Friday, April 30, 2010

The Lure of the Museum Gift Shop

Yesterday was Ian's field trip to NYC. I chaperoned. We visited the United Nations (I highly recommend taking the tour) and the American Museum of Natural History. We lunched on a great big rock in Central Park and had dinner at Mars 2112 in Times Square. But do you know what is always the highlight of any field trip? The destination gift shops.

I believe gift shops pump candy-scented molecules into the air to entice children to enter. Once there, they are held captive by the never-ending assortment of crap myriad of goodies. Everything from mugs, marbles, and magnets, to books, bags, and baubles. At the UN gift shop, Ian settled on two items. The national flag of Tunisia which is his country for the sixth grade UN project, and a United Nations mouse pad. I had to steer him away from that must-have UN magnet.

At the Museum, Ian purchased (with his own money), a panda bear necklace. It was a sorta-manly styled necklace, but I guess the big selling point for Ian was the bear's "mood-indicator." Like the mood rings of the seventies, these necklaces change color depending on how you're feeling. I have no doubt it will be very effective. Of course he's already taken it off and I don't expect I'll ever see it on him again. (I've had Abby model it here for you.)

As someone who is notoriously cheap very practical, I have issues with souvenirs as a whole. It pains me to watch my child spend his hard-earned money, or mine, on generally junky items that I know within days will disappear into the black hole that is his bedroom. But still, how do you say no to this essential piece of the field trip experience? My parents, who were also notoriously cheap very practical, never denied me the opportunity to bring home a trinket from my travels. In fact, I have a warm memory of being in a gift shop, trying to decide on a pair of earrings to bring home for my mom. They had the same design available in three shapes: circle, oval, and rectangle. Since I just couldn't make up my mind I did what any sensible and loving child would do. I bought all three. She still has them all, though I'm not sure I remember her ever wearing them. Ah, the memories.

Any gift shop souvenirs you've kept since your school days?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Parenting, Swedish Fish, Freakin Angels, and Those Three Little Words

A funny thing happened on the way to this blog post, and naturally it involved that Freakin' Angel Karen who always has something thought-provoking to say.

Today's post was going to be on the topic of how to teach your children to make good decisions. Now it seems it will be about the importance of those three little words: "I am sorry." But let me back up.

On Sundays from 5:00 - 6:30 p.m., Ian goes to middle school youth group at our church. He loves it. In fact, it may be the only thing he loves that doesn't involve a screen. Because youth group takes place at dinnertime, they feed the kids. Usually it's pizza. Parents pitch in a couple bucks (when I remember) to help pay for it.

This past Sunday, when I picked up Ian, I noticed there were no pizza boxes present. (I know because I was hoping to snag a leftover piece). Driving home I asked Ian what they did for dinner and he told me that they walked to Wawa (the world's best convenience store, for those of you who don't live in the northeast portion of the country). I asked him what he got. He told me "Swedish Fish."

I proceeded to go off on him and his lack of judgment. I also questioned whether our youth directors should be allowing 11-to-13-year-olds to make their own dinner decisions (with my $3), but Ian implored me not to "ruin it for everyone." The whole battle discussion mom-meltdown was just one in an ever-increasing series of confrontations with my almost-twelve-year-old. It's becoming exhausting.

Here's where the Freakin' Angel intervention comes into the story.

On Monday night after our Pilates class, FAs Karen and Cathie and I decided to undo all the benefits of working out by going out for drinks afterward. We were joined by FAs Kim G. and Lori. As we women are known to do, we talked. A lot. About everything. I told them my Ian & the Swedish Fish story and instead of rousing support for my tough stance, FA Karen's first response was "at least he told you the truth."


I think I'm pretty good at those teachable moments. I think I generally handle things with a textbook approach. But I totally missed the boat on this one. I was so quick to let Ian have it that it didn't occur to me that I needed to recognize his honesty.

When I got home Monday night, Ian was already in bed. I left on Tuesday morning before he was awake. And all day yesterday the need to talk to him was eating at me. When I finally walked in the door at 8:30 p.m., I did a pile driver on him on the couch, and told him I wanted to talk to him. I told him I wanted to apologize. Here's what I said,
The other night when I yelled at you about the Swedish Fish thing, I should have told you I was proud of you for telling me the truth. I shouldn't have gone off on you like that. I don't want you to start lying to me because you're afraid of how I'll react to the truth. So I am sorry. Of course, I hope in the future you'll make better decisions with regard to having Swedish Fish for dinner.
Ian's eyes lit up. He had a big smile and a laugh. He got it. I got it. It was a great moment in parenting history, all thanks to FA Karen.

