Thursday, July 3, 2014

Unplugged


This vacation – the vacation we’ve taken for 18 consecutive years with my husband’s parents and any of his four sisters who want to come – starts as any other vacation starts.

With lists. Three-page lists full of items that need to be packed, each with an empty circle beside it that can be checked off with a feeling of satisfaction. Lists of to-dos, lists of in-case-of-emergency numbers for the neighbors. Lists of where the dog is going (where is her rabies certificate?), where the guinea pig is going (add that friend to the list of people for whom we need to buy presents) and who is taking out the trash (ditto). Lists of my clothes, the kids’ clothes, and Whit’s clothes. To dos and lists that leave me feeling exhausted but fully prepared.

We drive to this vacation of ours, anywhere from six to nine hours in the car. This is where I worry. I worry about traffic and I worry about my back hurting and I worry we’re going to get in an accident and I worry someone will drown on vacation. I worry that Whit’s parents will some day not be on this vacation with us. I worry my house will burn down, the dog will misbehave, I forgot to pay a bill that will be due while we’re gone. I worry.

We unload the car and I neurotically count our items and an efficient college student with an awesome summer job grabs our bags and bins and loads them onto a boat. Whit parks the car and says goodbye to it for a week. We board the ferry and it blows its horn and slowly chugs toward the island we’ll call home for seven days.

This island doesn’t have cars. We travel via golf cart, often with kids on laps and hanging off the back (shh). Our children learned this summer how to drive the golf carts, which gave them hours of thoroughly illegal fun (shh again…and pipe down, it was safe).

As my days on these beaches unfold, I suddenly care less about rules. I care less about what I'm "supposed" to do. I care less about helmets. I care less about food groups, which explains why Jack ate a popsicle for breakfast today. I care less about bedtimes, I care less about watches, I care less about the problems that await me at home.

What I suddenly care about is pulling the kids out of the ocean, away from their cousins, to reapply sunscreen to pink noses and shoulders. I care about whether or not there are enough Mike’s Hard Lemonades in the cooler for each adult and some of the older kids to have another one. I care about whether the light will be good for pictures on the beach during our traditional twilight cocktail hour(s). I care about the faces of my kids as an older cousin launches them into the air in the ocean or their smiles as they race toward me on a boogey board.

Here, I don’t despair that the doctor told me I can’t ever run again. Instead, I care about long walks on the beach, whether they’re at 7 am and my heart is pumping or they’re in the middle the afternoon as my son stops every five feet to dig for coquinas or it’s a long stroll to chat with my mother in law. I care about whether the single, teeny store will run out of chicken before we have thought about what we’re grilling for dinner. I may idly wonder if I should run a load of beach towels through the wash or if the golf carts are all charged, but they’re generally passing thoughts.

This is my favorite vacation. It’s the only one in which I’m totally, and completely, unplugged. From my phone, my laptop, my iPad. My lists. My stressors and my worries.

It’s my family’s favorite vacation, too.

There might be a coincidence lurking in there.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

What Dads Do

When I married Whit, I spent some time wondering what kind of husband he’d be. I imagined our married life together; I wondered if he’d get mad if I spent $300 on a pair of shoes (yes) or drank wine with my girlfriends in the middle of the day (no). I never wondered what kind of father he’d be.

Neither Whit nor I had a close relationship with our dad. Whit became close to his stepfather a little later in life, so it’s safe to say he didn’t have exactly the perfect paternal role model during his formative years.

So I should have worried.

But then we had kids.

And they hit the daddy jackpot.

So, kids, when you’re older and reading this, let me give you a little primer on what dads do...based, of course, on what your own dad does.

Dads like breakfast. They take you out to diners and for bagels or croissants. They don’t even notice if you’re missing a food group.

Dads teach you how to play golf and throw the baseball on target and trap the soccer ball.

Dads lie down with you every single night and let you talk about your day, even when it’s well past your bedtime.

Dads give giant bear hugs and gentle kisses and always have a lap ready when there aren’t enough chairs…and sometimes when there are plenty.

