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 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.




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.

The birds and the bees, and the squirrels and the bunnies…

Late last fall, my family and I moved to a different neighborhood. Almost overnight I lost the knowledge of my natural surroundings that simply accrues and is taken for granted when one lives in the same place for many years.

For instance, a certain bold and industrious robin had annually constructed a nest in a matter of hours on a ledge immediately above our kitchen patio door. From a perch above the kitchen sink, family members could readily observe the nesting project, followed by the tireless egg-sitting and ultimately, the hatching, feeding, growing and launching of a fresh batch of birds.

The squirrel population also seemed particularly active in our yard, and there were pigeons, wood ducks and owls often occupying the large silver maple trees out front.

Countless (okay, you can count them, but who really wants to know?) days of sub-zero temperatures in Winter 2014 brought most obvious outdoor activity by living things to a grinding halt, so it wasn’t until recent weeks that we’ve begun discovering the habits of the critters in our new spot on the west side of town.

Short spurts of observation have made me glad my kids are as old as they now are, because the action here is definitely at least PG-13.

Last weekend, my husband positively chortled as he watched two male bunnies fight for dominant position with a female. The chase went on and on, with those males proving to be incredibly persistent.

“This is just like ‘Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom with Marlin Perkins,’” he joked, never taking his eyes off the frisky lagomorphs.

Then, my 13-year-old son excitedly reported spotting two birds engaged in the age-old act that perpetuates species of most kinds.

And earlier this week (though I was alone at the time so have no witnesses to vouch for me), frantic movement on a lilac bush only 20 feet from the window where I stood caught my eye.

There, a male squirrel had cornered a female on the very tip of a lilac branch–and she (unfortunately for him) was not appreciating the attention. Still, he was not about to give up easily, and the game continued, with the male purposefully driving at his hoped-for mate while she snapped back at him and turned rapidly to deter his advances while the slender branch bowed and swayed beneath their weight.

Though I was tempted to watch until the branch broke or the act was consummated, obligations and deadlines forced me to abandon my lookout, so the ending of that particular tango remains unknown to me.

In addition, a few other varieties of birds have appeared in our yard; three of us noticed a male/female pair of rose-breasted grosbeaks three days ago, and we’ve also been visited by a downy woodpecker and a showy blue jay.

And it turns out there is another robin (unless we’ve been followed across town?) that habitually starts its family where we live–here, the nest is beneath our patio overhang, and the bird is extremely focused and decidedly unexcitable, barely stirring when a nearby door is opened or people stand, talking, directly beneath it.

Perhaps it’s an unusually lusty May, possibly due to the particularly hard winter, or maybe we’re just noticing all this activity in our immediate natural environment because it’s our first spring here.

Either way, it’s clearly not just a young man’s fancy that lightly turns to thoughts of love in the spring, as Alfred Lord Tennyson poetically reminded us.

Who needs a drive-in? We’re taking a walk on the wild side in our very own back yard.



The things we carry

To kids, adulthood can seem pretty terrific. Adults set their own bedtimes, eat what and when they like, live where they wish, marry (or not) the spouse of their choice, buy clothing they prefer to wear without receiving censorious comments, don’t have to attend school and drive the vehicles of their dreams.

At least, that’s the way it seemed to me when I was a 12- to 14-year-old babysitter, spinning daydreams (more appropriately termed “night dreams,” as this occurred after my younger charges were tucked into bed and I watched “The Love Boat” and late-night horror movies while my employers were out for the evening) about how great it would be to have a cozy house and cute, red-cheeked toddlers like the ones I’d just fed applesauce and milk.

A chilled, glass bottle of Diet Pepsi usually awaited me in the refrigerator, which lightly hummed in the background as I dimmed the lights and sighed at the simple perfection of it all.

Time has a way of revealing truths about life, and a couple of decades later I learned exactly why it was those parents were so eager to exit the premises–among other unexpected facts about adulthood that somehow were never adequately communicated to me by those who had gone before.

For example, let’s revisit the end of the first paragraph: “…drive the vehicles of their dreams.”

Cars have never been that important to me, though I’m keenly aware that many men (to assume a gender stereotype), as well as a few women, begin salivating if they even drive by a car dealership. There are some men (my husband included) who can talk about cars until the party’s over, much to my amazement, and, thanks to the Internet, pore over the latest statistics on gas mileage, sticker prices, Blue Book values, standard vs. special features and much, much more for hours on end.

