Hummer

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When my son, Levi, was 5 years old my husband and I temporarily lost our minds and  spent a ridiculous sum of money on a mini version of a Hummer for him to drive around the neighborhood. This car was totally amazing. Now that I think about it, perhaps it was part of our financially strapped, joint mid-life crisis. We couldn’t actually afford a pair of Porsches or a duo of Lamborghinis for ourselves, so instead we settled on a mini Hummer for our five year old. We thought we were pretty great parents that year.

Of course as all parents, who have ever watched their children ignore their plethora of play toys and opt instead for a bevy of beaten up pots and pans to play with, can guess, Levi was not at all interested in this outrageously fabulous vehicle. We spent countless hours trying to interest him in the Hummer. But no amount of creative cajoling could entice him to set foot in the  birthday mobile.

Finally, one day I was making dinner and I glanced out the window and saw him climb into the Hummer and turn the key. I was elated. I called my husband to tell him the great news but by the time he picked up the phone, Levi had exited the vehicle and was talking animatedly to himself just a few feet away from where he’d begun. I hung up the phone and raced outside to question his curiously short road trip.

“I just needed to get to the office,” my five year old explained. Then, like a chip off the old block, he gently invited me to go back inside,“I have work to do, mommy.”

I returned to the kitchen to finish dinner. After about a half hour of “office work,” my son hopped back into the Hummer, turned the key and drove for about three seconds until he reached home and entered the kitchen. “Hi mom, I’m home from the office,” he chirped brightly. At that moment I realized that no matter how good our intentions, kids find enjoyment in the activities they love and not necessarily in the ones we adults think they should. We could’ve bought my son a mini Boeing 747 and he would only have used it as a vehicle to act out whatever adult behaviors he was working on at the time. That’s just who he was. He pretended he was a grown up and loved to mimic grown up behavior. We came to understand that it was his way of making sense of the world around him. He never played for the sake of playing. Levi is what you’d call an “old soul.” He’s always wanted to be an adult and we were foolish to think that a souped up Hummer would change that.

He loved sitting in my car pretending to drive. He loved acting out swim lessons with me as the student and him as the teacher. He loved dressing up like his dad and going to the office to see patients. No matter how many ways I tried to get him to drop the grown up scenarios and play for the sake of playing, kid stuff like that just wasn’t in his repertoire.

He is now a 15 year old young man with a compassionate heart, a solid work ethic and a yearning to take on the world as a full-fledged adult. Levi is who he’s always been so it shouldn’t be hard for me to accept his burgeoning adulthood. But today as we sat in the AZ Motor Vehicle Division waiting for him to take his written learner’s permit test, I found myself struggling with a different set of emotions.

I’ve heard hundreds of parents tell me, “Enjoy the moment. They grow up so fast.” I’ve always found that kind of unwarranted advice to be more of an annoyance than a comfort. And I’ve always sworn to never unload that piece of counsel onto other parents. But today I’m wallowing in the reality that they do grow up so quickly and within what feels like a nano-second, they are ready to venture into the world without you.

As parents it’s our job to find ways to remain relevant in our kids’ lives. Hopefully we wont always be their primary care-givers. But when that role ends, how do we morph into something that still matters, that continues to resonate with who they are and enables us to maintain connection and purpose? The reality that kids grow up and leave home has always been there. It’s just so incredibly painful when you stand toe to toe with that truth.

Levi drove home from the MVD. It was his first time driving on major roads and his first experience in rush-hour traffic. We’ve been practicing in parking lots and around the neighborhood for a few months so I knew he was ready to test out his developing skills.

He did a great job. Well, aside from that one turn. But more importantly, he and I are renegotiating our relationship and learning from one another about how we can navigate his journey into full adulthood while still balancing my need to be his parent and guide his growing independence. It’s not always easy. Sometimes he’ll erupt into a toddler type tantrum. Sometimes I do the same. I still have a lot of parenting to do. I’m not sure that ever actually ends. But we’re growing up together and it’s a pretty amazing journey.

Middle school mayhem

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Throw away every kind, thoughtful or genteel thing you’ve ever learned. Do not offer your hand upon introducing yourself. Never hold the door open for anyone — especially not for a girl. No, strike that, boy or girl, same story. And whatever you do, never, ever admit to liking, respecting or even tolerating your parents.

