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.

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What have we done to Christmas?! Sometimes less is not only more, but most!

We had a little snow on the ground when I woke up yesterday. Not much, mind you, but still, actual snow before Thanksgiving, in Texas.

As I sat in my car, shivering, waiting for the heat to kick in, I had a random thought. Hadn’t I seen my Christmas CD just the other day. I rummaged around and, sure enough, there it was, so I popped it in. A little early for Christmas music, but hey, there was snow on the ground and everything . . .

So for the last two days I’ve been listening to Christmas music on my commute to and from work. It’s quite understandable then, why I found myself thinking of the upcoming holiday.

My kids are getting a little older, so I’m not quite sure what we should do for the holidays. With the exception of Lily, they’re probably too old for places like Santa’s Village. Maybe we should do the festival of lights instead. Maybe we should splurge and go to a performance of the “Nutcracker” or “A Christmas Story.” What should we do . . . ?

christmas pastAnd then I was struck by a wave of memories. Gosh, I LOVED Christmas as a kid. The memories started flickering through my head: Memories of us in our new Christmas pajamas, wrapped up in coats, mittens, and scarves, piling into whatever old beater car we had at the time for the drive to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. . . . The anticipation of getting to Grandma’s house, even though only one present awaited us, and there were no cousins our age . . . The warm glow of the memory of making sugar cookies, from scratch, cutting out the shapes and frosting them ourselves with homemade frosting and an assortment of sprinkles . . . Memories of snow hills and sledding and the smell of baking cookies and hot cocoa that greeted us on our return . . . memories of piling into the car to see the Christmas lights that our tiny little town put on it’s street lamps–pretty dinky compared to the displays today, but absolutely magical to us then . . . so many memories . . . and they couldn’t be any better.

Thinking back, I don’t think of the presents, or the perfectly decorated tree; I remember the moments, the time with family, the warm glow of time shared, time spent doing pretty much anything–it really didn’t matter what–with the people that mattered the most.

christmas nowWe didn’t have a lot of money (though somehow my parents always managed to put a big pile of presents under our tree). We didn’t have the big fancy house, with the crackling fireplace with the huge, perfectly decorated tree with the designer dressed little kids sitting in front of it to capture that picture to show the world that we had the “perfect” Christmas. We didn’t have the big shiny new car to drive to see the fancy light display or to go to the over the top Santa experience. We didn’t get everything we wanted.

But it was perfect.

I wouldn’t change a thing, not a moment. I wouldn’t trade the family game nights for a fancy performance of the “Nutcracker,” and I wouldn’t trade the memories of us snuggled together under mounds of blankets watching “A Christmas Story” for a trip to Santa’s Village. We didn’t have much, but we had everything that mattered.

In an age of commercialism, in an age of technological distractions, I find myself asking myself if I am giving my own children the same perfect memories.

We have the great big house, the fireplace, and the fancy tree. My kids dress in their matching designer outfits for that family picture. We are filling our schedule full of holiday “events.”

But are we taking the time to really have the “perfect” Christmas. The time spent together, talking and snuggling–times undistracted by little glowing screens. Are we christmas i wantlosing the small stuff, the substance, in our pursuit of the “perfect” Christmas?

I want my children to think back and feel the warm glow that I feel. I want them to remember the times spent together, not the pile of gifts. I want them to have the same flood of warm memories of their perfect Christmases–just like I have.

Thank you mom and dad. Thank you that, even though we didn’t have a lot of money, you made the holidays everything anyone could ever ask for. You gave us an abundance of all the things that matter most. You gave me memories of love and warmth and family.

They set the bar high–but I’m determined to match it. I try to do the small stuff, but I think I need to focus on the small stuff more, and make sure that the little things don’t get crowded out by a whole lot of “big” things. Sometimes just staying home, hanging out together, means far more than a flurry of activities.

And for goodness sake! Put that stupid phone down, no, better yet, put it out of sight and concentrate on the people around you, instead of losing the moments as you try to capture them to show them to everybody else out there.

Let them concentrate on their families.

And make sure that the time you are spending with your family is quality time, the kind that memories are made of.

