American Eagle, Steve Jobs, and the denim belt

I went spring shopping with my tween son the other week.  I still call him a tween, but in reality he is just a few months away from stepping over the threshold and becoming a full-fledged teen.  He kindly reminds me of this on the regular, and every single time all I can see is a picture in my mind’s eye of his sweet little baby face staring at his mommy in complete adoration.  It makes me want to weep.  Also I am pretty sure I can actually hear my ovaries drying up on their slow journey toward becoming shriveled little raisins.

One of the great things about babies is that you can dress them however you want.  I used to dress my son so cute when he was small.  Most people seem to think that all of the frilly baby girl clothes are the most fun to buy, but after a while the closet just looks like someone vomited Pepto-Bismol onto a bunch of plastic hangers.   Moms of little boys,  I’m here to tell you that shopping for baby boy’s clothes is where it’s at.

Shopping for big boy clothes is decidedly much more complicated.  First of all, there are all these rules.  Probably every boy has a different set of rules, but there is always some kind of code or formula that turns the whole thing into some sort of scavenger hunt.  In order to pass the test when shopping for my son, all clothing must adhere to the following guidelines:

-must be quick dry fabric.  But not the scratchy quick dry fabric, the smooth kind.

-no itchy tags. Even better–no tags at all.

-funeral colors only.  Black, dark black, light black, grey, or a mixture of these are permitted.  Blue is sometimes acceptable.  Neon yellow was acceptable last year but now is eschewed.  Please keep up.

-if there is some kind of visible athletic logo, only Nike is acceptable.  Under Armor–NO.  Adidas–that would be a hard no.

-pants must not have ankle cuffs of any kind.  It doesn’t matter that those cute jogger pants are everywhere and it is difficult to even find pants without ankle cuffs.  No. Cuffs.

Me:  What do you have against jogger pants with cuffs?

Son:  I don’t like them.

Me:  Well, obviously.  But what is it about them that you don’t you like?

Son:  They make me feel trapped.

Me:  They make you feel trapped?

Son:  Yes.

Me:  Trapped….in your pants?

Son:  Yes.

Me:

Son:

With that all sorted out, we set off on our quest to find quick-dry athletic clothing with no tags and no cuffs in drab colors, that would also somehow fit a man-sized boy who is all arms and legs and sharp angles with a waist size that would make a Victorian woman in a double corset jealous.

Shopping this year turned out to be even more challenging than usual, because the boy is in this awkward in-between phase where he’s too tall for the boys section, but hasn’t filled out enough for the men’s section.  Glorious.  I sat in the fitting room waiting area as my son paraded out before me about four different styles of black and grey hoodies, despite the fact that our original intent was to find clothes for spring and summer.  I suppose the black and grey hoodie that he has been wearing every single day since the beginning of the school year needed a refresh.  (Side note to say that if you are one of my son’s teachers or one of his friend’s moms, I promise you I wash the sweatshirt in question regularly, and he has a few different pairs of the same/similar black pants.  So I know it looks like he never changes his clothes, but it’s not so much of a poor hygiene situation as it is a Steve Jobs situation).

Anyhow, during the American Eagle parade of hoodies, one of the other dressing room doors opened and out walked an adorable teenage girl with long, colt-like arms and legs.  She turned to her (very youthful looking) grandma and said, “Do you think this looks too big?”

If I were a cartoon character, my eyeballs would have fallen out of their sockets at that point and I would be groping around uselessly trying to retrieve them so I could pop them back in.  I am telling you:  if the denim miniskirt this girl was trying on were any smaller, it would be a belt.  You could tell this wasn’t grandma’s first go-round with a teenage girl because, instead of answering the question, she very cautiously said, “You’re going to wear shorts underneath that, right?”  Like she knew that the inevitability of an automatic sale would shoot up if she were to respond by saying, “That is ridiculously short.  There is no way you’re wearing that!” The girl didn’t answer grandma’s question about the shorts either, crafty as she was,  but instead surveyed her reflection wearing the tiny little skirt from all angles before disappearing again into the dressing room.

