Halloween – Takin’ Care of Business

The arrival of Halloween signifies the formation of a temporary division within our family’s corporate structure – the Department of Candy Management and Distribution (DCMD for short).  I am the Executive Project Manager.  I work closely with my team of professionals to develop a strategic plan for the timely and effective distribution and reduction of seasonal candy acquisitions. The stakes are high; the family’s dental health hangs in the balance.

When I started in this position, my favored approach as the DCMD manager was to assume the role of the Candy Cop.  The Candy Cop rations candy to the team – one piece at a time, after meals and for quality job performances. As I gained valuable experience, I concluded that the job of Candy Cop was bunk.  All the whining, pleading and phony promises from the team led to disunity and strife.  To restore order, The Candy Cop was forced to cut off distribution, which in turn led to more whining, pleading and phony promises. The arrival of Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter (the Motherlode of Chocolate) reduced the Candy Cop’s effectiveness and increased the candy inventory resulting in even more whining, pleading and phony promises.  The temporary assignment morphed to a permanent, year-long position with hazardous job conditions. Not only was the Candy Cop crabby and irritable, but she was in grave danger of losing her girlish figure due to the hypnotically enticing aroma emitting from plastic Halloween buckets. It was often impossible to resist, especially during the day while the team was away at school.  Just ask the dog.

The team hard at work in the boardroom

Instead, as an experienced DCMD manager, I adopted a superior approach to the inventory reduction problem – the Feeding Frenzy. To speed up the process and reduce my numbers, I give the team (crazy-eyed sugar fiends) permission to eat all they want for one night only. Of course, I first take my cut. Almond Joys? Mine. Snickers Dark? Straight to the pocket. MilkyWay Midnights? Come to Mommy. After that, the team is free to cram any amount of candy into their gooey little mouths in the allotted amount of time.  All sorting, counting, and trading is permitted as I recline by the fire, sipping a hot beverage and enjoying the perks of management.

When bedtime arrives, it’s over.  The team stumbles off to the showers with instructions to brush their teeth and eat a Tums.  I sweep the up the remaining inventory, depositing all rejects and wrappers in permanent removal receptacles. I return to the couch. Another successful year with the DCMD. Belly aches are a small price to pay this kind of job satisfaction.

I Birthed a Redneck

Maybe he’s not mine.  Yeah, I remember the delivery room, but maybe he was switched in the nursery for one of those hardy, Minnesota babies – it’s probably just a coincidence that he looks just like my husband.

At least once or twice a month, I realize I live in the wrong state.  It’s hunting season right now in Minnesota and everywhere there are guys, wearing camo, driving camo-painted trucks, scanning the horizon for something to shoot.   Soon, I will see dead deer in the back of pick up trucks at the grocery store. This week, there will be photos of camo-clad guys hoisting dead birds on the sports page of the local paper.

I grew up in the suburbs of San Francisco.  My people drink wine, eat fine European cheeses and grill vegetables.  In college, I majored in Beach and Boys and purposely selected a guy who enjoys the finer things of life. We like restaurants, nice hotels and wine on the patio on a summer evening.  In the Fall we switch to red wine and enjoy the turning of the leaves. Somehow, Junior slapping a dead goose on my kitchen counter does not fit with this picture.

I’ve lived here for 20 years and have learned that Minnesotans are a different breed – closer to the earth.  They love their cabins. Garrison Keiler said the woman are strong here in Lake Wobegon and he’s right.  I have friends, fine hardy women, who sit all day in deer stands, waiting for Bambi to stroll by so they can blow him away.   Walleye (a fish with big popping eyes) opener (the day the onslaught begins) is on Mother’s Day.  Every year the lakes (we have 10,000 of them) are actually packed full of men and women, trolling, casting, jigging, bobbing – whatever they do, ignoring their mothers.  I occasionally eat what they pull out of their live wells (the holes in their boats where they stash their fish)  I like lakefood, as opposed to seafood, which actually comes from the sea. They don’t appreciate my distinction.  While we’re on the subject of food, many freezers here are filled with mystery venison products, which they try to pawn off each year to make room for “this year’s deer.”  Each Fall, they recirculate a popular lie that if you put venison in a stew you won’t be able to tell that it is disgusting deer meat. I fell for it, once.

Unlike my California brethren, many Minnesotans grew up on farms. Some of our family’s friends invited us to spend the weekend at Grandma’s dairy farm.  To educate the California city slickers, they brought us to the milking parlor.  Don’t be fooled – this place should NOT be called a parlor.  We were herded into a lowered-trough between two rows of stalls. We stood there, unsuspecting, as a farmer backed up some huge cows into the stalls above us.  He then proceeded to hook up some steel cylinders to teats on obscenely huge, veiny udders.  My boys started snickering.  It was then that one of the cows exploded from the back end. We stood horrified as manure sprayed everywhere. The cylinder guy didn’t bat an eye; just kept on working.  The kids started screaming. Covering our noses and mouths, John and I dragged our gagging, crying offspring to the safety of the farm yard. Lesson learned – just drink milk, don’t ask where it comes from.

Up until now, I’ve been able to keep my California identity firmly intact. We live here but have not assimilated to the culture.  But now, MY husband is considering buying MY son a shot gun when he turns eighteen.  MY husband is entertaining the prospect of taking a shooting class. Country Music is blaring from sound systems in MY house.  They are having giddy conversations about good hunting spots and tags that they plan to affix to their kills. What’s next, ammo on the grocery list?

