Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Please, I Beg You To Do This One Thing

Not too long ago I received a text while working on some time-sensitive material.

"Hey, want to grab a quick glass of wine?"

Well, dang, yeah! You have to understand that I don't get many texts like this. It seems like my friends are always too busy to take the time to grab a cup of coffee or a drink these days. I know we all can be consumed with the responsibilities of parenthood, work, and other obligations, often putting our friendships on the back burner until we have time. It's easy to think of friends as a luxury, something that is allowed only after everything else is taken care of. But I think of friends as a necessity.

I have been exceedingly jealous of those who have unbending friendships. Those friends who survive the test of time and distance, who have and will continue to show up at your doorstep with a bottle of wine after a bad day, who plan girls (or guys) trips, take your kids when you need a break or call just to check in and show you how much they value your friendship. Those same friends don't fuss to clean their homes before you arrive or bother with their appearance or slave over the stove to impress you with their culinary skills. These friends have seen you at your worst and still love you. But they will also be the first to tell you the truth, even if it's not what you want to hear. If you have a friend or multiple friends like the one I have described, you are incredibly lucky.

There are both emotional and physical benefits to having good friends. Just knowing you have the support of others, especially when times are tough, can make what would be mountains seem more like hills or even small bumps in the road. Even if you have a supportive family, there's something special about a friend who wasn't forced to be connected to you and, chances are, your friend is at the same stage of life as you and can more closely relate to what's going on in your life.

Lately, as I have attempted to forge new friendships, I have found that pure, uncensored honesty is one of the most respected and desired elements of a relationship. When I chat with people, I hone in on what's going on in their lives, hoping to gauge what they need from me. Do they need a pat on the back? A stroke to their ego? Or do they want to feel like they are not the only one who's treading water while sharks are nibbling at their feet? Usually, it's the latter, especially for women. Women are masters at covering up their struggles with a smile and a sweet Facebook post, but few live a charmed life void of conflict, anxiety or self-doubt. We are emotional creatures, always negotiating between what the heart wants and what the brain tells us, which rarely seem to agree with each other. So when I am talking with a friend, it's not usually the logical validation I am searching for (because I can get that from my husband), but rather the emotional validation that I crave. When someone can understand my heart, no matter how skewed it may be, and shows me through their own emotional struggles, I can connect and so can they. When I know a friend is treading in deep water, I find it's important to let them know that they are not alone by sharing similar struggles. For example, your friend might be flashing a faltering smile, and you say,

"What a craptastic week. I think I need a drink, how about you?"

Your friend's heavy smile falls, and her shoulders relax knowing she no longer needs to pretend that she's holding it all together. "Oh, yes, I could use a couple drinks, and a valium couldn't hurt," she says.

You both sit down with your drinks and after a toast to some needed time together, you blurt out, "My son just flunked out of college. Now he's home, and I think I may lose my shit."

And that's what starts an open, honest and supportive conversation that can last well into the night.

I do have friends who want to know all about my problems but never share their own. At first, I didn't think anything of it. I just thought they were amazing listeners. But as time passed, I realized I didn't know who they really were. I began to get frustrated that I had made myself vulnerable and it wasn't reciprocated. I thought because I had bared my soul, they should have done the same, like they owed me the same openness I gave to them. But, thanks to listening to Dr. Laura on the radio (I love her frankness and logic), I was set straight. They don't owe me anything. My idea of "I share, you share," is not and should never be a requirement of friendship. However, I do believe that those who do share, who dare to trust, allow a deeper friendship to grow.

What's my point exactly? Friendships are important, no matter what your age or what is going on in your life. Whether you're a ten-year-old or pushing 100, everyone needs someone outside of the family, to share things with. Women need other women just as men need other men. To push off those friendships because you're too busy or because you're struggling with something and are afraid to let others know, not only punishes yourself, it also punishes your friends and denies them needed time with a trusted friend.

