My Mixed Up Family

April 11, 2013

Mama Said There'd Be Days Like This


It started at 3:02 PM while I was at work helping a student fill out an online job application. My phone buzzed with the first after school text message from one of my children.  The elementary schools let out earlier than our secondary schools, so the last minutes of my teaching day are sometimes interrupted by text messages (and thank goodness for those or it would be land line phone calls!)

At an acceptable moment, I looked at the message to make sure it wasn't anything like a cry for help and saw,
Can I go home?

                                  No. You have band!

I don't want to go.

                                  You have to!
NO!

A few minutes later my phone received a call that I could not take, because I was at work! I declined the call with a message, "I am busy. I will call you back later." Then I finished the school day, worrying the whole time that my daughter was being totally defiant and walking around the neighborhood with friends instead of going to band. Last week she texted that she didn't feel good and didn't want to go. Is there some situation or peer at band that she's trying to avoid? Is she just suffering from spring fever and wanting to play outside instead of going to band? A million of those thoughts that only a mom can have sprang to mind. As soon as my students left, I called her back. 

She answered, "Hello?" 
"Hi. Where are you?"  
"I'm at BAND! Like you told me!! And you made me have to get up and leave class to answer my phone!!!" 

That's how it started. And it seemed like it would never end...

One night a week, our schedule is so packed that I feel like I live in my vehicle. We have to follow a carefully timed and planned routine--down to the minute--in order to get everyone fed and where they need to be on time. If we stray from the schedule--due to traffic, a need to use the bathroom, a slight hesitation--the whole house of cards falls and we are late. I'm telling you, I have this routine running like a well-oiled machine. But we can only get where we need to be on time only if everyone does what they are supposed to do. Do you think that can that happen in a house with 3 kids, aged 9-12? Of course not!

After the irritating conversation with my 11 year old, I go to get daughter #2 from her after school program. I see my 9 year old learning how to do a craft. She has not started the craft--it is being demonstrated. I say, "It's time to go, can you please go get your stuff?" and she refuses to acknowledge my existence. So I tap her on the shoulder, call her by name and repeat, "It is time to leave, can you please go get your stuff?" Again, no response. So I lean down and tell her, "If we don't leave now, you will not get to eat dinner." Do you know what she did? She picked up a bottle of glitter glue to make her craft project!!!! This part of the routine involves me picking her up, the two of us running to the grocery store for a quick to-go dinner, and then picking up my other daughter from band. Even one minute too long means we leave daughter #1 waiting (not always a good way to leave a kid with ADHD impulsivity) OR daughter #2 doesn't get to eat before dance class. So I say, "Which is more important: eating? or doing this craft?" and she kept on crafting. I just stood there, gritting my teeth, and telling her again, "We have to leave NOW." I wish she was still small enough to pick up and carry out!

Eventually, we made it out to the car. 10 minutes until band let out, and the grocery store is 5 minutes away. Daughter #1 is always the last one out of band/class/the house/you name it, so I figured we'd have some time to grab a quick bite for daughter #2. We drove to the star, parked and went in to the Italian Express counter, where they sell dollar slices of pizza. I thought it would be a quick, relatively painless proceeding: 2 slices and we're out the door! Except...they didn't have pepperoni. This turned out to be a major catastrophe. No pepperoni. "But I want pepperoni!" she whined like a preschooler.

"But they don't have pepperoni, so you'll have to choose something else."
"But I want pepperoni!" she whined again.
"But they don't have pepperoni, so you'll have to choose something else."
"But I want pepperoni!" She then proceeds to ask the guy behind the counter if he will make some pepperoni. He tells her that he can, but it will take 7-10 minutes.
I look at her and say, "We don't have 10 minutes. Your sister is getting out of band right now. We have to leave."
"But I want pepperoni!"
"Um, honey, no matter how many times you say it, it is not going to change the fact that there is no pepperoni here and we are already late."
"But I want pepperoni!"
I am reaching new heights of frustration and say, "You know, if you hadn't insisted on doing your craft, then we would've had time to come here and wait for the guy to make pepperoni. But now we are late. You either need to pick something else, or wait a long time, until after dance, before you eat dinner. What will it be?"

