Archive for August, 2012

Please don’t put the pedal to the metal

Sunday, August 26th, 2012

Now that Jennifer Lynn has turned 16, we have moved into the phase of parenting a teenager that is one of my least favorite based on my experience with her older two siblings.

She made it smoothly through the oftentimes difficult junior high years so what is it that has my stomach in knots? It’s riding with her while she learns to drive. While sitting in the passenger seat with my foot pressed so hard into the floor that it has turned white, I often fantasize about how wonderful it would be to be able to afford to pay someone else $80 an hour to rack up the 50 hours of driving experience she needs in order to take the driving test to get her license.

Teaching your child to drive seems like a task better left to a trained professional. It’s one thing as a parent to teach your child how to cook or play tennis because if their inexperience causes them to make a mistake, nobody dies. The only thing that happens is the cake doesn’t rise or they have to chase down a few balls. But when it’s 4,000 pounds of metal moving toward a pedestrian, the stakes are a lot higher.

One thing I have never understood is why the DMV doesn’t issue a “Student Driver” sign that parents can put in the window of the car while their kids are getting their behind-the-wheel experience. Would the jerks who honked, illegally passed her, and tailgated her have been a little more forgiving if they knew this was her second time on the road?

When we’re in the car, in an effort not to have comments about the mere six inches between us and the parked cars come out in a shout of absolute panic, I find myself tacking on terms of endearment that I never otherwise use with her. “Start putting on the brakes NOW, honey.” Or, “YOU NEED TO LOOK BEFORE YOU CHANGE LANES, sweetie.” Unfortunately, I don’t think these overly affectionate nicknames are masking my terror.

After turning into the lane of oncoming traffic in an apartment complex, I could tell her confidence needed a boost so I reminded her that I’m sure she has sufficient brain power to become the 22,657,289th licensed driver in California. It’s just going to take a little practice.

Basic Exercises

Sunday, August 19th, 2012

Ethan, our 24 year-old son who recently enlisted in the army, is continuing to surprise me with the changes he is making. Perhaps none of these changes is more shocking than his sudden and determined effort to get in shape. With the exception of PE classes in school and a short-lived career on the high school tennis team, the only part of his body that got regular exercise was his thumbs from playing video games.

However, now he calls me up update me on how many push-ups he can do and to discuss his training regimen. He was obviously very proud when he told me that while he is waiting for the microwave to beep, he’ll drop and knock off 10 or 20 push-ups. Who is this child and what have you done with my inert son?

The motivation behind his newfound interest in exercise is the humiliation he imagines he will feel if he doesn’t pass the physical fitness test at the start of basic training. Incoming soldiers must have a certain level of physical fitness which includes doing pushups, sit ups and a two-mile run in 13 minutes or else they will get put into the so-called “fat class.” For a skinny kid like Ethan, the fear having to do remedial PT (physical training) is already kicking his butt.

He has also told us how he is really looking forward to getting buff in basic training. He has realized that he could look really awesome with defined abs and guns (of the bicep variety) but he hasn’t had the motivation to do it on his own. I guess a drill sergeant is the ultimate personal trainer.

Until recently, we thought his younger sister had gotten all the physical exercise genes in the family. It didn’t matter that she was born without a left hand; she has always sought out challenging physical activities. Whether it was doing rhythmic gymnastics, martial arts, or acrobatics, she has always had the need to sweat. She’s like me in that sense.

She thought it was pretty amusing when we told her that after Ethan completes basic training, she would no longer be able to take him down in a fight. Actually, she’s very proud that he is finally seeing what his physical potential is. I know her respect for him has grown.

Ethan’s biggest concern right now is a sore knee that is preventing him from keeping up his training schedule for running. Soreness is a new experience for him. Even when you’re in your twenties, if you go from zero to 60 in a short amount of time, you’re bound to pay the price.

So as someone who used to run a lot and still loves going to the gym everyday, I told him to take a couple of ibuprofen and let it rest for a day or two. A little bit of discomfort? He should get used to it. Basic training will be nine weeks of intense discomfort.

Turned over to the care of his Uncle Sam

Monday, August 13th, 2012

As I wrote last week, I am very proud that our son Ethan has enlisted in the army. And I am also relieved.

There may be some who say I’m naïve for thinking this way, but I am relieved because for the next five years while he is in the army, I know he will be taken care of. A lot of the reasons I have worried about him will be gone. Sure, he’s 24 and has been out of my “care” for several years, but no matter how old your children are, does a mom ever stop worrying about her kids?

