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Homework – To Nag or Not To Nag?

It was 10pm last Sunday night and I knew where my children were, two already asleep and my 12 year-old on the verge.

I went in to say goodnight and found my boy warm and mushy and wanting of hugs; which was perfect because I was exhausted, layered in my comfy pajamas and wanting to hug. I had just enough ounces of energy left to rub his back, almost ready for bed myself when he said, “Uh, I just remembered. I have homework and I might have a test tomorrow.”

Immediately I went from a sleeping dog to one who senses danger. I’m at attention, ears perked, heart pounding. As usual, I had reminded him about his homework at least half a dozen times; more, if you counted the silent but overt raised brow directed at his untouched backpack. In response, I had been ignored, grunted at and eye-rolled.

My bright goodnight smile darkened and my arm tickling sweet circles on his back halted. “Are you kidding?” I asked, although clearly it was a rhetorical question. He was not kidding.

And the mad scramble began…

The next morning when all that was left of the insanity was a harried overtired mom and a cranky child; we had a discussion on time management, his responsibility to his work and of not making me the nag. It was brief, as the circumstances seemed to speak for themselves.

Waiting till the last minute is something I have a hard time understanding. When I have an assignment, I’m at it the first chance I get. How else could I double check, edit or revise? How could I even sleep with the ‘assignment’ looming over my head?

The answer is that I can’t. Which is why barring a special circumstance, my children do their homework when they come home. This worked fine through elementary school, but now that my oldest is in middle school, the same rules don’t apply.

First off, he doesn’t always come home right after school. He plays on the school soccer team. He also plays in a basketball league and of course there’s his year round baseball training. On top of that he attends Hebrew school two days a week and has just started guitar lessons. I’m sure it seems like a lot but he loves and manages it all, and if something has to give, it gives. As long as it’s not his schoolwork.

Thankfully he’s a good student, but weekends are especially challenging and I admit to tossing semi-constant reminders  very subtly his way – ‘What would you like for lunch? Hey, did you do your homework? Okay, grilled cheese’.

But this weekend, I vowed not to be the nag and to make him responsible. So I reminded him on Friday evening and told him he was on his own. Then I watched the hours and days pass with mounting anxiety.

Would he forget? Could I let him go into school unprepared? I really didn’t know if I could, even if ultimately the lesson was to his benefit.

Thankfully, I wasn’t put to the test. Sunday evening I found him sitting in his room, his book bag flattened, an explosion of binders and books strewn about.  He caught my eye and gave me a self-satisfied smile.

At bedtime, as we were saying goodnight, wrapped in our warm sleepy hug, he whispered, “Mama, don’t stop reminding me to do my homework. It’s good.”

Nothing better than knowing your nag isn’t a nag.

It’s appreciated.

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Okay, so it’s 9:15pm. Baby steps.

Yup, I’m annoying. It’s a talent.

My six year-old rolls around the carpet of my floor while I try to squeeze in my half hour on the elliptical and try to finish up an episode of Masters of Sex, which is now on pause because of the rolling child who is supposed to be out front with my husband and his brothers doing yard work.

“What’s the matter?” I ask, each word a small puff of exertion.

His head is somehow underneath his behind and he mutters something I can’t make out. “I don’t understand what you’re saying when you’re upside down and talking to your butt.”

That gets him all silly. “Hi butt!” He says, “How ya doing?”

I wait for the ridiculous to work itself out so I can find out the actual problem and get back to my show. Finally, he sits up and the frustration bursts out in a gush, “I wanted to rake, but daddy said I can’t and he let everyone else!”

Apparently it is serious.

“Did you ask daddy if you could rake too?” I ask.

“YES!” He exclaims completely exasperated.

There must be more to the story but I work with what I’ve got, “Well, maybe there aren’t enough rakes. Did you ask to take turns?”

“YES!”

There is no way he did this.

“He wants me to shovel,” He complains. “I don’t want to shovel!”

“Shoveling is fun!” I say, “Why don’t you try for a little and then switch with one of your brothers.”

