Tag Archives: parenting

These three….

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These three are my world and I could not be prouder of them.  They are not perfect and I couldn’t be prouder of that either.  Not one of them fits a formula (Straight A-student, star athlete, Rhodes scholar….).  We get compliments all the time on how nice, funny & respectful they are and that is what makes me proud.  Their teachers, administrators and fellow peers seem to adore them and that’s important to me.  More important than perfect grades, scholarships and accolades.  I want them to grow up to be what they want to be.  We know more and more people lately who will only finance their kids’ college educations if they follow the plans they think will produce a lucrative job at the end of the line – medicine, law, nursing, accounting, engineering, physical therapy, teaching……..Wouldn’t the world be interesting if those were the only professions we had to choose from?  Next time you take in a movie, think of how exciting it would be if Brad Pitt, Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood and Martin Scorsese were all partners in a law firm.  The next time you get your hair done, think of how you’d look if your favorite stylist thought nursing was her only option.  Last year on our family vacation, while paddling in the middle of a lake, I thought, “Wow, thank God someone used their imagination and came up with the Yolo Board!”  It takes all kinds.  And it takes all sorts of interests and passions to make this wonderful thing we call a world go around.

I have a theory that there would be many more creative people if not for the expectations of their parents and grandparents.  We are experiencing this in our own life right now, both good and bad.  My dad loves my kids completely unconditionally.  He loves that they are caring, unique individuals with diverse interests in life. Sometimes I wish he would teach a course on how to love unconditionally.  It’s not all about having an arsenal of brag fodder. Some say,  “How are their grades?  What?  Not straight A’s??”  “He wants to be a director? Good luck with that.”  “He’ll never be an athlete if he doesn’t eat better or practice more!”  And to this I simply say, “Are you serious???”

I look at my three children and I see bravery in my girl,  the one that broke from the pack and went off to a university where she had no close friends.  She sought out and got a job without being told to when we told her we couldn’t squeeze any more out of our budget to help her with expenses.  She works hard and she makes us proud.  She has always chosen good friends who help round out her life.  She has endured people erronously thinking she has an illness, for God’s sake, with grace and dignity.  She travels the world with little or no fear, once with two broken toes, and drinks in life fully with every breath.  I have no doubt she will succeed in life.

I look at my middle child, the free spirit, the one people find hilariously funny…..and I see great things in his future.  At his old school, he was routinely dismissed as not paying attention, not giving it his all, sometimes being a pain…..  At his new school, he is embraced.  They find him hilarious and go out of their way to find things that will interest him and use his abilities for a greater good.  He has found a sweet spot in drama and improv and he has developed a heart that makes me proud.  On a recent trip to New Orleans, his dad had given both he and his brother $20 to spend.  Over dinner, Wyatt asked if it would be ok if he gave his $20 to the struggling musician with the loyal dog curled up beside him.  I’ll take that over “straight A’s” any day.  I love that at his new school, on many occasions, teachers and administrators have told me, “We don’t know what he’s going to do with his life but we know it will be something successful that we will all remember.”  I believe that too.

I look at my youngest.  My shy one, my introvert.  He’s talented at many things, including baseball and cooking.  He’s got an eagerness to learn that is admirable and an eagerness to make his money grow that I still do not have :) His attention to detail on projects can be both impressive and frustrating!  In many ways, parenting him  is my biggest challenge because I take for granted that he’s fairly outgoing like me when he’s actually much shyer and more withdrawn that even HE projects to others.   He played basketball for his school this year and gave it his all.  No matter what the sport, he’s so fun to watch.  I admire that he is generally over a loss by the time he’s off the court or in the car.  He likes to have fun and he is good with kids younger than he is.  He is funny too.  All three seem to have that gene.

What’s not to be proud of?  Why would I need straight-A’s?  Have I told you all how much I hate that phrase?  I’ll say it again.  I hate hearing how your kid has straight-A’s.  Would you like to know why?  I’ll tell you anyway.  In many instances, those straight-A’s result from pressure from parents and the fear of failure they’ve instilled, whether conscious or not.  I hate that phrase the way I hate “gifted and talented” programs, though all my kids took part in them at some time or another, with very little benefit.  Take a kid who is naturally gifted at playing concert violin but has a 2.9 GPA.  Is he not gifted and talented?  Or is he talented but not gifted?  WTF does that phrase even MEAN?  What about a child who starts a charity to collect shoes for the needy and helps more people than many adults his age but struggled terribly in history and science and only graduated with a 2.5?  Does he have nothing to offer this world?  People, we are setting kids up for failure when we make them believe they are only worthy if they get into the best schools, have a high starting salary upon graduation and have to reward their parents & grandparents with a long string of successes to brag about.  It’s ridiculous.  It’s no mystery to me that there is a rash of suicides today among teens and young adults.

I feel qualified to speak on this issue because for a long time I was one of those kids.  No, I wasn’t suicidal, but I was a high school kid who had a grandparent who talked about me like I was perfect.  I did make good grades.  I excelled in music.  At one point I was the top student in my class, and then the 2nd and then the 3rd and by graduation, the 6th.  Why?  Because I grew weary of having to keep up the facade of being perfect.  I really didn’t think it would affect my lot in life and it hasn’t.  I do what I love now.  I am a mom, a wife and a photographer, who takes images that hopefully have a positive effect on my subjects, whether I’m photographing a new baby, an engaged couple, a senior in high school or a beautiful woman.  I don’t make a fortune.  I don’t even promote myself much, if truth be known, because I’m lucky enough to be in a situation where I can pick and choose my work.  I’m not a perfect wife or mother by any means, but I think I’m happy.  I have my days, don’t get me wrong, when I consider hanging it up and fleeing for the nearest secluded beach.  But overall, I’ve got it good.  Would I be happier as a hotshot LA attorney with a degree from Stanford?  I doubt it.  Actually I can pretty much guarantee it.

What I do know for sure is that the person who affected my life the most was the one who supported me no matter what I chose or how I failed and not the one who expected me to be perfect.  Which one are you?

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Strength

A favorite memory - riding the ferris wheel each year with my dad...

A favorite memory – riding the ferris wheel each year with my dad…

My dad used to constantly tell me, “I may not always agree with your decisions, but I’ll always be here for you & I’ll still love you no matter what happens.”  Now that I am a parent of three children with distinctly different personalities, I realize how brave – how EXTREMELY BRAVE – that was.  At the heart of that statement, I now know, was a bold faith.  He was confident in his faith that I was intelligent & would choose wisely.  I didn’t always make the right decisions but I’m alright – educated, happy and content – & I think he always had faith that I would be.  How in the WORLD he kept this unwavering faith in me through the early teen years is beyond me.  Jack Daniels, maybe?  I love my three with the deepest emotion and intensity that one can muster.  Somewhere, buried in my heart, I know that same faith exists.  In those moments when they are just TRYING the last vestige of patience that is hiding in a remote corner of my soul by not turning in homework, forgetting tests, or talking back, I long to have been given some sort of warning when they were born.  “This one’s a Level 5!  Take cover! In a therapist’s office, if possible!” or “This one, a level 2,  will cause some waves, but you will easily ride it out.” Something….anything…. I often tell people if I ever host another baby shower I will order a cake that says, “Get ready. Your life is about to be turned completely upside down & any confidence you had in your ability to lead will be shattered.  But CONGRATULATIONS!”  Had I been warned, instead of childproofing with cute outlet plugs I would have barred the windows, intensely researched the best therapist instead of pediatrician and had a locksmith put locks on the OUTSIDE of their doors.  (Kidding……sort of.) I made it through these stages with my firstborn, a spirited, outgoing, FUNNY, beautiful daughter.  In college now, she amazes me all the time.  She is someday going to be living on her own, continuing to make me proud & we will barely remember we had to wrap our arms around her tightly in the car to keep her screaming, writhing self from jumping out the door of our 95 Geo Prizm on the way to school because the socks she wanted were not clean.  The drama that ensued when her dad lost her Halloween wig right before Halloween night rolled around will be but a distant memory.  When you’re opening that Diaper Genie you considered essential and smiling between bites of cake, no one will tell you how hard it is, but you too will survive.

