Category Archives: Parenting

Time for a Story about Alcohol (It’s Been Awhile)

First, my apologies.  I promised in my last post that I would write a follow-up and include all the wisdom I failed to include from last Monday’s meeting.  There was so much great stuff!  But, and anyone with kids will understand, it is the first week of summer vacation, and to say chaos reigned supreme in my household would be an understatement.  I’m feeling under the gun right now, waiting for someone to call needing a ride!

So, instead of resuming the recap, I am going to share a story that was a prologue to last week’s adventure.  Rather than link back to my last post, here’s the set-up:  last weekend we travelled to a beach town for the weekend so that our daughter could participate in a basketball tournament.  We had been looking forward to it, because usually tournaments are not in fun places like resort-y beach towns.  The coach of the team made the lodging arrangements, so there was a bit of excitement at the mystery of it all.  Unfamiliar beach town, lack of knowledge regarding accommodations, it was a true adventure!

The night before we were to leave for the weekend my daughter had a basketball game in town.  Most of the parents were there.  One particularly organized mom, the mom I actually know the best, started speaking to me about logistical details:  who is bringing what snacks, how to select a restaurant for a team dinner, and so on.  Through the course of this conversation, she mentioned the fun it will be to drink several times.  None of these references bothered me, truly I couldn’t even be very specific about what she said.  As the conversation progressed, however, the references became more pointed, “it will be awesome when we get sit by the pool and drink,” “Us moms are going to have a blast drinking.” My recovery sensors started humming, though nowhere near high alert.  At this point there have been 3-4 different references to drinking to which I simply did not respond.

In retrospect, I wonder if my lack of response may have prompted the continued talk, or maybe I’m unnecessarily Monday morning quarterbacking.  In any event, she continues on the path of how much fun carousing will be, and indicated her daughter felt that Organized Mom would be the embarrassment of the group, I suppose because of her drinking antics in the past?  I have no clue, since I could count on one hand the number of times where we have been in a situation with alcohol together (and I would have fingers to spare).  I laughed politely, because, I’m not even sure what else would be an appropriate response to this silly conversation.  Then Organized Mom says, as she continued to recount her conversation with her daughter:

“So I told her, ‘Oh, you don’t know Josie, she’ll be right there with me!”

Does is go without saying that I am Josie?

I’m going to plow right ahead with the story so there’s no cliffhanger:  I say and do nothing in the moment.  I regretted it for a solid 24 hours, but it’s the choice I made.  My brain was, quite simply, frozen.  It seemed incapable of forming logical thoughts.  There are a few reasons why this is so:

  1. Environment:  we sitting on the bleachers of a basketball court, ostensibly there to watch our daughters play basketball, surrounded by parents and younger siblings.  It was surreal to me to be trying to figure out how to decline a drink.
  2. Out-of-shape mental muscles:  it has been a really, really long time since I’ve had to think about declining a drink.  As in, I can’t remember a situation where someone offered and I felt uncomfortable.
  3. Complete and utter bewilderment:  even as I type this I have no clue why this woman would think such a thing, or say it to her daughter.

It was number 3 that ultimately kept me from responding in the moment about my choice not to drink.  At the time, I assumed that we had somehow intersected during my active addiction, and I’m just not remembering.  Her daughter and mine have been in the same circle for the past 11 years, so who’s to say what I’m forgetting, especially in terms of the active addiction years?  In addition, my husband coached this team for many years, and in the early days, we did include alcohol during the season wrap-up party.  I was terrified to start a conversation about my not drinking and then have to respond to a “But what about that time…”

So I laughed again, and then I got away from her as soon as I politely could.

As I mentioned, I regretted this decision the moment I resumed my seat next to my husband on the bleachers.  Because now, not only did I have all sorts of awkward Mom/drinking events to anticipate, I have now tacitly agreed to participate!

When I shared this story with my husband, he was surprised by the decision I made to stay silent.  “What’s the big deal,” he says, “I tell people all the time, ‘No, I actually don’t drink’.”

This conversation did nothing to set my mind at ease.

I talked it over with some friends, received some great advice, weighed the pro’s and con’s of telling a half-truth (i.e. I don’t feel like drinking tonight, or that some medication prevents me from drinking).  At the end of it all I concluded that I will correct this feeling that I did wrong somehow by telling the simple truth when it comes up:

No, thanks, I don’t drink alcohol.

The first night we are there, we are on the boardwalk pretty late, and I’m thinking that I’m actually going to get away with not having this conversation at all.  Then one of the moms says, “I vote we leave the dads on the boardwalk with the kids so the moms can go back and drink!”  My husband and I look at each other, and his eyes convey what he is thinking:  say the words and I will go back with you.  And while I remain forever grateful for the support, I realized this issue dragged out way longer than it needed to already.  Time to put on the big girl panties and deal.

We head back, and drink mixing begins.

Organized Mom, immediately: “Josie, what can we make you?”

I say, “I’m going to run back to my room to grab a soda, because I actually don’t drink.”

Organized Mom (stops mixing and stares at me):  “Like, ever?”

Josie (in what I’m hoping is an even tone):  “Correct.”

Organized Mom:  (continues to stare as if she is processing a complex thought):   “But for how long?”

Josie:  “Umm, for a few years now.”

Organized Mom:  “Wow… just… wow.  I can’t even imagine!”

I leave to get my soda, but realize I did not pack plastic cups.  I walk back into their room to borrow one, and now they’re all looking at me like I’m an exotic creature.  I grab my cup, go back to my room and fill it with soda, and sit down with them.

All agree they can’t imagine not drinking.  All justify how much, how often, and the rules they have in place for their own alcoholic consumption.

