Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Upside of Parenting a Teen

Everyone knows the challenges of parenting a teenager. There's the eye rolling, savant-like swearing ability, door slamming, crap left all over the house, and the roller coaster of moods. Arguably, Rob and I have had it easy with our teenager. That still hasn't eliminated the moments when we catch each other's eyes across the room and telepathically ask "What the hell was that?!?!"

People don't hear about the upside nearly enough. There's the chance for a "do over" of your teens. I am not proposing that you live through your teen, but it is a chance to rediscover all of those things that you loved when you were young. I have loved having the chance to share dark teen comedies with Caroline. I've shared my music, humor, and sci fi love. It gives me the chance to forget the draining adultness of my life and snuggle down with snacks and Heather's quotes.

It has also given me the chance to give the advice that I wish I'd been given during my teens. I was raised in an unconventional manner in a very conventional town. Life would have been so much easier if I'd had a road map navigating hygiene, fashion, pop culture, make up, and main stream society. I am not so far removed from it all that I can't steer her in the right direction. We jokingly told Lily that we want her to learn to fly her freak flag, but not too high. My girls and I have become very good at being ourselves, but not so much so that we stand out. We are "human wall paper," quietly pursuing our own interests while following societal norms.

Raising Caroline has given me the chance to remember to be hopeful. I have gotten in the habit of skulking through life waiting for everything to "hit the fan." I am slightly pessimistic and very untrusting. I think back to myself at 18 and I miss that girls. She had such determination. Caroline is so excited about the upcoming presidential election. She has researched and looked for the candidate whose ideas mirror hers. She is full of excited idealism. Me? I just think "Well, politicians are politicians. Eventually they'll stumble and let us down." What kind of attitude is that? Life needs hope! When she texted me asking me to go to a Bernie Sanders Rally with her, I said yes. I would not miss the opportunity to see her get to start to make her mark on life. We all need idealism.

This leads me to the last point, you get to see the results of all of your hard work. All of those late nights and daily battles, the vomit and potty training, the homework battles, the carefully shaping her world, the daily conversation of right versus wrong; it has all lead to this moment. The little girl who people used to think was just a bit "too odd" has grown into this remarkable woman. All of the love we poured into her is now being shared with every child she works with. The insistence that she finish her homework every night and "chunk" projects over weeks has resulted in a work ethic that rivals my own. The security and confidence building has resulted in a young woman who can move past every time someone hurts her. When the hurt becomes big or confusing, she still feels comfortable enough to come talk to us.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Bittersweet Month

Buffy and I walked outside last night and felt the first breeze of autumn. We sniffed wood smoke in the air, and felt it; the end of summer. September has always been such a bittersweet month. It is the end of summer with the promise of new beginnings. It is the chance to make new friends and learn new things. It is new school supplies (especially those pink erasers!) and new shoes. It is the closing in of toes in stiff new sneakers.

For me, it has been the month of my husband's birth and the watching of countless children learning, growing, and moving ever forward. When I was a young mother, September became a month of sorrow, as I watched the Twin Towers fall. Then that sorrow hit closer to home, when I lost my father. After that, it became a month full of more bitter than sweet. Over time, the sweet returned. New students for me, new teachers for the girls. Life moved forward. Then exactly 10 years and 18 days after I lost my father, I lost my mother. That was the hardest blow September had dealt me. 

Now, it is a month of contraries. We speed up to move forward while slowing down to reflect. September is the starting point of something new. it is a month of cautious hope.

Monday, August 17, 2015

"So When You Aren't Mommying and Teaching What Do You Do?"

Interesting question posed by the mother of one of Lily's friends. I need to set the scene first. She is wearing an adorable red bikini that has explained to me covers up so much more than the one she wore in California. I of course think "What's less naked?" Reading my mind she explains that in California they practically sunbathe naked. I am wearing my size larger than last years "mom suit." I have to say, though this "mom suit" highlights my best summer asset, cleavage.

Usually, my pool time consists of my floppy polka dot hat (to prevent the freckles that where so cute in my twenties from becoming the age spots of my forties), some sort of awesome reading material (Brain Child Magazine, anyone? How about Redbook?), and just chilling. When I get too hot I do what I call the "Mama Hippo Wallow." I realize it isn't a flattering term, but I mean it literally. When I get hot, I take off my hat, use it to mark the place in whatever I am reading, climb slowly into the pool (oww, my knees), wade around and splash the kids, then end by floating on my back in the middle of the pool feeling weightless and ageless. Once I am cool enough, I get out and resume chilling.

Back to the other mother. She doesn't get to spend much time at the pool, so she asked if I wanted to join her on the other side where the rays have a better angel for tanning (I did not realize this was a thing.). She quickly apologized and told me she'd understand if I wanted to read my book. The reading material of the day was arguably the best book I'd read this summer, but it seemed rude to keep reading, AND I have vowed to put myself out there and meet new people.

Now back to the question. How do I answer? I spend copious amounts of time watching Netflicks and googling the answers to such pressing questions as "How to remove...stain?" "Which movie was" "The best comic book to movie adaptations" "ADHD parenting advice" "Which Pintrest crafts and recipes that I will never make can I pin?"

Or I could tell her that I read a lot and cross stitch a lot and just found out about adult coloring books. Instead I said I volunteer in advisory councils and Girl Scouts. Seriously, did I think this was a college interview? Did I think my hobbies were silly? Maybe. I think I mostly thought they were a tad bit slothish. Her hobbies? Working out and softball. I thought about telling her how excited I was to try going to a sip and paint or how I used to do yoga until I hurt my hand, my knee, my back, but the moment was past.

