Stories and thoughts about family and life

Mother ‘s Day and the cell phone

It started with a lost cell phone.  And that started with a misbehaving attitude and a cell phone “time out” coupled with the fact that I’ve apparently completely lost my mind in the past year.

Brennan got into some trouble a few months ago and we took his phone away.  He lost it a couple of weeks, earned it back, had it a couple of weeks and lost it again.  Louis and I have changed the hiding place in the house a couple of times, knowing that the kid was onto us.  Well, we’ve apparently done a great job hiding it this time, because we can’t find it.

Nothing makes you realize how much crap you’ve accumulated over your nearly 27 years of marriage like looking for a lost item the size of a cell phone.  Couple that with the amount of things I’ve integrated into my life from my parents and I think I’ll be better off just buying the kid a replacement (or upgrading mine and giving him that one).  At any rate, I’ve been on quite the walk down memory lane today, which I suppose is appropriate, since it’s Mother’s Day weekend.

I found a variety of Father’s Day and Mother’s Day cards we’ve kept over the years.  I found the first tooth for one of the boys, and the little necklace the school sent home with the tooth enclosed in a neat little case.  I found all of the Boy Scout Merit badges Louis had earned, and his Arrow of Light sash.  I found a package of napkins from our wedding which read “This day I will marry my Friend, the one I laugh with, live for, dream with, Love” and our names and date: August 31, 1991.  I found one of Gomez’s (our first dog) leashes.  I found my mom’s reading glasses and her watch, which no longer works, but I can’t make myself get rid of it.

Louis’ mother had a cedar chest.  She actually had a couple of them, and I was blessed that his sister took one and made sure we took one.  Louis isn’t sentimental like I am, so he wasn’t really interested, but Kathy has always made sure to include me as her sister, and knew I would make use of the chest and then pass it on to one of the boys.  It’s been in our garage the past couple of years, waiting on me to purge and rearrange enough to make room for it.  It’s now stored safely in the bottom of Luke’s closet, and today I’ve been gathering little treasures to put in it:  sweaters my mom knitted both the boys when they were toddlers, Daddy’s leather gloves, my old Billy Joel concert t-shirts which have LONG since been too small, some cloth napkins Helen loved.  This old cedar chest has seen better days, with its deep scratches on the top from the years it spent in Helen’s closet, but it’s finding its purpose again:  protecting all those precious memories.

We lost Louis’ mom almost two years ago.  I lost my own mom almost 11 months ago, and Daddy a mere four months later and a few days.  I was telling my sister one day that I couldn’t quite articulate how I lost I felt and she said it quite succinctly:  we’re orphans.    I was so blessed to become a Mom myself 17 years ago, and again 15 years ago.  It’s crazy how the time has passed, and yet, how many years of those memories I have stored and touch from time to time.  I still have a ton of artwork from both of them, and outfits family members had given them, and a million things I hope they’ll treasure (or at least, their wives will) some day when they have their own kids.

Some of these years have been long, and I thought they’d never be over (I wondered for a while if Brennan would EVER sleep through the night, for example), and some of them have gone by in the blink of an eye.  Louis and I tell them stories about when they and their cousins were little, and all the sayings we’ve gotten from one or the other of them.  We reminisce with them about funny things they’ve done and I hope they truly know on some small scale how much they’ve enriched my life.   It’s weird to be at this place in my life, with my parents both gone, and my kids on the college doorstep, and realizing that I’m seriously entering a new phase, like it or not.  I’m so thankful for all the trips we’ve taken and the time we’ve spent together and the effort we’ve put into all of those things, and going through these memories this afternoon reminds me how blessed I am to be a mother, to have experienced the things my mom likely experienced with me, and to appreciate my relationship with her on another level.  I never really “got” why she freaked out when I joined the Army at 17, but believe me, I completely get it now.   You go through so much only wanting the best for your kids, and trying to let them lead their lives but trying to guide them so they don’t get hurt (physically or emotionally).

My kids laugh every year when I tell them it’s Mother’s Day and all I want it a nice meal at home and my house to be cleaned from top to bottom.  Well, they laugh after they roll their eyes, anyway.  But it’s seriously true.  I remember a couple of years ago my dad had a test in Ft. Smith and I had driven up with my younger sister and picked he and Mom up.  My older sister met us there.  We waited forever for the test, and we spent the whole time cracking each other up in the waiting room.  Us three girls throwing comments at each other and picking at Daddy, who kept nodding off.  Mom kept shushing us, but she secretly loved it.  At lunch, and on the way home, she talked and talked about how great it was to have her three girls together and see our family the way it used to be:  us all sitting around and teasing each other, and laughing.   I can’t even remember what we talked about, but she sure was happy watching all of us.

So, Happy Mother’s Day to all of you.  If you are a mom, I hope you are surrounded by love and happiness.  If you’ve lost your mom, I feel your pain and I hope you have wonderful memories to comfort you.   And no, I still haven’t found the cell phone.  Maybe I’ll get a new phone for Mother’s Day.  🙂


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Junior Night

My mind hesitated as my eyes danced over the words.  “Junior Night” at the high school, Tuesday night at 6, in the cafeteria.  Learn what your junior needs to know about college, scholarships, and what to expect during the senior year.

Oh, my.  Lucas turned 17 in January.  I think I still haven’t quite come to grips with it.  I think his birthdays hit me harder than my own do.  I think I’m not ready to be thinking about being “empty nesters.”  My dear, sweet, tall, quiet, handsome boy who challenges me mentally (and sometimes physically and emotionally) has taken the ACT test twice in less than three weeks and we talk about college only, well, all the time.   Why can’t I wrap my mind around it?

