Category Archives: Parenting

Why I Won’t Do Gift Cards for Teens This Year

1 Gift Cards

I know how it happens, that little kid people have been buying gifts for over the years, and who used to jump up and down at a stuffed animal or fire truck or blocks or books, hits the double digits age.  Adults know, from experience, that it is difficult to buy for teens and tweens, that they are probably chasing ever changing trends of which the non-parent is unaware, or that they have particular tastes that are as fiercely adhered to as some fundamental religions, “But I don’t like that.  No one wears that.

In the old days when adults got tired of trying to figure out what the kid will actually like an Aunt or Uncle would get one of those cool money cards and put cold hard cash in it for youngin’ to, “Buy yourself something.”  No further instructions necessary.  Now, when adults transition from giving the nicely wrapped and thoughtful shopped-for gifts, they skip the cash and pick up a gift card at the mall, or grocery store, or convenience store or almost anywhere these days, for a store that they’ve heard that teens like.

But I’m over it.

Here are the reasons why I will not give gift cards anymore, and why I will ask my loved ones not to give gift cards to my kids this holiday season.

Disclaimer: There may be some kids who do not have the issues I’m going to talk about below.  My decision is based on what I’ve seen my kids and some of their friends do.

  1. They  Don’t Use the Cards

The gift cards are sometimes not used for weeks, months, years, or not at all.  Kids collect them, forget about them, take months to decide what to do with them, or lose them.  Your hard earned money is doing nothing, except contributing to the bottom line of the store.

2.  They  Teach Kids to Spend Money Only at Expensive, Specialty Stores. 

You are telling a kid that they must go into a certain store and buy something only from that store.  And if they don’t have enough on their gift card, they have to find some way to make up the difference — Mom?  This is all to buy a sweater that might cost $60.

Why, I ask you, are we encouraging kids — minors with no jobs — to buy a $60 sweater?  Why are we normalizing it?

Because it benefits the stores.

It gets the kids in the stores where they play all the cool music (my sister calls it jeans-buying music) and then they want to come back.  And, because many of these cards can be bought elsewhere, adults might not know that their $25 dollar gift card merely gives the kid a discount on a $60 sweater.

And even if the kids would consider buying elsewhere,  where they might find the same or similar sweater for less — they can’t — because your gift card only allows them to go to the $60 sweater store.

So, if you want them to have a $60 sweater,  buy it for them. You’ll be the favorite Aunt/Uncle and if they don’t like it, they can exchange it. But don’t get them used to buying it.  Don’t let them feel entitled to it. Don’t normalize it.

3.  Gift Cards to Discount Stores Aren’t Much Better

Giving them a card to a discount store doesn’t always help.  See number 2, the kids have already been socialized that it’s cool to buy at the other stores.  “I hate that [insert discount or department] store” and “I don’t like anything here” are words I’ve heard uttered when we are barely through the front doors.  When a kid feels that way before even looking at the stuff I guarantee they won’t find anything there and your gift card will sit unused, see Number 1.  Oddly enough, if I buy something from Marshall’s or TJMaxx and bring it home and put it in my closet, then it is suddenly wearable. They borrow it and I never see it again. (I have my own marketing tricks, thank you very much. . . heh heh heh). My girls are currently wearing two of my jackets — one from  Kohls and another that I got from a Thrift store.  But if they had a gift card to those stores it would sit unused.

The shopping experience at less expensive and more inclusive stores is quite different — there is merchandise not just for teens and gasp — they see people buying it that are not their age, or gender, or size, or their perceived economic group (teens tend to believe they are wealthy).  They refuse to do it. The gift cards to the discount stores simple tell them that they aren’t allowed shop at their favorite stores, and that makes them angry.

Snape is displeased

My girls are sitting on Target and Old Navy cards that are almost a year old now.

 

4.       It Normalizes Use of Plastic

1 Rachel Green Spending Habits

I know, I know, we are in a paperless society.  I use my credit, debit cards all the time.  It’s convenient.  But I’m grown.  And I have other bills to pay and in every job I’ve ever had I got paid in money, not plastic.  And if you look at any consumer debt article it will talk about people, largely Americans’, reliance on credit, specifically on credit cards to buy things they cannot afford.

Gift cards now look and feel just like credit cards.  If that’s all your kid gets for birthdays or Christmas, he or she will start to normalize paying for things with plastic and without thinking  about how much they spent, or what they are spending this money on. Instead, if they think at all, they ponder only,

“Do I have room on this card?”

Scary.  This is not something kids should be conditioned to think.

When this kid is finally old enough to get a real credit card — and at stores they can get them at 18 years old, they have shopped for years with plastic without consequence.  A recipe for disaster.

You have to learn how to manage money before you learn how to manage debt.  Gift cards train kids to manage plastic.

Notably, people who have debt or spending problems are often  encouraged to use cash exclusively even just as an exercise for a defined amount of time.  This is so that they see where their money goes and it is obvious when it’s gone.  I’ve also heard that people tend to spend less and more thoughtfully when they use cash and have to see it dwindle away.  I think teens should be encouraged to spend with cash, just like the credit-challenged — so they have a visual of their spending habits — and limitations.

5.  Gift Cards Discourage Saving

1 Harry Potter Bank

Banks become something that only appear in fantasy books and movies.

When you give that store gift card, the kid is unable to put money away for a rainy day, or plan to work to add to it in order to buy that big ticket item that is so important to him/her but that is only sold at a different store, or available on Craigslist or eBay.

In this sad economy the kid might only make a penny in interest if the money sits in a bank.  But the gift cards?  They make nothing at all and some even lose their value over time.  And, again, see Number 1.  They might sit unused or lost.

6.  Gift Cards Take Away Spending Ability and Decisions

1 mad money

Okay, this was stolen money in Mad Money, but still, they could decide how to spend it.

If the kid has gotten a handful of great store gift cards at Christmas and then their friends call them and ask if they want to go to the movies, or out to eat or — gag me — Starbucks — (again, the prices and marketing of Starbucks to people without jobs is a topic for another post), this kid has no money to do so.  Then it’s all, “Mom, can I have $20?” while they are sitting on $200 worth of gift cards.  Whether or not Mom or Dad pony up the money, the kid can’t pay his or her own way.

So what happens is, kids believe they are entitled to use or hoard their gift cards on speciality items of their choice and without regard to price, but all other expenses they incur are the obligation of parents.

Huh.

Or, more importantly, the kid is not able to designate it for use toward a wonderful experience they hope to do — something small like being able to go to a game and buy food at the snack bar with friends or something big, like saving for that trip to Italy that is offered at the school.  And, they can’t donate to charity or use any part of it to buy a gift for someone else.

Sure, if they received an actual gift they couldn’t put it in the bank, but they wouldn’t be told to shop without thought, either.

7.  Visa/Mastercard Gift Cards Aren’t Much Better Either

See number 1 (they often aren’t used). See Number 4 (kids are encouraged to buy things with a credit card).  See Number 5, they can’t save it, See number 6, though it gives them more spending decisions, they still can’t use it at a fair, or to buy something they are selling at school as a fundraiser or at a snack bar, and they probably can’t decide to use the money to pay for something themselves — like their prom tickets.

