The Ten Commandments for Using My Car

tencommandmentsI am the car owner, thy mother, and I have brought you out of my lady parts after eighteen hours and limited access to pain medication into the land of motor vehicles.

1. Thou shalt not drive when your judgment is  impaired in any way. At this rate, you might get to use the car when you’re thirty.

2. Thou shalt keep your hands on the wheel at all times. This includes texting, eating, and fondling your girlfriend or yourself. I know how well you multitask.

3. Your passengers shalt keep their hands off your wheel at all times (if you catch my drift). That only turns out well in the movies. In reality, say hello to the ditch. Not that I have personal experience with that.

4. You shalt not drink Caramel Frappuchinos in the vehicle.  Last week my steering wheel was stickier than a movie theater floor after The Spongebob Movie. This is especially true if you don’t have a Grande Skim Latte for your mother.

5. After picking up food at McDonald’s, thou shalt air out the car and spray with Febreeze (provided in trunk).  The same goes for dining at Chipotle, or after playing basketball in 90 degree heat. No, Axe does not take care of that.

6. Thou shalt not leave the radio turned up to 11 to scare the crap out your mother when she starts the car. If you do, when your friends come over, she will pipe NPR through the household audio system. Upon the second offense, she will rap Snoop Dogg. On the third, look out Beyonce–girl can dance. Or at least she will.

7. Thou shalt not leave discarded chewing gum in the cupholder. The same goes for straw wrappers, sunflower seed shells and used tissues. If you do, I shall instruct the cats to deposit their hairballs on your pillow.

8. Thou shalt not use my trunk as your laundry bin. If I find wet towels in my backseat, you will find your Dad’s dirty underwear in your beach bag.

9. Thou shalt not return the car on fumes. It’s only like leaving an empty Cheez-it box in the pantry, if running out of Cheez-its left you stranded on the shoulder of I-495. You have a gas card. Use it for something other than buying beef jerky from the convenience store.

10. The Golden Rule – Thou shalt treat the Prius as if it was your own, because someday, it may be. Because if this family gets a new car, it’s mine.

Just remember, if you want the keys to the kingdom, they’re in my pocket. My will be done.

Photograph – The Ten Commandments, by John Taylor © 2010 Creative Commons/Flickr

You reap what you sow

Earlier this week I read a Facebook post written by a high school classmate. Her daughter was rejected by a group of girls she wanted to befriend. The post touched me as a mother. Who doesn’t want to shoulder the pain for their children? It also brought up a lot of memories. Who at some time hasn’t felt on the outside looking in?

My son has been fortunate. So far he has navigated his teen years mostly unscathed. He’s had the typical ups and downs, but he has always lived comfortably within his own skin. He’s taught me a lot, to be honest.

I know I’ve said it before–we are neither as awesome or as awful as we might believe during high school. Hormones are a natural amplifier, and our teen years are a time when we take in unkind words too deeply and replay them too often.

This time, however, is also where we tend the soil for our adult selves. We pile up all of the detritus of childhood, a large amount of manure, and cover it with the hope that no one knows exactly what’s under there. It’s true of everyone. Cruelty is just one form of cover. Throw attention onto someone else and perhaps no one will notice how terribly flawed we are. Does it work? In the short term, perhaps.

Just as plants can’t flourish in bad soil, neither can people. We do reap what we sow, or at least we reap from the soil we sow our seeds in. It’s hard to think about that as a teen. It’s the lifestage of oxymoron. Teens feel they are adults, but also sense adulthood is this far-off place where strange and boring people dwell, where they eat responsibly and go to bed at 10:00 p.m. I’m sure my son would be so pleased to know that I’ve called him an oxymoron.

But my point is this–their manure only poisons their own soil. Call it Karma, if you like, but I firmly believe that who you are today can’t help but influence where you will be tomorrow.

I am sure that my high school classmates would have sarcastically predicted that I would spend my days surrounded by books, writing English essays for the fun of it. I have spent my entire life working towards doing just that. I have never been happier. I even get paid for it.  And if someone really screwed with me, I make them a character in a story and kill them off. Petty, but incredibly satisfying.

Knowing that a situation is temporary doesn’t make it hurt less. I can’t count how many times people told me things like “it’s their loss” and “you’re better off without them.”  What do you know? They were right. From what I’ve heard, my classmate’s daughter sounds like a kind and thoughtful young woman, which means she’ll grow into a kind and thoughtful adult. Nothing makes a mother more proud.

So, daughter of my classmate, tend your soil and grow, and remember that sunflowers turn towards the light. Eventually, those who don’t see light’s promise will stand in your shadow.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph by Arsenie Coseac © 2007 Creative Commons

I’ll blame the cosmos, too. It feels better that way

My son is unhappy with me.  He says that I am “on his case” about a particular issue. It’s sort of true, but also sort of not true, which I think is the hallmark of parent/teen conflict.

