Livin’ the sitcom life

Even with our eldest child at college, the home front remains a bustling joint with two active teens on hand.

Either someone is running in, sweaty and shower-needy, from a sports practice, or is dashing off to confirmation or a concert, or is STARVING and has to EAT SOMETHING NOW, or is in the throes of a homework assignment at 10 p.m. that’s taking longer than expected (although s/he said at 5 p.m. it “will only take a few minutes” and then delayed its start until 8:37 p.m.), or arrives for a quick meal with unannounced friends in tow, or needs a ride, or lost a critical article of clothing in the laundry mix, or—well, this illustrates the typical scene.

And while there are rarely blocks of unclaimed time available for something as leisurely as TV-watching in our household, our youngest has developed the not-altogether-approved habit of switching it on at odd moments, most commonly during dinner on nights when he is eating alone because schedules have scattered three of us across town or region.

That’s how he discovered “The Middle,” a half-hour sitcom set in a small Indiana town that depicts, in comedic style, the lives of the middle-class Heck family. Dad Mike and mom Frankie (played by Patricia Heaton of “Everybody Loves Raymond” fame), plus their three kids (like ours, an eldest son, middle daughter and youngest son), experience crazy situations that are all-too-relatable.

So relatable, in fact, that when the rest of our family finally found itself in one place at the same time and watched an entire episode, we stared at each other with knowing eyes and dropped jaws, spending a minute in stunned silence.

“Mom, are you, like, secretly writing for this show or something?” my daughter suspiciously inquired.

“I wish,” I replied, picturing the riches that must roll the way of TV sitcom writers relative to the income of lowly freelancers like me.

“Do they have a secret camera somewhere in our house?” mused my son, studiously peering around the kitchen, his gaze lingering on THE IDENTICAL cow print that hung on a wall of the Hecks’ house.

“Wow, I was starting to wonder,” I said, trying to laugh.

How does this real-life episode sound as a possible plot line for Frankie?

Our daughter’s first cross country meet of the season was a “night run” on a golf course outside of Canby–very rural, very dark, very unfamiliar.

Cutting it close, as usual, three of us leaped out of the car after parking far down a gravel road, which was already lined for nearly a mile with the vehicles of more timely spectators. Despite earlier storm warnings, the weather looked good, so we left our umbrellas in the car.

The sky darkened as we watched the girls’ race, before all daylight disappeared and the boys took off. We were following the action when fat drops of rain began pelting us, slowly at first, but soon accelerating.

“I’ll run to the car and drive it close to the entrance,” I volunteered, thinking I’d be out of the deluge faster that way.

I darted up a slope and turned in the direction I supposed was that of the road. But as the rain kept pouring down,  I became enveloped in streams of rain and blackness–and, with my glasses as useless as a windshield without wipers, I couldn’t see anything, much less a road.

Stumbling in mud, I happened upon…the most distant portion of the boys’ course, and I had to pause as runners passed, praying none of them recognized me as I tried desperately to get my bearings. Somehow spotting a similarly soggy course monitor, I cried, “Where’s the road?”

“That way,” she pointed–about 45 degrees away from where I’d been heading.

Changing course, I finally reached the road but couldn’t locate our car, so I pressed the panic button on the key fob. With alarm beeping and headlights flashing, I pushed forward until I collapsed, dripping, in the driver’s seat.

When I’d guided the car down the narrow gravel road, now crowded with other spectators and runners also frantically seeking shelter, I called my husband, who I could see standing about 50 yards away–looking in the opposite direction from where I was blocking traffic.

Another successful family outing!

Roll ‘em?

 

 

Investing in our future

Yep, it’s September, so the kids are back in school–and so are the teachers and staff.

Cafeteria lunches are being dished up, homework is being graded, quizzes administered, athletic games played, test scores analyzed, locker combinations learned, routines established.

And this week, however early in the year, is Worthington High School’s Homecoming. The Trojan Field lights are primed for tonight’s football game and appearances by the WHS Homecoming court, choir and marching band to boot.

With all that activity under way, it’s easy to lose sight of what keeps this education train chugging along on a daily, monthly and annual basis: state, local and federal taxpayer funding. We’ve come a long way from drafty one-room schoolhouses dotting rural landscapes, but there’s never a shortage of needs, even in this age of air-conditioned buildings and school-issued electronic learning devices.