Dads play snapping turtle and let you shriek as loudly as you want.

Dads let you eat ice cream before dinner, skip church and ride in the front seat.

Dads coach your teams. And if they’re not coaching, they’re sitting at every game cheering you on.

Dads pick you up from school when you’re having a bad day and take you out for nachos so you can talk. CAROLINE.

Dads are protective. They check every lock before bed and investigate every sound in the middle of the night.

Dads will do anything to make you laugh, whether it’s loudly breaking into “Let it Go” or burping at the dinner table.

Dads want you to know you’re loved. Your dad never gets on an airplane without sending me a text telling me he loves all of us, even the dog.

Dads stand outside at a freezing ice rink at 6 am so they can videotape a figure skating routine while there’s no one else on the ice...

...and dads get up at 5:30 every Saturday morning from November to February to get a little hockey player to his (ridiculously scheduled) practice.

Dads take you to four stores to find the flip flops you want, without ever becoming impatient.

Dads treasure the idea of family.

So, I suppose, I’ve learned a little something. You don’t get to be a great dad by watching someone else or reading a book or seeing a tutorial on You Tube.

Great dads aren’t taught. They’re born that way.

Happy Father’s Day to all the really great dads.

Especially ours.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

"Help wanted?" "Help needed" is obviously more like it.

Disclaimer: I am a very happy stay-at-home mom who volunteers a lot and also does sporadic freelance writing and is paid for it. However, as my children get older, the hours from 9:00 am and 3:00 pm stretch out longer and longer, and I miss the days that used to fly by because I was so busy. I’m not a “do yoga go out to lunch watch an episode of Breaking Bad and WHOOPS the kids are home” kind of mom; I’m much more of a “give me a long to-do list and let me at it and WHOOPS the kids are home” kind of mom.

All that said, here are my...

Top Ten Signs It’s Time to Get a Job

1. You google “ideas for organizing Tupperware.” And then you search until you find an Instagram picture you like, and then you rearrange all your Tupperware.

2. When you’re feeling blue, you go look at your Tupperware, and it makes you happy.

3. You consider becoming addicted to narcotic painkillers for fun.

4. The ongoing joke you’ve had with your husband about flashing your boobs to motorists for cash starts to sound genuinely appealing.

5. You live in fear of the question, “What are you doing today?” Doesn’t matter who’s asking it, you just never really have a great answer.

6. You’re secretly envious of anyone who has a job, whether it’s the barrista at Starbucks, the Nordstrom cashier or Savannah Guthrie on the Today show.

7. You start actually reading every neighborhood listserv email regarding dog poop, and you seriously consider weighing in on the issue.

8. When people ask what you do for a living, you find yourself spouting ridiculous, outdated facts: “In 1994, I went on a business trip and rode camels in Cairo!” or “In 1996, I took the shuttle to New York every week to negotiate a bond offering!” You repeat these impressive yet totally irrelevant facts because “I make lunches and change sheets and go to Costco!” just doesn’t inspire the same level of excitement.

9. The usual four-hour window for service people doesn’t stress you out. Just doesn’t matter. You’ll be home.

10. People yelling at you to keep your dog from peeing on their lawn constitutes meaningful social interaction with adults.

Sigh. The signs are clear; I’ll dust off my résumé.

But that’s all for now. There’s a tub in this house, and it’s not going to re-grout itself.

Monday, June 2, 2014

It's how you play the game

It’s a tough time of year if you’re a kid who likes to play soccer and wants to be on a “select” team. At least where my daughter’s to-be seventh grade and my son’s to-be fourth grade teams are concerned, it was a weekend of tears, anger, threats and rumors. And that was just the parents.

Standing in stark contrast to the stress of soccer is the joy of my son’s baseball team. There’s room for everyone; Jack is appreciated whether he knocks out a triple or an outfield ball flies right past his mitt and the other team scores. The games are on Sunday evenings at 5:00, in our neighborhood, and the ice cream truck is always strategically parked near the field. As dogs and players’ siblings run around, the parents form an enthusiastic sideline with pretzels and opaque Solo cups passed from friend to friend. It’s always a good time, and everyone in my family...from Whit to me to Caroline to Jack...looks forward to the games.

