and also left me stranded while he went to school for theater practice.

What gives?

Well, if we are doing anything right, we are raising kids who are ready to face adult life when they turn 18.  Maybe they don't immediately get full-time jobs and their own place, but this threshold year is jarring for parents.

Millie addressed a portion of this in an earlier post when she discussed making adjustments upon a child turning 18.  Suddenly, we can't just go to the doctor's office, school office, or anywhere else, for that matter, for information about our adult child's health, academics or anything else.  They belong to the same social tier that we do, and enjoy all the privileges that we do, including privacy.  In addition, they can sign contracts,  go off to a school that does not offer a major in your child's field of study, and then join the military.  AND the list goes on.  All a mom can do is choose her words carefully and hope that the past 18 years haven't been in vain.

About the same time I was choosing my words, I felt a huge emptiness.  It's just like getting off an exciting roller-coaster ride.  When you get off, you can barely walk.  What does a person do when navigating one's way from one Theme Park (Main Street, USA) to another (Tomorrowland)?

I found several things helpful, but I want to focus on one today.  John and I were comfortable financially and the kids were both in school with their bills paid with scholarships or by us.  We'd paid off our house and were blissfully without mortgage payments,  and, since we'd never played the credit game, owed nada on credit cards and cars.  We were feeling blessed.

I had seen commercials on TV showing how different non-profits were fostering children in other countries and it piqued my interest.  I weighed information I was able to glean from the internet and chose Compassion International as a vehicle for my escape from ENS (Empty Nest Syndrome).

John and I 'adopted' a boy from Kenya who was five years old (he's twelve now).  We've followed his life, from losing his mother, his father's death, his life with his grandmother, and his love of soccer.  We send him encouraging letters and he sends letters back, his penmanship improving yearly as well as his use of the English language - a second language to his first language, Swahili.   I try to be careful with what I say to him, since having lost a mother AND a father, I figured he didn't need to be troubled over my MS.  I don't send him pictures of our cars, etc. I do send him pictures of our dogs and sons.   We try to assure him that school is the most important stage of his life.  And we cry over his losses.

Two years after we 'adopted' Abosalam, we adopted Johannis.  He lives in Ethiopia with his parents and is now 10.  He excels in school, is learning English as well, and is becoming a well rounded young man.   We call him "The Donald" because he is very cautious with the money we send him, buying goats and other livestock rather than clothes.  We are absolutely certain that he will be a successful farmer someday.

We enjoy our participation with this non-profit.  They organize trips for sponsors so that if you want to meet your child, you can, as well as check out the schools, etc. I have no plans to do so, but it's nice to know I can.  In addition, I get frequent pictures of our boys, as well as records of their grades, how they spent the holidays, and interesting information about the region of Africa where they are growing up.

We can give the kids small sums of money for their birthdays and Christmas, and of course we do.  Each boy sends us a "Thank you" note with an itemization of how they spent the money.  Both boys are fiscally responsible (The Donald - especially!).

If you are able to, look into these non-profits and see if one appeals to you.  The one I chose was Compassion International ( )  but you might find another more to your liking.  Compassion is Christian based - although I don't see any one denomination emphasized over another.  And they appear to respect the culture where they work, as Abosalam attends both Christian services and mosque.  I find this very soothing.

So consider becoming a part of another child's life.  I promise you it will be just like parenting your own little group, with highs, lows, budgets and recipes, if either of the boys send me one!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Questions Answered – July 23, 2010

Millie writes:

Other than telling a child to stop looking at you with that scowl on her face, and singing the Arky Arky song, how can you get a child to stop her scowling?

First of all, if you play the Arky Arky song often she probably has a reason to scowl! Secondly, I've found that the best way to handle a scowling child is to ignore the scowling and proceed as if everything's hunky-dory. Sitting and scowling (arms crossed or not) is a pretty darned passive-aggressive way of saying “Go on, I dare ya, ask me what's wrong.” Millie don't play passive-aggressive. Go do something fun; watch a funny YouTube video, torture the cat or something. If it draws her out, well and good; if not, at least you've done something fun!

How do you get your child over the fear of her toilet?

The first time Joy sat down on her little potty chair it tipped over and she wouldn't go near it after that. I solved the problem using one of those toddler seats that clamps on to a regular toilet seat (like this one: ). Since your daughter is not afraid of the Big Potty, this might work for you; a side benefit is that you don't have to empty a potty chair. You also don't have to worry about making the transition from potty chair to Big Potty.

Do you aim to do things "better" with each new child, or do you shrug and muddle through as best you can, even if nothing changes?

A little bit of both, I guess. My basic approach was the same, but I learn a little more with each child and use that information when dealing with subsequent kids. There's still some muddling going on, but by this point I have a toolkit of techniques that frequently work and a blacklist of things that NEVER work. John Wilmot said, “Before I got married I had six theories about bringing up children; now I have six children and no theories.” There's a lot of truth in that!

What are your thoughts on spoiled milk: "eh, who cares?--it won't harm the child," or "omg, DISGUSTING, don't let it happen!"

Disgusting. Don't let it happen!

Why is it that I can use half a diaper wipe to clean a newborn behind, but my husband must use two full ones?

Your husband has never gotten anything worse than baby poop on himself . . . for him it's Toxic Waste and he wants to put as much substance as possible between it and himself. For you, eh . . . it's just more poop!

What sort of adjustments should parents be ready to make when the kid turns 18?

We have found that a lot of the time 18-year-olds won't realize that they're supposed to be more independent unless you tell them so. You both should review basic house rules in light of “adults sharing a home” rather than “parents and minor children,” though of course since it is your house you still have the final say.

