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Archive for the ‘family’ Category

Besides being a mom of three boys, I’m also a middle school teacher. And while I am of the persuasion that kids are precious and still learning and all of that, they can also be incredibly and deliberately cruel to one another. I hear it every day: taunts about weight, skin color, ancestry, hair, financial status. You name it, a middle school student has heard it either directed to them or to someone else. It’s really disturbing, sometimes, to hear what kids can say to each other. Girls are routinely called whores or bitches, boys are called pussies or girls as insults. Even eight- and nine-year-olds say these things. My school is a 4-8 and it still shocks me to hear a tiny 8-year-old tell another one to “shut the f- up.” This is even with all of the anti-bullying programs out there. By the way, this isn’t exclusive to my school, I’ve heard this my entire teaching career, including while subbing, at many different schools.

How we as adults deal with this behavior is really important. The thing is, a lot of times, when a child is subjected to these kinds of insults, adults either tell them to just ignore it or they turn the responsibility on the kid who was the target of the mean comment or action. They’re told to suck it up, “be a man” if they’re a boy (I absolutely DESPISE that term) instead of properly dealing with the situation. This sends the wrong message. I’ve heard boys say absolutely vile things to girls and when I’m confronting the boy, the girl will tell me that it’s okay, not wanting me to do something about it. The boy learns that he can get away with it and the girl learns to just let it happen. This teaches kids to not only expect but to tolerate verbal abuse, to accept it as a normal part of growing up when we should be teaching them to not say those things at all.

I’ve never been okay with that. When my boys would deliberately say or do something hurtful to one another, all most kids do, I tried my best to get them to understand exactly what they were doing, how words, especially, can hurt and for a very long time. I remember a lot of things said to me as a kid (as I’ve mentioned before, I was kind of an odd child by society standards) and I still feel a twinge of pain when I think of them. I wanted them to know that what they say in the heat of the moment can cut deeply. I wanted them to think before they spoke, to make a choice about what to do before repeating what someone else is passing around, and to put themselves in another’s position. Did it always work out in the real world? Honestly, I don’t know because I wasn’t with them 24/7 while they were at school or activities, but I do know that that kind of thing wasn’t tolerated in our house. I hope they remembered what we taught and what we tried to show them, even to this day.

I try to do the same thing when I hear students say these things. I pull them aside, if I can, one-on-one, and talk to them about what they said. Why did they say that? Do they even know what those words mean? Would they say that in front of their parents? (In some cases, the answer to that question is a heartbreaking, “Yes”.) What if someone said that to them? To their mother, father, siblings? In other words, I try to not only hold them accountable for their actions, but to do it in a way to make them think about why and to help them understand that there are consequences for their actions. Their brains are still growing and kids do dumb things when their bodies are changing and the hormones are flowing but that doesn’t mean that we can’t plant the seeds of being kind. It also means that we shouldn’t just dismiss it as “kids being kids” or, even worse, “boys being boys”. Shudder. And don’t be fooled, girls can be just as abusive, especially to each other, unfortunately.

Where do they learn it? It’s very simple. Us. The adults in their lives, either in their own homes or in the media, especially social media. Have you ever read the comments section? It’s a freaking scary place. Kids are left to roam online, unmonitored, uncensored, exposed to every racist, sexist, misogynistic thought out there. They are exposed to racism, porn of all kinds, not to mention incels and extremists. The internet is not a babysitter, but a lot of parents treat it that way. You don’t think your kid has seen anything? Don’t fool yourself. They’ve seen and heard more than you know. Even with the protections we took, our kids still managed to stumble on some crazy stuff. This is a scary time to be a parent.

What to do about it? Talk to your children. Learn about what’s going on their lives, who their friends are. Know where they’re going, not only physically, but online. Hold them accountable for their actions, teach them consequences without berating them and be consistent. Above all else, teach them to be kind and to treat others with respect in any situation and not just by telling them, by demonstrating it yourself. Treat others with kindness and respect and make sure your children see you do it, even if the waiter/waitress/customer service rep seems to be having a bad day and gets something wrong or the food is late. Don’t make disparaging remarks about women, men, other races or religions. Change your behavior if necessary and talk to your kids about it. Showing your kids that you can change is incredibly powerful. Be a good example.

