Matzah, Marvel and Maternal Remorse

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“Where are you going with those?” I ask Eli, my twelve year old son, as he suspiciously tries to slink out of the house for school carrying three unopened boxes of leftover Passover matzah. “Um…nowhere,” he answers. “Bye mom. Have a great day.”

“Wait just a minute, Eli,” I’m not ready to let this go. “Why are you taking three boxes of matzah to school after Passover?”

“I thought they were leftover.” He chirps.

“Yeah… So what?” I challenge.

“Alright mom,” he confides. “But if I tell you you can’t get involved. Promise?”

These are always my favorite intros to any conversation with my kids. Promising not to get involved isn’t something I’m apt to do easily.

“I promise nothing,” I say. “Now what’s with the matzah? And if you miss the bus you’re walking to school. So start talking.”

“I’m selling them to a friend.” he sheepishly confesses.

“Selling them? For how much?” I inquire.

“Fifteen dollars,” he tells me.

This is the part where I go berzerk. “Fifteen dollars? Who would buy matzah for fifteen dollars? That’s insane.” I grab the matzah and insist that it is not being sold to anyone. “If you want to give your friend the matzah that is perfectly alright. But you are not selling it to him for any amount of money.”

“But mom, we made a deal. And you always say ‘a deal is a deal.’ He wagered with me willingly. I’m just fulfilling my side of the bargain”

As I delve into this, I learn that Eli has been making money on the side selling a variety of useless items to his pals who only want Eli to play more advanced PS4 video games with them. Eli has a limited number of players, and since his mother is a meanie and wont splurge endlessly on Disney Infinity and Marvel superhero characters for the PS4, Eli has had to turn to his own ingenuity to raise the funds to support his virtual reality video habit.

“Joey begged me, mom,” Eli pleaded. “He just really wants me to be able to play with him and I don’t have the Star Wars Battlefront Seasons Pass. Can I please go now?”

Then I pulled out my ace. I was sure I had this one in the bag. “Well Eli,” I say, “If you feel that selling something like matzah, that you didn’t even pay for, to Joey, or any other friend, for way more money than it’s worth, is the right thing to do, then you go right ahead. Just make sure you feel good about yourself and what you’re choosing to do.” Ha. This was a page from any good Jewish mother’s parenting book. I felt the guilt dripping off each word as it slowly and purposely rolled off my tongue. No way Eli would collect the cash and exploit a pal with this jolt of maternal consciousness infecting his psyche.

But alas, even sure things sometimes go awry. When Eli came home from school he laid down the fifteen dollars from Joey along with all of his Chanukah and birthday money  and asked if he could use my amazon account to purchase his Star Wars Battlefront Seasons Pass. “Mom, I tried to tell Joey I didn’t want the money,” He explained. “I swear I offered to just give him the matzah for free. But he wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. He insisted, mom. Really.”

I reluctantly gave permission for Eli to buy the Season’s Pass and have been pondering this decision ever since. I’m plagued with guilt over taking another child’s money to pay for a game I wasn’t willing to buy for my son myself. I am deeply perplexed about where Joey so easily scored $15. Did his parents know he was subsidizing Eli’s PS4 practice? Would they think we were shameful people, taking money from their 12 year old son? Maybe they did know about it and were under the impression that we were from some sort of underserved North Scottsdale barrio. Maybe they believed their son was merely giving back to his community as they had undoubtedly modeled through their own charitable endeavors.

The more I mulled this over, the more awful I felt. But I had set this up for Eli to make his own decision and I fiercely believe in allowing your children to make choices and live with the consequences of those choices. I told him to follow his conscience and he had. Only his conscience didn’t lead him to the conclusion I had hoped it would. Now what?

“Is there anything Joey wants that his parents wont give him?” I asked after a few hours of hopeless deliberation. “Maybe we can get him something, you know like a toy or a PS4 game?”

“Mom,” Eli chastised, “Joey has everything. There’s nothing we could get him that he doesn’t already have.”

“But maybe there’s something he’d like that he might not buy for himself?” I pushed. “It doesn’t have to be a big thing. Just something to let him know we appreciate him and his friendship.”

“Well,” I could see the wheels turning in Eli’s head, “He really loves his gecko, Emily. Maybe we could get him something for her.”

“OK, that’s a good idea,” I said, “What do you think she might like?”

“Hmmm…” he looked at me coyly for an extremely long moment. “I know. How ‘bout a PS4 controller? They don’t use joysticks anymore so Emily could play with us. I know they would both love that.”

In the Disney Marvel Battleground Universe, I think I’m being set up for a gigantic Hulk smash.

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.

Baby you can drive my …bus

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“Why aren’t you at the bus stop?” I sleepily barked at my 15 year old son, Levi, as I pulled on a sweatshirt and emerged from another night of tossing and turning. “It’s 6:20. I can’t drive you to school. I have a breakfast meeting…”

“Mom,” he calmly reassured me, “Relax. My regular bus driver is out this week. There’s a sub taking his route. She’s not my regular driver, but she’s very nice. She has to run her own route first so she wont get to my stop until 6:42. I spoke with the dispatcher earlier this morning.”

“You spoke with the dispatcher?” I asked with complete incredulity.

“Yeah,” he said, “After waiting at the corner for 25 minutes in the cold last week, I decided to look into things and learned about the change in drivers. Apparently Ernie is out having some minor surgery. So Sheila is filling in. I expect Ernie will be back on Monday.”

