Positivity Post: Presents

As if I don’t have enough trouble keeping track of the things I own with teenagers around the house, I have this cat. And the interesting thing about this cat is that she is quite a quiet little love by day. By night, however, she turns into a fearsome hunter of the most amazing objects. And as she is “hunting,” she likes to announce (with a shockingly loud meow) to everyone in the house that she has found something worth sharing.

Her favorite nighttime “prey” used to be anything in a plastic sandwich bag, and generally, the heavier, the better. For a while, she would carry a bag of mosaic tiles from the basement to the second floor each evening. Each morning, I would find the tiles on the floor and carry them back to the basement where they belonged. One very special night, she brought me “breakfast in bed,” a banana muffin in a bag that she retrieved from the kitchen counter.

Recently, she has a new favorite. She has discovered a paint brush which was never used, but clearly, I thought about using it for a project one day. I left it somewhere readily available to her, and she now looks for it each night. She carries it to the bedroom of one of the kids and leaves it—sometimes on the floor, sometimes in their beds…. The kids think it’s funny… and cute.

So now, when I say to them, “Has anyone seen my…?” I fully expect to hear them respond, “Who knows, Mom? Maybe the cat took it!”

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Annotation

When you live in my house, you never quite know what you’ll come across. Last week, I found that my grocery list had been annotated.

Generally, when I write an item on the list, I do it quickly with very little thought. As long as the item makes it to the list, all is good. Apparently, sometimes my handwriting is not legible to others in the house, which shouldn’t really matter where the grocery list is concerned since I am the one who buys the groceries.

And yet, someone noticed that what I had written—the word “bread”—did not seem to resemble the word, and wrote some wise-crack note to let me know such was the case. When I took the time to study my hasty handwriting, I could see how an unsuspecting reader might misread the word. But really, who writes “mead” on the grocery list? I don’t think they even sell mead in the grocery store.

Just wait…. The next time he’s home, I’m going to add some crazy items to the grocery list. Then I’m going to send him to the store to find them!

Teen Dinner

So there I was yesterday afternoon, minding my own business, sitting in my office proofreading a document. It was 3:30, and I was thinking about how the evening was likely to play out. At home, my youngest was packing for a weekend camping trip with the Scouts. When I left work, I would go directly home and drive him to where the troop would be meeting. However, I had just reread the email, and a worrisome feeling came over me like a shadow.

According to the email, my son was responsible for eating dinner before the troop assembled, a fact which was frequently true before camping trips. However, before I left for work on this particular morning, I had cooked a pound of spaghetti and popped it in the fridge so the assembly of a dinner casserole would be hastened before I sped off to a class. In my mind, I could see the bowl in the fridge, his hands reaching for it, and the majority of it disappearing before I even got home. Once he got to it, that will be the end of the spaghetti.

Anticipating his approaching dinnertime, I texted him, listing the food options he might choose other than the spaghetti. Thankfully, we had some leftover chicken he particularly liked.

If you are looking to evoke a slight panic at the end of the work day, there really is nothing like the realization that your hungry teen might consume your partially prepared dinner!

Family Dinner

When I was growing up, we always had our evening meal together as a family. I have maintained that tradition as much as possible in my life with my children, as I feel it is important that we sit down together and share a meal and conversation. At dinner, we can sit together, relax, and enjoy each other’s company while we are doing something we need to do anyway. After all, from my experience, there is nothing as effective as food to bring teenagers to the table.

Our family meals might start out calm and orderly. “Could you pour the milk?” “Please pass the salt.” “This is really good, Mom. Thanks.” But any time you have three teenage siblings in the same small space for any length of time, “calm and orderly” can unravel fast and stuff begins to happen. I’m just gonna say it: Our family dinners can get a little rowdy. Take last night, for example.

I don’t know how things deteriorated as quickly as they did, but it started with one of the younger siblings deciding that the oldest would be responsible for fetching anything that was needed—milk, salt, dessert, utensils. The jovial requests picked up in intensity. When younger brother said, “Hey C, can you get me some ice cream? Oh, and I’ll need a bowl. And a spoon. Don’t forget the ice cream scoop…,” C decided spoon, bowl, and scoop would be best delivered via air mail. And so, a spoon flew across my kitchen into the [thankfully] nimble hands of little brother.

“Did you just throw that?” I turned to ask. But by the time the words had come out, a ceramic bowl passed through the air from one boy to the other. “STOP!” I commanded. “Do not throw dishes and utensils!” Seriously? Why is this even something that has to be explicitly stated? This could have gone very badly, but thankfully, it did not. It was not until a few minutes later, when C was playfully tossing a cup in the air to tease me that he dropped it. At least that one was plastic. It does make me wonder what they do when I’m not home.

Come to think of it, this may just be the very behavior that has carved so many chips out of the edges of my dishes….

Advice to My Younger Self

Watching teens go through their various challenges is one of the more difficult parts of parenting. I always thought it would be great if I could somehow spare my children the trauma of middle school and high school. These are the years when kids are jockeying for some kind of ridiculous social position. They want to be seen as the best, the brightest, the funniest, the prettiest, the most popular, the most athletic, etc. The “senior superlatives” celebrated in the local high school speak to the role such competition plays in the lives of teens.

