[Mom] Behaving Badly

There are days when where we should be is a vast distance from where we are. We should be close to self-sufficiency. We should be willing to go places on our own. We should be able to find things (tools, shoes, staplers, sweatshirts, etc.) within the confines of our not-very-large house. And in the moments when we can’t do whatever it is, my failings as a mommy come tumbling in on me like a building with an unstable foundation. How, I ask myself, have I failed to provide the very basic skills required for navigating the world?

Two steps forward, one step back, I remind myself. But when all three children are experiencing lapses at the same time, it is sometimes more than I have patience for. On these days, I want to throw everyone out of my house, barricade the door, sink to the floor and melt into a river of never-ending tears. Not very mature, I know, but I am the only parent, and the entire burden of raising productive members of society falls on my shoulders. And my shoulders are weary. Some days, the cracks brought on by the weight of my life are more evident than others.

Perhaps the long stretches of dreary weather have affected my usually positive outlook. We have had a more than healthy portion of bad weather, experiencing spring in one-day spurts that only show us what we are missing. It has been cold and rainy for months. And non-stop rain and heavy storm clouds can really wear on a girl. Enough already!

But then I remind myself that this moment—the moment when I want to barricade the door—is one moment in the grand scheme of things. We are moving in a forward direction… generally. My children may stumble, but they continue to grow and change and become young adults. It takes time, but they (hopefully) will figure out how to get things done. My mood will improve. Once I’ve wallowed in my puddle of tears long enough, I will stand up, adjust my burden on my shoulders, and move on.

And if the weather doesn’t change… well, at least the drought is over.

The Driver

I have found myself in the interesting situation of no longer needing to drive my own car. Well, not very often, at least. I can sit in the passenger seat, look out the window, and enjoy the ride.

I have moved into “chauffeur mode.” In this mode, I announce that I have to go somewhere, and I immediately hear, “Can I drive?” It doesn’t matter if I was planning to go alone or with my newest driver. New driver will find any trip—real or imaginary—a chance to do the driving and rack up some of the 40 hours he needs behind the wheel before he can get his license. Never mind that he is still 4+ months away from being of licensing age.

Imaginary trips involve the need to make up places to go just so he can get behind the wheel. We have taken a trip to Lowe’s for a three dollar package of screws, spending more in gas to get there than we did on the actual purchase. I think this kid would be more than happy to drive me around town in search of places that didn’t exist. Perhaps we could start a new adventure: new driver geo-caching from behind the wheel. Not only would they be driving the car, they would have to navigate while also paying attention to necessary land marks. Obviously, the kids would have to get out of the car to access the actual treasure and sign into the log at the end, but that would aid in the ever-challenging skill of parking the car.

In truth, I appreciate the fact that this driver is eager to get behind the wheel and regularly asks to drive. My other two were a bit more reluctant as far as volunteering, or even wanting to drive, often saying no when asked. And even though I am in “chauffeur mode,” I still have to constantly keep my eyes on the road.

If we cut a corner too close, and I say, “You’re going to hit the curb,” the reply comes instantly.

“I’m not going to hit the—” his voice breaks off when the rear wheel scrapes the edge of the curb.

But we are still early in the driving process, still learning to judge distance and where the car is on the road. My job as the chauffeured will become easier with time and practice. And soon enough, he’ll get his license. Then he’ll say, “Hey, can I drive?” And he’ll walk out the door, get in the car, and drive away without me.

High School Awards

Because this morning, I was grappling with how I would address this topic–one that is so important–I am reblogging this excellent post: http://www.karensargentbooks.com/blog/kid-doesnt-get-award/

A Mom’s Reflections on High School

When I was a teenager, I attended high school. Well, you’re thinking. Didn’t we all?

Yes, we did. But recently, I have become convinced that many of us block out the truth of our high school experience—the feelings of being a lone boat adrift on an endless sea—and that is a distinct barrier to effectively parenting our teenage children.

In reality, my high school experience is the single best training I have in my quest for effectively relating to my own teenagers, and I will be a better parent if I can tap into the feelings I had in high school.

If I can recall all the times I felt out of place and lonely, when I was laughed at or pushed aside, I will be able to relate to my children when they come to me in tears after being rejected or treated poorly by a peer or peer group.

If I can conjure the relief that came with the end of the school year and the long summer vacation, I will be able to reassure my children that two months off fixes a great many ills that have festered over the long months of a confining academic year.

If I can elicit the intense need I felt to stretch my wings beyond the walls of the school, I can help my children to see the promise of the future rather than dwell in the tedium of the daily life of cliques and classes.