Plus, you’ve paid a fee of $4 or $5 dollars that goes to the company.  This is for the privilege of giving a gift of plastic to a kid.  Wouldn’t you rather give the full $30 to the kid rather than a $25 gift card plus a $4 surcharge to the company?

8.  Giving Cash is Not Tacky

There are times when giving cash is a no-no — to a date, to a judge, to a addict.  But to a kid?  It’s perfectly okay. As I said in the beginning, this was the norm for years — Uncle Ben would hand out money envelopes.  Grandpa would sneak a kid a $10.  But that changed. I believe it was just a marketing thing. The stores want us to think we shouldn’t do it, and that the kids would rather get a $25 gift card to a store than $25 in cash.   But see 1 and 2, that benefits the stores.  When we have been convinced that giving cash is bad, but giving a gift card for the same amount is somehow better, we have directed business right where they want it — in their store. And, with their jeans-buying music and slick ads with gorgeous, young, thin models, they have created a loyalty to that store. If we gave cash, the kid could shop whereever he or she wants — even unwisely, or save, or use it for spending money.

 

9. Giving a Gift Card to a Store That Is Beyond Their Parents’ Means Can Cause Problems

1 Tiffany

Think about that.  Using extremes, say you give a kid a gift card to a Luis Vuitton store.  He/she buys some beautiful leather expensive thing. Loves the store, the service, how special he/she felt going in, the looks of approval when he/she carries the real LV bag.  You’ve now trained a kid to only want real designer items, that may cost as much as her parents car and mortgage payments combined.  But the kid doesn’t appreciate how much the thing costs, and when they need a new backpack or wallet, they aren’t going to want to go to Target or Marshalls, because they’ve now been trained, socialized to buy new designer items in specialty stores. This, even though they have no job and they are items that their parents could not or would not buy for them — or even for themselves.

It works the same with the $60 sweater from the trendy store.  Let the kids save, combine cash they have received as a gift or earned babysitting and buy that sweater if they so choose, but don’t make them buy it, don’t train them to buy it, especially if it’s something their parents cannot afford.   Teaching them that it is perfectly normal to to buy a  $60 sweater when her parents can’t afford such items, or who have debt problems of their own, is kind of unfair.  The next time the kid needs a new shirt, they will only want to shop at the designer stores, and it’s the parents that have to say no.

If you want to give an expensive, special present, please just buy the gift. Don’t gift the “shopping experience” that the parent cannot sustain.

 

10.  A Word about Victoria’s Secret

1 The Social Network

Love this scene from The Social Network when Sean Parker explains that Victoria’s Secret grew from a man wanting to buy his wife some thigh highs.

Yes, the catalog has clothes.  And some clothes are in stores.  And they have very nice $60 bras that go on sale twice a year.  And they have cute underwear and $75 bottles of perfume and also have the $10 lip gloss, and key chains, and body spray, etc. But unless you are comfortable with a 12 year old girl combing through panty bins looking through bejewelled thongs, crotchless or furred panties alongside grown ass women and sometimes men, you might want to skip sending a kid to that store. One of my daughters got a Victoria’s Secret Gift Card and I told her to to wait until the sale to use it.  When she saw all the people digging through the bins of panties (all types of panties thrown in together — the regular ones and the sex clothes)  she said, “This makes me uncomfortable,” and left the store.   We ended up quickly buying perfume just to use the gift card. Of course, I have other daughters who got used to buying in there with their gift cards and don’t want to even look anywhere else. Sigh.

Call me old fashioned, but I think that when a woman is at a point in life when she needs or wants to buy sexy lingerie,  she should be old enough to pay for it herself, not with a gift card from Uncle Bob.

In addition, somehow, the brilliant marketing people at Victoria’s Secret have convinced teen girls that paying twice as much for a T-shirt or sweatshirt that says PINK than they would for a T-shirt or sweatshirt that says literally anything else is perfectly normal.

Perhaps as adults, we shouldn’t encourage that.

I’ve decided that if I’m going to purchase an expensive sweatshirt or hoodie for my kids, it will be one with a college name or their high school spiritwear.  The girls really like them also, and the inflated price is at least going to a good cause. Plus the girls are advertising something meaningful, rather than simply the word “PINK,” a brand for Victoria’s Secret.

Just to be clear . . .

I don’t mean to sound preachy, this is from experience. I’m frustrated.

I’m so tired of my kids not appreciating the cost of items, or their gifts, that a splurge is a splurge or special gift, not an entitlement, and that if someone thought enough of them to give them a gift card, they should use it.  I’m tired of my kids complaining that they don’t have any clothes or money and asking me to buy them something, yet refusing to use their Target, Old Navy, or Macy’s Gift Cards because they don’t like those stores. I’m tired of the Christmas lists that simply list stores that the kids like to shop in but that I can’t afford.  If they got cash they could still shop in those stores with cash, or window shop and choose to buy elsewhere.

Or, have actual presents to open on Christmas morning.

huh

 

Just Me With . . .  cold hard cash, but not enough.

And by way of full disclosure, I think all but one of my bras are from Victoria’s Secret. And I have one purple shirt that says, PINK, inexplicably.  But I’m grown and know how to shop for sales, and, in past years have used gift cards to purchase my goodies.  About two years ago I asked my family not to give them to me anymore.  And I no longer wear the PINK tee.  I do, however, wear t-shirts with my son’s college name on it and the names of my daughters’ championship sports teams.

1 High School Musical Wildcats

From High School Musical — Go Wildcats!

Related:

Keeping It Simple At Christmas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My Refrigerator Broke. Do I Really Need a Fancy, Stainless Steel, New One?

roseanne-2

So . . I was awakened by words no homeowner wants to hear,

“Mom, the refrigerator’s not working.”

Yes, sometime during the night my refrigerator just stopped.  Slipped away quietly in our sleep. Peaceful, really. We should all go like that, except for that pesky spoiled food, two days after I’d gone grocery shopping for actual perishable food.

Oh there’s a chance of revival, of resurrection.  But it will come at a cost. Possibly a deal with the devil, financed by American Express, or MasterCard, with a ridiculously high APR.

Now, I’ve made it clear how I feel about Open Floor Plans.  And I don’t have one anymore, don’t want one.  In my most popular post to date I only listed some of the reasons I don’t want one. There are more.  And in many of my comments readers have pointed them out.  But the reason that affects me right now is that because of HGTV and the Open Floor Plan we have all been conditioned — brainwashed — to desire and require fancy, shiny, state-of-the-art stainless steel appliances. Indeed, The Open Floor Plan, Granite Counter-Tops and Stainless Steel Appliances are the Holy Trinity of home improvement.

(I’ll wait for the moment of silence and for those religious folks to make the sign of the cross.)

Amen.

But I just need a working refrigerator.  The purpose of refrigerators is to  keep some foods chilled and others frozen. That’s it. Now I know many refrigerators also serve as dispensers for water and ice. Okay, that’s cool (no pun intended). But other than that .  . . we really just need them to keep food cold.  The magic happens when the food comes out of these beasts and the chef, host, or hostess then does his or her thing.

Is it because so many of our kitchens and the ones showcased on TV are open for all to see that now we feel we must have costly granite counter-tops and state-of-the-art stainless steel appliances?  And even worse, have we been conditioned to buy more than we need or spend more than we have even if we don’t have an open floor plan?