As we sat and listened the counselor go through her presentation and discuss the August 1 start date for applying for scholarships and the October 1 date to apply for FAFSA, I actually started to feel a little light-headed.  It was yesterday, wasn’t it?  Yesterday when we graduated from daycare to kindergarten.  Yesterday when we changed schools and started 4th grade in earnest across the river.  Yesterday when he moved up from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts.  Yesterday when he was interviewing and finishing Eagle.  And now it’s today and we’re looking the last year we have this kid home straight in the face.

At the end of the school year last year he got his class ring.  I remember the day he brought it home, and it sat firmly on his right hand.  We took them out to dinner that night and all I could do was stare at his now gigantic hands and think about how many times I had held that little hand.  How many times we had crossed the street or gone up or down stairs together.  How many times those little hands brought me some little treasure or a juice box to open.  Now I can’t keep him in jeans or shoes.  He towers over me, and when he hugs me his long arms swallow my whole torso.

Some days I’m ready for it to be over.  I’m ready to stop discussing grades or arguing about some silly something, or demanding to have chores done.  But most days seem to go too fast and roll right into the next day which only rolls faster into the next.  Our weekends are gone in the blink of an eye, and when he works with us at the office, I’m amazed at the maturity he’s shown between last summer and now.  He sounds so professional when he’s making phone calls and carefully following his script.  He can build computers and set up network drops and replace equipment and has really taken a burden off his dad at the office.  There was a day that little face would look up and smile at me when he’d get in from school and ask if he could have a snack.  Now he’s ready to whip out his own debit card and will happily offer to buy you a snack instead.

We’ve listened to our friends talk for years about their kids leaving home and how surreal and painfully quiet their whole lives would become.  Oh, they adjust and it ends up being fine, of course, but I think there is always a part of me that thought they were exaggerating.  The same way I always thought those older (now wiser) parents would say to me “enjoy them while you can–they’re grown and gone before you know what happened!”  It’s so true.  We’ve always been blessed to do a lot of things with our kids.  They’re great little travelers, and they are always happy to be on a trip somewhere.  I’m so glad we’ve had those times with them.

Louis and I were talking the other day about how we could cruise any time of year after they’re both grown–we wouldn’t be limited by the school calendar and when we could all go.  For about 2.3 seconds that sounded amazing.  Then we both just looked at each other and sighed.

We waited a while to have our kids.  We were married 10 years before Lucas was born.  Brennan came along 23 months later.   We’ve only left our kids three or four times, with the exception of their yearly trek to stay on the farm with my parents over spring break.  I think they’ll adjust fine.  Their parents might have a little more trouble.    I remember when I was 18 and went into the Army and left for Basic training, my mom told me that it took my dad a couple of months to adjust to my being gone.  I was with him all the time and we did almost everything together.  I didn’t really “get” that at the time.  I’m starting to get just a little taste of it now.  I hope I handle it all as gracefully as he did.

Oh, just wait until we have to order that cap and gown. . .

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Eagle Scout

I have a friend whose son graduated from high school last year.  She told me this day would be hard for me, as in emotionally hard.  I have to admit, I kind of scoffed a bit.  I’ve had plenty of hard days–2015 was full of them.  This day isn’t going to be that.  Yeah, well, I was wrong.

Lucas is having his Eagle Scout Board of Review tonight.  It’s a day we’ve been working especially hard on the past 90 days or so.  From completing and turning in paperwork, to scheduling people to attend tonight, it’s been a sometimes challenging end to his Eagle endeavor.    Nevertheless, though, he is prepared–all the way down to a new uniform shirt with new badges and a fresh haircut and shave.  (Wow, did I really just say “shave”?)

My husband is his Scoutmaster, and therefore has tiptoed around the normal “dad” duties in Luke’s Scouting career to be careful not to give the impression of impropriety, especially on his Eagle project.  I don’t mind.  It’s given me the opportunity to connect with Luke in ways I haven’t been able to before where Scouting is concerned.  You see, that’s always been “the thing he and his dad do.”  While I might go on the campouts here and there, I kind of hang back a bit and let them have this thing together.  I think it’s been good for both of them.  But, selfishly, I have enjoyed getting to share more closely in this achievement.

So, I was told that I needed to write a recommendation letter for Luke.  I’ve thought about it for a couple of days, but hadn’t really felt it enough to sit down and pen anything.  With the review being tonight, however, I needed to get motivated.  I sat in my office this morning, with the blinds open and the sun peeking over the horizon, and started my letter.  It took me nearly an hour to write, and I edited it and started over a couple of times with different thoughts.   And my friend is right–I was crying by the end.  I’m not much a of a crier either (unless I’m angry or really hurt), but I have a feeling as this child gets closer and closer to leaving the nest, those Hallmark moments are going to come in greater frequency.

As my words flowed onto the page and I pondered the growth I’ve seen in Luke over the years, I saw my pride for him in a whole new light.  It’s inspiring to look at so many years of his life and the culmination of that into this one project and final achievement.    It’s an amazing experience, and I would encourage everyone to take a few minutes and write your own child a letter of recommendation.   I was absolutely crying by the end, and getting to see him grow through the words and see his accomplishments as I would want an outsider to view them was a fantastic experience.

The Scout law says “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.”   Now, any mom of a teenage boy will tell you that they’re not nearly as clean as they could be.  Cheerful is sometimes a toss-up, too, but on the whole this kid (who am I kidding–he’s taller than I am!) embodies all these principles.  He is sweet and kind, helpful, and intelligent.  He has a quirky sense of humor and that crooked grin and deep green eyes just make me melt.

