Off to college again, sort of

I feel like we’re about to send my parents off to college, again. Well, I wasn’t there the first time, but I’m channeling my inner Grandmother Tanner.

After years and years of talking about it and a year of aggressively looking, they got their letter (well phone call) of acceptance. They’re headed to… a retirement community! I’m so proud of them. They have worked hard for years to get to this point – hosting countless family holiday gatherings; cleaning bathrooms after my brother (yuck) and me; babysitting grandkids; planting flowers and cutting grass; unclogging drains and vacuuming. The first time, my mom double majored – in vacuuming and toilet cleaning. Both earned magna cum pound cake bakey. Now perhaps they can relax a bit, have someone wait on them rather than serving all of us.

I hope they make good decisions. There’s a bar on the floor right below their apartment – a little too close for my comfort. And the building is co-ed! Could be a problem. What if they start skipping their doctor’s appointments and not following through with their at home physical therapy exercises?

With dinner out every night, dessert included, my mom might forget how to make my favorite chocolate cake! Or worse, just refuse to make it. You know what they say: practice makes perfect – she won’t be practicing.

Apparently there is a shuttle bus that will take them anywhere they want to go. I’m thankful they won’t have to drive after nights out in popping downtown Fayetteville.

Last time they visited the place for a tour there was a group of seniors playing poker in the rec room. I hope they don’t get in with THAT crowd.

I mean, I trust them. I’m sure they will make good decisions. Well, I’m sure dad will, and he’s pretty good about letting me know when mom starts skidding off the rails. I’m sure everything will be fine. My brother and I have built a strong foundation, it’s time for them to spread their wings.

But they better call at least once a week!

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56? 108?

Mae at Xmas

She don’t look bad – for her age.

Tomorrow will be my mother’s birthday, we don’t know how old she is.

We estimate she’s somewhere between 56 and 108.

My dad says that she rounds to the nearest five-year increment. She was 40 from age 38 to 43 at which time she turned 45 for another six years.

She says she doesn’t mind if we know her age. She just can’t tell us – because she isn’t sure.

I asked my dad if he had her birth certificate. He said back then they just carved your name and birthdate on a tree in the yard. Perhaps someone jotted her birthday with a quill in a family bible somewhere. Who knows? My great-grandmother had ten kids so we have no idea where the official book might be.

As we had this discussion, my father informed me that I had about one year before I would receive my AARP card. His friend then told me that membership entitled me to free sodas at the Taco Bell. I hope I don’t end up in the doughnut hole, I anticipate being on a number of meds in the future. Both of my parents have pill boxes the size of a love seat.

“It’s not medicine. It’s just supplements. We don’t have any medical issues.”

Not unless you count: sciatica, adult acne, heart stents, eyelid “enhancements”, cataracts, deafness, back and joint issues, one bum leg, a bum hip, asthma, worsening allergies, wrinkles, hair loss and insomnia.

Fortunately, they’re still pretty hip. They text, Facebook, own iPhones and iPads, dance, know how to scan photos into the computer, and come to Raleigh to drive my kids around town at least two times per month.

I guess that’s not bad for 108 (or nearabouts.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday Post 160: They’re Getting Older

It’s interesting to watch your parents get old.  I imagine my kids feel the same way.

One of my “second” moms growing up died recently.  It broke my heart.  Doesn’t seem like so long ago when we were vacationing together at Litchfield beach – playing cards, sitting by the pool, eating dinner at that humongous picnic table.

One year when in my teens, we were playing a huge game of Spoons.  It is a card game where you work to get four of a kind.  There are one fewer spoons scattered on the table than there are players.  The first person getting all four of one card quietly grabs a spoon and then, anyone can snatch one.  The player left without a spoon is the loser.

On this particular day I was rushed out of the bathroom and threw on a robe – just a robe – don’t ask me why.  Being relatively competitive, I jumped across the table to grab the only utensil left.  My robe flew above my waist exposing all of what should have been private to my mom, my friends and my mom’s friends.  Yes, I inadvertently showed my mother’s friends my business in order to win a card game.

Sweet moment – well sort of – gone by.

When do your parents stop caring for you and you start caring for them?

I’m not there yet with my folks, but when their friends get down, it makes me think.

My dad’s heart is now a stent farm.  My mom is well save her hip issues, massive allergies, swallowing problems, her teeny bladder – hmmm, maybe she isn’t well.

As much as they’ve done for me, the payback should be tremendous.

But, if I know them, there will be a limit to what they’ll allow my brother and me to do.

