Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Savoring the Days

I sense that I’m losing control. Okay, maybe I never had control in the first place, but I sure thought I had it. Now I feel like a passenger in a car being driven much too fast over those hills that make your stomach do that droppy thing.

I no longer have any say in what my teenagers wear, eat, or choose to do with their time. My opinion is not one they welcome and only on a good day even tolerate. Luckily, there is still one child left here with me on the island, but even he is inching across the sand, searching the horizon and forgetting to put on his life vest despite the fact that I have a stack of them right here beside me.

I knew this was coming. We all do, right? We joke about when our kids will be teenagers, right up until the point where they are teenagers and we stumble through our days of empty cupboards, stinky laundry, unset alarm clocks, music we don’t understand, and the daily reminder that we know NOTHING and all we can think is – how did this happen?

Regret accompanies me most days as I clean up after they leave the house (all three in the same car without me at the wheel!). The kitchen looks like a war zone, papers, dishes, wrappers, jackets, and books everywhere I look. Jelly dripping down the side of the jar and over the edge of the counter. Peanut butter knife stuck to the newspaper left open to the comics. As I head upstairs I retrieve socks left in a bread-crumb like pattern leading to the laundry room and stumble over the shoes still lying in the spot where they were removed yesterday afternoon. The light is on in the bathroom and a radio blasts from a back bedroom. I can’t lay a finger on the point at which they stopped doing all the things I worked so very hard to teach them like turning off their lights, placing cast-off clothing in hampers, and HANGING UP THEIR BLESSED WET TOWELS!

When did they decide that hanging up that wet towel is no longer necessary and thing – Maybe it’s dry here where I left it in a ball in my bedroom, either that or the maid will pick it up. When did they stop smiling when the dog and I open their door to wake them in the morning and instead start screaming, “I KNOW!” in a voice that suggests that if they just had a knife handy they’d make mincemeat out of me (But not the dog, no the dog can sit in the center of the floor and scratch incessantly causing her collar tags to jingle much louder than my sweet voice saying, “Honey, it’s time to get up.”) And what happened to the earnest child who wanted to save the earth and ran through the house turning off lights? I know I raised nicer, more considerate kids than this.

Okay, God’s honest truth, they’ve never been so great at utilizing the hampers, preferring to leave piles of clothing on the floor until I threaten never to do their laundry again or they suddenly realize they need that uniform piece or favorite shirt.

They’ve long ago given up helping out in the kitchen, but I can still picture my smiling three year old darling carrying his dishes to the sink. When was the moment he decided, “Nah, I don’t need to clean up this plate I just finished using to eat the food you just spent two hours cooking for me. I’ll leave it for the hired help.”

I went apple picking with a borrowed three-year-old recently. I forgot about the fun of wielding a plastic sword in a field full of trees dripping with apples. As I stirred the homemade applesauce, I told my own kids about my day’s outing. They smiled kindly without even turning down their music as if I was some sad, desperate street person asking for a hand out.

I miss my kids – you know the ones that thought I was cool and would play Go Fish for hours. I miss the kids who would sing the Wheels on the Bus and make up silly new verses. I even miss the kids who had tantrums in the grocery store. (Well, maybe not those kids.)
Now I have to beg them to write their college essays, stay at the dinner table longer than two minutes, or go apple picking with me. I’m grasping at these last moments hoping for a whiff of the kids that used to love my company.

I worry that I didn’t teach them all the things I wanted to and now it’s too late. Now they can’t hear me. I wish they ate kale. I wish I’d cooked more stir-fries when they were little and ate what was put on their plate without question. I wish they turned their clothing right-side out before they put it in the hamper. I wish they were better at calling their grandparents, writing thank you notes, and opening the doors for others. I wish they truly knew the value of the dollar. I wish I could make them feed the animals, help in the garden or stack wood without threatening and over-paying their minimal labor.

I was going to make all those things happen. It was in my grand plan as a mom. Somehow, the time ran out with no warning. I have to hope I’ve taught them enough. I hope they’re still saying please and thank you when they’re guests in someone else’s house. I hope they are respectful to their teachers and kind to strangers. I hope they are making good choices about who they trust with their friendship and most especially, their love. I hope, beyond hope, that they like who they have become and are confident in their own abilities, intelligence, and future.

It always felt like I had plenty of time to teach them all the things I wanted them to know and do, but the finish line snuck up on me. Or maybe I thought it was still a few years off. Either way, it’s apparent on a daily basis that my control over them, if I ever had any, is tenuous at best.

There are still days when we connect. Days when we appreciate each other and even days when they seek my guidance. I appreciate those moments so much now and regret that I didn’t appreciate the thousands of moments that passed by unnoticed in the last 17 years.
Many older parents tried to warn me that it goes by too fast. I would nod and agree, but I didn’t get it. I truly didn’t. It does go by fast and it’s over before you know it. I can say that until I’m blue in the face, even write an essay about it, but I am certain that no one who is in the throes of potty training or homework slips will believe me.


