We All Need Help Sometimes

If you’ve been on social media at all the past couple of weeks, I’m sure you’ve seen this photo by now:

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The sign posted in a private boys’ school in Arkansas. I don’t remember the name. Bootstrap High or something.

Let me tell a story on myself. One day last week, I was checking out at the store with more than $100 worth of groceries when I realized I didn’t have my wallet. Everything had been rung up and bagged already. Thinking back through my day I had a pretty good idea where my wallet might be. I called my 21-year-old, who was home at the time, and asked them to find it and bring it to me. My offspring came through immediately and without complaint, saving my bacon. I suppose they could have said, “Well, Mom, this is really your problem to solve…”

The best part of the story is that the store employees didn’t try to shame me in any way. (I had that one covered all on my own, thanks, apologizing to them approximately five times.) The clerk even offered to put my food in a cooler while I waited if I thought it might take a while.

Have I ever taken anything to my kids at school after they forgot it? You bet. Have there been times they forgot something and I didn’t take it to them? Of course. A couple of times, one of them went off without a piece of homework or a book and I was at work, so I couldn’t bring it. Similarly, I wouldn’t have called my kid out of a college class to bail me out of my situation.

We all need help sometimes. We’re all human and fallible. Can’t we cut each other a little slack? I’m a person who has a hard time asking for assistance from anyone, ever, for anything. It’s a great failing of mine that I work hard to overcome. I didn’t want to raise my kids to be that way. Yes, sometimes I felt hassled and frustrated, but last week I received a payment in kind.

I understand some parents feel their kids get into a bad habit of taking advantage and they need to say no to requests like this. That’s cool, too. Because the parent involved knows their child and family situation the best.

What’s not so cool is the public shaming of parents and their kids so a school principal can feel smug. Maybe this shows me to be a terrible person, but my immediate reaction on reading the sign was a fervent hope that the principal would lock his/her keys in the car by accident and that all the parents, students and school staff in the vicinity would refuse to assist in any way.

How about we let parents and kids figure out for themselves how they want to handle these situations? How about we not hold children to higher standards than we hold ourselves? How about we offer each other more encouragement and support than scorn and ridicule?

 

 

The Last Week

This is the last week. The last week of my son mowing the back yard. The last week of asking him if he has any requests as I fill out my grocery list. The last week to remind him to wear his retainer when he goes to bed. The last week to go to sleep knowing he’s safe under my roof. The last week of the cat who’s grown old as he’s grown up spending an evening in his lap while he works on game design.

We move him into his dorm this coming Saturday, and we’re in the last-minute flurry of getting it all together. I check and re-check my list of what I think he’ll need: first aid kit, plenty of socks and underwear, towels and bedding, deodorant, plates, cups and bowls. Oh, plus, how about a shower caddy to carry all of his soap, shampoo and shaving supplies down the hall? And how about some shower sandals to help him avoid foot fungus? Better throw in a package of toilet paper, because who knows how often they restock in the communal bathroom. I cross-check my list with his: ethernet cable, USB hub, extra computer keyboard… I ask if he’s done any preparation at all. He says yes, he’s backed up files from his laptop to an external hard drive.

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Photo of my son from eleven minutes ago. Or eleven years. Something like that.

I know he still has plenty of nights to spend under our roof in the future, on holidays and breaks, and the occasional weekend. I know I can visit him easily enough. He’ll be less than two hours away, after all. I know in the age of cell phones and Skype, we can be in touch as much as he’ll allow. But I know it won’t be the same as it was before he left. I’m pretty sure the new reality will bring a combination of freedom and pride and sadness and nostalgia and happiness and worry and hope.

 

We Voted

It’s Primary Day here in Missouri and I participated in one of my favorite parent-child activities. This morning, my 18-year-old accompanied me to the polls to vote in his first election. If my future is in the hands of young adults like him, I’m not overly worried.

