a son not going to prom brings back icky high school memories

Prom is this weekend, but my son isn’t going. prom

He’ll be the first of my four kids to not go to the annual senior dance that is somewhat of a rite of passage. He’s never been to a high school dance either, so it’s not like he’s had his fill of them, and I think he wants to go, but none of his friends is going and thinks it would be awkward if he went. His not going is bringing up feelings I had thirtysomething years ago when I too didn’t go to prom. And it’s unsettling.

I had wanted to go to prom. I grew up back East and moved out West with my family before the start of my junior year. It took me quite some time to get accustomed to the differences on the left coast, but by the end of senior year, I had made some friends, not many, but a few, including two guys I hung out with in Honors English. I was hoping at least one of them would ask me to the senior prom. But no, the invitation never came. In those days, only couples could go to the prom, no singles and no groups of friends. It was a male and a female couple. I’m guessing the rules do not hold up today, nor should they.

My other kids all went. My first daughter was asked by a handsome, popular young man. My second daughter went with a male friend who was actually a grade behind but was taking extra classes to finish out his senior year as a junior. My older son, the athlete, went with the cute cheerleading captain, and they then started dating. But my youngest, whom I’d always pictured as going, being that he’s well-liked and, having sisters, is pretty comfortable aroundthe opposite sex, is not. My husband and I as well as his brother and sisters have encouraged him to go, but here it is, four days away, and it’s become pretty evident that he’s not going.

I hope it’s not something he regrets, as I do. Difference is, as a senior, going was out of my control. I had to be asked. He, however, could have asked a girl or just gone with friends, but I guess it doesn’t mean that much to him. Fortunately, my kids aren’t ones to need to be with a member of the opposite sex to feel validated. Of the four kids, three of whom are adults,, only one is dating someone right now.

Come next week, I’m sure seniors will be buzzing and Ben will hear stories of how great prom was. I would guess he’ll feel a little let down that he didn’t go. And I know I will be. In fact, I started talking about prom to him and my friend’s daughter way back when they were in the second grade, joking that they would be going together one day. Trouble is, by senior year she had had a boyfriend, and it wasn’t my Ben. But he is OK with the way things are. He will find something fun to do, and I will reward him with some sort of treat, considering the great amount of money he’s saved me by not going. For a seventeen-year-old, he’s pretty mature. I wish I could say the same for myself.

“i am my father’s daughter”: whether we like it or not, our parents’ behaviors are reflected in our own

Today I can officially declare, “I am my father’s daughter.” No matter how much we try to separate ourselves from our parents’ behaviors (the quirky, weird, or negative ones, anyway), sooner or later we start repeating them.

My dad was a blue-collar man who worked hard to keep a roof over the heads of his wife and five kids on a meager salary. My mom worked too, part-time and usually around our schedules, but my dad was the chief breadwinner. To scrimp and save, and because he was a child of the Great Depression, my dad would find ways to make due with what we had, fix it to make it work better, and only when there was no hope, buy something to replace it–and more likely than not, that “something” would come second-hand.

Have a rusted fender on your ’63 Fairlane? Duct tape will do the trick. Need fertilizer for the plants? Pee on them–the high nitrogen levels in human urine can provide the necessary nutrients. Too much forced-air gas-heat escaping down the hallway to the unoccupied rooms? Open the door to the heater and tape thick corrugated cardboard to its edges to concentrate the warm air.

Today I borrowed a page from my dad’s playbook. We are having a series of heavy rainstorms in Southern California that we are never prepared for here. For example, no one bothered to check the grading of the lawns when building our under-insulated tract homes forty- or fifty-odd years ago, so some of us have accumulated rain water sloping toward the houses’ foundations. Remember the homes in Malibu a few years ago that slid off their foundations? Similar thinking. But, hey, “it never rains in California.” It may just be a line from a song, but it’s often the gospel truth. In fact, since we’ve had so little rain to speak of over the past few years, we could get by with those sloping-toward-the-foundation yards and roofs that may have leaked during the last heavy rain six years ago but were forgotten about in the dry drought years. It’s easy to block out unpleasant thoughts.

