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Posts Tagged ‘kids’

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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Proud mama moment: Oldest Child has a grown up job. Well, he will as soon as he graduates in May, the next week, in fact. He went through the interviews, the stress of not knowing, all that jazz, and he succeeded. He has a big boy job on the other side of the state doing something that he loves and finds interesting.

This, of course, is awesome. He’s worked so hard, he’s always been an amazing kid, and he deserves every bit of good that’s coming his way.

There’s only one teensy thing that’s just starting to sink in. This is his fourth year of college, he hasn’t lived “at home” full time in almost four years, but now, this is where the feels get a little jumbled.

He’s not coming home anymore.

I don’t want to go totally melodramatic. Of course he’ll come to visit sometimes, Christmas, if we’re lucky, or the occasional weekend, but he’ll be living two-and-a-half-ish hours away. Living, not going to school, but living. He’ll be going to work, going, ulp, home, and will do it all over again the next day. No more Spring Break, no more summers off, he’ll be really and truly adulting now. Marty and I were just talking the other day about how we’ll take him off of our insurance as soon as his kicks in. Again, ulp.

It’s starting to hit home as I clean the empty bedroom where the college kids stay when they come home. I’ll be making up two beds, but only one will be slept in this summer when Middle Child comes home. We’ll move his basement storage boxes to him, the extra clothes that he’s left behind in the bedroom, his stuffed puppy, Sadie. He’s on to building his own life.

As well he should! This is what we raised him to be able to do, this is the job of parenting, to make them independent so that they can survive on their own. (Coming in second only to being a good person. Raising kids to be good humans is always first on the list, but self-sufficiency is a close second.) He’s following the natural order of things and doing a damn fine job of it: working, paying his own bills, buying his own car and paying for repairs. He even has a cat of his own, for crying out loud!

But my mama heart is cracking a little tonight as I remember the baby who loved to cuddle and whose hair smelled so sweet, the inquisitive toddler who made friends with everyone and everything, the studious tween, the social butterfly of a high school student, the proud graduate. Those are just memories now, and precious ones. He’s going to make his own memories now: his first place, his first real job, and all of the adventures, good and bad, that go with them.

It’s okay, it’s supposed to happen this way. I’m just a little leaky, is all.

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First year of preschool, three years old.

Hug your babies, new parents. It goes by fast.

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“The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everybody that summertime cannot last for ever. Even on the most beautiful days in the whole year – the days when summer is changing into autumn – the crickets spread the rumour of sadness and change.” E.B. White. Charlotte’s Web

It’s the end of another summer. Yes, I know that summer doesn’t technically end until September 22, but for me, as a teacher, summer is effectively over. And before anyone says anything about teachers having the whole summer off, blah, blah, blah, let me remind you that we’re working our tails off for ten months out of the year including our “own time”  during evenings, weekends, and holidays, PLUS we attend meetings , college classes, and professional development during the summer, so bugger off about that particular point. There, enough said about it.

I’m not a huge summer fan in terms of weather. I hate hot and humid and I’m an autumn girl through and through, but I enjoy the recovery time from my job.

This summer was incredibly busy, despite being the first summer that I haven’t worked a second job in several years. I think I tried to cram in everything that I’m not able to do during the school year and wore myself out in the process. Here is a sampling of Summer 2018.