“I don’t want to shovel. I want to rake!”

I’ve got about 12 minutes more on this machine and I have exhausted my diplomacy skills. I can see that without physically going outside, my child will continue whining and waiting for my help. That’s when I stop trying to solve his problem and focus on a few of my own.

“Well, I know you haven’t brushed your teeth yet. Please go do that.”

He looks at me horrified. That’s not why he came to see me. He wanted retribution not a chore.

But that’s what I do to my children. Sometimes it happens right at the beginning and sometimes it closes out the conversation, but ultimately I seem to turn every interaction into a nag.

For example…

Imagine you’re contently sitting on the chair watching your favorite episode of Austin and Alley?

I’ll interrupt, “Don’t you have homework to do?”

Maybe you just finished your lunch.

I’ll remind, “Don’t forget to put your dish in the sink.”

You innocently walk into the kitchen for a hug.

I’ll note afterwards, “Gee, looks like the recyclables haven’t been done for a while.”

You’re happily brandishing a large bag of gummies from the candy store

I’ll scold, “You haven’t eaten dinner yet.”

You’re so excited that Daddy said you can watch a movie.

I’ll look at the clock, shake my head and tsk, “Sorry guys, it’s late and there’s school tomorrow.”

I’m the bearer of bad news; the annoying voice that always interrupts their games, their fun, their relaxation. I’m Debbie downer. I’m the waa waa waa. I’m… I’m the annoying mom!!

So be it.

At least I’ve managed a few extra minutes on my elliptical and my kid has clean teeth. Now get outta here. Don’t you have some work you should be doing? And comb your hair.

I’ve still got seven minutes.

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Pennies from Heaven, Diamonds from Grandma

My grandmother loved diamonds.

She loved all jewelry really and had an eye for interesting pieces, especially ones discovered at a tag or estate sale. I don’t think she ever bought a piece retail; haggling a good price made it even more valuable. A queen must have her jewels, even if she has to get them herself.

As she regally stirred the pot of her mouthwatering chicken soup, golden bangles lightly clanked together. When she bent down her perfectly coiffed swirl of red hair to speak with one of us grandkids, chains adorned with diamond pendants swiped past our noses. As she breezily blew on her cigarette, rings of smoke and glimmering gems danced through her manicured fingers.

And the day, decades later, when she rubbed my leg the way she always did in a circular motion that generally ended with a squeeze, her old diamond pinky ring nipped at my skin. “I want you to have this,” she said with great formality, opening a box holding a diamond ring I had never seen before.

“Grandma, I don’t want your things. You keep them,” I said, mesmerized by the shiny bauble that I couldn’t decide was the prettiest or the ugliest thing I had ever seen.

“You can’t take it with you,” She insisted.

My grandmother had been dying for about a decade. Every week she reminded me that her bags were packed and she was ready to kiss her old arse goodbye. For nine of those years, it was more cranky optimism than death that gripped her, but she was 90 now and visibly weakened. I didn’t want to think about that or that she was giving away things that had really mattered to her.

“I can wait,” I said stubbornly.

Her circular rub turned into a pinch. “Ow! Fine.” I took the ring and studied it. It was a flower of tiered diamonds, glamorous and gaudy, an object of another place and time. But who wanted it? I wanted her.

“It’s beautiful!” I exclaimed, “Thank you! I’ll wear it to all the baseball games to blind the players in the field.”

She smacked at me lightly. “It’s an old-fashioned cocktail ring. I got it from two sisters who came to me knowing I had an eye. They had no idea how much it was worth.”  Her eyes glinted as she remembered her coup, licking her lips in satisfaction, the same way she did before a bowl of chocolate ice cream or a plate of lobster Cantonese.

The value of the ring mattered little to me. I would never sell it. Nor did I need a fancy diamond to wear at the gym or on a playdate. Things like this weren’t important in my world. I barely even wore my engagement ring. The older I got, the more jewelry just seemed like money better spent in a 529 plan, a new fridge or even a family vacation.

