Talk Amongst Yourselves

Who would win? A ninja or Darth Maul? Discuss amongst yourselves.

Who would win? A ninja or Darth Maul? Discuss.

As we were driving home yesterday, we were discussing our upcoming weekend plans. Through the discussion, Luke realized that he was going to be missing out on one thing he wanted to participate in because he’d already committed to another get together. He was pretty bummed out about it.

“I wish I could be in two places at one time,” he lamented.

“You’re certainly not the first person to have that thought, Luke. I know I’ve wished for the same thing before.”

“You don’t need to be in two places at one time,” Joe retorted. “You just need a teleporter so you can go back and forth between the things you want to be doing. If you had a teleporter, you could be at Justin’s birthday party and then pop over to the hay ride for a bit too. You could go back and forth.”

“There ya go, Luke. Another solution to your problem,” I said.

It always cracks me up when my boys get into deep discussions about things that either will never happen or are situated precariously on the edge of unlikely to happen. Kids are great that way. Sure. Sometimes it drives me crazy when they get into a shouting match in the car about which superhero is better, Iron Man or Captain America, especially because I think someone should be weighing in for Thor in the discussion. Still…I love that they’re capable of sharing their thoughts and opinions and debating their points of view. It means they’re thinking beings, and that’s encouraging because sometimes I think the videos playing non-stop videos on their iPads may be sucking their intelligence dry.

“Nah. I think it would be better to be in both places. Then I wouldn’t miss anything at all.”

“You wouldn’t have the memories from one of the things, though, so it wouldn’t work,” Joe replied.

“Yes. I would. The memories would be shared,” Luke countered. Luke is great about imagining best-case scenarios. And, why not? If you’re going to be arguing about the impossible (or highly unlikely), you might as well get creative.

“Clones are bad, Luke,” Joe reasoned. “Do you really want two of you walking around? What if one of you commits a crime and the other one gets thrown in jail for it? I think the teleporter would be better.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because then you could spend your day on a beach in Hawaii and your night in Iceland checking out the Northern Lights,” Joe said.

“Oooooh! I like that idea,” I told him. “I could totally get behind that. But if you teleport from one thing to another can you really be tuned into where you are or aren’t you always thinking about where you need to be next. It seems like with Luke’s idea you get to live in the present a bit more. You get to live in two presents. On the other hand, though, I think you’re right about the cloning thing, Joe. Not sure there should ever be two of me walking around. I get into enough trouble with just one of me.”

We talked like this for about five minutes on the way home, arguing possibilities and loopholes and scenarios. It was fun. Some of the best time I spend with my sons is in the car when they are my captive audience. Once I drove three hours with Joe and Luke with no electronics of any kind, not even the car radio. We talked non-stop and when we got to our destination the boys actually remarked that it was fun and that we should try it again on the way home.

It seems that I rarely have fun, energetic, and unrealistic conversations with my friends. We talk, but it’s nearly always centered around reality…how the kids are doing, how the remodel is going, what we’re doing for the holidays, how midlife is a nasty beast. Yawn. It’s all so adult and boring. When was the last time you asked your buddy to name songs that would play on a soundtrack for his life or to defend his favorite superhero or to debate the merits of time travel or to share his bucket list with you? While it’s good for adults to discuss reality and engage in conversations about politics and religion and current events, I think we’re getting out of balance in life if we don’t also confer about the random and the whimsical. I’ve decided that every Friday I am going to ask someone a question that has nothing to do with anything important, just for fun. We’re all getting older, but we can choose to think young.

Sherlock, The Princess Bride, and the Flushed Frosting

Who puts frosting in the toilet? Satan!

Who puts frosting in the toilet? Satan!

Some curious things happen in our house. Random things. Bizarre things. Things I never would have imagined would occur in the world I occupied before giving birth. These things are enough to give a mother pause. Tonight I walked into our downstairs bathroom and found cupcake frosting stuck to the side of the toilet bowl. Yes. Frosting. That sweet, creamy, confection of the gods. The horror! Frosting is the best part of a cupcake and should never be jettisoned for any reason on any occasion. Ever. And, discovering frosting in the toilet is not simply peculiar. It’s borderline sacrilegious. If one were to dispose of extraneous frosting (and I doubt such a thing exists), a logical resting place for it (aside from my belly) is a kitchen waste receptacle. Questions raced through my mind. How could this happen? Why would anyone get rid of frosting? Why would they throw it in the toilet instead of a trash can? Which of my traitorous compadres would perpetrate such a heinous act? And who the heck said anyone could have a cupcake 30 minutes before dinner? Maybe I’ve watched too many episodes of Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch is boss), but the game was afoot. I had a mystery to solve.

