21 Oct

Glory and the Geek

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

I am a geek. Always have been. But now it’s easy – and almost cool – to admit it. Twenty-five years ago? Not so much. Back then, my glasses, braces and clarinet carrying case were all social life liabilities. In the 80s, if you aced a few spelling tests or a teacher praised you for being smart, you found yourself on the fast track to Geeksville, and nobody wanted to be there.

But times have changed and now we live in a much more geek-friendly world. Some of our coolest modern-day conveniences wouldn’t exist were it not for the i love geekslong hours and irrational obsessions nurtured by a few world-changing geeks. The next time you use a computer, Google something using a smartphone, or “like” a funny picture on Facebook, you have a geek to thank.

I’m happy to report that, thanks to a kinder, gentler geek-loving culture, smart kids are flourishing. About a month ago, I volunteered to help coach my son’s middle school Quiz Bowl team as they prepare for an upcoming tournament. Lucky for me, the coaching duties are easy. I mostly just ask the kids trivia questions and read off the answers when they miss one.

These limited duties work in my favor because these kids are way smarter than me. I marvel at how they can recall who invented the cotton gin or the main characters in a Shakespearian play. The sheer proximity to this wealth of brain power has turned me into one of “those parents” – the ones who get a little too enthusiastic about their kids’ extra-curricular activities.

After a few Quiz Bowl practices, I noticed a pattern in the types of questions the kids had trouble with, so I researched those subjects and made a study guide full of the kind of random facts that win Quiz Bowl competitions: a list of amendments to the U.S. Constitution, definitions for terms like “spondee” and “anapest” and everything you ever didn’t want to know about elements in the periodic table.

I made copies of all this study-guide gold and then assembled the pages on my living room floor one night, hole-punching, organizing and putting them into 3-ring binders. That’s when it hit me that perhaps I’d caught a bad case of geek fever.

In the midst of all the hole-punching, I looked over to Tom who was watching television like a normal person and said, “Honey, have I gone too far here? The kids are going to think I’m weird, right?”

“No, it’s… nice that you’re being helpful,” he said, (which I’m pretty sure was code for “Oh no, what have I done? I married a Super Nerd.”)

During the next practice session, I passed out my super geeky study guide binders to the kids on the Quiz Bowl team, hoping it might give them a competitive edge in the upcoming tournament. None of them rolled their tween-age eyes at me, and – even though perhaps they should have – no one told me to go get a life. And that just reinforces what I love most about great geeks – the way they not only accept but embrace what used to be shunned as geeky.

They don’t dumb themselves down so that they’ll blend more easily into the typical teenage social scene. But they don’t let their intelligence turn them arrogant, either. They’re smart and quirky but also kind and funny – four of the best adjectives you can be.

I’m grateful to be raising kids during a time when parents can be happy if their kids excel at sports but also equally thrilled when kids find their niche in other areas that require just as much skill and strategy.

As the super-smart, quirky people often say, the “geek shall inherit the Earth.”

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

14 Oct

Procrastination: Shoulda Woulda Coulda

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Like most writers, I have a dance partner whose name is Procrastination. I hate his guts. What a slacker. And yet we keep on dancing. We side-step and disco-delay until I’m up against a wall and have no choice but to kick him out and get down to work.

So in an effort to “know my enemy,” I’m reading a book about procrastination. (And yes, I’m fully aware that reading a book about procrastination might just be another way I’m procrastinating doing the actual work. But I’ve already admitted there’s a problem, so give a girl some credit.)

I’m about halfway through the book, which is titled The Now Habit, by Neil Fiore. It promises to not only explain how to stop procrastinating but also offer insight on why we do it in the first place.

Most people think procrastinators are sprawled out on the sofa watching the Kardashians get weirder by the second, while their work goes untouched and obligations get ignored. But that’s a misconception. Because a lot of procrastinators are a whirlwind of activity. We are what I’d call “productive procrastinators.”

It’s amazing the amount of work I can get done on other chores when there’s a more important project I’m actively avoiding. If my kitchen is spotless, it’s because I’ve been seeking escape at the bottom of a sink of sudsy dishes. If the pantry is pristine, it’s because I’m looking behind cans of green beans for the willpower to start that looming project.

