Motherhood, insanity and everyday life.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Awkward Turtle

I learned something new from my kids this weekend. I actually learn a lot from them, but don’t always acknowledge it. Here’s what they taught me: The Awkward Turtle. It’s both a gesture and a commentary. You take your hands and put one on top of the other with the fingers curled under. Then you extend the thumbs to the side and wiggle them. You use this gesture when you are in one of those situations where there is a looooong, uncomfortable pause and you have nothing else to say. It’s ironic that they taught me this, because lately, I could actually be doing the Awkward Turtle around them…a lot.

As I’ve mentioned before, I have teens. Conversing with them can be exhilarating one moment, frustrating the next. When they want to open up and are in a good mood, they share all sorts of things, like, for instance, the Awkward Turtle. But when life is bearing down upon them and they see me as the embodiment of all that is annoying, then there are lots of those long, silent pauses. It seems that the information they divulge is strictly on a need-to-know basis. And, since I feel that I need to know as much about what they do as possible, there are many times that we are having one of these conversations:

“So, how was school.”
“How did your test go?”
“Anything new going on?”
“Are you upset about something?”
“Gaaaaaaaaaaaah, MOM! Just stop talking! Leave me alone!!”
(Insert awkward turtle here.)

Now, in any other area of my life, I would take this as a sign to never venture down this conversational road again. However, teens are fickle. One day you’re amazing, the next you suck. It’s not personal, it’s just where you are relative to where they are divided by the number of hormones blasting through their system at that very moment. It’s quantum physics with many, many variables. In other words, don’t take it personally. When it doubt, try, try again. And if it fails, remember the Awkward Turtle.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Club Dread

The realization that you’re a parent doesn’t hit you on the head, like an “aha!” moment. It usually comes to you in fits and starts. At first, it’s when you’re up nearly all night with a colicky infant. You look around at your messy living room while a bad movie plays on cable TV and there are baby accessories lying all around. You sigh deeply, shake your unwashed head and think, “So, this is parenting.” It’s definitely not the glorious love and roses that you had anticipated as the pregnancy test strip turned blue. Still, it’s where you belong at that moment. And as bone-wearying as the exhaustion is, you wouldn’t trade it for anything.

To me, the dawning of parenthood is in a bad moment. Not because you don’t prove your mettle unless you’ve worried, but because in those moments, you demonstrate to yourself the depth and breadth of your love. My sister had such a moment this week and when she relayed her story to me, I simply said: “Welcome to the club.” She chuckled and knew exactly what I meant.

My sister is a teacher and her 3-year old goes to preschool where she teaches. She had dropped her daughter off and then headed to her own classroom. As the entire school gathered for a prayer service, she looked for her daughter and her preschool class to walk into the church. The class walked in, but there was no sign of her daughter. She looked at her daughter’s teacher with questioning eyes. The teacher looked at her and said: “She walked in right in front of me. She was here just a second ago!” To make a long story short, panic ensued, sending my sister running around the entire school searching for her daughter. My brother in-law was called at work to aid in the search, as were several parents that were volunteering that day. And just when full-scale terror was about to commence, another teacher found my niece, hiding mischievously under a church pew. Gigantic sigh of relief.

I’d say that virtually every parent has had such a moment – when the worry eclipses absolutely everything in your life. Suddenly every TV movie with dire consequences flashes before your eyes and you hope and you pray that your worst fears will all be for naught. Sometimes they are and sometimes, unfortunately, they’re not.

I think the point is that, ironically, we feel more like parents when things are going badly than when everything is fabulous. Is that because the negative impresses us with the full gravity of the job description or is it because, as parents, we’re used to taking none of the credit and all of the blame?

I find it amazing that we have to get a license to fish, hunt or drive a car, but raising a child, one of the most important things you can do on earth, requires only two warm bodies and does not offer any type of instruction manual. It’s a seat-of-the pants endeavor that can be the stuff of legends or nasty memoirs. Sometimes it astounds me that so many do it so willingly. Because in those terrifying moments of lost or sick children, failing grades, behavior problems, substance abuse or any number of things you hope never to endure, you really earn your stripes as a parent. Welcome to the club.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Crabby Mom's Guide to Waiting Room Etiquette

The waiting is the hardest part
Every day you get one more yard
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
The waiting is the hardest part
-Tom Petty, "The Waiting"

I think it’s time that we address an issue that affects all of us – young, old, moms, dads, non-parents, marrieds, singles. I’m talking about how to behave when in a waiting room.

