Tag Archives: parenting

College Talk Tips

2014-04-11 12.43.05It’s college decision time, but before parents of high school seniors engage each other in conversation, take heed! You are about to step into a veritable quagmire of double entendre regarding the seemingly innocuous topic of your child’s college pick.

One might think that discussing college decisions is as simple as:

Parent #1: “What college will your son/daughter attend in the fall?”

Parent #2: “He/She will attend XYZ University.”

Parent #1: “Oh, that’s swell.”

But, BEWARE. Hidden beneath this rudimentary exchange is a underground strata of complex connotations and confidential context.

How do I, a parent of a high school senior, know this already? During our last few tours of duty, my family has had many “empty nesters” as neighbors in military base housing. I have found that there is much to be learned by observing this unique breed of parent.

No, they don’t collect twigs, preen their feathers, or engage in elaborate mating rituals….well, not that I know of, anyway. But, empty nesters have “been there, done that” when it comes to parenting. Interacting with these seasoned veterans around backyard fire pits and at the dog park has taught me that some things in life are not as simple as they seem.

In order to help other parents, like myself, who will soon be expected to tell friends, relatives and colleagues about their children’s college picks, I will pass on the college talk tips I have gleaned from more experienced parents.

Most importantly, when people ask, “What college did Little Suzie decide to go to?” they really want to know, “Did she get any rejection letters?” And when you answer, “Little Suzie is going to State,” they are tabulating all prior conversations in an attempt to figure out which schools gave your kid the Heisman.

In order to diffuse their natural curiosity, it’s best to be frank. Tell them which schools, if any, declined to accept your child’s application for enrollment. However, do not be tempted to add, “We’re actually happy that Little Johnny didn’t get into Ivy U, it just wasn’t the right fit for him.” The listener will only hear, “Little Johnny’s ‘Ds’ in Chemistry came back to bite him, and besides, those ivy leaguers are so stuck up.”

Also, although it is considered gauche for friends to discuss money matters in the civilian world, talking about personal finances is quite common in the military community. Thanks to clearly defined rank structures, we military folks know each other’s pay grade. Regardless, be careful when discussing college expenses with friends and neighbors. As soon as they find out that your child’s college costs upwards of fifty grand a year or more, they will wonder how on earth you’re gonna pay for it.

You may wish to remain silent, and let them speculate that your child was offered a scholarship for some hidden talent like didgeridoo playing or curling. In a vacuum of information, your friends might think that you’ve got some long lost rich great uncle who graced you with a gazillion dollar trust fund, but this might be hard to believe if you drive a used minivan and buy buns from the day old rack at the commissary. Or, they might guess that your family’s heritage includes a recruitable ethnicity, like the long lost peoples of the Siberian Pot Belly Tribe.

But most likely, unless you tell your friends and family that you are paying for college with the GI Bill, loans, your Thrift Savings Plans, or your 529 plans; they’re going to think that you’re planning to sell your earthly possessions, take the night shift at the local 7-11, and move the family into a cardboard box over a heating grate in order to pay for college.

Most parents have faced or will face the daunting college application process, and as long as you deliver the news of your child’s decision without pretense, you will be met with understanding. Honesty is clearly the best policy to stop wondering minds from wandering to the absurd.

My child? He was rejected from two [stuck up] schools and accepted by six [fine academic institutions]. He has decided to go to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY. We are using the GI Bill. And yes, it’s really swell.

 

How to Succeed in Parenting by Really Trying

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This is how I surprised my son at school on his 12th birthday. I never thought he’d pick up my flair for dramatics.

Although I don’t talk much about it any more, my husband and I raised a child with what has become known as “special needs.” When I gave birth to him in April of 1995, there was no indication that he was anything other than a healthy nine-pound baby boy. But three years later, a developmental pediatrician would rock our world.

“In my opinion,” the Air Force doctor at RAF Lakenheath said looking into our widened eyes, “your son has Atypical Autism.” A couple of hours later, we were frantically grabbing every book on the subject in the library, determined to prove the doctor wrong.

I recall one passage in an outdated book that painted a grim picture of the “typical” scenario: Parents receive the diagnosis and are determined to get their child all appropriate treatments. They are encouraged when their child makes progress with aggressive interventions. But as the child grows, the gap between him and his peers widens. As an adolescent, he wants friends, but is confused by nonverbal cues, facial expressions and gestures. Unable to develop peer relationships, he seeks the comfort of his daily routine — watching the same television shows every day, and pacing around the perimeter of his backyard. The parents realize that their son’s delays are insurmountable and accept that he will never lead a normal life.