I’m not alone in this, right? Please tell me I’m not alone. There are more than 1,700 books about procrastination on Amazon, so apparently many of us struggle with this push-pull between work and distraction. If you, like me, are sick of waiting around for that magical, extended block of inspired time to tackle a project, here are three things I’ve learned so far:

should graphicShoot the “should.” Most of us spend a large part of the day thinking about what we “should” do. But that’s kind of like carrying a cranky, finger-pointing school teacher around in our head all day, and our response is to resist the authority. The book advises us to recognize that what we do – or not do – is our choice, regardless of the consequences. So “choose” to do something or not to do it. Shoot the should.

Aim for half. Not half the project. Just half an hour. You can do almost anything for half an hour, right? Set a timer, work for 30 minutes and then stop or switch to something easier. That half-hour of time is long enough to get started (which is always the hardest part) but not long enough to feel like drudgery. Then (and this part is important) give yourself credit for that short burst of focused work. Write down each half-hour and total them up each week.

Nurture your inner toddler. When my kids were little, I’d often get them to clean up their toys by promising that we could go outside and play afterward. It made it easier for them to do the boring stuff because they knew fun stuff was coming up next.

Similarly, the book advises procrastinators to schedule our own version of playtime, like lunch with a friend, a trip to get coffee or some time to sit and do nothing. Knowing you’re carving out time to relax makes it easier to focus during work. And free time feels a lot more “free” when you’re not mentally beating yourself up about what you “should” be doing.

Finally, here’s a great line from the book, which speaks to the heart of any perfection-loving procrastinator: “Work for an imperfect, perfectly human first effort.”

Projects can’t ever get better if they never get started.

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

07 Oct

To Selfie or not to selfie… that is the question

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Remember the story of Narcissus? He’s the main character in a Greek myth about a man so entranced by his own good looks that he pines away while staring at his reflection in a pool. The story makes me wonder: If smartphone screens were pools of water, would people be drowning every day? Has the selfie phenomenon brought a tidal wave of our own reflection at which we can’t stop staring?

As easy as it would be to hate everything about the selfie movement, I don’t think it’s all bad. I’m sitting smack dab on the selfie fence. I’ve snapped a few pictures while using the backward-facing camera on my smartphone, but most of those shots have been “ussies” which are pictures of yourself next to someone else. The “ussie” is the selfie’s less indulgent first cousin, and it’s about capturing a moment of friendship.

But I feel awkward about selfies because it seems like I’m desperately writing the words “Look at me!” on my forehead and then sharing that image with the world. But maybe that’s a hang-up unique to my generation. Today’s generation of girls are growing up with a “Why not look at me?” philosophy.

So for research purposes, I took a few selfies today. Then I looked at the shots, paying attention to what went through my mind:

“Wow, I had no idea my left eyebrow is so weird. I shouldn’t have smiled so much. It makes my upper lip practically disappear, and there’s nothing pretty about that much gum tissue. I should shoot this again and this time lower my left eyebrow and decrease the smile by like 20 percent. And I’m going to raise the camera and shoot the picture from above so my neck looks skinnier.”

gwen selfie for emailSo then I shot more selfies, most of which prominently feature my own thumb in the corner of the frame. Finally, I captured one that was not completely awful. Hurray! Selfie success. The process reminded me of a cartoon I saw online not long ago that says: “Behind every good selfie are approximately 36 nearly identical pictures that didn’t make the cut.”

Part of the reason we often avoid someone else’s camera is because we have no idea how the shot will look. But selfies offer us control. We can change the angle, expression and our hair until everything is just right – or as right as it can be.

So maybe for some, the selfie is a shot of confidence – useful to glance at on those days when we beat ourselves up about our looks. It’s a visual reminder that we’re not as unattractive as negative feelings sometimes convince us we are.

On the other hand, selfies are notorious for being overshared on social media, silently asking for electronic “likes” and “hearts.” What’s with all the selfie sharing? Humans have a basic need to be seen and recognized – at home, work, school, etc. A recent article in Forbes magazine points out that “when people are recognized and feel appreciated, they repeat the behavior that was recognized.” Hence, the selfie overpopulation problem.

