I hope the ice cream truck has Red Bull

I recently read an article about the trend of “Slow Parenting”.  The article was not only discouraging; I found it a bit naïve. Maybe I’m just jealous. I can’t do it. I can’t get into the slow parenting.

I’m fast parenting.  Like, wear your seatbelt.

My first two children are 27 months apart…then there is a five-year gap and then the last one. The first year that I had all 3 of them with those age differences I thought this was a huge disadvantage. Actually the first year I cried a lot. Oh hell…I don’t remember much of the first year.  I do remember being exhausted and eating MANY chocolate croissants to make myself feel better and inconveniently dragging my big blue eyed boy around EVERY SINGLE MINUTE like a court ordered home monitoring bracelet…but way heavier. It felt like the movie Groundhog’s Day but without any of the fun parts.

But now I love the age difference. I mean, nobody has expressed any interest in me teaching a family planning class…but it’s working out nicely now because I get to enjoy them all in their own unique phases and stages. It’s a lot to absorb but they are fun and funny.

When I don’t want to beat them, they are my favorite people. But it’s not slow. Ever.

The Slow Parenting movement favors less structured activities and letting children explore.  Explore like let them live like I did in the 70’s. Maybe you did too. I read a lot upside down in chairs, in the car, in a hammock, in a fishing boat. I stared at seed pods floating by through the air. In the 80’s in the summer I watched MTV videos until my eyes hurt, taking a 4 minute break to go outside and cut a bouquet of zinnias from the side garden. Sometimes I saw my friends but sometimes I didn’t. I had lemonade stands. I talked on the phone quite a bit. Every summer I nourished the fantasy that I would ‘transform’ over the summer and dazzle everyone in school in the fall after an incredible summer of physical and personal metamorphosis. Never happened.

My most out of the ordinary summer was in between sophomore and junior year of high school. I lived in Ohio and did a summer program at the School of Cleveland Ballet. Leaving for the summer was fairly common among my dance friends but unheard of among my school friends. But now…it seems like the ‘opportunities for summer extraordinaire’ for my kids are endless. Camps, classes, theme parks, public beaches, pools, water parks, travel, video games, service projects, volunteering, ways to earn money, a community triathlon , art shows, fun runs, PLUS the lemonade stand thing.

I once had a professor whose wise words come to mind over and over and OVER again. He said (paraphrasing here) the grand challenge of parenting isn’t to parent your kids in an effort to repair your own childhood. Don’t try to give them the perfect childhood that you didn’t get. (i.e.: I never got to take piano lessons and therefore I’m going to force you to take piano even if it makes you physically ill because then I can live vicariously through you and you better appreciate it, etc.) He said, the challenge is to raise them the very best way possible given their own reality.

I can’t get enough of those words.

My kids are growing up very differently than I did. The basics are similar. But there is a lot that is very different. We are a bigger family than my family of origin, my husband and I are not the people our parents were, the world of school and technology and activities and expectations are different. And while I don’t want to schedule the summer away…I need to have a plan.  Big plans.

I love those old Country Time Lemonade ads with the tree swing and the haze of summer heat and kids outside running down the dock with inner tubes and the soothing voice over of nostalgia…The reality though…summer is so short. Phineas and Ferb claim we have 104 days of summer vacation. Our school district only has 91 days. 91 days of summer??? Plus we have to jam in a few teeth cleanings and haircuts and I suppose people are going to need to eat?

There needs to be time for camp and lemonade stands and going to the beach with friends and playing basketball in the driveway and planting/tending/harvesting cherry tomatoes.  We have to get in some chores and some tennis and a lot of freaking out when the giant dragonflies land on our faces. There needs to be time for bike rides and stargazing and sparklers and playing at a new, never been to before park and many minutes of listening to the frogs. There needs to be a family trip with time in the car and reading Calvin and Hobbes and sidewalk chalk and outdoor movie night and badminton tournaments in the yard that end participants knees (that actually happened two years ago-the husband and the brother got competitive and let’s just say a knee replacement for my husband is now on the bucket list). There needs to be time with friends over and time without and long lectures from me about the great blue heron in the backyard. (I’m a little excitable over the great blue heron.  I want to hug him.)  There needs to be long walks and giant ice cream cones and the State Fair and being out on the water.  We have to have bonfires, and friends over to grill out and cheer at soccer games and farmers market trips where I embarrass the children by buying far more blueberries than I can carry.  And there has to be day where I teach them to roast a chicken.  Yep. That’s in my plans tooMG_1143 IMG_9008 IMG_0025 IMG_9801 IMG_9014 IMG_0578IMG_1141

We can‘t possibly do it all in only 91 days, can we?

