Yesterday I was having a really rough day. Like one of those days where it felt like nothing has been going right, that my life’s been full of endless drama (and not the good kind) and it was hard to see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.
When I’m really struggling, I find myself having a conversation with my dad in my head. He passed away in July 2016, and I miss him each and every day. He he was always a solid and calming presence in my life. So often when things got rough, a talk and a really good hug from my dad somehow always made it better.
Yesterday when I was feeling so very low, I found myself having a Dad talk. No, he doesn’t answer me when I talk to him, but I can imagine the things he would say. He would have had some gem of sage advice for sure. Then he would have reminded me how proud he was of me, and that I was strong and would get through it. He would have reminded me that he loved me and God loved me. And then he’d tell me to go get a good night’s sleep for goodness sake, because I was getting overtired and paranoid. (He was always right.) Then he’d go make me a fried egg sandwich, which is the best comfort food ever.
So not ten minutes after I had my Dad talk, First Born came down and said, “Hey Mom! There’s a really cool cardinal in the tree outside!” He’s not a big avian expert, but we rarely see cardinals around here and he knew it was an unusual occurrence. So we went and looked at it and I started to cry. He couldn’t figure out how a silly bird could make me burst into tears. So I explained,
He hugged me and we stood there and just watched the cardinal, who stayed with us for a long time, hopping from branch to branch.
Later that day as I was driving home, another cardinal flew past my car…as if to say, “I’m still here.”
I’m not normally one to put a lot of credence in “signs and symbols” — but yesterday this was exactly what I needed. It made me miss my dad even harder, but it was so comforting to imagine that he was really with me somehow, watching over me and my family.
So look for cardinals the next time you’re feeling bad. And then go make yourself a fried egg sandwich.
I don’t know what Santa puts in the stockings at your house, but here at the Psych Ward, he gets “creative” in his stocking stuffers (translation: desperate.) In addition to candy canes, chocolate “coal” and other random junky toys, Santa goes a little utilitarian. Everyone always gets new toothpaste, toothbrush, flossers (which will most likely get used for anything but teeth or shoved in the back of the drawer never to be used), fun pens, crazy socks and the like. The adults also receive things like Tylenol, breath mints, hand sanitizer and SuperGlue. We go through an alarming amount of SuperGlue at our house, because the PSW inmates’ motto in life is, “Drive it like you stole it.” (It’s a good thing we don’t live in Japan and do the whole Kintsugi method of repair — We’d be flat broke!)
As always, Santa came through on the Super Glue. I try my best to keep it out of reach from the inmates, but I guess that just seems to make it all the more tempting for First Born. The other day I found a tube of it sitting on the counter. “Hmmm…I don’t remember leaving it there.”
So I went and poked my head in the Warden’s office. “Did you use the SuperGlue recently?”
My shoulders drooped and I shook my head. “Well, if it wasn’t you, then that just means that First Born’s been up to something.”
“Hey First Born. What were you using the Super Glue for? And before you deny it, I know it wasn’t Dad, so it had to be you.”
“I don’t know. I don’t remember.”
Great. That meant it was something particularly devious and I was sure to find out what it was when I was either delousing his room or at some other inopportune moment.
That moment came a few days later when I was up to my elbows in sorting laundry. “Didn’t I just do all the laundry like ten minutes ago?!! How?! How does one person go through this many T-shirts? But wait. Shouldn’t there be more underwear? Where’s the underwear? Oh…still attached to the pants I see. Excellent.”
Just then, Young Son comes bounding over wearing only his Pokemon undies. “Tah Dahhhh!!! BEHOLD!” Then burst out into hysterical laughter.
On his head he was wearing a winter stocking hat with something sticking straight up off the top of it where the pom pom should go. I sighed. “What fresh hell is this?”
Young Son gleefully answered, “It’s a PENIS!” and then rolled around on the floor gasping for air between gales of laughter.
Yep. So it was. It was an eight inch penis made out of bright yellow modeling clay, complete with testicles and a surprising amount of detail. And how was it attached to the (brand new) stocking hat??? You guessed it. Super Glue. This stunt had First Born’s trademark all over it.