If I can remember all the reasons I was never seen without a book tucked under my arm and all the times I used the book to hide, I can help my kids find their own healthy means of escape.

But most importantly, if I am able to reflect back on my own high school career with an honest perspective—remembering both the good times and the challenging, I can help my kids to recognize that high school may not be the best four years, but it doesn’t have to be the worst four years, either. Instead, it can be the beginning of a period of intense growth as they begin to discover who they are and what they want from life.

Yes, I attended high school. And yes, my four years in that environment can help me to better understand and empathize with my children. I will be a better parent if I can not only tap into the feelings of being in high school, but be willing to share those feelings and experiences with my own children.

And maybe, just maybe—as we navigate the challenges—I can convince my kids that they not only have the ability to make their own lives better, they also have the opportunity to better the lives of the other students they pass in the hallways.

The Problem with Millennials…

A couple weeks ago, as we were driving home from who knows where, my daughter started a conversation with me about millennials and the unfair treatment they receive in the media and the greater society. The impetus for this discussion was a spot run by the morning radio deejays in which they spent their air time slamming the entire millennial generation. I had heard the radio spot that morning, but as with much of what the morning deejays say, it only registered as background noise.

The truth is, the deejays were not being very kind in their talk about millennials, which seemed odd since this generation likely makes up at least a portion of their listening audience. The gist of their discussion centered on how millennials have become notorious for being lame and useless, lazy and entitled, and living in their parents’ basements. The deejays claimed these young adults don’t want to work; they whine all the time; they expect rewards for showing up; the list goes on…. The deejays even had people calling in to tell their own stories of dealing with this particular group of individuals. To be blunt, the feature was rude, and demonstrated more about the adults who were perpetuating the generational stereotype than it did about millennials.

My daughter then raised an incredibly insightful point. “Mom, it was your generation that made millennials this way. Your generation was the one that raised us and gave out the trophies. You can’t now blame millennials for expecting to be rewarded.” This parenting truth of is one I see played out often as I go about my job, a job that involves working with millennials.

[Let me briefly say, I am not now—nor have I ever been—a helicopter parent. I have increasingly allowed, encouraged, and even required my children to make their own decisions and to take responsibility for those decisions. Have I failed in more ways than I’d like to admit? Absolutely. But I would definitely not be considered a coddler.]

Perhaps my own aversion to coddling is due to the fact that I have been working with young people in one capacity or another for most of my life. I have dealt with more parents than I can count, and I have seen parenting behavior that makes me cringe. Every now and then, I experience parenting that is worth writing about, but I usually keep my thoughts to myself.

But on this day as I drove, my daughter’s words hit me as the raw truth. We cannot expect children or young adults to behave in a way that we have not trained them to behave. If we have done everything for them and constantly protected them as they have moved through the world, of course they are going to wind up back in our homes where they feel protected, comfortable, and … well, at home. And then there’s the fact of the frightening economy into which we are attempting to launch these newly minted adults—many of whom are already drowning under the weight of student debt.

So for a moment, think back to your own youth. Remember when you were a teenager, and your parents—their friend, the world, etc.—complained about you and your friends? When I was a teenager, we (as a group) were supposedly lazy and mooched off our parents. Sound familiar? Maybe young adults haven’t really grown lazier and less motivated, but adults simply need a place to lay blame, and throwing young people into one stereotypically lazy group is easy.

What would happen if we started treating kids as individuals rather than lumping the entire generation into one humongous group? Maybe the fundamental problem with millennials is not millennials, but rather our attitude toward them and our lack of expectation for them. Perhaps, we have forgotten what it is like to be young and floundering as we pursue our dreams. Perhaps we have forgotten that with increased responsibility comes increased independence, and we fail to give kids enough responsibility to facilitate positive growth and development. Most importantly, we have forgotten that when we are senior citizens, today’s young people will be our surgeons, our lawyers, our politicians, and the creative minds that will effect positive change in the society.

So it is my belief that young people need two things: opportunity and mentorship. When I was young and just starting out, someone had faith in me to do a job and to do it well, and they gave me a chance. [As I look back, it was more like a string of someones who recognized that I was good enough, smart enough, skilled enough to do the job.] We owe it to these kids to give them the same chance to prove what they can do.

As a teacher, I have experienced the incredible passion, determination, eagerness, and conviction that millennials possess. Take a chance on a young person; reach out and offer your support. My guess is, they may need some encouragement and guidance along the way (as we all do), but there is little doubt the time you take will be worth it.

