Zillow be damned!

UnknownYou know how you just know certain things about your kids? Like, your daughter may be delightfully quirky, but she simply wasn’t born with the grace to end up as an Olympic figure skater? Or your son might be the next Jay Leno, but chances aren’t good that he’ll win a Nobel economics prize? We all make certain assumptions about our children based on the reality of who they are and their strengths and weaknesses. Take my eldest, Levi, for example. He’s unusually bright, brimming with kindness and one of the funniest 13 year old boys I’ve ever encountered. Barring some unexpected psychotic break in his early twenties, (God forbid a million times), I feel fairly confident claiming that he is not and never will be a stalker, terrorist or mass murderer. But we live in unthinkable times where kids aren’t allowed to keep score in flag football leagues, lockers have been outlawed at most middle schools and bringing a PB&J sandwich to school can get a kid expelled for attempted homicide.

So when the fill-in vice principal at my son’s middle school called me today, I was a bit taken aback. He gently introduced himself and I immediately went into panic mode. “Is everything alright? Is Levi okay?” I asked with a tone of terror in my voice. Clearly he hadn’t spoken to enough parents in his early tenure to know that one must always begin the unexpected parental phone call with the obligatory, “Hello Mrs. Gettleman, this is Mr. X from your son’s school and EVERYONE IS JUST FINE.”

Turns out he was calling because of my son’s inquisitive mind and untraditional interest in real estate. Apparently, Levi and his classmates were sharing home addresses on googlemaps and Levi, imbued with curiosity, checked out their living quarters on Zillow.com. I cannot tell you why my son is fascinated by Zillow. Perhaps it has something to do with his unusual interest in HGTV and the myriad of home-buying programs they air. While it doesn’t float my boat, he loves watching “Love it or List it,” “House Hunters International,” and he’s entered to win the 2014 “HGTV Dream Home” at least a thousand times this year. I’ll admit it’s not typical, but I’d hardly call it risky teen behavior.

But of course, what one sane parent sees as idiosyncratic and amusing, another parent might judge as dangerous and threatening to their offspring. So I sat, slack-jawed, as I listened to this man’s explanation that a parent had called with deep concern about my son’s “inappropriate” behavior. After I determined that this was not a crank call or a set-up for an upcoming episode of Punk’d, I spoke rather tentatively. “Um…have you met my son Levi? I can assure you he’s not stalking anyone or posing a risk to other students.”

“Well, I did get a chance to talk to him,” he said, “And I too determined that he is a really sweet kid who just didn’t realize that looking up other people’s addresses on Zillow is a breach of privacy.” A breach of privacy? Really? Like every geographic, economic and political piece of information about each of us isn’t part of today’s public internet database? You’ve got to be kidding me. My kid’s in hot water because he Zillowed another kid’s house?

Maybe I’ve lost all sense of reality. Maybe I really don’t understand how dangerous the world has become. Maybe finding out that a 7th grader knew our address, square footage and Zillow Home Value Index would actually freak me out enough to call the principal and complain. Or maybe…maybe…I’m a little less neurotic than the average parent today. Now that’s a scary thought, isn’t it?

Middle school mayhem


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.”

I wanna hold your hand…

The laws of nature require moms to embarrass their sons

Ah yes, I remember middle school well. I remember the stress. I remember the struggle. But today I remembered something I had burried away in the recesses of my mind. I remembered being embarrassed by my father.

It’s a funny memory actually. My father was my best friend, my compadre, my confidant. Until about an hour ago, I would’ve sworn I idolized him every moment of my childhood. And now that he’s gone, he’s even stepped up to saintly status in my recollections. But there was this one thing he did that made me recoil with embarrassment. He tried to hold my hand in front of people. It was awful.

I remembered this today because when I went to pick up my boys after school, I was haltingly rebuffed by my soon to be 11-year-old son as I innocently reached for his hand on the way to the car. At first I told myself it was one of those inadvertent brush offs. You know, like he was swinging his arms and didn’t realize I was actually reaching for his hand. So I reached out more deliberately the 2nd time. That’s when I knew the truth. He wanted nothing to do with me. It was awful.

I then did something I thought I’d never do. I reached my hand towards his, grabbed it and held on as tightly as I could. He shuddered. He squirmed. He desperately tried to slither out of my grasp. But I held on for dear life, like a Titanic victim clutching a life raft.

“What?” I asked innocently. “Something wrong? You seem…agitated.” I offered a broad, cheerful smile along with my observation.

“Mom.” he finally wrenched his paw out of my clutches. He smiled back, cognizant of my unwillingness to peacefully put up with his growing independence.

It was then that I remembered dear old dad doing the exact same thing to me. He used to do it all the time. He’d try to trick me into grabbing his hand while I crossed a busy street. But he’d never release his grip once we were sidewalk born. He thought it was funny to see me wriggle with awkwardness as my peers passed by us hand in hand. I didn’t share his sense of humor at the time.

However, I suddenly was finding this quite laughable. I teased my son by grabbing his sleeve, then his elbow, then finally his leg in a move reminiscent of Harpo Marx. By this point he too was snickering. “Cut it out,” he chastised. “I mean it.”

Shamefully reprimanded, I did pull back and stop trying to win him over. This was clearly a rite of passage with which no parent should interfere. The laws of nature rule that boys will cease holding onto their mothers the same as girls need to let go of their dads. At least for a few years.

I’m not sure when it became okay to hold my dad’s hand again. I’m pretty sure it was after college sometime. Maybe it was after my first marriage fell apart and I felt the loneliness of the world on my shoulders. Or maybe it was after he got sick and I realized he wouldn’t be around forever. Guess it doesn’t much matter when it happened. It did. And we did hold hands again…at least for a little while.