But the value she placed on it mattered. Passing it on to me was like offering a piece of herself. ‘Remember me’ it glimmered; like her deep humor, wit and love somehow needed to be cemented with a stone.

She died not too long after, but that was years ago. Her face now smiles from frames on my shelves, my middle son still cuddles with a frayed stuffed cat she gave to him, and I proudly wear her ring every chance I get, just to keep a little flash of her sparkle in my day.

My grandmother loved diamonds. And I loved my grandmother.

 

Ain't nothin like the real thing baby

Ain’t nothin like the real thing baby

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lost Pride and Parking Spots

The parking lot where Michael’s, King Kullen supermarket and Marshall’s converge is a frenzy of discount shopping, food and insufficient parking. You easily need to factor in 15 minutes circling time before you might be lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time when those reverse headlights flare. And you’d better hope you’re not near a revving Lexus who’s in the mood for chicken.

Today I considered myself lucky when it only took four laps of musical cars before I scored a spot at the far end of the lot. Then, having completed my extremely necessary mission to Michael’s for candy eyes for cupcakes, I head back toward my car, placing bets on which lucky lapper will win my coveted spot when I realize there’s a BMW parked illegally behind my car, making it virtually impossible for me to get out.

I’m mentally configuring the odds of a 456 point turn when a blonde woman with giant sunglasses steps from the vehicle. “Um, you know that’s not a spot,” I say but her head is too far up her ass to hear me so she just slings her Gucci bag over her shoulder and slams the door shut.

“Excuse me!” I say louder, “You can’t park there.”

She hears me now but I gather by the way she completely ignores me that she doesn’t want to acknowledge my existence and is about to stomp off in shoes that I would only fall off.

“How bout I back up into your car? I suggest with just a hint of confrontation.

That gets her attention but like the passive aggressive bitch she is, she just smiles and says, “Oh, you’re leaving. Great, I’ll take your spot.”

I don’t want to give her my spot. I want to back my beat up minivan right into her sleek silver driving machine. I want to crush the life out if. I wouldn’t even mind spending the rest of my life driving a car with a crumpled behind. It’s not like I don’t walk around with one of my own.

But that’s not nice manners or legal, so I get into my car, back up and leave. So unceremonious. So unsatisfying. So wimpy. I felt efeminated. I had been schooled by a bitch with a BMW and a good blow out.

I fume the whole way back to town up until I pull into the school to pick up my boys. As I am about to swing into a spot, I see a car opposite me angling to do the same. Ah, redemption! I will own that spot; a little turbo boost to my wounded ego.

But still I hesitate before I hit the gas, and in that second, the car across from me pulls in.

Argh! Foiled again!

Frustrated I drive on and find a spot, really only about 10 feet away, but that’s not the point.

Walking to the school, I see the person emerge from the vehicle who just stole my spot with my pathetic show weakness. Turns out to be my friend. We both brighten. She knows nothing of our parking duel to the death and how she bested me.

“Hey, I got you something,” She says, and knowing my affinity for all things sweet, pulls a pack of jellybeans from her bag.

I take them and smile. The Universe has soothed me. Apparently sometimes patience is rewarded.

But I still hope that chic from Michael’s gets her just desserts.

 

Oh this makes my blood boil!!

Smashing this car would definitely be justifiable.

 

 

Divided Mom Stands. United She Falls.

Shh! Don’t anyone make a move or say a word. I don’t want to scare them off by alerting them to my presence. Right now at this very minute, my three boys are in the other room – get this – playing nicely together.

I have not heard one of them yell “Stop it!”. I have not had one of them run from room to room searching me out to complain. I have not heard the heaving cries from a child flailing underneath his older brother, or the mocking taunts usually accompanied by the gyrating victory dance of “Oh yeah, I’m good, you suck, oh yeah.”   There have been no tattlers coming to tattle or whiners bemoaning their plight. The house is eerily void of the usual, “He hit me! Get off my chair! You can’t play! Leave me alone!!” banter always punctuated with a loud “MOM!” at the beginning, middle and end.

