Tell Us a Story

It is important that Sheepdog spend as much time with our daughters as possible, else they are more likely to become meth addicts or end up headlining at Delilah’s Den.  Without even being aware of it they are setting their own relationship standards for the future, and they are learning mainly by watching him.  So, technically, if one of them ends up grinding one-night-stands on the dance floor or is referred to as the girl who knows how to “hook a steak up,” it would be all Sheepdog’s fault.  No pressure there, right?

As I am acutely aware of this, I encourage any and all father/ daughter interaction.  Over the years they have tried many activities together.  They have done the standard dinner and a movie date many times, but it does not really allow for enough quality conversation.  They have also gone the more active route of biking and running, but those sports require that the parties be on at least similar skill levels in order for everybody to have a good time (you can’t really talk if you are constantly panting and on the verge of passing out just to keep up).  Hiking was a great alternative until the girls had to go in the woods and got all freaked out over squatting in public and wiping with leaves (they get that from their mother).  So on to other activities they went.  We are not giving up.

Recently Sheepdog has been taking Kid A out to practice driving.  I don’t care if your daughter is Danica Patrick, teaching a girl to drive is fraught with peril.  And frankly, Kid A is not exactly a natural behind the wheel.  She and Sheepdog did not do well together in an enclosed vehicle, especially after he yelled at her (in his defense, she almost ran over two pedestrians).  After I went out to practice with her a few times (promising myself that I would not raise my voice or clench or cry while sitting in the passenger seat, so as to not derail her already wavering confidence), I was so scared that I actually called the local driving school anonymously.

Instructor:  “Good afternoon, Johns Creek Driving School.  How may I help you?”
 
Me:  “Hi.  I am not going to tell you my name on purpose.  My kid has been practicing her driving for a while now and she is still really bad.  I mean REALLY bad.  Just awful.  I don’t even want to let her out of the neighborhood yet.  Actually, I don’t want to let her out of our driveway.  She took your class this summer and she only has three months in which to complete her six hours of behind the wheel.  I don’t think that’s gonna happen.  What should I do?”
 
Instructor:  “It is okay, ma’am.  This actually happens a lot.  We can certainly give you an extension.  But maybe you should have her start her behind the wheel lessons and let one of our qualified instructors work with her.”
 
Me:  “You don’t understand.  I would feel responsible if she hurt someone or crashed one of your cars.  And I feel fairly certain that would happen.”
 
Instructor:  “It’s really okay, ma’am.  The instructors have brake and gas pedals and they have no problem taking the wheel if need be.  I’m sure she’ll be fine.”
 
Me:  “I don’t care if Jesus takes the wheel.  This kid is high risk.”

Sheepdog decided he was going to try again to teach our daughter to drive.  He figured that he should get her driving in a more relaxed atmosphere, so he took Kid A and Kid C (Kid B was at dinner with her soccer team) to the Andretti Speed Lab in Roswell.  This place is as cool as the name implies.  They have rock climbing, video games, a ropes course, pool tables, bowling, basketball, a comedy club, and the main attraction – extreme SuperKarts, complete with 9 hp Honda GX-270 engines in them.  And it was a twofer in that he got to spend some quality daddy/ daughter time together with the girls.

Is it too much to ask Kid A to wear this while driving a regular car too? Cause I'm certainly gonna be wearing one in the passenger seat.

Round and round the track they went.  Sheepdog had a blast.  Kid C didn’t drive by herself because she was afraid at first, but she and Sheepdog have another date planned there so she can learn to drive soon.  Kid A apparently acquired some decent driving skills on the track, although she still has a way to go before we release her on GA-400.  All in all, it was a great plan.  Way to go Sheepdog!

On the drive home the girls were pestering Sheepdog to bond with them some more.

“Tell us a story,” they begged.  “Tell us a story like mommy does.” 
 
“I don’t know any stories,” answered Sheepdog.
 
“Tell us about your first girlfriend, ” prompted Kid A.
 
“Well… define ‘first girlfriend.’  Do you mean the first girl I took on a real date or the first girl I made out with or what?”
 
Always looking for the more salacious details, both girls responded, “The first girl you made out with!”
 
