Posts Tagged ‘life’

The Blame Game

Wednesday, October 15, 2014
No Gravatar

I’ve been told by numerous people on numerous occasions that I apologize too much.

My first response to their words is usually “I’m sorry,” which is just proof of what I’ve always known: my mouth often engages before my brain does.

But, to be honest, I’ve never understood their concern.  Many times, I’m simply conveying sympathy – as in “I’m sorry you are having to deal john burroughs quotewith this situation.”

At other times, I’m admitting my imperfections and mistakes.

That’s how I was raised.

Don’t get me wrong, my parents never engaged in guilt parenting. They did, however, set expectations that my brother and I understood consequences and accepted responsibility for our words and actions.

I’ve held on to a memory of my mother complaining about an individual for whom she held very little respect.  “There’s nothing wrong with making mistakes,” Mom said. “Everyone makes mistakes.  But you are likely to create more problems when you don’t  take responsibility for your mistakes.”

Of everything my mom has said, those words have probably had the greatest impact.

I’ve lived by them, and I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t admit that I have a difficult time understanding people who never take responsibility for their mistakes.

Sometimes, though, I do feel as though I should apologize for those feelings., especially because I’m a social worker who shouldn’t judge others.

I work for an absolutely wonderful organization with a mission to reduce poverty and advocate for people who are struggling. The stories my co-workers and I hear on a daily basis are often heart-breaking. Life is unfair, and we serve people who generally draw the short straw.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard an elderly woman apologize for even walking through our doors or listened to individuals who have nowhere to go because they have aged out of the social service system after being abandoned by parents who were abusive or addicts or simply had no interest in their children.  We see people with no support system and few resources who are doing their best to live  one day to the next and to contribute what they can.

Just last week, I was handed an envelope with a dollar bill, a few nickels and a handful of pennies. It was given to us by a gentleman who had received hygiene and cleaning supplies from our  personal care closet. He couldn’t give much, but he gave something.

Unfortunately, we also see people who take no responsibility for their situation and instead want to blame others.

Sometimes they blame their employer for firing them, Sometimes they blame a diagnosis of anger management issues for losing their temper at work and therefore losing their job. And sometimes, they blame staff at my organization for disrespecting them when we  ask about changes they might make to improve their circumstances.

My co-workers and I get frustrated with such individuals – not because they are angry with us but because, for some reason, they think admitting to mistakes is a weakness rather than a strength.

We try to change their perspective, but we often fail.  Despite that, we won’t give up on anyone who walks through our doors. Our personal support systems never gave up on us, never allowed us to sell ourselves short and, most importantly, taught us the importance of both accepting responsibility and learning from our mistakes.

I want to provide those same gifts to others, especially my own children, who I  hope will someday appreciate them.

In the meantime, I will never apologize for my belief that we can only move forward when we accept all of the missteps we’ve made and decide to take steps in a different direction instead.

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell

Wednesday, October 8, 2014
No Gravatar

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.

 

A Bad Day

Friday, October 3, 2014
No Gravatar

There are hard days and there are bad days. Some days are both. The first weeks of AJ’s life held many hard days, but not bad days. But this week, I had a bad day.

Now, if you are like pre-baby me, you might be thinking, “How could she have a bad day when she just spent it hanging out with her baby?”

Moms, I give you permission to stop right now and laugh at (or virtually smack) pre-baby me. Oh how little I knew…

The day started out normal. There were chores to be done, bills to be paid and a few calls to make, but nothing out of the ordinary. It quickly turned into one of those days where nothing goes as planned and everything seems to culminate into a mess at the same time.

The bad day started when I set out for our mid-morning run. I ended up dealing with several issues on the phone and the run never happened, but I did almost shed tears at the park. When we got home, I was frustrated and upset, and AJ quickly became the same. A crying baby meant no shower and a half-par lunch for me.

AJ continued to cry. Screaming cries. It could have been her reflux, or maybe she was just tired of looking at my face. Nothing I tried could soothe her. Even after eating she would go back to crying.

Several household items and appliances have managed to break in the last few days, and of course something broke on this bad day, which required more calls to check on warranties or at least adding making the calls to the mounting to-do list.

I was on the phone and online trying to get through red tape for various issues all afternoon, all the while trying to keep a pacifier in AJ’s mouth. Not giving my full attention to her wasn’t helping the situation either.

I then had to run a few errands that couldn’t wait (and errands are never quick with a child) and when I finally finished the day’s tasks I was exhausted. But AJ was not. She was still crying on and off. Chris had an after-hours work event and wasn’t home. The house was a mess. I was not able to eat anything for dinner because I was back to soothing the baby. When Chris finally came home, I was a mess.

It was official; I had had a bad day.

We all have bad days, whether we are two or twenty-two, a stay-at-home mom or a working mom, a mom, dad, grandma, grandpa or none of the above. They come unexpectedly, usually right when we think everything is going well. Some bad days are for silly, superficial reasons; some are not. Some are because of our kids, some because of work, some because of quarrels with family or friends, and some are because of sickness, loss or heartbreak.

That evening, as I finally got into bed, I thought about the day’s events. Sure, things did not go as planned. I wasn’t able to shower or eat dinner, I was frustrated with a lot of things, including myself, and had not been able to soothe our baby. I felt like a bad mom.

I then did a small reality check – I had many things for which to be thankful, one being that I was with my husband and baby at the end of the day and we were safe and healthy.