This is a page out of our middle school preparatory training manual. My 12 year old son, Levi, starts middle school at a new school in four days. It’s his first foray into the public school system and he doesn’t know a single soul. So we’re all a little nervous about how he’ll like it and whether or not he’ll fit in easily, etc…

For those of you who don’t know Levi, he’s not your ordinary 12 year old boy. He’s delightfully chivalrous,  amazingly mature, deeply thoughtful and incredibly sensitive. Having these traits has necessitated some serious middle school tutoring.

My best friend in LA told me a horror story about her eldest son holding the door open for other students the first few weeks of his middle school experience. He was “dork” labelled and alienated for three quarters of the year. Luckily he found his niche and figured out that kindness and consideration were not attributes a middle schooler ought to display.

Another friend of ours was horrified upon meeting my son that he had warmly extended his hand, smiled broadly and happily introduced himself using his first and last name. “He’s not gonna do that in middle school?” My pal asked anxiously.

“No,” I stammered. “Of course not. He can be just as unfriendly and ill-mannered as any other child.” I grabbed Levi and fled the scene.

Once we were safely ensconced in the car, I clarified to him that going to middle school was a lot like going to a foreign country. It’s important to observe the culture and learn the language so you don’t inadvertently find yourself in the middle of an uncomfortable international fiasco. No standing out. No drawing attention to yourself. “Middle school is like a water color painting,” I advised, “Best done in muted shades that blend together easily.” What can I say? It was the best I could come up with on short notice.

“But I thought I was always supposed to be myself?” My son curiously inquired. “You’ve always told me to let my unique personality out and if people don’t like me it’s their problem, not mine.”

“Yes. Yes, I did,” I conceded. “But that hasn’t worked out all that well for us thus far. And all bets are off in middle school. Fitting in, laying low and not rocking any boats — that is our new M.O. By the way,” I added, “Do not, under any circumstance, admit to liking your parents or enjoying our company. That is a number one middle school faux pas.”

“I don’t think I’m going to like middle school, mom,” he said with the resignation of a soldier being sent to the front line.

“That’s okay,” I told him. “In fact, that’s perfect. Because no one likes middle school. Good job, buddy. Way to fit in.”

Why did the boys cross the road?

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Why did the boys cross the road?

Long pause filled with uncertainty.

To get smoothies from A.J.s and scare the bejeezus out of their mother.

It may not be the funniest joke ever, but my two tiny, helpless, toddlers… okay, they’re not really tiny anymore, and technically they’re not helpless. I guess you could also argue that nearly 13 and 9 no longer designates them as toddlers. But they’re crossing a busy street and I’m not with them and this is freaking me out!

It’s summer vacation, camp is over, I have no help and I’m feeling like a dried up piece of sand paper. So I made an appointment for a manicure and pedicure. I thought my husband would be off work this morning when I originally made the appointment. But he had to work at the last minute. I didn’t want to cancel. Does that make me a monster? My heels are coarse and leathery, and my feet look like they’ve been through a Crayola blizzard with so many splotches of colors on my toenails because I’ve been layering over my last pedicure for a month. The salon I go to is across the street from AJs. So the boys convinced me that they could come along with me and venture off alone to get smoothies while I soaked peacefully in the pedicure tub. I gave them money and instructions, several times. “Be careful crossing the street!” I said. “It’s a busy street. And call me if you need me. Maybe text me once you get there. No, that’s silly. You don’t have to text me. Yes, text me.” Okay, seriously, they’re only going across the street. Motorists are cautious around here. I mean it’s a residential neighborhood. But there are a lot of elderly folks in this area. Maybe they wont notice two innocent little tykes, one toting a beloved stuffed polar bear, darting across a four lane freeway. Okay okay, it’s not exactly a freeway. But it gets really busy sometimes and it can be as treacherous as the 51 on a Friday afternoon.

Why is it so hard to let kids grow up? I know this is good for them. It teaches them responsibility. It allows them to learn independence. When I was 12, I used to peddle my bicycle 10 miles across town to the local Bunny Hutch to meet friends and enjoy the best french fries in town. What were my parents thinking? Did it scare my mom that I rode in the street? Did she just not think about it? Why does it freak me out so much?

