Thursday, January 10, 2013

Just Loving Them Isn't Enough

The following is a quote from Family Circle:
"As kids get older, it becomes harder and harder to spend time with them. Consider inviting their friends to join you....just hanging out at home.  You'll strengthen your relationship with your own children and also get a sense of the company they keep."

This happened to us completely by accident.  The boy across the street, just a little younger than Stubble, took to arriving at the house on Friday just after we arrived home.  He would head back across the street on Sunday evening (or when his Mom called him to do chores).  His problem wasn't his parents who are wonderful, but the fact that he was home schooled.  Stubble was his brother of another mother (his mother returned the favor for us).  Stubble's school friends were his "school" friends of another school (if that makes sense).

And that is how it started.  We would generally have 2-3 teenaged boy guests on the weekends.  All weekend.

Here is how to go about this in your own home (should you want to):
  1. Say, "Yes".  When your son/daughter calls or texts to say "Can so and so come over for dinner and the evening." Don't say, "No, your Dad and I have plans."  At least not all the time - down that path lie unsupervised parties and trouble.  If you need the company of your friends, invite them over and spend time in the living room while their offspring and yours (assuming that they get along) take over another room.  If you are going out to the theater, INVITE THEM TO GO WITH YOU.  For dinner and the theater, concert, whatever.  It broadens their perspectives, teaches them what a quality evening (without "clubbing") is all about and they invariably rise to the occasion, holding their own with other adult guests.
  2. Feed Them.  And not just pizza and soda.  When Stubble had guests we set the table for company and insisted that they join us.  We served real food (it is surprising that London Broil is cheaper than pizza or hamburger and if you serve it with tater tots and steamed fresh broccoli the guests think that you are serving steak dinner and comment that they wished their parents cooked like that).
  3. Talk to them. We had "real" dinner conversations and wound up sitting around the table conversing for as much as 45 minutes to an hour after the meal.  There is a trick here - treat your child and their friends with respect as thinking adults.  Respect their opinions and don't "pronounce" and you'll be just fine.  Assure them that their opinions are valid at your table as long as they resepect other points of view and you will be amazed at what the next generation has to offer. I will admit to being much relieved that they will be in charge of my "declining years".
  4. Give them space.  We regretfully gave up the family room to sleeping bags, pillows and gaming consoles.  Many of the boys would arrive with an X-Box or Nintendo (or whatever) and controllers - we provided the sleeping bags and pillows.  We always knew where they were and as long as they weren't making noise, let them stay awake.
  5. Expect them to help out.  If they were staying the weekend, when we needed "crew" to help weed the garden, move construction supplies, or lay a floor - they would put down their gaming controllers and help - willingly - for free.  Of course we were feeding them "steak dinners" - so it was quid pro quo.
I have never been Mrs. Bearded One to any of them.  At best I was Ms. Christie and was really ready for becoming just plain Christie as they got older.  I took my cue from "Fran", the wife of a professor at college.  When I was but a wee scruffy college student, Christmas shopping after a particularly awful exam week, she introduced me to one of her country club - type friends by name with the description: "the girlfriend of one of my husband's colleagues" - that boyfriend was The Bearded One when he was also just a wee scruffy college student and a student worker in her husband's lab.
I have never forgotten that courtesy.  She could have just walked by and nodded rather than stopping to greet me just as though I was someone who mattered.
Your kids (and their friends) are going to grow up.  It has been a privilege being a part of it and watching it happen (and maybe even contributing to it - just a little).

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

How NOT to Organize

I had one major goal over the holidays, besides surviving them.  Finishing the unpacking and organizing of the remaining boxes from our move last February.  We were functional in the new house but there was a stack of boxes in the guest room containing my late Mother-in-Law's jewelry and our unorganized family photographs.  Another stack of boxes lived behind our bedroom door which contained scrapbooks and letters, some of which dated back to my college days - back in the stone age before email.  And when long distance calls were EXPENSIVE!

