I saw this at the parent teacher conference I went to yesterday for my daughter, who is just beginning fourth grade:
WHAT? She didn’t find her dad’s “politic book” The Ethics of Lobbying gripping stuff?!
The thing I find most disconcerting about being the parent of a teenage boy is our sudden inability to communicate with each other in any sort of meaningful way. Last night, for example, we had this heart to heart exchange:
“How was school today?”
“What did you do?”
“Science, Math, History…”
“But I mean, what did you actually do? For example, what did you do in Science today?”
“We wrote things down on paper.”
“What KINDS of things? What are you learning about?”
“What living things are.”
Overnight, he’s become a covert CIA operative, trained to take his highly-classified top secrets about what he did in Biology class to the grave.
He recently spent a week away in Vermont with his friend’s family. Having had so little contact with him when he spent a week away at the beach earlier in the summer, I laid down some rules before he left for this second trip.
“Keep your phone charged. I expect you to make contact with us at least twice a day. Once by text and once by calling home.”
The boy kept his phone charged, but never once followed through on the making contact part. On the days that I didn’t initiate contact myself, I didn’t hear from him at all. When I did hear from him, our conversations were entirely unsatisfactory:
The week he was in Vermont, one of his closest friends, who moved away a few years ago, happened to be visiting Charlottesville with his family. The rest of us went to meet up with them for frozen yogurt one evening. Shortly before setting out, I tried and failed to contact my son. I knew he should be arriving in Vermont after two days of travel, and I wanted both to make sure that he’d arrived safely and to give him a chance to talk to his friend over the phone. The first time I called, I could tell he picked up the phone and hung up on me. When I called him a second time just moments later, he didn’t even bother to pick up.
You can bet my panties were in a twist…
I resorted to texting the boy:
Oh really? He “couldb’t” spare two minutes to talk to the woman who was responsible for his existence on this planet? It was time to pull out the oldest trick in the book…the old bait and switch.
How to convey to you how I felt when he agreed to talk to his friend with such alacrity? So many emotions…a whole gallery of feels:
There just HAD to be a reason that he spurned me, but was now perfectly happy to talk to his friend…I mean: a reason other than the fact that I’m his mother and had been neurotically stalking him all the way to Vermont. I just had to get to the bottom of this mystery:
It seemed as if there was no way the poor boy could wriggle his way out of this one. And then he texted the magic words that cleared up everything. The sun shone again, a rainbow arched across the blue, blue sky, the birds started singing their sweet songs, and all was right with the world:
Of course! I giggled, giddy with relief and explained to my husband that the reason our dearly beloved firstborn hadn’t wanted to talk to me was that he’d been sitting on the toilet!
My husband very gently suggested an alternative explanation, generously assigning his hypothesis no more validity than my own conclusion: “Ooooor, is it possible that he was helping unload suitcases from the car?”
Ummm, yeah, OK, whatever. But the point is: all of this Stürm und Drang could have been so easily averted with a little communication.
Everyone needs a Best Friend For Life…even hermit crabs.
After the grisly murders that took place in our “Crabitat,” the last thing I wanted in my life was another hermit crab. But no sooner had we buried the second victim than my son began his campaign for a friend for my namesake: Adrienne, the hermit crab murderess.
“Are you kidding me?!” I asked him, “Have we learned nothing from the events of the past few weeks? Do we really want to send another hermit crab to its certain death?”
Yes. Yes, we did.
Apparently, hermit crabs are sociable creatures. They live in huge colonies.
“They can die of loneliness, Mom,” my son informed me with big, sorrowful eyes. He looked kind of like this:
I ask you: How could I possibly say no?
We went to four different pet stores, looking for a hermit crab big enough to fight off the murderess if it came to it. The largest one we could find was only about half the size of Adrienne.
With great trepidation we put the little crab into the tank. We compulsively checked on the two crabs every few minutes, ready to break up a fight if we needed to. The crabs avoided each other for a few tense days.
We finally relaxed when we saw them perched side by side on the little stick in their tank:
Here’s the Truth, the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth…
TRUTH: I am overly concerned with capturing moments for posterity. It’s probably an illness.
TRUTH: In my ruthless pursuit of this goal, I can be extremely annoying and unkind to the people I love the most in the world.
TRUTH: I wanted to have a “First Day of School” photo for 2014.