We put that book back on the shelf. It was the only time in our marriage I would ever see my husband cry.

This prognosis was too painful to consider, so we did whatever we could. The next eight years were a blur of home therapies, speech therapies, occupational therapies, physical therapies, gluten-free casein-free diets, prescription vitamins, sensory integration regimens, IEP meetings, monitored peer play dates, doctor’s appointments, and mountains of insurance claim forms.

Fortunately, in the fourth grade, our son’s doctor told us that, while he should continue to work through lingering social delays and sensory issues, he no longer fit the diagnostic criteria for autism or any other developmental disorder. We were ecstatic about our son’s progress, but kept our lifestyle of combating autistic symptoms in place. Just in case.

Now 18, our son will most certainly “lead a normal life.” He is in his senior year at his third high school, and has already been accepted to colleges. He has earned four varsity letters in football, is a gifted musician, has taken eight Advanced Placement courses, and is an Eagle Scout.

Despite his obvious success in conquering a serious developmental disorder, we still have regular moments of worry because our son is still “quirky.”

There are days when we see autism creeping around like a phantom, threatening our son’s future. A far away look in his eye. The sound of him muttering to himself in the shower. His stubborn aversion to certain textures in food and clothing. His social awkwardness. His tendency to avoid interaction.

We try to put it out of our minds and hope that these ghosts of his past are simply personality traits that won’t stop him from forming meaningful relationships in life. But I still worry.

Recently, our son landed the role of J.B. Biggley in his high school’s production of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.” We didn’t know anything about the musical, and as usual, our son was not forthcoming with any details.

We arrived on the night of the first public showing.

Buying our tickets and finding our seats, several parents accosted us, gasping, “Your son is the one playing JB Biggley?! He is amazing! He steals the show!” Knowing our son’s lack of interpersonal skills, we thought they might be misinterpreting his quirks as character acting. However, when he made his appearance on stage, we understood what everyone was talking about.

Simply put, our son blew everyone away.

At the curtain call, the actors took their turns bowing to the audience. When our son stepped up and bent at the waist, the crowd jumped to its feet, giving him the loudest standing ovation. And no one knows he was once diagnosed with autism.

Sitting in our seats in total disbelief, it was as if all our years of hard work had come to fruition. Like comprehending the vastness of the infinite cosmos, my mind was boggled by the magnitude of our son’s potential and the promise of his happy future.

He’s going to be just fine. 

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Attack of the Killer Teens

Photo courtesy of www.cinemablend.com.

Photo courtesy of http://www.cinemablend.com.

This week, my youngest child turned thirteen, making me the mother of three teenagers.

For those readers who have raised (i.e., survived) teenagers, I could end my column here. There’s no need for lengthy anecdotes. Upon reading my first sentence, other parents of teens most likely heaved a collective groan, and instantly understood the prickly muddle of pride, anguish, adoration and frustration involved.

But for the benefit of the rest, I’ll trudge on with my story.

“I’ll take a hot chocolate with whipped cream and a large sausage Calzone,” my 18-year-old son blurted to the waiter before anyone else had a chance to order. It was his youngest sister’s 13th birthday dinner out, and he was starving.

Incidentally, that was after he had polished off a barrel of popcorn and a gallon of soda at the Island Cinemas, where I spent $60 and three-quarters of the movie covering the birthday girl’s eyes to shield her from what I realized was a totally inappropriate horror film.

The next morning, I got up early to drive my son to his first job at Yagoog Boy Scout Summer Camp. I tiptoed to keep from waking my new 13-year-old – she slept with me thanks to my stellar movie choice the night before – but I had no idea that I’d be tiptoeing around my son’s attitude all morning.

“Hey Buddy?” I gingerly hailed my son as he carried his sleeping bag through the kitchen, “I think you should wear a troop shirt instead, because there’s a pretty strict dress code for Scouts at camp.”

He stopped with his back to me, and like the demon-possessed character from the previous night’s movie; he turned his head slowly, squinting his eyes. In a low, guttural tone, which spewed pure aggravation, he muttered between gritted teeth, “I’m not a Scout, I’m on the Staff.”

Ten minutes later, my son appeared at my minivan, wearing his troop shirt and a scowl.

After a silent drive, we arrived at Camp Yagoog. While checking in, we realized that my son needed uniform socks, so we stopped by the Camp’s Trading Post to buy a few pairs.

Knowing I was about to leave my only son there for the rest of the summer, I was feeling generous.

