Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Family Vacation

We just got back from a week at the beach. I went on this vacation with the following crew: My mom, my sister, her husband and their three boys, my other sister (her beau stayed a few days) and her two kids (one with boyfriend who came along as well) and my kids. Sounds insane, right? Yeah, it kinda was. But in a good way.

We rented three cabins on the beach in South Haven and the location could not have been better. Cute cabins, giant deck, right on the beach. It was the best kind of vacation - the kind where there is no schedule, no agenda, no plan. Each day started with coffee on the deck which eventually led to breakfast, then groups would begin to migrate to the beach. Kids would wander back up, famished, around lunchtime and sandwiches were thrown together. Dinner would usually be discussed late in the day and a volunteer would head to Meijer for supplies.

We sat on the beach, listening to the water, talking, laughing, watching the kids play, with our toes in the sand. The kids were exhausted each night. The true, complete exhaustion you feel only after a full day of water, sand and sunshine. When night came we played euchre on the deck then transitioned to a bonfire on the beach. Complete with singing.

Euchre crew killin' it. 

Before you choke on the sweetness of it all (I'm sure the singing put you near, if not over the edge) let me explain. My Dad came from a very musical family and shared that history and love of music with us girls while we were growing up. He would sing and play the guitar and we would all sing along. Around campfires, at church and at home. When we were very little he would sit in the hall outside our bedrooms and sing us to sleep. It's very special to us and it's a tradition we work hard to continue. Truth be told, I don't actually work that hard. Kelly taught herself to play the ukelele and practices all the time - I just hold the songbook for her and turn the pages. Anyway, the kids love it. You might think they wouldn't but they do. Each day they asked if we would sing and have a bonfire that night.

And also, we rented a jet ski. Everyone was SO excited! We rented it for two hours and had the time all mapped out with who would ride it when. Really not sure what I was thinking when I agreed to give my daughter and neice a ride. I've ridden jet skis before, though, in hindsight I may not have actually driven one. You see, I'm not what you'd call a water person. At all. Not sure why this didn't occur to me when it came my turn to ride.  My sister, her husband and my son had already taken their turns on it when they handed it over to me - racing, jumping waves, having a ball! They brought it in to about 3 ft of water so I could climb on from the back. No problem. Life vest in place, kill switch tether attached. My neice on board.

I barely touched the throttle and found it to be very responsive. A little too responsive, if you want to know the truth. And here's the problem with jet skis. They're completely counterintuitive. When you feel like it's getting out of control or a wave is coming at you the wrong way your instinct is to let go of the throttle but you're SUPPOSED to slam it down and maneuver away. The other problem is that when you let go of the throttle the whole thing gets incredibly tippy and sinks. I mean, not completely, but enough to make a non-water person like myself panic. When you try to take off again it's like you're on a submarine with all the stupid water coming at you. Let's also add to the equation that the water was spraying in my face like a damn firehose so I had to take off my prescription sunglasses and I really couldn't see much. At one point I remember yelling, "Can you see any boats or swimmers around here? I can't see anything. Tell me if I'm going to hit something." Seriously should NOT have been driving it.

But then. Then. It got worse. I fell off. Not just fell off, was thrown from the crazy thing! Took my niece with me too. Came up sputtering, choking and panicked. Looked around and saw the jet ski. Check. Saw my niece. Check. Then I thought about how deep the water was and what was beneath me and I lost it. I wildly, frantically clawed my way back to the machine where my niece was patiently waiting. I was practically hysterical in my attempt to get back up. If I could have stood on her head for quicker boarding, I'd have done it. I'm not proud but it's true. I needed to get out of that water. Quickly.

So you'd think, that when it came time to give my daughter her ride I would've turned over the reins to my sister or her husband but I didn't. Took my daughter and got thrown from the stupid thing AGAIN. But this time I was far more tired. Pulling myself onto the machine felt like pulling myself out of a deep vat of mud. It suddenly occurred to me that I may not be able to get back up. That I may require some sort of Coast Guard rescue (Do they do that for terrible jet skis drivers? What a horrible waste of taxpayer money) and that this could take awhile. My lovely daughter would have none of my defeatist attitude and cheered me on (and pushed my butt a little too) until I was back up on the machine. We immediately returned it to the rental guy. Machine must've been defective or something.....

