Childrearing Quandary

My youngest is 15 and very young for his age, but he hangs out with kids his own age at school.  He tells me things, which is great.  Recently he went to a little gathering at his girlfriend’s house.  Girlfriend has lots of siblings (6, I think).  While mom was out and dad was on watch, the gathering (two couples) hung out in girlfriend’s bed room.  Apparently there was some “making out” going on, which offended my boy’s sensibilities (the smacking noises grossed him out).  We’ve never allowed our kids to hang out in their bedrooms in mixed company.  One of those rules I grew up with that seems to have stuck.

He just got invited to another gathering where there will be boys and girls.   I ran into the mom hosting this latest deal in the school atrium and found out that she wasn’t planning on being home while the kids are over.  Yikes… Call me counter-culture, call me old fashioned, but we have a rule about parties where no parents are present.  Not allowed.  Maybe one well-trusted friend, but no way a mixed group.

The mom was nonplussed when I neglected to control my face.  “Is that a problem? I trust my kid. He’s a good boy.”  When I explained that the last get-together involved make-out sessions in the girl’s bedroom she was shocked.  “Who was making out? Not John.  Was it Sam? John? Who was making out?”  It was her own dear sweet John, by the way.  Plus his girlfriend and my own little sweetie and his girlfriend.  His mom was shocked. I didn’t say who was smooching, just that I knew it had happened.  She was shocked that any of them were smooching, but absolutely positive it wasn’t her son.  “Well I can’t be there, but I trust these kids, they’re good kids…”

They are good kids.  They are.  But her little darling  is sprouting a beard and was hospitalized two weeks ago for cutting himself.  He isn’t a bad kid, but he also isn’t a good candidate for self supervision if you ask me.  But what can I do?  I called mom again to talk about the situation and she reiterated that she understood if we had that rule, and I probably knew my kid needed that kind of supervision, but both her kids are really good and she trusts them. What is that? What causes a mom to say over and over how much she trusts her kids?

We’re going to pick up our kid early, but he’s pretty bent out of shape about it. We talked about it being just a standing rule and one that I’m not too flexible on.  He had two questions for me which I didn’t have a good answer for.  The first one I didn’t  touch, but I blame that other mom for planting the idea in his head. “Mom, you don’t trust me, do you? Don’t you trust me?”

The second question was a little more difficult for me to answer because of all the answers that came into my head at once.  It was this:  “Mom, so when am I supposed to make out? When do we do that?  Are we supposed to never make out?”  This was little more dicey.  Here are the things I thought of initially:

  • Some time after you’ve hit puberty
  • When you take a walk
  • When you’re watching a movie in the theater
  • When you say you’re doing something else
  • After one of you can drive
  • After you figure out how to do it without your mom knowing

The uncomfortable truth is this: it seems to me like kids and parents are supposed to be in a sort of cat and mouse game about sexual behavior.  They’re supposed to try to kiss and neck and do all sorts of stuff that we are supposed to try to prevent.   By them trying to do it and us trying to stop it, there gets to be a sort of balance.  They still engage in behavior we don’t approve of, but we slow it down by being vigilant. I can’t tell him that, can I?  Eww.


Happy Damn Halloween

I used to love Halloween. I love costumes and the excuse to wear them. I loved all the little princesses and spidermen, all the knights and ninjas. I still love them. But this year it almost wasn’t worth it. What is wrong with me? I got really mad. But maybe I get mad every year. It’s just starting to occur to me that I love the idea of Halloween. Not the reality. Or maybe I love suburban Halloween.

Let’s go over what I loved about tonight’s Halloween and see if it adds up to doing it next year or not, shall we?

My neighbor Terry will certainly not agree with me. I will say, “I’m sick of caravans of kids I don’t know getting driven to my house without costumes. I’m sick of their two bags (for my little brother, he’s in the car), their mom smoking and talking on her cell phone in the running car. I’m sick of teenagers and adults without any costumes, snapping their gum and holding out their bag like me giving them candy is the law.”

Terry would say, “Lisa, what’s the big deal. You’re giving them a 20 cent candy bar. Coming to your house and demanding candy on their own terms makes them feel like they have control in a world where they feel like they have no power. Couldn’t you just give them the candy and not be mad? You still have so much more than any kid whose parents feel compelled to bus him into your neighborhood. More than any group of teenagers.”

He’d be right, of course. I’d sigh and say, “Thanks Terry, for being the voice of kindness and bliss again. You’re right, I guess. It’s just a freaking candy bar. What do I feel like I gain by telling the costume-free teenagers to keep on moving if they don’t have either a costume or a really good story? What’s my problem?”

