April 28, 2009



I posted about the other man in my life a few months ago. Now it's progressed past crush stage.

We had our first kiss.

My young friend J is a treasure.

I teach Sunday School every week, and quite frankly, it's a dirge. I show up filled with enthusiasm, eager to open bright young minds and my class, more often than not is J and ... My own child.

My spouse stays because he knows that if all the students show, my hands are full. But that's rare. There are two or three other students who show maybe ever other week, but in essence, class is me, my child, my husband and J.

And J is in his own place. He is there because Dad takes him and he will leave "when Dad is here" and often he wants me to go to the car and make sure dad knows J was good.

I love J. Each week it takes every ounce of my willpower not to hug or kiss him and love him to pieces. He charms me.

I prepare my lessons hoping to find a spark of joy, a place my students relate to. It's rare. But I'm not doing this for me. I'm doing this... gosh yesterday I knew why, but the truth is, there are days I don't know why I do this.

J is fixated on the crystal cross he saw on TV with the Lord's Prayer he saw printed in tiny letters.

He tries to talk about Mario (from the world of Nintendo).

I tell him as soon as we finish the lesson. I forge onward. I talk about disciples, the spread of Christianity, the history of how it was learned. I talk about Peter as the first pope, James who stayed in Jerusalem, and Thaddeus who was rarely heard from again, but established the entire orthodox Christian following.

I am earnest. I have a lesson to share. J interrupts me again, wondering if the Dark Knight (the Batman movie he saw that weekend) had anything to do with this.

I explain that we can talk about that as soon as we finish the lesson. I pull out maps. I show journeys. I stress the amazing work of those early disciples.

J asks if Mario would die if the Dark Knight was in the game.

I smile and realize how futile my mission is. I tell J that everything I know about Mario I learned from him.

He smiles back and says, really?

Really, J. You've taught me everything I know about Mario.

How are you doing on the Lord's Prayer, I ask him. He again mentions the crystal cross he saw on TV. If I held it to light I could see all the words.

I hold J to light instead.

He shines.

Class is over, he comes to me and wraps his arms around me and kisses me on my shoulder (where he reaches) 4 times. He makes sure I know I just got "4 kisses".

They felt like 400.

I see all his words, too.

April 27, 2009

Good Kids, Bad Choices

I have two daughters. They are the lights of my life. They are so talented and lovely and smart they make my teeth hurt. The sort of children every parent hopes to have. I don't know how I got so lucky. But they are great. Sometimes a bit too wise for their own good, but still...

My oldest walks the straight and narrow so well she could be a plumb line for a builder. The younger one tests the waters a bit more. She is very social and I do monitor her behavior more closely. She has a "boyfriend" (more like a grade school sweetheart), and I've laid down very strict rules. Anytime I ask, she has to hand me her cell phone so I can scroll through the text messages. If there is an inappropriate one, I will suspend her text privileges or call the parents of the inappropriate text sender. What she doesn't know is that I am a complete text doofus, and I have no intention of telling her that. Shhhhhh.

The Plumb Line, she couldn't be bothered with texting unless it discussed the latest math and science discoveries. She is the prettiest little nerd I ever met. The other day one of the girls she hangs out with skipped choir and hid in the bathroom texting. The girl was caught and got a detention. The detention was mild to the punishment my little Plumb Line had in store. She came home absolutely aghast at this girl's behavior, and planned to distance herself from this rabble rouser. I suggested she would serve her friend better by remaining a friend and setting a good example.

Then to illustrate the point, I shared one of my more embarrassing stories. When I was in 6th grade, on the verge of graduating to the JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL, I decided to leave our mark upon the elementary school we had called home for the past 6 years.

We were in a small school, one class for each grade. I was a leader of sorts in our micro-world. I convinced all the 6th grade girls of my stellar idea. We were going to write graffiti on the walls to display our obvious preparedness for the JUNIOR HIGH. We were going to use... gasp... curse words! This would be an absolute demonstration of our maturity for the big leagues.

I pondered over how to best display our readiness for Junior High. The words reached me like a vision. A phrase so filled with brilliance and the ability to use TWO, not one, curse words. I convinced my classmates that the lasting graffiti for us to leave as our legacy was:

"Shit your ass off"

Being the ringleader that I was, I wasn't going to do the actually writing. Rather, I convinced my friends to do the dirty work. And within a day, the lower 5 grades were encouraged to shit their asses off. The principal somehow or another discovered I was behind the brilliance. I was the one responsible for leaving behind such a noteworthy message for the young ones who followed. I had to stay after to clean the stalls. I'm so grateful that my followers had the sense to use pencil. I think pens were for the Junior High kids. Thank goodness we weren't deemed ready yet.

