Tag Archives: parenting

One and Two

One gets up early, eats the breakfast he makes himself and slips back into his den before anyone else rises. He doesn’t say much but there is little to tell. He smiles about plans he has to meet his friends later, as dog tags from a mythical army clink around his neck. His eyes glaze as he goes out-of-body for the coerced hug, but he cheerfully takes the mail to the mailbox, and lifting the flag, lopes, as usual, to the bus stop.

Two gets up late and lingers in his room until the last minute, asking for eggs through his closed door. Once out, he smiles and banters and playfully hugs, perhaps flexing his muscles for my admiration. He keeps his friends and his life as close a secret as possible, letting information out in dribbles on a need-to-know basis. A closed book with an inviting cover, he hoists his backpack and coolly slouches toward his day.

I watch them go, and feel it in my core, seeing them in all times all at once: the wide-eyed babies, the sweet-cheeked toddlers, the winsome children, and the youths they are now. I see shades of what they will be: the young men they are becoming, perhaps fathers someday, and wonder how much of those future lives they will share with me. I torture myself, and imagine losing One or Two. I shake it off; it is like opening a vein. These daily paper cuts, “I love you, have a good day!” are painful enough.

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Getting Better? Or Just Older?

Yesterday, aging in my world was having to straighten up carefully after bending over, because of the ever-so-slightly degenerating disc in my lower spine. Today it was lifting my eyelid (which has somehow become a bit ruched) so I could get my eyeliner where it belonged. Just the left one. This is the new normal? I asked my reflection in the mirror.

I don’t suppose anyone jumps up and down when these things start and says “Yes! Visible aging! Just what I always wanted!” On the other hand, what I am talking about is small change compared to problems some of my contemporaries are dealing with, and what I glimpse on the road ahead. When the boys were growing up, I knew people who said, “Oh, I couldn’t wait for the (whatever) stage to be over,” because they were really looking forward to engaging their kids at a higher level, or to when their kids became more independent. I have made a point of celebrating every one of their phases, even when I felt it was literally draining the life from me (middle school, my eternal nemesis!) Living and loving every stage my kids went through is a lesson I learned from being in kind of a rush to grow up. I was uncomfortable with myself as a teen (who isn’t?) and wanted to skip ahead to the independence and presumed confidence that came with adulthood. Looking at kids now, I feel I missed some opportunities trying to race through the awkwardness.

Every decade has brought its gifts. Confidence and comfort in my own (somewhat sagging) skin continues to build. I appreciate people and opportunities more, and value time like I never did in my youth. Living in gratitude does change everything. Well, except the aches and the reduced elasticity. It could always be worse. One of my favorite radio commercials (don’t remember the product, of course–memory lapses) announced, “Sometimes wisdom comes with age. Sometimes, age comes alone.” I hope the wisdom I am gaining offsets the memory lapses, etc. and that, as bits and pieces of my physical self start to corrode and crumble a bit, that some of the sharp edges on my personality also soften. I project it won’t be that many years before I fully reach the “shabby chic” stage. I just hope it won’t have completely gone out of fashion when I do.

What are the ups and downs of the age you are at?

An ADD Moment…

And before anyone gets excited, I am not making light of ADD or ADHD. I was diagnosed and treated for ADD for years when I was a kid. Evidently, in first grade, I did a lot of getting up in class and wandering around and often had no idea what was going on. More so than the rest of the kids. Back then, (so, so long ago,) the diagnostic criteria for ADD was this: give the kid Ritalin and see if it helps. If it does, the kid has ADD. So I started taking Ritalin in second grade. The funny thing was that our school had a very aggressive anti-drug campaign and I remember being scared to DEATH that I was going to become a child drug addict because Ritalin is an amphetamine, also known as SPEED. I was afraid that someday, when they took the drugs away, I would start robbing gas stations or hold the pharmacist at gunpoint to feed my addiction. My mom assured me that wouldn’t happen and bought me a little pill-carrier in the form of a jeweled golden treasure chest pendant, in which I stored one and a half tabs to be taken (rather self-consciously) at lunch. I guess it helped, because I stopped wandering around, but I remember still sitting in the classroom wondering why everyone else seemed to know what we were supposed to be doing but I didn’t. In fifth grade we discovered I was so near-sighted I could barely read the E on the eyechart, and eyeglasses helped a lot. (Oh, so that’s the blackboard you people keep talking about.) Back then, once you hit puberty, you were pronounced cured and they took the drugs away. There were no withdrawal-fueled rampages; I barely noticed. Nowadays I have caffeine and a great big kit of marginal coping skills that help get me through the day. But sometimes I still get so DISTRACTED by THINGS. Which is why you are reading this instead of the next Working Girl post, which is in development.

