Posts Tagged ‘children’

The Naked Christmas Tree

Wednesday, December 10, 2014
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There is a naked fir tree in my living room right now. Well, it’s not completely naked. A  few lights  are strung around its fragrant limbs, but the lights aren’t on so the tree looks much the same as it did on a hilly farm only days agochristmas tree

My family hasn’t had time to decorate. We barely even found the time together to get the tree. Our days of leisurely trips to the tree farm are long gone. Choosing the tree has become a mission that must be executed with precision to insure we all make our next appointment or activity.

Every time I pass by the living room, the naked tree serves as a reminder of life as it is today: more things to do than we have time to do, the energy and opportunity to do them and an appreciation that the fullness of each and every day.

The unpacked brown cardboard boxes and plastic crates that surround the tree serve as reminders of life as it once was. Most of our holidays decorations and ornaments represent a person, an event, a pet, an interest or a special occasion. Collectively, they  have written the history of my family’s life. Almost every object has a story that we read each December, put in a place of honor then pack away for eleven months only to be taken out the next year and read again.

Our new kitten Artemis, who adopted us a couple of months ago, serves as a reminder that life will be different in the years to come.  In fewer than 24 months, Artemis will be a full-grown cat who may or may not be jumping at the limbs of the Christmas tree and poking her pink nose into the boxes of decorations. My son will be in college and may or may not be participating in the family’s annual pilgrimage to get the tree. And I’ll be older and  shaped by circumstances I can’t even begin to predict today.

There is a naked fir tree in my living room right now, but it won’t remain naked much longer. Soon, it will be decorated, glowing and the center of celebration. After the presents are opened, the cookies eaten and the holiday meals enjoyed, it will stand in my living room for a few more days, but it won’t receive the attention it once did. If history holds true, we will forget to water the tree, and the needles will dry up and start to fall out.

By New’s Year Day, the ornaments will once again be packed up, the tree will be dragged to the curb and the needles will be vacuumed. All that will remain of this year’s Christmas tree will be photos, a few ornaments and the memories attached to both.

Time marches on, and change is a constant. We can’t hold on to the past, and we shouldn’t try. But we can hold on to traditions. They are the architects of memories and the link between the past and the future. They can also be found anywhere we can find family – even in a naked Christmas tree.

A Mother’s Heart

Wednesday, December 3, 2014
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What my brain wants for my children is often very different from what my heart wants.heart

For years, my brain (and therefore my mouth) has insisted that one of my primary responsibilities as a mom is to ensure that my children grow to be independent and self-reliant individuals.

My heart should be grateful that my two teenagers want the same thing. At least, they want the independent part. Their inclination to be self-reliant is a bit questionable based on their expectations that their parents continue to provide them with  shelter, transportation, money and food.

Other than those minor exceptions, they generally don’t express nearly as much need for their parents as they once did, nor do they have much use for our knowledge and advice.

With lingering memories of my own distorted sense of maturity as a teenager, I  usually don’t let my children’s dismissal of my abilities bother me.

I’ve actually become quite accustomed to it, which is why I appreciate when they suddenly recognize they still need me.

Such was the case this week when my procrastinating son realized the deadline to complete a school-related projected was way too close. Not only did he ask for my help and suggestions, he actually listened to me and took my advice.

Despite my insistence that I want him to be independent, I must admit that I rather liked the fact he still needs me, Something tells me, I’ll feel that way no matter how old he is or what he’s doing with his life.

My brain may be spot on with its efforts to ensure my children grow into responsible adults, but I’m pretty sure my heart is also spot on with its efforts to hold them tight.

I’m pretty sure that’s a conflict I took on the day I became a mom. It’s also one conflict that I don’t mind negotiating.

There is, after all, no way I can lose.

Words of Wisdom

Wednesday, November 19, 2014
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Years ago, in what seems another life, I used to work with adolescents. During that time, when I had no significant parenting experience, I considered myself a champion of youth. I thought young people should have seats on boards of directors for nonprofit organizations and that adults  needed to really listen to what they had to say.

I like to believe that still hold those values. I also know that I’m not the champion I once was – and that’s not because the focus of my job is no longer youth.