Parenting is really difficult sometimes and most of us do the best we can, but we can always learn and grow. Parents are the most important example and influence in their child’s life. They imitate us, whether they realize it or not. The culture won’t change until we do.

Let’s raise kids to be good humans.

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We’re close to the Christmas season, particularly since Thanksgiving is so late. Despite my policy of taking one holiday at a time, I’m starting to think about Christmas-y stuff right about now. Of course, the decorations won’t come out for another week yet, but I’ve already started shopping in an attempt to get everything bought and wrapped by the day before Christmas Eve. The number of times this has happened in the past? Zero, but I do try every year.

All of this has stirred up some of my best memories. My grandparents, both sets, always made Christmas fun and special.

At Grandma and Grandpa Ballantyne’s house, we always celebrated on Christmas Eve with all of the aunts, uncles, and cousins. It was crowded and loud and I sometimes retreated to the back bedroom or the bathroom for a few minutes of quiet, but after I recharged, I couldn’t wait to join the fun again. Grandma made dinner and then all of us kids had to wait for what seemed like hours for the adults to stop talking while we eyed the mounds of presents. They always threatened to make us wait until after dessert, which, of course, was pure torture. Grandma’s tree always had mounds of tinsel spread throughout and I thought it looked lovely, like in a fairy tale, gifts heaped in piles spreading out from the trunk. Grandma loved giving; there were gifts for everyone. She always over-shopped, so we got tons of gifts, which my mother would grumble about for days afterward. I still have the non-Barbie doll with brown hair (like me!) that I got when I was three years old from “Santa” there. After presents, there was the chocolate eclair dessert that my great-grandma made, which was fabulous. We kids would play with our gifts and as the sugar crash began to happen, we were carted home to await Christmas morning.

At Grandma Ruth and Grandpa Nick’s house, it was a slightly calmer affair with fewer people, my brothers and I were the only kids for a long time, but wonderful, nonetheless. For several years, Grandpa would be waiting at the door for us with the old video camera rolling with actual film and no sound. There was dinner on Christmas Day and sometimes we had presents before dinner rather than after. I don’t remember a pattern. Before we opened presents, though, we had to put Baby Jesus in the manger because it was his birthday. (Side note: I know it’s not his real birthday. Just wanted to clear that up.) Christmas seemed holy and beautiful at their house, the emphasis placed on the religious meaning of Christmas and it felt special. I loved the smell of Grandma Ruth’s kitchen, she was an amazing cook. We always had ham with pineapple on top. I called ham “bugs” for the longest time. I have no idea why, so don’t ask. I was an odd child. There were always Christmas cookies with the sprinkles and cinnamon dots in the shapes of bells, Santas, Christmas trees, and reindeer. I have those cookie cutters now and I use them every year. Later, we sometimes played Uno or Go Fish with my aunt and uncle or I curled up in the old green rocking chair and read all the stories in Grandma’s Liguarian magazines until it was time to sleepily go home, where our other presents were waiting. I loved Christmas there.

Were we privileged at Christmas? Yes, we definitely were. Our gifts weren’t expensive, but the grandparents put a lot of thought into them and I always felt loved. The memories of being at their houses for Christmas are some of the best I have and as an adult, I can appreciate how much effort they put into making it wonderful for us. I hope my boys look back on Christmas with the same amount of mushy nostalgia as I do.

What is your favorite Christmas or other holiday memory? Share it in the comments, I’d love to hear from you.

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Marty and I attended a wedding for two of my theatre friends yesterday. What’s really cool is that I was in the show with both of them when they met and have been able to see their relationship begin and flourish, leading to the beautiful ceremony and reception yesterday. They are a magical couple and deserve all of the happiness in the world.

As I listened to them recite their vows that they wrote themselves and watched them try to hold back their happy tears, I held my own tears back and thought of my wedding day, almost twenty-three years ago now. I was so young and so unprepared for what marriage really takes, but at that moment, I didn’t care. I was excited and in love and I thought it would be all sunshine and rainbows. After all, we hadn’t even had a fight yet, at least not a real one. Boy, have I learned a lot since then!

