10 reasons why we have children

  1. Years ago we were eating dinner and I glanced at my 10-year-old daughter’s plate. “Eat your vegetables, Michele,” I said, and she replied “Corn is a grain, Mom.” When we have children we get to be humbled and corrected by pint-sized authorities.
  2. We get to have primitive hand-drawn artwork to affix to our refrigerators with magnets.
  3. We acquire a collection of crude, primary-color ceramics to hold our keys and loose change.
  4. We support the magnet industry. (see #2 above)
  5. We learn what Hell is like, in time to change our ways so we don’t have to experience eternity at Chuck E. Cheese.
  6. We get to experience premature graying and recurring nightmares teaching a 16-year-old to drive.
  7. We learn humility. When Michele was in high school I told her, “If you do your homework and get a good education you’ll get a great job that pays good money.” To this priceless wisdom, she replied “Oh duh, Mom.” Mothers everywhere were hearing “Oh duh, Mom.”
  8. We learn that we are not as smart as we think we are. That in fact we’re not smart at all. After we struggle and click everywhere for hours when our computer misbehaves, our kid comes in, turns it off, unplugs the modem for a minute, plugs it back in and it works like a charm.
  9. We get to go to movies we secretly long to see when we go with our children. I loved the Goonies, swear words and all. My daughter is 35, and doesn’t have kids. I wish she did, I really want to see Captain Underpants.
  10. We learn how to qualify for the Indy 500 when we speed like Mario Andretti, scanning 360 degrees for cops as we race to pick up our kids at the daycare before it closes. At six they start charging $10 a minute. I exaggerate but only slightly.
  11. Yes, I know I said 10 reasons but I had forgotten the most important one. We learn that life is not fair. You’re diligent for a long, long time and then you forget about your birth control one time. Just ONE. That’s all it takes, and your life is changed forever. And when the fruit of your lapse is born, you fall more hopelessly and completely in love than you ever dreamed it was possible, for the rest of your life, which by the way is no longer yours.

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Your kids will out you, be prepared.

You made your family observe No Tech Day and your kids secretly checked and saw those sneaky calls and texts on your iPhone.  Or they found the chocolate gelato you cleverly hid in the mixed-veggies box in the freezer.  The worst part is that you will be outed in an embarrassing manner about these misdeeds when you least expect it.

It’s nothing new. In 1930 my grandmother couldn’t go to the bathroom without the world knowing all the details. Family legend has it that her son, my Uncle Orlin who was then 10 years old, answered the phone one morning when Grandma was in the bathroom. The caller asked to speak to Margaret Rice. “Mother can’t come to the phone,” Orlin said. “She’s grunting.”

About 30 years ago, my daughter Michele and I went camping with the Girl Scouts. We were all sitting around the campfire after dinner, roasting marshmallows, scaring the girls with ghost stories, and generally chatting. I told about Michele’s paternal grandmother going out on a tourist crab boat in Alaska. A large, speedy crab made a beeline for her (crabline, I guess I should say) and clamped a claw down on her glove. Fortunately the glove was way too large for her so the crab got no fingers, only the glove.

“But you should see the photo,” I said. “It looks like this huge crab has chomped down on my mother-in-law’s hand.”

“Grandma Myrl isn’t your mother-in-law, Mom,” Michele corrected matter-of-factly. “You and Dad never married.”

Time stood still. I was horrified. For all these respectable Girl Scout moms to learn about my impropriety…OMG. Then good-natured and infectious laughter broke out around the campfire from kids and Moms alike. It calmed my nerves. And then the troop leader said, “Selena’s dad and I aren’t married either.” I relaxed even more.

There will always be something for kids to out their parents on. If it hasn’t happened to you yet, get ready. It will. Maybe you’ll be caught in the act of rewinding and rewatching Harvey Keitel’s full-frontal-nudity scene in The Piano. (Don’t ask me how I thought that up.) Maybe you’ll be caught drinking a can of Red Bull right before your tennis tournament match, which is surely a moral, if not technical, violation of the club’s no-drug rule.

There will always be something for kids to out their parents on. It’s one of the things that make being a parent so interesting.

 

Deepak Chopra, where were you?