Achievement gaps persist, language barriers can exist, too many students report for the first day of kindergarten without invaluable early childhood education experiences, some kids are victims of domestic abuse and others arrive from deprived homes with incomes well below the poverty line.

Adequately educating student bodies that walk through our school doors with such a wide variety of challenges, backgrounds, needs and abilities is obviously not a simple task.

And yet our future–the future of Worthington, Minnesota, the United States–depends on it. If the current generation of students falls behind and/or fails to meet minimum educational standards, with what are we left? Where will we find the engineers to design and maintain our roadways and bridges, or the nurses to staff hospitals and clinics, or the meteorologists to alert us to weather patterns?

Today at 9 a.m., a kick-off rally for the District 518 referendum takes place at WHS. The district is requesting a $500-per-pupil levy for a 10-year period, with the vote going to the people on the Nov. 4 general ballot.

A vote in its favor will maintain the essential level of support the district receives for students, and the proposed new assessment is not dramatic (homeowners of $100,000 houses will realize an annual increase of $13.40 per year, while owners of $125,000 houses will pay an additional $16.75 annually, the district’s materials cite).

Considering that many teachers pay hundreds of their own dollars to supplement what is provided for their students (a recent survey conducted by the National School Supply and Equipment Association–notably, NOT a teacher advocacy group–reported that a full 99.5 percent of U.S. public school teachers spent at least some out-of-pocket money for the 2013-14 school year on classroom or other instructional supplies, with a per-teacher average of $485 annually expended by those surveyed), this doesn’t seem like an exorbitant amount to ask.

Additionally, our schools strive to meet state and federal mandates that are, nevertheless, unfunded by those governing organizations, leaving local administrators with no choice but to direct dollars to cover those imperatives (even if they wouldn’t otherwise be first on the list of budgeting priorities).

A pair of creative teachers (one a physical education instructor, the other a science specialist) from Union Grove, Wis., has made a start-of-school video for a third consecutive year, spoofing popular songs (last year they used “That’s What Makes School Beautiful,” this year it’s to Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose”) to cleverly fire up their high school students for the year ahead and to reinforce a few basics (stay awake, be on time, do your homework, pay attention in class).

They also manage to clearly convey the notion that, really, American students are darn lucky to have the opportunity to learn and attend schools that have, for the most part, decent standards, buildings and educators.

Ultimately, education is about opportunity, and school is where kids can grow and learn so they can, in turn, become contributing, productive citizens.

Locally, referendum volunteers have chosen the theme “Strong Schools = Strong Communities: Invest in Our Future.”

And that’s an opportunity we can’t afford to waste.

 

Calculating minds

It was a date.

My husband and I had agreed to rise early on a rare Thursday when he was scheduled to “vacation” from work in order to tackle some at-home projects, with the intent to squeeze in a run before charging headlong into necessary tasks.

He, being a focused firstborn, followed through with his end of the bargain, rolling out of bed at nearly his usual time and brewing his customary pot of strong coffee to get the juices flowing.

I, a slacker second child, ignored his departure and promptly returned to dreamland.

But not much later, a slight noise–the recycling truck? an outer door creaking?–alerted me to the reality that morning was already in progress, and I jerked unsteadily toward the window, whipping up the shade just in time to see him passing through the door in running gear.

Still lacking my glasses, I called out to him, “I’ll be right down,” and quickly I threw on shorts, a t-shirt and socks before scooting down the stairs.

“I wondered if you were coming, but I didn’t hear anything so I thought I’d go ahead,” he explained, waiting as I tied my tennies and guzzled a half cup of hot, necessary caffeine.

“It’s okay,” I said. “Since it’s later, let’s just go for a shorter run–maybe down the street, through the park, up the path and back.”

He agreed and we were soon off, he with noticeably more pep and vigor in his step than I had in mine. But I was moving, taking strides, and before long the relatively cool air and bright mid-August morning were motivating me.

Because I’d dressed myself (bleary-eyed and blind) without regard to his get-up, we both happened to be wearing black shorts and matching Dri-fit shirts in bold gold-and-black from the recent local Mary Kay 5K. So much for being inconspicuous.

