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Boys—And The Occasional Lapse In Common Sense

“Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.” (Gertrude Stein)

And if raising sons has taught me anything at all that the rowdy twin brothers I was raised with failed to do, it’s this: boys not only think very differently than girls (in my experience), they occasionally have a lapse in common sense!

My oldest child was an energetic child. His antics led me to many unexpected experiences—like the time I took him to a McDonald’s play land and while he was in a tunnel, I watched children stream from every colorful plastic opening, running and screaming in terror in the race back to the safety of their mothers’s arms. I watched mothers attempt to comfort their crying children as they complained of a “beast” in the tunnel, and before I knew what was happening, out came my son: growling, hissing, clawing the air with his hands, roaring for all he was worth and looking as fierce as a 3 or four-year-old possibly can. Followed shortly afterward by all mothers’ eyes upon me in condemnation for raising such a child who would behave in such a way. I was mortified! It was a long time before I dared let him venture back to a play land. (Probably a healthier choice for him anyway.)

But I realized a few months ago, when confronting the behavior of my second son, that for all my oldest son’s energy, creativity and questionable boyhood antics that led to a few broken bones and several surgeries over the course of his life, he still made it through high school graduation without a single visit to the principal’s office.

Wish I could say the same about his younger brothers!

Shortly around the time my youngest ditched kindergarten a few months ago (which resulted into a trip to the principal’s office) I got a call from my middle son. He called from school, crying so hard he could hardly speak, and all I could understand was, “I’ve made a terrible mistake, I’m so sorry!” over and over again.

You know, it’s interesting. Having lived through some of the lovely adventures that have been mine in the course of my life, particularly since my first husband dropped the Ponzi scheme bomb that destroyed my world and others in 2009 and revealed the double life he had been leading and the crimes he had committed, I have some crazy “automatic” responses. When I got the call I was mentally thrust into a different time, and instead of reacting like a normal mother (I assume normal mothers worry about…what? Missing the bus, or a missing homework assignment?) my mind immediately races to thoughts of big lies, cheating, stealing, serious betrayal and behavior worthy of prison time. I think, “Oh no! It has finally happened! I knew this was coming, that THIS is how the trauma my children lived through is going to manifest itself.” It’s a crazy split second or two until I calm my psyche and ask, “What happened?” never letting on that my mind has already imagined the worst.

Turns out, my middle son had gotten in a fight at school on the playground! I guess the bright side of it was that he had chosen to confront a boy well-known for bullying students and who had been in several fights at school already (if school yard gossip can be relied upon at all), and after my son had turned to adults at the school for help and the situation didn’t change, my son took matters into his own hands and decided to take a stand. I was shocked at how intentional the decision was: the boys had scheduled their “fight” via Facebook! And both showed up at the appointed place and time, the next day, to follow through.

Needless to say, my middle son sent his last Facebook message that day. When I got home from work, I told him to write his last internet communication—a Facebook message apology to the boy—to send it and then suspend his account, and to prepare to go to the boys’ home and also apologize in person. I ended the conversation with something about how disappointed I was by his choices and how poorly his actions reflected not just upon himself, but upon our family and the type of mother people will assume he has because of his behavior! (My husband let me handle it, but had his own questions: like, did my son get any good punches in before school officials broke up the fight? Men! Boys!)

Both boys apologized, shook hands and agreed to go to school the next day and let everyone know they had worked things out. Make that TWO visits to the principal’s office for this son (he called 9-1-1 from an old cell phone of his dad’s that “didn’t work” while out on the school playground with his friends in Colorado, trip #1, followed by a visit from the sheriff who responded to the call; and enjoyed excursion #2 six years later because he got into a boxing match with a bully in Utah) but all’s well that ends well, right? As long as a good lesson was learned!