Then I’d ask what he gave out for halloween and he’d say, “We didn’t do trick-or-treats. We turned out the lights and watched a movie.” He frequently outsmarts me by taking both the high and the low road.

So I’m talking myself down from a ledge, here. I have no right to be upset at the Suburban idling for 30 minutes in front of my house while the dozen kids who piled out of it go trick-or-treating. I am trying not to pass judgment on the mom rolling down the window of her car, driving slowly down Holly Avenue, following her kid. When she says, “Latte! Don’t you cut through that grass. Use the stairs. Latte! You hear me?”

I’m only reporting what I saw and heard. Latte had a princess costume on. She was adorable.

But there’s one mom who sent her three kids up to my door while she sat in her car, driving from house to house. I have passed judgment her. Only one of her kids had a costume. Two girls and a boy, it was. The boy was gorgeous. Huge anime style brown eyes, milk chocolate skin and cherub cheeks. He was probably around 8 years old. I grabbed my candy and started to chat, as I do with all the hollow wieners. “Hey buddy, where’s your costume?What are you?” It was cold enough tonight, about half the kids opened up their parkas to display spiderman or ninja clad chests.

This kid tilted his head back like a baby bird and said, “Bweeeeeeeeh!” while looking me in the eye. I’m sure you’d handle this better than I when it happens to you. Quickly I thought about whether this kid was retarded, messing with me or giving me a clue to his identity. I was starting to see that he didn’t have a costume (but the younger kids get a pass from me, because it’s their parents’ job to make sure they have a costume). My answer to his weird response was, “Yeah… OK kid, but what are you?”

He kept right on looking at me, dead in the eye, not cracking a smile. But this time he clamped both hands over his ears. As he did this, his mom rolled down the car window, and yelled, “He can’t hear you, he’s totally deaf.” Ok, he’s deaf. I am so dumb. So totally cloddish and stupid. I looked at his sister who was maybe 12, “So what is he?”

She looked at me and said, “He ain’t anything, he deaf. He can’t hear you.” The middle girl, piped up, “I’m a kitty!”, and showed me her ears.

Maybe you all went to planet deaf child, but I was still fixated on planet Halloween. The boy had figured out what I wanted to know by his sister’s reaction. He started to tug his shirt out from under his jacket, still looking at me, but smiling now.

I should tell you right now, in the interest of full disclosure, I had three pieces of candy in my bowl. I gave one right up to the kitty while I checked out the boy’s shirt (which didn’t look like a costume to me, but I was feeling not up to the task of evaluating the situation). The older girl without the costume got nothing and I gave the deaf boy two pieces. I immediately decided that was the wrong thing to do. But it was too late.

My decision was reinforced by the reaction of the little boy. He grabbed the candy, held it up to his face and looked at his sister. He stuck his tongue out and did a little “ha ha” dance at his sister.

What kind of fucked up world do we live in? I’ll take responsibility for not immediately recognizing what must be a universal symbol for deaf. I’ll take responsibility and beg forgiveness for taking my anger at the mom on the girl. And I do feel bad about doing that. It won’t happen again. I’ll try harder.

But what kind of mom dumps her three kids off in a strange neighborhood on Halloween without costumes? Not so good of a mom, OK. But one of those kids is profoundly deaf and she’s sending him without a costume to go ask strangers for candy? While she sits in her car? What the hell is that? She can’t paint an eyeliner mustache on the kid? Give him a football helmet? She can’t park the car and walk with the kid from door to door? Jesus.

A group of teenagers I did not know smashed the pumpkins of the 3 and 5 year old next door. Those teenagers headed to my house for candy, although they knew I saw them. I hollered at them and warned the other side neighbors not to give them candy. When my neighbor boys came home, they cried. They couldn’t even begin to understand anything except that their pumpkin was smashed right on their own porch.

After that, I walked down and looked to see how much longer Halloween was going to last. My entire street was awash in head and tail lights crawling along with their kids. I’m watching a movie next year. Fer real.

Zachary Jophes Morgan

Zach Smile

My oldest son graduated tonight. This is important for a number of reasons, and I think it deserves a small testament. It seems like the closest thing we have to a rite of passage. I’m proud enough to make this an open letter.

Dear Little Friend Zach,

From the moment I knew I was pregnant, from the time I suspected I was pregnant, I loved you. I imagined you. I apologized for dragging you out of the ether into the now, and for not feeling joy at your existence. I was terrified and amazed at what we had done.