In addition to being annoyed that a brand new hat was basically ruined, my mind immediately came up with all the ways that First Born was planning on using said penis hat. Other than corrupting his little brother and sister, what if he wore it to a friend’s house? What would the mom think?!? Or what if he wore it to school?! I broke out in a cold sweat just thinking about that call from the principal.
I ripped the penis off, threw it in the trash and tossed the hat in the laundry that conveniently surrounded me.
Suddenly we heard First Born thundering down the hall yelling, “YOUNG SOOOOONNN!!! What did you DO!?! Where’s the PENIS!?!?! GIVE ME BACK THE PENIS!!!”
I turned to Young Son, “Dude. You better hide!”
First Born burst into the room, nostrils flaring, looking for his rat fink of a little brother. “Why did you have to go and show Mom for?!?! What were you thinking?!?!”
Then he turned to me. “Where is it?? Give me my penis back!!!”
At which point, I burst out laughing like…well…a pre-teen boy! “Really?! You’re really asking me where your penis is?!”
Oh. He did NOT like that. At. All. I don’t know if he was more angry that Young Son had gone and shown it to me, or more embarrassed that I had seen his weird pornographic headwear. He decided to stick with the anger part and tried to pound on his brother.
“Why did you think Mom would think that’s funny!??”
Now normally, he’s right. The funnier they think something is, the less I’m amused by it. And based on Young Son’s reaction, I was definitely not going to be amused by it.
But in this case, it was sorta funny. I mean I did cringe at the thought of what he was planning on using the hat for…and he did ruin a brand new hat in the making of it. But really. He’s eleven. That’s what boys that age do. They make jokes about penises and balls and farts and poop. Annoying? Yes. Abnormal? No.
After he calmed down later, I said, “Look. I love your creativity, but could you please harness your powers for GOOD?!” He sullenly agreed.
In the meantime, the penis has mysteriously gone missing from the trash. Perhaps he’s taken my advice to heart and he’s busy setting up his new millinery shop on Etsy. I’ll keep you updated.
Please note: I have not posted a picture of the detailed penis so I don’t get banned from Facebook or have the authorities knocking on my door.
Somehow I’ve managed to survive most of winter break with a few remaining shards of sanity. That’s not to say my children haven’t tried their best to break me. Considering the condition of my house and their things, “broken” seems to be their preferred state.
At least a few of their toys have stood the test of time. A couple of years ago, I found a four-foot tall Darth Vader figure on super duper clearance after Christmas and gave it to First Born for his February birthday. Darth has been an unwilling prop for of quite a few pranks in our house.
For instance, one April Fools Day, he and Yoda were hanging out in First Born’s bed reading Star Wars books together. Or there was the time Darth was lurking in First Born’s closet in case I went in to search for contraband. (Luckily First Born was at school when I found him that time, because my scream would have been far too rewarding for First Born.)
Or there was the time I hid him in our bathroom to try to freak out the Warden when he was coming home late from his monthly poker game. I ended up freaking out myself, because I forgot Darth was in there when I stumbled into the bathroom later that night before the Warden even got home. *sigh* It probably wouldn’t have worked anyway, because I doubt it would have even fazed him. He would have just rolled his eyes and muttered things about how weird his wife was and questioned his reasons for marrying me in the first place.
Darth came out again the other day when Jiminy Cricket, his little brother and their mom were over. All was going so well — the littles were in the living room playing all things Paw Patrol, the bigs were upstairs doing stinky boy things and we moms were sitting in the kitchen enjoying a break from them. Suddenly we hear screaming from the littles, then the sound of our front door opening and them running outside yelling, “Darth Vader is outside!!”
Now most other moms may have been alarmed. Not Jiminy’s mom. In case you don’t remember, she survived The Epic Sleepover and has five kids of her own. The woman’s seen things and lived to tell about them. She merely raised an eyebrow and we strolled out to the front to see what was going down.