I can’t imagine my life without him.  I’m so proud of him I can’t see straight, and yes, I probably will cry again tonight.  If this is a snapshot of his senior year, I should probably invest in Kleenex right now.

If you see my soon-to-be Eagle Scout somewhere today, please give him a hug, and tell him he’s awesome–because he totally is.

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Baseball greats, fire safety, and CPR

I swore to my husband this would be the last camping trip I go on (for a while, anyway) with the Scouts. I like to go–don’t get me wrong, but it’s tiring and a bit stressful for me. The boys all at varying ages, varying attention levels, and the frustration it creates for me when things don’t go right simply aren’t worth it to me. Sometimes things don’t go exactly right, and sometimes they go completely wrong. I feel like I have no control and my little Type A personality doesn’t cope very well. I can stay home and stress myself out perfectly well without a bunch of kids to do it for me.
This past weekend was supposed to be a two day campout near my hometown. We had reserved a campsite at a local recreation area (a place we used to swim when I was a kid), and the theme of the weekend was safety and prevention. I had a friend from high school who agreed to teach First Aid and CPR and the community fire department where I was raised was going to teach fire safety and prevention to the kids. After watching the weather the past couple of weeks and seeing a tornado tear apart Mayflower and Vilonia, we were watching the forecast very closely. The area where we would be camping had a serious tornado about four years ago and thankfully no one perished but it certainly gave me something to ponder as we were preparing to take these boys into the woods there. As the forecast kept changing and the rain chances were uncertain (let alone the “severe” weather we seem to have regularly at this time of year), we evaluated the situation and opted to cancel the campout and make it a day-trip adventure.
Booneville (my hometown) is two hours from Little Rock. We left a few minutes after 7 a.m., loaded all the boys into my vehicle and off my husband and I went. When we arrived in town we stopped at Wal-Mart (which is a must in a small town, right?), and then proceeded to the location where our first class would be held. we thankfully were about 20 minutes early, which gave the boys a few minutes to run circles around the parking lot and expend some of their nervous energy. By the time our instructor arrived, we were mostly ready to go.
Now, if you’re not familiar with boys, let me set the scene for you. They like to tell stories. They like to poke each other and talk to one another and try to gross each other out. Thankfully, our instructor was accustomed to dealing with kids and wasn’t really bothered by their antics. I was thankful I only had to call them down a couple of times, and by the time our class ended it was becoming very apparent they were needing to be outside for a few minutes. We took them to eat lunch and amazed our instructor with the amount of food these boys could put away (my 13 year old, for example, at 1 slice short of an entire medium pizza).
The second part of our day was to take place in the community where I was raised, which is about 20 minutes from town. We loaded the boys up and I called my parents to see if they needed anything from town (customary in my family, as trips to down aren’t just made anytime you’re out of something). We picked up a couple of things and decided that with a couple of hours to spare we could drop off these items, visit for a few minutes and then take the boys back to the community center where our fire safety class would be held and let them play.
My parents live out in the middle of the country, atop a mountain. Due to wild animals in the area, and the propensity of their dogs to want to wander off, the dogs aren’t allowed out of the yard. Any critter that decides to invade their space does so at his own peril. When we arrived at the house and the boys all piled out of my vehicle and into the yard, the first thing they spotted was a dead armadillo. Now, I realize to you that likely sounds gross and disgusting, but to a young tween or teen boy, this is an amazing sight. They marveled at the dead animal and how the dogs had likely killed it, with my husband and me screaming “Don’t touch it!” the whole time. They moved on from the armadillo and located the bamboo stalks my dad grows in his back yard. It didn’t take them long to figure out those make fine swords and soon the battle was on.
They were pirates one minute, soldiers the next. They were all on one team, and then enemies against each other. The possibilities to them were endless. We ended up sitting on the front porch with my parents, marveling at the boys and their abilities to play together so peacefully and merge in and out of one another’s make-believe roles. The dogs got in on the act too, chasing the boys down the fence row and romping around with them as if they knew completely what was going on. When not playing with the younger boys, the dogs huddled around the oldest boy in our group, who chose to sit on the sidewalk and watch the younger boys and never stopped petting the dogs as long as they would sit still for him.
I’ve always said that every dog deserves a boy and every boy deserves a dog. Never was that more true than watching this in action. We let them play for the better part of an hour or so, and then loaded everyone up to head for the community center. The boys were equally as fascinated with the playground and the surrounding area there as they played away their last 30 minutes or so until their trainers arrived. Here they were rewarded with a new critter. They came up to my husband and said “Mr. Walker, we found a dead king snake around the side of the building.” When my husband told them to leave it alone, they simply said “oh, okay.” I imagine they were waiting for some type of permission to investigate the snake a little closer.
The fire safety class was performed by the training officer of the volunteer fire department in that community. She told us how, at 73 years old, she’s not as spry as she once was, but you wouldn’t have known much different watching her don her gear and explain each piece as she went. The boys were amazed as she passed around each piece of her equipment and let them feel how heavy it all was. Being the mom of boys herself, she knew exactly how to keep them interested. Just as she was finishing her equipment demonstration, she teased them with the review of the trucks and told them they’d get to hold the fire hose and see how powerful it was. They could barely contain themselves as she wrapped up her last few minutes.
She explained the biggest truck and all the controls to them, and allowed them to climb in and around it. My dad and the fire chief obligingly moved equipment and pulled the trucks in and out of the bays for the boys. When we got to the last truck and she began pulling the hose out, the boys knew exactly what was coming. She told them to line up and they nearly ran over each other for the opportunity. She took teams of two, each boy in turn, and allowed them to “run” the hose for a few seconds while his teammate held the hose behind him (the “hose man” she explained). Look at my Facebook profile for videos of these screaming, laughing boys as they undertook this task. We were getting a real kick out of them.
As our class wound down and we prepared to say goodbye, the boys helped stow gear and clean up the community building where we had started. This building, over 100 years old, was once the school for the area. Still hanging on the walls are the old chalkboards. Still visible above the “stage” in the main room is the hand-painted poster of all the businesses in the area which sponsored events. The boys were amazed looking at the pictures on the walls, seeing the old decor, and hearing our instructor tell how greats like Dizzy Dean (pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Browns b. 1910- d. 1974), Daffy Dean (pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, New York Giants and the St. Louis Browns b. 1912- d. 1981) and Aaron Ward (infielder for the New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians b. 1896- d. 1961) played on the field next to the community center back in the day. I’m sure I stared wide-eyed as well as she relayed the story and pointed out the article written some time ago. I knew of Dizzy Dean, but not really much about him at that, and certainly nothing of the other two. To think of all these famous people who were from my small community there. The boys thought it was neat, but I know they don’t appreciate the significance of what it must have been at the time. I wouldn’t have at their age either.
We said our goodbyes and thanked each of our hosts and climbed back into my vehicle. As we sped off down the highway, chatter turned to the training sessions we had for the day, and the follow-up work needed to complete each badge. We asked them what they thought about their experiences of the day and they all loved it. I felt a great sense of pride for my little town and community and the gifts they had bestowed upon these boys. I couldn’t have selected a better “last trip” to take with these kids. Oh, it won’t be my last, I’m sure, but I’m looking forward to a little hiatus as I use my free weekends to do some fun girl things with my friends I’ve missed.
And hopefully none of my future weekends will involve dead “critters.” 🙂

