Archive | October, 2011

The Family That Hay Rides Together

31 Oct

There’s a family I know of that runs together. Mom, Dad, the kids, all tie on their kicks and hit the streets together. I picture them, run complete, trekking into the kitchen together. Glowing with health and familial esprit de corps, they share a glass of orange juice while Mom starts breakfast. Dad helps the kids set the table, pausing to give the youngest a hug and a noogie.

Never mind that I come home from a run stinking, trail dust stuck to my skin, glued there by sunscreen and sweat. Never mind that no one in my family even likes to run and half of us don’t drink OJ. I want to be that family.

I’ve tried to arrange family outings with my own gang, mostly with disastrous results.

For years, I tried to turn us into a Christmas Tree Cutting family. My sister’s family cuts a tree every year. It’s a big deal for them and they speak fondly of it. I thought I could get my own family into it. The last year we cut a tree as family, my son came down with a fever at the tree lot but insisted that he be involved in tree selection nonetheless. I no longer let fevered four-year-olds push me around, primarily because there are none in my home. But he was our starter kid so he stayed bundled in the car while my husband dragged specimens that I had selected over to him for his approval. We have an artificial tree now.

Autumn seems to bring this family outing urge strongly to the fore for me. Every year, I resist the urge to pile us all into the car and drive miles away to pick apples. The realization that after driving twenty-five miles I would feel compelled to pick entire pecks of apples and then have to do something with them other than watch them rot holds me back. So I visit the local Farmstand, alone, where I can buy a reasonable number of apples minutes from home. Sometimes, I can drag my daughter along if I promise to buy her a honey stick.

Actually, my daughter is game for any number of bonding opportunities. She’ll even run with me. This spring, she accompanied me on a windy, rainy day and ran one-and-a-half miles before bailing. We saw Bob o’ Links in their mating plumage. Apparently, this is something of a treat in the bird-watching world. I feel like a massive geek even typing the words. If I’ve written of this before, though, indulge me. It’s a fond memory. But it still doesn’t count as a family outing.

No, family outings must involve my entire family. My husband claims I suffer from Norman Rockwell Syndrome, the sickness that has one believing that a painted vignette is a realistic model for modern family interaction. To which I say, “Yeah. So?”

My most recent syndrome-induced lunacy was signing us up for a hayride. I was inspired by a field trip I chaperoned for the fourth grade of my daughter’s school. A highlight of the trip was the hayride through a working farm. Why I thought an activity enjoyed by 120 screaming fourth graders was tailor made for my crew, I’ll never know. My daughter was gleefully on board, though.

Presented with the news that we were going to have fun, damn it, on a family hay ride, my son said, “That might be ok if you take the redneck out of it, like the hay. . .and the ride.” He advocated, instead, for something with concrete and skyscrapers that ended in deep-dish pizza at Uno. While that sounds appealing, it also sounds expensive. Twenty-eight dollars for a hayride for four sounded great to me.

We arrived at the hayride site and my “oh, crap, this was a really bad idea” radar started beeping. There was no hay in site and no apparent imminent arrival of hay. I opted for a cheerful “hay will arrive soon” attitude. My husband and son, being manly, opted for the “we’ll figure this thing out” approach. They wandered off in search of hay. Time passed. I began casually approaching random strangers until I found someone who looked like she knew where she was going or at least looked like she was wandering around with purpose. She had her head down, reading instructions, the instructions for finding the hay ride that were included in the reservation confirmation, the confirmation that I left at home. My bad idea radar started beeping more insistently; I ignored it.

Eventually, we found hay in wagons and groups of people waiting to pile onto the wagons and have a wonderful family outing. First, though, we were offered hot chocolate, which my daughter scurried off to find, father and I tagging along though I noted that I did not want hot chocolate.