  • I was able to let my natural body clock have its way again. I’m naturally a night owl and it felt SO GOOD to just sleep and wake up naturally. If only school started at 10:00.
  • I painted the living room. It really needed it, having been more than ten years since I had painted it last. While I love the finished product, I forgot how draining painting a room can be. At least I don’t have to do it for another ten years and I bought new curtains to boot.
  • Marty and I attended a lot of funeral home visitations and funerals summer, some expected, some not. Either way, it’s a reminder that we only get one shot at this life and I intend to fit in everything I can while I can. That also means staying active and being healthy in both mind and body so that I can do all of the things I want to do before it’s my turn. We said goodbye to some very special people this year. It makes you appreciate loved ones, and your time, all the more. We’re not promised tomorrow.
  • I did some spiritual insight seeking, learning to meditate and to spend time looking within, to be spiritually in tune with myself and with God. I believe we are given spiritual gifts, we just don’t use them like we should. I’d like to get better at that.
  • We went on vacation. See the July post for details about the “Ocean and Dead People Tour”, which was awesome. Anytime I’m near the ocean, I’m happy.
  • Speaking of our vacation, we did a lot more family history research. We’re kind of obsessed, although Marty would argue that I may have an addiction to Ancestry-crack.
  • I published my book, Traveler, as a paperback through Amazon.com and donated a copy to my local library. It was kind of a big deal for me. Check it out.
  • I read books that were not related to school or schoolwork. Heavenly.
  • I wrote. Not as much as I would have liked, but I did write.
  • I took Youngest Child to rehearsals and did hair for his show. High school kids are awesome, and I sincerely mean that.
  • I auditioned for a show and then I went to rehearsals.
  • I made two new adorable kitty friends. They live across the street and come to visit us pretty much every night for pets and treats. I love them.
  • We spent family time together, precious these days. The boys are starting to go off in their own directions and the time when they will only come home to visit is approaching quickly. I treasure our family dinners, the boys’ impromtu baseball and football games in front of the house, the flying Nerf darts, even the insults. I hope their memories of these days will be happy, too.
  • Marty and I went on lots of dates, including finally going to the Detroit Riverwalk for the first time. This is a good married-person thing to do. Often. I highly recommend it.
  • We started watching The Crown. I’m addicted. And Prince Philip is a jerky-jerk.
  • I rode my bike, Lulu, a lot. We didn’t get the theatre bike group going again, I was too busy to commit to a night this summer, but whenever I had to go to the library or somewhere within 3ish miles, I walked or rode Lulu. Good times.
  • Last, but not least, we took Oldest Child back to school today for his last year of college. Middle Child goes back next weekend. The days of us all together are finished until Thanksgiving. (I’m going to make them take a Christmas card picture while they’re home. Shhhhhhh…)

The crickets are singing, the bats are clicking.

Goodbye, Summer, goodbye. See you next June.

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From my earliest memories, I always wanted to be a mother. I had a bevy of babies that I would wrap up, feed bottles to, change diapers, and talk to, including my actual baby doll, Jill, three Cabbage Patch kids, and an assortment of stuffed animals. They are some of the very few things that I saved from my childhood. I loved playing mommy, it was always in me, and I looked forward to the day when I would have my own real babies.

When those real babies began arriving, I was exhausted and sometimes overwhelmed or irritated, but totally and completely in love. I still am, even though they’re all bigger than me now. My job was very simple to me: I was entrusted with these new souls, these helpless little squishy beings that I brought into the world and depended on me for everything. It was my job to protect and nurture them into becoming caring and wonderful adults one day. Did I and do I continue to make mistakes? Oh, yes, indeed. There are things about raising them that I would go back and do differently if I could, times when I let adult problems overwhelm me and I would lose focus, times when I was just too tired to play or I didn’t listen properly. But I will tell you this: I tried my best to make sure that they knew that they were loved and wanted, no matter what. I hope they felt that way, I hope they still do, because I wouldn’t trade them, or the experience of raising them, for the world

That being said, I know that not all women are geared that way and I get that. I have dear friends who have always loved on my kids and the kids of other friends and family, but are very content not having any of their own. I admire that, because, let’s face it: there’s a lot of pressure for not only women, but people in general, to have children. Kids are a humongous life change and commitment, but society pressures couples to have them anyway. Women especially, who choose to remain childless, are often called selfish or unnatural if they choose to not have kids, a totally unfair judgement. Society doesn’t make it easy to make those decisions permanent, either. Women of childbearing age who seek out voluntary sterilization are often turned down by doctors, told that one day they may change their minds. How insulting! Sterilization is a pretty intense operation for a woman, I seriously doubt that anyone would go through that on a whim, not to mention that it is incredibly condescending to question a decision like that, but I digress.