We are left with two boys at home.  They are REALLY making me question where my dad found that faith.  He tells me they’ll be fine.  Not only did he have faith in me, but he has it in my kids.  He is the epitome of unconditional love & has never expected them to be anything more than what they are.  That’s a fine example to have and I struggle daily to live up to it.  When one of my kids forgets to turn in a 50 pt. assignment, or gets a speeding ticket, or comes home with one shoe because the other had been taped to his locker by the teacher & he just didn’t notice it, I usually hang my head in prayer.  “God, help me.”  I now understand why my grandma, who I grew up with, would look at the sky sometimes & simply say, “Strength.”  It used to seem odd to me but I get it now.  Oh, Lord, do I get it!

“Strength! (looking skyward) Strength!  And if possible, a little faith.  And thanks.”

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Why Our Son Is Leaving Baseball….At Least For Now

What???

“You CAN’T let him quit!”

“You’re teaching him it’s ok to be a quitter!”

“He’s got potential!  Why would you not foster that?”

“You’re letting your kid be in charge!  I’D teach that kid to get down to that baseball park and play!”

“You’re not teaching him to be a team player!”

“If he quits now, he’ll never play again!”  

“He’ll never make the pros if he quits now!”

I’ve heard it ALL.  Our son started playing baseball when he was in what they call the “rookie” league.  I think they’re 6-7 at that age.  He liked it “ok”.  He sat out a season because he was bored & just didn’t like it.  We let him.  He was, after all, 7 years old.  The next summer he really got into playing catch with his dad and watching the Cardinals play.  It lit a fire in him.  He was inspired and he was ready to get back at it.  He wanted to play again and we encouraged him every step of the way.  He showed potential to be good. His love of the game bordered on obsession, but in a positive way.  At the next level of baseball, you get “drafted”.  Yes, at 9 years of age, you try out in front of prospective coaches and some get chosen and some don’t. (Eyeroll.) We felt very lucky and happy that our son was chosen to be on a team in the “Cal Ripken” league, yet a bit apprehensive as to what we might be entering into.  Cal Ripken is a four-year commitment.  It is four years of baseball with the SAME team, moving up from single A competition and ending with AAA competition, before you graduate from that and try out for the Babe Ruth league.  Four years with the same team.  Theoretically, four years with the same coaches and same players.   We loved the coach who drafted him and most importantly, our son loved the coach.  From outward appearances, you might not think our son is introverted.  In fact, he’s extremely introverted.  Shy.  Observant.  One of those kids who sits quietly and takes everything in while not making a sound.  He’s analytical.  He’s a perfectionist, in some ways to a fault.  He’s got a lot of his mom in him.  If you get on his nerves, he’s likely not to give you the time of day.  Yet, if someone reaches out and makes a connection and shows that they want to get him on a personal level, he will let you in wholeheartedly.   He’s got a lot of his dad in him in that he’s shy but people sometimes mistake that for being rude or snobbish.  (After birthing two extroverted children, this has been somewhat of a change for us, but it’s HIM and we love him & we are slowly learning to adjust to this.)   Our son’s first “Cal Ripken” coach made a connection with him, taught him well and continued to inspire his love of the game.  He seemed to “get” him and that important connection was made.  For unfair reasons I won’t go into here, that coach was let go and we were thrust swiftly into the world of the nasty politics of youth baseball.  It wasn’t pretty.  We were in limbo.  Did he even have a team?  Then he got a new coach.  After a while, that coach started to make a connection with him.  He began to get over the disappointment of losing the coach he loved and continued to play.  It was a bit hard because there was now a rift in our team.  Some left. Some stayed.  It wasn’t his old team.  He eventually began to relish his role as a leader, being one of the oldest (& certainly the tallest!)  on the single A team and wanted to keep playing.  And then that coach left to form a traveling baseball team.  So we were in limbo again.  At this point in time, I saw my son slowly begin to lose his love for the sport.  He had also switched schools at this time and started to develop a love of basketball.  He’s eleven at this point & I feel strongly that no child should have to choose one sport to focus on at eleven.   Although they may think they do, most kids have no clue what they want to focus on, in sports or life in general, at age eleven.  After a long wait, we finally learned that our second team would be disbanded and the kids would be farmed out to other teams based on the needs of coaches while trying to take into consideration which teams the parents would prefer their child be on.  So, yet another change.  At this point, my husband and I made a huge mistake.  We thought we were doing the right thing.  We thought he should be on a team with a coach who had no dog in the fight (he’s been at the park for decades and has grown children) and who would have no desire to leave the ballpark & join the world of travel ball.  Our son had asked to be put on a couple of teams where he had friends, and yet we chose to put the coach of our choice first.  Parents know best, right?  Not always.  Add this to my list of regrets.  We viewed stability as the most important factor at this point, forgetting he was just eleven and the most important factor was fun and a sense of being part of a team.  Although this third coach was a wonderful coach and improved our son’s batting average, tremendously, he’s just not a coach who tries to form a connection with his players.  Or parents.  I think he said 5 words to me the entire time he coached my son.  He’s more of a manager in some ways, leaving much of the coaching to his “staff”.  This is fine for some people but when you couple this lack of connection with the coach with the fact that we took a totally introverted kid and put him on a team where he had absolutely no friends, it was a recipe for disaster.  By now, he was completely tired of being moved around.  And although he was on a team of mostly nice and welcoming boys, that team feeling just never, ever came.  I’m proud of him for playing one spring season with this new coach and giving his pitching and his new position in the infield his all.  I’m proud of him for enduring heckling by one horrid dad who constantly yelled at him when he didn’t pitch perfectly or missed a ball at shortstop.  (I’m proud of me for enduring that dad also.)  I’m very grateful to my son for the opportunity to stare into the storm that is youth baseball and see it for the ugliness that it’s become.  He may want to play again someday and I laugh at the people who say he will never be able to.  It IS true that it’s hard to compete with the kids whose parents insist they play year-round, get the extra pitching and batting lessons, have them train with weights,  drive them all over the country and basically try to produce a college-level or professional athlete.  Guess what?  In 99.99999% of cases, this isn’t going to work and your child is either going to end up with damaged muscles, lost opportunities in other areas of life or really the chance to just be a kid. (I know, I know – your child WANTS to do it.) Parents these days obsessively count the number of pitches their kids are throwing. AT ELEVEN!  Some kids on travel teams are simply commodities to these coaches who use them to win tournament after tournament or the ultimate goal, a trip to the “World Series”, which is actually one of many, many “World Series” held each year for youth baseball leagues.  Youth baseball has become a money sport. Sad, but true.  I had parents come to my son’s games to watch how he was doing and relish the games in which he didn’t do so well.  Sportsmanship in many of today’s parents is deplorable.  If it’s hard for adults to take, imagine being a kid out on the field.  Embarrassing at the least.  I ran into a parent the other day whose kid was sitting out of sports for a few weeks due to a stress fracture in his back.  She said it was due to too much intense football, basketball and baseball.  AT ELEVEN!  It’s disturbing what we are doing to our children these days when it comes to athletics.  They don’t have to do it all and they shouldn’t do it all.  I tell my son, if you want to play again someday, you’ll find a way to play.  A professional baseball player once watched him pitch and told him, “Someday you’ll be a great pitcher.”  In our minds, that seems awesome.  A professional baseball player??  But what if that’s not what he wants to be. I was forced to take piano lessons against my will for years.  I played and I played well.  I have not touched a piano since I left for college.  Someday I might want to, but it certainly wasn’t going to be for me what my grandmother hoped because it wasn’t MY dream.  Think twice about what you’re asking of your kid.  If your kid wants to play three competitive sports at once, be the adult.  Tell him no.  Teach him to make decisions and prioritize.  And ask yourselves, “Am I in this for my child or the kudos I’ll receive when he excels?”  I say this because I know for a fact that you just might destroy your child in the process and I refuse to be this kind of parent.   At eleven, they’re kids, not athletes.  I will miss seeing that boy on the mound.  I will miss watching the fierce determination inside him become visible in his eyes as he releases that pitch.  And I will miss him sliding into home.  I will miss so much.  But I don’t want to be “that” parent. If he ever decides to pursue a sport with all of his heart again, I will be there to support him and help guide him, but for now he’s retiring his cleats.  And that’s OK.