This is where grandma and I locked eyes and, without a word spoken, had a moment of sisterhood.  I could see how she had blazed the path that lay before me, come out the other side, and had now brought the wisdom of our foremothers to this moment.  As my boy came out in another black hoodie, she gave an almost imperceptible nod that seemed to say, “I know.  He wears the same thing all the time.  Boys are like that. Don’t worry.”  I, in turn, lifted up a quick prayer asking for strength for the girl’s mother, who I am certain would rue the day she allowed grandma to take her daughter shopping for spring clothes, only to find that she came home with a denim belt.

 

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Middle school: The purgatory of parenting

January is really the most un-wonderful time of the year.  The weather stinks, I’m still tired from the holidays, AND it’s that very awkward and terrible time when all of the Reese’s peanut butter trees are no longer in the store, but it’s too early for the Reese’s peanut butter eggs to come out.  I sat in the parking lot outside of a Five Below last week and wondered–where do all the trees go?  Because all of my local chocolate peanut butter tree selling retailers seemed like they had an abundant supply of them the week before Christmas.  Now there are none.  I can’t figure out the math on that.  Why no leftovers, Five Below?  You didn’t put them back in the stock room for next Christmas, did you?  ‘Cause that’s not fair.  I’m not sure how I will live until the retail stores decide it’s almost Easter.

Speaking of things I may not live through, it occurred to me just this week that in approximately 8 months, I will have two middle schoolers in my home.  TWO MIDDLE SCHOOLERS.  Can’t. Breathe. Must. Eat. Reese’s. Peanut. Butter. Chocolate. Trees.

I know some of you have younger kids, and aren’t there yet.  You are still in the thick of diapers and preschool and early morning wake up calls, and can’t imagine a day when you will sleep past 6 am on a weekend.  Or some of you more experienced parents are far enough away from it that you forget what it’s like, and the pain has dulled with time.  Some things are difficult to fully convey in words, but let me see if I can paint you a picture of these special, special years.

Having a middle schooler is like picking up your mail, casually opening it just like every other day, and then realizing that one of the envelopes had white powder with anthrax in it and now you have a huge crisis on your hands and also probably you are going to die.  And then 10 minutes later everything’s “fine” and the person who laced the envelope with anthrax is sitting on your couch with a headset on, happily playing a video game, while you continue working on your newest hobby which happens to be deep breathing and growing new grey hairs.

Having a middle schooler means that there are lots of tall-ish people with long limbs, big shoes, and questionable hygiene in your house, and you have to feed them pancakes a lot.  And they eat your pancakes but they don’t make eye contact with you.  And they wear a hood for extra protection indoors in case of leaking ceilings or splattering pancake syrup, I am assuming.

Having a middle schooler means that you are no longer funny.  You used to be very funny, maybe let’s say, just last year or the year before.   In fact, you used to be able to make certain people laugh hysterically just by playing peek-a-boo!  But now you’re not funny.  And every time you try to use any humor of any kind, someone in a hoodie yells, “STOP!”.

Having a middle schooler means that you question the very foundations of your education, as you stare mutely at your 7th-grader’s homework on algebraic expressions or some such, hoping to forestall the meltdown that will inevitably ensue should you be unable to not only figure out how to do it, but also figure out how to show your work using a simple 13 step process that, in your day, was a two step process.

Having a middle schooler means that you will sometimes have your sweet baby, who now weighs 100+ lbs instead of 10 lbs, come over to snuggle with you like a fully grown St. Bernard who thinks he is a lap dog.  And you love every second of it, even if his knee is in your spleen.  You don’t even care about your spleen right now, because you know that once the magic passes, your sweet, oversized baby will disappear underneath his hoodie for an indeterminate amount of time.

