Crash Test Dummies

English novelist Rose Tremain said, “Life is not a dress rehearsal.”  I believe anyone who has ever raised children believed this early on.  We felt as if we had one chance to get it right with this little, impressionable human who thrilled and terrified us all at once.  I have one son, and I’ve heard parenting gets easier with the second born.  I, however, am dealing with the teen years and can’t help thinking to myself, “Why would anyone do this twice?”  I suppose it’s because most parents of two or more children have the successive offspring prior to the first reaching the teen years.

Several thoughts floating through my head on this journey through the teen years include:

  1. I understand why some species eat their young.
  2. I’ll pay for his therapy when he’s an adult.

And, my personal favorite based on a joke:

  1. Clearly Isaac was twelve years old or younger or twenty years old because if he’d been a teenager, it wouldn’t have been a sacrifice.

So, yeah, I’ve been a little bumped and bruised during the parenting years, but at least the kiddo is none the worse for wear.  Oh, he’ll tell you that his father and I have been put on earth with the express purpose of ruining his life (making him do chores, not allowing endless sessions of Minecraft), but little does he know this is true…oops, was that out loud?

Compared to what his father and I endure, however, his woes are nothing because what life dishes out to us doesn’t always come from Josh, but it is in regards to Josh.  Parents get battered about like crash test dummies where their kids are concerned.  For example, Josh recently obtained his temporary driver’s license and five days later, someone hit him.  Yes, that’s right; someone caused an accident for our baby boy.

I didn’t care that the car received damage; it was minimal.  I knew the second after it occurred that Josh and I were fine.  Also in his favor was the fact that he absolutely wasn’t at fault.  And yet, I cannot shake this emotional tremor every time Josh drives.  It has nothing whatsoever to do with his skill; he’s proving to be a remarkable driver.

How do you convey to children what goes on inside your heart as they grow up and navigate life in general?  Oh, that’s right; it comes when they have children of their own.  I envision Joshua sitting in a car someday, probably exasperated because his son/daughter didn’t do the last chore requested of him/her, or he/she did it with an abundance of attitude.  Then someone pulls out in front of him/her, and in a heartbeat Joshua throws his arm across his beloved child to shield them from whatever is coming.  This actually happens quite a lot and not just in cars and not always physically.  We have tender emotions and minds to guide and protect along the way as well.

I love this annoying, sometimes smelly, often mouthy human to whom I gave birth.  Yes, most days I want to pinch his head off like a dandelion, but just cross me one time where my kid is concerned and watch this crash test dummy transform into a mama bear.

Don’t Drive So Fast That You Miss Life

I wish I had listened when people told me to remember these days.  They were speaking of the days when my son, Joshua, was little.  And I did remember quite a lot; I have the scrapbooks and an entire room devoted to the production thereof as proof.

There was a time when I just wanted a few more moments of sleep, to eat my meal while it was still hot, or to sit down and read a book or watch a movie in the silence and peace I used to enjoy prior to a child.  As recently as yesterday when I sent Joshua to the school on his mountain bike to pick up his work permit so I could shower in preparation for taking him for a haircut so he’d look great for the picture on his temps then down to the BMV to get said temps then running home to make lunch before hubby left for work then cleaning up and staying put so Joshua could finish mowing for his dad and using the time to write a thank you note, put in laundry, and type up a synopsis for my current WIP then rushing off to buy pants for the job he started today, I thought to myself how much I want my life back!

Prior to that was all the running to obtain a birth certificate for the job and temps and work permit (I told him to have this stuff finished before school let out for the summer) as well as the three days it took him to get himself in gear to do everything listed above (I’m trying to be a hands-off parent as he matures).  There’s a DVD of Persuasion on my countertop begging to be watched, a book to be finished, and don’t even get me started on how I haven’t written anything toward my current WIP or my blog pretty much since school ended.