I nod politely at each of these stories, in much the same way I nodded on the bleachers the night before.  After the subject seemed to exhaust itself, we moved on to other subjects.

And that was that.

I’d like to think that I’ve learned some lessons here.  And the primary one is that Benjamin Franklin had it right (or Thomas Jefferson, whoever said it first):

Today’s Miracle:

Today my daughter started her first day of work, ever.  I was as nervous as if I was working for the first time!

Things I Learned From My Dad

Baby Bro

My Dad with his kids. Guess which one is me?

This Saturday marks the 23rd anniversary of the day my Dad passed away.  To honor his memory, I will provide anecdotal evidence of the great teacher he was.  I wish I could provide it to him in person, but I have faith that he will hear it anyway.

 


 

When I was a teenager, I became aware of a macabre habit:  on Saturday mornings, Dad would get his coffee, sit at the end of the counter, and read the paper.  And while I’m sure he read all the traditional parts (sports, front page, etc.), it was his custom to also read the obituaries.  If he found someone he knew, even (especially) if it was someone he knew from a long time ago, he would get up from his counter stool, get dressed, and head to that funeral.  As a teenager, I was horrified by this prospect.  Just showing up at a funeral to express condolences to a group of strangers, for someone you haven’t seen in years, it’s insanity!

My Dad died relatively young (he was 52), he died suddenly, and our family is large, so we prepared for the crowds by having his wake in the church, rather than in the more traditional funeral home.  I believe the doors opened at 7 pm, and I did not see the end of that line until after 11 pm.  The crowds of people who came to pay their respects to that man still blow my mind.  As a daughter, the people who made the most lasting impression on me were not the relatives or close family friends.  Of course, I appreciated their presence, but I expected to see them.  What stands out to me, even 23 years later, are the men who walked up to me, shook my hand, and told me what a great childhood friend my father was, or what a great co-worker he was, many years ago.

To this day, when I find out that someone has died, and I knew them even in a peripheral way, I attend their funeral.

 


 

If I may be so bold to characterize the parenting style in which I was raised, I would label it Fear-Based Parenting.  “Wait until your father gets home” are words that still strike terror in my heart, and the man’s been dead for almost a quarter of a century.  Lest you think I’m criticizing, I often long for my children to have that same fear of me, but, sadly, that ship has sailed.

One of the arenas in which the fear mongering played out was academics.  I dreaded that quarterly report card as if it were a death sentence for 12 straight years, and the most ridiculous part of it was I was consistently on the honor roll.  The one and only time I remember that fear being necessary was either second or third grade, and I received an “S-” in conduct.  I could not contain the anxiety as I waited until evening, when my father got home.  He sat at the counter (same spot where he read the paper), and I stood, trembling next to him as he studied the green cardstock.  He looked down at me, and he said, “You did a good job on your report card.  The teacher’s pen must have slipped near the “S” on the conduct line, she needs to be more careful.”

I almost fainted with relief.

Last weekend my daughter and I were driving in the car, and she bursts into tears.  When she calmed enough to speak, she said, “I really screwed up, there’s nothing I can do to fix it, and I’m too scared to tell you what I did.”

Note to teenage children reading:  This is a great strategy, because by the time you tell them what actually happened, your parents, having immediately conjured up things like homicide, pregnancy, and drug-related crimes, will want to hug you instead of kill you.  Unless you did in fact murder someone, are pregnant, or have been arrested for a drug-related crime.  In that case, I can’t help you to strategize your confession.

It turns out my that the inaugural experience with mid-terms did not have the best results.  We talk through the how’s and why’s, and attempt to create some learning points for the future.  But by the time we are heading for home, she is a wreck again, because now she has to tell Daddy, and oh my god he is going to kill me.  I say I will talk to him first.  I do, and armed with the facts, and me recounting the Tale of the “S-,” he calls her down and has a similar conversation.  And her relief was as palpable as I’m sure mine was, all those years ago.  And I’m sure the chuckle my husband and I shared was similar to the one my Mom and Dad had all those years ago.

 


 

When I was roughly the age my son is now (12), I had an ongoing Bickering War with my younger brother.  Every day we would come home from school and proceed to taunt, bully, and scream at each other until my Mom got home from work.  And then continued to taunt bully and scream at each other in a slightly more subdued way.  My grandmother lived with us, but I don’t remember much her opinion on the situation, although as a parent now I can make an educated guess.  I’m also sure my Mom threatened us numerous times, to no avail.

One day my Dad is home from work a little earlier than usual.  I am called from whatever I was doing to set next to him at the counter (at the same spot where he read the paper and report cards).  He tells me he is home from work early because his boss called him into the office to have a talk with him.  Turns out, a neighbor has been complaining about the ruckus my brother and I have been causing on a regular basis, and the neighbor has complained to my Dad’s place of employment.  The boss tells my Dad, “Jack, if you can’t control your kids at home, how can I expect you to control your truck at work?”  He looks at me earnestly, and tells me how important my job is to him, to our family.  Do I want him to lose his job?

I am in tears, and I solemnly vow to keep things under control while he is at work.  I am permitted to leave the kitchen, and I hole myself away to plot my revenge against the neighbor who squealed.  As I consider the possibilities,  a few thoughts occur to me:

a.  My Dad is a truck driver, and

b.  I myself have no idea how to get a hold of him at work, let alone his boss.

My tears of shame turn into tears of outrage.  But since I was raised under the Fear-Based Parenting model, I allow the rage to subside.  And I did tone down the bickering, so I guess it was a successful strategy.

The lesson?  A well-crafted tale can work wonders with children, but the details are critical to its success.

