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January 2009

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Wake Up Call

We had just gotten the last of our youngest son's belongings unloaded in his dorm room. Tim and I stood in the hall watching the orderly chaos as people went in and out, laden with what had finally been deemed necessities for campus survival. A couple of student guides, upper classmen that volunteered to help freshmen move in, were leaning against a wall within earshot of us. One collegian was recounting a story to the other.

Seems a mother of a new freshman had approached her with an unusual request. She wanted to make arrangements to have someone wake her son each morning.

"He has never been able to wake up on his own. I have to go into his room 2 or 3 times every morning before I can get him out of bed. If I can't find someone to get him up, he'll never make it to class." The stupefied guide informed her that there was no "wake up call" service on campus, and suggested she purchase a very loud alarm clock.

The woman had an incredulous look on her face. "But what happens if he doesn't get up?"

"Well", quipped the co-ed, "I guess he fails."

The woman called the young lady discourteous and rude. In a huff she set out to find someone that could help her. The 2 guides were aghast at the degree some parents coddled their children, and seriously questioned the somnolent offspring's ability to perform the most rudimentary hygienic rituals. "Without Mommy here to wipe his butt, I doubt he'll make it," they both agreed.

Now, being fair, I don't know the full story. Perhaps this young man suffered from a Rip Van Winkle disorder that interfered with the most basic of human skills...waking up. But, I'm willing to bet this probably wasn't the only life skill that eluded him, and sooner than later he would have to face a fundamental astronomical truth...the world did not revolve around him. In an earnest effort to take care of her child, this mother had unwittingly set her son up for failure.

Preparing our children to succeed in "the real world" must begin before they actually enter the real world. Here in lies the most basic of parental dichotomies...to truly help our children, sometimes we have to, well...not help.

As parents we are often frustrated by a 2 year old's desire to do something for themselves. Allowing a toddler to feed or dress themselves often creates more work for us, but it is an important stage to encourage and reward. A couple of weeks ago when my granddaughter pulled out 32 puzzles and mixed the pieces together to create a homogenized heap, she very confidently claimed she could restore order by herself. When we started to pick up puzzle pieces she quickly thwarted us with an outstretched hand and said, "No, Pixie do." Of course she did not have the dexterity or stamina to handle this task herself...but you have to admire her gumption! Teaching our children to take care of themselves as adults begins here and now. How we treat their efforts and reward their successes establishes a template for future accomplishments.

As children get older they may not be quite as enthusiastic about fending for themselves. Things like bathing, keeping their room clean and doing their homework can create confrontations of biblical proportions! Most teens are not elated by the prospect of doing dishes or laundry or vacuuming or getting a job, but if we are truly going to prepare our children to be successful as adults, it is imperative that first we teach and then expect a level of responsibility in keeping with their developmental abilities. A 2 year old can put away the puzzle she is playing with. A 6 year old can make his bed. A 10 year old can learn to load the dishwasher. A 14 year old can do a load of laundry. And an 18 year old definitely can use an alarm clock!

It behooves us as parents to begin teaching our children the "how tos" necessary to succeed as independent adults early. Although it may feel like meeting all our children's needs is synonymous with being a good parent, being a great parent involves learning to discern between what we should be doing for them, and what they should be doing for themselves!

Packing Love

When I was a child, my mother usually packed our lunch for school. I recall looking at the school hot lunch menu with my mom, and picking and choosing the lunches I would like to buy. For the most part, I preferred packed lunches…you knew what you were getting…or at least mostly. Sometimes there would be a surprise. Like occasionally she’d make scrambled egg sandwiches. In an effort to reproduce breakfast, she’d slather grape jelly on a piece of toast, scoop a heap of scrambled eggs on top, and cover it with another piece of jellied toast. I remember the first time I unpacked one of those babies…apparently there’s some type of chemical reaction that occurs when the acid in grape jelly commingles with the sulfur in eggs turning the eggs a lovely “gangrene green”. Looking at the kids around me you could observe several undulating torsos indicative of emanate retching that only occurs when a digestion system is in turmoil. Apparently, the appearance of the sandwich produced widespread nausea.

