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Category Archives: Boys!

Finding the middle ground in 7th grade

“It’s 7:30am!” I call out to my oldest son, meaning that it’s time to go.

“Are your books packed?” I follow up when I receive no reply.

“Are you ready?” I shout, already annoyed on at least three levels. First, I am before coffee and racing through the morning routine of lunches and whatnot. Second, there is a binder on the dining room table that I know needs to be packed away in his book bag where I have already placed his charged phone (your welcome) and his lunch (your welcome again) and third, my son doesn’t freaking answer me.

Slowly he saunters into the kitchen. His sneakers aren’t on.

I grit my teeth, corralling my tongue, “Baby, I called you three times and you’re not ready.”

“What do you mean?” His voice flares a notch, “I’m ready.”

I point to the book lying open on the table.

“Oh my God, mom!” He huffs, “That will take like one second!”  He moves in on the binder and shoves it in his bag. He forces the zipper closed, jerks his head to the side to get the hair out of his face just enough so I can catch a glimpse of his rolling eyes. “See!” he challenges.

Yeah I see. I see he needs a haircut because even though he wants long hair, my boy doesn’t want to take the effort to use a comb or a little water or gel to make it look more like hair and less like a mop. I see that he needs to straighten his shorts, put on his sneakers, grab a zip-up jacket, and that we have very different ideas about what being ‘ready’ means.

I realize that this moment hits the crux of our relationship issues for the last year or so. I ask him questions he doesn’t want to answer and ask him to do things he doesn’t want to do… “What’s taking you so long? Put away your phone. Don’t you see your friends look people in the eye? Can you not forget your  book/sweatshirt/shoes/whatever? Is your homework done? Must you jump around like a puppy? No one else has blah blah blah. Did you do this that and the other thing…?”

It’s my job, of course, to help this growing up person act more grown up, to follow certain rules of behavior. Simple ones like responding when someone speaks to you, being respectful, taking pride in his appearance or being responsible to more complex ones like standing up for what he believes in, being extra kind for no reason and every reason or getting out of his comfort zone to try new things.

But what I also realize is that my wanting to help prepare him for being an adult is at odds with the person who he is. He is not a grown up yet. He is a barely a teen who has matured and progressed tremendously in the past year. He may not have his back pack ready in the morning on my clock, but he is doing awesome in every class at school. He plays team sports year round. He is practicing for his upcoming Bar Mitzvah. He is fumbling through the social tornado which is Middle School. He still generally always has a smile on his face.

When we get into the car I ask him if he’s got everything.

“Yeah,” he answers without thinking.

“Your phone?” I prompt, forcing him to double check his bag. I’m being a bit of an ass. I know it’s in there, but I want to remind him that he doesn’t know. That he needs to be more prepared.

Growing up isn’t easy or immediate. Every day there are moments that make me quietly cheer and setbacks that make my eye twitch in frustration. It’s an entertaining, maddening road from here to adulthood, but it’s a process that necessitates patience and understanding. It can’t and shouldn’t be rushed, although I often have to remind myself.

After searching around, my son pulls out his phone from his backpack and I can see the boyish relief behind the teenage smirk.

He’s got it.

But we won’t really know until tomorrow.

Meeting in the middle

My baby, baby no more

 

 

For Today’s Kids, Distraction is the New Concentration

“I’m lightening on my feet! I’m walking cross the street, yeah yeah!” My middle son belts out, semi-massacring a Taylor Swift song as he head bobs and taps his pencil on the kitchen table.

He’s supposed to be doing his homework.

“I’m doing it!” He practically sneers and for effect writes one of his spelling words ‘demonstrate’ down on his paper. He presses the pencil point over the word a number of times ‘demonstrating’ his point.

I stand corrected. He is doing his homework, just very slowly in between singing songs, dancing, asking random questions and going to the bathroom.

“I’m writing this so neat,” he belts out. “I want something more to eat. Yeah yeah.”

“Can you please stop?” I ask through grated teeth. “Please,” I implore.