I think being able to say "I'm sorry" to our children is both one of the hardest things to do and one of the most important. It teaches our kids that adults also make mistakes and hopefully it teaches them how to say "I'm sorry," too.

One mom learning experience down, 543,938 to go. 

Monday, April 26, 2010

Wanna Get Away?

As I write, I'm enjoying a frozen margarita. I just discovered I like frozen margaritas two weeks ago when my Freakin' Angel friend Cathie made them in celebration of the season premiere of Glee. (Yep, we're total gleeks.)

Friends and margaritas got me thinking:

Friend = Cathie
and Cathie = Margaritas
and Margaritas = Mexico
and Mexico = Get-away,
Friend = Get-away

Today I'm recommending that all you women out there get away. With just the girls. (If you're not a girl, you might be disappointed with this post, but you'll just have to forgive me and find something else to read.) Sure, time with your family, spouse, or significant other is important, but there's something cathartic and special about a get-away with girlfriends.

Now if you're like me, you're saying "No shit duh! Girl time is awesome. Where are we going and when do we leave?" But it has come to my attention that there are some women (and let's pray they're in the minority), that don't want to go away. Don't want to leave their husband and/or their children. My neighbor Linda recently shared this disturbing piece of information when informing me about her husband's current boys-only trip. In SWITZERLAND. Each year, they take turns planning a get-away and the rest of the gang doesn't know where they're going until the day they leave. (Very cool concept, and particularly note-worthy because I don't know too many men who are good at planning anything, much less a vacation.) When I told Linda she needed to take a trip with the girls, she completely agreed. Unfortunately, it seems her circle of friends falls into this bizarre subset of women who don't want to travel sans man and child. I think Linda really needs new friends. Knowing there are women out there like this concerns frightens me.

In an effort to keep wives and moms sane (and to boost the struggling travel industry), I'm going to offer, as an unpaid public service, the top 5 reasons why all women should go on an annual girls getaway:

  1. You never have to go to bed early with that "I have a headache" excuse. 
  2. Your girlfriends will never raise their eyebrows when you have dessert after dinner. And lunch. Every day.
  3. You can't giggle or laugh too much when you're with the girls.
  4. Reading chick lit is perfectly acceptable.
  5. The girls totally understand why you need to purchase jewelry, an outfit, or at least a Christmas tree ornament as a souvenir.
And probably the very best reason to get away is that when you return home your family may actually appreciate you--at least for those first five minutes, and you just might appreciate them, too.
For your comments:
  1. Girls get-away: YES or NO?
  2. Your top reason why girls should get away.
  3. Your best girl get-away

Thursday, April 22, 2010

There's No Accounting for Taste

I try not to judge others. At least not out loud. At least not so they notice. But tonight at the grocery store I think I was obviously staring. A middle-aged man was wearing camouflage pants and a blue oxford dress shirt. Now, if they had been your standard green military-issue camouflage, or some funky, "make a statement" style, I wouldn't have thought much of it (though the combo with the dress shirt would still have been strange). But these camo pants were shades of red, purple, pink, and brown and looked like they were meant to be worn when traipsing through the falling leaves of autumn, perhaps with a picnic basket swung over your arm. I wish I'd had a secret spy camera on me so I could have shared them with you. A quick Google image search turned up nothing like them. And that's saying something.

This little episode reminded me that there's really no accounting for taste. We toss around that expression, but it's something that really perplexes me. How can we all be so different when it comes to what we find attractive, interesting, tasty, and enjoyable? At the risk of offending my readers (all three of you), here are some things I just don't "get":
  • Heavy metal music
  • Artichokes
  • Lion garden sculptures 
  • Bleach blondes with fake tans, lots of makeup and plastic boobs
  • Cube cars and those other box-shaped vehicles
  • Slasher movies
  • Pro wrestling
  • Incense
  • The Three Stooges
  • "Pants on the ground"
  • Keanu Reeves
To be fair, I'm sure there are things that I like that others don't get either:
  • The Indigo Girls
  • Minivans
  • Pork roll
  • Movies with subtitles
  • The smell of skunks
  • Going to church
  • Keeping my maiden name
  • "Glee"
So let's hear it. What's on your "What the hell are they thinking" list? And what would others find peculiar about your tastes?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Angels Among Us

This post is dedicated to another Freakin' Angel in my life, Dr. Ann Bates. You know how some people are just lucky? Ann isn't one of those people. Or, on the other hand, maybe she is.

