Like Father, Like Son

At Christmas, my kids get to see their cousins from a couple of states away, which they always love. This past Christmas, my eleven year old nephew, Jack, brought a drone, which he proved very adept at flying.

We’d all watch – mesmerized – as he hovered it gently just above the floor or zoomed it across the living room, doing little flips along the way. It was obvious he had spent a lot of time with it because he had masterful control.

And then we opened presents and Daryl discovered that Jack’s family had bought him the exact same drone. Once gift opening was completed, the boys all headed outside to fly their drones.

It wasn’t long before they came back in.

Jack was excitedly telling his dad that Daryl had pressed the auto-land button but instead, the drone had shot up into the air, over the trees, and disappeared.

“It wouldn’t have done that if he had pressed the auto-land button,” my brother countered.

“But that’s what happened!” the boys all insisted. They headed out to the creek near my mom’s house and searched for the drone. At our suggestion, they went door-to-door at the neighbors’ houses, asking if they could search their backyards.

They only searched one backyard – no one else was home. My mom and I made a flyer and forced Daryl to go back to the neighbors and leave flyers and ask everyone to keep an eye out for the missing drone.

The adults are all fairly certain that Daryl flew the drone too high and then, instead of pushing the auto-land button as he intended, pushed the auto-take-off button, which rocketed the drone outside of his radio control and into a large gust of wind.

The drone is gone. Fastest end to a Christmas present ever.

The incident reminded me significantly of my husband’s remote control airplane he bought back when we were in our early college days. He bought the large balsa-wood plane, replacement propellers, extra av gas, and a whole host of other accessories because, and I quote, “I’m going to be flying this thing a lot. I’ve always wanted to do this.”

We took it to the local softball fields so he’d have plenty of room. First go at it, he ran it along the grass to pick up speed, then didn’t get enough lift and crashed it full speed into a fence. Propellers broken.

But we had replacement propellers! Yay! Some time with some tools and the plane was ready to go again. He’d learned from that attempt and this time got the plane into the air.

Almost immediately, something appeared to be wrong. The plane kept flying further and further away. I glanced nervously at my husband. Does he know what he’s doing? I thought.

“Honey?” I finally asked tentatively. “What’s wrong?”

“I can’t see the plane,” he said. This was nigh on 25 years ago, so I don’t remember all the details, but I think he might not have had his glasses on.

The plane eventually nosedived into, just like his son years later, a nearby creek. We were, in one small detail, more fortunate than our son in that we found the plane. The end result was the same, however. The plane was mangled beyond repair. It was no more.

Over the next five years, the expensive av gas was used to get the burn piles going (we lived out in the country) and the cost of the plane and its accessories sat on our credit card for years. And I used the tale to my benefit for a very long time. Any time I did something stupid and he teased me about it, I’d mention the plane and he’d get quiet.

Eventually, my list of stupid things got long enough or I finally did a stupid something that outstripped his in total cost that it stopped being propped up as an argument. I actually hadn’t thought about it in quite some time. Until our son repeated the experience.

Like father, like son. I love these guys…

How To Remember The Little Things

My mom always left notes for herself. Everywhere. There could be notes hanging from the ceiling fan pull in the dining room, guaranteeing she would see them since that was the main thoroughfare of the house. She’d tape notes on the inside of the front door so we’d see them as we left. Or on the door out to the garage. Or taped to the bathroom mirror. Or she might lay the note on her purse or on some other object that she wasn’t likely to forget.

I used to think she was forgetful. Now I know how smart she was.

Her notes would remind her to get something out of the fridge or to take something with her or make a phone call, some little out-of-the-norm activity that she needed to do. Or it would be a note reminding us of something we needed to do.

I actually come from a long line of note posters. My grandpa, her dad,  taped notes on the staircase banister, which was the central location of his house. These notes were often notes instructing my grandma on something she needed to do or a note for one of us coming to the house. The funny thing about his notes were that they were always typed and dated. I’m kinda surprised he didn’t sign them or have them notarized. I used to imagine that he filed the old notes away in case he needed them as evidence in a disagreement on something or for historical reference.

Despite having been raised by note-posters and understanding the intrinsic value of the activity, I’ve never made it part of my daily routine. And considering how badly I remember the minutia of life, that’s not a good thing.

While bemoaning the stacks of stuff in our entry way that my husband plans on (some day) (when he remembers) taking out to his studio, I remembered the notes.

