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.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Psychology Behind the Blame Game

If you're a parent or simply someone old enough to be inundated with news, you know the details of the recent tragedies. With the TV, Internet, updates on our phones, social media, etc.twelve year old, it's impossible not to know. Ignorance is not an option. It's not as simple as not picking up a newspaper. You remember those thick bundles of black and white paper wrapped in cellophane and thrown on your twelve-year-old boy? Yeah, those things. If you didn't want to read it you could simply toss it, unopened into the recycling bin and move on with your life because let's face it, no news is good news.

Now I'm not saying we should be ignorant or uninformed. But we can't escape the news. It becomes interwoven in our conversations. Certain tragedies are so far beyond our comprehension, we become almost obsessed with them. The underlying current is consistent. "Can you imagine?" and of course as parents the one thought we can not think when we hear about a tragedy involving a child: "What if that had been my child?"

If we can't escape the news reports, we also can't escape the opinions. Fingers start pointing in all directions. We want justice! We want a scapegoat! We want a reason! What if there is no reason? What if it's no one's fault?

Now obviously in the mass shootings, someone pulled the trigger. It was someone's fault. Of course, that doesn't stop the political posturing. Gun control, government, and human rights come into play. This is as it should be, to some extent. If questions are not asked, issues not debated, we can't learn from tragedy and nothing changes. But that's another blog post for another day. I have neither the time nor the energy to get political. Psychology, though, that I can do.

Let's focus for a moment on the horrific tragedy of two-year-old Lane Graves, who was snatched by an alligator and drowned while splashing in a foot of water on the beach of Disney's Grand Floridian Resort. I won't rehash the details because I'm sure you know them. However, in the aftermath of this story on the heels of that of the little boy falling into a gorilla pit, the judgement has been flying. I have seen many articles, message boards, and blog posts asking, "But why the judgement? Why the pitchforks? Why blame instead of compassion?" Is is because we are at our core an evil, judgmental society? Do we truly live in a world of parent against parent? Let's face it, if we can't escape the news, we also can't escape the "mom wars". If parents can condemn each other for breastfeeding/not breastfeeding, public/private/home school, cloth or disposable, is the backlash so surprising when a child is injured or killed in a tragic accident?

I don't think it's surprising, but I also don't think the blame game is evil. It's salt in an open wound for sure, but it's human, and every one of us is guilty of playing it at one point or another. Why are people so quick to blame each other, and more specifically, why are parents so quick to condemn each other? I think I have an idea.

Let's go back to the terrifying question that bolts through the mind of a parent when the unthinkable happens: the loss of a child through a freak accident. "What if that had been my child?" Do me a favor; read that sentence again for me while thinking about the alligator dragging away a two-year-old boy.

"What if that had been my child?"

How did you feel? Pretty uncomfortable, right? Perhaps even terrified. This thought fills a parent with the worst kind of dread, because what is every parent's worst fear? We are human. We shy away from uncomfortable thoughts. On the heels of this thought, it is comforting to shake our heads and think, "No. No way. It couldn't have been my child. I would never let that happen to my child." Is this a selfish thought? A little narcissistic? Maybe. I would argue that it's also incredibly human.

Let's deconstruct this sentence. "It couldn't have been my child." This won't happen to me. I am safe. I would never survive what those parents are going through. Don't worry, it couldn't happen to me, to my child. "I would never let that happen to my child." I have control over my children's safety. If those parents could have prevented their child from dying in a freak accident, then I could prevent it too. I can prevent it. As long as I am a vigilant parent, no freak accident will take my child at a moment's notice while I watch helplessly.

"Where were the parents?" We know in this situation, they were right there. The father was within grabbing distance. But you see, as human beings, (especially once we become responsible for and completely in love with another human life) we don't like to be reminded how little control we really have. We can't imagine the horror of losing a child in the blink of an eye, so we don't. We tell ourselves it couldn't happen, not to us. We would prevent it, stop it, save our child. We know different, and that's what keeps us up at night. We know that those parents would have saved their child if they could have. We know they took their children to the most magical place on earth, gave them a special treat of staying up late and watching a movie on the beach and let their toddler get his hot, sandy feet wet, never once thinking they'd leave the beach without him, just like any of us might have done.

My friend and her family were in Orlando at the time at a different Disney resort. Like many families, they visited the Floridian, but when they got there, the pools were closed. I asked her about the beach, and she said they had a small sign that said No Swimming. She also said that that they had a play area on the shore. She said she would have easily taken her girls on the beach and let them cool their feet in the water. She's a good mom; a responsible mom. She would have easily taken her girls to put their feet in the water. The truth is, it could have been her child.

Not to beat the dead horse of the gorilla story, but my first thought was, "Not again! Haven't we learned anything from Brookfield Zoo? I would make sure my kids weren't climbing in there." Because I have control. Two days later, my self-righteous ignorance was knocked right out of my brain when I lost my three-year-old in Party City in the 2.5 seconds it took me to turn and put green paper plates into my cart. I turned back and he wasn't standing next to the cart. He wasn't in the next aisle or the next or the next. I panicked. I called, I searched. I promised that I would never think, "not my child" again. By the grace of God, he wasn't kidnapped, and he didn't run out the door into the parking lot. He was standing in the middle of an aisle, staring up at a turnstile display of party favors, mesmerized by the twenty-five cent wind up cars.  My child.

