TOO MUCH?

September 28, 2012 in Adventures in Parenting

 

Yesterday was the day that put me over the edge.

September is always a challenging month with the chaos of back-to-school and all that comes with it, but somewhere around the end of the month, we begin to settle into some sort of manageable routine.

That has yet to happen this year, and it’s almost October!

Things came to a head yesterday during my oldest son’s first cross-country meet. I had never been to one either, so it was a first for both of us. He left the middle school on the bus, while I corralled my younger 2, got them snacks, books, and pencils for them to do their homework in the car, and we drove to the neighboring middle school.

My oldest informed me that the cross-country meet would be over sometime between 3:45-4:00pm, so we had plenty of time to make it to the soccer practices later in the evening.

I had no idea what to expect, and apparently neither did the cross-country coaches (this is the 1st year it has been offered) because we arrived at 3:45pm and the 1st of 4 heats (Varsity Girls), hadn’t even finished their 2-mile course.

My son’s heat, the JV Boys, was scheduled to run last. Hmm…

As the minutes ticked by, it slowly became apparent that my middle son was not going to make it on time to his 5:00pm soccer practice.

As the minutes continued to tick by, the realization dawned that my oldest son would be late for the start of his 5:30 practice.

When he finally finished his 2 miles (he did great!), I made the poor kid run with us to the parking lot and so began my 2-hour stint in the car, dropping sons off (late) and picking sons up, all the while quizzing whoever was in the car with me on their spelling words for their tests today.

When we arrived home at 7:30pm, I still had checks to write for various classes, reading logs to sign, and my oldest, after running in a meet and participating in his soccer practice, still had an Algebra test to study for.

As I looked around the house and saw dishes piled in the sink, food strewn all over the kitchen, papers from school piled high on the counters, and my oldest’s eyelids drooping over his textbook, I could only say to myself “You have lost control.”

This weekend, I’m taking back control! First on the agenda is a sparkling clean house…all of it, not just the bathrooms. I can’t stand the clutter another second!

Then my oldest son and I will re-assess his activities. Cross-country is great conditioning for soccer, but this might be a little extreme.

We want to enjoy life too: sit on the couch and read (me) or play Wii (them), play with friends, or just hang out and do nothing for a bit…sounds like heaven.

This weekend, we change our lives (or at least clean up the cereal off the floor), so come October 1st, we will all be a little more relaxed. I can’t wait!

GOING BACK TO MIDDLE SCHOOL

September 26, 2012 in Adventures in Parenting, Reflections on Pop Culture

I recently had the pleasure of attending my oldest son’s curriculum night at the middle school. It’s his first year there—he’s in 7th grade—and he has been loving it.

I, however, had a lot of questions, and my son is not the chatty type.

“What did you do today?

“Mom, stop! That’s too many questions!”

“I only asked one! You’ve got to give me something. Sometimes I just need to know what’s going on in your mind.”

“My mind is a happy place.”

As delighted as I was to hear that, it didn’t explain what those mysterious “Double Days” were.

I thought the curriculum night set-up was ingenious. At 7:00pm sharp, the 1st bell rang. All of us parents with our student’s schedule and a map in hand had 5 minutes to navigate our way to our child’s 1st period. The night continued in this fashion: 10 minutes per class period, 5 minutes to find the next one, until by the end of the evening, I had gone through an entire day of my son’s schedule, saw all his classrooms, and met all his teachers.

The teachers ran the gamut: one said at least 5 times that her class was a high school level class and the students were expected to perform accordingly, while another invited us to e-mail her if our child had a bad night so she could be extra sensitive to them the next day. One teacher was a seasoned vet, while another looked to be about 15. They were all great! I almost wanted to attend the middle school myself.

Take LASS, for example. Language Arts and Social Studies are lumped together for a double period (not to be confused with a Double Day). They’re reading The Outsiders. I love that book! I grew up with the movie, and more specifically, the actors in that movie, all of whom went on to have amazingly successful careers.

If you love those guys as much as I do and want to hear a riveting account of what when on during the shooting of that film, check out Rob Lowe’s autobiography Stories I Only Tell My Friends. It’s fascinating to hear the antics of these young boys before stardom hit.

The Outsiders is great, but it doesn’t exactly have a happy ending.

They’re also reading the short story Brian’s Song and watching the movie. Really? The true story of  Brian Piccolo who, just after he turned pro in football, was stricken with terminal cancer? I saw this Emmy Nominated made-for-TV movie and bawled my eyes out. It doesn’t have a happy ending either.