So think about your friends who you have set to the side and ask yourself why. Is it because you don't enjoy their company? Or is it because you didn't prioritize them as being as important as everything else, or because you're embarrassed about some aspect of your life; the troubled child, the struggling marriage, the increased circumference of your waist? Would your friends judge you for those things or would they be the first to commiserate with you? Now that you have your answer, call them or text them and see if they have time for a coffee or a drink, sooner than later. Because your friend is waiting for you and I bet they need you just as much or maybe even more than you need them. Please, I beg you, to call that friend, make those connections and let them know they are worth your time.

My friend's text, the one that came when I was in the middle of something, meant more to me than she knew. It was the floatation device I needed after treading water for so long.

Monday, January 9, 2017

When My Son with Autism asked, "Mom, Do I Have a Disability?"

I knew the question would come, in one form or another. I thought I was prepared. I'd read countless articles, met with therapists, had late night discussions with my husband. My search history is filled with variations of the question "How do I tell my child he has autism?" This type of preparation is not unique to special needs parents, although the topics may be. Eventually, as a responsible parent, you know you will have to have uncomfortable conversations with your kids. Unfortunately, mumbling awkwardly doesn't satisfy when your child asks you an important, deep philosophical question in the drive through line or as you're drifting off to sleep. You don't know exactly when the moment will come but you know it's inevitable, so you prepare.

My moment came on a family vacation just over a year after my oldest son's autism spectrum diagnosis. I had prepared for it. But I wasn't prepared for it.

When I became a parent I knew I would face  the big questions. Yet it's not the sex talk that's been on my mind (although that will come). For my husband and I, since D-day the questions hasn't been if we tell our son he's autistic, but when and how. These questions are individualized and unique to the family situation; I don't intend for this post to be a piece of advice. I'm no expert; I'm just a mom navigating without a road map.

I remember my husband and I watching the show Parenthood when out oldest was a baby. One of the characters, a young boy named Max, is diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome. Max's well-meaning parents do not tell him about his diagnosis, although they do seek the help of a behavior aide. Eventually, Max overhears a heated conversation between his dad and uncle during which his diagnosis is revealed. Max is angry, confused, and devastated while his parents run major damage control. My husband and I rather sanctimoniously agreed that we "would never" keep something like that from our child. Turns out revealing this information isn't so straight forward.

Our son also has high functioning autism. When he was diagnosed, we felt that it was important not to hide the diagnosis from him as we didn't ever want to make it feel like it was some kind of shameful secret. Again, our personal situation. The other edge of the sword? Our son also lives with anxiety disorder NOS. He is very sensitive and he cares what people think. He is naturally self conscious. He perseverates. How would we tell him about his autism without him over-identifying with it? How would we keep him from feeling like something was "wrong" with him while at the same time circumventing the trap of minimizing the very real difficulties he faces as a result of his autism?

The consensus of my research indicated that when a child begins asking questions or making observations about a topic, you know they are ready for an explanation. Obviously, the depth of the explanation will be adjusted based on the child's age and developmental level, The rational is that once a child is observant enough to begin asking questions giving them an explanation is far better than leaving them to ruminate (and believe me, our child ruminates!) and come up with their own version of reality.

I first discovered this information when my research history contained variations of the question: "How to talk to kids about a parent's depression?" Interestingly, when this question came up, ("Mommy why do you take that medicine every day? Why do you have to go to the doctor so often? Are you sick?") I was surprised how readily my son accepted my explanation. While I thought was being discreet, he noticed the pill bottles on the counter and the frequent doctor appointments and worried I was sick. While it was not a conversation I ever wanted to have, I explained to him that yes, I am sick, but my sickness is in my brain so you can't see it. But, it's okay because my medicine helps me and I go to the doctor so often because he helps make sure my medicine is making me better, I think he said something like, "Oh, okay. Can I go play Minecraft now?"

So, when the day came, I figured I'd be prepared. It turns out some things you just can't prepare for. Life is not an exam to be studied for. If only.

We were perusing the science museum in San Diego. My husband was with our youngest playing Legos while I trailed A and my niece through the genetics display. I was thinking about something important like where we were going to go for dinner, when I noticed my son staring intently at a chart about genetic disorders. He was uncharacteristically quiet and then he turned to me and said, "Mom, do I have a disability?"

