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Herding Cats

October 9, 2015 Leave a comment

I am now the mother of two teenagers.  I can scarcely believe it myself.  It all happened so fast and now I’m keenly aware of how little time I have left to parent these people.  And by parent, I mean the daily influences and guidance, because I know the give me money and buy me things part of parenting will never, ever end.  But when I look at these two, I see this:

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Not this:

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Back then, I was new.  I was struggling, I didn’t know what I was doing and I didn’t get a whole lot of sleep.  But I kept the faith.  I knew it would get easier.  When the baby sleeps through the night, it will get easier.  When they can bathe themselves, it will get easier.  When I can leave the house without juice cups and pull ups, it will get easier.  Sooner or later, I will catch on to this mom thing and it will get easier.

Well, all things in perspective.  It is easier in that I don’t have to lean over a bathtub and wash little people’s hair.  If I don’t feel like cooking, they are old enough to feed themselves.  I did catch on to the mom thing, at least a little.  I know what to do about teething.  I can handle nightmares, loose teeth and learning how to read.  The problem is that I don’t need to know any of those things anymore.  Parenting is chasing a moving target.  As soon as I get a handle on a thing, I don’t need that thing anymore.  And bonus points for me for having a two children who have not one thing in common and have required a completely different mommy skill set since the day my sweet girl laid eyes on her fresh baby brother and then refused to so much as look at me, so great was the betrayal.

So, teenagers.  We have passed that stage of me telling them what to do and how to live.  (I do ask that no one ever share that with my daughter, who is well-known for demanding that I stop telling her how to live her life.  The only reasonable response to that is, “That’s literally my job.”)  The way I see it, the foundation has already been laid.  Now it’s my job to guide rather than to issue orders.  Please don’t misunderstand, I will not hesitate to issue orders should it become necessary,  It’s just that at the ages they are now, specifically my daughter, who is a mere two years away from leaving my home and going out into the world by herself, they should be, and need to be, capable of making responsible decisions for themselves.  This requires me to relinquish a certain amount of control.  That is not in my wheelhouse.  This is hard.

My son lacks a certain amount of self motivation.  He will do what is asked of him, and do it well, but he’s not putting anything extra out there.  Example.  He recently finished a research paper and got an outstanding grade on it.  Then, each student was asked to do an oral presentation on that paper.  It could be as simple as reading the paper or as elaborate and creative as they desired.  But, here’s the rub.  It’s not graded.  Little guy (sorry, I know he’s not little anymore, but he has always been, and shall always remain, my little guy) decided to just read the paper.  Because it’s not graded.  I recommended that he put forth a little effort.  He resisted.  I backed off.  After all, there’s no grade.  However, I heartily disapproved and I had a long talk about forming habits and striving for excellence and how an average effort produces an average life.  And he still declined to put forth more effort.  And I backed off.  I’d be lying if I said it didn’t hurt me to do that.  Every fiber of me wanted to force that boy to sit down and get to work.  But I’m not always going to be there to push him that extra step.  He has to be capable of making that decision for himself.  He has to choose to be exceptional.   I walked away from that conversation pretty confident that my feelings on the topic had fallen on deaf ears, but hey, I’m nothing if not persistent.  I can voice my opinions as many times as necessary.

That being the case, I could not have been more shocked and proud the next day when he reported to me that not only had he decided to do a PowerPoint for his presentation, but also while he was at school that day he had taken tests in five subjects, then completed twenty-five extra pages of math work.  Now, THAT is what I call striving for excellence.  He was listening, after all.  And he made a smart and responsible decision.  Most importantly, he did what I wanted him to do and if there’s a greater accomplishment for a mom, I just don’t know what it is.

Look, I’m bossy.  That’s a great quality when the kids are little.  It’s much harder now that I have to parent with restraint and subtlety.  But I might be starting to get a handle on it.  In the next couple years, I might even become an expert at it.  Just in time for them to go to college and need a whole new kind of mom.

herding-cats

The House of Disappointment and Broken Promises

June 16, 2013 11 comments

This is the house in which my children live.  I’m thinking of getting a sign made for the yard.

