Third Grade

Because I recently wrote about Brodie, my second-born is now desperate to be the topic of a blog post. He won’t let it go, or for that matter, GO TO BED. He insists on reading over my shoulder at this very moment to prove that I am, actually, writing about him.

“OK, mom. I’ll go upstairs now.”

Having read the opening sentences, Teddy is appeased and off he goes… moonwalking to the stairs, then catching a glimpse of himself in the hall mirror, giving quick finger guns to his striped pajammied image. If I stop him now to remind him to brush his teeth, he’ll turn around with a raised eyebrow and say in his best Jackée,

“Gurrl… I was just going.”

Teddy’s never seen Jackée, and we have no idea where this half Asian third grader picked up the mannerisms of a sassy black woman… but that’s Teddy.

Yesterday, I eavesdropped on a gaggle of kids watching mine on the tennis court. They were wondering whether my boys were twins or brothers. Just last summer, Ran’s sweet little girl turned her blond-ringlet head toward me and asked in all earnestness, “Mrs. Lee, how can you tell them apart?” It’s true, these two Bernie clones are Pete and Repeat, nearly Irish twins, and often mistaken for each other. But they couldn’t be more different.

While I’ve been worrying about Brodie and the endlessness of Fourth Grade Torture, Teddy is cruising through Third with nary a care. Teddy is a good sport about his athletic shortcomings, knowing he’s destined for greater things: the fame of a multi-platinum rapper/zoologist. He dances without provocation or embarrassment, suddenly channeling Michael Jackson, but really looking more like a frenetic Bill Cosby. Teddy knows all of the words to a catalog of (inappropriate) songs, and few things are funnier than his sultry rendition of Beyoncé, “…surfboardt… surfboardt… grainin’ grainin’ on that wood.” Bernie and I are forever trading those oh, dear head-shaking looks as this skinny kid in a Star Wars t-shirt croons, “Oh, I’m drankin’.”

Teddy has an unquenchable thirst for explanations, and our appetites were curbed at the dinner table last night as he insisted on details about the spaying of animals and particulars of menstruation. Poor Brodie suffers through these embarrassing discussions, but I think benefits from the fearless inquiries of a little brother who Needs to Know. Fully debriefed on monthly female physiology, Teddy turned to me, aghast,

“Ugh, Mom! This happens to you?”

“Well, no… chemo kind of zapped it all out of me.”

“Oh, phew! Hey, high five!”

And then turning to his 22-year-old cousin, with grave alarm:

“You need to get a boyfriend NOW. And get married and have babies so you can stop bleeding.”

We didn’t take a moment to address all of those ideas, still snort-giggling about the inspired High Five for the awesome convenience of chemical menopause.

When asked in polite conversation, “How are your boys?” I light up with uncontainable joy. These are hilarious, touching, soul-warming days with my still-innocents who smell good and love me most and never lie. Teddy is right to insist I capture them now, particularly him of course, in all his glorious nine-year-old-ness. Teddy who doesn’t stop talking from the moment I pull him from warm covers until droopy eyes won’t let him finish just one more page. Teddy who occasionally swings his butt side to side doing his “supermodel walk.” Teddy whose tearful queries about why parents “get un-married” reveals a fear that rattles his belief in a safe world. Teddy who thinks anything below 94% is “failing” and wants to discuss tampons at the dinner table and wore a lion costume every single day for two years. Teddy who wants me to show everyone this ridiculous picture.

Teddy Tut

Teddy Tut

And this one.

This lion costume. Every. Single. Day.

This lion costume. For two years. Every. Single. Day.

And this one.

Lacking neither cuteness, nor confidence...

Lacking neither cuteness, nor confidence…

 

Personalities captured perfectly by http://drewkids.com

Personalities captured perfectly by http://drewkids.com

Delicious moments sit right alongside the heartbreaking ones. Brodie’s soulful introspection contrasts daily with Teddy’s infectious silliness. I’m astutely aware that I’m swinging in the sweet spot of parenting. It’s hard to imagine I could like and love them more than I do right now at these fun ages. And recording their blossoming personalities and peccadilloes and perfections here may be more valuable than what gets banked in my undependable memory.

 

Giant Cock Blocking

Is a tween-age Google search for “big boobs” any more terrifying than a fourth-grader sneaking peeks at Dad’s toilet-perched Playboys? This is the question I’m asking myself after an entire day spent disabling programs, changing passwords, enforcing restrictions, and downloading parental control apps on our too many devices. Attempting to block all inappropriate material from oozing through the interspaces is more exhausting than explaining the pornography they’re going to find, anyway. You win, naughty, naughty Internet… you win. I only hope that when my boys do, inevitably, browse across the filthy stuff… I will already have forced them into embarrassing discussions about the filthy stuff.

