Friday, July 23, 2010

Never Met A Stranger

Shabbat #26

Guests: Dan and his wife Dana, daughter R. and son I. Dan I and sit on the Joe's Place board together. Joe's Place is a residential home for boys located in the Maplewood Richmond Heights school district. Joe's Place offers a small group of teenage boys what every kid should be able to expect from life: a warm place to sleep, regular meals, and someone to provide guidance and affection.

Menu: Baumann's Smoked Beef Tenderloin, Pasta Ponza, Roasted Asparagus, Icecream with Brown Sugar Bourbon Peach Sauce, Toby's Whole Wheat Challah

What I Learned:

The only thing more unnerving than having an event planner (we'll just call her Susan) and her award-winning BBQ king of a husband to dinner is having a child psychiatrist. Meet Dan. I half expected some kind of parenting intervention. Or at least a make shift Rosrschah inkblot test fashioned out of the grease stained tablecloth. Fortunately neither proved true.

Sitting around the table Dan and his wife did have one rather pointed question: Have any of your dinners totally bombed? The short answer is "No" ... except for maybe the one with my in-laws, but that had more to do with the offending golden raisins in the challah than the company.

And here's the reason.

Steve's never met a stranger. He'll find something to talk about with anyone. Which is fortunate for his sake since I'm the one that makes the guest list.

He's also had a lot of practice at making conversation.

When he ran for office he knocked on every door in the district repeatedly. (If you live in the 73rd you've probably met him.) Undeterred by dogs, drawn blinds or the creepy array of "stuff" that accumulates on some porches, he trudged tirelessly for months leading up to the election. He tells me that this is the reason he won, but I wonder. If it were me opening the door, I would've been questioning the judgment of a 200+ man sweating in the St. Louis summer heat standing on my porch. (I voted for him anyway.)

Sometimes I was a party to this madness, knowing that it was a rare opportunity to squeeze in some "family time" in the thick of the campaign. So I'd schlep Sarah and Ben up and down street after street mostly wondering (while sweating) how I had gotten myself into the whole mess to begin with. Truth is, Ben loved it as much as Steve did, running from one portch to the next.

Never meeting a stranger.

Steve talked about how much it meant to him to have Ben learn about the process. I think he meant the political process and public service. And not the unsolicited door to door visits.

Which apparently was what left a bigger impression on Ben.

The night after dinner with Dan, Ben and a partner in crime (who shall remain unnamed) engaged in their own little door to door campaign. Filling their water guns in the backyard (after attempting to do so in my bathtub), slipping out the backyard cut through, ringing the neighbors doorbell and then giving the resident a big dose of the super soaker. The less than amused homeowner (who of course knew Steve because he knocked on his door) along with his wife marched the offenders by their collars back to whence they came promptly delivering a stern message about safety and respect to the ever so slightly amused adults.

Not my proudest parenting moment. And I am sure a real case study for Dan.

Sunday afternoon Steve marched Ben back to the scene of the crime where Ben delivered a "respectful" apology and offered to pick up the leaves in said homeowners yard for a week.

But the gauntlet really feel when Ben got home.

I took away his T.V.

Now before you go all P.T.A. on me, let me tell you a little bit about this television. I bought it in 1993. It is a 15 inch with a built in VCR. It's not cable ready so pretty much the only thing you can do with it is watch VCR tapes ... which are about as scarce as a full night's sleep when you have two kids. A few months ago my tech-savvy brother-in-law got a load of the T.V. He immediately wanted to know when I was going to purchase Ben an IPad (umm...never) and I think even may have argued that making Ben watch a VCR was in fact punishment.

Then he asked me where our 8-track player was.

Nonetheless, Ben loved that T.V. and the VCR tapes with blockbuster titles like I Love Toy Trains and Big Diggers. Purchased resale of course.