“How far have we gone?” I inquired as sweat started collecting on my forehead.

“Less than a mile,” he answered, having previously charted most possible jogging routes around town leading from our house.

“Are you sure?” I replied, incredulous.

“Yes, we’ve been running seven minutes,” he said, consulting his watch in mid-step. “Unless you’re running a seven-minute mile.”

“Oh,” I said, chastened. “But it feels like it’s been at least a mile.”

“How far will it be if we follow the path home?” I pestered my reluctant running coach.

“Well, it’s about one kilometer from here to our house, so 1.1 or 1.2 miles altogether,” he answered with precision.

“Really?” I queried, doubting his calculations. “I thought it was at least a mile and a half.”

I volunteered that it would still be far enough for me on this particular morning, while he determined to do an additional loop on another path to extend his distance.

“So you’ll run about four miles, then,” I said encouragingly when he detailed the route.

“No, that will be about two more miles, and two plus this one will be a little over three,” he said patiently.

“But this is really closer to two, so it’s more like four,” I contended, irrationally desiring to extend my own run without expending further effort.

“Jane, two plus one is three, not four,” he responded, giving me a quizzical glance.

I complained, “That’s why I had problems with math–there’s just no room in it for personal interpretation and creativity.”

And this, friends, is why I may not be in adequate shape to run the Turkey Day 10K on Sept. 13. In sum, running’s all in the numbers–and apparently every one counts.

Doing it with pride

Our recent, week-long family vacation in Colorado revealed many things, more of which may be shared in future musings.

A few fast insights:

- My youngest son can contrive the most crazy-making sounds and songs ever known to humankind, and then continue producing them long enough to drive his siblings to the verge of fratricide.

- When you see people in Colorado wearing t-shirts proclaiming, “Dude, I think this whole town is high,” it may be truer (in multiple ways) than one might initially suppose.

-  Given the opportunity, kids might actually enjoy visiting ancestral graves and family “historical sites.”

And, although Coloradans like to boast that their state enjoys, on average, 300 days of sunshine annually, it nevertheless CAN rain there; we managed to be present for two of the rainiest days the state has experienced recently. That meant collecting a soggy raincheck for some hoped-for outdoor activities and finding other ways to occupy ourselves–not too difficult a challenge in the Denver area, which bursts with museums, restaurants, shopping and other attractions.

On the first rainy afternoon, we took advantage of the state’s generous offer of a free, one-hour tour of the Colorado State Capitol building in downtown Denver. Our guide, a pleasant and well-spoken young woman, ably led our group up and down the marble-walled corridors while relating easily digestible facts and tidbits about Colorado history, politics, key historical figures and the building’s architecture and construction.

One point that stuck out to me was her comment that all of the brass in the capitol–handrails, posts, lamps, etc.–was hand-polished on a daily, rotational basis by two employees whose sole job was to do only that.

Indeed, all visible brass nearly sparkled, so clean and shiny it was. I examined a railing and could find not a single flawed inch of it, though it was yards long.

Those employees were not personally seen during our time there, but their work spoke for them–they were meticulous, responsible, hard-working people who clearly take immense pride in their jobs and their contributions to the overall impression that Colorado, and its state capitol building, were quality, worthwhile places to be.

I couldn’t help but think that those brass polishers, whoever they are, were equally important ambassadors for the state as its governor, and their work was as much “on display” to the public as the governor’s might frequently be.

The next day was even rainier, so we sought refuge at the factory of Hammond’s Candies in an industrial area of northern Denver. A complimentary factory tour again led me to appreciate the hard work of dedicated employees, even while our family took its leisure.

There, in full view of dozens of tourists (with many eager kids pressing tongues and noses to the glass), Hammond’s Candies workers stirred enormous vats filled with sugar, water and corn syrup, poured out hot mixtures onto gleaming stainless steel trays, manipulated 70-pound bundles of sticky ick into ribbon machines and taffy pullers, expertly twisted ropey lengths into candy canes or enticing lollipops and still managed to smile occasionally at the gaping visitors, even while working repetitively at a rapid pace.

To say it was hard to resist purchasing every item on sale in the retail area we were deposited into at the tour’s conclusion would be an understatement–and it’s no exaggeration to admit I felt like a kid in a candy store, because, well, I literally was.

