I more often write about my son Joe than about my son Luke. The reason for that is straightforward: Joe is complicated. I struggle more in dealing with him, so I have more to work out about my relationship with him through my writing. My youngest, on the other hand, is simple. He’s affable, confident, hardworking, creative, and affectionate. He loves money, he solves problems, he is a natural-born debater and politician. He has his quirks (seriously, Luke…a different utensil for each food item on your plate?), but he is fun and generally easy to be around.
One of my duties as a mother of boys is to prepare my sons to be the best boyfriends and husbands they can be. To that end, I’m teaching them how to clean bathrooms, how to pick up after themselves, how to hold doors for people and use polite manners, and I’m teaching them that girls are just as capable as they are. Ever since Luke was four he has told us how much he wants to be a husband and a father someday. When I glance into my crystal ball and imagine Luke as an adult, I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that he will make an excellent life partner for some lucky woman. How do I know this? He’s given us many insights. Tonight, for example, my darling 8 year old boy said this to his brother:
“That’s how you get the girl, Joe…you just do what she wants.”
“Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that’s the stuff life is made of.” ~ Benjamin Franklin
Took this photo today of my hubby holding our youngest (who is almost 9). It made me think of how quickly time flies and how fast our boys are growing up. Luke and Joe are 23 months apart, so I was a very tired mom when Luke was born. Keeping up with a two year old while caring for an infant wore me out. When Joe was small, I eagerly anticipated each milestone. I could not wait for him to sleep through the night and to walk. I wanted him to race to get bigger so I could do things with him, talk to him, begin a relationship with him. I was lost with an infant and longed for a child to play with.
But when Luke came along it was a different story because I knew he was my last baby. I knew he was my last opportunity to cherish all those little moments. So, despite being incredibly tired, I paid better attention to each moment than I did when Joe was small. When Joe woke me up in the middle of the night, I prayed he would fall back asleep quickly. Later, I spent hours awake in the middle of the night consciously holding Luke in the rocking chair in the silence of the house, trying to imprint that feeling, that joy, that peace into my brain because I knew how ephemeral it was.
I’m much more careful now about cherishing these moments before they’re gone. I take every opportunity I get to hug my boys. I love it when they fall asleep on the couch and I get to carry them up to bed. When Joe comes in during the middle of the night and asks me to tuck him back into bed I no longer get frustrated by it; I know that in a couple years he won’t need me that way anymore and I will miss it. They’re growing up so quickly and I don’t want to miss a thing, so I pay better attention these days.
I’ve always been a forward-thinking gal. I don’t spend much time living in the past. The choices and mistakes I made created the person I am today and I’m happy with who I am, which means it’s all worked out well. The problem with looking ahead, though, is that sometimes you miss what’s right in front of you. I’m working to be more aware these days. I’m only guaranteed this moment. I will not squander it.
This morning our oldest woke us up at 6:30 a.m. He does this quite often because, well, he has massive impulse control issues. At any rate, we sent him and his brother downstairs (presumably to watch Phineas and Ferb quietly so we could continue sleeping). A few minutes later, however, I hear Joe’s whiny cry. It’s not a true cry but a sort of cry/whine hybrid whereby he sounds not unlike a tornado siren. Actually, they should substitute the current tornado siren with Joe’s whiny cry. It might get people to run for cover more quickly. I sensed that any moment his problem would become ours. He burst back into our room, still whining.
“I didn’t get to my crossbreed fast enough, and he got sick,” he whined, referring to his Tiny Zoo app.
“I’m sorry, sweetie. That sucks,” I replied, trying as hard as possible to sound truly sympathetic.
“I had to abandon him because I knew you wouldn’t give me even $1 to save him. Now I need $20 to buy more coins to breed him again, but I know you won’t give me that money either.” Tru dat. “And I had to spend all my coins to get him. Now I don’t have any left. I’ll never get enough coins to buy this crossbreed again.” Drama queen.
“Oh, Joe. You will get enough coins eventually. Just keep saving. You’ll get there.”
“No I won’t. If you would just spend the money this would all be fixed.” Ha. This kid is delusional.
“I’m not buying imaginary coins to save a fake animal on an app, sweetie. Sorry.”
