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Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Stronghold Approach to Parenting

In 2005, when our kids were young, a Disney movie came out called Sky High starring Kurt Russell and Kelly Preston. It's a great flick which documents the challenges of being the child of a superhero. The pressure these poor kids face! Many of them have not grown into their powers yet, such is the story of our young protagonist, Will Stronghold. Will feels the pressure most acutely since his
parents, Commander Steve (Russell) and Jet Stream Josie (Preston) are the most respected superheros in the community. Just as it seems Will is destined to become a sidekick, his power comes in. With his new, extraordinary strength, Will gets himself into trouble by having a party to celebrate. His parents are torn between being proud of his newfound power and being upset over the party. Here's a snippet of the scene:

The Commander: Son, I'm only going to ask you this –

Will: Dad, I swear, I didn't plan this.

The Commander: All right. That's good enough for me. Hmm?

Jet Stream: Steve, I've got half a mind not to let him go to homecoming!

Will: That's fine; I'm not going anyway.

The Commander: Whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa. Your mom said she had "half a mind"!

I think about that scene all the time, often finding myself caught between proud and pissed. Like  Commander Steve, I can easily be convinced to let things go. Some of you might've picked that up from previous posts. I just might be the world's worst disciplinarian. Case in point:

Yesterday I'm checking on Cole's eBay account to see if anyone has bid on his indoor soccer cleats (size 11, hardly worn, great condition, call me if you're interested). As I'm scrolling through his account, I notice some purchases. Unauthorized purchases my son absolutely does not need and should not have. So we have a talk. I tell him I'm disappointed. He apologizes and recognizes the error of his ways.

I feel as if we've had this conversation before. But I believe my son has remorse. I'm glad to be done with our talk.

The same night, Cole texts me after soccer tryouts. He and his buddies are going to a town that I'm guessing is imbued with the scent of females. He also mentions he's gonna stay over at Michael's house. This is not a request for permission. It's a statement.

Now, wait a darn minute. He just got in trouble today! Who does he think he is, telling me what's going on? I would set him straight.

I called him. Texting is for the weak! I told him there was no way he could stay over at his pal's house. He wasn't out of the woods from that eBay stunt! He didn't argue one bit. I end the conversation by reminding him to be home by midnight. Have fun and be careful. Love ya.

Half a mind.

As I laid in bed on a worknight, wishing to be asleep, waiting for the sound of Cole's car to pull in, I wanted to slap myself. Be home by midnight? What about come home right now? He was in trouble!

Half a mind.

They got their powers at a young age.
Once I asked my kids why must I ask them seventeen times before they will even consider emptying the dishwasher. I got a quick response. "Sorry, Mom. You're just not that threatening." Not a bad point. I suppose my commands are undermined by the giggles I can't seem to hold back. I realize how my lack of discipline could've created a couple of monsters. Luckily, they have a father who has no problem pulling out the sternness card.

Our kids are now 16 and 21. They seem to be pretty decent human beings. Maybe not superheros or sidekicks. But good people. Maybe it was my tolerant approach, like Commander Stronghold's. Or maybe it was their father's less-than-tolerant approach, like Jetstream Stronghold's. The answer seems to lie somewhere in the middle.

Half a mind. Not a bad technique.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

A Quick Story of Hope

When I was a senior in high school, there was a particular piano contest I wanted to win. Desperately. I had competed in the contest every year since junior high, but couldn't seem to clinch the title no matter how hard I practiced. 

So that day, as I sat with my mother in the auditorium, listening to my competition, I felt my anxiety rising like a flash flood. It was my last chance. And the competition was good. Darn good. Sara Markussen was the main threat. She had won several times. I was feeling less and less optimistic about my chances.

Just before I went to perform, my mother, in all her maternal hyper-awareness, turned to me and said, "Take a deep breath. And envision yourself on Broadway entertaining the audience. Don't think about the contest. Just perform. Enjoy yourself."

