Tag Archives: parenting

Bells Will Be Ringing…

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Back to school new

 

…school bells, that is.  Yes, it’s August 1st and that means that the start of the 2014 – 2015 school year is just around the corner.  This time last year I wrote a series of blog posts called “Back to School Basics”  that covered 4 different areas: getting organized, parent/teacher relationships, back to school shopping and sending your baby off to Kindergarten.  Obviously with 5 kids – three of them now adults – I have a little experience with getting kids and myself ready for heading back to class.  I decided to share some of my observations in hopes that I might be of some help to you.  Because they were so well received last year, I’m going to post them again in my next couple of blog posts.  Today, we will start by talking about getting ourselves organized (Back to School Basics: Let’s Get Organized) and the importance of the parent/teacher relationship (Back to School Basics: The Parent/Teacher Partnership).

Feel free to share these (PLEASE DO!) with others.  As always, I welcome your comments and questions. I love hearing from you!

 

 

Battling Mean Girl Syndrome

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My girls are as much a like as they are different.  One of them is very out going, while it may take the other a bit to warm up to you.  Both of them love fashion although they have thoroughly different styles.  One is Betsy Johnson while the other is more like Bob Mackie meets Coco Channel.  Physically, one is tall and lean while the other is shorter and more muscular. Neither of them is an angel, I know that. In fact, one of them covers all of the ground that she walks on  – if you know what I mean?  I am often at a loss for words at the things that come out of her mouth.  On the other hand, her sister is a lot more concerned about being perceived as being nice, therefore, she is a lot better at censoring herself.  It also means that she is a lot less likely to stand up for herself, and here is where our problem lies.

Do you ever wonder how little girls can be so mean to one another?  I guess that it could be any number of things – the media, parents, siblings, friends – I really have no real answer, I just know that it’s very troubling.  They start so young, being able to nit – pick and tear down their “friends” and it’s not that they are necessarily cunning or sneaky in their attacks. No, generally, they are just blatantly mean (and apparently do not know the correct definition of being a friend).  For instance, my daughter has what one might refer to as a pot belly.  It’s the kind of belly that’s not all that unusual on a child in elementary school.  We encourage her and the rest of our children to eat healthy, but it’s pretty persistent and we don’t freak out over it.  She tends to be very active and we figure that it will all balance out eventually.  However, where she’s been catching heat for her somewhat round belly is from her classmates.  Yep!  They point, make fun and one “really good friend” told her that she looks like “a pregnant seven-year-old.”  She was hurt and I was confused.  These are her friends? Now, I do know that children tend to have no filter.  In fact, they’re almost as bad as a peri-menopausal 46-year-old mother of five (Me – I’m talking about me), but, somehow, I believe that they knew that what they were saying was hurtful.  It was intentional.

Mean Girl Syndrome has become so commonplace that we have stopped questioning why it exits, we just accept that it does exist.  That’s not good enough for me.  I just can’t accept that as females, we have to belittle, torment and harass one another, starting at age 5.  I just don’t believe that we have to be petty and shallow and that we gain some sort of satisfaction from seeing another girl suffer by our hand.  But, what can we do to combat something that has become, well, accepted. I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently and not just because of my daughter’s experience, but also because since my move, I am maneuvering in new territory and trying to make friends of my own.  Did you know that mean girls turn into mean moms?  Yep, unfortunately it’s true. However, the 46 – year old peri-menopausal mom responds a bit differently than the impressionable, nice 7-year-old. That’s all I’m going to say about that.  Well, except to say that as a grown woman, it’s a lot easier to walk away from an uncomfortable situation still feeling good about yourself than it is for a young girl.

So, how do we turn the tide and help our girls learn to stand up for themselves while becoming kind and gracious women?  By the way, before any of you ladies jump on me for saying that our girls should be kind and gracious, I think that boys should be raised to be kind and gracious, too.  It’s called being a gentleman.  However, boys don’t seem to have the same social issues with each other that girls do, or at least not at early ages.  The first and best place for us to start is accepting the fact that our own daughters can be mean girls!  I had a conversation with a mom one day who told me that she was very concerned about her daughter’s transition into middle school.  I immediately figured that it was because of how mean girls can be at that age and she said “No! My daughter is the mean girl!”   She was actually concerned about it escalating in middle school.  My instant reaction was that here was a mom who’s headed in the right direction because she knows that there is a problem.  She’s not denying it, or burying her head in the sand or throwing the blame on someone else.  She is facing it head on and dealing with it.  Guess what moms?  ALL OF OUR DAUGHTERS CAN BE THE MEAN GIRL!  Unfortunately they are all just as capable of being the offender as they are of being the victim and denying it is doing a great disservice to your daughter.

With that in mind, parents, we need to start teaching the concept of kindness to our children from birth.  I don’t mean some abstract warm and fuzzy form of kindness either.  I mean actual, tangible examples of how acts of kindness play out in their lives.   Do not allow disrespectful behavior or words to be thrown about in your home.  I know that siblings fight, however, there have to be limits to what kind of talk and behavior will be tolerated.  I stress to my daughters that sisters are God’s way of ensuring that you have a best friend.  Currently we are working on respecting each other’s boundaries and choosing the words that we use when talking/arguing with one another carefully.  Parents should never just accept rude sibling behavior as normal. It should be addressed immediately because a child’s understanding of respect and decency start at home.  As they get older, provide opportunities to have them participate in various service projects in the community.  Encourage them to perform simple, random acts of kindness on a regular basis (helping a mom with kids load her groceries at the store, shoveling snow for an elderly neighbor, mowing someone’s grass, etc.) .  Don’t think this can make a difference? You can read an article here entitled “Fixing the Mean Girl Syndrome” that discusses some of the same issues.

