Five Decades of Lessons

Whenever I read something that has “blogworthy” potential, I file it electronically.  My file is growing.

When I read Thursday’s Daily Good, published by Charity Focus, I immediately knew that the post’s “Be the Change” directive to “reflect on the greatest lessons from each decade of your life” was going to be my blog topic this week.

There are years that ask questions and years that answer.
Zora Neale Hurston
Decade One (1964-1973)
My family lived in three places within this decade:  Orange Park (because my dad was still stationed in the Navy at NAS Jacksonville; Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico (more Navy moving), and back in Orange Park as he completed his Navy obligation onboard the USS America, and retired toward the end of this decade.

The great lesson(s):  It was good for me to live in Puerto Rico.  Although it wasn’t an exotic foreign locale, I was introduced to Spanish at a very young age (when it is easier to learn).  We also did not have English television in the daytime, so I had to go out and about.  I also vividly remember the spanking I got when I opened the Barbie I had been given, even though I knew it was a duplicate and I knew my parents planned to return it.  It was one of those seminal moments when I “got” the fact that my parents meant what they said.

Decade Two (1974-1983)
Saturday Night Fever to Big Hair.  Was that only one decade?  I lived two places in this decade:  Orange Park and Lake Butler (my parents’ hometown, where we moved in 1979).  I recall how much I learned about music the week I was thrown into band camp along with the advanced flautists.  This phenomenon would happen in the next decade when I was the only non-native Spanish speaker in an advanced class.  It is also the decade when an adult authority figure made unwelcome advances, and I found myself in a car full of people I didn’t know that well with a glove compartment full of marijuana, several towns away from my hometown.

The great lesson(s): Moving from a big place to a little place requires you to respect the history people share with each other; being the big fish in a small pond does not give you instant credibility, popularity, or status.  Secondly, that my parents believed me when I explained the inappropriate advances, and they took the phone call to come pick me up (no questions asked) when I did not want to partake in the marijuana smoking.  (It didn’t help that it was drivers’ ed summer and I had just been watching all those horrible, graphic driver education movies.)
Decade Three (1984-1993)
This decade involved being elected to the Homecoming Court at Florida State University, two “Challenge” bicycle/mission trips, the aforementioned challenging Spanish class, graduate school, almost three years in New York City, and getting married.  It ended on the worst of notes, when my sister in law Ann Kiger Paredes died in her sleep at age 30 (of Long QT syndrome, an undiagnosed congenital heart condition).

The great lesson(s):  Although I loved being on the Homecoming Court, I should not have actively campaigned for it.  Living in New York City taught me a whole different view of how  cultural background factors into people’s perceptions of who I am (I had never before been asked, “what are you?” as in “are you Greek/Italian/Irish/etc.?”).  It also taught me that in a city where people are literally from all around the globe, the basic things that make relationships tick among people are universal.  And …. when you total your car on I-95 and end up facing the oncoming traffic, it’s not an especially good idea to open your door INTO the traffic. 
Decade Four (1994-2003)
This entire decade, I have been working at Florida Healthy Kids Corporation.  I also gave birth to Tenley (1996) and Wayne (1999).  When I talked recently to a friend whose daughter has two young kids and doesn’t feel that she has time for “extras” because she is so laser focused on those kids, I explain how incredibly intense that period of parenting is, how physically, emotionally, and psychologically your entire self is given to those children. 

The great lesson(s): In the end, it really doesn’t matter that your children have the matching designer outfits and the perfect “everything.”  If I were raising a little child again, I would focus more on the sheer experience of spending time with him or her than on attempting to perfect the “look.”  I would also defer a little bit throwing them into activity after activity, letting their interests unfold in a more natural way. 

Decade Five (2004-present)

It amazes me that I am over halfway through this decade.  When I disclosed to my husband recently the fear (that I consider irrational) that I am going to die before I get to do the things I most want to do (like use my passport), he said “we all feel that way.”  By 2013, I will have one child a year away from college and another in high school.  It strikes me that by incorporating the things I love doing (writing, being involved in our local film school, running), I am somehow coming closer to my true self and therefore being more engaged with my family.  This has also been the decade of looking the debt monster in the eye and saying, “yes, we let you grow unchecked for far too long.  It is now time for us to slay you once and for all.”

The great lesson(s): This lesson, I suppose, has extended itself over three decades.  When Ann died, I had just the night before chosen not to call her.  We had been buying her old townhome, and Wayne suggested I let her know that it had been painted (one of the financing conditions).  I said, “no, it can wait.”  Would it have mattered that she knew the townhome was painted? No.  But it matters, in retrospect, that I didn’t talk to her that night.  Sometimes a phone call or conversation about “nothing” is the one that matters most of all.

The Daily Good pieces always start with a quote.  The quote on the day that prompted this blog was also a “keeper”:

The years teach much which the days never knew.
–Ralph Waldo Emerson
Is there something that years have taught you that “the days never knew”?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section! 
And I’ll “run” into you next week, readers!

