The birds and the bees in my bonnet

March 24, 2014 by Katy Brown
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Since the first day of Spring has come and gone with the wintery wind, I can use this time of year to say that I have a bee in my bonnet. Correction:  I have had a bee in my bonnet for some time.  I’ll blame snowstorms and snow days, chemical spills and a number of other interruptions for giving me more time to think about things that I ordinarily ignore. There’s an old saying of “having too much time on her hands.” I admit that I’ve had a lighter schedule since the first of the year, because as most working parents will tell you, it’s nearly impossible to maintain a job when schools are delayed or closed at least once a week.

So what’s this bee in my bonnet? Middle school. The very thought gives me hives. I guess I’m planting my hooves in the mud to avoid change, because I’m of the belief that eleven-year-olds don’t need access to full-fledged teenagers. I know, I know:  There’s nothing I can do about it.  Sixth grade was moved to middle school (or junior high) ages ago.  Go on or go homeschool.  Take your pick, Mom.

My complaint with this change is that it strips a year of childhood from our kids (in my limited opinion). As a parent, I feel like my daughter is being robbed of an innocence that’s owed to her. I’m irritated that a group of educators somewhere in the country think that kids should grow up faster.

Yes, I’m whining. I’m not ready to grow up as a mother, either.  But, to lessen the annoyance of that whining, I searched the Internet for reasons why I should look upon this “crossroads of development” with enthusiasm.

According to Public School Review, moving sixth graders out of elementary school was a financial decision for most districts in the nation. Elementary schools were splitting at the seams, while middle schools had plenty of room (clearly, no one studied Kanawha County’s profile). There was also an eagerness among families to get on with it. Boredom and restlessness tend to set in as kids reach sixth grade, and studies reveal that they’re excited to accept new challenges.

Here’s a preview:

1) Girls and boys change physically at this age and stage, with girls making the most obvious transformations in maturity.

2) Girls and boys start to notice each other in romantic ways.

3) Friends become more important than family.

4) Girls and boys are introduced to more adult themes and situations due to the older company they start to keep.

5) That older company also introduces new peer pressures, such as sexual activity, drug and alcohol experimentation.

6) Emotional instability due to those developmental changes produce an entirely new set of problems, which make an adolescent act more like a child from time to time.

I’m not enthused.

What about academics? Does any part of a sixth grader’s step up into the middle school ranks have anything to do with the classroom?

The website, Public School Review, also revealed that sixth graders that remained in elementary school for a final year scored higher on tests than those who were placed in middle school.  Why? Because teachers and counselors dedicated most of the year to managing the above-mentioned adjustments. In elementary school, the year was a continuation of similar subjects and studying. Some states (such as California) are revisiting this decision, with more than a few school boards re-routing sixth graders back to their elementary school bases. However, this poses another problem. Most buildings no longer have enough room, because policymakers filled sixth grade absences with preschool programs.

There has to be a bright side, right? Even though there are more behavioral problems in middle school because of the looser structure (more teachers, more students, more demographics, more socio-economic differences, and more influences), there are key points for sending kids on to the next level.

1) Sixth graders have more opportunities to make their own positive decisions, such as becoming members of groups, athletic organizations, and taking part in extra-curricular activities.

2) Sixth graders can break out of the shell (to some degree) to promote their own abilities and strengths. Rather than being lumped together with 50 kids that are treated alike, stand-outs can make names for themselves academically and establish their own scholastic paths.

Yes, the article stopped at two benefits. I had to search other sites and download white papers to find additional positive facts in this debate, which has been argued for decades.

3) There is a big difference in the way subjects are taught, particularly science and math programs. Students need to learn alternative ways of problem solving, a demand in high school curricula.

4) There are more teachers with greater depth and breadth of expertise in subjects, which expands a student’s intellect and interest in specific areas.

5) Organizational and life skills are stressed at the middle school level. Students tend to be “babied” in elementary school, which hinders their ability to handle situations on their own in higher grade levels.

However, school counselors believe that this critical time in a child’s development is the very reason why extra nurturing is a good idea.

So what do we do, Mom and Dad, if this is the way things are going to be? While there are many viewpoints, the most common piece of advice is to remain involved in your child’s middle school experience even if volunteer opportunities don’t exist like they did in grade school.  You may be called a Helicopter Parent, but you won’t regret sticking close for this particular year. Another tip is to make sure sixth graders are separated from seventh and eighth graders to help control exposure to too much, too soon.  Luckily, our new middle school isolates sixth grade students for the majority of the day to give boys and girls undivided attention from faculty and administrators.

