Posts Tagged ‘children’

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.

The Bright Side of Sibling Struggles

Wednesday, September 3, 2014
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If I were a great parent, I would have taken appropriate action when my son told my daughter to shut up. I didn’t take any action, which means I’m not a great parent or a very good referee.

The problem is that my ability to see shades of grey is magnified when it comes to my children.siblings

I didn’t like my son saying “shut up,” but I also knew that “please be quiet,” wouldn’t have gotten him anywhere. And where he wanted to go was away from his sister’s loud and persistent singing.

Don’t get me wrong.

My daughter is a wonderful singer. She was born singing. When she started daycare, the teachers said they always knew where Kendall was because they simply followed her song.

Not much has changed over the past decade, which is exactly why Shep reached his limit and  yelled “shut up.”

His sister, on the other hand, had every reason to be belting songs at the top of her lungs. She  has an audition for a musical  on Saturday and she was trying out every piece of music she thought would be appropriate.

Since I understood both of them,  I couldn’t take sides. What I could do was  sympathize with both of them, and that’s the path I chose to take.

It may not have been the direction for which parenting experts advocate, and it certainly didn’t do much for creating peace in my house. But I like to think it provided my children with a glimpse of the real world.

In the real world, people have different priorities, and sometimes those priorities conflict. We have to figure out a way to live together anyway.

In the real world, we know that music  may touch the soul, but the same tune affects everyone differently. We have to let others dance to their own beat just as we dance to ours.

And in the real world, maintaining general happiness in life requires deciding when to fight for what you want and when to walk away. The best decisions are the ones that take into account the perspective of others.

I may not have given my children the gift of having the world’s most wise or  patient mother, but I did give my kids what I consider one of the world’s greatest gifts.  I gave them a sibling with whom they have many of the same conflicts they will soon have to face with roommates, co-workers, spouses and maybe even their own children.

And I also like to think that someday, in the distant future, they might  actually appreciate that gift.

As Time Goes By

Wednesday, August 27, 2014
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I have friends who swear their  bodies are the clearest indicator of the passage of time.

I disagree.birthday cake

Granted, every time I bend my knees, they crack and creak. Every day when I look in the mirror, I see another wrinkle on my face. And every effort to read small type has become an exercise in futility.

But my aging body isn’t what really makes me feel the passage of time.

That comes with watching my children grow up.

Last Friday, my youngest turned 13. The night before Kendall’s birthday, I walked into the family room as she and her father were looking at her baby book. She was laughing at the funny stories I had documented in the  pages and was looking at photos taken on her fourth birthday. In one picture, she was smiling at the camera while her friend Joey had his arm slung around her shoulder as he gazed at her.

“Oh yes, Joey,” I said looking over Kendall’s shoulder at the book. “He told us he was going to marry you.”

Kendall rolled her eyes and continued to flip through the pages of her baby book while her father and I looked at each other.

That photo had been taken nine years earlier, but Giles and I felt as though we had been joking about Joey’s intentions only yesterday. To Kendall, Joey is a distant, if non-existent, memory. My perspective of time appears to be out of whack.

For example, at church on Sunday I was talking to a woman whose daughter just started high school – at least in my mind she had just started high school.  But when I asked how she was doing, her mother reminded me that she is a senior in college. I couldn’t believe that many years had passed, and I thought about how college is just around the corner for my son, a high school junior.

Even though Giles and I have been making payments on Shepherd’s pre-paid college plan since he was born, I’m having a difficult time realizing that the time to make use of that fund is almost here.

I was holding a newborn in my arms the day we bought the plan. At that time,  my son’s college education was only a vague concept for the distant future when I would be a worn-out  middle-aged woman.

I like to think the years were too short for me to be that old and worn out. They did, after all, go much more quickly than when I was a child and summers went on forever and Christmas seemed as though it would never arrive.

I’ve come to recognize the days will continue to grow shorter and the years will continue to fly by. I’ve also come to recognize that even though there is nothing I can do to slow time down, there is a great deal I can do to ensure I treasure every minute of it.

