Parenting 201

parenting201

It’s official, I now have four teenaged children. I have completed Parenting 101 in the unofficial course book, where I was the director of my children (unfortunately my grade won’t be in for a couple of decades, but I think I passed.) I am now enrolled in the more advanced Parenting 201. I have become more of a supervisor than a director, allowing my children to become more independent as they learn to navigate the world from the safety of home base. Instead of identifying the goal and telling them the steps to get there, now they know the goal but they have more freedom to determine the path to achieve it. Just as they are learning new skills and flexing their decision making muscles, I have learned a few things too as I move through the ranks of my children.

My eldest will turn twenty in April. He is away at college where he is “undecided” in his major while being very “decided” about his fraternity participation. While this imbalance causes me slight agitation, I take comfort that we share the same goal of graduation and employment so I am confident in his ability to get there. I keep myself in check and don’t nag him even if he doesn’t do things exactly how I might. He is well aware of his many friends who came to college with specific majors; he has his own stress about deciding what his focus will be. I don’t need to pile on to his stress so I choose instead to be supportive and helpful when asked. A consultant, if you will.

Number Two son is a whole other ball of wax. He has a genetic disease which affects his health and intellectual/emotional rigor. He recently became 18 so we obtained guardianship in order to help him make decisions that are in his best interest. I try hard to encourage him to think for himself and be as independent as possible. We recently made the decision to keep him in our county school system until he is 21 so he can continue to gain skills that will help him become employed. Fortunately he is extremely pleasant and sweet; he trusts my husband and I completely to help him plan his future. If I think about it too much I am overwhelmed with this responsibility but my husband and I plug along, including him in our thinking and planning as appropriate. It is hard for many kids to visualize their futures, whether they have typical needs or special needs. As parents we just have to use the right approach to help them as they ease across the threshold to adulthood.

My third teenager will be 16 next month. He is learning how to drive and settling into his high school studying habits. One thing that I’ve learned is that occasionally a supervisor has to step in and take a more hands on role. He has some acne like one of his older brothers; I was a compliant mother of the dermatology patient with my older son, trying less invasive treatments which where only marginally successful. With this son I knew to be an aggressive advocate and start the big guns early – a 6 month oral medication, with monthly lab draws. When I told big brother what we were doing, he gave me a little gift of validation by telling me, “I regret not doing that.” My 15 year old was unaware of this option and would have lived with bad acne had I not acted. I didn’t want him to regret not having done something about it. Let him get on the therapist’s couch for something else I will screw up.  Whether it has to do with my parenting or not, he is confident and resilient, demonstrated by running for a youth group board position recently after losing two times previously. My protective mother instinct thought, “Why risk losing again?” Good thing I didn’t interject my concerns, as he won. I do not micromanage my kids’ lives. It’s their life, not mine.

The final teen is my baby girl who is 13. She has not turned into a surly adolescent yet. She is a solid student and a dancer. She has her own fashion sense, which I respect, and only weigh in on things like age-appropriateness and modesty. She pushes back a little but is mostly respectful of my input. She is fearful of things she finds “creepy,” like some odd neighbors who recently moved away and our new President. She recently asked to be excused from the dinner table when we were discussing the upcoming Inauguration as it causes her to feel anxious. While I can shield her from too much information, I want her to be informed enough, feel empowered to tolerate uncomfortable feelings and be her own advocate for things she feels strongly about.

I may not like every decision my kids make but I tell them I am always their number one fan. I find myself missing my mother, who died three years ago. I wonder how she managed our teen years. Thankfully I have my husband, sister and girlfriends to discuss the trials and tribulations of raising teenagers. They provide a non-judgmental sounding board off of which I can bounce my stories and concerns.

After the teenage years I have the dating and marriage fun to look forward to – Parenting 301 – clearly a graduate level course.

 

 

Oh, and Another Thing

images

I married at 31 and started having babies when I was 33. By the time I was 38, we had three bouncing boys. I was getting older, tired and cranky, nearing 40 and seriously contemplated closing down the baby factory. Lo and behold, I was pregnant again.

Once we cleared the genetic screening hoops (our second son has a serious genetic disease), we anxiously awaited the arrival of our fourth, and final, child. We opted not to find out the gender of any of our children. We enjoyed the surprise when they were born. Even with the last child, I didn’t find out the gender because 1) I wouldn’t be able to keep it a secret, 2) if it were a boy, people would say, “oh, too bad,” before the poor guy was even born, and 3) while I knew too well how important a healthy baby was, regardless of the sex, I loved the idea of a little girl.