So, why am I writing about this? I read an article the other day that infuriated me about parents who regret being parents, which again, I understand that someone could feel that way.  In a perfect world, every baby would be wanted and born into a loving environment where all of their needs are met. Unfortunately, not every child brought into this world is wanted or loved. People have children sometimes because they feel like they are supposed to, because of restrictive birth control issues, or because it’s expected, rather than having a real desire to parent. It would be a terribly difficult situation to be in, one that isn’t true for me, but I definitely have sympathy for those who find themselves there.

No, my beef isn’t with parents who regret having children, it’s with the parents who regret having children and then publicly tell the world about it at the expense of the feelings and well-being of those children. That second part is definitely not okay.

There have been several articles written in the past few years by both women and men who regret having children and then decide to write about it, using their own names and stories, such as in the case of Corinne Maier, author of No Kids: 40 Reasons Not To Have Children.  Google it, it’s amazing how many sources there are. As much as I think that those feelings of regret are legit for a lot of people, is it really ethical to air those grievances when those very children will very likely hear or read them one day? Simple answer: No! No, it isn’t. It’s never okay for a child to hear that they should never have been born.

To be fair, many of these articles contain comments from parents who are remaining anonymous or who are using pseudonyms. There are even closed Facebook groups for parents who regret having kids, with the idea that it is a support group. Again, I understand that those feelings are real, even among parents who initially wanted children, and having an outlet to discuss those feelings with others could definitely be therapeutic. In fact, I think that therapy is an excellent idea in general. But it was shocking to me to see how many parents did not bother to conceal their identities, who openly stated that their lives would have been better if they had never had their kids.

Normally, I’m all about being open to ideas and feelings, truly I am. I draw the line, though, when airing those ideas and feelings can only serve to hurt innocent people, especially kids. Kids can’t fight for themselves, they need adults to stand up and do it for them. If your own parent doesn’t accept you, how does that shape your self-worth in relation to the rest of the world? Articles and statements like that are extremely damaging.

Children have no choice about whether they are born or not. They come into this world as innocents, helpless and needy. Part of parenting is to not only fulfill their physical needs, but their mental and emotional ones. When those needs are not met, the emotional damage is extreme and lasts a lifetime. I’m no psychologist, but I’ve had the very eye-opening experience of working with children who were victims of abuse and neglect for most of their lives. Underneath the exterior of violent outbursts and abusive speech, they were still children, desperately looking for someone to trust, for someone to love them. The child who had cussed me out right and left and tore my room apart one day would come into my classroom the next day, lay his head on my shoulder for the entire lesson, tell me that I was the best teacher ever, and let me mother him a little. As damaged as they were, that instinct to be taken care of, to feel that someone out there gives a damn, was still present, as it is in all children.

Children not only want, but need to feel loved and accepted by their parents; it’s a basic life necessity. Sadly, it doesn’t always happen. Families can be dysfunctional. There are so many world problems that it can be difficult to be present with kids and to give them everything they need. But what purpose does it serve to tell a child that if you had to do it over again, you wouldn’t have had them, that they should never have been born, that they should not exist? It’s selfish and destructive, no good can come from it. I can’t even imagine it’s cathartic for the person saying it. What comes next after that moment? What do you say when your child reads in an article or a book that your life has been dismal since he or she came along? How would you ever repair that? I don’t know if you could.

We live in a society where everything is overshared. Social media provides an easy platform for us to get things off our chests and say things online in the heat of the moment, especially when we’re angry or frustrated. I know that I’ve been guilty of that, especially when social media first started becoming a thing. Opening up about things, speaking one’s mind, and speaking truth are all very trendy, but I firmly believe that there are some things that should not be publicly shared. Telling your kids that you regret having them is one of those things.

So, what to do then with those feelings if one has them? Again, therapy is GREAT. I should know, I’ve been in it long enough. There could also be underlying problems that a therapist could diagnose that might be contributing to those feelings, such as depression or anxiety. From what I’ve read in these articles (I tended to be a bit obsessed once I started reading), there are also support groups where one can talk about these feelings without hurting the children involvedHopefully, actively addressing those feelings and having a support system instead of taking them out on kids will help temper the angst into something more manageable.