Surrounded by the very lollipops, chocolates, candy canes, ribbon candies, “chicken bones” and yes, fudge, those good people had produced with their own hands on the other side of the wall made it difficult to say no to any product, and instilled a distinct desire to support the employees, and their company, with one’s purchase.

Russian actor Konstantin Stanislavsky memorably noted, “Remember: There are no small parts, only small actors.” Similarly, there are no small jobs, only people who don’t think their work matters.

And let me tell you, when brass shines and candy beckons, it couldn’t be clearer that every job worth doing is a job worth doing well.

 

Basic instincts

At 5:15 a.m. one day last week, I sprang from my pillow, wide awake.

No alarm had rung, no thunder rolled, no husband had yet stirred, nor did I have to be anywhere before 6 a.m.

So why did I jolt from my dreams over an hour before I normally would? Because my eldest son had drawn the early shift at one of his part-time summer jobs and was due for duty at 5:30 a.m.

At 19, he has happily weathered one year at college without ever sleeping in and missing a class or an early morning work assignment, and each of my three kids long ago developed the habit of setting their own alarms on school days and other dates when a certain waking time is required.

But somewhere deep inside, I knew my son needed to rise sooner than usual, and my internal clock somehow set itself to alert me to listen for the sounds that would indicate he was on his way exactly when he needed to be. It wasn’t until after I’d heard him descend the stairs, make his way out the door and start the car that I was able to fall back to sleep for a period.

Motherly instincts die hard, and even when we no longer need them, they don’t necessarily disappear. Before I was a mother myself, I remember watching (with a slight degree of disbelief) moms of preschoolers stand, swaying gently back and forth, as though they were still quieting infants in their arms–though those former infants were now tearing around the park on their own strong legs and showed no signs of slowing down for their mothers and a nap time lullaby anytime soon.

After motherhood found me, the “Mommy Sway” became part of my kinetic repertoire, too, and likely didn’t take leave of me until my youngest was nearing 5. Where’s the “off” switch for parenting patterns?

Another mommy trait which my kids–all teenagers now–frequently tease me for still possessing is the habit, ingrained through years of “teachable moments,” of pointing out people, places and things as we make our way about town or further afield.

“Look! It’s a cow! Moo! Moo! Cows give us milk…and ice cream!” I might once have detailed as we cruised down a rural highway. Or, in a city, “Do you see the blonde lady with the red purse? She’s tall,” or, “There’s a baby! Wave to the smiling baby!”

These days, if I lapse into that type of behavior (arguably with more advanced vocabulary and perhaps to draw attention to something subtler), I invariably suffer the teenage eye-roll and earn a response more like this: “WOW, mom, how old do you think I am?”

Hmmmm….. Good question. While, intellectually, I am well aware of my kids’ correct ages and know that not one of them is under 5’7, sometimes the Mommy Instinct betrays me and I’m back to the days when the slightest dark-of-night crib movement had me on the run to check the baby’s breathing, or my mind’s eye shows me a cheerful 13-month-old feeding himself in a high chair rather than the long-limbed 19-year-old currently before me who inhales his lunch while simultaneously absorbing news feeds on his laptop.

“Hey, it’s because I took the time and made the effort to tell you all those things that you got so smart, kid,” I sometimes retort to an impatient teen who chides me for sharing observations he/she can now easily grasp without my help. “How do you think you learned what a cow was in the first place?”

Such insights are met with the occasional sigh or sheepish shrug, and I guess that’s understandable. I feel the same way when my own mother persists in calling me “Janie,” even though no one else has used that name for me since I was about 6.

I get it, mom (even if I don’t like it!). And I also know why I can’t help but awaken when my kid has to be somewhere at 5:30 a.m., even though he is perfectly capable of getting up and heading off to work by himself, “big boy” that he is.

Diapering? Easy to leave behind. Caring? Not so much.

 

A little less conversation

A length of tangled, curly cord, stretched as far as possible from the kitchen where family members might be perched to overhear, served to connect me with my friends when I was a teenager. Naturally that cord was attached to one of the two rotary dial telephones in our house–eventually, one phone was replaced with a modern push button model, which expedited calls somewhat.