Finally, and this one may sting a bit but, parents, check your own behavior.  If you’re on the phone gossiping about the neighbors or if you routinely snub other people by not giving a friendly “hello”  as you pass by or if you talk about the round belly on some lady at the gym, chances are that your kids will, too!  I stepped on my own toes there, so you’re not alone.  It takes real effort and purpose to raise children who have enough wherewithal to recognize that everything that occurs in your head 1) doesn’t have to be said and 2) may not be very nice in the first place.   Moms, if we are obsessed with the size of our house, the labels on our clothes, the make of our car and the numbers on the scale, guess what, your children will likely follow suit.  The content of their character is far more important than any of that stuff.

As far as my daughter goes, I am encouraging her to tell these so-called “friends” of hers that their behavior is far less than friendly, then excuse herself and find someone else to talk to and play with.  Also, this week I have challenged her to introduce herself to at least one new person every day.  I know that it won’t be easy and she has some trepidation over the whole situation but, I’m confident that she will rise to the occasion.  Please, say a little prayer for her.

Back to School Basics: The Parent/Teacher Partnership

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Back to school new

 

Every year, just about this time right before school starts, I reach out to my child’s teacher for the upcoming school year with an email or hand written letter that reads something like this:

Hello!
My name is Lisa Owen and my child, ____________, will be one of your students for this coming school year. I just want to touch base with you to introduce myself and to tell you a few things about my son/daughter that you may find useful.

___________ is a very curious child with tons of energy and a vivid imagination. He/she enjoys reading, being physically active (tennis, soccer, dance, etc.), is a hands-on learner and benefits from being given responsibilities in the classroom. While _________can be very sensitive, he/she is also a very independent thinker and student, He/she is a very capable student, but also may need to be encouraged to ask questions.  Please keep your expectations of him/her high because we do here at home.  [Here is where you can insert any information about learning disabilities or health issues that you feel are important for the teacher to know.]

Please feel free to contact me at the following telephone numbers (h)__________, (c)__________, (w)_________, and this email address, with any questions, concerns, compliments (I especially like those) or anything else as the need arises.  Now that you have all of my contact information, I expect to be notified of any problems or concerns BEFORE they make it to my child’s report card or permanent record, so that it may be addressed accordingly.  

Thank you so much and I look forward to working with you over this next school year!

In my 23 years of parenting, this letter has always set the tone for a successful parent/teacher partnership.  By “successful”, I don’t mean that there have never been some tense moments or disagreements between the teacher, my child and myself. However, these situations have always been handled effectively with mutual respect and with the common goal of serving the best interests of my son or daughter.  That right there, my friends, is the single most important purpose of the parent/teacher partnership – successfully educating your child.  In my previous post, Back to School Basics: Let’s Get Organized! , I talked about the need for parents to focus on their goals for their child’s education.  What is it that you want your child to gain from this school year? To become a better reader? To develop independent thinking skills? To create a desire to dig deeper into subjects?  I also wanted you to think about your role in achieving your goals.  Obviously, I want you to be comfortable with your role as a parent, but try to keep an open mind as you read along because sometimes it requires us to step outside of our comfort zone to achieve what we need and want for our children.

Increasingly there seems to be a growing sense of acrimony between teachers and parents with each side openly, and often unfairly, criticizing the other for failures in education.  Let me tell you something: education, whether it be public or private; charter or magnet; at the local, state or national levels belongs to ALL OF US.   Parents, teachers, administrators, aunts, uncles, grandparents, neighbors, social workers, cousins, community activists, politicians, religious leaders…Black, White, Hispanic, Native American, Asian, etc….ALL OF US! I have to say that I am beyond tired of everyone trying to pass the buck when it comes to educating our children.  Each of us has a role to play and it’s our own responsibility to fulfill it.  Having said that, I really do believe that the road to effectively educating our children starts with parents. By the time children enter Kindergarten, parents have had a good five to six years to start their child on a learning path and to instill a foundation for their core values.

Let’s start with the learning path.  When it comes to learning, young children are like sponges because during those first formative years, they absorb information faster than at any other time in their entire life.  Not to mention that kids at that age are fun, too!  They haven’t developed the negativity that often comes along at older ages.  Although I am a strong proponent of formal early childhood education for all, I am realistic and realize that, at least for now, it’s not available to everyone.  Parents, that’s where we come in.  In general, by the time a child enters kindergarten, they should know their alphabet, be able to recognize most upper and lower case letters, count and recognize numbers through 10 (if not 20). They should be able to spell and write their first and last names and know their shapes and colors.  These are the basics and remember, children are sponges!  They are capable of so much more! Some of them can read; can handle more complex concepts such as patterning, addition and subtraction; and their technology capabilities are absolutely amazing.  I realize that many parents work outside of the home, may be single parents or are not in situations where their finances provide a lot of  opportunity for educational activities.  However, exposing our little ones to literature and starting them on a learning path doesn’t really require a lot of time or money.  It can be as simple as heading to the library and spending 15 to 20 minutes a day reading.   Best of all, it’s free and it provides much needed uninterrupted time for parent and child to spend together.  As our children get older, it is our job as parents to make sure that they stay focused on their learning path. Admittedly, this gets harder as they get older (keep them doing school work over the summer; provide real life learning opportunities; and continue to read books with them for discussion) but, it’s still part of a parent’s role in education.