 


Today’s Miracle:

Despite his dying young, I have a multitude of stories from which to choose when writing this post.  Hopefully I will get a chance to share them all!

My Brush With a Teenage Drug Dealer

I typically like to have an ultimate point before I write about an event or an issue.  At the very least a destination, even when I’m not sure which route I’m going to take to get there.  I have neither the destination nor the GPS directions for this one, I only know there is something here that can be shared.

A few backdrop facts before I tell this story:

  1. I am, generally speaking, a glass-half-full type of person by nature.  As it pertains to this story, I generally don’t anticipate negative possible outcomes in any given situation.  The upside to this, presumably, is less anxiety than one who might be anticipating disastrous outcomes.  The downside… well, we’ll get to the downside in a moment.
  2. My oldest child is a 14-year-old (woman?  girl?  gal?  child?).  Her nature is similar to mine, but more extreme, which I presume is due to a lack of life experience.  Not only does she fail to anticipate negative outcomes, she proactively assumes positive ones.  She is also at the teenage sweet spot:  she possesses the firm conviction that she is old enough and wise enough that her life experience is the equivalent to an adult’s.
  3. At her age and life circumstances, dating is defined as holding hands between classes, electronic communication, an occasional kiss after school, and incessant rallying to arrange weekend get together’s that have yet to come to fruition.

Back to the regularly scheduled program:

My daughter’s romantic relationships are not dissimilar to a roller coaster ride:  they are fast, chock full of high’s and low’s, and short-lived, although the next ride starts up with astonishing regularity.  My husband is convinced this is abnormal behavior; I am inclined to think it is part of the teenage experience.

Up to about middle school, my daughter had been rigorously honest.  As she ages she is getting skilled at remaining honest while withholding what she wishes to withhold.  Of course, I am patient, wily, and unafraid to ask the same question 10 different ways, so it usually works out fine.  Until the Most Recent Boyfriend.

Here’s how it works:  she will mention the name of someone new in the context of a story.  Then she will mention him again.  That is the cue for me to start asking the obligatory questions:  what grade?  sports or no sports?  family situation?  discipline situation at school?

And so it goes with Most Recent Boy.  There were two mildly alarming facts right out of the gate about MRB:

1.  He smokes (my daughter is vehemently opposed to smoking, to the point where I’ve had to correct her disrespect to adults who make this choice)

2.  He is a junior (my daughter is a freshman)

On the other hand, my nature being as it is, and given the transient nature of these relationships, I didn’t think too much about it.  Even when she said he asked her out,  even when she started rallying for dates outside of school.  We were, in fact, in the midst of planning such an event (he would come to our house so we could meet him), and I thought to ask, “What kind of grades does he get?”  The response:  not very good.   Here is the follow-up information I received from my subsequent interrogation:

  • He is a skateboarder who hangs out at a notoriously drug-riddled skate park
  • He not only smokes cigarettes, but he has “tried” marijuana and has drunk alcohol, but does neither currently
  • He has “been kind of a troublemaker”

Okay, we’ve gone from one-alarm to three-alarm, but I’m still not panicked yet.  I calmly explain that while I’m sure he’s a nice boy, I think we need to hold off on scheduling any out-of-school dates until the relationship progresses a bit.  We’re in the car while having this conversation, so hopefully she’s not noticing the smug expression I’m wearing, because surely this relationship will fizzle out on its own before I have to do a thing.

That very night my daughter, apparently having experienced amnesia, starts in on a full-court press to travel to Philadelphia with MRB’s family (about 45 minutes away).  Probably not as calmly as in the car, I remind her of the facts she has provided, and our agreement that we wait a bit before arranging dates.  She is quite unhappy about this, which I can only tell you in a Monday-morning-quarterbacking kind of way.  At the time I’m not thinking a thing is amiss.

The next day, a Saturday, she is styling her hair and other such things.  I go into the bathroom to ask her something, she says she has something to tell me, and immediately starts crying.  I wisely shepherd her into the sitting room of my bedroom, and away from the flatiron.

Turns out, “being kind of a troublemaker” actually means “he was expelled from school for dealing drugs.”  From I’m dating MRB to this, all in the space of about 18 hours.

Now I have several competing issues:  the acceleration of alarms in my head (remember, this is not my usual m.o.), the emotional state of my daughter, who is hysterical in a way I’ve never seen her before, and, most critical, what in the hell to do and say next.

Here’s the rub:  she is convinced, in the way the rest of humanity is convinced that the Earth will rotate around the sun, that he was “just holding the drugs for a friend.”  That “he is definitely done with the whole drug thing.”  And, the most heartbreaking fact of all, that “he is the boy who has been the nicest to me in my whole life!”

That was a rough afternoon, I’ll tell you that much.

In the moment, I dealt with what I thought was most imminent:  my daughter’s hysteria.  I told her that I believed he was a nice boy, and that I’m not judging him as a person.  I reminded her that I am uniquely qualified to make such a statement.  I explained that “holding drugs for a friend” is the equivalent to “the dog ate my homework.”

Continuing the relationship is the only item on her to-do list, and she is single-minded in this endeavor.  And in my confusion, and my attempt to console, I make my first fatal error, and say yes.  The fact that she pulled herself together so quickly should have alerted me right then and there, but the downside to my Pollyanna ways is that I don’t always think about the possible pitfalls.

Thank the good sweet Lord the parenting team of this child has a savvier, less trusting side than her mother.  I fill my husband in, and he asks the questions that did not even occur to me, such as:

  • If you knew about the expulsion, why did you withhold that information while begging to go into the city with him?
  • How was he caught?  Was it a situation that indicated that they had been tracking him?  If so, what communication did you have with him that could possibly cast aspersions on your character?
  • How has this relationship changed the perception of you with regards to your teacher and peers?
  • And, the most important question:  Did you find out about the drugs before or after you decided to have a relationship with him?