After taking a few photos to document the crime scene, I began examining the evidence. The frosting was no doubt from the Halloween-themed cupcakes my dad and his wife brought over yesterday. Each small cake was decked with orange, purple, and black frosting, which was topped off with a plastic ring in the shape of a mummy, a green monster of Frankenstein, a jack-o-lantern, or a friendly ghost. I dug through the wastebasket and uncovered the cupcake wrapper. A ghost ring rested next to it, its circular boo-mouth expressed shock but, since dead men tell no tales, remained silent. The cupcake had been yellow cake. I made a mental note. It took no time to ascertain that the frosting had been eliminated due to its tell-tale, raven-black color. As we had discovered on Sunday when we were all suddenly sporting black, sugary mustaches, that ebony frosting can be a bugger to get off your skin, teeth, and tongue. The culprit, sneaking a snack before dinner, would be wise to avoid a bakery-begot beard. Sidestepping it was a sneaky stroke of genius. Obviously, this was the work of a seasoned cupcake crook. I determined that the cupcake wrapper was slightly stiff. The crime had been committed more than 20 minutes ago. I flashed back to my whereabouts during that time frame. I’d been upstairs purchasing Halloween costumes online. I’d given the guilty party an open window with no supervision. I noted that next to the wrapper sat a discarded Stonyfield yogurt tube. Very interesting. I left the bathroom and went in search of suspects to question.

Steve had been out photographing autumn during the cupcake-ingestion time frame, but I approached him with the evidence to see if he would give something away. He, of course, denied culpability, and I was inclined to believe him because he was the only one who avoided the sweet treats the day before. He couldn’t get past the black frosting. It freaked him out. I made him stick out his tongue anyway so I could check for frosting residue. That test came back negative.

I next approached Joe because he was the one who originally had asked me for a cupcake after returning home from school and, well, with his ADHD he’s got some pretty steep impulse-control issues. Joe is also a notoriously incompetent liar (his nickname from me is Saran Wrap because he’s just that transparent). If he’d done it, I’d know immediately and could move on to more important work, like starting dinner. He told me it hadn’t been him. I made him stick out his tongue as physical evidence just in case. No dye. I was inclined to buy his innocence story anyway because he is a chocolate cake guy. He only digs into the yellow cake once the chocolate is gone, and there were chocolate cupcakes on the counter to be had.

I walked downstairs to corner Luke. To be honest, I really suspected it was Luke anyway. I began my interrogation.

“Hey Luke…did you have a cupcake today? I found black frosting in the toilet downstairs,” I said, stating the facts right up front.

“No,” he replied, looking a bit concerned.

“If you did, you’d best come clean. I’m looking for the truth here and, if I find out later that you did it and you’ve lied to me, you will lose your iPad privileges.” I was speaking as gently as possible, but giving him that don’t-mess-with-momma look that usually instills fear.

“I didn’t do it.” he insisted with a slight growl. The suspect was becoming rather agitated. “Why does everyone think I did it?”

“Let me tell you why I think it was you,” I grilled on. “1) It was a yellow cupcake and you’re the only other person in this house who eats yellow cupcakes beside me, and I know I didn’t eat it. 2) I saw you go into that bathroom this afternoon after school. 3) There was a yogurt wrapper in the trash along with the cupcake wrapper, and you’re the only one who eats that yogurt. Are you positive you don’t want to be honest with me right now and save yourself?”

“I didn’t do it!” he barked, now with a definite, defensive posture and willful stubbornness.

“Well…for someone who didn’t commit the crime, you sure are reacting violently to the accusation, sweetie.”

“ARGH!!!!” he yelled out in frustration and ran up the stairs and away from me, indignant and annoyed. I guess I had twisted the knife a bit too far.

I returned to the bathroom, wiped the frosting (which was leaching dark-blue dye into the toilet water) from the bowl, washed my hands, and vowed to put the mystery behind me.

When we sat down to eat dinner twenty minutes later, though, I couldn’t help myself. I brought it up again. I prodded, shared my knowledge of the crime scene, and asked for a confession. I guaranteed freedom from impunity. I just wanted to know who tried to flush the stupid frosting and why they decided to flush it rather than leaving it in a trash can. It was driving me nuts. I always catch the criminal. Despite my perfect record for ferreting out the miscreant in our home-based mysteries, no one caved. There was no teary-eyed confession to be had. My perfect record was dashed. Dammit. I began wondering if they had made a blood-brother pact to carry the secret to their graves simply to best me, to pull one over on their crazy mother. Well, they’re about to learn that I refuse to give up. I am smarter than they are. They’re no match for my brains. They’ve fallen victim to one of the classic blunders. The first, of course, is never get involved in a land war in Asia. But only slightly less well-known is never go in against your mother when frosting has been wasted.

They may think I’ve given up. They may think this is behind us. But someday I will get the truth, probably on my death bed…and then I will most likely laugh out loud hysterically and keel over just like Vizzini.