Whatever their issues, I’m game.  Yeah, I guess it is a responsibility and a duty to help, but that’s not why I’ll be there.  I’ll be there because I love them.  I’ll be there because they’ve been there for me.

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Animals? Grandchildren? Ahhh!!!

Posted by Danny

It hit me this past week.  I am going to have to raise my grandchildren.

We were at the beach which means an annual argument about purchasing Hermit crabs.

I’m not sure if other families have this issue; I sense it’s only us. I believe it is a genetic condition. My oldest niece started it about 15 years ago. I have her to thank.

When we go to the coast, we eat seafood in Calabash, NC. It’s where my grandfather took us. At times we’re staying two hours away from Dockside Seafood Restaurant – doesn’t matter, my father insists that’s where we go.

“It’s good food and it’s a great price.”

All true. Although if you’re driving three vehicles 240 miles each, I question if there is true savings.

On the corner near the restaurant is an enormous nic nac shop. On the porch is a cage, maybe four feet square in width and four feet tall. It is packed with Hermit crabs. Their shells have all been painted by a local “artist”. There are flowers, Picasso type designs, even Spiderman Hermit Crab – so very, very tempting.

Although we have two at home who survived the past 12 months, according to my kids it is imperative that we have more.

“We are NOT getting more crabs,” I insist. “What joy do they bring? You don’t like them in your room because they are loud at night – so they take up prime real estate on the bathroom counter. You don’t play with them – in fact, all they do is sleep. When their cage starts smelling like crustacean poo, who cleans it out? That would be me. No — No. No. No.”

“But dad…”

“You never take care of your animals. Why don’t you play with the ones you have?”

Although DJ didn’t pushing for one this year, she pointed out that her crab immediately changed shells when she got him home last year. “He left the flower designed shell I picked out and moved to the ugliest shell we had – I didn’t like him after that.”

He was probably a dude and embarrassed to be stuck in a tulip.  I wouldn’t want to live in a house with a garden painted across the front door.

I then began to toss out all of the animal failures the Tanner’s had endured:  “What about your hamster Stephanie. You never played with her.”

Miss Piggy bit! Would you play with something that draws blood on a regular basis?”

“What about the guinea pig? No one played with him.”

“If you recall, I didn’t want a guinea pig. I wanted a hamster. Mom made me get JW. Therefore, we never connected.”

That’s when it hit me.  I suddenly had the realization that I was going to have to raise my grandchildren. If my kids found fault in their child, they would simply turn its well-being over to me.

Panic grabbed my chest. I felt the car closing in.

“AAAAhhhh! What if you treat your children like you do your pets? I am not going to raise your kids. I can’t do it.”

I could see it clear as day:

“DJ, where’s my grandson?”

“Oh, well you know dad, we really wanted a girl. I guess he’s still up in his room; haven’t checked in a few days.”

Or

“Stephanie, what’s that smell?”

“I’m not changing diapers, that’s gross.”

Or

“Michelle, is that your baby screaming?”

“That’s her – but she bites.  We don’t pick her up anymore.”

I don’t know if I can do it.  I mean I’ll be 15, maybe 20 years older than I am now.  I may not have the energy.  I’m supposed to be through with diapers. 

Oh Lord – give me strength.

Traffic Duty Is Punishment For Parents

POSTED BY JESSE

I feel the need to preface this by saying I love the girls’ school. In addition to being a place that is both academically challenging and supportive, it is a great community. Much like my relationship with Danny’s family has grown and become a bright spot in the darkness of Lisa’s passing, I have been blessed and delighted and thankful and honored to become part of the St. Timothy’s community. And we are eternally indebted to the school: the support and shared grief through Lisa’s illness and death could be felt every day and continues to be. Its walls, its staff, and its students have been a true safe haven for DJ, Stephanie, and Michelle.

But I do not like traffic duty. I do not know the full logistics behind traffic duty, nor its purpose, nor its origin. I can only assume that it is founded in sound logic, because it existed (and probably even began) when Lisa was working there. If it had been totally useless I have no doubt she would have crusaded against it and had it eradicated, much the way she did the cumbersome risers in our church’s Christmas pageant. She would not have stood for anything this illogical (from my perspective), so I can naturally conclude there must be a practical reason for it. Maybe.

Not if I keep driving back and forth to school I won't

Here is what traffic duty looks like to an uninformed uncle: students in grades 6-8 (thanks goodness it doesn’t include 5th grade or we’d have two involved) are assigned by homeroom to “traffic duty” for the week. I am certain each homeroom’s week only comes up for duty once a quarter at most, but would you believe me if I said it feels like we have it every other week?