Decades later, I can still recite on demand the phone numbers of several close friends from my youth, because memorizing was the only way to avoid the process of looking up a number in the fat phonebook.

Back then, making a phone call took a measure of time and intention, and was something a person could only do from a specific location–an office, one’s kitchen or maybe a phone booth (“A WHAT?” you can almost hear all those under-20s asking). Sitting on a swing and casually chatting, or phoning home from the grocery store to check what was on the list you’d inadvertently left on the counter, were unthinkable possibilities.

As Cole Porter aptly lyricized, “Times have changed.” Things I shuddered at when reading George Orwell’s “1984″ have long since come to pass–people actually sign up to have their images visible as they speak long distance to others (Skype, anyone?), and Snapchat allows users to instantly send photo messages, only to have them vanish after a mere five seconds.

So it was with great sorrow but a cold jolt of recognition that we learned two weeks ago a 33-year-old wife, mother and nurse (Andrea Boeve of Steen) had died due to the alleged distracted driving (in this case, cell phone use) of another young person. While sadness at the loss of such a vibrant, needed woman was the predominant emotional response, I am confident many among us also gasped, “I could have been that driver.”

Our world has evolved in such a fashion that only a teeny percentage of individuals is without a cell phone of one kind or another. A June 2013 report of the Pew Research Foundation revealed that 91 percent of U.S. adults owned cell phones, with 56 percent having smartphones. The 12- to 17-year-olds aren’t far behind, with 78 percent of them claiming phones, 37 percent of which are smartphones.

With U.S. adult cell phone ownership having grown from 65 percent in November 2004 to 91 percent by 2013  (and presumably that figure has risen by now), the Pew researchers concluded, “Cell phones are the most quickly adopted technology in the history of the world.”

It’s likely that Andrea Boeve had a cell phone in her own pocket on the morning of June 30, and the driver who struck her wasn’t really doing anything most of us aren’t guilty of at least occasionally–fiddling with our phones when we should be concentrating on something else.

The grief and pain her family will continue to feel won’t quickly pass, but maybe Andrea Boeve leaves us all with another lesson, however unintended. At the time of her death, she wasn’t worried about her job but was instead experiencing a lovely summer’s morning with her two little girls, having taken them for a bike ride and a short visit to their grandma’s house. She was getting a little exercise, spending time with people she loved, making space for a few meaningful moments in her life.

We can all benefit from remembering that multi-tasking isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, that we should appreciate the people we are with at the time we are with them rather than checking our phones every 23 seconds to see who ELSE might be wanting or needing to contact us. We should try to enjoy the moment we are in rather than always worrying about the next moments to come–those will arrive soon enough.

It might seem old-fashioned now, but maybe there was some merit in those long-gone, tangled-cord days, when we were essentially forced to do one thing at a time, to talk with one person at a time, to concentrate on our driving when we were driving and on our phone calls when we were talking, but not on both in the same split second.

Surely we can all learn from this tragedy: When you’re behind the wheel, make safe driving your sole focus.

 

 

Goooaaaalllll!!

With World Cup soccer matches underway, futbol/fuBball fever has infected millions of fans around the globe, not to mention locally.

My household is no exception, and even though we lack cable TV (go ahead and speculate!), the three soccer-mad males on hand have found creative ways to stay on top of a lot of the action.

Though the U.S. challenges Belgium in Brazil as I write, a few soccer games played closer to home remain on my brain. That’s because my 13-year-old son has been part of a Worthington Area YMCA Futbol Club team for a fourth consecutive season, and the enthusiasm of the league’s players is remarkable.

Last year, the U12 team was the state runner-up in its class, having overcome obstacles such as four-hour bus rides to distant fields on non-air conditioned school buses (largely paid for by team members’ families) in nearly 100-degree heat. This year, more players meant more teams, so my son has been on the U14 rec-plus team (comprised largely of other 13-year-olds like him), while the older athletes have filled the roster of a U14 competitive team (with a few of the best 13-year-olds thrown in to round things out).

So far this season, the U14 competitive team (playing as a C3 team in the Southwest District) has a 10-0 record, having scored more than 10 goals in six of those games–and with only three (THREE) goals total scored by their opponents.

