Family, joys of jazz

crystal clear

As a mom in mid-life, parenting teenagers, I find myself alone.  A lot.  I am an alien in my own household of males; three sons and one husband.

Acronyms fly out of their mouths; my PC online gamers, YouTube and action movie watchers and social media chatters.  I’ve learned of websites I’d hoped to never encounter. My political views are vastly different from theirs. But I am grateful my sons share their thoughts with me (even when I’m offended), that the door is still slightly open.  For a while I felt it slam in my face and I stood on the other side wondering, What did I miss?  Where did I go wrong?

You just don’t understand, Mom.

And they would be right.  As an only child I did not have to worry about sibling rivalry.  As a female I communicated both vocally and in written form so I always said what I meant.  How did my own points of view and values present drastically different with my three sons?

Parenting male teens is a challenge.

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When my friend drops her daughters to carpool on Mondays mornings, it is like night and day.  They ask questions and share about their lives as I prepare lunches in the kitchen.  They awaken at 5:30 AM and take an hour to decipher what outfit to wear for the day.

My sons stumble out of bed, thirty minutes prior to the first bell, and quietly and grumpily grab their backpacks.  They stalk to the car while the girls animatedly chat about this and that.  When they separate, they hug one another good-byes with words of love and encouragement.

My sons can barely stand to walk together the short distance to their high school, most days.  It is only on Mondays, with the teen girl they’ve known for twelve years, that they walk together on each side, protective. If my sons hugged and told one another, have a great day and I love you, bro; you’d knock me over with a feather.

It’s taken me a long time to wrap my head around this idea but slowly it’s crystallized and has become crystal clear.

The things I want for them are not the same as the things they want for themselves.

Most times, they don’t even know what they want.

I practically dropped my purse in the grocery store as the supermarket music played a song from decades back.  I quickly found my Shazam phone app to find the tune but it was too late.  I’ve since found myself searching playlists of hits from the 90s to try to find the “ear worm” that keeps ringing in my head.

Those who know me well know that I can get a bit obsessive/compulsive over music.  I never found the tune but instead, discovered a song long forgotten; one that I recalled blaring through my car speakers in college and driving my girlfriends crazy.

As I heard the Darling Buds song, Crystal Clear, from my late teens, the words resonated with me as they did then.  At the time, this song played often on the alternative radio waves as I dealt with the death of my father.

The visual of my girlfriends from my dorm came to mind.  The girlfriend who works for UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), the bff who lives 2000 miles away under arches and the one that resides less than two miles from me; whose daughter is classmates with my son at our local high school.  I live in my community because of her.

You need a friend someone to say
Get your act together
And in between they’ll have to stay
Around to kiss it better

Uh huh, Uh huh, Uh huh, Uh huh

CHORUS. Everybody’s sad (everybody’s sad)
Wipe away a tear (wipe away a tear)
And I’m making it all
Crystal clear

Oh say it’s true yeah I need to
Believe in what I’m seeing
I want to scream you know what I mean
I’ll show you how I’m feeling

Uh huh, Uh huh, Uh huh, Uh huh

CHORUS

Uh huh, Uh huh, Uh huh, Uh huh

CHORUS

You need a friend someone to pray
Take away the pressure
And in the end they’ll have to stay
Around to make it better

Uh huh, Uh huh, Uh huh, Uh huh

CHORUS

Everybody’s sad (everybody’s sad)
I gotta get out of here (gotta get out of here)
And I’m making it all
Crystal clear

As I deal with my teenage sons I find myself going back to my teen years; trying to find a way to connect.  But my teens were vastly different from theirs.  I am stuck on repeat; having a hard time giving them freedom and letting go.  When my feelings get hurt or my anger crystallizes out of thin air, I need to get a grip and get over it.  But it’s hard to follow through and do this.

I want to share my wisdom with my boys.  To prevent them from making the mistakes I did.  To give them opportunities I did not have.  To push them to be the best they can be.

I get swept up in the parenting tide of wanting to enroll my kids in things to prepare them for the “real world.”  To get tutoring or lessons to get good grades and results.  To enroll in prep classes to get into the good colleges.   To expose them to experiences that will be memorable.  But what I’ve sadly realized is that…

My expectations may be too high, unrealistic and most importantly  NOT THEIRS.

When I questioned my son for the umpteenth time, he fired back.  I’ve told you the answer many times, you just don’t want to hear it.

I had been surprised when my family agreed to my planned trek north.  I had made the plans months before and had almost forgotten until a reminder email arrived in my inbox.

I had arranged a visit to the university where my cousin pursues his doctorate in education.  Years ago I had turned in my own acceptance letter there for my declared major of chemistry.  I had been offered a full scholarship and was excited to know a few of the professors in my department were Nobel laureates.

I wanted my sons to see this place; particularly my high school junior.

But this place was not on his radar and so I considered canceling the trip.  It wasn’t in our budget, it was raining cats and dogs, and I had many things to do during the three day weekend.

Why would I make the trek if my kids didn’t really care?   Maybe this was just me, reliving the high school experience I had wanted and never got.

I found myself in this same predicament regarding lessons.  My son was not vested and I was pouring money into something he didn’t want.  He had responded with the statement above; that I wasn’t hearing him.   Is it because I had wanted lessons in high school?  Is it because he is lazy and unmotivated?  Where is his drive?

Months before I had purchased tickets to a jazz performance with the local philharmonic orchestra.  Long ago I had vowed that I would give my kids cultural experiences with local museums in history, science and art and to attend stage, theater, music and sporting events; at least once a year.