When I found out the answer to that last question was a defiant “Before!  So what, if I’m not doing drugs?” my rose-colored glasses slipped down my nose quite a bit.

The follow-up conversations were many, and tension existed in our house in a way this family has not yet seen.  We’re dealing with some serious stuff here, made more serious by the way my daughter was digging in her heels.  She does not regret this relationship, she is not naive, and if we would just take the time to get to know this young man we would see what she is seeing.

This high-stakes drama lasted for about 72 hours.  I state that with gratitude, I know for some parents it goes on a hell of a lot longer.  On our end, we tread lightly, but were firm:  things needed to change.  If these are the decisions she is making when left to her own devices, well, then she needs a bit more supervision.  We did our best to make these changes not resemble a punishment, but I imagine it would feel like exactly that to a teenager.

Then one night, for reasons yet obscure to me, she walked in from basketball practice, came up to me, gave me hug, and started crying.  “It’s going to be okay now, Mom,” she whispered.  I looked at my husband in alarm and mouthed over her head, “What happened?”  He appeared as confused as I felt.  She decided, after approaching the principal (her idea, not ours, we did not know she was going to do this) and letting him that while she was friends with the expelled student, she does not do drugs and does not condone the use of them, that she needed to break up with MRB, temporarily, until he gets his life together.

Another 24 hours of drama surrounded that decision, many tears, much staring into the distance, as the reality of the separation (that was already a reality, mind you, he was expelled from school) sunk in.

To give her the credit she deserves, when she says something, she sticks to it:  the phone call was made, and the communication stopped completely.  She apparently believes in a clean break.

I held my breath for a few more days while I waited for the next shoe to drop, all the while experiencing a profound longing for all my past glory days of Pollyanna-ism.  “You don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone” is how the song goes, and how true it is.  The days marched on, life started to feel normal, and I cautiously started to breathe.

Over the weekend the name Dakota was dropped into the conversation.  A day later, the name was mentioned again.  And a day after that, “I think Dakota likes me.”

Funny side story, my response was, “You have a lesbian friend who said she likes you?”  Turns out, Dakota is a unisex name.

Only then did I get what was happening:  the roller coaster ride was slowly starting to roll again.  Never have I been so thankful for the short-lived cycle of the teenage romance.

Today’s Miracle:

If this post serves as nothing else, I’ve at least documented the story for when my daughter is a mother.  The miracles of blogging!

 

 

 

Parents Who Fear Losing the Holiday Magic as Children Grow Older: Take Heart

As I continued along the wrapping process this week, I had time galore to reflect upon the holiday season, and here’s what I’ve come to realize:  I am in the Golden Age of Holiday Parenting.  Sure, watching the kids’ excitement over the upcoming arrival of Santa is wonderful, and seeing their eyes pop out of their head as they barrel down the steps Christmas morning is something to behold.

I think back on those times, and I smile at the memory.

But this year, my kids are 14 and 12, and any illusion of Santa and reindeer landing on the roof is gone.  And I’m thinking that would make a lot of parents very wistful.

Me?  I’m over the moon!  This is exactly where I want to be with children and Christmas, and I will give you all the wonderful reasons I am enjoying this holiday season:

1.  Extra hands to help decorate

Not only have I cut my lugging of decorations up and down the stairs in half, but I also have consultations on what decoration would look best in which location.  I love their input!

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Very high shelves designed by my daughter

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The Snow Baby display (or, as my sister calls it, The Dust Collector’s Display, painstakingly unwrapped and arranged by my son

2.  Taking on new challenges

As much as I love my husband, he is a bit Scrooge-y (if that’s not a word, it should be) when it comes to certain aspects of the holiday season, in particular, outdoor lights.  So this year, I thought, “I’ve got two able-bodies kids that I can enlist,” and guess what?  We couldn’t be prouder of ourselves.  Of course, my mechanical-minded father-in-law did ask me if I would be offended if he went around and taped up all the exposed electrical thingies, but still and all, I think we did a fabulous job!

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I’m not sure this picture appropriately displays the majesty that is our electrical masterpiece!

3.  Appreciation of my holiday baking

They are at an age where they can truly appreciate when I am taking out the stand mixer versus throwing some Chips Ahoy on a plate.  Validation is good for this baker’s soul!

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It’s early days for baking, but this was attempt #1: something called a million dollar shortbread bar, chocolate on top, shortbread on the bottom, and some heavenly concoction in between. Very messy, though.

4.  Understanding the depreciation of the pile under the tree

The last couple of years have been tough, they want certain things, but were still to young to appreciate that pricier things = less gifts.  This year, they totally get it, because…

5.  They can communicate exactly what they want

This makes up for the missing wondrous amazement… being able to provide the exact sneaker that my son wanted, or the particular brand of clothes that my daughter has been coveting.

6.  Coming out of the dark

Not having to squirrel away in my dirty, dank messy basement for hours on end wrapping so that the kids don’t see gifts is a thing of the past.  I now get to wrap in front of a fireplace, or at my kitchen counter, or anywhere I want!

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One corner of the dining room

7.  No stress with ruining the surprise

I remember one year almost having a heart attack because my son was spooking around the basement.  I do not miss all the covert operations, that’s for sure (and clearly, I was never as good as Sherry was!)