Until yesterday morning, we were parents who trusted our children on the Internet. Our kids ask to download things that are free, make compelling arguments for things that are not, are “caught” watching only super nerdy Minecraft videos on YouTube, and groan with wearied patience when I re-iterate don’t-chat-with-strangers edicts. We’ve had more than one discussion about why you should never SnapChat your butt, no matter how hilarious Teddy thinks this would be. But upon awakening, as we learned we were the unwitting owners of untold Clash of Clan riches, we knew it was going to be a long day re-inventing passcodes with one capital letter, a phonic symbol, three numbers, and whatever Prince used to be called. The boys’ answers to direct questioning– “Did you buy this virtual crap?”– were met with guilty, evasive answers and implications of “gliches” and “hacks” that sounded just like the lies I told my parents to justify a missed curfew.

Buying fake gems from a virtual world to buy an army of ogres and a pen of swine wasn’t the most egregious of Internet missteps. But after we ascertained it was inadvertent in-app clicking by our own children, and not our Amex card lifted by dorky thieves, we realized how poorly protected our web-connected lives have become. I took my 10 year old’s phone—programmed, I thought, to permit only PG content—and failed the Jenna Jamison Test, easily browsing right to eager mouth engulfing giant cock. Panic ensued. Will a quick check for bracket standings or Red Sox scores send him directly to Club Jenna due to my history-erasing incompetence? Will future Google searches aim him toward overblown implants traipsing through improbable scenarios involving repairmen? While I have no strong, political or religious opposition to pornography, I think small minds aren’t quite equipped to deal with circus sex of the Jamison variety. These boys still recoil in horror when animated Disney characters kiss. And we probably have a compelling parental duty spare our innocents eager mouths devouring giant cocks… especially since Teddy prefers to ask his unprompted questions loudly, and in public spaces.

Darling Bernie called midday to find me tethered to our devices attempting to disable all of our browsers and install protections that would probably prevent me from ordering a two-piece bathing suit. He suggested these endeavors might be futile, and quite possibly, a huge waste of time. What are we trying to prevent, exactly? Maybe we’re only trying to protect ourselves from talking to our kids about pornography and its utter distinction from sexuality. True. But I still need to prevent other people’s kids from voyaging through Giant Cock Territory in my home, on my watch. I think the only way to do this is to be home.

My friend April initiated a house rule, requiring surrendering of all electronics to the kitchen counter upon play date arrival. Automatic shutoffs at bedtime and restricted use in bedrooms can also curb sneaky peeks into Naughty Land. Because it is impossible to censor the Internet without driving ourselves bonkers, our best tact is to arrange our devices so that children can only Google search in our most public spaces. And then, when they inevitably wander into Jenna’s world of magnified parts and rhythmic gymnastics, we’ll need the talent and courage to explain that.

Recently, the school’s 5th graders viewed the sex education video. Because my younger boys had heard the whispered giggles on the bus and lame jokes in the cafeteria, our dinnertime discussion was all about sex for a couple of evenings. Exasperated and slightly embarrassed by my enthusiasm for the topic, Teddy complained,

“Why don’t you let us learn anything at school first?”

Well, because no one is learning everything from a 90-minute video, because your classmates are going to get it wrong, because this topic should be largely taught at home, because your parents are physicians, because I want you to be as smart about sex as you are about math, and because it’s my job. And if I can instill a few beautiful truths before they are exposed to the titillating confusion of pornography, then I win naughty, naughty Internet… I win.

PARENTAL CONTROL

Willing to Suck

I loathe these god-awful “sports visits” at the fancy school. By third grade, all boys are separated into two teams and compete in scored events that count toward some school wide, brag-worthy end. This is all in good fun, promotes sportsmanship and team camaraderie, and teaches the kiddos to swim and skate and run and catch and kick. But the avid athleticism worshipped by the school (and greater society, I suppose) necessitates these wretched “visits” so parents can witness their children compete at three different sports per quarter. For me, this amounts to roughly 32 opportunities to watch my boys trip, fall, miss, finish last, and lose. On Monday, I oscillated between the basketball court and the pool to observe my kids’ athletic suck-ery. After eleven turnovers aided by my elder son, I excused myself to watch the younger trail every other kid by a half-length of pool.

“Did you see me come in last?” asked blue-lipped, holding-back-tears Teddy.

