I’m always trying to learn more about my craft. Which is writing, in case you were wondering. I tried knitting once but it was too hard to turn one long string of knitted yard into something useful. But I digress.
The Austin Screenwriting Conference is one of the places I have gone for many years to learn about screenwriting and most recently playwriting. It’s cool because there are literally hundreds of people you can talk with about writing, unlike at the grocery store where people are more interested in talking laundry detergents or shocking alien baby headlines.
While waiting in line to go into a session last October, I was talking with some fellow writers about a title for a script idea I had.
“The premise is: A woman fears her mailman could be the sperm donor of her young son.” I explained.
“What about Heir Mail, spelled H-E-I-R?” someone suggested.
“Oh, I like that.” I said.
“I know, Postage Due. No, Male Man. That’s no good. I’ve got it, Going Postal. ” a woman drinking an energy drink fired off.
“I was originally thinking Special Delivery, but I think I like Heir Mail best” I said.
“Those are terrible names.” Scoffed a rather grungy looking guy of indeterminate age. “What’s in now is sounds.”
“Sounds?” I asked wondering if he was on something.
“Titles go through cycles. It used to be the end of things, like “The Final Chapter” or “The Last Jedi.” He explained.
“Oh, I see. So, you’re saying… what are you saying?” I asked still confused.
“Sounds, man. Like crunchy, or clank, or SNAP!” he yelled, causing us to jump back.
“I’m not sure I -” I began, wondering if this was another of Austin’s homeless teasing us for his own amusement ,or if it was Terry Rossio, who was leading the session we were going into.
“Alright, I’m just going to give this one to you. No fiduciary.” He said as he moved in to whisper in my terrified ear.
“Clank Fizz Boy.” He said softly.
Suddenly they opened the doors and everyone rushed past me into the room. The grungy man was gone, the room filled up and they closed the doors and still I stood there.
I knew I should disregard what he said, but I felt like the beginning and end of Citizen Cain having just heard the word “Rosebud” whispered to me like the key to the universe.
Clank Fizz Boy. It was just crazy enough to be brilliant. I raced back to my hotel room, unplugged and began outlining a new script. It was either going to be my big splash into film success or land with a resounding thud. (See what I did there?)
I get that the holidays are hard for some people. Especially for people that have lost loved ones, or are going through illness or divorce. But I don’t understand why people who have no obvious reason, claim to hate Christmas.
Like my friend Cheryl. She’s loud and proud about not celebrating Christmas.
“It’s just a holiday created by greedy corporations.” She proclaimed one afternoon while we were baking cookies for school.
“I doubt there were corporate marketers at the birth of Christ.” I said decked out in my Christmas sweater, twinkling light necklace , my face painted to look like Rudolph.
“Who do you think the wise men were? They came bearing gifts with the expectation you would buy the rest of the stuff in their camel bags.”
“Well, I love Christmas.” I said wistfully. “The decorating, Christmas movies, caroling. Well, not caroling so much; have you ever heard me sing? Oh, and we have a tradition that every Christmas we watch Holiday Inn.”
“That’s disgusting.” She said. “I bet you have one of those Elf on a Shelf’s too.”
“We do!” I said excited, then remembered this would probably be the last year of magic. “It was a lot of fun when the kids were little. But our youngest was so devastated when we told her there was no Easter Bunny, no St. Patrick’s Day Leprechaun, no Flag Day Fairy-“
“Flag Day Fairy?” she asked cutting me off.
“Yeah, you know, he goes around putting flags in the ground to honor all the soldiers that don’t have someone to remember them.”
Cheryl stopped her assault on the Christmas tree cookies that had so much frosting they looked like Abominable Snowmen that had molded.
“Where did you grow up?” she asked cautiously.
“I’m an army brat, I grew up all over.”
“That explains it. Wait, isn’t your daughter like sixteen? And she still believes –”
“Jiminy Christmas!” I yelled before she could blurt out something about Santa. It worked, but had the added effect of her squirting frosting across the kitchen which landed on my little dog’s head. Fortunately, my big dog quickly lick his head like an ice cream cone.
“She’s fifteen. And we’re going to tell her right after Christmas.” I whispered. “Next year.” Cheryl started to say something, but instead switched to putting mouths on the Santa cookies.
I assume she intended to make them look like they were saying “ho ho ho” but they looked more like Mrs. Clause and the Surprise Emoji had a baby.
