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Dear New Daddy,

You didn’t know it (or you might have, who knows?), but I watched you the other day. Not in a creepy stalker way, although my husband may disagree, but I couldn’t help myself.

We were guests at a wedding, an absolutely wonderful time filled with love and laughter. At the reception, across the room from our table, you were holding your new daughter who, I found out later from her grandmother, was ten weeks old. She was adorable, this little bitty peanut in a navy blue dress with the obligatory giant bow on her little head.

If you know me at all, you know that I am powerless in the presence of babies. In my family, I have the reputation of being the baby-stealer. I adore them. Every maternal instinct in me cries out to cuddle those little snug-a-bugs and I don’t care who knows it. Social anxiety be damned, it’s no match for my baby fever. I lose all inhibitions at the chance of eliciting one little gummy smile from a cherub face, of wiggling an irresistible toe. Your baby was one of many little ones that day, adding even more joy to a wonderful day.

While your baby was reason enough for me to be admiring her, it was your interaction with your little one that made me keep on stealing glances.

You had her tiny head cradled in one of your big daddy hands, her little diaper butt in the other. You were engaging her, talking to her, smiling at her, making those goofy faces that adults only make when we talk to babies, and she was fully into watching you, those bottomless eyes watching one of her favorite people in the world. I love when people talk to their children like that; no texting or other cell phone distractions, just pure parent/child time together. The thing that touched me so much that I decided to write about it, though, was the love in your eyes as you looked at your baby girl. For that moment, nothing else mattered to you; she was your whole world, a wee girl and her Daddy. It gave my heart the warm fuzzies to watch. My eyes still well up when I think about it.

Why am I gushing on about this? It’s simple. I want you to remember. I want you to remember that exact moment when it was just you and her in your own little world, not noticing themusic, the cake, or the baby-crazy lady a few tables over. You connected, you were bonding, you were loving this adorable little human with everything in your soul. Remember this, Daddy, because there will be times in the next eighteen years when you don’t feel quite as close to her. Buckle up, Buttercup, because parenting is no joke.

There will be sass, hopefully less rather than more, but at some point, she will assert herself and it will completely take you by surprise. I still remember hearing that first, “I don’t have to listen to you!” pop out of the mouth of my sweet boy and it rocking my world. Oh, yes, there will be sass and the bigger they are, the worse it can get. Prepare yourself.

There will be slammed doors, maybe from her, maybe from you. (I am guilty of this after losing my temper because of, you guessed it: sass.) There will be angry tears, cries of, “You’re SO unfair!”, and rolled eyes. There will be friends of hers that you can’t stand, hours of PBS Kids, and endless messes to clean up. There will be times when you wonder what you were thinking. It is so important that during those difficult times, you remember those beautiful moments, the moments like I witnessed, where all is right in your world. Those are the moments that will get you through those tough ones, like when you’re trying to figure out how to get nail polish off of a wall or dealing with explosive diarrhea in the middle of the night. (All over the bathroom. Enough to where you have to get entirely new bath rugs, towels, and shower curtain and spend two hours bleaching everything else. I’m not kidding. Seriously, I have PTSD from that night.)

There are moments that I hold onto now, with Youngest Child being a teenager. Teenagers, you see, are their own special category. They can be both extremely frustrating and incredibly lovable, often in the same day. The same teenager that whines and moans about emptying the dishwasher or cleaning the lizard cage can say something profoundly sweet in the next minute, sometimes without an ulterior motive. In a word, they can be a challenge. I digress…

One of the moments that I hold onto with Youngest Child is when he fell asleep on my chest on the couch. He was around six months old, still a little bobble-head, and had been having a difficult time settling down to his nap. He wanted to be with his mama, and snuggled up to sleep so sweetly in my arms that I just let him take his entire nap on me. He little cheeks were so soft and he was so warm and cuddly that I couldn’t bear to take him up to his crib. My heart was full, in that moment, life couldn’t have gotten any better for me. When he woke, he realized where he was and smiled at me so happily that it melted my heart even more. It was perfect.