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The last time we ventured to the philharmonic, the eldest and I had argued and I angrily sat through our restaurant reservation and music performance.   I had asked my family if this jazz event would be something they would like to attend and at the time, they had all answered yes.

When I reminded them that this performance is, this evening, a resigned sigh could collectively be heard.

Are you sure, Mom?  I have an AP English project I need to film today.  From the other son, Do we have to go to dinner and dress up cuz that’s dumb?  And from the third son, Is it all just jazz?  My visions of re-enacting our excursion of dinner reservations and a concert quickly dissipated.   They all nixed the idea of attending a book presentation on the history of jazz prior to the concert.  Again, high expectations.

I am making a mental note to tell my hubs that this would be an ideal date, for me, for my birthday.

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I close the double doors to my upstairs office, light the 3-wick candle, plug in my tree lights and put the Darling Buds song on repeat.   Surprisingly, I’m not too disappointed.  I appoint the hubs as my planning ambassador, for the four of them to decide what they want to do regarding dinner before we head downtown to the concert.

I’ve learned in my work and volunteer activities that my strength lies in coordinating groups of people and in mediating communications to seek resolutions.  What hasn’t been very clear, until now, is that I need to practice this principle in my home life within my own four walls.  To think reasonably and responsibly.  To follow things through.

Thankfully, our weekend trip north went well.  Road trips unplug us from our every day routines and we are forced to interact with one another.  I am a big proponent for taking trips with young kids; to not wait until they are older.  

We have camped, hiked, driven and flown trans continental and attended cultural events since they were infants.  Yes.  It is difficult, at times, to spend money on things that you may be distracted from with young kids.  Things we thought our boys would love weren’t always what we had expected.

The pay-off is seen with my tween and teens.  My three sons had projects to do, last weekend.  But they flexed and brought them with them and made the most of our quick trek.  We got a break from the rain and enjoyed the scenery without fog; a rare thing in February.  We reconnected with my cousin as he shared his life; encouraging the boys to explore and pursue higher education.

We had plenty of things to talk about as our sons observed the free speech environment while we rode the public transportation system and walked past the iconic views of famous landmarks.   And we experienced the diverse culinary delights that this region is known for.

It’s never been about the destination.  It’s about the journey in getting there.

My sons actually enjoyed visiting the university campus.  I’m not sure if they see themselves there.  In the end, I too, chose a different university because, of all things, music.  My declared major became my minor and I loved where I landed.  It is where I met my above girlfriends and it was in calculus lab that I met my husband.

Regarding the lessons, I finally had to acknowledge that my son’s words rang true.  I had selective hearing and felt his choices were not valid.  That Mom really doesn’t want to understand what he has to say.    I canceled the lessons and hope that maybe he will change his mind in the future.

In the bigger picture I know what’s important is not whether I am right or wrong; but that I follow through with what I say and acknowledge that I hear his words.  If I ignore them, he will learn to keep his words and ideas to himself.

I need to keep the door slightly open.  I don’t want to be left on the other side pounding my fists and shouting, “Let me in!”  If they lock me out, I’m hoping love will always be the key that allows me entry.  But I’m working on an offensive strategy so that doors aren’t closed and that all things are communicated and clear.

I want it to be crystal.

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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.

Being Catholic, Family

finding boundaries when life happens

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The tears flowed silently as the rain fell on the windshield; the air in the vehicle subdued.  In my mind I wondered, where did I go wrong?

I question my boundaries in parenting my sons.

This week had been especially busy and stressful with deadlines looming at the end of-the month.  This year one of my resolutions is to put myself outside of my comfort zone.  I had been complacent in my personal growth and like to stay within the confines of things I know; things I know I can do well.

With the new year I didn’t waste any time and I am already feeling the discomfort and struggle.  I was careful to not stretch myself too thin but did not account for any other issues along the way.  Assuming all other things remained the same, the new roles I’ve undertaken were manageable.  I hadn’t anticipated any hiccups outside of this plan.  From life.

I have always been a creature of habit and routine.

Most of my life has been planned out.  When I met my future husband I  had been very clear.  We were to only be friends.  I was uninterested in relationships because I had my career path planned out.  We had two years of friendship together when this conversation took place, both aged twenty.

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I had a fifteen year plan.   After graduation I would apply to medical school.  Four years after that I would be in a three year residency.  I would then take my exams and settle into a practice for a few years and at age thirty-five, I would then have some time to become involved in a relationship.

It was this man who drove me two thousand miles, a year after graduation, to begin coursework in a a medical school.  He suggested a navy recruiter, to offset my costs in joining a flight surgeon program and to our surprise, they readily took me.  I spent the year in my studies and found myself in a professor’s office regarding me across his desk.

Why are you here? he had asked.

I had visited the lieutenant commander and he had plotted where my path would take me.  It would take me away from my boyfriend, whom I was beginning to realize, I had fallen in love with.   He shared the reality of his life, both he and his wife serving the navy.  There were no naval installations close to Bethesda, Maryland and the likelihood of being stationed together, given our paths, were not likely.

I had left the base feeling angry that I was being distracted from my career path by some stupid emotion called love.

And so I pondered the question by the professor.

Each student had to pass through his office as we concluded our first year.  He questioned my ideas of what my life would be and why I thought medicine was for me.  He didn’t question my aptitude in my studies but probed my mental state.  My ideals were not what the reality of the profession was.  And though I knew the answer of why I was there, I was not willing to acknowledge it.