Here are my helpful hints about how to NOT do this effectively:
  • Do not open the box containing the letters and cards from your very first boyfriend.  Do not sit on the bedroom floor re-reading all of those letters and sighing over the pictures of the two of you both looking oh-so-young.  Do not google his name to see how he is doing now (he is just fine and living in Colorado).
  • Do not open the scrapbook assembled to cover your cheerleading years, wondering at the "I'm an INDIVIDUAL, dang it!" spelling of your name on your cheerleading sweater.  The spelling that surely made your Mother wonder what the heck was going on and why the name that they blessed you with at birth wasn't good enough for you.  Do not read all of the newspaper accounts of the games that your team lost during your senior year.  Also do not google the names of the members of your cheerleading squad to see how they are doing now (one lives in Hawaii, one in London (and she has never married), one died of cancer, one lives in Florida and is a gym teacher, the last one I couldn't find)
  • Do not open the folder containing your son's kindergarten "composition notebooks". You know the ones.  The ones where they drew a picture and the teachers and aides helped them write a few words (phonetically) to describe it.  Do not read through these notebooks page by page.
  • Do not buy three boxes of snack sized zip locks and go through your MILs jewelry sorting it into sets of matching earrings, necklaces and bracelets.  Well, actually do this but don't decide to keep an entire jewelry chest of it...the kind that is four feet tall and free standing and that causes your husband to say, "You are not seriously buying THAT and putting it in our bedroom!"  In my defense, I am wearing many of the art deco and other vintage pieces that she had collected.
  • Do not go through your theater scrap books.  Do not read every preview and review and especially do NOT read every card from other cast members and decide that you cannot recycle any of them.  Do NOT google the director's name to find out what ever became of him and find that he is doing well in New York theater circles - because, in your opinion, he "just wasn't that good".
  • Do not move the boxes that you don't get to into your son's largely unused closet because you will never get to them now.
And there you have it.  Do not do any of these things while organizing because, while it is fun to wallow in the past and relive old triumphs, it just isn't going to get the job done.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Happy Birthday, Mommy

December 5th was my Mom's 96th birthday.

My mother has dementia - the non-Alzheimer's kind.  She managed, with the help of part time care givers, to stay at home for quite a few years after the memory loss began.  She has been in a care facility for about 7 years now.
About 2 months ago she stopped eating normally and began sleeping almost all of the time.  She is currently in hospice care.  She could go on like this for months as long as she doesn't stop taking liquid.

Enough of the "sad" stuff.

A few weeks ago I opened my 1970's Betty Crocker Cookbook.  The one that Mom got for me when I got my first apartment.  On the roast meats page, taped into place with very yellowed scotch tape, are her notes on making a standing rib roast:  "11 pound roast was just raw at 375 for 4 hours".  And then the addendum in a different color ink- "9 pound roast was perfect at 375 for 3.5 hours".  In the cookie section are her  notes on how to "perfect" the traditional sugar cookie recipe (2 Tbsp additional sugar - so that you don't need frosting).  If I open my recipe box, the wooden one that holds the old recipe cards, there is her handwritten recipe for "Carletta's Barbecue Chicken" - which started with a ketchup base and added brown sugar and vinegar.  Done on the stove top and having no smoke flavor whatsoever, it was much loved by our family.  That recipe box has now been supplanted by a looseleaf notebook because my recipes come off the internet rather than from friends and relatives, but do you think I'll ever get rid of it?  Not on your life!  There are little pieces of Mom in there.

Mom is all around me if I stop to consider:

In the closet where I still have her blue plaid Pendleton skirt (that I can still wear if I keep exercising regularly).  That dang thing is almost 60 years old now.  Dad gave it to her as a gift for giving birth to me - I guess that was the 1950's version of a "push present"...

In my jewelry box where I have the antique gold cross that she gave to me on my confirmation - that her mother had given to her.

In my living room book case where I have an entire ChildCraft series that she saved for my potential baby, should I some day decide to have one.

In  my cabinet where I keep vases; in among them there is a cream colored antique decorated with ceramic ribbons that she got from a student long ago when she taught early elementary school before marriage.  It is lovely with tulips in it.

And then there are the memories:

Birthday and Holiday dinners in a house with no formal dining room.  Early in the morning, as Mom made fruit pies, Dad would move living room furniture up to their bedroom - two swivel chairs and the curved section of the couch so that we could fit a table for 12 into the space.  And Mom would cook and cook and cook some more, all the while protesting that she "couldn't do this - it made her too nervous".  And the dinners always came out beautifully.