I remember that moment, and many others, when he comes home covered in mud on my clean floors, when he stalls so he doesn’t have to clean his room, when he “forgets” to let me know who he was with. Those moments remind you that you can get through this, that you do have this bond with your child. And, lest I completely scare you off, it does get better. They start understanding why you made the rules that you did and, as they get more independent, they understand you better. We’re experiencing this with Oldest Child right now and, let me tell you, it is balm for a parent’s soul when they have to clean their own place.

New Daddy, these moments you have right now are precious, something that you will look back at with misty eyes the older she gets. I still can’t watch family videos without tearing up. You’ll make tons of wonderful memories, plenty to draw from during those difficult times, but I’m telling you to not take those moments for granted. Treasure them, cherish them, just as you do that baby girl of yours. Children should be cherished, they should be loved with our whole hearts, even when they make us crazy. We have to take a step back, cool down, and remember. Remember that toothless grin, that grip of a tiny fist around one of our fingers, the sloppy, open-mouthed kisses, the first, “I love you”. spoken in a tiny voice.

You’ve got a good thing going, New Daddy. I wish you and your little girl much love. Thank you for letting me be a witness.

 

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I have dear friends, a married couple, who have very recently become parents to an absolutely beautiful baby boy. This little boy is so loved by all, surrounded by adoring family members, and will undoubtedly have an amazing life. It’s wonderful to see them so happy, excited by their sweet boy, ready to be the best parents that they can possibly be.

Seeing their joy has made me reminisce a lot about my own baby boys. I’ve loved all (well, most of) my boys’ growing stages, but there’s something so special about those few couple of years, something that you can never get back. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of stressful times, but the sweet and the stressful work together to make a family.

I’ve always loved babies, anyone in my family or circle of friends can tell you that. I have quite the reputation for being a baby stealer at family events, loving to hold those tiny warm cherubs, talking to them and rocking them to sleep. It’s nothing that I can explain, but I see a baby and my heart just melts into a puddle.

I was the oldest sister and the oldest cousin in all of my family branches so I was naturally the babysitter when I was old enough. I remember telling my mother that I wanted ten babies when I grew up and feeling totally insulted when she laughed at that. I think I was around nine years old when I said it, so I, understandably, had no concept of what it would take to raise ten babies, but my nine-year-old heart just knew that babies equaled love.

By the time I had my first baby, I had had more than ten years of experience with newborns and was quite comfortable with their wobbly heads and changing poopy diapers. Still, there are things that babysitting doesn’t prepare you for, the most important being sleep deprivation. I remember waking up with Oldest Child at some ungodly hour and trying to get him back to sleep when all he wanted to do was play, his bright blue eyes staring at all the shadows. I eventually sort of got used to running on broken sleep and the zombie feeling that came with it until they began to sleep through the night.

That was a whole new world, as was the necessary evil of taking my babies to get their shots. They would be so happy at first, cooing at the doctor while she checked them out and playing until the nurse came in. The nurses were always apologetic for what they were about to do. quickly swabbing with alcohol and then doing the deed as quickly as possible, but it never failed. Their eyes would open wide, their bottom lips would quiver, and then a heartbreaking wail would ensue, communicating their pain to the entire office and often setting up a chain reaction before I would guiltily swoop them up to comfort them.

The worst was when they had to get more than one shot. The element of surprise could only happen once, so the nurses had their work cut out for them. Middle Child, in particular, had set himself against needles since he was born. When he was two weeks old, he contracted RSV and was hospitalized for three days. Before the doctors knew that it was RSV, however, they wanted to test him for meningitis, which required a spinal tap. They wouldn’t even let me in the room, so I sat rocking in a chair in the hospital hallway just outside the door listening to my precious boy rage at the indignities being foisted upon him, tears uncontrollably streaming down my face, physically holding onto the chair to prevent myself from just running in and scooping him off the table.

A few minutes later, the doctor came out, shaking her head as she pulled off her latex gloves.

“We’re not going to be able to do the spinal tap”, she said. “He won’t let us.” As traumatized as I was, I also felt a twinge of pride the my two-week-old had the moxie to refuse to let a team of doctors stick a needle in his spine. I was a little less prideful when four years later, Marty had to take Middle Child to get a shot of antibiotics for an infection in his foot. When they returned home, I asked Marty how it had gone.

He fixed me with a withering look and said, “You mean you couldn’t hear him?” Apparently, it had taken three nurses to hold him down for one injection, something that he’s still proud of to this day.