I’ll Share My Life But Not My Toothbrush

Toothbrushes in the trash. Try not to judge me by the Red Vine box and the gummy bear bag in there as well.

Toothbrushes in the trash…where my potty mouth belongs.

So this past weekend we headed out for a few days in the mountains. As we were packing up, I noticed Steve hadn’t yet packed his toothbrush. Wishing to avoid a weekend with him without proper oral hygiene, I reminded him to grab it. He went into the bathroom to get it.

“It’s not here,” he said, referencing the toothbrush holder on our bathroom counter.

“Yes it is. I left a couple of toothbrushes in the holder when I grabbed mine,” I answered.

There were two toothbrushes in the holder that I hadn’t been using, so I knew he had forgotten his.

“Look. I already packed mine,” I told him. I showed him the toothbrush in my bag.

“That’s my toothbrush,” he replied.

“No. It’s mine. It’s the one I’ve been using.”

“Then you’ve been using my toothbrush.”

“Really?” I balked. “Are you sure? I’m pretty sure this one is mine. I used it this morning.”

“Yes,” he said, inspecting it more closely. “That’s mine. You’ve been using my toothbrush.”

“How do you know? They all look alike.”

We buy our toothbrushes in bulk from Costco. The Oral B package of soft-bristle brushes contains eight, spanking-new brushes in four, color combinations. We’re both fairly consistent about changing our brushes out every couple of months because, well, we buy them in bulk at Costco so why not? Because of the multiple color combinations, though, it can be easy to forget which toothbrush is your current one. I mean, by the time you’ve gotten used to your brush and have memorized which one it is, you’ve chosen a new one and have to remember it. We’re getting old. It’s hard to keep track of things, you know?

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I was sure that one was mine. It’s not a big deal, though. Here you go.”

I handed him the toothbrush so he could pack it. I turned around and went into the bedroom to pack some other things. When I walked back into the bathroom, I noticed the toothbrush in question was now in the trashcan along with the other two toothbrushes that had been in the holder.

“You threw them all out?” I asked incredulously. “Really?”

“Since we don’t know whose is whose, we’ll just start over. I’ll buy a new one when we get there,” he replied, as if this were the most logical solution.

What the heck? Suddenly I was feeling downright dirty. I began wondering if the Board of Health might need to shut me down as a contamination risk.

“Am I diseased or something? Is that why you can’t keep any toothbrush that might have been in my mouth?”

“It’s just gross,” he said. “I’m pretty sure other people would agree with me.”

“The toothbrush was in my mouth…the same mouth you kiss. You know that, right? We share food off the same fork sometimes. How is this any different?”

“It just is.”

“Apparently my foul mouth really does bother you,” I retorted before heading back to my packing chore.

I’m not going to lie. I was disappointed and shocked that my own husband had such virulent concerns about my hygiene. Don’t get me wrong. I understand where he’s coming from. It’s not very sanitary to share a toothbrush. That’s a fact. And I wouldn’t normally want his mouth on my toothbrush either, but I wouldn’t freak out about it if tables were turned. As a rule, I don’t like to share, especially when it comes to germs. It was just the immediate and swift manner with which he dispensed with all the compromised toothbrushes that irked me, as if he were taking no chances. Was he concerned I could have Ebola? Honestly, I wouldn’t have been thrilled to discover Steve had been using my toothbrush, but I wouldn’t have thrown it out. I would have shrugged my shoulders, given him a hard time about it (probably forever), and then eventually switched it out for a new one when I had destroyed all the bristles on it by brushing too hard. (Yes. I know this is not a good practice for my teeth and gums. I’m working on myself one flaw at a time, and this particular flaw is reasonably far down on my list of concerns.) Whatever germs don’t kill you make you stronger. At least that has always been my theory and, forty-six years into this theory, I’m still here so it appears to be working.

The man's personal toothbrush kingdom.

The man’s personal toothbrush kingdom.

Let it not be said, however, that I am insensitive to my husband’s needs. After twenty years, I may not have understood his relative level of paranoid germaphobia until now, but I do know how to solve a marital problem. You find the issue that’s been rubbing you the wrong way and you find a way around it. It doesn’t even really require compromise. You simply apply a bit of creative thinking and find the win-win. So, today I dug into my resourceful brain and found a solution to our dilemma. I bought him a special treat…his own toothbrush holder to keep on his side of the double vanity. Henceforth, his toothbrush has its own kingdom and it need never be near mine. Ever again. Problem solved. Now he just has to hope I don’t hold this germaphobe thing against him. It could be a long next twenty years for him if I’m stubbornly refusing to put my mouth anywhere near him because of this slight. Not that I hold a grudge or anything. Well, if you’ll excuse me…there is a piece of cake in the fridge I’ve been saving for later. I need to go lick it to guarantee it’s mine. ;)