But he doesn’t stop and it takes an amazing amount of patience, lost tooth enamel and unnecessary calories consumed in rapid frustrated spoons to the ice cream tub before he finally finishes the homework that I believe could have been completed in half the time if not for the musical interludes.

It crosses my mind, not for the first time, that he’s trying his best to annoy me, but then his older brother saunters in, flips open his loose leaf and starts making weird noises which I believe is him rapping a beat but sounds more like farting of the mouth.

“Baby?” I question, dumbfounded. “What’s with all the annoying noise? I thought you had to study.”

“I am studying,” He says smiling charmingly and then resumes tapping and rapping as he reads.

I try to ignore him but all the noise is completely distracting and I’m just cooking dinner. How do they concentrate with all the feet stomping, singing, tapping and blurting of strange noises? They can’t even seem to sit. They prefer standing around a chair or on the chair, anywhere but in the chair.

I get media multi-tasking. Working and writing at the computer daily, I do it myself. I write a good paragraph, I check Facebook. I send out some queries, I write a text. I know that I am constantly looking for a little distraction at the detriment of my work, which is why I don’t allow my kids near their devices or unnecessary screens while doing homework or studying. But even without all the ‘iSores’, my kids seem to have their own personal distraction mechanism. And no it isn’t me. It’s themselves.

Maybe in this day and age, children’s brains work differently. They are so used to multiple stimuli that they need some distraction to concentrate, even if it’s only with their own brains. I find it really hard to believe, but when I test my son on his upcoming test, he nails it and my other son’s homework is perfectly done as well.

Dinner on the other hand is a little overcooked. Maybe I’m the one not paying attention.

Whatever. I’m just gonna shake it off. Shake it off.

Homework done. Time to put up those feet for some distraction that he can really focus on.

Homework’s done. Now it’s time to really focus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exposure. And my moment in the sun

My house was as clean as it was going to be, but of course I was a wreck. Why did I agree to do an interview for the Today Show? Why?!

Well first off, it’s the TODAY SHOW! Not to discount my crucial role as the Tornado in my fourth grade production of the Wizard of Oz, but I never had any opportunity to feel famous for a minute. As nervous as I was, I wanted my minute.

A car pulled up to my house and a young cameraman and another producer got out. Neither looked like Kathy Lee or Hoda.  Damn.

“Mommy, we’re going to be on TV!” My middle son chirped, green eyes bright.

His excitement was adorable and I smiled at him until he said, “Now you’ll make more money, right?”

Hmm. Not as adorable.

But who had time for childish nonsense? I was going to be on television! So it was for writing an article about dressing my kids inappropriately in winter. Whatevs.

The camera guy set up, and finally a bright light stared me in the face.“Ready?” he asked.

Uh no. I’ve made a mistake. A big mistake. Definitely not. No way.

“Great!” He smiled, sporting an adorable dimple, “I’m going to ask you questions but don’t look at the camera or me when you answer. Look to the side.” He pointed to where the other producer stood.

“Um, I’ll try,” I said but when I started answering questions, I’m pretty sure I looked like I had tourrets since I kept twitching to keep myself from turning toward the sound of his voice. Still I babbled on, as I generally do, smiling too much, even playing to the camera. All of a sudden I was a 20 year-old flirt in a 44 year-old face that didn’t even have enough sense to put on any makeup.

Why didn’t I put on makeup??! I was so not ready for my close up.

Typically just saying my name aloud to a group gives me heart palpitations. The last time I put myself in a high pressure situation was at the Algonquin Writers’ Conference to pitch my novel to editors. There I felt like I was going to throw up, but right now I couldn’t seem to shut up.

Apparently I had become an attention whore.

On Monday I was happy enough to have a piece in the Washington Post on the bizarre trend of boys wearing shorts in the winter and when it started getting traction, I was thrilled. Then the editor at the Post emailed me that the piece was going viral. I never really understood exactly what that meant until the TODAY show called for an interview, even writing a copycat article citing me. Citing me!!