Finally, start talking and don’t stop until you’re blue in the face.  Make sure your child knows that he or she can ask you any question, share any fear, and discuss any situation that doesn’t make sense.  If the door to the school is locked, make sure the one in your home is wide open.

 

 

The Sneaky One

March 19, 2014 by Trina Bartlett
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One of the great advantages of having friends who are a few years older than me is that they usually have children that are older than my children, have more experience than I do and can offer an entirely different perspective on parenting.

One of the disadvantages is that they have every right to scoff at the pronouncements I make.Yellow_Dude__Sneaky_1_preview

Take, for example, my recent comment that I only have to worry that one of my children will take risks behind my back.

One friend warned me that any adolescent can make poor decisions.

Another told a story about cleaning around an object in her teenage son’s room only to learn years later when he was an adult that the object was a ladder he hung out of his two-story window at night to escape.

And one friend told me “You never know really know which child is the sneaky one.”

She was right. The sneaky one really fools us.

And while I will never admit to ever having my own sneaky tendencies, I know that at least one member of my family does.

Her name is Skitty, and she’s fat, furry and feline. She is an indoor cat who pretends to be afraid of going outdoors, but that is simply her sneaky effort to lull our family into a sense of security.

At times, she provides hints into her true nature when she lurks around an open door leading onto the back deck or stares longingly out the front bay window. But normally she pretends to only be interested in eating and sleeping.

We never would have learned about her true nature if she hadn’t repeated the same mistake on multiple times.

The first time she escaped, no one noticed she was gone until my son yelled, “Mom, I can hear Skitty, but I can’t find her. Since Skitty likes to hide, not being able to find her wasn’t unusual. But she normally only meows when she’s hungry and demanding food. Right in front of one of us. In a very obvious and demanding manner.

But after a search of the whole house, we still couldn’t find her. That’s because she wasn’t in the house at all. Instead, she was in the backyard and had apparently gotten quite hungry, hence her meowing.

None of us knew how Skitty had gotten in the backyard, but we weren’t too worried. We figured one of us had left the door open.

We hadn’t.

The next time Skitty escaped then meowed from the backyard, I started getting suspicious.

The third time she got out, I conducted a thorough search of the house and could find no escape route.

My daughter is the one who solved the mystery. She was in her bedroom when Skitty entered, jumped onto the window sill, pushed the screen out and jumped out of the two-story window over an asphalt driveway. She was able to survive because she still had a few of her nine lives left. That, and she jumped at an angle, landed in the bush next to the backyard fence then jumped over the fence into the backyard.

We fixed the window screen, and Skitty was once again confined to the house. But we were all a bit more aware of her whereabouts, the potential risks to her safety that she was sure to ignore and the outside interests she had worked so hard to hide.

In hindsight, I’m glad Skitty created that heightened awareness. It was good practice for me. As the mother of two adolescents, those skills will come in handy.

Fortunately, I have yet to discover any night-time escapes or truly bad behavior. But I am on the look out for it. Unfortunately, after my friends’ warnings and my cat’s escapades, I’m just not very confident I really know which kid, if either,  is “the sneaky one.”

Hashtag Nailed It

March 17, 2014 by Katy Brown
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Every mother wants to be known for something. Perhaps it’s knitting, fly fishing, running marathons…or perhaps it’s being able to peel an apple in one long, perfect spiral like Tom Hanks’ wife in the movie Sleepless in Seattle. We want to be famous for having a spectacular talent — a skill that no other parent can match. I assume my girls think of me as “the writer” when someone asks what I do, but I write so often that they’ve come to ignore it.  I decided to find a new flair so my girls could brag to their friends and teachers with renewed excitement.

“Yeah, my mom makes a mean macaron!”

Macaron? Don’t you mean macaroon? Or, have you dropped off the ’i' in macaroni?

Close your mouth! Let’s start at the beginning.

Macaron

Macaron is a French cookie made with almond and egg whites that are sandwiched around a cream-based filling. They come in a rainbow of colors and flavors, such as buttered caramel and Irish cream.

Macaroon

Macaroon is the American word for a version of a flourless egg-white-based cookie. Most often made with coconut, it can also include nuts or nut paste.

mac vs. mac

Courtesy: Pinterest

In other words, one is much harder to make than the other. And expensive.  Tres chic, not very cheap. 