TRUTH: As usual, we were running behind. (As I was driving my daughter to school post-photo, I said, “We wouldn’t want to set their expectations too high by actually being on time on the first day of school, right?” She concurred out of politeness).
TRUTH: Even though we were running late, I was going to have my photo, come hell or high water.
TRUTH: Hell and high water came…in the form of an unhinged lunatic wielding a grin-enforcing camera like a cudgel.
TRUTH: I made my daughter change her skirt for the photo, thereby delaying our departure for school even further.
TRUTH: I made my oldest son “put on a nice shirt” for the sake of the photo. He gamely put on a hot, itchy flannel shirt in the middle of steamy August to please his crazy mother.
TRUTH: I made my younger son, who wanted to get himself packed and ready to go, extremely anxious by forcing him to pose for a photo…”SMILE! Come on, SMILE! NO, try to look natural. Pretend you’re happy!”
TRUTH: The photo IS the truth. My son is about to lose it.
TRUTH: I was so dissatisfied with my annual “Back to School” photo that I seriously considered forcing the children to do another fake first day of school photo session.
So help me, God. I obviously need it!
No joke – my family has been busily preparing for Christmas since July. We’ve already decided who’s hosting. This wasn’t so much a decision as a confirmation, since we always descend upon the only sibling with a house big enough to contain our supersized family. We’ve already discussed the number and type of presents each child should receive. Most importantly, we’ve reminded everyone of their duties with regard to keeping our family’s most cherished Christmas traditions alive. My sister sent my brother a note saying how thrilled she was that he was going to be able to come with his entire family this year, which now includes Dandelion’s adorable baby sister. She sent him this photo as a reminder of the last time we saw him at Christmas:
My second sister said she thought Dandelion should be added to the Noogie List this year too.
“And you can’t leave out the baby – she gets a baby boogie!” I added in my own contribution to the Christmas email thread.
In response, my brother emailed us a photo of his own with this message: “Show this to the kids so they won’t forget…”:
I’m already feeling the love…
Summer is winding down. The kids start school this week. Our last summer weekend was all about hellos and goodbyes.
We were glad to welcome our fourteen-year old son back after he spent a whole week away in Vermont.
We squeezed in visits with old friends:
We went to a BBQ in Free Union to bid a fond farewell to another friend, who is off on a new adventure on the other side of the world. We had fun discovering a new part of the world in our own backyard:
We revisited favorite places:
and had one last visit to Chiles Peach Orchard:
We appreciated the last flowers of the season:
and even the delicate beauty of our eight-legged friends:
Life is pretty damn scary. News headlines read like horror movie synopses these days. You could be going for a casual stroll around the block, when a knife falls out of the sky and into your head. Even our day to day social interactions can be fraught with peril. Given the inherently risky, unpredictable, and often frightening nature of our everyday reality, I have always been utterly mystified by the fact that crazy people (such as myself) pay lots of money to deliberately put themselves into uncomfortable, and even terrifying situations at “amusement” parks.
It’s not as if they don’t warn you about what you’re getting yourself into. When rides are given names like The Apocalypse, Mind Eraser, Piranha Pandemonium, Shark Attack Hammerhead, No Way Out, and Tower of Terror, you only have yourself to blame for the suffering you endure when you elect to go on them.
Inspired by these names, my husband started gleefully tossing out ideas for other names of rides that had a similarly masochistic ring to them…Rides like: Do It Yourself Circumcision, Pass-a-Kidney-Stone-o-Rama, Red Hot Poker Up Your Ass, or Sulphuric Enema.
I duly noted these ideas down in the “Notes” app on my iPhone. A few days later a new Note appeared on my phone from my fourteen year old.
“Do It Yourself Circumcision, Mom? You know I can totally read your notes on my computer, right?”
Talk about uncomfortable experiences…
This Saturday we went to “Hurricane Harbor,” the water park at Six Flags. Our last visit to this so-called “amusement” park tested my mettle. I staggered through the fiery crucible and emerged with a new awareness of what I am capable of…a better understanding of who I truly am as a human being.
In a world full of thrill-seekers and adrenaline junkies, I’m a chill-seeker and a “settle-in junkie.”
Some people have nerves of steel. I have nerves of overcooked spaghetti. There are lots of tough cookies in the world…I’m more like a meringue. Badass? More like Squishyass. Man or a mouse? Is there a third option? Because I’m terrified of mice. You get the picture.