We shift the emphasis from “asking permission” to “keeping your housemates informed” and make a point of telling the fledgling adult when we'll be away and when to expect us home, as well. We have a house rule that adult children who are in school may live at home free of charge as long as they continue to contribute to the household by doing chores. When they have finished school there's a short grace period while they find their sea legs, as well.

Probably the biggest adjustment I had to make was remembering to stop giving unsolicited advice; though I have gotten pretty proficient at maneuvering the younger adults into asking me what I think they should do!

Happy Anniversary, Sweetie Buns!

Yep, it's been 33 years for the two of us.  Thirty four, if you consider we married exactly one year from the day we first met.  John was a dewey eyed scientist/engineer, I was an up and coming bon vivant.  We weren't exactly made for each other.

We've joked back and forth since, if those on-line matchmakers had been around, John and I would never have been paired.  John's hobbies were flying, sailing, scuba diving and other random guy things.  Mine were reading, going to concerts, art museums, trendy movies and eating out.  Not exactly a perfect fit.

But each of us was recovering from a failed relationship and was looking to enter back into casual dating.  We had common friends who were dating (John worked with Ron, I worked with Laura) and they fixed us up.  Not because of our scintillating resumes, but because we both had come from big Catholic families (so had Ron) and were, frankly, available.

Our first date consisted of a ride in John's dad's boat and then a bucket of clams at Pal's Shanty. Google it, you'll find it's one of the best seafood/sandwich/taverns in the Portland area.  Laura and Ron had given John and I each other's phone numbers, we'd set up a date, then Ron and Laura came along for the first meeting to chaperone.  How sweet!

John showed up at exactly 7 p.m. that evening.  Not one minute too early, not one minute too late.  I was still finishing my make-up and had yet to blend in my foundation.  I was still in my knickers.  I answered his "buzz" at my secure apartment and raced into the bedroom to put on my clothes.  I never finished my face.  He rode up on the elevator, knocked on my door and I opened it.

He was sooooooo cute - - - AND he didn't look like an axe murderer!

We met up with Ron and Laura at Ron's place, and proceeded on the date.  John was ever so gentlemanly and solicitous of my every comfort.  We had a lovely boat ride and went on to Pal's.

Laura had been acting a little weird, and I thought she might be having some sort of migraine headache.  She kept looking at me and rubbing her brow.  When we reached Pal's she hauled me off to the ladies' room and I found the source of her headache.

I never had finished my make-up and had a huge blob of foundation on my forehead.  It looked like I was covering up a scar.  Maybe John didn't look like an axe murderer, but I looked like an axe murderer's victim.  I hastily fixed my forehead and headed back to our booth.

John looked immediately relieved when we returned.  The date proceeded nicely, with John and I loosening up and enjoying each other's company.  We realized we had absolutely nothing in common, but that was the point.  We had fun planning future dates where we would torture each other with our interests.

On our second date, I barfed in John's rental plane or, literally, into an airsick bag in the plane.  On our third, John sat through a foreign language film, complete with subtitles, and no barfing at all! We realized it was a match made in heaven (or maybe the Vatican) and moved on to more serious aspects of dating.   AND we married a year later.

During that year, we realized we did have common interests, cooking being one of them.  We played "Dueling Woks" in our kitchens and just generally improved our stir fry skills.  We camped out (I love sleeping in fresh air) and went to the Portland Art Museum where John discovered the Monet water-lily painting and a life-long obsession with impressionism began.  We realized that in the right situation, differences ARE good.

It was a good match of two opposites attracting.  Here's to the next 34 years!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Millie and Mollie Thoughts - Drama Queens

"Say you're an even-keeled kind of mama and you have a Sybil-esque kind of daughter. How do you deal with her daily emotional vomit filled roller coaster without killing her? I wish I were kidding."

Mollie writes:

Boy, does this bring back memories.  I'm going to ask you a few questions, then I'm going to make a couple of observations based on my own experience.  Here goes -

How old is your daughter?  Is she in the clutch of young hormones?  Is she an only child?  Is she competing with another sibling for equal time?

I have family members who are divas.  I don't mean this in a negative way.  There is a type of personality that is sensitive, artistic, intelligent and emotional.  Raising this child will be much different than raising a grounded, commonsense, responsible pragmatist.  And in the parenting universe, there are extremes in every direction, making  parenting the most demanding profession imaginable.

That said, welcome to our universe.  Millie has six kids and none of them was cast in the same mold.  The same is true for my two.  Sometimes I refer to them as opposite ends of the same pole.  Switching from calm mother to trench mother is fine art.

Let's start by saying that with Sybil you always have at least four problems to work on.  The first is the obvious problem.  Let's use a contrived situation, "I have nothing to wear to school today."  The calm mother reviews her kid's options with her and she arrives at a reasonable combination of wardrobe options for that day.  

This won't be easy since to the diva, nothing is a reasonable option.  But ask her for the least disastrous choice and she might find her own solution.  And remind her that she must go to school that day, and she must wear clothing.

Later that day, use this problem as a learning experience.  Here is the second problem to be solved.  Why does she not have anything to wear to school?  Is her laundry caught up?  Did someone else "borrow something" - a problem with large families with at least two teen girls in high school.  Once your kid comes home from school wearing the offending clothing, talk to her about her predicament and brain storm about how to prevent this problem in the future.  She may end up religiously laundering her own clothes, she may buy a lock for her closet, she may get a part-time job so that she can add to her wardrobe, but help her see the underlying problem as well as the disaster facing her that morning.  And help her see herself as her own problem solver.