I deflected. I asked him what he thought and why he asked that. That night during tuck in  when most of our heart to heart discussions occur, I readdressed his question. I asked him what he'd meant earlier when he asked if he had a disability. He replied, "Well, I was just wondering, because you know how I'm different and stuff?"

Ah, yes. Different. He knows he's different. He struggles with things other kids don't. He notices things other kids don't. Subtle social norms are often lost on him. And he knows it.

As badly as I wanted to appease him with some "different is not less" "be who you are" "we are all unique" platitudes, I knew his question was deeper than that. He's deeper that that. The time had come. Except all preparation went out the window. There's no script for this type of thing; there just isn't. I took a deep breath and told him he had something called autism spectrum disorder. I asked if he knew what that was and he shook his head. Now, the hard part. A label is one thing, but autism (like any condition) is more than a collection of bullet point symptoms. I told him it meant in some ways his brain works differently than a lot of other people. It means he has very special gifts like being able to remember things and being able to learn so many facts of things he is interested in. I told him that it also means certain things are harder for him, like doing something new, loud, noisy areas, or coping with surprises/changes in plans.

He nodded. I told him we would do everything we could to help him with the things that are more difficult and continue to encourage him in the things that are strengths.I told him that the world needs people with all types of brains and that we were proud of him and loved him just the way he was. He asked me if other people have autism or is it just him? I said that many people have autism, in fact a few people he knows! We talked about other "disabilities." I prefer special needs to the term "disability". I know it's just semantics, but it's the term I'm most comfortable using. He asked me if everyone has a disability. I said no, but everyone does have things that they deal with that are hard for them, and often you can;t see it, that;s why it's always important to be kind.

He yawned and rolled over, which is usually the signal that his mind is finally slowing down for sleep. I asked a question of my own. "How do you feel about learning you have autism?"

With his back still to me, he shrugged one shoulder in that eerie teeager-ish way of his. "I don't really care. I mean, I don't think it really matters."

Out of the mouth of a seven year old. I couldn't have said it better myself. In moments he was asleep and "the talk" was over. But I'm sure it's not over. These talks evolve but don't really end. At least I have a few years before the big sex talk, right. RIGHT?

Monday, November 14, 2016

In the Aftermath of the Election

Unless you live under a rock you know what happened Tuesday. Yes, I know; if you read one more Facebook rant, meme, or blog post about politics your head is going to explode. Here me out. If you are living under a rock do you have a vacancy? I'm moving in, because I for one would like to move on.

I am not here to tell you who you should have voted for, who I voted for, or where president elect Donald Trump falls on the spectrum between anti-christ and savior. Here's the thing, the election is OVER. The results are in. We have the right to vote in this country and even if the choice is between an egotistical, obnoxious reality TV star and a lying criminal (as some may believe) we still had the chance to cast our votes. Do you know why we vote in this country? I mean other than the fact that people have fought for our liberty to do so. We vote because we don't all agree. Someone has to decide and in a democracy that someone has to be the majority. It's the only "fair" way.

The electoral college makes little sense to me and I am not a fan of the two party system, but here we are. The votes have been cast. After any election some disappointment is expected. To say this election has been particularly polarizing is the understatement of the decade. Feeling are hurt, tempers are flaring, and people are lashing out blindly.

Here's what I tell my kids. Feelings are neither right nor wrong. You can't always decide how you feel but you can always decide what you say and do. It's okay to be disappointed, angry, enraged, even. It's NOT okay to hurt people to diffuse your anger. It's not okay to hit your brother because he's annoying you. It's also not okay to burn the American flag, break car windows, destroy property, put people in danger, or assault anyone either with words or actions. It is okay to dislike the president. It is even okay to hate the president. It is absolutely not okay to threaten to assassinate the president (or anyone, for that matter).

