Monday, January 15, 2007

Embarrassing Our Offspring

by Julie Butler Evans

Kids have been “embarrassed” by their parents forever, especially teenagers. I know for a fact that my daughter will feel completely humiliated by this column, for instance, although let me reassure you, Janet, that is not my intent. And your brothers will not be spared by my examples, so, you’re in good company.

From the time I hit age 11 I was prone to the whiny-phrased, “Daaaadddy! You’re embarrassing me!”
He would shimmy and shake in public to the music of the Supremes and Crystal Gale and an assortment of other 1960’s-1970’s recording industry artists. He was also prone to calling me “Baby Julie” in front of my friends. There was an array of other awkward moments, some real and most in all probability, imagined.

Here’s an example of both. The other night I took
Janet up to Hartford to attend the popular phenomenon “High School Musical” in concert. As the first song burst into life a mere four rows in front of us, I began to sway my arms back and forth with the rest of the audience. In a flash she was slapping my arms down. “You are NOT allowed to do that, mom. No!” Anytime I began to clap or try to move my body to the infectious rhythms I was met with a determined and deadly look that clearly translated to “Do not embarrass me.”

It’s fun though.

When Kenny and Blake were in middle school I apparently mortified them as they played in basketball games by shouting their names, followed by the supportive words “Yay!”, “Go!” and “Alright!” They told me in no uncertain terms that I was to sit on my hands and zip my lip; mostly I applied their edict, but occasionally I would let the enthusiasm fly if for no other reason than to watch them wince or squirm. Jack has taken over where they left off, yet since he’s only 10 he seems to be cutting me some slack.

My sense of fashion now and again is a deep well of embarrassment for not only my daughter but also for my sons. And I love it. “What are you wearing?!” can leap from all four of their lips. Of course, their sense of fashion has embarrassed ME on occasion. Take the mid-to-late ‘90s when Blake and Kenny insisted on wearing these baggy jeans half way across their nether regions so that one could eyeball the tops to the midway of their boxers. Even when wearing dress shirts their khakis would sit casually at their hips, the hint of undergarments peaking from atop their waistband.

I wear my ability to embarrass like a badge of honor. To me, it means I am doing my job. My biggest “stunt” to date? Last Christmas, for our annual holiday party, I came downstairs wearing the following get-up: A “Sexy Santa” costume. It was a low-cut short red dress trimmed in white fur, black fish net stockings, boots and accessorized with red stain gloves also with white trim. Not only did my husband have a coronary (and not in a good, “va-va-vavoom” way), but my kids either screamed in horror (Janet), laughed (Jack) or shook their heads, turned pink and denied I was their mother (Blake and Kenny). All five members of my family requested that I change my attire.

No way. I was 49 years old at the time and I reserved the right to do as I pleased; I’d earned it. And guess what? All the men at the party appreciated the look, the women laughed in a good way and I am hoping that my husband felt more embarrassed for not cherishing the look more.

There’s nothing embarrassing about realizing one can still turn a male head or two, four decades and four children later.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Surviving “Snow Days”
by Julie Butler Evans

I look forward with such unmitigated glee to the end of the holiday vacation. That first week of January promises that children will be back in school and I will have at least six hours of “Julie-time.” But, inevitably, that euphoria is cut excruciatingly short thanks to another mother – Mother Nature. The snow begins to dribble or dump and suddenly the kids are home early, go in later or are home for the entire day altogether.

I’m not such an old fuddy-duddy that I don’t remember the thrill of a “snow day” as a child. Except “back in the day” we didn’t have nearly as many days off as my children have had during their school career. My friends and I waited for the bus in bundles of clothes and boots while the snow flew around us. There were plenty of mornings where we would watch the flakes come down thick outside our classroom window, but the school day was never cut short. I have to admit it was sort of exciting to be on the bus during snowstorms, going slowly down the windy roads of Weston, the chains on the bus tires jingling like bells on Santa’s sleigh. But that was then and this is now.

Now means even the report of a possible snowstorm can cause school to be cancelled. During the winter the kids watch the weather channel as if the best cartoon in the universe were on it. Even if it snows on a Saturday they are convinced that school won’t be in session come Monday morning.

I practically break out in a sweat on snow-draped mornings watching the local television stations’ school closing scroll across the bottom of the t.v. set. As soon as the schools beginning with “M’s” start my heartbeat quickens and I hold my breath and cross my fingers. If New Canaan is indeed cancelled I let out a guttural cry and flop back onto the bed. There go all my plans and appointments for the day.