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I had always heard the teenage years were trying–I just never really appreciated that completely, I suppose. And holy cow, because mine only became a teenager about 30 days ago! From the placating responses to no responses at all. From rushing through something just to have it finished to walking at a snail’s pace with only one item in one hand. I’m understanding now my friends with older children who swore their teenagers were trying to either gray all their hair, or perhaps send them to an early grave.

I am trying to keep this in the proper perspective, but it’s growing increasingly challenging. My younger child had colic when he was a baby, and was a bit difficult. He didn’t sleep through the night until he was 15 months old. We had potty-training challenges with my older child, due to a medical condition he had at the time. None of those are very serious, alone, but put a couple of them together and you would swear the year is never going to end!

We’ve been blessed with a pretty good run for the past couple of years. Oh, there have been stressful periods, of course, but they’ve been short-lived. Generally a month or two and we work ourselves out again. This year I feel like I’ve fought with my now teenager for the entire school year. I’ve grown to hate school probably even more than they do. I long for the lazy summer days where I still work, but the kids get to hang out with me at the office and play. Those days where we pack up and leave work and go to the local water park and wind down our evenings and prepare to do it all over again tomorrow, or take a few days away and do something fun and interesting. I’d like to blame this recent attitude Luke and I both have on the winter blues, but I don’t think those actually start as early as September.

I recognize he’s coming into his own, and I’m trying to give him the freedom and the flexibility to do that. I’m also trying to ensure he’s a productive member of his class and our family. I remember one of his teachers in an earlier grade telling me that she knew he understood the material, but that he didn’t see the point in burdening himself with the homework if he understood it, and he was doing great on his tests. The challenge is getting a kid like that to understand that the work still has to be done anyway. I wasn’t that kind of student, so I can’t appreciate whatever is going on in his head right now. I went to school, did my work in class, did my homework without my parents having to get involved, and delivered decent grades. I could have been a better student, perhaps, but I enjoyed myself for the most part and I accomplished my studies. My parents were happy and my grades were what was expected of me (except in Math–oh how I struggled with Math). Luke, however, has Math down. I wish I had understand just a quarter of how this kid understands the subject. There’s no telling what I would have been able to do with my life!

We’ve tried all the regular approaches: punish, praise for good behavior, grounding, and removal of privileges. He did something similar to this in the fifth grade for a few weeks and I even went to class with him, sitting next to him and watching him and being sure to kiss him repeatedly in the hallway and hold his hand as we walked. Remarkably enough, I didn’t have much trouble out of him the rest of that school year. I also had more time that year to go and do that kind of thing. Nothing gets his attention for long, but it looks like he might be in for another mom visit to the school.

Both boys were on a Scout campout this weekend. I didn’t want to let Luke go, but it was his brother’s first campout and I wanted him to be there to support him. Besides, by the time we had reached 5 p.m. on Friday, I thought we could both do with some time away from each other. I decided to clean the house and use my time to get my spring cleaning started and enjoy the task. As I started through each boy’s room, I became less and less pleased. From items under the bed to clothes not where they should be, to food stashed or empty containers around, I was seriously unamused. I thought a lot about how I would deal with the correction of these issues and the school challenges simultaneously. One of my mom friends was getting a real chuckle out of me as I shared pictures and we talked about what I might do next.

As my sister-in-law and I talked this afternoon, and she relayed similar stories, I thought more about the predicament we’re both in. Her son is only five days younger than Luke. They’re four hours apart and they don’t speak unless we’re all together (they’re not on the phone, Facebook, chatting/texting, etc.). She is having almost identical problems to mine, except that her son is back-talking more than mine. She joked that once the testosterone spikes in their little bodies they seem to forget about valuing self-preservation and try to push their mothers to the limit. We had a good laugh as we shared stories of what each kid has done in the past few weeks, and it was eerie the resemblance of the two, regardless of them being separated by distance and environment as they are. Luke’s cousin is home-schooled, so they don’t have to hear from the teacher about missed assignments–they have to fight with him during the day to get him to finish. It was illuminating to me to see the exact issues I’m having with a different spin on them. It made me think about the word testosterone, and how maybe there was some hidden meaning in the tests these kids will put their parents through!

