Math

You know what I hate?  Hate more than the one exercise I can’t do in my exercise video because my belly roll gets in the way? Hate more than the x-ray technician saying “I need to do the left breast one more time because I missed some tissue?”  Hate more than paying for car insurance for 2 teenage boy drivers (which is slightly less than the GNP of Madagascar)?

I hate math. More specifically, high school math.  Gimme back potty training, gimme back teaching to tie shoes, gimme back up every 3 hours to breast feed a screaming baby.  I’ll take it all to not have to suffer through my son struggling with his math class. I can’t do it for him, even if I wanted to. Not that he needs to “conquer this battle without Mommy’s help.”  I literally CAN’T help him. I can’t do the math. Sometime in the mid 90s, in grad school, I probably had a fighting chance to give him an educated guess, but not so much anymore. Starting around 7th grade, math has been his nemesis. His Voldemort. His kryptonite.  His Ivan Drago. He’s a pretty average kid all around, some things come easy, some things he has to work for, but in math he just feels like he is totally defective.

He has inherited (or been bullied into) our sarcastic sense of humor, he can be even more of a neat freak than me some times (yay!), he’s fun to be around, makes great popcorn, and loves our cats with a passion. I love him with all the love a Mom can possess. But nothing can bring down the party like an algebra homework assignment. We can be having a laugh filled family dinner, planning our summer vacation, talking about sunshine and unicorns, and then the dreaded question rears its ugly head:  “do you have any homework?” We go from smiling to miserable faster than 45 can tweet #alternatefacts to a CNN story.

My husband wonders why I like watching “My 600 LB Life” and “Hoarders”…I think I know why, at least 1 reason. Other than being what I would consider REAL reality shows, where else do you get to see such transformations, such progress, such success in under 60 minutes?  You go from shitty life to way less shitty life uber fast. It’s a pretty little success package with a bow on top. I love it. Algebra is not subject to such pleasures. It’s a nightmare, wrapped up in a bag of shit, delivered to your dining room table on a tray of rotting hamburger meat with maggots. Nothing is solved in 60 minutes. It’s everyday. Every fucking day. I hate what it does to him. I hate how it makes him feel.  And subsequently, how it makes us feel. It makes us all unhappy, frustrated, crying piles of math hating people.

Brendan is a trooper though. I honestly don’t know where we’d be without him. He sits with him, day after day, hour after hour, trying to help him understand.  He uses props, folks.  But he’s reached his breaking point several times.Then there is cursing. Because here’s the issue. If we are working harder than he is to help him succeed in math, then something is wrong.  And it’s the same conversation day after day, month after month, year after year. When you are bad at something, the only way to get better is to work at it.  Not just a little, but a LOT. Everyday. You have to do more work than the kid who breezes through math. Or even the kid who gets a B or C. Or D. The lectures, my God. It’s a CD on endless replay. He’s in 11th grade, there is no more time, there is only white knuckling til mid-June when school is done. And guess who doesn’t want to do the work to be successful?  And then guess who gets pissed that the other one doesn’t want to do the work?  And then guess who feels just sad and defeated and wants to make it all better with hugs and warm milk? Circle of hell.

He hates that he struggles and others don’t.  His internal dialogue is “I can’t do it. Studying won’t help. My teacher can’t help. I’m lost. I’ll fail no matter what.” And now on top of all that is college looming in the not so distant future.  You can eliminate all math careers from the mix easily enough, but it’s still another pressure to pile on top. For those who have kids where academics come easy, be so so so relieved, because this side of the aisle sucks. How do you convince your kid that they have worth even though they fail? Will a bad math grade keep him from success in life?  Probably not. But that doesn’t mean you get a free pass. You still have to push them to do better, do more, work harder.  I tell him that we do it out of love. Other kids get crappy grades and their parents don’t care. We are on your side, we want you to be successful, be happy. We will always be your biggest cheerleaders. Brendan’s favorite line:  We’ll work with you, but we won’t work without you. You HAVE to do the work. You can’t avoid it. It’s not going away. It’s mentally exhausting for everyone.