A case in point, something that my husband and I put off fixing is now a problem for us. We have a door that leads from the garage to the side yard. It appears to me to be an indoor door, not a heavy-duty outdoor door. It’s hollow, for one, and looks as though it was inserted into the frame with a few nails and a couple screws in a hurry when it was time to sell the house years and years ago. It sufficed for a while, but with the door being in the hot sun, the cheap, thin door’s paint has peeled and with it came the top layer of the door. The outer portion is now hanging on for dear life. My husband and I planned to replace it, but, as is often the case, time got away from us, and now the door is not only getting hit by the sun, it’s being pelted by the rain too. A hollow door with an outer portion of thin plywood is not going to keep the elements out.

To the rescue came I. Well, I and my dad in my head. For a quick fix, yesterday, before the rains came, I grabbed three black trash bags and a roll of packing tape and taped the bags to the door. I figured it would do the trick in a pinch until I could find a more permanent solution, shy of getting a new door. Then I came in the house, got online, and tried to find something I could find that would be more sturdy than a Hefty bag. Guess what? There is nothing on earth at any of the big-box stores or even the neighborhood True Value that I could find to use in a pinch. Sure, I could have bought plywood, got it home, cut it, painted it for protection, and screwed it into the door, but I was pretty sure I didn’t have the time or the skill or the tools necessary before the rains hit, which did indeed show up a few hours later.

So I had to think fast and find something flexible that I, personally, could put up over the door and that would arrive asap. Searching Amazon, I found a thick clear-vinyl tablecloth and a four-pack of duct tape that were part of the next-day delivery program. Perfect. (No, I didn’t need four rolls of tape, but I couldn’t find a single roll in the house or garage and that’s why I used packing tape yesterday.)

When the box arrived an hour ago, and the rain had halted for a bit, I got to work draping the thick vinyl over and under the trash-bag-covered door and taped away. The lowest of the three bags had come a bit loose and let some rain hit the door, so I was happy that this tablecloth would now cover all of that and not have separations.

Ta da: 0119171320

All right. So it won’t win any design awards and the prototype needs a little tweaking before I apply for a U.S. patent, but I’ll bet there are a few people who are right now scrambling to post it on their Pinterest boards!

Well, maybe not. The only thing I know for sure is it will make do…oh, and that my dad is likely smiling down on me from the heavens knowing that one of us five inherited his skills.

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This week’s three things I’m thankful for:

  1. A brain and two working hands and a healthy body to come up with a plan and implement it no matter how crappy the end result looks.
  2. A break in the rain so I could walk the dog and “fix” the door.
  3. A house with a roof that will probably not leak until at least day 2 of this storm.

 

parenting: two steps forward, only one step back today

lunch bag.jpgMy son reached a milestone, and it only took thirteen years in public school to do so: He made his own lunch. Well, it wasn’t the first  time, but it was the first time this school year, and he will be doing it for the rest of the term, he says. Trouble is, he left the lunch home before driving off to school.

I discovered it sitting there on the counter where he’d prepared it and phoned him. I drove up to where he had just parked the twenty-one-year-old Camry in the pouring rain and handed it off. Sure, I could have left it at home, not phoned him, and let him learn lesson number two, number one being making his own lunch and number two, taking it with him. But I felt he’d done so well to pack the turkey and Havarti cheese on a croissant, baked potato chips, rose-red apple slices, and Goldfish crackers, plus half of his breakfast muffin, that I didn’t have the heart to have him go hungry.

So I drove it up to him. The parenting dance: two steps forward, one step back. But sometimes you’ve got to take whatever progress you can get.

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This week’s three gratitudes:

  1. Rain, precious rain, to fill our low reservoirs and to nourish our parched earth.
  2. A dry place to live and a roof over my head that hopefully won’t let the precious rain in. (It’s twenty-five years old.)
  3. A family to care for and to be cared for in return.

 

 

 

taking a walk down memory lane can trip you up

pic-of-letters-in-mailI have been trying to discard some of my old things I have no use for. While looking through a box of old letters (I used to be a prolific letter-writer, and hung on to those written to me in return by family and friends), I was taken way back in time. Funny how we call them “the good ol’ days,” but in actuality they weren’t so good at all.

Although I had a college degree and had started (just barely) working in my career, I married young, especially by today’s standards. When my husband decided his history degree wouldn’t put bread on the table, we moved a year and a half after getting married so he could go to graduate school. By then, however, we already had had our first child. A second was born when we were away in a new city, with no friends or family and no one to help with the kids. We went an entire year, when our firstborn was a baby, without any income. We lived off of student loans and the savings we had accumulated, which of course wasn’t much. We had no help from our parents–nor should we have, really. After all, we were adults, making big-boy and big-girl decisions.