It’s because I live with two teenagers.motherhood

Since my children are quick to point out how I, a professional woman with a Master’s Degree, am generally clueless about anything of importance, one might assume I am in awe of how much they know in comparison.

I’m not. At the same time, I know I don’t often give them the credit they deserve.

When my son mumbles at me under his breath, I often forget about  his ability to make a whole room laugh with a facial expression or wry comment.

When my daughter snaps at me for asking her a question, I tend to ignore the fact that she’s often lost in a book or absorbed in learning.

And when I get anxious about the mistakes I make as a mom, I definitely don’t give my kids enough credit for setting me straight.

Thankfully, they do it anyway.

Last Sunday night after a very busy weekend, I found myself already ramping up for an even busier work week. In other words, I was starting to stress myself out. And when I stress myself out, I tend to stress  out everyone around me out as well. Or, in the eyes of my  children, I can be incessant and annoying.

So it was for my daughter, for whom I made several suggestions about things she should be doing. Nothing I said was necessary or even important. In reality, I was putting some of my own issues onto her shoulders, and she knew it.

“Mom,” she said. “I’m the one living my life. Let me do that.”

She was right.

There are times when parents have to interfere in their children’s lives, but that wasn’t such an occasion.

She wasn’t making a decision that affected her health or her future success. She had a perspective that I didn’t, which is exactly the reason I used to be such an advocate for young people.

They might not always be right, but adults aren’t always right either. Adults might have more experience, but sometimes that experience keeps us bogged down in all the reasons something won’t work instead of getting excited about testing the possibilities.

Most importantly, the potential of our young people is only limited by the opportunities adults provide them to grow and learn.

And those opportunities often mean that we moms have to let go of our strong desire to steer the direction our children take in life. Instead, we have to trust that even though our kids may not always know where they want to go, the responsibility of finding their path lies on their, not our, shoulders.

My kids have taught me that being a good mom sometimes means I need to stop providing advice and instead need to listen to them. When I do that, I can hear them say  they need a mom who allows them to fall, make mistakes, struggle and discover that sometimes the best path in life is the one that isn’t mapped out years in advance but is one that is blazed by experiences.

My daughter may only be 13, but I have no doubt that’s exactly what she meant when she told me that she, not me, is the one living her life.

Hopefully, I can follow those words of wisdom.

Turning the Tables

Wednesday, November 12, 2014
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My daughter was sharing her latest insights and opinions with me, but apparently I didn’t react appropriately.

“You’re thinking about writing about this conversation into a blog, aren’t  you?” she said accusingly.

Actually, I wasn’t. Instead, my sudden and unusual silence was a result of my worry about our cat, Skitty, who is staging a hunger strike after our recent adoption of a new kitten, Artemis.

“No,” I responded. “While I love listening to your thoughts and opinions, I wasn’t thinking about writing about you or this conversation.”

“You better not just be saying that,” she said.

I wasn’t.

I’d had a tough week and wasn’t in the mood to write about much of anything, particularly about the conversation we were having. But, based on Kendall’s adamant protests, I promised that I wouldn’t write about anything she said or did.

I admit I may be breaking that promise (slightly) right now, but that’s only because I have to give credit where credit is due and Kendall is quite the inspiration to me.

She may not believe me, but I remember how sensitive and easily embarrassed I was when I was 13. I also remember thinking that the only thing more embarrassing than my mom sharing stories about me was having to endure her behavior in public.

Even now, my children sometimes ask me to tell “grandma stories.” They laugh at tales of  grandma trying to ride the school bus home after leaving her car for repairs, her argument with a theater manager after trying to sneak in her own popcorn or her plunge into an irrigation ditch after being “chased” by horses on her way to a board of education meeting.

But I also know that my children will have similar stories about their own embarrassing mother.

While I didn’t fall into an irrigation ditch last week, I did fall into a creek during what was supposed to be a simple walk to the park with my German Shepherd, Rodney.

The problem was, I couldn’t get to the park.

The road from my neighborhood to the park had been closed for construction of a new bridge. A highway sign indicates a detour for moving vehicles, but that detour isn’t safe for pedestrians. My determination (also known as my obsessive-compulsive personality) was not going to let the lack of a bridge prevent me from getting to my destination.