“Hey Buddy, don’t you need one of these belts like the other Staff had on their shorts?”

My son spewed, squinted and gritted, “NO, MOM, my shorts have a built-in belt,” stated in such a way that implied, “you idiot!”

That was it. Something in me snapped. I dropped the socks and announced, “Buy your own socks. I’ll see you on pick up day.”

I could see mild panic in his eyes. The six pairs of socks would wipe out his spending money, and he had no way of cashing future paychecks without a ride to the bank. And then there’s the issue of his laundry.

I stormed out of the Trading Post to find my minivan.

Three yards from the store, I was seized by a rush of overwhelming realizations. This person, my son, was a huge bearded ball of contradiction. He wanted nothing to do with me, yet he was totally dependent on me. He believed he was omniscient, yet there was so much he needed to learn. He was technically a man, yet he behaved like a petulant boy.

Despite the fact that my lioness instinct was urging me to cut the apron strings and go, I didn’t want to leave him on such a sour note. I found my son in the Trading Post, still looking stunned at the socks.

“I’m sorry,” he offered, “I didn’t realize I was being disrespectful.”

Leaving the camp and my son behind, I wondered what it is that possesses teenagers. An instinctual drive to alienate the tribe and strike out on their own? Raging adolescent hormones? An underdeveloped pre-frontal cortex? Evil mutant zombie demons?

Whatever it is, I’m scared and my teenagers are too.

But I learned an ironic lesson from that inappropriate horror film: When things get really scary, parental guidance is strongly suggested.

Pretty scary, hu?

Give me liberty, or give me naps!

Wow, my arm is really getting tired . . .

Wow, my arm is really getting tired . . .

When the alarm goes off in the morning, and your brain’s cells begin to stir, a myriad of possible “first thoughts” might pop into your head.

“The minivan needs gas for the morning car pool.” “Should I forgive my husband for the fight we had last night?” “Don’t forget to get something for Father’s Day.” “I wonder if Junior will pass his Calculus exam.”

None of these early morning contemplations can accurately predict the course of the rest of your day, but there is one particular “first thought” that is a definite Red Flag. If you wake up in the morning, and think, “I need a nap,” you can bet your overpriced wrinkle cream that the rest of your day is pretty much gonna blow.

I know this, because that is exactly what I’ve been thinking lately. I’ve been dragging my weary bones out of bed all week, when all I want to do is crawl back under the covers and hide from the inevitable calamity of my unmanageable schedule.

Is it the exams, events and final grade panic of the end of the school year that’s got me wanting to stay in bed? Well, not quite. Is it my son’s Eagle Scout Ceremony, which we insanely decided to host at our house this weekend for over 50 people? Well, not exactly. Is it the fact that my husband is being wined and dined all week while on a work trip in South America while I am left driving this runaway train? Well, yes, but not entirely.

Or could it be that we are moving to Rhode Island in a few days, and we’re nowhere near ready? Well, yeah, maybe. Or is it the fact that I am frantically scribbling this column on a legal pad at Starbucks, because I just killed my laptop when I knocked my coffee onto the keyboard 12 minutes ago, and fear that I might have to use my thumbs to tap this thing into my Smartphone to get it to the editors? Hell yes, truth be told.

But it’s not any one thing that has me dreaming of naps. It’s the totality of my circumstances as a middle-aged Navy wife and mother of three teens.

Recently, I was lamenting my to my neighbor, a 25 year Navy wife with two grown boys, when she validated my malaise. “Yea, I remember when the boys were in high school,” she said, “and I told my husband one day, ‘I’m exhausted.’ He told me to go take a nap, and I told him, ‘No, I mean, I’m globally tired after 18 years of raising kids. Thirty minutes of shut eye ain’t gonna cut it.’”

Ironically, now that her boys have flown the coop and she’s an empty nester, she’s napping more than ever, just because she can.

The rest of us middle-aged moms must keep slogging along, waiting for the day when our schedules ease up enough that we can enjoy the luxury of a delicious afternoon nap. In the meantime, we can take comfort in the [slightly modified] immortal words of poet Emma Lazarus, thoughtfully inscribed on the base of our Statue of Liberty:

Give me your tired, your poor, 
Your befuddled housewives yearning to break free,
With wretched refuse in their teeming heads.
Send these, the napless, tempest-tost to me,
And I’ll tuck them all into their comfy beds!”

Battery by blender

It took three hours to get eight stitches.

Awaiting stitches, and imprisonment.