One of the coaches is moving to Hawaii this summer, and they need another assistant coach to run practices and help with games. Jack has always begged Whit to coach one of his sports, and he quickly asked if Whit would help out.

My husband replied, “Well, I don’t know. I’d have to be asked nicely. It would probably have to be a written request, and it would probably have to involve scotch. And if I was asked really, really politely, I might consider it.”

Jack, who is old enough to understand his dad's sense of humor and roll his eyes with considerable talent, did so. And the matter was forgotten.

Until the game last night.

When the coach handed this to Whit:


And this note was inside:


With two airplane bottles of scotch:


And my husband shouted onto the field, “You had me at ‘Whit.’”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the right spirit (ha ha, get it?) for childhood sports.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Yo mama

Sometimes, when I find myself repeating the same funny story about my kids a million times over, it makes its way into the hoped-for posterity of my blog. This is such a story.

(P.S. Jack, when you’re 30 and you call BS on this tale, let me assure you it happened exactly as I have transcribed it here.)

Jack came home from school earlier in the week, and he was kind of upset.

Me: Hey, what’s wrong? You seem bummed.

Jack, near tears: Mom, my friends made fun of you all day. I had to defend you from the beginning of school until the end.

Me: Oh, crap, Jack, did they find my blog?

(Kidding.)

Me: Honey, what in the world were they saying? Why did you have to defend me?

Jack: They...sniff...they said...

...fingers tapping...encouraging raised eyebrows...get on with it, dude...

They said, “Yo mama drives a truck!”

They said, “Yo mama is so old, she walked into an antique store and they kept her!”

Me, trying very, very hard not to laugh: Sweetheart, thank you for defending me. But “yo mama” jokes are a type of joke, and they’re not really jokes about me.

Jack, relieved: Really? They weren’t talking about you?

No, honey. But thanks for sticking up for me.

Jack: Well, it didn’t make sense anyway. I told them you drive an SUV.

Ba dum bum.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Letter to my son's third-grade teacher


Dear Mrs. E.,

Did you like Jack’s habitat? We thought that was such a cool assignment – pick a habitat and make a diorama. I used to really, really love making dioramas, so this was right up my -- er, his -- alley! Your explanation of your expectations was clear and I instantly asked Jack which habitat he wanted. He selected the mountains. I very gently suggested that mountains might be a common choice and asked him to consider something more exotic, like the Serengeti, but he was really clear he wanted the mountains, and this was, after all, his project. I really can’t stand those overbearing mothers who don’t let their kids just do projects themselves, you know?

We were running short on time, and your letter did say parents could help, so I went ahead and went to the craft store while Jack was in school. I thought I’d dump a bunch of things on the table and let him at it! He didn’t really understand the role of the blue cellophane, so I told him I thought a mountain stream was a great idea. He loved it.

Now, I thought it would be cool if the mountains were made of paper mâché, and that takes a really long time to dry, so I did spend about three and a half hours making the mountains and baking them in a 100 degree oven while he was in school. Clearly that was a mom job, right? I mean, ovens and all. Total danger.

He did paint them all by himself. To be helpful, I created a little palette of three mountainy colors on a paper plate, and told him to just go nuts and let his imagination run wild.

The horned owl swooping out of the sky was my idea, and Jack did try to affix the fishing wire himself, but, honestly, you and I both know he’s all thumbs so it was easier for me to do it myself.

He didn’t like all the moss I bought. But I quickly googled it and told him that the mountain goats I bought do, in fact, eat moss, so he didn’t seem to mind as I added more and more moss every time I walked by.

He was super excited when he came home and saw that I glued Goldfish into the stream! I told him that made the outstretched claws of the horned owl more realistic, and he liked that so much he worked it into his presentation.

And the clouds. Weren’t they great? He was adamantly against clouds, but I had his sister run up and grab a few cotton balls and I taped those suckers in and even he agreed they look good.

