When Aliens Move In

I was having a conversation with my neighbor recently, and midway through our discussion, she said, “Was your son home the other day? I said ‘hi’ to him, but then I wasn’t quite sure it was really him. I thought it was, but he’s changed so much….” Her voice trailed off.

I get it. We have lived in our neighborhood for the past 13+ years, and the kids were very, very little when we moved in. Now, they are hovering on adulthood, driving, working. They have grown from knee-high to taller than Mama. Their schedules are busy, and they don’t cross paths with the neighbors as much as they used to. So it doesn’t surprise me that recognizing them might be a challenge.

There is this subtle change that all kids experience on their journey from childhood to adulthood. But then there is the not-so-subtle change when they are suddenly much more adult than they were yesterday; one day—quite suddenly—they almost seem to be different people altogether.

It usually happens after a feeding-frenzy when they have somehow managed to consume every edible morsel in the house. They go to bed and the next day, or the next week, they wake up, come into the kitchen for breakfast, and you think, Is that really my child at the table? As you look at said child, you notice that the face is more angular; the shoulders are a bit broader; the voice is deeper and the vocabulary is more mature; moods and attitudes vary from moment to moment; and wait… my child would never have worn those clothes yesterday. Where did he even get that outfit? You rack your brain trying to remember if you purchased that shirt, or from whom he might have borrowed it.

As you begin to get used to this taller, louder, hungrier being that now inhabits your home, you simultaneously start to wonder what happened to your child. Where is the child who—just yesterday—was climbing trees and catching frogs? Where is the child who cuddled up next to you while you read bedtime stories? Where is the little one would get up from a Lego-building session and come into the kitchen for a hug?

In fact, I will admit that last summer, I dropped my son at camp, as I had every year for several years. A week later, when I went to pick him up, I could not find him in amongst the crowd of boys all dressed alike. I even spotted him at one point, only to continue scanning the crowd because that kid just didn’t look like my kid. Seriously. My own kid.

And then there was the day over the last year when I called home on my commute from work. A man answered the phone and my heartbeat quickened. WHO IS THIS?? I almost screamed, but then I heard a lilt that I recognized in the strange male voice. Oh, wait…. Perhaps this is the new voice of my kid…?

It’s been a process, but I’m beginning to get used to the new kids who share my house with me. Because with these new kids come some unexpected adventures and new idiosyncrasies. These new kids help each other, they work together, they brainstorm solutions to their own problems, they have goals and dreams, and through their daily experiences, they are developing the grit to reach the goals they set for themselves.

And every now and then, I know they are the same children who have always lived here. When I am really lucky, one of them will come into the kitchen and surprise me with a spontaneous hug.

Sunscreen

The morning was sunny as I helped my daughter apply sunscreen for a trip to the beach. I was responsible for covering her back, and I worked to slather the lotion on her skin around her bathing suit straps. I was careful to apply a liberal coat in hopes that all of her back would be protected.

When I was done, I launched into a disclaimer about the fact that while I tried the best I could, there was no guarantee that I had actually covered every bit of her exposed skin. If she were to burn in strange blotches, I apologized. But as this disclaimer was tumbling out, a brilliant idea momentarily slid into my brain. “They should make a sunscreen that’s color changing. That way, you’ll know if you are completely covered. For example, it could go on blue and then change to clear after a minute or so….”

“That’s disgusting, Mom!” my daughter argued, not even giving my idea half a chance. Color-changing technology works for other things like bathroom cleaner, baby bath thermometers, ceiling paint…. (Although, color-changing technology didn’t work for the large swatch of unpainted ceiling in my kitchen, but that is a story for another day). “What if you were putting it on at the beach?” she questioned. “That’s just wrong.”

Actually, I think color-changing technology could be a brilliant solution to this age-old problem. Though I have to admit, it might be somewhat off-putting to be an innocent bystander and watch people smearing themselves with bright blue lotion at the beach.

Potato Chip Rant

My kids eat potato chips. Now, I’m not going to say they eat a lot of chips. They actually have fairly healthy diets, but chips are an “extra,” bringing crispy, salty goodness to snack time. If you’re trying to feed hungry teenagers, sometimes you go for the high calorie, filling foods. But in truth, don’t potato chips count as a vegetable? P-O-T-A-T-O-E-S, after all.

If you buy a “regular” bag of potato chips—and for the sake of our argument, we are using Wavy Lays in the red bag—you will get 7.75 ounces of chips. One serving of Wavy Lays potato chips is one ounce, or “about 11 chips.” [I’m sorry… eleven chips? First of all, who counts out eleven chips? What does “about” mean? Can I have eleven chips or can I only have ten?] Anyway, in the “regular” bag of potato chips, there are “about 8” servings, but I can do the math, and I know the eighth person is going to get gypped. Therefore, I would say there are “about 7” servings in a bag. That way, all seven people get a bonus chip (especially with the chintzy, eleven-chip serving size).

If you buy a “Family Size” bag of potato chips, you can still only eat those eleven chips, but now (because you are part of a family), you will get ten ounces of chips. The “Family Size” bag offers 2.25 ounces more than if you were a single person buying the regular bag of chips, I suppose because a family is only slightly bigger than one person. It doesn’t seem that a two-and-a-quarter-ounce difference justifies the denotation of “Family Size,” but maybe most families are different than mine. The nice thing about the “Family Size” bag is that there are ten servings. None of this “about 10” servings with the last person being gypped. Because chip makers knows how families work. And families must be fair to all parties so as to prevent World War Three.