She talked about her divorce and asked me earnest questions about how I managed as a "child of divorce." She was sweet and pleasant. I, however suck at small talk. Mean while Lily was frantically sending me the family symbol for "Let's get the heck out of here! People are breathing my air!" I pretended to ignore her pointing at her imaginary watch and hooking her thumb towards the exit (of all the skills she could learn from Rob, this is it?). I put her off by ignoring her, knowing she wouldn't want to get out of the pool. After ten minutes she came over and in the loudest whisper in the world told me "I want to go home." She then proceeded to negotiate how soon we could go. Thanks to American Pickers, she is relentless.

Me "30 more minutes. You're being rude.
Her "Let's split it in the middle, 15 and I didn't ask to be here this long."
Me "Each round id 60 minutes, 30 is splitting it in the middle."

You get my drift. Man some days being a member of this family and trying to socialize is exhausting.

"Looks Like We're in for Nasty Weather"

I feel like there should be warning signs outside our door to let Rob know what sort of mood(s) he's walking into. You know, like the kind they put up at the beach to warn you about riptides? For example: Red Flag: wife can't zip her shorts, is in horrible mood and there is furious muttering, Blue Flag: youngest daughter frustrated by homework and there is crying, Orange Flag: oldest daughter planning event with friends and can't get everyone together and there is door slamming.

The estrogen in our house is bouncing all over the place. Right now we have a teenager, a tweenager, and a middle aged women approaching Peri-menopause. Translation: crying, stomping, snarking. Yesterday, I was ready to pull my hair out. It seemed like the only decision either girl could make was to snipe at each other or me. Right now? They are peacefully painting nails, and Lily just offered to let Caroline borrow her phone charger. I've heard life described as a roller coaster. Our life right now? A tsunami!

I understand where both girls are coming from (it is amazing the perspective that comes during a moment of calm). Lily, as I've said before, is in the in between phase. One minute she is playing dolls and watching cartoons, the next minute, she is listening to her i pod and putting on lip gloss (oh, and spilling nail polish on the rug as I type!). All of that internal conflict is bound to cause emotional upheavals.

Caroline is my daughter through and through. She wants everything in her world to be perfect and God help those who mess it up. I clearly remember being 17 and wanting things to be so perfect. I recall melting down in a store because I couldn't find a green prom gown. Caroline is so passionate about everything in her world. Sometimes that passion comes across as blind fury. She is so very excited about her Senior year. She is also so very worried. She second guesses herself around every corner. This week, the focus has been planning for Senior pictures. When I got mine taken, we had one choice: the drape. The hardest choice I had was which necklace to wear. Now? You are sent a glossy pamphlet crowing about how this is "your time!' "create your moment!" "bring props to show your true self!" What the heck!?! Do they know they are sending this to 17 year old girls? It is hard enough for them to decide what to eat for dinner. Now they have to choose their props? Outfits (to include jewelry and shoes)? They are 17, what the hell do they know about their true selves? I can't possibly begin to explain to her that moments aren't created, they just happen. The harder you try to create them, the more messed up they become.

Then there's me. I've heard tweens and teens compared to "terrible twos," but bigger. What the comparison fails to mention is that their mothers also enter a "terrible two" stage. Today, I found myself saying "If it is mine don't touch it because IT. IS. MINE!" Now, this was a legitimate response to going to look for my headphones for the 20th time this summer and `discovering that they had been appropriated by someone else. Nothing is mine anymore! My hairbrush, my scissors, my makeup, my headphones, my charger. I am already stressed and scattered and worried about someday becoming senile. Do you really think never being able to find something where I left it helps?

So the logical conclusion to all of this? Tidal waves of emotions. My best advice to anyone who crosses our paths? Batten down the hatches, grab a life vest, and hang on!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Mother Hen

One of the many ideas that I considered as a second career was some sort of parent out reach. Not that I think I'm the perfect parent, far from it, but I do think young mothers need more of a sounding board. They need someone to listen without judgement. In past generations, our society lived close together or with extended families.Young mothers got the support they needed that way.

Well, as chance would have it, I have unofficially found myself with that job. I am surrounded by young mothers through work and my sister in law. It should not be surprising at all that I feel very protective of them. I had a few over for lunch this summer. It was so much fun to have my house full of babies and toddlers.

It was also so wonderful to be able to say time and time again "Your baby is perfect. Follow your instincts." and my favorite "No one goes to college wearing diapers, with a binky, sleeping in their parents' bed."

I had the hardest time as a young mother because everything seemed so life and death. "If you don't choose the right stroller, your child will have weak posture and end up with a hunched back." I'm exaggerating, but I'm sure anyone who has had a small child gets my drift. I felt so judged by my parenting choices. I leaned toward a modified attachment parent style. I didn't have a looking glass at the time that could show me that my girls wouldn't just survive, they'd thrive. I just went with my gut and beat myself up at night. Thank goodness the internet was new then. If I'd had all of the websites and snarky social media posts to navigate like these women do, I would have lost my mind.

Unfortunately, because we are living in a time of supposed transparency, people seem to think they have a say in your life. I also think people feel free to say things through the comment section that they would never say to your face. Although, one of my friends got face to face advice from a "well meaning" person at a restaurant. I am so glad I wasn't there. I have a feeling I would have had some suggestions for the advice. I am on the other end of motherhood. My girls are the proof that following what works for your family, well, works!