A wise neighbor once told me that with children, the days can be long, but the years are short. As parents, we only have so much time with our kids, especially when they’re little. We think the sleepless nights will never end, the diapers will never end, baseball season will never end (oops, maybe that one’s just me), but it all will and one day, they’ll be gone and the house will be empty. Depending on who you are, this might make you happy, or, in my case, you will tear up every time they leave after a visit home. Whatever the case, a parent’s job is to turn out grown kids who are prepared to be a contributing member of society. If a child believes that he or she should never have been here, what motivation will they have to believe in themselves, to be joyful, to have a happy life?

To wrap it all up, parents have good days, parents have bad days. It’s a parent’s job to raise the children they have to the best of their ability, whether they regret having them or not. It can be a tough racket at times, mistakes will be made, but if you brought them into the world, you owe it to them to give them every possible chance at having a successful life. That starts at home, in the heart.

Until next time.

 

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A while back, I posted about the Joy Project, finding and recording things that brought me joy, things to focus on that help to offset the craziness in the world in order to center and not let the bad things get me down. There have been a lot of things bothering me lately: a huge lack of manners in people, the government, work issues, the government, rude teenagers in public places, the government, serious world issues… you get the idea. And while these things deserve attention, if I let them take up all of my thoughts and time, I’d forget why I’m here in the first place. You have to step back sometimes and find the joy because life can’t be all about gloom and doom.

I haven’t been very good at writing down my joys, which was the original intent, but I have been doing a better job at looking for the little joys every day. Still, now that it’s summer and I have a couple of weeks off, I’m going to try to get back into the habit again, starting now. These are a few of the joys I’ve had in my life lately, big and small:

Free time. I usually love being busy, I love feeling useful, and relaxing usually makes me feel guilty. This summer, I am consciously, selfishly, enjoying the time I have off.

Middle Child graduated. Few things compare to seeing your child in a cap and gown. It’s a very concrete ending to childhood and a proud moment for us.

Dates/quality time with my husband. We’re so busy during the school year that it’s hard to find time for us, but lately, we’ve made spending time together more of a priority. It’s a very good thing.

My teenage boys. I know, it sounds contradictory, but as my boys get older, I enjoy them more every day. It’s a different level of parenting now. I loved having squishy babies and snuggly toddlers, but seeing my boys mature into adults is amazing. Conversations can definitely get interesting.

Writing. Editing a completed novel, beginning a new one, and not too worried about balancing the time involved.

A new tattoo. I’ve been wanting to cover up an old (ugly) one for a long time now and took the plunge to trust an artist and get a little color. Still very fresh at less than two days old, but happy to have it done.

Hedgie snuggles. Allegra wasn’t around when I started this project. but she is definitely one of my big joys. My little ball of prickles is quite the cuddler and an endless source of entertainment.

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Little black squirrels. The first time I saw a little black squirrel, I thought it was the cutest thing ever and wished that they lived in my yard. They’ve been slowly spreading out ever since, getting closer to my house, and just a few days ago, I SAW ONE IN MY YARD!!! Definitely a joy.

Travel + family. A couple of months ago, I was able to join my cousin and her kids in South Carolina. (See my earlier post for more on that.) This was a double joy, going somewhere new and beautiful and getting to catch up with far-flung loved ones.

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Theater. I’ve done a lot more of it this year and while that has definitely contributed to time crunches, it has also helped me grow in a lot of ways, including my self-confidence. I’ve gotten braver, both on stage and off, thanks in part to a super-supportive theater community who makes me feel loved.

I’ll leave it there for now. This is a good start for my list and I’ll catch it up as time goes on.

I’d love to know what the joys are in your life. Feel free to comment and spread it around. We could all use a little more joy in our lives.

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Middle Child leaves for Europe this week. It’s the same kind of trip that Oldest Child took two years ago, a few days in France, a few days in Spain, but Middle Child will be going to different cities than his brother did. The same teacher is heading up the group and it’s a good, responsible, group of kids, so I’m not worried about logistics or crazy behavior. Of course, I am very jealous because I am a ridiculous Europhile, but I am genuinely glad that he’s getting this opportunity, the same as his brother did.