At first, I thought I could easily cross the creek. There were, after all, large rocks spaced in strategic locations across the approximately eight foot span of water. Unfortunately, those rocks weren’t stable, and my ginger steps across them weren’t enough to keep them, and me, from rolling.

As I plunged into the creek ,  I fell on my left wrist - the one that I hadn’t fallen upon, shattered, and had surgically repaired last winter when I was “determined” to walk Rodney during a snowstorm.

After popping my wrist back into location, I did what any embarrassing mom would do.

Realizing I was already soaked, I decided I might as well continue across the creek. When I fell again, and I recognized that my nearly 5o year- old body had to find an easier route to the park.

I didn’t.

After slogging through mud and getting caught in the arms of bushes with thorns, I gave up and walked home covered  in wet, muddy pants with bloody scratches on my face.

To me, my appearance was that of a warrior.

To my children, it was that of a pathetic middle-aged woman who can’t act normal.

I understand their feelings. I remember the horror at the sight of my own mother, dripping wet in her checkered, red and white seventies era pantsuit after falling into the irrigation ditch.

But here’s what my own children don’t  understand about me and what took decades for me to understand about my own mother.

Embarrassing our children is a good thing because we have to teach them that behaving within the normal parameters of societal expectations never changes anything. We can never find an alternative path across a creek if we aren’t willing to take risks and look a little silly. We can’t inspire others if we are never willing to take on our own fears and challenges. And we certainly can’t tell our children to pursue their own happiness if we can’t demonstrate that being true to ourselves is where the path to happiness starts.

I, like my own mother, may be an embarrassment, but I’m fairly confident that a willingness to wear that description with pride is a job requirement for being a mom.

At least, I know it is for me.

 

Spending Time

Wednesday, November 5, 2014
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Like many Americans, I looked forward to an extra hour of sleep last Sunday morning.

That’s not to say I like the practice of changing clocks twice a year.steve jobs

The extra hour of sleep wasn’t actually an extra hour in my life. It was simply a debt that had to be repaid for the hour taken from me this past spring. And I resent that lost hour, especially since I’m never been able to find enough hours in the day,

I think I inherited that trait from my mother.

We both feel better about ourselves when we are being productive. Because of that, we often put too much on our plates.

We just load those plates with very different items.

When I was very young, my family lived in a tiny house on an Indian Reservation near other families with fathers who also worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. My mom, who has always taken great pride in ensuring that no speck of dirt survives more than a week in her house, was burdened with two small children who thought life should be messy and did their best to live up to their beliefs. Mom would spend the day busy cleaning, cooking and doing chores. When my father would arrive home, she would ask him how other women got their chores completed early enough to play cards and socialize while she never seemed to get ahead.

Dad never had the nerve to say that my mom could play cards and socialize if she  really wanted to do so. She was choosing to use her time in a different way.

I can’t imagine spending so  much time doing housework.  Just as my mother didn’t have time to play cards with the neighbors, I don’t have time to clean my house. I tend to spend too many hours at the office and doing volunteer work and writing and walking my dog (which I try to pretend is a chore.) The reality is, like my mother, even though I complain about never having as much time to relax as other people, I’m actually quite happy being busy.

But I still need to ensure I’m not so busy that I’m wasting time.

Time, like any other precious resource, has to be budgeted.

When I was  in graduate school and working full time, I thought I didn’t have any time. I couldn’t let go of my need to ensure every paper I wrote was perfect and that I aced every test. I couldn’t understand how some of my classmates, who were also working full time but also had children, were only concerned about getting by. I never wanted to “just get by.” I wanted to be perfect.

My last year of graduate school, I got pregnant with my son, gave birth in April and graduated in May. When I graduated, I had as much pride in putting the letters MOM behind my name as I had in putting the letters MSW there.

Nine months of pregnancy during the most demanding time of my life taught me that no one can do everything perfectly. The more thinly we spread ourselves, the fewer things were are capable of doing well.

No one has unlimited time, and how we spend it speaks as much or more to our character as how we spend our paychecks.

I was thinking a great deal about how I spend my time this past weekend – not just because of the “extra” hour but because senior night was celebrated during the last home football game at my son’s high school. As parents proudly escorted the senior football players and band members onto the field while the announcer talked about each student, my eyes welled with tears.