I love my marriage but it has definitely not always been easy. Money woes, communication issues, being parents of three young boys, unemployment, HOUSE ISSUES (omg, this house…), a miscarriage, and my depression issues, meant that things were broken sometimes and forced us to think about what was really important and to work it out. We had to learn to be honest with each other about our feelings and truly listen to each other. For someone like me who was always “fine” (I wasn’t), this was extremely difficult. But, do you know what? Doing the hard work was worth it, especially when it would have been so easy to just walk away, but we didn’t want that. We’ve grown so much as a couple and a team over the last few years. I can honestly say that my husband is my best friend and that I am happy in our marriage. I recognize that that’s not true for a lot of people. I’m so happy and fortunate that I’m married to someone who doesn’t want to always be right (except during Jeopardy), he wants to work with me toward our goals as a couple and my individual goals, just like I want to work with him. He loves and accepts me, weirdness and all. We learned together. That’s what marriage is about.

Would I tell my young bride-self this if I could? Maybe, but she probably wouldn’t listen, silly, headstrong thing that she was. Experience is a good teacher and going through what we have, I really appreciate us now.

I thought about all of this yesterday during the wedding and reception. I squeezed Marty’s hand, more than once, and made him dance as much as I could. In my mind, not only was I celebrating the beautiful union between my friends, but also between us.

Feeling so very thankful with a full heart today.

 

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I got a new tattoo a couple of days ago, an early birthday present to myself. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I have been adding to my collection over the last five years.

I’m up to 6 now, including the one I had covered up two years ago, and I love, love, love, my body art; it’s an expression of me and who I am. I went back to a shop where I went two years ago that had been recommended by friends. The artist who did my cover-up then was super awesome and I wanted to have him do this new one. Unfortunately, what I wanted wasn’t his style so he referred to another artist in the shop. After viewing the new guy’s work on Instagram, I felt comfortable that he would get it right and set up an appointment.

The tattoo turned out fabulous, just what I wanted, but it was the conversation we had that has been sitting on my brain for the past two days. I won’t tell you all of it, but the gist was that his family had not been supportive of his art when he was growing up. As with a lot of families, though, his family didn’t consider anything having to do with art as a “real” job. Now, this guy is talented. I wouldn’t have let him put his art on my body if he wasn’t. He loves what he’s doing, but I wonder what would have happened if his family had supported his dream, if they had encouraged him to follow his passion rather than quash it. He’s making his own art now, not in the way he originally wanted to, but it fits him at the moment. Still, he has “what-if” moments.

I immediately identified with what he went through. In my first year of college, it was made very clear to me that my aspirations of going into theatre would not be supported and financial assistance was withdrawn. I eventually took the safe route, managed college myself, and got a “real” job, but I often think about how my life would be different if I had been allowed to pursue my dream. Now, I think that Marty and I would still have met and we would have had the same kids because we were meant to, but I might have been happier, less prone to the bouts of depression due to work frustration. I might not have been wishing my life away every year, counting the days until my next break. Is this a grass-is-greener situation? Maybe. I honestly don’t know what would have happened if I had majored in theatre and gone to New York like I had planned. I might not have made it very far in that world, but I would have at least tried. I wasn’t confident enough to really strike out on my own so I put my energy into getting a safe job. Plainly put, I was too afraid to try it by myself. I wish I had been braver.

Now, Youngest Child wants to be a jazz musician. He’s excellent, really, a very good musician, and that’s not just mom-bias talking. I see me-as-the-artist in him, except he’s more confident in his abilities, more proactive in following his path. We are supporting his decision. He’s making contacts that will help him in the future, taking as many private lessons as we can comfortably provide for, and I’m driving him all over the metro area. Is it a lot? Sometimes, but you know what? When I pick him up from a performance or a lesson, he’s happy. He’s doing what he loves to do, he’s challenged, and he’s driven. As a mom, that’s the best outcome I can hope for. Will he make it professionally? I hope so, but if not, at least he will have had the chances and opportunities. (I have a sneaking suspicion that he’ll do well, though.) We made it clear that he will have to support himself as an adult, but he’ll figure it out. We’ll be here for advice if he needs it.