At one time or another, all of us spend time in a waiting room. Whether it’s an appointment for the pediatrician, orthodontist, dentist, optician, attorney, music lessons, rehearsals, auto service – no matter where, there is usually a waiting room in which people…well...wait, of course. It seems to me that with all of our new-fangled technology, people are forgetting their manners and imagining that the waiting room is like their car – private and soundproof. Folks, it’s not. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite. Everything that you do in a waiting room is magnified, amplified and viewed 100 times more than normal. The point is, you’re not alone and it’s time you stop acting like you are.

Cell Hell. I hate to beat a dead horse, but some of you have not gotten the message. Cell phones are annoying. Nobody, and I mean nobody wants to hear you talk to your boyfriend on the phone. It’s not amusing, entertaining or pleasant to hear you dish on that juicy piece of gossip. If you make or receive a cell phone call in a waiting room, either step outside the room or lower your voice. And just because you have one of those Bluetooth thingies in your ear, don’t think we’re impressed. For some reason, those only make people talk louder in a vain effort to wow others with their technological prowess. Yawn!

Personal Computers. If you bring a laptop, turn off the sound. Don’t be playing YouTube videos or comedy DVDs at top volume. It’s distracting and annoying. Oh, and again, we’re not impressed that you have a laptop. Many of us do and are able to unplug for an hour or two. You do not look as important as you think you do. We all have jobs. Get over yourself.

Chatting. This is allowable within reason in a waiting room. It’s OK to quietly and discreetly comment on something that everyone in the room has seen, such as the fact that Matt Lauer is interviewing Kofi Anon who has a huge fly on his face. You can comment to the person nearest you, as long as they’re not deeply immersed in reading and trying to get some peace or quiet. Make the comment and then let it go. This isn’t an opportunity for a monologue on what’s wrong with TV news or the United Nations. Save it for your knitting circle. And if you find someone who wants to talk about the fly on Kofi’s face, fine, just keep the volume down. Some of us are trying to read!

YourPod, not MyPod. Listening to an iPod is a great way to pass the time in a waiting room. But do not, under any circumstances sing out loud. It makes you sound like an idiot, reveals the bad singer you are and annoys the hell out of everyone.

Kids. I love kids. It’s why I’m a mom. But if you bring them into a waiting room, take care of them – they’re yours. In some cases, the people near you in the waiting room are not feeling well. Do not make them feel worse by allowing your toddler to wander over and put their gooey hands on people while you finish reading the “Enquirer” article on Britney and Kevin. Even if it’s not a doctor’s office waiting room, none of us want to watch or hear your kids run around screaming and fighting. Put them in straight jackets, use duct tape or leave them at home if the appointment is not for them. The point here is that the word “parent” is a verb as well as a noun. Try it someday.

Waiting Rules. In many waiting rooms, there are reading materials for everyone’s use. Sometimes there are also toys to amuse the kids. If you make use of either, put them back when you’re finished. This isn’t your kitchen table or your teenager's bedroom. When your turn comes, return the magazine or newspaper to where you found it (turned back to page 1, please) and put the toys back. It takes seconds and Nurse Ratched will wait for you. It’s part of her job.

Make Room in the Room. When you find yourself seated, alone, in the middle of a row of six chairs, and The Brady Bunch arrives, the polite thing to do is move to another group of chairs. It’s not going to kill you to relocate yourself. That’s why you have a book mark, so that you can stop reading, do something, and then start reading again.

Sit Quietly. In this world of constant entertainment and overstimulation, it’s become very difficult for people to simply sit quietly and do nothing. And so, when in a waiting room, they tend to annoy those around them. If this is you, stop it. Learn the zen of doing nothing. Do what Sr. Nila used to teach us: Sit with your hands folded in your lap. Think of it as your own personal mini-spa moment. Close your eyes and go to a happy place, but do it quietly!

See, that's not so bad. Now, can you pass me that copy of "Us" Magazine?

