Tag Archive | parenting

Leftover Arguments

8:00 in the morning. One kid wants pancakes for breakfast (leftover from yesterday when I was trying to be nice), the other wants leftover macaroni and cheese. Right fucking now. A heated argument over whether or not it’s gross to put fresh raspberries on pancakes. Another about whose turn it is to let the dog out. And yet one more to determine what TV show to watch. Then…the crime of the century. Justin ate Alex’s chips and cheese. The ones that sat out over night, getting stale, the cheese hardening into a rubberlike substance that only non-ionizing microwave radiation can regenerate as an edible substance.


Histrionics ensue. Demands of restitution. Accusations of targeted thievery with malice aforethought. A third party gets involved, telling both of them to quiet down, stepping on them and on someone’s stomach as the aggrieved parties wrestle on the floor. Godzilla on a much smaller scale. More crying, this time in pain.

The kid who already ate a pancake drenched in syrup and raspberries assembles a mountain of tortilla chips and covers it with an avalanche of shredded cheese. These will surely go largely uneaten since he had zero interest in them until his brother sniped them. Now they chirp each other for no reason other than to establish the upper hand going into the next fight.

“You’re stupid.”
“No I’m not.”
“Yes you are.”
“No I’m not. You are. You don’t even know math.”
“That’s because I don’t like to add.”
“Well, you should.”
“You don’t know anything about football.”
“I don’t care. I don’t like football.”
“Well, you should.”

Four. More. Days.

UPDATE: Next fight has already broken out. Over a softcover Scholastic book called Mice on Ice. Who is the rightful owner? I can’t even be the arbiter because I bought it, and several other books for them for Christmas, and I can’t recall who got that particular book. A book that no one has touched for the past three months. Now more valuable than a first edition Mark Twain, all because someone else wants it.

© Jennifer Alys Windholz, 2014

Love Love

I played a lot of tennis as a kid, honing my skills by using the outdoor racquetball courts at the local community college as a backboard. Not many of my friends played tennis, especially anyone in the neighborhood, so my usual partner was my little brother. He was not an especially gracious loser. A typical match with him consisted of multiple contested line calls, abrupt rule changes, scoring arguments, and fits of pique that often resulted in him launching tennis balls over the fence. Many times I would just get disgusted with him, and stop playing, which resulted in him declaring that if I “quit,” he would be the winner.

Flash forward 25 years later, and Justin has taken an interest in tennis. I love that, because it gives me an opportunity to get back out on the court again after a very long hiatus when I had tiny kids. Unfortunately the experience is eerily reminiscent of those old days with my brother, leaving me feeling exasperated, frustrated, and angry.

Yesterday morning I took Cameron (age 11), Justin (age 8), and Alex (age 7) out to hit around. The fun began when Justin insisted on playing “a real game,” despite the fact that he can only get one of five balls back over the net. Of course that is my fault because if I hit one to his backhand side, he complains vociferously. “Stop hitting it there! I can’t do LEFTY!!!” But if I hit it to his forehand, Cameron would step over and attempt to hit it in front of him, resulting in clashes over whose ball was whose.

Justin’s biggest problem is that his expectations are way too high. He thinks that even though he’s never had a formal lesson, and has only played a handful of times this summer, that he should be playing at the level of a Roger Federer or Andy Murray. And when he misses a shot, he swings his racquet in disgust, yelling at himself like John McEnroe.

We arrived with three cans of tennis balls, nine balls. At one point I used the last ball in my pocket, and Cameron hit one that rolled to the fence by the far court. I needed another ball to start a rally, but only saw the one that had been hit over the fence, still lying in the grass. What happened to all the balls? I asked Justin how many he had in his pockets. Evidently all of them, which he refused to give up, and insisted I run over and get the one that was by the fence. Eventually we coaxed him to let us use some of the balls from his pockets, but admonished Cameron when he hit another one astray. “I’m not letting you use my balls if you keep HITTING them!”

Ages ago I got clocked in the face while playing the net. The ball hit me right in the eye, bruising my cornea. My pupil was constricted for a week. That was more enjoyable than what was happening with Justin at this moment. Another car pulled up, and out jumped a dad and his two kids, an older boy who was quite good, and a kid about the age and talent level as Cameron. “Care if we join you?”

“Sure,” I said, secretly thinking, “Do it at your own risk.”

Justin then couldn’t concentrate until we retrieved our ball that was on the side of their court. “MOM! They have our ball!”

