How To Communicate With Your College Freshman During Finals Week

All across these United States, college students are fah-reak-ing out over finals.  The Stacks are full and their Starbuck’s accounts are almost empty.  Just hang on, kids.  It’s almost winter break.

I need to talk to Kid A about all kinds of things… money, schedules, where she plans to live next year, her grandiose plans for spring break vs. what’s really going to go down, etc.  But finals week is not the time to bring up such serious buzz kill topics.  This is the time to send love notes, supportive messages, and comfort food.

And fun text messages:

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Please wish Kid A luck on her finals…

Traditionally Speaking

The question has always stumped me.  I have never come up with a really good answer.  My whole life, I have always been flummoxed when someone puts me to the task of explaining my family traditions or heritage-related stuff.  I guess it is because I wasn’t really raised in any kind of specific, culturally rich atmosphere.

We only spoke one language in my house.  I didn’t have a crazy grandmother always yelling things in Greek or Italian or Chinese at me.  Don’t get me wrong.  I definitely had a crazy grandmother.  It’s just that she yelled, “Dammit!  Who hid my cigarettes again?” and “Don’t be a beer counter, you little jerk!” in English.  Nobody came to America on a boat or was smuggled in a truck (or even flew here on a plane for that matter) for at least a few generations back.  We definitely didn’t celebrate any holidays that weren’t pre-marked in red or depicted in the monthly picture on the linen hand towel calendar in the kitchen.

If Snoopy wasn't drinking a margarita, how were we supposed to know to celebrate Cinco de Mayo?

If Snoopy and Woodstock were slinging back sunflowers instead of margaritas, how were we supposed to know to celebrate Cinco de Mayo?

There was always talk that my father’s side of the family was German along with some other Western European sprinkles (French, English) and my mother’s side was similar, minus the German, and somehow plus some Native American.  I think that my ancestors have lived on American soil for a really long time, but honestly I’ve never actually entered my credit card information on ancestry.com to confirm or find out otherwise.  I don’t know what is true and what is made up.  I have always just considered myself kind of a cultural mutt.  And I am okay with that.

Until Thanksgiving, that is.

‘Tis the season for unveiling your cultural relevance and family traditions.  The friends with whom we will be celebrating Thanksgiving asked how we could incorporate ours with theirs.  This year my parents and two of my sisters and their families are going on a cruise in the Carribbean.  I was just going to watch football and make stuffing from the box, so… um, just run with yours.  Most of my kids are working on homework assignments and projects that involve where they came from and how we as a family celebrate that.  I think that the kids are as frustrated about the family void when it comes to this subject as I was, so they are finally employing some creative license to get the job done.

Kid B was given the assignment by her Spanish teacher to make and explain a traditional, cultural recipe as it applies to her family.  She asked if she could instead make an old, family dessert recipe* that would represent our heritage, even though it had nothing to do with us maybe being slightly German-English-French-1/16th Cherokee.  The teacher said go for it.

So Kid B went to the grocery store and got the ingredients for cookie dough, a box of Oreos, and a brownie kit.  She mixed them individually, layered the cookie dough on the bottom, covered it with the Oreos, and then spread the brownie mix on top.  And, voila… a batch of “slutty brownies” was made.  Yes, that’s really what they are called due to the wicked threesome of ingredients.

According to family lore, you can make them even sluttier by adding a layer of dulce de lece before the brownies.

According to ancient family lore, you can make them even sluttier by adding a layer of dulce de lece before the brownies.

So now I guess, traditionally speaking, I can finally say we have a cultural identity.  And I am okay with that, although I do hope it translates to something a little nicer in Spanish.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

*Slutty brownies are not, in fact, any kind of old, family recipe.  I have never made them in my life.  As far as I know, they started going around the internet a few years ago.  They are both easy to make and sinfully delicious.  Kid B was just looking for an excuse to make them.