This summer has been crazy.  And really, I’m not complaining, but I wish I people who had said remember these days had also warned me that although children become more independent as they get older, in many new ways they are still quite dependent.  What I used to do for Joshua was contained to our little world, our home.  Now I’m pretty sure I’m trekking across America several times a week getting, taking, and doing for this kid.

My joyous internal screams were probably felt as shock waves in most of Ohio when Joshua told me he had job orientation from eight to three on Thursday and Friday.  What?  I’ll have two whole days to write and read?  Thank, Adonai; truly You are merciful.

Josh woke me at seven thirty to take him to work (Recall, he only has his temps since yesterday, and tonight will be the first night of driving lessons).  I asked all the motherly questions from did you take your allergy pill and brush your teeth to do you have your ID badge and lunch packed?  My questions were greeted with one-syllable, monotone affirmations.

I drove him to work and stopped a little way from the front doors so as not to embarrass him.  And then I watched my baby walk away.  And I wanted to jump out of the car and convince him to come home with me where I’d make him all his favorite foods, and we’d watch all his favorite shows, and then go to Kame’s to look at hunting gear, and visit Sweet Frog for yogurt, and if he was still hungry (which teen boys always are) we’d go for burgers or pizza.

Yes, this summer has been crazy.  I’ve hardly written at all since May.  When I pulled into the garage after dropping off Josh, I looked beside me and saw his lunch on the drink holders where he’d forgotten it.  I’ll be taking that to him around noon.  If I’m lucky, tonight after his driving lesson, we’ll go for a drive with me at the wheel.  It’s a habit we started in the evenings as the sun is going down.  We just pick a direction and drive until it gets dark or we’re tired.  Josh and I talk about everything during these drives, and the other day he told me how much he enjoys them.  I don’t believe he realizes that as I drive he places his hand lightly over mine where it rests.

I know things will calm down once school starts at the end of August.  My routine will be restored, and my writing will flourish.  For now I’ll set it aside because I wouldn’t trade publication with the best publishing house in the world or my book selling millions of copies and being made into a movie for the moments I’m collecting and turning into memories.

Applications

I keep stealing glances at our teenager as we sit at the laptop, and I’m trying not to snatch the mouse away or jump on the keyboard because I know I’m a faster typist.  Today, our son is applying for his first job.  Many of his friends are already working and driving, but we allowed Joshua to go a little longer without pursuing either.  For one, he didn’t express an interest in driving like we expected him to.  His father wasn’t too upset because he wasn’t looking forward to the jump in insurance rates.

For the other, we didn’t push him to get a part-time job as soon as he turned sixteen because we wanted him to focus solely on school and Boy Scouts.  We wanted, and were able, to extend him the luxury of a little more time to stay young, if not little, in a world that is demanding he grow up fast.

We’ve come a long way since the days of Lightning Juice and This Mothering Stuff is Hard.  Sometimes it seemed like a blur, and at other times the moments ground by painfully slow.  But Josh has taken an interest in his own life lately now that Scouting is winding down and his senior year approaches.  So, I sit beside this young man whose most recent goal is to grow tall enough that he can fit my head under his chin the way I did to him when he was little.

This young man with a square jaw reminiscent of his Grandfather Smith when he was a young marine.  This young man who has been cutting grass on the gargantuan riding lawnmower since he was eleven and a half.  This young man who cracks us both up when he types “Cuz i neds a jub” in the “Why do you want to work here?” section of the online application.  This young man who started shaving the peach fuzz that quickly turned into the stubble I feel when I kiss his cheek.  This young man who can play ‘Jingle Bells’ doing arm farts.  This young man who wants to earn enough money this summer to put a dent in his upcoming post-high school education and pay for his car insurance.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

Now the things we want for Joshua are giving way to the things he wants for himself.  Of course our desires for our son will always be for his benefit, but we’ll yield to him more and more as he shows maturity.  And we’ll be there for the times he doesn’t, guiding him back to the right path.