His cry became louder and more desperate but, sensing that he was getting nowhere with this discussion, he charged out the room letting the door close a bit too loudly. I put a pillow over my head to drown out his whining, tried to remember that it was early and his ADHD meds had not yet kicked in, and attempted to go back to sleep. A few minutes later, there was a light knock on the door. It was Luke this time.
“Mom,” he whispered, “I just thought you should know that Joe deleted you from his friends list on Tiny Zoo. Don’t tell him I told you.” This was getting hysterical.
“Thanks for the heads up, Luke.” And, with that, the informant exited as stealthily as he had entered.
“Wow, hon. I’ve been unfriended by my own son,” I told Steve.
“Thank God we haven’t given him his own Facebook account yet,” he replied, “or he could unfriend you there too.”
The whining steadily grew louder again. Clearly he was on his way back upstairs to have a second go at me. Apparently unfriending me was not punishment enough. He reappeared in our room.
“Joe, before you say anything, let me remind you that this was your mistake and no one else’s,” I said, trying to curtail his complaints quickly. “You knew what time you would have to collect that animal and you didn’t make it back in time.”
“But, you never TOLD me that crossbreed animals could get sick if you didn’t get them fast enough. I didn’t know. Maybe if I had known….”
“Stop right there. You made a mistake. It’s okay. In a day or so you will be able to get that animal for your zoo again. No worries. And,” I added, “I still love you even though you unfriended me.” I smiled brightly at him.
Exasperated, he moaned out loud and then turned and left, ushering his way out with his whiny cry once again. He hates it when I love on him when he’s angry with me. I may go on record as the meanest mother ever for today. But by tomorrow when his zoo has a brand spanking new axolotl, a gilled salamander nearing extinction in Mexico, I’ll be back in his good graces and on his friend list once again. And he will understand (at least on some level) these two things: 1) Tiny Zoo is a game and not a life or death situation (even if the game plays out that way) and 2) the world doesn’t come to an end when you don’t get what you want at the exact moment you want it. I figure that lesson is plenty worth being unfriended over.
As the hours of the long holiday weekend counted down today, I noticed my oldest son becoming more and more agitated. He was so worried about wasting a second of what was left of his time off school that he became obsessed with the passing of time. The later it got this afternoon, the more frenzied and frustrated he became. He had just a small amount of homework to complete, but instead of buckling down and focusing on getting it out of the way so he could enjoy himself he railed against it. He spent two full hours fussing over what should have taken him no more than 30 minutes, and then he still had to put in the 30 minutes’ worth of work.
This is a common pattern for Joe. He has a tendency to procrastinate and then worry about the time he’s wasted. I don’t know how to help him, and I feel for bad for him. I am not a procrastinator. I loathe the feeling of having something hanging over my head, so in school I was the kid who worked on her homework on the bus ride home. Any free minute I had during the day was devoted to making sure I was caught up or, better yet, ahead of the curve on my assignments. At work, a boss never had to bother me about a deadline because I perpetually met them in advance. For me, the dread of having something undone is worse than the effort of getting right down to business and simply getting it over with.
After Joe had finally finished his work and was able to relax a bit, I reminded him of my favorite phrase about worry, procrastination’s dear friend. The phrase is one I share often with friends when they talk about the heavy mental burdens they are carrying. In my early 20s, I was deeply in debt. Between student loans, my used car, and credit cards, I had racked up more debt than I could pay off even while working two jobs. I remember waking up in the middle of the night with a panic attack and rifling through my closet, desperately searching for items I could possibly return or sell for extra cash. I was in a downward spiral. I had friends who were preparing to file for bankruptcy at the same time but, at 23, I found that option unthinkable. Instead I faced the miserable fact that I was in a hole, walked into a Consumer Credit Counseling office, and signed up to pay off my debt. Bit by bit I clawed my way out of that self-dug, cavernous abyss. It took me three full years, but at 26 I was debt free. Those lean years in debt management were tough, but that period of my life changed me. I now understand that worry is a waste of time and that I am plenty strong enough to face and overcome hardships. Those years, desolate and trying, were a gift.
