Changes

I am pretty sure my father would have secretly loved to have a son. I say secretly because when you have two daughters, you can’t really express a fact like that. “Oh darn. I really wanted a son!” But if he’d had a son, he would have been very happy.

However, my dad always made sure that my sister and I knew how to make simple repairs and improvements around the house. When he embarked on a project, he would often recruit us to “help,” which allowed him to impart wisdom and instructions as well as dos and don’ts of home repair.

When my children left for a recent trip to Florida, I knew this solitary time was my opportunity to re-caulk the tub in their bathroom. There is no denying the fact that I know how to have a good time when my kids are away. Really, the only time the tub is not in use for several hours a day is when they are away, and anyone who has ever caulked [successfully], knows the tub and its various components need to be good and dry before the new caulk is placed.

When I settled in to remove the old caulk, I decided I would do a better job if I could just remove the tub spout to better clean off all of the tiny remnants (or large gobs) of caulk that had made their way under the fixture. But how to remove the fixture? It seemed to twist, but just in case, I consulted YouTube. There, I found a tutorial on how to remove (and replace) an old tub spout. Replace had not occurred to me, but a new tub spout would be just the thing to make the tub shimmer!

I took a trip to the local home improvement store where I found the parts I needed. At the checkout, the cashier looked from my purchase to the old spout that I had brought along just in case I needed a visual example. “That’s a good idea,” she said, pointing to the old spout. “To bring that along.” She paused for a moment, and then she said, “Are you doing this all on your own?” I nodded.

“I wish I was brave enough to take on that kind of project,” she commented. “That’s impressive.”

Not really. I must say, I was trained by a good man to recognize that many projects are not as overwhelming as they might appear. In truth, it’s not a big undertaking to change a tub faucet. The big undertakings I leave to professionals.

Back at home, I finished my project. It was straightforward without any frustrations, and I must say, it looks pretty good. Typically, when I finish a project like this, I would call Dad. “I just changed my tub spout,” I would tell him, and his first response was always the same.

“Did you?” he would respond with a hint of pride in his voice and then we would talk about what I had fixed and how the project had gone.

This time, I can’t call Dad to share my success. But I’m pretty sure he’s smiling with that same hint of pride up in Heaven. Because love… it doesn’t end. It only changes form

Fine

“This is the camp nurse,” I heard through the phone in the shallow end of Friday morning’s sleep. This was the third call I’d received that morning and the one that truly woke me up. I’ll admit I was sleeping late, but in my defense, I am recovering from surgery—and minor or not, it’s a perfect excuse to savor extra time behind the hazy veil of sleep where there are no demands on my time and energy.

“Your son is fine,” she continued. No, I thought. If my son was fine, there would be no reason for you to call me. I have been around the sun more than once, he’s my third kid, and I understand if the camp/school/health center nurse is calling me, all is not fine. I held my breath as I sat up too quickly, waiting for her next words.

Low-grade fever, sore throat, general achiness, she outlined my son’s not-so-fine physical state. A virus, it seemed, or possible strep. “Since he works in the kitchen…” she stopped and let me fill in the rest of the sentence. Yes, he would need to be seen by the doctor.

As an educator, I completely understand. But in the back of my mind there is the nagging lack of fairness that even though it’s fine for the campers to get my son sick, it’s not as fine for my son to get the campers sick. I drove to camp earlier than expected to take my son to the doctor where he was pronounced fine, as I suspected. Well… there is no doubt he has a virus, but thankfully, no strep.

In fact, on the way back from the doctor, we remembered that last year, when he was a CIT, he had the same symptoms at almost exactly the same point in the summer,  so we’ve dubbed it “camp crud.” Next year, when I get a call from the camp nurse during week five, I’ll know to say, “Oh, it’s just camp crud. He’s fine!”

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.

Road Rage Cure

If everyone was required to drive around with something silly in—or on—their car, people might be less angry as they drove around. And after a couple of recent incidents with road rage, that would probably be a good thing.

