The Cheating Scandal

confirmationI may be going to hell.

Before I divulge the reason, I wish to make a statement on my own behalf. The following is an account of an isolated incident which has no bearing on my core standards as a parent.

Beagle missed the appointed Religious Education class during which he was meant to take an exam in preparation for receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation. So he had a make-up exam on his own time, in a private room, in which I joined him due to lack of waiting space.

Prior to the test date, I tried in vain to get Beagle to study. In a show of teenage defiance he staunchly refused. So of course he didn’t know the material. Beagle is a good student, unaccustomed to, and uncomfortable with, failing. Sweat beaded on his forehead and his leg started tapping nervously.

In my hand was the study guide that had been provided. It asked for lists: 10 commandments, 5 precepts, 7 sacraments….on and on. As I looked over the questions, I realized that I, a lifelong Catholic with a parochial school education, would struggle with this test. On the spot I made a radical decision to slip the answers to Beagle.

Pause for gasps and harsh judgment.

Did she just admit to helping her son cheat on a religious exam?!

Indeed I did.

Husband and I decided long ago that we would raise well-informed, well-rounded little people. This included a plan to study and practice religion within the parameters of our faith. We also agreed that it is foolhardy to expect them to embrace it any more than they embrace quadratic equations. Both are full of unknown variables and require a level of understanding that taxes the brain.

Beagle has been struggling in his faith. He likes to provoke me by claiming atheism.

“How can you quit on God when you’ve barely met Him?” I ask.

Despite his resistance, Beagle decided to go through with Confirmation. He took the name of St. Thomas because Thomas was a doubter, too.

The bishop started his homily with words of encouragement to all the parents, grandparents and godparents in attendance. He said, “You will not be judged by your child’s adherence – (or lack thereof) – to his faith…..You have done what you could. Now it’s up to him.”

I could be wrong, but I think the bishop looked directly at me and bestowed an absolution for my collusion in the cheating scandal.

When all was said and done, I quizzed Beagle. I needed one last attempt to affirm that he had learned something about religion in the past 16 years. “Just tell me, in your own words, what the Church wants you to know about being a good person.”

Beagle replied, “Don’t diss your parents. Don’t smack talk your neighbor. Don’t cheat on your wife or your god if you have one. Don’t kill, steal or do other things you know are wrong. And go to church every once in a while.”

I think he got the gist of it.

The Trouble With Teens

dishesSome days I want to be done parenting. I want to clock out – not just for the night, but forever. Deep down, beyond the drudgery, I know I don’t mean this. But when the well is dry like it is tonight, I can’t fathom where I will scrape up the energy to do it again tomorrow.

Husband saw that my mothering light was extinguished sometime between a power struggle over chores and a monotonous round of shuttling thankless teens to their activities. He took over with a threat, “No ride to the gym unless those dishes are washed!” Beagle didn’t budge.

“Did you hear me?” Husband said with a more aggressive tone, trying to penetrate the Beats headphones.

With a much-too-casual attitude Beagle replied, “You weren’t serious.”

This lit Husband’s fire and he exploded on a teen who very brazenly called his bluff. I wisely left the scene in anticipation of escalating emotion – I didn’t need to be in the vicinity to hear the fallout. And I thought it best to avoid bearing witness to a potential crime.

After a dramatic round of shouting and banging of pots and pans, Husband emerged victorious with his chest puffed up a bit, patting himself on the back for showing teen son who’s boss.

A male friend commented that he was glad he never had a son because he knows that he would butt heads with a boy in a much more destructive way than with his daughter. It would be physical and loud and ugly, he postulated – just like between me and my dad. And I would win, just like my dad did.

Really? Did Dad win? Did you love your father?

No.

Did you respect him?

No. I feared him.

Did you resent him?

Absolutely. And it made me rebel even more.

Case in point. There is no winner in war. Even if both sides agree on a victor of the battle, the silent war wages on. Grudge matches ensue; both sides unwilling to declare ultimate defeat.

The trouble with teens is that they excel in the art of power struggle. One would think that a parent would too. After all, parents are just teens of yore with more experience. But we are worn out and the game is old. Teens, on the other hand, seem to have a bottomless supply of energy for sparring. It emanates from a gland that no longer serves the parent.

I hated to ruin Husband’s victory dance in the kitchen, but he needed to know the truth. Teen son had washed the dishes as commanded to do, yes. But instead of using a sponge, he had washed them with the scrub brush that is used to clean the floor.  Zing.

I Want A Refund

Dear Warranty Department of the Universe,

I am contacting you to resolve the matter of a broken body.  My parents purchased this body for me as a gift many years ago.  I understand that there is a lifetime warranty against defects in workmanship.  Well, this body doesn’t work right.  It has reactive airways and skin, a broken heating element, and faulty pain control.  When I use my body, it hurts.  These problems appear to be escalating.

