Category Archives: Parents

Supervising Student Driver and Box of Tacos


This week was the last time for me to supervise my son’s driving on the water polo club practice night. It was special, because for the first time we dropped everyone off without any hitting or elbowing going on in the back seat. The solution: tacos and asking nicely.

My oldest son is learning to drive this year. He’s passed the driveling class and has a restricted license. Oldest son is in a water polo club this summer with three other high school teammates. One night a week it’s my turn to supervise the carpool since none of them can drive alone yet. It occurred to me last night that it’s like carpooling for an hour each way in Chicago rush hour traffic with four little Beavises and a box of granola bars. Who knew teenage boys were so interesting.

Don’t get me wrong, these are nice teenagers and I like spending time with them. Water polo players are their own fascinating bunch to begin with. It takes a person with a certain personality to enjoy being drowned for a couple of hours every day for “fun.”  The trip to practice is different from the trip back.

Driving to practice, everyone is full of energy and eager to talk about summer school, current events, and make jokes. Everyone knows the rules to not bother or distract the driver, my son. On the way home, after two hours of treading water, ball passing and drowning defense drills, they tumble into the car like fish out of water, smelling like chlorine and we begin the hour drive back home. They are exhausted, sometimes too exhausted to do more than listen to the radio. But some nights, like last night, the coach hasn’t expended all their energy and they are revved up. They fuss about who is going to sit in the middle. They elbow each other and throw mild insults. It usually helps for me to start a game of ‘name that tune’ for the radio, with me being the referee and final authority on matters of the 1970’s through 1990’s without consulting Shazam.

Since last night was my last night for carpool for the summer season, I suggested oldest son practice his driving skills at the drive thru window of Taco Bell on the trip home. I asked them to be sweet and not get taco contents all over my car. Usually I bring them a small snack for the long ride home because they’ve burned all their calories and they are starving, like a box of goldfish, pretzels, or granola bars, so the tacos were new and different.

The box of tacos entered the car and the feeding frenzy began. It’s usually like this when the snacks are handed into the back seat. It’s like tossing a baby seal into a pod of orcas. Oldest son got upset when he learned that as driver, he couldn’t have his taco until he stopped at a red light, it’s my rules. Then I had to negotiate a truce over the hot sauce and no, you aren’t going to have a fire sauce eating dare contest tonight, sorry. I’m such a kill joy.

A dozen tacos are inhaled inside 3 blocks, and we’re back to name that tune to pass the rest of the hour. I looked over at my oldest son, driving much better in the dark than at the beginning of summer, and smile. In a couple of months his driving restriction will be lifted and he will be able to drive without me. He’ll be fine, but I’ll have less time with him and his friends. To listen to them ha ha- ha ha like Beavis to each other’s silly jokes and hear about their history papers that are due at the end of the week. We’ll enter the next stage, where I wait for them to check in and tell me they have arrived and are OK.

The car pool is a sacred space for parents of teenagers, it’s where you have many important conversations and spend quality time. My advice is to always volunteer for the carpool. Even though the car smells like chlorine and they laugh with that annoying laugh and you have to tell them to stop hitting each other and there are goldfish crumbs to vacuum up the next day. It’s all worth it and I’ll miss it.

Musical pairing: “On the Road Again,” by Willie Nelson, 1980.

Best Baby Whisperer Ever

Milk Break Time

Her home was a soothing nest for the daily routine of babies and toddlers. Of milk breaks and naps, blocks and baby dolls. I’d like to thank the first care giver of our first-born son, Mrs. Locke. As first time parents, we were nervous and excited. This was back in the days before the family medical leave act, so I was expected to return to work in about 6 weeks. Finding the right care giver was our largest concern.

We interviewed several recommended in-home care givers and day care centers, and fell in love with Mrs. Locke. She was a sweet natured older African American woman who had cared for babies and toddlers in her home for decades. We were lucky an opening would be available about the time our baby was due.

Over the next two years I grew to appreciate just how lucky we were. I was anxious going back to work, and while I wanted and needed to return to work, at 6 weeks, I wasn’t healed up and our little angel wasn’t in a routine yet. The way corporate America and insurance companies treat new mothers is crazy, don’t get me started. But Mrs. Locke was my saving grace. She understood. She obviously loved little ones. You could tell by the way she cuddled them, talked to them and herded her little lambs with watchful efficiency.

