Category Archives: Family Blues

viola

The Concert

My dog did not eat my son’s homework; instead she ate his tie for the concert.  Being a natural girl, she preferred the silky, designer, light blue accessory to a white, wrinkled piece of paper with the scribbles that you would need a magnifying glass and strong decoding skills to read.   Who can blame her?  She was home by herself with the bright toy positioned on the dinning chair right in front of her face.   It looked too delicious to be ignored.  She attacked it with the vengeance, so that by the time my husband came home only the half of it was left.

A few weeks before the concert my son’s conscience usually starts telling him that maybe it’s the time to start practicing.   He knows that it is the right, but very hard thing to do.   He had a very busy schedule, especially during the week, but pledged to spend a half hour Friday to Sunday working on these “fast notes” he was having trouble with.

He is also being eaten by guilt that we spent money on buying the viola based on his intention of practicing on the regular basis; but 8 months into the school year it is still gathering dust under the table in his room.    He practiced only once in this period of time, but it was enough to establish that he did not like how this viola sounded; the quality of the instrument was poor; he could not sustain his plans for practicing and, therefore, without further a due, the viola should be returned, so that at least part of the money could be recouped.   I debated that if he started practicing, the money would become well spent; plus considering that he wanted to continue the orchestra next year it made no sense to return it…  Finally, I agreed to ask about a trade-off while visiting Sam-Ash to replace the A string he broke during his only practice.   After staying in line for longer that his the one and the only practice lasted, and paying $7.50 for the new string (the work was covered by a warranty we purchased anticipating a lot of broken strings due to heavy use of an instrument) we were promised half the price if returned at the end of school year.  My son is thinking about it.

Now that we were clear on the viola situation and the practicing schedule, we could move on to the wardrobe.  The music teacher wanted to stay with the black pants and shoes, but to go “springy” on the top.   She never did it before, and in her own words “was using this year’s orchestra as the guinea pigs” to test how “the rainbow” musicians would look on stage.   The visit to the mall became unavoidable.

Looking for the shirt I asked neatly –dressed, ready-to-help salesmen to measure my son’s neck.     Panicking, realizing that he had nowhere to run, he gave me a killer look, virtually asking me if I was nuts.   Never shopping for the formal clothes before, he did not know that the shirt sizes go by the neck size and the sleeves length, that to look sharp the clothes should be fitted, and kept on the hanger in the closet, that the shoes should be polished, and the belt should match the shoes.  It also would not hurt to shave and to comb the hair.  Can I also throw in ironing and tying a tie, or am I asking for too much? There are certain situations, in which looking like a shmuck is not appropriate, and the concert is one of them.

Settling on the lavender shirt, picking the “right” tie was proven to be particularly difficult.  It was supposed to be plain, in a nice, bright color, and to match the shirt.   Plain meaning plain.  Even if there is some tiny line hardly detectable by a powerful microscope it is not plain.  All the final choices came with the price that even after a discount was still too high.  I don’t know why the ties cost more than a shirt or a pair of pants; what makes them so valuable. And they are way too expensive if consumed as a gourmet dog food.

While I was dropping my son off at school an hour before the concert the school called to inform us that there was a power outage and the concert might be canceled.  They would call a half hour before the concert to let us know.    Nobody called.  We went to the concert.  It was cancelled.  Rescheduled to the next day.  That was how the concert tie ended up on the dining chair.  What was the point to put it in the closet to be taken out again the next day?

The concert was a success in my opinion, sucked in my son’s.   I especially liked “The Sweet Child O’Mine” (Guns N’Roses) performed by combined 9th and 12th grade orchestras at the end.  He said that some people in the audience did not even realize what song was being played.   He did not play some of the fast notes altogether, trying to minimize the damage to the overall performance done by his horrible playing.  However, the pieces they did were way more difficult than last year’s, therefore, comparing to last year he improved drastically.  Mazel Tov.

Sleep

My son is finally asleep.  Turned to the wall with his nose dipped in the pillow, he is half covered.     I feel a sudden urge to wrap his naked back and green boxers in the blanket, to smell his hair, to kiss his soft cheek, but I am afraid of waking him up.