I do hope that Joe will learn sooner rather than later that worry is pointless. It’s just another form of procrastination, another way to rob ourselves of the present moment. I also hope Joe’s lesson won’t be a three-year trial like mine was. Most things in life have a way of working themselves out. And, the things that don’t resolve themselves can be remedied with a little hard work. I know Joe will ultimately be successful because he’s bright and capable. I just hope he gets out of the habit of worrying sooner than I did. He’s far too young to be wasting time in a rocking chair.
The other day my husband suggested that our boys are more capable than we are giving them credit for. Translation: “Let’s put those little monkeys to work.” I have to admit that up until recently the thought of letting my boys do anything for themselves filled me with dread. I had tried several times to get them to do simple things in the kitchen, like pack their own lunches and make their own breakfasts; but they ended up making immense messes, which got them banned. Okay. Okay. I’m a bit controlling that way. I like my dishes unchipped, my counters wiped off, my jarred peanut butter free of any jelly traces. Frankly, they’re not quite up to those tasks….yet.
This morning though, when Joe woke me up at 6:15 a.m. on a day when I didn’t even have to chauffeur them to school, I started thinking. I was thinking about caffeine actually, but I was too tired (or maybe lazy) to go downstairs to make my own latte. Then it occurred to me. When hubby is around, he fetches me a latte. He started the trend himself and honestly refers to himself as my “Coffee Bitch.” So, I started thinking about what Steve said about my kids being capable of much more. Perhaps I have been holding them back. Lightbulb! I could teach Joe to be my mini-Coffee Bitch for those times when Steve isn’t around. Brilliant plan, I know. I’m disappointed I didn’t think of it earlier.
I hauled myself out of bed and headed down to the kitchen. I grabbed Joe, dragged him over to the espresso machine, and gave him step-by-step instructions while he completed the task of making my skinny vanilla latte. I told him we would continue the same tutorial over and over until he felt ready for the final exam. When he is ready to test out, he will be asked to make one latte without assistance. If all goes well, I will soon have a second barista to help out on those cold mornings when I’m exhausted and can’t get out of bed without a hot, espresso pick-me-up. I will also have given my 10 year old son a valuable life skill. If college doesn’t work out for him in eight years, he’ll be qualified to don a green apron and work at Starbucks. It’s a win-win situation. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself while I sip a yummy latte handcrafted by my little slave.
A little over three years ago, I first introduced my sons to Star Wars. Being seriously old school, I showed them what I knew to be the “original” Star Wars first, Episode 4…now known as A New Hope. I could not wait to show them The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. I kept everything just as I had experienced it, letting them find out for themselves that Darth Vader was Luke’s father. Being the genius children they are, they immediately fell in love with that trilogy and asked us to buy it for them on disc because watching the films on the antiquated VHS tapes we owned was sub par.
After they’d watched those three episodes a few times, Joe came home and announced that his classmates had revealed the existence of three other episodes. He wanted to see those as well. Perfect. Three more films I can watch a million times. We found them on disc at Costco and sat down as a family to watch them all for the first time together.
I could not even estimate how many times our boys have watched those movies since we purchased them. If I admitted a possible number, Child Services might start knocking on our door. Those films were the best babysitters ever. As a special treat for us all, tonight we took our boys to see the 3D version of The Phantom Menace. It was fun to sit in the theater with them and watch the show we’ve seen dozens of times on our television on the big screen and in 3D.
My sons have Star Wars action figures, Lego sets, costumes, books, and weaponry. On Halloween, they have dressed as characters from the movies three years running. They never miss an episode of The Clone Wars on Cartoon Network. Joe, who can’t remember his times tables, can tell you the most minute details from each film. The kid who can’t spell “Colorado” can correctly spell the Star Wars planet names for “Tatooine,” “Coruscant,” and “Naboo.” During the film tonight, I tortured Joe with random Star Wars facts, which I of course had learned from him.
“Hey Joe….did you know that Tatooine is a desert planet?” I quipped.
“Mom…everyone knows that,” came his response.
“Hey Joe…did you know that Jedi mind tricks don’t work on Toydarians?”
“MOM…I know. Stop it. I’m trying to watch.”
I was cracking myself up. When I got tired of taunting him with the plethora of pointless trivia facts that are stored in my aging brain and keep me from remembering where I set my car keys, I started making up things to see if he was paying attention to me at all.
