Monday, December 26, 2016

Living In A Post-Hope World


There's a lot of hate in the air since the election. Sadly, there's a lot in my house as well.

-I hate that my children had to keep asking me if I was OK because I randomly started crying every day right after the election was over;

-I hate that I have lost so much hope and optimism for myself and my family's future;

-I hate feeling afraid all the time, both for what this will mean for our nation as a whole and for everyone who is going to suffer under the new administration;

-I hate that the Electoral College effectively showed they didn't care that a person so completely unfit to lead our country is about to be handed power;

-I hate that more bad news about the people being hired for the administration comes out every day, and

-I hate that, although I need to look away for my own health and sanity, I struggle because when I do it feels like I'm ignoring the problem.

The new president-elect has effectively told the world that I suck at parenting. For seventeen years, I've been teaching my children to share, be kind, be respectful and earn respect through their own actions. I've taught them that 'hate' is a very strong and ugly word and we don't just throw it around (except maybe when talking about homework).

By electing a man who personifies and encourages all the behaviors I've told my children are unacceptable, my country has proven it's not the country I thought it was. It's not the world I thought I was preparing my children to live in. My America was the one where every parent taught their children these lessons, instilling in them and our society hope for a peaceful, respectful future full of possibility and problem solvers. Clearly I lived in a bubble. I hate that too.

My question to myself following this change is, what do I tell my children now? Now that a man who bullies others has been chosen to lead us all? Now, when they see other children on their school bus being teased, harassed or getting hateful comments thrown at them? Now, when the adults on the bus look the other way?

Our family is not one of color. My children are not female. We were all born here. This means that we are less likely to be targets of hate crimes. We are "safe". But really, we're not. Not when hatred and ugliness and a lack of civility and humanity surrounds us. Not when we no longer know who we can rely on to act as we do. My children are not bullies, but they need to be prepared to stand up to bullies now. Because they won't just be speaking up for themselves or even all children, but for all people--our friends and neighbors, their fellow classmates and even those they don't know.

I hate the uncertainty of our future.

I hate feeling disappointed in my country.

Most of all, I used to have hope for our society and its future, because we had leaders who were taking us in a positive, respectful direction. That's no longer the case. My hope is gone. I hate that I can't just "wait and see what happens" as people are telling me to do. I already see what's happening, and our new "leader" isn't even in office yet.

Hope has not served me well this year. 2017 will therefore be a year of action, in which I do my best to stamp out hate and maybe, maybe restore some hope.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Generational Convergence

Over the past few years, I've learned that the Heir is the grandson every senior citizen would love to have. He's a helper. He's patient. He's diplomatic and kind. And he knows technology. By volunteering at the library to help local senior citizens with their technology, he learned this too. E-readers? Ipads? Laptops? Printers? Cell phones? If you've got questions, he's got answers. Of course he was groomed by helping his own grandparents, so this seemed a natural transition. But I have to admit, the former IT Help Desk manager in me is very proud of his professionalism in dealing with strangers this way.
One day after work, he came home from the library and mentioned that he'd met a man who reminded him of his late Grandpa. 

The Heir: "He was really smart and sweet." 

Me: "Oh yes? What did he need? Were you able to help him?"

The Heir: "Yeah, I showed him how to set up a profile at an online dating site."

Me: ....

What struck me most about the conversation was that, to The Heir, this was no big deal. Just another day at work. But to me, it was surprising. Which of course begged the question, what does that say about me?

For one thing, senior dating sites exist for a reason. There's a demand and people older than me don't stop living and dating and loving just because they are widowed or divorced or... older than me. I admit none of this had ever crossed my radar. So I had to examine why. Was I stereotyping? Biased? Part of the problem in today's society that overlooks and underestimates the aging population on a regular basis?

The kindest answer that made the most sense is that my parents and in-laws all had marriages that lasted over 50 years. Till death did they part, in the case of my in-laws, and my parents are still alive and well and together. 