The internet has created one of my favorite parts of modern motherhood: the blog! There is an entire world out there full of bright, hysterical, fearless mothers. It is wonderful to know that you are not alone. But sometimes, you need that support from a face to face source. That's where I come in. I am going to be the Lorax of young mothers "I speak for the mommies." You'll find no judgement here. Only support.

Restless Creativity: Summer Style

There is no better way to describe my family than "restless creativity." My uncle coin the term when he was giving my grandmother's eulogy. It means exactly what it sounds like boundless ideas, bouncing from one thing to another. This summer it seems to have hit hardest during these last few weeks.

I woke up one morning and realized "Oh shoot! It's August and we haven't painted the deck, fixed the pantry, completed summer reading, practiced for SATs, finished the sewing project, completed the cross stitch for my new nephew.... What the heck did we do all summer? So here I am, instead of "all summer in a day", it's been all summer in three weeks.

We went to Rhode Island. I used the time to play with my camera and the girls used it to try surfing. We shopped in cute boutiques and I bought flowy dresses and artistic earrings (I'm going for a certain look here). We came home and I tried new recipes and posted pictures online (shake your head, I don't care, it was well received). We watched movies like it was our job. We painted pottery. I am currently taking a break from medicine, so I was super type A about it and can't wait to see how my mug turned out. Lily sewed a little owl and I started my cross stitch. We've looked at meteors and taken walks. My phone is buzzing like mad with people texting me "Quick we need to ....."

The odd thing is I am enjoying this. I don't feel any panic or sense of time running out. I almost feel inspired. I definitely feel motivated to try to keep doing fun creative things all year long.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Cross Roads

I debated writing this post because I was afraid I would across as conceited or a self imposed type martyr, so I ask that you read this with that in mind.

For most of my teens and adulthood, I have been a safe haven at a cross roads. I am the person people go to when they are overwhelmed or hurting or lonely. My family has always "taken in strays," so it stand to reason that I would have cultivated the talent of rescuing people. If I were a food, I'd be mac and cheese. If I were a drink, I'd be hot tea with milk and sugar. In other words, I am comfort food. I am pretty good at listening and offering common sense advice. I am also good at recognizing people's strengths and boosting their confidence.

I really don't mind being a "safe haven," "solid object," "port in the storm." I especially don't mind it when it is for my girls or Rob. I don't mind when it is for my students. But here's the tricky part, for friends I fill a temporary need. Time and time again, I have had a friend come to me seeking support, advice, a place to stay. I have gladly helped. The problem is this is all temporary. I am not one to manage to keep friends for an extended period of time. I am emotional first aide. I take them in, "bandage" them up and then they are off on there way. At first I tried to pursue the relationship by inviting them over or out. It always seemed to fall flat.

I have learned my lesson. Don't be the pursuer, be the pursuee. Or better yet, let it roll off of your back when someone who seemed like a close friend drops off of the face of the Earth. I do get lonely when these relationships fade.

I have always been dependable and sensible. I find myself describing Caroline as sensible and kick myself. To me, sensible means you don't taken risks and most likely you put the needs of others before your own. Life is not a regency era novel. Rarely is there a reward at the end for being a "constant" person. True fact.

Stories That Are Not My Own

The reason I started the post about being stuck in a "rescuer" mode is because this life style often causes a blogging dilemma. My life is very often wrapped up in lives that I do not have the right to write about. I write or indicate so often that I am stressed or tired; I must seem like a person who is incapable of dealing with the world. Not true. I just can't explain what is going on. Maybe, when someone asks for help I should have them sign a disclaimer, allowing themselves to become part of my blog. Perhaps I think too much.

Right now my life is quite full of the girls and watching my friends raise their babies (I feel like some sort of fairy godmother. Maybe this is why my mother loved middle age so much. A chance to share wisdom when asked and watch people grow.) I am also in rescue/caretaker mode for others. But somehow, in all of this I have to find me. I spent my week of vacation problem solving via text and phone. I need to wean myself from swooping in and cleaning things up. This is not my job. I also spent a good deal of time telling others' stories.

I can't share private information about others (even if it keeps me awake at night and tints my life all day/every day). I really can't share much about the girls except updating newsy stuff. Lily is wise to the whole thing. I am now forbidden from telling baby stories about her to my friends with babies. "

"There's nothing worse than sitting there and hearing you tell the lipstick story from when I was two. I am ten now. I don't play with lipstick. What will they think of me?"  "Please do not tell stories about me during you little meetings." You get the drift. So do I.

I knew this day would come. I need to start creating my own stories.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Mad Money Ninja Skills

We were invaded this summer. By flies. Dirty, disgusting flies. Flies intent upon destruction. The destruction of  fresh fruit, glasses of wine, children's snacks, ice pops, chocolate cake, my sanity. The little jerks circled our heads in the bathroom reflecting over and over in the mirror becoming an army of mayhem. I woke up bleary eyed listening to a chorus of "M F'n flies!!"

My house is clean, I swear! My house is also full of animals. Animals that I have invited to live here. Animals who aren't always cared for by their owners (don't ever fall for "I will take care it, Mom, I promise..."). These animals lead to flies.

I don't believe in poison, but I also know that flies are nasty and spread disease, soooo the gloves were off. I bought the spray, pulled out the fly swatter, and set to work. I flew from room to room upstairs spraying with one hand and swatting with the other. At one point I hit three with one blow and felt like Jack the Giant Killer.