The second "incident" involved Mom. She and I were sitting in the sun and decided to go in the lake for a quick swim to cool off.  I should note there was a yellow flag flying on the beach but, here's the thing, we didn't pay much attention to the flags. When the red flag was flying you weren't supposed to swim due to the undertow and high waves but those were the days the kids liked best! So red days - don't swim. Yellow days - swim carefully. Green days - all good. Back to the story, it was a yellow day. I headed into the water first and found it to be cold but refreshing. I was a few feet from the shore, maybe about up to my mid-thigh. Mom was just entering the water. Then everything went into slow motion. You know how that is?

Mom started to lean to the left a bit, then a bit more, then she was down. I started to move towards her and glanced up to see my sister on the beach - laughing, reaching for her phone - and then a wave CRASHED right on top of Mom. I mean BOOM. No escape. She came up sputtering and looking like a drowned puppy. I reached for her - still laughing - then a man from the shore came in to help too. I was laughing, Mom was laughing and this poor guy was struggling to save her. We were laughing so damn hard we could barely stand. Sister, on shore,  still snapping photos. Mom had a death grip on this guy - would NOT let go of him until she was safely on shore. The photos are hillarious. I look like hell but I'm not even mad. Totally worth it.

So, in conclusion, the vacation was hillarious, sad, messy, loud, frustrating, happy, enlightening and real. Wouldn't trade it for the world.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Teenage Angst Gone Too Far

Something is very, very wrong. My 14 year old daughter is crying hysterically. I don't know what's happening. She's glued to her phone. I can't tell what's happening. She's not telling me. I need to know what's going on. And then she tells me.  

She was "going out" with this boy for about three weeks. If you're not well versed in teenage vernacular, "going out" means snap chatting, texting and maybe seeing each other downtown, after school, at the Dairy Queen. Three weeks. I really need to emphasize the length of the relationship because it's important. 

She then decided she didn't want to "go out" with him anymore and told him that. To his face. Kindly. Like a good human being. And here's what he did in return.

He threatened to kill himself. You think I'm kidding? You think I'm exaggerating? I'm not. He, straight up, said he would kill himself if she left him. He said he would jump off the bridge to end his life. My mind is reeling. Who does that? Can you even do that? What is happening here?  

He was relentlessly "snap chatting" her about how sad he was and how he wanted to end his life. He sent her photos of himself on a very high bridge. He kept begging her to change her mind because he couldn't live without her. 

Then, to make matters FAR worse, he (four hours later) made out with one of her "friends" in a basement somewhere. Emotional whiplash anyone? Yeah, me too. 

Can we talk about this? Can we break this down? I'm extremely concerned, more so because this isn't the first time this has happened. Other break ups have left us with boys claiming they will harm themselves too.

What's going on here? Why are these boys doing this? Are there situations where such emotional terrorism/blackmail achieves the goal of getting the girl to stay? I can barely form words. These kids are 14 years old.  Where did they learn that this was a healthy way to deal with things?  Why can't my daughter see the wrongness of this? Why can't she see that this boy is somehow emotionally impaired or unstable and that it's not about her?

She is worried he will harm himself and everyone will blame her. I've told her that her only duty is to be kind to him and to be honest. I told her she should tell me if she believes his threat is real and I will notify his parents and/or the authorities. What do I tell her beyond that? What do I tell her in this day and age when young people (children) are dying of suicide at an alarming rate? How do I help her navigate this nightmare?  

But wait. It gets worse. Her friend group then turned on her. The boy she broke up with is relatively new to the school system and the area. Her friends didn't really know him that well. But. When he was upset, crying and threatening suicide, they took his side. They were angry that my daughter would make him so sad. Did you hear that? That she would make him sad. NONE OF US HAS POWER LIKE THAT, LEAST OF ALL A 14 YEAR OLD GIRL. But her friends felt bad for him. So bad, in fact, that they chose to cast her out of the group because she made a conscious choice to end a relationship that wasn't working for her. She didn't text him to end it. She wasn't rude to him. She just didn't want to be with him anymore and was honest about that. 