But the truthful answer is, I am blind to the needs of our population's seniors. I don't think about them because I don't have to. But that doesn't mean that I shouldn't. They are part of my community and, as my son's actions reminded me, can benefit from services and people in that community, including me.

I have no personal experience with seniors who want to date. The fact that options exist for them, and that this man was brave enough to go to the library and ask for help in utilizing said options, from a teenager no less, made me smile. 

I hope never to be in the situation where I need to date again. But if I am, I hope I have the guts to go outside my comfort zone as this man did. I hope to have the options my community offers its seniors, and that the teenager who helps me is as kind, patient and genuinely caring as the Heir was. 

And if I'm honest, I hope I'm lucky enough to meet a man like the one he met at the library. I'd love to tell him the story of how once, when he was a teenager, my son helped a stranger--and me--learn something new.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Take Cover

Even before I became a mother, I hoped for boys. I couldn't explain why I felt the way I did, other than the vague idea that "boys are easier to raise". I'd been a girl, after all. A girl who grew up in a house with a brother and lived next door to three male cousins. I spend my youth climbing trees, riding bikes, roller skating, drawing comic strips, burning bugs on the sidewalk with my magnifying glass, putting weird things under my microscope to see what they were, collecting stamps and coins and playing baseball, kickball and manhunt. 

In other words, I was a regular kid. Not a tomboy, though that's what they called it back then. I was a kid enjoying and experiencing my world. Having fun and learning stuff were my priorities. Easy.

Until I became a teenager. Then things got weird. Why? Why was everyone suddenly acting so strangely? My friends at school, male and female, changed. Not just physically, but in thought process. Suddenly it seemed like I was supposed to care about Jordache jeans and Adidas sneakers and Izod shirts and feathered hair and the right bands and the right lip gloss and the right way to kiss a boy.

Not only was I left WAY behind in all physical aspects of the high school changelings around me (another post for another day), I also felt like the only kid in school who didn't get the "how to be cool" memo. 

Suddenly the fact that I liked climbing trees, reading J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and going fishing felt like something I shouldn't talk about. And it sucked.

Of course, back then I felt like the one who was losing out. The things other girls were interested in never interested me, and I didn't read magazines like Teen Beat to try to get the scoop. I just retreated into books. It's only now, when I look back, that I see I was actually doing OK and the kids trying to keep up with the popular crowd were the ones losing out. When you try to keep up, there's always something you're not doing that "everyone else is" doing. Drinking, drugs, sex, whatever was rumored to be the "in" thing was what it took to stay cool and ahead of the crowd.

Now I have two sons. One's a boy scout, and he gets Boys' Life magazine every month. Above is the cover that arrived this week. In case you can't read the main story description, here it is:

EXPLORE YOUR FUTURE: Astronaut? Artist? Firefighter? Chef? Here's How to Be What You Want To Be

The issue also includes articles on traversing glaciers on a hike, combating food waste with easy recipes, true stories of scouts in action who saved others' lives, a drawing lesson, a rock climbing lesson, a twig picture frame building lesson, comics, jokes and more.

All I know of the Girls' Life magazine are the cover stories I see listed:

-Fall Fashion You'll Love
-Wake Up Pretty
-Your Dream Hair
-My First Kiss
-Quiz: Are you ready for a boyfriend?

Can I just say, now and as a teen, I would rather read the Boys' Life? There are SO MANY INTERESTING THINGS to read about! My curiosity is piqued by every article. And just think of all the things I'd have to talk about at the lunch table tomorrow!

I admit I'm still glad I have boys, especially because this type of publication is available and marketed to them. But I'm also really sad that in the thirty-some-odd years since I was a teen, girls' magazines have clearly progressed not at all. What are we telling girls is important? Worth reading about? Talking about? Caring about? Spending money on? Nothing of substance. Nothing that will make them interested in their world, curious about possibilities for their futures or that will feed their souls. 