Society tends to look down on kids who want to go into the arts, but, ironically, we pay billions of dollars into the entertainment industry every year. The arts are so important: music, theatre, painting, sculpting, these things all take an enormous amount of talent, yet parents discourage their kids from going into them full-time. I get it, it’s hard to get insurance or job security in the early days, not to mention a retirement plan, when one is paying their dues, but is that more important than being happy with life? Some people are willing to work a job that isn’t their passion and deal with it fine and then there are the rest of us who find it difficult to fit into that mold.

What is the point of all of this? If you have a kid who is interested in going into the arts, let them try. If they’re terrible at it, that will be evident soon enough and they’ll try something else. Relax and be supportive of their dreams even if you don’t think they have a snowball’s chance in hell of making a living at it. Don’t make them wonder, “what if?” later on because you squelched their ambition. They may not get there, but they will have the memory that you supported them and believed in what they wanted to do and that, my friends, is worth a whole lot more. You might be surprised at what happens next.

 

 

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I’m struggling mightily tonight with the thought of the work week ahead, but I’m trying so very hard to stay positive. Here are my positive thoughts to focus on:

  • Tomorrow is the first day of my favorite season: AUTUMN!!!
  • My husband is an amazing guy who I love coming home to and who completely accepts my weirdness.
  • I’m not taking a college class this semester.
  • I still have another show weekend to go.
  • Two of my favorite people got engaged today.
  • My potential agent has still not said, “no”.
  • I have approximately one million new books on English history from a dear friend.
  • I saw all of my boys and the adorable lovely girlfriend yesterday.
  • I don’t have to cook Tuesday, Thursday, or Friday.
  • The leaves and temperature are changing.
  • I’m working on my next books.
  • SOMETHING WONDERFUL COULD POTENTIALLY HAPPEN (PLEASE, GOD).

Okay, those are my focus points. Do you have yours?

Image result for monday encouraging memes

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Where do you come from?

Who are you?

Have you ever stopped to think what you’ve inherited from your parents? Your grandparents? Not monetary things or objects, but what makes you you. Your hair? Your eyes? Your sense of humor? Have you ever tried to sort out what you got from whom? Youngest Child looks like the male version of me and feels all of my deep feels. Middle Child says that he has my road rage. He definitely has my sense of humor and laughs like my uncle when he gets going. Oldest Child looks scarily like my father and has a combination of personality traits from Marty and me.

I thought about it after I was telling someone about where I got my (lack of) height, a definite gene from my maternal grandfather, who was also vertically challenged. Ordinarily, I don’t think that I have much in common with him besides that and then I tried to think what else there could be. However, I did come up with a few fun things.

  • My propensity for using mild swear words often. Grandpa used to use “damn” and “hell” a lot, especially when watching or listening to baseball and football. Watching him yell at the TV or radio during a game was always entertaining for us when we were kids. My brothers and I used to call them “Grandpa Nick words”. I don’t (voluntarily) watch sports, but I admit to using Grandpa Nick words quite often, especially from driving. I do use stronger words, but not as often. Grandpa Nick words are the way to go.
  • My temper, often punctuated by Grandpa Nick words.
  • Possibly my hair color. Both of my grandfathers had dark hair. My grandmothers both had light hair, so one of them is the culprit.
  • Not a gene, but my enjoyment of playing baseball. I don’t like watching a lot of sports, but I do like to play. Grandpa used to pitch to us in the yard and I carried on that tradition with my kids. I remember him when we play.

That’s probably not all he passed down to me, but he wasn’t a talker so it’s hard for me to know. He was quiet when there wasn’t a game on, but he did a lot for me throughout my life, including paying for cosmetology school when I couldn’t pay for college on my own.

I look a lot like my father’s side of the family. My cousins and I all look similar, like we could be siblings. I have my grandma’s attitude about cleaning and I’m a sucker for any animal, including the injured skunk I convinced my mother to drive to an emergency vet when I was a teenager.

My great-grandmother was involved in theatre, just like me.