Levi, my nearly 13 year old, went away to sleep-away camp for a full month this summer. He managed to brush his teeth without my constant reminders. He got dressed by himself and handled a litany of daily responsibilities without a single word from me or his dad. (Although I do confess to putting a few brief instructions into the loving letters I wrote on a daily basis.) But he probably ignored those.

I really don’t remember my parents being this over-protective. I don’t think it was that much of a safer world back then. I’ve even read numerous books and articles that insist there are not more child abductions or mass killings today than there were back in the day. It’s just the way the media covers them that makes them all seem so looming and prevalent. But parents’ levels of angst have sky-rocketed since the time of my childhood. It’s like we’re so scared of something happening that we don’t want to ever let our kids out of our sight.

I think it ultimately cripples both them and us. It keeps kids in a perpetual state of childishness. We protect them from anything that even hints at grown-up responsibility which keeps them completely void of the experiences they need to grow up and become responsible adults. In turn, their neediness and inexperience prevents us from letting go and keeps us stuck in perpetual parenting mode without any hope of escape or eventual freedom.

The funniest part of all this is that we’re only doing it because we love them so much. We just don’t want to see them hurt or watch them struggle or worse, possibly fail. But that’s really the only way to learn anything, isn’t it? To fall down. To make a mistake. To err. Without error, life poses no challenges, no opportunities for growth.

So take a deep breath. Love your kids. But let them cross the street by themselves once in a while. It’s really the only way to get from here to there anyway.

Backpack ban. For real?

No drinks. No boomerangs, No backpacks. No...circus ringmaster jackets?

No drinks. No boomerangs, No backpacks. No…circus ringmaster jackets?

My 12 year old son, Levi, will be starting middle school in August at a brand new public school. We’re all excited and nervous and trying to figure out how life operates in this totally unknown environment. Up till now, he’s been highly sheltered by our local private Jewish day school.

There’s a steep learning curve here and I admit it is causing us some anxiety. LIke the other day, for instance, he was perusing the district web site and confronted me in a panic.

“Mom,” he voiced fearfully, “It says on the website that kids are prohibited from carrying backpacks on campus.”

“Levi,” I responded with a doubtful glance, “That’s ridiculous. I’m sure you didn’t read it accurately. I mean, how are you supposed to carry your stuff to school? Picnic basket?”

He assured me that what he had seen had been real and urged me to call the district office to confirm it. His anxiety was growing and I figured that calling the office was the perfect way to allay his concerns. “Hello,” I started to the kindly woman who answered the phone, “I’m a parent of a new student who will be coming to your school in the fall and my son saw something on your website about backpacks not being allowed on campus. I know that sounds rather crazy. So I just wanted to check and make sure that he misunderstood whatever he thought he read.”

“Um…I’m not really sure what to tell you,” said the voice on the other end of the phone. “Can you hold for a moment?” Then she disappeared for like three minutes and I waited, wondering if she was using the same trick my insurance company uses every time I call to check on a benefit. I like to call it the “indefinite hold tactic.” It’s when certain organizations systematically put you on hold forever, knowing you’ll eventually get so frustrated you’ll hang up and decide it’s easier to just pay whatever remaining balance they insist you still have, even though you’ve already paid them three times already. But I digress.

Finally she returned, “The backpack rule is a campus by campus decision and I’m afraid no one at the district can give you the backpack requirements for an individual school. You’ll have to wait till the school reopens for the school year to call and inquire about it.”

“But…I mean…Are you saying there may be some rule against students carrying backpacks?” I’m stammering at this point because this sounds as silly to me as if she told me that number 2 pencils were being outlawed.

“I’m afraid you’ll have to call the school after July 22nd,” she curtly ended the conversation.

Baffled by this, I started to do some research and found that yes, backpacks have been items-non-grata at schools across the country for over a decade. Huh?

I found articles as far back as 2003 explaining the dangers of backpacks containing concealed weapons, drug paraphernalia, even bombs. The answer to some lunatic potentially stuffing a bomb into a backpack? No more backpacks. Maybe it’s me, but that sounds like the most inane answer to school violence and drug abuse that I have ever heard.

But that wasn’t all I discovered. There were other equally lame reasons for prohibiting the dreaded back carriers. The Academy of Orthopedic surgeons had come out with some declaration a few years back about the risks of long-term back and neck injuries and posture problems from kids hauling around overweight backpacks.