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Prayers…and Thanksgiving!

When I talk about my life, people often say, “You should write a book!”  My usual response is, “I’m waiting until some people (99% of our relatives) have passed so I don’t make them angry.”  I care less and less about that as I age because life is what it is.  When I have no family left that speak to me, you, my fair readers, can feed me on holidays.  I’ll be right at home in your laundry room, using the washer as a table.  Just save me some rolls & slip me a glass or two of wine. White, please.  A nice Pinot Grigio.  Speaking of holidays, this Thanksgiving provided me with a classic “relative” moment to share & brought similar holiday moments of the past to mind.

Chuck invited me to move in with him after I graduated from college in May of 1992, one semester behind him.  It was TOTALLY his idea, regardless of what you might have heard when his mother stood up in front of her Baptist church congregation and asked that we be prayed for because we were “living in sin.”  I appreciated those prayers, and felt them working deeply as I was swinging naked from our cheap brass light fixture, but NOT as much as I appreciated the calls from friends saying, “Holy SHIT, Chuck’s mom told the entire church congregation you were living together!”  Those, I appreciated.  So……I took him up on his offer & my dad helped me move from Springfield to Kansas City. I had a lot of t-shirts, a cheap O’Sullivan coffee table & an end table that was made to look like a dalmatian.  It was an easy move.

My dad is the sort of man whose train of thought goes something like this:  “She’s moving IN with him?  Before marriage?  Well, at least she’s not pregnant and I didn’t have to pay for a dime of her college expenses and she’s never given me an ounce of trouble and HOT DAMN!  That boy is willing to take this hot mess on? Where do I sign?”  That’s my dad.  He wasn’t overly upset and as my former college roommate likes to point out, my grandma was likely sure I was sleeping on the sofa because I was such a good girl.  God LOVE that woman – I do miss her.

Our apartment was in a really nice, new complex in Overland Park, KS, the most vanilla, suburban city in which one could lay down roots.  I longed to live near downtown Kansas City, which was undergoing extensive urban renewal at the time but Chuck liked to be literally five minutes or less from his office.  The apartment was 762 square feet and had one bedroom, one bath, a living/dining area and a small kitchen.  It sat right next to a major four-lane highway.  I loved the traffic noise & Chuck hated it.  Furnishings were sparse. Our used microwave oven was so old and heavy that when it quit, we had to disassemble it and carry it to the dumpster in pieces. Amana Radarange, baby!  We were living the life!  Remember those old sofas from the 60′s and 70′s that were made of a knotty, plaid fabric woven in a lovely array of fall colors?  Had one!  Chuck’s grandparents had donated it to him for his first apartment.  We were very happy and really proud of our first home, despite it’s shortcomings.

We hadn’t made a lot of friends yet and didn’t entertain much (or at all), but Chuck had relatives who also lived in Overland Park and once when several members of his extended family were in town, he invited everyone over.  If I remember correctly, in that tiny apartment were Chuck, two aunts, two uncles, a cousin or two and his grandparents, who (bonus!) got to reminisce about their old sofa!  Chuck decided it would be nice to give everyone a tour of our place, which, had he thought, could have been accomplished by letting people stand beside the kitchen (card) table and spin in a circle while he yelled out the room names. Now remember, these people are all very, very uncomfortable with the idea of us living together because history will tell you that living with your future mate is bad.  Charles Manson and all of his followers?  Lived with their mates before marriage.  John Wilkes Booth?  Assassin and co-habitator.  Healthcare.gov website developers?  ALL CO-HABITATORS.  So you can see why the worrying was rampant.  Chuck wanted his relatives to really experience our place and file through all four rooms.  He led them just like a realtor needing one more sale to wrap up a good month and when he got to our bedroom, they would not go in.  WOULD.NOT.GO.IN.  A team of sled dogs couldn’t have pulled them across that threshold.  Poor Chuck was all the way in the room pointing out the lovely features (“This is where Noelle was stricken with her first kidney stone!”) and some of them didn’t even go near the open door while others peeked in like one might peek into a room fully expecting to see a dead body but hoping like hell not to.  I hurried to look in there thinking, “Have I left a teddy on the bedpost? Panties on the ceiling fan?  K-Y Jelly on the dresser?  IS THERE A LARGE SPIDER?”  Nope. Nothing.  I  sat back down, as did Chuck, eventually, and the circle of visitors had taken on the look of a gathering of relatives waiting for the doctor to come out and tell them if their loved one survived a harrowing surgical procedure.  Apparently just thinking about the sex that went on in that 9×9 room had them all entirely discombobulated.  After a few attempts at conversation – “How ’bout a game of Monopoly?” “How ’bout those Chiefs?”  “Isn’t that George Brett somethin’?” – the party was clearly over and everyone left.  Chuck walked them out and came back inside.  He looked at me with an odd expression and said, “Did they think a giant condom was going to attack them if they went in our room?”  We still laugh about it today because it was just so…….INANE!

A few weeks later we were (surprisingly) invited over to his aunt and uncle’s house for Sunday dinner and his uncle’s sweet, elderly mother, who is no relation to Chuck, was there for a visit.  We were all sitting at the nicely appointed dining room table eating dinner when the woman blurted out, in the clueless manner of Aunt Clara on Bewitched,  “DO THEY PAY RENT???” You can’t buy these moments, people.   We still laugh about it because our assumption is that she was so absent-minded she thought we lived in the basement or another part of the house & had just come up to dinner.  I wanted to yell back, “NO! We live in sin over on 103rd!”

By now, my hope is that you’re getting an idea of why I cringe when holidays roll-around.  One year, I walked into Chuck’s grandmother’s house and she greeted me with, “Wow, you’ve really been a-putting it on ain’tcha?  You used to not be that big!”  I wanted to say, “Yes, Chuck looked into moving me up the Mississippi on a barge but in the long run it was cheaper to just rub Crisco all over me and shove me in the car.”  Instead, I turned to Chuck and said, “WHAT THE HELL?” At a previous holiday dinner, she had accused me of not eating enough.  I was pregnant and she said, “You’re gonna kill that baby!”  I walked out that time and drove to my own grandma’s house.  THIS IS WHAT I ENDURE.  All out of respect for Chuck.  Well, this grandmother is 89 now and still going strong.

Last week, on the day after Thanksgiving, we had dinner with some extended relatives on Chuck’s mother’s side and you guessed it, she was there (although she’s on his dad’s side).  Being the nice person that I am, I walked into the living room where she was sitting with Chuck and sat down on the couch.  Wyatt was in the recliner across from us, watching TV.  The woman looked at me, flung her hand toward Wyatt and said, and I am not EVEN kidding, “That one there, he goes to a school for special kids, don’t he?”

