Monday, April 20, 2015

Screen Control

Albert Einstein said, “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.” I believe he was referencing the nuclear age, but I’d say it’s still relevant when it comes to the pervasive technology today.

I’m sick of screens. I say this as I stare at the screen that I spend the better part of my days with, and don’t get me wrong, I am grateful that I have this screen. I can’t imagine what it was to be a writer in the days of typewriters, or eegads, scrolls and quills. I consider this screen a necessary evil. 

The screens I am most tired of are the little ones, the ones attached to the hand of just about every living person in a lobby, waiting room, check-out line, park bench, walking path, and car. I’m waiting for the next health crisis to emerge called carpal neck syndrome or chronic far-sidedness from the act of constantly staring at these tiny screens.

I can be as guilty as the next as I sit waiting for my youngest son to finish practice that should have been over 15 minutes ago. When I try to resist the phone, I feel angsty. I look around the car for something to entertain me. I read the school papers littering the floor. I sort out the glove compartment. I pick through the nasty things crammed down in the far recesses of the center console. What did I do when I awaited my oldest son’s appearance from practices ten years ago?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A Whole New Season of Parenting

There are landmines hidden in my days. I never know when I might step into one.

I’m happily putzing along doing my thing – picking up the socks left under the coffee table, making yet another pot of tea instead of writing something, or wiping down the counter– when a thought floats through my mind, “This time next year, Brady will be gone.” I’m overcome, and have to sit down on the couch with his dirty socks in hand.

I find his socks all over the house (and a few on the porch, in the driveway, and of late – in the car). He has hot feet and has always had a horrible habit of removing his socks and abandoning them wherever he happens to be at the time, which is rarely his room and even more rarely the laundry room. He’s been doing this for 18 years, ever since I first covered his precious tiny toes with socks too small for my own thumb.

Somehow, he grew up. I wasn’t prepared for this.

All these years I’ve worked hard to raise a capable child – one that can cook a meal, pack a lunch, use his manners, put gas in the car, clean a bathroom, and be responsible for his own decisions (but not, apparently, his own socks).

The problem with this goal is, that once I’ve accomplished it – he leaves. And that is painful.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Savoring the Days

I sense that I’m losing control. Okay, maybe I never had control in the first place, but I sure thought I had it. Now I feel like a passenger in a car being driven much too fast over those hills that make your stomach do that droppy thing.

I no longer have any say in what my teenagers wear, eat, or choose to do with their time. My opinion is not one they welcome and only on a good day even tolerate. Luckily, there is still one child left here with me on the island, but even he is inching across the sand, searching the horizon and forgetting to put on his life vest despite the fact that I have a stack of them right here beside me.

I knew this was coming. We all do, right? We joke about when our kids will be teenagers, right up until the point where they are teenagers and we stumble through our days of empty cupboards, stinky laundry, unset alarm clocks, music we don’t understand, and the daily reminder that we know NOTHING and all we can think is – how did this happen?

Monday, September 29, 2014

How a Pepperoni Pizza Cake and an Annoying Little Dog Have Joined Forces to Keep Me From Fame and Fortune

It’s very easy to squander a morning wandering around on Twitter and Facebook. I clicked over there on the directive of the latest article I’d read on getting published. Since my lovely agent is busy pushing my latest manuscript on unsuspecting publishers, I thought I should help her out by following up on the advice that publishers want to see you’re active on these sites (at the very least these two, but they’d also love it if you were active on Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram, and several other social media sites I hadn’t heard of.). And here’s where the trouble begins - staying active on these sites is nearly a full-time job for those of us who are easily distracted.

All I was planning to do was tweet a clever, profound comment and get back to work, but before I could do that, I was distracted by a picture of a pepperoni pizza cake – cake! – and I had to investigate that. This proved so distracting (Admit it, that picture is WAY distracting) that I couldn't remember the clever thought I’d come up with while running this morning, so I began reading everyone else’s clever thoughts which seemed to revolve around food.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Life on a Stage

I am not my daughter. I know this logically, but it doesn’t stop me from assuming that she feels the same things I felt when I was her age or reacts to situations the way I did when I was a teen. I lay my own fears and insecurities on her, empathizing perhaps too much. She is much braver than I was or am.

I worry for her unnecessarily and don’t understand her annoyance when I try to share my sympathy or support. I spend endless hours sorting through my memories, reliving particularly painful events and imagining her experiencing a similar awkwardness. But times have changed and that old saying that nothing ever changes could not be farther from the truth. Our kids are growing up in a very different time.

We had the buffer of space and time that they don’t have in this age of instant feedback and constant images. You can’t close your door. The TV doesn’t turn all fuzzy at midnight and the phone is never busy. There is constant scrutiny 24/7. There is always someone available to chat or skype or text. It is never quiet.

Every move that is made is noted on twitter or Facebook or Tumblr or some other social network I’m too old and out of it to know about. You can’t untag some images and the lenses are everywhere recording your every move whether you want it or not.

