She Used to Be Mine…I think

Please forgive this totally selfish, self-indulgent post.  I’m sitting on my couch feeling sorry for myself right now, and I totally shouldn’t be…

At church on Easter Sunday, our pastor referenced the What to Expect When You’re Expecting book.  I hadn’t thought of that book in years.  It was, in essence, like a Bible for me during my early years as a parent…a daily devotional if you will.  I read it cover to cover at least twice, maybe more as we hit rough patches and went back to it as a reference. 

At some point, I gained confidence as a parent and no longer needed the books in the series.  Unfortunately, there is not a book called What to Expect When Your Kids Grow Up or What to Expect When Your Kids Go To College.  I have to say I need that book right now.  There is a reason those books don’t exist, at least not as a catchy bestseller.  Those books are not full of hope, excitement, and thrills for the future.

I actually know what to expect when a kid goes to college.  It’s brutally sad at first and then it becomes the new normal and you realize that life will never be as it was before.  You will never be as important in your child’s life as you were before.  I was talking to Will earlier and realizing that although he’s coming home in a couple of weeks for the summer, he is wishing it was just for a weekend and not for the summer.  It’s his time now, I realized.  He is truly beginning his own story where John and I are just supporting characters and no longer protagonists in his tale.

I think that is why I’m struggling right now.  When Claire leaves for college, as she finds her own path as Will has already, she will need me less and less.  It’s tangibly painful and extremely joyful at the same time.  This independence, of course, has been the goal of parenting.  It is what we have worked so hard to help them achieve, yet where does that leave us moms. 

I can’t remember who I was before being a mom.  Last summer, Claire and I spent a weekend in New York and we saw Waitress on Broadway, which we both loved.  Near the end of Act II, Jessie Mueller as Jenna delivered the amazing song “She Used to Be Mine.”  Claire and I both cried.  The story follows a very unhappily married waitress who is trying to accept her pregnancy as she is married to an abusive man.  Although the situation in the story is so different than mine right now, I couldn’t help but relate to what I was hearing – a woman trying to remember who she was before.  The thing is for me, I don’t want to remember that person.  I wanted to be a mom, I think, more than any other dream I had. I was the girl who played with dolls until I was ridiculously old.  Every other accomplishment of mine truly pales in comparison to my children.  It just seems so unfair that the time we have with our children passes like a fleeting glance. 

This transition now is marked by big milestones and a lot of lasts:  last prom, last dance competition, last recital, last day of school, graduation.  Milestones come throughout parenting.  I don’t remember mourning the last day in diapers as the end of an era — jeez, that couldn’t come soon enough.  I wish someone had told me to remember that day, to shed a tear when bottles/pacifiers/sippy cups are through, to mentally note the last time they ask Santa for toys.

It’s selfish.  There are friends who would give anything to be crying the silly tears I am just to have the chance to see their kids reach these milestones.  I feel guilty when I think of them, and very, very selfish.  Yet for today, I’m going to be a little sad about this era coming to an end.  I’m going to remember these milestones that I have left while she still lives at home and still needs me day to day.  Sometime, next fall, when she’s at school with her brother, I’ll try to remember who I used to be.  Maybe I’ll discover what the song says, “”She’s imperfect but she tries / She is good but she lies / She is hard on herself / She is broken and won’t ask for help / She is messy but she’s kind / She is lonely most of the time / She is all of this mixed up and baked in a beautiful pie / She is gone but she used to be mine.”

Anne Frank, “Half-Pint,” and the Kind of Grandparent I Want To Be One Day

On one of my many trips to our nation’s capital, I bought a book about Anne Frank for my daughter; Claire was about 10 at the time.  I remember learning about Anne Frank, not really in school exactly, but from reading a Scholastic magazine with an excerpt of the script from the 1980 Melissa Gilbert movie based on Anne Frank’s diary.  I was compelled by her story then, probably more because I loved Melissa Gilbert and it was fascinating to see her in something besides her prairie dress.

Over the years, as I matured past my devotion to “Half-Pint,” I began to understand the wonder of Anne Frank’s story.  It wasn’t until I became a teacher that her words truly impacted me.  That is when I actually read her diary in full.  To be in her situation and to be able to still believe as she wrote that people were still good just filled me with such wonder. 

Last night, I met with a group of women.  We ate snacks, talked about our families, and talked about the future.  While talking, we all took pen to paper and wrote to our Senators and Congressional Representatives.  We wrote to members of both parties.  Each person there wrote their own messages.  I tried to take an encouraging tone.  I do appreciate the work that those working in government do on behalf of the people, and I believe wholeheartedly that most do it for the right reasons, even though I might not agree with all of their policies.  It was nice to feel like I was taking action in the wake of recent circumstances, when my belief that the people who are in the highest office maybe aren’t in it for the right reasons.

