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Before iPods and TV’s in cars, the passengers’ only source of entertainment was either an Etch-A-Sketch or looking out the window.  In my generation (black and white TV’s were the rage!), we looked out the window.  So, segue to the present.  My daughter is learning to drive and the other day I suggested we drive to the high school, since as a senior, she’d be driving to the school once she got her license.  Might as well practice.  “Which way do I go?” she asked when we reached the intersection near our house.  “What?” I replied.  I was sure I misheard.  “Which way do I turn?”  In total shock, I proceeded to give my daughter the directions to the building she has been attending for the past three and a half years.  Surely, there was a big problem here.  Do I call the doctor?  No, I kept it close, and didn’t tell a soul.

I wonder if this gal knows the way to her high school..

Earbuds and future drivers don’t mix.

Until I was speaking to the very nice lady who runs the driving school she’s attending.  “I have to say this,” I whispered into the phone.  “She didn’t know the way to the high school…should I be worried?” To that, she laughed.

“Mrs. Goff, these kids don’t even know the way to their own house!” Phew.  Was I relieved! But not for long.

“Really,” she explained.  “These kids have their iPods in their ears from day 1, and they aren’t looking where the bus is taking them.  Some of them don’t know how to get to their own house when their lesson is done.”

Holy moly! I thought.  These are the future drivers of America!  We’re going to have a whole new generation of drivers who’ll not only be tempted to text, but will NOT KNOW WHERE THE HECK THEY’RE GOING!  Will they start hesitating at green lights, wondering whether to go left or right?  Will they suddenly stop in the middle of Route 17 when they realize they’ve passed the mall?

“What should I do?” I asked the nice driving instructor lady.  “Insist she take out the earbuds  when she is the car with you, and pay attention to road signs, directions to places.  And ask questions, like, “did you just notice those kids playing over there?”  Things like that.

If you have kids learning to drive, you might have experienced what I did.  And know that you are in good company.

TTYL

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Mayan exhibition in Philadelphia

You know what I’m talking about.  The Mayan calendar and their prediction that the cycle we’re in ends 12/21/12; that this is it, kaput, put out the light, throw away the key. 

But I know better.

You see, I was in Philadelphia at a book writers’ conference this past weekend.  I was in the fancy lobby perusing the pamphlets of places to visit.  My eyes go right to the ghosty places, of course, but then something caught my attention: “Ancient Prophecy or Modern Myth?”  Hmmm…I read more.  Maya 2012, Lords of Time.  It’s the world premiere of a Mayan exhibit now showing at the Penn Museum.  OK.  So what do I look for next?  The date the exhibit ends.  I was expecting to read December 20, 2012.

Lo and behold!  It ends January 13, 2013.  Now, if that isn’t a kick in the head!

I figure that the Mayans were pretty good marketers back in the day when you had to use use the fluid found in plants as ink, and leaves as paper.  They must’ve just finished drinking their evening’s ration of blood when their head Mayan guy or gal thought, “I’ve got it!  If we start promoting something that captures the attention of the world, we might eventually start making some serious cacao seeds.”  Cacao seeds being their currency.  So, of course the word spread that the end of the world is coming, and anything that says “Mayan” is gold, and if they were still around, he or she would probably be on TIME magazine.  Hence the Mayan exhibit, which will undoubtedly sell Mayan tee shirts, mugs, and key chains.

Mayan calendar

But we know what’s really going on.  Come December 22, there will still be folks standing on line to see the Mayan exhibition in Philly trying to learn about the people who gave us the idea that we might never see this day.  

I’m still going to make plans for New Year’s Eve, and a spring vacation, and a week at the shore in summer.

I tell you, though, I’m headed to Philly next week again for a college tour with my youngest, and we are going to make a trip here.  I will let you know what I find out. 

TTYL,

My daughter throws all the emphasis on the word “food,” so it sounds like it’s made up of two syllables and not one.  “Fooo-ooodd.”