Sheepdog though for a minute.  Then he began, “I don’t remember the details, but I guess I was in fifth or sixth grade…”
 
From the backseat Kid C (who is in fifth grade herself) yelled, “Well, I’m certainly not ready for THAT!”

I don’t know if Sheepdog is going in the right direction with this whole father/ daughter bonding thing.  He may need a little more coaching first.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

Your Kid is a Bully

Ugh.  This might get ugly.

Yesterday Kid D came off of the school bus on the brink of tears.  Again.  The same kid who has been picking on him off-and-on all school year was now telling him that he was going to beat him up.  This time another kid (who is supposed to be Kid D’s friend) joined in.  Kid D was really upset.  So am I.

There is no easy fix for this problem.

Most of my kids have always been tiny in stature, right up until about 5th grade.  Then they shoot up like magic beanstalks.  But until then they are tiny.  And tiny attracts bullies and harassers.  Kid A (a girl) got punched in the face by a boy in 2nd grade.  Kid B had a girl in her third grade class who just would not leave her alone… petting her hair and constantly poking her to get her attention, calling our house nine or ten times in a row and asking if she had gotten home from school yet.  Kid C endured two bullies last year  – one boy then one girl.  The girl was actually much worse.

Fortunately my kids came to me and let me know what was going on from the start.  Even though I instinctively want to fix things for them I know it is important that they learn to handle stuff on their own, so I always start by reminding them of a few things.

Bullies are not born.  They are created.  Usually by other bullies.  Have a little compassion, but not too much.  People – even kids – are responsible for their actions.

Stand up for yourself.  Most bullies will back down if you challenge them. (Except the boy who punched Kid A in the face.  He was just a jerk.  What kind of boy hits a girl?)  Look them in the eye, say their name and tell them exactly what you want them to stop doing.  Right now.

If they don’t stop, tell a grown up.  Now, this is where I kind of straddle the fence.  I don’t think that parents or teachers need to get involved right away, but I do think it is important that they be informed and aware so that they can keep an eye on the situation.  And somebody needs to get involved if the bullying continues.  I really think that kids need to be empowered and learn to stand up for themselves when they are being wronged.  If they don’t assert themselves then they could suffer from confidence issues, anxiety, irrational fears and end up letting people walk all over them later in life.  Nobody wants that.  But nobody wants their kid to be picked on either, so sometimes it is necessary for an adult to become involved and to guide them through.

In the past I have tried to have the kids handle the situation on their own.  Sometimes this works, but sometimes it doesn’t.  A few times I have called the teacher and/ or the bullies’ parents.  It is uncomfortable for everyone, but I felt it was necessary in each circumstance.  One parent was extremely helpful and compassionate, got involved and the bullying stopped right away.  Another parent was completely defensive, even though the teacher had observed her child harassing mine on several occasions.  Not such a great outcome that time, but the teacher put an end to it quickly.

I don’t know yet how I’m going to proceed with the current situation.  Kid D just came off the bus again and said that the bullying continues.  The second kid didn’t join in this time, but one is all it takes.  I don’t want to watch my confident, vibrant son turn into someone who is scared of his own shadow.  I don’t want to watch him be the victim.  But I also do not want him getting into a fist fight at six years old.  This is not “kids just being kids.”  It is wrong and I want to do something about it.

If you see me at the grocery store or the bus stop, don’t bother asking as I will not tell you who this bully is.  What I will say is that every one of our school-aged children has now experienced different forms of bullying and it is not pretty.  We will continue to discuss ways of coping with our kids.  We will also teach them how to defend themselves and do what is necessary in threatening situations.  Hopefully they will come out relatively unscathed.  But realize that bullying happens and you shouldn’t assume that your kid isn’t involved.

Maybe everyone should talk to their kids about bullying.  Let them know that is not something that they should suffer through in silence and it is certainly not something that is acceptable from them or their friends or their siblings.  Ask them if they have ever been bullied or if they have ever been bullies themselves.  You just might be surprised at their answers.