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I miss how unbelievably curious they were as babies. Everything was fascinating. Everything needed to be explored. Knocking block towers over was endlessly funny, as was playing peek-a-boo with an urp cloth. Watching them grasp things for the first time, both literally and figuratively, was a joy to see. I am blessed that my family is very much a family that loves small children and takes the time to really be with them, so watching my family members, especially my grandparents, interact with my babies has given me memories that I will treasure forever.

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The best thing about having babies, though, were the snuggly bonding times, often right after feeding and before a nap. There’s just something so precious about that time, when your baby is looking you right in the eyes and you can feel that they’re saying a million things to you with their eyes, you feel that love just well up in your heart like nothing you ever felt before and you recognize that these moments are fleeting and will soon be gone. You feel the curl of those chubby little fingers close over your thumb (or your ear, in Middle Child’s case) and watch their eyelids flutter closed, then snap back open because they want to keep looking at you, but sleep is winning out and they finally can’t fight it anymore. Their whole little body relaxes against you and even when you know that it’s safe to move them to their crib, you don’t want to because you just want to capture that moment forever and ever. Eventually, though, you gently kiss that chubby cheek and lay them down so that you can get something done around the house, but there’s always a tinge of regret about it.

Nap times aren’t always like that. There were plenty of times when they just cried and cried themselves to sleep as we walked/bounced them around the house, or we were too impatient to appreciate the moment, especially if they were being stubborn about taking a much-needed nap and we had things to do. Youngest Child was notorious for his twenty-minute naps, or for waking up the moment he was laid down in his crib, but when they did happen that way, it was beautiful and special.

I know that babyhood isn’t glamorous and I’ve romanticized it here a bit. There are plenty of messy, frustrating, moments, too, like the crying for no reason, diaper explosions, stuffy noses, projectile vomiting, and messy baby food in the hair, but I tend to forget those; not completely, but the rough times aren’t the first things that I think about when I remember how my boys have grown up. Then there were crazy times that have turned into funny stories now, like when Middle Child completely dismantled Marty’s Easter basket. Or when Youngest Child had such a bad diaper blowout in an Indiana restaurant that I had to throw away his clothes and give him an impromptu bath in the restaurant sink. (Sorry, Perkins.) All three boys urped into Marty’s mouth at least once each and Oldest Child’s diaper leaked onto my Grandma’s pantsuit at a party, leaving a big wet spot. Good times, but better stories now.

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I have no doubt that my friends will have their share of moments, too: sweet ones, funny ones, and incredibly frustrating ones. Parenting is not for the fainthearted and there will be tons of mistakes made, things that they will wish they could do over again, feelings hurt, doubts raised. There will be boo-boos kissed, songs to sing, and wet, sloppy, open mouth kisses. I’m excited for them and all that they have yet to experience.

Through all of my own parenting journey, I know one thing for sure: my nine-year-old self was right.

Babies equal love.

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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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We told Oldest Child back to college today after spending a really nice, but short, summer with him. His first year was wildly successful, he adjusted very well and did a lot of exciting things, like being able to attend a dinner where Bill Clinton was speaking. Early on this summer, he got to spend five weeks in the UK as a kind of class, boosting his credits up and making him a junior after one year of college. I’m proud of him to the point of bursting, so forgive me for bragging just a little.

In many ways, dropping him off today was remarkably similar to how it was last year, except that we brought Middle Child and Youngest Child along. It poured down rain again while we unloaded the cars, but with five of us, it went pretty quickly. The rain cut our planned walk around campus short, although we did all go out to lunch together and visited a wonderful old book shop that Marty Man used to frequent when he was a student there. All around, soggy students and their families were busy unloading, visiting, and saying their goodbyes, just like us.

But when it was time to leave, it was much more casual than it was last year. There were no tears, yet, anyway. Will I miss him as much? Yes, absolutely. I miss him already. We had a really good summer and I enjoy his company immensely. I love seeing this independent person getting himself up and out the door for work in the morning, doing his own laundry, taking charge of his own life. At this point, Marty Man and I are pretty much bystanders who help when we’re needed, but he doesn’t need us to do much for him anymore. He will be just fine.