Meditation wasn’t invented 30 years ago, when I was a single working parent. I know that’s not true, of course. It was invented, but instruction and information about it wasn’t nearly as available as it is today. Now it’s taught at gyms and studios and community centers, on YouTube, on TV, in countless books, everywhere.

Things might have gone much more smoothly if I had had the tool of meditation when Michele was a kid. Especially in junior high and high school. There would have been less anger and frustration, more calm communication, far fewer tantrums. My tantrums, I’m talking about. I was the one who had tantrums and got frustrated and bounced off the walls. Michele was pretty calm.

Here I am before I started meditating. (The Scream, Munch)

Well, I can’t do the past over but I can start from now. These days I meditate every morning for 30 minutes, and for an hour at my church on Wednesdays. I’ve been at it for a while, and I haven’t had a single tantrum for a long time. I’m a calmer, more patient and understanding person because of people like Deepak Chopra…Amma…Sri Sri…Nancy Guarnera, meditation guru at my church…. Thank you all.

Where were you guys 30 years ago?

The real question is, where was I? Too busy being a frazzled single working parent, I guess. Now I’m a more serene senior. Better late than never.

I survived single working parenthood!

Trust me, if I survived it, anyone can. If you’re a working parent, or a single parent, or both rolled into one, I have some great tips for you. The challenges I faced 30 years ago weren’t so different from what they are today. 

Compared to single working parents, skydivers are wusses.

There was the familiar eternal struggle on workday mornings, trying to get Michele to her elementary school and myself to work on time.  My boss was totally unreasonable and inflexible. She demanded consistent punctuality, imagine. And I had to come through because I needed that job so I could buy food and pay rent and get medical insurance. And pay for Happy Meals at McDonald’s, and for Saturday nights at the local pizza place where they had Pac-Man, and for My Little Pony videos. I couldn’t afford a DVD player, but my employer lent me an extra one from the conference room.  That was the real reason why I needed the job.  

Weekday mornings were brutal as we struggled over what to eat, what to wear, finding the homework….  I put my problem-solving skills to work, starting with getting Michele dressed. I decided she would choose the outfit she wanted to wear the night before, and made it clear that there was NO MIND CHANGING in the morning. Her decision was final.

I had her figure out what she wanted for breakfast the night before too, and we saved time with a little advance set up. If she wanted cereal she poured it into the bowl in the evening and covered it with plastic wrap, and put a piece of whatever fruit she wanted next to the milk so no time was wasted hunting for it in the morning. She poured her apple or orange or whatever juice she wanted into a plastic glass that had a lid. Every minute counted!

One evening I had a flash of brilliance. Why not have her EAT breakfast the night before? That would really save some time. The only hitch was making sure she ate breakfast AFTER dinner. And she could get dressed the night before, too. Alas, I couldn’t figure out a way for her to sleep and not get wrinkled. As innovative as these brainstorms seemed, they were nonstarters. Something that did work was a firm rule, and I mean FIRM, that if she waffled in the morning about wearing what she had picked out the night before, there would be no McDonald’s Happy Meal on Saturday. It worked like a charm. The thought of not having the Papa Bear figure from the latest Berenstein Bears set, or missing Gobo in the Fraggle Rock collection, was a powerful motivator. 

I’ve got more helpful hints about single working parenthood and I guarantee they’re as effective as they were back in the olden days of the eighties. Stay tuned. 

Losing things doesn’t mean you’re losing it.

I misplace my glasses a lot but it’s not my fault. It’s Hugh Jackman’s fault. I have one pair for seeing close up and another for far away, and I switch them constantly. When I’m walking around with my far glasses on, I often need to read some small print—especially if it’s something important like a photo of a scantily clad Hugh Jackman. I may be 70 but I’m not dead yet. So I have to take off my far specs and put on my close-ups. 

I lost my close-up glasses for two days once. I gave up and made do with my previous prescription pair. Then Frank, my husband, went to get some ice cubes and there were my glasses, in the freezer. And I remembered I had stuck my head in there rummaging around, way in the back, for the Haagen-Dazs ice cream, and put my glasses down so I could see because they were fogging up. I got so excited when I found the Haagen-Dazs I completely forgot about my glasses.

