Friday, November 16, 2007

Parent-Teacher Conferences; A Study in Genetics

I freely admit that I'm an over-achiever. I am one of those individuals who will tell you my GPA, play "high school/college trading cards" with anyone (I'll SEE your editor of the school paper and raise you one with Student Council PRESIDENT), and I won't even pretend I don't want to tell you. It's not something I'm proud of, but, rather, something I'm reassessing--mulling over--studying, if you will, and have been for a long time. Ever since I became a mother.

In all my zest and zeal to raise children the very best I can, I, and every other mother is slapped in the face, sometimes literally, with the fact that none of that ambition matters when it comes to raising children. I have humbly come to the conclusion, several times over the last 10 years now, that the pace of motherhood is slow, there are no awards (and don't give me "endless kisses and hugs," because we all know that's not what I'm talking about), and really confusing, conflicting standards of judgment in even assessing if someone's a "good" (let alone better, or best) mother. And even if you were, in some parallel universe, offered the title of "world's best mom," it wouldn't come with a cash prize and nobody would really care. I mean, what would it give you--a better job? increased benefits? Bragging rights at best, and then you wouldn't have any friends.

All that said, over the last 10 years I've tried to become a recovering over-achiever. I work hard to be the best mom I can be, but so do most (but not all) moms I know. All in all, I think that most (but not all) moms are too hard on themselves. And I think society is increasingly demanding of what mothers should and should not do.

None of that helps, however, when I walk into a parent-teacher conference. All I want to hear is how wonderful and smart, and funny-in-an-appropriate-way my children are. Leave out all that "needs work on" or "at level for." Because even though it's not meant to be a judgment on my mothering, it's the closest thing I've got.

When my oldest son was 2 1/2, he could name the planets in our solar system in order. This was not due to my diligent drilling or insistence by any means. Nor was the fact that he was reading by 3 1/2 all my doing (but if you want to think that, I'll let you), it was just this quirky thing. So, early on, in my mind, he was, naturally, going to be a gifted astronaut who would lead the first expedition to Mars in the near future. Now, at nearly 10, he has absolutely no interest in being an astronaut, and wants more than anything in the world, to be a stand-up comedian. Now, just so there's no confusion, being an astronaut is BETTER than being a stand-up comedian. Yes, I'm putting a value on it--and don't pretend like you aren't either. So now my always brilliant at math kid, doesn't like math, and is, I'm told by his teacher, contributing to classroom discussions, "but not always in an appropriate way." Miles goes red when he hears this out-loud and apologizes, giving me absolutely no time to make excuses in my mind. No time for a single "not MY kid" thought. . . " he just muttles out a timid "I just. . .want. . to be. . . funny."

So this is where I find myself. Not only doesn't he know his audience, but his timing's off. Now I find myself in the precarious situation of judging his comedic talent. I go so far as to suggest that Miles go to a family friend and comedic writer, Eric, for new material. "Or, maybe I could give HIM some new material," Miles retorts. Well, I guess we've got self-esteem down pretty well. That's something.

I'll confess I was nervous when Miles announced he had auditioned for the school talent show. "With what?!" I said, with a little panic in my voice. "Stand up comedy, OF COURSE!" was the reply. It's not my proudest mothering moment, but more of an instinct, really--mothers are wired to protect their children. His stand-up routine, which consisted of a commercial for powdered water seemed to be lost on me, and also suspiciously familiar. But when the neighborhood boys, ages 7-10 came over, Miles had them in the the palm of his hand. There was literal laughing so completely they were falling over on the floor. I guess he had them at "powdered water."

Both of my boys, bright and doing well in school, can work on (read: "needs improvement") "focusing," and "paying attention." The line "absent-minded professor" was thrown around by one teacher, in particular, and I had to laugh because their father is, quite literally, a professor who, just the week before had lost his cell phone charger, then his cell phone, and then all his keys. It's like destiny had its voice. It's silly, silly voice. So, "Yes," I replied to both teachers, ". . . we're working on that."

And I'm working on what it actually means to lower the bar and be awesome for my children's sake and my mental health. I mean, my husband is a successful, talented actor, director, teacher, husband, and father. . .and I bet he never cried in his bed as a 9 year-old because he suddenly realized his library books were overdue. (have I revealed too much?)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Vegas: Concert, Cougars, and Stalkers!

The Valentine clan, Utah chapter, went to Vegas this weekend to see Maroon 5's final show of this leg of the tour. My father, mother, brother, Chris and his wife, Marilyn, and Topher and I drove down together in a mini-van. There was a lot of dark chocolate, talk of what our next meal would be, and making fun of each other. I totally win at that game. More on that later.

We took off and less than 15 minutes later my father takes out his own can of spray glass cleaner and begins spraying the windows, leaving a nice coat of film over Topher's Egg McMuffin and telling everyone how you can buy cans of this stuff at Costco (apparently for a reasonable price--in packs of 4, fyi), and instructing my mom and brother how they're not wiping it off correctly (not vigorous enough--rookie mistake). So, yeah, we were totally off to a wild start!

As soon as we got to Vegas, we met James, went to dinner, then off to the sound-check at The Pearl. The sound check is really a study in fan etiquette. Someday I'll have to do a study of the Maroon 5 fan base, but that's not for here. On this particular night, Topher and I noticed an unusually large population of "Cougars: 40-somethings with a lot of make-up, a lot of plastic surgery, dressed like lap-dancers with money and time to burn!" (re: totally awesome). I'm not judging, I'm just painting an ugly, desperate picture with words.

