Wednesday, May 29, 2013


      Summertime, and the living is.........easy?  Perhaps for those of us who are not now dealing with three little ones to entertain day in and day out.  The very day after school let out, my children approached me at 10:00 a.m. to inform me they were bored.  It was a sunny day, and we happen to have a backyard that is the envy of half the children in the neighborhood, complete with a swing set, tree house, trampoline, and an apple tree that just begs to be climbed.  Yet, there stood my children, two hours after breakfast, staring up at me expectantly.  Did they expect me to suddenly turn into one of The Wiggles?  I'm not sure.  I continued to wipe the kitchen counter.  They continued to stare.  It was a showdown, and I was clearly losing.  "Why don't you go play in the backyard?", I suggested the obvious solution to their boredom dilemma.  "We already did that.", they stated matter-of-factly.  They had played in the backyard that morning for about 20 minutes.  I used to spend the entire day outside in the summertime when I was a little girl.  Even in the sweltering heat of a Virginia summer, I would run, play, swim, ride bikes and climb trees until my little round Tweety Bird face was redder than a beet and I had earned three or four new scrapes and acquired at least an inch of dirt under my nails.  I also spent plenty of time with my family in the summer.  We went on walks, out to ice cream, or to Bullets, or favorite drive-in burger joint.  On the weekends, we usually made an excursion to Virginia Beach, Washington D.C., or one of the many other historical sights nearby.  We also bought season passes to King's Dominion, a nearby amusement park, and went there often.  I loved the time spent with my family, but I did not expect them to entertain me every day of the week.

     But my children are part of the entitlement generation, and the instant gratification generation.  With the advances in technology, children can access endless supplies of instant entertainment with the click of a mouse or remote. This is exactly the kind of thing we generally try to avoid in our house.  This attempt to limit technology is more successful some days than others.  Yesterday, it was rainy and about 60 degrees out.  Not exactly ideal summer break weather.  Plus, Monster had thrown up twice in the morning and was still looking rather peaked.  So, I gave into the relentless requests of my two older children to "pleeeease watch a moooooviieeee".  I gave into this request not once, but twice.  Hyrum spent the rest of the afternoon playing PBS Kids on the computer.  Hey, at least the games are educational, right?  I spent most of the afternoon in the rocking chair with a cranky Monster.  By the end of the day, I felt like a complete and utter failure as a parent.  I had let technology parent my children for the day.  I could think of a million excuses in my mind...."it was a crummy day outside", or "Monster was sick", or "it's only because it's their first week of summer break.  I won't let this happen again."  But, the truth is, I used the tv and computer as a babysitter.  I could have read to my kids.  I could have brought out the board games.  We've spent many a rainy afternoon in the Stanger house with a stack of library books or an open game board.  But the truth is, I was tired yesterday.  Not so much in the physical, I need to rest type of way; more in the this is only the beginning of what is shaping up to be a very long summer full of bored children staring at me and wondering what to do with themselves type of way.  So, I gave in to the exhaustion, and really didn't do much of anything.  I am considering this the deep breath before the plunge.  Next week will be Hyrum's first week of t-ball, Morgan's first week of horseback riding lessons, and the first week of art class for both of them.  They will start swim lessons in July.  I have signed them up for several things in an attempt to lessen the frequency of the boredom buster showdowns.

     All of this has gotten me thinking, though.  Didn't there used to be a time when kids used their imagination?  Where are the lazy, sweltering summer days of the Sandlot, of baseball in the park until moms called ten times for skinned-kneed, dirt covered boys to come home for dinner?  Where are the days of capture the flag and burning ants under magnifying glasses and making Hollyhock dolls?  We don't have video games in our home.  I consider them just one more distraction, one more excuse, one more babysitter.  I'm already struggling with the tv and computer.  I think my goal for this summer may be to make sure my children are spending less time with the screen and more time with the sun.  I want my children to know summer like I knew summer.  Dirk and I spent all day Memorial Day in the yard tilling, digging and planting.  By the end of the day I smelled like sweat and dirt.  My fingernails boasted a fresh layer of mud, and I felt that peaceful kind of exhaustion that can only come from a day spent working hard.  I thought back to my girlhood summer days when I would come home at dinnertime famished and smelling of a combination of dirt, sunscreen, grass and chlorine, every muscle in my body tired.  My uncle Brian runs the detention center for local youth.  He told me once about his first experience taking some of the boys from the center on a hike.  Many of them had never seen a forest before.  These boys were all over the age of 12, and they had never been on a hike nor seen a forest.  I wanted to cry.  Thankfully, my kids have seen many forests; they've been camping in them, in fact.   As with all things in life, there has to be moderation.  I am certain that the tv will still find it's way into the routine some days, and that's ok. I am determined, for my part, however, to urge my kids to be part of the imagination generation, not the instant gratification generation.  And with that, I think I'll close the computer and take my kids for a walk.