If nothing else came of that first experience at Six Flags, at least I learned my lesson. I couldn’t dissuade my daughter from revisiting the park for her birthday celebration, but I could arm myself with knowledge. This time around, I studied the Six Flags website harder than I studied for my doctoral comprehensive exams. I memorized the “Family Rides” and “Kids Rides” lists. I even studied the “Thrill Rides” list in order to avoid any nasty surprises. I ordered a “Luxury Package” cabana, which promised food and beverage wait service, a TV, inner tubes, beach towels, cold beverages, and a pizza.
Are you envisioning me reclining languidly in my lounge chair by the wave pool as scantily-clad cabana boys waved pond fronds and proffered me grapes? I was too.
The luxury cabana was a ratty brown polyester tent that was stifling hot. After our first session in the wave pool, it was clear that there would be no relaxation or lazing about at all that day. Imagine a seething scrum of humanity interspersed with giant, view-blocking inner tubes. Imagine a phalanx of teenage lifeguards stationed every ten feet at the edge of the pool. The whistles never left their lips, because they would have to blow them at least every ten seconds or so. (I am now convinced that this must be The Worst Job In the World. The stress of it would put me in an early grave). Imagine me and my husband in the wave pool, constantly scanning the horizon and counting over and over again, trying to keep track of the six children for whom we were responsible – our own and the cherished offspring of our friends. At one point I saw my husband lifting a kid I didn’t recognize out of the water and walking him to the shallow end. Later I learned that he had been clinging to my daughter, shouting, “Help! I can’t float!” I had assumed she was in an inner tube at the time, but she informed me that she hadn’t been. “He was pulling me under! I thought he was going to drown me. I could barely support his weight!”
Clearly it was time to check out the other “attractions.” I gamely followed our group, acting as chaperone and Sherpa. My twelve-year old son, who shares my risk-aversive nature, trailed along beside me:
The other kids amazed me by their willingness to go on rides that were so hair-raising, I would have to avert my gaze as we walked past them. Every once in a while, my sidekick would venture to do something like the “Lazy River,”or he’d splash happily alongside the toddlers at Buccaneer Beach:
I was thoroughly exhausted, but elated when we returned to Charlottesville safe and sound on Saturday night. Everyone had a good time and best of all: no one died. I call that a good day.
We were a little sad that our 14-year old had to miss out on the fun. He is spending the week in Vermont with his friend:
The very next day 24 people got stranded at the top of The Joker’s Jinx, a very scary ride that my older son had forced my 12-year old to go on with him on our first trip to Six Flags:
Aftermath of Joker’s Jinx:
I called my 12-year old downstairs to look at the headline:
His eyes grew wide as he read the breaking story. He covered his mouth in shock, and he turned white as a sheet.
We decided we had to share the news with his older brother:
Sometimes it’s hard to believe that these two people are even related…
P.S. Eventually, everyone was safely rescued from the ride.
P.P.S. As we were driving home, my daughter said, “We should do this again when we’re all 16!” Her little friend replied, “Yeah, but we’ll go by ourselves. By then I’ll be able to drive, and I’ll take us there.”
Oh dear Lord, will the thrills never end?!
When I left for work this morning, my husband was settling in for what was sure to be a long and tedious Live Chat battle with Comcast. Later that morning I received an email from him with “VICTORY” as the subject line.
The message was a transcript of the chat he had with a customer service representative:
user CXXXX has entered room
analyst HXXXX has entered room
HXXXX: Hello CXXXX. Thank you for contacting Comcast Live Chat Support…Please give me one moment to review your information.
HXXXX: Glad to have you on chat. I hope you have an amazing day.
CXXXX: …I noticed that our monthly bill was higher than usual this month. I checked and you charged us an extra $35 for a service call, due to poor internet service. Why should we have to pay extra when our service was not functioning?
HXXXX:…I understand that you are concerned on why your bill has gone up which was due to a trouble call charge added correct?
CXXXX: Yes. It strikes me as odd that I am expected to pay full price for internet service that has been substandard for months and sometimes been off entirely (resulting BTW in extra phone charges for data we had to access by 3G) and then asked to pay MORE to have it fixed. Is there not some way to get credit for the many days when, despite paying full price, the internet connection was poor to nonexistent?
HXXXX: Oh I do apologize for the hassle you had been through CXXXX. I myself would not want to feel the same way too. And i do understand where you are coming from.