And yet, competition—being the best athlete, having the most friends—these are not the things that are the most important in life. The most important things in life are how we treat other people and how we treat ourselves.

By channeling my younger self and tapping into some of the challenging experiences I remember, I can offer some advice to my teenage self [which is actually thinly veiled advice to my teens…].

Mind your own business, and don’t get involved in other people’s drama. There may be situations that look enticing, and times when it is tempting to step into someone else’s train wreck. And there is no reason not to step in with a sincere offer of help. Otherwise, drama is always good to avoid—your own, and that of others.

Set your goals high. The higher your goals are, the farther you will go. If your goals are easily obtainable, you will not have a reason to keep pushing yourself and keep growing. As a wise teacher once said, “If you are not growing, you are dying.” Setting your goals high will give you a reason to keep growing.

Find your own internal motivators. You have to find meaning in what you do, and that meaning has to come from you. No one else can make sense of your life and your activities. No one else can give you reason to complete tasks, to earn good grades, and to pursue your goals. That meaning and sense of purpose has to come from you.

Walk away from those who don’t treat you well. Keep walking and don’t look back. There are many people who use others, manipulate them, control them, etc. These people, they will get what’s coming to them. It’s called karma, and it really does exist.

Don’t let other people define your limits. Other people are always quick to tell you what you can and can’t do. For example, You shouldn’t pursue a career in [insert creative endeavor here] because you won’t be able to make a living. When I was in graduate school, my advisor—who had met me moments before—looked at my proposed plan of study and said, “You can’t take that many courses. You won’t be successful.” I wanted to say, Watch me! Instead, I just nodded and said these were the courses I would take, thank you very much. Sometimes, people tell you things because they want what’s best for you. Sometimes, they don’t want you to be disappointed. However, only you can determine what’s best for you. And that leads to the next point…

Find your passion and pursue it. If you love to write, find a way to incorporate that love into your college program or your career path. If you are passionate about biology and music, be creative about how these two pursuits might fit together into a career that will feed your soul. If you can’t figure out how to form your passion into a career, at least continue to pursue the activity in a way that is meaningful to you.

Always be true to yourself. You know who you are and what you stand for. Don’t compromise your values or yourself to fit another person’s idea of who you should be. Be you because that is the best and most viable choice you can make.

Sweater Hugs

It’s been cold here in New Hampshire. And by “cold,” I mean take-your-breath-away cold. In fact, if you stay outside for more than a minute, one of your vestigial—but important—parts might freeze off: ears, nose, fingers, toes…. If you’ve ever lived in a cold climate, you know just the kind of cold I am talking about. It is C-O-L-D!

The cold sneaks through the walls of the house, around the windows and doors, dancing across the floor as a draft that brings the cold inside. The furnace is struggling to keep the temperature comfortably warm, so we need to bundle up in extra layers, even around the house. Turtlenecks, sweaters, and warm socks are necessary.

* * *

Back in the days when oversized sweaters were all the rage, I might (or might not) have usurped my dad’s old red wool sweater. I have a vague recollection that he let me borrow it for something when I was a senior in high school, and he decided he wasn’t going to wear it any more anyway (something about it being too small and not really something he was likely to wear), so it became mine. Now, I’m not sure if he really thought he wouldn’t wear it, or he wanted me to have it, but over the years, I have held onto it and worn it every now and again. Each time I sort through clothes to donate, I pass by the sweater, leaving it in the cedar chest just in case I want to wear it someday.

* * *

It has been almost a year since Dad passed away. The pain of loss was renewed with the holidays and the approaching new year. As I looked to bundle up against the cold this morning, I remembered Dad’s sweater, folded and ready for wear at the bottom of the cedar chest. I took it out and put it on, knowing that it was the perfect sweater to keep me warm today. Throughout the day, I cherished both the warmth of the sweater and the feeling of being wrapped in a gentle hug.

Since the cold is going to drag on, I think I might wear Dad’s sweater again tomorrow….

Weather

The weather outside is frightful. And by frightful, I mean the weather has been anything but mild. This weekend started as a snowy mess, and the next day—as the temperature was hovering just below freezing—it rained. Nonstop.

Friday morning, I had a long overdue hair appointment, and I stopped on the way home to pick up some Christmas presents. The drive was slow and somewhat dicey, and I was more than happy to finally land safely at home. My children were already home as the last day of school before vacation had been cut short for an inclement weather dismissal.

I had been home for about half an hour when the question came from the living room. “Mom, are the roads really that bad?” It was a question fashioned to determine whether or not the ask-er would be allowed to head out to the home of one friend or another.

“Yes,” I responded. “They’re pretty bad. No one is going to venture out on the roads today.”

From the kitchen table behind me, as if I had been conversing with a different child, came the statement, “I’m hearing off-roading.” I paused for a minute, just long enough to process that comment. And then I turned around and looked at W, my eyebrows raised in question.

He was smiling. “What?” he shrugged. “You said, ‘No one is going out on the roads today.’ You didn’t say anything about going somewhere off the roads,” he responded. And then he started to list off all of the places he could go off-roading.

These kids, they are always full of great ideas ….