Sh*t's about to get real.

Reinventing the wheel: the All Week items on the bottom left have to be done throughout the week. The chore items listed next to their names are the "extra" chore that has to be done that day. And yes, brushing hair and teeth needed to be put on the list as reminders. A sad truth at our house.

I am starting to hate the sound of my own voice. Lately everything that is coming out of my mouth is a nagging demand of some kind. I feel like all I do is constantly ride my kids about what they aren't doing or what they should be doing or what they could have done better. With a husband that is gone before the boys wake up in the mornings, who often gets home late in the evenings, and travels a lot for work, I get to play Bitchy Mom 99.9% of the time. Sweet Mom rarely gets to make an appearance because Bitchy Mom has so much damn work to do.

I'm tired of having to be such a hard ass with my kids. I'm tired of nagging and demanding and bitching and complaining. I'm tired of hearing Bitchy Mom every time I open my mouth.

I am really good at complaining about how "no one else in this damn family helps clean this damn house." I talk a lot about responsibilities, about how we all have responsibilities at home and at school and in our community. I'm a BIG talker. I am especially good at dinner time speeches about how we all need to do a better job helping, about how allowances aren't given to children who don't take care of their responsibilities, about how in the real world you won't make it if you don't take care of your responsibilities. I give my big speech and the boys nod their heads and look at me and say, "Got it."

"Got it" is uttered by my children daily.

Go make your bed. Got it.

Watching You Tube videos all afternoon isn't good for you. Got it.

Quit leaving all of the lights on. Got it.

And NOTHING happens.

"Got it" is a reflex. A knee jerk reaction. It's said quickly, unthinking, with no emotion. It doesn't mean anything. I'm sick and tired of hearing "Got it." There's something about it that feels disrespectful and rude. Like I'm being blown off. Yeah, Mom, I've got it. After yelling at my oldest several times to please stop using that phrase, he now just stares at me when I telling him something, unsure of what to say.

So then you find yourself wondering what the hell you should do because, by damn, something's gotta change. Things came to a head for me one night recently and before going to bed I promised myself that the next day I was going to...I didn't have a clue what I was going to do but I had to do something before I lost my ever loving mind. Like all mothers, I didn't have the option to sit around moaning about how much I suck as a mother. So instead, I got on Voxer with my best girlfriends the next day and boldly declared that "shit's about to get real" at the Freeman's.

The next day I created chore charts and rule lists and calendars. If I was going to implement one change I might as well implement them all. No more here's your allowance for doing nothing all week.  No more getting away with stupid crap over and over again with no consequences. No more random responsibilities that have no name. No more asking me millions of times, "What are we doing this week?" Here it is all is in black and white. I'm done telling you. I'm done asking you. I'm done nagging you. I'm done being Bitchy Mom. Bitchy Mom needs a break.

That night, the hammer came down. The boys looked liked they'd been kicked in the teeth. What did we do, dear Mother and Father, to deserve such extreme punishment? Sadly, we had to explain that these weren't punishments. That a list of rules and chores were a normal part of a family and a normal part of life. And then I clarified everything for them: "Boys, I'm not raising husbands that expect a woman to do everything for them. I'm tired of nagging and I don't want your wives to have to nag at you either."

They both smiled at me and said, "Got it."

Renewal Vows

{image found here}

When we were in Napa this summer celebrating our 15th anniversary, I got an email from the pastor of our new church. A few weeks prior, we had Pastor Debbie and her family over for dinner. While serving a traditional southern dinner of fried chicken and sweet tea--fried chicken that I had slightly overcooked but sweet tea that was just right--Derek happened to mention that I was a writer (or at least something that used to resembled one.) I quickly tried to downplay the compliment, dismissing the accolades my husband was attempting to share with our new guests.

And then a few weeks later I opened the email that I mentioned. Pastor Debbie told me about a new series at our church called Framily that would be starting in the coming weeks and wondered if I could help write some renewal vows. One of the sermons in the series would be about marriage and she wanted to include them in the bulletin, sort of a take-a-way for couples to share with one another at their leisure. Something that would be fitting for couples married either one year or sixty. Something for couples who were married and couples not married but in long-term commitments. Something for couples of every shape and size.

I quickly replied that I would love to write the vows. Prior to hitting send, I put no thought into the difficulties that might come with such an assignment. I had blinders on. My pastor had asked for my help, my help with something that I feel God has gifted me with, and I wasn't about to say no.

But then I sat down to actually write them. I researched a little online, but everything was so specific, as personally written vows tend to be. I worked for several hours, fretting over each word, and finally came up with a draft that I was pleased with. I quickly sent them to Pastor Debbie for her to review, to request changes, etc. She replied that she liked the vows, but they were too...sweet. Too sugary. Too nice. They weren't edgy enough. Could I possibly add more humor and a little edge to the vows and take out some of the sweetness?