8.  Going to bed each night of this season peacefully, rather than waking up at 3 am in terror…. DID I MOVE THE ELF???

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Back in the box, Elf

 

9.  They are still young enough to appreciate the classics

Even though they don’t believe in certain elements the same as they did at a younger age, they still get into the spirit of most of the things I do love… the childhood movies (The Year Without a Santa Claus is our all-time favorite), putting up the Fisher Price Little People Nativity Set (and, believe it or not, they will still play with it for a few days after it comes out!), putting up an ornament on each day of the Advent calendar.  It’s like the best of both worlds!

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Our Nativity set

 

10.  Not having to stay up until 4 am assembling crap

11.  Not having to wake up at the crack of dawn after staying up until 4 am assembling crap

12.  Still putting out the cookies and carrots, just because it is tradition

I hope you are enjoying this holiday season and the “best of” whatever ages your children, or pets, or nieces/nephews, or friends are this year!

 

Today’s Miracle:

That I’ve even started the wrapping process, or, for that matter, had present to wrap, this early in December, is a miracle!  Where did the Queen of Procrastination go?

Vicarious Disappointment

 

So you decide to have a kid or two, and you have a kid or two, and you raise a kid or two.

And along the way, the normal things happen:  developmental milestones, bumps and bruises, temper tantrums, good grades, friendships found, friendships lost, surprising sneaky behavior, surprising wonderful behavior.  And you realize, over and over, that you are merely along for the ride of parenthood, rather than the operator of the vehicle.

With each new phase, you experience challenges new to you, but tales as old as time for those who went so boldly before you.  You say, “I’m nothing more than a limo driver,” thinking you are the originator of this thought, and you receive instant nodding, knowing looks from your predecessors.  And you are humbled, once again.

But still, when your child experiences disappointment, it is a most unusual feeling, almost an out-of-body experience.  And it appears as though the residual feelings last longer with the parent than with the child.

First,  physical sensations:  prickly tears, churning stomach, jangled nerves, all of which must be controlled so that you can comfort the one who is actually experiencing the disappointment, your child.  Not you, your child.  Buck up, ninny, and do your job.

Then, the mental obsession:  How dare this disappointing thing happen to my child.  Doesn’t everyone know how special my child is/how hard my child tries/how much better my child would be if this disappointment hadn’t happened?  Why doesn’t anyone (everyone) care?

Quickly enough, the pointing finger does a u-turn:  Surely there are things you could have done, should have done, to prevent this disappointment in the first place?  Surely you could have instructed your child better, played a better social game with the people in your child’s world, insisted that your child prepare herself better to prevent the disappointment?

Next, residual issues:  the physical and mental affect you enough to deal inappropriately with the people around you.  You pick fights with your husband, you snap at the other child, you are disappointed with the behavior of your dog.

Still, you reason, disappointment happens, and therefore your next most important task in life is to do and say the next right thing with respect to your disappointed child.  You carefully consider your conversational options, you write uplifting texts for her to read, and you anxiously await the next time you see her to gauge her feelings and give the most correct, most sage, most transformative speech that will be the turning point in your child’s despair.

And she comes home, and she is fine.  In fact, did something disappointing even happen?  No, she has no updates or news, she hadn’t thought much about it, to tell the truth.  And she grabs a snack and breezes up to her room, to find the next drama upon which to focus.

This should be a happy ending, right?  Then why doesn’t it feel like a happy ending?  And how in the hell did this suddenly become about me?

Is there an appropriate filing cabinet for feelings of vicarious disappointment?  Is there a manual written on how to recover from the disappointment you didn’t actually experience?

Today’s Miracle:

After an overdue heart-to-heart discussion with a long-term friend, I am sharing my blog with her for the first time today.

 

To Spend or Unfriend?

 

Here’s the scenario:  my son has had the same best friend for exactly half of his young life.  The friend has stood the ultimate elementary school friendship test:  a change of schools (his friend, not my son).  They have had sleepovers, and too many play dates to count.  I am very friendly with both parents.  While I tend not to socialize with any of the parents of my children’s friends (I like to say that I got the friendships right in college, and I am going to stick with that group!), I would say that of all the friends of both children through the years, these are the parents I enjoy the most.

When my son’s friend comes over to my house, here is what the average play date looks like:  a few minutes of obligatory chit-chat with me, and then they are off like mad men, cavorting about the neighborhood, running through the house, playing video games, and terrorizing my daughter, pausing only long enough for snack and/or meal breaks.  Summertime frequently has us at the pool, and once in a blue moon I will take the kids out to a fast food restaurant.  By and large, though, my motto is:  your friends are here.  Go create some fun for yourselves (without breaking any laws).

When my son goes to his friend’s house, here is what the average play date looks like:  a few minutes of obligatory chit-chat with the parents, a few minutes of running around the house/neighborhood like maniacs, and then the boy’s father (I am unclear if he is prompted, or he just is an overgrown child himself) suggests they go out.  And then they go:  to the movies, to the speedway to race cars, to the trampoline house, to the ice skating rink.  And all of this will be topped off with stops and wherever and whatever strikes their fancy in terms of food.

The very last play date, and what prompted me to write this post, was a piggy back to my having my son’s friend overnight.  The sleepover went exactly as I described above.  The next morning, I get a call:  can my son now come with them to get their matching Halloween masks?  This makes complete sense for them to go together, since they want to match, so I agree.  Here’s what they wound up doing:  stopping at Starbucks, where both boys got Frappuccino’s, then to the Halloween store (planned, and my son had his own money for this), then they decided to grab some lunch at the fanciest food store/pub in our area (Wegman’s Pub, for the local readers), and then, since they were out, they might as well go see that new movie with Steve Carell, which I have no doubt included some kind of snack.

To reiterate, I genuinely enjoy this husband and wife, and, overindulgence notwithstanding, think they are actually raising really nice children (my son’s friend has a twin sister).  The problem, in a nutshell, is the financial imbalance.  First, I genuinely don’t have the kind of money to indulge my children like this, and, even if I did, I would not choose to do so.

