Running Roughshod across the days

It dawned on me the night before the Wednesday in question. It was not going to be possible to get my daughter to her violin lesson at 5:30 a half an hour away to the east if my son was driving the car to his singing lesson at 5:pm a half an hour south. After google mapping the distance between the two destinations, I went to bed dreaming up options like insisting that my older  son drive home from where he was staying with his girlfriend so we could borrow his car. Or as I relaxed and became more lucid, increasingly complex ideas occurred to me: All of us setting off together and then dropping my son off a little bit early for his lesson, then the 40 min over a different bridge than usual to drop my daughter off at her lesson and then I could drive back to pick up my son and my daughter would only have to wait an extra 40 min. I figured that the last plan only involved an extra hour and twenty minutes of driving between the two locations. 

The next morning, I explained the dilemma to my kids. Before I could explain the third option I had thought of which invovled my son having to wait longer at his singing lesson after it was over, he interrupted and suggested, “Why don’t we just see if we can move the singing lesson to the Sat time slot?” It took only about a minute for me to realize that he had made a very good suggestion. So I texted with the lesson coordinator and within 5 minutes it was arranged that he could switch lessons. Problem solved.

So, my daughter and I set out on the half hour journey across the Hudson and down the other side of the river. We arrived at the music studio to find the door open as usual. We took off our shoes and I settled into the comfy sofa with my book. My daughter began tuning her violin. The teacher did not appear. After about 10 minutes, I felt the dismay and fear spreading through my body. I pulled out my ipad and went back to the teacher’s last email. Oh dear. She had written that, in general, Wednesdays were great, but not this Wednesday. Thursday at 5:30 would be perfect. And I had read her message. But my lifelong habit of skimming the time and date details had once again put a spanner in the works. Oh dear oh dear. 

My daughter pointed out after I vented frustration with myself for 10 minutes solid, that the car trip had been really nice anyway. We had talked about the transitional period she finds herself in right now. I have every confidence that she will find her way out of this difficult patch. The question is whether I will continue to obfuscate my days. (I have assigned her all future communicaitons with her teacher about lesson times)

The fine art of worrying

My Dad taught me a lot of things, but one of the things that he said so often that it became a sort of mantra for me, is ” There is nothing to fear but fear itself”. Someone famous said this before him. (Roosevelt?) Now in middle age, I finally get it. You can worry all day long every day, but the thing that you worry about will not most likely be the thing that goes wrong!!!

Case in point:
Son no. 1 is on the phone for the last 24 hours working towards a very important deadline that involves using a program he doesn’t know to complete an” art test” for a job that he is very much in the running for and would like to get offered. Simultaneously, a second job that he also really wants and has practically nailed tells him at 1:00 that they want to do a Skype interview with him at 5:00. He has not had a haircut in 4 months, he has not slept in 24 hours, and he has no clean clothes. 800 miles away or so, there is not much I can do to help. I tell him not to worry about his pants as they won’t see them, to put product in his hair and comb it back, and I encourage him to keep eating to keep his energy up. So, I spend the next 24 hours sort of tuned in like a tuning fork….he calls elated this morning to report that even though he couldn’t think of many questions in the Skype interview, he thinks he is still a contender because they are asking for more info about his reel. He calls again several hours later to report that he just did another interview with a third company that went well. But he can’t talk for long, because the dreaded art test is due now in 8 hours.

At 5:00, I meet my daughter who gets dropped off with me at a gas station. As we pull out, she informs me that she got thrown off the pony today and her head still hurts. She explains matter of factly how she was checked for a concussion with help from google, and she is fine. She had a helmet on.

So once again, I was worrying about the wrong thing.

Raising Bad boys

My two older sons spent their highschool “unschooling” years home, alone. One exception was that both of them played soccer on organized teams and went off to casual “pick up” games when they were happening, both near and far away. The other exception was our tight friendship with one or two other families who we saw a few times a year. The older boy focused on computer animation, and his next youngest brother, computer programming. This year, the oldest one will graduate, while his younger brother just entered college (for computer programming)a8333-img_1134.

Now, near the end of his 4 years, the eldest has become extremely critical of the expensive art/animation school that he so desperately wanted to attend 4 years ago. Scornful of their cheap protocol that changes when their employees shift, irate about departmental battles that end up putting barriers between students and classes they want to take, and upset about the constant upgrading of equipment irregardless of whether it is actually error-free and ready for students to use, he tells me that the other students dislike him because he is complaining too much about the school. From a distance, I worry that he is not coping well with the “real” world because of his carefree years of studying at home. There was no office here at home through which one had to get papers signed and activities approved. He was in charge as much as anyone else. Perhaps this did not prepare him for cow towing to authority and dealing with less than perfect policies designed to manage complex situations.