Family core values is a little tougher to discuss because I think that it varies depending on the family. While different people place different degrees of importance on certain issues, I think that it’s safe to say that some things are universally accepted as important for classroom success. The most important of these is respect for the teacher and other students.  Teachers are there to teach. Period.  They are not there to teach children manners or the importance of being cooperative.  They are not there to make sure that kids get fed or that kids have on clean underwear and clothes.  They are not there to provide hardcore discipline for disruptive students.  All of these things should be provided at home.  By the way, this is an issue that affects every school district across the country at every socio-economic level, from children who feel entitled and have too much given to them,  to children who do not have enough and feel disenfranchised and isolated.  It’s simply appalling the behavior displayed in classrooms on a daily basis and worse, the parents that feel like they have no control of their own children.  Now, of course kids do act out every now and again.  It’s all a part of growing up.  However, instilling behavioral expectations in our children is simply part of a parent’s job and right now, teachers are spending entirely too much instructional time disciplining unruly children.  And we all know our children, right?  We all know that they are capable of being unruly?  We all have had to deal with their less than perfect behavior, right?  I’m just sayin’….

Now, before you jump on me for being too hard on parents, I don’t expect anything of anyone else that I don’t expect of myself.  I hold my own feet to the fire over these very issues and am convicted almost daily of something that I feel like I’ve failed at in this area.  I am not, nor have I ever been, an educator. I am a mom and while I have no control over the school’s end of the process, I do have control over mine.  I do have expectations of my children’s teacher’s and school administration, which are:

  • mutual respect for me and my child
  • clear and prompt communication between me and the school
  • purposeful instruction and not simply facilitation
  • honesty and integrity
  • genuine knowledge of and interest in my child

I do not hesitate to contact the school when I think any of these things have been compromised.  I do suggest starting with the teacher because sometimes the problem can be a simple miscommunication.  If that doesn’t yield results, then the next stop is the principal’s office.  Again, the most important thing to focus on is the result for your child.

Finally, I think that I must address the issue of race.  As an African-American parent there have been instances with more than one of my children when I have been forced to confront the fact that the situation at hand was either the direct result of or the bi-product of racial bias.  The result has not always been comfortable for all parties (the teacher, administration or myself), but I did always get what I thought was best for my child.  Not by yelling or screaming “racism” at the top of my lungs or threatening law suits (that’s not to say that it couldn’t come to that), but by purposefully pursuing truth and arguing the facts.    However, minority parents do have to recognize that every situation isn’t always the result of racism.  Alternately, teachers and administrators have to admit that sometimes, it really is the issue.

The bottom line is that teachers and parents must work together for the common good of the students.  When it comes to my children and what I want for them, the truth is that I am a bad-ass mom and my guess is, so are you (or dad for that matter).  We have the power to have a real impact on our children’s education.  Volunteer in the classrooms or do projects for the teachers at home; chaperon field trips; join the PTA and be an active member; and take part in parent/teacher conferences.  Make sure that your child’s teacher knows that you are an involved parent.  Teachers want and need our help, so step into your role and run with it!  Next post we will talk about back to school shopping (trust me, it’s not what you think).

What Are We Doing to Our Children?

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photo credit: blog.holistichealth.ch

photo credit: blog.holistichealth.ch

“I want to give my children everything that I didn’t have when I was a kid?”   Have you ever heard someone say this? Have you ever said it yourself? Every time I hear that statement I wonder two things, a) what exactly does it mean? and b) why?  As a parent of twenty somethings, I see a lot in them, their friends, and their generation in general, that suggests that we parents may be giving them entirely too much.

When we say that we want to give our children everything that we didn’t have growing up, my sense is that we are referring to “stuff”: more toys, more gadgets, more vacations, more luxuries than were at our disposal as kids.  And, when I  say “we” I am really including myself because although I have never made that statement or actually even thought it, I stand convicted of being an overly indulgent parent.  Sometimes I try to rationalize it and sometimes I don’t.  I just do it because I can, and it’s fun.  Fun, that is, until my children through their behavior and/or attitude point out to me that I have done too much.  Here’s where my experience as a mom of twenty somethings comes into play because it wasn’t until years later that my husband and I realized the mistakes that had been made as they were growing up.

I am the product of an overly indulgent mother.  My father was the one who was reasonable and frugal but, Mom, not so much, although, neither one of them told me “no” very often.  So, when I became an adult and graduated from college, life stepped in and slapped me right in the face.  And it was brutal. Suddenly, my parents expected me to be responsible, pay my own bills, set goals, save money, chart my own path…things that I had never done before.   Then I found out that I was pregnant and that, my friends,  has been the single most grounding and defining  moment of my life.  The fact that I was going to become responsible for another little helpless, beautiful person put my feet firmly on the ground, and quickly, I might add.  Thankfully, none of my children have found themselves in this position  (and I implore them to keep it this way) because I often wonder about their ability to adjust to the real world.

