“Poop” Makes Things Grow

April 23, 2014 by Trina Bartlett
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I was attempting  to pedal my way out of a bad mood yesterday as I rode my bike on country roads bordered by fields in various stages of growth. I was rehashing what had gone wrong during my day when I rounded a corner and the smell hit me.

Fresh manure had been spread on a large field, and the stench was overwhelming.

If you think a field of manure stinks when you are behind the wheel of a car, you should try breathing it from the seat of a bicycle. Not only are there no metal or glass barriers to deflect the smell, but bikes are slower than automobiles so the stink lasts longer.

As I was pedaling furiously to get away, I remembered an incident a few years earlier when I had driven that same route with my daughter and her friend.

“The cows are really stinky tonight,” my daughter complained.

“It’s not the cows. It’s manure.”

“That’s the same thing,” the girls told me.

“Not exactly,” I said. “The manure is put there on purpose. The farmers spread it on their fields to make their crops grow.”

The girls’ initial disbelief was replaced by noises of disgust. ”Poop makes things grow?” they groaned.

That memory of the girls reaction along with my bad mood got me thinking about situations that initially stink but eventually help us grow.

I have yet to meet anyone whose life is so perfect that they’ve never had to struggle with mistakes, failures and bad decisions nor had to deal with difficult people or circumstances.

There are lots of names for such situations, but I consider them “poop,” although the name is basically irrelevant. How we deal with them isn’t.

How we handle stinky situations affects whether or not we grow and develop into stronger people. If we simply run away and avoid them, growth is limited if non-existent. But if we learn how to better handle ourselves or to adapt, we not only grow – we actually blossom.

In reality, we can’t grow when we aren’t challenged, and most challenges aren’t fun. Many times, they actually stink.

But there’s something incredibly rewarding about overcoming such situations.

I realized this as I finally rode my bike past the smell of manure yesterday and recognized that I was in a much better mood.

Yep, poop definitely makes things grow.

A Dirty Secret

April 21, 2014 by Katy Brown
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Did I save the trip? Yes. Then I guess I saved Spring Break.

I always laugh to myself when I hear people mention that they’re going on vacation. Only spouses and children go on vacation.  Mothers go out of town.

As a family, we have a “travel bucket list” of places we want to visit with the girls.  One of those destinations included a good ol’ retro Spring Break along the Grand Strand of Myrtle Beach. This idea was helped along by a call from a reservation specialist at Hilton, who told me that my husband had accumulated enough VIP membership points to earn six days at a resort in Kingston Plantation. And, since he was such a loyal customer, we qualified for a preview of fractional ownership opportunities at one of Hilton’s newest, most talked about properties.

Could he schedule a showing of an oceanfront condo that might better suit our needs on a future trip?

Oh, all right.  What’s an hour?

But life is never that accommodating. Shortly after securing this throwback week at Myrtle Beach, school board members decided to add a day and a half of classes back into the calendar.  Now the girls would miss makeup time and have additional homework before we could drive out of the zip code.

Oh, well.  What’s a few extra worksheets?

My husband had been traveling on business for the two weeks leading up to our family trip, so I was largely on my own when it came to servicing the vehicle, shopping for the house sitter, washing and packing clothes for four people, and picking up supplies for all of our pets.  I bought 25-pound sacks of dog and cat food to make sure their meals lasted while we were away, but our greedy Beagle decided he’d rather eat a sock. Instead of passing it one way or bringing it up another, the “foreign object” got stuck in the lower stomach and top half of the intestine. He was taken into surgery immediately, and we were left knowing that the next five days would be critical in case the two incisions leaked, or he suffered reactions to anesthesia.  Copper would also need intensive care for the first night, so we’d have to transport him to the emergency clinic for constant observation and pain relief treatment.

The beach was the farthest thing from my mind. Rather, Ava’s final honors music performance was that evening, and she had a snare drum part that I didn’t want to miss.  The concert started at 7:00, which was the exact time I had to transport Copper to the emergency clinic.  I promised I would drop and run — that I wouldn’t miss more than one or two numbers — and I’d see her rat-a-tat-tat her way into The Battle Hymn of the Republic. 

I missed every song but the last one.

