Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Good Night, Irene...

As Hurricane Irene barreled her way to my beloved home of eastern North Carolina, I sat far enough away to never personally be at risk. But my heart was at risk, the risk of losing so many I hold dear. I can take you all up and down the coast of North Carolina and name family and friends. I can name slightly further inland counties like Halifax, Pitt, Bertie (pronounced Ber-TEE, please), Lenoir, and on and on with family and friends who live there. I spent Saturday calling, texting, and messaging trying to track down ones I love and see if they were still safe, did they have damage, how much...all the stuff you do when you can only be there in heart.

On Tuesday as I write this her death toll stands at 47, and each and every life lost is a sadness for all of us. Yet the insensitivity strikes me. I've heard comments such as, "Well, that was a big bunch of nothing." My personal favorite was, "It's only a category one now. That means it's just a rainstorm." One politician even had the gall to say that Irene and the earthquake were meant to be a wake up call to Washington by God. Idiotic, methinks - the politician, not God.

If you lost a loved one, if you lost your home, if you are now realizing that the insurance you never got because you were told you were not in a flood zone, is the only insurance that would have covered you, then this is catastrophic.

Some will step forward now and offer their homes and help. Some have already done this. Others of us will offer what we can in donations. Some have already traveled to hard hit areas to volunteer or repair. Often we all are given an opportunity to show our best and so many of us will. But to the ones who show their ignorance or insensitivity, all I can say is, "Bless your heart, you need to hush your mouth now." And to the politician who thinks the devastation of my beloved home state and to Vermont and every area hit by the hurricane or earthquake was a wake up call to politicians, well now she claims it was a joke. Honey, if you have to explain the joke, that's a true sign that it wasn't funny.

Our love, thoughts, and prayers are with every one who has been affected by Hurricane Irene and the earthquake. We are with you in your time of devastation.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Delinquent Mother!

We all know that teenagers, at some point or other, are completely embarrassed by their parents but I think I just hit the top spot on the embarrassment poll. I could blame it on age, my grey cells dissipating, or my hormones taking over, but truthfully it was all me. No help at all, which makes it worse.

The place was high school orientation. The people involved were my son, his teacher, and me. The orientation was chaotic with hundreds of teenagers running around trying to find their way in a new school whilst skillfully texting each other, even though they were standing back to back. It was a parent's nightmare.

By the time we arrived at the last room on his list, I was frazzled and ready to go home. My head was spinning from the fact that he had been assigned to the wrong math class, that one of his teachers looked like a 'surfer dude' (he is very nice so I found out – naughty me!), and that not one person could tell us definitively where he was supposed to report to on day one. Yes, my mind was racing with a million questions and thoughts.

The last room was his homeroom and I was hoping to get answers to my remaining questions. As we entered, there was one other family in conversation with the teacher, so I ushered my son far enough away so as not to look as if we were trying to muscle in on the conversation. It is so annoying when someone does that right?

From our distant position, a few chairs back, I started to whisper to my son about what we needed to find out. He engaged in the conversation as quietly as I did – we were being polite, or so we thought! To our horror, the teacher didn't think so. Within a second the room went quiet, you could have heard a pin drop. I looked up from my huddled position and saw the stare. Yes, I got the "Teacher Stare". You know the one that you got in school, all those years ago, when you had done some dreadful deed. The one that told you detention was a sure thing and that your parents would certainly hear of this before the day was out. Thankfully, I didn't get many of these in my day but, unthankfully because of that, I am afraid of them.

The teacher then addressed me. He did not say many words. It was just a simple, "Did you say something?"

My son's gaze had followed mine and, as I noticed out of the corner of my eye, he had gone completely white. You see, this is the boy who would walk around the edge of the classroom so as not to be seen near the naughty chair in Kindergarten, or has ever had a reason to bring one of those 'notes' home. In fact, he never got off green in the Green, Yellow, Red (your dead) behavioral system favored by elementary schools. I knew this was disaster of mammoth proportions.

