Alexa

Our family might be getting a little bit obsessed with Alexa. We came to consider her part of the family when Jane received an Echo Dot as a school reward and offered to sell it to us cheap. We liked it enough that we bought a battery base so we could move it from room to room.

I quickly came to hate the battery base because people were not returning the Echo Dot to the kitchen, leaving me to wander the house calling for Alexa like a lovelorn fool, hoping for an answer. So when Prime Day rolled around, we bought a few more.

Now there’s a Dot in the bedroom named Betty (get it? Bed-ty?) and one in “the big room” named Bigelow. The one with the battery base is moving to my husband’s studio although right now it’s still in the Kitchen with the name Kitty, which will become the name of the one that will ultimately reside in the kitchen but still sits in its box right now. I guess I should let my husband name the one in his studio, but I’m partial to Stuart or Studebaker.

The names don’t mean much. It’s just more fun and instructive when accessing them via the Alexa app than “Your Echo Dot”, “Your Second Echo Dot” and so on. The wake words for all of them are still Alexa, although the one in the studio will answer to Computer, which really catches my husband’s fancy. I imagine he’ll speak to it in the stilted voice of Scotty from Star Trek.

Anyway, there was some discussion about whether the Echo Dots were far enough apart to allow them to all have the same wake word. I’m lazy enough that I want to just talk to Alexa whatever room I’m in and expect a response. I don’t want to remember that I need to call her Echo or Amazon or Computer in one room and something else in another. My children are quickly showing me the flaws in this desire.

The boys were recently participating in their Alexa song ritual where one of them tells her to play a song and soon after she starts playing it, the other one calls her name and requests a different song. Or she doesn’t know the song and so they start arguing over who can better construct the name of the song so she can find it. It tends to be very frenetic and loud.

Jane and her boyfriend were in the kitchen while this was going on and Jane soon banished the boys to their room. Their room is across from mine, where I stood folding clothes. I was perplexed at hearing Alexa’s name coming from their room but soon realized that they had taken Kitty with them and Hal was trying to get her to play a song.

Daryl felt he knew better how to do it so kept telling Hal to let him try. Hal got louder, trying to talk over him. Daryl would suggest they just look it up on YouTube on his phone. Hal kept trying.

Before long, Hal was running up and down the hallway loudly yelling “Alexa, play blahblahblah by the blahblahs” while his brother gave chase, triggering the other Echo Dots as they went.

Betty triggered on his request as he ran away so in the bedroom, Alexa announced, “Playing Hello by Adele.” Through Bigelow, she said she didn’t understand the request. And all the while, with Hello as background music, Hal continued his desperate attempts to get his song.

He had a wild look in his eyes as I grabbed him by both arms in the hallway. “You need to stop,” I said. “You’ve gotten Alexa all worked up. You can’t run from room to room calling out her name.” But once he was stationary, he was an easier target for his brother and the argument soon escalated to the point that I rescued Kitty and returned her to the kitchen.

All was then quiet on the Alexa front. Until…

A storm came in the night and knocked out our power. When it didn’t come back right away, my husband disconnected the wi-fi router hoping to spare it any damage from a storm-induced power surge. Three hours later, when the power came back on, Alexa felt it was necessary to loudly proclaim to me that she was sorry but she couldn’t connect to the internet. I had been asleep up until that point and after lay awake for hours.

At that moment, I was really not sure if Betty would be allowed to stay in the bedroom. She’s on probation right now.

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The Karaoke Tribe

Hal had received some books from his grandmother for his ninth birthday. I hadn’t looked at them closely but they looked like biographies of less famous American historical figures geared toward younger children. I noticed him reading one of them one morning as he waited for me to be ready to take him to school.

“What book were you reading?” I asked as we headed down the driveway.

“The Journal of Jesse Smoke.”

“Smoke? S-M-O-K-E?”

“Yes.”

“How is it?”

“Good. It’s written like it’s his diary except he doesn’t share his feelings.”

“OK. I don’t know Jesse Smoke. Who was he? It’s a true story, isn’t it?”