I often wonder if we did enough, laid a strong foundation for him.  Only time will tell, but for right this moment, while he’s still a goofy teen, while we’re pulling our hair out when he’s sassy and driving us crazy, I’ll store up these memories for the day he heads out on his own.

When Life Gives You Lemons

When Life Gives You Lemons 3In June of 1920, Prudence Welles Mayfield picked up her nephew, John, to take him to Baltimore to live with her.   The event proved to be a difficult time for her and her sister-in-law, Collie Mercer Welles.

Collie, the midwife who delivered John, raised him from the day he was born when his mother died due to complications from childbirth. She knew the opportunity to live and attend school in Baltimore would be one she could never provide for her youngest child, but the thought of letting him go broke her heart. For Prudence, anxiety came from her insecurities about parenting her nephew when she had absolutely no experience. A dose of guilt also plagued her because she alone knew her intentions weren’t as altruistic as they appeared on the surface.

When Life Gives You Lemons 1The two women were never close and barely tolerated each other at best. The only thing they had in common was their deep, abiding love for John. They would never let him see them quarrel over his upbringing. And yet, a gentle tug of war went on just below the surface as they vied for John’s affections. Collie’s last ditch effort to lure her young son back to his family and life on the farm was the simple picnic she sent with Prudence and John for the trip to Baltimore. She hoped her good cooking, the favorite dishes John grew up eating, would produce a change of heart in the boy. Included with the meal was a Mason jar of lemonade, sweet and chilled, the perfect taste memory that would hopefully send John fleeing from his rich aunt and back into Collie’s waiting hug.

My own memories of lemonade began with that made by my Aunt Ann for family picnics. I remember she served it in a large brown crock; such an unusual container for a kid who grew up with Country Time Lemonade drink mix and Tupperware pitchers. I’ll never forget the first time I tasted Aunt Ann’s lemonade, lightly sweet and refreshing, as delicious as any food item on the picnic table at our family gathering.

The following recipe is the one that I had in mind when I wrote the above-mentioned scene. It’s every bit as wonderful as what my Aunt Ann made, and I hope you and your family will enjoy it.

Homemade Lemonade

6 – 8 large lemons, enough for 1 c of juice

1 c sugar, I use raw

1 c water

8 c water

Squeeze enough lemons for one cup of juice and set aside. Cut remaining lemons into slices to float on the lemonade. Mix the sugar and one cup of water in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is heated through. Do not boil or scorch. Allow the sugar syrup to cool completely.  Raw sugar will produce a darker syrup and a deeper yellow lemonade, but it absolutely will not alter the flavor.

To prepare the lemonade, pour the lemon juice in a large glass bowl or crock, stir in the cooled sugar syrup and the 8 c of water. Float lemon slices on the surface. Stir thoroughly, cover with plastic wrap, and chill for at least an hour in the refrigerator.

For individual servings, fill glasses with ice and a slice of lemon. Ladle the lemonade over this and serve.  For a pitcher or beverage dispenser, fill the container with ice layered with lemon slices, pour the lemonade over this, and serve.  The ice will melt into the lemonade and dilute the tangy/sweet mixture to the perfect flavor.

When Life Gives You Lemons 2

When Did I Blink?

When Did I BlinkI’m going to conceal the identity of the boy behind the mask because he would be mortified if any of his friends knew this picture existed and found out that he still plays with Legos. However, I’m also going to leave a large clue that this is the only man-child living with me at the moment. Well, there is my husband, William, but I digress.

I’ve been working on blog posts today, and while I’ve tried to remain focused on what I’m doing, my teenager has ensured that I have several moments of hilarious distraction. Take, for instance, the moment when I’m so intent on the writing goal before me that I fail to notice the presence standing beside me to my right and within my peripheral vision. Who knows how long he has been there, perfectly still, barely breathing, until I see him and bust up laughing.