Now, it seems, we are supposed to want to show off our refrigerators, not just serve good food and make our guests feel welcome. We want to be the envy of our family and friends who should salivate over our appliances, not our dinner.

stainless steel kitchen

I get that some of the fancy refrigerators have neat features — don’t get me wrong — like keeping your drinks at a different temperature than your fruits or vegetables, or if there is easy access to the most used items  . .  . etc.   But really?  Those are amenities that happen inside a refrigerator.To show them off you have to have someone come into your kitchen –which happens automatically because the kitchen is now in the family, living, and dining room –  open the refrigerator door and show off all the many ways that you can chill your stuff.

These days when someone walks in your home you don’t just offer them a comfortable seat and a beverage, you usher them to the appliance that chills the drink as if to say,

Look at me, I’m getting your drink out of this beautiful thing. Pay no attention to my decor, artwork, hell my spouse or children.  And for the love of all resale value do not sit down! Come here. Watch me get your drink. Only then will we perch on stools at the granite countertop island and later you can watch me put the bottle back in the stainless steel refrigerator! This thing cost me two thousand dollars so please show some respect. How is your juice?

hmm

And then you close your refrigerator doors and immediately buff your thumbprint off the stainless steel shine of the thing while reading the digital display that gives you further information about how your refrigerator is doing its job —  information that you, apparently, must have.

I mean, if you are a gourmet cook, having a six burner gas stove and two ovens, etc.  those would be functions that directly lead to a desired result — a great meal. But a refrigerator?  Its job is to keep the food cool so that when when take it out to cook, prepare, or serve it, it does not kill you.  The refrigerator is a middle man.

It all seems a throw back doesn’t it — from a time before my time, when housewives of the 50’s would invite ladies over to show off their new washer dryer and yes, their Frigidaire?

Happy Housewife

hmm

Plus, gone is the Refrigerator Art of days long past — the report cards or prom pictures or “Things To Do” List that had traditionally been affixed to the refrigerator to give you a smile or a reminder. I wonder — Are kids these days getting dumbed down because no one would dare to put magnetic letters of the alphabet on a stainless steel appliance?  Are little feelings hurt because Mommy no longer hangs a school drawing on the refrigerator?

Even impossible neat Jerry Seinfeld had stuff on his fridge. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Even impossibly neat Jerry Seinfeld had stuff on his fridge. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

It seems that the refrigerator itself, not the food that comes out of it, not the “Number One Best Mom” card your kid made you, not the latest picture of your new niece or nephew, is what is showcased.  And let me tell you, the show does not come cheap.  I have a (currently non-working) fancy, three door stainless steel refrigerator.  I didn’t pick it out.  I didn’t really pay for it.  How I got it is a story for another post, but it’s legal, I assure you. Suffice it to say I had no idea how much this thing costs on the open market.

And guess what, these  digital stainless steel refrigerators are quite expensive to repair, I’ve since found out, sadly.  Hell, tragically.  Something about a mother board.  (I ask you, did I need a motherboard to keep my milk cold?) But . . . I digress . . .

The repair guy said that these high end refrigerators often break down and the repairs are neither cheap nor guaranteed.  If I can live without the look and features of the current refrigerator, he suggested, I could buy a brand new one for only a little bit more than the cost of the repairs.

hmm

My first response in my head was — I don’t need another high end refrigerator.  I don’t need to show it off – I don’t even have an open floor plan.  The water dispenser hasn’t worked in a year anyway. I rarely consult the digital display.

But why, I ask, does it seem like a step down to purchase a large, white, two door refrigerator? The large, white, no frills, freezer on top models (which seem to hold more food) are now considered garage refrigerators suitable only to chill your beer. They are not to be seen by the general public, not ready for prime time, as they say. Maybe you’d have one at a beach house, or rental unit.  But they are not presentable enough to chill any respectable homeowner’s milk, butter, and eggs.  They are that cousin that gets seated way –WAY — in back at family weddings.

hmm

Right now, my beautiful large digital stainless steel refrigerator is useless, empty.  Truth be told, it’s not even that pretty.  It has two dents from two incidents with a bass drum (don’t ask).  Dented Stainless Steel is like a pregnant prom queen– unfortunate, because there had been so much potential.

Also, my stainless steel is not even completely visible. I felt as though my children and I were not doing enough accidental or subliminal reading of things important to us, meaning important to me. Visually, we only see what is fed to us on TV and social media, we don’t hang up enough calendars or maps or pictures or words with which we should be familiar.  Why can my teens spell Toshiba and Netflix?  Because they see those words all the time. But they don’t see the months of the year or school announcements or reminders from me and reading a map is — unthinkable. They see what’s new on Netflix as soon as they turn on the TV, but when they went to the fridge to get a cheese stick they were met only with their distorted reflection. Oh, don’t get me started.  Long story not really short, I defiled the gleam of my dented stainless steel and hung pictures and stuck word magnets on my refrigerator. One side English; the other side French.  I mean it can’t hurt, right? And it made my kitchen feel like a family kitchen, the heart of the home like at my Mom’s house — where she has photos of all her grandchildren to enjoy on her refrigerator. It gives me the warm fuzzies to be able to look at vintage baby pictures of my kids as they scowl at me in real time. My kitchen was no longer a showroom of gleaming appliances.

(Oh, the HGTV people would have my head on a spike, a stainless steel spike).

Bottom line:  I just don’t see spending my limited funds on a fancy refrigerator.  It’s an appliance.  It’s supposed to work for me.  I’m not supposed to work for it. It should give me features that make my food maintenance and preparation easier.  It does not define me; nor do I expect it to be beautiful, just functional.

We’re not going to hang out in it. We don’t sit on it.  It doesn’t entertain us.

But . . . still . . .

It seems like such a step down, in defeat. Did I drink the HGTV Kool-Aid, the properly chilled inside a stainless steel appliance HGTV Kool-Aid? I wondered (well my Mom pointed out) — What about resale value of my home?  Will people not buy my house if the refrigerator isn’t stainless steel?  Will they walk away from my home — not because it only has one bathroom, or because it’s on a busy street, or because there are sofas on the side of the road —  will the deal breaker be that the kitchen is not open and does not show off matching state-of-the-art stainless steel digital appliances?

These are questions I asked myself, as I ate canned soup for dinner, because my top-of-the-line stainless steel refrigerator stopped doing its job, making my job as head of this household much, much harder.  You just don’t realize how few meals you can prepare without milk, butter, and eggs until you have nowhere to chill your milk butter and eggs.

But one to three grand to keep my milk butter and eggs cool in the matter to which I — we — Americans — HGTV –have become accustomed?

Seriously?

As my teens would say, “Can we just . . . not?”

Just Me With . . .  warm bottles of Gatorade.

Postscript: During the preparation of this overly long post, my refrigerator was partially repaired. It keeps food cold now, but the digital display and the interior are dark. The controls do not work.  I’m told the front board needs replacement.  There are no small repairs on these types of appliances. While he was there I had the repairman look at my stainless steel top-of-the-line two drawer dishwasher because it hasn’t been feeling well. My dishes came out dirty, crusty and the inside of the thing is corroding. (But on the outside, it looks good.)