{Photo illustration by my amazing daughter}

Lessons from the Road

So I am at it again—driving with an inexperienced driver. Here’s the funny thing about driving with a new driver: When you get in the car, even if you know where you are going, you never really know how the drive will go. You might have a plan in your head when you embark on the journey, but when you get out of the car, you think, Well, that didn’t turn out the way I thought it would.

Take, for example, a drive we went on earlier this week. Unlike my older two children, this child is very anxious to be behind the wheel, and if we are going somewhere, he always asks if he can drive. So this week, we had to travel to the next town (a small city), and we had to get on the highway to get there. It was just past rush hour, and I knew a route that would skirt the main part of town and bring us to our destination without the worry of traffic, turns, and too many stoplights.

Well in advance of the exit ramp, I let the young driver know that the ramp was a sharp curve, and he would want to slow down. Way down. But the exit comes up quickly and there is traffic coming onto the highway that needs to be negotiated. As we careened around the turn, my son said, “Wow, that is a sharp curve!” But he was able to maintain control as he finally slowed to a better pace.

I took a couple deep breaths to calm my heart rate as he merged with the cars on the new road, and I said, “You’re going to want to get into the left lane.” I pointed ahead. “See that light? You’ll be turning left there.”

“Right there?” he asked, gesturing with a tilt of his head, as his hands were on the steering wheel.

“Yes,” I responded as we moved closer to the intersection that I was looking at. We remained two lanes away from the left-est lane. In my head, I knew we could go straight and still get to our destination, and I only briefly considered mentioning that by left lane, I meant all the way to the left. But I decided to let it slide.

We went straight through the light, and he asked where he was supposed to turn. “Back there,” I replied. “But you’re fine. We can get there this way.” In the end, we arrived at our destination safely and in plenty of time, and we got some unexpected experience navigating the city streets.

And I learned a valuable lesson, because learning is not exclusive to one person in any given teaching experience. I need to remember that even though—in my head, and with my years of experience—this driving thing is very straightforward, for a rookie navigator, the road system is a maze of unchartered territory. It’s always best to keep directions simple. Maybe we go a bit out of our way, but in doing so, we avoid the panic of directions given too swiftly and followed recklessly. It’s a process, this business of driving a car, and well… practice.

The point of driving hours is to practice rather than to reach a destination. Destination will be the next step. In the meantime, keep your hands on the wheel. Keep your seatbelt on. And (as Dad always said) watch out for the other guy.

Lockdown

It was one of those crazy conversations that starts at the dinner table. The cat was outside, sitting at the end of the walkway waiting to come in, as he so often does. W got up from the table and let him in. When he closed the door, he said, “There. Now we are in lockdown for the night. No one goes out. No one comes in.” He sat back down at the table to finish his dinner.

“If that’s the case, you’d better lock the door,” I told him. Rather than get up, he leaned back in his chair, attempting to reach the door. He couldn’t quite reach, and the chair nearly toppled.

“You’d better get up to do that,” his sister advised. “Or you’re going to be the one going out. To the hospital.” W heeded her advice and stood to lock the door. “Or maybe,” she continued. “We’ll have to explain to the ambulance drivers why they can’t come in. GO AWAY! We’re on lockdown!” she demonstrated.

“But then they’d just kick in the door,” W said. “Lockdown or no, they don’t care.”

“True,” I said through my laughter.

By the time I got up from the table, I had completely forgotten about the “lockdown.” The cat was once again meowing at the door, and I let him out, clearly not thinking.

A few minutes later, J spotted the cat out the window. “I thought you let the cat in,” she said to W. “What happened to the lockdown?”

W looked out the window. “Wait… how did he get out? I let him in!”

I turned from the sink to see two kids looking at me. I shrugged sheepishly. “I forgot about the lockdown.” But then we noticed the cat going after something outside. He had clearly spotted something of interest, and he was hurrying toward it. I had been baking for an event at work, and I was sweating, so I took the opportunity to go see what he was after.

“Mom, you can’t go out. The lockdown!” the kids reminded me.

“I’ll just be a minute,” I told them. “I want to see what he is after. DON’T lock me out. There is no lockdown.” And of course, in my mind, my word was the word in this house since I pay the bills.

Nevertheless, I returned to a locked door and a sticky note. “Sorry. We are in lockdown. Come back tomorrow at 6:00 am.” Are you kidding? That’s a long time to be outside without a jacket.

I knocked on the door. “Let me in!” I laughed. “There is no lockdown!”

Yeah, they let me in. If they hadn’t, I would’ve gone to the neighbor’s house. I keep a key there just in case my kids do something crazy—like declare a lockdown and refuse to let me in!