Category: Surly Teen

A commitment etched in stone

A commitment etched in stone

stonesThe other day as I dusted the desk of one of my children, I found something that made me pause, made me think. Raised a lump in my throat. It didn’t look like much, just a small, smooth stone with some writing on it, in pencil.

But the message startled me. It said, “I will never stop trying.”

It startled me, because this is a kid who sometimes doesn’t seem to be trying that hard, who doesn’t seem to care. For whom heated questions are often met with a shrug and an “I don’t know.”

But in those words I saw a spark, the ambition to do something bigger.

On the other side, I saw my child’s carefully penciled initials. A commitment, etched in stone. It gave me hope. It gave me a glimpse of a child I don’t usually see, one with a determined attitude, in pursuit of something great.

I dusted that little stone and replaced it where I found it. It’s just a small, nondescript thing. But now it’s inspiring two of us.


And the winner is…

IMG_0307My children are competitive – really competitive. They come by it honestly. My husband and I have long since reconciled ourselves to the fact that we cannot play board games together. The opportunity for rapidly escalating, unseemly conflict is just too great.

My children feel no need to deescalate the tension. To them, everything is about winning, even if what they are trying to win isn’t worth the effort.

About once a day, I hear myself saying to my charming brood, “(Fill in the blank) is not a competition.” Which is just dead wrong. It’s all a competition. Where you sit in the car. Who gets the last piece of cornbread. Who gets to shower first. They even compete to see whose grades are the highest, although I gotta say, sometimes the bar is pretty low.

An urge to compete can be good. It can propel you to success others only dream of. It can spur you to excellence. Or it can just be darned annoying.

The other day, when I remarked, in response to a conflict, that “You people could make a competition out of tying your shoelaces,” my daughter replied, “And I would win that one for sure.”

And the other night, at the dinner table, my oldest son remarked, “I know this is not a competition to see who can eat the fastest, but if it were, I’d totally be winning it.”

To which my youngest child responded, pointing to his sister’s plate, “She didn’t finish hers, so there is no way I’m not going to ‘place’ tonight.”

That’s right, folks. At our dinner table it’s win, place, or show for the glory. For you slack others, it’s just the last of the dishes.

My kids seem unable to comprehend a world that is not about winning. When I took the photo to accompany this blog post, my oldest son, asked, “What is this for?”

“For a blog post on competition,” I said.

His next question? “What do you get if you win?”

Uh, I’m sorry son, that’s “on competition” not “in competition”. Unclear on the concept, I guess.

The 9 circles of parenthood

IMG_0503With my apology to Dante, if an apology is warranted. Dante could be a pretty creepy guy, but I did reorganize The Inferno a little in my spare time.

When your children are born they are angels. They coo. They smile. They dote on you. Your worst problem is changing a nasty diaper. And then they start to grow up and to your dismay, you find that are completely unprepared for the evils you encounter.

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.

The Nine Circles of Parenthood

Limbo. Also known as toilet training. The phase where you will repeat, “Do you need to use the potty?” 100,000 times. It is fraught with uncertainty. Do you buy the Pull-Ups®, or do you not buy the Pull-ups? Can you risk a quick trip to the grocery store? Can you let your child in the wading pool, or are you courting disaster and a public shunning? Should you try to transport the soiled underwear home, or should you just pitch it in the trash?

Lust. When you have no lock on your bedroom door, and one of your children finds their way in every night, this one takes care of itself. Nothing vaporizes lust like a small pair of feet lodged firmly in your lower back. (Sure, I could have talked about teenage lust here, but none of us is ever quite ready for that, right?)

Anger. You are an adult. You have a college degree. You endured workplaces where you encountered all sorts of unreasonable behavior.  And yet, none of them made you half as angry as the child who stowed a half-eaten sucker under the couch cushions you just cleaned (because someone had previously stowed a half-eaten sucker in the same spot.) Who knew your capacity for anger could be this large?

Gluttony. A growing child is capable of all kinds of heinous behavior, like eating, as an after-school snack, most of a chicken that was supposed to feed the whole family before an early lacrosse practice. Or a child who announces, after a day making Christmas cookies with a friend, which ones she intends to share, and which she intends to eat entirely on her own.

Greed. Nothing motivates greed like candy, especially if you discourage its consumption. A child will eat all his brother’s remaining Halloween candy, even if he has just eaten all his own, and his brother had it hidden in a dirty sock behind his bookcase.

Heresy. Your child roots for the Packers during a Vikings game. The Packers!

Violence. Also known as “horseplay,” although you’ve never seen horses carry on the way a couple of boys will. There is no good end to a violent act. Nothing screams an afternoon at urgent care like a child announcing, “I think (my brother) just broke my neck.”

Fraud. You’ve seen that band practice log, and your child is either perpetrating fraud, or writing fiction.