3/5

Originally, Kid A was planning to take a nanny job with three little kids in a nearby neighborhood for the summer.  But then she was offered a summer internship at my dad’s law firm in southern New Jersey.  She weighed her options: Babies or the beach?  Wearing t-shirts covered in finger paints and spit up or dressing up for an office job every day?  Living at home with your parents who are always complaining about money or staying with grandparents who basically buy you whatever you ask for?  Kid A is smart, has always been independent, and has had one foot out our door since she went to Spanish immersion camp the summer between her sophomore and junior years of high school.  Obviously she chose the internship.  She has been gone (with the exception of a long weekend when she came back to GA for college orientation) since the beginning of June.

Kid A and I texting a few short weeks after she left

Kid A and I texting a few short weeks after she left

Kid B was relied upon heavily during the house selling and buying phase of the summer.  Basically, she raised the other kids for us.  Well, she did along with all of the video game systems we have in the house.  Do you know what happens when you leave a 15-year-old in charge?  I’m talking no bathing until the weird smells start to offend, cereal/ peanut butter sandwiches/ frozen chicken nuggets as the “fancy” meals, and a glazed look in everyone’s eyes as a result of 8 – 10 hours a day of electronics exposure.  I wasn’t paying attention to how bad it had gotten until one morning, after dropping Kid B at the soccer field for training, Kid E and I were having a nice car conversation.  Then he asked me if I knew what a K/D spread was.  I did not, but said I could look it up when we got home.  Imagine my horror when I learned it was short for Kill/Death ratio (basically, how many kills you achieved before your character was in turn killed), tracked in Halo, a military science fiction video game.  Parenting Fail #1,024 for the summer.

Me:  Um, you know that this is a video game and you NEVER, EVER shoot anyone in real life, right?  Because when you die in real life, you don’t get more lives.

Kid E: Yeah.  Yes.  Of course, mom.  I know.  Everybody knows that.

Eh, they’ll survive.

Fortunately for everyone, I was quickly jolted back into a lead parenting role as Kid B had a trip of her own planned this summer.  She went to Europe to guest play with a team from Mount Pleasant, South Carolina in an international soccer tournament.  She was gone for almost two weeks.  She traveled to several cities in Spain (including Barcelona, San Sebastian, and Madrid) as well as the beach in Biarritz, France.  She had the trip of a lifetime and didn’t miss home very much at all.  As a matter of fact, she admitted to crying on the plane ride home because she couldn’t stay there for the rest of the summer.

For me, the time with both Kid A and Kid B gone was amazing.  Don’t get me wrong… I enjoy both of them tremendously and love that they are my children.  But let’s be honest about the Catch-22 situation involved in raising independent, strong-willed, powerful women (which is my end game in successful parenting Kids A, B, and C, by the by).  There is the occasional tension and butting of heads between teenage girls and their mothers.  And I’m saying that in the nicest way possible.  Add in PMS, some OCD, the DMV, a deficit in R-E-S-P-E-C-T, plus a pinch of sarcasm, and you likely get one or more parties CRBT (crying real big tears).  I already knew it, but while they were gone I was hit once again by the fact that raising teenagers is really hard.  I’ve stopped counting all of my parenting fails with them.

Eh, they’ll survive.

But will I?

Oh, of course I will.  I used their time away to thoroughly enjoy the three littles (well, Kid C is not so little anymore, but you know what I mean).  We went to the movies and the pool and we played games and stayed up too late and went out to dinner (it’s much more affordable with less people!).  It was relaxing and light and fun.  No matter how many kids you start out with, it turns out having fewer is kind of a vacation.

But when it was time to pick Kid B up from the airport, we were all excited and ready for her to be home again.  Especially the ‘kids’ that she raised for us.

Kid B airport pickup

Now we are back to 4/5.  And even though it is only for a little while, I can’t wait for all of my chickens to be home.  Having Kid A go off to college in August will definitely be interesting.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

 

 

House Dating

We are here.  Yes, already.  In the blink of an eye, we are into Week Six in our Eleven Weeks of Summer Vacation.  And I can not believe that it is more than half over.  Where did the time go?