We've been to Florida many times. My kids have collected sea shells on the beach in Estero. We've walked along the shore after a long day of traveling and a fried dinner. It could have been my child. It could have been your child.

So who can we blame? Disney for not foreseeing the event and giving more specific warnings? The alligator for mistaking the boy for prey or for now knowing that it was in a man made lagoon meant for travelers?  What if we don't blame anyone? What if it were a freak act of nature no one would have reasonably predicted? That's uncomfortable, though. When something despairing happens, we want a chain of events. We want a reason to help us make sense of it.

If I've learned one thing after pregnancy loss it's this: sometimes there is no reason. Sometimes no one did anything to cause it and no one could have reasonably done anything to prevent it (at least not without being able to see into the future). You know that phrase, "everything happens for a reason?" I call bullshit. Sometimes things just happen. Accepting that may be uncomfortable at first, but we have to give up the "it would never happen to me" mentality. Trust me on this, it is ultimately comforting to learn that we can't control everything. Sometimes things just happen. Good things. Mundane things. Terrible things.

It could have been my child.

It could have been your child.

It was someone's child. Someone not much different from you or me.

So let's swallow that and move on with our hearts a little heavier. We know the parents can't possibly recover. But maybe they can slowly accept that there's no one to blame. Maybe they can slowly learn to live through the "what ifs" and "if onlys." Let's keep all victims of tragedy in our thoughts and (if you're a person of faith) prayers. To blame is human. To accept the randomness of some events, to sit with our lack of control, well that's a journey. A journey that hopefully leads to faith, acceptance, and compassion.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

What I Learned From My Foreign Exchange Student

It was that email, the one I tried to avoid, but it came anyway. "Dear Mrs. Steele, please consider hosting another exchange student (we are desperate!!)." It was followed by an email from my daughter, "Mommy, they are getting more students, can we have one?!" Of course, my initial response was NO! We had already hosted a student in November and December (one of the busiest times of the year) and now I had a full plate of events coming up - how could I possibly have time to host another student?

I had to do some soul searching. Having an exchange student means more than just supplying a bed and meals. It means showing them the sites, paying for the majority of their experiences, cooking more than usual and not being able to be a slug and telling my kids to eat cereal for dinner because I'm tired of cooking. I mean, I wouldn't want the student to see how I actually run the household, that would be embarrassing! But, I didn't want the student to be sent to a family who wouldn't go the extra mile, who wouldn't show them our wonderful city,  and who wouldn't look at the experience as something they could learn from as well. So, I said YES.

Our exchange program is unique in the sense that there are no guidelines and no expectations. These students come from my daughter's sister school in France, and their primary goal is to be immersed in the English language. Of course, they are coming to one of the best cities to visit, San Diego. We have a multitude of things to see and experience here, and I can't imagine sending them home without experiencing a good majority of it. Before our student arrived, I was already trying to figure out how we were going to fit everything in. My youngest was in a musical with tech week and two weekends of shows, I was flying up to move my son home from college, my middle child was preparing for the ACT and focusing on the last two months of her junior year, my husband and I had weekend plans for two of those weekends she would be with us. How in the world would I make it work?

Somehow, even with our crazy schedule, we did make it work. But what was more eye-opening to me was how much I enjoyed having this student during this crazy time. I can get caught up in the whirlwind of our busy life, never coming up for air, never taking in what I am actually doing because I keep thinking that I just need to get through it and survive. But this time, our student had me seeing things through different eyes.

Our student comes from a small city three hours from Paris. They don't have Starbucks (what place doesn't have Starbucks?), malls, large grocery stores, grand sized cinemas or a never-ending supply of restaurants offering cuisine from all over the world. Just seeing our student's excitement over the smallest things was, at first, amusing and then caused me to reflect on how lucky we truly are. The first day, when I picked her up from school, I asked her how her day was and she said, with wide eyes and an animated smile, "So fun! School here is so fun!" I think you could have picked my kid's jaws up off the floor because they would never describe school as fun. Every time we took her to something we thought as standard and ordinary, she would think it was extraordinary. After a while, her excitement became infectious, and I found myself looking at all those things I took for granted as marvels, pure blessings.

It has been five years since we moved back from living in Asia. When we first moved home, I loved to visit the grocery store and enjoy the multitude of choices down each aisle. I enjoyed the ease of getting what I needed whenever I needed it, being able to order food or drinks in my native language and not worrying about the water I drank or the food I ate. I appreciated the palm trees, the roar of the waves, the painted sunsets and the clean air. But, like all things, after a while it's just expected, and we often forget how wonderful all those things truly are.

Our student has taught me to appreciate these simple pleasures again. Even in the busiest of schedules, I realized how lucky I am to have what I have. Too often I find myself saying, "I just can't wait until this is over with," instead of embracing each moment and learning something from it. Granted, there are those things that we endure and really just want to get over with like colonoscopies or mammograms, but there are also those events that seem invasive and exhausting yet hold invaluable lessons and hidden appreciation.

As we embark on summer vacation, I encourage you to take in the things you have often taken for granted and see how remarkable they truly are. Try to see things from a different perspective; put yourself in someone else's shoes and experience it. I guarantee, you will start to see the ordinary become extraordinary, and you will cherish it more. Whether it's struggling to stay sane while your children are home from school or getting yourself through another menial week of work, know that the childless and the jobless envy you. We have a lot to learn from the simplest of blessings.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

You Told My Child What?!