Most recently, over the weekend, we suddenly—and unintentionally—took a detour into the creepy and frightening land of road rage. I’m not exactly sure what set off the driver who was behind us at a stoplight. It had something to do with my oldest child, in the backseat at the time, who made eye contact with the driver of the other vehicle. She was a middle-aged woman.

Now, I don’t want to meddle in her life, but perhaps she had bottled up too much of the week’s negativity. Whatever it was that set her off, it was very clear that she had a profound need for attention, and she was willing to compromise the safety of everyone else on the road in order to get it.

At the next light, she pulled up beside us and tried to get me to roll down my window. But thank you anyway, I know better than to engage with a crazy stranger. Through the window, I could hear her screaming and cursing, and my peripheral vision was catching her wild gestures.

The light turned green. “Go!” I instructed the fifteen-year-old driver (who remained amazingly calm), and he turned left around the corner. The woman swerved her black Mercedes from a non-turning lane, and that’s when it was clear we weren’t going to lose her any time soon. At the next light, she again pulled up beside us, this time on the left, her hands still waving as her passenger window lowered.

I picked up my phone. We had just passed a cruiser, so I knew there were police in the area. I debated calling 9-1-1, but opted instead for the non-emergency number. But this was not my town, so I had to go through directory assistance, all the while, the woman was in hot pursuit and my son continued to drive.

In the back seat, my daughter was audibly hyperventilating at the same rate that I was silently hyperventilating. As the adult in the situation—and clearly the only adult despite the middle-aged woman in the car beside me screaming obscenities—I was responsible for displaying an impression of utmost calm.

“Police Department, can you hold?” the voice said.

“Uh, not really,” I responded, my heart pounding in my chest. “I’m in a road rage situation.”

Bit by bit, he took pieces of information, and I updated him on my location. One mile. Another. Finally, as the woman pulled up beside me, I was able to read her license directly to the dispatcher, and I think she realized what I was doing. It was at this light that I heard her scream, “Is that your son? You should teach him some manners!”

I have never been more relieved than I was when she turned right onto the side street at that light. She was probably trying to disappear before the police caught up to us.

But the police had her license number and a description of her car. I really hope they found her. It seems she might benefit from a lengthy discussion on, well … manners.

And I would definitely benefit from carrying a silly inflatable animal in the back of my car.

Lessons from the Tollbooth

Every experience, good or bad, can be considered an adventure. And every adventure, positive or negative, has its lessons. Let me set the scene….

It is 6:00 in the morning. It is still dark, and there is an unmistakable crispness in the air, despite the calendar’s July date. My daughter and I are traveling an unfamiliar highway in a Midwestern state to get to the airport for an early flight home from a nearly week-long adventure.

I have my electronic toll pass in the car with me, and even though it is from our home state, in theory, it should work here. The toll experience on the way in was spotty, but we made it through. Our home state removed the gates on their tollbooths many years ago in favor of speed and efficiency. Such is not the case here in this Midwestern state.

At the first tollbooth, we pull up to the gate, but the booth does not pick up the signal from our transponder. I wave it around in the car. Nothing. I push the “help” button on the tollbooth, and a male voice wishes me a good morning. I explain my situation. He asks me to read my transponder number. Um… it’s fairly dark in the car and I don’t have my reading glasses, but I don’t tell him this. I pass the transponder to my daughter. She reads the number, and I repeat it to the voice in the void. Once he confirms that I do, in fact, have an account, the gate rises, and I drive through.

After an hour or more on the road, the second tollbooth comes into view. We pull up, fully expecting (well… hoping for) our toll pass to work. Of course, it doesn’t. I roll down the window and lean way out, holding it under the barcode scanner that I discovered at the last tollbooth. The bright red laser line crosses the code. I watch the gate, but it doesn’t move from its persistent placement directly in front of the car. I push the “help” button and wait for a friendly voice. Nothing. In my rear view mirror, I see a semi truck approaching, but I figure he will go into a different toll lane. He doesn’t. In seconds, the massive rig is directly behind my car. We are trapped, and my daughter is trying desperately to hold herself together as she begins to panic in the seat beside me.