I round up all the shoes and return them to their cubbies. I wipe down the counter and the jelly off the floor. I load the dishwasher and listen to its faithful hum. I restore the kitchen to order in preparation for their return, promising myself that when they do, I will stay still a little longer and watch them a little closer, savoring these days.

Monday, September 29, 2014

How a Pepperoni Pizza Cake and an Annoying Little Dog Have Joined Forces to Keep Me From Fame and Fortune

It’s very easy to squander a morning wandering around on Twitter and Facebook. I clicked over there on the directive of the latest article I’d read on getting published. Since my lovely agent is busy pushing my latest manuscript on unsuspecting publishers, I thought I should help her out by following up on the advice that publishers want to see you’re active on these sites (at the very least these two, but they’d also love it if you were active on Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram, and several other social media sites I hadn’t heard of.). And here’s where the trouble begins - staying active on these sites is nearly a full-time job for those of us who are easily distracted.


All I was planning to do was tweet a clever, profound comment and get back to work, but before I could do that, I was distracted by a picture of a pepperoni pizza cake – cake! – and I had to investigate that. This proved so distracting (Admit it, that picture is WAY distracting) that I couldn't remember the clever thought I’d come up with while running this morning, so I began reading everyone else’s clever thoughts which seemed to revolve around food.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Life on a Stage

I am not my daughter. I know this logically, but it doesn’t stop me from assuming that she feels the same things I felt when I was her age or reacts to situations the way I did when I was a teen. I lay my own fears and insecurities on her, empathizing perhaps too much. She is much braver than I was or am.

I worry for her unnecessarily and don’t understand her annoyance when I try to share my sympathy or support. I spend endless hours sorting through my memories, reliving particularly painful events and imagining her experiencing a similar awkwardness. But times have changed and that old saying that nothing ever changes could not be farther from the truth. Our kids are growing up in a very different time.

We had the buffer of space and time that they don’t have in this age of instant feedback and constant images. You can’t close your door. The TV doesn’t turn all fuzzy at midnight and the phone is never busy. There is constant scrutiny 24/7. There is always someone available to chat or skype or text. It is never quiet.

Every move that is made is noted on twitter or Facebook or Tumblr or some other social network I’m too old and out of it to know about. You can’t untag some images and the lenses are everywhere recording your every move whether you want it or not.

It is nearly impossible to be a private person. People, voices, messages, images, and news bear down on you every waking moment. It makes it hard to sleep or think. All three of my teens spend almost every waking hour wearing earbuds which pound out a personal soundtrack for their lives. I wave my hands at them to get their attention in much the same way I call our deaf dog. They yank the ear buds out, annoyed before I’ve said my first word.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Trading Up for Success

We gave our 11-year-old son an iPod Touch for Christmas. It was a cop-out gift. We couldn’t think of anything “big” and his siblings were getting big presents. All he’d mentioned he wanted were nerf guns and ridiculously-expensive Lego sets. My problem with those choices is that Lego land mines carpet the floor of his room and every time I vacuum any room in our house I am forced to stop multiple times to pick up nerf bullets of every shape and size. (I would suck them right up which would be satisfying but ultimately mean more work for me since they clog up the vacuum.).

In an act of desperation, and with complete lack of forethought, we purchased an I-touch.

Here’s another little piece of background knowledge you should have – this child is my most screen-addicted off spring. He’s a sweet, obedient child but screens bring out a desperate, lying side we rarely see. Until he discovered the joys of YouTube and Minecraft we rarely fought. Now it is a scab we pick at daily.

So why, pray tell, would we buy him his own personal screen? Good question.

A few years ago, I spent a year breaking a particularly difficult horse. What made him difficult wasn’t his attitude, but his curiosity and his smarts. He taught me time and again that if I wanted him to make the right choice, I needed to make the right choice easy. Putting a screen under my child’s nose is not making the right choice easy.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Boys and Baseball

What is it about boys and baseball? I’m not talking about the kids running the bases. I’m talking about the big boys doing the coaching. There’s something about this sport that brings out previously undisplayed passions. Watching these men coach and listening to them give rousing Go-get-‘em speeches in the dugout almost always shines a light on a side of these men I never imagined. These are guys who are quietly friendly and politically polite whenever I encounter them in the hallways on Back to School Night. Even at parties, these same men happily guzzle beer, but rarely raise their voices. We make conversation about the weather, township politics, even gardening, but their eyes do not light up like they do when a ten-year-old catches a pop fly or steals second.

Every fall the e-mails begin making the rounds begging for a soccer coach. Considering the
fact that soccer is the suburban sport of choice, you’d expect to find plenty of willing coaches. Not so. My poor hubby gets guilted in to coaching almost every year even though he didn’t play soccer (he’s a lacrosse man) and travels so much he misses at least a third of the season. But when baseball season rolls around, everyone wants to coach. There are hitting coaches and pitching coaches and catching coaches galore. And these guys are experts at least in their confidence if not their ability.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a complaint or lament as much as it is a simple observation. Men love baseball. In fact, they love it so much it can reduce them to children. They argue and complain and bitch about league leadership, opposing coaches, subpar umpires, and occasionally overly enthusiastic mothers. The theatrics and drama on occasion leave me speechless while I silently think, “They’re acting like a bunch of women!” They quit the league and start their own as often as Southern Baptists in Georgia. The sport transforms them from mild mannered model citizens to zealots in search of their field of dreams. Bottomline is that it can make them nuts. Which makes the ten-year-olds running the bases sometimes look like the adults out there.

