My Mixed Up Family

March 24, 2013

Marriage Advice: Don't Sweat the Small Stuff!

My idea of a perfect living room via
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?"


"Do you have any homework?"


"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?" 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?"



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


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 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...