While we were writing, one of the women said that she wanted to say to our leaders, “What do you want your grandchildren to think about the decisions that you make when they study this time period in school?”  I found that prolific. 

And that brings me back to Anne Frank and my daughter.  When she read the book, I didn’t think to warn her about the ending.  I’ll never forget holding her when she realized Anne had died.  That night I remember wondering if I would have been brave enough to be Miep Gies.  Would I have been brave enough to risk everything to save someone else even if it was the right thing to do?  Would I have landed myself on the right side of history?

I want to think I would have.  That’s why I’m speaking out now. 

I have another friend.  A wonderful, loving, well-educated friend post a Facebook message about Liberals needing to give the new President a chance.  I don’t think it’s just the liberals who have a problem with what is happening.  I don’t consider Senator Graham of South Carolina a liberal.  I don’t consider Senator McCain of Arizona a liberal.  Former Secretary Condoleeza Rice is not a liberal. 

This is not about liberals.  It’s not about conservatives.  It’s about being on the right side of history.  Unfortunately, most issues are complex.  If they were simple, so many people wouldn’t be so upset.  I have friends on both sides of most of the issues facing our country today.  I wouldn’t call a person a friend if I didn’t respect that at his/her core was a value of caring about others and strong integrity. 

So as I close, I am thinking about what kind of grandparent I’m going to be.  When my grandchildren who have yet to be born [and hopefully that is years and years away], look back on this period of time and ask me how I responded to the politics of 2017, what will my answer be? 

Helping Them Deal…

I saw a post on Facebook today, and it was the headline for an article,”Please Keep Doing Things That Your Children Can Do For Themselves.”  It’s a lovely article , and the gist is that kids grow up too fast so parents should cherish when they can do things for them. 

I love the sentiment behind this article, and there are plenty of things I do for my kids occasionally that they can do for themselves.  I sometimes fold and put away their clothes or clean their room.  I’ve done Claire’s hair.  I do these things for my kids as a treat and they in no way expect them. 

However, my kids started doing their own things as soon as they could.   Admittedly, some of this is because there are things I hate doing.   My best example is laundry.  They were eight and five when I started requiring them to do their laundry.  Of course, I helped at first, but both of my kids have been able to do that task for years.  It’s one of the many, non-material gifts that I have given them. 

As a seventh grade teacher, I know that I impact kids.  Yet the best part of me being older and wiser than I was in my youthful teaching days is that I have now been in the shoes of the seventh grade parent and I can see potential mistakes.  I can also offer advice, and I think that is my best impact as a teacher — its on the parents.  This is essential, I believe, because over my 25 year teaching career, I have seen kids become more and more dependent on their parents, for even the smallest tasks.

My big “catch phrase” of late to parents is that they need to let their kids figure things out.  More specifically, I’m talking about grades and my speech goes something like this:  absolutely no one but you cares about your child’s grades in seventh grade, so this is the time to focus on the skills he needs to develop to be successful when his grades do matter and you aren’t there to help. 

The same is true socially.  There is a fine line between effective parenting, supporting your child, and interfering/enabling.  First of all, I won’t claim to be perfect on this.  I’m not.  But over the years, I think I’ve gotten better.  I try to be very involved in my kids’ lives while letting them forge their own paths. 

Over the past couple of years, the high school social scene has presented both trying and joyous times for my daughter.  It was so different for my son — in this way, boys are easy.  So as Claire has navigated the rough waters of changing friendships and “girl drama,” I’ve supported her.  I’ve asked questions.  I’ve tried to help her see other perspectives.  I’ve given her advice.  There have been times when she has been left out by a group, or even uninvited to an event [yes, UN-invited].  While part of me wanted to call the moms of the “offenders,” I refrained; this was something my daughter and her friends needed to handle.  Instead, I coached my daughter on how to work through it.  I reminded her that people aren’t perfect and oversights can be made.  When you can, give the benefit of doubt.  I taught her the difference between being civil to people and being friends with them, which is a huge lesson in being an adult.   In less than two years I will be sending her to college where she will have to navigate these waters by herself.  Now, she has practice in comporting herself with dignity. 

Learning to face disappointment with grace is, I think, the best gift I could give either of my children.  Life doesn’t always go the way we want it to go.  Still, it’s hard watching my kids when they suffer.  It’s hard not to step in and make it better.  But sometimes, doing what is hard means doing what is right. 