Returning to work, still trying to nurse, still on the mend, I was a mess. By day two Mrs. Locke gently suggested that I should come back to her house on my lunch hours. She let me nurse the baby in her private guest room during lunchtime. She patted my arm and told me the baby was fine and I was doing a wonderful job and everything would work out, not to worry. She answered all my new parent questions, and carefully taught me the ‘right way’ to bundle the baby in blankets, how to dress him in layers, and how to stop the hiccups. She supervised transitioning to food, crawling exercises, celebrated new words, let me know when it was time for ‘proper walking shoes because he’s ready to go’ and knew how to make my little guy laugh.

Mrs. Locke was our partner in raising a happy, healthy little boy, and our teacher in becoming the good parents we wanted to be. Sadly, my husband’s job transferred us to another city when our little boy was two. I never had a caregiver again that equalled her.  And bless her heart, Mrs. Locke had one fault, she allowed herself to fall in love with the children. She cried and was heartbroken he was leaving. I knew she cried even when the older ones headed off to kindergarten and away from her care. Mrs. Locke had a big heart and a gift for nurturing little ones. She was wise, experienced and I trusted her. And I will always be grateful for her role in helping our new little family flourish.

Musical pairing: “I Want To Linger,” a traditional Alpha Chi Omega song, repeated often in rocking chairs as a lullaby. Date/author unknown.

Revisiting the 20’s Wish List

Looking forward

I remember when 40 was old and uncool.  I was a teenager and my parents seemed stodgy and boring.  So now that I’m 40, how do I measure up?  Our generation has managed to push out the definition of old age farther out than 40, but I feel officially ‘not young.’  I’ve still struggled with the beginning of the midlife crisis.  So what does being 40 mean to GenX?

There’s some pride in survival and a few accomplishments to date.  A comfort in my own skin and self-acceptance I didn’t have at 20.  A little softer in opinion, a little wiser about the world, a little saggier and wrinklier and squishier.  There’s both more to worry about and less to worry about when you’re 40.  I don’t worry about what others think, but I do get concerned about community and global things.

Now I’m not saying that I’ve lost my optimism.  I was never optimistic, Xers tend to be realists.  But I have grown more optimistic about what my children can do.  And what God can do.  And on days when I feel very weak and insignificant, I try to remember the dreams I held for the future when I was 20 and looking ahead, because the future is finally RIGHT NOW.

I now have the experience,  money, health and opportunity to do all those things I dreamed about so long ago.  The larger question is… do I still want what was on the list?  Or do I now have different goals?

I do know that it’s only mid-life.  There’s still half of a life left after the birthday cake and the accompanying feelings of panic and crisis.  All we’ve done so far is the beginning of what’s next.  We can have fun, love a great deal and make a bit of a difference in the next 40 years.  We might be un-young, but we can still be GenX cool.

Musical pairing: “Right Here, Right Now,” Jesus Jones, 1990.

Thanks For A Guy’s Great Outdoors

Headed into the wild.

I’d like to thank the two dads that have been my son’s Scout Masters during his years in Boy Scouting, John and Angelo.  We didn’t know anything about scouting when he joined, but figured it would be a good experience for him to try out camping with his friends.  Our son loved the great outdoors and has enjoying the scouting activites for four years and counting.

His positive experience has been possible thanks to the dads who served as leaders and provided adult supervision on the monthly camping trips.  We are not campers, and I have severe pollen allergies and cannot spend the night outdoors.  Without scouting, our son would not have the opportunity to do the camping he enjoys so much.

I remember my son’s first camping trip, Angelo sent me a couple of text messages so I knew he was fine.  I missed my guy, but he came home so happy.  The troop has a rotating group of trained, volunteer dads who take the group camping, and I appreciate them giving up their weekends to sleep in a tent out in the weather and make sure the boys are safe and having fun.  And a special thanks for being understanding when we all discovered that my son gets car sick on long trips 🙂

It’s cool to hear about the weekend adventures when my son comes home dirty and tired on Sunday night.  The variety of the trips is part of the fun, sometimes it’s fishing, other times it’s river canoeing or geo tracking.  The last trip was caving.  There are fires to build, knives to use, rocks to climb, and rivers to cross.  Overnights in a museum or a ski cabin are fun in the winter.   I love to see the look on his face and the excitement in his voice when he describes the unplugged fun.

So my thanks go to John, Angelo, and all the dads who hike off into the woods with tents, camp stoves and bug spray in tow, leading a line of tweens and teens into the great outdoors.