How does one decide to walk away from the pathway set-in-stone, from age fourteen with thousands of dollars invested, to go with where your heart lies?

I would not be able to delve into the psyho-social mental state of my patients with end-stage cancer; there would be no time.  I had red tape, policies and time constraints that would hinder the real reasons I chose the medical profession.  I essentially would be a body mechanic; nothing more.

And so I walked away to the shock of my family and friends.  I have never regretted this decision.  But it has shaped the way I parent my sons.  I do not lock them onto a pathway because it is rare to find the teen that knows exactly what he/she wants do with his/her life and follows it through.

Life happens.  When it doesn’t pan out the way you expect it to; you feel the failure.  The not adding up.

I am now a parent of a high school junior.  I have mentally prepared myself as he embarks on the college admissions season.  I seek resolutions on underlying issues from my past.  My own life choices were exhausting, stressful and expensive and I try not to impose these pressures on my own son.

I had taken my path at the wishes of my dying father; in the end-stages of colon cancer.  I would find a cure.  I would talk with families and patients to mentally help them through these difficult times.  It was the reason I chose my pre-med major, undertook opportunities in research and hospice.

It had been my driving force and I was well on my way.  I never stopped to consider if these were my own desires and I truly believed this was my calling.

The swish-swish of the windshield wipers brought me back to the present.  I had been blind-sided by the anger emanating from my sixteen year old in the dark, quiet car as we drove home from a restaurant.

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As a family we had decided to dine out, on this Friday evening, prior to dropping off this son at a weekend retreat.  He was allowed to choose the restaurant as we picked him up from his friend’s home.  We arrived just prior to the busy dinner rush, obtaining a table quickly in a rapidly filling restaurant.  But in the waiting area our son’s simmering anger bubbled to the surface.

He refused to order or eat.  He was feeling the stress and pressure from his AP homework workload that he was unable to begin until his return on Sunday evening at 7 PM.  He was due to be dropped off at 8PM on this rainy, Friday night and it was 6 PM.  He was adamantly opposed to attending this church retreat; a requirement for his Confirmation in his Catholic faith, this upcoming May.  To our server’s surprise, we cancelled our order and walked out of the restaurant.  It was on the drive home that I cried.

The questions circled and spiraled as I stifled my sobs.

Am I pushing my son into a faith, knowing, that there is a 60% chance he will choose to leave it anyway?  Am I wasting his time?  The stats are that 40% of Catholic teens remain Catholics as adults.

My mind circled back…

When my hubs asked my mother for my hand, in marriage, she had only one request.  We must marry in the Catholic church.

My husband was not brought up with religion but he acquiesced to her wishes.  As we prepared for our wedding with a Pre Cana Catholic marriage counseling program, the first question the priest had asked, my then fiance, was if he believed in God.  The silence had been deafening as my very, science-oriented partner, mulled this over for a a few minutes.

It had felt like hours as we waited uncomfortably for his reply.  To my relief, he had finally answered yes and presented the priest with a list of thoughtful questions about Christianity and faith.

The priest had then asked us both if we would agree to raising any children we had, in Catholicism.  To this, my future hubs instantaneously answered yes.

Guiding my sons, spiritually, is not an easy task in a world of distractions.  When work, school or extra curricular activities get in the way, church or religious education is the first thing my hubs and sons want to take off our schedule.  It is not a priority; mostly a chore.  But once they are immersed in the environment, they are happy they went.  But it is always a fight to get my hubs or older sons there.

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Years ago, my hubs chose to serve as an usher in hospitality.  He had been inspired when our young sons chose to become altar servers in 2010.  But these seven years have changed their alacrity as hormones and life happens; distracting and pulling them away.  When my son’s upcoming Confirmation ceremony conflicted with a mandatory jazz festival weekend, he angrily asked to move his his church obligation to choose jazz.

As a parent, I try to stay attuned to the pressures on teenagers today.  I am not naive in thinking my sons will continue to choose the faith in which they were raised; or in any faith at all.

It is my obligation, as their parent, to guide them and expose them; to lay a foundation of values and morals so that my boys will have a code of ethics on being a responsible human being.

And sometimes, when these boundaries are questioned and resisted, it’s difficult.  I had already felt the strain of the past week and this unexpected attack had been the last straw.  Instead of arguing back, to defend, I quietly sat as the tears began to fall.  This same fight has already begun in my middle son as he questions why we must have faith.  Only my eleven year-old’s mind and heart remain open, still enjoying serving in our church and accepting blind belief versus science.

Where did I go wrong?  I’ve done all the things I was supposed to?  

Being a parent, sucks.  I want the manual with the checklist that tells me that I am on the right path and am not overstepping my bounds.  I want clear boundaries.  But none of life is clear and my expectations of smooth sailing and perfect, complying children is a fallacy.  I need to get over it and accept that life will always throw wrenches in my way and all I can do is give them my very best.  I can’t make their choices for them and soon enough they will leave my nest.

All I can do is give them my very best.

atoz

I am currently reading the book, The A to Z of You and Me  by James Hannah and the line jumped out at me as I felt the adrenaline rush, my heart skipping a beat.

“What you don’t get right, you can always put  right.  Don’t be afraid to change your mind.”

And though I’m not sure how to put things right I know that I must be steadfast on this path.  This had not been on my radar on my parenting checklist.  I have been accustomed to my family accepting my beliefs. But it time to let this assumption go; to know that these boundaries must be crossed in order for my own sons to grow.