Anyway, today has made me think of my job as a mother now as opposed to, oh, say, ten to fifteen years ago. Things have definitely changed. As a parent of young children, there is so much physical work that needs to be done: diapers, feedings, baths, carrying, dressing, car seats. Little by little, it gets easier physically, but it gets more difficult in terms of setting limits and guiding them through the process of growing-up. There are difficult ages. I’ve blogged in the past about the age of eleven at our house, but there are hurdles at any stage. Grades, girlfriends, friends, chores, and family relations can all be sticky topics. There are days that any frustrated parent can be tempted to walk out the door, but you don’t because you’re the adult, you’re the parent, and raising these kids is the most important job in the whole world, because you are their whole world. Then, the crisis is over and the tears have stopped, emotions calm down. There’s talking, there’s hugging, there’s love, and you start all over. It’s always a new day with kids and thankfully, they can be more forgiving than we are.

Our job isn’t done once they’re grown-up, of course, we’ll always be parents, but the job description is constantly changing. Someday, they won’t need us to provide for any of their physical needs, even money (please, let them eventually stop needing money.), but hopefully they’ll still want to come around just to talk and to spend some time with their parents. And not just on holidays.

There are things from when they were very small that I miss dreadfully, so much that it hurts: the baby smell (oh, that smell!), the sweet, sloppy, whole-mouth kisses, rocking them in my arms until their long lashes droop closed, kissing boo-boos, squishy little hands and feet, kissable cheeks, talking attempts, and my absolute favorite, the belly laugh. You know, the one that comes right up from their toes? It’s the best thing in the whole world and if you can’t at least grin at one of those laughs, you’re not human. These things are gone forever with my boys.

But there are things that I love about them as big kids/young adults that won’t disappear with time. Things like their sense of humor. All of them. They are just a weird as I am and we laugh at the same things. They can hold all sorts of fabulous conversations on any topic: current events, politics, sports (ugh), introspective, technology, and strange things. They are such interesting people and I love hearing their perspectives. They’re all bigger than I am now and the older ones are protective of their mama. While I think I handle myself pretty well, it’s nice to see that they have my back, just in case. My boys are turning into amazing young men and I love them so much, more than they can ever know.

Are they perfect children? Oy, no. We fight and argue over curfews and appropriate movies; they can say ugly, hurtful, things to each other and sometimes to us, like any other teenagers, but in the end, we still love each other. We’re a family, and we know that no matter what happens, someone will apologize and life will go on because that’s what we do. It’s all a part of them growing up.

We dropped off Oldest Child at college again today. Let the parenting adventure continue.

 

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I just realized that I haven’t posted anything in almost a month. I have some catching up to do! March can be a tough month for me, though. Bittersweet. The sweet part is my Middle Child’s birthday, smack dab in the middle of the month, balancing out the bitterness with joy. I’ve blogged about one of the bitter parts before (https://juliabbb.wordpress.com/2014/03/08/march-8/) so I won’t revisit that right now. Today I want to focus on the other part of March that I think about on a regular basis: My father and his death on March 22, many years ago.

He’s been on my mind a lot lately. I never knew him, at least in life. Those of you who know me personally already knew that. He tragically died in a car accident seven months before I was born, the night before he was going to apply for a factory job so that he and my mother could get married and give their family a good start. That never happened. The circumstances of that night aren’t especially clear to me, but the fact is that he died, leaving us behind.

Do I think he wanted to leave us? No, absolutely not. From what my family tells me and from a poem that one of my cousins wrote for his funeral, I know that he was excited about being a dad, that he was planning everything out. It took a bit for him to get used to the idea of being a father, though. When my mom told him about me, he went to his grandparents house for three days to process it all. When he came back, he was ready to go forward with a family. I hold that little scrap of information dear and tight.

I’m not writing about him to elicit sympathy or to rehash sad old feelings. I guess I just still want to know him better and this blog is a great place to express that. I want to know if he felt the way I do at times, what he would think of the world today, how our family dynamics would be different if he were still around. I want him to know his grandsons. I think he would have been a cool grandpa. My boys are lucky: they had another grandpa, Marty Man’s dad, for a few years. They have my uncle-dad, my brothers, and cousins who have all stepped up to give them extended family closeness. I don’t think they know what they’re missing, but I had two wonderful grandfathers until I was an adult. I wish they could have had the same experience as I did.