Them: Eeeeeewwww. You’re not really going to eat that, are you?

Me: (With a quick sniff and a shrug, took a mighty bite.)

At this point poor Joyce, who had the constitution of a first trimester preggo, went running out of the lunchroom with her hand over her mouth. But honestly, despite its unorthodox appearance, it really was a very good sandwich! (Unfortunately my children shared Joyce's aversion to scrambled eggs and grape jelly sandwiches, alas, missing a truly wondrous gastronomic experience!)

But the thing I remember most about my brown bag lunches wasn’t the occasional Twinkie or the waxed paper that kept our lunches fresh or even the green egg sandwiches, it was the bite that was missing from every sandwich my mom ever packed for us. I remember asking my mom why she did this. Her answer, “I need to make sure they’re okay.” I don’t know…as a kid that somehow made sense. I assumed it was some quality control thing she did. All I know is every time I unwrapped a sandwich, and saw my mom’s signature bite mark, I felt loved.

A note about the bite marks…it wasn’t until much later that I learned a dark truth about my mom…she was, no is, a lunchaholic. My mom loved everything about lunch. She liked the break in the day. She enjoyed the peace and solitude of having an undisturbed meal when we were at school and my dad was at work. And, she adored sandwiches! I’m willing to bet, if there was only one food my mom could eat for the rest of her life, it would be a sandwich. So, truth be told, when she took a bite out of our sandwiches, she wasn’t checking the mayo to mustard ratio or the freshness of the deli meats, she was indulging her addiction to lunch! But being fair, putting a sandwich in front of a lunchaholic would be no different then exposing a virgin's neck to a vampire…who’ll notice a little nibble, right? Actually, I guess we should be grateful she was able to stop at a single bite!

But when I began packing lunches for my children, even though the hideous truth about my mom had surfaced, I couldn’t help recalling how close I felt to my mom every time I unwrapped a sandwich and saw the bite missing. So, although I didn’t share my mom’s addiction to lunch, I would take a lone bite out of my children’s sandwiches. When they asked me why, I’d say, “It’s a kiss I’ve packed for you.” I hope they felt the love!

BTW…despite my mom’s infatuation with sandwiches, I know she packed love in our lunch everyday!

 

I'm Puzzled

I have started writing this week's blog several times and words are failing me. Today my daughter and I were having a lovely conversation while all three grandbabies were busy playing downstairs. These quiet times are a precious gift that we do not often get. But, when we went downstairs to collect said children, this is what we found.

I have just a couple of comments to make before I head downstairs and start shoveling. First, a flat, 2 dimensional photo cannot truly represent the cataclysmic disaster that results from a 2 year old dumping 32 puzzles on the floor. And second, when the mayhem was discovered, the aforementioned 2 year old sat perched on top of the stack with a puzzle board in 1 hand and 1 lone puzzle piece in her other hand and enthusiastically waved us of off say, "No, Pixie do it!"

Sometimes ya just have to laugh.

Grandma's Nemesis

My Grandma Pearl had a nemesis. Her name was Martha. Believe me; something is lost in merely typing her name. If you were a Seinfeld fan, think of how Jerry use to say "Newman". Much like Jerry, my grandma's top lip would quiver, her nose would wrinkle, and she'd get this phlegmy thing going in the back of her throat each and every time she said Martha's name ... it was as if the name itself was coated in gall.

I met Martha. As a matter of fact, I had the distinct misfortune of encountering her on numerous occasions. She was a cantankerous old broad! My older brother and I often spent the night at Grandma Pearl's. And sometimes she'd have the ladies over to play pinochle. Martha coming to the house was not an event Grandma took lightly. She'd spend the day cleaning, fluffing and baking. Not that her house wasn't always impeccable, but preparing for Martha required extra attention. Pictures needed to be turned at special angles, each petal of the plastic flowers in her center piece needed to be dusted, and her copies of Reader's Digest, Prevention and Women's Day needed to be fanned out on her coffee table with precision tuning. And then there were the snacks. She always spent a great deal of time preparing something that had to have the appearance of requiring no effort at all. She would never want to give Martha the satisfaction of knowing that she cared enough about her opinion to invest any time preparing for her.