“Maybe you need a better reminder {than all the crap in the way… I thought but didn’t say}. Maybe a note on the door so you see it on the way out.”

That put the thought in my head.

I have these Wella bars that I eat for breakfast at work and I accidentally took the entire box to work on Monday without remembering to leave one at home to eat before our half marathon this weekend. So I knew I had all week to remember to bring one back home.

Yesterday, as I retrieved one from the fridge in the morning, I thought, You aren’t going to ever remember to take one of these out at the end of the day.

Aha! I thought with a smile. A Post-It note will do the trick. But where? The fridge? My computer screen? No, I’ll get used to seeing it all day and it won’t work. Aha! On my purse!

And that’s what I did. Come the end of the day when I reached for my purse, I smiled broadly at my wild success and retrieved the almost-forgotten Wella bar from the fridge and slipped it in my purse, triumphant.

And then this morning as I pondered our upcoming race, I suddenly exclaimed an expletive. The must-be-refrigerated Wella bar from the day before was still nestled in my purse.

I guess I’m still in the beginner stages. Another note, perhaps? Maybe I should have carried the note with me and placed it on my steering wheel or back on my purse. So close, yet so far. I’ve got a long way to go before I earn my place among the great note-posters of my family.

string-around-finger-9x10

Bonafide Bonehead

In the course of telling you about my recent cellphone catastrophe, I mentioned the boneheaded moment I decided to rinse my cellphone off in the sink before trying to… rescue it from the effects of excessive moisture.

I wish I could tell you it was an isolated incident.

It is not.

My nonsensical idiocy runs the gamut from obvious (to everyone else) poor fashion decisions to actual life and death matters.

In eighth grade, I wanted to look like, I don’t know, Molly Ringwald or something. I wanted to look like a hip young girl in tune with 80s chic, and I thought I had exactly what I needed to pull it off. Unfortunately, no matter how bright and preppy your shirt looks, if you combine an ultra-short black leather mini skirt with hot pink tights and little heeled silver boots, you look like you belong in the red light district, not on the red carpet. It wasn’t until I noticed all the whispers taking place that I realized there was more to style than just color coordination.

Childhood can perhaps be excused, but adults are supposed to know better. Before we had kids, I got in a huge fight with my husband about whether or not we should wear face masks while playing pick-up roller hockey. He insisted we should. I insisted that no one else even wore helmets and we’d look like over-concerned fools if we added face masks. That night – I’m not kidding you – that very night, I found myself in the urgent care center at the hospital getting 11 stitches in my eyebrow after colliding with someone on the rink.

I obviously didn’t learn my lesson because sometime after that, we arrived at an indoor skating rink for pick-up hockey with a rougher crowd. I dug and dug through my large hockey bag but couldn’t find my rubber mouth guard. Oh, well,  I thought. It’ll probably be OK to play without. Not too far into the evening, a show-off forward approached me with the puck. I stood my ground (perhaps a boneheaded decision itself) and he smashed right into me. As I picked me and my freshly broken stick up off the rink, I noticed that there was a bit of something on my tongue. Part of my tooth. I found the mouth guard as I put my stuff back in my bag.

Then there was the moment about a month after my first child was born when I loaded her and the dog up in the car and went to pick up a car part from a dealership for my husband. By the time I got there, I had… well… basically forgotten I had a child. I was standing in line at the parts counter when all the blood drained from my face as I realized I had left her in the car. Did I run back out and get her as any normal person would do? No! I stayed in line because I didn’t want all those other people to think I was a bad mom when I re-entered with a tiny baby. So… I became a worse mom… by leaving her there. {For the truly aghast among you, it was neither too hot nor too cold outside. She wasn’t in danger just by virtue of being in the car.}

While deep in a secluded section of Grand Canyon, requiring a steep uphill climb and several miles of walking to get anywhere close to a ranger, I once tried to take a close-up picture of a cute little baby snake… rattling its cute little tail at me… Until my panicked husband yelled as he approached and I backed off. In my defense, none of the people standing around watching had said anything at all. My husband made sure to give me all the grim details of what would have happened had I been bitten. And he was quite amused that I had gotten so close to the snake that the pictures I had taken were all blurry.

