Father knows Best–and it’s time we start believing it

My son is 12. (any of the parents of difficult tweens out there, you felt the sympathetic wince that statement elicits)

angry-teen-boy-350Yep, he’s twelve–and it’s been baptism by fire.

You see, he’s our first, and our most difficult. And this year has been hard.

I was a teacher, now am a professor, and I have a graduate degree in Psychology, so I should have been ready for everything this year and this stage were going to unload on me–right?

Sadly, no.

I have been pushed to the limit of my parenting skills and my psychology skills. It’s just been plain hard.

You see, my son is hard-headed (that’s the understatement of the century!) He might only be twelve, but he thinks he knows better than everybody else. And the kid has always known what he’s wanted and has had the stubbornness and tenacity to go after it. The combination of these two traits has been a nightmare.

That was unacceptable behaviour, young man

In one of our most recent battle of the wills, we tried another tact. Instead of addressing Gavin’s behavior (which was mean, spiteful, and disrespectful), we addressed it’s effectiveness.

We pointed out that his approach was not meeting and gaining his objective. In other words,

“You’re not getting what you want when you act this way! So why not change your behavior, and see if that gives you the pay out you’re looking for?!!”

I wish that my son would choose to do the right thing, because it is the right thing. That’s what I want, but sadly, he’s not there–yet.

But when we pointed out that what he considers his shortcut, is not only not a shortcut, but is preventing him from the desired end all together, he finally started paying a little bit of attention.

As I explained to him that my desire is not to hurt him, but to ensure his well being and his happiness…when I explained that we correct his behavior because we see and know more, and that he just needs to trust us, even if he doesn’t see how it makes sense or why it should work that way…I couldn’t help but see the correlation to my own relationship with God.

We know where we want to go. We see what we want.

And we see the quick route–the direct route–to our destination.

But most of the time, that’s not the route we find ourselves on. We find ourselves on what appears to be a circuitous route, one that sometimes seems to go backwards, wanders to rabbit trails, and even sometimes seems to end in dead-ends. Much of my life I have felt like Moses wandering around in the desert, knowing where I need to be, but unable to get there. Or like David, the anointed King of Israel who, instead of ruling as was his right, finds himself moldering in a cave for years.

long-winding-road-p92b_saint_gothard_pass_switzerlandWhen there is a disconnect between the life that is, and the life that we feel like we should be living, we become confused, disgruntled,  angry, and often bitter.

“Why, God? Why?” we rail.

He gives us the dream, He sets our path, but instead of the path leading to our expected destination, we find ourselves in the desert, or hidden in a cave, forgotten, moldering away into anonymity.

I’ve had lots of these moments in my life. Moments when it seems like God stopped listening, stopped caring, and certainly stopped guiding.

But as I talked with Gavin, I was convicted.

That was the child’s response, and I am not a child. It is time to put away childish things.

Just as I am asking Gavin to trust that my way is better, I need to trust that God’s way is better.

Just as I tell my son that I am looking at the big picture that he cannot know, I need to trust that God is seeing the big picture that I cannot see.

This place, where I’m at, this isn’t what I wanted. Or at least, this was not the way I wanted it to be.

I thought I’d be much farther by now.

Next year I turn 40. By 40, I thought I would be established.

I’m not.

I have a fledgling writing career.

I am an associate professor, not a tenured one.

I’m not in the ministry.

My goal to change the world and help people in some large way, has translated into a much smaller sphere of influence than I anticipated.

And it’s taken me almost 40 years to get here.

But, I think I’ve been missing the point.

I’m a writer and a professor, and that’s what I always wanted to be.

And occasionally, God has used me to touch a few, not as a missionary, not in some defined role, but as I rub shoulders with people in my daily life.

waysThe road was not the road I would have chosen, but, I have to believe, it was the road I was meant to take–the road I needed to take. God sees the big picture, the destination and the necessary journey.

It’s time I started giving God the trust He deserves. I need to have faith in a Father who loves me and who knows more, sees more, than I do.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

A Lot Less Commercialism… and a Little More Christmas, Please!

Christmas seems to have snuck up on me–again.

texas christmasI don’t know if this is a result of living in Texas where December is more in line with the fall of my childhood, or perhaps it’s from the general chaotic pace my life has taken on, or maybe it’s some other factor that I have yet to identify. Whatever the reason, I’m staring Christmas in the face, and I feel totally unprepared.

ChristmasTooEarlyI used to put my tree up on November 1. I figured that, so long as we had passed Halloween, it was fair game. It wasn’t a matter of finding the time, but more a waiting a respectable amount of time before putting up that first sign of Christmas. I was ready and waiting, a runner poised for the blast that singled “Let the games begin!”

My Christmas shopping used to be done by December 1, and the only thing I needed to scramble for were a few extra stocking stuffers. I leisurely wrapped the gifts while listening to Bing croon about the white Christmas I could already see outside my window. I savored the season: enjoying the moments, admiring them, fingering them one by one.

christmas_stress_shoppingNow it’s more of a mad scramble, a dash from one event to the next–a chaotic sprinting, not a leisurely stroll.

The tree is put up in stages. First there is the bare tree, then days later it acquires some lights and maybe a ribbon or two. Finally, when we can all fit in a spare couple of hours together, we add the ornaments. And then at last the tree bedecked in all its glory to remind us that, yes, Christmas is coming (like a freight train), despite the blue skies and sunshine outside my window!

mom paperGifts are bought in a helter-skelter, often last minute fashion these days. Presents are wrapped only to be opened moments later–literally moments later. No enjoying that pretty wrapping paper peaking from beneath the tree branches. No children having days to wonder about the mysteries wrapped and waiting beneath the tree. There’s no shaking of the boxes, wild guesses, and the peeled back corners of gifts that sit under the tree to tantalize the little people in my life. Nope, there is a still puffing Mama who did a wrapping marathon only to thrust the presents into the eagerly waiting hands. I barely wipe the sweat from my fevered brow before the little people are tearing that pretty paper off and all my efforts are now crumpled in a heap on the floor…

And then there is the Christmas baking…don’t let me get started on the Christmas baking!

