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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.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Full of Wonder

A rare event occurred yesterday. Actually, a never-before event occurred yesterday. Our Kramer core of Papa, Mama, Daughter, and Son walked out of a movie theater with eyes afloat. ALL of us, meaning, the tough dad who never cries was shedding tears.

You might've guessed we saw the movie Wonder – that must-see flick of the season to forget that holiday to-do list and remind yourself of the heart beating inside you. (Some people, I've heard, find this with the Hallmark Channel or actually by listening in church. All good too.)

Last week marked the beginning of the holiday sprint. Planning family get-togethers. Preparing feasts. Shopping in the fourth circle of hell, to quote my husband. I seem to be chewing through a healthy amount of heartburn medicine lately. I would tell you that my stress comes from a number of things. It was my turn to host Thanksgiving. Work is piling up with budgets and reviews to be done.  But here's the truth: it's really neither of those things. I could've served tuna casserole at our Thanksgiving and no one would've really cared as long as we had pumpkin pie. And December is always busy at the bank. In the past 20 years, I've always gotten through it just fine.

This is what I worry about most: my kids. Sure, I'm always concerned about their grades and their health. But here's the thing – I'm mostly worried if they feel loved and aren't lonely.

Thus, Niagara Falls as I watched the tale of ostracism in the most cruelest of venues: Middle School. While the performances of the kids were truly admirable, I was affected most by the authenticity of the parents (Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson). Every time they felt hurt, I felt that hurt. And when they felt the joy of their kids making new friends, I felt that joy. So I pretty much cried for the entire movie, except for the short intermission when I sprinted to the bathroom to avoid what appeared to be a heart-wrenching dog scene.

In no way am I saying either of our kids have experienced anything as cruel as being targeted because of a physical deformity. But they've certainly been left out. They've certainly been made fun of. Most of us have. And those memories don't just evaporate.

It's no revelation that people can be cruel. Wonder reminds us that we're all looking for love and acceptance. We might not be able to change the cards we're dealt. We can't control the actions of others. But we can respond. We can respond in a way that makes a difference. If we teach our kids to look beyond the surface and set aside judgement, we can spread goodness. This doesn't just apply to the kids who appear different than us – it applies to the bullies as well. Chances are, they are harboring some deep pain. It's an easy formula, really. Spreading goodness = happiness. All we need is the courage to do the right thing.

As we walked through the lobby of the movie theater, I turned to my family and said, "Talk about getting perspective." Cole put his hand on my shoulder and said, "Mom! That's a great way of thinking of it." Ah! The power of a story. Remember those Kramer tears I spoke of earlier? Well, to clarify, the tears were of joy, triumph, and wonder.

Monday, November 6, 2017

A Day in the Life

Here's how today went. Up and down. Up and down. Up and down.
  • Walked into work and reveled over sports: Hawkeye's crushing over Ohio State, the Cyclone's winning streak and bid for the state championship, the Husker loss...
  • Excited! Booked recommended cleaner to de-grime the house before Thanksgiving.
  • Most delighted  to read Cole's weekly grade report today: all A's!
  • Less than delighted when aforementioned Cole confessed he had lost his wallet this weekend.
  • Sad! Recommended cleaner realized she had overbooked herself. De-griming will be up to me and the boys. Me, I guess.
  • A million little things blew up at work today.
  • A few really good things happened at work today.
  • Connected with daughter who is ready to come home for holidays!

I took off at 4:30 to drive the boys to one of their final soccer practices of the season. It was was scheduled at Creighton's indoor practice facility. I would have no time to waste. So I dropped them off only to receive a call a few minutes later. Their team wasn't there. So, as I drove around in DT Omaha, I combed through my email to find an update about practice. There it was. The practice had been moved to Lewis Central. So I picked the boys up and sped my way back to Council Bluffs, meeting every red light possible. Just as I broke free of traffic stops, I see the sign on the Interstate. I-29 South closed. Bugger. So, I navigated my way around Council Bluffs using my Jedi senses until I amazingly found myself driving by the AMC.

"Cole!" I said. "You're going to run into the theater to see if you left your wallet there. We're already late."


The wallet was found! Sans a debit card. Argh. (Luckily, I work at a bank.)

Eventually we made it to practice, an hour late.

I called my hubby up in arms about the screwy day. I won't lie. I ranted a bit. That's when he told me his mother had a bit of a scare this afternoon. Her blood pressure blew up. My mother-in-law is 85 years-old and has already had two heart surgeries.

What was I complaining about?

As it turns out, she needs to have some medication adjusted and is better tonight. But still. It was a swift shift of perspective. What does a soccer practice or lost wallet matter? Really?

So, actually my day was mostly up. We're all here and very soon will get to curl into a warm, cozy bed.