My only mistake in my haste of discipline was telling Ben that he'd lost the T.V. for a week. And not forever. Turns out that things are going so swimmingly without it (which was secretly more of a crutch for me anyway), that I have no intention of returning it and am cracking a plan to tell him that kindergarten does not allow T.V.s in bedrooms. Maybe I'll get his kindergarten teacher (and new best pen pal) to send him a letter backing me up.

But back to Dan's question .... none of the dinners have been a bomb. Not just because Steve is an expert at making conversation, but because we have gone in with an open mind and an eagerness to learn something new about our guests and ourselves. For Steve it has been easy. For me, a person who was content to operate within my safe little circle of friends, it has been a very new experience. And an amazing one. I've met new people (who shockingly are neither runners nor politicians), found a way to connect with the parents of my children's playmates, and created a place in my own home where once a week we can slow down, have gratitude and make new friends.

In the words Martha Stewart, infamous for her entertaining prowess (and other things)...

it's a good thing.

Monday, July 19, 2010

More Time, Less Stuff

Shabbat #25

Guests: Katie, Aron and their 3 year old son. Katie and I went to high school together. Yet another witness to my "big" hair.

Menu: Chicken and Pineapple Skewers with Mango Salsa, Grilled Plantains with Spicy Brown Sugar Glaze, Coconut Rice, Mango Sorbet with Toasted Coconut

What I Learned:

I met Katie in eighth grade. My parents moved uprooting me from my drama-filled pre-teen existence at one school to another (rival) school down the road where Katie went. Distressing because I'd just made the "Poms" squad and scored Larry Fairchild as a lab partner. The move proved devastating to my future in science and pom-pomming.

This was also right about the time I (along with every other 14 year old girl) began to compare myself to others, keeping a mental checklist of those "must haves." Those things that would most certainly complete my high school experience. Like Guess Jeans. The coveted logo purse. Student council. Senior superlatives. And the almighty "good" hair ... which incidentally did happen to be "big" back in the 80's.

Katie had a lot of the things on the list. She was a cheerleader with the perfectly perky hair to match. Smart. I think she was even on the Homecoming court. And adored because she was impossibly nice. Still is. I lucked into or otherwise earned a number of things on the list as well. Like the lavender Izod sweater from Grandma B. who knew how to spoil me. And the overpriced purse that my Dad made me save for myself. (A lesson I tend to repeat with Sarah.)

I think my high school experience was fairly typical. A dose of teen angst, tossed with a growing desire for what was "in" and a huge helping of "hurry up." Always wanting time to pass faster so I could move up to the high school. Be a sophomore. And a junior. Drive. Vote. Graduate. Move out. Move on.

This pattern continued into college. Chasing grades, internships, boys. All while sporting those horribly unflattering Laura Ashley jumpers. And rolled right into law school, clerkships and eventually the almighty billable hour at the fancy law firm where (with eager greed ) I willed each hour to pass more quickly so I could get to the next.

In that decade I acquired two degrees, a husband, a lot of stuff and a lot less time.

And then I acquired my two kids ... and motherhood changed everything.

These days I'm much happier writing memoirs than memos. And I'll gladly trade more stuff and less time for ... less stuff and more time.

Less house to clean and yard to weed. Less clothes to wash and fold. Less stress and worry that comes with keeping up with too much stuff.

More hours to write, run, cook and travel. More time to spend with my kids. My husband.

More time with my family.

Katie's dad passed away a few months ago. I went to the funeral. He'd been on the board of the Metro West Fire Protection District and the visitation was filled with people, many in uniform. But as I approached Katie it may have well have been just the two of us. Exchanging a hug that silently said "I'm so, so sorry ... I wish there was more time."

That day reminded me again that time is precious. As precious as healthy parents. And that neither should be taken for granted.

So I plan to take the time to squeeze in as many Sunday dinners, Colorado ski slopes, San Diego sunsets and whatever we can dream up boondoggles while the gettin' is good.

