Family Bonding Time

What do you get when you put 2 adults and 2 teenagers in a 300 sq. ft hotel room with 2 double beds and 1 tv for a weekend? The answer you might expect would be disaster. In our fortunate case, I would call it “family bonding time”. Being confined to a smaller space with fewer options for things to do compels everyone to be more considerate of each other and more tolerant of distractions. All of the following values enhanced our experience:

Consideration– The most noticeable adjustment was that everyone cleaned up after themselves. At home I would have found clothing littering their bedroom floors, but in the hotel every inch of floor space was precious. Surprisingly, everyone picked up after themselves and stored their clothes in the assigned drawers. I never had to ask them to clean up! I don’t think this was out of courtesy for others as much as not wanting to step on their things, but the result was very pleasing.

Coordination– Even though it was a weekend, my high school student had a ton of homework. The desk was located in a nook of the room which offered a tiny measure of privacy. We set her up at the desk with her books and lap top. I even unplugged the coffee pot since there were only enough outlets for the desk lamp and computer at the same time. Usually when she works, she likes peace and quiet, but she learned how to focus on her assignment while the football game was on in the background. My son had brought his iPad along and was able to watch videos with his headphones. I relocated the chair so I would not be too close to the desk and was able to enjoy my book without too much distraction from the tv.

Conservation -There were a refrigerator and microwave in the room. I had brought 2-liter bottles of our favorite drinks from home, as well as hot chocolate mix and popcorn. Instead of asking for money to spend at the vending machine, my son became very good at filling the ice bucket and grabbing chips from our snack supply. When it came to restaurant choices, I noticed how flexible everyone was willing to be. Usually we debate for half an hour on which to choose, but over the weekend  for some reason either the closest restaurants were perfect or everyone understood that cooperation was necessary. We never had a discussion about it. One place was suggested each time and that is where we went. I think there was also an unspoken consensus that we were picking one expensive dinner and one cheap one. The kids chose appropriately from the menus without any budget being mentioned.

Cooperation– Finally, in the evening after our return from dinner and a final stab at homework, we would get into our pjs and use one of the beds for a family game. Apples to Apples gave us a fun non-electronic activity which had us laughing. Taking turns leading, respecting each other’s judgment and gracefully accepting winning or losing are all important aspects of life and playing a game that reinforces these is valuable time spent together.

Apples to Apples

Image via Wikipedia

More on Boys and Video Games

Wal-Mart de Chicoutimi, dans l'ancien édifice ...

Image via Wikipedia

If you didn’t notice it, you missed your chance. No I am not talking about the giant asteroid that missed the earth by a mere 200,00 miles. I am referring to the release date of COD: MW3. For those of you who don’t have teenage boys, that stands for Call of Duty:Modern Warfare 3. It is another installment of this video game, rated M for 17+ and was released in stores at 12:01 am November 8.

My thirteen year-old has an earlier version of the game and wanted to be one of the first to get the new one. One of his friends suggested they go to the store and camp out until it is released at midnight. That sounded like a fun idea to them, but they couldn’t get a single parent to agree to drive them. My son does not usually ask for things or stage protests, but he spent the weekend begging me to drive him and his friend to the store Monday night. When I refused to do so, he went on strike- refusing to participate in chores until I pointed out that the two issues were not related and I wouldn’t even consider another option until his chores were done.

When we finally tried to work out a solution,  I still wasn’t sure why he needed it immediately when he could ask for it for Christmas. He was worried they would run out of copies. He figured all his friends would have it and he would be left out. He wanted to experience the thrill of being one of the first to play the new version. Even though he could have preordered it online, he didn’t want to wait a week for it to get here. These seemed like valid reasons to me, and at least gave me a sense of why this was so important in his mind.

Then he came up with a compromise, which was actually very clever. He asked if his friend could sleep over and I could then take them shopping in the morning. I agreed to take them any time after 7am. So Monday night came around, his friend came with his sleeping bag, game controller and wallet. They didn’t stay up too late since they wanted to get an early start. We didn’t actually leave the house until 8, so I had time for my much needed coffee.

The first place we drove was Wal-Mart. There were two men in line ahead of them, in pursuit of the same game. I joked with one of them, dressed in a suit and headed to work, when he mentioned that here he was 35 years old and still playing video games. When it was the boys’ turn, they decided they wanted the “hardened” version. I asked them what the difference was (what do I know, I’m just the chauffeur). They told me the regular version did not have all the add-ons, extra maps and other perks which were included in the “hardened” game. It was $30 extra, but they rationalized that to buy the extras separately would cost them $120, so in the end they would be saving $90. I guess that’s using your head, if you were planning to do that anyway.

