The Rockwood Files: Are we exasperating our kids?

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

Whether you’re religious or not, most parents can agree on the absolute truth and wisdom of the verse in the Bible that says, “Honor your father and mother.” It’s such an important verse that it lands smack dab in the middle of the Ten Commandments, right above “Thou shalt not murder.” We parents are big fans of this particular rule.

Any time this verse get read aloud in church, every parent in the room cuts his or her eyes over toward their kids with a satisfied look that says, “See there? God said so.”

exasperate graphicBut lately I’ve also been thinking about another line from the Bible – one that kids are often thrilled to hear – which says this: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.” (I’m pretty sure the “do not exasperate” line applies equally to mothers.)

I’m no parenting expert but I’m beginning to think that the essence of parenting lies in that magical middle ground between those two verses. How do you raise a kid to honor his father and mother without sometimes exasperating him?

With one kid firmly entrenched in the teenage years and another well on the way, I’ve noticed that a kid’s “exasperation threshold” drops considerably as he hits the middle school years. The other day I called one of the kid’s names and heard an audible groan come from the other room – the kind of groan that translates into something like this: “Oh no, not again. What does she want this time?”

That’s when it hit me. Sometimes all it takes to go from a state of peace to the land of exasperation is the mere sound of my voice.

It feels like this shift happened overnight. One minute, you’ve got this sweet baby in your arms who coos and grins when he hears your voice. The next minute? He’s wishing you’d shut up already so he could get back to a far more interesting app on his smartphone. Any mom who has experienced this drastic drop in the level of maternal adoration knows it’s a bitter pill to swallow.

But I get it. I really do. I know how irritating I must be for them at times. Of course they don’t want to be reminded about homework. Or chores. Or piano practice. And they definitely don’t want to hear that tired old speech about how the toilet should be flushed every single time.

I distinctly remember when I was a teenager burdened with a mother who’d suddenly become supremely annoying. I wondered what had happened to her and was convinced it had nothing to do with me and the endless waves of moody hormones I was surfing. I look back on those days and feel sorry for my mom because I know now what she knew then: Trying not to exasperate a teenager can be, well, downright exasperating.

But if my mission as a parent is to raise kind, respectful, toilet-flushing citizens, there are bound to be times when those goals are at odds with what the kids would rather do. So they’ll get annoyed and they’ll mess up, just like most of us did at that age.

Tom and I are beginning to make peace with the knowledge that there’ll be times in the next few years when the kids won’t find us cool or funny or maybe even likeable. And that’s okay, as long as they treat us honorably even on those days we’re annoying.

And I hope that, even when Tom and I are supremely annoyed by the kids’ annoyance, we’ll find a way to correct and guide them without ever making them “lose heart.” More than anything, I pray that they’ll never doubt just how much we love their hearts.

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: Vices in a vice grip

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

You know what I think about sometimes right before I fall asleep? Cereal. I imagine how lovely it would have been to sit down with a bowl of my favorite kind of cereal for a late-night snack before bed.

It used to be my nighttime ritual. On most nights, I’d have a bowl of Special K or Raisin Bran because they seemed like a healthier choice than the Froot Loops I truly wanted. But then a friend and exercise instructor told me that my cereal habit might be adding way too much sugar in my diet. And sugar is bad about making a body hold on to those pesky pounds it should really lose.

cereal-635741_640 (2)“But wait! It’s not like I’m eating Froot Loops. It’s Raisin Bran,” I said. “It’s got fiber.”

“Yep, but it also has sugar. Look at the label. You’ll see what I mean,” she said.

I checked the label and, of course, she was right. With one look at the number of sugar grams, my healthy snack started to curdle in my mind’s eye.

So these days I try not to have any snack after eight o’clock at night, and I do think it makes a difference. Most days, I’m pretty proud of myself for kicking the cereal habit. But every now and then, particularly after a long, tiring day, I miss curling up on the sofa with a cool bowl cradled in my hands. It was comforting, familiar and delicious.

Of course, the late-night cereal wasn’t my only vice and I certainly haven’t given up the rest of them. If my friend ever tries to take away my sweet tea, we may have to go our separate ways. Some things are sacred, after all. Besides, I’m not even sure it’s advisable to give up every vice.

I recently read a quote about vices by the late Elizabeth Taylor. She said, “The problem with people who have no vices is that generally you can be pretty sure they’re going to have some pretty annoying virtues.”