“Joe…did you know that Anakin’s real name is actually Spaghetti Skywalker?”
“Mom…you’re being ridiculous,” he replied, slightly annoyed with the interruption.
“Joe…you see that Hut standing behind Jabba? That’s Pizza the Hut.” I thought his eyes would roll right out of his 10 1/2 year old head on that one. So. Much. Fun.
My poor sons were doomed to become Star Wars junkies. I mean, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that one of the perks of naming our son was knowing that someday Steve would be able to tell him, “Luke…I am your father,” and I could remind him at the dinner table, “Luke…use the fork.” They run toward the automatic doors at Target with their arms outstretched so they can “force” them open. And, I would swear Luke has tried to employ Jedi mind tricks to get his way.
Thank you, George Lucas, for being a visionary and for sharing your story with the world. No matter what happens in the next few years as my sons become teenagers, I know we will always have Star Wars to fall back on. When they stop talking to me about their personal lives, I know I’ll still be able to bring up a Star Wars reference and get them to converse with me. And, grateful for that I am.
I hate Valentine’s Day. My disdain for this pseudo holiday is well-documented and goes back many, many years. It’s a day rife with limitless expectations and impossible demands, which means most people come away from it highly disappointed. Since I lowered my Valentine’s Day expectations to less than nothing (an event which occurred sometime around February 15, 1992), I no longer have any investment in this day whatsoever. I’ve determined that February 14th is simply an excuse to eat conversation hearts, and I’m good with that.
Today, though, my youngest son came home from school and pulled something out of his backpack. He was bursting with excitement and handed it to me. It was a folded card, colored on the front with a handwritten note on the back. This is the first time that I’ve received something from Luke in his own words and his own handwriting. I was blown away, not just because it was neatly written but also because nearly everything was spelled correctly. He didn’t even have any run-on or fragmented sentences. So proud. As I sat there reading and re-reading the note, it occurred to me that I finally had received what I wanted on Valentine’s Day…a heartfelt, unsolicited note of appreciation.
When I recall all those years I sat around hoping a guy would say something nice to me on Valentine’s Day and truly mean it without ulterior motive, all those years I wanted someone to open up with a mushy sentiment without any prompting from me, I realize that my expectations were skewed. No one was going to appreciate me the way I hoped they would. They were coming from their own view point, a view point which no doubt had largely been sketched out by the women who existed in their lives before I did. I needed more time. I needed time to have sons. I needed someone who would love me unconditionally and see the good in me before recognizing the flaws. I needed a blank canvas, untainted by past experiences. It took me so long to find the right Valentine because, apparently, I simply needed enough time to raise the right man for the job. 😉
I was struggling tonight to come up with something to write about, so I decided to let my sons do my writing for me. In October of 2003, I started keeping a journal of funny or insightful things my boys said. I am still writing things in it and plan to continue until they become teenagers and stop talking to me. Every once in a while, I pull the book out and read to the boys from it. They truly think they are hilarious. I’m too biased to have a fair opinion. All I know is that this book is the only non-living thing I would try to save if our house caught fire. Here are some memories of my young boys that I will always treasure:
February 23, 2004 – Joe found my box of OB tampons. He pulled one out and brought it to me. He asked if he could have “this mint.” I guess it looked like the mints we get in our meals at Chick-Fil-A. Oops.
July 15, 2005 – Today as Joe walked out the slider I heard him say, “Today is a good day for digging, I think.”
January 10, 2006 – Yesterday Joe says, “Mommy…cows pee milk.” To which I, of course, go into this entire dissertation about how a cow has an udder to give milk. His reply, “Mom, my penis is an udder.” And that’s what I get for trying to talk to my boys like they are adults. I give up.
November 9, 2007 – Joe and Luke are fighting. Luke starts in with his fake cry. I ask Joe what’s going on and he says…”We have big time sharing issues, I think.”
August 8, 2008 – Today Joe noticed he’d put a tiny hole in his new stuffed toy. He was noticeably upset about it. His comment: “Mom, I think I loved him too much.”
February 12, 2009 – Joe just said, “If you really want to find out a mystery, you ask God.”
