One Flew out of the Engledow’s Nest

Well, we did it. We pushed Birdie #1 out of the nest. Yay, for us! We rock!

Oh, all right. It wasn’t really a push. She pretty much flew out by herself – she was ready.

That’s good, right? I mean, if she wasn’t ready then we would probably be wondering what the hell happened, reviewing where we went astray, and then coming to the conclusion that it was my husband’s fault some how (kidding).

I’m just not ready for her to be ready, you know what I mean? As parents, we spend eighteen years preparing our children to leave the house. It’s our job. Cliche alert ~ Boy, those eighteen years went by in a blink.

After hashing it out with my one of my besties, I’ve determined that I’m not actually worried about my daughter managing on her own. She’s smart, strong and amazing. It’s the fact that this is the beginning of the next chapter in our family. We add the kids, the kids leave and then it’s back to just me and the hubs (unless the kids move back in because they can’t find a job). It’s the arc of life.

It has been a slow adjustment to our family dinner table of four instead of five (It hasn’t even been a month yet. Give us a break, people!), but you know what has helped us? Technology. Love, love, love technology! Since instantaneous communication is so abundant, our daughter has been connecting with us regularly and she’s only asked for money twice!

In addition to the frequent texting, stalking her on Facebook has allowed me to see that she is making friends, having fun and adjusting to her new life. Seeing her embracing her new adventure had improved my state of mind since we left her standing in the dorm parking lot all alone (stifling a sob). Now, when people ask me how Rachel’s doing, I can answer without completely breaking down. Just don’t ask me how I’m doing. I can’t get through that one yet.

Click here to watch a short film by one of her new friends who happens to be a film major. My girl is in the striped sweater. Fun, right?

The Family That Paints Together Stays Together

The original saying, “The family that prays together stays together,” was a slogan invented Al Scalpone (not to be confused with Al Capone) and was first uttered on March 6, 1947 as an ad during the radio program, Family Theater of the Air (click here for more info).

You’ve probably just learned something new.

You’re welcome.

The two-story blank wall in our entry way has always been the bane of my husband’s existence. Blank walls really get on my husband’s last nerve. He’s an architect. I think that sums it up.

After ten and half years in this house with this blank wall, my husband finally decided that he had had enough. It was time to do something about it. He’s a professional on deliberation especially when the decision is important (it took nine years of dating before he decided that I was the one). During Christmas break of 2011, Mike and the kids brainstormed and the solution was the Family Art Wall (FAW).

This solution was presented to the Family Manager (moi) and was approved with reservations.

It’s a two-story blank wall, people.

However, I really wanted to be viewed as encouraging whimsy in our house since I’m usually dubbed, “the funsucker”. (Say it carefully.)

The FAW was to be done by December 31, 2011, but due to multiple delays (we all got hit with a long-term mokus) it did not get done until this summer (around the 11th anniversary of living in this house).

It turned out really well and we all love it. When we tried describing it to our friends and family, some were like, “cool” and some were like, “huh?”. Those in the “huh?” category were probably worried we were turning our household into some weird liberal-art colony-free love-free thinking hippie commune. Maybe we did and maybe we didn’t (wink, wink).

Without further ado, I present to you, my loyal followers, the Family Art Wall:

In order from Top to Bottom:

Jack’s creation: He combined his love of making a mess with his love of Origami.

Rachel’s Creation: Her piece is a thinking person’s piece. The phrase is in contrast with the background – very artsy.

Mike’s creation: His piece is a compilation of the people in his life. Not to be too cliché, but family is important to him. He really could give Ward Cleaver a run for his money.

My creation: If you have been a long-time follower of this blog, you know that artsy stuff is an extreme challenge for me so please don’t judge too harshly. One of my friends said it looked like a gay foodie poster which wasn’t my original intention, but she does have a point!

Maddie’s creation: The girl LOVES to bake so this is a perfect representation of one of her many interests.

As you can see, the kids have taken after their father in the creativity/art department! Aren’t they talented?

Next project? The other blank wall in our house. It’s located our fancy living room that we never use (and only one-story). Look for an update in the summer of 2013.

Confessions of an Alligator

I’m having bad thoughts. Really bad thoughts. What the hell is wrong with me? Am I all alone in this?

Finally, the swirling mass of words formed into coherent sentences and I confessed to my husband that if I had been an alligator yesterday, I would have eaten one of my children (this particular child will henceforth be known as ‘Baby Gator’). The only thing that stopped me was time and social convention.