The real world.  The world where you can’t call home and ask someone to put money into your bank account because you spent it all over the weekend (but, you had a great time!).  Where you can’t come home on break from college to your comfy, fairly large bedroom that you don’t have to share with anyone. You know, the one that connects to it’s own private bath or, maybe you share it with your sibling and it connects both rooms (Did I mention that this is all really well decorated?).   Where you can’t sleep until noon or 1:00 then go out to the back yard and dive into the pool.  The real world, where you pay for your own car; mommy and daddy do not buy it for you.  They don’t owe it to you.  In fact, they don’t owe you anything.  See, I have had to tell my adult children this very thing more than once, “We don’t owe you anything!”

Do you watch “House Hunters”  or “My First Place” on HGTV?  Every time I see these shows, I am amazed by the first time homeowners who really are insistent on buying a house that has a gourmet kitchen complete with granite counter tops and stainless steel appliances, four bedrooms, a master suite complete with a whirlpool tub in the bathroom, all in a 3,000 square foot home.  No one, no matter what their age or stage in life expects to have to work and save and plan for anything.  Instant gratification.  We live in a microwave society where we  expect to put a few loose plans into motion and expect instant success.  And it’s all our  fault, parents.  We have created a generation of  people who feel entitled.

Why? Why do we do this?  What is it that we are trying to make up for?  Were our childhoods that bad? I can recall playing games of “Pickle” in the yard across from my house until the street lights came on.  Or, asking my dad for a quarter to walk to the store and buy a soda to drink while reading Tiger Beat magazine in the aisle.   Or, walking down to the new cinema (notice, there was a lot of walking?) with my friends to see the first Star Wars movie…nine times.  Nothing elaborate, but it was all good.  Why do we feel like we have to go bigger with our own children ?  What was wrong with what our parents gave us?  I know that times have changed but, I submit that it’s because we have artificially upped the ante.  We have become so obsessed with “stuff” and status that we have forgotten that we, parents,  have a bigger purpose than just keeping our children entertained and coddled.

Tell me, do you put as much effort into teaching your children how to be altruistic?  Do you realize that kindness and compassion have to be taught, they are not intuitive?    Do you feel the need to teach your children the value of hard work resulting in delayed gratification?   This is hard stuff and I must say, that I find it just as daunting 16 years later than I did when I had my first child.  Fortunately, or unfortunately if you look at it from my younger children’s point of view, I am parenting from the rear view mirror and I can see clearly.  To set the record straight, my older kids are good kids.  They have their bumps and bruises but, they are figuring it out.  So am I.

The Graduate, too!

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I think that it is odd, in a fun sort of way, that almost exactly one month ago, I sat in an auditorium and watched our oldest daughter graduate from college and yesterday, I sat in an auditorium and watched our youngest daughter graduate from preschool.

Oh, fun fact here, these two lovelies have birthdays one day apart. Well, more like 16 years and 364 days apart.

Anyway, on the one hand, I can’t believe that I am old enough to have a child who is a real adult.  A fully functioning member of society.  A college graduate.  Actually, I have three children over the age of 20 and this fact still blows my mind.  I just don’t feel like this should be my reality.  That’s probably, in part, because I am also the mother of the little 5 – year –  old, who sang and danced on stage  with her class mates, and her older and wiser  6 – year – old sister.  In all honesty, I really don’t feel much different than I did 22 years ago when I had my first child.

Okay, I move slower in the morning when I first get out of bed but, that’s about it.  Seriously.

I remember back when I was in my 20’s, 40 sounded so old to me.  And 60?!?!  Ancient!  Now, that I’m closer to 50 than 40, 60 sounds pretty spry.  I guess it’s all relative.

I’m not big on preschool graduations, or kindergarten graduations, or 8th grade graduations.  The expectation is that our children will pass these milestones with relative ease, so I often think that we make too much of a fuss over it (like most things are children do these days).  However, as Thing 2 received her diploma,  a few thoughts crossed my mind:

1. She is absolutely adorable.  I’m not bragging, it’s just true. 🙂

2. I had no idea that she knew some sign language.

3.  I hope that she doesn’t suck her thumb while she’s on stage. Or, have to go to the bathroom.

4.  This is my last child to ever go to preschool…ever.

There is a finality to that last one that really shook me.  No more babies. Ever.  Truthfully, I don’t want any more kids. I really am over the whole baby thing and I’m looking forward to being with my girls as they grow up.   However, it’s one thing to say that when you’re capable of having more children but, it’s another to say that when that ability is gone.  Hopefully, I will have grand-babies to enjoy during their preschool years but, this one is MY last child.  Ever.  I know that I keep saying “ever” but, forever is a really, really long time. Sobering.  Especially for a woman who still considers herself to be relatively young.   I know, I know, I’m past the child-bearing years.  I get it. But, I guess I just never gave it much thought before entering this phase of my life.

I was trying to talk to Big Poppa about this but, I think moms and dads see this from a different perspective.  While I was lamenting about being a woman and the physical changes of  getting older, he was a bit fixated with the financial aspect of it all.     You know, all of the “More kids just cost more money, ” and “Just think how much college is going to cost when the younger ones get there.”  A lot less sentimental.

But, then, I had an “in – your – face”  moment today.  One of Thing 2’s fellow graduates and BFF had a birthday pool party.  Before you go there, no, I did not put on a swim suit and embarrass myself !  I know my limitations.  However, while I was sitting and chatting with the other preschool moms, I heard one of them ask another what year she graduated from high school.  You know what she said?  2000!  My oldest kid graduated just 8 years after her!  Now, THAT’S sobering !  You know when I graduated from high school? 1984!  Heck, I was out of college and had a child (a 10 – year – old to be exact) when she got her high school diploma. SOBERING!