Of course! I knew my pieces well. I loved-loved-loved playing Mozart. I don't know if it was the words she spoke, her calm demeanor, or her unwavering belief of my ability. But it did the trick. My anxiety was immediately replaced by a mega-dose of confidence. 

I won. The judge recruited me to attend Drake where he taught music. I played those same contest pieces for the University of Iowa and received a piano scholarship. All of this fortune befell me because someone believed in me. And didn't fail to tell me me. Thanks, Mom.

I mentor for the Teammates program and a recent newsletter emphasized the importance of hope. The founder of this organization, Coach Tom Osborn once said,

"We find that when a child is made aware of his strengths and thinks about how those strengths can be utilized, the future often appears brighter and possibilities open up which at one time appeared to be beyond reach. Hope is a powerful thing."

It's natural to be a cheerleader for kids. But sometimes, I think, we get caught up on the missteps of our children – especially as parents. How many of you have had conversations with your kid about the B in geometry without mentioning the A in science? How many of you immediately forget the hard work your kid showed on the field when you walk into his or her filthy bedroom smelling of ass, BO, and Burger King? Yeah. Me too.

As we venture into the summer season filled with camps, internships, the ACT, and mowing, I'm challenging myself. Forget the planning and logistics for a second. Show more patience. And most of all, pour hope onto the kids! Any kid! It might take a total of two minutes each day. But, hopefully, the impact will last a lifetime.

Dream big and fly high Kramer kids.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Once Upon a Fortnite

"I like to think having money wouldn't change who I am, but I won five bucks on a scratch-off the other day and immediately purchased some name-brand aluminum foil."  – Readers Digest

If you laughed at this quote, I'm guessing you might've struggled for money some time during your life. I didn't grow up exactly poor. But on the wealth spectrum, I'd say our family landed on the left side of the middle-class. We were never hungry. Mom kept her sewing machine well-oiled to ensure I always had something to wear. Fashionable even. And we always had a motorcycle in the garage. Some might've consider that an extravagance. Not to my father. A cycle was (and is) a bare necessity.

Needless to say, I felt the tension anytime money got tight. Those were times I really hated our financial status. But being poor is a great motivator. My mother (who grow up really, really poor) made sure I got things she never did. And I was going to make darn sure my kids got things I never did.

But there's something to be said about growing up without money.

That some serious gaming.
Since I work at a bank, I try to keep a close eye on my children's spending habits – especially the high schooler who only earns about $50 a month. Sometimes I get a little lax in my monitoring. But when his auntie overheard him talking about the money he spent on "outfits" for that time-squandering game called Fortnite, I thought I should check it out.

$208 since January. On avatar outfits. The kid only has two pairs of real jeans.

Needless to say, I wasn't happy. I'm not the type to blow a gasket. And Cole knows this all-too-well, so somehow he manages to get away with shit with hardly any repercussions. Case in point: I was lecturing him, via text about this recent spend. But he just kept owning up to it. No argument. No defensiveness. I kept pressing. Finally, he texted this:

"It was me. I'm sorry. I'm done I swear. We can now move on and learn from this."

We can now move on and learn from this? Isn't that what I'm supposed to say?

Okay, then. That's what I said.

I've thought about this a lot. Cole knows his little stunt won't break us. And it was from the money he earned. God forbid, he save for college, or use it for one of his daily visits to Burger King. I'll make those suggestions. But he knows darn-well I'll give him money for food. That's just an innate maternal thing. We feed kids, no matter what. Even when we want to teach them a lesson.

Anyway, I can only hope I laid on the mom-guilt thick enough to prevent further stupid Fornite activity. But somehow, I doubt it. I'll bet you $208 it'll happen again. But I do take comfort in the fact that our daughter once had a penchant for spending money on foolish things like a $40 Harry Potter wands and $10 smoothies. And now? She's as frugal as they come. But it took the move away from home and the giant-financial-suck of college for her to figure it out. And fortunately, she doesn't play Fortnite.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Miss Independence

Texting with my daughter this morning:

Say what? You're on the road? How would've I known to start worrying more than I already do?