Other schools had outlawed backpacks because, and I’m not making this up, they proved to be dangerous threats to teacher safety both inside the classroom and in the corridors of learning. Apparently, teachers find themselves tripping over backpack straps on a regular basis during the school day. They also complain that they have been severely injured in the hallways by backpack-clad youngsters racing from one class to the next.

OK, now I am deeply sensitive to teachers’ needs. Teachers deserve all the credit, gratitude and respect we can give. Their jobs are important and critical to our society. However, this is a little bit silly, don’t you think? I mean, are they sashaying down the aisles between desks while reviewing the Spanish American War? Tap dancing around the classroom as they pose thought-provoking questions about Odysseus? Kids can’t carry backpacks because teachers are tripping over them en masse? Maybe we need to have an in-service day focused on cautious strolling protocol.

And one more question: in what, pray tell, are our children supposed to carry their personal items, notebooks and other school supplies? Hefty trash bags? One girl somewhere out East faced this very dilemma and started carting her load around in a plastic, yellow sand castle pail. Come on! We have got to get a grip. Yes, someone hid a pressure cooker in a backpack and murdered innocent victims. That’s deplorable and hideous. But banning backpacks wouldn’t have stopped the Boston bombings. Believe me, they would have found another way to hurt people. That’s what evil people do. They figure out ways to destroy and ruin good, unsuspecting people’s lives. We need to address evil, not the outward accoutrements of it.

We didn’t ban underwear after the underwear bomber tried to blow up an airplane. We can’t outlaw every single item that some sick, twisted cretan uses to accomplish some heinous activity. We just can’t. It would be like…like…like…trying to eliminate peanuts from every elementary school in the country. Oh wait, we have done that.

Bingo dammit!

imgres“B-37,” one of the moms in my son Eli’s third grade class called out.

“Bingo!” Yelled Samantha. I enjoyed watching the victorious young lady’s glee as she celebrated her triumph.

“N-11,” the mom loudly announced over the myriad pronouncements of joy and despair by the remaining players.

“Perhaps she doesn’t know how to play this game,” I thought to myself.

“G-7,” she continued calling.

“Bingo!” Yelled Taylor. There were more “ahs” and “darns” from the ensemble.

“O-63,” she went on.

She must be on auto-pilot, I worried. Maybe being the Valentine Bingo caller was too taxing an enterprise for her. I decided to leave my post at the bagel and cream cheese station to see if I might be of assistance to her.

Quietly I whispered, “Someone’s already won.”

“N-11,” she proclaimed as if she hadn’t even heard me.

“There’s already a winner,” I spoke out with conviction.

She looked at me askance. “Everyone has to win,” she stated matter-of-factly. “We can’t stop until every child gets Bingo and wins a prize.”

At first, I thought she was joking. I mean I’m well aware of eternal T-Ball ties and even-Steven itty-bitty basketball games. But even in 3rd grade Bingo we aren’t allowed to have winners and losers?

I returned to my bagel station dejected and disillusioned. This is what’s wrong with the world today. We insist on perpetuating a ridiculous myth of equality when the reality couldn’t be further from the truth.

In Bingo, someone wins. This also implies the converse. Someone, (usually several someones), lose. It’s a game! That’s the whole point. One person gets the lucky numbers first. That’s why it’s fun. It’s not skill. It’s not personal will or sheer determination that dictate the outcome here. It’s a silly game of luck. Why are we shielding our youth from this reality?

No Junior, you will not always win. Life is about losing some times. It’s about learning resiliency, bouncing back, accepting defeat and fighting to win the next time around.

Instead we are raising lazy, pathetic people who expect prizes for failure and unlimited chances to win. That’s not how life works. Why are we doing this?

Later that night when we were sitting around the table I asked Eli, a fiercely competitive child, if he noticed anything unusual about Bingo. “It was really fun,” he concluded. “But what do you mean by unusual?”

“Well, who won?” I inquired.

“Nobody,” he answered plainly.

“But I kept hearing kids yell ‘Bingo’,” I asserted. amazed that he had missed something so obvious.

“But we were playing ‘Black-Out’ Bingo, mom” he clarified, “You know, where you have to fill in the whole card before you win?”

“Ah ha,” I smiled. “So nobody really won? That’s interesting.”

“Why mom?” he questioned, “Tell me why you’re asking.”