Unfortunately, the people at Wal-Mart had no clue what they were talking about. They had plenty of regular copies, but the boys were not interested. So off we went to the nearest Game Stop. It didn’t open until 10 and it was only 8:30 so we went to the mall, searching out Best Buy. Again nothing was open yet. I suppose selling games at the crack of dawn was not in their business plan. So we drove over to the Supersize Wal-Mart, which did not carry the hardened version of COD:MW3 either. We decided to go back to the mall, get a bite to eat and wait for the stores to open.

When we got there, the Game Stop was just throwing open its door. It was only 9:30, but I guess they felt there were enough customers around to do business. Two other men, probably in their 20’s, walked in ahead of us. By the time the boys asked for their hardened version, there were only 4 left. They pulled out their cash and counted it out for the cashier. He would not sell it to them until he read me the riot act. He wanted to know if I was aware that this was rated M. Then he read a graphic description of the blood, gore and violence in the game. I nodded my head in agreement, giving my permission and adding that I must be a terrible parent for allowing this.

The boys walked out of the store with their games in their hands. They were no longer hungry and just wanted to get home and start playing. On the drive back, they read the description on their boxes excitedly. They thanked me for taking the time to drive them around. They were pleased they had held out for this version, rather than settle for the first one they saw. And (this was the best news to me) they agreed it would have been so disappointing to stake out at Wal-Mart in the middle of the night, only to discover they had wasted their time. That’s about as close to a “You were right, Mom” as you can get. Hopefully they’ll remember that when COD:MW4 comes out.

Matzah Ball Soup

My fifteen year old is home sick today. For the most part she stays in her room and rests, but I know she appreciates me coming to check on her from time to time. When I went in a few minutes ago, she asked me to make her some Matzah Ball Soup. In our mixed faith household, matzah ball soup has become a comfort food. Even though my mother never stocked matzah meal in her house, I always make sure to have some on hand in my pantry.   It is not hard to make matzah ball soup, it is just time-consuming. My husband will make fresh chicken stock, but I usually use grocery staples to keep it simpler. I mix the matzah meal in a bowl with eggs and oil,      

chill it while I boil the water, form it into balls

and plop them into the pot, quickly putting the lid over it.

We used to only have matzah ball soup with holiday meals, but Nana has been with the kids often enough when they were sick that she knew to pick up groceries at the local store and cook up some TLC with her more traditional recipe. For my daughter, the request for this soup translates into a subtle plea for attention. She needs me to acknowledge she is not feeling well and deserves some special treatment. I recognize this need but do not mention it. Instead I obligingly fill my role as mom and caregiver, one that does not come up as frequently in her teenage years. It is a tacit agreement that she needs me more than she cares to admit and that she knows I love her, even though she won’t say it.

The parent-child relationship changes so much over the course of a lifetime. We start as completely dependent on our parents and grow to break away from them. As we mature into adults, we reform our view of our parents and gain mutual respect. While we live independent lives, it is still reassuring to have a parent to ask advice of, or to give moral support when you are down. As our own parents age, we know they may need our assistance too. After a lifetime of pouring out love for us, we want to give some of that back to them.

Now I am in the role of sending that loving message to my own child. By taking the trouble to make her this matzah ball soup, I am letting her know how important she is to me and how much I care. I already know there will not be much of an exchange, other than a brief expression of thanks; but a lecture is not necessary to convey my thoughts. The matzah ball soup has become a symbol of comfort and love. It shows us that we are family and will do what it takes to keep each other well. And I know on another day it will come back from her direction. But for now, this says it all…

Day 2- Embarkation Part A: Organization & Challenges

Today we all slept in a bit – trying to catch up on some shut eye. However, by 10 am we were repacked and ready to head to our cruise ship. Once again we each had to drag our suitcases up and down stairs and through narrow alleys until we reached our vaporetto stop. By the time we arrived at the dock, we were soaked with sweat. Everyone received a room key but David and Kate were disappointed to learn they needed to wear identification bracelets due to their age. This would become a point of contention later in the day. However, at this moment everyone was eager to check out their staterooms and explore the ship.

We were staying on the Ms. Nieuw Amsterdam. We had booked a Deluxe Verandah suite for the four of us and I was pleasantly surprised by the size of our room! We had a king size bed, a large sitting area with ample room for the pull-out sofa, a spacious bathroom with 2 sinks and showers and a separate dressing area with plenty of storage space, including a large vanity. Our verandah was twice the size of the regular ones and had comfortable seating for 8 people- perfect for our whole group!