When my husband was away at class all day (he took a train into San Francisco, while I stayed in our apartment on the Peninsula) or working at the school library to make a few bucks during his second and third years, I was raising two babies by myself basically. That included taking the girls and myself to doctor’s visits (since I had no one at all to watch them, they came with me everywhere I went); handling all the feedings; doing all the housework, the grocery shopping, the cooking, the cleaning, the bill paying, the banking, the car repair visits;  and working at a job from home, at which I called subscribers of the two big daily newspapers to ask about their service. A lot of that job was performed while feeding, rocking, and holding my infant or during her naptime (no, I never could take the wise advice given to new moms about resting when the baby naps–and that may be why I cannot, for the love of God, force myself to nap to this day). I was beaten down, exhausted, stressed out, and, above all, lonely. Good ol’ days? Hah!

We were stone-cold broke and I recorded each and every expense so as not to go over our budget. We had only so much in student loans to live on until the next year’s allotment. So every month’s rent, every power bill, every newspaper we purchased, and every McDonald’s cheeseburger we bought on the handful of days we treated ourselves to a meal out over the three years was written down in a notebook. I never was able to afford cute little clothes or toys for the girls or anything I wished I could give them. My older daughter’s favorite item of clothing was a skirt I’d found for two dollars on the clearance rack at Target (it was a splurge, believe me). But it was too chilly where we lived and she was back to her KMart pull-on corduroy pants until she outgrew them, reserving the skirt for our drives back home to Southern California.

We made weekly trips to the public library, and I’d stock up on books for them and for me. This was a big part of our lives. I taught the older one her letters, numbers, and colors and eventually how to read. We had the most basic cable service imaginable because we couldn’t pick up TV reception from San Francisco. We were, however, able to get two fuzzy San Jose stations that were almost impossible to watch when the fog rolled in. The basic cable only allowed us the local stations, including PBS, and a few cable stations, like CNN, MTV, and VH-1. Nickelodeon and other children’s programming networks were additional, so the only show my daughter could watch was Sesame Street, first on an old color TV that had been a wedding gift from my brother and then a 12-inch black-and-white when the color one gave out.

We didn’t socialize at all, being that most of my husband’s classmates were single city dwellers and we were a married couple with kids living on the tightest budget possible. And we resided outside the city in a more affordable suburb. Our entertainment, if you can call it that, was watching the occasional NFL game on TV or direct-to-TV movies and series, and reading all those library books. I felt really cut off from the rest of the world–the world I had barely gotten a foot into before having kids. Since we couldn’t afford long-distance phone calls, our friends and family would call us, and only between certain hours on Sundays, when rates were lower. So getting a letter from a friend of mine or maybe my mom or sister was a big deal to me. A letter was often my only connection to that other world and it made me feel as though people cared.

Finding and reading those letters today didn’t quite give me the morale boost I would get when I opened them for the first time. Instead, I became melancholy and sad for the young woman I was and the woman I never got to become. I don’t know if I felt trapped, because it was a life I willingly walked into. Maybe enmeshed is a better word. I was enmeshed in a world I had wanted but was too naïve to understand all the ramifications of. I was mature enough to realize, though, that it was a temporary life and it would improve.

And yes, my life has changed for the better since then, but some things remain the same. I still work from home and I’ve been a stay-at-home mom my entire thirty-plus years of parenting (now with four kids, the youngest of whom is in high school). Life has gotten so much better, though. To all the struggling young moms out there, I am living proof it turns out OK, but it was rough in the eighties and nineties. At least the moms of today have online forums in which to share feelings and Facebook pages and Instagram accounts to keep them in touch with long-distance friends. I didn’t have that, but I did have all those letters to keep me sane. They represent a tough time in my life, but also, they were my lifeline. I think I’ll hang on to them.

 

 

helicopter moms sometimes have to perform covert rescue missions too

heli-momMy daughter was robbed. Someone broke in and entered her apartment when she was away on the opposite coast Labor Day weekend.

I discovered the break-in on Labor Day morning, when I went over to feed and check on her cat. I had last been over with my teen son Saturday afternoon. We locked up and left. Labor Day morning, I put the key into her security screen door lock and it turned especially easily for an oftentimes sticky lock. I put my hand on the main, wooden door and it opened right up. I had witnessed my son locking that door and jiggling the handle to make sure it was secured on Saturday, but I had not checked it myself, so I figured he may have left it unlocked.