Friday, May 17, 2013


     I have always liked the idea of Karma, which, put simplistically, asserts that whatever you put out into the world is what you get back. You reap what you sew. Positive attracts positive and negative attracts negative, and so on.  It's a nice idea.  And it makes sense.  Today, Karma and I are at war.  This newly waged war began on Friday evening.  My two oldest children had their annual cheer and gymnastics showcase.  My parents, in-laws and sister all drove from Idaho Falls to see it.  I left Monster with a sitter so that Dirk and I might actually get to watch the performance.  The kids had been practicing all year; Morgan on Mondays and Hyurm on Tuesdays.  I had spent an hour curling each piece of hair in Morgan's ponytail and carefully applying a light touch of makeup without going too Jonbenet Ramsey.  We left the house to the sounds of Monster screaming in protest.  In the car, I reminded Hyrum for the twentieth time that this was what his teachers and coaches had been working for all year, and that many of his family members had gone out of their way to come and watch him perform.  I begged him to do his very best and to not spaz out.  Morgan's cheer class performed first.  While the other girls bobbed their heads spiritedly and shook their pom poms with great pep and purpose, Morgan stood there twitching her nose (a new quirk she's developed- she looks a little like a bunny when she does it), and getting in a few very delayed and minimized arm movements here and there.  She looked like a clumsy robot bunny.  Of course, I was proud of her.  But my heart ached for her at the same time.  How I wanted her to be able to jump and split and cartwheel like all the other little girls.  But, that's not Morgan.  She has decided not to do cheer, dance or gymnastics next year.  I think she is starting to recognize her own limits.  Then, after over an hour of sitting on rock hard bleachers, watching tiny tots do rolly pollies to what sounded like xylophone music, it was Hyrum's turn.  I noticed the teacher strong arming him to the back of the line.  I optimistically wondered if perhaps they were saving the best for last.  I watched the other students in Hyrum's class as they rolled, piked and postured down the tumbling floor, with as much poise and composure as five and six year olds can muster. I pulled out the video camera as Hyrum approached the mat.  He addressed the audience, stepped onto the blue tumbling floor, and proceeded to put on a show which had the entire audience in stitches.  His nerves had taken over, and to compensate, he began acting like the Energizer bunny on Perkaset.  He sped through the performance, taking extra hops and jumps and steps along the way, at intervals throwing himself on the floor and rolling like a stunt double,   The audience all seemed to think this was gloriously funny.  I laughed with them, because, really, what else could I do?  I laughed, while inside I wondered why my kid had to always be the goof off.  I inhaled, hoping that my face was only a few shades of red, and walked out with my family at my heels.  We were headed to Mick's, Shelley's own greasy spoon hometown diner, to celebrate.  We picked Monster up, only to find out that he had thrown a two hour fit for the sitter.  We payed her extra and headed for Mick's.  Mick's was having a busy night.  All of it's ten tables were filled.  We stood in the fry oil fog until we saw two small tables clear.  We pushed them together, sat down and waited, and waited........and waited.  Finally, my sister spied two menus and brought them to the table.  When Morgan had made her selection of finger steaks and fries, I asked her to hand the menu down so that the rest of us could have a glance.  She refused and hugged the menu to her chest.  I asked again.  She refused.  I asked a third time, firmly.  She hurled the menu across the table to Dirk, narrowly avoiding five water glasses. The rest of dinner was down hill from there.  The onion rings were burnt to a black-brown charcoal crisp.  The ice cream machine was broken, and there was no peach pie.  We thanked everyone for coming and split.  While Dirk changed the boys for bed, I pulled Morgan into my room for a little chat. I tried to remain calm, and as we talked, it became very evident that Morgan had no idea that throwing a menu across the table was inappropriate behavior.  So, there I sat with my almost nine-year-old, explaining basic rules of social conduct which seem to come so naturally to most kids.  I tucked the kids in, retreated to my room, and proceeded to have a twenty tissue emotional meltdown.