It's amazing how hard parents work to build self-esteem in their children. For every time they boost their child's self-esteem there is at least someone or something that pulls it down - as though they are on a see-saw, going up and down, up and down on a ride deemed as dangerous. Ever been on a see-saw when the person on the other end jumps off and causes you to plummet to the ground? My sister broke her collar bone when someone did that to her, she was lucky. On the self-esteem see-saw, the damage could be far greater; its damage permanent.

We have been dealing with a lot of crap in our household lately, mostly school related, which seems to create all kinds of emotional baggage. The cyber-bullying incident ranked up there with the amount of shit it created in its wake. But as we worked to clean up that mess, another one appeared that had me furious and frustrated.

My oldest daughter is a junior in high school and is actively researching colleges, taking ACT and SAT exams and beginning to fill out college applications. Unlike my son, who didn't bother to do any of this until the last semester of his senior year, my daughter has been very proactive in her search for the right school for her. She has already visited four universities, one of which is her top school. Unfortunately for her, her top school is what they call a "reach" school which means, it is going to be really hard to get into due to GPA/test requirements. She knows this is a reach school and because of this, she has made sure she checks out and applies to other schools that she would not have trouble being accepted to. She knows what she wants and what she doesn't want in a university and she knows she doesn't want to go to a junior college. Compared to many juniors out there, she is much further ahead in this process.

That being said, a few weeks ago, she went in to talk to a guidance counselor about college planning. I can only imagine how excited she was to have this opportunity to discuss what she has spent countless hours working on. But the excitement was short-lived as the guidance counselor told her flat out, she would not get into her top school. He didn't say "it's highly unlikely" or "it's a stretch". What he said was, "you're not going to get in and here's why," followed by a list of stats on the last three years of admissions for that particular school. Not only did he slam the door in her face, he also locked it.

Now, I am a realistic parent. I don't sell my kids shit they will never be able to buy. I don't tell them they are great at something if, in fact, they suck at it. I tell them the truth. When they do something well, they know my compliment it genuine - that's just how I roll. Watching American Idol auditions had me cringing when parents would say what an amazing singer their child was when the child couldn't even carry a tune. I'm not one of those. So, I'm not going to build my daughter up and tell her she's going to get into a college that requires a higher GPA/testing scores, but I am not going to close the door and lock it either. Why not shut the door and lock it and tell her to move on? First of all, in a case like this, there is room for hope. Not all schools today are so cut and dry with their admissions, especially if a student exhibits other qualities that set them apart from those with higher scores. Second, squashing any hope of getting into their top school could have them giving up on the process and giving in rather than fighting to the end to increase his/her odds. And third, he/she may very well be the exact student they are looking for, regardless of the fact he/she may not check all the required boxes.

After my daughter met with the counselor (in the morning), I received a text from her that she wanted to go home. I knew this was an SOS since she never likes to miss school. I just happened to be at school for a presentation, so I went to the office and signed her out. She was an emotional mess and I was irate at this counselor for his insensitivity. I wanted to march into his office and ask him who the hell he thought he was - why he felt it was his job to dash dreams. But, I didn't. Instead, I took my daughter to get her nails done and then to lunch, all the while, talking her off the proverbial ledge and reminding her of the unexpected success stories of those who were told no and defied the odds. And yes, I also told her, if it's not meant to be, there must be a reason. Self-esteem is always hard to cultivate and grow in teens, especially girls, and one person with one thoughtless message can destroy it.

Once I calmed down, I did write the counselor an email, explaining the importance of the message he sends to the students he meets. I'm sure being a counselor is not an easy job, and I understand they see multiple students every day, but kids need a healthy balance of reality and hope in order for them to push through their insecurities - because, let's face it, kids are filled with insecurity. As a teacher by trade, I know how difficult it can be to foster a positive environment within the classroom, or any place where kids convene, all the time. Negative attitudes, inflated egos, and general teenage angst can create a calloused teacher, counselor or administrator over time. Why do you think teachers need the summer off?! But if you have taken a job in one of these positions, it is also your job to treat each student fairly, ridding yourself of any bias due to others you have encountered in the past. I have encountered too many jaded teachers and administrators recently and often find myself shaking my head, wondering why on earth they are still teaching or working within the school system if they can't stand the people they serve. It's appalling, really.

I don't mean to rant or give teachers and administrators a bad name - there are still countless great ones and we are blessed to have them teaching and guiding our children. It's just important to remember that each child responds differently in any given situation - no one student can truly be compared to another. The way their situations and needs are approached will either help or hinder the way they will view the world in the future. Who's to say the little boy or girl who sits quietly in the corner and who doesn't perform well on tests or school work isn't destined for something great? Shut the door on this child or prop it open and see if they walk through it? I certainly hope my children are surrounded by those who prop the door open and let them feel the breeze from the other side.

I want to give a special thank you to all those who love our children and have a true love for teaching and guiding them with a spirit that inspires them. Thank you to all those who don't build a roof over their potential and who go above and beyond to find the talents hidden within our children. Thank you to all those who never shut a door and lock it. You are the ones who make a difference - you are the ones who turn straw into gold!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Looking For A Book To Read?