She’s home from college, bored, and with nothing to do except do her laundry and constantly check the items in the refrigerator, staring at them as if waiting for the show to begin.  Or better yet, checking every half hour in case something may have changed in there, in the dark.

How this brings me back to my childhood.  My father, like every father since him, wanted to create a see-through door.  “Close the door!” he would holler.  “You’re letting all the cold air out.”  How he must be loving this conversation!

But the thing is, there IS food in the house.  I look at her, my college student, with the A average, on the honor roll, and wonder why she doesn’t see the box of waffle mix as food, or the jar of peanut butter and loaf of bread as food.  What happened to logical thinking where food was concerned?  We have all the  makings for some very nice food, but that all seems lost on her.  I don’t get it.

I say, “Emily, what if you could create a wish list of the food you’d like to have me buy for your visits,” I ask very sweetly, blinking a lot to remind her how sweet I’m being.

“I don’t KNOW,” she responds, as if I asked the most goofiest question ever.

“Oh,” I reply.  “You complain there is no food in the house, yet there is,” I say, pointing like a game show hostess at the pantry, and the refrigerator door.  “And when I ask what you’d like me to have in the house, you don’t know.”

“You got it,” she replies, half-heartedly, already losing interest and returning her gaze to a cable TV show called Gossip Girl where everyone seems to eat out in restaurants.

Just then, Dad comes in from his food shopping expedition.  He unpacks some frozen foods, and one of them is a box of ice cream sandwiches.

My daughter jumps up from the couch and grabs the box.  “Finally, some FOOO-OODD.”

I don’t get it.

TTYL,

I remember when the label maker came into being.  What a very cool thing to be able to manuever the wheel around, press down the thingy-majiggy, and out popped a small plastic label that you could stick on to toys, or your cassette player (now I’m really dating myself!), and for my father, every one of his tools under the sun.  We loved to label things.  It got nutty.  And we still love to label things: the thinker, the goth, the nerd, the jock.  And when my youngest daughter showed her talented and creative side very early on, we labelled her “the artist.”  For birthdays, she received art sets and paint by number kits, and as she got older, we kept nudging her about art classes in school, and maybe going on to even  art school.  In her spare time, she drew and painted; her art teachers raved about her skills. 

But when an art studio in town opened up, she took a series of classes and then didn’t want to return.  I thought it was the teacher, perhaps, or the group of kids.  But when I finally gave it some serious thought, I finally got it.  While art was something she loved to do in her spare time, it wasn’t something she wanted to take “lessons” on or be lectured to.  For her, it was a time in her day where her imagination could run wild, where she could decide what to do, and not be “assigned” a project, and then be “graded” on it.  This kind of regimen, I believe, was taking the joy out of it for her.

And what a valuable lesson that was for me, and I wish I’d learned it sooner.  I’d probably not have kept on being the “cheerleader” for her art skills as much.  But it’s what parents do, right?  See what your kid does well in and encourage that skill.  But it doesn’t always work that way from the kid’s perspective.  

(Big sigh here!) 

Parenting is such a “learn on your feet as you go,” and a “trial by error” practice.  And I can’t beat myself up too much since I think I discovered the error of my ways before I did any real damage to our relationship.  I now understand her so much more.  And how annoying it must’ve been for her to have mom keep pushing something onto her when it wasn’t her thing, without having the words to explain it.

We’re off on the college search, and besides her excellent art grades, she has also been getting good grades in science and biology.  On our recent college tour, before she even asked to see their art building, she asked to see the biology labs. 

But I wasn’t surprised a bit.  I really do get it now.

TTYL,

Every summer since we moved up to Monroe from Long Island we’ve taken time at the Jersey Shore.  (A name which has now taken on a whole new meaning for reasons I won’t get into.)  But for eleven years, we’ve taken the drive down the Garden State to one of the exits to the shore, whether Seaside, Point Pleasant, and now Long Beach Island.  LBI as it’s commonly called, is extremely quiet, just the sounds of the gulls in the distance and the conversations of bicycle riders along the narrow street is about all you hear.  It’s blissfully quiet. 