By selling magazines to girls that perpetuate the idea that the superficial is what matters, our society is doing girls and boys a disservice. Girls will have nothing worthwhile to think, talk or dream about and boys will find it difficult to relate to them on any real level.

It's 2016, for crying out loud. Parents, can we please push back on this type of thing and force publishers and marketers to get with the times? Write letters! Get on Twitter and voice your opinion! Boycott these "fluff" publications and explain to your daughters and sons why their content is useless!

And while you're at the store bashing the trash, pick up a copy of Boys' Life for your favorite girl. She'll love you for it. Maybe not today, but down the road.

Just a guess.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Riding Shotgun

Perhaps because I'm an avid fan of historical fiction, I've begun referring to my sons as "the Heir" and "the Spare".  Their recent antics consisted of the Spare taking baby octopus for lunch to camp one day so he could freak out the other kids. He'd hoped the fried anchovies would be an even bigger hit, but instead, the other campers banned him from the table because of the fishy smell. Live and learn.

Monday, the Heir passed his road test the first time out. He can now drive, unsupervised, until 9pm. Legally. But that doesn't mean I'm ready to let him take my car. I've been sitting shotgun while he drives himself to work, picks up the Spare from camp, gets milk, etc.

Until today.

This morning I asked him if he felt ready to take the Spare to camp. Alone. He nonchalantly said, "sure," even though he's been clearly frustrated at my need to tag along lately. And so, short on sleep and prior to coffee, I gave him the keys and watched them leave.

That's right. I put MY ENTIRE TEENAGE BROOD IN A BOX ON WHEELS, AND LET THEM DRIVE OFF WITHOUT ME.

Once the coffee kicked in, I started wondering what was taking him so long to get back. Then the customized "Heir" ringtone chimed on my phone. Oh my god, he's driving and texting did I teach him NOTHING I can't believe I ever..." 

*looks at phone

"I'm parked at the community center. Do you want me to go get gas?"

"....

Sure, if you're comfortable with that."

"OK, see you soon."

I never wanted to be a helicopter parent, and I think I've done a pretty good job so far (big kudos to my husband for keeping me grounded in that regard). I also look forward to becoming a couple again when the kids are off on their own. The Heir will leave next summer, and the Spare will be three years behind him. It's like a light at the long parenting tunnel. As in, "yay, no more noisy, stinky housemates!"

But with all the recent college visits and driving lessons, I find my grip tightening instead of loosening. The Heir and I are fighting a lot. I expect more from him and he resists with more vehemence. Gotta admit, I kinda hate it.

Apparently, this is part of the process of letting go. Hold tight, and he will push harder to get away. He won't be afraid to leave. On the contrary, he'll look forward to it. He'll fight back so much, I'll *wish* he would go. He wants to be independent as much as I want him to be. And yet. Though I know it'll be good for everyone, and we're both looking forward to it, we haven't lost sight of the fact that it'll be a huge change. Even when we're fighting, we still understand, deep down, what it will really mean: he won't need me anymore.

I think back to the Heir's toddlerhood, of showing him how to do something and then having him take the toy from my hand and say, "I do it." It's happening again. Only this time, he's taking the car.

I'll get through it, I always do. And I feel just as proud as I did when he was little and learning and doing on his own.

Wasn't that just, like, last month?

Live and learn.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Delegating Nest Duties

This is the first summer in five years that my oldest has not been a day camp counselor-in-training from Monday through Friday, 9-5. Did I worry that his paying, part-time job that has him working only five hours a week would upset my writing schedule? Heck yeah. Did it? Heck yeah. So there was no way I was going to let that happen without some kind of upside. 

Welcome to the first summer that's been about my kid making progress instead of me.