I didn’t feel much like chatting after that. I really felt like having a Chick-fil-A  vanilla shake but, alas, Chick-fil-A is closed on Sunday.

Turns out, that I’m at least 10 years older than most of the other preschool moms.  Maybe I’m not so sad to leave preschool behind after all.

Thing 2 made it across the stage and accepted her diploma without incident.  She shared that she wants to be a teacher when she grows up.  I’m sure that will change a zillion times, with at least two of them being after she declares her major in college.  She sang, she danced (with no thumb-sucking), she looked adorable and when it was all over, she headed straight for the table with the cookies on it. Because that’s what was important!  Making sure that you get a chocolate chip cookie before you leave, not all of this crazy stuff that I was thinking about.  At least one of us has our priorities straight.

Sink or Swim

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I think that I may have said this before but,  this move to Texas has been hard, particularly on me, Mr. C and Thing 1.  Daddy and Thing 2 have been a little better at adapting to their new surroundings.  The part that really broke my heart was Thing 1’s increasing dislike of her new school.  Kindergarten had been such a huge success that I became concerned that her social struggles during First grade would become academic struggles.  There were some bumps along the way, but they were mostly normal for an active, six-year-old Drama Queen.   Let’s just say that it’s been a long school year.

Finally, about a month ago, I took her to lunch after a doctor’s appointment but, before I took her back to school and gave her a pep talk (and macaroni and cheese).  During our talk she said to me “Mom, I just don’t like it here.  I want to go home.” I knew exactly how she felt, but I said “Sometimes, you don’t have control over your circumstances.  You’re just thrown into it, kinda like if you get thrown into a swimming pool and you’re either going to sink or you’re going to learn to swim.”    For the next 30 seconds she looked at me, then looked at her food, then back at me, then back at her food.  Finally, she said, “Oh, I get it!  If  you get thrown into a pool and even if you don’t like it, if you don’t learn to swim, you’ll drown!  So, I just gotta learn to deal with it!”  That sounded way more drastic than I had intended but, it was indeed an accurate translation.  I smiled, “Uh, exactly.”  We really didn’t talk much about it after that and she continued to complain but, at least she stopped crying before school.

Well, here we are at the end of the year and I just attended Thing 1’s Celebration of Learning ceremony.  This is when the teacher hands out to the students various awards that they have earned for the year.  The students and the parents are unaware of the awards that they are going to receive and quite frankly, I didn’t care.  I just wanted to go and celebrate the end of the year and the beginning of the summer with my girl.  Apparently, sometime after our little lunch chat, Thing 1 decided that she was Olympic medalist Missy Franklin because boy, did she ever swim:

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Honor Roll Award

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Principal’s Award

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The Good Friend Award

(This is my favorite.)

The awards themselves don’t really matter to me,  after all she is only in First Grade.  It’s certainly not going to be the hardest year of her academic career.  It’s the fact that she did her best even when she wanted to be somewhere – anywhere – else that make me proud of my girl.

Mother: It’s Complicated

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Happy Mother’s Day! Was yours good?  We had a good time here at my house.  The Dynamic Duo was way into it and planned every detail.  I was awakened this morning to the smell of bacon and presented with a pink balloon that Thing 2 re-gifted from a birthday party yesterday.   Then came my presents, that I actually had to go find while the girls said “hotter” or “colder” to help guide me in the right direction.  Did I mention that this was around 8:00 this morning and I’m not a morning person?  It was a struggle.

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I was presented with an array of candles because I love candles and mostly because the other night, when the electricity went out, Thing 1 felt like I could have been better prepared with more candles.  As if the five that I had burning were not enough.

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I was also given a selection of their favorite candies, which they promptly ate.

However, my favorite gifts were by far the book that Thing 1 wrote for me telling me why I’m the perfect mom for her (“Because she loves me and makes the best macaroni and cheese, EVER!”) and the cookbook, (yes, I said COOK BOOK!) that Thing 2 and her class made for their moms.  Each child had a recipe to illustrate – Thing 2’s is a salmon dish – and it is so precious.  She is very, very proud of her handy work and so am I. I love it!  Personally, I would have liked more words from the hubby about what a great wife and mother I am, how the last ten years have been the best ten years of his life, and how grateful he is that we have two beautiful children together, blah, blah, blah…but…whatevs.

Admittedly, I have really struggled this year with Mother’s Day.  These past ten months is the longest period of time that I have gone without seeing or talking to my mother in my life.  She doesn’t talk on the phone so I can’t call her and I really, really miss her.  Or, at least I miss the memory of her.  After all, she hasn’t  known who I am for at least the past 4 years.  Obviously, I haven’t had a real conversation with her for years, but I miss the role that she played in my life.

“Mother”.  It’s such an all-encompassing word.  Protector, provider, personal chef, cleaning lady, doctor, chauffeur, confidant, lawyer, disciplinarian, teacher…I could go on and on and on but, really, the word itself denotes a figure-head.  Think about it, the word “Father” doesn’t carry nearly the weight that “Mother” does.  Unfortunately, in today’s society, it is not uncommon for a child to grow up without a father, but, everyone has a mother.  Mother’s Day is big business but, Father’s Day pales in comparison.  It’s sad when a child has an absent father, but it’s down right tragic when the mother is missing from their life.