The ways in which I’ve wronged them:

  • I took my daughter to the eye doctor.  I bought her the designer frames.  I agreed that glasses take about a week and a half to produce and I left the office WITHOUT HER NEW GLASSES.  Clearly, I do not want this child to be able to see.  A good mother would demand that the glasses be made on the spot, never mind that the office does not have the capability to perform such a task.  God forbid this child ever learns about LensCrafters.
  • The internet went out.  I spent an hour and a half on the phone with our provider, troubleshooting.  We determined that the problem was coming from inside the house!  (Y’all remember that movie, right?)  In a shocking display of maternal carelessness, I agreed that we would have to wait until after the weekend for a repairman and announced that we’d have an internet-free weekend.
  • I am completely incapable of scheduling appointments of any kind for these children on a Sunday.  This is obviously due to my incompetence.
  • Despite past purchases of damnneareverygamesystemeverinvented, my son is bored and I am unable to entertain him.
  • I require them to pick up after themselves and bathe on a regular basis.  This particular piece of parental torture is designed to ensure that they one day find spouses and produce offspring that will be just like them.
  • I keep “forgetting” to buy my daughter headbands.  This is actually a true slight and I do it because the lack of headbands forces her to wear her Great Wolf Lodge wolf ear headband around the house.  That entertains me and reminds me of the little girl on Bob’s Burgers.  Also, this child was inside Target with me yesterday and if she can’t remember them, I don’t see why I should worry about it.
via fanpop.com

via fanpop.com

  • I have a complete and utter disregard for what other kids’ parents allow them to do.
  • I do not allow the opinions of middle schoolers to affect me in any way.
  • I will not drop everything I’m doing to log into my laptop to browse the latest and greatest on GameFly, just because someone is too impatient to wait his turn on the other computer.  Most particularly if what I’m doing is preparing food for the starving masses that live in this house.

Because of these, and many other disgraceful deficiencies in my maternal duties, my eldest has dubbed our home, The House of Disappointment and Broken Promises.  I’m going with it.  After all, every great estate must have a name, right?  Kind of makes me feel like I’m living in a castle.  A scary, dark, drippy castle with gargoyles.

Welcome to our home. via zazzle.com

Welcome to our home.
via zazzle.com

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , ,

School’s Out ForEVAHHHHHH

June 2, 2013 4 comments

Okay, not really forever.  School is out for summer break, though.  Technically Friday was the last day of school, but since I stopped caring about anything school related on the day the last test was taken, I didn’t make them go on the last day.  I figure, if the teachers tell them not to come, they who am I to be concerned about attendance.

Our day-to-day routine during summer break is not really that different from the school year, though.  Since I did not have the foresight to get a job that provides a summer break of any kind, I still get up every morning and go to work.  Since I believe in sharing the beauty of the pre-dawn start of a new day, I continue to wake my children at the same time as a school day.  Cruel, I know.  (I’m not snickering about this at all, I assure you.)  I go to work, they go spend the day somewhere, I pick them up after work, then we do it all again the next day.  Pretty standard stuff.

via memecrunch.com (kittens are cute)

via memecrunch.com (kittens are cute)

However, I would be lying if I didn’t say that summer break does provide some relief.  For the kids, sure, but I’m talking about me, here.  Here are some of the dreadful and terrible things that I will not have to do for three glorious months.

