Category Archives: Teens

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

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 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!

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.

No more pencils. No more books. No more teachers’ dirty looks.

I came home last night to a distraught daughter. images

I wanted nothing more than to curl up in my leather recliner with a book, and disappear for a few minutes after my long day, but, instead, I found myself in that same chair, with my 8 year old third grader cradled in my lap, as she wept and wept.

Why, you ask was my little one crying? Did someone pick on her at school? Did she skin her knee? Is she the target of all the bullying we’ve heard so much about lately?

No, no and, no. But she is a victim.

She is a victim of expectations and perfectionism. She is a victim of standardized tests and insane expectations. She is a victim of a generation of extremes. Either the kids feel like they need to be perfect, driving themselves in their need to achieve: academics, athletics, community service–or, they go to the opposite extreme and skate by doing as little as they possibly can (except maybe in the athletics department), spending most of their time on their phones or playing video games.

sleepI see it everyday at school. Granted, my school is an extreme. The kids drive themselves to exhaustion in their effort to outrank each other. They give up their passions and they give up their sleep. They put their dreams on a shelf to get dusty, and, eventually, to become forgotten altogether. They forsake their childhood while still children, and exile the high school experience to the dusty corridors of “If I only had the time . . . ”

Or they do nothing. They exist. They come to class, do as little as possible, and spend every spare second on their phones. They feel like the very fact that they dragged their lazy bum out of bed, and sat that same bum into one of my chairs entitles them to a passing grade.

Okay, so maybe that is a little unfair. After all, some kids do fall in the middle. Some kids have found the balance of the pendulum. But truly, the vast majority seem to fall into one extreme or the other. Over achieving or lazy bum.

I am not a stranger to perfectionism. I most certainly was a perfectionist in my youth. My class was very competitive and I wanted to compete, so I drove myself. I joined everything there was to join from choir and basketball to forensics and theater. I was big into community service. I was so busy competing that I forgot to play. I rushed through college in four years, testing out of whatever I could so that I could finish first. I rushed into adulthood and responsibility. I was that kid. The kid who was all work, all acievement– and no fun.

But today . . . today it seems so much worse.

My perfectionistic nature drove me to my perfectionism. My exceptionally gifted class drove me to my perfectionism. School itself did not drive me to this unhealthy balance. State testing was something we did, but no one paid a whole lot of attention to the results. I did not always feel as if I was compared to the others in my class. And, truthfully, there really wasn’t any feeling of expectation until middle school. Yes, we were encouraged to do well, but it was not a competition. We did well, so that we would learn what we needed to learn, so that, when it counted, we would be prepared.

cryingAs I listened to my daughter cry because she scored low on her reading istation test. As I listened to her weep, because she was “Terrible at spelling! Terrible!” As I listened to her tell me she wasn’t as smart as the other kids, I felt anger stir. I was indignant. I became livid.

My daughter is in third grade. She should be playing. She should be happy. She should be carefree.

She should not be weighed down by school. She should not feel like she is competing for her academic future. She should not even be thinking of her future in anything but abstracts term! School should be fun, a place of learning and growth–academic and social growth–not of stress and pressure.

She has hours of homework most nights. She has more homework than some of my high school students. She’s eight.

My daughter reads–without me having to remind her to do so. She loves to write–she is always writing stories. She practices her flash cards–because she likes to.  She is very bright–but she is worried, already, that she is not good enough.

I have a problem with this. I have a problem with my daughter who will likely be a straight A student all the way through her academic life already feeling the pressure of school. I have a problem with these standardized tests that expect all children, no matter their birthday, and no matter their developmental speed, to achieve the same levels at the same time. I have a problem with a system that makes these children feel not good enough, because a certain skill might take them a little longer than it takes someone else. With this, I have a problem.

It’s bad enough that, day in and day out, I see so many gifted students forsake their love of art or music in the name of success.

I found it so telling that, when I asked my students at the beginning of the year what they wanted to do with their lives, 90% of my honors kids said they wanted to do something in the medical field. Success means math and science to them.

As it did to me back in the day. It’s what the smart kids do. It’s what their parents tell them to do. What the counselors encourage them to do. It’s what society expects them to do.

I was going to be a doctor too . . . until I realized that I hated math. Until I acknowledged that, though I was good at it, I hated biology. Until I realized that, I would rather make less money doing something I loved, than make more money doing something that I hated.  Just because I was smart enough to be a doctor, did not mean that I was supposed to be a doctor.

easelIn a million ways I see my students’ love for the arts. I read of their love for music and dance. I hear of the artists with abandoned easels . . . the dancers who’ve retired their dancing shoes . . . the athletes who have abandoned the courts.