If you are looking for a new book to read, check out my mentor, Tammy Greenwood's, new literary thriller, Where I Lost Her. It has received wonderful reviews and is being called a "page turner". I feel blessed to have her as my writing mentor and am humbled by the amount of time she dedicates to helping other writers learn the craft. Her words are always beautiful, true prose entwined with a heart-wrenching story. Happy Reading!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016


Last week I wrote about cyberbullying, never realizing how popular the subject would be. It's sad to think cyber bullying is the new form of passing notes yet on a scale larger than we can't even measure. The door the internet world has opened to our children far exceeds a parent's worst nightmares and here is why:

1. The door can never truly be shut. Unless you live in a secluded environment without any connection to electronics, your child will be exposed to the internet.

2. There are so many apps and internet sites that, no matter how vigilant you are, kids will find them.

3. Even if you think you know what your kids are up to, chances are they have found other ways to get around your diligent surveillance (chances are, there's an app for that!). Some kids will download an app on the way to school and delete it before they get home.

4. NOTHING is anonymous, and pretty much everything goes up into the cloud and can be retrieved.

5. Chances are, if your child has a phone or has social media accounts, they have already committed a crime they never knew was considered a crime.

6. Anything they do on social media can follow them for the rest of their lives.

7. Social media has been the cause of extreme emotional trauma, suicide, and murder.

Today I attended a wellness coffee chat about cyber safety at my daughter's high school. I had dismissed other presentations just like this one in the past because I thought it didn't apply to me - to my kids. My kids are good kids - they would never get wrapped up in inappropriate cyber use. Ha! De-Nile is not just a river in Egypt (as my husband would say). Never say never and don't assume your child is protected or too smart for such things. We can continually reinforce the appropriate use of the phone and internet until we are out of breath, but let's face it - kids want to fit in and belonging to groups whether on the internet or via apps, allows them to feel included.

I get it. Kids need social outlets, and being in physical proximity of others is not always an option. Apps and internet programs allow for them to "hang out" even if they are sitting in the comforts of their own homes or being transported from one activity to another. There is nothing wrong with keeping connected - it's their new "normal" and the wave of the future. But how they use this technology is what we need to be concerned about.

I can give you statistics on phone and internet use and you would nod your head in agreement with the high percentage of time kids spend on social media. You see it with your own kids, eyes glued to their phones, rarely coming up for air. You may check to see what apps they are on, ask who they are texting, scroll through their chat feeds and feel pretty confident you have a handle on what they are being exposed to, but did you know that many, if not most, kids have secret accounts you don't even know about? They keep the account you look at fairly clean while the secret account may be used to hide things they don't want you to see. Now, you may be asking: "What's the difference between the secret account and confiding in friends - either way I wouldn't know?" And here's the simple answer: their audience.

Instead of sharing photos or thoughts with a few (hopefully) trusted friends, they are sharing content to the masses allowing anyone to use the material in a positive or negative way. Make a comment about poor behavior at a school rally on your class Facebook page could (and did in my daughter's case) earn you the comment, "You're a Bitch." Post a picture of yourself on a site where anyone, not just your friends, can comment could earn you the comment "You're ugly, go kill yourself." Most apps and sites today allow for anonymous participation which only welcomes an opportunity for destructive play.

Is your child aware that anything they put on the internet or text on their phones can be retrieved? Just because they deleted something, or the app claims it disappears after a certain amount of time, doesn't mean it's really gone. They might not have the chat or picture on their phone but someone does, or it's in the cloud and can be retrieved. Years down the road, when they are applying for college or a job, these poor judgments can come back to haunt them and prevent them from getting into the college of their choice or landing that perfect job. Schools and employers look for people's footprints on the internet.

Here's another scary fact. If your child posts a picture of someone else without the person's consent, especially if it's used in a negative way, they can face severe consequences - something I didn't know. How many times have you seen pictures of people on Facebook who you don't know with some negative caption on it? We might find it extremely amusing, but it's criminal if the subject did not give consent to share the picture. Also, if your child is involved in a chat where negative, hurtful things are being said, they can get in serious trouble if they don't report it, even if your child didn't engage in the conversation. Simply being a bystander and not taking action, puts your child at risk. And if an inappropriate photo is sent to your child, even if they didn't ask for it, and it's not reported, they could face legal action because they are now in possession of illegal material, even if they delete it.

Another thing to worry about is what information apps share with others. Some apps will disclose your child's location (super scary huh?!) putting them at risk for crimes against them. Pedophiles and other opportunists use some of these apps to find their next fix. Kids tend to be too trusting and give out more information than they should, giving predators an open door to enter.

Now that I have scared the crap out of you, here's the good news: open communication with your child, a knowledge of the apps and websites kids use and an understanding of the laws and school policies can help protect your child. The internet has created a new age of parenting - both good and bad. It's great to be able to be able to reach our children when they are away from home, but it's much more difficult to protect them from a world they are not equipted to navigate quite yet. Kids are bound to do stupid things, but educating them on the consequences of the negative use of apps and the internet will help curb bad outcomes. If you can attend a local presentation on this topic, I highly encourage you to do so. If you can't or one is not offered, find reliable websites that update information frequently on apps and sites to watch for. In addition, go over your child's school policy and see if your local police department has a list of internet sites to flag as well as the laws regarding the illegal use of the internet and phone content. Seriously, it's eye opening at what has been deemed as illegal.