I couldn't answer the teacher; my mouth was stuck, stricken with fear. That apparently was making the situation worse. As he was not getting a satisfactory reply from me, he turned to my son.

"Do YOU have something to say?"

Well, I did not know whether to be proud of my son for answering the question or whether to ground him for the next year. Really, it was outrageous -- he blamed me! Simply he stammered that he was replying to me, his mother. I got another stare and then the final blow. The teacher turned his back on me. I was in school, in my forties, and been caught out for speaking out of turn in class. I started to giggle which was obviously catching, as the other boy who was talking with the teacher at the time followed suit.

He got the stare too.

At least my son was not the only one, I thought to myself. However, the damage was done; I had embarrassed my poor child. We did speak to the teacher after the other family had left, but I have to be honest and say that I didn't ask the questions I needed to, and the teacher thankfully didn't mention the incident just told us that we could expect a lot of paperwork.

My son never really said anything on the way home about my delinquent behavior so I decided to keep quiet – best thing to do under the circumstances, don't you think.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

As SpongeBob states – “I’m Ready, I’m Ready…………..”

Brace yourselves parents it's coming… D-day is nearly here for most of us, and we are counting down. I have the celebratory wine chilling in the fridge, and the 20 million water bottles ready and waiting to go in the garage. School is nearly starting other than for one teeny, tiny obstacle to be overcome. We still have to run the back-to-school supply list gauntlet.

This mania has Black Friday beat. I am convinced that shops everywhere are bracing themselves for this week. Every year I swear to myself, God, or indeed anyone who will listen to me over the age of 18, that I will not lose control in Staples or Target. I pledge that I will NOT swear uncontrollably to the innocent shop assistant if they do not have anymore three holed pocket folders in bright pink. I will control my facial expressions, keep them 'poker faced ', when my son insists that the most expensive calculator will help him achieve higher marks in his math class. I will resist stamping my feet like a 5 year old because they only have clear glue and not white as my daughter cries uncontrollably since she is sure she will be making slime in science this year. No, I will not panic as I fight through the crowds to purchase endless reams of loose leaf paper only to find the lucky ones had scooped up the precious college ruled packs, leaving me to console my 14 year old that he will not look like a nerd with wide ruled. After all, what are a few millimeters between friends?

Pencils are another story - 2HB is the call of the schools. Great, they are everywhere, but this Shakespearean sonnet sound-alike is a minefield. Do you get the cheapest knowing that within one day your well supplied child will have mislaid them, and also knowing that every single one does not sharpen as its lead that has been shattered into a million pieces, probably by the aforementioned shop assistant, who had dropped the whole case whilst being chased by an over eager parent? Or, do you go for the technical, mechanical ones which are for the most part a huge NO-NO, and just let your child be the one who gets labeled as 'the one with the parent who cannot read the list properly'.

Pink erasers this year seem to be necessary. What happened to white or are we now trying to be politically correct and pink is the new in? However, there is a plus to this; at least the pencils seem to all come with pink erasers on top. Yes, I know they will become a daily part of my children's diet as they munch on them in class (the granola bars just don't taste the same) but who cares, I am focusing on my parent-of-the-year award for having the right supplies.

Then once we are done with the stationary side of things, we find ourselves moving onto the sanitary section. Oh how we love our germ-free schools. The fear factor is before us. It shouts "your child needs these items - Cleanliness is next to Godliness!". I agree for the most part, and I do pity our poor teachers as they battle with germ-infested children but, seriously, do I really need to supply tissues, hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and much more? Can we not just wrap them up in a self-sanitizing body suit, give them a facial mask, surgeon's gloves, and have a heat (fever) detector installed on all the main entrances? After all, isn't that how airports do it? Better still, lets jab them as they enter with flu shots. You may laugh, but in England, when I was a child, we all lined up for the BCG vaccine (Tuberculosis), and like sitting ducks we sweated as the end of the line neared. A little of what we had to go through may be a good learning curve for our precious ones. If all parents clubbed together the money, we are to spend on these products, we could afford those sensors I am sure!