At the "meet and greet," fans who won or bought special time with the band get to take pictures with the boys, have stuff signed, and listen to the sound check. It's cool to hear the guys play some different stuff. They played a version of "Purple Rain" that was amazing. It's also a good time to watch my mom and dad. My dad has a special technique where he'll casually introduce himself to people by saying something like "Wow. They sound pretty good, huh? Well, I'm James Valentine's father. . ." or "Do you like Maroon 5? I'm the lead guitarist's father. . . " He loves the reaction, and I can't say I blame him. If anyone says anything good about one of my children, I smile and beg for more too. It's payback for when they were little and hit you in the head with Matchbox cars. But I get the feeling my father just wants to be part of the excitement. More than once, he offered to take a picture for the fans, all goofy over Maroon 5, and that's a special surprise because my father is meticulously talented with things like that. You can be guaranteed he got their feet in the shot.

The concert was truly amazing. I know, now I sound like a sister, not your regular concert-goer, which I'm not because I'm a big, fat pregnant lady who has a hard time staying up past 8 p.m., (and a constant reminder to everyone who saw me that what happens in Vegas doesn't always stay in Vegas, if you know what I mean), but it was a really great concert. They are all at the top of their game. They are all so talented and so tight together. I got a big kick out of seeing James sing back-up, too. It was very, very cool and there were cool lights. I'm impressed by big productions like that, especially when the music is so on.

I think the audience liked it, too, because a woman behind us was clapping so hard the sapphire from her ring flew out. We helped her look for it, but she was more annoyed than frantic. She told us it was over 2 carats, and less than 10 hours old! And her stupid husband (her words, not mine) paid cash for it, dummy, instead of putting it on the American Express so it would be insured. She walked out (Cougar), and the woman next to me found it minutes later. It was obviously fake because there was a big glob of glue on the back of it. So, I'm intrigued: why the detailed lies? Will I ever understand the mysterious Cougar?

After the concert, there were talks of cool parties, getting dinner (big surprise for the Valentine family), and hanging out. We were waiting outside a celebrity-filled party and I clearly hear my sister, Gina. Deep breath. Gina was wearing leggings AND high heels, so she was in full-force. I hear her yelling, "Oh my gosh--We LOVE your show! You guys are so AWESOME! Seriously, we really watch your show! And I'm James Valentine's sister, so I'm not, like, A STALKER!" Red light, red light. . . I feel this maternal-like instinct to save the cast of "Chuck," so I run over there and give Gina the look like, "That's enough, calm down," and she recognizes said look and says, "No, Lisa, you don't understand--we totally love this show!" I nod in a "No Gina, I totally understand" way. After a couple of pictures, I apologize for taking up their time and come to find out that "Chuck" and "Morgan" are a. gracious and very kind b. really good-looking in person. Seriously, "Chuck" is breathtakingly handsome in person. I love the picture at the bottom of this post because you can see the earnestness in "Chuck's" eyes, and Gina's conversation. Acting, ladies and gentlemen, is a craft. Later James and I try to explain to Gina that stating you're NOT a stalker is not a way to convince someone you're not. It seems logical, but smells like crazy.

Then we had an elaborate room-service spread and realized that I had never had room-service in my life before. How fun for me! Might I recommend the Godiva chocolate mousse? And then Gina and her husband went back to the party to look for "Chuck." But remember: she's James Valentine's sister, so it's alright.

(In the spirit of equal opportunity reporting, check out Gina's version of the story at the compelling and controversial blog:

Monday, November 12, 2007

Don't Count Me Out: A Study in Good Intentions

Its been a while since I've last blogged, and I think it's time I got serious about it. Why now? Because I'm about to have 5 small children, and so, of course, I'm anticipating having a lot of time on my hands.

What have I been up to lately? Well, being awesome, of course. There's been a lot of picking-things-up-off-the-floor, which, at 8 months pregnant is probably the height of my awesomeness. I've also been really busy getting things for a demanding 2 year-old. Lots of sippy cups and fishy crackers, rice krispies, and whatever tickles his fancy at the moment. I think his demanding nature and penchant for screaming will serve him well in life in a number of lucrative fields. Right now I'm thinking a career in politics or organized crime. It also reminds me that not only am I not the center of the universe, and that I can't even remember the names and order of the planets in my actual universe. But I do remember that I'm still mad that the scientific community no longer formally recognizes Pluto. At least I remember that. It's something. Information that I used to know--information that I once thought was useful--has now been replaced by how many clicks it takes on my remote control to get through the commercials to a new episode of Diego. (three)

I've been meaning to get a lot of things done before the baby comes. At the top of my list is reminding people that this is my FIFTH child and that I'm REALLY UNCOMFORTABLE. I used to pride myself in "sucking it up" and "putting on a brave face," but I realize now that that is a waste of both time and resources. It's much easier to complain (who knew!). So far complaining has gotten me nowhere, and I still have to cook and clean and carry the laundry baskets up and down the stairs.

I have a lot of good intentions for blogging, and although a lot of them might be considered more "angry letters to the editor" than the "whimsical musings of a stay-at-home mom," I will try my best to keep things going and document this time in my life, and not be too angry (although I have some really great stories about Gina!). And doesn't the world need more "oh motherhood is SO crazy! But, shoot, we just love it!" blogs?