Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Texting Tuesday

As I've mentioned before, I'm actually a huge fan of texting.

I'm aware there are drawbacks and reasons to be concerned where teens and texting are concerned, but so far, in our household, texting has only improved our communication. No doubt that it is not improving certain members of the family's spelling or grammar, but it is a very efficient mode of communication.

Recently, I had an older parent lamenting to me about all these newfangled gadgets while screeching the usual obviously-I'm-over-50 rant, "What did we used to do before cell phones?!? I mean, we survived!'

Of course we did. And people survived without seatbelts and fluoride toothpaste too, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't embrace innovation and change- especially when it is to our benefit (or makes our lives remarkably safer). I know that there were many times as a teenager I could have really used a cell phone, and while clearly I survived those incidents that doesn't mean that I can't be grateful my own children won't be left quite so vulnerable should a similar situation arise.

I'm not going to go into all the cautionary tales of how dangerous texting can be for kids. Don't we all know that by now? We had our own very minor foray into inappropriate texting with one of our boys (I won't say who and I emphasize the word minor, don't let your imagination run away with you) and so we are well versed on the need to set up safeguards and boundaries and how to deliver a lecture about how these-things-will-stay-with-you-for-the-rest-of-your-life that is sure to make your child believe that hidden cameras lurk on every street corner. I get it.

But my experience has been that, at least with boys, or, at least with my boys, once we got them through those tricky pre-teen, experimental years, they lost interest in using their phones for anything other than completely utilitarian purposes. Are you going? Ya. What time? Where? K. 

The other night I had reason to heart texting yet again.

Jack and I had been texting back and forth regarding his whereabouts and whether or not he was going to come home that evening or opt to spend the night at his best friend R's house. I was fine either way but I reminded him that if he was planning to come home he needed to remember his curfew and leave with enough time that he would be home on time. He assured me he would and said he would let me know if he decided to stay at R's house.

You know those really good moms who will tell you that they can't possibly fall asleep until their child has safely arrived at home? I thought I was one of those moms. I have now been kicked out of the Good Moms Who Wait Up For the Teenagers Club. I could have possibly managed to avoid such a stern penalty if my offense hadn't been documented in a string of text messages.  See, texting really can get you into trouble.

Confident that Jack would let me know if he decided to stay at his friend's house, I took my phone with me as I got ready for bed. I placed it on the nightstand next to me but when I could see that Superdad was already falling asleep I decided it would be rude for me to leave the light on and read, so I turned it off and decided to just enjoy some quiet time, resting, while I waited to hear from Jack.

I'm sure you can see where this is going...

At about 12:20am I jerked awake, looked at the clock, and when I saw the time I felt that familiar mom-feeling where your heart starts beating faster and your stomach is instantly in knots.  It's the I-don't-know-where-my-child-is feeling.

I grabbed my cell phone certain I would see a text from Jack (that I had somehow missed while I was "resting"). No text.

At this point my feet hit the floor and I started texting in the dark of night, praying for a speedy response from my son.

Me: Hey there. I didn't hear from you. Did you stay at R's?

Then, the longest 30 seconds of my life went slooooowly by (cue Jeopardy music)...

Jack: What? I'm at home. I said goodnight to you.

Me: You're home? In your room?

Jack: Yep. Would you like to stroll down the hallway and see for yourself?

Me: And did I say goodnight back to you?

Jack: Yes mother. Good night. Again.

At which point I fully emerged from my sleepy stupor, realized the hilarity of texting my son while he was 10 steps down the hallway, in his own bedroom, after midnight- and started laughing hysterically.

A half-asleep Superdad mumbled, What are you doing??

I asked him, Did you know Jack was home?

He murmured into his pillow, Of course I did. What kind of parent do you think I am? He came in and said goodnight.

Which only made me laugh harder.

But I still love texting.

Friday, July 27, 2012

What we have here is a failure to communicate

Truth be told, our 17 year old son is living the Life of Riley this summer.

At least, that's what Superdad would say. I, myself, have never understood this little expression that my husband likes to employ anytime he thinks someone is living it up, or has it easy. Given that he is 8 years my senior I can only assume that the "Life of Riley" is a clever reference to some cinematic gem from the olden days, or perhaps a radio program he and his family gathered round to listen to on Sunday nights. I can't be expected to understand everything that hearkens from prior generations. I wasn't a history major, you know.

Anyway, all I know is if this Riley fellow was 17, had a car he was allowed to drive, was provided 3 square meals a day and a bit of spending money, and had a midnight curfew- he was livin' large. Because Jack sure is.

If it's true that "all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy," then our Jack must be positively fascinating! Given the numerous social engagements he is invited to partake in, I guess there are others who would agree that apparently "mostly play and minimal work makes Jack an incredibly fun guy to have around." Put that on a bumper sticker.

Just yesterday, my charming boy (and I say that with all sincerity, he really is a charming boy) came to me and inquired politely,

So, my friend C's parents invited me to go to their lake cabin again with them (he already spent one night there earlier this week). I know I still need to wash the other car and vacuum out yours, but if I promise to do that when I get back, could I go?

Putting on my best gee-I-don't-know-I'm-going-to-have-to-think-about-this face, I placed an inquiry of my own and asked about the state of his room.