I step out of the car into the chilly dawn air, transponder in hand. I frantically wave it in front of the scanner while simultaneously pushing the “help” button. This tollbooth is completely unresponsive—nothing functional here, it seems. I breathe deeply, forcing air into and out of my lungs. I turn to the truck driver behind me. I muster my most helpless and apologetic expression and I shrug, still holding my transponder in my hand.

He pauses for two seconds. Then motions for me to get back in my car, and he begins to slowly back up so I can switch to a lane with a real, live attendant. But not only does he back up, he angles his truck in such a way as to block any traffic that might be approaching. Oh, bless you! I think to myself. I roll down my window as I move over several lanes, and I wave my thanks.

“How many more tollbooths do we have to go through?” my daughter asks quietly.

I sigh, reluctant to tell her. “I think only one,” I say, keeping my tone low and tender.

It’s finally light out when the third—and final—tollbooth comes onto the horizon. The tension I feel from the passenger seat is pulling on my heart. I take a deep breath. “It will be fine,” I say by way of calming us both down. And it is. We sail right through. What? How is that possible? I glance in my rearview mirror, looking for answers that are not there. I take a deep breath and finally relax.

We survived and have had substantial time to decompress, and I am happy to share the lessons I gleaned from my not-so-good-morning at the tollbooth:

Don’t believe everything you hear or read on the Internet. We heard our toll transponder would work, but I checked the website to confirm. Even so, our transponder didn’t work exactly as we’d hoped.

Trust that people will work with you and rely on the kindness of strangers. For the most part, if people see you are in a tough situation, they generally offer their assistance. That could come as a helping hand, but it could also come as a truck driver backing up and blocking oncoming traffic so you can do what you need to do.

Always have an escape plan, or just a plan, in general Even if you don’t need it, it is good to have a plan in the back of your head. Just think, for a moment, about what you will do if you get stuck. What is it they say…? Anticipate the worst but hope for the best.

Be a calming force for those around you. Now in reality, I had no idea how we were going to get out of our predicament. But experience tells me that these things have a way of working themselves out. And after only a brief panic, they did work out. After all, when was the last time you heard of someone being permanently stuck in a tollbooth?

{Image: FreeImages.com / Travis Cripps}

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.

A Mom’s Reflections on High School

When I was a teenager, I attended high school. Well, you’re thinking. Didn’t we all?

Yes, we did. But recently, I have become convinced that many of us block out the truth of our high school experience—the feelings of being a lone boat adrift on an endless sea—and that is a distinct barrier to effectively parenting our teenage children.

In reality, my high school experience is the single best training I have in my quest for effectively relating to my own teenagers, and I will be a better parent if I can tap into the feelings I had in high school.

If I can recall all the times I felt out of place and lonely, when I was laughed at or pushed aside, I will be able to relate to my children when they come to me in tears after being rejected or treated poorly by a peer or peer group.

If I can conjure the relief that came with the end of the school year and the long summer vacation, I will be able to reassure my children that two months off fixes a great many ills that have festered over the long months of a confining academic year.

If I can elicit the intense need I felt to stretch my wings beyond the walls of the school, I can help my children to see the promise of the future rather than dwell in the tedium of the daily life of cliques and classes.

If I can remember all the reasons I was never seen without a book tucked under my arm and all the times I used the book to hide, I can help my kids find their own healthy means of escape.

But most importantly, if I am able to reflect back on my own high school career with an honest perspective—remembering both the good times and the challenging, I can help my kids to recognize that high school may not be the best four years, but it doesn’t have to be the worst four years, either. Instead, it can be the beginning of a period of intense growth as they begin to discover who they are and what they want from life.

Yes, I attended high school. And yes, my four years in that environment can help me to better understand and empathize with my children. I will be a better parent if I can not only tap into the feelings of being in high school, but be willing to share those feelings and experiences with my own children.

And maybe, just maybe—as we navigate the challenges—I can convince my kids that they not only have the ability to make their own lives better, they also have the opportunity to better the lives of the other students they pass in the hallways.