January 27, 2015

If Only He Was That Good!

This Christmas a small, meticulously wrapped box peeked out of each of the six Christmas stockings that hung by our chimney with care.  (And by ‘care‘, I mean that a variety of cuss words were liberally tossed around as the ‘elves’ struggled against gravity to fasten each busting-at-the-seams stocking in place.  Although we’ve lived in the house for over six years, we fail each year to design or invest in a satisfactory system to hang the stockings.  These over-sized socks reside low on the list of holiday priorities in our house.  As a result, each one is hooked into the fireplace screen with a large, twisted paper clip.  Last minute broken clips require creative fixes or desperate last minute desk drawer plunges.  If visions of ‘elves’ backing slowly away from the fireplace stricken by a fear of exhaling are conjured up, then indeed you have caught a glimpse of a common, late-night, December 24th moment in our chaotic abode.)  Luckily our poised camera and video camera captured the kids’ surprised, delighted faces on film as they discovered the ticket to Disney World in his/her stocking.  Part of the success of the moment hinged on our offspring following our implicit, spontaneity-inhibiting instructions to open the matching boxes simultaneously.  Fortunately, no one questioned our ready-set-go orders, our point and shoot readiness, or our happy-face, plastic expressions. 

If the bearded, red suited guy were THAT good, and actually gifted our kids with a legitimate, all-expense paid trip to Disney World, Coach and I would have been celebrating right along with the PJ clad clan gathered on the family room floor squealing at our feet.  Feeling like we won the Santa lottery, these sleepy parents would have demonstrated legendary leaps of joy that would have impressed our young, resident Irish dancers.  We cherished the exciting memories granted  by this amazing gift (that we planned), despite the absence of a monetary reward from a fat stranger that bore no impact on our budget.  I love surprises, thus the perfectly arranged stocking-topper boxes containing tickets to visit Disney.

Let's face it, Santa always gets the acclaim for the top notch presents.  Coach and I are seasoned parents.  We've given gifts to the children while supplying credit to Mr. C. for 16 years now.  The only credit we get involves a plastic card that gets more than a workout in December.  I remember Christmas back in the late 90's.  I recall feeling a bit hesitant to write a name, other than my own, on the 'WOW' gift.  Of course after a few more years of Santa worship, a parent accepts the elf role and continues to identify the best gift hiding spots, the most creative ways to shop (even with a child perched in the shopping cart), and how to transform a sleepy expression into one of shock on Christmas morning when the youngster displays the awesome gift that mysteriously arrived from the North Pole, wink, wink, nudge.

Initially I remember being excited to be a part of the club, 'Yeah, we're parents now.  We'll be staying up late on Christmas Eve.  How late do you usually stay up?'  The busier life has become, the harder it is to keep up the charade.  There are plenty of cover stories to create for the many Santa-helper mishaps.  Never mind lousy hiding spots, how about forgetting visible items in the trunk until it is too late?  I usually toss out a comment like, 'Oh, I forgot I left the cousin gifts out here.  I better get them up to my room and labeled before I forget whose is whose.'  Labeling isn't always fool proof either.  Have you ever had to explain why Santa wrote a baby sister's name on a pirate Lego box?  Oops.  Santa's glasses were probably to blame. 

No matter how difficult or entertaining it is to keep up the charade, most parents don't want the loud-mouthed, bubble-busting brat on the school bus to be the one to blow Santa's cover.  Fortunately for us, Laddie never believed the older kids on the bus.  When kids on the bus were asking who still believed in Santa, he assured them that Santa was real.  Their gibberish didn't faze him.  He knew that there was no way his parents would ever buy him toys.  Being practical parents tripping over the toys littering the floor of every room, we often swore that any additional toys would be unwelcome in our crammed home.  Not to mention, I was never the mom that allowed my kids to pick out a new matchbox car with every grocery store visit, so Laddie's belief in Santa grew as strong as the real whiskers on Santa's chin. 

I must admit that once Curly caves on the whole legend of Santa, I will be sad.  Of course by then all of our kids might realize that Santa wasn't really THAT good . . . it was the parents that worked to make him look amazing!

