A Box of Beaks

The birds around our home are losing their minds. I understand that the birds and the bees go bananas in the springtime but this level of intense courtship just seems a little too desperate.

Owls are hooting all night long, and our mockingbird starts his scales around two am and doesn’t stop until past noon. The red headed woodpeckers are fighting over territory space. Sweet little hummingbirds are dueling to the death in my purple duranta flowers. Our red shouldered hawks finally stopped screeching all day and are setting up house in the oaks. Flocks of crows are raucously chasing the hawks.

We have birds nesting in every available house top corner and running daily nonstop insect reconnaissance flights.

The noise is unreal.

Although I firmly shut the windows and retreated from the mayhem, spring decided to ooze in under the door and get right up in my face anyway.

My soft-hearted daughter rescued a four-pack of baby sparrows and brought them home in a box.

While waiting for her train, she watched employees at the depot go systematically along the path clearing out all the birds’ nests and cleaning up trash in general. They didn’t have the heart to sweep the baby birds into the rubbish bin, so they left them there on the sidewalk, fluffy and dazed.

And trusting. With great big Bambi eyes…….

No. Wait.

They have great big beaks. Beaks that open wide and chirp loudly when you make eye contact with them.

The pet store would not take them in, but she was able to get a supply of baby bird food and a container of meal-worms and instructions.

Once they were settled in at my daughter’s bed and breakfast resort, aka her dresser, reality set in. For me. My daughter, of course, goes to school and works full time.

“You’re gonna make an excellent Gramma!” encouraged my daughter as she started to sidle out the door.

And then she was gone. And I was left to serve meal-worm sushi rolls to four hungry chicks every 45 minutes…

All.

Day.

Long.

They sprouted feathers right before my eyes and no doubt they would be flying within a week. The biggest one practically jumped out of the box at feeding time. The littlest guy needed frequent naps. I was never so glad to see the sun go down. I had a talk with my girl when she got home.

The next day she sat sadly in the car with her fluffy little wards, heading for the wildlife refuge center 20 miles away.

They gave her a number to call for progress reports, if she wanted to follow up on their fledging. As she had already named them and promised them each a pony if they came back to visit someday, she did.

She still carries a little resentment about my lack of grandparenting enthusiasm.

If I said it once, I’ve said it a million times.

I will be retiring to Tahiti. They can Skype me. But they can’t reach me.

Fireworks on the Homefront

I’m dusting around the room with my trusty feathery duster and not really paying attention because there are so many voices in my head, all discussing which things should be at the top of which lists, which is important when you’re a list maker.  Then my eyes actually focus on the object at hand. It’s a silver desk bell. You tap the button on top to “ding” it, like in a hotel lobby or old-school diner when your order is ready for pick-up. So I stop and ding it.

This makes me happy because it reminds me of when I bought it. I had five kids in three schools and you can safely imagine the amount of daily chaos around the house.

I was always coming up with different ideas for ways to get my kids’ attention. Yelling for a particular child did not turn out well. First of all, I needed to call out the correct name.

“Mm, Han, Cay, J..” I would sputter, while stirring spaghetti sauce, “kid number four!” I finally scream, hoping for the best, “Child! Where are you?!”

When I volunteered in a classroom, learning the names of students was nigh impossible for me. It took all year and then I had to start over with a new batch. I was reduced to calling out, “OK, you in the blue stripes, your turn on the electric keyboard!”

Of course, this was a fun activity and anyone remotely wearing a blue striped top was stepping over the heads of other students to get to me as fast as possible.

Not so at home. A child could be summoned for many reasons, and most of them involved an activity that could not by a long stretch be labeled “fun”. My kids knew whatever they were currently involved with, from playing with matchbox cars to picking their nose, it was way more exciting than whatever mom was going to tell them.

Didn’t they know that by the time I had the correct child actually respond and arrive in my presence that my question or command would be completely gone? Yes. Yes, they did.

The child will stand there looking innocent, wondering why mom felt the need to send three other children to summon him (“Mom wants you!  Now!”) while I frantically scan my last three working brain atoms for the thought they held not five minutes ago.

I decided many times that it was not okay to be constantly yelling from across the house for some random person. It wasn’t all that big of a house. Parenting manuals will tell you that it is so much more effective and bonding to walk to the child, kneel down at his eye level and quietly explain what you need. This brings the volume in a home down several decibels and sets a good example.

Excuse me while I laugh so hard my stomach hurts. This is not humanly possible unless you are working in a day care and are getting paid to do nothing else but stare soulfully into a child’s eyes while he is completely ignoring you. You can speak softly for hours. This kid is not going to hear you.