Your dad and I were firmly convinced that we weren’t ready for making a family. We decided we wanted to give you up for adoption. It was the option that seemed to make the most sense. It seemed mature and generous; reasoned and sane. But oh, my god, the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth that ensued when we broke the news to our families.

It wasn’t like I had imagined. They were gnashing and wailing and beating their chests at the thought of giving you away. You were theirs as much as ours, it seemed. And reason didn’t factor in quite so much. What a hard couple weeks those were while we discussed what to do. Your grandmas begging. Grandpas offering unconditional assistance but behind the scenes encouraging the grandmas.

They won. We agreed. But decided we didn’t think we could handle trying to raise a baby while I lived at home. I moved into an apartment at 2216 Harriet with your dad. I was 8 months pregnant. You were growing, wiggling and healthy in my belly. I gained almost 40 pounds. I was19 when you were born. You created a family. If there was no you, there almost certainly would have been no Holly Avenue Morgans.


You were the dream baby. Easygoing and happy. Alert and active. You’d sleep anywhere. All you needed to be comfy was a diaper service diaper to hold, and a pacifier. You were everybody’s baby. While I finished school, Grandparents provided daycare, aunties and uncles doted, and Dad went to work.

Now you’re big. Bigger than me, bigger than Dad. And strong.

I’ve been thinking. I was always worried about spoiling my kids, so I think sometimes I overcompensated by being critical and tough. This happens to me with people I love. I saw you through a filter of love, love, love, but I worried that other people wouldn’t know. That they’d see you do something stupid, arrogant, mean or lazy and judge you based on only that. So character flaws and mistakes jumped out at me and I may have spent more time correcting than cooing.

I also tend to be emotive. I think I overcompensated by not heaping praise and affection on you. You didn’t help the cause by pushing away from almost the first day you were born, so you could see the world. Now that you’re taller than me and covered with unsightly man-hair, I have to steal hugs. I hope you don’t mind, and that you hug me back some day.
So now it’s time for me to say some of those lovey dovey things you probably don’t care to hear. But later you might, so save this letter.

I’d like to say thanks, I’m sorry, I’m proud, I love you, you’re beautiful and I wish you well.

I’m sorry for the times I lost my temper. I’m sorry I put your grandparents through the thought of you being shipped off (open adoptions were not de rigueur). I’m sorry for the day that the you got stuck on the wrong bus and your tummy felt like mashed potatoes. I’m sorry the squirrel you brought home in your arms had a broken back and had to die. I’m sorry the squirrel we watched fall out of the tree at Gramma’s house, and land on my car had to die, but proud that you were willing to help him along gently.

I’m sorry I couldn’t stop girls from breaking your heart, bullies from breaking your spirit and depression from breaking your stride. Sorry Ezra isn’t your friend anymore. Sorry that while you were a young teenager you forgot how to laugh and smile for a while and dad and I couldn’t remind you. Sorry your kindergarten teacher didn’t like kids.

I’m sorry your gramma had to die on you. She loved you best, because she always felt like you were actually hers. You weren’t. But until there was Bailey, there was you. I’m sorry you loved her, but not sorry. I’m proud that when she was dying, you were old enough to understand, young enough to cry. Man enough for the crying to break you and whole enough to recover. Call me crazy, but one of my proudest and saddest moments was watching you sit by what was left of my mom and your gramma, fold your tall self over and lean your head on her arm and cry.

Thanks for coming up to my room or searching me out to tell me about your day. Thanks for noticing the neighbor boys, for liking them even though they were little and you were big, and reporting their cutitudes to me. Thanks for having me cut your hair. Thanks for laughing until you cried at my puns and stories.

Thanks for choosing The Land Before Time as your favorite movie and wanting to watch it every day while I made dinner (“many things do not fly” being a quote from that very movie). Thanks for being nice to the retarded guy in the neighborhood. Thanks for bringing baby animals home and for dumpster diving.

I always worried that I’d never be able to have fun with my kids. Enjoy their company and have them enjoy mine. So much of parenting is drudgery and every-dayness. Whining, commands, reminders and bickering. Thanks for the times when we both laughed so hard we cried and our sides got stitches. You can’t imagine the relief that washed over me the first time that happened.

I love you and wish you well. I’m glad you’ll be close. I hope you feel comfortable visiting unannounced, unbidden as you were when you showed up 18 years ago. Know you can always come back (but the chore list will get progressively longer if you seem to be getting too comfy). I love you.


Zach says he’s going to move out in July. I wish him well, and I will miss him. Really.

How can you not?

