Family, School

what the DMV and tea taught me

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Two weeks ago, my eldest son and I rushed after school to our local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office.  We made our way towards line 3 and when called upon, the woman patiently asked where the golden rod colored paper was as this son and I questioningly looked at one another.  The one that provided the signature and proof that this boy had driven and passed with a certified driving school instructor.

We had to forfeit the appointment.

We both left dejectedly and waves of guilt washed over me.  I thought I had checked the list for required documentation to take the behind-the-wheel driving test thoroughly and I saw the slump of the sixteen year old’s shoulders.  I hadn’t realized how much he had wanted to take the test; to finally have a license to drive.

Why didn’t you check me? I asked this son.  He shrugged as I apologized, again, and he stated that he was okay with it.  He thought we had everything in order, too.  It gave him more time to practice behind-the-wheel in his busy spring schedule.

I immediately went home and tore apart the files in my home office in search of the golden rod document.  I had even called the driving instructor on his cell phone to inquire how to get another form while at the DMV.  Within fifteen minutes of organizing and sorting I found the document and spent the following two hours in frustration, filing and shredding.

If I had been better organized, this son could’ve taken his test.  It had already been a trying week and it took another 24 hours to reschedule another drive test appointment.

Two weeks later, we returned to this same line.  This time we had all the required documentation and when the woman asked what time the test appointment was for, we both answered at the same time.  I stepped away from the counter as he continued to answer her questions.

We proceeded to sit in the hard, plastic chairs in the very crowded DMV for an hour and when his name was called, I anxiously stood nearby as he was given instructions.  As he drove the car into the drive test line, I focused my energy on not fidgeting; to remain calm for this son as he jibber-jabbered for another fifteen minutes and inched slowly to the beginning of the line.

When the instructor finally arrived I exited quickly and stood by a tree with others awaiting their drivers on tests to return. I glanced at the time as this son pulled away from the curb.

Within seven minutes my car had returned and as I slowly walked towards my son, I caught his reflection on the driver side’s mirror and immediately knew what had transpired.  He had failed his drive test.

He chose not to drive home and crawled to the back seat of my car; angrily dealing with his humiliation.  He wanted to tear up the examination sheet and when I asked where it all went wrong, he claimed he didn’t know.  The instructor had simply written his suggestions, politely asked him to return to the DMV parking lot and exited the vehicle.

Upon reading the examiner’s words I inwardly cringed.  Critical driving error.  And though my heart hurt for this son; the one not used to failing anything, a surprising emotion had risen unbidden to my consciousness and I chastised myself.

I was secretly glad.

I couldn’t put into words these conflicting feelings until I sat across my childhood friend I’ve known since aged nine.  We both had left our humble, small-town upbringings to attend universities four hours away in the city .  As a high school language teacher in a highly ranked school district, she shared the scenarios that play out before her, day-after-day.  

All work and no play.

She handed me the book by Dr. Stuart Brown; hoping that the next generation can still cling to open, unstructured time.  Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul.

This is an ongoing conversation between us; she as an educator and myself the parent of two high school teens.  The high school years have become the pressure cooker, high stakes years when students build resumes and look towards college admissions.

  • They shuttle from one structured organized activity to another; not for the love of learning or joy of playing…but to stay afloat and rise above their peers.
  • They have various extra-curricular activities to fill all of their free time, burden themselves with advanced placement courses and stay up till the wee hours of the morning trying to fit it all in.
  • They hire tutors or become tutors themselves, adding the time to community service hours to check that block on their application resume.

We sat for three hours dissecting the high school years we lived versus the ones our children currently live in.  Living two hundred miles from our hometown we easily understand how different our upbringings were versus those of our children.

As mothers we both feel like hamsters running in place as we do the things we are expected to do.  

We go to work, we parent our kids, we try to be good spouses and multi-task efficiently to prove we are productive and don’t waste time.  Our time is structured and the words come back to haunt us.  All work.  No play.

As we sat in her car in a crowded restaurant parking lot, the words began to form on the fringes of my mind.  My dear friend stated the obvious.

We forgot how to play.

Her version of unstructured time was in socializing; making time for friendships.

Both avid readers, I had shared my desire to go to a tea house after reading Lisa See’s The Tea Girl on Hummingbird Lane.  My girlfriend teaches in the community where this book takes place and, surprisingly, portrays the same scenarios we live.  The Play book had not been on my to do list, this weekend, but I found myself making the time.

Reading for pleasure is my own version of play.

I returned home telling my husband I craved tea and scones as he made a fresh pot.  My girlfriend and I hadn’t  realized the long waiting lists to even have tea in a local tea house.  Reservations needed to be made a month in advance.  When we looked online at menus and saw the cost; both of us opted to forego this option for the time being.

The hubs muttered under his breath how he was doing his part and so, I found myself perusing my recipes on how to make scones.

As I kneaded dough, like Play Doh, I realized how I contributed to my son’s critical driving error and I replayed the seemingly disconnected thoughts in my mind trying to make sense of them.

I processed the words I had shared with my girlfriend, who happens to also be this son’s godmother.

  • How I questioned his maturity level when he was behind-the-wheel recently.
  • That, after leaving the DMV two weeks ago I had felt guilt ridden and then began angrily questioning why I had felt guilty.
  • When I was sixteen I knew all the rules.  I made my own DMV drive test appointment.  I had all my documentation.  I did it on my own.
  • When this son drove, he relied on my instructions to reach our destinations.  Rarely did I remain silent to let him make his own mistakes or figure out the directions by himself.

This feeling of guilt persisted but not for the reasons I had thought.

I feel the guilt of being the overbearing parent.

  • The one that scheduled the online DMV appointment.
  • The one that, when my son was questioned and he didn’t immediately answer, filled in the space and answered with him at the same time.  I had caught the glance he shot me; one of irritation.
  •  When I questioned the son if he had checked me, he really should have been doing all this documentation search on his own and I should’ve checked myself.  Checked myself out.

He has suffered setbacks but he must learn how to cope with rejection.  I am not teaching my son how to be independent and, much as I tell myself he must fail, he never does.

Until he failed his drive test.

It was a critical driving error.  He had been asked to turn left at the intersection and when the signal had turned green, he had made the left.  But there had not been a left turn signal and he had not waited for the oncoming traffic to pass through the intersection first.  He had just went for it.

I had looked at my son through the rear view mirror that day, after reading the examiner’s words while stopped at an intersection and calmly stated the following.  I know you will never forget that rule again.  That could be fatal.  My son had silently shaken his head in agreement.

I had known all along he hadn’t been ready but it took someone else to finally drive it home.

I walked into the computer den, announcing to my boys that dinner and tea would be ready in ten minutes.  They confirmed with grunts and nods, questioning the comment about tea but I had exited the den to check on my scones.  My sons know I am not, normally, a baker of any sort, unless it is cookies during the holidays.

My husband watched me pull out our fine china and tea cups; wondering if I had lost my mind.  Are you seriously bringing out your tea sets?  I brought out five different settings and began to set my table.

I am a mom of three boys and a husband and have no occasions to have a tea party.  But I’m going to have one, just because.

Our boys came to the table staring in surprise.  It was the youngest son who summarized succinctly.  This looks like those play tea sets from preschool for girls.  He was surprised to discover there were tea sets for adults.

The hubs poured the tea and the middle son got his finger caught in the dainty tea handle.  I had to hold the cup so he could gingerly wedge his finger out.

They discovered the scones and readily ate them, placing blackberry jam on their tea plates and gingerly holding fine porcelain cups.  They even pointed their pinky fingers out and stoically posed for my pic; for posterity.

