The Rockwood Files: What’s for dinner?

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

There’s one question that haunts me. I can’t shake it. No matter how many times I answer, it comes back for more, more, more: “What’s for dinner?”question mark2

Honestly? I have no idea. But that doesn’t keep everyone from asking. These kids and their growing appetites have made answering this question more pressing than ever.

When the kids were between the ages of 3 and 7, we lived in the stage of questions. “Why are cars able to go so fast, Mom?” “Why do people call them cars? How did they get that name?” “Who gets to name things?” Tom and I felt like all we ever did was answer questions and then answer the questions triggered by the answers.

But now that the kids are between the ages of 14 and 9, we’ve left the constant questioning behind and have entered the age of constant hunger. The only times the kids aren’t hungry are the times when they’re unconscious. If their eyes are open, they’re hungry or they’re thinking about the next time they might get hungry and planning accordingly.

They’re hungry in the morning, at lunch, after school, right before dinner, at dinner, an hour after dinner and right before bed. The after-school hunger seems to be the most intense. Judging by how famished they are at 3 p.m., I’d guess that their teachers are having them dig educational trenches all day.

Today I picked up our 14-year-old son from school, and he hadn’t even shut the car door yet when he started reporting on his extreme hunger: “Mom, I’m so hungry. I really need some food right now. My stomach is so empty. I could eat a cow. No, I could eat two cows, stacked on top of each other – with mustard.”frenchs-mustard

(I’m still trying to erase the visual image of stacked cows slathered in mustard.)

The good news is that this near-constant state of hunger has helped the kids develop some cooking skills. The teenager has learned to make his own burgers and practices almost daily. Over the summer alone, his burger consumption probably wiped out an entire herd of cattle and doubled profits for the French’s mustard company.

When they were little, there were days when I had to practically beg the kids to eat. I’d do almost anything to get them to consume a chicken nugget or a bite of green beans before they ran off to their next adventure. But now, food is the adventure they’re interested in. “What’s for dinner, Mom?” “Are we going somewhere for dinner?” “Can we go right now?” “Are you going to eat that dinner roll, or can I have it?”

As you might imagine, all the eating has fueled some serious growth spurts. When I bump into friends who ask what I’ve been up to lately, I say two things: “I am the maker of food and the buyer of pants.” When I’m not at the grocery store, I’m at the mall buying longer jeans because their current pants are now an inch above the ankle.

I’ve never been a fan of those all-you-can-eat buffets, but I’m beginning to understand the logic behind it. When kids are in a growth spurt, they are much like a swarm of locusts, capable of wiping out an entire pantry before you can say burrito.

The next time they ask me what’s for dinner, maybe I’ll just hand them my checkbook and tell them to gnaw on that while I go out and wrangle a couple of stacked cows – with mustard on top.

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

The Rockwood Files: Life under construction

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

When I turn out of my neighborhood and get to the first stoplight, I have to choose.

Turn left and I run smack into road construction. Traffic slows down and a man on the road crew holds up a sign telling me to stop. When he waves me through, I idle down the rough road crowded on both sides by orange barrels and tall mounds of red dirt. I steer around bumps in the road, and I wince when my tires hit breaks in the pavement.

Turn right and it’s more of the same. Earth-moving machines putter along the long stretch of construction, kicking up a daily dust storm. I hold my breath as I squeeze past other drivers on the only sliver of road left in the midst of construction chaos.under-construction-sign

Like most drivers, I’m aggravated because construction began right before the kids went back to school, making those main arteries even more congested on busy weekdays. The inconvenience seems to outweigh any noticeable progress.

But last week, as I groaned about the traffic bottleneck, I tried to see it in a new light. For those who use it regularly, is there ever a convenient time for a road to be under construction? Probably not.

And perhaps I don’t notice progress being made on the road because I live so close to it and see it daily. It’s like raising kids. My teenager looks the same to me when I see him every morning over breakfast, but when we bump into friends who haven’t seen him in a while, they all marvel at how much he’s grown and changed. Progress has been made, regardless of whether or not I saw it happening.

Maybe the messy, bumpy roads bother me because they remind me of parts of my own life that are “under construction.” For the past two years, I’ve been trying to learn how to write fiction. So far, my first draft looks even worse than those torn-up roads. I’m wading through a manuscript chock full of rough spots and wrong turns. The work is slow, and at times I wonder if it’s going anywhere.

The thing that keeps me going is the third road that leads away from the stoplight I mentioned earlier. If I don’t turn left or right and instead drive straight, I coast down a smooth, open road with wide shoulders and a roomy turn lane. It’s one of my favorite roads because it leads to the best place to get hot waffle fries and sweet tea – a proven source of inspiration for any writer.