“I think so but I don’t know he was. I haven’t read much of it yet.”

“Well, when you get further into it, please tell me about him. I’d like to learn.”

And with that, he absorbed himself in the book (which had to be tricky since he had just finished wrapping himself up as a pretzel inside his hoodie to protect against that oh-gosh-so-awfully-cold-Texas-October morning weather).

After a few minutes of silence from the backseat, he announced, “Mommy, I don’t think this is a true story. A bunch of people just turned themselves into bears to go down a hole. And – if you are a real human, you can’t just turn yourself into a bear.”

I was fairly certain this was an historical book, so I took a guess and said, “Well, there were Indian tribes who basically believed they could turn themselves into animals. Maybe he’s telling one of his people’s stories as if he believes it to be true.”

There was a slight pause.

“He’s a Karaoke boy.”

“A what?”

“A Karaoke boy.”

“Spell it.”

“C-H…. E…. R-O…. K-E-E.”

I was very careful not to laugh. “Cherokee, honey. The word is Cherokee. They are an Indian tribe, Native Americans.”

One of the most fun parts of being a parent has been listening to my young readers try to pronounce the words that they’ve only seen in print. To combine Hal’s mispronunciations with Daryl’s most famous from years ago, it sounds like Jesse Smoke comes from a family of Karaoke Madge-i-cans. (Magicians).

Selective Idiocy

The serial nature of the teenage mind never ceases to amaze me.

Sunday morning, as we prepped for church, I found my son sitting on his bed wearing shorts but no shirt or shoes and watching videos on his phone.

“Why don’t you put a shirt on?” I asked.

“It’s in the dryer.”

“Okay, well we need to leave in 15 minutes or daddy will be late to choir.”

“Okay.”

Fast forward 15 minutes.

“Come on! We need to go!” I called out.

“My shirt is still in the dryer. It has another minute on it.”

“It’ll be fine. It’s close enough. Go ahead and put it on. Let’s go.”

“But I still need to put my shoes on and brush my teeth.”

“And why didn’t you do that while you were waiting on your shirt?”

*Shrug*   (Seriously, no words. Just a shrug.)

It’s like his brain went: Must get dressed. Underwear on. Shorts on. Shirt wrinkled. Put in dryer. Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait….

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Like it absolutely couldn’t proceed to any other step until the shirt was on. Even though they aren’t sequential steps. There’s absolutely no tooth-brushing dependency on wearing a shirt.

Encore performance – later that afternoon. He came into the house claiming to be done mowing and weed-eating. I dragged him back outside to point out all the places that I knew had not been touched. (He’s yet to get all the grass cut in a given outing. Or in two or three redo’s for that matter.)

Among other things, I pointed out the basketball goal.

“I weed-eated that,” he said.

“Where?” I asked, staring at the taller-than-the-other-grass-around it blades surrounding all four sides of the goal’s base.

“There,” he said, vaguely pointing in a circular motion around the base.

Exasperated, I retrieved the weed-eater and in my shorts and sandals, demonstrated a proper, albeit slightly unsafe, weed-eating job. “That’s how it is supposed to look,” I said.

He just stood there with the mad-at-the-world-you-are-so-incredibly-mean-and-unfair teenager look he has perfected in recent months.

Since the weed-eater ran out of gas as I finished, I told him to get it filled up while I moved the cars off the grass so he could mow. After an attempt to open the tricky gas cap failed, he moved to sit on a bench and wait it out.

“Go get your dad to help you fill it back up with gas,” I said.

As I finished moving the first vehicle, I saw him sitting on the bench.

“Where’s your dad?”

“I’m going to mow first.”

“Seriously, Daryl! Don’t just sit there. You can still get him to help you fill up the weed-eater while you wait for me to move the cars. Otherwise, it will all take longer because you’ll have to go get him after you mow instead of doing it now while you are waiting anyway.”

He went back in the house in a huff.