I used to love the smells wafting through my kitchen, the strains of the Trans Siberian Orchestra in the background, and the cup of Joe or the glass of red in my hand (depending on what strikes my fancy at the moment). I relished my role in my husband’s family as the maker of delectable desserts (it probably helps that their idea of a Christmas spread is cookies and pie bought at the local supermarket, but never mind that, I relished my role as the Martha Stewart of Christmas yumminess). They waited with anticipation for me to walk in with my homemade oreo cookies, my peanut butter bonbons, and what ever else I decided to throw into the mix that year.

They start anticipating early, at Easter, throughout the summer (never mind that I have spring and summer versions of dessert decadence), already anticipating the Christmas treats that are to come.

Oh, the pressure! I created this beast and now I have to feed it!

cooking messAnd the baking, no longer the savored Christmas experience, is something that I smoosh into my hectic Christmas Eve morning somewhere between the candlelight service (which they now have early in the afternoon which allows us to maintain our scavenger hunt tradition in the evening) and the scant few hours of sleep I’ve managed to cram in with all those last minute Christmas errands the day before the stores begin to close up shop and tell us procrastinators to “go the hell home! We have families too!”

Ah, Christmas. Still my favorite time of year, despite how quickly it comes and how quickly it’s over! How I miss the time to savor you as you so deserve!

My house may not be decorated to perfection, my array of treats might be appallingly scant, and the gifts might yet be crammed in shopping bags in the corners of my closet, but somehow, I don’t think that is what my children are going to remember (I know that’s not what I remember, though I’m pretty sure my mom was probably the chaotic, sweating, marathon running mess that I am today!).

Family-exchanging-presents-at-ChristmasMy children will remember, not the presents or decorations, but the time spent together. They will remember the traditions, the games, and the warm fuzzy feelings that Christmas will bring their way for years to come (until they have kids of their own and the chaotic insanity becomes their very own!).

I find myself reminding myself that it’s not about perfection. It’s not about a beautifully set array of cookies and perfectly wrapped presents. It’s not about the perfect kids’ craft that results in perfect little treasures for grandmas and grandpas, aunts and uncles.

The kids won’t notice the clutter around the house. They won’t notice that there are only two kinds of cookies this year. They won’t notice that the handmade presents are a bit less spectacular this year.

And I shouldn’t either.

Christmas CardIt’s time to stop running around like a crazy person and settle in and just enjoy being with my family.

And it’s time to remember what this season is really all about. Not the great commercial rush it has become, but something so much more–infinitely more.

Sometimes I need to remember that.

You can only do what you can do, and really that’s not the point of it all anyway.

Merry Christmas from my chaotic family to your own! May it be perfect in its imperfection!

Mama to a Big Boy–a lesson in letting go

“Deez nuts!”

“Yo’ Mama…”

“Doritos and Mountain Dew!”

If that made sense to you (or if you at least recognized it–I don’t think I really understand it myself!), if you groaned and rolled your eyes, you just might be the parent of a tween boy.
Oh, and let’s not forget out about Pewdiepie, Sundee and Pizza Hut (and no, not the restaurant)… Household names, right?

Tween boys, I am finding, are a unique breed. Their testosterone goes into over drive, their sex drive rears its immature and somewhat awkward head, and all sense seems to go out the window.

It is an age of laughter (often derived from very inappropriate jokes), posturing if you’re lucky, and all out fist fights if you’re not, first crushes, first broken hearts–and the first time mom is shut out.

And I don’t like it.

As any mom of boys knows, there is a special bond between a mother and her son. Gavin was my biggest snuggler (and if you know Arabelle, that is really saying something!). I think I can say with confidence that I am his favorite person in the world. And I like it that way.

tween boyHe might get mad at me, but within an hour he’s coming up to snuggle with me on the bed or sit on my lap (and that, these days, is quite the fete with his long, solid body that seems to weigh at least a ton! My legs, and the arm he’s leaning on, go numb, but I’m not about to tell him he’s too big. Soon enough he’s going to be done with snuggles and cuddles on my lap as it is. I’m not ready to let that go until I have to–numb legs and all!).

Almost every night he asks me to take a walk with him. And on those walks, he used to tell me everything: his frustrations, his hurts, his first crushes–but not anymore. Mom is being pushed out of his private world, and I feel a pang in the vicinity of my heart. My boy is taking some of his first steps, a whole new group of firsts, and this time mommy has to watch from the sidelines. The first steps of true independence, of creating an identity away from mom and dad are starting now, and he won’t talk to me about it.

I know he had a girlfriend for the first time. I know she broke up with him five days later. And I know she hurt his heart. But he won’t tell me why or how he feels or how he’s really doing.

video-game-2_2362669bHe’ll talk about the latest Sundy video, or of Call of Duty and Mine Craft, endlessly, but ask him about matters of the heart, about matters that, well, matter–and I hit a wall of silence.

I know he likes a new girl. I don’t know her name. I don’t know if she likes him. I don’t even know if I know her.

I know his latest pranks, the latest scuffles and which teacher is the newest to find her way to his crap list. These are the things he tells me.

But the things that matter…? These he is keeping close to his chest. Who he shares them with, I don’t know–but I know it’s no longer me.

This is a weird thing. An uncomfortable thing.

No. No, that’s not it.

Let’s call it what it really is–it sucks. It is completely sucky, and it hurts.

It signifies the beginning for him–the first transitions into becoming his own man, independent and separate from our little family.  I want this for him; I want him apron stringsto fly…

These are his first steps as much as those first wobbly baby steps so many years ago. And I want to be there cheering him on like I did then, feeling the mixture of pride and the bittersweet pang of crossing a threshold.

But I don’t want to let him go!

But I have to…

It is a tug of war between what I want to do, and what I need to do.

This is a bitter sweet season of letting go. Whereas, my girls and I seem to grow closer as they near adolescence, my son is growing away. And I know, boys, when they grow away, they really do grow away from their mums.

I miss him already, and he’s not even gone…I’m proud of who he will become, but…I don’t want to say goodbye to the little boy that was.

 

When the Rose-Colored Glasses Come Off

When you are young, as with so much of life, you look to motherhood with a strong shot of romance and a healthy side of idealism.

mom and babyA co-worker brings a new baby into work, and everybody crowds around, oohing and ahhing at that amazing little miracle of life…and all you see is chubby cheeks and warm baby snuggles. (Not the tears–your own not the babies–and the 10th dirty diaper of the day or the growing mound of poo bespeckled laundry–again, not just the babies.)