Jacob is entering his senior year of high school in September. ***Pardon me while I pause here to hyperventilate a moment. *** What this means is that, in addition to doing summer reading, and researching and visiting colleges, he's also working toward his Eagle Scout award, the highest rank you can earn in Boy Scouts. There are certain requirements for each merit badge as well as a certain number of merit badges that need to be earned to reach this goal. Beyond that, he also needs to find, plan, gain approval for and then complete a large community service project. This all has to be done before he turns 18. Being at camp forty hours a week would not have been conducive to making the kind of progress he needs to make over summer break (i.e. when there's no homework). So we ditched camp in order to give him time to do as much as he could on scout stuff.

Like most parents of teens, my biggest worry was that without a daily routine, Jacob would fall into a pattern that looked something like this:

-sleep late
-eat
-watch videos on his phone
-play video games with his friends online
-eat more
-nap
-shower
-watch more videos
-ask what's for dinner

Luckily for me, three of his merit badges require daily chores, a fitness workout and weekly personal financial tracking. He's also aiming to get his driver's license in August, and leaves for sleepaway camp in less than a week. What does all this mean? A lot.

He's been getting up early every day to eat breakfast before driving his brother to day camp (with me in the passenger seat). Then he drives around town as we run errands. When we get home, he does his fitness work out and marks it on his tracking sheet. Then he showers and does chores around the house (laundry, vacuum, empty the dishwasher, collect and take out the garbage/recycling, etc.) and records them for his other merit badge. Eventually he stops and makes lunch for us both. In between all that, he's packing for camp. And we've got a list of possible Eagle Scout projects for him to research so he can draw up some draft proposals and seek out early approval for at least one.

Suffice it to say that getting up and being productive first thing in the morning has given him momentum. Sure, he still pauses to watch inane videos from time to time (thankfully, not while he's driving). But the bottom line is, stuff is getting done. Productivity is occurring. And my not having to drive or cook or do laundry for a fourth person just adds to the list of great things. But the most important revelation of all occurred to me at Jacob's senior photo session this morning.

As he donned a cap and gown over his suit and tie, I realized that when he goes off to college, things are going to change. I'd been looking forward to it because it will mean no more smelly sneakers, loud singing at all hours, art supplies all over my living room or battles over homework.

Sure, I'm going to miss him. But today I realized I'm also going to miss his doing things around the house that help me out so much. I'll  have to start vacuuming, cleaning the boys' bathroom and doing all the cooking and driving again. Sure, hindsight is 20/20. I realize now that I should have had him doing all this stuff years ago.

Need more proof that I'm slow on the uptake? Today I finally got why the whole "empty nest" thing makes parents sad.

Friday, June 3, 2016

A Shift in the Animal Kingdom


Today we had to say goodbye to our sweet Bailey boy, who made it to the ripe old age of 15 just two days ago. It's never easy to say goodbye to a beloved pet, and even harder to know when and how to tell the rest of the pack (i.e. kids). What is inevitable are the conversations that ensue about love and family and pets and death, and the different way each child handles it all.

One child fought it. He asked if the decision could be delayed or changed, if there were things we could do to treat all of Bailey's multiple symptoms in order to keep him with us longer. This child is the problem solver, the so-loyal-to-the-end-that-I-never-want-the-end-to-come guy.

The other child accepted it, but fought to assimilate the information into his knowledge about life. What it would mean to us as a family? How he would cope? Could he talk about it with his friends? Where would Bailey go after he was gone? Heaven, reincarnation and the power of love were a big part of the conversation.

Regardless of our faith, we all need a way to understand how loving, vibrant souls cease to be just because their physical bodies have worn out. Many (including me) believe the souls go on living. Maybe they go to Heaven to be reunited with others who have gone before, and enjoy an eternity of joy and painless existence. Or maybe they come back to the world in another form, perhaps to cross paths with those who loved them before, in order to teach or learn new lessons. No one knows. But exploring the possibilities, and finding the one that brings us the most peace and comfort, and the ability to live with the hurt, is part of how we grieve and let go. For this pack anyway.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Look! Something Shiny!