Baby It’s Cold Outside came on the radio sending Cheryl into another Christmas fit.
“There’s a song that should be outlawed.”
“It’s cute.” I said defensively.
“Have you ever listened to the words?”
We stopped talking and listened to the song a moment.
So really I’d better scurry (beautiful please don’t hurry)
But maybe just a half a drink more (put some records on while I pour) The neighbors might think (baby, it’s bad out there)
Say what’s in this drink? (no cabs to be had out there)
“The guy’s a letch! She’s trying to leave and he’s slipping drugs into her drink!”
“What? No!” I said, but remembered my kids had said the same thing since they were in preschool. How could I have missed that growing up?
For the next fifteen minutes we worked absorbed in our own thoughts. Cheryl probably worrying about my rose colored glasses when it comes to Christmas. For me, I realized Cheryl must have suffered some traumatic Christmas experience like Neil in “The Santa Claus” who didn’t get his Weenie Whistle when he was three. What terrible injustice did Cheryl experience that could reverberate well into her forties?
It was going to take some detective work, but I was determined to help turn her into a Christmas lover. That didn’t come out right, but you know what I mean.
It seems Cheryl had an agenda of her own. After she left I found our boy and girl Elf on a Shelf embracing each other on top of the Menorah holding each others butts.
My friend, Carmen got a part time job over the holidays for some extra Christmas cash.
“I thought it would be fun.” She began, and I knew I was in for a whine and dine. Thankfully, she only had a thirty minute lunch break, so it couldn’t drag on too long.
“The teenagers are the worst, always calling me ma’am.” She continued.
“How disrespectful.” I said sarcastically.
“I know, right?” she responded, missing the sarcasm completely. “Hey, you remember my son’s third grade teacher?”
“The one who told you she didn’t like your son at Meet the Teacher day?” I asked.
“I can’t believe you remembered that! She-”
“Who could forget that? Her name was, wait, don’t tell me. It’s Miller – no, Milner. Wait, that’s not right. But it does start with an M.”
“L.” she corrected.
“L? Are you sure? I could have sworn it was an ‘m.’”
“No! Don’t tell me. I know this.” I continued, trying to solve the mystery. “Lester. Little. Lemer. Lettuce.”
“Shay.” She cut in.
“No! I got this! Lor –i-ta-nem.” I said sounding out possibilities.
Carmen rolled her eyes.
“Okay, give me a hint. But don’t tell me.” I said to appease her.
“It rhymes with ‘cotton.’”
“Cotton? Are you sure we’re talking about the same person?” I asked doubtfully.
“Yes! Mrs. Lau-”
“Don’t say it!” I yelled, covering my ears so I wouldn’t hear. “La-la-la-la.”
“What are you doing?” she asked trying to hide her face as other people in the deli looked over at us.
“Just give me a second.” I said, taking my hands from my ears confident she wasn’t going to give away the answer. “Okay, what do we know? It was your son’s third grade teacher. She told you she didn’t like him. And, her name starts with the letter ‘L.’”
Carmen said nothing and shoved half a drumstick in her mouth. Which meant she was either annoyed or very hungry. Another mystery, but I didn’t want to split my focus, so I put it from my mind.
“Oh, AND, it rhymes with cotton. Although, I’m not sure that part is right.” I said, to which Carmen may have rolled her eyes again. I couldn’t be sure because I was focusing hard on my mind’s eye. Or is it, “in” my mind’s eye? Ah, curses, another mystery to solve!
“I’ve got it! Larson.” I proudly proclaimed.
“Marson? Parson? Tarson?” I fired off as she continued shaking her head and chewing.
“Those don’t even start with an ‘L.’” she pointed out.
“Okay, give me another hint.”
“It sounds like Daughton.” She offered, finishing off her lunch.
“Sounds like Daughton, but begins with an L.” I repeated slowly.
Carmen’s contact must have come out, because she banged her forehead on the table several times looking for it. Which surprisingly enough, worked because they seemed to be in her eyes now.
“I gotta get going.” She said gathering her trash onto the tray.
“Alright. Just tell me.” I said giving in.
“Oh, Mrs. Laughton! Yeah, I remember her. She was so nice.” I said with a smile remembering her craggy old face.
I realized I hadn’t even started eating, but didn’t feel like I should languish since Carmen had to get back to work. I tossed my hamburger in my purse and shoved most of the fries in my mouth, throwing the rest on her tray of trash.