“MOLINARI!” the ER nurse bellowed, jolting us out of our waiting room stupor. Tearing our eyes from hypnotic crime show reruns playing on the wall-mounted television, we scrambled to move our 12-year-old daughter, who’d been placed in a wheelchair to elevate her lacerated foot.

“So, what happened?” the nurse asked.

“It was the blender,” I blurted, nervously.

“The blender?!” the nurse looked in horror at our daughter’s foot, wrapped in a dishtowel.

“Well, no, her foot wasn’t actually in the blender . . . it was on the floor . . . and the blender was in the freezer.”

“In the freezer?” the nurse asked, confused.

“I . . . it was me . . .,” I mumbled culpably, “I put the glass pitcher in the freezer. When my daughter opened the door, it fell out and cut her foot.”

“Ah,” the nurse seemed relieved to not be dealing with a frappèd foot, “let’s take a quick look.” As our daughter winced and whined, we carefully unraveled the dishtowel. “Hmmm . . . looks like you’re gonna need a few stitches young lady.”

The nurse fired questions at us – “full name, date of birth, address, phone number, insurance carrier, policy number” – while tapping away at her computer.

Then, after a pregnant pause, she looked intently at us and carefully enunciated, “Has your daughter ever had stitches before?

“No,” I answered immediately.

My mind waffled and my eyes darted as I thought, “Should I tell her about that face plant she did into the side of the backyard playset? She didn’t need stitches, but if I don’t mention that, will she think I’ve got something to hide? Why is she asking this question anyway? Does she think we’re abusive parents with a long history of suspicious ER visits? I guess the whole blender story does sound a bit suspect, and I was the one who put the blender in the freezer to begin with. I should’ve known it would slide off that bag of chicken tenders!?! It was my fault! I’m sure she’s alerting the police right now! I think I hear sirens!

“Sit tight in the waiting room. When the doctor is ready for you, we’ll get you all fixed up.” the nurse said with a smile.

We settled back into the waiting room, just in time to see Matlock render a withering cross examination. Stagnating under the unforgiving fluorescent lights for another hour, we reassured our daughter, analyzed the people around us, leafed through dog-eared magazines, and watched an episode of “Hill Street Blues.”

Just as I thought cobwebs were forming, our name was called.

The x-ray technician, the billing rep, the nurse, the doctor – they all asked the same questions. First a battery of rapid-fire queries regarding tedious details were launched in robotic succession, followed by one carefully worded question delivered police-interrogation style.

I can’t recall if the final question was “Has your daughter had stitches before?” or “Are you the abusive parent who negligently put the blender in the freezer sideways?” but I am certain that they had it out for me.

I prayed they wouldn’t find out about our two older kids, who have had their share of emergency room visits. Three broken bones, two pulled elbows, and at least a dozen stitches; with such typical excuses — fell off the couch, fell off the playset, fell into the playset, fell down the stairs. It all sounded so textbook, I was sure that the police were on their way to haul me off to jail.

But finally, after 30 minutes of treatment and three hours of waiting, we were released. Feeling like some kind of middle-aged jailbird, I sheepishly wheeled my daughter back to the ER entrance.

Suddenly, “YOU’RE UNDER ARREST!” blared from the waiting room. I considered bolting, but I was still a little sore from that body sculpting class, and besides, I would need to pack my fiber pills and contour pillow before I could lead a life on the run. Just as I turned to face the wall and spread ‘em, I noticed that the order had come from CHiPs Officer “Ponch” Poncherello on the wall-mounted TV, and I realized that I was free to go.

On our way home, while my daughter sipped a conciliatory Whataburger chocolate shake, I turned to her in an effort to relieve the still-fresh pang of guilt, “Lollipop, if I hadn’t put that blender in the freezer sideways, none of this would’ve happened. I’m so sorry.”

“It’s OK, Mom,” she said between sips, “it’s not your fault. It was just an accident.” Along with my heart and that chocolate shake, my mother’s guilt finally melted away.

The cast of "CHiPs" (from left: Erik...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Culture or Torture? Lessons learned while traveling with kids

My column in the April issue of Military Spouse Magazine!

My column in the April issue of Military Spouse Magazine!

April is the month of Spring Break, and Spring Break is a time for travel!

The possibilities are endless: a Caribbean cruise, camping in the mountains, sight-seeing in Rome, hiking the Appalachian Trail, a B&B in the French countryside. Simple, adventurous or extravagant, a change of scenery takes you from the late winter doldrums into an invigorated spring.