“To me, boxing is like a ballet, except there’s no music, no choreography, and the dancers hit each other.” (Jack Handy)

Snakes, snails, puppy dog tails, Facebook fights, boxing matches, visits to the principal’s office and occasional lapses in common sense aside, I love my boys and the opportunity that is mine to be their mother. My greatest effort and work will be, I hope, in raising my boys to become amazing men—upstanding citizens, good husbands and wonderful fathers.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the unexpected life…and their occasional lapses in common sense!

Second Marriage Moment #28: An Epiphany

“When you take it personally, you eat it up, and now it becomes your garbage.” (Ken Lauher)

I became a mother in 1993. I’ve done a lot of parenting (and correcting of inappropriate behavior) 24 hours a day, seven days a week, year in and year out. I’ve also done a lot of celebrating, cheerleading, taxi driving, cooking, cleaning, laundry, tutoring, teaching, friendshipping and dancing (as in, dance parties in the kitchen)—all part of the territory! Motherhood has been my greatest joy; being a mother has been the finest thing I’ve ever done.

Enter divorce. Followed by a second marriage. To a man with four children. Totally uncharted territory for me the day I became…a stepmother. Sort of. I noticed the older adult children introduced me to everyone as their “dad’s wife,” and I realized the adult children don’t see me as their parent in any form. (For the record, I’m o.k. with that. I’d probably feel the same way in their shoes.) So we like each other and get along for now, and I’m hopeful that as most great relationships are founded in friendship, with time, many relationships grow to feel like “family” and maybe that’s what will happen with us.

However the youngest child moved into my home and we began the blending process. (Life in the blender, as one friend, also divorced and remarried, told me they call it at their house!) There have been steps forward and steps backward, complicated by completely opposite family cultures.

In an effort to better understand my stepson, I found myself constantly evaluating what had to be the logic and reasoning behind his choices and behavior. It was all so different from anything I’d experienced, as a parent, before; I was always attemtping to “walk in his shoes,” which resulted in me taking some of his behavior personally.

As soon as I realized that, I was appalled! I’d never taken my other children’s behavior and choices, or any other child’s behavior and choices, personally. WHY would I ever think to do that with a stepchild?

I wouldn’t. It was my step-parenting epiphany.

Second marriage moment #28: don’t take the choices or behavior of stepchildren personally. I don’t think it’s ever about you, it’s about the situation. So just let it go, every time, and love them anyway.

Pretty good advice for life, too.

There’s Nothing Like Halloween To…

“Charlie Brown is the one person I identify with. C.B. is such a loser. He wasn’t even the star of his own Halloween special.” (Chris Rock)

There’s nothing like Halloween to…make you feel like a loser.

That’s how I felt last night anyway. I’m past the Ponzi scheme, past the divorce, past the complete world and life change, etc…but as I sat home alone on Halloween for the first time in my life and passed out candy to trick-or-treaters, I think I was was a little sad not to be “the star” of Halloween this year.

Every other year since becoming a mother I’ve planned the costumes, purchased the candy, made a festive dinner, and taken my children trick-or-treating. This year my oldest was at college; my daughter was working at Cold Stone; and my husband took my two youngest trick-or-treating at their request. I don’t know if it was being home alone on Halloween night for the very first time in my life or if it was the result of all the chocolate I ate (you know, the low that comes on the heels of a sugar high from eating WAY too much candy!) but I some serious orange and black nostalgia.

I missed my dad, who always took my siblings and me trick-or-treating as children. Those thoughts led to nostalgia for the carefree, innocent days of childhood.

Then I missed the Halloweens I’ve celebrated as a mother. Those thoughts made me miss my old life, just a little bit.

And then THOSE thoughts made me realize 2011 was my 18th Halloween as a mother! A milestone of sorts. And I realized: I’m not just a Halloween loser, I’m a middle-aged Halloween loser! Aaaauuggghhh! (Isn’t that what Charlie Brown always said?)

I remembered my first Halloween as a mother, 1993—my cute six-month-old baby, dressed like a clown, crawling to the trick-or-treat candy bowl and helping himself to lollipops. He didn’t know what to do with them at that age, but he loved the crinkly sounds the wrappers made! Skinny little Dum-Dum sticks grasped tightly and awkwardly in chubby baby fingers and tight baby fists. I’ll never forget that.