I Voted

He not only researched every ballot issue and every candidate, but also the job duties for each office. What does the public administrator even do? Because he asked, I bothered to find out and now know that she (it’s been a she) handles the settling of estates left without a will and manages the affairs of people who are incapacitated with no family to help.

We should all be as conscientious with our votes. If having a toddler can help you appreciate anew the beauty of a daisy, having a new voter in the house can help you appreciate anew the beauty of democracy.

Always Zebras

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I’ve heard medical students are told “When you hear hoofbeats, think of horses, not zebras.” Meaning whatever symptoms they see are more likely to be explained by something common than by something exotic.

I’m here to tell you that with my son, a medical appointment often turns into a safari. It’s always zebras.

It started with his teeth, which came in early. We saw the first pearly buds when he was four months old and we had our first visit to a pediatric dentist five months later, since some of his teeth erupted with visible holes in them. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking it’s baby bottle mouth (which can also be seen in breastfed babies, so what the heck is with the name?) He was breastfed and no, the holes were not from any substance – formula or mother’s milk – eating away at the teeth. The dentist found no signs of decay. The enamel simply wasn’t there. Ever. His teeth came without all of the advertised features. While the dentist was probing with his little prober tool, a chip of tooth went flying across the room. They were that fragile.

“What would cause it? What would make his teeth be all wrong?” I asked. Among the possible answers, one stood out. If a pregnant mother runs a fever during the stage of fetal development when the tooth buds grow, it can cause dental problems, including incompletely formed enamel. Ah, yes, I spent a large part of the pregnancy ill. Two different intestinal viruses, a series of head colds and a nasty, lingering sinus infection. Zebras prenatally. We opted for baby oral surgery to cap the teeth a few months later.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks before my boy’s tenth birthday. It was a beautiful spring day, perfect for planting flowers, riding bicycles, enjoying the glory of life. I decided to plant flowers and enjoy the glory of life. My husband and son decided to take a bike ride together.

Picture: Mother with her garden trowel, adorning the family yard with festive petunias, waving happily, heart swelling at the joyful sight of her husband and their child bonding in a healthy activity. And know that in a horror movie, this is when the ominous music begins to play, warning viewers that things look a little too perfect now, don’t they? Within ten minutes the father-son duo arrived back home, excursion truncated as the son was experiencing too much pain from his helmet pushing against the bump on his head.

“Bump on your head? Where?” he pointed to a spot just behind the hairline and above his right eye. I felt it with my fingers. Yep, big old goose egg.

“Did you hit your head on something?”

“Not that I can remember?”

“How long has this been here?”

“I don’t know. Two or three weeks.” (As an aside, my son had a very poor grasp on time for a very long time.)

“Why didn’t you say something?”

Shrug.

What’s the opposite of hypochondria? That’s what my second-born has. Tumor on the head? No biggie. Why raise a fuss?

And, oh yeah, it was a bone tumor. We became well-acquainted with the town’s only pediatric neurosurgeon, who eventually took charge of his treatment. After many tests and appointments and scans and x-rays and more scans, it was determined that he had only the one tumor, but it had already eaten away a spot in his skull right down to the meninges of the brain.

One neurosurgery, a bone graft and a biopsy later, we had a diagnosis. The good news: it wasn’t cancer. The weird news: it was caused by an extremely rare auto-immune disorder that can mimic cancer – Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis. This is a disease so rare that the biggest risk factor is being a fictional character on a TV medical drama. In fact, it was the disease of the week once on “House.” LCH affects four or five people out of one million. My son’s doctor might never see another case in her entire career. My son might never have another tumor or symptom from it. Or he might. It’s so weird and rare it’s impossible to say. He’s had no more problems from it so far.

But there was another thing with his teeth after that. What to say about his teeth? I could fill a book with details of his dental woes. When his permanent teeth began showing up, his baby teeth were reluctant to leave. He kept getting more teeth but not losing many, so they came in wicky-wacky. We had some baby teeth removed by his dentist. I honestly think she could have lost every patient but him and still made a pretty good living.