My boys and I had a long talk this afternoon on the way home from their campout. Hopefully we’ve come to some understanding about how things will be. I doubt this will be the last of the frustration, but I’m hoping the “test” period for me won’t be long and we’ll get back to some level of normalcy. If not, I may be asking you all to come visit me at the local psych hospital.

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Talking to the wall

I was a good kid in school. I didn’t always love being there, but I did my work, and my parents never really had any complaints. I struggled with a couple of my classes, and I took it upon myself to discuss those struggles with my teacher and work them out directly. The only real difference between myself and my kids? My parents honestly had no idea what happened at school. There was no Edline (or eSchool, in our case). There weren’t e-mails and texts with the teachers. You went to school, did your thing, and better show up with the grades at the end. I acknowledge the benefit of those technological advances (for example, I wouldn’t know my kid isn’t getting his work done unless the teacher called me otherwise), but it’s rather frustrating to have the conversations I have to have sometimes. I can be entertaining, and especially when guided by a smart-ass as I am (I’m a good Southerner, what can I say??). Let me entertain you:

Me: “why is it you have a 0 for “bell work” on this date?”
Luke: “I didn’t get it turned in.”
Me: “what is bellwork anyway?”
Luke: “The teacher assigns it at the first bell. We work on it for a few minutes and then go on to something else.”
Me: “so, you weren’t in class that day?”
Luke: “no, I was there.”
Me: “so, why didn’t you turn it in?”
Luke: “it was at home.”
Me: “Wait. How did it get home?”
Luke: “I took it out of my backpack.”
Me: “Did you teleport to the house in the middle of class? How on Earth did you get something on your desk at home that you did in class?”
Luke: “I took it out while I was working on something else. I forgot to put it back in.”
Me (with Louis looking at the kid equally as if he’s crazy): “I’m confused. You were in the SAME class, right?”
Luke: “Right.”
Me: “And the bell rings (I hold my hand up in the air and wave my hand back and forth in “ringing” fashion) ‘Ding-a-ling-a-ling’ and the teacher gives you the assignment. Ten minutes later you are finished with the assignment, right?”
Luke: “Right.”
Me: “And then you turn it in, right?”
Luke: “well, she walks around and checks to be sure we’ve done it.”
Me: “And you had done it?”
Luke: “yes.”
Me: “so why couldn’t she see it was done?”
Luke: “it was on my desk at home.”

OMG! The conversation continues like this for about 20 minutes. Back and forth. Me asking, then Louis asking. Us trying varying approaches. Same answers. I finally stand up and re-enact the entire scenario by making a ringing noise again and handing Louis a piece of paper, narrating the whole time:

Me: “so, here’s your bellwork.” (Louis pretends to write). “Time’s up. Turn in your work.”
Louis hands me back the paper. I march diligently back to my desk. “Oh, now let me GRADE this BELL WORK,” I proclaim, with serious exaggeration. I look at Luke, who is taking in this spectacle in front of him, with wide eyes.
Finally, he speaks.
Luke: “Well, she only takes a look at it on Thursdays.”
Now we’re both perplexed. “So you only do bell work on Thursday?” we both exclaim.
Luke: “no, we have bell work every day. She only looks at it on Thursdays. She grades all five questions on Thursday.”

You would have thought we had discovered the atom at that point. Aha! So, there’s a new question every day. You write it down and on Thursdays she checks to be sure you’ve done it.

I have, seriously, completed contract negotiations which weren’t THAT complicated! I used to have witty, serious conversations with this kid. I had to wonder for half a second if he was doing this on purpose. Maybe this is the part where he turns into a real teenager and things this parents are totally stupid? I may be a raving alcoholic by the time he graduates high school if this keeps up!

So, what’d you do with YOUR day?

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Reluctant Teachers

As I screamed, and I mean SCREAMED at my 12 year old son two nights ago, “Do you know what my job is? It’s to raise you as a well-functioning adult. One who can keep commitments, follow-through, be trustworthy and responsible, and live a productive life,” the words I uttered struck a new chord with me as well. My son sat and stared at me, with a tear rolling down his cheek. This was not the first time we had similar conversations (if you can call this a conversation), and I fear it won’t be the last.

I went with a friend of mind the other night to run some errands. She was visiting a rent house where she is the landlord and needed to check in on some repairs. As I stood outside waiting on her to finish, I visited with the children of the family living in the rental property. “Are you a teacher?” this adorable little boy, around age six, with round cheeks and even rounder eyes questioned, “‘Cause you look just like a teacher.” I literally laughed out loud. Me? A teacher? That really IS funny! I don’t have the patience for that! I couldn’t possibly stand in front of classrooms and deal with entire groups of kids as stubborn and disinterested as my 12 year old is sometimes. I wouldn’t be able to listen to the endless “I can’t” diatribes which come from my now 11 year old. Me, a teacher?? No way! I politely said “no, I’m not a teacher, but I’m sure my kids would think it’s funny that you see me that way.”