With a little time on my hands this past week, I decided to try these beautiful macaron recipes pinned on Pinterest boards. I’m drawn to color, so I became obsessed with these puffy little pastel cookies that whistled springtime. However, I thought I should cut my teeth on a slightly easier list of ingredients and procedures, so I settled for a salted chocolate variety that promised minimal tears and maximum approval.

Here’s a summary of that particular day in the kitchen, as recorded in Facebook posts:

8:28 a.m.  Off to Lowe’s I goes for tools.

9:32 a.m.  Step ONE: Purchase a new, baby blue KitchenAid Artistan Stand Mixer, thanks to an AuthorHouse royalty check for “Sellie and Sam”.  I shall name her Julia.

mixer

10:28 a.m.  Step TWO: Stop at Kroger to purchase ingredients for “Double Chocolate Salted Macarons”.  Search for almond flour and Celebri-Kitty, but cannot find either one.

kitty kroger

10:34 a.m.  Step THREE: Play Pharrell’s “Happy” song to remind myself that THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUN. Then, search the internet for advice on substituting almond flour.

11:10 a.m.  Step FOUR: Return to Kroger after I learn that almond flour is stocked in the organic aisle. FIND ONE BAG left on the shelf (lots of macaron making today!), notice the price, and drive home to write another book to pay for it.

flour

11:16 a.m. This is major stress. I should have learned to ride a bike first. But no — I have to drive a stick-shift Ferrari.

11:27 a.m. …and if you’re wondering why I’m online, it’s because I’m waiting on three eggs to come up to room temperature. (Comment from a friend: Just run them under warm water.)

ingredients

11:36 a.m.  Step FIVE: Follow all instructions and worry about the humidity of the house, which is a cozy 67 degrees unless you’re standing beside the window, and then it’s about 50.

11:50 a.m.  ZUT ALORS! (Translation: THIS IS HARD!)

12:01 p.m.  Piping bag? WHAT? How about a gallon-sized Baggie? I have my limits!

12: 33 p.m.  “Pipe into circles. 25 total.” Oh. So we’ll have 6.

meringues

12:53 p.m.   “Bake at 350 for 14 minutes, or until little cookie feet appear.” Mine have toes.

1:34 p.m.  Step SIX: Wait for macarons and chocolate filling to cool, match tops of the same size (Yeah, right…); add a sprinkle of coarse sea salt, and let set.

Drumroll, please….

finished mac

#nailedit

1:57 p.m. Sing loud and proud!  BECAUSE I’M HAPPY!!!!

Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do!

pharrell and paul

Pharrell (and Paul)

That evening, I presented Mike with one delicate, airy, slightly crisp, slightly chewy, chocolatey, velvety, rich, French macaron.  “Mmm,” he mumbled, biting into the little sandwich iced with salted ganache.

“That’s a $400 cookie in your mouth.”

Mike choked and sprayed the counter with crumbs.

Two days later (when he was speaking to me again), I decided to try another batch of my famous macarons.  This time, I paid more attention to sifting and mixing, and I cut a smaller hole in the corner of the gallon-size Baggie to pipe petite rounds of “lava-like batter” onto sheets of parchment.  Following the directions like Martha Stewart and forgiving mistakes like Julia Child, I turned out 26 salted chocolate cookies instead of six.

But I don’t have any to show you. The girls ate them all.

Want to try it? Here’s the link!

http://foodnessgracious.com/2013/04/double-chocolate-salted-macarons/

Five Truths

March 12, 2014 by Trina Bartlett
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When my husband really wants to make my hackles rise, he tells me that I’m just like my mother.

He  knows I’m actually very different from my mom in many ways.  He also knows that the best way to get under my skin is to remind number fiveme that my mother and I aren’t as different as I like to think. We actually share some key traits.

The most obvious of these  is that we aren’t driven by a passion for materials possessions. Instead, we are motivated by trying to improve our imperfections. We are also attracted to other people who are trying to do the same.

That is why I appreciated spending eight hours in the car with a colleague last week on the way to and from meetings in another part of the state. During out time together, the two of us identified five truths about life:

1. Forgiving people who admit their mistakes is easier than forgiving those who don’t. Forgive them anyway. If we don’t, we are the ones who suffer.

2. If we only do the right thing in hopes for a reward – whether now, in the future or in the hereafter,  we aren’t embracing the true spirit of “doing the right thing.” Goodness comes from the heart  with the intention of improving the lives of others and the world – not improving our own lives.