He assured me,

Okay, yeah. I'll clean my room first. It's really not that bad, mostly just clean laundry I need to put away. So, if I do that and I promise to finish the cars when I get back, can I go?

With a heavy sigh, in order to convey just how much I felt I was conceding in allowing him this privilege, I offered my reluctant okay.

Here's the thing, I was perfectly fine with him going to his friend's cabin for a night or two. I trust the parents and I'd rather know he was out having harmless fun tubing and wake boarding then making the rounds and driving home late at night. But a parent must keep hold of what power they have and teaching your child at an early age that they don't get "something for nothing" is an important lesson. Without using these exact words (because it would be crass) you want your kids to come to you with any request ever mindful of the fact that you are looking for the proverbial what's in it for me token gesture. The offer to clean his room and the acknowledgment that he still had a job to complete when he returned was enough for me.

Jack disappeared upstairs for a reasonable amount of time and then reappeared to say his good byes. After a short discussion in which I reminded him of my expectations that he let me know when they arrived at the cabin, that he keep in touch via text or phone, and that he didn't sully the family name with his behavior or boyish antics, I set him free.

It wasn't until much later that evening that it occurred to me that I might enjoy seeing this freshly cleaned room of my eldest son.

Yes, I might have enjoyed seeing the freshly cleaned room of my eldest son. In fact, I'm certain I would have enjoyed it immensely. But there was little to enjoy when I poked my head in the door of his room. I could only laugh.

Now, you have to understand that my boy is not a deceptive young man. I have no doubt that he really truly believed he had cleaned his room. He would never try to pull the wool over my eyes with something like this; something that could be so quickly and easily disproved by my taking a few steps down the hallway from my own bedroom door.  Believe me, he knows enough to save his poker face for something a bit more critical than this.

So, yeah, he thought he cleaned his room.

I'll give him this- the floor was clear. I'm realizing now that a clear floor, available for vacuuming, must be his operating definition of a "clean room." Alrighty then. We will start there. When he gets home I'll be sure to add some sub-definitions for him.

Things like:

-no empty chip bags and soda bottles on your desk, windowsills, or dresser....or anywhere.

- a made bed

- no piles of clothes on the extra bed in your room- just because you don't sleep on it, doesn't mean it is an extension of your closet.

- if there is a suitcase in your room still needing to be unpacked from a prior vacation, well, ummm... unpack it.

I think we will just start with those.

Rome wasn't built in a day...right?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

I'm in love

I'm in love. With a book.

It's not the first time I've been in love with a book and it's not likely to be the last given my book obsession, but for now this book can rest easy that for at least the next several weeks it has my undying devotion.

For those of you who have been following along, (you should know that I enjoy writing as though people are actually reading, even though in truth it matters little to me whether they are or not... make sense?) anywhooooo (have you- my hypothetical reader- also noticed my inordinate attachment to paranthetical phrases and parentheses in general? No? Well, hold on to your Strunk & White's Elements of Style because there are more coming up).

Again, anywhoooo....for those of you who have been following along, you will remember that this little blog adventure all started with a book. Not this book, a different book, but a book nonetheless. Books are frequently the source of my best and worst ideas. Anyway, today's post isn't about that book, we will get to that book, it is about a book I found as the result of the first book, the book we aren't talking about today. Are you with me?

The object of my affection is this book. And given the fact that I've been pretty candid about the fact that the Family Dinner is my Achilles heel of homemaking, you might find it to be a case of opposites attract. You'd be right.


But this is no ordinary God-Save-The-Family-Dinner manuscript. There is no shaming, no guilt-inducing lectures, no "how easy was that?" Barefoot Contessa table settings, and no recipes requiring ingredients that can only be ordered on the Internet. And did I mention the writing is superb?

There is all of that and so much more, but really this Patron Saint of Family Meals, Jenny Rosenstrach, had me at the Introduction which she titled "Notes from Jenny" and is essentially a bullet-pointed disclaimer as to what you will not find in her book. Each one of them is excellent, draws you in, makes you smile, and gives you faith that this is a person you want to hear more from, but in truth, it only took the very first "Note" to have me clicking the "BUY" button on Amazon.

You will not find dire warnings that your children are going to become meth addicts if you're not eating with them five nights a week.

It was then that I felt the crushing weight of guilt I had laid on my own shoulders begin to lift. Then my next move (as my new, lighter self) was to launch the Jenny Rosenstrach Fan Club, declare myself her #1 Fan and have T-shirts made up. It might have been overkill but love knows no boundaries.

Having now worked my way through over half of this brilliant book, I am still every bit as enthralled. I am charmed by her anecdotes, inspired by her recipes and feeling ever so much less guilty for the periods of time when my efforts at sustaining the Family Meal have been less than stellar. I honestly didn't think it was possible for a book written to promote the Family Dinner to do anything but instill a high level of shame and guilt for anything less than consistent, nightly, homecooked, organic, farm-raised, grown in your own vegetable garden while your daughter provides background music on the piano she taught herself to play because she was never allowed to watch television, family meals. But this book doesn't.