Still, the idea of a ’65 red Mustang convertible has always appealed to me–and barring that fantasy–I could see myself behind the wheel of a Mini Cooper.

Here’s the reality: Most adults–especially those with children–rarely own the car of their dreams. The first cold dash of water comes with purchase price, followed by insurance rates, license tab fees and maintenance costs. Other factors–such as climate, garage capacity, a partner’s preference and multiple car seats–may also come into play.

Cost aside, my ideal of driving something small, gas-efficient and easy-to-park faded when I allowed–heck, even encouraged–my three children to become involved in a variety of activities, notably music and sports.

Besides the need to transport their friends occasionally (whether for birthday parties, play dates or car pooling agreements), there was the matter of all the gear. After piano lessons, our eldest son’s first (portable) instrument was a viola–not too bad, size-wise.

But a year later he took up the French horn, and thereafter our lives were never the same. A three-year stint of hockey playing also was eye-opening (and trunk expanding).

So far, so good, right? Sure, we were fitting it all in–until Child #2 took up the cello (a step up from the viola), and followed in her brother’s footsteps the next year as a French horn player.

By this time, Child #3 was firmly entrenched as a hockey player, which necessitated regular transport of a full-sized hockey bag for, oh, at least six months of each year. When it came time for him to begin other instruments, the choices (from my perspective) were clear: He could play nothing larger than a violin and a flute (or maybe be a percussionist, because they mostly have to carry around drumsticks).

Anyone acquainted with Child #3, however, knows he decidedly does not fit the flutist profile–and violin just wasn’t his style. This hockey- and football-playing kid threw us for a loop, selecting the string bass (is anything bigger?) and the tuba.

Here’s the official list of things I now frequently haul in my “Yes, I’m a mom” mini-van with convenient stow-away seats: two French horns, one cello, one tuba, one sousaphone, a string bass, amplifiers, two acoustic guitars, an electric keyboard, music stands, a hockey bag, and plenty of groceries. Sadly, there’s no room for a Mustang convertible in my life.

But baggage? Got it, in spades.


A trio of topics

Many things are running through my mind, so I declare full surrender to these swirling sensations and submit not one but THREE topics for consideration this week.


Saturday will mark the continuation of the decades-long prom tradition at Worthington High School. With a teenage girl in the house, it’s impossible not to catch a little of the excitement that’s in the air as students (well, the females involved, at least) finalize preparations, dinner groups and outfits for the much anticipated evening.

Those out of the prom loop for awhile might be shocked (SHOCKED!) at some of the price tags affixed to certain prom dresses. It is not unheard of for girls (yes, even local ones) to snap up gowns ranging from $300 to more than $700. Crazy sums of money, it seems, to spend for a few hours of adornment and photos on a single evening.

And then, of course, visits to salons for hair, nails and makeup may take place; corsages and boutonnieres must be obtained; garters ordered; tuxedos or suits selected; and “prom groups” organized. But it’s difficult to discourage kids from “doing it up right” in what is still seen as a teen rite of passage, with roots dating to U.S. colleges in the late 1800s.

The long-standing Worthington tradition of having Noon Kiwanis Club members (and supplemental volunteers) drive prom-goers to and from the dance remains in place, which has helped ensure a safer prom night for local students since the early 1950s.

While some high school teachers wonder if the custom of prom may be becoming outmoded, the teens participating in the 2014 Great Gatsby-themed WHS prom seem to have an abundance of enthusiasm for the occasion. Interested in catching a glimpse of the colorful spectacle? Attend the Grand March in the WHS gymnasium at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, for a very modest fee.

E.T., phone home

The first year of college is nearing its close for my eldest son. His overall experiences to date have been positive, but last weekend as he did his laundry…

Ahem! First let me restate the key words: “He did his laundry.” Important to remember he’s kept on top of that, under his own steam, all year long. And any time a college student is making the effort to take care of that task, it’s good, right?

Yes, unless…he’s forgotten to remove his cell phone from his jeans pocket before starting the wash cycle.

It’s not at all like “the olden days” when his dad and I were in college. For one thing, no one had phones of their own then, so washing a phone was an utterly unthinkable occurrence. (That’s not to say those residence hall phones didn’t NEED cleansing.) But because of all the other technological marvels now surrounding us, it took little time for him to notify us of the problem.