After getting Copper settled and signing my life away (including my dog if I didn’t come back to get him by 7:15 a.m.), I drove with my flashers on to make it to Ava’s show.  I climbed the steps of the Cultural Center in pairs, a difficult task in muck boots worn to search the woods for our missing cat, which darted out of the house when tree trimmers started cutting down an oak in our yard.  Wearing a dirty shirt stained with my dog’s blood after he bit his tongue, I burst into the packed auditorium to watch Ava and her musician friends sing Sara Bareilles’ hit song, Brave.  Ava happened to look stage left, where I was propped up against the marble wall trying to forget that my back was throbbing from a sciatic nerve flare up.  She flashed a forgiving smile and returned to the hand-clapping tune that brought an entire crowd to its feet. When the show was over, she made her way through other kids’ parents to me.  I hugged her as tightly as I could and repeated how sorry I was for being late.  Ava told me that I could buy the DVD and watch it as many times as I wanted.  After the checks I’d been writing, what’s another $10?

The next morning, I ran into the school counselor who seemed to know I needed a hug of my own.  How’s it going, she asked.  I burst into tears.

“I missed Ava’s performance,” I cried.

After explaining what had caused this lapse in parenting, the counselor put her expertise to good use.

“Did you save the dog?” she asked.

I nodded pathetically.

“Then you saved the day.”

But the day wasn’t over. I had exactly 12 hours to make a decision about the beach.  It would be incredibly insensitive to leave a sick dog behind, but it would be a guilty shame to cancel a trip that two girls (and their dad) deserved.  I’d already missed a concert and class presentation that Ava had worked hard on, and I’d ignored everything at home (including our younger daughter) worrying about the dog. Fortunately, the veterinary hospital agreed that Copper needed extra care for several days, so he could be boarded while we were out of town. My house sitter agreed to visit him every day, and to manage things in case his situation changed.  What’s so bad about that?

I felt miserable for most of the drive down, which was oddly smooth given the time of year.  My back ached and my mind raced, and I fought a sour stomach that was churned by the stress of the last few days.  When we reached the resort, the thick scent of sea water seemed to loosen me up better than any muscle relaxer could, and I settled into “Salt Life” promising to trust that everything would be all right.

That next afternoon, tension returned as we listened to a loud, eager sales associate preach the benefits of vacation timeshare.  With rock music piped into the room full of exhausted-looking couples, we reluctantly watched a flashy PowerPoint presentation advertising the luxuries of 63 Hilton properties that could be ours for approximately 20 days a year after putting $11,500 down and paying $734 a month at 11.9% interest until the $36,000 debt was paid off.  Much to the sales associate’s frustration, we declined all opportunities to “own a piece of the beach” by way of a deed to a “unit in Las Vegas” that could be transferred with the purchase of “at least 5,000 points” for a resort closer to home.

Home.

The rest of our time was spent dodging college students and seeking shelter from bone-chilling ocean winds.  We seemed to invest the same timeshare expense inland, riding the SkyWheel, racing go carts, eating overpriced, underwhelming seafood, and buying souvenir tee-shirts that marked our discounted trip to Myrtle Beach.  While it was nice to order a grande vanilla latte every morning, return from the outlet malls to a room freshened with fluffy towels and crisp bed sheets, and read Southern magazines from a striped cabana, I didn’t want to be there.  Clearly, the timing was off.  Sick dogs, missing cats, work deadlines, homework assignments, school performances, and wayward tree trimmers (that’s another story and another sizable check) were calling me back.  Simply put, I missed my mess.

Despite coral-colored shrimp and cheddar cheese grits baked in a cast iron skillet, pitchers of tea sweet enough to rot teeth, and being called ma’am more than Mom, I was actually homesick for the problems I tried to escape.  And that’s a funny thing about mothers:  We like to tell anyone who will listen that we desperately need to get away.  But the truth is, we don’t always want to make a run for it. We’re fixers. We don’t know how to leave our troubles behind. Contrary to how we act, we secretly love these dirty parts of life, because it reminds us that we play a vital role with a special purpose.  We are important to other people, projects…and yes, pets. Sun and surf can be good for the soul, but it doesn’t always provide rejuvenation.  Sometimes, it provides a reminder.

 

 

 

Mean Girls Redux

April 16, 2014 by Trina Bartlett
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I may be 47 years old, but I can still remember the pain of adolescence very, very distinctly. It’s one of the reasons I wasn’t overly eager to have a children. I just wasn’t sure I could live through the drama all over again.Isurvivedthemeangirls-button

Thankfully, I did have children and discovered that surviving life between the ages of 13 and 15 not only made me stronger, it also provided extremely valuable lessons about life.