3. We have absolutely no right to judge the decisions other people make based on our own circumstances. There is an immense difference between identifying ways to help and belittling or deriding others. People who grow up in any type of poverty, whether financial, emotional or supportive, haven’t benefited from the resources or support networks that many of us were fortunate to have. Criticizing them doesn’t add to their emotional reserves or their decision-making abilities. Helping them identify new possibilities does.

4. We can’t define ourselves by our jobs or our role in the community. Whether we are a business owner, teacher,  banker or  stay–at-home mom, who we are does not change based on our most successful venture or prestigious recognition. We can only be defined by our actions, how we treat others and how we  behave in the face of adversity and hate.

5. No one had perfect parents and no one is a perfect parent. We all struggle and we all approach the role differently. But if we had a mother who loved, cared for and challenged us, we were given a great gift. Like any gift, we should be appreciative and use it to as a model for providing gifts for others. We should also appreciate, rather than deny, when someone says “you are just like your mother.”

Homemade take-out

March 10, 2014 by Katy Brown
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Right.

Gag me with a spoon.

As far as our family is concerned, the water crisis is over. We’ve been washing clothes and brushing teeth with tap water for weeks, but I do hesitate to drink a tall glass of our city’s H2O. If this isn’t considered “normal,” then I’ll edit my comment to say that it’s our “new normal.”

Another “new normal” is making lunches for our two children every day. At the beginning of the school year, I made a big fuss about our oldest daughter, who refused to eat cafeteria food.  I accused her of being a food snob, and then I fussed at her for being so finicky about frozen chicken nuggets.  She one-upped me by declaring herself vegetarian.

There’s a salad bar at school!

But since the water crisis (which we consider to be over), I’ve changed my school policy.  If they want a homemade lunch, then fine by me.  However, there are slight changes to the law:  1) The girls have to accompany me to the grocery store to choose their lunch items; and 2) They have to assemble those meals by themselves.

I spent a small fortune on plastic baggies at The Dollar Tree. Pinterest to the rescue! Crafty moms offered a simple, stylish solution:  A Bento box! Ever heard of it? I first experienced lunch in a Bento box at a spa in Scottsdale, AZ (many years before kids). My healthy fare was delivered in a little bamboo crate divided into 1/2 and 1 cup servings of bean dip, vegetables, some type of grain salad, fruit sushi, and dark chocolate squares.  I washed the delights down with an overpriced bottle of Perrier and felt like a million dollars — much like my restaurant tab.

Bento box-style lunches are very popular, especially if parents have picky eaters or those who like to play with their food.  I yell at my children for both behaviors, but I can see how much better they eat if the options are pleasing to the eye.  Now friends, let’s keep it real:  This mother will NOT cut shapes into sandwiches.  Why? Because I tried that when our first born went to kindergarten.  1) No slice of bread is ever big enough to cut into the shape of a heart; 2) I refuse to get up at 5:00 a.m. to make goofy sandwich faces with raisins and strips of red pepper. If you’re this type of parent, I’ll compliment you on being Mother of the Year, and then I’ll talk about you behind your back. Pinky promise.

However, I will say that if you have snackers instead of meal eaters, these stackable, washable, lockable lunch boxes are the way to go.  Pinterest also helped ease the stress of shopping by publishing grocery lists that break out grains, vegetables, fruits, and healthy desserts.  Can’t I do this by myself? Yes. Well, I used to, until our neighborhood grocery store decided to move everything around and make me spend two hours looking for hummus.

Bento boxes are available online through the Laptop Lunches website, or in somewhat generic form at Target and Walmart in the aisles stocked with leftover containers.  Brown bags and plastic baggies are quicker and easier, but they do start to pile up in the pantry and then in the trash can.  Bento-ware is also a fun way to control portions, Mom, in case you’d like to treat yourself to a spa day at home. It has to be cheaper.

Namaste!

 

 

The “B” Word

March 6, 2014 by Katy Brown
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I look at you sitting there politely — hands clasped, feet crossed at the ankle — and I wonder when and where it all went wrong.  With your Kate Middleton-inspired hair and makeup, monogrammed sweater, pearls, Ralph Lauren oxford, starched khakis, penny loafers, and blush-polished nails, I see your image on every Pinterest board dedicated to pretty, preppy girls. You are the poster child for a sought-after adolescence: academic achievements in a private school, elite social position, athletic involvement, Ivy League hopeful.

But this footage is also proof that you’re a kid who has come to expect it.  Since you aren’t getting your way, you’ve turned into an adult who has come to demand it.