Right now, they’re all cooperation and consideration.

I don’t know what’s gotten into them.

Maybe they are still a bit shaken from earlier, when I found them jumping from the top bunk into a sea of pillows and comforters that they had pulled from the beds. Until I informed them, apparently they had no idea how dangerous this was. No one strips off all my linens unless they’re doing the laundry.

Waiting for the other shoe to fall – or hit me in the head, I tentatively peer by the archway to the living room. The floor is covered with action figures. They are very busy, setting up Skylanders, army men and Mario Bros figures; each boy with his own castle to protect.

I listen in on complicated trade negotiations.

Oldest – Can I have Hot Dog? I’ll give you 5 army men and Bowser?

Youngest – No way. I love Hot Dog, but I’ll trade you Spyro.

Oldest – What? You have Spyro too? You have all the good guys!

Oh no. Trouble.

Middle – How bout I trade you my Trigger Happy?

(Pause)

Oldest – Yeah, okay, I can do that.

Wow. Problem solved and crisis averted without parent intervention.

I love it!

Quietly I tip-toe away.

But then I realize something. If they really joined forces, I would be outnumbered in movie choices or eating out. I might have to schlepp to unwanted outings like Game Stop or the town pool if they all agreed. Oh God, I might have to get a dog. I often relied on their division to keep from doing things I didn’t want to do. Alone they were a single, sometimes whiny voice but united they were a force, their powers tripled. If they really started working together, they would be unstoppable!

Uh oh.

“Hey guys,” I call out, testing the waters, “What do you want for dinner?”

A chorus of conflict immediately responds.

“Chicken!”
“Pasta!”
“Cheeseburgers!”

Whew. Still safe.

 

Trouble..

Oh, that’s trouble.

 

 

 

 

Words I Meant to Say

The thought entered my head when we were almost there and a pit of anxiety formed in my belly.

Oh shit.

Why didn’t I think of this sooner? Why had I let the month go by without realizing that I needed to do something?

But now it was almost too late. We were already on our way to my in-laws 50th anniversary party, a momentous occasion, and I had nothing to say prepared.

Not that I wanted to say anything. I hate hate hate speaking in public.  But of course, I did want to say something, because they deserved to have something said.

It’s not too late, my brain reminded me. The party wasn’t starting for at least 2 hours. You can do it.

I didn’t know if I could.

Just in case, I started writing and re-writing sentences in my head, until finally I had something I could work with; not perfect, but without the cushion of time and the comfort of my computer room, it wasn’t half bad.

We got to the party and bright smiling faces I had known for years filled my sister and brother-in-law’s lovely backyard.  I made nice and chatted but kept sneaking off to the bathroom or a quiet corner to repeat the sentences in my head.

I think I can I told myself, but didn’t even have to imagine the heart palpitations and the light headed feeling I’d get when I thought how I might trip over my words, lose my train of thought and embarrass myself.

By the time my sister and brother-in-law took to the mike to welcome everyone and say a few words, I was completely stressed and also annoyed by my own pathetic insecurity.

Just stand up and do it.

They were almost done; beautiful and poised, words rolling off their tongues, easy smiles on their lips. It was all so casual and warm. All of a sudden my thoughts felt practiced and wrong.

It was now or never.

It was never.

I let the moment go when they easily transitioned to the grandkids showing off some talents.  It was a relief.

And a huge disappointment.

I’m home now and it’s after 11pm but the sentences I practiced in my head that never came out of my mouth are still stuck there, waiting. So like the writer coward I am, I’m going to say them here, where it’s safe, even though I realize that for 90% of you, it will be totally meaningless and confusing.

But they will understand…

…So I was just trying to remember the first time I met Winnie and Hal. It must have been at the bungalows, but somehow I managed to overlook your smiling faces laughing with your friends on the lawn, eating or drinking. Ok, drinking. But I was young and only saw myself and of course that cute boy who turned out to be your son.