Next year, I’ll be escorting my son onto the field, and I’m already wondering how the time went by so quickly. I’m wishing I had more and worrying whether I spent the time I had as his parent wisely.

But for the moment, all I can do is treasure every moment and remember that time, unlike money, can’t be saved. It can, however, be wasted or spent wisely.

I simply hope that years from now I’ll look back at this time and pride myself in making some very good investments.

Something Really Scary

Wednesday, October 22, 2014
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Halloween is quickly approaching, but I don’t need a special occasion to be frightened.jack o lantern

I get a little bit scared every time I publicly share my thoughts, opinions and experiences in writing.

And yet, perhaps like people who watch scary movies and choose to visit haunted houses, there is also a part of me that must enjoy the fear because I keep putting myself out there.

Putting together a string of words can feel magical, but knowing that others might read those words can be frightening. With every sentence, I am giving a small piece of myself away.

When I write, I want my words to be informative, emotional, persuasive and possibly even entertaining. Those same words also reveal the truth about whom  I really am, and that is very, very unnerving.

Take, for example, the topic I actually considered writing about this week – my worst  trait as a mom.

I’m certainly not a helicopter parent nor do I think my children are superior beings about which I constantly brag. But I do have a have a tendency to get completely neurotic when I think either of my children will have to deal with the same issues I did as an adolescent.

My constant struggle as a teen to be true to myself without being a social misfit, which I often was, has taken a toll on my own children. I want them to have a strong sense of self and the confidence to question the status quo, which they both do. At the same time, I worry every time I see their peers going in one direction while they step in the other.

When I say worry, I’m not referring to a brief concern. I’m referring to my need to talk about the issue incessantly until I drive both of my children, and my husband, absolutely crazy. At that point, I just try harder to explain that I don’t want them to fight the same battles I fought.

Despite my efforts, no one takes my babbling seriously, which is what compels me to take to the written word. After all, there must be some other mom somewhere whose emotional turmoil of adolescence is impacting her children decades later. Or maybe not.

Which is why I decided I should write about something completely different – like Halloween. Only, when my fingers started across the keyboard, my brain went in a completely different direction and the words tumbled out anyway.

Scary, isn’t it?

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell

Wednesday, October 8, 2014
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I admit it.

I’m not overly engaged in my children’s education.

To be honest, I’m not very engaged at all.

If you want to say that makes me a horrible parent, feel free. If you want to silently judge me, feel free to do that too.

But here’s the deal: no one but my husband and I are the parents of my children. No one but my husband and I have worried about our children since before they were born, witnessed all of their imperfections and would give our lives for theirs in a heartbeat.

In other words, I’ve reached that point in my life when I’ve realized that being an imperfect parent in the eyes of other adults is much healthier than attempting to be the wrong parent in the eyes of my kids.

And the last thing my children need is my interference in their education. They know my expectations and they know their capabilities, and they’ve done fine in school without me.

Since the time they were in first grade, my children have rarely asked for help with their homework, and I rarely know when they have a test. We’ve had an occasional bump in the road, but compared to stories I’ve heard from other parents, my children are doing just fine in school.

I like to think they are extremely conscientious kids who have a great deal of initiative, but the truth is they learned a long time ago that doing their school work independently was less torturous than dealing with a mom who would obsess over every paper they turned in and every grade they received.

My husband, who never worried much bout grades during his own education and, in most people’s eyes, has been much more successful professionally than I have been, is completely on board with our family’s “don’t ask; don’t tell” policy.

The only time I’m supposed to ask about school performance is when I get an interim or quarterly report card, and the only time my children are expected to tell me about their grades is when the either get straight A’s or are giving me an explanation for anything less.

I used to think my rather laissez faire attitude about their education was great preparation for college, when they really will be completely responsible for ensuring they study and meet deadlines

Then, last month, I had a rude awakening.

My daughter was complaining that she didn’t like her West Virginia studies class. Initially, I thought she was complaining about the subject matter. But the more I listened to her, the more I realized that she simply didn’t like having to actually study to get the grade she wanted.

School has always come easy to her, and the real reason I’ve never really provided much help has little to do with her or her brother’s motivation and more to do with their abilities.

Not to brag, but I have smart kids.

Let me rephrase that.

My kids are a great deal smarter than I am or every was.

