Wisdom Teeth

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My youngest child needs to have her wisdom teeth out. Just as with her three older siblings (and most young adults), her third molars are impacted into her jaw and need to be surgically removed.

I still vividly remember having my own wisdom teeth extracted back in the days of chloroform and leeches. I was actually hospitalized overnight and can remember my mom coming to my hospital room with a milkshake to make me feel better. My own kids all weathered the experience reasonably well and were kind of funny as they slowly came out of their anesthetized haze. My older daughter kept telling me she thought the fish wallpaper in the oral surgeon’s office was so pretty, and my younger son kept slapping his cheek and exclaiming, “I can’t feel anything!”

Wisdom teeth are vestiges of our early millennia as homo sapiens. Early human diets were uncooked and rough, and people lost teeth on a regular basis. So third molars were very important to survival. As humans evolved and ate a softer diet, our jaws narrowed and now rarely can allow the wisdom teeth to break the surface of the gums.

So having wisdom teeth removed has become a rite of passage for young adults. For me, it has been a time when I could baby my children who are not really little kids anymore. For at least a couple of days, I could  park them on the sofa, ice their cheeks, and prepare Jello and other soft foods for them to eat. I could watch TV with them and wish these lazy summer days wouldn’t end.

My youngest child will be a junior in high school in the fall. She is driving and going out most nights with friends. Soon she will be taking ACTs and SATS, applying to colleges, and making her way out into the adult world step by step. I hope the presence of her so-called “wisdom teeth” indicates a maturity that will enable her to be sensible and safe. And I hope I have the wisdom to let her grow up and leave the nest, however hard it will be for me.

Still, I look forward to babying the baby of the family when she gets her wisdom teeth taken out. We still have a lot of TV to watch together.

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Good Sports

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IMG_1627This past weekend found me once again on the sidelines cheering for my son in the National Small College Rugby Organization (NSCRO) national championship game. The weather in the Atlanta area was picture perfect – an ideal environment for the Claremont Colleges Rugby Football Team to defend their championship title from last year.

Unfortunately, they were bested by a very physical and very good team from Iowa Central Community College and forced to settle for the second place trophy. Yet what I noticed during the match, and what has stayed with me since Sunday, was the good sportsmanship I saw displayed.

Rugby is an aggressive, physical game with lots of tackling, pushing and shoving. It seems inevitable that tempers would sometimes flare between two groups of fit and muscular men going after each other. Yet more than once during the match, I saw one of the opposing players give one of ours a hand up off the field after a tackle. I saw our player reach out and give a “bro hug” to an opponent after knocking him to the ground. At no time did I see any altercations or hear any trash talking from the field.

After the match, the teams made their traditional way opposite each other to shake hands and give each other short embraces in a display of good will. The four teams in the finals gathered together for the awards ceremony, and I was touched to see an ICCC player reach around his teammate to grasp the shoulder of one of ours.

Sports teach young men and women many valuable lessons: of team work, perseverance, battling back from adversity, and healthy competition. But I think the most valuable lesson of all is one of good sportsmanship. It’s a lesson parents and coaches can instill in our youth, one that will take them far beyond the rugby pitch.

I once heard the following quip: “Soccer is a gentleman’s game played by hooligans; rugby is a hooligan’s game played by gentlemen.” Judging from Sunday’s performance at the rugby national championship, I’d definitely have to agree with the second part of that quote.

I’m so proud of my son, grateful to his coaches, and impressed by this group of young men with the heart of Lions.

The Disney Experience

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My husband, daughter, and I just returned from a weekend soccer event at Disney World’s Wide World of Sports in Orlando, Florida. It was a warm, sunny weekend, our daughter’s team played well, and a good time was had by all. My only regret was not having time to visit one of the many theme parks that make up the World according to Disney.

Being close to the “happiest place on Earth,” however, reminded me of the many times we have taken our children to visit Disneyland and Disney World over the years. While I am an unabashed fan of all things Disney, my husband has always been a grudging participant in our visits.

On one of our first trips to Disneyland in California, we were in line waiting for a ride when we overheard a child in full meltdown, red-faced and wailing. My husband turned to me and drily quipped, “That’s the Disney experience.” From that time on, we referred to the many tantrums and outbursts that are an inevitable part of dragging young children around a theme park in the sun as “the Disney experience.”

The world created by Walt Disney and his successors is a strange one indeed. There is a certain Stepford Wives quality to the perfection of an imaginary Main Street and the many other fantastical settings created within the parks. Everyone acts as if it’s normal to line up behind a figure in a giant costume and wait to get Mickey Mouse’s autograph. Mind you, these are not just children jostling to get close to the world’s most famous rodent.

Within the world of Disney, unseen voices sweetly, if a bit eerily, encourage guests to “please move to the center of the row” in a given attraction over and over again – to the unthinking and perfect compliance of the guests. And inside these dimly lit fantasy worlds, animatronic figures go about their business in a not-quite-lifelike manner.