Here’s what we saw:
And then here’s what our neighbors or anyone driving by saw:
I’m just grateful no one called the cops and that our neighbors still speak to us.
Warrior Princess will be happy to tell you exactly how many days it is until Christmas, as she asks Alexa about twelve times per day and is dutiful with moving the candy cane each morning on our Advent calendar. The other day Young Son got to the calendar first and moved the candy cane before she could. She was not pleased and gave her brother an earful about his poor choice. Then she moved the candy cane back to the previous day, stared him straight in the eye while slowly moving it back to the current day’s pocket. She threw in an extra pissy glare at him to solidify her domination of the Advent calendar, and then stomped off to take names elsewhere. He stood there slightly stunned, looked at me and mouthed the word, “WOW!” I could only shake my head and shrug in response. Sorry pal. Get used to it.
As usual, I’m behind schedule and all my hopes and dreams of a peaceful, memorable holiday season are all but nil. But at least The Pediatric Psych Ward’s annual Christmas card is finally wrapped up and in the mail. Every year I keep promising myself (and our photographer) that next year will be better — more organized, less yelling, and not a complete debacle of epic proportions. Alas, the annual nightmare continues. Here’s how it usually goes:
In October I start thinking, “I’m going to be organized this year and get our Christmas card done in November. I better start coming up with a fun idea for this year’s design.” I started doing crazy cards when First Born was two years old. (Like you expected The PSW’s cards to be classy??) Since then it has become an expectation from people that each year will be creative and goofy. Friends and family start asking me months in advance if I have my card planned out. (Cue the start of the holiday stress.) Every single year I wrack my brain to come up with something new and amusing and present my ideas to The Warden to see if any stick.
After we’ve come up with a final plan, I loop in our photographer to my weird ideas. Let me tell you, the woman is the patron saint of patience. She has been chronicling our crazy since we got married over fourteen years ago, and she hasn’t blocked my number yet. She has SIX boys of her own, and either they have completely broken her and my crew is a walk in the park, or she uses it as a reality check. “Oh yeah. I guess I DO have it good.”
Photoshoot day is always a complete cluster, but she just rolls with it…or maybe she just heavily medicates before she comes in. The inmates take over her studio, chaos ensues, props are abused, fights are fought, outfits tugged on and someone is crying (it’s usually me.) Then First Born starts trying to run the photo shoot, striking bad senior portrait poses, making weird faces or yelling at his brother to smile like a normal person. Then I start yelling, sweating, bribing, threatening and begging. Over the years I’ve finally learned that I just need to leave the room and let her work her magic, because let’s be honest. I am half of the problem.
This year she came to our house for the annual torture fest. As soon as she pulled up, the inmates were clamoring over who got to help haul in her expensive equipment. (I mean where are these punks when I have a trunk full of groceries?! Not helping me, that’s where!) As she was setting up, they were all up in her business asking her rapid fire questions about her lights and backdrops, telling her vast details about Minecraft or showing his or her latest stupid human trick. Oh to have just a fraction of her patience and grace…
Then came time to get down to business. Young Son put on his outfit without a fuss, Warrior Princess squirmed around and grabbed her crotch a lot because her tights were too short, and then First Born saw the sweater I’d bought for him. Holy hell. “WHAT?! I’m not wearing that! That’s hideous! I could enter an ‘Ugly Sweater’ contest in that thing and I’d win first prize!” (Mind you, it was a plain burgundy V-neck sweater. Do you see what I live with?) At that point I left the room after giving a stern reminder that Miss Sarah was in charge and to listen…or else!
She started to pose them and I kept hearing, “Okay! Look at me…No. First Born, stop making that hand gesture. Thank you, now straighten your head…Warrior Princess, can you tilt your chin down like I taught you so we don’t get glare on your glasses? No. Not that far. Okay. Better….Young Son, look at me. Okay. Smile nicely. No, I don’t need to see ALL of your teeth…First Born, seriously. Stop with the hand gesture! Okay! Ready…one…two…Young Son, look at the camera!” And it and on and on it went. How she never breaks down into a puddle of tears and profanity at some point is simply amazing. (Note to self: ask Miss Sarah which happy pills she takes.)