I tried the old, “Speak softly, carry a big stick” routine.

But the little buggers heard me coming and ran.

No one who joined us for dinners over the years could understand why my children all spoke so loudly. Even one on one, it was like they were sure no one was listening unless they put in maximum velocity.

The little silver bell was supposed to fix this. If I “ding” the bell once, it meant I was calling child number one, the firstborn.  The one mature enough to listen for such subtle summons. Two dings meant child number two, and so on. It was supposed to be obvious that five dings, which sounds rather frantic, meant the lastborn, no real counting of dings required.

Just show up when it sounds like mom is playing the maracas on the dinger.

Okay, now my stomach is really hurting. Make it stop. Yes, yes, shades of von Trapp.

Today I use a completely different tack. I just lunge for the nearest warm body and make it do whatever needs doing at the moment. Carpe diem. “Sieze the kid.” Also saves me from looking completely bewildered all day long. Makes me look competent and efficient.

They give me a wide berth.

I thought about claiming a Greek or maybe Italian heritage. But let’s face it. We’re just birds of a feather yelling together.

When you see me burst into laughter while dusting, now you are in on the joke.

And even when I’ve put my mom messages in writing (Swimsuit Edition much?), you can be assured that hundreds of people worldwide have instantly gotten the memo…and that my own children are steadfastly not listening to a word of it.

Car Campaigns Part 2

We slowly sat down at the round table for a Summit Meeting with the Opposition. I kept my shades on. No use letting them see the whites of my eyes. Hubby was perspiring freely, but his turban hid it well.

“Just start with your name,” I whispered to him.

The car dealership manager leaned back in his leather armchair. He held a pen which he clicked over and over, like a ticking time bomb. Only the tightness around his eyes showed the tension that his large smile was attempting to dissipate.

We had been slowly wearing down our target over the last couple of weeks.

We settled on this car quickly and then once in a while we’d go over and ask to test drive it. Then we’d slowly circle the car, attempting to find defects. Sometimes we’d open every single door and inspect hinges. We used a penny to check the tire treads. We sat in all the seats then asked if there were more. Then we made phone calls at non-business hours on his private cell phone (hey, he gave it to us) and asked more questions. We made low offers that he laughed at.

And then countered the next day.

You can’t just go in and buy a car. You have to feint and then retreat. There’s reconnaissance patrols and shock tactics.  And when all else fails, you pull a ‘Panama’. Don’t ask.

You don’t smell victory until the salesman is willing to lower his price enough to get rid of you.

“Will you be financing or paying cash?”

The manager had a few tactics of his own to maneuver with.

He sent someone out to bring our car to the front.  Forty minutes passed, and as we signed the last of the treaties, the someone returned, nervously wringing his hands and bowing frequently to the manager, the buyers, and the doors.

“What is it Z?” asked the manager.

“Oh sir, I am so sorry, I am so embarrassed,” the minion began, “but we cannot seem to locate the vehicle. We searched all of the neighboring car lots. It’s vanished sir!”

Everyone in the room paused for a beat. And then all of the negotiations were reopened.

The manager stood up. “It’s not possible!”

Hubby stood up. “What in the world is this nonsense?!”

Manager: “Sir, could I interest you in this car over here? It’s a better car, and it’s red. Same price!”

Hubby: “Absolutely not! We were very clear in opening arguments that red is unacceptable!”

Manager: “Yes sir, yes sir. However, we have scouts searching all corners of the globe as we speak. You must have patience!”

Hubby: “What kind of people sell you something and then it just vanishes into thin air? It wasn’t even the perfect car. We wanted one with a roof rack! We drove all this way and now we are entirely deceived!”

The minion returned but stayed well out of the manager’s reach. “Sirs,” he said, “the car has been found. One of our other managers decided to drive it home for the weekend and will not be returning it tonight.”

Then he fled the scene.

The manager was pacing. Hubby stood with fists on the desktop. I sat watching with steely calm.

“There!” the manager cried, “The vehicle is located. I’ll tell you what! We shall bring it in, detail it for you, install a roof rack, and deliver it to your home.  I would not dream of asking you to drive here twice for our mistake! If you do not accept the vehicle delivery, I will personally shred all documentation, and you are under no obligation whatsoever!”

Foreboding sat thick in the room like haze. I could see both parties were mentally circling, looking for the loopholes, the treachery, the possibility of an ambush in the parking lot.

Finally, Hubby agreed to the terms offered. We drove home in silence and waited for zero hour to arrive.

It was a tight call whether we would achieve triumph or forfeit all attempts at diplomacy.

Either way, someone somewhere was going to lose his job…or his head.

Today’s Episode is Brought to you by…

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.