The riots have been heart breaking to me. I told you I wasn't going to mention who I voted for, but in the interest of full disclosure, I will. I didn't vote for Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton. I voted for the third party candidate Gary Johnson. I couldn't get behind either Trump or Clinton from a personal or moral stand point. I am only adding this fact because while I may not have the same visceral reaction as a Clinton supporter, I also can't share the relief of Trump supporters. Regardless, Trump is our next president and violent protests change nothing. Yes, damaging property and hurling threats is violence. The behavior I've been seeing is absolutely disgusting, and it began before the rioting.

When I opened my Facebook feed the morning after the election I quickly wished I hadn't. Did I expect everyone to be linking arms and singing Give Peace a Chance? of course not. I'm not naive. I expected opinions and feelings and memes. What I saw was a train wreck and as much as I wanted to, I couldn't look away.

Over night my Facebook feed had turned into a seventh grade classroom during recess when the lunch mom is stuck in the bathroom with the runs. People against Trump have expressed concerns about his ugly speech, his insults, and his prejudice. I understand these concerns. What I don't understand is how many of these concerned citizens can turn around and do exactly what they criticized Trump for doing. Name calling. That's not democracy, it's hypocrisy. Remember that book, Everything I Needed To Know I learned In Kindergarten? If you don't have something nice to say don't say anything at all.

I saw posts saying that the election results "prove the uneducated win out over the educated". I saw friends who voted for Trump called racist, homophobic, stupid, and small minded. I saw people accusing each other of not caring about human rights, and of being privileged and naive. Jan was the recipient of some of this mud slinging. I am sharing her experience with her permission. Her post expressed disappointment over the name calling and juvenile behavior. She asked that we all please be kind with our words and respect each others' opinion. I'm paraphrasing here. She stated it much more eloquently that that The point is, while she did receive some agreement, some so called friends downright attacked her. One even unfriended her. This is the behavior of adults. This is the example we are setting for our children. If someone has a different opinion than you, call them names, beat them down, dismiss THEIR concerns. Don't respect their view or agree to disagree; accuse them of  hating entire groups of people.

Don't get me wrong, I think that Trump making fun of people with disabilities, using fear as a tool, and making derogatory comments about ANYONE is abhorrent and also sets a terrible example. I have talked to my children about this. My three year old doesn't care as long as no one touches his hot wheels cars, Oh, to be three again. My seven year old has been affected. A kid who is "different", he has in his short life been on the receiving end of hurtful words. He worried that Trump was a bully and Clinton was "going to be thrown in prison". We had the election coverage on a lot in our house, but even if we didn't it would be impossible to shelter him from it. Instead, we used it as a learning opportunity. In general, it was a great time to teach him about the branches of government, American history, the power of the president and the checks and balances in congress, and the difference between a democracy and  a dictatorship. It also opened up dialogue that people don't always use their power for good as God wants us to do, and sometimes the very people who should act as role models and protectors stoop to name calling, fear mongering, and lying to get ahead. These are issues he will face both in his personal life and on a broader scale. We all do. When I was bullied in school my mom used to tell me that we can't control what other people say and do, we can only control what we say and do in response. These are wise words.

Obviously my son is not on social media yet, but I did talk to him about how people had strong feelings about the election results, and some of these people were taking their anger out on others in the form of insults. Yes, even adults behave badly. Calling someone a racist or a bigot is a serious accusation. Please don't assume someone's reasons for voting. Chance are no one agrees one hundred percent with a candidate. Some Trump voters probably are racist or homophobic, but saying they all are is not better or worse than marginalizing any group of people. Some voted pro life. Many on both sides were concerned with the safety and security of our country. Now we have to worry as much about tearing our own country apart as we do about terrorism. I'm not be dramatic. This is a very real concern. It's time to move on and come together. This doesn't mean we all have to agree. It doesn't even mean we all have to be friends and get along. It comes down to respect and tolerance. Let's set that example for our children, for our leaders, for the future of this one nation under God.

We can't change the results of the election. We can't change what has been said and done. We can be mindful of our own words and actions. I saw one response to the election claiming, "Last night, hate won." I say hate only wins when we let it.  I will end with a notorious quote from Mahatma Ghandi: "You must be the change you want to see in the world.

