Category Archives: Parenting

Senior Babies

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I met some of my best friends at a prenatal exercise class. We were from all walks of life, but we were all going through the same exhilarating and terrifying experience of gestating a human being. Our ranks diminished one by one as our tiny humans made their way into the world. New mothers would disappear for awhile into an all-consuming regime of sleepless nights, the management of endless bodily excretions, and trying to keep a wriggling, mewling creature alive.

Once we managed to fumble our way through those early days, we found each other again. We would get together at each other’s houses, which had all been redecorated in a similar aesthetic featuring bulky plastic baby paraphernalia that sprouted overnight in all of our living rooms like giant, colorful mushrooms after a rain. We called our get togethers “playdates,” but they were not so much for the babies as they were for the mothers.

Every playdate would begin or end with a photo session. We’d line up our babies on a couch like so many sacks of flour and snap merrily away, trying to record the sweet memory for posterity before they toppled over.

Scan 6Scan 5Seventeen years passed like a dream. Recently, I got together again with a couple of those friends and our babies for another photo shoot. This time it was for senior pictures! Our babies are in their last year of high school now and are applying to colleges.

We are lucky to live just down the road from this baby. She grew up to be a delightful combination of sweet and sassy. Whenever we go away, we entrust our entire menagerie to her capable care.

IMG_5485IMG_5474IMG_5601IMG_5654 I visited these twins just days after they were born. They were impossibly tiny and their little legs were still scrunched up tight…They’ve grown into handsome young men who are a credit to their parents.IMG_5542IMG_5551IMG_5560IMG_5460IMG_5433We managed to snap a few photos of this baby before he had to leave to get to his piano lesson…IMG_5413IMG_5416IMG_5420…thereby missing Couch Babies Photo Shoot 2.0:IMG_5578IMG_5528IMG_5625

I may have to cheat a little nowadays to be at the same altitude as this boy…

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…but he’ll always be my baby.

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A Fishy Story

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For whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. Galatians 6:7 

My children are descended from a long line of liars on both sides of their family tree. From the moment they entered the world, they’ve been raised in an intricate and treacherous web of secrets and lies. It’s exhausting to live like this, but we know no other way. It’s programmed deep in our DNA.

Mostly we lie for benign reasons. Like many parents, we’ve spun tales of Santa and the tooth fairy.

IMG_2606But we’ve also dipped our toes into more questionable acts of deception. For instance, when my oldest son was a toddler he once asked me why a squashed squirrel in the middle of the road wasn’t moving.

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How could I break this kid’s heart?

“Oh, him?” I replied, “He’s just taking a little nap. They do that sometimes.”

Another time I wandered down the feminine product aisle in the grocery store with my second son.

ScanWith his blankie clutched in one chubby fist, he trailed the pointer finger of his other hand along the packages of maxi pads and tampons as we walked down the aisle.

“What are these?” he asked.

“Oh, just ummm…things for women.”

“But, what are they?…Cheese sticks?”

“Yep. Cheese sticks,” I replied. “For women.”

I will admit that there have been more egregious examples of deceit. It’s possible that on an occasion or two, I may have asked my kids not to mention something to their grandparents, “because they’re from another generation and another culture and they wouldn’t understand and we wouldn’t want them to worry or make them sad.”

It was only last week that I realized all these years the little punks have been storing up every single lie ever told in their steel trap brains.

I was driving my 15-year old home from his afterschool activity. As we pulled into our driveway, his older brother happened to pull in right behind us. He emerged from his car, dripping with sweat and lugging the enormous gym bag he insists on carrying everywhere. (It’s actually the large duffle bag I used myself when I was a college student to carry an entire semester’s worth of clothes and books back and forth between my house and campus. I’ve offered more than once to buy him a smaller gym bag, but he’s always demurred, because “it holds all my stuff.”)

But I digress…He had told me that morning he would drive straight from school to the open mat session they were having at his Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gym, just as he had done the week before.

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So sweet. So innocent. Such liars.

“Oh, hey!” the 15-year-old addressed his older brother as he got out of the car, “So you went boxing again?”

Through the car window, I could see my son shoot daggers at his younger brother with his eyes. He put his fingers up to his lips and curled his lips into a silent, but unmistakable “SHHHHH.”

Busted.