If that’s not enough, because this is also a Social Studies class, they’re watching Glory, starring Matthew Broderick and Denzel Washington (who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role). It’s the story of the first US Army unit to be made up of entirely African American volunteers led by a Caucasian Colonel. The Civil War always touches on my heartstrings: brother against brother, family against family, our entire nation torn apart… But this movie? I could barely see the ending through my tears.

And they’re watching all 3 of these movies in 1 year? What is going on with 7th grade? They might as well throw in Where the Red Fern Grows and Old Yeller to really round out the year.

I’m glad my son’s mind is a happy place: he’s going to need it.

 

 

PS For those of you dying of curiosity about the Double Days:

Our school district designates Wednesdays as “Early Release Day” so there are not enough hours in the day for the middle school to get through all their class periods. So they double up: on Wednesdays, they have some periods for 2 hours, and on Thursdays they have the others. It sounds like a teacher’s dream to me, but sitting through 2 hours of Algebra…that’s another story.

THE LOST INNOCENCE OF CHOCOLATE

September 24, 2012 in Adventures in Re-Discovering Myself, Book Reviews

It’s possible I may have a problem with chocolate.

I have been eating more than my fair share lately, but it’s only because I’m stressed and busy getting ready to launch our school’s art program. I need some kind of reward to sustain me, don’t I?

Maybe not.

I recently picked up a children’s book about chocolate from our local library. I Love Chocolate (how could you go wrong with a title like that?) by Davide Cali and illustrated whimsically by Evelyn Daviddi, begins with a happy child showing us all his favorite chocolates: crunchy, chewy, creamy, filled, white, milk, dark…yum! And he shares.

But then it descends into the dark—and not as in dark chocolate—side with this simple sentence: “I love chocolate because it makes bad times better…” The story goes on to list the multiple ways in which you can use a chocolate bar to displace your feelings of:

  • Anger             “…when the TV’s on the blink…”
  • Being Upset   “…when people get angry…”
  • Loneliness      “…when friends don’t seem to care…”
  • Boredom        “…when you’re bored at a football game…”

When you’re bored at a football game? Is this book seriously suggesting that boredom is an acceptable reason to eat chocolate?

I found this entire storyline to be so upsetting that I considered following the book’s advice to grab a chocolate bar to suppress my feelings.

Do I do this? Am I eating chocolate so I don’t have to deal with my feelings of hurt, anxiety, boredom, or just a plain old bad day?

Well, you can hardly blame me. Dark chocolate releases serotonin, a natural anti-depressant, and endorphins, which stimulates pleasure. Think of the money I’m saving myself on psychiatric bills and prescription medications just by reaching for a Hershey bar that costs roughly 50 cents. I wonder how successful my chocolate-replacement therapy will turn out to be?

Why is this book saying it’s ok to turn to chocolate instead of working through your feelings? A quick check of the front page showed the book was originally published in 1972.

Well. That explains a lot.

1972 predated car seat laws and air bags. Today, you can’t even leave the hospital with an infant unless the nurse sees your car seat. But as young children, we were permitted to climb over the seat in our giant station wagon, roll around in the back, and climb back over to the middle seat, all while the car was rolling down the highway at 60 miles per hour. No one wore seatbelts. I’m not sure our old station wagon even came with seatbelts!

It was the bygone era of eating processed foods guilt-free, feeding infants formula from a bottle with no one giving you dirty looks, and tearing around the neighborhood by yourself on a bicycle with no helmet, no shoes, and no adult knowing where you were for hours on end.

I first got drunk in the 70s. It was ok back then to let your below-the-legal-age-limit children have a sip of your beer at a restaurant or a taste of your ice-cold gin and tonic at home, even if they were under the age of twelve. (It was probably not ok for me to continue stealing sips while my dad was distracted, but I did pay the price when I threw up all over the carpet.) Today, you provide alcohol to your under-age children and you earn yourself a quick trip to jail.

Of course Davide Cali thought it was ok to write a children’s story where all feelings were sublimated with chocolate. No one had feelings back then, or eating disorders, or post-traumatic stress disorder, or parents that screwed them up before they even turned two. In that realm, eating chocolate because you were bored was deemed ok.

Now, though, we know better. I know better. I do love eating chocolate, but I need to make sure I’m eating it for it, and not because it keeps me company when I’m stressed out.