First, he posted on Facebook that his phone was temporarily “out of commission.” Then, we received a call from him via a friend’s cell phone (easy, when all the people around you have phones!). Finally, we exchanged emails (not even resorting to Skyping, yet another contact possibility). Funny that “losing” his phone prompted almost more contact from him within a few hours than we’d had in the previous two weeks altogether!

I was quick to advocate for the “put the phone in a bag of rice” means of drying it out in hopes of restoring it to working order; he as quickly despaired that it was history and a new model was the only likely solution.

This is a “to be continued” story, but suffice to say he does not lack for methods to apprise us of his activities until cell phone death or resurrection can be fully determined.

Earth Day

With the 2013 ice storm and the long winter of 2014 both behind us, celebrating Earth Day this week–especially after a lovely Sunday when this community collectively reveled in the sun and mild air–seems natural.

Remembering the symbiotic relationship we humans have with the world we inhabit is critical. A sharp reminder of that is the non-essential watering ban under which Worthington is still operating. Let’s hope for rain and a recharge of our wells.

Please: Do your part to be kind to our world.


Happy talk

What do you want to be when you grow up?

That’s a question almost everyone hears at some point in his or her life, but not one that always receives a serious, thoughtful response. When asked of six-year-olds, answers range from astronauts to “French fry cookers” to Disney princesses to firefighters.

Sixteen-year-olds may have somewhat more realistic ideas, but shrugs and nervous blushes are also common rejoinders. Select high school and college seniors offer confident, detailed career outlines that put older folks to shame, while others exhibit downright panic and a mumbled, “No idea.”

It’s less often asked of adults at mid-life, but that doesn’t mean 40+-year-olds aren’t also considering the question.

Maybe the better inquiry is this: How happy do you want to be?

Recently, my husband and I bought ice cream cones and struck up a conversation with the shop’s proprietor. The guy was chatty, relaxed and practically giddy as he told us about the locally produced products he sold, what the best-selling flavors were and which days typically yielded the most customers. When we finally left the store, which also overflowed with varieties of candy, our cones were nearly gone but a distinct impression remained: running an ice cream/candy shop was a fun job.

“Just think,” said my husband, whose own profession in the legal field seldom yields such happy conversation. “People come in with their kids, friends or grandkids, pick out a flavor they love, indulge in a creamy confection and don’t really complain,” he marveled.

And as I interviewed a local cabinetmaker/woodworker for an article this week, I asked him what he liked best about his work.

“My favorite part is seeing the finished product and the smile on the customer’s face when it’s installed and everything looks good,” he responded, adding that his current profession was more satisfying than his previous stint as a police officer.

Yeah, most of the time, police officers show up at moments of crisis–at an accident, assault or crime scene, to issue a ticket for misbehavior or to investigate a complaint–think barking dogs, loud music, fights or neighbor disputes.

When a childhood playmate who is now a university career counselor posted a Facebook request for tips to offer graduating students in a blog she is preparing called “Backpack to Briefcase,” mostly cliched thoughts came to mind: dress professionally for interviews, seek out mentors, network, polish your resume, seek internships, etc.

Then I realized the best advice might be more fundamental: Pursue whatever profession or line of work you may be good at and interested in, but remember to consider your tolerance for strife. Do you want to spend 40+ hours weekly in a job where the people with whom you interact are always upset about something? Somebody has to do it, but it would be nice to know if airline check-in employees get much positive feedback. (Picture long lines, overweight luggage and argumentative passengers.)

Here’s a short list of other positions that may not have the highest “happiness quotient:” school principals, driving test administrators, jailers, tax preparers, ACT/SAT test proctors, lawyers, social workers…and judges. I mean, who goes to court because they are ELATED about something? (Typically that is only the case with adoptions, naturalization ceremonies or marriages–and reportedly, those are far less common than divorces, disputes and sentencing hearings.)

On the literally positive side: florists (surrounded by beautiful, aromatic blooms), personal trainers/fitness instructors, massage therapists, baristas, pizza delivery people (ok, there are down sides to that, but aren’t most people thrilled to get pizza?) and physical education teachers (wear fitness gear on the job, build physical activity into your day and do your part to keep childhood obesity at bay!).

You may disagree with these observations, or could share the less obvious joys or downers of any job listed above–and certainly attitude is key in making the most of any position–but when commencement season rolls around and I’m invited to jot a few words of written advice in a book or on a frame (in exchange for cake and sandwich) for the graduate to retain for future reflection, I’ve got my new catch phrase already figured out: “Don’t worry, be happy.”

Hakuna matata to you, too.