I must prepare myself to accept the choices my sons will make when they venture outside of the nest.  The choices they will make will be their own.

I cannot base my parenting abilities solely on my sons’ choices.  It is easy to judge, to blame the parents for the outcome of their children.  But this is not fair.  You cannot value a person’s life on their resume in black print.  We must read between the lines in the white spaces and illustrations; the stories and memories that remain.

I shared with the sixth graders in my youngest son’s class how Egyptian pharaohs had artists draw happy illustrations of their lives on the frescoes of their pyramids and tombs; believing their ba and ka spirits would bring these pictorals to life after death.  As the students boisterously created sarcophagi out of modeling clay, I pondered what stories would remain in my life’s book and what words would be shared in my obituary.

The things I hope to be remembered by are not tangible ones.  They aren’t the numbers and formulas of science, the facts of history in what I did.  I want to be remembered by the things intangible and immaterial; my love for my family and friends, my strong faith and ethics, my service to help others and my appreciation for the outdoors, art, history, literature and music.

I push my boundaries outwards; my barriers becoming porous as my mental alignment shifts.  Life happens and I won’t always get it together.  But I can always change my mental state to progress; to put it right.

In a distracted world, a nation divided, it was empowering to observe over a hundred teens  pursuing their faith even when life happens.  As we heard testimonials I realized I was surrounded by parents going through this same struggle.

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On a cold rainy Sunday eve, in a church filled with teenagers returning from retreat; my sense of hope remained.  I hope they continue to pursue…even when.

friendships

talking too much

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I had been sitting in traffic on my daily commute to work; stewing.  A parent had cut-me-off as I exited the parking lot, dropping off my youngest son at his school.  I had then gotten stuck behind a slow driver who was texting and almost hit the crossing guard in the crosswalk.  When the third car went out-of- turn at a four-way stop I threw my hands up in the air; mumbling epithets under my breath, in my vehicle.

Then a song caught my ear and I turned it up.  Music can immediately change my mood, especially when I discover something new.  I’m grateful to Coin’s new song, “Talk Too Much” for doing that for me this past week.

I work through my issues by voicing them or typing them and in a household of males, the hubs bears the brunt of this burden.  I constantly chastise myself with why I can’t leave things unsaid.

My teens, surprisingly, are maturing and are now able to engage again in conversation with more than two words.  Recently we’ve had some great discussions about the things happening in their lives.

As a teen I felt disconnected with my parents so any tidbits of information from any of my three sons are welcome.  I know they do not tell me everything but I am grateful they choose to talk and willingly share something (without prodding).

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The spontaneous texts from my girlfriends to meet for walks, coffee, brunch and Friday night beverages were most welcome.  I’ve missed face time with fellow females and my schedule has finally opened up.

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Most times I walk my path alone in the morning, watching the fog rise from the ground in eerie patches of mist.  The silence and solitude allow me time to process and think through the various events occurring around me.  But the issues don’t resolve themselves until I talk them out.

My hubs is always the first filter, the one I trust implicitly, but females are vastly different than males.  He offers solutions and when I don’t take his advice he becomes frustrated.  I merely want him to “hear me;” to affirm the words and things that I observe are, in fact, real.  I want to talk through the scenarios, all umpteenth million of them, and consider the actions and reactions of those involved.

This is taxing for my dear hubs and so I am always grateful to the girlfriends who empathize; the ones who hear me.  The ones who don’t judge or critique.  These friends are rare and, over the years, I have discerned which ones I can feel affirmed with and, surprisingly, have gained a few new girlfriends along the way.

For a while I kept my thoughts and words for the hubs alone.  I soul-searched for the person I was/am after feeling bitter disappointment in various things.  This process allowed me to discover myself, both the good and bad, and in sorting and filtering I have been able to reconnect with my husband and family.

To engage.  To say no.  To let things go.

This has opened up space for me to discover things new.

To learn.  To explore. To grow.

My sons have watched me struggle and have heard me with my hubs.  For the boys to become decent men, they must have decent men in their lives to teach them these things.  To learn how to navigate through friends; to sort and filter if they affirm them.

Our two older sons have recently had to go through this and in observing my own process and discovery, they had a path to guide them.  Teenagers, today, are having to grow up faster and are exposed to more things due to technology.

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This morning I had to acknowledge this fact after discovering that my son’s close friend posted a suicide letter on a chat page and was admitted to a hospital.  At 12:59 AM my son received a text and a phone call from another close friend trying to help him.  But my son and the hubs had been watching a movie downstairs; his phone upstairs on his bed unanswered and unseen.

This is the second time this scenario has played out, with an entirely different person and situation, in three months.  But this one was close to home.

Growing up suicide letters were NOT the norm.  But social media has become the primary means of communication versus face-to-face interactions.   Talking has been replaced with typing and I wished my sons DID talk too much.

Instead, words are acronyms, memes and emoticons.  When the son saw the jumping off a cliff meme with the GKY (Go Kill Yourself) acronym, he assumed it was a joke.

This would be unheard of even a decade before, but our children have become desensitized to these thoughts and ideas.  When someone talks of cutting; kids roll their eyes.  Prescribing prescription drugs for anxiety, depression and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) have become common practice.  Everything is immediate and easy; just take a pill.

I stood at this son’s bedside, this morning, after receiving the call from my girlfriend of his friend’s suicidal ideation.   I quickly communicated with the other parents of my teen’s close circle.