You’re darn right we can.

I want to do it all. With them. THIS is part of the why of why I had the children. To show them the best of the world and try to prepare them for it and then sit back and watch them take it in. I can’t let everyone just free range it because at 6, 11, and 13…everyone will be free ranging in disparate directions.  They are young for such a short shot and with the age gap…they only overlap in this house for 11 years. So I’m fast parenting.

So get ready kids-it’s my summer too. We are having a Red Bull Lemonade Summer. We are going to squeeze the life out of it. We are going to drink up summer while driving to and from soccer or sitting still at the campfire. We are going to bookend a beach trip with a pancake flipping contest and so many S’mores you are going to stick to your pillow. We are going to work our way through our summer list (which this year includes a family stay on the island in the BWCA) and fill up our bags with library books to devour like the world is ending. And we are going to do it fast.  Before summer gets away from us. And before your collective childhood gets away from me.* IMG_1373

*There WILL be a couple of times in this 91 day period that I will want to run away from home. Get in my car and leave this crew in the dust.  It happens every summer.  Then the irritation melts away like a bomb pop on the 4th of July. Ooh-BOMB POPS!

May is the cruelest month. May.

It’s May Day. Happy Stupid May Day!  May Day is for celebrating the hope and renewal of spring.  Don’t leave me a May basket because my only hope is that this month passes as quickly as possible.  I don’t like this May person I have become.

Let me tell you, I have become something I never thought I would become.

I’m a cheerleader.

I know.  Few things are sadder than the image of a 43-year-old woman who checks off “three live births” on an intake form at the doctor’s office being a cheerleader.  But I am one.  An old, weathered, discouraged cheerleader who (I have been told) does not drink anywhere near enough for this job.

I’m in charge of keeping morale high high high and shorts long long long.

I’m in charge of rallying the players when they lose focus or turn on each other.

I’m in charge of getting the whole team and sideline spectators to retain their enthusiasm.

I need to smile and have good hair. All the time. Nobody wants a haggard, negative, nochancewearegoingtomakeit cheerleader.

Normally this cheerleading gig, it doesn’t bother me too much.  I’m actually pretty energetic about it. But I hate May.  Seriously.

May needs to take a long walk off a short pier. All the months are my favorite next to May.

rah. rah. rah. 

Some of my cheerleading is coaxing, encouraging, suggesting, begging them to do ALL OF THE NORMAL THINGS that I am supposed to get them to do. And I am supposed to do it in a nice way. rah.

(cue sing song voice that I don’t wear well) “Let’s pick up all of our nice things.  We treat our toys with respect.”  In other words, if I step on this Spider Man Super Hero Smasher one more time I am going burn it in the fire pit when you are at school.

“Let’s eat our vegetables so you will grow up healthy and be able to learn all the wonderful things at school.”  In other words, I can’t even believe you grow at all since most of your calories involve drinking things out of pouches and a rotation of 3 other foods.  I made it. Just eat it. If you don’t eat it now, you’ll have to bring it in the car.  I don’t want to bring a fajita in the car.

“Let’s get that homework done.  We have come this far. Don’t give up now.”  In other words, I have literally spent DAYS cheering you on this far.  If you give up, I will end you.  We are NOT throwing in the towel now-we are closing in on the final seconds of this season. Stare at the polynomials.

“Let’s just somehow get through the week so we can just sit down this weekend for a minute.” This one is for my husband.  It’s literal.

It’s a tough business…cheerleading in May.  My pom pom muscles are weary now, my voice hoarse and May could use a good high kick to the face. In addition to all the standard things,  are things unique to this month.