Distracting Thing 1

My Capresso hot water kettle, which I love because it looks and works so great, and which I hate because the lid broke off  ten days after the warranty expired, tells me there are eight liquid ounces in a cup. The measuring cups (silicone and pyrex) in my cupboard confirm that this is true. When I make tea I boil two cups, or sixteen ounces, of water in my kettle and this fills my favorite Pier One mug abundantly. When I make coffee in my new (Merry Christmas to me) Calphalon coffeepot, using their numbered lines, I have discovered that I have to pour in three and half cups of water to make three cups of coffee, which when poured into my favorite Pier One mug, leaves plenty of room for milk and Truvia and can still be stirred and walked with safely. As pictured. I already have to do tea to coffee conversions in my head to optimize my caffeine dosage, and now there are portion issues as well. If there are shiny or busy things happening around me this can all be difficult which I find unnecessary and irksome.  Also, you tell me, but I think maybe three cups of coffee at one go might be a little too much for me?

 

Distracting Thing 2

It got cold in Minnesota, which we all knew was going to happen, but never thought it would take this long. I woke up to find it was -10°, with a wind chill of -27°. As such, many of us now have ice indoors. As pictured. To clarify, dirty window on top, condensation, ridge of ice on the INSIDE of the window, and at bottom the wooden sill preparing to harbor mildew when said ice melts. On the upside, the temp has risen to -3°, and I usually take the interior frost to mean that the humidity levels inside are okay. Just thought I’d share that for those of you who don’t get to enjoy the full splendor of winter. If we ever get snow, maybe I’ll share that too, but since nearly every place in the nation EXCEPT us has gotten whacked with a snowstorm this year, maybe not.

 

 

 

Distracting Thing  3

Older son got his driver’s license yesterday. I waver between punctuating that with an exclamation point and a teardrop. Yes, very good that he is achieving milestones (landmines? I wonder why that word wants to slip in there?) Very good that he can help out with running errands and stretch his wings and prepare for life as an adult. Very sad that he and his younger brother continue to slip out of my arms and into the world. Very scary that they are increasingly exposed to important and dangerous situations with insufficiently developed brains and decision-making skills. Some people handle this time of parenting with grace. It is taking everything I’ve got to maintain my balance, and it isn’t pretty. Sometimes as a parent, I still feel like the kid in the classroom, wondering what I missed. Caffeine only helps so much, and it is cold out here. I guess the trick is to remember I am not in this alone, and to keep looking forward while I balance the best I can, because this ride isn’t over yet. Thank you for hanging in there with me.

Wrath Averted

It was several years ago that a friend called me, asking for my help. “I have a problem,” she told me. She worked at a high school and a family of one of the recent graduates was demanding an apology because their graduate’s diploma wasn’t available at the ceremony. It had been withheld because the student had some library fines, which the family said they had paid. My friend agreed the fines were paid, but not in time to get the diploma inside the folder for the ceremony. The student felt humiliated, and the family was aggressively seeking payback and even threatening litigation. The school wanted my friend to write an apology to make the incident go away. My friend, who is very intelligent and empathetic, had had it. “I am so upset I can’t even think, anything I come up with would just make it worse,” then she schmoozed me, “You are so good with words, can you come up with something?”

My friend was more than capable of coming up with the words, but she had lost the objective distance she needed to frame her response to the family. It is so difficult to overcome our own feelings of pain or anger, especially when we are feeling attacked. Like a contagion, retaliatory instincts had spread from the student’s family to my friend. It happens between people, people and institutions, cultures, and governments. I often wonder how much litigation, property damage and even death could be avoided if it was easier for people to slip out of their own experience to see and feel events from another’s perspective. When I was a little girl, weeping in sadness or frustration over troubles with my friends, my mom would urge me to look at the situation from the other girls’ point of view. It was highly unsatisfactory. “Why aren’t you on my side?” I wailed, picturing myself adrift on a raft of self-righteousness in the stormy sea of injustice. (Even for a little girl, I was very dramatic.) Eventually, I caught on to her philosophy and over time became more analytical about conflict. It helped me “simmer down,” as my dad would say when my temper threatened to boil over (which is helpful because I had inherited a temper that is constantly threatening to boil over.)  I felt that I had some of the skills needed to help my friend out.