This group of teens had just sat in our house on Friday evening talking.  This teen was the only one missing from their group and I am grateful that I have engaged with my boys’ lives; that I know who their friends are.  That I can open up my home to have them hang out on a Friday night so they can talk to one another, face-to-face or, most times, heads down texting phone to phone.

If ever I have appreciated the gift of hospitality and friendship, it is now.

We, moms, texted one another.

These kids, these days aren’t given coping skills.  When they get the real world, they are ill equipped to cope.  We protect them too much and don’t let them fail.  How do we guide them?

This pack of teens have one another.  They work things out together and that’s real life. 

One of the moms decided to open up her home, next week, and cook dinner because all conversations go better with food.  While our sons hang out, the parents will work through the issues to figure out how to navigate parenting today.  Our kids try to do the best they can.

Although I have a conflict with this dinner my son told me my presence is important to him.  So I must balance and make it work.  For him. 

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When my sons, this weekend, determined they wanted to bake cookies…I stopped what I was doing.  I rarely bake and all of my boys associate the holidays with their Mom baking cookies.

I took the time to directly look at my boys and frankly talk about what to do if your friend wants to commit suicide.  Thankfully, the teens in the situation did the right thing and called 911.  They were not critical nor judgmental.  They heard a teen’s cry for help and brought in the proper authorities and people to see it through.

We, parents, need to follow things through. 

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Being a parent isn’t always about giving our kids the best things, sheltering them or doing work for them so that they won’t have to worry.  They need to fail.

They need to learn how to navigate through stressful situations,with our guidance and support, to learn coping mechanisms to move forward.  And they need friends.

It is important for our kids to watch parents work through their conflicts to find resolution.  It is in talking too much with our friends, and spending face time that makes us human.  In walking alongside other people’s struggles, or vice versa, we learn the power of the ties that bind.

It’s easy to be our own islands, to try to work things out ourselves.  It is only in experiences that we can discern what a good friend is.  It’s not someone to gossip with; nor is it a competition of who has more things or titles.  It isn’t the one who brings in more money; nor is it the one who volunteers on PTA or booster boards.

We are not super Moms; we are all flawed.  We try to do the best we can.

I texted this friend’s mom, to make sure her son is okay.  The teens wanted to visit him.  His friends are ready to be there for him.

Parenting is a community and today, I am grateful to be a member of it.   Thanks to my fellow moms for being transparent and keeping it real.

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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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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Family, School

imperfect days and third options

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While treading the worn hallway, upstairs, I heard my eldest son’s ringtone from the furthest reaches, downstairs.    With one last command to my younger sons to hurry down and eat breakfast; I rushed down the stairs to catch the phone before it went to voice mail.  It was 7:20 AM.

Mom!  I need my history textbook!  I heard the stress; voice cracking on the other end of the cell.  I quickly scanned his desk, unable to locate it until he remembered it had fallen on the left side.  I glanced at my phone;  it was 7:23 AM.  His late bell rings at 7:30.

My mind screamed, This is your fault for not getting up early; let this be a lesson to you!

My mouth said, “I won’t make it.  You’ll be tardy for your first period.” 

I heard the resignation in his voice as he accepted this truth; the consequence.  He knows, he said, but please try anyway.

I got every single traffic light to his high school.  I spotted the police cruiser at the intersection and my son; who clutched his phone for dear life,  amidst the kaleidoscope of teens who rushed to beat the bell.  His classroom is on exactly the opposite side of this sprawling campus.  When I stopped he grabbed the textbook, yelled thank you and bolted.  We both knew he wouldn’t make it in time.

Sometimes in life we know the outcomes won’t meet our expectations.  But I am always wiling to try something; at least once.  It is a lesson learned for this son who is used to being punctual.  These years, that he currently occupies, will be the ones where he must learn to adapt and adjust.  Responsibility is a trait to be learned.  Earned.

Today he was lucky; it is his birthday.   This won’t happen again.

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Sometimes when we make choices; the decision is clear-cut and easy.   Should I eat breakfast so I am not hungry later?  Yes.  I should.  But most times our choices are between two conflicting things.  Do I sacrifice being late to my first period or do I leave the textbook at home?  We weigh our options; both negative outcomes.

Lately I feel like most of my choices weigh negative consequences.   I think of my cluttered counter top with highways of dead ants.  Do I spray the ant poison near my food stores to salvage my cupboards or do I toss excess food to prevent the ants from foraging?   The desire to cook in my disorderly kitchen is at an all-time low; amidst toxic fumes and triple digit temps.  But my desire to not eat out, with excess calories and expense, balances my aversion to cooking in a cluttered kitchen.

Each day feels like I am taking a multiple choice quiz where I must choose the response that best answers the question.  It will never be perfect; exact.

This is really what I must always remind myself of; imperfection.  Rare is the day that my kitchen is scrubbed clean, full of groceries and organized where the spices I need are at my fingertips.   Rare is the morning that my three sons are awake, dressed and fed; waiting to be taken to school.  I know when I reach my twilight years that I will miss these years of semi-organized chaos, the full schedules, the clutter and footsteps that tread the halls upstairs.  Someday my house will be silent.

All of these every day wanderings are minute details in the bigger picture; the maelstrom of ants and pots and pans, the broken tile.  Instead of my messy home I’ll remember driving, in traffic, to my son as he discovers the effects of his actions.  He may not remember this day; the indecision and realization that either outcome would not be ideal.  But he will remember the feeling of hopeful helplessness and will learn to organize himself and find ways to prevent this situation from recurring in the future.