May 8, 2009 – I heard Luke taunting Joe saying, “I’m gonna cook your mouse.” Joe had just gotten a stuffed mouse from a prize box at school. I told Luke to knock it off and stop teasing his brother. A while later, I hear Luke say, “Joe…I’m cooking your mouse.” So, I turn around to tell him to stop with this “cooking” talk only to find Luke at the table, Joe’s stuffed mouse tied to a stick from the yard, the stick stuck between two upright clothespins, and a paper drawing of fire underneath him. He was roasting Ratatouille on a spit, just like he said he would. He’s a creative kid. Scary, but creative.
March 20, 2010 – The other night we were in a Brazilian steakhouse with the boys. In an effort to try to get Luke to try some new foods, I offered him a dollar. He looked pointedly at me and counter-offered with $6. I said, “No way, Luke. $1 is my offer.” To which he replied, “Okay. Okay. $1….plus $5.” The kid is way too smart.
April 16, 2010 – Buddy (our springer/lab mix) is still alive. He’s over 13 years old and still kicking. The other day Joe said, “Buddy must have drank from the doggy Holy Grail.”
May 8, 2011 – Today Luke said to Joe (after Steve poured me a big glass of wine), “It’s Mom’s lucky day.”
February 6, 2012 – Tonight I heard Luke chastising Joe for being mean to him. I backed Luke up and told Joe to knock it off. Then I heard Luke tell Joe, “You see that? Mom’s nice to me, Joe. Dad’s nice to me too.” Then there was a long pause as Joe returned to Luke the toy that was the cause of the discord. “And, you’re nice to me too, Joe.” Awwww.
In the summer of 2009, my in-laws took the entire family on an amazing week-long trek to Norway. It was the boys’ first time abroad. They were then just six and eight. They were treated to business class seats on the flight from Newark to Oslo. We spent a couple days in Oslo at the Holmenkollen Park Hotel, our headquarters for exploring the city, viewing viking ships, and visiting the Vigeland Sculpture Park. We left Oslo and traveled via rail to Bergen where we spent two days enjoying the city, Bryggen, and the aquarium. We left Bergen on a fjord cruise. One of our stops on the cruise was Finnbotn farm where we were able to drink from a glacier-fed waterfall, eat traditional Norwegian food, and enjoy the odd sight of their pet parrot flying around the fjord. We later took a ride on the Flam railway, saw Kjosfosson Falls, and finally returned back to Oslo to enjoy the view from the roof of the opera house, which rises from a fjord. My point is that the entire trip was memorable. Each day was a grand adventure filled with incredible sights. For my boys, though, the highlight of the trip, the thing that still sticks with them, was a seagull.
On our first night in Bergen, as we were getting ready to put the boys to bed (a feat that is not easy when it’s 10:30 p.m. and still light outside), we heard a noise on our third-story window ledge. We went to the window and there, just inches away from us through an open window, was a large seagull that seemed not the least bit alarmed to find us staring at him. I told the kids to ignore him and get ready for bed, and we closed the window. Next thing we knew, the dang bird was pecking at the window. Seriously? Like it’s not difficult enough to get the kids to sleep? Now they know there is a large bird trying to peck his way into our room? Come on. Work with me, Norway.
The kids were by then completely riled up. They kept going to the window, trying to scare the seagull. It seemed, however, that the more they pestered him, the longer he felt compelled to stay. To get the kids away from the window, I decided it was time for a scare tactic. (I’m not proud of it, but sometimes they work when nothing else does.) I told them that the seagull, enraged by their taunting, was trying to get into our room so he could peck out their eyeballs. Okay. Okay. Not technically true, but effective nonetheless. They snuggled up to each other in their shared full-size bed and stayed well away from the window for the rest of the night.
However, for the rest of the trip, they were convinced that every seagull we saw (and you can imagine how many frigging seagulls are in Norway) was the one from that window ledge. I have to admit that I might have encouraged the story a bit by pointing them out and telling them he was tracking them. When I did my 50-mile MS Walk in San Diego later that same year, I sent them this iPhone photo of a gull and told them he had found me so it was just a matter of time until he found them. I’m going to hell.
