Friday, December 3, 2010

Collegiality, Candles and College

It is Chanukah. I fry latkes for the first night and the house still stinks. I make yeast dough for a batch of donuts but after frying the potato pancakes I am too grease weary to stand at the stove. Experimentally, I bake the dough in muffin tins. The response is tepid so inevitably I will return to the vat of hot fat before the holiday is over. Even though I railed against it, when the kids were little our Chanukah celebration aimed to give Christmas a run for the money. It sickens me to watch fights break out at the Toys’R’Us but I too am a sucker for a kid unwrapping a coveted present.

Our Chanukah becomes more and more toned down. I present everyone with a Snuggie™ , purchased with my 20% discount at the Rite Aid, and wrapped in some old Christmas paper from the zillion rolls I have left over from an elementary school fundraiser. My young adult son feigns a tantrum when, while he receives the deluxe Leopard skin Snuggie™, little brother’s Snuggie™ has pockets and his doesn’t. They are gloriously hideous, but I suspect Himself, short on body fat and stuck in a drafty house, thinks it’s one of the best gifts he’s ever received. He accuses me of staging the whole Snuggie™ episode and the attendant photo session in order to have a topic for blogging and I chew this around a bit because the notion of orchestrating life experiences in order to have material to write about is a disconcerting one. I do not purchase or photograph the Snuggies™ with blog on the brain but it is true that my imperative to produce 2000 words more or less every week, does make for more observant living, which has the added benefit of enhancing my appreciation for the rich pageant.

Sometimes I wring my hands because we put so much steam into two Bar Mitvahs and now we almost never attend synagogue and more and more we seem Jewish only by food. We do almost always light the candles for Shabbat. I try to make a special meal although sometimes when I’m beat I pick up frozen crap from Trader Joe’s which they seem to enjoy more than most of my ambitious cooking. We have a challah, sometimes even baked from scratch. When the kids have friends over on a Friday I offer to skip the blessings in case their guests will think it’s weird but they always say it’s ok. My young adult son lights the candles and Spuds passes the challah and shows his friends how to rip it up with their bare hands and devour it. My uncle often told a story about speaking only a bit of Yiddish and being invited to dine with some hoity toity synagogue machers. They apologized for being slow eaters and he urged them not to worry. “Go on,” he said, “fress, fress,” which indeed in Yiddish means to eat, but to eat like wild starving animals. I remember this anecdote far too frequently when beholding my family at the table.

The boys are shooting a movie the second night of Chanukah and a troop of kids march in and out and in again. I have five loads of laundry on the dining table. I make some burritos, leave them on the stove and announce it’s every man for himself. Cast and crew departed, food partaken and laundry dispersed I am ready to sink into an evening of lassitude when the kids ask about Chanukah. I haven’t given it much thought on a laundry night absent of fried food or gag gifts but this is something we’ve done as long as they can remember and even without any of the accoutrements, the lighting of the candles, in and of itself, is essential to them.

We are in college application mode and I create a color coded chart with deadlines, essay prompts and audition schedules. My management gig is both appreciated and resented. I like to think I am being a role model for the organization of projects such as this but perhaps I am just a facilitator of perpetual dependence. I am afraid also that my dedication to his educational future is confused as a desire to get rid of him. I am way more involved with the boy’s college admission process than my parents were with my own. I applied for one school with an un-proofread application and was accepted. I drove off myself and moved into a dorm at age seventeen. I suspect that my parents were less in oversight mode than many of my friends’ folks but in general, we are more dedicated to micromanagement than our parents were.

I am disturbed a bit by how this college thing has gotten to me and find it curious that the definition of parenting has changed so much in 35 years. Despite working mothers now being the norm, statistic show that for both moms and dads, time spent with children has increased. This is from the NY Times, Surprisingly, Family Time Has Grown
By Tara Parker-Pope
Before 1995, mothers spent an average of about 12 hours a week attending to the needs of their children. By 2007, that number had risen to 21.2 hours a week for college-educated women and 15.9 hours for those with less education…Although mothers still do most of the parenting, fathers also registered striking gains: to 9.6 hours a week for college-educated men, more than double the pre-1995 rate of 4.5 hours; and to 6.8 hours for other men, up from 3.7…

I figured it out. I graduated college, supported myself, married a man with post graduate degrees and bore two above average kids. How would my life be better now if my parents had parented me like I parent? Will my apron strings strangle the kids as I overcompensate for what I perceive as my parents’ indifference? Or is it that each generation comes of age and lands a bit higher on Maslow’s scale than the one before? Compared to my parents, I started out with my basic needs more adequately met. Am I a over-compensatory control freak or do I just have more luxury to concern myself with personal fulfillment which includes advocating for the kids?