I remember one particular encounter with Martha. At the time I was in 4th grade and my brother was in 5th. He had brought his guitar along, because as an aspiring Beatle, he never went anywhere without it! I was wearing my new faux leather jumper, and was definitely feeling like I was styling. Grandma Pearl thought it was great. Being a trend setter herself...she was the envy of the blue haired society...she would have donned the jumper herself if it had come in a polyester double knit! But to put the finishing touches on my look, Grandma insisted on "doing" my hair. I sat through having my hair slathered with Dippety Do...this neon colored, gelatinous substance...then wrapped in curlers so tight that I looked like Joan Rivers after her 10th face lift, and placed under a domed hairdryer to bake for an hour. In the meantime, Grandma was in the kitchen baking her legendary apple pie. When my hair was dried, Grandma removed the curlers and teased my hair (for you youngsters unfamiliar with "teasing" this was the unnatural and tortuous practice of sliding a comb repeatedly up and down through your hair creating "volume", and as a nasty byproduct, tangles that were impossible to brush out!). When grandma was done I looked like a water buffalo, but Grandma was happy with the results, and heck, if it brought her anxiety level down a notch, it was worth it.

So, the final preparations were completed just as Martha's car pulled up. She had picked up a couple of the other women, and as they got out of the car, Grandma gave the signal which cued my brother to start playing the guitar, and required me to sit poised in a chair, giving the appearance of a demure debutant. Grandma's cheeks were noticeably flushed, but as the delicious aroma of fresh baked pies wafted through the air, carrying musical renditions by my brother, my grandma gave one last scan of the room, and as a final touch, crossed my legs in a provocative manner, not necessarily suitable for a ten year old. But the troops were prepared. Grandma Pearl was armed for battle.

When Martha walked in, Grandma was sitting in a chair clapping in time to my brother's playing. She looked up and gave her best surprised looked, as if she had been so enthralled with my brother's talents that she totally lost track of time. Martha took two steps into the room and said, "Pearl, could you make him stop that infernal racket?" Gesturing to me with a purse carrying elbow said, "Hmmm, looks like she's put on some weight." While making her way to the card table she asked, "What's that foul odor?" And when finally seated at the table, requested a dishcloth to "wipe down" the sticky surface.

But this blog isn't a documentary about Martha, but rather a behavioral science observation. Grandma knew Martha for over 20 years, and during that time I never once heard Grandma say anything nice about the woman. As a matter of fact, her comments were quite the contrary, but who could blame her? Martha was the bane of Grandma's existence. She traveled in Grandma's circle, so she was everywhere. Everyone else looked up to my grandma and sang her praises; but never Martha. Martha was quick to point out the flaws in Grandma's appearance, baking and card playing, and she did it so effortlessly. Grandma could not stand Martha...and yet...

Martha died. I don't know what Grandma's first reaction was to the news. She may have danced a little jig, she may have offered up a guilty prayer, or I'm thinking, she probably started planning the perfect outfit to wear to her archenemy's funeral; tasteful, yet bordering on the edge of disrespectful. But after the dust settled, and Martha was laid to rest, something strange and inexplicable happened...Grandma missed Martha. I'm sure there was the initial sense of relief when she was preparing for an event. Now, Grandma would only be tossed accolades, not stinging insults. Her efforts would be rewarded with praise, not criticism. But as any comic reading 10 year old would point out...superheroes are nothing without their nemesis. Superman had Lex Luther, Batman had The Joker, Luke Skywalker had Darth Vadar and Grandma Pearl had Martha. Without Martha continually trying to thwart her plans, victory was not as sweet. Grandma did not stop living when Martha died, but a major contributor to her motivation was buried, with what turned out to be, her friend.

Sometimes we take others for granted or fail to acknowledge their positive impact on our lives. Even a Martha can be missed!