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Archive for April, 2015

It didn’t feel like a very good parenting week for me last week.

I’m writing about this because Youngest Child is going through Eleven right now. He’s the baby of the family and we’ve all spoiled him somewhat along the way, which is not helping the situation right now. I really think it’s a mixture of new hormones, a thirst for independence, and the feeling of wanting to do their own thing conflicting with the desire to safely stay a little kid. It’s an age of separation, not the Big Separation (stay tuned for that this summer when Oldest Child leaves for college), but the first realization that one day, Mom and Dad will no longer call the shots and that the Eleven will be on his own in a big, scary world. What ever the reason, it’s driving me freaking nuts.

It turns out that all three sons chose the Age of Eleven to start their mutiny against the tyranny that is us, the parental units. (I am intentionally capitalizing Eleven, seeing as how it has earned its title.) I don’t know why Eleven is the age of rebellion. All I know is that from birth until then, all three were normal kids; sweet, loving, mischievous, and in occasional need of correction. Then they turned Eleven. All of a sudden, they started getting sneaky, mouthy, defiant, and downright no fun to be around. They don’t stay this way; it fades off and they turn into older, more lovable, versions of themselves by the time they turned twelve, but for several months, it makes me wonder if there is, perhaps, a changeling in the house.

Youngest Child has been building up to this, his protestations over chores and homework growing more vocal and obnoxious over the last few months. He’s trying to be very cool around his friends, even talking in a fake deep voice out in public. He wants to be taken seriously as an older kid very badly, but doesn’t want any of the responsibility that comes with it. He uses exorbitant amounts of hair gel. Yet, this is the same child who snuggles up with me every weekend morning on the couch and before bed every night, still needing his mama’s hugs, kisses and scritch-scratch on his skinny little back. It blows my mind.

I have two perspectives of this right now. One perspective comes from looking at my older boys. Oldest and Middle Child both went through this. We lived. They got through it. Nobody died, nobody was disowned, and the boys have grown into wonderful young men who I am very proud of, in spite of their occasional attempt to push some boundaries. Remembering their struggles with Eleven, I am encouraged that Youngest Child will also pull through unscathed by all of this, even when Mama loses her patience and yells at him. Yes, it’s very true. I try so hard to be patient and calm, and for the most part, I do, but when the calmness has failed and I get defiance and/or rudeness in return, the Sicilian mama, who communicates in shouting, comes out. It makes me feel like crap afterward. I should say that no matter what, I NEVER belittle my kids or call them names. I do, however, tend to lecture rather than listen as much as I should, something I’m working on.

The other perspective comes from looking at some of the students that I have taught over the years, kids who mouth off to their parents and end up on the road to trouble. Youngest Child has never been in trouble at school, he’s a straight-A student as a matter of fact, and very well-behaved there, but every little bit of defiance and rudeness brings flashes of those kids to my mind. Then the guilt of spending all of my time with other people’s children all day comes creeping in, making it a vicious party of negativity, and I curse myself for being the catalyst of his bad behavior.

Then I take a deep breath, let it out slowly, and repeat over and again, “I’m doing the best I can. This, too, shall pass.” I let us both cool down, then I go and hug him tight, enjoying the feel of his little stick arms around me, silently bemoaning the fact that I can no longer rest my chin on top of his head because he’s almost as big as I am. He’s growing up, he’s finding his own way and this stage will, indeed, pass one day. Until then, I need patience and understanding. And love. Lots and lots of love. And a little wine.

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A dear friend of mine from my teenage/young adult years shared that he is going to be a grandfather later this year. It’s a wonderful thing, of course, but the thought of grandchildren provokes a sense of disbelief. Eeks! A grandfather??? Already? Then I began to think. Both my grandmother and mother were only two years older than I am now when they became grandmothers. (My mother still hasn’t forgiven me for that.)

I can’t imagine it, though, being a grandparent right now. In my mind, I’m still some awkward youngster who has her whole life ahead of her, but the years say otherwise. Forty is the new thirty, true, but time is gradually slipping away. There is only a matter of time before some cute little thing is calling me Nonna. (Not Grandma, not Granny, Nonna. I’m going all-Italian on this one.)