I’ve invested a lot of time and money on upkeep and repairs for what I thought was supposed to be a quality product. I use premium fuel and I regularly bring it in for maintenance.  But it still doesn’t work as it should.  Had I known the troubles this body would generate, I would have contacted you sooner about your return policy.

I’m hoping that as a reputable manufacturer you will stand by your product and offer to fix this body once and for all as I have not gotten the use out of it that I thought I would.

Thank you for your consideration of this matter.

Sincerely yours,

An unsatisfied human

……………………………………………………..

 

Dear unsatisfied human,

I am sorry to hear that you are unhappy with your body.  I can assure you that we, the Universe, do stand by our products.  We take pride in our wide variety of designs and exceptional quality of workmanship.

While you are correct that we offer a lifetime warranty, this applies only to defects in design. I see that the model that was purchased for you was our Basic Female version in white.  This model did not include the pain-free, blemish-free, odor-free, illness-free package.  That package was,unfortunately, a limited edition, cost-prohibitive extra, and has since been discontinued as it repeatedly failed to meet approval of our Quality Control Department.

I wish that I could offer you an exchange for a similar product, but it is our policy and practice to never duplicate a sale.  Our fine print states that The Universe, LLC cannot assume obligation or liability for consequential damages sustained in connection with either proper or improper use of our products.

Perhaps you’d be interested in our extended warranty program. It covers hair color, chin waxing, corrective lenses, protective undergarments and walking aids.  And we are currently running a promotion:  Buy a subscription for massages, chiropractic care, supplements, and doctor’s appointments for the remainder of the lifetime of your body and you will receive at least one day of pain relief.

Rest assured, Ms. Unsatisfied Human, that we, the Universe do value you as a customer and hope that you enjoy your body.  We appreciate your feedback and look forward to working with you in the coming years.

Sincerely,

The Universe

Driving Me Crazy

driverLong ago, husband and I determined that, whenever possible, the job of teaching our children would be delegated to professionals.  It’s not that we lack skills, but rather patience.  After several episodes of family meltdown on ski slopes, ice rinks, and swimming pools, we raised the white flag.  Better to preserve an amicable family dynamic than risk damage to our relationships over the breast stroke.  Our plan cost us thousands of dollars but saved us the possibility of nervous breakdowns or homicide.

Fast forward sixteen years to the opening chapter of Driver’s Ed.  I was shocked, but delighted, to pay close to $1000 for Principessa to learn all things car from the local school.  In a convenient memory lapse, I convinced myself that her twelve hours with the instructor would magically spare me many more hours of grief.  I know, naivete has no limits.

It turns out that the driving instructor was a handsome 20-something who apparently thought that my daughter’s driving was so perfect, he could catch up on texting whilst she experimented with her own rules of the road.  I could have complained, but truth be told, I knew it would take more than twelve hours behind the wheel no matter who sat beside her.

I was duly panicked to take the passenger seat but husband jumped in with his signature, ‘It’ll be fine’ attitude.  It wasn’t fine.

Six months after receiving her permit Principessa was still unclear about right-of-way and traffic lanes.  She blamed her confusion on the conflicting instruction she had received from husband and me.  Not to mention the way it was delivered – with a healthy dose of yelling.

Poor Principessa – first in line.   All along the way, she has suffered the brunt of our parental inexperience, helping us to carve out rules that would be solidly established by the time her siblings came of age.   They can thank her for the following rules of the road:  no driving with both parents in the car at once, no radio, no eating, no friends, no flip-flops…. Take note, parents.  I give you lessons learned the hard way.

The most helpful tip I can share was created by a desperate and teary-eyed Principessa, “Mom, maybe it would help if you pretended to be someone else.”  What?  You want me not to be your crazed, anxious, white-knuckled mother in the passenger seat?   Genius!  From thence forward, I became ‘Bernard’ (pronounced Bah-naaahd) and Principessa became ‘Barbie’ (prounounced Bahhh-bie).

From the moment we adopted our alter egos with thick Boston accents, the mood in the car transformed.  It’s wondrous that we didn’t crash, so steeped were we in humorous banter.  Barbie and Bernard had a grand time on the road – for the most part.  To say that I became a flawless driving instructor would suggest a level of aplomb beyond my abilities as a quick-tempered Italian.  But I was a vast improvement incognito.

As the License Exam day approached, I found myself afraid that Principessa would fail, thereby extending my tenure as driving instructor.  So we crammed in late night sessions of parallel parking and three-point turns.  She would pass this test, damn it.  My sanity depended on it.