Often I forget to pay attention to where I am when I take off the pair I don’t need, and I have to go looking for those glasses. Sometimes I’m carrying a cup of coffee and I put that down during my search, and after I find my glasses I have to go around looking for my coffee. And so on. 

At seventy the specter of Alzheimer’s always looms when you misplace something. One well-known sign is finding things you’ve lost in strange, inappropriate places. In a public service TV ad about Alzheimer’s, an elderly couple is looking everywhere for something the woman lost, and the man takes a break and goes to the fridge get some cream for his coffee. He removes the pitcher…and car keys are behind it! The mournful, worried look they exchange makes it clear they’re positive the wife has Alzheimer’s. 

I’m not worried. I didn’t even consider the freezer a strange, inappropriate place to lose my glasses. It made perfect sense. The worse thing about the whole affair was that Frank found out I’d been into the Haagen-Dazs.

“… there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known.” -Matthew 10:26

I searched an entire afternoon for my glasses once, and the cat had them all the time.

Good always prevails.

The suspect

Hope was missing. My daughter had found her under a bush, a baseball-size mound of downy fur peeping like a baby bird. An abandoned kitten. Michele brought her home and we all fell in love. I took her to the vet where I dropped a pretty penny for medicine, and bought kitten feeding supplies. Over the next few weeks we took turns nursing her to health. Even my husband, Frank, pitched in.

Hope thrived. Then when she was a year old she left our yard one morning as usual and never came home. We walked the neighborhood day and night calling and calling her, knocked on doors to hand out flyers, called shelters, did everything else we could think of to find her. 

A week went by. We were losing hope, and beyond sad. Then the phone rang. “I think your cat is under our house,” a woman’s voice said. She lived around the corner. She had seen her dog, Summer, pacing excitedly in front of a vent in the backyard that opened to the crawl space under the house. It had no screen. Summer’s owner, Jean, peered down and saw a little cat shape.

We rushed over, and Jean led us to the floor-opening in her closet that led to the under-house space. She lifted the lid and two bright eyes shined up at us like searchlights. It was Hope, tail wagging and vibrating crazily, her entire body wiggling. Frank lifted her out and put her in her carrier, and we took her home for a joyous reunion. She was healthy. There must have been mice, and moisture from several heavy rains, in her underground world.

Next day I brought a gift basket to Jean, including some very expensive gourmet dog treats for our hero, Summer. I did that even though I was certain Summer was also the beast who scared Hope under the house in the first place. No other animals hung out in Jean’s backyard, at least no animals that would be likely to chase a cat. I knew, in my heart, that Summer was both persecutor and savior.

Summer knew I knew. I gave her a treat and while she was gulping it down like there was no tomorrow, she sneaked a couple of sheepish looks at me. Doggish looks, I should say. She was lucky that I believe every being who sins, and then repents, is deserving of forgiveness—and a made-from-scratch gourmet Pup Tart.  

If anyone sins against you, rebuke them. And if they repent, forgive them. Luke 17:3-4

The Sensuous Art of Plum Picking

Plums from our backyard tree are incredibly sweet and juicy. I take them to church and put them in the kitchen, where we munch. If you stand outside the room you’d think they’re having an orgy in there. “Oooooh…ummmm…OMG this is sweet…ahhhhhh…just one more… ”

I wait for the Magic Moment.

It sounds like they’re making love, but they’re just in the kitchen eating plums I hand picked. Actually, “pick” is too crude a word. I don’t just pick them, I caress them. I fondle them. I squeeze each one very gently and if there is a softness, I tug it ever so slightly, tenderly, away from the branch. If it doesn’t come off with this gentle grope, I leave it on the tree. It is not ripe.

My husband is annoyed by all this. Frank is a no-nonsense, just-get-it-done kind of guy. He goes out with his bag and just indiscriminately grabs every plum he sees hanging. He pulls them forcibly, with lightning speed. “You’re coming with me!” I can almost hear him say. He’s done in a jiffy, and comes in the house with a big bag of hard, slightly green plums.

It’s easy to tell whether people are eating plums that Frank picked or that I picked. When they’re eating Frank’s, it doesn’t sound like there’s an orgy going on.