Things were looking up. We went out shopping, and I bought a new maxi dress. Back home, I tried it on to show the girls. I pulled my head through the top of the dress and... dive bombed by flies! What the actual F.....?! I chased those suckers down the hall, determined to find their evil little lair. They lead me right to the playroom (which is where we keep the rabbit hutch). They landed on the ceiling taunting me, so I hiked up the skirt of my new dress and smacked the ceiling yelling "Die mother fuckers! Die!" Did I mention Caroline had a friend over? It's OK her friends know me and my ways.

The ones that escaped the swatter flew under the shade. I lifted it and HOLY CRAP, 50 flies flew out at me! I threw open the window and most of them escaped (clever little jerks). The ones that didn't got hit with a one two punch of spray and vacuum cleaner. Yes, the vacuum cleaner hose attachment is an awesome way to catch flies buzzing around your head. I felt like King Kong on top of the Empire State building, only much better dressed.

My pretty new dress survived the massacre and is now dubbed "The Fly Killer Dress." as in "Hey, Melissa do you want to meet me for drinks? Sure, just let me change into my Fly Killer Dress. Do you mean Killer, fly dress? No Fly Killer." I got all of the flies, except one. Little does he know, I am stealth, when he least expects it... Whoosh, vacuum time!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Bittersweet Stage

We are in the midst of major transitions in our home. Both girls are moving on to new and huge transitions. All of the sudden it feel like someone pushed the fast forward button on the DVR of my life, they didn't just hit it once, but three times, you know that speed that your family always demands so you can get past the commercials faster? Yup, that's my life. But instead of racing after them shouting "guys wait up!", I have slowed down (see the post after this one). I have to get my head in the game. I can't afford to miss a moment. This is the conundrum of anxiety, you take medication so you can participate in life and not drown in it, but the medication makes you so chill, life just moves past you. What do I do? Chill or panic? Not sure.

Anyway, enough about me. This post is about my girls. Not to brag, but they both ended the school year like champions. Lily did very well in school. She passed her state tests and made honor roll. Caroline just literally took the world by storm. I love how she sticks with things, tackles them, sometimes gets knocked down, but always keeps going (hmm, I wonder where that tenacity comes from?). She is driving and working. Her job loves her and she has already found another job for the school year. She is so excited about her new independence and can't wait to fly off. Part of this flying off process involves pushing back at me. Rob says to not take it personally, but some days it feels like I am damned if I do, damned if I don't. Hence, the retreating. I was warned about this. There is more sharing about weathering the teen years, although still not as much as there is about the baby and toddler stages. The baby and toddler stages seem never ending and immediate. There is this frenzied terror and delight during those years. None of it prepares you for teens. Everything seems life or death when your child is younger (if you choose the wrong sleep, potty training, feeding method,  will your child will be scarred for life?). The teen years? They really are life and death. You are guiding the formation of an adult. Good grief, nothing that you have ever done as a parent has been more important and you are doing it all with an all knowing, slightly terrified, occasionally surly young adult as your co pilot. Don't get me wrong, in the world of teens, we are beyond blessed. Caroline is amazing. Truly! Sometimes, I watch her and my breath catches. I get that feeling of awe that I had when we first brought her home. "We made this...we created this magical creature."

And then there is Lily. I was so unprepared for this. Lily has always been my little joyful firecracker. Suddenly, she is almost as tall as me. When the hell did that happen? There was no warning that the days of toys and public goofiness and little clothes and sweet pats to wake me up would be leaving soon. When Caroline grew up, that was ok because I still had Lily. Oh, if I'd paid attention, I would have treasured the joy and exuberance more. Of course, I was also trying to survive the fury and confusion that accompanied it. The change has been subtle, worrying about her hair, increased sarcasm (the power is fierce with this one), cooperation and compliance (loving this!!!). She has entered this quiet thoughtful time. She is suddenly weepy and doesn't know why. She has moments of quiet. She can sit and read a book for 30 minutes. When we were cleaning her room (not quite the usual beginning of the summer crap storm as usual), she looked at me and said "You know, soon I won't be playing with dolls anymore." Still, she disappear and spend hours tending to them, right after she has declared R5 the best band ever. She is in between. It is such a confusing and tender time. She is doing it in a way that Caroline never did. It is like she is purposefully and slowly saying good bye to childhood. It is heart breakingly beautiful and completely unexpected.

I miss the days that were so full I collapsed in bed and wondered if we would ever make it. Truthfully, I loved the child stage. The funny things they would says, the music, the toys, the cartoon, the wonder. I don't miss babies, I miss MY babies. My girls are looking at the world with wide open eyes and hopeful hearts. We are standing on the edge, ready to take on new roles as daughters and mother.


I have had a bad case of writer's block this summer. Well, really it has been more a case of timing. I have wonderful ideas and compose beautiful thoughtful pieces in my head. The problem is these all occur at times when I can't get to the computer: stuck in traffic, on a walk, in the garden, right before I fall asleep. In the past, I could hold onto these ideas and write them out later. Now, every time I sit down at the computer, they fly from my head like startled butterflies. Is this another causality of middle age? Something new to add to my list of things to get used to, like the psychedelic halos I see when I drive at night? Is it a side effect of being a multi tasking mother? Of course, these sorts of things always concern me because I am unsure of how aging will effect the LD brain. I believe that my generation is the first the was identified as LD and given education services. It should be interesting to see how our unique (notice I did not say broken or damaged) brains handle aging. I have not found any research as of yet. Then again, I haven't dug very deeply. In truth, this "memory fuzz" is most likely do to the cocoon of a lazy summer full of reading and Criminal Minds marathons. I have not give this imagination of mine enough variety.