I received bad news and will have to replace that appliance. The repair would cost more than a new one.  My fancy HGTV approved appliances (that I did not pick out) are turning on me, one by one.

The microwave, stove, and oven are still working like champs, though.  (Knock wood. Actual wood.)

Wait, Am I Supposed to Miss Him — Already?

Animal House

I finally got my oldest child off to college.   He lives hours away from home now.  It’s been a process.   Depending on how you I calculate it the process began 18 years ago when I started talking to my growing belly, taking prenatal vitamins and playing music for my unborn child, reading and talking incessantly to him as a baby,  or the process can be measured in the last year of making college visits, college choices, buying dormitory bedding or the untold joy of filling out financial aid forms. My particular journey was salted by the sudden yet not completely unexpected visual appearance of my ex-husband —  just in time for the graduation celebration and going off to college festivities.  See The Unspoken Pain  of Sharing Celebrations. Despite the extra anxiety, the kid is safely enrolled on a residential college campus.  He won’t be home until Thanksgiving.  Going Away To School — And Staying There.

Now that he’s gone I am often asked, “Don’t you miss him?”

And sometimes, I  say, “Oh yes, yes, I do.”   But I’m faking it.

Really, I’m thinking, “Oh crap. Wait!  I’m supposed to miss him?  Already?

He’s only been gone a couple of weeks.  I’ve been so focused on getting him ready for college and out of our suffocating suburb and the stupid visitation schedule — I had not counted on the expectation that I should miss him — so soon.   I mean I cried the traditional tears when I said goodbye and left my boy to live elsewhere, with people I don’t know.  I’m sure I sported the vacant, almost Zombie-like  look that the freshman parents had wandering around campus and in the bookstore having been separated from their precious babies.  I did all of that.

But then I came home

—  and rearranged his room.

Apparently many other parents and loved ones are really grieving about the absence of their college freshman.  People are asking me how I’m holding up.  And how the siblings are doing.  And I am reminded of the episode of Sex and The City when Miranda, who is pregnant, finds out the gender of the baby and everyone expects her show excitement at the fact that she now knows she’s having a boy.  After a while she just feigns a show of excitement to satisfy the general public.    “I faked a sonogram,”  she admits.   Sex and the City, Season Four, Episode 15 “Change of a Dress” 

Miranda faking her sonogram.

Miranda faking her sonogram.

And then there’s me.   I love my son. I am so ridiculously proud of him.  And his absence is felt, that is true.  It was kind of weird on the first day of school when there was one less child I had to beg to allow me to take a picture of.   But I admit, I am not the face of  mother grieving over temporary absence of her son, though I sometimes play the part.

My son, who I sometimes refer to as The Arrogant One, has always been fiercely independent, while simultaneously relying on me to support his endeavors, get things taken care of, and sit in the audience and bleachers and watch him do what he does.   He’s been away from home before — going on an annual week-long vacation with a friend’s family and traveling  to Europe for eleven days.  I remember preparing for the Europe trip, going to a meeting where many parents were asking how they would be able to contact their children while they were away.  Other than in the event of an  emergency, I hadn’t considered needing to talk to my son during his eleven day trip.  It was only eleven days!  But back then I started to panic — Was I supposed to be in contact with my kid all the time?  Was I missing some sort of mom gene?  I’d help raise the money so he could go. Now weren’t we  supposed to let them go and have fun without us?  Why did I never even consider needing to call him while he was out of the country for less two weeks?

I figured that I’d hear about it when he got home.  Turns out I was wrong about that . . . but I digress.

Me:   “How was the trip?”

Him:  “Good, really good.”

And that was that.  Oh I probed him for some additional details, but  . . . it was his experience, not mine.

I’ve been feeling that same kind of panic lately when people ask me how I’m “holding up” since my son’s departure.  (Wait, I’m supposed to be falling apart?)   And when my daughter, the one I refer to as The Quirky One, the one who is very sensitive — almost a Star Trek level Empath, burst into tears saying she missed her brother, I was taken off guard.  I consoled her.  I told her I knew it was weird not having him here and that it’s okay to miss him and he’ll be home before we know it, but I thought to myself — “He’s really not that nice to you, he told you that you were worthless.  Why are you crying for him?”  He’s not very nice to his sisters.  That’s a fact, and an issue I’ve tried to address.  So to the people who feel sorry for him for being the only boy, well, I’m not feeling that. He has stated out loud  that he’s more important and smarter and a better person than his sisters, who, in his mind, do not deserve any attention. )   And sometimes, him being a teen person, he wasn’t very nice to me either.  (I’m the safe parent, you see, the one who gets the crap because the child is comfortable that I’ll be here regardless.  Sigh.) So there are things — like his assertions of superiority —  that I definitely will not miss.  Now he’s dealing the fish/pond thing — everyone on his campus is a high achiever like him and he won’t have his little sisters to belittle to make himself seem more important.  And I think it’ll be good for him.  Necessary for him.

And my failure to pine after my college dwelling son might also be a big family thing — one less kid to feed, or who needs to be picked up or dropped off somewhere, or requires  some sort of supplies, etc.   One less kid to start an argument with the remaining kids.   And to me, someone who is the only adult living in a little house full of teens, having one less home means having one less person to ridicule and ignore me, and one less person who has no problem vocalizing the assumption that I know absolutely nothing.

So, do I miss him?  

I know I’m supposed to say, “Yes, God yes.”  I know I’m supposed to well up and tell you exactly how many days it will be until I see him, and the last time I talked to him, but . . . as my own mother used to say when we went away,

“Yeah, I miss them, but it’s a good miss.”

The last thing I said to my son  when I left him on campus, when I said goodbye to my baby through tearing eyes was, “I am so so proud of you.  I love you. And you know I’ll  always have your back.  Have fun and learn.”

And,  upon my return, one of my daughters asked the definitively more important question,

“Do we still have to wear pants  now that the boy is gone?”

“Yes, yes, you do,” I answered.  But it’s  not because of him.  It’s not about him anymore.

In Sex and The City Miranda did have a quiet moment when she first felt her unborn son move — it brought her to her knees, and that was her first moment of connection.  Quiet,  and unexpected and not when people thought she should have it.  I assume at some point there will be something that triggers me — something that makes it painfully clear to me that my first-born will never really live under my roof in the same way again — if things go well. Then  I’ll acknowledge the reality — that this first step into  pseudo-adulthood  is actually a natural progression to full adulthood, that one day  I’ll  end up being the mom to call from time to time with news, for advice,  and someone to visit on the holidays — maybe someday with his own family.   And I suspect, that like with Miranda, it’ll be a private moment of reflection when I’ll truly feel my son’s — move.

But in the meantime, as I sit in his room writing behind what used to be his closed door –with my pants on while relishing in the fact that in my now all girl household  we could go pants-less any time we damn well please  —

Do I miss him?

Not yet, but . . . it’s early.   Give it time.

 

Just Me With . . . One less child under my roof — until Thanksgiving, anyway. 

 

The High Powered Law Practice: Tricks of the Trade on How to Deal with Teens

So, it wasn't "LA Law" long ago, but a 80's pop culture reference is always nice.

So, it wasn’t “LA Law” long ago, but a 80’s pop culture reference is always nice.