On the other hand, this happens, without fail, every time my son goes to his friend’s house.  They absolutely never stay home.  And every time I have my son’s friend over to my house, they are looking to reciprocate, so it is impossible for me to just continuously have him over to my house.  And besides, it seems as though my son’s friend tends to prefer play dates at home (which, if I were him and had a Dad that took me wherever my little heart desired, I would too!).

So the Dear Abby question (would it be Dear Bloggy in this scenario?) is:  how do I handle this situation?  Do I approach the parents, and what in the world do I say?  If I say my son can’t afford to be your son’s friend, then they will immediately offer to pay for him.  If I say I choose not to have my son indulged in this fashion, I am criticizing their parenting (and insulting the heck out of their generosity to boot).  I have already established that it does not work just trying to have play dates only at my house.  Do I simply send my son to the house with cash in anticipation of the inevitable indulgences?  Or, do I steer him away from this friendship entirely because of the financial issues?

Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

 

Today’s Miracle:

Meeting a new recovery friend for a meeting and lunch today, so I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks, or, in this case, teach an old dog how to make new friends! 

Seasons of Change

This may be funny to no one but me, I am about to write a post on change, and I am typing this on some “new, easier way to create” on WordPress.com (please read the part in quotes with the sarcasm I am intending).  I already hate it, which probably is an indication of where this post is going.

I think about the changes going on in my life right now, and the word that comes to mind is “layers.”  When I first started thinking about the content of this post, my initial thought was not to write it at all; after all, isn’t anyone with kids going through change right now?  Mine is a bit more complex than years past in that both kids are attending new schools, and the schedule change is dramatic for everyone in the house, but other than that, who doesn’t experience change this time of year?

Plus we just got a dog, which in my life I never thought we’d have, so there’s change with fitting Dimple’s schedule into the mix.

Plus the usual rigmarole of sports, and no one wants to listen to me talk about that nonsense.

So this week has been a hectic one, filled with missed buses, forgotten alarms, lost lunch boxes, but, and maybe this is the recovery talking, but… I can put all of that into perspective fairly easily.  It is week one, and sooner or later this stuff will become as habitual as getting ready for the pool was a week ago.

The change that has me a bit more unsettled in within me, and I’m not sure I’ve diagnosed it properly myself, much less found an answer to it that settles me.

I used to look forward to the beginning of the school year the way a child looks forward to Christmas morning.  I’m sure if I were to go back to last summer’s posts, August would be filled with countdowns, and rants about the kids driving me crazy.  I’m sure if I went back to the first day of school last year there would be some sort of celebratory post.

Not so this year, and I’m still trying to figure out why.

I can, with no small amount of shame, confess to some of the realizations that occurred to me as I puzzled over this non-excitement.  The first:  I was, until a few shorts months ago, a secret smoker, most especially secret from the kids (well, secret in my own mind, anyway).  So kids in school meant the ability to smoke with relative freedom.  Sounds ludicrous, but bear with me, I’m getting to a point.

Another obsession from which I’ve recently disentangled myself:  soft pretzels.  I have been threatening to write a post about my feelings on soft pretzels for years, and I may still find it within me to do so.  I was obsessed to the point that I knew the one and only place I wanted them from, the people knew me there, and it was almost a ceremony the way I sat down to eat them (Recovery-minded readers:  remember the ritual of getting that bottle of wine and your favorite glass?  Not far off of that, seriously).

And, like the progression that alcoholism takes, I preferred to eat my pretzels uninterrupted.  So, again, kids running around, asking to share the pretzel, etc = not fun.  Kids in school = pretzel-eating fun.

And as I considered all of this, I got that “someone walked over my grave” shiver, because all of this was exactly as I behaved in active addiction.  Because those substances, in addition to being mind-altering, were my little secret, my reward for… well for what exactly, I don’t know.  Waking up that morning?

So this day one of school season felt really, really different, and I really can’t give it a label like “good” different or “bad” different.  I guess the word I can best come up with:  uncomfortable.  On the one hand, I consciously recognize that there are a bunch of unhealthy coping mechanisms that I have risen above, evolved past, what have you, and that is obviously to the good.  On the other hand, there’s this vaguely empty, “now what?” feeling going on.   I have learned enough from my recovery experience that I can sit with it, and realize that it will pass, but there’s this nagging voice telling me, “You’re not working hard enough to figure out what you have to learn, come on, just get there!” And then there’s the counter voice, “Come on, you may have given up all of those things, but can’t we find something to replace them?!?”

One theory has occurred to me as I’m typing:  in addition to having all of the external changes going on that I listed above, I am on the cusp of some personal change as well.  I am on the tail end of the “clean-up process” of the consequences of active addiction… the finish line is in sight.  So perhaps this uncomfortable feeling is the set-up for the next chapter of my life, preparing me for, God willing, a professional change.  Although the finish line is in sight, it’s still far enough away that it’s not yet time for me to write a whole lot about it, there will inevitably be more to come on this subject.

Other than that possibility, I’ve got no other thoughts, but I’m open to possible solutions.  Which, now that I think about it, is another big change:  being open and willing to consider anything other than my own opinions.  Because, no matter what happens, I am alive, and I am sober.  Everything after those facts is icing on the cake.

Today’s Miracle:

That I typed for as long as I did in the “new editor” of WordPress.  I have no idea where spell check is, so I now have to switch to classic mode, but still, I lasted a lot longer than I thought I would! 