She was also deeply hurt that this "friend" of hers would kiss this boy just a few hours later. That makes sense to me. Am I crazy? I would be VERY upset if a boy, claiming to love me more than life itself, turned his attention to a willing participant who used to be a friend of mine, only hours later in a dark basement. What message does this send? First, the boy is lying. He doesn't like my daughter all that much or he wouldn't have done that. So she can just go ahead and start to doubt herself and her decision to trust him. Second, why would her friend willingly (and so quickly) jump into that abyss? Does she have no self respect at all? He's crying over another girl and you rush in to kiss him hoping to start a relationship with him? Really? REALLY?? That's the kind of dude you want? And that's the kind of story you want? Ew. 

This terrifies me for the future. Why would they do that? Why would they blame her for making a healthy choice? Why wouldn't they support the decision of their friend? Where are we headed and how do we get off this ride?

Thursday, June 15, 2017

You Can't Push Someone Up a Ladder

I'm tired. All the time. And no, it's not an autoimmune disorder or bad sleep hygiene. It's that I never actually rest my eyes and my body, both at the same time, for a full night. And do you want to know why? Teenagers. More specifically, my teenager.

I'm like a firefighter, or what I think a firefighter is like, at night. My clothes and shoes are always nearby. I've got my phone on the bedside stand - fully charged and ready with the ringer on. I am able to leap from bed at a moment's notice and handle whatever situation comes my way. Well, most of the time.

The usual situation is talking to police officers at my door at all hours.  They come to my house so frequently now that we're on a first name basis. I'm even getting to know the State Troopers so I guess that's a bonus? Two visits ago the police officer said he really felt bad for me asked if he could give me a hug. Of course I agreed because a) he's very nice, b) he's cute and c) I was happy to know someone was on my side. Bullet proof vests aren't very snuggly though so it wasn't as comforting as I hoped it would be.

The last visit was on a Sunday morning at 4:00am. My son crept into my room and whispered "The police are at the door. Here's your robe. I didn't do anything bad, he just had to bring me home." Because this is my life now. I stumbled out of bed, clutching my robe, rubbing my eyes and sat down at the table to see what was going on. Let's see, this time, my son had been picked up at a local park with two (older) girls who were drinking. He had not been drinking. (No, I'm not your typical idiot parent that trusts her kid. They did a breathalizer on him, that's how I know)  Anyway, the officer had to drive him home because my son was not supposed to be driving after 10:00 pm. The only up side was that the officer confiscated the hard lemonade from the girls and brought it to my house. I enjoy hard lemonade. So...silver lining?

I've had the police at my house when my son and his buddies destroyed a mailbox (my aunt and uncle's), when my son ran away, when my son's friend was in trouble, etc. I really could go on and on but I'm just too tired. Suffice it to say that they don't have to ask for my name or birthdate anymore. Timesaver!!!

There are days when I just don't know what else to do with this kid. Many, many days. On those days I usually throw in the towel, give up and beg a family member to keep him for "just one night" so I can get some rest. I don't know what the future holds. I don't know if he'll be ok or if he'll continue to spiral out of control. I hope that, one day, he'll figure it all out and get on the right path. But on days like today, I have to remember that I'm only human, that I'm doing this alone, that I have another kid to worry about and that I have to put my own oxygen mask on before I can save anyone else. 

Image result for drag a horse to water

Thursday, August 4, 2016

I Want To Be Sedated

I don't want to be sedated forever, just until my kids aren't teenagers anymore. You hear the stories, see the movies and read the books about teenagers and the difficulties involved in raising them. But I'm not sure you can ever be fully prepared for it. Especially if you end up with a challenging teenager. Which I have. #luckyme

The problem with teenagers is that they're actually insane. Quite literally. Their brains don't function in normal, predictable patterns that make sense to anyone but themselves. And sometimes I don't think they make sense even to THEM.  Which of course makes it difficult for those of us operating outside their minds to understand what the F is going on.

The trouble is that they walk among us and, therefore, we are foreced to deal with them. Some of us must actually live with them, day in and day out, and that is no small thing. It's like living with a toddler again - temper tantrums over the silliest little things. 