You see the proud glow of a mother who watches her child achieve the winning goal, the special award, the winning medal…and you think of how brilliant your child will be and how proud he or she will make you. You see the look of pride you will wear and the look of envy the other mothers will shoot in your direction. (You don’t see the stress of playing chauffeur, the many dinners eaten in the car, the tears and arguments when said child doesn’t want to go to practice or is over-tired when practices translate into late, late nights of homework)

crying-babyYou see the mother soothing an adorable toddler’s tears away…(aww…isn’t she cute? —No, not really. After the fifth meltdown of the day, that cute baby voice is starting to sound like nails on the chalkboard and that little, red, howling face is the thing of nightmares)

To the young (and naïve) all of these inspire feelings of longing, a desire to be a participant in that moment, to be the mother, to feel the tenderness and pride. The rest of it is unknown or ignored. The rose colored glasses are on and the pictures of family bliss overshadow the known realities.

Maybe not everyone feels it, but many, even most, do. I sure did.

Outside_Looking_in_by_M_photographyI remember, before I was a parent, the longing I felt for a child. I remember the fear that I would never find a man I wanted to marry, or who would want to marry me, and the fear that I would never experience that–that I would be left on the outside looking through the shop window at what I couldn’t have, watching other women experience those moments. I would be on the sidelines–watching, wishing, but not participating.

For me, I got to experience this not once, but twice. I did meet a man, and we fell in love, and we had a beautiful, gorgeous, perfect little baby, and I felt the joy, the tenderness, the rush of pride, only to bury my beautiful little girl a year later.

Those moments on the outside looking in were all the more painful after that. Those mothers had what I had had, only it had been stolen away from me, and I feared that I would never have it again (the risk involved was just so great). I felt by turns angry and bitter, but most often, I despaired. What if, having known what being a mother was, I never got to be one again?

I remind myself of that frequently these days, so many years of chaos later. I remind myself of how much I wanted this, and how I almost didn’t get it.

When I lost Serena, I thought I knew what being a mother was. In fact, I thought I had a better picture than most, because I had experienced the joy being a mother was, but also the devastation it can bring. But the truth is, I didn’t really understand what being a mother was at that point.

look_at_life_through_red_tinted_glasses_by_andela1998-d68zvuuDespite losing Serena, I still wore rose colored glasses. My eyes and my heart were full of the tender moments, the warmth. My mind was filled with remembered snuggles, and the memory of that unique baby scent, the soft cheeks and that perfect little nuzzle spot just between the edge of the jaw and the neck…

I had not yet experienced the daily grind of parenthood. I hadn’t faced the discipline and arguments, the tears and “I hate yous,” the endless emails to teachers to try to turn zeroes into passing grades, the wrappers on the floor and bookbags in the doorway. These were not something I knew.

I didn’t yet understand that to be a mother was to put one’s self in the back seat, to place another completely and entirely above oneself. I did not know that it meant that my life would be filled with mundane moments of caretaking, or that the peacefulness of silence would be something I only fondly remembered, but never experienced.

I did not know that my wants, my needs, my own desires would be in such subjugation to the needs and wants of others.

I didn’t understand.

I wish I could say that I always handle it with grace, but I don’t.

I wish I could say that losing Serena makes me always remember to appreciate the gift I have in my children, but it doesn’t.

I wish I could say that I never feel angry, or bitter, or resentful of all that I have given up for this dream of motherhood, but that would be a lie.

I do feel resentful sometimes. Sometimes I’m angry. Sometimes I lose patience. Sometimes I wish that I could travel the world like I did before. Or I think fondly of a time when my to-do list wasn’t so long that it went straight out the door and wrapped around the block. There are those moments.

mom-daughter-share-ice-cream-607496-printBut there are also the other moments. The love, the tenderness, the laughter. There is the knowledge that I finally understand what the Bible is talking about, to truly put someone above yourself, to be willing to lay your life, not your death, but to lay your life down for another. That is so much harder.

That is motherhood–day in and day out.

It is grace. It is selflessness. It is sacrifice.

It is not perfection, but being able to admit when we’re wrong, and to keep trying when we want to give up, and sometimes loving the unlovable until they are lovable again.

I am not a perfect mother, but my children are perfectly loved, and everything I gave up cannot come close to everything I have gained from having them in my life.

I am lucky to be their mother. It is a privilege–sometimes I have to remind myself of that, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

Two of the Most Important Things Every Parent Needs to Teach Their Children

This is a big transition year for me and my crazy household, and if I needed any visual reminders of this, I wouldn’t have to look far. I can find those reminders all over my house…most frequently in the form of training bras.

Wait a minute…what?!

Yep, you heard me right. Training bras. And I keep finding them everywhere.

As if it is not weird enough that my little baby girl is wearing a bra, I am confronted with this reality on a regular basis. No out of sight out of mind denial allowed! Nope. They are everywhere, and no, that is not an exaggeration! It’s like having a constant visual reminder of the new territory we have entered.

I find them in my bedroom (not mine, hers, in my bedroom!). I find them in my bathroom (again not mine!). I find them on the dining room table (what the…?!). I find them folded and nicely sitting on the bottom of the stairs… (again…why?!) I find them in the middle of her bedroom floor (at least this makes a little more sense)…hanging from her bathroom door knob (again, makes more sense). But the point is, I find them everywhere!

And if I needed further reminders of this weird threshold we’ve crossed, the eye rolls, shrugs in answer to my questions (questions that in the past would have initiated long, enthusiastic conversations full of hand gestures and sparkling eyes), and the exasperated groan that the address “Mom” has taken on (I miss Mom sounding like an endearment…) readily supply all the necessary evidence.

Only my littlest still calls me Mommy–and she makes it sound like a badge of honor!

The other two make it sound like a synonym for silly or stupid or embarrassing.

We’ve definitely crossed into a different world, one in which mom is no longer cast as the hero. (Sigh… I liked being a hero!)

I have to face it. Suck it up, Mommy! It is time to adjust. Take the bitter pill and swallow it down.

My babies are no longer babies, and every year that passes, they are going to need me a little bit less.

