Posts Tagged ‘Relationships’

A Mother’s Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Practicing Patience

Friday, November 28, 2014
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Being a new parent can be stressful. You constantly are encountering new situations to navigate and new problems to solve. We had our own test of problem solving and patience last weekend.

We left a holiday party, picked up the baby from her grandparents’ house and were on our way home. It was around 10:15 p.m. and we were tired and the baby had woken up. As we headed down the Interstate we heard a “POP! Zzzzz” and saw the little red light appear on the dashboard. It was obvious we had a flat.

Our first priority was to get to a safe place, so we creeped down the shoulder of the Interstate to the next exit. By the time we stopped in a parking lot, our tire was in shreds.

We were still far from home, it was late and cold, and the baby had started to cry. The situation seemed dire. Frustration started to set in and my husband and I were on the verge of getting cross with each other. Then, to make matters worse, our car jack broke, meaning we had to call for help and spend even longer in the car.

Luckily we quickly realized arguing would get us nowhere. We were stuck and it was going to take some time to get us moving again. The only thing we could do was be patient and remain calm.

I got into the back seat with AJ and Chris tackled the tire. After a few ups and downs, we were back on the road and made it safely home.

In the end, AJ handled the bump in the road (pun intended) the best of the three of us. After a few minutes, she went to sleep and stayed asleep. We didn’t get home until around 11:30 p.m. and when I finally stopped holding my breath, I realized things weren’t that bad. The whole ordeal had taken only about an hour and we were safely at home and the baby was safely asleep.

Although frustrating, it was a situation that was out of our control. By taking a few moments to calm down, we were able to take care of the baby and solve our tire problem, without having the situation turn into something worse. And so as I learn time and time again, having a little patience in less-than-ideal situations can lead to a better end-result.

The Blame Game

Wednesday, October 15, 2014
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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.

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.

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

 

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.

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.

 

Out of the Box

Wednesday, May 14, 2014
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I felt like climbing into a box, pulling a lid over  it and hiding from the world. Needless to say, I was having one of those days when out of the boxnothing goes as planned and everything goes wrong.

On the hottest day of the year so far, the air conditioning at work was broken, and I had to change my schedule to wait for the repairman. The finance office was asking about checks we had issued more than a year ago, and I was dealing with an unhappy volunteer.

Since the box wasn’t an option (and would probably have been even hotter than my office), I considered screaming, but that wouldn’t have been very productive either. Nor did I have the option of  going home to a partner who could sympathize with me. So I just dealt with each issue as best I could. Then went home to a husband was walking out the door on his way to work after having fixed dinner for our kids.

Such has been my less than traditional life for the past ten years when my husband took at job that required him to work evenings and weekends.

It’s a life that has its ups: a parent has almost always been home when the kids are off school or need transportation. It’s also a life that has its downs: there is generally only one parent available for two kids, and our time together as a family is very, very limited – even on holidays. And sometimes, it’s down right painful.

I will never forget the women at church who made the snide comment “at least my husband comes to church.” I kept my mouth shut (unusual for me), but what I wanted to say was “It’s kind of hard for him to deliver a national news broadcast from a church pew.”

Her comment  represented what my out of the ordinary life has taught me over the past ten years:  even though our lives, our families and our children often don’t fit into a neat package with a label, society operates as if they should.

I like proving they shouldn’t.

When people automatically assume that my teenage son plays sports, I take pride in telling them that he has other interests.

When people assume that my daughter is at an age when she feels the need to follow the crowd, I like talking about how she boasts about being a nerd who loves science fiction.

And when people assume that my husband and I have time together on the weekend, I appreciate how his strange hours have made me so incredibly independent.

I realize that the boxes in which we put people and situations can be comforting, but some things were never meant to fit in a box.  And even when they do, they usually aren’t very useful.

In fact, I’ve yet to find anything that works best when it is still in a box, even when I feel like hiding in one.

Getting out of the box, tearing off the labels and making every situation our own is when great things happen.

Or as my mother used to tell me, “Just remember that Albert Einstein was never called normal.”

And I’m pretty sure she’s proud that I haven’t been either.

