Not A Roller Coaster Mom by Sharon Johnson O'Donnell
My husband, Kevin, and I have been married for 22 years; we met on PM Magazine, a local TV show with syndicated stories and local stories during a Valentine's Day promotion in 1985. I was selected to be featured in a short video about me and the kind of person I wanted to meet (basically begging for dates on TV), and my husband was one of those who responded (along with about 70 other letter writers, some of which were prisoners). We live in Cary, NC, a suburb of Raleigh, and both places have been selected by many business magazines as some of the top places to live in the nation. And it is a terrific place to live, but indeed, it seems everyone is flocking here -- at least when looking at the traffic and the overcrowded school system.
I am a freelance writer and my first humor book is House of Testosterone - One Mom's Survival in a Household of Males published in hard cover by Jefferson Press and then in paperback by Houghton Mifflin. My second book has been written for a year, but with the economy -particularly in publishing -- still not doing well -- it's tough for publishers to agree to take a risk on a book by an unknown like me, even though they love the writing. But I'm hanging in there and so is my agent, Rob Wilson. Still, it's frustrating when I see books in the stores by people like Kate Goslin of the former Jon and Kate Plus Eight show or others who are published strictly because people know who they are. In addition to writing, I also teach narrative writing to elementary school students part-time and do contract public relations work.
Even this school system has been particularly challenging for me lately as an older mom with one son considerably younger than his brothers. The system offers several calendar options for school, and my two youngest sons are on different calendars. My middle son, who is a high school junior, is on the traditional school calendar with summers off; however, my youngest son is on a year-round school calendar with various three-week breaks throughout the year and school attendance during June & July. Year-round works very well for elementary and middle school kids, but not for high schools - so there are no year-round high schools here. Having two different calendars makes planning vacations difficult. Especially, yep -- for families with age-gap kids.
When my two oldest sons were younger and both in year-round, we always went on neat trips somewhere when they were tracked out (not in school). Gettysburg, Maine, Baltimore, Charleston, Disney, even Barbados. Yet, we can't do the same with my youngest, Jason, because we can't leave my high school son alone since he has so many school/sports/Scouting obligations. Overseeing his schedule is a full-time job and he won't get his driver's license until early 2011. Besides, Jason has reached that age where going to a water park or an amusement park with Mom or Dad is not fun anymore. "No, Jason, I can't ride the roller coaster with you -- remember I had that back surgery and am not supposed to?" (Of course, I wouldn't ride the roller coaster even if I hadn't had back surgery but it does make one hell of a convenient excuse!) My other boys had each other to play with on vacations, but Jason doesn't have anyone.
That makes me feel pretty badly for him, especially when I think about the fun my other two boys had together on our 'track out' vacations. His close friends outside of school are either in traditional school or on another track (there are four tracks - all with different break times -- Jason is on Track 3). So going somewhere with friends is difficult too. I recently sent out emails to parents of other boys in his Track 3 class asking if any of their families might want to go along with Jason and me on a vacation during our track-out period. Felt kind of like I used to when I was back in a college sorority and had to scour the campus for pledge formal dates. Swallow your pride and ask somebody out. Only this time, it was swallow your pride and admit your son needs another vacation companion besides good ole' mom. Of course, those families all have their own plans, so we were back at square one. We did manage a one-day trip to an amusement park with a neighbor friend who is Jason's age. That worked out great. They rode roller coaster after roller coaster while I sat on a bench and read a book. Yeah, I'm a barrel of fun. These were not the little Scooby Doo coasters, I might add; they were the huge ones with names like "The Intimidator" and "Thunder Road" that make grown men gulp when they first see them looming over the amusement park. My other boys didn't want to ride roller coasters when they were Jason's age, and I could handle a Ferris wheel ride or the bumper cars with them if I needed to do so. But Jason is more adventurous and needs someone with him who is adventurous, too.
My lack of an adventurous streak has nothing to do with my age, though. I was like this when I was younger too. Still, the age-gap between my sons is what poses the problem, and it's a problem I've dealt with before and will deal with again. That age-gap also has many benefits, including making Jason more independent than I think he would have normally been -- more ready to try new things, especially after observing his older brothers for so many years. And, yes, making him really good at riding roller coasters.