Monday, May 31, 2010

A Shout-Out to Memorial Day Weekend

Ah, Memorial Day weekend! The "unofficial" start of summer is always a good thing, and when it's as bright, sunny, and warm as it was this weekend, it's a great thing. The only way to make this weekend even better than it already is is to head to your happy place, and that's just what Rob an the kids and I did. We even managed to go three for three on my happy places in a less than 24-hour period.

Saturday evening we took in the fireworks in Barnegat Bay, literally in the Bay. My dad took us out on his boat, as close to the barge from where they were launching the fireworks as the police would allow. Happy place #1 for me.

Late Sunday afternoon we hung in the Bee-Hive, the cottage in Waretown, NJ where my parents have spent most of every summer since well before I was even born. Happy place #2.

Happy place #3 is Long Beach Island where I grew up vacationing every summer with my family. Rob and the kids and I hung in LBI, on the beach in Surf City, all day Sunday.

There's something about the first beach day of summer. The dreaded moment when you realize you've got to put a bathing suit on again. The assessment of available sunscreen from last season. The packing for a few hours on the beach that appears to be the equivalent of leaving home for several days. And then there's the actual beach time.

The highlights:
  • Being packed like sardines, hundreds of beach goers all angling for a bit of a cool ocean breeze that's in frustratingly short supply given the heat
  • The traditional ankle-numbing cold for your first taste of the ocean this season
  • The miserable dad chasing the terrible-two-year-old who refuses to stay within arm's reach
  • The snack-stealing seagulls
  • The tweens (i.e. Ian) who aren't of the age to appreciate the "sights," but are too old for sand toys and thus whine about being bored every 15 minutes
  • Finding sand in crevices you didn't even know you had
  • The ice cream man's bell and the Pavlov's dog reaction it elicits from kids of all ages
 And of course, no visit to the beach is complete without the body parade:
  • The tall, shapely girl hanging with the not-tall, nor shapely girl who secretly despises her friend
  • The posers with their body art
  • The meaty, muscle-bound studs strutting their stuff, willing to brave the cold water just for the attention
  • The perennially-tanned teens and twenty-somethings in their barely-there bikinis
  • The alligator-skinned old-timers who've spent every day of every summer living on the beach and have earned the right to wear that scary thong or "banana hammock" (an expression Rob just introduced me to)
And then there's me. Middle-aged mom, missing my youth, wearing the skirt-bottom bathing suit to cover the thigh dimples. Missing the usual spots with the sunscreen so that I look like a candy cane by the end of the day. Reading not chick lit, Entertainment Weekly, or even a NY Times best seller, but A Parent's Guide to the Middle School Years, still desperately and unsuccessful attempting to understand my son. Yes, this was definitely my happy place.

After all the sun and fun, the veterans groups outside the local store bring us back to reality. The reality of why we celebrate this weekend. It's not really about unofficial start of summer, is it? It's about those who gave so much and those who sacrificed it all so that we may enjoy the freedom of our happy places. God bless our vets.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Game Over

Ian quit baseball yesterday. Rob wasn't happy. In fact, when I started to write this post, Rob was simmering with quiet anger. He has now settled into a state of quiet disappointment. I think Rob was almost as upset with me as he was with Ian, since I enabled the quitting.

The way baseball season has worked this year is that Rob talks to Ian the morning of or night before a game, gets him to commit to that particular game, and then leaves it up to me to get him to the ballpark when required. Ian always responds the same way to my attempts to get him out of the house at the given time: "I'm not going." I express my frustration and disappointment in the nicest possible terms. I tell him his father is going to be very upset with him. I ask him why he agreed to go when his dad talked to him about it. And ultimately I resort to, "Call your father. I'm not getting in the middle of this."

Yesterday morning Rob assured me Ian was good to go for last night's game. He told me Ian was allowed to bow out after this game if he personally informed the coaches that this was it for him. I expressed my skepticism about this whole scenario, but prepared to give it the old college try come 5:00 p.m.