Treachery. They leave. In the end, they leave. You feed, clean, clothe and drive them around for two decades and then they move, taking with them your linens, your car, and half of your small appliances. Oh, and your money.

And Dante thought hell looked bad.


Glitter: Where Title IX falls painfully short

Glitter: Where Title IX falls painfully short

IMG_0623 - Version 2Title IX was newish when I hit junior high and decided I didn’t want to take home economics. This was back in the day when all girls took home ec, and all boys took shop. Nothing wrong with home economics, I just, personally, thought it sounded like a snore. The boys got to mold plastics and use power tools. The girls learned how to make white sauce. I could not see how white sauce fit into my future.

My parents, in a much-appreciated burst of advocacy, petitioned the school board to let girls take shop, and ultimately prevailed. Although the board’s ruling came too late to save me from Mrs. W’s high-fat cuisine, it did clear the way for kids like my younger brother to learn how to sew an apron and do his nails (I kid you not. He is still, to this day, extremely well groomed.)

Fast forward several decades. Title IX opened up a vast array of opportunities for girls. But while both boys’ and girls’ sports require me to sling hot dogs at the concession stand, write checks so large they make me tear up, and hit the grandparents up with all sorts of fundraising campaigns, there is one key difference.

My daughter is on the dance team. And for the dance team, I have to rhinestone a costume.

Make no mistake; the dance team girls are athletes. If you don’t believe me, try kicking your leg over your head for the next three hours and then tell me whether you didn’t pull a hamstring, a groin muscle, and everything in between. But I have never been asked to rhinestone a baseball jersey or apply sequins to lacrosse pads. I do not have to alter ski gear. And while my boys have occasionally required the use of kinesio tape, neither has ever required the use of Hollywood Fashion Tape® before entering the field. In short, boys’ sports do not require me to use any crafting skills whatsoever.

This inequity makes me uneasy, but frankly, it’s probably not because it throws us back to the days of girls vs. boys as much as it is an aversion to rhinestoning. Let’s just say it is not a core competence.

But as sports parents know, when your kid signs up, you sign up.

And thus, a recent Saturday morning found me beside other dance team moms, coffee at hand, using industrial-strength, cancer-causing glue to attach dozens of rhinestones and sequins to a piece of nylon that wouldn’t cover one of my calves. (I noticed no fathers were present.)

This is my daughter’s first year on the team, and I certainly will be required to rhinestone again. The coach has decided that the girls’ time is too valuable to devote to modifying their costumes. My time, however, carries no such premium.

Just call me the Rhinestone Cowgirl.


Warning: Take the Month Off

IMG_0291Yesterday, the Daily Post writing prompt asked us to invent an astrological sign for ourselves. While I was too upside down and backwards to do that piece, I’m pulling myself out of the depths for today’s post: The actual horoscope for October, written in retrospect. Retrospect I can do.

October Horoscope

During this month, the pieces of your carefully constructed reality will fly up in the air and come down again in a different order. You’ll want to move forward, but you won’t know where anything is.

The people closest to you will suddenly seem to have lost their minds. They will make decisions you don’t understand and can’t prevent. People will exit and enter your life at a dizzying rate, leaving an impact far beyond what is reasonable or predictable. Things that felt solid will dissolve under your feet. Things that seemed moveable will remain so solid you cannot budge them.

And although you are entering a period of extreme unrest, all you will want to do is rest. You will find yourself resting as items on your to-do list pile up around you.

Make no mistake – this energy is taking you somewhere, you just don’t know where. Big change is coming. It has to. You’ve felt its approach for a long time now, but you haven’t been ready to face it. Well, get ready. You can’t stop change.

The temptation will be to close your eyes, open them up when it’s all over, and see where you’ve landed, like Dorothy in the tornado, headed off to Oz. If that’s the tack you take, just be ready, when you open your eyes, for your surroundings to look completely different. And to, somehow, find your way back home.

Hello, it’s the universe calling…

IMG_0191Sometimes when you send an S.O.S. out into the universe, the universe responds.

Yesterday I wrote a somewhat bitter post on self-reflection. Or maybe it was self-doubt. Either way, it left me feeling blue. When I finished it, I closed my computer and walked away from my desk to give myself a break.

As I reached for another cup of coffee, I heard my phone buzz. It was a text message from my teenage daughter:

Hey mama so we are in stress management class and we’re doing this happiness practice thing and we are supposed to thank somebody we are grateful for or who has had an impact on our life so mama thank you for always being there and keeping me from falling behind. I know that sometimes I seem ungrateful and tired and bratty but I really truly always appreciate everything you do. Thank you for being you.

I guess I’m getting it done after all. Although I might consider some discussion on the importance of punctuation.

