Monday, May 30, 2011
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
We've all heard the stories about babies who fail to thrive because they aren't held enough. In early Victorian times people believed that too much physical contact would overwhelm children with germs and disease, and in orphanages throughout Europe and North America staffers were forbidden to touch the babies beyond caring for their minimum physical needs. Though they were receiving adequate nutrition and medical care, almost all the children died in infancy. In 1920 a pediatrician named Dr. Brenneman made it a rule in his hospital that each baby should be picked up and cuddled several times a day – the mortality rate in his ward fell immediately and dramatically.*
Today it's common knowledge that our babies need to be touched and held, and most parents are only too happy to snuggle their newborns. As they get older and we hear “Aw, Mom” more often, we learn not to be too demonstrative in front of their peers; as they enter the sometimes-prickly adolescent years, we may try to “give them their space” and stop touching them altogether.
This is a big mistake.
Your 17-year-old may look like an adult, and he may be too big to sit on your lap, but he still needs your touch – you just have to adapt your cuddles to suit his new station in life. He might be terminally embarrassed if you call him Snookie and bounce him on your knee (not to mention how hard it would be on your knee), but a casual one-armed hug could make a huge difference in his day.
Not only do we all need affection from our loved ones to prosper, a teenager who isn't getting any physical affection from his family will go looking for it somewhere else. Yes, the hormones are in overdrive during those tumultuous years, but the hunger to be touched isn't exclusively sexual even then. Keeping older kids at arm's length can make it harder for them to be discriminating about when, and whom, they date – they may be so desperate to be touched by someone that they'll take the first person who comes along.
If you have older children, be alert for the subtle (and not-so-subtle) clues that they want to connect. Your child may come and leannnn on you while you're reading or sitting at the computer, or he may run up to you and yell “POKE!,” suiting the action to the word. (They learn this on Facebook. I have permanent bruises.) He may say, “I'm heading to bed,” and then hang around in a marked manner until you make a bit of a fuss over him (because he'd rather die than say, “come and tuck me in”).
Go ahead. Poke 'em back. Grab 'em and hug 'em when nobody's looking. Kiss them on the cheek and tell 'em you love 'em. They will never outgrow the need for your approval and affection.
They might squirm.
But they'll be back.
Friday, May 20, 2011
I'm a pretty good housekeeper. Not as good as some people who shall remain nameless but who co-writes this blog with me (rumor has it that if you're staying in her guest room and you get up in the middle of the night to pee, by the time you get back not only will your sheets be laundered and your bed made up anew, there will be a vase of fresh lilacs and a plate of hot chocolate-chip cookies on your nightstand), but we get by. I admit that my standards have slipped a bit since the first kids hit their teenage years – not because they're sloppier, but because they took on more of the chores and I have never figured out how to convince a sixteen-year-old that “sweep the floor” doesn't mean “wander around holding a broom bristle-end-up,” it means “remove the debris from the surface beneath your feet.”
They say that a workman is only as good as his tools, and this is nowhere more true than it is in housework. It's very tempting to save money on your cleaning stuff, especially big-ticket items like vacuum cleaners. Inexpensive is great, but cheap is not. Whether you're a stay-at-home-mom or do housework on your Second Shift, respect your occupation enough to use good-quality tools.
Which brings us to today. This is the time of year I start having to water the garden and the plants in our large front and back yards. Last year in a spasm of misguided economy we bought a long “contractor” hose at a yard sale and the thing is kinkier than Marilyn Chambers.
I came stomping into the house this morning, soaking wet and steaming mad. I screamed at my poor husband (in that tone of voice we use that lets our husbands know they'd better take us seriously even though they have no idea what we're talking about), “I HATE THAT %@ING HOSE!!!!” It's bad enough that I have to drag the 50-pound monstrosity all over the place, but without exception as soon as I get the business end of the hose a half-acre away from the faucet, the entire 150 feet of red rubber failure will macrame itself into a friendship bracelet and I will have to crawl back and un-tangle it an inch at a time.