The third problem is also obvious, how she emotionally responds to stress.  Talk to her about problem solving 101, i.e. identifying the problem, solving the problem, eliminating the situation that led to the problem.  Let her know that is is hard on the entire family when she resorts to histrionics.   Repeat, over and over, that hysteria never solved a problem, only calm thinking and a rational plan.  Do this when she is not in a "mood" but when she's easier to work with.

The fourth problem is the one that causes me the most anguish, how do I separate myself from her histrionics?
The bad news/good news is that I'm still working on this.  We all want our children to feel loved, important, close to our hearts.  But we also have to be able to step away when things get out of hand.  I'm still working on this myself.  It has always been hard for me to 'walk away' before responding in anger.  But I'm getting better.

Have you thought about professional help?  A good place to start is a school counselor - they are employees of the school district and will guide you both for free.  A private specialist is an expense that will have to be worked out within your family budget.  A school counselor also has a background feel for the social dynamic your child deals with every day - meaning she knows how other kids dress.  It''s a good place to start.

 Some kids are just histrionic in adolescence, some are that way by nature and will be throughout their adult years.  Having a three-way conversation with a specialist might uncover specific problems that could be handled with medication, etc.  It's worth looking into if my "four step program" doesn't cover it.

Well, I hope that this gets you started.  Know that you're in my thoughts.  I've been there, done that, and handled it all my life.  God Bless!

Millie writes:

Being a bit of a closet drama queen myself – and raising a few of them, too – I can certainly sympathize with both sides of this equation.

The good news is, you're raising a child who is creative, intelligent and in touch with her emotions. The bad news is that someone who is creative and intelligent can make darned sure that everyone within earshot will be in touch with her emotions, too.

In situations like this it is VITAL that you keep your sense of humor. I don't necessarily that you point your finger at an emotionally spastic pre-teen, laugh and say, “look at Sybil throwing another pity party!,” but you can certainly think it. I do sometimes laugh at the more dramatic statements – there are times you just can't help it – and, if the kid's not TOO far gone, sometimes that will be enough for them to see the absurd side too. Nothing like a shared giggle to jolly them back into a more equable frame of mind.

Alas, that happens too seldom. What I have found to be the most effective is to use exactly the same method you use on two-year-old throwing a tantrum: deprive her of her audience. Give her a kiss, tell her you're sorry she's upset, and leave. This will give her a chance to pull herself together if she can and even if she can't, it will allow you to pull yourself together. We need to put a little distance between us and the drama when we feel it pulling us into the whirlpool.

Of course, we love them, so we ARE involved and we DO care. It's like putting on your own oxygen mask before you help the child, though – we can't help them if we're puking too. We're programmed to respond when our kid is upset, so we need to make things as low-key as possible.

As Mollie so wisely says, there's not usually much you can do in the way of useful conversation until later when things have calmed down a bit. There are a few things you can try if you see warning signs of an impending attack:

Diversion: If she's standing in front of her closet with that telltale look in her eye, tell her a joke or feed her a caramel or say, “look at this cute thing the baby's doing!”

Seek out HER wisdom: Speaking as a drama queen, there's nothing we enjoy more than being asked what WE think, unless perhaps it's having our egos stroked. If you say something like, “Honey, you have such a green thumb, will you please take a look at this tomato plant and see if you can tell what's wrong? I can't figure it out,” that might be enough to take her mind off her problems for a minute.

Shock tactics
: This will sound mean, but sometimes when a kid has worked themselves up to the puking point about something like matching socks the only way to derail them is to muster up your Inner Drill Sergeant. This won't work for all mothers or on all children, but if you are usually calm and nurturing and suddenly belt out, “All right, Sybil, I've HAD it! We do NOT carry on like this here! Put on what you wore yesterday, wipe your face and QUIT THAT NOISE!” sometimes it will help. I think it's because they feel so OUT of control that it makes them feel safer to have someone ESTABLISH control.

Put someone else in charge
. If there are certain tasks or times of day that you know will set her off, arrange for her Dad or an older sibling or an auntie or almost ANYONE else to be “in charge” during those moments. She feels “comfortable” unleashing an emotional storm all over you, but her innate good manners (and fear of embarrassment, because she knows what she acts like) may keep her from doing it to someone else. Even if this can't be a long-term solution it will help occasionally when you are reaching your own breaking point.

The other thing to remember is that it's NOT about “having nothing to wear.” That's code for “I feel ugly” or “I'm worried that we're poor” or “someone made fun of me” or “clothes are tight and itchy and make me feel weird.” That's why it's VITAL that later, when things have calmed down and there's been some water under the bridge, you set out a couple cups of tea and sit her down for a heart-to-heart talk. “Honey, you were so upset this morning that it seems like there must be something else bothering you too. Can you tell me what it is?”

This is vital precisely because you're teaching her that dramatics won't get her the attention she wants; that comes when she is calm and can discuss what's on her mind. Try not to make her feel bad about being dramatic, but encourage her to channel that vitality for the Forces of Good: try out for plays, join the choir, tutor younger children, paint. Any character trait that's this strong is probably one of her Super Powers – she just needs to learn to control it before it controls her.

Oh, and one last thing . . . watch your OWN behavior. If you “lose it” on a regular basis – you're teaching her that, too!

(And if it helps you to see an “After” photo – Mollie's Drama Boy grew into one of the kindest, gentlest, funniest men I've ever met – and my most emotional kid has learned to work off bad moods with music that would haunt your heart.)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Should It Stay or Should It Go?

K3 writes:

A friend of mine tells me that I have a lot of “stuff.” Obviously, he's never watched those TV shows that focus on people with hoarding tendencies. What I have in no way compares to some of the profiles I have watched on those programs. There are at least 3 places where I can see directly to the floor.

I will admit to leaning toward pack-ratted-ness at times. But there is a good reason for much of this. Really! I swear!