The student has to be there at 7:30 a.m.  instead of the usual time, 7:55 a.m. (that’s if Danny’s driving, more like 8:05 when I’m running the shuttle). Understandably the school does not have bus routes to and from school, so this of course means at least one parent also must rise half an hour earlier. And for parents with multiple children (that don’t happen to be twins in the same homeroom)? Well here are your options:

  1. One parent leaves at 7:20 to take the “traffic duty” kid to school, the other parent drives a second shift at 7:40 (that would be two cars leaving the same house for the same destination, 20 minutes apart).
  2. One parent takes the “traffic duty” kid while the other preps the younger siblings, then sends them out to be picked up by the parent who drove the first kid (that would be one car making the same trip twice, 20 minutes apart)
  3. You take the whole crew early and make the other two wait (not a lot of fun to roll everyone’s morning routine back 30 minutes for a week, and it probably means you’re either a) springing for breakfast at Panera to keep the non-“traffic duty”-bound kids happy or b) dropping off cranky kids at school. Or both. Enjoy that, teachers!)

And if you’re truly a single parent of multiple kids or live farther from the school than we do then your options just get worse.

As for what goes on at “traffic duty”? Well here is what I surmised, again admitting

We had Safety Patrol when I was in school. And it was voluntary.

that these are merely the observations of an uninformed outsider:

  1. 5-10 kids opening doors of cars. My guess is this was the great need and that some teachers grumbled loudly enough at the suggestion of making it a regularly rotating teacher task (as I most certainly would if I worked there) that someone came up with the plan of using students. Bear in mind these are middle-schoolers who have never actually driven a car and are not necessarily aware of the best flow, so they are liable to walk to your door even though you can see the line is about to move and everyone is going to move up a few spaces. Some kids give a warm greeting, but most seem embarrassed that they are looking inside your car. Some actually improve at learning the best way to carry out their task as the week goes on. Then we get new kids on Monday.
  2. 2 kids walking kids back and forth in the crosswalk. Bear in mind the crosswalk is where the full-time traffic guard/school security monitor stands. He is not only very good, but very necessary in directing the flow. He is kind to all of the student/parent/teacher pedestrians and not afraid to stare down an impatient car. Again, my issues are not with this wonderful man. But with him standing in the crosswalk with a large stop sign and a whistle, plus a faculty member on either side of the walk, I feel pretty certain that the kids in the walk would be safe without the “traffic duty” middle schooler escort.
  3. 5-10 kids assigned to guard a door. Ok, so I’m sure they’re really there to open the door for others and greet them warmly, but since almost every kid I see walking to school has a parent in tow, again, I do not believe unwatched doors would be a huge loss for anyone. I see kids go ten minutes without talking to another person because they’ve been assigned a remotely located door. Also, since we’re talking about middle school kids who patently object to wearing pants, their options under the uniform guidelines are shorts for boys and skirts for girls. This morning I heard them talking on “Good Morning, America” about how it only takes five minutes of exposed skin in extreme temperatures to get frostbite. Then I dropped off at school and saw more skin on the “traffic duty” kids standing outside than I did at the St. Timothy’s Dads pick-up basketball game the night before (the 30+ crowd is not big on playing shirts and skins).
  4. Remaining kids on flagpole and announcements These are two tasks that surely no one would argue take 30 minutes to prepare for, but because it has to be fair to the pre-teen popsicles who are outside opening doors, everyone has to show up at 7:30. Flag duty is definitely a good thing to learn, but why not make it the realm of the Student Council? Or at least Tom Sawyer the thing and sucker kids into getting their turn to raise the flag by making it an honor. Every kid in the school could have their official day to raise the flag and parents would come out with cameras and load the pictures onto facebook with the caption “Mikey’s first flag raising!” And I’m quite sure you could get 5-10 students to volunteer to read the announcements because getting to talk over the loudspeaker still has to be one of the coolest ten things that could happen to a kid at school. Call it the “Radio Club” and you might even inspire a career.

So with apologies to the school and whoever came up with this plan, I’m not feeling traffic duty. You can double the price of cupcake day and I’ll back you up (come on, we’re in tough times and everyone can find an extra quarter somewhere in that car). You can assign projects that no kid could possibly complete without parental help and I won’t object. But until I hear a better explanation of traffic duty, you can count me as a detractor.

Maybe I’m just grumpy because I was informed by Danny that he’s got a morning meeting tomorrow and I get to make the double-commute or buy Panera. Either way I know I’m getting up earlier.