The road to sleep is long and thorny.   It has always been like that.  In any age.   When my older son was little, he wanted me to stay in the room until he fell asleep.   When his eyes were at long last closed for a while and he started to snore, I knew it was time to make a move.  Trying not to breath, I would carefully close my book, and slowly get up from the chair.  I prayed that the carpet would not screech when I step on it.   It took some planning to tiptoe out of the room without making a single noise, not touching anything, not making a chair squeak.  But the minute I finally got to the door, silently high-fiving myself in my mind, I would hear: “Where are you going?  I am not sleeping yet.”   Then there were two options – to leave the room and let him scream for another hour or more, or to come back to the original position and attempt another escape in 5-10 minutes.  Quite a few times I fell asleep and woke up in the middle of the night, just to get undressed and go back to bed.  I made sure all of the essential tasks were done before his bedtime in case I fall asleep or get too relaxed to move on.   I knew it was wrong and counterproductive.  You suppose to tack your child in, say good night and leave the room to come back in the morning. I knew I was sending my kid the wrong message, spoiling him and causing potential long-term psychological problems.  He is supposed to learn to self-sooth and not be dependent on his parent.  But I also liked to relax at the end of the day, didn’t like to hear him screaming for an hour, and simply wanted to be near him for a bit longer.

Knowing that I should do housework and/or spent time with my husband after my child goes to bed rather than “wasting” my time sitting idly in the kid’s room raising a cry-baby, I wanted to change this dynamic.  I tried different approaches as advised by various experts in the field:  crying out, leaving the room for a few minutes with a promise to come back, bribing, motivational speeches, bed-time stories.   None of it worked as promised.   The crying would not stop till after midnight, nor would it become shorter in the upcoming days; fairy tales would be read until I lose my voice, bribes would never be worth the effort.  Overall, the falling asleep would last even longer than before, except now I was much more tired and aggravated, getting an alarming thoughts of hitting my head against the wall with my bright-red blood splashing all over, blaming God for failing me at the time of need, killing a random stranger for no apparent reason, or hitting my husband, because he was the only one nearby.   My toddler clearly had much more perseverance and determination than I did.  Somehow I gave birth to a super human, who was never tired or sleepy.  The problem went away when we stopped trying.  Luckily, in spite of my selfish parenting, he can sleep on his own for the past 11 years, and is a self-sufficient and a self-reliant person.

Last summer my 8-year-old saw something on the U-tube and was scared to sleep by himself in his room.  This time I was determined not to give in.  But I did.  He was terrified, even though there was nothing scary in the clip that he watched.  He was hysterical, shaking in fear, begging not to leave him alone.  My heart was breaking; what kind of mother I was to let my child suffer like that, to abandon him when he needed me so desperately.  I set in his room reading an iPad until he fell asleep, wondering if I was falling into the same trap all over again.

Again I referred to an experts’ advice.  They suggested to move out of the room slowly, and gradually to move out of his sight.  That way the child would feel secure, while learning to sleep on his own.  The next day we agreed that I would sit in the hallway, but he would still see me.  Over the next few months I kept moving further and further away from his room.  I sat on the carpeted floor with a pillow behind my back to make me more comfortable, reading my book, sometimes sipping my tea or snacking on the fruit, wondering if I went completely insane.  Other normal parents would not even think of doing something like that. They are getting stressed and over-worked, and then complain about how hard their lives are and write books about it.  So, they tack their “good sleepers” in, say good night and ran to do all of the gazillion things that need to be done after the children are in bed.   And here I am- a mother with a full-time job, a house, two kids, no help from anybody, sitting in the hallway waiting for the fourth grader to fall asleep.    I am either lazy or insane, or both at the same time.

When at last I came out of his sight, he kept asking me every minute or two if I was still in “my spot”.  I would say:”Yes.  Stop asking me!”, only to be asked again the moments later.  I finally moved to the arm-chair in the living room.    It was comfy and soft, and I could watch TV from it. 