Part of me admires those bold selfie shooters who look so comfortable in their own skin. The other part of me thinks a restriction on the number of selfies shared on social media makes perfect sense. Two selfies per month seems like more than enough, doesn’t it? No one is going to forget what your face looks like within the next two weeks.

Those who insist on flooding us with an endless string of selfies should know that they’re starting to look a whole lot like Narcissus – lost in admiration and dangerously close to drowning in a pool of their own reflection.

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

30 Sep

Bullied at home

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Sometimes I feel like I’m being bullied in my own home – by the pets. I’m bigger than they are, so how is it that they always seem to get their way? I should be controlling them – not the other way around.

If cats could tell time, I would get our cat Percy a reliable Timex and strap it on her furry leg. Because when the sun goes down, Percy starts performing a barrage of harassing “feed me” reminders. She’s afraid I’ll forget to crack open her nightly can of Fancy Feast before I go to bed.

I don’t go to bed until 10 or 11 p.m., but Percy starts the reminders around six o’clock. That’s at least four hours of being stalked by a loud, insistent cat. And if percy the greatI stand still for more than a few seconds, she weaves in and out of my legs in an obvious attempt to trip me and cause me bodily harm.

One time last week, I came upstairs after dark to change a load of laundry, but Percy must have assumed I was turning in for the night while her food bowl was still empty. You can imagine her feline outrage. Just as I rounded the corner with a full laundry basket in hand, she came at me in a sideways galloping run with her back bowed up and her tail bushed out – trying to make herself as big and scary as possible. If that’s not a direct cat threat, I don’t know what is.

Sometimes I think that, if I were to skip a few nights of her beloved Fancy Feast, she might smother me in my sleep just to teach me a lesson.

I wish I could say the dog is sweeter than the cat, but he is just as manipulative – although he uses a different approach. The trouble started after I bought Charlie a doggie bowtie that fastens onto his collar. It’s funny and makes him look as ironically dignified as a Beagle can look, but obviously the fancy new style is going straight to his head.

Suddenly he’s too good for his dog bed on the floor, and he has learned to use those puppy dog eyes as a weapon. He plays the “sweet and pitiful card” until he gets exactly what he wants. And what he wants is to execute a hostile takeover of our king size bed.

One night, in a moment of weakness, I let him get on the bed, and he has never been the same since. Now, he sprints for the bedroom and bounds up onto the bed. He sticks his nose under the edge of the comforter and roots his way under the covers until he reaches the foot of the bed. Then he burrows into his own little Beagle cave and snores softly all night, dreaming of squirrels and table scraps.

I worry sometimes that he’ll suffocate under there, but he sleeps just fine, only coming up for air when one of us accidentally sticks a foot into his personal space. And speaking of personal space, Charlie takes up a lot of it.

He’s a small dog, the runt of his litter, but he stretches out all four of his spindly legs until he has occupied nearly half the space – which just goes to prove that old saying: “If you give a dog an inch, he’ll take your whole bed.”

Don’t get me wrong. I love these little hairy beasts, which is why I tolerate their shenanigans. But sometimes I can’t help but notice that the word “pets” is only one letter away from the word “pests.” Coincidence? You decide.

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

23 Sep

Feeling a little loopy

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

If you’re feeling a little distracted and loopy lately, the culprit might just be – get this – loops. Specifically? Open loops.

An “open loop” is anything that pops into your mind – or your email inbox or voicemail – that distracts you and needs your attention. It could range from small things like “buy cat food” to big things like “start a new business” or anything in the middle.

The idea of “open loops” became popular more than a decade ago when author David Allen published a business book called “Getting Things Done.” But 12 SONY DSCyears ago I was busy with babies instead of business books, spending most of my time on repeated readings of Goodnight Moon. So I was out of the loop on the problem with loops. The only loops I knew about were Froot Loops and the actual loops I ran while chasing toddlers around the house.