At 5:00, I ask Ian to get dressed for the game. "I'm not going." We go through the scenario described above, ending in "call your father," but this time we hit a road bump. We can't reach Rob on the phone. As it gets closer to game time, mom panics. Ian is too big to wrestle to the floor and force into his baseball pants and jersey. And there's no way I'm dragging him to the car and strapping him into his car seat seat belt, kicking and screaming. In some ways, many ways, the toddler years were simpler. At least then you could physically manipulate them as required. The increasing difficulty of parenting this tween is not good news for me because I thought the toddler years were hell. But I digress.

I was stuck with a kid who was already late for pre-game warm-ups and who was expected to play ball in about 20 minutes. I resorted to telling him that not only is his dad going to be pissed angry disappointed with him, but his team is too. Of course, since he believes he's the worst kid on the team and they'd be better off without him, Ian isn't buying this at all. In desperation, I tell him that if he's not going to suit up and play, we've got to go tell the coach, in person. This idea has no appeal to Ian either. "Can't we call or send an email?" Nope. I stand firm. If you're going to be a quitter, you're going to be a quitter with class.

I drive Ian to the ballpark where I ask the coach for a minute of his time. Ian can't bring himself to tell the coach of his decision, so I do the talking. The coach expresses his disappointment, but understands. Ian stands there looking slightly mortified. Game over.

Monday, May 24, 2010

"A Tree is Known by its Fruit; a Man by His Deeds." --Saint Basil

Ian asked me the other day for examples of good deeds for a school project. I suggested:
  • Massaging mom's feet
  • Scrubbing the toilet
  • Washing the kitchen floor
  • Cleaning your room
  • Mowing the grass
He wasn't buying it. Turns out good deeds are not things you do when requested by family members. So much for my getting any "good deeds" out of Ian. But his question brought to mind a number of good deeds that are etched in my memory.

My parents have always been excellent role models where good deeds are concerned. Whether building a wheelchair ramp for a neighbor or working on a friend's boat, my dad's handyman skills have been put to good deed use on many, many occasions. Just a couple weeks ago he and my mom were classic examples of the kindness of strangers when a duffel bag fell out of the back of a pickup truck they were following. My dad stopped to pick it up and tried, unsuccessfully, to catch up to the vehicle. Luckily, inside the bag they found a phone number and reached the owners who had just arrived at the airport, missing their bag which happened to hold their identification. Though they had to cancel and reschedule their flight, my parents had saved the day by returning the lost bag to them.

One of my fondest childhood memories involved another good deed of my father's. Driving home from the shore, my dad saw a turtle in the middle of the road. Not only did he go around the turtle to avoid hitting it, but he pulled off to the side of the road, walked back to that turtle, and moved him out of the way where he wouldn't get hurt. Of course, it's distinctly possible that it had taken that turtle 15 hours to get that far across the road and my dad had just put him back at square one, but he meant well.

For someone with a notoriously bad memory, I find it noteworthy that good deeds tend to stay with me. I even recall an ex-boyfriend, who was really a bit of a goofball, helping an elderly woman pump her gas at a self-service station when the employees did nothing to help her despite her request for assistance.

There are many who bemoan the state of our society and question our values, morals, and ethics, but unless I'm living in a state of denial, I believe that people are inherently good. For further inspiration, check out these web sites I found when I searched Google for "good deeds":

Have any good deed stories you'd like to share? Leave a comment!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Ranting on Kids Sports

The out-of-control state of kids' sports has been addressed in the media and cyberspace ad nauseum, but I'm going to add my two cents because I'm really fired up. And it takes a lot to get me fired up.

This beef of mine started years ago when Ian was little. Really little. Like three or four-years-little. That's how young they start soccer and t-ball. Sure, it might be fun for the kids (though hell for the parents to sit through), but the downside is that
  1. If your child doesn't play from year one, they'll already be out of the loop and at a disadvantage when they try to start playing at age seven
  2. If your child stinks at age five, they will lose confidence and interest in the game before they're even old enough to understand it and reach their potential.