The Casual Ditty Of The Tiger Uncle

Posted by Uncle Jesse

One afternoon last week I had the girls to myself. Stephanie was doing some homework and Michelle was in her room, downloading every new free app on her iTouch she had heard anyone mention in the previous 24 hours. I went up to her room to let her know the piano was open, and that since she had a lesson the next day it would probably be a good idea to hop on. She obliged without objection. I watched her sit down at the piano and heard her start playing. I took a brief bathroom break. When I emerged, I did not hear any piano music. I approached the piano to see if she was stuck on a part, but she had vanished. I did, however, hear the dulcet tones of Ke$sha coming from her room. Once again, I ascended the stairs.

perfect form? we're working on it“I thought you were going to practice piano,” I said with a curious tone, honestly unsure of what had happened to prevent her from practicing.

“I did.”

I looked at my bare wrist as if I were wearing a watch. I do this often when time is being called into question; rarely am I called out for not actually, you know, wearing a watch.

I had taken some reading material to the bathroom with me, but it’s not like I did the puzzles or anything. I surmised that the piano practice could not have lasted more than five minutes.

“Yeah, I’m going to need to hear those songs. I don’t think a 5-minute practice session is going to cut it.”

Protest. Shock. Not only was I asking her to resume a chore-like activity that she already considered completed, I was basically questioning her integrity. I reminded her that since she had been practicing this set of drills and songs for a week now (well, it had been a week since the last lesson–I don’t think there has ever been a “7 days a week” piano practice standard in the house) that they should basically be perfect for tomorrow’s lesson–notes, volume, rhythm, everything.

What I found when I sat to listen to the next practice was not perfection. No songThey make Cliff Notes for this stuff? went through without errors. Not once after opening the book was it viewed for the tips on how the piece should be played, the fortes and pianissimos, crescendos and decrescendos. Whole note drills were being played as half notes or faster. I decided that in addition to more practice, it was time for a gentle (ok, maybe more than gentle reminder) of what piano practice looks like.

Not surprisingly, this reminder was met with tears. But the practice pressed on, and I sat on the bench–not to look for errors any more, I assure you. I had found enough to make my point. Now, of course, I had to do the part that, more than fussy children or tears is typically the reason kids are let off the hook. I had to sit down next to her and practice the darn piano with her.

I have heard and read a lot recently about Yale professor Amy Chua and her new book on how she raised her two high-achieving daughters, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Like most of the folks who are writing, blogging, and offering opinion on Chua and her seemingly (to some) Draconian-strict methods of parenting, I have not actually read her book (this is an important question, I think, to ask anyone who seems especially fired up about Chua and her book: have you actually read the book?). I did read the excerpt in the Wall Street Journal and found it very interesting. I also suspect that Chua is a very smart woman with a very smart agent and, like the folks at the WSJ, are trying to sell as many books (or newspapers) as possible and collectively were wise enough to include some of the more incendiary revelations of the book in the excerpt.

It worked. People are talking.

I certainly did not grow up with parents who threatened to give away my toys overnight if I did not bring home perfect grades, or perform my piano pieces without flaw. But I do think I was raised with a little more of the “Chinese” upbringing with which she reared her children than some of my “Western” friends. While curfews and car rides were not met with much questioning from my parents, it was well-known to my friends not to call on the phone the night after report cards went out if there was a ‘B’ on mine. My status was “unavailable”.

[brief side story: Lisa used to combat this by lining up her friends to call at specifically calculated times, five minutes apart from each other, beginning at 8 o’clock. Each friend/caller was assigned a particular academic query and was instructed to let the operator–my Dad–know that only Lisa knew the particular answer, or who was doing what in the group project, or what pages they were supposed to read, or whatever. This served two purposes: first, it made it seem as if she were thought of as the “academic” among her friends. But more importantly, after three interruptions to “Nova” on PBS, my father would tire of relaying questions and answers, and surrender the phone. Very clever and diplomatic of Lisa. Me? I just threw my stereo down the stairs]

So unlike much of the American opinion I read about Chua and her methods, I do not think, “What a tyrant! What an awful way to raise children! She must not love them!”

