My oldest son had the most perfect Pokemon card collection you've ever seen. He kept the cards in a two-tier container similar to a toolbox, with partitioned slots to organize the cards in some mysterious way I never quite understood. Birthdays, Christmases, allowance money -- there was always something put toward the Pokemon collection.
His younger brother has his own collection. His collection can be found under his bed, strewn across the floor, and in corners of the hallway, but he does have a notebook in which he keeps the most precious cards. He might be messy, but he can recite Pokemon facts and make it sound like rocket science. Phone conversations with friends sound something like this: "First go to the guy in Saffron City on the fifth corridor down from the MoonStone. He can tell you where to find the Zapados. Then you fly over to Cinnabar Island and surf up and down until you find the sixth mark." WHAT?
One day when my oldest son was 12 he suddenly carried his precious, uber-organized box of cards to his sister's room and said, "Here, you can have it." The same box he would have knocked her to the ground and throttled her if she'd dared touch a day before was all hers. His voice was changing and he was getting hair on his legs, too. My little boy was gone, poof, with that deck of Pokemon cards.
The other day, my 9-year-old daughter, who is incapable of managing her money enough to buy her own cards, came downstairs with not just her older brother's uber-organized container but a big, fat Pokemon notebook.
"At first he gave me two sheets," she said. "Then he gave me all of them, including the trainers!"
Another one bites the dust of childhood. My second son is now too old for Pokemon cards, too. He is too mature, too sophisticated, too cool for the obsession that once ruled his boyhood world. I sighed in sadness, then my daughter leaned over and confided, eyes shining: "I stole his Charizard card once, then I gave it back. I just wanted the glory of having it for one weekend."
I've still got one baby!!!
Suzanne has been married for over 20 years and lives in small-town North Carolina with her three children.
My grandmother grew up on a farm in the hollers of West Virginia, and when she was a little girl it was her job to make bread every day. Every day. She learned to make bread from her mother, and her mother learned it from her mother before her, and so on. She taught her daughters to make bread, and when my mother was a young bride brought to West Virginia by my dad, my grandmother taught my mother to make that bread.
When I was nine years old, my mother taught me to make the bread. I made bread periodically as a teenager -- it wasn't "my job" like it was my grandmother's job. We mostly bought bread at the store, but whenever anyone in the house -- my mother, my sister, or I -- made that bread, everyone was excited and it went fast.
When I got married, one of the first things I bought was a bag of flour and bread pans. I had never been in charge of grocery shopping before, so I didn't really think too hard about how long flour could last and how much flour is really needed to make bread for just two people. I bought a 25 pound bag of flour. I have a family of five now and I still don't buy flour in 25 pound bags! That bag of flour lasted a long time! But I made a lot of bread, trying to use up that 25 pound bag, and I fell in love with baking.
My brother has a son, and my sister has five sons, and yes, of course, we can and should teach our sons to cook and to bake (my 12-year-old son loves to be in the kitchen), but there is just something about a bread recipe that has been passed down from mother to daughter for over 100 years in my family that makes it special that I have a daughter.
She is the only granddaughter in the family. She's nine now, and the other day I told her, "It's time for you to learn how to make bread." She asked where the recipe was. I told her, "There is no written recipe. I'm going to teach you and you're going to remember it for the rest of your life and someday you're going to teach it to your daughter."
She looked a little doubtful at the prospect of actually remembering a recipe for that long, then she said, "Are you sure you're the right person to teach me how to make bread? Aren't you the one who blew up the bread pan??" Okay, yes, that did happen. It was an oven malfunction, I swear! The oven got too hot one day due to a temperature problem with the thermostat and when I took the pan out, the glass bread pan exploded everywhere and I was finding tiny bits of glass in corners for weeks. I reminded her that I'd made hundreds, maybe thousands of loaves of bread over the years and had only blown up one pan.