She didn't respond, but started walking away from me to the produce aisle, where she picked up a large bag of apples. "We are not getting a 10 pound bag of apples for dinner. Where are you going?"

She didn't respond, but started walking further away from me. Then my phone rang, and you guessed it--it was Daughter #1 wondering where I was because she is done with band and freezing outside. "Honey, we are at the store and will be there soon. But if you're freezing, why don't you just go back in the school?!?" I mean, that's not rocket science, is it? You're standing outside the school freezing, but you could easily go back inside and get warm...makes sense to me! But not to an 11 year old who wants to look cool hanging outside with the junior high kids, apparently!

After being led around the grocery store for a few more minutes I gave Daughter #2 a final 30 seconds to decide what to buy for dinner. She was threatened with loss of Easter candy and electronics use for the unforeseeable future, and complied within seconds. We hurried out to the car, drove back to the middle school and picked up her sister.

Daughter #1 was doing homework and getting ready for her later dance class while I cooked her dinner. Daughter #2 was trying to quickly eat in the 5 minutes left before she has to go to class when she tells me she really doesn't feel good. In addition, she really doesn't like tap class any more. She doesn't want to go. I'm thinking, are you kidding me? We just did all of this running and stressing just to get you to class and now you don't want to go? The recital is coming up, I just bought you new tap shoes, we already paid for the recital costume, and now you don't want to go???? "But my stummy hurts."

"Maybe you should try going to the bathroom. But make it quick, please, because your class is about to start and we need to leave."

10 minutes later, she was still in the bathroom. I paced in the hallway wearing my jacket, asking if she was ready yet. All I heard was a singsong voice saying, "I'm pooooping! and my stummy still hurts." Stummy is her new word. She says it makes more sense to combine stomach and tummy--stummy. I think it makes more sense to go to the dance class that her dad and I have been paying lots of money for all year and that she has always enjoyed until they started working on a new routine that is harder than any other routine before. I'm thinking that I know my daughter, and that everything comes so easily to her that she quits at the first sign of a challenge. I'm thinking that this is just like the math worksheet she brought home where the question said, "Write what you know about the square of a number," and she responded with one word--"stuff." If there's an easy way out, she's going to take it! But I'm not letting her take the easy way out of dance; especially because it has taken so much of my time and money! I was determined--she WILL go to dance!

And then I opened the door to the bathroom to peak at her, and she really didn't look all that well. And I started thinking, what if she really is sick? So I asked, "Do you really feel that sick?" She nodded. "Okay, then you don't have to go to dance, but you can't use any electronics or do anything fun if you're sick. You just have to lay in bed and be sick."

In the meantime, my phone rang again. My son needed a ride home from track practice, could I come get him?

AAAAHHHHH!!!!!!

Many, many of my days are like this. We go go go from 6:15AM until bedtime. And here is where I could put a sappy little ending that tells you all that, "I wouldn't change it for the world."  But truth is, I get really tired. I get tired of driving people around, tired of kids not following directions when we're trying to get someplace THEY told me they want to go, tired of cooking fast/eating on the run. There are days when I feel like I should start a countdown timer that ticks down the days until each child turns 18, when THEY WILL go to college and let me get to know my husband again, eat real food again, and leave the vehicle in the garage every night.

To all the other moms of tweens and teens I say this, Hang in there. You are not alone.

March 24, 2013

Marriage Advice: Don't Sweat the Small Stuff!

My idea of a perfect living room via pambaboma.com
A book that fits more with my reality-via Goodreads 
My husband and I have been married for 17 years... We lived together for 2 years before we married. It took a lot of adjusting of habits and forgiveness of differences to make it to the 17 year mark, and you might look at us and think that our differences are based on culture or race. But really the differences we have are either about personal preference, or are based on how we were raised by our parents (familial culture, not ethnic or racial culture.)  If I really think about it, I wonder if maybe the differences are generically gender-based. I've talked to many wives whose husbands do the same thing as mine! Does yours? Read on to see what I mean.