But now that those three babies are busy school-age kids, I find myself in a constant quest to get more done in a day. Some weeks feel like a blur of work, school, piano lessons, dance classes, dentist appointments, birthday parties and an endless stream of work and family tasks I can’t seem to tame. So if “open loops” are keeping me from getting ahead, I’d like to find out how to close them.

After a little research, I found some real science behind the “open loop” concept. Back in the 1920s, a Lithuanian graduate student named Bluma Zeigarnik sat in a restaurant and noticed that waiters were able to remember complicated dinner orders right up until the customers finished the meal and the waiter dropped off the check. After the check was paid, those complex orders seemed to vanish from the waiters’ minds.

So the observant grad student theorized that mental energy is drawn to tasks that are incomplete. Once the task is dealt with (and the loop is closed), it leaves the mind. Lab studies backed up her theory, and the concept of being distracted by incomplete tasks is now known as the “Zeigarnik Effect.” (If you’ve ever studied half the night, took a test the next morning, and then realized that you’d already forgotten at least half the study material during the 10 minutes after finishing the test, then you’ve had personal experience with the Ziegarnik Effect. Apparently my college years were chock full of the Ziegarnik Effect, but I digress.)

If Ms. Zeigarnik was alive today, I bet she’d be astonished at all the dangling, open loops in modern society. Social media, in particular, has brought an onslaught of new loops. After I spend a few minutes scrolling through my Facebook feed, I feel overwhelmed by hundreds of new bits of information that probably float in and around the open loops in my head, creating a tangled mess where forgotten appointments go to die.

Perhaps our human nature craves a complete circle. We want novels to be tied up in a bow by the final line. And we can’t help but feel supremely annoyed when a television show leaves us hanging in the final minute with nothing more than those maddening three little words: to be continued.

Productivity experts like Allen say that one of the best things we can do to clear our heads is to find a system for capturing and writing down all those open loops. Once we write them down and figure out the next step needed to close the loops, the more our minds can relax and stop running around in proverbial circles. No more bolting upright in bed, just as you were drifting off to sleep, because you suddenly remembered something you were supposed to do.

So this week I’m going to avoid tackling a bunch of new tasks and focus instead on closing the ones already in progress. Who knows? Maybe finishing more projects will clear my mind and put me into a zen-like state of loop-free contentment.

Or maybe this is all just a bunch of psycho-babble hooey, as my dad might say. I suppose there’s only one way to know. We should test it out by giving ourselves the satisfaction of closing a…

loops2(See what I did there?)


gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

16 Sep

Parenting in a Wi-Fi world

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

It was the summer of 1980 and the open field next to our house was overgrown with tall grass nearly waist-high. Then one day papers blew all over the field, getting snagged and tangled in the unruly grass, making it even more of an eyesore. So my mother sent me and my big brother out one afternoon to pick up the litter.

My brother, who must have been about 13 or 14 that year, grumbled about the chore all the way out to the field, while I trailed behind him. He griped loudly right up until the second he picked up the first piece of trash and realized what it was. I saw the paper, too, but my 7-year-old brain assumed it was simply a magazine photo of a lady wearing black underwear, her hair blown back and a long string of pearls draped around her neck, which was odd because she’d forgotten to put on her shirt.

My brother stared down at that crumpled page for a second and then spun around on his heels with the page held behind his back. “You can go home and play. I’ll pick these up by myself,” he said.

I didn’t argue since playing sounded much better than picking up litter in the field, so I skipped back home, leaving my brother alone with the trash he was suddenly eager to collect all on his own.

Years later, I realized that what my mother had assumed was just litter blowing around an overgrown field was actually pages from an abandoned Playboy no litteringmagazine. It took my brother a couple of hours to pick up all those pages, which he said he threw away. Looking back on it? We all know he didn’t throw them away. Those crumpled pages were probably smoothed out and passed around a large group of neighborhood boys who were likely amazed when my brother told them about that special “field of dreams.”

Fast forward nearly 35 years later. Here I am, the mother of a nearly 13-year-old boy as well as a 10-year-old boy, both of them traveling the on-ramp to puberty. And I’m realizing that the overgrown field is still right here – only now it’s not a literal place. It’s a web – a World Wide one. And we don’t even have to walk outside to see it. It’s on our computers. Our phones. Our iPads. Even our TV has access. We’re living right smack in the middle of that tangled, gnarly field, and keeping the trash picked up is a full-time job.

