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Archive for the ‘good choices’ 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’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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Another school year is beginning, for some it already has. I am in my 9th year of teaching, not counting two years of subbing, student teaching, and several years of teaching classes at The Henry Ford. It’s safe to say that I’ve been working with kids for a long time. There are some things I’ve learned along the way to help you and your kid have a successful school year. I’m not trying to be harsh, but I hate sugarcoating so here we go.

  1. Make reading a priority in your home. I have SO many kids who do not come from a reading background and it shows. Read to your kids when they’re small and continue it as they get older. Reading is so incredibly important in school, so put the electronics away and make them read. Start small and gradually increase the time they spend on a book, it doesn’t matter what the genre is an show them that you read, too. Your example is the most important thing.
  2. Help them improve their attention span. I have middle schoolers who can’t focus for more than a couple of minutes on a daily basis. Do they have ADHD? No, they’ve just never been taught to stick with something. Now, I do have kids with ADD and ADHD who legitimately have trouble focusing, but a lot of the kids I teach don’t have an attention span because they’ve never been taught to have a work ethic. Give them jobs at home that they have to complete until the end, until they get the job done. Life skill.
  3. Teach them to respect. We teachers can handle a lot of things. Your child is struggling in English, math, science, social studies? We can handle that, it’s our job. It’s what we do. But when we have kids who routinely curse us out, I’m talking daily, openly talk back in class for no reason, and shamelessly lie, it makes our job ridiculously difficult. If you allow your child to be disrespectful to you at home and or to other people, they will be disrespectful at school.  Please, please, please teach your child how to speak and act respectfully, not just to adults, but to everyone, including you. I don’t mean that you should teach them to be a submissive little mouse, but if I had a dollar for every time a child openly challenged me at school, I’d be a rich woman. Learning how to treat others and situations with respect is a HUGE life skill. Look, kids are going to test limits, we teachers know that, but when you don’t back us up or worse, you take your kid’s side when he or she has been an absolute brat, you are teaching them that it’s okay to abuse people. Chances are, by the time we call you, we’ve already tried a lot of strategies. I’ve actually had parents tell their children, right in front of me, that they believe their child over anything I had to say and that’s true for a lot of my colleagues, too. That only teaches your kids that they have the power to behave any way they want and won’t receive any consequences. The trouble with that is a boss or, God forbid, a judge won’t see it the same way. Actions have consequences, good and bad.
  4. Don’t blame the teacher for your child’s shortcomings. I had a kid one time, 5th grade, who did not turn in any homework. When his parents came in to see the principal and me about his Es, his father rifled through the mess under his desk, fished out a paper, shook it in the air and said, “All she had to do was look here!” No. One hundred million percent not okay. Students are responsible for turning in their own work. Period. Responsibility is a life skill; teach your kid to own their mistakes. Again, life skill.
  5. Let. Them. Fail. It’s not the end of the world if Junior forgets their homework or forgets to study for the test. It will be okay, they will learn. Stop saving them; it will help them stand on their own two feet. Don’t make excuses for them. I once had a dad who caved and did his 5th grader’s homework for him because he cried if he didn’t understand it. I asked him if he would be doing his child’s calculus in high school. On the other hand, do encourage them! Ask them about school, what projects they have, tests, grades. Ask them about their day. Do you have a kid who won’t talk about it? Email the teacher! We’ll be happy to fill you in.
  6. Don’t take a phone call from your gynecologist and have a conversation about vaginal suppositories during a Parent-Teacher Conference. Seriously. I cannot scrub that from my brain and it’s been about eight years. Just… no. Not kidding.

We know your kids aren’t perfect, mine definitely aren’t. Youngest and Middle Child had some “fun” school moments last year, oy, but we learned from it. In my case, I need to check ParentConnect more often. Teachers don’t expect kids to be little angels, but for a child to have a successful year, we need the cooperation and help from you, the parents. It’s a partnership.

It’s more important than you’ll ever know.

Have a great school year!

 

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Everyone has hobbies, right? We need hobbies to explore our passions, to relax, to stay sane in a crazy world. Normal ones, weird ones, who cares? As long as your hobby doesn’t hurt anyone or anything, they’re fine. My hobbies include writing (duh), reading, history, theatre, music, travel. sewing/crochet, running, my garden (when it’s not a million degrees outside), and learning about the supernatural. It’s safe to say that I have a lot of interests and that I’m always busy.

Now, you may look at one or more of my hobbies and wonder why the heck I’m interested in that. Maybe, God forbid, history bored you to tears as a kid or the thought of running anywhere makes you anxious. Whatever the reason, you probably don’t share all of my interests and that’s okay. Life would be boring if we all liked the same things.

