Monday, October 10, 2011

Lessons learned

Like many moms, I try to look for teaching moments. You know, those relaxed times when you are with your children, and, amidst the fun, an opportunity to teach them a lesson presents itself. Unfortunately, as my son once said, "Mom, your lectures don't work out so well."

One of the most memorable occurred during our trip to Boone, N.C., to visit our favorite uncle, Sonny. Along the way, we spotted a woman hitchhiking, and I decided to seize the moment. I mean, really seize the moment.

"Kids," I said dramatically, "don't ever, ever hitchhike like that woman's doing."

"What's hitchhiking?" my son asked.

"It's where you stick out your thumb and try to get strangers to stop their cars to give you a ride."

"How do you stick out your thumb?"

To which, I demonstrated while warning them, "Don't you ever, ever do that!"

"Yes, ma'am," they said.

Not satisfied, I went into greater detail about how dangerous it was, further driving my point home. It wasn't long after, we arrived at Sonny's house.

"We saw a hitchhiker!" my son said first thing, terrified, yet exhilarated.

"Oh, yeah, we have those all the time up here. In fact ...," he said, pulling out a clear Mason jar, "I picked up a couple a few months back, and they gave me some moonshine!"

"What's moonshine?" my son asked, excitedly.

"Something you should never, ever drink!" I said. "I just gave them a lecture on the dangers of hitchhiking, and now you introduce them to moonshine!"

"I can't wait to tell my teacher about this!" my son exclaimed.

Another time, after my husband swerved to miss a squirrel, I gave a long lecture about how we sometimes have to hit animals when they run across the road. I told them the story about how when I was 16 and riding in the backseat of my friend's car (without my seat belt -- another lesson), she swerved to miss a dog, and we ended up in a ditch. My kids once said all my stories end up in a ditch, by the way, and this was no exception.

"So, sometimes you have to hit the animal," I repeated, when, lo and behold, a beautiful white cat ran out in front of our car.

What did I do? If you guessed yelled, "Don't hit it; don't hit it! Swerve!" at the top of my lungs, you'd be correct.

"Mom! I thought you said not to swerve for animals!"

"Well, that was a pretty cat!" I said, ruining my driver's safety lesson.

My most recent example of a good lesson gone bad happened just this past weekend while the kids and I were out for a walk. My daughter spotted something in the grass.

"Look! Are those mushrooms? They are huge!" she said. "Let's go look at them."

"No," I said, seizing the moment to teach. "They might be poisonous. You know you should never eat or touch wild mushrooms. But, you can go look at it."

"No, that's OK," said my daughter, sufficiently frightened.

I should have let it go then, but curiosity seized me, and I said, "Ah, come on. Let's have a look. It won't hurt us to look."

The closer we got, the stranger it looked, until finally I gave it a kick.

Poof! Black ashes flew into the air, and I being the sensible mom, screamed and ran and bemoaned the fact that I would now have to wash my tennis shoes.

"Mom, mom, mom," my son said, tears of laughter rolling down his face.

"I told you not to ever mess with mushrooms!" I said.

They, of course, laughed. And it was then that it occurred to me, my lessons may be unorthodox, but they can't say they didn't remember them, or that I didn't try.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

First impressions

First impressions "Some kids at school had the paper with your column in it, Mom," my son said.

I beamed with pride and tried to act modest and unassuming.

"Oh, really?"

"Yes, it was art class, and they were using it, so they wouldn't get paint on the tables."

Well, OK, I thought, I'm sure they read it while they painted their masterpieces.

Speaking of reading, he must have read my mind because it was then that he said, "Thank goodness nobody read it!"

At this point, my ego was deflated, but I couldn't help but be amused at how sincere he was.

"Did you read it?" asked his dad.

"No," he looked at him and then a little under his breath said, "I was afraid to."

Poor kid, I don't blame him. It was bad enough when my mother used to tell strangers in the grocery store things about me, I can't imagine what it would be like if she had put it in the paper!

Fortunately, he's a much better sport than I was. I can't help but hope he is, perhaps, secretly proud. And he may very well be, but I've been a mother long enough to know it's not about what I do for a living.

Kids are the great equalizers, I don't care who you are (as Larry the Cable Guy would say). Unless you drive an ice cream truck and allow unlimited free samples, it's unlikely they are impressed with your occupation. Mainly, what they want to know is "Will you be home today?" "Can we go to the movies?" "Will you play ball with me?" OK, so my son hasn't asked me that since I swung the bat at one of his pitches and the ball struck him in the eye and knocked him flat. But you get the idea. Kids really just want your time, not for you to have a bigger 401K.

Of course, we all know we have to have a healthy balance or we won't be able to afford things like the movies, baseball or a home. So, in order to give my children a better idea and greater appreciation of what I do, I drove them to the corporate office of a company I do freelance work for.

We rode the elevator all the way up to the 22nd floor, and I showed them the cubicles and the break room. They responded by yawning and asking if they could go to The Varsity.

"Look at this view," I said, taking them to the window.

"Can you see The Varsity from here?" they asked.

Suspecting that, perhaps, hunger was the issue, I took them downstairs to the cafeteria and bought them a cookie. As we exited, my son got excited for the first time that day. I eagerly turned to see what had captured his interest.

"Look, Mom! You put your trash on that conveyor belt, and it takes it away! This place is so cool!"

I explained to him how I once wrote an article about how the cafeteria recycles. I started to go into great detail about how it worked, then I saw his eyes start to glaze over.

"I tell you what, why don't we go to The Varsity and get an Orange Julius to wash down this cookie?"

A few minutes later, we were inside Atlanta's landmark restaurant. The kids couldn't wait to try on a paper hat. They marveled at the old photos on the wall and were thrilled when the man behind the counter asked, "What d'ya have? What d'ya have?"

I could tell by their faces they were much more impressed here than in the shiny corporate office building.

"Thanks, Mom, for taking us," they said, and, suddenly, that was all that mattered.

It's a happy memory -- one of many I've had since they've been born -- and I'm so fortunate to have an outlet where I can share it, even if the kids at school end up dripping paint all over it.