Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Eye Rolls & Relevancy

The following appeared in the January edition of Chicago Parent.

When picking up the kids from their various activities, I usually encourage them to walk outside and look for me in the parking lot. It just makes all my after-school shuttling easier.

Yet the other day, I decided to park the car and walk into Dan’s hockey work-out facility for a peek. Behind the glass, my giant 14 year-old stopped, smiled, and delivered a spot-on Forrest Gump wave.
The other parents marveled. They shared how their stereotypical teenagers refused to acknowledge their very existence, and their kids’ only reaction to having parents was unadulterated embarrassment.

I had to tell them.

Yeah. I got one of those, too.

My middle son, Jack, has recently regressed to verbal infancy and only uses monosyllabic words to answer questions. His poker-faced history of being difficult to read has only gotten worse with age. It’s been worrying me a lot lately.

In response, I started peppering him with more questions than usual about his daily life, incorporating inquiries like:

How did you FEEL when your friend threw up in gym glass?

Did it BOTHER you when you lost that hockey game?

What made you laugh the HARDEST today?

Yeah. Jack grunts and I still get nothing.

I was forced to incorporate a time-honored tactic of parental espionage:

“I’ll let you stay up a little longer if you sit next to me and talk.”

This last time, I had to know. Was Jack happy? Was he enjoying his childhood? Was he ready to move out and pretend he didn’t have a mother anymore?

So I asked:

“What is the BEST thing that’s happened to you during your childhood?”

I was expecting Jack to go on about a tournament win or one of our many family vacations. Instead, he responded:

“Remember that one play-off game where you wore my hockey jersey?”

I did. All the other hockey moms had big kids, but I had to squeeze my chubby self into my smallest child’s jersey. Breathing was restricted. I felt like I was wearing a half-shirt. But I did it anyway.

“Yeah. That was the best.”

Suddenly, despite the grunts and eye rolls, I realized I was still the center of my child’s universe.

And it made having to walk 50 yards behind him at all times just that much easier.

Friday, May 3, 2019

School Spent

The following appeared in the December edition of Chicago Parent.

As we get deeper into another school year, there are several recurring themes in my life.

First up: I suck at homework. Remember when we were kids and couldn’t conceive of a more heinous punishment than diagramming sentences?

Hold my beer, Punky Brewster.

In teaching my boys this new form of math steeped in the absurd, I have officially become the ferryman of Hades. Every basic rule has been tossed. I feel deceived! Misled! Don’t even get me started on the great Metric System Lie.

I AM STILL WAITING, MISS FLOWERS.*

Last month, my youngest son delivered a list of after-school activities. I immediately honed in on “Homework Club.” Sweet Jesus, there was outsourcing for this! Salvation would be mine. I picked three slots a week.

Then I received a nice little note from the assistant principal gently pointing out that I was to select ONE post-school activity, not three.

I returned to my weekly spot in the kayak to hell trying to understand Common Core math.

The only thing contributing more to my premature death than homework?

School attendance offices.

For 10 years, I have followed the rules. I have submitted the doctor notes. I have made the phone calls. And my kids have approximately 150 unexcused absences.

These so-called “attendance offices” clearly exist only in the realm of unicorns and the Loch Ness Monster.

The educational system underestimated people like me when they started putting this all online. In the 1980s, if an absent was marked “unexcused,” our overwrought mothers wracked their brains but typically forfeited the fight.

Now?

I can obsess DAILY. I stalk the attendance offices harder than I stalk Kohls for 30% off coupons.

School is stressful for parents, and previous generations got off easy. Report cards were dropped on our parents without warning. Dad would lose his mind over a bad grade or two, but everybody moved on to watch The Love Boat by 7 pm. All was forgiven and quickly forgotten.

Nowadays, we suffer from information overload with the expectation of doing something with it. There is no winning. There is no safe spot between being disengaged and being fanatical. It makes me wish I could have parented in a completely different era.

I bet the property taxes on Little House on the Prairie were awesome.

*Miss Flowers really was my 3rd grade teacher. Despite the big metric system lie, she was quite lovely.


Thursday, March 14, 2019

In Defense of Fortnite

The following appeared in the November edition of Chicago Parent. 

A letter came home from my sons’ school last year suggesting that the devil himself was behind the video game phenomenon Fortnite. It was described as a dangerous epidemic. Crack cocaine for the middle school set!

My kids have engaged in many fads over the years: Angry Birds, Pokemon, Bakugan, Fidget Spinners, Bottle Flipping, and Dabbing to name a few. Some of these were all-consuming obsessions. They typically resulted in the standard school abolitionist letter warning that continued engagement could only result in a life of poverty and petty crime.

Whatever.

Not that I am a fan of video games. My boys were very late entrants into the whole video game arena, and even then, choices were carefully monitored. No blood. No prostitutes. No brain matter.

I initially put the kibosh on Fortnite because guns were involved. But after a while, I realized there was also communication! The boys implemented teamwork and strategy to win.

For the last several years, I’ve noticed a depressing shift in behavior. Once rambunctious boys whom I had to shush in the car were now zombie-like pre-teens staring blankly at their phones.

I rejoiced at the return of banter. Of joking. Of kids being kids.

Then there was the dancing. Never before in recorded history have so many boys suddenly mastered an arsenal of choregraphed and somewhat ridiculous dance steps. There was The Floss, The Shoot, Best Mates, and The Default Dance. Sure, I might have preferred an injection of the occasional Tango or Waltz, but beggars can’t be choosers.

People criticized the atmosphere and implied violence.

I then reminded them that Pac-Man was a cannibal. And the ghosts were clearly members of the occult.

As is true with most red hot fads, Fortnite interest is waning, another casualty of fickle kids. But unlike the whole bottle-flipping craze which left me twitchy, I am a little sad to see this one go.

For once, my boys actually danced like nobody was watching.

You know.

In between building panic walls.