Many moons ago I worked at a high-powered law office.   Long hours, doing anything and everything for the client, emphasis on family or work-life balance was actively discouraged,  there were glass ceilings, glass doors, and glass elevators, along with supervising attorneys or opposing counsel who were equal opportunity assholes.   Sometimes it seemed as though people took great pleasure in making junior associates’ work life miserable, and making sure they had no other life.   The money was good, though, so I can’t really complain.  Plus, I learned a lot.

I’ve left that particular practice behind, but now I’m dealing with teens.  Demanding, self-focused, pompous, teens.    I’m outnumbered.  Most of them weigh more than I do.  Some are taller than I am.   At times they behave as if  I couldn’t possibly offer anything of value while simultaneously requesting everything I have to give them.  Recently it occurred to me that some of the tricks of the trade I learned in my high-powered white shoe law practice can be transferred to how I deal with these large, smelly, mouthy people I grew in my womb and propelled from my hoo-ha (except for the ones that were surgically removed).

Sometimes, it seems, these once cute and cuddly balls of smiles and coos are quite simply, the enemy, trying to break me down.

But Mommy, Esquire, is used to dealing with the enemy, the big boys, the man.  These children don’t scare me.  I have life and legal experience behind me.   Here are a few tricks of the trade I learned from my law practice that I use on my children.

1.   Stand up.

To Kill A Mockingbird

To Kill A Mockingbird

When dealing with a difficult opposing counsel, client, or supervising attorney, it helps to stand up, even when on the phone.   It’s a power stance and works even if your opposition is taller than you are.

How I Met Your Mother, "The Chain of Screaming"

How I Met Your Mother, “The Chain of Screaming”

Once a senior partner stormed into my office to yell at me about an expense form.   This partner had a reputation of screaming at young associates for ridiculous things in order to break them down, hoping to draw tears.   He usually got them.   I was just waiting my turn, but I have a strict policy against crying at work.  It is one of my few rules.   Do NOT cry at work . . . but I digress.   Remember “How I Met Your Mother” the  Chain of Screaming episode?   When being yelled at is just part of the job?   Well, that stuff happens.  But when my number came up I was busy.  I didn’t have time for his crap.   So when he found me in my office sitting behind my desk and started to ream me out . . .

I stood up.

Marshall stood up to his boss, on "How I Met Your Mother"

Marshall stood up to his boss, on “How I Met Your Mother”

He was not expecting this physical display of strength from a first year, female associate. He actually sputtered like a truck with an empty gas tank going up a hill.    (I admit I was slightly taller than he, but still . . . )  I listened to his rapidly dying rant,  and while still standing I calmly explained why I had submitted the perfectly valid expense form, and he left — quietly.   He never yelled at me again.

It was a beautiful thing.    A beautiful thing.

I’ve tried the standing thing with my teens as well.  It works.  My son is seven inches taller than me, which I expected to happen.  But I have a daughter who is model tall — she’s got four inches on me, and I’m not short.   Still,  when any of them come at me with ridiculousness,  I stand up.  It unnerves them.

I will not have them standing over me.  I will not.

2.   Create a Paper Trail.

The Rainmaker

The Rainmaker

No matter what was said, what was agreed upon, whose “word” was given,  or whether there was a handshake,  it doesn’t count unless it has been memorialized in writing.    Opposing lawyers can amicably agree on the smallest or the largest of issues, but they always follow it up with a letter, “Thank you for meeting with me today.  The purpose of this letter is to confirm your agreement to produce  ABC documents to be by X date.”    Is it repetitious?  Sure.  But it’s better to have it in writing if there is a sudden memory loss down the line.

Works the same with kids.   It could be something simple like telling them what you expect, but also writing on a whiteboard an instruction, like,  “Empty the Dishwasher.”   Or it could be a matter of more importance like, “Curfew is at 11pm.”

Or an issue of public policy like, “I will not bail you out of jail or raise your child.

Equally effective is to request something in writing from the kid.   Then later, when the child inevitably forgets what he or she said, you can whip out the document and gently “refresh his or her recollection” of what actually transpired.

Me:  You’re late.

Kid:  You never said . . .

Me:   Yes, yes, I did.  I told you.  Then I texted you,  and you responded.

(Slowly pull out smart phone, begin to scroll.  Pause for effect.)  

Kid:  . . .

Mom:  Shall I  print it?

3.  Some conversations should be had “behind closed doors.”

As an associate, nothing caused more fear than to be summoned into a partner’s office and told to “close the door.”    The partners knew what they were doing.  They were creating a power balance, or, more accurately,  they were reminding the associate that he or she is not in a position of power.   And the associate?   A sitting duck.

Philadelphia

Philadelphia

So, as a parent, I find it effective to summon a teen into a room, tell him or her to close the door, and invite him or her to sit down.  (And if you can pull off Denzel’s facial expression above, you’ve got it made.)  Pause, always pause before you begin to speak.  (I learned from depositions that the pauses are not reflected on the record, but they make people uncomfortable and the witness will have a tendency to fill the silence with golden nuggets of information.)  The teen might start to explain something you didn’t even ask about,  at the very least he or she will listen to what you have to say, and may be thankful that  he or she made it out alive.   Bonus, if you have more than one kid, the others will become deeply concerned that they will be next, and may be more likely to evaluate their recent behavior and/or any (written) lists of things to do.

In conclusion, end the meeting with, “Let’s keep this between us.”

Just Me With . . . lessons from a law firm. 

A blank expression, a blank screen, “The Computer Won’t Wauk”

Carrie's Computer Crash on Sex and The City

Carrie’s Computer Crash on Sex and The City

“The computer won’t wauk.”

The teen-aged girl, whom her mother affectionately refers to as “The Quirky One” among her online friends, led with this.  Years of school provided speech therapy had almost eradicated her “speech impairment” —  so much so that sometimes she possessed an aristocratic lilt, sounding almost British.  Other times, that pesky and slightly out of reach interior “r” sound, reportedly often the last of the identified “impairments”  to be corrected, makes a surprise appearance.  When it does, suddenly this teen girl, a young woman in training who wears women’s size thirteen shoes, sounds  just like a little girl.

The computer won’t wauk.

She simply stared at her mom, who had just returned from getting coffee and who was planning to sit and just read.  The other  kids were on a visit with their dad, The Quirky One had missed this visit in order to attend to her cat sitting job, for which she was paid well .    The Quirky One had been misdiagnosed for years — was it depression?  Was it some kind of learning disability we can’t identify?  It’s not dyslexia? No?  Her reading is behind yet  her comprehension is very high.  She’s frustrated with the books she can read easily so she started writing her own, or at least she starts to, along with short stories and poems.  But something is, has been,  wrong  — or just —  off.

Now, finally there was a diagnosis that made sense,  The Quirky One is on the Autism Spectrum –sounds so pretty in the abstract — like the diagnosis should come with a colorful painting or butterflies —  but it’s so, so complicated.   This diagnosis explained why the girl would often announce distressing news in the same manner that another child would simply state his or her age.   “She does not read social cues,”  is how it is described.  But to an outsider it looks like  laziness or limited mental capacity or lack of empathy.  It’s none of those.  It’s just the way she is, Roxanne thought, but with the right therapy, thank goodness,  she’s gotten so much better — and happier.