Who SAYS that??  “Special needs or not!  Who SAYS that?? A special school?  NO. No, he doesn’t.  He’s been in the family for 14 freaking years.  He’s perfectly normal, if not extremely intelligent and how many……I literally have no words, except NO, he does not go to a “special” school! Now before you sensitive readers freak, I have nothing against children with special needs, obviously, but if your child does NOT have special needs, you don’t want people to say that they do and you certainly don’t want a grandparent who has known the child for over a decade to be telling people that your child has special needs when they don’t!  I took a deep breath, counted to 10 and said, “He and his brother go to a private school.  His sister went to a public school.  They’re both great schools.”  How do you even answer that? Thankfully, we don’t think HE heard her asinine question.  We’re trying to laugh about it now but I have to tell you that one has just left me shaking my head.

All I know, is at this point in my life, all bets are off as to how I respond. To any relative.  About anything.  And all of this is happening to me because I CO-HABITATED, right?

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Quiet

I recently purchased Quiet:  The Power of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.  I know. I know.  You’re thinking “HER??? QUIET???”  And for the most part you would be right.  I wasn’t always as bold and talkative as I am now.  As a child I was, for the most part, shy, quiet, unassuming & perfectly content to be alone reading, drawing or watching tv.  Then, and very much now, I found myself in situations where I was surrounded by people and noise & just wanted so desperately to find a pathway out that no one noticed so that I could be back in my little world of solitude and quiet.

Right now, I’m sitting alone in my home & although I do love the times when I’m surrounded by my family, I am, in this moment, incredibly happy and content.  In the seventies and eighties, when you were asked to do things that made you feel uncomfortable by teachers, parents or even friends, there was much more of a sense that you should do it because it was the appropriate and mannerly thing to do.  I regularly found myself suspending the “introverted Noelle” and trying out for plays, being in school programs where I was required to SING, which mortified (& still mortifies) me & raising my hand in class to participate.  I have vivid memories of being scared that I would be called on.  Anyone but me, anyone!  Outward appearances clearly showed that I wanted to be a part of things.  I went to school dances and danced.  Dancing is as bad as singing for me.  It requires some liquid courage.  Chuck gets frustrated that I let people take advantage of me in my business because often this closet shyness prevents me from standing up for myself.  Self-promotion?  Horrifying to me.  I have always been overly concerned with what people think of me, though as I age that seems to be rapidly dissipating.  If you’ve seen me at Kroger, I’m sure you’re nodding your head.

The challenge I face now is having a child who is even MORE introverted than I ever was.  And I don’t think that’s a bad thing, yet I don’t want him to miss out on life.  Looking back, I’m glad there was that sense of unintentional pressure to participate.  I have lots of happy and funny memories I wouldn’t otherwise have. I want him to have them too.  He seems to share the mechanism of lifting his introverted ways to do things he REALLY wants to do like pitch a baseball game.  I’ve asked a million times if he’s doing it for him or for us.  He loves the game so he does what it takes.  He is very, very comfortable around his best friend’s family & isn’t at all shy around them.  It’s a comfort zone for him.  A safe place. Kids like that need those.

Today, I’m picking the kids up early for doctor appointments & they’ll miss math.  I e-mailed the teachers and made them aware so that they could be sure & let the boys know what they’re missing.  One teacher responded that she would love for Brooks to come to her room at noon so she can keep him up to speed on the lesson.  Of course, my introvert.  He was mortified.  He said he wasn’t going.  I let it go, mainly because I was not with him when he got the news that she wanted him to come.  His dad was. His dad who isn’t shy, who teaches classes to rooms full of consultants and law students, who speaks publicly OFTEN and manages an entire region of the US for his company.  If his dad is shy, he suspends it ALOT.  He emails the teacher and tells her Brooks might not show.  The teacher asks the assistant principal to page him to her classroom at lunchtime.  He’s going to be appalled.  It’s a small thing, really, but not to him.  Should we be doing things like this more?  I don’t know.  Maybe the book will help.  I’ve always been a parent who just made their kid do what *I* thought he/she should do, with the exception of sports. (In this house, you only play if you want to play. That’s another entry in itself!)  I truly believe that one of the best qualities anyone can have is the ability to be alone & be content. I like to think that right now we are giving him opportunities to do just that, yet encouraging him to branch out in some social arenas so he won’t be branded a loner or rude or anti-social.  None of those accurately describe him.

What do you have to offer?  Do you have an introvert?

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My Heart….

“Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” Elizabeth Stone

I never remember a time in my pre-adult life when I saw myself without children.  I loved playing house.  I loved being nurturing to my baby Mary and my Baby That-A-Way.  I had names for my future offspring.  At various stages in my childhood,  I couldn’t wait to birth Marcia (Brady Bunch, anyone?), Samantha and Tabitha (Bewitched?), Kelly and Sabrina (Hello…..Charlie’s Angels!).  In the latter years of elementary school, my best friend, Lana, and I cut a jillion people out of magazines and pasted them in giant sketchbooks, making our imaginary families.  Then we would include blueprints of their home, which we drew ourselves, often drawing inspiration from blueprint magazines that we would walk four blocks to our local grocer’s and buy, along with Lay’s Chips, Pepsi and Spree.  Those were the days.  Families with characteristics, careers and personality traits we assigned. We even cut out cars and matched them to our families.  Little did we know, at that time, we didn’t know jack about parenting & families.  Boy, have we since learned!  (I didn’t come away from those experiences empty-handed though.  I still don’t like to see a house plan where a hallway ends abruptly with a wall…..)

Lana was a year older than I was and started her family much earlier than I did.  I remember her saying, when we were forming our imaginary families, that she just didn’t want kids with red hair.  I thought she was crazy for even thinking that might happen.  She was blond and her boyfriend (who later became her husband) had a thick mane of dark brown hair.  Lana had a maternal drive and instinct like no one I knew.  She ached to have kids someday.  And she did.  Two beautiful carrot-top redheads that she loves with all her heart, hair and all.  God does have a sense of humor.  That should have been our first clue that no book, television show or doctor could even come close to telling you what to expect once you’re a parent.

I took a longer route to having kids and Lana was one of the first people I called when we got the unexpected but thrilling news, in autumn of 1994, that we were having a baby.  Chuck, my husband, and I had talked about getting pregnant and figured that it would take a while and we would be announcing our pregnancy in autumn of 1995.  Needless to say, fertility is my strong suit.  I got pregnant immediately and we set about making plans to welcome our first child into our Colorado home, which we purchased in the spring of 1995.  It was a girl, which thrilled me & we named her Ryder.  Wyatt followed four years later in 1999 and Brooks, our third and final, came along in 2001.  Having been around the block now as parents, I still bang my head against the wall wondering WHY no one warns you how hard it is.  Maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference in my ability to handle the difficult times and it certainly would not have deterred me from becoming a parent.  The good outweighs the bad on most days.  A warning would have been nice, simply from the point of knowing that you were not the first parent to find it extremely difficult.  I might have liked to know that going through hell on some days is perfectly and painfully normal.

I had an unusual childhood, especially in the 70′s and 80′s, because I was raised by my dad and that wasn’t nearly as common as it is now.  We were close.  He loved me unconditionally but I think that unconditional love came easy because I never defied him or spoke out in disrespect.  I was shy, not at all rebellious and an only child, which is simply not as difficult as having more than one kid to parent.  You don’t have the competition between children for attention, the multiple activities to cover and in my case, I was just content to be by myself & generally occupied with some book, tv show or art project.  My dad didn’t have to mediate fighting,  dole out multiple allowances, choose which activities to attend, etc.  It was just me & him against the world.  And I had all the respect a child can muster for him.  I still do.  I always thought I’d be a great parent like him and although I go through stages of feeling like a total failure at that, I now realize comparing my parenting to his is not at all fair.  Different situation, different time in history, different personalities in my own children.