I’ll admit I am an organization maniac and I set to work right away trying to figure out where to store four people’s stuff for the next 12 days. The guys were easy. They were able to share a closet and use some drawers. I found some drawer space for myself and used a closet for shoes and hanging things. That just left Megan’s stuff.

I knew she had packed way more than she needed, but a 15-year-old girl needs her fashion and her make-up so we agreed that, as long as it fit in her suitcase, she could bring it. As it turned out, the dressing room was perfect for her. She could fit everything in the closets, lay her makeup out on the vanity and I could draw thew curtain on her mess so the rest of the room looked presentable. Problem solved!

Since Megan and Susan were returning Mariners, they were able to attend a special Embarkation lunch and invited the rest of us as guests. We walked in to the Manhattan Dining Room and were immediately impressed by how friendly and helpful the staff were. The choices of food on the menu indicated the luxury of the options we would have during our stay.

Since it was only lunch, I skipped the appetizer and ordered a chilled asparagus soup and a raspberry walnut salad, followed by a scoop of watermelon sorbet for dessert. Everything was as delicious as it sounds! Little did I realize what a sensitive issue our food choices were to become during the cruise.

At the outset of our trip, my mother-in-law was seriously underweight. Since being widowed less than 8 months ago, she had not been eating well. Compounded by the stress of her new situation and occasional depression, she looked shockingly frail. Her goal was to put on 5 pounds and revive her spirit on this trip.

Kate, on the other hand, had been sent on this trip by her mother- who tried to maintain healthy eating habits at home and asked us to be mindful of sticking to them. With so many courses to eat and tantalizing desserts everywhere we looked, we quickly knew this was going to be a challenge.

The remaining members of the group, myself included, were foolishly trying to enjoy a variety of foods without gaining a pound. This idea seems ridiculous in retrospect, as there was always good food available at the Lido buffet, in the Neptune Lounge or by ordering room service.  Fortunately, none of this was on my mind as we finished our first meal. Everyone smiled at each other and complimented the waiters on how delicious everything had tasted.


Day 1- A Venetian Family Reunion

The various members of our group arrived separately, from Boston, New York, Tucson and Victoria BC. Everyone was exhausted from the trip, but excited to connect and begin our vacation. Hillary had flown from Tucson to pick up her granddaughter, Kate (11), whom she was escorting to Venice with her daughter’s blessing, envy and set of instructions. I had flown with my husband, Mike and children, Megan (15) and David (12) [a.k.a. the Cruise Family]. We had all crossed paths at JFK the night before and exclaimed “See you in Venice in 12 hours!” before went to our separate gates. Susan had flown in from Boston and, unlike the rest of us, managed to get a row of 3 seats to herself and was able to catch a few winks. Amy would not be able to join us until the following day, but her arrival from British Columbia was much anticipated.

The Cruise family landed at Marco Polo airport  and were excited to see a familiar face awaiting them on the other side of Immigration. Mike’s mother, Susan/Nana, held her arms open as Megan and David ran to greet her! Then we all boarded a bus headed for Piazza Roma in Venice.

We decided to walk to our hotel  – advertised as a mere 10 min walk from the bus stop. Each person had one suitcase to manage, but David quickly realized his Nana was having trouble with her large upright. He offered to take charge and gave her his much smaller, towable bag. Needless to say, he provided plenty of entertainment on the walk (which was much longer than 10 min btw). Crashing the suitcase in to walls and tripping over it when it skidded on the cobblestones in the narrow alleys. But his efforts at lugging it up and down the bridges were much appreciated by his Nana as she could not have managed it by herself. “Next time I need to get a more portable suitcase!” she proclaimed.

We finally arrived at our hotel, Al Duca di Venezia, and were more than happy to freshen up in our beautiful rooms. Hillary and Kate had arrived earlier and were eager to get out and explore Venice. Within an hour we were ready to head out. We decided to go to Saint Mark’s Square – an obvious tourist trap, but a must see.

It was as beautiful as we had remembered (the Cruise family had been there 2 years earlier on a tour of Italy), but the lines to enter the basilica were so long that we decided to ascend the bell tower instead. Kate very much wanted to go up, but when she discovered there was only an elevator, she confessed that she was afraid of elevators and could not bring herself to do it. Her Uncle Mike thoughtfully patted her back and told her they could explore St. Mark’s square instead. Conversely, Hillary and Susan had assumed it would be a climb up the tower, which their knees would not be up for. They had already taken off to walk along the canals and people watch together. They were excited to use this trip as a chance to get better acquainted. They had always declared they would be best friends if they lived closer to each other.

