I’ve been wanting to share a story that happened a few weeks ago, during a time when a bunch of things were happening at once, so I needed time to process it along with all the other things, before I could write about it. I have written numerous posts about the trials and tribulations of parenting (here’s one, and another, and another, just as examples), and it seems, of late, that subject material is plentiful. If it’s not one child, it’s the other, and the best I can hope for is to keep my head above water these days. And when life feels like chasing one crisis after the other, it’s easy to let self-pity creep in… Woe is me! Nobody has all the drama I have! Where is my Higher Power when I need Him?
So let me set the stage for this story: it is mid-week, and I’m hustling to get elementary school child out the door for his 8 am chorus rehearsal. Middle school kid is already on the bus. As I’m giving directives (make sure your schoolbag is packed, get your saxophone, etc.) I glance over to the cubby where the schoolbags are packed and see that basketball sneakers have been left behind by the daughter who is already gone. Now, this may not seem like a huge deal, unless you are armed with the knowledge that this child forgets something… lunch, sneakers, once she got onto the bus and left her entire school bag in the garage… at least once a week, sometimes more. I am running late as it is, and her school is 10 minutes further away than the elementary school I am driving to, but I calculate, and tell my son to move even faster, because we are dropping off the sneaks before I take him. I am into the garage, and he says, “I can’t find my saxophone.”
A couple of things should be noted here:
- The saxophone is not a small instrument, and is made even larger by its carrying case. It would be very difficult to misplace.
- The saxophone is a very expensive instrument.
- The saxophone, and lessons, were something that my son had to sell us on; we did not believe he was responsible enough to take this on.
Needless to say, I am not a happy camper at this point. We determine that the best possible scenario is that he left it at school (which is a side story/lecture that could fill another post), but suffice it to say that I am ranting and raving about this issue for the entire ride to the middle school to drop off the forgotten sneakers. We are, no exaggeration, pulling up to the school, so have been in the car for at least 10 minutes, and my son says, “Maybe I took the saxophone upstairs to my bedroom.”
I will just let your imagination run wild with my response to that conjecture.
By the time I unloaded him at his school, and was driving by myself, I was beside myself. My poor husband made the mistake of calling to check in on me (he knew part of the calamity that was the morning), and I unloaded on him. “I used to pride myself on being a stay at home mom, so that I could be there for my children, no matter what. There was a time when being able to run a forgotten item to school made me feel good,” I said. “But now I’m afraid I have engaged too much, and I’m doing them a disservice. I’m so involved that they feel no sense of responsibility!” We talked it through and decided that, going forward, I needed to let them suffer the consequences for their lapses, and that is how they would learn.
About an hour went by, I was running various errands, and my phone rang, it was the middle school calling. I answered, and it was the Vice Principal of the school. My daughter has been in that school for 3 years now, and I have never received a phone call from anyone other than the nurse, so I was more curious than anything else. My daughter is definitely the one I fear school phone calls from the least. Anyway, the Vice Principal, who seems to be very intelligent, and very concerned staff member, starts by telling me a story of his earliest days as an educator, and how he was out to save the world, and some student who seemed to be slightly off-track, so he contacts the parents, and, long story short, the parents try to have him fired. So, for him, lesson learned, he will only do things by the book from now on. I am interested, but am connecting no dots with how this story relates to me. He then says, “Do you remember meeting me at the “coffee klatch” (an informal parent/teacher gathering)?” I confirm that I do, and he goes on to say, “Well, I remember you, because you asked some insightful questions, and were so interested, and so engaged, and I was very impressed by your level of involvement.”
I would like to editorialize at this point in the story: there were only about a dozen parents, and the whole point of the coffee klatch was for parents to get to know the teachers and administrators. By no means did I do anything extraordinary in that meeting.
So again, to make a long story short (and this was long, we were on the phone for an hour), he just wanted to share with me some generalized concerns he had about my daughter. There was nothing concrete, and no disciplinary action, but because I presented as such an “involved parent,” he wanted to speak with me informally and let me know his thoughts.