My daughter came for a few days, and left yesterday; my sister in law left about an hour ago, and I have the house to myself til Saturday.  But this time has been like my New Year’s Eve.  It’s my time to think about the year that’s passed, and the one to come.  And now that the house is even quiet, it’s giving me more time to think. 

One thought that has been running through my head of late is that my kids are actually making me into a better person.  Isn’t that a kick in the head?  Let me explain.

Now that my oldest has been driving, she has taken on the role of “backseat driver” with a vengeance.  “Mom, you’re tailgating.”  or “Mom, where is your turn signal?”  and my favorite, “Mom, you didn’t count to three at that STOP sign.”  All the rules she has learned in her driving class, she has taken to heart, and I’m in her sights, and the second she witnesses one of my driving  transgressions, she’s on me, like  a motorcycle cop in the rear view mirror.

But it doesn’t end there.  This same daughter works at one of the big fast food chains, I won’t say which one, but it starts with an “M.”  She is now on a kick to only eat their salads or wraps, and drink water.  So, God forbid she catches me with french fries, or EGADS!  a diet soda.  “Mom, do you know what’s in a soda?”  or “MOM, french fries?” in her most disappointed voice.  And, me, feeling like I’ve just stepped on a puppy, sheepishly shrugs my shoulders, as sad as can be.  I have to say, however, that it’s working.  If anyone else were to tear into me like she does about my shortcomings, I’d probably stand up, look them straight in the eye, and say, “So what.”  But it’s my child….I should be a better example; remember that saying, “it’s now what you say, but what you do that matters”?  

So, I am making sure I use my turn signal everytime (I dislike those who don’t anyway), I am keeping far from fast food these days, and I do count 1-2-3 at every STOP sign.  After all, I have my youngest learning to drive now, and I know I’m going to be in her sights very soon.

With my house joyously quiet, and my daughters miles away, I am going to enjoy the peace as I sip my (shh!) diet soda.  But hold the fries.

TTYL,

mj

We write a lot about toddlers and babies, and even the “school age” child, but this one is for the tweens.  Those 13-14 year olds that still like playing board games, but not the traditional ones that they’ve played for eons, but something trendy, but still really, really fun.   That game is FURT

Yes, I’ll admit, it’s not your typical name, and probably leans toward a sound that the body  makes after, maybe, beans.  But that’s not the point of the game at all.  It’s nothing gross, but in fact, it should actually be called, “silly fun.” 

My 19-year-old is a game player; she definitely has inherited the genes to carry on the family game night tradition.  When I saw the game FURT, and read that it was for the 13 and up range, I knew it would be something right up our alley.  She learned the game in seconds, and taught me how to play with one condition: that she be able to keep the game and bring it with her to college in September.  I said, “Sure.”  I’ll make any kind of deal whenever it means one of my kids will spend time with me.  (Remember “South Africa?”  Enough said.)

FURT is an easy set up, and there are tons of player cards which means the game can have endless plays without repeats.  First thing you do is pick a marker, or a little player that moves along the board.  My daughter choose the big “number 1” finger, and I choose the garden gnome.  I rolled the die, and Emily said, “You have to take one of those small cards.”  These cards had the phrase, “what the ?!” on the back.  But I wasn’t to read what it said out aloud.  That was because it had secret instructions for me. 

Instructions to do something annoying before my next turn.  I was to go get something to eat in the kitchen, bring it back and start chewing, and then when anyone asked what I was eating, I’d open my mouth and mumble, “want some?”  OK.  I admit.  Annoying.  But, remember the age.  It’s for tweens.  When we do something with our kids, sometimes we do so on their level…sometimes ensuring that they’ll actually enjoy it.  So what that mom or dad looks like a big nut.  Watching Emily, albeit almost an adult, laugh like a loon was worth the effort.  Her turn was to make me laugh, and all she had to do is wiggle her fingers by her ears and I lost it.  Who cared, really, who won the game. By this time we just want to get our next turn to be silly.

