Thursday, July 17, 2014

Bracing for the Head Gear

The real issue is compliance, the orthodontist looked deep into my eyes for just a second before he quickly shifted to the charts on the table. Hold on a second, I started in the middle of the story. Lets rewind.

It was time for our oldest to get braces. The dentist had examined his teeth and triumphantly stated his bite was nearly perfect. The gap in between the front teeth -- purely cosmetic; the fix would be fairly easy. I drove home in a state of euphoria, explaining to my entire brood about my overbite that took 12 years of intervention to fix. My fourth grade school picture was just one tragic documentation of the torture I was actually wearing my headgear. (In hindsight, I wonder what the hell my mom or the photographer were thinking would it have been so bad to take the socially crippling contraption off just for a few moments to get a nice school portrait?)

The kids marveled at the stories, horrified at the idea of the awkwardness of my headgear and the social stigma that went with it. But this was a new generation, new world: Jackson was going to have it easy. So we ended up in the crowded office, all of them in tow to experience a new cycle in our lives. Monthly vaccine visits to the pediatrician that dominated my previous decade were now to be replaced by the tightening and adjusting of teeth for the next.

The orthodontist immediately impressed us with how trendy he was   he kindly showed us multiple options to reduce his gap. Jackson was eyeing the clear brackets, I asked him which ones he wanted and he shyly pointed at them.

The clear ones are more expensive right? I asked the expert. He nodded.

Yeah, you are so not having those, I laughed, picking the standard silver brackets.

I caught the doctor suppressing a chuckle. Thats kind of funny that he thought he had an option, he smiled and I knew he was silently saying to himself, nice to see a parent making that decision. My first clue that this new generation, new world was very different from my own. (To reiterate, I wasnt even allowed to take my headgear off for a picture, let alone chose my own type of braces)

Then he hit me with  the price. Wow. Multiply that by four and we could probably take down a small cattle farm in Argentina. I thought youd go easy on me, I told him. We were saving all our cash for Teddy, the thumb sucker. Immediately all eyes turned to my third (who broke out into a nervous smile, revealing a ridiculous over bite.)

My man, the orthodontist tried to sound calm, lets get you into the chair and have a look at these chompers.

With that  Jacksons basic charts were taken off the screen and up popped the picture ofa neck gear.

Oh man. New generation, same mechanism for buck teeth. All the euphoria drained from my body as I knew my future involved multiple phases to fix Teddys teeth. He immediately burst into tears, as the others looked on sympathetically. Now, I was really kicking myself, why had I been so over the top about the horror of it all? I never should have gone there.

It is all about compliance, the orthodontist told me. If he can wear this at night, we can be successful IF he complies.

If, did he say? Although I was in shock at the dramatic turn of events, I hadnt lost my mind. Trust me, I have an if: IF Im going to pay thousands of dollars, there would be no IFS. This child WILL wear his neck gear, daytime too IF he's told. When I double-checked the diagnosis with our amazing dentist, the same word came up: compliance.

 Then something clicked: As much as we have evolved, there was something to be said for the grin-and-bear-it generation that I grew up in. 12 years wearing a torture contraption actually taught me about grit, perseverance and results (I have really nice teeth.) Today, the question is whether we even make the hard choice as parents, forcing our kids to comply, which would then result in some real tools for life.

It is a new era of -- not helicopter parents -- but snow plowers, a friend told me as I explained the difference of 20 years. Parents want to smooth the way, and there are a lot of unintended consequences for doing that.

Not on my watch, I told myself as we sat in that orthodontists office. Biting my lip, and looking squarely into my childs tearing eyes, I told him this was something he was going to have to do, just like I had. He smiled warily in our solidarity and hopped off the examine chair as his siblings snickered and teased. Olivia proclaimed she had perfect teeth (well see) and Jackson threatened to tell Teddys whole class about the neck gear if he didnt pay up. And I had to swallow my need to make it all right. Because it just was not going to be for a while.

But you know, that son, with the perfect bite, was three days away from braces when a lacrosse stick managed to hit his beautiful (but very exposed) front tooth, shattering it in half. As he cried, blood spurting everywhere, I realized we never get off easy. We constantly have to prepare for the neck gear, and the unexpected, armed with resilience and grit. Yeah, I think Ill comply.