Nothing could convince him that it wasn’t a big deal, and that I was sure they’d kick it over when they had a chance. That’s when Dad started barking orders at his kids in Russian. Or maybe it was just coaching. Kind of everything spoken in Russian sounds ominous. Chalk it up to growing up during the Cold War. But Justin was intimidated, and refused to play on the side of the court adjacent to them, but of course Cameron wouldn’t trade places with him. After hitting about ten balls onto their court, I suggested we move to the kid-sized courts on the other side of the fence.

They actually did a little better on those courts, but everyone wanted to be on my side. There isn’t enough room for three people on a junior court, but every time I moved to another side, someone would follow me, and someone would cry about being left. Finally I just told Justin and Cameron to play a set by themselves, and Alex and I would hit on our own on another court. That remained friendly for about two minutes, and then the arguments about line calls, scores, etc. began. My favorite of Justin’s arguments: “It’s not fair if you hit it good and I can’t get it! That’s MY point then.”

The day came to its inevitable conclusion when each one insisted he was the winner, and Justin threw his racquet at Cameron.

Game. Set. Match. We’re outta here.

© Jennifer Alys Windholz, 2014


No Girls Will Want My Hair Like This

IMG_0006Justin and Alex were having a conversation at dinner last night about having kids.

Justin: “Mom, will Alex be the uncle for my daughter?” (Justin has decided a while back he’s having a baby girl.)
Me: “Yes.”
Alex: “Can uncles be girls?”
Me: “No, uncles are boys.”
Alex: “And Justin will be my uncle.”
Me: “Your kids’ uncle. And David and Cameron’s kids.”
Alex: “I KNOW! That’s what I mean. Will I be uncle for David and Cameron?”
Justin: “Yeah, Alex. And me.”
Alex: “But how do you even get babies?”
Justin: “Shhhh! You know.”
Alex: “Oh yeah, Mom, we know. Dylan, on the bus, told us.”
Jennifer: “Oh. Ok.”
Justin: “Yeah, but I’m not gonna do the thing. I’ll just adopt my kids.”
Alex: “Eeeeww, I’m not doing the thing either. I just won’t have any.”
Me: (Silent. Wondering what exactly they think “the thing” is.)
Justin: “What if you don’t find a wife?”
Me: “You’ll find one.”
Justin: “But no, what if you don’t?”
Me: “Then I guess you just stay single.”
Justin: “And that’s it?”
Me: “Don’t worry, you’re cute. And sweet. Lots of girls will like you.”
Justin: “No, I’m not cute. My eyes are weird like this.”
Me: “You have pretty eyes.”
Justin: “Well, no girls will want my hair like this. They’ll want it, like, cut, and with a style.”
Me: “Maybe.”
Justin: “And I can’t eat bad stuff because then my mouth will smell, and girls won’t like that. For kissing.”
Me: “Better keep brushing your teeth then.”
Justin: “And my eyes don’t look good.”
Me: “Why don’t you like your eyes? You have beautiful blue eyes.”
Justin: “But I’ll have to do something to my hair.”
Me: “I guess.”
Justin: “Can we go play tennis?”

© Jennifer Alys Windholz, 2014

Simmer, Don’t Boil

The morning before school routine at my house is a delicate dance, and if you don’t adhere to the intricately choreographed steps it will quickly turn into a clown show.

For example, I know that my 6-year-old will spend the first 15-20 minutes after he wakes up insisting that he’s not going to school. Just go with it. My 8-year-old will refuse to brush his teeth until 5 minutes before the bus comes. Don’t bother nagging until 7:52. My 11-year-old will lie about having brushed his teeth, and will inevitably be searching for something he lost. Call him on it.

It’s all quite simple, if not maddening, and I am well aware that we’re an ill-fitting sock, a mediocre lunch selection, or a missing sketchpad away from full-on meltdown. It’s an extremely volatile environment, and it’s important to keep things at a low simmer, then if something does ignite I can just throw a little baking soda on it or smother it with a lid, and we can move on. You can’t lose your shit with them unless there has been no progress at all, and you have to mean business.

My husband, despite my pleading for him to just get in the shower, get ready for work, and let us be, frequently insists on coming upstairs after his workout to “help.” Unfortunately he brings a full can of gasoline and a lit match with him, and the next thing you know I’m running for the fire extinguisher, which is loud, dramatic, messy, and would have been completely unnecessary had proper protocol been followed.

And guess who is left to clean up the aftermath?