Then there was a relapse, and we went back to square one.  Once, after I came back from work, I found him on the iPad in his bed.  Carefully removing the earphones, I laid next to him.  We snuggled and started to joke around about everything.  He asked me to tell him the story about how I was little.  I told him about the movie I watched about “the invisible man” when I was his age, and how scared I was to go to sleep.  How my parents left me to babysit my sister and I was paralyzed with fear waiting for him to break into my apartment, even though technically I could not see him, because he was invisible.  My parents were not around, and I had to find the way to calm myself down.  My older son screamed and demanded dinner, but we were too deep into the conversation.  Finally he gave up and joined in, telling us about his scares and how he fought them.

My fourth-grader confessed that he was afraid of a criminal getting into his room in the middle of the night and attacking him.  We discussed the probability of this happening.  His room was on the second floor, so the criminal would need to get through the door (which beeps due to the alarm), go up the stairs, and pass a few rooms without being noticed.  This is impossible.  But maybe he could use the ladder and come through the window.   My son tried to open the windows, but could not because they were locked.   Plus there was a light in the backyard, which had a motion sensor.  So as soon as somebody walks in the backyard, the light turns on.  It works of the solar panel, making it impossible to be turned off by a person.  Therefore, we established without a reasonable doubt that, number one nobody could get to the backyard unnoticed, number two getting to his room that way was nearly impossible.  But he was still not convinced.   Even though one part of his brain was proving that his fears were baseless, the other part told him otherwise.  The other part was making his heart race, and his body shake in panic.  The other part was winning the fight.  I got back to spending my evenings on the floor in the hallway, scratching my head what to do next.

He was not allowed to watch anything on the internet, or play any even remotely violent video games; he had been reading before bed; we practiced breathing techniques and counting to relax and fall asleep faster.  Should I take him to the therapist?  I consider it a last resort, because, in my opinion, in dealing with the children “the wrong” therapist could do more harm than good.  What works for one child may be detrimental for the other.  But my son being dependent on my presence to fall asleep was not a solution either.

As usual the solution came out of the blue.  One day my son declared that he would feel safer if Maya (our dog) slept in his room.  She is very protective of her family, and if the stranger approaches our house starts barking uncontrollably.   She would make him feel secure and keep him company.  She could scare any criminal and make the intruder drop his hypothetical weapon and run for his life.  We moved Maya’s bed to my son’s room.   The going-to-bed routine has been expanded to him announcing “Maya sleep”, after which she proudly marches behind him to his room with her tail and ears up.   She proceeds to her bed, lies down and watches him while he reads.  If she tries to get up or barks, “the commander-in-chief” stops it instantly.

He still wants someone to sit in the chair in the living room, aka “the designated spot” once he announces that he is done with the reading and ready to go to sleep.   He would tell everyone good night and “are you in the spot” about 25 times.   But the overwhelming fear is gone, and he falls asleep in no time.  I pick in the room and see my two babies peacefully snoring.   Life is so simple when they are asleep.

procrastinate

Procrastination 101

“Procrastination is the practice of carrying out less urgent tasks in preference to more urgent ones, or doing more pleasurable things in place of less pleasurable ones, and thus putting off impending tasks to a later time, sometimes to the "last minute" before the deadline.” Wikipedia
 “Suggest children tackle distasteful tasks first so they feel a sense of relief. Starting is the biggest hurdle; help children take small steps to get the ball rolling”- Tip#5 out of 15 provided by Karen Stephens – the author of early care and education books and  a frequent contributor to Parenting Exchange
“Set the right atmosphere. When physical labor is needed, lively music can rev up everyone’s tempo. However, music or television during homework is a distraction to be avoided” – Tip#13

I am sure Karen’s children are very hard-working; they do all their chores, immediately after creating a “to do list” and breaking the task into “manageable parts”, but before jumping on the couch with the remote in their hands.  Unfortunately, I cannot say the same about mine.  My reward system failed miserably, because unless I offer something within a six figures range, the reward is not worth the effort.  “To do” lists or any instructions I am offering only take up the time that could be used for relaxation.  The sense of relief from doing a chore is insignificant in comparison to playing Minecraft with a bunch of friends on an X Box.