 

 

 

 

CLEAN HOUSE, CLEAN MIND

September 21, 2012 in Adventures in Re-Discovering Myself

 

I’m right in the middle of Mari L. McCarthy’s 27 Days of Journaling to Health and Happiness Challenge! I’ve been journaling faithfully every day for the past 15 days trying to find the key to a lifetime of health and happiness, and I’ve discovered two things:

1)    I need more than one key.

2)    I already have the keys I need. I just forgot where I put them.

Take Day 14, for example. Mari suggested we de-clutter our homes and then journal about it. (As you can see, this is more than just a journaling challenge. I have to clean my house too? I did not see that tidbit when I signed up for this course.) When I read the assignment, I felt as if Mari had peeked into my home and said “Oh dear.”

Clean space, clean mind: everyone knows this. It’s not a new concept. I love a neat house. I feel calmer and more in control when I walk into an organized room. I like seeing a freshly vacuumed carpet with no dirty socks strewn across it. I practically fall into a coma of serenity when my kitchen countertops are empty and clean.

Unfortunately, I’ve been working hard lately on getting our school’s Explore Art program ready for the new school year, and I’ve stolen away my cleaning/organizing time to do that instead. Consequently, my kitchen countertops look like this:

My kitchen table and TV room look like an art studio exploded. I have paints, watercolors, markers, crayons, and paper piled high on every available surface. I walk to school to pick up my kids and friends tell me I have orange chalk all over my face. My fingers are stained with ink and oil pastel. I’ve been dressing in old, tattered clothes for days so I don’t get upset when I inevitably spill glaze or acrylic paint on myself.

I can’t keep track of anything because everything is so cluttered. I misplaced my son’s homework packet five times in the span of 45 minutes. I can’t find two very important pieces of paper, and I’ve had to redo things because I can’t find the original one I did.

Mari’s right: I need a clean house.

But the only way I’m going to get one is to finish up these final art tasks so I can clear all the art supplies from my home. In the meantime, I’m condemned to living in chaos and it does not feel good.

So yesterday, I took a stand. Realizing that my downstairs would have to stay like it is for a couple more days, I took on the bathrooms. I scrubbed toilets, emptied trashcans, Windexed mirrors and cleared everything from the countertops. My goodness, did it feel good! Now when I feel my mind start to scatter, I simply sneak away to the bathroom for a few precious moments of open space. It’s wonderful! I take a few deep breaths and let my eyes soak in the neatness. I can feel myself start to relax and my thoughts start to line back up again in an orderly fashion.

Then I can go back into the clutter armed with a sense of order even amidst the chaos.

My next step will be to tackle the upstairs, broadening the range of calm spaces I can spend time in.

Pretty soon, it will be the downstairs’ turn, and unlike other days when I dread cleaning the house, I am looking forward to that task.

My mind and I can’t wait!

AN AFTERNOON WITH INA GARTEN

September 19, 2012 in Book Reviews, On Writing

 

Over the weekend, my mom treated me to an afternoon with the Barefoot Contessa’s Ina Garten. (Thanks Mom!) She came to Seattle’s magnificent Benaroya Hall for a conversation with well-known Seattle chef Greg Atkinson in anticipation of her upcoming cookbook Foolproof. It’s an elegant venue, and the lobby was filled with mini-bars, a pastry table, and, of course, all her cookbooks for sale.

I was beside myself, and not just because I was drinking a glass of wine. I love Ina Garten! I have watched her show for years, starting when my children were very small and I just couldn’t stand another episode of The Wiggles. I started watching Food Network because I never had to worry about someone dropping a bad word in the middle of a sentence or taking their top off and making out with the camera operator.

Watching Food Network was a nice distraction from the mountain of laundry I was supposed to be folding, but somewhere along the way, I realized that I could be making some of these recipes myself instead of relying on boxed mac & cheese all the time. And so began my love affair with Food Network in general and Ina Garten in particular.

Ina is everything in person that she is on TV. She’s calm, down-to-earth, and comfortable in her own skin. She knows who she is and makes no apologies for it. And she’s happy! She giggled her way through the entire interview, not because she was silly or nervous, but because she’s a genuinely happy person. Plus the woman can cook. Is it any wonder Benaroya Hall was filled and as soon as she came out on stage we gave her a standing ovation?

When Ina was young, her mom refused to let her cook because she was supposed to be studying. She studied herself right into a job at the White House during the Ford-Carter administration until she hit the age of 30, at which point she thought “I can’t do this one more minute.”

