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.

Accepted, Excited and Panicked

collegebound2I knew by the size of the envelope that it was an acceptance letter, but I still held my breath when Principessa tore into it.  This was her top-choice university and the outcome could make or break her sanity.  She was ecstatic for a solid five minutes until nervousness set in.

I’ve tried reassuring her without being untruthful.  Sort of like telling a toddler that a vaccine shot will hurt – but only for a minute.

To be honest, I’m questioning my success in preparing her for what’s ahead.  My confidence in this regard has been taking hits of late. Like when we were driving at night.  I flipped my rear-view mirror to block the headlight glare from behind.  “Wow!” Principessa exclaimed.  “Does every car have that feature?!”

This is the same honors student who thought that the car made its own windshield washer fluid.  No joke.

I find myself dispersing random facts of life at every opportunity to ensure that I’ve covered all possible topics before releasing my first-born to the world. A crash course in Life, if you will.

  • Expect to feel free.  You are about to grasp that Golden Ring of Freedom that every teen craves.  For the first time, you’ll have no parental supervision.  But let me remind you that even in the absence of authority, actions have consequences.  And the fact that you will make more of your own decisions means that you will assume more of the responsibility for the outcome.  Think before you act.  Or as your grandpa the carpenter would say, “Measure twice.  Cut once.”
  • Expect to feel lonely.  Even if you’ve forged strong bonds with new friends and are having the time of your life, you will, at some point, feel lonely.  You may be standing shoulder to shoulder in a crowd of 10,000 students on the college quad and it will strike you that you are utterly alone.  The good news is that loneliness is a slingshot.  It propels you back in the direction of meaningful connection.  Just as spontaneously as you fell into loneliness, you will reconnect and wonder what your heart was fussing about.
  • Expect to feel amazed.  You probably feel pretty worldly already.  But I assure you, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.  Get ready for jaw-dropping stories and experiences, the likes of which may test your faith in humanity.  You’re leaving a bubble of relative predictability and heading to a melting pot of cultures, customs and values.  This isn’t a bad thing.  If you observe from a reasonable distance like a wildlife researcher, your observations will resemble a really good movie.  Grab some popcorn.
  • Expect to be betrayed.  There’s no sugar-coating this one, darling.  A friend will tell your secret, or a roommate may steal your boyfriend.  But at the end of the day, there will always be more good in the world than bad.  I can’t give you scientific proof of this, but I believe it with all my heart.
  • Expect to be loved.  You know this one.  Love has no boundaries.  Your family will not forget you or wane in our affection while you’re gone.  Your place in our hearts is guaranteed.

What I’m trying to say, my dear, is that yes, college is a big deal for a small-town girl. But it’s just another season of life.  There will be harsh Winters AND glorious Springs.  As long as your heart beats, you will weather the seasons, because that’s what humans do.  They live through all manner of experiences from horrific tragedy to mind-blowing joy.  Some survive and others thrive.  Each decides.

Senior Year Stress – Not Just For Seniors

keep calm senior yearThere were multiple texts followed by a frantic phone call alerting me that the car keys were lost and Principessa needed to get to an appointment. I was expected to avert this crisis from work.

“Retrace your steps,” I advise.

“I DID!” Principessa screams.

I excuse myself from the drama and hang up the phone which allows me just enough thinking space to conjure the location of the keys from 20 miles away. Order and peace are restored.

This year promises to be rife with stress. Senior year of High School begets unprecedented tension.  College visits and applications consume us.  Marketing flyers from Universities threaten to take over our mailbox.  And senior ceremonies swallow our calendar, already.

One would think I’d be too busy to feel what’s happening. But sentimentalism strikes frequently and I am prone to waterworks of late.  Hence the trip to BJs for a bulk-pack of tissues.  There will be no shortage of mind-blowing moments this year.  I’m going to need the crying to empty me because I can’t possibly carry this level of emotion all year without releasing it.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the porch lights have been left on all night by Principessa, AGAIN. The electricity policeman, AKA husband, is on a tear.  This scenario has become a ‘thing’ between them.   On occasion, I jump out of bed early to shut off the lights, hoping to stave off the inevitable scene.  This morning I miss my chance and husband airs his grievance to me.