Dreams–Our Own Parallel Realities

I have always loved sleep. Well, maybe not always. My parents do love to tell stories of my very adamant refusal to sleep when I was young. I used every excuse in the well dog-eared book of childhood excuses. In fact, I suspect, though they would not have used the f bomb as the writer (Adam Mansbach) of “Go the F#@$ to Sleep” does, I’m sure they shared his sentiment (as every parent probably has at one point or another). If you haven’t heard of the story, you should check it out, but, be aware, the f bomb is tossed around on nearly every page–despite that, I couldn’t help giggling, snorting, smirking and sometimes laughing outright.

But I digress. I was talking about my love for sleeping, not my early defiance of that lovely, now treasured pasttime.

I have always loved the feeling of slipping between my sheets, of stretching languidly like a self-satisfied cat, and cozying into my perfect, fluffy pillow. With a sigh and a smile, I let go of the day and fully embrace the comfort of my bed, pulling out the book that currently has me in thrall, and then letting it have its way with me until I feel sleep pulling me, finally,  from its grasp.

And on the lucky mornings when there is no alarm clock to pull me jarringly from my dream world, I love the way waking pulls me slowly from other selves living other lives. The sunlight begins to pull me, but I choose to turn it away and snuggle deeper. The sounds of my children stirring, the pitter patter leading slowly into a cacophony of sound: somthing falling, bowls clattering, bickering that leads inevitablly to my door being opened and a little voice sharing her woes–“Mom! Gavin [did, said, breathed, exists]!”

My desire to deny my world and its responsibilities lead me to some mumbled response along the lines of’ “Tell him I said to stop”–not really sure what I’m telling him to stop, but hoping it will be enough for just a few more precious, delectable, so very rare minutes . . .

Until finally, I release my dream world where the past lives and ghosts walk, and I find myself back here–in the here and now.

dreams

Last weekend was different. When I floated between the two worlds, neither awake nor asleep, a poem just sort of entered my mind, and I found myself writing in that moment about that lovely, blissful state, when you can remember your dream world and live it with some amount of consciousness even while the regular world slowly pulls you resistingly away.

This is the poem I wrote while still asleep.

I hope you enjoy! 🙂

dreams3

Slowly, slowly daylight comes–

Calling, coaxing, relentlessly pulling–

Light pushing, pulsing on the edges of consciousness . . .

Sound pricking night’s filter,

Tiny holes letting sound like grains of sand slip through.

Discordant, jarring with the sweet land of youth–

The wrongness tugging at the edges of my mind . . .

Wisps of worry, nagging thoughts, tenuous confusion . . .

A gnat, annoying, pestering, but easily shooed away.

 

More light, more sound

My filter now a sieve denying less,

The sand a steady trickle—

Awareness stirs, it stretches, it opens an eye,

But still I resist, denying, retreating,

Tightly shutting off my mind–

Loathe to leave shades of the past.

I cling a little more,

Enticed to remain lost

In the happy days of youth and light,

Living all the possibilities, parallel realities,

A myriad of different choices.

Stolen kisses, loves long ended and denied,

Old friends, old chums, even enemies–

Time and death cannot bar them here.

Here and now they live again,

In this shadow world of night.

 

More light, more sound, that persistent pest,

Morning, a persistent hound, nosing at my head.

It reels me toward the here and now,

Helpless in my resistence, a fish on a line,

Drawing me nearer.

Even as I fight to stay–to remember–to relive,

One last moment, one last fragment of a dream,

When I was young and beautiful and free,

One more dance with shadows of the past,

One more stolen kiss . . .

 

Light undeniable shines in my eyes

Holding me with its gaze.

The sounds of dawn,

No longer sounds of waking and slow stirring,

But instead a cacophony of pitches and noises,

Bangs and shouts, tears and teasing.

Reality forces the dream away.

 

I wake to the sounds of children, mayhem, responsibility.

Gone are dreams and hopes and remembrance.

Just these old bones, and choices made– not awaiting–

Adulthood, and with it reality.

 

But dreams, so sweet, cling to my eyelashes still,

And I try to grasp the fading tendrils of their memory.

dreams2

You Don’t Have to be Alexander the Great to Change the World

I was very discouraged last week.

I wrote a blog, pouring out some of the greast lessons I feel like I have learned in life, and I crafted them with great care. I wrote, I paused, I pondered, I wrote, pondered some more, and rewrote. The end result was a blog that I felt captured the heart and soul of what I wanted to say. With a feeling of accomplishment and pleasure in a job well done, I posted it and waited. And waited . . . and waited some more.