We visit the Lewis and Clark campus in Portland and it is so beautiful and the kids seem so great that I wish for a time machine, thinking how cool it would be to start college, knowing what I know now. I worry the boy isn’t ready for college but his recent triumph in Virginia Woolf increases his own self confidence and also suggests to me that he is ready to succeed. Now that the kid has more than proven his mettle, I visualize him being at college instead of a younger version of myself. I’ll buy him bed linens and towels and I remind myself to impart some basic laundry skills. I imagine him holding forth and delighting a circle of bright and funny friends. He will call frequently for money and perhaps for advice about a hostess gift for a tweedy professor who invites him and a few other favorite students for a home cooked meal. I’ll continue with my whack fantasies but it just boils down to remembering what college can be at its best and thinking about my fabulous kid being fabulously happy, and really, by his own definition, and not mine, although I do hope he changes his sheets a couple times a year.

My beloved Catholic/Jewish/Buddhist Catholic husband has never bought into the happy thing. I do notice once in a while that he is actually happy, at least until I draw his attention to it. Himself and I are the poster children for opposites attracting. But we not only share a sense of humor rooted in the dark and/or puerile, but we have a common savior. We are both peculiarly curious and grew up taking refuge in books from families who perceived us as freakish aliens. Himself escaped early on at a parochial boarding school and I found my own salvation via early enrollment at a tiny hippie college where for the first time I felt almost normal. It is obvious that our eldest is not as eager to fly the coop as his parents were and maybe we can credit that to the extra parenting hours our generation puts in.

I guess it is weird to have your mom so devoted to getting you out of the house. I see college as a good transition to the real hard knock world and as a time to hone not only intellectual but social skills. I had an enormous amount of fun in college and built relationships that are still important to me. I hope my boy has as wonderful experience and also that, as it did for me, college serves as a net for some of the inevitable profound stupidity that seems essential to finding oneself. Himself has no patience for the good times and mirth I envision for the boy. No party animal, Himself’s hopes and expectations are more grounded in intellectual satisfaction and accomplishment but he’ll bawl as hard as I do when the kids clear out.

It used to be a big deal for us to hire a babysitter and get away from the kids for a night. Now I encourage them to postpone doing homework and watch t.v. with me. I see how the tables are turning when I am barely awake when Spuds turns off the set. He rises and announces, “I’m going to bed and I suggest that you do too.” I try to savor Chanukah and Shabbat and Snuggies™ and watching t.v. with a flatulent dog sprawled on top of us. My boys will leave to live their lives and I will miss them. They are good and smart but that and even all my love will not protect them from sorrows and disappointments that devastate and ultimately build character. We do the best we can and pray it is good enough and that when they are men and out in the world that the memories of the funky house will sometimes make them warm.

Shabbat shalom and Happy Chanukah.


FionnchĂș said...

Chag sameach, l'cha dodi. Not much to add except the burgundy robe with which I've been gifted makes me think of Burgundians with goblets of Burgundy. Sorry I got no Wine Gums, but the stores were barely opening when I rushed to the airport, fearing ice, delays, and rejection, so I must wait until next trip over. Hope my body warmth suffices, even if less than the dogs or cats. xxx me

Colleen said...

Very nice, Layne. I, too, have been overinvolved in the college thing with my youngest, except I'm picturing her at Clark University instead of Lewis & Clark-- almost the same thing, I think. You expressed it very well. My parents were loving and stable and good parents by any definition, but they also never looked at my college app (singular? I remember only one) and had nothing to do with the process. Well, they did deliver me to campus in Oregon, which is more than some younger siblings could say. One got dropped at the curb at LAX.

Anyway, well said!