Monday, October 09, 2006

Stealing Time

It is no surprise to my family that I am sometimes a little slow on the uptake…or the download…or the joke…or pretty much anything that requires moderate to heavy thought. It takes me a while to realize the full breadth of a situation until the time when the situation has passed and my presence in it or knowledge of it is no longer required. Which is exactly why I’m finding myself a bit behind the proverbial eight ball lately.

You see, I have teenagers and here’s what the front page of my newspaper should have read this morning: NEWS FLASH! YOUR KIDS WOULD RATHER SPEND TIME WITH THEIR FRIENDS THAN YOU. Sure, they like my husband and me just fine, but it threw me for a bit of a loop this weekend when my son came home from college for a visit and exactly none of his plans included us…until I said something…and then I think he just felt sorry for us and modified his plans. My teenage daughter no longer has any interest in attending movies with me unless her entire freshman class is unavailable or I’m taking her shopping afterwards.

I’m really not mad or sad or even disappointed. Really. It’s just that as I’ve been carving time and space out of my life for my kids, little by little, they’re squirming away. Sort of like escaping your aunt’s suffocating hugs at family outings. They’re nice and all, but enough’s enough.

I generally think of myself as sensitive to my kids’ likes and dislikes, but I have to say that it’s finally dawning on me that they are moving on which means that my time to do the same is frighteningly near. My husband and I and our house are merely a waypoint in their life – an oasis, a filling station, an ATM, a restaurant, a hotel and a laundromat. When they are here, it’s because their friends are busy. And that’s OK. It’s truly what I would have wished for my kids if I had been asked about this when they were toddlers. (Frankly, when they were toddlers, I would have sold them on eBay to the highest bidder in order to get 10 minutes alone.)

I’m pretty sure that these are the early warning signs for Empty Nest Syndrome. Also known as “You should really get a life because your kids already have.” So I will. But this doesn’t mean that I can’t use my maternal wiles to lure my offspring back once in a while. They’re human. They can’t always resist their favorite foods…free of charge. Or a basement with a television for them and their friends…complete with a stocked fridge. And personal laundry service – they can’t beat that. No quarters needed. Yeah, pretty much I’ve decided I’ll do whatever it takes to get those precious moments with my kids, regardless of whether they feel the same.

And, in case you’re wondering: No, I don’t play fair and no, bribery is not below me.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Are You Ready For Some...Excess?!

If you haven’t dined out recently, you may not have noticed that it’s Homecoming Season. Yes, it’s that time of year when you can enjoy your dinner in jeans while the patrons at the table next to you are wearing formal gowns and suits. Last night, at a local restaurant, my family and I had front row seats for this seasonal spectacle. What a sight it was and how different from my high school days.

First, I was pleased to see a group of girls in lovely dresses dining sans dates. I wanted to run up to them and shout: “You go, girls!” How refreshing to see that these young women didn’t need a date to enjoy the dance. As someone who went to an all-girls’ high school and only went to one dance, I found this change to be welcome and long overdue.

Then, there was the traditional table of three couples who hadn’t been clued into the “boy-girl-boy-girl” seating tradition. The girls stuck together and giggled as the boys valiantly attempted conversation while garters cut off the circulation in their arms.

Finally, there was a very unique table of three girls, one boy and a dad. At least I’m pretty sure he was a dad. He had a well-groomed goatee, his suit fit better than the boy’s did, he looked a bit old for high school and I’m pretty sure that his credit card had his name on it. Somewhat surprisingly, the kids seemed OK with him being at the table, rather than awkwardly embarrassed at having to “hang” with a parent.

It’s fun to watch these groups as they embark on their special evenings, but I can’t help but shake my head at the “over-the-top” nature of it all. The dresses that the girls were wearing were spectacular, as were their jewelry and hairstyles. It was hard not to make a mental tabulation of the cost of such an evening. Don’t get me wrong, I love special occasions and I do love my shopping. But I wonder how difficult it will be to top these events as these kids become adults. Will their weddings be a letdown and is the Homecoming dance a breeding ground for future “Bridezillas”?

My son’s high school had a tradition for their winter dance. The boys would take the money that would be used for tux rental and donate it to a charity. I loved that idea. Why not have the dance, but scale back on the pomp and circumstance and give back a little at the same time? In our culture of more and better, it’s unlikely to be the next big thing, but it’s worth considering. Of course, I'll probably be first in line with my daughter to buy that spectacular dress when her turn comes around. And you are welcome to remind me to eat my words.