     I was discouraged, defeated, and just plain done.  I once again found myself wondering where I had gone so horribly wrong as a mother.  I expend vast amounts of energy trying to teach my children how to be kind, well rounded individuals.  We have had manners dinners.  I guess I forgot to mention the proper way to deliver a menu to the opposite end of the table during said manners dinners.  I have talked to Hyrum until I thought my vocal chords might wear out about appropriate social behavior.  I try to read to each of my children every day.  I throw Harry Potter movie nights complete with homemade chocolate frogs and licorice wands.  I try very hard to be a good mother.  I expend a lot of positive energy doing this.  And then, my children play the class clown in front of half of the city of Shelley and throw menus in restaurants.  Karma, where are you now?  Two days later, the Mother of all holidays hit.  Mother's Day is my least favorite holiday of the entire year.  I despise it, and I'm a big holiday person.  I love to honor my own dear mother.  I love being a mother.  But, I hate the expectations of Mother's Day.  It's built up for months as a day, when by some magical force, your children and others have a sudden grand awakening and begin to appreciate the blood, sweat, tears, hair pulling, and sleepless nights that you put into raising them.  Instead, they fight more than usual, whine as much as ever and interrupt the first nap you've attempted to take in a year.  Speakers get up in church and list off the perfect traits of women in the neighborhood.  Your name isn't on the list.  At first, you feel a burning indignation, until you look over at your own children, who are, respectively, picking their nose, beaming the boy in the pew behind them in the face with a book, and performing karate moves, and realize exactly why you didn't make the good mom list.  This is Mother's Day for me, at least.  I, for one, have decided to skip it next year.  Coming after the debacle of a day which was last Friday, Mother's Day put me in a bad funk, which I am still attempting to work my way out of.  This entire week, I have tried, despite constant feelings of failure and discouragement, to remain positive, and to be kind.  Today, one week later, Karma has repaid my efforts by laughing in my face.  I walked out of the house into the gray drizzle of a morning and crossed the street to Hyrum's school.  It was his end of the year Kindergarten music concert, featuring the songs of Sesame Street.  My dad came to help with Monster and to watch Hyrum sing.  Hyrum didn't sing until the last song; the invigorating "Captain Vegetable".  For the rest of the concert, he practiced turning his tie into a fake noose, and stared at the ceiling blankly while every other child in the Sunrise Elementary Kindergarten class sang with gusto and followed the chorister's hand gestures animatedly.  This was after a twenty minute discussion this morning about why it was important for Hyrum to sing and to do his best.  Apparently that one didn't sink in either.  My dad, who had been planning on taking us to lunch afterwards, had to run in and fix a work crises.  So, I took the boys to Subway solo.  I left the sandwich line to find Hyrum crawling across the wooden banister by the tables as onlookers watched with ill concealed disapproval and contempt.  On the way to Subway, I had apparently turned too slowly for the woman in the car behind me, who passed me with a honk and an icy glare that would have leveled me if looks could kill.  And yet, I entered Subway, on the brink of tears of exasperation, with a smile on my face.  I smiled at the woman who cut the bread. I told her to have a great day as she looked indifferently back at me.  I smiled at the cashier, who was too distracted to notice.  I smiled at people lining up by the table.  They quickly looked away.  Did they know that the world's most incompetent mother was smiling at them and fear that any association with me would taint their reputation?  I bit into my turkey sandwich, but what I was really starved for was a smile; one little glimmer of proof that the positive energy I have been trying to exert was finding it's way back to me.  Once again, Karma betrayed me.  Not wanting to tell Hyrum to sit down and turn around for the fifteenth time in five minutes, I told him he could take his cookie home. I put Monster down for a nap, turned on the tv to babysit Hyrum (at this point, I've given up all attempts at good parenting for the day), and turned on the computer.  Here I sit, looking between the computer screen, filling up with so many meaningless words, and the apathetic gray sky out my smudged windows, trying to make any sense of it all.  I go out of my way to smile at people wherever I go.  In return, I get glares.  I make it a point to complement people. In return, I have friends tell me that the exterior of my house is the ugliest thing they've ever seen.  I try to teach my children to be kind, respectful and well mannered.  In return, I get to be the mother of the class clown, the menu thrower, and the Monster.  Where are you now, Karma?

     Like any irrepressibly idiotic optimist, I am refusing to let Karma beat me.  Karma may have had the last laugh for today, but I am saying to Hell with Karma.  I am going to keep doing the right thing for the simple fact that it is the right thing to do.  I will continue to be kind and thoughtful in the face of meanness and apathy.  I will continue to make every effort to be a good mother, even though the fruits of my labor may never be evident.  I will do good for the sake of doing good.  I will send all of this out into the universe, not like a boomerang, with the expectation that it will somehow come back to me one  day, but like a shooting star; a spectacular flash of hope and light that will fade the next moment.  If one person sees that glimmer and it makes them smile, it will be well worth the effort.