But, Rob and I are go with the flow kinda people so we threw our kids into this mess as soon as they met the age requirement. Needless to say, I can't bitch too much about a system I'm part of.

For the last couple years, I've been particularly frustrated with the leadership in one of my children's sports leagues. (I'm being purposely vague.)  This individual runs the league as if the players are working toward Olympic gold. We have trainers from other countries, for cryin' out loud. And don't get me started on the expense. Being on this person's "A" team sounds like a punishment, particularly if you're not performing at the level expected. I heard recently that one player was criticized for "looking like an A level player during tryouts, but not playing like one during the games." And players have been known to make the A team based on relationships versus skills. But hey, that's life, so why not start with kids sports. I need to be realistic.

Today, I learned that a friend's child did not make either of the league's fall teams for which they held tryouts last month. And for me, this could be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel's back. The official explanation is that there were too many children for two teams ("A" and "B") and not enough for a third team. I think that's crap. No child should be cut from a team at age nine. Add to the rosters of the A and B teams if you have to, even if it means less playing time for each child. At least on the more reasonable B team, the kids want to have fun and be with their friends, more than they care about winning state championships. I think if asked they would happily add to their numbers so every child had a chance to play.

But therein lies the problems with kids sports. Somewhere along the line it became more about the parents than the children. I imagine the system would be much more fair and enjoyable for everyone concerned if we let kids make the rules.

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Sick Enough for Sympathy?

Those who know me know that I'm not the warm and fuzzy, "motherhood-rocks" type. My rather cynical and smart ass approach to parenting unfortunately carries over to when the kids, or my husband, is sick. I blame my parents (and someday my children will blame me) since they weren't exactly the sympathetic and doting types either (it's okay, guys. I still love you.).

I find that my degree of sympathy and a motherly response is dependent on the physical symptoms I can actually observe:
  • Throwing up? Excellent visual confirmation that you are, in fact, ill
  • Diarrhea? The kids think one messy poop qualifies. Me? I need to see regular desperate dashes to the bathroom. 
  • Fever of 101+? Check. That qualifies for some extra mommy-loving. 
  • A croupy cough that keeps you (and me) up at night? Okay, I can buy that. 
But laying around just feeling lousy? An occasional cough or sniffle? A sore throat that the doctor says isn't strep? Pick yourself up, take a shower, get dressed, and start moving. Like my Pop Pop used to tell his daughters, "Put on some lipstick, and you'll feel better." Lipstick was like a magical elixir for my pop pop.

Ian stayed home from school on Friday with a mild sore throat and general lack of energy. I let him stay home because it was the first sick day he requested this year. His vegetative state persisted through the weekend, causing him to miss an opportunity to go sailing with a friend. Missing an opportunity to hang in the Chesapeake on a 47' sailboat would have been a definite confirmation of illness for some (ME!). With Ian, however, I'm never sure if it's illness or a bit of anticipated homesickness that's causing discomfort. I once drove nine hours to pick him up, only slightly ill, from a church mission trip he attended with the youth group. I have my doubts about his general staying power.

On Monday I took Ian to the doctor who diagnosed allergies, suggested some Allavert, and told Ian he could go back to school. Ian wasn't having it. He stayed home again. Tuesday he said he felt moderately better so I pushed him out the door sent him off to school. When I picked him up he looked like death warmed over. He was dramatically improved, however, from about 4:00 p.m. till 9:00 p.m., and then went back to being pathetic not feeling well. Today he's home again.

Is it allergies?
Lyme disease?
Mono (and if so, who's he been kissing)?
Walking pneumonia?
Bubonic plague?
A school bully?
A difficult test?
A mere funk?

I suppose another visit to the doctor is in order, complete with blood work, if this persists.

While I continue to work on my sympathy skills, how about sharing your thoughts on determining the actual level of illness in your child?