(continuing with my ironic sports reference)

My team this year has got their issues.  I’m not going to comment directly on specific player personality issues since I’m just the cheerleader (I was just given this team to root for-I didn’t hand pick them in a draft) but here are a few of my key players and you can draw your own conclusions.  I have a 13 year old girl finishing off the 8th grade.  I have an 11 year old boy finishing off the 5th grade. I have a 6 year old boy finishing off Kindergarten. Yeah. It’s an eclectic mix. We aren’t really unified right now as a team. They all think they are free agents.

Apparently because of my diverse team, it means a deluge of testing (requiring eggs for breakfast?), fieldtrips, celebrations, graduations, year end gifts/cards, spring sport practices/games, activity pictures (which is so stupid as I have documented nearly every waking day of their lives-do I need a picture holding a soccer ball in front of a fake ominous cloud backdrop?),  school choir/orchestra concerts, extra before and after school ‘opportunities’ and mandatory meetings for high school transition, middle school transition, activities in the fall that I have not yet signed up or paid for yet.  These all have to take place in 30 days? Why? Why?

I take that back.  I want the soccer magnet.  The tiny cleats.  The mini shin guards. I need it.  But why for the love of everything do we take the pictures in May?

Oh and my anniversary is in May.  Oh and Mother’s Day.  Mother’s Day which coincides with the fishing opener 21 out of 25 years here in MN.  I’d like to speak to the man who made that decision. I’m betting he is single.

This team is getting tired.  They are ready for the off-season.  And they are so sick of my loud, incessantly determined occasionally cheerful  ‘YOU’VE GOT THIS” voice. I’m sick of it.

I say, “Go!”  They say, “NO!”  Or  “Why?” Or “Now?” (with eye roll)

Go. NO. Go. NO. Go. NO. (you get the picture)

They like summer me.  I like summer me.  Let’s just sleep in and drink lemonade and go to the beach and listen to the birds and have ice cream and play badminton in the backyard and see how the day unfolds.  That is the best me. I miss her. She can be fun. She never is screaming, “YOU HAVE FOUR MINUTES TO GET YOUR BUTT IN THE CAR!”

I just found out on May 21st our family is supposed to be in five different places at the same time.  I want to vomit.

rah rah rah.

It’s the end of the school year and I know it’s spring and May flowers (oh yeah…I should put in some flowers)  and all that crap but I feel like I’m doing an army crawl, in the mud under the barbed wire, with all 3 of them on my back and we are draaaaaging ourselves to June 8th.

Wait, that was a military metaphor.  Mayday. Mayday.  See.  A distress signal.

Ok-back to sports.  I feel like we are doing one of those amazing teetering cheerleading pyramids.  Except it’s upside down, and I’m the single cheerleader on the bottom and I’m holding all of them up and their ripped end-of-the-year-getting-too-small-tennis-shoes are precariously balanced on my head.  And I’m supposed to be smiling.  With good hair. Full of hope.

June. Sweet June.  I’m going to do a double back flip in my shortest skirt and french kiss you when I get to you.

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Frogs and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails and violent themed art projects: That is what boys are made of

Preface:  Before anyone freaks out and gets defensive or sensitive on her behalf or on behalf of girls-I have a daughter. I love my daughter and it’s an incredible privilege to have her and she is goodness and light but in my own limited experience it has been different raising a girl than raising boys. Different. I want to talk about boys because I’ve been thinking a lot about the raising of my boys. Look away if you don’t want to read it because it offends you.

Boys. I just love boys. Living with boys is like living with an overflowing bucket of puppies. Loud, fun, unpredictable. Like puppies, they require so very little to be happy. I can boil it down to one on one attention, food, decent tennis shoes and fresh air for my sons. A lot of the classic boy stereotypes that people talk about, complain about, warn about have proven true in my experience…

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There is high energy. There is bathroom humor. There is unabashed nudity. There is filth. There is the mysterious stench of the shoes/mittens/bedrooms/soccer bags/feet.