I knew she was going to Georgia sometime this spring. But she hadn't mentioned it in our last several conversations. Hubby had just spoken with her yesterday. He wasn't aware either. 

There she goes... there she goes again.

Does that say independence?
That's our Alex. Fiercely independent. She's the kid I could never convince to lay in bed with us when she was a toddler. She needed her space. (This turned out to be okay, since second kid was a fixture between Doug and I until he was about eight.) She's also the kid who decided to venture to the restroom – on her own – in the mall – when she was in kindergarten as I tried to figure out the baby stroller. Luckily she outsmarted any evil kidnapper. She made it all the way to the ladies room with her mother and grandmother having only mild heart attacks.

Mom always told me, "Raise your kids to be independent." She didn't tell me what an anxiety-ridden task that would be. I fear the day we receive a text that says, "Oh Mom! The mountains in Afghanistan are simply breathtaking! Did I tell you I'm moving here?"

In truth, I admire the my daughter's self-awareness and tenacity. Like the time she insisted on wearing canary-yellow tights to Catholic School. Or the time she convinced us to let her go to the Netherlands. By herself. Or the many times she's surprised us with a new tattoo that stood for something extremely profound and difficult for me to understand. 

Now she's on to be become a journalist determined to expose social injustices in the world.

How about that?
It's a strange combination of pride and heartache when your kids develop into these interesting creatures who take on a life of their own. I won't deny the satisfaction I feel when she calls to ask me a question about getting her wisdom teeth out or paying a credit card bill or cleaning mold off the kitchen floor.  She still needs us on a practical level. But when she showed us her most recent tattoo – Roman numerals of her father's, brother's and mother's birthdays, I realized something else. She still needs us emotionally. She'll always need our love. And she'll always get it.

Today after she told me about this service trip with sixteen other university students, I politely asked her to keep me posted. I also mentioned something to her about her stalwart independence. She told me it was my fault. But I sort of disagree. I tried my best to keep her under my wing. Luckily, she's much stronger than me.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Soccer Mom Machina

Full Disclosure: I classify myself as a soccer mom. But something happened this past weekend that made me step back and say, "Perhaps I need to regroup."

We had been looking forward to the tournament in Kansas City. Nothing quite revives the winter blearies than a weekend of watching soccer, outside, in a cold-region midwestern city, right? Right! Forget Cancun. Hello Overland Park.

There was a bit of anxiety hovering in our household when I came down with a nasty stomach flu the Wednesday before taking off. But we double-downed on the Lysol and anti-bacterial gel. By Friday everyone seemed good to go. Cole was especially excited – what's more fun for a 16-year-old boy to play ball all weekend and terrorize hotel occupants with a cadre of other 16-year-old boys? In a place that also hosted girl soccer teams?

The night we arrived the team met at Buffalo Wild Wings for some camaraderie. The boys set up banquet-style while the parents hunkered around the tall bar tables. With my stomach still touchy, I opted for Sprite over Bud-Lite. As I sipped my bubbly-sugar drink, I found myself listening to my parental peers. Really listening. Olympic-style training regimens. Incredible achievements in just every sport or activity ever invented by the age of six. And smart? Oh-my-goodness. Albert Einstein holds no candle.

Monsters. All of us.

Now, I'm a huge proponent of working hard to achieve your dreams. But when I heard one of the mothers criticizing a kid (not hers) who was wasting his talent by spending too much time with friends, I spoke up. "Well, good for him. You're only young once." Not the response she was looking for. I got a stink-eye and a switch in topic. State bowling, I think.