A handful of friends and family read it and appreciated it. A handful. I was discouraged. As so many writers, I blog because I have so much inside myself that needs to come out, but also, because I am a writer–I have things to say and I hope that they are worthwhile things that can speak to the human soul, the human angst, the human experience, and thereby, that my influence, my voice will be appreciated by the masses, not a handful. I was discouraged.

As so many of my fellow bloggers have wondered at some point in their blooging lives, I couldn’t help but wonder why I even bother? Why do I spend my free time writing for an audience that doesn’t emerge when I could just as easily simply put my thoughts and ideas into a private journal? Why spend my time agonizing over word choice and turn of phrase, putting my thoughts out in the universe, when no one is going to bother to read them?

But then I began to remember something. It started with a comment a friend who I haven’t seen in ages wrote on my facebook page. She read my blog, and it impacted her. It helped her. It spoke to her in her present pain, and helped her see that she was not alone, that what she was living, is normal. I cried.

In that moment I remembered a truth that so many of us tend to forget.

I have always wanted to change the world. It has always been a burning passion in me. I want to leave this world a better place when I leave it. I do not want to simply take up space, but instead, to know that my living will have an impact, that my time spent on this planet will mean something.

I’m not alone in this desire. It is a somewhat comman desire, that we leave our footprint, our fingerprints, on this world. I think however, that sometimes we look at that and think to change the world we must do so enmasse, in one fell swoop. We have the misconception that we change the world by personally affecting the lives of many people personally, but that is not how most of those who change the world, change the world. They do so one person at a time.change

I have an absolutely wonderful grandmother. She is smart, she is kind, and she pours into the lives of her eight children and her many, many  grandchildren.

She poured into my life. In so many ways, I am the person I am today because my grandmother instilled within me a moral compass, a compassion for others, and a will do to the right thing because it is, quite simply, right.

My grandmother is getting older. As she is walking into the twilight of her life, she spends a lot of time reflecting on the life she has lived. More than once she has spoken with me about her struggle as she contends with a life that, she feels, has not had an impact, has not been important, has not left an imprint.

She was a stay at home mom in a generation of stay at home moms, and now she wishes she had done something great. Something important.

What she doesn’t understand is that she has changed the world.

Behind every world changer, there are many individuals who have changed them.

Martin Luther King Jr. did not change the face of our country alone; he had behind him all of those who impacted him, who encouraged him, all of those who believed in him and told him not to give up. Every great man or woman does.

My grandmother doesn’t think that she changed the world, but she changed me, and I am determined to change the world, be it one person at a time. Every time I impact one of my students, every time I write a blog that changes someone’s outlook, every man woman or child I helped in my times overseas–my grandmother was a part of that. She changed me, and I in turn changed them.grandma

She impacted her children, who have gone out and impacted others. And she has impacted her grandchildren, directly and indirectly. She helps cancer patients through my sister, she reaches countless adults, women and children through my Uncle Mark, and she has touched almost every continent in this world between her various children and grandchildren. By changing one, we change the world.

And so, though my blog is not read by many, and though my impact is negligible, I will not be discouraged. If I impact one, I have made a difference. As a writer, as a teacher, as a citizen of this planet, I will never be able to impact everyone, but, just like paying it forward, if I can give of what I have and of who I am, and if those I pour into will also pour into others . . . then that is really enough, isn’t it?

You want to know about WHAT?? Welcome to the “Tween” Years

Time keeps speeding by despite my many efforts to stop it. Wrinkles appear (despite my new skin care regime), I find myself saying things like, “when I was a kid” (though I once swore I would never resort to such tactics) and, despite being a high school teacher, I cannot keep up with all the changes in slang (And so, too often I resemble my grandmother with her slightly confused, vacant look when we’re all sitting around talking about pop culture and we might as well be speaking in ancient Hebrew). Too often this year I found myself pretending that I knew what the kids were talking about when I had absolutely no idea. They started picking up on it. “Mrs. Graham, do you even know what that means?” Sadly I had to admit that no, I had no idea. I was clueless–out of touch–old.

time

To add salt to a raw wound, a clerk at the grocery store the other day asked me if all of my kids are grown up. Really! I’m still in my thirties for the love of God! I’ve hit that stage where young kids just lump us all together in the category labeled “old.” I suppose I should be thankful. At least they haven’t placed me in the category “old as dirt”–at least–not yet. :S

Yes, yes, so the world keeps spinning and time keeps moving, nothing new there–besides the fact that it seems to be moving me further, and more quickly, away from my youth. Nothing, that is, except for the reality that it has spun me to a place and a phase that I’m not quite ready for and do not willingly go to–the “Tweens.”

