Family, School

what the DMV and tea taught me


Two weeks ago, my eldest son and I rushed after school to our local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office.  We made our way towards line 3 and when called upon, the woman patiently asked where the golden rod colored paper was as this son and I questioningly looked at one another.  The one that provided the signature and proof that this boy had driven and passed with a certified driving school instructor.

We had to forfeit the appointment.

We both left dejectedly and waves of guilt washed over me.  I thought I had checked the list for required documentation to take the behind-the-wheel driving test thoroughly and I saw the slump of the sixteen year old’s shoulders.  I hadn’t realized how much he had wanted to take the test; to finally have a license to drive.

Why didn’t you check me? I asked this son.  He shrugged as I apologized, again, and he stated that he was okay with it.  He thought we had everything in order, too.  It gave him more time to practice behind-the-wheel in his busy spring schedule.

I immediately went home and tore apart the files in my home office in search of the golden rod document.  I had even called the driving instructor on his cell phone to inquire how to get another form while at the DMV.  Within fifteen minutes of organizing and sorting I found the document and spent the following two hours in frustration, filing and shredding.

If I had been better organized, this son could’ve taken his test.  It had already been a trying week and it took another 24 hours to reschedule another drive test appointment.

Two weeks later, we returned to this same line.  This time we had all the required documentation and when the woman asked what time the test appointment was for, we both answered at the same time.  I stepped away from the counter as he continued to answer her questions.

We proceeded to sit in the hard, plastic chairs in the very crowded DMV for an hour and when his name was called, I anxiously stood nearby as he was given instructions.  As he drove the car into the drive test line, I focused my energy on not fidgeting; to remain calm for this son as he jibber-jabbered for another fifteen minutes and inched slowly to the beginning of the line.

When the instructor finally arrived I exited quickly and stood by a tree with others awaiting their drivers on tests to return. I glanced at the time as this son pulled away from the curb.

Within seven minutes my car had returned and as I slowly walked towards my son, I caught his reflection on the driver side’s mirror and immediately knew what had transpired.  He had failed his drive test.

He chose not to drive home and crawled to the back seat of my car; angrily dealing with his humiliation.  He wanted to tear up the examination sheet and when I asked where it all went wrong, he claimed he didn’t know.  The instructor had simply written his suggestions, politely asked him to return to the DMV parking lot and exited the vehicle.

Upon reading the examiner’s words I inwardly cringed.  Critical driving error.  And though my heart hurt for this son; the one not used to failing anything, a surprising emotion had risen unbidden to my consciousness and I chastised myself.

I was secretly glad.

I couldn’t put into words these conflicting feelings until I sat across my childhood friend I’ve known since aged nine.  We both had left our humble, small-town upbringings to attend universities four hours away in the city .  As a high school language teacher in a highly ranked school district, she shared the scenarios that play out before her, day-after-day.  

All work and no play.

She handed me the book by Dr. Stuart Brown; hoping that the next generation can still cling to open, unstructured time.  Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul.

This is an ongoing conversation between us; she as an educator and myself the parent of two high school teens.  The high school years have become the pressure cooker, high stakes years when students build resumes and look towards college admissions.

  • They shuttle from one structured organized activity to another; not for the love of learning or joy of playing…but to stay afloat and rise above their peers.
  • They have various extra-curricular activities to fill all of their free time, burden themselves with advanced placement courses and stay up till the wee hours of the morning trying to fit it all in.
  • They hire tutors or become tutors themselves, adding the time to community service hours to check that block on their application resume.

We sat for three hours dissecting the high school years we lived versus the ones our children currently live in.  Living two hundred miles from our hometown we easily understand how different our upbringings were versus those of our children.

As mothers we both feel like hamsters running in place as we do the things we are expected to do.  

We go to work, we parent our kids, we try to be good spouses and multi-task efficiently to prove we are productive and don’t waste time.  Our time is structured and the words come back to haunt us.  All work.  No play.

As we sat in her car in a crowded restaurant parking lot, the words began to form on the fringes of my mind.  My dear friend stated the obvious.