When I was growing up, I was curious about my family and its history – especially my mother's. It seemed that much was known about my dad's heritage, and his parents were still around when I was. My mother's family wasn't. No maternal grandparents, and the aunts and uncles lived across the country...or at least in the Midwest! When you've grown up in California, Missouri is an exotic place. I have always thought it would have been cool to have more info about my mom's growing-up years. A great mystique encircled the family homestead “The Oaks” and the little I did know about the extended family that lived there made the place sound magical. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, kids – even some boarders and the occasional farm hand added to the mystery. I was there three times – once at age 6 months, once at age 3, and then when I was in the second grade when my uncle still lived on the place.

Every now and then, my mother would pull some treasure out of some hidden nook or cranny and tell me an epic tale about the “thing” and one of my uncles, or my aunt, or my great uncle. How I wished I had been able to experience them first hand and had a more personal experience of her life growing up.

I was determined that my children would have a more complete view. As a result, I saved “stuff” – at least that's what my friend calls it. All of my work papers from second, third and fourth grade are in a box in my closet. Why I have moved them around for all these years, is clear: I wanted to show my sons and daughters the things I did in school. It's not “stuff,” it's history! I also have my dress from the Senior Prom, the libretto from a summer production of You're a Good Man Charlie Brown, and my Girl Scout Uniform. My friend Cindy designed the dress, my friend Geoff was the music director of the show, and I earned my First Class Scout award in that uniform.

So now I have that box and a variety of heirlooms that I have already inherited to pass on to my kids; my kids that I don't have. What do I do? I have kept these things long enough that I feel foolish, and yet I can't bring myself to throw them away. What does one do in this situation? Keep up the history or realize that it's just “stuff” and send the papers to the recycling bin and the treasures to the thrift store? Sure, it's something I could inflict on my child, but I don't know that it's appropriate for the general public.

This summer, I’m going to my 30th high school reunion and my dad has asked me when I visit to make a list of the things I’d like to have from the house. More stuff? Do I really need the hand-made walnut tables? The hand painted cocoa set? Or the china cabinet made of 7 different kinds of redwood? No . . . but it’s my history. Who shall I share it with?

Block Busters

Millie writes:

Mollie writes: (red responses)

I am having a no-brain day (if you're a parent – or a human – you know whereof I speak), so I left a note on Facebook asking for “parenting questions.” Here's a sampling from my smart (and smart-aleck) friends!

Why do kids grow up?

Well, in my experience, they all grow OLDER, but they don't all grow UP. Some kids are born old souls; some adults act like whiny little brats. In my own little child-rearing lab, I've come to the conclusion that they're born the way they're going to be; the best you can do is try housebreaking them.

Children grow up because we don't need the aggravation in our old age.

Why don't they grow up faster???

Because you still have plans and faint hopes for a LAC (Life After Children). It's only when you've relaxed, realized you've finally figured out what you're doing and think you have gotten a real handle on this parenting gig that they will up and move out on you.

It takes a full 18 years to put the fear of GOD in them.

Why doesn't my kid grow when he eats so much?

He's using all that energy to peel the paint off the siding on the back of the garage.

He does it to annoy you.  Know how you felt on Thanksgiving when he ate ALL the mashed potatoes and you ate none?  He gained nothing, and you grew two pant sizes?????

Why does my kid grow so fast when he eats nothing but dust?

Kids don't really need to eat in the same way you and I do. They can take nutrients through the skin from non-food sources such as YouTube videos, electric guitars and Cheez Doodles.

It's the molecular structure of dust.  It binds with fat.

Why does a 2 year old poop IN her diaper, take it off, and RUN frantically to the potty? What's wrong with this picture?

From the 2 year old's point of view there's nothing wrong with it! She knows there's a connection between poop, pants and potty; it's just the order that needs work. Seriously, it sounds like she's ready for potty training!

She's sending you a message.  Buy me Hello Kitty Panties and I'll poop in the potty!

What sort of adjustments should parents be ready to make when the kid turns 18?

You should change the locks and have your cell-phone plan adjusted.

Chiropractic adjustments are a good start.  Helps with the whiplash you develop when you realize that, for all intents and purposes, your kid is a fait accompli.  

(I'll answer that last one in greater detail tomorrow.)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

More on Death

Last November, my father-in-law died.  He was 93 and his poor body was just worn out.  In his younger days, he was a hiker, skier, swimmer, fisherman, and all around outdoorsman.  I'm not surprised that after 93 years, his body was used up.  But his passing was still difficult.

Because his kids live all over the US, have jobs and kids of their own, with grandkids in college or deployed in the middle east, the best we could do for a common date for his memorial service was this last weekend.  Folks were in town from the East Coast, the Left Coast, Montana, and our own Whidbey Island.  Our deployed son had to miss it because of his military commitment, but our Roger was there and a comfort to  his father.

Even after 93 years, it's hard to say goodbye.  He was a loved man and family was there to honor him.  He had lived so long, he'd outlived all of his fishing buddies, but his wife, John's mom, was there, as well as her best friend of over 60 years.  It was touching.

His marker bears the inscription says "Generous, Loving and Loved."   He was generous to his kids and grandkids, loving to his family and beloved by all.  The gravestone says it all.

I often wonder what impact I will have had on this earth once I've passed.  I produced two good children, was a loving spouse, paid my taxes and kept my house clean.  After attending a memorial service, a person is left to wonder "is this enough?"

Yes, it is.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Life, Death - and Happy 100!

Millie writes:

For those of you playing along at home, this is the 100th blog entry here at Millie and Mollie. We had a great (read “mojito assisted”) meeting of the minds last weekend and we’ve got some fun ideas for this site, so stay tuned – and thank you for reading us!