The Puppy and The Bone I Threw Him

Our real puppy

Not the puppy in question

I recently wrote about how excited I was that my son found and began reading my blog posts. At the time, I felt like Queen of the World because this demonstrated to me, in some small way, that my son was interested in what I do and recognized that I am a person outside of simply being his mother. The other day, though, I discovered the rub with this new situation. My son reads my blog. This means that all the anecdotes I tell about him, ones I think are super cute and fun, are now open to his scrutiny. He could read what I write and feel embarrassed or, worse, feel I am making fun of him. It puts my responsibility to him as his mother above my responsibility to myself as writer. Dammit. To make matters worse, this discovery was precipitated by something cute I wanted to share about him that he was none too happy to have me share. It went something like this:

“So…I was thinking about writing about you and the whole puppy thing.”

“No,” he responded emphatically.

“But it’s so cute,” I countered with the growing realization that this might be an uphill battle.

“It’s embarrassing,” he replied. “What if someone I know reads it?”

“No one you know is going to read this,” I replied. “No one reads my blog.”

“Over a thousand people do,” he responded naively.

“I guarantee you that a thousand people are not reading my blog.”

“Doesn’t matter, Mom. Nothing dies on the Internet. If they don’t find it now, they will find it later. Stuff on the Internet never really goes away.”

This is true. We’ve discussed the benefits and pitfalls of the Internet ad nauseam. He knows that the Internet is not some ethereal netherworld. Things you put out there now could be there forever. To wit, here’s a link to a website I created in 1997 as a graduate student at Illinois State. Giggle heartily at my use of animated gifs, please. Just remember that it was 1997, I was using Adobe PageMaker software, and this dancing hamster was cutting edge. Also, it took five minutes to download a single photo and America Online was an actual thing. Did I mention it was 1997? Don’t judge.

For the past few days, I have been trying to wear my son down, still wanting to write about the puppy thing and hoping he would at last give me his blessing. I know this isn’t phenomenal-parent behavior on my part. I should respect my son’s wishes and just move on. But I really felt strongly about this puppy story, so I kept pursuing it. Yesterday, I finally got him to admit that perhaps something bigger than fear of embarrassment was troubling him. He acknowledged that since the puppy story involves another person perhaps that person might not appreciate it. I told him I would talk to that person personally at back-to-school night before writing anything. He looked at me with horror. Sensing that he was not going to win this battle and knowing I have the tenacity of a pit bull when so inclined to lock my jaws on something, he acquiesced…under one condition. I had to allow him to shoot me with his brother’s Nerf disc gun. It seemed like a small but fair price to pay for the rights to his puppy story. So, I stood still and let him assail me with several rounds of Nerf discs. You gotta be willing to sacrifice for your art.

Tonight, with bona fide permission to write the puppy blog I have been pestering him about for a week, I sat down with my MacBook Pro to fulfill my destiny. I got about this far and started to question whether I was making the right choice. I adore my son, and I would never want to do something in the short-term that would undermine our relationship for the long haul. I thought it only fair to give him one last chance to rescind his permission. He did. So, the story I’ve been working on all week will not come to fruition. I’m okay with it, even though it was a really cute story. Someday, when he is older and more comfortable in his own skin, he will roll over and let me tell his puppy story. In the meantime, I’ll just throw him this little bone.

Protest is Patriotic and Patriotism is Messy

ScanJoe4th2005

Our son with his flag.

We live in Jefferson County, Colorado. You might have heard about us in the news lately.

Recently, one of our newly elected school board members, Julie Williams, initiated a call for a review of the Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH) curriculum, with which she takes issue because she feels “it has an emphasis on race, gender, class, ethnicity, grievance and American-bashing.” I am not a history teacher and have no experience writing college-level curriculum so I can’t imagine championing a revision of a course created by college professors and AP teachers. Ms. Williams, however, whose extensive knowledge of U.S. history must come from her previous position in the health industry running an orthodontic office, feels qualified to suggest such a revision. And in making this suggestion, she inadvertently sparked an uprising.

In a press release distributed last week to defend her position, she seemed shocked that anyone would be upset, noting that rewriting the curriculum is not unprecedented because “the Texas State Board of Education has voted to set aside the new AP U.S. History Framework in favor of its own state-mandated U.S. history curriculum.” What she failed to mention about Texas in her press release is that a sample revision to the history books in that state includes the mention of Moses. Yes. THE Moses. Now, I’ve got nothing against Moses, but I’m fairly sure that he had nothing to do with the founding of this nation, given that he had been dead for thousands of years before colonists settled these shores. I’m not sure what happened to the notion of separation of Church and State, but the idea that a textbook in a public school could contain the names of persons mentioned in the Bible seems to play against it. It was around this point in her argument that I determined that there might be a political motive at work in her rewriting the history curriculum. Turns out that Williams and her fellow, conservative cohorts on the board would like to see history courses promote “citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, and respect for authority.” While there is nothing wrong with those topics in and of themselves, if we include them while eliminating discussions about race, gender, ethnicity, and grievances against government, we’re creating a very one-sided discussion. That doesn’t seem accidental to me, and it doesn’t make me comfortable. We’re not the Land of the Free or the Home of the Brave. We’re both.

