Archive | July, 2011

What I Learned On My Summer Vacation

17 Jul

Summer vacation brings to mind long car trips, my little brother comfortably wedged between Mom and Dad in the front seat and my sister and I in the back. My sister refuses to believe that she would terrorize me into sitting in the wheel well so that she could lie down on the back seat. I refuse to believe that I would willingly sit in the wheel well, so we are at a standstill over this issue.

It’s a cliché, and I do so hate to be a cliché, but my flight to Boston recently was only marginally more comfortable than traveling in a wheel well. I was lucky enough to have a travel companion who didn’t snore, smell or attempt to annex my seat. That this companion was also my son made the trip that much more bearable. In fact, I was in a very good mood as we winged our way to Beantown. I was on a mission: visit my son’s dream college so that he could see for himself that college is not a mythical place that swallows his cousins for years at a time, spitting them out intermittently to attend important family events. With any luck, I thought, he might also discover that he wants to attend college and needs to work hard now even though he won’t hit freshman year until 2014.

I learned many things over the course of two and a half days, most of them surprising.

Surprise number one: my son will eat vegan food. While I don’t necessarily believe in fate, I do welcome a serendipitous unfolding of events. Just days before son and I were to leave for Boston, a friend invited us to his daughter’s Senior Recital. We have no money and, therefore no lives, so we were happy to accept. Actually, we would have been happy to accept in any circumstance. The young singer in question is a truly lovely and talented girl who once babysat our daughter.

While we waited for the recital to begin, we chatted with others we know. In that wonderful way the world has of dropping plums in my lap…ok, that’s just crap. I don’t usually get plums dropped in my lap. I’m the one watching other people get plums dropped in their laps while I stand there saying, “Where’s my plum?” So, when life does manage to drop me a plum, I snatch that puppy up. Here’s the plum. Through the pre-recital chat, I learned that we know a young man who graduated from Berklee College of Music (son’s dream college) and—here’s the plumiest part—still lives in Boston.

Proactive mom that I am, I got in touch with the Berklee alum. We’ll call him Mark. Mark said he’d be happy to host my son and me at his place for dinner. Actually, he had no idea who I was at first but I am either very persuasive or he eventually remembered our connection.

We arrived at Mark’s place, a huge old Victorian mansion in the Roxbury neighborhood, which houses twelve people united in a desire to live sustainably, spiritually and affordably. They call it a co-op. Back in my time, we called it a commune. While I didn’t smell any patchouli, my son declared everyone “hippies.” We talked with Mark while the other hippies, I mean, residents prepared dinner. My son was rapt in that sort of nervously nonchalant way teen boys have of hiding the fact that they are so excited they would squeal if they were girls.

Then dinner was served. There was curried couscous with cashews and peas. There were homemade veggie burgers bursting with lentils. There were beet greens sautéed then sauced with balsamic vinegar. There was a platter of thick, juicy grilled tofu squares. My son ate it all, politely, and thanked the cooks when we left.

Surprise number two: it takes a whole lot of Coldstone Ice Cream to remove the taste of vegan from a 15-year-old’s mouth.

Surprise number three: my son is not a vampire; he does not spontaneously combust when exposed to sunlight. Frankly, I was astounded that someone who spends eighty percent of his day sitting on his…chair playing video games could make it from the hotel room to the curb without complaining. In fact, he walked ten miles without complaining. Now, it probably helps that he didn’t know he’d walked ten miles until we sat down that night to figure it out.

Surprise number four: what they’ve done with Faneuil Hall and the surrounding area is criminal. My son and I both particularly wanted to see Faneuil Hall, mostly because we think it’s fun to call it Feng Shui Hall, but that’s a long story. The website proclaims Faneuil Hall Marketplace a true Boston experience. I proclaim it a cross between Navy Pier, the Mall of America and every food court fast food emporium in America. I’m not buying the true Boston experience thing ‘cause I’m pretty sure Ann Taylor was not one of the founding fathers. I’m also thinking Betsy Ross didn’t wear Victoria’s Secret bras and Washington’s troops were not shod by Orvis.

Surprise number five: there is a Texas cheerleader mom hiding in my soul. We did the official Berklee tour with a number of other families and their beautiful, talented children. Two of the kids came all the way over from Sweden. There was a singer from Paris, a pianist from Brazil and a bunch of other kids from places I can only vaguely remember, including one really strange and hostile young woman. And there was my son.

As we toured the school, I kept an eye on my son and his reactions, hoping for some indication that mission was being accomplished. Nothing. Nothing, that is, until we came to the recording studios. I know the fire was lit there because he did something I’ve never seen him do. He asked a total stranger a question. Actually, he sought out the total stranger and asked him a question.

In that instant, a nearly suffocating desire to protect my child took me over. I looked at the other children and saw talented young musicians. I looked at my son and saw my baby. Yes, he’s a talented young musician, but he’s also sensitive and vulnerable and “What,” I thought, “would it do to him if he wasn’t good enough to get in?” I closed my eyes and fought the urge to hold him close, as if he’d even allow it.