Yep, seemingly overnight, I was thrust from childhood into the land of the Tweens. My sweet boy only recently turned ten and it was as if he fell right into an abyss of change and adolescent issues. I suppose I should be grateful since, according to family.com, a tween is a child between 8 and 13 who is not yet a teen but no longer just a little kid and thus starts acting more like a teenager, and encountering larger issues, issues traditionally seen as “teenager” specific issues. I guess by that definition, I’ve had a couple of freebie years with my son (only to realize my oldest daughter is entering these uncharted waters as well). Somehow that doesn’t help that lurch I felt when a friend exposed my son to porn for the first time (seriously I am not ready for THOSE talks), or when he started asking questions about drugs, or when, all of a sudden, those mom kisses that he swore he would never grow to old to give seemed to go the way of the dinosaur. . . no, somehow the couple of extra years just don’t seem to help at all!

sullen tween

I can’t possibly be the mother of a pre-adolescent! Just when I finally feel as if I have this whole parent thing figured out–at least for the most part–I’m thrust into a new dark world and am back to being the bumbling, clueless “parent-in-training.” Poor Gavin! He always ends up as our dry run. I hope we don’t screw him up too badly!

Like any self respecting parent, I looked to my friend google for help. If google can’t help me navigate these potential disasters, no one can! Of course, the very first search left me more intimidated than knowledgeable: “Smoking, drinking, huffing, sexting: it’s a scary world ahead. Start now to build the bonds that will keep your kid on track.” Yikes! What the heck is huffing! I don’t even know what that IS! That’s it! My kid is grounded until he’s 18 and is never getting a phone, and, dang it! I suppose we need to get rid of all of our alcohol. That’s it! We’re teetotalers. Anything to keep the kid on the straight and narrow (well, maybe after I drink the peach bellinis I just made, and, well, I can’t lounge by the pool without my hard lemonade . . . drat! Doomed before I’ve even begun!).

imagesHOWCMSMM

So with great reluctance, and much trepidation, this new journey of parenthood has begun. My time with my son is already half gone, and from what I’m told, the most difficult days are ahead. I always said I liked a good adventure . . . here goes nothing!! Hopefully we’ll all get to the other side intact.

I can raise an independent, completely self-sufficient, functional adult–I think. I think I can, I think I can. (Hopefully there’s something to this thing they call the power of positive thinking . . . it will at least give me a leg up, right? 😉 )

 

I made a right turn at love, a left turn at happily ever after, and ended up in Oz

Sometimes lately, I feel like I’ve made my way into someone else’s story. There’s nothing wrong with this story; it’s just not my own. It feels like some great cosmic trickster picked me up and dropped me into a life I never planned on living, and yet, here I am–going through the motions.

Have you ever watched a movie and drifted off for a couple of scenes and when you woke up, nothing made sense? You weren’t really sure how the characters got there or what it all meant? That’s what my life feels like. Like I drifted off for a while and when I woke up, I found myself in a world not of my own choosing, one that I never planned to live–an alternate reality of sorts.

It’s kind of surreal. Like I’m on a cosmic caoursel that just keeps moving, turning and turning, never slowing down, never stopping. Around and around I go . . . no chance to get off and to get on the ride I’m supposed to be on. And yet, all my choices led me here. . . Or have they?

carousel

 

We all set out with a destination in mind. When we’re young, the world is wide open, our minds are full of dreams. There are things we know we want–marriage, children–at least sometime down the road. Some things, we think we want–but when it really comes down to it–we don’t really want them at all. Others, we want, we pursue–but then life gets in the way. These are our dreams deferred, delayed, and sometimes, our dreams forgotten and lost forever. They drift into the land of “should have been,” “could have been,” and “if only.”