I have been getting things for other people for so long that now, even though they are probably very capable of getting things for themselves, I still get them for them. So, I scooped the hot chocolate mix into a little foam cup, added hot water and began stirring it. I turned to hand it to my daughter just as she jumped for joy again. “For Christ’s sake,” I said, as the cocoa spilled on my glove. I turned to make my husband’s cocoa as another family, clearly happy, arrived at the cocoa station. Though there clearly was room for more than one cocoa maker, Mr. and Mrs. Happy stood watching me make cocoa. I grabbed another cup, now in a hurry so as not to inconvenience the happy, waiting couple. As I stirred the cocoa prior to handing it to my husband, he scooted around me and started filling a third cup. Still being surveyed by the Happys, I said, “Jesus Christ, I’m making this for you!” At which point Mrs. Happy said, “Wow! Maybe you should just step away from the cocoa.”

I chose not to ruin our lovely family outing by accidentally spilling cocoa on Mrs. Happy. Walking back to the hay wagons, though, my son, who looks like Jesus and dresses like a Ramone, said, under his breath, “Maybe you should just step away from my fist before it hits your face.”

Now, I know this is a completely inappropriate thing for a young man who looks like Jesus to say and that I, as a responsible parent, should have been mightily appalled. But I wasn’t because at that precise moment I realized we were having our version of a fun family outing.


Number Nine, Number Nine

24 Oct

My little girl is gone. The bashful baby, so cute she stopped traffic in the aisles at Whole Foods, has left the building. In her place is a creature who alternately cartwheels joyously around the house or howls in anguish over hurts imagined and otherwise. In short, my daughter has turned nine.

Actually, my daughter has been nine for two months now. I didn’t think anything of it while planning her birthday party. Granted, she wanted a sleepover party with a Hollywood movie theme. That seemed a little more grown up than last year’s Flower Power party with its gardening-related outdoor activities. But, she’s been having sleepovers for a while. Nothing portentous, then, in this year’s birthday extravaganza. I didn’t even make much note of the playing with makeup and pretend fashion show that were highlights of the festivities.

It was at work one evening that the enormity of my daughter’s age hit me. Three evenings each week, I put my very expensive Illinois state teaching credentials to work providing enrichment in language arts and math to children. I teach every grade level from Pre-K through middle school. By and large, I love my classes. The students are respectful, cooperative and, on the whole, a pleasure to teach.

There is one class I dread every week, though: the fourth graders. My third graders are a delight. My fifth graders are beginning to show the spirit that will mark them as adults; we have interesting conversations about the work at hand. My fourth graders are a disorderly lot of boisterous, impulsive, barely-controllable hooligans. Every class is a test of my ability to retain my composure while imparting at least some of the learning I am expected to deliver. I’ve developed a style of teaching them that owes more to fencing than to Piaget. I allow a certain amount of pandemonium, then lunge in with a bit of instruction. We continue this way throughout the lesson.

Recently, during an off-task moment, I happened to ask one of the students her age. “I’m nine!” she said. Well, gob smacked me. I was able to retain the outward appearance of a professional educator, but my brain was screaming, “She’s the same age as my daughter! How could I not have realized that!? How much time do I have before my daughter becomes a howling, uncontrollable hooligan?”

I didn’t have much time at all. As if aware that I’d been awakened to the true nature of her tribe, she began swinging from sweet to foul faster than a cup of milk left out on a hot day. Happily playing outside with the neighborhood children one minute, she’d come flying into the house in hysterics the next, howling incoherently as she ran to her room and slammed the door.

When she was little, my daughter would say some of the cutest things. At night, after being put in her bed, she would pretend to read herself a story, beginning each with “Once up a time. . .” My heart would melt. When she got a little older, her mis-sayings still had the ring of innocence to them. Dancing with me to some old disco music, she loudly sang out, “Shake your boob thing, shake your boob thing. Yeah, yeah!”

Now, she’s beginning to sound like an old soul. Her room is a disaster of epic proportions. She has taken to sleeping in the day bed in my office because she can no longer find the top of her own bed. I have cleaned her room. My husband has cleaned her room. My sister has cleaned her room. Within mere hours, her room looks like Japan after the tsunami.