Arguments I've actually had in the last few weeks are as follows: 

  • "No. You cannot go out with your friends in my brand new car that I just picked up TODAY." (He seriously asked if he could. This after he totalled his own car - that he hasn't even paid off yet - the weekend before). 
  •  "Leaving the house at 3:00 am to play Pokemon Go is unacceptable. Any normal human being you might poll will agree with this. It does not make me a horrible person for demanding that you be in the house, in bed, at 3:00 am. Really."
  • "No. You may not walk to town (2 miles away) at 11:00 pm. There are no sidewalks and it is DARK outside. A car will hit you. No, it doesn't change my answer if you offer to ride your bike to town instead."
  •  "Please stop "play" fighting with the dog. It makes her bitey and it makes me mad. I have asked you a million times not to do it and yet you continue. When you're done playing with her, I go to pet her and she bites me. When the dog hides from you it's her telling you she doesn't want to play anymore. Stop it."
  • "If you are supposed to be at work at 7:00 am you should be there at 7:00 am. Calling in at 9:00 am to tell them you're too tired to work is unacceptable. You will get fired. When you say you're going to be there you have to be there. That's how life works. That's how you keep a job."
Raising a teenager is exhausting - physically, emotionally, spiritually and in all other ways. Plus, I never feel like I'm doing it right and I won't have any true feedback for about 10 years. I need a pay increase....

Monday, July 18, 2016

Bone Face

Of all the things I ever considered, this was never one of them. Truly. Did not occur to me even once. So here's what happened:

What's funny about this photo is that it looks like Hazel's happily holding a bone in her mouth. Not true. It's actually STUCK there. REALLY stuck. I didn't know what was happening at first. She jumped off the bed and was acting really weird. She seemed to be clawing at her face but I couldn't figure out why. I got out of bed to get a closer look and saw the bone. I tried to loosen it and get it off but she wasn't having it. She was fighting to get away from me and doing everything in her power to make that happen.

As a general rule I tend to be pretty good in emergency situations. But I've learned that mostly applies to people now that I really think about it. Animals are a totally different well, animal. They just don't understand that you're trying to help them and it freaks them out even more as you're forcing yourself on them to "help". She was running away from me as I chased her all through the house. Another fun fact - when there is a bone stuck in a dog's mouth, there will be lots of drool. Lots. Gushing amounts of drool. Disgusting.

Zoe was in bed and awoke to me screaming "Quick! Google "How to cut through bone". What the shit? No one should wake up to that request ever, it's just not healthy. On any level. The only thing she could find was that you should smack it with a meat cleaver. So I yelled, "Refine the search!! Check on "How to cut through a bone stuck on a dog's jaw!"

We weren't getting anywhere. I told Zoe to hold Hazel while I tried again to get the bone off. It was impossible but Zoe gave it her all. Hazel was scratching and twisting, shoving her legs around and making it generally impossible to get a firm hold on her. At this point I noticed that Hazel was starting to pant heavily - much like Zoe and I after the wrestling match - so I decided we needed to call the vet.

After a number of mix-ups (went to the wrong place and waited there 20 minutes for a vet who had no idea we were even there) we ended up at a 24 hour emergency vet's office. Since it was, by this time, about 11:30 pm, the doors were locked and we had to be buzzed in. The tech that came to greet us looked at Hazel - who was now happily wagging her tail, excited to meet a new friend - and with a questioning look said, "Can I help you?" Because it actually looked like nothing was wrong with her.

I just gestured to the dog and said "She has a bone stuck on her face." The tech looked a little closer and said, "Oh! I guess she does!"  Meanwhile, real emergencies (pets injured and dying) were coming in and Zoe and I had to stand there like idiots telling everyone, "Yup. Got a bone stuck on her face."

They ended up having to sedate her to remove the bone which, just so you know, costs about $164.00.  I'm not blaming the vet's office. They provided a great service and saved the (stupid) dog. I'm mostly blaming the stupid dog. Most expensive dog bone ever.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

You'll Shoot Your Eye Out

I tried. I really tried to make it through Christmas vacation as the "fun mom", the "wonderful hostess" and the "grateful guest." Two out of three ain't bad...