But guess what happened next? He got very upset upon being informed that he will not be able to take a special 3-d class in which students would be mentored by a very famous American car company. He has been complaining since he compared notes with other interns last summer at his fabulous gaming internship in LA, that other schools offer students like him the chance to specialize and gain expertise in the aspect of computer animation that they plan to specialize in. Now, at his school, he is being told that there are only 10 seats for this special class in which students will be mentored by an expert from the company. As he is possibly the top modeling student in his program and a senior, he really cannot understand how he could be closed out of this opportunity. Why didn’t they require portfolios if seats were so limited? He gets me to proofread several emails to the department head, the teacher who will be in charge of the class, and his academic advisor. He reproves me for starting to pull out the “big guns” in the messages we are drafting…”No”, he says over the phone, “Everybody is trying to help me get into this class, so we need to keep it pleasant.” But the deadline looms. On the night before the deadline, he decides to use his heavy artillery. He has realized that he showed his portfolio to the head executive at the car company last year, and he has his email address. He fires off a polite inquiry with his reel of work samples attached. The next day, he is called into the President’s office, but the President is not there. He is on vacation in Aruba (I made that location up) and my son is put on a conference call with the President of the school and the car company executive and they inform him that an 11th place has been created in the class for my son.

A week later, I am doubling over with laughter as he tells me over the phone that he scored an interview for a 3-d modeling position with a company he has wanted to work for since he was 10 years old… spite of the fact that they had filled their interview slots randomly upon not getting enough applicants and in spite of his having missed their deadline ( which wasn’t posted clearly at the school according to my son) He sent his reel to the recruiter, and meanwhile one of the randomly selected students who had no particular investment in her interview, told the recruiter about my son during her interview, and that they would be crazy not to interview him. The recruiter then remembered his name from previous years of being impressed with his work and said he’d been wondering where his application was. He was then offered an interview, which in turn, yielded the much coveted second interview. (stay tuned)

This is the son who has tended to lack confidence; he often thought that the other kids on his soccer team were all better than him even though the coach did not think so. It is extremely gratifying to see him not taking “no” for an answer.

It is thrilling to see him drawing the lines between the dots…he will owe a huge sum of money when he graduates and there have been many moments in the last four years where I wanted to hang myself by my fingernails for letting him go into a debt like that. What could we be thinking? But now, seeing not only his desirability to employers, but also his self taught confidence and conviction, I feel better about our decision to let him go out on a limb monetarily. Afterall, unlike many of the other students whose parents are easily footing the bill, he is holding the school to its promise of providing him with a top education in the field of computer animation. He is forcing them to let him into the car company class that can yield a top level internship this summer. Again, my goal is to encourage other parents to trust in their children’s ability to forge their own path, and as odd as that path may seem now and then, it is the strength of one’s own conviction that really must be nurtured in our children.

Your dandelion is my flower

I have been carefully selecting books for my daughter to read for several years now. She has not been entranced by too many books, no matter how hard I delve back into the treasure trove of books I loved at her age…Harriet the Spy, Little Women, and then later, Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre, Gone With the Wind, etc. Is there a thread there? My daughter has found all of these suggestions uninspiring.

Imagine my surprise when she found The Red Badge of Courage on our book shelves. She paged through it a bit, read the back cover, and then could not put it down. She absolutely loves all the army vocabulary; “what is the difference between the infantry and the calvary mom?” (heck if i know) This parenting experience is one more reminder to let kids find out for themselves what floats their boat.

The Trouble With Teenagers

The mother is lying on the sofa, unsure whether to hold her aching left jaw with her hand or not to touch it at all. She had felt some tiny twinges yesterday morning…and knew it was best to “Wait and see…” as there was an 80% chance that it was an actual problem requiring dental intervention in the minefield she called a mouth. She liked to think about the 15% chance though that it was a potential problem just gently making its presence known but perhaps not about to cause her a brain infection that required immediate attention. The chance that it was the latter seemed slightly more probable than usual as she was still reeling from the emotional stress of the day before. She had noticed in the last few months that she seemed to be at an age where emotional stress seemed to take physical tolls on her in all sorts of new and unforeseen ways. All the years up to now, she had been a trooper, a stalwart survivor. She did not get headaches, or migraines, or swoon, or really sometimes even seem to notice the stress around her. Maybe it was the 12th year with four children. Or maybe the 21 years of one child. Or maybe 17 years of the other?

