Posts Tagged ‘parenting’

In Defense of a Little Drama

Wednesday, July 23, 2014
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I spent lat week immersed in drama.theater mask

The drama became so all-consuming  that I actually had to take a couple of days off work to deal with dysfunctional family dynamics, jealousy and romance. And I enjoyed every minute.

That’s because the drama was on stage, where drama belongs.

My daughter was in a youth summer production of Cinderella, and her involvement required parental involvement. I supervised, ushered, sold gifts, stayed up past midnight several nights in a row and made food for the cast party.

But, as my husband so eloquently said, since I’m the one who got my daughter interested in drama, I’m responsible for all that involves.

What he doesn’t realize is that, for such a generally pragmatic person, I crave drama. I grew up with a dad who performed in local theater, and I loved going to plays, especially musicals. But even at a young age, I knew there was more to theater than the story the audience sees on stage.

In reality, the audience members actually get the short end of the deal. That’s because the genuine magic of theater doesn’t happen on the stage. Sometimes, it doesn’t even happen backstage.

It happens with the voice teachers who encourage their students to take a risk and audition for a part in a musical.

It happens with artists who can envision a set and the carpenters and painters who can build it.

It happens in the pit with musicians who can pick up an instrument and learn a piece of music instantly.

And most of all, it occurs in the relationships that are built not with the intent of beating another team or winning a championship. but on making people smile, think, cry, imagine and relate to others.

When a team is focused entirely on that, they can only encourage each other and cheer each other on.

Last week, an adult (make that this adult) made a comment about an actor’s off-key performance. My daughter didn’t even let me finish the sentence.

“He’s nervous, Mom,” she said harshly. “Don’t be critical.”

Last week, I heard parents debating why some youth always get a speaking part while others don’t (yes, this parent was involved in that conversation.) My daughter told me that being part of a cast is fun no matter what the role is.

Last week, I tolerated mothers who worried over hairstyles and costumes. At the same time, I witnessed kids who are generally labeled as misfits being included, hugged and encouraged by their peers.

Last week, I saw adults bringing in large bouquets of fresh flowers to bestow upon the actresses, musicians, directors and producers. At the same time, I sold four plastic  flowers to a member of the cast who spent a great deal of time deliberating over just the right message to send to four girls in the chorus: girls who didn’t have any lines.  According to the notes the actor finally wrote, all four girls were “amazing stars.”

And he was right.

Everyone involved in the production was contributing his or her unique gifts to make the show a success. Every parent who lost sleep and hauled kids to performances and fundraisers made the show possible. And each person who bought a ticket was telling our young people that theater is important.

I never had that opportunity. For whatever reason, the theater department at my high school was defunct when I graduated. The football, basketball, baseball, track and volleyball programs were all fully supported, but I never heard one person complain that my class never put on a school play.

That saddens me as much today as it did when I was a teenager.

I know the odds of anyone becoming a Hollywood star are just as astronomical as the odds of  someone becoming a star athlete. But the odds of a person using the skills they learned in theater – confidence, positive relationships, public speaking and public relationships are extremely good.

And if we support local and youth theater – and the drama that comes with it – the odds are even better.

It’s time we play those odds.

Fuzzy Truths, Fake Beards and Imaginary Poison Ivy

Wednesday, July 16, 2014
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I’ve come to realize that  being a parent sometimes requires creating your own version of the truth.

I should have caught on at least 45 years ago, but I can sometimes be a slow learner.poison ivy

When I was a little girl, my dad provided a running commentary about the dangers of my behavior.  He said my skin would turn green if I ate too much pea soup. If I swallowed a watermelon seed, he informed me that it might take root in my stomach and start to grow there.  He warned me of that dangers of crossing my eyes in the car because if we hit a  bump, my eyes would stay crossed forever. And, according to him, if I didn’t go to the bathroom when the urge hit, I would suffer some miserable but unnamed disease as an adult.

I listened to him with a cautious ear. I didn’t necessarily believe that everything he said was entirely true, but neither did I want to test the veracity. By the age of five, I’d  decided to err on the side of caution by avoiding anything potentially harmful. Generally, that wasn’t a bad thing, but there were times my fear interfered with my quality of life.