Halloween, and life, was very different then. In 1993, I had the world by the tail and thought my biggest challenge was going to be my attempt at motherhood, trying to be a good mother to my children; I had NO IDEA all that life would deliver to my door, and that not all of it would be as welcome as the continuous “ding’dong” of a doorbell on Halloween night.

I guess life is like that for all of us, huh?

Well, that baby clown is grown and gone. And there I was, home alone, crying as I passed out candy to trick-or-treaters, thinking about that, how fast the past 18 years have gone and all that my family has lived through.

Rest assured, however, that grown baby clown did nothing of the sort. Nostaliga? Heck no!  He was too busy making the rounds at university Halloween dances this year, dressed as a giant Whoopee Cushion, solo dancing on stages around BYU’s campus, performing some awe-inspiring, “shuffle” dance moves that are currently all the rage. I confess, picturing a giant Whoopee Cushion busting dance moves to which college crowds gathered around to watch wiped away some of my melancholy—as did the realization that I have only myself to blame.

I mean, what do you get when you use, as a disciplinary consequence, dance parties in the kitchen? Worse, what do you get when you make your children dance to the song of your choice if they misbehave…and if you make THEM watch YOU dance if they’ve been really, really bad?

Ironically, a pretty well-behaved mostly grown up Whoopee Cushion. With some pretty excellent dance moves.

“Whoopee Cushion (noun): a type of cusion or pillow used as a practical joke that when sat upon, produces a loud noise resembling flatulence.” (

So What Do You Do When…

Not too long ago my youngest was in the tub singing as he bathed. Thanks to the influence of my husband and his performance in Sundance resort’s summer theater production of “The Sound of Music” (I think), eventually the singing turned to yodeling (or shall we say, “attempted” yodeling?)

So what do you do when your son is yodeling? If you’re me, you join him!

There he sat in the tub as I stood at the counter doing my hair, both of us providing QUITE an impression of Julie Andrews and the Von Trapp children’s song about goats! Later in the day, when my husband called to say hello, I let him know what my son and I had been up to in the bathroom before the neighbors did. I’m proud and thankful to report that accidentally shaving an eyebrow off wasn’t in the report this time. My husband listened quietly as I detailed our activity.

I don’t know what I expected him to say, but here’s what happened. Without missing a beat, he started yodeling the song from Disneyland’s “It’s A Small World” ride—demonstrating a suggestion for future material my son and I could yodel to!

Second marriage moment #22.

Because if you had told me, pre-March 18, 2009, that in 2011 I’d be working full-time, residing in any state other than Colorado, married to a different man than the previous 20 years, living a completely different life (aka. yodeling in a Utah bathroom and actually married to a man who sings, yodels, dances, plays musical instruments and wears lederhosen when the occasion requires it)…I NEVER would have believed it!

Still loving the unexpected life.

How’s yours?

“If you ever teach a yodeling class, probably the hardest thing is to keep the students from just trying to yodel right off. You see, we build to that.” (Jack Handy)

Good to know.

More Embarrassing Than…

“Lost a planet Master Obi-Wan has. How embarrassing.” (Yoda)

I took 5 kids to see my husband’s dress rehearsal for “The Sound of Music” at Sundance resort the other night.

It was the first time my youngest has ever seen this daddy on stage. He was thrilled with each and every appearance. (My husband plays the butler, so there were quite a few entrances to catch my son’s attention!) Pretty soon it became apparent that my youngest was only interested in the show when he got to see his daddy on the stage; and eventually, after one small tantrum, and finishing the licorice Nibs he chose at intermission, he fell asleep.

Sadly, he slept through the best part—the part where my husband has abandoned the tuxedo-wearing butler role—and comes out, instead, in embroidered leiderhosen and knee socks, bowing over and over again, as the 3rd place winner in the music festival the Von Trapp family singers perform at and then escape from. (If I’m not mistaken, and based on the audience’s roaring laughter, that moment may have stolen the show!)

