Tuesday, July 31, 2007

I live in a beautiful neighborhood. It is actually the neighborhood I grew up in, but not the neighborhood my children grew up in.

Until two years ago, we lived in a lovely little house in the woods where it was no surprise to see wild turkeys, deer, rabbits, a fox or two, raccoons, voles, and bears, in addition to the usual squirrels and chipmunks.

My boys played in creeks, played in the woods, and believe it or not, went to the same school from age three to fifteen.

Life does hold many surprises and one of them, for us, was the necessity to carve out a new life. I went "back home" where my parents still resided. While it was familiar to me, it was all new to my children. They must be made of resilient stuff because they have adjusted beautifully. My daughter had only lived in "Pennsylvania House" for two years, so the move was less stressful for her. But my sons had lived their whole lives in the country (13 and 15 years respectively) and they had to adjust to living in the big city, new schools, new challenges.

It hasn't been easy. Sometimes it seemed that we would never be happy again, that we would always feel uprooted. Problems abounded and the turmoil we felt was mirrored by the rocky shore we now ride our bikes by.

Eventually, we looked at our move as an adventure. We've celebrated birthdays, holidays, a graduation from middle school, a graduation from pre-Kindergarten, and we have even had dinner, al fresco, in Little Italy.

This summer marks our two year anniversary here. We can now call it home. All of us agree that it has turned out to be a good thing, even with the pains and challenges. We are a family, and we live in a beautiful neighborhood.

Monday, July 30, 2007

George Foreman for President

Sorry, folks, he isn't running. I just wish he would. I saw him on the television show, American Inventor, and I continued to watch subsequent episodes of the show just to see how kindly he handled the contestants, and his no-nonsense attitude. He seemed to embody so many philosophies at once: persevere and you will succeed, don't sweat the small stuff, and a kind word is a wonderful gift you can give someone.

A look at his biography will show that he believes in hard work and giving back. In addition to his work as an ordained minister in Texas, he opened up a youth center. In his interviews he is quick to talk about his love of God, his love of his family and the importance of forgiveness. His successes in the ring and in the field of marketing prove him to be an astute businessman.

My son turned to me while we were watching American Inventor and saw my smile and said, "I bet if we didn't already have one, you would go out and buy a George Foreman Grill." I laughed and said, "You know, that's probably true, but I will go you one better: if he would run for President, I'd vote for him tomorrow."

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Open Letter to Lindsay Lohan

Lindsay, I realize you don't know me and that you are probably being given advice from a lot of people. In fact, someone may have already said these same things to you already. Humor me and read what I have to say.

You are a talented, beautiful young lady. You are also strong, which is evidenced by just the little I know about you: you have been able to achieve success in a highly competitive industry all while you have dealt with some difficult family situations. Take pride in this. It is not easy.

You must stop looking for happiness outside of yourself. You will never find it. In fact, when you look for happiness outside of yourself, you will only find trouble, grief, and disappointment.

You have to start giving back to the best friend you have ever had: yourself. You are the one that has gotten through the tough spots in your life. You can do it again. In order to get past these recent mistakes you have made, you need to reach inside and ask yourself for the help to do it.

Be good to yourself. Be proud of your accomplishments. Learn from your mistakes. Be happy in who you are. If you need to change something, do it. For yourself. Be the friend you so desperately need.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Family Rules

For years I had a list of "family rules" tacked up on the wall in the upstairs hallway. I had printed it out on the computer and hoped that we could make them instinctive. I really wanted them to just be a reminder of the rules of behavior we talked about as a family. There were major headings like "Respect for Our World," and "Respect for Our Family," and "Respect for Others." A rule under the heading "Respect for Our World," was "Leave a Place Better Than You Found It." This was because I just couldn't stand it when the boys would not put something away because "they hadn't taken it out." My son once picked up litter by a creek in our favorite park. He was disgusted that someone would defile such a beautiful spot. As he went over to the trash receptacle, he said to me matter-of-factly, "I'm leaving a place better than I found it."

I found that some rules needed to be added as we went along. When my oldest boy was eight he went on a playdate where there were older siblings. He came home with a bruise on his chest from someone giving him what is called a "purple nurple." I was absolutely horrified. Quickly I added "Respect for your own body" to our list of rules.

When the boys became teenagers I needed an updated list of rules. They were really the same rules, but more explicitly phrased. "Respect for your own body," is now a heading over "No drugs," "No alcohol." I was squeamish about posting rules which pertained to sex, so I worded them in a way that the boys know exactly what I mean (because we've talked about it so much). So under "Respect for Others" as well as "Respect for Yourselves" is "Don't do anything that will bring you consequences and responsibilities."

In many ways, the boys think I am silly. They roll their eyes and sometimes even laugh. But they know what I stand for and they know what is expected of them as members of this family. And so, as my four-year old daughter learns to read, I will make a new "starter list" for her. Ideally, the boys will even help me with it. It shouldn't be hard since the list is just a written reminder of all of the things we stand for as a family.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


My 15 yr. old son quit smoking. I know what some are thinking after reading this: he should never have started in the first place. This is true, and I make no excuses for him. I don't smoke and I had drummed into him the dangers of smoking since he and his brother were little. I would point to celebrities and family members whose health declined from the ravages of smoking. Despite all my best efforts, he had his first cigarette when he was thirteen. I was devastated when I found out, but I was also frustrated at his lack of sense and embarrassed at what I perceived as my own failure as a parent.