I put the quote by Elizabeth Stone at the top of this entry because although I realize what Ms. Stone meant, I think there’s more to our hearts than this quote reveals.  Our children are a part of us, yes.  They have our DNA.  We feel linked to them even when they are across town, or in the case of my oldest, in another state.  But what the quote fails to convey is that our hearts are very much still within our own bodies and subject to intense heartache and pain when our children defy us, disrespect us & lash out. Patience is not one of my strongest personality traits.  My clients say I’m insanely patient when photographing their kids and I honestly don’t know where that comes from except that under those circumstances,  I’m being paid to produce and in many cases I just can’t unless I wait patiently for the children to co-operate.  I wish I had this patience at home and I try so hard but I expect so much from my kids & I react, often negatively, when they fail to produce.

My daughter is sick this week. She lives in Texas so I can’t be there.  One of her traits is to always have an ache or pain so I’ve gotten to the point that quite honestly I tune her out.  I’ve explained to her that it’s kinda like the “boy who cried wolf” parable.  I fear one day it will be something really serious and I’ll blow her off.  Today she texted from the doctor and to spare you the details and respect her privacy, things went downhill fast.  Apparently she has severe bronchitis & I tried very hard to be sympathetic at first.  I do feel bad that she is sick so far from home but there’s honestly little I can do.  I can never do anything right in most cases anyway, so I ended up losing it after she disrespected me by calling me a name.  After dealing with the boys not turning in homework this week and fighting like a couple of wild dogs, I had nothing left in me. Nothing.  I’m spent.  I’m not a perfect parent and I never will be. But lately I’ve gotten tougher.  I’m stronger about imposing sanctions and implementing discipline.   They may hate me now but I have to believe when they’re older they’ll look back and realize we did them a favor.  I love them more than they will understand (until they have their own children) but when I ask them to do something because it’s important to me, I expect that it will happen.  And it will happen with a smile on their faces, even if it’s fake. I certainly do enough for them that they should return that favor.  So, back to that quote.  My heart is still inside me and it’s very vulnerable.  Parenting is not always the bastion of unbridled joy that our culture tends to make it out to be.  It can be ugly, tear-jerking, and brutal at times.  We will survive.  Most parents do.  We’re in this battle together and sometimes it makes all the difference in the world to hear that someone else is deep in the trenches of combat as well.  They will love us & look to us for help and advice someday.  I just hope I’m one of the survivors.

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Child-Rearing: The Fine Print…..

Some of you are contemplating having children, adopting children or, if you’re exceptionally desperate, perhaps kidnapping a couple of infants. (Take them back please; someday they’ll be hormonal and you’ll be searching for the address to return them to on anywho.com, and, besides, who needs a felony?)

Disclaimer:  I know some of you are struggling with being unable to have children and I’m in no way attempting to minimize that desire that burns within you to be a parent.  It’s real and it’s wonderful and it exists. And more than anything, I hope your dream comes true.  And most of that dream will be WONDERFUL!  Just don’t act like being shat upon at 3 a.m. is a moment you were waiting for & will cherish forever.  You may laugh heartily later but you won’t want to repeat it.  Now…..

Potential parents need beneficial advice, lest you think it’s all rainbows and unicorns.  It’s not.  Sometimes it’s poop explosions, vomit and bloody noses that never seem to end.  It’s baseballs-through-windows & broken limbs & stitches & Sharpie on couches.  It’s “everyone-but-me-has-a-smartphone-and-I-might-as-well-be-exiled-to-Tanzania.”  (Neither of our boys, 11 & 13 have them. They’re still here, functioning fairly normally – the boys, that is.)  As much as you plan to ‘cherish every moment’, no one enjoys a stream of pee in their ear canal or shit smeared on their brand new white J. Crew tee.  I know this.  Don’t try to sell me on that bullshit. You’re exasperated. You laugh about it later but you’re exasperated!

We need to get to a point in our society where we are honest about the reality of parenting and what it involves. We need to understand that some of the people who have had children and melted down under the stress were simply not prepared.  A lot of us weren’t. I’ve melted down A LOT!  When reading two freaking chapters on “What To Look For When You INTERVIEW Your Pediatrician”*, nowhere does the article say, “Be sure you find out which of his buddies was a psychiatrist because you’re going to need some scripts for yourself before your kid starts on whole milk.”  But it should.

No one is honest with parents-to-be.  No one tells them that it’s ok to complain.  No one told tells them that it’s not going to kill Little Johnny or Sara’s self esteem if they’re disrespectful to you and you tell them they’re being a miserable little asshat and that their game controllers will indeed reside in Dad’s office drawer for a week.  As a society we went through decades of being told that we need to build up our children’s self-esteem and let them know that they can do anything they set their minds to.  There’s some truth to this.  Help your kids find their talents and encourage them, yes.   I’m not sure how many of you watch American Idol auditions but sometimes we definitely need to tell our kids they can’t even carry a tune in the cargo hatch of a Range Rover and should suggest that maybe they pursue being a sandwich artist at Subway while letting better talents and abilities emerge. (Back off!  I know there are wonderful, pride-filled sandwich artists out there. Love me a turkey on wheat! NOT HATING.)  Maybe your husband was a great athlete, but if little Tommy isn’t loving going to the ballpark, he might be happier playing chess, or golf or making movies.  Be big enough and brave enough to let him.  And to let go of your dreams for him.  Pretty sure neither of my boys is going to be a professional dancer or golfer so why would I push them that direction?  Guide your kids.  Don’t live through them.  It’s ok to quit soccer or football.  Or cheerleading.  This is hard but no one tells you it’s coming.

The self-esteem movement is part of the undoing of America that we’re seeing.  It’s all about ME.  Oh trust me, my kids can be “all about me” quite often and I tried NOT to parent that way.  They get on my last nerve not considering others feelings before their own a LOT of the time.  I’ve tried and preached and gotten angry and  I’m admitting that I would love to change that trait but in all honesty, I don’t know what to change. I’m doing the best I can, praying, trying to be a great example and hoping maturity will help.  We live in an age with so many outside influences that our parents and grandparents had no concept of.  No, it’s not all happiness and family dinners.  They aren’t all going to make good, or God forbid, PERFECT, grades.  You shouldn’t expect them to.  Loosen the fuck up. Forgetting a thank you is NOT the end of the world.

Baby showers and presents and shower cake and decorating nurseries are exciting & nice…..I’m sorry, I meant “finger sandwiches & hor d’oeuvres”.  We can’t have sugar and gluten-filled cakes and punch at baby showers  anymore!  Harrows! Then that baby could be born with a BMI of 35!  Don’t even get me started on freaking PUSH PRESENTS.  Gag. (I think when I birthed Ryder, Chuck let me watch “ER” instead of the Cardinal game. That was my present. And it was the episode where a lady died in labor.  Thanks, hon.)  Pregnancy, birth & delivery all seems exciting and it IS but I’m thinking this dose of advice might be helpful in list form.  It’s not what people (except me)  write in your little book at the gluten-free shower.  Nap when the baby naps!  Make your own baby food!  It’s so easy and so cheap!  Just tell him you’ve already been up with the baby twice – he’ll NEVER know! ** And this handy, numbered list will be much easier to refer back to by number when you’re railing on me in the comment section:

1. Your kids & you will only come down with ‘projectile vomiting/simultaneous poop shooting illnesses’ while your husband is enjoying his business meeting at the Boca Raton Resort and Club drinking martinis brought to him by a lovely waitress named Fawn after he finishes his exhilarating game of golf on the links.