It's hard not to boast about your kids. We're all proud of our own creations. But I do think we've created an environment that places undue stress on our kids for the slight chance they become rock stars on ESPN. And the entire mentality has made us off-putting in a social setting. Doug and I have agreed to keep ourselves in check. It's become somewhat of a contest. Try not to bring up our kids at all. If someone cares about our amazing kids, they'll ask! (Sorry, didn't mean to brag about their amazingness! I couldn't help myself.)

Anyway, back to my story. As I was listening to a story about one kid's decision to give up his award-winning wrestling career, I was also glancing at Cole who was power eating burgers, wings... and cleaning the plates of his buddies. A voice in my head said, "That might not be good."

It wasn't.

At 1:00 AM we found our son emptying the contents of B-Dubs into the hotel-room toilet. It went on and on. All through the night. Obviously, my first concern was his health. I had spotted a hospital close by earlier in the evening in case we would need some urgent care. (Call it a maternal premonition.) Then I felt sad that Cole was going to miss the college showcase tournament! What if he was going to miss his chance to get noticed! Buggers.

There will be more tournaments!
Then I remembered my observations earlier in the evening. I love my son. I love to watch him play soccer. But so what if he misses a tournament? What's really important here? That my kid quits puking. Period. And he did, eventually. But he was trashed for the weekend. We left Kansas City without stepping foot on a soccer field. As we drove north, Cole splayed in the backseat, in a deep rest without paying any sort of attention to his phone, I felt unusually at peace.

Later that night, his coach called me to check on him. I wondered if he was going to say how disappointed he was that he didn't play. And he did say that. But he also said he respected our decision to not let him play. It was the right thing to do. The right thing to do.

I'm pretty darn sure I won't be shedding my soccer mom persona overnight. When we got a text today about open gym, I wondered if he should go to get some touches on the ball. Then I figuratively slapped myself. He needed to rest another day. Perhaps, just perhaps this soccer mom persona has grown some perspective.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Brain on Fire

I fear I suffer from some form of ADD. Highly functioning ADD. Nonetheless, ADD. On any given day… thoughts race through my brain.

Workout thirty minutes. No, forty. No thirty – should get to work early today. Thirty-five then. What should I take for lunch? Lunch! Need to plan class lesson over lunch. Do I have gas? Ha ha. Not that kind. Fuel. Petro. Make sure Cole hasn’t lost hat and gloves to avoid hyperthermia in case of car trouble. Does he have gas? Ha ha. Not that kind. Fuel. Petro. Tell Doug funny story about Joan at work. Inadvertently calling a bigwig her hubby’s pet name. Still makes me giggle. Oh goodness, I need to reschedule that chair delivery. And text Ann about soccer. We’re out of Vitamin D. Flu is bad. People dead. Pray. Send approved doctor list to Alex. Board meeting next week! Hair is gray. Yuck. Tell Mom about Cold Mountain. Movie slays book. Well. Jude Law. There's that. Wonder if Doug will make meatloaf tonight. When was the last time I pooped? Cole needs a job. Talk to Dad. January's half over! I still don’t have budget finalized! God, my shoes are outdated. Shopping trip in order. Haven’t seen Amy in a while. I’m never gonna finish this John Grisham novel. Do I even care about these characters? Apparently, I do. Speaking of books … need to finish a manuscript. Ten years in the making. Sigh. I wonder if Myrtle Beach is nice. I don’t have time to play piano for Mass. I can’t believe Dolores Riordan is dead. Remember when I wanted to be a rock star? It’s been three days! Three days since I pooped. Having trouble breathing. When’s the last time I did yoga? Rihanna is now the spokesperson for Puma. Wonder if she works out for thirty or forty minutes…

Bam! Something hurtles me back into reality – like Cole hurting his back. All of these random thoughts are replaced with something much more focused.
My elixir, entertaining me amidst nature & trains.