Why an alligator? On our trip to New Orleans this year, we learned that the male alligators will sometimes eat their babies. I know I’m not a male, but work with me, people. Obviously, we can only speculate as to why they would use such a tactic to deal with their wayward young.

Maybe it was the whining about:

how inconvenient it is having someone come in every two weeks to clean their nesting area

how awkward it is to have to play with his/her alligator siblings

how it’s not fair that the alligator siblings got a snake or a rabbit for dinner and Baby Gator got just a turtle, etc.

– OR –

Maybe it was the storming and stomping around exclaiming why everything was the Daddy Alligator’s fault:

the bayou is too wet

the world spinning

the weather is hot

the rodents are too small, etc.

When I take all of that into consideration, I have some sympathy for the Alligator that uses this extreme measure in dealing with his young. Sure, you don’t want to be impulsive. Also, sleeping on it might be a prudent action.

So that’s what I did – I’d been sleeping on it, sitting on it and thinking about it for a couple of days. However, yesterday after hearing the last and final straw-of-a-whine from Baby Gator, I promptly picked my head off of the floor (it popped off in an effort to release the steam that had been accumulating) and quickly returned it to its rightful spot. Then, I uttered a mild and mature, “Shut it!” as I left the room.

Huh? Okay, maybe not the most mature response, but what else could I do? It was either that or eat Baby Gator.

Since I’m not an Alligator and I am a human, I’m sure that the eating of Baby Gator would not have been well-received as a viable parenting practice. And,  I’m confident that this parental act would definitely be considered as thinking “outside the box”, and not in a good way.

So what do you do with teenagers? You would think that I would know how to handle most situations by now, but clearly I haven’t figured it out. What’s the deal? Am I getting slower in my old age? Is my skull getting thicker? I feel like I’m losing my mojo and I’m a little rattled. All I need is a confidence boost.

I do recognize that this Fall will be bringing a lot of changes for our family and I’m sure this is mostly responsible for the current of craziness coursing through our house. I suppose I need to keep all of this in mind as I deal with our Baby Gators.

But, oh. My. Goodness. Give me the strength. Please.

The Beginnings of Summer 2012

It has been an interesting time in our house – it all started with prom in May and ended with our post graduation vacation to Orlando at the end of May. Whirlwind doesn’t even really describe it – all of the stuff parents and seniors have to do at the end of the year is crazy!

Events leading up to prom were stressful, but then everything worked out and she had a terrific and memorable time at her first and last prom (Ray is in the purple dress).

Every event of her senior year made me cry (in private) because, well, I’m a crier and the passing of each event meant that graduation was nearer. And, then it arrived…..

Surprisingly enough, I kept it together (only cried during the speeches). I owe his stoicism to my new camera (thank you, dear camera). I was so focused (pun intended) on taking pictures of Rachel and all of her friends that I didn’t have the time for sentimentality. Have you ever tried to take pictures when your body is convulsing due to extreme sobbing? It’s really hard. Trust me.

Since I’m an overanalyzer and tend to think way too much about everything, I have been going around in circles wondering if I’ve given my girl everything that she needed. Did I push her too much, not enough? Did I hover too much, not enough? Was I there for her emotionally when she needed it? Have I been a good role model (except for the sailor mouth) for her? Etc….

I’m not looking for pats on the back or reassurances. Really. Don’t you think it’s normal to assess your parenting at a juncture in your child’s life by going through a litany of self-doubt questions? Some don’t ask many questions and say to themselves, “It is what it is.” (God, how I hate that saying.) And some, like me, ask multiple questions and then question the answers to those questions. (I have A LOT penetrating, self-doubt questions available, so if you are in need of some or run out, email me and I will send you the list.)

I think it would be weird to think to yourself, “Fantastic! I (with some of my husband’s help) did an absolutely perfect job with this kid. Kudos to me (I mean, us)!” 

What? You don’t think that’s a weird sentiment? Then, maybe you’re one of those and if so, why are you reading my blog? Go write a parenting book and quit judging me!

When I do consider it honestly, I know deep down that she shouldn’t need but 6 months of therapy – that’s how good parenting is measured. You know. . . . . .by therapy months. If you haven’t heard of this new method of assessing your parenting awesomeness, you are behind the times, my friend. I think I saw it in some parenting magazine a while back or saw it on the Today Show. By the way, six months is average to better than average on the Therapy Months Scale. Anything beyond two years means you really F&%#ed up and you should probably be in therapy yourself.

