Sunday, August 9, 2015

College Countdown

Eighteen. Eighteen minutes, eighteen hours, eighteen days, eighteen months...eighteen years. A mother counts her child in so many ways. When he was eighteen minutes, they wheeled him out of recovery. My husband looked at me,  then looked back at his first-born son, and said, "I'm going to follow him." I completely understood. I still follow him. I glance up, I glance back, I trace on Find My iPhone, while I convince myself that my parents would have traced me if they could have, and if it's on the ground then it can't be helicopter parenting...maybe.

Our first-born is eighteen. He leaves for college in less then a week. We're older parents, and I'm fine with that. I think we're not in charge of timing, and the timing was right for us. But how time has flown - I'm not good with that. When he went to have his senior pictures taken last year, all I could see was my mother-in-law's wall of senior pictures of the grandchildren. Ours won't be on the wall. She passed away his junior year. 

Last year Momma was able to come see his marching band. She loved seeing both our sons and their band, while my brother, and I were struck by how much Daddy would have loved it. He loved a good band. But he passed away, too.

I'm not sure how to approach being the parent of an adult. I knew or pretended to know how to handle an infant. Lots of love, clean diapers, food on time, and a dash of praying. Elementary school had its challenges - ADHD, and judgmental parents and teachers who should have known better. High school meant a lot of time convincing him to try harder on his schoolwork, and to talk to people. He wouldn't stop talking when he was young. Once he got to high school he wouldn't start. I was painfully reminded of that at my favorite grocery store not too long ago. The bagger was a kid I recognized. I said hello. He asked how he knew me. I told him whose Mom I was. Immediately he said that my kid was the kid who was such a clown and idiot, wouldn't shut up when they were younger, and when they got to high school he was known as the kid who wouldn't talk.

Well, bite my ass, punk.

No, I didn't say that, but I really, really wanted to. Amazing how immaturity hits you the moment it involves your child. I wanted to point out our son's every accomplishment. Instead I mumbled my way through my groceries while feeling the eyes of the cashier bearing down on me - 'what a lousy mother she must be.'

Our son has had criticism thrown his way from the very beginning. So have I. His hyperactivity was because of too much sugar or my slack parenting, take your pick. Except the kid isn't really big on sweets, and I didn't sit around letting him run wild. Along the way, he heard your comments, after all his ears are thirty-six years younger then mine. You people who went to anti-bullying rallies thought nothing of making negative comments about him. So the pendulum swung and he just stopped talking. If you're a close friend, he'll talk. Otherwise you can bite his ass. What strikes me is if I went up to you and said, 'Hey, your kid is fat.', what a horrible person I would be. I know nothing of the circumstances involved. But a kid who is very shy, it's perfectly acceptable to come up to me and say something. Seriously?? Do you think I'm not aware? I particularly enjoyed the teacher who went on and on about how slow he was, and forgetful, and how that would drive her crazy if he was her child, and she did this IN FRONT OF SEVERAL OTHER MOTHERS! Why, yes, a highlight of the years.

I'm petrified to send him off to college. I know just how cruel people can be, and colleges are not immune from that. If anything they are a breeding ground of selectivity enabled pompous asses (I keep using that word - normally I'm a much cleaner writer, but the word works). I remember the rejections of college. I want it to be a happy, fun experience. 

I've been posting childhood pictures of fun times - trips, fishing with his grandma, riding a tractor with one grandpa, and on a train with the other granddaddy. He's laughing or excited in these pictures, and then it strikes me. He's happy. He's got several close friends. One will be his roommate. And along the way the asses taught him a valuable lesson. His self esteem is not earned based on your approval. He takes care of his business, and ignores the ass who wants to give him a hard time because he's not interested in performing for your approval.

The pictures have reminded me not to grieve this chapter closing. His childhood was fun for both of us. Playgrounds, museums, battlefields, amusement parks, state fairs, beaches, mountains, music, and laughter have all been experienced. When they say that your child will grow up so fast - believe them. When you see some homily about housework can wait, go have some fun - do it. I will miss my child. But I look forward to meeting my adult son. I'm sure he will be more mature than I am about the asses of the world.

Finally, to quote a favorite song: "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" Ashford & Simpson

Remember the day I set you free
I told you you could always count on me darling
From that day on, I made a vow,
I'll be there when you want me,
Some way, some how

Oh baby there ain't no mountain high enough,
Ain't no valley low enough,
Ain't no river wide enough
To keep me from getting to you babe


I love you, always, my beautiful baby boy.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

It's the Everyday Stuff, Ain't It?