So what is a parent to do? Already as I write this, I can feel the stress rising. No, I am not going to let it get me! I am going to get my coffee, combine my lists (2 children, 2 lists), and face the day like a combat soldier, and for those of you who have already successfully planted your kids back in school, and completed the gauntlet, I tip my hat to you. Sit back and heave a sigh of relief. Pity my pain. Hindsight is a glorious state of mind.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Running in Circles Back to the Old School

By Sheilah Zimpel

I edited a parenting column last night about how this mother got her kids ready to go back to school. And I didn’t believe a word of it. Seriously, trading in playing cards for flash cards, videogames for books? Putting away beach puzzles for maps of continents? Storing away logo T-shirts for collared ones? Hiding remotes, turning off the TV? Setting alarm clocks earlier in 10-minute increments a day, moving bedtime from 10 to 8? Who is this hyperorganized woman so in control of her subjects, I ask. Keep her away from me.

I barely remembered to buy new shoes and a backpack. Check. Ready for school.

My theory for preparing to go back to school, borrowed from some wise like-minded soul, is similar to your pre-college summer: Make the last weeks of summer at home so incredibly, so stupefyingly, so outrageously boring that he’ll be begging for school as an escape. With the amount of hours Dave and I have worked (outside the home) this summer, I think Dylan is uber-prepared. He read half a book. He wrote a total of two words, and that’s just because I asked him if he still knew how to write. It was legible. Check. (Then I recalled his teacher saying to practice his penmanship. Uh oh.) This penman’s ship is sunk.

One way we accidentally prepared for the return to school was mentioning the annoying kid’s name, the kid we call in code by his moniker spelled backward, the kid who is so pesky that everyone avoids him. Now I’ve trained Dylan to be nice to everyone, but this dern kid just wouldn’t let up, and I think it’s because I trained Dylan to be nice to everyone. (So I revised for next year: Avoid him at all costs.) We said a little prayer that maybe he won’t be in his class, which is doubtful, as last year’s teacher is looping up with the same class. But she loves Dylan, so I think we’ll ask to sit far away from the bane of our fourth-gradeness. Check.

So I say, why prepare for back to school—it brings up horrors of routine and annoyance. Kids are resilient, can change on a dime, and enjoy a good foot race to the bus stop. And Moms seem born ready for the return, for all those projects we failed to do in the summertime because we were driving here and there and having kidlike fun. Back to school time means no excuses for housework undone, unkempt lawns, dinner out. We like to think, dreamily, that it means free time, but it really means back to getting things done. And I don’t wanna. Can’t make me.

I feel the need to lay upside down on the couch and see if the video game works that way. Then I just might need to duct tape the chair silver. And freeze some more Lego dudes. I sure will miss that Phineas and Ferb theme song.

But the second parenting columnist I edited last night, the old-school child psychologist I always laugh with in agreement, brought the SuperMom columnist back to reality. His column was a response to parents whose tween runs in circles, spontaneously, erratically, dumbfoundingly. And he set me straight on all this line-your-kids-up-like-ducks-in-a-row mess—he said your tween’s just quirky, an oddball like the rest of us. It’s just what we do, and there’s no need to suppress it.