Well, for us it was a whirlwind of house nonsense.  Back in the spring I had started looking for a new house.  I was mainly looking for a bigger kitchen, a bigger basement, and a bigger yard (yes, size matters – let’s be real).  And right around the time that Kid A graduated from high school, I had found what I called The One… it had a bigger everything, plus a salt water pool and a hot tub.  I wanted it so badly.  It wooed me so effectively that I dismissed its (albeit, few) glaring flaws as “charming” and “additive of character.”  But after a lot of negotiation, it turned out not to be The One.  Just like in high school, I would have had to pay a much bigger price then I was willing for it to be mine.  And I couldn’t do it.  So, with my heart a little broken but my honor intact, I moved on.

Meanwhile, we had aggressively priced and listed our current home in order to make our offer on The One stronger and more appealing.  We totally glammed it up, and it looked good.  In less than a week we had multiple offers.  We accepted the cleanest one (full price plus, no closing costs, no contingencies) because after our brief hook-up with The One we were confident that there was a bigger, better house out there for us.  Dice rolled.

I would also like to mention that the moment our realtor planted his sign in our front yard, I started receiving texts and phone calls from my neighborhood friends.  I was definitely feeling the love.  They all told me that we could not move, even to the neighborhood right next door.  Some even swore to shun me if we went through with it.  I think several of them were concerned that they would inherit the title of Craziest Lady in the Neighborhood once I left.  So I appeased them with invitations to future hot tub parties.  And I wore the For Sale sign around my neck like a bold, scarlet letter as I went back to my search for the perfect house.

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Within days I found it.  We called it Sugar’s House after the sweetest old golden ever.  She kept watch (and by “kept watch” I mean “took a nap in the front office”) every time we came to look at her owner’s beautiful home.  I could actually feel the love inside that house as I walked through it.  I could also feel my girl parts tingling over the gorgeously renovated kitchen, brick-surround fireplace, and master bath (complete with a shower-for-twelve).  Sugar’s House was soon going to be our family’s home.  I just knew it.

But then the buyer for our home backed out at the eleventh hour (I’m so serious… the contract termination came through at 11PM on a 12 midnight deadline).  Sheepdog and I had been at a wedding at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens all evening, where I had made friends with several vodka cranberries.  I may or may not have mentioned to other wedding guests that I was wanting to punch the game-playing buyer in the vagina when she tried to bully us into conceding money for things we already took into consideration when we priced our house so aggressively.  And she knew exactly what she was doing because she was in the business of real estate.  So we called her bluff.  But then she walked.

So here we stand, robbed of our original marketing momentum and feeling the sting of a too good to be true buyer.  To be honest, it hurts to have somebody break up with you like that.

But there is still hope for us.  We decided to take our house off the market (no more showings or inspections…yippee!) and we decided to love our own house again.  It has great bones and over the past seven years we have turned it into our home – a home that is filled with great memories and love and laughter, just like Sugar’s house.  And soon I’ll be making a phone call to the contractor so our kitchen and master bath can look like Sugar’s as well.  I’m getting tingly parts already!

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

 

 

 

 

Time for a Check Up

I was at one of those trampoline jumping birthday party places with a friend recently.  While our kids played dodge ball and bounced out some extra summer energy, we had a nice talk.  She shared something with me and then added, “Oh, I hope that’s not TMI.”  I laughed and reminded her that she was talking to a giant over-sharer.  The conversation went on from there and my friend said something to me that others have also mentioned in the past, regarding the state of my marriage.

“I see you as such a strong couple, ” she said.  “You seem like very good communicators, and you make a good team.”

I thanked her, then reminded her of a very critical fact.  Yes, Sheepdog and I work very, very hard at our relationship, but it is far from perfect.  We fight, disagree, act selfishly or immaturely, and go to bed mad at one another just like everybody else.  We have different interests, hobbies, and schedules.  We have dealt with big and little struggles and we have been through counseling several times.  There was a time about nine or ten years into our marriage when we actually decided to get a divorce.  But then we let down our defenses and started enjoying each other and our family and decided that divorce was one of the dumbest ideas we had come up with in a really long time.