One month from today, I'll have a high school graduate. Actually, three of the four gaby ladies will have high school graduates this year. Just a touch overwhelming to think about, when your child still seems so young to your own eyes. Some high school graduates will go straight to full time work, others straight to the military, others go on to college. Any way you approach it, adulthood is beckoning. I told some friends at lunch that I had been struck by the most horrid realization that as much as I had tried to raise my child, there were huge swaths of knowledge (like the proper usage of the word swath), that I never properly conveyed. So I started a list, because every teenager LOVES seeing their mom approach them with a list...

So every day, the poor kid has a very brief lecture, discussion, about items on the list. So here in writing, and I do not promise no further additions, is some of the list:

The car - how to jump-start a battery, already demonstrated when he sat in his car running the a/c, and the radio without the engine. Also discussed a flat tire, engine warning lights, roadside assistance, and car insurance. Most importantly, we discussed accidents - who to talk to, who to call, and DO NOT STOP ON A DESERTED ROAD IF SOMEONE REAR ENDS YOU. Sadly, I explained about staged accidents, and that he should call 911, explain the situation, why he was not stopping at the scene of the accident, and where he should travel to. Young adults traveling alone are a target, and you aren't always in an area you are familiar with. In case you think I missed a hot topic - he's been lectured on the use of his phone while driving since before he could drive. Fortunately, he uses his phone to pipe music playlists through his car speakers, which has the advantage of making him ignore calls/texts as that would mess up his tunes.

Identity Theft - most teenagers are not comfortable yet with their own identity. Unfortunately, there are people out there more then happy to take on your identity for you. One simple rule - when in doubt, shred. People will go through the trash looking for that piece of paper with your social security number or maybe a voided check with your account number/routing number. Shred it. Never give out information on the phone except to your own mother, if you want me to cover that outrageous bill for data. Don't trust the email that looks all official-like wanting you to confirm a password. The bank ALREADY knows what they need to know - they ain't asking you. Same thing for the government, and your college. Never give out account numbers or passwords. And treat any threats they issue - like how you'll lose access, blah, blah, blah - exactly the way you treated my threats over cleaning your room. Then I know they'll get nowhere.

People - Sorta like the identity theft one, trust is a big issue. You're going to meet a lot of new people. Some will be fantastic, and become life long friends that you will laugh with over that thing that happened that night at that place (better not be a bar - geez, now I just sound stupid) for the rest of your lives. Others will be ones that you will use as examples to your own children. Sometimes it's hard to distinguish the two, and sometimes you're wrong. Often the manipulators are soooo nice, and friendly, and they make the request to use your car, your computer, your money, seem sooo reasonable. Like you're the one being unreasonable, and mean to say no. Others will jump in like a Greek chorus pushing on you to say yes. JUST SAY NO. You were not put on this earth to provide rides, money, food to others (except your brother - if he goes to the same college, you two WILL do all of that). These people will exist in your universe for the rest of your life, so college is a great training ground for recognizing them, and moving past them. This doesn't mean that you can't help someone in need. BUT THERE IS A DIFFERENCE. Some of the wealthiest girls at ECU were the biggest users. I ended up throwing away shoes, clothes, hot curlers that were ruined by others, even provided rides to parties I WASN'T invited to, before I started realizing what was going on. I can be slow on the uptake. Sharing with others, and being taken advantage of are not the same.

Priorities - College is expensive. You are not there for the party. You are not there to demonstrate your video gaming prowess. You are there to prepare you for a career which will enable you to come home to visit, not to live. Set your priorities. Have fun, AFTER YOUR SCHOOLWORK, especially if you want us to contribute to the cost.

I've shown our son how to write a check, how to look at his balances online, made sure he has his email set up on his phone, how to address an envelope, how to write a thank you note, how to wash a load of clothes (though I suspect those will come my way since he's only a short drive away), but I know I've missed a lot so any suggestions are welcome. I'm going to miss my baby, but I do welcome seeing a young man.






Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Blood Sport for the All American Girl