It’s difficult for me to understand the appeal of grappling with a sweaty stranger, yet I’ve let my son do Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. When he started talking about doing boxing, however, I put my foot down and told him in no uncertain terms that he would not be allowed to do this. The boy is about to apply to college. Does he really need to get his head bashed in for sport?

I suspended his driving privileges for a couple days and read him the riot act for lying to me about the boxing. When his dad came home and was apprised of the situation, he launched into a lengthy disquisition of his own.

“Even worse than the fact that you went boxing, is the fact that you deliberately lied to us about it…” he said in an injured tone.

My son could bear the hypocrisy no longer. He yelped in fury and began to enumerate the many times we had lied to him and to others.

We all went to bed that night feeling bruised and battered and not unlike that squashed squirrel in the road.

At 1:30 am I awoke from deep slumber to the strong smell of fish frying. Surely this was just one of those nonsensical, yet hyper-realistic dreams?

I stumbled down the stairs to investigate and found my thwarted pugilist standing over a frying pan.

“What the hell are you doing?!” I asked, my eyes squinting in the bright light of the kitchen.

“Frying fish,” my son replied as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

“Wh- why are you frying fish at 1:30 in the morning?!”

“I was hungry.”

“Where did you even get the fish?”

“I caught it a couple weeks ago.”

“Well, where has it been all this time?”

“In the chest freezer.”

The exchange was so surreal and yet so banal. I was at a loss.

“The whole house reeks now. Next time you’re hungry, could you please just have a bowl of cereal like a normal person?! And make sure you clean up after yourself when you’re done!” I said and lumbered off to bed.

When I went downstairs the next morning I saw that he had, for the most part, cleaned up his mess. I did find a carefully labelled Ziploc bag left on the counter top that had until very recently contained “two longnosed sunfish fillets.” As I looked around the kitchen I also discovered a gallon jug of canola oil. I stopped buying vegetable oil years ago when I read about its carcinogenic properties.

“Where did this come from?” I wondered out loud.

“Oh!” my daughter piped up, but then immediately stopped herself, “Well…actually I don’t think I’m supposed to tell you.”

She took one look at my face and began to sing like a bird.IMG_1163

“Last week when ‘N’ drove himself back from his piano lesson in Crozet, he stopped off at Great Valu and bought fish and frog legs and that’s when he got the oil too.”

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That one in the middle? She’d sell her brothers down the river for a song.

Her response so perfectly reflected our bizarre and dizzying reality. It’s damn near impossible to keep track of what we are or are not supposed to tell each other or what we know or are not supposed to know. Though I hadn’t known about the vegetable oil, I had in fact known about the fish and frog legs. I had seen a small fillet in the fridge, but it disappeared soon after and I had forgotten all about it. As for the frog legs…my son fried them up and ate them the very same day. (And by the way, in case you, like my eccentric son, were wondering? “They taste like river chicken…kind of chickeny and fishy at the same time.”)

“But wait a minute…what about that other fish he bought? Did he already fry that?” I asked.

“No. He bought that fish to feed to his other fish. And he caught the sunfish at his friend’s house to eat himself,” my daughter patiently explained.

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My kid buys groceries for this thing.

“So you knew about the sunfish?”

“Well…yeah,” she answered evasively, wondering if this admission would get her into trouble.

“Did you see it? Was it a whole fish?”

“No. He came home with the fillets. He must have cut it up at his friend’s house.”

“And you saw him stash the fish in the freezer?”

“Yeah.”

“And how come I never saw this ginormous bottle of canola oil until this morning?”

“Oh, that’s because he was hiding it in his gym bag.”

Badass

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On Saturday we witnessed naked hatred and violence like we had never before experienced in our relatively sheltered lifetimes. It shook us to the core. That night I asked my husband to make sure the garage apartment was locked up. We awoke to a world where the advisability of going to church had to be weighed against safety concerns. As I pulled out of my driveway that morning, I looked warily at my daughter’s playhouse and wondered if it could possibly be sheltering a Nazi sleeping off a day of liquor-fueled rampaging in our once peaceful little town. On Tuesday, the words I heard spewing from the incontinent troll in the White House hit me like a punch to the gut. My heart was filled with blind rage. I could not muster any love or light that night.

As I tried to settle down to sleep, my phone kept pinging with messages being sent by people spreading the word about a candlelight march that would begin at 9 pm the next night. We would retrace the same route that the tiki-torch-bearing losers took on Friday to reclaim the Grounds of the University of Virginia. There was, is still enough fear of violence that there were no posts to social media. I know people who came with mace for fear of being attacked. People were spreading the word only to those they trusted.