When life’s outcomes are stacked against you, there is always the third option.  Hope.  To want a positive outcome; so bad, that you completely ignore the negatives to attempt to do the right thing.   You have to believe, to have blind faith, that there is always something better; a path not yet found if only one tries.

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In the end, none of the above mattered.  The son; late to his first period class, discovered the principal and assistant principal inside.  On this particular day his geometry teacher was absent and the substitute had not arrived.  From the principal the classroom of students learned that a fellow parent; speeding, had struck another student.  Only two days before had our high school’s parent population sat in the auditorium; advised of traffic rules and repeatedly, told to drive S-L-O-W.  The student, thankfully, is okay.  The police presence and throngs of late students were explained; traffic at a stand still.   My son, indeed, was lucky; in more ways than one.

The past two years I have advocated for parents to be vigilant drivers with the kids at our elementary and junior high.  It is ironic that, of all places, the high school campus is where the unthinkable happened; the teen a junior and struck by a parent.  As parents, each and every single day, we weigh probable outcomes and try to make the best choices we can to guide our children.

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Our actions do not only impact ourselves.  Shall I be late to work or hurry up and get out of this mess; to beat traffic?   We, too, must learn responsibility; own culpability.  We, too, must find a better outcome.  To leave our houses earlier, to take the time to get our children to their campuses safe.  To put down the cell phones; to stop with the text.  I still hope for the third choice…that we CAN do better.  This, I believe.

We have imperfect days.  But we can always strive to make the choice that best fits the situation.  The answers are rarely perfect and clear and bad days will happen.  But tomorrow is another day.  Make it a better one.

Family, School

riptides act -tion

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This week has been a rough and bumpy ride.

Traditionally on the last Friday of summer vacation we head to the ocean. I greedily clung to the remaining hours of freedom; willing the sands through the hourglass to sift slow. The forecast called for hazy sunshine and high surf advisories.

I stood in awe of Mother Nature. There is nothing like witnessing the ocean’s breathtaking power; allowing me to let the tethers and ties of life go. As the sets of monster waves crashed towards the shoreline I could finally be present in the moment with all my senses aware. Over the roar of the waves I shouted to the younger boys.

If the riptide takes you, float and don’t fight it. It’ll pull you sideways so don’t panic. Wait for the waves to calm and then swim to shore. Will yourself to relax and breathe.

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I felt the waves carry me this way and that during this first week back- to- school. I mentally resist the return of demanding schedules and am physically exhausted trying to get it all straight. I longingly wished for the waves of last Friday crashing on the shore.

I need to ride this.

I need to let the waves crash over and around me; letting the routine settle to the rhythmic tides of time eternal. To give up the tiresome task of trying to control the things I cannot. I will myself to relax and breathe; to not panic.   I need to go with the flow and let go.

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transition: noun. passage from one state, stage, subject, or place to another.”   Def. 1. Merriam Webster Online, Merriam Webster, n.d. Web. 26 Aug. 2014.

When the suffix -tion is added to a verb, it changes it to a noun; meaning   the act or result of (verb).

I am in the present tense of the verb, the doing.  Most times I am fixated on the end result, the -tion.  Instead of enjoying the transit, I am looking towards the end of the journey (transit- tion).  I hold my ground wanting time to stand still, to have control.  But the truth of the matter is, life is always in a state of flux and transition.  These are not finite stages.  We are always in transit, riding the waves; big and small.

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I stayed in the water of foamy 10 foot waves for over an hour waiting for the perfect one to ride in on the boogie board.  We need to go further out my son yelled to me.  I signal to remain; to stay put.  To keep our eyes on the water.  The lure of the perfect wave means that we must put ourselves in strong rip currents.   I chose to ride whatever tides I could, just because.  The danger in life is always waiting for the perfect moment which rarely ever comes.

You gotta just do it.  Live.

I spend too much time looking back thinking, should’ve, would’ve, could’ve.  I ponder the future seeking the end result.  But living in the present, in the here and now is tough; the doing; the action.  To breathe deep and let go.  To block out the fear and float; trying to rise above the foam.  You can’t swim, you say?  It’s okay to ask for a lifeline, to wear flotation devices.  Maybe it’s time to learn to swim.  But if you never ask, never try…the fear wins.  You get stuck.  You panic.
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On day three one obstacle after another came like sets of rogue waves; knocking me out. I had lain awake til the wee hours of the morning; my mind racing.   I was locked in the barrel; the walls of water collapsing around me as I fought to stay afloat; eyes searching for the shore.

But I am learning to reach for my lifelines; the ones who hear and affirm; not compare and contrast.   When I flail in an angry sea, they deploy the flotation devices.   They are my life “guards.”  If I ask, they will come.  To paraphrase the English poet, John Donne.

No man is an island.

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The sirens wail.  I am in need of saving.  And my lifeguards deliver at a moment’s notice. This back-to-school business is for the birds.

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Frustrations run high as procrastination and anxiety peak by 6:57 AM.  The lunch bag gets tossed about as doors slam and tempers flare.  On the first night of school we sit in the twenty-four hour mega store at 10:30 PM, picking through shopping carts.  There is not one five subject, college-ruled notebook in sight and this son needs two of them.   On day three the teen is frantic; his lack of organization glaringly obvious.  He is made to run around the field until his dot book and needed items are delivered in his seventh period.

Day four, the hubs and son spend an hour searching for a world newspaper; the assignment due in the morning. My eyes see red.  Quick to intervene before tempers escalate out-of- control the hubs sees it.  The teen is his spitting image; procrastination and all.  Upon returning home empty-handed; my caffeine habit proved useful.  A quick trip to my local coffeehouse produced several newspapers.   Crisis averted.