Even bad choices can be erased.

The Technology Gap

When my daughter was four, I probably should have gotten an inkling. Our monthly Disney book arrived and as we opened it excitedly, I noticed that month’s selection was Mickey and the Beanstalk, a Disney-esque retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk. My memory was nudged, having heard the story repeatedly as a child. It was a favorite. We had a collection of Disney LPs, so I knew it frontwards and backwards. As I read the story to her, I even knew the voices and the songs. She stopped me and asked, “Mommy, did you have this video when you were little?”

Without missing a beat, I answered, “No, I had the record.”

“What's a record?”

I should have known. It was the foreshadowing of many such conversations.

I remember black & white TV and rabbit ears. I recall only a few channels; ABC, NBC, and CBS, and for certain hours of the day PBS. I remember getting cable television in the 80s and being able to SEE the music that I had grown up with. Some of my friends had movie channels and we would watch Star Wars and Eddie and the Cruisers as many times as we wanted. The movie channels only broadcast about three movies a month, repeatedly. Videotapes were essentially for home movies and really high tech people.

My music buff friend told me about CD players. I was a loyal member of the Columbia Record Club and got my 12 free albums for a penny. CDs were of no interest to me with their shrunken artwork and miniscule lyric sheets. Plus, how could I make a favorite song cassette tape for my Walkman without my albums?

In my mid 20s I began to make the transition to CDs, and stopped buying records completely. My albums still are protected in plastic sleeves in an orange crate in the basement. I don’t know why I keep them, but I cannot imagine life without them. Visual testimony to being a music junkie.

My idea of audio visual technology is so deeply engrained in my psyche that it never occurred to me that my children wouldn’t know what a record was. I began a mission to find an old fashioned record player like we used to have in the schools, those magical self contained hinged boxes that would play either 33 or 45s. I still had my Disney albums and wanted to share the stories with my kids that way. We could just close our eyes and let our brains provide the Technicolor imagery. I asked a favorite aunt whose hobby was garage sales to keep her eyes peeled coupled with regular Ebay searches.

Finally, I found a turntable. It wasn't the self contained magical box I wanted, but it still would play records. I had to special order a needle for it and we were ready to listen to Mickey and the Beanstalk. It was every bit as memorable as I hoped, at least for me. My daughter didn’t seem to share my enthusiasm. Of course, that could have been my absolute paranoia at letting her use the turntable after the hoops I went through to get it. I don’t know for sure. It gathers dust now.

I never wanted to be the sort of parent who waxed nostalgic about “when I was a kid” complete with me leaning over a cane and having a shaky voice and peppering my speech with mutterings about whippersnappers. Our recent trip to The Smithsonian and the National Art Gallery left me with no choice. I could practically taste the shots of Geritol to keep me spry at my advanced age.

We saw a photography exhibit of Robert Frank’s work from the book The Americans, snapped throughout the 50s. It contained film proofs and early dark room prints. My children did not remember what a film camera was. I was amazed. I had one for their early years; I only made the transition to digital about six years ago. I still have canisters of undeveloped film and a few throwaway cameras. But they barely remembered cameras with film. That stunned me and I felt a bit old.

To cement that I felt my age, we saw a typewriter on display at the Smithsonian. My youngest asked me how that worked and how on earth did you correct mistakes? I explained about the white correction paper that you would backspace and slip the paper in and type over your error, backspace, pull the paper out and retype it correctly. I thought about my research papers when only the really geeky sorts used something called Word Perfect in the computer lab. I remembered a paper I wrote in college decrying the loss of typewriters, while at the same time acknowledging the need for progress. My first major purchase as an adult was indeed an electric typewriter, not a computer/word processor.

The irony of explaining a typewriter was not lost as the very next place we went was the outdoor sculpture garden, and the first artwork we saw was a giant typewriter eraser. Timing was everything.

I didn’t think about the technology gap again until yesterday. I had to stop at the store for two things and my daughter wanted to wait in the car. I handed her the keys in case she wanted to listen to the radio or a CD. She looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language as she inserted the ear buds of her iPod.

I suddenly have a taste for some Metamucil to chase the Geritol.

April 21, 2009

Driving in Traffic 101

I truly should have been born more privileged in life and had my own personal car & driver. I find driving tedious, dangerous and uncomfortable. But for a family, it's an economical and relatively hassle free way to arrive at point B from point A.