In the meantime, this passage of time makes me aware of things in my life that I want to accomplish but haven’t yet, otherwise known as a “Bucket List”. I don’t know if the movie starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman came up with the name or if it had previously existed, but I first became aware of it when the movie came out in 2007. The movie is about two terminally ill men who set out to do everything they want before, well, kicking the bucket. The idea of a bucket list took flight and now it’s a fairly common term. I’ve thought about it a lot, but haven’t really ever sat down to write one out. Part of the hesitation is that I don’t really want to think about dying just yet, but really, we don’t know how much time we have left. I could be lucky enough to live well into my nineties, or God forbid, I could meet with an accident tomorrow. However it turns out, I have been very fortunate to have done many things in my life that were incredible and that I’m so glad I got to experience: marrying the love of my life and becoming a mother tops the list. Traveling to other countries, graduating from college, performing on stage, and being a published author are all on that “Done” list, but there are many more things I want to do before I’m finished here.

1. Live in London at some point before I’m too old to enjoy it. I fell in love with that city even before I actually visited three yeas ago. Ancient Roman ruins, rich history, never having to drive, it lived up to and exceeded my expectations and I want to experience it more and more.

2. Learn to play the violin well. I have a violin, my brother gave it to me and during each summer, I make an effort to learn to play on my own, but life just keeps getting in the way. Baseball, running kids places, not wanting to subject my family to the squawkings of a beginner, these are all stumbling blocks. I adore the violin, though, and someday I’ll actually make it a priority.

3. Become a full-time writer. It’s no secret that writing is my passion and I would love to be able to do it for a living. This is one item that I am actively working on, with a children’s novel written and a historical fiction novel halfway complete. Now, all I need is an agent to take a chance on me. Getting there…

4. Travel to places that I’ve never been. I’ve been very lucky in my life. I’ve been to Australia, Hawaii, Ireland, England, Scotland, and Wales, with Italy to be joining the list in couple more months. Canada doesn’t count, since I can be in Windsor in about 15-20 minutes and they don’t stamp my passport. When my children are grown, I hope to be able to travel even more, specifically Europe, to do more family research and to soak in history. Learning the stories and seeing the artifacts and legacies that people in the past have left behind is something that thrills me beyond belief.

5. Learn more languages. I am working very hard on Italian right now, with the help of a dear friend in Italy, and I can decipher some French and Spanish, but I would like to be fluent in some other languages, preferably by immersion, which leads to travel… I’m sensing a theme in my list.

6. Make a good change in the world. I don’t care if my name is remembered for anything in particular or not, but this world is so messed up in a lot of places that if I can just do something to make it better for others, than I will be happy.

This isn’t a complete list, by any means, but these six things remain constants in my mind. Will I complete them all? I don’t know. It would be satisfying, of course, but as those items are checked off, I have the feeling that more would take their place and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Staying active and curious is a great thing in life. I see people who take the attitude that life just sucks and there’s nothing they can do to fix it. They stay in a job that they hate and don’t try for something better. They don’t go anywhere, they don’t have hobbies that challenge them, and seem content to be miserable and let everyone else know that they are miserable. I don’t want to be that person. I think a Bucket List gives me something to strive for, something to challenge me in every way, something that will keep me contributing to society for a long time.

Now, it’s your turn. What’s something on your Bucket List and why is it there? Challenge yourself, set a goal, and try your best to get there. I’ll let you know how mine turns out.

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This is Holy Week. Holy Week kind of sneaks up on me every year, like Christmas does, but without all of the hype. Even with the Cadbury egg commercials, freaky-looking Easter Bunnies at the mall, and aisles full of pastel (yuck) everything, Easter doesn’t get half as much as attention as Christmas. There are no Black Wednesday: Day-After-Lent-Begins sales, no lighting ceremonies, and no worrying about being good so that the Easter Bunny will give you candy. The Easter Bunny never seemed to care much about how good we were as kids. It was just kind of expected. Of course, we weren’t expecting any big-ticket items, like Santa would bring. Oh, sure, we would get a little stuffed animal or something in our baskets, but it was, and still is at our house, a candy-only holiday. He does, however, bring us a new video to watch every year. One that we can watch that night, while eating our candy. See how it all works out?

