My Convertible Life

Thursday, July 3, 2014

A Friend In Deed

Two weeks ago, a dear friend of mine sent me an early morning email that was exactly what I needed. She's one of those friends who has known me long enough to love me anyway, despite the fact that I almost never call and rarely visit. We've been roommates in more than one country, seen each other through boyfriends who turned out not to be husbands, stood together at weddings and a funeral. 

I don't know what I did to deserve her, but I'm so very grateful. In fact, I could never have earned all the wonderful friends that I have -- and thank goodness we don't have to earn them. This particular message was too beautiful to leave in my inbox, so I'm sharing it here with you (names changed to protect her boys). May you all have a friend (or two or twenty) who can show you in small ways that she loves you. 


Some days you just need someone else to make your coffee. Or tea. Or, Jonah's recommendation, chocolate milk.

I must feel that way often. At least, Starbucks has been keeping track because, to my surprise (though perhaps not my husband's), they sent me a gold card which meant I had visited their fine establishments 30 times last year. I don't know whether to be boast or cringe about my new status. Regardless, there were 30 days last year when I just needed someone else to make my coffee.

Two times had to do with rites of passage. Right after I dropped Cam off to big kid school because the bricks I placed on his head didn't stop him from growing, I drove myself to Starbucks and stood in line behind a mom and dad who had just undergone the very same knife-to-heart ritual. That day called for a Venti, with extra caramel and yes please some whipped cream on top and why don't you stock alcohol here?

Weeks ago, I stood in that same line -- where they now know my name and my usual -- just minutes before picking him up for summer vacation. Not my usual, but it was a Venti day again, somewhat in celebration that Cam and I would be back together for the summer. But mostly because I needed that big of a cup to soothe my insides drained raw from a year of missing him. It was a "Whew, I can't believe I made it. I'll have a Venti."

During these 30 visits over the last year, Jonah became well acquainted with the love of someone else making mama's coffee. The benefit to him was a more aware and relaxed mama. As I market the deal
to my husband, it's cheaper than therapy. And sometimes at these visits, on the whims of mama, Jonah would score a milk, usually vanilla but once in a while, chocolate.

Even if all mama gets is a straight coffee, Jonah likes to be hoisted up in a spot right beside the sugar-in-the-raw cubby where he can peer behind the counter and "watch the magic happen." His word choice has won him many barista friends. Also a dead giveaway that mama saved on therapy 30 times in the last year.

Well today, with your dad having his procedure, I thought you just might need someone else to make your coffee. Or tea. Or I won't tell if you get chocolate milk. I hope it will soothe your insides and let
you know that you all are loved. This Venti's on me*; after all, I need to keep going to maintain my gold card status.

* Starbucks e-card will be coming to your inbox.


That afternoon, while my kids were at camp, I left work early and headed for Starbucks. I'm not a coffee girl, so I seriously considered Jonah's chocolate milk recommendation before opting for a fruit smoothie. Dropping into a sunny seat, I savored the sweetness of a rare moment alone to say a quiet prayer for my dad (who is fine, thanks for asking) and one for my friend (who is far too good to me). 

Friday, May 9, 2014

Mother's Day Gifts

It was the verbal equivalent of the old yawn and stretch maneuver that you see a teen-age boy use in 1950s movies to inconspicuously put his arm around a girl’s shoulder.

“So… mom… What’s your favorite breakfast?” he asked casually on Tuesday night. “I mean, if you didn’t have to make it.”

When I started to tell Junius my preferences -- two eggs over medium, bacon, fruit, maybe half an English muffin -- he asked me if I could write it down. You know, casually.

"No," I replied with a smile. "But you can."

The conversation continued as he carefully wrote down my breakfast menu, then moved on to asking about my favorite restaurants for dinner. You know, just because, no reason. Not like Mother's Day is coming up or anything.

When he finished writing, he folded the paper in half, turned away from me to write "Mothers day" with three underlines on the outside and took the page upstairs.