Pictured below: My son washing his feet to gain couch access. IMG_9033

They break my things.  Things that previously survived three generations in my family-undone in five seconds by one of my sons.  Below: Christmas ornament from 1970’s. Now garbage. IMG_4057

One uses a general clumsiness method to destroy family heirlooms, the other uses brute force and a penchant for flinging things through the air to destroy things. Equally effective. There is the requisite arguing with me about how they should be able to wear the  “nice warm up pants” to a wedding or to church or to a nice dinner. They leave wet towels on the bathroom floor and step over messes never considering the damage to the floor or the bacteria that might be multiplying. They bring me art projects that I do not understand.  My daughter brought me drawings of rainbows and butterflies.

Yesterday I got this: IMG_4062

I did the ‘good mom’ thing and said, “Tell me what is happening in this picture?”  (instead of what the hell is this?)  My son says, “Oh…See there are these guys in a garden with flowers and the guy on the ground got shot with a tranquilizer gun.”    Nice. Falling off of their chairs when someone else uses the word “balls” in a sentence happens a lot lately. Any sentence. Any context.  It is beyond the giggles…it’s downright mirth. Also on the “cannot be uttered list”: Nuts.   I’m serious. We can’t say balls or nuts anywhere close to bedtime right now. It can derail this entire household for over an hour. But I think a lot of the best in them; the very best things about raising boys have been things that nobody told me. It is their sweetness, their charm, and their easy humor. Their levity and how it brings out levity in others. My boys have very different personalities (what children don’t?) but they share those things I mentioned and it makes me better for having them. They are a pure and simple fun and they draw it out in me-they loosen the reins of control.  Oh…they probably stole the reins, tied them into an Albright Knot, lit it on fire and buried in the backyard. They get me to do things that I wouldn’t have done otherwise. Below: Ran a 5k in sub-zero temps.

Why? Why would anyone want to do this? IMG_2232

There is the old (and albeit archaic) saying, “A son is a son until he takes himself a wife but a daughter is a daughter for the rest of your life”. Okay, horribly outdated but the sentiment here seems to be that if you have girls they’ll visit you in the nursing home but if you have a son…he’ll be with the in-laws at that nursing home. So I guess if that holds true to any degree I’ll put in the time with the boys right now. I play the video games (and I really suck at it and they let me know). I play basketball in the driveway. I wrestle with them.

There is a LOT of wrestling.  Some of it is super hero wrestling. IMG_3061 IMG_9875 IMG_8045IMG_4060

I fish. I read to them. I play tic tac toe. I light things on fire with them. I listen to them recount their day at school.

The recollection of their school day is straightforward with little nuance. Bliss. We snuggle. IMG_3763

And I feel the urge to hug them and bite their faces out of pure love and awe for what God has made and let me borrow for a short while. And even in the happy I feel a tiny bit melancholy sometimes-they are just 6 and 11 and they have already been told to “walk it off”, “quit their crying”, “toughen up” “act like a man”.   Girls of this age are not told this. Society saves their “Get over yourself” messages for girls for adolescence…but with boys…it starts so early. Way too early and from too many different sources. When little girls do things that fall outside of traditional girlness (like prefer baseball to ballet) they just have girl power or are modern, independent, full of personality. When little boys do things that fall outside of traditional boyness (like prefer ballet to baseball) the world can be cruel. I have one son that just doesn’t get the intensity of sports. He can’t understand the competitive fire playing sports or the hype of watching them. It’s not his thing. He was on a 40-degree football field at practice one time (his rookie and retirement year all at once) and the coach told the boys to “dig deep.” I was watching from the warmth of my car and I had to laugh. Dig deep. He was 8 years old. Where was he going to dig? The worst things that had happened to him up until that point were either circumcision or eczema and I’m fairly sure he doesn’t remember the circumcision. It wasn’t much to draw on. I guess now that he is older I can tell him to ‘dig deep’ and he can recall the adversity he felt on the chilly football field.