2.  You will at some time in your child-rearing years wonder if medication would help both you and your child.  Sometimes it helps your child.  It most always helps you.  There are, in fact, two kinds of people in this world: those who are properly medicated & those who should be.  This I know for sure, OPRAH, so shut up.  It’s nothing to be ashamed of.  You’d medicate your gall bladder if it wasn’t working properly. Or your heart.  Our ancestors used medication too, in the form of bourbon and martinis.  Our options are much safer.  You don’t have to feel like the world is closing in on you and it doesn’t have to be “just” post-partum depression or baby blues.  It can be when they’re 14 and want to go to the mall but they don’t have the right bra at that mall (because there are no visible tits on your child to begin with) so they need to go to Target and while they’re at Target they find three shirts they need and they have to have all three and you are such a BITCH because you set a budget of $30 and how is she ever going to not be laughed at when she goes to the PARTY & in that 30 seconds in Aisle 2, YOU JUST RUINED HER LIFE!  It can be then.

3.  Some of your child’s grandparents will possibly drive you stark-raving mad.  Because they will either tell you how to raise your child LIKE THEY DID decades before OR, EVEN WORSE, they will give this little smirky look like John Boehner gives Obama when he sits behind him during the State of the Union address & disagrees, which, much like with the grandparents, is every other sentence.  That look from grandma means, “Oh, you think you’re being so progressive making those babies do things like sit in car seats and not snack on raw weiners but YOU SURVIVED & YOU’RE PERFECT!”  Which ultimately means, “Look, America!  *I* raised perfection & my kid doesn’t measure up!”  This will anger you to no end and I applaud you for not smacking them.  This is one of the toughest things I’ve dealt with as a parent.

DISCLAIMER #2:  My dad and stepmom have never done this.  They may have disagreed a couple times with how we raised our kids but never raised an eyebrow and only gave advice when asked.  Imagine that – the ones that don’t express judgment get asked :)

4. Your baby may not like breastfeeding.  You may not like breastfeeding.  Breastfeeding is not the PERFECT food.  The food that works for YOUR child is the PERFECT food.  My daughter liked her bottles ice-cold, like most people like their beer.  A doctor told me I was crazy to feed her like that.  It could be traumatic on her infant stomach.  I told her to come over at 3 a.m. & help feed her.  That’s traumatic.  PERIOD.  Cold ones, it will be if it makes her happy.  Seriously though, go to a playground, ANY playground, right now and tell me which kids were breastfed and which weren’t.  (No fair, naming the 6 year old who is latched on to his mom lying across the park bench.  That’s a give-a-way.  And if you’re that mom, don’t be surprised when a line forms.  Kids are curious. That shit looks appealing.  To kids AND grown men.  Save that for your home quarters, please.)  But if breastfeeding is not for you, who cares?  I just wanted one person to tell me, “This is not necessary, you know.  Just quit.”  And finally someone did.  With Wyatt, I nicely said, “Please don’t tell me to breastfeed.  I’m very comfortable with my decision.”  With Brooks, I said, “Honey, did you pack that Koo-Aid here for junior in the diaper bag?”  There are no concrete rules with child-raising, except maybe to be honest with your pregnant friends, relatives, daughters, etc.  Don’t judge them.  Some things are just a personal choice and they’ve become a needless political platform.  We literally have organized groups that harass women who do not breastfeed.  I was a victim, practically stalked by a LaLeche woman.  I lived in Colorado at the time.  You have no business telling someone to nurse their baby anymore  than they have any business telling you whether you should wipe your ass front to back or vice versa.

5. People will judge how you educate your child.  There are so many ways TO educate your child.  Not every type of education is right for every child.  Our daughter did public education, K-12, though aspects of it were hard for me to watch.  It was her choice to stay and she did fine and is now off at a small university.  It might be right for your child.  Our sons go to a private Christian school because we wanted more individualized attention, staff & faculty that see individual differences in children and teach accordingly, friendly faces that act happy to see us & our kids instead of acting angry & exasperated.  We definitely LOVE less bureaucracy.  At this school, I’ve never felt a need to request a teacher, never seen a child grabbed by his arm and jerked, and the administration KNOWS my family.  I couldn’t tell you who the public LRSD administrators are on any given day and they certainly don’t know me.  It bothers me that people who have NEVER set foot on my kids’ campus judge it based on rumor & biased articles and have never experienced how it really feels.  That’s unfortunate.  It might be right for your child.  Some people have kids who thrive through homeschooling or online home education.  This would be absolutely no fun for either me or my kids.  I do not have it in me.  But my friends who do it?  I have them up on a pedestal with the inventor of the donut and people who can paint awesome portraits.  ULTIMATE ADMIRATION.  Maybe that’s right for your child.  But when you’re pregnant, no one tells you what a huge part of your life your child’s education will be beyond being sure they advise you to buy your home in a good school district.

6.  Sit down for this one.  You kids will hit adolescence.  They will lie.  (Yep.)  They will connive. (Yep.)  They will annoy the goddang hell out of you to do the silliest shit.  I personally would do high school over twice before I’d do 4-6th grade again with my daughter and sons.  They are hormonal.  They have no clue who they are or what they want.  They hate you because it’s cool to hate you.  Until they need you.  Then it’s cool, until they walk out the door and tell their friends with hair flip and eyeroll how much they HATE you.  (They will walk out the door, but bonus to you for your childrearing in their formative years if they shut it behind them.)  But wait,  none of their friend’s parents want to drive so you take the kids everywhere and pick them up.  The up-side to that?  You know where they are and what they’re doing.  It’s a pain but also, it’s time with those kids you can’t replace.  I cherish it now.  Oh, and sometime in middle school,  girls will want to dye their hair.  You’ll try to fight this.  I finally gave in.

“So, dye your hair.”

“Huh? Really?”

“Sure.  Dye your hair.”

They dyed their hair.  They dyed my hair, sink and walls too but it comes off.  There’s still a spot of dye on the ceiling but it just makes me smile when I see it.  They came out and showed me their dyed hair.  I couldn’t tell they dyed their hair but I said it looked beautiful, because in my eyes it looked absolutely perfect.  It will pass.  It will be hell and you will want to sell them, hide from them (done that – Priceline is great for this), and then damn if you don’t look forward to the happy moments again.  During adolescence they are few.  BUT THEY ARE THERE!

7. YOU WILL BE JUDGED!  Kids will talk to you like shit at this age and you will have other parents & grandparents butt in and tell you how to raise them or how “their kids never talk to them like that — not more than once!”  (I call bullshit).  Sometimes we don’t discipline our kids immediately in public.  It depends on the circumstances, severity and kid.  It’s really no one’s business.  Maybe when the offender gets home the video games are gone for three weeks.  Maybe we tie their hands behind their back at the table and gag them til we’re finished with our dinner.***  Whatever works. :-) Don’t let people’s opinions of you affect how YOU raise your kids.   Quite frankly sometimes we joke with our kids in a way that is horrifying to adults (sarcasm, advanced humor) & they stare as though we have them farmed out to be extras in porn or allow them to open for Andrew Dice Clay.  Expect judgment like this.  I didn’t see it coming and it was hard to cope with.

8.  The children will break 3/4 of everything you own in some manner.  They won’t care.  If you so much as chip the corner off one of their Legos by stepping on it with your boot, you, however,  will be subject to severe sanctions involving super glue (that after decades on the market, still fails to attach anything to anything except your finger to your lip)  or searching for “tiny pain-in-the-ass goblet from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Lego set – MINT condition” on eBay. Around 5th grade you grow a pair and throw all evidence of that shit in the trash when you break it, buried inside an empty can of vegetables that they would never touch.  Hint:  They can see them in the clear vacuum canisters :)

9. My final reality, because I’m getting sleepy is that when I had kids, I expected, when they were teens,  to be arguing over curfew, yelling “TURN THAT MUSIC DOWN”,  checking for alcohol, dealing with sneaking out,  you know, ALL the stuff you see in movies and on tv when teenagers are referenced.  Now, I’m not stupid enough to think my kid didn’t ever do anything wrong (BAHAHAHA) but for the most part, I think she and her friends have been honest about having designated drivers. She was pretty darn dependable about texting when she stayed over with friends.  We gave her freedom, put some trust out there and she stayed out of trouble, or, as a former teen, myself, I know that at least she was smart enough not to get caught….You’re probably expecting the worst during the teen years but I will forever value my dad’s theory to give me freedom and trust me until I screwed up.  Thank God speeding tickets were not considered screw-ups.