Monday, May 17, 2010

My Best Four-Legged Girl

In his sermon on Sunday, my pastor preached on the story of  Legion, the possessed man whom Jesus healed by driving out his demons (Luke 8: 26-39). Unfortunately, the demons were driven into a herd of pigs which then drowned themselves in a river. Seeing fit to add a bit of social commentary, my pastor suggested that after this incident, "PETA probably started protesting whenever Jesus was around." He added, "Based on where we spend our money, our society cares more about animals than starving children," and emphasized that, for Jesus, the life of one human being was worth more than those lost swine.

Pets and animals in general are a touchy subject. For some, including a number of my friends, animals are the equivalent of human beings. They believe they have feelings, thoughts, and other human attributes. I immediately thought of these folks when I heard this message in church. I knew that they would have been offended, based on the "they're only animals" tone of my pastor's comments.

As a rule, I'm in my pastor's camp on this issue. I do believe a human life has more worth than an animal's. I think the anti-PETA "People Eating Tasting Animals" t-shirts are funny. I don't get it when pet owners spend thousands of dollars on their animals or leave their inheritance to them. None of this means I don't love my dog, cat, and guinea pig, but they are not my equals.

Of course, this was what I was thinking on Sunday morning, before the growth on Maddie's eye started bleeding on Sunday evening. Maddie, as most of you know, is my yellow-lab. A second-(undocumented)- cousin to the infamous Marley. We have a love-hate relationship. She makes me crazy much of the time. When people ask how old she is I tell them she's 12, but that she's going to live forever just to piss me off. Now I'm not so sure.

I stayed home from work today to take Maddie to the vet, and I knew I was going to have a tough decision to make. How much was I going to be willing to spend to have this growth removed from her eye? "'They're only animals" thinking works just fine until one of yours is hurting. Well, it turns out the decision was more complicated than the dollars alone. The vet acknowledged that at Maddie's age, anesthesia could be too much for her. He questioned how her quality of life has been over the past year. ("Slowing down considerably. Her legs sometimes go out from under her.") He assured me that the bleeding was not going to cost her her life. I asked him how long labs typically live. He told me 10-12 years with rare exceptions.

I've decided to do what I can to make Maddie comfortable and to accept the fact that she probably won't be with me much longer. During this time we have left, I'll continue to make room for her in my bed and on my couch. I'll slip her that piece of my peanut butter sandwich. I'll sit outside with her when she's tired of being in the house and just wants to lie in the sunshine. She may not be my equal, but she is my faithful best friend whom I promised to love, sustain, and protect on the day I adopted her.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Fine Art of Negotiation

There are many lessons my father has tried to teach me over my forty years. Unfortunately, not all of them have stuck, including:
  • Good driving habits
  • Home improvements
  • Reading a ruler
  • Using less toilet paper
  • Cleaning a paint brush
  • Driving a stick shift
  • General car maintenance
But recently I came to the realization that one of dad's lessons did pay off, namely, the fine art of negotiation. Now, negotiation is probably not the right word as it implies a back-and-forth meeting of the minds. What my dad does is not that amiable. He plays hardball. As a kid, the last place you wanted to be was with my dad when he was buying a car or disputing a bill.

I first discovered my "negotiation" skills a couple years ago in my job as marketing director for Judson Press. As a non-profit Christian publisher, money is always an issue and I wasn't lying when I had to tell magazine ad reps that I just couldn't afford their rates to promote our books. I became pretty darn good at crying poverty and tugging at heart strings to secure rock bottom rates. Those little victories would just make my day.

Another negotiation tactic I've employed requires using my "feminine wiles" to see if I can save a buck. Recently, in the parking lot at a Phils game, I batted my eyelashes when the attendant told me it was $15. I sweetly asked if he'd take $10. He actually long as I'd give him a five dollar bill with it.  I may be about twenty years too late for this approach.

Just last week, I broke down and was forced to use the Walt approach to negotiation (Walt's my dad).Yes, I got ugly. Here's how it happened.

I was enjoying a perfectly lovely cleaning at the dentist. The hygienist was applauding my noticeably increased attention to flossing. She thought my x-rays looked good. Then the dentist came in for his two-minute review. And, you guessed it, he found something needing fixing that wasn't covered by insurance.When the receptionist gave me the $1170 quote, I started getting irritable. I made the follow-up appointment and left in a huff.