They don’t ask for my help with their class work because I can’t really provide any insight or input that exceeds their capabilities or academic capacity.

On the rare occasion when they’ve actually asked for my input, I have more questions than answers, which they find extremely annoying.

And, on the rare occasion when I feel that I have to provide input in order to earn my “good parent” badge, I been completely ineffective.

But what I can do is regularly challenge them to think for themselves, question the status quo and keep an open mind.

As long as they both do that, I’ll remain comfortable with my less than stellar performance as a parent in the eyes of others.

And as long as long as my children don’t tell me they have a problem with that, then I’m certainly not going to ask.

 

Wasted

Wednesday, October 1, 2014
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As a band mom, I experience high school football from a different perspective than most people.wasted

First, I never actually get to see a home game. I only have a sense of what’s happening based on the roar of the crowd. That’s because I’m too busy serving up nachos and Mountain Dew to even get a glimpse of the game.

On the flip side, I get some insight into the secret lives of teenagers.

That’s because, with the exception of my children’s friends, no one pays the least bit of attention to the middle-aged woman taking their food orders and their money.

I’m grateful that I often witness generosity. Many teens are more than willing to hand money to the stranger ahead of them in line who bought more food than he/she could afford. They are also inclined to throw their extra change into the band boosters donation bucket.

While I’m impressed with these gestures, I also wonder if they even value the money they are so willing giving to others.

I’m not just being cynical.

That’s because, as a band mom, I’m generally one of the last people to leave the football stadium. Band boosters are responsible for cleaning the mess people leave behind, and we are often there long after the last of the fans are gone. What they leave behind isn’t pretty. To quote another band parent after the homecoming game last Friday night “people are complete slobs.”

While I agreed with her, I was struck by another thought. “People are so wasteful.”

I’ve been shocked at the dozens of nearly full bottles of blue and red Gatorade ($2.00 each at the concession stand) that were left in the women’s bathroom.  Pizza, hot dogs and nachos are left half eaten in the stands, and the trash cans also overflow with the same.

My parents never told me I had to eat everything on my plate because there were starving children in Africa, but they did expect that I wouldn’t waste food.  If you didn’t plan to eat something, you didn’t put it on your plate and you certainly didn’t buy it.  And if your eyes were bigger than your stomach, you packed up the food and took it home for later.

Maybe I’m getting old and maybe my memory is faulty, but I certainly don’t remember people wasting food like they do now, especially in a time when food insecurity has been in the spotlight.

Volunteer backpack organizations are constantly seeking donations so they can send food home with low-income children. Food pantries often run low on staples and many churches offer meals for those who can’t afford them.

And yet people at high school football games seem to buy food only to throw it away as though it has no value.

A part of me wonders if any hungry children attend those games and look with disbelief at all the waste. Another part of me recognizes that most hungry children probably can’t afford the price for a high school football game, not to mention the transportation to and from it. They certainly aren’t among the teens who hand me $20 and even $50 bills on a Friday night with the knowledge they will go home to a refrigerator full of food.

Many kind-hearted, caring people go out of their way to ensure others don’t go hungry, but we are somehow failing to address the other side of the same coin: waste and greed.

My children have been asked to participate in countless food drives, but I’m not sure they’ve ever been taught the actual value of food.

And while I’m trying to follow in my parents footsteps and  teach that food is a resource just like money and our environment, I fear all I’ve done is to teach my children to enjoy food and that my efforts are, well, wasted.

A Messy Situation

Wednesday, September 24, 2014
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I absolutely despise the phrase “I told you so.”

But then, I can’t imagine anyone actually likes hearing words that generally follow a bad decision, a poor choice or some unfortunate situation.

Sometimes, even when they remain unspoken, I know I deserve to hear them.

And sometimes, I am saying them to myself.

Now that I have two teenagers living under my roof, I find myself saying those words to myself over and over again, just as a friend warned me years ago.

At the time, one of my many job responsibilities was teaching adolescent development and parenting. I thought I was an expert as I spouted facts about concrete versus abstract thinking, risky behavior and setting boundaries.

In reality, all I knew was what I had read and what I had been taught, neither of which can replace genuine experience when it comes to human behavior or raising kids.