We moved into our house before the kids were born. It was the most living space either one of us had ever really had to ourselves! We had rooms with no furniture in them because we were just starting out and couldn't afford to fill them. Our zero-lot duplex felt like a mansion to us. It was minimalist living at its finest. I loved it! There were two adults in the house, and any mess was easy to clean up. My husband had some of what I considered quirks, but nothing I couldn't get over. Like when his wallet was falling apart and I bought him a new one--he kept the old one, even though it was threadbare, because it had good memories. Or when he kept his old tee shirts, despite the fact that the writing had worn off and there were holes in the underarms. Before we had kids, it was easy to load all of his keepsakes into a plastic container and put them in one of our empty rooms. The differences were easy to deal with when it was just the two of us.  I didn't really start to be bothered much  until after we had kids. Then the challenges began...

The empty rooms started filling up with kids. Our zero-lot duplex quickly filled to the brim, and we now have more people in our house than we have bedrooms. What once seemed like a mansion now feels like a tiny apartment. What used to be an okay-with-me practice of keeping things with sentimental value is now not so okay.  We just don't have the space. We don't have room for a tee shirt he got in a summer program 20 years ago that no longer fits and has holes in the underarms. We don't have room for that threadbare wallet that represents good times before we started dating.  And maybe we would have room if he would stop collecting more stuff! The program from the NCAA basketball game he went to 5 years ago, the ticket stub from a movie 8 years ago, the birthday card his mom sent him 10 years ago...

Besides all the sentimental stuff, he is also a bibliophile. He works in a library and checks out every single book that interests him. I sometimes think that the only reason there is room enough for all the books in library is because half the collection is in my house! And it doesn't stop there: paper billing statements, receipts from every purchase, old newspapers that may have some historical value someday, old iPods, cell phones, TVs, DVD players, any sort of electronic device that may someday be worth something to a collector---it is all stuff he keeps. I worry that left to his own devices, my hubby could have his own episode of Hoarders!

As much as it drives me crazy, though, I've found ways to survive his potential hoarding problem. Over the years I've developed a system. When school is not in session for winter break or spring break, I clean. I move things from their obvious location to a storage bin in our crawl space under the stairs. The bin stays there for a few months and I wait to see if he misses anything or asks about it. I keep the most sentimental belongings in a "keep it forever box", but pitch the stuff that has no sentimental value---the stuff that just "might someday be worth something." If he doesn't miss the stuff for those few months, then during the next big cleaning I move the box to the garage. It sits there for a while, and if he still doesn't miss it...during my summer break from teaching, while he's at work, I move stuff out of the house completely. So far, it has worked without complications except for the sinking worry I have that someday he'll ask for the tee shirt he wore to the basketball game in 1982...and I'll have to say, "I'm not sure where that is, honey."

The clutter, the mess, the saving of everything that might some day be worth something---all of that sometimes drives me crazy. I get so grumpy looking at my cluttered house and wish that my husband was the kind of guy who likes clean, minimalist living. But he's not that guy and he never will be. Letting him be who he is and adjusting my own thinking, reactions, and actions--that's what has gotten us through 17 years of marriage so far. Maybe it will get us through 17 more.

Whether your marriage is interracial, intercultural, interfaith or just a plain old marriage--the best advice anyone can give you is "Don't sweat the small stuff...and it's all small stuff." (credit to Richard Carlson who wrote a book with that title.)


March 17, 2013

Junior High Blues


Here's a typical evening conversation with my son:

"How was school today?"

"Okay."

"Do you have any homework?"

"Naw."

"Are you sure? I checked your grades online and they're not looking too good."

"I did it in study hall," or "I left at school 'cuz I have study hall in the morning."