They didn’t even question why we were having scones and tea in fancy china; they merely enjoyed the food and to my husband’s chagrin, quickly drained the pot of tea he painstakingly made.

I have finally learned my lesson from my son’s DMV experience.

Later, I sat on this son’s bed and candidly shared my thoughts and that, when he is ready, I’ll direct him to the online DMV page to schedule another drive test.  I brace myself, and my son, for his upcoming senior year so that when rejections come, he will pick himself up after disappointment.  He feels the pressure as his junior year is coming to a close; as do I.

In this whole process I am most surprised by this son’s resiliency after taking some time to lick his wounds.  For this I am glad.  I am slowly exiting the hamster wheel; finding my footing in the things in life that bring me joy outside of my family.

It’s time for me to create unstructured down time, turn up the music, find my rhythm and throw some more tea parties.

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friendships, School, Work

take two, or five

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I hung up the phone with my son after he refused to attend any of his scheduled activities last evening.

He was to be in three places at the same time.  I’ve come to realize that when this son is stressed, he becomes adversarial and shuts down in all things.  There would be no reasoning with this teen as he continued his diatribe on the phone as to why he couldn’t attend any of his events.  He had already been excused from attending a jazz pep band at the high school basketball game due to a conflict with his Confirmation class.  But the high school course information night was sandwiched between these two commitments and he stated he was not required to be there.

It was easy to disconnect the line.  It’s hard to have honest conversations; to not seem disingenuous.

  • After a long day at work I want to ignore the fact that my sons are (on social media/playing video games/general procrastination) not doing what they’re supposed to; namely homework.
  • To tell the employee off when he feels “sick” while doing a task he doesn’t want to do.
  • When your friend/spouse sounds like a broken record; repeating the same issues over and over and not wanting to find resolutions.

Being an effective communicator takes a lot of tact, patience, empathy and practice.  I struggle with all of these things within my own circle of family and friends.    I overthink my words and in doing so; choose to be silent.  To mull them over and over, just so, until the perfect lines emerge.  Since this hardly ever happens, I swallow them and work through my issues on my own.

I am one that can sit silently.  To observe quietly.  To serve humbly.  I do not need a lot of words; a mere tap on the shoulder, a simple smile or hug can relay encouragement or acknowledgement.   I find that when people use too many words; are too effusive with their thank yous or compliments; that they are not sincere.  I know, I’ve caught myself doing this same thing.

With our current political climate dividing our nation I listen and observe as those around me weigh in.  But recently, the hubs called me out.  In choosing to remain passive and quiet, I am choosing not to participate and allowing events to happen so that I do not take ownership of the outcomes.  His words were not just meant for politics; but in all things regarding our home and business.

Ouch.  To this I must plead guilty.

I got quiet when the hubs chastised our sons that things cost money.  February, traditionally, is our slowest month at work.  Anticipating our upcoming property tax bills and income tax filings, the hubs’ worries pervaded our dinner.   Later, the youngest asked about our financials and I found myself explaining economics.  On my high school transcript, my one B was in this course.

How transparent should I be with my boys?  With people?

From work I headed to the high school to glean information.  Ironically, I thought about this while sitting in an economics class as the teacher presented the course to would-be senior students.   As a parent I appreciate the efforts the school administration and staff offer to include parents in our students’ education.  The texts, that very morning, from my girlfriend regarding the confirmation of the new secretary of the Department of Education were etched in my mind.

Education is important and I do not want to sit passively.  I want to be informed.

As I had exited the general meeting, deciphering the location of the sessions my son may decide to take, a figure appeared from the shadows and grabbed my arm.  Shocked, I blindly followed my son through four sessions before he walked to his Confirmation class at our church; which is adjacent to his high school.  He had asked his father to drop him off.  We went to none of the courses I thought he’d be taking.  I’m glad he decided to show up; to take ownership of his education.

It was in the economics class that I could process my thoughts.

I spoke with my sons after remaining quiet for a few weeks about the virtue of honesty.  They have felt my bitter disappointment.

  • I am not fooled by screen savers masking online chats, inappropriate content or video gaming.  Do not deceive.
  • I do not want the carpool mom to sit in a high school parking lot waiting for forty-five minutes for a son who claimed he was “studying” and was walking at the outdoor mall with his “friend.”  Do not be disrespectful.
  • I will not be fooled again when the attendance office tells me a son has unexcused absences in a period to visit, said “friend” in her classroom.  Do not lie.

I recount the details of those who have deceived me in the not-so-recent past.  Of the grade level teachers who said one thing and turned around and did something else.  Of the friend(s), whom I asked a question confidentially, who shared my probing with others.

I realized who were true, who wanted to discuss things with me to work things through and those who never would.  The parachutes that held me down have been cut loose and it has taken me time to forgive; but not necessarily forget.

I cannot be fake; nor disingenuous.  In dealing with disappointments I discovered what was important.  Trust and truth trump all things.  The words I need to speak finally do come.  And it always takes two.

I will speak up.  I do not have control over how my words are received.  I must accept this and remain true to who I am.

The two boys sitting in front of me, in an economics presentation, reminded me of what friendships are.  These high school teens have not mastered the art of deception.  When their fellow friend went through a difficult time with a cry for attention; these boys rallied.  They listened.  They didn’t completely understand.  They didn’t lie, gossip or tell their friend that everything was okay.  They continued on their quests to work things through and trusted that their conversations were confidential.  They are loyal to one another.

I hope that life’s distractions don’t ruin what these boys have, right now.  It may not last.  But each of these guys are accepted for whom they are; not by an outside measure of success like high grades, cool gadgets/ cars or by whom they know.  They don’t need to be popular.  They just need to be their transparent selves.

HLM cake

Recently in the midst of a boisterous book club group, someone heard the distinctive ring of my cell phone; Dave Brubeck’s tune, “Take Five.”  Our shaken friend had just been involved in an accident, while driving to us, and was alone with police and paramedics with very low cell battery.

My hubs, still at work, was not nearby and so I interrupted the group discussion to inquire if any of their male counterparts were available to go to our friend; to provide support and inspect the vehicle.  Immediately four girls called and texted their spouses.

I had just settled in; a glass of something yummy in-hand.  I knew I would not be of much help but felt the plea of this dear friend; who didn’t need anything additional on her full plate.  As her minivan got towed away, the officer urged her to let it go, to have a good time at book club.

When she walked through the door, the hugs engulfed her, the tequila relaxed her and she was embraced by the room of women discussing a book about hormones.  It was later that I discovered our hostess loaned their extra vehicle so she wouldn’t have to be without a car.  And the other friend, who has always opened her home and heart to this family who has undergone too many hurts and disappointments, deployed her husband to her aid.

I have been empowered by these friendships.  For the moms who look out for my sons; as if they were their own.  For the girlfriends who hear me on repeat and listen; gently redirecting me to other solutions to my issues.  To those who are transparent; even when we do not agree on parenting, religion, politics and everything in-between.  I hope to be able to reciprocate; even when it is not convenient.  Even when I can’t afford it.  Even when time doesn’t allow.

It is in honest, genuine interactions with others that matter.  I can’t let life passively go by.  Silence is lonely, solo and a cop-out.  It takes two (or in my family’s case, five).  Engage.

Family, School

just cheer

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The blog posts in my drafts folder are full of words, all negative and unpublished, as I filter through my days.  I currently struggle with my words.

As a young girl I never said them; taught by my conservative parents to “not make waves” and to assimilate.  In my formative years I was shy, asking my girlfriends to speak for me.  I was to blend in and please others; to succeed academically.  I was taught that I would excel based on merit alone.

