Monthly Archives: November 2013

Oh How Lucky We Are

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Not that long ago, I admired the simple lifestyle and cheerful dispositions of the Ingalls family of Little House on the Prairie.  I still do, when I feel overwhelmed by the number of tasks I need to complete on a busy day.  But then my family reminds me of the monster that emerged from me last winter when we lost our electricity for five days.  Nothing about me resembled sweet Caroline Ingalls.

After one day, I missed my cup of coffee, my charged cell phone, and real lights,  (Candle light is charming for only so long).  After a couple of days, I even missed the sound of the dishwasher and washing machine.

Thanksgiving is just a few days away.  I have been asking my teens what they are thankful for.  Their answers please me.  I’m thankful for my family.  I’m thankful for food, for a house to live in, for heat, for good grades, for my friends.

My adult list is slightly different:  I am thankful for our overall good health, for our jobs that let us pay our mortgage, bills, and for dozens of other items each week.  I’m thankful for the time we can all spend together as a family – I’ll take what I can get.  I’m thankful for my extended family and for good friends. And I’m also thankful for the latest technology.  Wait, what? (to mimic my kids).

Don’t get me wrong.  My teens know there are aspects of computers and cell phones that irritate me.  I am not a fan of teens sitting in the same room while all are peering at their cell phones.  I cringe when I hear that cell phones are being used (covertly) during class. And I really don’t like hearing about cyber-bullying and passive-aggressive behavior used on social media which can do some serious emotional damage to kids.

But technology can also be so helpful.  My kids and I have access to their grades daily, online.  Like an itemized sales receipt, each homework assignment, quiz, test and project is there to admire (or dread).   Many students find the system motivating.  I got a 79, but if I study really hard for this next test, I can get that up to a B minus!  There are certainly no surprises at report card time.

Do my kids realize how fortunate they are to be able to do research papers from the comfort of our home?  (I remind them). No trip to the library is necessary  to search the card catalogue and then the shelves, for a book that is not always there.  No sitting down at a typewriter with correction tape or correction fluid to type a paper only to discover a whole paragraph has been accidentally omitted.

College applications can be completed online.  Sports and activity registrations can be done online.  Products can be ordered online.  Songs can be downloaded from online.  Books can be downloaded online.  Recipes can be researched and selected from online. Shows can be recorded and watched later. Nearly any movie can be found and watched with the click of a button.

But despite my fascination with technology – including crockpots, curling irons, printers/scanners, iPods, iPads, iPhones and GPS’s — I do think we all need a break from some of it from time to time. Last year, I gave up Facebook for Lent.  I knew it would be a good thing to do since I occasionally think back to a time when my youngest child felt neglected by me.

A few years ago, while browsing through my Facebook page, vaguely aware of my daughter’s voice, I suddenly heard “Facebook is a family wrecker!” It stopped me in my tracks.  I remember chuckling at the sound of this statement until I thought more about it.  I truly did not spend a lot of time on Facebook (although I enjoyed the time I did).  What my daughter was missing was simply an answer to her question which probably received a Just a minute from me. In her young mind, Facebook was wrecking an interaction with her mother.

And it is those face to face interactions and conversations that are so desperately needed these days.  Those are the first few hours without electricity during a storm (not the fifth day), when we play Monopoly or Life together by candlelight.

But it doesn’t need to be during a storm that we appreciate the attention we give each other.  We can get it by sitting down to dinner without a  t.v. on or a cell phone in sight. Or playing ping pong, taking a hike, even watching a movie or football or hockey together in the same room.

Yes, I am grateful for technology almost as much as I am grateful for my time with my teens.   We are no Ingalls family and that’s okay.  But winter is coming…. I really should stock up on some new board games.

To Drive Or Not To Drive: letting our teens go

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Sometimes I wonder if it was safer to drive a car in the 1980’s than it is today.  I ponder this thought lately as our second child buckles up behind the wheel, eager to practice his driving.

A driver in the 1980’s or earlier certainly had distractions when he drove.  Conversations, loud music from the radio, 8-track players, or cassette players, and (unbuckled) passengers swapping seats, grabbing items from other parts of the car, wrestling, or being tossed around in the back of a station wagon along with other loose objects were all a normal part of the driving experience.

But regardless of those distractions, the driver of a vehicle when I was a teenager could remain focused on the task of driving and not worry too much about other drivers losing their focus.  Today, even with all passengers buckled in safely and airbags set to employ if necessary, it feels less safe (to me) to be on the road than in the 1980’s.   I think it feels this way because I am aware that many drivers are willing to switch their focus, even for half a second, from the road to their electronic devices of choice.

So, like many other mothers of new drivers, I try not to let my fears of distracted drivers overwhelm me.  My son gives us many reasons to believe he is a capable driver. Both of his hands are on the wheel at ten and two.  His  eyes are focused on the road, if not checking the mirrors and speedometer from time to time.  Still, I try to bite my tongue and refrain from critiquing his nearly perfect driving.  Shouldn’t a new driver decelerate sooner as he approaches a red light?  Shouldn’t a new driver drive well below the speed limit? Was that a full and complete stop? 

It helps me to know that his first driver’s ed. road lesson is just days away.  I picture him  in the tiny, clown-sized  neon green driver’s ed. car, forced to drive at a snail’s pace, while another new driver miraculously squeezes into the back seat to observe.  I’m not sure who selected these tiny vehicles to be driving school cars but hopefully they are much sturdier than they appear.