To be honest, it scares me. My boys don’t have to wait for the wind to blow somebody’s forgotten nudie magazine into the field. The pictures – and, even worse, the videos – are a click away. Even though Tom and I have spent days installing internet filters and monitoring software and parental controls, I worry that clearing this figurative field is impossible. The sickest parts of humanity will always bubble up through the cracks. Statistics say that, on average, kids first see porn online at the age of 11. And by the time boys become college freshman, about 60% of them are addicted to pornography.

After reading those stats, part of me wants to pack up and move to a cave in Antarctica where there’s no Wi-Fi. And the other part of me – the part that knows we can’t outrun the world – hopes we can somehow stay a technological step ahead of our kids’ next temptation. But even more than that, I pray – now more than ever – for the help we need to raise good human beings, even in the midst of so much trash.

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

09 Sep

Why I Don’t Camp

By Gwen Rockwood

In a few weeks it will officially be fall, which means I can stop making excuses for why I can’t go camping.

I realize there are millions of people who go camping each summer and love it. They feel free, peaceful and closer to nature. They get a much-needed escape from the texts, pings, alerts and emails of our overly connected world. I love the idea of an escape, too. I just think turning off my cell phone can give me that same freedom, minus the bug bites and poison ivy.

Before we got married, I was honest with Tom about my aversion to spending the night in the great outdoors. He knew going into this thing that I was never going to be that girl who loves to wash her hair in the creek and spend the afternoon hiking around and pointing at birds. But men will be men, and occasionally they fall in love with the idea of a Grizzly Adams type of existence. Every summer, he tries to convince me that taking our three kids off on a camping vacation would be fun.

hiking iconBut I know myself. I know my limitations. And I know I’d be very “un-fun” on a camping trip. I tried it once back when I was in college. I was dating a guy who talked me into a short hike in the woods to see a nearby waterfall. It sounded simple enough and he assured me he was an experienced hiker who knew exactly what to do.

Several hours later, after reluctantly agreeing to take an alternate route back from the waterfall that was just “a little bit” longer, we were lost in the woods and had run out of water and snacks. The trail map was useless, and there was no one around to ask for directions.

After miles of wandering, we stumbled upon the road that led to the trail head where the car was parked. But we had no idea how far away the car actually was, and we were already dead on our feet. So we hitchhiked back to the car, which is another one of those activities I tend to avoid because it carries an elevated risk of “deadness.”

Since that first failed hiking experience years ago, I’ve noticed a pattern about the woods that’s hard for a cautious woman like me to ignore. Where do the police search when a criminal escapes from prison? The woods. Where do they search when someone goes missing and is feared dead? The woods. Where do the most unpleasant creatures like snakes, ticks and angry badgers tend to hang out the most? The woods.

And we all know how isolated the woods are. If a woman screams in the woods, does she make a sound? The answer is yes, she does. She makes all kinds of sounds, only nobody is there to hear her. And if by chance there is someone nearby, they can’t get a decent cell signal to call 911. (Conversely, when was the last time you were bit by a poisonous snake while strolling in the mall? Exactly never.)

So I’m looking forward to a beautiful fall spent in the city limits. I will wave fondly to the wilderness as I pass by it in the car. And next summer, if Tom insists on camping, I won’t stand in his way. But he’ll have to rough it alone because I’ll be enjoying the comforts of home, where I stand in wholehearted agreement with one of the greatest humor writers of all time, Dave Barry, who once wisely said: “Camping is nature’s way of promoting the motel business.”

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

02 Sep

C is for Capable

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

A wonderful thing is happening at our house. The kids are becoming… capable. That sounds weird, I know. It’s not like they were helpless blobs all this time, but lately I’ve noticed they can really do things – helpful things, necessary things – things Tom and I have been doing for them for more than a decade now.

Today I was busy cleaning up the kitchen and making a mental checklist of the things I’d need to get done before morning. I caught 12-year-old Adam as he was on his way up the stairs to play video games and said, “Before you play, I need you to make three sandwiches to go in tomorrow’s lunchboxes, okay?”