He does every assignment, he does some math everyday, but it’s still not enough. I tell him everyone struggles in something. Or many things. It all seems to fall on deaf ears though. His next bad test grade is a self-fulfilling prophecy. I failed because I told you I can’t do it. For those of you who haven’t had school-aged kids in the recent past, you can now get almost up to the minute grades online. It’s a blessing and a curse. If you are familiar with this and are on Team Math Sucks with me, you will know the feeling in your gut, as you log in, click on assignments and hold your breath, waiting to see the latest test grade. Hoping, fingers crossed, praying to the math gods that it’s not a failing grade. And then there’s the disappointment. It’s heart wrenching because you know what’s coming next. Another lecture, more tears, solidifying the mantra “I can’t do it.”

Sorry to say, I have no happy ending here. There’s no magic math pill. We are engaged parents, given him every leg up possible, love, support, encouragement. In the final analysis, is he just plain ol’ bad at math? If that’s true, I’m totally ok with that. I truly am. I’m not particularly good at it myself and I love him just the way he is. But the greater lesson here is that he has to try. God helps those who help themselves. Help me help you. Seriously, like The Little Engine That Could. Change the narrative in your head. Persevere. Hammer away. Make math your bitch. And if at the end of the the day, it’s a C, I’ll be the first to congratulate you because I will know you tried. Now I’m going to take my parenting pity party and have a glass of wine. Anyone have some math to do?

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End of an Era

Later this month I will watch my oldest son’s last soccer game of his career.  From a “career” standpoint, it wasn’t all that long, wasn’t all that glorious, wasn’t noteworthy to anyone but some family and friends, and that day will likely come and go with little fanfare. But this Mom will be one sad lady. If I were to brood about it too much right now, the tears would come.

We didn’t set out to have soccer be Riley’s “thing.” It was just a sport to do, a reason to get out of the house and get him involved with something.  The first time we took him to the city league at age 4, he cried on the field.  We went home.  The following spring we finally wised up and found out the details of the soccer that was going on across the street from our house. Cabrini Recreational Soccer. Cue the Star Wars theme music. When we first started, it was free–and we got a t-shirt, bonus! It wasn’t long before Riley was 7 and we knew we had a Cristiano Ronaldo on our hands.  It just wasn’t fair that he was playing on the 7/8 year old team, making the other kids look silly. He ended up playing on the 9/10 team and eventually he started travel soccer at age 9. He was athletic, had speed, and handled the soccer ball much better than almost every other kid on the the field.  At the time, we were sharpening our pencils, we knew the contracts for FIFA would be rolling in from every European powerhouse team 🙂  Ah, the dream of every young, mildly skilled, adolescent kid’s parents.

Fast forward 10 years to my 17 year old, high school senior, Varsity team soccer player.  We’ve spent hundreds of hours on the soccer field watching him play, even more in the car driving to training, games, and tournaments. The monetary total?  Off the top of my head estimate would be $25k.  Nearly 10 years of travel soccer costs, futsal, camps, technical training, uniforms, hotel stays, gas, beer (at the tournaments…let’s be real people), eating out, and Slurpees (at least $1k right there, you’re welcome 7-11).  And don’t get me started on the cleats.  2 pair of cleats a year, plus indoor shoes, plus turf shoes.  We can put shoes on three whole 11v11 teams with the number of pairs of soccer footwear we have bought for Riley. Didn’t seem so bad in monthly installments, but when you total it up…whew, that’s a lot of money.  We are blessed to have been able to do all this for him.

Riley is a good, solid, soccer player. Fantastic? No. Better than some? Yes. Fun to watch?  For sure. Mom-colored opinion of his play? Amazing, astonishing and simply unparalleled in skill 😉 He struggled with always being smaller than his similar aged teammates.  Not hitting puberty and the ensuing growth spurt until 16 made it difficult for him to compete physically. But he did his best (usually). And even on his worst days, I still love watching him play. If you’ve ever participated in a kid vs. parent athletic contest, you’ve experienced what I will term “Complete and Utter Incapability of Keeping up with your Child in a Sporting Endeavor that Requires Running.” Soccer is hard (regardless of what you football naysayers will spout).  Although if you’ve ever attended a soccer game, you will very clearly hear numerous parents yelling from the stands various ways their child/the team could be doing better. Because everything looks easier from the bleachers. Well, Mom and Dad, put some cleats on and you come out here and show me just how easy it is. I include myself in this category. In a roundabout way of getting to my point, Riley may not be Ronaldo, but he’s talented in a way I’ve grown to truly appreciate. And my goodness, I will truly miss it when he’s done.