" I got a message for you, Roth! LEAVE EMMA ALONE! Look at me - if you don't, I'm gonna rip your f-ing head off!" - Peyton, The Hand That Rocks The Cradle (1992)

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

My Cousin Kid E

My kids speak a language that I sometimes do not understand.  I am not talking about the aforementioned Spanish, French, or even Chinese.  I mean they speak some sort of abbreviated half-language hybrid that I, even as a native – and pretty successful if I must say so myself – user of the English language, find it difficult to comprehend.

From what I have observed, it is a language of shortened forms.  “Movie” becomes “move.”  “Sandwich” is “sand.”  “Orange juice” get shortened to “orange jew.”  “Butter” becomes “butt” (you may begin to understand the appeal).  Otherwise, this made up language serves no purpose.  It only serves to confuse and confound me because I DO NOT KNOW WHAT IN THE HELL THESE KIDS ARE SAYING half of the time.

Do you remember the movie “My Cousin Vinny?”  It stars Joe Pesci as Vincent Laguardia Gambini, an inexperienced lawyer who goes down to Alabama to represent his cousin who was mistakenly accused of murder.  Pesci employs an exaggeratedly thick New York accent throughout as he plays the fish-out-of-water role.  One of the funniest lines from the movie stems from his inability to be understood by the members of the Good Ole Southern Boys Club who run the show…

Vinny Gambini: It is possible that the two yutes…
Judge Chamberlain Haller: …Ah, the two what? Uh… uh, what was that word?
Vinny Gambini: Uh… what word?
Judge Chamberlain Haller: Two what?
Vinny Gambini: What?
Judge Chamberlain Haller: Uh… did you say ‘yutes’?
Vinny Gambini: Yeah, two yutes.
Judge Chamberlain Haller: What is a yute?
Vinny Gambini: [beat] Oh, excuse me, your honor…
[exaggerated]
Vinny Gambini: Two YOUTHS.

Oh yeah, you blend.

So this morning Kid E gets up before the sun and he stumbles into my bedroom.  He still sits for his morning pee, so I drag my sleepy self out of bed for the assist.  In the dark I fumble for a light switch.  It is not my first time, so I know not to turn on the bright overhead light because that will assuredly lead to a meltdown of epic proportions.  Kid E can only tolerate gradual exposure to bright lights in the early a.m.  I turn on my closet light, which manages to shed just enough lumens that we may both watch as his stream manages to inevitably miss the bowl, yet not so much that it causes retinal damage before our pupils can adjust.

This light issue has been cause for fights in the past.  It does not matter that Kid E may be telling the truth and he may have actual light sensitivity, I keep telling him that he is a whiner and everything seems to bother him and he should just rub some dirt on it and move on.  He keeps complaining about things and I sigh and mumble under my breath how he is worse than any of my girls.  But then sometimes he overcomes and he mans up.  This was one of those mornings.

Kid E: “Mommy, I’m yoost!”
Me: …Ah, you’re what? Uh… uh, what was that word?
Kid E: Uh… what word?
Me: You’re what?
Kid E: What?
Me: Uh… did you say ‘yoost’?
Kid E: Yeah, I’m yoost.
Me: What is yoost?
Kid E: [beat] Oh, excuse me, Mommy…
[exaggerated]
Kid E: I am USED to the light.  My eyes adjusted.

Of course.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

Fight Like a Girl

Sheepdog and I both are firm believers in teaching our kids how to protect themselves.  The boys seem to have some instinctive fist fight/ wrestling thing that I am guessing brothers bring out in each other.  I have no first hand knowledge of this, but I am watching Kid D and Kid E beat the feathers out of each other and I find myself screaming, “Take it down a notch” or “Take that outside so you don’t break my house” no less than twenty times a day.  Neither Sheepdog nor I taught them these moves, and they still primarily watch only Disney shows, so I’m guessing it is most likely hard-wired in them.  But these girls are a different story.

They are lovers, not fighters.  They like make-up and they spend ridiculous amounts of time on their hair.  They play(ed) school and dress-up and beauty parlor.  They never once pretended that they were in a G.L.O.W. match with each other.  They might put on costumes and skates, but they would never do it to have a roller derby.  And although they follow the first rule of Fight Club (“Don’t ever talk about Fight Club”), it is only because they have never heard of Fight Club.  No, these girls are not prepared at all.

