Category Archives: Stop this family and let me off!

Absurd Normalcy

Ever notice how, amidst any crisis or issue, life of course goes on, and everyday occurrences can take on an absurd quality? For example, World War Three may be breaking out at home but people gotta eat, so let’s all stop fighting for a minute and gather ‘round for a bite… 

I love the scene toward the beginning of the movie, Little Miss Sunshine, when the seemingly dysfunctional family is trying to have a discussion, albeit an awkward one, with the newly arrived depressed uncle and the teenage son who has taken a “vow of silence”, and in the midst of it all, the mom is moving feverishly to get dinner on the table. She sets out a bucket of KFC, plates, side dishes…the meal added a touch of “absurd normalcy” to it all.  I’ve thought about that a lot these past few days, that when everything seems to be going haywire, good moms try to keep things as normal as possible… 

As expected, our teenage daughter did not like the new house rules we established for cell phones and TV watching last week, but what we didn’t expect was the degree to which she decided to blame it all on our foreign exchange student. Sparks flew between them all weekend, and things were not pretty.  All I wanted to do was go cry into my pillow, but instead I needed to help out at talent show practice, drive Girl Scout cookie forms to the cookie coordinator’s house, drive kids to practices, pick up kids from tutoring, plan this week’s meals, grocery shop, and offer guidance to Emmie and her friend as they put together their science fair board. I stole a cry when I could.  At the grocery store, I ran into my younger daughter’s math teacher rounding a corner near the applesauce and wondered if she could see that my eyes were red and swollen.  Glad I wear transition glasses a lot that are always either tinted or smudged.  I squinted as I read the nutrition facts on the box of Frosted Mini Wheats…

Late last evening, things got to the point that we called a mobile crisis intervention team to stop by the house, a free local service that provides trained counselors to help sort out difficult situations. As we sat and talked, I had to excuse myself a minute to head outside to the grill— well, I couldn’t let the jalapeno bacon cheddar burgers just burn…

And this morning, still reeling from the events of the last few days and functioning on only three hours of sleep, there I was pushing a grocery cart again, this time in a different store, staring at the meat case.  Yeah, life may feel like it’s falling apart, but, hey, fresh chicken tenders are on sale, and mom’s still gotta feed everyone and keep a sense of absurd normalcy around here, right? (or is it normal absurdity?) I was actually grateful for the overly friendly dose of cheer this time when the checker asked, “And how are you doing today?” It forced me to smile, which felt good.

“I’m hanging in there,” I replied.  “Hoping to grill again tonight before the winter storm hits.”


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…

Down But Not Out

I’ve been thinking a lot about Lyle Waggoner lately.  Lyle Waggoner was one of the ensemble players who used to be on the Carol Burnett TV show.  (I interviewed him by phone once for a newspaper story–  I was a teenager working part-time at my hometown paper. He was about to star in some made-for-TV movie… I actually have a tape recording of the interview and boy is it funny—it reminds me of the celebrity interviews that Chris Farley used to do on Saturday Night Live!!)  Anyway, Lyle went on to start a successful company, Star Waggons, that produces custom, luxury, portable dressing rooms and wardrobe trailers now used all over the entertainment industry.  And I’ve been thinking lately that Lyle needs to branch out and make one called The Mom Waggon or Dad Waggon or how about The Mad Waggon… a soundproof “hideaway” you can park in your backyard, tricked out with all the things you’d like to have to chill out, to get away from your family when no one appreciates you…maybe it could have a hot tub, a massaging chair, flat screen TV, refrigerator, whatever it takes…