Proverbs 15:1
A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.
The lips of the righteous feed many, But fools die for lack of understanding.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Life and Death

A few weeks ago I read a difficult Facebook post. Okay, it wasn't just difficult, it was probably the hardest post I have ever read. It wasn't a political bash, a gut-wrenching story on Godvine or even a friend posting a loss of someone near and dear to them. It was actually much worse than any of those because this post was a good-bye.

This good-bye came from someone I met years ago when our children were nearly babies. We both participated in similar activities with our kids and only lived a block away from each other. Our paths crossed quite often but as the kids grew we moved in separate directions. Thanks to Facebook, we reconnected, but like many friendships on Facebook, it was the only way we kept up with each other. When I reconnected with her, I had learned she was battling cancer. There were the usual ups and downs with treatments and miraculous recoveries, but in recent months, her health seemed to take a bad turn. Less than a month ago, she was admitted to the hospital. She kept us informed on her situation, posting pictures along with her optimism. I suppose I figured this was just another little bump in the road but instead, it was the end of her road and of her journey.

After a few days in the hospital, she posted on FB that she had said good-bye to her doctor and Hospice would be coming to her home that weekend. She continued to write her goodbyes that day, knowing her time was borrowed. Her words and what they represented nearly paralyzed me with deep, unrelenting sadness. My thoughts and fears surrounded me at the very idea of having to say good-bye. How does one say good-bye? I couldn't even begin to wrap my brain around the idea.

I am a faithful person. I believe in God, in Heaven, in forgiveness and in life after death. I believe we are reunited with our loved ones when we are done here on Earth. These beliefs have always brought me comfort when someone close to me has died. I can't imagine life without this faith. Yet, even with my faith, the thought of preparing for the journey when you know the end is near, is unfathomable. I'm sure our bodies, in their sick state, prepare the brain in some way and help us to eventually let go, but the idea of saying those last words to the people who have meant so much to you has to be the most difficult task to complete. It is an acknowledgment of the end of a future on Earth and an understanding that the memories you have made with others will be the only part of you that will remain. One can only hope that those memories are of a life well lived in spite of its length.

Every time I open Facebook, I look for the announcement and am flooded with relief when it's not there. There will soon come a day when she will no longer be here and the grief of loss will wash over me like large, crashing wave. But after the wave breaks, I will be looking for the calm and hopefully be comforted by the fact that the most difficult part of her journey is now over. There are no guarantees in life, but the fact that we are alive is a blessing. It's true what is said, we should live every day like it's our last, not in reckless abandonment, but in pure awe of the gift given to us. And further, we should allow each day to remind us that the small bumps in our road are meant to show us that we still have a road to travel, a journey to continue. Not always an easy motto to live by, but certainly one to consider when we are shown how precious and short life truly is.

Godspeed, my friend.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

History Lessons of the Priceless Kind

When I was young, history bored the life out of me. Sitting through a history class or reading a dry, fact-pact account of some event that happened way before my time on this planet was, for me, worse than getting my teeth pulled without Novocaine. Why did we need to dwell on the past? Shouldn't we be focused on the present and future instead? What value is this information going to add to my life? Yes, I was like most youngsters, naive. But, I never had a teacher who taught it from the correct perspective, who bridged the gap from the event to present day and beyond. I never had a history teacher who knew how to make it relevant to me, to our community or to our future.

Now, in my forties, I am enthralled by history. But my interest in history was inspired by more tangible experiences, not from some thick, overly complicated book. I was inspired by the places I have traveled to and the incredible people I have met in my life. I have been extremely fortunate to have traveled the globe. Even more fortunate, my children have shared these journeys with me. We have walked the ruins in Rome, placing our feet on the same stones as Ceasar. We have climbed up and down the stunning and sometimes treacherous Great Wall in China, climbed through the Cu Chi tunnels in Vietnam and explored ancient temples in Cambodia. To touch history is more powerful than any book ever written. Just the feel of stepping back in time inspires us to learn more and to better understand its impact on our lives today.