I kept my words to myself; my only escape in writing stories.  Recently, while clearing garage storage space, I found the dusty photo album among my late mother’s things.  While my husband encouraged me to toss trophies, give away clothes and furniture, the only things from my childhood home are my mother’s china, and photo albums that sit in my garage.  As I sneezed my way through its pages, my sixth grade son found the newspaper articles and certificates I received at his age.  His curiosity made me remember.

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As an only child I always listened and observed my environment, trying to understand the social dynamics of people.  At a young age I would re-enact the social situations with my Barbies or marbles, creating families and social groups based on the interactions I encountered.  I would create stories for fun.  At the end of fifth grade, a teacher submitted my essay into a local contest and to everyone’s surprise, my writing won.  The quiet girl had a hidden world.

I had been happy to join a group of students in an extended learning program (the precursor to Gifted and Talented Education aka GATE) to hone my writing skills.  It was a ten mile drive for my older parents and I excitedly headed into the classroom, ready to learn.  But then I heard the comments from first, fellow students and then from parents.  I didn’t belong there.  It was only because I came from a poor, immigrant town that I had been accepted.  And so I rarely spoke and doodled on my papers.  When my essay advanced to the university level, I felt no joy.  I felt unworthy; the token kid in a prestigious writing program.

My sons listened to me quietly.  My voice had become brittle and hard as the memories washed over me.

Real life entered the picture as I grew older; the lessons learned in high school, college and beyond.  Humility and silence does not always serve well when you must lead or speak.  When all other things are created equal (grades, test scores, essays) the person who got the nod was the one who spoke up and touted these things.  It didn’t matter what I looked like on paper if nobody knew what I did.   I had mastered the ability to remain quiet.

The names from the past came to mind.  Mrs. Murphy, Mr. Jennings, Gerry Starowicz, Mr. Osborne and Mr. Murtha; the teachers and counselors who advocated for me and taught me to speak my words.

The elementary ELP teacher, Mrs. Murphy, ferreted out why I had lacked motivation in the writing program.  She spoke directly to the program administrator who quickly put a stop to the unkind comments but I always sat alone; choosing not to make friends.

Mr. Jennings, in seventh grade, brought a modem to my home and taught me how to dial a connection to my first online chat board. He made science fun and introduced me to technology with a Commodore 64.  Could this be why I married a computer scientist LOL?

Gerry Starowicz, the cheer/song advisor and arts teacher, finally taught me to yell and to yell LOUD.  It was on a high school songleading squad that I learned about queen bees and wanna bes and how to navigate through what was popular and what was right.

Mr. Osborne, the band director, kept me interested in music and challenged me to continue playing.  After twelve years of piano I still got jitters performing in recitals or solos.  But concert groups and marching band kept me involved and eventually, my university choice came down to its well-known college marching band.

Mr. Murtha, my high school counselor, guided me to scholarships and college financial forms when my father was dying of colon cancer.  He walked me through the  college application process and  proofread all of my college essays.  We had hoped I would gain entrance to a few of my colleges and he celebrated when I got into them all.

In high school and beyond I learned to assert and to speak my words clearly and succinctly.  I thrived.  But my glaring fault is that justice, in my eyes, must be served.  To call out when things are wrong.

I used to do this to get noticed (in school and in work); to be the one to get things done.  But in these middle years I’ve realized that words don’t need to always be spoken.  With words I say what I mean but saying them doesn’t always make things right.  I am a firm believer that actions speak louder than words. I must mean what I say.  In some cases, I must NOT act upon them.

  • At work when the evil boss tasks me with unpleasant tasks, I whine in complaint.  We own a small business and so I remain with my evil boss 24/7.
  • In organizations which I serve, the queen bees and wanna bes suck me in.  I try hard to keep my words to myself as egos and hidden agendas get in the way.
  • In the social groups I am involved with I try not to let kid or parent dramas affect my relationships.  I cannot change others’ opinions; even with mediation.
  • At home my pent-up frustration builds.  The words flow freely but I find no resolution.  My need to make things right gets in the way.

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My preteen and teens listened intently as I shared the words above; of the adults who made a difference in my life.  They, too, are on this precipice  where they are discerning what is fair and unfair; right from wrong.  They weed through social groups, heavy homework loads, time consuming extra-curriculars and looming college applications.  I had forgotten these pubescent memories; wishing them away.  But my sons gleaned information from sharing about my own preteen and teen years; a time I rarely speak of.  A time they currently reside in, in their own lives.

I went from the quiet only child to the extrovert adult with too many words.  I feel the burden as scenarios play out in my overactive mind.  And when the words build, unspoken, they always find their way out.

In the most random of places, a music store, the epiphany came.  I had been slow to recognize the solution to all of the negativity surrounding my life.  For weeks I filtered and kept my words, hoping that time would lessen the urge to say them.  But I had gone about this all wrong.  The multiple unpublished blog posts were symptomatic.   It goes against my nature to be something I am not.  Words are my medium and my negative environment didn’t have to dictate who or what I am.

I dug deep for the inner cheerleader within.  The one that emerged in high school as my father’s cancer spread.

As a teen I often wondered why I could not be gloomy or negative at school; knowing my father was dying at home.  School had  engaged me and I found respite in books, writing, music and cheering at games.  I inherited my father’s indomitable spirit; his zeal for all things social.  Both of my parents exuded hospitality; my father with words, my mother with hosting others in our home.   I often felt like a fraud for not publicly grieving my dad’s deteriorating health.  But I’ve come to realize it is this trait that kept me going, and the ability to compartmentalize allowed me to survive various difficult periods in my life.

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We commiserated in the store and quietly absorbed the negative vibe when my own son’s words came forth from my lips.  It had been on a day, this week, when he was exhausted and frustrated; hearing comments from various people as his marching band prepares for an out-of-state national competition.  He hears of how his section struggles and he plopped on the couch stating that they would, most likely, not make the final cut and they felt the burden.  They have tirelessly worked and played towards this goal from the month of June; even canceling a Yellowstone trip so he and his brother wouldn’t miss camp.

I had sat beside him.  It’s not always about winning.  My sons knows this is an acquired mantra; my competitive streak reined in during their younger years in recreational sports.

boys-adrift

I’ve struggled with my competitiveness and my perceived sons’ lack of it in sports, academics.  I see twenty and thirty year old men addicted to video games, porn, or substances like alcohol or marijuana.  They don’t feel the compulsion to work and lack competitiveness and drive and have no motivation.  I don’t want this for my boys.  In a competitive world I want my sons to engage and participate; to self motivate and serve.  Dr. Sax’s book, Boys Adrift is affirming many things that I observe.  Winning can’t always be everything but it is a great motivator.  It is only by initiating and leading by example, particularly with male role models, that my boys can become productive men.  I am grateful they have plenty of those type of men in their lives.

I also enjoy sports, particularly college football, and my voice can be heard in the crowd as I cheer my team or my boys’ teams on.  In soccer I’d squeal excitedly, in competitive swim I would chant at the end of the lane as they flip-turned.  I had to remain quiet for golf; so I clapped politely.  The shy girl has become quite boisterous; cheering everyone on from the stands.  I try my best to applaud all things good and my boys know their mother has got their back.  I had forgotten how to do this simple act; too busy criticizing and analyzing.

The girl I once was, in high school, has resurfaced.  In the midst of frustration and exhaustion my inner cheerleader has returned as I compartmentalize the chaos and craziness of our busy lives.

As the friend listened and commented on my son’s frame of mind, I shared my resolutions and we both agreed on what we will do.  We must encourage our kids to do their best.  They must put aside the negative and accentuate the positive to move forward, to encourage others.  When I encourage others to do better, I am forced to do better for myself.  Those are the words that need to be spoken.

When we encourage others to do better, we are forced to be better for ourselves.