Musical pairing: “(Leave the) Great Indoors” by John Mayer, 2001.

What Would Make Memorial Day Better


The Easter Egg Hunt, The Easter Dress

Easter, circa 1970

I hope it’s not too late to mark Easter Day this year, I love this holiday.  It just took me awhile to get my thoughts together.  GenXers have the perspective of being some of the first children to grow up experiencing the hyper-commericalization of most holidays.  We didn’t cause it I don’t think, but we enjoyed the childhood benefits and the sugar rush.

I was raised in a Christian family that didn’t celebrate religious holidays.  So Easter for me as a child was about getting a new dress for spring and hunting eggs that the Easter bunny had hidden in the yard.  These eggs were the brightly colored plastic sort that my mom filled with jelly beans and small chocolates.  I’ve always loved a good egg hunt and should tell you next Easter about the competitive egg hunts my sister and I had as teenagers if I don’t forget.  I loved hunting the eggs, I loved the candy, I loved re-hiding the eggs and playing again.  I was easy to entertain.

And THE dress.  There was great anticipation and excitement over the dress every year.  Our family was lower middle class, we didn’t have a closetful of clothes and they weren’t designer.  But my mom is a wonderful tailor, so she would sew my sister and I dresses for Easter.  Fancy dresses with ruffles and stitching and lace.  She usually bought a new pattern each year for it to be in the latest style.  We would often get to pick the color and would check on the dresses’ progress in the weeks before Easter, having fittings, and deciding about how we would do our hair.  Easter Sunday would be the first time my sister and I would get to wear the new dresses, and enjoy being pretty and fancy for church and Easter dinner with extended family.

Now that I’m a parent, and of boys no less, dressing up for Easter isn’t the focus.  We choose to celebrate Easter as a religious holiday.  I’ve shunned the commercialism for the most part.  No Easter bunny, but I don’t mind using it as a reason to restock the chocolate supply in the house 😉  And yes, I think back fondly to my childhood celebrations and am thankful for those moments standing in the sunshine, dressed in something lovely and hand made for me, about to head off on a hunt.

 Musical pairing: “Walking on Sunshine,” by Katrina and the Waves, 1985 and “Alive Forever Amen,” by Travis Cottrell, 2005.

Tea Time with Jaws

Shark Tea Pot

This is a ‘teapot’ my oldest son made me in 8th grade sculpture class.  The assignment was to make a teapot using ceramics, and he made his teapot a shark, with a bloody human arm coming out of the shark’s mouth as the spout, and the dorsal fin as the handle.  Um, yea.  He’d been talking about a teapot project for weeks, but THIS was a genuine surprise when it came home.  Now a disclaimer here, my son is a smart, talented person but will NOT be earning a living in the arts.  Due to the obvious challenges modeled here with his ‘best work ever.’

But you know, now that I’ve had in the house for almost a year, it’s started to grow on me.  His teapot is funny, with the blood oozing down the front of the teapot from the toothy jaw.  Hey, a teapot assignment might be a bit tough for the guys in the class, but we all know it’s good to stretch.  And wow did my guy stretch the concept of a teapot.  He figured out how to make a teapot that he liked, and learned about fine arts.  I think it’s good that the curriculum requires a few art, music, industrial tech and family / consumer classes for everyone in middle school.

Which got me to thinking how my children’s education is different from mine, with much less of the constraints of a gender based education.  Gen X was the last generation to be raised in an education system with, I don’t quite know how to describe it, gender boxes or a strict gender separate culture in school.  The gender boxes where boys woudn’t be caught dead in a cooking or art class and girls would be laughed out of wood shop or drafting.

So hooray for getting out of the gender box and having tea with a shark.  It’s normal, no big deal for my children’s generation to consider a wider range of subjects as gender neutral.  Naturally, my son is very interested in some classes and some he’s not, but it’s nice to have the exposure to a variety of subjects so he can decide what he thinks is interesting, not what ‘should’ be interesting.  Girls are still girls, and boys are still boys.  My understanding is that sewing class is still a ‘girls’ class and by 8th grade it’s only boys in industrial tech class.  But the access to elective subjects is much broader these days.  Broad enough to create a teapot that would not have been created in my day.

Musical pairing: “Mack the Knife,” Bobby Darin 1959 and “Theme from Jaws,” John Williams, 1975.