Ugh. I wanted to line them all up for times table, state capital, and animal factoid quizzing. I know it’s important for small children to understand, and even celebrate, their differing strengths. But the “sport visit” is such a public display of comparative failings that, in spite of the never-ending winter in these parts, I’m sort of praying for a weather cancellation. After the visit, I aired my grievances about these events on social media, likening them to emotional dodge ball for parents like me. I think my boys are actually fine with occasional demonstrations that they’re not as coordinated as their friends, but I’d rather be spared my trembling, tearful Teddy losing every event.

I know a lovely skating coach. She has all of patience and faith of Job in her dealings with small children of the picked-last ilk. Her maxim for anxious parents of the athletically challenged is Peer Relevance. Our kids may never be Tom Brady… but we can support them to develop enough skills to keep up with the benchwarmers. To protect their self-esteem, children need only be a middling sort of good. Of course, the parenthetical message here is though it’s ok to suck, just don’t suck the hardest.

But someone has to come in last. Not everyone is going to make the team. And although this is brutal for me as a parent who just wants to wrap Teddy in a warm towel and remind him of how funny and great he is, this is an important life lesson. Wise and lovely Katryna pointed out the joy of the struggle: watching kids persevere despite innate deficiencies is kind of awesome. It’s also Life, and probably all of us could benefit from a class or two on How to Suck Gracefully.

Last night, my pajammied boys–all three of them–were engaged in the Nerf Olympics of basketball trick shots. I found them in fits of giggles trying to sink testicle-grazing, between-the-legs shots (‘tweiners?). As the hour got later, and mean mommy insisted on teeth brushing and calmer bedtime activities, Brodie casually mentioned he’d be trying out for travel basketball again next year.

Ugh. Bernie and I traded nervous did-you-hear-that? glances. But then I remembered what Katryna wrote:

When you have a kid for whom lots of stuff comes easily– like all schoolwork, as I guess it is for your kids– I always think it rocks if they are willing to do things that don’t come easily.

Brodie is willing. He’s willing in spite of previous attempts and failures. He’s willing to try again, to flirt with failure, to try to improve. Ultimately, Brodie is Willing to Suck. Even if that doesn’t lead to team placement, it certainly builds character. And if this dogged determination to exceed “peer relevance” stems from unflappable self-confidence then…well… that rocks, indeed.

BBALL

The Big Sister Solution

A decade ago, when I was largely alone all day with tiny, parasitic Bernie clones, I might have written something like Mrs. Rowe’s fed-up-to-here, open letter to her husband. In the moment, those feelings seem funny/true, but when read with a decade of hindsight (and larger children who don’t need pooping assistance), rants like this make me… sad. I want the whole family to race past these brutal years that inspire a meant-to-be-funny, but still quite public flogging of The Husband. I might have greatly benefitted from some part time help (and meds) as a Stay At Home Mom in those early years. Swapping a beeper and a real, outside-the-house job for never-ending days with crying children and Dawson’s Creek reruns led to a social, emotional, and intellectual whiplash for which I was unprepared. Because texting, blogging, Facebook, Twitter, and all myriad outlets that keep us intimately tied to each other’s weird little worlds weren’t in existence, I did what you do when you’re at your wit’s end with small children and never-home husband. I called my big sister.

“One of them is always crying, and Bernie isn’t home, and then when he is, he’s ‘tired’ or wants to do things off of the napping schedule. He wants to sleep when they’re awake and have sex when they’re asleep, and these wailing succubae that look exactly like him are attached to me all day and all I want to do at 8pm is drink wine without anyone touching me.”

“Jesus, Britt. You need some mommy friends.”

Boy, did I. None of my besties in the area had started breeding, and absolutely no one I knew in the medical field ever quit their life-saving jobs to stay home with non-verbal bundles of sleep-averse, ever-hungry pant-shitters in embroidered onesies. I was lonely, exhausted, and prone to unattractive moods swinging narrowly between irritated and glum. In that moment, my Big Sister–staunch defender of all of my wants, needs, and beliefs, champion of All Things Britt— the Catholic, opinionated, occasionally scary Zealot Sister… sided with Bernie. Gently, and really quite beautifully, Paige refused to sing my Battle Cry Against The Ineffectual Husband. Instead, she shared some excellent advice, recommended a book, and insisted I get some mommy friends.

I was fabulously bad at the mommy friend thing. I scouted out the local playground and attempted to make nice with the ladies who corralled their strollers by the benches. I never got past a few awkward exchanges before I realized they were all wearing long skirts and head scarves and maybe the Orthodox Jewish Mommy Group wasn’t keen to take on a blonde shiska with the whiff of friendless desperation. I tried another park.