We forgot how to play.

Her version of unstructured time was in socializing; making time for friendships.

Both avid readers, I had shared my desire to go to a tea house after reading Lisa See’s The Tea Girl on Hummingbird Lane.  My girlfriend teaches in the community where this book takes place and, surprisingly, portrays the same scenarios we live.  The Play book had not been on my to do list, this weekend, but I found myself making the time.

Reading for pleasure is my own version of play.

I returned home telling my husband I craved tea and scones as he made a fresh pot.  My girlfriend and I hadn’t  realized the long waiting lists to even have tea in a local tea house.  Reservations needed to be made a month in advance.  When we looked online at menus and saw the cost; both of us opted to forego this option for the time being.

The hubs muttered under his breath how he was doing his part and so, I found myself perusing my recipes on how to make scones.

As I kneaded dough, like Play Doh, I realized how I contributed to my son’s critical driving error and I replayed the seemingly disconnected thoughts in my mind trying to make sense of them.

I processed the words I had shared with my girlfriend, who happens to also be this son’s godmother.

  • How I questioned his maturity level when he was behind-the-wheel recently.
  • That, after leaving the DMV two weeks ago I had felt guilt ridden and then began angrily questioning why I had felt guilty.
  • When I was sixteen I knew all the rules.  I made my own DMV drive test appointment.  I had all my documentation.  I did it on my own.
  • When this son drove, he relied on my instructions to reach our destinations.  Rarely did I remain silent to let him make his own mistakes or figure out the directions by himself.

This feeling of guilt persisted but not for the reasons I had thought.

I feel the guilt of being the overbearing parent.

  • The one that scheduled the online DMV appointment.
  • The one that, when my son was questioned and he didn’t immediately answer, filled in the space and answered with him at the same time.  I had caught the glance he shot me; one of irritation.
  •  When I questioned the son if he had checked me, he really should have been doing all this documentation search on his own and I should’ve checked myself.  Checked myself out.

He has suffered setbacks but he must learn how to cope with rejection.  I am not teaching my son how to be independent and, much as I tell myself he must fail, he never does.

Until he failed his drive test.

It was a critical driving error.  He had been asked to turn left at the intersection and when the signal had turned green, he had made the left.  But there had not been a left turn signal and he had not waited for the oncoming traffic to pass through the intersection first.  He had just went for it.

I had looked at my son through the rear view mirror that day, after reading the examiner’s words while stopped at an intersection and calmly stated the following.  I know you will never forget that rule again.  That could be fatal.  My son had silently shaken his head in agreement.

I had known all along he hadn’t been ready but it took someone else to finally drive it home.

I walked into the computer den, announcing to my boys that dinner and tea would be ready in ten minutes.  They confirmed with grunts and nods, questioning the comment about tea but I had exited the den to check on my scones.  My sons know I am not, normally, a baker of any sort, unless it is cookies during the holidays.

My husband watched me pull out our fine china and tea cups; wondering if I had lost my mind.  Are you seriously bringing out your tea sets?  I brought out five different settings and began to set my table.

I am a mom of three boys and a husband and have no occasions to have a tea party.  But I’m going to have one, just because.

Our boys came to the table staring in surprise.  It was the youngest son who summarized succinctly.  This looks like those play tea sets from preschool for girls.  He was surprised to discover there were tea sets for adults.

The hubs poured the tea and the middle son got his finger caught in the dainty tea handle.  I had to hold the cup so he could gingerly wedge his finger out.

They discovered the scones and readily ate them, placing blackberry jam on their tea plates and gingerly holding fine porcelain cups.  They even pointed their pinky fingers out and stoically posed for my pic; for posterity.

They didn’t even question why we were having scones and tea in fancy china; they merely enjoyed the food and to my husband’s chagrin, quickly drained the pot of tea he painstakingly made.

I have finally learned my lesson from my son’s DMV experience.