Yes, I am in escape mode right now, fantasizing about getting away and leaving everyone to fend for themselves completely…because Mom is “annoying”, Mom is “stupid”, Mom is “lame”, and you can punish the kids’ meanness or laugh it off, or blog about it, but there’s been so much attitude lately from BOTH of my kids,  that right now it just downright hurts.  And when you work from home and put so much of your time into helping out your kids, by spending endless hours driving, grocery shopping, calendar juggling, cooking, Christmas shopping, Christmas cooking, etc., etc., etc., and get a lot of unappreciation, you feel, well,… — USED.  And when I really stop and ponder hard about it, I seriously think it’s been years since anyone in my house has spoken the words “I love you” to me (except I do choose to interpret my dog’s wagging tail as a form of that).  For my oldest, I know for certain it’s been at least 10…

When I wrote about unappreciation awhile back, someone responded with an “Oh, poor you, that’s just the way it goes when you’re a parent” kind of comment.  But he was wrong.  Especially when your kids are older and can do a lot more for themselves.  And especially if you want to teach them to take action when they are being mistreated by another.

And so, I dive into this “most happiest of seasons” with a few changes…I’ve been combing the job ads for full-time work outside the house, and refusing to fix sack lunches for anyone.   Need to get your gymnastics team jacket personalized at an embroidery shop? Ask Dad to take it there. Since I’m fed up with trying to plan and cook their favorite meals and then hearing complaints about it, I’ve started cooking whatever I want to eat and have purchased lots of boxes of Easy Mac and frozen chicken nuggets for the kids.  Don’t like stir-fry on brown rice? Feel free to go fix some nuggets.  Don’t like Greek Shrimp on Orzo Pasta? There’s a jar of peanut butter on the shelf– and don’t let the pantry door hit you on the way out…

As I’ve said before, I can’t force appreciation.  But I can try to help myself from feeling like a perpetual doormat.###

A Day in the Life

When I was once a part of the 9-5 business world, there was a time I followed the adage, “Don’t dress for the job you have, dress for the job you want.”  So lately I’ve been thinking maybe I should start dressing like a jazz dancer.  Or an art gallery/gift shop owner…or anything other than a work-at-home mom…    
Monday was my birthday, and although my 85-year-old mother was staying with us for her annual visit and I got to spend most of the evening at dinner and a movie with my husband, the day was filled with so many To-Do’s I didn’t have time to open and savor the birthday cards that had come in the mail.  I went to sleep at 1 a.m., looking forward to “Getting to Everything Else” when I woke up.

The next day dawned with a noon deadline for a freelance story– I’d blocked out the whole morning to sit at my desk and write, since I’d finished interviewing the day before.  But that was quickly replaced with the realization of a surprise dental visit on the horizon: Emmie thought she’d cracked a tooth on a bag of Wonka “Runts” the day before (there’s another Halloween candy I’m putting in the Reject Pile). She was in pain. When I inspected, it did look suspicious, but I couldn’t tell for sure.  So I was able to get her a last-minute morning dental appointment, and decided to squeeze in her teenage sister as well (our dentist is also our orthodontist).  Allison had been moritified that they’d put on a WHITE “power chain” last week (some type of rubber-band-type thing) when she’d requested CLEAR, and it had turned yellow from eating cheese, and she was about to pose for photos for a high school theatre production, and she’d been begging to go back to the orthodontist for a re-do– so I thought, why not combine two trips in one?  Little did I know it would take almost a half hour just getting her pulled out of class (high schools these days are pretty secure) so by the time Mom and I got Allison, and picked up Emmie from elementary school, we were late (as usual) to the appointments.  After x-rays, it turns out Emmie had cracked a filling off of a baby tooth (thanks a lot, Willy Wonka)– and the dentist/orthodontist recommended pulling the tooth rather than re-filling a tooth that was supposed to fall out within 6 months.  Rather than waiting to schedule the “extraction” at another time, Emmie the Fearless wanted it done immediately, so she was prepped for “oral surgery”.  And this office is like Dental Disneyland– it’s a very large practice, with more than one dentist, numerous brightly colored rooms filled with patients and two play areas for little ones, so I knew we’d have to wait a bit.  Meanwhile,  Allison gleamed with her new clear power chain and the staff recommended she get her teeth cleaned and inspected, since she was scheduled to come in next week for that, anyway, so why not save a trip? I said yes.  My mother waited patiently in the patient waiting room.