I feared eating any mushrooms because my dad had told me some mushrooms were poisonous. I refused to even try  jerky because Dad said if people didn’t prepare it properly, it could cause food poisoning. And I looked at all greens suspiciously because I had been warned on multiple occasions to never eat rhubarb leaves.

But nothing scared me more than a warning that came not from my father but from another man – a complete stranger who pretended he was worried about my well-being. In reality, he was worried about his store. I don’t remember the name of the store, but I do remember it was a large one in another town and that my entire family was there. For some reason, my brother Sean and I were alone when we spotted the larger the life-sized fake Santa Claus, and Sean dared me to touch its beard. I took on the challenge, reached up and ran my fingers through St Nick’s most famous feature. I was surprised that it wasn’t soft at all. Instead, it was stiff, wiry and apparently off-limits to children.

At least that’s what the store manager told me when he marched over and ordered me to take my hands off Santa’s beard. His tone of voice intimidated me, but his words were downright scary. “That beard is made out of poison ivy,”  he said. “It’s made out of poison ivy so people won’t touch it.”

I had no idea what poison ivy looked like, but I knew it made a person itch. And for months, I itched everywhere and was convinced that I had a case of poison ivy. By the time I realized that there was absolutely no way that poison ivy would ever be used as material for a fake Santa Claus beard, the incident was well in my past and I had realized that people sometimes manipulate the truth.

Sometimes, they do it to protect their children and sometimes they do it to protect family and holiday traditions like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. And sometimes they do it to protect themselves.

I never thought I’d be one of those people who lie to protect themselves, but apparently I am.

I’ve always prided myself with being open about any topic with my children. But a few weeks ago, my daughter Kendall and I were having a meaningful conversation about tough issues when she asked me a question that I couldn’t honestly answer. Telling her the truth would open the door to so many more questions - how could I be such a hypocrite? How could I set different expectations for my kids than I did for myself?

And so, on the spur of the moment, I lied.

Now I wish I hadn’t, and I’ve battled with myself over the decision. During this same time, I’ve also managed to get a  real case of poison ivy because I refused to let the plant take over my rhododendron bush.

Since I will forever associate poison ivy with lies that adults tell kids, I can’t help but note the irony of the situation.

My daughter, who is oblivious of my lie or my subsequent internal turmoil, thinks I made way too big an issue over the poison ivy. According to her, I if had  just left it alone, I wouldn’t be so miserable.

She’s probably right.

But like I said, I can be a slow learner.

Ready, but not quite prepared

Friday, July 11, 2014
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It started around 2 a.m. I woke up in pain. It took me a few minutes to gain my focus before I realized I was having contractions. I didn’t panic right away – the doctor had explained to me that this was normal and I should expect it. I tried to remember what I was supposed to do: time them to see if they were coming in regular intervals and move positions or walk around to see if that would make them go away. I did both and the results told me that I was simply experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions, a way my body is preparing itself for the birth process.

But there was a short moment when I thought, “What if this is it? What if I’m going into labor?” and subsequently, “I’m not mentally prepared to go into labor yet; the baby’s not ready to be born; I haven’t finished my childbirth classes; am I prepared to bring a baby home?” I was having these thoughts while looking at the time, so I quickly realized nothing was happening at regular intervals, and I was not going into labor.

Lately I’ve been having a reoccurring dream that I haven’t had since college. It’s a common dream – the kind where you show up to a class on finals day only to realize you have never attended the class before, or it’s the end of the semester and you just discover you were enrolled in classes but never attended a single one. The night of my “practice” contractions it dawned on me why I’ve been having this dream – I’m scared I’m not prepared to have and take care of a child.

I’ve read the entire “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” book. I follow countless pregnancy and parenting blogs and forums. I’m currently reading a guidebook on baby’s first year week by week. I’ve already told you about my nesting phase. My husband and I have taken not one, but two childbirth classes. Even my body is preparing itself, as I learned through my late night experience.

And yet, despite all these preparations, I still feel an overwhelming sense of heading into the unknown. I didn’t realize I had these feelings until I felt the Braxton Hicks contractions, but my recent dreams tell me these thoughts have probably been in the back of my mind. I have a feeling I’m not the only soon-to-be new mom who’s felt this way. I also realized that I can read guidebooks and take classes and set up baby gear until I pass out, but there is nothing that will truly prepare me for motherhood. It can be scary, but it’s also exciting. I’m ready for the test, even if I feel a little unprepared.