But perhaps the most boneheaded decision I made was when I was a Junior in High School. My boyfriend at the time asked me to marry him. Well, I didn’t know if that was a good move – I was fairly certain it wasn’t. I didn’t know if I wanted to marry him or not. And I certainly didn’t know what would happen if I said no. What I did know was that I didn’t want us to break up. And I knew that wouldn’t happen if I said yes, so I said yes. And he was oh, so happy.

Fortunately for me, many of my boneheaded moves did not have disastrous consequences – this one in particular. That boyfriend was the last one I ever had and we’ve beaten all odds on many fronts to have made this marriage work. And I truly couldn’t ask for a better person to be there laughing like a hyena whenever I do something really, really dumb.

Kids Ruin Everything

Kids ruin everything.

They ruin your mind. A wise woman advised me at my first baby shower to write down every cute thing they do because, “You think you will remember, but you won’t. Motherhood zaps your brain cells!”

She was right.

If you are a woman, they ruin your body. First they do it by distending your belly to such a degree that, especially if you have more than one or two, the skin simply gives up and sags. Then, if you breastfeed, they do it all over again to your breasts.

They also ruin your childhood memories or the things you love. You wouldn’t think they could, but they do. They do this either by just being present or by virtue of the increased “enlightenment” of the world in general since you were young.

When Jane was about two or three years old, one of my favorite songs came on the radio. One of those songs that I always sing along with at full volume if I’m in the car. Only there’s something about belting out “Hell is for children!” with my innocent, young sponge in the back seat that just struck me as wrong.

First I stopped singing. Then I turned down the volume. Then I changed the channel.

I knew Pat Benatar was singing about the evils of child abuse, but how could I explain that to my daughter if she asked? And would I want to? She ruined the song. For years, I’ve had to change the channel instead of sing along.

Movies fall victim too. I loved Real Genius when I was a kid. Loved it. I couldn’t wait until my kids were old enough to see it. We finally sat down to watch it one evening and, at first, they loved it too.

But then the woman that desperately wants to sleep with a genius came into the picture. She started trying to seduce Mitch, the young protagonist. Jane turned on one of my favorite childhood movies. Now, whenever the movie comes up, she says, “Oh, you mean that one where the woman wanted to rape a boy?”

When I protest, she reminds me that an adult having sex with a teenager is rape. When I remind her that the woman was not successful in her seduction, she points out that Mitch did have sex with his girlfriend, who was 18. He was not. Rape, says Jane.

The most recent experience wasn’t even with one of my own children. It isn’t enough that my own children sully the things I enjoy in life – no, my friends’ kids have to get in on it too.

I was driving my boys and my oldest son’s best friend when The Police’s classic, “Every Breath You Take” came on. Another song I love to sing with, and so I began.

To my surprise, our young guest began to sing along with me. Well, almost. His version went something like this:

Every breath you take and every move you make

Every bond you break, every step you take,

I’ll be stalking you

I glared at him and kept singing.

So did he.

Every single day and every word you say

Every game you play, every night you stay,

I’ll be stalking you

I tried to laugh it off, but now he had me thinking about the lyrics differently…

Oh, can’t you see you belong to me

How my poor heart aches with every step you take

Every move you make, every vow you break

Every smile you fake, every claim you stake,

I’ll be stalking you

I couldn’t ignore it anymore. That beautiful, beautiful love song from my youth was now creepy. Really creepy. He was right. The song wasn’t about dedication and forlorn love. It was about stalking.

Crap! I loved that song. And a kid ruined it.

They don’t stop when they become adults either. My sister-in-law ruined her mother’s love of watching football. She absorbed all the information about concussion and injury and declared the sport too violent. She harangued her mother for supporting it and cheering on. No, not only should no one play the sport, but no one should watch it either.

With a certain sad resignation, my mother-in-law stopped watching her Broncos. And now they are going to the Super Bowl!

I’m telling you, kids ruin everything.

Cold Days, Warm Memories

I have very strong (and oddly fond) memories of sitting in a chilled but warming car as my mother scraped the ice off the windows of a morning. I remember watching through the ice, seeing her first only as a blur and then clearly as the ice was removed. I recall wondering whether she’d get that last little bit in the corner or if it’d be a quick job. I remember noticing that sometimes the ice came away more easily than other times.

These memories evoke a warm, comfortable feeling not unlike the memories of a grilled cheese sandwich and chicken noodle soup brought to me  when I was sick. Or of laying my head on her chest as I cuddled in her lap and listening to her talk to other people in the room, marveling at how different her voice sounded when heard through her chest. Listening to her heart beat. Relaxing in her strong and sure presence.