The U14 rec-plus team has also enjoyed great success, having lost only two games this year and competed in tournaments at Brookings and Sioux Falls, S.D.–and just last weekend, in the popular Burnsville FIREcup Tournament (with over 200 teams participating in games at numerous southwest metro fields).

Watching this group of boys from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds (Mexican, Salvadoran, Guatemalan, Laotian, Sudanese, Karen, Eritrean and Caucasian, among others) band together and kick it with undying energy and drive is, truly, nothing short of inspirational. The skill, strength, teamwork and determination they display every time they take the pitch almost knocks your socks off–and I’m not exaggerating.

Other teams underestimate them at their peril, but many have nevertheless done just that.

Take last weekend, for instance. The U14 rec-plus team played at the Burnsville FIREcup in a higher class than they’d competed in all season, borrowing only four 14-year-olds from the local U14 competitive team for the occasion. This occurred because the tournament officials misread the registration and told our team representatives on site they had expected our undefeated U14 competitive team, so they’d placed them in the tougher C2 bracket against other suburban Twin Cities clubs with strong records.

And guess what happened? Although the Worthington kids lost their first match to Eagan in a closely fought 3-2 contest, they prevailed over Chanhassen/Chaska 5-4 later Saturday, then toppled Burnsville 4-1 on Sunday morning, thus qualifying for the championship game (against initial foe Eagan) late Sunday afternoon.

While the seemingly well-heeled Eagan fans lined up mostly in blue-and-white apparel, the Worthington supporters were more colorful in every way possible. It appeared Eagan’s crowd (which skeptically eyed the opposition) thought they had the championship sewed up–but were they ever wrong.

Buoyed by the non-stop cheers from their supporters, the Worthington team played with such heart and skill that nothing could have stopped them. Yes, they emerged the victors, 2-1, with the trophy for the tournament’s C2 bracket, and broader smiles (and stinkier socks) were simply unimaginable.

What a delight it’s been to be a part of this soccer juggernaut, if only from the sidelines. Worthington residents should know how well these young athletes have represented this community, with smiles, handshakes and sportsmanlike conduct the rule, even in the face of questionable calls and underdog expectations.

We’ll watch with pleasure as the U14 and U17 competitive teams play qualifying games the weekend of July 12, in hopes of advancing to the July 20-23 Minnesota Youth Soccer Association state tournament. The Daily Globe sports department plans to run more detailed information about the Worthington Futbol Club’s season yet this week, I’m told, so look for that.

World Cup soccer only takes place quadrennially, but the Worthington youth soccer teams give local groupies something to cheer about every year.

Summer flubbin’

Given an abundance of anecdotal reports, oodles of books and movies on the topics, and my own experience as a sibling and child, I’m confident in asserting I’m not the first devoted parent to:

- Be told “You don’t CARE about me!”

- Wonder if one’s teenagers will ever grow up

- Feel it is impossible to accomplish anything, especially during the summer months, when kids’ appetites, social calendars, sibling squabbles, laundry, and recreational and work schedules threaten to overwhelm even the most organized adults and household (and that’s not necessarily ours).

As we struggled last Sunday to find time–any short bit of it–to celebrate Father’s Day, I began pondering why there isn’t a parenting MONTH, or at least a “Kick Back and Relax” parent weekend, rather than just one skimpy Mother’s Day and Father’s Day annually. Don’t we deserve it?

And considering that Mother’s Day in Minnesota competes with the sacred fishing opener, and Father’s Day so often coincides with graduations, reunions or soccer tournaments, a portion of one day dedicated to remembering we owe our parents some gratitude for putting up with our youthful antics hardly seems like enough.

Don’t misunderstand me–I’m not seeking thanks or accolades for my own two decades (and counting) of parenthood. Certain singles and couples who have consciously opted to remain childless have occasionally reminded that becoming a parent is a CHOICE and not something randomly imposed upon us.

Still, it’s likely the rare parent who never sighed in resignation when viewing a single colleague’s Hawaiian vacation photos, or looked up from a jumble of dirty dishes and empty milk jugs wondering how they landed in that particular world of barely functional chaos.

Indeed, results of a study released Jan. 13, 2014, by research partners Princeton University and Stony Brook University concluded “…parents experience more daily joy and more daily stress than nonparents.” Uh-huh!