“Mom,” she said to me recently, “my room is too small.”

“Why do you think your room is too small?” I asked.

“Because there isn’t enough room for all of my stuff.”

“Oh, but there is enough room for all of your stuff. Everything in your room has a home, you just never put things back where they belong.”

She sat still, looking down at her hands, considering my words. Without looking up, she said, “Maybe I have issues.”

One of the issues she has is a fascination with her ability to wail. Crying is no longer enough. Everything must be done on a grand scale these days, leading to fits of seemingly out-of-control sobbing. I say “seemingly out-of-control” sobbing because I now have admissible evidence that some, if not all, of her hysteria is histrionics.

This weekend, my husband and I determined that we would present a united front to our children over getting chores done. Never having succeeded with full family meetings, we held separate semi-family meetings with each of our children. Our daughter went first. We worked out her responsibilities and the consequences for not meeting them. For instance, anything she leaves on the kitchen table will be confiscated if not removed before dinner. She can buy it back for 25 cents per item. This sounded fine in theory. She was pretty upset about the execution, but I believe a consequence isn’t effective until I’ve seen fear strike their little hearts. Still, she left her conference calmly enough.

When her brother sat down for his and we engaged in a little pre-torture conversation about Batman, she insisted the three of us cut to the chase. “Get back on topic!” she shouted at us. We continued to talk about the Dark Knight just a few minutes longer. She exploded. “It’s not fair!” she howled. She howled, in fact, for quite some time. We ignored her, going about our meeting with our son. “No one’s making me feel better!” she wailed.

I ignored the caterwauling until I thought I heard two cats wauling. About a week ago, my daughter spent her allowance on a spy kit, complete with digital recording device disguised as a makeup case. What I heard was the sound of my daughter crying into the recorder then playing back and crying along with her own crying.

Ironically, my daughter has begun requesting that she be comforted in the midst of her meltdowns. At first, I resisted, not wanting to reward the behavior. I relented, though, and fought through the wall of wail. I held her in my arms, rocking her as I did when she was a baby.

Being a grown up is hard; becoming one is even harder. So, I’ll hold my little hooligan if it helps her. And I’ll pity my husband and son living with a tween and a woman struggling with menopause.

Wedded Blitz

17 Oct

She was a big woman, with tightly permed hair perched on top of her head like a nest, a ‘do that made her face look all the more round. She was driving a big pink Cadillac, with the top down, and she started whooping and waving as she turned down the street to my house. Well, I assume it was my house, since I was sitting on the top step of the big front porch like I owned the place. And since it was my dream, I figured I did own the place.

Unlike my real abode, my dream home sat on the top of a rise, oozing old-fashioned charm. I had a good view of Charlaine as she motored up to the house, calling out to me. “What the hell is Charlaine Harris doing at my house?” I thought, both in my dream and in that part of the brain that realizes that we’re dreaming.

Those of you who know me well know I love TrueBlood, the HBO series. Many of you also know that Charlaine Harris wrote the Sookie Stackhouse books that inspired the series. So, Ms. Harris is something of a pop fiction writing goddess in my orbit of the universe. What, indeed, was Ms. Harris doing riding her pink Cadillac convertible down my not-street to my not-house?

“You should be writing about your mother!” she called, leaning back in her Caddy, one arm resting on top of the steering wheel, one extended so that she could point directly at me while admonishing me. There was a Dr. Pepper in the cup holder.

“But I’m not ready!” I called back. I think I heard her mutter a “P-shaw” under her breath before she gunned the Caddy and pulled away shouting, “Yes, you are!” and waving as she pulled down the street.

She missed my reply. “Hell, no, I’m not ready to write about my mother!” I yelled at the retreating car. When I told my sister about the dream, she said something like, “Oooooooh!” which I took to mean that she thought just because I had dreamed I was ready to write about my mother that I actually was ready to do so. I figured, it being my dream, I was completely at liberty to ignore it.