“Okay,” he said. Then he pulled out the sandwich-making supplies and I heard him call out to his little sister, “Kate, do you want cheese on your sandwich?” bologna sandwichShe answered and he continued his work. Moments later, I opened the fridge and found three bologna sandwiches sealed up in sandwich bags, ready to put into lunch bags the next morning.

Here’s the surprising part. He didn’t need my help. He didn’t complain. He didn’t act like I was asking him to perform brain surgery on the cat. The sandwiches looked just the way they’d look if I’d done it myself, and he put the bread, mustard and sandwich meat away when he was done.

It’s odd to be surprised by evidence that your kids are growing up because that’s what they’re supposed to do. That was the plan all along. But it feels like a minor miracle when you notice it’s really happening.

We spent so much time doing things for them when they were little that it became our new normal – tie the shoes, wash the clothes, make the meals, cut their meat. We’ve taught them things along the way, but there was a small part of us that assumed they’d always need us to help them navigate daily life.

Then today, either through instruction or observation or just household osmosis, the kid suddenly makes the sandwiches and cleans up the mess. No biggie. And it’s so… rewarding.

If I could, I’d send an email back in time to my younger self – the frazzled young mom who spent much of the day chasing a 5,3 and 1-year-old around the house, changing diapers and wiping noses. Here’s what I’d tell her:

Dear Younger Me,

You know this parenting thing that keeps you sprinting around 12 hours a day? It gets easier. One day they’re not only going to be able to find their own shoes but also put them on and tie the laces. They won’t need you in the bathroom anymore. They’ll stop watching Barney the Dinosaur and occasionally even watch the news and ask questions about the world. They’ll start to crack jokes – funny ones — not just that tired knock-knock joke about the banana and the orange.

Then one day, seemingly overnight, you’ll ask your oldest to make the sandwiches and he’ll just do it. Your middle child who refuses to change out of his Superman t-shirt for days on end? He’s going to be able to start and finish a load of clothes, so you’ll have help staying on top of that mountain of dirty laundry. And that sweet baby on your hip? She’s going to be 7 one day, and when you accidentally cut your finger in the kitchen, she’ll get the first aid kit and put the Band-Aid on for you. (Start putting some money aside for medical school. This kid has potential.)

So hang in there, mama. You’re doing good and important work. All this time in the not-so-glamorous parenting trenches is going to pay off. They get bigger and smarter and even more interesting. One day you’re going to look at them and realize that, not only do you love them intensely, you also respect and admire the people they’re turning out to be – capable people who can do things, partly because you loved and helped them through all the years when they couldn’t.

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

27 Aug

The Rockwood Files: DNA Disco

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Sometimes genetics can be cruel. Often the things you hope won’t get passed down to your kids are the very things that show up and start banging on the door.

In our family of five people, there are 18 eyes, if you count all the glasses and contact lenses it takes for us to navigate around the house without bumping into things. So far, only 10-year-old Jack has managed to cruise out of the eye doctor’s office without a prescription for glasses or contacts.

I might say he’s the lucky one of our group, but genetics has a way of evening things out. He’s also the one who is destined for not one but two sets of braces on his teeth, thanks to some seriously jacked up dental DNA he got from me. Sorry, kid.

Since Tom and I are both nearsighted, we knew our kids would most likely need glasses one day, too. We’ve been keeping an eye out for the tell-tale signs of glasses katevision problems – squinting, sitting too close to the TV, or running up to hug strangers and calling them Dad.

As a kid, I managed to skate through four years’ worth of annual eye exams before the school nurse figured out I was guessing at all the answers and, in fact, couldn’t see 80 percent of what other kids saw. When an eye doctor confirmed that I did, indeed, need glasses, it felt like a social death sentence. In the early 80s, it was not cool to wear glasses. Not even a little bit.

Back then, manufacturers weren’t designing and marketing to tweens and teens the way they do now, so there were only about 3 different styles of glasses for kids my age. The one thing those styles had in common was that they were all ugly. You just picked a certain color of ugly and that was that. “Here’s your glasses, kid. Good luck being a nerd in middle school.”