I call my older son a master procrastinator.  My younger one is not far behind. Once, I pointed out that if procrastination were an Olympic sport, my children would compete for Gold and Silver.  They said that it would not work, because then the Olympics would never end.

They have a right (even though it is not covered by a Constitutional Amendment) to relax before starting their homework.  The amount of relaxation needed depends on when I come home and make them do “work”.  I am using the term “work” loosely here, because things like cleaning out the plate, putting the dirty T-shirt in the laundry, practicing an instrument, taking the dog out, doing math, or anything other than using electronics fall under the definition.  Every “work” comes with a strict timeframe: practicing guitar – 15 minutes, violin – 6 minutes, reading for homework-30 minutes, putting the clothes in the laundry or cleaning the room– the speed of light.  When I ask: “Why 6 minutes?” My son responds: “This is what the teacher said.  You are not the teacher.”  I can’t argue with that.  The clock is being watched closely; because this is the time they would never get back. “Work” should be avoided; if impossible – done as fast as possible.  “Work” should only be performed if the procrastinator is well rested and has exhausted all efforts to continue the relaxation.  As Ronald Reagan once said: “I’ve heard that hard work never killed anyone, but I say why take the chance?”

After coming home from school, the calculation is made as to how much time is needed to complete the homework for each subject.   Then the times are added and subtracted from the bed time, taking into consideration the meals and other activities.  The result is the homework starting point.  If at any point, the procrastinator decides that he has overestimated the time needed, the appropriate adjustments must be made.  The research paper should be split into the last few days before deadline evenly depending on the number of pages. This does not include bibliography, which should be done on the last day.

Studying for the test is always a huge variable.  But not for people who know everything.  My kids, surprise, fall into this category; at least, until I start checking.  Halfway through his freshman year in High School my older son said: “I never studied for more than 15 minutes for the test.  Now, I’ve just studied for 30.  Wow, I did not expect that level of commitment from myself!” His voice did not project much happiness.

When the procrastinator wants to keep up good grades, while doing sports and other extracurricular activities, it becomes a source of an inner conflict.  On one side, the procrastinator wants to do interesting projects, take on challenges, prove to himself that he is smart and capable, that he can pick the college (not the other way around) and be nicely compensated for the job he likes.  On the other side, he does not want to study for the tests, write pointless essays, read the books he would not otherwise pick, and, oh horror, learn the Italian vocabulary.  He wants to drive a nice car and travel around the world, but he can’t earn money for that without removing himself from the computer.  How to reconcile the burning desire to procrastinate with the daily requirements of various types of “work”?

The practice widely used in my house is to go to bed later.  For example, procrastinate until dinner time, eat, do homework, continue to procrastinate, then around 12am print out the homework.   If there are any after school activities or a sport- eat dinner, procrastinate, do homework.  If you are pressed on time- finish the homework on the bus or during lunch; but make sure the time allocated for relaxation is used for its original purpose.  Remember what your priorities are.  Even if 2 minutes of homework is left and the estimated time has expired -stop, procrastinate, than finish up.

Procrastination is an addiction.  The good part is that it is free, and does not have negative health effects, which also makes it a bad part, because it is very hard to fight.

There could be no rehabs or procrastinator’s anonymous meetings.  Since these methods can easily turn into another form of procrastination, it defeats the purpose.  One of the possible solutions my son met on the Health Fair in his school.   The name of it was a Life Coach.  My son asked the person: “What are you for?”  The Life Coach responded:”To help people achieve their goals.” “Why do people need YOU for that? Can’t they do it themselves?” asked my curious 9th grader.  “They can, but sometimes they need help,” responded the fairy godfather charging $200 per hour.

Since my kids can’t afford the life coach, I volunteer to do it for free.  My approach is not that scientific; I did not go to the Life Coach School, but it is based on an extensive experience.  I prefer a diplomatic solution (since all others are against the law).