Recently, students at local high schools have made national news by walking off campus to stage demonstrations against Williams’ suggestion that the APUSH curriculum is not appropriate and should be replaced by curriculum that reduces discussion around grievance and civil disobedience. By doing so, the students have shown exactly why our country is great. We are free to express grievance and perform acts of peaceful, civil disobedience. Students at several area high schools left class last week by the thousands and, with their parents’ permission, stood along busy intersections to voice their dissent about the proposed review, which they feel will limit their education. (It is possible, perhaps, that some of them were simply excited to ditch class. But I like to think that somewhere along the line even those kids gained some insight into the importance of citizens’ rights, free speech, and freedom of assembly.) In any case, I’m sure these protests were the very thing Julie Williams was hoping to quell by changing the curriculum. So much for not raising little rebels. Lesson learned.

My husband and I have been talking a lot over the past year or two about how we can broaden our sons’ experiences to prepare them for the world they will enter as adults. We inhabit a complex, continually changing planet, and we believe our sons need to be ready to accept that nothing is forever and that there are lessons to be learned everywhere, from all people, on all continents. There is no one “right” way of doing things but, instead, a myriad of options for every situation. We want for our sons a truly liberal education in the sense that they should become well-rounded citizens of Earth, open-minded, deeply thoughtful, generous of spirit, and globally aware. We would like them to know that there are good people in every nation and that a few mean-spirited, misguided bullies (hello, ISIS) do not represent the whole of the world’s people. We want for them hope for their future, knowledge that we are united in our common humanity, and the belief that together we can change the fate of this planet. Cue “It’s a Small World After All” and you will get the gist of our dream. None of this means that we do not love our country or are not patriotic. We are. We just don’t happen to believe that the “American Exceptionalism” Julie Williams would push necessarily equals patriotism. Our sons don’t need didactic, closed-minded, pro-America speeches to turn them into patriots. They need exposure to the world at large so they can value and appreciate what we have here.

I don’t love the idea of teaching our children to respect authority without acknowledging that sometimes authority is messed up (ala Hitler). I hope my children learn to question things, to dig deeper, to bravely consider all viewpoints. Call me crazy, but I honestly believe that is what our forefathers imagined when they dreamed about this great nation they were creating…a place where people could think, share their opinions, and compromise successfully when necessary for the betterment of all. I think our nation is facing a political crisis now due to a lack of critical thought and the non-stop, mindless repetition of talking points and sound bytes. We aren’t doing our due diligence as citizens to understand what is going on or what is at stake. We’re watching our 10-minute blurbs of cable news and allowing them to be our Truth. It’s the type of information cleansing that Ms. Williams is espousing that leads nations to ill-guided notions of supremacy. Taking the ugly out of American history is a mistake. It’s only when we are willing to bear witness to the ugly, the confusing, and the difficult that we learn and grow.

 

Stop It

Non-sequitur cute photo of our puppy dog, Ruby.

Non-sequitur cute photo of our puppy dog, Ruby. STOP IT!

A couple of days ago, my insightful, life-coach friend Heather (shameless plug for her here) commented on my last blog post about my need to apologize constantly for my choices and the way I live my life, even when I don’t feel sorry about those things. She simply added this comedy sketch by Bob Newhart to my Facebook page and told me I might appreciate it. In the sketch, Newhart plays a psychologist counseling a young woman about her fear of being buried alive in a box. She relays to him that this thought of being buried alive is so terrifying that she can’t go in tunnels or be in elevators. She is desperate to break free of this pattern in her life. He tells her he will give her two words that should help her put this fear behind her. Then, from across the desk he yells at her, “STOP IT!”

Now, I know that it’s not really possible to stop instantly the thought monsters that lurk in our brains and sabotage our attempts to be our best selves, but I can’t help but think how transformative these two words could be in my life. Look in the mirror and feel like an old hag. STOP IT!  Make a mistake and start berating myself. STOP IT! Hear my kids screaming like banshees at each other and feel the urge to intervene. STOP IT! Sit in a quiet PTO meeting and raise my hand to volunteer to take over a committee. STOP IT!  Witness hubby folding the towels the wrong way (yes…there is a wrong way) and open my mouth to comment. STOP IT!  Have a donut and reach for seconds. STOP IT!