Let’s run in circles for no reason at all.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

With 10 You Get Bedrolls, And Veggie Burgers

By Sheilah Zimpel

From the VRBO website: “Relax and enjoy your vacation at this great getaway in the mountains, located 15 minutes to the heart of Brevard, and Hendersonville, 10 minutes to Asheville Airport, 20 minutes to Asheville, 10 minutes to the entrance of Pisgah National Forest, you can't go wrong.
From the upper level of the cottage, the view from a large deck is breath taking. Overlooking a 5 acre private fishing pond, with a view of the beautiful mountains of Pisgah National Forest in the background. Take a stroll across the pond in the paddle boat. Wet a hook and reel in your catch. The pond is stocked with bass & bream trout & catfish. (Catch and release, please)
From the lower level, relax on a long covered deck overlooking a small stocked pond with koy & bream. A comfortable sitting area for dining outside, porch swing & chairs are provided for your comfort.
This cottage is located 10 minutes from Pisgah National Forest where you have to see and enjoy Sliding Rock, Looking Glass Falls, the Blue Ridge Parkway and many more attractions. Spend your day horseback riding, hiking, floating the river, picnicing and more. Visit the Biltmore House in Asheville, the Brevard Music Center,the Flat Rock Playhouse in Hendersonville and much much more.”

It sounds so idyllic, doesn’t it? Add 8 to 10 adults, 3 kids, and enough pullout couches to cover every square foot of the place. Add a four-lane highway a stone’s throw away. Throw in a pond off the back deck that’s unfishable and a porch ceiling fan that sounds like a Chinook taking to the sky. Cook at 95 F for 4 nights and 5 days.
Instant *extended* family vacation. Feeds 10-20, or 2 vegetarians.
Saw some mountains while I was there, but not from our “cabin nestled at the edge of the Pisgah.” No, we had to drive in, which had easy access from the end of our diveway onto the much-travelled highway that went into the heart of Brevard. Became intimately familiar with the O.P. Taylor toy store.

Dave said Dylan and I wouldn’t last a day. But he underestimated his son’s desire to be with cousins, family, which we don’t get much of. We put him to shame by lasting all week, sleeping on a pullout-couch together. Ever sleep with a kid? Then you know. The first night we tried a fat blowup bed on top of the pullout, but somehow, I dunno -- too many monkeys jumping on the bed? -- it punctured, leaving Dylan nestled like a rock on a fluffy cloud, slowly deflating.

Dylan caught the first fish, dubbed miracle ones, for the broken rod & reel he used and the lack of bait. He counts fishing among the best parts of the vacation, and I was impressed with the kids’ ability to wait patiently for a bite. Only one kid fell in. His next favorite was the paddleboat, and watching the blue heron and geese and ducks and goslings take flight, land, and feed. An ace cornhole player, who happened to be a fast-pitch softball pitcher in high school, aptly dubbed Cornho Queen...you know, that game we called BEAN BAG TOSS in kindergarten in the '60s.

Big breakfasts, dinner made for you, playing Apples to Apples late (and seeing how closely your thoughts align with your brother, which was scary), Looking Glass Falls and Sliding Rock, and a nearby coffeehouse.
All in all, I’d say it was the typical family vacation—too many bodies, not enough space, too hot, too far, too long, too much—just like real families, only more so. Too many Moms, but not the one we missed. No privacy, no peace and quiet, dietary restrictions, late nights and early wakings, vegetarian nieces and too much meat. One threat of drowning and some fish you had to throw back, a pond you couldn’t swim in. Only one bite by a 4-year-old to an 8-year-old's back.

Did you know you can get nightmares from watching the Waltons? Dylan did—and that’s the perfect metaphor for this summer’s *family* vacation: too damn many people living on top of each other in the country can be a harrowing experience, but it’s family, so we're grateful for it anyway.

Shut up, John Boy.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Sometimes Momma’s Gotta Do, What Momma’s Gotta Do.

Budgets, don’t you hate them? Those pesky little things get in the way of all the things we want, and in these trying times, sometimes the very things we need to stay afloat. I’m a stay-at-home mom and I work within a budget every single month. I don’t go over simply because I know that if I do, I put my family at risk.  That’s why the situation with Congress and the House butting heads over the debt ceiling in the last several weeks has me shaking with disgust. I don’t get it. I don’t understand it, and I thank heavens I don’t.  It’s really simple math, after all.