Step #1:  Discuss the advantages of doing chores right NOW in a nice, calm voice – in particular: the sooner they do it, the sooner they can go on electronics

Step#2:  Repeat

Step#3:  Repeat

Step#4:  Discuss the advantages of doing chores right NOW in a very loud, angry voice – in particular: they are not getting their electronics until they do everything

Step#5:  Repeat

Step#6: Take away electronics

Step#7:  Check if all the chores are done.  Give back electronics.  Tell the kids how proud of them you are.

There has been some positive dynamic in this area.  My older son complains that he feels bad when he leaves stuff to the last minute.  Not enough yet, to do it earlier.  Well, baby steps…..  I know it’s not easy.

Montreal

One of the signs that the Spring Break trip is coming is my annual car washing.  My car is getting professionally cleaned once a year, despite my husband’s pleas and demonstrating the dust accumulation with his index finger every time he drives it, which is not often.  I am not proud of it, but not ready to put it on my priority list either.   The car cleaner performed some old Dutch folk song along the antique vinyl record player displayed outside next to the conveyor.   The amateur singer had a great voice, taking all the high and low notes equally well.  Different singers, 10 yellow and green canaries, entertained the customers at the cash register. $13.95 and my car looked brand new.  May be I should start washing my car after all?

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We chose Montreal for this year’s Spring Break.  I did not do any research; only took the Fodor’s Guide from the library the night before the trip.  I expected the city to look French, have great food and lots of museums-everything I needed to be happy.

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Montreal is the city of contrasts: modern skyscrapers and asphalt roads on one street turn into the paved streets and the stone building facades on the next.  The street signs change the color from white to red indicating the entrance to the Old City. _DSF2676

Narrow alleys lead to the huge square with the monument in front of Notre Dame Basilica.   The church, originated in 1600’s and finally finished in 1829, is absolutely magnificent.  The craftsmanship is impeccable. “Not made in China” as my son noticed with admiration. 

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The gothic architecture is how majority of city’s churches are built.  My biggest disappointment was that all of them were closed.   They only open for public in some unknown visitor hours or never.   One of the churches was even converted to a residential building. It contradicts my understanding of how religious institutions should operate or how they do in other countries, but that’s what it is here.

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The biking tour took us across the canal, passing Old Port into the market.  If you truly want to experience the French gastronomy, this is the place to go.  Fruits, vegetables, flowers, chocolates, pastries and cheeses look very welcoming and ready to melt in your mouth.  We bought a bucket of fresh strawberries, and ate it right there, dirty, on the bench next to the market.  Montreal is the best place for biking with kilometers of pathways and bike stands available in every part of the city.

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The downtown is yet another shade of Montreal with the “5th Avenue” look, Tiffany, upscale boutiques, art galleries, _DSF2640and Musee des Beaux-Arts de Montreal located on the both sides of the street.  You go from one part to another underground.

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Looking for parking made us feel at home.   After circling Rue Sherbrook and all nearby streets for a while, we found a space on a meter parking.   Tightly fitting into the spot, we celebrated our virtuoso “New York” parking skills; only to find out later that we were the second car parked in the space intended for one.  At least, that explained why the meter would not take the money.

Montreal offers a unique combination of a big city with a large industrial and business areas and a modern infrastructure with the slower pace of living and the comfort and intimacy of the smaller town.  It offers the blend of North American and French cultures with everybody speaking both languages and respecting each other’s traditions.

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The food is always freshly cooked and delicious, whether it is an elaborate meal, or a quick soup and sandwich in the café.  We did not miss fast food.  We saw only one McDonald and one Subway in the heavy tourist area; maybe that was why there were no obese people anywhere to be seen.  Mineral water with a slice of lemon was our preferred beverage. _DSF2596

During our last dinner in the Brassiere in the Old City I got seduced by the huge colorful menu of the self-brewed beers, and ordered a huge, 0.5 liter cup.  Not a beer drinker, under the strict watchful eyes of my kids (they felt responsible for my sobriety, and were ready to stop me at the first signs of being drunk), I sipped the bubbly amber liquid while watching the Montreal Canadians Hokey game on a big screen TV.  It was a new experience for me, but I liked it.