I kept busy by walking a triangular path between the “surgery side”, the “cleaning side” and the waiting room, alternately holding Emmie’s hand and whispering reassuring words, checking on Allison to see if the dentist had found any cavities, and making sure Mom was okay. By about the third time I’d made my way to Emmie, the tooth had already been pulled and she was enjoying the 100% oxygen she was getting through a plastic snout, which flushed out the strawberry-scented sedation “gas” she’d enjoyed earlier.  Allison was picking out a “prize” from the prize tray “for her sister”, since she was too old to like any of the plastic jewelry or racecars offered, and my mother had just about finished telling her life story to the clean-cut male receptionist.  I took a deep breath and sank into the chair in one of Dental Disney’s “payment rooms”, wondering what the financial damage would be and wondering what  I was going to tell my editor.  Not only that, but Emmie had to recover at home for an hour or so and have a special lunch of soft foods– and I had to eventually get them both back to school…so I wasn’t sure if I’d ever get to the story…

As expected, when we went to get Emmie her favorite chocolate shake from Which Wich after leaving the dentist/orthodontist’s office, Allison wanted lunch from there, too, since it was her lunch period at school then…and she wanted to eat it at home right alongside Emmie, since lunch didn’t end for another hour.  I frantically wrote about 1/4  of my freelance story while they ate lunch– luckily, I’d heard from my editor via email and had been given an extension.  Then I took both girls back to school and had about an hour left to finish the story before school pick-up. Triumphantly, just before 3 p.m., I was satisfied with what I had and was about to email it in, when I decided to  do a quick “fact check” on something in the story, using the Internet.  The page on which I landed included a weird video application that wouldn’t allow the page to load properly. And it froze up my computer so badly that nothing worked anymore. The entire computer had to be shut down and as I left to go pick up Emmie from school, I just kept thinking, “I hope I saved the rest of the story, or I hope the computer autosaved it….I hope I saved the rest of the story, or I hope the computer autosaved it…”  Well,  I hadn’t, and it didn’t. The “recovered” version only included what I’d saved earlier in the day– 1/4 of the story.  A search in computer “trash” bins and temporary files proved fruitless.  I took a deep breath.  I would have to re-create 3/4ths of the story. This time I telephoned my editor to speak to her in person.

Luckily I didn’t have to pick up Allison from school that day.  I finished the story at 5 p.m., sent it off, and immediately was supposed to begin typing up the minutes for a meeting at which I had taken notes as the substitute secretary last month. This month’s meeting was to start at 6:30 that night, and I couldn’t start typing until I found the notes I’d taken…and it took me a long time to find them…and I wasn’t even dressed properly for the meeting yet…and I was supposed to give a ride to someone to the meeting…and luckily there was frozen lasagna in the freezer for Andy and everyone else…

When I got home around 9:30 that night and went straight to walk Luke the dog, who no one had paid attention to for several hours, Mom was exasperated that my stack of birthday cards was still unopened.  I took a deep breath, asked her, “When did I ever have the time?”, and went upstairs to bed. ### 

The Roller Coaster of Parenting (Not For The Faint of Heart)

I know now what I’m going to tell people if asked why I don’t like roller coasters. It’s because riding on one would be redundant. I’m already on one that has bigger drops, tighter turns, and makes me scream and cry just as much, if not more, than anything at Six Flags or Disneyland. So who needs another?

Case in point:

Last Thursday night (the coaster goes down) Andy, Allison and I have tickets to the evening production of “A Chorus Line” at Dallas’ Fair Park Music Hall.  When it’s time to leave for the show, Allison’s not ready and makes us wait, as usual. Andy is highly upset that we might be late.  Finally ready, she cops a major attitude with both of us and is full of sass on and off all evening.