All the while, The Warden had been hiding out in his office avoiding the whole spectacle. This year I decided it was time to take a whole family portrait again. Because really, why not add to the torture? He hates having his picture taken even more than I do, so I considered it a win when I got to make him miserable for awhile. I called him out of his office and heard muttering and shuffling. “Why exactly are we doing this??”
“Because it will make our mothers happy. Suck it up.”
“Sigh…Fine. Guys, come on. Let’s get this over with.” We all sat awkwardly together and tried to look as if we liked each other. First Born started in again being obnoxious and the Warden got after him through clenched teeth, “Will you knock it off?! This is totally uncomfortable sitting like this. Can we get just get done already for the love of God??!”
Miss Sarah shot pictures as quickly as she could. She scrolled through the images, tried not to grimace and said, “Okay…I think can work with these.” Let’s just say I’m extremely grateful for her PhotoShop talents. The Warden made a beeline back to his office and shut the door. Mission accomplished.
It was finally time for Miss Sarah to pack up and head back to try to work miracles on the photos she shot. The inmates helped her wrestle all her gear out to her car, and I thanked her profusely for putting up with the nightmare once again. As she was pulling away, Warrior Princess said, “I bet Miss Sarah’s going home to take a nap now.”
And miracles she did work. Among all the pictures taken, somehow she was able to cobble together a nice one. First Born either had his eyes shut or was making weird hand gestures in half of them. In the other half, Young Son was doing his bizarre side-eye smile. (I swear to God, the kid always looks like a crazed serial killer in every posed picture.)
After about 80 of my obnoxious revisions to the copy and layout, our Christmas card was born and they are now in the mail. I am having an anxiety attack just thinking about how they will be received. Will people like them or just think I’m really weird? Will relatives call my mother and ask if I’m not well in the head? Every year, people. Every. Year.
So now that this year’s Christmas card insanity is put to bed, it’s time to start baking and wrapping gifts. I have neither baked a single stinking cookie nor wrapped one present. I went into the season with my usual good intentions, but as always things just fell apart. Why do I do this to myself year after year? I hope when the inmates look back at the Christmases of their childhood, they’ll at least know that I tried to make it magical and wonderful.
In the meantime, I hope you have a beautiful and magical holiday season!
THE END IS NEAR!!! I can see the light! School starts this week!
One could interpret that in two very different ways:
Positive: “Hooray! I survived summer break without a visit from DCFS or jail time! There is light at the end of this never-ending tunnel! Is that bus headlights coming toward me?? *Sniiiifffff* I smell diesel! Hallelujah!!!”
Negative: “I’m dying! The Four Horsemen are coming! That light is so beautiful…but why do I see my ancestors beckoning me to come hither? Yep. The non-stop fighting and complaining of the inmates has finally killed me.”
First Born and Young Son go back to school on Wednesday. (Meaning Tuesday is Supply Drop-off/Meet the Teacher day, and we all know how much I loathe THAT day.)
But even more stressful than that is the fact that First Born starts middle school this year. I know he’s looking forward to some aspects of it, like feeling grown-up and having more independence. But I can tell that the reality of it has been starting to sink in over the past few weeks. Let’s just say he’s been far from a joy to live with lately. I need to remind myself that this isn’t all toxic pre-teen hormones making him surly and short-tempered. All. The. Time. A lot of it is anxiety oozing out of him in the form of asshole-ish behavior.
I remember when I started junior high 35 years ago (ugh!) I was terrified. The entire summer before I was sick with fear, dread and so much anxiety that I had trouble sleeping and was nauseated most of the time. My teacher the year before had drilled into us how hard and different junior high was going to be, she made it seem like we were going to be going directly to college instead of 7th grade. We were going to have insane amounts of homework heaped upon us, expectations of us would be exponentially more difficult, we’d only have four minutes to change classes and they would be located 3 miles apart (don’t even think about going to your locker or the bathroom)…and worst of all, we would have to change and shower in front of our peers for gym class!