But wait. Hold up. Just a sec . . . What about the kids?

Unless you have a team of well-paid nannies who will keep the kids entertained at home all week (not likely on a military budget) then the kids are coming along. And the presence of children during travel tends to change things a bit …. Ahem, that’s the understatement of the century.

Instead of leisurely lunching on brie and wine at a Parisian street café, you’ll find yourself at nibbling nuggets at the McDonalds on the Champs d’Elysie. Rather than braving class 4 rapids on Pennsylvania’s Ohio Pyle Gorge, you’ll be splashing the sticky cotton candy off your face on the log jam at Wally World. Forget about scheduling your couples massage at the spa, because you’ll be wading in a suspiciously cloudy kiddie pool at a motel off the interstate, asking yourself how this could be happening. Again.

BEEN THERE, ENDURED THAT

Take it from me, I know. While stationed in Germany, I planned family trips to Ireland, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Poland, Austria, France, England and Scotland during our three-year tour. I wanted to jam-pack our time overseas with cultural and educational experiences that our kids would appreciate for the rest of their lives.

Problem was, I forgot. They’re kids.

Oh, yea. Bummer.

I soon learned that kids — my kids, at least, and very possibly yours — don’t want to wait two hours for traditional indigenous foods at an authentic local restaurant. They could care less about mountain scenery or sylvan country settings. And they absolutely hate lingering in art and history museums.

We discovered the hard way that, unless we were planning a trip to the Threshold of Hell, we’d better figure out how to keep the kids happy. First, we learned the Cardinal Rule of Travelling with the Kids:

LOWER YOUR EXPECTATIONS

Sure, you want to think positive. I’m all for that. But don’t envision life-changing authentic ambiance, edifying cultural experience, thrilling adventure, romantic interludes and indulgent relaxation. Family trips have the potential to turn out to be as relaxing and cultural as chaperoning a fifth grade field trip to Bowl-O-Rama. With that mindset, you’re bound to be pleasantly surprised.

Now, in order to avoid the brink of insanity while traveling with the kids, I’ll share some strategies we learned.

#1 Oh my gosh, gross!

My kids are so cultured, they have thrown up in six states and seven foreign countries. Nothing kills ambiance like the lingering scent of upchuck on your shoes, so keep gallon zip-lock bags and wet wipes in your purse at all times.

#2 Take appropriate steps, literally.

Bell towers, monuments, castles, forts and tall buildings are great places to run the “squirrelly” out of kids. Beware that you may need a portable defibrillator for yourself, but a coronary event may be worth it if it means your kids will be so tired that they’ll sit through dinner peacefully tonight.

#3 Kiddie comfort food.

Pommes fritz, furai, chips, papas fritas – whatever you call ‘em, don’t even think about sitting down at a restaurant that doesn’t have French fries on the menu.

#4 Space out.

No, I’m not suggesting that you take sedatives while traveling with the kids, but find wide open spaces where you and hubby can soak up local ambiance while the rugrats spread their grubby little wings and fly. You can nibble local cheese and bread while they scare pigeons in the piazza, or chase bumble bees in an alpine meadow, or roll in the grass at a city park.

#5 Wet them down while you wet your whistle.

When deciding where to stop for a glass of wine, look for a nearby fountain, stream, lake, pond, or tropical fish tank. If they can splash, throw rocks, feed ducks or tap on the glass, you have a decent chance of sipping your wine in peace.

#6 Capture the memories.

Be sure to take lots of photos, because no matter how torturous family vacations may seem, someday you’ll look back and wish you could do it all over again. 

Pick up a copy today!

Pick up a copy today!

Easy Street Detour

When I was 26 years old, I thought 46 was ancient. That 20-year span of life seemed like eons back then – more than enough time to live life to the fullest before I turned into an old hag.

Now that I’m 46, I don’t have enough time to be an old hag. In fact, the last 20 years seems to have flown by like some kind of runaway train, and just when we thought we’d be on Easy Street, life is more hectic than ever.

What happened? Did we take a wrong turn? Will we ever reach our destination?

Obviously, when I was in my 20s, I was naïve. I knew that we’d have to work hard for the next 20 years to establish careers, buy a house, raise children, and save for college and retirement. But I thought by the time we reached our 40s, our life would look like one of those trendy wine commercials with handsome middle-aged post-yuppies lounging in Adirondack chairs at their lake house after 18 holes of golf, secure in the knowledge that they’re saving far more than they spend.