It was about the cutest conversation I've had with my son in a long time. Even if he doesn't manage to use the list (although I suspect my lovely husband will help make it happen), watching him delight in his sneaky strategy to be nice to me was a gift in itself.

For those of you wondering what to get your mom (or the mother of your children) to celebrate her day on Sunday, here's my suggestion: Think luxury.

I don't mean a luxury automobile or a luxury vacation (although if that's within your budget, those are totally good options). Instead, think of the little luxuries that mom wishes she had time/money for and give her the means to enjoy them -- even if that little luxury is her favorite homemade breakfast or just a quiet hour alone in the hammock with a good book and iced cocktail.

But if you really want to be impressive, here are my suggestions of everyday luxuries I'd love to have in my weekly or monthly budget -- and I'm betting lots of other moms would, too:
  1. Housekeeper: There's nothing better than coming home to a clean house when you didn't have to do any of the work. Okay, maybe coming home to a clean house where the maid service didn't turn on your gas fireplace and leave it burning when they left the house hours earlier -- but that's a different story. Anywho, even if it were just an occasional deep clean, it's always nice to enjoy your house without having to think about the mess.
  2. Car wash: I hate a dirty car. And with two kids (plus the occasional friend) in the back seat every day, there’s no way to keep all the dirt on the outside. Between the raisins and the tissues and the string cheese wrappers and the leaves and the mud and… well, it’s gross back there. Plus all this springtime pollen makes a mess of the outside, too. A clean car just feels more civilized.
  3. Massage: Even when things are going well, life can be stressful and exhausting. Between keeping up a more regular exercise schedule, working at a desk and generally chasing my children around, I’d love an hour – okay, maybe 90 minutes – to close my eyes, listen to soothing (if a little cheesy) nature-sounds music and let go of the stress. 
  4. Mani/pedi: I love a pretty polish (especially on my toes), but this one isn’t really about having colorful nails. It’s more about having healthy-looking (and feeling) hands and feet. Again, between the exercising and the dish-washing, my extremities get a little rough. And it’s just so nice to be taken care of by someone who doesn’t need anything from me. 
  5. Haircut: If you have short hair, you know that you really need to get it cut at least every six weeks. I try to stretch it to seven or eight weeks to conserve cash, but I always hate my hair that last week or two. If money and scheduling were no object, I’d get a haircut once a month. That way it always looks fresh – and I’d look like I just stepped out of a salon more often.
  6. Fresh flowers: Even if my house isn't really clean, it looks cleaner if there are fresh flowers by the front door and on the dining room table. It's like I can't even see the piles on the counter or the dishes in the sink when there's a vase of white hydrangeas in view. Shoes scattered around the foyer seem to fade away if I'm greeted by a wildflower bouquet. They don't have to be formal or fancy, just fresh. 
Let us know what's on your little luxuries list... leave a note in the comments.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

It's a Girl

This post is from my piece at last year's Listen to Your Mother show in Raleigh. You can watch me here, but I realized I never posted the text. Excited to go see this year's show tonight as an audience member!

When she’s older, my daughter will probably hate me for saying this, or even thinking it. But I didn’t want to have a girl.

My son was about to turn two that Father’s Day morning when I peed on the stick and realized we were going to have another baby. Junius was finally starting to sleep more at night. Life was just beginning to feel manageable again. While I was excited to be pregnant, I was equally overwhelmed by the idea of beginning it all again.

As the weeks went by, my second pregnancy mirrored the first. I was tired, but never sick and only occasionally queasy. Girth increased steadily with weight, matching the first pregnancy pound for pound and inch for inch week by week.

This baby is a boy, I thought -- just like the first. If it were a girl, I would know. I would feel different and I would be vomiting. But everything was the same and I was relieved.

I imagined we would become “Cyndi and the boys.” Our sons would be buddies and build LEGOS and play basketball. My husband would take them camping and fishing on weekends while I stayed home and went for pedicures and read books. Yes, they might be loud or messy, but it would be worth it.