“Wha’ abow’ her?” I managed to ask, spewing a marginal amount of French fries in the process.
“She just dinged your car in the parking lot.” She said. “Happy holidays!”
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I like people. And I like meeting new people. But I don’t think that’s the same thing as networking. I was talking with a friend of mine at lunch before leaving for a conference involving “networking.”
“The fact that it has the word ‘work’ in it, is an indication, it’s not supposed to be fun. Am I right, or am I right?” I asked.
“Oh, you’re right, girl. But you gotta know how to work it.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked.
“I’m just saying, networking is about gettin’ out there and meetin’ the right people.”
“I can network, I just don’t like to.” I said defensively.
“Hmm-humm.” She said with one of those “Girl, you are lying through your teeth” side smirks that involves a half cocked eyebrow.
“I can! I’m actually pretty good at it.” I said lying through my teeth.
Now, a polite friend would have let it drop there, both of us knowing it wasn’t true, but Evette is not one of those friends. She’s the friend you go to when you REALLY want to know the truth, because she can lay it out like a chemistry teacher breaking down the periodic chart with scientific truths and charged chemical reactions!
“Tell me about one of your networking successes.” She demanded.
“I did too. Remember, it was at the Fox Theatre ten years ago and a few of us talked to her after her program…” I continued with revisionist history firmly in place.
I could see the gears spinning as she tried to recall what I told her all those years ago.
“You’re talking ‘bout the time she took questions from the audience and you were up in the second dress circle?”
“It may have been. I don’t remember.” I said standing to search for the waiter.
“And you yelled out a question while she was still talking?”
“I didn’t- it – the microphone wasn’t working!” I explained.
“Oh that’s right.” She agreed and proceeded to laugh loudly as she retold the story. “That’s why you started yelling! And, the security thought you were a heckler and tried to have you removed!”
I gave up looking for the waiter and sat down, hoping her laugh fest would soon pass.
“I think I know what your problem is.” She said seriously. “You don’t know what networking means.”
“Networking means talking to people you don’t know, so you can sell them something they don’t want, while trying not to be boring or intoxicated.” I said, confidently regurgitating a networking 101 blog I read.
For some reason she thought this was hysterical and fell into another fit of laughter, drawing the attention of a friend of ours entering the restaurant.
“Evette! Shay! Hi. What’s so funny?” Kimberly asked coming over to join us.
“It’s nothing.” I said, spotting the waiter coming from the kitchen and waived profusely.
“Shay thinks yelling at someone on stage is networking.” Evette said laughing.
“Like when you heckled Carol Burnett?” Kimberly asked, trying to understand.
“What? No! She’s just – she’s joking. See how she’s laughing? How’s Benjamin?” I asked Kimberly, trying to change the subject.
“I don’t know. I just don’t think this long distance romance is going to work.” She said thoughtfully.
“Long distance? I thought you lived together.” I said.
Evette stopped laughing and we both looked at Kimberly confused.
“It’s the long distance romance, that’s the problem.” She reiterated. When we continued to look dumbfounded, she whispered “We’re only having sex once a month. Don’t you think that’s a pretty long distance in between?”
Evette and I looked at each other and burst out laughing. If networking were as easy as getting together with friends and laughing at each other, I’d do it all the time.
Epilogue: My networking skills failed once again while at the Austin Film Festival when I only managed to network with a homeless man that wandered in and a call girl looking to get “discovered.”
I offered to do some volunteer work with a friend of mine the other day when our conversation took a hard turn. (On a side note, next time I’ll do the driving because riding with her took ten years off my life and not in a good way.)
“Do I look alright to you?” I asked.
“What do you mean? Like if I was a lesbian?” she asked beginning to check me out.
“No. I mean, do I look weird?”
“You look like you always do.” She shrugged.
“You mean I’ve always looked hideous?”
While she slammed on the gas to merge into traffic I flipped down the visor to look in the mirror.
“Have I always had that vein in my temple? And that scar on my lip? What are these lines around my eyes? I think I have a skin condition.” I said in rapid succession.
“Those are smile lines.” She said, trying to sound positive.
“Oh my God, do I smile that much? That’s it, I have to stop watching comedies. Wait a minute, smile lines? That’s code for crows feet, isn’t it?” I said accusingly. “What’s next? Double chins?”