We have been looking for a self-defense class for the girls for a while now.  We looked into karate and it seemed to be a good solution, but many places around here were requiring a three year contractual commitment, which was not something that would work for us, especially since the girls were already involved in other activities.  We have a friend who learned self-defense at the hands of an (ex-CIA/ black ops) expert and she was going to give them a “lesson” based upon what she had learned, but we just can’t seem to make our schedules work together.

So I was excited when I heard about a local class that teaches teenage girls how to make smart choices, recognize safety compromises, react in dangerous situations, and generally protect themselves.  They even encourage the moms to sit in on the class, so I would also get a refresher course.

The class was pretty good.  They used a DVD format to show certain potential attack/ kidnapping-by-a-stranger situations (bus stop, ATM, parking lot) and they showed two different girls – one who always reacted the wrong way (she got taken away in the van every time) and one who reacted the better way (she was more aware of her surroundings and used some fairly simple defense moves to successfully evade her attacker).  They also briefly covered date/ acquaintance assault (including rape and other acts of violence) and showed the girls a Dating Bill of Rights that reminded them that they have to stand up for themselves, even against someone they think that they love.  They showed them how to “fight like a girl”…go for the eyes (poke them out), ears (rip them off) and then groin (knee as a battering ram into) anybody who was threatening or menacing to them in any way.  They showed them things that even tiny, little girls can use against much bigger and stronger opponents.

Sheepdog was a little disappointed that they didn’t get more slam the base-of-the-hand-to-the nose-of-your-attacker training in the class, but I am not looking for them to go all Million Dollar Baby into the boxing or MMA rings.  If that were the case, I would just enroll them in a Brazilian jiujitsu or Muay Thai class and call it a day.  I just think that is a little bit of overkill.

What I want is for my daughters to be prepared to instinctively fend off an attacking stranger or a bad date.  I want them to be aware of their surroundings.  I want them to have self-esteem and confidence.  I do not ever want them to be victims.

So here’s to praying that bad things never happen.  But if they do, at least my daughters will know how to fight like a girl.

George I, George II, George III, George IV and George V... Foreman, that is

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

Harp Therapy

I was talking with my grandfather (“Pop Pop Pop” or “Three Pops,” as he is often also called) the other day and he told me a great story.  It was so good that I thought I would share it with you.

Imagine that you are an old, old man.  Your body is betraying you in the ways that broken down, worn out things eventually do, but your mind remains sharp.  That is probably because you continue to challenge yourself each and every day with puzzles and crosswords and sudoku and interesting people who have interesting conversations.  And you have the occasional fist fight from your electric wheelchair with the a-hole who insisted on shooting off his stupid mouth about how the Marines are better than the Navy.  Wheelchair be damned, you kicked that punk to the curb.  Respect.

You get up and out every single day.  Your calendar is more full now than it was 20 years ago.  You sign up for every field trip they make available to you.  You go to the casinos to play poker and the race track to play the ponies.  You go see the Phillies and the Eagles play.  You visit with your daughters and sons-in-law and your grandchildren and their children too.  You run for leadership positions at the Veteran’s Home and you win (by a landslide), mainly because people know you know people who matter and you know how to get things done.  It is still about the respect.

When you were a young man you made some less-than-stellar choices.  You may have participated in some less-than-noble activities.  But you had fun.  You lived hard and fast.  You lived by a code and you earned the respect that you got.  Looking back you realize that you may have hurt some of the people who you loved the most.  Sometimes you were selfish.  Sometimes you got angry.  Sometimes you made justifications to get what you wanted.  But also you were generous.  You were a big man who lived a big life.  Understandably, some of your regrets are big too.  It brings tears to your eyes these days, something that rarely happened back in the day.

But that is what happens when you turn into an old, old man.  You have more time for reflection.  More time to think.  More time to try to make amends.  And more time for annoying doctor’s visits to deal with your traitorous, failing body.  Some of the things that are happening to you make you want to ask for forgiveness, both to clear the air and to allay your fears that all too often start to creep in.  Fear of lonely, fear of old, fear of dead.  Fear of The End.  Fear of where you might go… you know, after you die.  I mean how bad is too bad to still get into heaven?  And the fear gets more tangible as time passes, especially when the doctor tells you that you need another surgery.