This time, he’s wearing his Lego version of some futuristic military mask that looks a lot like General Grievous and holds a Lego version of a Kriss Vector. I grab my cell to take a picture and shake my head at his goofiness, but I’m also impressed with the accuracy with which he has built his latest weapon. It’s incredibly detailed in size and appearance except for the rainbow-colored exterior courtesy of Lego.

A little later, he startles me again from the left and just behind where I’m sitting when I hear a scratching tap on the window screen and turn to see Jason from the Halloween movies. Another picture and another round of “Joshua, you little snipe, I’m trying to get some work done!” Which I am, but I’m not so busy that I can’t laugh until my eyes water, snap a photo, and write a blog post.

When Did I Blink 2

All in all, his antics make for a really good day because just a little earlier, he’d been grumping and grousing about helping his father with yardwork. There are still moments during these teen years when he accuses us of plotting ways torture him and ruin his life (I’m laughing even as I’m typing this), but lately, we’ve been in a good place.

I once wished he could stay little forever and another time that he could at least remain young. When he hit thirteen, I wished he was twenty-five and living on his own. Yes, raising a child has its ups and downs as any good parent knows. I’m again starting to wish that I could hit the pause button on his life as I watch him shoot up in height and grow hair on his legs! (More mortification via Mom right there.) I don’t remember blinking that day at the hospital when they placed the red-faced baby with a headful of long, dark hair in my arms, but apparently, I did.

The Three Baers

The following short story is a modern twist on a fairytale favorite.  Unlike the original Goldilocks, you’ll need to brace yourself for the heroine of this tale.  I suggest either a cup of strong, black coffee or a glass of red wine.  As you read about her, you may recognize a few of her traits in either someone you know or your own mother.  Maybe even yourself.

The Three Baers

I May Be That Mother

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Next stop: Red Belt

You know the one: She’s jumping up at sporting events, bawling out coaches and other players, encouraging get in there and kick the other kids’ butts. Yeah, that’s me. At least my kid doesn’t play a team sport, but if he did…

What my kid does is take karate at the Dale McCutcheon School of Martial Arts in Uniontown, Ohio. He started in grade school when he received an invitation for a two-week free trial from a former classmate. At first, Joshua was anxious, but his friend and another buddy would be there with him. You should have seen them in their fresh white karate gis, belts tied haphazardly around their thin waists. Joshua looked nervous in the picture I took the first day; you can tell from his cheesy smile.

That was umpteen million years ago. Today, Joshua is a freshman and testing for red belt. The test will be at least four hours, possibly longer. Even as I type this I can feel the anxiety building in me, tears welling in my eyes. I don’t think I can watch this time. Brown belt testing was hard enough. Five and seven-man attacks are the worst to watch.

I remember flying out of the observation room, storming down the short hallway, standing with my toes pressed against the mats, screaming, “Punch ‘im, Joshua! Punch ‘im in the nose! That’s it, baby, hit ‘im harder, HARDER! Knock ‘im into next week!”

The only thing that kept me from flying onto the mats to join my kid in battle was the respect I have for the black-belt instructors, the school, and karate in general. When I returned to the observation room, another parent asked, “Are you all right, Momma?”

In my defense, I don’t do it because I think the whole process is unfair or that my kid is getting picked on. I also realize this isn’t about me.  But ask yourself (not you, dads): How would you react when five to seven larger kids are jumping your kid all at once? So, yeah, I don’t think I’ll be going tonight.

UPDATE: My mother called to say she thinks we should attend this evening up to the point when they conduct attacks. Then we’ll bail out to McDonald’s for coffee and torture ourselves imagining the worst.

Beer and Cigarettes

I think I might be a terrible mother. (Somewhere my mother is nodding her head Yes.) Ever since our son, Joshua, was born, I have tried to make good choices for him until he was old enough to do so for himself. For those of you who know me, you’re probably thinking This is going to be one of those stories where she believes she’s been too hard on Joshua, but we’ll reassure her she did the right thing. It’s not.