Take, for example, the lessons  I learned from the mean girls of my youth – the “pretty people” who took great pleasure from doing all they could to promote themselves and their social status while belittling others.

As a friend recently told me, “those mean girls just grow up and become mean women.”

I only partially agreed with her. Some change. Some don’t.

I still have to deal with the ones who didn’t, and my daughter is having to deal with the new crop of mean girls.

Sometimes we have to tolerate them because they have more power than we do. Sometimes we have to confront them because we aren’t the only one being hurt.  And sometimes we simply need to talk about them with our friends.

My daughter and I were both doing that last week.

I was angry about the adult versions of  the mean girls.  My daughter is still trying to understand the mean girls at her middle school.

I was venting to friends about how unbelievably selfish some women can be. My daughter was giggling with friends about how ridiculous burn books are. Yes, the mean girls at her school actually have a burn book in which they write hurtful comments about others.

I was ranting about women who are more concerned about their social status than helping meet the needs of the less fortunate. My daughter was making fun of how the mean girls at her school named their clique, demand special privileges and are  proud that they exclude others.

And that’s when it struck me.

I was wasting my time and energy complaining about women who will probably never change. My daughter wasn’t wasting her emotional energy but was simply viewing the mean girls as characters in a book or play. She finds them entertaining but not really relevant.

Since my daughter has a wide circle of diverse friends, she doesn’t care about a few superficial girls who want to exclude her. She’s much more interested in the people who do include her and how they enrich her life.

My daughter hasn’t yet turned 13, but she has already learned some valuable life lessons – ones that I’m still learning.  I like to think my own experiences have helped guide her, but I also know that she’s teaching me as well.

And she’s a very good educator.

Culture Shock

April 14, 2014 by Katy Brown
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It’s often said that babies don’t come with instruction manuals. I tend to disagree after being issued a self-published handbook by the doctor who was covering rounds at the hospital on the morning Ava was born. I read it front page to back cover during my 48-hour stay in the mother-baby unit, deciding that infants weren’t hard.  They were impossible.

Boy (or girl), was I wrong. Early childhood was a piece of cake. The tween-and-teenage phase is the real challenge. Moms and dads don’t need a manual. They need a computer science degree.

March Madness took on a different meaning in our house this year. My basketball bracket blew apart after Harvard lost (Go, Smart Boys!), and I really didn’t care who went on to the Final Four after that. So, we replaced athletics with adolescence, and my predictions fell apart there, too. Just when I thought we had discussed every potential pitfall of online activity, we tumbled into one anyway.

My husband and I were of the belief that our daughter didn’t need a cell phone until high school. Yes, ninth grade. That’s when other parents laughed and told us the days of going into the office to borrow the school secretary’s telephone were things of the past. Between evening events and practices, kids need a way to stay in touch with parents in case plans change or they need a ride home. A cell, despite its ugly side, does offer an added layer of protection for kids when they’re away from home. Oh, and most families have done away with a house phone. So if your child is visiting a friend, forget borrowing the cordless.

Ok, ok, so we’re 40-something dinosaurs. We’ll buy a cell phone for her, but it won’t be a smart one. It’ll be a dumb one. No texting (for now), no Facebook, no FaceTime, and now… no games.

Why? Because some of those games have back door texting features. Instant messaging without phone service? Yep. There’s an app for that.

Last week, we deleted it.

Without revealing too much about a private matter, let’s just say that I thought I was on top of this stuff. It turns out that we’re as green as grass when it comes to technology. Kids can play hide and sneak better than anyone who has come before them, and it’s easy for parents (and childcare providers) to fall a few steps behind.  When we said “no texting”, we weren’t aware that most games, such as Words with Friends, have built-in social networks. Not only can strangers request a match, but they can attempt to chat between plays.

I flipped through the Total Transformation Program Workbook to see how the therapist suggested working out these new obstacles in parenting. The author’s advice was clear and concise:

Discontinue pop culture as soon as school ends.

The minute the dismissal bell rings, the social life ends, too. Unless there’s a reason to get in touch with friends or classmates — such as homework or group assignments — there’s no reason to keep the campus wide open at home. Kids are with their buddies and BFFs for nine hours or more a day. That’s plenty, Dr. Lehman writes. Family time begins when the school day wraps up.

