Psychic Hotline

Now that she’s a sophomore in high school, Middle Sister’s been getting a bunch of college mail.  Most of it is postcards directing her to visit college websites, but yesterday she got a big envelope with a folder full of papers inside.

That impressed her.  She actually opened it instead of just tossing it aside like she does with the postcards.  She asked me if I knew where this university was, and I told her that it’s near where TheDad works and that one of Big Brother’s friends had gone there, as had the friend’s older brother.

She asked what the friend had studied at this university.

“Psychology, I think,” I replied.

“What IS psychology?” asked Little Brother.

“The study of the mind,” I answered in a fake-mysterious tone.

“He’s gonna be a PSYCHIC?”

Fashion Emergency

Little Brother’s in the middle of one of those growth spurts where an already-slender child suddenly gets taller and even skinner.  So his old pants are too short, and the new ones are too wide.  That’s what belts are for, but he doesn’t want to hear it.

Friends of ours from church have a son about a year older than Little Brother.  The kid pretty much skipped size 12, growing straight from 10 to 14 in the blink of an eye.  When they offered to hand off a bunch of nearly-new jeans and pants to us, I was happy to accept, and I offered to look through our bins of Big Brother’s old stuff to see if we had anything that would fit this tall young man.  That trade worked out for everyone.

Yesterday Little Brother and I went through his drawers of clothing and took out the things that are too small for him now.  I put in several pairs of new jeans and cargo pants.  This morning he tried on three or four pairs, loudly discarding all of them as “too big,” “too hard to button,” and/or “too baggy.”

Middle Sister’s attempts at a fashion intervention fell on deaf ears.  Little Brother finally emerged from his room wearing sweat pants.

“Don’t just give up and put on sweat pants,” Middle Sister groaned.

He protested, “They’re not sweats!  They’re Athletic Pants!”


Opposites might attract when it comes to spouses, according to an article in today’s Wall Street Journal, but I don’t think it works that way in mother-daughter relationships.

Right now I’m responding in a completely irrational manner to my daughter’s announcements that, 1, she’s going vegetarian for Lent, and, 2, that she doesn’t want what I was going to make for dinner tonight either. Completely irrational. Because I’m feeling rejected by this. She doesn’t get that. Not only does she not get it, she’s mad at me.

But I have lost all steam in the dinner-prep process after she started making herself a bean burrito. We can’t both cook in the kitchen at the same time anyway–the room is too small for that. So I left the room. I’m being ridiculously oversensitive and I can’t seem to stop it.

Cooking is a big part of the way I nurture my family. I work around the silly preferences (she’s off soy sauce; Big Brother doesn’t like corn) and the dietary needs (husband with gout, Little Brother with lactose intolerance). I make broccoli that they like instead of Brussels sprouts that I like. I enjoy cooking and making meals that my family likes. And then TheDad skips dinner every Spaghetti Night and Middle Sister (and now Little Brother) announces that tonight’s meal is not a favorite.

I cannot believe I’m sitting here losing it over the dinner plan.


Monday, Monday

…can’t trust that day…

Normally I like Mondays because they signal the beginning of a new week.  Everyone is back to work or school and my house is quiet again and it’s back to routine.

I love routine.  It makes my world go ’round.

Mrs. C with my kids, 2004

Today was not a routine Monday.  No one had work or school.  Instead, Middle Sister and I had a funeral to attend (I know!  Another one!!)  This funeral was for the son of the lovely woman who babysat Middle Sister twice a week when she was 4 and I had a part-time teaching job.  At the time, Mrs. C was mourning the loss of her husband, who’d had Alzheimer’s; she had cared for him at home for the better part of a decade.  Middle Sister kept her company, learned to play Chinese checkers, took walks around the block with her, and discovered the magic of microwave pancakes thanks to Mrs. C.  With her own grandparents living upwards of 75 miles away, Middle Sister adopted Mrs. C as an extra grandmother.

Today Middle Sister towered over her former babysitter, who had stayed with Big Brother and Middle Sister the night Little Brother was born.  Today, as always, Middle Sister was quick to hug Mrs. C.  And after we sat down in our pew, Middle Sister wondered if she might be needed as an altar server.  Since the parish school closed, they haven’t had servers for funerals (that’s 8 years ago now.)  Usually one of the deacons, or Mrs. Deacon, or a member of the Bereavement Committee does the job.  But Middle Sister purposefully marched to the sacristy, high heels and all, and asked if she could help.

It was a full-court press on the altar today, with two priests (present and former pastors), one deacon, one server, and another deacon “behind the scenes” babysitting the incense.

The former pastor, whom I haven’t seen in almost 10 years, greeted me as he walked by my pew before Mass.  “How are your kids?” he asked me.  I replied that one of them was his altar server for the Mass.  He looked puzzled until I mentioned her name.  “OH MY GOD!!!!!!” was his response.  He hadn’t seen her since kindergarten.  She’s grown a bit in 10 years.