But that’s the point. That’s the objective. It’s okay. In fact, it’s more than okay–it’s as it should be. I’m teaching them, and  giving them the tools, to be independent, capable, mom-free individuals.

birds1Fly, little birdies! Fly!

It’s right and it’s good, but it also puts things into perspective. I find myself really taking stock of our time. It’s like I feel the sands of the hour glass sifting through my fingers. My time is limited. My impact will change and lessen. I want to be sure that what I give them is what matters most. I feel a sense of urgency, as if my opportunity to imprint upon them with what is most important will soon be gone.

What do I what to imprint on them? What do I want to make sure they take away more than anything else?

When I ponder this, I come down to two things that I want to make sure that my children leave my home knowing.

loveThe first is the most important thing that anyone can ever know: that they are loved unconditionally. That no matter where they go, who they become, what mistakes they will make, there is always someone in their corner who will love them, fight for them and never ever give up on them–no matter what.

How do we communicate this to our children?

By doing.

By loving them through every mistake and every disappointment. By spending time with them and talking with them. By giving hugs and kisses and snuggles. By taking long walks and listening to their anger and tears, disappointments and fears. By laughing together and playing together. By forgiving and being humble enough to admit when we’re wrong and forgiving some more.

Too often I see families who are so busy, they forget that it is these simple moments that build the foundation of a family.

It’s not the gifts we buy, the activities we do, or the vacations we go on.

Your child doesn’t need the latest and greatest this, that, and the other thing. They need you. They need to know that you care, that you are engaged.

mother-sonIt boils down to quality time simply being together–and that doesn’t have to cost a dime. A game of cards or a walk before bed–one on one time with your kiddo where you are 100 percent focused on being with them, listening to them. No cell phone. No TV. No distractions.

When my children look back at these years, what are they going to remember?

Are their memories going to be of a short-tempered, overworked mom who was rushing them from one activity to another?

Or are they of snuggles and cuddles? Walks and laughter?

Are the latter moments frequent and strong enough to outweigh those short-tempered, frazzled moments, because we have those too…we’re only human after all!Which will leave the strongest impression?

I need to self-check. I need to continually remind myself to make a focused effort to make sure that, no matter how tired I am, no matter my level of stress, when my children need me, I turn off the TV(or in my case, put down the book), turn off the cell phone, and pay attention.

I need to model what being engaged means. I need to model love and forgiveness, humility and compassion–so that they know they are loved and so they know how to love.

give backThe second thing that I want to impress upon my children before they leave the nest is that they have a responsibility. They are not put on this world to be happy (though I hope they will be). They were not put on this planet to achieve their personal dreams (though my hope is their dreams will be molded by this understanding and so they will find them fulfilled). They are on this planet to leave it a little bit better than when they found it. They need to give back.

I remind my children on a regular basis that it is not simply about what they want…Yes, I ask them what they want to be when they grow up, but I follow up with a reminder that it’s not just about what they want to be, but what God wants of them, and how they plan to give back to this world.

I refuse to have my children leave my home believing that they are entitled. I want their focus not to be on what they deserve, but on what they can do for others, how they can make this planet just a little bit better.

Of all the lessons I can, and will, teach my children, these are by far the most important.

the_sands_of_timeAs time slips through my fingers, I am making a concerted effort to ensure that they will leave my house knowing how greatly they are loved (because my heart aches with love for them, in their highs and in their lows–in their triumphs and in their failures), and also being equipped to love and spread that love wherever they go–determined to give back.

If I can teach my children these things, no matter my failures as a mother, I will have succeeded.

I hate to break it to you, but summer is going the way of the dodo bird…

mean-old-ladyWhen you think of teachers, usually a few memorable ones will pop to your mind, the best of them or the worst of them. For me, the first who always comes to mind is Ms. Putsky, my first grade teacher. She was ancient back then, so my guess is she’s long gone by now, which is a good thing for all first graders everywhere. She was awful. She came from an era of corporal punishment, and though that age had moved on, Ms. Putsky had not. She was known to break rulers over hands, to intimidate and to mock. Political correctness–hell even kindness–was not in her repertoire. I remember her moving my desk to the front of my class, breaking all my pencils, calling me names, and, on one occasion, even throwing away my shoes (they clicked in the hallway when I walked and it annoyed her). I had many wonderful teachers along the way, but sadly, she is always the first to come to mind.

Whether a teacher with a positive influence or negative influence comes first to your mind, the reality is someone does, because a teachers influence us all. There are certain people from certain professions you might go your entire life and have no interactions with, but a teacher, well, none of us can go through life without living day in and day out with them, at least for portions of our lives. Which is one of the biggest reasons I chose to be a teacher, to have influence, to give back, to be a positive influencer, not a negative memory like Ms. Putsky is for me. Most teachers go into the profession for similar reasons (God knows it isn’t for the money!).

teacherWhat people don’t realize about teachers is, though we may love our jobs and love the big or little people we pour ourselves into, there is a large part of us that lives summer to summer. After all, if we’re going to pour ourselves out and into others year after year, we need  the chance to refill, or we too, will turn into a Ms. Putsky in our dotage–that’s what happens when you’ve poured it all out and yet you’re expected to keep pouring from an empty watering can (though, I have to say, in the case of Ms.Putsky, I think she just hated children and derived pleasure out of tormenting us!)

When we first step through the door of our classroom in August, we are already having a few stray thoughts of what we’re going to do next summer (often, the things we somehow didn’t have time for that summer). Throughout the first semester, the thoughts are fleeting, but they’re there. We start making lists. We start noticing all the things that aren’t getting done because of all the piles of grading we have, but those tasks have only been shortly abandoned, and though we might look at the yard work that is needing to be done, the floors that need a deep cleaning, things have only been neglected for a short time, and so they don’t press on our consciousness too terribly much. Besides, we think, with Thanksgiving Break and Christmas Break, surely we can at least catch up on those to-do lists then.

teacherburnoutAnd we do, at least somewhat. The only problem is that this list gets inevitably longer every day that passes, and, if, like me, you have a young family who seems to absorb mommy’s time like little sponges, you can never really get everything done that you had hoped to do, so you start telling yourself spring break, I can catch up on all of this when spring break rolls around.