As if to drive home that scholarly point, writer Jennifer Senior’s January 2014 book “All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood” examines, sometimes lightheartedly, “the effects kids have on parents.”

I have three kids, and another curiosity of parenthood I have yet to figure out is how, when all of them are home, it can sometimes seem and sound as though there are 10 children in the house. I just don’t know how the Duggars do it.

Thankfully, those moments of joy do occur, though with three teenagers, it sometimes feels they’re fewer and further between than when the offspring were younger. Having recently endured complaints about food variety, household tasks, teen boys’ sock odors, TV/computer time and the lack of a puppy, I sought refuge in reviewing (with those same, computer-savvy kids) family photos from yesteryear that have never made the jump from computer files to albums.

Look! There was the little guy, decked out in a monster costume, a cherubic smile spread across his innocent face, sweet enough to tempt a shower of kisses from the most jaded mother. And in a short video, there were the two youngest, earnestly sharing a story book with their infant cousin, taking turns cradling and reading to the attentive baby in charming, immature voices that have since dramatically altered.

Another photo showed our daughter, all of 7, posing gracefully in front of a lilac bush and appearing lovely and confident in a lavender dance outfit before a dance recital.

And how about that oldest lad, making the transition from glasses to contacts in seventh grade, showing the promise of the handsome young man he was destined to become?

My heart softened as the momentary irritations drained away–and theirs did, too, seeing the photos with their supportive parents always at hand, the birthday cakes baked, the zoos visited, the books read to them, the love shared.

“We were so little–and so cute!” exclaimed my daughter.

Not as though, even on the toughest days of parenting, I could ever forget how positively lovable, delightful and endearing they were–and always will be to me.

Just reassure my kids I’m not the only mom who makes mistakes and embarrasses someone on a daily basis. Happy “Summer of the Parent” to you, too!

Seasons of life

Ecclesiastes 3:1-2:  ”For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven. A time to be born, and a time to die…”

Most of us needn’t look far to find examples of this truth in our lives and relationships, and unfortunately, a stark reminder of these variable seasons hit my family last week, when my 77-year-old mother-in-law, Joan, died on June 1.

Although she had suffered for years with severe rheumatoid arthritis, other health problems and the various physical indignities and limitations resulting from those illnesses, her precipitous decline over the last week of her life caught us all a little off guard. We have been left to mourn her loss and sort out our emotions, along with her belongings, even as we are healing from the passing of her husband, my late father-in-law, just one year earlier.

But before our very eyes, the lessons of Ecclesiastes play themselves out: a nest of robins, lovingly nurtured by dedicated parents on the patio outside our back door, has evolved from a circle of eggs to fledgling birds that only today literally flew the coop.

My niece, Holly, is expecting her first baby–my parents’ first great-grandchild-to-be–next autumn. And a nephew, Schuyler, marked his high school graduation this past weekend, immediately on the heels of his grandmother’s death, just as our eldest son collected his own high school diploma four days prior to his grandfather’s passing last May.

While we’d love to be able to halt the sorrows, the conflicted feelings of “Did we do enough?” and “What will we do without them,” we simply cannot–nor can we keep the celebrations from unfolding, those happy moments of graduations, births and family get-togethers, no matter their origins or timing.

The ups and downs, the highs and lows, appear to arrive hand-in-hand, leaving us little choice but to trudge through the valleys en route to the hills, where better times await us before we must descend once again, inevitably, to the periods of pain and trial.

So with the pain of my mother-in-law’s death still incredibly fresh, our family pressed forward with a plan we had hatched a few months earlier, when her physical absence was still something we could only imagine: We participated, along with another branch of the family that shares in our recent loss, in the Worthington Color Dash.

It’s not often we can rally nine members of our family to gather for any reason, but there we were, all of us set to run (or, in my case, proceed at a slow jog) and become unrecognizable over the 3.1-mile course by way of clouds of colored cornstarch thrown in our faces and at our backs. It felt slightly irreverent to revel in the silliness of the occasion so soon after saying our goodbyes to Joan, and yet we knew she would have enjoyed the spectacle.