But, you don't need to travel across the world to be one with history. You may have a history lesson living just down the street from you; a real, living, breathing piece of history to draw inspiration from. Your community is full of resources and stories that I encourage you to seek before it's too late.

Yesterday, I delivered meals to the seniors in my community with two of my children. One senior, in particular, who I had delivered meals to on a few other occasions, had a small piece of cloth with a swastika on it, prominently displayed on his wall. It was the first thing you saw when you entered his home. I couldn't understand the display, considering he was a black man, other than being a reminder of a past we wish we could forget. But yesterday, he wanted to talk and I wanted to know what the significance of the swastika was. His history lesson was one I will never forget.

He was a soldier in WWII and ran the communication lines in the trenches. The swastika on his wall came off of a dead nazi soldier whose body lain next to him while he sat and ate his dinner. He reached over and cut the fabric off the soldier's coat and stuffed it into his pocket. He didn't know why he took the piece of fabric, but he reasoned that the soldier didn't need it since he was dead. He went on to express the difficulty he experienced being a black soldier in a discriminatory world. Even though black and white soldiers fought in the same trenches, they could not eat together. And when they came home after the war, they were not given the heroes welcome that was poured on the white soldiers. He spoke of the black soldiers being referred to as the "monkeys in the trees," almost indicating they weren't humans, but rather, animals. The hurt in his voice made my heart ache. In 2015, seventy years after his return from Germany, he was invited to Washington D.C. to finally get recognized for his service. At the age of 96, he took the trip to find some closure from the past. But as he sat at lunch, with both whites and blacks at his table, he found it to be bittersweet. "It should have happened much earlier. It came too late," he said shaking his head.

He gave my daughter a hug and told her: "Always work hard and never give up." His story will probably never be found in a history book and yet his story, along with so many others, are what brings the past to life and allows those who didn't live it, to connect with it emotionally. Feeling the emotion pulls us in and allows us to view history more intimately. He's not the only senior I have met with an incredible war story. Red, whom I met a couple of years ago, told me of being on a ship in the South Pacific, taking in Japanese prisoners and surviving harrowing gun battles at sea. He has since passed at the age of 94, and sadly, his stories will soon be forgotten. Yet, these stories are an invaluable tool in inspiring the uninspired to care about the past and learn to not repeat the same mistakes in the future.

I hope this inspires you to seek out such stories in your own communities. If you can't travel across the globe, you can at least travel down the street and find living history lessons that far exceed anything pulled from a book. That being said, if you love to read about history or even if you don't, pick up the book UNBROKEN by Laura Hillenbrand. It's a true story that reads like a suspense novel with a protagonist who is thrown into a journey of insurmountable odds. You will be shaking your head and be wondering how any one person could endure so much.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Hello, My Name Is: Mean Mom

My now three year old went through a lovely (fortunately passing) phase of telling me, "You're mean" every five minutes or so. I would tell him that hurt my feelings because I didn't want him going around calling people mean (although it seemed reserved for his parents and brother). Really, it didn't hurt my feelings at all. Nope, not in the least

Every time my child said, "Your mean" with his mouth turned down in a disapproving frown and his little index finger pointed in accusation, sure I corrected him. I also thought,

"You're damn right, kid."

My transgressions were predictable; my meanness ordinary. I made him turn off the TV. I brushed his teeth. I didn't let him run out of the house in only a t-shirt. (Well, okay, not intentionally.) I told him to clean up his toys, I asked him to please not poop in his pants, I put him in the bathtub, I took him out of the bath tube. You get the idea.

I'm not offended because in this world of permissive fragile snowflake parenting, I am mean. I'm downright MommyfuckingDearest. When my kids tell me I'm being mean that tells me I'm doing it right. Now that my oldest is seven, my meanness needs to be a little more creative, and also more public. Often random children witness my meanness and don't hesitate to inform me that their mom is way nicer but doesn't have as good of snacks and by the way they're hungry. What world do we live in where a kid has the balls to question someone else's parenting? Don't get me wrong my kid has done it too. Maybe a good chunk of the current problems with violence have to do with a loss of respect for authority, but I was taught by nuns so I may be biased.