So we got started and I had her doing every step on her own, me just watching. She started stirring in the flour and she was getting a little tired of stirring and she said, "Don't we have electronics for this now?" Well, yes, in fact we HAVE a bread machine. My husband bought it for me, and I tried it out a few times, but it's just not homemade bread if it isn't made by hand, and that machine is collecting dust somewhere in my cabinets.
Making bread from scratch without using a bread machine is a lot of work, but there are several benefits -- for one thing, kneading bread is great exercise and good stress relief -- but more importantly, putting your fist into the dough is like touching the past. People, particularly women, have done this very thing, stuck their fist into dough and kneaded it to a perfect elastic ball, for thousands of years. My mother, my grandmother, my great-grandmother, and my great-great-grandmother made this bread, stuck their fist into this dough. There are few things left in this sophisticated day and age that are more elemental, more intrinsic to human existence, more real, than making bread.
I explained all of this to my daughter, and her eyes glazed over slightly, then I pointed out, "You are the only granddaughter, remember? That makes you The Keeper of the Bread." Now that made sense to her, and suddenly she was very proud. And once she got into it, she thought kneading was fun. All that punching, you know. The bread turned out wonderful, and she couldn't stop reminding her brothers that she'd made it, all by herself. She can't wait to bake again.
Do you have any special traditions that have been passed down for generations in your family? Or have you started any special traditions of your own?
Suzanne has been married for over 20 years and lives in small-town North Carolina with her three children.
Recently, my daughter implored me to come upstairs and play Barbies with her in her room. She has no "girl" friends in the neighborhood since she had that big fight with Savannah and told her she was NOT GOING TO BE HER FRIEND ANYMORE.
Now, I haven't played Barbies in a long time and when I posted about this experience on my personal blog, I was fascinated by the responses from other women about their own Barbie-playing days. I thought I didn't know how to play Barbies anymore, that I'd forgotten. But in truth, I think I'd just forgotten what playing really is.
When I went up to my daughter's room that day, she had all her Barbies set up in the Dream House and they all had names. Currently, they're sporting names from characters in "The Nanny" because that is her show du jour.
She said, "Play!" I said, "But I don't know how to play. I'm not 9, you know!" She said, "But you had Barbies when you were little." I pointed out that was a long time ago, plus MY PARENTS WERE MEAN AND I ONLY HAD ONE BARBIE, NOT 50 LIKE YOU. (And she only has two Kens. Man, those are some lucky Kens, living in the Dream House with 50 Barbies...) But she insisted, so I played.
First, I sent the mom and dad Barbie off on a date, leaving the other Barbies home with the babysitter. Then babysitter Barbie called her boyfriend. Next thing you know things were were turning pretty steamy in the Dream House. This is what happens when a romance writer tries to play Barbie.
I said, "I had better go." And she was crying, "BUT I LOVE HOW YOU PLAY, MOMMY." Which left me sort of blinking... But I don't know how to play.
My daughter, the expert on playing since she is, after all, a child, thinks I do know how, and it made me re-evaluate.
When I spoke with other women about this, I found that they recalled similar scenarios in their own Barbie play. Bad Barbie wasn't unusual at all. Their Barbies were involved in multiple relationships, breakups, and divorces. Barbie was kidnapped, mutilated, tortured, and often naked. Barbie was basically living in soap opera land. And what do many of us do when we grow up? Watch soap operas!
Once I related Barbie play to soap operas it all suddenly made sense to me. Play, for kids, is in some ways practice for being grown-up, but it's also an indulgence in other behaviors -- from a fantasy standpoint -- they know they would never do but are "allowed" to do with Barbie.
Transporting ourselves to other lives and experiences, sometimes super-dramatic and even illicit, is the same thing we do as grown-ups when we read books and watch movies and TV.
So the next time my daughter asks me to play, I won't say I don't know how. Hey, I watched "All My Children" for 20 years! My Barbie's name is going to be Erica Kane.
Suzanne has been married for over 20 years and lives in small-town North Carolina. She has three school-aged children.