 

Results of “The Talk”

 

You know, it occurs to me as I sit down to type this, I really don’t have any sense of what I’m about to write.  A strange feeling, because usually I have the skeleton created in my mind before I even sit down.  So I guess, look out, because here comes a lot of rambling…

I should probably also add, in case you are new to this blog, I’m about to talk about the results of sitting down with my kids and talking about my recovery from addiction.

I would love to sum up the conversations with a nice neat label, but, like most things in life, there are shades of gray, and loads of second guessing, so I’m unable yet to give myself a grade on this particular test.  Let me give you some back drop on my goals beforehand.  First, I was determined to speak with each child individually, in a neutral location, so that they are able to give me their honest feedback without undue influence of other people, or even familiar surroundings.  Plus, if it did not go well, I didn’t want them to forever think of, let’s say the kitchen table, as the place where the family fell apart (no, I do not think melodramatically at all).   Second, it was important for me to impart to them a more realistic view of the “illness” from which I suffer.  Up to this point they have only been given a broad, almost pg-rated definition of why I go to meetings regularly, and I have never used the “a” word to describe myself.  Next, I wanted to gauge what, if anything, either child knew or figured out on his or her own, and here I was specifically thinking of my extremely perceptive son.   I would have bet a lot of money that he knew pretty much everything by this point.  Finally, and most importantly (truly the whole reason I’m doing this at all), I wanted them to know and understand that I know and understand a lot with regard to drugs and alcohol.  With both of them making big transitions in terms of schooling, I wanted them to know they have a resource very, very close to them, should they need information, guidance, or advice.  And, also, sideline goal: not to have my children disgusted with me, or filled with shame that I am their mother.

It might be easier to break it down conversation by conversation:

Conversation #1 (my 11-year-old son):

I made this decision much more spontaneously than I ever typically do with these types of things, so I was flying blind as I introduced the subject.  A possible mistake, although who’s to say for sure?  A second, and in my mind, more concrete mistake:  I assumed he knew more than he did.  My son is extremely nosy, one of those kids that has his ear to the door of every adult conversation, phone call, etc.  So I figured in 2 1/2 years, he has definitely figured some things out, if not everything out.  Not the case, and so the beginning of the conversation was stilted and full of dead-end questions and answers while I tried to get my conversational footing.  Finally, we got to a jumping off point:  he said he assumed I went to meetings because I used to smoke, and that since cigarettes are drugs they are hard to stop, so I went to meetings with other people who are also trying to stop smoking.

Alright, we’ve got something to work with.  So I explained that some of that is true:  cigarettes are addictive, and while they have the drug of nicotine in them, they are different in that they are not mind-altering.  I then took some time to explain what I meant by mind-altering, and together we listed out all the different types of mind-altering drugs.  And from there I explained that while yes, I used to smoke and now I don’t, the reason I go to meetings, and sometimes meet with other women, is because I need to stay away from all mind-altering drugs and alcohol.

His reaction was surprise, then his perception kicked in and he had all sorts of detail-oriented questions (“wait… is that why we don’t have alcohol in the house?”).  I answered every one honestly, and it was clear from his questions and his reaction that he truly did not know anything at all regarding my recovery.  He told me he remembered when I used to drink, but only in the context of larger family functions when every person at the party was very, very drunk.

I will admit to feeling deep relief at this point, because I was terrified of what I would hear out of the kids’ mouths when I asked them if they remember when I drank.

We were winding down, and there was a pause in the conversation; when I looked at him again, he had tears in his eyes.  That is probably the moment I have relived the most through the whole experience, and the reason I will forever wonder if I did the right thing.  He never fully cried, and it took some time for me to get the answer of why he had tears in his eyes out of him.  Finally, he admitted that “it’s a lot to take in, finding out that my Mom is an alcoholic.”

Another low point of the conversation.  I considered that for a moment, told him I understood, and that he is not alone in feeling overwhelmed by that label.  We talked about why that word is so scary, what he thought it meant versus all of this new information.  I explained that lots and lots of people in the world misunderstood what it means to be an alcoholic.  Finally, he has a couple of friends who are diabetic, so I asked him:  would you gasp and point your finger at your friend and say, “Oh no, YOU are a DIABETIC?!?”  Of course he laughed, but then I compared the two diseases:   both are not the fault of the person who has them, both are lifelong conditions, but are easily managed by doing a few simple things, and you can live a long and happy life despite having either of them.   He seemed to feel better after this, and asked a few more questions, but the conversation mostly wound down after, and he genuinely seemed fine afterwards.

Conversation #2 (my 14-year-old daughter):

I’ll make this recap a lot shorter, because it went a lot easier.  I was more prepared, and had no thoughts that she knew anything beforehand, so I used my conversation with my son as the starting point, about his assumption about cigarettes, and went right on from there.  She reacted a lot less surprised, although she insisted she had no idea.  She just said, “I had no idea, but it’s not like you’re telling me something that’s crazy,” which of course prompted me to list all sorts of new revelations, but we quickly got back to it.  She asked questions that were more intuitive than I would have thought possible of her: When exactly did it become a problem?  Is it hard to watch different family members drink, and does it make you want to drink?  Will you ever be cured?  All her questions were springboards for great further conversation, and at no point was she agitated or distressed.

In the interest of balancing the low point, right as we were wrapping up, my daughter touched my arm, and as sincerely as you can imagine, said, “Mommy, I’m so glad you’re better now.”

So there’s the deets, folks.  I did attempt to have a “family follow up” three days later.  We were out to dinner, and I said, “Since we are all here I wanted to give anyone and everyone an opportunity to talk more about this.  Have you thought about it and do you have more questions?”  My daughter did not, my son only said, “I did think about it more, and I thought more about the diabetic thing and that made me feel a lot better.”  They both continued to eat, laugh and bicker for the rest of the meal, so I will take all of that as a good sign.