Even though we worked through that craziness, we occasionally get off track again we get to a point where we act more like porcupines than dolphins.

This is an excerpt from one of our recent conversations:

Sheepdog:  “What’s wrong?  Why are you so grouchy?”

Me:  “I’m due for my period on Saturday.”

Sheepdog: “You are either on your period, about to get your period, or just getting over having had your period.”

Me: (expertly executing the evil wife death stare)

Sheepdog: “What?”

Me: “I can’t hear you over the glorious sound in my head of me hitting you with a shovel.”

AmericanGothic

So close… if only it were a shovel and she got to hold it.

So, just like you would change the oil in your car every 6,000 miles, or you swap out the air filters in your HVAC system quarterly, or you check the batteries in your smoke alarms every six months, or buy new running shoes after 3 or 400 miles, Sheepdog and I felt like it was time for a marriage check up.  Yesterday we went back to counseling, and we will keep going back until we get things back on track.  And we are both very hopeful.

Today we celebrate our 21st wedding anniversary.  I say “celebrate” purposefully, even in the middle of a rough patch, because it is certainly something that we are very proud of.  It is hard to stay married to one person for a long time.  It is hard to stay friends with one person for a long time.  It takes a lot of energy.  People constantly change and evolve and life is hard and kids are demanding and work is stressful.  But Sheepdog and I are doing it, and we are committed to doing it for as long as we both shall live.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

 

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Dear New(ish) Neighbor Across the Street,

I planned to come by and say hello.  I intended to introduce myself.  I wanted to welcome you to the neighborhood, and do all the welcome-y things that good neighbors are supposed to do, just like Mr. Rogers taught me (well, maybe not the singing and the acting out stuff with puppets and toy trolleys and such, but you know what I mean).  Sigh.  But I haven’t.  And now literal months have gone by.  And I feel really bad about it.

mr-rogers-hello-neighbor

I can make all of the excuses.  You moved in during Spring Break.  Spring Break!  During Spring Break this year I was busy in Florida hating the beach in the rain along with too many loud people inside of a too small house.  And then we got right back into school and activities and all of the things, so dropping by to say howdy to you fell to the bottom of my to do list.

Plus, you’re a dude.  And from what I can discern with my mad private investigator skilz, you do not have a wife but you do have a couple of every other weekend teen-aged kids.  What if you just went through an ugly divorce and now you hate all wife-type women?

And you rarely seem to be home.  I saw you walking your tiny dog in the mornings while I was waiting with the boys for the school bus.  But I never see you at other times of the day.  What am I supposed to do?  Sit on my front porch and wait for you to come home from work, and then go knock on your door?  What if you come home from work and immediately have to go to the bathroom?  I would be knocking and you would either have to poopus interruptus, or ignore me (because now I know you are home… I just watched you pull into the garage).  That would be so weird.  And not a little awkward for everybody involved.

I had a plan to bake you some brownies, which is what some very nice new neighbors of ours did when we moved into our house seven years ago.  But every time I bake a batch of brownies, somebody in this house eats at least one out of the tray and wrecks the possibility of gifting the whole batch.  OK, you got me.  I’m the one who eats them, but that’s neither here nor there.  And now I resent you a little bit for making it super convenient for me to eat brownies.

Then, I decided I would buy some Greenies treats or a toy for your dog.  I went to PetSmart down the street and I had a traumatic flashback to the time that I thought it would be a great idea to adopt two puppies at once, but I got so anxious that I had to return them after only 48 hours and my kids still hate me to this day because of it and I feel like a broken human being because I guess I don’t truly like dogs and the whole experience was just horrible.  Well, thanks for bringing that whole nightmare back up.

Maybe I will bring you a housewarming gift instead.  A six pack?  Maybe you don’t drink.  How about something crafty or homemade… soup mix or take out menus from local restaurants?  Something decorative or practical for the house… candles, a photo frame, a house plant?

A front door mat?

A front door mat?

OK, OK.  This is going in a weird direction.  I feel that I have made this way more complicated than it needs to be.  Let’s start over.