Today matters were exacerbated by the fact that, after watering everything, I washed the van. The van is “my" car, and it's a perfect example of saving money by Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make It Do. The van is a (mostly) maroon Plymouth Voyager adapted to seat 8. We call it “The Mothership,” which is geeky in so many directions I can't even count them all. Lance is as good a mechanic as he is an engineer, so this car will probably run forever. Unfortunately, he doesn't concern himself with aesthetic issues; as long as it runs he doesn't care what it looks like. The result is that when you hear us coming, you start looking around for a big dust storms. The doors stick, the tailgate's broken, the emblems are missing or hanging drunkenly from one peg, and the A/C whines (though not as loud as I do). Our driveway is lined with nest-containing trees. It was bad enough that I was going out to touch bird poop on purpose, without having to deal with the Devil Hose!
My point is this: Don't double your workload by using tools that don't work. Not only will you spend twice the time necessary, the inconvenience will make it harder to force yourself to do the chore the next time. Don't use the window cleaner that makes greasy streaks. Get rid of the broom that sheds bristles on your just-swept floor. Buy a hose that unrolls in a straight line.
Dance or paint or nap with the time you save.
Now if you will excuse me, I have to go burn that damned feather duster.
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Well, Prom has come and gone. The kids involved had a fantastic time and the Moms involved shed a silent tear or two, wondering when those gorgeous, shiny-new, smiling adults had replaced our grubby, grinning toddlers.
I don't know if I've ever mentioned it on here, but one of my Super Powers is a little thing I like to call Mama Bear Override. When I raise up the Attribute (a cold, deadly fury aimed at anything threatening a cub) and assume this Aspect . . . well, let's just say that you don't want to be on the receiving end of it. There is no pity.
You all know how hard Jack worked to make this date perfect for Lovey, so you can imagine my feelings when I got the following text message from him 90 minutes before Stage 1: Dinner was scheduled: “Well, looks like the picnic's off. :(“
I was out of town cavorting with Joy, so after a few abortive attempts to get the story out of him via text I messaged, “Jack. Get me Lovey's Mom's phone number.”
Each of the kids has witnessed Mama Bear Override, so it is completely understandable that he answered hesitantly, “I would like there to be survivors.”
Ah, but I am no longer that young mother who once followed a man to his home, accosted him in his driveway and threatened to tear his arms off and beat him to death with them if he ever again passed a stopped car on the left in a school zone. (I'd do this one again, actually – he had just dropped off his own kid and then almost ran over my nephew, illegally zooming around us in the oncoming lane of the drop-off zone. Idiot. That was one re-educated man by the time I got through with him.)
No, this Mama Bear has been to her share of parenting rodeos and has the belt buckles - and the scars - to prove it. On the eve of Prom Night 2011 I was not thinking (a'la The Hulk), “Must. Kill. Whatever resulted in frowny emoticon.” I was thinking, “This sounds like a job for both mothers.”
See, I've learned the hard way that if you race into any situation armed only with your kid's version of events – you are going to eat a lot of crow.
This doesn't mean your kid's a liar (though it also doesn't mean he's not). It means that his is not the only perspective you have to consider before you go in swinging. He may not know what's behind the current kerfuffle, or he may have missed a pivotal moment that was crucial to understanding what was really going on. (That last one happens a lot during the teens.)
In this case, it turned out that Lovey (demonstrating empathy far beyond her years) had assumed that she would be needed at home to help with family visiting from out of state, and had tried to make things easier on her mom without consulting her first. Jack, with typical teenage male-ness, missed that Lovey was trying to please everyone and thought she was just canceling on him.
I already know Lovey's mom Brandi slightly because Lovey and Sassy have been buddies for years. It didn't take us long to put together what had happened, and we shared a rueful chuckle while we confirmed the kids' evening schedule at the Executive Level. As a bonus, Brandi got to realize anew what a thoughtful little sweetie-pie Lovey is, and I got to hear about what a gentleman Jack is when he's at Brandi's house. Win-win.
Of course, when I called Jack to report, I didn't tell him that Brandi and I had giggled together like we were seventeen ourselves. I simply said curtly, “Jack. Your original schedule? It's back on.” I was rewarded with an admiring, “Go, MOM.”