One Thanksgiving there was "no room on the train".  It was Standing Room Only all the way to Chicago.  I called to say that I couldn't come unless my boyfriend drove me - but his room mate would be all alone then - could she fit two more at dinner? " Of course!" was the answer - we were 14 at the table and very crowded that year.

When I finally had a son and she came to visit, she brought home made "clay dough" with her on the flight.  Red and green and requiring refrigeration, she and the 2 year old Stubble played with it for HOURS.  I have the recipe that she brought with her laminated in my loose leaf cook book under the heading "other".

She taught me how to sew by helping me make Barbie clothes by hand.

She taught me to plant and care for a vegetable garden.

She taught me how to can tomatoes.  Well, jar them actually.

She taught me how to get ANY stain out of ANYTHING - she was a genius at that.

She taught me so much and gave me so  much.

I love you, Mom.  Happy Birthday!

Monday, January 7, 2013

A Most Blessed (and Restful) Christmas Day!

Generally our Christmases are chaotic - early morning presents being opened followed by frenzied cleaning and cooking in anticipation of dinner guests - one or more of us generally winds up on the couch with a blue ice on his or her forehead in the middle of these festivities.  This year things were made even more hectic by our (heroic) efforts to handle (and treat) the "Massive Christmas Eve Fish Tank Die Off".

We have a 30 gallon tank filled with "rescued" feeder fish.  They get quite large and develop very distinct personalities - which endeared them to The Bearded One as well as to their technical owner, Ms. Flippers.  The fish (all 13 of them) would greet The Bearded One as he got his coat and hat each morning, begging for "just a pinch of food!" so that they wouldn't starve before Ms. Flippers got up 2 hours later.  Christmas Eve morning they were JUST FINE and eating well and the chemistry in the tank was JUST FINE.  By dinner time on Christmas Eve I noticed dead fish stuck to the filter intake.  The pH of the tank had plummeted (yes, it was buffered).  "The heck with raising the pH by 0.2 per day!"  said Ms. Flippers, "This is a matter of life and death."  And it was.  We were checking pH every 1/2 hour and bringing the pH up as gradually as we dared.  By the time I left for church we had only 4 fish left - Ms. Flippers and I held a short service for the lost under the Avocado Tree when I got home.  By this time fin crud had showed up and antibiotic treatment was begun.  In the end we managed to save two of the fish.

By comaparison to Christmas Eve, Christmas Day was completely relaxing.  Following "The Longest Christmas Eve Church Service in Recorded History" (see Guiness Book), I just fell into bed exhausted from all of that singing including that which was done in the dark when the choir loft lights were turned off.  I'm sure that the long suffering choir director found it enchanting as well.  Luckily the next morning The Bearded One had handled all of the Christmas Stockings, lighting the completely un-necessary fireplace (because the morning was already over 60 degrees) and feeding and watering the cats. At 8 AM we gave the first of the wakeup calls - to kids who eventually rolled out of bed between 9:30 and 10 AM.  This had allowed The Bearded One and I leisurely showers, a couple of pots of coffee and breakfast.

Following presents I put on my "farming clothes" and spend the rest of the day weeding and transplanting and fertilizing and such in my vegetable garden.  I LOVE to muck around in the dirt (and by the time I was done with parts of it, mud).

This was followed by a steak dinner and a Snooze on the couch.

I have made a list of all of the things that we avoided by having a quiet, "just the four of us" Christmas:
  • rushing presents by getting young adults up before they have slept their fill (even worse than having a cranky toddler)
  • dinner guests who arrive a) too early or b) too late (worse)
  • whiny overtired, overexcited, oversugared kids
  • complaints about the selection of food for the dinner
  • arguments about HOW TO COOK certain foods
  • at least one drunken relative
  • repeatedly biting my tongue so that I have to eventually find laundry that needs doing NOW.  YES, I MEAN NOW!
More will come later about our large holiday meal which happened on New Year's Eve - a MUCH better time to hold an extended family meal.

Yes, the two surviving fish are still doing well.