There is an entire unseen, underground apparatus that runs the Disney theme parks. When I learned this, I imagined cartoonish jail cells where unruly guests might be confined for, say, throwing their jumbo drink cup on the ground or taking cuts in line. One gets the sense while at Disney that there is no possibility of allowing misbehavior to go unchecked.

In fact, that’s one of the things I love about the Disney experience. It’s unreal, true. But we all get enough reality in our day to day lives. It’s nice to go somewhere where everything is shiny and perfect and have some good old fashioned fun. The jokes are corny and the songs sometimes a bit saccharine. But there’s no denying the sense of magic in the Magic Kingdom.

And notwithstanding the toddler meltdowns that are part of “the Disney experience,” it may just be the happiest place on Earth.

 

You Better Watch Out

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The-Elf-on-the-Shelf-The-Forgotten-CRMParents have always been a little mean-spirited at Christmas time. When I was a child, I took to heart the admonishment that Santa was watching me. If I was naughty, no presents for me. Looking back, I think that was a terrible message to send about Santa Claus and the giving and receiving of gifts.

As a parent, I realize that it’s important to have many discipline techniques to deal with child misbehavior. And sometimes we’re so desperate to stop our kid’s annoying or destructive behavior that we jump at anything we think might work. But in the case of Christmas threats, I think we are headed down the wrong path.

Take the Elf on the Shelf. Mercifully, my family missed out on this custom due to the age of my children. But my understanding is that the elf is some sort of spy for Santa who lurks in the house and keeps moving around so as to catch the kids in any sort of shenanigans. This is not only a bit creepy, but it gives children the sense that their parents see them as basically naughty and in need of watching at all times.

Many internet memes have blithely skewered the image of the Elf on the Shelf by posing him in compromising positions with Barbies and such. But others are troubled by the surveillance and reporting aspects of the toy. Digital technology professor Laura Pinto worries that the Elf on the Shelf is normalizing a police state mentality for a generation of children. (Washington Post, Dec. 16, 2014)

Another new technique I have seen popularized on Facebook is this: A parent wraps a bunch of empty boxes with Christmas wrap. Then, when the child misbehaves, the parent tosses one of the gifts into the fire. Whoever came up with that idea most likely thinks of themselves as clever, but I think it’s downright cruel.

At the very least, the idea of tying children’s behavior to receiving gifts on Christmas is the antithesis of what Christmas is supposed to be all about. The birth of Jesus was a gift for all mankind to save us from our sin. Quite the opposite of being expected to “behave” in order to receive it, the gift of Christ was given precisely because we do not deserve it.

Christmas should be a time of selflessness and love. Let’s retire these mean-spirited traditions and confine Santa and the elves to jolly singing in the workshop at the North Pole.

 

Countdown to Christmas

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On December 1, my kids would all jockey to be the first – that is, the first one to open a door on our Advent calendar. For me, December 1 begins the frenzied (for me), agonizing (for kids) countdown to Christmas.

Prior to Thanksgiving, I would admonish my children that they were not allowed to utter the “C” word until after we had stuffed ourselves with turkey and made our way home from Grandma’s house over the river and through the woods. But on December 1, I began to pull out all the stops.

Large red plastic boxes made their way up from the basement. Cookies dusted with red and green sugars appeared in the pantry while candy bowls got filled with peppermints and Hershey’s Kisses. The Christmas music I had refused to play prior to Thanksgiving now wafted regularly through our house.

Christmas has always been my favorite holiday. There are so many good things associated with it: twinkling lights, cookies, gifts, and Santa Claus. People somehow seem more cheerful going about their business with the background sound of jingle bells. And the season of Advent gives us a whole month of delicious anticipation.

When my kids were young, they would spend hours on their Christmas lists. Sometimes their wants were quite simple. One year my son asked for underwear and a Santa hat. Sometimes their requests were grander: a Brio train set, a play kitchen, a bike. My daughter has still not forgiven Santa for not getting her the My Size Barbie she asked for at age 6.

But more memorable than the gifts my children longed for were the traditions we kept each December. One of them was rolling out and decorating sugar cookies, some of which we would save for Santa. Our kitchen would be a flour- and sprinkle- infused disaster area. My son would pile his cookie high with frosting and sprinkles and then happily demolish it in minutes, red and green festooning his adorable face. We also attempted, sometimes successfully, the ubiquitous gingerbread house. I would scour the holiday candy aisle at my local grocery store for the colorful hard candies I remembered from my own childhood Christmases. These we would use to decorate our little houses, trying to make them enticing enough for Hansel and Gretel.

Another tradition of ours was to pile in the car on a wintry evening and drive around looking at Christmas lights. I’d keep the car nice and toasty for my pajama-clad kids, and we’d pass by our favorite streets and particular houses that really did Christmas in grand style. Afterwards we’d stop at a nearby Dunkin Donuts for a donut and hot chocolate before returning home and getting everyone tucked into bed.

There were fun holiday specials to watch each December and a huge Christmas tree to decorate. We’d play one of Amy Grant’s wonderful Christmas albums, and the kids would reminisce as they unwrapped special ornaments given to them or made by them in Christmas seasons past. I can remember Decembers when I would run myself ragged trying to collect all the Disney ornaments offered in McDonald’s Happy Meals.