I am, of course, glossing over the emotion involved in getting such a phone call, and the fact that there was any concern at all about my daughter. I kid you not, she is an angel, so it floored me that she would come to anyone’s attention in a negative way. So, much to process on my end, and the long and short of that part of the story is a good one. My husband and I were able to communicate with her in a very positive way, and, since then, there has been nothing but good that has come out of that issue. I am forever indebted to the Vice Principal.
But the more relevant reason for my sharing this story: if ever there is doubt in my mind that God is listening to me, I will have only to recall this day in my mind to clear away my doubt. The very same morning that I voiced out loud my concern that I was “over-engaged” in the lives of my children, I receive a phone call from a seasoned professional telling me that he is only speaking to me this candidly because he appreciated how engaged I was in the lives of my children.
There are God moments, and then there are God moments!
I started writing this post yesterday afternoon, but was prevented from finishing it due to schedule conflicts. In the interim, I “ran into” (no coincidences) the Vice Principal himself! I was able to shake his hand and tell him how much his reaching out meant to me. Crazy good stuff!
When I attended college (back in the stone ages), there were different course requirements, depending upon the major you chose. For example, I was required to take courses in marketing each year. Freshman year the course title was Marketing 101, sophomore year the title was Marketing 201, and so on. In Marketing 101 we learned the basic principles. In Marketing 201, we built upon the foundation we learned in 101, but the subject matter was more sophisticated, and therefore more challenging.
I feel like my life could be entitled Parenting 201 this summer. My kids are 10 and 13, so theoretically I’ve known them for that length of time, but honest to God this summer it seems like aliens have taken over their bodies. No, I should clarify that statement. My 13-year-old daughter seems like an alien has taken over her body, my 10-year-old son is just joining in on the fun and games because that’s what little brothers do!
Maybe it’s because I’m in recovery, since I don’t remember thinking about this as in-depth as I have before now, but I’m trying to figure out where I’m going wrong, and I’m not coming up with any solutions. First, let me qualify the problems, as I see them, and perhaps writing them out will help me to process:
1. Time of Year. Separate from anything else, summer is a universally challenging time for any parent, due to all the unstructured time. Here is a miniscule example. Yesterday we had dentist appointments at noon, my son and I are waiting for my daughter to finish up.
Danny: “Let’s pick something up for lunch on the way home from here.”
Me: “No, we just had dinner out last night, do you remember how I drove 20 minutes to take you where you wanted to go? We are not eating out again. I’ll make lunch as soon as we get home. What would you prefer, a hot dog or peanut butter and jelly?”
Danny: “Could you grill me a hamburger?” (and yes, he did specify the way in which he would like his burger cooked)
Me (as even-toned as I could muster): “Would you like a hot dog or peanut butter and jelly?”
Danny: “What do we have in the fridge in terms of lunch meat? Could you cook up some bacon?”
Me: “This is the last time I am asking: do you want a hot dog or peanut butter and jelly?”
I will not bore you with the rest of the discussion, but the point is, this is one of about 1,000 such “teaching moments” on any given summer day. And I will not even begin to complain about the intra-sibling fights that take place each and every day. So, to recap, summer is a challenging season.
2. Changing personalities. This is the heart of the problem for me, and I will probably focus more on my teenage daughter with this issue. I know I am not covering any uncharted territory with this one, parents have been complaining about teenage girls since teenage girls first came into existence. So I do realize that I am not in a unique situation; what confounds me is what the hell to do about the behavior, along with my hurt feelings that my once-angelic daughter who acted as if I hung the moon now looks at me insolently, has nothing but sarcastic comments back to me, and argues EVERY SINGLE THING I say to her. Sometimes I try being honest with her (“When you stay at your cousin’s house for 3 days and fail to call me even once, it hurts my feelings”), I try the hard-lined approach (“You will speak to me with respect or you will face consequences”), I try sarcasm back (yes, I know this is not the best parenting technique, but sometimes my frustration level is so high that I need a release myself), and sometimes I try just ignoring whatever situation I’m in and hope it goes away. By the way, none of the above has been very effective.