Lonely Mom with a small girl who insisted on wrong-footed shoes seemed like a good option. Surely, this was a pick-your-battles kind of mommy who also cozied to the idea of mid-afternoon wine? As it turned out, Lonely Mom picked absolutely no battles and was still breast-feeding her Dorito-munching toddler tyrant while defending the values of the Family Bed. She made me sadder than her husband I already was.

What I did have, however, was A-Ma. Bernie’s mom raced up to Boston on the Fung Wah any time I called. Honestly, any time. One particularly brutal day, I told her I couldn’t shower without hearing both boys wailing on the baby monitor, that my dreams were exclusively about the sounds of wailing on the baby monitor, that I hadn’t eaten anything but Blow Pops and Hot Pockets for a week, and that I didn’t know if the stains on my clothes were pre- or post-intestinal foods. She arrived that afternoon. A-Ma remembered the unholy, not-cute-at-all daily grind; and with only one foot in the door she’d say, “Go! Go to take nap!” I promised then and there to be that kind of grandma some day. She saved my life (and improved my marriage) more than once.

Perhaps what the author of Five Things You Should Never Say to the Mother of Your Children really needs is a nap and A-Ma. In fact, the first comment after her light-hearted rant against her husband was from the author’s mother:

Recommend you withdraw this blog. Can talk details later—- Love, Mom

I quite agreed with her, recalling the advice Paige recommended to me 10 years ago, when I was exasperated with the man I love the most. First, she reminded me that Bernie was no mind reader and that stewing silently and acting the martyr would lead more quickly to marital strife than to any sort of enjoyable co-parenting. She annoyingly insisted I plant myself in his loafers, and made me read The Bastard on the Couch—a fantastic collection of essays written by dads (and written in playful retaliation against The Bitch in the House, which largely described what I was becoming). Where Momma Rowe gets angry that her husband is allowed to poo behind closed doors apart from the toddler audience with demands, I’m now more apt to think, hey, why share the pain? Go ahead and lock the door. Lucky you! This stay-at-home blogger also, with great humor and exaggeration, suggests sex is off the table until the children are big enough to sit at it.

This is where Paige’s big sisterly advice might have sounded supportive:

“Fuck your husband.”

However, she didn’t offer this as a scatological slam on bathroom door-locking spouses; no, she meant it quite literally. (She also never, ever said this. Well, she said this, but not like this… because she’s classier than I am.) She waxed Catholic: the vows and sacraments and quaint ideas about contracts and promises and vaguely about the baser biological needs of boys in general… and she said all of this without making me throw feminist arguments at her, or throw up in general. In the end, she was really just suggesting that I act with greater kindness and love, and that I find some mommy friends who would understand why sometimes that seemed impossible.

GrandMomma Rowe is adorably protective of her son-in-law… much like Paige was for Bernie back in my days of Days (of Our Lives). Long hours with demanding children and soap operas will make anyone a little nutty. But without an Internet forum for irritated moms to publicly berate their constipated, celibate husbands, we had Big Sisters and A-Mas. The Big Sisters and A-Mas understand you, listen to you, and then tell you to take a nap and to shower and to quit it. They’ll keep reminding you that there is an end to it all, will never (ever!) tell you to “cherish” days of sleepless, messy torture, and they’ll make you feel warm, and loved, and heard.

Then again, having 100 strangers offer thumbs up, preach-it-sister encouragement probably works, too… as long as The Husband is in on the meant-to-be-funny part.

This was ridiculously useful to me back in those days that seemed like 54 hours apiece.

This was ridiculously useful to me… and reminded me why I love boys in general, and my own in particular.

Fancy Lady Tips

Jessica Kim (of BabbaCo fame) recently asked her customers and fans to share memorable motherly advice. The thread includes hearth-warming tales of delicious meals, but my memories go to what I consider Fancy Lady Tips. I adore this topic. When that 1955 Housekeeping Monthly list for young wives is read tongue-in-cheek at bridal showers, I’m amused… not outraged. Even though they sound silly now, those guidelines were the purported path to a peaceful, quiet home. Don’t we all want a peaceful, quiet home? Certainly there are ways to achieve that without frantically fluffing pillows before the breadwinner arrives all grumpy and expecting a cool drink from his freshly lipsticked wife. But the other stuff about wearing dresses and preparing yummy food and de-cluttering the house? I love it all. Sometimes I think I’m a 1955 housewife, minus the smokes and garters.