Sand, sun, beach... Summer vacation is just a reservation away. And I'm ready. I'm so ready!
Wait, I'm not ready. I am the family reservation agent, and I am the worst family reservation agent in the world. I procrastinate something terrible. I have a million things on my plate and in February, summer vacation seems a world away.
So when I sat down this week, decks cleared, to make summer vacation plans, I discovered that, of course, the entire planet was way ahead of me and all the good summer houses and early summer dates (pre-peak prices) in the Outer Banks were taken. Except, you know, the ones that cost $10,000 a week. Well! I'll just whip out that $10,000 bill I've been saving for a rainy day! ::thunk::
Or we can take the only almost-affordable houses left (you know, the leftover ones that no one wanted) in peak pricing time a mile off the beach and drive to the public parking every day. This wouldn't be so terrible if I hadn't had my heart set on sitting comfortably on the deck while I watch the kids play in the sand. If we take a house off the beach, we won't spend nearly as much time ON the beach and everyone will be cranky for a different reason, but cranky doesn't fit my fantasy image of my week at the beach.
And so I finally concluded that taking the kids to the beach this summer wasn't the greatest idea in the world. Instead, I'm taking them to the beach in the fall. Not only are beach houses drastically reduced in price, but the crowds will be thinner and the temperatures bearable. This means taking the children out of school for a week. My kids are straight A students with no outrageous behavior problems (you know, that they exhibit AT SCHOOL), so I know they can catch up. They also aren't prone to frequent illnesses, so a few days lost from their allowable days out of school shouldn't hurt them, either.
However, it still means they'll miss a week of school. I remember when I was a teacher a family took their kids out of school for a week to go to Europe. At the time, I remember feeling a shade of annoyance since it meant organizing makeup materials for the student and some extra paperwork. Now, as a mother, it also means quality family time by taking vacations at a time of year that is more affordable and less crowded --and I bet that's why they went to Europe when they did. Yet I wonder how other people will react -- condemnation? Or maybe a little wishing-they-were-going-too? Or maybe I shouldn't even care. Maybe my mommy guilt is acting up again.
Have you ever taken your kids out of school for a family vacation? How did others react, and how did you handle it?
When I was 9 years old, summer meant grass between my feet, ants moving from anthill to breadcrumb and back again, pools to swim in, books to read, and time to blow. Hot sun, long days, laughter.
Today, summer means.... ACK!!!! My kids are home and they are under my feet all day and they're begging to DO THINGS THAT I DON'T HAVE TIME TO DO.
Why can't I be 9 again? I want summer. I want grass between my feet, time to watch ants scurry across the sidewalk, cold pool water as I dive in, and nothing, nothing, nothing to do. I want my mom to be baking chocolate chip cookies when I come inside and I want to go watch "Petticoat Junction" for the umpty-hundredth time and dream about marrying hottie pilot Steve.
For the past several years, or okay, for as long as I can remember right now, I've had so much work to do all summer that all I could do was put my automatic pilot on September and tell it to get there because my nose was going to be down, on the grindstone.
This summer, I have no work. No deadlines. Well, one teensy one, but it's only for the first few weeks of summer. After that, I have deliberately avoided all obligation. I am going to the pool. I am watching ants. I'm reading books, blowing time, baking chocolate chip cookies, and if I can find "Petticoat Junction" on Nick, I'm watching it.
I'm going to be 9, just like my daughter. I can't wait.
There are 5,397 pairs of shoes in the front hall of my house.
Okay, that's an exaggeration, but not by much.
I have three children. They each have a pair of athletic shoes for regular school days. Then they have church shoes. Baseball shoes. Basketball shoes. Horseback riding boots (pink, one pair of those). Playing in the creek shoes. Fuzzy slipper shoes. Not to mention the I-don't-know-whose-these-are-shoes no one will claim, but whenever I take them to the giveaway pile in the garage they somehow miraculously make their way back to the front hall because SOMEONE IS WEARING THEM.