Lance and I went to a memorial service yesterday for a former co-worker of his. It was a heart-rending occasion, because this was not a time of happy reflection on a long, full life well-lived. This was a room full of people who were stunned and shocked because unknown to us this dear, kind, good man had been so full of pain that he saw no other course but to end his own life at the age of 43.

Most of us know someone who has died way too young, when it seems as though they have only half-lived their lives. We know people who have left new spouses behind, who have left young children, who have BEEN young children. There’s always a feeling of, “wait, come back! It was just getting GOOD!” In the case of suicide, there can be such a tremendous feeling of self-recrimination, of “if I’d been a better friend/ mother/ neighbor, he could have turned to me and maybe this could have been prevented.”

Well, probably not. We never know everything that’s in someone else’s mind or in their heart.

I do know one thing, though.

There was a slide-show playing during the service and it showed picture after picture after picture of the guest of honor as a young boy: riding his trike, fishing with his brother, playing with his cousins, eating ice cream, sleeping, singing, jumping exuberantly off a diving board. Whatever demons plagued the man, it was obvious that the boy had led a happy, secure and well-loved life. His mother and his father – and his uncles, aunts and the other adults he knew – had taken him to the park, to the beach, to the pool, camping, star-gazing, down the street for an ice cream cone. They had taken the time just to BE with him, and to let him just BE.

I hope his mother, sitting in the front row with her head bowed, can take some comfort from that. She loved him, and he knew it. He loved her, and she knew it. It didn’t matter anymore how old he’d been when he was toilet-trained, or whether he broke curfew on prom night, or what his GPA was in college, or whether he got the corner office with the window. She loved him.

And he knew it.

Let’s make sure OUR loved ones do.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Bachelor Camp – Cookie-Baking for Men

So far the only downside to Bachelor Camp is that it's attended by a bunch of bachelors. The “boys” are enjoying learning the tricks of the adult trade, coming up with great ideas for future workshops, and having a tremendous time acting male around each other – but getting three young men to have a daily, overlapping slot of free time would challenge the Super Powers of any mortal.

Red had company today so couldn't join us for Cookies 101, but it worked out for the best – we didn't have enough shortening on hand to make THREE double batches! Sassy wasn't here either but it didn't matter for this lesson – she makes cookies as well as I do.

All the boys want to learn baking basics so we started with Chocolate Chip Cookies because it just doesn't get more basic than that. This recipe sufficed to reinforce what Jack and Rocky both already knew about careful measuring, thorough mixing and the all-important “wash your hands!” It also gave me the chance to pass along a couple of my own kitchen tips (like “break the eggs into the measuring cup and dump them into the mixing bowl, then measure the shortening – it will slip right out of the cup” and “bake the cookies slightly cooler for slightly longer if you want them to be slightly chewier”). It was fun, we got to eat cookies at the end of it – and I never tire of the sight of a male in an apron!

This weekend we'll be doing more cooking and may delve into a few “manly” areas such as How to Use a Power Tool. The big excitement today in our household is that we're getting together with our own beloved Mollie and Doctor John – we're meeting up for dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant, and afterwards convoying over to Joy and Roger's house to eat some of their one-year-old wedding cake!

What will the boys be wearing? Why, the shirts they ironed yesterday, of course!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Breaking News!

Brianna's baby was born at 8:35pm, 30 minutes after being dilated to a 3 and water breaking. Welcome to the world, Kayla Anne!

The Global Village's Favorite Aunt

Millie and Mollie know a lot of remarkable people. Some of these people are so wise and their perspectives are so unique that their gentle teachings have stayed with us forever. K3 is one such person. She was born knowing things that the rest of us may never figure out.


K3 writes:

For some reason Millie thinks that what I might have to say could be partially amusing and, at some level, edifying. She and I kind of floated tangentially around each other in high school in the late 70s -- when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

Let me say that I'm not a mom -- and at my "advanced age" probably won't be. I have, however, been blessed with nieces and nephews as well as the plethora of kids my friends have popped out and shared liberally. The most terrifying day of my life was in the mid 80s when my brother called to inform me that he and his wife had just finished their wills and if anything were to happen to the two of them, the three boys were mine. Um... Gee.... Thanks?

I have a lot of opinions about family, kids, life, etc. Some of them are even well reasoned and insightful. So you may find an occasional contribution from out here in left field filling in some details from the peanut gallery.

* * *

I am NOT your Babysitter!

I am recovering from a divorce; I find myself working two jobs. It’s a PITA (Pain In The After-burner – if you know what I mean). I do my 9-5 kind of thing as a technical writer for a software company that deals primarily with Medicare and Medicaid applications (I should pay more attention!) and then in my “off hours,” I work at a women’s clothing store in an outlet mall. With two years behind me, I’m the senior staff member at the store. I’ve been through three managers, an embezzler, and three thieves and still find myself being the best sweater folder in the place.

The district manager who looks in on me and my co-workers is concerned about us meeting the financial goals the company has laid out for us. It hasn’t been a problem so far, but she is sure it will be. One of the things she wants us to concentrate on is customer service to which I respond, “DUH!”

I don’t mind helping customers. I don’t mind digging through the piles of sweaters to find the only size “large” in the stack. I don’t mind rehanging the pile of clothes you left on the floor of the dressing room. What I DO mind is being left with your four year old while you look for the bargain of the day.

