Sandwich, Anyone?

Hello, blog.  Remember me?  What did you do on your summer vacation?

I wish I could say this was the best summer we have had in our household in a long time.  After all, both kids finished school earlier than in previous years (end of June!!).  We had a fabulous week at a beach rental planned.  SuzyQ and I were excited to get her packed up for college.  Oh, how plans do go awry.

It turns out that excitement about outfitting SuzyQ’s dorm fell victim pretty quickly to anxiety about whether she and her roommate would be able to coordinate color schemes, disagreements with Darling Husband about what is “essential” to take with her and what is excessive, and plain frustration over the daunting task of packing our child’s life up to fit into the back of our SUV.  Ultimately, it all fit; only minor things were forgotten; and SuzyQ is happy.

I wish I could say the same for those of us not away at college.  Both of my parents saw their health deteriorate this summer.  My dad had a particular crisis in a progressive decline, while Mom experienced some mobility issues.  He’s 77, and she turns 73 today.  And neither of them are spry or active for their age.  As the only one of their children living close by, I find myself assuming the growing role of caretaker.  The big problem is, my parents don’t want to need help.  Does that make sense?  They know that they need help, but they are definitely not happy about it.

So to anyone who is in similar circumstances, I put to you a few questions:

  • What do you do when you don’t agree with their medical decisions?  I’m not talking about, “Get me a power of attorney; they’re unfit to make these decisions.”  I mean things like refusing physical therapy or feeling too awkward about asking for a second opinion or settling for the same old course of treatment instead of asking for something different.  Neither Mom nor Dad seek any input from us adult kids when it comes to what test or procedures they will have done.  Should we have any say in the matter at all?  What if they then complain incessantly about their doctors or all the pills they are taking?
  • How do you help your parents downsize when they both tend toward hoarding?  No, it’s not time to call the producers of that “Hoarders” show on TV, but both parents would be better off with more open space in the house to make getting around safer and easier.  And eventually they will have to move into a single-story, maintenance-free home.  Both my parent grew up in essentially poor families.  To them, everything is valuable and must never be thrown away.  They rarely even donate things they aren’t using because, “We might need that one day.”  Add to that the fact that Mom especially has an irrational emotional attachment to most of the “things” in the house.  This too-big piece of furniture reminds her of a particular Army posting.  That ugly ceramic was made by a dear deceased sister-in-law.  All of those years worth of greeting cards were sent by someone special and therefore cannot be thrown out.  I don’t see how they will ever get past the emotional hurdles of downsizing, never mind the physical work involved.
  • Will you always disappoint someone when you are trying to balance your roles?  Mom and Dad will vehemently stress that I must consider my own family first.  And yet…  With Darling Husband facing military retirement and hunting for a new job, what happens if we relocate because of his second career?  How will the parents manage with no family nearby?  Should that be a factor in how broad his geographic search for a job should be?

As I recover from packing one child off to college 6 hours away and get the other one started on his AP classes and SAT prep, I have to shake my head again about all of those helicopter parents out there.  They should be saving their energy.  What they might want to consider instead is helicopter parenting their own parents.


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What I Learned on Summer Vacation

I’m recovering from a not entirely restful week of family vacation.  In looking back over the days spent at a lovely beach rental in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, I’ve gained some interesting insights:

Hello. My name is Lunch.

Don’t name anything you might possibly eat.  Blue crabs are delicious.  They are also a little sad when they are scrabbling around in the crab pot.  I feel much better about picking them apart and devouring them if I don’t see the lovely morsels until they are already on ice and ready for the pot.

Olympic Beach Badminton

Are you sure that’s not a real Olympic event?  Everything else seems to be.  White water canoeing, synchronized diving, beach volleyball, and trampoline are recent additions to the Summer Games.  Who knew the kids in the neighbor’s backyard might actually be young Olympians in training on the trampoline cage?  Of course, Junior (pictured above) takes every sport seriously.  He did stick that landing, in case you were wondering.

When did my kids stop being kids?  Two weeks to go until SuzyQ leaves the nest.  Junior towers over me.  This is a bittersweet time of life.  Yes, children, you have a sentimental Mom.


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Baby Birds and a Nest Becoming More and More Empty

Last week, my sister found a bird’s nest in one of her potted herb plants.  And in that nest were some eggs which then hatched.  She found it entertaining to keep track of the 5 bald, hideous, scraggly hatchlings.  One day, she went out to water the plant and found that some had jumped (fallen?) out of the nest and into the pot.  Were they learning to fly?  Another day went by, and she discovered that several of the birds were gone.