In general, adults aren’t yelling at 8-year-old girls to tough it out and build some character. IMG_4058

I hope that I can cultivate their unabashed zest for life before the world beats it out of them. Before they walk it off. I can’t lie, I would love it if they were polite and used table manners and I toil toward that end (it is NOT going well-we just had to review the merits of wearing shirts to the dinner table) but I would love most if they just held fast onto their love of life. The way they are drawn to joy and relish fun with no concern with what happened before or what will happen after. Their days are full now with the richness of being present minded. It’s hard but wonderful and important to remember that our fathers, uncles, husbands, stepfathers, grandfathers, brothers, step brothers, half-brothers, neighbors, co-workers and male friends were boys. Boys.  They are all still boys with the spirit of a boy in varying degrees in each of them. So mothers of boys are a little nuts (see what I did there) because they see the spirit in their boy, no matter the age and they don’t want that spark to ever go out. And now I’m one of them. The crazies. Keep your sparks protected my beautiful sons. And forgive me world when I forgive them everything…because I will always be able to see the wild spirit of the boy because I was there when it all began. IMG_0945

Please send Botox~I have 12 more years of high school

Oh, Molly Ringwald…you still know how to break my heart.  You were on the Today show talking about the 30 year anniversary of The Breakfast Club. 30 years.  That’s how long it has been since I started high school.  Poignant timing Molly. Nicely done.

My first-born registered for high school this week. It was a new experience to sit back and watch her do it on her own…no parent login wanted or required. I took a picture of her while she registered. She said, “What are you doing???”  She is rounding the bend to 14 and I feel and hear the click of my seatbelt as I get into the roller-coaster that is high school.  I’m documenting dear girl- because I am in shock.

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When I was in 8th grade, I was shopping with my mother one day at Calhoun Square in Minneapolis and we were looking at Benetton sweaters. I remember because I was very fixated on Benetton sweaters in 1985.   Obsession.  I’m wearing a grey and cream mohair number in my 8th grade photo. I can’t locate the photo this minute so I spared you my unfortunate hair and the heavy aqua-green Clinique eyeliner on the inside rim of my eyes.  Good Lord.

Anyway, just outside the store, we ran into a friend of mine from school.  She was with her mother and grandmother. The mothers made the usual small talk, with my friend and I rolling our eyes at each other and when we walked away her grandmother said, “Oh, you girls are going to have so much fun. High school: It’s the best years of your life.”

We walked 20 paces just out of earshot, when my mother grabbed my elbow, faced me squarely and said, “High School is going to be great. It will be fun, but it is not the best years of your life. That is ridiculous. I know what she said, but it’s not true.”

It wasn’t her usual uplifting pep talk but she was right about high school and nearly (at last count) a million other things. There were some good times and some not so good times and it was four good years for me…but not the best four by any stretch of the imagination. Does anyone really think those were the very best years? Let me know if you did-I must have been doing something wrong.

As a teenager, I told my parents everything. I mean everything. No sugar-coating. If I knew you growing up, and you did or said something that fell anywhere outside of the lines, I told my parents what you did and they didn’t judge you nearly as harshly as I likely did. My parents had a very ‘open door’ policy which I have tried (am trying) hard to replicate but I am missing one critical element.

I need to work on my poker face.

My parents, particularly my mother, never flinched. Sometimes, (evil teenager tactic) I would tell her things in a dramatic way. Sometimes I would casually toss out little grenades while waiting in line for an ice cream cone or at the bank just to see if I could get a reaction. No. Complete doe-eyed and calm. Unflappable.  I remember one time I talked about cutting off all of my hair.  My mother said, “Well, it’s only hair.”  I didn’t inherit this skill from her and when my daughter tells me things I try to exude calm but I can already tell…I’ve said too much.

With my face.

Because I’m not just worrying about my daughter. I’m worrying about the kids she grew up with. I’m worrying about her friends. And the friends of those friends. And the friends of the friends of the friends.  And all of the kids that belong to my friends.  It’s a lot of people.  I really so desperately want them all to make it through adolescence in one piece physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. High expectations.  Unrealistic expectations.  I’ve already seen a decent amount of the texting activity and adolescent posts and comments on Instagram the last couple of years. Yikes.

Spend 6 minutes on ask.fm. It will make your stomach turn. It’s the updated version of a slam book but anonymous. Kids are bolder when they are anonymous.

I have some apprehension about the next four years. There is a saying “Little kids. Little Problems. Big Kids. Big Problems.” Maybe it’s because you think you have more control when they are little. They have less access to the world and vice versa. I’ve considered that it’s easier when they are little because I figure I might still have time to fix things I’ve screwed up when they are 3 rather than when they are 17 with one foot out the door.

