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Everything used to be so simple. Sesame Street is where we should all be living. Twenty years ago. It’s a little dicey on that street these days, and I have my suspicions about Mr. Roger’s neighborhood as well.

And once upon a time, I had a perfectly normal cell phone. It made phone calls, took phone calls, left messages for me to get back to. Sat there in my purse and behaved itself.

When the dreaded “year of the upgrade” rolled around, I deliberately delayed it while four more years crept by.

The debate was: to replace my phone with another “dumb” phone or to jump into the worldwide web of “smarter than a fifth grader” smart phones. Crap. I haven’t been able to help my fifth graders with math for years. Phones are all about numbers. This was not going to be pretty.

I held my breath and leaped into the 22nd century, hoping it wouldn’t be obsolete before I could transfer my contact list. There were a few months of uphill negotiations with my new smarty pants phone but the more I played with it the more I enjoyed it.

Finally there came the day of impasse, and I needed a fifth grader stat….or the nearest equivalent.

I’m sitting next to my tween-ager and casually start a conversation. “So, (fill in any name, there’s plenty to choose from), I don’t suppose you have a minute to show me something on my phone?”

There’s a ten minute silence while the kid finishes annihilating a village “like a boss” on Clash of the Clans. In kid time, that’s a 20 second pause.

“Yeah mom, what?”

“Well, I’ve been using my phone as a camera and I have about nine months of photos and a couple videos I found out that it does, but the problem is, I have no idea how to get it off my phone and into my laptop.”

“Why do you need it out of your phone?” This accompanied with an eye roll, which is impressive since his eyes have not left his iPad screen.

“So I can fix them up and email them. Maybe I can put them on my Facebook if I get around to it.”

“Just Snapchat it Mom. Or use Instagram. Or email it from your phone.”

“Look kid, I just want to have them where I can manipulate them. I need to feel in control here. Those photos are just sitting in there taunting me and there’s nothing I can do except delete them. I did find that little trashcan icon…tell me, where do these things go when you trashcan them? Is there a big dump in cyberspace where all deleted files go to be buried?”

This is not even dignified with a response, as said kid has moved on to Angry Birds. I wait respectfully while he decides whether or not to use a black bird as a bomb for more leverage.

“Moooooom,” he sighs deeply, taking out a laughing pig, “all you have to do is plug your phone into your laptop and push whatever button pops up.”

“But sweetie,” I’m really trying for patience here, “my phone didn’t come with a cord that connects those two things!”

At this point, the child has had enough. He turns fully into my face, trying to refocus his digitalized retinas. “Take the electric plug part off the end of your charger cord. Stick it in the hole.”

This is the child that I made flash cards of the alphabet for when he was four. This is the one I raised singing all the songs from Schoolhouse Rock. This, my progeny, was elected Mayor of BizTown in fifth grade. This kid is a varmint.

“My hero!” I say with a smile. Gently I pry his frozen fingers from his beloved iPad. “Now you can take a break and load the dishes into the dishwasher for me.”

Judging from the loud grumbling in the kitchen, there is no app for that.

Car Campaigns Part 1

As those of you who read “Death of a Champion” know, our recently deceased suburban lived a long and full life with our family. We were there at its conception and birth (the only car we’ve ever purchased brand spanking new) and we were there to mourn its death.

A few appropriate words were spoken by the children.

“Dude, did you get all our Legos out of the back seat?”

As the tow truck carried it away to the giant wrecking yard in the sky, there was only one thought on my mind. We were now on the inescapable undeniable terrifying journey into…car shopping.

You know us well enough to see that this was not a good thing. Making decisions in our family is like the Middle East peace talks. Everyone knows it’s a good idea. Everyone shows up to the bargaining table with perfectly sincere faces and a handshake.

But you are dealing with crazy people. So don’t hold your breath.

Our family wields opinions like small firearms. And nobody ducks.

I decided to launch a pre-emptive strike and fired off the first round.