3. Finding the balance. This concept applies in about a million ways: balance between letting them find their own way, and guiding them to make the right decisions. Balance between allowing them to speak their mind and shutting down the incessant “but what about…” statements. Balance between respecting privacy and knowing how and with whom they spend their time. Balance between allowing them a relaxed summer and having expectations with regard to chores, reading and the like. I’ll stop now, but I could keep the balance list going for another several paragraphs.
So that’s where I’m at, parenting-wise. I try, as best I can, to incorporate the principles of recovery into parenting. When decisions seem impossible, I do my best to turn them over. When things get heated between me and either of my children, I make my amends as quickly as I can. I try as much as possible to accept that there is much about these kids over which I am powerless, and that list grows longer with every year they age.
Anyone out there experiencing the same? I’d love to hear from you. Even better, anyone have the magic solution to all this parenting stuff? I’d really appreciate it if you could share your wisdom?
Today is the miracle of sharing what’s on my mind and in my heart. Just having typed this post, without even receiving feedback, I feel lighter!
I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection. –Sigmund Freud
21 years ago today, my Dad passed away. Does that mean he is legal up in heaven?
On this day every year, I spend a lot of time thinking about him. He shaped so much of who I have become. In my earliest memories, I can recall spending a lot of energy seeking his attention. In the adolescent years, that trend reversed, and I spent equal amounts of energy trying to avoid him at all costs.
My Dad suffered from the same demons as me, and I don’t just mean alcoholism. I can remember, very vividly, arguing heatedly with him. I was probably about 10 years old when he told me that he was a functional illiterate, and I did not know what that meant. When he explained the term, I was outraged, why would he say that about himself? It was ridiculously untrue, and he was demeaning himself by saying so. But as much as I tried, I could not convince him otherwise. He was “just a truck driver,” and therefore, somehow, less than.
My Dad was the guy that EVERYONE loved. The wake we had for him lasted several hours past the time it was intended, and the line in the Church was out the door. To this day, I make sure to get to every funeral I can for the people I love, first because my Dad taught me that was the right thing to do for the surviving family members, and second because the overwhelming support we received during that time chokes me up to this day.
Dad was, to date, the most generous person I have ever met. When I would come home from college for visits, he always made sure to send me back with some money. I did not realize it at the time, but often he gave me the only money he had in his wallet. I have tears in my eyes as I type this, and if he were here, he would laugh at me… it was not at all a sacrifice for him, he was just doing what came naturally.
He was the greatest story-teller I have ever known. He captivated me with his stories, and I believed every word he uttered. Once, he shared the story of his first date with my Mom. It would take too long to explain, but let’s just say he painted her in a less than favorable way (he took her to a fancy seafood restaurant, and she ordered tuna fish as her main course, just one part of this tall tale). I later talked to my Mom about it, and she was FURIOUS, with my Dad for spinning these stories, and with me for believing them.
There are many lessons that I consciously pass on to my children that came directly from him. Some of the more memorable things… “you are not going to learn any younger” and “stomachs can’t tell time.” I was also blessed to have older siblings that would tip me off on how to handle him. Dad was not much for getting into the nitty-gritty of our lives growing up, but once in a while he would decide that he needed to do his fatherly duty and sit us down to talk. These conversations were awkward at best, painful at worst, but I was so lucky to have older sisters to coach me through it. They told me if he ever sits you down and tells you he thinks something’s wrong with you, just tell him you’re “having problems with some friends at school.” The conversation did happen, I followed their advice, and man was I happy to have had it!
I was 22 when he died, and still caught up in the self-centered world of school life (grad school at this point), so one of my greatest regrets is that I did not get to appreciate him while he was alive. As a wife and mother, I wish I could tell him how much I appreciate the man he was, and the sacrifices he made for me. I tell my husband often that the two of them would be best friends, if they had ever gotten a chance to meet… they would spend every Sunday of football season together, yelling at the screen. And when I try to imagine how he would have been with my children, it makes me smile and cry at the same time… both of my kids would have been enchanted by him.
The best gift I can give to my Dad is to live my life in the way that he could not figure out… free of demons, and full of serenity. My Dad was always very proud of me, and my accomplishments, but there is no doubt in my mind that he would consider my recovery my greatest accomplishment to date, and I know he is cheering me on!