Roxanne had learned to expect these dead-pan announcements over the years.  Now that she understood the cause of these and other odd behaviors, she was learning how to deal with it.

The computer won’t wauk.

Ahh, Roxanne thought.  This explains why The Quirky One had  perched in front of the desktop watching Anime when she returned from feeding the cats.   The laptop was out of commission. The Quirky One just stared at her mother, expressionless, waiting for a response.  Defeated, Roxanne forgot about her coffee and postponed her reading plans.   She walked over to the laptop and turned it off.  Then, after waiting the required 30 seconds, she turned it back on, practicing the well-worn ritual of the computer-repair-challenged.  She was met only with a blank, black screen.  She clicked random keys:   Enter,  Esc, Space Bar, and Enter again. Then she sighed, turned the useless device off again, closed it and walked away, without saying a word, except in her head, “I can’t deal with this now.”

The laptop was only three months old.  School would resume in just over a month and a half.

Don’t get upset now.  Just read your book, she told herself.

So Roxanne did what she had planned to do before The Quirky One announced that the recent $700 purchase had failed them.  She would read, a novel.

Roxanne hadn’t been reading much in recent months, at least not novels, but she’d  found a book that did what books are supposed to do — make her forget everything else.  Previously she’d been nursing a popular comic novel that everyone else seemed to love,  but she couldn’t quite finish.  Then the realization, actually a reminder, “I’m not a student.  I don’t have to finish it if I don’t want to.”   So when buying books for the kids, Roxanne decided, not without the requisite guilt for spending $14.99 on herself,  to buy a book.

It did help her forget.  Wasn’t it just four days ago when one of the other kids, The Anxious One, having just been told to carry her phone in a purse or wallet at the pool, dropped said eighteen day old phone, shattering the screen?

It was four days after the return date, insurance doesn’t cover physical damage to the phone.  And now . . .

The computer won’t wauk.

It still echoed in her mind.  What now? A visit to the computer store? A diagnostic test that will cost $80 in order to decide what it will actually cost to fix the computer?  And the phone?  

Roxanne couldn’t help it, but thoughts of  her ex-husband and his new family crept into her mind.  His new kids are little and presumably cute and do not require computers or phones . . . yet.  Oh, his time will come, if this marriage lasts.  But then again if this marriage lasts he won’t be doing it alone the second time around.    Then Roxanne had thoughts of  her  children as babies, remembering the smiles, the hysterical cries and the smiles again a few minutes later.   Back then, if their toys broke, it didn’t matter.  She could hide them, replace them, or distract the child with another shiny object or a song.   The good old days were  filled with bodily fluid control and clean up, tantrums and no sleep whatsoever.  The good old days, when providing for and educating a child did not require a $700 purchase, though she knew she’d spent much more than that in diapers alone.   But the diapers did what they were supposed to do, and she didn’t have to spend $700 at one time– only to have them fail.   The good old days — when she could teach the alphabet by singing it, could provide a hug, a song, a breast or two, and simply hold  her babies, shifting weight from one foot to the other.

Back then, Roxanne thought, I could do what they needed, and they would smile back.   Though the Quirky One never smiled as much as her twin, Roxanne remembered.  She often seemed like  she was deep in thought.  Still, she could make them all smile.  She taught them things. They were so cute and everybody said so. “Oh they’re still cute now,” Roxanne thought,  “but that’s frankly a little scary in a teen girl.”

Back then, they needed me.  Now, they still need me, just as much,  but they also need a  $700 computer they treat like a recyclable  magazine and they need phones with two-year contracts that they carry like a balls when running through a parking lot.  And they complain that their friends all have smart phones?   I don’t think so.  Not happening.

With these thoughts running through her mind, the worries, the fears, frustration and jealousy . . .  the tears almost came, right behind the bitterness.

But instead of crying, instead of attempting to fix the computer or finding someone who could, instead of interrogating The Quirky One on who and how the computer had last been used,  Roxanne grabbed her book and sat down, outside.  The Quirky One hates the outdoors, or more precisely, she hates bugs and sun and heat and fresh air, to name a few.  Consequently, the outdoors is where Roxanne knew she could be alone.   The Quirky One still had use of the desktop computer, after all.

Roxanne  opened her book —  an actual book that required no battery life,  no “on” button, and no screen.  The book would work.

So Roxanne read . . . and actually forgot everything  for a little while.  The book had worked.   The tears retreated, the bitterness dried up.

After a bit Roxanne went inside and wrote . . .

in longhand . . .

because . . .

“The computer won’t wauk.”

Just Me With . . . a story.   Not sure why I wrote this in the third person, except that I’m reading in the third person.

I’m currently reading , “Admission” by  Jean Hanff Korelitz

Coincidentally, after I wrote the above, I got to a point in the book where a secondary character said the following:

When you’re a single mom, and everybody talks about how hard it must be, what they mean is the little-kid stuff.  Getting up in the middle of the night all the time because there’s no one else to do it, or having to take on all the doctors’ appointments and parent-teacher conferences yourself.  But I’m telling you, that was nothing. This teenager stuff is hard.  This is, like, crazy hard.

Admission, Copyright 2009 by Jean Hanff Korelitz

"Admission" by Jean

It was also made into a movie, which I haven’t seen.

Admission

Admission

Road Trip Entertainment — Our Music and Movies

I just finished a road trip with my five children.  I know no one asked, but I thought I’d share what we listened to and watched on the ten hour drive home.

1. Rachmaninov

Piano Concerto No. 2

Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini

2. Prokofiev 

Piano Concertos 1 & 3

3.   “The Foundation” by The Zac Brown Band

Because you know I like my chicken fried . . .

4.  Soundtrack to West Side Story

Can’t believe I almost forgot this one!

5.  The Radio — remember that?  

6.  Adam Sandler’s “The WaterBoy” 

“Momma said, ma ma ma  momma said . . . ”

7.   Les Choristes — A beautiful French language Film about a music teacher for troubled boys in  1940’s France.

8.    Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo — Comedic Japanese (manga) Anime.

(I don’t really understand Bobobo, but there was lots of discussion about nose hair.)

For the most part, each of the choices were approved and enjoyed by all of  the tween and teen kids

. . . and myself.

Just Me With . . . an interesting collection . . . of children.

I Went For Coffee and Took A Turn Into “The Twilight Zone”

Narrator:   There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone. 

— The Twilight Zone, 1959, Season One

My narrator:  Meet Roxanne, a divorced mother of five who sometimes forgets to eat,  or chooses to save  a simple breakfast bar for her children rather than “waste” it on herself.   It’s an ordinary day for  Roxanne, who had left home for her only true indulgence —  getting her morning coffee.  She didn’t know that when she returned into her neighborhood, she would cross into . . .    The Twilight Zone.