According to my mother, I’ve said a lot of lot things similar to what my father has said. I never met him. I have my mother’s laugh.

I find it all amazing, these links. Seeing and learning all of these things makes me feel connected to my past, to my history.

I’m not alone. I came from somewhere.

Where did you come from?

Tell me.

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It’s been a rough couple of weeks around here, but hopefully all is back to normal now.

Just to give you a brief overview. Two weeks ago Thursday, I noticed that my shower was barely lukewarm. Ugh. We called in the company that had installed it 5 1/2 years ago. The technician came out, took one look at it, and said. “Uh oh. It’s no good.” I asked what he meant and he explained that there was a leak on the inside. Even worse, our warranty had Just. Run. Out. Of course it did. Sigh.

We set up a time the next day to replace it. The guys came out, did the job, and we thought all was well until we all got home from the theatre that night. When we opened the front door, we were greeted by a rush of natural gas. We got Middle Child out of the house and called the gas company right away. We must have been a sight, all out in the front yard at 10:30 at night, our neighbor cats winding around our ankles trying to play. The gas company came out, saw that we had a leak, and shut it off, telling us to call the other company in the morning.

Long story short, the leak did not get fixed the next day; we needed the pipes replaced. Our awesome neighbor hooked us up with a handyman who was able to come out Tuesday morning, which meant a few days of cold showers. Back up just a bit, though. Did I tell you that the power went out Saturday night? Yep. Good times. No air, no gas. The only utility we had was cold water. Luckily, my mother-in-law graciously let us bring our laundry over (and DID it for us) and our other awesome neighbors let me heat up water on their grill so that I could wash the dishes. It was hot, humid, and dark for a couple of nights. We took cold showers just to feel better. Of course, Marty had just gone grocery shopping, so we eventually added that cost to our losses with the exception of a big ham that hadn’t completely thawed in the freezer.

The power came back on Monday night, yay, and the handyman arrived early Tuesday morning to fix the line. (If you live in my area and need a handyman job done, message me and I’ll pass hi name along.) Marty, Youngest Child and I were leaving for Niagara Falls that morning, so my mother-in-law stepped in again to be there for the repairs. Middle Child stayed home because of work so he had a few more days of cold showers because one of the homeowners needed to be there when the gas was turned back on. We wouldn’t have risked it with him home alone anyway.

We got home Friday afternoon, called the gas company, and they eventually got there to turn it on. In the meantime, we noticed that it was rather warm in the house, even though the air conditioner was running. The problem was that it was blowing room temperature air, not cold air. I was really feeling at this point that the house was rebelling against us. I mean, come on! We called a different heating and cooling company to come and see what was going on. Apparently, the power coming back on had either created or worsened an existing leak and instead of the normal 70 PSI, our 30-year-old unit had 7. It would be a huge cost to fix it and it was easier to replace it. So, we chose a new unit and waited a few more days for it to be installed.

Truthfully, I grew up without air conditioning and we spent the first five years of our marriage without it, but I always hated summer. I mean, really and truly hated it. The kind of hate reserved for mortal enemies. Summer was much worse than winter. The sweat, the heaviness of the air, the stickiness of the air, not sleeping, general grossness. With air conditioning, summer and I have a truce; I always have an escape. Without air, misery ensues.

That brings us to this morning. The new company was here right on time and spent a little over five hours getting rid of our old air conditioner and installing the new, fancy-schmancy one. There was only one more attack of the house when the internet went out today, but that proved to be a simple fix handled over the phone. The period of house rebellion is, hopefully, over.

At this point, we have air, (hot) water, electricity, gas, and internet. Life is good, even if our credit card debt just went up tremendously. (The Big Red Eye will have to be mostly off-limits for a long time and I’ll be sending articles out left and right to make a little extra money.) I have rarely felt more relieved and blessed. I freely admit that I take it all for granted; we think these things will always be here but the truth is that they can go at any time. It made me really think about those who have no choice but to do without, who don’t have the credit to get things fixed or a home to go to. We are truly one of the lucky ones.

In the meantime, we’re going to make the house watch Dr. Phil for awhile.

God is good.

All the time.

 

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