Think of it this way, the Federal Government’s budget is sort of run like this: You are a household earning $58,000.00 a year and you spend $75,000.00 and have around $327,000.00 in credit card debt.  It’s time to pony up and instead of rolling up your sleeves and getting down to business, you’re too busy arguing which one is smarter, has the better plan and who got the household into this mess in the first place while the deadline to do something is only days away. Makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it? Then, when you find your credit rating is downgraded, you cry foul and start pointing fingers. Oh please, grow up already.

Imagine how tickled I was when I saw that a lady had pulled money from her own budget  to purchase a banner to fly behind an airplane on Wednesday saying: “Thanks for the downgrade. You should all be fired.” Lucy Nobbe, a vice president at a private equities and investment firm, took the bull by the horns and waved her own flag. Because of the no fly zone over Washington, DC, she had the plane fly over Wall Street. When asked why she did it she said, “I’m just a mother from St. Louis who feels the only reason we got downgraded was people in politics.” Yep, there ya go. Mrs. Nobbe works in investments, but she said she was a Mom. Makes sense to me. Most of the moms I know can budget within the penny and can make the money go a long way, primarily because our children’s needs come first. Too bad the Congress and House don’t seem to realize that they were elected to put their country’s needs first.

I don’t care if they’re Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Librarian, or Tab versus Fresca. Come down off of the “my way or no way” horse and start working together. The way they go on I wouldn’t trust them with my own household budget.  Besides, you know the old saying...“If Momma ain’t happy, nobody is happy.”

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

They Can’t Rewrite History, Can They?

In 1857 women didn’t have many options. They couldn’t vote, they couldn’t own property, and you hardly, if ever, heard of a woman having an education that went further than finishing school. The best most women could hope for was to marry well. Then one day in 1857, a far-sighted gentleman decided to give ten thousand dollars and eight acres of land for the education of women. For 154 years Peace College in Raleigh, North Carolina, has been doing just that, educating women, until an announcement was made on July 21 that the school was going to become coeducational and the name would change to William Peace University.

Since the announcement, debate and controversy have ensued, but not for the reason some might think. While Peace is a private college, the board of trustees and the president are not required to discuss or review proposed changes with the student body, the alumnae, or even the faculty, so the announcement was made without prior knowledge to anyone, save the board and the current president. In fact, as early as January of this year, the board had announced that going coed was not even on the table, let alone a name change. Oh yeah, then there is all the business about complete course studies being done away with and tenured professors being forced out. So I guess you could say that an entire community was sucker punched and expected not to exhale.

Critics came out of the woodwork, making statements about the women who protested the change. (Although most were protesting the way the change was brought about and announced.) The comments ranged from: “men haters, left wing feminists, these are the same types of women who complain about so called glass ceilings,” and, “just go get your husband’s wallet.” Holy 1950’s, Batman! What year are we living in? There was the one who wrote: “You wanted the Equal Rights Amendment, you got it, now suck it up.” (Now that’s just plain silly. Only 35 of the necessary 38 states have ratified the ERA. When three more states vote yes, only then would it be possible that the ERA could be the 28th amendment.) These critics missed the point entirely. The dissent has everything to do with a lack of communication and preserving the history and integrity of a place that many called home for a time. You wouldn’t change the name of your home would you? A rose by any other name would, quite simply, no longer be a rose.

You see, I attended Peace College and it holds more than special memories for me. When I went there it was a community of women who learned together and grew into womanhood together. When I wrote “A Journey of Peace” this month, it was to share my history. Mine is just one little story out of the many that found a place to become. But the great “they” have already decided to change the history that I knew. On the college website they have reworked Peace’s history. Where it used to say “Peace College has a long tradition of providing education to women,” it now says “Peace has a long tradition of providing education.” Gone is the initial statement that once said William Peace provided the land and money for the continued education of women. The final sentence of that web page used to say “Peace College enjoys a reputation of providing women a unique environment…” and now says: “Today Peace College enjoys a reputation of providing a unique environment.” I used to love history; I just didn’t realize it could be so easily rewritten.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Can We Have A Civil Discussion, Please?