This morning, the weather had turned unexpectedly cold. Because of a shortage of pants brought on by rips in knees, holes in crotches, and massive stains on seats, I had mistakenly encouraged one of my children to wear shorts, thus saving me from the daily washing of the one pair of pants remaining (which itself was missing a button). We all rushed out to the cold car – no prewarming from this mother.

What appeared to be just water on the windshield and the windows on one side of the car turned out to be thick sheets of ice. As I scraped the windows, I saw my children’s faces silently watching me through the disappearing ice. Warm memories flooded my cold body. And can I just say this?

It sucks being the grown-up outside doing the scraping.

Underwear Memories

This past weekend, Daryl, the eleven year old, announced that he had no clean underwear.  We had recently removed the much-too-small oldest underwear from his supply and he was running short.  I had purchased some more but was saving them for that oh-so-favorite Christmas gift.  But now he was out.  I offered him the much-too-small pairs that he had been wearing just a week or two ago but apparently they were no longer acceptable.  And asking him to wear dirty underwear when I had ten clean pairs tucked away in my closet seemed petty and gross.

So I announced with as much enthusiasm as I could muster that he was going to get part of a Christmas present early!  Yay!  And then I opened the package of new underwear and extracted a pair.  Gosh, it looked so big!  I took it into him and he frowned at me.  “That’s going to be too big,” he said.

“Just try them,” I responded.

He did and they fit just fine.  As I folded laundry later that weekend, I thought about how hard it had been getting to tell Hal’s underwear apart from Daryl’s.  Now, as I folded my husband’s, I thought about how it was going to get harder to tell Daryl’s from Daddy’s.

And that reminded me of a major source of contention between my brother and our step-dad.  My brother had a really bad habit of stealing our step-dad’s underwear.  I can’t recall now whether he extracted them from the laundry before it got sorted or if he actually ventured into his room to steal them out of the drawers.  At any rate, he was always walking around in Bill’s underwear and Bill was always irritated.

So one Christmas, or maybe it was for Bill’s birthday, I hatched a plan.  I bought a package of underwear and stitched colorful “B”s on the fly of them.  Some were small, some were quite large.  All were brightly colored.  When he opened them, I triumphantly announced that now my brother could not claim that he didn’t know the underwear he was wearing was not his.  Problem solved.

It wasn’t too long before my brother was seen walking the house in underwear with bright “B”s stitched on the fly.

Today would have been Bill’s 66th birthday.  He left us nearly nine years ago when his cancer returned with a vengeance.  I’m pleased that memories like this one still return periodically and still make me smile.

When Math And Awesome Aren’t Considered Synonymous

Jane and I had a conversation recently as she struggled with her math homework and I grew frustrated with what she didn’t understand.  I finally looked at her and said, “Honey, I’m sorry.  But you are not a math person.  I mean, you may do well in math sometimes.  You are in the Pre-AP class and you are making an A, but you just aren’t a math person.  That’s ok – I still love you.”

She shot back immediately with, “Mom, I’m sorry.  But you are not an awesome person.  I mean, you sometimes do awesome things.  Like, you married him.” She motioned to her father.  “And you gave birth to this.” At that, she shimmied her hands down her figure.  “But you just aren’t an awesome person.  That’s ok – I still love you.”

“She does, however, have an exceptional command of the English language,” my husband said with a smile.

“Yes, yes, she does,” I said, laughing.

This is a fascinating reality to me.  Ask anyone who knows us – she looks just like me.  I mean, she’s bigger.  Taller, bigger frame, fuller features.  But I could never deny her as mine.

She also talks incessantly.  Just like me.  And fails to guard her tongue when it would be best not to say something.  Just like me (although I’m finally starting to learn).  She can’t help giving her opinion, taking over, dominating a conversation.  Just. Like. Me.

She loves to read.  She writes very well.  Her eyes are blue.  She angers easily and has trouble letting it go.  Just like me.

But she’s not me.  She is definitely not me.  I get that and I’m ok with that.  But sometimes, in some areas, it’s still hard for me to wrap my mind around.  And this is one of them.

I loved math.  I mean, I dearly, obsessively, insanely loved math.  When we got to story problems, I consistently worked the unassigned problems in the book because I thought they were fun.  And since I had to know if I was right, I asked the teacher to check them.