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The middle son is unsettled; his junior high schedule now in its second revision.  He longs to get into his routine; to know his class schedule is final.   After typing several pages of homework he is disgruntled to discover neither of our printers work.  Our workhorse that we’ve owned since 1996, the LaserJet, is on its last legs and the ink jet; dry.   From upstairs I hear the hubs grumble.  He currently is installing two new printers.

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But all is not lost.  The youngest son  happily memorizes state facts.  Who knew our state rock was the serpentine?  Test me again Mom!  He memorizes in the car as we roam to and fro; the older brothers dropped off at their respective schools.  After the youngest’s drop-off I will myself to keep my calm as frazzled parents rush to push their kids out of cars; allowing them to illegally cross.   When I lower my automatic window I see the assistant principal straddling the double yellow line.  With each late, jay-walking child she whistles and yells.  Use the crosswalk!  Next time, detention!  Tempted as I am to high-five her I hit the button as the window motor whirs.  At the crosswalk, the police car parks.  Stuck amongst parent drivers I turn up my volume and sing to my stereo; windows up.    By the time I reach the freeway, the ride is smooth sailing.  Glassy waters.

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Day five is still in motion; the craziness of to and fro.  The constancy of the tides, as in time, continues and I must learn to roll with it; absorbing the impact.   I may not be able to control what happens around me,  but I do have control of how I react to it.

One of my lifeguards’ text reminds me:  My happiness is not dependent on someone else.  I must create it, all on my own.   I declutter and surround myself with things that inspire; not tire.   Some days I’ll be riding the crests of the waves; others I’ll be locked in the barrel; crashing to shore.  These things, these rip curls,  happen for a reason.  I take stock of what is good; remembering to taste the saltiness on my lips and the coolness of the foam.    I can do this, ride this.

I am grateful.

Family

tuning in on the road

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When the center line blurs, the Rascal Flatts song, “Life is a Highway” from the Cars movie, runs through my head.  It is on open roads that I long to hit the pedal to the medal.  It is this picture (below), taken four years ago, that I see in my mind.  It is still one of my sons’ favorite movies.  I think of all the adventures we could have on Route 66.  Life isn’t about the destination, but in the stops and misadventures in getting there; wherever “there” is.

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It is just recently that I’m learning to apply the brakes; to slow life down.  I look in my rearview mirror as the scenery flies by; hair unfurling in the wind.  It is when I am most happy.  All thoughts and problems are let go…my mind clear.

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Long road trips are when my favorite memories are made.  These days the voices are deeper, louder; the arms and legs cramped and intertwined in our back seat.  Tempers flare as the miles are logged but eventually, as the majestic granite cliffs and towering redwoods come into view; the car quiets.   The scenery unfolds before our very eyes.

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The windows come down, the music turns off and the rush of wind blows into our lungs.  It is no wonder that we feel compelled to return to this area, time and time again.  This, from the girl who absolutely had NO CAMPING blood in her small town veins.

As usual, the plans changed.  What was originally a group family trip, on my side, became a solo adventure; the only last minute takers…my childhood girlfriend and family who I’ve known since aged four.   It was in seeing her, with her young sons, that released an avalanche of memories of the past.  Of family camping trips.

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The passage of time is swift; currents pulling every which way.

I watched as our teenager chose to sit alone; enjoying his solitude.  This son, whose temperament is like my own, and I continued to butt heads and the light bulb turned on as I read Stephen R. Covey’s book.  A dear girlfriend gave this tome to me two years ago and I had gotten stuck on page 97.  I am 3/4  within its pages and I could swear Mr. Covey (rest in peace) was directly talking to me.

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“Why do people shout and yell at each other?  They want to be understood.  They’re basically yelling, ‘Understand me!  Listen to me! Respect me!'”

~Covey, Stephen R.  The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families.  Golden Books.  1997.  Print.

Empathy.  It is something I constantly drive home to my boys to learn.  As a mother of young sons, my words nor actions, were ever questioned.  But alas, I am called out.  I had forgotten how to be empathetic to my own sons.

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Empathetic Listening.  I was not listening to my son’s heart; nor interpreting his body language.  It is a skill I am most adept at when it comes to other people and in the workplace.   But within my four walls it is forgotten.  I reflected as I watched my girlfriend and husband with their three and five year old sons.  Being tired.  Overwhelmed.  A solitary military dependent wife with three kids and a deployed husband.  I was guilty of ignoring their voices or pretending to listen.  As they grew older I had to listen more intently to their words but it was selective.  I’ve learned to be more attentive and finally; empathetic.  It only took me 371 miles and thick black smoke of a campfire; tearing my eyes amidst testing toddlers, that I could clear the air and finally see and hear.  Because really, when I look at my teenager…it is the first picture that I always see.

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But this is one that sits before me now.  The one whose heart I need to hear.  No longer do the lub dubs pitter-patter near my ears; they sit far away.  With headphones on.  And so, on this camping trip I began to make the concerted effort to hear; to seek to understand.  It is easy when your children’s personalities complement your own.  Much harder when you have to look at your very own self reflected in the hormonal pubescent teen towering above. 