Love crunchy words

Like lettuce and barnacle, zeitgeist and itch

Ribosome, applecore, pumpkin and kitsch

love prickly words

Like porcupine, happenstance, Guernsey and gable

Penultimate, burlap, corbel and sable

embrace secret words

Like whimsy, whippoorwill, tingle or trundle

Elfin, apprentice, bipedal and bundle


a dirndl, fleur-de-lis, damsel-fly brogue

a tapestry, sacristy, elegant rogue

Hopscotch from

Marble, mosaic, to hardwood parquet

To bamboo and walnut and opal inlay


The orchid, the absinthe, the redolent fir

Of sandalwood, ambergris sassafras-myrrh

leaping from

pebble to cobble, in babbling brook

Dappled and rippled, sparkling Chinook

And settle in fairy-ring, cavern or nook

Nestle with leather-bound, intricate book

Leery of

Harlequin, parlor trick, flimflam, bamboozle

balderdash, blarney, malarkey, perusal

Silver tongued, bleary-eyed, black-hearted devil

looking-glass, filigree, facet and bevel

hearken the

kettledrum, glockenspiel, conga and lute

dulcimer, carrolan, djembe and flute

Raven, the dragon, the angel’s disease

the harbinger carbuncle odious wheeze


Kingdom and phylum and prehensile paws

Talons and velvet and saber-toothed maws

Shibboleth, trebuchet, ocelot stalk

Brachiate, undulate, gargoyle and auk

A lexical, textural story to tell

an endless and infinite, bottomless well


A couple of years back Zach did great job on a paper for school. This is a big event here, just him finishing a report is a big deal. But to ace it… That’s a coup worthy of celebration. So we offer to take him wherever he wants for dinner. Except McDonalds. He chooses Applebee’s. It could have been worse.

We’re all getting ready and at some point I realize that Jasper is not lagging behind in getting ready. He is ready. The realization comes to us all sort of at the same time. That Jasper fully intends to go to the restaurant in his jeans and a sequined leotard. Again it could be worse. It has been worse. Andy shrugs and asks if he might not be more comfortable in something else, “you might get itchy in that.”. No dice.

Zach is handling it in his own gracious way. Muttering about how he can’t believe we are letting him go like that. And about how he isn’t even going to walk with us. “If I’m lucky people will think you’re just retarded. No. If I’m lucky people won’t even notice me with you.”

The host at Applebees was great. A young, athletic, clean cut guy who was really outgoing and friendly. He got out the kiddie menus and crayons for the boys. Handed one to Zach, “Here ya go, dude.” And one to Jasper, “And one for you, princess.” Yowch. To his credit, he handled Jasper’s outrage pretty well, “Oh, that? I ah, I call everyone princess. I’ve got to get out of that habit. Are you a dancer?” Jasper explained he was going to be in the circus. “Wow, that is SO cool.” Nice save, waiter-guy.

Rose Marie and Me part 2

After Walgreen’s we had a break, Rosita and I. We read books, we played hide and seek and she followed the cats around the house. Things were mellow. I actually thougt she had forgotten about the cookie store. I actually hoped she had forgotten about the cookie store. Although I loved how her fuzzy spiralled hair pouffed out around her face when I pulled the hat over her head, and loved holding her little gloved hand when we crossed the streets, I still hoped she had forgotten about our next walk. She hadn’t.

We bundled up and headed out again. I made a point this time to cut across the baseball field. Grass. No cracks. We had a little tiff about whether the bits of yellow foam in the grass actually counted as colors, therefore granting us good… whatever. It didn’t last too long and neither of us had our hearts in it. She knew bits of foam, even wrappers in the grass, don’t count. It really wasn’t an issue.
But when we got to the street and sidewalks things started to get ugly. Rose started to say things that were disturbing. Raised the hackles on the back of my neck. Just thinking about it is starting to get me a little agitated. I know she’s only 5, but whether she came up with this idea on her own or someone convinced her it was true doesn’t matter to me. Both are disturbing to me in decidedly different ways.

As we stepped onto the street where there was a veritable web of cracks she said, “it’s OK to step on the lines if you do it This Way” while planting her little foot smack onto a crack. Not just onto the crack, but along the crack. The full length of her foot running along the crack. She did it twice.

I stuttered and stammered and said, “Rose, I’m pretty sure that’s wrong. You’re still stepping on the line, honey.”

“Yeah, but it’s Ok if you do it like this.”

“No, Rose. That is totally stepping on the crack. How can you think it’s Ok? If it’s anything, it’s worse than the other way because it’s so much more of the crack touching you. Maybe it’s like 10 times worse than the other way!”

We moved to the boulevard where we walked on the grass, but I was still tweaked. Wracking my brain to think of how anybody could think it wasOk if you changed the way you stepped on the crack. That’s totally insane, right?