Friday, June 20, 2014

One Graduation Down, Two To Go...

Right before her daughter Brianna left for college, my good friend told me shed lay down on her bed and imagine she was gone. You see, the room was going to change dramatically once she left. Her brother Pierce was getting older and the girly room with a pink duvet, flowers and heels would be transformed with blue paint, a train set, sneakers and an American flag.

“Id close my eyes, and just feel her leaving me,” she told me, “then tears would just stream down my face.”

Amazingly, a full year has passed. And now its my turn to feel the combination of wonderment and sorrow watching a child growing older -- my son is graduating from 6th grade and can no longer be called a "kid". He will be singing with his class the Beatles version of “My Life” at their ceremony. Distracted and irritable over the crazy ending of the school year, I googled the song on a whim: "No one compares with you, and these memories lose their meaning, when I think of love as something new, though I know, Ill never lose affection, for people and things that went before, I know Ill often stop and think about them. In my life, I love you more…"

The words forced me to stop my frenetic movements at the sink. I had to sit down at the kitchen table to absorb the magnitude that my firstborn was going to middle school -- more than half way to college. And in the moment, in his celebration of growing up, it hits me hard that he is also growing away from me.

“Whoah, Mom!” Jackson said as he walked in from lacrosse practice and caught me staring into space. “Why are you crying? Did Teddy do something?”

The answer is not all that easy. You see, there is not one mom in my life that doesn't want to see their child grow into a capable, amazing young adult, ready and prepared for life. Its just that, well, we get left behind.

“Did you see that sappy Rob Lowe excerpt about sending his kid to college?” another friend asked me. Lowe had written about the tough moment in parenting when he dropped his son off at his dorm. He had to let go and say goodbye. “I know you want me to be that, but it was seriously over-the-top,” she laughed easily.

I have patiently watched this close friend transition into an empty nester. Her last son is graduating from Santa Barbara High. Throughout the year, she has made sure I knew she couldnt wait for him to leave. She called me from a road trip that she and her husband took to Vegas to assure me that the whole empty nesting thing was something theyd celebrate. Id go to her house where a million teenagers were hanging out and shed sarcastically tell me she really was going to miss feeding them all. I marveled at her ability to go completely unfazed by Harrys departure. 

And then the call came.

“I just got through watching his last baseball game,” she said through a shaky voice, “and I am gutted, are you happy?”

In a way, I was. Because instinct tells me that no parent goes unscathed: The empty rooms, the quiet house. The duty to take care of and provide is not turned off like the running water of a facet. It is a gradual process, that Im not sure can be ever mastered.

“I open the door and watch her sleep,” a woman confided to me at Trader Joes -- her daughter just got back from her second year in college. “I cant help myself, I watch for hours. She is gone in a week, back for summer school.”

As we spoke, the kids were all over me, asking for ice cream and snacks for school; Charlie is crying because he cant find Wally. I feel guilty, that I have so many of them – that my home is so full. (In fact, I often wish it was less full.) But when I see the painful steps all those empty nesters are taking, I recognize Im in some seriously glory days.

We mothers are also true survivors. My road tripping Vegas friend has offered to start all over and take Charlie to t-ball next year. “Write one kids sports needs off, the husband and I got it from here,” she said in the same conversation we had about Harry’s last game.

Lets be honest, I have a long way to go. As I watch one leave elementary school, another is entering kindergarten. Empty nesting is a solid 12 years away for me. I’m just saying, my time will come. In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy every moment. Minus the t-ball games. Thank heavens someone else has that covered.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

No Mothering on Mother's Day

Next year I am going to Ojai. That was my mantra. All day on Mother’s Day. “I need a better plan than this,” I was also saying to myself when seven kids were in my pool and Alpha was taking a nap. On Mother’s Day.

Every year it starts strong with the cute cards and the breakfast in bed. And then, it stops: that need to make it special for me.

“Jackson, could you please unload the dishwasher?” I patiently asked my oldest child.

“Mom, you are really milking this Mother’s Day thing,” he snorted. I checked my watch. Yep, that’s about right. 10:00 am and the magic is over.