He’s made friends, I’ve made friends, I’ve made friends with his friends. I’ve laughed and cried and smiled on the sidelines, I’ve frozen my butt off and been sunburned more than once.  Brendan managed his travel teams over the years, and I took the helm on managing his high school team, while Brendan announces home games in the booth.  It sometimes feels we’ve put in more time than he has. But that’s what parents do. And not because we love soccer. But because we love Riley. That’s what parents do. I wouldn’t trade a second.  But I am SOOOO happy he quit t-ball after 1 season.

Job #1

So Riley got a job.  His first W-2, paycheck givin’, tax-taking, unglamorous, lower than minimum wage job. We told him he had until June 12, the day school got out, to land a job.  Or it was buh-bye to phone, car, computer, PS3, life as he knows it. He’s actually been working for the last 3 years as a soccer referee, pretty cush job.  But it’s seasonal, lasts about 3 months in the spring and fall, and it’s also not “guaranteed.”  Games are assigned or not assigned, so there is no regular paycheck, so to speak.  It does however, pay well, and no taxes because he doesn’t make enough :-). So now that he is moving to a REAL job, it’s gonna get ugly. And that IS guaranteed. My poor guinea pig 1st son.

Do you remember your first jobs? Come with me on a stroll down minimum wage lane. I started doing menial filing in my Mom’s office when I was 14.  I listened to Billy Joel in that basement over and over and over. It was a cassette tape.  And I sang at the top of my lungs because no one could hear me.  And I was good. At filing…not singing.

My high school job summer job was at Wendy’s ..my first and only fast food job.  I quickly graduated from bun toaster to drive thru window because I could make change in my head (Thanks, Dad!).  At the time, Wendy’s served Chicago style hot dogs.  I could assemble one of those bad boys in my sleep, there were like 8 toppings.

College saw me employed at Little Caesars on campus for a year (turned down the $.05 raise to come back for a 2nd year, take that bitches), the dorm cafeteria for a couple of years, then I was a Meijer cashier.  I got put on their “do not rehire” list because I was a no-call, no-show for my last day of work. I’m such a rebel. To this day I want to apply at Meijer, just to see how long they hold on to that list. Then the shit got real.  I got a job working with developmentally disabled adults who live in group homes.  Their disabilities ranged from wheelchair bound and non-communicative to downs syndrome folks who held down jobs. I didn’t last very long, that was a taxing job. It takes a special kind of person, and I ain’t that special.

During the first couple summers of college and during breaks I was back home and did transcription work for an office of psychologists and psychiatrists. It was that job that helped me see that I did not want to go into clinical psychology. It was very interesting, but not my cup of wine (and yes, before you ask, I got discounts on much needed therapy….).

Just before graduating college I got a job as a bank teller at a local Kalamazoo bank.  I actually kind of liked that job, but let’s just say banks don’t appreciate my sense of humor.  Not a good fit.  I know, hard to believe.

Then I got married and moved to Maryland where I worked for a temp agency.  I did some really weird administrative assistant jobs, very short term, some good, some aw. ful.  But my last placement saw me working in the travel department for World Bank employees for almost a year.  I was a travel agent of sorts. It was pretty cool, actually, I was booking hotels and flights around the world and in Washington D.C.  My office overlooked Georgetown University and the Potomac.  I was kind of a big deal. By then we had moved to Arlington, VA into our plush and stately 1 bedroom apartment, Brendan still had his “real” job working in Alexandria, VA and we were a 1 car family. It was a Ford Probe.  The spoils of consistent employment 🙂

Then I was starting grad school in Baltimore, so we moved north.  I took my travel agent skills and got a job at a travel agency working in their group department doing high school trips to Europe and investment trips to South America.  I worked for a bunch of Austrians.  I learned that “shiza” means “shit.”  Other outstanding memory from there? Watching the OJ Simpson verdict on on a tiny little TV. If the glove don’t fit, you must acquit. I had a paltry salary, but it was an intriguing experience.