I was overjoyed though, when I saw his top front permanent teeth were strong and complete, even if a little crooked. That lasted a few weeks, until he chipped both when he fell off the jungle gym on the school playground. We would discover many years later that one of the teeth sustained severe permanent damage. This came to light when he got braces at age twelve.

One of the aims of the orthodontia was to bring that front tooth down in line with the others. It had been riding high, never descending completely after getting whacked on the monkey bars. But the tooth didn’t move down. Instead, all of his other teeth started moving up to meet it. Wait, what? I know! That’s exactly what we said, too.

A super-duper futuristic 3-D x-ray revealed the root of the problem. The tooth was ankylosed. This is an uncommon but not unheard of complication that can happen with injured teeth, especially in a human whose bones are still growing. The tooth had fused to the bone up above. It wasn’t going anywhere. Well, not until an oral surgeon cut it out and the orthodontist built a fake tooth-on-a-retainer (like pizza-on-a-stick except a tooth on a retainer) to take its place. The hope is to get an implant if the kid ever stops growing. We’re on hold with that issue for now, but sometimes…

I can’t keep my mind from leaping to TUMOR. For instance when my son and I are sitting in the living room, both reading, as we were a couple of weeks ago, and he says “I hate it when that happens.” And I say “What?” and he says “When I can’t read because the center point of my vision disappears.”

WHAT???!!!!

“Has this happened before?”

“Only a few times.”

“How often?”

“Not very often. It’ll be, like, a few weeks sometimes between one time and the next. And my vision always comes back before too long.”

And he hadn’t thought to mention it. What is the opposite of hypochondria?

The good news this time: still not cancer. Not even a tumor. The weird news this time: it turns out you can have migraines without the headache part. Ocular migraine – that’s what he’s experiencing.

It’s like the Serengeti around here. Always zebras.

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A License Obtained and a Hearing Aid Found

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My son is 17 1/2. He’s had a driving permit for quite some time and we completed his required practice hours weeks ago. But every time I looked at the calendar and found a time when he and I were both available to go to the DMV for the driving test, something interfered. Once he came down with a bad cold. Another time there was a thunderstorm.

I’m in a launch frenzy with my two young adult kids, frantic to get them through a check-list of steps to competent adult life. I’m pretty sure the driver’s license is more important to me than to my son. Continue reading “A License Obtained and a Hearing Aid Found”

Feeling the Sandwich This Week

Sometimes lately, I can breathe. Sometimes, now that my kids are young adults, I feel a little space opening, giving me fewer needs to meet, fewer conflicting priorities. But then I have a week like this one. This week, this is me.

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Not only sandwiched, but toasted.

Mom’s hearing aid needs repaired. I don’t remember the brand or know where to take it. But surely I can find time to pick it up to see the brand and then find a place that will service it. Um. That much is accomplished. As far as actually getting it to the place…I feel like the world’s most neglectful daughter.

My older kid found a job they want to apply for, which is way up there on the priority list and a major step forward, but they’re floundering in confusion and anxiety over creating a resume. Can’t wait forever to apply; got to get it done right away. Sure, I’ll help. Anything. Anything to help facilitate this step toward self-reliance. Conflicting priorities. I choose helping my firstborn over taking in my mom’s hearing aid. It can wait one more day. I should have a couple of hours after work and before the business closes.

Oh, but then my second-born has arranged to have his friends gather at our house as soon as I’m home from work. It’s the only time all summer they can make it happen, what with all of their various summer classes, jobs, travels and volunteer obligations. One of the boys in the group is leaving the country in a couple of days. These are good kids. Regardless, I’m not leaving a bunch of teenaged boys unsupervised in my house for any length of time.

I’ve also been prepping for a program at work that puts me in a role I haven’t played before. Ideally, this should only affect me during work hours, but I have so much anxiety about it I feel compelled to spend time at home refreshing myself on the details to know and remember.