Conversations I Never Thought I’d Have: Part I


He can’t wait to punch something that won’t get him in trouble.

Conversations in a household populated with four boys can be interesting, to say the least. And the most ridiculous part is when I try to respond. I start off perplexed, and end up being totally vested in it.

Justin: “Mom, what’s worse? Getting stabbed with a knife or a scissors?”
Me: “I don’t know. I suppose it would depend on where you’re stabbed.”
Justin: “But which is worse?”
Me: “Neither of them would be good.”
Justin: “But which one is WORSE?”
Me: “A knife.”
Justin: “How about a chainsaw, or, um…a pitchfork?”
Me: “Definitely a chainsaw.”
Justin: “A machete or one of those…like what do you call those ninja knives?”
Me: “You mean throwing stars?”
Justin: “No.”
Me: “A samurai sword?”
Justin: “No, like just a knife with a curve. Like this.” (Draws a swoosh in the air with his fingers.)
Me: “I don’t know. Probably a machete.”

© Jennifer Alys Windholz, 2014

Heaven’s Feisty New Angel

Katherine (Younker) Schmidt was raised on a farm in Ellis County, Kansas. Born in 1922, she endured the dust bowl, an alcoholic husband, being a single mom, and too many orthopedic surgeries to count. She came from Volga German immigrants, grew up speaking German, and only had an 8th grade education, yet by the time she retired she was probably better off financially than most of today’s educated suburbanites. She got up at 5:00 every morning to go to work as a cleaning lady for a college dorm, and when finished went to her second job as a seamstress at a custom drapery shop. She never wasted a penny, but also never missed sending a birthday card with a $10 bill slipped inside.

Grandma shutting the place down at my sister's wedding only six years ago.

Only six years ago my grandma was shutting the place down  at my sister’s wedding dance.

My birthday is May 12. Hers was May 11, and we both epitomize the stereotypical bull-headed, stubborn Taurus. My mom says any artistic talent I have came from her. She was a wizard with a sewing machine and designed and made most of her own clothes. She wasn’t an affectionate, saccharine sweet grandma, but there was no doubt she loved all of her grandkids and was proud of every one of us. She had a great sense of humor, spoke her mind, was a good Catholic, though not overtly religious, and always had some cans of Old Milwaukee in the fridge. It will be hard to say goodbye, but the last year has been a difficult one for her. She got by on sheer tenacity, and I’m glad she can finally get some rest. Here are a few random memories that will always make me smile.