Her husband, the amazing Jeffrey, whom she met at age 15 (!), told her to pick something that would be fun for her and not to worry about whether she’d make any money at it. How supportive is that?

With no experience whatsoever, Ina took a leap of faith and bought a specialty food store in the Hamptons called Barefoot Contessa: “…when you jump off a cliff, it really focuses your attention.”

She worked there for 20 years and “it didn’t feel like work because [she] loved it.” And then one day, a customer came in and asked her for some chicken salad and she started to cry. The time had come to move on, but to what?

She finally decided to submit a book proposal for a cookbook, and the rest we know: more cookbooks and a TV show on Food Network.

I love her philosophy: she approaches food simply because she has found that the more familiar the meal is, the more comfortable the people are. She takes something as simple as a grilled cheese and dials up the volume by using Parmesan, Gruyere, and sharp Cheddar cheeses with applewood smoked bacon. Voila! The Ultimate Grilled Cheese is born.

As Ina says, you “don’t have to make something complicated to have a delicious dinner.” Her cookbooks reflect this: simple recipes with a nice photograph, and when you cook the dish, it looks like the photograph when you’re done with it—something that doesn’t always work out for me with Martha Stewart’s recipes! I guarantee you that even if I paid meticulous attention to these 2 recipes, they would never turn out like Martha Stewart’s for her granddaughter Jude’s Birthday! (Although I still might try the cake. Brown-Sugar Layer Cake with Caramel Buttercream Frosting …yum!)

Don’t get me wrong: I adore Martha Stewart! I could stare at these beautiful creations all day. I keep her in my back pocket for special occasions, and Ina gave her a shout out for bringing home ec back into fashion.

But for everyday, Ina’s recipes are so easy and full of flavor! I now own three of her cookbooks and cook from them often. Why? Because just like it says on the cover of barefoot contessa at home, these are “everyday recipes you’ll make over and over again.”

 

It’s true. I’ve made her Turkey Meatballs and Spaghetti multiple times, and the Green Green Spring Vegetables are a summer staple.

How does she come up with her recipes? Ina begins by imagining a flavor and a texture of a dish in her mind. She’ll read everything there is to know on the dish she’s creating before going into her kitchen and experimenting. Sometimes it will take her two tries, sometimes it will take her 25 times, but she eventually works it out.

Her next step is to write the recipe and pass it on to her assistant to actually make the dish while Ina watches.  Ina’s trying to see what someone at home with only a piece of paper as a guide experiences when making the recipe. If something’s confusing or unclear, she changes it.

When everything’s perfect, she puts it to the ultimate test: she makes it as part of a meal. It’s easy to focus all your efforts on one dish, but if it’s too complicated when adding in all the other elements of a meal, then what’s the point?

I was shocked when she said that if it doesn’t work out, she’ll throw the recipe out and never make it again.

What? What if it was really good?

That just goes to show you how much ease and simplicity is a part of her life. That is something I could really get behind.

It was a wonderful afternoon spent with a cooking icon who, with the way she carries herself, honestly could be my next door neighbor…and I wish she was.

In honor of Ina Garten, I’ll share with you the only ginger cookie recipe I’ll ever use because it is that good. Enjoy!

Ina Garten’s Ultimate Ginger Cookie

2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking soda

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 ½ tsp ground cloves

½ tsp ground nutmeg

½ tsp ground ginger

¼ tsp kosher salt

1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed

¼ cup vegetable oil

1/3 cup unsulfured molasses

1 extra-large egg, at room temperature

1 ¼ cups chopped crystallized ginger (6 ounces)

granulated sugar, for rolling the cookies

Crystallized ginger comes in packages in the produce aisle or in the spice aisle.

 

 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, and salt and then combine the mixture with your hands. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the brown sugar, oil, and molasses on medium speed for 5 minutes. Turn the mixer to low speed, add the egg, and beat for 1 minute. Scrape the bowl with a rubber spatula and beat for 1 more minute. With the mixer still on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the bowl and mix on medium speed for 2 minutes. Add the crystallized ginger and mix until combined.

Scoop the dough with 2 spoons or a small ice cream scoop. With your hands, roll each cookie into a 1 ¾-inch ball and then flatten them lightly with your fingers. Press both sides of each cookie in granulated sugar and place them on the sheet pans. Bake for exactly 13 minutes. The cookies will be crackled on the top and soft inside. Let the cookies cool on the sheets for a minute or two, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

 

GETTING IN TOUCH WITH MY INNER BAD ASS

September 17, 2012 in Adventures in Re-Discovering Myself

Now that my three kids are in school all day, I’m shaking up my exercise routine a bit. Normally I’m a cardio gal: I run, or I go to the gym and select a cardio machine to hang out on, or I…run.