No use giving away all my secrets; not until he's a parent himself.
I hope Brandi and I won't have to arrange that for him.
Sunday, May 15, 2011
The theme song's lyrics were written by Ned Washington in 1958. It was composed by Dimitri Tiomkin and sung by pop singer Frankie Laine. The theme song became very popular, and was covered several times and featured in movies such as The Blues Brothers and Shrek.
Saturday, May 14, 2011
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
So the Senior Prom is this Saturday, and even though Jack is a junior his girlfriend du jour is a senior and he wants to do it up right.
His problem? An allowance of $5 a week and no job.
What's a fella to do?
Of course, we could drop a bundle on his behalf for tux, limo, flowers and restaurant food. However, it's always kinda been our policy that if you're old enough to date, you're old enough to pay for it yourself; also, technically, it's not “his” Senior Prom.
Well, it's great to have a policy, but it doesn't help much when one's maternal heart is saying, “Ohhhhh! He wants it to be romantic! I want to raise my sons to be romantic . . . can't we help him out just a little bit?”
This tendency of mine to talk a good game and then cave in the ninth inning is what has prevented me from being a good Tiger Mom this last quarter-century. However, Jack's the sixth of six, and by this time I have learned to do what toddler Rocky used to ask for so plaintively: “help me do it myself!” This approach lets everyone involved save face.
Ana, if you read this: Please don't tell her what he's planning. I'm not sure how much of it he'll be able to pull together in time!
Talk it out. Since buying the tickets pretty much cleaned Jack out financially, we brainstormed together to find alternative approaches to the rest of the prom that he could pay for using creativity and elbow grease. Our city is known for its roses, so Jack's planning a picnic in an international rose test garden – under the same gazebo where Lance and I got married. He's also planning to stick a few of his Select Choir buddies behind some trees so they can step out and help him serenade his sweetie at the proper moment . . . awwwwwwww!
Do some footwork. All the gentlemen who live in my house own at least one tuxedo, so even if Jack didn't have his own he has access to several different styles. (If you have a social teenage son, I strongly recommend buying him his own tux. You can find them in thrift stores or online, and you'll recoup your investment by avoiding even one rental fee. The prices are ridiculous.) Yesterday – yesterday – he decided that he really wants a bow tie in a color to match her dress. Obviously the place to get one is at a formal-wear store, but that's not gonna happen on $5 a week – so guess who's gonna be combing the Goodwills and discount stores today, looking for a yellow bow tie?
“Girls only want boyfriends who have great skills.” The boyfriends don't have to have all the skills, as long as their moms do. I was somewhat flattered when, even though I offered to pay for the corsage, Jack asked if we could make it instead (that being something I do know how to do). I took him to the crafts store yesterday so he could select the wristband (I have everything else we need except the flowers) and he also picked out a few small, romantic charms to dangle amidst the blossoms . . . awwwwwwww!
Do a little grunt work. Lance and I are big on romantic picnics too, and I have a few fantastic picnic baskets. You can bet the fanciest one is going to be packed with china, crystal, (electric) candles and a spiffy groundcloth before being stuffed to bursting point with sparkling cider, elegant food made for dining alfresco and a really elegant dessert.
Back away. Remember that, in the end, it's not your project. He may not do things the way you would, but your job is to assist the director, not to direct. It's quite possible that your child will come away with the impression that he has brought the whole thing off himself.
If that happens, congratulations. Mission accomplished!
Monday, May 9, 2011
Saturday, May 7, 2011
If you have a mom, are a mom, or perform momly duties, I salute you.
Whether your celebration starts with Froot Loops in bed and a macaroni necklace or Crepes Grand Marnier and diamond earrings, we hope the day includes some quality time with your loved ones.
This year Lance and I will be spending tomorrow playing with 5 of our 6; we chatted with our soldier and his bride last night on the phone. There will be laughter, games and great food. I suspect that my days of being the only mom in the family on this holiday are numbered, and I plan to enjoy it to the full!