“Just curious,” I replied, unsure if I should reveal the truth or not. Maybe it’s better this way, with him believing in the illusive golden ring that remains always a bit out of reach.
“But everyone got a prize,” I just couldn’t leave it alone.

“Yeah mom,” he laughed to himself, “Everyone always gets a prize. That’s just how they do it these days. But don’t worry, I know that nobody really won. They just don’t want to hurt the kids’ feelings. I think it may have to do with law suits or something.”

I shook my head and giggled. “Yeah,” I said, “You’re probably right.”

So while most kids walked away feeling like winners, my competitive junkie filled in the blanks a little differently. I guess competition really is in the eye of the beholder.

Lockdown

imgres-6My 12 year old son, Levi, has anxiety issues. This isn’t a secret. So to those of you who might suggest that I’m exposing some kind of family skeleton, I want you to know that I always check with my family first before airing our dirty laundry in public. As long as they’re okay with it, I figure it’s fair game for public consumption.

That being said, the other day at school his math teacher sent him to his homeroom classroom to make copies for her during class. He happily complied and set off to do so. Apparently, only seconds after leaving the classroom, word got out about a ponytailed, pistol carrying stranger at a school a few blocks away. Our school went into immediate lockdown. I’m not talking “drill.” I’m talking serious, “we’re in a different kind of world after Newtown” lock down. So while Levi haplessly skipped across campus, everyone else bolted their doors, pinned up paper to cover the windows and huddled in bathrooms, closets and corners.

Levi thought it was more than strange when the door to his classroom was locked. Even more odd were the darkened windows that left no view to the inside of the room. He looked around and noted that no one else was anywhere within sight. Hmmm? He remained calm and clear-headed though and knocked softly on the door. Luckily, his teacher slyly squinted through a side gap in the papered window. Then, like an episode of “The Munsters,” the classroom door opened a crack and a hand emerged, grabbed my son, and dragged him into the room. It wasn’t until after he was safe that he felt the anxiety of the situation catching up to him. But to his amazing credit, he held it together and was able to talk himself down and maintain control of his emotions.

Maybe there’s something wrong with me. But I find the irony of this inane confluence of events staggeringly comical. I mean how is it possible that my kid, the one with severe anxiety issues, ends up on the wrong side of a lock-down, only days after the most gut-wrenching massacre in our nation’s history? I guess it’s okay to find humor in the irony since no one was hurt and nothing bad really transpired. I can’t even contemplate the real devastation that could have occurred had a copy-cat ventured onto ours or a nearby campus. Maybe the humor is simply survivor’s guilt or some kind of defense mechanism to protect myself from the overwhelming pain etched into our souls by last week’s horrific destruction.

Sometimes it’s just too painful to contemplate the very real risks we endure every day as we try to live our lives, watch over our families, and protect our precious children. And so to all who suffered a loss in Connecticut, our hearts ache over your pain. The nation grieves along with you and sends love, strength and healing to you.

May you all be blessed with a sense of peace and may God bring comfort to those in mourning who must now learn to accept the unfairness of life as they struggle to live without the earthly presence of someone so deeply cherished.

Ancient battles

I’m not a poet. I wouldn’t know how to technically craft a poem to save my life. I like to write funny. Funny is safe. Funny is easy. But sometimes nothing feels funny. Every moment hurts. Bitterly.

 

 

 

Ancient Battles

When they are small it’s so easy to

kiss away boo-boos,

Wipe soggy tears,

And dab ointment on cuts and bruises.

A mother’s salve.

Healing.

 

But time changes all that.

And pains become immeasurable.

My words cannot erase the hurt

of treacherous laughter

and taunting betrayal.

 

My heart aches inside me.

I want so to help.

Instead I remain outside his fortress,

Unable to soothe.

Ill-equipped to protect him from the child warriors

who rage at the walls of his porcelain ego.

 

We are both wearied from battle.

“Don’t give up,” I manage to eke out the words

like a fallen soldier,

desperate to embolden the barely breathing comrade by my side.

“You will win in the end.”

 

He tries to believe me.

The corner of his mouth curls just enough

to tell me he’s not ignoring me.

And then silence.

We drive on through the night

alone —

together.

His fresh wounds bleeding.

My scabs ripped open to

once again remember the agony of childhood.