After the race, when my two sons spontaneously danced in the street with two brothers from another local family and were caught on video prancing along to “Gangnam Style,” we laughed until we cried–and, later, we cried some more, missing our mother, mother-in-law and grandma, ruing the years of fun and family times her illnesses had caused her to miss, but remaining glad in our hearts that she was finally free of her suffering and once again reunited with her husband, parents and siblings.

We take heed that we are to cherish each day, along with the loved ones and friends who still surround us here with their presence, their support, their quirks and their gifts.

This past week has driven home for us, once again, that laughter is unavoidably intermingled with tears, and neither tears nor laughter is ever wrong….or completely unwelcome.

A few verses further into Ecclesiastes 3, the writer continues his litany of yings and yangs: “…a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”

And if that time to dance happens to be to “Gangnam Style” in a downtown parking lot a few days after shedding sorrowful tears for a loved grandma, I don’t think even Solomon would disapprove.

 

iPad, iHad; iSad? iGlad!

Due to District 518′s ongoing participation in the Flexible Learning Year plan, Worthington schools closed their doors on the 2013-14 academic year last week.

That means local kids are heading to band camp, volleyball clinics or soccer practice, already missing their school lunches and finding creative ways to keep their parents up later at night than we’d prefer.

But the most dramatic end-of-the-year change may have occurred when Worthington Middle School students (including our seventh-grade son) turned in their school-issued iPads–technological tools (or “digital textbooks”) that often were the bane of our existence over the past several months.

Dutifully I sat with other parents in the mandatory iPad information meeting last August, and though my memory may be faulty, it seemed someone in my session inquired if the kids would have access to games, and the answer was no.

That did not turn out to be the case, however, and it didn’t take long for many youths to explore the wonders of Minecraft (a game in which players build virtual three-dimensional, geometrically intricate worlds), both during downtime at home and, by some reports, surreptitiously in the classroom, much to the dismay of teachers. Another more addictive, socially interactive game is “Clash of Clans”–maybe a more appropriate title would be “Clash With Your Mother,” because once 11- to 13-year-olds access it, it’s nearly impossible for them to ignore the inviting “pings” that emit from their iPads seemingly every five minutes.

What adolescent can resist a game that allows you to “attack” a village with your “clan” while also communicating in real time with your friends and “clan members” about your strategy–even as s/he claimed to be seeking advice about homework assignments?

How many times were students supposed to be doing homework, or housework, or going to bed, when the Clash of Clans lure overcame them? For many kids–including some whose parents were not even aware they were involved with the game–it became a near-obsession.

As the year advanced, we learned it was possible to take the iPad to the school and have an administrator remove the games, but that seemed unfairly punitive when most of the students continued to have them. Parents, seemingly, were effectively made to serve as police of the iPads, even while the students had access to the pass codes and often had legitimate work to do on the devices, making it difficult, if not impossible, to completely confiscate them (even though we may have wanted to).

At conferences, some teachers expressed exasperation with student abuses of the iPads, and it appeared the iPads were creating stress in at least certain classrooms; was too much energy being directed to dealing with iPad infractions that would have been more usefully applied to instructional time?

Yes, it’s important for District 518 students to become as technologically educated as all others across the U.S., but more thought and planning should be given to learning device implementation in order to ensure educational/academic purposes and growth are achieved rather than having the tools distract students from making real progress–and infusing their free time with addictive games rather than exercise, music and reading.

Here’s what I learned from my son about his iPad use this past year:

- The iPad allowed digital access to his math, history and literature textbooks, thus lightening his backpack load (though he still hauled his math book home because he found it easier to reference than the online version).

- Other academic uses included making a PowerPoint for history class, typing essays and interactive commentaries for English/communications, creating an iMovie for English, graphing for math, and looking up information for various subjects at times (including FACS class).

- He worried occasionally about keeping it safe because he knew its value and that, unlike a book, it could be seriously damaged if dropped.

Since the final bell rang, my son’s days have bustled with soccer, tennis, biking, reading, guitar-playing and, yes, TV-watching–activities in which he showed less interest during the months Clash of Clans was a frequent distraction.

School’s out for the summer, but perhaps this is the ideal time for administrators and school board members to revisit how best to ensure this electronic investment will be used for positive, educational purposes–before the buses roll again in August.