It is nearly impossible to be a private person. People, voices, messages, images, and news bear down on you every waking moment. It makes it hard to sleep or think. All three of my teens spend almost every waking hour wearing earbuds which pound out a personal soundtrack for their lives. I wave my hands at them to get their attention in much the same way I call our deaf dog. They yank the ear buds out, annoyed before I’ve said my first word.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Trading Up for Success

We gave our 11-year-old son an iPod Touch for Christmas. It was a cop-out gift. We couldn’t think of anything “big” and his siblings were getting big presents. All he’d mentioned he wanted were nerf guns and ridiculously-expensive Lego sets. My problem with those choices is that Lego land mines carpet the floor of his room and every time I vacuum any room in our house I am forced to stop multiple times to pick up nerf bullets of every shape and size. (I would suck them right up which would be satisfying but ultimately mean more work for me since they clog up the vacuum.).

In an act of desperation, and with complete lack of forethought, we purchased an I-touch.

Here’s another little piece of background knowledge you should have – this child is my most screen-addicted off spring. He’s a sweet, obedient child but screens bring out a desperate, lying side we rarely see. Until he discovered the joys of YouTube and Minecraft we rarely fought. Now it is a scab we pick at daily.

So why, pray tell, would we buy him his own personal screen? Good question.

A few years ago, I spent a year breaking a particularly difficult horse. What made him difficult wasn’t his attitude, but his curiosity and his smarts. He taught me time and again that if I wanted him to make the right choice, I needed to make the right choice easy. Putting a screen under my child’s nose is not making the right choice easy.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Boys and Baseball

What is it about boys and baseball? I’m not talking about the kids running the bases. I’m talking about the big boys doing the coaching. There’s something about this sport that brings out previously undisplayed passions. Watching these men coach and listening to them give rousing Go-get-‘em speeches in the dugout almost always shines a light on a side of these men I never imagined. These are guys who are quietly friendly and politically polite whenever I encounter them in the hallways on Back to School Night. Even at parties, these same men happily guzzle beer, but rarely raise their voices. We make conversation about the weather, township politics, even gardening, but their eyes do not light up like they do when a ten-year-old catches a pop fly or steals second.

Every fall the e-mails begin making the rounds begging for a soccer coach. Considering the
fact that soccer is the suburban sport of choice, you’d expect to find plenty of willing coaches. Not so. My poor hubby gets guilted in to coaching almost every year even though he didn’t play soccer (he’s a lacrosse man) and travels so much he misses at least a third of the season. But when baseball season rolls around, everyone wants to coach. There are hitting coaches and pitching coaches and catching coaches galore. And these guys are experts at least in their confidence if not their ability.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a complaint or lament as much as it is a simple observation. Men love baseball. In fact, they love it so much it can reduce them to children. They argue and complain and bitch about league leadership, opposing coaches, subpar umpires, and occasionally overly enthusiastic mothers. The theatrics and drama on occasion leave me speechless while I silently think, “They’re acting like a bunch of women!” They quit the league and start their own as often as Southern Baptists in Georgia. The sport transforms them from mild mannered model citizens to zealots in search of their field of dreams. Bottomline is that it can make them nuts. Which makes the ten-year-olds running the bases sometimes look like the adults out there.

But as I said, I’m not complaining. I appreciate passion and commitment. And these men have those two things in disproportionately huge numbers. I love to see a person who believes in what they’re doing. It’s inspiring. Especially when what they’re doing is for the kids. I’m offering the benefit of the doubt on this one because most times I don’t understand the issues at stake or the level of disagreement or pettiness that can overflow like the Susquehanna.

I don’t know how much of the craziness the kids pick up on. For the most part, they simply want to play ball. I know my kid loves the game and grins ear to ear when he comes across the plate. He can deconstruct each play in which he touched the ball, explaining it to me like a patient preschool teacher. When I watch him in the outfield I’m amazed that he knows exactly where to move depending on factors like which bases hold runners, what kind of batter is at the plate, and where the ball goes when it’s hit. It’s certainly more detail than I could juggle. I keep track of the balls and strikes, outs and runs on an app on my phone. Without it I’d be lost, yet these men that crowd the dugout can replay every pitch. It’s a wonder.

One of my favorite aspects of baseball is the necessity of “backing up” the other players. The right fielder backs up the first baseman. The second baseman backs up the pitcher. The pitcher backs up the catcher. The left-fielder backs up the third baseman. I’m enamored with the concept that backing up someone is not your job because that person is bad at his job or weak with his skills. It’s simply because none of us are perfect. Sometimes the ball gets through, and sometimes you can’t hold on to a hard hit. What a beautiful life lesson. We need to back each other up. And we need to be backed up. Not only does the concept of backing up each other cement a team, many times it is the difference between winning and losing.

Another valuable lesson that baseball teaches is that if you don’t swing, you can’t get a hit. If you strike out swinging, at least you tried. No one gets a hit every time, and the boys who get the big hits strike out plenty. To strike out swinging is nothing to be ashamed about. Life is all about taking a swing. If you sit on the bench or stand still at the plate, you won’t get anywhere in baseball or life. It’s quite the metaphor.

I hope that when my son graduates from Little League, he takes with him many of the lessons he’s learned there. I hope he always has the courage to take a swing and I hope he always has the strength to back up the people around him. And I truly hope there will always be someone out there to back him up.