I flipped the visor back up, stretched my neck and began slapping my chin.
“What are you doing?” she asked swerving back into her lane.
“It’s supposed to keep the double chins away. I think.” I said, starting to flinch at the pain.
“You’re just making your neck red.”
Flipping down the visor mirror again, I confirmed she was right and I looked more hideous than ever.
“I guess I’m going to have to convert.” I said sadly. Flipping the visor up again.
“Convert? Girl, what are you talking about?”
“I’m going to become a Muslim so I can wear a burqa.” I explained.
“First of all, you are the most devout Christian I know. Granted, that’s not saying much since most of my friends are Jews or Atheists, but I don’t see you giving up your faith.”
“You’re right. I love Jesus. Do you think He would mind if I had plastic surgery?” I asked seriously.
She stared at me for a very long time, which was terrifying because she was doing 70 mph on the interstate.
“What?” I asked when she continued taking our lives in her blind hands.
“Girl.” She said, which really meant “You are too stupid for more words.”
We exited the freeway and I breathed a sigh of relief, beginning to believe we would actually get to our destination without an accident.
“I wish I was black.” I said wistfully.
She gave me that look, which said “girrrr-l” but with a question mark on it, which means “what they hell are you talking about?”
“Black people don’t age. Look at Will Smith. He looks the same now as when he was the Fresh Prince. And Samuel L. Jackson. And Denzel Washington.” I continued.
“Those are all black men.” She pointed out.
“Well… Beyonce’ then. She looks like she’s only about thirty-five.”
“She’s thirty-six.” She advised.
“Oh, I said.
“Beyonce’ at eighty would be an improvement for you though.” She said only half joking.
“That’s what I’m saying.” I agreed.
“You know what your problem is?” she said, parking the car. It was a rhetorical question, so I didn’t try to guess at which problem she was referring to. “You don’t know what you got, ‘til it’s gone.”
“That’s not-“ I began to argue, because if there’s one thing I am good at, it’s appreciating the who’s and what’s in my life.
“Let me finish.” She said holding up the quiet finger. “Have you ever looked back at photos and thought “Hey, I didn’t look half bad then.” but at the time you thought you looked terrible?”
A light switch flipped in my brain and I understood what she was saying. “You think you look bad now, just wait a few years.”
With those words of wisdom, I slipped my big sunglasses on, tossed my hair over my shoulder and buttoned my vest snug across my chest. Then, stepping from the car, I strutted across the street like John Travolta taking the dance floor in Saturday Night Fever.
To the kids at the elementary school, I may have looked like an old lady with big glasses who was hearing voices, but to me, I was a volunteer crossing guard with a few good years still ahead of her.
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While putting on lip balm, I mentioned to my daughter that I wished my upper lip was bigger.
“I look like Kermit the Frog.” I complained. “I wish I had lips like…”
“The Kardashians?” she offered.
I didn’t know who the Kardashians were. I mean, I had heard the name, but I hadn’t seen anything they had been in.
“They aren’t actors.” She explained.
“Are they one of those famous for being famous people?” I asked her, then pulled up a photo on my phone. It turns out, I actually did recognize Kim Kardashian. “Wow, she’s beautiful.” I said. “Yeah, I wish I had lips like that.”
That was a Friday. We were traveling to Estes Park, Colorado to go on a hike with my husband’s friend, Erik Weihenmayer and the outreach program “No Barriers” that Erik founded with Mark Wellman and Hugh Herr. (If you haven’t heard of Erik or No Barriers, you should follow the links. Then you can say you actually learned something useful from my blog!)
My husband, our daughter Maggie, and I, started the adventure on Saturday, August 12th, at 9400 feet above sea level. My head began hurting the evening before from the elevation and I was chugging water like a lip gloss lathering Kardashian.
I don’t care how fit you are (not saying I am), elevation is its own beast and when you live in a low lying state, 9400 feet above seat level puts pressure on your brain. Like watering a flower, hydrating yourself, keeps you from withering.
I don’t know if it was the fresh air, the water, or the inspiration, but my headache was gone within the first fifteen minutes. More than likely it was the inspiration. We were hiking up this rocky terrain with soldiers suffering from PTSD. We couldn’t tell who they were, not because they weren’t wearing their camouflage, but because every person was jovial, enthusiastic and connected on a mission to reach the summit – whatever that was for each of us.