Frankly, I thought this was an isolated thing. When I worked in a department store full time, moms would sentence their child to sit in the “bored husband chair” outside the dressing room while they sorted through the racks of skirts and slacks . . . at the other end of the store. Meanwhile, little Johnny or Cindy would get restless and fidgety and want to get up and run around the store. In order to keep the pending mayhem down to a dull roar, it was up to me to be the enforcer reminding them that no, the t-shirt display did not double as a jungle gym and the dressing room curtains were not indoor tire swings.

I enjoy talking with children of all ages. The other day, I spent a few minutes pondering the virtues of Velcro versus shoe laces with a four-year old boy. Another time, I helped a little girl find “pink” things in her back pack. Now, I agree that these are valiant and appropriate tasks for a baby sitter, but not when I’m supposed to be providing “excellent customer service” to a store full of fashionistas wondering what color this blouse is and what the sale price of that dress might be after the discounts.

Does this mean I don’t think kids should go shopping with their moms? Not at all! But moms need to realize when shopping with Missy and Mikey that it can’t be just about designer dresses. Sometimes it has to be about dinosaurs and dolls, too. Cuz I’m WORKIN’ HERE!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

My Ironing Pit

Mollie writes:

I laughed when I read Millie's post today.  She's a good woman, better than I.  I was just going to write a comment, but, in order to keep this blog real I decided to confess my sins on my own nickel.

I HATE ironing.  Have since I was a 7 year old mite, ironing my first pillowcase (remember when we did that?????).  I'd set the iron on its end so that I could reposition the case and the *(^^&& iron fell on the back of my hand.

I finished childhood with a huge scar that only now, fifty years later, is no longer present.  And since that day, my iron and I try to stay at least 3 states apart.  I'd have a restraining order if it were possible.

But stuff has to be ironed, so occasionally (bi-annually????) I break out the iron and ironing board (yep, it still has the same pad as the day I walked down the aisle).  I then whine, complain, vetch, sniffle, moan, whimper and drag myself to the chore.  It isn't pretty.

My husband learned of my ironing phobia soon after we met.  Thankfully, he wasn't at my degree of loathing and happily ironed his own stuff, unless it was something special and took it to the cleaners for a professional finish.  The boys weren't so lucky.  I always made a point of getting things out of the dryer pronto, as well as always buying things that were permanent press, but the little orphans still managed to show up at school looking like they'd slept in their clothes.

I didn't care. Not one whit.

It was so bad that one morning, before I entered mommyhood, I realized that I had nothing presentable to wear to work.  I huffed and puffed and tried to guilt my husband into ironing my blouse for me.  It only made sense, didn't I push the buttons on the washer and dryer?  He could step up.

Well, he didn't, and went to work leaving me to face my nemesis alone.  I slowly stomped my way into the laundry room to set up my torture table.  But there it was, all sparkly and clean, just waiting for me.  And there, standing at attention, was my iron, waiting, lurking, but smiling in that cheesy way that all evil irons smile.  I plugged it in and waited for it to heat up.

This is when I noticed that my husband had left a note permanently stuck on the iron.  It was one of those plastic labeling things you punch out data on and stick on mailboxes, etc.  And the message was so sweet!  "I love you" was his own special message, so I softened my stance against him and men in general and ironed my blouse myself.

Later at work, on a busy morning, I called him to thank him for the note.  By then we'd been married a couple of years and some of the shine was developing a patina.  When John picked up the phone, I murmured into the receiver "I love you, too, Honey."

"Whaddya mean, 'I love you, too?" was his response.  I sniffed and said, "I found your note on the iron."

He burst into laughter and said, "Honey, I put that tape on the iron two years ago."

So, Millie, dear sister, may I attend your ironing class?  Can we start simple, and have neosporin and ice packets at the ready?  And maybe include Peter and Roger?

Sneaking Up on the Day

I learned a long time ago – in junior high, actually – that the best way to get things done is to get up before anyone else and do them flat-out while you are completely undisturbed. This skill stood me in good stead when Motherhood hit, and it's still my go-to solution today when my To Do List is longer than my arm.

A stay-at-home Mom's life can best be described as interrupt-driven. Everyone starts their morning with a plan in mind of what they'd like to accomplish that day, but if you're an at-home parent you can count on only getting to half of it – and that half taking at least twice as long as it would if you were just a Person. Even the most angelic children (and husbands) require a lot of attention.

Please understand that I'm not complaining. I chose this path and I love it. I love being there to read the stories, take the walks and oversee the homework. It's one of the things I'm proudest of, being the one my sons want to talk to, the one my daughters ask for hairstyle advice and the one my husband seeks out to share a spectacular sunset with him. These moments are my paydays.

Dropping everything to experience those luxury moments means that things build up, though, and from time to time (like today) I need to get up at 5 a.m., lower my head and work like a draft horse until I've crossed off things from my list. Boring mundane things, like “feed the plants, make chocolate rice pudding for breakfast, oil the clippers for haircuts later, clean the bathroom, deadhead the roses, and oh yeah - take a shower!”

I've often felt that my main job description is that of Stage Manager. I set the scene for family life, and even though I get credit for it, the quality of my work is most admirable if it doesn't intrude into the play itself. If the place is clean, well-stocked and welcoming without anyone feeling that mopping the floors or polishing windows is the be-all and end-all of existence, then Home is a place where they will feel relaxed and welcomed. I manage this with varying degrees of success, but so far only one of my children has actually left the country; so far, so good.

I think today's Bachelor Camp activity will be Ironing a Dress Shirt; maybe Slacks, too, if all goes well. It's supposed to be hot today so the laundry room in the basement will probably be a good place to hang out for a while. Sassy and I are going out for “coffee,” and it's Date Night too, so I am gonna be a fairly social Millie this Wednesday. Thank goodness I got that shower in!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Bachelor Camp - Fruit Salad and Knives

We started Bachelor Camp yesterday afternoon, with a lesson on “how to whip up a seasonal fruit salad from whatever you happen to have hanging around the house – or can find at the market.” I hauled out the watermelon left from the Fourth of July, some grapes, strawberries, pineapple, mandarin oranges, a couple of leftover blueberries rattling around in the bottom of the basket and some coconut and called the boys down.