Now, the mountain goat stuck in about an inch of dried hot glue on the very top of the mountain? Jack wanted to be absolutely certain you could tell that mountain goats climb mountains. I pointed out that the baby goat I had delicately tip-toeing up the mountain (with minimal glue) was sufficient, but he disagreed, and hey, it’s his project, right? So that part was all Jack. And the end of my glue gun.

Anyway, hope you loved it. He worked very, very hard on it.

(Truthfully, though, I still don’t understand why my husband patted him on the back this morning and said, “Don’t worry, buddy. She told me I could help, too.”)

It was great fun and he learned a ton! Fabulous project. We’d love to see more like that.

See you soon!

Mrs. Kennon

Friday, May 9, 2014

Another Hallmark holiday, right?

Very few holidays are more exquisitely complex for me, or generate as much emotion in me, than Mother’s Day.

I get teary because I know in my heart that to be called “Mommy” is the greatest gift God will ever bestow on a woman. Whether you gave birth as a scared teenager or a single mom or a happily married wife; whether you used a surrogate or IUI or IVF or prayer; whether you adopted or fostered or raised a family member’s child, you worked to get that title and, by virtue of having it, you have been touched by an almost indescribable and permanent love.

If you know me, you know how I feel about my children. They are, simply, my heart. They inspire giant love and awe and frustration and laughter and I wouldn’t change one single thing about either one of them.

But Mother’s Day goes beyond those two little ones I’m lucky enough to have.

Mother’s Day is my mom, eight years gone, who taught me to go to church and to use proper manners and to avoid chewing gum in public and to tell dirty jokes with panache and to choose the right fork and to make perfect crème brulee and to always, under all circumstances, hand write a thank-you note.

Mother’s Day is my mother-in-law, who taught me that you’re never too old to float leaf boats down a creek or play sardines with enthusiastic grandchildren or sit on a deck and count stars. She taught me about vegetable gardening and flowers and hummingbirds and orange-juice cake. She taught me that a mother’s love is available to anyone who needs it, and that it doesn't run out, even if you get in a fight with her son.

Mother’s Day is my sister, who raises two boys as a single, hardworking mom. She does it with humor, optimism, faith and lots of wine. She has her hands full all of the time, but never hesitates to reach one of those hands out to me when she thinks I need it.

Mother’s Day is my three sisters-in-law, some of whom needed miracles to have babies and some of whom needed miracles to agree to marry one of my brothers. I am bound to these three women forever; we are part of a completely dysfunctional, totally insane and unconventional family that makes every event one to remember, for better or for worse. We drop by each other's houses, attend countless happy hours together, brag about our kids to each other, live through drunken family Secret Santa exchanges, host each other's families and keep quiet about years of inside family jokes.

Mother’s Day is the friends and neighbors I’ve met through my children; the ones who drop off flowers or invite me over for coffee or text me a joke to put on the kids' lunch napkins or pour a glass of wine at a playdate pickup. They’re the friends I didn’t even know I needed, and now they’re the ones I can’t live without.

Mother’s Day is the friends I have had for so long I almost need a calculator to count the number of years. We studied for high school exams together, skipped school together, attended proms and football games together. We visited each other in college and went on vacation together and served as bridesmaids in each other’s weddings. We held each other’s newborns and have shared parenting advice and struggles for nearly 16 years. These are the speed-dial friends that make time and distance apart evaporate with a simple, “Hey, what’s up?”

Mother’s Day is the teachers who, I swear to you, treat my children like their own. It’s the teachers who have offered hugs and jokes and giant smiles; it’s the teachers who have made my children love to learn.

So for me, Mother’s Day is about being thankful for my own children. It’s also a silent (or, in this case, written) tribute to all those women who touch my life in a million little ways and make me a better mom, a better wife, a better sister, daughter and friend.

Cheers, ladies. And happy, happy Mother’s Day to each and every one of you. I love you all. And Mom, you're still here, every day, and I see you everywhere I turn. I miss you.