Over the weekend we had some icy snow in my part of the world.   I was out running errands (in other words:  getting coffee).   On the way home I was wondering whether I could get my children to shovel  the sidewalks for me, doubted that they would before going to visit their father and  worried about whether doing it myself would throw my back out again.   My Aching Back    A neighbor offered to pay my daughter to do hers.   I wished that daughter or any of the children would do ours also, without back talk, threats or rewards  — and before they had to go.   It probably wouldn’t happen.   I got my coffee, and while there I  picked up my daughter’s  favorite breakfast sandwich as a treat,  plus I wanted her to get something warm in her belly before going out  to shovel the neighbor’s walkway.    As is often the case, I didn’t get a sandwich for myself,  saving a couple of bucks, not wanting to spend the money on — me.  As I turned  into my neighborhood, I had my daily thoughts of  “I really hate this neighborhood, I don’t like  living here.”   Followed by, “I wonder if I can figure out a way to move again but keep the kids in the same schools.”  And rounding out the trilogy, “Don’t be ridiculous, there’s no reason to move except that you don’t like it here and that’s just not a good enough reason.”

Given all these thoughts rushing through my head it was rather amazing that I happened to spot a woman on the side of the road.    She had plastic grocery store bags spread in front of her in the snow, was shaking and clenching her hands and seemed to be trying to figure out a way to  pick them up again.   Clearly she was struggling to carry her groceries home in the snow.

I stopped, backed up, asked if she wanted a ride.   She only gave pause for a moment and eyed me to make sure I didn’t look like a crazy.  (Sometimes I can appear quite normal . . . but I digress).  It was bitter cold outside.   She accepted the ride, put her bags in the back seat and sat up front next to me, thanking me.   She explained that she rushed out so quickly to get some things from the store that she had forgotten her gloves.   It wasn’t that the bags were heavy, she said, it was that her hands were frozen and she couldn’t hold them anymore.  “My hands hurt so bad,” she said.

It  didn’t really matter to me why she was in her predicament, I just wanted to get her home.  It was too damn cold and icy to walk, especially with groceries, no cart and no gloves.  She went on to  explain that her brother couldn’t shovel the car out because of his eye.   His eye Huh.  I pondered this.  Why would  his eye keep him from shoveling . . .   maybe he’d had surgery?  I drifted off  to  my own little world, thoughts racing for first place in my head.

Then my passenger said,  “I’m Roxanne.”

Skid marks on the brain.  Thoughts stopped on a dime.

Get OUT!!!”   I responded, perhaps a little too energetically, reminiscent of  Elaine from Seinfeld.

What?” she responded, looking concerned.  It was an unfortunate choice of words for my exclamation —  I mean, saying “Get Out!” to a passenger in my car!  Smooth, Roxanne.

MY name is Roxanne,” I quickly explained.

Really?’

Yes.  Really.  Wow, that’s wild.”   It’s  a fairly uncommon name.  It was surreal.

Roxanne said that I could drop her at a nearby intersection but I told her, no, I would take her all the way home. During the ride  I  discovered that  we had gone to the same high school, and though I had assumed she was older than me, it turned out but she was too young for me even to have known her from school.  She appeared worn beyond her years. I didn’t recall ever having seen her in the neighborhood or around town.  It was odd.

So what of my surprise passenger, Roxanne?    A woman who shared my name, who was walking alone in the snow-covered street,  who failed to  think of her own needs while rushing to meet the needs of others.   The consequences of her neglect of self was  finding herself standing  in the snow with frozen fingers, groceries at her feet  and  blocks from home.  For whatever reason– her family was not there to help her  and she had to accept a ride from a stranger.

It gave me pause.

I’m that Roxanne, too, coming home with a sandwich for a child so that she could shovel  another family’s walk but bringing no food for myself.

I almost said to the other Roxanne, “How could you leave home without gloves?  You’ve got to take care of yourself.  You’re no good to anybody if you get sick or frostbite.”   But what stopped me, other than that being creepy coming from a stranger, is that other people have been saying that to me lately.  My therapeutic goals are largely based upon meeting my basic self-care needs without guilt.

Roxanne,  have you been eating and sleeping?   You can’t take care of your family if you don’t take care yourself.”  I’ve heard often.  Too often.

Did the universe send me that other Roxanne to  remind me that  I need to help myself?  I mean, I know that when I get sick, the whole system fails.  I know this, yet  I still need reminders that protecting myself from the elements, eating, sleeping and yes even doing something just for my sheer enjoyment of it  is as  important as, well — anything.    Somehow, that reminder got in my car that day, and her name was Roxanne.

I  dropped Roxanne off feeling good about having helped her,  since it was so very cold outside, but I knew that both of us need to take care of ourselves.   I need to take care of me.

Maybe  picking up a reflection of  myself —  what I could become, what I have been  . . .  was meant to be that day.

My Narrator:   Roxanne, a functioning, yet melancholy divorced mother who often puts her basic needs well behind those in her care, stops in the snow to assist an eerily familiar woman in distress, a woman who perhaps shares more than just her name  in . . . The Twilight Zone.

Just Me With . . .  an over-active imagination?

P.S.   I told my therapist about it.  She queried whether the woman was real.

I’m not even going there.

See the Sequel:  The Twilight Zone —  Again?  Seriously?

She Wants To Break Me

The social worker said, “She wants to break you.”  She, being my daughter.

The reasons why there is a social worker in my house are beyond what I feel like writing about now.  But know that it was my reaching out for help, not a protective services situation.   My daughter is struggling with anger and depression and literally ran  — I mean ran  from traditional counseling.  You haven’t lived until you’ve chased a child around a therapist’s office, but I digress.  Consequently, I sought another route which brings professionals to the house.

Over the years I had done what I was supposed to do.   I told the children what they needed to know about the separation and divorce and move based on their age and capacity to understand.   I did not talk about the legal aspects of it.   The children never knew that I suffered through  dealing with various court filings (actually for me I was usually responding to my husband’s filings) and court appearances.   They don’t know about the financial and professional ruin and my poor health.     They were too little, it was appropriate to shield them.    The younger ones don’t seem to remember my good old-fashioned nervous breakdown and years, literally  —  years of tears.   I suppose that’s good.  I know it’s good.  When my children are grown and thinking back  on their childhood and mother I don’t want them to  recall an image of me lying on the  kitchen floor sobbing.  That’s not cool.

She has stated that her  misery is because we moved from the big marital home in the nice neighborhood, but I think it’s more.   I agree, she wants to break me.   I believe she thinks any appearance of strength or acceptance on my part somehow negates her feelings of loss.  The more comfortable I get with leaving the old life — the old house, the more miserable she seems.

What she doesn’t know is that I’m already broken, I broke down long ago, my loss was substantial.  For the last few years I’ve just been in survival and repair mode, with medications and counseling as needed, along with a fair amount of carpentry.   As the children have gotten older I’ve enhanced explanations  and have told them they can ask me anything and I will respond (age appropriately). I’ve explained why we had to move, and why we moved to where we are now . . . but she’s too young and too miserable right now to hear it.

Still, she is old enough to know that  our move to a much smaller house in a poor neighborhood is not merely a new adventure; she can see that we have taken a step down, socio-economically.  She also knows that her Dad also has a new life —  with new people  in it — and that’s just the way it is.

But, without acceptance of it all, it stinks.

Plus, my daughter is savvy, suspicious, practical and depressed enough to outright reject the “positive spin” talk.  I’ve tried.  She’ll need a different angle.  She’s a lot like me that way.

And let’s face it, misery loves company, and she wants me to be miserable and angry, too.  (I am, but I try not to show it.)