But after the first few days, I found out that my teacher was basically full of crap, and junior high wasn’t nearly as bad as she had made it out to be. Sure, it was a change and a little confusing at first, but it was a good thing. I wasn’t stuck in the same classroom with the same idiots and same cranky teacher day after day, hour after hour. I began feeling more grown up and started gaining a bit of confidence…which was immediately snuffed out by hellacious adolescent peers who still live in my nightmares to this day. (That’s a post for another time.) Best of all, we did not have to shower after gym class. We all quickly learned how to do strange contortions with our clothing so that the least amount of skin and underwear showed, doused ourselves with Wild Musk perfume and and Tickle deodorant and called it a day.
Is there a pedagogical reason why some teachers put the fear of God into their students to prepare them for the rigors of the next step in their schooling? I get that students need to understand that expectations will be higher and things will be different than what they are used to. But so often what is lost in translation for the student is that all the work they have been doing and the skills their teachers have been teaching them are what makes them prepared for the next step. Instead, so many (like in my case) are left feeling overwhelmed and terrified that they aren’t ready and are going to fail miserably.
I get it. When I get frustrated when First Born’s immaturity peaks out sometimes, I find myself saying things like, “You need to get more organized and on top of things! In sixth grade you won’t have your teacher holding your hand all the time! BE RESPONSIBLE!” Instead of getting him to shape up, I’m sure I’m just adding fuel to the fire of his anxiety of not feeling ready, mature or smart enough. Don’t get me wrong. I know this is going to be a big change for him and there are going to be some pretty big potholes along the way. But I need to keep my anxiety in check so I don’t add to his.
So next time he’s acting like a total beast and feel like ripping his head off and using it as a bowling ball, I need to remind myself to pull him in for a hug instead of yelling. Maybe it will help to ease the anxiety for both of us.
To my fellow parents sending their kids back to school: congratulations! You made it through another summer! And to those teachers going back to the grind and craziness of the classroom, good luck, God speed…and have mercy on my inmates! Just remember: I am their mother, and they can’t help a lot of it.
Yesterday as I was driving through town to take the inmates to their eye doctor appointments, a funeral procession came to the intersection where I was stopped. I pulled over and waited for them all to pass.
But while I was waiting there, multiple cars went around me and continued on their way, either oblivious to, not caring about or annoyed with the somber string of cars with their flashing lights. It saddened me and made me angry.
Later I went home and looked up the law on what you are supposed to do when you come upon a funeral procession. You are not allowed to cut through or cut off a funeral procession, nor should you honk (one would think this should go without saying.) But you are not required to pull over as a funeral procession goes by, it is merely a custom that so many seem to forget more and more often.
While I had somewhere to be and things to do, it was still important for me to take the time to acknowledge the mourners passing by. Even though I did not know the person in the hearse or their loved ones following behind, I took the time to respect their grief. This was not a trundling, never-ending train carrying lumber or coal from point A to point B. No, this was a long line of people accompanying their loved one to his or her final resting place. A few minutes of my time to respectfully pause and bear witness to the loss these people were suffering really seemed the least I could do.
This was a good reminder for me though. How many times have I impatiently waited in line while lost in thought with all the little things I need to get done, plan dinner, get who when and where, instead of bothering to have a nice chat with a fellow shopper who could use a kind word in that moment? How often have I wasted time scrolling through Facebook to keep up with what friends are doing instead of actually calling them to meet for coffee to really see how their life is? How many times have I obsessively read news article after news article, yet never seem to do enough with my outrage over the treatment of my fellow humans near and far.
We all need to be reminded to pause…
…To pause and notice what is going on around us.
…To pause and care more for our family and friends.
…To pause and ask ourselves, “Am I doing enough, loving enough, giving enough?”
…To pause and really appreciate the amazing gifts we have been given in our lives
…To pause to just breathe and take it all in.
Perhaps if we all pause in our daily lives, our world can become a kinder, gentler place while we are still in it, before we become the one in the hearse, or become the mourners following behind.