When I set out on this journey called “life on my own,” adulthood, or whatever you want to call it, I had it all plotted out. I knew what I wanted: where I wanted to go, who I wanted to become, the lifestyle I wanted to live. I saw it all as a story, and I was the heroine. My life was progressing from one logical chapter to the next logical chapter, and it all looked just how I wanted it to be.

outline

But then I met my husband.

He was part of my story, the story I wanted, the one I had planned. He was, but still he changed it–my story veered, turned, took a side road. The destination appeared to be the same, but it took a different route. He rode in with his charm and his own story–and a pile full of plans and dreams of his own, and so, he changed my story forever.

He was one of the characters I wanted, one I dreamed about, but the thing about life that is so different from a story is that it’s not written by the mind of one, but the mind and wishes and plans of many. Even though our dreams seemed to be in alignment, I was no longer making choices based only on myself–and so the story changed.

And after marriage, of course, come the children. That’s when you really start seeing the unfamilar territory. Road blocks, no outlet, detours. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t get rid of a single one of them (well, at least most days!). They are my joy, but, though we know in theory how much those little people are going to change our lives, the reality is so much more than we can understand until we live it. Nothing in our world is ever the same. It’s not the same story–we’re not even the hero anymore. We become a supporting character so that our children can be the hero or heroine in their own story.

The reality is that we can plot out our lives and outline our story, but life doesn’t work like that. It doesn’t follow our plans, and it certainly doesn’t consult us. Life is messy. Chaotic. Life is filled with the unexpected–disappointments, doors closing and doors opening. It is filled with heartbreak and loss, new birth and growth–and change.

life map

We think we choose our paths in life, but, in so many ways, we really don’t. It chooses us. In the past, they attributed it to fate or the cosmos. Today we sometimes say it is God or maybe mere chance–luck or unluckiness. Whichever way you want to term it, the reality is, so often our choices are few, and sometimes, even when we think we are choosing, our choices are really being chosen for us.

I recently read Lauren Oliver’s trilogy because my students are reading her book Delerium for my class. (I loved that book, btw! So much better than I expected!) In her final book  of the trilogy, “Requiem,” she makes a statement that puts it so well.

“They wanted the power to feel, to think, to choose for themselves. They couldn’t have known that even this was a lie–that we never really choose, not entirely. We are always being pushed and squeezed down one road or another. We have no choice but to step forward, and then forward again, and then forward again; suddenly we find ourselves on a road we haven’t chosen at all. But maybe happiness isn’t in the choosing. Maybe it’s in the fiction, in the pretending; that wherever we have ended up is where we intended to be all along.”

We start out choosing, but so often those very choices are dictated by the pushing and squeezing of fate and the cosmos. So few of us really end up where we intended at all. We come to terms with where we are. We might even love where we are, but it is not where we set out to go in the beginning.

narrow

Maybe this is where I was meant to be all along, even though it’s not where I intended to go. Maybe I ended up here because of random chance and a good dose of both luck and unluckiness. Maybe it doesn’t feel like the life I was supposed to live, but it is the life I am living.

Maybe I’m just having an early mid-life crisis and no one else has every felt this way or knows what I am talking about at all . . . 😉

Or maybe, life is about rolling with the punches, accepting the role of fate and making the most of the choices that God–life–fate–the universe–allow us to make.

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.”

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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.

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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!).

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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.

Sometimes less truly is more . . .

This has been a year full of change. After four years of being a stay at home mom, we decided that it was time for me to go back to work. Lily, my youngest was four and she is a very social little girl. She was ready for school and I was ready for work.

Some moms seem to thrive in their stay-at-home status. I was not one of those moms. Financially, it made sense for me to stay at home, and honestly, I felt compelled to stay at home, but it was a constant struggle for me. I adore my children. I love savoring the moments with them, filling up my jar of precious memories. I love the changes but mourn the amazing moments that growth leaves behind. I love spending time with my children above all else, but, I did not like me as I struggled to conform to this role I seemed to be so ill-suited for.super_hero_mom_poster-rb00ac9d631604ce3822afbae9898c56d_wad_8byvr_216

For years I have struggled with a sense of guilt. Being a loving, consistent mother is the most important thing I’ve ever done in my life. Shouldn’t that be “enough” for me? I would look at some of my friends who seemed so content or even blissful in that role, and I wondered why I was so unhappy. A good mother would be content in that role, right?

