Life is absurd. And life is precious. Family is a lot of both.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Con List


*originally published in the Weston Chronicle on January 23, 2013.


I have written this column for the Weston Chronicle for almost a year now in order to share what I love about this place. There are many reasons why we chose to make Weston our hometown, but it was not an easy decision for a military family with 10 moves on the books to consider any one city right enough to settle forever. It’s coming up on two years that we’ve been back and there are no regrets (though we’d sure love a little more snow—but that’s a different column).


As with any big decision, part of the discussion process involved a pro and con list. Top of our con list for Weston: the lack of diversity. This generated at the top of our list not due to political correctness, but as a result of 21 years of the military lifestyle. The United States Army was the first public institution to fully integrate and so, by the time we got there in 1990, diversity was no longer a topic for committees and special educational programs. It was simply a no-brainer. Diversity was everywhere. Our oldest three children spent their formative years daily surrounded by teachers and students and neighbors from all over the world with different colors of skin, religions, socio-economic backgrounds, and national heritages.


No one gave it a second thought when a female African-American co-worker came over for dinner or that dad’s boss had a different color of skin. Child #5’s godmother is a darling woman of Korean descent with broken English, a killer kimchi recipe, and the sweetest hugs around. While looking through old pictures of Child #2’s 10th birthday sleepover party, we discovered that hers is the only white face in the crowd of five little girls. Is it strange that we never noticed that at the time? Child #1 departed last week for a semester abroad in Africa. We’d like to think that part of her motivation for studying other languages and experiencing other cultures is that she knows how small the world really is and how much we have to learn from each other. But mostly we’d like to think she learned from the beginning how very much alike we all are.


Which brings me back to our con list. It certainly was not that we thought Weston was a town of fearful racists or religious bigots. Hardly! Some of the biggest hearts and brightest minds we’ve ever met were born and raised right here. It was more that we knew it would be much harder to teach our younger kids about their place in the world if they were always surrounded by people just like them.


Yet here we are living in this very intelligent, very warm, very ambitious, yet very homogeneous community. How will we impart the same empathy and worldliness to our younger three kids that our older three absorbed so easily and so early? We are still working that out.


One thing we will do is talk about the con list. No place will be perfect, we tell our kids, and you are no better or worse or smarter or more special than a child on the other side of the world. Or the other side of the tracks. Do we want our kids to succeed in the global economy? Absolutely. The better they learn that we have way more that links us than separates us, the better it will be for whatever career and community they choose to call home one day.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Family Game Time

We do not guarantee non-stop fun around here. Have you met those kids who come from non-stop fun-providing parents? They're kind of hard to like and we are committed to raising likable people. Which is why, logically, we strive to make sure our children are not always having fun. So far, so good, the kids would say.

Games, on the other hand, are being played all the live long day. I'm not sure what goes on at your house, but here's a list of a few that occur a lot at ours.

Hide and Seek
The rules of the game:

Kids:
Hide the clean dishtowels in the drawer with the rolling pins and stuff all the dirty ones under the table. Use the 37 spoons just washed and put away last night and use them in such a way that the utensil drawer is now empty but there are only nine dirty spoons in the sink. If you are a 7-year-old boy, place an average of two mis-matched socks in the laundry basket each week and--this is important--no underwear at all. If you are a teenager, have your cell phones rather permanently attached to your hand and yet don't immediately answer calls or texts coming in from your parents. If you are a daughter approximately adult-size, stash all the white camis in your dresser drawer while insisting that you have no idea where those belonging to your mom could possibly be.

Mom:
Before 8 a.m. start to lose it while seeking dishtowels, spoons, dirty underwear, teenagers and just one stinking white cami.

Tag
The rules of the game:

Kids:
Argue as frequently and vehemently as possible about who was "it" yesterday or the day before or last month. Keep meticulous track of who made the biggest part of the mess, who traded turns with whom to clean the bathroom last week, or who "didn't hear" the phone while Mom was in the bathroom and all of you sat within three feet of it ringing incessantly.

Mom:
Start to lose it while fighting the urge to just do it yourself in order to shut up the offspring. Launch into a detailed lecture about how many messes you have cleaned up since the birth of Child #1 and how little you care whose turn it is. Drone on and on about the little ingrates until they hang their heads and finally get the job done.

Musical Chairs
The rules of the game:

Kids:
Race each other to the car/table/couch, knocking down the little ones if necessary, all while shouting, "I called it! I called it!" If you do not get the seat of your choice, whine. A lot.

Mom:
Close your eyes, breathe deeply, and repeat the following. Again: "Think of it this way: we are all part-owners of everything in this house. Only Dad and I are really full owners. We just let you live here. 'Shotgun!' means nothing to me. No one has a reserved seat in the car, on the couch, or on the pew at church. You may, in fact, have to sleep in someone else's bed when we have company. Variety is the spice of life, people. What we promise is that everyone will have a seat on which to sit and bed in which to sleep, even if it is cheap and has to be aired up with the compressor. Which is not where I put it, by the way!" (see Hide and Seek)


Red Rover, Red Rover, Can (_____) Come Over?
The rules of the game:

Kids:
Wait to tell your parents about your friends and the big party you have planned until after parents have changed into comfy clothes and started dinner prep for seven. Then casually drop the news that you and a dozen of your friends have planned to eat and watch movies. Here. Tonight.

Mom:
Smile with as much fake sincerity as you can muster and explain, "We sincerely like your friends and the fact that you (and they) want to hang out here. A little warning is all we ask.The open door policy means anyone is welcome at any time. It also means I can never venture outside of my own bathroom without a bra, can never stock too many juice pouches, must keep ingredients for a giant-size breakfast coffee cake on hand at all times, and should install more hooks on the wall for all those backpacks. But, seriously, the more the merrier."

Counting shoes and backpacks is usually how I know how many kids are here at any given time.

Duck, Duck, Goose!
The rules of the game:

Kids:
Instigate a game in which as many of your siblings as possible have to duck and duck again to avoid "aggressive affection" from you. The goose! part of the game is that fun little bit about pinching each other's backsides in the hopes of leaving a mark. Thank God you will finally outgrow the compulsion to do this. Too bad it is usually a week or so before you leave for college.

Mom:
Just go to the other room, lock the door, and pretend you hear nothing.

Target Practice
The rules of the game:

Kids:
Well, really, this applies only to boy kids. In spite of the fact that a toilet bowl is actually a pretty huge target, you miss time and time again. This results in a sticky, yellow wash of pee all over the outside of the bowl and on the floor. The truly ambitious manage to hit the shower curtain. Knowledge of geometry and trajectories must have something to do with it.

Mom:
Beg, threaten, bribe or punish. But it's game over if you ever get so desperate as to purchase the floating targets. (Editor's note: Save your money. This too shall also pass right about the time they leave for college.)

Charades
The rules of the game:

Parents only.

It doesn't take long for your children to learn how to spell (even if you purposely refrain from actually teaching them yourself). Which means keeping a secret from all of them must  progress into your own private game of charades. Not to brag, but we are sort of experts at communicating with eye rolls, hand gestures, verbal shorthand and grunts. Our children have yet to fully crack our code. It's great fun and also one of our #1 tools in the fight for self-preservation.

Which is good, because although it's considered better for kids' self-esteem to ignore the score when you're playing a game, around here everyone knows the kids are definitely winning.