I am deleting my drafts folder full of diatribes and frustrations.  I acknowledge that they are there and when the right time presents itself, I may share these thoughts; or not.  I don’t need to be right or call things out all the time.  I just need to speak encouraging words that are true.  To say them clearly and just cheer.

School

up for debate

You know those events where you wish you had a reason not to go but had no real excuse not to?

I stared at my calendar wondering how the hubs and I would sit through three hours watching our youngest son debate.  I racked my brain for places we needed to be and there were none.  We had to go.

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During parent conferences when the fifth grade teacher recommended a debate team for our son; we balked.  Although he is the most extroverted of our sons, he does not like public speaking and becomes mute.  The teacher continued to persuade as the hubs and I politely declined; our weekly schedule already full.  As a working parent I would be unable to pick him up at the 4 PM pick-up time; already leaving work early on another day for this same son’s involvment in band.  When the teacher offered to keep our son in his classroom, to accommodate our schedule, we had no reason to decline his offer; should this son choose to join the debate team.  We assumed he would say no.

When the answer was yes we had been surprised.

Over Thanksgiving the son had haphazardly worked on his speech and had no idea what to expect from the practice debate to be held the following week.  We, parents,  found ourselves along the perimeter of the classroom as our son’s teammate presented the proposition side of the debate topic with confidence.  We listened as the opposition presented their side.  Our son was the second speaker for the proposition and we watched him take deep breaths before the judges panel; trying to gather his thoughts.  There were several minutes where he merely stood, the paper beginning to shake in his hands.  It was obvious he was unprepared and only later, would we learn that his team had been at a disadvantage.  In a team of three their third teammate had not shown up and both boys had only been prepared to speak as first speakers.  When the time came for either boy to give a speech, as second or third speakers, they had not prepared anything and gave impromptu speeches; relying on the brief notes they took from their opponents’ remarks.

I leaned into the hubs and he whispered in my direction as the minutes grew uncomfortable.  Should we help him out?  There was nothing we could do.

As a parent it is tough to watch your kids flail, the urge to jump in and save the day and/or make excuses strong.

I leaned heavily into my husband as our son turned to us; the fear in his eyes clear for all to see.  I kept my posture neutral, hoping to look encouraging.  The teammate quietly urged him on.

You can do this.

And with a shuddering breath we watched our son pull himself together to request for the judges to start the time.  He held his head high as he stuttered through phrases.  His allotted time was five minutes and as second speaker his job was to refute the opponents points.  We watched him try to pull ideas together; struggling to find words.  When the signal for the last minute was shown, we saw him try to conclude and he knew he was doing a miserable job.  It was at the very uncomfortable end when I finally let out my breath.   Their team had lost the first round; our son receiving the lowest score.  We watched him acknowledge the critique from the judge; absorbing the words.  He had one more round to go.

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During the intermission we observed the two boys put their heads together to prepare.  In the second round our son gave the first & third speeches, his teammate the one to refute as second speaker.   When our son went to the podium, this time around, he had known what fear and unpreparedness had felt like and pushed through; utilizing his time to make his points, refute the opposition and conclude with a bang.  The boys whispered to each other during the debate, furiously writing notes.  The information and critiques from their first round became actions; as the kids acted upon the remarks from the judges about points of information (POIs) and heckles (pointed comments to refute the main points of a speech) done during the debate.  They learned to modulate their voices, to make prolonged eye contact and exude confidence even though they ad-libbed their points.    When their team was pronounced the winner, the boys were grateful and went to the other side to congratulate them on a good debate.

Those three hours were one of the most satisfying experiences I’ve had as a parent.

Though terrifying for him, I was grateful that his lack of preparation had been public and uncomfortable for our son.  It is a feeling he will not soon forget.  It was in the judge’s explanations about speakers, to our child, that the rest of the kids and parents learned:

  • The first speaker presents the points and backs with evidence.
  • The second speaker refutes the opposition’s points and creates doubt for their reasons.
  • The third speaker weighs both sides and tips the scales to conclude that their point of view are the better choice.

The hubs and I were speechless.

There were no words to express the humble joy we got from watching our son push through his fear and conquer it.

Debate team members were required to commit through the first practice debate before being allowed to quit the team.  Our son bounded to us with a smile, deciding to stick with debate.  Learning to improvise is something our kids haven’t had the opportunity to practice.  In a community of helicopter parenting, where we sit at our children’s beck and call, it was a welcome change to have to watch our students do it all on their own.  To pull their ideas together, without adult help. To formulate cogent thoughts in their own words.  They are learning to be better speakers and to advocate for themselves.

That’s all I ever want for my sons.  To say their words and to follow them through.

The following morning we awoke before dawn.  This same son opted to join a local 5K run, again influenced by the teacher above.  Running is not his forte and I had been surprised at his urging to sign up with his school’s group.  We huddled together, our breaths visible in the cold; puffs of whispy air.  It was forty three degrees.

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When the mass of runners bunched up at the front, I waved my son off; opting to hang in the middle-of-the pack, jogging at a steady pace with my girlfriend.  At mile one we found him walking alone.  His classmates were off and running and for the next 2.2 miles, we pushed and prodded him to keep going.  Eventually, he ran with a seventh grader and wearily jogged to the finish line.  I had wondered what had possessed this child to sign up for this run in the first place.  Why pay money to run a 5K when you can do it for free?   I jog my trails alone in the early mornings enjoying my solitude.   It was after this thought that I arrived at the reasons for his answer.  It is all about camaraderie.

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In trying to understand this son I was able to resolve a lot of things in my own mind.  I, too, recently felt the sting of being rebuffed; for my words not to be heard.   It was in the experience that I learned boundaries; my resolve strengthening to stick with my issue and follow it through to the end, head high.  My internal debate has run its own course as I present my point, refute the opposition and weigh the sides to reach my conclusion.  Like my son I’ve stammered and flailed.

As he crossed the finish line I was glad that he continues to want to debate and run; even if he’s not good at either one or doesn’t win.  It is in collaboration and camaraderie towards a common goal that brings meaning to our debates and rat races; to the words we say and the paths we walk.  In picking himself back-up, my son reminded me that even when the worst scenario happens, that we have the ability to keep moving forward; for better or for worse.

May you find your words and keep walking forward with confidence.

 

 

School

carrying the world

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I am most happiest in the morning.  The slotted rays of fall sunshine came through my blinds and I smiled.  And within thirty minutes I had to tell my son he was behaving like an a$$.

I’m just tired, he told me as he entered my vehicle; as we pulled-out of our driveway.  He is not a morning person and took out his frustrations on the one who will take it unconditionally; me.   I would normally rant or nag about how the new, fancy alarm clock STILL does not wake this son.  We live close enough to his high school that he could walk and be late.

When he yelled at me to leave him alone, I told him I would.  I had quietly waited for 9 AM to run my bank errand in my car, in the garage.

It’s tough, this whole letting go thing.  I don’t want him to fail but fail he must do.  I hate having access to my sons’ grades on the portal, receiving text reminders from the various teachers (seven in all between three different schools AND an elementary school principal).  I want them to be accountable for their own lives and not have mommy watch their back and micromanage them.  Technology has many advantages.  But I’m also realizing, this may not be one of them for me.  It’s information overload.  Yet I can’t NOT look, at the online grades.  I like having the access but am unsure how to take the information.  I heard the middle son tell his friend online,  We know when our Mom sees our grades online by the tone in her voice.   I do this every one to two weeks.