The weather did not cooperate, dumping snow and rain on us, trying to freeze us with sub-zero temperatures, while blowing us away with the gusty winds. _DSF2844 But we were on a Break, so who cared about the weather?  We explored the city, the museums, learned a little French, and, most importantly, joked and laughed.  We shared food, and argued who was sleeping with whom in what bed.  We debated history and took turns screaming at GPS for giving us the wrong directions.  We had fun and made memories.  Isn’t it what family trips are all about?

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Dinner

Dinner in my house is not only “the most significant meal of the day”, but also the loudest.  Screaming around the dinner table is not a fault, but a necessity; otherwise, what’s the point?  You don’t need to gather the family members around the table to eat; they are not going to chew your food for you.  You gather them to communicate, or, in our world, to scream at each other.  It is also considered a form of entertainment, in which everybody should participate and have fun.  Once, my son’s teacher asked the kids how many of them liked having dinner with their families.  Only a handful raised their hands.   My son was puzzled; he did not understand why?

When I come through the door, I am not greeted with “hello”, but with “what’s for dinner?”  I barely have a few minutes to wash my hands, and put the meal on the table.  Everybody is starving; but too many important daily events should be discussed.  Therefore, food consumption and conversation happen simultaneously, with the dog barking, utensils falling and beverages spilling along the way.  Minor inconveniences are being taken care of while I am listening to the captivating story of enacting the dance from “Romeo and Juliet” in my son’s English class.

He prepared the mask a day before – some scary, alien-looking character from the “Doctor Who” (the fact that Doctor Who lived in a slightly different century was not important).   His teacher paired boys with girls and showed the 16th century dance moves they had to mimic.  My son is not good at dancing.  I’ve tried to practice with him few times, but he still has a lot of room for improvement (to put it mildly).  Once, when I put on the waltz on our new vinyl records player, he agreed to dance with me.  Then my husband took over, criticizing my methods, and my son’s robot-like movement.  He instructed him to relax, loosen up, and pretend that he was dancing with the girl of his dreams.   My son responded that he could not do it, because his dad was too hairy to be the girl of his dreams.  That was the end of that.

The students only had to bow and go in circles, but my son’s partner ”looked like she would rather kill herself than dance with him”.   I asked him if they said at least one word to each other at any point of their involuntary encounter.  He responded: “Why? What is there to talk about?”   “Romeo and Juliet” was our dinner partner for the past week.  We discussed the purpose of teaching Shakespeare in High School, the underage sexual activity of the main characters, their preferred methods of killing themselves, the language changes, etc.

My younger son jumped in discussing the advantages of being popular in school.   He has a lot of friends and considers himself quite popular.   However, there is this one kid, who is “a liar” and “thinks that he is better than everyone else.”  He is also manipulative and tells the teacher on kids.  This tiny red-head is a mandatory part of a daily news brief.   The other issues on the agenda include the tests, the grades, the list of class cheaters, stories told by teachers, current political climate, degradation of society, human psychology, historical injustices, education system, anything else that comes to mind.

I am trying to teach my kids manners.  They’ve learned to eat with a knife and a fork, to keep the elbows off the table, to chew with the mouth closed.  I am not that lucky with interrupting.  Every time my older son starts talking, my younger son talks louder.  Then my older, claiming that he started first, turns up the volume.  My younger, without any hesitation, increases the level of noise even more, saying that my older is talking too long, and it is not fair.  I am trying to stop the screaming by setting up the time limits, so that everybody has a chance to talk.  This strategy, used for Presidential debates, is not good for my household.  It turns out, I am a lousy moderator.  It seems to work in the beginning.  But the first speaker would not stop talking, claiming that his time has not expired yet (even though he has not looked at the clock).   Now, we are back to square one.   Can they just eat?  Is this normal?  Does it happen in other families? May be I should read another parenting book? Is there an expert who can help?

At some point, the decibels reach the point when my brain stops processing the information.  I am consuming my calories mindlessly, observing the screamers’ mouths open and close, their facial expressions changing, invisible electricity filling the air. I enjoy my meal; I am at peace.  Eventually, the sound intensity goes down, and I realize that I have no clue anymore what they are talking about.  I announce that it’s time to finish up and do the homework.  But I am wrong, because it is not the time to do the homework; it is the time to have a dessert.   For me, it’s the time to clean the table, and maybe, just maybe, while doing that, I will be able to exchange few words with my husband without interruption.