January 4, 2015

'The Talk'

I dodged the bullet for years.  Coach delivered the puberty, facts-of-life lecture to our first three children. All boys.  Perhaps that is an old school approach, but it made the most sense.  Over the past several years Coach would corner whichever 10 year old boy needed the 4-1-1 on the topic and explain the facts.  I busied myself folding laundry in another room hoping that Coach would find the right words and make enough sense that his preteen audience would gain an understanding of this important subject.  Afterwards I often wondered if the information was adequate, or just how much they now knew.  Did my husband take a need-to-know only approach and leave out the girl specific info?  Would the boys know what a period was, or would they rely on their school health lesson to fill in the holes? (no pun intended).  Coach assured me that they would eventually learn whatever he hadn't reviewed, but he believed that they grasped the big picture. 
At the end of one of these awkward days (after the newly informed boy hung out in his room post lecture in order to let the news sink in), Coach and I chuckled behind closed doors about the reaction of one of our more curious boys.  This particular son's modesty interfered with his ability to comprehend how these actions could take place while clothed.  Coach was forced to point out that clothing was not typically worn.  Same guy commented on the fact that he had once read about praying mantises taking part in a similar act.  Afterward the male praying mantis often ate the female, or vice versa.  Fortunately, that was where the parallels between the two species ended.  

So my number was up.  My turn had come.  Since the three big boys raced off at an opportunity to see a new Hobbit movie and Curly was attending a birthday party, the quiet afternoon presented the prefect opportunity to have this important conversation with Mini.  There was no more avoiding it.  I chased Reggie off to read a book.  I glanced over a pamphlet that the religious education office had provided parents as a guide to explaining puberty, and I called her into my room.  I felt guilty watching her innocent, sweet self walk in knowing I was about to shatter her world.  

I told her the premise for our chat.  She winced.  At school, the 5th grade had been divided up into sections.  Mini's section would start the health segment of science in February.  The students assigned to health in the fall had groaned and mumbled about this particular class, which tipped Mini off to its general unpleasantness.  Her knowledge of the topic began and ended with the reaction it caused her fellow classmates at school.  With plenty of ground to cover and siblings due home shortly, I pressed onward.

I delved into how male and female bodies were created in such a way that they could create new life.  I described how her body would change in order to accomplish this.  It broke my heart to point out that shedding a lining meant a girl would bleed for about 5 days each month.  Mini, as she is so aptly nicknamed for my blog, is cut from the same squeamish cloth as her mother.  Does any preteen girl, whether or not she is grossed out easily, welcome learning that for most of her life she will have to deal with an inconvenient, disruptive, typically painful process known scientifically as menstruation?  Doubt it.  Of course Mini inquired about when this would start.  Tough not to be able to assure her that it would happen when she was in the comfort of home.  I touched on the products, the options, the necessity of the purse, and the resource of the school office if necessary.  

Hoping to cover enough ground so that she heard it here first, I pressed on.  I knew I wasn't getting through to her when she asked if Laddie had gotten his period.  I backed up and reviewed the different roles the two genders play.  Different body changes.  Clearly women deal with more irritating issues, but I tried to gloss over that.  This girl talks a blue streak about the many offspring she hopes to produce.  It came as quite a shock to her that there was a process called intercourse involved.  She asked if that was something I had done.  I assured her she was a long way off from having to concern herself with those details as it is an act that two adults share.  Not sure if that helped.  Focused on making babies and understanding that the doctor is involved in the delivery, she asked if intercourse typically took place at a doctor's office.  Yikes.  I suppose Coach and I should congratulate ourselves on accomplishing our mission.  Blocking all channels on the television and selecting appropriate motion pictures has resulted in a girl that is as pure as the driven snow.  No mass media educating our offspring.  

Overall I think it went well.  So well that I secretly wished I could have taped the conversation in order to simply rewind and hit play for the day when Curly approaches puberty.  Fortunately, Mini was unaware that our conversation had resulted in unwelcome rings of perspiration in my armpits.  I urged her to feel free to ask me other questions when the time arose.  I even ended with a humorous antidote about the day I learned where babies come from.