So, I have given myself some small chores to get back on track. Organizing always centers me (those who know my classroom will most likely laugh at this). I have tackled some of the scary areas of the house (you know those places, where if you open the door a world of crap and confusion comes tumbling out?). We have plenty of those, and I have just begun. I have also finally found a place to store and catalog all of my pictures. Caroline was surprised at how many pictures I have. What can I say? I like to take pictures and so does Lily. I have also tried a couple of home improvement projects, but have discovered two things: one, I don't like doing things by myself without Rob (misery loves company?) and two, I am not very good at DIY. Honestly most of my projects end up a bit of a mess. The one thing that I have going for me is my tenacity. I usually stick with it until it is at least OK. So there you have it, the push to break out of the hazy cocoon of sloth and push on towards the light.

Monday, May 25, 2015

A Funny Thing Happened on the Road to Adulthood

I was almost finished writing a reflective post about the ups and downs of adulthood using the song Circle Game as a reference, but reality kicked me in the butt and well, made me laugh. It has been rough around these parts: insane stress, huge bills, broken down cars leading to more huge bills, and another ticket when I went through a yellow light that turned red while looking for the speed limit sign (that statement alone would be funny if it wasn't so expensive).

In the middle of all of this life keeps marching on and both girls keep marching on toward adulthood. Caroline in particular. So far May has given her: her official driver's license, an award for creative writing student of the year, her first job, and the position of president in the creative writing club. Caroline being herself has been too stressed to really enjoy this like I wish she could (she had projects AND AP exams AND SOL tests), so her wacky family has to provide the comic relief.

For example, a couple of weekends ago, I was driving her and her friend to the Marine Corp Museum to turn in their applications to volunteer. Both Caroline and I were going over different mental checklists out loud and frankly annoying the beejesus out of each other. All of the sudden, about 100 police officers on motor cycles with lights flashing pulled up behind me. I had just received the above mentioned ticket the week before and am justifiably nervous around police officers. I didn't know what to do! My heart started racing and my mouth went dry, so I did the only logical thing: hide.  I turned into the nearest neighborhood and waited for them to pass. After I turned out of the neighborhood,  I was hoping they'd turn off on the highway, but they kept right on down the road in front of me. Of course I couldn't see a speed limit sign anywhere. I kept muttering "Is it 35? 45? what do I do?" The girls suggested to go for the middle, so I drove along behind the officers at a steady 40 MPH right up to the Marine Corp Museum. Yes, the girls had chosen some sort of police officer appreciation day to go the museum! It was bad enough that my "hippy dippy" peace loving, flowy dress wearing self was going to walk into a museum full of uniformed Marines. I was doing it while being followed by a bunch of police officers! Caroline whispered "It will be OK Mama, let's just go in." At this point, I was sweating and shaking and needed a drink (water, not wine). The girls went up to the information desk and I stood by the wall trying to look interested in the "History of Hispanics in the Marine Corp" pamphlet I'd grabbed. Everything went fine and the girls were very excited to apply to volunteer. Me? I went home and grabbed a large glass of sweet tea!

A Funny Thing Happened on the Road to Adulthood II

And then there was this: a text from Caroline last week "My group in Spanish figures we have a big kitchen so they want to do our project at our house." What the what? A project? At my house? Over Memorial Day weekend? I was going to spend Saturday and Sunday cleaning and doing yard work, then go to the pool on Monday. I didn't want a bunch of unknown teens in my house. Especially "group project" teens! Which educator ever decided that group projects were educationally sound? One or two people do all the work and the rest coast. Guess which kid is the worker?

Well, I fussed and fumed all weekend about this invasion of space. I didn't do a good job of hiding my displeasure at all. Caroline was out and about exercising the new found freedom that a driver's license brings and every time she came home it was to a sweaty, cranky, injured ( I am clumsy when angry) mother. I was a joy!  When she told me they weren't coming over until 1 on Monday, the grouch level blew. How was I supposed to go sit by the pool and read magazines while sipping iced tea and watching Lily reclaim her summer persona of part human part fish? I finally got over myself and the girls and I watched Mom's Night Out. For the first time in a while, we found a movie we could all laugh at. It was a really nice night!

I figured if they worked fast enough, we could still make the pool. Yeah, I know we were dealing with a group project...while recording it.... with cell phones... wait, why did I think we'd make it to the pool? I helped them cut up fresh pineapple and mango. They tried, but I wanted everyone to keep their fingers and make it out of my house. I felt like I was on a cooking show as they all stood around watching me try to get the eyes out of the pineapple without cursing (I already scarred one teen by cursing at Caroline's 16th birthday, I wasn't going to make that mistake again). After 2 1/2 hours, they were almost finished. My suit was laid out on my bed, Lily was watching their every move, willing them to hurry up. Everything was going according to plan, so of course someone opened the back door AND Buffy escaped!