Cell phones weren’t available to the public when I was a kid. If we wanted to communicate with our friends, we had a few options: walk or bike over to their house and actually talk in person, pass notes in school (the more intricately folded, the better) or call them on a telephone (a.k.a “landline”). We didn’t have a touch-tone phone until I was in fifth grade. Until then we had a rotary phones in fashionable avocado green and goldenrod to coordinate with our decor. For those of you who are too young to remember such an archaic device, here’s how to use a rotary phone:
Pick up the receiver (that’s the thing you hold to your head to talk and listen.)
Insert your index finger into the little hole that corresponds to the number you want to dial.
With finger still in hole, slide dial around to the right until you reach the little metal stop.
Remove finger and allow dial to return to its normal position.
Repeat this process until all numbers have been dialed. If you make a mistake, hang up and start over. If the phone number you are dialing has lots of zeros and nines, then it sucks to be you.
I won’t even get into the intricacies of the curled up cord that kept you tethered to the phone base.
When I was in middle school, I finally got my parents to agree to let me have a phone in my bedroom! But I was never as cool as some of my bougie friends who had a “teen line” of their own. No. I had to share our family’s line and hope no one picked up and listened to my conversation or needed me to hang up so they could use the phone or receive a call.
It wasn’t until I was out of college that I had my first cell phone. Texting wasn’t a thing until about ten years later, and then you had to us the number key pad with the corresponding letters below each number. So 444*55566688833*99966688 translated into, “I love you.” Jeez.
So fast forward to present day. First Born Male Child has been begging for a cell phone of his own for a couple years. “But all of my friends have them!” Okay. Maybe not all, but quite a few even as early as 3rd and 4th grade!
“What exactly do you think you’d be doing with a phone, First Born? Who is it that you desperately need to be in communication with? What are the occasions you have in life that would require you to have one?”
“I don’t know! But I’m sure I’d find some! You guys are so mean!”
Yes. Yes we are. Now I get it that for some families it’s necessary, for those with kids in multiple extra-curricular activities or kids of divorced parents etc. But for First Born, there really hasn’t been much need.
But last week the Warden and I finally bit the bullet and got a smartphone for First Born Male Child. We were reluctant to do it, but with him starting middle school in the fall, it seemed to be time. He is starting to be involved in more activities where he gets dropped off and picked up. And honestly, we didn’t want him to start being socially ostracized for not having one so he could communicate with his friends when not in school. (I know. First world problems.)
Our hesitation was multi-fold: Was he ready for the responsibility that came with having his own phone? Could we be confident he wouldn’t likely lose or break it? Most importantly, was he able to use it in a responsible and safe manner in this crazy digital age? That last one keeps us up at night. (Well maybe just me, because the Warden falls asleep the minute his head hits the pillow and is out cold for the night. But that’s a whole blog post of its own for another day.)
After a lot of discussion, we came up with a contract between First Born and us to clearly outline expectations for proper use of the new smartphone. It includes the hours he may use it, which types of apps can be installed, how it will be monitored by us and the consequences of improper usage, as well as our expectations we have of his overall behavior that allows him the privilege of having his own cell phone. (I’ve included a link for a PDF version of our contract in case you want to check it out or even use it for your kids.)
I am sure those of you with legal backgrounds are cringing at the gaping loopholes and poor legal syntax it contains, but it’s a starting point and something we can refer him to when he pushes his luck with proper use. “Oh. You think Mom and Dad are snooping in your business too much? Please refer to point number five. Sorry. You signed it pal.”
As much joy as it often gives me to stifle First Born’s fun in life, our main goal in developing a contract was to keep him safe and to teach him responsibility and consequences.
I’m sure he’ll find plenty of ways to work around and push the limits of the contract, and knowing him, he’ll even seek legal advice to prove his point. Just remember this, lawyers: he’s still paying off a toilet and is broke, so unless you’re looking for some pro bono work, I’d advise you to tell him to pound sand if he asks for your expertise.