We'd already discussed the idea of Bachelor Camp and they were all for it, so I passed out aprons and cutting boards while they washed their hands. While we worked I was able to sneak in a few lessons about hygiene, proper food handling, cleaning-up-as-you-go, and the kudos a young man in his first cubicle job could gain by bringing a multi-ingredient fruit salad to the office potluck instead of a few bags of chips. This quickie first lesson was all the more rewarding to the scholars because it culminated in something they could eat.

Today's lesson featured Knives, Their Care and Feeding. First I exhibited one of every type of kitchen knife we have (which turns out to be quite a collection; Lance is sort of a knife snob). After we discussed the How and Why of the different types, their uses and care, and how to choose new knives if you're buying them, we had a chopping lesson. I favor the Julia Child method of choking up on the blade itself and rocking the bejesus out of a chef's knife, so we practiced that and the boys were all impressed about how much easier that technique is than the usual “chop...move the knife...chop...move the knife" scenario.

Then Lance took over for the Sharpening segment. First he showed them how to use a steel to straighten the blade, then he taught them to use the sharpener. (He favors a V-type ceramic sharpener.) I actually learned a lot today too; I only knew how to sharpen knives the old-fashioned way using oil and a whetstone, this way is quite a bit easier. With 3 young males turned loose with steels, stones and knives, you'd better BELIEVE that now everything edged in my kitchen can split a hair from twenty paces. Oo, I should show them how to sharpen a shovel.

It seems that the more I think about it the more ideas I come up with for the list of What Adults Should Know. Today I added: a magic trick (for charming children), what to say to someone who's suffered a loss, how to drive a stick shift, how to give a toast, how to dance (waltz, swing and teenage) and how to write a resume and a cover letter.

In other news, today was “Tea with Mom Day” for me and Jack (he has Tuesdays) and the learning continued; our favorite soda jerk (Yes! We found a real old-timey soda fountain right in our 'hood!) told us that a chocolate malted made with vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup – as opposed to just chocolate ice cream – is called a “Black and Tan.” We now consider ourselves to have the inside – um – scoop.

This is a fun project – I can't wait to see where it takes us!

When Your Adult Child Is Deployed

Mollie writes:

We spend every day of our parenting years hoping that our children grow into responsible, law abiding, patriotic citizens.  We involve them in programs that encourage teamwork - things like sports, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, thespians, foreign language classes and mountains of other activities.  We celebrate the Fourth of July, Memorial Day, Flag Day and Presidents' Day among our holidays.

So why are we so surprised that our kids grow up and serve their country?

It doesn't surprise me much since my better half spent 20+ years in the Navy and Naval reserves.  One weekend a month, John would put on his khakis or dress whites and go to the reserve center where he'd spend a weekend protecting our country.  Reservists have a large spectrum of duties; John, an electrical engineer, was an engineering duty officer and spent years keeping up to date on electronics, dry docking large watercraft and other related naval activities.  Once a year, he'd spend two weeks on active duty, usually at a base stateside, completing some short term project that required his expertise.  So I wasn't surprised that our kids saw this as a natural progression.

When Peter, our oldest, went to college, he landed a full scholarship with the Air Force ROTC program.  This allowed him to attend University of Portland, live comfortably on campus, and pursue an electrical engineering program that took five years to complete.  The apple really doesn't fall far from the tree.   Upon graduation, he went directly into the Air Force as a second Lieutenant.  He continued his education as a navigator, earned his wings, and then went on for more training.  He'd graduated from college magna cum laude and the Air Force was quick to place him in an advanced electronics program. So his first years in the Air Force were state side, in training.

The interesting thing about his career, where he is now a Captain, is that it's so "cutting edge" that he can't tell us much about it.  Not that I'd get it anyway, I'm not a digital person.  But after completing his training, Peter would get deployed to interesting places for months at a time.  We didn't know where he went, what he was doing, or exactly when he'd come home.  Talk about stressful!

But we wanted to be supportive and loving.  So with each deployment to the Middle East, we'd send "care packages" to his APO address for forwarding on to his service site.  This got to be fun since we tried to keep things humorous, light.

In the past I've sent him cookies.  I, personally, think that I make the best chocolate chip cookies this side of the Atlantic Ocean.  But by the time Peter would get them, they'd be less than fresh and often melted.  So we started sending him packaged foods like sunflower seeds, chips, and other munchies that were hard to find in the Middle East.  He liked this a lot more.

We'd send books, e-mail (not one letter, just electronic mail these days, snail mail takes so long) and would wait for his frequent phone calls.  Since he couldn't tell us much about what he was doing, most conversations were stilted.  "How are you?"  "What's new?"  Things like this would take up a full minute, so unless there was something amusing that had happened lately, conversations would be brief.  We didn't want to worry him over things that he couldn't fix, so we kept small matters like kidney stones to ourselves.

Some of the better boxes we sent we'd actually purchase for his whole crew.  We'd sent flying shrieking monkeys so that they could have air battles, water pistols and balloons (cammo, naturally) for water fights,  the list goes on.

When we got back from our recent escape to the San Juans there was a "Thank you" note from a bunch of Air Force folks.  This time, we'd sent them a pinata in the form of a bat (their unofficial mascot) cammo taffy, and a collection of kits that would allow each service person to "Make Your Own Medal." This went over well.

