Sunday, February 23, 2014

Patience ... it's a virtue

People for Less Unrest in Marriage (PLUM) – an observant, but largely silent marital think tank for which I, on occasion, find myself a unwitting spokesperson – has recently released its findings concerning common digitized communication breakdowns between partners during family gatherings.
Since PLUM has an interest in making sure all of its members are on the same page, it will make preliminary definitions before launching into to the summary findings.

PLUM defines the word FAMILY thusly:

“Family,” especially when in quotation marks, is usually defined as a group or groups of people that share blood, or genes or names in common although the definition may not be limited to those general attributes. Family may also include friends, acquaintances and pets depending on whether hotels are willing to make such accommodations.

PLUM defines GATHERINGS in this manner:

A gathering is an assembly or meeting, usually of a social or festive nature that is held for a specific purpose and could encompass several other separate or connected events. Furthermore, any separate “EVENTS” that may fall under a the umbrella of GATHERINGS are generally undertaken collaboratively.

But not always. This is why we say “plan accordingly.” However, that term can be misconstrued. What we actually mean is “don't hinge all your warm-and-fuzzy hopes on some Hollywood interpretation of togetherness.”

PLUM advises: Sometimes, “family events” are undertaken in a kind of parallel manner (in much the same way toddlers play side-by-side) with various members going separate ways for a while and then meeting up at a later time.

This is one of the reasons why cell phones were invented.

Which leads us to finding number one:

If your significant other isn't picking up their phone when you call, do not immediately assume the callee is willfully ignoring the caller's needs. Although seemingly unlikely in this day and age, it is altogether possible that the callee is otherwise occupied, not obsessively checking his or her smartphone, or out of range.

These are just some of the many reasons people hate cell phones.

Which leads us to finding number two:

If your significant other isn't returning your phone call, don't redial their number every 30 seconds until they pick up unless there is a specific emergency wherein leaving a message is not preferred.
In case of emergency, of course, the caller should dial 9-1-1.

Since this in obviously NOT an emergency, please note finding number three:

ONE voicemail message should be sufficient. A second voicemail message can be acceptable if new or explanatory information is provided. Once you get to three (or god-forbid four) messages within a brief amount of time, the “compulsive” factor may be in play, potentially downgrading the value of any and all messages left, as well as the sanity of the messenger.

Finding number four:

Try not to sound angry.

We mean it. Nothing productive will result from your significant other listening to four angry messages once they return to cell-tower zone and check their voicemail.

Remember, patience is a virtue. 

Under no circumstances should you ever get to this point in the flight and say the following string of sentences:

“Well, it's not my fault I'm mad. How was I to know you weren't getting my calls? It's not as if you ever answer your phone when I call it.”

However, we at PLUM realize there are times when Crazy gets the best of us. So we'd like to sum up with finding number six; a simple, face-saving technique that is meant to bring honest communication breakdowns to a safe and smooth landing.

The correct response is much more direct and to the point: “I'm sorry, I overreacted.”

Sunday, February 16, 2014

There's always Spring Break

Ordinarily, I look forward to school vacations. For the next week, I will not have to harp about homework or stress about tests. I will not have to worry about which kid needs gym shoes and which kid needs a permission slip. For five glorious days, there will be nothing pressing I can overlook.

This moment of freedom tastes as sweet as candy.

Until a moment of panic that sets in -- usually beginning on the Thursday before an extended school holiday – and sours the whole thing. What are we going to do for the next four to nine days?

I've made so many plans in my mind. Great plans. Lofty plans that are bound to leave an indelible impression on my children's young minds. They include all manner of outdoorsy things such as skiing, skating, snow shoeing and sledding.

Outside of my mind, in my office-slash-craftroom, I have even made fancy balaclavas for each and every member of my family (and some of our friends) so now when we venture out into the snow we will all look like bandits.

I've even made one for the dog, so she can join the fun, too.

For days now I've been Googling ididirod and skijoring and plunking the computer down in front of her as she naps.

She opens one eye … and then closes it. She'd rather have baklava. “You keep your balaclava, strange frenetic human.”

It will be spring soon, I reckon, might as well enjoy the snow while it's visiting.

Who am I kidding?

My mind plays so many tricks on me. It always gives me 10 more minutes and one more cup of coffee before starting the day. It has trouble moving away from the fire … and the book with the dog-eared corners.

It agrees to “Just one more show … pretty pleassssssssse?”

And then it tunes out the television churning out children's programming hour after hour.

My mind allows me to believe just making it to Bedtime without any major meltdowns is a success all its own.

It comforts me into believing Tomorrow will redeem the failure that was Today.

And then my mind becomes a betting parlor. A big, cushy space bathed in red velvet, where my thoughts sit on their edge of their plush seats waiting for a whistle to blow or for something majestic to cross a wire.

It gives odds that are usually not in my favor, yet I still plunk down my best intentions and cross my fingers that this time ...

This time we will manage to get out into the world. This time we will we try something new or something we haven't done in a while. This time I will not take odds on who will be first among the tribe to utter the words “I'm soooooooo boooooorrrrrrred!”

Because at that point, all bets are off.

This gamble isn't about winning or losing, it's about playing the right game and understanding that the margin for winning is always razor thin.

Sure you got them dressed in all their winter gear … but did you remember to ask them to use the potty first?

Did you get any advance training in dealing with the turmoil caused by snow in the boot or down the back of a coat?

Why does it feel like just getting out of the house requires the skill and experience of being able to traverse a giant slalom?

Of course, sledding down a steep hill for a few runs after skiing a full day would feel like an Olympic accomplishment, say on Monday. But I guarantee, getting the kids to bed at a reasonable hour on Sunday night will be Herculean.