I congratulated the student on reaching the milestone of high school graduation. I thanked him for paying the fines. I commiserated with his disappointment that the process didn’t work out in time for the event, but celebrated that he had had experienced a beautiful ceremony with his friends to mark the successful completion of twelve years of hard work. I thanked him for letting the school know his concerns and wished him well. It was easy for me to do because I knew all those things were genuinely felt, even by my frustrated friend. “Yes! This is perfect!” she said. She still had a kind regard toward the student, but it had all been choked back behind fatigue and anxiety in the face of the family’s umbrage. Was the family satisfied? I have no idea, but there was no lawsuit. Is it fair when only one side acts compassionately? As Dad was fond of saying, “life isn’t fair,” and as I would say, “that’s not the point.” Even if it doesn’t feel fair, it is best. I sometimes think it is only simple proverbs like ‘Walk a mile in another’s moccasins,’ and ‘A gentle answer turns away wrath,’ that keep the world from bursting into flames. It can sometimes feel like humanity is forgetting these ancient approaches; I know that I do at times, but I hope that there are still parents in the world aggravating their children by pulling them along to a higher road, one we can all travel together.

Teen Life: Then/There and Here/Now

I was driving around town yesterday and I realized for the first time that I might not know how to adequately parent my suburban kids. Adequate parenting isn’t a new concern for me–that goes back to prenatal days, but raising teenagers in a big town on the outskirts of two large cities brings a whole lot of possibilities and challenges I never dealt with growing up.

I grew up in De Smet, a South Dakota town with a population of about 1200 when I lived there. De Smet started out as a railroad town (as chronicled in By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder,) and later was blessed by being at the crossroad of two state highways. That crossroad had the only traffic light in town, a flashing yellow on Hwy. 14, and a flashing red on Hwy. 25. A glorified stop sign, really, nothing like my driver-in-training needs to contend with, which is how this whole train of thought got underway. Teaching a kid to drive where I live now is so different than where I learned. Here there are more people, more traffic, higher speeds in tighter quarters, and infinitely more complicated intersections. In De Smet, back in the day, other drivers not only probably knew who you were, they often also knew something about your driving. If you were very new at it  (or very old,) you were given a little more berth and a bit of wry courtesy as you took a few precious seconds to figure out what you were doing. A few months ago my son was screamed at by another driver for going too slow, 28 mph in a 30 mph zone as he was approaching a stop sign. The same thing could happen in De Smet, but talk would go around, and that driver would soon find herself with a reputation as a hothead and on the short end of the neighborly goodwill stick. Karma can work quickly in a small town.

Driving isn’t the only area of difference, naturally. My graduating class was small, even for De Smet, with 25 students. If you wanted to help with yearbook, be in track, participate in choir, the all-school musical and be on the prom committee, that was fine. You probably didn’t even need to be particularly talented to get a spot, and yet De Smet produced very competitive athletic, musical and theatrical teams. No matter what group you were in, you more or less had known everyone for years. In a suburban high school of over 2,000 kids it could be easy to look at the masses of other people and think, “Let them do it; there are probably one (two, three) hundred kids that have been training since third grade to do that activity and I don’t know any of them.” In De Smet  you almost felt obligated to join, somebody’s got to do it, right? I tried a lot of things and found my niche in some. I am highly amused to this day that I was an officer in the Future Homemakers of America club. I had no intention at that time of becoming a homemaker, I was going to be a big deal in international business or with the United Nations. I was going to eat out and have my laundry done for me. But all my friends were in FHA, it was huge, and we had the best times. I don’t know how to translate those experiences to the world my sons live in today. They must find their own way. Maybe it is less about parenting and more about wanting to hold on and stay connected to my children’s lives. It seems I am reaching the end of “Do the best you can,” and am entering “and then let them go.” Terrifying. Sad. Amazing. Life.