I leave you with these words from Jenny herself, given to you by way of her #1 Fan:
All I hope for with DALS [Dinner: A Love Story], really, is to provide recipes and strategies that inspire you to keep fighting the fight. I know how many reasons there are to fly the flag of surrender. Believe me, I know! Your kids refuse to eat anything, your fridge is full but your brain is blank, you don’t know how to cook, you have no desire to cook, you have a big project due tomorrow, you have no help with the cooking or the planning, you can’t even get everyone seated at the table at the same time, let alone eating the same meal. These are all legit, of course, but if you’re here reading this, it probably means that somewhere in the back of your mind you feel a little bad about your dinner situation. I’m not saying you should feel bad about it. (On DALS, you will never read those studies saying that kids who don’t eat family dinner will, you know, be gobbling handfuls of ecstasy by sixth grade.) What I’m saying is that there are things you can do — really easy things — that will make you feel a lot less bad about yourself when it comes to feeding your kids. You have my word: I will not be asking you to cook from scratch every single night — or even every other night. The only thing I will ask you to do is to stay in the game.
You got it, Jenny. I'm staying in the game.


Your #1 Fan

The kids will need to give up their social lives, sports and activities

When I set the personal goal for myself of providing my family "healthy dinners, served at the dining table, at least four nights a week", I knew I was shooting for the moon a bit.

Three nights a week would have been a lot more doable, but I decided it wasn't much of a goal if it didn't require a little sacrifice and effort. The problem is that one child has soccer practice two nights a week, year-round (seriously, People, give a lot of thought before taking the leap into "select" sports), this fall even the little one will have soccer one evening a week, and the eldest child (whose impending departure started this whole thing) insists on having a social life. What that means is that Monday and Wednesday nights are tricky because of Son #2's soccer practices and Friday and Saturday nights are almost guaranteed to be missing Son #1, and heaven knows where Darling Daughter's soccer practices will plug in this September. I am no math whiz but last I heard there are 7 days in a week, and I just listed off 4 nights that will pose significant challenges to my family-meals-at-the-dining-table goal. 7 nights - 4 nights = 3 nights. Oops.

Ahh well...it's still a noble goal. Just one that may have to require some flexibility. 

For example:

- I must not be swayed by absent family members in my pursuit of the family dinner. Even if one family member cannot be present, that does not mean that the rest of us can't sit down around the table and enjoy a meal. Plus, that provides the perfect opportunity for the remaining family members to talk about whomever is missing and blame anything and everything on him. One must always look for the silver lining.

- Every family meal does not need to have a perfectly set table, flowers at the center, lighted candles and carefully laid out family-style dishes. It will be okay if sometimes our family meal is bit more haphazard. Besides, we are a haphazard people in this clan of mine so it's really only speaking to our basic nature.

- And finally, even the most casually prepared meals (read: take-out pizza) can be served and consumed at the dining table without needing to alert the media. Last time I checked, we are not on a reality show with cameras following our every move so I don't think we will end up on the cover of the tabloids if we opt for take-out, served at the dining table and chalk it up to to a family dinner.

In fact, as I write this post during the dawn of Wednesday morning I am realizing that tonight Jack will be away at a friend's lake cabin, Tim has soccer and Annie has a birthday party to go to that will run until 5:30pm (and is likely to come home stuffed and amped on sugar). 

How many family members are required to get credit as a family dinner? Can we go with the great Biblical promise of where two or more are gathered...? 

I don't know, but right now I'm thinking that a single place setting, just for me, with a glass of wine on my right and a good book propped up on my left is sounding pretty darn good.

I am nothing if not flexible.

A little less honesty, please...

You know what's great? Having honest kids. Yep, that's usually pretty high up on the list of character qualities that parents would like to instill in their children. Personally, I'm thinking of ranking it a bit lower on my list and putting good old fashioned values like tact and discretion closer to the top.

Now that we are back home and settling back into a more normal existence I gave myself a nice pep talk after church today and reminded myself of all the reasons that good, healthy, homecooked meals eaten around the dining table will be positively magical for our family. And then, after I burst that delusional bubble, I settled for a less lofty goal of simply a healthy, homecooked meal eaten around the dining table with at least 10 minutes of not-completely forced conversation. It's really best to set the bar low when eating with teenage boys.

Knowing that Timothy had a friend joining us for dinner, I wanted to be sure to prepare what I hoped would be a universally appealing meal. I opted for flank steak, a sassy little potato with sausage side dish, and Caesar salad. When I was asked by some child as he disappeared down the stairs to the basement what we were having for dinner, the menu was greeted with an approving grunt and a jump-slap to the ceiling which I took to mean it got a double-thumbs-up. Score one for Mom.

It wasn't a tricky meal to make, but it did require making a lot of separate pans and dishes dirty, which is not my favorite. I'm the Queen of the One-Pot-Meal, mostly because I like to minimize the clean up.  But, in the interests of family unity and happiness, I was willing to create an utter disaster in the kitchen in order to provide a delicious, homecooked feast. I also realized that a side-benefit to eating at the dining table is I don't need to make sure the breakfast counter is clear before serving dinner. Hence, the breakfast counter could remain the dumping ground for all of my dirty dishes while the dining table was pulled together into a vision of loveliness.

Okay, not so much a vision of loveliness but it was set with placemats, napkins and silverware. AND, I even enlisted help for setting the table (remember that little plan I had about teaching my kids more about responsibility etc...? Yeah...well, one day at a time). Still, I did not completely throw the plan out the window because my Annie quite cheerfully jumped on board to help set the table (phew, at least one child learned something...). And, I made sure to take the time to help her remember which side the napkin goes on and where to properly place the silverware. She was delighted to be helpful (oh, can't they stay 7 forever!) and continued to ask what she could do next to help. If this keeps up, she may be end up being my one, true success story. Score two for Mom.