There were also several blind hikers, including Erik Weihenmayer, who, having climbed all Seven Summits (that’s the highest point on every continent, including Everest) traversed the mountain like it was a walk in the park. There were several amputees and four people in wheelchairs. Which, if you’ve never seen a person in a wheelchair hike a mountain – you need to go on the next No Barriers hike and meet all the amazing people involved.
Our family didn’t know when we began the hike if we would continue from the first summit at Storm Pass, or if we would hike the final .7 mile up the rocks to Estes Cone. But once we got that close, we knew we would regret not continuing. I still don’t regret it, despite what lay in store for me. (Foreshadowing…)
We reached the top, took photos and headed back down. I was happy as can be. Until, mid sentence of what I am sure was the most brilliant thing I’ve ever almost uttered, my foot caught under me and I went flying, head first, down the steep rocky terrain!
Instinctively, I threw my hands in front of me and arched my back, trying to keep my head from slamming into the rocks. Gravity was working against me and I flew downward, my knee slamming into a boulder, and as I hit a level rock I went sliding on my face. Blood gushed from my mouth and as I pulled my head up, my backpack gave one last bounce that caused my bared teeth to slam hard against the rock and I knew I had just lost two or three teeth.
My daughter just below the rock I landed on, helped me up. In moments, a woman had a gauze bandage out of her pack and in my hand. I poured water on the bandaged and mopped my bloody lip. Not wanting to frighten my daughter, or slow down the hike, I got my clown feet under me and moved along, holding the cool wet gauze on my rapidly swelling lip.
“Did you see how I tried to protect my brain by using my hands and stopping with my face?” I asked, trying to turn it into a teaching moment.
“Way to avoid a concussion, mom.” She said encouragingly.
My bloodied knee hurt, but I ignored it as I tried to safely get the rest of the way down the peak. My daughter insisted on carrying my backpack and hers the rest of the way. My husband far behind us helping others, wouldn’t hear about my encounter with the mountain until later.
Maggie and I paused further down the trail to assess the damage to my swollen mouth. I didn’t have my glasses or a mirror, so she took a photo and I studied it. I was amazed that I hadn’t chipped my teeth and my lip wasn’t split open. In fact it was swollen in perfect proportion.
“Wook at how puffy my uppa wip is.” I said narcissistically. “It’s so pwetty. Isn’t it?”
My daughter looked unconvinced.
“I mean, if you ignore the bwuddy cut.” I explained.
“Yep, you look just like a Kardashian.” She agreed.
“Aw, yer tho thweet.” I said. Then got to wondering, “You think the Kardathians thwam their wips ev-wy day to get them to wook wike this?”
“Just keep the gauze on your mouth, mom. We’ll be down the mountain in a couple of hours and can get some ice on your whole head.” Maggie said, sounding like the parent.
Epilogue: Thanks to the grace of God, and the braces on my teeth that reinforced their strength, my teeth did not chip or fall out. One tooth was dangerously loose and I wouldn’t be able to bite or chew on the right side of my mouth for almost three weeks. Five weeks later, my gums were still tender and I couldn’t kneel on my right knee. But, somewhere up on Estes Cone my DNA bears witness to reaching my own personal summit and a No Barriers experience I will remember for many reasons.
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Remember those awkward teenage years of thinking you’re a freak and everyone secretly knows it? Years of saying the wrong thing to a cute guy like, “I’m fourteen and three quarters.” Or “Bless you.” when he coughed. Or trying to contribute at the popular table by saying “Rick Springfield is so hot.” Only to realize he was no longer in vogue.
Apparently, you go through it again later in life too. Or maybe it’s just me. For example, there was this one day that was particularly full of awkward moments. Which is when I noticed there was a pattern of embarrassing behavior.
I didn’t think the first one was that weird until my daughter pointed it out. Apparently, I saw the mom of these two sisters in her class and said “How are the twins?”
“Do you realize how disrespectful that is?” my daughter asked me later.
“It is?” I said dumbfounded.
“You wouldn’t say ‘How is the boy?’ Or ‘How is the parent?’ They’re not a the.” She explained. “Besides, they’re not twins.”
Which, for my part, if you’re not twins you shouldn’t dress alike. Just saying.
The next awkward moment, was definitely on me. I was talking with tech support about software for a game I bought when the internet was first invented and they needed my password. I considered faking a dropped call, but I was going through solitaire withdrawal and needed to play.