Being at that Mass today, listening to that former pastor pray and preach was healing for me.  Some priests are good administrators.  Others are good in ministry to the sick and the bereaved.  This priest definitely falls into category “B.”  Unfortunately, all of my dealings with him while he was our pastor were in category “A.”  There was a lot of hurt that I’ve been carrying around for about 12 years now, hurt caused by administrative decisions this priest made that I took personally.

Middle Sister isn’t the only one who’s grown in the past 10 years.

I left that church carrying the burden of grief for Mrs. C, for her daughter-in-law, two grandchildren, and newborn great-granddaughter.  I left behind the burden of hurt that I’d been carrying around, for no good reason, for more than a decade.

I had no idea, walking into that funeral, that once again I’d be made proud of the young woman my daughter is becoming, and that I’d be able to let go of something I didn’t need to lug around in the first place.

In your kindness, remember the C. family as they grieve, and pray for eternal rest for Tom, who made serving God through others his life’s work–and his life’s joy.

Heart of Gold

This morning I put on my church clothes, pulled my daughter out of gym class, and took her to her friend’s grandfather’s funeral.  It was her idea, and there was no way I was going to refuse.

She greeted, and held the door for, her now-retired fifth-grade teacher who arrived at the church just behind us.

She sat on the aisle seat in our pew–the better to reach out and squeeze her friend’s arm during the procession.

During the recessional, her friend stopped at our pew to give her a hug, and we stayed outside the church for a few minutes after Mass so she could talk to him before it was time for his family to head to the cemetery.

She gave up her lunchtime, her break time, her “hang out with friends at school” time so that she could be there for one friend for a few minutes.

Last night while we were running errands, she mentioned that she thinks it’s silly for her to have to study religion at school.  Her reasoning:  she goes to church, and by this point she should be living it with her life.  At 16, there’s still plenty for her to learn, but I saw for myself today (as well as plenty of other times) that she’s got a decent handle on living out the Works of Mercy.

You can say what you want about teenagers (and I’ve had my own frustrations with my teens), but Middle Sister showed me today what she’s made of.  I couldn’t be prouder.

What a difference a day makes

Teenagers.  They’re frustrating one minute, but inspire your awe and pride the next.  Since I vented yesterday about that little attitude problem I had with my daughter, it’s only right that I commend the heart and friendship she exhibited today.

Even more amazing is that all of this happened while she was very far from feeling her best.  She was feeling pretty punky this morning, but in the absence of a fever or migraine or stomach-flu symptoms, I sent her off to school.  Just after 8:30 (less than 45 minutes after her arrival) she texted me to come pick her up, that she was in the nurse’s office.  Yup, stomach flu.

True to form, she opened up during the short drive home.  (Kids always open up in the car!)  Apparently a good friend of hers is very upset with her mom.  The friend is an only child; Mom’s a single parent; Dad is remarried and lives in a nearby city with his new wife and 2 small children from that marriage.  And Mom doesn’t drive, but she works long hours, until late at night sometimes.  My daughter’s friend feels like she gets no attention from her mom, that her mom doesn’t care about her, that she should move in with her dad.  She is either alone from just after school until late in the evening or with an aunt, uncle and young cousin with whom she doesn’t get along well.

I observed to Middle Sister that her friend probably wasn’t complaining to her all the time in order to get Middle Sister to solve the problem; that she probably just wanted someone to listen.  And I commiserated with her friend that it must be tough to be all alone all evening with no way to get anywhere, and all of that.

A few minutes after we arrived home, my daughter was set up with her ginger ale and crackers and cell phone.  And then she asked if we could do something for her friend, if her friend could come here after school a couple of times a week and have dinner with our family so she wouldn’t be alone so much.

I told her that would be fine, as long as I knew in advance when we’d have a dinner guest and if it wasn’t on the nights when Little Brother has rehearsal, because we’d have to drive this girl home after dinner and that won’t work on rehearsal nights.

And this is why I do what I do.  She may be 16, but as her friend’s situation clearly demonstrates, 16-year-olds need parents around too.  Families with a stay-at-home parent make sacrifices so that can happen.  I know that not every family is able to do this, but I am very grateful that my family can and does, and that, in her own way, my daughter knows that it’s a good thing.

A P.T. Barnum Kind of Morning

P. T. Barnum reportedly observed, “There is a sucker born every minute.”

Today, that would be me.

This is the part where I get to eat those words I dished out last night when I wrote about how I’m happy to be able to do something for my daughter.  Because this morning, she made it onto the school bus on time, but her laptop didn’t.  A few minutes after she left, I got a text message:


“For real?” I responded.  Then, locating the laptop near the top of the stairs, I texted her, “I see it.  Where to met?”

“? Where do you think” is what I got back.

Really?  You want to smart off at me when I’m doing you a favor?  The laptop is a school-issued, required piece of equipment that serves as both textbook and notebook in most of her classes.  So unlike the consequences she might suffer if she left her literature textbook home, she’s basically unprepared for every single class if she doesn’t have the laptop.