Ann is a wife, mom, doctor, and cancer survivor. About eight years ago, she survived brain cancer. Then, last July, she was diagnosed with Myelodysplastic Syndrome, a cancer of the blood and marrow that required a bone marrow transplant. She spent many long months in treatment and is now, once again, on the mend.

Having cancer does not necessarily make someone a Freakin' Angel. Having cancer and still managing to see life's blessings and to be a blessing to others is what makes someone a Freakin' Angel. Ann most certainly qualifies.

Here are some of the things her fellow Angels had to say when asked about Ann:

Ann is smart, sophisticated and so kind.  She is the 'go to' friend for medical advice as well as spiritual support.  Ann has a way of truly always seeing the good in all situations. She is always putting others first, even in the hardest times. Her love and devotion to her son and husband are a true testimony of God's love for us. I admire her dedication to her family, friends, the Lord and her profession and patients. Ann is never short for words and can make the most unpleasant and painful procedures sound 'routine', humorous, and uplifting.  In her fight with cancer, Ann has been ministering to us, praying for others and encouraging us to make each and every day the best one yet!  I can say, without a doubt, that Ann Bates is an angel on earth!  
Ann is a great blend of science and faith. She is a person who can explain to you the medical intricacies of an ailment afflicting a loved one and then pray with you with the faith of one who has walked her share of trials. I used to think of Ann as an optimistic person and now I think that description just doesn't go deep enough. She's not overly cheery and she doesn't deny the challenges ahead, but she communicates an underlying belief that the Lord is in control.  She is comfortable to be around, smiles and laughs easily and just generally an amazing woman.
Ann is a Freakin’ Angel because of her strength of spirit and faith.
I don't know Ann well, but what I know, I'm in awe of.  She is brilliant and genuine and has the most amazing heart of a servant that I have ever been blessed to know.
The thing I find most amazing about Ann is regardless of what is going on in her life--she is ALWAYS thinking of others. She is always willing to lend a hand or give words of encouragement no matter how hard her life is at any given time. She is one of the most positive people I know!
Our community of faith is disappointed that Ann and her family are moving away in June (to Princeton where her husband is the university's lacrosse coach!), but as another Freakin' Angel said, "While I'm sad that she will be moving soon, I'm thrilled that another community will be able to experience her love."

Ann, you are light, love, hope, and joy, and you are an amazing Freakin' Angel!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Training Dragons and Raising Children

On Friday night I surprised my best guy and took him to a late movie. We saw the 9:30 showing of "How to Train Your Dragon." Loved it! I laughed, I cried. I squealed. Going to the movies with me is always a highly interactive and sometimes embarrassing experience.

If you haven't seen it, or haven't psychoanalyzed it, "How to Train Your Dragon" is more than just a fun, kid adventure with Vikings and scary beasts. It is also a thought-provoking look at the gulf that exists in our understanding and appreciation of one another. On a grand scale, it speaks volumes about how we treat those we perceive to be our enemies, and on a more personal level, it is a moving tale of the often complicated relationship between fathers and sons (or parents and their children in general).

The basic storyline is this: The aptly-named Hiccup is a likable, self-deprecating youth who, in the eyes of the dragon-centric Viking community, is a classic screw-up. His dad is the aptly-named Stoik -- Head Viking. Mr. Macho. Main Dragon Slayer. Hiccup wants to prove he's capable. He desires that love and admiration. One night he tries to slay the most fearsome dragon known to man, and when he captures that mighty beast, he chokes. He can't follow through and do what needs to be done. And this decision, to let the dragon live, has far-reaching implications, the most important being that Hiccup discovers his gifts.

The moral of the human story? Love and accept your children for who they are instead of who you want them to be, and they just might succeed beyond your wildest dreams.

I must admit that as a parent, this is one of the things I most struggle with. We all want what's best for our children, and we often assume we know what that is. When it turns out that our son or daughter doesn't want to slay dragons even though everyone else is slaying dragons, we're disappointed. We probably sign them up for dragon slaying classes anyway, hoping they'll come to their senses. When he or she actually prefers befriending the dragons, we may even renounce them as our child.