All in the name of success.

In the name of perfectionism.

To be the best.

Because they are smart enough to do it.

Even if they don’t want to do it.

Just because they can do it.

Almost daily, I tell my daughter that she does not need to be perfect. Every day, I tell her her best is good enough. Every day, I remind her that there are things more important than school.

Yes, I am a teacher, and I say this.

I lived this. I see so many of my students living this. I don’t want my daughter to live this.

ChildsDreamI don’t want her to give up her childhood while still a child. I’m not ready for her to stop dancing yet. I’m not ready for her to be anything, but who she wants to be. Not ever.

I don’t want her to take on the stress and pressure of unreasonable expectations. I want her to LIVE–not simply succeed.

I want her to play. I want her to dance. I want her to soar.

There is time enough for her feet to be firmly planted on the ground.

For today–for now–I want her to live in the clouds, in the land of dreams, where anything is possible, and where her best is good enough.

I want her days to be about friends and dolls. I want her childhood to be filled with songs and swings. I want her evenings to be filled with pretend worlds and wild imaginings–not with math and science. Not with spelling. Not with tears.

I look at my high school kids, and I wish that so many of them knew what I know now.

I wish that they knew that they need to forge their own path, not the path their parents think they should take.

I wish they knew that medicine is not the only road to success.

I wish they understood that there are more important things than money and success, and that all the money and success in the world are not enough to make them happy if they’re doing something they hate.

I wish they understood that high school is as much about memories and moments as it is about books and homework.

There is time enough to be adults. They don’t need to let their childhood go so quickly. They never need to let go of their dreams. Nothing is worth that. Not even success.

growing_up

 

When Dinosaurs and Fancy Nancy Go the Way of Puff

Parenthood is such a rollercoaster of emotions. The happiest day of my life was the day my first daughter was born–and the worst day of my life was the day I found out she was going to leave us.

Most parents (thank God!) don’t have to experience that lowest of lows, but there are still plenty of moments of pain, sorrow, disappointment, and frustration in every parent’s life. There are also the moments where your heart feels so full of love that you can barely breathe. Moments when you look at them and think, “This is what life is all about!” The moments that you want to hold on to forever and never let go.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my children at every age. I enjoyed them as babies, as toddlers, and as kids. But now, I find that I need to adjust to them as tweens. The problem is, I wasn’t ready for this transition. I thought I had more time.

Parenthood is a series of doors opening and doors closing, pretty much continually. I’ve recognized that from the very beginning. Because I understood that, I savored the moments, stored them up–like a squirrel with his nuts–deep in my heart, so that I could take them out, remember them, gaze at them, knowing that I had made the most out of every one of those moments.

You never know when a door is going to close. My daughter always called “Joe’s Crabshack” Crabshadrack (for years!), until suddenly, one day she didn’t. The door had closed. She was a big girl, and she could say the word right. It was a bittersweet moment for me.

For years my son has snuck into our bed at night, and for years, despite the fact that I often don’t sleep as well with him there, I have told myself to hold on to the moment–snuggle, enjoy his closeness–because one day he will stop coming, and he will never come again. That special bonding moment will be gone forever, lost to adolescence.

Ironically, Gavin still occasionally crawls into our bed at night, but Arabelle stopped coming a long time ago, and had I known on that last time that it was her last time, I would have hugged her a little closer, and snuggled a little longer–savored it a little more. But I didn’t know, and that door closed, never to be opened again. That moment lost to her growing independence.

Don’t get me wrong, I have not mourned the transitions–at least, not exactly. The truth is, one of the things that I think my husband and I have done exceptionally well is to foster our children’s independence and individuality. We have never been helicopter parents, hovering around, fearful of any misstep. In fact, we’ve always recognized that it takes some missteps to learn how to do it on your own. And we’ve always recognized that healthy children are children who are independent, but also well-supported children.

We’ve always felt very strongly that, despite how much we might want them to stay little, we need to encourage them to feed themselves, take that first step, run, take that big slide though they might be terrified (and maybe so am I!!), etc. etc.. I believe that it creates confident, independent children. They know they can come to us for anything, but they are also sure that they can take on this world and succeed.