You’re Not the Boss of Me – A Book Review

When I got the email from Mom Central seeking participants in a blog tour for “You’re Not the Boss of Me – Brat-Proofing Your 4- to 12-Year-Old Child” by Betsy Brown Braun, I couldn’t enter my sign-up information fast enough. 
Once I started reading the book, I placed little tabbies on pages with ideas I could relate to or that echoed parenting challenges I have had in the course of raising an almost-11 and almost-14 year old.  As you can see, the book resonated with me:
As I was reading the book, I had the distinct feeling that the universe’s vibes were aligning to give me some life experiences that would result in me adding more tabs.  Like the phone call I got from Wayne’s teacher telling me that he had decided not to turn in his art project, one he had been looking for about three weeks prior and that I had put out of my mind.  Like my 13 year old getting threatened to be “beat up” because she stated something factual (yet incendiary) in a phone conversation.  Like the parent of one of my son’s peers who called to say my son had had possession of his kid’s “Phiten” necklace four months ago and since it could not be found any longer our family should pony up a replacement.  Yeesh.  How is it that everything I learned obtaining a degree in Child Development and Family Relations, as well as a master’s degree in Counseling and Human Systems, goes out the door when I cross my own threshold?
Although I didn’t agree with 100% of Betsy Brown Braun’s suggestions, the book did help me take a step back from the intense, subjective aspects of parenting and think about some logical, concrete tactics that I can use to parent more effectively and restore the balance of authority in our household.  Ms. Braun reminds us parents that:

“…as you well know, your child is not like a self-basting turkey; he’s not going to emerge well-seasoned and having just the right tenderness without effort.”

So true. 

Ms. Braun breaks each chapter into an introductory “theory” section that discusses parenting topics such as “Growing an Empathetic Child,” “Teaching Responsibility,” ” Instilling Honesty in Your Child,” and “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme! – Eliminating Spoilage in Your Child.”  These introductory sections are followed by Tips and Scripts that provide concrete methods for applying the theory.  In the chapter on Building Independence, for example, Ms. Braun encourages us to Support your child’s interests; they may become his passions.  As a parent who has struggled to “let go” of Tenley’s successful and intense gymnastics career, I took to heart Ms. Braun’s reminder that, “Your child needs to live his life, not yours.”

In the chapter on Instilling Honesty, one of the tips is:  When it’s done, let it go.  How often does a particularly memorable incident become part of family lore?  Yes, I have had one of my two children steal something from a store.  Yes, I marched this child back into the store and made the child return the item.  Yes, many years later I still joke around with this child about the incident.  Ms. Braun reminds us parents that, “Your child must not feel defined by her transgressions.” 

Again, so true.

One of the appendices of this book is called The Ethical Will of a Grandfather to His Grandson.  Although the book goes into thorough detail and provides specific tips, this appendix almost completes sums up the point in one page.  I particularly liked:

  • When there is a job to do — do a good job, never a sloppy one.
  • When your time is free, explore the things you think might be interesting.  Follow your curiosities.
  • Think for yourself.  Don’t believe what you read or what other people say, unless it seems true to you.
Blue hair?  It happens.

Ups and Downs of Parenting?  Yep, that happens too:

Two children worth taking the time to read a book that will help them be all they are meant to be?  Right here:

Note:  I wrote this review while participating in a blog tour campaign by Mom Central on behalf of HarperCollins and received a copy of You’re Not the Boss of Me to facilitate my review  Mom Central also sent me a gift certificate to thank me for taking the time to participate.  pk

Molten Mom Moments

When Tenley was in kindergarten, her school held a “Christmas store” where items were sold at prices very friendly to children.  The kids created lists of who they wanted to buy for and when they went to the store, they could cover several family members with $10 (including gift wrapping).  When I picked Tenley up from after school the day of her “shopping” trip, she couldn’t wait to share the gift she had bought me.  (When my husband is anywhere around, we get lectures about how gift opening should be saved for the actual holiday, yada yada yada.)  He’s the only family member who feels that way.  Even he would have been won over by her enthusiasm that day.  She was so proud to introduce the bluebird of happiness into my life, and was anxious to know whether or not I loved it (I did and I do).  He lit on my desk and has been there for nine years: 