“Uh, mybuttyourface.” I said as none offensively as I could.
“Ma’am?” he responded. I swear he sounded like he was nine.
“My, uh, my password. It’s the punchline to that old joke ‘Got a match?’” I tried to explain.
“Yeah, a match. Like, to light a cigarette.”
“I don’t smoke.” He said, like a mature twelve year old scolding me.
“No, I don’t either. It’s a joke. ‘Got a match? Yeah my-” I tried again to explain.
“I just need your password, ma’am.” He advised with definite disapproval.
It was supposed to be a private joke just for me, that no one would ever know about. But how do you explain it to a kid that doesn’t even know what matches are? I spelled it instead. “B-U, then there’s a T and a second T.” I said, hoping it didn’t sound like words.
Note to self, change all juvenile passwords.
Next up, I was at a networking lunch at a restaurant. There was a TV in the corner with a commercial of fresh off the grill BBQ ribs. And I said, “Those look tasty.” Of course, by the time everyone turned to look, it switched to a commercial for abused animals and there was a pitiful looking dog in a cage with part of his ear missing. Yeah, awkward.
And no matter how legit your excuse is, it always comes out worse than what they originally thought you meant.
“No! It was barbecue ribs!” More close ups of emaciated dogs, their ribs filling the screen. “Not dog ribs. Cow ribs. Or pigs. Or whatever BBQ ribs are made of.” What are they made of anyway?
I didn’t know what else to do, so I just ordered a vegan burger. At the bar. In a different restaurant. I don’t know what vegan burgers are made out of either. But it still seemed wrong to eat it, so I took it home to my dog.
The moral of the story is, awkwardness happens. That’s life. It happens to everyone. Probably. Get over it and get something to eat. (Although I don’t recommend vegan burgers.) And enjoy a little chocolate. It works for me.
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You ever have one of those days where you’re like, I really need to get to that overflowing laundry basket? Then your kid says they need you to get some poster board at the store for their school project. And you’re like, well that’s more important than laundry. I should go do that.
Then you get a text from someone at work that desperately needs something you were supposed to have sent them last week so everything is waiting on you. And you think, I better do that first.
But before you can get to work on the document you haven’t actually started, a friend calls and tells you her car broke down and her daughter is stranded at a friend’s house. The family is leaving, so she’ll have to wait outside of their house until she can get someone to pick her up. And you’re like, I definitely have to do that first – the poor kid.
Then in walks your husband and says “What’s for dinner?” and you lay into him like he’s just asked you to straighten the Leaning Tower of Pisa. An impossible task but you’re still expected to do it!
You rush to the address your friend texted you only to find out that her daughter got a ride home from a friend, but didn’t think to let you know.
Then you swing by three stores until you find the white poster board for your kid’s school project. And right after you’ve paid for it you get a text saying it should be blue!
When you finally get home with the blue poster board, that took you three hours to get, you find your husband has ordered pizza for the third time this week. Which means you’ve got to do 27 hours of cardio to work off the fat calories from the four slices you consumed.
By the time you’ve cleaned up the kitchen, (which by the way always ends up taking just as much time to clean as it does when you’ve actually cooked dinner) you’re so exhausted you can’t even think about starting laundry.
Instead, you pull out a few of the top pieces from the dirty clothes hamper, douse them with Febreze and toss them in the dryer so they will have pseudo-clean clothing for the next day.
When you crawl into bed you remember you didn’t finish the document you haven’t started. You have to then decide on a restless night’s sleep worrying about it, or stay up and do it.
We took our son to college a few days ago. Now there’s a big empty space in our lives and where his stuff use to be. He’s our oldest. The one we learned how to parent with.
If you have kids, you know you spend the first 4 years of their lives saying “do this” and “don’t do that.” Then before you know it they’re leaving for college and it’s our turn to learn some things.
Basically it comes down to two things: let them make their own decisions and don’t embarrass them. For example:
Don’t put little notes in their underwear drawer that say: “You should have at least six pairs of dirty underwear by the weekend, or you aren’t changing them enough.”
Don’t embarrass them in front of their new friends by saying things like: “Remember, eating too much fried foods will make your face break out. If it does, use the oatmeal/cranberry face mask I packed with the baby powder.”