It's a lot of togetherness when you stop to think about it. The kids have all been in school pretty full time since September and that's been just fine. We got into a schedule, a rhythm, if you will.  Then we get to Christmas and it's suddenly two weeks of total togetherness. Full immersion. No escape.

Christmas is fun and New Year's Eve is fun. Plus you've got some cool parties sprinkled in there for flavor but let's be honest. When you get to that final Sunday evening, when you know they'll be headed back to school, you're relieved. All of you. You're absolutely at the limit of what you can take.

We'd been to a party that Sunday night (that I wasn't so hot to go to in the first place) and had been on the road a lot during the day. The party provided a lovely dinner but when we got home the kids asked "What's for dinner?" Seriously? You JUST ATE. So I started to scrounge around to see what we had. The fridge was a mess. Weird holiday leftovers, no milk and certainly nothing that could be considered dinner (egg nog anyone?). But I pulled a MacGyver and got it done. It wasn't pretty, probably wasn't even good, but they were fed.

I told the kids I was excited because Downton Abbey was going to be on for the first episode of the series. They KNOW how much I love that show. Still. Max insisted on coming into my room and annoying me about every 15 minutes throughout the entire show. When he wasn't entering my room, he was teasing his sister or making the dog bark like crazy. Then Zoe would come in to complain about him, interrupting my show. I. Was. Done.

And then it happened.

He was screwing around and shooting rubber bands and Nerf darts at the dog who was laying on the bed with me. She was getting agitated and so was I. I told him to knock it off. I mean it. Knock if off. But he didn't. He shot one last dart and it hit me square in the eye. Everything went into slow motion. He gasped, Zoe cried out, the dog barked and I grabbed my eye and started crying. I mean really crying. I fell off the bed, still holding my eye, and said "We might need to call 911."

Ok. To clarify. Did I overreact? Yes, Of COURSE I did. I'm not an idiot. I get it. But the tears were not all related to the dart in the eye. Obviously. I mean it hurt and all but I was DONE and this was the last straw. I could not hold it together and just openly sobbed. Max was going crazy. He ran to the bathroom to get a cool cloth for my eye, brought it to me and said, "Mom, are you ok? I'm so sorry? Use this cloth on your eye, it will help."

I probably should have responded better to his concern, you know encouraged him and used it as a teachable moment. Instead.

"SEE?" I shouted. "See what happens when you don't listen? People GET HURT."

He shrank away from me.

Listen, I know when I'm being the "Dragon Mom". The mom with the crazy, scary voice reserved only for the most serious offenses. And this was it. Full on. All of the stress I had felt leading up to the holidays, making sure everything was done and everything was magical was coming out through my tears. It's a lot of pressure handling everything and everyone was counting on me to make it perfect. Right down to gifts for the dog's stocking. Aside from all that, my eye did actually hurt and I thought, at least for a moment, that I had a corneal abrasion.

But I did not have a corneal abrasion. The next night we had a planned rubber band gun/Nerf gun war in the house but I wore ski goggles to avoid another incident. At one point, Zoe and I pinned Max down and were shooting him repeatedly. Sometimes it's good to get your aggression out but hitting him with the actual gun was probably going too far. Way to be - Zoe. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Seventh Grade Camp

This was the year Zoe attended 7th grade camp. She begged me to go along as a chaperone for the week - how sweet is that? - so I agreed. BEST TIME EVER.

I really wasn't sure how it would go. Would I be cool enough? Fun enough? Could I keep order with all the girls in my cabin? Could I survive any girl drama that might pop up? I shouldn't have worried at all.

The chaperones got to the camp before the kids so we had time to look around and get our bags unpacked. Most importantly, adults got first choice of bunk. Critical decision. Lower bunk, closest to the bathroom? Yes please. I was one of the lucky ones and was assigned to one of the "lodges". That translates to heat and A/C (sort of), bathrooms and showers IN the lodge and close proximity to all activities. Other were not so lucky and ended up in the "Wilderness" cabins. Translation - smells like mold, might have bats and you have to walk to the bathrooms.