“You spoke with the dispatcher?” I muttered still struggling to comprehend the reality at hand. How is it possible, I wondered,  that a child of mine could be this organized, systematic and methodical? These are not skills that I possess in any quantity. His creative spirit, sense of wonder and off the charts enthusiasm smack sharply of all things me. But this…this…unbridled resourcefulness and time management talent was his and his alone.

“Well, have a great day,” I announced as I  started my coffee, still pondering this amazing occurrence. He gave me a quick peck on the cheek, grabbed his backpack and headed out. “You too,” He said. “Hope your day is amazing.”

Two days later I had all but forgotten my son’s shrewd ingenuity and was focused instead on his typical teen boy behavior; the atrocious mess in his bedroom, his laundry littering the floor, his sassy come backs to…almost everything.

“You haven’t heard about my ridiculous morning,” he started as I annoyedly shuffled his breakfast dishes into the dishwasher at 4:30 in the afternoon. “You know, Levi,” I griped, “I’m not your maid. You know better than to leave dishes in the sink. I have more important things to do than clean up all day after you and your brother.” I was frighteningly sounding like my mother and hating myself in the process.

“Sorry,” he chirped casually, “It wont happen again.” This was a vow I had heard thousands of times before.I took a deep breath, thought about what was really important, and said, “Tell me about your ridiculous morning.”

“Well,” He began, “I was at the bus stop at 6:15 today. My regular driver was supposed to be back. But there was a big Cox truck right at the corner. There was another sub and I guess she didn’t see me behind the truck and she just drove right by me. So I immediately called the bus company and spoke with the dispatcher on duty. I told him what had happened while I was running to the final stop in the neighborhood. It was about a half mile away. But I ran hard. I told the guy to radio the driver and let her know that she’d inadvertently passed me and that she should wait for me right outside the back gate. So that’s what they did. Of course she was

irritated when I finally got there and said, ‘Next time, be out there on time.’ To which I respectfully replied that she clearly had not received full explanation of the event. I clarified that I was there on time and that she didn’t see me and drove right past me. ‘Oh,’ she reluctantly acknowledged, ‘Sorry.’”

Again I was stunned by his problem solving capabilities and take-charge attitude. I had to concede to myself that had this happened to me I would undoubtedly have headed home, woken my parents, and insisted on someone driving me to school. This was a young man, unlike any teenager I have ever known, who saw a problem and instead of turning  it into his parent’s responsibility, relied upon his own quick thinking and inventiveness to remedy the situation. This is a kid, I realized, who can make it on his own.

That thought was both empowering and crippling if truth be told. I felt a deep sense of pride and admiration for Levi’s self-reliance and strength of character. At the same time, there is a minute sense of loss when a parent recognizes that their offspring really can survive and thrive without any assistance from them.

“You’re one amazing young man,” I told Levi as he shoveled in the remainder of the last bag of cinnamon pita chips I was saving for myself. He looked a little like Cookie Monster with the crumbs carelessly cascading from his mouth. “Thanks,” he said smiling broadly. “You’re a pretty amazing mom too.”

The art of parental consequence

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“Mom, have you seen my monologue for the school play?” My 15 year old son, Levi, asks in a quasi panic mode. “No,” I reply. “Did you leave it on the floor of your room?”

“Yeah, I did.” He’s already starting to sound a bit sassy. “It was here this morning when I left for school.”

“Oh, bummer.” I say, trying to muster up all the empathy I can find. “I must’ve tossed it when I threw out everything on your floor this morning when I gathered up your sheets for the laundry.”

“You threw  it out?” He whined, “How could you do that? Now I wont be able to audition for the school play. I can’t believe you would do that.”

“Gosh sweetie, I am so sorry. I can’t always tell what’s garbage and what’s important. Maybe it would be better for you to pick up your room on a daily basis. Anyway, I’m sure you’ll figure something out.”

Levi moped around the house for the next few hours periodically  giving me dirty looks whenever I crossed his path. I remained upbeat and detached. I was in teacher mode and I could not let my emotions get involved.

Finally I see him scurry into my office to use my computer. He furiously types in something and I watch his eyes light up. “Got it.” He says victoriously. I couldn’t resist. “Got what, hon? What did you find?”

He then goes on to explain that he went to the play publisher’s website (Samuel French) and searched for the title of his school play, “The Elephant’s Graveyard.” by George Brant. “Luckily,” he tells me, “They had a few sample pages of the script and my monologue was in the sample. Isn’t that awesome?”

“Your monologue was in the sample pages?” I disbelievingly replied. “You’re kidding. Well…that’s great. Just great.” He printed it up and went ahead memorizing and putting actions to the words for his upcoming audition.

Now normally I want to see my kids succeed. I want them to be happy, to do all of their homework, to get good grades, and of course to be cast in the school play. But I was seething. How does a kid get this lucky? The audition is tomorrow. He loses the monologue which he needs for the audition. I try to teach him a valuable lesson. But the one page he needs seems to magically appear for him to save the day and undermine the lessons I’m so desperately attempting to instill within him. What’s a parent to do?

One week later:

Levi didn’t get the callback for the school play. He was moderately disappointed. I feel slightly responsible. But the truth is he didn’t prepare and that wasn’t because of me. Maybe next time he’ll work harder, start earlier and be more responsible with his materials. Or…maybe he’ll just join the speech and debate club which will probably serve him better in the long run.