I know I have some giganotosaurus-sized monsters in my head that won’t be quieted with a mere STOP IT, but perhaps those two small words could shush them long enough to keep me from threat-level-red insanity. I mean, if I could just keep myself from volunteering for things I don’t want to do, that would be a colossal step forward. I have invited my hubby and sons to tell me to STOP IT if I am going off the deep end, and I would like to invite my friends to do the same. So, if you see me and I seem to be coming unglued, tell me that you spoke with Bob Newhart. That should be the hint I need to get back on track. Either that or it will cause me to have an inexplicable urge to visit a bed and breakfast in Vermont. But, that might help too.

All Apologies

This morning I was going through some of the boys’ school papers. Joe almost never hands his to me because he flat-out forgets. I recover them months later when I notice his backpack has become too heavy to lift. Luke tosses his graded papers onto the counter amidst the usual chaos there where they often rest unnoticed until I finally remember there is an actual countertop under there and determine I should find it. At that point, they usually find their way to the trash because I don’t have the time to look through papers 20 minutes before company is scheduled to arrive. This morning, though, on a counter that was mostly clear because we had company over for dinner on Sunday, I found Luke’s papers and decided to flip through them before depositing them in the trash.

Luke's paper

Try not to notice that my son has me pegged for a Target addiction with his drawing.

 

Most of Luke’s papers were stamped Excellent or had positive comments written on them in Ms. Fitzwater’s bold, Sharpie markers. She had even drawn some pictures on the few of the papers, which I thought was above and beyond the usual teacher commentary. On this one paper, though, I noticed she had written, “Good second try!” Second try?

“Hey, Luke….”

“Yeah, Mom?”

I showed him the paper.

“Second try? Did you have to do this paper again?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

“What happened to the first try?”

Luke looked right at me and in his usual unapologetic, straightforward way responded.

“You could say I didn’t find the right words….or use correct spelling…or use any punctuation..or make real sentences the first time.”

Well…there you go. I suppose that would invite a redo.

Luke is a funny kid. He’ll lie to you if he thinks he can get away with it. If you catch him in a lie, he will come clean without apologizing. It used to bother me, the lack of apology. Then I realized that his lack of contrition is the correct response. Why should he apologize for something he meant to get away with?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this lack of apology and how freeing it must be. I grew up apologizing…for everything. As a child, I was continually made aware if I were being too loud, too quiet, too aloof, too inquisitive, too busy, too lazy, or too whatever-adjective-you-want-to-insert. I became constantly fearful that whatever I was doing affected others in a negative way. I learned to apologize for my emotions, my actions, and my choices, as if everything I did was open to comments from the peanut gallery. I went into my adult life with a hesitant, cautious demeanor. It colored everything I did and reduced the number of things I was willing to attempt. It wasn’t until I hit midlife and felt time ticking away on me that I figured it was time to stop being so damned sorry all the time.

Luke was sent to me for a reason. He’s in my life to teach me that it’s okay not to offer unnecessary apologies. Luke is excellent at empathy and generous about owning up when he’s truly at fault or has caused pain. He merely doesn’t look for excuses for contrition. He doesn’t assume they’re necessary. That’s a skill I am working on. Luke lives his life. He is who he is and he knows what he wants. He knows what his strengths are and he knows his weaknesses too, although he’s smart enough not to dwell on them. There isn’t a day that goes by that I am not grateful for what my son has brought to my life. Perhaps if I take some cues from Luke, I will finally grow up and learn to live without being all apologies.

Almost Famous

My thirteen year old reading my blog on his iPad.

Joe reading my blog on his iPad.

The other night, my sister stayed with our sons so hubby and I could attend a theater performance. Now that our boys are older, we get out quite a bit more than we used to. Usually, though, we are gone just for a couple of hours and remain completely accessible by text, phone, or Facetime. Our sons often avoid talking to us when we’re out for short periods of time. They’re too busy enjoying their Xbox or iPads without complaints about too much screen time. When we got to the theater, I turned off my phone, completely comfortable knowing the boys were in my sister’s capable hands, and settled in to enjoy an uninterrupted bit of culture.

After the play was over, I checked my phone just in case. There were four texts and a few notifications on my blog. Two of the texts were from my sister. Apparently Luke’s stomach gave him some trouble so he sacrificed most of his dinner to the toilet. “Too much food” was his excuse. (It’s taken me years, but I’ve gotten my children mostly trained to throw up for other people and not me.) Not surprisingly, the last two texts were from Joe inquiring when we would be home. It takes about three hours’ worth of time before our sons finally notice we’re missing. Once we pass the three-hour mark, Joe begins badgering us relentlessly via any electronic means possible. I expected that on the drive we would receive at least 5 additional text messages (it turned out to be 6) and possibly a request for a Facetime chat. It was nearly 11, and we’d been gone for about 6 hours already. He was tired and stubbornly refusing to fall asleep until we were there. We made a hasty exit and headed home.