I first became aware of the shoes-that-are-never-put-up phenomenon when my oldest child could put on and take off his velcro-closed shoes on his own and was thus responsible for putting them away. It wasn't so bad then. One little pair of size 4 Batman shoes by the door. How cute. Then I had another child, and another child, and their cute little feet turned into nearly adult sizes that I sometimes can't tell apart from my husband's shoes. And, oh yeah, he has about five pairs of shoes in the front hall, too.
Visitors to our house have to climb over Mt. Shoe Everest to get past the front hall and come inside. I'm sure they wonder just how many children do they have? I've tried various methods of controlling the unruly shoes over the years, everything from disciplining the children about where shoes really belong to stacking shoe compartments by the door to even building a hall closet in our old house AS IF THEY MIGHT PUT THEM AWAY THERE. No matter what, the shoes creep back. Before I know it, there are 5,397 shoes strewn about my front hall again. It's like fighting kudzu.
Despite this amassing of shoes in plain sight, the most frequent thing I hear in the morning as it's rush-to-make-the-schoolbus time is, "I CAN'T FIND MY SHOES!"
I have moments when I imagine how beautiful my front hall would be if it weren't decorated in shoes. Then I realize there is only one way that I will ever have a clean front hall: My children will all grow up and move away. I'll probably always have enough milk then, there won't be a stack of permission slips and sports schedules littering my kitchen table, I'll never have to watch cartoons again, and no one will be screaming MOMMY outside the bathroom door.
Maybe I don't mind the shoes so much, after all.
I kept one. It was full of my private thoughts about my "mean" older sister, the boys I liked, the blatant unfairness of my parents, and my latest shopping expeditions. It was Top Secret.
I hid it in various locations -- under my mattress, beneath clothes in a drawer, in the back of my closet. I never let anyone see it.
Years later, I read portions of it to my husband -- the parts from when we first dated (we met just before my 15th birthday) -- and we laughed. But I've never let him touch it on his own. There are some pages I don't want even him to see. Still!
My daughter is nine, and she has a diary. She writes in it about how "mean" her older brothers are, and she draws pictures of horses. She lets me see it. Her thoughts aren't that secret yet. But soon, I know that will change. She'll have secret thoughts she doesn't want to share with her mother. Like about how blatantly unfair her parents are, no doubt. Not to mention the boys she likes.
Girls (or boys) keeping diaries is certainly nothing new, but today there are more options than when I was a teenager. A diary doesn't have to be hidden under the mattress or beneath clothes in a drawer or in the back of the closet. It can be placed in plain sight on the Internet, where even there it might be hidden from parents' prying eyes if they don't know about it.
In our house, we keep a strict watch on our kids' Internet time. They have a computer in the den for their use but it's restricted to games and homework. There is no Internet access from that computer. If they use the computers in the house that do have Internet access, they have to ask permission and be logged on by a parent and supervised. But of course we all know our children have access to computers and the Internet through other sources -- their friends' homes, libraries, schools, and when they're old enough to drive, Internet cafes.
Where will our children keep their secret diaries? Teenagers are blogging in growing numbers, and with the explosion of free and easy blogging communities, anyone with almost zero technical skills can have a blog up and running in a matter of minutes. Teen blogs contain all the same joy, angst, and therapeutic ponderings of friendships and love as our old-fashioned notebook diaries we hid under our beds -- but the big difference is, who is reading them and are teens protecting themselves from both the physical and the emotional dangers of revealing too much?
I hope that as my daughter grows older and more independent that she'll tell me if she starts a blog. But I have to admit, there's a chance she won't. Looking back on my teenage diary, I remember too well that I didn't want my parents to see it, though if the Internet had been available, I might have been tempted to put it online as a blog for my friends to read and comment on.
So now there's one more item to add to my List of Things to Warn My Children About on the Internet.
How do you feel about the prospect of your teenager someday starting a blog?