It’s the American way: boys love their mamas. They would love me, cherish me and never, ever turn on me.

Because ladies, let’s be honest. We save the really bad shit for our mamas.

I wasn’t a crazy or rebellious kid. I have always had a good relationship with both of my parents. But in my teen years, something changed. I was mean to my mother and treated her in ways that I never would my father. Even when I wasn’t upset with my mom, I still held back my disaster meltdown moments until she was the only one around to deal with me.

The best of daughters seem to go through rough times with their mothers. And that’s the good ones. The rest wind up hating their moms, vowing never to be like them, and rolling their eyes and yelling obscenities at them.

So when the ultrasound revealed that this new baby was a girl? I was terrified.

And I hated myself for it.

I was supposed to be excited. A son AND a daughter. One of each! Isn’t that what everyone wants? Slugs and snails meets sugar and spice. The perfect family.

Except that I wanted a matched set. Wouldn’t it be so much easier -- and so much less frightening -- to have another boy? I was getting good at being a boy mama. Starting over with a newborn was scary enough without the specter of one day having to share my house with a hormonal pre-teen girl.

For two weeks, my husband and I didn’t tell anyone we’d found out it was a girl -- not even our parents or our son. We practiced at home saying “she” and “her” instead of “it” and “the baby.” We talked about girl names. We thought about friends who had painted nurseries pink in preparation, only to discover on birth day that their baby had been hiding his little boy parts when the ultrasound tech was looking. Maybe the ultrasound was wrong?

Of course it wasn’t wrong. Our baby girl arrived as scheduled on Feb. 22, 2008, beautiful and round and perfect.

It turns out that I was wrong about not wanting a daughter. The last months of my pregnancy gave me time to get used to the idea. When she was born, I already knew her -- and I loved her immediately. Five years later, Pippi is sweet and funny and crazy smart. She sings and dances constantly through each day, strutting her stuff in pink cowgirl boots and mismatched outfits. She possesses a powerful confidence at age five that will hopefully carry her far in life.

But it also turns out that I was kind of right to be afraid. Pippi may only be five, but she’s already giving me a run for my money. She saves her worst behavior for me and her best for her teachers. She tells lies and tests limits and pushes my buttons in ways that make me grind my teeth and bang my head into my hands. She is a Daddy’s Girl -- apparently it takes one to make one -- and she already seems to know that she can be meaner to me than she treats him.

She is the best and worst of having a daughter. And I am lucky to have made her.

So I try hard to give her the most important things my mother has always given me. A patient ear. A loving heart. A shoulder to cry on. And a wonderful father for the many times ahead when she doesn’t want any of those things from me.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Road Trips

My family didn’t take many big trips when I was a kid. We spent most summer vacations at North or South Carolina beaches or visiting my grandparents in Virginia.

On the occasion that we went somewhere more exotic -- like Washington, D.C., or New York --  we always drove and we always checked out any colleges that were nearby. But a college visit with my dad didn’t usually involve an official tour or a trip into the admissions office. Instead, we mostly just drove through campus and saw whatever we could see from the car, then we kept going.

These little side trips became known as The Dave Drive-By.

Then the summer after my freshman year in college, my parents, brother and I took our first big family trip on an airplane – we flew to San Francisco, where we rented a big white Lincoln Town Car. I think the trunk on that thing was bigger than my first dorm room. Two weeks -- and four states, three national parks (four if you count Las Vegas), more than a dozen friends and relatives, and at least three colleges/universities -- later, we flew home from Phoenix.

That trip went down in family history as the Official Drive-By of The West. It was kind of a strange trip – I was 19 and used to living away from home, my brother was 15 and probably used to having me away from home. All four of us shared hotel rooms (when we weren’t staying with friends or family) and did pretty much everything together for the whole two weeks. I think back on it and wonder if my parents were crazy or clueless or both.

