Monthly Archives: May 2015

I Will

If there was one word that I could permanently remove from my children’s vocabulary, it would be will. Specifically when it is coupled with the word I, as in I will. Technically I guess that means I would be permanently removing two words from their vocabulary, but since one of those words just so happens to be one of their absolute favorite words of all time, I think I’ll just stick with the one. Besides, if I got rid of I then that would mean I’d have to miss out on all of those times I get to hear them say I already did it. And by all of those times, I mean both of them.

Here’s how things usually progress in my house. I ask them to do something. They respond by saying, I will. A certain amount of time passes. I ask them if they have completed the task yet, and they respond, once again, with I will, this time with more emphasis on the will than the I. This process is repeated over and over again until I either physically stand over them and use my powers of concentrated nagging to get them to accomplish said task, or I give up and go to bed, exhausted by the hours long struggle. If it is the latter, then the usual outcome is that I wake up in the morning, ask them if they have done what I asked, and am rewarded with I forgot.

At which point the process begins again, although the second time around it is much more likely to end in the first scenario than the second.

In many ways I imagine that this is what life must be like for a nurse on a concussion ward (if there is such a thing). You annoy your patients by waking them every few hours to ask them questions that, to you, are relatively simple: what’s your name, who’s the President, what year is this (did you finish that science project yet?), and they either reply with an answer that satisfies you or one that worries you enough that you call in the big guns. (In the case of the nurse, this would be a doctor.) Except, I guess it’s not exactly like a concussion ward, because in my case there is no one else to call—in this scenario I am both the doctor and the nurse. (So I guess it’s really only like a concussion ward in the sense that 1) I am annoying them, and 2) they’re kind of annoying me, too.)

Also, there’s a difference in that, even if the concussion patients really, really wanted to get better, they still couldn’t. The couldn’t just will away their concussions. They couldn’t make the mature, rational, reasonable decision to simply not have a concussion anymore, thereby being allowed to go home. They would if they could, I’m sure: certainly no one enjoys being badgered every two hours. No one enjoys being woken up and harassed. And yet, they can’t get away from it.

My children, on the other hand, could. And yet, they still don’t.

All it would take for them to be released from the tyranny of my incessant nagging (followed by badgering, chastising, lecturing, and finally, shaming) is for them to actually do what I am asking them to do, when I am asking them to do it. That’s it. Don’t like getting bothered by a nurse every two hours? Tough luck. Don’t like getting bothered by me? Simply do your assignment (or chore).

Of course, maybe it’s me who is missing the point. Maybe the extended have yous and I wills are some kind of warm up for them, the verbal equivalent of stretching before a race. Great: now I sound like the one who has a concussion.

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Glow Boy

It has been said that horses sweat, men perspire, and ladies glisten. I would like to add one more subject to this equation: teenage boys drip.

No one sweats more than a teenage boy. I don’t know why: maybe it’s the byproduct of them turning those six pork chops they had for dinner into a two inch overnight growth spurt (in much the same way that twenty tons or so of carbon emission is the byproduct of using coal to power a small city overnight.) Or maybe it’s just excess energy being converted into excess stink. Or maybe it’s an unholy alliance between the teenagers of the world and the laundry soap manufacturers. Regardless of the cause, it’s the effect that bothers me. Because the effect is, to put it mildly, gross.

It doesn’t help that it always catches me off guard. As a lady who barely even glistens, I am just not expecting to be assaulted with somebody else’s fluids on a regular basis. I am not expecting to kiss my son on the cheek over an hour after the end of his dance performance only to have my lips slide right off. I am not expecting to have my son crawl in bed with me for a goodnight hug after practice and have my question of “Did you just take a shower?” be answered with, “No, not yet,” as an absolutely soaking wet head is laid upon my cheek. (I’ve also tried asking if it’s raining, if he was participating in a dunk tank and if there was an earthquake I perhaps missed that left us with beachfront property, but no matter how increasingly desperate my questions get he just won’t take the hint and give me a pity lie.)

It’s not that I’m adverse to the idea of sweat, exactly. Trust me, if Channing Tatum wanted to rub his sweaty head on my cheek after dancing for an hour, I would be completely on board with that. Completely. But when it comes to my son it’s a different matter entirely.

Maybe it’s just a matter of the amount. And I don’t just mean the amount of sweat at any one time (which is actually quite impressive), but the amount of fluid that Clyde has shared with me altogether over the course of his lifetime. Remember, we’re talking about a boy here, and as anyone who has ever changed a baby boy’s diaper can tell you, there are a lot of golden shower moments involved. A lot. Add to that the fact that Clyde was just about the pukiest baby I have ever seen, and what you end up with is me having worn approximately a gallon or so of Clyde over the course of our lives together.

At this point the only way I could imagine another creature topping this record would be if I got a job as a trainer at Sea World and consistently played the straight man in all of those “wacky misbehaving orca” shows. (This is a prospect that is only moderately more appealing than raising children because, apparently, it’s entirely okay to beat the animals at Sea World, while beating your children is generally frowned upon. Even when they sweat on you excessively.)

Perhaps one day I will get to the point where I am as blasé about Clyde sweating on me as I once was about him puking on me—there came a time in his babyhood when neither he nor I would even twitch after the first puke of the day. After all, what’s the point of changing your shirt if you know there’s at least two more puking episodes coming up?

Who knows? Maybe I’ll soon get to feel that way about being used as a sweat towel, too. I can’t wait. On second thought, scratch that: yeah, I can.

