Indescribable

How do I nickname my teenager? Let me count the ways. There is a ride at The Great Wolf Lodge water park called “The Howlin’ Tornado”—that name would fit. There was a horror movie once called “Bride of Chucky”—I was thinking that one might be good, too.  Or maybe my old standby is best, Veruca Salt, the demanding girl in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”… 
I can’t decide. For how do you best describe a kid who works hard for seven days on an Indian reservation while on a church youth mission trip (“Mom, I scraped and cleaned a toilet that was covered in bird poop all by myself!”), is well-liked by the group’s counselors and kids (“Mrs. Allbee, you have the funniest daughter, she is so full of life!”), yet gets completely bent out of shape upon returning home because

a.)    We drove to Wal Mart after picking her up at the church parking lot instead of taking her to a favorite restaurant (and she probably also would have preferred flowers and a marching band…);

b.)    We won’t agree to get her a cat (she played with kittens during the trip and now wants one, even though she is allergic to them); and

c.)    She decided during the trip that she’s going to become a vegetarian, and Andy “burnt” the frozen Wal Mart cheese pizza that he baked her for dinner (it wasn’t burnt—just a little dark brown around the edges).

I shouldn’t be too surprised at her outcries. I predicted this “storm”– it’s sometimes hard for kids to make a smooth transition back into their families after being away from home for a while, and Allison has never been great with change.  While away, kids get used to a little more freedom, at least the freedom of not being around their parents, and they get into a comfortable routine of abiding by different rules and schedules, and it can be a downer to come back to reality. I remember the mixed feelings that would always happen for me each summer after finishing a week at camp– happy to be in my own bed, yet sad at the same time.

 

But darn it, I never got so upset that I threw pizza at my father or dug fingernails into my mom’s arm. If I had, my father would have, among other punishments, threatened to “Give me back to the Indians”, one of his favorite things to say.  Right now, I would very much like to do that with Allison…and it’s only been 48 hours since she’s been back home, and summer isn’t even half over yet…

When Tag-a-long Time is a Treasure

Sometimes the best activities that parents can do with their kids are the things parents also enjoy doing on their own.  No, I’m not talking about the twisted Moms and Dads who force their kids to see movies they shouldn’t, just because the parents want to watch and won’t get a babysitter—or the parents who drag their kids to smoky bar/restaurants and make them sit at a table and color while they get drunk…I’m talking about letting your kids tag along while you do something you want to do, like a favorite sport or hobby, that can also benefit the child.  A beautiful Father’s Day essay in last Sunday’s Parade magazine prompted me to think about this, as writer Harlan Coben fondly recalled how his late father would often take him to a local “luncheonette” on Sundays for “a milkshake and a pack of baseball cards”.  Having had a father from the same generation, I’ll bet Harlan’s father would have gone to that luncheonette with or without him, i.e., that was something he enjoyed doing that he would share with his son once in awhile, which was a thrill and a treat for his son.  Just like when my dad would invite me to join him in fishing at a local lake, or when Andy’s dad would ask Andy to be his caddy at the local golf course, while the family dog trotted along beside them…

 

It made me think, “Have Andy and I been making any ‘tag-a-long memories’ for our kids?” Any of you who have read this blog much over the past year know it didn’t take me long to think of things he does in this regard—his love of bike riding, rollerblading and watching sports on TV are all pastimes he readily shares with anyone willing to join him, which is usually Emmie.  But I had to think hard for me…remember, I’m the one who’s caught up in work, household chores, and shuttling kids around so much that I still struggle to carve out free time for myself, let alone enough time to share it with a kid… 
Hmmm…my favorite things to do are more sedentary than Andy’s and harder to share, but…when both my daughters were younger, in an effort to catch up on my reading and be with them at the same time, I’d announce, “Time for a book party!” and we’d all grab stacks of reading material and flop down in a circle on my bed or head to a park and sit on a blanket, and read silently together…little Emmie would have her board books, Allison had paperbacks like “Superfudge” and “The BFG” and I’d have my old newspapers and past issues of Martha Stewart Living…I think that might count as tag-a-long time, wouldn’t it?

 

But the book parties eventually stopped happening, for several reasons—the girls got older, busier, and so did I, and also, I recall I thought it was too selfish a thing for me to do, that I should have been reading to them during those “parties”, or having them read out loud, and I felt like a bad parent for not giving them enough of my attention, and for having an “ulterior motive” of trying to enjoy my favorite hobby.  Ah, spoken like a true modern, guilt-ridden, overly-kid-focused Mom, huh? Who spent much more time at splash playgrounds, Chuck E. Cheeses, Paint ‘n Party and providing at-home “educational enrichment” for her kids than in doing fun “adult” things for herself…

 

The girls told me later that they loved the book parties and missed them.