But I also can’t stop myself from grinning any time I think about that trip. My brother and I cracked endless jokes about the distance between the front seat and the back seat of the land yacht. We met relatives who last remembered seeing us when my brother was in diapers. My all ventured a little out of our comfort zones, saw places that were completely different than anywhere we’d ever been. We listened to a lot of Toad the Wet Sprocket.

More than 20 years later, that trip stands out as a mile-marker in my family history.

So far this year, my husband and I have taken our kids on our own version of The Drive-By in two opposite directions. In January, we drove to Pittsburgh (because who doesn't want to go to Pittsburgh in January?!) to see friends, tour the science center, ride the gondola, drive by the house my parents lived in when I was born, visit the Cathedral of Learning at Pitt, go ice skating outside and see the Penguins play hockey. In February, we drove to Disney World for the first time -- a more traditional kind of kid trip that still had that Drive-By feel as we whizzed through three parks in three days.

I wonder if my kids will remember 2014 as the Year of the Road Trip. Actually, I wonder if they will even remember 2014 at all. I’m pretty sure we were crazy for driving nearly nine hours to Pittsburgh, spending two days there and driving what turned into more than 11 hours back through a snow storm.  Pulling them out of school for two days to drive to Florida and back doesn't exactly seem logical either.

Even still, I find myself wondering how our kids will remember these trips and how their memories will be different from mine. Will Pippi recall the long, boring drive, or only the fact that she got to swim in the hotel pool and order room service for dinner? Will Junius wish we'd flown to Florida, or just laugh when he thinks back to shouting "THAT WAS AWESOME" on his first roller coaster?

And will either of them ever know how lucky they really are? Guess we'll keep planning Drive-Bys to remind them.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Good Sport

For a woman who never played organized sports growing up – unless you count driveway kickball, which wasn’t really all that organized but was highly competitive – I’ve made a real commitment to team athletics for my kids. Like many suburban moms, I drive them to and from practices, bring snacks, cheer for everyone and spend large chunks of my life sitting on bleachers in conditions that are often too cold or too hot to be pleasant.

While it’s nice to imagine that they might turn out to be college-scholarship athletes, I’m not overly concerned that they excel at the sports they play. As hokey as it sounds, I really just want them to learn how to be a good teammate, engage in healthy exercise, develop a few leadership skills, and have a lot of fun.

It’s more important to me that they learn how to be good sports than to be good at sports.

In his most recent basketball season, Junius and his team had a perfect record – they managed to go eight straight games without winning a single one. Coming off an undefeated season with his hockey team, I worried that he might lose interest in basketball – or at least in his teammates – given their apparent lack of success.

During the final game last month, Junius scored a personal best 14 points. But the game highlight occurred when the ball wasn’t even in play.

As he followed his team back into the gym after halftime, Junius ran in front of his team’s bench, launched into a halfway decent cartwheel and burst out laughing as he bounced down next to the other boys.

When I asked him after the game why he did the cartwheel – an unusually showy move for him – he replied simply, “I wanted to rally my team, mom!”

That cartwheel rally didn’t affect the game’s outcome, but it made an otherwise losing season worth every butt-numbing minute in the stands.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

First Time

Last Wednesday, my husband and I picked up our kids from school at lunchtime and announced that we were taking them to Disney World for the first time. As in, right now, the car is packed, let’s go make dreams come true, we have three days to live the magic.

We expected their reaction would be something like this:

Children’s mouths drop, we beam at them lovingly. Their eyes light up as they shout, “SHUT THE FRONT DOOR! THAT’S INCREDIBLE! YOU ARE THE BEST PARENTS EVERRRRR!” And then we all melt into a group hug and sing Disney tunes for nine hours in the car.