Here are apps and social media sites you should be aware of. Not all of these apps are bad but you should be aware of how they work and what information they share. The list will always be changing, but for now, this is what tweens/teens are using.

1. Instagram: a picture and messaging app. I believe this is the most popular app for kids right now and is not really flagged as a bad app but it can get your child into trouble if they post inappropriate pictures or engage in inappropriate chats.

2.Twitter: allows a short blurb or picture.

3. Snapchat: allows you to send pictures and short videos that "disappear" shortly after they are viewed. I am told this is pure evil because it gives the kids a sense that whatever they post will be gone forever giving them an opportunity to post inappropriate content.

4. Facebook: this seems to be waning with kids and is considered the social media site for old people.

5. Periscope: allows for live streaming right from their phone. When they begin recording, anyone with the app can watch it live. It also gives your child's location.

6. a question & answer service allowing kids to ask and answer controversial questions anonymously. This has been linked to several incidents of suicide.

7. Tinder: a photo and messaging dating app. Some kids join it just for the entertainment value, but it does open up the potential for inappropriate meetups.

8. Vine: allows the creation and posting of short looping videos and can contain mature content. This is rated 17+

9.Tumblr: another app to post things anonymously.

10. Oovoo: can access from computer or smartphone and allows them to chat with up to 12 friends or STRANGERS. Can send videos, messages, record, upload videos to YouTube and has an instant messaging feature.

11. Streetchat: formerly called Gaggle - offers free, live, anonymous photo messaging board for schools and colleges. Anyone can post whatever they want, and anyone within a two-mile radius can see it.

12.Tango: offers free video, phone calls, messaging and group chats up to 50 people. Has a history of being hacked.

13. uMentioned: posts juicy stories, dark secrets and funny moments by students on their campus.

14. Voxer: walkie talkie app that shares a user's current location.

15. WhatsApp: smartphone messaging app allowing users to create groups, send unlimited images, video & audio messages, and basic texting. Shares user's current location.

16. an iPhone app allowing users to share their "deepest, darkest secrets" anonymously through pictures & text. Content does not disappear like Snapchat and does not guarantee confidentiality.

17.Yik Yak: allows anyone to connect & share info with other users without having to know them. Can send anonymous messages within a 1.5-mile radius.

18. Burn note: messaging app that erases after a set period of time.

19. Skout: a flirting app that allows users to sign up as teens & adults. They are placed in appropriate peer groups & can post to a feed & comment on other's posts as well as add pictures and chat. The app will send notifications when other users near them join. Also sends notifications if someone "checks" them out.

20. Omegle: instant message app that allows chats with strangers. Available as an app or can use on their website.

Some others to be aware of:,, AfterSchool, Badoo, Best Secret Folder, Burnbook,, Creepypasta, Dropbox, FireChat, Fling, SuperFling, Gallery Lock. There are just too many to list!

It's amazing how many apps and sites there are that allow the user to be anonymous and not be held accountable for how they behave on the site. Not being held accountable welcomes bad behavior or allows material to be posted that is too mature for our kids. Worse are the sites sharing your child's location, allowing for an open invitation to cause not just emotional harm but physical harm as well.

I haven't personally checked out all of the listed sites or apps in this blog. This information was found online on various sites as well as from my daughter's high school. Some of the above information may not be correct or may have changed, so I urge you to do your own research, especially if your child is using any of the above social media apps or sites or if they are using something that you are not familiar with.

Some companies will allow parents to monitor their kid's electronics such as While this seems like a perfect solution to keeping your child safe, there are drawbacks since you must give passcodes and important information which may open you up to identity theft or misuse of your information. The first steps you can take to protect your child is to go on their electronics and use the parent restrictions feature and adjust the settings to keep them from installing anything without your permission. Go through each app and check subfolders where they may be hiding other apps so you can't see them. You can also adjust the settings on your home router and even set specific times your child has internet access within your home. The local police said that a large percentage of the inappropriate behavior on these devices happens between 9 pm to 11 pm. Many wireless phone companies offer programs to further protect your child from apps and websites as well as allow you to monitor their texting.

I can't stress enough how important it is for you, as a parent or as a professional who works with kids, to educate yourself on a regular basis with what is out there as well as monitoring your child's electronics. Times have changed, and although the internet has made our lives easier in many ways, it has also opened up a much easier path to being severely hurt emotionally, physically and professionally. Talk with your kids about how they use their phone and devices and make sure they know what's appropriate and what's not. Let them know you are a safe place they can report inappropriate use and advise them not to allow anyone to use their phone or device on their behalf. And, if they can't use their device responsibly, be strong and take it away. You're not being "the worst parent ever!" but rather showing them how much you care and will do whatever it takes to protect them.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

How To Get Rid of Solicitors and Religious Zealots

Did you naively buy a sticker that reads, NO SOLICITORS! in ominous red letters? Did you affix said sticker to your storm door and nod in smug satisfaction? Or is that just me? Nevertheless, the solicitors who troll my neighborhood either don't see the sign or interpret it as some form of reverse psychology.

"Miss, do you want to switch to AT&T?"

"No, thank you!" *Smiles sweetly

"Oh.... can I ask why not?" *Raises eyebrows and gives an exaggerated frown.

"Well, if you must know, we had AT&T and it sucked."

"Uh, well, um well it's improved since then."