‘You’re famous!” a friend from another state texted after one of her friends unknowingly shared my article with her. And really I felt a little famous, lunching and taking calls, prepping for my interview and freaking out with friends.

My mouth hung in a perpetual state of fascination and for days my fingers also seemed stunned because I couldn’t write a word. I was too busy chatting and laughing, checking stats and appreciating my moment. I couldn’t focus on anything but my shining self.

By Friday, the article had run its course and the interview had aired. Even though I cringed watching and listening to myself – all 20 seconds of me – I’m proud that I did it and wrote it, and that my words sparked a conversation that led to a segment on a national television show.

It’s been a whirl, but I am happy to be yesterday’s news; once again in my chair in front of my computer, a blank page staring back at me.

It’s time to start again.

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Next time girl. I’ve got ice cream.

Especially if I hope to ever meet Kathy Lee and Hoda.

 

 

Oh crap – I’m a girl!

The water runs down my face and I breathe deep enjoying the hotness splattering all around me. I have come here to escape, to hide from my family.

It’s working. The water is a tonic for my tired – even though it’s only 5pm – body and my brain which like my closet, needs a good cleaning. They were all just annoying me in the usual ways – get me this, mommy he’s bothering me, why can’t I – but today my tolerance is low. I can’t blame the moon, my hormones or my father; it’s just me being cranky.

Sometimes we all need a timeout, so I took one and it felt sublime… for about five minutes, until my middle son barrels in complaining about his older brother.

“I’ll be out in a few minutes,” I say but he continues on anyway, his small offended voice growing louder as he pleads his case.

“I can’t really hear you,” I say, hurriedly washing the shampoo from my hair. “Just give me a few minutes.”

“Wait!” He yells impatiently, “Just listen!”

I can’t really listen. The water is running. And I am naked.

“Please,” I beg, feeling the shower glow dissipate even in steam.

My 12 year old runs in, equally impassioned with my 6 year old merrily following, happy not to be part of the fray. He wasn’t the one who did that to him because he did that first but didn’t mean to do it but did it anyway. Nope he’s just here for the entertainment.

They are screaming at each other and me to fix the problem while my little one does a little dance of glee. Does no one realize that I am in the shower? It’s like I’m invisible but for the first time ever I’m feeling exposed.

All of a sudden my three boys ages 6, 9 and 12 seem too old to be barging in on me. We never made a big deal about nudity, neither going out of our way to show it or cover it. And besides a few random questions at the toddler age like, “Mommy, where’s your pee pee?” or, my youngest who just loves my ‘squishy body’, there have been no averted eyes, prolonged stares or interest what so ever. In fact, no one has really seemed to notice that I’m even a girl.

Oh my God – I’m a girl!

And I’m naked!

“Everyone just get out!” I huff and a chorus of exasperated, ‘MOMs!’ ensue. Finally they march out still arguing.

Sometime in the next year or so, even though my 12 year old is still wonderfully oblivious, he will be demanding and deserving his privacy just as I now deserve mine.  It’s time.

Alone I tentatively emerge, grab a towel to wrap round myself.

From now on I need more than just a little escape. I also need to hide.

Freaking knock, please.

Freaking knock, please. Thank you.

The i Generation

I’m waiting for my kids to finish up an extremely important video game. If they don’t, apparently it will be catastrophic. Everything they have worked so hard for will be destroyed – the levels completed, the points accrued, the hours spent ignoring me. It will all be for naught.

I wish I saw this same level of commitment when it came to putting their clothes away, finishing up  homework, reading a book or just generally focusing one tenth of their attention to the words coming out of my mouth as they do to the zombies trying to eat them or the football players running on electronic fields of green.

Gone are the days of carefree casual communication. When my boys walk in from school, they drop their backpacks and head straight for their devices like homing pigeons drawn by some unconscious motivator. I try to intervene with small talk – Hey, how was your day? Anyone want a snack? What happened in such and such class? – and general fussing about but they swat me away with nods and non-communicative grunts.