A Nod in Disagreement

Thursday, August 21, 2014
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“Some people just shouldn’t have children,” the elderly gentleman said as he looked around the table waiting for a response from everyone else in the meeting.

I felt my head automatically nod in agreement.

I’ve witnessed parents who are addicted to drugs and alcohol and fail to care for their children. I’ve observed self-absorbed parents who put their own desires above those of their children. And I’ve spent time with parents who, for whatever reason, can’t meet the basic needs of  food, shelter and safety for their children.

And so, I nodded. At least, I started to nod.

I stopped when the gentleman called out another woman, “You’re a Catholic. You aren’t supposed to be agreeing with me.”

I was caught short not because he was questioning the woman’s faith but because I recognized the hypocrisy of my own reaction.

I was making a blanket judgement about people I don’t even know based on my own experiences and values.

I can’t stand when other people do that.

I said as much when driving back from the  meeting with a co-worker who shared my discomfort.

“I was working in a group home for single mothers,” she said, “when I confronted a pregnant mom who was slapping and yelling at her toddler as a means of discipline. When I questioned her behavior, her reaction stunned me. She told me, ‘my mom used to beat me and I turned out o.k.’  She truly believed she’d turned out o.k. I wanted her to do a reality check based on her current circumstances, but in her mind, she was doing  o.k.”

My co-worker and I didn’t talk for a few minutes as we both thought about the middle-class families with middle-class values in which we’d grown up.

Our parents were involved in our education and expected us to pursue college.

Our families encouraged us to improve our circumstances and set our goals high.

And our communities applauded our efforts to pursue dreams that may or may not have been realistic.

Some people might say we didn’t dream very hard. My co-worker and I chose career paths that don’t involve lots of money, moving in circles with high-powered individuals or traveling to exotic locations. We interact daily with individuals who can’t even imagine such a life. Our work mandates that we accept people where they are and help them decide if they want to take steps to move forward. We can’t make them change any more than other people can force us to change. But we can suggest, guide and educate.

The work is similar to that of a parent trying to help our children navigate an environment in which they interact daily with children whose parents have different values and standards.

But as parents, we do that anyway.

For those of us who had great role models, we can only hope we can pass on the wisdom that was instilled in us.

For those who have never had such great role models, we can only hope that we can provide empathy and  understanding and appropriate guidance. We certainly can’t tell other parents they should never have had children or even agree with someone who makes such a blanket statement.

That’s because every time we nod in agreement with people who judge others, we are widening the distance between people. That doesn’t mean we believe everyone should be a parent. There are obviously people who just don’t have the interest or the capacity. But once they are parents, we certainly can’t turn our backs or point fingers.

We may not all  see the world in the same way, but instead of only nodding along with those who think and act like us, we need to step toward, rather than away from, people who are different than we are. When we do that, the odds are much higher that we can together build a better world for the next generation

 

Beneath the Surface

Wednesday, August 13, 2014
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I have a friend who grew up with an unhealthy fear of thunderstorms.

Her fear was unhealthy not because she hid at the first sign of a storm or trembled at the sound of thunder. It was unhealthy because it was based on a lie.

Her fear was built on a belief that her cousin had been killed when struck by lightning.

Only after years and a well-cultivated phobia of lightning did her parents reveal that her cousin had actually committed suicide.

I was thinking of this Monday night when both of my children wanted to talk about Robin William’s suicide. My daughter asked how he could asphyxiate himself. My son just wanted to express his shock. Since I was also in shock, I had very little to add to the conversation even though I knew I should. I don’t want my children to be afraid of thunderstorms any more than I want them to think suicide is about a person’s final act.

Instead, suicide is about everything other people don’t act upon.

I first realized this when the brother of one my daughter Kendall’s classmate’s killed himself. The boy was in middle school at the time, and my daughter relayed the same story that the media did: the boy had been bullied. That revelation was followed by the typical outcry to address bullying by calling out people whose words and behavior are hurtful.