Now, I'm not unfriendly. Okay, maybe I am. I used to work in sales in college. I was horrible at it. It went something like this.

"Hello, Miss, can I interest you in a pair of kitchen scissors that can cut a penny? Allow me to demonstra-"


"Okay, bye then!"

I get it. People have to make a living. Here's the thing, I spend enough of my days answering "Why not?" with my kids. I spend at least 75% of my day arguing about why we are or are not going to do something. People who want me to buy something that I can't afford and well meaning well dressed people who want me to change my religion are going to have to get in line. By default I've come up with a list of fool proof ways to send unwanted visitors for a hike. If you want to take the full Getting Solicitors off of your porch" course, just pay a fully refundable $99 -  No? Hey, it was worth a try.

1. Rescue several large dogs with intimidating barks. My friend assured me that visitors will jump backward off the front stoop in their haste to escape.

2. When the doorbell rings, drop and hide. Make sure to keep your kids away from the windows. After ringing the doorbell 12 times and knocking another 14 times, they'll get bored and go away. The downside to this method is if they see you ducking out of site or hear you telling your kids to "stay away from the windows" they might conclude that you are paranoid. On second thought, this notion might deter them from returning.

3. Passive aggressively stare st the NO SOLICITORS! sign the entire time the person is talking. If they persist, squint at the sign and say, "My contacts are giving me trouble today. Can you read that for me?"

4. When Jehovah's Witnesses come to your door and begin a monologue about all the negative influences on children today, have your cute precious blessing turn the CD player on and play Taylor Swift's Bad Blood at 850,000 decibels. This is good if rehearsed before hand. Awesome if it happens organically.

5. When Mormon Elders come to your door and ask what you know about the Church of Mormom and if you want to join, be overly friendly. Say ridiculous things like, "Is that like The Book of Mormon?" and "How can you guys be elders! You're so young!" Before they can answer, invite them in for a tequila sunrise, never mind that it is 9:00 A.M. When their mouths drop open in shock and disgust, clap your hand over your own mouth and say, "I am so sorry! How inappropriate! You guys probably aren't old enough to drink!" As they run screaming to their car, yell after them, "I'm free next Wednesday to talk more!" They won't be back. Ever. They'll pray for you.

6. When the (insert cable company here) guy comes over to ask if you've changed your mind about switching services, tell him you have given up TV altogether. Tell him you spend your evenings reading. Then ask him a lot of personal questions about his home life, his tattoos, and his favorite books.

7. When unwanted guests ask when you are free to discuss this further, say, "Next Wednesday at 4:32 AM or every third Saturday between 11:59 PM and 12;00 AM.

8. Tell them your spouse makes all of the decisions. Keep repeating, "I'll have to talk to my spouse about that." The downside to this method is they'll probably come back.

9. Launch into a detailed synopsis of your own religion/belief system and ask if they'd like to convert.

10. Say, "No, I don't need a lawn care service, but do you babysit?" with glazed eyes as your kids run behind you screaming and throwing toys at each other.

Now let me be clear: I am all about sharing faith and I completely respect others' religions. I also respect a person's right to make a living. But no means no. If you want to sell me a roof inspection or a Bible study stay home. If you want a tequila sunrise to bitch about your kids on the other hand, my door is open!

Friday, February 12, 2016

When You're Called Into the Principal's Office...

My kids have never had a detention. (Okay, wait, I take that back. My son was given a detention for not wearing a belt to school - harmless). I have never been pulled into a meeting to be told anything but positive affirmations about my kids; it's one of the things I pride myself on - my kids are good kids. They may struggle with grades from time to time, and they may have a disagreement with a friend or their parents (totally normal), but they have never been zeroed out for doing anything horribly wrong, until today.

Yesterday, a letter was sent home to the parents of my daughter's middle school about a bullying incident the school was investigating. My middle school child read the letter to me in the car on our way home from ice skating and even had a conversation about what it might be about, who might be involved. We discussed how unacceptable it is to say hurtful things, and she was in complete agreement. Today, I received an email from the school asking my husband and me to come in for a meeting. I knew my daughter was getting bullied by some boys at school, but she told me the boys wrote apology notes, and I assumed (stupid me) that all was better.

Let's back up a little here. My daughter has an Instagram, Snapchat and email account. She just got a phone for Christmas, but she has to pay for the minutes she uses, so it's not a device she uses often. She does, however, have an iPad (supplied by the school), an iTouch and a hand-me-down computer from her brother. I have been quite resistant to her having a phone with complete access to the world without my supervision. I thought I had my bases covered and her protected, but I was so, incredibly, stupidly, and regrettably wrong.

It started with her telling a boy in school that she liked him. This one confession spurred an avalanche she never saw coming. The confession was shared with the other boys, and soon, hateful words were thrown at her. Trying to understand the negative reaction, she asked the boy, on Instagram chat, and more hate and an encouragement to kill herself was thrown at her. I won't disclose what was said, but it escalated, causing my daughter to eventually lash out, making a threat that has now caught the attention of her school. You have to know my daughter to understand why she would say the things she did. She's a kind, loving person who desires to be accepted and is hurt when she's not. She also doesn't understand that kids, at her age, cannot keep secrets nor can they be mature when handling uncomfortable things - especially boys. She's still naive in thinking she can trust everyone. When someone, or worse, multiple people back someone into a dark corner of hateful words, there comes a time when the victim will either allow them to continue hurting or, in her case, lash out to save herself. I don't condone her behavior, but I am trying to understand it as her mother and as someone who hurts so deeply that she was pushed to fight back with such heightened emotion.

