Spring Break With Java Boy

Photo by by Belovodchenko Anton

Photo by by Belovodchenko Anton

Ah, that rich, strong aroma of coffee. Its anticipation is the only thing that makes getting out of bed worthwhile most of the time. I understand the attraction to coffee and why some might call it an addiction. I really do. Not that I’m addicted. I can quit anytime I want to. I quit when I was pregnant and I could do it again anytime–if I happened to go crazy and wanted to quit.

But how do you keep coffee away from an eight-year-old boy once he’s had a taste of the good stuff?

It all started so innocently. It was Spring Break, which I suppose is a time when many a vice makes its first appearance. Ah tradition!

We were at a Starbucks somewhere near Hoover Dam when my son asked for a sip of my latte. Why not? I handed it over naively, expecting him to reject it as quickly as he did when he tried tuna casserole, peanut M & M’s or key lime pie. Anticipating that I would have my coffee back immediately, I held out my hand and was dumbfounded when he took a gigantic gulp. He finally came up for air with a huge cat-that-ate-the-canary grin on his face, only to chug the rest of my liter-sized latte down without even taking another breath.

The look on the boy’s face was so buzzed and stupidly proud, for a second I thought I was back at a college frat party, with drunken freshman pledges yelling at each other to “drink, drink, drink.” His telltale milk moustache even looked just like beer foam.

Uh oh. The big red mother’s warning flag went up in my head. Danger zone. This kid–who doesn’t really sleep all that much to begin with–really likes coffee.

This can’t be good.

It definitely wasn’t.

Normally a bit hyper, he spent the next 9 hours in hyper-drive mode, bouncing off the walls–of our car.

This definitely wasn’t good.

He is normally kind of a physical kid, but now he was in hyper-touch mode, constantly hugging and wrestling anyone who came near him. The frat party visions came back again.

This was not good.

Finally the caffeine wore off. We all crashed hard.

For the rest of our trip, every time we came near a java joint we were greeted by pleas of, “Please, can I have a latte?” I have a hard time passing up an opportunity for a coffee fix in the best of circumstances. It didn’t help that on this trip we were guest room hopping and staying in cheap motels, so hubby and I were even more tired and in need of caffeine than usual.

“May I please have a latte?” replaced “Are we there yet?” as the chorus for the soundtrack of our trip.

One morning when we were particularly groggy he managed to order himself a latte at breakfast before my ears perked up. “He’s just kidding,” I said to the big-eyed waitress, who couldn’t wait for a cigarette break to share the story about those crazy kooks from California.

It didn’t help that our friends in Albuquerque allow their children to imbibe in decaf. “May I please have a latte?” now had a companion statement in the reprise. “It’s okay mom. I’ll have a decaf,” The fact that their fifth grade son is the same height as our third grader didn’t seem to deter our child’s desire for the stuff.

I guess I should just be happy he didn’t ask for a sip of my beer.

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on April 8, 2008.

My 100th Column

Leslie was very young when she wrote her first column! Image © Daviddomi | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

Leslie was very young when she wrote her first column! Image © Daviddomi | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

Writing 100 columns sounds like a big deal, doesn’t it? You’d think my editor would have thrown me a party or at least bought me a candy bar or something.

I started writing this column right after Koss started kindergarten. When he had his 100th day of kindergarten, they had a big celebration and all of the kids had to bring in 100 of something. Most of the children brought in buttons or pennies or crayons or fish crackers–you know, kid stuff.

As an overambitious first-time kindergarten mom who really needed to impress the teacher, I had the brilliant idea that we bring in a jar filled with 100 wishes. Of course I didn’t realize at the time that Koss only had the attention span to make about 47 wishes, and 23 of those were to have another one of the cookies I used to bribe him to focus on the remaining 69 wishes.

Despite all the duplicate wishes, I eagerly anticipated my gold star from his teacher, who would surely be blown away by our creativity.

Instead she tactfully suggested that perhaps I was giving my son too much sugar, and that his attention span might improve if he expanded his vegetable repertoire beyond potato chips and French fries.

I’ve learned a lot since then. Don’t ever let you kid tell his teacher what he really eats for dinner, for starters. And don’t ever start work on a class project until you’ve had at least one glass of wine.

I’ve learned a little bit about column-writing too. For example, even if I had learned 100 things since I started writing this column, I would never have enough space to include them here. Besides, 100 is an even number, and if there’s one rule I’m absolutely sure of, it’s that odd numbers are funnier than even numbers. My husband told me so. He also seems to think the number 69 is a lot funnier that 67 or 65 for some reason.