I consider ripping devices from their little paws and demanding attention, have in fact done it many times but now I’m trained and generally sigh and shuffle off and wait till they’ve had their fix. I’ve seen addiction and they’ve just gone through 8 hours of withdrawal. It seems cruel not to give them 15 minutes.

These days it seems children and teens and their devices go hand in hand. Where they go, it goes and communication goes out the window. I can’t even say it’s just about the younger generation. We middle-aged folk are similarly attached, yet we were around before microwaves, ATM’s and computers and we still know how to use a pot, get money from a teller and write freehand. We hold our books to our hearts but lug Kindles in our bags. We still have CD’s and even cassettes stored away, if nowhere else but in our brains. So yes, we are attached to our technology but we know how to live without them, because we have.

But the kids have not.

The iGeneration is all about technology, and communication without personal contact. I’d like to blame them for my oldest son’s questionable social skills but I can’t. He’s as naturally shy as my other son is naturally social and my youngest is somewhere in between.  It has nothing to do with the technology.

And so it goes. Every morning, sleep still on the brain, coffee in hand, my oldest gets into the car and we head off to school. I immediately pepper him with questions about his day while he answers only to the device in hand.

I sigh, turn on some music, sip my coffee and shake my head as I bob along to the new CBS FM, no more golden oldies, just recent oldies for getting oldies like me. I pull to the curb and he shoves his phone away. “Bye Mama,” He says, and before he gets out allows me to push the hair away from his eyes then flashes me a gorgeous heart stopping grin.

All is not lost.

 

Alisa Pnone through dec 31, 2012 046

So yeah, there’s this…

 

But there's this too

But there’s also this…

 

Mama’s Boys are Growing Up

I have no one to blame but myself.

I mean, raising mama’s boys was almost a goal. I loved how much they needed me. I loved doing things for them.  It was my twisted pleasure to find myself at 2 am sleepwalking between nursing a baby to comforting a boy who woke with a nightmare to helping another boy to the bathroom.  I took pride in refusing help; taking all my boys with me to doctor appointments or errands, snubbing carpools to drive myself crazy instead. I catered three different meals at night, picked up their toys because it was easier, zipped my son’s jacket at five years-old and tied shoes at 10.

They asked and I answered. “Can you pack my back pack? Can you get me a snack? Can you can you can you…?”

‘Yes! Mommy can!’ was my war cry.

And mommy did. Again and Again.

See honey, no one else will cut off those crusts, make you a perfect scrambled egg or wash your Spiderman shirt so you could wear it every day like I can.

Was it dysfunctional and co-dependent? Yup. Would I do it again? Probably.

Because back then, we were all one happy needy bunch of love and it was good.

But now that my boys are 6, 9 and 12, I see things a little differently.

In fact, I see them at 30…

They would of course still be living at home because why would they leave free room, board, a stocked fridge and complimentary housekeeping?

There would be hair scruff in all my bathroom sinks, dirty underwear and socks on the floor and loud snoring from every bedroom.

I probably would suffocate from all the gas inhalation.

Or die from embarrassment when they run in on me in the bathroom to demand justice when one of them uses the others deodorant or finishes the last bag of chips.

I may as well just put a cot by the washing machine and sleep there.

And I could never just sit and enjoy a cup of wonderful, steaming coffee in the morning since I’d be dragging their asses out of bed for work – if they had jobs – and making them eggs, three different ways.

All of a sudden, raising mama boys didn’t look as appealing.

So lately I’ve been loosening those ties, and giving my boys more independence and responsibility. They now get themselves dressed in the morning, wash up and tie their own shoes. They do the recyclables and empty the dish washer. They put their clothes away and make their own snacks. They know what they have to do and do it.

Well, usually.

Okay, sometimes.

It’s a process.

But we’ll get there. Because now I see that you don’t mess with the natural order of things. Children grow, you lovingly guide them on the road to being responsible and then you gently shove them out to greener pastures.

Of course they must still call daily, visit at least once a week and marry girls you deem appropriate.

I may no longer want mama’s boys, but mama’s men just might work.

 

But not yet... sigh

But not yet… sigh

 

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.