Up until now, though my heart broke a little each time, I graciously handled the closing doors: the last time I breastfed each of my children, when they no longer needed help at bathtime or brushing their teeth, when they could take the big slides without a nervous glance at me–desperate for my encouragement, when they no longer needed me to tuck them in at night, when they started spending more time at friends’ houses on summer days than they did at home–all of these, though a part of me did not want them to happen, though I wanted to create “little pills” to keep them little so I could see Gavin’s happy dance one more time and have him crawl up into my lap to snuggle a little more, still, despite what I felt, I celebrated the open doors even though it meant some doors were closing.

I was proud of them. I felt a surge of joy at who they were becoming. Though it saddened me that Gavin’s obsession with all things dinosaur just disappeared one day, I embraced the new. Though a part of my was saddened to see Belle slowly neglect her Strawberry Shortcake dolls and her My Little Ponies, in exchange for Monster High and American Girls, I accepted it. I embraced it. Until now.

gav dinosaur

My husband always laughs at me. I’m very analytical. I think about things, I ponder them, and yes, sometimes I even obsess over them. I often do this years in advance. It probably has helped me with those closing doors. I anticipate the closing door, and so, think to myself, “Any day may be the last day I breastfeed my child. This could be the last time we have this particular kind of closeness, this particular kind of snuggle” and so, because I have anticipated it, I feel somehow ready–I know I have treasured it.

Despite all my forethought, somehow this whole “tween” thing really blindsided me. I knew it would happen, and I knew a little bit about it, but I thought I had more time. I wasn’t exactly shocked when Gavin, who is ten, started showing some signs of this transition (though diving straight into things like porn and dildos–yes, for real!! was a bit much). However, right on the heels of Gavin, Arabelle, who is only 8, started acting differently. She is still my sweet little Belle! I am not ready for her to step across that threshold into tween-ness! No! She is a little girl! She is my sweetheart! She is a child and no where close to being a teenager!!

I think I feel a little bit like Puff might have felt when he started to realize that little Jacky Paper wasn’t going to be coming back for much longer–in fact, he wasn’t going to be little Jacky Paper anymore. Instead, he was going to transition into someone different, someone simply known as Jack. Puff probably felt proud, but he also likely felt incredibly sad as he realized all those special moments of childhood had moved into memory, and those particular kinds of moments would be no more.

puff_the_magic_dragon_by_anubis3021-d4lru2v

I might protest it all I want, but the change is happening. One door is closing and another is opening, whether I want it to or not. She is spouting things like, “I need my privacy” and “I need some alone time.” She is posting “Keep out” signs on her door. She listens to her ipod rather than hanging out chatting with me and her father. She is pulling away–just a little bit, but it’s the beginning.

belles note

This time, I am not ready. I am not ready to put away all things little girl. I’m not ready to see the end of dress up and Fancy Nancy and tea parties at Grandma’s house. I am not ready for my cuddler to stop cuddling in exchange for “alone time.” I am not ready–but it doesn’t matter if I’m ready or not. It’s not up to me. My sweet, people pleasing daughter is ready to begin spreading her wings and asserting her independence, and though it might break my heart, I want her to fly! I want her to find who she is, and I will certainly not be the one to hold her back.

Still, I know where big sister goes, little sister is soon to follow. Lily will not wait long before she starts to emulate her sister.

But that is a thought for tomorrow. I cannot bare that thought today.

Today, Lily still clutches her blankie and sucks on her finger. Today, Lily thinks the whole world is her friend. She still climbs into my lap every morning and evening. She still plays with barbies and loves princesses. She loves dress up and tea parties. Today, she is still little, and I am going to wrap my heart around that littleness.

tea party

 

And I’m going to make the most of every one of these magical childhood moments and treasure them while I still can!

Who wants a vortex leading right into the nightmare of your past?

Having three little kids, I often don’t get out much. It usually means that I am terribly behind when it comes to the movie scene. The exceptions being, of course, kid films, and, since I have the coolest friend with the coolest job, occasional movie screenings with the illustrious Christa Banister.

Last week was a red letter week when it comes to me and the movie theater. I went to two movies in one week. The first was “Malificient” which I saw with my family, and the second was a screening for “Fault in our Stars.”

malificient

“Malificient” was good, but not great. Though Jolie was certainly a fabulous Mailificient–she lent the evil queen hidden depths– the plot line of the greedy humans and the fickle and increasingly disturbed King Philip was predictable and sadly unredemptive. There was room for something special, a new understanding, forgiveness, the reality of love itself–not the absence of hurt, but forgiveness in the face of it–but, par usual, Hollywood just can’t seem to quite see it through and, instead, we have an entertaining, but shallow remix borrowing from the greatness of those who have gone before. The one change that is notable was the change made to true love’s kiss, which, instead of coming in the form of a prince that Aurora had known for all of five minutes, instead comes from Malificient, her “fairy god mother”/mentor. Without that change, I fear the movie would have been nothing but a colossal disappointment.