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On the short drive to the high school my radio was low and I quietly sifted through my thoughts.  As I sat the the traffic light to turn into the parking lot I said the words I wanted to say in a quiet voice.  I reminded him of his friends who had to wake early for an 8 AM SAT today.  These friends who will then join his eight hour practice after 12 PM and will finish at 5 PM  Then, these same friends will quickly go home, change and head to the annual Homecoming dance and won’t arrive home until the wee morning hours.   These friends carry a heavy academic load, on top of it.  These friends are in sports, outside service clubs and performance groups.   And these friends are probably more tired than he is.    Welcome to life, kid.

Yesterday my son shared that one day of the week his band period will be a study period; for kids to catch-up.  I heard the mom tell the story of the girl who broke down, who couldn’t figure out how to balance her life with a rigorous academic load,  extra-curriculars and a life.   Correction:  they have no life.

Is this what is becoming of our kids today?  And what will they become as adults?  Our kids, they feel the pressure.

I read books like, The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That WayWhere You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admission Mania Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life,  The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, Hands Free Mama:  A Guide to Putting Down the Phone, Burning the To-Do List, and Letting Go of Perfection to Grasp What Really Matters!,  How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success.  Overkill, I know.  It is currently the stage I reside in as a parent and I immerse myself in information, hoping it will help me cope.

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I appreciate the educators who put the kids first.  The ones that don’t purposely make their classes harder to get into; to remember to give our children the gift of learning, just because and to actually teach them something versus teaching to the test.

These days our kids fight for multiple advanced placement courses, and fill every waking moment with admirable pursuits.  They are members of the local hospital student advisory board, work tireless community service hours to log in their time for college application resumes or, tutor peers; constantly giving of their time and talents.  But what about themselves?  When do they ever have the time to fill their own cups, to have time to think their own thoughts and discover their own dreams? 

These are luxuries that do not fit into their current lives; escaping into the online worlds of PC gaming and social media sites.  The streets are empty in my neighborhood.  Kids are on traveling sports teams, after school programs like dance, debate, prep courses or in service organizations.  They arrive home to complete their homework and crash on the couch at 1 AM.

Reality check. Am I not just like this son?  The mom who works full-time, who fills her weeknights and free Fridays with other volunteer pursuits?  The time arrived when I crashed and burned and swore to my hubs I would never put myself in that situation again.  Yet here I am, once again, involved in many “extracurriculars.”  But the thing I learned was NOW, I choose the things and pursuits I enjoy and advocate for.  I don’t do these things to build my “college resume” with awards or titles.  I am learning new things, meeting new people and expanding my points of view.  The extrovert in me loves having a purpose outside of myself; to grow.

But, as adults, we encounter the same things our teens do; in the workplace, in service organizations, in life.  Adult cliques, politics, those who do and those who don’t, those who want the glory.  There is always an alpha and followers and varying points of view.  It shouldn’t always be about personal gain.

We need to find the balance in all things that we do and remind ourselves why we do them.

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I set aside the project that has been occupying my time these past two weeks; hours lost in creativity.  I guiltily glanced at the ten year old’s sneakers, the ones that are falling apart.  When the younger two sons reminded me that I promised to take them shopping  I put my project away and went.  It IS my responsibility to make sure my family is fed, clothed and housed.  I dedicated the rest of my weekend to those endeavors busily chopping and dicing, laundry and house cleaning.  The sons followed suit and contributed with their chores; house cleaning a communal effort.  I need to practice what I preach and find my balance.

I shared an (Advanced Placement) AP article with my son.  I told him to find what he loves and to just do it.  It isn’t my job to coordinate his activities and his life.  It is my job to make sure he is responsible, advocates his views and allow him to discover who he is; away from me.  I can’t carry the weight of the world for him.  I must let him feel the weight of it and carry it for himself.  I continue to learn to slowly ease up on the reins and let go…

Carry on my wayward son(s).

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School, Work

pay it forward by the numbers

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The Jason Derulo song, “Want to Want Me” played on my car stereo and I cranked up the volume; on my commute in to work.

When the truck slowed our traffic lane I wasn’t complaining.  I hit the repeat button on this track and eased off the gas.  Usually I am impatient on my drive in to work, to start my day, but the beat of this song got me pumped.   I didn’t mind the extra time today.

When the older gentleman took his time across the crosswalk, as I waited to make my right turn, I sat watching the cars behind me and moved to the beat.  As he stepped onto the curve he waved in gratitude; smiling as he watched my singing antics in the confines of my car.  I had to smile and wave back.

I’m paying it forward; no pun intended.

These past weeks I have been lost in the quagmire of financial paperwork.   The EDD spokesperson curtly barked instructions and I finally laughed and admitted I had NO IDEA what she was saying.  And with that her voice immediately changed.  The joy of transparency is that people can take me at face value and I called her out; reading the confusing paperwork word-for-word.  No longer do I need to put on airs pretending I know everything about anything.  At the end of the call she thanked me for making her day.

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My sons know to not bother me with their math homework questions; leaving that to my numbers-oriented and logical-minded hubs.   When a booster parent asked me to calculate the percentage to add to her donation amount for PayPal I sat for twenty minutes with an algebraic equation on my desk.  I was off by two cents.  I can do the number crunching if I absolutely have to; it was required for my coursework in high school and college with the science track I had chosen.  It is in calculus that I met my hubs.  I attended every single 8 AM lecture in that course to earn my grade and sat in the very front row.  He attended the lecture three times; for the first day, the midterm and the final, and ended with the same exact grade.    He arrived late and would sit in the back.

The numbers keep landing in my lap and the paperwork that accompanies them.  I handle the finances/payroll for work, I “volunteered” to help at the elementary school as a treasurer and currently, as auditor.  And at the end of last year I stepped in, at the very last minute, to assist my son’s high school organization after no other parent chose to step up.    QuickBooks is my very best friend; my mood dour as I run reports and stats for work and the organizations in which I serve.  Bill collection is the very least of my favorite things.

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When people meet me they are surprised that I am shy.  My preferred environment is a quiet corner in a large library; to sit and read and people-watch.  But over the years I have been forced to deal with my aversion to speaking my words, and to speak them loud and clear.  My parents enrolled me in piano lessons; hoping that would bring me out of my shell.  During recitals I would always have to repeat the first few measures of my piece; the public attention causing me to freeze.   When I enrolled in band, at age nine, I enjoyed being lost in the group of students; the music surrounding me created by those alongside.  In high school I was forced to yell and cheer; upon trying out with my girlfriend to keep her company.  The intention had never been to actually make the songleading squad; relieved to be joining the band on the field during football half-time shows.

In college I worked for the very busy financial aid office at the private institution I attended.  Irate parents would call; demanding answers to all things financial aid and I would timidly search for someone to assist me.  The powerful head of this department finally found me one day and I sat quietly; awaiting her words to fire me and let me go.  The words from her lips had surprised me.   I hadn’t known it was rare for college work-study students to work in this department with the confidential paperwork at my fingertips.  I had been chosen to work in this office based on something I had written in my college essay.  When applying to colleges I had been forced to fill out the financial aid paperwork alone; seeking help from my high school counselor.  It was my job to pay it forward to the frantic parents calling our office; to let them know the student’s point of view and to advocate for their son or daughter to handle this paperwork themselves.  If I could do it; their kids could too.

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Since that very first job her words have followed me when doing the things I least like to do; making the phone calls for bill collection or delivering bad news.  After that first job I worked in the staffing office of a large private hospital.  My job was to fill the staffing slots on the nursing floors and to beg and plead with nurses to come in to work on their days off.  It was in this job that I finally learned how to read people; my mentor who continues to work at this same hospital and is beloved by all; doctors, administrators and staff.   Through the years I have always been placed in positions of dealing with unpleasant conversations about complaints and abuses, death and dying, trusts and bill collection.  I remind myself of this fact as I call another vendor to follow-up on payment status.  And I stare at the list of names I need to call for the booster organization which I serve.  I wish it would just go away.  But life doesn’t work that way.