The most entertaining part of that moment for me, however, was NOT what was taking place on stage. It was looking at the row of kids beside me and their reaction. They were uproariously laughing and totally enjoying the sight. I’ll never forget my oldest son, laughing and shaking his head, looking at me with tears coming out of his eyes, at his stepdad’s lack of inhibition. (By the way, that is one of the things I love about my husband—he is always willing to do unexpected, crazy things, on or off the stage, in the name of entertainment, and especially to make people laugh. I have some special memories of those attempts, let me tell you, most of which cannot be publicly shared or he might be tempted to quit them altogether to preserve his reputation!)

In that moment, however, everyone was entertained. Everyone except for one. My stepson.

He sat there in shock, his jaw on the ground, disbelief masking his expression, at the sight of his dad. He shook his head in absolute mortification (he is a teenage boy, 13 years old, after all) and looked like he wanted to crawl under the bench! His embarrassment was so palpable, I reached over and gave his should a squeeze of reassurance as if to say, “It’s ok, you’re going to survive this moment.”

Because it’s my experience that the embarrassment eventually dims. The difficult becomes endurable. And then…you’re on to another adventure! That is life. (And the teens, isn’t it?)

However, as a parent who unknowingly and sometimes knowingly, I admit it, frequently embarrasses her children—like every time I dance—it was a priceless moment for so many reasons (not the least of which was the realization that I may have married my soulmate.)

‘I was always embarrassed because my dad wore a suit and my mother wore flat pumps and a cozy jumper while my friends’ parents were punks or hippies.’ (Shirley Manson)

The things parents do.

Apparently, there are things more embarrassing than losing a planet.:)

“Idiot” To Awesome…In 18 Years!

“Any man can make mistakes, but only an idiot persists in his error.” (Marcus Tullius Cicero)

I’ve seen it over and over again in my life: when you live with someone, some adjusting and compromising is required for a happy home life. This is true for roommates, newlyweds, brothers and sisters, families and especially, blended families.

If you’re smart, you learn this natural law early and skip some of the strife failing to humble yourself and compromise with those you live with (and love) brings.

However, some accept change more willingly than others. Some adapt to the living arrangements more easily than others. Some seem more willing to compromise than others. And then there are a select few that seem to think if they resist long enough, if they refuse to compromise, said change (ie. life) will not be required!

Boy, wouldn’t that be nice? Like a cocktail party, to be served life on a platter prior to living it? To be able to say, “No thanks, I’ll not have some of that!” or “No thank you, I’ve had enough” or “I don’t want that change, so I don’t have to accept it!” or “I’m full. No more for me!”

Instead, we are blessed with life and change and unexpected lives and situations. Like everything else, though, I believe living together peacefully is a choice. It simply requires patience to wait (and endure) until others in the household choose to accept, adapt, adjust, compromise and settle in.

One day my oldest and I were chatting. He, as the oldest child in our household, has been very helpful and patient in helping younger children settle in to the new family situation. That day he commented on the struggle he observed one child having with some aspects of the blended household. I agreed with his observations and told him I had noticed the same thing but didn’t see any solution other than to continue to cheerfully and patiently endure the transition.

My son laughed and said, “Mom, sometimes I just want to make it easier for them and say, ‘Dude, give it up. You’re never going to win this one.’”

I asked, “What do you mean, ‘win’?”

He explained, “You know, get away with things that are wrong, inappropriate, disrespectful or against the house rules. It’s never going to happen.”

I clarified, “Oh? How do you know?”

He exclaimed, “Because you raised me! Mom, you’re one of THE strongest people I know. It’s a battle that can’t be won. I know, because I tried to ‘break you’ for 18 years and you never once ‘cracked’!”

I wasn’t sure how to take that, but before I could respond he added, “And I’m so glad and grateful you didn’t—because look how awesome I turned out!”