THEN…finally…I landed in what I would call my first REAL job. During grad school, I was referred to the Maryland Department of Transportation, State Highway Administration.  I worked in Testing and Recruitment full time, 40 whole hours a week (while still in school), earned vacation, a nice salary, a cubicle of my very own, commuting, doing work that required a college degree. I’d made it to the big leagues. Stuff I did, actually, for realsies, impacted other people’s lives. Who the hell thought that was a good idea.  But it was in my field of study and I really liked it.

So in 10 short years I went from filing to test development for engineering professionals. The plan worked. Then I got pregnant, quit my job, moved back to Michigan and got the BEST job ever: Stay at Home Mommy for 8 years 🙂 My salary was hugs and kisses. I was not very far removed from my college days where I proudly declared, “Of course I’ll work when I have babies!”  But I didn’t. For me personally, it wasn’t about some grand principle that I needed to make a stand on. Brendan and I talked, decided no day care for our family, and made it work.  It was glorious.

“The best laid plans of Mice and Men oft go astray.”  Robert Burns

Eventually, after #3 was here, I hustled Market Day part-time for a couple of years, then landed a coveted school secretary gig, where I sit today, 8 years later. I now talk about pensions, retirement and 401k plans. Not what I planned on, not what I studied for, but I’m happy. So what will Riley’s job as a dishwasher at Manuel’s Taco Hut turn into one day? Computer programmer? Circus performer? HEAD dishwasher at Ruth Chris’ Steakhouse?  A Mom can dream. He doesn’t have any concrete plans for his future career right now, so who knows.

I don’t think anyone would argue that it doesn’t really matter what your first job is, just that you HAVE a job as a teen. You are responsible to someone else besides your parent for something with a good amount of importance attached to it, but not TOO important. I honestly think his job is gonna suck. Huge. But he’s strangely excited about it. Lord knows the kid knows how to spend money like it’s going out of style, so he’s gonna need to work, no matter what it is.  We spend at least 1/3 of our time at work, it’s impossible for it to not have a huge impact on nearly every element of our lives as we go about our business of living.  So Riley’s timeline begins with dishwasher…oh the possibilities.

“The best way to appreciate your job is to imagine yourself without one.” -Oscar Wilde

WTH?

This is the text my son sent me this weekend.  “WTH?” It wasn’t WTF, so I was mildly happy about that.  But it still made my heart stop for just 1 second.  I mean, hell isn’t a bad word.  He didn’t even spell it out.  But he thought it. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. A swearing fire.

I remember the one and only time I hit Riley.  He was about 4. I was just around the corner from him, he didn’t know I was there.  I heard him say “God damn-it.” I spun around like I was a roller derby queen and slapped his face. I screamed at him, don’t you ever say that! He cried, I cried, it was a disaster. It was an out of body experience. I was so angry because when he said, it sounded like he knew exactly what he was saying.  Like he said it with purpose.  I don’t know if he did or not. Probably not. But it stung my ears like I had just touched a hot stove.  (Disclaimer #1: I’m not proud of hitting him, it still makes me cringe to think I did that.) He probably heard it from me or his Dad when we thought he wasn’t listening. (Disclaimer #2: I banned that word combination from my vocabulary ever since that day, and I hate even hearing it).  In that moment though, my parenting life flashed before my eyes. What have I done?  Where did I go wrong? I’m a child abuser! My son is going to prison, he’s obviously a serial killer in his early years.