I put on those cursed glasses and walked dejectedly out of the eye doctor’s office, staring down at my feet. My mother led me out onto the sidewalk of Main Street and I looked up and saw the world for what felt like the first time. I noticed the leaves before anything else. What had once been fuzzy blobs hovering around tree trunks suddenly transformed into amazing shapes with defined edges and rich colors.

Then I looked down Main Street and marveled at how I could clearly read the word “stop” on the bright red sign even though it was a few blocks away. It felt like a revelation. That’s when I decided that even though glasses were ugly, seeing clearly is beautiful.

Glasses and fashion have changed dramatically since I was a kid because now there are a million cute frames to choose from. And the “smart look” is most decidedly “in.”

Seven-year-old Kate recently joined our family’s four-eyes club, and her bright blue frames look great with her blonde hair and blue eyes. But here’s one more odd ripple in the gene pool: Kate has 20/20 vision yet still needs glasses for reading. She sees things at a distance perfectly, but hold a book in front of her and she sees two books, or two lines of piano music, or two math worksheets. Thanks to special lenses that correct double vision, Kate’s life is a whole lot less crowded these days.

Genetics can be both friend and foe and none of us ever quite know what we’re going to get. All we can do is hope for the best and keep smiling as we backstroke through the mysterious gene pool.

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

18 Aug

The case of the missing red belt

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Our 12-year-old groans every time he sees a back-to-school commercial, which lately seems to happen once every five seconds. (I can’t blame him. When adults go on vacation, the last thing we want is to be constantly reminded that our regular jobs are about to start up again on Monday morning.) So my kids are milking these last few days of freedom for all they’re worth – wearing pajamas until noon, playing Marco Polo in the pool and enjoying lazy evenings without a hint of homework.

back-to-school3The kids may think I’m ancient, but I’m young enough to remember the special brand of angst that comes with the first day of school. The one that stands out most in my mind is the night before the first day of fifth grade.

Fifth grade was a big deal because, in the town where I grew up, it was a kid’s first departure from the sheltered simplicity of elementary school. It was separated from all the other grades and housed in a building across town – sort of like Lord of the Flies, only with backpacks. I’m not sure if school officials set fifth grade apart because there was no room in the elementary school building or because they wanted to protect the rest of the town, just in case all that pre-teen hyperactivity were to spontaneously combust.

I spent the last half of the summer of 1983 worrying about what I should wear on the first day of fifth grade. It had to be something way cooler than what kids wore to elementary school – that much was certain. So my mother took me back-to-school shopping at the Belk department store on Main Street and I found a red and white outfit made by Esprit, a brand that was uber-cool for 10-year-old girls. The jeans had this red belt that put the final, fashionable touch on what I hoped would be the outfit to launch me into fifth grade popularity.

The night before the first day of school, I laid out my new outfit so everything would be ready to go the next morning. But where was the cute red belt? It was missing! I double and triple checked my closet. I looked in the laundry room, the shopping bag, the car, and every square inch of our house. It was just gone, and I was devastated.

My mother kept saying something ridiculous like, “Just wear a different belt,” as if that was the obvious solution to a trivial problem. And I didn’t have enough tearful words to explain to her how my entire fifth grade identity and future happiness hinged on that one red belt that was now, in a cruel twist of fate, lost forever – probably floating around in the same black hole where stray socks, sunglasses and signed permission slips go.

More than 30 years later, it seems absurd that I shed tears over a red belt the night before fifth grade, but it made perfect sense at the time. Because the tears were really about fear – of the unknown, of not fitting in, of being in a new situation that you don’t feel old enough to handle. And of course there’s always the dread of dealing with “the jerk,” and every school year tends to come with at least one of those.

Sometimes we grown-ups don’t give kids enough credit for just getting through the first day of school. Every year it’s like clearing another emotional hurdle, and any number of things – like locker location, homeroom assignment or even a missing red belt – can trip a kid up. The first day of school requires much more than notebooks and No. 2 pencils. It takes guts. For all those kids facing yet another new adventure, good luck and Godspeed.

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

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