“Alpha, I just want you to hang a couple of picture on the wall,” I told him when he begged me to tell him to do anything, anything he could do for me on Mother’s Day. After a lot of measuring and fanfare getting the toolbox out, he didn’t have the right hooks. Apparently that kind of obstacle is insurmountable. So while he was in bed sleeping, I put away the toolbox and life guarded for the afternoon.

Which brings me back to Ojai.

I need to leave on Mother’s Day.  I think it will take the pressure off – if indeed, he feels the pressure to make my day special. I don’t need special. I need to walk.

 “How was your Mother’s Day?” my friend called me today. “Was it awful?”

With some relief, I find solace in the fact I am not alone. Alpha doesn’t suck, he’s male.

“My husband tried,” she reported, “but God it was bad.”

Ojai baby. We are going to tear right out of here when things start to go south (may be around 10am). Hit the spa, lounge at the pool and arrive home just in time to kiss them all goodnight. Now that I am mapping it out, I am kicking myself that I let another year of disappointment pass me by. I need to be more proactive about how I want to celebrate my day.

“Men just need to be fed and f-cked,” my neighbor informed me. “If you need more than that, you’re going to have to tell him.”

That night, I thought of a lot of approaches to dealing with Mother’s Day. Finally, I laid it out. “I need to walk away,” I told him when we got into bed. “I don’t want to be a mother, for one day.”

“Makes sense to me,” he said, rolling over on his side. “Maybe next year you go to Ojai.”

Friday, May 2, 2014

Training For My Marathon

“Summer is about to rear its ugly head and I need ideas now,” my friend told me on the phone the other day. I really was only half listening; I was too busy googling surf camps.

“Wow, this is perfect.  Look, there is a surf camp out at Campus!” I exclaimed.

“ How long does it go? Could we book them from 9-3 for a month? Or is it just one week?” she asked me.

“No, not for the kids -- for us! I think we should do a surf camp next week,” I replied. You see Im in full summer vacation mode right now. With only a month and a half before school is out, my day job is about to get really hectic.  Now is MY time, time for taking a book to the beach, squeezing in all the yoga classes I need, maybe even learning how to surf.

I swear this year it will be different.  New year, new me. I refuse to get caught up in the manic energy of the end of the year activities: the fundraisers, graduations, and all those last minute major homework projects. I cant (I wont) start my summer exhausted. Im about to run a marathon, and there is no need to do sprints before the race. I am in full taper mode.
Summer is full of perfect smiling family moments. What a farce...

“We are headed out of here – going to Costa Rica!” another friend called me when she had booked her flights for the summer. “Now, I have to figure out how not to get eaten alive by the kids.”

Thats the rub. Costa Rica. Europe. Yosemite. Santa Barbara. If you havent sent your child away to sleep away camp, the facts are, its game on for the next three months. And no longer is the summer mania going to surprise me. Nor panic me. I chose to have four kids and certain things just go with that decision.  I've come to grips with my reality.  My house is just going to be a zoo for a few months. It is something that I have to accept about my life: I dont actually have one from June-August.

So, this year I've decided: Ill just have my summer now.

“What did you do today?” Alpha asked me (even though he knows I hate that question).

“I had a margarita party with the neighbors,” I answered.

“Woah! No kidding? On a Tuesday afternoon?” he looked at me like I was completely mad.

“Yeah.  Unfortunately, I only could have half of one because I had to drive Liv out to water polo,” I shrugged off the judgment I felt him exuding from across the room. “Its my day for carpool.”

He knew enough, not to ask any more questions. The reality is, a couple of months ago, I looked at our schedule for summer; it consisted of lacrosse or water polo tournaments until August and the first thing I thought was I must throw a margarita party. Check that box.

Then I planned my summer:  Learn to surf. Run a race longer than 3 miles. Read seven books.  Get dressed up and go out to dinner once a week with Alpha. This is not resolution time; its just my moment. And god knows, I should have one.

“Whatever expectations you have for yourself in the summer time, halve them,” my friend bound for Costa Rica once told me. I had planned to finish my book over last summer. And every day that went by, I felt worse about myself for not getting it accomplished.

“You are doing something,” she told me last summer as kids whirled around me in a flurry, demanding attention, wanting to play with me. I was telling her how bad I was feeling about myself. “You are parenting 24/7.”

So, I encourage all of you out there to change your mindset, get into taper mode. Drink lots of fluids and carbo-load. Our three-month marathon is about to begin.