Once he is in the army, his most basic needs for food and shelter will be met and that is no small thing. But equally important, his need to find a role and purpose in life will be met and that was something I worried…and prayed about…for him.

You see, in the past year since he graduated from college, I have watched Ethan struggle and not be able to get his feet underneath himself. His goal after graduation was to find a job in film production and while he worked plenty of nonpaying gigs so that he could build his resume and IMDB creds, it just wasn’t adding up to steady employment. I worried if he would he be able to find full-time work? And what about making the payments on his student loans that were getting bigger by the minute? I probably should have been able to say to myself that those are his concerns and they really don’t have anything to do with me, but I still felt the burden of his uncertainty in life.

He came close to getting jobs that could have turned into a career. We spent a couple of painful hours on the phone with him more than once during the past year when he was one of two candidates for good jobs that would have been right up his alley in film production but the companies chose the other applicant.

Because he needed to pay his rent, he looked for any kind of a job: retail, administrative, or food service – with the exception of Starbucks. He had already done two stints there, one in high school and one in his junior year of college, and he refused to do a third.

In this economy, even minimum wage jobs are hard to come by. He eventually found a sales job that cost him as much in gas money as he made in commissions.

However, now that he is enlisting in the army, instead of taking another minimum wage job at H&M or a Peets, he is going to spend 10 weeks in basic training, which is certain to be a life changing experience. After that, he will spend a year learning a language. It could be Korean, Arabic or Japanese. He is going to have the opportunity to travel which he never would have had the confidence to tackle on his own. Even his first step in his enlistment, which is traveling to basic training in South Carolina, will expose him to people, places and ideas that he never otherwise would have been exposed to.

When I look at the army website and see the photos of the soldiers in basic training crawling on their stomachs in the mud or cleaning their weapons or being eyed by the stern sergeant, I have a brief moment of thinking that looks scary. But then I have to remember that it’s him not me who is going to be in that situation and he is totally excited by the challenge of it. I can have faith in a system that has perfected bringing out the best in men and women for generations. I know he will be in good hands.

Mother of a future soldier

Tuesday, August 7th, 2012

Last week our son, Ethan, signed papers to enlist in the army. He is scheduled to begin Boot Camp at the end of September at Ft. Jackson in South Carolina. He is excited and energized in a way that I haven’t seen since he made the decision to move out of our house; and I am very proud to say that I am the mother of a future soldier.

So what led to a 24 year-old college graduate with a degree in Cinema Studies from San Francisco State to enlist in the army?

He traces it back to selling mops at Travis Air Force Base. Let me explain…for the past several months, Ethan had a job that was basically like doing a live infomercial. Think Billy Mays and ShamWow and you’ve got the picture. The company he worked for would go into a Sears store, set up a small stage and then Ethan would show up and do a 20 minute sales pitch 10 times a day, talking about why this $39.95 mop would change your life forever.

Although he actually really liked this job and he talks about how it has given him the confidence to approach any cute girl, he worked solely on commission and the company sent him to stores where there wasn’t any traffic. We had to talk him down from the ledge on a couple Sundays when the only people on the third floor of Sears were him and the guy selling mattresses.

To break up the monotony of Sears stores, he also did his road show at the huge Travis AFB Commissary. He says that during the week he spent there doing his huckster gig, he saw people who looked like their lives had purpose. And although he had tried his best to find his purpose in the film production world in the year since he graduated – and even gotten down to the finishing line between himself and one other applicant for two different film jobs – it just wasn’t coming together for him.

He ended up quitting the MopWow job and that’s when Steve suggested to him that he consider the military. Steve can speak from personal experience because he enlisted when he was 20 and ended up spending thee years in Germany as a medic.

Steve’s encouragement kicked in and Ethan visited the recruiter. The more he found out about the options open to him, the more excited he got. He took the aptitude test and scored extremely well. He found out that the army would help pay back his student loans. He saw himself thriving in a place that as he says “is all about rules and order.” Plus, he likes imagining himself looking fit and sharp in his uniform.

He passed the physical and is mentally preparing as best he can for the toughness of Boot Camp. I guess Steve and I can consider it a compliment when he said “that finally having overbearing militaristic parents who make you do things you don’t want to do will pay off.”

He is counting down the days and already speaking in army acronyms. After Boot Camp, he will go to DLI (Defense Language Institute) in Monterey where he’ll spend a year learning a language that wasn’t an option in high school such as Korean. How he’ll spend the remaining four years of his commitment is TBD.

Even though he says that he will have to trade in his contact lenses for a pair of truly ugly glasses, I can’t wait to get the photo of him in his fatigues (and glasses) with the flag in the background. Army proud? You bet.