Liz certainly made a good point, and she said it well before social media had reached the fever pitch it’s at today. Have you noticed that sometimes people in your Facebook and Instagram feed – the ones who are nearly obsessed with “clean eating” or intense daily workouts – take real pleasure in sharing evidence of their discipline with the rest of the Internet?

I’m happy for them. I really am. It’s great that they’re so healthy, so self-controlled. But if I have to see one more picture of their healthy lunch or see another screen shot of the number of steps they’ve taken in a single day, I might start throwing tortilla chips at the computer. (And that could get messy because, generally, there’s always a little guacamole on those chips.)

To be fair, I don’t think the super-devoted clean eaters and exercise enthusiasts are trying to make the rest of us feel bad. I think they’re just passionate about their healthy lifestyle and hopeful that their devotion might inspire the rest of us cereal-loving, chip-eating slugs to join their merry bandwagon.

Who knows? Maybe one of these days I’ll do it. Maybe I’ll figure out a way to give up all my vices and document it online without turning into one of those annoying people who remind the rest of us about just how imperfect we are. But before I do anything rash, like pour my sweet tea down the drain, I should probably think it through.

Perhaps I’ll sleep on it – right after I finish dreaming about that missed bowl of cereal.

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: Pickers and choosers

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

Remodeling your house is a little like having a baby. It’s wonderful and exciting – right up until the sledgehammer smashes into the first wall. Then it becomes like childbirth itself – messy, scary and painful.

We’ve remodeled a kitchen before, but this time around we’re moving our washer and dryer out of their tiny closet and into a new room of their own. (You know you’ve been married with kids for a long time when the idea of a new laundry room gets you this excited.)

But the biggest part of the remodeling project is a new bathroom that will be used by 8-year-old Kate. She’s wildly excited about the idea of not sharing space with her two older brothers, who have no appreciation for how much time it takes a girl to shower, brush her teeth, dry her hair, apply fruit-flavored chapstick, decide on outfit accessories and then change her mind about the hairstyle and accessories at least three times. under construction2

We’ve been under construction for two weeks now, and going through the process again has reminded me just how silly my skill-sets seem when I compare them to others. An electrician and plumber have been here running pipes and wire all over the place for several days. And even though the two new rooms look like nothing but a mass of two-by-four boards and plywood floors, these guys know exactly where to put each line. Together with our contractor, they’re making a laundry room and a bathroom from nothing. It’s incredible to watch.

My professional training has taught me the difference between a dangling participle and a split infinitive, but these guys can build a working bathroom! At the end of the day, I can live with a split infinitive but I won’t make it long without a working bathroom. If our two jobs had to arm wrestle for the title of “most necessary,” I think we both know who’d win.

For me, one of the toughest parts of the remodeling process is making decisions. In the world of construction, there are two kinds of people – the pickers and the choosers. Pickers are those gifted people who can walk into a home improvement store, pick out exactly what they like and make confident decisions, even question-markthough they’re surrounded by thousands of different options for tile, paint, fixtures, drawer pulls, countertops, lights and more.

People like me – the choosers – see all those options and want to go home, curl into the fetal position and wait for the whole thing to be over. It’s not that we can’t make a decision. It’s just that we want to choose our favorite among three or four good options, not a gazillion mind-numbing possibilities.

Speaking from experience, it’s best for a chooser to take a natural-born picker along when it’s time to decide on new finishes. Otherwise, the chooser is likely to wander out of the store and into the nearest Arby’s where the menu choices aren’t nearly as intimidating.

Now that the decisions, the plumbing and the electrical work is mostly done, the new walls will start going up tomorrow. I’m excited to see all the groundwork begin to take shape into something more recognizable. All this labor will soon give birth to a brand spanking new laundry room and bathroom.

We’ll be so excited about the new additions that, in a few years, we’ll forget about the dust, the decisions and the deluge of invoices, and we’ll start talking about how awesome it would be if we knocked down that wall, replaced those countertops or put down new floors. That’s how remodeling projects are born.

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: Fruity chocolate

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

There’s a big bag of candy on the kitchen counter and no one is eating it. In a house with three kids and a chocolate-loving husband, this is bizarre. Candy and treats usually only last as long as it takes to rip them from their paper wrappers. So why is it still languishing here, three weeks after arrival?

Two reasons. First off, the Easter Bunny overdid it. He shopped for candy when he was hungry and ended up getting enough stuff to put a small country into a sugar coma. You would think the Easter Bunny would have learned this lesson by now, as this is not the first time he’s gone overboard. But I’m not one to blame a bunny for generosity.