My daughter has been bullied multiple times by some seemingly ruthless children at two separate schools. She knows what it's like to be hurt day after day. At her old school, she was bullied for three years by the same girl. Parents even got involved and spoke to the administration yet nothing was ever done. It was just recently that the bully finally got expelled for making threats. It's unfortunate, but I think at some point, those who are bullied get tired of being beaten down, and that's when they either retaliate or contemplate a much more severe outcome for themselves.

With so much education on bullying out there, it's shocking that it still exists so heavily. The consequences of today are much more severe than in the past as a hopeful deterrent of the behavior, yet kids still push each other's buttons with the idea that they will obtain power over the victim. If you google Bullying, there seems to be an infinite amount of information at our fingertips. How to spot it, how to avoid it, how to handle it. Kids are bombarded with antibullying campaigns on a continual basis, perhaps so much so that they are now desensitized to the message. So what do we do to make it soak in? Huh, that is the fifty-million-dollar question, isn't it? It's almost as daunting as finding that miracle drug to cure all cancer. While we don't have the cure, we do have treatments and the earlier it's treated, the better chance to wipe it out.

As parents, we have a responsibility to guide our children through the best and worst times of their adolescence. We don't get to pick and choose what we want to face - we must face it all. At first, when I was confronted with what my daughter had done, I was mortified, sick and deeply sad. My thoughts ran rampant, wondering what went wrong, how could I have prevented it? What does this mean? But then, I took a step back and analyzed everything - the cause and effect from both sides as well as checking my emotions at the door. Once I got a handle on myself, I realized these things:

1. This isn't about me.
2. I can't change what has already happened.
3. I have an opportunity to turn this into a teaching tool.
4. I was lucky to find out about this early - no major damage was done.
5. I will now be more vigilant about my children's use of electronics as well as with their interactions with others.
6. I will do what my girlfriend calls a "heart check" to see how my child is feeling on a regular basis.
7. I will not brush over what appears to be general tween/teen issues or problems. Instead, I will ask questions and wade through the muck of over-exaggerations and secretive language to get to the bottom of an issue.
8. I will commit to continually educating myself about the dangers and pitfalls children can become victims to.
9. How I react will make the difference between a positive or negative outcome.
10. No matter what, I will have my child's back and always have their best interests at heart.

Education starts at home and that is where we need to tackle this issue. Don't think that if your child is attending a private school, he or she will be protected - it happens everywhere. It happens at the playground, in your neighborhood, at church and pretty much anywhere people gather either physically or in the cyber world. Talk to your children and find situations that open the dialogue about tough topics when they feel safe. We are our children's best defense. I know we often tell our children to not let hurtful words affect them, but it's not a realistic solution. The saying "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me" is a ridiculous notion because, in actuality, words can hurt worse than a physical blow. Words hurt no matter how hard we try to deflect them. Instead, validate their feelings and help your child work through them.

I'm going to leave you with one more bit of advice: Don't be afraid to monitor your children. It's not a sign that you don't trust them, but rather, that you love them.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Motivation Part II

I could relate to Jan's blog post about motivation, and I think it's safe to assume I'm not the only one. After a rather long Christmas break and a heavenly vacation where our families reunited, Jan and I were commiserating over a single issue: how to motivate our kids. Jan's son was getting back to his first year of college while mine was getting back to first grade. Both were adjusting to being back in "the real world". Both were giving their respective mother's gray hair, sleepless nights and a (bigger) reason to drink. Despite the twelve year age difference, our boys do have some striking similarities in the personality department, which gives me hope that my son will turn into a confident. caring young man like my nephew.

Anyway, the motivation issue is center stage in my household. Most days a three year old who refuses to poop on the toilet is the least of it. I spend all day every day trying to motivate myself and my first grader.I don't think my struggles homeschooling are greater than the struggles of parents with kids in traditional school. If anything I have more time and flexibility. The homework battles spare no one. The problem is I think it's my job to motivate my son, which again isn't unique to our schooling situation. To a certain extent, it is our job as parents to motivate our children. I'm channeling my motivational psychology class when I say that we are all born self absorbed egomaniacs. In other words, children are naturally motivated by what feels good: a full belly, a soft bed, a parent's arms, colorful toys. As the world grows we learn to be concerned with bigger pictures and people and things outside of ourselves - but - and I know this is my new favorite overused phrase, let's be real here. Who is not more motivated to do things that offer a sense of pleasure and purpose? Or even just pleasure? Who wouldn't rather watch TV than fold the laundry? Good thing we can do both simultaneously, right?

How do we motivate our kids, especially those that are a little more difficult to motivate? Although I've said it in my head, I'm fairly certain screaming, "Just spell the fucking word!" would be about as effective as begging, not that I've done that. My husband and I say ridiculous things like, "hard work pays off in the end" and "you need to do well in school so you can go to college and you need to go to college so you can get a job and you need a job so you can pay your bills". If you don't think this is ridiculous advice, listen to it as a six year old. "In the end" refers to when your friend logs off the Minecraft server. As for the school-college-job-bills thing? That, my friends, is extrinsic motivation.