In the morning my daughter heard me discussing my plan to go to the march with my 17-year-old son. The fear I saw in her eyes made my heart ache.

“Is that safe?” she asked.

“There will only be good people there,” I reassured her, “It’s being kept off social media and people are only finding out about it through trusted friends.”

“But you know they’ll find out about it,” she said. They meaning the people she had seen on the news…the people with faces contorted with rage and hatred…they who were brandishing clubs and guns at our friends and clergy.

“We’ll be very careful,” I said, “I promise.”

That night I came home after a welcome dinner for our university’s new international students to pick up my son and my husband who had decided to come. To my surprise, my 15-year-old, who is usually in bed by 9, said he also wanted to come with us. I felt torn for my 12-year-old daughter, who was now faced with the choice of being by herself at night, or coming with us. She chose to come.

As we walked to Nameless Field, she clutched my hand.

“We’re parked close enough so that we can run to the car if there’s trouble,” she said as if to reassure us all.

“Don’t worry. Just stay close to me. I’ll protect you,” I told her as I squeezed her hand, “You know I would lay down my life for you…And I’m kind of a badass.”

This statement would not stand. She looked over at me, not quite rolling her eyes.

“I would lay down my life for you. And besides, I’m bigger than you are. And way more of a badass.”

IMG_1050And she is.

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Darwin helps us evolve…

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Perhaps as a result of having lived in a basement for many years in my youth, I try to avoid them as much as possible now. The house we live in now has a lovely, partly-finished basement with French doors. The kids like to play ping-pong, pummel the punching bag, and run on the treadmill there. I am never tempted to join them.

The other day I was hunting around for something and ventured to the basement for the first time in months. What I saw there literally made me gasp in horror…and then gnash my teeth in rage. I gingerly picked my way over empty food wrappers. I surveyed dirty dishes and plates on every surface, and dirty clothes and towels strewn about the floor. It was a crime scene.

It’s a good thing my husband had taken the kids to a movie, because it took a good two hours for me to stop seething. They returned from the theater in high spirits after having spent the afternoon with their dad, the fun parent. For those of you who may be unaware of this sad universal truth, only one lucky person gets to be the fun parent. This of course means that I am the mean parent. Not only am I the mean parent, I am The Meanest Most Unreasonable Parent That Ever Drew Breath In This Universe. The minute those happy, carefree children walked through the door, I confiscated their cell phones and sent them directly downstairs to tackle the unholy mess they had made.

Whenever the kids get in trouble collectively, they begin acting like rats in an overcrowded cage. A lifetime of human civility evaporates like a dream. They turn on each other with feral ferocity. I listened from the living room upstairs as they bellowed and bawled, hurling their grievances to the indifferent heavens above. My 17-year-old was the most vocal about his outrage at the unfairness of life and of his mother’s absurd and irrational insistence on maintaining a minimal level of order and hygiene.

It took some time for the turbulent feelings to subside. That evening we were in the kitchen together and began to make small conciliatory overtures to each other.

“Is this what you’re looking for?” I asked as I handed him the spatula.

“Yeah. Thanks, Mom.”

I pulled out the big guns, (emotionally speaking), by inquiring about a topic especially near and dear to my son’s heart.

“How’s Darwin doing?” I asked, “Has he fully recovered?”

For reasons beyond my comprehension, the kid dotes on his mudskipper, Darwin.  He  assiduously monitors his food intake and constantly frets over his general health and well-being. He spends hours hunting for choice, live insects to feed him and keeps his tank scrupulously pristine. When we went away to England recently, he penned a tome which outlined in excruciating detail the care and feeding of Darwin. I had to condense it down to a single-spaced page to spare the poor girl who was taking care of all of our animals while we were away. As far as I can tell, there is no return on my son’s considerable investment of time and effort. The mudskipper lolls about on his log, a glassy-eyed, overfed pasha consuming his food and dirtying his waters. No thanks given. No affection returned.

About a month earlier, my son had been doing a water change for Darwin, when the mudskipper freaked out. He started thrashing wildly around his aquarium, tearing his fins as he hurled himself in a panic from log to log. Ever since then my son has been nursing him back to health.

“He’s getting better,” he replied, “His fins are still ragged, but you can tell they’re starting to grow back.”