The main reason that candy is still here has everything to do with a lack of focus. A couple of days after Easter, I told the kids to take the candy out of their baskets so I could pack the decorations back into the storage closet. I didn’t want the leftover candy to get stale so I put it into a large Ziploc bag to keep it fresh. The bag was brimming with bubble gum, chocolate eggs, Skittles, Starburst, Snickers and jellybeans.

Yesterday I walked by that same bag and noticed that almost none of it had disappeared. So I opened the bag and reached in for one of the small chocolate Hershey’s eggs, figuring it was only right that I should do my part to get rid of the excess treats. I peeled off its shiny foil wrapper, popped it in my mouth and began to chew.

The chocolate was… wrong. The texture was right but the flavor was definitely off. It tasted like… fruit. Because I’d comingled all the leftover candy into one bag, the flavors had somehow comingled, too. Chocolate and Skittles don’t mix and Starburst and Snickers aren’t a good combo, either.

The fruity chocolate wasn’t inedible but it wasn’t good either. I didn’t want another one, and I’m guessing everybody else in the house who had eaten one probably felt the same way. The mixed bag of fruity chocolate and chocolatey Skittles will likely meet its fate in this week’s garbage because it’s too mixed up to be any good.

fruity chocolateThe fate of the leftover candy has made me think about all the jumbled up activities in my own life. Am I “too mixed up to be any good”? Even though all the things I do are good on their own, I wonder if I sometimes mix too many things into the same jam-packed week or month. Have I lost my sense of focus and the ability to enjoy any one thing because I’m busy trying to do so many things?

Sometimes, in an effort not to “waste” a single opportunity, we cram too much into our lives and end up with a not-so-satisfying chunk of fruity chocolate. The ingredients themselves are good but not when they’re mashed together.

With each passing month, I’m realizing that what I want and need most is time to focus. I want a schedule that lets me be good at one or two things instead of “just okay” at too many things. Sometimes all the “busy” of life crosses the line from blessing into burden and it’s hard to know when to pull back. But I hope I figure it out.

Because life is too short to settle for fruity chocolate.

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: Dear Greg

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

Dear Greg,

April sucks. It really does. Each year as the calendar creeps closer to April 20th, the knot in my throat gets a little bigger each day until I’m nearly choking on the reality that I’ve missed you for another whole year.

It’s been 14 years now since I got that phone call that changed everything for me and for Mom and Dad. If I let myself, I can almost replay the conversation line by line. I can hear exactly how the police officer sounded when he told me you’d died.

“That can’t be right,” I said. “Are you sure? Are you sure?”

“We’re sure, ma’am. I’m sorry, but we’re sure.”

The days and months after that phone call are still a grey blur in my memory. When you’re 28 years old, you’re not supposed to write your brother’s obituary, so you try to block out as much of the shock and pain as your mind will allow.

The only things I remember clearly are a handful of moments that felt like some kind of text message straight from Heaven – a little sign here and there that made me feel like maybe you were still around, even though I couldn’t see you.

People who haven’t experienced a major loss might think those “signs” are just wishful thinking, and there’d be no point in trying to convince them otherwise. You believe it when it happens to you and not a moment sooner.

gregpic3Losing you has taught me so much about life and loss and grief and joy. I’ve learned that “getting through” a loss is the thing we have to hope for because the loss doesn’t really have a finish line, which makes “getting over” it impossible. When my kids do something funny that reminds me of us when we were growing up, I want to tell you about it so badly.

I want to sit around the table again with you and Mom and Dad and watch you eat more lasagna than any human should ever consume at one sitting and be partly grossed out and partly impressed at the same time. I want to hear the jokes you’d make about all the crazy things that have happened in the world since you left it. Nobody made me laugh the way you did.

Every time something happy or sad or funny or unbelievable happens and you’re not around, I feel the loss again – like a thousand little cuts that pierce deep enough to remind me about the grief that lives just under the surface.

But here’s the thing that makes it better. Now and then when I see something ridiculous on the news, the joke you probably would have made pops right into my head. So I just say it for you and take the credit. And my oldest son – the one who just turned 13 – he rolls his eyes almost exactly the way you did. Our middle kid, Jack, has hair that looks like yours did, and his little sister, Kate, hums while we’re in the car and it annoys her brothers the same way it annoyed you when I used to do it.

Gosh, I wish you were here to see it. But I also have a deep sense that you’re not really missing a thing – that you have a ringside seat to everything that happens and that you nudge a guardian angel in our direction any time we need it. Thanks for that. You always were a protective big brother. I’m lucky that way.

Love,

Gwen

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.