 

Don’t mean to depress anyone. But this is where I’ve been living this past week. So many good, kind parents have no idea that their children are viciously tormenting others. Please, talk to your kids about bullying. Teach them that cruelty wounds deeply and childhood scars can last lifetimes. Even if you’re certain it’s “not your kid,” think again. Because it just may be.

Coyote smorgasbord

Have you ever done something so completely idiotic that you even surprise yourself by your total lack of judgement? Well, welcome to yesterday morning.

As is often the case, I walked my 8 year old son, Eli, to the bus stop about two blocks from our house. I also chose to take our two dogs, Maggie and S’more along with us. Not surprisingly, I’ve never managed to leash train the two canines, so a “walk” with them is more like an amateur wake boarding competition.

We were the first to arrive at the bus stop. But we were quickly joined by several of the usual grade school suspects. I was the only parent. Suddenly, I looked up and spotted a vicious predatory mountain lion aggressively racing towards us. Well OK, it wasn’t exactly vicious, and it wasn’t actually a mountain lion. It was a…coyote, a mean looking, mangy coyote. But mangy means hungry, doesn’t it? And on second glance, it wasn’t really racing towards us, it might have been minding its own business. But it was like 20 feet away from us and didn’t seem at all put off by me, my dogs or the little folk beside me.

I grabbed both leashes tightly as my dogs yelped and pulled towards the wild beast. Clearly they weren’t afraid. But I was. It felt like a situation on the verge of going horribly wrong. I struggled to hold the dogs back and avoid a wildlife confrontation. The coyote passed us without incident and turned the corner a few houses down. “Eli,” I said, my voice still shaking, “I have to get the dogs home so they’ll be safe. I can hardly hold them back.”

Then I corralled my two pups and headed off in the opposite direction. As I approached our house, I breathed a sigh of relief realizing we were out of harms way. But then it hit me. I had just left a cadre of elementary school children unarmed and unprotected with a rabid coyote on the prowl. What the heck is wrong with me? Sure the dogs were safe. But Eli might have been served up as Wile E’s second breakfast.
I dropped the dogs at home and turned tail to head back to the bus stop. But a few yards down the block I caught sight of the yellow school bus leaving the neighborhood.
“Phew,” I relaxed knowing that the children were safe and on route to school. Unless of course one had been eaten prior to the bus’s arrival. I heard my therapist’s voice in my head insisting I employ logic when “worry brain” starts to take over. “Nonsense,” I reasoned, “I’ve never heard of a single case where a lone coyote chowed down on a school child.”

Just in case, I drove by the bus stop on my way to work. There weren’t any entrails or blood stained concrete. I was relatively certain that no child had met with an untimely fate. But I will confess that I felt a whole lot better at 3:30 when Eli bounded off the bus surrounded by his entire posse of bus stop buddies.

Well, you know what they say, parenting is one third knowledge, one third judgement and one third luck. So in those instances when you come up a little short in the judgement arena, just pray that you’ve got a surplus of luck to fall back on.
p.s. To those of you feeling the urge to report me to child protective services and write chastising letters to the magazine: no children were actually endangered in the writing of this article. Our local coyotes are as timid as mice and as vicious as common house plants.

Classroom Socialism

“It’s totally unfair!” my nearly twelve year old son, Levi, railed. “Mrs. Y teaches advanced math and sixth grade science. She gives out these tickets for good behavior that can be redeemed for the most amazing prizes; like dinner and a movie or board games, stuff everybody really wants. But some people have her for both classes. I only have her for science since I’m not in advanced math. So it’s totally unfair. Don’t you think so?”

“Well, not really,” I tentatively began, “What’s unfair about it?”

“Mom,” he rolls his eyes at the sheer inanity of my question, “ The people who only have her for one class can’t earn as many tickets. That’s what’s unfair.”

“But it doesn’t hurt you or take away from your chance to earn tickets that some other people earn more, does it?” I ask, knowing I’m treading on thin ice. “I mean, it may take you longer to earn the prize you want. But that’s how life works. Some people are better at some things than others. Some people earn more money or drive nicer cars or live in fancier houses. Everything isn’t equal. Plus if you really wanted to, you could work harder and be in the advanced math class. But you don’t seem to want to spend the time or effort to do that.”

“Well mom,” my son reasoned, “I am trying to be happy with myself at the level I’m at and not put undo pressure on myself.” I suddenly flashed back to a book a colleague of mine wrote several years ago entitled, “What to Do When Your Kid Is Smarter Than You.” I’ll have to reread that.