I decided to check my blog comments in the car. Turns out one of the comments was on my Contact page. It was from Joe. It simply read, “Hi Mom,” which really cracked me up because this was a new and completely unanticipated way for him to contact me in my absence. My sons have known about my web page for years, but neither of them has ever really shown much of an interest in it. They just know that I write, often about them. I had told them what it was called, and Joe simply looked it up. I was shocked that he’d remembered the title and gotten a wild hair to check on it. This was a first.

When we finally got home, I checked on Luke. He was feeling better and having a snack to make up for his lost dinner. My sister had already crashed out for the night. I found Joe sitting on his bunk bed with his iPad.

“I saw your comment on my blog page,” I said.

“Yeah. I was reading it tonight,” he replied.

“I didn’t know you read my blog.”

“I just started,” he said. “I read the one about Safety Dad when Dad and Mr. Jeff went snowshoeing on Mt. Evans.”

My mind thought back to when I wrote that. It had to have been one of the first entries on this blog. He’d started in the archives. He was working his way through them. My heart was full.

“You’re a good writer, Mom. Some of those are pretty funny.”

I couldn’t decide what to be happier about…the knowledge that my son had actively sought out something I had written or the notion that he had actually appreciated it and me.

This is the most important comment I have ever received.

This is the most important comment I have ever received.

Yesterday I caught him going through my blog again. This time he asked me how he could put a comment on one, so I showed him. I know he’s reading them trying to find posts written about him or his brother. Sooner or later, he’s going to find a couple that I am sure he will protest. He is a teenager and having a mom who is a writer can leave you feeling a bit exposed. When that happens, I’ll show him a couple posts where I embarrassed myself and prove that no one, not even me, escapes the occasional embarrassment. Then I’ll use the opportunity to teach him about poetic license and the First Amendment. In the meantime, I am so honored that he is using his free time to find out more about what I do.

I often say that I write for myself. And this is absolutely true. I use my web page to keep myself accountable. If I know I need to publish something, it diminishes my myriad excuses for not writing. I never started out writing with a plan to build an actual readership. I never truly figured anyone would read it. I simply shared it so I would have the impetus to continue writing. Every single time someone follows my blog, I feel like I’ve won the lottery. I never felt my blog was important until this weekend. With my readership increased by this one special person, I feel almost famous.

 

 

Mid-Century and the Mona Lisa

Forgot to take a photo of the house, so here's a photo of my son holding a light beer instead.

Forgot to take a photo of the house, so here’s a photo of my son holding a light beer instead. That works, right?

My sister and her husband have been house hunting. They sold their house last month and need a new one. In a week. They’ve done a lot of looking, put in some offers that didn’t go through, and they’re about to be homeless. (Not that they’ll be living in a van down by the river or anything. Instead, they’ll be moving back in with parents. I think I’d take the van down by the river.) I’ve gone to look at some houses with them and even proffered my sage wisdom about the homes they are looking at, and they are still undecided. Tonight, my family and I went with them to look at a house I accidentally found for them yesterday while driving to pick up lunch for the boys. It is a small, but beautifully restored mid-century modern home. It’s affordably priced, has a two-car garage, and it is like getting a perfectly wrapped package with your favorite gift ever inside. Not that I have any opinion on mid-century modern homes or whether they should buy this one. (They should.)

My sister was a bit iffy about the whole thing. She’s concerned about the lack of decent storage and not thrilled that it’s only two bedrooms. (She wants a guest room. Seriously, though, everyone in their families lives in the same city. Why do they need a guest room?) I think my brother-in-law, who was not present because he’s a coach and was working a high school track meet, would love it. It might not be their forever home, but I totally think they could make it work for a while. And, it’s a perfect situation because it was a house flip and they seller needs the money and they could move in fairly quickly because no one is living in it.

While my sister was unconvinced, my husband loved it and was trying to figure out if we could push a wall out and put an addition on. He was ready to move in. We’ve been talking for a while about downsizing. We’ve got too much stuff, and our stuff is vexing us. I feel the unused “company” dishes throwing shade at me every time I open the cupboard. We want to lighten our load, save money, and travel a lot more. This house would be too much of a downsize for us. We’d lose 2/3rds of our current space. That would be one heck of a downsize. If we’re going to go that small, we should just sell our house, buy the Airstream he’s already wanted, and travel the country while homeschooling our boys at picnic tables like gypsies.

“I think it’s too small,” I said, trying to reason with him.

“We could make it work. It would be an adjustment.”

“The boys cannot share a room. Sure they’re small and cute now, but they’re on the precipice of becoming real teenagers. They’re not going to fit on that bunk bed forever.”

“That’s why we’d push that wall out and make another bedroom.”

“Steve, we are not getting this house,” I said very slowly and clearly, in case he wasn’t hearing very well.