What I so often forget is that my children's lives are not mine to control. My children are not my possessions. As a Christian, I believe my children are a gift--and equipped with gifts--from God. Sometimes I want to return the gift (!), but when I'm thinking clearly I remember that my responsibility as their parent is to love them, care for them, support them, and direct them in the way they should go based on those God-given gifts.

I love it when a movie, especially a kids movie, can provide such a powerful reminder of an important life lesson. Two thumbs up for "How to Train Your Dragon!"

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

He's Always a Woman to Me

The UPS guy dropped off a package today. I was excited, trying to remember what I ordered. Alas, it wasn't for me. It was for the other woman that lives here. The other woman also known as my husband. Many signs point to my husband being part woman:
  1. Clothing. Has more than I do. Owns better stuff than I do. Shops for new stuff more often than I do. Spends more than I do. And yesterday he made me throw out a pair of my shoes that he said were old and frumpy looking.
  2. Showers. Long showers. His legs are quite hairy so I know he's not shaving in there. What takes so long is a mystery to me.
  3. Getting ready. It starts with the shower and it's downhill from there. I can be ready to go in 5 minutes flat. I like to give him at least forty-five minutes. 
  4. Better late than never? Probably as a result of #2 and #3, the man is late for everything. 
  5. Chatty Cathy. The man talks on the phone more often and for much longer than I do. My sister, my mom, and several of my girlfriends count on much more significant conversations with my husband than they have with me.
  6. Nervous Nellie. He insists on having me run the kids to the doctor for every fever, cough, and sniffle even when I know that it's nothing that can be medicated. And he's a germaphobe who puts anti-bacterial wipes in their lunches and sends the troops to the bathroom for hand washing every time we go out to eat.
  7. Warm and fuzzy. It's always the woman that's cold and wants the blankets and the heat turned up, right? Not here. My husband is the first to clamor for the flannel sheets, blankets, and footy pajamas. He sweats me out, right into the spare bedroom.
  8. Just leave that to me. Yard work. Painting. Meeting with contractors. The man's job? Not in this house. My man is more likely found with a book or a crossword puzzle than a hammer, rake, or Swiss army knife.
While I offer this list for a laugh at my husband's expense, I do have to admit that this womanly side of my man has its advantages. He happens to also be kind, considerate, sensitive to my emotional needs, and a loving and affectionate husband and father.

So, who wants to join me in outing the woman in your man?

Monday, April 12, 2010

I Work, Therefore I Am

"Mom, you're always working! We're supposed to be on vacation." My son Ian gave me grief for being on my computer, checking my work email while we were visiting my sister in Colorado over spring break. For the record, my computer time was relegated to early mornings or early evenings while the kids were watching television. Most of our sunlight hours were devoted to touristy stuff including horseback riding, panning for gemstones, walking across the world's highest suspension bridge, taking in an IMAX-like movie at the Wildlife Experience museum, eating funnel cake, taking train get the idea. At no point during these activities did I check email or make a work-related call.  I actually left the Crackberry at home. Instead, I focused entirely on keeping Ian and Abby from killing each other Ian and Abby and photographing our adventures.

So you may wonder why I couldn't stay off the computer altogether while we were on vacation. There are two simple answers:
  1. I wanted to keep up with work stuff so I wasn't overwhelmed upon my return, and, 
  2. I'm addicted to technology
And the less simple, but most honest and geeky answer: I love my job and I love working.

    When Ian was born I had every intention of being a full-time mom. I stayed home with him for three years. And I spent about half of my days in tears. Yes, that was pre-medication, but it was also the result of feeling a lack of identity and accomplishment on practically a daily basis. I remember thinking how ironic it was that motherhood was the most important job in the world and also the only job you couldn't just quit and walk away from when you found yourself completely unsuited for it.

    You might think this reaction to motherhood was just the result of post postpartum depression and being home with a newborn, but I still have many of these same feelings today and I think I figured out why:

    At work I've got some level of control and most of the time I know what I'm doing. I can see the results of my efforts. After nearly 12 years doing this motherhood thing, I'm still flying by the seat of my pants. Control? Ha. I think I'll be waiting a long time for that day to come. And the results of my efforts? I hear I might get lucky with that in about 10-15 years, if all goes well.