In hopes that people will pay their financial obligations, I also need to pay forward the lessons I have learned from my boss in financial aid and my dear friend in the staffing office.  Jason Derulo plays on repeat on my work computer.  Time to get to work; the numbers await.

Happy Fall.

Family, School

happy first day

I looked around the office with a twinge of sadness.  The three bodies who have occupied our business space with us are no longer on the premises; the official beginning of their school year today.  I see the notifications on Facebook as friends post pictures of their kids, grinning with backpacks and the comments from others sending best wishes for the school year.  I watched kids stand quietly beside parents chattering with the affected joy and excitement of the first day.  My snap-happy self took these same pictures.  I cherish this time knowing it is short.

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Driving into work I pondered why this first day was different from years past.  As a young girl I looked forward to the school year with trepidation; hoping my grades would make muster; that my friends would still sit by me at lunchtime.  I felt the anxiety as I sat in my classes listening to teachers’ expectations.  Would I be able to do it?  Would I let them down?  Most years, as a parent,  I began the school year with a pep talk to my sons about having a great year, getting good grades and working on behavioral habits.  Knowing the assessments started the first week, I reminded my boys of the things we did over the summer for the writing prompt, recounting math facts or grammatical rules.

I did none of these things last evening; nor today.

I grapple with letting my sons go; to allow them the ability to figure out things without my prompting.  To truly discover who they are and to not constantly coach/preach what it is that I expect them to be.  To let them navigate social land mines and find their way.  This is a tough lesson for me.

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On our last day of summer we had been busy with household chores, birthday parties and grocery shopping.  I braced myself for the yelling of commands to get things done to prepare for the first day.  When the eldest’s schedule conflicted with ours; he handled it with the volunteer coordinator.  The middle son prepared the clothes he would wear to school on Sunday afternoon without being asked.  The youngest hummed to himself as he opened school supplies and organized his binder and backpack.  The yelling mom never materialized.

And so, this morning, I expected to rouse grumpy children to awaken for school.  And though I did have to wake them, they quickly rose and prepared for the day.  I made the effort not to lament the end of summer; nor did I use my falsetto, happy voice to expound the joys of the first day of school.  Instead we prepared for the day in relative peace and quiet which followed me into the confines of my car on my commute into work.  It had been effortless; even amongst the busy throngs of parents, the traffic and congestion and general chaos of the first day.  When the fifth grader happily waved from his line as they left for their classroom, I smiled.  This year is going to be a great one.  They were ready.

It is I who is never ready.  I read self-help parenting books hoping to glean knowledge on how to be a better parent.  But with the years I’ve come to realize that I will never be ready and that, being armed with knowledge doesn’t necessarily translate into acting upon it.  I must immerse myself into life, the experiences allowing me to learn what works and what does not.  Upon walking into my youngest’s elementary school office, I genuinely was happy to be there after a year of discontent and disillusion.  Time heals.  As an only child I am comfortable; left to my own devices in solitary confinement.  But, like my father before me, I am always called to serve.  The year off gave me the gift of discernment; to discover what was important and why.  In order to be a good parent to my children I did not need a lengthy list of titles or accomplishments.  To be a good parent to my children I needed to be happy with myself.

Sounds too easy?  Too cliche-ish and cheesy?  Probably.  But muddling through my issues it rings true.

To be a good parent/wife/friend/person, you need to be happy with yourself.

Parenting is many things.  You are responsible for those under your tutelage; whether you like it or not.  You learn to love unconditionally and selflessly.  You live through your children’s accomplishments and acutely feel their disappointments and failures.  In my years as a gerontologist, discussing end-of-life issues, the number one thing elderly people wished to leave their children was not money.  It was legacy.  We all want to leave our mark; our contribution within our family and in our society to feel like our existence made a difference in someone’s life.  As a child of two deceased parents, my lasting memories of them are a mixed bag.  I had been eighteen when my father passed, thirty-two at my mother’s untimely death.   My memories of my father are child-like and naive, the ones of my mother are from adulthood with the perspective of newly minted motherhood.   Over the years I questioned what legacy they left with me; the conversation of what they expected that I would become never broached.  They had pushed grades and titles and accomplishments; things I used to push,  first and foremost, for my own children.

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I asked the hubby what legacy he wished for our kids to remember him by and he hopes that they learn improvisation.  To know that the answers they seek to their questions are never going to be perfect and that they will persevere; to make things work with what they have and do these things independently.  Over the past year I’ve also searched within; seeking what it is that I want for myself and for my children.  I have fought the answer that is obvious to anyone who knows me well.  I want my children to serve in society for the greater good; in the beliefs that are important to them.  I don’t expect them to become doctors or lawyers with large homes and many things.  If they ultimately choose these professions I hope it is because they want to serve others; in the belief of the Hippocratic oath to preserve lives with quality, or to uphold the cannon laws for the safety and well-being of our society.  I hope they continually find love in the arts and to share them with others.  To be hospitable, gracious and humble.  But most importantly, to do things because THEY WANT TO.

Why do I think of these things on the first day of school?

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As a parent learning to let go, I had to understand where I fit in my children’s current stages.  When I used to see the word mother I imagined cuddles, hand-holding, homemade art projects and park playgrounds.   For the past few years I saw competitive group sports, tiger mother after-school tutoring and Facebook/Instagram posts of perfect parenthood; excessive parent involvement and comparisons.  I was a good parent because I knew all thirty-one names in my son’s class, stayed actively involved in PTA and knew the ins and out of the teachers, coaches, and instructors who would make my children scholarship ready and great.  But the more involved I became, the more I realized the artifice in these things; the selfish ideas of being involved so my child would get recognition and preferred treatment.  I served others to the detriment of my own sons.  As I volunteered for large organized events, my sons would sit alone on the sidelines hungry and tired.  Is this what good parenting entailed?  Was this the sacrifice needed to be a good mother?

The last school year I took a much needed break.  This school year I have renewed purpose and will practice discernment in the things I choose to do in service.  If my legacy to my sons is to become involved in their communities, as adults, I don’t want them to remember the stressed-out parent who poured out hospitality and returned with an empty cup.  True service and hospitality is in joyfully giving and expecting nothing in return.  I inherited the social aptitude of my father, the hospitable over-the-top entertaining, from my mother.  If they still were both alive I hope they’d see these traits in their only daughter.

The fall schedule is full and I welcome it.  I do not grumble.  Because the things I choose to do are things that I love; things that my children love, as well.  It has been a long, painful and circuitous route to return to this conclusion; as I continue to navigate the obstacles that will get in the way.  I now know my purpose, my own reason for being here in this stage of life.  I want to do what I love and love what I do.  Why?  First, because it makes ME happy.

School

lost ground

In one day it all came rushing back, the busy-ness that begins and lies ahead.  I immersed myself into reality and was reminded why I had chosen to go into exile.  I can’t get away from it; especially when it lives within.  I’m losing ground.

How can I be the best parent to produce successful progeny?

Almost two weeks ago I had sat with my childhood girlfriend who is a teacher.  She had recently discovered a textbook most current teachers have been introduced to in their educational studies.  But in her twenty years of teaching she had just stumbled upon it and she was mad.  Why hadn’t anyone told her about this before?

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Three hours passed as we shared experiences.  I found myself recounting experiences as the stay-at-home mom, the working mom and the volunteer mom.  Where is there time to be a wife, a friend?  It had been over a year since I last saw my childhood friend who lives less than twenty miles away.  In the end, we came back to parenting and how less stressful and vastly different it had probably been for our own parents raising us.  As tweens we had bicycled on ten-speeds four miles to a beach (each way) on a lonely road, with no helmets.  We did not fear for childhood predators.  We had no supervision.  We returned at dusk as the streetlights turned on.  We had freedom.

These days when my sons walk home (less than one mile from three different schools); texts come through asking if my boys need rides home.  The principal didn’t allow them to walk home after extra-curricular activities; permissible only if there were many children dismissed at the same time.  The helmets were bought and replaced each year as their head circumferences grew but the bike tires remained flat.   The GPS tracks their whereabouts on cell phones but these days, our street lies empty.  Kids are either inside on electronics or shuttled to countless activities for sports, the arts (lessons or classes), community service projects or after-school tutoring.  I am always happy to hear my neighbors’ kids outdoors playing baseball or playing in their backyards.  I have to plead with my own sons to join me, in triple digit heat, to swim in our own pool; IF they’re not scheduled to be somewhere else.

how to raise an adult

My current reading material is How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success  by Julie Lythcott-Haims.  It seeks answers to the same questions I’ve been asking myself the past three years.  Lost amongst the helicopter parents I struggled to find my way; grappling with guilt for not providing this same kind of parenting.  The badge of parenthood reads like a job resume; an endless list of scheduled activities, enrichment classes and internship worthy causes to claim the job position of “best parent.”  The prize?  The smartest, best-looking, talented athlete/artist/writer/musician/filmmaker/(you fill in the blank) child who is gifted with the art of gab and humbly gives back to the community; all with a rigorous academic load and a loving smile, because he/she wants to.

As a first generation child who was told to assimilate into the culture and not make waves; navigating these current waters have been tricky.  My girlfriend and I recall waking up at 5:00 AM, making our own breakfasts and sitting at our bus stops by 6:15 AM to be driven fifteen miles to the high school we attended.  Classes began at 7:05 AM.  Parents did not yell to rouse us out of bed, nor did they make our lunches, approve our clothes choices, or check our homework.  At a young age we were taught to do things for ourselves.  In order to discover answers we were forced to ask questions and assert ourselves.  My parents did not email teachers, call my counselor or volunteer in organizations to advocate for me.  In college we had been bitter as we heard of the diverse lives of our fellow students.  It was easy to blame our lack of parenting for putting us at a disadvantage.

But that really isn’t true.  We have both come to realize that our parents gave us the opportunity for growth.  Our work ethics, our independence, our successes and failures, lie upon our own shoulders.   They had prepared us.   I find my parenting style has become all of the things I had not had as a child.   I’m not sure this is entirely good.

I contemplated this as I sat in a PTA meeting listening to the discussion of how to spend funds for our school.   I was aghast at the extra funds available to spend; I being the product of a Title I school.  The girlfriend above teaches at one of the best districts in our state; a small wealthy enclave of the metropolitan city nearby.  We parent like the suburban parents around us; quickly forgetting where we came from and still feeling inadequate.  Should we enroll our kid in this after school program to catch-up?  What sport should they stick with?  What instrument should they learn to play?  What service club should they join?  I listened to the parents at the high school discussing advanced placement (AP) coursework and adding more classes to an already rigorous schedule.  There are not enough periods in a school day to accomplish the goals of becoming the best of the best; the well-rounded individual whom colleges will beg to walk through their doors.   I found myself getting sucked in; the same trap I just worked through in June.

When my son’s schedule had a glitch, I reverted back to the helicopter parent that lies within.  His schedule has been an ongoing topic of discussion since February of this year.  He grabbed his gear out of my vehicle and walked away.  I’ve got this, Mom.  The helicopter in me wanted to walk with him to the counselor’s office, to advocate… but for whose cause?  I silently watched him walk away, waved to the parents nearby and jumped into my vehicle.  I have to let him go.  He knows what he wants.

Upon arriving back to work I read the lengthy article advocating music education.  This son had chosen music over AP and, to my consternation, I still struggle with this.  I learned piano at age five.  I began playing the saxophone at age nine and continued through my four years in college.  I still play both.  But I want him to juggle it all, for the world to be his oyster.  The problem is, when one is good at many things, you cannot be great.  This is the root of my problem,  good at most things, great at none; my own inner demon that I struggle against.  Because my definition of being a good parent is creating children who surpass you.  I want my children to be great!    A Depeche Mode song comes to mind.

I need to get the balance right.

“What is the most important priority for all parents? THE FUTURE HAPPINESS OF THEIR CHILD! Mothers and fathers around the world dedicate their lives to creating an even better life for their children. In a highly competitive society they want to see their sons and daughters have every possible advantage in their educational climate, their chosen profession, and their selected community-of-living where, once again, the cycle will repeat itself with-and-for the next generation. The complexity of society’s evolutionary standards (some favorable, some not) puts responsible parents “on alert” 24/7.”  ~Lautzenheiser, Tim.  “Why Music?  Why Band?”  LinkedIn.  Marketing Vision Partners, LLC,  29 Jul 2015.  Web.  12 Aug 2015.

I struggle as I stand among these parents; knowing the academic pathway narrows.   This will be my struggle in these next few years, to not live my own ideals through my children.   I reduced my volunteer activities, evaluating the reasons why I do them.  The ones that remain are causes that I continue to believe in, not just for my children, but for all that is served by these programs and organizations.   I’ve come to realize that, maybe one day, my own sons will take up causes of their own; not for self-serving reasons, but because they are worthy.   The helicopter blades are clipped but are always ready to take flight.  I continue to learn to hand over the controls and let my children find their way.  I constantly need reminders, to save me from myself.

All he wants is a mom that accepts his choices.

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The son, yesterday morning, shared how he likes when I support his choices.  When I don’t go all crazy on him with the ten thousand questions.  He asserted his points and reminded me that all he wants is a mom that accepts his choices.   He can’t wait to drive.  And with a wave he jumped out of my vehicle, quickly walking to make it to practice on time.   School hasn’t even started and I’m already having issues.  I need to work through them and figure it out.  I stand alone fighting the crowds, trying to gain some ground.

Family, joys of jazz, School

being a lioness

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I try very hard to get a handle on the tiger mom that lies within.  You know, the one who gets competitive and wants everything to be the best.  When my boys joke about a “B” being the Asian “F” I grimace.  When I was in high school this was the kiss of death.  At fourteen I had known what universities I would apply to and, with my high school counselor’s help, worked towards that goal.

Over the years I’ve learned I must sit alone on this topic.  If surrounded by like-minded individuals it brings out the very worst in me.  It is the reason my two older sons left the sport of swimming in 2012; the year of the summer Olympics.  Michael Phelps was everywhere and my sons wanted none of it.  Amongst peers and parents seeking future Olympians the love of the sport was lost.  I sat in the stands, amongst these parents, as they advised me which coach to request while also reading Amy Chua’s book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.  A dad summed it all up.  Why pay for swimming if you don’t want to be competitive?  If you want to swim for recreation, find a community pool instead.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy competitions and the motivation to be the best me that I can be.  I love to cheer as a spectator in the stands for all things: sports, the arts or academics.  It is when the intensity becomes too high; when the motivation factor is for all the wrong reasons, that I shut down.  It is one of the toughest lessons I’ve learned over the years as a mother.  Letting go.

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So when the eldest nonchalantly handed me a paper to sign to drop AP Physics and to add a second music course; I had been caught off-guard.  His high school counselor approved of this course of action after two months of debating class schedules.  The son had already opted out of another AP class, after he insisted he wanted to take two, and after attending various parent meetings about rigor of schedule for college admissions, my mind went still.  Watching the college mania from fellow parents this past year I knew this was going to be a problem for me.  Thus, over spring break I read the book, Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania by Frank Bruni; mentally gearing up for the years that lie ahead.  My son is a freshman.

While at a school sponsored sporting event I listened to the parents in the stands, calling out to their kids.  They noticed scouts on sidelines with cameras and speed guns looking for the next NCAA athlete.  I cringed as they coached their sons and daughters; going against what the coaches were telling them.  As parents we all want what is best; we can’t help it.  But when our implicit desires conflict with our child’s; there is a problem.

I folded and tucked the drop slip between my printer and stapler.  I chose not to look at it for the rest of the weekend; much to my son’s consternation.

But he would not let it go.  The subject was revisited while with family; amongst them a middle school teacher for a charter school.  All of the adults agreed.  Why do you need to take two music classes?  Without  a cogent answer it was agreed upon that this son should do the research.  Having two music classes, just because he wanted to, was not the acceptable answer.  He needed to argue his point and present his reasoning.  And so he went to various sites online to search colleges in the areas of interest he wants to pursue.  After the third day he defiantly announced he would keep his schedule; to appease the parental units.  My red flags went up.  At the hubs’ suggestion we finally had to group email the counselor, the director and the instructor.

Neither of the first two chose to answer my email query.  The counselor had already spoken directly to our son.  There was no comment from the director.  But surprisingly, the instructor weighed in and pounced on the same line of reasoning this son found on the various websites of top universities.

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There are so many ways to navigate one’s way through high school, and it is specific to each student’s ability to balance good grades with a great attitude.

“Choose your activities because they delight, intrigue and challenge you, not because you think they’ll look impressive on your application.” “Prepare for MIT.” MIT Admissions RSS N.p., Web. 06 Jun. 2015.

“So the problem can often be well-meaning but misguided parents who try to mold their children into an image of success they value; and their children, being moldable as they are, often get on board and go along with the program before they have any capacity to make such a choice for themselves.  Yet the paradox is that the only road to real success is to become more fully oneself, to succeed in the field and on the terms that one defines for oneself.” “Preparing for College: Building a Path to Academic Success.”  Harvard College Admissions & Financial Aid RSS N.p., Web. 06 Jun. 2015.

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The son plopped his stack of printed “research” upon my desk and stalked off as another day went by.   It had surprised me as I leafed through the literature, both in the sites he chose and the one sentence summary he stated.  Balance, diversity and his true love, jazz.  The syncopated rhythm of Count Basie could be heard  on his desktop as he studied for finals.  Later that evening, as sleep eluded me; my answer finally came.  It was the one I should have known all along and I was ashamed I never saw it.

I had gotten lost in the mania I was trying to avoid and it is the reason my high school years are some of my least favorite.   In a competitive high school, such as my son’s, opting out of AP would take him out of the top ten.  He would not have the same choices I had as a senior.  Ranked third in my class I was accepted by all of my colleges; including the one I had aspired to from the very beginning.  It offered me a full ride scholarship for the course of study I wanted to pursue and I returned my letter of intent; elated.  And then I received the brochure from the university that did not offer me a full ride but had the one thing none of the others had.

A nationally known music program and marching band.

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I withdrew my letter of intent.  When people asked why I chose not to attend the university I had aspired to they were flummoxed when my answer came down to music.  I do not stay in touch with many of my high school classmates.  The few are the ones who have stood in my wedding, are godmothers to my children or are still a part of my life.  But the bonds I forged in college remain strong; my friends from marching band and the dorms as they held my hand in labor or stood beside me, as maid of honor, on my wedding day.   It is music that is always my salve.  Who was I to take this joy from my own son when years before, I made the same choices?

The hubs had slowly come to this same conclusion on his own.  He understands my tiger mother tendencies and likens me to a lioness, instead.  Lionesses hunt and gather in social groups; whereas tigers live a solitary existence.  These social groups help me navigate through this season of motherhood and I am forever grateful for their wisdom and insight.   Their diverse perspectives are welcome as we all muddle through this together.

On the last day of school the son carefully tucked the folded drop slip into his backpack.  It may be the only year he will have this opportunity; as the rigorous schedule builds in the following years where he will have to only choose one music class.  These are important years of growth and discovery and it is not I who should be defining them.  I’ve had my turn.  Now it is his.

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friendships, School, Work

lines in the sand

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I have returned to the question that blew up in my face at this time last year; the reasons why I serve.  The past twelve months have given me the opportunity to ponder this and really assess what is important.   I stared at my boys, upon my childhood beach, and found myself sifting the grains of sand through my fingers.  My mother-in-law had been on my mind and her favorite daytime soap opera’s song entered my head,  “Like sands through the hourglass, so are the Days of Our Lives.”   I chuckled out loud and drew a line in the sand.

I have finally defined my boundaries of what is acceptable and what is not.  They are not according to what others expect or want to hear.  In stepping away from busy-work I mentally sifted through the layers that have defined me.  Some were superficial; others buried deep down amidst responsibilities.  I re-organized and shifted my purpose; opened closet doors with skeletons and put them to rest.   My lines are no longer blurry.  Then the tide came and partially washed away my line.

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I’ve talked of staying within the four lines that create my safety box; my comfort zone.  I’ve always assumed my life would be on the straight and narrow; that I would reach my destination in the most efficient way possible.  But those lines are never straight; they go widely off-course, and in the days of my life most times they are wavy and off-center.  But I must always have a baseline; the foundation that I must find my way to return to.  I seek to find my center; the core of my beliefs.  The world pulls me in opposite directions, like magnets, and I must always realign my thoughts and actions to what I find acceptable.  

I say what I mean and mean what I say.

That used to not be true in recent times.  I filtered my words to keep the peace.  But when I am not at peace within; why would I try to pretend to make things right for anyone else?  At the end of the days of my life, at the pearly gates, I am accountable for myself, “…to make straight the path to the Lord.” John 1:23.  I cannot lead by example if I cannot stand for what I believe in.

A good leader is not defined by strengths; but in intimately knowing weaknesses.

I sit in the cold conference room finally saying the words I’ve needed to say.  I no longer serve a certain population because I have lost respect for the leaders who represent it.  The ones who say what they want and do not follow through.  The ones who smile to your face and turn their back behind closed doors.  Whether it is the workplace, a civil/volunteer organization or a social group I’ve realized the reasons why I serve aren’t solely for the mission statement.

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In recent weeks it has dawned clear how I operate and why.  It matters; the people I serve with and serve for.  The leader who is fair and balanced; not showing favoritism.  The people who are giving and hospitable; without conditions.  The workers who do what needs to be done, without excess fanfare or introduction.   Just as with our  business, our customers choose to stay with us because they have a relationship with us.  Most companies’ goals are to produce quality products and customer service.  But when the problems arise, and they always do, our company works with our vendors to make things right.   Those who speak their mind, sometimes loudly, but speak their truth still garner my respect.  I am a person that will own up to my mistakes.  Those who smile and create drama and never seek resolution do not deserve respect.  The ones who think they are doing you a favor by keeping quiet to keep the peace and pretend nothing is wrong.  They are in a class all of their own.

My line is drawn and remains steadfast; one I now choose not to step over, even when blurred.

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I serve with people and organizations who are fair; who do great things for others because they want to.  It is not for their children or hidden agendas.  They understand my need for transparency and when problems arise, they talk them through.  They stand true to who they are and aim for authenticity; even if we choose not to agree.   Those who stop questioning and just do what needs to be done.   It is what I seek in all my endeavors, both professional and personal.  I am my father’s daughter and it is my strength.  It is the details that are my weaknesses.  My love language is in service.  I am a work in continual process; pushing my line out towards infinity.  Infinitely expanding and growing…

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