So you go to the hospital and you hold your oldest daughter’s hand and you listen as she says she loves you (and you grumble “me too” back at her) and you get on the gurney and you count backwards “ten, nine, eight…” as you fall deep into the fog of anesthesia.  And for a while you exist in suspension, floating around yourself, watching what the doctors and nurses do to your broken body as they try to mend it.  It does not really matter if it is a dream or if it is really happening.  You are still pretty sharp in the mind.  Sharp enough to recognize that the fear is still lingering.  Sharp enough to realize that you are in a white room with a cloudy haze over everything, like you are observing through gauze.  And you hear music.  It is beautiful and light and graceful.  And through the anesthesia you see that a beautiful angel is playing a giant harp, and she is beautiful and light and graceful too.  And you feel peaceful and you think of church (…even though you haven’t been inside of many) and you think of heaven and you think of God.  And you are confused, but happy because you thought maybe you were so bad that you might not go to the Good Place.  You begin to think that you are dead and that this is the beginning of The End.

Is This Heaven? No, It's Iowa. - Field of Dreams (1989)

But as that possibility is registering, you are overpowered by exhaustion and you fall back to sleep.  It is a deep, dreamless sleep.  In a few minutes or hours or a day, you wake up again.  This time the room is still white, but there is no beautiful angel playing beautiful music with her harp.  There is only a nurse who has come to check your vitals and tell you that your surgery went extremely well.

“The doctor will be with you shortly,” she tells you.  You are now wondering if you made the whole thing up.  You decide to be vulnerable and say something to the nice nurse.

“I think I died.  I was in heaven and an angel was playing gentle music on a harp.”  She stifles a little chuckle.

“No, hon, that was just Dolores.  She volunteers here and she brings her harp from room to room to play for the surgery patients.  It is therapeutic.”

“Therapeutic, my ass!  That’s a damn good way to give an old man a heart attack,” you say.  Then you wink at the nurse and tell her she can make it up to you by taking you to the track so you can bet on some horses.  This old man’s still got a whole lot of living to do.

********************************************************************************************

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

My Kids Have a Splan

In our school district the kids don’t study a world language until middle school.  So as you enter the sixth grade you are faced with the question… French, Spanish, or Chinese?

Which language is spoken by the greatest number of people?  There are just under seven billion people in the world.  350 million of us speak English as our first language (that’s only about 5 percent).  Almost 500 million people speak Spanish, which works out to be just under 7 percent.  Barely 2 and a half percent of the world’s inhabitants speak French.  And a whopping 14 percent speak Mandarin Chinese.  But that’s on the world scale, and I’m a little more concerned with what they are speaking in my neck of the woods… on MARTA or at the DMV.  Winner = Spanish.

Which language is easier to learn?  Mandarin has something like 60,000 characters and at least one-and-a-half more tones than the 80’s group Tony! Toni! Toné! (“If the rhythm feels good, Baby, Baby let me hear you say, ‘Uh… uh, Baby!'”), yet their grammar is fairly simple.  And while both French and Spanish both use alphabets similar to the English one, French has all sorts of silent letters and multiple rules with plenty of exceptions and compound verbs and two-part negation.  But French has fewer verb tenses and moods overall than Spanish.  Winner = NOT Chinese

Which language is going to help them more getting into, during and after college?  I read an interesting article on that topic recently that basically said that you should learn Spanish first, and then go on to learn Chinese if you are so inclined.  That is because the language that will be essential for Americans and has far more day-to-day applications is Spanish.  But I feel like people who know Chinese are total smarty-pants and overachievers (the “creme de la creme” if you will, and that’s the only mention of French in this paragraph because knowing French isn’t going to help anyone get into college or do squat in the future) so colleges probably think that too.  Apparently, China is quickly becoming an economic superpower and learning Mandarin could assist you in employment and cultural exchange opportunities now and even more in the future.  Winner = Chinese (by prestige alone)