With the kitchen in a shambles, dinner was finally ready to be served. I decided to really go all the way with this meal and serve it family style at the table.  Normally, I would serve up all the plates and set them at each person's place. Generally this is, again, to minimize dirtying 5,000 dishes in the process of serving one meal. But, I wanted to get this new, improved, meal-making-Me off to a good start and eating family style seemed to be the way to go.

The kids all sat down and we said grace. Actually, we sang grace. This was only mildly mortifying for Timothy with his friend present, but to my credit I asked him first if it was okay if we sang grace. I was happy to simply say grace if it would spare him some 14 year old angst. But he's a pretty remarkably comfortable-in-his-own-skin kind of 14 year old, and this is a lifelong friend of his who knows we are a little off-beat, so he gave our usual singing of grace the OK. I was proud of him. But he was about to get me back...

We all started serving ourselves the delectable dinner I had prepared when Tim offers up:

So, this is kind of weird. I mean, we never eat at the table. What are we doing?

Smiling awkwardly, I chide him, Timothy, not 'never'! But it's true we haven't eaten at the dining table as often this summer.

In typical tenacious-Tim fashion, he insists, We don't eat at the table during the school year either. We never do.

I respond, equally insistent (gee, I wonder where he gets it?), Again, not 'never'! Are you trying to say this is the first time in your life you have eaten at this dining table?

At which point, I do get a small laugh from him and he has to concede his point slightly (which, believe me, is not easy for for him to do). Okay, maybe not never. I guess we do sometimes. I'm just saying it's a little weird.

I smile and nod, accepting his peace offering, but counter, Well, get used to it, Buddy. 

To which, he simply raised his eyebrows in silent consternation. 

Yep, that's right, Buster. There's a new Sheriff in town. Well, wait...actually it's not a new Sheriff. It's the same ol' Sherriff- she's just gotten a whole lot tougher!


This and That

  • We are all back home on the less-sunny, low 70's side of the state. I know people around here are wishing for more of a summer but I'm quite happy to return to milder temps having spent three weeks in the 90's. I know many people in other parts of the country would be grateful for these temps as well. Feels quite refreshing, really. 
  • In preparing to leave our home on the Other Side of the Mountains, I found myself reverting back to my old ways. I have a strong desire to leave that house spic and span so that I can return not feeling as though I have to immediately jump into housekeeping mode. I did ask the boys to clean their bathroom, which Jack assured me he did. My spot-check assured me that he did not. At least not to my standards. And in my rush to get us on the road and out of town I did not grab that opportunity to bring him back downstairs and show him all of the ways the bathroom was not, in fact, clean. I just did it myself. Two steps forward, one step back.
  • All was not a complete loss, however. In our race to get on the road, Jack was perhaps more anxious than anyone to see us meet our noon departure goal (which might explain the rush-job on the bathroom) as he has a social life waiting for him back home (no one else does). Still, he was patient and good-natured but did finally inquire whether or not I thought we would be leaving at noon as planned. I informed that we would be far more likely to leave at noon if someone could give the pup a much needed 20 minute walk. He jumped up, grabbed the leash, and headed out the door with our furry bundle of energy. Lesson #56: When a child is motivated, the right request will almost always be met with enthusiasm. 
  • While driving across the state I passed the time by listening to the news on the sattelite radio. Given the grim events of the past 24+ hours you can imagine what the main story was. My kids were all plugged into headphones so I was able to listen freely without worrying about inappropriately frightening my sensitive, tender-hearted 7 year old. Jack would occasionally unplug but given that he is 17, I knew he could not only handle the news accounts but part of me wanted him to hear. I don't want him moving through his life in fear, but a 17 year old boy can usually use some extra doses of caution and suspiscion. I want him to be aware that bad things can happen and that in his age group he is somewhat statistically more likely to be caught in a dangerous situation. I kept glancing sideways at my man-child and thinking, Please be careful...Please be safe...No one is invincible...
  • You know you are witnessing a horrifyingly awful piece of current events when you find yourself turning to your teenage son and saying, I know that chances are you will never ever be in a situation like this, but I just want to say that it sounds like the majority of the survivors were the ones who hit the ground, found cover, stayed calm and didn't call attention to themselves. For once he didn't scoff at my uninvited moment of motherly concern. He nodded seriously and just said, Yeah...you're right.
  • At one point, Jack could see that I was visibly upset by some of the eye-witness accounts and asked why I kept listening? I told him that it was because for now, from many states away, that's all I can offer these innocent victims. I can hear their stories, listen to their names, and offer up prayers on their behalf. It seemed the least I could do.

Chores, personal responsibility and grace

This morning I did not feel like hitting the treadmill at the gym. Actually, to say that "I did not feel like" getting on the treadmill would be an enormous understatement.  Rather, my feet felt like lead, my head started hurting at the mere thought of any form of exercise, and I almost wanted to cry. But there was Dr. Phil again with his grating Southern drawl telling me, 

You don't have to want to do it. You just have to do it.

So I did.