Oh boy, could I. She might not have realized it, but she was asking me to be more...myself. Writing something sweet had been a struggle for me, but writing something humorous and edgy? I could get all over that.

And with full permission, here is what I wrote:
With my whole heart, I take you again as my wife/husband/partner. I take you as you are, faults and all, continuing to love you even when it is hard or messy or uncomfortable. I promise to love you through the good and the bad: when we have money to burn or when we are struggling to make ends meet, when my favorite team wins or when they lose, when you gain weight or when you lose it, when you remember our anniversary or when you forget (as long as you buy me _____________ to make up for it.)
From this day forward, I will do my best not hold our relationship to unrealistic expectations like those found in sappy movies or chick lit novels. I know that our life together has been/will be far from a fairy tale, but I believe our relationship is worth the extra time, energy, and effort. I might forget to  ____________ or struggle to ____________, but I promise to work at being a better wife/husband/partner than I was yesterday. Neither of us is perfect and never will be. That thing I do that drives you crazy will probably never change, but that’s okay because you do things that drive me crazy too.
I promise to love you as much as I love [favorite hobby, sports team, TV show, etc.] I promise to let you choose the radio station when you are the one driving, and let you have control of the television remote as long as [favorite show, sport, movie] isn’t on. I understand that you can’t read my mind and therefore promise to always communicate to the best of my ability. I will try to compliment you more and criticize you less, and will listen to you with compassion and understanding even when I don’t agree with a word you are saying. 
The only thing that matters is this: I love you. Not only do I love you, but I like you. I like who you are and who we are together. I choose you again today and I will choose you again tomorrow. I will keep choosing you every day for the rest of our lives. You are my person, my love, today and always.

Pastor Debbie's reply was exactly what every writer wants to read. She said she loved the new vows and was laughing out loud while reading them. They were perfect and exactly what she had wanted. I had hit a home run and there would be no need for a third draft. The vows were printed on a handout and put inside the bulletins that Sunday.

Did anyone actually take them home and recite the words I had written for them? Who knows. In my heart I like to imagine couples giggling as they insert their own words into the blanks, reaching over the table to hold hands as they promise to continue to love each other through the crazy, through the struggles, through that thing the other one does that drives them to drink.

The Summer Camp Blues

b & p being dropped off at summer camp

I made them take this picture. It was the LAST thing they wanted to do. They had just arrived at camp and were ready for us to leave. But by damn I was getting a picture whether they liked it or not. It was one of those moments when I had to give my husband a "look" and he knew that was his cue to yell at the children. Just do this for your mother, please!

We were dropping them off at camp for a two week stay. They were fired up. We were fired up. Everyone was excited and the goodbyes were short. I prayed they'd figure out what to do with the self-addressed stamped envelopes that I included in their luggage. Hopefully we'd hear from them before the two weeks was up.

Then about five days later I was confused to see letters in the mailbox addressed to me and my husband in my own handwriting. Wait a minute...they had written us after all! I was so excited to open up their letters! And then this is what I read:

I was heartbroken. This was not what I wanted to be reading. He had been so excited all summer about going to camp! Not to mention (but I'm gonna) that we had spent a fortune sending him to this fantastic camp that he wanted to leave after being there for only one day. I stood there in my kitchen feeling helpless, my heart hurting at the thought of my little boy crying all alone in his bunk. I needed to give my boy a hug. I needed to hug him and tell him he was okay and to hang in there and that it would get better. But I couldn't so I moved on to the letter from our oldest.

Clearly older brother was having a much better time. He was surfing and shooting guns and loving camp life. That made me feel a little better at least.

We got a few more letters. Each one seemed to be less homesick than the one before. Derek and I decided to pass the time with friends in Napa Valley, drinking lots a fantastic wine. Even with our state's horrible drought, Napa was still beautiful. Dry, but beautiful. Every meal we ate was better than the one before and one night we had the pleasure of staying in a refurbished farm house in the middle of a vineyard. It didn't suck. If there was some way that I could still be there, I would. We quickly decided to create a new tradition: every summer we'd drop off the kids at camp and head straight to wine county. Done and done!

our amazing view one beautiful morning in wine country

While we were in Napa, my friend told me a story about she and her sister when they went to summer camp for a month as kids. My friend loved every second of it, but her sister struggled with home sickness the whole time. She wrote letters home to her parents saying things like, "If you loved me you'd come get me!" When it was finally time for pick up day, her sister ran across the camp into their mother's arm like a slow motion reunion scene from a sappy movie.