Writing this column has really done a lot to deepen my relationship with my husband. Now, instead of crying or throwing things when we fight, I get out my notepad and start taking revenge, I mean, ahem, taking notes.

And when my son does something horribly embarrassing or cute, I get out my camera and my notepad, and sometimes my tape recorder too.

My parents didn’t realize it, but when I started tape recording their childhood stories last weekend, it wasn’t just for the family archives. You never know where you might find new material.

Another great thing I’ve learned is that when you’re writing a column about your life, everything you do can be considered working.

“Why are you napping, Leslie? It’s the middle of the day.”

It’s work. I’m writing a column about napping.

“Why are you shopping/drinking/staring at your navel in the middle of the day?”

I’m working of course. There’s never a minute for myself, I just work, work, work, even when I’m sleeping I work. It’s 25/7 around here.

Apparently writing all of those columns hasn’t done anything to improve my math skills.

This is actually my 101st column. I realized that at some point last week, but I wanted to write about spring break, so I fudged it a little bit.

See, unlike my other job–as a reporter, where you have to pay special attention to things like truth and accuracy–you get to fudge a little when you’re a columnist. So when I tell you that this is my 101st column that doesn’t mean it’s my 101st column for THIS paper; I worked for another paper before this. And it wasn’t my fault they went out of business–although it might have helped if THAT editor had thrown me a party.

Originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on April 13, 2007

My Destination Vacation

© Dushenina | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

© Dushenina | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

While most of Santa Barbara was schussing down the slopes at Mammoth or slathering on the sunscreen in Hawaii, I spent my spring break on a guilt trip, once again. I’m a creature of habit and guilt trips are definitely my vacation destination of choice.

Well, not exactly “choice.”

I’d rather be drinking upside down margaritas in Mexico, or yachting in Europe without a care in the world, but given my current bank account, that wasn’t going to be happening this year–again. Like most other creative types who feel incredibly lucky just to be able to eke out a living without selling their souls, when there’s work to be had, I have to work.

Last week just happened to be one of those weeks. It also just happened to be the first week of Koss’s spring break. Yes, that wasn’t a typo. The FIRST week of his spring break. Apparently the families in our school district worked so hard for the three months after our three-week winter break that they need a two-week spring break to oh, say, ski in Mammoth or sun in Hawaii.

Not that I’m bitter or anything. If I could afford to take FIVE weeks off in the middle of the school year and go somewhere glamorous, I’d do it in a heartbeat. I’m sure if I left out enough bowls of cereal, the kid would be fine.

Instead, I sent my son to camp, where he golfed, bowled, fished, hiked, learned a few swear words, and had a marvelous time. I, of course, felt incredibly guilty.

Despite the fact that I take my son to school every day, spend a ridiculous amount of time volunteering at his school when I should be working, then pick my son up from that same school every single day, have a semi-nutritious snack waiting for him in the car, and am always there after school to help him with his homework, schedule play dates, play handball, and take him to soccer/basketball/baseball/whatever else is in season practice–if I spend even a small part of his school breaks working, I feel guilty. If I spend a large part of those breaks working, I feel really guilty.

And if, as was the case last week, I spend a part of those school breaks actually taking a break for myself, say by putting him in camp all day while I do some writing and then go to the movies, I feel really, really guilty. Especially when my husband surprises me and says he wants to go to the movies one night during the week. Do I admit that I’ve actually already seen everything worth seeing? Then I’ll feel really guilty since he’s the one who’s been working full time while I’m doing full time chauffer/ part time career thing from home, which is actually harder, I know, because I’ve worked full time before when he stayed at home, but I feel guilty saying that because I know he’d switch positions with me in a heartbeat if I’d let him.

It’s a vicious cycle. But I’m comforted to know that I’m not the only woman who was raised on a diet of guilt (though mine was well seasoned with plenty of humor, I should add, so that I won’t feel too guilty when my mother reads this). A recent article in the Washington Post told the story of a woman in Virginia who felt so guilty about leaving her family in the evening that she almost missed out on an interesting lecture–titled “Mommy Guilt.”

Honey, I feel your pain, but I’ve decided to play through it anyway.

Rather than guilt tripping about my need to have a little bit of time to myself–and taking it anyway–I’m going to make friends with my guilt and take it on a few more outings this week. You won’t see us on the slopes, unfortunately, but maybe you’ll see us at the movies.

Originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound April 6, 2007