It started the day we took Joshua to B.A. Sweetie Candy Company in Cleveland. Our baby was going to be a freshman in a few days and we wanted to give him a treat before he started high school. What better way to ensure our baby remained a baby than by taking him to a gigantic candy warehouse?  The usual complaints of Are we there yet didn’t even phase us as we made the long trip. We had to endure them because our destination was a surprise. Imagine the look that would appear on Joshua’s face when we arrived. I did.

I dreamed about the three of us leisurely strolling every aisle, choosing candy with the same care a diamond buyer would give an uncut stone, and greedily wiping out over half our stash on the long trip home. It would be perfect. And it was with the exception of one small glitch: Joshua spied the gigantic Jelly Belly dispenser upon entering the building. He rushed over and began reading flavors on the front of each sleeve of jelly beans. No, no – this is not how we do it. Joshua, you completely passed the bins of old fashioned candy over here. We must do this in an orderly manner so we don’t miss anything or overspend. Of course, I didn’t say any of this to him.

“Mom, they have Pomegranate.” (His favorite flavor in life.) ”And look, Cappuccino. Can I have these, Mom?”

“Well, Jelly Belly Beans are very expensive. Why don’t you make sure this is what you want before we take them out? We can’t put them back like wrapped candy.”

“Okay.”

What a great kid. He endured my plan of touring the building and found other things he wanted. He enjoyed it, too. I was secretly pleased when he chose a few old fashioned candies that pre-dated me. Tootsie Pops and candy cigarettes had been favorites among the candy in my Halloween pumpkin. However, the Jelly Belly Beans were his goal and exactly where we ended up. That’s fine. I tactfully pointed out that he needed to weigh the beans to about a quarter of a pound so we didn’t go over our candy budget. Like the trooper he is, he did.

It was no surprise when he chose Pomegranate and Cappuccino. Then he found a flavor that wasn’t exactly, how should I say this, savory?

“Mom, look – Draft Beer.”

“Uh, yeah. What about Mint Chocolate Chip or Mango Chili?”

“Can I have these?”

“Why?”

“I want to see if they taste like beer.”

“And how would you know? How about Sizzling Cinnamon? Those are great, Josh.”

He smiled half-heartedly and shoved his hands in his pockets, but didn’t move away from the dreaded flavor. My inner mother braced for a confrontation. I stepped closer to appraise the offending candy. It was actually quite pretty; a soft golden jelly bean with pearlescent coating. So innocent looking.

“All right, but just a few.”

We paid for our ridiculous quantity of candy and went home a happy, satisfied family. Internal mother reared her head again, so only one item each was sampled during our drive. Joshua did not choose the Draft Beer beans. That happened a few days later.

He sat cross-legged on my bed with his bag of beans. I could tell he wanted my approval for having chosen them and now eating them. He placed one in his mouth and chewed. The expression on his face was priceless.

“Ugh, they do taste like beer.”

“Again, how would you know?”

“Here, Mom, try one.”

How to describe the taste? Really, really cheap beer that ends on a sickening sweet note. What were you thinking, Jelly Belly? What’s worse, the flavor lingered on my breath. I believe these things would get a person in trouble with a cop in the event that said person was pulled over for speeding.

“Aauugh, this awful. I can’t believe I let you buy these.”

Joshua was quite entertained at this point. He wanted something else from the pile and grabbed his candy cigarettes. That’s when it hit me.

My precious baby sat there with a bag of Draft Beer jelly beans and a candy cigarette elegantly positioned between two fingers. He held it like a pro. Images of out-of-control college parties swam before my eyes.

“I am such a terrible mother. I let you buy Draft Beer jelly beans and candy cigarettes.”

An ornery grin spread over Joshua’s face, lighting up his eyes.

“What kind of parent are you?”

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