As I listened to myself having this conversation with Luke, that sweet little rounded-cheek boy appeared in my mind, and it hit me. Well, yes, I am a teacher. I’m not a teacher by profession, but I am a teacher. Not to put down my teacher friends who have chosen this profession, because I honestly could NOT do what you do all day, but I was reminded in that instant that we’re all teachers. We all have our lessons to teach, whether it’s about doing chores, or learning a craft, or managing money, or being a good friend. When I look at it in those respects, my children have learned most of their lessons exceptionally well. They’re both tender-hearted, sweet boys who will give up their own money to make a kid less fortunate happy in the arcade or local pizza place. They love doing service projects and volunteering with us (well, maybe “love” is a strong word, but they do rather enjoy it). Brennan saw the annual toy drive on the news the other morning and was extra motivated to get us all out of the house so we could go to Wal-Mart and buy a toy for these less fortunate kids. I see those things and I’m so proud of the young men I’m raising.

I criticize myself after I have one of these conversations with Luke, especially when I feel like all we’ve done is fight for 30 minutes. I hear “yes ma’am” and know that he’s tuning me out and just wants me to shut up. I see so much potential in him, and I don’t want him to squander it. I finally explained to him the other night that my parents were hard on me in school too. Granted, they didn’t have to have these little “chats” like we do, but it was understood that I was not permitted anything lower than a B, except in math. I went on to explain that because of the trust they placed in me for that, I sought out my own tutoring for math from my teacher, who was always interested in helping a student who cared enough to ask. I told him that if I had been able to get through school with the intelligence he already has at this age, the world would have been my oyster. Now, I’m relatively smart, and I was ambitious, so please don’t think I’m putting myself down for his benefit. I struggled through some of my classes (especially math-based ones) with almost a handicap. I didn’t really “get” science. Luke is spectacular at both those things.

Desperate for a method that works, I resorted to what I did his fifth grade year. I threatened to attend some of his classes with him. It was dramatic to see his response to that suggestion. In fifth grade, he was mildly embarrassed, but not overall bothered. This year, though, his social situation is much different and the thought of that possibility absolutely mortified him. I think, probably of all the things I said to him that night, this suggestion received the most response. His grade situation is already on the mend, as he returned home last night with a plan, and several outstanding issues addressed. So, I would suppose as a teacher I could say that I used all the training tools at my disposal.

Life is a learning experience, as we’re all so often told. It shouldn’t surprise me, then, that I find myself in that “teacher” position, even when not actually holding a technical “class.” I think it’s hard for the kids to view their parents as potential teachers as well, and we’re both reluctant to fall into our roles–me as teacher and him as a student. It’s not the traditional process, and certainly wouldn’t be the traditional outcome if I didn’t interfere.

In having lunch with a couple of friends of mine yesterday, one told me that her parents were never involved in her academic life. She wasn’t ever pushed to achieve better grades or complete assignments. She feels she would have been better off today if her parents had gotten more involved. I think also about my own parents. They were hard on me, but I’m better for it. So, reluctant as I may be about it, a teacher I have become.

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10 year old boys and campfires

Luke (I’m really working hard to break myself from calling him “Lucas”) is now 12, and will be 13 in January.  He has been in Boy Scouts since he was 11, so the Cub Scout traditional camp outs have been more and more a thing of the past.  For the uninitiated (as I was), Boy Scouts are boy-led.  It’s supposed to be that they do all the work and the parents are really just there to ensure they don’t kill themselves.  That’s the theory, anyway.  Our boys have invested a lot of time in learning the finer points of this technique and some times it works out better than others.  Anyway, Brennan is currently 10.  This is his last year in Cub Scouts.   Cub Scouts still have a lot more parental involvement, although this year is supposed to be a transition into their next scouting adventure.  As I put it to another parent over the weekend, this is sort of like senior year for their crew, and there are only four of them, so the parents have committed themselves to making it as fun and special as possible.  Oh, and, we’re using this as a good learning opportunity for Lucas–excuse me–Luke to function as their den chief and grow accustomed to holding a leadership position.  Throw in Type A mom and you’re in for some laughs this year, I’ll promise you that.

This past weekend we went to Lake Ouachita (pronounced Washita, for my out-of-area friends).  We had a beautiful campsite on a small peninsula in a quiet area of the lake, and it was everything a lake trip should be:  quiet, relaxing, peaceful, beautiful.  I’m sure that’s what all the other people thought when we came in with our five boys, anyway.  We had three 10 year olds, Luke (age 12) and a younger sibling of one of the 10 year olds (he is 5).

If you’ve never tried to organize a bunch of 10 year old boys, let me paint a picture for you.   These boys had all been in the same car together for the past 90 minutes.  They were told they couldn’t play any of their electronics (which is our custom on these types of getaway trips), and they were anxious to be out of the car.  Add in a lake with some beautiful flat stones just begging to be skipped, and work to do to set up the camp.  Now, imagine yourself speaking a completely foreign language–let’s say Latin or Greek–and watch the magic begin.  It’s not that they’re acting badly, necessarily.  It’s just that all these other things call to a 10 year old imagination much more than stopping and pitching a tent or helping get lunch prepared.

We finally were able to eat and put everything away, and then took the boys to mine gemstones as a gemology project.    You would have thought they were mining for gold the way they took to the whole process.    As we hauled our loot back to camp and took stock of the new treasures we had amassed, the boys helped prepare dinner and then escaped to the lakeside again to play in the water and skip stones.    Dark was just falling as we took our dinners off the campfire and had dinner.  It was wonderful to listen to the boys giggle and share stories, and talk of adult things as if they had been doing this same thing every weekend for 20 years.  As we parents disseminated the last of the dinner and get ready to settle in and eat ourselves, we laughed hearing the boys talk of wanting to see “Les Miserables” (imagine this with your best imitation French accent), and with an exaggerated “s” on “Les.”  They spoke with such sincerity and such impressive importance on the subject, you would have thought they really had just studied it in school.  Within a moment or two, that topic had passed and we were back to Minecraft and add-on tools which should exist in this video game or that one.  Following that was the sharing of the discovery of Hershey bars, graham crackers and marshmallows in the camp box.  S’mores!  They were proudly exclaiming.