Is it just me or do you avoid the comments section of any news article, because you are horrified at what you might see? It's not that I'm not completely open to the sharing of opinions. I mean, c'mon, I'm married, I have elderly parents, I have teenagers...I get opinions and corrections thrown at me at a dizzying speed. But really, who are these people who feel the need to share with us their venom or disdain?

Our older son has ADHD. It is impossible to read an article about it without finding out that it doesn't exist, it's just an excuse for poor parenting, I am the world's worst parent and it's all my fault. Hey, I have teenagers - they can tell me that. All I need is Tom Cruise yelling at me over the psychiatric profession to make the mood complete. I was hoping to see techniques, books, or websites that other parents recommend. No hope for that in the midst of the blame game.

Another example - I attended East Carolina University. Try to read any article about one of our sports teams and the other schools fans will show up spewing venom about my school. Just as an aside, if you are going to demean the reputation of an educational institution, it usually works best if you SOUND EDUCATED. And for goodness sake, avoid all political articles comment sections unless you want to see true and complete inability to listen to another's opinion. All of the recent debt ceiling discussions have resulted in people everywhere sharing their opinions and ideas, but so often it's done with such anger or superiority that you can't bear to read their ideas or suggestions. 

Why have we become a society that is so incapable of listening to others in a well reasoned manner? What ever happened to civil discourse, to reasonable debate, to discussion? Can we please go back to "don't say it if you wouldn't say it to your mother"?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Blessings in the Debris

Ever had one of those days? I know, you know what I mean - the one where every time you turn around something breaks or something goes wrong? Since last Thursday I've had "one of those days" every single day. I've had internet connectivity issues which have resulted in numerous calls between me and the friendly automated system which suggests that most connection problems can be resolved by looking at their ONLINE help (with me often replying back to it in a most sarcastic manner), the dryer died in the midst of two loads of clothes, the parents had some messed up medical bills (calling a doctors billing office is almost as much fun as calling your internet service provider though at least they are usually in the United States as they imply you are stupid), every day has been a new adventure accompanied by the rolling eyes of teenagers. It's been fun.

And yet, how incredibly lucky I am - I still have both my parents and Momma could outrun me. I spent Saturday with several friends, and got my picture taken with a hot Pirate. The internet is a blessing when it comes to handling things for my parents, and I will have it all resolved before much longer (I only have two remaining issues, and those items belong to the teens. And I may need to leave them unconnected for a while longer since they aren't acting like I'm dumber than dirt as long as they know I'm their only hope. Just call me Obi Wan.) A friend pointed me in the direction of a reliable repairman and he's already come out to work on my dryer, and really aren't those and the microwave such wonderful inventions?

Now, honestly, I'm not always the best at counting my blessings the way I should. I love a good whine just as much as the next woman. But I read the book, "Unbroken" recently and it reminded me of the incredible sacrifices so many make for so many of us. I took our older son today to register for high school. I'm still not sure how that happened so fast, but it's here and he will be giving Air Force Jr. ROTC a try. Yep, I'm a little proud of that even if he decides it's not for him. It's more important to me that he not dismiss others and that he understand respect, duty, and honor. In the midst of all the debris from a too blessed life, I was at my parents for a couple of days. Daddy's slide downwards continues as was evidenced by his question to me, "What time is kickoff?" If I'm in town than we must be going to an ECU football game ready to cheer. He focuses on his time in Korea during the Korean War probably because it was a defining time for him where he showed the character to stand and do. I wrote Duty, Honor, Country because each day I hope and pray that I am teaching my teens through their rolling eyes and disdain to have respect, courage, and do their duty. And aren't we all so very blessed that we can?