The empty nest is a rather over-used metaphor.  And I don’t actually have an empty nest, but a vacancy in my nest is just around the corner.  In about 6 weeks, SuzyQ will depart for college.  We have begun accumulating stuff for her to outfit her dorm room.  My guest room, now the staging area, is out of commission until she leaves.  Having spent 4 years living in dorms, I feel that I have a reasonable idea of what she needs.  Still, there is a sense of panic about forgetting those odds and ends one takes for granted at home.  Headache medicine, sunscreen, Ziploc bags, clean towels.  She is not attending school in a desolate frozen tundra miles from any trading outpost, I know.  But minimizing runs to big-box stores will help her stay within budget.  Yes, I am an naive optimistic parent!

I had mixed dorm experiences.  None of my roommates became my best friends, although mostly we stayed friendly.  Learning to live that closely with someone I wasn’t related to wasn’t easy, even after sharing a room with siblings almost my whole life.  SuzyQ has never had to share a room (except for summer camp experiences), so I fear she will have a prickly adjustment period.  Of course, with all of the Facebook chatter and texts flying back and forth right now, perhaps she and her intended roommate will ease some of that tension before they arrive on campus.  That’s one benefit of social media, anyway.

The other baby bird just got his driver’s learner permit.  In my state, teens 15 and 6 months can begin supervised driving.  Thankfully, Junior is showing an appropriate amount of fear behind the wheel.  Confidence will come, too, with practice, but I also believe in a healthy fear.  Especially when he’s driving my car.  It will be at least 9 months before he’s eligible to get his license and drive solo.  Thank goodness.  That’s a lot for a mom to take all at once: one college freshman and one new driver.

I can’t help wondering how some of my friends from school who are just having a second or third child will cope with such things in 15 or more years–at the age of almost 60.  If they asked me, I would advise them to spend the intervening years taking good care of themselves and learning how to manage stress.  Then they might be better prepared, at 60, to haul their daughter’s belongings up 4 flights of stairs in the quaint dorm without an elevator.  And perhaps coaching their teen boy to finesse the brake pedal, ease around corners, and negotiate city traffic will come easily.

Today, my nest is bustling with all kinds of activity.  In a few weeks, it will seem a little more bare.  The metaphor has to end there because, in reality, my sister’s birds didn’t just leave their nest.  All evidence points to a slaughter.  The call of the wild and all that.  Cruel, cruel world.

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Who Is the Adult Here??

School Sunscreen Ban Leaves Student Severely Sunburned

Darling Husband brought this story to my attention the other day, certain that I would want to blog about the obvious idiocy involved.  This is just one more story in which schools have come up with some ridiculous policy that defies common sense, and children are paying the price for it.  Am I heartless, cold, and without compassion for not being outraged by what happened to these 2 girls (ages 11 and 9)?  Not at all.  I’m just way beyond being surprised by such stories; in fact, I’ve come to expect them.

My response is simply this: Was no one willing to act like an adult?  The closest thing I can find to adult behavior in the incident is that of the girls, who apparently approached teachers looking for relief.  Too bad the teachers, who were busy applying their own sunscreen, provided no help to the girls.  Are the teachers the villains here?  The school administrators?  The school’s insurance company?  If you read some of the comments responding to the story, the Mom was to blame.

I ask:  How many of these stories do we have to hear before we simply say, “Enough!” and follow what common sense tells us?  What would it have cost this mom to send her kids to school with little bottles of sunscreen in spite of school policy?  What would have been the risk to the teachers to just have the girls hold out their hands and then squeeze a blob of sunscreen into their palms to put on where they needed it?  Yes, I’m calling on people to defy authority.

In more crass terms, “Grow a pair!”  Are we so afraid of lawsuits that we abandon good sense?  What is the worst thing that could have happened if the girls’ mom had sent the kids to school with their own sunscreen?  Maybe the girls would have been sent home for having unauthorized “prescription medication.”  Or perhaps the teacher who shared sunscreen with students would be suspended.  The difference, however, would be that the news headlines proclaim, “Students (or Teachers) Defy School Ban on Sunscreen.”  Notice the action word “defy?”  Less “Woe is me,” and more, “I’m taking a stand.”

I guess I’m just tired of people complaining about how silly all of these policies are without doing whatever it takes to change things.  Why do parents willing give schools so much power?  In a battle of wills concerning the well-being of your child, should you the parent win?  The news report linked above cautions parents to carefully check each individual policy on sun protection for every daycare, camp, or trip your kid participates in this summer.  Sadly, most parents have scrambled to farm out their school-aged kids to multiple “camps” during the summer months to substitute for the babysitting that schools provide.  So now they’re supposed to schedule doctor visits to generate permission slips for everything from sunscreen to personal water bottles to insect repellant.  Ridiculous.  If there will be bugs, pack bug spray.  What’s worse: the overspray from Deep Woods Off that some kids might breathe in or the Lyme disease your child contracts from a tick bite?