My mother, perhaps in an effort to stifle inherent Gertrude-ness, didn’t adopt the myriad, judgmental rules dictated by her own mother. Mom never insisted we protect our ears as fiercely as our virginity. (Grandma Vinette abhorred lobe-baring hairstyles.) But my pretty mother still encouraged us to approach the world with a ladylike respect. We sported our Sunday best on airplanes. Young girls wore bright, cheery colors… never black. My sister and I were expected to don a dress at least one day during the school week, and all of us shook hands with grownups and uttered (with some reluctance), “how do you do?” Mom also reminded Paige and me that youth embodies its own beauty that requires no adornment or alteration. And though young girls require no makeup at all, a grown woman should never be seen without it.

Abby’s mom was another role model who stamped her worldview on the passport of my youth. Abby looked like Tatum O’Neal, wore an enviable add-a-bead-necklace, and carried her books in an L.L.Bean tote bag. Abby was an 80’s goddess of the preppy ilk, and her mother was my shaman for all things tasteful. One Friday night in 1984, as Abby and I settled in with our Cokes and Betamax, we watched her mom prepare for an evening at the country club. “When you go dancing, you should always wear a gown that floats,” she said, and also included, “…never leave the house without a quarter for the pay phone and a safety pin.” Watching this elegant woman gather her wrap and bag for an evening of romantic adult fun, I couldn’t wait to be like her. Abby’s dad was super handsome and kind and quietly masculine and wonderful. Who wouldn’t want to spend an evening twirling with him in a floaty gown? If following her advice would lead to this pretty future, I was taking notes. (And later I totally found my own super handsome, wonderful guy to share evenings with in formalwear.)

Abby and her dashing Daddy

Abby and her dashing Daddy

Since I don’t have daughters to torture with old-fashioned counsel, I’ll bore yours, or heap unsolicited Fancy Lady Tips onto the young folk who find themselves living in my house. (Our four-year rotation of young tenants is the topic of another set of paragraphs; but where others collect Fiestaware, The Lees collect People.) I’ve encouraged more dress-donning, bed-making, de-cluttering, oven-using, and flower-potting for quite a few young women. But the goal of these girlie pursuits isn’t to please some Man (although that might be a side-effect), but to experience the joy of creating a little beauty in the world. Maybe I’m traditional, naïve, and engage in magical thinking, but some part of me believes that nothing too, too terrible can happen in a clean house that smells like muffins. And even if it does (and it did)… it’s a little less terrible if it happens in a clean house that smells like muffins.

My mom and Abby’s inspired this list of Fancy Lady Tips. I hope you’ll add to it.

God created you with hair and skin that match naturally: stray from either too far, and the result will be unappealing.

Dress nicely when traveling, as others will be more apt to come your aid should you require it.

Accept compliments gracefully, and offer them sincerely.

Everyone is fascinating if you listen.

Plant flowers. Buy flowers. Send flowers.

Wrap presents beautifully (and reuse the double faced satin ribbon)!

Make guests feel cozy and special and welcome and expected.

Don’t mix liquors. Bubbles or booze, but pick one for the evening.

Little boys should have little boy haircuts, lest they look like teeny criminals.

Unmade beds are an insult to the home.

Everyone appreciates a handwritten thank you, even if one isn’t expected.

There are oodles more, but the final suggestion is inspired by Ran, who may be the last man on the planet who stands up whenever a lady excuses herself from the dining table. It’s antiquated, quaint, and possibly ridiculous… but has never failed to make me feel noticed and special.

Let’s all be old fashioned and wonderful to each other.

Abby's mom, an original Fancy Lady

Abby’s mom, an original Fancy Lady

*DP Challenge

Your baby is totally flirting with me

Rants are all the rage in the blogging world. From “open letters” to pet peevish posts punctuated with angry bullet points, these writers are fuming, and it’s something you are doing wrong. Of course, a proper rant is as satisfying as a Snickers® if you’re nodding right along with the writer. To wit, in honor of Pink-tober, Lisa Boncheck Adams reissued her angry plea to end kitschy Facebook postings that annoy us in the name of “awareness.” (The 99% who won’t repost are my kind of people.) Because my feathers don’t ruffle easily, I want this style to be wicked funny (better yet, satirical), or I read only whiny, self-indulgent, holier-than-thou foolishness.

If you are a ravenous reader of rants, you’ve noticed that the Internet has hijacked the word “feminism” in order to write angry essays about all sorts of things. When a 24-year-old Australian blogger took a crack at Feminism, and his young, thoughtful female readers chimed in with “I’m not a feminist, but…” comments, I couldn’t keep my meddling fingers from the keyboard. Doesn’t everyone know that the definition of feminism is a belief in the equality of the sexes? That’s it. Full stop. If you think women and men deserve equal rights and pay and access and accountability, then you are a feminist. (Yup, that’s you. Go get your bumper stickers.) All sensible and caring humans are feminists.