They all tore through the neighborhood (still wearing aprons) trying to catch her. Rob drove after them (boy was he happy!). Lily and I waited at home and finished dipping the fruit in chocolate. About 30 minutes later they came back with the dog laughing and sharing war stories. It was charming until I heard "We only lost one kid in the woods, he'll make it back." Why me? Why my house? Luckily, he showed up 2 minutes later. The girls were laughing about having gotten their exercise and the boys were sharing the tales of strength and humor. Rob looked at me and said "This is the kind of stuff they'll talk about when they're adults." I added "You mean when they are in their 40's and can't read anything without holding it way out in front of them?" I watched my beautiful girl directing everyone. Someday she too will be watching her own teens fumble through their own projects.

Oh yeah, we didn't make it to the pool.  That's ok, it'll be there all summer.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Me Range Parenting

"Free Range Parenting" is a hot topic in these parts due to the news coverage of a family's choice to let there young children walk home from the park on a busy street. At the root of it all is the government's right to intercede in parenting. I ,as usual, am on the fence. In my years of working with children, there are times I wish the government would intervene sooner. My feeling is, if you aren't hurting your children physically or emotionally, then you should be allowed to raise them as you see fit. This statement, though, brings back nightmares from my philosophy class. What constitutes emotional and physical safety? Who decides this? Oy vey! Now my head hurts!

What I practice is "Me Range Parenting." In others words, I do what works for me. I work in a world where I have dealt with everything from parents who won't let their 6 year old feed himself to parents who don't provide food. The older I get and the longer I parent the lines of judgement blur. I tend to offer help first and judge later, but after multiple times, I can get a little"judgey."

I think one of the things that made me so self sufficient was the fact that I had so much responsibility at home. I wasn't always successful at school, but at home I was doing the work of an adult. I cooked, cleaned, and took care of my brother (I even changed his diapers at 4). My mother gave me these responsibilities not out of parenting choice, but necessity. Later, she expressed regret at putting so much on me and asked that I not do the same to my girls. I don't think my friends realized how much responsibility I bore at home. I grew up in a time and place where a latch key child being raised by a single mother was rare. I longed for a mother who served my friends homemade brownies and kept a spotless house.

No surprise that once I was a mother, I took on that role. Also, I am a perfectionist and it is easier if I do it myself. My girls grew up with the kind of ideal childhood that I thought they needed. But as they grew older, I realized I might have been cheating them of something. They might be self sufficient at school, but not always here at home. As life becomes more full and I grow older, I can't keep up the pace. Things get messy, stuff gets lost, we all get annoyed.

Enter "Me Range Parenting." I have been pushing the girls to take more responsibility around the house. Things don't always get done the way I'd like, but they are done. This is especially important for Caroline as she prepares to leave us, but it is also important for Lily's confidence. Sometimes people are surprised at the amount of independence I give her in some areas. Others think I should give her more. That's why this is called "Me Range," it's what's best for me (well really us, but me rhymes with free).

I have also been letting Lily watch the news with us. I think she is ready to understand that there is more to the world than her own personal experience. We watch the History Channel together and various science programs. She understands that history and nature can be cruel. I know that some would question why we would let a child who is diagnosed with anxiety watch this. We are with her and the conversations we have prevent anxiety. She seems to be less worried when she has information.

We'll see how this works out. Really, as a parents, all you can do is your best.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

S!@# Happens

When I was in tenth grade, my English teacher gave us an awesome research project. We had to pretend that we were writing to a classmate before our 10 year reunion. We had to research our college, career, and city. In some ways, I had envisioned such a different life for myself: I went to UVA, lived in Boston, and married a lawyer. In others, I was spot on: I was a special education teacher, I had children, and dogs. The one thing that I missed was the poop.

No one told me that most of my adult life would revolve around thinking about poop. I think about pet poop, child poop, student poop, my poop, and even husband poop. I have cleaned up so much poop, that I really could have been a farmer: diapers, pet accidents, daughter accidents, toilets...

I have listened to students loudly explain that they are "poopin" after I have foolishly asked "What are you doing in there?!" I have changed so many diapers: preschoolers, siblings, cousins, daughters, and nieces. I have analyzed poop: "too much juice?" "not enough water?" "PediaSure?" "prunes?" "stool softener?".

Then there is all of the time wondering about poop's arrival. Will it come: "before I leave for work?" "in time to take the newborn home?"  "during her bath?"  "right after I've changed her?" "as we head out the door?" "when I hand her over to my Gramma?" "in the middle of the store?" "in the middle of no where with no bathroom and no change of clothes?" "in the middle of the living room while she is not wearing clothes?"

Through each stage of life my thoughts and concerns about poop have changed, but at the base of it all, not a day goes by that I don't think about poop. Why didn't someone warn me in tenth grade? Well, I would never have believed them. Truly, my research paper could have been summed up in one  sentence: "My life is full of crap, and I don't mind at all."

Miles Covered While Milestones Are Made

I feel like I could fill this blog with nothing but stories of the adventures that occur while Rob is out of town. I also seem to be developing a pattern of getting sick at the end of April. It started late Sunday night with some sort of stomach thing. I woke up exhausted with shooting pains in my stomach. It felt like I had swallowed hot lava. I can't remember the last time I hurt so badly. I went home early on Monday and stayed home Tuesday. Tuesday night I started sneezing and coughing. I went to school on Wednesday coughing, wheezing, and sneezing. By Thursday, I was doubled over coughing. I took Nyquil that night and woke up with pains in my left arm and a racing heart. I woke Rob up and was terrified. He calmed me down and stayed up with me. By the morning, my eyes were swollen and weeping. I called in sick (and missed our Multicultural day!). When Caroline got home, she drove me to school to pick up my plans and took me to the clinic. The clinic nurse insisted that I simply had allergies and it couldn't be bronchitis because I would have had to be coughing for two weeks (who in their right mind would put up with this for two weeks?). I have had bronchitis often enough to know what it feels like! I left with $50 worth of allergy medicine and a headache. That night Rob packed to leave on a work trip.