"For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”
Mr. Bennet, upon reading Lizzy the letter from Mr. Collins, which hints that she may be engaged to Mr. Darcy and warns them that Lady Catherine will never approve
Pride & Prejudice, Volume 3, Chapter 15
So I read a book for my much loved book club. The book was simultaneously the easiest and hardest read. On reflection, I have to give it a very solid, porch swing worthy recommendation. The book is "Big Little Lies", by Liane Moriarty.
More about the book in a moment - I will tie all of this together, wrapped up in the threads of life.
"Now I know I'm just here to amuse you
And I don't mean to abuse you
But if I could just use you one time 
Tell me what it's like
To be the queen of it all
The Neiman Marcus of the Mall
And tell me what it's like to be the one and only
All American Girl"
Train, "All American Girl"
I find myself reflecting on the passage of time. Our oldest son will finish high school in May. We're wrapped up in college decisions, and majors, and the younger son is only one year behind, plus my goddaughter has decided to go to college at my own alma mater. At times I feel like my head peeked out from a cocoon and the time/space continuum warped me - or something like that. So I was thinking last week that I should focus on what I WON'T miss when the boys have gone off to college. You know, the dishes, the tracked in dirt, the car lines, the Queen Bees, and along came this book. 
"At the gas station, I think she pretended not to see me." 
"It felt like every parent was secretly observing their conversation. This must be what it felt like to be famous."
"Not here, you idiot. Let's not talk about family business with sharp-eared mothers all around us."
"The Blond Bobs hurrying about looking very involved and important as they did each Friday morning."
"It would already be on Facebook."
"Give me a vicious corporate takeover any day."
Yes - along came this book. I'm betting that I don't have to go into much more detail then the quotes...because I'm betting you now know what sport I reference. It's the blood sport of motherhood. It's mildly amusing that once I got a grip on how little the Queen Bees opinion of me should count, I have very little sighting of them anymore. But this book brought back many delightful memories woven with a thread of humor, and a reminder - don't trust what YOU DON'T KNOW to be true.
So to the moms out there still in the running of the moms which bears an eerie resemblance to the running of the bulls in Pamplona - You are a champion. Read the book - You are not alone. Good luck - but you don't need it. Their opinions don't matter, trust me.








Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Happy Birthday, Momma!!

"Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens" - Rodgers and Hammerstein, "My Favorite Things'

One of my favorite things is the unexpected. The person who has been dismissed, a judgment made, and then all expectations are shattered. Lady GaGa did that with the Oscars the other night. Some already knew that her voice is an incredibly well trained instrument, but many looked at those silly red rubber dishwashing gloves, and that was that.  Man, she showed up in the best way.

My mother's birthday is today. She's a small woman, and she always has been. If ever there was an illustration of the quote, "Though she be but little, she be fierce" (William Shakespeare, "A Midsummer Night's Dream"), Momma is it. She has no problem at all with telling you exactly what she thinks, and good luck.

But wrapped in that small package is also a depth of compassion that took her through years of being a nurse at the Women's Prison, through the years of AIDS at a prison, and her husband's dementia. 

She has a story about hugging a prisoner who was dying of AIDS:

“You know back then, AIDS had just started out. It was just getting to be well known, and we had a lot of prisoners to come in there that had a positive AIDS test. And we had to put them in isolation. And we had three inmates that died at Women’s Prison from AIDS. We had to go in there and wait on them. And I think the hardest thing that I've ever done was I went in the room one day to check on one of them, that was dying and she wanted me to hug her neck and I didn't want her tears on me, because we still weren't sure about how you caught it. But I sat down and I let her hug my neck because she just wanted to touch somebody. Her family couldn't come see her. Those were some tough times. But you do what you have to do.”

Momma has a tolerance and an acceptance. Her last sentence actually illustrates beautifully her life philosophy, “But you do what you have to do.” She doesn't look at taking care of the ill or dying as something horrible to flee from. She simply does it.

She's one of the quiet many who have helped the world. You may look at her and see a small older woman. I look at her, and I see my hero. Happy Birthday, Momma. We love you very much. Thank you for the lessons in how best to live a life.

Friday, February 13, 2015

My Son Climbed a Tree of Tests

"Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life thinking its stupid." Albert Einstein

I walked into a conference room, and thought, "Are these rooms called conference rooms when they are in an elementary school?" The room was already crowded. I silently counted the people. There were three teachers, two administrators, and one person I didn't know. So a total of six people to my one. A few years prior I had helped with the accounting consolidation of some recently purchased manufacturing plants. That conference room only had four people in it. Four people to work on a purchase involving millions of dollars, and hundreds of jobs. Seven people to discuss a seven year old's education. Six of them sure that I was wrong.

Our younger son was inducted into the National Honor Society this week. He's also been inducted into the Beta Club, and received an Academic Achievement Award. He has college credit waiting. I could go on, but already I sound like one of those moms you avoid like the plague on the playground so you don't have to spend the next hour hearing how their child cured cancer in their sandbox yesterday while changing his own diaper and pressure washing the siding. But here's the rest of the story:

Once upon a time he was a special education student. He was placed in Special Education at seven years old. He was taken back out of Special Education in a matter of months. Still, I remember it with the sting of a parent who was ignored. They said he couldn't read at grade level, that he didn't identify letters correctly, he had an "issue" with words. I said, he has a confidence issue. He DOES understand, and he does know. He's an intuitive kid who looks for your cues as to what answer you are looking for, and then provides it even if it's not the one HE thinks is correct. He has an older brother who has severe ADHD. I spend too much time working with the older brother on homework and not enough time working with our younger son. I need to improve. He needs me to pay more attention to his needs. He needs to know that it's OK to give his answer and not the one he thinks others want to hear. I believe Special Education is wonderful, and vital. But it was not the proper placement for this child. If I thought it was I would have embraced it, volunteered, done everything I needed to do for him. But it wasn't the right placement, and we have TESTS to thank for those few months.