Yes ... More time. Less stuff. That's really what I want.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Kindergarten Drop Out

Shabbat #24

Guests: Us. At Granny and Grandaddy's in sunny San Diego.

Menu: Grilled flank steaks, salad and challah a la Granny.

I was off the hook again this week thanks to our annual summer trip with the kids to visit my mother and father-in-law, affectionately known as Granny and Granddaddy.

My mother in law is one-in-a-million. Beautiful and stylish to boot, she introduced me (for better or worse) to my first real hairdresser and my first (and former) personal shopper. She taught me to love a fine five-course dinner ... and a greasy bag of Crunchers potato chips. Just not at the same time. And she taught me that being strong not only means knowing how to grin and bare it in public, but also knowing how to fall apart behind closed doors and accept the support of family.

All lessons I have tested repeatedly.

Granny and Granddaddy's house in San Diego is designed for, well, Granny and Granddaddy. Not Ben and Sarah. And arguably not even Steve and Rebecca. Which gave me plenty of opportunity to break out all of my "Love and Logic" dialogue to the point where I sounded like a broken record. Praising "good decisions," diffusing melt downs and trying to curtail massive property damage. I even worked in a lesson on respecting the body that G-d gave you right after Granddaddy suggested Ben get a tattoo. Really? What's next? A belly ring for Sarah? He was joking. I think. (And incidentally, as I quickly approach 40 I plan to adamantly argue that Botox does not, in fact, qualify as defacing one's body.)

But when all of my Parents As Teachers tricks fall flat, I reach for my trump card. The threat that always works.

Keep doing that and you won't get into kindergarten!

I'll be the first to admit that this phrase is enormously self-serving. Not just because it (usually) stops the behavior. But because I am secretly hoping, no praying, that somehow, someway the first day of kindergarten never comes.

Of course it's coming anyway. August 17th. Mrs. Follstrom just sent Ben a postcard letting him know.

Dear Ben, Looking forward to seeing you. You can bring your supplies on August 17th. See you soon! Mrs. Fallstrom

And just like that Ben went from being my precious baby boy to a school kid who gets his own mail and schleps his own supplies. Next week I suspect he'll be sneaking out the car and begging for a later curfew.

I remember my first day of kindergarten. We have a picture. Me dressed in my green jeans shorts and patchwork blouse. (How could you not love the 70's?) Pigtails. Lunch box in hand. I was stepping onto the school bus at the top of Cool Meadows. But from the photo you can't even tell if I was upset, scared or the least bit nervous about the milestone because I DIDN'T EVEN LOOK BACK.

Thankfully Ben will not be taking the bus. I'll walk him. And cling to his leg sobbing like a mad woman as he crosses the threshold into independence. Which will likely make it nearly impossible for him to move on without looking back since he'll need to shake me from his leg. Small blessings.

But inside I know that regardless of whether he looks back on August 17th, he will be moving on. And that's scary. A little bit for Ben who has told me he's "nervous," but excited to meet new friends. Particularly big kids. And really scary for me. Not to be too melodramatic ... okay, I'm sobbing like, well, a mother of an almost kindergartner ... but it seems a little bit like the beginning of the end. Each time I think about it I wonder ...

Did I hug him enough? Hold his hand enough? Should I have called in sick more for "Mommy/Ben dates?" Did I teach him everything he needs to know?

Is he ready?

Am I ready?

On August 17th I fully expect to institute, yet again, the lesson of Granny: grin and bare it in public and then come home and fall apart with family. And from experience, I know that each day will get a little bit easier. And I trust I'll find away to support Ben as he grows, so that we grow together instead of apart. But just in case, I'll be sending Ben with his own letter ... to Mrs. Follstrum:

Dear Mrs. Fallstrom:

Please take care of the best thing that has ever happened to me. The person who changed my life. Who gives me strength everyday simply by existing.

And who I promise you in no uncertain terms is cute for a reason! Good luck.

Your friend, Rebecca