I love cardio, but I also recognize that there are other things my body needs—like toned abs—that I’m never going to get no matter how far I run.

So I’ve started two new classes to fill in the gaps cardio leaves.

One class is Group Power. Basically, it’s a one hour weightlifting class offered at my gym. Sure, I could do weightlifting on my own time, but I don’t. I have no idea what all those machines are about and besides, I find weight lifting, well, boring.

But the class! There’s fun music, there are different instructors pushing me and my fellow gymmates to fatigue our muscles groups one by one, and as a bonus, they’re funny! How can I be bored in a class that discusses how we want to achieve Matthew McConaughey’s butt by doing 1000 squats because when he slid across the stage in Magic Mike, the skin on his butt didn’t move at all. (I’ll go ahead and admit this right now: I’ll be renting Magic Mike. Yes, I saw it in the theater, but now I need to study it for, um, workout purposes.)

Weightlifting empowers me. I feel stronger and more confidant, and more capable of knocking people down if necessary. (Not that I would, but still…) I flex my biceps repeatedly for my kids.

“See those muscles?”

“No.”

“Well, they’re coming.”

A couple more weeks of that class and I’m going to be a bad ass.

If that doesn’t do it, my kickboxing class will. My friend teaches it once a week and she invited me to attend. I had no idea what I was doing (I still don’t). We were supposed to punch and kick a bag in specific sequences. I was so focused on trying to figure out what my friend was doing that either I barely patted the bag or I missed it altogether because I lost my balance and landed too far away from it.

Near the end of class, I figured out the secret: ignore my friend and focus on doing the sequences at my own pace. Gradually, something happened: I started attacking the bag with power. It was exhilarating! I’d kick, punch, jab, and upper cut with strength, ridding my body of all its pent-up aggression and frustration. I struck the bag so hard it started marching across the floor so when the song ended, I had to push it back where it belonged.

I’ve only taken one class, but I’m anxious to try it again. I have some frustration and stress to work out, like the fact that I’ve been living without a dishwasher for a week and a half and am still waiting on a part to come in.

I will always run (because cardio keeps me out of a mental institution), but these classes are adding an element of strength to my routine. I can’t wait until I start seeing some results!

PEEING AND POOPING AND FARTING: OH MY!

September 14, 2012 in Adventures in Parenting

I grew up with one sister. We weren’t prim and proper by any means, but I was still wholly unprepared for the behavior my 3 sons exhibit on a daily basis.

I now know the key to their very existence: They are fascinated by anything that comes out of any orifice at any time, and I have no idea why.

When we were on vacation this summer, we saw deer in the backyard of the rental house we were staying in. We stood quietly on the deck watching as a darling little spotted fawn toddled along after her mama. Did my kids care about that? Not in the least. The big news of the day was that they saw the mama deer poop, and after the deer left, they dashed out to inspect it close up. Why? I honestly don’t know.

I often tell my youngest son the story of his birth. After he was born, the nurses whisked him away to clean him up under the warming lights. Unbeknownst to them, while the light was working, the heating element had failed. My poor little son was naked and exposed to the cold while they weighed, measured, and dressed him. He got chilled, which caused him to shiver, which depleted his glucose stores too quickly, leading the doctors to wonder if he had diabetes. They stuck his heel to check his glucose levels many, many times that day and throughout the night. They bundled him up in two onesies, one worn normally on his arms, and another upside down so his legs could fit through the armholes. They swaddled him in a blanket with heat packs so it was like holding a tiny oven.

During the night, he threw up his formula so violently some of it came out of his nose. The following heel stick showed low glucose (Of course it did. He just threw it all up!). We had visits from neonatal specialists evaluating the possibilities of diabetes, a virus, or something else very, very wrong. It was a long night.

Finally, they isolated the culprit: a faulty heating element. My son was perfectly fine, and we were released the next day.

There’s a lot in that story, but the one piece of information my youngest son retains above all is the fact that he threw up out of his nose. You would not believe how often this piece of information comes up in casual conversation.

My boys are fascinated by peeing: who can pee the farthest, the longest, the most often in a five minute period of time. I am trying to instill the “who has the best aim” category, but so far, it hasn’t taken.