Someday, we will have a quiet dinner; just the two of us enjoying a candle-light gourmet meal, but by that time we would not remember how to talk to each other anymore.  We would crave the noise and the craziness, the school dramas and the political debates; but all that would be gone. I guess we have to enjoy it while we can.

shopping-boejler

Shopping Experience

When my teenage son starts complaining that he does not have any jeans, and is wearing the same T-shirt two days in a row, I know it’s time to go shopping.   I’ve thought complaining about the empty closet is my thing; apparently I have a competition now.  Unlike me, though, my competitor does not really want to go to the mall; he just wants the clothes he likes, nicely folded and organized, to magically appear in his closet while he is playing video games.

When girls go to the mall they are looking for the shopping experience.  For us, it is an outing where we can be artistic, adventures, original, inventive.  We enjoy going through the aisles, picking out outfits, accessories, shoes, trying them on, carefully judging the transformation in the mirror; and repeating the process as many times as necessary until we are fully satisfied with the new look.  It does not mean that the decision is final.  We reserve the right to return the outfit for any reason, and start the process all over again.  My husband claims that for me it is easier to buy a house then to buy a pair of pants.  That is because I have to look good in the pants, which I cannot say about the house.

When boys go to the mall, they are not looking for the shopping experience; they are looking to visit the Sony and Apple stores, which would help them to pick the next electronic gadget, but would not solve the clothes shortage problem.

It takes a lot of strategic planning to dress a teenage boy.  First, you have to detach him from the computer.  Since it is nearly impossible, especially when he is in the middle of the game, and will remain there for unknown amount of time, it is better to do it right after the meal or homework.  You have to narrow down exactly what is needed, and pick the stores you would visit.  You have to park strategically, so that you would walk into the chosen clothing stores before you pass the electronic stores.   Finally, you have to realize that time is of essence, and move fast.

If you think you know what is in trend and looks good on your son, think again.  GQ magazine fashion editors and all these cool celebrity stylists should look for another job.  The trendsetters of Kennedy High School know better.   They can smell “the moron” from 100 feet away, and would not hesitate to give him “a look”.  “A look” would mean “a thought”.  “A thought” could either be an approval or a disapproval, but who wants to take that chance? So here is a dilemma:  he wants to look different, but not so different that people would start glaring.  In times, he comes up with a radical idea like wearing a jacket or a bow time, but then quickly rejects it: “Nope.  Too much.”  Buying the pea coat for winter was a courageous move inspired by watching British TV.  Only a hand fool of kids was brave enough to do it. We were very proud of him.

The everyday “uniform” consists of a T-shirt, a sweat shirt, a pair of jeans and a pair of sneakers or boots.  Jeans are the easy part – faded or slightly-ripped boot cut would do the job.   The rest is much more complicated.

Since there is nothing interesting for him in the clothing store to look at, he is doing me a huge favor by standing in the middle of an aisle waiting for me to bring him pieces to look at.   Most of the time he just shakes his head “No”.  When he gets particularly generous, he would give me some hints by making a comment about the image, size or color of the letters, quality of fabric, etc.  Sometimes he elaborates, explaining that he is not “a moron”, or not “a pornography star”.  He rejected the T-shirt with a picture of an astronaut and a year 1973 written on it on the basis of its historical inaccuracy, since the moon landing happened in 1969.  Another T-shirt was too fruity; a few were V-necks which did not reflect his personal style.  Some stores, like Abercrombie & Fitch, we could not shop due to the owner’s stance on social issues; but now he was changing his tune due to losing a lot of business because of it.   However, a few attractive bare-chested male models were the only good things in the store.  Unfortunately, they were not for sale.  Or maybe they were; we did not ask.