Roughing It

Wednesday, July 9, 2014
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A few days ago, my daughter approached me with her hands on her hips, her head cocked and her voice dripping with exasperation.

“Well, mom,” she said. “Your great experiment failed.”

I had no idea what she was talking about, and I said so.

“This whole not using the dryer thing,” she explained. “It’s not working.”

I still didn’t understand what she meant, so she slowed her words and paused between each one.

“The      towels      are     rough      and    my     t-shirts    are     stiff,” she explained.

“That’s because they weren’t dried in the dryer,” I said. “The dryer fluffs things.”

“Exactly,” she said.

I understood her perspective, but she didn’t understand mine – which was that dryer needed a replacement part and running it would break it completely. Besides, dryers use a great deal of electricity, and electricity costs a great deal of money. I’m all for saving electricity.

Our brief and pointless conversation was ironic.

Just days earlier, I’d had a conversation with co-workers about the benefits of drying laundry on a clothesline. I expressed the intense embarrassment I’d experienced as an adolescent when my mom had hung all of our laundry, including underwear, on clotheslines and drying racks in our backyard for the neighbors to see. A colleague, who is younger than me but grew up in the country, said everyone dried their clothes outside when he was growing up.  Another, who is older than me but who grew up in the suburbs of Washington D.C., said she had tried drying clothes outside once but her sheets were full of bugs.  The only consensus we reached about line-drying clothes is that is much cheaper.

And then my dryer started making a funny noise and I decided that cheaper is sometimes better, and we don’t need technology as much as society tries to tell us we do.  Humans survived for hundreds of years without it, and even my own generation once made do with much less.

I remember my family’s first color television, first microwave oven, first electric typewriter, first answering machine and  first touch-tone phone. And I most definitely remember our first computer, which required us to insert a floppy disc with the operating system. I never dreamed of voice mail, cell phones, the internet, laptop computers or being able to rewind live television.

My children can’t remember a world when they didn’t have all of that technology at their fingertips.

Their disbelief reminds me of trying to understand how my grandparents had lived without television, telephones or running water. It also reminds me of a moment in my own childhood, when my grandparents had traveled from Michigan to Oregon to visit my family.

My grandmother was helping my brother Sean clean his pet hamster’s cage. “You need to use elbow grease,” she said.

My brother looked at her and said, “I don’t think Mom buys that. Should I ask her to go to the store?”

My grandmother laughed and explained that elbow grease is something that comes from within. It is the effort each person uses to get the job done.

I am thinking about that moment as I sit on my back porch in the dark. I am fortunate that there is still a battery in my laptop computer so I can write. My son is sitting at the picnic table at the other end of the deck reading a book to the glow of a lantern.

A storm blew through my town a few hours ago, and there was a fire at the local substation. The power has been out for hours.

I can’t say I’m pleased with this turn of events. The slight inconvenience of drying laundry on a clothesline is nothing compared to the worry about the food in our refrigerator going bad, the temperature in the house getting too hot, our lack of internet and television or, most important to my kids, our inability to charge our mobile devices.

And yet, as I write this on a laptop with a depleting battery, I am enjoying the gentle breeze blowing through the leaves of the oak tree that rules the backyard and the dance of the fireflies against the dark sky. I am enjoying the fact that the only noise I hear is the sound of crickets. And I am enjoying the fact that, just for a moment, I can understand a world that used to exist. A world that depended less on electricity and more on imagination and personal relationships.

A world in which kids accepted rough towels and the need for elbow grease.

Independence Day

Wednesday, July 2, 2014
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I had a flashback to the Summer of 1976 while riding my bike the other day. The rubber on my back tire had split, and the damaged tire was slowing me down.1976

Instead of recognizing the problem, I blamed myself. I thought I wasn’t pedaling hard enough, which is the same accusation I made of myself during the Bicentennial Parade on the Fourth of July in 1976.  That parade  provided some of the hardest, but most meaningful, lessons of my childhood.

I grew up in a small town in Central Oregon where summer meant two things: being outside and celebrating the Fourth of July.