  • Homework.  Don’t act like I don’t have to do homework.  I have to help with homework, I have to check homework, I have to sign homework and everysingledamnday I have to remind the children to do their homework.  So.  No homework.  That’s a big load off, since I had long believed that I was done with homework, you know, when I stopped going to school.
  • Remember things.  Look, I have enough on my mind without having to remember who needs a poster board, when the science project is due and when I’m supposed to send money for a field trip.  Since my children barely remember to put on shoes each morning, they rely on me far too much to remember these things.  And while I realize that forgetting to pay for the field trip would spare me a morning of getting up at 4am to take a kid on a field trip, I’m not quite that far gone yet.  Give me a couple more years.
  • Hear the latest school horror stories.  The stuff my kids tell me about school terrify me.  The things middle schoolers are getting up to during school hours far surpasses anything I ever did, let alone before I hit my teens.  I don’t want to know about eighth grade mothers, I don’t want to hear about drinking at school, I don’t want to hear about fights where shoes get thrown… okay, I do want to hear that last one, because it is a pretty entertaining story.  The other stuff, though, nah.  It’s enough that I have to know that it happens, it’s too much for my brain to process to hear my own baby telling me about it.
  • Worry about my reputation.  Okay, this is not something that I ever do too terribly much, especially since I seem to specialize in making enemies at the schools.  However, I do need to worry about the things I say being repeated.  I have the dangerous combination of a lack of brain-to-mouth filter and a child with no discretion whatsoever.  Things get repeated.  Often.  And they are nearly always the things I should never have said out loud in the first place.
  • Buy mechanical pencils.  I’m going to tell you, I am so damn sick and tired of mechanical pencils that I could cry.  Literally.  My son apparently not ever realized that these are not one-time-use disposable instruments and field strips the little suckers as soon as they run out of lead.  Therefore, I buy mechanical pencils like it’s my job.  I don’t buy them while I’m at the store, though, oh no.  I buy them at 9:30 on a Wednesday night when someone realizes that we have NOT ONE PENCIL IN THE HOUSE.  I once sent my kid to school with a stubby pencil that I found in my car left over from mini-golf.  Don’t judge.

So, we may still get up early and go places and do nothing terribly special in our daily routine, I still breathe a massive sigh of relief when I lay my hands on those final report cards.  And I swear, next year, we will do better.  We will stockpile pencils and supplies.  We will have mandatory homework time in a designated homework place.  I will have thought-provoking conversations about the troubles of today’s youth.  I will not swear when I talk about school policies.  I will have a family calendar noting all important dates.

I won’t do any of those things, though.  And I just have three short months to try to stockpile enough sanity to get me through another school year.  I don’t like my odds.

I Am Dying of Standardized Testing

May 20, 2013 2 comments

I bitch a lot about our school system.  I’m aware of this unattractive trait, but I’ve just decided to just go with it.  My latest gripe?  SOLs.

If you’re unaware, SOL stands for Standards of Learning, and also Shit Outta Luck, meaning that toward the end of the school year, you are shit outta luck if you were planning a life that includes fun, relaxation, low levels of stress or anything outside of studying massive study guides that may or may not cover the information on the test.  These tests are a much a measure of the quality of education in the school as the students’ ability.  Big Brother gathers these test scores to determine if the student is promoted to the next grade, and also determines if the school is doing well enough to, I don’t know, receive government funds, keep their teachers employed or avoid a governmental finger-shaking.  I’m actually not 100% clear on the consequences of low test scores, but I do know that most of my children’s teachers are freaking the hell out about it.

via apsva.us

via apsva.us

Here’s what I’ve got.  I have one child who has a brain like a computer, does not forget information (ever.  literally. ask him sometime about oceanic upwelling.), and takes a standardized test like a boss.  This one is also pretty high-strung and tends to shut down in high stress circumstances.  I have another child who is equally as brilliant, but does not test well and tends to forget everything she has ever learned in her entire life when someone puts a Scantron sheet in front of her.  When in a high stress situation, she starts throwing up and gets migraines.

I’m sure you can see where I’m going here.  I get that these tests are important.  I am willing to sacrifice my free time in the evenings to review all this mind-numbing information with these children.  I will make sure they get plenty of sleep and a good breakfast before the test.  I will find practice tests on the internet and force them to take them on Sunday afternoons, which is clearly just shy of cruel and unusual punishment, won’t someonecalltheauthoritiesplease!  My point it, I’ve got this.  I know how these kids learn and I know how they best prepare for testing.  I know that one needs all the math practice she can get in order to pass and I know the other one damn near needs medication to get through the essay-writing portion.