But as I said, I’m not complaining. I appreciate passion and commitment. And these men have those two things in disproportionately huge numbers. I love to see a person who believes in what they’re doing. It’s inspiring. Especially when what they’re doing is for the kids. I’m offering the benefit of the doubt on this one because most times I don’t understand the issues at stake or the level of disagreement or pettiness that can overflow like the Susquehanna.

I don’t know how much of the craziness the kids pick up on. For the most part, they simply want to play ball. I know my kid loves the game and grins ear to ear when he comes across the plate. He can deconstruct each play in which he touched the ball, explaining it to me like a patient preschool teacher. When I watch him in the outfield I’m amazed that he knows exactly where to move depending on factors like which bases hold runners, what kind of batter is at the plate, and where the ball goes when it’s hit. It’s certainly more detail than I could juggle. I keep track of the balls and strikes, outs and runs on an app on my phone. Without it I’d be lost, yet these men that crowd the dugout can replay every pitch. It’s a wonder.

One of my favorite aspects of baseball is the necessity of “backing up” the other players. The right fielder backs up the first baseman. The second baseman backs up the pitcher. The pitcher backs up the catcher. The left-fielder backs up the third baseman. I’m enamored with the concept that backing up someone is not your job because that person is bad at his job or weak with his skills. It’s simply because none of us are perfect. Sometimes the ball gets through, and sometimes you can’t hold on to a hard hit. What a beautiful life lesson. We need to back each other up. And we need to be backed up. Not only does the concept of backing up each other cement a team, many times it is the difference between winning and losing.

Another valuable lesson that baseball teaches is that if you don’t swing, you can’t get a hit. If you strike out swinging, at least you tried. No one gets a hit every time, and the boys who get the big hits strike out plenty. To strike out swinging is nothing to be ashamed about. Life is all about taking a swing. If you sit on the bench or stand still at the plate, you won’t get anywhere in baseball or life. It’s quite the metaphor.


I hope that when my son graduates from Little League, he takes with him many of the lessons he’s learned there. I hope he always has the courage to take a swing and I hope he always has the strength to back up the people around him. And I truly hope there will always be someone out there to back him up.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

My Elementary Days Are Over (Almost)

I’m almost finished my last year as a parent of an elementary school student. There was a time when I thought it would never end – back when I was knee deep in book reports and dioramas. My days of remembering to sign the planner, pack the lunch, or locate the library book are nearly over. Sigh.

I’ve longed for this day, but now that it is upon me, I am misty. Somehow the six years of elementary school crawl by, but the six years of middle and high school are gone in a flash. I’m not sure what the science is that makes time work this way, but I’ve heard it from other parents so I know it is real.

I don’t have much say anymore in what they wear or what they eat or even what they do. Mostly my job is to drive them where they want to go. My words of encouragement or reminders are met with eye rolls and groans. I’ve learned that these actions are rote responses and don’t carry the meaning I supposed upon them initially when the teen years began. Now I know they simply mean, “Got it, Mom.” I don’t take offense at their insensitivity. Much.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Difference Between Plum Trees and Children

The keys to pruning are patience and timing. Good pruning can be the difference between a healthy, happy tree that produces abundant fruit and a tree that struggles to survive. I’ve read lots of articles and books on the subject in an effort to coax fruit from our little orchard of 13 trees. Alas, because I am more of a lackadaisical orchardist, than a rule-following orchardist, we have yet to have any significant yield from our little grove. Each year, about this time, I prune all of our now-not-so-little-anymore trees with the greatest of hopes. It takes me longer every year. I’m not sure if it’s because the trees have grown so much, or because I debate longer with myself about each cut.

This past Sunday as I tromped through the snow to take care of the annual pruning, I once again resolved to be better at caring for these trees. That pretty much involves fertilizing them and nagging my husband to spray them. And pruning them well.

I set to work pruning the dead and unnecessary branches. It’s not always easy to tell which ones should go. You want to train your trees to grow in a way that they can optimize the sunlight. So you remove branches that crowd or cover others. When a branch begins to grow upward instead of outward, you study the branch and seek out a “notch” (where a new branch will most likely grow) that is headed in the direction you would like to see the tree grow. You cut the branch just above the notch so that the tree will send the branch out in the right direction. Then you clear out all the “suckers” which are branches that grow strait up the center of the tree. They are useless freeloaders that only sap the trees resources. It can take hours to make so many important decisions. Some years I’m cautious and others I think just cut where it feels right and hope for the best.

As I worked, I began to think about how parenting is very much like pruning. When the trees are little you have to work hard to start them out right so that they will grow straight and strong. Sunlight, water, and fertilizer are a much bigger deal than pruning, but the little pruning you do is critical.