Despite some glaring mistakes that cannot be unmade, she has turned out to be a bright, thoughtful, funny, good-humored (for a teenager), soft-hearted, determined, stubborn, beautiful, and confident young lady.

Our next big milestone on the path to college is in July when we take her to orientation and then the biggie – we take her to school at the end of August. Meanwhile, my denial is going strong and I should be able to keep it up until August. [Just a warning: This blog could get really morose, pitiful and boring starting in September.]

By the way, here’s how we ended May and brought in June – we went to Orlando and did three parks in three days (Sea World, Magic Kingdom & Islands of Adventure) – crazy, but fun!! The entire purpose of the trip was to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (in the Islands of Adventure) and it was very cool and worth it!

Here’s to a great summer!

No More Pretending

I’m wallowing. I’m sad and I’m tired of pretending like I’m okay. Why do we have to pretend? I’m sick of it.

My firstborn, my baby is graduating high school this May (in about 6 weeks) and I feel like I’m drowning.

Oh, okay. I see how it is.  I’ve lost some of you already. I can tell by the sighing. Well, good riddance. I didn’t need you anyway.

For those of you that have chosen to stay, I’m tired of hearing:

“This is a part of life.”

You mean like dying and taxes?

“We all go through it.”

We all went through puberty and I don’t remember that life experience being all that great.”

“You will be fine once she leaves.”

Huh?

“It’s what you’ve been training her for her whole life.”

What? I don’t get this one. You train for a marathon, not life.

“You’ve done a great job with her, she will be fine.”

Again, what? She’s not a dog I’ve trained to win ‘Best in Show’.

I worked full-time outside the home until 2005, so I know the twisted torment of dropping off your kids to be cared for by others. That internal struggle of wanting a bigger life for myself while also wanting to do the best for my kids was a battle I fought every day. I had finally come to peace with it until Rachel entered first grade. Nothing prepared me for her first day of school.

She was so cute with her backpack, her bob haircut with bangs and her big, trusting blue eyes. The elementary stood there glaring at me – it was the very same elementary I had attended (better memories was my hope for her). We stormed through those doors with purpose looking for Mrs. Baker’s class. After a few minutes, we found it.  A little anxious for Rachel, I began to fawn over her by messing with her backpack and asking her if she was okay. Then, we found her classroom. Without pause, she looked at me and said, “Mommy, here is my class.”

And, off she went. She marched into that classroom and never looked back. She left me dangling in that hallway with my reassuring mommy wave and smile. It was wasted because she never turned around. No hugs, no kisses, no formal good-byes. She was ready and I was not.

Trying not to look devastated (I had braced myself for clinging and some drama), I gave a nod to the other parents hanging around Mrs. Baker’s door. This nod attempted to convey these thoughts:

“I meant for her to do that.”

“My parenting is clearly without equal.”

“Just look at her, she is so ready for school.”

“She will leave your kid in a dust cloud.”

I sobbed for the entire commute to my office. However, I eventually recovered and moved on because, well, I had to. She adjusted beautifully and there was really nothing I could do about it.

It seems we did a helluva job with this one because, in addition to being a mature and loving young lady, she is graduating with a 3.6 GPA and a sizeable scholarship from the college of her dreams.

Despite myself and because of my husband, we actually have raised three kids that like being near each other and have fun together. All five us eat dinner together at the table whenever humanly possible and it’s wonderful and very Cleaverish. Ray has the goofiest sense of humor, tells stories that are only funny to her and eats everything I cook no matter what. Like the front tooth that disappears from a child’s smile, she will leave big gap at the table. We don’t know how to be a family of four.

Chicago in August will be tough. When we drop her off at her at her freshman dorm, she will very likely say, ” Well, here’s my room” and confidently walk into that new life without looking back.

And, I will sob all the way home.

Great Expectations

Am I an indulgent parent? I really don’t think so, but I rarely say, “no” to a reasonable request. It sounds like a contradiction, doesn’t it?

We have worked  diligently on managing expectations – the kids have figured out what will and won’t fly. It’s not perfect though. The system still breaks down. They are children and they have an obligation to push back.

But, it breaks down more frequently with one of my children in particular. She talks like she gets it, but then……..Bam!

She understands: 

“Yes, you can have a stuffed giraffe. No, you cannot have a real giraffe.”

“Yes, you can have a pair of Converse in every color. If you want them, you buy them or ask for them as birthday/Christmas gifts.”

This and other similar examples are where we have successfully managed expectations.

Where has it broken down? She thinks I’m her personal chauffeur just sitting around awaiting her next instructions. (I have absolutely nothing else to do.)