Now, if you are really going to go hog wild on the chip-eating thing, you might splurge on the “Party Size” bag because then you will get a full fifty percent more than if you are only in a family. Yes friends, you will get 15.25 ounces, allowing you to invite half the number of people in your family to your “Party” as long as your guests count out their eleven chips. I am thinking they should see how many ounces they might cram into the “Hungry Teen Snack Size” bag.

And speaking of hungry teens, about this eleven chip serving size…. Whoever determined that eleven chips is a serving has most likely never even met a teenager, never mind eaten with one. Perhaps, they have never even met someone who eats potato chips….

Grocery Receipts

When I was a kid, and I mean a very little kid, I used to think a long grocery receipt was so amazing—in an awesome sort of way. I would watch the receipt poke its way out of the cash register and lengthen with each item the cashier keyed in during our weekly grocery trip. At first, the paper would loop around on itself. But soon, it would spill over and inch closer and closer to the floor, moving under its own weight. When the cashier pulled it out, she would wind it back and forth like an accordion until it was the same size as the bills, handing Mom a neat pile of dollars, receipt, and green stamps. How exciting it would be, I thought in my little girl mind, to get such a long strip of paper as a receipt. When that happened, it would mean I was truly an adult.

Back then, the receipt was a tally of every single item, unlike now when some things that are bought in a quantity of more than one might only count as one line on the receipt. And back then, each item was keyed in by the cashier. There were no scanners in my childhood, but we didn’t seem to mind the wait in the check out line. Of course, we didn’t have a choice.

Today, I am here to say that if a long grocery receipt is the sign of adulthood, I have (definitely) made it! Not only have I made it, but I will be back at the local grocery store in the middle of the week. Because no amount of food lasts long in my house. The reality… that 2.7 pound bag of cherries I bought at 2:30 this afternoon that I thought would last the week? That was a snack for a hungry teen.

It’s funny, isn’t it, how our perceptions change as we grow older. Nowadays, I am likely as not to cringe at the long grocery receipts. What did you used to think would be really cool, but now makes you cringe?

[Mom] Behaving Badly

There are days when where we should be is a vast distance from where we are. We should be close to self-sufficiency. We should be willing to go places on our own. We should be able to find things (tools, shoes, staplers, sweatshirts, etc.) within the confines of our not-very-large house. And in the moments when we can’t do whatever it is, my failings as a mommy come tumbling in on me like a building with an unstable foundation. How, I ask myself, have I failed to provide the very basic skills required for navigating the world?

Two steps forward, one step back, I remind myself. But when all three children are experiencing lapses at the same time, it is sometimes more than I have patience for. On these days, I want to throw everyone out of my house, barricade the door, sink to the floor and melt into a river of never-ending tears. Not very mature, I know, but I am the only parent, and the entire burden of raising productive members of society falls on my shoulders. And my shoulders are weary. Some days, the cracks brought on by the weight of my life are more evident than others.

Perhaps the long stretches of dreary weather have affected my usually positive outlook. We have had a more than healthy portion of bad weather, experiencing spring in one-day spurts that only show us what we are missing. It has been cold and rainy for months. And non-stop rain and heavy storm clouds can really wear on a girl. Enough already!

But then I remind myself that this moment—the moment when I want to barricade the door—is one moment in the grand scheme of things. We are moving in a forward direction… generally. My children may stumble, but they continue to grow and change and become young adults. It takes time, but they (hopefully) will figure out how to get things done. My mood will improve. Once I’ve wallowed in my puddle of tears long enough, I will stand up, adjust my burden on my shoulders, and move on.

And if the weather doesn’t change… well, at least the drought is over.

The Driver

I have found myself in the interesting situation of no longer needing to drive my own car. Well, not very often, at least. I can sit in the passenger seat, look out the window, and enjoy the ride.

I have moved into “chauffeur mode.” In this mode, I announce that I have to go somewhere, and I immediately hear, “Can I drive?” It doesn’t matter if I was planning to go alone or with my newest driver. New driver will find any trip—real or imaginary—a chance to do the driving and rack up some of the 40 hours he needs behind the wheel before he can get his license. Never mind that he is still 4+ months away from being of licensing age.

Imaginary trips involve the need to make up places to go just so he can get behind the wheel. We have taken a trip to Lowe’s for a three dollar package of screws, spending more in gas to get there than we did on the actual purchase. I think this kid would be more than happy to drive me around town in search of places that didn’t exist. Perhaps we could start a new adventure: new driver geo-caching from behind the wheel. Not only would they be driving the car, they would have to navigate while also paying attention to necessary land marks. Obviously, the kids would have to get out of the car to access the actual treasure and sign into the log at the end, but that would aid in the ever-challenging skill of parking the car.

In truth, I appreciate the fact that this driver is eager to get behind the wheel and regularly asks to drive. My other two were a bit more reluctant as far as volunteering, or even wanting to drive, often saying no when asked. And even though I am in “chauffeur mode,” I still have to constantly keep my eyes on the road.

If we cut a corner too close, and I say, “You’re going to hit the curb,” the reply comes instantly.

“I’m not going to hit the—” his voice breaks off when the rear wheel scrapes the edge of the curb.

But we are still early in the driving process, still learning to judge distance and where the car is on the road. My job as the chauffeured will become easier with time and practice. And soon enough, he’ll get his license. Then he’ll say, “Hey, can I drive?” And he’ll walk out the door, get in the car, and drive away without me.

High School Awards

Because this morning, I was grappling with how I would address this topic–one that is so important–I am reblogging this excellent post: http://www.karensargentbooks.com/blog/kid-doesnt-get-award/