Last Monday, October 10, was my mother’s birthday. You may recall, I wrote nothing. It was a holiday, for crying out loud. A lame-ass holiday to be sure, but a holiday nonetheless. I’ve gotten into the habit of giving myself a blog break whenever my children get a break from their grueling schooling and was glad to take it if it gave me an out on the Mom post.

Writing about my mother is problematic in so many ways. She died three years ago, so there’s the grief stuff to wade through. She wasn’t a particularly simple woman, either. So, my thoughts about all things Mom are pretty complicated. Add to that the fact that many of my readers knew my mother and some of my readers are my Dad and siblings and, well, blogging about Mom just doesn’t have whole lot of appeal.

I know that it doesn’t have to be Mom’s birthday for me to write about Mom. I could, for instance, write about Mom this week. But I have another excuse! Today, you see, is my wedding anniversary. I am, indeed, so averse to writing about my mother that I will gladly write about my marriage. How’s that for avoidance?

I am pretty sure I have been married for 19 years. I say “pretty sure” because I am really bad with ages and dates. I have no idea how old my father is, for instance. He’s somewhere around 75. My kids I have to keep track of for school and other official business. My dad? Nah. Actually, my kids are what I call time anchors. In the temporal muddle of my mind, I can always grab on to one of their ages and get a rough guess about the age of something else. Our house, for instance, is as old as our son. So around the time he is going off to college, we will need a new roof.

My husband is the keeper of things like anniversaries. He has a Ph.D. in history; he knows when everything happened in our lives. It probably used to bother him that I can never really remember that our anniversary is October 17 and not October 16. I say the right thing when I’m asked lately, but I still have to pause and remind myself that we got married on the 17th.

I’m sure there are people who consider 19 years a long time to be married and I suppose it is. Marriage is, in some ways, like a really long nap. You know the kind where you lay down thinking you’re just going to snooze for a little while and then get up and be really productive but you wake up two hours later and wonder how the hell that happened? You could swear you were only asleep for twenty minutes, but the clock doesn’t lie.

So I don’t really feel like I’ve been married 19 years. But I have two kids, one old enough to drive. My husband has lost a lot of the hair that he had when we wed. I’ve gained a crepe-y, looseness around my neck. We’re both heavier than we were. He’s in worse shape; I’m in better shape. And I gloat about it. We used to go to the symphony and opera. Now our big thrill is watching Modern Family a season behind on DVD.

I was pondering marriage as I folded laundry yesterday afternoon in our bedroom while my husband watched TV. He flipped around and finally settled on a historical film. I recognized the male lead, Richard Burton, but not the woman. I meant to ask, “Is that The Taming of the Shrew?” but it came out, “Is that The Tamming of the . . .” which my husband immediately picked up on and said, “Yes, it’s Tammy and the Shrew, starring Connie Stevens and Richard Burton!” We both lost it, giggling “Tammy and the Shrew” at each other for quite a while. Recovering, I grabbed another t-shirt to fold, and thought, “This is how you stay married. Find someone who giggles at the same things you do, doesn’t mind (much) when you gloat, and understands that even a fat lady with a bad perm in a pink Cadillac can’t make you write about your mom if you’re not ready.



A is for Atheist

3 Oct

In the list of parental daydreams, wondering if your child will become president is probably right up there with imagining eight consecutive uninterrupted hours of sleep. Among those who’ve adopted internationally, there is even some discussion of whether our children can even run for president.

I will admit that I did, on at least one occasion, wonder if my son could be President of The United States. He’d be a fine President, I thought, based on the good judgment he showed in being born to my husband and me. As he grew and matured, it became clear that our son was much more interested in making music than in making laws. It’s a good thing, too, because research indicates that more than half of all Americans wouldn’t even consider voting for someone like our son.

You see, our son is an atheist. When he first said that he was an atheist, I thought he was being provocative.  I wondered if he even knew what an atheist didn’t believe. At this point, though, it’s pretty clear that he knows what he’s saying when he declares his graceless state.