I used to be a hot mess about him. When my mother told me about my dad, I was around seven years old and at first I was elated. I already knew that the step-monster wasn’t my real dad and all of the other kids had dads, so I asked my mom about it. I had also just learned the facts of life, so I knew with all of my seven-year-old wisdom that there was a missing piece. When she explained that I indeed had a dad, the big question in the back of my head was finally resolved, but then the realization that he would never be there crushed me, especially as my life got worse. All through my very roughest years, I used to pray for God to say that his death was a mistake, that he wasn’t really dead, sobbing in my bed for him to come back, thinking he would rescue me. My grandma had given me a lens from his glasses and I took it everywhere I went, wanting a piece of him to be with me all the time.

I had a lot of anger toward him for a while, too. I was mad, so mad at him for dying and leaving me. After all, if he hadn’t died, my mother would never have married the step-monster. Of course, none of that was his fault, but as a very angry and confused teenager, it made sense to me to place the blame on him. I wondered about him all the time. Did he crash on purpose because he didn’t want me? Did he not try hard enough to survive? Had he been on drugs? Was he drinking? Like I said, even today, I don’t know all the details. I don’t know if anyone does, but that’s not important anymore. I’ve worked through the whys and made peace with that. I’ve made my peace with him.

I really truly think that he is still here, still around me. Things happen. I’ve had dreams where he’s there for very short periods of time and in them, he’s told me things about himself that I didn’t know, things that later checked out to be true, such as the fact that he played guitar. A song will come on the radio, that I’ve heard thousands of times, but for some reason, I’m overwhelmingly moved to tears for no reason at all. Later, I find out that it was one he liked. I feel him around me. He may be gone physically, but I believe that his spirit is here.

My anger is long gone. My pain is much fainter. Talking about him, learning more about the person he was from my family and his friends helps. I wish I could talk to him, to have one short hour with him. I still have that frustration sometimes that I can’t pick up my phone and call him to tell him what his grandsons did or to invite him to Thanksgiving, but it doesn’t happen nearly as often as it did when I was younger. I am a part of him, I have his hair, his eyes. Half of my very DNA is his and that’s saying something. I have a father. I am his daughter.

I don’t have a rhyme or reason to this post. Again, my dad has been on my mind a lot lately and I just needed to write about him. If you have a dad, hug him tight. Hold him close, tell him you love him. If you are a dad, do the same for your kids. They need you more than you’ll ever know.

 

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Oldest Child is home on Spring Break. It’s not the first time he’s been home to visit, nor is it the longest that he’s been home since school started. Over Christmas, he was home for three weeks in between semesters. Each time he comes home, it’s a little bit different. And a learning experience.

The dynamics of our family life have changed. For instance, I’m a creature of habit. I like routine, for the most part. I like to know when I’m waking up, when I’m going to bed, what the schedule is for the day. Having an adult child come home for days or weeks changes all of that. He is no longer accustomed to the routine of the house. He likes to be up late, to sleep in later. His dinner schedule is erratic, I never know if he’ll be here or not and he often doesn’t either. His plans are up in the air and he likes it that way, things that would drive me crazy.

We argue some, too. His idea of a reasonable time to be home is different from mine. I need to know that all of my chicks are safe and sound before I go to sleep and when he’s out late, I lose sleep. It’s a totally selfish thing, to be sure, but all sorts of horrors go through my head as to what could be happening to him and I shudder to think that I could sleep right through it. To be fair, ninety-nine percent of the time he is home at the time we agree on and he is a level-headed kid, but things happen, especially late at night. Rationally, I know that he keeps this schedule at school all the time and that he doesn’t answer to any type of parental figure there. I really don’t worry about it much when he’s at school, but when he’s home, I like to know where he is. He doesn’t need to ask permission at his age, just clue me in.

Before you get the idea that I’m a totally suffocating mother, hear me out. Yes, I’m a wee bit overprotective. Marty Man balances me out on this. We’re a good team. He gives the kids a lot of leeway while I’m the one to tighten the reins on curfews and where they are going. I don’t think my kids have been stifled in any way because of it. I’m not the kind of mother that hovers over their teachers or coaches. They deal with those issues on their own, just like they deal with friend issues on their own. I’m here to listen and offer advice if they want it, but they need to make their own choices about how to handle their lives. I am a stickler, though, for where they’re going, what time they’ll me home, who they are with, and making sure that I know the parents. Again, I don’t think that they were adversely affected by my “meddling” ways. In fact, I think it was, and is, a good thing. My kids know that their parents care about them, as irritating as I can be sometimes.