It’s no wonder I can never get an appointment at our doctor’s office.  They are all booked up with parents seeking notes for their kids.

Why do parents put up with this?  These are the same people who will make a restaurant server sob with apologies for daring to bring a regular soda instead of diet; or verbally crucify an umpire or coach at the Little League field; or tailgate you for half a mile while waving a vulgar gesture at you for daring to merge in front of them on the interstate.  Fear of confrontation doesn’t seem to be the problem.

Inexplicably, though, when the school crafts a policy that defies all common sense, it’s the 11th Commandment.  No sunscreen; no peanut butter; only dull, worthless scissors allowed; only plastic cutlery that can’t cut through butter.  If the school puts it in the handbook, parents become as docile as lambs.

Today, a bottle of SPF 50; tomorrow, full-size bottle of shampoo at the airport.  Oh, wait.  Tomorrow…built-in GPS to track your car’s excessive speeds and fuel consumption.  What?  We already have that?  Tomorrow…

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My Dear Graduates…

It is a near universal truth that graduation speeches are dreadful.  They are full of clichés and platitudes which actually tell the graduates and the well-wishers absolutely nothing.  All of the, “Remember the time when’s” might be good for a chuckle, but they don’t really cause the wheels of your mind to start turning.  Neither do, “seize the day,” “not an end but a beginning,” “believe in yourself,” or “follow your dreams.” You would think that a valedictorian with a weighted GPA of 6.75 would figure this out and come up with something better.  Perhaps they are too burned out by that point.  I’m not sure what the keynote speaker’s excuse is.

I recently had the privilege of attending graduation at the US Naval Academy.  Nearly 1100 of America’s best and brightest were being commissioned and sent, some of them, into harm’s way.  This was a time to celebrate their perseverance through the toughest route to a college degree and their commitment to serving their country, as well as to inspire them.  Every 3-4 years, the President speaks at the ceremony.  Lucky for us, he graced the Air Force Academy with his presence this year, and we were spared.  Instead, the class of 2012 heard from the Secretary of Defense.  He didn’t have much to tell the graduates that they didn’t already know.  After spending their summers out in the fleet experiencing various naval career paths (Marines, aviation, submarines, surface ships), they had a pretty good idea of what “A Typical Day in the US Navy” looks like without Leon Panetta spelling it out for them.  Another distinguished speaker, rather than coming up with his own material, he used the old Baz Luhrman Sunscreen routine.  I suppose it’s possible that the members of the class of 2012 are too young to be familiar with this gem.

The most valuable words I heard came in a brief statement before the swearing-in of the about-to-be military officers.  They were told to protect their integrity, since it cannot be taken from them, but it can be surrendered.  Amen to that.  I wish that little sound bite could be broadcast by every news outlet in the country.

Sadly, the speech given by the class president was embarrassingly mediocre.  I say embarrassing because he managed to shape the first half of the speech around a “Hunger Games” theme.  Very high school, in my opinion.

I think I’m probably fairly typical in that I cannot remember the speakers at either of my graduation ceremonies, let alone a word that they said.  Perhaps if I had heard a commencement address like the one given by David McCullough, an English teacher at Wellesley High School in Massachusetts, I might have given it my full attention.  McCullough does not rely upon clichés.  He certainly does not tell the graduates what they expect to hear.  And he uses big words and wry humor.  I leave you with some great quotes from the speech, but do read the whole thing to your graduate.

       You are not special.  You are not exceptional.    Contrary to what your u9 soccer trophy suggests, your glowing seventh grade report card, despite every assurance of a certain corpulent purple dinosaur, that nice Mister Rogers and your batty Aunt Sylvia, no matter how often your maternal caped crusader has swooped in to save you… you’re nothing special…

“But, Dave,” you cry, “Walt Whitman tells me I’m my own version of perfection!  Epictetus tells me I have the spark of Zeus!”  And I don’t disagree.  So that makes 6.8 billion examples of perfection, 6.8 billion sparks of Zeus.  You see, if everyone is special, then no one is.  If everyone gets a trophy, trophies become meaningless…

We have of late, we Americans, to our detriment, come to love accolades more than genuine achievement.  We have come to see them as the point — and we’re happy to compromise standards, or ignore reality, if we suspect that’s the quickest way, or only way, to have something to put on the mantelpiece, something to pose with, crow about, something with which to leverage ourselves into a better spot on the social totem pole.  No longer is it how you play the game, no longer is it even whether you win or lose, or learn or grow, or enjoy yourself doing it…  Now it’s “So what does this get me?”  As a consequence, we cheapen worthy endeavors, and building a Guatemalan medical clinic becomes more about the application to Bowdoin than the well-being of Guatemalans…

As you commence, then, and before you scatter to the winds,…[r]esist the easy comforts of complacency, the specious glitter of materialism, the narcotic paralysis of self-satisfaction.  Be worthy of your advantages.  And read… read all the time… read as a matter of principle, as a matter of self-respect.  Read as a nourishing staple of life.  Develop and protect a moral sensibility and demonstrate the character to apply it.  Dream big.  Work hard.  Think for yourself.  Love everything you love, everyone you love, with all your might…

Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view.  Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you.  Go to Paris to be in Paris, not to cross it off your list and congratulate yourself for being worldly.  Exercise free will and creative, independent thought not for the satisfactions they will bring you, but for the good they will do others, the rest of the 6.8 billion–and those who will follow them.  And then you too will discover the great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself.  The sweetest joys of life, then, come only with the recognition that you’re not special.