 

John Lennon was right.  Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans…and good parenting is often what happens when you’re not trying too hard to be a “good parent”.

 

 

 

Parents’ Picks Nominations Extended Until July 6

Hooray– the deadline has been extended!  Now there’s 19 more days to nominate Uncool Mom for a spot on the official nominations list for Best Blog in Nickelodeon’s annual Parents’ Picks Awards. (They’re choosing the top five vote-getters, by the way.) I know it’s more of a hassle this year to nominate, because you’ve got to have a log-in ID and password, but so far after choosing that, I’ve only received one email from Parents Picks, saying “Welcome”.  So, I don’t think they’re going to bombard you with emails, and if they do, you can choose to unsubscribe.  I have heard from one reader who ran into technical problems when he tried to sign up– please let me know if that happens to you (my email is at the bottom of the blog side bar).
In the meantime, put the following link in your Favorites and vote every day!
http://www.parentsconnect.com/parents-picks/best-parenting-blogs

I promise to post something “non-voting” related soon– I have been battling a nasty cold, shuttling kids back and forth to summer activities, and helping my teen get ready for a week-long church youth trip to the Badlands of South Dakota– yes, to borrow a phrase from Flylady.net, it’s “Mt. Washmore” around our house these days!

Vote for Uncool Mom: Nickelodeon Parents’ Picks Awards Now National

Some of you may remember that last summer, thanks to my readers getting out there and voting, I was awarded the title of Best Blog in Dallas in Nickelodeon’s Parents’ Picks awards. The good news is that for the 2010 awards, I’m on the nominations list again and it’s a national competition this time instead of local.  The bad news is that I just found out it is a preliminary nominations list, and that people have to vote for who makes it onto the final nominations list– and, there are only three more days left to nominate! Help!! I think we could pull this off, if most of my readers aren’t on vacation yet…you can vote once a day, and here is the address to click:

http://www.parentsconnect.com/parents-picks/best-parenting-blogs

And, spread the word so that friends will vote, too!  Thanks in advance!

Where There’s A Will, There’s A Grill

While women have made great strides in the boardroom and in many other previously “male-only domains” over the past 50 years, there’s at least one where it seems they haven’t made much progress at all: the grill.  If we are to believe what we see and read, women do not grill.  Grills and grilling aprons are not part of Mother’s Day ads. I had to page through 29 listings at amazon.com before I found a grilling cookbook with a woman on the cover.   But especially in these days leading up to Father’s Day 2010, images of men and grills are everywhere (those Chick-F-A cows should be very, very scared…).  The Father’s Day display at Half Price Books has a guide called Patio Daddy-O at the Grill front & center; Bed, Bath and Beyond currently is hawking its grill cleaning tool called the Grill Daddy  (as seen on TV!) right near the check-out lines. 

Why isn’t it the Grill Momma? What is it about women not being associated with grilling?  I know some women probably like leaving the grilling to their husbands, especially if those husbands aren’t ones to cook or help out in the kitchen otherwise.  It’s a way men can “be domestic without being domestic”.  And I know some women (especially Southern ones) probably view grilling as a “manly thing”, with its caveman-like elements of fire and raw meat… too “icky” and un-feminine…  I must admit, with all my household responsibilities, I liked reserving that job for Andy.  It gave me a break from cooking once in awhile and besides, I usually burnt whatever I tried to grill.  Seriously, charred beyond recognition.  So I, too, bought into the stereotype lock, stock and lighter fluid, that women don’t grill.

Until I realized that in Texas in the summer, cooking outside, more often than just an occasional barbecue, made a lot more sense than heating up the kitchen every night.  And grilled food can be pretty healthy.  And, if my family was going to eat grilled food more often and expect to eat at a decent time, relying on my husband to fire up the grill when he got home from work on weeknights just wasn’t feasible.  So I learned to grill. 

In true Uncool Mom fashion, I went to the library and sat among the cookbook stacks in the hopes that Martha Stewart or Paul Prudhomme could teach me a thing or two.  And while I don’t think it was either of them who taught me, I did manage to find the secret to successful grilling, at least for me: indirect heat.  We have a gas grill, and this method (listed below) works like magic.  I’ve never burnt anything since using it, and am now the grillmeister in our family.  And I think a lot of women could be the same.