The 80’s were a ‘simpler’ time as they say. Unlike as pictured above, a cell phone, containing a live feed of everything everyone else is doing/saying/posting/photographing did not always accompany me. If I didn’t get invited to something, it was 6 days until I found out, if ever. I logged some serious time on the phone after school but only with friends, people I knew well. I had no contact with kids from other schools or other grades that I barely knew like modern children do. I had no ‘virtual’ friends, only real ones.

I also spent a majority of my time outside of school at Minnesota Dance Theater in downtown Minneapolis. This allowed a distance from the school drama because I could retreat to my dance friends and talk about school/girls/boys with no repercussions since they didn’t know any of the players. Sometimes it made me feel like a bit of an outsider at school but that had pros and cons and now I believe mostly pros. I was in my twenties before I knew that there were drugs at my high school. Newsflash: Drugs were available in the late 80’s in suburban MN.  However, you couldn’t have gotten any from me, I wouldn’t have even known who to ask.

And- I think I was just so fortunate to have the relationships that I did.

I had some really good friends and many lifelong friendships that originated in high school. I was in hysterics at lunch every single week. I got kicked out of Psychology class for “excessive laughter”.   I cried many times-in French class.  Maybe everything seemed more hysterical because all I ate for lunch were french fries, cookies and pop for four years.  Sure there was some friend drama and minor disagreements but nothing that followed me into adulthood. I felt like I knew a lot of my classmates and their families really well. (Please don’t quiz me now…now I have to consult the yearbook and five other mutual classmates) My graduating class was about 380 people. She is going to a high school of 3,000.

I dated good, decent men.  Well, they were just boys back then.  Apologies if they are reading this and wanted to be characterized as dangerous or edgy.  Who knows…maybe they were but they were only thoughtful and considerate to me. They never hurt me in a long-term psychologically damaging after school special kind of way and I hope I never hurt them in that way. I know many people who had a relationship in high school that set them on a course that they could never seem to correct. They had been devastated at age 15 or 16 from a 90 day relationship and struggled to fully recover. I hope nobody hurts my daughter in that way. I hope she doesn’t hurt anybody in that way. She and I have discussed this quite a bit. I’ve tried to encourage her to tread very gently because these are fragile times even when people don’t appear very fragile.

I was/am not/never will be a big risk taker. I’m still waiting for my rebellion.  But there was still danger back in the day.  I was in more car accidents in those four years than in the subsequent 30 years and I didn’t even drive. I was at a football game in the fall of 1988 at Cooper High School wandering around in a big group of friends and some other kid (a spectator)  lifted up his shirt showing he had a gun.   Threatening a friend. Oh, and all the drugs…apparently. HA! Things seemed innocent then.  What are they like now?

School was just plain easier. My 8th grader has already faced more academic rigor and certainly more math than I ever did K-12. She probably had won that race by 6th grade. I was thinking about how I took Typing as a class in high school. Typing. By the time my brother got there 4 years later, it was called Keyboarding. My oldest son is in 5th grade. He finished up the keyboarding program before the first of this year. He’s done. They are coding.  We are living at warp speed.

The pressure on students today seems astonishing compared to what I endured. I had very little homework and even less competition with my classmates academically.  I’m less concerned about her academic performance going forward than I am about her mental state. Can she stay afloat? Can she manage the classes, the friends, the extra-curricular things, the testing, the competitive culture, the social media?

Can I?    Again, working on holding my expression perfectly still.

So I will enjoy now.  The sweet comfort of the known. Middle school.  Who knew that middle school would seem like a panacea?  In the fall, it feels like we are embarking on an amusement park ride starting at orientation and ending (ideally) with Pomp and Circumstance. So we are on this ride together. I’m just hoping it’s more like the Merry Go Round at the State Fair and less like The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney.   And I hope she holds my hand the whole time.

And I hope I can conceal the fear on my face.

I don’t need Ambien: I have Minecraft.