I was full of trepidation when I accepted the contract to go back to teaching. Would my children suffer? Would I be able to balance everything? Was I doing the right thing?

It didn’t take me long to realize that the decision we had made was the right one for us. I am such a better person with the challenge and mental stimulation that teaching gives me! I am happier, and, I believe that I am also a better mother.

 

That is not to say that this year has been an easy one. For seven months we made the grueling commute from home in south Dallas, to our jobs in north Dallas. (Anyone who has ever driven in Dallas during rush hour knows how awful that was!) Now imagine that same commute cooped up with three bored children . . . in the car with you . . . for the entire commute! Yeah! That has become my vision of what hell must be like! My littlest, literally, seemed unable to stop talking. Imagine the running commentary of a four year old at 6:30 in the morning before you’ve had your first cup of coffee . . .059

 

In fact, it was so bad, that we decided to move to North Dallas in the middle of the school year! Crazy I know, but such a good decision! My son is like a whole new kid (I won’t even get into the troubles we had with him this year! :S) since we moved. It’s amazing what a difference having time to play after school can make!

So, what’s the point of all of this? I guess what I want to say is that no one can know what is right for you and your family. I stayed at home because I needed to, and I don’t regret the time I spent at home with the kids. I just wish I had spent less of it feeling guilty for not being who I thought I was supposed to be!

Being a parent requires such balance. It is easy to lose ourselves in caring for our children. It is also easy to be a crappy parent because we are too focused on what we need and not focused on what is best for our children. Being a good parent means putting our children in front of ourselves. But it also means, being able to tell the kids to go watch a show or play in their rooms for a bit so that you can keep a sense of your own identity in the midst of this crazy thing we call parenting.

Yes, you could take the time to work on your child’s reading or to play another game with them, but sometimes, the best thing we can do for our children is to make sure that we don’t lose ourselves, because, after all, that is what makes us the best parent of all!

Ready! Set! ROAD TRIP!!

So, I’ve been a bit silent on the blog front. It was one crazy summer!!  You forget how nice and peaceful (at least comparatively) it is to have your older children at school leaving only one at home . . .  until summer break rolls around and the inevitable rounds of bickering, tattle-tailing and sound barrier breaking games begin and remind you that the stress of the school year is more like butterflies floating around and birds singing than the stress that is now your life.

There were days when I felt completely shell-shocked by the time my husband came home. All I could do was stare at him blankly. It’s what I like to call MAJOR stimulation overload! This partial introvert starts to report an error signal in such moments. It’s as if my brain starts shouting, “MALFUNCTION!! Must stop! Shutting down now!” And just like your computer when it shuts down, forcing closed any running programs and becoming unresponsive, well, that’s pretty much me. My face is like a black screen with one little blinking light that does not respond to any of your commands. It just . . .stares back at you . . . blankly . . . blinking . . . but not responding. Yep. That’s pretty much me this summer!

So, what do you do when your kids are driving you crazy?? What do you do to bring sanity back to the chaotic cacophony of a mother’s summer? You plan a cross country trip of course!

Did I mention that said cross country trip is all by yourself with said children?!

Okay. So maybe that wasn’t my brightest move ever! But children overload was trumped by the desire to flee the debilitating heat of a Texas summer. So, yes, I piled my three children into our little PT Cruiser and the kids and I hit the road for our annual trek from Texas to Wisconsin. Yes, I drive it by myself, and yes, we do it all in one day without stopping. Maybe I’m a bit crazy. Yeah . . . I suppose I kind of am . . .

This year, might have been enough to have given this “I can do anything . . . I am woman hear me roar . . . power Mama” a dose of very much needed sanity! You see, somewhere in the middle of Missouri, our overly helpful bank decided to put a hold on our check card due to these unusual out of state purchases. After all, they wanted to protect us!

 Normally, though it might have been frustrating, it wouldn’t have been cataclysmic. However, in the chaos of getting me and my three heat-weary, sibling overloaded children packed and out the door, I had forgotten to take my typical trip to the ATM for the “just in case” cash I usually bring. Yep. All I had was that frozen bank card and a twenty at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon . . . well besides my three cranky, bored children who had already been cooped up in that little car for almost 12 hours! 