A boy in the clothing store is a very sad picture to look at.  He doesn’t belong there, and doesn’t want to be there.  He is hot and bored, and painfully wasting his precious time.   He would rather be somewhere else, but he needs clothes, damn it; and his mom is taking too much time to pick something at least remotely acceptable for wearing to school.   His mom doesn’t understand the repercussion of the wrong wardrobe, its lethal effect on his social life.  One “wrong” T-shirt, and the reputation, he has worked so hard to establish, is ruined forever. Trying on the stupid clothes in the fitting room and staying in line to the cash register should be officially established as a new torture in Guantanamo Bay.

Upon arrival, the shopping bags are usually being thrown into the corner of the teenager’s room.    The new wardrobe patiently waits to be moved from the bag to the appropriate place in the closet, or, at least, to be taken out of the bag and worn.   But it’s “work” and the proud owner is busy with his homework.  So until he finds time, the teenager  would wear the same T-shirt two days in a row, and complain about the “empty closet” situation.  Of course, mom is always welcome to come in and help out.

1

Cut Then Drink or Drink Then Cut?

I came back to the car with the platter of insanely overpriced kosher chocolates I just bought in the “elite” gourmet store on Central Avenue.   Topped with a fancy sign, the place is considered to be high-end in the upscale Jewish neighborhood that my husband’s family we came to visit  lives in.    We don’t know any other “good” kosher stores in the area, and don’t want to look cheap, so wasting money seems like the right thing to do.  We usually are invited twice a year – for Chanukah and Purim.   Every visit sparks a discussion about religion, the existence of God, and his role in our lives.  Not that we need a visit for that; the topic is one of my son’s all-time favorites.  That’s why I am trying to avoid it at all costs, because once it starts it never ends.   The fact that it is a belief, and, therefore, does not need a proof, only makes him more passionate in trying to prove that God’s existence is not proven.   The fact that nobody disagrees with him does not stop him from moving on, presenting countless arguments for indefinite amount of time.

Anyway, when I came back my husband was laughing, so I asked him why.  He said that they were talking about circumcision.  Not understanding how this barbaric, but medically beneficial procedure could be funny, I’ve asked him to elaborate.  This was the statement my son made on the topic of Purim while I was away: “ God is so messed up.  First, he wants to cut up your penis, and then drink to the point where you won’t recognize your neighbor.”  This description of events, certainly, had a right to exist, since you did have to get drunk on Purim.  However, we had to point out, that in the case of a circumcision the sequence of events was the opposite.  First, the 8-day-old baby was given wine, and then his penis got cut off.   That was when the philosophical question “what came first” did not only get a new life, but also brought many more questions.  My older son was concerned about the effects of the alcohol intoxication on a baby.  My younger son wanted to know what part was being cut off.   My older son was concerned with how drunk-ing the baby was legal, my younger son was worried about the bleeding aspect. My older son, just finishing the reproductive unit in his Living Environment class, identified the unfortunate body part as nothing other than “a foreskin”.    The value of this knowledge for my younger son could hardly be underestimated, since it could drastically improve his reputation among his fellow 4th graders.

Even though we are Jewish to the bone, we’ve never been particularly religious.  We do try to follow certain traditions, like eating latkes and lighting the Menorah on Chanukah, Hamentashen for Purim, no bread for Passover.  However, even though each ritual has deep meaning and historical significance, it is very hard to explain to kids.  They don’t buy into “the tradition” rhetoric.   They would gladly listen to the interesting stories about their ancestors, but why should they starve on Yom Kippur, or deny themselves their favorite food on Passover to show solidarity with the hypothetical Jews that lived thousands of years ago.   Didn’t these Jews endure all the hardships, so that the future generations would not have to suffer? Other religions don’t seem to be that cruel to their members.

Every time we come to a Purim party, there is a different set of ideas coming from the same exact script read and analyzed over and over again.   This time it was the double meaning of clothing: one that we wore on the outside-physical articles of the wardrobe; the other, spiritual one- the people we were on the inside.  Looking beyond the surface, digging deeper could uncover the new concept or a theory never explored before.    Reading between the lines, interpreting every single word, gesture, detail of a dress are the signs of a true scholar, which we are clearly not.   That’s why I’ve asked my family members to be quiet, and pretend like they were smart, or at least somewhat educated. As Mark Twain said: “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”