No texting. No Skyping. No gaming. No emailing. No calling. Shut the world out of the house and regain (some) control of your time together.  Studies show that turning off gadgets also turns off opportunities for hostile environments, bullying, and a host of other destructive influences that keep kids hard wired into negative thinking.

Taking the Total Transformation creator’s recommendation, we pulled our daughter off the grid at night. She may reach out to friends for homework help, and she may use the computer for academic purposes and even a few fun sites that we’ve researched and approved. The rest had to go.  Our girls won’t live in a cage, but they’re not going to live online, either.

We’re also abiding by the same practice. If we’re going to be a family in the evening, then we have to sign off or log off of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. We can’t teach or lead by example if we ignore our own imposed rules. We’re in a type of cyber rehabilitation program, closing doors to the world and closing Windows on the laptop.  But will it work during the summer? Time will tell. But if our girls want to play games, they can do so in the front yard.

. . .

What are some other types of apps that offer texting games? Here’s a short list:

I Spy

Story Builder

List Builder

Kiss, Marry, Kill

What If?

Simple Quiz

Would You Rather

Never Have I Ever

Name Game

Hangman

20 Questions

Song Lyrics

Abbreviations

Where Am I?

(Compiled from various websites and blogs)

 

 

 

Buying Time

April 9, 2014 by Trina Bartlett
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People who work hard to convince others that they are either  martyrs and/or victims really annoy me.  That’s why I purchase-time-clockwas completely disgusted with myself when I realized I was doing just that.

I was complaining about being tired because I’d been up doing laundry at 3:00 in the morning.

(I’ve been struggling to meet all the demands life has thrown at me lately, and getting up during the night to throw one load of laundry into the washing machine and another into the dryer was my solution to catching up.)

Unfortunately, I was complaining  a woman who had gotten up at the crack of dawn to wait for hours at the Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) about a mistake regarding her daughter’s medical card. When her number was finally called, she spent less than a minute with her case worker, who simply acknowledged the error and said it would be corrected.

That was it.

I was worried about keeping the laundry hampers from overflowing, and she was ensuring her daughter had access to health care. I had gone back to my salaried job a bit tired. She had gone back to an hourly wage job that didn’t pay while she was at DHHR.

I’d lost a couple hours of sleep. She’d lost pay.

Yet people try to claim we all have the same 24 hours.

We  don’t.

I do realize that, technically, there are only 24 hours in each day, and as far as I know, no one gets rewarded with extra hours for doing good deeds or has hours subtracted for bad behavior. But the SAME 24 hours? It’s not even close.

But people who want to feel self-righteous want to pretend the they have achieved “success” with only 24 hours in a day. They insinuate that if others haven’t achieved the same level of success, they haven’t used their 24 hours wisely. This logic is similar to the myth that if low-income people just worked harder, they too could be financially secure. Ironically, some of the hardest working people I know are working two jobs and still can’t make ends meet. And when they aren’t working to earn meager paychecks, they are spending time on tasks that middle and upper class people generally don’t have to worry about doing.

In other words, when you don’t have a decent  income, you just have less time.

You have less time because you spend hours in a laundromat rather than throwing your clothes into a washing machine at home (at 3:00 in the morning).

You have less time because you can’t simply jump in your car when you need to go to the grocery store, to a child’s school program or to work. You depend, and wait, on friends to take you or on public transportation.

You have less time because you don’t have social connections with doctors who can “get you right in” as a favor. Instead, you wait just to get an appointment . . . then you wait in the waiting room.

I first became aware of the “24 hour myth” through my own struggles. I spent hours trying to do things myself that friends with bigger paychecks paid someone else to do.

And sadly, because I bought into the myth that not having extra money meant I wasn’t successful enough or working hard enough, I would pretend that I took satisfaction in “doing it myself.”

Then, at some point, I realized that “doing it myself” was the epitome of hard work.  It just didn’t equate to having more money in my pocket, a bigger house or a nicer car.  But neither did it equate to being a failure.  It did increase my understanding the value of time, and how people who can afford to buy it, do.

They buy it by paying babysitters to watch their children. They buy it by paying people to clean their homes. They buy it by eating at restaurants instead of cooking.  And sometimes they can even buy time by working for businesses that allow them to go on golf outings or to participate in charitable events to build their network and their resume (while lower-income people are generally required to stay at the work site while on the job.)

I can’t judge whether people who have higher salaries use their time more or less wisely than people with lower incomes any more than I can judge whether they work harder.  Like everything else, individual behaviors run the spectrum.  But I do know people with more money have more discretionary time to spend on working more or playing more. And just like discretionary money, it can be wasted or well spent.