I shared a room with my next oldest sister when I was in 5th grade.  We were turning down the bedspreads of our matching pink canopy beds trimmed in white eyelet lace, when I shared with her the hilarious notion that my childhood friend, Shelly, had whispered to me that afternoon.  I strongly believed that Shelly was confused and that her version of events was farfetched, not to mention sick.  I could barely relate the idea to my sister because of my incessant giggling.  As soon as I had uttered the nasty details of the act Shelly had described, my sister's amused face morphed into a serious, humorless expression.  I barely caught the look on her face as she spun on her heel and marched quickly out of the room.  There I was -alone in my room.  My pile of stuffed animals perched in the corner.  Was it my imagination or were they staring at me?  Just me and my thoughts frozen between the two canopies.  My mind raced.  Shelly must be correct.  Clearly my sister was upset that I knew 'the truth'.  How could this be?  Why would men and women do that?  I jumped into bed and faked sleep before my sister could return from what had to be a nark session with my mom.  The next day my mom called me to the empty kitchen after dinner to deliver the 'talk.'

As I told Mini, all women have stories about awkward moments caused by their periods.  I am far from an exception in that department.  Perhaps I will over share those another time.  For now, I am relieved to have successfully delivered one of the two challenging conversations I feel compelled to have as a mother of two daughters.  Coach will be on the spot in a few years when Reggie enters 5th grade. 

January 1, 2015

Shake It Off

I swear this one will be different.  This is going to be the year that I let things go.  I told Fozzy today that I am going to adopt 'shake it off' as my new mantra.  Finding a way to shake off the nonsense of life might be challenging, but I am going to try.  This year.  I'm going to separate myself from the junk.  Can't control it - shake it off.  I can think of three specific areas that qualify for a good shake . . . speaking figuratively remember.  No phone calls to DCFS, please.  My family, my kids, and my job.  How does the saying go?  Admitting the problem brings you one step closer to the solution?

It started so long ago, I should have accepted it by now.  As the middle child of 5, my birth order position sucked a bit more than most 'middles' because I have 2 older sisters and 2 younger brothers.  The sisters are close and the brothers are borderline Siamese.  I always wanted a dog that I could force to be my pal, but my brother was allergic.  Of course.  One of the sisters, we'll call her 'Jo Lynn', treated me better than the other growing up, which isn't saying much.  The oldest sister, we'll call her 'Helga', disliked me.  Although Helga was quiet and shy, she never hesitated to express her lack of appreciation for me.  Not much to build a relationship on.  She still struggles with my chatty nature, my long involved stories, and my ability to over-share.  Over the years, my exclusions have included everything from a visit to the theater to see the movie Greece to a college summer trip to Ireland.  The standard excuse delivered to my bruised feelings referenced my young age.  The age difference between Jo Lynn and myself is less than 2 1/2 years.  Helga is 2 years older than Jo Lynn.  Back in the late '60's, our cousin's arrival was tucked neatly between that of my two sisters.  Translation:  cousin and two sisters attended movies, roller rinks, and sleep over's that no one considered inviting me to.  As a note, the only other two local cousins were boys.  At family gatherings my choices were to turn up my tomboy nature, which the boys tolerated for a short time or attempt to act cool enough to hang with the girls until Helga reached her limit of me.  

Anyway, the baggage that strained our sisterhood growing up was like a wayward not in a pigtail.  It failed to smooth out as we entered adulthood.  Each time Helga birthed a girl, Jo Lynn birthed a girl, and I would soon follow up with the delivery of a chubby boy.  As a result, some of our kids line up in age but not gender.  So . . .  Jo Lynn has a daughter very close to Mini's age, and both sisters have girls the same age as Laddie and Eddie.  They do each have a son a year older than Laddie, but Jo Lynn's son cannot tolerate Laddie's presence.  Of course.  Even Eddie noted how his cousin would only associate with Helga's boys at my parents' house on Christmas.  Shock.  Helga's family and Jo Lynn's family plan and organize outings that my kids aren't included in.  History repeating itself.  I feel like I may be accustomed to the oversights, but watching my kids struggle creates more angst than I can stand.   