I think I’ll call this condition Selective Idiocy. When a capable person knows they must complete an undesirable task yet deliberately engages in steps to draw it out as long as possible, as if they are too dense to put together the most efficient way to complete the task. Add that to the general teenage conditions of moodiness and disconnect from the world around him, and you have the perfect recipe for Parental Frustration Overload.

Hello? It’s me. You know, your mom?

This is what I typically see when I look at my conversation history with my 13 year old son. Sometimes it feels really lonely. Like I’m talking to myself. I know he has a phone because his nose is in it much of the time we are together. So what happens to it while we are apart? Strange, I tell ya. Maybe I should ask him about it…

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Whistle While You Work

I’ve been really proud of my youngest child. He’s mastered a tremendous skill that I have never, ever been able to figure out.

He can whistle.

Don’t laugh. I’m truly very impressed.

My whole family can whistle except me. So why am I proud of him and not the others? Because they were born able to whistle. My husband was carrying a tune before we met. I can’t remember a time when Jane or Daryl couldn’t whistle.

They’ve always been able to and they’ve always been amused by my inability. I’ve tried over the years. Unless it happens accidentally while blowing air to cool off my soup or while saying something that starts with an S, it’s just air passing through my lips.

Hal was in the same boat this time last year. He spent the first part of his eighth year of life trying to whistle and sounding just like his mother. I felt a camaraderie with him on this front. Someone to stand next to me when the whistle abuse rained down. We were a team. We were united.

But Hal didn’t want to be on the Bad News Bears of whistling. I think he wanted to whistle more than his siblings ever did. Of course, they didn’t appreciate it because it has always come naturally. He tried and tried day and night. And he never gave up.

And one day…

One day, he whistled. One short brief note. And then he shrieked in delight. And kept working at it.

…air…air…air…whistle…YES!…air…air…air…air…air…whistle…YES!….air…air…air…whistle…air…air…whistle…whistle…air…air…whistle…air…whistle…air…whistle…whistle…whistle

Eventually, he could reliably whistle a note at will. Only one note and only of a short duration, but every time. And that’s when I got some revenge on the natural whistlers.

Because Hal, he loved his new-found skill. He whistled constantly, just a short toot-toot-toot stream. No melody, no variation, non-stop. And. it. drove. them. nuts.

He whistled in bed. He whistled at the dinner table. He whistled outside. He whistled in the car.

That last one is what really got to them and we soon had to declare the car interior a no-whistling zone. We had to restate the declaration every time we got in the car and usually multiple times on a typical in-town trip.

All the hard work and persistence paid off. Now, Hal can whistle multiple notes and carry a bit of a tune. He no longer feels the need to whistle during every waking moment as if he might forget how if he doesn’t keep practicing. In fact, I don’t hear it that much anymore.

But when I do hear it as he skips by me with his head in the clouds, I smile. A huge smile spreads across my face and an even larger one across my heart. He wanted it, he weathered ridicule, he practiced and practiced, and he overcame.

And now, my husband lovingly calls me Whistler’s Mother and I’m ok with that.

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This is an actual picture of me writing my blog. Ok, not really. Picture found on Pinterest and I couldn’t clearly determine copyright. If it’s yours and you want me to take it down, please let me know and I will. 

Daryl, (Never) On His Own

Daryl recently attended a summer camp out of state with a friend. His dad told him to be sure to send us a picture every day.

By the end of the first day, there was no picture. No surprise.

“Where is today’s picture?” I asked in a text. “How was it?”

He responded the next day with this:

That was it. No text, no nothing. What a punk. I said as much in the conversation that ensued.

(My husband responded first. I was calling my son a punk, not my spouse.)

That was Day 2 and the entirety of the conversation. Notice he left me hanging.

Day 3 brought more silence and no picture. I gave up. You honestly shouldn’t expect much out of a thirteen year old boy.

And then, nearly 48 hours after I asked my questions, he responded, “Yeah, it was cold and sometimes scary.”

Then… then… he sent a picture! Unprompted! And it wasn’t of his feet in socks he’d probably been wearing for several days. It was an honest-to-goodness quality picture of a creek surrounded by trees from a hike he had gone on.

