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.

 

 

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Questions for Deepak Chopra

The other day I was listening to a podcast, in which Oprah was interviewing Deepak Chopra on the subject of meditation.  They spent some time talking about the well-established benefits of meditation, in addition to how Deepak himself practices daily. Though some Christians would criticize a practice of meditation as being “new age” or in some way counter to their faith, he explained how it is actually a vehicle we can use that allows our mind to be quiet enough to hear the voice of God.  I enjoyed this part of the conversation, and as someone who started practicing yoga a little over a year ago, I can fully see the benefit of learning to turn down the background noise in order to pay attention to that “still small voice”.

Of the benefits that he himself experienced, he said that he had no one he needs to forgive, and he does not have any stress.  When queried, Deepak told Oprah that he meditates for 2 hours in the morning, in addition to a half- hour to one hour in the afternoon.  [insert record scratch sound]

Wait, what?

OK, now I just have a lot of questions.  I know Deepak probably doesn’t read my blog (YET!).  However, I am still going to raise these questions directly to you, Deepak. I feel it will be the most direct way for me to try to get to the truth of the matter.

First of all, Deepak, you said that in order to meditate effectively one must be well-rested, or else one will find themselves falling asleep.  This makes perfect sense.  However, you then went on to tell us that you meditated from 4-6 AM every morning.  This, for me, was the most troubling section of the podcast.  Four in the morning, Deepak?  Deepak, what is your bedtime?  According to my calculations, this would mean that in order to get enough sleep to be adequately prepared for a 4 AM wake up call, you would have to get your peaceful butt in bed by 8 PM, maybe 8:30 at the latest.

And Deepak, if your bedtime is indeed between 8-8:30 pm, this raises a whole other set of questions for me.  Like, when do you fold your laundry?

What time do you eat dinner?  Are you one of those people that shows up at restaurants at 4:30 PM for the early bird special?  I’m just asking because you know it’s not really good for your digestion to lie down to sleep right after dinner.  So if you eat at 6:30 or 7 PM and then you have to go to bed an hour later, I’m just worried you’re going to get indigestion or something.

When do you watch Homeland and Breaking Bad and House of  Cards and all those other swear-y TV shows that are inappropriate to watch in front of young children so you have to wait until they go to bed?

Speaking of children, when your kids were young, what time did they go to bed?  Did you go to bed before them?  When they were doing the bedtime stalling thing where they get up and down 17 times for water and one more hug and please close my closet door, and I’m scared and et cetera, did this interfere with your pre-meditation sleep sesh?  What if they had a bad dream or puked in their bed in the middle of the night or something like that?  This adequate rest + waking at 4 AM thing is not adding up for me.  I feel confident that I could do either of those things individually, but not both at the same time.  How do you do both, Deepak?

Do you ever hit snooze and skip the meditation in favor of sleep?  If so, approximately how often does this happen?

Is coffee allowed at morning meditation?

I don’t know about you Deepak, but my children have this uncanny ability that causes them to know when I am awake.  Maybe they are light sleepers simply responding to the faint creaking of the stairs underfoot, or perhaps something more calculated is occurring.  Either way, I am quite certain I would have some inquires at some point along the lines of, “what are you doing mom?”  If this happens, say, an hour into my two-hour session, do I have to start all over, Deepak?  If I get agitated about my meditation getting interrupted by small people, does this negate the benefits for me?  Can I still successfully meditate with two people watching me and asking me rapid-fire questions?


In regard to your afternoon meditation session, my question is this:  Deepak, do you have a cloak of invisibility?  Like the one from Harry Potter?  If not, how do you get people to leave you alone for that length of time?  How is it that no one interrupts you?  I’m just asking because I myself have not had an uninterrupted shower in over a decade, and even attempts at defecation are, in the eyes of the people I live with, perfectly good opportunities to ask me questions such as, “Do you know what the weather is going to be like today?”, or “Can you toast me a bagel?”

Does lying on your side in the fetal position whilst seething with resentment count as “meditation”, Deepak?  Asking for a friend.

I know you’re probably too busy to respond directly to my inquiries, Deepak, what with being a doctor, an author , a sought-after speaker, and a spiritual guru, in addition to your time-consuming meditation schedule.  I think you would probably tell me to start with small increments of time and work my way up, and I think this is sound advice.  So right now I am playing hide-and-seek with the family and I found a really good hiding spot, and I am being as quiet as I can.  Hopefully this will last 3 whole minutes before someone finds me, so if the Divine voice has anything to say to me, He better do it quick.  Full disclosure:  I didn’t actually tell my family  we were playing hide-and-seek.  I just hid.  Is that a good start, Deepak?

I admire you Deepak, I really do.  Maybe one day you and I can meditate together, and you can show me how your cloak of invisibility works.  Let’s do it at your house, OK?  My house is a little crazy.

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.

Revenge of the school bus driver

Last week was the last day of school.  Both kids came home with a mix of emotions, and ran off the school bus eager to tell me all the sad and tragic and happy things.  My oldest is starting middle school in the fall so he is dealing with the excitement of moving up, combined with sadness at leaving his elementary school and a healthy amount of fear of the unknown.   We talked and hugged, checked out their report cards, had a snack, and I sent them out to play.

About a half-hour after later, Leah came running inside to tell me that their bus driver had driven by our house on his motorcycle to give them a present!  She promptly checked with the kids next door and down the street and confirmed that she and her brother were the only lucky recipients of a special gift from the bus driver.  Why  this matters to her, I don’t know.  Everything’s a competition when you’re eight, even winning favor from your school bus driver.

Then I saw what the bus driver got them.  HE GAVE EACH OF THEM AN AIR HORN.


You guys, what do you think my kids DID to the bus driver this year, exactly?  And why is he punishing ME for it?  I am guessing he holds me responsible in some way.  I swear, I knew nothing of any misbehavior on the bus this year.  If they did something to tick him off, he could have just talked to me about it and I would have nipped it in the bud.  That’s the kind of parent I am.  I am a bud-nipper.

But no.  Instead, he bided his time.  Waiting.  For just the right moment.  For the first day of summer vacation, when they were returned fully to our care for two whole months.  When he KNEW there was no way they could bring those devil’s instruments on the bus.  He’s no fool.

On the bright side, they have learned a few musical tunes.  See “Jaws on the air horn” below.

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.