Then I talked to Dad. Turns out his dentist does the same procedure for $800. I made the appointment with his dentist and called mine to cancel and request copies of the x-rays. Receptionist told me there might be a fee for the x-rays. I went off, big time. Told her what I thought of their office and their money-making shake-down operation (they offer Botox, for cryin' out loud!). She said she'd call me back. Two days later, my procedure was down to $450.

I've come to the conclusion that nearly everything in life is negotiable. If you haven't already, I recommend calling Verizon or Comcast and threatening to cancel and switch to the competition. One little phone call saved me $30 a month. I think I'm starting to enjoy the art of negotiation...

    Tuesday, May 11, 2010

    The Walk & Talk about the Birds & Bees

    Ian had an eventful weekend. On Saturday, he celebrated his 12th birthday with a party/sleepover. And on Friday evening, I made him take a neighborhood stroll with me while we talked about boy/girl stuff. I guess the good news is that Ian hates walking so much that the talking part didn't seem as bad in comparison.

    I wouldn't have had to have the "talk" with Ian if my husband was doing his job. For about nine months now (the irony of that length of time isn't lost on me), I've been asking him to talk to Ian man-to-man. I wanted this conversation to take place before Ian had health class in school. Well, health class ended last week and still Rob has said nothing. Hence, the walk & talk with mom.

    So you're probably wondering what I said and how it went. Well, it was rather spur of the moment and I didn't know what I wanted to cover, so needless to say I stammered through it. I stuck to the emotional aspect of things, acknowledging that health class probably covered most of the technical stuff, and for anything distinctly male, his Dad was going to have come through. I generally covered:
    • Respecting girls/women
    • Never doing anything with a girl that she doesn't want to do
    • Sex being more than just a physical act and how your brain and heart need to be involved
    • The significance of the "first time" and why you need to be an adult, in love, and in a committed relationship
    That last one was a toughy. I threw in "ideally after marriage," but I couldn't bring myself to sell it to him as gospel (no pun intended). Yes, I'm a Christian, and yes, I know what I'm supposed to say. I also know that admitting this may get me thrown out of my own Freakin' Angels club and may result in me being shunned at church on Sunday, but I don't know that I believe waiting for marriage makes someone a better Christian or even makes for a better union between husband and wife. Yikes, there, I said it. Let the barrage of comments begin.

    But back to Ian. So how did he take our "talk?" Pretty well, actually. When I asked him what he thought about everything, he said he thinks waiting for marriage is the way to go. Of course, it's possible he said that just so we wouldn't have to have this conversation again until his wedding night.

    Monday, May 10, 2010

    Party On...and Next Year, Off-Site

    We almost missed it altogether. Another birthday. Another party. Ian was turning twelve, and with just a week to go, we hadn't planned anything for him. In a moment of brilliance I suggested a camp out in the backyard. We've got the perfect yard for it, including the fire pit, and I figured a group of 12-year-olds were prepared to sleep outside without parental supervision. Of course, I also considered that this wonderful plan would keep them out of my house.

    Naturally, Mother Nature didn't cooperate. She turned up the wind machines, dropped the temperature 15 degrees, and the boys ended up on the floor of my newly redecorated living room, the only inhabitable room in the house.

    If you've never been the mom of a 12-year-old, let me tell you what to expect at the party:
    • The occasional swear word (when they assumed no adult was within hearing range)
    • The sulker. The one kid who didn't want to do what the rest of the group was doing (He went off and played on the computer by himself.)
    • Intense Nerf gun battles
    • A refusal to go to sleep at a reasonable hour because, "We're 12, mom!!!"
    • A wake-up call at an ungodly hour. When six 12-year-olds are up, you're up.
    [Early on in the evening I remembered distinctly that I swore last year that I would stop having the kids' birthday parties at our house. Damn my 40-year-old memory!]