I could preach on, I’m sure, but just know that parenting is an amazing joy ride fraught with laughter, tears, frustration, anger, exhaustion, mass amounts of cash, pride, passion, and sometimes even boredom.  Some days you won’t like each other and THAT IS OK.  Some days you’ll lose your temper and THAT IS OK.  Most of us do the best we can and for the majority of us, THAT IS OK.

Footnotes:

*  I just asked my pediatrician if he takes AETNA.  You may want your interview to be more thorough.  But then my “birth plan” (remember we lived in Colorado – practically required) was: “1) Endure labor as long as I can. 2) Ask for drugs so I won’t feel it. ” Another lady in our class had one that was like 25 pages long and found it NOT funny when I asked if it included meal requests for the hospital stay.

**Okay, that piece of baby advice was mine.  Caught.

***JOKING! PUT THE PHONE DOWN.

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Grandparenting 101 – Observations From The Other Side

DISCLAIMER:  This is not entirely based on my own experience but on many poolside & patio conversations with friends and fellow parents. Some of it is, however, personal.  

I’ll probably pay for this one.  I’ll be written out of wills.  And I hate that because I was so looking forward to being able to slather on the leftover cold cream that is probably bequeathed to me by my in-laws.  But Grandparent’s Day……can we just cut to the heart of what this is all about, o ye school districts, both public and private?  Grandparent’s Day is a day set aside to honor the grandparents of children in said school districts by sucking up to them with such sweetness and adoration that they will feel the urge to get out their checkbooks and donate thousands of dollars or buy a stack of books at the “not-coincidentally-simultaneously-held” book fair that is so heavy they have to make two trips to their Cadillac sedan just to get them home with the child.  This is just a sneaky way of getting grandparents to spend thousands, with the annoying added benefit of cluttering up the kid’s home & pissing off his parents.

My child?  My sweet little boy who DOES love his grandparents very, very much & even enjoys a good stack of books?  BOYCOTTED GRANDPARENT’S DAY. And I let him.  He’s no dummy.  When teachers tell the children, “After your performance & lunch with Granny, your grandparents have the option of taking you home”, my kid hears, “There is absolutely no point in going to school today.”  He’s probably right & so he is home.  My mom took it quite well, I’ll give her that. I’m sure she was disappointed because she loves my kids and loves being there for them.  Lately though, I’ve been wanting to bitch about grandparenting and the image versus the reality, so today Grandparent’s Day is providing me with that jumping off point.

Sometimes I get frustrated with my kids and I complain to Chuck, “This shit would have never happened on the Brady Bunch.  Those Brady kids would never pull a stunt like this.”  Or, “Carol & Mike would sooo know how to handle this situation.  What are we doing wrong???”  Chuck then pulls out the “You do know the Brady Bunch wasn’t realistic, right?”  I come back with “Of course it was realistic.  The Brady grandparents made ONE appearance on the wedding episode & after that did you EVER see them come get those kids so Mike & Carol could have a weekend of hot, uninterrupted sex?  No. Never. They got dressed up, were there for the big event & then they were gone.  THAT shit is real.”  (It’s also quite possible they knew Mike Brady was gay.)

Perhaps I’m jaded, because as a child I lived in the same house with my grandma and great-grandma.  I lived behind my best friend who had older siblings with children and those kids were over at grandma’s constantly.  The grandparents embraced it and wanted it that way.  I see a HUGE difference in what grandparenting used to be and what it is now.  The problem is that many (& I repeat MANY, not all) of the grandparents still want to do what I call “walk the grandparenting runway” —- grandkids in tow, dressed to the nines, waving the wave to their fellow lunch lady grandmas so they can then gloat that  “these are our grandkids…..aren’t they beautiful…….they make such high grades…….they are so good at sports…….”  YET, when it’s time to do the dirty work and take over for a weekend so the parents can escape, they suddenly have work to do, parties to attend, etc.

My dad gets a pass on this one because he is generously keeping the children Labor Day weekend so we can escape for our 20th anniversary.  He didn’t even have to be coaxed!  BUT, herein lies the difference in my dad keeping the kids and many of today’s grandparents:  While we are gone, unless it’s a serious emergency, we will not hear from him.  He will handle what comes his way and should he have a legitimate question like, “Where in the hell do y’all hide the extra toilet paper?”, he will send us a text.  Unless he’s already sitting on the toilet and then we may get a call.  If the kids fight, he doesn’t call us. He handles it.  Every little thing is not an emergency.  Never during the trip or after we return does he feel the need to tell us every little transgression that transpired in our absence.  He doesn’t greet us with 100 concerns over how the kids dress, talk, text, play video games, treat one another, treat him, treat the dog, bathe improperly, eat too little, eat too much, are rude, are lazy, etc.  We get NONE of that, because he understands his role is to be their grandparent and friend, not their parent and prison warden.  And most importantly, he does NOT shower them with gifts to win their love and approval.  He just treats them like kids he could not be prouder of and they can tell he just loves being part of their lives. He will reprimand them if necessary, like a good grandparent should, but he is not constantly preaching to them & criticizing all that they do.  So…….that said, I feel the urge to come to the aid of other grandparents or grandparents-to-be & list some advice for you.  Trust me when I say this will not only help your relationship with the grandkids, but your kids too!  And trust me when I say that I’m glad I won’t need to depend on an inheritance in my elder years, because I’m screwed.  But seriously, some tips:

1) If you have grandkids, I can logically assume you had children.  You got to choose their names.  Your kids get to choose their kid’s names.  Do not offer suggestions or assistance. Do not take it personally if your kid doesn’t name one of his after you.  It doesn’t mean they hate you.  They just hate your name, Gertrude.  And for God’s sake, do not tell your kids how much you dislike their choice of names.  Even if they picked something like Nakkole, Zephyr, or Stump.  As PAINFUL as it will be to watch them write a ridiculous spelling such as Gynniphyr on that birth certificate, it’s really none of your business.  (I fully realize I will have trouble with this one day should it happen to me. Yes,  I realize that. I’m saving these to refer to in my own grandparenting years.)

2) Do not attempt to influence how your children dress their kids.  I was never a frills and bows sort of girl and I didn’t really want my kids to be that way. Yes, even my daughter. As a child, it was, at times, forced upon me and I hated it with a passion.  I also never wanted a bow on my daughter’s head that would be visible on Google Street View.  Easter bonnets were terribly humiliating to me and I did not want one on my own child unless she wanted one.  Do not try to buy your grandkids clothing that reflects YOUR taste and then get mad when the parent doesn’t make the kid wear it.  As a side note, on one side of our family there seems to be a notion that if your children are given something to wear and you don’t put them in it and line them up for a portrait, you are being disrespectful.  This is not true.  Disrespect is doing something you know your child or “child-in-law” doesn’t like and then pouting because you didn’t get your way.

3) Honor the wishes of your children in how they raise your grandkids unless they go totally freaking bonkers with Scientology or become Wiccan.  What I’m referring to here is simple stuff.  If they don’t want their kids to have sugar, respect that.  If they insist in making their kids sit in car seats and wear seat belts, respect that even if your own children “BY GOD,  SURVIVED STANDING IN THE FRONT SEAT & TAKING NAPS IN THE BACK OF THE STATION WAGON!”  Also, I might point out, it’s the law.