Yesterday had been special though. The 17 year old had left one of his scrawled notes on a sheet of paper outside the bedroom door. It said, “Wake me up between 1:30 and 2:00. I have to leave for Peter’s house at 3:45.” This was a cryptic message which the mother was tempted by past experience to read as “Wake me up before 3:45 as that is when I actually have to do something”. The son was not lazy by any means. He had morphed into a nocturnal creature who seemed to thrive on the quiet and alone time of the deep night. He worked on college assignments, studying for SAT subject tests, playing on-line chess games, and upgrading and building websites. All of this was unobjectionable, or rather commendable. The thing was, it was impossible to wake him up. He would not actually get up until he absolutely had to. A parent was hard pressed to understand when this was. A parent would read the note, and stupidly do what it said. Then, that same parent would get sleepily told that everything was under control and that the parents’ message had been duly noted. The parent was then left on tenderhooks as to whether repeated trips to the son’s room were in order. For the last few months, repeated trips were made, and the son usually didn’t get up until the tone of the wake-up had gone from pleasant and helpful to angry and frustrated. On both sides. The parent was not proud of having occaisionally resorted to:”GET YOUR SORRY ASS OUT OF BED”. And as could be imagined in these circumstances, the son was not happy either.

It turned out that yesterday’s cryptic message was actually an indication of some confusion on the son’s part as to when he actually had to leave to get to Peter’s house to catch a ride to soccer. He eventually got out of bed and answered his mother’s inquiry as to an imminent departure, in a somewhat patronizing tone. “3:45 would make me an hour early but we thought about playing soccer first.” The mother retreated to helping the youngest son with his reading. They sat together on the sofa slowly making their way through a text that was a little too difficult for the boy. He always put in a valiant effort of exactly two pages. The mother found herself reading ahead often and reading back too as the story was rich with interesting details and the pace was excrutiating. Suddenly, the 17 year old came careening into the living room where they were reading announcing that he had to leave right now as he was late. He was pretty certain that there was a mistake (note that the mistake has no attribution) and he was supposed to be leaving for soccer practice in 15 minutes from Peter’s house. This posed a huge problem as Peter lives 45 minutes away. The mother dug into her always available bag of tricks and suggested a phone call to tell PEter that they wouldn’t be riding together and that the son could make his way there separately. This was met with derision. He had to leave this minute and would call once he was underway. The mother understandably thought, “Over my dead body” as son does not have a fancy cell phone and mother pictured car careening along winding roads at top speed with illegal and dangerous phone activity happening. She also had just looked up the location of the soccer destination (which her son had not yet done, having caught a ride to every practice so far) and suspected that son could get there on time on his own if he didn’t try to join friend.

Long story short: Mother is sitting in driving seat of the car that the son wants to leave in. Son has asked for money for gas to give to the friend. Mother can’t find purse and is upset that son is still planning to try to drive to friend’s house first. Son is actually making swinging gestures at mother. He is very very angry. Mother feels the rare emergence of a radiant sort of protective calm. Mother is happy about this as she often shares in the feelings of rage and anger and always regrets it. But alas, unbeknownst to them both, the siblings have spotted the scene out the window and have alerted Dad. he comes out and mother can tell by his angry belligerent threatening swagger that things are about to go from bad to worse, She runs to father and begs him not to get involved. Son and father face off and grab at each other. They are both confused and ugly and angry. ¬†Father ends up with car keys. Both parents retreat into house. Son is screaming that he hates living here and he must be given the keys so he can leave this hateful place, this hell hole, etc etc. When the son comes into the house, he is still swearing and angry, he is even kicking things on the porch. The Father threatens to call the police and when the son derides him for this, actually picks up the phone. THe son seems to regain consciousness as he sees Father dialing, and tells him he will calm down and to stop dialing.

Mother and Father have not been having the easiest time with each other. Both of them are not sure they have the necessary reserves of energy to deal with all four kids for the time it will take to launch them into their own lives. They are certain that they do not have the money. Stress has been an operative word for a long time. Stress without much light-hearted gaiety or abandon. They have been trying to give each other some space and just time. The Father will not try counseling again. The mother had just decided to follow some advice to try to solve relationship issues through talk and also through just simply being the best she can be. She was inspired to concentrate on her own equilibrium rather than trying to be unbalanced and leaning over to fix someone’s elses’s situation.

Father was angry and quiet and upset and retired to read in bed for the night. Mother served dinner to 17 year old, who obviously did not go anywhere that evening, separately in kitchen. He insisted on talking about the emotional event. He seemed fixed on paying for everything from now on. It seemed he did not want to be beholden to parents for anything.

That was the end of what I wrote. I wrote this “confessional” a while ago and thought it best to let some time go by. There is no real satisfying ending, just like life.

There are however, some addendums:
*The teenage boy’s phone could be switched onto “speaker”, a fact that the mother was unaware of.
*The soccer turned out to be further in the opposite direction so it would not have worked out to drive independently
From Peter.