That left me, Megan and David to ascend the bell tower. When we got to the top, we took in the breath-taking views of Venice! We looked down on the moveable clock and crowded Saint Mark’s Square and across to the dome of the basilica. All the way out to sea we caught a glimpse of our Holland America cruise ship. We became very excited to think of the long adventure that awaited us tomorrow.


Megan was looking forward to visiting many historic sites. David was determined to take full advantage of room service on the ship, and I was looking forward to spending some quality time with each and every member of the family.

When everyone reconvened at the bottom of the tower, it was time to head to dinner. Mike had looked up a favorite restaurant which the Cruise family had visited last time we were in Venice. He printed out a step by step set of directions which led us through 42 twists and turns on back alleys until we arrived at Casa Mia- only to discover it was closed for the day.

Shrugging off our disappointment (and hunger pains) and demonstrating how flexible everyone in this odd group could be, we wandered for a few blocks until we found another place to eat. At that point some salads, Margarite pizzas and a bottle of Chianti  (or Fanta) were all it took to make everyone happy. We finished off our first day with authentic Venetian gelato and fell into our comfy beds-  exhausted but relaxed. All the stress of planning this trip was over. Now we could enjoy the next 12 days!

Cancelling Netflix: A Lesson for my Kids

Yesterday I made the decision to cancel Netflix. I have loved receiving those red envelopes for the last 6 years, but, as you probably heard they raised their rates an outrageous amount and I was mad. Before I made the decision, I discussed it with my family. My husband and I rarely sit down to watch movies, so he had no great attachment. The kids were another story, however.
    They not only enjoy ordering the dvds, they take advantage of the instant streaming of tv shows too. My son has probably watched every episode of South Park and my daughter followed all of Glee. Needless to say, they were not happy.
    Being a teacher at heart, I had to turn this into a life lesson. I didn’t go into the comparison of today’s media versus the “good old days”. You know, the days when we all sat around the one family tv to watch the much anticipated annual run of The Sound of Music, The Wizard of Oz or The Great Pumpkin. If you missed it, it wouldn’t be on again until next year. Nothing like the instant gratification of today’s media.

Instead, I talked to them about principles and “putting your money where your mouth is”. Teenagers are at the age where their money starts to mean something. The amount they spend on clothes, make up, electronics and entertainment gives them more power than they realize, as long as they don’t get roped in by bad deals. I showed them the amount of money we would be charged above our current plan and we discussed what we could get for that amount instead. We figured out other ways to get free movies and shows streamed to our tv and checked out the supply of dvds at the library. With the money we saved, we could probably even get a few pay per views each month.

They still weren’t thrilled with the decision to drop Netflix, but at least they understood the reasons why and that we had the right to explore other options. As for Netflix, I hope this doesn’t turn out to be a lesson in bad business, but I’m sure my kids will be checking out the stories online to see if our form of protest had any impact. And that would be a better real life lesson than anything they learned in their history books.

A New Year for Growth and Change

   My kids have been back to school for almost a week now. They are getting adjusted to their daily routine and I am trying to find my own rhythm. For the last 9 years, I have enjoyed teaching pre-school. Four and five-year olds can be so inquisitive and eager to learn new things. It was a great experience for me and I occasionally run into a student or parent who remembers me. I love to hear how they are doing and think that I played a small part in their lives.
    Every September, I started out with a fresh crop of students-all of different personalities and levels of readiness. By the end of the year, they were very comfortable with themselves and ready to move on to kindergarten. I was proud of my accomplishment.
    However, this year I decided to step back for a time. I feel there is something else I want to do, more people I want to reach. So here I am blogging my thoughts on this webpage as I attempt to determine what the next steps in my career will be.
    I decided to name my blog the Middle Generation, because like many of you I am a mom with older parents. My kids are now teenagers and my parents are very active in their own lives. However, I feel as if I am juggling my attention between the needs of my kids and the obligations I feel to look after my parents.
    My parents are dealing with cataracts, knee replacement, insomnia, arthritis and weight, as well as some nerve-wracking blood tests as they age. At the same time, my kids have reached a stage where their grades actually count. My oldest one will be driving in a year and looking at colleges in two. My younger one is gaining his independence on his bike or online (I’m not sure which is more dangerous).
    I plan to use this blog as a way to talk about subjects on both sides of me, and figure out how to find time for myself- both  physically and emotionally. Thanks for joining me on my journey.