You might think that our son doesn’t believe in god, with a big or little “g,” because he didn’t go to church. My husband and I don’t really come off as get-up-and-go-to-church folk. Frankly, my husband isn’t even a get-up-and-go-before-10 a.m. kind of guy. But at least until our son was about ten, we were regular churchgoers. I sang in the choir; I served on committees. We went to potlucks. We hosted potlucks, for crying out loud.

Now, before I get grief from those in the know, I will admit that the church we attended was a Unitarian Universalist congregation. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I hear you: UUs will let you believe anything. There is something to that; dogma isn’t really on the offering plate at a UU church. But the idea of questioning and questing for spiritual truth was what drew me to the congregation. I am what initially drew my husband and two-year-old son. We stayed because we found that church thing that can be so elusive: a community of like-minded individuals who also seemed to like us.

Our son started his religious education in the nursery, playing “I love the earth and everyone in it” kinds of games and having his diapers changed by tolerant, loving people. He moved through the RE program without a hitch. He played his roles in the annual Christmas pageant with more or less enthusiasm, depending on his role. Cow in the manger? Not so hot. Shepherd complete with fake fur tunic and Bedouin head covering? All over that one. He was dedicated in front of the entire congregation by a minister he still considers “bad ass.” He grew up with a number of other children who were known and loved by the congregation.

I was raised Roman Catholic. I don’t recall thinking any of the parish priests from my childhood were the equivalent of “bad ass.” I’m not real sure “bad,” “ass” and “Catholic priest” should even be in the same sentence, but I wrote it, so I’ll have to live with it. I don’t have any recollection of any of the priests even knowing I existed. My strongest recollection of being raised Catholic was the terrible revelation, at a fairly young age, that my dream of being a priest was just that. After years of saying mass to my stuffed animals and little brother, I felt betrayed in a way that still stings. Eventually, I found Buddhism and I practice it today. My kids will tell you I need the practice. I say they are the reason why.

I’m going to lay credit for our son’s godlessness at my husband’s feet. He is a Jew. This is something quite different from being raised religiously Jewish. He didn’t go to temple; he didn’t study Torah, he wasn’t bar mitzvah’d (apologies to my Jewish friends for any awkward use of Hebrew). He is culturally Jewish. This means, for him, that he values education, debate, political inquiry and really good lox. We have tried to build a Jewish identity for our children that is both meaningful and fun. My husband is less interested in the fun; he’d rather our Seder were more sedate. The kids, though, still get a kick out of flinging mini-marshmallows and plastic farm animals, among other things representing the ten plagues.

I would worry about my son’s immortal soul if I were more sure about my own immortal soul. The thing that truly frightens me about my son’s atheism is that it could get the crap beaten out of him.

Atheists in America are more reviled than Jews or Muslims. I suspect that there is more tolerance of gays than there is of atheists. Americans would vote for a candidate of any religion before one without a religion. I know there is a gay and lesbian support group at his high school. I haven’t seen anything of its kind for atheist youth. I regularly see postings on Facebook about how hard it is to be Christian in America. Really?, I think. Try being an atheist.

Now the thing that really compounds my worry for my son, is the fact that he has no problem saying he is an atheist. To anyone. He regularly gets grief from Christian friends about his unbelieving. He never tells them they are wrong to hold their beliefs. Recently, though, he posted on his Facebook wall that he only asks for the same respect for his beliefs that he gives others for theirs. It was a brave statement; it got lots of likes.

I’m deeply proud to be raising a young man who is confident in what he believes and willing to stand up for himself, despite considerable pressure from both his friends and his society. He is tolerant, kind, generous, funny, intelligent and outspoken. He’s all the things I’d like to see in the President of my country. It’s so sad that half of my country wouldn’t even give him a chance.

© Copyright 2011 by Janice M. Lindegard. All rights reserved.

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