I did it wrong. Both my kids both needed new cell phones--theirs were outdated, beat up and crashing non stop. Even when I saw the sale I knew I should wait for the weekend, but to be honest, one more echo of "I NEED A NEW PHOOOOONE" was going to send me screaming from the house. So rather than wait, I took my oldest to the mall and bought two new phones. On a Monday.

Then, of course, we needed to get home and make dinner. And Jacob had to shower because he had to leave for a meeting that night right after we ate. And Ben had homework and laundry to do, and I had unfinished work. I thought I'd be OK when Jacob said he'd rather drive home than play with the new phone while *I* drove, that he wasn't as crazy-excited as I thought he'd be.

I was wrong.

Needless to say, I spent the next half hour over the stove cooking while simultaneously yelling, "Get in the shower! Get in the shower! Go do your homework! PUT DOWN THE PHONES!"

I was frustrated, but not surprised because I could totally relate.

The boys are growing up and becoming more responsible, but they're still kids. My generation didn't grow up with technology, surrounded by friends' iPhones and Galaxies. Puma sneakers and Guess? jeans were what I longed for, the costly, pretty things owned by seemingly everyone but me. Those were the shiny baubles I craved. When I finally got my own pair of Guess? jeans, I didn't take them off for a week. So how could I possibly hand my kids brand new phones and tell them to put them away a few minutes later?

True, jeans and sneakers aren't as distracting and fun to play with as a phone that holds the world in games, music, videos and more. But I still get it. So I laid down some rules. If each kid doesn't do what he needs to do before becoming absorbed in his phone at the end of the day, I get it.

The phone, that is. At least until the work is done.

Yes, almost all kids have devices these days, but that doesn't mean parents have to hand over control. I paid for half of each phone. I drove to the mall to get them, and I pay the bill each month. The phones are tools of communication, first and foremost. Yes, they are also entertainment devices, but like any other toy, if they are getting in the way of work that needs doing, they get taken away.

Sure, the boys are growing up. But they are still kids, and I'm still the parent. While it would be easy to let them do their own thing so I could do mine, on my shiny device, it won't help them when they're in college and choosing to play video games over going to class or doing homework. Better to teach them now how it should work, even if leading by example is really hard for this shiny-toy-loving mom.


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Wanderlust Meets Worrywart

My mom is a worrier, has been for as long as I can remember. It's kind of a joke within our family because, in fact, we're all worriers: my mom's siblings, their children and me. But the worry never held me back in life--I guess my passions were too strong to succumb to the "what if?" so I was always able to ignore that niggling fear and plow ahead on new ventures.

Until I became a mother. Since then, life has been a series of small victories. For the first years of my kids' lives, I was their world--one full of love, laughter and exploration. It was very hard to release them into "the system" when they headed off to kindergarten, but I didn't let them see my tears.

As they moved from primary school to the dreaded middle school years, I fought back my horrible childhood memories of feeling like a misfit, smoking, and hanging with a bad crowd as I sought acceptance. I put my faith in my kids and our school system and stood by to help with any issues that arose before they got out of control.

This year, my oldest is a high school junior and, as such, has been presented with some fabulous opportunities. Last week, he took advantage of one and headed off with eighteen other students to spend winter break touring Italy and Spain. It's a trip of a lifetime, and he lost sleep in the days leading up to it because he was so excited.

I lost sleep too, but not for the same reason. My worrier gene was highly inflamed.

The overnight flight landed safely in Rome on Friday, and I relaxed a little. The short flight to Barcelona landed safely on Monday and I relaxed a little more. The high-speed train to Madrid arrived safely this morning and I'm almost back to normal. They've only two flights to go until they're home again on Friday night.

We used to tease my mom about her superhuman ability to leap, in a single bound, to the worst possible scenario, conclusion or outcome. Do we live in a different world than she did as a young mom? Sure. But does that make my worry any less ridiculous or any more justified? I don't think so.