“I want a Vespa,” I declared, “a green one.”

Everyone was silent for a minute contemplating my idea.

“We can put sidecars on it if you need a ride to school.”

This was met with a great deal of eye rolling and muttering in foreign languages to each other.

“Okay, fine,” I relented, seeing that my giant SUV to tiny moped was a pretty extreme rebound, “how about we get a Mini Cooper or a VW Bug? A Jeep?”

My six foot tall and only growing taller sons were having none of it.

“Mom, we want a monster truck!” they countered, “What if we got dropped off at school in one of those?!”

Obviously they thought everything with wheels was an option, including anything made by Tonka.

“I know!” they crowed, “let’s get a limo!”

I spent a moment relishing the thought of having a plate glass barrier between myself and the passengers that not even sound would break. But a mom has her duties and I scratched their idea with the safety card.

“The only car you’ll be allowed to ride in without a seat-belt is a hearse.”

Which was also a valid idea because we used to have elderly neighbors whose granddaughter worked in Hollywood as a horror film make-up artist. She drove an old hearse as part of her shtick. It always gave me a double-take when she parked it out front.

My fearless hubby stepped forward. He wasn’t sure what kind of car we wanted yet, but he knew it wasn’t going to be red. Or black. Or yellow. Or green. He tossed out some targets.

I shot down Hummers (overcompensating much), Prius (batteries sold separately), Camrys (yawn), Cubes (just drive a mail truck already), Volvo (a roll cage with wheels), Lexus (been there, done that), Beemers (so cliché), and what’s the difference between a sport wagon and a station wagon? Ick.

I spurned anything resembling a van (too soccer mom).

I shunned everything resembling an SUV (gas guzzlers).

And while a gi-normous Caddy reminded me of my days in the hood, there’s no possible way you could pimp that ride to entice me into buying one.

Not even in Mary Kay pink.

I was reloading when a daughter said, “Hey, get a Mustang!”

All the kids jumped on that bandwagon. Muscle cars are a big hit when we travel the roads, and I’m always asked to pull up alongside one so they can properly respect the lucky drivers. Camaro. Cobra.

What about a Mazarati? And Lamborghini!

Well don’t stop there, you little fantasy-land mouseketeers! How about we get a Ferrari and call it a day?

The bottom line is that we need a taxi for the next six years that will take the abuse it deserves for not being a Lotus Elise. It needs to be economical, safe, sturdy, and dependable. Translation=boring in the extreme.

Stay tuned as we head into the wilderness in search of transportation.

We’re armed and dangerous.

And no one is interested in negotiating.

Mom-solete

It’s right on the fence whether I will have my “Mom Card” revoked or just suspended. I didn’t break any laws, per se. But apparently I have not completely fulfilled my motherly duty by ‘caring enough’.

I have a daughter graduating from college this month. She is the second of my entire personal family tree to own a college degree and I am eager to throw some confetti at the ticker-tape parade. Every time I considered “going back to college” I was held back by the thought, “I’ll have to take math.” If they would have accepted only the essay questions involving a speeding train, a crossing car and a pelican, I just might have gone for it. (Answer: the pelican should not have been driving the car in the first place.)

My daughter can speed read textbooks that are clearly written in Greek for secret societies in code.  And now she is pondering her next step which involves testing the waters in another state.

As yet another huge change descends on our family, the question I’ve asked my children from the womb re-surfaces. What do you want to be when you grow up?

The question has evolved to include what I feel are obvious sidebars.

Whatever you think you’re going to do, it had better 1) pay your bills, 2) be personally fulfilling, 3) allow you to move out into the big world, and 4) be respectable enough I can brag about it for a while.

The question involves a lot of thought, and it’s not like they haven’t had years to ponder it. As a matter of fact, I myself ponder the same thing but I don’t have parents waiting for the answer anymore. So the pressure’s off.