I woke up at 6:00 to see Rob off and went promptly back to bed. I woke up at 10:00 when Caroline woke me up to tell me she was taking the car to go pick up prom stuff (oh yeah, it's prom). I sat up and felt exactly as I predicted, my nose was clear (maybe I do have allergies), but my chest was full of rumbling, crackling, antagonizing coughing! I bent over coughing and promptly wet my pants. Not just a "oh I've had a baby" tinkle, but a "dammit, I'm in my mind 40's and wet my pants like a two year old." Is there no end to the humiliation of the aging process? I have just begun!

I collapsed in my favorite chair with tissues and hot tea. At noon the doorbell rang. I answered the door still in my pjs with a red nose and wild woman hair. A confused Latin-American man jumped back as I started coughing. It seems the roofer sent him to replace our gutters and forgot to tell us. Between gasps I tried to explain that it was prom today, and I needed the yard clear to take pictures (I know, first world problems). He politely apologized and backed away. I crawled upstairs and climbed into the shower. With each bang, I was expecting to see a roofer pop through the shower ceiling.

I struggled into clothes and tried to pick up the house while the dog followed me around shaking. All of the banging set off the smoke detector, which only added to her panic. I gave up and gave the poor thing one of her "chill pills." Lily got dressed and brushed her hair and teeth (after I reminded her 5 times). After I convinced her to "just make something to eat, but you don't have to eat it" (she always gets hungry while she's fixing food), Lily vacuumed. She missed half the spots (probably because she was concentrating on singing "Hard Knock Life"), but it was better than nothing.

By the time Caroline and her best friend got home, it was time to take her to get her hair done. It is a known fact that dress up events stress Caroline out. Add the fact that my raspy voice sounded plain bitchy, and things got a little tense (nothing humor couldn't overcome). While she was getting her hair done, Lily and I went to pick up the boutonniere. I promised her a "clambake." We were going to eat popcorn shrimp and watch Teen Beach Movie on Disney. I also let her pick out a cake.

When we got back, I spoke to the guys working on the gutters and realized that they missed part of what they were supposed to do (the notes he was given weren't clear). They finished the trim as I worked on Caroline's makeup. The noise did not relax her or Buffy. I finally disconnected the smoke detector!

I picked up Cristhian.Of course it was pouring rain, and we couldn't do the pictures Caroline had planned. Luckily, I am creative in a pinch. We went out on the sun porch and it worked out great! Lily was jealous, but dealt. I only doubled over coughing 5 times! Caroline looked gorgeous!!! She talked Cristhian into going to Noodles and Company. It was cheaper, faster, and she got lots of "awws."

The minute they left, I put on my jammies and hunkered down for the night. It still seems so odd for her to drive off without me. I think I feel too crummy to dwell on it too much. Through out the whole day, Rob sent me joking and encouraging texts. We are perfecting "parenting through text." I hope that Caroline has a wonderful time and returns safely to us. Tomorrow, I am taking Lily to an Earth Day movie sponsored by my school, and going to another doctor. I can't afford to miss any more school or sleep.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

I am sitting here feeling calm. I am behind on grades and laundry. The house is in it's usual state of slightly cluttered chaos, but I'm not sweating it. Spring is in the air (finally after what felt like the never ending winter). Spring is bitter sweet. Spring means my mom's birthday and Easter (I don't think I am ever going to feel completely comfortable/excited about holidays). Spring is also means Caroline's birthday and growth and hope.

Last week was spring break and it kinda sucked. Spring break began with Rob out of town, moved into a surprise large bill and Buffy ripping up the basement carpet, then replacing our roof, then a vet visit (for chill pills for the anxious terrier), my car breaking down (complete with smoke and martial yelling), a tedious visit to the tax place, and finally a lots of swearing and tears. By the time Easter came around, I wanted to hide in my room and just quit. Lily (who is feeling much better) wanted egg dying and egg hunts and Easter baskets. Caroline wanted a roast chicken and dressing up. I tried, I really did. I woke up Easter morning grouchy and hating adulthood. I tried to get three different computers to work so I could catch up on grading. That didn't work, so I took my frustration out on jelly beans. I crammed those little suckers into plastic eggs while muttering like a fish wife. I hid them in the most haphazard, let's just get it done way possible. Lily woke up and didn't care. She and Caroline worked together, gathering and opening eggs. They sorted jelly beans and stuffed their faces. We went to the store (all in bad moods) and found a chicken.After a frustrating grocery store trip, we came home, gave up on dressing up and retreated to separate corners to lick our wounds. The evening ended with Lily dying eggs (we'd spent Saturday night at the tax place) and her hands while I tried to cook the stupid chicken. The damn thing wouldn't cook (I think it was frozen inside).

Soooo, after a week like that. Things could only go up. Caroline turned 17. This weekend, she went on a field trip to D.C. and Lily went to a sleep over party. Rob and I? Well, we cleaned up and chilled.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Like Finding a Dollar in Your Coat Pocket

Surprise! I am still here. The thing is life has just been chugging along , doing it's thing, and I have been jogging along side it trying to keep up. All is well here in these parts. We are having a winter with more rain than snow ( a source of frustration for this snow lover). Both girls are doing quite well. Both earned Honor Roll (a first for Bean).