But after reading a ridiculous rant today, I see a glimmer of why sensible and caring people might shy away from the term instead of embracing it with pride. Occasionally, “feminist culture” has one too many Chardonnays and permits a dogged McCarthyism to unearth slights and inequalities in innocuous settings. Tagged with feminism! and gender this was published today on the always entertaining Belle Jar. A proud, but irritated mother of three absurdly attractive children doesn’t want you to compliment them. Seriously. She wants none of your inappropriate cooing about her diapered “heartbreaker.” She doesn’t want you to “warn” her that her son won’t be able to fight off the ladies. And when her Disney cute child aims a gassy grin your way, she doesn’t want to hear “he’s flirting!” Because apparently babies aren’t sexual creatures designed to seduce. Aaargh! I’M SO MAD THAT MY CHILDREN ARE BEAUTIFUL AND YOU ONLY HAVE COMPLIMENTS FROM 1965!

Taking offense at well-intentioned grandma praises is almost as silly as writing an essay about the downsides of financial security. I’m assuming future guest posts will tackle injustices against the naturally thin. Blessed with gorgeous, healthy children this mom can only suffer the right brand of compliments? A thread of supportive comments suggests there are plenty of sensitive moms who don’t think this is as silly as I do, but instead are aghast when someone wants to nibble Matty’s fat little toes. I imagine all of them sewing small burqas to shield gorgeous children from gender-role stifling compliments of evil anti-feminists. But telling someone in the checkout line that her baby is “delicious” is lovely, goddamit. There is NO OTHER WAY to receive this aside from, “thank you” or “I know, right? I just want to bite him!” The compliment may be trite or old-fashioned, but it’s a kindness from a stranger and should be paid forward with something much, much better than a rant about how not to say nice things about a baby.

And sure, we know what she’s getting at… after all, we’re all feminists (see paragraph 2). And language used thoughtlessly can certainly feed all sorts of stereotypes we would like to obliterate. But, if your children elicit these responses regularly enough to rally a rant against them, then you are throwing that cute baby out with the politically incorrect bathwater. Have the self-awareness to realize the world’s appreciation for your stunning children might not be knicker-bunch-worthy. Acknowledge a sincere kindness–hell, even a passing and corny kindness– as just that. And when we recognize the beauty of a child, this is not a willful neglect of his other traits, or a condemnation of all un-pretty babies (which do not exist, anyway).

Me, I’m much more concerned about why Suzie won’t be encouraged to pursue astrophysics. And if you want to compliment my boys on their cuteness and future prom date fitness, fire away. I’m going to thank you, and agree with you, and pour you a Prosecco.

My boys when little... big time flirts

My boys when little… big time flirts

Cheaters

Maybe the other parents aren’t cheating. I suppose there is a possibility that a ten year old can score two birdies in nine holes. Maybe he had, like, a really good golf day. And maybe keeping score for your own three children who sweep the tournament isn’t at all suspicious or disheartening. Maybe your 8 to 12 year olds have been playing golf for an untold number of years, and a par three usually sinks in two shots. Maybe your kids are lithe, natural athlete types, innate competitors, and outstanding under pressure. (And maybe a bogey to these parents is like a report card “B” to a Taiwanese mom.) Maybe.

I was lucky to have Mr. Firefighter Dad walking the course with my boys and me.  Mr. Firefighter Dad wore the stereotypes as comfortably as his flip flops: manly, fit, strict but kind, competent, athletic, friendly. This is the Dad you want your kids to make eye contact with, shake hands, impress with the teeny man-in-training skills you hope they remember. Mr. Firefighter Dad and I watched our totally-not-sucking-at-golf boys hit a few over par but occasionally taking the maximum six swings as errant balls flew into gaping sand traps and ponds.

“Nice swing!”

“Hey, that one went straight down the fairway!”

“If you putt that one well, you have a chance at par!”

And also… a number of times…

“I’d rather you finish dead last than cheat.”

Mr. Firefighter Dad reminded his tiny son that the rules of golf etiquette were just as important as the game itself. We strolled the course together in perfect breezy sunshine, discouraging these polo-shirted boys against frustration, applauding each attempt, reassuring them that this sport is ridiculously difficult. How grateful we were for the day, for the luxury of time to walk a golf course on an afternoon with healthy, tanned kids. After the scorecards were signed, these boys removed their caps and shook hands. And then… there it was: the scoreboard.

A twelve-year-old boy wearing royal blue braces and look of disappointment and restrained tears told us he didn’t play well.

“Some of the holes were so fast, and some weren’t and I shot a 40.”