As Carl Sandburg said, “Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.”

And that is a saying that I can definitely buy into.

Who…me?

April 7, 2014 by Katy Brown
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I recently wrote a short piece about ordering The Total Transformation Program after watching a 30-minute infomercial on TV. When the package arrived, I felt a pang of guilt, because my daughters are well behaved and they give us a world of happiness that I’m almost embarrassed to admit. They’ve done nothing wrong to prompt this research project, but I like to anticipate what may happen next.  I plan disasters you see, and I’m convinced teenagers turn into the spawn of Satan by the time they turn 15.

So, I’m preparing to dance with the devil herself.

As I cracked open the instructions (more demanding than a one room school teacher), I discovered that parents who order this disciplinary guide have serious troubles at home. If you have a rude, crude, obnoxious, violent, defiant child sleeping under your roof, then The Total Transformation Program better be on your bedside table next to the King James.  But what if your child (the age bracket begins at age five) has a couple of quirks — such as playing the victim too often, or playing the politician to say all the things you expect him or her to believe, just to get out of trouble?

I know.  I got scared, too.  I felt like I’d hired a lawyer to find potential lawsuits in my life. I didn’t have any problems when I sat down at the kitchen counter, but after I got up, I felt like we needed a family intervention.

But wait! There’s more!

So one of my daughters plays the victim and the other plays politics.  What about me?

Dr. Lehman, the Total Transformation Program therapist, reveals that I’m the biggest problem of all. ME!  In fact, it’s amazing that my daughters have gotten this far in life.

I’m a Perfectionist, a Screamer, and at times, a Martyr.  I tend to blame myself more than anyone or anything else (see Perfectionist), but this time, I’m taking Dad down with me.  He’s a Bottomless Pocket, Ticket-Punching, Savior.

Sticks and stones  may break my bones, but words will never hurt me…much.

THE BOOK, which is how I will refer to it from now on, suggests that our parenting roles are, at times, ineffective.  But if it ain’t broke, why try to fix it?

I may not fix it, but I can be aware of what works now … because it might not work later. I need to tweak how I manage the girls as they grow older.

This just might be the most important lesson for parents: Be aware.  Don’t be different, but be mindful of what we do (on occasion) that trigger behaviors in our children that we don’t like.  No, it’s not all our fault, but children learn from what they witness at home.  They take the best (and worst) of us wherever they go. We should at least be cognizant of our own weak spots so we can prevent tension and turmoil later on.

So, I’ve been humbled.  I opened the book (and the seven DVDs) thinking that I would read about other people’s problems.  Instead, I recognized all of us. There are no perfect children, and no matter how hard we work, there are no perfect parents.  The challenge is to find a way to solve problems without creating great divides in the relationships we cherish.

I bought the program after high school senior Rachel Canning sued her parents for tuition and living expenses despite moving out of the family home.  My daughters will not turn out like that kid, I said to myself. And they probably won’t.  But now I see that we could turn out like Rachel Canning’s parents if we don’t change our ways.

 

 

 

 

Infomercial Parenting

April 4, 2014 by Katy Brown
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total transformIf you read my blog posts – even every now and then — you know that I’m seriously afraid my daughters will turn on us. Well, me. It seems like most girls declare war on their mothers by the time they turn 15.  As of this very second, I have two sweet kids who respect authority and usually reject behaviors they see anywhere from the playground to Playhouse Disney. I couldn’t ask for better children, but now I’m asking for help to keep them this way.

Don’t borrow trouble, you may be saying to the computer. I’m not borrowing trouble. I’m paying for it in the form of $19 for shipping and handling fees. Yes, I ordered the Total Transformation Program after watching a 30-minute infomercial on parenting strategies to cure teenagers with terrible attitudes.

Oh, please, you may be saying to the computer. I’m out only $19 if this “help” turns out to be a gimmick.  As long as I return surveys after each lesson, I won’t have to pay the remaining balance of $109.  Trust me — I’m answering every question!

But how can I fill out the survey if I don’t have extremely defiant teens to test these theories? Let’s just say that I’m practicing preventive parenting. I want to be prepared in case we start to see signs of disrespect and disregard for house rules.

You can read about the Total Transformation Program here in The Mommyhood.  If the CDs and supplemental handbooks are all they’re marketed to be, I should have enough blog material to carry us from elementary to high school!