Having a middle schooler means that you have lots of toys, but no one plays with them.  But they also won’t let you get rid of them yet.  And they are unfortunately old enough that they notice when you try to sneak the toys out of the house to take to Goodwill.  Ah, how you miss the days when they didn’t have object permanence, or even those good times when you could trick them into thinking that if they couldn’t find a certain toy it was because they probably lost it, so maybe they should take better care of their stuff next time.

Having a middle schooler means that instead of dealing with diapers, field trips, potty training, preschool, and playdates, you now must face “crushes”, sex talks, friend drama, eye rolling, snarky comments, and poorly developed sarcasm skills.  You may really want to help them with this sarcasm piece since you know that you are so much better at it, but this is not advisable.

Having a middle schooler means that all important problems, questions, and/or feelings will absolutely need to be discussed at 9:30 PM, when you really thought you were crossing the finish line for the day.

Having a middle schooler means that your child will come home and tell you the things that happened at school, and you realize you have to relive all of the horrible things that happened to you in middle school.  Except now it’s worse, because it is happening to your tall-ish, constantly hungry, hoodie-clad baby.

Having a middle schooler means that you kind of want to call your mom and dad to complain, but you don’t because you’re pretty sure that they will laugh maniacally at you.

Having a middle schooler means that all of the above can happen to you in the span of one day, and just when you feel completely beaten down, you still get to be the soft place to land.

Having a middle schooler means that as bad as it seems for you, you know it’s worse for them.

Having a middle schooler means that you will need lots of Reese’s chocolate peanut butter trees.

 

 

A Midsummer Maternal Airing of Grievances

It’s getting kinda crazy up in here, people.  My children have been out of school for exactly a month now.  We have about 6.5 weeks left to go.  Holy crap, I just looked that up to be sure.  That’s longer than I thought!

I’m trying to enjoy summer with the kids, really I am.  We made our summer “bucket list” in June, and everyone contributed all of their very excellent and creative and expensive ideas about how we, as a family, can squeeze every ounce of fun out of our short Upstate New York summer.  Never mind the fact that in order to execute all of these fun things on the bucket list, both the hubby and I would need to get second jobs to have the money to pay for all the amusement park fees and movie tickets and road trip expenses, and then NOT ACTUALLY SHOW UP TO WORK AT ALL for 4 straight weeks so that we have the time to have all the fun.  Who’s stupid idea was a summer bucket list anyway?  My kids learned about this from school.  They actually came home with a drawing of a bucket that they had colored and cut out, and there was lined paper on the front to write out all the ways that they hoped that their parents would disappoint them over the summer.

Let me give you an example to illustrate how well our family activities are going so far this summer.  This is an actual conversation that occurred in the car today:

Kid:  You know what we should do?  We should go play glow golf!  It’s so fun!  I played it at a birthday party last year!

Other kid:  Yeah!  Glow golf!

Me:  Glow golf?  That sound fu–

Husband (interrupts):  Are you kidding me?  You guys are the WORST to play golf with!  Every time we go golfing you fight over who’s going to go first, and cry if your ball goes in the water, and someone has a meltdown before we even get to the second hole.  NO WAY am I golfing with you guys.

–silence–

So, yeah.

When it comes to parenting and family life, I usually look for the path of least resistance.  Typically, I’m all about keeping things simple, planning in down-time, and not over-scheduling our lives.  Everything with parenting has been feeling really hard and sticky and overly busy and difficult since summer started, and I haven’t been able to get a grip on why that is. Where are you, path of least resistance?  And that’s when it occurred to me.  THERE IS NO PATH.  There may be a path from September through May, but in the summer, the path is hidden under piles of Goldfish crackers (also lovingly referred to as lunch), popsicle wrappers, summer camp schedules, wet bathing suits, and a huge pile of laundry that multiplies exponentially every hour because everyone changes their clothes four times a day.

Let’s talk about the fighting.  Good Lord, please make it stop.  I know my mother is laughing right now and you can just stop it, mom.