I’m responding to news reports, of course, because I don’t know what’s gone on behind closed doors.  Yet I seriously doubt that you grew up in a house of horrors.  If your mother called you fat, and if your father invited you to drink beer with him, then that’s their misery. However, your account of psychological abuse is challenged by a rant directed toward your mother, which was laced with the filthiest words in the English vocabulary.

Have you been rebellious and disrespectful all along?

You’re the daughter of a former police chief. If a father of his professional background can’t control your tantrums, then who can? You see, that’s what bothers me.  All of the pieces that promise a better shot in this world were in place. You appear to have (or have had) it all.  Then, when you reportedly stepped out of line by drinking, cutting school, and dating boys who weren’t ideal, stricter rules and harsher consequences were enforced by Mom and Dad (obviously too little, too late). Now, you’re suing them.

I’m sitting here trying to figure out a way to make sure my daughters don’t turn out like you.  Why? Because you, my darling, are a brat.

While I don’t know you personally, I do know of you publicly.  You are not special.  You are common. There are many teenagers in this world who could be your identical twin. They just haven’t dragged their parents into court and made a media spectacle out of private family matters to get even more attention.

Yes, thanks to your drama, I’m in a tight spot. I now see the dangers of giving my children too much, too soon, and too often. I pray I haven’t already established a similar pattern of expectation and delivery. I suddenly question everything I’ve ever done for them, and what their father and I intend to do in the near future. I keep repeating to myself: Everything in moderation…including parenting.  But what does that mean, exactly?

Growing up as an only child, I was comfortable. When I turned 16, my mother bought a car for me to travel back and forth to a remote high school.  My dad put gas in it (I could drive all week on $5).  They bought the majority of my clothes and paid for a lot of my fun.  Most of this support was in exchange for never giving them any trouble. But when it came to my college education, my mother was frank: “I’ll do the best I can, but you’re going to have to help.” She sold a farm in Greenbrier County, and it guaranteed 40% of my undergraduate tuition to a local university. I was awarded a partial scholarship, and I worked on campus to pay the balance due.  When it came to graduate school, though, I was on my own. I got a loan.  I earned a master’s degree. I found a better job.  I paid off the loan.

My husband is a true do-it-yourselfer.  He wanted to attend college, but the money wasn’t there.  As an honor student, he could have earned scholarships, I suppose. Instead, he joined the Army, served his time, accepted GI Bill funding, graduated from engineering school, launched a career, and made a life for himself.  By himself.

Now, he’s saving every nickel to help send our children to college.  Unless our daughters land full scholarships or piece together enough financial aid to pay the way, they’ll owe something when it’s over.  And this fact keeps us up at night. Before hearing about your little situation, I felt terribly guilty that we wouldn’t be able to give our children free rides. Now, I’m beginning to think that it would be a mistake to underwrite the entire thing. In reality, we can only save and do so much. There are limits, and you don’t seem to comprehend them.  To be so bright, you don’t understand the meaning of the word “no”.

If you were my daughter, I would be thoroughly disgusted with myself. Mothers, in particular, have such high hopes for their children.  We want to make life easier for them. We want to give our kids material possessions and exciting experiences that we never had. We want them to be happier. Today, I see what all of those wants can do to a child, even if they are well intended.

What I need is the courage to be a bitch now – not later.  I need to remember that I am a mother, not a friend.  I am a parent, not a bank.  This hurts. It’s an entirely different type of labor pain.  But I refuse to be afraid that my daughters won’t like me someday.  I have to stress the importance of personal responsibility and accountability. What they can rely on and expect in this lifetime is unconditional love from us. But the rest is up to them.

As for you? Your family and everyone else’s family will wait for a judge to decide if children are entitled to prepaid college funds. Recent testimony revealed that after a series of infractions, your parents allegedly cut your access to a life of privilege that you took for granted.  Indeed, you should go away to school.  But biomedicine is the very last thing you need to learn.

 

 

 

Chasing the High

March 5, 2014 by Trina Bartlett
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The guy behind the wheel of the truck wasn’t just irritating me. He was scaring me.

I was driving to my office on a snowy morning, and the road was icy and slick. The speed limit through the residential part of town was 25 miles per hour, and I was sticking to it. Since the announcer on the radio was warning people to stay off the roads completely, I didn’t feel overly cautious. I felt sensible.

But the guy driving the over-sized silver truck was pushing his luck and was therefore also pushing mine. He was following me so closely that I couldn’t even see the headlights of his vehicle. Traffic everywhere was moving slower than normal and backing off a few feet wouldn’t have gotten the driver to his destination any quicker, so there was no justification for his behavior.