It was hard not to flash back to that meeting during each awards ceremony. It was hard not to remember my entreaties that his needs were not being correctly addressed. The "tests" - so many letters, and names I had never heard of - all the "tests" said he wasn't capable. It was hard to ignore the creeping smugness I felt regarding all who tried to convince me that he would never read well at his level.

Once he entered the Special Education program, the wonderful teacher there worked one on one with him. She was open to listening to my assessments, and never gave me that all too common condescension that I had encountered in some in the education field. The attitude that said that since I was NOT an education professional I couldn't possibly know what I was talking about did not exist with this teacher. She recognized that parents spend more time with their children then teachers so we might have an inkling of an idea regarding the child's strengths and weaknesses.

Before long, the talented Mrs. R was discussing with me his confidence issues. We were discussing how to make him comfortable with answering with what HE thought was correct, and not just what he THOUGHT someone wanted to hear. Shortly after that, he scored so ridiculously high on an assessment test that a small "graduation" party was held for him, and he was back in his original classroom. Oh, the irony - tests placed him in, tests placed him out. 

By the fourth grade, he had the fabulous Mrs. H. She loved, loved, loved on this child just as she had his older brother, encouraging his love of History, his love of reading, and giving him the experience he needed to flourish. His teacher, Mrs. C helped convince him - he is a bright kid. I've silently thanked those teachers during every awards ceremony - and I've written my thanks to them also.

It may sound like I'm blasting my local school system. I'm not. We have a fantastic music program that both our sons have thrived in, the high school offers several foreign languages, and AP classes, and every negative encounter with an educator has been offset by hundreds of positive ones. 

But year after year...tests...and tests....and tests. Tests tell us where he is flourishing. Tests tell us where he needs improvement. The tests say which teachers are doing well. SERIOUSLY? Do the tests tell whether a teacher has a classroom with six kids who have horrific home lives, three more who have siblings getting all the attention at home (as mine was - I readily admit that), and four who came to school hungry?? Do the tests recognize that some kids DON'T test well in a timed environment or that some kids mature at a different rate, and will test astoundingly well next year?? 

Now, I must acknowledge, I circle around very distantly the issue of Common Core. My kids aren't affected so I've viewed some articles but it's not a heartfelt exploration. But I have an issue with the word COMMON. To me, it implies that all is the same. ALL IS NOT THE SAME. Tests look for a commonality. Do you know the word - infatuation? It's an SAT word. I'll use it in a sentence. Our nation is infatuated with testing. But infatuation implies a passing fancy, not a deep seated love. It strikes me that a nation that was founded based on individuality is now striving for likeness in all. Tests and their ability to rule our lives is a national problem in our education system.

There is no one learning style. There is no one maturation rate.  Our education system and our politicians need to recognize the uniqueness.  There is no one correct answer that makes everyone else an ignoramous. A little civility among the adults might be nice. One group advocates testing. Another group throws money around. Programs are eliminated, programs are added, and at the end of the day we still suck at teaching our youth. Identification of learning disabilities is vital, and identification and intervention at a young age are key. BUT, we need some programs which allow children to play, and learn, to develop, and not be put under pressure to meet a norm which is unreasonable. 

I never bothered to teach my children the alphabet before kindergarten. Silly me, I thought that was what kindergarten was supposed to help with. I DID teach them how to build a fort out of sticks, and to pretend the play set was a ship on the shining seas. I was mightily criticized for a five year old (our older son) not knowing the alphabet completely. The same five year old is now 18. He knows the alphabet now - English, and Mandarin. He'll be attending college in the Fall. And he STILL knows how to lash together sticks for a fort - might be helpful during a zombie apocalypse or when he has his own children.

Are there complexities that I don't begin to discuss and address - how wealthy is the school district, how involved are the parents, are there language issues, and I could go on - absolutely there are issues. Do I have answers? Absolutely not. But I wonder what happens to the child who doesn't have a parent able to sit on the phone, attend meetings, and email concerns. The parent who will lose a job for missed work can't attend meetings during the school day. The parent who doesn't speak the language can't discuss their point with reasoned passion. The parent or guardian who doesn't have internet access can't email, or check the parents portal for grades/assignments or help prepare for an almighty test which sets a path at seven years old. Where would the seven year old in that first paragraph now be at in 11th grade? Would he be throwing his mail from colleges into a basket to look at later? Shouldn't that be a concern? Should money be spent on more tests? Is that REALLY helping the child? Instead of more money on tests, how about more money on instructors, and counselors, and psychologists so the child can be seen as the individual and not as test results?

Children are these wonderful, amazing creatures - resilient, imaginative, unprejudiced. Are we allowing them to finish their education that way?