About 3 1/2 years ago my dad wanted to take a group of kids to Gettysburg.  He's a huge history buff (not my cup of tea), and part of the arrangement was that the participants would prepare a report on an assigned battle, battalion, or general.  Helga, Jo Lynn, and I were the only offspring who had kids old enough to attend.  None of us jumped at the opportunity to send a few of our kids in a long car ride with my aging father.  Since I drive a white Chevy express van that seats 12, my dad devised an alternative plan.  I was roped into driving my van and serving as chaperone of the girl room at the hotel.  The adventure included 10 kids.  My three older boys made the cut.  It was a grueling weekend filled with treacherous driving in a hail storm, scary mountain descents, and of course lots of U.S. History.  I videoed the entire event and later presented my dad with a 4 hour movie of the lessons he and his 'students' delivered.  I drove most of the way home, which explains why we made such good time.  Dad wanted my sisters at my house when we arrived to claim their children.  He had reached his limit.  Helga didn't answer her phone.  I asked her son to try to reach her.  Miraculously, she answered.  I took the phone and delivered the claim-your-kid message.  After she fumbled for words, she passed her phone to my mom.  Oh, how handy . . . they were together.  'Girls weekend, girls weekend', my mom sang into the phone.  She went on to explain that they were grabbing a bite downtown, which is where they had stayed for a weekend of shopping, laughs, and dining.  Describing it today, I still get the kicked-in-the-gut feeling.  Never before or since have my mom and sisters planned a girls weekend getaway.  How convenient.  There were no apologies.  After all, it's just Ernie.  She'll get over it. 
I attribute most of the issues in our adulthood to Helga's divorce.  Everyone in the family continues to search for ways to make Helga happy.  Too bad she can't just lock me out of a house while babysitting for me like she did when we were kids.  That seemed to increase her happiness back then.  Jo Lynn and my mom serve as her main confidants.  Perhaps because of this assigned duty, my mom and Jo Lynn enjoy countless shopping sprees together, which hasn't been a regular occurrence for my mom and I in years despite the fact that I live nearby.  In spite of the distance between the rest of us and Milwaukee, my mom spends more quality time with Jo Lynn, who lived on the east coast for most of her adult life until a few years ago.  In fact when my mom learned that Jo Lynn would be moving back to the Midwest, she commented to me, 'This is going to be so nice for Helga.'  I felt invisible.  Did she forget that they were both related to me when she made that comment?  It sure HAS been nice for Helga and Jo Lynn.  Nowadays there are Notre Dame tailgaters, travel plans, shopping trips, and sleepovers that the two families enjoy.  A few days after Christmas, Helga's daughter snap chatted about a breakfast outing they were all enjoying before Jo Lynn's family headed back to Milwaukee after a sleepover at Helga's house.  The restaurant they were at was not far from my house.  We were home at the time and could have joined them.  Ah, but we weren't invited.  My kids were disappointed.  Mini mentioned the big love-fest sleep over at Helga's house more than once.  The envious, left out  tone was difficult to hide.  All too familiar.  

Clearly that is my big shake-off.  My family relationships will probably always be tough for me.  I suppose I fail to understand why it is so hard to imagine boring people not welcoming my company.  I'm fun.  Damn it.  As far as my kids go . . . normal stuff.  I hope to be able to shake off their unwillingness to pick their shit up.  If I can accept that we will run late because there is only one of me and too many of their activities on the calendar- add to that the kids unpredictable nature, perhaps I can simmer down and not lose it.  Can't control it - shake it off.  Ahh, my job.  Typically no big deal, accept for the fact that I would rather find a way to make a living writing.  Today I learned that my boss decided to take the reins on a project that I researched, communicated, and poured a lot of time into.  Go for it, but gee whiz- I would have appreciated some form of communication before I wasted countless hours I could have used to clean out my closets . . . or to blog.  Job vs. blog?  Frustration vs. satisfaction?  Long commute vs. comforts of home?  Piddly pay check vs. potential?  Maybe there isn't so much to shake off there.  Seems this one I should be able to control.  I'll sleep on it.  Happy New Year!