We were given our assigned kids almost as soon as they arrived. They were all seated in the outdoor amphitheater and the chaperones were all waiting at the back. They read off the kids names and then they came back to meet us. I don't mean to brag but I truly got a WONDERFUL group of girls. I knew some of them or had at least heard of them through Zoe so they weren't a complete surprise. Still, it was interesting to get to know each one of them and tricky to learn all their names. They were confused about what they should call me - Mrs. Nowak (uh, NO), Zoe's mom, Ms. Arnold?  Instead they settled on calling me "Mom". I was honored and thrilled. Though later, when I would get separated from them and they would all scream "MOM" (at the top of their lungs) I was kind of rethinking that choice. I would then run around, usually in the dark, swooping them up like a bunch of lost lambs.

They had to haul all of their luggage to our cabin and, unfortunately, a few of the girls (or maybe their moms?) overpacked. By a lot. It took some doing to drag it all there but once we got it there we were able to settle in and get to know each other. I had one of the larger groups - 11 girls - so we had a good time talking, laughing and sharing.

Each group of girls traveled with a group of boys which made up our "travel group". We did all of our activities together and also shared all of our meals so I had to learn all the boys names too. Definite challenge for my name recollection skills! I tried to come up with rhymes for their names, "Boisterous Becca" and "Mindful Michael" to name a few.

We did cool things - horseback riding, underground railroad reenactment, nature classes, canoeing - but the coolest thing really was watching these kids grow, learn and interact with each other. At every meal, each table was supposed to have one adult, four girls and four boys. Hard to manage at first but then everyone started to fall in line. I was a fanatic about manners at my table (Zoe was horrified) and gently guided them into understanding how to be polite and how to share. The change from the first day to the last was ASTOUNDING.

At each meal I came up with questions to ask the table. What was the best gift you ever got? What was the best gift you ever gave? Do you have pets? Do you have siblings? What's the coolest thing you did over the summer? Tell the table something they may not know about you? Do you have any special talents? What is your biggest pet peeve? Who is your best friend? What do you like to do?

The rule was that everyone who wanted to share was given a chance to answer the question. The other rule was that everyone at the table had to listen to that answer. Yes, I quizzed them. I would say, "Michael, did you hear what Katie said?" If he didn't, I would have her repeat it. I thought I was annoying them but, by the end of the week, the boys were rushing to sit at my table and saying, "Aren't you going to ask your questions?"

On one of the final days we were scheduled to participate in the Predator/Prey game. Apparently I misunderstood the instructions and thought the game was for the KIDS only. So I showed up in my cute sandals and flowy pants only to be told that I would be part of the turkey flock, made up of my girls. Oh dear. I'm still picking burrs out of those pants....

So here's the thing. The camp was, obviously, for the kids. But I gained so much. It was one of the most wonderful experiences of my adult life. To be given a view inside the minds of 7th grade kids. To hear about their thoughts and fears, to see them interact with each other, to laugh with them. It was a GIFT.

Each night I would try to settle the girls in - not an easy task as you can imagine - and then I would spray each of their pillows with "sleep spray" (lavender and vanilla pillow spray). Once they were all in their beds I would read aloud to them. I brought this crazy old book with me that I hadn't looked at in years.  It was a story about an eccentric pig who falls in love with a statue of a dolphin and they LOVED it. They all lay quietly each night, waiting to hear what happened next. We didn't get a chance to finish the story and I still get girls who come up to me to ask what happened at the end!!

The thing about kids at this age is this - they are absolute sponges. They soak up praise (and negativity) as if it were water. For instance, I had one kid who told me she was lazy. I said,

"Huh. That's weird. I haven't seen you be lazy at all. Why would you say you're lazy?"

She replied, "That's what my mom tells me."

Her mom told her that and she believed it. I had numerous instances of the same conversation throughout the week. Every time I heard something like that I would reply with something positive in the hopes of replacing a negative thought . Kids at this age, though they pretend they don't need you and pretend they're not listening, take in every word you say. Positive, negative or otherwise.

The teachers and administrators at Zoe's school totally get that. They have made a careful study of this age group and they have perfected the proper way to guide these young folks through the rocky road that is middle school. I was thrilled when Max attended the school and thrilled that Zoe is there now. They are amazing people who are REALLY good at what they do and I can't thank them enough for allowing me to go to camp!

Family Vacation