“Stop,” I plead. I don’t want to hear it.  This cycle has a definite end.  Next year, when Principessa is at college, the light will not be on in the morning.  In fact, it won’t be left on when we go to bed because she won’t be coming home!

I will pause as I pass the front window, noticing without quite knowing what it is, that something is not right. A subtle feeling of emptiness and longing will creep in as I gaze at the darkness outside.  I will crawl into bed with a nagging pang in my heart and pray that wherever Prinicpessa is, she’ll get in safely.

I may notice that the place where Prinicpessa’s shoes would be dropped will be clear. And there will be no piled-up laundry to aggravate me.  I will miss the very things that presently annoy me.  Their absence will be a constant reminder that my nest is short one bird.  Cue the waterworks and the silent scream.

When I allow myself to travel down the no-good path of resistance to life, I struggle for air. It is difficult transitions like this that make the decision to be a parent seem downright reckless.  How could I have agreed to subject myself to the inherent risk of such immense love?  And to the pain of letting go?

It’s easy to forget that life is happening exactly as it should. Principessa is a gift that never belonged to me – one that I helped to ready for the world. Her time has come.  I cannot begrudge the beauty of that.

4 Things I Want My Daughter To Know About The College Search

CollegeDear Principessa,

I can tell by the glossy look in your eyes that you are lost in worry.  The prospect of college is daunting.  You wonder if you are smart enough, prepared enough, or brave enough.  You perform the tricks that your educational system demands but question its effectiveness.  You compare yourself to standards and graphs and peers and end up feeling like a bruised tomato in a tossed salad.

Take a deep breath and know that all is well. Contrary to popular sentiment, the decisions you face are not as dire as you’ve been led to believe.  It’s okay to be confused.  It’s okay if you choose a college or a career and change your mind.  That’s what growing up is all about – figuring out who you are and how you want to contribute to life.  If you’re like most people, you’ll never stop questioning yourself.  Nor should you, unless you seek complacency (SAT vocabulary word alert – learn it.)

Try to remember these things:

  1. Stay In Your Own Lane – Don’t worry about what your peers are doing. Who cares if they’ve taken more honors classes or applied to more colleges? Focus on you and the life you’re driving, lest you crash. Distracted driving in life is as dangerous as in a car.
  2. Do Your Best – This advice is often misunderstood. Your best in any given moment is not the same as your best ever. Current circumstances determine your performance. If you’re tired or stressed, your best will be different from a day when you are on top of the world. That’s just the way it is. Roll with it.
  3. Open Your Mind – Believe nothing. Question everything. Explore, discover, and reveal life as you see it. Don’t take the world’s word for it about the way things are. See things through your unique eyes. Believe that they can be different and that they aren’t always as they seem. Am I making myself clear or do I have to reference Albert Einstein?
  4. Let Your Heart Sing – Your heart has a song that was composed just for you. I know because I’ve been listening to it since before you were born. No one else can play its music – it belongs only to you and it’s always in perfect pitch. The more you tune into your heart’s song, the better the world can hear it. Go ahead, let it sing, the world has been waiting.

You asked me if I would be disappointed in you if you made certain choices about college – choices that might not be in line with my own desires.  Are you kidding?  The only thing that would disappoint me would be if you made choices based on ‘shoulds.’  It would break my heart to watch you trudge through life, defeated and demoralized, because you didn’t care about yourself enough or know yourself enough to hear your calling.

I want three things for you, my daughter: Joy, Success (by your own standards), and Love.  I want you to love your life.  I’ve wished these things for you from babyhood and promised myself that I would help you find them.

You, Dear One, are a magnificent specimen of life.  You don’t see it yet, but you will, in glimpses or grandiosity, and I will be right here cheering for you.  I will always be your biggest fan.