These days, and I don’t mean to get all serious and all, but we need every opportunity to just relax with our tween-age kids (and older).  And if it takes a game with a funny sounding name, so be it.

This is a scene from the spectacle that is ZARKANA, Cirque Du Soleil’s hypnotizing stage/circus now playing at Radio City Music Hall.  It is only here, says their spokesperson Nicole Heymen, for the rest of the summer.  The show then moves to Las Vegas for what is being called its “permanent home.”  And what it show it was.

What we are seeing here is the high-energy and rather crowded trapeze performance with members flying and tumbling through air in a clever spider-web dance.  Off stage, costumed band members keep a soundtrack of rock and roll and new-agey music carefully choreographed to the movements on the stage.

The 90 minute show flew by as a stream of really busy activities, from the silly clowns (who were very, very funny), to the nerve-wracking, some of which made me squirm and want to look away.  Like the second act, a male and female team where he held the straight ladder, while climbing it at the same time while a lightweight ballerina stood on his shoulders.  She then somehow turned upside down (!) so that one hand was placed on his head and her feet were in the air.  All the while, the ladder moved about nervously, and the audience held its breath. (I was thinking, “oh no, you’re not going to do THAT are you!)

A few of the acts were so-so, and that is par for any circus.  The tennis-ball-bouncing lady did some nice juggling with some cute angle bounces, and a team of flag throwers were just interesting.  But that was okay.  There was enough white-knuckle acts, like the two gentleman who ran around a spinning wheel, or the tightrope walkers who jumped rope (always a show stopper), and some really high flying gymnastics, above and beyond what we’d see at the summer Olympics.

There were two solo performances that stood out more for their quiet talent.  A costumed girl came out and knelt before a sand table that projected onto the screen behind her what she was drawing in the sand.  One by one, fascinating creations came to life, whether the New York City skyline to drawings of the members of the troupe, including the wild-haired clowns.  Towards the end of the show, the audience uieted down for the performer I called, “yoga guy.”  In a plain white outfit, on his own raised platform, this well-toned gentlemen performed poses that yogi masters can only dream about.

The stage was a show in itself with light shows, videos flying by, and backdrops that complemented the live acts.  The one drawback was the circus’ leading man, in a top hat and tails (glittering and sparkling), with long hair, who sang very dramatically, in a language I couldn’t figure out.  What was he lamenting about?  Did he lose his magical powers?  It didn’t matter; when he left the stage, another act came on to take our attention away.

And lastly, the clowns.  Yes, they are silly; yes, some of the antics I remember seeing on the Ed Sullivan Show, but when one of them was shot out of a canon, carried above our heads, pretending to fly in slow motion was pretty funny.  When he spots an audience member he’d like to know better he begins to flirt, then, well, let me not ruin the scene.

We are so fortunate to be able to do a day trip to NYC either by train or by car, and the shows in the city are just amazing.  Check this one out as it’s still running until September 2, and despite the occasional lag in the production, it is still a very cool show to see!

If you’re planning a trip to a NYC museum with your kids, here are great ways to make it a great visit!

This is Jeff Daniels.  He plays a news anchor in Aaron Sorkin’s new HBO drama, “The Newsroom.”  The show’s trailer has been playing on youtube and facebook of late (I can’t include the link here because it has an expletive in it, and this is a family website.)  But the gist of this character’s rant during a Q & A, listed all the things wrong with America.  Asked why America is so great, Jeff Daniels’ character stepped onto his soapbox, much like President Bartlett did on “The West Wing.”  But this speech was negative at the core, how we’re down on the list for literacy, about our international hypocrisy, and present state of political affairs.  I guess it hit a nerve, evidenced by its posting on social media.