In response to me saying, “no” to taking her to the mall at the last minute: “When you have kids, that’s your job.”

In response to me being agitated with her for not helping me find a lacrosse carpool (practice every day M-F during dinner):  “Why did you even have kids?”

After grabbing my head to stop it from spinning and separating from my body and after popping my eyes back into my skull, I mull over these statements of hers and determine that her sentiment can be summed up as such:

“In having kids, you are explicitly entering into a binding contract which means you will do the bidding of said kids and give up any chance of having a life of your own until such time said kids can manage on their own which could be until they’re in their late 20s.”

Holy crap! Why did I have kids? Now, I’m not sure. Maybe I was young and stupid (I clearly did not read the fine print). Damn you, biological clock and propagation of the species!

Regardless of the reason, we have them and we can’t send them back.

Where did I go wrong with this one? I’m befuddled. Maybe I should have encouraged her to join the Girls Scouts (see prior post) – she could use a healthy dose of feminism.

Then, I had a brainstorm when I was talking with one of my friends. When I’m at the age where I can’t tell the difference between the TV and microwave, who am I going to call for help? Yep, you’ve got it!

“Honey, I need you to come over and pick me up RIGHT NOW and take me to my hair appointment.”

“Can you drop what you’re doing right this second and take me to the grocery?’

“I need you cancel your schedule for today and take me to my bridge luncheon and then take me to the doctor so he can evaluate that mysterious rash I’ve been telling you about.”

“Will you come over and do my laundry? I need clean underwear TODAY.”

“I’m really hungry. Can you drive over and make me a sandwich?”

“I’m getting bedsores. You need to come over STAT and roll me over.”

“I can’t find my teeth and it’s your fault! You brushed them last.”

. . . . . . . .Oh, you’re still here. I’m sorry, I was daydreaming (maybe drifting off is a better phrase?).

Anyway, in the meantime, I suppose Mike and I have to get a little more creative in our lessons on “Reasonable Expectations”.

Onward and upward…

Who Wants to Get Married by Elvis?

Maddie: “Mommy, you know how you always say that you want us to elope and then come home for a party (reception)?”

Me (uh oh): “Uh, yeah.”

Maddie: “Well, somehow the topic of  weddings came up and I told Mrs. Friend’s Mom about what you said. She was really shocked and really kind of surprised that you would say anything like that. She just couldn’t believe it.”

[Oh, greeeaaaat. Mrs. Friend’s Mom, who is really a very nice person, now thinks I’m crazy, cruel and/or un-American. Sometimes I can relate to Christine in the New Adventures of Old Christine especially when she is trying to fit in with the moms in her kid’s school.]

Me: “Really? Hmmm… “You know I’m kidding when I say things like that, right?”

Maddie: “It doesn’t sound like you’re kidding.”

Am I kidding? Well, kind of. When did my kids actually start listening to me anyway?

Sometimes I forget Maddie is very black and white, very literal (the nuances of what is being said can get lost in translation). The other two usually roll their eyes and ignore what I say when it sounds silly or unreasonable. Not that girl.

And, Maddie also stores everything I say in her little “shit my mom says” brain vault for use against me later. She never regurgitates the “good” stuff for the masses (I have spouted some valuable words of wisdom, haven’t I?).

Back to the nuptials, don’t you think the craze of these uber-expensive weddings is insane? “That’s not real life, you know that, girls. Right?” ” Daddy and I didn’t have a wedding like that and we’re still happily married.”  Blah, blah…

Girls: Yes, Mommy dear.”

One summer, my hairdresser (God, how old am I? I meant to say, “salon technician“) was in 5 or 6 weddings and well on her way to 27 dresses. I kid you not! Well, two years later, over half of these marriages are over with a capital O and a capital VER. And, some of these weddings were over-the-top even by my Technician’s standards (not just mine). All I kept thinking was, “Those poor parents. If that were my daughter, I’d kill her!”

Yeah, I know. That’s not a very compassionate attitude toward my lovies so I won’t share that with my kiddos (just you guys). I don’t think they read my blog.

My methods may be unorthodox (jokingly encouraging elopement), but I’m trying to keep my kids grounded in the real world. Raising kids in our community along with the crazy media images makes the goal of raising grounded children difficult.

Speaking of weddings, I would like to report that the hubs and I will be celebrating two milestones this February:  the 30th anniversary of our first date and our 21st wedding anniversary! (Yeah, I know, 9 years of dating. It was a process, but I finally talked him into it). 🙂

Happy Anniversary, Baby!