I could only guess that he had something to prove. Maybe he wanted to show me that he wasn’t afraid or that his truck could maneuver over the icy roads just fine. Or maybe he was seeking excitement rather than accepting his circumstances.

I’ll never know if he arrived at his destination safely or if he was one of thousands of people in the Mid-Atlantic region involved in traffic accidents that day. I’ll also never know if  he’ll push his luck again the next time he’s driving in snow. My guess is he probably will because his behavior reminded me of drug addicts who are always chasing the high.

Drug addicts generally don’t start using large amount of drugs, but as their bodies begin to tolerate their substance of choice, they need more and more to achieve the same high. And they aren’t alone.

I know a significant number of people who do the same thing. Only, like the obnoxious driver, the high they seek isn’t dependent on drugs. It is dependent on their need to feel powerful or to have material possessions or to achieve a certain social status. And, like the drug addict, no matter how much they do or achieve, they are never satisfied and just want more.

If this was simply a personal issue or decision, I wouldn’t care. But, like drug addicts, some people’s selfish needs and behaviors have far-reaching implications.

I’m referring to the mothers who complain that they need yet another exotic vacation or the fathers who use their children’s athletic accomplishments to sate their own needs for accolades.

Every time that happens, our children are being taught to chase the high instead of being satisfied with having parents who love them or enough food on their table or heat on a cold day.

I’m not surprised that some people turn to drugs to feel better. We are all surrounded by people who turn to artificial measures of happiness that can never truly be satisfied.

But life isn’t about always being happy, always being entertained, always feeling important or always getting something new and shiny.

Life is about finding joy in the mundane, learning to accept failures, celebrating our relationships and laughing at our mistakes,

I can only hope that more adults, and their children, are starting to understand that.

If not, we will continue to encourage the next generation to keep chasing the high.

Off-Beat

March 3, 2014 by Katy Brown
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I should've seen it coming.

I should’ve seen it coming.

I knew she’d ask me “that question” sooner or later.  I’d prepared for the moment, but when it happened, I stumbled. I stuttered. I stammered.  I’d practiced my response for months; rehearsed it in my journal.  I wrote down all the clichés that would make understanding appropriate for her age level.  I read multiple articles about this topic, and I bought a few books to help me understand how times have changed.

My 10-year-old daughter is going off to middle school next year. I’ve been told that I must address these delicate issues before she sets foot in this new place. But, I waited until she asked the question that I’ve been dreading.

“Mom, what if I don’t fit in?”

Gotcha! You thought it was the big birds-n-bees talk, didn’t you? But this conversation is equally burdensome for a parent.  What if your child doesn’t fit in?  Did you?

I didn’t at first. Seventh grade was an awkward time (that phrase is spot on) in which I wore a denim jacket with every outfit.  I grew out of Palmetto jeans (not Guess) every other month, and my hair was as shocking as the gap between my front teeth. A bad perm was tinted a terrible shade of orange thanks to a bottle of Sun-In highlight spray, and it wasn’t complemented by bronzing makeup that stopped sharply at the jawline. I looked weird.  I was weird.  I carried my mother’s old Aigner purse, for heaven’s sake.  Think I’m over it?

My daughter popped the question on my bed one night, when she should’ve been fast asleep.  She lingered a little longer that evening, bouncing a foot like she was kicking an invisible soccer ball.  “What is it?” I asked, closing my book.

She crossed her legs into some type of yoga pose.  This was going to take awhile.

“What if I don’t fit in next year?”

Mike walked downstairs to check the door locks for the third time.

“What makes you think you won’t?” I countered.

She shrugged her shoulders.  “I had a bad dream a few nights ago that I was walking down the hallway, and I didn’t know where I was going.  A group of girls started laughing at me, and then one chased me through all these classrooms.”

I shuddered.  Dear God, that would scare anyone.

“And I couldn’t get away from her.”

My overly-analytical parenting style forced me into thinking that she was dreaming these horrible things to try to deal with deeply-rooted worries.  It was her mind’s way of bringing a problem to the surface (I guess). This also explains why she’s been in my bed for the last few mornings, watching the alarm clock.

“Are you treated that way now?” I asked.

She shook her head no.  I then asked how much TV she’d been watching, or if her books were too old for her.  She shook her head no again. “I’m reading about Jackie Kennedy,” she said. Well that Ethel could be a real bully, I joked.  She didn’t laugh.

“You’ll fit in because you and 50 other kids from your school are headed in the same direction,” I began.  “They’re not breaking off from the mix just yet.  But most of them are involved in something — dance, soccer, softball, gymnastics — which will make the first days of school a little easier,” I admitted.