When I got home, I did not feel like unloading the dishwasher. I did not feel like making the bed that I had left unmade earlier because I didn't feel like making it then either. I did not feel like taking the pup for a walk. I did not feel like gathering up a load of laundry. I did not feel like figuring out what we will have for dinner later tonight. I didn't feel like doing much of anything except burying my face in a bowl of frosting and topping that off with a nap.  All of this occurred before it was even 10am.

Some days are like that, right?

Well, the thing is, I know that some days are like that for kids, too. My kids have their good days and bad days, which is what I get for having human children. I should have looked online for some of those reliable robotic children who, once programmed, perform their chores and duties with clockwork-like precision all while wearing a happy smile. But those robotic children are also lacking in spontaneity and humor and unexpected moments of brilliance.

Yesterday, as I was running out the door I asked Jack if he could please fill the dog's water bowl. And then, for some unknown reason, I clarified that he should fill it with cold water.

He raised his eyebrows slightly and deadpanned, So I should fill it with hot water then? (all while wearing an expression that said, Duh, Mom. Do you think I'm an idiot?)

And I laughed out loud. I laughed because he is a funny kid with a quick, quirky sense of humor and I know I'm going to miss that kid all too soon. He doesn't always remember to clear his dishes, but I'll take him over a robot kid any day.

Days like today are the reason I am probably not as hard on my kids as maybe I should be. When kids complain that adults just don't remember what it was like to be a kid, I would argue that it's actually because I do remember that I extend as much latitude to my kids as I do. I fully remember how pointless household chores seemed to me when I was a kid. I remember how much a request to unload the dishwasher could fill me with utter annoyance. I remember how important all of my social demands and dilemmas felt to me and that the need for a clean room paled in comparison. I do remember and the truth is, sometimes chores and responsiblity still feel like that to me.  Not nearly so often as they did when I was a kid, but we all have those days when we wish we could just forget all of the work and spend the whole day reading, eating and sleeping (well, that would be my perfect day- yours might be a bit more active...whatever). I do remember what it felt like then, and I know how it still can feel now so....I try to offer a little grace when I can.

I try not to overreact to the occasional grumpy attitude so long as most of the time my kids respond to requests for helpfulness with a reasonably pleasant demeanor (definition: no obvious eye-rolling or loud, heavy sighs).

I try to recognize the times when my kids are already tired and/or overwhelmed by other responsiblities and keep extra requests to a minimum.

I try to make sure that the majority of our interactions do not center around all that they need to be doing, or should be doing, or could do differently or better or more efficiently. I try to make sure that most of the time, we just talk.

And, most of all, I try to remember to express appreciation for the tasks that they do handle because our household really does function best when we all pitch in and do our part. I want them to know that what we ask of them is not simply because we get some sick pleasure in watching them suffer, but because we genuinely need their help.

Don't we all need a little grace, or a lot of grace, now and then? I know I do.

Reunited (and it feels so good)


My family is all back together again under one roof!!

The best thing about spending time apart is realizing how much better it is when we are all together. I experienced that very realization when I received the best possible text from Superdad yesterday (yes, even Superdad and I text each other in lieu of picking up the phone. We are an odd family.)

Superdad: Leaving today. See you tonight!

At which point I did my happy dance.

Actually, my menfolk made their trek back to our side of the state only a day earlier than planned, but even that extra 24 hours was so very welcome. It is a testament to the devotion of Superdad that was he was starting to pick up on the increasing desperation in our conversations (alright fine... they were text conversations. But he was still able to read my desperation). I was happy to spend this extra time with Annie but coping with our two needy dogs on my own was starting to take its toll. Mothering I can handle on my own, dog-care is a job for the whole family. Even as I type, Superdad is taking the pup for his morning walk- and I am not. Heaven.

Seeing my big boys again after a week apart is always a happy occasion. They aren't effusive fellows so I have to temper my reactions to seeing them again but even just seeing their silly smiles and hearing, Hey, Mom, makes me want to break out in another happy dance. They might not appreciate the happy dance, however, so I try to just settle for greeting them with smiles and telling them how good it is to see them again.

It was a warm summer night and still light out as they arrived, so everyone soon congregated in the backyard and all took turns running the puppy around and watching Annie perform her best tricks on the playset. As the boys migrated back inside a contest developed to see who could jump over the dog crate without touching it. I started yelling at them to move any furniture that could result in concussions and broken bones, while they just laughed at my concern and said how easy it was going to be. It did not look easy to me, it's a big dog crate. But after deciding to move a few pieces of furniture anyway, and analyzing wind currents, Timothy was the first to jump. He made it, only slightly grazing his foot on the top of the crate.  Then, it was big brother's turn and it appeared that his extra few inches of height gave him an advantage because he cleared it easily. At which point I requested that we consider the challenge successfully settled and put an end to the Jump the Dog Crate game, forever.

But in my heart of hearts, I loved watching them try to jump the dog crate. I have loved watching these boys come up with crazy schemes and challenges for 17 and 14 years respectively. I have loved watching them grow into the buddy-like brothers everyone hopes for when they decide to have more than one child. And even if I haven't always loved it in the moment, I have loved being driven crazy by their noise, their stupid jokes, their antics, their over-the-top-obessions of the moment (which have evolved from dinosaurs to skateboards to cars), and their generally goofy ways. I love these knuckleheads of mine.