The smooth, wide road didn’t always look that way, however. A few years ago, it, too, was under construction. Progress crawled and then stalled. Looking at it now, you’d never guess it was once a mangled mess with a one-lane bridge and delayed, angry drivers shaking their fists at each end.

Little by little, the workers built a better road. Whichever parts of my life and your life that are now “under construction”? They’ll get better, too.

Part of our brain tells us to avoid it – the mess, the hassle, the uncertainty. But there’s another part of us that wants us to keep going – to learn, to create, to make things better than they were before.

So we keep grinding away in the hope that, one day, the snail-like pace will be worth it. Just like the new road, our own projects will turn into something recognizable and maybe even useful and beautiful. We just have to keep working and wait for the construction dust to settle.

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

The Rockwood Files: Household Memo

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

To Whom It May Concern (and you know who you are):

It has come to my attention that there may be a misunderstanding about the meaning of this phrase: “Clean up your dishes.”dish soap blue

When a person asks you to clean up your dishes, she is implying that literal cleaning should take place. (Running water, soap, scrub brush, etc.) Judging by the recent condition of the kitchen, it’s obvious you thought “clean your dishes” was more about location, location, location. Perhaps you assumed that by moving the dirty dishes off the counter and into the sink, your job was done.

But that’s not what it means to clean the dishes. We call that “relocating” the dishes. There’s a big difference.

Where you relocate the dishes, a few things happen: No. 1: The dishes don’t get clean. You may be surprised to learn that there’s no magical kitchen fairy who flies in during the night to clean the kitchen. Shocking, I know. No one is more disappointed by this reality than I am.

No. 2: The dishes get disgusting. Do you know what happens to leftover tomato sauce when it sits overnight? It turns into a crusty, rancid mess that makes a mother gag when she catches a whiff of it the next morning. And everyone knows a gagging mother is not a happy mother.

No. 3: Dirty dishes multiply like gremlins. Soon that single plate and cup on Tuesday becomes a leaning tower of terror by Thursday, making it tough to use the sink to wash your hands, get a cup of water or anything else. People try to ignore or work around the tower of dishes, playing a game of what I call “Who can stand it the longest?”

This is a mother’s least favorite game because, typically, she’s the one who loses. At some point, she can’t take another second of the mess or the smell. Or maybe she just really needs a spoon for her cereal. So she rolls up her sleeves and tackles the tower that everyone else thought was invisible simply because it was in the sink.

So let’s put an end to the madness. As stated in previous household memos, you should wash your own dishes or rinse them and put them into the dishwasher.

What’s that you say? Sometimes the dishwasher is full of clean dishes that need to be put away before you can load your dirty dish? Yes, I’m aware of that situation. When this happens, put away the clean dishes and proceed with loading the dirty ones.

And let’s not try to delay the inevitable with tired excuses like, “I was letting it soak.” I admit that some pots and pans require soaking, but the soaking period should not last four days or until a mother can’t stand it anymore and washes it herself – whichever comes first.

Lastly, when you do rinse your dishes and put them into the dishwasher, be sure to wash out the sink before you flee the kitchen. No one wants to see the remnants of your murdered spaghetti and meatballs littering the sink like a crime scene.

When you leave noodle fragments in the sink, they dry up and cement themselves to the stainless steel. Days later they have to be scraped off, and they leave behind what looks like a chalk outline of their limp bodies. Please dispatch your food fragments to the garbage disposal and then use the sprayer, leaving the sink as clean as your conscience.sink-1417457_640 (2)

I’m glad we all understand the system now. Please know that your cooperation is appreciated and that I love you and do not wish to kill you with a dirty butter knife.

Love,

Mom

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

The Rockwood Files: Clueless or chronic?

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Generally speaking, I enjoy grocery shopping – the piles of fresh produce, the seasonal displays, the cute helium balloons tied to the check-out lanes.

But if I had to choose whether to go to a busy grocery store on a Sunday afternoon or have a surprise root canal, I’d have to think about it. I’m not sure which one is more uncomfortable. At least you get some numbing medication with the root canal, maybe even some laughing gas.

But no one is laughing when they’re stuck in a shopping cart traffic jam in the cereal aisle. Why is it so maddening on busy weekends? Two words: Spatial awareness.shopping-cart-1026501_640 (2)

Experts say spatial awareness is “an organized knowledge of objects including oneself, in a given space.” The problem with a busy store is that it’s often overrun with people who have almost zero spatial awareness.

If you’ve ever attempted to navigate down a crowded aisle only to be blocked by someone standing in the smack dab middle of it (with their cart parked diagonally), you’ve seen this phenomenon in action. The problem is not that the person is standing in the middle of the aisle. The problem is that said person seems to have NO idea there are other people in the store who might also need to walk down that aisle.