They love poop. They sing songs about corn in their poo and they watch animals poop with an intensity I wished they’d apply to their homework.

And they can fart on command! I have to mediate arguments like this one:

“He farted on me—on purpose!”

“I only did that because he burped in my ear!”

They have apps that mimic the various farting sounds and play frequently with whoopee cushions. I am plagued with jokes like:

What does a monkey’s farts smell like?

Bananas

My kids make me watch gross You Tube videos like the one of the man who burped one continuous burp for 17 seconds. (Although that was rather impressive.)

And I’ll tell you something else: they don’t grow out of it.

While I’m disgusted/repulsed, any adult male within a 5-mile radius is laughing his head off.

I don’t get it. Why is all of this so fascinating?

Any males out there? Please tell me, because I would love to know. I think if I had the answer to this, I might be able to achieve world peace!

AN EVENING WITH GARTH STEIN

September 12, 2012 in Adventures in Parenting, Interviews, On Writing

Last night I was standing in a long, slow line consoling my 9-year-old son. He had just burst into tears because I, as a newbie to book signings, did not plan my attack very well.

I thought I had it down. Complicated carpools were coordinated and a babysitter was arranged for my two sons unable to attend due to soccer practices (my middle son, with the earliest practice, was not so lucky). We made it to the local high school auditorium with time to spare and even managed to snag decent seats. But instead of looking around the room with a dopey grin on my face waiting for Garth Stein to arrive, I should have been in the lobby buying books for him to sign afterwards.

It was the culmination of our city’s first One City, One Book program and Garth Stein was scheduled to speak about his books The Art of Racing in the Rain and Racing in the Rain: My Life as a Dog. I was thrilled! My son, less so. Like a good parent, I bribed him with a stick of gum. He took it, but it was clearly not enough. So I upped the ante, promising a McDonalds milkshake afterwards because I wanted to listen to what Garth had to say.

The second sentence Garth spoke was this:

“If anyone feels the need to dance, please let yourself loose.”

What kind of author begins an evening with a statement like that? I’ll tell you: a funny one. And he was funny, and enthusiastic, and comfortable on stage.

He began with his background: where he grew up, where he went to college (Columbia University), and how he was living in New York with his small children when he and his wife decided to return to the Seattle area.

They had just moved back and were stumbling around with everything in boxes when (I believe) his mother-in-law called and told him to turn on the TV. Garth replied that he didn’t have one. She advised him that he’d better get one. That day was 9-11-2001.

He bought a TV only to see the city—his home—that he had just left in ruins. In front of us all, he choked up. He suggested we all take a moment to remember those that were lost on that horrific day.

He was a class act.

Garth was an engaging storyteller. He told stories that made us laugh and some that made us issue a collective “Aaahhh.” He poked fun at himself and answered questions thoroughly…so thoroughly he sometimes forgot what the original question was. He was a pleasure to listen to, especially when he was reading one of my favorite sections in the book: that of Enzo flying around the racetrack with Denny on a hot lap. Plus, he made inspired remarks like this:

“Reading a book is not a monologue, it’s a conversation.”

He advised the younger ones in the audience (like the one lying in my lap sprawled across two chairs) that if they really believed in something and wanted to accomplish it, they have to put in the effort and make the sacrifices to get it done. Life is too long to do something because someone else says you should do it. That’s great advice for them, and I’m stealing it for myself as well.

He gave tips to aspiring writers:

  • “You need to have stories to tell and you need to have something to say.” (Finally being older is paying off!)
  • Keep writing.
  • Keep reading.
  • Take acting classes. (Didn’t see that one coming, did you?)

He was amazing!

As soon as the final applause began, my son bolted out of his seat and I was right behind him, but we were operating on two different agendas. He wanted McDonalds and I needed to buy books for the signing. By the time we did that and got in the book signing line, it was well over ½ hour long. Hence the poor child bursting into tears.

A good mom would have taken him to McDonalds right then, but I had interviewed Garth Stein on my blog and there was no way I was leaving without saying a personal thank you. Instead, I grabbed a friend and asked if she’d drop my son off at home. But there was no way he was going anywhere except McDonalds for his milkshake. Again, two different agendas but the same result: we stuck it out.