I had my first out-of-the-country experience when I was sixteen. Of course, I’d been to Canada several times before that, but as it is for any Detroiter, going to Canada was so not a big deal. No, I had the opportunity to go to Australia and Hawaii with the Michigan Lions All-State Band and it was a fabulous time. I’ve written about it before, so I won’t go on about it too much, but that trip was a pivotal time in my life. It was on that trip that he realization sunk in that the U.S. was not the only place in the world, that there were other realities for other people, and that the places where they lived were just as important to them as mine was to me. Granted, Australia isn’t shockingly different from the U.S., and Hawaii, while culturally different, is a state, but it was just enough to give me a hunger to see what else is out there, not just in my own backyard. This isn’t discounting anything that is here in the U.S., there are some pretty amazing places in my own country, but I think for people to have a balanced view of the world, they should see more of it with an open mind, not with the expectation that everyone should be like us.

That is what I hope Middle Child takes away from his experience. His first trip overseas will be different than mine, however, because it will be to two countries where English isn’t the first language, and he’s in for a real eye-opener. Even if you take the time beforehand to study the language, using the words around native speakers for the first time is a scary thing. Of course, in the big cities, many people do speak English because there are so many tourists, but I found out that even a little effort to try the native language is appreciated by most people. Middle Child hasn’t done a lot of studying, so he may be in for some surprises.

I said that I wasn’t worried, and I’m not, but there is that part of me that is nervous about letting my baby go for an extended period of time over the ocean without me. It has nothing to do with the threat of terrorism, that’s a risk that we take anywhere we are today, unfortunately, but more of the I’ve-taught-you-everything-I-can-now-you’re-on-your-own kind of thing. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a smart kid and he’s going to be just fine, but I think every mother would feel the same, at the least the first time. When Oldest Child went back to Europe this last summer for work study, I wasn’t concerned at all because he did so well when he went to France and Spain.

All in all, it’s another sign that my kids are growing up. They are moving on to make their own wonderful memories, and that’s a very, very, good thing. Middle Child leaves in just a few days and it’s taking a lot for me not to jump on that plane with him. Maybe sometime in the future, one of them will let me tag along.

 

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As many of you may recall, I posted a (lengthy) post about a year ago on why I was leaving teaching, and one not too long ago about how I have used this past year to rest my mind and to figure things out.

Long story short: I’m teaching again. I wasn’t exactly looking for this opportunity, it fell into my lap with a message from a friend. When I read the description, I was intrigued and one thing led to another. I will hastily add, however, that I am not teaching in a traditional classroom. My students come from some pretty bad situations. They have a lot of issues and are not living with their parents for one reason or another, so they live at our facility until they can go home or into foster care. Sometimes they’re with us for weeks, sometimes for years and the people who work with them, my new coworkers, are some of the toughest, most caring individuals I have ever met in the short time I’ve been there.

I’m not looking at my new situation with rose-colored glasses, I know that there are going to be some grueling days ahead, but where I am, I can teach for the child, not for the parents or for a test. My job is to nurture and to teach these boys what they need, not push them to impress the state or to please an overbearing parent. My job is to help them trust, to provide boundaries, and a soft place to fall when they need it in addition to their academic lessons. Don’t other teachers do these same things? Absolutely, of course they do! There are teachers I know who have the biggest hearts for their kids, going above and beyond what’s required of them, but they also have those other pressures to deal with that I found unbearable.

There are tradeoffs where I am, though, too. We deal with daily behaviors that are cause for suspension at other schools, but somehow, I’m finding those a little easier on my psyche than the dread of sending home report cards or math tests.

Did I make the right choice? I think so. I’ve given up on thinking that my path through life is supposed to be a straight line. I’m starting to believe that I am put where I’m needed, where I can do some good for whatever length of time, and I hope that’s the case here. My goal is to make a positive difference in these boys’ lives, to be a safe person for them.

In the meantime, send some good thoughts and prayers to land on the boys and the workers who love and care for them, would you? They can always use a little more.

 

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