Being outside involved building forts in Juniper trees, capturing tadpoles in irrigation ditches, swimming lessons at Kah-Nee-Ta Resort and riding our bikes everywhere. Bike helmets weren’t even a consideration back in those days. We only worried about skinned knees, and, when the temperatures were cooler, getting our bell bottom pants caught in the chains of our bikes. But during the warm days of summer, we were wearing shorts, and our greatest concern was how to decorate our bikes for the Fourth of July parade.

Everyone in Madras Oregon participated in the parade. Adults and children planned and prepared for months, and the anticipation of  the annual event increased dramatically for America’s Bicentennial. As soon as the calendar turned to January 1976, the planning was on. Every activity and event highlighted America’s 200th birthday.

During  Girl Scout events, all the girls wore Betsy Ross inspired outfits.

During school programs, we sang patriotic songs.

And almost all the clothes in stores that year were red, white and blue.

But, in the eyes of the kids, nothing was more important than how we decorated our bikes for the Fourth of July Parade. As I recall, there was a prize for the best decorated bike, which only partly explains why we took the task so seriously. Prize or not, kids on bikes led the parade and finished in time to catch a ride on the fire engines that wrapped it up.

With all that at stake, we took decorating our bikes in theme very seriously. We had always woven streamers through the spokes and threaded them through our handle bars, but the Bicentennial parade was something special and required extra effort.

My friend Shannon and I had a plan for how to make a statement. Instead of riding bicycles, we decided to ride tricycles with signs that said “Ready for the Tricentennial.” I don’t remember where we got the trikes. Perhaps they were from her brother Kip or perhaps they were sitting around my parents’ garage.

All I know is that my nine-year old knees and legs were much too long to ride a small tricycle with any efficiency. On the day of the parade, I gathered with all of my peers at the start of the parade. When everyone else sped off, I didn’t. I could barely pedal the well-decorated but much-too-small trike. Before long, I was trying to keep up with the antique cars. And by the time I realized I’d be faster if I simply pushed the trike, I was with the floats. When the fire truck with all my peers on board passed by, I felt completely defeated. Despite that, I didn’t quit. But I was extremely embarrassed by my poor showing.

Thirty-eight years later I’m not embarrassed at all. Instead, I proud of that little girl and her perseverance.

Life has a way of encouraging us to re-think our memories and identify how they can help in the future. As a mom, I appreciate the  benefit of of  perspective and a life time of experience. I’ve learned a great deal from both.

I’ve learned being embarrassed does not equate to failure. In fact, being embarrassed simply means you went outside your comfort zone, which is something winners always do.

I’ve learned that finishing what you start means more than a first place ribbon.

I’ve learned that blaming ourselves when something doesn’t go as planned is pointless. Sometimes, the circumstances are beyond our control: the tire is flat or the distance to the pedals too short. Sometimes, we don’t have the resources we need, like a bigger or faster bike. And sometimes we are simply out of our element.

I’ve also learned that  life can’t be truly enjoyed if we try to measure it in terms of success or failure. Life requires that we cheer on those who are ahead on the parade route and encourage those who never have a chance to ride the fire engines.

Most of all, I’ve learned to appreciate having the freedom to make mistakes, the luxury of having the independence to talk about those mistakes, the opportunity to fix the flat tires that life sometimes delivers and the importance of recognizing that we can’t control every aspect of our lives.

This Fourth of July, neither of my children will be participating in or attending a parade as I did when I was young. Despite that, I have no doubt they will be turning to me for ideas about how to celebrate. And I’m almost positive, I’ll suggest we take a family bike ride.

Unforgettable Fun

Wednesday, June 25, 2014
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I made a huge mistake last Friday. I asked my daughter if she wanted to do something fun with me on Saturday.

I had forgotten that, in Kendall’s almost 13-year-old mind, there is only one situation that involves both mom and fun: shopping.

But she didn’t just want to go to the nearby mall where we usually shop. She requested we go to a much larger mall in the D.C. suburbs, and she only wanted to shop in stores that have clothes fashionable enough for nearly 13-year old girls. For the record, these are the exact same stores where she shops at the nearby mall and, from what I could tell, the clothes were exactly the same too.

The day was hard on pocketbook, hard on my feet and hard on my patience.

But I tolerated the shopping trip knowing that the next day we would be having real fun.