I spent the time thanking the Gods of Dropped Treasures for helping my son find three pennies and two unopened Laffy Taffys in the adjacent bleachers and conversing with the sweet lady in front of me. She looked just like what she was: a kindly librarian with curly gray hair and a stack of books in her arms for Garth to sign. Then she confessed that she wanted to be reincarnated as a dog because she has a thing for tails. (It was a long line: intimate secrets were spilled.) I thought I had her pegged, but then she dropped a bomb on me: she and her husband own four Porsches (one is named Miss Plum) and were going to the track this weekend to race them. She works the pit crew. Wh—what? This tiny librarian who wants her own tail is a bad ass in the racing arena? Who would have thought?

She might be my new BFF.

Finally it was our turn! I told Garth who I was and I thanked him for the interview. He said something like “Oh, Muddy Kinzer. I put you on facebook. Your Q &A.”

Wh—what? I’m on Garth Stein’s facebook page?

My son and I ran all the way to the parking lot: he for the milkshake, and me because I was shouting “I’m on Garth Stein’s facebook page!” the whole way. (I can’t find it on there, but still…)

At home with his milkshake and my autographed copy of The Art of Racing in the Rain, my son and I were content. I reached over, tousled his hair, and told him I was glad he came with me. He grinned and fell into my arms for a hug.

It was a perfect evening.

OVERPROTECTIVENESS VS HONESTY: WHAT WINS?

September 10, 2012 in Adventures in Parenting

I lean toward the overprotective side of parenting. It’s probably in my nature anyway, but riding with my oldest son in an ambulance when he had an anaphylactic allergic reaction certainly exacerbated it.

I have also made a vow not to lie to my kids.

I am surprised at how often these two parts of me come into conflict.

Our community was recently hit with two tragedies that I found out about on the same day (read about that here). When I found about one tragedy, I was faced with a question: Do I tell my kids that a young girl was a victim of a tragic accident that occurred on my sons’ elementary school playground?

For me, this was an easy answer: yes, and quickly before they hear it from someone else.

This incident was too close to us to not say anything. The little girl lived down the street from us, the accident happened at their school, and our entire community was talking about it. I wanted to make sure I got to my kids first with the facts, and to let them know I was open and willing to answer all questions. Of course, being boys, the only question they asked was when we were leaving for their long-promised trip to Toys R Us.

When I found out about the other tragedy, I was faced with another question: Do I tell my kids that a young boy about to enter our high school committed suicide? Again, an easy answer: no.

We didn’t know the family, the boy was older, and I really didn’t want to burst the bubble of innocence surrounding my kids by introducing them to the concept of suicide. At 12, 9, and 6 years of age, they are too young for that…right?

So off we went to Toys R Us to spend my sons’ gift cards, and I learned that children (boys?) process complex information in an interesting way. When we talked about the little girl’s accident at our kitchen table in the privacy of our own home, I got nothing. No questions, no shock or sadness, no fear—nothing.

But somehow in the middle of  Toys R Us surrounded by floor-to-ceiling stacks of brightly colored toys, the questions spewed forth.

I answered them all, albeit quietly and while trying not to crash the shopping cart into the bins of clearance items in the center of the aisles.

And then, my 9-year-old son blurted this out (loudly): “So and so told me that someone on his brother’s soccer team killed himself.”

Whoa. Time out.

“What? When did he tell you that?”

“Yesterday.”

Huh. I only found out earlier that morning.

“Do you know who it was?”

“I don’t know the name.”

“Who? The kid who killed himself?” My 12-year-old son chimed in, adding in the name.

“How do you know?”

“I heard them talking about it at the pool.”

Which means he knew about this 3-4 days before I did.

“How did he kill himself?”

Oh boy. Deep breath. Things were getting way out of hand. We were in Toys R Us, for heaven’s sake!

“Let’s have this conversation in the car. I want to answer your questions, but in the car.”

I chose not to tell them about the suicide because I wanted to protect them. I thought they didn’t need to know about those kinds of things yet…but did they? Because 2 out of 3 of my kids knew about it before I did. And they didn’t tell me!

How do you explain suicide to a child? How do you explain the depth of troubled sadness someone has to feel before they decide to end their own life? I certainly don’t know. I did my best in the privacy of our car, but in retrospect, I think I need to re-open that dialogue. There are aspects of this topic I didn’t think to cover in the moment that I need to address.

I’ve had my eyes opened this past week. In the battle of overprotectiveness and honesty, honesty has to win.

My kids have to know that if they come to me, I will talk about anything, and I will tell them the truth. What’s more, I have to take charge and tell them more—even the hard stuff. Because they already know.

They’ve been told, they’ve overheard it, and they have friends with older siblings who talk.