“That sounds good to me!”

“NO! It’s 13 over par.”

“But these are beginners. Half of the board will be 54s.”

“No… look!”

Royal Blue Braces was right. Not a single 54. Teddy came in ahead only of the small girl I had observed chipping in ten foot increments, and even her scorecard read 53. I wanted to shout, “It’s not fair” for Royal Blue Braces, and assure him that 40 is freaking awesome… and so was he for being honest.

We left the golf course before gigantic, shiny trophies were awarded to dubious “winners,” the director of Cape Cod Junior Golf muttering none too happily about needing to “check some scorecards.” But the results were posted today, with the unbelievable, unchanged, Rory McIlroy-in-2011 numbers. On the drive home we talked about all of the reasons the scores appeared athletically and mathematically improbable, that maybe some parents would rather fudge the numbers than risk no-trophy disappointment for their children, that maybe some people cheat all of the time even though it’s wrong… and that shooting a 40 in nine holes is freaking awesome.

Honestly adorable little golfers

Honestly adorable little golfers

Dating, by Steve Safran

Steve is dating: a process brimming with the potential for family flare-ups, justified teenager defiance, logistical scheduling difficulties, and the unmistakable solicitation of help from a Higher Power.

Oh God, dating.

Yes, the subject causes me to invoke the name of Britt’s beloved deity.

This is not another a Dating Is Hard essay. We all know that, so stop with the complaining. Dating should be hard. If dating were easy, we’d never go to work. We’d be too busy making reservations. No– dating should be difficult. You’re looking for a match, and that’s tough to find. Post-divorce dating carries the added struggle of comparing the new girl to the ex, which although unavoidable, is unfair.

I won’t whine about the difficulties of meeting single women, either. Thanks to the web, it is insanely easy to meet women. (Or men, or your same gender, or whatever inspires a 6pm shave and the good cologne.) Where was this wonderful tool when I was 20? It remains difficult as ever to find a match, but at least there’s a digital icebreaker now. Although I will say the questionnaire is a bitch, and my humor translates poorly to a Match.com profile. (Example: What are you looking for in a mate? “Someone with exceedingly low expectations.”)

Instead, this dating discussion is about the kids. When I date someone now, I date her kids; she dates mine. It’s Brady Bunch Dating. It’s speed-relationship-ing. (“The kids are at a dance. I have one hour now. Bring some popcorn and a very short film.”) If you have x kids and your date has x ± 1 kids, you have a geometric relationship with multiple variables and exponential difficulties. (Something like that. It’s a metaphor, so calm down, math majors.)

In baseball, if you can hit the ball four times out of ten, you’re a God. In the more than 125 years of professional baseball, it’s only been done once over an entire season. But even if you’re the Ted Williams of relationships, at least two of the kids are going to hate each other. Or everyone (especially if they’re teens). Or you. Probably you.

So you and the significant other (will someone please come up with a better term?) have an automatic handicap. It’s a given that some fraction of the kids is going to be displeased with the situation. That’s OK. You expected this shifting Venn diagram illustrating the get-along-ness of your brood with hers. So what do you do? Occasionally you think it might be easier to forego adult company for the next decade. But that seems lonely, if more affordable. You can live with the kids’ protestations, knowing The Divorce was bound to have repercussions past the logistics of who sleeps where. So you proceed with good intentions, encourage your mate to do the same, and hope you don’t cause more problems for the kids than you already have.

Which, of course… you will. I don’t know.

Oh, God.

An entire post could be made of Venn diagrams...

A math image seemed apropos. Drawing my own to illustrate divorced dating logistics did not.

FAIL, by Steve Safran

Commonwealth of Massachusetts Trial Court
Probate and Family Court Department
Standing Order 4-08

This court finds that the interests of the minor children of parties appearing before it would be well served by educating their parents about children’s emotional needs and the effects of divorce on child behavior and development. It is hereby ordered that all parries to a divorce action in which there are minor children are ordered to attend and participate in an approved Parent Education Program. No (divorce hearing) will be held until the court receives a certificate of attendance from each party.

I needed a piece of paper. One last piece of paper. A piece of paper that showed that I, a divorcing parent, had attended a class mandated by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts instructing me in “Understanding the Effect of Divorce on Children.” My lawyer warned me: do not show up in court without this piece of paper.

You do not need to take a class to get married. There’s no required reading to become a parent. But the great Commonwealth requires divorcing parents to complete coursework. The need for this escapes me. I suppose the reason at heart is solid: you should know how to be a responsible single parent, even if you can’t stand your ex-spouse. And listening to my fellow classmates, that certainly seemed to be the mood. The 15 attendees were much more interested in talking about the bastard/bitch they were divorcing than listening to anything the state had to say.