He never said a bad word in front of me again. And Alex and Matthew haven’t ever said anything in front of me either.  The key words here being “in front of me.”  I heard him swear at the PS3 when he didn’t know I was on the other side of the basement.  I yelled back at him “watch your mouth when Mom is around!” He’s 16. I was swearing at 16 (sorry, Mom).  He’s a boy. He’s in high school. He’s heard it from TV shows, movies, soccer coaches, video games, friends and Dad, and myriad other places probably. But he won’t hear it from me. He’s still my almost-17-year-old-baby. And the truth is, I don’t want him cursing around me. At least not yet. I think I was well into my 30’s before I started using “shit” in front of my parents.  My Mom still doesn’t like it.

Anyone that knows me, knows that I was a truck driver in a previous life. Swearing is part of my ADULT vernacular. I am standing on a very unstable, rickety soap box here, I know that. I’m not looking for affirmation or sympathy. Just pondering that ever moving line in the sand of my children becoming adults. Riley texting me “WTH” is just a blip on the growing up radar. I guess I just tend to (purposefully try and) forget that not everything about becoming an adult is rainbows and unicorns. And that text was a quick reminder. Driver’s licence? Cool. Drinking alcohol at 21?  Scary. Graduating high school? Sweet. Paying thousands of dollars for college with no guarantee of a payoff or success?  Terrifying. First date? Charming. Long term teen relationship?  Oh dear God in Heaven, please give me strength.

Cursing is not a big deal in the scheme of things. But it’s symbolic. And I don’t like it. Even though that makes me a total and complete hypocrite here, I know that. Not the first time, won’t be the last. Regardless, I think I tend to take this growing up thing in stride. I am scared, but I truly TRY and stay in the moment and not freak out about what lies ahead. Worry never solved anything, right? When Matthew was still sucking his thumb later than he should, I didn’t worry, I knew he wouldn’t do it in his middle school math class. When Alex didn’t seem concerned that his pants didn’t match his shirts at age 9, I knew one day he’d give a crap about what he looked like in public. And Riley who once thought deodorant was optional, now uses more face creams and hair products than I do. These are good things, or at least “not a big deal” things.

It’s the “not so good things,’ the “really not ok things,” and the “big consequence things” that I have yet to come to terms with in a lot of areas. Only because they haven’t reared their ugly heads thus far. And they are hard to talk about with your kids. They don’t have to be. But they are. Let’s just say teenagers are not always receptive to a Mom talk. Who wants to talk about the tough stuff when other little stuff is going so well?  With teens, it seems like you are always walking a tightrope, walking on proverbial eggshells, not sure where the next breakdown will come from. You want to hold that balance, not upset the apple cart.  When it seems like the next argument or lecture is always just under the surface, you don’t want to broach the hard subjects. Sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, drinking, college, failure, jobs, future, responsibility, career, moving out, girlfriends, disappointment.  The non-black and white, super gray, list is endless. I wish I had a happy ending for this, but I don’t. I’m still stuck in the thick of it. Some days it feels like quicksand, other days like quicksand in a tornado watching a tidal wave approach on the horizon. And some days it feels like the blessing that it is.

So for today, I’ll take my WTH text, a deep breath, and go on my merry way.

“We worry about what a child will become tomorrow, yet we forget that he is someone today.” -Stacia Taucher

I Give Up. (Who am I kidding, no I don’t.)

You ever see that saying, motivational moniker, inspirational BS thing about teenagers that says “I’m not your friend, I’m your parent.  I will stalk you, haunt your dreams, yell, scream, and otherwise make your life a living hell so you get out of my house sometime before I retire.”  It might not go exactly like that, but you get the idea.  I LONG for the days of losing a binky, potty training, teaching how to tie shoes, how to hold the pencil correctly, 1s, 2s and 3s on a report card (even though we all know they actually are As, Cs, and Es, you aren’t fooling anyone, Mr. Superintendent), and recess. Please, give me back diapers, breast feeding, car seats, and Johnson’s baby shampoo.  Because teenagers suck.  Hard.

Although I suppose there is another perspective I may want to consider.  Parenting a teenager sucks. Hard.  My God, I question almost everything I say and do.  My husband and I don’t see completely eye to eye on the best route to take toward raising non-Maury Povich Episode 256 adults who we hope can get a paycheck and pay rent one day.  But thankfully, we are always willing to talk it out and try our best to blend our two opinions.  We grew up somewhat differently and let’s face it, a Mom is going to have a different perspective than a Dad.  It’s just science. He’s more of a hard-ass, and I’m more of a soft-ass (literally and figuratively).