A friend tried to point this out to me when my son was just a toddler. I had been quoted in a newspaper article about carefully picking battles with teenagers. I specifically told parents not to waste time and energy fighting over messy bedrooms as teenagers should be allowed to be in control of some parts of their lives, including personal space.

“You are going to look back at that article some day and laugh at yourself,” my friend said.

I told her I wouldn’t.

I was wrong.

When my son turned 13 and his bedroom began to resemble destruction left in wake of a tornado, he came up with his own solution to my constant griping. He asked if he could move into the bedroom in the basement, which we already called the kid cave. His dad and I agreed, and I thought the bedroom battle was resolved.

I was wrong again.

My daughter, who once took pride in keeping her room neat and organized, has apparently been taking notes from her brother. As her room grows messier and more chaotic by the day and the contents of her room are now spilling out into the hallway, my complaints have grown louder and more frequent. They’ve also fallen on deaf ears.

Even as I tell myself I am fortunate to be battling with my daughter over such a minor issue, I am also aware that I’m not following my own naive yet somehow sensible advice: pick your battles so you have the time and energy to deal with the major issues.

Since I haven’t listened,  the battle is starting to wear me down. I have also become convinced that my daughter is simply laying the groundwork to take over the basement as soon as her brother graduates from high school.

I’m telling myself that will never happen, but something tells me I may also be wrong.

Which means I will once again be telling myself “I told you so.”

Career Counseling

Wednesday, September 17, 2014
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I have two teenagers in my house, which means two people question my intelligence on a daily basis.

The years are long gone when my children thought I could bestow gems of great wisdom upon them or provide an answer that would make all things right again.

Their desire for my input has changed so much in the past few years that now I’m almost grateful when they ask me for anything but money.

And when they actually do seek my opinion, I want my words to be meaningful and memorable.

Unfortunately, that isn’t working out for me.

Take, for example, the other evening when my daughter asked me what career she should choose. Her question was preceded with an explanation that a few of her I eighth grade comrades have already decided. One, she told me, wants a job like Penelope’s on the television show Criminal Minds.

I was briefly distracted from the conversation by the thought that such role models as Penelope didn’t exist when I was growing up, and I wished I had known about that career option. But my distraction didn’t last long as I was drawn back into the conversation by Kendall’s insistence that I provide some clear career advice.

The best I could give her was, “Find something you love to do.”

That answer is one of the many reasons my children constantly question my intelligence. It’s the kind of answer that teenagers would consider “lame” if they actually used that word anymore.

And so, my daughter persisted.

“No, really Mom,” she said. “What should I be?”

I couldn’t give her a better answer.

Just that day I had been sitting in my office with my board chair discussing various issues related to my work for a non-profit, social service agency. I had launched into yet another passionate commentary about how to better help the people for whom we provide services while she listened attentively. When I was finally silent she said, “You are one of the lucky ones.”

Apparently, I had a confused look on my face because she added, “You have a job in which your values, your beliefs and your spirituality are all part of what you do every day. Few people are as lucky,”

She then told me about a former youth group leader at her church whose profession was building bombs.

“He lived in a perpetual state of conflict,” she said. “But he had to feed his family.”

I appreciated her comments. I didn’t mention that most of the jobs I’ve had could barely feed my family and that I’m extremely fortunate to have a husband who also works. Instead, I thought about the strange and twisted path that has become my career. I didn’t even know that the work I do was a career option when I was my daughter’s age. But somehow, through a series of both personal decisions and life events, I have landed where I am.

And I couldn’t be happier.

And that’s also why I couldn’t provide my daughter with a better response to what kind of career she should pursue. I don’t know how relevant my, or any other person’, input should be. She has so many choices to make and so make events to still experience.

What I really wanted to say was “Get an education in a field that interests you and  experience life as much as you possibly can. If you do both, your career will fall into place. Even if you don’t always have a job you love, you’ll have the foundation for an amazing life.”

I would have said that to her, but I know she would have  given me  a classic Kendall look that can only be defined as a mix of pity and frustration.

And so, all I could do was repeat what I had already told her  - make a decision based on her own interests and skills.

She still wasn’t satisfied with my answer, but I knew that giving her a list of professions wasn’t really going to help.

I also knew that someday she’ll recognize that maybe, just maybe, her mother was smarter than she once thought.