Instead, it went more like this:

Children’s faces remain blank. They look skeptical and mutter, “I don’t believe you. Are you serious?” We show them the packed car and the magic bands and promise that we are telling the truth. They complain, “But it’s Wednesday. We don’t want to miss P.E.” And we suggest that perhaps three days in Disney is even better than P.E. And then they both say, “Can I play on the iPad in the car?” Twenty minutes down the road they start asking if we are in Florida yet. The only Disney songs we sing are from the Frozen soundtrack on continuous loop.

Hmph. I don’t know what Mr. P is doing in those phys ed classes, but it must be incredible.

The good news is that they got progressively more excited throughout the nine-or-so-hour drive and were totally wound up by the time we checked into our hotel at 10 p.m. Awesome.
Now that we’ve been back home for a few days, I’ve realized that taking your kids to Disney World for the first time is a lot like having your first newborn.

While you’re in the midst of it, you’re completely overwhelmed by the rapid swings between totally amazing and amazingly hard. But once it’s over, you forget all the crying and the exhaustion and that inexplicable sticky mess on your shirt. All you remember are the sweet, fun, photogenic moments and you decide you must do it again because you’ve learned so much from surviving the first one and you want to see if you can do an even better job the second time around.

At least the next time – if our bodies and our bank account can survive a next time – I’ll be expecting a different reaction when we give them the good news. Maybe it will go something like this:

Wow, Mom! That sounds even better than a whole day of P.E.!

Monday, February 10, 2014

To Teachers, With Love

The 11th grade students who were in my class during my first year as a high school English teacher are now in their mid-30s. Most of them I lost touch with after they graduated, but a handful kept up with me over the years or found me later on Facebook. A few were in college in the same program where I attended graduate school, passing me in the halls now and then. A couple are still on my Christmas card list.

Earlier this month, as I got in line to pay for my pre-snowstorm eggs and milk, I ran into one of those former students, now a mother of two and a teacher herself. We hugged each other and laughed about how we were both buying groceries in advance of the snow predictions.

“Have you met M before?” she asked, motioning to the man behind her.

“I don’t think I have,” I said, introducing myself to her husband and shaking his hand.

“No, this is S__,” she said to him, emphasizing the name they called me back in 11th grade.

His eyes brightened with recognition and he pulled me into a bear hug. He knew who I was – and in a good way. He knew my name, 18 years after she was in my class.

That afternoon, she posted a sweet note on Facebook about our chance meeting. When I went online to “like” her post, another former student – one that I hadn’t kept up with – had already left a comment: “Wow! She was a great teacher!”

I almost printed it out and framed it for my wall.

Today, North Carolina’s governor announced a 14 percent pay increase over the next two years for beginning teachers, bringing starting teacher salaries above those of neighboring states. The plan sounds like a good start, but doesn’t offer anything for mid-career and veteran teachers already in the classroom. That may help with recruitment, but it doesn’t do much to retain or respect teachers in the trenches -- teachers who haven't had a real raise in more than five years.

Most teachers will tell you they didn’t go into the profession for the paycheck – it’s not exactly news that teaching isn’t a lucrative career (click here for the 2013-14 salary schedule in NC). But it is a profession – one that requires a college degree, licensing exams and coursework for continued certification. And it’s a job path that ought to provide a living that doesn’t include qualifying for federal aid programs to feed your children.

So while we wait for our policy makers to find the will – and the funds – to pay teachers what they’re worth, we can all show a little love to the teachers who have made a difference. You may not have the chance to run into them at the grocery store or on Facebook, but you can still thank them for all that they do.

Over the past couple weeks, teachers (and those who love them) have turned to Twitter using #evaluatethat to share the many ways – big and small – that teachers make a difference in students’ lives. The hashtag takes a swipe at the notion that standardized tests and evaluation formulas can assess a teacher’s quality and effectiveness.

Take a moment to tweet your own #evaluatethat story, write a note to your child’s teacher, or track down that educator who made a difference for you. Feeling appreciated and valued won’t help teachers pay their bills, but it sure still feels good – even 18 years later.