As much as I love the idea of my son learning to drive alongside a patient, experienced driving instructor, there are still so many unknown situations that he will face, with and without this instructor.  I hope and pray that his good hand eye coordination (from baseball and hockey) and his good reflexes (from driving the lawn mower and his ATV) will prepare him for any unexpected situations he may encounter on the road.

Just last night, a friend reported on Facebook her own (unexpected) close encounter on the highway.  Her teenage daughter in the passenger seat witnessed a driver up ahead who was texting with his phone at the steering wheel.  Thankfully, she was able to warn her mother to keep her distance from this vehicle, because it went on to rear-end a car (at highway speed), forcing it to spin out-of-control across three lanes and then tumble repeatedly into the median strip.  The description sounded like a  scene from a movie or TV show.  (The woman survived, thankfully, but the offender sped off, abandoning the scene). Seeing something like that is a wake-up call that texting while driving happens and can easily be disastrous.

For any mothers with new or soon-to-be new drivers, I guarantee you will be like me for a while, walking around with a knot in your stomach until your new driver returns home or checks in with you to report his safe arrival somewhere else.  You will probably worry when you hear a siren if your new driver is on the road.  Then, after some time, you will relax a little and cherish the fact that your new driver can relieve you of some of your taxi driving duties.  You will love not having to run to the grocery store to get that forgotten item because your new driver will be happy to do it for you. I went through these stages with my daughter, who now has a year and a half of driving experience under her belt.  Now it’s my son’s turn.  And now the knot is back.

It’s funny to think that not too many years ago our kids were thrilled to be driving the old fashioned cars and the Grand Prix race cars at Story Land and Disney World.  I remember thinking to myself, we have plenty of years ahead of us before they will be sitting behind the wheel of a real car.  And here we are.  I will get used to this like my mother got used to me and my siblings pulling out of the driveway in the wood-paneled station wagon.

I just hope that some day soon, an engineer will design a vehicle that seats many, is very good on gas, and is indestructible.  Oh, and maybe it could be somewhat attractive. But that’s not really important.  Is that too much to ask?

Making Time For What Really Matters

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I’ve been thinking about time a lot lately.

Time flies.  Time-out.  In the nick of time.   Running out of time.  As time goes by.   Time keeps on ticking, ticking ticking… into the future.

The older I get the more I crave time with the people I love, doing things together without feeling pressed for time.   Time is precious.

Let’s face it:  We live in a fast-paced, overscheduled society.  My kids would be shocked if they took a step back in time to when I was a teenager.  There certainly was much more time to do homework, call friends, eat dinner as a family or just relax and read or just think.   In our house these days, a typical week flies by at breakneck speed, with very little time for anyone to enjoy each other’s company.

Wouldn’t it be fantastic if families could always have one of the weekend days free to do as they pleased without any scheduled activities on the calendar?  What would happen if stores were closed on Sunday as they were when I was a child?  Imagine if all kids’ sports teams played on Saturdays but never  on Sundays.  Isn’t Sunday supposed to be a day of rest anyways? A whole day of time-out is my fantasy.  Could it ever happen?

Maybe I’m craving this time because my family is like most other families, racing around town from soccer field to hockey rink to Stop & Shop and to a million other local places for meetings and activities. We have too much on our plates.  But maybe I’m wishing for more time because reality is setting in:  The teenage years are fleeting and before I know it my teenagers will be grown up and gone.  Poof!

This weekend I put my foot down and convinced my youngest child it would be okay (really!) to miss her weekly soccer game so our family could venture into Boston for the Red Sox World Series celebratory parade.  It was a perfect day and a perfect decision. The warm sun and bright, beautiful foliage made Boston even more spectacular for cheering on our World Series champions.  But in my opinion, it was several hours of being together as a family, without needing to rush back for anything in particular, that made this day so special.  Time is precious and we welcomed having it with each other.

We do what we can to carve out family time.  Birthdays are important to us, for example.  Finding a time to gather with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins to share a meal or sing Happy Birthday used to be easy when the kids were little.  Sometimes family time just has to come in shifts.  People come early or come late.  People miss each other altogether.  Some of the aunts and uncles live out of state and we can only see them on some of the holidays.  We take what we can get.   The upside to modern day living is that  we can always rely on photos, videos and Facetime to stay connected with our extended family if we can’t all be together.

One of my most treasured memories will always be our recent trip to San Francisco to visit my brother and his partner.  All of us (including my mom who came with us) agree  that the joy we felt on this trip exceeded even our two vacations to Disney World.  I never thought Disney could take a back seat to any destination.  It boils down to this:  Teens undoubtedly need to spend time with their peers, but they also need the love and stability that comes with spending time with their families.  Getting away from the local town and the excessive pace of everyday life, — for just a few hours or in this case, ten days — can help a family like ours slow down, regroup and enjoy a kind of magic that doesn’t have to include long lines and exciting rides.

For us, it  included a lot of laughs and breathtaking views of places we will never forget. — San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, Sonoma, and Yosemite National Park — with two of our favorite family members as our knowledgeable tour guides.  It was the trip of a lifetime for us that we will always cherish through pictures and memories.   How can you beat that?

Time is precious.   Kids grow up quickly.   Carving out time to be together is hard to do but essential.  We may never again see stores closed on Sundays. We may never have a day that is completely free of scheduled activities.  But once in a while I say a family time-out has to be  non-negotiable.