The only thing is, that by spring break a teacher is starting to burn out. The constant social interaction (especially for the non-extroverts of our profession) is wearing us down. The piles and piles of essays to get through start to feel like a ball and chain around our mental ankle. The school responsibilites and the home responsibilities seem to press in, and by the time spring break hits, well, that to-do list, pressing though it might be, takes second seat to the desperate need for a break. So, instead of crossing things off that list, the list gets longer.

summerThat is when we teachers start thinking and dreaming about summer break in earnest. We start making lists of all the things we will accomplish: the home improvement tasks we will tackle, the deep cleaning we will do, the piles of books we will read, the places we will go, etc.. We begin our countdown and we watch that approaching day in June with at least as much anticipation as the students, and when that day finally comes, we think we will actually get everything we hadn’t had a chance to do during the course of the school year–finally–done.

The only problem is, at least for me, it never seems to happen that way. Here I am, looking up and it’s mid-July, my summer is half over, and my list is still so incredibly long. I blame it on the little people in my life. They seem to add two things to that list for every one I cross off.

mombalancing actI have to admit, I look at my childless teaching friends with a fair amount of envy (yes, Heidi, I have you in mind!). Whereas so much of my time is spent feeding my children (someone should really warn pre-mothers that they will need to prepare three meals a day for those little darlings…that means shopping for said meals, cooking said meals and cleaning up after those said meals…how much of my time disappears in that cloud of smoke?), cleaning the piles of laundry that they seem to go through on a nearly daily basis (how many shirts can my son wear in one day!! And why does he have to change back and forth from clothes into pajama pants throughout the day creating more and more clothing that makes it’s way down my laundry shoot?!), cleaning up after their general mayhem (the debris that somehow ends up scattered throughout my house on a daily basis resembles a small tornado in force, magnitude and destruction), carting them from one summer activity to another (next year I think I am going to keep track of the miles and minutes that I rack up from being the chauffeur…I think it would be quite shocking), and entertaining and spending quality time with those little people (by far the most enjoyable of the time-consuming tasks). There goes the bulk of summer, poof! And I haven’t even touched the things that I want to do or the special projects that have been waiting patiently for me to finally get to them over the course of the long academic year (it makes me tired just thinking about it!).

good-lifeWhereas, my childless teacher friends (Ahem, yes, you again Heidi) get all that time to do all sorts of things: traveling to Houston, traveling to Las Vegas, traveling wherever the whim takes them…going to concerts and shows, fancy restaurants and movies, reading the piles of books that I wish I could read…their time is their own. It has been so long since my time has been my own…

So, yes, here I sit half way through my summer, and my house still has not entirely gone through its deep cleaning. I still have not sorted through and organized my garage, much less my attic. My bathroom is, as yet, unpainted, and the dining room chairs, well, I had almost forgotten about my intention to paint them this summer. The great pile of books I intended to be through by this point sits largely untouched (I’ve gotten through a few, but there are still so many waiting!) and the book that I intended to be done writing by the end of July still has a little less than half way to go, and only two weeks to meet my goal. Sigh…

Back_to_schoolAll of this, and I am starting to see the words “Back to School” pop up in ads and at stores. My children have begun wondering who their teacher will be for this coming year, and I feel the second half of the sands of my summer slipping through the hour glass at an alarming rate.

How much of my to-do list will be pushed off to next summer, and then the next, and then the next, until my little birdies fly the coop and my time is my own again?

And yet that doesn’t make me any happier, for if I was to choose between the two, my time or my birdies, I would choose to keep those little loves close every single time.

To-do lists will always be there. Concerts and vacations will always be there, but they will not be, and how I will miss them when they go!

first-day-of-college-cartoon1So, as much as I hate cleaning (and I really do HATE it!), and as much as I beat myself up for the never-ending to-do list that never diminishes, I am glad for the opportunity to spend this time with my little sponges. Soon enough, they aren’t going to want to spend their precious summer moments hanging out with their mom!

When life is speeding by too quickly, what should you do? Why shop, of course!

Unlike most people who take stock of their year at the end of the calendar year, I tend to take mine at the end of the school year, being that I’m a teacher and all. I’ve found myself spending a lot of time thinking about this year, and I have to admit, my thoughts have been very bitter sweet. It has been a year of firsts, and a year of feeling myself on the brink of a new chapter and new beginnings.

During the school year, I am too busy to really think about things, but in the summer, I am able to give free rein to my reflective nature and I have felt the movement of time like a train headed straight for me, and I feel that most when I look at my nine year old daughter Arabelle.

gavinGavin is older; he turned eleven in May, so maybe he should be the one who makes me feel the movement toward change most, but somehow the changes with him seem more subtle. Yes, he’s up to my chin, and yes, he had his first real crush this year, but other than height, there have been no physical changes. He’s matured (thank God), and I know there’s more coming, but, well, somehow either the changes aren’t big enough, or maybe because I’ve been anticipating them, it hasn’t had the emotional impact that the changes in Arabelle have had on me.

strawberry shortcakeArabelle is nine. Did you catch that? Only nine. She has always been my sweetest child, honestly, the sweetest child I have ever met. She always makes me think of Beth in “Little Women.” I have also called her my Strawberry Shortcake. That was just the kind of kid she has always been. She will give her little sister the last cookie. She will look out for the outcast. When she was about three and I had two cookies, with one significantly bigger than the other, Gavin quickly grabbed the large one, and not only did Belle not make a big deal about getting the smaller cookie, she looked at her cookie and said, “Oh, look at my cookie, the cutie, cutie little cookie.” That’s my Arabelle.

adolescentThis year Arabelle has started rolling her eyes at me…and slamming doors…and shooting me this look that says, “Mom, how can you be so stupid?!” She’s happy one minute, and bursting into tears the next. She ignores me, and outright disobeys (not a lot, but that she’s doing it at all…). My sweet girl is changing.

Not all the change is bad. She’s a lot of fun to hang around with. She always has a book or a notebook with her because her brain is always thinking about things, whether it be God, life, philosophy or her next story idea. She’s funny. And she still is sweet, just more of a grown up sort of sweet.

These things have been going on all year, but I still looked at my daughter and saw a little girl–at least for a while longer–but I heard the clock ticking, almost physically sometimes. Tick, tock. Tick, tock. It’s just a matter of time.