HXXXX: I appreciate that you raised this concern to me. I can definitely help you today. Let us work together to have your issue resolved.
HXXXX: Let me pull up your account first to check on confirm on the charges.
HXXXX: I am now checking on your account and bills CXXXXX.
HXXXX: Thank you for patiently waiting.
HXXXX: I do see here that you were charged of a $32.10 service call tech charge. These charges are applied for our tech to fix your services and to avoid this charge I highly recommend that you avail of our Service Protection Plan for $3.99/month only. Setting proper expectations, these charges are assessed by the technicians that completed the order.
HXXXX: Since the charges is valid, here is what I can do for you. I can credit half of the $32.10 and credit $16.05 in your account. Would that be okay?
CXXXX: Obviously, it would be OK. And I appreciate it — any little bit helps. But, as a matter of principle, I don’t see why you are stopping at 50%. This seems arbitrary to me. Again, I’ve been paying full price for crummy service for quite some time (I only realized just HOW crummy after the technician had fixed it), and I don’t really see why I should have to pay anything to get it fixed. But if that’s the best you can do, I’ll take it. But it still doesn’t strike me as right, and what exactly is the justification for splitting the cost of the repair between us? If you’re prepared to offer us something, why not just go the whole way and credit the $32. I’m sure Comcast Inc. can spare $16.05 for the sake of customer relations, no?
HXXXX: I understand how you feel about this right now CXXXX and I myself would make sure I get the best deal of the services I have.
HXXXX: With this, here’s what I will do
HXXXX: I will waive the $32.10 service call charge on your account now.
HXXXX: Please give me 2 minutes to process this okay?
CXXXX: Thanks, I appreciate your help. Have a good day.
HXXXX: You are most welcome.
HXXXX: One moment please while I process this.
HXXXX: Please give me 2 minutes.
HXXXX: CXXXX, I’m glad to inform you that I have successfully processed your $32.10 credit with the confirmation number: 5XXXXXXX
HXXXX: Have I perfectly resolved your concern today?
CXXXX: Cheers. Thanks again.
HXXXX: You are most welcome.
HXXXX: You don’t have to mention it. It is my pleasure to assist a valued customer like you.
At the bottom of the transcript was this photo:
It’s the little things…Hope you have a wonderful weekend!
Have you seen the photos that models, movie stars, and musicians have been posting of themselves all this week in honor of World Breastfeeding Week 2014? (Who even knew there was such a thing)?! With glamorous insouciance and in the hazy glow of soft focus lighting, these modern day Madonnas gaze lovingly at the infants nursing at their perfect, discreetly draped breasts. Here’s my own contribution to the mammary glam-fest: a repost from last summer.
Thirteen years ago the unthinkable happened. The experience was so deeply painful that I never breathed a word of it to anyone. I desperately tried to banish it from my memory. For many years, whenever the slightest tendril of remembrance began to lick at the corners of my brain, I would violently stamp it out with a shudder. Last week, I was finally able to bring myself to confide the terrible truth to my sister.
The truth is…these people:
…have seen me naked.
You have to understand that I’m an extremely modest person. Honestly, the thought of walking around in a burqa is not at all unpleasant to me. At the gym, I like to get changed in the bathroom stalls. I’ve become extremely adept at doing an entire wardrobe change with a towel wrapped around me the entire time. One of my worst memories of high school (and there were some seriously lousy times during those four years) was being forced to parade naked in front of my P.E. teacher who waited with a clipboard by the showers to check us off as we filed past. (It was agonizing then, but it’s only now that I realize the full extent to which that whole situation was seriously messed up). Hell, I don’t even let myself look at myself naked. Which is all to say that my in-laws seeing me naked was truly, truly, traumatic.
Having a baby is painful. For people like me, for whom nudity is torture, having a baby is…well, torture. It’s not the contractions. Sure, contractions can make women writhe and shriek and and even vomit from the pain. But to me, that pain was negligible to the pain of having my privates suddenly, ruthlessly public. And I mean: bright-hot-lights-shining-on-those-parts public. I tried, unsuccessfully, to make my husband stay by my head during the whole protracted and ghastly process. He defied me. Even though I was laboring for almost an entire day pushing out his gigantic child, who broke my tailbone on the way out, he defied me. If that weren’t enough, whole platoons of doctors, nurses, and medical school students traipsed by me all day long, occasionally sticking fingers in me as casually as they would rummage around in the fridge for a snack.