            Because everyone is.

            Congratulations.  Good luck.  Make for yourselves, please, for your sake and for ours, extraordinary lives.




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Things That Are a Whole Lot Harder Than They Need to Be

Does this ever happen to you?  When you are focused on a task, with a very precise outcome in mind, things along the way often become maddeningly more complicated than they ought to be:

  • Trying to make anything pretty using Microsoft Word.  Let’s leave aside the fact that I’m working with Word 2003.  All the templates in the world don’t help.  You still have to rearrange everything to include your own pictures and text.  Text boxes??  The “genius” who thought those were a good idea should be carted away.  The fonts are humdrum, but heaven forbid you try to download and use nice fonts.  You might as well stick with Times New Roman if everyone else looking at your file didn’t download the pretty font, too.  This is exactly why smart people use Vista Print and other businesses to make up their invitations.
  • Dress Shopping.  SuzyQ needs a dress for her formal music recital.  She has very particular requirements: appropriate for daytime wear (so nothing sparkly or shiny), a full skirt that’s at least knee-length, comfort and mobility for playing her instrument without tugging at straps or hiking up a strapless bodice.  I have requirements, too.  It should not cost as much as a wedding gown, and the dress should not make SuzyQ look like a hooker.  How much success do you think we have had?
  • Finding out if you have won.  This has nothing to do with the task I have been occupied with.  It’s just a piece of frustration to add to the pile.  SuzyQ has been waiting for weeks to learn if she won a scholarship from an organization.  She put a lot of work into the application: 3 recommendations, an essay, transcript, SAT scores.  All applicants were to have been notified in the first week of May.  We are in the 3rd week now, so SuzyQ had to contact the committee herself.  It seems that the winners were contacted but not everyone else.  This happened with another scholarship a few months ago.  My sister learned she did not get the new job she was hoping for when she went to the website of the organization and saw the welcome for the new hire.  Apparently, it’s too much work to group emails into “Congratulations” and “Thank you but unfortunately.”  And it must be a lot more fun to observe unsuccessful applicants embarrass themselves by begging for results.

Two weeks to go until the big event.  I wonder–are cupcakes complicated?  Tablecloths?  Folding chairs?  It wouldn’t surprise me.

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Random and Absurd

Busy time of year–April and May.  You keep plugging along, doing the same old stuff, and then it seems like someone hit the fast-forward button once you turn the calendar page to April.  Sadly, this means I have little mental energy to give to well-developed blog posts right now.  What I have to offer instead are some musings on some silly and absurd bits and pieces that have stayed with me–instead of the important stuff that keeps slipping my mind.

  • Azaleas are lovely this time of year.  Well, everyone else’s azaleas are lovely.  Fun fact: If your dog routinely pees on your azaleas, they will not bloom.  You see, according to the United States National Arboretum, too much nitrogen encourages growth of foliage rather than flower buds.  Bad dog.
  • Is this the perfect gift for Mother’s Day?I found an ad for these Lourdes water body products in my inbox.  This just seems wrong to me, though I can’t put my finger on exactly the reason why.  I’ve never been to Lourdes, but I have visited other pilgrimage sites.  They are all commercialized to some extent.  But a line of body products??
  • The people who create fonts either have the most fun job in the world or are completely insane.  Otherwise, how would they come up with font names such as “Enchanted Prairie Dog,” “Empire of Dirt,” or “Soymilk?”  None of these spoke to me as I was looking for script-like fonts to download.  I’m not sure what image “Prairie Dog” is supposed to convey in reagrds to fonts.
  • I am still a babe in the woods when it comes to social media.  Have you noticed the Twitter hashtags that appear on the TV screen during your favorite shows?  (Incidently, I had to look up the term “hashtags” to make sure I was using it correctly.)  I guess this is for the benefit of people with short attention spans so they can tweet their comments about the show to friends before they forget what they want to say.  Also, can someone explain to me what it means when a friend posts nothing but a heart on Facebook?  I’m assuming it means something nice, but couldn’t they be a little more specific about why we should all know about their heart?

Right.  That’s that then.  Carry on.

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