Perhaps all I need before I start is just one more cup of coffee by the fire.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Frown-y face

She wasn't at school more than a few minutes when the phone rang.

“Hello, this is the school nurse. It's not an emergency, but I just wanted to let you know Ittybit was accidentally elbowed by another student while they were getting off the bus just now. She's OK, but I needed to call and let you know that I have to send her home with a head injury fact sheet. ...”

You know … that dreaded list of instructions that implores you to monitor your child closely for the next 24-hours to 48-hours, and that you should probably have 911 on speed dial just in case any of the signs of brain injury reveal themselves, such as confusion, unresponsiveness, vomiting or seizure.

I should be used to it by now since I get at least two of these calls per month, yet seeing the school's number on my phone always fills me with dread:

Ittybit has a fever. Champ fell off the monkey bars. Bee sting. Stomach ache. Accident (whispering), the non-emergency-room kind (bring a change of pants).

And notes from the teacher are even worse.

“There's an orange note from my teacher in my folder for you. I gave it to Sarah on the bus because she can read, and she said it's pretty bad.”

Sure enough, there on an orange sheet of paper, was a note setting up a conference because of lower than expected test scores in reading.

Frown-y face.

My stomach makes a frown-y face, too, as my mind races to conclusions.

Is he dyslexic? Could he have vision problems? ADHD? He's autistic!!! I should have been more concerned about his aversion to loose-fitting clothes and squeaky shoes. And holy-moly how much TV do we watch? (And, not to digress, but who are these people surveyed that say their kids are watching a scandalous average of one hour per day? Liars!) We seem to watch one screen or another on a daily basis as if it's our full-time job.

Deep breaths. Don't panic. Deep breaths.

It's not as if we haven't been doing all the things parents are told to do to ensure successful early reading. We've read to him religiously since he was born, and, since he started kindergarten, we've encouraged him to sound things out, look for clues and skip and go back. Even in the every day he's read cereal boxes over breakfast, lists in the grocery store and signs when we travel.

Yet, as I wait for the appointed time, I can't help but worry that despite all of our good intentions, inconsistency makes us the worst parents who ever roamed the Earth … or, more likely, Target.

Because … when it comes to our kids it's really all about us, right?

Or is it about their siblings?

I try to remember: Ittybit seemed to have similar problems, didn't she? She wasn't interested in reading until third grade.
Think. Think. Think. ...

Could this be the new standards talking? A dragnet? A rubric? An overhauled set of expectations that no one applied to Ittybit as she sat in this same chair three years ago? Could it be a place in number scale where all students must fit between if they are to proceed and the schools earn their gold star?

That must be it, I told myself, and then I relaxed a little.

In time, his teacher would tell me that she's not terribly concerned about his abilities, but as a formality she has to warn me of his progress (and lack thereof). He just needs practice and confidence, and remedial reading will help.

My stomach unknots reinforcing not only my gut instinct that he doesn't really have a diagnosable problem, but that not having a problem doesn't mean he wouldn't benefit from educational solutions.

And then it hits me: I'm beginning to see the value of standards and practices.

Smiley face.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Starters, non-starters and apps

There we were, sitting across a square table from one another. A platter of “fun food” in between us and nary a smartphone in sight. The whole family. In a restaurant. Having a nice time. Just talking.

What are the odds?

As is usual for us, a round-robin of non-sequitur arguments changes the course of conversation as if we were speaking in pinball.

“The doctors' office had new fish, but I hit a bank shot off the jungle gym and taco Tuesday has been replaced by can I have new sneakers?

I could tell you how we got on the subject of gun control, but it would take too long, and the bells and lights from that silver ball's awkward trajectory would be even more maddening than the thousand versions of the single question my six-year-old and 10-year old had already started to ask: “When will our food get here?”

Let's suffice it to say my husband sprung the ball into the maze, it dinged off of the Champ, lit up Ittybit, and somehow it got stuck under my flipper, tilting the machine.

Here's the gist of what I tried to impress upon my family:

"Every state should have a Department of Firearms (just like the Department of Motor Vehicles) that licenses gun owners and registers guns by class. Initial licenses would be awarded after successful completion of written, field and background tests, and periodic renewals would require repeated background checks. Furthermore, gun owners would be required to carry liability insurance for each firearm in their possession. Let the risk pools float where they may."

In other words: Let's just lay these cards out on the actuarial table ...

"Sure, you can have that AR-15, but if you are under 25 or have teenagers at home, it is going to put you in a higher risk pool. Accident or not, you will be liable for damages."

I mean if you injured someone with your car you'd be liable.

We don't just say: Hey, here's your car. Try not to kill someone, OK?

No! We say: 'You need to be licensed, the car has to be registered and inspected. And if you abuse this privilege you can expect to have all of that stuff revoked.'

Why is the right to bear arms more inalienable than the right not to be shot in your school by a gun enthusiast's alienated teenager?


The conversation I thought we were having disappeared.

The kids had tuned me out right after the word “Department,” so their glazed expressions, by the time I got to “Liability Insurance,” wasn't much of a surprise.

But my husband, lost in the bluish light of his smartphone, made me forget about my being lost in a mire of my own monologue.

I fumed as he furiously typed away on his cell phone..

"You know ... I hardly ever speak to other human beings during the day ... the least you could do is humor me at dinner."

He smiled and handed me his phone.

Still on the screen was a familiar icon, with a message that began:

"Thank you for contacting the White House ... "

"I told them 'my wife has a brilliant idea. ...'

Betcha didn't know there's an app for that."