“Okay,” he replied, sullenly. Then I saw him perk up. He’d had a brilliant idea. “We could build our own mid-century modern house.”

This is the point where I looked at him like he was crazy.

“You can’t build a mid-century modern house now. By definition, that’s impossible. Mid-century moderns were built in the 1950s. That’s what made them mid-century.” You never, ever miss with a writer. Words matter.

“You know what I mean,” he replied. “We could build a house like a mid-century modern.”

This is the point where I looked at him like perhaps he’d gone past crazy and straight over the cuckoo’s nest.

“Dude…that would be like repainting the Mona Lisa. It can’t be done.”

He just looked at me and got in the car. I guess I told him.

This is our marriage in a nutshell…my husband, the eternal optimist, and me, the perpetual pragmatist. Someone’s got to keep him grounded, and someone has to remind me to lighten up and dream a little. Nineteen years and we’re still dancing the same waltz. We are planning to move in the next couple years. We’d like to reduce our carbon footprint and go from living large to living less. It’s time to jettison things, like panini machines that collect dust, and lighten our burdens. I don’t know if we’ll build the straw bale house he’s talked about forever or end up in a classic mid-century modern, but we’ll get it figured out. We’ve made the biggest decisions of our lives in minutes. Just don’t ask us what we want for dinner. That’s when things get really ugly.

 

Snarky Snark

I have the best job ever.

This is my career. How could it be worthless?

Warning: I am about to have a tirade. Today, think of me only as Snarky Snark.

Ever since I made the choice to leave my career and stay home with my sons, I’ve been overwhelmed by my choice. There have been periods of time when I felt like I was nothing more than a butt wiper or a housekeeper or, in darkest times, a slave. Some days it is hard to find the silver lining in my current career. But, no fail, right about the time that I am feeling 100% certain about my decision, some working woman or man asks me what I do. The standard response I get when I tell a career person that I am a stay-at-home mom is a simple, one syllable, “Oh.” Conversation over. Clearly, I have no longer have anything current or intelligent to talk about, and no one wants to hear about kids, so they leave. I am a serial conversation killer. I’m not exactly sure when the decision to expend my energy solely as mother and homemaker vaporized my IQ and decimated my inherent worth as a human being, but it happened. Working people get to ask me ridiculous questions about my personal choice without feeling an iota of impropriety. I wonder how they would feel about it if I questioned the validity of their career choice? Really? You’re a programmer? I’ve heard they’ve taught monkeys to do that.

I was fortunate enough to have a choice to make when I was 32: 1) have a career and no kids, 2) have a career and kids, or 3) have kids and no career. I chose what was behind Door Number Three. When Joe was born, I knew that what I really wanted was as low-stress of a life as I could have. To me, that meant not trying to juggle too many things. Steve worked. We could afford for me not to work. We came to an agreement. He puts money in our bank account. I run the house. We share duties with our sons. Our weekends are free to enjoy because I take care of the busy work during the week. As with any choice, it has both good and bad points. The choice I made means I clean toilets and mop floors like Cinderella because we can’t afford a maid. It also means, however, I can go to yoga during the day when my kids are in school because I am my own boss. Like anyone else’s life, my life is a balancing act to keep things working. But, make no mistake about it, I work. Every day. Seven days a week. I get no paid vacation. No bonuses. No salary. But it’s worth it to me because our four lives are more peaceful because of what I do.

To be fair, I know that the work I do is invisible to those on the outside (unless they catch me at Starbucks having coffee with a friend while they’re on their way to work and then comment about how “nice” it is that I have that kind of free time). And this is why people feel free to interpret something they know nothing about. Still, I get tired of answering condescending questions. To that end, today I invented some succinct responses to lessen the agony of being asked them repeatedly:

“When do you think you’ll go back to work?” Never. Work sucks.

“What did you do when you worked?” I was an adult film star.

“What do you do with all your free time when the kids are in school?” Day drink.

“Don’t you get bored?” Oh…when I get bored with watching Oprah, I take a nap. Crisis averted.

Really, people. I am doing the right thing for me. I only get one shot with my boys. I have to do my best the first time around because it’s the only time I have. Ask any adult child about their relationship with their parents and you will know this is true. Time with our children goes by fast. I have six years left with my beautiful, deep-thinking, first-born son. It will be over in the blink of an eye. I know I have been fortunate to have a choice, and I know that what is right for me is not necessarily right for others. I don’t begrudge anyone their choice. I simply wish others would believe that there’s more to me than my lack of a paycheck. Right now, I’m somebody’s most important person, and that won’t always be the case. Someday they will no longer need me. I bet I will not be on my death-bed regretting the inordinate amount of time I spent with my sons in their youth. I will only regret acknowledging stupid questions about the smartest choice I ever made.