Which language is the coolest to learn and know?  With over 30 countries in the world who use Spanish as their native language, knowing Spanish can give you amazing travel prospects.  Just ask my dad (El chair es brokenado.  Te fix-o, por favor?).  Knowing Chinese can help you when you are hanging out in… China… and that’s about it.  French is a sexy language and it has some cool phrases (concierge, a la mode, hors d’oeuvres, Grand Prix, en pointe, and Allez!) that can help you in hotels/ restaurants, at Formula One events, ballet class, or while you are watching the Tour de France, but their application can be extremely limited.  Winner, winner, pollo dinner = Spanish

All things considered, learning Spanish seems to be the most practical choice for my kids.  And they seem to be pretty good at it.  I heard the oldest two speaking to one another en español the other day.  Then they were reminding Kid C that she had to take Spanish as well when she goes on to sixth grade next year.  It made me really proud.  Then I started getting paranoid that they could be planning and plotting all sorts of things and I would be none the wiser.  Then the girls all giggled because apparently that has been their Splan (Spanish Plan) all along.

And then I got proud again because that really is genius.

Guess what I want for my birthday?

Souhaitez moi bonne chance pour demain… (I took French in high school and college)

Mauris harumd cras… (and I took Latin)

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

How Did I Do Last Night?

Yawn.

Despite the fact that he is now four, we continue to deal with Kid E getting out of bed and wandering into our bedroom in the middle of the night.  He does not do this every night, but probably two or three nights a week he will come into our room when we are in the deepest of R.E.M.s and stand over one of us (usually me) without so much as a word like Snoopy’s vulture character, with only his piercing stares jarring me out of sleep in a fight or flight mode that can only be replicated at point-blank range or by the Blair Witch Project.

Oh, did I wake you?

He will then crawl into bed between us.  And by “between” I mean practically underneath me with his big, fat, hard skull jammed into my lower back.  The position is so awkward that it is actually Cirque du Soleil-worthy.  And it is not exactly conducive to me falling back to sleep, nor is the adrenaline surge caused by being suddenly woken up out of a dead sleep.  But he mumbles in his sweet baby boy voice that he woke up lonely and he wants to cuddle and how can you say no to that?  And then he gently strokes my cheek while simultaneously sucking his thumb and tells that he loves me.  I am such a sucker for the sweet-talking boys, so I let him stay.  When he falls back to sleep I will ever so gently carry him back to his own bed, tuck him in and then start the painstaking toss and turn dance that awaits my stupid forty-year-old body and mind.

Yawn.

But I have had it.  I do not like having my sleep interrupted.  And I have tried everything with this kid.  He says he’s lonely, so I give him stuffed friends to sleep with.  He says he needs something to drink, so I give him a small glass of water.  Inevitably he then says he needs to pee, so I take him to the bathroom.  I threaten, cajole, reason, plead.  I have used positive reinforcement and negative punishment.  I have been unrelenting in carrying him back without a word every single time he comes into my room, even when he does it fifty times in a single night.  I have occasionally let him crawl in without ever waking up.  Sometimes things work and sometimes they don’t.  And the absolute most annoying part is that Kid E claims that he remembers nothing about getting up in the middle of the night.

Maybe there’s something wrong with him.  Maybe he has some sleepwalking zombie disorder.  Maybe he’s just a stubborn little monkey.  I do not know, but he just might be the kid who breaks me.

Every single morning he comes into my room and with sleepy eyes and a gravelly voice, he asks, “How did I do last night?”

Giant yawn.  

I was awake for well over two hours in the middle of the night.

“You are killing me here, kid.  You don’t remember coming into my room at 2:30 in the morning?”

“Um, no.  What did I do?”

At this point, I believe that he has either decided that playing dumb will get him a lesser sentence, or he’s gambling that maybe I am so tired/ old that I’ll forget everything.  Either way, he is like a black-out drunk friend from college who needs a recap of all of the events from the previous evening.  It can get annoying.  He also has taken to defending his actions from the night before, sometimes creatively, but usually with very matter-of-fact explanations.

“Dude, you were awful last night.  You tried to get in bed with me and when I took you straight back to your room you insisted that you needed something to drink.”

He almost laughed in relief.  Then he looked me straight in the eye and said with complete conviction, “Mom, sometimes thirsty happens.”

I almost expected a “duh” to follow, but he is good at reading an audience and left it off this time.  And in my sleep-deprived haze his justification seemed completely legitimate.

Yawn.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…