And so, at the end of the day, my only goal for yesterday became to take in the moment.  To take in the feeling of overwhelming contentedness that comes over me when we are all together again. To appreciate the relief that comes when we all work together to share the responsibilties of the household, specifcally one active puppy. And to celebrate the crazy, silly, never-ending competitiveness that seems to encapsulate boyhood and brotherhood by applauding these young men of mine as they each successfully jumped the dog crate.

Can we put that on their college applications?

Danger: low battery

If I'm honest with myself, I'd have to admit that the main reason we never stuck with any sort of structured chore schedule in our household is simply because at some point, in spite of my best intentions, I'd run out of juice. I'd lose the will to continue managing whatever system I had concocted this time, realizing too late that I had once again come up with a plan that was too complex to be of any value to anyone and all of my earlier enthusiasm and energy would fly right out the window.

I am well aware that I am in serious danger of allowing the very same thing to happen this time.

But, what I am hoping this time is that part of the simplicity of this plan is that it isn't a plan at all. There will be no weekly chore charts. I'm not going to try to decide right now when and where all of the tasks on the Countdown list will take place. I am simply going to enter into each day open to the possibility that today might be a good day to impart a little wisdom to the young people in my life.  Of course, I won't call it wisdom (lest they go running for the hills) and it may or may not be something I even call any attention to. But, like the previous example of having Jack schedule his own haircut, I am going to be making every effort over the next year to keep my eyes open for those teachable moments (I still hate that phrase... must think of something better).

Honestly, I'm more worried about the Proverbs 31:28 Challenge I have made for myself. Especially the four nights a week of healthy meals served at the dining table... Yikes.

We did really well with family meals for a long, long stretch when the boys were small. And then, I don't really know what happened.  We had some painful losses come our way that took their toll on a lot of our family routines.  For a time just getting through each day was pretty much all we could manage.  Then Annie came along, with sunshine and happiness in her wake, and...well...it was still chaos.  I had a 10 year old and 7 year old and a somewhat fussy infant and serving up family style dinners every night was not high on my agenda.  I'm sure other mothers could and would have done better, but for the most part, for me, family meals were one of the things I chose to let go of for a time.

These days we do have our share of family meals but not as often or as regularly as I would like, which is why I have made it the #1 challenge to myself.  But I am seriously afraid of what is going to happen when I hit those weeks when my energy is down, my family is moving a million different directions, and grilled cheese sandwiches served at the breakfast counter start sounding like a gourmet meal. I'd love to say that a meal planning system and home organizer are the answer, but I know myself; those would ultimately just suffer the same not-so-slow, painful death of the chore charts of years gone by.

No, I'm going to have to dig deeper. I'm going to need to tap into the greater sense of purpose I've adopted this time around. I'm going to have to read the words I've written here and remind myself what this is all about. And, most of all, I'm going to have to allow the words of Dr. Phil to surface when I feel myself slipping into the abyss of apathy and ambivalence.

As far as I'm concerned, Dr. Phil has only ever given one worthwhile piece of advice, but that one pithy phrase has gotten me into my running shoes and out the door dozens of times so it's been worth its weight in gold (well, maybe not gold... I'm not really much of a runner...). But I believe I can take this same piece of advice and apply it to just about anything, including planning a meal, getting myself to the grocery store, cooking, setting the table, yelling 10 times for everyone to come to the table, attempting to inspire at least 10 minutes of decent family conversation, clearing the table, doing the dishes, and then starting all over again the next day... Just one piece of advice is all I need.

You don't have to want to do it. You just have to do it. - Dr. Phil

Words to live by.



When opportunity strikes and lessons in dogs

When I set out to create the Countdown list I never intended it to be an exhaustive list. How could it possibly? The number of life skills my children will require in order to successfully manage their first years out of the nest, and beyond, are too many to count. And, with the rapid-fire changes in technology and culture, who knows what other skills they will need to be proficient in within the next 10-20 years in order to be competitive and productive.  But in creating this list, and attempting to raise my own awareness as to how better to prepare my chickadees for life outside the nest, my hope was that as opportunities for growth presented themselves I would be better poised to take advantage of such "teachable moments" (I can only imagine how much teenagers must love that phrase. I'm an adult and even I kinda hate it.)

Such an off-the-list opportunity presented itself just yesterday, and I almost missed it. 

As I mentioned before, my family and I are currently divided by the full length of our fair state. Superdad and the boys are back in our primary residence, while Annie and I are enjoying extra summertime fun with cousins and extended family on the other side of the state in our secondary residence.  This means that the majority of my communications with my sons are occuring via text. You might think it would make more sense to just call them. It would not. Skilled phone conversationalists they are not, at least not with their mother. If I'm going to be fed a string of one-word responses, I'd rather see them on the screen of my phone.

Me: Hey Jack! What are you up to today? Are you being helpful to Dad?

Jack: Ya. just going to skate today. can you make me a haircut appt for tomorrow?

Me: Sure, I'll try to remember to do that. Have fun and be sure to check with Dad and see if there is anything he needs you to do before you leave.

Note of explanation: Jack is an avid skateboarder. Clarification seemed necessary so you wouldn't get a mental picture of him strapping on his walkman, tying up his roller skates and performing double axels along the boulevard in Venice Beach (which would be especially peculiar since we don't live anywhere near Venice Beach).