I rarely write directly about my teenager, because I think she would equate being written about with the feeling she had when I was at the Springtime Tallahassee post-race party a few years ago and started doing the electric slide in public.  Ugh.  That incident was a few years ago but I guess it was just a little taste of what was to come. 
When I was trying to decide what graphic to use when I blogged about the mother/teenager dynamic, the bluebird came to mind.  The comparisons are obvious (to me):  I see it and her every day, both are beautiful and unique; I have sentimental feelings for the bird and the kid; the bluebird doesn’t talk and the teenager doesn’t talk much (to me — peers are a different story!).  I am rapidly becoming accustomed to one-word answers (when I get them at all), and I am sad.  It is as if the bluebird of happiness has been jailed: 
Things came to a head this week when she “unfriended” me on Facebook.  For some reason, I started thinking, gee I haven’t seen any status updates from Tenley for a while, so I typed her name into the search bar and got Tenley Studio, a hair salon in Tenleytown (Washington DC) that I am a “fan” of just because I like their name.  I wasn’t thinking hair that day, though, I was thinking flesh and blood — MINE. 
So instead of playing my cards close to my vest and letting things play out (which would have given me more options) I immedately sent a friend request with a sarcastic comment along the lines of “thanks for unfriending me.”  And I proceeded to mope.  It felt like a breakup.  I felt sad, betrayed, and powerless.  Over the next few hours I was thinking “ultimatum,” as in “make me your ‘friend’ again or lose your computer and phone.”  I had told my husband about this but asked him to not bring it up to her when he saw her at pickup.  When she got home that night I proceeded to give her the silent treatment (very mature behavior for a 45 year old!) and while she was chattering away about the good things in her life I was doing the cold shoulder routine.  When she finally asked what was wrong, I told her, and she said, “remember I told you Facebook was acting funny?”  I said, “Oh so you didn’t unfriend me?” and she said, “Yeah, actually I did.  It was weird having my mom as my friend.” 
When Tenley and I attended the mother daughter luncheon at my mother in law’s church today, Barb mentioned what a nice valentine one of my older nieces had sent her.  I remember about six years ago, when that same niece arrived at the mother daughter luncheon with a distinct “attitude” vibe.  I couldn’t believe the change that had come over this young woman.  I smugly thought, “that’ll never happen to me.”  At the time, my standing in my daughter’s life was still decent.  It’s my turn now to be surprised by a girl who looks the same but acts teenager-y.  Here’s a picture from this year’s luncheon:
Right now, the bluebird is holding the paperwork down in my in basket. 
I am a first-time parent of a teenager grieving the loss of years of easy communication that brought me great joy and helped me let go of some old baggage from my childhood.  Through her actions (and my reactions), I am being reminded that Tenley has her own work to do now, work that I can’t see her through. 
When I researched “the bluebird of happiness,” I discovered a vendor that specializes in them, Terra Studios.  In describing the manufacturing process, Terra Studios describes the pure white Northwestern Arkansas sand that is used to make the glass for each bird, and how the blue color comes from adding black copper oxide to the molten glass.
The mother/daughter situation feels pretty “molten” lately.  I guess the process of raising another human being is going to be fraught with “fiery” moments.  I imagine once the craftsman finishes adding the copper oxide, the bird has to be left alone to take shape. 
Hopefully the takeaway for me is to know that all of this “heat” leads to a beautiful product in the long run.
In the meantime, it looks like there’s a “friend” spot open on Facebook!
I’ll “run” into you next week, readers. 

Sometimes It Is Easy to Let Go

I worked a race Saturday (Coach Mike’s Run for the Kids 5K), so I didn’t do any personal banana counting. (I did run the course afterwards, and after the uphill grade of Mitchell Drive, I understood those stressed looks on finishers’ faces at the end.)

Throughout my run of the course, I was brainstorming what to blog about this weekend. There wouldn’t be any pictures of me to post (not that those are likely to bring on new followers!). I wasn’t with Wayne Kevin as he competed in the Stone Creek Kids’ Triathlon in Valdosta, GA, so I wouldn’t be able to count on pictures of that.

Well, Jeff Bowman took care of the picture end, and my brain took care of the “topic” end. So here are the pictures (photo credits to Jeff Bowman):

And here is the takeaway:
Back when Tenley did competitive gymnastics, one of the other moms had to miss half of the meets because her son played football on the same days. I could not imagine how she could bear missing her daughter’s meets. This was around the same time that I was talking to Tenley’s former third grade teacher about helping her with anxiety about moving schools, and I said, “we will work on the anxiety.” She rightly pointed out that resolving the anxiety was not really a “we” thing. The issues Tenley was facing would be most readily resolved with her in the driver’s seat. It was time for me to release my grip — although I could provide parental support in abundance, I couldn’t fix this problem for her.

Yesterday, however, I had virtually no qualms about not being in Valdosta with Wayne. I certainly can’t help him swim, bike, or run faster. I knew he would have fun being with his friend Alex, going to Wild Adventures afterwards (possibly the prime draw of the day), and being outside participating in the triathlon. If he had a bike accident? That’s what first aid is for. If that nagging big toe nail that is partially ripped off made it hard or impossible to run? Wayne would have to decide how badly he wanted to finish the race. I also know from plenty of observation that he’s a different boy when he’s with a “dad” coach than when he’s with mom.

So when I left to run the Schneider 5K course, knowing that he would probably call while I was out, I felt very relaxed about the outcome of his morning. I did have a “missed call” message when I returned. When I reached Wayne he was a) happy to be on his way to Wild Adventures, b) reasonably happy with his triathlon morning, and c) telling me he loved me. Nothing about nagging hanging toenails.

Wayne was number 32 yesterday (I guess he will be for most of the week because it’s written in sharpie on both arms and legs!!).
Just like the numbers that won’t wash off easily, this new phase in our parent/child evolution won’t easily fade for me either.
I’ll “run” into you next week, readers!