Later, I sat on this son’s bed and candidly shared my thoughts and that, when he is ready, I’ll direct him to the online DMV page to schedule another drive test.  I brace myself, and my son, for his upcoming senior year so that when rejections come, he will pick himself up after disappointment.  He feels the pressure as his junior year is coming to a close; as do I.

In this whole process I am most surprised by this son’s resiliency after taking some time to lick his wounds.  For this I am glad.  I am slowly exiting the hamster wheel; finding my footing in the things in life that bring me joy outside of my family.

It’s time for me to create unstructured down time, turn up the music, find my rhythm and throw some more tea parties.


tea parties


The signs of new growth and spring reveal themselves all around me.  The verdant green hills with dew as I walk in the morning, the warming of the air in the afternoon and the chirps of bird chatter heard through my window at dusk.  I find myself emerging from my self-imposed exile into one of the busiest party months of our calendar year.  Each weekend is full and, although no one within our household has a birthday this month, our extended circle of family and friends most certainly do.  The boys couldn’t believe their grand aunt Linda was a youthful ninety-two.


Five of our dear (not acquaintances) friends share a birthday on the 21st alone!  Spring definitely brings in new life LOL!!!

wpid-img_20150317_094307.jpgI often ponder the things that propel me forward; items that motivate me such as music.   I play the instrumental version of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky;” the Nile Rodgers’ guitar riffs establishing my daily groove.  But recently I discovered an inner source of inspiration from something unexpected; the text from my girlfriend’s daughter’s birthday table setting reminded me.

wpid-img_20150315_154000.jpgParties.  Or parTEAS.

Just yesterday I walked through the department store where we had registered for the above items almost two decades before.  While the hubs had lingered by the knives and practical pots and pans, I gazed longingly at the china set above; particularly the tea cups.  Listed upon the paperwork was the check box for china and I hadn’t imagined any of our guests purchasing these items for us.  The soon-to-be hubs had impatiently called to me; waiting to use the scanner on his beloved pots.  I hastily scanned the impractical items; knowing this was a luxury we couldn’t well afford.  It was because of the tea cup.

And over the years, in the various far away places the hubs traveled; he brought home tea sets.  From Japan, India, Korea.  I was happy to lend my set for a teen tea party of Cinderellas.  The sets within my hutch are used primarily for holidays and special occasions.  My mother-in-law watched as we loaded these items in my girlfriend’s car.  Are you giving away your china? she asked, aghast.

Last year I had found myself explaining why we owned these dishes and sets to my sons.  A girlfriend had begun to declutter her life and inquired if I’d give her tea cups and saucers a home.  They were beautiful, unique sets of ornate Victorian flowers and gilded rims and so I offered my hutch for safe-keeping; in the event that she would change her mind about giving them away.   To my hubs’ chagrin, I used them for the first month almost every day; my sons secretly enjoying the fancy cups and sticking their pinkies out.  What’s the big deal with the tea cups, Mom?

No immediate answer had come to mind.  Over the months I slowly put the tea cups away and dusted my china hutch; much like I did with my own mother’s cabinet as a child.  My weekly chore was to keep the glass doors to my mother’s china cabinet clean.  She’d happily gaze at her china; the stuff she rarely ever used.  Upon her death there were very few things I took from my childhood home as I went about the motions of putting it up for sale.  It was only the china set inside her cabinet, that was her most prized possession.  As a young girl I had longed to use her tea cups.  I’d never gotten to use them.

It is one of my boys’ favorite table settings; their Lola’s gold- rimmed china.  My extended family remember it well and, at Christmastime when I host, the memories come flooding back of my mother’s obsession with the china she never used.  Unlike my mother I choose to use the items in my china cabinet whenever I can.  For bookclub.  For dinners with friends.  For birthday parties.  They are well-used.  As our extended family grows larger I no longer have enough dishes to accommodate everyone.  The hubby proclaimed a moratorium on any new item of china entering our home.  We live in earthquake country.  They will be the first to go.


For Lent I chose to give up eating out.