I spent this morning as a volunteer recruit at West Point, and I have to say that I left feeling pretty good about our country.   I saw an amazing group of dedicated twenty-somethings, some older, some younger, but all sharing a common goal.  Was every trainer pitch perfect in his or her speech, no.  Was every line moving at the speed desired?  No.  But it was the comraderie that was evident despite the need for salutes and the occasional  “Good morning, Sir”  Or “Madam,” as officers passed on by.

The day began in the auditorium at Eisenhower Hall for a brief intro, and then we were ushered into buses that would take us to Thayer Hall.  We were there, all 200 of us or so, to help the trainers practice “processing” pretend recruits for the real day, with real candidates for cadets coming this Monday.  At Thayer, we were instructed to stand in line, follow the tape on the floors, enter and exit rooms for pretend medical tests, a review of vaccinations, the volunteer handoff of contraband, i.e., drugs, weapons, hate material.  The girls were led to the female room for the ladies garments, and the guys were sent to the guy room.  We pretended to get our complimentary hair cut.  We were ordered to drink water.  And then we stood and took the oath which said that we’d do everything in our power to protect this country, and give allegiance to no other. 

And once we raised our right hand and promised to be honorable and true to the corps, we met our drill sergeant; a serious third year cadet named Price.  He hesitated a bit before commands, clearly he’d spent time memorizing them, but still halted  between his words, but he never faltered.  We were then led out, about 7 of us who were his “rank” for the session, and formed a line.  Price demonstrated the salute, the about-face, the at-ease, how to march, and how to turn left and right while marching.  And before we could leave for the day, we had to recite our introduction, a statement of our purpose to the ranking cadet “with the red sash.”  I was caught up in cadet fever, especially since it felt about 110 degrees in the shade (we lost one kid who fainted from the heat), plus, I was trying NOT to get disciplined.  During one march, I turned my head, distracted, and out from an alley way came a strong repimand:  “Eyes front, cadet.”  My head snapped back. 

“Sir, Cadet Goff reporting to the cadet with the red sash for the first time as ordered,” was my introductory speech. But I had to stand at the right spot near the tape, sweaty, hungry, thirsty, and be nose to nose to my superior, all the while giving a proper salute.  I only needed one take, and was then welcomed into the corps., a place where I’d become part of a family of like-minded patriots, and despite the imperfections of our coutnry, who would still lay down their life for it.

I know “The Newsroom” is only a show, and that our country and our military could always use improvement, what good does it do to simply state its imperfections?  When that student asked “what makes America great?” I think a better answer would be, “Because we believe it is.”

(We follow Sergeant Price.)

(MJ with an officer known as James Brandt..not sure of his rank.)

This time of year is my absolute favorite.  I got a feeling for most parents, it is, too.  For one thing:  NO MORE MAKING SCHOOL LUNCHES (for those who do).

I remember being so tired of making sandwiches for my kids by mid-June, and relished the thought of not thinking about creating a “nutritious, but appealing lunch for a 10 year old whose peers are eating Ding Dongs.”   At least for the next two months.

I love the barrage of artwork and projects and other schoolwork that the teacher held onto so she or he could measure how far my child had come.  These art pieces came home in a folder in such a condition that surely a bear had grabbed it on the bus and began flinging it around.  “How beautiful,” I’d say, as I unrolled each picture created by my child using pastels, or small snippets of paper; eyeballs glued way back in January now falling off from whatever creature they had created. But despite the mangled work, I treasured every item.

I love that our days are longer.  In winter, by 4:30, the sun has already gone down, creating a night that is way too long.  Now, the sun is still bright at 7:30.  It allows for the next best part about this summer.  Getting ice cream after dinner.  My daughter brought me to the Bellvale Creamery over near the Warwick/Greenwood Lake area this weekend, and if there was ever a place to travel to for ice cream (sorry Monroe’s Wally’s and Mr. Cone..we still love you guys), this is it.  The little white house, chilly from all the refrigeration, is the perfect spot to stand in on a hot day or evening, and the view of Warwick Valley is the perfect backdrop to scarfing down a cup of their low fat Chocolate Chip with walnuts.