Choosing to focus on the wonderful qualities of a person, rather than dwelling on painful memories.
This morning I had what feels like the one millionth argument with my son. I wound up losing my cool and yelling, and then I had to leave the house, both him and me still upset. I really hate when I lose patience and yell… it accomplishes next to nothing, and upsets me more than it upsets him. I truly thought to myself… why can’t I just have a clearly spelled out set of rules in which to respond to his behavior? If there were a simple set of directions, I know I would be able to follow them, and life would be so much easier. But with child rearing, I am constantly left wondering… is this a situation to be strict, or would it serve me better to be lenient? Should I sit down and talk things out with him, or has too much talking been done and it is going in one ear and out the other?
Then I went to my AA meeting, and wound up having a one-on-one conversation with a friend in the program. Her kids are older, and her daughter is married to an active addict. The daughter has 4 children, ages 8 and younger. Yesterday, her daughter, son-in-law, and their 4 kids came to my friend’s house and said they have to stay there, because they are in danger as a result of her son-in-law’s addiction. My friend is struggling with fear for her daughter’s and grandchildren’s safety, and with skepticism over her son-in-law’s story, because he has lied many times in the past in order to obtain money from them.
I hope our conversation helped her in some way, but I know it helped me. It made me realize that no matter how frustrated I get with my kids, my problems are absolutely nothing compared to the problems of others. And while it might be nice to have a set of directions on child-rearing, it’s simply not going to happen. The problems get more complicated, not less, as children age, so I better just appreciate the “problems” I have now.
At least that’s what I’m telling myself as I gear up for a 3-hour drive in the car with them, wish me luck (and patience)…
A father is respected because
he gives his children leadership…
he gives his children care…
he gives his children time…
he gives his children the one thing
they treasure most – himself.
As I wrote in my “Mother’s Day” post, I have been fortunate to have been blessed with not one, but two sets of amazing parents. Since I took the opportunity to give accolades to Moms on their special day, I figured I would give equal time to the Dads of the world.
If Moms are all about love, forgiveness and quiet strength, then Dads are all about discipline, leadership and not- so-quiet strength. They are the ones we turn to when something breaks, when we are lost, or when (and this is especially true for me) we need general how-to information.
As I mentioned, I have had the great gift of having two Dads, the first having passed away 20 years ago, the other for the past 13 years through marriage. And while I miss my biological Dad dearly, I could not be more fortunate to have my current Dad. If not for him, I would not, at the most basic level, have my husband and children. But more importantly, he leads our family by his great example…. there is not one thing that he teaches us (and believe me, he has taught all of us so many things!) that he is not willing to do himself. So when preaches the value of hard work, he is the first to volunteer when a project needs to be done. When he preaches family values, he is the absolute first person there for any one of his family members in a crisis.
He has shown me, and his son, who emulates him perfectly in this respect, the real meaning of fatherhood. I simply cannot imagine what my life would be lacking without him as a role model, a source of strength, and as a friend.
It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory. ~W. Edwards Deming
I had to laugh when I read the quote I printed above. At this time of year, anyone with school-age children will know exactly why I chose this topic. Whether you are a working Mom or the stay-at-home variety, summertime has a unique set of opportunities and challenges. I am 1 hour into the summer vacation and I have already yelled at one child, negotiated an argument, and sent both children outside to play.
So I can look at this new situation in one of two ways: 1. Dear God it is going to be a long summer (this was the thought I had after I yelled but before I drank my coffee). or 2. Wow, do I have a great opportunity to do things different, as a woman in recovery, this summer! Obviously, since I am writing the two options for the world to see, I am going to attempt the latter choice (with the option to occasionally wallow in the first).
What is awesome is taking the lessons learned in recovery and applying them to everyday life. Just because I started the first day of summer on a frustrated note does not mean my whole day is ruined. In fact, it is just the opposite… it is an opportunity to learn, and apply that knowledge to the next frustrating situation that arises. Which, at the rate this morning has gone, will be any second… how lucky am I to be able to use the knowledge I’ve gained so quickly and so often?!?