Miracle of miracles, I had a healthy little girl who is 12 now and just one of our crew. She is not the princess or the revered baby. She’s just #4. Okay, she twirls a lot more than her brothers, but you get the point.

Occasionally I feel a little bad that my daughter has an old mother, although I don’t think she thinks of me that way. I’m just her mom. Having lost my own wonderful mother a few years ago when I was 50, I feel a sense of wanting to impart all my wisdom to my daughter since she most likely will not have a mom for as long as I did. I was diagnosed with breast cancer six years ago, and while I am ostensibly cured, healthy and hoping to live a long life, one never knows what the future holds. I have to bite my tongue and subliminally drop my wisdom bombs. I don’t want her to remember me and think, “My mom was always cramming me with information because she was an old mom who worried about dying.”

I’m older than many of her friends’ moms, but that doesn’t bother me. I may not be as fun as younger moms who have more energy but I was never really that get-on -the floor-and-play-with-your-kids mom anyway.

Here are some things I want her to know:

  1. Read a recipe completely, BEFORE you start cooking.
  2. It’s worth it to pay more for a bra to have a salesperson who knows what they’re doing.
  3. When you order anything online, unless you really need it immediately always pick the regular shipping option – it usually comes just as fast.
  4. Be nice to everyone. If you happen to be popular, you want to be known as the really nice girl, not the mean girl.
  5. Don’t flatter yourself and think people care what you do. They have their own lives to worry about. Even if something happens in your life that makes you the news of the day, you will quickly be knocked down on the news-feed of life.
  6. Love yourself and your body. Everyone has things they wish were different about their body. Play to your strengths. I’m sorry you have bunions already at 12 years old. It’s part of the bad genes I passed on to you. Be thankful it’s your feet that you think are ugly and not your face.
  7. Don’t be a sheep and blindly follow others. Stick to your beliefs and values.
  8. When you have a house, put some lights on timers inside so it looks like people are inside. We were once burgled as a young couple when our house was completely dark, inside and out. Duh.
  9. Don’t be a doormat, to friends or a partner. Have relationships that are authentic and reciprocal.
  10. Don’t talk on your cell phone when in line at a store. It is rude to those around you and especially to the clerk. People don’t like to feel invisible. Smile at everyone.
  11. Have a schedule but be flexible, with yourself and with your children.
  12. Be grateful and express gratitude for what you have. Don’t whine about what you don’t have.
  13. Dress, speak, and act modestly. Be mindful of how you present and carry yourself. It speaks volumes about your character.
  14. Never “reply all” to an email unless it is specifically requested. No need to share the minutiae of replies. If you have to send an email to a large group, use the “bcc” so others can’t “reply all” either.
  15. Honor your father and your mother. Make sure I’m well cared for when I’m old. Two words – chin hairs.

I am aware of the opposite sides of the life cycle that we are on. My daughter is a young, budding teenager with beautiful, taut skin and boundless energy. I, on the other hand, am on the downhill slope which is full of lumps, bumps, wrinkles and if I’m lucky the occasional naps. We learn from each other’s different personalities and experiences, as even this old mom can learn new tricks. I will continue to quietly add to my wisdom list, teaching her with my words and through my actions.

Since my mother died, I often wonder “what would Mom do?” I can usually summon the answer. I hope my daughter will be able to do the same.

The Upside of Peer Pressure

ows_140883375439138

I have one daughter who came along after three boys. None of my children have been particularly sporty in the traditional way. A couple of them did the obligatory baseball, soccer and basketball teams which were fun for a while, until they weren’t. Our kids swam on our neighborhood swim team for several years, which I loved even if they didn’t. They weren’t particularly talented swimmers but I liked that they were on the same team, with boys and girls and kids of all ages.

My daughter has resisted sports of any kind, besides dance, and doesn’t feel especially competent or confident when playing sports in P.E. at school. I secretly wished that one of my kids would show some interest and ability in a sport. The grass just always looks greener on the other side, and I know that sports have a multitude of well-documented benefits.

Spring was approaching and my daughter, now 12, is in middle school. I breezily suggested she might like to try track. Who knows, I told her, you might be good at it and like it. A vehement, “I don’t want to do track Mom,” accompanied by an eye roll was her reply. Oh well, I tried.

A week later she came home from school and announced that she and her friends were going to run track.