But the fact remains that I have to let him go. I can’t always keep tabs on him. Oldest Child is legally an adult and I need to remember what it felt like when I went through the same thing. How can he possibly understand that I haven’t always been the way I am now, but that I was eighteen once, too? I also resented my mother’s rules, even though they were very fair, but I wanted to make my own. I used to stay out late most nights, not coming home until the early morning hours, and would sleep until eleven o’clock on Saturdays, my mother sighing over my laziness. My hours were also erratic, but I got myself to school and work on time (I always had one or two, sometimes three, jobs at once) and made my own schedule, even if it meant getting by on three or four hours of sleep. I could do that then. What he doesn’t know, what he hasn’t experienced yet, are the changes that happen when one becomes a spouse and a parent, the things that have turned me into this creature of habit. When I was eighteen, nineteen, twenty, I didn’t have anyone who depended on me to wake them up, get them dressed and off to school on time and then get myself ready for work. I didn’t run my own household, didn’t pay many bills. It was a wonderful, free time, as it should be. It won’t last forever, and I wouldn’t go back to those wonderful, yet confusing, days. I know myself now, much more than I did back then, hence, my preference for a routine rather than spontaneity. He is in that process, but he can’t see the future just yet.

It’s a bit surreal to watch him go through it himself, silently cheering his accomplishments and biting my tongue at some of what he does because he has to figure it out, not me. It’s amazing what hindsight does for you. Some of the decisions that I made at that age perplex me now, as they will him when he’s forty-something, but that’s all part of it. It’s what is supposed to happen. My job now is to be a support, not a keeper. It is taking some getting used to. We have hit snags in the road, to be sure, and we will again but, as I said, he’s a level-headed kid. Just as an example, he’s not spending Spring Break drinking himself stupid on some Florida beach. He’s a great kid, respectful (for the most part), loving, and personable. I have no doubt that he is going to be just fine. We’re learning together, him and me. It’s all good.

Hugs.

 

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As a teacher, I see and hear a lot. I mean, a lot. I know things about my students’ parents that would make those parents cringe. Children see and hear much more than you know and, boy, do they like to tell teachers all about the weird stuff that happens at home. Most of it is humorous, some of it is heartbreaking, and, thankfully, a very small percentage turn out to be matters of real concern.

This topic that I’m addressing today, something that teachers hear a lot,  isn’t a matter of concern in the sense that authorities need to be involved, or that we need to have a conference, but I encounter this situation every year and it seems to be getting worse. Something needs to be said. Here goes:

Parents:

Stop telling children to get As or they’ll be grounded.

Stop telling children to get 100% on tests or they’ll be punished.

Stop promising exorbitant presents and/or cash for good grades.

Stop setting kids up against each other, comparing them to siblings, cousins, or friends.

Stop. Just, stop.

You’re crushing your kids. I’ve held them as they’re sobbing when they get an 89% on a science test, absolutely certain that they’re going to lose computer privileges or won’t be able to go to the birthday party that weekend because of a B+.

Let me repeat that: Because of a B+. A grade that’s considered above average. They crumble into my arms, convinced that it’s the end of the world, afraid of taking that paper home to you. A B+.

Parents, not every child is an A student. Not every child is a B student. Some even struggle with being C students. Most students do, instinctively, want good grades, even the ones who would rather be out playing a sport instead of studying. They want to please you, they want to please me. Few elementary students have the foresight to truly understand that good grades eventually equal a better job, but they constantly hear it from all of the adults in their lives, including my fellow teachers and me. Getting good grades, for them, means parental approval. No matter how old they are, children want their parents to be happy with what they do, to be proud of them. When they hear from their parents that anything below a 90% is unacceptable, the pressure can be too much for many of kids.