And being that I can sit out until 7:30 or later, I enjoy the critters who walk through my backyard to the creek that runs down at the end of my property.  The neighborhood deer walk through it as if they own it; they stop and stare at me as I exit my garage to my car.  Their look says, “Who are you?  This is my territory.”   And I try to look back in an animal-worldly way that says, “Hey, I pay the taxes on this property.  This is mine.”  But my heart melts when I see a new momma and her brand new baby, and I almost want to hand them the keys to the front door.

We’d love to know what summer delights you look forward to.  Walking, biking at your local hiking or bike trail?  Do you take time off from work in summer especially to take day trips?  Do you have summer traditions like visiting as many firework shows as you can?  Signing up for the town pool?  Doing absolutely NOTHING?

Need a few ideas?  Visit hvparent.com.

Write us at editor@excitingread.com.

My brothers and I have been slowly cleaning out my mother’s house — the family house — over the past few weeks.  Some stuff was easy to remove like recent knick knacks and decorations that held few memories, the sympathy cards wrapped up in a rubber band, pieces of furniture purchased just in the last years.  As the weeks moved along, and the new family was getting ready to take possession, we knew we had to start digging deep into the stuff that reminded us of the 50-plus years my parents lived there.  For my brothers and I, it was the only house we knew for a big chunk of our lives, and the house where we celebrated just about every holiday throughout the years.

On the last visit, I had to get tough and remove some of the items that were there forever, it seemed.  And, I knew my brother, who spent most of his time with our mom, might not be able to take them down.  So, down came the house blessings.  OMG, how many house blessings she had around the house!  If there was an award for house blessings, we’d surely take first place.  Oh, and all the positive affirmations on the refrigerator, above the kitchen sink, on every shelf.  It seemed you couldn’t glance anywhere without reading the Serenity Prayer; and in her bedroom, as big as a dinner plate, was this bright yellow happy face.

Then came down all the pictures of her four kids, her five grandkids, and her first great-grandchild, who she got to meet and enjoy for a while before she passed last August.  I took them all down, slowly and solemnly.  The mirror she’d glance in before leaving the house, the hanging angels, all the battery-operated clocks that ticked ever so lightly, with one clock never matching the time on another clock.  I used to think that our house was set in different time zones:  the clock in the dining room was off five minutes from the clock in the kitchen, andthe clock upstairs might be 15 minutes later.  But they had one thing in common, like I said, they ticked. And never in unison, so there was always the sound of incessant crickets in the house; a home that was never truly silent.  Except for now.  The clocks are down, the batteries taken out, and the hands have stopped moving.

In the evening, around 6:30, I think to call her. We would talk about the day, what we made for dinner, what was in the news.  If I had a problem or was wrestling with something.  She may not always have an answer, but she listened, and I always felt better.  That time of night seemed the best to call since I wasn’t dashing out somewhere, the dishes were done, and I also knew that any later, she’d be settling in for the night.

MJ with Mom at Plum Beach, BrooklynI have the best memories of her, and will probably think to call her at 6:30 for a long, long time.  With this first Mother’s Day without her, I’m not so much sad as I am grateful for all the years I had her, and that our memories are not just good, they’re terrific.  She accepted her children for who they were and was always there to advise, and we even had an agreement that we could disagree.  She loved a good joke, the Kentucky Derby, mystery books, the crosswords, and coffee.  and her love for her children was never in doubt.

This Mother’s Day, as sappy as it sounds, I’m really thinking more about my own children, and thinking that I really want to be as good a Mom to them as she was to me.  I want them to look back and have their own terrific memories.  And I think my Mom would like that.

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