Excited Shopping Woman isolated on white

To deal with the advancement of time and this whirlwind of change, I have done what every mother would do (well, at least that’s what I tell myself), I shop.

Shopping, much to my husband’s dismay, has always been one of my coping mechanisms, and since I love fashion, there’s always so much shopping potential.

Though I love women’s fashion, the 30+ pounds that my children left me (thanks so much kiddos) and my own lack of willpower have kept me from vanquishing (thank you all you cupcake specialty stores and the new Krispy Kreme that is less than 10 minutes away!) the poundage and thus keep me from dabbling too much in that industry. My layers of pudge and my big kahunas often make the trends look quite ridiculous on me. So what is a girl to do?

paper-doll-costumeWhy, but what are children but big dollies that I can play with and dress up! 😉 Problem solved!

I never went through a doll stage or a Barbie stage as a kid. I was more into painting and drawing, reading and writing, so my children have brought out the latent urges that I bypassed in my youth. My husband says I’m making up for lost time. I personally call it therapy. I can’t shop the trends for myself, but I have these two skinny, beautiful daughters who look good in everything (even those full body rompers–they may be two of the only people anywhere to pull those off), so, when I need shopping therapy, it tends to benefit their wardrobes, not my own.

When they were younger, I went through a Gymboree stage (doesn’t everyone?), but as they got older, I shifted to a Gap stage–less cutsie. But then I started to explore boutique brands, and there is just some of the cutest stuff ever out there! I crossed over into dangerous territory!

So, as Arabelle enters the last stage of her childhood (as signified by the necessity to go training bra shopping a few weeks ago! Yikes! Again, remember, she’s nine!!!!!), I have found myself wanting to dress her in as many of my favorite brands as I possibly can before her will and taste (which leans toward Justice) makes her unwilling to wear the things I love. Perish the thought!

CAM00914-1So I have bought more Matilda Jane, Giggle Moon, Mustard Pie, Jelly the Pug,  and, my favorite of favorites, Persnickety, in the last few months than in the nine years proceeding this one. Call me silly, but it is my way of saying goodbye to the child she is before embracing the young woman she is becoming…and it is reminding me to appreciate the last couple of years I have with Lilian before she too begins to leave childhood behind.

I have loved the elementary years with my children. I have loved them little. I will miss all the cuddles. I will miss being their favorite person in the world (and the smartest one too!). They have been wonderful years.

But, when I look at Arabelle, I see the beautiful, smart, thoughtful young lady she is becoming, and I am just so belleproud.

I look at Gavin and I see this handsome young man, and I just think wow! This young man is mine, and I am so proud of who he is becoming.

And I know, that in saying goodbye to the childhood years, I am saying hello, to many new firsts. New beginnings. A whole new adventure all its own.

And I always have loved an adventure!

Deferred today, but not Dead

I have found myself contemplating the nature of dreams.

The last unit of this school year was titled “Dream Deferred.” I think it might be my favorite unit of my teaching career. So often, in this technology filled world, we do not give our children (or ourselves) the opportunity to reflect, and that is what this unit was really about.

What are our dreams? Are deferred dreams always negative? Are dreams worth pursuing at any cost? How do dreams, and the pursuit of dreams, change as a result of our society and culture, religion, SES, etc.?

I think our answers to these questions change a lot over time.

dreams4American culture is a highly individualistic, even narcissistic. We ask our children what they want to be when they grow up. We talk to them about their dreams and aspirations, as if it is entirely up to them. We tell them they can do anything if they work for it hard enough (which simply isn’t always true). We send them out into the world, believing that they can do it all–without having realistic conversations with them about what it all means. It’s a dream it–achieve it mentality. It sounds great, but tends to lead to disillusionment when the realities of life–family, responsibility, they need to pay rent–start pushing their way in.

STEM-LogoMy Asian students approach dreams very differently. Their culture is not one that promotes individualism, but rather community. Their aspirations are not a result of personal passions, so much as the dictates of their family and cultural expectations. Very often, their pursuit is not of a “dream,” but rather for status and wealth, which bring honor and prestige to their families. Many of them struggle as, the society they find themselves in and which naturally affects them  (American), comes into conflict with their heritage.

As with so much of life, things on either extreme lead to dissatisfaction. Life tends to be lived in the middle ground, but when our expectations don’t match up with that…someone, or lots of someones, are unhappy.

I, being a product of my culture, started my path with much of the mentality of the typical American perspective. My aspirations were big, larger than life, and I do think that I probably could have attained at least some of them by now–but at what cost?

Years ago, I remember one of my coaches telling me that I could be a truly amazing basketball player if I really worked at it. I was a good basketball player all ready, but not great. If I were to work year round, every day, if I were to dedicate myself to it, I had a chance of being something special.

I was in high school at the time. I remember thinking about what he said, weighing it, and deciding that I didn’t want it that badly. To be truly excellent at basketball meant that I would have to give up theater and music. I would have to give up cheerleading. I would have no time to practice the piano. Would I ever have time to read a book again?

I suppose my coach may have been right, but just because I could have that, didn’t mean that I should.

kiddosIn the same way, the young me, hadn’t thought through the affects that meeting and marrying my husband, and our subsequent children, would have on the attainment of my dreams. Had I never met Aaron, I think I would have been closer to fulfilling, or possibly even have fulfilled, many of my dreams by now…but at what cost?

Are my dreams so huge that I would throw love and family to the curbside to attain them? If I had it to do over, would I change the path I took?

Absolutely not. My family, despite the personal sacrifices I have to make on a daily basis, are worth the deferment of my dreams. I do not exist in a vacuum, nor would I want to.

American society, does its children a disservice when they approach the concept of dreams. We hold the dream up, as if it were worth any cost, without bringing the conversation of family, love, and responsibility into the conversation. This leads to disillusioned young parents as they struggle to make their concept of a dream match the reality that they find themselves in.

This isn’t to say that I believe that the Asian families have hit the mark. I think that they too, have fallen short of what leads us to happiness.

dreams 5If we live life solely for the accumulation of status and wealth, solely for responsibility, we will find that our lives are spent on a hamster wheel, every day the same with no sense of fulfillment. Humans are passionate creatures. We need time to allow the sides of us that feel, that create, to have their time too. To be a lover of art, to create art, does not mean that I must be an artist as a profession. Just because I am a businessman by day, does not mean that I can’t indulge in my need to create art. Our dreams do not need to be synonymous with our professions.