And bedtime. Disastrous.  Every night.  I never told them they were exempt from bedtime in the summer.  But they seem to think that bedtime should be optional when school is not in session, so every night is like trying to herd wandering cats.  Listen kids, if you want me to like you in the morning, you need to be in bed by 9 pm.  End of story. Feel free to go at 8:30 pm for bonus points.

Don’t get me started on the mess.  No one can “remember” to hang up their wet towel, or put their dishes in the dishwasher, or put things away.    I told the kids I felt like a broken record, and they were all like, “What’s a record?”

I don’t mean to be melodramatic, but some days it feels a little bit like a house arrest situation.  My guards are short, demanding, prone to mood swings, and hungry all the time.  They do not allow me to have showers or bathroom breaks without supervision.  They follow me everywhere. They interrogate me multiple times per day, often until I am close to tears.  Their main tactics to break my spirit are constant interruptions, talking to me before my morning caffeine load, and repeating my name over and over.  Sometimes I am allowed out of the house to drive them places or to gather additional rations.  Sometimes they bring their friends over to help them make large amounts of noise.

In addition to driving everyone to and fro, the extra laundry, refereeing the fights, getting harassed poolside, and reading the same sentence in my book over and over (see constant interruptions in the previous paragraph!), I also have to make time to prevent summer slide.  I usually don’t even think about summer slide until it is the end of the day, and then it’s too late!  They have already slid.  They are sliding, a little each day, and it’s all my fault.  Today I broke our screen time rule and let them play video games for 2 hours straight because I just needed some peace and quiet and yes, it was glorious for me.

Moms and dads, fess up.  Tell me what your summer looks like.  Not your Instagram version, but the real stuff.  The messy stuff.  We need to talk about it.  I can’t be the only one.

Hauling my family to church every Sunday is making me lose my religion

Let’s get a few things straight right at the outset, before we dive in.

I love my family.

I love God.

I love and appreciate my church family.

But I have to tell you that for me, attending church with  my family on Sunday morning has earned a place up there on my poo-list with Mondays, dinner, glitter, daylight savings time, and people who try to talk to me when I’m sleeping.

Let us first discuss the hellacious process of getting everyone ready for church, which in itself is enough to make me start raiding the communion wine.  There is the issue of what to wear.  Now, does God care what we wear to church?  Really, no.  Of course we know that the answer is “no”.  However, I do think it is my duty as a parent to teach my kids to dress appropriately for the place and situation in which they happen to be in attendance.  I fear that if I fail to do so, they will one day show up at a job interview wearing pajama pants and a stained t-shirt because nobody ever taught them that there is a time and a place for that sort of thing.  Obviously, we save our pajama pants and stained t-shirts for when we go to Wal-Mart, but I digress. One kid doesn’t want to dress up, which is fine.  We don’t insist on “dressy” clothes, but we do insist on no sweat pants.   Unfortunately, for my 10-year old boy “no sweat pants” is the same as “dressy” by default. So a “certain someone” is inevitably in a foul mood from the moment the sun breaks the horizon Sunday morning.  The girl doesn’t have as much of an issue with getting ready for church because she gets to wear a pretty dress and pretty shoes.  It’s really the main reason she goes to church, aside from the candy our children’s ministry puts in the “busy bag” they hand out to the kids before the sermon.  All that to say that by the time we navigate the “normal” morning mood swings, breakfast, clothing-related drama, getting everyone dressed and out the door on time, and have the “I don’t want to go to church– it’s boring” conversation, we usually arrive on the doorstep of our place of worship a little bit discontent, to put it mildly.