Then I looked and looked and looked for her cat, but I could not find her anywhere. She’s an ultra-aloof cat, even more so than most. If awards were given out for being the most aloof and unfriendly creature, she’d place in the top three and come home with a shiny trophy. So at first I didn’t think it was too unusual that I couldn’t find her, but the deeper I dove around the small one-bedroom apartment, the more concerned I became. I even asked my other daughter if she had come by or if a friend was supposed to check in on the cat, but she told me she had not stopped in and the friend was out of town too.

After about an hour of near panic, I finally got ahold of my son, who had been sleeping in, and he said he’d come by to help look for the cat. I went to the bathroom, gave one last look behind the shower curtain, and that’s when the window above the shower caught my eye. The screen was missing! Someone had entered through the bathroom window and gone out the front door. The security screen I had thought was locked when I came in had not been. I put my key in again to test the lock and still could turn the key another revolution after the deadbolt released, verifying that that morning I had just unlocked an already unlocked door.

I called my husband, who’d just arrived home from a bike ride, and told him my suspicions. I called the police, who arrived even before my son did and he had been walking to his car when my husband told him of my discovery.

With my daughter on the line (she had been traveling home that day and was at her layover city), we figured out some of what had been stolen, one item being her laptop. She called me last night practically in tears. She had just gotten off work at 8 p.m. (she’s a schoolteacher, so that’s a long day), still needed to buy groceries–her cupboards were bare from not having shopped since the week before leaving for her weekend trip, and was in a car wash, trying to remove the smut from her vehicle that had been parked out in front of her apartment all summer (fortunately, she’d had one set of keys with her on her trip and we have the other). She is in grad school and had an assignment due today that she had no computer to work on. Her work computer needed to be left at school for her student teacher to use while she attended a conference today and tomorrow. Even her tablet, a Kindle Fire, had been stolen, so she had nothing on which to do her research and write her paper other than her cellphone, which was of little value.

A couple days ago, I had mentioned helping her buy a computer to have for school, but she had thought she’d be able to use the one from work. Only that didn’t turn out to be the case. So last night, when working on a frustrating assignment while thoroughly tired, I slipped in some research on where I could get an inexpensive laptop that’s a decent brand for which my daughter could pay me back or at least use until she could get her laptop of choice. She needs the computer today.

Between assignments today, having already performed my reconnaissance mission last night, I will slip out under the cloak of darkness (well, there’s a thick marine layer anyway) and do a rescue maneuver for a Windows 10 laptop. I will then drop it into enemy territory (my daughter’s apartment aka the scene of the crime), because that’s what we helicopter moms do. We not only hover over our kids and overprotect them, we also come to their aid when needed.

p.s. After three hours of my, my son’s, and my husband’s search efforts, including scouring every bush and blade of grass in the immediate neighborhood, my cat-person younger daughter lured the terrified feline out of hiding within one minute of entering the apartment. Maybe my whirring chopper blades had scared her off.

 

 

post-graduation dreams: to never leave home?

Used to be when kids went off to college they never returned home again because waiting for them on the other side of the commencement dais was a good-paying job,  one that would sustain them until they got married (soon after graduating), had a family, and raised their own kids until they too went off to college, got married, etc., etc.boomerang-kids

But with 55 percent of college students now living at home as opposed to 43 percent in 2010, a lot of those kids don’t leave home to attend school in the first place and then they stay on at home even after getting their diploma. Jobs for college grads are not nearly as plentiful these days, and getting on in the world is too expensive. These kids are no dummies. Why live on a shoestring when you can live in the lap of luxury for little to nothing?

And so it is in our house. My third born, a son, graduated in May but has yet to move out. He’s still working the same hourly job he had throughout college, and even though I send him job postings from the websites I see online (is that the  whirring of helicopter blades I hear?), he’s still not applying in earnest for work in his major. Why? I think he’s got it too good. And I’m partially to blame.

Kids have it harder today in a lot of ways. For one, competition for jobs is fierce. The kid with the decent grade point average who worked throughout school to make some money is going up against the kid who excelled in college, took internships, and went into debt to get a leg up on the competition. Those kids are the ones getting hired after graduating while Mediocre Manny is struggling to keep his head above water in the vast resume pools forming in employers’ inboxes.