It might have been the bottles (not glasses, but bottles) of wine we had consumed, but the story was just what I needed to hear. My friend was cracking up telling it and I was cracking up listening. She asked if I thought I'd get the same dramatic, slow motion run from either of my boys when we went to pick them up. I laughed and said that I doubted it and that they would probably play it cool.

Then it was time to pick them up from camp. We saw older brother first. He played it VERY cool, but couldn't hide the huge smile on his face when he saw us. We didn't see little brother at first. Then, while I was still hugging Bentley, I felt a body blow from the back. There was nothing slow motion about it. Palmer saw us and ran as fast as he could into a full blown, take you down, tackle. Yeah, he really missed us.

Turns out we will probably have a little more cash in our pockets next summer. Later that afternoon on the drive home Palmer was quick to tell us that he liked camp alright, but doesn't really want to go back because they only feed you three times a day. Bentley said he liked it but didn't care that much about going back because the kids in his cabin were jerks. So there you go.

Now to figure out what to do with the children every summer while we head to wine country...

Yes, you're in the right place.

A southern gentleman always takes a lady's hand. Two if he's lucky.

I'm a big decorator. Actually, I'm a big RE-decorator. Come over to my house often enough and you will notice that nothing stays the same for long. Any time my mom comes out to visit she ask, "So what's new with your house this time?"

Same goes for this blog. I was ready for a change, a redecorating of the blog or a rebranding if you will. It is still somewhat under construction. Don't be surprised if it continues to change a little in the days to come. That's how I work. I mess and mess with something until it's exactly they way I like it. I like projects that take tweaking.

This is about the fourth name for my blog I started blogging in 2005 and honestly, I have no good reason as to why I keep changing it. I'm sure people who specialize in branding would tell me I'm continuously shooting myself in the foot. But I like change. I like to make something feel new. I like making something fit whatever stage of life I'm currently in.

I liked the old name, California Freemans, but it seemed dull to me. Didn't really tell you anything other than who we are and where we live. After nine years of living in California, I realize that I am still very Southern in many, many ways. I love my Southern roots and I have come to realize that even though we are raising Californians, we are also raising Southern Gentlemen. I kinda love the combo.

Welcome to West Coast Southern.

He's living in a box...He's living in a cardboard box.

You have goals as a family. You set expectations for your children. You hope that they will make the right choices and decisions based on examples that you've set. But for all of those goals and expectations and examples, let's face it, raising children is a crap shoot. It's hard. No matter how many books or blogs you read, you never really get it right. You get close, but never 100%. You never get to lay back with your full glass of wine and confidently say, "Yeah, I've got this." Each age you think, "How could parenting be any harder than this?" And then they grow up without permission and it does just that. It gets harder.

We have just passed through the threshold of teenagerhood. Our oldest is 13 and an 8th grader in junior high. He's moody. He has braces. He just recently started to roll his eyes at us. Talking about girls embarrasses him. He has an Instagram account that we have to monitor and occasionally tell him to take something down. He has a Facebook account that he never uses but a YouTube channel that he's very proud of and works hard on. He is every bit of a teenager. It's hard and this is just the beginning.

But for all of his moodiness and braces and eye rolling, underneath this boy has a heart for others. I'd like to take credit for it. I'd like to say that it has been through our encouragement and fostering the importance of giving to others. But I can't take credit. It is really who he is. He has volunteered at Special Olympic events and at their office. He has stood outside of grocery stores asking for donations for our local food bank. He has walked for Cystic Fibrosis, shot basketballs for orphans, and put together hygiene packages for kids in Uganda.

A couple of weeks ago I read in an email that our church youth group would be participating in something called Box City. Box City is a fundraiser that raises money for a non-profit called Family Promise that give support and shelter to local homeless families who are trying to get back on their feet. At Box City, hundreds of people raise money and sleep in cardboard boxes at one of our local parks for an evening. You're not only making a difference financially, but also getting a small sense of what it must be like to be homeless.

When I approached my teenager about participating with our church, I wasn't sure what his response would be. Even with all of his past volunteer work, a surely teenager is very temperamental, and asking someone if they'd like to spend the night outside in a cardboard box to support a good cause is kind of a big ask. I'm not sure I'd choose to do it, but I'm not a teenage boy with a huge heart for others.

On September 26, Bentley will be sleeping at the park on the ground instead of his soft bed at home. He's excited about it actually! He will hear from families who have been supported by Family Promise and what a difference it has made in their lives and I know will come home changed, even after one night.

So if you feel so inclined, Bentley would love to have your support in his efforts to raise money for such a great cause. We know there are so many (SO MANY!) great causes out there to give to, but any small amount to help this sweet boy help others would mean so much.