The eldest child, smartly garbed in a J. Crew sweater which compliments his sun kissed hair and excellent orthodontic work, asks to borrow the keys to the imported European car, which was purchased new with cash. With a chuckle, they toss him the keys. After all, the college acceptance letters are rolling in and he’s becoming a fine upstanding young man — it’s time to let him spread his wings and fly. They nibble overpriced smoked Gouda and toast to their beautiful life.

“California Chardonnay from XYZ Vinyards . . . because you’ve earned it.”

Fade to black.

Unfortunately, my life at 40-something is nothing like a chardonnay commercial. Maybe an ad for laundry detergent, or antacids, or Hamburger Helper, but definitely not fine wine.

Although we have two plastic Adirondack chairs my husband picked up at the grocery for $9.99 each while buying dog food, we don’t own a lake house. We faithfully contribute to our college and retirement funds, but have not attained the kind of financial security that enables one to casually nibble expensive specialty cheese after 18 holes of golf. Despite the fact that every molecule of our energy, attention, and financial planning goes into raising our kids to become independent, we aren’t ready to lend our eldest the keys to our dirty white minivan, much less an expensive foreign import.

To the contrary, our days are filled with work, running the kids to and from school and activities, monitoring homework, checking grades, paying bills, incessant errands, endless laundry, and throwing dinner together at the last minute. Rather than golf, our free time these days is largely spent collapsing. Collapsing onto the couch to zone out into a mindless television show, or onto the bed to sleep so we can wake up and do it all over again the next day.

On weekends, we treat ourselves to pizza and TWO movie rentals. Now that’s livin’.

What have we done wrong? Does life get any easier? When can we sit back and enjoy what we’ve worked so hard for? Will we ever casually nibble expensive specialty cheese after 18 holes of golf?

I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I figure, if we can manage to make it through this gauntlet of child rearing without losing our minds and our neglected friends, we will reach our destination one of these days.

detour

We may never find Easy Street, but as long as we keep going, we’ll find our own way. The ride may have ups and downs and twists and turns, and we may get lost every once in a while, but sometimes it’s the detours that make the trip interesting.

No matter how we get there, when we finally arrive, there will surely be a chair for us to sit – not collapse, but sit – in and relax. It may not be an Adirondack chair overlooking a lake, it may just be a lawn chair overlooking the back yard sprinkler. The point is – someday, we will be able to stop and smell the proverbial roses, or dandelions as the case may be.

No one ever said life was easy, but when you consider the richness of the journey, it’s easy to see why we took this trip in the first place.

plasticchair

Observations from the field

Two-finger applause only, please.

There’s nothing quite like watching your kids play high school sports. It’s a highly emotional situation for parents, who experience the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, as if they were competing themselves.

Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with expressing oneself in this new age; however, each sport has its own unwritten rules governing the behavior of spectators, and problems can arise when parents don’t conform to the unique standards for each sport.

For example, we’ve been high school football parents for three years now, and I’m pretty sure we’ve mastered football’s spectator rituals.

On Friday nights, we proudly wear our 100% nylon mesh replica jerseys, emblazoned with our son’s number. We don’t eat before the game, preferring to get dinner from the concession stand, where a balanced game night meal consists of a hamburger or hot dog (protein), chips with nacho cheese (dairy), and ketchup (vegetable.) A blue raspberry Sno Kone rounds out the meal (fruit). Once seated in the bleachers, we try to resist any aerobic activity for the next two hours, other than arm flailing and hitting the restroom at halftime.

During game play, parents are encouraged to outwardly express and exaggerate any feelings of pride, exhilaration, disappointment, or anger. It is commonplace and expected of parents to hoot, holler, and shout expletives that might otherwise be considered obnoxious or unkind.

Some examples might include, “Hey, that’s MY kid! Woohoo!” yelled while pointing repeatedly at the player. Or, “Take that you LOSERS!” directed to the opposing team while making rude spanking gestures. Or, “Hey Ref — I’ve seen potatoes with better eyes than you!” most effective when screamed with a mouthful of half chewed hot dog.

However, not every high school sport has the same rituals. We learned this lesson the hard way when our freshman daughter joined the Cross Country team this year.

After getting up in the middle of the night so that we could be at an away meet for the 8:00 am start time, we arrived at the course groggy and confused.

There were no bleachers to sit on — just hoards of leggy teenagers milling about on tarps laid out in a grass field. As we searched for our daughter’s team, we could not help but notice that there were no foam fingers or tacky nylon mesh to be found. The other parents looked like they were runners too, wearing trendy, moisture-wicking spandex and thermo-regulating micro-fleece sportswear.