So, how to survive a snow day? I actually don’t have any concrete advice and survival all depends upon the ages of your children. When any and all of mine were of nursery school and younger elementary-school age making it through the day without losing my mind and my hair meant bundling all of us up and playing out in the snowy yard for a while, hot soup and hot chocolate, board games and a couple hours of Nickelodeon. As they have gotten older – and if the driving conditions permit – we will take in a matinee, or failing that, rent a movie or two. I know it’s not ideal to depend on the television as a babysitter, but it nevertheless allows me to get some writing done, return phone calls and perform house chores uninterrupted. And always, dividing and conquering means less conflicts between siblings, so I will arrange to swap one of my kids for a friend’s kids (i.e. Janet’s friend Brooke will come over and Jack will go over to her house to play with her brother Cole). Everybody’s happy.

Well, not exactly everybody. I am happier and more productive when the kids are in school Monday through Friday. January seems unusually full of school delays, early dismissals and out and out no school. And then, before you know it, February break rolls around!

Winter should be a time to appreciate snow – tranquility! Skiing! Cozy fires! – but for this mom it more often than not causes cringing and crankiness, not my more attractive traits to be sure.

Luckily, the kids find the cringe and the crank hilarious. Perhaps that’s their way of surviving ME!

Ode to the Baby of the Family
by Julie Butler Evans

“I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.” I used to recite that line from the book, Love You Forever, to Kenny as a boy at bedtime. Heck, I think I have even uttered it to him in young adulthood. But I also repeat it to Jack, the real baby of our family.

Jack Butler Evans, nearly 10, was my 40th birthday present; albeit three weeks after my birth certificate states I actually turned into a 40-year-old. He was born in the year we learned my father was to die, so his arrival was made even more significant and precious. As the baby of the family, he is at once coddled and carefree. As the youngest of four, I give him a lot more leeway, yet I am a veteran of the trickery children try to pull, so it’s harder for him to execute the fake illness, the white lie about homework, or the false angelic smile when questioned as to what he’s doing in a room in which he shouldn’t be playing.

My friends who are the youngest recount tales of both woe and wonder – they feel that they “got away” with more things than their older siblings and were left to fend for themselves often -- yet also received seemingly more of their parents’ attention, even if that love didn’t translate into boxes and boxes of childhood pictures and keepsakes on their behalf. (Jack has a lot less to show in the way of baby pictures and records of milestones).

I am the oldest of two and so my baby-of-the-family days amounted to just two years, a status I share with my oldest child, Blake. Kenny was the baby for eight years before his younger sister, Janet, came on the scene. I would assure him that he was still my “baby” because he was my baby son and my baby Flannery (my former surname when married to his father). But then along came Jack so Kenny has officially been a middle kid for a decade. Janet was the baby for three years and I promise her that as our only daughter she is forever the baby girl. I am not certain why I feel the need to have each of my kids believe as if they have never lost their “baby-of-the-family” status. Maybe I am still frustrated that even after almost 48 years, my brother usurped my reign and horned in on my parent’s attention.

Back to Jack. Several other friends of mine in town with sons as their youngest child share that the boys still like to snuggle with them, even as middle schoolers. It’s not that they’re “momma’s boys,” but there is just an instinct to continue to feel protected, loved, and special. Jack possesses what I call the “puppieness;” he enjoys falling asleep curled next to me in bed while I watch television or sitting close to me on the couch or on an airplane. He usually seems genuinely happy to see me and I fully intend to enjoy it while it lasts.

I think that parents with multiple children realize that the baby will not break, that hanging out in a dirty diaper a bit longer won’t scar it for life, that hand-me-downs are every bit as good as the newest-latest-and-greatest contraption and that a skinned knee is not worth phoning 9-1-1. We know our youngest are equally as fallible as the oldest we once believed was not. We found that our first-born child learned primarily from us, but that the next-born learn also from those siblings who came before (both a good and a not-so-good thing I have discovered). We can count on the older kids to help watch out for the younger ones, which frees us up somewhat.

I still have a good eight years to go until I am able to be a parent without a school age child in the house, but I do look forward to those last three, when Jack, the youngest, will essentially be Jack, the only, as soon as Janet goes off to college. He’ll have a little taste of what it was like for us first-born kids. Then again, as long as I’m living, my baby he’ll be.