Sometimes we let the little things get to us, at least I do, but I hope I can always remember everything that is good at the end of the day and be thankful for it. I hope I can teach AJ that it’s okay to have bad days, even if the reasons may seem silly to someone else, but to remember to put things in perspective. Often, we’ll realize what we thought was a bad day was actually a pretty good one.

Wasted

Wednesday, October 1, 2014
No Gravatar

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
No Gravatar

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
No Gravatar

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.

What I’ve Learned in One Month as a Mom

Friday, September 12, 2014
No Gravatar

AJ is one month old today. I can’t believe it! Time has flown by, and at the same time it feels like she’s been here for much longer than just four weeks. I already can’t imagine life without her.

Here’s some things I’ve learned in the past month about being a mom to an infant:

  • Getting to know your baby is a process. I thought I would know AJ from the moment I held her in my arms for the first time. But when I met her, I was surprised by the realization that she was basically a stranger. I had to get to know her just like anyone else I meet in life. And she had to get to know me. We are still getting to know each other. I think this concept can be the source of some heartache and frustration for a new mom. I thought I should know her mannerisms, her personality and exactly how to handle her from the start, and when I didn’t it upset me. But it’s so much more wonderful getting to know her over time and discovering something new to love every day.
  • Another process, at least for me, was really feeling like a mom. It took me a while to feel like I was the person who could take the best care of AJ. I’m still learning how to be her mom and some days I feel more confident than others. Being only one month in, I know I have a long way to go before I truly feel confident in my mommy abilities (or will I ever feel confident?!).
  • Nothing can really prepare you for what it’s like to have a newborn. It’s hard work – I mean really hard work. Who knew holding a baby could make you so tired! I’ve shared some of my experiences with crying and sleeping, but nothing can compare to the first-hand experience.
  • New mom brain is worse than pregnancy brain. I cannot remember anything. I set reminders on my phone for everything from doctor’s appointments to fall TV premieres. Recently I even wrote down the things I wanted to tell Chris when he got home from work. My memory is that bad right now. I blame it on the lack of sleep.
  • After only one month, I’m not afraid to admit I have no idea what I’m doing. But I’m trying my hardest, and AJ, Chris and I are figuring it out together. If there is any first-time mom of a one month old that does know exactly what she’s doing…give me a call and let me know your secret.
  • Last but not least, I never knew how someone so small could fill my heart so much! Every day is a wonderful new adventure, even if we don’t leave the house :)

I’m interested to hear from other moms – how does your experience with your newborn compare to mine? What did you learn in the first month?

The Bright Side of Sibling Struggles

Wednesday, September 3, 2014
No Gravatar

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
No Gravatar

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.

Poop, Spit Up and Tears – Baby’s First Week

Friday, August 22, 2014
No Gravatar
Taking a cue from news anchor Savannah Guthrie and sharing my no-makeup hospital photo

Taking a cue from news anchor Savannah Guthrie and sharing my no-makeup hospital photo

“Come watch how funny this is!” I said to my brother as little AJ grimaced. Squirt. Time for a diaper change. I took her over to the beautifully set changing table and began to take off her diaper. As I went to make the switch between dirty diaper and clean, SQUIRTTTT, out came another round. All over her new, white Pottery Barn changing pad, diaper caddy and changing table runner. All over her diaper pail. All over the carpet. All over me (brother was thankfully spared). We could barely contain our laughter. Looks like the joke was on me.

And so goes many similar moments in the first days of AJ’s life. My husband Chris and I have laughed often, slept little and loved more than words. Both AJ and I have shed tears. I’ve only been projected pooped on once twice.

My labor and delivery was quick and relatively routine. The nurses and staff at CAMC Women and Children’s Hospital are amazing and I owe them and my doctors a huge thank you. I would never have made it through without their caring and generosity.

I got the epidural I swore I would not get. I only realized after it was all over that I had a notion in the back of my mind that getting an epidural would be “taking the easy way out.” Trust me – there is NO easy way to birth a baby. After everything was said and done, I felt like a superhero at the end of a movie – beat up, barely alive, but I had just saved the world.

The first night at the hospital was by far the hardest. AJ cried almost all night and the only way to soothe her was to nurse, which neither of us knew how to do yet. She would only come close to sleeping while in my or Chris’s arms (still the case some nights). Come Wednesday morning, we were more than ready to get out of the hospital, go home and start our new life.

Nursing was difficult and frustrating to start. I could not have done it without the help of the lactation specialist at Women and Children’s. It’s still a heavy responsibility to bear, being the only one that can feed your child, but it gets significantly easier with each feed.

I wouldn’t dare say we’ve formed a schedule yet, but we have started to get into a semi-routine of feeding, cuddling, napping and trying to take care of ourselves. She feeds every two to three hours throughout the day and night, some days more regular than others. Diaper changes are almost constant, and we’ve learned that diapers need changed with speed similar to a NASCAR pit stop to avoid a mess on the changing table or ourselves. Sometimes she sleeps soundly in her bassinet, other times we stay up holding her in her rocking chair. Spit up has become my clothing’s constant accessory.

Although we’ve learned more about parenting in the last week and half than I could imagine, this is only the beginning. When she cries, we don’t always know how to soothe her. We don’t know if we are doing things the “right” way. But we are trying our hardest, and we love her more than we thought possible. Chris goes back to work on Monday, and I don’t know what I will do without him. I’ll face an entire new set of challenges taking care of her alone during the day. I do know I will cherish the first two weeks of AJ’s life for as long as I live; a time when the three of us had no obligations other than each other, when we began to learn to be a family.