He topped it off by carrying on a conversation with his dad about the hike and what he had purchased as gifts for his siblings. When his dad told him he loved him, Daryl responded, “I love you too.” And that’s when I knew.

The boy was ready to come home.

He’s typically an aloof child and not very expressive of his emotions. But one of the best things about him going on a trip like this is the quality of hug I get when he returns.

He actually hugs back instead of waiting patiently for me to finish and he’ll stay in the hug as long as I want. For minutes even. I sometimes wonder if he’s just being tolerant of his mother. My husband is pretty sure that he does it because he needs the hugs too. Which makes me all sorts of warm and happy inside.

Dressing for the Dance

Daryl’s middle school has an end-of-year dance. A couple of days before the dance this year, he asked a girl at school to be his girlfriend. And then he asked her to the dance. The night before the dance, Daryl was rummaging through his clothing, looking for something to wear.

“Do you know where my Easter clothes are?” he asked me.

“I thought you hated your Easter clothes.”

“I do, but it’s a Hawaiian themed dance and we are supposed to wear Hawaiian shirts or bright colored clothes.”

His Easter clothes certainly would fit the bill. He didn’t want to go with me when I shopped for Easter clothing, telling me instead to “just pick something out for me. I don’t care.”

He cared once I got home. I had purchased a pair of bright turquoise blue shorts on clearance and a sorta-bright pastel yellow shirt. He was horrified! But now? Now he was looking for those hideous clothes. But they weren’t even the best choice he had.

“You should wear your Hawaiian shirt,” I said, pulling a dark blue and white flowered shirt out of his closet. A much more sartorially accomplished friend of Jane’s had handed it down to Daryl a couple of years earlier and Daryl had never worn it.

“I’m not wearing that.” He said it in his serious, no-nonsense voice, which I groaned at and then ignored.

“Seriously, Daryl, that shirt is perfect. It’s a Hawaiian dance and this is a Hawaiian shirt. It doesn’t get any better than that. Here, try it on.” I slipped it off the hanger and handed it to him.

He tried it on. I could tell it was right on the edge of being too small for him but he looked good and I said so. He headed to our bathroom to check it out and I followed. As soon as he could see himself in the mirror, he wrinkled up his nose in disgust and said, “No way!”

“Oh, come on!” I tried. But, no, the Hawaiian shirt would not be worn. He found his Easter clothes soon thereafter and tried to get me to iron them. I pointed out that the Hawaiian shirt didn’t need to be ironed. He pleaded. I told him I was exhausted (I was) and that he could iron them himself. He said he didn’t know how. I said it was a good time to learn. He didn’t iron them but also didn’t switch to the Hawaiian shirt.

The next day, on the drive home from work, I thought about the clothes that still needed to be ironed. Since I was in the car with the bluetooth connection to my phone, I called.

“Get the ironing board and iron out so we can iron those clothes as soon as I get home,” I said.

“Oh, I don’t need to. I took care of it.”

“Really?” I asked in shock. “You ironed your clothes?” He must really like this girl, I thought to myself.

“No,” he said, “I’m not wearing those.” And this is where it got really good. I mean, really, really good.

“I’m wearing the Hawaiian shirt.”

My eyes went as big as saucers.

“Sally wants to match and she’s wearing blue so I’m going to wear that.”

A belly laugh began to work its way up to my throat. I forcefully shoved it back down and in the most neutral voice I could muster, said, “That’s wonderful dear. I’m glad you worked it out. I love you.” At this point, I was in severe danger of making it obvious I was laughing at the situation. “Good-bye,” I said, reaching quickly for the little red “hang up” button on my console.

And then I laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed. Tears rolled down my face. Mom couldn’t have threatened or rewarded him enough to get him to walk among his peers in that shirt. But a pretty young girl just had to say she wanted to match.

The hilarity continued when I got home and a hyper thirteen year old boy showed me how he had shaved. He fixed his hair (again and then again). He brushed his teeth. He took the toothpaste with him to freshen up after dinner. He checked his hair in the car’s mirror. In short, he acted like a completely different boy than I had been living with all this time.