Though I’m thankful she feels comfortable enough with me to express  her feelings, especially since she is uncomfortable with her Dad,  I still want to (but won’t) say,

Don’t break me, girl.  You need me, more than you know.   I’m all you got.   I am not invincible.  I am human, even though I am your  mother.  Don’t break me.  Please. I’ve been broken before, you don’t remember — but it ain’t pretty.

So when I recently tweeted, “I will not cry, I will not cry, I will not cry”  after the heart wrenching session with my daughter and the social worker, it was because it hurt me to my soul and I feared that if I cried I would never stop.   I know, sounds overly dramatic, but sometimes . . . it is.

Just Me With . . .  some struggles.

Five Kids, One Table, Rope, Six Chairs and a Plan

I had five children in just under three and a half years.  I had to improvise on some things.

Thankfully, my kids have all been healthy.  Their gross  motor skills developed early.  Translated, that means as toddlers they were (are still) runners, climbers and jumpers.

Plastic Play House

Isn’t she cute? I don’t think my girls ever went inside.

Once somebody gave me one of those big plastic houses kids are supposed to play house in.  I had space  inside so I put in it the family room.  Not once did my girls play house in it.  No, no.  They did, however, stand on top of it and jump off, repeatedly.  Had to get rid of it.  That cute little house  was a safety hazard for my twins, two of whom I call Thelma and Louise . . . but I digress.

We had a long informal dining table, also given to us.   With the leaves attached it sat eight people.  It was just the size we needed.   However, according to my Olympic monkey children it was also long enough to run across.  Again, a safety hazard.  The table wasn’t that long and  once the  toddler runs and reaches the end?    BAM!   No, this was not going to work.  I’d caught  the kids right before  falls on previous table running attempts but sooner or later my luck would run out.   My daily goal back then was just to stay out of the Emergency Room (and off the Six O’clock news).

Still, I needed a table, so it could not  suffer the fate of the play house.   The table and the children must learn to co-exist safely.    But the children were still little, they were at that age where I could really only chase behind them.  They had no concept of consequences, danger, or any real responsiveness to my voice — they were all,

Oh I can run, I can climb.  Therefore, I will run and I will climb — all the time.

And all  my parental, “No, Stop! Wait!!”  and all that jazz — meant nothing.

Absolutely, nothing.  Say it again, y’all . . .

Back to the problem.  How to keep the girls off the table?   (Later it’ll be how to keep them off the pole, but I digress again.)  They could only get on the table by first  climbing on the chairs, but simply moving the chairs away from the table had not worked.  These minions simply pushed them back to the table and climbed up, then a sibling would follow and in a blink of an eye, I had a line-up of  miniature Village People looking toddlers on a table.

The Village People

No, no.   I needed something more secure.

I think it started with a jump rope.  No, I didn’t tie the children up (not then, heh heh heh).

But after every meal, I would push the chairs in, grab a rope, thread  it through the chairs  around the table and tie them up in a nice knot.

The children’s fine motor skills had not developed enough to untie the rope.   They weren’t (yet) strong enough to pull the chairs  away, though they tried.

Success.

I didn’t realize how weird it was until a friend from out-of-town came to visit.   We sat at the table together, ate,  fed the kids.   When we were finished I cleared the table, got out the rope and proceeded to tie the chairs around the table while we were chatting away.

She stopped talking and said, carefully, slowly,  like talking to a crazy person:

“What are you . . . doing?’

Oh snap, sometimes you don’t know how strange and dysfunctional you are until there is someone to see it. 

Me:   “You mean you don’t tie your chairs together after every meal?”

Just Me With . . . a rope after every meal.  

Sometimes the kids did listen to me, even when I didn’t want them to.  See, “Momma said, No!

All I Want For Christmas Is My Kids

My Ex-Husband just consented to my having the kids over Christmas break.

We do not have holidays spelled out in the Custody Order, rather,  we are supposed to work it out, so this is a big deal.  I’ve always had the kids at Christmas since our separation, he’s always had them at Thanksgiving.   This is really an extension of what happened during our marriage.   We spent Thanksgiving with his family, and Christmas with mine.   That worked for us.   In fact,  when we were together I spent Easter and  all of the  barbecue holidays (Independence Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day) with his family.   I traded all celebrations throughout the year just to get Christmas.

Last Christmas  when I asked for the kids over Christmas break, he said fine but added that one of these years he’s going to want them at Christmas.  That scared me.  He meant it to scare me, I believe.   But then he and his wife (then girlfriend) went on a beach vacation together over the holidays.   He didn’t even spend it with his  family, something the kids noticed and openly wondered about.   “Why didn’t Daddy spend Christmas with his own family?” they asked.   (No comment.)   Last week I heard from the kids that my Ex-husband had already made Thanksgiving plans with the kids, his wife, and her extended family (again, not his family, something the kids are upset about, but again, no comment).   I hoped that this meant that he would honor our tradition of “letting” me having the kids at Christmas.    But one never knows.  There’s a new wife in town now.   Plus, my Ex can be mean.   When I had to speak to my Ex about Summer vacation plans he yelled at me for almost an hour about various unrelated crap before eventually saying, “Go on take them  for as long as you want.  I don’t care,  just let me know.”   Haven’t been feeling up for a verbal beat down like that again.

So today, when he informed me he’d be traveling for work and would miss  his visitations with the kids for the next couple of weeks, I  finally got the nerve to ask him about the holidays.   He was completely fine with it, not even a pause.   My guess is he had  already made plans with his wife anyway and/or assumed I’d take the kids regardless.   He assumes and makes plans.   I ask permission.  (Yeah, I know, I see it, I’m working on it, acknowledging his rights does not mean being a doormat, but this is a lifelong pattern of accommodation I’m dealing with  “My High School Self”. )    My Ex-Husband added that he had been planning  to tell me that  Christmas presents for the kids from him will be sparse  this year, his wife isn’t working and  he’s struggling.   (No comment.)   I’m just glad, hell, I’m freaking rejoicing in the fact  that now I can openly  discuss Christmas and that I didn’t first have to take a verbal beat down for the privilege.

Christmas with my family has a special meaning for me.   It’s not even particularly religious, and we’re not wealthy so it’s not  about the gifts.  It is, however,  usually the only time that my small but geographically  fractured family gets together.   My sisters went to college and moved hundreds of miles away from our home of origin and never moved back.   They rarely made it home for Thanksgiving, don’t always make a Summer visit, but have always made it home for Christmas, even after they married and had children of their own.   They, like me, often spent Thanksgiving, Easter and Spring Break  with their in-laws or their own homes but reserved Christmas for us.   It’s always been that way.  Perhaps it is because so many of my family members are involved in academia.   Teachers,  people who work for universities, and students  have off the week between Christmas and New Years Day and this is when they can travel and relax.  Even now, my oldest sister’s  grown children with professional careers make time and arrangements to travel cross-country  to be with their grandparents and the rest of the family at Christmas.     I know that one day someone won’t be able to make it;  I know that one year we will have lost someone.    But it is our family tradition to be together, and I look forward to it.  My kids look forward to it.    I’m just so thankful that today I know for sure  I  “have permission” to continue the tradition — to spend this Christmas with my kids, together with their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins and that my divorce  did not change that — this year.    What a relief.

Just Me With . . .  holiday plans.   Woo Hoo!!!!!!!