My kids already know.

Honesty wins.

CELEBRITY-ITIS

September 7, 2012 in Reflections on Pop Culture

 

I’ve never come face-to-face with a celebrity, but if I ever do…well, I’m just going to come right out and say it: I will either emit a long, high-pitched scream like a teenage girl during the Beatles era, or I will pee in my pants.

Several years ago while on vacation, we were driving down a two-lane road through the heart of downtown Waikiki. Traveling along the center lane, we noticed an interesting vehicle making its way toward us from the opposite direction: a flatbed truck carrying a giant camera aimed at a white car. Fascinated, we craned our necks, trying to figure out what—or who—they were filming. As our two vehicles passed each other, I got a good look at who was in the driver’s seat of that car riding on the flatbed, a mere 6 feet or less from me. Even though the encounter lasted less than a second, there was no mistaking that salt-and-pepper head of hair and distinguished profile. “Was that…George Clooney?” I said slowly, my brain struggling to catch up to what my eyes already knew. And then I screamed. Loudly. So loud I scared my kids. And then I screamed again.

All that over a ¼ second George Clooney sighting while he was filming his Oscar nominated role in his Oscar nominated film The Descendants.

Can you imagine how I would have behaved if I actually were face-to-face with George Clooney? Not good.

At a recent Seattle Sounders soccer game against the LA Galaxy, I had multiple celebrity sightings, and clearly, my celebrity-itis has not improved. Landon Donovan was there playing for LA, the American hero who brought soccer to the attention of the USA due to his clutch performances during the 2010 World Cup. “That’s Landon Donovan!” I shrieked to no one in particular.

David Beckham, soccer and pop cultural star was playing too. “Look! It’s David Beckham!” I shouted to my youngest son, yanking urgently on his arm.

“Ow,” he said.

“Look! It’s David Beckham!” I squealed to my middle son, nearly falling out of my seat because I was leaning so far forward.

“Can I have some cotton candy?”

And then, when my middle son spun the wheel and won a post-game trip to Autograph Alley, no one, and I mean no one was more excited than I was.

As soon as the game ended, we hightailed it to Autograph Alley. Weaving our way through hordes of people trying to exit the stadium, we finally made it and my son was taken behind the barriers to the 53rd place in line to await autographs from 3 Sounders players. I was giddy; so was everyone else around me except my other two sons. My youngest was tired, hot, and impatient, and my oldest, the serious soccer player in our family, was jealous and irritable.

“This is taking too long,” they whined. “Can we go home?”

“Are you crazy? We’re going to meet some Sounders players!” I might have jumped up and down a couple of times.

We’re not going to meet them. We’re stuck back here behind the barricades.”

“Oh, we’re going to meet them,” I said darkly, a flash of crazy-fan disease gleaming in my eyes.

“Mom, really?” my oldest asked, his voice dripping with skepticism. “How?”

“I…I don’t know. But we’re going to see them, at least.”

We waited, camped out behind the barricade, craning our necks, trying to figure out where the players would magically emerge from. I bribed my two sons with gum to keep them from sliding to the floor like boneless blobs of jelly in protest. I worried that my middle son was worried all by himself in that long line of kids. And still, we waited.

Come to find out, the players don’t just come straight from the field and start signing autographs. They shower and dress; they meet with the press; they probably even have a debriefing from their coach Sigi Schmid. Although, how much could he have to say? We won 4-0!

Eventually, a woman came by and told us the players were on their way. We craned our necks even harder. There was wild speculation about which three players they would be. Everyone moved closer to the barricades. And there they were! The crowd erupted in applause  as…well, I had no idea who these three players were that walked by us, but who cared? They were real live Sounders players!

Finally, after 52 other kids, it was my son’s turn, and he was beaming. He couldn’t stop smiling even if he’d wanted to. The players were nothing short of accommodating: signing their autograph, inviting my son around to their side of the table, placing their arms around my son’s shoulders, and scanning the barricade for the parent with the slightly psychotic grin and the pointed camera. And they smiled willingly…at me! Well, at my camera at least. I only wish that in the moment, I had remembered to turn on the flash.

Patrick Ianni

Leo Gonzalez

Servando Carrasco

I now know exactly who those three players are. They were kind to my kid, and that makes them even better than a celebrity. So, thank you very much to Patrick Ianni, Servando Carrasco, and Leo Gonzalez for taking time out of your evening to make my…I mean, my son’s dreams come true.

You guys are awesome.