“That’s fair, Levi,” I conceded. “But life is what you make it. Nobody owes you equality. If you want to earn more tickets, think of a creative way to do that. Maybe you can stay later or earn extra credit somehow. But moping about unfairness is like buying into a socialist doctrine that we, personally, do not believe in.” I gingerly stepped off my soapbox and waited to see how my remarks had landed.

“Would you like to at least hear my solution?” He asked with a hint of arrogance that made me feel embarrassed for my philosophical outburst.

“Of course,” I nodded.

“Well,” he began, “I raised my hand and told Mrs. Y that I thought her system was unfair for the reasons I mentioned. She thought about it, agreed with me, and decided to amend the system. Now everyone can only earn tickets in one class.” He offered a self satisfied smile that landed like a gentle lob into my court.

I was, I’ll admit, speechless. Finally, I gathered my wits and responded. “Well, Levi, what you may lack in mathematical acumen, you more than make up for in ingenuity and boldness. I gotta hand it to you. You spoke up for yourself and were able to affect change. That’s awesome. I’m proud of you.”

“Really?” he asked doubting my authenticity.
“Really,” I answered. “Life will always set up obstacles for you to overcome. You used your intelligence, determination and creativity to do that. It’s like my dad used to say to me, ‘You can do anything if you put your mind to it.’” Then I thought about all the kids who had ostensibly been demoted to single classroom point earners.

“But just to be safe,” I added, “Let me show you how to throw a right hook in case any of those double point people come looking for you.”

Guilt

I’m tired of traveling! No more guilt trips.

First week of school over. Both boys are happy. Have diverted several potential disasters with head on, logical intervention. Who is this family?

Don’t get me wrong, life is beyond hectic. Having kids in different schools is like trying to manage a herd of wild goats. They both have different early dismissal dates, which means you can kiss your life goodbye. They have different parent handbooks filled with different rules and regs. Totally different curricula. Yet, and I’m really not sure how this always seems to happen, they both have the same “Meet the teacher” and “Back to school” nights. Clearly I missed the parenting workshop on developing super-human talents like being in two places simultaneously.

That’s really what is escalating my current stress level. I cannot be everywhere. To drive my eldest, Levi, to school, I have to forgo walking my youngest, Eli, to the bus stop. If I pick up Levi at his regular dismissal time, I can’t stand happily across from the mailboxes sporting my best welcome home smile as Eli steps off the bus and runs into my arms. And although no one would ever believe this, I like being there to send each off into the world every morning and then enfolding them into the maternal cocoon every afternoon. I feel guilty whichever kid I’m with, because while I try to see it as a healthy way of spending quality one-on-one time with each boy, all I can focus on is what I’m missing by not being with the other.

Does every mom of two or more feel this constant stream of unmitigated guilt? I often wish I was Catholic so I could confess my shame and then somehow be cleansed of it. We don’t have anything like confessional in Judaism. Instead, we’re more like the guilt proprietors; and we do everything in house. We create the guilt, manufacture it, dispense it. We even have entire family structures devoted to marketing and promoting guilt. I for one am high up in the guilt echelon. I’m kind of like a guilt mob boss. I control all the guilt within my family, my neighborhood, and my extended territory. It’s a tough job. But I guess somebody has to do it.

Or do they? Wonder what my life would look like if I shed the weighty guilt cloak for even a day, an afternoon, what about an hour? Would the world collapse? Would havoc reign throughout the universe? Would the entire family lose their way? Rationally I know that life would go on if I ceased being a slave to the guilt monster. It’s that irrational side of me that seems stuck in this unhealthy tangle.

I’ve always given lip service to the old adage that “guilt is a useless emotion.” I guess I don’t really believe that though. The truth is that guilt fills me up in some way that I’m unwilling to let go of. Guilt must make me feel important, like I matter so much that I’m capable of enhancing, degrading or destroying other people’s lives. That’s really beyond absurd. I can no more be responsible for someone else’s life than I can for a Tsunami half way around the world. But then again there is that butterfly effect. No. I am not going there. I am not responsible for the rest of the world’s happiness, unhappiness or anyone’s personal decisions about how he chooses to live his life.

Ah, freedom. KInd of weird. Feel like I’m naked.