Love,

Mom

5 Things I Want My Son To Know About Dating

mother's day tea. (2)Dear Beagle,

When you were in preschool we had a special date called “Mother’s Day Tea.  You and your classmates worked for a week to create invitations, place settings, and snacks.  On the day of the event, dressed up in your Sunday best and wearing a necktie for the first time, you sat patiently waiting at a pint-sized table for two.  I was outside the classroom waiting anxiously for my name to be called.  “Mrs. Dunham,” the teacher announced, which prompted you to stand up, push your chair in gracefully, and walk to the door to take my arm.  You led me to my place as if on official business, and asked me to join you for a bite.  I graciously accepted the tiny chair you pulled out as I fought back tears of joy.

My heart gushed with emotion that day.  Watching you learn the timeless lessons of hospitality thrust my mind toward the day you would be taller than me, dressing in man clothes and shaving in preparation for your date – which wouldn’t include me.

You had perfect manners that day, Beagle.  Any girl would have been proud to be sitting across from you.  My hope, now that you’re dating, is that you retain the sense of importance in this ritual.  You’ve got the basics, but there is so much more about relationships that I want you to know.  Here are the top five:

  1. Don’t be careless with another person’s heart and don’t let them be careless with yours.  You are playing with two hearts.  Protect them both with gratitude, for the risk of incurring hurt is high when you take each other for granted.  Be kind, be gentle, be aware.  Honor the validity of your partner’s feelings even when they differ from your own.  Love is a two-way street.  It’s not about taking and using, it’s about giving and receiving.  Listen to what your own heart is telling you and act on it with a mix of caution and abandon.  And most of all, be brave.  Because at some point your heart will be broken.  But it will heal and find the capacity to love again.  That’s what the heart does so well.  And if it’s you that departs first, let her down with dignity and you will preserve your own.
  2.  Love the one you’re with.  We all want to feel special to someone.  We want to know that the person we’re with has hand-picked us from the pack of possibilities.  At first we are fixated on the other, blinded by love.  But as time wears on, eyes may wander and observations may surface.  If you find yourself distracted by the ‘greener grass,’ it’s time to re-evaluate.  Take stock of your feelings and sort them out so you can make clear decisions.  Perhaps it’s time to move on, perhaps not.  But if you decide to stay, put your whole self into it.  Intimate relationships require and deserve focus.
  3. Don’t kiss and tell.  This is a no-brainer.  If you want your relationships to succeed, you must honor sacred ground.  No matter how much your ‘Boyz’ pressure you for information, keep it to yourself, even after the relationship has ended.  Back away from the desire to brag about your progress with a girl.  Respect the secrets you discover about each other and, dare I say, with each other.  You will never regret the practice of becoming trustworthy.
  4. Be yourself.  Partners in relationship have a way of highlighting each other’s warts, especially when the shine of newness has worn off.  When one chews too loudly or the other does that thing she always does, it’s easy to be critical.  We start to snip away at each other like tailors trimming and binding to make a perfect fit.  Sometimes we agree to give up parts of ourselves and we become altered versions of the whole person we were born to be.  True, we all have some ‘fat’ to trim; we could give up some bad habits that serve no one.  But each of us is perfect and valuable and worthy as is.   Better to find a person that fits the clothes than alter the clothes to fit a person.
  5. Take responsibility.  Relationships possess a level of risk, both physical and emotional.  Don’t let those risks run away with you.  Think before you speak.  Think even harder before you act.  Know what I’m sayin’?  Let me spell it out…If you don’t want to become a teen parent, protect yourself.  Don’t assume your partner is taking care of business.  Or better yet, abstain.  Enough said.                                                                                                                               The most important piece of wisdom to remember about relationships is this: YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR OWN HAPPINESS.  Don’t try to blame your witchy girlfriend, or her angry mother, or her crazy friends.  No one makes you unhappy.  Happiness is a matter of choice and perspective.  If you love, respect, and care for yourself, happiness will not outrun you.

Beagle, you know how much I adore you.  You’ve long outgrown my cuddles, but I hope you’ll never outgrow my love.  I want the best for you and for all the people who are lucky enough to meet you in this lifetime.  So listen to your wise mother.  And bend down and kiss her once in a while.  She will always be your first love.

“So there’s this boy who stole my heart.  He calls me Mom.”  -anonymous

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.

Next Newer Entries

%d bloggers like this: