Monday, October 29, 2012

Parenting and The Hallelujah Chorus

By the time I was seven, I was an Aunt. By the time I was 21, I was the Aunt of ten. When I married at 26, there were two more miracles of fun-loving, spirit-lifting blessings added into the mix of nieces and nephews. I didn’t have little brothers and sisters, but I had the best of my sisters and my brother around me at one point or another through my life. They taught me patience, they taught me wonder, but most of all they taught me that I was a fool if I believed that you can control every single minute of a child’s behavior. Of course, nothing compares with having children of your own.

I've been called to the Principal’s Office as an adult on a couple of occasions, and while I felt every bit as guilty as a fifth grader caught shooting a spit ball, there were instances that I laughed…hard. My children are not perfect, but they are perfectly mine, and while I cringe at the rolling eyes and innuendo that I’m dumber than dirt, or the spontaneous combustion of behavior that is my five-year-old son, I am so graced to be their Mama. That’s why I crack up at some of the childless who are on their way into parenthood.

I can’t begin to count the times I've heard “I would never let my child do that,” or “How can you laugh at what your child just did?” Hate to tell ya, but children will do a ton of things that will make us question our sanity and strain our patience. I had a call two weeks ago from THE Principal while I was elbow deep in paper work at my job. My cherub faced boy had eluded the teachers at bathroom break, turned off the lights, and hid in one of the stalls. He was, of course, sent to the office where the principal told me, “Mrs. Carman, I think he had way too much fun just talking with me. As soon as he said he was sorry, he wanted to talk about my day.” That’s my boy.

When I questioned him about what he did, he had an open-eyed look on his face as he told me in a confidential whisper, “Mama, they called my name a couple of times, and you know what? I didn't answer them!” I had to leave the room and straighten my face. When I had “Stern Mommy” firmly in place, I explained that he should always be with his class, that what he did wasn't safe, and that even though he thought it would be fun, it disrupted class time for his classmates. He understood, and told me he was sorry, but in the same breath he told me he just wanted to see what would happen.

When my daughter was three, she witnessed a baptism at church. She was fascinated, and asked more questions than an interrogator at Gitmo. The next day she had a bucket of sand that she carried from one landscape area to another, sprinkling each one with sand and saying in a tone way too serious for her years, “I baptize you in the name of The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit.” Then the bucket of sand fell over and I heard her exclaim, “Oh shit!” I was on her quicker than she could blink, telling her how wrong it was to say that word, and then asking her where she heard it. When she named another adult in the neighborhood I felt righteous indignation, until she added, “and you, Mama.”

Our children teach us about how beautifully messy life is, and how we can only control what we do as individuals, more than any self-help book out on the market. They remind us of all that is hopeful and innocent, even in the midst of their acting out. Parenting is full of extremes within extremes. Parenthood is laughter, tears, hopes, fears and all of the yearning to keep our children safe and innocent for as long as possible. Whatever my children do, whether I would “let” them do it or not, they have taught me, as I hope to teach them. One moment the bottom falls out, and the next you hear the Hallelujah Chorus, and I wouldn't know what to do if life were any other way.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Therapy of Driving...

Ok, I've never pretended to like taking my kids to school. Even they know it's something I really don't enjoy. Yeah, I know I should've been less vocal. But this way the therapist will have something to talk to them about.

"Why do you think your mother hated taking you to school? Do you think it was because she would miss you terribly while you were away?"

"Nope. I think she just thought people drove like they had their head up their @ss."

Hmm, therapy might not cost so much after all.

I am not the world's best driver, despite my constant lectures to the sixteen year old about what is and what isn't proper driving. I can say that I have been ticket and accident free for quite some time (knock on wood). But I've got to give some credit to my guardian angel, and some to the fact that I do not find my iPhone to NEED my constant care and feeding.

The count this morning on the way to the high school:

One broken down car in the middle lane (bless their heart, we've all been there).

One wreck in the middle lane (bless their heart, we've all been there). Though I do wonder - was someone looking too long at the broken down car, and didn't stop in time? I remind the boys - look at the road, not at the scenery.

One car straddled two lanes until I honked my horn (Something I try not to do frequently. Never know how pissed off it might make somebody). Then she decided on my lane. Oh, joy.

One car that at every light would swerve when he started off. How do I know? I was behind him at several. See there are TEN lights between our home and the high school plus a bridge over a major interstate. You get to share a lot of together time with some other drivers. I suspect he was surfing his phone at every light and when the light changed, it was a little difficult to put down the phone, and drive off in your own lane. To his credit once he got going he seemed fine. Until the next light...

And that's not an all encompassing list.

See the thing about taking them to school, is the traffic. If the other cars would just stay home, it wouldn't be so bad. Or I could homeschool them. Now THAT would really pay a therapist well. Wonder if they give a discount to mothers? Oh, well. At least it's Friday...wait, they're in the marching band. That means I get to take them and pick them up on Saturday, too. Sigh...I love those kids. Obviously.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Bully Pulpit

Hubby and I will spend next Sunday morning taking our turn at teaching youth Sunday School. It's always an interesting experience. Sitting with a room full of teenagers is like staring into an abyss. You don't know what's out there, but you're pretty sure there is something. Some of the teens will speak up, others, like the two that we've been raised by, will sit silently and stare.

Yet, we're excited. It's always interesting to see where the discussion will lead, and this one will be particularly poignant to me. It's national anti-bullying month so the youth group leaders, and I have come up with a program which we hope will spark some discussions or at least linger in their minds. I'm collecting quotes from celebrities who felt bullied - we'll let them see if they can match them up. I'm also collecting quotes from fellow church members and leaders. I think it's helpful to see that people you respect and know personally have been through similar tough experiences. I remember as a teenager I thought all adults had it so together. Us adults know that ain't so. 

Trying to discuss bullying is hard for me. I've been bullied, and I know how it feels. Frankly my teen years give way too much fodder for discussion in regards to bullies. I think if you have empathy then when something occurs that hits close to home with one of your own experiences, the memories can almost overwhelm you. Recently there was a story about a girl in Michigan (Whitney Kropp) who was "jokingly" placed on the homecoming court. The (not so) cool kids thought it would be "funny". @$%^^&!!! I instantly was transported to the teen girl who was invited to a party at one of the cool kids houses. Ohhh, I was so delighted. I remember vividly the new outfit - cream colored velour lace up the front bell bottoms (don't hate me - it was the '70's and I was skinny), with a blue top and a silver ankh necklace. I was prepared to become cool. But becoming cool isn't possible if you've been invited to an event just to be the court jester. I also vividly remember how it felt when someone purposely tripped me, and the entire crowd laughed hysterically at me sprawled on the floor. Still I was a little dense, and stayed on. At least I stayed until I overheard some of the girls. The words used to describe me will not be used here. But I knew then that it was time to leave. So I called my parents. When Daddy came to pick me up, I started crying and the poor man didn't know what to do. He gave comfort as best he could. But it's hard to be a teenager discovering who you are when others are so quick to tell you who you aren't, and can't possibly ever become.

Now this may sound like one small instance. One bad memory that I should "just get over". But I have years of examples of name calling, and ridicule, humiliation and hurt. And I have to say that I feel sorry for the bullies, too. I wonder now just what was so hard in their lives that they needed to feel this power and superiority at my expense. Of course, having sympathy for them is made easier by having a wonderful marriage, and two kids I adore, and close friends who love me - regardless of my outfits. Somehow I was blessed with the ability to get up and walk away from the bullies. It doesn't mean it didn't affect who I am. Do NOT put me in a room full of women and expect the real me. I revert. I don't mean to, and I try not to, but I am overwhelmed at the prospect. I wrote "A Kind Place to Sit" over a year ago. I still look for someone kind in the room. And even at my age, sometimes they aren't there. Some of the young bullies just grow up to be more finessed bullies. That's where mercy, empathy, faith, compassion, and forgiveness can all play a part. Maybe they won't change. But how we react, and what we accept as reasonable behavior can change. We can each show others a level of respect and mercy whether it is shown to us or not. And we can teach our children to do that through our examples. I've had a few of my former bullies become my friends on Facebook. Most of them (not all) seem to have grown up and changed their ways. As our pastor pointed out yesterday in his sermon (Happiness Happens to Those Who Are Brokers of Second Chances) - second chances are important. I think they may be more important to us than to them. Second chances allow us to grow and change. I pray that the bullies change, and may the bullied have the strength to walk away and forgive them.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Fear of Writing

Fear's a funny thing. It can paralyze you or it can set you free. Yesterday, Dawn and I sat together for a few hours, and in between the laughter, and the concern over our fathers and their health, we loaded up a year's worth of 4Gaby essays on to the Amazon Kindle format (buy here - no need to pretend we don't want you to, of course we want you to) as a book.

The last few years have had their rough patches. I've lost a number of loved ones, and encountered other life changing issues along the way. But all that fear, and anxiety, and worry really has caused me to refocus my life. I no longer fret over the little stuff, and I don't really worry so much. The treasures of life come along, sometimes in the midst of the pain, and encountering the pain helps us realize the treasures when they happen. It has been a treasure to develop and deepen friendships with Dawn, Sheilah, and Mary. It has been a treasure to write and share.

I always had a secret fantasy of writing. Now, let's not confuse my idea of writing, and the word fantasy. Unlike Ah-nold, I don't think my children need to read about my sex life or my failings, and I have no secret children. Plus the only maid around here is me. And I have no 50 Shades of fantasies twisting along in my mind. Chains should have gold and diamonds and not be used for unusual, umm - never mind. But I love the idea of writing as a way of sharing the world, and Mary, Dawn, and Sheilah are so incredibly talented that it's an honor to share it with them. 

Along the way, I've found that fear no longer paralyzes me. You can't fail unless you try, so here's our book - On the Road With 4Gaby (linked again, just in case you missed the first begging, err, request), and our blog continues, and so does life. We thank each and every one of you for taking the time to read. Life loses fear when friendship is there, and no road is hard when friendship travels with you. Thank you, dear ones.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Diary of a Winning Kid

By Sheilah

I was so anxious about starting our last year at elementary school. Dylan said he felt like an outcast last year, and he had two kids go all toddler on him—one by biting, that’s right, at 9 years old, and one by scratching. Worse than that, he felt out of the loop. Fourth grade was the second year he was in the same class of kids that had been together in third as well. The kids treated each other like brother and sister, the looping-up teacher said. Not necessarily a bad thing for an only child, but still. Some silly game they had begun in third carried over to fourth and Dylan refused to join in, or wasn’t asked to. Last year the first week of school I knew something was wrong, and it continued most of the year. “I’m not a part of the popular group. Why does there have to be one popular kid? Not fair.” That was last year’s refrain. He somehow reconciled himself to life on life’s terms and the teacher eventually got the bullies under control.

He got into the advanced class this year, and got the class award for reading. So by the end of the year he was pleased with himself, which is what counts I tell him. So this year I was glad to see he was assigned to the new male teacher’s fifth grade class, with a lot of different kids. He still didn’t make it into his best buddy’s class, but he had two friends in the class and only one old bully. So at the open house, two days before class was to start, I was surprised to see the obnoxious kid who bit his leg last year was in his class. The principal had told me that would not happen.

We decided Dylan could handle the little twerp by avoidance, and the teacher would be briefed on the kid’s thick record. We liked the new teacher. I mentioned the issue to the principal at open house (there I go, interfering again). Then, at 7:30 a.m. on the first day of school, a cover-my-legal-arse call from the principal: Dylan can move to x or x class if he wants to, to avoid the biter. Ugh. Seriously, you’re throwing this choice at us the day school begins, after we’ve already made peace with it? We made a quick pros vs. cons list over breakfast. Dylan was overwhelmed. I tell him there’s no right or wrong choice, that he’ll be fine either way. He decides to stick his head in the other classes, one of which he best buddy is in, to see how they look. Then he decided to stay where he was assigned, obnoxious biter be damned. I’m surprised he chose not to move to his best buddy’s class, but glad, too. And after the first day, I could see he was happy. No hugely popular kid everyone fawns over. A good teacher. Another smart kid to challenge him.

The night before he was given the choice, he had said to me, “You don’t get it. The first day is huge. It’s your first impression. It can make or break you.” I guess he made it, and his choice made him. I’m proud that he chose a good teacher over his best friend, chose to stay in a class with a kid who had bit him, chose not to run away. That’s a lot of choices to put on a 9-year-old the first day of school after the year he had last year. I’m so happy that he rose to the occasion. I think it bodes well for him—he’s no victim who needs a lifeline—he stands tall in the face of a twerp, without a best buddy to have his back. He stands tall knowing he’s smart and capable and strong and likeable, not needing the praise of over-popularity donned in Under Armour clothing from head to sock (although there might be something to that to stop the bite). I’d have to say he knows the value of a good education over a good friend, and a good education may be worth a good fight. I hope all kids are impressed with themselves and not worried about impressing others. Now don’t get me started on what next year in middle school will bring. Today is enough. 

Update: For his birthday at the end of September, guess who moves to another school? The biter. Glad we didn’t switch classes just because of him. Major life lesson under our belt.