Don’t set up an ironing board in their dorm room and insist on ironing their clothes before they go in their closet. And definitely don’t take their roommate’s clothes out and iron them too.
Don’t try to one-up the roommate’s family by sharing the fact that your son was the winner of the Teenie-Weenie Scientist Atom Drawing Contest when he was three years old.
Don’t push him towards every new student in the hallway and say “Go introduce yourself.”
Don’t text him the minute he’s out of sight to see if he needs you to come get him.
Yes, it’s going to be hard knowing he’s not in his room playing video games. Or out with his friends eating junk food and playing Magic until 2 a.m. Or see him sitting at the table with earbuds in watching Netflix on his phone unaware that you’ve been talking to him for twenty minutes. But you have to put on your poker face and let him go. Technically, he stays and you go, but you get the idea.
If you really want to be one of the cool parents, there are only two questions to ask:
1) Do you need any money? and
2) Do you want me to leave now?
Then get in the car, take a deep breath and cry your eyes out.
Somewhere between having our first child and volunteering to help do anything at anytime for anyone, I began to get behind at home. In my defense, when you have kids in school, mountains of papers and projects begin to come home with them. The smaller they are, the more stuff comes home. You know what I’m talking about. Cute poems with foot prints, place mats with hand prints and discipline slips with finger prints. (Early practice for those going to juvie I suppose.)
After eighteen years of parenting, our house began to look like a hoarders and we hadn’t bought anything is six years. I am a fanatic about recycling and re-purposing, so every can and jar with a lid gets saved. Every stray piece of string and every stray dog, for that matter, are protected from the dump. So, I guess there is a bit of hoarding going on here. Fortunately, our neighborhood has a group email and a couple of teenagers posted their availability for helping with odd jobs during the summer.
I should have known it wasn’t going to work out from the moment our teen helper walked into the study/junk room and said, “How long is this going to take?”
She did have some nice things to say like, “I bet this house would be really nice without all this stuff.”
She also thought my grandparents ration book from WWII was “cool.” And asked if it was from “the Revolutionary World War or the Civil World War?” When I explained that the Revolutionary War and Civil War weren’t world wars, she said they teach it different now.
“I bought one of those multi-drawer organizers” I started, but then was interrupted by her reading a text she received. Not even aware that I had stopped talking, she replied to the text, then looked back at me.
“Just take all the stuff out of that right drawer-” I continued, only to be interrupted a second time. Again, she responded to the text like Pavlov’s dog to a bell.
“And then put them in the organizer drawers and label them in alphabetical order.” I finished.
“Uh-huh.” she said pushing send on her phone, which immediately buzzed again. “Oh, my gosh!” she said with an dramatic sigh. “This is so annoying.”
Tell me about it, I thought, but said nothing. She finished her text and looked at me waiting for something. “So…?” she questioned.
“So?” I queried back.
“What do you want me to do?” she asked, completely unaware that I had already told her.
I explained again, this time using few words and using gestures like an Indian from a bad western movie. “Put stuff from drawer in trays. Label alphabetically.”
“That’s it?” she asked as if I could have hired a pre-schooler, which in retrospect I should have. I nodded and asked her if she would like a glass of ice water.
“Oh no. I can’t drink water, it makes me have to pee. Do you have any coke?” she asked.
I assume she was referring to the drink, although her previous statement made it seem less likely. “No. How about lemon water?” I offered trying to trick her.
“That sounds great.” she said taking the bait.
It took her three hours to move one desk draw of stuff into the desktop organizer and label it. Whether that was because of the TEXT-BOOK she was typing in her phone (see what I did there?) or because she doesn’t know the alphabet and had to ask siri what “post-it notes” starts with, who’s to say. All I know is it took me another three hours to relabel the drawers.
I was able to figure out how she came up with “S” for the Scotch tape. But there were two items I couldn’t figure out and finally had to call to satisfy my curiosity.
“I didn’t see a drawer for the safety pins or push pins.” I said innocently.
“The safety pins are under ‘B’ because they were all BIG safety pins.” she explained. And the push pins are under “J.”
“J?” I asked.
“Yeah.” she laughed to herself. “When I was little I jabbed my finger with one and cried to my mommy that the “jabby thing stabbed me.” she said in a baby voice, which I’m sure her mommy finds adorable.
Ugh! Next time I need help I’ll get someone that speaks my language. I just hope, my mommy is available.