So, Boston visited. Son inspired. Mission accomplished. And if I start letting go of my baby now, maybe I’ll be ready for him to fly off to Boston on his own in three years.

©Copyright 2011 by Janice Lindegard. All rights reserved.

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Our Rationing Program

11 Jul

I’m flying to Boston tomorrow with my son. This presents me with a myriad of problems, such as how I will keep a 15-year-old boy fed over the course of two and a half days when said 15-year-old eats only meat and his mother likes to get her veggies and whole grain. Once we land, we’re planning on taking public transportation. I figure we’re going for the total college experience, so he should ride a few buses and do a subway or two. (Boston has a subway, right?) Figuring out what to take and where to connect ought to be lots of fun with a perimenopausal woman, a surly young man and two over-packed suitcases.

My biggest problem with going to Boston isn’t really going to Boston. No, my problem is this: what do I do if I have to go while I’m on my way to Boston? I hate airplane bathrooms. It’s not just that they are small. It’s not just that they smell. Small isn’t much of a problem for me. And smell? Well, I’ve got a dog that doesn’t know the difference between grass and carpet.

I can deal with small; I can deal with smell. I cannot deal with my fear that, when I flush the toilet, I will be sucked out of the airplane. There. I said it. I’m afraid I’ll be jettisoned into the wild blue yonder. I am completely aware that this is not only irrational, but also impossible. Still, every time I use the restroom mid-flight, I mentally gauge how wide the toilet is versus my shoulders.

Everyone in my family laughed at me when I admitted my fear. I did not laugh nearly as loud and hard when they admitted their fears to me, but I’m far more gracious than I ever get credit for. More mature, too.

My husband is inordinately afraid of knives. I wouldn’t call his fear irrational because knives can do some pretty serious damage. My mother dropped one blade-down on her foot once. (You flinched, didn’t you?) Knives won’t, however, spontaneously fling themselves across the room and attack you without cause. This is an exaggeration of my husband’s fear, of course, but only a slight one. He’s pretty happy with our new dishwasher because the silverware basket requires knives to be placed blade down. He rests easier because now unloading the dishwasher is a little bit safer for our son. I always put the knives blade-down in the old dishwasher, but in the new one you have to, so that makes it better according to my husband.

My son is afraid of spiders. I find this “bugs and spiders are scary and ooky” thing really annoying. I know this makes me less of a feminist, but I especially have no patience with it in girls. Wait! Brainstorm! I just figured out that my attitude toward spider-frightened girls is very feminist. Girls are strong! Girls can do anything! Of course, you can deal with bugs and spiders! Get on with it, Missy! Grab your Exterminator Barbie and let’s go! Boys, on the other hand, need to be taught to embrace their fears, their vulnerability. Damn! Don’t tell my son I just gave him an out on capturing spiders. He’s actually pretty cute when he thinks he has to convince me to get rid of them.

Lots of people are afraid of spiders, so that doesn’t really count as irrational. My son did have an irrational fear when we first moved to Naperville. He was convinced that a murderer was going to swing into his room at night and kill him in his bed.

“How will he swing into your room, son?” I asked. “There are no trees near your window.”

“He’ll use a grappling hook,” my son said, in equal doses of fear and sincerity. Ah, the seeds we sowed when we introduced our son to Batman.

Every night, fear of the Grappling Hook Murderer brought our son to our bed. Every night I assured our son that no one was going to swing into his room via a grappling hook. Every night, the scene replayed. I almost asked him once, “Why on earth would anyone go to all the trouble of getting a grappling hook and a rope and driving out to Naperville to kill a nine-year-old boy? Where do you even get a grappling hook?” Wisely, I think, I did not ask. But I did have what I thought was a stroke of genius. Instead of driving past the police station on the way to the library, I stopped in one day. I marched my little brood up to the front desk and said, “My son is afraid that someone will swing into his room using a grappling hook and will then murder him.”

The officer behind the desk looked down at my son and very calmly said, “Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that. We’ve never had anyone killed by someone using a grappling hook. No, son, you’re more likely to be hurt by someone you live with.”

Our son stopped coming into our room after that.

My daughter doesn’t really understand what an irrational fear is at this point. To her, every fear she has is rational. I’ve noticed she’s a little too dramatic when she stubs a toe or gets a bump on her head, but she seems to know what requires a hospital trip and what doesn’t. She’s afraid of her brother, too, but I would be if I were her. He has taken sibling relations beyond rivalry to full-out war. Even buying packs of gum requires negotiation. We are making incremental progress. He now says, “I don’t care” to everything she says rather than “No one cares!”

There is one fear my daughter will own up to that gives me hope she’ll be as neurotic as the rest of her family. “I used to be afraid of Santa until I found out it’s you,” she told me. “Why is that?” I asked. “Because the Santa in the mall is creepy,” she said.

I’ve seen that Santa. He is creepy. Nothing irrational about that fear.

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