The thought of staying in my small town for an entire week was more painful than the idea of a road trip. We opted to see our nation's capitol. With the advice of some locals and a bit of research, the trip was set. In less than a 5 hour drive and all the hustle and bustle of Washington DC would be ours for the asking. Provided the drive go smoothly.

It didn't.

Garmin nüvi 3790T Sat Nav I literally crossed the border from MD to DC on a small narrow parkway that had signs posted what hours we could travel that direction on the road. While trying to absorb the information, the vehicle in front of me stopped suddenly. I did, too.

By hitting her. Luckily, it wasn't a serious accident, but an inconvenience. The damage was minimal, except she was driving a dealer loaner vehicle, so we had to wait for a police officer to come take a report. That also proved confusing as nobody knew whose jurisdiction the accident happened. VA, MD, or DC? It took nearly an hour to sort out, and I had a sinking feeling that my vehicle fun was only beginning.

Parking in DC is not easy either. I found what seemed to be a good lot and we braved the cold rainy day by lurking in the National Art Gallery. At 5 PM, we'd had enough since we had started so early in the day and decided to head back to the room. Rookie mistake to leave DC during 5 PM rush hour. I could have crawled back to the room more efficiently.

The 20 mile, two hour drive to our hotel in Northern VA solidified my decision that the Metro was the way to get into the city. Slight problem. No parking was available at the first Metro Station. I drove another 5 miles to the next one and found a meter, since the lots were still full. I rummaged through the bowels of my purse, the van floor and scavenged the change from the kids' wallets for all coins silver-colored.

Like a reverse slot machine, I poured in one coin after another, but no time registered on the meter. I read the fine print. It only accepted quarters, but there was no change machine in sight. Curses! OH did I! I pulled out the Mother of all swear words and tarnished the innocent ears of the Minis. We had to drive into the city. I think I scared them, as we passed two or three more Metro stations and I asked, Should I look for parking here? It was met with a resounding "NO!"

I drove right into DC around 10:30 AM and found a lovely parking garage. We decided to stay until 7 PM to avoid the rush hour. We got back that second night the same time we did by leaving at 5 PM. I felt positively local by now and decide to do the same thing the following day, Friday.

We stayed in DC for dinner and discovered that our car was locked in the garage for the WEEKEND. (No, there were no signs indicating this, apparently though I was in a university parking lot and shouldn't have parked there in the first place). HUGE PROBLEM since we planned to head home the following morning.

Fortunately, I had a guardian angel friend that we had dinner with and then drove us back to the hotel promising to bring us back to the city the next morning to figure out how to get our car out of vehicle prison, as I rattled against the aluminum door, banging for my vehicle to appear.

I was on a bit of a wild goose chase from the parking garage, to the phone number on my claim ticket, to the university police, to a 24 hour lot that I COULD have parked at had I known, back to the police to finally claim my minivan.

The best part? As the officer was walking with me to my van, he inquired, "Oh, don't they have front license plates in your state?" I sheepishly smiled, "Yes, they do, but the screw on it was bent on the way INTO DC when I bumped that vehicle, and I removed it so it wouldn't get lost."

Yet, despite all the travel trials, we had a fabulous trip and look forward to returning again. My plan next time is to stay in the city proper and take our bicycles to get around. Good idea?

April 13, 2009

The Mean Mom Award Goes To...

Every summer, our family vacations with another family. We’ve done this for nearly 10 summers now. It’s perfect for everyone. The moms have someone to cook and shop with, the dads have someone to play golf with and the kids don’t kill their siblings. One of the highlights of our annual vacation is comparing Mean Mom notes. My girlfriend and I have an ongoing competition, but we always wind up in a dead heat to be the reigning Mean Mom. We try to outdo each other during the week by making the kids brush their teeth, pick up their Popsicle wrappers and clear the table after they eat. All in all, we’re quite mean, and rather proud of it.

Spring break is upon us and I thought I would get an early edge on the competition so I’m in prime shape when summer arrives. I’m tired of this “tie” nonsense. I want to win.

Our break began Thursday afternoon. My oldest was on her way back from Washington DC for a class trip and the youngest one had Little League practice. I thought that it would be best to go out for pizza to celebrate the triumphant and safe return of the oldest. Plus, I didn’t want to cook.

Our road weary traveler rolled in, and like any effective Mean Mom, I was one of the last to pick her up, by almost a whole 5 minutes. I was trying to time the end of practice and the picking up time, which were at the same time. After my oldest was safely buckled in the seat, I said, “We’re going to go for pizza.”