The reason I feel like I can’t call this a failure or success is this:  the whole point is to give them information so that they can make good decisions down the road, and to let them know they have a ready and willing resource. Time will tell, I guess, but so far, a week later, there has been no fallout, and everyone seems to be living their lives as they did before.

I started this post saying that I have no idea what’s about to come out of my head.  I think the reason is I’m writing from two distinct points of view:  getting this out of my own head, and also sharing this experience in the hopes of helping someone else in my shoes.   For the former, as I mentioned, only time will tell if this was a good thing or a bad thing.

In terms of the latter, here’s my advice concerning talking to your kids:

  • Really assess if they are emotionally ready for this kind of information
  • Have a starting point for the conversation so that you are not fumbling for words straightaway.  You can’t prepare for every direction the conversation might take, but you can control the opening
  • Have a good purpose for the talk, so you can remind yourself why you are doing it if the going gets rough
  • Prepare mentally for curveball questions, and resolve to be as honest as possible

Hope this helps someone if they are looking to sit down with their kids!

Today’s Miracle:

It’s only now, as I hit publish, that I am feeling a sense of accomplishment in getting this task completed (and, might I add, completed with days left before the end of summer, it’s like two miracles!)

The Miracle Really Is Around the Corner

the-miracle-is-around-the-cornerSM

 

I would normally not post on a Friday, normally not post two days in row, normally I would be getting ready to go to a meeting this morning.  But, I’ve got a story to tell, and I am compelled to write it immediately rather than wait, so here I am, and if this doesn’t prove the title of this blog, then nothing will.

Yesterday I am sitting with my son, my daughter is at soccer and will be gone half the day, and I realize I have an opportunity to sit down and have “The Talk” with him (read here to understand the reference).  And then I realize he has a number of social commitments (Kids these days need a social director for all of their activities.   Oh wait, that’s me, isn’t it?) that have him away from home, and we are rapidly approaching the start of the school year.  So I say to him, “Let’s head out to Trader Joe’s and then grab some lunch,” and off we went.

I will quickly interject:  this alone is amazing.  Before doing anything that I consider this monumental, I would normally talk it to death:  long, exhausting conversations with my husband and my Mom, weighing the pros and cons and examining every “what if” situation that flies into my head.  To date, the only things I had decided on were:

1.  talk to each child separately, in order for them to process in their individual way

2.  talk in a neutral location, rather than the house

3.  reconvene one more time as a family in case anyone had follow-up

Other than that, I prepared nada, which is sheer craziness for someone like me.

Believe it or not, this post is not about the outcome of these discussions.  Sorry to leave you hanging, but I still haven’t had the final wrap-up with both kids, and I really want to give them that time to reflect and come back to me before I give any kind of summary.

In the end I am glad I started with my son, because his conversation was a lot more difficult.  We talked all through lunch and all the way to pick up my daughter, and by the time she was in the car, he was completely his happy-go-lucky self.  However, me being me, I fretted a bit about certain aspects of the conversation, which I then discussed with my husband.  I second-guessed to the point that I considered not going through with the second conversation, which of course would be ridiculous, as my son would inevitably talk to her.  So with a heavy heart I did the same scenario with my daughter last night as my son ran cross-country.

That conversation went a lot better and a lot smoother than the first one, I am guessing age and life experience might play into it a bit.  Again, I am not trying to tease you all with small details, I will write a full report, probably next week when I have managed to wrap this whole thing up.  But bottom line:  both conversations went far better than I expected, and more importantly, they are over!

By the time Reilly and I are through, and we have run some errands, and picked up Danny, I am exhausted, no doubt mental exhaustion more than anything else.  I say to my husband, “I need a shower,” and off I go.  I am dickering back and forth in my head about various fine points of each conversation, and I stop, mentally slap myself, and say, “Finish up, get dressed, and knock this off!”  I head out of the shower over to my lotion (I am an unbelievable creature of habit with certain aspects of my life).  My contacts are out, but something is sitting on top of my lotion.  I put my glasses on, and this is what I see:

005

The ring I had lost 8 days ago!

I run out of the room to find out the details:  my daughter was getting a shopping bag out for something, and found it in the shopping bag, so she wanted to surprise me and put it where I would see it immediately.  I thanked her walked back to my room, and sobbed by myself for a solid five minutes.

This story would be awesome in and of itself.  Here’s the miraculous part, and the reason I was so emotional.  When I lost that ring Wednesday of last week, I was reasonably sure based upon when I saw it last that I had lost it in the frenzy of getting groceries into the house.  Before I even put groceries away, I went through each bag and checked for the ring.  I then straightened each bag, smoothed each one and formed a neat pile, where they sat on the counter for a day.   I repeated this process several times until I was convinced they could not be in some wrinkle in the bag.  After about two days… are you sitting down?

I threw that pile of bags away.

In other words, the bags from that shopping trip are not in my house anymore.  They haven’t been for about 5 days.  So when Reilly went to find a grocery bag, she grabbed one from a shopping trip that way, way, WAY predated the one where I lost my ring.

There may be a cynical reader who will find a loophole to this story, but I will know, deep in my bones, that Reilly finding that ring, on that day, was a miracle, and a sign that I did the right thing telling my children.

Today’s Miracle:

Since all that happened yesterday, I will give one for today.  My husband left for work a few minutes ago, and I was wishing him well with some frustrating situations he had awaiting him.  He said, “Absolutely nothing is going to shake my day, after the way you inspired me yesterday with your honesty and courage.”  Whew, too much emotion in one 24 hour period!  Also, I can snap this shot and send it out:

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