I was about to call my mom last night and explain all of this to her, hoping she could hear my words of reassurance that she isn’t forgotten, when the tornado sirens went off. Have I mentioned the weather? We’ve been spending a lot of time in the basement lately. Fortune has spared us tornado damage, but not the imminent threats.

Tomorrow. Tomorrow I will definitely get to the hearing aid place. And hope they’re not closed early for the holiday weekend. Sorry for making you wait, Mom. I said SORRY FOR MAKING YOU WAIT ON YOUR HEARING AID.

 

Anything But the Crafts Room

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My youngest child is 15. Five years ago today, I volunteered at my last grade school class party. I remember the day with great fondness, recalling the dance of joy I did in the parking lot afterward as I said to myself, “I never have to do that ever again in my entire life!”

The way my kids’ grade school did parties was to have each class rotate through various rooms – the Crafts Room, the Snack Room, the Game Room. My first class party I eagerly asked what I should do and was assigned to the Crafts Room, where I was handed some colored paper and glue sticks, along with an instruction sheet containing unfathomable diagrams. Thirty seconds later I had kindergarteners lined up, waiting for me to show them how to make their whatever it was supposed to be. I’m not a crafty person and I work a lot better with linguistic instruction than pictures. The other parents in the room were breezing through their lines of kids, while I sat and wondered which way the paper was supposed to fold.

I learned a valuable lesson that day. Show up early and grab a spot in the Snack Room dipping ice cream, before someone else takes the position. The number of kids still seems overwhelming, but once you’ve filled them with sugar, you get to send them out of the room to go be someone else’s hyperactive problem.

Valentine’s Day always featured the added bonus of showing up with a case of PTSD from having assembled and addressed three dozen valentines the night before with a kid who insisted they fervently wanted to give out valentines, yet couldn’t seem to get through the task of even signing them. The first couple of years I insisted I wasn’t doing the work for their valentines. This progressed to, “Okay, I’ll make and address half and you address half, but you have to sign them all.” The final year I gave up all pretense. I bought a package of Iron Man perforated cards and forged my son’s name on them. It was easier and less stressful that way.

There are things I miss about having younger kids. I miss going to the park. I miss bedtime reading and snuggles on the couch. But there are compensations, with no more class parties being one of the biggies.

 

 

The Perfect Extra-Curricular Activity

 

By Jean-Simon Berthélemy [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By Jean-Simon Berthélemy [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In the midst of all of the stress and busyness that comprises sandwich generation parenting of two somewhat unconventional teens, there’s been a real bright spot this school year. My ninth-grade son joined the Gordian Knot, his school’s philosophy club. Led by two teachers, the group engages in structured explorations and discussions of philosophy. My kid can now identify logical fallacies as quickly as people on the Internet can type them. From my point of view, it’s the perfect extra-curricular activity.

Why is it perfect?
1. My son loves it.
2. It gives him a chance to spend time with like-minded kids.
3. It leads to interesting discussions at home.
4. It meets only once per week for one hour after school.
5. There are no practices.
6. There is nothing to buy.
7. There is nothing to sell.
8. It requires no parental volunteer time.

As far as I’m concerned, school activities can’t get better than this.

When Being a Parent Pays Off

blackberry tart

 

 

It was worth it, every bit of it – the pregnancy, the day and a half labor, the diapers, the sleep deprivation – for it was all  leading here. This blackberry tart was made by my 17-year-old, and it was possibly the best dessert I have ever eaten. In. My. Entire. Life.

I’m not sure from whence her domesticity comes. But I’m impressed by her accomplishments in her newest field of interest – fandom-based cooking. Thanks to her, our New Year’s Day was filled with a feast of Hobbit/Lord of the Rings inspired baked goods. In addition to the tarts, she made tea cake, seed cake and yes, lembas bread. She even wrapped the bread in “leaves” (green paper) as the travelers did in the Lord of the Rings.

Lembas Bread, unwrapped.
Lembas Bread, unwrapped.
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Leaf-wrapped Lembas Bread