This is my kid, who has always been a really good kid. He sticks up for peers when they are being picked on.  He works hard at school. He was in the elementary school Math Olympiad! But in junior high things are different. Not just different---they are exactly the opposite of what they were. Towards the end of second term I got a call at work from his school. Just seeing a school phone number show up on the caller ID makes my heart sink. (Believe me, I remember this feeling every time I go to call the parents of my students...) When I settled my panic and answered, it was the guidance counselor saying that they've been having some trouble with my son: a girl complained that he is harassing her each day at lunch;  he got lippy with his German teacher and since he's pretty much failing anyway, can we just drop him from the class? He "locker-checked" another girl in the hallway; he's getting Ds and Fs in math. I wondered, Did they call the right number? And then she said, "He's right here in my office, is there anything you'd like me to say to him?"

Um...how about, You're grounded for life! No more electronics! Get your stuff together or I'm going to publicly humiliate you and probably scar you for life by coming to school with you all day, every day until we figure out what is going on! WHY IS THIS HAPPENING???? WHAT ARE YOU NOT THINKING????

As a parent, I think junior high is the roughest patch of road we've ever hit. The kid we see at home is not interested in the rest of the family. He wants to talk to his friends on Facebook, talk to friends on his XBox Live, or text friends on his phone. When he leaves the house on the weekends he is playing sports with his buddies, and he's a different kid than he is at home. He's lively, smiling, and in a great mood! But at home, he is almost lethargic. His peers seem to totally bring him to life while his family bores him to tears.

Sometimes I think it's great that he has a peer group that invigorates him like that! But I definitely don't think it's great when I get calls from school about his behavior, or when I confront him about those calls and get the age-old excuses that teenagers have spouted to their parents for millennia, "Well, so and so did it and THEY didn't get in trouble!!!!" Try as I may to be a unique, individual, caring and understanding parent--I cannot. Somehow, when I talk to him I am no longer a modern 21st century  mom who knows Gangnam Style, accepts the fact that Old Spice is no longer for grandpas, and recognizes the value of designing a basketball shoe on NIKEiD. I revert. We travel through time to the Dark Ages of Parenting. Phrases from old movies and sitcoms swirl through my head:   If he jumped off a bridge, would you do that too????      What were you thinking?  Is there a brain in your head?   If you think I was put on this earth to go around cleaning up messes after you, you've got another thing coming!!!     I thought we raised you better than that!!!

Whether it's Beaver being convinced to "borrow" Ward's golf club by Gilbert, Vanessa trying to wear make-up when Claire said it's not okay (see Cosby Show clip below), or Chris trying to be "cool" it's really the same old, same old---peer pressure. Peer pressure seems to suck out all the smarts parents instill in their children prior to seventh grade. The million times we've said, "It's rude to be late,"  are all wiped out in one fell swoop when a peer says, "Hey, let's check out that girl during passing time!" 

Cosby Show Season 3, Episode 4, "Mother. May I?"

What do you do when all of the sudden you've lost all credibility with your kid? It doesn't matter that both my husband and I have our own sordid teenage tales or that I am an educator with 15 years of experience working with kids who are "at-risk" and have significant behavior challenges. When we talk to our son about his choices and consequences, he looks at us like we are the stupidest humans alive. And then, when we've meted out his punishment, he uses every trick in the book to sneak out of following through with the consequences. How does he think that we are not on to him? I've looked at him point blank and said, "Honey, do you know what I do for a living? I've seen every trick in the book! There is nothing you can do that I haven't already dealt with! And you WILL NOT get away with this stuff!" Still...somehow, he is not making the connection between the fact that he made a bad choice and must pay the consequence.

Last week we got a call from his Language Arts teacher. He is being disruptive in class, not completing his assignments, being a general nuisance. She's tried talking to him, tried a new seating chart, tried everything she can think of--but nothing worked. She asked us for help. When we confronted him about his behavior, what was his response? "Diante is even worse than me! You should be yelling at him!"  Um...kiddo...Diante is not our kid. You are! We care about you! Get your stuff together.

We've taken away his XBox power cord and hidden it where no self-respecting 7th grader will go--my underwear drawer.  We've had him scrubbing walls, vacuuming stairs, and dusting hard-to-reach spots all over the house. At his final basketball team gathering this week, I talked to other moms and found out that many of us got that phone call from the Language Arts teacher. One kid is now only allowed to watch TV with his parents, who have decided to watch the History of the Bible miniseries each night. Another kid's parents have taken away all electronics and forced their son to play board games with them every night. We are not alone!