“Awesome: extremely impressive; inspiring great admiration; extremely good; excellent.” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

Yes, he is. And it only took…18 years. (Just kidding! Children are born “awesome,” they simply increase in “awesomeness” over the years. And if I haven’t said it lately, I’m grateful to be a mother:)

A Warning

“I didn’t fail the test, I just found 100 ways to do it wrong.” (Benjamin Franklin)

When I was a girl, I remember my dad telling me many times, “We’ve never been parents before. Please forgive us for any mistakes we may have made. Believe us when we say that every mistake has been made out of love.”

Then I grew up and became a mother. Believe me, I’ve shared that sentiment with my own children, many times, over the years, as well.

And THEN I became a stepmother. Or as some would say, “Better a serpent than a stepmother!” (Euripides) Completely new unchartered territory.

Despite their “fairy tale portrayals,” let me set the record straight. Stepmothers actually are human beings. They’re women. They’re mothers. They’re imperfect, like everyone else. Odds are, they’re bound to continue to make parenting mistakes. Even with stepchildren. Especially if they’re me.

I made my first one before I even married my husband. I apologized, my future stepson forgave me, and I realized something would be very handy in the remarriage/blending a family situation: a disclaimer.

Yes, I think parents, especially stepmothers, should come with a warning to the children they love and will parent. Something like, “Please forgive me. I’ve never been a parent before. I’m bound to make mistakes, but every mistake I make will be out of love as I seek to do what is best for you to prepare you for life.”

And along with the disclaimer, a guarantee: “I promise I won’t quit, I won’t let myself fail you, but I may find several ways to do it wrong in my quest to get it right.”

Maybe even 100 ways.

Consider yourself warned.

“One timely cry of warning can save nine of surprise.” (Joshua Thompson)

Two Worlds

“Culture is roughly anything we do and the monkeys don’t.” (Lord Raglan)

Remarriage means attempting, and learning how, to blend two completely different worlds. Two different lives. Two different families. And as #5 wisely observed, basically, “two completely different cultures.”

Second marriage moment #19? The reality and sum of the remarriage equation in my world: ex-wife/mother of stepchildren plus wife/mother of other children equals two completely different, opposite, family worlds. And its ramifications confront you, literally, every single day to those who live together. As optimistic as I prefer to be, I confess, it is not always an easy reality. Mark that second marriage moment #19a. (A difficult pill to swallow, at times, for the overly optimistic me.)

So how do you deal with it? I believe you handle it  like any other challenge in life, expected or otherwise: laugh. Because family, blended or otherwise, and “Rastafari not a culture, it’s a reality.” (Bob Marley) There are some pretty crazy, and darn funny, moments, aren’t there? Sometimes all you can do is shake your head and laugh.

Lastly, never forget that challenges are meant to be overcome; that they CAN be overcome. Second marriage moment #19b: the day my youngest sister, remarried and a stepmother for almost a decade now, told me: “Hang in there. EIGHT YEARS LATER, it’s a LOT better!” Oh, good. Only seven years, 7 months to go! Lol.

But I believe it can be done. And I’m going to be one of many who successfully does it. Anyone can, even if they don’t always think they can, like those moments of, “WHAT have I gotten myself into?” I imagine even original, biologically-related parents of families might wonder that on occasion, as well, huh?

Those moments are when we listen to Oprah. “Do the one thing you think you cannot do. Fail at it. Try again. Do better the second time. The only people who never tumble are those who never mount the high wire. This is your moment. Own it.” (Oprah Winfrey)

That’s what I’m doing. I’ve mounted the high wire of remarriage and blending families; there have been some great moments. In fact, “I’ve had quite a few moments I’ve liked, so it’s good enough.” (Bryan Ferry)

And I’m looking forward to many more.