Alas, she did.  I waved goodbye to her on her maiden solo voyage, and recalled a radio advertisement that claims “the first year of a teen’s driving is the most dangerous year of her life.”  What the what?!  I needed that terrifying tidbit like I needed an inflated auto insurance premium.

When Principessa offered to take her siblings on an outing to the beach, I nearly vomited from the thought of losing all three at once in a car crash.   It’s going to take me a while to get used to this and to appreciate the positive aspects of having one less child to shuttle around.  In the meantime, I’m losing sleep and gaining gray hair.  And, despite that, loving it all.

April Fool’s Frenzy

april 1Three days after April Fool’s Day, the Dunhams are still decompressing from the annual frenzy that is generated by five pranksters under one roof.  April 1st ranks at the top of our list of major celebrations.

In the early years of marriage I was dragged through the April Fool’s tradition by husband, a career jokemaster.  It was no fun trying to compete with his level of expertise.  (As a child he put dog poop in a sibling’s pillow!) But when the kids came along and husband apprenticed them, I had to get in the game. I began modestly with the old standbys: books in the pillow, traps on the toilet, early morning alarm clocks under beds…and finally reached the big leagues the year I sewed husband’s underwear together.

The competition has gotten so fierce of late, that the formation of alliances is a must.  Husband and I began plotting against the children a month in advance.  Our biggest hit was a scheme that required a late night setup.  Giggling like schoolchildren, we snuck upstairs in darkness to cover bedroom doorways with newspaper and fill the space between paper and door with ping pong balls and popcorn.  Suspecting foul play, Beagle emerged from his room with paintball mask donned, armed for an attack.

He responded with flour in the hairdryer that blew into my face when I turned it on.  Principessa had a more subtle style.  She created a fake ‘Failure To Pay’ parking ticket notice to the tune of $200 which husband was chastised for.  Little Peach, a novice at nine, stole and hid everything she could – toothbrushes, curtains, socks – and toilet papered her sister’s room.  Husband likened her to a civilian with a water gun trying to fight experienced terrorists.

The house was like a war zone, destroyed within an hour of sunrise.  By day’s end, more than 200 pranks befell five Dunhams.  No living creatures were harmed and all were applauded for a high level of ingenuity and sportsmanship.  Cleaning up the fallout is a bear, but so worth it.

Please share your best pranks so I can begin my list for next year!  The stakes are getting higher every year and I need new material.

Deb

Make-Believe Manners

When a new friend invited my clan to dinner, I was excited – for five minutes – until I realized how unfit my three meal-time barbarians were for communal dining.

“Listen up!”  I announced in my most authoritative voice at dinner that night.  “This is serious.  We have a dinner invite.  We need work on manners!”

Not sharing my sense of urgency, kids returned their focus to animated banter, interrupting each other with mouths full of food and greasy hands gesticulating their point.  The color drained from my face and panic set in.  What will the neighbors think of us?  Two minutes of this animalistic feeding frenzy and they’ll send us packing with a ‘Don’t call us, we’ll call you.’

“That’s it!” I shouted. (Ironically matching their primal behavior.)  “You need to shape up.  Starting right now, you are all enrolled in Manners Boot Camp.”  My voice assumed a  drill sergeant tone.  “I want to see a fork in every hand.  No fingers on food.  Sit up straight.  Close your mouth when you eat…”  The list of instructions was lengthy.

The more I pestered, the worse it got.  Littlest one was paralyzed with confusion and teens indulged in a game of mockery, competing for Most Uncivilized.  “We know this stuff, Mom.  We just don’t do it at home because it doesn’t matter.”  Unconvinced, I soldiered on.

One night, son queried, “Will you be telling the neighbors that we’ve been practicing for a month just to eat at their house?” Not likely. “And neither will you,” I threatened.  “I’d like them to believe you’ve been groomed well since birth.”

As we pulled into the neighbor’s driveway I couldn’t help but give a final review of manners material. A collective symphony roared back at me, “WE KNOW! JUST STOP!”

Nervous smile plastered to face, I ushered my students to the front door where they exchanged cordiality seamlessly. Phase One – check.  Hostess took drink orders and received ‘pleases’ and ‘thank yous’ on cue. Phase Two – check.

Onward rolled the seamless evening with children playing and adults conversing.  Nary a warning glance was needed from Mom.  Dinner passed without incident….until dessert. By that point we had all relaxed enough to let our guard down and didn’t see Tom Foolery sneak in the back door.

I turned my head just in time to catch Prankster son mocking aristocracy with pinkie in air, pursed lips, and feigned British accent raving about the ‘delightful’ meal.  After dabbing the corners of his mouth with a napkin, he waved it ceremoniously in the air, fanning it out into a single sheet in order to be tucked into his shirt collar as a bib.