Lovesick

Wednesday, May 7, 2014
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My daughter, who is in seventh grade, joined Facebook on Saturday.lovesick

On Tuesday, an eighth grade boy was messaging her with professions of love. (No, they didn’t meet on Facebook. They are in show choir together and he apparently “fell in love” with her during auditions .)

Instead of calling or texting her friends, she turned me for advice. I couldn’t have felt more important, so I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I was probably the last person who could help her. No boy was professing his love for me in seventh grade, or eighth grade or even ninth grade, so I didn’t have a frame of reference regarding love before age 13.

Kendall must have figured that out fairly quickly because she came up with her own plan. She told the boy that her parents didn’t allow her to date. He responded that he would explain his intentions to us. (Really? He’s in eighth grade!!!)  Then she said that she was glad they were friends and she didn’t want to lose that. He responded that maybe they could sit together at lunch, and she agreed.

All was right with the world until I sent a Facebook message about the situation to the guy I’m in love with. The guy who happens be my daughter’s father.

He was not happy. In fact, he freaked out. He even told me he’d checked out her Facebook page and found the boy. He then jokingly threatened to send the boy a message about leaving Kendall alone.

I should have known better. This had happened before.

When Kendall was attending her sixth grade orientation, I overheard a boy in her enrichment class tell his dad “she’s really cute.” He subsequently hounded her to “go out.”

She regularly told him she wasn’t allowed, but he was persistent. At least, he was persistent until my husband met him.

Then his interest waned.

I may not entirely understand my husband’s concern with my daughter’s love life because, well, I’m not a guy.

But I can understand his love for his only daughter and his desire to protect her. I also understand he wants exactly what I want for my daughter: a partner who cares more about who she is as person than what she looks like; a partner who recognizes all of her potential and her desire for independence; a partner who celebrates how smart and witty and rebellious she is. And, most of all, a partner who supports her being the person she is rather than the person other people think she should be.

I understand that because my daughter’s father has provided exactly that for me. And I also know without a doubt that is the standard my daughter will set for anyone she dates.

Which is exactly why my husband has absolutely no reason to worry.

Mean Girls Redux

Wednesday, April 16, 2014
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I may be 47 years old, but I can still remember the pain of adolescence very, very distinctly. It’s one of the reasons I wasn’t overly eager to have a children. I just wasn’t sure I could live through the drama all over again.Isurvivedthemeangirls-button

Thankfully, I did have children and discovered that surviving life between the ages of 13 and 15 not only made me stronger, it also provided extremely valuable lessons about life.

Take, for example, the lessons  I learned from the mean girls of my youth – the “pretty people” who took great pleasure from doing all they could to promote themselves and their social status while belittling others.

As a friend recently told me, “those mean girls just grow up and become mean women.”

I only partially agreed with her. Some change. Some don’t.

I still have to deal with the ones who didn’t, and my daughter is having to deal with the new crop of mean girls.

Sometimes we have to tolerate them because they have more power than we do. Sometimes we have to confront them because we aren’t the only one being hurt.  And sometimes we simply need to talk about them with our friends.

My daughter and I were both doing that last week.

I was angry about the adult versions of  the mean girls.  My daughter is still trying to understand the mean girls at her middle school.

I was venting to friends about how unbelievably selfish some women can be. My daughter was giggling with friends about how ridiculous burn books are. Yes, the mean girls at her school actually have a burn book in which they write hurtful comments about others.

I was ranting about women who are more concerned about their social status than helping meet the needs of the less fortunate. My daughter was making fun of how the mean girls at her school named their clique, demand special privileges and are  proud that they exclude others.

And that’s when it struck me.

I was wasting my time and energy complaining about women who will probably never change. My daughter wasn’t wasting her emotional energy but was simply viewing the mean girls as characters in a book or play. She finds them entertaining but not really relevant.

Since my daughter has a wide circle of diverse friends, she doesn’t care about a few superficial girls who want to exclude her. She’s much more interested in the people who do include her and how they enrich her life.

My daughter hasn’t yet turned 13, but she has already learned some valuable life lessons – ones that I’m still learning.  I like to think my own experiences have helped guide her, but I also know that she’s teaching me as well.

And she’s a very good educator.