“Mother” is iconic.  For years after your mother is gone, there are stories that will live on and define her legacy.  When I think of my mom, one of the first things that comes to mind is Imelda Marcos, former first lady of the Philippines, because of her famous and fabulous shoe collection. Imelda’s and Mom’s.  In fact, we, her children, used to teasingly, but accurately call her Imelda and if you said this to anyone who knew her in her heyday, they would immediately agree with you.   I probably should tell you that she, my mom, also had a long and successful career with the United States Postal Service (I could say any town in the State of Illinois and she knew the zip code  – amazing!) and she was a gifted musician and singer.  Somehow, I just know that the stories that my kids will tell about me will have nothing to do with my talents, but will be about some of my more neurotic, obsessive-compulsive tendencies like checking the stove three times at night before I can get in the bed.  I can’t believe that I just told you that.  Or, how I absolutely lose my mind when someone sits on my bed in their street clothes.  It’s me and I’ve accepted it.  Don’t judge me.

“Mother” is complicated.  The expectation of almost near perfection from your children, from your spouse, from your kid’s teachers, from the nosy neighbor down the street and from yourself (just to name a few) is subjective and unattainable. I know this yet, on pretty much a daily basis I am saddened by all of the ways that I feel like I fall short.    Likewise, it is those expectations of our own mothers and often the disappointments that we feel that we  have suffered, that hinder us from truly appreciating the gifts, or the “good stuff”, that our mother’s have given to us, big and small.  Often we forget, if we ever really knew in the first place, that our mothers, just like many of us, fulfilled their duties and gave of themselves even when their own emotional needs were not being met.  Over the years I have come to realize that no mother anywhere, including my own, ever sets out to screw their kid up.  They may not give much thought to what’s important to them as a parent or what style or approach is best but, their intent at birth is never to be the worst mother that they can possibly be.  Once I understood this, it allowed me to be more forgiving of not just my own mother, but of myself.  Always striving to be better but, accepting my own limitations.

I love being a mother, truly, I do.  It is my favorite part of me.  However, I do recognize that not every mother feels the same way.  I also recognize that there are those who are longing to be a mother but, it hasn’t worked out for whatever reason.  Then there are those who never want children and then those who are somewhere in the middle of all of this and trying to figure it all out.  And those of us just missing our own mom’s.  I can respect all of the differences.  It is complicated and that’s why Mother’s Day can stir up so many different emotions.  So, come in close so I can give you a BIG HUG!  I’m silly…I know.  I sincerely hope that no matter where you are or who you are with or your motherhood status, you had a wonderful day with people you love.

Fat!

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Warning: I am going to use the word “fat” a lot in this post.  It is not one of my favorite words in the English language, unless one is referring to a burrito, but unfortunately, it is necessary at this time. 

I had been obsessed with my weight for as long as I could remember.  And I do mean OBSESSED.  I weighed myself pretty much daily.  I went through a period where I used diuretics to empty out after eating. During high school, I tried every fad diet (along with my mother – there’s a clue) that there was, the Grapefruit Diet, Slimfast, The Protein Diet, you name it.  Craziness!  By the way, I wasn’t fat, I just thought I was.  I’ve gotten much better over the years (well, somewhat better) but, recently a friend suggested that I get rid of my scale and I thought she’d lost her mind.  Even though I don’t weigh myself as much as I used to and I certainly don’t abuse my body with laxatives any longer, that scale is going nowhere.  Maybe somehow it’s comforting to have it just sitting there, dusty, on my bathroom floor.  Unfortunately, growing up female subjects you to all kinds of negative messages regarding beauty and one of them is that being fat is one of the worst things that you can be.  According to society, nothing good can come from being the fat girl because no one wants to be the friend of the fat girl or the boyfriend of the fat girl.  Fat girls can’t find cute clothes and they certainly don’t get to hang out at the cool places with all of the beautiful people. And, the fat girl had better be smart because if not, she’s totally screwed.  No, being the fat girl is not desirable.  Notice, it wasn’t until recently that the focus has shifted to the health issues of being over weight while previously it was all about how unattractive it is to be fat.

I don’t exactly know when or how it happened, but somewhere along the way, I lost all of my obsession about my weight.  I think it had to do with life’s ability to bring things  clearly into focus and it kind of found its appropriate place on my list of priorities.  I haven’t been shy about my desire to get fit but, it’s far less about a number on a scale or the size of my clothes, than it is about being able to keep up with my little ones.    But I do have to say that this issue is one of my biggest concerns about raising daughters.  There are so many negative messages sent to them regarding body image and it comes from everywhere – their friends, the media and even family members.  It’s a constant struggle of mine to make sure that those types of negative messages do not make their way to my girl’s psyche.  Or, at the very least that they have enough self – confidence to fight it off.  This is going to be hard because they’re only five and six and it has already started.

A couple of weeks ago I went to have lunch with Thing 1 at school.  Afterward, her “friend” (actually, I think the more accurate term would be “friendenemy”) asked her if I was her mother and when Thing 1 said “yes”, the girl asked “Why is she so fat?”

“She’s not fat!”

“Then why is your dad so fat?”