Well, today we were on our way home after school and Joe noticed a seagull in the park in our neighborhood. Of course, Joe not being one to let things go, the entire conversation began again. While Joe pondered their safety, Luke tried to persuade him that perhaps that gull he saw was just one of the original seagull’s henchmen (or is it henchbirds?) and that the true gull had not yet drawn a bead on their actual whereabouts or their eyeballs.
I have to admit that the entire legend completely cracks me up. How my kids, who started reasoning away the logical existence of Santa Claus at age six, can honestly believe one lone seagull is tracking them around the world is beyond me. Still, at the very least this tells me that a) they do actually listen to me and b) seagulls are a lot scarier than I thought. 😉
Joe is in the 4th grade and has graduated from those cheesy book reports that are mostly art projects designed to drive parents insane (you know…dioramas, mobiles, puppets….seriously, teachers?) to true, written reports this year. Joe is a solid C student in language arts. He reads quite well, but his writing and spelling are, well…let’s go with interesting. Still, he’s been doggedly determined to learn to write on his own so we’ve set him loose to see what he can come up with for his book reports. For the most part, we’ve been pleasantly surprised with his reading comprehension and his ability to retell the story for his reports.
Today I got quite a shock, however, when I proofread his written report for his latest book, Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl. We’ve been on a Dahl kick at our house. Joe’s read James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, and The BFG. So far he has refused to read Matilda because (and I quote) “It’s about a girl.” At any rate, as I was reading the text of Joe’s report this time, I became a bit concerned.
“Joe….what do you mean by ‘He ran away to poach peasants’?”
“He went off into the woods and poached peasants,” he responded, as if I was crazy for not understanding.
“What do you mean by poach?”
“He gets peasants and eats them.”
“He eats peasants?”
“Yeah. He eats them.”
“Like he cooks them up and eats them?”
“Yes,” Joe replied, obviously becoming exasperated with my idiocy.
Was my son honestly telling me that this library book that I had selected for him was a book about people ingesting other people? I know Dahl’s stories are highly imaginative. In James and The Giant Peach, James’s parents are trampled to death by rhinoceroses in pastoral England. Then, James takes a trip from England to New York in a giant peach filled with a cast of bug characters who are all the size of an adult human. Dahl’s stories make me wish I had known the right drugs to do while I was in college. But, I still could not imagine a children’s novel in which Dahl creates cannibals who hunt and eat peasants. That seemed like a bit much, even for him. Joe and I went round and round until I finally grabbed the library book and began scanning it for evidence of cannibalism. Then, I found the word that might clarify the entire book report.
“Joe…were Danny and his dad poaching and eating birds?”
“Yes. Peasants are birds.”
“No, Joe. Pheasants are birds. Peasants are people”
“I know that,” Joe replied. “I knew they were eating birds. There were pictures of the birds. I just forgot that there was a difference between peasants and pheasants.”
“Big difference, Joe. At least your report makes more sense now. I was a bit uneasy picturing Danny and his dad feeding peasants sleeping pills stuffed in raisins and then watching them falling out of the trees.”
Joe had a good laugh about my mental image of poor, country folk dropping from the sky only to be then being picked up and subsequently cooked by gypsies. But this little miscommunication proves how delicate and complicated the English language is. One missing “h” and suddenly a simple hunting expedition takes a sinister turn. It’s miraculous that any of us learn to understand and communicate with the English language. There are myriad rules and then just as many exceptions to those rules. Take the suffix “ed,” for example, which can sound like “ed” (tainted), “d” (cleaned), or “t” (walked). For a native speaker, these distinctions are somewhat natural because we’ve heard them repeatedly. But, to a non-native speaker learning English, there is nothing but obfuscation. And, don’t even get me started on our punctuation rules, which can turn “Let’s eat, Grandpa” from a nice invitation for your grandfather to join you for dinner into “Let’s eat Grandpa” and somehow we’re back to cannibalism.
At the very least, today’s book report exercise reminded me to cut my kids some slack as they muddle their way through phonics and language arts in grade school. I have a master’s degree in writing and I still regularly have to research correct language and usage rules. I tell you, though, I am going to start being a bit more careful around Joe. If he could mistake pheasants for peasants, who knows what kind of breakfast he might cook up for me on Mother’s Day?