Even after the baby was born, the torture continued. The lactation consultant came into my hospital room as I was fumbling around trying to shield myself from full view while also trying to figure out how to get my baby to latch on. She nonchalantly walked over, pulled open my robe, and grabbed at my breast, manipulating it as if it were a joystick. WHAT?!
Before I had my first baby, I thought nursing was something that happened effortlessly. I honestly assumed that the baby could basically just sidle up to the bar and order himself a pint with no fuss, no muss. Kind of like this cheeky little fellow:
How very wrong I was. Who knew that nursing a baby would hurt like a mother and bring tears to my eyes, until I “toughened up.” Who knew that I would walk around for months with the front of my shirt soaking wet, despite wads of nursing pads stuffed into my bra, because the crazy “let-down” reflex would betray me over and over again? Who knew that the same bastard reflex would make me start squirting like a fire hydrant whenever I tried to take a relaxing hot bath? People: there is simply no way to relax when something as freakish as that is happening to you.
I was completely undone by the project of feeding my child. Whenever it was time to nurse, I would take him up to our bedroom and shut the door all the way. The first few weeks were complicated by the fact that my son had a very bad, lingering case of jaundice that made him extremely sleepy. The treatment was to wrap him in a “biliblanket,” a glowing phototherapy wrap plugged into a machine that would make the whole room stifling hot. I was given strict orders to do whatever it took to wake him up to nurse as much as possible. It took all my powers of concentration. Picture me clumsily, sweatily trying to maneuver him into position with the biliblanket wrapped around him, while also trying to wake him up with a cold wet washcloth on his face.
Now picture me naked. (No, never mind! Don’t do that)! You know how some people have to strip naked to do a number 2? I had to strip naked to nurse. There. I said it.
I was a sweaty, hormonal, bumbling mess. And it was really hot. Our bedroom was cramped. The glider would only fit at the foot of the bed. It was set up so that it was facing the door. There I would sit, desperately trying to get the baby to nurse. After all I had been through, I thought I had reached the nadir. I thought it couldn’t possibly get worse. I was wrong.
Back then I had a sweet, needy little dog, who never wanted to leave my side. He was unaccustomed to being left to his own devices. He was unaccustomed to closed doors. As soon as he realized I had gone upstairs, he would come silently bounding up the carpeted stairs on his soft little paws and then BOOM! he’d open the door by pouncing on it with his two front legs with all his might.
The first time it happened, (because, yes, it happened more than once), I was sitting in the glider topless. My striated, busted out belly and my weirdly lumpy, leaky mammary glands were exposed to all the world. O.K., I’m exaggerating a tiny bit. I was only exposed to my father-in-law, the consummate decorous English gentleman, who happened to be standing right there.
What could we do? We both pretended that it wasn’t happening. Our eyes became unfocussed and glazed over. I could tell he was trying so very hard to unsee what he had just seen as he slowly backed away. We never spoke of it. Ever.
It happened one more time when both my mother and father-in-law happened to be standing right there when my dog burst through the door. In case you’re thinking, “Big deal? Why’s she making such a big deal about it?,” shall I remind you?
Take a good look. These people, my very proper English in-laws, who have afternoon tea served on Wedgwood china and who play croquet on their perfect, perfect lawn, have seen. me. naked.
So how to move on after such a thing occurs? In my universe, and in the prim buttoned-down universe in which my in-laws reside, you keep on pretending that nothing ever happened. You stash it away somewhere deep in the perfectly manicured shrubbery, and you never, ever speak of it.
…Until one day your sister says something that dredges up the memory, and you feel ready to tell her about one of the most traumatic events of your life. And now that you’ve allowed yourself to utter the words, well then you might as well tell your husband. He pauses as he absorbs the full weight of your words. A few long seconds pass as he considers this news, turns it over in his mind, and then he shrugs and says, “Well, at least you were wearing underwear.” (Inside your head, you’re thinking “Yeah, saggy, ratty maternity panties.” But you keep this thought to yourself). And now that you can no longer pretend that it never happened, you might as well reenact the scene for both your sisters at a posh restaurant in New York City. You and your sisters cackle like a coven of crazed witches, almost spitting out the San Pellegrino that you had been sipping. And then? What the hell? Why not write about it for anyone with internet connection to read? Because the jig is up. Now I can only hope and pray that my in-laws never discover this blog. Because then, then: the jig really is up.