But sometimes it just doesn’t matter what we decide is the best route to take, the best way to punish, encourage, and otherwise move our boys forward in life.  The result is usually one of two things:  seemingly passive acceptance with a perfected eye roll or arguing.  Is it even possible to win in a negative situation with your teen?  I think not.  (and yes, it’s about winning…).

Although I’d love to believe that MY kids are different when it comes to consequences.  I envision conversations between my oldest and his friends going something like this:

Riley:  “Yeah, my Mom and Dad took away my phone and computer games during the school week because I didn’t try my hardest in school and didn’t meet the totally reasonable GPA they expected of me. I admit, I could have worked harder, but I made that poor decision and now I’m getting my just punishment.  I’m not particularly happy about it, but I get it.  My parents just want me to learn the value of hard work and I appreciate that. I will be a better person because of it.”

Friend: “For sure, your parents sound WAY more loving and accepting than mine. I sure wish I could live in your house.”

Reality?  “My freaking parents took away my only reason for living, my phone and computer games. It’s SO stupid.  I mean the bad grades weren’t MY fault, my teachers never even passed back the papers til it was too late. I’m going to just be a total a**h*** to them until I get my grades up to where THEY think they should be.  Total jerks.”

Friend: “You have an iPhone 6 AND a car AND your OWN computer and really nice clothes. You are so lucky!”

Ok, so the friend response was more fantasy, but it’s what we often fall back on when our kids start complaining about their really tough lives.

So how bad would the GPA have been had we not put the conditions on it?  Is that all that separates us from the parents whose kids who get all E’s?  Us being jerks to them and requiring an adequate amount of effort from them?  I do truly believe that kids crave boundaries, from a toddler until teenage-dom.  Then they start craving independence, after all, they know everything about everything for all time. The trouble is they don’t ever ADMIT they want boundaries. It’s just a thing we read in parenting magazines that becomes a parenting mantra I tell myself to feel better.  I don’t want to wait for my kids to say “You were right Mom, I see that now.”  I believe that will happen one day, I just don’t know when. And meanwhile I just feel like a big ogre.

(Let me take a moment here to say to MY Mom, “You were right.  Among other things, I still only buy clothes on sale. I have you to thank for that life skill.”)

I see what happens when parents ARE friends with their kids instead of a strong guiding force in their life. It’s fun for a while, but a larger problem looms in the future. I know what happens if I let my kids slide in life and get away with murder, I watch Dr. Phil. We are edging closer to a 35 year old jobless, basement dweller “holding out for management” every passing day.  But it doesn’t make it any easier in the moment to follow through on consequences.  Dr. Phil would say I was going easy on my kids because it makes MY life better, not theirs.  He’s right.  It is easier to gloss over the bad stuff and make excuses for them.  Decide that it’s their life, if they want to screw it up, so be it. Cover up their mistakes, allow them a free pass instead of grabbing hold of a teachable moment.  I get to enjoy a lot more restful nights and my calendar would clear up a ton, that’s for sure.

Buuuuuuuut we all know that’s not going to happen. 16 years and 3 kids and I still haven’t accepted my role as the bad guy.  I’d so much rather be the “fun” guy.  Honestly, I think I’m both, but it’s the bad guy persona that keeps me up at night. It’s the bad guy that I am afraid my kids will ONLY remember and cry about to their therapist. They won’t remember all the vacations, the movies, the books read at night, the hugs, the kisses, the help, the food in their bellies, the cool phones in their pockets. Think about all the things us parents HAVE to provide (due to state and federal government mandated laws, grrrr….) and WANT to provide out of pure unadulterated love for our kids.  Will they remember that good stuff, too?

So no, I’m not giving up.  But I will continue to second guess myself, question my every decision, and celebrate each passing week that I don’t strangle one of my kids, with a large glass (or 4) of wine.

“Parenting is the easiest thing in the world to have an opinion about, but the hardest thing in the world to do.” -Matt Walsh