I also know that what neither one of them need is the incredible pressure that the schools put on these children.  There are ways, I am sure, to impress upon these kids the significance of the tests without crushing them in stress.  And I’m certain that our teachers are experienced enough and well-trained enough to understand the impact that this has on some children.  You want my kid to have a nervous breakdown?  Use the words “fail” and “test” in the same sentence, then sit back and enjoy the show.  There will be many tears and much vomit.

So, I’m okay with spending a whole night discussing 5th and 8th grade science, only to find out that virtually nothing we studied appeared on the 8th grade test.  I’m okay with signing off on my son’s math notes, ensuring that he studied.  (This was a lie, but considering that this kid has earned a perfect score on every math SOL he’s ever taken, I’m pretty sure he’s good.)  I’m good with you reminding the kids to get a good night’s sleep and I think it’s really rather touching when you give the 8th graders a juice and a snack on test day.  I am just not down with the stress-inducing lectures and I promise every teacher out there, for every scary speech you give my children about testing, they get three more at home contradicting everything you’ve said.

I’m just trying to keep the crazy to a minimum around here, you know.

A Mother’s Day Wish

May 6, 2013 2 comments

Last night I dreamed that I had another baby.  In the dream, I held the new baby and looked at Hubs with joy, saying, “I got a do-over!”

Mother’s Day quickly approaches and, as always, it makes me deep and contemplative.  I don’t know a single mother who doesn’t beat herself up relentlessly for not being perfect.  I also know that there is no such thing as a perfect anything, let alone a perfect mother.  It’s a path fraught with obstacles, complexities, fears and a deep and abiding love and responsibility that threatens to swallow us whole every minute of every day.

I am flawed.  I am not a perfect mother.  I am impatient.  I get angry quickly.  I forget things.  I have impossibly high standards.  I do things wrong.  I make bad choices sometimes.  I get loud.  I hold grudges.

With all of that (and even more that I haven’t shared), I’ve not ruined my children.  They don’t cower in my presence.  They laugh with me, they bring me their problems, and they know, above all else, that I will always, always have their backs, even when they screw up.  That is what a mother does.  Let’s face it, they’re not perfect either, and even if I had never made a cringe-worthy mommy mistake, they still wouldn’t be perfect.  And if their imperfection sometimes makes me grind my teeth and/or want to throw them through a wall, well, then, at that moment my restraint goes down as good and loving mothering.

When I was a new mother, I often gazed upon my babies in wonder.  In those quiet moments, I was filled with awe at these marvelous little people who had been given to me and filled with a terrible fear that I would not be up to the challenge.  Now, as I gaze at my children, they stare back and make faces and I am filled with the knowledge that I don’t know anything about these strangers.  Sometimes I wish for the days before they were mobile and vocal because I would happily take a string of sleepless nights with a colicky baby when faced with the terror and uncertainty these adolescents strike in a mother’s heart.  And I am still pretty sure that I’m not up to the challenge.

via scienceofrelationships.com

via scienceofrelationships.com

But we grow with our children.  That’s what mothers do.  That’s why we worry and dream about do-overs.  We want to go back to the stuff we know because we make it up as we go along and we whisper fervent prayers that we’re not doing too much damage.  We cry when we can’t fix it.  Our entire day can be ruined by a kid who’s grumpy before school.  We define ourselves by these unpredictable, unbalanced little people who won’t  hesitate to tell us that we don’t understand and furthermore, we obviously don’t love them.  They cut us to the bone with the most passing, careless comment.  We are chronically insecure.  We hold ourselves to standards that no one could meet and we quietly, secretly hate ourselves just a little bit (or sometimes a lot) for not being better.  We see the so-called perfect moms and we’re tempted to believe that they are better than us, when really, they’re just better at hiding all the ugly parts.