In my memory I first see you at your house in Brooklyn. It was so long ago, it’s only flashes really, of Coke cans and bags of bagels, newspapers and the sound of baseball on the television flipping back and forth from the Yankees to the Mets, to the Yankees to the Mets, Yankees, Mets…

There are a few too many adult males walking around in their underwear, but Grandma Helen is at the kitchen sink calling me Shayna Maidel, and a teen-aged Pamela who was a mystery to me with her dark lipstick, big hair and bigger clothes disappears in an overstuffed room that was very easy to disappear into.

And I know right away that this family is special, crazy… but special. Because at the heart of it all are two people so warm and wonderful. So caring and kind. So down to earth and genuine; so obviously devoted to each other and their family that I can’t help but sit myself right down at the kitchen table, open up the funnies and have myself a bowl of cereal.

So thank you for always making me feel loved and part of your family. For always being there with wise words and open arms. For giving me the gift of your wonderful son. And for showing me that love isn’t always in grand gestures but in making his coffee extra hot, and holding her close when you dance.

Here’s to you and the beautiful life you have created and the beautiful people who you are.

I love you.

Your daughter in law

 

love

 

Left the kids for a few days. It only took 12 years.

“So we’re going to grandma and grandpa’s bungalow…” My 6 year old repeated back to my nodding face. “But you and daddy are going somewhere else?”

He looked at me somewhat uncomprehending. It’s not his fault. This would be the first time we left our three boys to take a couple of days to ourselves. Of course it should have happened years ago but for one clingy reason or another, it just didn’t.

But now that we were, we weren’t just dropping them at their boring old house. We were leaving them at the bungalow colony where they spend their summers, a virtual kid haven when my husband and I were growing up, which of course is now a literal senior haven. Still, there were random kids about, long green lawns, a pool, frogs and salamanders… what else do 12, 9 and 6 year old boys need?

Their mommy, I thought guiltily.

“Yes,” I confirmed enthusiastically to his soft brown eyes and sweet chubby cheeks. “Daddy and I are going to have a little vacation and so are you and your brothers.”

He didn’t look thrilled.

Even at 6, my youngest is still the baby. He isn’t quite ready to do playdates outside of our house. He doesn’t like to go places if I’m not going, even with Daddy and his brothers. He hugs me vigorously when I leave to go to the supermarket or out to dinner. He has made some major progress towards independence this past year – Hello Kindergarten and camp! – but it’s slow going.

“It’ll be fun!” I cheered which only made him scowl at me skeptically.

When we walked into the bungalow to drop their bags and our kids, grandma was ready. “Who wants eggs and pancakes?” She asked excitedly as the boys settled in.

We left them there, among many hugs and with devices that could communicate with us with the touch of their fingers.

My older boys were good, only my youngest sat on the fence, looking at me like I’d left him in a basket with a note pinned to his blanket.

It hurt and I worried. Of course, he would be fine with his grandparents and his brothers, but he was sad, which made me sad.

Still I walked out and he let me go which was a huge step in itself. I was intent on blocking out that little face and having fun with just my husband, if we could even remember how to do that.

It turned out letting go was easier than I thought.

The minute we were off, my brain was off them as well. I was excited for our time away; our two nights and a half day. We hiked, played tennis and row boated. We talked and ate and ate. It was good, really good. Of course we face-timed with the kids and they sent back pictures of themselves catching frogs.

We were all happy and we weren’t together.

We could all be happy and not be together? It was a novel concept.

When we returned to the bungalow, their beautiful faces momentarily lit with pleasure before tumbling over one another to excitedly detail their frog catching adventures. The past days of fabulous coupledom were already long gone and it was good to be back, but now that I had drunk the Kool Aid…

“So how was it?” I asked my youngest.

He shrugged in his shy way, “It was good.”

“You were okay?” I pressed. Now that we were together, somehow I was worried again.

“I was fine.” He said and I believed him, because surprisingly I was fine too.

Turns out, getting away was good for us all.

I’m already planing our next escape.

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Happy

 

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Happy

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