We heard no cowbells or air horns – only two-finger golf clapping and the faint tweet of birds in the distance. We could smell no grilled pork products or locker room odors – only fresh air and a hint of cappuccino.

We never felt more lost and alone.

We heard the crack of a starting pistol, and next thing we knew, our daughter whizzed by us, among the pack. No sooner did the runners pass, than the crowd of parents started sprinting through a trail in the woods. We weren’t sure if there was a grizzly bear attacking us, or a clearance sale at the Pottery Barn, but we followed along.

The jog led us to our next observation point, where my husband and I breathlessly yelled, flailed and gestured, “Hey, that’s our kid! C’mon Honey! Make ‘em eat your dirt!”  The looks on the other parents’ faces made it clear that our exuberance was not appreciated.

After two more sprints to observation points, the race was over, and we found ourselves two-finger golf clapping with everyone else. All that sprinting left my husband and I famished and in search of the nearest deep-fat fryer. Unfortunately, the only food available was granola bars, and they were for the team.

On the way home, while waiting in the drive-thru for a #7-With-Bacon-Go-Large, I realized that we’d learned some valuable lessons about becoming cross-country parents. First, spectating this sport requires either an all terrain vehicle with GPS navigation, or a personal defibrillator. Second, unless someone starts deep-frying granola, always keep a bag of Funions and a six-pack of Squirt in the glove box to combat hunger.

And lastly, we shouldn’t worry if we don’t fit in right away. It’s easy to take the parents out of the football game, but it might take a while to get the football game out of the parents.

Granola doesn’t cut it.

Mamma’s Boy-Man

“Are you sure you’re gonna be alright?”

“Yeeess, Mom. How many times do I have to tell you, I’ll be fine,” my teenage son replied while impatiently leading me out the front door of our house.

“OK, OK, but don’t forget to feed Dinghy . . .” I said, stepping over the threshold.

“Yes, I got it. Morning and night.”

“ . . . and walk him . . .”

“Yeah, yeah, I know, four times a day,” he interrupted.

“Two . . .”

“Two short and two long. I got it!” He snapped and nudged me onto the porch.

“Please eat some fruit with breakfast tomorrow, and don’t sleep in too late.”

“Mom — Dad and the girls are waiting for you in the car.”

“And when you shower, don’t forget to use a little extra soap on your . . .”

“MOM! GO!” my son barked, giving me one last shove off. I managed a hasty smooch, then headed for the car with my overnight bag.

As my husband pulled away, I honked the horn, waved wildly out the window, and yelled, “We’ll call you!” My son’s bulky figure diminished in the distance, and I sat back and closed my eyes.

My mind raced. We’d never left him overnight before, and even though he’s seventeen, I just couldn’t stop thinking of what might go wrong.

“He always leaves things on the stairs — what if he trips and falls? Or, what if he tries to cook a pizza and sets the house on fire? What if he stays up all night playing video games, then he’ll be too tired tomorrow to get his homework done? Worse yet, what if he figures out how to order porn on TV? Oh Lord . . . we need to turn around and go back,” I thought.

The landscape out my window was turning from swampy coastal scruff, to woodsy wetlands. I stared into the tangled vegetation rushing by, took a deep breath, and tried to calm my nerves. I made a mental note to call home every couple hours, and, somewhere along the way to Tallahassee, I dozed off.

“You have arrived at your destination,” our GPS announced with her assigned British accent, and I rubbed the sleep from my eyes.

Ever since I met her at a swim team meeting in 9th grade, Patti and I had been best friends. Throughout high school, we were inseparable, and stayed in touch after graduation, even when my Navy life took us far away. Patti, her husband, and their two kids had just moved from Pittsburgh to Tallahassee, and we were excited to catch up after so many years of living far apart.

When you know people for that long, inhibitions tend to melt away. By eight-o-clock, we were acting like total idiots. Our kids looked on somewhat frightened, as we cranked 80s tunes and relived our youth. My husband channeled Modern English on a play drum set, and my best friend’s husband did a mean Roger Rabbit. The kids beat us in a merciless round of Right-Left-Center, and Patti and I cracked up over old photographs from high school. After midnight, we were racing across the pool in what we dubbed “The Noodle Olympics.”

Needless to say, we had a blast.

The next morning, we lazily sipped coffee and giggled about the events of the previous night. After lunch, we hugged, said our good-byes and piled back in the car.

About a mile out of Tallahassee, my cell phone rang, and I searched the bottom of my purse where it was buried.