Ninety percent of the time, my son is awesome, and I tell him that he is awesome in specific and concrete terms. I do praise his general awesomeness as well, but I don’t want my praise to be empty words of affection without real meaning.

If he’s worked hard at something with a “meh” result, I praise that too. Our own personal awesome might be a different level than someone else’s.

In this case, he gets a “meh” result because he hasn’t put in the work. He knows it, and I know it. I used to nag–remind him to do what he had to, but it just made him avoid it more. He told me that I was making it worse, and not better, so I said I would keep my mouth shut.

By and large, I have. Where I draw the line, however, is when he seems mystified by his lack of progress, or blames the universe for his issues. Whether it is wise or not, I feel compelled to set him straight.

I’d love for him to succeed at his endeavors, but the activity itself holds no emotional value for me. It could be a sport, or an instrument or a hobby. I am agnostic to the interest itself as long as it’s not illegal or immoral, and I feel no stake in the outcome other than I want him to be happy. What I do care about is accountability.

Itzhak Perlman says if he misses practicing one day, God knows. Two days, he knows, Three days, the audience knows. But he doesn’t blame the violin, the concert hall, the conductor or the audience. He knows that even the best of us can’t skate by.

We all make choices about where to invest our time. So own it. That’s all I ask. If he hasn’t put the time in, and complains about not doing well while blaming the cosmos for his disappointment, I’m going to call him on it. No path is endlessly uphill, nor can the wind always be blowing against you. Sometimes you’ve got to walk faster and climb harder.

I suppose it’s not easy to do when your mother is making you admit that it’s your own damn fault. Even if she’s right. It also doesn’t help that my personal strategy is to throw myself at my challenges until I’m either battered or victorious–sometimes both. Perhaps that’s how I parent as well, so I guess I have to accept that his unhappiness with this aspect of our relationship is my own damn fault.

He has a point. Accountability sucks. You’re awesome, dude. Don’t let anybody tell you differently. Least of all me.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph by Nick Ares © 2007 Creative Commons

I will make him wear the jacket every Sunday until it’s fully amortized

I spent Saturday shopping for dress clothes with my son. Homecoming is in two weeks, and I knew he’d need a new dress shirt and blazer. I bought him dress khakis in late June and they were a little long at the time, but when he tried them on Saturday morning they ended somewhere mid-calf.  Add that to the list.

We went to Macy’s. Generally, I hate Macy’s. Everything is always on sale, so it’s hard to tell whether I’m overpaying. I think the answer is yes. It’s also disorganized. I like my stores tidy. My son, however, feels right at home.

Clearly every other mother in town had the same idea. We gathered by the three-way mirror. Add some Chardonnay and it would have been a great party.  I managed to locate a jacket in clearance that didn’t make him look like David Byrne, one pair of 30×32 khakis  and two shirts with a small enough neck size that they might not wouldn’t look totally ridiculous. This was harder than it sounds.

My son handed me his wallet for safekeeping and went into the fitting room. I stood in the waiting area with the other moms remembering the good old days when we could cross the Rubicon and just walk into the fitting room with them. Instead, we waited and watched the  boys parade in front of the mirror.

After seeing a handful of boys face the mom-guantlet twice, I texted my son.

What is taking you so long? Stop texting Nick and put the shirt on.

He didn’t respond, but came out in his street clothes and shoved an unopened shirt package into my hands. “It took me forever to open the other shirt and it didn’t fit. Do you have any idea how many pins are in this thing? Homecoming is in two weeks. I don’t have time for this.” I told him he better get used to it and started taking out pins myself. He had a stricken look on his face. “I don’t have to fold the other one back up do I?” I toyed with saying yes just to see what he’d do, but I thought it might send him over the edge.

After dealing with the pins, I gave him the shirt, and told him to hand over the phone. He sulked back into the fitting room like he’d been grounded. He emerged after a few minutes. Everything fit him perfectly, and he looked so much like my husband I got all misty. “You look very handsome,” I told him.  The other mothers agreed. I could tell he thought so too.

The sales associate rang up the purchase and handed the package to my son. He took it, turned to me, and put out his hand for his phone and wallet. He’d reached his limit. Having a flock of mothers cluck over him didn’t help. “Are we done now?”

I pulled his wallet out of my purse. It’s blue nylon and Velcro and has a Detroit Tigers logo on it.  My sister gave it to him. He treasures it, but when I handed it to him I could see in his face that the image of himself as a lady-killer was totally broken by one little detail. “Almost.” I replied.

I took him over to accessories, and after surveying the choices, pulled out a basic black leather wallet. Nothing fancy–enough for his I.D. and cash. “This one, I think.” I put it in his hands.

“Yeah.” He said, and smiled. “This one is nice. Does it come with cash included?”

“Ask me after I’ve forgotten how much we spent today.” We both know the answer is yes, but we’ll banter about it until the morning of the dance. It’s all part of the process. He smiles and says thanks. That isn’t usually part of the process, however, and the bill is already forgotten.