For those of us who aren't psychology nerds with dusty, useless bachelor's degrees, extrinsic motivation occurs when we are motivated to do something for its end result. I am motivated to do laundry so that we have clothes to wear. I am motivated to go grocery shopping so that we have food to eat. Simple enough, right? This is what we often use with our kids, or at least I do. "If you get 10 out of 10 on your spelling test you get a new book; if you finish your school work you can play Minecraft; if you poop in the toilet and not in your pants you get a sticker and a piece of chocolate, and Spiderman won't have to go in the garbage". Some might call this method of motivating bribery. I call those people STFU. By the way, my son's response to the aforementioned school=college=job=ability to pay bills? Don't worry, he is going to, and I quote, "play Minecraft all day while my wife works". Those of you with daughters, you're ponying up the dowry right now, amIright?

This brings me to intrinsic motivation. If you're reading this blog pot you are intrinsically motivated, because there's no prize at the end, which means you're reading out of a genuine interest and quest for knowledge. Or you are a friend/ family member reading out of a sense of obligation, but that's a different matter altogether. I am intrinsically motivated to write. I don't get paid for it; in fact I have spent more on printer ink printing out all 272 pages of my finished manuscript. Maybe it will never be published, but I still had a sense of accomplishment when I got the first draft of my first novel typed out. I'd still write even if no one read it. Back in September I attended a writer's conference in L.A. One wise speaker said, "It takes a certain degree of insanity to put 80,000 words in a Word document". *Raises hand and nods*. In other words, it takes a certain amount of passion to put a lot of work into something that may never be rewarded (or even read), because, drum roll please, the reward is in the work. The destination is in the journey and all that jazz. I write because I love writing. I spend one Saturday and two Sundays a month working with kids with special needs because it gets me out of my own head. It's a flow experience -  that thing you do that makes the time seem to flow instead of drag. Intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation is the person who runs for the runner's high versus the runner who runs to lose the pounds.

Obviously, intrinsic motivation is what really drives us. So how do we teach our kids intrinsic motivation instead of, as Jan said, dangling the carrot? The answer is we can't. Intrinsic motivation can't be taught, fabricated, threatened, or cajoled. I would say it has to come from within but then I would have to be holding a joint, which I'm not if you were wondering. Nonetheless, we can't make our kids really want to write spelling words, study, or clean rooms any more than we can make ourselves really want to clean the litter box, fold the laundry, or kiss the boss's ass. But if/when they find what drives them, what they really want, what fits, they'll be motivated to do whatever it takes to get there. All we can do is expose them to a wide variety of experiences and give them a chance to find that drive.

 Until they do, we'll keep begging, praying, drinking, not sleeping, and holding Minecraft on a stick.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Three Words No Parent Wants To Hear

It was directed at my husband and not at me, but I still felt it.The words flew like shrapnel, grazing against my skin, the shock of the pain causing me to draw in my breath. 

"I hate you!"

His little fists flung out wildly and he fired the words again as my husband carried him to the car, his pajama shirt still on under the school t-shirt we had wrestled over his head. It took both of us. He is six years old. 

"I hate you!"

It's the first time he's said those words, but it won't be the last. Nor are we the first parents to hear them from the mouth of a child. Does he really hate his dad? Of course not. He's angry and he's lashing out the only way he knows how. The transition between home and school on Monday mornings is tough. We wake up prepared for battle. We know it's hard for him. But this morning his words hung in the air long after the car pulled away, swirling with the icy January wind, just as sharp. I went back into the house and looked at my three-year-old happily playing with his PAW Patrol trucks. I wonder when he'll say it for the first time. 

Let's be real, here. Parenting is not a popularity contest. Tough love is not fun. If we're doing it right sometimes our kids will hate us. They might hate us when everyone else's parents are letting them go to Sue Ellen's party but we'll say no because we don't know Sue Ellen's parents but we're pretty certain they weren't invited to the party. They'll hate us when we push them, try to motivate them, set hard limits. They'll hate us for not being the cool parents, the exact thing they'll love us for later. Or so I tell myself.

Sometimes our kids will hate us. Sometimes they'll tell us. We'll hate ourselves too, sometimes. Sometimes we might even hate them a little bit, but we know enough to keep it to ourselves.

People say that parenting is the most rewarding job in the world, and this is true. It is slightly less PC to say that parenting is the most painful job in the world, but this is also true. Like I've said before, having a child with unique struggles amplifies both the victories and the fall outs. My husband sent me a text to let me know that as soon as he was in the car he took his words back. I knew he would. His remorse is always deep and sincere and unprompted. Almost before the words are out of his mouth, almost before his fists stop swinging he realizes that he's been hurtful. He does not lack empathy, he lacks self-control. 

Even in the midst of his mind storms he's in there trapped under a tangle of synapses, wires that have gotten crossed. The people we love have the ability to hurt us the most and there's no exception when these people are our children. It's more than getting our feelings hurt, though. It's heartbreaking to see your child struggle. But that's why we're here. We'll help our children understand that we care about them and want the best for them. We'll help them understand why they have to do things that "aren't fun". When they don't understand we'll make them do it anyway. We'll give them love and support, we'll guide them through the landmines in life. Sometimes we'll have to let them step on one so they learn to be more careful. Sometimes we'll say no. Our love for our children is unshakable and we know they love us too. Even when they hate us.