“Hello?”

“Mamma, where are you guys?” my son asked with urgency.

“Well, we’re just heading out of Tallahassee – why, what happened?”

“You said you were going to call, but you never did. How long is it going to take you to get here? Can’t you hurry up?”

In that moment, I felt a burning sensation in my heart. I wasn’t sure if I was experiencing the twinge of separation from my almost-grown son, the guilt of having briefly forgotten he existed, or acid indigestion from the French Cruller I’d dunked in my morning coffee.

“Don’t worry, Honey, we’ll be there soon enough . . . And besides,” I said with a painful swallow, “You’ll be just fine without me.”

The Family Meeting

“C’mon guys!” I bellowed from the kitchen, “You’re late!” One by one, they appeared at our table, each carrying a heavy attitude.

My husband had always thought my family meetings were pure nonsense. All this nicey-nicey talking was a complete waste of his Sunday leisure time. When he grew up, you did what your parents told you to do, or you’d be wearing five faster than you can say “child protective services.”

However, my active duty Navy husband had left me in charge of the household on so many occasions in our 19-year marriage, he had decided that it was best to go along with my parenting strategies, harebrained or not.

I’d been holding semi-annual family meetings since the kids were too young to read my typed agendas, and believed these forced family events were necessary to maintain order, and my sanity. Although no stranger to corporal punishment, I’d always been afraid we’d turn our kids into axe murders, heroine junkies, or worst of all, adults with low self-esteem.

So, I believed we could achieve total cooperation from our children simply by gathering them up and nicely telling them what we want them to do. Makes perfect sense, right?

Our girls, 12 and 14, arrived in a sock-sliding race for the best seat, the elder sister grabbing the prime spot.

The last to arrive, thudding down the stairs, was our 17-year-old son, who would’ve preferred a hot poker in his eye than a conversation with family in which feelings might be discussed.

With everyone seated, I decided to play upon their worst fears.

“OK, everyone, let’s hold hands and say what we love about each other . . .” I allowed a few seconds of uncomfortable silence, and just when I thought mutiny was imminent, I blurted, “Gotcha!”

My comedic genius softened them up a bit, exactly what I needed for my parental brainwashing plan to take hold. Clearing my throat, I began.

“School starts tomorrow, and we want you to manage your time properly so everything runs smoothly. We’ll get up each morning promptly at six, and we expect . . .” I went on, and on, about bedtimes, homework, chores, allowance, privileges, personal hygiene, and manners.

About 40 minutes into the lecture, I knew I was losing them, an eventuality for which I was prepared.

“In conclusion, to help you manage your time, we got you each a little gift.”

The girls squealed with delight when I revealed three super-cool new sports watches, with digital displays, dual alarms with five minute back up, 10 lap memory chrono, and water resistance to 100 meters – whatever all that means.

I sat back, smug with satisfaction. My plan is complete. Rules will be followed. Order is restored. No punishments necessary. And I look like Mother Theresa. Nice.

“Uh, just so you know, I’m not wearing this thing,” my son suddenly interjected.

“Listen Honey, you’re almost a man now — you really should learn how to use a watch… “

“I’m not putting this stupid hunk of plastic on my wrist when there are clocks everywhere.”

I can’t be sure, but smoke may have started rising out of my ears.

It may have been our son’s utter lack of appreciation, his complete disregard for authority, my unrealistic desire for total obedience, or the fact that my underwear was riding up that afternoon, but I was seeing red.

“Listen to me, young man,” I said through gritted teeth, “you WILL wear that watch, understand me?”

“NO.”

The next 20 minutes are a bit foggy, but I do clearly recall my husband storming off down the street, and my son throwing the watch at the wall while screaming a particular expletive, which he’d previously not uttered in our presence. Then, I vaguely remember flying upstairs without touching the ground and lifting my son’s door off the hinges with superhuman strength.

Cooling off in our garage, I felt an immediate sense of regret. The boy IS seventeen – he probably sees that watch as a shackle, keeping him under our control. I need to let him make his own choice.

I walked into the house, just as my son was coming out to find me. Our eyes met, communicating our mutual regret without words.

“Where’d that watch go, Mom? I’ll give it a try.”

“I’ll help you find it, Honey, and I was thinking, maybe you could just carry it in your pocket if you don’t want to wear it around your wrist.”

Just as we found the watch in the corner, my husband arrived home, refreshed from a nice afternoon walk, and asked, “So . . . what’s for dinner?”

 

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