Of course, the Bunny is not the reason for the season, much like Santa is not the reason we celebrate Christmas. Holy Week, to me, is a lot more serious than Christmas. Christmas is about happiness, love, promises fulfilled, and George Bailey getting a second chance at life. At Christmas time, I can empathize with Mary. After giving birth three times, the first time without an epidural, the thought of going through that in a dark, smelly, cave surrounded by farm animals horrifies me, especially with how young she most likely was. I can relate to her love for her baby, looking down at a newborn’s face for the first time is indescribable, and her having to trust in God for a safe outcome. I always picture her as being calm, knowing that God had everything taken care of, but in reality, she was probably terrified. I know I would be. I wouldn’t be able to promise that I would be calm either. A little back labor rocked my whole world, just ask Mr. Marty Man who had to reassure that God did not, in fact, hate me and that it would be okay. (After an epidural, it really was okay.) That new momma love floods through me at Christmas with every good feeling there is about the season, creating its own high. I love Christmas, I look forward to it every year because it does come with all of the warm fuzzies attached. Not so with Easter.

The path from Good Friday to Easter is gruesome. It’s bloody, dehumanizing, and stomach turning. I had grown up with the story and pictures in my illustrated Bible, but had never really understood the depth of it until I was around nineteen years old. We put on a passion play at church for the first time that year. For those that don’t know, a passion play basically depicts the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. There are many of them performed at this time every year. Some are very good and some are, well, interesting, working in denominational specific things in between scripture. The plays that we performed in those two years were pretty good. We were really striving for realism and when our Jesus went to the cross, he was streaming blood. I knew it was all make-up, I had helped apply it, yet in the moment, in that moment as I gazed up at him on the cross, it hit me that this had really happened. I felt the realization flood through my body. That agony, that pain, that suffering, was for me! And, oh, how I didn’t deserve it! None of us do, none of us ever will. There’s nothing that we can do to repay that act of love. That’s the part of faith that is so difficult for me to grasp, that insignificant me could be so loved that the Son of God would voluntarily do that for me, for you, for all humankind.

Now, I know that there are those who don’t agree with me, who will argue forever that God is a superstition, doesn’t exist, never has existed, et cetera. I respect your opinion. I truly do. I consider my faith to be strong, but there are times of doubt, of questioning, of seeking. It’s not for me to judge anyone and their belief system, or lack thereof. I believe that God reveals himself to people all in good time and I’m not going to try to ram religion down anyone’s throat. Unfortunately, there are so many religious people who do that, who use scare tactics, especially Hell, to make people come to church. I grew up that way. It’s wrong and it doesn’t work. A person’s faith is in the heart, not in what they outwardly do or say. I’ve known many people who make a big show of going to church, of being a leader in the church, but it’s not about faith for them. That’s a concept I struggled with for a few years when I was trying to decide how to raise my kids. I knew I didn’t want them just saying yes to God because they were scared, or because they felt pressure to do so. I want them to experience true faith and to believe in God because they felt Him, not because I tell them to. It doesn’t work that way.

This is what I know, as an educated person who believes in science and who considers herself to be open-minded about a lot of things: There are things in this world that science can’t explain. One of those things is God. I know He’s real. How? I feel Him. I see evidence of Him working in my life. Coincidences that are just too exact to be coincidences. Strong feelings that have led me in the right direction. Words popping into my head as clearly as if someone had said them out loud. The peace I feel when I meditate in prayer. The changes in my life.

We had Good Friday service tonight at church. After it was done, I was moving some things in order to make room for a funeral tomorrow. I moved a heavy brass cross back to its place on a table and went to replace the crown of thorns that hangs over it during Holy Week, normally, a mundane activity. When I was a kid, I always pictured the crown of thorns as consisting of the type of thorns we had in the picker bushes around our house: small and annoying. The truth is, the thorns that would have been used on Jesus were about two inches long, ugly, brutal, things. This crown that I was placing back on the brass cross was made of those true thorns. I held them in my hands, the reality hitting me like a ton of bricks. Thorns like these were pushed deeply into someone’s head, mocking Him as King of the Jews. That alone would have been more than enough to break me. I can’t imagine, I can’t empathize, I can’t relate. I would die for my children in a second, without hesitation, but to die for people who I don’t know, slowly and painfully on a cross? Would I die for people who would curse me, despise me, deny my very existence? I don’t think that I could. Yet He did. He loves me so much that He did. He loves you so much that He did. I don’t think I can ever wrap my brain around what happened during that Passover week so many years ago, but it happened and leaves us to proclaim the mystery of faith: Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.

Amen

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