Does this mean that (gasp) teachers don’t want kids to get As? Absolutely not. Any teachers I know simply want our students to do the best that they can, to love learning, and to understand the value of learning for its own sake, not for the grade. Sometimes, their best is a B- or a C. For some kids, learning and schoolwork come easy and we push them to do well. When they study, they easily earn good grades. (Notice that I said study and earn; we’ll come back to that in a minute.) For others, getting a C+ on a test is a major accomplishment. School is hard for them, whether because of a learning disability, problems focusing, or they are just not naturally inclined toward academics. They know it, I know it, and I celebrate their successes with them, especially when I see how much time and energy they have invested in studying.

I have students who cannot do grade-level work on their own, but whose parents expect them to get As, or rather, expect me to give them As anyway. When they have homework, it comes to me perfect, in complete sentences, every answer correct, because they have lots of help at home. They cannot duplicate that work at school, either on tests or in their classwork, because they struggle with the material. If these students earn a subpar (in the parents’ eyes) grade on a test, I hear it from their parents. I didn’t give a good enough study guide, I didn’t review enough (two days isn’t enough?), the test was too hard (it was taken directly from the material), or, as a last resort, can they take the test over again? (No, not unless it was a fail.  A C is not a fail. Neither is a D. An F is a fail. And even then, they can’t have their original test back and they have to take it the next day.) They are convinced that their child should get an A, even if they did not earn it. Too many parents make it all about the grade, not about what their children are capable of achieving. The struggle to teach these kids how to be independent in their work is real. The student ultimately learns that they cannot achieve acceptable grades on their own merit. This both appalls and scares me, especially during standardized testing time.

Are some kids capable of achieving better grades and just don’t because they don’t study or work up to their full potential? Yes, absolutely! I have a few of them every year. Their idea of studying is to try and remember what we talked about in class. (For the record, that was mostly me as a kid. I had more important things to do, like band and theatre.) Those kids probably need a parental push. The kids that I worry about are the ones who study their hearts out, to the point where they are so nervous about a test that it affects their whole week, the same ones who collapse in tears at any grade short of perfection, the ones who don’t get as good of a grade as their brother/sister/cousin in the same class or the same grade.

I guess part of the reason that this upsets me is that I don’t have that background. I don’t know about you, but my mother simply expected me to do my best, not to get an A every single time. She pushed me when I needed it, but I never broke down in tears in front of a teacher because of a grade that I earned, even in the subjects that truly were difficult for me and I had to actually study, like trigonometry, pre-calculus, or physics. (I still hate the idea of an imaginary number.) My schoolwork was my responsibility and that concept taught me about personal accountability.

I know some people will argue that we should push our kids, that good grades should be expected,  and I would agree with you, to a point. But when parents are using the strategy of threatening children with punishments for not getting perfect, or close to perfect, grades, it may backfire on them in the long run. The key is knowing your children. Are your children serious about school? Does it come easy for them or do they struggle with every new concept? Are their lives balanced, or are they spending hours studying every day? Are they happy, or are they constantly living under the stress of the next test?

As a teacher, I can tell you this: Encourage them to do their best. Their best may be all Bs, or even Cs. Pay attention to how their work is going, but let them be in charge of it. Check to see that their homework is done, but don’t fix it for them. Let natural consequences happen and see how they respond.  If they need a little extra help at home, go for it, but don’t do the work for them or demand that they achieve perfection. As a parent, I know, it’s really, really, hard to let that happen. For example, Middle Child is a HUGE procrastinator on everything from regular homework to major projects. We ask him about deadlines, and it scares me to death that he won’t turn things in on time, but somehow, he always manages to pull it off on his own. His grades are on him and he does very well. (There, Middle Child, I wrote about you.)

I know this won’t change everyone’s mind about the amount of pressure to put on kids and most parents don’t do this, but, as I pointed out in the beginning of this piece, I see this more and more every year. This week, I just had a very nervous 5th grader ask me if a 90% was a good grade to get on a history test because her mother said she had to get an A. Knowing this student, that she studied on her own, I hugged her and said that I was proud of her. As a bonus, her parents were happy, too.

If you’re not sure if you’re pressuring your children too much, ask yourself this: When your children are grown, what will they remember about their school years? Will they remember never measuring up, never being good enough, or that they were encouraged to be independent and to push themselves to be their very best? Things to think about.

Until next time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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