Flashy cover? Check. Splashy book excerpt? Check. This thing will sell.On the contrary, I believe she loves her children very much, and that she has devoted and sacrificed much of her own time to raising them in a way she believes will lead to success and, yes, happiness for them. Her theory is not an absurd or even untested one. The thinking goes that children will kick and scream at anything that requires work and patience in the beginning, so kicking and screaming should not be deterrents. Rather, once you get through the initial push, and once a child has a taste of success, it will bring confidence. Which leads to more hard work, more mastery, followed by praise (not only from parents, but non-family members as well), all of which will lead to more confidence, more mastery, more hard work, more success, and, ultimately, happiness. Is this a terrible theory? Of course not. And, in fact, I have neither the academic training, parenting experience, nor desire to try to “set her straight” or “prove her wrong” because, again, I’m not sure she’s off base at all (though I do take issue with the way she degrades some things “Western” parents do as a way to justify her own choices. To wit: Chua says her kids were not allowed to be in school plays. Surely a child can have a small role in a performance of a school play without having “to stay after school every day from 3:00 to 7:00” and “on weekends”. And don’t even get me started on what her kids may be missing out on by not going to summer camp).

But anecdotally speaking (which, from what I can gather, is what most of her theory is based on: her own rearing and that of her children–not scientific studies on the psychology of children and parents in different cultures), I look at my sister Sallie, and think, “there has to be another way.”

I would challenge Chua or anyone to find someone who has achieved at a higher level in a more competitive field than my sister. My sister was pushed, yes, but also allowed to fail, quit the piano (and all other instruments) when she grew tired of it, choose her own field (there are no other scientists in my family–not even close), decide which activities to participate in, etc. Was she pushed by my parents? Absolutely. But sometimes after a particularly trying ballet practice in which she had felt the wrath of the instructor, my mother commiserated with her and agreed that, yes, that woman could be a…well, a meanie.

Back to Michelle and the piano. Here at the Tanner house, I am always feeling outI can't stay here for three hours a day. I just can't do it. my role. At first I concentrated on bringing the fun to the house, because we all needed it. But over time, it has become clear–and Danny will readily admit this–that we are a little lacking for Lisa’s discipline. This is not taking away anything from Danny or the girls. Again, he says over and over what a perfect pair they were, and perfectly complementary when it came to parenting. It only makes sense that, with one of them gone, something would be a little lacking, right?

But I also know I do not have what it takes to be Chua. Not even close. She is right in that many Western parents say they value their children’s independence when really they just do not want to stop watching “Modern Family” to sit next to their kids at the piano bench. And I’m no different there. I could not do it every day. Sometimes I try to crank out a silly little article before a deadline and I watch Danny move back and forth between cooking a meal, sitting at the piano bench, sitting on the couch to do flash cards, back to the meal, back the bench, and so on. I wonder if I could ever keep up the kind of energy it takes to be a “great” parent, the energy that he and, yes, the Tiger Mother, both display.

Typically, I try a little of both. I can sit on the piano bench for 20 minutes. Or I can call out flash cards for one night (hey, we have DVR, right?) But I also try to let the girls know that ultimately, and especially now that we’re down one true parent, that if they want to get ahead it’s on them.

I believe talent is overrated, and that hard work is the only way to truly achieve success. And I also believe in choices, and finding the thing or things you (not your parents) have a true passion for, and that these are the things you will want to work hardest at. So after almost every work session that begets tears (be it book work, piano work, running, dancing…any of the activities the girls are involved in at some point involve tears, I have learned), they typically hear this from me:

“Being great at anything is not easy. If playing piano were easy, everyone would be doing it. It takes work, and practice, and patience, and repetition to get really, really good at something. You are going to be GREAT at something. It may not be piano; it may be drawing or writing or leading or something else, but you are going to be great–one of the best in the world–at something. But whatever it is, you’re going to have to work hard at it. And practicing piano is a way to learn that skill. Again, I’m not saying you have to be great at piano. I really don’t care what it is you choose to be great at. But you’ve got to learn to work hard.”

Two nights ago Michelle was on the piano. I glanced at the clock to see how long she went and was disappointed when it fell short of ten minutes. But I never feel quite as comfortable pushing more piano practice when Danny’s in the house–all joking aside, he outranks me, and I worry about the one day a kid lashes back with “You’re NOT my parent!” because I’m not. But I was also fatigued from the last time we did battle at the piano bench, and I had another article to write.

But a minute later, the piano started back up. This time it had just been a pause, or a bathroom break, or a text from someone on the iTouch (since she knows how to do that now, too). But soon the piano was being practiced again, and whether it was from her desire to get better, or knowing I was within earshot and had raised the bar for what counts for practice time, I’m not sure and I don’t really care. Without getting philosophical, and without taking a lick of credit, I’d like to think that a child doubling her practice time without prompting is at least as significant as one spending three hours with hands on keys (and parent on back), banging out soulless perfection.

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