So what is a mean mom to do? I'll tell you. I wear my mean mom badge with pride. In fact it has become a self fulfilling prophecy of sorts; the ultimate argument ender. My seven year old argues so much I think he may have a future as a lawyer. I remember trying to argue with my dad. It went like this:

"Dad, can I do X?"


"Why not?"

"Because I said so."

"But Sally's parents said yes."

"Well, I'm not Sally's parents. If Sally jumped off a bridge would you jump, too?"

"Da-ad! That's not fair!"

"Well, life's not fair, peanut."

I mean, how do you argue with that? As you can tell, I learned from the best, but these days kids want a damn explanation for everything. Nevermind all of the parenting propaganda. Don't yell, it will cause self esteem issues! Don't put your kid in the corner, it will cause abandonment issues! Don't spank unless you want to go to jail. Don't say, "Because I said so." This threatens kids' autonomy. Take the time to explain to Sammy why you don't feel it is a good idea for him to pour water on the carpet. Don't get me wrong, why can be a valid question and I have no proble giving my kids reasons behind my rules. But it is not a negotiation. Whether or not they agree with my reasons or think they are dumbstupid is completely irrelevant to me. Do I care about my kids' feelings? Yes, yes I do. Do I care about their feeling toward my rules? Nope. Sometimes a well placed "Because I said so" or "Because I'm the parent" is a valid answer. My house is not a democracy. I have had some recent conversations with my seven year old about the fairness (or lack or fairness) of rules. I think my dad would be proud.

Me: "A, time to come inside now, it's getting dark."

A: "What?! That is so unfair Mom! All of the other kids in the neighborhood are still out riding their bikes."

Me: "Well, their moms are nicer than me."


A: "Mom, can I get an iPhone?"

Me: "No."

A: "Why not?"

Me: "Because you're seven and you have no way to pay for it."

A: "But Sammy is nine and he has one."

Me: "Well, I was eighteen when I got my first phone."

A: "You're parents were mean."

Me: "Yes, yes they were."

I'll be honest, it takes confidence to parent this way and confidence doesn't always come naturally to me. Truth be told, becoming a parent challenged me and continues to challenge me to be confident in my parenting decisions. When I'm not, I sure as hell better look like I am. My parents were, or at least seemed to be. They didn't give wto shits about what the Jones were doing. My parents were MEAN. They were much meaner than my friend with the cool parents. They didn't let us smoke cigarettes on the back porch, they didn't sneak us bottles of Smirnoff Ice, and they didn't even let us go to "that one guy's" house. We wanted to go to that one guy's house because his parents were nice and left him the hell alone. Last I heard he was in jail. So, yes my parents were mean. Thank God.

Next time your child asks "Why" or "Why not" have the confidence to play the mean card.

Friend: "How come your Mom won't let you ride your bike without a helmet, play with me in your room with the door closed, or post YouTube videos?

A: "Humph, I don't know."

Me: "Oh I couldn't help over hearing your question and I am all for answering why. I wouldn't want to make you feel like your questions aren't valid. It's because I'm mean.

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Bittersweet Sound Of Silence: Sleep-away Camp

Ahhh, the kids are at camp, for two whole, glorious weeks! There is no morning breakfast mess lingering in the kitchen, no shoes to trip over on the tile floor, no television blaring or the onslaught of, "Can we go to the beach? Can my friend come over to play all day and then sleep over? Can you take me to Starbucks?" or, "What's for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?" Instead, I hear the occasional sigh from my dog, the chime of my phone or the clunk of the house as it expands during the heat of the day. But mostly, it's silence.

It's most parent's dream--to have a summer sabbatical from their job. Especially if that job entails the full-time daily rearing of their children. Even planning a family summer vacation can have you questioning if the money spent is worth it considering stay-at-home parents take their work with them.We love them, we really do. But if you spend the majority of your time with your children, they can become like a grater on your nerves; the constant back and forth motion peels away your tough skin and leaves you a little raw, a little less tolerant and a little less of the mother (or father) you want to be.