And deferred dreams are not dead dreams. Just because I am a teacher today, does not mean that I can’t be a writer tomorrow.

And as with so much of life, isn’t it the waiting, the dreaming, the anticipation of the dream happening, that makes the attainment of it that much sweeter? Like a child waiting for the gift that he knows is under the Christmas tree…if it were easy to attain, I wouldn’t value it quite so much.

 

Just another pretty face–being an adolescent girl–it’s all in the packaging

My daughter has started asking me what the songs on the radio mean.

That meant I had to actually start paying attention to what I was bee-bopping along to, because, I realized, half the time I had no idea what in the world the songs were about.

So, I started paying attention. I started actually listening to the words . . . and I was a bit dismayed by how many a)were about sex, b) were encouraging very negative behaviors, and c) were about sex. Did I mention how many were about sex–casual, meaningless sex?

tove loI’ve never really thought that deeply about the messages of many of the songs I listen to. I put the radio on and find myself enjoying the beat and the style, and so sing along without really knowing what I’m singing, or if I do, it really doesn’t penetrate, and, up until now, my kids were too little for it to really matter.

But now my nine year old daughter wants to know what they mean…and I find that I don’t want to tell her.

How do I tell her that, “Oh, honey, this song is about a girl who does drugs and goes to sex clubs because she misses the boy who dumped her so badly? (Tove Lo’s song so aptly named ‘I get high all the time’)” Umm . . . no, I just switch the station whenever that song comes on.

taylor swiftOr how about the new Taylor Swift (my girls love her–a model for young girls??) song about hooking up with a guy for the weekend because he looks good ( not because he is good, nope, just looks good) and she doesn’t really care if it lasts or not (song named “Blank Space”) so long as she has a good time. . . do I want my daughters to think that sex has no deeper meaning than if you find someone good to look at or not?

Or how about all the songs that objectify women. That’s fun. “Oh, honey, this song is just about how a woman’s only value is in how she looks and whether or not a guy can get her into bed . . . ” I’m not ready for that conversation yet!

The tendency for Hip Hop and Rap to throw around the “bitch” word and refer to women in all sort’s of sexual ways is notorious, and frankly, those songs are never playing on my radio, so let’s look at the genres that do get played in the family car…

sexismHow about Keith Urban and his “Little Bit of Everything.” For those of  you who haven’t heard it, here’s part of the first verse:

“I want a cool chick that’ll cook for me

But’ll dance on the bar in her tan bare feet

And do what I want when I want and she’ll do it with me.”

Nope, not sexist at all. :/ Is that what I want my daughters to think a healthy relationship in the 21st century looks like?

The lookism that is rampant in our culture, the objectification of women, is sadly something that I have become numb to on a conscious level–I don’t notice it that often except when it hits me over the head.

Having my precious, sweet, innocent daughter ask me what a song means was one of those “hitting me over the head moments.” Knowing that my tween daughter is about to walk into this ugliness, where her creativity, her innate goodness, her bright inquisitive mind are all going to take a backseat to her pretty face and a body about to blossom kind of pisses me off. My daughter is amazing, and so much more than how she looks! She is so much more than whether boys think she’s hot or not.

But this is what we do to our girls. This is adolescence for a female.

aibileenI want to wrap my daughter up and keep her safe from the ugliness out there–but I can’t. It’s our world and she has to live in it. So, I need to figure out how I can combat all the negative messages she receiving on a continual basis.

I just recently got around to watching the movie “The Help” (a truly outstanding movie with so many rich ideas I might have to devote a blog to it at a later time). What Aibileen said to that little girl–on repeat–really stuck with me. “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”

Notice that she doesn’t say she’s beautiful– though she could have. She doesn’t mention how adorable she looks–though she certainly did look adorable. She focused on what that little girl really needed to know about herself. That she was kind. That she was smart. And that she was worth something.

That is what I can do for my daughter. I can remind her of who she is and what really matters.

Three boys playing tug-of-warMy son is a very handsome little fella. Every once in a while someone tells him that.

More often, he is told that he is smart, that he’s athletic, that he’s got potential. When he gets compliments, they are things about him. It’s not that he’s not good looking–it just doesn’t really matter that much for a boy. I mean it helps, but it’s not what’s most important.

My girls on the other hand, the vast majority of their compliments are about how they look. They continually hear that they’re cute or pretty or skinny–but much more rarely do they hear that they are kind or smart or talented, though they are all these things and more.

Their father and I tell them that they are smart and good and funny and talented, but the world around them focuses on how they look. Are our voices enough to make a difference?

Back in my dating years, I was always floored at how deep and intelligent guys who should know better were drawn to the pretty faces of shallow and flighty girls. This always stumped me.

peny-and-leonard-leonard-penny-32729301-1224-792Half of the guys I crushed on were just sort of  “meh” in the look department. It didn’t matter that much to me. It was their minds or their wit or their passion that drew me, not what they looked like. Don’t get me wrong, there has to be attraction, but attraction was so much more than what they looked like!

Nearly every guy I knew thought he deserved a drop-dead looker (even if he was a less than stellar specimen of the masculine race). And so many of them wouldn’t consider going out with an amazing girl because she was plain. This never made any sense to me.

papertowns2John Greene in his book “Paper Towns” puts it so well. “[It’s] always seemed so ridiculous to me, that people would want to be around someone because they’re pretty. It’s like picking your breakfast cereals based on color instead of taste.” It makes no sense, but when it comes to females, that is what society (and guys) tell us is the most important factor when it comes to date-ability.

He furthers this idea in his book when he refers to a character who is popular and sought after by the guys in the protagonist’s school. Greene states about this girl: “She may be hot, but she is also 1. aggressively vapid, and 2. an absolute, unadulterated, raging bitch . . . [we]have long suspected that Becca maintains her lovely figure by eating nothing but the souls of kittens and the dreams of impoverished children”– and yet, the boys came swarming. Here was an awful, hateful girl, but her good looks made all that was negative about her disappear.

What is wrong with us?