You’re welcome my not-so-little man.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph by Francis Storr © 2010 Creative Commons

Mom is officially freaked out–it’s not the caffeine

Today was the sophomore parent coffee. If you haven’t been to a parent coffee, it’s a chance for mothers (and a few fathers) to gather, drink lots of coffee, and fidget while PTSA officers and school administrators tell you all the stuff you’re supposed to be doing, but aren’t.

Because these meetings only add to my to-do list, I tend to steer clear. My son is well equipped to navigate school on his own, our lines of communication are open, and the school sends an almost unhealthy dose of performance data to parents on a weekly basis. Anyhow, my son is a terrible liar. I know something is up at school the minute he walks in the door.

However, he is a little oblivious to official information. We’ve gotten texts from our son like “U have to be at drver ed thing at 7:30 tonight, get more cookies plz” more times than I can count. So, since they were going to be talking about graduation requirements, assessment testing and college selection, I figured this particular coffee might be a good one to go to.

The coffee started off with the obligatory speech about all of the things we need to give the PTSA money for, followed by complaints about electronic textbooks, and a reiteration of the dress code. I tuned out at that point, because I have a son and not a daughter. Apparently backpacks have an interesting effect on short skirts.

Then the fun began. We were introduced to a college information portal that our son is supposed to start populating with data. It includes a Myers-Briggs test, a learning style assessment, a resume builder, career information and a college database. They talked about the pre-preSATs and prep classes and tutors, and that California colleges require at least one credit of fine arts, and that the average GPA of UVA applicants from our school is 4.5.

I resisted the urge to run out of the room screaming “I’m not ready!” If I had, I probably would have had a bunch of mothers come running after me, saying “Wait for me! I’m not ready either!” I imagine we’d forget the coffee and go straight for Chardonnay (Generally we’d choose a nice Pinot Noir, but it is only 10:00 a.m).

I do not remember my parents being this overwhelmed by the process. Then again, they had four kids, so they’d been around the block before I came to the plate. I have no doubt my son will go to college. It just feels like he has to make bigger decisions earlier in their life than I had to. Given that he and his friends have problems picking a movie, selecting a college seems insurmountable.

But that is my way. Freak out, cry in the shower, take a run, make a plan. I know we’ll get through it, he’ll find the right college, the right path, at least for now, then he’ll turn 40 and wonder what the hell he was thinking. At least if he’s anything like me.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph by Bottled Void © 2008 Creative Commons

A picture’s worth a thousand bucks. Or maybe it just feels that way.

School pictures are a money minting scam. I should know better, but I fall for it every time. Twice a year. My son is in 10th grade. Have I learned? His latest pictures came yesterday. Does that answer your question?

The first round of pictures happens just as school starts. They say it’s for ID cards, but I think it’s because they know I’m already desensitized by the eighty-six other checks I end up writing in the first two weeks of September. Scribbling out those long amounts is exhausting. I end up voiding 2 or 3 checks before I’m finished.

I consider not getting them. You can’t find a package under $30 that doesn’t include a bunch of crap I really don’t need. What would my parents do without their customized key ring? And of course the refrigerator magnet. Oh wait, I have stainless appliances. Damn. Too late. At least we’re past the age where they send home tchotckie versions of his artwork that I have to pay for or reject and return without him somehow noticing.

When my son was younger, I used to dress him up for picture day. He would smile accordingly. They were nice pictures, but I couldn’t recognize him as my child. It was a picture of his doppelgänger from a tidy alternative universe. I finally gave up caring what he wore.

Ultimately, it was the right strategy. We now have a record of his favorite shirt at various points in his life. We caught his skateboarder-hip phase (it didn’t last long), his has-to-be-Under-Armor phase, and an endless parade of Red Sox jerseys. This year it was a grey Tarheels shirt that almost matches the background perfectly. If the shirt didn’t have a design, he’d look like a floating head in the middle of a grey pool of water.

He hasn’t grown into his face quite yet. His features are a blend of mine – rounded and soft, and his father’s – sharp and angular. It has traces of boy and man, flashing between one and the other dependent on your angle and focus, like a hologram that is one image, than another, with the blink of an eye. It is so perfectly him, a reflection of where he’s been and where he’s going, all in one plane.

I did make one concession this year. I paid for retouching. Usually, I don’t bother, but I remember the under-the-microscope feeling of scrutiny that comes at this age. He didn’t even have to ask. His skin is remarkably well-behaved, much more than mine ever was (or still is), but even the minimal retouching had a botox-like effect on his forehead.

He doesn’t like it.  He notices the odd perfection of his skin. “I look surprised, like, wow, my zits are gone. Actually, I look really confused.”

“And it looks just like you in real life.”

“Ha ha,” he replies. But I was only half kidding. What he doesn’t know is that I look at it several times a day and smile.

In retrospect, he’ll probably remember  me as surprised and confused most of the time as well. Only I won’t be airbrushed. Girl can always hope. Technology changes every day.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph by Juli © 2008 Creative Commons