She wailed. “Mom, don’t make me eat another bite of junk food! That’s all I had! I’m want something healthy!”

I consider her rant testimony to my effectiveness as a Mean Mom. I have actually convinced my child that going for pizza is a bad thing, not a good one. Even worse, the cupboard was suspiciously bare, save the thawing Easter ham, since we had a lot of visiting and time away from home planned over the next few days. I was excited at my possible coup in the Mean Mom category.

Then I lost my competitive edge as I suggested that we could order pizza in for everyone else, but that I would make her sautéed spinach with garlic. In other Mean Mom competitions, that would be points, but since I’m such an effective torture administrator, my child thinks I was doing something nice with the spinach.

We made it through the night, but I didn’t score any Mean points. I tucked her in and kissed her and told her I was glad she was home. She slept 11 hours and I didn’t wake her up. I’m losing ground quickly.

Every Good Friday, we have a traditional family fish fry. The past few years, we’ve missed it because we would go to Florida to visit family. This year, we were able to make it, so that was exciting. There are a number of younger cousins, so I planned an Easter egg hunt for the lil' ones. My children who are old enough to have their own cell phones and to stop wearing clothing from Carter's also felt they were NOT too old for the hunt. I had to divide the number of eggs by two more people. I suggested they search for Chocolate Dog Yard Bombs and I would give them money. Major Mean Mom points.

Alas, they were, "not too old for the egg, but too wise for the dog poop" hunt. Curses. Foiled, again. I couldn't give up! I could see my plans to dominate the competition dwindling.

On Saturday we colored eggs. First, I made them empty the dishwasher before we could do the eggs. I had picked up one of the fancy "glittery tie dye you're so creative” egg kits. "Why can't we just do the food coloring eggs, Mom?" I made them do chores before they made fancy eggs. I think I scored a few more Mean Mom points. I may be gaining ground again.

The clincher came Easter morning. We wanted to go to early church services and they wanted to have their Easter baskets before church so they had to hurry up and get ready then they could look for them. They know there is no Easter Bunny, my oldest figured it out when she was about five and saw one wearing sneakers. She proceeded to explain to me that it while Santa and the Tooth Fairy made sense, a giant bunny did not. But I play along. I tend to be a kid at heart, too. After a dogged (no pun, I swear!) search, I told them they were hidden somewhere they see everyday, but never think about on their own. Guess where I hid the baskets?

The dishwasher.

See, there was a method to my madness the previous day.

I intend to win this Mean Mom thing yet. Hope springs eternal.

April 1, 2009

Humility Reigns

Do you ever have those "Homer Simpson" moments where you smack your head and say d'oh? Except perhaps they are also coupled with intense embarrassment. Homer is never embarrassed. I am. Even when I don't have witnesses.

I drove my children to school this morning because the older one had a huge project and being the nice mom I am I didn't want her to try to wrestle it on the bus, etc. I think at times I am a bit indulgent. I refrained from the "walking six miles uphill to school in the snow" talk, but I did realize Mama NEVER drove us to school. The bus was the only option. Or walking. I never missed it, or I truly would have known what it was to walk six miles to school in the snow. But I like to think I know it, because I did have occasion to walk or ride my bike, or I just didn't go, whereas today the kids get taxied.

I suppose to assuage my feelings of being an indulgent mom, I was alert to examples of more indulgent parents than I. And wow did I find one! I was behind a bus on the way back from the school and I saw a car idling at the end of the driveway holding precious cargo that apparently was unable to wait for the bus in the elements. (it's 58 degrees here today!) Gosh, what parent does that? I felt extremely smug and important as I passed judgment on the driveway dwelling car. I had a regular mental dialogue filled with opinions about how I would not drive my car to the end of the driveway on any day just so my kids could wait for the bus. I always felt a bit smug about those bus stop shelters people built at the end of their driveway also. My sense of being overly indulgent was put back in place. Surely I am not one of THOSE parents.

Then the bus stopped and an aide got off to help the handicapped young man in the back seat use his walker to get onto the side door of the bus. I sat in my vehicle, tears welling up in my eyes.

Embarrassed by my arrogance and judgment. Thank goodness it was only a mental moment. Thank goodness more I am lucky enough to watch my children walk onto the bus with two feet.

Those moments define our lives. Papa used to always say, "I used to complain that I had no shoes until I met a man with no feet."

I feel so much less indulgent, and so much more grateful. Yes, I am not one of those parents, and my heart goes out to them. I think I'll drive the kids to school again tomorrow.

Just because I'd like to do it without mental resentment that I'm being overindulgent.


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