Choosing to be uninvolved has ramifications. Inaction has consequences, too.  “These kids have been going to practices for years,” I warned her.  “So it’s a little late to start something truly competitive,” I said.

After reassuring her that she would have the best years of her life because of a friendly personality, a kind heart and a generous spirit, I shared my worries with a friend as soon as she got out of bed the next morning.

“She is an introvert,” I told her. “She holds back, and we might’ve encouraged it to keep her safe.”

“Then you know what, Katy?” my friend began, in a slightly edgy tone (which scared me).  “That’s when she picks up an instrument and she joins the band.”

I sat there for a moment.  I was in the band. I played the flute (because my cousin did), and then I switched to the saxophone (because my friend did), and then I tried out for the majorette corps (because my cousin and friend did).

“Since kids aren’t introduced to marching band until sixth grade, it doesn’t matter that she’s never had a lesson.”

I perked up.  THE BAND!

Why didn’t this occur to us?  She’s already a student of the Magnet School of Music at West Side Elementary.  Why wouldn’t she continue this interest? THE BAND!

That night (on my bed), I asked our girl what she thought about learning to play an instrument. Flute? Clarinet? Sax?

She curled her lip.

“Well, you have to do something,” I snapped. ”That’s my new rule.  I don’t care if you run cross country or join the debate team, but if you’re worried about fitting in, then you need to find a group that will be a positive influence.”

“Oh no, it’s not that,” she exclaimed, fanning her arms in my face.  “I think I know what I want to do.”

I waited.  She smiled.  Then she laughed.  She tipped over on the bed and giggled some more.

“I want to play the drums.”

After a match of “No, you don’t” and “Yes, I do”, I withdrew from competition.  “You’re serious?” I asked.

“Yes. I want to play the drums and then the xylophone.”

“We’ll support you, but you’ll stick with it,” I replied, shocked that a book about Jackie Kennedy would be replaced by a biography of Ringo Starr.  A similar worry set in. Classmate reaction could go either way. Kids are so critical, especially of those who do something unusual. Fitting in and blending in aren’t exactly the same types of acceptance.

“I’m pretty sure that a tall girl with long, blonde hair and blue eyes pounding on a snare drum will most definitely stand out,” I said.

She never lost her smile. “And you and Dad can sit in the stands and watch!”

With bells on.

Whoops

February 26, 2014 by Trina Bartlett
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The woman at the church picnic was looking at me as though I was raising the devil himself.

I wavered between the temptation to tell her off and the desire to disappear.

I didn’t do either.

Instead, I pretended to be oblivious to her indignation and the judgmental comments she was making to anyone who would listen. whoopsThere was simply no reason to defend my son, who was in elementary school at the time and had said absolutely nothing wrong.

But I seriously doubted  the woman would believe any explanations from me.  She was convinced my son had uttered a very offensive cuss word, and she was relishing her indignation the way others at the picnic were enjoying their fried chicken.

So I ignored her comments and finished our game of miniature golf as though nothing had happened.

But something had happened, and because I hadn’t addressed the issue, for months I felt guilty and angry.

That’s why the next time my son was accused of using foul language, I rushed to defend him. He was a year older, and this time I wasn’t present during the incident in question. Despite that, I insisted I knew my son and that he wouldn’t talk like that.

Actually, he would.

As the story unfolded, he readily admitted he used a cuss word, and I was once again felt guilty and angry.

Years later, my son told me had no idea what the word meant and had simply attempted to use it in the context he had heard others utter it. When he told me that, I laughed just as I laughed at how much time and energy I had wasted on the incident at the church picnic.

In the grand scheme of our lives, neither incident really reflected who my son is or my abilities as a parent. But they were important because they taught me two important lessons: 1) the opinions of other parents have absolutely no place in my family and 2)  I need to prioritize my concerns and my reactions to my children’s behaviors. As long as no one’s life is at risk and no one is being hurt emotionally or physically, I have no need to lose any sleep.

My son is in high school now, and the choices both he and I make are far more likely to have an impact on the rest of his life than when he was in elementary school. Prioritizing my reactions to his missteps is more important than ever.

Which is why, you might, on occasion, hear him cuss.

But if he does, you’ll probably also hear him catch himself and apologize then simply move on with the conversation.

Because he’s learning that moving on from his mistakes is far more important than never making them at all.

His mom is learning that too.

Just a moment

February 24, 2014 by Katy Brown
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It was one of those mornings.