And so, my wish for all mothers that are, that were and that will be, is that we love ourselves a little more.  That we celebrate our successes more loudly and forgive our mistakes more easily.  That we stop trying to be perfect and keep trying to do our best.  That we understand that our best isn’t perfect, but is enough for our children.  That we stop comparing ourselves to other people and understand that we all have private uncertainties.  That we will have the courage do what’s best for our children when we know that they will hate us for it.  That we will continue to walk this path of uncertainty and fear with confidence that we will find joy and happiness.

That we see our children smiling and know that we are, in fact, up to the challenge.

If You Want Something Done Right…

April 22, 2013 6 comments

You’d better just let me do it.

So, over Spring Break, I paid my children staggering amounts of cash to do menial chores around the house.  I don’t know why I bother doing this, ever, because I’m now spending my days off fixing everything they did.  Two reasons:

  1. They are really very bad at housecleaning of any kind.  They don’t understand the difference between “sweeping the floor” and “getting the floor clean.”
  2. I am a control freak and it causes me great distress deep down in my soul if things aren’t done exactly the way I want them.

Since I don’t want to break my children’s spirits (on purpose), I’m fixing these things on the sly.  I do call them out on some things, like my son’s dusting.  He dusted the house Saturday.  On Sunday I made him do it again.  He said, I already dusted!  I said, but there’s still dust there, right?  Point taken.

 

Other things, I’m being sneaky about.  For instance, my daughter reorganized my tupperware cabinet and my pots and pans cabinet.  She did a fine job, but it sets my teeth on edge, because it’s not RIGHT.  The tub of tupperware lids is supposed to be on the bottom shelf, not the top.  The little square tubs are supposed to be on the front left.  The iron skillets should be near the front, because they’re too darn heavy to drag out of the back.  And, also, because that’s where they go.  So I spent the morning reorganizing everything in the kitchen and I’ll say nothing about it.  I’m sure they won’t notice, because any child who thinks the toilet that she “cleaned” is actually clean isn’t capable of any sort of attention to detail.  For the record, she also believes that “putting away clean laundry” means “throw everything in a wrinkly pile on the chair in your room.”

I gave up long ago on getting Hubs to do things the way I wanted them done.  He is, after all, a grown man, fully capable of telling me to do it myself if I’m going to be so damn picky.  Point also taken.  The kids, though.  I thought I had a shot at training them properly.  When they are told to clean something, the unspoken command is “clean to your mother’s satisfaction.”  I have certain standards.  Whether those standards are reasonable or sane is debatable around here, but, hey, it’s not always easy being my kid.  I am trying to train them in my image here.  And I am failing.

It’s hard to teach this kind of thing, and I’m coming to believe that it’s all just a part of my special brand of crazy, which my children did not inherit.  It’s sad to see an era come to an end, but that’s part of being a parent.  Sometimes you have to let go of your dream of making your kids neurotic like you and let them find their own kind of crazy.

Bribery, Sibling Love and Building a Work Ethic

April 5, 2013 8 comments

So the world is all upside down.  Monday came and went without a post and here it is Friday and I’m at the computer with my coffee.  Contrary to all likelihood, I’ve not yet snapped and quit my job in a blaze of fiery glory.  I just took a staycation.  Hubs and I have started this new tradition since we have both worked at our jobs long enough to have earned more vacation days than any reasonable person would ever use.  We take Spring Break off to hang with the kids and take care of stuff around the house.

Last year we did this.  We were busy.  We worked and slaved all week-long trying to accomplish everything we wanted to do.  This year, we got smart.  In fact, I think this is the most brilliant parenting move ever.  The kids have done most of the work for us.  Willingly.  Eagerly, even.