After this brief but deeply fulfilling text conversation I continued on with my day but occasionally my mind would jump to the thought, Oh, I need to make Jack a haircut! That is until I finally got my head on straight, remembered my recent epiphany and the purpose of this written chronicle, and had an entirely new not-so-shocking thought, Wait! Jack should make his own haircut appointment! This is exactly the sort of thing he needs to handle himself now! 

I know. I'm quick.

Me: Hey there- Making your own haircut appt is a great thing for you to handle on your own.  The number is xxx-xxxx. Just tell them you want to make a haircut appt with Holly. Go for it!

And he did. :)

Here on the other side of the state, I am continuing to learn more about the dog breeds of the world than I ever thought possible. Annie is our resident dog lover and expert. Recently, we purchased for her The Dog Breed Bible. This has given me ample opportunity to practice one of my goals from my own list, The Proverbs 31:28 ChallengeListen with my full attention when my children speak. I am afraid to say that isn't always as easy as you'd think it should be...

Annie's very first words out of her mouth this morning were, (with the sleepy still in her eyes and her hair falling in her face)  Hey Mom, did you know that the Irish Wolfhound is actually a very good family dog even though they are so big? They aren't jumpy and they make excellent companions. Oh, and Mom? What kind of dog do you want to be today? I'm a German Shepherd puppy. You can't be a Cocker Spaniel because you were that yesterday. How about something from the Sporting Group?

Good morning, Annie...

For the record

It seems only fair to the three baby birds to clarify at this point that it is not as though they have never heard the word "chore" in their lives. They are decently self-sufficient on the basics in their own lives.  We do not tie their shoes, we don't do their homework for them and they have, in fact, already performed many of the tasks on the Countdown list (but they could stand to be a bit more proficient).  Our kids have always been expected to be helpful when asked. Frankly, we are the ones who have been a little lax on the asking part. Anytime I hear parents lamenting their children's lack of helpfulness, or responsibility, I always want to say, If you want to know who is really to blame, look in the mirror.  Which is what I say to myself, too. 

Kids will be kids, which means they will be as lazy and self-centered as they are allowed to be. I don't know who those super-human kids are that you see on the Today show who wake up one day and decide, completely without adult intervention or involvement, to sell all of their worldly belongings for the sake of some heartwrenching cause- but they aren't my kids.  My kids are just your average, everyday, middle-class American kids. They are polite to adults, well-behaved in school (most of the time), decent to their siblings, 90% respectful of their parents and do not appear to be on track to have a criminal record at any point in their lives.  They are good kids, but they are kids. They tend to think more about what they want for themselves than what they can do for others. They will avoid hard work if at all possible unless there is a clear benefit to themselves. They will comply with any direct request/command but rarely feel the need to instigate helpfulness on their own. They are kids.

But, when I have my eyes open to potential and possibilities rather then limitations and lack- I do see many signs of hope that the seeds we hoped to plant are slowly taking root.

You know how there are some basic household tasks that are so mundane, so obvious, that you wonder how it is possible that you still have to remind the young people in your life to do them every single time? Clearing one's dishes is one of those tasks to me.  How is it not immediately evident that one should not leave one's plate/bowl/cup/bag of tortilla chips/half-eaten bowl of salsa on the counter for someone else and/or the magic fairies to clear? And, how it is not especially evident when you have been reminded/asked/threatened to clear said items at least a million times before?!?

Well, in the last six months, Timothy has single-handedly begun to restore my sanity on this issue. I'm embarrassed to say that it took me a little while to notice, and he provided no fanfare to his newfound dish discipline, but one day I watched him finish his lunch, pick up his dishes and carefully clear them to the sink.  Then, as my jaw fell to the floor, he even asked, Are the dishes dirty or clean? When informed that they were dirty, he placed his dishes in the dishwasher (incorrectly, but I was wise enough to let that go for the moment). And from that point on, I noticed that 99% of the time now he peforms the same mind-blowing routine. 

There you go, folks. When they tell you that you will have to teach your kids the same thing several times before they are able to master it, what they really should tell you is that you may have to teach your kids the same thing a million times before they master it- but then they will. 

Patience + Perseverence = dirty dishes in the diswasher

Next up: What happens when the dishwasher is full of clean dishes?!?! I'll let you stew on that one for a bit because apparently it's a head scratcher.  I know that my kids are completely stumped.

Forgiveness and the art of long-distance harrassment

It has occurred to me that I may have chosen an inopportune time to begin making every moment count during my eldest son's last year at home since we are currently residing on opposite sides of the state. Annie and I are enjoying some extra summertime fun with cousins and extended family while the menfolk are back at home tending to soccer schedules and their busy social lives (Superdad is simply working).  It has also occurred to me that if Jack were at all aware of my little plan he would likely say I picked the perfect time to embark on my journey.

Awesome. You go, Mom. Get this all out of your system, write about it, read a couple of books and we will all pray that you will have moved on to something else by the time you come back home. No, seriously, I'm totally with you on this, Mom.  Yawn....

Exactly why it might be best if he were none the wiser about my personal challenge to myself. Better to just surprise him with spontaneous moments of fun like, Hey Jack? Let's go explore the magic of Clorox and a toilet bowl brush together! Or, I don't know what we are having for dinner. What are you making? Without a doubt, the element of surprise can only work in my favor.