Big Stick

“Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.” (Theodore Roosevelt)
My youngest has the “big stick” aspect of achievement totally together; I guess we just have to work on the volume of his speech! Here’s why.
The other night he and a friend were playing in the backyard. Amazingly, and for once, they were content to actually stay in the yard; I was thrilled. (He is a busy boy. It’s my full-time job in the evenings, after working my full-time job during the day, to try to keep track of him.)
But then it dawned on me how odd it was that they were so content to play in our fenced yard. And suddenly, I realized how quiet it had become. (All mothers know that is NEVER a good sign!)
I went out to check on them and found them having a glorious battle with “sticks,” amid a cushion of  lush green leaves, laughing and having a delightful time! There was just one problem. For “sticks,” they were using my two two-year-old fruit trees they had whacked to death and pulled apart–clear out of the ground!
I was not happy.
I sent the friend home and had a discussion with my young son. “WE DO NOT EVER CHOP DOWN TREES! ESPECIALLY FRUIT TREES! IN THE YARD!”
However, I had questions. My biggest question was, “WHY on EARTH would you CHOP DOWN A TREE?”
He looked at me, like it made all the sense in the world, and replied, “But Mom! I NEEDED a big stick!”
What is it with boys…and sticks? And why, after 18 years of mothering boys, does their logic STILL not always make sense to me?
But then, sometimes sensibility is over rated.
“No good opera plot can be sensible, for people do not sing when they are feeling sensible.” (W. H. Auden)
And you know, the more I think about it, the more I realize that’s how life is. We’re living life and then unexpectedly, something happens. It doesn’t always make sense. Many times we’re thrust into a situation that changes things and we’ve got to make due; even improvise; do the best with what we’re left with; use what we’ve got or what we can come up with; and carry on. Always looking with faith and hope to the future. Not dwelling on our losses.
Like a life once lived. “Things” once enjoyed. Money once in our possession…or anything else. Like fruit trees. Or peony bushes–but THAT’S another story, for another time. (Yet coincidentally, involving the same son!)
But you know what? Regardless of what happens, you can always sing.

New Shoes

“I did not have three thousand pairs of shoes, I had one thousand and sixty.” (Imelda Marcos)

It has been an unexpected epiphany for me to realize that although I was happily married (the first time) for 20 years and was quite confident in my abilities as a wife and mother, and despite the fact I thought I “knew” what marriage was and how to have a good one, I’m still learning new things!

New things about myself. My new husband. Marriage. Love. And life.

I honestly didn’t anticipate that, I don’t know why. Maybe I thought of marriage as a pair of comfortable shoes that I loved and enjoyed wearing—and I expected to slip back in to the same comfortable shoes? I guess I forgot I gave up that previous pair of shoes when I divorced. I’ve experienced for myself that remarriage is an ENTIRELY different, and surprisingly NEW, pair of shoes!

Despite the fact that between us we have nearly 40 years of marriage experience, #5 and I have stepped into a pair of shoes we’ve never worn before. They’re amazingly comfortable. In some ways, we marvel at how comfortable they feel after just three months of (mostly) wedded bliss. Yet there are moments that remind me I’m in a NEW pair of shoes.

Like every time I learn something new. (Which occurs pretty frequently as said “learning opportunities” seem to take place at least weekly!) Things I’ve learned right out of the (shoe)box include learning to live with someone new (aka. put the toothpaste tube cap on tight, please!); what it’s like to be married to someone tidy, who helps with the cooking, dinner dishes, household chores, laundry and making the bed; all about the reality of “blending” families (LOTS more on that coming soon!); and how to be married to someone “new.” Honestly, I’ve been shocked at all I’ve learned. And occasionally I wonder about the fairness of it all–having to start over and relearn everything I thought I already knew (I just knew it in relation to someone else) when I’m this old!

I believe old dogs can learn new tricks, #5 and I prove that almost every day; it’s not always easy. But it’s worth it. Not just because we’re in love and committed to our marriage, but because, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” (Attributed to Harry S. Truman)

And I like to think it all helps keep me young. “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.” (Henry Ford)

I never knew my unexpected life would include a fountain of youth: Remarriage.