  • Grandma was forever buying things and then taking them back. She once returned a coat to JCPenney two years after she bought it. It was never used, had tags, receipt, and all, but my Aunt Betty was mortified. “People in this town KNOW me, and know she’s my mother, and she goes and does stuff like that.”
  • We lived two hours away, but my family never missed a holiday at her house. So many Easters, Thanksgivings, and Christmases. Everyone packed in around her kitchen table, eating in shifts. Turkey and out-of-this world dressing. This marshmallow cranberry frozen salad. I remember drinking a fuzzy navel for the first time at her house when I was probably in 9th grade and feeling like one of the adults.
  • Once she was babysitting me along with my older cousins, Vern and Tammy. Those two fought like cats and dogs. I don’t remember what Vern did to Tammy, but the next thing I knew Grandma sat his ass outside on the porch, and he didn’t get to come back in for a very long time. She and Vern were talkers, and he called her all the time, just to shoot the breeze, right up to the end.
  • It took many years before I realized that her favorite expression of exasperation, “YAY-zuss Gott,” was German for “Jesus Christ!”
  • When I was maybe 12, we were out Christmas shopping the day after Thanksgiving. I found this set of New York Times crossword puzzle books that my mom liked and weren’t easy to find. I was a few dollars short, and asked her to lend me the extra. And she did without question. I didn’t appreciate it then, but knowing now just how frugal she was with money, I realize what a big deal it was.
  • We always had well-stocked Easter baskets waiting for us after Mass, including a big chocolate bunny. When I was about 10, she changed it up, and gave us white chocolate bunnies. Being 10, I ate the whole damn thing. Then threw the whole damn thing back up. I’ve never gone near white chocolate since.
  • Putting things away in her kitchen was slightly overwhelming. She was into the whole reduce, recycle, reuse thing before it ever became the creed of tree huggers everywhere. Obviously the lessons of the Great Depression sunk in, and there was never a bread bag, margarine container, jelly jar, or paper sack that ever went unused. There comes a point in time when you can only use so many Cool Whip containers.
  • I’ll miss her crazy stories and gossip about people from town and bingo and work. I had no clue who any of them were, but listening to her describe how Rosie this-or-that cheated at bingo, or that Mary so-and-so said something about Helen whats-her-face was entertaining beyond words. Her stories about some woman they knew who had the mouth of a sailor literally brought me to tears.
  • When Barry and I were dating and he first met her, she thought his name was Perry. They hit it off right away.
  • She started collecting Santa Claus decorations about 25 years ago. When my mom and her sisters cleaned out her apartment before she moved into assisted living, she had boxes and boxes of them. Most of them were all richly designed, detailed, embroidered, made from velvet, satin, or brocade fabric. She let me pick out two of them last Christmas, and I got one more huge tall one this Christmas. They’ll always remind me of her.
  • Grandma had a closet full of all kinds of fabric, catalogs, wallpaper books, magazines, and clothes. I first discovered Cosmopolitan magazine, and cleavage, snooping through all the stuff in there.
  • My Uncle Guy, my dad’s younger brother, who knew my grandma before my parents were even married because he ran around with my Aunt Gerri, gave her endless shit. And she loved every minute of it. Though it’s hard to find super funny without context, some of his antics included photoshopping a large picture of her to look like she was giving the finger, writing a ridiculous letter to the editor that he read at her 90th birthday party, and captioning pictures of her saying all kind of outrageous and inappropriate things.
  • My grandma drove like Dale Junior. She had a gold Chevy Nova, and I remember driving home from bingo one snowy night with my cousin when I thought we might not make it back in one piece.
  • We took many a summer road trip with Grandma. My Aunt Gerri lived in Utah and my Aunt Pat lived in Minnesota, and we made at least two cross-country journeys to each place, six travelers of various combinations of my cousin, aunt, or my brother and sister packed into a big ol’ Buick. One trip with her car to Salt Lake City was rife with car trouble, squabbles, and mountain driving. And there was never a time when we filled gas that she didn’t have to note the number on the odometer, and calculate the gas mileage, and then discuss it. Every. Single. Fill.
  • She was always known to me as Grandma Schmidt. Of course I knew her first name was Katherine, but would have never called her that. One day I answered her phone, and the person on the line asked, “Is Katie there?” I told her she had the wrong number, and hung up. Then she called back again. “No, there’s no Katie here,” I said, and then someone took the phone, explaining to me that Grandma was Katie.
  • Grandma was always ready to party. She had an epic riverboat casino party in Kansas City for her 75th birthday, and a blowout for her 90th that I think half the town showed up for. She had a regular weekly card game, and was well-known at every smoky bingo joint in Hays, Kansas. The Elks, the Legion, the VFW, church basements…if there were little balls rolling around in a cylinder, she was there. I spent many an awesome Saturday night as a grade schooler sucking in copious amounts of second-hand smoke, playing my cards with Grandma. She’d warn me which ones to stay away from, either because they were “bad” cards, or because some of the other possessive cutthroat oldsters would have my head if I took one of “their” cards. Once I won a $12 pot, and had to split it like three ways. Bought a Kit Kat at the concession stand with part of my winnings. Best. Night. Ever.
  • My son, David stayed with my parents for a week when he was seven. My grandma, mom, Betty, and Gerri drove with him from Kansas to Iowa where I picked him up, and then went on to visit Pat in South Dakota. Grandma was a talker, but she has nothing on David, who can run on for days on any given subject. He sat in the back between her and Gerri, and entertained her the whole trip. But at one point she asked my mom, “Does he EVER stop talking?”
  • My grandma’s house was small. Two bedrooms with a basement apartment that she rented out to college students. When we’d stay with her over holiday weekends, my parents would be in the guest bedroom, I’d get the couch, and Chad and Kim had a foam mattress on the floor (sucks to be the youngest – ha). Grandma would get up at zero dark hundred to go to work in the morning, or actually even if she had the day off, and she did not give one single shit if anyone else was sleeping or what time it was. Clang, bang, rattle, whoosh, whirrrrr, clank. Coffee percolating, pots and pans noisily being put away. Better chance staying asleep on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier. Holy shit, she could have woken up the dead from their graves.

I’m sure there is more, and I’m sure she’ll have a hell of a wake where some stories will be told, but right now I’m feeling tired, a little lonely, and a lot older. Bye Grandma. It was fun while it lasted. Tell Aunt Pat we miss her. And try not to be too demanding of the wait staff up there.

© Jennifer Alys Windholz, 2014