Grill afficionados say my method is cheating, but I don’t think so– food still gets that “grilled” look, tastes great and is juicy and perfect.  And wonderful smells still waft through the backyard.  It does take a little longer to grill this way, but it’s worth not having all the charring.  And, Andy still has a part.  When the propane tank runs out, he hauls it to a gas station/convenience store, gets it re-filled and attaches it back to the grill.  (That’s just too “icky” a job for me.) J

                                              Patio Daddy-O at the Grill
(check out those women on the cover, just lounging around…I hope they’re wondering how they, too, can be grillmeisters…)

Uncool Mom’s Indirect Grilling Method:
Using a gas grill with two heating knobs–  Light grill and turn both knobs to High.  Close lid.  Heat up until temperature gauge is reading Med. High to High.  When desired temperature is reached, turn one knob off.  Lift lid and place food on side with no gas flame underneath.  Cook with lid closed until desired doneness is reached, turning at least once.  You learn from experience how long this takes.  I cook 1-inch steaks about 12-15 minutes per side, a little less for hamburgers.  This method is also great for foil packets of shrimp and veggies, although they cook faster than red meat, of course…
An interesting note about grill cleaning with this method– After you’ve grilled, there is of course bits of “stuff” left on the grill. The next time you grill, make this side the non-food, flame side.  The flame will burn off all the bits and make it easy to clean, and then this will be the side on which you place food the next time you grill. Thus, you switch sides each time you grill, placing the food on the opposite side on which you cooked it the last time…

A Ph.D. in Playground: Should kids have “graduation” ceremonies?

In this month of graduations, I’ve been thinking about how, sadly, wearing a cap and gown doesn’t mean as much as it used to.  If I recall, it used to be reserved exclusively for high school and college graduations—something you looked forward to for many years, because those are graduations that deserve Pomp and Circumstance, cap and gown, and celebrations of the highest order.  It meant you’d come a long way over many years and studied hard (hopefully) to get where you are—to quote from A Chorus Line song, “and now life really begins.” But these days, preschoolers graduate in full regalia. Some kindergarteners and Jr. High kids wear the cap and gown, too.  (Heck, PetSmart even had my dog wear a mortar board when he passed their obedience training…)  It seems to be everywhere– I witnessed a Pre-K graduation a few years ago in the Dallas area and last week, a friend of mine who lives in a small Texas town (pop. 6,600) proudly recalled details from ceremonies at her daughter’s K-8 school. 

 

No doubt most of these pint-sized graduations got started by enterprising business owners coupled with moms and dads afflicted with Over Eager Parent Syndrome…wanting to jump into everything with their kids ASAP—probably also the cause of spa visits for 5-year-olds, third grade football teams with third grade cheerleaders, exotic senior trips to “honeymoon worthy” destinations, etc.—you know what I mean.  Whatever happened to the Bible verse (and Byrds song) about “To everything, there is a season”…?   If we rush everything, what do we have to look forward to?

 

Thank goodness our elementary school’s “6th Grade Farewell” hasn’t ventured into that territory. The 6th graders’ parents usually decide how it’s going to be done, and so far (whew!), no caps or gowns.  I helped serve cake and Coke (that’s the generic Texan word for “pop”, my Midwestern friends) and observed our latest Farewell a couple days ago, and it pretty much went like the couple of other ones at the school that I’ve seen: each kid walks to the microphone and shares a favorite memory, all their former teachers are honored (even ones that have retired or left the school come back), a DVD slideshow plays, with the requisite baby photos of each child and snapshots from their years at the school, and a rose is given to each mom whose last child is (finally!) leaving the school. Oh, and of course, the cake and Coke afterwards.  (Lately the cakes have been decorated with an “icing photo” of the group, so the kids can all say stuff like, “I’m eating your arm!” or “I just bit into your head!”) Yes, a fitting end to seven years of reading, writing, ‘rithmetic and recess…and not much homework.

 

Meanwhile somewhere across town and across the state, a five-year-old is handed a preschool “diploma” and beams at the camera in his cap and gown.  Later, he heads home for his graduation party, where many relatives and friends await with gifts, wrapped in colorful paper emblazoned with the words, “Good Luck Graduate!”  Yeah, he’s going to need it in kindergarten, no doubt.  Learning to count to 100 is tough business.
                                
“Get me out of this thing!” thinks Luke after PetSmart graduation (and no, he was not valedictorian.)