Welcome, neighbor.  Better late than never, right?  Here is my family’s contact information.  We’d love to get to know you.  Feel free to stop by anytime.

P.S.  I swear I’m totally normal.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

 

 

Come What May

It was a cold, gray, January day.  All of the other kids were in school as it was a Thursday, but Kid A had checked herself out early.  It was her 18th birthday, so she could do that now.  She climbed into her newly-leased electric car and turned on her iPod.  The passionate and emotional voices of Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman spilled from the sound system.  The words blasted her ears and bombarded her heart.  The song lasted the exact length of time it took her to drive from parking lot to parking lot.  She took it as a sign, like a cardinal at the window or unexplained feathers.

Sheepdog and I arrived together.  We held hands as we walked into the waiting room.  I noticed a giant eel slithering inside a 75-gallon fish tank before I even saw Kid A in the corner.  The building smelled faintly of rubbing alcohol and burning things.  We all hugged and walked over to meet with her guy.  She gave him a piece of paper that had been folded and unfolded and looked at so many times that it had the worn feel of soft leather.  They spoke to one another in the language of creative people.  Then he scanned her paper into the computer and pulled it up on the big screen.  A lone sob escaped from my throat before I could pull it back.

Seeing his familiar handwriting up there, larger than life, I was caught completely off guard.  But seeing it a few hours later, permanently inked onto the slight wrist of my oldest child, it actually felt good.  After all she had seen and experienced and lived through the past few years, it felt right.  Well, as right as a tattoo can possibly be.

"I will love you until my dying day."

“I will love you until my dying day.”

His life story will always be a part of hers.  He left his mark on her heart.  Now his handwriting is marked on her forever as well.

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Today is the first anniversary of Braden’s death.  One whole year has gone by.  An entire year of holidays, and birthdays, and Mondays.  One whole year passed of experiences, and change, and growth.  One whole year of the regular and mundane too.  One whole year of memories made without Braden.  I feel like that is one of the worst parts.

I have thought of him so much over the past year.  Sometimes I think of him intentionally, like when I plant flowers in his memory.  I talk to him as I’m doing the work, updating him with new funny stories as well as the regular day-to-day stuff that’s been going on.  And when these plants inevitably die, I think of him again because I know he is playing a twisted joke on me.  All of my other plants thrive.  It’s just the ones that I tell him are “his” that end up brown and crispy.  I like to think that Braden enjoys our conversations so much that he is just making sure that I’ll keep checking in with him.  So I guess I’ll keep buying him new plants.  And I’m good with that.

Other times he pops into my consciousness accidentally, like when I recently came across the milk shake recipe for cancer patients that I used to make for him when his stomach could tolerate them.  It was made with protein powder and coffee and chocolate sauce and Haagen-Dazs ice cream.  It always made me so happy when he would finish one, because he was losing so much weight and what else packs on the pounds but the best ice cream on the planet?  I also find him popping into my head when I’m listening to music in the car, wondering if he got to hear that really great song before he died.  Or was he around for that game?  Or did he get to see that movie?  Or look at that blood moon?  As more and more time passes, the answer is almost always ‘no.’  Not while he was here with us on earth.

So, to officially and reverently mark the passage of one whole year without Braden, Sheepdog and the kids and I went on a short hike up the Indian Seats Trail at Sawnee Mountain this past Sunday.  When we reached the top, we found some rocks off the beaten path and we sat together as a family.  We overlooked the valley below and Sheepdog said some nice words and reminded us that Braden is happy and healthy now and we shouldn’t ask for anything more than that.  He also reminded us to be thankful for our own health and happiness and to make each day mean something.  Some of us spoke about happy memories and fun times with Braden.  Some of us weren’t able to speak at all.

There was a placard up by the Indian Seats that said mountaintops are considered sacred by Native Americans because they bring us closer to Father Sky.  I don’t know about that, but I certainly felt closer to my God and to Braden that day.  It was sacred and it was good.  Well, as good as it can be when somebody is taken away before we are ready for it.

Wish me luck for tomorrow… come what may.