My point here is that we never really know what Peter is doing, but we love and respect him for it.  Our way of showing it is by not troubling him over the small stuff (and yep, most of it is small stuff) and communicating with him frequently.  We make sure that there are nice things for him in the mail, and nice things to share with his crew members.  And when he returns from deployment, we try to meet him in Tucson where he is formally assigned, or have him come up to see us on Whidbey Island.

Right now, Peter is on deployment in a war zone and this lends to a parent's anxiety.  But I know he'll be home sometime in September, so I'm looking forward to that.  I'm also scouting the local stores for inexpensive silly things to send to him and the other crew members.  If you have any ideas, I'm all ears!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Bachelor Summer Camp

Parenting, like everything else, comes in waves. That’s particularly true when you have a lot of kids. Lance and I joke that we have three sets of identical twins, each set born six months apart; and we’ve often noticed that one set of kids has learned something that we completely neglected to teach another set.

This came to mind last week when I asked Jack if he wanted to make a birthday cake for his dad, and I discovered he had never baked a cake before. It’s true that by the time things filter down to Jack – the youngest of the 6 – we’ve already taught it 5 times and figure that EVERYBODY knows it. However, that same week I was talking to Rocky (oldest boy and Senior Child Present), who’s beginning to gird himself for a place of his own, and he was mentioning all the Regular Grown-Up Things he doesn’t know how to do.

This morning an idea was born: Bachelor Summer Camp!

For the next few weeks I’m going to be giving my 3 boys (ages 22, 20 and 15) lessons in the mechanics of human survival: laundry, cooking, budgeting, ironing, menu planning, mending, etc. At the end of this domestic crash course I’m hoping the kids will have at least a nodding acquaintance with all the skills they’ll need when they’ve flown the coop (with the added benefit that they’ll be more helpful while they’re still here!). Today I’m working up a broad “lesson plan,” so please – leave a note telling me what you think an entry-level adult must be able to do.

Come to think of it, Sassy told me the other day that she’d never used the electric drill . . . I’d better add a Bachelorette Version for her!

Adrenalin & Estrogen & Progesterone

Mollie writes:

In my early years as a mom, we had some interesting times.  Kids were premature, concussed, broke arms, had seizures, you name it.  I developed a mantra that went something like "thingswillimprovewithtime" and believed it with all my heart.

Things DO improve with time, but not very much.  I'd say last week was an exciting ride of ups and down, but, frankly, after the lovely 4th, it was nothing but downs.  Family issues seemed to dominate the down-spiral, my husband's mother is in end-stage Parkinson's, my oldest is again deployed and hating it, and everybody seemed to be sinking rather than swimming.

So John and I decided to take a couple of days and sail to Rosario.  Rosario is a little harbor in the San Juan Islands where you can veg out for a couple of days, char a steak or two, and just generally take things down a notch.  Last Wednesday morning we were getting things at the house shut down for a few days of R&R when the bell tolled.

John was in the greenhouse, a primitive little bundle of PVC and metal that we bought in kit form and built ourselves.  We're growing tomatoes in it right now, and he was checking to make sure the irrigation system was working.  We'd eaten a couple of cherry tomatoes, pronounced them heavenly and ourselves the "Tomatenmeistern" of the universe.  We didn't want to lose them because we hadn't checked on the drip watering system before we left town, so John was just double checking to be sure all was in order.

I'm in the kitchen, packing up dry goods for the galley when John pounds indoors, clutching his forehead.  Blood is spurting from a HUGE gash at his scalp-line, his hands and arms covered in blood.  He had banged his head on the handle of the roof vent that he'd just opened.  He saw the look of horror on my face, and promptly fled outside again, hoping to keep the blood outdoors.

A chase ensued, with me clutching the telephone and ordering him to sit down.  John just kept checking the gash to see if the bleeding was slowing - and paced, paced, paced.  I dialed 911.

John wouldn't sit down for love nor money, nor any other seemingly rational reason.  I spoke with the 911 operator, and she suggested she talk to him.  I handed the phone over to her and the next thing I knew, my husband was sitting down and taking orders from another person.

While she was talking to us, she also notified the EMS folks that she had a person with a gushing head wound that showed some signs of abating. I didn't thing it was abating but John did.

Within a minute or two, the paramedics arrived and took over.  They did appropriate wound care, and John's bleeding did stop, but I was still worried that he was in shock.  As soon as he was stabilized, I decided that I had pulled myself together enough to drive him to the emergency room so that he could get the wound some proper stitches.  The paramedics left, reassuring me that I'd done the right thing in calling 911, subduing my husband, etc.

Have I mentioned that I love paramedics and 911 operators?

To make a scary story calmer, John was just fine after nine stitches.  But it begs the question 'just when do things get easier?'

It looks like they never do.  That's the problem with love.  You care about somebody, marry him, have children with him, share life with him for 33 years, and at some point, you get attached.  The love you have for your spouse isn't the same pagan hormonal gut wrenching primal protectiveness you have for your children, but it's just as powerful.  The sight of John submitting to orders from a stranger, getting stitched up on a gurney, the paleness of his features and the red of the blood on his face and hair was terrifying.

When my kids had their moments, and boy, they had 'em, I was able to rise up and rip into the moment.  You feel anger, fierce protectiveness and enormous adrenalin response.  That's what a parent does. When it's your partner, you do have to fight the urge to burst into tears.  I honestly don't know the reason for the difference in the response, but there it is.

We used to joke that John couldn't climb ladders with chainsaws.  Well, it also looks like he can't grow tomatoes in our greenhouse, either, at least not without a hard hat.  But once he was stitched, washed, and had a good night's sleep, we decided to sail on to Rosario anyway.

We needed a break.