My son had a few frustrations of his own. He hated wasting his allowance on cigarettes, and he hated the time it wasted when he had to leave the house to have a smoke. He wanted to quit, but he knew how bad he felt "between cigarettes" and was a bit frightened to experience that torture magnified. He mentioned that he might try to quit after school let out for the summer. I crossed my fingers, but didn't say anything more than "You can do it." Two days after summer vacation began, he came to me and said that he hadn't had a cigarette in two days. I hadn't realized that his desire to quit had hardened into a resolve.

It hasn't been easy for him. Like most smokers, he had a routine which he has had to forgo. There have been days that have truly been awful - he says that the cravings can come out of nowhere. When we went on vacation, he felt a terrible pressure and gave in to "just one cigarette." Luckily it made him feel, in his words, "stupid and not worth it," so he has gone another two weeks without another one. I am really very proud of him.

I have learned a few things myself. I feel that I cannot take credit for his strength and determination, so I shouldn't feel guilty about his smoking either. Both starting and quitting were entirely up to him. Also, I have learned that the addiction to nicotine cannot be taken lightly. As a never-smoker, I did not realize how hard it is to quit. Realizing that, I feel even prouder of my son for quitting on his own.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

On Being a Nerd

I love school. My college experience was a little disappointing because I had expected (really!) to mingle with lots of like-minded people who wanted to go to class, then grab a cup of joe or a cold beer and discuss and debate all of the wonderful things we were learning. Instead, I met people who, rabid with sudden independence, slept through their morning classes, and lived for "free keg."

After college, I worked in marketing and loved to attend professional certificate classes. I didn't make a career out of it, though. I found my true calling when I went back to my high school alma mater for a luncheon in honor of one of my favorite teachers and landed a job teaching sophomores and seniors.

Then life happened: I had two children and bought a house in the woods. After getting accustomed to country living I realized I wanted (needed!) to go back to school for another degree. So, after running around with my two and four year old boys all day, I would go to the local university and marvel that I was there, and being older, even better at learning and understanding.

I am starting another certificate program tomorrow. I can't wait. My teen aged boys think I am insane. They can't believe anyone in their right minds would actually want to go to school. They laughed at me as I got my folder, notebook and pens ready. I wonder how this happened to me. Was I born loving school? Is it a consequence of how much I love books? And why didn't my boys inherit my "school gene"? These are things I will ponder now because tomorrow I will be weighed down with ideas and reading assignments. Ahhhhh!

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Family Vacation

Tomorrow I am leaving, with my children and father, on our annual vacation on the Cape. My oldest son is coming along, despite the fact that for two years now he has said he is too old for "family vacations." I am very happy he is coming, but my happiness is tempered with dread for the sullen attitude which will inevitably surface. My four year old daughter is so excited that it is nerve-wracking: not only have we been counting the days for over two weeks now, but she has been putting things aside to pack - we'll need a refrigerator box for it all to fit. My 15 yr. old son is sleeping now, but he will be the one to help me get the show on the road.

We've been doing this for so long that we have a system. My mother is the co-pilot. She calms me down, offers conversation to keep me alert on the seven hour trip, and keeps my father, the ultimate backseat driver, at bay. Unfortunately, she is already on the Cape, caring for my brand new twin nephews. Believe me, I am terrified of making the trip without her. My father wants to leave before dawn, drive more than halfway before the first stop and, if we do not "make good time," refrain from making any more stops. I like to take a more leisurely drive, maybe stopping and doing some shopping at my favorite stores along the way, have breakfast and maybe lunch, too.

I have packed little wrapped trinkets for my daughter to open along the trip. It has become a tradition, and it keeps her occupied. My father will worry about every little scrap of paper littering the rental car. I am more laid back. Once we get to the hotel, I will clean everything up in one fell swoop. If she tries to talk to me, he will interrupt, "No distracting the driver!" My father will keep his eyes on the road, but also on my son who I have elected to be my co-pilot. If he fidgets even a little, my father will yell, "Don't touch anything on the dashboard. No distracting the driver!" This is okay, though, because it means that my son will not be able to flip the radio station when I begin to sing along.

My oldest son will put his earphones in his ears and fall asleep. However, when he wakes up he will revert back to his toddler days and ask how much longer the trip will be. He will do this every 20 minutes until the end of the trip. Unless my father yells at him, "For crying out loud, grow up. We'll be there when we get there. If we hadn't had to wait for you to go back upstairs for your earphones, we'd have made it to Rhode Island by now. And, do we still have to remind you to use the bathroom before we leave? That pit-stop in Jersey cost us at least an hour's driving time by the time we got past rush hour traffic." Now I am the driver and referee.

We will get there. We will have fun. We will laugh, we will swim, and we will have peppermint ice cream. I know this because we have been doing this for so long. The night before we have to trek home again, we will all wish for just one more day. And I will pray that God keeps us well until we come back next year.