Bravely, as only a California Girl can do, I will fight this detestable turn of events. I will not succumb to this sad downfall.  I will not pluck a duck or any other sort of fowl.  My walls will remain antler-free.  Wine glass in hand, I will chop herbs and prepare meat from clean packages complete with freshness dates.

Attention Family:

Blaze orange is NOT an attractive accent color.

Don’t be so pushy, he’s just shy

Here he is on top of Half Dome in Yosemite

Really?

I have a kid who was born with a natural inclination to hide.  I first noticed this trait when he was eight months old. A friend entered our apartment and Michael planted his baby face in the rug. When I peeled him off the carpet he clamped his hands firmly over his eyes and let out a howl.   As he grew, my little guy struggled to enter groups, either clinging to me or hanging in the back. For a while, he kept a hat on his head, low over his eyes so he didn’t have to look at anyone.  The opposite was true at home.  With us, he was delightful and out-going. Always imaginative and intelligent, he led his siblings in their games.  When we were away from the safety of our home, he seemed miserable.  He refused to do simple tasks that other children were doing willingly.  When I expressed concern, well-meaning parents said, “Oh, he’s just shy” and “Don’t worry, he’ll grow out of it.”  I remained unconvinced.   To me, Michael seemed to be a kid trapped inside himself by his fear of new people and situations.

One day at a park, I noticed him hanging back and watching the other kids going down a medium-sized slide.  His little brother was gleefully climbing up the ladder and sliding down.  I could tell he wanted to go down the slide, because he kept putting one foot on the ladder and then backing away. I don’t know what possessed me, but I went over and said “Come on Son, were going down”  I dragged him screaming and clawing up the five foot ladder, plopped him at the top and gave him a little push. As the other mothers glared, I waited at the top to see what he would do.  At the bottom of the slide, he leaped up, turned around, and yelled “That was FUN!” His face beamed as he dashed around and bounded up the ladder.  That moment was my epiphany – this kid needed a push.

Pushy parents have gotten some bad press lately and rightfully so.  We should never live out desires for stardom, athletic prowess or beauty through our children. With five kids who are either two or three sport athletes and involved in a multitude of artistic pursuits, I’ve attended A LOT of youth sporting  and performance events.  Sadly, I’ve seen some really out-of-control parents bringing shame on their families.   I have personally experienced a parent celebrating over my son’s injury, because his son stood a better chance of getting some playing time.  We’ve all seen Toddlers and Tiaras – where pathetic, and I believe abusive parents are displayed to the world. (I hope those people are not making any money for being on that show, but they probably are)  But when you see that your child is so afraid and/or stubborn that he or she refuses to learn a skill or participate in a worthwhile activity,  your child’s behavior has moved from a temperament issue to a behavioral issue.  To develop a positive character trait in our son, we decided to gently and firmly help him overcome his fears and behave correctly in situations where he is afraid.  Pushing a kid to be the BEST HE CAN BE – not necessarily THE BEST, is an act of love.  With that in mind, I guess you can call me pushy.

Here's my sweety kicking some butt in boxing for CAL

We decided not to accept that our son was a fearful person with a natural lack of social skills. We refused to give him the label of “shy”.  As Michael grew, we insisted that he look people in the eye and give appropriate responses.  In the car, before we entered any social situation, I coached him on different scenarios, saying things like  “If Mr. Smith says ‘Hi’ to you, what are you going to say?” It was embarrassing at times, but we kept at it. There were times when other parents talked behind our backs and even openly scolded us.  That was hard.  But my job was to raise our son, not to be popular with the Mommy and Me playgroup, so we persisted.   We signed him up for a lot of different activities and required him to fully participate. At one point, I even paid him $50 to be in the choir. Bribery has it place, people!

Here he is timidly jumping onto an ice flow

You may be wondering if all that pushing and prodding damaged my son’s tender soul. It took a while, but by the time he was 13, he started to shine.  In eighth grade, he acted in a community theater production and received fan mail.  In high school, he joined many clubs and sports teams. He mastered public speaking and for four years, spoke to elementary school groups about the danger of drug and alcohol abuse. He performed in musicals, MC’d events and was the lead singer in a rock band.  As a Senior, he was elected student body president and selected as homecoming royalty. A four year choir member, he sang the national anthem with a quartet and was elected choir president.  He was a National Honor Society officer, captain of the cross country team and the recipient of numerous scholarships for his community involvement and leadership. Though he was popular and had a close group of friends, each day at lunch, he found a student eating alone and sat with them.  He was voted by his senior class to be “Everyone’s Friend”.  He delivered the commencement address at his senior graduation and now attends one of the top schools in the nation, the University of California, Berkeley.

He overcame his fear of heights

Children come with all sorts of temperaments, strengths and weaknesses.  Our job, as parents, is to do what it takes for our individual children so that they will grow to be well-rounded, hard working, healthy adults. With adulthood as the goal, some kids, like our Michael, need a little prodding for them to share themselves with the world.  Some kids need more boundaries so that they will share less of themselves with the world. (I have one of those, too – more on him later) My son, Michael, is exceptional by anyone’s standard but I am convinced that if we had let him be “shy” he wouldn’t be the person he is today.