We were going hiking.hiking - Copy

But in Kendall’s almost 13-year-old mind, there is absolutely no situation that involves fun and hiking.

At first, I think she forgot that. As we were getting ready to go, she asked what she should wear. (For some reason, she asks me this every day. When I make a suggestion, she rolls her eyes and tells me what she thinks of my suggestion. Then, she wears what she wants and we repeat the routine the next day.)

I advised her to wear a t-shirt and sturdy shoes.  Per usual, she ignored my advice and wore  a newly purchased floral top, matching shoes and new prescription glasses she wears to see long distances. She asked if I liked the look.

This time, I rolled my eyes.

By the time we actually arrived in Harper’s Ferry, she was already complaining that she didn’t want to waste her whole day on a trail.

While my son forged ahead, she was demanding an explanation about the purpose of the hike. When my husband told her that someday she would appreciate it, she scoffed at the idea. IMG_3502When we joined up with a large pack of Boy Scouts at the overlook, she stopped complaining and seemed to enjoy the view and the company.

Then I made the mistake of suggesting we complete the hike along the ridge, which added additional hours to our time  in the woods and on the mountain. While I enjoyed the challenge, nobody else in the family did, especially my daughter. The only solace I could provide was the promise of a hot dog and ice cream at the end of the trail.

The hike, and subsequent meal out, were hard on my pocketbook, hard on my feet and hard on my patience.

But despite my daughter’s complaints, I thoroughly enjoyed the day and the memories we made. Something tells me my daughter will also remember the hike long after she forgets the trip to the mall. I’m also fairly confident that those memories will be good ones.

That’s how life works.

Despite our disagreements and dislikes, stepping outside our comfort zones and testing our endurance always builds our confidence. When we do it with people we love, it’s even more meaningful.

And when we do it together with family, it’s unforgettable.

The Empty Lot

Tuesday, June 10, 2014
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The small house was torn down only a few weeks ago, and already there are few signs it ever existed. Grass and clover cover the empty lotare growing where the foundation once was, and there is no indication of the fence that bordered the small yard.

Now, it is just an empty lot.

Maybe someday the area will be used for  a garden or a new structure, but the space will never be the same again.

The destroyed house shouldn’t even be on my radar. When it was standing, it meant no more to me than a random stop where my dogs sometimes greeted the dog on the other side of the fence. Soon, I won’t even notice the changed landscape during my short, daily commute to work. I will accept the space for what it is: the status quo.

Yet, the destruction of the house has been weighing on my mind like the rapid progress of time, the growing independence of my children and the aging of my parents.

Maybe that’s because its destruction was timed perfectly with my son attending his first real graduation party – not one for a family friend but one for a friend no one else in our family knows.

Dropping him off at the party reminded me of dropping him off for his first day of kindergarten almost eleven years ago.

For months, people had been asking me if I was ready, and I blew off their concerns. I didn’t understand why they thought kindergarten was so significant. Both of my children had been in day care since they were toddlers, and I thought kindergarten was no different from day care.

Only it wasn’t.

On that first day of kindergarten, his teacher didn’t know my name. The school personnel didn’t know my son’s unique issues or about his contagious sense of humor. He was just another little boy who needed to be taken out of his car seat, encouraged to wave goodbye to his mother and walked into his classroom.

And I, his mother, couldn’t even watch him walk away. The woman working the carpool line frantically waved me to move on as the tears trickled down my cheek .

Now, my son’s public school education is quickly coming to a close. This coming school year, he will be a junior, which is considered an upperclassman. He is already talking about colleges and moving out of our house – which is exactly what I want him to do. I have no desire to have a 30 year-old son still living in my basement and depending on me to do his laundry.

And yet, there is a part of me that is sitting in my car watching my 5  year-old son take a teacher’s hand and walk into doors which lead to a world over which I have no control. And I can still feel the tears trickling down my cheek as I realize that my children, like time, grow, change and move on without me.

I can’t control my children’s growth or the rapid flip of the calendar any more than I can control the landscape I pass every day on my way to and from work.

What I can do is appreciate the potential.

Roses might bloom in that now empty lot. Or a  young couple might build a house and start a family there. Or the lot might remain one of few empty green spaces where people can walk their dogs while enjoying fresh air.

But I have no doubt that the space is destined for something meaningful that will make the world a better place.