A hobby that I have trouble understanding is maintaining the perfect lawn. I just don’t get it. My lawn is green and made up of a lot of different things: clover, dandelions, a bit of grass, and some other unidentifiable stuff. I mow it once it week and that’s the extent of my lawn care. Some of my neighbors have beautiful meticulous lawns and they spend a lot of time and care to make them look that way, but I can’t see myself doing that.

Another hobby I don’t get is watching sports. My husband and sons love to watch football and baseball throughout the year. I would rather watch paint dry, unless it’s an important U of M game. Then, it’s a matter of principle. They love it when I have rehearsal because that means they can watch whatever game is on that night. It’s just not my thing.

So, what are some hobbies that you could not see yourself doing? Rock climbing? Skydiving? Fishing? Now I don’t mean things that harm others or the environment, just ordinary hobbies that you are most definitely not interested in. Don’t be shy, put it in the comments.

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After dropping my son off at jazz camp yesterday morning (yes, that’s a thing), I went to Greenfield Village for a walk before it got too hot outside.

I love the Village in the summertime. It’s delightfully busy, there are a lot of programs happening, and there are visitors from all over the world. When my boys were small, even though I worked there, I frequently brought them to visit on my days off. One of their favorite places was the 1885 working farm with the horses, cows, sheep, chickens, and pigs. They liked to get close to the pig pen, squeal, “Ooooh, stinky!” and run away, dodging chickens. They loved walking through the dusty barn to see which animals were inside for the day. Pointing out the piles of horse poop in the street after the carriages went by was also a popular pastime. It’s a great place to take kids, even if they don’t understand the historical aspect of the buildings yet, and lots of parents do just that.

Yesterday, just after I entered the gate, I saw an older couple with a young boy. The boy was probably around 6- or 7-years-old with white-blond hair and glasses, a real cutie. He was clearly excited to be there, especially when he caught sight of the horses in the paddock next to the carriage barn. What caught my attention first, however, was the mother roughly yelling at him to, “Get back over here!” when he was only a few steps away.

“Mama, Mama, look at the horses! Mama, look!” He wasn’t yelling, he was within a reasonable distance of his parents, and was simply being an excited little boy, wanting his mama to see what he was excited about. His parents were having none of it, though. I could hear them snapping at him as I passed, things like, “Oh, my God, I can’t believe this.” “I knew this was going to be a bad idea.” “I can’t believe we paid all this money…” “Get over here!” The father physically took him by the shoulders and moved him exactly in between the two of them. “You have to stay here“, to which the little boy said sadly, “I’m not having very fun”, just like that. The way he said it about broke my heart, since he had been so very happy only seconds before. His dad then told him, “Well, that’s because you make it not fun.” And that did break my heart, not just because that’s a mean thing to say to a little guy, but because it made me think of times when, as a parent of little guys like that, I had said something unkind to them in frustration or anger.

It takes a lot, and I mean a lot, of patience to be a parent sometimes. It can get to you, the messes, the crying, the tantrums, the schedule, and sometimes you say or do something that you’re not proud of. I’m not talking about being abusive, I mean that sometimes good parents have bad days and we don’t react as well as we should. We are definitely supposed to correct our children and teach them to be good humans, but we need to do it in a way that does not crush them. Should they feel guilty when they’ve done something wrong? Absolutely, but they should also know that making a bad choice doesn’t make them a bad person and that they are still loved even when they mess up. We don’t always model that well.

It still happens to me sometimes. I have a teenager who knows how to push my buttons. While I try to be calm when he tests his boundaries, I can lose my cool, especially when it’s blatant disrespect and I’m exhausted from a long day. It’s not easy, but we as parents have to remember that children’s brains are not done growing yet. They act out of emotion because they don’t know how to respond appropriately to emotions like anger and frustration, even when it has nothing to do with us. It’s our job to teach them how to handle those emotions in a non-destructive way, but it’s hard to keep that perspective when it feels like we’re being personally attacked. We have to, though. It’s our job and when we mess that up, we need to fix it.

I thought about that little boy and his parents a lot yesterday. As I had mentioned, his parents were older, I’d say early 50s. Were they tired? Is he a high-energy child and they have a difficult time coping with that? Had they had a rough morning? Were they at the end of a vacation and the parents were just done with it all? Or was that normal for them? I hope not. I have so many questions. I don’t know their story, but I hope that this was just a bad morning, that their day got better and this little boy doesn’t live with those words all the time. I hope that when they went home or back to their motel yesterday he got some snuggles, hugs, and kisses from his parents. I hope he went to bed feeling happy and good about himself. I hope he feels loved.

If you have kids, think about what you say before you say it. Words are powerful and what you say stays with them for a long time. Parents are human, we make (lots of) mistakes. The trick is to learn from them and make sure our kids know that we will always love them, no matter what they do.

Love to you all.

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