As we dropped off our beloved canine; my mother-in-law told my hubs to drive safely during our camping trip.  As he walked away my father-in-law teased her as she fretted.  The kid can drive.  It’s not like he can’t land an airplane on an aircraft carrier at night or handle being shot at while flying it.  She sheepishly explained that she sees her son as an 18 year old; leaving for the Navy.  And I understood.  I see my boys as young toddlers; unwilling to acknowledge the passage of time.  It is a young child trapped in another body.   Invasion of the Body Snatchers, perhaps?

Lorde.  We live in cities you’ll never see on screen
Not very pretty, but we sure know how to run things
Living in ruins of a palace within my dreams
And you know, we’re on each other’s team
I’m kind of over getting told to throw my hands up in the air  So there  “Team.”  Pure Heroine.  CD.  Lava.  2013.

The song above is on repeat on my car stereo; written by Lorde, a 17 year old teen,  of her friends and family in New Zealand.  I finally tuned into the words.  I want my family to know we’re on each other’s team and that I really am tired of throwing my hands up in the air.    My four walls, my ruined palace of broken tile and disrepair, may not be perfect but our family is healthy; happy.  My idyllic perfect home needs to be let go; the focus on the inhabitants that share the roof with me.  I need to sit quietly and tune in.  To listen.  With Empathy.

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I would awaken like clockwork, each morning, from vivid dreams of my childhood mixed with the present.   I find myself crossing bridges as I transition from one stage of my life into the next.  Recent events have made things in my life very clear; accentuating where my focus needs to be.  I continue to step out of my comfort zone to explore new territory.

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And hiked within three feet of bears.  I motioned to the group to stay quiet as the bear padded across our trail from the adjacent river.  I am learning to stay completely still and to become aware of my surroundings.  This is the joy of camping; to be plucked from the every day, first world trappings and to become attuned to the vast world around us.  Nature.  The Milky Way.  My nine year old named various constellations to my amazement.  My hubs reminded me that his third grade class had just recently visited a planetarium before schools end.  The stillness of the night had me craning my neck to the panoramic view.

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I have traversed many roads and trails with my family and know that this time of parenting will transition as these sons continue to walk independently away from me; to climb their hills and run their races.     I want things to remain the same; to carry them with me a while longer upon my back.  It is hard; the letting go. 

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Mist Falls, 2003.  Yosemite.

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We return to this same Sequoia tree as we exit the park; estimated to be 1650 years old.  We have taken pictures at various angles throughout the years (2006, 2012, 2013 & 2014) and I am reminded of Shel Silverstein’s book, The Giving Tree about a mother’s unselfish and tireless giving nature.  Its redwood trunk is massive; the branches towering high overhead.

And I hope it’s not too late to tune in.  I need more road trips.

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Family, School

what’s popular. white elephants

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It’s amazing how this one word, popular,  can create such havoc.  I usually attribute this word to tweens and teens as they navigate through the social strata in middle school and high school.  But discovering the deadly shootings at UCSB; an area I was supposed to be camping near this past Memorial Day weekend, I gritted my teeth.

I watched an almost seven minute YouTube video of the 22 y/o gunman talk about popularity and being a loner.  His day of retribution against women and humankind had arrived last Friday,  leaving seven people in its wake.   This was his way of dealing with disappointment.  When life dealt him lemons he didn’t make lemonade.  Instead, he chose to cut down the entire lemon tree.

As a parent and member of society I am scared.  Has our society become this?  Loners and suicides and deadly shootings?  What should be an anomaly has become the norm.  The final act to be trending and popular.

How can we redefine popular?

Again I am driving and my kids notice my silence.  My SUV is lined up behind other cars at the back gate of the junior high my son attends.  When asked what was wrong  I spoke of the senseless deaths at the UCSB campus last Friday.  They listen as I talk to our school front office through my car speakers.  As a parent I try to remain immune to the fears of random acts of violence.  I think that my community, my values will keep my kids safe.   This won’t happen to me.

But it can.  Because one of those victims attended my children’s same schools, her family home within a mile of my own.  The same church.  Our community reels as I listen to the front office’s talks of purchasing candles for a vigil.  After dropping off my sons I drive by the park where her vigil will take place this evening.  I am not isolated in my bubble; safe.   None of us are.

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Mental illness.  It doesn’t get the attention like heart disease, cancer, AIDS.  It is swept under the radar.  When are we going to do something about it?  It is the white elephant that always is in the room.  We talk of tighter gun control, the black market.  But the stigma of depression and mental illness needs to be lifted.  Discussed in our schools.

My boys just went through an outdated, uneventful presentation of family life aka sex education.  What we really need are counselors proactively in our classrooms, talking about mental illness with our kids.  We need forums for our parents with medical professionals and law enforcement, to learn how to catch the warning signs.      We already have these forums for sex and drugs in our secondary schools Only then can we make these random acts of violence unpopular.  Only then can we affect some kind of change.

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I am pretty pissed off.    Angry for all  the families who have lost their children in this senseless manner; even the gunman’s parents.  It’s easy to point the finger at them for not reining in their son; for not cutting him off financially.  What if YOU are the parent of a child diagnosed with mental illness?  When these tragedies happen each and every one of these parents cringe.  They worry, could this be my son next?    This isn’t about some single, affluent, white male with access to guns.  If you believe that, then you have your head in the sand.

Mental illness is not going away.  Sheltering our children and nation from these issues propogates the stigma it carries.  We need to address the white elephant in the room.  I share this with my boys; the angry mom in the SUV.  The white elephants are never popular.  My girlfriend’s daughter has learned to deal with life’s disappointment; wearing the shirt above.   She’s discovered how to navigate through what’s popular.  It’s time to change the momentum for our children and affect change.

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