Just as I believe my children are destined to make a positive  mark on this ever-changing world.  And like the empty lot, their quickly fading childhood needs to be appreciated rather than mourned, celebrated instead of regretted and, most of all, serve as the foundation for something even greater.

 

Sleepless Nights

Wednesday, June 4, 2014
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My daughter set three different alarm clocks Friday night so she could ensure she woke up at 3:30 am.

The bus to a 9:30 am show choir competition was leaving at 5:30 am, and she wanted her hair to be perfect. Unfortunately, her efforts to achieve perfect hair involved my assistance.

I’m generally not someone who spends any time on hair. I can honestly say there are days when I don’t even remember to brush mine – I wash it and forget it. But Kendall has much longer and thicker  hair than I do. That means curling it literally takes an hour: hence the 3:30 wake up call to ensure she was prepared for the competition. The competition itself required the 5:00 am drop off and the 11:00 pm pick up at the school.

I shouldn’t complain. I was warned.

As soon as I announced I was pregnant with my son, people began telling me that I wouldn’t have a good night’s sleep for years. What they didn’t tell me was that years actually meant “never again.”

I should have realized that every parent is obsessed with sleep because no parent gets any. For months after my children were born, almost everyone asked  “Is he/she sleeping through the night?”

Now, sixteen years after I first became a mother, I realize that question is still relevant.

My children aren’t sleeping through the night because they are either sleeping at the homes of friends or have friends sleeping at my house.

My children aren’t sleeping through the night because they come home late from events and activities that leave them wound up and wired.

And my children aren’t sleeping through the night because they have activities that require them to be on a bus at 5:00 am on a Saturday.

That doesn’t mean my children aren’t getting enough sleep. They simply sleep during the day.

They sleep when they have vacation days and I am at work.

They sleep on Sunday afternoons when I am catching up on house work.

And they sleep in the car when I’m driving.

The question that everyone should have been asking when my children were born was “Are you, the mom, sleeping through the night?”

The reason no one asks the question is that they already know the answer.

Children are a responsibility that weigh on a mother’s mind greater than any job commitment or promise to a friend.

When our children are not with us, our hearts and souls are with them: waiting for them to arrive home safely.

When our children are scared or struggling, holding them close is more important than resting our eyes. ‘

And when our children need to talk about their struggles, we lend an ear no matter what the hands on the clock tell us we should be doing.

My children don’t understand my sleep deprivation, and they shouldn’t.  At least they shouldn’t for years.  Someday (give me at least 15 years), I hope I will be asking one of them, “Is he/she sleeping through the night?”

But what I will really be saying  is, “I’m passing the torch. Are you ready?”

Raising Kids in the Dumbest State

Wednesday, May 28, 2014
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For years, West Virginians have been told that, collectively, we are obese and in poor health.

Recently, residents of  Huntington and Charleston have been informed that they live in the most miserable cities in the United States.

Then just this past week, West Virginians were recognized for living in the dumbest state in the nation.

The title was handed to us by TheStreet, a financial news website founded by Jim Cramer and Martin Peretz:  http://www.thestreet.com/story/12712489/1/the-10-dumbest-states-in-america.html[/embed]

Up until this week, I’d never heard of TheStreet, but I’m sure those who work there would take my ignorance as just another example of “dumb” West Virginians. That’s the same reason I hesitate to mention that I was raised to use  the term dumb as an adjective to describe those who don’t speak. I’m sure they’d counter that  the dictionary also defines it as “lacking intelligence or good judgment; stupid; dull-witted.”

What the dictionary doesn’t do is define dumb as “anyone who doesn’t have a college degree,” which is exactly what the folks at TheStreet did. They also assessed median household income and SAT scores to support their pronouncement.

I’m not sure what their scorecard was supposed to contribute to society, but I can tell you that all it really did was serve as another example of  bullying: an attempt by a person or group to feel superior by making others feel inferior through name calling and belittlement.

But here’s what the people of this Wall Street entity don’t get: West Virginians aren’t generally bothered by people who think they are better than us. And even though some individuals will always believe perception is reality, I like to believe this latest slam on West Virginia is a teaching opportunity for our children.

Yes, this is obviously an occasion to emphasize the importance of education and how it directly correlates with income and financial stability. But it’s so much more than that.