Someone gave me a math calendar in early high school.  Each day of the year had a math problem whose answer was that day’s date.  I raced through the entire calendar during the Christmas break and carried it in my backpack when school resumed.  I had been baffled by the repeated appearance of a variable without enough information to solve.  It gnawed at me.

And then one day, my Algebra II teacher said, “Remember how we’ve always told you that you can’t take the square root of a negative number?  Well, we lied.  Meet ‘i’.”  At that, she wrote on the board that i equaled the square root of -1.

That’s all I needed.  I actually exclaimed out loud, “I!” and immediately began to rummage through my backpack.  I pulled the calendar out triumphantly and began to work all those unsolved problems, oblivious to both the instruction taking place and all the incredulous stares of my classmates.

To love something so dearly and have your children not share your passion is difficult.  And, quite frankly, confusing.  When growing up, I was used to most other students not sharing my love of problem solving.  But then I went to work as an engineer and I was surrounded by other people just like me.  Life made sense.

Then I had children.  And I wasn’t prepared to hear “I really don’t like math” or “this doesn’t make sense” or “why do I need to know this”.  Or  “none of the careers I’m interested in require any of the things I’m learning in Algebra I.”  Excuse me?  What’s that got to do with the price of tea in China?!

That’s what I got last night as I helped again with homework.  Maybe part of the problem is that I truly delight in trying to get her to *see* how it works.  And she’s not interested.  She just wants to plug the numbers and get an answer and put a box around it and call it good.

She’s still stubborn and overly certain that she’s right.  Which gets frustrating when she’s not.  She worked a problem and eventually got to “t=3”.

“So what’s t?” I asked.

“It’s 3,” she said.

“No, what are its units?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, what is it?  3 what?”

“It’s the distance that Claire ran.”

“No it’s not.”

“Yes it is.”

“No,” I said firmly.  “It’s not.  Look at your equations up there.  Claire was running 5mph, so 5t was the distance she ran, right?”

“Right.”

“So what’s t?”

“The distance she ran.”

“No!  That’s 5t.  What does t represent?”

“Miles.  She ran 3 miles.”

“No!”

“Yes!  I know what I’m doing!  I’m right!  The problem asked for how far she ran and I got three.”

“No.  You are not right.  And just because the problem asked for distance doesn’t mean that’s what you solved for.  Listen to me.  I am an engineer.  I love math.  This is not challenging for me.  I know what I’m talking about.  So listen while I explain it.”

I still don’t get why she argues with me on these points.  I really don’t.  She eventually figured out what she was doing wrong and we moved on to another problem.  Where I promptly made a subtraction mistake as I worked the problem on the side.

She again insisted she was right.  I asked her to show me her work.  She did.  It looked right.  I checked mine, noticed my mistake, and affirmed that she was right.  She promptly and smugly mimicked my earlier comments.  I explained that the difference between the two of us was that she insisted she was right and refused to listen to me explain why she wasn’t, whereas I asked to see what she had done and saw that I was wrong.  And admitted it.

On that second problem, she had a division problem that resulted in an obviously wrong answer.  She eventually got it straightened out and came up with “x = 290.”  Again, I asked what x was.

“It’s time.”

“Ok, what units?”

“Minutes.”

“How do you know it’s in minutes?”

“Because that’s what the question asked for.  It said, ‘How many minutes?’.”

“That doesn’t mean anything.  That just means they want the answer in minutes.  It doesn’t mean the number you calculated was in minutes.  What if they gave you all the same information but asked for the time in hours?”

“She wouldn’t do that.”

“Oh?  You think so.  Why not?”

“Because she is trying to teach us.  She wouldn’t throw a trick in there like that.”

I disagreed but let it go.  Before long, we were on a problem where the rates of growth of some trees were given in inches per year and their heights in feet.  We both missed that detail even though the last statement in the problem was to pay attention to units.

She was comfortable with her answer and was prepared to move on.  I was bothered by the statement.  Why make that statement on this problem in particular when the units match up, just like all the others.  And then I realized that they didn’t match up.

“Oh! Ho!” I exclaimed in triumph.  “She did it to you!  She totally did to you what you insisted she wouldn’t do!  Look at the units!”

I know I shouldn’t take such glee in being right around my children.  But when you have really bright children who always think they are right, it’s hard not to.  It’s also hard to accept that you are alone in your love of numbers and problem solving.  Daryl is in line with Jane.  I guess I’ll have to hope that Hal, against all odds, will *get* it.