That was about the time that I realized that this was really about something else.  Big Poppa isn’t anywhere near fat and he was nowhere near the school on that particular day for her to bring him into the conversation.  This was passive aggression at it’s best, by a seven-year-old.  My darling daughter, bless her heart, had no idea that this girl was being hostile and still considers her a friend even though she was very hurt by her comments. I assured her that not only were my feelings not hurt but, I really could care less what a first grader thinks about my weight.  Although, I do have to say that I thought that the use of the word “so” in front of the word “fat” was completely uncalled for.  I’ll cop to fat, or plump, or dumpling, but I certainly am not “so” fat.  What I found most interesting is that this little girl clearly knew that calling me fat was a way to hurt my daughter.    This kind of message can only come from adults even if it’s not her parents.  Somewhere out there is an adult source of information whether it be an aunt or uncle, parent of a friend or members of the media that have passed on the message  that fat is bad to this child.  My question is, are we adults really that shallow and stupid? Yes. Yes we are.

Case in point: Mr. Mike Jeffries, CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch.  In explaining why Abercrombie doesn’t carry any size above a women’s size 10 in their jeans (the average woman wears a size 12 to 14) or nothing above a size “large”, Mr. Jeffries stated, “We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends,” he said. “A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”  Nice. Keep in mind that this is the same company that marketed push-up swim tops to girls as young as 7-years-old. They have a record of being completely ridiculous.  By the way, what exactly were they pushing up? Do you see how their marketing and his statement equate being thin with being an “attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends” ?   There it is, the message that being a fat girl is undesirable.  Aside from the fact that Mr. Jeffries marketing plan is just plain vile, any CEO of a clothing company geared toward tweens to young adults that doesn’t understand that the person who controls the family check book (let me spell it out for you Mr. Jeffries: M.O.M) is usually a size 10 or larger and tends to have a social conscience, is just too stupid to deserve our financial support.  Not to mention that these are mean, negative and hurtful messages that we shouldn’t want directed at our daughters (or sons, for that matter).

Just Say No!

Just Say No!

Fat is subjective.  What’s fat to some is not fat to all.  But, it is universally derogatory.  Calling someone fat can never be considered to be a compliment.  And because of this, it is the one area that you can always knock your target off-balance.  Think about it, if someone is intelligent, they know what they know and you can’t take it away from them.  Or, if they are a gifted musician, their gift is universally recognizable.  But, beauty is always subject to the person who’s doing the viewing and what’s considered fat changes from culture to culture.  Unfortunately, people like Mike Jeffries exist and they are a lot more prevalent than you think.  They live next door to you, they’re co workers or soccer coaches or even mothers and they spew this kind of negative garbage at our children.  While I stress to my girls the importance of exercise and eating well, I also can not stress enough that they are perfectly made and absolutely gorgeous just the way they are.  And I say this to them over and over and over and over and over again because I need them to truly believe it.  I wish it could be just about how kind they are, or how smart they are, or how hard-working they are or how loving they are however, they’re girls, let’s keep it real.  That’s not the society that we live in so, we have to arm them with enough confidence to transcend the numbers on the scale or the size on the tag.  We have to give them the confidence to trump “fat”.

The Graduate

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This weekend has been one great, big, emotional blur.  Big Poppa, the girls and I literally went on a whirl wind 36 hour trip from Texas to Ohio to witness the first of our five children graduate from college.  Although I am thoroughly exhausted, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Okay, that’s not exactly accurate, because I would have liked an extra day to spend more time with our graduate and I would have loved not traveling with two little ones in the middle of the night, and I really would have liked a lot more sleep.  However, under the circumstances, I will take what I can get.

Our Graduate

Our Graduate

I love graduations and everything that they represent.  A new chapter in your life, a chance to start over; a chance to learn new things and go on new adventures.  I find it all really exciting.  Yet, as a parent (or in this case, a step-parent), that movie reel of their life starts to play as graduation day gets closer and it just seems impossible that this day could be here.  After all, wasn’t it just yesterday that she turned 13 and had about 11 or 12 of her closest, dearest, best of friends over for a slumber party? By the way, no one slept that night.  Or isn’t she just 16 and learning to drive? I couldn’t believe how fast she turned around curves and corners.  Her dad did most of the training.  Or, weren’t we just shopping for prom? Every mother of a daughter needs to experience this…FUN!  So, although I have been anticipating this day for quite a few years now, it did seem to sort of sneak up on me.

Now, in preparation for this weekend’s festivities, I distinctly remembered that at J’s high school graduation, the moment that I saw her enter the arena with 900 of her classmates, I burst into tears.  I don’t mean tears silently streaming down my face, either.  I mean ugly crying.  Came out of nowhere!   A couple of days before, we had shopped at H&M for this cute little yellow dress that she wore at the ceremony and I just couldn’t believe that she was leaving home.  I came undone and it wasn’t pretty.  Considering this, you would think that I would have remembered to put tissue in my handbag before going to her college graduation.  Yes, you would think so, but I didn’t.    I will admit that it was touch and go there for a while but, my saving grace was the fact that we had to catch a 7:00 p.m. flight and the commencement didn’t start until 2:00 p.m. , so I was watching the clock to make sure that we made our exit in time to get to the airport.  I should probably tell you that we are not crazy. There was a reason that we had to cut it so close and make it back home.  You see, Big Poppa is once again on an airplane headed to some glamorous location, just a day later.  I told him that it was really great that he could visit with us for the week. I know, it was snotty of me, but I couldn’t resist.