Why? Because the worry doesn't stem from overactive anxiety or terrible news headlines or even our kids' innocence and immaturity. It's born out of love--a mother's love--which is perhaps the most powerful, empowering and debilitating force in the universe. Of course, with great power comes great responsibility.

This is why I didn't let my kids see me cry when they left me to go out into the great big world for the first time. Or the second time, or every time after. I smile and hug them, wish them luck and tell them they'll do great. I wave and cheer and tell them I love them as they're pulling away. I wait until I'm alone to cry out my fears. Because they will do great, and I do love them and I'm happy to watch them go and grow, even as I fear that very act so much that it makes me weep.

But I'll continue to keep that part hidden from them, because it wouldn't serve them at all. I'll let them go find adventure and themselves, and say nothing about the worry gene. If they've inherited it, they'll learn about it soon enough when they become parents.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Strangers Among Us

Lately I've been feeling like a boarder in my own home. The beings I used to live with are morphing, and I'm not sure how much longer we'll all be able to live together peacefully.

Our dog, Bailey, is fourteen-and-a-half years old. His body's been failing him for a while. He struggles on uneven ground, stumbling often and sometimes falling when his back legs go out from under him. He doesn't do stairs anymore. He can't see well and is mostly deaf. But he'll still occasionally bring a toy and drop it into my lap, and is happy to nudge me with his nose when he wants some attention and love.

Our sixteen-year-old is eating constantly. He comes home from school and has a big salad, then eats the equivalent of two dinners and dessert, with room for a snack later. He's now taller than I am. When he speaks to me from down the hall, I often mistake him for my husband. He'll be taking his permit test on Friday.

Our thirteen-year-old is on the cusp. He's still my baby, but he's fighting that. He tussles with teen issues while maintaining a foot in his younger self's world. He's recognizing he can't be both teen and child, but sometimes the teen angst can be crushing and it's easier to revert to child mode, when things made sense. Like girls. We butt heads a lot.

Not so recently, Bailey started barking at the sixteen-year-old. We theorized it was Jacob's dark sweatshirt that threw the dog off, perhaps reminding him of a contractor or other stranger that came through the house, uninvited by Bailey. But then he started snarling and growling when Jacob would come upstairs and into the living room, so we thought perhaps Bailey couldn't see him well enough without the lights on and, since Jacob looks and sounds so much different than he did a few short months ago, Bailey thought he was an intruder. We decided to keep the lights on and Jacob would walk slowly so as not to startle the dog. But then Jacob would be sitting in the dining room looking at his phone and absently petting the dog, and the dog would be fine and then suddenly start growling at him for no reason. We decided Jacob should just keep from extending his hand to the dog at all, just in case. But then yesterday, Jacob was studying and came downstairs with me to do something, and when he came back upstairs right behind me, while I breezed past the dog, Jacob was stopped on the stairs and Bailey was crouched and snarling at him. It made me so uncomfortable that I pulled the dog by his collar into the living room, sent Jacob up to his room, scolded the dog (which did nothing), and then "banished him" to the basement while we had dinner upstairs.

There are a lot of growing pains in our house. We're all adjusting to our changing bodies and emotions as we age, and doing our best to continue to be kind to each other. But as my husband and I discussed, while we may be uncomfortable sometimes, it's not right that any of us should feel threatened or endangered living in our own home. We know Bailey can't see, hear or smell well anymore, and we know Jacob's hormones have changed almost everything about his body. But it doesn't mean Jacob should be afraid to be in the house with the dog.

I don't know what the answer is. I refuse to let things be until there is a dangerous incident, when Bailey finally decides that Jacob is a true threat and goes after him. I'd never be able to live with myself if that happened.

For now, we keep them separated. But it's not a big house, and it's winter. We can't keep Bailey in the yard, he's too old to find him a new home, and we know he's not a vicious animal. At least, he never was before. But he no longer seems to know Jacob, and little by little, I feel we no longer no Bailey. Everything is changing.