Kids in Restaurants – To Ban or Not to Ban…

For those that know me well, you know that my kids made their first trip to a restaurant within weeks of being born. I love eating out and that was something I didn’t plan on giving up when I had kids. We ate out frequently, and always on Sundays after church. On one Sunday, just after Claire was born, we went to Olive Garden for our favorite– soup, salad, and breadsticks. Our church service ended at 11:00 so we were usually the first to a restaurant. We had just been served our salads when an older couple was seated at the table next to ours. One look at our three year old happily eating black olives off of his fingertips and our infant asleep in her carseat/carrier and the man asked to be moved to a table not near the children. The hostess moved him and came and apologized to us, and we assured her that we didn’t care. Another older couple was sitting nearby and walked over to tell us how glad they were to see us out with such well behaved little ones. I probably should have mentioned that our son had happlily colored the children’s menu and our daughter had slept, neither talking/screaming, etc. I smiled and said thank you. Eating out with little ones was difficult, but my husband and I worked hard to ensure that we could do so in peace. We made our son sit at the table at home while we ate. He listened to our conversation and he used basic manners at home. When we went out, he understood how to sit, eat, and be quiet [the coloring on the kids’ menu was such a treat because we didn’t allow playing at the table at home]. When we left the restaurant that day, we saw the couple who complained about sitting near us. The hostess had her revenge and sat a table near them with a family of loud, rowdy kids.

Unfortunately, there are more tables of rowdy, loud kids eating in restaurants than there are ones playing quietly. While I hate the idea of banning kids at restaurants, I totally understand why. The problem doesn’t lie with the children; rather, the problem is a lack of parenting. People have always complimented me on my children. When they were little, it was their behavior that garnered praise. Now, it’s their character. I love to joke that they take after me, but honestly, both of my children are much better than me or my husband. However, we have worked hard, from the day they were born to help them develop into the amazing people they are today. We rarely took an easy path in parenting. Every “offense” was an opportunity for a life lesson. They certainly are not perfect, even today. There have been many “life lessons” taught over the years, and I am confident there will be more in the months and years to come.

My point? Parenting is hard work. I think my style on parenting was forged by one of my friends having kids before I did. We went out to lunch with her three year old in tow. She let him run around the restaurant while we chatted. When he screamed, “that looks like doggie poop,” she laughed it off and told me, “he’s only three once! I want it to be fun for him.” I vowed that day that my kids would never do that! As hard as it’s been, I think I found the balance of letting them enjoy being a kid and understanding how to comport themselves in public.

If, as parents, we want to be able to take our kids out to nice places, we must work to teach them how to behave properly. It’s not fair to other patrons who are paying for a nice meal to have it interrupted by rude children. However, I do wish restaurants would consider just asking the obnoxious children to leave rather than banning all kids. Then, maybe, their parents will finally start doing their job – parenting.

Parenting for a Better World

“It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel heartless world.  It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless” 

~L. R. Knost 

 

 

I saw this quote as a meme on Facebook about a week ago and it really struck me.  I think parents are always walking a fine line of how to best prepare our children for the future.  We want them to be “tough” enough to handle whatever comes their way, but we also want them to be good people.

 

 

 When my son was really little, like many other boys his age, he loved to play loud.  There was squealing, funny noises, and silly faces.  As he reached school age, I told him that there was a time and place for those extra sounds, and if he kept doing some of those noises, other kids would think he was weird.  As I write this, I feel like maybe I was too blunt with him, but he responded.  As a teacher, I have seen many kids get teased for acting differently, and I didn’t want him to face that one day.  

 Along with trying to toughen him to face the cruel, heartless world, I also taught him to be kind to others.  When he would come home and complain about a child acting “odd” at school, I told him to be patient.  I told him to accept his peer for who he was.  I told him to find something nice to say about that child.  I told him to try to be that child’s friend.  After awhile, I did not have to repeat these lessons with him.

 I taught my daughter in a similar way too, although she did not make as many funny noises or strange faces.  She, however, did sometimes complain about other children and I gave her the same speech I gave her brother.   

My children are so much nicer than my husband and I, and, frankly, we are pretty nice people ourselves.  However, my kids are two of the best people I have ever been around.  They are strong and confident.  They care what people whom they respect think about them, but don’t worry about others.  Most of all, I think they understand what it means to not be cruel and heartless.  Both of them are quick to defend the person who needs defending, especially if they think that person cannot help him/herself.  

 Somehow, I feel like we have prepared our children to face the cruelties of the world and to try to make it better at the same time…