4) This may be the most important one yet.  Respect who your grandchildren are.  Do not try to make them what you want them to be.  My daughter is one of the most independent, spirited kids I know.  She was never a girly-girl, never wanted to learn traditional girl things like sewing and cooking, enjoyed being alone & had her own tastes.  Respect and in fact, EMBRACE THAT, even if it’s not what you envisioned your grandchild being.  Can I shout this one from the rooftops?

5) Do not say things about your grandkids based on speculation, not fact.  This has been a huge issue in our marriage/parenting.  I could write a whole book on how the townspeople where I grew up thought I was spoiled.  As a result, we have relatives who immediately thought that my child would be overly indulged and turn out to be a spoiled brat.  It has been assumed that because my daughter gets to go to Italy on a senior trip that she is spoiled.  No one seems to take into account that she works her little butt off babysitting during the school year, works at the pool in the summer and has earned it by being a wonderful kid who made us proud all 18 years of her life.  We have never once told her she has to work; she just chooses to. It bothers me that she doesn’t get respected for that.  Those same relatives assume that my kids are crazy about my dad because he “buys them stuff”.  This has never been further from the truth.  I can’t remember the last thing my dad bought my kids that wasn’t for a birthday or Christmas. He does slip them a $5 or $10 bill now and then because, “A feller oughta have a little money in his pocket.”  So the gist of this one is really, “Mind your own business, don’t make assumptions and keep your mouth shut.”

6)  Realize that times have changed and circumstances are different than when you raised your kids. ( i.e. This ain’t the 70′s!) We get constantly criticized because we do not force all the kids to attend family gatherings.  Hell, we get criticized if WE don’t attend all the family gatherings.  Things have changed, people.  Schools are not as lax about kids being absent. OR, we may choose to put baseball first that weekend because our child made an obligation to his team and coach when he agreed to be part of that team & it’s not fair for him to not be there for them.  Our kids grew up in the city with friends all around and things to do & they may not want to go spend 4 days in a town of 1,800 that, and I quote, “DOESN’T EVEN HAVE A McDONALD’S!”  There is no need to take it personally, but if you constantly criticize a child, chances of them wanting to spend time with you decrease greatly.

7) Understand that once your children are married that they have AT LEAST two families to consider now & sometimes with re-marriage, 3 or 4.  Sometimes you are the one that there isn’t time for on a holiday and PLEASE consider the stress it puts on your kids when you make them feel guilty about choosing.  This one is basically a “Put your big girl – or boy – panties on & realize you don’t always get your way.”

8) If you take your grandkid to the movie, buy him popcorn.  If you take him to the County Fair, let him play games.  If you take him to the town festival, buy him a snowcone.  It’s the little things.  Chances are, if you could afford admission, you can get him a treat.  This is not spoiling your grandchild.  This is avoiding looking like an asshat in his eyes.  Otherwise, just don’t go.  Would you rather them remember that you bought them a grape snowcone or would you rather them remember that you were to cheap to buy one?

9) Don’t go the guilt trip route, ever.  With kids or grandkids.

10)  FINALLY, just enjoy them.  Stop worrying about perfecting them and just enjoy them.

You’re welcome.  Or not.  Your choice :-)

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Cain & Abel – The Sequel

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Is that not the SWEETEST photo ever?  I thought so at the time.  Protective older brother embracing his little brother.  Perhaps a hint of pride in the eldest’s eye.  Utterly unconditional love emanating from the youngest.

HAHAHAHAHAHA………….I’m glad I have this moment in time captured because it isn’t happening now.

Before I begin this entry, I should probably warn you that I write to get things off my chest.  I write for a release – cheap therapy, or at least cheaper than the therapy I pay for on a regular basis.  I don’t write for solutions and I don’t write to hear wonderful, drippingly sweet stories of how your kids are your best friends & the other day while one of them was kissing you goodbye, a butterfly lit on your shoulder making the moment so perfect you had to go inside and light a woodsy-scented candle to complete the scene.  I don’t want to hear that.  You should also probably know that I carve out and eat the entrails of people who have ONE child & give me unsolicited child-rearing advice.  Take on THREE motherfucker & then go all “Dr. Phil” on me.  That’s why there is one of those tiny, little salt shakers in my handbag.  Entrail seasoning.  Just a fair warning….

My boys now literally FIGHT ALL OF THE TIME.  I fully intended to be one of those nauseating parents who was not going to have kids who played video games.  They were going to build with blocks and Lincoln Logs and swing happily on their tubular, metal swingsets, for Christ’s sake.  Build forts in the woods!  Do puzzles! Draw! READ!  (They do read – I’m not a complete failure.)  However, in this day and age, the problem with that line of thinking is that sadly, those children become the misfits who have no friends.  We eventually joined the masses and let them get a game system.  It hasn’t been too bad.  And we have rules.  One of my biggest is no hand-held games when we’re at dinner.  You must sit & be part of the family.  In all honesty, I struggle with that one myself sometimes.  But a few months ago they found this seemingly innocuous game on the computer called Minecraft.  It seemed cool at first.  It’s almost Lego-like in that you build things – buildings, cities, rooms, etc.  You can talk to other kids who are building stuff too.  And there-in lie the issues…… It fosters meanness.  Knocking down each other’s stuff, destroying each other’s buildings, and the language!  Oh, my, the language!  I’ll be the first to admit that my kids hear bad language from me.  I say shit, damn and hell on a regular basis.  They’ve heard me drop the F-bomb, though I’m really trying on that one, God, really.*  But really children.  Pre-teen unsupervised children.  Cunt???  Pussy???  Whaaaat?  Coming from the mouths of 10 year-olds!?!?  My boys pointed out that THEY weren’t using the language, & that the other kids were just typing it in and it appeared on the screen.  Yeah, also, officer, I wasn’t drinking that liquor, I was just holding it for my friend & it spilled on my shoe.  I’ve watched enough crime tv to know that my boys have big potential as defense attorneys but that crude language was the last straw for me.  Minecraft is gone.  For good.  Not just because of the language but the fact that something about this game got a strong hold on their impressionable little minds and turned them into violent little asshats.  Punching, knocking chairs into tables, name-calling (though not “cunt” or “pussy” that I know of, YET) & wrestling each other over SHIT THAT DOES NOT ACTUALLY EXIST?!?!  I think not.  Things were very improved for a while after we deleted it.  They read soooo much more.  Wyatt watched the History Channel or documentaries for hours on end. They fought much, much less.  I was rather pleased with myself.  But it’s starting again.  And sometimes it is not even provoked by video games.  Just meanness.

Our youngest cannot seem to understand that we do not allow name-calling.  Our oldest two cannot seem to understand that we do not want or need their advice when dealing with them and that we will be happy to sit back and watch them try out their parenting skills in due time.  I intend to have my hand buried in a bowl of buttered popcorn, watching Roseanne re-runs in a muu muu while this is going on, by the way.  Chuck and I may briefly argue some (generally over where we are going to eat or what movie to see or how the dishwasher is supposed to be loaded – nothing serious) but we are not a violent couple.  I yell, oh, yes, I yell.  I’m working on that but damn, it’s HARD.  We will continue to take things away until they get the idea that we mean business.  I have said things to them recently that I am not proud of.  I really would not take them downtown and start the adoption process.  I really would not put them on a plane to Russia to live in an orphanage.  I probably would not send them to Colombia to harvest coffee beans in stifling heat and humidity.  But I will continue to enforce the rules in our house until they decide it will be easier to comply & be fed & live peacefully.  Or until they move out.  Hopefully they will come to their senses sooner rather than later.

* (As for my ‘trying’, please feel free to ask for prayer for me in front of your church congregations. Most parishioners will remember me as the one who lived in sin before marriage. “Oh, HER?  That was ’92 & she’s STILL sinnin’ ?”)

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