Here’s how it happened.  My kids want things.  They have a deep and abiding need to buy things at all times.  Over the years, Hubs and I have tired of buying all these things and all the negotiation that goes along with it.  We don’t want to hear the whining or the arguments.  We instituted a very simple policy.  If you want something, earn some money and save up for it.  It’s a very rare occasion when I will buy things for these kids for no reason.  Because there is no end.  There is no end to the things they want and need and absolutely must have or they will fall down and die.  I will buy them clothes, food, toiletries and one pedicure per year (the boy does not take me up on this generous offer.)

So, my daughter has recently decided that she wants to play guitar.  I’m good with that.  I think it’s great.  What I don’t think is great is the likelihood that she will love the guitar for six months, then stuff it under her bed.  So.  I made her a deal in which I will pay for lessons and 1/4 the price of the guitar, but she has to pay for the rest.  As a symbol of her commitment, if you will.  My son has recently found a great love for Yu-Gi-Oh cards, which Hubs and I both think are dumb and a huge waste of money.  Therefore, he is free to buy them, but we will not, under any circumstances, buy them with our money.

Perhaps we sound harsh.  Allow me to assure you that these kids have made us this way.  Daughter went through this guitar thing several years ago and when I was about to carry myself to the music store, all her guitar love vanished, never to be heard of for many years.  Son, on the other hand, feels that he needs to collect everything that can be collected.  He has had this affliction since he was very young and needed to collect rubber bathtub ducks in every color and name them all “Duckly.”  Yes, he’s cute, but I will not indulge his inner pack rat.

So, you may ask yourself just how I expect a thirteen and eleven year old to make money.  It’s not like they can go get a job, right?  Thanks, Child Labor Laws.  Thanks a lot.  The answer is chores, of course!  It’s still my money buying their stuff, but they have earned it.  It’s a lot different when they’re willing to work for it and nothing makes me feel more generous than a kid who comes to me and says, “Do you have any extra chores for me?  I’m trying to save up some money.”  So, we kicked off this week by telling these children that we have tons of work that needs to be done, we will pay nicely for all of it and we will issue paychecks at the end of the week and go shopping.

via frabz.com

via frabz.com

You know what happened, right?  Not only have my kids done all the chores that I didn’t want to do (organizing the cabinets, anyone?  Torture!)  All week they have come to me looking for work.  Truth be told, I ended up spending a stupid amount of money for these chores, but a couple of things happened.

  1. The kids worked hard and were rewarded.  Not only did they get to buy the things they wanted, but they did it with money that they had earned and they learned about a feeling of accomplishment.
  2. I got a lot more free time to drink coffee and spend time talking with my husband.  It’s amazing how little time we actually have together when we go out and work everyday.  Boo for earning a living!
  3. Each kid took over a new, permanent chore for an increase in their allowance.  I no longer have to do laundry and dishes, my friends.  Daughter dear made the mistake of uttering the words, “You don’t have to do anything anymore,” and was treated to a diatribe of how hard I work every day to put a roof over her little blonde head.
  4. Gradually, throughout the week, I saw the kids stop fighting amongst themselves and adopt a kids vs. parents approach.  That might sound bad, but considering how we started the week, it was a welcome change.  As we sat down to dye Easter eggs and prepare our holiday celebration, my sweet daughter uttered to her little brother, “No one cares what you think, you’re adopted.”  (He isn’t, and even if he was, we would care plenty about what he thinks.  To his credit, he looked at her and said, “No, I’m not.”  Not one to get worked up, that boy.  And a good thing since he’s got a, um, dramatic sister.)  By the end of the week, they were giggling and plotting against us.  A step in the right direction, for sure.  Oh, and I’m not worried about them working against me.  I’m bigger, smarter and much, much meaner.

So, yesterday we took them shopping and they spend every cent of their money, plus some, in daughter’s case.  Guitars aren’t cheap, you know.  I generously made her a loan with the agreement that I will own her behind until it’s paid off.  That dreaded chore of picking up sticks in the backyard finally has a taker.

So now they have things they want and they’re broke again.  And they still want more things.  Because there is no end.

Which actually works in my favor, because the week isn’t over and someone has to scrub the toilets.

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