Based on where all of my money goes, I’d vote for the professions of orthodontist, auto mechanic, owner of a Target store, or perhaps diaper manufacturer. If I had a nickel for every diaper I’ve ever changed, they could just sit back and inherit. Also a nice way to go if you can pull it off.

As I sat one afternoon with friends and family, the subject of graduating and job finding circled the room. One of my friends had a daughter who spent a couple thousand dollars flying to Texas for a job interview and was offered the position. The daughter had schooled and trained hard for her career choice and this seemed like very good news.

My sweet mom friend sat there and cried.

I’m trying to digest the fact that she is already desperately missing her daughter. The daughter who just attained huge success and reached her latest goals. The one about to become independent and self sufficient and fulfilled. It’s even respectable! Surely love can span a couple of states?

From where I’m sitting, it feels like the whole point of my career, “Mom”, is to work myself out of it. If the kids are no longer coming to me to fill their needs because they are well trained to fill them their selves, I have succeeded in my job. It’s a win-win when a child becomes a happy, healthy, and whole adult. It may take a lifetime and that’s OK, but steady progress is delightful.

I don’t want to be a speed-bump in the fast lane of my child’s road trip.

But when my daughter compares the two moms sitting on the couch, one forlorn and one ecstatic, her frown indicates which one she’d prefer. And I know my “Mom Card” is up for review.

I’ll have to be on my best behavior for a while. I can see the future ‘care packages’ will have to contain at least a dozen fuzzy socks, some Starbucks cards, definitely some country music selections, and a tin of chocolate chip cookies.

And very likely some confetti.

On the Wisdom of Wisdom Teeth

Five out of seven family members have had their wisdom teeth removed…and we aren’t so wise anymore.

When you have to have your wisdom teeth pulled, use that wisdom first and choose full anesthesia for it. I’m a card-carrying member of the “Coward’s Club” and pull it on occasions such as this. I wouldn’t scar myself for life with memories of a giant man putting both hands into my mouth and a foot on my chest trying to yank out a molar while using colorful phrases under his breath.

‘Cause I think that’s how it went down when my turn came. I grow very strong bones and teeth, and frankly, there’s nothing about me that doesn’t surrender without a fight.

As each of my children take their turn at the oral surgeon (three down, two to go), I remind them that wisdom runs deep in our family. And it must go. The latest was my 19 year old who had successfully delayed the event for a good three years. I caught her in a moment of weakness and pushed her through the door. Then I waited in the lobby speed-reading all the magazines.

Why don’t I ever have time to read them except at the dentist office?

Too soon, she was finished, and I was told to drive around to the back of the building and pick her up. I guess they don’t want mangled patients scaring off the incoming victims. Good idea.

I park just outside a door opening into a dim hallway. She is sitting in the middle of a long row of recliners that are empty except the one next to hers, which contains a young man. Both of them are gesturing wildly to each other, making jumbled moans and shrieks through their gauze-stuffed mouths.

This is not what I was expecting.

A small nurse helps my daughter up from her recliner and attempts to escort her down the hall and out to my waiting car. This is not easy, as my daughter easily tops her by 12 inches or so and is staggering along like a very inebriated yet incredibly happy drunk. Her eyes are wide and sparkling.

“Whatever she had,” I tell the nurse, “I want some.”

“Mjjothelslugthtsburttm!” mumbles my daughter through a bloody smile.

We sit her in the car. I tighten her seatbelt in case she wants to go for a walk while we’re driving.

“Somehow she knows our other patient,” explained the nurse. “They came in separately and recognized each other here in recovery. I had to pick your daughter up off the floor twice.”

We look at her. She grins as widely as she can at us. “Mjjotherlstugthstburtm!” she insists.

We look back down the hall at her buddy still in his chair. He leans way forward and waves wildly to us, indicating that we are the best thing he has ever laid eyes on would really really love to come along with us if only he could figure out how to make his legs work. The nurse rushes back inside as he totters on the edge of his seat.