But even after doing all those chores, losing his electronics, and hearing about his friends' consequences for poor grades and bad behavior, do you know what he asked me yesterday at breakfast? You're not gonna believe it.  The boy grinned at me with his most angelic face  and asked, "Mommy, can I get an iPhone?"

Ummmmm......

NO!  

Backtrack...think again..."Honey, you can get an iPhone when you earn the money to buy it yourself by doing chores OR we will buy one for you when you get straight A's this term." Yeah, that's it.

The boy says, "I'll never be able to do that!" 

"Well, with that attitude--you're right. But we believe in you. The only one who thinks you can't do it is YOU. It just takes some sacrifice and some hard work. If you're willing to make the change, we'll reward you." We'll see if he makes the choice to earn something positive instead of all the negative stuff he's been getting lately. We'll see.

How do you (or did you) deal with your young teenager? Give up the goods in the comments. There have to be many stories out there. We parents are not the crazy ones, right? Even though they look at us like we are the most idiotic people on the planet, I am banking on the fact that we are not. Help me feel more normal--tell me stories...please!

March 10, 2013

Tales of A Nightshirt

Hi,

Welcome to My Mixed up Family. I've written before about some serious stuff: my work as an educator, my thoughts on being a parent to mixed race kids, reflections on racism and society. Those things are important to me. You can read that serious stuff here in my other blog empatheia. But this space here is for all the other stuff in my life. The stuff that seems serious when it happens, but later makes me laugh out loud. The demented, crazy and laughable stuff that happens when you're part of a mixed up family like mine.

What do I mean? Well, here we go...

For some reason my youngest daughter refuses to wear her own pajamas anymore. She begs to wear my tee shirts or nightshirts. Lately, she only wants to wear one nightshirt in particular---one I got from an Avon catalog that has Winnie the Pooh on it. She says it's the comfiest thing ever. The problem is that since she's taken to wearing it, I've had trouble getting it washed. She hides it in the morning after getting dressed instead of putting it in the hamper. I've been worried that soon the nightshirt will be able to walk around the house on its own. Don't get me wrong...I do laundry every day before the crack of dawn. One load each day at 5:00 AM, then wake the kids at 6:00, and off to school/work at 7:00.


But she's wearing the thing when I start the wash, then hides it when she wakes up. I could put a load in after work, but there isn't usually time for that. Most days we are on the go from the time we leave the house until bed time--dance classes, acting classes, basketball games, band rehearsal, PTO meetings...an endless parade of things to do. Laundry at night? Ain't nobody got time for that!

Well I made time this past Friday. I found her not-so-secret hiding spot and snuck that nightshirt right into the wash! At bedtime I was feeling pretty good. Good moms make sure their kids have clean pajamas, right? Yet she didn't thank me. She didn't act like she has the best, most thoughtful and caring mom on the planet. Instead she shrieked like a toddler having a tantrum! Looked at me like I am the worst mom ever when I told her that her nightshirt--actually my nightshirt-- was in the wash. I told her that she just needed to put the Pooh nightshirt in the dryer by itself for a while. Should be dry in no time. No worries, right?

10 minutes later she came upstairs wearing the nightshirt...still dripping wet. "It's only a little damp," she said. A little damp? Um...try soaking wet, child!

"Go take that off and put it back in the dryer. You can't sleep in that!"

"Why not?"

Hard not to throw in the old mothering standby here..."Because I said so! You'll be soaked and pruny and we won't be able to give you hugs goodnight without getting sopping, soaking wet!"

"I don't mind," she said.

"Well, I do! Now go put it in the dryer!"

She mumbled all the way about how it's not that wet, really, and what's the big deal anyway? And the whole time I am wondering if maybe Bill Cosby was on to something when he said that all kids are really brain damaged. I think he was really, truly on to something there...