My girls were waiting out another 2-hour school delay despite roads that were clearer than they had been all week.  The dogs were barking to hear themselves woof, and the cats were fighting through the laundry room door.  I was preoccupied with innocent giraffes, the quality of water, the threat of more snow, and the loads of laundry heaped into mountains. Our youngest daughter then reported symptoms of some type of disease (“My head hurts when I cough and that makes my ear ache and then my throat cracks.”). My other daughter panicked that she might’ve finished the wrong Math workbook page. A stack of overdue library books collected dust on the stairs.

I stood at the front door, waiting for the car to defrost. It’s against the law to leave a car idling without a driver in the front seat, but I didn’t care. Arrest me, please. It’ll be a vacation. I caught a harrowing glimpse of myself in the hall mirror.  My skin was a dull yellow color. Not quite yellow jaundice, but close.  I looked tired, even though I had slept like a log the night before.  My hair, newly colored, looked like I had slept like a log the night before.

After driving my daughters to school and wishing them well in their half-day ahead, I came home and treated myself to more misery:  potato chips and French onion dip for breakfast. Leftover birthday cake for lunch.  A Diet Sun Drop soda for a mid-afternoon snack.  A handful of Skittles to make my stomach forget about dark chocolate frosting. I watched an hour of Olympic coverage that featured every country but the USA, and then I read depressing articles about unwanted animals taken to a local shelter. I fed my dogs pepperoni rolls to bribe them indoors.  I’d pay for that later.

Later.  That means I’d set myself up to stay miserable when the dogs get stomach cramps and threaten to ruin our wood floors.

WHY, WHY, do we do this to ourselves? When life is messy — not really bad…just frustrating — why, oh why, do we insist on punishing ourselves even more? Why do we belly-flop into a pool of bad choices just because we’re in a foul mood?

It’s called self-sabotage.  Women are particularly good at it. I’m in contention to win the gold medal.

Experts say there are several signs that mothers, in particular, are in self-destruction mode. The number one behavior is….

1) Wild eating: Instead of uncovering a problem and dealing with it, women cover it up with potato chips, dip, chocolate cake and a diet soda. Emotions are stuffed away — literally — with food.  In my situation, I was angry about something I had read on Facebook.  Instead of posting my outraged thoughts, I quieted them through the gnashing of teeth as I crushed chips into dust.  The healthier behavior would’ve been to write down my rant in private, and then rip it to shreds. But no, I ate a half-pound of Lays.

2) Pausing:  Two-hour school delays rewire my brain into thinking the day is shot. I can’t do x, y, or z because the girls will be home until 10:15.  I’ll have to pick them up at 2:45, so what’s the point in starting anything? In the MONTH the girls weren’t in school due to snow, wintery temperatures, chemicals in the water, and a holiday that I’ve already forgotten, I became a bit of a vegetable (since I wasn’t eating one). Experts preach that procrastination is the gap between good intentions and actual activity. But doing things now means mental clarity later. Get on it!

3) Hiding: I’m certainly not going to impress anyone with yellow skin and flat hair. Since laundry procrastination had prevented the donning of clean khakis and a pretty top, I opted to stay home and eat junk food in the warmth of a ratty sweatshirt and yoga pants. Not that I had any intention of doing yoga.  But when we dumb ourselves down, or refuse to fix ourselves up, we get into a mindset that potato chips and cake don’t really matter. We’re already a mess.  Instead, we should put some energy into our appearance so that we trick ourselves into feeling confident.

4) Fascination:  After my letter to Mark Zuckerberg about the “Look Back” video that made fall in love with Facebook all over again, I realized that my addiction to everyone else’s news often ruins my day. More than often, it clouds my judgment. I’ve always been hooked on news, but someone’s political rant isn’t news. It’s just someone else’s problem that I’ve allowed myself to become a part of just by reading it. Like alcohol and drugs, like hoarding and compulsive shopping, an addiction to social media makes otherwise strong people (women) doubt themselves. Someone’s perfect-looking kitchen makes us hate our whole house. Another person’s gourmet meal makes our children appear neglected.  Someone’s dream vacation makes our day trip to the Huntington Mall feel like punishment.  Health experts remind us that stepping into other people’s lives can ruin our own. Unplug.

So what’s the answer? Why are women – mothers - their own worst enemies? Those same experts say it’s because we’ve lost sight of the big picture. For years, we’ve been instructed to live in the moment. But now, it seems like an immediate reaction could lead to a lifetime of regret.