Happy Mother's Day from me, Mollie, Maggie and May!
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
After popping the sweet rolls in the oven today (reading about Maggie's pretzel adventure has launched me into a baking binge), I took a rare “by myself” trip to our local library. I had something to drop off and something to pick up . . . as usual, I got more at the library than I bargained for.
As I was wandering through the stacks I had to pause – a little boy about 4 years old, his arms loaded with books, was beaming all over his face as he charged off to the checkout desk without looking where he was going. His mom and I exchanged understanding smiles; he didn't mean to knock into me and probably didn't even know he had, he was so excited about his new treasures! A couple of minutes later, my own new treasures tucked under my arm, I paused again. A white-haired gentleman in his early 60s, wearing faded jeans and a white tank top, was coming in as I was going out. He held the door wide for me with a gracious smile. I thanked him warmly – after all, I was raised right, too!
How can anyone object to this? How does it take away anyone's “power,” to be treated kindly and to respond in kind? Sure, men open doors for women; women also open doors for men, if the men's arms are full, and for other women, if they're nearby.
Too many people seem to think that simple politeness is tantamount to an expression of disdain. Opening a door, slowing down your car so that someone can cross a street, or serving someone else first aren't statements that you think another person is helpless; gestures like these are the grease that keeps society moving smoothly.
That nice man who held the door for me – it certainly made me feel good, and my smile and “Thank you!” made him smile, too. I didn't exchange a word with the 3-year-old's mom, but we shared an, “Ah, kids!” moment nevertheless – and she got a tiny bit of affirmation that she's still a person, which can be all too rare during those tiny-kids-at-home years.
So I got three books, social validation and a blog idea from that 15-minute library run. Not bad for a Wednesday afternoon.
(Oh, and according to Lance - I WIN at sweet rolls.)
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
Monday, May 2, 2011
Since Sassy and I are practically drowning in testosterone over here, it's not surprising that I spend a fair amount of time trying to figure out how to motivate young males.
(I should tell you right now that I still haven't discovered the secret, so don't hold your breath.)
Without exception, our boys were lackluster students in middle and high school. This isn't because they aren't smart – they're all above average in intelligence. What it boils down to is this: They didn't (or in the case of the current high-school boy, don't) do well because they really didn't care about school.
I've read all the literature, believe me. From kindergarten up they've all had the full support system: a quiet spot for homework and reading, help and tutoring if needed, organizational help, the whole nine yards. We've tried the carrot-and-stick approach, the no-extracurriculars-until-your-grades-improve approach, the you-control-your-own-life approach and the I'm-controlling-every-move-you-make approach.
Here I am, hacking through yet another Junior Year with the sixth kid (and fourth boy), and I'm just as lost as I was with the oldest one. Yes, he could pass all his classes with A's and B's – if I spend hours every day emailing his teachers, going over his papers, and sitting on top of him to make sure he does his homework. I do a little of this, albeit grudgingly; I think it is completely inappropriate for a parent to have to be in this loop at all by the time a kid is a Junior. This “cleaning out the backpack to find the permission slip” stuff was outmoded by the second grade.
The girls had/have their challenges too, don't get me wrong. They both got pretty good grades and (more importantly, in my opinion) they actually learned in class. Sassy has a tendency to take on too much and then get slammed into an overwhelmed, deer-in-the-headlights mode as the term ends, but all in all she's doing a great job of deciding where she wants to go and figuring out how to get herself there.
Which, when I stop and think about it, is where the boys fall flat even in the college years. None of them seem to be able to see beyond the immediate moment. The high school kid doesn't believe that it's important to get into college – doesn't he see his big brothers just fooling around there, after all? - and the college kid figures he can coast just like he did in high school. Unless a person (boy or girl) has a goal in mind, he is pretty much just marking time in school. My being motivated doesn't help him in the least – for one thing I already passed high school chemistry, and for another you can't make somebody care.
At least, I can't.
Has anybody out there successfully turned around a completely disinterested student? If so, pass some advice my way – help a sister out.
I'm motivated, I tell ya.