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White Shirt

It has always made sense to me that white t-shirts come in packs of three (or more). After all, in a world of coffee, red wine, and bloody noses, the notion that a white shirt will be staying white for any length of time is simply ludicrous. It is just not going to happen. And t-shirts manufacturers understand this. They even capitalize on it. Which is both clever for them and helpful for us. I only wish the manufacturers of white dress shirts felt the same way. Because if they did it would save me a lot of last minute trips to the department store.

First, let me point out that virtually every school event my children have ever participated in lists “white shirt” as a requirement (the only exception is when the dress code is “black shirt,” which you think is going to be better, until you realize that there is no lint brush in the world that can save a shirt past a certain point.) And so, knowing about the “white shirt” requirement, I always make every effort to secure said shirt well ahead of time, either by buying a new one or retrieving an old one and washing it. Inevitably, however, despite all of my planning, the night of the event arrives and the “white shirt” will be no longer white.

It doesn’t matter where I keep the white shirt, either: even hanging it in my own closet is no guarantee of safety. (At this point I doubt it could be saved by placing it in the same vault with the world’s last known specimen of smallpox, which is, as I understand it, carefully guarded deep in the bowels of the earth somewhere in a clean room.) It simply doesn’t make a difference: no matter how carefully I guard the once pristine white shirt, arrival at the concert venue (or dance performance, or award ceremony), always reveals a stain of some sort in some very prominent location. Always. It’s like the scene in every caper movie ever made, where the bad guys open up the vault only to find that the diamonds are already gone—the hero has somehow managed to sneak in and take them. My question here though is both how did a simple shirt end up playing the part of the diamonds, and why did I end up as the villain? (Don’t let my kids answer that.)

It seems to me that the kindest thing the people who organize these events could do would be to set up some kind of white shirt dispensing system in the lobby. It wouldn’t even have to be manned: a vending machine would be fine (although, with my luck the last size small white shirt would get stuck leaning against the glass the same way the last Mars bar always seems to do). Just think about it: instead of selling flowers at the performance for five dollars a piece, they could sell white shirts for twenty. (Or thirty. Probably even fifty. If they were clever—and mercenary—they would raise the price the closer it got to the actual performance.)

Or they could simply change the dress code from “black pants and white shirt” to “pajama bottoms and a dirty t-shirt,” and the problem would be solved. Don’t worry: I’m not suggesting that everyone on stage actually be dressed like hobos; I’m just saying that if that were to be the new dress code then dirty t-shirts would become as scarce as white shirts used to be, leaving everyone no choice but to show up in their nicest attire. It’s reverse shirt psychology. Or something like that.

If nothing else at least it could keep me and all of the other mothers out of the dress shirt aisle at eight pm on a Friday night.

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One of the best things about being human is that, occasionally, we get the chance to reinvent ourselves: we change jobs, or relationships, we move to a new city, learn a new language, take up a new exercise routine. We dye our hair, exchange belief systems, swap out old friends for new ones. Heck, sometimes we even change our names and genders. It is glorious, and exciting, and liberating, and terrifying, and it is a lot to ask of both ourselves and the people who know us. Which is why, for the most part, we only make these big changes once or twice in our lifetimes, if at all.

Unless, of course, you are in middle school.

Having raised two children through the age of middle school, and having been a middle schooler myself, I feel confident in asserting the claim that no one ever starts high school as the same person they were when they finished middle school.

Logically, of course, this doesn’t make sense. After all, only a few months pass over the summer. And yet, there is something about those few months, those particular few months, that must be revelatory.

Maybe it’s the fact that, for the majority of us, middle school is one long mistake, in every sense of the word. We choose the wrong friends, the wrong fashions, the wrong attitude and the wrong opinions. I know that, personally, looking back on the person I was in middle school I see someone I barely recognize, let alone would ever want to associate with. In short, an embarrassment. Someone I barely acknowledge ever have existing. And someone I would be insulted to be accused of still being today.

And yet, so often, that is exactly what happens. Not to me. Not anymore. But I see it time and time again with those who are much closer in age to the middle school monsters they once were. People look at the fourteen year old, or even eighteen year old in front of them and refuse to allow for the possibility that they may not be the snotty twelve year old they once were.

I think it was George Bernard Shaw who said it best: “The only man I know who behaves sensibly is my tailor; he takes my measurements anew each time he sees me. The rest go on with their old measurements and expect me to fit them.”

I suppose I have been thinking about these changes so much lately because, in preparation for my daughter’s high school graduation, I have been going through the pictures of her when she was in middle school. For, you know, the sake of embarrassing her. Because that’s basically my job.

I’ve found some great material. The Twilight phase. The asymmetrical hair that never met a brush phase. The never-smile-no-matter-what-you-can’t-make-me phase. However, as embarrassing as these photos are, they are also, in their own way, something to be proud of, in the same way the “before” pictures in the “before and after” shots are.

She smiles in pictures now. She has a CNN app on her phone. And her hair—well, let’s just say I never complain anymore about her spending too little time on it. It’s actually an amazing transition to take place over four short years. And it’s one that almost every high schooler goes through. Which, I think, is something that’s important for us to remember, especially when it comes time for them to go on with the next phase of their life.

Just as you can’t ever step in the same river twice, you really can’t ever meet the same teenager twice, either. And if you keep expecting to—well, as George Bernard Shaw said, that’s just not very sensible of you.

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