It's hard to send your kids away. Some parents struggle more than others and for many different reasons. I, on the other hand, don't struggle at all. Am I heartless? Do I not love my kids as much as other parents? Am I selfish? No, of course not! I think I'm the opposite and here's why:

1. You may not think so, but kids need time apart from their parents. Yep, they really do! And the more positive the experience they have while apart from their parents, the more likely they are to become successful, independent adults. Kicking a child out of the nest and forcing them to expand their wings will only allow them to fly more confidently when they need to leave.

Too often, I have seen children coddled to the point where the child never learns to do things on their own. Kids go off to college only to come home after the first semester because they don't know how to live on their own. They have never been taught how to forge their own friendships, sleep in new places (without anyone to tuck them in), make their own food choices, or explore who they are as their own, individual person. One can't expect their child to be socially successful away from home if they were never given the tools and opportunities before they start their new journey. Think about it: you wouldn't go on a long, grueling hike without a backpack of supplies. Not only would you bring a backpack of supplies, but you would also make sure you knew how to use the supplies within it. What use are they to you if you don't know how they work? Dying of thirst but don't know how to use the water filter? Hungry, but don't know how to light the stove? Survival is not just about food and water. Survival is about being resourceful, building on past experiences, pushing through the tough stuff, embracing the victories, and knowing you can do it all on your own.

Away camp does this for my kids, as it does for many others. They learn invaluable life skills while they are away from the comforts of home. I am not breathing down their necks, telling them what their next move should be--they are doing it on their own and learning that they are capable of more than they imagined.

2. I love my kids. I have dedicated the last 19 years of my life to them and am proud of who they are becoming. But I don't want to be the only reason they are who they are. In addition to their awesome dad, we have given them unique opportunities to allow them to grow on their own. They were expat children for four years and lived in Seoul, South Korea and Beijing, China. They have learned tough lessons in friendship, what it's like to be a minority, how to communicate when you don't know the language, how to say goodbye, and how to embrace change. In addition, they were given opportunities through their schools to travel without Mom and Dad. They camped by the Great Wall, walked the 6660 steps of Tai'an and watched the sunrise, flew to Shanghai for a sports competition, and flew to Hong Kong to play in the school band at Disneyland. All of these were done without their parents and each time they came home, they beamed with delight as they told us about their adventures. Simply put, I love my kids so much that I want them to learn to be explorers without me holding their hands. I want them to want to leave home--not because they can't stand being with us, but because they are not afraid to take the next step because they already have the tools to go out into the world without crippling fear or a lack of confidence.

3. I'm not selfish, I'm realistic. Every now and then, I need to recharge and spend a little time focusing on myself and those things I neglect while I'm busy with the kids. Writing, reading, sleeping and spending uninterrupted time with my husband and friends often gets put on the back burner more often than it should. It's hard to balance it all, so time apart from the kids gives me the opportunity to just be ME. It also gives me time to miss my kids so when they come home, I can give them more of me for the little time I have left until they leave the nest for good.

There are so many away camps out there today that it would be surprising if you didn't find one to fit your child's interests. The camp my children go to offers dance, watersports, culinary, music, fashion, stunts, acting and more. There are camps specifically designed for kids with disabilities, kids with cancer or kids who have suffered a tragedy such as a death of a parent. There is something for everyone. The earlier you send your kids, the easier separation will be as they get older.

If you're not ready to send your child off to camp, but you want to start nudging them off the ledge, start with sleepovers with friends (make sure you know the parents well to lessen your anxiety as well as your child's) or go away for a weekend and have a grandparent or friend watch them. Separation, no matter how small, will foster your child's independence.

Yes, it's bittersweet with my kids gone because I love them and miss them, but I am also enjoying the silence. Not only can I hear the sigh of the dog or the shift of the house, I can also hear the beating of my heart that beats for my children--to want only the best for them.