Ok then. My work here is done. I call out my thanks, take the prescription paper and drive gingerly away.

It was a long while later, after some gauze changes and a couple naps that my kid was able to explain her exciting morning at the oral surgeon’s. She had woken up next to her high school prom date.

If a scenario like that had to occur in your daughter’s life, this has to be the only acceptable way, don’t you think?

The fact that I laughed about it explains a lot.

Yup, wisdom gone. From both of us.

Robbing Peter, Paying Paul

Something I wrote 2 years ago and I want to remember it.

I’m in mourning.  My unsuspecting child hit the point of no return on his timeline.  The moment when a boy becomes a man.  I do not refer to the rite of passage wherein he must kill his first bear or be tied to an anthill to prove his valor.  He just turned 13.

And he will never be the same.

My biggest newborn was a hefty 9 pounds, 7 ounces, and a happier baby you will never meet nor a sweeter little boy.  My son has always looked out for others, taken his turn, held my hand, tried to please.  He followed my fashion advice.  He excelled in school.  My kind and gentle giant.

But not today.

My poor innocent was poisoned with testosterone overnight and in his place is the Dr. Jekyll of teens.  It is suddenly asking too much to make eye contact, let alone enunciate, when he speaks.  A conversation of grunts is the new norm.  My tall handsome son has taken on a hunched shoulder and a slovenly hairdo.  Burping and body odor are no longer unfortunate incidents but matters of personal pride.

Oh my lovely boy, where have you gone?

Bill Cosby once said that he and his wife had five children “because they did not want six”.  I whole-heartedly agree.  Five is a wonderful number if you can pull it off.  Mine span ten years and I only hope that’s enough.  The timing with our family plan was that when the younger children were entering the delusional entitled teen years, the older ones would be exiting them with a new-found sense of gratitude and maturity.  This way, there would always be somebody in the house who still thought I might know something.

Sigh.

Our eldest son just came home from a year-long commitment on AmeriCorps.  At the tender age of 21, he returned to much fanfare and chicken enchiladas.  Sometime the next day, he pulled me aside and confessed that during his wanderings he realized that his parents had actually “busted their butts” raising him and his siblings and he appreciated it.  He met many, many kids out there with parents that they themselves were having to parent.

Home is a place for our kids to be kids but that may be a rarer thing than I assumed.

I remembered all the times I wanted to throw in the towel, give in to them, give up on them, or run away from them….but didn’t.  You practice doing the ‘tough love’ thing until you can balance the ‘tough’ with the ‘love’.

And eventually, if you don’t die of a broken heart first, they grow up.

I spent some years praying hard and loving our eldest furiously.  Sometimes it wasn’t pretty. I hoped his latest adventure would get his feet firmly planted and his head on straight.  And now his head, while definitely set much straighter, sports a fresh mohawk celebrating his graduation from the self-imposed straight and narrow. He stands tall and is ready to move on to the next part of his story.

He is kinder, he is gentler, he is thoughtful.

We make eye contact.

So in one month, I have lost a son and found a son.  There are places where the transfer is not yet complete; both need a haircut and who doesn’t love a good healthy belch?  I am going to miss my younger son terribly while he’s gone.  I see days coming where I will have to go ninja on him to save him from himself or perhaps hold tightly to some line in the sand while he figures out up from down.  But we are raising men and women of courage and values.

They will only know what that looks like by looking at us.

Of course, there is our youngest, yet untouched by teenager angst.  God knew exactly what He was doing when He provided the last-born comic relief for our family.  With all of the changes in our growing brood, his enthusiastic smiles and guileless dedication to childhood is refreshing. It reminds me that, like Peter Pan, that little sparkle of youth inside carries through, no matter what our age.

Growing up is a process of someone’s heart deciding who it wants to be and when.

There’s faith and hope and love during the wait.

And thankfully, the sparkle of laughter along the way.