And I was much more interested in listening to them. And, occasionally, debating them. Because, you know– me.

As if “Divorce Class” could do anything else, it is designed to make you feel absolutely awful about your impending split. The only practical advice given about co-parenting is “communicate with your ex-spouse,” but of course if we could do that, we probably wouldn’t have been in the room. Take that, Standing Order 4-08.

And although the State insists on shaping the quality of Divorcing Parents, it does so by providing material that is 30 years old. The extremely bored class leader outlined the syllabus for single parenthood using an overhead projector and transparencies. He screened two, ten-minute “films” off a VHS. (“What? No Beta?” I asked. Nobody laughed.) Bored Teacher showed us examples of children’s crayon drawings that are so on the nose, I cringed at what the state must think of me.

We see a crayon drawing of a happy family.

“What can we say about the family in this drawing?” asks Bored Teacher.

Silence.

“That they’re happy?” I half-ask, half answer.

“Good!” he tells me in the way you might praise your schnauzer for finally pooping outside. Then he shows a crayon drawing of a sad family. Frowns. Tears. Bad stick-body language. He asks what we can say about the mood of this family. Again, silence. Really? I’m going to be the only one in this class who answers stuff? I’m the only one who wants this to end?

“They’re sad,” I say, and I get the same verbal pat on the head. I get an unwarranted sense of pride. I have skillfully read the mood of a 6 year-old with a box of Crayolas.

Several drawings later, and it occurs to me that I’m not looking at a random selection. The state has picked the saddest drawings from the saddest children in the saddest homes. I begin to wonder if the state didn’t just draw these itself, using its left hand, and thinking about being picked last for sports. Another shows a plane labeled “747” with a crack right down the middle and a family falling out of it. Heavy. But I spot the glaring error: the plane has only one level, and 747s have two. Sloppy work, Standing Order 4-08.

The program is supposed to consist of two classes of about two and a half hours each. But I find a “condensed” class that is four hours on one night. I can get my piece of paper– in one hour less! Take that, system! Even though we’re supposed to be listening and asking about the information in the program, people can’t help but make it about themselves. So when the topic of safety comes up, one parent asks:

“What if my ex- decides it’s OK to go skydiving with my child, but I don’t think it’s OK?”

Bored Teacher agrees that could be (could be?) dangerous and that a conversation should be had and that there should be communication. Most of the night is like that– in the passive voice. Discussions should be had. Timetables should be set. Ideas should be shared. A ten minute smoke break should ensue.

Outside, I talk with a guy who has the thousand-mile stare. I make small talk. He lights up and goes right into his divorce history with me. He did nothing. She took his daughter. He will never marry again. He’s not mad, just disappointed. I nod a lot. I didn’t ask, so I’m not really going to follow up. But I’m all for venting, especially while smoking, so I let my companion ramble on.

Side note: I would never recommend smoking. However, if you ever find yourself bitterly complaining to a stranger in the dark, light up a cigarette. It really adds to the noir effect and lets you punctuate points with that small, glowing ember. And your deep sighs of pain and regret have a nice smoky air swirling about them.

Back into class. There are lots of discussions about me Me ME. It feels like a state-mandated self-help book club. I start to sort out the likely dumpers from the dump-ees. I know– there were plenty of mutual divorces going on, just like mine. But what fun is that to imagine? Plus, people were dishing. Some stories were unintentionally funny. Some, like the brave and wrenching confession of an abused woman, were decidedly not.

Bored Teacher finally got back to the materials. He talked a lot about our failed marriages. How we will cope after the failed marriage. What the children of a failed marriage can expect. How a failed…

And suddenly I turned off my humor meter.

It’s that word: fail. All of us in that room– the skydiving worrier, the smoking sigher, the woman brave enough to leave the abusive husband–we’ve failed. The state is telling us we are failures. As in getting an F. That there is exactly one guideline for a passing grade in marriage: being married until you die. Anything else is a failure. The couple that stays together 30 years after they’ve lost all interest in each other is a success, but the couple that decides to split and find new happiness is not? The woman who escaped abuse? She was supposed to stay in that situation to “succeed?”

I had plenty of failures in my marriage. And plenty of achievements–three teenage successes, for starters. So maybe I give myself about a C. But an F? We need to start grading marriage on a curve.

(Oh, and I still have that piece of paper. The state never collected it, yet I successfully divorced. Take that, Standing Order 4-08.)

Divorce Class didn't cover this.

This happened while their parents were at Divorce Class. (photo: DIYfail.com)