The graduate

 As for J, she is now a graduate of Wilberforce University with a Bachelor of Science in Accounting.   Like a lot of other new graduates, she’s a little unsure of where she’s headed, but she’s taking the time to explore her options.  She’s got big dreams and a lot of ambition. I like that in her.  Oh, to be 22 years old and carefree again, right? The commencement speaker, Ohio State Senator Nina Turner, (D), took a moment to remind J and her peers that they are not exactly “carefree”.  I liked her observations so much so that I actually remembered them without writing them down.  At the close of her message she told the graduates that there were three things that she wanted them to remember as they went forth into the real world:

     1. God gave each of them two hands, one to reach forward and the other to reach back.  After all, we are our brother’s keepers and it is our responsibility to see that no one   is left behind.

     2. Do not expect others to do more for you than you are willing to do for yourself.  Your dreams are for you to achieve and it takes your hard work to achieve them (I liked this one in particular).

     3. According to Senator Turner’s grandmother (who had no more than a third grade education), these three things are necessary to be successful:  a) a wishbone to dream upon, b) a jawbone to speak to truth (also known as integrity) and c) a backbone to withstand all that life throws at you.

Truth! I’d say that she was a very wise grandmother.

In the end, not only did we get to see J receive her diploma, but we also had just enough time to take pictures, hug and wish her the very best before ran out to catch our flight. I would like to take this opportunity to say congratulations to her father, Big Poppa, and her mother.  The two of you raised a great young woman.  I’m honored to have been a part of your supporting cast.

Okay…one kid down…four to go.

What Do I Say to My Children?

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I’m going to flip the script on you guys. I normally post about food and recipes on Wednesday but, in light of the recent events in Boston and a subsequent conversation that I had with Thing 1, I decided to post the food blog on Friday.

Initially, I had not intended to post anything regarding this matter because whenever tragedies like this happen, the internet is flooded with posts of sympathy and support, encouraging messages and the like and, while I totally understand, I really didn’t think that I needed to add my voice to the chorus.  Since I am often with “little ears”, I have stayed away from the television and radio so, what little information that I have seen has been from the internet.  I knew that my little ones (especially Thing 1) would come in contact with some news from somewhere, probably school, and that I would have to address it and that’s exactly what happened.

It’s not that I don’t know what to say, or at least, what I want to say, but it is more that I am really annoyed that I have been put in the position that I have to talk with a six-year-old about something so very ugly, senseless and brutal.  Believe me, this is not going to be a “How to Talk to Your Kids About Ugly, Senseless and Brutal Acts of Violence” post. I am not a child psychology expert (on second thought, I am a mother of five so I may actually be a child psychology expert) and this is not an advice blog.  However, I do want to be able to answer their questions honestly and have an open dialogue without jeopardizing their feeling of security.  Seriously, how long do we think that we can keep that in tact?

The day after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, Thing 1 came home and told me that one of her friends told her that 20 kids and six adults at her school were shot and killed.  These are first graders so their facts can be a little sketchy. She was perfectly calm, but not carefree, when she told me this.  In all of her six-year-old naivety, she had no real concept of what her day really would have been like if that had actually been the case.  I sat her down and told her that while it was true that 20 children and six adults had been killed, it was not true that it had happened at her school.    I reassured her that she is safe when she goes to school and then we prayed for the victims and their families as well as the perpetrator and his family.  Case closed.  She was all good.

Here we are again, and I fully expected this day to come because that is the world that we now live in – increasingly violent and ugly.  However, expecting it doesn’t make it any easier and it doesn’t alleviate my annoyance.  Children deserve to be naive and carefree.  They are supposed to live a life that I like t refer to as “Huxtablesque”.  Remember the Cosby show? So simple and so enjoyable.  Children are supposed to have lives that simple and enjoyable.  Their problems are supposed to consist of : will I get the part that I want in the school play?  Or, when is my next play date? Or, why do I only have hot pink sandals and not light pink sandals (this one was actually a real dilemma in my house this morning)?  Eight-year-olds are supposed to be learning multiplication and playing  softball, not dying as collateral damage in a war being waged by some unknown assailant against some unspecified target.  I shouldn’t have to explain that to my five and six-year-olds. Yet, here I am again.

Again, Thing 1 learned about the bombing from the apparent newscaster for her classroom.  Again, she had questions and again I tried to answer them, while putting her mind at ease, because my number one priority is to reassure my child that I am here to protect her and not to let fear creep into her mind and paralyze her.   Fear is debilitating.  There were the usual who?  (“I don’t know”), what ? (“Bombs at the finish line…”) and why?  (“I don’t know”).  But, then she asked a question that just blew me away and left me searching for an appropriate answer.  She asked, “Momma, why do some grown ups hate so much?”   There were a lot of possible answers to that question but, none that I really thought that she’d completely understand.

“I don’t know, Sweetie. But, we can’t hate because they hate,” I responded.

“No,” she said, “we have to forgive.”

With that, she was off to her dance class and hasn’t brought it up again. Of course, she has no idea of the real cost of the lives lost and forever changed.  She has no concept of national security or political games.  She has no thoughts about how the world has changed, yet again.  However, she is right, forgiveness does have its place in all of this.

We will be here again and the questions will get harder and more troubling.  I will still be annoyed and searching for answers. It would be nice to think that one day we are all going to wake up and stop all of the violence and unrest.  Totally unrealistic to expect but, a wonderful fantasy. For now I will take comfort in knowing that my six-year-old has a lot more figured out  (and a lot more heart) than most grown ups.