Is it broke again? How bad is his pain? How much ibuprofen should I give him? Will he play soccer again? Will he have to live with this for the rest of his life? Should we tell him to be tougher? Play through it? Or are we being crazy soccer parents too worried about his playing time? What if the cupping doesn’t help this time? I wonder if Amazon sells those cups…

It goes on. And on. My husband is a saint for living with my neurosis. He’s my elixir, really. If it weren’t for him, I probably wouldn’t realize that these thoughts will be replaced by some other urgent thoughts by tomorrow. If it weren’t for him, I’d forget that there’s always a beer in the fridge to mute that anxious, chatty Kathy living inside me. If it weren’t for him, I might never actually sit down and watch something great, like The Planet Earth – which reminds me that the world is much, much bigger than me and my shallow anxiety.

So, for all of you with brains on fire, I have a New Year’s proposal for you: Identify your own elixir. And do it quickly. No elixir you say? Then just watch The Planet Earth. And try your best to poop.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Happiest of Holiday Seasons

When I decided to teach a community college class this semester, my husband warned me. "You're gonna stress yourself out. I know you. You just keep piling things on." Obviously, I told myself I had to prove him wrong. I'd be able to handle it. And I was doing pretty well, until this past week. Grading final projects. Creating the final exam. Completing performance evaluations. Getting board reports ready. Christmas. I chewed up a few migraine pills.

I noticed my husband watching me like a hawk, ready to pounce on his prey. I absolutely couldn't let on about my heartburn, headaches, and overall anxiety. Whenever the word "busy" seeped into my conversation, I received a quick retort. "Told ya."

But I made it through and utterly enjoyed it. Even though it was stressful at times, I coped through exercise, yoga, and finding humor whenever I could. I love to laugh. I heard from Dr. Oz  that it's, like, the best medicine. Since I missed blogging many funny moments with you all this past fall,  I'll share two recent moments that made me smile.


  • Cleaning the house is typically a back burner priority for me. But my toilets were indeed past due. This Saturday I tackled our master bath stool. All the while I was thinking, "Disgusting. Gross. This should not be my job. It's not me violating this space." But I cleaned it, considering the task to be my tricep workout for the day. It was truly a scrubber. I won't mention names. It's not nice to implicate. But approximately thirty seconds after I finished the duty, the culprit plopped his butt on the toilet. I paused removing hair from the sink to swing around, ready to lambast. Thirty seconds. Ugh! The stool was clean for thirty damn seconds! But then. Instead of giving him an earful, I laughed. I couldn't help it. He sat there with a pleasant, happy smile, completely oblivious to the terror he was about to unload on the porcelain pot. My hubby is lucky he's so cute. Oops. Just implicated him.
  • Star Wars is kind of a big deal in our house. The good people in this world know know that "The Last Jedi" came out this last week. Cole went with his best friend and then stayed over at his house. (I'm sure they needed to analyze the movie together, and Cole didn't have a car last week which is a completely different story I won't go into since this story is supposed to be light-hearted.) I didn't hear a word about the movie – no text, no phone call. A quiet Cole is a an unusual Cole. So, I emailed him at school the next day to get the verdict. I was slightly concerned this chapter of Star Wars did't live up to his expectations. And just as I was feeling a little sad that perhaps our baby boy is maturing too rapidly, I get this response (verbatim, thus the poor grammar):
"... mother, I can't stress enough how phenomenal it was, it was the best action Star Wars movie ever and it had so many plot twists that I can't even, so many things happened that I can't stop thinking about it, we need to see it again right away haha, you're gonna be so surprised."

At this very moment, we are choosing our Sunday night movie. My cat is purring right next to my head. My dog is snoring right below my feet. I can see the Christmas lights flashing outside our window. Our eldest will be home tomorrow for winter break. And I'm 99% sure I will be receiving the last season of How I Met Your Mother for Christmas.

Busy, shmizie. I have much to smile about. Much to laugh about. And I truly hope you all do as well. To my friends and family, I'm wishing you a happy and humorous holiday season!
I don't think my family finds me as funny as I find myself.