I was the mom who had that moment of brilliance, I’m proud (or maybe not so much so) to say.  Brennan spotted the marshmallows while we were shopping for camping groceries Friday afternoon.  These marshmallows were literally called “campfire” and were at least two inches tall, about an inch and a half across.   Not eating marshmallows myself, I wasn’t really prepared for what I had created.  One kid mentioned that he liked his marshmallows very well done, so then, of course, all the kids had to try that.  Thank goodness we had enough of those to go around.   We shared s’mores and hot cocoa for the next 45 minutes or so, and discussed with the boys all the things they had done during the day.

Winding them down to try to go to sleep, I guess the s’mores weren’t such a great idea in hindsight.  But, still, the entertainment of the boys and their chatter about this or that, and watching them all mimic things they saw one another (or an adult) do, reminds me that this is exactly how they learn–whether we want them to or not.    I hope we guide them well, and I can’t wait to hear about my kids taking their own kids on trips like this, as I know it amuses my father-in-law to hear Louis talk about doing this all with his children.

Brennan was so thrilled with his gem haul that he escorted an obliging park ranger over to the truck to see them all.  The park ranger told the boys of the possibility of hearing screech owls or the tiger who lives at the camp across the lake, and how we might hear any of these throughout the night.  The boys, all wide-eyed and amazed, looked as though they couldn’t wait for the possibility.  That is, of course, until a grand-daddy long-legs crawled anywhere in anyone’s vicinity, and reminded us that our kids aren’t country kids.  They talk of all these things they’re going to do and how brave they all are, and then remind us again that they are still our little boys.  I’ll take that while I can.  They’re growing up way too fast as it is.

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Christmas trust

We took our boys to Disney World for Christmas a in 2011.  We have a timeshare we can exchange down there and turned it into quite the family vacation, driving down the coast and playing on the beach every time we stopped.  It was a wonderful trip.  When we take trips like that, I make it a point not to travel on credit.  I’ve gotten actually pretty good at budgeting and paying for the trip well in advance (as much as possible, anyway), and I pad the budget so hopefully we don’t have the tell the kids “no” too much.

In that particular year, it meant that we didn’t have much Christmas outside the trip (which is certainly plenty, don’t get me wrong), but Louis and I had several conversations about when it’s “right” to tell the kids about Santa.  Lucas had already pretty much figured it out–we had a couple of conversations where he all but told me he knew, and I know Brennan was getting suspicious, although neither of them dare commit completely for fear that no Santa means no gifts.

We have a few friends who say that to their kids– “If you don’t believe, you don’t receive.”  I can’t bear the thought of that.  I love gifting gifts and watching the recipients eyes light up when I’ve hit on the just the right thing.  It’s a wonderful thing for me.  Anyway, Louis and I had talked about how we could explain this to the kids and how we could reassure them that it didn’t mean Christmas was over, and that our beliefs about why we celebrate Christmas shine through regardless.

Louis was lucky enough to win an XBox 360 with Connect at a drawing his company was having, and we kept it hidden away from the kids and took it with us to Florida.  I packed it in a zippered freezer bag from Sam’s, knowing they weren’t likely to open anything that didn’t look like much fun.  One of them even carried it into the condo for me and never even offered to open it.   We had arrived on Christmas Eve in the condo, and we had plans (unbeknownst to the boys) to be at Epcot at opening time in the morning, which didn’t leave us a lot of time for leisurely Christmas Day lounging.  We prepared dinner, and sat the boys down and explained.

I told them that I knew they knew, as they had been figuring it out for a while, and that I wanted to explain to them that while Santa himself doesn’t exist, the spirit of Santa certainly does.  It’s that spirit that drives people to give gifts.   We spoke about the meaning of Christmas and celebrating Christ, and the various opinions/views on Christmas and how the legends came to be and how those legends embody exactly what I was explaining–that people use Christmas as an opportunity to shower those they love with extra special gifts.  Brennan was only 8, so I was trying to keep it in terms he could understand and appreciate.  He became very concerned, and it took a little reassurance that he would still, in fact, have Christmas every year, and there would gifts and that our greatest gift is to get to be together and do things as a family.  He calmed down, asked a few more questions, and that was it.  At least, until, we called my parents the next morning before leaving for the park to wish them a Merry Christmas.  The first words out of Brennan’s mouth to my dad was “Mom told me Santa isn’t real.”  Daddy, completely unprepared for this, just said “oh, really?  what else did she say?”  Brennan explained that we had a conversation about how Santa isn’t real but it’s okay because there’s still a Christmas and he’ll still get gifts.  Leave it to an 8 year told to cut to the chase.  My dad seemed relieved that he wasn’t going to have to go through this conversation at any real length.  Once that was over, it was no big deal.  We had a couple of follow-up conversations about Christmas, Christ, and how the traditions all found their places.  We also had a frank conversation with the boys about how they shouldn’t spoil the surprise for kids who don’t know.  I was really a little concerned about that last part.  Lucas seemed to get it, but Brennan has trouble keeping a secret under the best of circumstances.