Caroline is still driven and hard working. The realities of grown up life have become apparent to her. She is mulling over the cost of college and a car and a future career. She wants to choose a path with a good financial future. While I admire her practicality, I would rather she choose the path that makes her happy. She really wants to do something that will help people ( social work or psychology), but is worried that there is no money in it. We toured George Mason today (one of her top choices). She seemed so overwhelmed with choosing a major. I told her that she didn't have to decide right now. It will all become clear once she starts taking classes and exploring her interests (high school here does not allow that, everything is geared towards specialty programs, no wonder my child feels like she needs to have her path set). Of course, when you are standing on the edge of a perceived abyss, trying to decide your entire life, you don't want to hear platitudes (regardless of their truth) from your mother. So, I stopped talking. This is a new skill that I am polishing. I am mastering the art of just letting things go. Generally, my words are heard, stored away, and brought up later.

Lily is doing much better. I might not agree with her teacher's methods, but she clearly loves Lily. She is the first teacher to see the same intelligence and creativity that we have always seen. She is in robotics club and the Lego club. As of this moment, she wants to be an architect or engineer. Of course, she is Lily and in two years this will all change. She still has her "shiny happy fits of rage," but they are short lived and she easily moves on. She still has trouble sleeping and for the life of me, I don't know what to do about this. I have no choice but to wait it out.

As for me? There is a good reason why I have been so absent on this blog. I have been really busy. I LOVE my class. They are the sweetest and most amazing little class. I have a student with a pretty severe seizure disorder and I have been spending a lot of time researching and creating modifications for her. I am also pretty entrenched in local politics in relation to education. There are big changes going on here with budgets and education. I am a polite advocate who has been trying to rally the troops to come up with some solution that will not hurt students and teachers. It is my opinion that the further away educators move from working with actual children, the less their decisions reflect what is best for children. As a country our education system is in crisis. We need less business and political input and more educator input. See, I have big opinions. My motto should be "Speak softly and carry big ideas." As my girls start to head off on their own paths, I need to find one for myself. Education has always been the path I return to time and time again. I am a career teacher with no aspirations for administration positions. I intend to stay where I am needed until I retire.

No I'm Not a Prude

I have always been a bit of a literary snob. Books were not always readily available where I grew up, so I read what I could find. Which is why I developed an early taste for classics. Young adult novels were a relatively new category and there were not the caliber of YA writers that there are now (there were exceptions of course). In fifth grade, I held the kids who read "Choose Your Own Adventure" or novelizations of movies in disdain (remember I was reading Little Women). Well, Lily has changed my views on that. We had a heated discussion about the "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" series. I declared they were "real" books. Why? Were the words invisible? Were the books made from air? Guess what snob? Your child is reading, so get over yourself! Reading is not the passion for her that it is for Caroline and I. Truth be told, Caroline and I have very different tastes. I tried to get her to read the classics, but she found the language and pacing tedious. Caroline enjoys thick action novels. Lily enjoys graphic novels. Reading is reading.

I do have one exception on my new rule. I refuse to read anything demeaning to women and will uphold this for the girls. As a young girl, I loved fairy tales. I had a serious case of princess syndrome. I really thought that one day I would be rescued by a handsome prince. Once I was older, I was able to read the original and international versions and see the stories for the twisted dark tales they are.

I never understood the obsession with the Twilight books. Neither Caroline or I read them. They just seemed like cheesy junk. I haven't read any of the Fifty Shades books either. I have read enough quotes to be concerned. If you are an adult who knows your mind and understands this is not based in reality and is for fun, well enjoy! But, having worked with women (and their children) who have been in abusive and controlling relationships. The books seems to give the idea that a sweet submissive girl-woman can cure/save an asshole. There is a piece on Upworthy that is worth looking at. Being a woman is hard enough. There is no need to perpetuate the idea that a rough man can be saved by a good woman or that poor girls can be rescued by "princes" and live happily ever after.

Lucy, You Got Some 'Splaining to Do!

Despite my efforts to be an community minded intellectual who has her crap together, I still do the stupidest things. I am Lucille Ball.

I have had an on and off perpetual cold all winter (occupational hazard). Last week, it amped up and kicked my butt. According to Rob, I am not getting much air at night ( I know, get my tonsils out, but it will have to wait until I can take time off). Consequently, I have been very tired. Tuesday night all I wanted was an avocado. I was holding it, pitting it (recklessly according to my oldest), when the knife slipped and stuck in my palm. It wasn't very deep, but it was still a shock to look at my hand and see a knife (well, the tip of one) in it. I called "Rob, I stabbed my hand with a knife." He wasn't even surprised. He looked at my hand and decided it wasn't deep enough for stitches. Instead of my normal cursing, I started crying "All I wanted was a stupid avocado!" Caroline handed me a bandage (with averted eyes), and Rob simply told me to go to bed and get some sleep.

After sleep, we were able to make jokes "Were you trying to perform your own carpal tunnel surgery?" "I thought I'd try blood letting as a way to get rid of this cold."

It hurt like crazy for a few days (it was in my left hand, which is the one I haven't had surgery on yet) and I kept it wrapped so neither the kids or I would bump it. I was worried that I had really messed up my hand, but like most of my other screw ups, it was more of a minor annoyance.

PS I am buying a special mouth guard so I can sleep. I also had another avocado on Thursday night. I used kitchen tongs to pit it. It was delicious!