After Sunday services our weekly ritual is to have Sunday brunch.  I abstained while my sons grabbed doughnuts and returned home with an idea in mind. Let’s have a tea party! I exclaimed to the hubs.  I am grateful my husband is tolerant of my random ideas to “play house” with me.  I cheerfully set my green table with our every day stoneware; chosen at the same time as our china set, and asked the boys if they would like to be invited.  Accustomed to my bursts of craziness the boys only acquiesced upon smelling the aromas of the chocolate chip scones the hubs made for our tea party.  Soon our family of five, dressed in our church clothes, sat down for our Irish breakfast tea with scones.  They opted for coffee.

My choice to not eat out is more than the simple words imply.  My lack of discipline and self-motivation is its weakest when having to deal with food.  After reading Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan the hubs and I began to delve deeper into where our food originates from.  We struggled with the ideals of organic and sustainable farm practices versus affordable and diverse food choices.  Each evening after work I am uninspired by the contents, within my fridge, to create chef worthy dinners for our family of five.  It is cheaper and faster to conveniently purchase fast food or pre-made dinners.  Two weekends ago when we chose to celebrate our youngest’s accomplishment of completing his 26.2 mile progressive marathon at Dodger’s Stadium; we asked him where he would like to celebrate.  He had first declined going out to eat; knowing my Lenten resolution to not eat out.  But for his special day I cheated and he surprised all of us with the place he most absolutely, was dying to try.

Taco Bell.

We thought he was joking.  He had heard the hubs and I regale tales to our high schooler about driving off-campus for lunch.  At aged sixteen my girlfriends would jump into my Toyota Tercel and we would drive, off-campus,  for 69 cent tacos at this establishment.  The hubs has similar memories but as adults, we have never taken our family of five here.  Eventually we were able to talk our son out of this choice; to head to a sit-down establishment.  But of all places to choose in a metropolitan city with diverse restaurant options; this was his first choice.  Our boys have not been brought up with the food groups of: McDonalds, Jack-in-the-Box, Burger King or Taco Bell.  Occasionally the youngest and I grab a chocolate frosty from Carl’s Jr. as we head back to work after pick-up on his early minimum day.


By choosing to not eat out I am forced to create slow, home-cooked meals.  I tend to be an organizer, the coordinator of our schedules, events and tasks but I choose a laissez faire attitude with regards to meals.  It takes organization to create dinners on a tight schedule as I drive sons to and fro to various activities most weeknights.  I know that in order to get optimal health results the real choice to be made is in monitoring what you eat.  Portion control.  Planned meals.  The things where I lack self-discipline and hunger gets the best of me. Every.  Single.  Time.

It is difficult to not sample everything when I am in attendance at various celebrations.  Both sides of our families host large gatherings with a plethora of food.  When times got lean the hubs clamped down on my tendencies to host get-togethers and parties.  Like my family hosts before me: my mother, my cousin, my in-laws, I enjoyed bringing out my best things to share.  But hosting created a lot of work and stress.  The cleaning, the decorating, the purchasing, the hostessing and then the cleaning and putting away.  Was it worth it?    Although we valued the time with others it became work when it became expected that we were to host.  For holidays.  For parties.  For everything.


But the inner party planner is being awakened once again.  The hubs knows that my tea sets are coming out; enjoying time with others and letting go of the notion of expecting the same in return.  The hubs now sees the value in the giving; his own mother creating elaborate dinners unselfishly, for the love and joy of sharing it.  It was in sharing my tea cups that brought me the realization that the people gathered before us did not care about the dust bunnies in the corner, the cracked tile or the elaborate china.

It is in connecting with others that we find meaning; whether it be good or bad.  It is how we grow and renew.

I steep the Irish breakfast tea and contemplate this idea in my mind.  It is our family tradition, this celebrating of events within our short life spans.  I want my children to remember the tea cups, the parties, the friends and family who grace the stoop of our imperfect home and our messy lives.  Those who remain through the years are the keepers; for better and for worse.

I’ll drink to that.  Happy Birthday to all my beloved friends and family members. You know who you are.