I always marveled when I was young at how important it was for me, and for us as girls, to hear affirmation about how we looked. What did I do to contribute to how I look? Was it some great fete? Did I expend great effort? Was this a great achievement on my part. No, no and no. It was simple genetics–something I had no control over, and yet something I am told over and over again, is the most important part of who I am.

According to this idea, we are set up from the beginning to succeed or fail and nothing we do is really going to alter the outcome. Doesn’t really seem fair to me.

As a parent, it makes me angry–and it makes me feel so futile, the one voice in the noise of a society that says that how they look means so much less than who they choose to be.

helen of troyBut this isn’t a new problem, it’s not uniquely 21st century and it’s not uniquely American–though perhaps the prevalence of the idea is more oppressive because of this age of social media. This is a problem that is as old as time, and for all our gender equality, we don’t seem to be making any inroads on this particular facet of the problem.

In her book “Reviving Ophelia” Mary Pipher states “In early adolescence girls learn how important appearance is in defining social acceptability. Attractiveness is both necessary and a sufficient condition for girls’ success. This is an old, old problem. Helen of Troy didn’t launch a thousand ships because she was a hard worker. Juliet wasn’t loved for her math ability.”

She goes on to say that “America today is a girl-destroying place” and that “Girls have long been trained to be feminine at considerable cost to their humanity. They have long been evaluated on the basis of appearance and caught in myriad double binds: achieve, but not too much . . . girls are trained to be less than who they really are.”

I don’t want that for my girls. I don’t want my girls reduced to less than the dynamic individuals they truly are. I don’t want them to look for their value in how the male gender perceives them. I don’t want them to think that sex is something to approach casually or that it has no real meaning attached to it.

Somehow I need to fight this tide and help my daughters know that they are amazing, brilliant human beings, and not just pretty girls.

tween girls

It is our responsibility as parents, teachers, women, and human beings, to let girls know that their worth is in who they are–not in how they look.

Spoiler alert . . . The Easter bunny isn’t real!

easter-bunny-2This was a momentous Easter for us.

We outed the Easter bunny.

The Tooth Fairy participated in his downfall.

But not Santa. We drew the line at Santa.

“Mama, does that mean that Santa isn’t real too,” my daughter asked with her wide blue eyes starting to glisten.

I hesitated a split second. Darn it! I just couldn’t do it! “No, honey! Not Santa! Of course, Santa is real!”

I threw a stern glance at my almost eleven year-old son–he would not ruin this for his little sister. He rolled his eyes, but kept his mouth shut. (A rarity these days!)

But my middle daughter piped up. “Zoe’s mom told her that Santa isn’t real.”

Didn’t expect difficulty coming from that quarter! I thought quickly and punted. “That’s just because Zoe’s mom lacks imagination. Does she know he’s not real? Has she walked around the North Pole and actually looked for him?” (Sorry Zoe’s mom! I hate to throw you under the bus, but . . . well, desperate times and all.)

shockYes, I lie to my children. (Insert gasp. Followed by looks of horror and outrage.)

I have also told my girls that we can’t know for sure that mermaids (or water dinosaurs for that matter) don’t exist, as, to date, we have explored less than five percent of the ocean. I admit to them that I don’t think they are real, but that we can’t entirely rule out the possibility. My husband always rolls his eyes at me when I say this–and I think my daughter’s teacher thinks I’m nuts–but, seriously! We have no clue what is at the bottom of the ocean!

At least I don’t do what a friend of mine does (though I did consider it).

While her little loves are sound asleep, the “fairies” come and play with their toys. Her children wake to the visible proof of fairies existence. Perhaps that is crossing a line, but I thought it was rather fun and clever.

santa lieThere is a lot of disagreement on this particular issue among parents and even psychologists. Is this kind of lying harmful to your children? Is it even really lying?

I have been on the receiving end of scorn and judgement from parents. “We do not lie to our children!”

Said parents say that it “erodes the foundation of trust.”

I tend to think that is ridiculous.

tooth fairyMy daughters do not trust me less now that they know the Easter Bunny is really just Mommy and Daddy. In fact, they had a fun little time of it proving the lack of a Tooth Fairy. They looked for clues. The Tooth Fairy happened to use the same kinds of markers that their mother owned. Hmmm . . . They then put their hypothesis to the test when Arabelle put a tooth under her pillow without mentioning it to me. Sadly, the Tooth Fairy did not know she needed to visit that night and so the tooth, and not money, was found under her pillow that morning. A fine little piece of detective work on their parts!

I read an article by a psychologist who, like me, believed that the promoting of these myths was just fine, and yet one of her children felt extremely betrayed upon realizing that Santa was not real. To that, I would say, you know your own children best. If you have a very literal minded child, or a child who is easily wounded, perhaps these myths are not for them.

But, on the other hand, I think that we, as a society, tend to get too focused on what can be proven, on what is concrete. It is a flaw of our western world. I want my children to imagine, and I want them to have the capacity to believe on faith, not on sight.

string_theoryWe know mathematically, according to string theory, that there are ten dimensions. Ten! Though we can only understand and measure four of them. Still, though we cannot see them or touch them, they exist. Just like, though a dog cannot perceive, or even conceive of, the existence of color, color does, in fact, permeate our world.

Or what about the Multiverse Theory? Many physicists fully believe that there are parallel universes to our own. “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Sir Issac Newton

Or how about dark matter? We know virtually nothing about it except that it does (at least we think) exist.

But how do we know? Can we see it or touch it?

I am not saying that I really think the Easter Bunny or Santa exists. What I am saying is that I want my children to have the capacity to believe in things they do not see. I want them to have imagination. And I want them to have faith. Faith in the existence of God and goodness, even when neither is readily evident.

I want them to open up their minds to the possibilities of this world. Both science and religion attest to the reality that there is so much more to this world than we can see and touch. I want them to embrace what they do not know and believe in its possibility.

So, do I lie to my children? Yes, I am not ashamed to say that I do in these ways. But in the ways that count–doing what I say I will do, being honest about life and its difficulties, being open about the hiccups that permeate a relationship (aka fights between mom and dad)–in these ways I will always be truthful. Because those things will erode the trust my children have in me, not the belief in Santa.

And this way, they will still have wonder in their eyes and the imagination to believe in all this world can be as they start their journeys into this big, wide, mysterious world we live in.