But, I digress. My real purpose in writing this blog is to address “Fault in Our Stars.” I had read the book. I’ve had two years of fourteen year old girls telling me I absolutely HAD to read the book–that it was the best book ever. I have to admit, I dragged my heels. It’s not that I didn’t believe them that the book would be something special, but, well, it hits awful close to home for me. As anyone who has walked through an experience like John Greene’s Hazel (main character from the book) can tell you, there are days you can talk about it, and there are days you can’t. In the same way, I knew that I would have to wait for the right day to read the book–or I would be a total mess. So, I waited for a year and a half before I had the courage to read it, and though I wept, I loved it. John Greene wrote with an authenticity, a rawness, that I found freeing. Yes, I wept. I thought of my beautiful daughter and that horrific journey, but somehow, it felt like the shedding of a skin, not like diving into the great abyss of my memory. He didn’t sugar coat the reality–he let the cynicism, the pain, and the bitterness stand as it was, and for one who has lived it, it was so gratifying to not have to pretend for the space of the few moments between the pages of that book.

fault

Why am I talking about the book, when it is the movie I am supposed to be addressing? Well, it perhaps lends a little context as to why I thought I could handle the movie. When my friend asked me to go to the screening with her, I didn’t hesitate. I knew what I was getting myself into. I could handle it. After all, I had read the book and survived.

I had already had a tough day that particular day, so I was already at a disadvantage, but, that aside, I think my reaction would have been much the same. As Christa and I chatted waiting for the film to start, I watched the theater fill up with broken humanity. There were kids in wheel chairs, people without limbs, ventilators . . . and there was a feeling in the air that this was for them. This was a nod in their direction, that we see your pain, we see–we understand. It was more than just a movie.

I felt guilty somehow, to be sitting their whole and healthy, and yet, the irony was that I am not whole or healthy. I look it. I’m sure the walking wounded looked at me and thought that I was sitting there untouched. Perhaps some shot a bitter look or thought in my direction. But, the reality is, though my limbs are intact and my lungs breathe without help, I am”Hazel’s” mother. I stared that reality in the face, I walked through it, and though physically I came out on the other side, psychologically and emotionally, there is no “wholeness” after a child’s death. There is only a heart with a permanent crater, patched together with the force of will and desperation. The truth is, you are left with only the “before” and “after.” Before the pain, and after it, when you try to pretend that you aren’t permanently damaged from the nightmare that became your life.

I looked around the room and I couldn’t help but wonder how many others, like me, looked to be whole and there simply for a night’s entertainment, but were instead getting ready to take a journey back into their own personal pain. This movie meant something–for those of us who have lived in that darkness–it was something much more important that a movie. It was our past–our present–our future.

Serena

And then it began. I was sucked into a vortex, back into my own personal nightmare. Reading the book, though difficult, could not compare to seeing it. The imagery, those sterile halls of the hospital, Hazel’s oxygen tank, her bypap machine . . . all came straight from the halls of my memory. Mom and dad holding hands in a board room while the doctors talk to them about the fate of their child–mom, running terrified into her daughter’s room in the middle of the night fearing that she will not be able to save her, that she will be too late–mom, dealing with the agony that she will not be a mother anymore . . . these are all pages directly from the story of my past and I was not prepared to re-enter that nightmare. No sane person would be.

The movie was great from a movie standpoint. The actors did a brilliant job, especially Ansel Elgort as Augustus Waters. The dialogue was true to Greene and brilliant, but, if this kind of journey is your own kind of journey, beware. There are times that taking a stroll down memory lane is a lovely, bitter sweet experience, but this walk down memory lane has nothing of sweetness about it. In truth, it is not even bitterness, it is sheer pain.

child hospital

For those of you untouched, go, enjoy the glimpse of the very real pain some of us have had to walk. Glimpse that nightmare and thank the God in heaven that it is not your story.

For those touched by terminal illness, a life and death struggle, or death itself, enjoy the book and its brutal irony, but spare yourself the pain of the movie. Some things should just not be revisited. It’s too real. It’s too raw–and it just plain hurts.