Also, kids have it harder today because they have had it easier their whole lives. How so? Their parents, we, did much more for these kids than our parents ever did for us. Their whole lives they heard such things as, “You want to play a sport? Sure, I’ll put my career on hold and drive you to games and pay for all the accoutrements that go with that sport even though I haven’t had a pair of new shoes in six years. Hungry? Here’s a burger and a Coke coming to you through this magical drive-through window. Or better yet, sit down and I’ll whip up your favorite dinner, leaving out the greens that you don’t like. Have nothing to wear? No problem, I’ll throw a load of wash in for you right now and not only that, I’ll fold it and put it in your room. Or if those clothes won’t do because they’re not the latest trend, I’ll run to the Macy’s and get something that will. Oh, Macy’s is not cool enough? Just name the store. You want your license? Well, sure. You don’t have as much as a part-time job flipping burgers to pay for gas, but I’ll not only pay for that gas, I’ll throw in the car and the insurance too.” And so it went. No wonder kids can’t get on on their own.

Now our kids are coming out of college and not knowing where to start to get their lives going because Mom isn’t doing all the stuff she used to do to make it all happen. Call ours the enabling generation. According to a recent Forbes report, close to 60 percent of parents provide financial support of some kind to their adult children. That’s six out of ten of us. What’s wrong with us and, more importantly, what do we do now that Jay and Robin won’t leave the nest?

Parents’ motives are noble: they just want to help out their kids. The same motives people have to provide food, shelter, and clothing for their babies and young children are in play when they allow adult children to live at home. It’s a loving gesture, not maliciousness,  but it can go too far and the new graduate can turn into the adult kid who keeps hanging on and never grows up. I mean, who wouldn’t want a life that’s easy as opposed to one that’s not?

But experts say people need to set boundaries and make those boundaries clear as day, especially if the adult child isn’t contributing enough and the parents prolong retirement or put aside their own needs and wants because they are helping out the kids (and helping out can include paying all the utilities, providing an automobile, buying all the groceries, cooking them, and cleaning up afterward).

I plan to set out a manifesto of sorts and make it not so easy for my son to rely on his parents for help. Hopefully, that will motivate him to move on in life the way his two sisters did. Sure it’s been just a month and a half since college graduation, but I want to set the tone now before I’m driving him around to geriatric appointments and senior day care.

 

 

 

 

 

missing my friend on her fiftieth birthday

I should be out to lunch, raising a glass, giving a toast, and celebrating one of my dearest friends’ fiftieth birthdays today, but she is no longer here. She passed away one year and nine months ago, leaving behind a husband and two darling teenaged daughters.

I miss Anna so much at times that my heart hurts. I’ve lost parents (both of them) and parents-in-law (both of them too), but nothing has wrenched my heart as much as losing my dear, dear friend. Not only do I lament the days I personally didn’t get to spend with her (and her fiftieth birthday would have been a big one, at that), I am saddened for the stuff she is missing, like seeing her daughters ace the SATs or watching them drive off for the first time on their own, brand-new driver’s licenses in their wallets. She’ll never get to see them collect their diplomas or their degrees, or walk them down the aisle for the last time as single ladies. She’ll never meet her grandchildren, call them by name, or see what color their eyes are or who they favor in appearance, their beautiful daughter or the putz she married. She’ll never get to spend her husband’s retirement traveling or doing the things one just can’t do when there’s a full-time worker in the household and he has a schedule to keep to. She’ll never get to age gracefully or die naturally.

I, of course, am especially sad for the girls. They’ll never get to do spa days with their mom or listen to lectures about boys and fast cars and what to not do on grad night. From October 2014 on they’ve been without the one woman they should have been able to rely on for advice, support, and love for the rest of their lives.

And I’m sad for her husband, my friend, who wakes up to an empty bed in the morning and sees the same image when laying down his head every night. He turns fifty tomorrow too, but since that fateful day in 2014, there has not been any celebrating on these two days in June that used to be so joyous.

I know if there is a heaven and if God lets in those good folks who are not card-carrying members, which I hope is the case, Anna’s up there watching her family and friends carrying on. She’s whipping up her magnificent eggrolls for the lord above and planning the day when we can all again sit around the table as she blows out candles.

I miss you and I love you, Anna.