But the tradition that really helped us anticipate the coming of Christmas was the aforementioned Advent calendar. It was a wooden box with a green wooden tree on top. Each morning a different one of the kids took his or her turn opening the designated door and placing another ornament on the wooden tree. Before long, the tree was filled with decorations, and it was clear that Christmas was almost here.

We also had a Jesse tree, which is a religious Advent calendar with 25 ornaments depicting the Biblical origins of Christmas. Each evening after dinner, we would read the Scripture passage on the next ornament and place it on the Jesse tree, and it gave us a chance to talk about Jesus’s origins as a descendant of Abraham and of the great King David, Jesse’s youngest son. This tradition gave us a glimpse into the true meaning of our waiting and anticipating: the coming of Christ on Christmas.

My kids are mostly grown now, but we still enjoy our traditions: homemade cookies, a new ornament and pair of pajamas for each kid, a Honeybaked Ham dinner on Christmas Eve, gift giving, and, of course, Christmas Mass, when “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” turns into:

Behold,
I proclaim to you good news of great joy
that will be for all people.
For today in the city of David a savior has been born
who is Christ the Lord.
(Luke 2:10-11)

May your anticipation of Christmas be happy and  holy as you count down the days of December.

 

Baby Driver

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9181272874_b1b53bb1f8_bMy youngest child got her drivers license the other day.  After a lot of angst and more than 50 hours of practice driving (Be still, my heart!), we made our way to the DMV for the dreaded road test. My husband, who is generally calmer in the car than I, was supposed to take my daughter, but he chickened bailed out at the last minute. Yet as I sat on the hard plastic chair in the Illinois Secretary of State’s office, it felt fitting to be there waiting for my fourth and last child to go through this particular rite of passage.

I’ve always gotten excited about firsts in my children’s lives: first word, first tooth, first day of kindergarten etc. But I don’t really have a corresponding nostalgia for “lasts” in the way some parents do: last first day of school, last school dance, and now last child to get a new drivers license. Sure, I shed some tears dropping each of my three older children off at college, and I do miss seeing them on a day to day basis. But I’m too happy about all the new and exciting possibilities in their lives to dwell too long on the losses.

After what seemed an interminable wait, my daughter walked in alongside the road test evaluator. I couldn’t read her expression. The evaluator handed her a piece of paper as I walked towards her with a half smile and a tentative thumbs up. She nodded and grinned. “SUCCESS!!!” I texted my husband. My daughter regaled me with the finer points of the road test while we waited for her to have her picture taken and get her temporary license. Then she drove home, not as a practice driver, but as a newly licensed one.

There will be many more rites of passage for my youngest child to go through: ACTs, college applications, prom, graduation. And I will be there right alongside her, savoring each “last” in my life while welcoming all the new things awaiting her in the great big world of adulthood.

 

Be the Bad Guy

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A recent report from our local high school indicates that 60 to 75 lunches are dropped off per day by parents whose kids either forgot them or wanted a hot lunch from a takeout place. The report was the school’s way of explaining why they have instituted new policies surrounding the epidemic of parental coddling.

I must admit that I have dropped off lunches, fees, homework, and any number of items to my kids at school over the years, resenting their irresponsibility as well as my own inability to say no. When I read the story about new lunch drop-off policies, I thought to myself, I wish the school would just stop allowing parents to drop off anything to their children during the school day. It would be so much easier to let the high school be the bad guy.

There’s the rub. It is not much fun to have to be the bad guy in our day to day parenting. It’s much easier and more pleasant to be the wise and understanding mentor and quasi-friend to our kids. I imagine myself as a sort of Lorelei Gilmore from The Gilmore Girls, joking around, sharing musical tastes and clothes with my teenage daughter, much too young and cool to do anything as unpleasant as instilling discipline.

The reality is that I have to rain on her parade numerous times a day. Nagging her to get off her smartphone and get to her homework, insisting that she go to bed at a decent hour, making her wear her retainer: it’s all in a day’s work for a parent. And in more important matters, it’s even more essential to be the bad guy. Our kids have always given us a lot of flak for checking with their friends’ parents to make sure there will be adult supervision when they go to their homes. And grounding them for staying out past curfew or doing something dangerous or illegal doesn’t win us any popularity contests either. But as Glenn Close’s character in The Big Chill tells her daughter, “I’m your mom. When you’re a mother, you get to be mean.”

Although it’s difficult, I keep reminding myself that kids need and actually want limits, and my husband and I are their number one gatekeepers. I also remember that in Gilmore Girls, Lorelei is blessed with a near-perfect daughter who at times is more mature than her mom. And sometimes even my kids appreciate our roles as heavies. I’ve always told them that if they are in an uncomfortable situation or don’t want to do something their peers are pressuring them to do, they can make us the bad guys.

As for being my teenage daughter’s  “gofer,” I guess it’s up to me to be the bad guy and let her be hungry next time she forgets her lunch.