Then she started to say other things were good luck. Trees, rectangles, circles and ramps, for god’s sake. By the time we got to the market, my armpits were getting prickly. I steered the chatting to different topics. We talked about games she likes, and pets she’s had. But it was punctuated with pointing out “good lucks”.

I bought her whatever she wanted. A peanut butter cookie the size of her head, a small pack of animal cookies and yogurt covered pretzels. On the way home I tried to talk myself down. “You know that stepping on cracks is just a thing you made up, right?” And a thing she probably made up, or is making up right now. Chill out, just go along with it. She’s 5 years old, you are 37.” Then she’d step along the full length of a crack. And it bothered me. It still bothers me.

That night I was talking about my day with my oldest and most… mmmmm not quite neurotic, but kind of neurotic, son. He laughed at me for getting worked up about the colors. He laughed when he read the whole of part one of this very essay. He said the colors thing was probably bunk, but he laughed.

But when I told him about her stepping the full length of the cracks, he stopped laughing. The color drained from his face. “She did what?” he asked. “All the way along the crack? Oh my God, that is so not cool.” He shuddered and shook his head. “That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. If anything, it’s much worse than just stepping across a crack.” God I love that kid.

Rose Marie and Me Part 1

I had my little cousin over today. We spent the whole day together. She’s a lovely little thing. 5 years old. She says delightful things like, “Remember when I was four?” and “I’m a ways-aways from 6, though” Probably because her birthday was last week.

She’s about the nicest little person I know. Not nervous or scaredy or even particularly annoying. Still a little icky in the way children are icky. You know, too many wet parts and gooey bits and random bad smells. Like dogs or other people’s bathrooms. But on the whole, a respectable specimen. We had a good day.

I had been thinking about writing an essay about my penchant for obsessive-compulsions for a couple days now. I know, I know, I’ve written about that before. But folks, I’ve only begun to scratch the tip of the OCD iceberg. Between that and the hypochondria, I’m really busy. I’ve been thinking about it for a while, like I said. But having Rose over here sort of complicated the issue. Or maybe it simplifies the issue. Alls I know is, she and I disagree about some things.

We took two walks. One to Walgreen’s to get some Lifesavers for her cough, and one to the cookie store for… you know. On both walks she said to me, “Oh! don’t step on the line. You have to step on a color if you do.” The lines, I was with her on. Any idiot knows not to step on cracks (unless it’s a wood floor, which in most cases is OK, or a floor with tiny tiles which is troublesome, but what can you do?) when walking outside. So that was cool. But colors? Colors??

I watched her feet. And, by God, she was onto something. There were colors. The utility people spray colors all the time on the sidewalks. And crosswalks? Clearly they count as colors although they are, strictly speaking, white. Stores have different colored tiles around certain areas. Parking partitions, bike lanes… She had a point.

So I was understanding, without much explanation from her, that if you were careless or unfortunate enough, through no fault of your own, to step on a crack (or a”line”), you needed to step on a colored spot to take away the bad juju from the crack. It might seem complicated, but it isn’t, and it doesn’t add anything to your walk, really. Just measure your steps accordingly as you go and you’re good.

We held hands. We had an understanding. Not an agreement, mind you. Just an understanding. Because she’s only 5 and I didn’t want her little head to explode when I told her the truth. You know, the truth. You know, don’t you? Oh my god.

Steel yourselves if you don’t already know. And since you are old enough to read, I think you can handle it, even begin to implement the system. The truth is that the only thing that takes away the badness from stepping on a crack is snapping your fingers once for every crack. Now you haven’t known, so there might be some sort of cosmic grandfathering-in of people who didn’t know (don’t the christians have something like this for those who didn’t have the oportunity to believe in Jesus?).

In any case, what I do, just in case, and I suggest you start doing, is snapping my fingers (both hands at once saves time and give a nice balanced feel) when I haven’t stepped on any cracks. To make up for the times when I wasn’t paying attention, or tripped, or stepped on a crack that was buried under carpet or snow or leaves.

But back to Rose and me. Rose started to talk about colors and cracks in a way that made me uncomfortable. A way that got me thinking that maybe she and I are Not of a mind. She started to talk about Luck. That’s right, Luck. Colors were good luck and lines were bad luck. For lack of a better expression, let me just say my blasphemy alarm went off. This wasn’t just an age-appropriate re-jiggering of things. Someone had been teaching her that this was about Luck.

It didn’t bode well, but I tried to be open minded about it. She’s blood, after all. But it creeped me out just a little, I’m admitting this. I’m fighting it even as we speak.