Wolverine lasagna dinner

IMG_0311My sister mailed me a photo, back in the day when both photos and mail were an actual thing, of a delightful sign outside a school that read only “Wolverine Lasagna Dinner.”

I assume, like most people, that this school sported a wolverine for a mascot, and was hosting a fundraising dinner to which they hoped all would come. But for years, I’ve harbored a secret wish that it was really a dinner at which wolverine was served. Why? Well, I guess I’m a little nuts.

Since my children are now in that stage of their educations known as “the fundraising years” I find myself returning to thoughts of that sign now and then, and thinking about the school announcement that might have accompanied it.

Dear Wolverine parents,

As you know, we’ve been working quite diligently to ensure that our nationally-ranked soil-judging team can attend the state finals in Springfield this April. To support our team, we’re hosting a dinner, but we need your help!

In order to make our dinner a success we need the following supplies. Please contribute if you can!

28 flats of bottled water

50 boxes gluten-free lasagna noodles

17 gallons organic, no-salt-added tomato sauce

4 grain-fed Wolverines, skinned and diced

100 pounds part-skim mozzarella

Mid-sized Sterilite container of iceberg lettuce

2 gallons fat-free salad dressing

Please drop all items in the teachers’ lounge next Thursday between 2:45 and 3:10 p.m. There is no refrigeration available, so please do not drop items early!

Yes, I know this post is a little unappetizing but at least I didn’t write about my other favorite school sign – the Crucifixion Summer Fun Fest.

This is a Daily Post writing prompt. You can read other “sign” posts here…

Could I be…socially awkward?

Could I be…socially awkward?

Gem_Tuesday_ButtonIn her link-up today, Charity at The Wounded Dove asks us to post about a parenting fear. Well, my kids are a little older now, so in addition to the standard fears about their safety, nutrition, health, friends, grades, etc., etc., I’ve added a new one.

What if I really am the dork they think I am?

It’s clear they think I’m ridiculous – every instruction I issue, every idea I suggest. (I once overheard my youngest son parody me with the following snarky phrase: “Let’s watch a G-rated movie while eating healthy snacks.”)

And, lest I cause them great public embarrassment, they would rather I didn’t:

  • Like any pop music even though I am forced to listen to it every minute I’m in the car. (Or at least not admit to it.)
  • Sing.
  • Wear my puffy winter coat into their school even if it is -20.
  • Sit in the same movie theater.
  • Volunteer at a school dance.
  • Dance.
  • Display my affection for them in front of another human being.
  • Talk to them at any public event.
  • Talk to any of their friends, ever.
  • Talk to any of their friends’ parents.

They’d probably be happiest if I never talked at all. I have to admit, even I’m sick of some of my more frequent quotes:

  • Close your mouth and eat your food.
  • Can you please use your head for something other than holding up your hair?
  • You people would try the patience of a saint, and I’m no saint.
  • Rise and shine, especially the rise part.
  • This is not a diner!
  • The family dinner is highly overrated (nearly always stated during dinner).

I’m sure they find the constant repetition of these words, and the frustration that usually accompanies them, beneath contempt – and will continue to do so, at least until the day they hear themselves saying this stuff to their own kids.

Lucky for me, my self-esteem should hold up to the constant negative reinforcement. To all you parents who find yourselves in the same boat, who have aged out of “cool”, don’t worry – your popularity will soar the minute your kids need a ride somewhere.


Vacation mishaps

2012-08-14_15-39-33_376All families take that vacation – the one that makes them rethink the whole togetherness thing. When I was a kid, ours was a rather spectacular trip through Lake Mead on a house boat where we were treated to unforgettable views, pristine water, and quiet, star-filled nights.

Unfortunately, we also broke a propeller, and my grandmother’s toe. My sister and I were cursed with a bad case of sun-poisoning – our Midwestern hides were not ready for the blazing sky. The bats swooped right up to the open windows at night scaring us senseless. And the low point of this trip – a scene none of us can forget – was an unfortunate malfunction while pumping the septic tank that resulted in several of us being covered with…well, you know.

But I don’t think that was our worst mishap. On one of our trips across the desert, I watched a set of borrowed tent poles fall off the back of the car as I dozed in the back. My father reacted to my screams by swerving onto the shoulder. As he swerved, a suitcase also fell, right into the path of an approaching semi. It was spared, somehow, but the images are seared in my brain.

My trips with my own kids have been surprisingly mishap-free (knock wood) although my husband and I had a bank “helpfully” suspend our credit card while we were at a resort in Mexico on our first kid-free trip in a decade. The resort was convinced we were trying to pull something during the day or so it took us to straighten it out. Apparently, we had been alone together so few times since our kids were born our trip triggered a fraud alert.

What was your worst vacation mishap? Send me your story. I’ll repost the best ones, and if you’re a blogger, include a link to your blog.