Yep, Mama lost it! Tears, drama, and I have to admit, some fairly bad (okay, VERY bad!) language came pouring out of me all at the same time. I think I called my husband about thirty times in a half hour trying to get to him before the bank closed, and failing to get a hold of him, I called my poor mother and poured out my tale of woe to her regardless of the fact that she was 1000 miles away and unable to do a thing for us except worry. Not exactly fair for her, but I was desperate!

Luckily, my husband finally received my frantic SOS and skipped out on work to high tail it over to the bank and play the hero, which he has to do way too often to suit this independent, strong-minded woman of the modern world! I’m so glad that my husband isn’t averse to playing the knight in shining armor to my damsel in distress. (The truth is, I kind of like knowing that I have a knight in the back ground who can come and “fix it” when I can’t do it myself.  While you’re at, feel free to hold the door open for me . . . whichever feminist decided to throw THAT baby out with the bath water  . . . let me tell you . . . !)

Needless to say, next year, when that colossal road trip rolls around, I might have to rethink doing it by myself, or at least consider not doing it all in one day . . . And I will DEFINITELY have cash as well as my bank card . . . and maybe a credit card too . . . just in case . . .

Bye, bye crazy toddler days! Hello lazy, hazy days of summer! I’ve been missing you!

This summer has been a summer of firsts for me as a mother. It has officially launched me into the next phase of parenting. I am no longer the mother of babies and toddlers. I am now the mother of big kids. Lily, my littlest, will be four in a few weeks, and she acts older than that. The days of hovering and constant watchfulness are a thing of the past, and as much as I enjoyed my children at this stage, I can’t say that I regret the passing of these days, at least not yet.

I knew this day was coming. As Lily told me the other day, “Soon I’m going to be four and then I’ll be sixteen!” She’s not far wrong on that. The time will move so quickly it will feel like that I’m certain, and my girls take after me; they act older than their ages and so I knew that the baby days were about to pass me by forever.

The high stress days of toddlers and temper fits, bolting children hiding in the clothing racks, and constant danger due to lack of coordination are behind me. The days of increasing independence are here. Each day will take my children a bit further from me and more into being capable and independent in their own skin (when I put it that way it is enough to make me cry!). My children will always need me, but they will need me less with each passing day. Their school, teachers and friends will begin to exert almost as much influence over them as my husband and I do. It is a sobering thought!

And yet, my fledgling freedom, the faint stirrings of a me forgotten, can’t help but excite me! To be me again and not just an extension of my children! It sounds heavenly!

So many parts of me were put on hold when I had my children. I haven’t drawn a picture since Arabelle was a baby. I can count on both hands the number of times I’ve sat down and played the piano. I’ve only recently started writing poetry again, something you need a measure of peace and time for reflection to create, and since I’ve had neither peace nor time . . . . So many things that were foundational to who I am have had to be put on hold, and I won’t lie, at times it has been suffocating!

I realized that the next phase had arrived the other day when I took my kids to a splash pool. It’s a pretty great place when you live in Texas where we’ve been in the 90’s for weeks already. The water’s not deep, there are fountains everywhere and there is a big play structure in the middle with a water gun and a water slide. It’s little kid heaven!

As it turns out, it’s Mommy heaven too! You see, there were a bunch of lounge chairs under a big tree and the breeze was blowing and it feel COOL under that tree. There were two lifeguards on duty and the pool was enclosed so there was no danger of my children running off or being in any danger. Very quickly I realized that I could sit back and only keep a casual eye on my kids. The kind of vigilance I needed last summer was not necessary this summer!

I read a chapter in my book. I closed my eyes and enjoyed the breeze and the sound of my happy children playing in the background. I took the time to notice how pretty it looked underneath the tree with the sun filtering through the leaves. And I felt peaceful. With all three of my children there, I felt peaceful. Not happy, not content, but PEACEFUL. It was heavenly!

Yes, I know I will miss the antics of my children when they were little. I will miss each day being a new discovery. I will miss baby kisses and cuddles. And nothing is cuter than the cherubic features of a toddler. It’s why I take so many pictures, to capture the moments, to remember. I know I will miss it.

But, big kid hugs and kisses are pretty great too. And the things we are able to do together now that Lily is old enough are a lot of fun. And the chats we are able to have are really pretty wonderful. And the freedom and the peace . . . well, they have been a long time coming!