 

The Rules

April 2, 2014 by Trina Bartlett
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If nothing else, I am a persistent person.

My husband and my children call me obsessive and tell me that it’s an extremely irritating trait.my rules

I prefer persistent, and being persistent is one of my rules for living.

Someday I hope my family understands. In the meantime, I simply hope they learn to appreciate my rules.

In all honesty, I’ve broken several of them, but the outcome was never good. In fact, those miscalculations only reinforced why the following rules are so important to me:

  1. Always admit when you make a mistake. If people already know what you did, they will respect you for the admission. If they have no idea you made the mistake, they will disregard you or believe you are covering for someone else. Either way, you spend a lot less time and energy owning up than covering up.
  2. Never believe you are smarter than those around you. There are multiple forms of intelligence, and having the facts is simply one form of knowledge. Knowing what to do with the facts is something else entirely.
  3. Make time for yourself every day. That’s not selfish; it’s maintaining your sanity. People who think they have no time for themselves are often the least healthy.
  4. Never make political decisions based on what will serve your personal interests. If you do, you will always be disappointed. Make your decisions based on the Golden Rule. If you consider how we treat each other rather than how you can get what you want, you will always be more satisfied.
  5. Don’t ever use your own life and circumstances as a frame of reference for someone who is struggling. You may have succeeded in difficult times, but your resources and support system can’t be duplicated.
  6. Always remember people in the service industry are individuals with their own stories. Listen to those stories. Not only do you have something to learn, they have something to teach.
  7. If you are counting hours at work, you aren’t in the right place. If you are counting the lives you touched in a positive way, you are.
  8. Remember that you are the only person responsible for your own happiness. External gratification is a simple substitute, but it always fails. Always.
  9. If you are going to talk about others behind their back, be accurate about the facts. We all need to vent. That’s human nature. But if you are more concerned with tarnishing someone’s reputation than with being truthful, your reputation is the one that will suffer most.
  10. Watching television isn’t necessarily a waste of time. Scheduling your life around television is.

These are my rules. They might not apply for everyone, but they work for me. My greatest hope for my children is that they can develop their own list of rules and that they can follow these rules down a road to true happiness.

A purple heart

March 31, 2014 by Katy Brown
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ava window 2In parenting, there are memories and then there are flashbacks.  One is of the sweet, perhaps even bittersweet kind; the other is similar to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

I’ve been having flashbacks lately. I can only blame them on the knowledge that Ava is going to middle school soon, and the ball has started to pick up speed in that direction.  She registered herself, more or less, and I signed the papers on the dotted line.  She submitted a form to join “Beginning Band”, and she indicated that she intends to play the snare drum. She and her classmates watched “the video” that included “the talk” with the school nurse, and I gave her a check to pay for the patrol trip to Columbus, OH. I can barely keep up, and I’m fighting to hang on.

Things are different at home, too.  I haven’t helped her with a homework assignment since the beginning of the year.  She says she doesn’t need anyone’s help, and her grades prove it. She spends more time in her room reading novels and and listening to music, and she’s finally taking an interest in clothes. But this kid — this big girl — this tween — is less demanding of affection, too.  I used to call her my “Velcro baby”, because she was stuck to my leg like dog hair.  Ava was the most loving child I had ever seen.  Now, when I reach out to give her a hug, she braces herself. Sometimes she leans in from the side, and other times she stiffens so it’s impossible to give her a long, motherly squeeze.  We’re about an hour away from a handshake. Yes, she’s putting up boundaries. Hugs have become a courtesy; goodbye kisses have become obligatory.

Many years ago, I couldn’t leave the room without her dissolving into a puddle of tears.  And this is when I experience a flashback that I can’t shake.

It was a wintery day that called for a nap on the couch.  I was pregnant with our second daughter, and I was nauseated from the time I rolled out of bed to the time I crawled back in. Caring for a two-year old with unlimited energy and a 78-year old with uncontrollable dementia was taking its toll on me.  Both of them, including a bored cat, followed me through the house for the bulk of the day.  To some degree, Ava and my dad were of the same mindset.  I didn’t chase toddlers.  They chased me.

So on this wintery day, I was closing in on a meltdown from sheer mental exhaustion.  I needed a reprieve to get my emotions in order, and to let a wave of seasickness subside.  Ava wasn’t having any of it, and my dad didn’t understand most anything.