    So I confess that I did some work while on vacation. Yes, I wanted to keep the number of emails at a manageable level. But more importantly, I needed that "fix," that relief that comes with being needed and knowing the answers, and having a sense that there was something within my control. And let's face it, that kind of satisfaction is hard to come by when vacationing with a 9- and 12-year-old!

    And since I'm being so honest in this post, I think Ian should fess and up and be honest too. I know darn well that he didn't give a damn about mommy working. He just wanted to use my computer.

    Tuesday, April 6, 2010

    Still Waiting for the Pillow or the Plaque

    As I write, I'm flying back to Philadelphia from Denver. And boy, are my arms tired! My body and my motherly patience are also rather worn down. The kids and I let no grass grow under our feet on this vacation. We hit the trails by horse, train, incline, aerial tram, suspension bridge, and snow tube. And the kids hit each other with fists, feet, and verbal assaults.

    The Sibling Battles of Castle Rock, CO served as chilling reminders of the 1977-1987 Sister Battles of Easton, PA. For about ten years, my sister Dawn and I were on opposite sides of the battle lines, regularly terrorizing each other and our parents who were certain that one day we were going to kill each other, if they didn’t kill us first.

    Though I know it disappointed my parents terribly to have their daughters constantly at war, I don’t remember shedding too many tears over this lack of sisterly love. (If I was shedding tears it was a result of Dawn inflicting bodily harm on a regular basis.) Dawn and I were (are?) just two very different creatures.

    • Rule-follower
    • Obedient
    • Sensitive/emotional
    • Eager to please
    • Serious
    • Rule-breaker
    • Strong-willed
    • Unemotional/disconnected
    • Eager to live her life
    • Fun-loving

    With a four-year difference in our ages, we never went to school together and never had the same friends. I graduated from college when she graduated from high school. We took a cruise together that year, just the two of us, and still didn’t manage to bond. (She stayed up partying; I went to bed.)

    I don’t know when it happened exactly, but at some point, after officially becoming a grown up, it occurred to me that I was missing something. I was missing having my sister as my friend.

    All around me were women who claimed their sister(s) as their best friend. I had a coworker who watched television over the phone, long distance, with her sister. I became aware of all the kitschy stuff which celebrated sisters (“Chance made us sisters; choice made us friends.”) Our own mother and her four sisters personified the bonds of sisterhood. I wanted some of that. Unfortunately, "some of that" moved to Colorado shortly after I decided we could and should be friends.

    While we're geographically further apart than we've ever been, today Dawn and I are closer than ever. Motherhood has helped our friendship immensely. Commiserating over kids and husbands is a definite bond for women everywhere. 

    Will Dawn and I ever be the type of sisters who watch movies together long distance or buy each other sisterly plaques or pillows? Hell no. Not likely. But our progress gives me hope that one day Ian and Abby will stop exchanging blows and will possibly exchange hugs instead. Hey, a mom can dream, can't she?

    Saturday, April 3, 2010

    The Contradiction of Good Friday

    Peaceful, content. Two words that rarely describe me. Late Friday afternoon I had the joy of feeling both as I drove, alone, toward Colorado Springs. I'd had a kid-filled day. My own. My nephew. And a museum-full at the Wildlife Experience place. Now, I was heading toward the Air Force Academy where I was going to visit the chapel for the Good Friday service. The Air Force Academy Chapel is renown as an architectural beauty and I was looking forward to seeing it for the first time on this solemn occasion.

    As I approached from across the courtyard, the chapel's spires rose up against the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains. Entering, I literally gasped. Its beauty took my breath away. Triangular panels of stained glass softly lit the inside. Having arrived early, I found a seat in the pew and took in my surroundings. And then it hit me, the contrast of the images around me. Separating the stained glass were cold, metallic pieces. And the cross hanging above the alter? Also cold and metallic. In fact, the "arms" of the cross resembled the wings or propeller of a plane. And the bottom of the cross came to almost a point. A sharp point like that of a sword or a dagger. An uncomfortable juxtaposition, the beauty combined with the violence.

    But this is the contradiction of our faith, and Good Friday in particular. The terrible irony of calling this day "Good." The day Christ took our sin, our judgment, and our punishment. The day he was betrayed, crucified, and died the most horrible death imaginable. The day he died to redeem us, to grant us his grace, to offer us the ultimate peace.