As Christmas, 2012 rolled around, we had invited my husband’s sister and her family down to be with us and stay at our house through the holiday.  We had just relocated Louis’ parents, and I knew the holiday would be difficult for them.  We decided that having as many family members around as possible would ease them through it.  As we were preparing for the family’s arrival I prepared the boys for the likelihood that their cousins didn’t know about Santa the way they do.  I spent the first day of our guests’ visit worrying that Brennan might spill the beans, until he did something that amazed me.  He began speaking to Becca (his cousin nearly two years younger) about Christmas and Santa and asking her what she wanted and telling her that his mom had a connection with Santa (I used to tell them I had Santa’s e-mail, and I could communicate directly with him about their behavior even as he was preparing to deliver toys.  Everybody knows Santa carries an iPhone and checks his e-mail constantly, right?), and that he was sure I had let Santa know she was at my house so he would know where to leave her gifts.  I thought my heart would melt.  Not only had this child understood not to mess it up for her, but he was actually taking a very mature approach, and helping her not lose the dream of it all.  I knew then I didn’t have to worry.

We are planning another trip to Disney for Christmas of 2014.  We’re talking to a family who are friends of ours about possibly going with us, and in the discussion the mom told me her kids don’t know about Santa yet.  As we were driving to the office this morning, I took the opportunity to talk to the boys about how we may be traveling next year with friends over the holiday, and how those kids didn’t know about Santa.  Without missing a beat, Brennan said “so we won’t say a word about Santa not being real and we’ll play along when everybody gets gifts so they won’t figure it out.  We don’t want to mess that up for them if they still believe, because it’s special.”

I literally sat at the stop sign we had just reached, mouth agape, staring at him.  How can my now 10 year old have such moments of brilliance?!?  I am so proud of these two kids for having the (in my opinion) very adult understanding about something so sacred.  I’ve always tried to be open and honest with them, and explain things in a real sense when they have questions.  I’ve wondered from time to time if that was wise, or if they were really capable of understanding it all.  Moments like this morning make me realize that my children are capable of incredible learning, compassion, and trust, if I will allow them to be.

I couldn’t be more proud.

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When Lucas becomes Luke

The year 2000 had gone, pretty much, in a blur.  I was nearing the end of my seventh month as fall approached, and I pondered the fact that we didn’t have a name yet.  We had tossed a few around, but nothing really “stuck.”  I had read in a baby book that you should go out on the back porch and yell the name you choose every night for a couple of weeks and see if you tire of hearing it.  I didn’t really want our neighbors to think we were quite that nuts, so I just repeated the options over and over in my head.  I didn’t hate any of them, but I wasn’t in love with them either.

We were driving somewhere, and Louis was behind the wheel.  I was staring out the window, contemplating the various names thus far.  Then it hit me.  “I think I like Lucas,”  I said.  Louis didn’t miss a beat  “like George Lucas?  I really like that!”  Of course he would, being the Star Wars aficionado that he was/is.  That wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but okay.  We discussed the name for a few days, and decided we like it–far more than anything else we had tossed around.  Before we knew it “he” had become Lucas.

By the beginning of the ninth month, we still didn’t have a middle name.  We were leaning toward Daniel, but hadn’t quite settled.  We knew I was having a c-section, if I didn’t go into labor on my own before my due date.  This was due primarily to the size of his head, and I had been diagnosed with gestational diabetes.  As we were visiting with my obstetrician on afternoon a week or two before delivery, he asked us about the name.  “I know you have a first name,” he said.  “What have you selected to go with Lucas?”

Without hesitation I said “Skye.”  He nodded and continued writing in my file when it hit him.  Yes, you read that right.  Lucas Skye Walker  (aka Luke Skywalker).   Now, we hadn’t really chosen Skye as the middle name.  We just liked messing with everyone who asked.  It was truly surprising the number of people who thought it was an excellent idea.  Personally, I had seen a lot of kids saddled with ridiculous names, and I couldn’t bear the thought of putting him through that.    Dr. Harrison dropped his pen and whirled around to face me.  “I will not sign that baby’s birth certificate if you do that to him!”  As he made eye contact with me he realized I was laughing.   So, Lucas became Lucas Daniel.  We always said we would let him choose what to call himself later on.

It didn’t take long for Lucas to wish his middle name was Skye.  We’ve actually had the conversation repeatedly.  He’s not fond of Daniel, and he loves the idea of being Luke Skye Walker.  We’ve always told him he can change it when he’s older, or we can just use it in quotes.  I’m glad he gets such a kick out of it, but I’m glad we didn’t actually name him that and it end up that he hated Star Wars.

And then he turned 10.  He started a new school, and he was exceptionally bashful.  He made a connection with his first male teacher ever, and that teacher began calling him Luke.  I approached the subject one afternoon when we were riding home from school.  “Do you not want to be called Lucas anymore?”  I asked.  He hesitated and then said, “I really like being called Luke.”  My heart sank, if only for a moment.  I always knew he would likely end up being Luke.  I just figured it would be one of those things that happens when you become an adult and your friends all shorten your name.

He still obligingly answers when I call him Lucas, but I really am making an effort to call him Luke.  It’s hard for me.  It’s aging him prematurely in my eyes and it feels almost as if I’m talking about another person.  I had friends in school who shortened my name too, but I honestly don’t use the shortened version.  I still go by my name.  Although, admittedly, my name isn’t anything nearly as cool as Luke, and certainly not Luke Skye Walker.  🙂

And so it begins.  The first of many situations where I’m sure I will feel myself aging before his eyes, as he is before mine.  My eyes are his eyes, and I can see them staring back at me when he is telling me a secret or excitedly telling me about his day.  Those long fingers on his hands are my same fingers, adeptly playing his clarinet the way mine stroll across the computer keyboard.  We’re so different, and so much the same.  My baby isn’t such a baby anymore.  And I can only imagine the wonderful things he’s going to do with his life.  Kind of like Luke Skywalker.

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