Before I go further, I should point out an important distinction when it comes to those who are spatially unaware. There are two groups – the “temporarily clueless” and the “chronic offenders.”

I fully admit to being temporarily clueless in the store at times. Sometimes I get lost in my head as I stare into a sea of 15 different applesauce variations. We’ve all done it.

What I’ve found is that, if you encounter a temporarily clueless person blocking the way, a subtle clearing of the throat is usually all it takes to help them resurface into reality and realize you’re there. If that shopper has manners, he or she will often say “Sorry!” and step aside. Then you reply with a cheerful “No problem!” and continue down the aisle like civilized people whose mamas raised them right.

But sometimes the aisle blocker is so unyielding that you have to go beyond the quiet cough and ramp up to the polite “Excuse me. May I get by?” How the shopper reacts to that question tells you whether or not he or she is a chronic offender. Because the chronic offenders will not be apologetic for standing in everyone’s way. Instead, they will look up at you with disdain and disgust, as if you’re a bothersome fly they’d like to shoo away – as if you have some nerve for attempting to get tomato sauce at the same time they’re getting tomato sauce.

Chronic offenders will purposefully take up space in a way that says “I own this aisle. This is mine. I will stand here as long as I want. Ye shall not pass until I have looked at every package of Rice-a-Roni and checked the incoming text message on my phone.”

That kind of attitude is why I avoid shopping during peak traffic hours. The more people there are in a store, the more likely it is you’ll encounter chronic offenders who will make you want to hurl a ripe avocado at their heads.

In a civilized society, we must remember that we’re all in this grocery store together. We make room for each other. We get things off the top shelf for people who can’t reach. We scoot our carts over so someone else can look at the taco shells, too. We’re spatially aware of others in the bread aisle.

It’s like our great-grandmothers always said: If you can’t shop nicely, stay home and order pizza.

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

The Rockwood Files: Note to self

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Sometimes when I look at my 14-year-old son and his 12-year-old brother – the one speeding down the on-ramp to join his brother in the teenage years – I think they’re pretty brave. We grown-ups like to moan and groan about how tough it is here in the real world – and it is – but we forget sometimes that being a teenager isn’t exactly a walk in the park either.

Sure, it looks easy when they’re sleeping until noon or playing their third consecutive hour of video games. But when I think about whether or not I’d want to relive that time of my life, the answer is a resounding “no.”letter bird

In fact, sometimes I wish I could write a letter to my teenage self and send it back through time – save that poor kid some needless drama. If that kind of time-hopping correspondence was possible, here’s what I’d say.

10 things I’d tell my teenage self:

  1. Regarding your hair, higher and wider is not necessarily better. I have the photographic evidence to prove it. Put down the hairspray.
  2. While we’re on the subject of appearance, just because there are six different shades of blue eyeshadow in the compact does not mean you should use them all at one time.
  3. That volcanic pimple on your chin feels like a social death sentence. I get it. But the truth is that people think about you far less than you think they do, mostly because they’re busy thinking about themselves and their own volcanic rupture.
  4. You know that giant phone your parents gave you to use in case of emergency while driving to college? The one that’s roughly the size and weight of a brick with the ridiculously long antenna sticking out? Believe it or not, that thing will soon morph into a thin, sleek phone-slash-computer that you’ll use almost constantly. You’ll wonder how you ever lived a day without it. Scrape together some of your birthday money and invest in Apple stock right now.
  5. Your mother is not an idiot, so just cool it with the exasperated sighs and the eye-rolling. Trust me, that stuff will come back to you one day in the form of wicked karma when you’re the one driving a kid to school and you have the audacity to ask an innocent question like “You got all your homework done, right?”
  6. Acid-washed jeans are a terrible idea. Just don’t.

  7. Surround yourself with good, kind friends and hang on to them even when life takes you in different directions. The friends who know and love you even when you’re a moody teenager often make the best life-long buddies.
  8. Even when it feels like your parents “don’t get it,” they probably do. Maybe they don’t understand it completely because, after all, things can change a lot from one generation to the next. (See phone comment above, for example.) But people (even parents) never forget the feeling of being a teenager who’s just trying to get through the day without being embarrassed or ridiculed or made to feel stupid. We all worry about not being “enough.” Stop sulking and talk to them. It might actually help.
  9. If you think your jeans might be a tad too short, they are.
  10. Your parents’ job is not to make you happy. It is to help protect you, teach you and do everything in their power to grow you into a kind, self-sufficient person. Even on your most frustrating teenage day, never doubt for a second that you are loved with an intensity and ferocity you will never understand – until the day you become a parent.

Hang in there, kid. It’s going to get easier.

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.