Then there is the issue of actually being at church with kids in tow.  Kids are super talented in that they can ruin anything.  Church is no exception to this rule.  When they were babies and toddlers we would put them in the nursery, which sounds like it would be a good thing, right?  Unfortunately, it turned out to be fraught with all kinds of worship-killing issues, such as separation anxiety, diaper blowouts beyond the scope of the nursery volunteers, feeding times, missed morning naps, and usually some kind of plague that they would acquire 36-48 hours after leaving.  Between the Sundays we missed due to our own kids’ illnesses and the Sundays we had to take our turn volunteering in the nursery, it felt like we hardly ever got to attend the service.   On the rare occasions we were all healthy, present, and able drop them both off in the nursery, Jeff and I would enter the sanctuary and sit there like abused prisoners of war who had just been set free out of a dark hole, blinking in the blinding light of freedom.  Those 45 minutes without the children tugging at us were less about spiritual growth and more about the free babysitting just taking a breather.

With the exception of those few times we were able to make use of the nursery when they were babies, I have not sat through a church service in over a decade without being interrupted every 4 minutes at a minimum.  Over the course of a typical worship service, I break up at least 3 arguments, play a rendition of musical chairs in the pew, field at least 3 requests to go to the bathroom (despite the fact that they both went before we got there), respond to 2 additional requests to leave to get a drink of water, fish at least one child out from under the pews, answer approximately 15 random questions that have nothing to do with church or God or Jesus or worship or anything remotely connected to what I am trying to concentrate on, and THEN–then!!–9 times out of 10 one of the kids will fart (always silent/deadly), thereby crop-dusting all of the poor unsuspecting worshipers around us.  It is exhausting.  And stinky.  And not at all conducive to spiritual growth of any kind.

We have tried many things over the years to try to foster our children’s love for God and their church community.  They love God, but Sunday church is not a fan favorite.  They don’t enjoy going, and because they don’t enjoy it, it is much less enjoyable for me.  I’m not sure how to walk the fine line between prioritizing church as a family without tipping over into legalism.  Or losing my sanity in the process.

This is not how I pictured it would be, of course.  I always thought we would be the kind of family that would be really involved in our church.  Not because I think that will win us any special favors in the eyes of God.  I know we are loved whether we attend church regularly or lay on the couch in our jammies.  But I also want my children to grow up immersed in a healthy faith community, where they will learn the importance of knowing others and being known, of giving and receiving, and where they can practice worship and service.

One of my good friends told me about her husband’s grandmother, who had 6 children.  On Sunday mornings she would take the older kids to the early Mass and the younger kids to the later Mass.  If the older kids misbehaved, she made them attend Mass a second time with the younger siblings.  Say what??  This woman is my hero.

So if you see me smiling maniacally at church on Sunday morning or stage whispering to my kids in the pew, now you know that I’m just white-knuckling my way through until nap time.  MY nap time, that is.  Pray for me.  Deliver me, Lord, from Sunday.

Tween-dom 

I will admit it.  I let my guard down.  I used to be pretty attentive, always looking around the corner, anticipating the next set of issues and problems, reading up so that I would be prepared when the time came.  I started out when I was pregnant and on bed rest, reading What to Expect When You’re Expecting.  This led naturally into What to Expect the Toddler Years and a motherlode (pun intended) of mommy blogs and message boards.  I’m not sure when or why I stopped doing this, though it was most likely a gentle slide, a slow erosion of my hyper-vigilance.  You know how it is when every day starts to feel like groundhog day, like a variation on a theme, and you just settle in and coast for a while.

I wouldn’t say that the change took place overnight, necessarily.  But it was a significant transformation, one that continues to surprise me as it evolves and plays out in the day-to-day.  Coasting is no longer an option.  There is no predictable pattern or even much of a warning when it’s time to batten down the hatches.  All I know is that this change is just the beginning, a small taste of things to come, and I do not feel prepared for it.

I’m talking about this new person that lives in my house.  This one who used to think I was awesome and fun, who called me “mommy”, who saw me as an ally rather than an obstacle.  This new guy is called a “tween”, I am told.  When I look at him, I still see his baby face in there somewhere, hiding under the hood that is always cinched up around his face.  (are you cold?  is it breezy in here?  what gives?).  When he hugs me, he no longer grabs my thigh or my waist, or reaches up his hands for me to pull him up.  His arms circle all the way around my back, his head can now rest comfortably on my shoulder, and he makes gains on me every day.  Soon this one I carried in a sling and pushed in a stroller, who cried when I left the room, who threw broccoli on the floor, will overtake me.  He will literally look down at me, and I will have to tip my chin up when I tell him to go clean up his room or do his homework.