We can discuss how generations of West Virginians had good-paying, blue-collar jobs that didn’t require a college education. While the availability of such jobs shrunk dramatically in the last few decades, expectations and culture  have taken longer to change.

We can talk about the different types of intelligence, and how different people have different skill sets. Not everyone is good at reading and math, but they can be very gifted in art or music. And as we talk, we should also note that there is an immense difference between someone’s IQ and his/her ability to take a test.

Most of all, we need to emphasize that being poor has nothing to do with being stupid or lazy.  Throughout history, some of our nation’s poorest people are often the most hard working: They juggle working multiple jobs to pay for their basic needs or pick up extra dollars by shoveling driveways or mowing grass.

I’m not trying to imply that West Virginia doesn’t have issues that need to be addressed, and  I am a strong advocate of education and attracting businesses that provide solid employment opportunities to the Mountain State. But that’s not enough. We need to advocate for all that is right with this state and not allow others to  highlight our problems without promoting the good.

Most importantly, we need  to raise children who are proud of where they come from and the people they represent.

And I’m positive that there are enough wise people in West Virginia to accomplish just that.

My Parents Never Told Me

Wednesday, May 21, 2014
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My parents taught me a great deal about being an  adult. Some lessons  were conveyed through their behavior and others through their words.

And some lessons were never delivered at all.

I don’t blame Mom and Dad. Since I am now a parent, I realize that we can only do our best and then hope for the best.

Which is exactly what my parents did.

They taught me that the only person I should ever rely on is myself and that women have just as much potential as men. They taught me that I should never gauge my success in terms of what I have gained but instead in terms of what I have given. And most of all they taught me the importance of individuality and independence.

What they didn’t teach me was that I shouldn’t feel compelled to overcome my insecurities and imperfections. Instead, there are times when I just need to  accept that  they are part of my DNA and the essence of  how I interact with the world.  And accepting that  is so much less stressful than fighting it.

But there are times when that DNA affects how I get through life. My mom loves telling the story about when I had been selected to narrate the school program and showed absolutely no nerves.  I stood in front of a microphone in a gym full of people and didn’t hesitate to grab the mic and speak into it. I was steel. I had been trusted with a job, and I did that job to the best of my ability. Then I went home and told my mom I wanted to play with my best friend.

“Then call her,” my mom said.

“But I can’t,” I whined. “Can’t you call for me?”

My mom thinks the story is funny because I had no fear of speaking in front of hundreds of  people but I didn’t have the nerve to call my best friend because I was afraid of a personal – not “professional” – rejection.

That story from fourth grade captures the essence of who I still am.

On Saturday,  the Bishop of the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese was coming to my office to conduct a ceremony. I didn’t sweat it. I knew the staff was up to the challenge and that I would have no problems greeting him and speaking to whoever gathered. And I didn’t.

My worries came later: after all the priests, religious personnel and supporters had left, my day was far from over.  And I was much less confident facing my next challenge.

It  involved dance moms and dance pictures.

While all the other mothers hovered over their daughters getting them ready for photos Kendall applied her makeup and changed costumes as needed. She  knew I was much more likely to mess something up than to actually be helpful. So I simply sat by myself in a chair like a wallflower at a school dance. While  the other mothers discussed the makeup and costumes and the performances, I felt completely invisible. No one talked to me because I  wasn’t part of their group. I never join them in the waiting room during classes.  While they spend that  time discussing daughters’ dances and progress,  I sit in my car trying to catch up on work or my to-do list. Because that’s where I feel safe.

I have nothing against these women. But while I am completely confident in fighting for a cause, speaking in public or asking for money, I have no confidence breaking into a group that has already formed and has expressed no interest in getting to know me. Which means I am often alone in a crowd.

And I am o.k. with that . Because even though my parents never taught me that I don’t have to overcome all of my insecurities or imperfections, I’ve had another great teacher called experience.

And that great teacher has also taught me that I will never be able to anticipate all of the problems my children will face or the struggles they will endure. It has taught me that they will probably blame me for not doing exactly what they needed or saying the right thing. But most of all, it has taught me that they will someday appreciate that I am just as human and prone to mistakes as they are.

And accepting those imperfections in ourselves and in those we love is what being a family is all about.