“I just want a short break to close my eyes, and then I’ll be right back,” I told her, going into a first floor bedroom so I could listen for trouble.

Ava protested.  “No, Mama! Please! Stay with me!”

It doesn’t take Nostradamus to predict that a child who had just eaten a full lunch wasn’t going to play quietly while I put my head on a pillow for a few minutes.  She wanted to romp and tickle and play and bounce on the bed.

I asked her to please wait with her granddad for about fifteen minutes.  Here are some blocks.  Build the tallest house in the world.

Fifteen minutes? Neither one of them could comprehend time.  Play together? That means someone would have to take the lead and organize this activity.

Ava started to cry. ”NO!” she begged.

Those precious fifteen minutes were spent on worthless negotiation. In fact, her pleading to “play with me” became more dramatic. Finally, I carried her outside of the bedroom walls, and attempted to close the door.

She screamed as though she had seen me for the last time.

I stood with my back to the door and sobbed. She pounded and begged me to open it. My dad hovered in the hallway asking over and over again what was wrong.

Ava started coughing and choking. Then…she threw up.

I opened the door and found my sweet girl’s face red and soaked with tears.  She sucked in little puffs of air and sobbed some more.  “Pleeeeease let me in.”

And now, as Ava sits in her bedroom scanning Pinterest photos of her favorite boy band, I stand at the doorway and silently beg, Please let me in.

How times have changed.

Last night, I sat on the edge of her twin mattress that is covered in sheets printed with little pink flowers. Soon, this set will be used to protect a couch so the dog won’t get muddy paw prints on the cushions.  I told her about my flashback, and how much I regret shutting that door in her face.  I was desperate for a break from the constant demand for attention, and I envied her ability to throw up to relieve a sick stomach.  Mine was hormonal.  But hers was pure panic.

Ava put her hand on my wrist and then gripped it.

“I don’t remember,” she said, as if I needed permission to let go of the guilt.

“Yeah, but I do. It bothers me,” I confessed.  “I can remember every second of it.”

I sat on the edge of her bed for a long time that night, talking to both of my girls about things of no real importance. When it was time to turn off the light, I stood up to straighten their blankets.  Ava’s hand was still circled around my wrist.  I hadn’t even noticed. I unwrapped her fingers and kissed her on the  forehead goodnight. I traveled across the hall to my room, slid under the covers, turned onto my left side — a habit from my old pregnancy days — and slept like I hadn’t rested in weeks.

 

 

 

Decision Times

March 26, 2014 by Trina Bartlett
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I was organizing old photograph albums on a shelf in the basement when I found a journal from my teenage years. I picked  up thedr-seuss-memory-quote spiral-bound notebook filled with sprawling cursive writing, but I only read a few lines before  putting it down.

I’d thought I would enjoy reminiscing with the author, but I realized that I didn’t even recognize her. I recalled the events and even many of the emotions she described, but I didn’t remember the girl.

Experience and time have distorted my memories of the teenage girl I once was, and even though I still have a great deal in common with her, we are now very different people. And in reading those few journal entries, I found myself wondering how that teenage girl could possibly have been expected to plan what she wanted to do with the rest of her life when she hadn’t yet grown into herself.

dr seussNow, 30 years later, that former teenage girl is fielding questions about what her son wants to do with the rest of his life, and I’m having a tough time believing that he can possibly know.

Maybe I’m a cynic. After all, I’m just as astonished by people who stay in the same career, much the less the same job, for their entire life as I am by people who are still married to their high school sweetheart.

In my world, that just doesn’t happen.

In my world, teenagers are just tall children who are exploring the world and discovering new interests and passions every day. They are young souls who are still learning that life isn’t about one decision that will lead them down the right path but about a series of decisions that will take them on an adventure.  And the are unique individuals who still need to determine how to use their gifts.

But I realize that’s in my world.

In the real world, teenagers are encouraged to identify their interests, decide on a college major and purse a career path by the time they are 21.

Maybe, if I didn’t have a son who was only a baby last week and is turning 16 next week, I might buy into that world.

But in reality, my son who is still trying to figure out who he is, and I’m pretty sure that the only way he can do that is through experiences – both good and bad. My job as a parent is to encourage him so he pursue opportunities that will allow him the time and the freedom to learn about himself.  And I hope he encounters some life-changing adventures along the way.places-ypu-will-go-quote

I also like to think that the teenager I used to be hopes for the same thing.

According to her journal, she does.