So I rescued her.  Again.  She forgets the laptop fairly often.

And after the smart answers in today’s text message, plus the generous dose of attitude she showed me when I expressed some frustration at having to wait for her so I could deliver the computer, this might be the last time I bring it over there.  Yes, school is only a mile away.  Yes, I was home at the time.  But, oh well–maybe this kind of a favor, unlike a hot, nutritious dinner for a student involved in several after-school activities, isn’t the kind of favor that does anyone any favors.

My sister calls me a sucker for dropping everything to deliver forgotten computers, textbooks, lunches, and track shoes to my daughter at school.  Maybe I am.  And maybe I’d be a better parent if I were less of a sucker.  I’d rather she misses the bus and  is sure to have all her stuff than making the bus and expecting a speedy delivery.

Next time she can just face the consequences, and then maybe, just maybe, there won’t be too many next times after that.

The sucker has left the building.

The Pot Calls the Kettle Black

Middle Sister missed the bus (again) this morning.  As she opened the door of the van to load her stuff in, a video-game cartridge fell out.

“Little Brother doesn’t take care of his things,” she complained as she threw her backpack onto the back seat, followed by her laptop and enormous sports duffel.

I just looked at her and then at her pile of stuff.

“What?  The IT people test those laptops by throwing them down the stairs!  I think it can handle my 2-pound sports bag.”

(She underestimates the weight of this sports bag by a factor of 10.)

“I don’t think they actually throw the computers down the stairs,” I replied.

“Yes, they do!  My freshman English teacher told us that,” she informed me.

“I have a hard time picturing the members of the Technology Department tossing laptops down the stairs,” I commented.

“And the keyboards are supposed to be spillproof too!  I kinda want to test that…”

Mending the Mug

Middle Sister is burning the candle at so many ends right now; I’m just hoping she makes it through the week.  This semester she has a demanding course load:  Honors English, US History, Geometry and Studio Art.  Winter track just started for the season (she’s hurdling this year).  And tonight is the opening of her school’s fall play:  “The Odd Couple.”  She’s the Prop Mistress.

That’s a big job in a play with a small ensemble but a huge props list.  Last week she exported two cases of soda and an entire Rubbermaid bin out of my basement.  I have no idea what she took from the house, other than a few crystal wineglasses that originally belonged to my mother-in-law.  The other day she texted me at lunchtime and asked me to drop off more soda and a tablecloth, and yesterday she took one of my crockpots to school.  (It should be interesting to see how much of my stuff comes back.)

She’s been putting in 13-hour days all week, and for the past two days I’ve been dropping off “meals on wheels” at dinnertime.  She could walk to Wendy’s, but I really don’t mind bringing a healthier dinner over to her, and frankly, I’m a little flattered that she asked me to do this.  Yup, it was her idea.  How do you say no to a kid who is clearly missing homemade dinner?

Last night when she came home after her long day, she had a cup of something in her hand.  I was in the middle of folk-group practice (we rehearse in my living room so the kids can play), so I didn’t pay much attention until she rummaged around in a drawer and retrieved a hot-glue gun, then dumped out a pile of ceramic shards from a coffee mug on my dining room table.  The mug was a prop.  It had been broken, and she was going to fix it.  It’s not like they needed this mug, but she needed to fix it.

She spent an hour she could ill afford, trying to glue that mug back together.  People were asking her why she bothered, because it wasn’t a necessary item–there are always so many coffee mugs around.  And she really couldn’t answer.

I completely got it, though.  She was mending the mug because she needed a mental break from all the other stuff she’s juggling right now.  Yes, it required concentration, but it was a completely different kind of task from vocab homework, history assignments, hurdling and prophunting.

When I was in grad school, I started doing the same thing.  Full-time graduate students tend to be very single-minded.  They focus on their studies 24/7.  I can’t do that without losing my mind completely, which is why I took my master’s degree and left, abandoning all hope of becoming a college professor.  I don’t love anything enough to study it 24/7.  I took forced breaks from literature by joining the RCIA program as a sponsor for a fellow student, and by joining the folk group that played at 3 Masses a week.  People wanted to know why I’d spend time doing that instead of in the library; it was precisely because it wasn’t the library.

Now I deal with stress by baking.  Whatever works, right?

She wasn’t able to repair the mug; there were too many missing pieces.  But I think that hour she spent puzzling it back together, glue gun in hand, was not a wasted hour.  And I’m glad to know that she–however unconsciously–recognizes and gives in to the need for balance in her life.

Not in My House

I love the Zits comic and read it every day.  Creators Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman really have a handle on what it’s like to live with teenagers.

They got it wrong today, though.  Around here, Middle Sister is the one most likely to eat the leftovers.

For breakfast.

Even when those leftovers are Beef Enchiladas.  Especially when those leftovers are Beef Enchiladas.