“Really? What a great idea,” I sarcastically thought inside my head. Clearly, peer pressure is more compelling than mom pressure.

Experts say facing the influence of friends represents an important developmental step for teens on their way to becoming independent-thinking adults. While it can coax kids into unhealthy behavior like drinking or speeding, it can also lead to engagement in more useful social behaviors such as studying or training harder in a sport. Apparently both peer pressure and learning to resist it are important developmental steps to self-reliance.

Peer pressure lessens as we age, but adults still feel it. I took up running as an adult because my sister was doing it. She had joined a running group and seemed to be having so much fun, so I joined too. I probably never would have been a runner otherwise. Peer pressure in adulthood takes many forms – where we live, how we dress, dress our kids, send our kids to school, give to charity, go on vacations, etc. Just like our kids, we can be pulled up or dragged down by the company we keep.

For now, I’m elated with my daughter’s friend group and their decision to take up track. She’s turned out to be pretty fast, which is a pleasant surprise to her and it’s fun to see her grow and evolve into an athlete. Like their swim team, there are kids of all ages and both genders, so the younger ones can look up to the older ones who get to be role models. Even though they race against each other, they are always trying to beat their own time.

Watching her hit the road makes me wistful for my running days, which are long behind me. Blessed with long legs she looks way better than me in her running togs.

May her miles be many and her chafing be minimal, and may her peers continue to push her in a positive direction.

 

 

Paying It Forward

snowy parking lot

After the recent blizzard, parking lots were a mess with piles of snow taking up many parking spaces. After finding my zen in a yoga class I was dreamily strolling toward the parking lot. Scanning the area to find my car, I noticed a young man inspecting a minivan’s bumper, gently wiping off salt and dirt, clearly looking for damage. It wasn’t until he walked away that I realized it was my car he was checking. I tried to run after him but he had crossed a busy street and was gone. It was a frigid day and I didn’t have the energy to leap through traffic to track him down. Instead, I returned to the scene of the crime.

Flustered and irritated, I checked the bumper, which was mildly scuffed. Was it new or old, I wondered? Not being one to take much notice of those things, I had no idea. I grumpily got into my car, resigned to the fact that people are horrible, no one takes responsibility for their actions anymore, and I was just another victim of a faceless crime. Then, I noticed a piece of white paper, fluttering in the wind, stuck underneath the windshield wiper on the passenger side of the car. It couldn’t possibly be what I hoped it was, could it? I hopped out, grabbed the note and read it. The person had left his name and cell phone number and said he didn’t think there was damage to my car but to call him if I needed to have it fixed. I held it up like a trophy, feeling elated that there was goodness in the world. A woman was walking near me, heading to a store and I gleefully told her what happened. “You made my day,” she said.

Is it sad that I sometimes expect so little of humanity that a little scuff would bring me such joy? I told my husband about it and neither of us could get excited about a little scrape on a four-year-old car. It definitely wasn’t anything worth my time and trouble. I was determined to send the guy a text and thank him for his goodness, a little cosmic positive reinforcement for his mensch-like behavior. The weeks flew by and I forgot about it until I discovered the note in one of my household piles. Knowing that it is never too late to act, I sent him a text:

Me: Hello, You left a note on my car last month in a shopping center after scraping my bumper. I’ve been meaning to write you to tell you how happy it made me to know there are still good, honest people in the world. I saw you as you were leaving but couldn’t catch you. I was so frustrated and then I found your note. You really made my day. And no worries about the bumper -it’s not a big deal! Let’s both keep paying the kindness forward!

The Reply: Wow! You made my day too! That was my 17 year old son and he left my cell because I am easier to reach. Thank you for your kindness and understanding and I just shared your note with my son who is driving and really appreciated it. He was backing out slowly and a waiting driver was being impatient and honking and he got flustered. So your kindness was a great antidote! We will indeed pay it forward. Have a great day from both of us!

I wasn’t expecting a mom to mom interaction, but it made the whole thing even sweeter. Clearly, I told her, she was an outstanding mother with award winning parenting skills as she was raising a fine young man. I have an 18-year-old son. Would he have left a note? Would I? I never asked for her name, nor she mine, so it remained a lovely, anonymous interlude that I suspect we will both remember fondly.

I try to take the peace and tranquility that I learn on the yoga mat out into the world. Take a deep breath, clear out the clutter in my mind, be kind to myself and to others. I love that it’s called the “practice” of yoga. Human beings are always practicing too, trying to get things right. This young man gave me a gift. You never know what the universe will send your way.