Friday afternoon (the coaster goes up): I drive to get Emmie from Scout camp on my own. The minivan does great, and I have a great afternoon listening to the radio and stopping at my favorite antique store (DeRidder’s) in Forney, Texas. Emmie is so happy to see me and is full of wonderful things to say about camp. We stop in a small town to get pizza and afterwards, she falls asleep in the car while we listen to a beautiful folk CD and watch the sun set.

Friday night, late (the coaster takes a surprise plunge down):  After I tuck Emmie (and Andy) into bed, I really want to go to bed, too, after being tired from driving all afternoon, but I am the “designated driver” tonight– that is, the parent who has to stay up to pick up Allison from a scrapbooking/pizza party. Upon returning home, she goes “ballistic” when she sees the wooden butler/waiter statue I bought at the antique store, which is standing in our front hall, resplendent in his carved red jacket and real glass spectacles.  She yells at me at the top of her lungs, on and on, about how she hates it so much, and how embarrassed she is by it, and freaked out by it, and what bad taste I have, and how she’s going to break its arms and put it out with the trash, after I go to bed.  I tell her that if she so much as touches it, I will not be signing her up for fall dance classes. Andy and Emmie sleep through it all. I cry myself to sleep.

Saturday  (the coaster goes up):
The wooden butler remains unscathed.  Allison agrees to go to Dallas’ Farmers Market with me. It is a beautiful day, and we have one of the best times we’ve had in ages, laughing, talking, sampling and buying a bunch of fruit, trying elote’ cups for the first time (fabulous!) and eating sausage on a stick.

Monday (a nasty hairpin turn):
Allison gets her braces tightened, and in the evening, the pain kicks in.  She yells at me on the way to Target for not taking her there at the exact time she wanted to go, and after being derided by her all the way there, I turn around and leave after barely setting foot in the store.  I just couldn’t take it any more.  Back in the car, she curses at me for the first time ever, calling me a bitch and telling me she’s been wanting to do that for a long time.  I tell her she needs to find another person to take her shopping from now on because it won’t be me.  She’s now grounded for over a month and her phone will be taken away as well.

Tuesday (the coaster goes down):
Since Emmie did laundry and made commendable progress towards packing for our upcoming family reunion trip, I agree to drive her to the neighborhood pool to meet a friend for an hour. A few minutes before I was to leave the house to pick her up from the pool, I receive a phone call from the friend’s mother, telling me that Emmie has hit her head on the diving board while doing a back flip, and has a gash that will probably require stitches.  I cancel all my errands and rush to the pool. You know how head wounds always look worse than they are? Luckily, she couldn’t see it and was very calm an collected, dutifully pressing a wad of quilted paper towels on the top of her head, her long hair streaked pink in some places from the blood. The lifeguards let me take a look– my own blood literally ran cold and and I almost started crying (hey, would somebody slow this ride down?) but had to hold back so she wouldn’t do the same. But then she saw the blood-soaked paper towel, and she did start crying.
I made a couple phone calls and luckily found a close-by emergency room that didn’t have a long wait.  She ended up getting two staples in the top of her head, without anesthesia. The thought made my stomach lurch, and seeing the staples? Now I know where the phrase, “getting the heebie-jeebies” comes from.  I get to help maintain the wound and apply Neosporin every night!  

In the movie, “Parenthood”, starring Steve Martin, Mary Steenburgen, and the great Tom Hulce, I remember Steenburgen’s character saying something at the end about those who choose not to be parents are like those who play it safe and opt for the Merry Go Round instead of the Roller Coaster, and she’s glad she chose the coaster.  I used to think that was a great line, but frankly, I could use some Merry Go Round time right now.  Or a drink.  No, make that two, straight up–  one for me and I’ll drink another one for Emmie, since she now can’t swim for five days. 

Aw, who am I kidding?  I’m not much of a drinking person, and besides– that butler keeps forgetting my order…