What I didn’t hear was an outcry to simply to pay attention to each other despite labels or diagnoses or cliques or fame.

Some people might say that Robin Williams, one of the funniest men in the world, and an overweight middle school student had nothing in common, but they are wrong.

They had a great deal in common.

They were both people. They both had feelings. They both struggled to meet the expectations of others. They both wanted to belong to a world that often doesn’t make sense. They both fought internal battles that others couldn’t or didn’t see. Because of this, they both hurt inside. And they both committed suicide.

Like millions of others, I feel the loss of Robin Williams, but I can’t claim I knew him any more than I knew the brother of Kendall’s classmate.

I never had the opportunity to share a smile, listen to, interact with or show my compassion for either of them, and I never will.

But I do have the opportunity to do all those with a neglected child, a homeless adult, a rebellious teenager, a lonely senior, a rude customer or client and an overly-talkative neighbor. Not only do I have the opportunity, I have the obligation. All of them are my fellow human beings who have feelings, struggle to meet the expectations of others and have a simple desire to belong to a world.

And they, like me, generally show only a small piece of themselves to the rest of the world. We keep what lies just below the surface hidden in hopes that we don’t reveal our vulnerabilities to a society that is quick to exploit them.

I can’t imagine Robin Williams ever approved of such a world. Instead, I choose to believe that he wanted all of us to recognize that imperfect people make the world interesting and meaningful. I believe he knew we should all look beyond the superficial to where imperfection and insecurities lie. And he  would want us to dive into whatever depth we are capable of reaching with others so we can work together to save all those who are drowning.

I also believe he would encourage all of us not to fear the thunderstorm and instead to dance in the rain that comes with it.

Don’t Judge Me

Wednesday, July 30, 2014
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I didn’t care that the man in the cowboy hat was well over six feet tall with the hard edge of a prison guard. He had angered me, and I’ve never been good at hiding my feelings.don't judge me

My daughter had darted back into the theater to spend a few more minutes with her friends after I told her we needed to leave.

“If that were my daughter,” he drawled, “I wouldn’t tolerate that. I’d be marching her out of here and grounding her.”

That’s when I gave the man what my husband calls “the look.”

There is nothing that bothers me more than people who immediately judge me, my family or my behavior.

The man in the cowboy hat didn’t know that I’ve given my children “warnings” since they were young.

That may not work for other parents, experts may never recommend the practice and I may never receive any award for mother of the year, but it works for me.

I  tell my kids it’s time to go, they go back and spend time with friends and then I say it again and we go.

The practice started when my son was a toddler. He didn’t respond well to being abruptly pulled out of a situation, and I learned giving a warning worked. It gave him the time he needed to adjust and, as an adult, I could easily adapt.

The practice continued with my daughter not because she necessarily needed the time to adjust but because I had become accustomed to the practice.

As my children grew into adolescence, the practice just stuck.

I shouldn’t have to explain that to anyone, especially the man who was so quick to judge my parenting skills, but for some reason I am compelled.

My children are good students and generally good people. There is no reason for anyone to judge us.

And yet they do.

And we are among the lucky ones.

This past week I’ve witnessed others blaming large groups of people – those who receive “welfare” benefits, those who don’t speak English, those who suffer from addiction – for society’s ills.

Here’s the thing – those groups are comprised of individuals, and every individual has a story. That’s not to say every individual is perfect – none of us are. But we were all handed a different set of skills, a different family and different circumstances.

Instead of judging each other, we should spend more time listening to each other’s stories and supporting each other rather.

I could have explained this to the man in the cowboy hat, but instead I made an instant decision that he wouldn’t listen and wouldn’t care.

In other words, I judged him.

The irony isn’t lost on me.

I could try to rationalize, but I can’t. All I can do is admit that  I’m human, I’m not perfect and I sometimes judge others..

But I’m also constantly working on that impulse, listening to individual stores and teaching my children to do the same.

Maybe the man in the cowboy hat is doing exactly the same thing.

I didn’t ask him, so I’ll never know. But my guess is that he, just like me, is just trying to do his best.