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Confession: I’m not a very patient person and I can be a very poor listener. Parenting often takes copious amounts of patience and the listening skills of the most seasoned therapist. Beyond the simple maintenance issues of keeping a family fed, clothed, clean, groomed, organized, well rested, prepared, not sword fighting in the kitchen, etc. is the ceaseless demands of “watch me”- “play with me”- “listen to me”.

It requires attention. I can hardly believe how many hours I have  devoted to just paying attention.  And I want to be a patient listener…I want to be mentally present and a lot of times these are the best parenting moments.  Just listening.  But then there are all the things I’m forced to listen to including:

1.Complaining.

2. Whining.

3. Bickering.

4. Crying.

5. Fighting

6. Protesting

7.Blaming

8.Yelling

9.Sighing (LOUDLY)

10. …and Minecraft.

Minecraft has become a bit of a problem. Between IKEA purchases and having Minecraft on a PC, handheld device, Xbox…not to mention Minecraft posters, books, t-shirts, magnets and a MINECRAFT nightlight that was gifted to us! we are very big supporters of Swedish exports.

A lot of the sharing from my daughter takes on the flavor of “So then she said this and then I said that and then he said that and then I said this and then she said that…can you even believe it?” I’m paraphrasing here but you get the gist.  This is what much of the day consists of for her.         I get it.    (I mean…not always…but middle school is middle school and while I think some things about it has improved, it’s still like doing 3 years of hard time. That part hasn’t really changed in 30 years)

A lot of the sharing my sons do runs along the lines of, “So I was in creative mode and built this house which I could use if I switched it to survival mode because of the walls and I was thinking of buying a skin pack. Can I buy a skin pack? It might not be worth it but if I did, I could change Steve and make him look more like how I imagine him and then it would look so cool in my mod when the zombies come.”   Um…what?

“Mom, come down here and watch me play Minecraft!”

I go. I go quickly.  I mean…my sons are asking me to be part of what they are doing.  I’m in. These opportunities seem rare.  And so I watch them play this game for a bit with their mouths gaping open and their little fingers flying across the controllers and I really try to pay attention. I watch. I try not to wonder if is this really is training them to code?  Or is it really training them to live in this exact basement when they are 35?

And 38 minutes later, they have done it. They have made a pixellated sheep move 10 virtual feet. They have spent 38 minutes of their lives and mine creating what looks to be a pretty sad little monochromatic Lego world.  Great.  I was present and they seem pleased to have me as their witness to this grand fake sheep accomplishment.

But then (this is the part that hurts me) they want to TALK about it.  Oh God, help me…because when they utter more than 10 words on the subject of Minecraft, I feel a wave of exhaustion engulf me.  It suddenly feels like 3am and I’ve eaten Thanksgiving dinner and had 3 glasses of wine and I’m wearing cozy pants and it’s a little warm in here and I’m reading the tax code…

Generally speaking, I think my sons are interesting people.  One is more “existentialist interesting” and often causes me to ruminate on the bigger questions of life. The other son is more “he might actually join the circus someday” interesting.  He is like watching a car crash…I’m often frightened but still can’t tear my attention away.

But they both talk “Minecraft” and my eyes glaze over and my heart rate slows and I have to fight to stay engaged.   I have pinched my own leg HARD while they were talking about it to remind myself to throw in some “Mmm’s” and “Wow’s” when they looked at me expectantly.

I grew up with video games. I played Pac Man, Ms. Pac Man, Frogger, Donkey Kong, Pong…the classics.  We had nearly every gaming system in existence during the 80’s.  My brother was (is) an avid gamer.  I just don’t remember EVER having a game that we felt was worth discussion.  My brother never (to the best of my recollection) talked about Mario’s outfit or the layouts of level 5. When the console was off…it was over.

So what is it?  Is it that modern kids spend so much time in virtual worlds that it has taken on more importance? Is it because they feel invested having made the world?  How can the very game that has captivated these boys and much of the world be SO BORING to me? Or is it geared toward the male gender?  I mean even if it were more relational (for me), I don’t think I care whether or not Steve starts dating Creeper and they move off the farm into the city.

I asked my son what he likes best about it.  He paused for a long time and said, “I guess it’s just the excitement of survival.”

And that’s what I’m choosing to like about parenting today.

The excitement of survival.