There was a pause before he added, “I wish he could understand that I’m just trying to help him.”

“Mmmmhmmm,” I murmured sympathetically, “I know exactly what you mean.”

“Leave me alone, Dad” I snarled, drawing upon my thespian background to channel all the wrath of a wronged mudskipper, “Why do we have to clean the room?! It’s fine the way it is!!!

There was a moment of silence followed by a low chuckle of acknowledgement: “Yeah, OK, Mom.”

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We are not destroyed.

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We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. 

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Beta Bridge was freshly painted this morning.

A couple weeks ago a friend and I were discussing the White Nationalist rally that was coming to Charlottesville when it was still just a looming menace.

“Will you leave town?” my friend asked me.

“Why should I?” I replied. “Charlottesville is my town. I live there.”

The day we dreaded arrived and it was a darker day than I could have imagined.

The night before we watched in disbelief as hundreds of tiki-torch bearing hate mongers paraded around our town like so many teeming cockroaches. We felt defiled as we watched them march around the Rotunda, which Jefferson had envisioned to be a Temple of Enlightenment. We were sickened to watch them assault our students.

We spent the next morning like any other Saturday, but we held our breaths and anxiously, futilely hoped for a peaceful day. We drove our kids to soccer and their piano lessons. We waited for a piano to be delivered to our house. All the while we followed the events that were unfolding in our town. We anxiously watched for posts from our friends, neighbors, and clergy, who were bravely trying to keep the peace and spread a message of love to counter the message of hatred and divisiveness brought in by outsiders. We reeled in horror as we watched the footage of the terror attack on the Downtown Mall that resulted in the death of one and injuries to many.

In the afternoon my boys asked if they could drive down to the river to go fishing. I readily agreed, thinking it would be good for them to get outside and away from it all, but then immediately regretted it. They were so excited about their excursion that I didn’t have the heart to make them stay home. I did dampen their high spirits and detain them with stern warnings to be cautious: “Swear to me you’ll leave right away if you see sketchy people hanging around by the river. There are a lot of really bad people in Charlottesville today. They’re brawling in the streets.”

And then I heard myself saying: “It might be dangerous for you, because you don’t look white.”

As soon as the words left my mouth, I couldn’t believe they had. The primal fear I felt for the safety of my children filled me with shock mingled with sorrow, mingled with rage. Until yesterday, the progressive bubble that is Charlottesville had sheltered me from the fear people of color experience around the country on a daily basis.

“We’re not going to church tomorrow,” my husband announced later that day, “It’s a well-known liberal church right next to the university and it’s not safe to be there.” I’m going to be honest…for half a minute, I was glad to have an excuse to sleep in for a change. But then I came to my senses. Oh, HELL no. This is OUR town for God’s sake. I would not be intimidated from going to church of all places.

I thought the church would be empty, but it was a full house this morning. The pews were full of brokenhearted, but not broken people. Through tears we sang and prayed. We prayed for Heather Heyer, who lost her life yesterday. We prayed for the police helicopter pilots, who died in the line of duty. We prayed for all the injured, and for the doctors and nurses who were caring for them in our local hospitals. We prayed for all of the people in our community, whose hearts, like ours, were breaking.

You know who else we prayed for?

We prayed for the “children of God,” who came to our beautiful little town yesterday to sow hatred and wreak havoc.

Can you imagine that? That’s Charlottesville, the town I know and love.

God help us all.

A thoughtful prayer

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This evening when we sat down to dinner, we began as we usually do, with one of the kids saying a prayer. Sometimes I cue them by asking if there is something for which they are most thankful that day, or someone they are thinking of who may be going through a difficult time. When I don’t give them a cue, they usually rattle off a breezy:

ThankyouforthisfoodfamilyandfriendsAmen.

When I was a kid our go-to prayer before dinner was: “God is great. God is good. Let us thank Him for our food. By His hand must all be led, give us Lord our daily bread, Amen.” We would race through the words as if we were trying to break a world record for speed each time. For most of my childhood I would say: “By his hand mustobbly led…,” only stopping to wonder what the heck “mustobbly” meant after many years of mindlessly repeating the word.

So this evening I asked my son to say a thoughtful prayer.

He paused to gather his thoughts and then began:

Dear God, 

Thank you for giving us this food…and sustenance…

And for not giving us…

Ebola.

Amen.