What are we doing? Technology: the curse of this generation

When I was a kid and I got to school early, I hung out with friends. I talked. If I was in an anti-social mood, maybe I read. If I was in a waiting room at the doctor’s office and there was no one to talk to and I was surrounded by dull magazines, I thought. I thought about the world and my place in it. I thought about God, who he was and what I believed. I thought of the future and who I wanted to become. I rifled through my past mistakes and thought about what I might do differently next time.

Of course, that was in the age before cell phones and the brainless activity that is always at the tips of our fingers these days. You know, eons ago before this new technological age. At least, that is what it seems like to so many of my students. How in the world did we do without technology?!

I teach Freshmen. I think there are few who are so in touch with the trends of culture and the shifts of our youth as a high school teacher. And what I see lately disturbs me greatly.

When my students get to school early, the vast majority don’t hang out with their friends, and even if they do, they aren’t talking to them. They are too busy texting the friends who aren’t there or tweeting about some inane something or playing a game or . . . well you get the idea. Too often, when my first hour class comes in, I will have 20 kids all sitting their quietly with cell phones out in their own little worlds. They are disconnected from their peers. They are losing their ability to communicate effectively, and, so many of them, as a result, feel isolated and alone.

Group Of Teenage Students Sitting Outside On College Steps Using Mobile Phone

When this generation (and so many of us in the Gen X generation as well as Millennials are falling into this as well) has down time, out come the phones. No small talk with strangers that teaches how to interact and learn from others. No self-reflection so that they grow as individuals and wrestle with the higher concepts of the world and their place in it. When I ask my students to reflect or write an essay about what they think, so many of them don’t even know how to reflect and have never even thought about these philosophical or existential concepts. All great thought and great deeds come from moments of reflection. What are we doing to our future?

We started “The Odyssey” in my classes a couple of weeks ago. Along with it, the kids need to read a modern epic. It was horrifying to hear the number of my students who asked if their book could be found on spark notes and when I said that, no, I didn’t think any of these would be on spark notes, they followed up by asking if there was a movie made from the book. When the answer was no, the kids panicked. “Mrs. Graham! What are we supposed to do?”

I gave them a blank look and responded, “What you are supposed to be doing– you read it.”

I-Hate-Reading-9781602130258
They were flabbergasted. They don’t read. They hate reading. There has to be an easier way. Can’t I just let them pass without making them read? Why do they have to do anything at all? The number of students who seem to think that just sucking air should be all they need to do to pass is staggering. If there is not a short cut provided through some technological means or another, they simply don’t want to do it anymore.

It’s not that any of my classmates didn’t cheat when I was growing up. Many of them did. It’s the fact that the number is rising incredibly because of the ease of cheating. Plagiarism actually took some thought and effort in my day (and I’m not that old btw!!). Now every kid has a computer or access to one and all they need to do is google spark notes or some other comparable website and, bam! They don’t need to think at all; someone has already done the thinking for them. If a student wanted to plagiarize when I was in school they had to go to the library or even a bookstore to hunt down spark notes or something comparable–now it’s at the tips of our fingers and so many of the kids don’t see anything wrong with that at all.

plagiarism

I can’t help but wonder what this is going to mean as this generation hits maturity. They are the generation of entitlement. They are used to not being held accountable. They are used to doing the bare minimum to get by and when it’s not enough to get by, too often, we simply lower the bar to accomodate them.

Obviously, not all of them fall into this. There are many great kids out there who are hard workers. There just aren’t as many as there used to be and the number of kids who want to coast through life playing video games, watching youtube videos or pretending that life is just one big party, well, there are just SO MANY of them. If the few strong ones have to support the rest of them, well . . . quite frankly, we’ll go belly up.

What’s the answer? I don’t know. Technology is wonderful in so many ways, but as with so much in life, anything out of balance can become destructive.

My 2nd and 4th grade children are continually complaining because all they have is a flip phone between them (for emergencies only) and all their friends have iphones (I don’t even have an iphone!) and ipads, kindles and nooks (again, I don’t even have one of these!).

untitled

They can complain away, because I’m just no willing to go there. I want them to talk and play, use their imaginations and think about life. I don’t want them glued to a glowing screen. I know I can’t keep them from it forever, but first, I want to teach them to use their minds, to enjoy a good book, and how to make friends–and keep them–real friends, not just the text variety that seems to be so in these days. It would be easier to give them the phone, but, well, isn’t that the problem right there? The best is rarely the easiest.