    The most interesting part of the festivities revolved around food. Some highlights:
    • The vegetarian who announced at breakfast that bacon has many death-hastening qualities.
    • The kid who was never hungry. No dinner. No cake. No breakfast. 
    • The smart-ass who requested I try not to burn his next hot dog, since the first one was inedible. "Look, Ian! This one isn't shriveled to less than three times its original size!"
    • The kid who boasted that he had eaten horse and whale meat (note to self, don't dine at his house)
    The best part of the evening, next to the drinks with Ian's friend's parents, was that I'd left my computer on and was able to immediately set my reminder for April 12, 2011.  The date on which I will reserve a restaurant, arcade, or paintball field for Ian's next birthday party.

    Tuesday, May 4, 2010

    Wishing the Tough Calls were Left to the Umps

    Life can be painful. High heels. Paper cuts. Taxes. Love lost. Childbirth. Smacking yourself in the mouth when you're trying to pry open a the lid on a sports water bottle.

    But one of the most painful things in life is seeing your child hurting.

    We all know by now that I'm not the warm and fuzzy-type mommy. I'm not above making my child cry when he has it coming. However, when someone or something else makes my child cry, it hurts me, too.

    Ian is playing baseball this season. Against his will. Rob signed him up based on Ian having enjoyed tolerated the sport last year. Ian is not a natural athlete. He much prefers his activities to include a screen rather than a bat, ball, or net. Needless to say, in an effort to keep him from becoming the definition of sedentary, Rob and I are always trying to keep him involved in something that doesn't require only the use of his thumbs. Hence, baseball.

    This year, Ian isn't enjoying tolerating the experience. Our pre-game ritual involves Ian "standing up for himself" and fighting with whichever parent has the misfortune of having to take him to the ballpark. Once there, he puts on a reasonably good face until which time he misses the fly ball, hesitates on the throw, bobbles the ball, or strikes out, and then the game is over for him mentally and emotionally. Ian believes he is the worst player on the team and it's taking its toll on him.

    Having never stuck with anything I wasn't good at until I hit my thirties, I am sympathetic to Ian and his overwhelming desire to quit baseball. It pains me to see him in tears in the dugout, knowing that the embarrassment of the tears themselves is probably as bad or worse than the play he just failed to make and the feeling that he's let his team down again. If this was an individual sport like karate, golf, or tennis, it would be easier to force him to stick with it for a determined amount of time, but being a team sport makes it that much more difficult for me to not kidnap him from the dugout and tuck him away safely somewhere.

    I don't think Rob will allow Ian to quit baseball until this season is over, and it's not because he's cruel. I'm sure he believes that this experience will build Ian's character and hopefully teach him something about teamwork and perseverance. I hope he's right. In the meantime, I'll try to keep my sympathetic tears for Ian to myself.

    Monday, May 3, 2010

    Lessons Learned the Hard Way

    Recently I've made (or been affected by) a number of mistakes that I want to share with you as a public service. There is plenty of practical everyday advice that we're all familiar with, thanks to our mothers. Mine is a bit more obscure, but I believe equally important:

    • Don't apply eye drops while driving
    • Don't use hand cream while driving
    • Don't read a book while sitting in close proximity to little league players practicing their throwing and catching (or lack thereof). Even baseballs thrown at 10 mph sting a little when they hit you (twice).
    • Always check for holes at the bottom of the plastic bag before using it to pick up dog poop
    • Don't sit down and watch television while ignoring a pile of dog poop in front of you (because your mother will go ballistic)
    • Don't allow your kids to use your ipod when you have the Violent Femmes "Add it Up" among your song selections
    • Don't read a book on your recliner while your wife vacuums under your feet (because your wife will go ballistic)
    • Don't fall asleep on a bus while drinking a 16 oz cup of tea in a flimsy to-go cup
    • Don't confess to not following basketball when an intelligent fellow mom who also happens to be a journalist references the Baltimore Sun
    • Don't loudly use the word "Hell" when you work in a Christian organization
    That's all for now. Undoubtedly there will be a Part 2 to this one in the not-to-distant future. Meanwhile, feel free to share advice based on what you may have recently learned the hard way!