Teen daughter snickered, egging him on, and elbowed nine-year old Peach to join in the fun.  Unamused and preoccupied, Peach’s eyes grew wide as she declared with urgency, “I’m going to throw up!”

May Day, May Day!  We’re going down!

I shot a harsh glance at teen daughter which she understood immediately to mean ‘You and your brother regain control NOW!’  Daddy created a conversational diversion while I whisked pale-face off to the nearest bathroom.

“Did we pass?” asked a child when we arrived home.

“By the skin of your teeth.” I replied, and collapsed from exhaustion.

Silly isn’t it? This game of pretend we play.  ‘Look at me, a good mother, with good kids who have manners.’  Hah!  If the ruse could speak it would say something more accurate like, ‘look at me, pretending to have it all together.  Only a fool tries to cover up her family’s flaws. Everyone knows that real connection can only happen when people act as themselves, shortcomings and all.’

Yes, I know this, but press the right button and I am back in the third grade, wanting to be liked, wanting to be invited to the parties, and fearing that I’ll mess up my chances.  Truth is, that very fear is what could sabotage the deal. When we’re afraid to be who we are, afraid that we won’t be accepted, we act different. You know, like in an awkward way. That makes us, you know, like, stumble over our words and stuff.

The day after dinner, hosting friend dropped off our serving bowl with an encouraging note. Had a great time. Would love to have you over again soon.

Excellent.  Just not too soon, I thought.  I need time to recover from the stress of the first dinner.  Maybe next time we’ll try being ourselves and see how that goes.  How bad could it be?

The Princess, The Witch, and The Door

photo credittruthluvr.blogspot.com

photo credit
truthluvr.blogspot.com

When my sister and I were young, we found ourselves in the unfortunate predicament of wanting the last donut in the box.  An escalating debate materialized over who would get the coveted treat.  Mom stepped in, knife in hand, and uttered one irrefutable command, “One cuts.  The other chooses first.”  But, I, we, she…..We tried to argue but her idea was bulletproof.  A stroke of genius.  Thereafter, the ‘splitting’ arguments ceased.

I recall feeling both irritated and amazed at Mom’s problem-solving prowess that day.  And I’ve sought to achieve that command of my own parenting ever since.  Lo and behold, I’ve done it!  I’ve uncovered a golden key.  It’s called The Law of Natural Consequences.  Or in simpler terms – Let the Punishment Fit the Crime.

For years I’ve been trying to instill in my children the practice of knocking on a door before entering a room.  Two out of three have mastered the skill.  But Principessa, the oldest, struggles with this basic concept despite (or because of) my repetitive instruction and begging.

After a recent infraction, when daughter barged in on me in my bedroom (alone, thank goodness) I snapped.  In response to a reprimand, Principessa defiantly replied, “It’s no big deal, Mom.”  Really?  We’ll see about ‘no big deal.’

The next day, when Principessa was out of the house, I enlisted her brother’s help.  He had just woken at the crack of noontime and wasn’t feeling especially generous until I filled him in on my plan – to remove his sister’s bedroom door.  Suddenly devoid of morning stupor, Beagle popped out of his seat and ran to get the tool box.

When Principessa returned home and entered her doorless room, she, how should I say it?….Freaked Out.  In retrospect, I believe her reaction was a full-blown panic attack.  No privacy, too loud, too bright! Her concerns were numerous.

Principessa demanded that I return her door immediately.  She had ‘gotten the point.’  Silly girl.  Why would I put the door back so soon when I had gone to so much trouble to remove it?  Sorry, Love, lesson is not over.

For two days the family endured Principessa’s ranting.  Gradually, she began knocking on bedroom doors.  Unconvinced of her sincerity, I held out for the rest of the week just to be sure.

I knew it was time to rescind the consequence when Principessa entered the kitchen for a glass of milk.  In a show of the utmost respect, Principessa walked up to the refrigerator and knocked on its door.  “It’s not answering, Mom.  What should I do?”

At last!  We had moved past anger to acceptance and finally to humor.  Lesson complete.

I did the parent victory dance that day.  You know, the one where you celebrate the fact that you’ve managed to teach a lesson without losing your cool or getting sucked into the endless cycle of parent-child power struggle.  You’ve managed to use your grown-up skills without resorting to arguing with irrational young ‘uns.

One week later, Principessa failed (for the millionth time) to turn off her bedroom lights before leaving for the day.  I calmly explained that her next lesson would involve turning off power to her room.  Still smarting from her previous consequence, Principessa snapped to attention with apologies and promises and pleas to spare her the agony.  She knows I mean business.  But I fear that some lessons are best learned the hard way.  And I suspect I’ll be in the basement searching for the right fuse to pull before the end of the week.

Poor Principessa, she’ll probably want to take her door off so she can let in more light from the hallway.

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