This also provides me the perfect opportunity to practice the art of long distance harrassment via text.  I know people think texting was invented to provide teenagers with an underground, unmonitored form of communication (and there is something to that) but mothers would be wise to use this and all technology to their advantage.  Our rule in our household is, we pay for the cell phone therefore you must answer any and all calls or texts from mom or dad promptly and politely. I tried to insist on cheerful, grammatically correct responses, but that seemed to be pushing it.

I really am careful not to abuse the gift of parental texting, but it certainly can come in handy.  For example, right now when I am 280 miles away from home. 

Good morning boys! Hope you are enjoying the sunshine (ie. get out of the basement!) Please remember that your father will not enjoy coming home to all of your breakfast, lunch and snack dishes. In other words, clean up after yourselves. Annie and I miss you! Have a great day!

What scintillating responses can I expect from my morning greetings?

Tim: k thanks

Jack: gotcha

Parenting is nothing if not rewarding.

And while the temporary long distance relationship between myself and my boys might not be ideal it does provide other rich possibilities.  Because, of course, while I might have been inspired by my eldest son's impending departure to elevate the purposefulness of my mothering, it is by no means limited to his and my interactions.  I have two other children who need me on my A-game just as much.  So, I am trying to use this abundance of one-on-one time with my daughter to my advantage.

Last night, the fates smiled on me or, rather, they laughed and said, Ha! Here you go! You want to practice being patient, loving and kind?!? Okey doke! 

Annie had spent the better part of the afternoon carefully painting a miniature ceramic tea set. Having declared her masterpiece complete it was left to dry on the breakfast table.  Whether intrigued by the smells or just having been cooped up inside too much in the 90+ degree heat, our 7 month old puppy decided to take a look at said masterpiece.  In his admiration of her artistry he knocked one of the tiny tea cups to the tile floor below.  Ummm... it did not survive the fall.

There were tears. There were angry words about the puppy whom she otherwise loves deeply. There were declarations of never being able to sleep, eat, smile, play, laugh...again. And finally, there was the careful collection of the pieces and a mother's attempt to quietly, calmly, optimistically glue them back together.

At bedtime, after all the tears had dried and Annie had reconciled with her beloved pup, I told her that I was proud of her. I was proud that she had been able to overcome deep disappointment and find reason to smile again. I was proud that she had forgiven her puppy and let him know that he was still loved in spite of his mistakes. I was proud she was willing to still take pride in her creation even if it isn't perfect now. And I told her that I knew God was proud of her, too.

She asked why?

Because God is always happy when we find it in our hearts to forgive others for their mistakes. Even puppies.



Beginning from the middle

Yesterday, I was browsing on Amazon (a favorite time-suck pastime of mine) and came across an intrguing book.  If you could see my bookshelves and never-ending Kindle library you might question whether or not I need another book.  Let me answer that for you, I do.  I always need another book. I plan to single-handedly keep both print books and digital books in business for as long as I am alive. But I digress...

The book in question is cleverly titled, Cleaning House: A Mom's Twelve Month Experiment To Rid Her House of Youth Entitlement. And I have to tell you that I was initially more captivated by the primary title than the subtitle.  I'm a big fan of having a clean house.  I don't even mind cleaning house because the end result is so satisfying. What I am not as big a fan of is being reminded of all the ways I am failing as a mother, how spoiled my kids are, and that in spite of a loving, attentive homelife, quality education and a strong moral upbringing my kids are destined to live in our basement, addicted to video games and living on a diet of Cheetos and Red Bulls all because I don't insist they make their beds on a daily basis or have an elaborate chore chart taped to the refrigerator door.

But, you know what they say about the unexamined life, right? I mean it just might be possible that I could do more to elevate my children's responsibilty quotient and thus raise the chances that my husband and I might actually one day know the bittersweet pleasure of an empty nest. My firstborn is poised to take his first steps out into the semi-real-world (aka, college) one year from now and I'd have to be delusional not to admit that he might be lacking in a handful or two of basic life skills. It can be easy (or lazy) to throw up your hands and think, "Aaack! It's too late! What's done is done! He's on his own!" But I looked again at the title of this book and thought, Hey, this mom made a difference in her kid's lives in just 12 months. Isn't it worth a shot? Shouldn't I do all that I can to arm my child with as much knowledge of the true drudgery responsibility of home and life management?

And won't he be THRILLED!! (In fact, imagining the glee this new program will inspire in my children became incentive enough to get started right away!)

The only problem is... I haven't bought the book yet. 

But on further examination I decided that as I look ahead to my firstborn's last year living at home full-time (god willing) it isn't just about teaching him how to clean a toilet and plan a meal that inspires me.  It's about making a commitment to make this year count.  And then making all of the years that follow count because, after all, there are two more baby birds in this nest coming along behind him.  All joking aside, these kids...this family, has been the greatest gift of my life and our time together under one roof is limited.  I have never taken them for granted but I also haven't always approached every single day with a sense of purpose.  I want to infuse this next year with purpose.  Whether it be making sure my children possess the necessary life skills to take them beyond our basement, or regular family meals at the dinner table, or prayers at bedtime, or laughing together over shared family memories.  Every day, lived with intention.

This is it. There is no time like the present.  Maybe I could have done more in the last 17 years to prepare these little chicks to fly, but going backwards isn't an option.

We start today.  Buckle your seatbelts kids, Mom's got a plan! (they are so excited...)