He is aware that he is on the precipice of physical enormity, and he is practicing for it by doing things like rolling his eyes and greeting simple requests with poorly executed sarcasm.  He obviously doesn’t know that I won the regional award for eye-rolling back in my day.  There is no “What to Expect When You’re Expecting a Teenager” on my bookshelf currently, so I’m still figuring out how best to nip all this in the bud without making it worse.  Because it’s a really delicate balance, you know?  Too authoritative and the tween is likely to retreat back under the perceived safety of the hoodie and shut you out entirely.  Not authoritative enough and you’ve got a hoodlum on your hands.  (see what I did there?  “hood”lum!)  It’s a little like approaching a wild animal on a National Geographic special.  Very precarious.

And what of the fact that my tween has so many NEEDS and FEELINGS right now?  So many feelings, none of which can be easily identified, because they are all wrapped up in this little ball that is generously coated with a layer of anger and finished with a fine dusting of resentment.  Am I to be the one to unravel that ticking time bomb?  Do I cut the black wire or the red one?  Which chapter addresses these sorts of emergencies?  Also, nothing like reliving middle school through the eyes of your child to dredge up all of your own emotional baggage.

I used to be really good at this.  I could tell by the look in that kid’s eyes when he was hungry, or overstimulated, or if he needed a nap.  I could anticipate what kind of scenarios were likely to be overwhelming or frustrating, and do some work on the front end to avoid  doing damage control on the back end.  Now, I don’t know anything, and I have a 10-year-old to tell me that I don’t know anything.  Also, in case you’re wondering, I’m lame.  And embarrassing.  And I’m not funny.  Not even a little bit.

I love this poem by Adair Lara, who really sums up the tween through teen stage nicely:

                                                         WHEN CHILDREN TURN INTO CATS

Have you ever realized that children are like dogs? Loyal and affectionate, but teenagers are like cats…
It’s so easy to be a dog owner.
You feed it, train it, boss it around. And yet it still puts its head on your knee and gazes at you as if you were a Rembrandt painting and bounds indoors with enthusiasm when you call it.
Then around age 13, your adoring little puppy turns into a cat. When you tell it to come inside, it looks amazed, as if wondering who died and made you emperor.
Instead of dogging your every step, it disappears. You won’t see it again until it gets hungry. Then it pauses on its sprint through the kitchen long enough to turn its nose up at whatever you’re serving.
When you reach out to ruffle its head, in that old affectionate gesture, it twists away from you, then gives you a blank stare, as if trying to remember where it has seen you before. You, not realizing that the dog is now a cat, think something must be desperately wrong.
It seems so antisocial, so distant.
It won’t go on family outings.
Since you’re the one who raised it, taught it to fetch and stay and sit on command, you assume that you did something wrong.
Flooded with guilt and fear, you redouble your efforts to make your pet behave.
Only now you’re dealing with a cat, so everything that worked before now produces the opposite of the desired result.
Call it, and it runs away. Tell it to sit, and it jumps on the counter.
The more you go toward it, with open arms, the more it moves away.
Instead of continuing to act like a dog owner, you should learn to behave like a cat owner.
Put a dish of food near the door, and let it come to you.
Sit still, and it will come, seeking that warm, comforting lap it has not entirely forgotten.
Be there to open the door for it.
And just remember…
One day your grown-up child will walk into the kitchen, give you a big kiss and say,  “You’ve been on your feet all day. Let me get those dishes for you.”
Then you’ll realize your cat is now a dog again!

I love this kid, this dog-turned-cat, this shape-shifting boy-man, who has come to teach me of the messy side love in all its forms.