Friday, October 28, 2011

A Facebook friend note

Dear young Facebook friend:

Remember when Facebook was new? You sent out friend requests to everyone you remotely recognized, including your friends' parents. I accepted your request, and I've enjoyed having you on my news feed. I love reading your status updates. I love the pictures you take of yourself mugging for the camera. I love reading your answers to "truth is" and hearing about what you're doing this weekend.

However, a few of you are raising my "Mom" concern meter. Sometimes you use your status updates to throw out curse words. Sometimes you drop sexual comments that would make my sailor cousin blush. This worries me.

Now, let's set something straight. I was your age once. Really. It was a long while ago, but I vaguely remember the age. I did enough stupid things to fill a book about stupid things people do when they're stupid. Maybe that means I should shut up and let you do your own stupid things. But I can't do that.

You see, I believe young people do a lot of stupid things because they don't yet appreciate the person they're becoming. It's hard to see the good in yourself when your body is changing and your emotions are going haywire and you're not even sure if the friends you have today are going to be there tomorrow. And, it's hard to see beyond yourself to what's going on around you. That's normal. But I'd like to challenge you to step back for a moment and look at what you have to offer this world.

I've known a lot of you for years, and some of you for months, and every single one of you has something great inside. I love your enthusiasm for life. I love your fun-loving ways. I love that if I post for prayers or good thoughts, you are often the first ones to respond. I love seeing your smiles in those goofy photos. I love that you're not afraid to be yourself and have fun.

And that's why I worry when you throw out profanities and sexual innuendo. You may not mean anything by it, but those words can start to define you. The more you talk like this, the more people start to think of you as the girl who's always cursing, or the boy who likes to talk about sex. The world is full of cursing folks who like to talk about sex. They are not special, nor are they unique. But you are.

Don't sell yourself short. I wish I had a mirror to hold up to you, so you could see yourself as I see you. You're so full of life and energy. You're quick to laugh. You like to be with your friends and make them happy. You're smart. You're beautiful. You're so much more than a few curse words.

Now, you may read this and think that you need to defriend me. Please don't. I'd miss you. You add life to my news feed, and without you, I'd only have political comments that tick me off and descriptions of what other adults ate for dinner last night. I'm not your mother. I can't ground you for using curse words, and I'm going to tell your mother if you continue to use them.

But I hope you'll think a bit about what I've said. Your light is shining so bright right now. Don't hide it. Don't cheapen it. Don't let the ugly words overshadow the beautiful person are you are. You are awesome. Awesome. Believe it. I do.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A middle school fairy tale

Once upon a time there was a little girl who liked to look pretty. Let’s call her Becca (not necessarily her real name.) Becca was a cute little girl who looked pretty in everything, even during the summer before kindergarten, when she refused to wear anything but bike shorts. Alas, that is a story for another day.

Becca grew into a beautiful young woman, although she suffered the plague of adolescence and did not see the beauty. When Becca entered the eighth grade, she began to talk about the eighth grade dance.

“Mom,” she said, “When the eighth grade dance comes, I’ll need a nice dress.”

Her mother, who didn’t wear a formal dress until the senior prom, assumed that meant Becca would wear something she might wear to church or to a nice dinner. But no, Becca said, everybody would be wearing a party dress. Her mother then wondered if Goodwill would have any party dresses that had been worn once to the eighth grade dance. But no, Becca said, everybody would be wearing something brand new.

The mother, hereafter known as the Extraordinarily Generous Mom, took Becca and her girlfriend shopping at the local mall, where they tried on a number of party dresses. Some were too short. Some were too long. One made Becca look like a smaller, cuter, less orange version of Snookie, which Becca thought was a compliment. It was not.

Finally, they found an adorable black dress that was fitted enough to hug Becca’s figure, but not so skin tight that she would need industrial strength undergarments. The dress was even 30 percent off, and the the Extraordinarily Generous Mom bought it and a fun necklace to dress it up. Because the dance rules said all dresses must have straps, Becca and her Extraordinarily Generous Mom took the dress to the tailor's to have spaghetti straps added.

(Note that mothers of boys merely had to find a nice dress shirt to go with the khakis their sons wore to church, dinners with grandparents and an occasional sports banquet. Lucky!)

The dress was finished on the day before the big dance. Becca tried it on at the tailor’s and looked unhappy. She assured the nice tailor that everything was fine, but once she was in the car with her Extraordinarily Generous Mom, the tears started to flow. The dress was hideous, she said. She looked ugly in it. It was too big. It was too long. The color made her look horrible. The Extraordinarily Generous Mom rolled her eyes and said, “You will wear this dress. I’m not buying another.” More tears. Didn’t Mom understand? Becca had been looking forward to this dance all year and now it was going to be ruined.

“Didn’t you ever feel this way,” Becca asked her Extraordinarily Generous Mom.

Extraordinarily Generous Mom said no, she had been a grateful child who would never want to waste her parents’ hard earned money. But then she remembered the haircut.

On the weekend before senior pictures, the Mom went in for a haircut. Her hair was between lengths, so she foolishly asked the stylist to keep it long in back and short in front. Consequently, the 18-year-old walked out with a mullet. Remember? “Business in front, party in the back!” The Mom had a head full of thick unruly hair, so we’re talking “stick-up-the-butt business in front, blow out party of 16-year-olds with no sense of decorum in the back.”

The 18-year-old was devastated. Beauty shops were closed on Sundays, and pictures would be taken at school Monday morning. She sought consolation Sunday from her cool aunt who lived down the street with Grandma. Cool aunt looked at her and said, “Come on, let’s see if we can find a haircut place.” They went out to the local mall, where a wise stylist sent the partying 16-year-olds in the back packing and took the business world from the front. The 18-year-old’s hair was shorter all over, but it looked much better than the mullet. (Did mullets look good on anyone?)

With this memory, the Extraordinarily Generous Mom turned the car to the local mall. They looked at one store and found nothing. Becca noted a new store across the street called Charming Charlie. Check them out at Perhaps they would have a dress.

Charming Charlie, for those who haven’t visited yet, is a store full of fun jewelry, accessories, shoes and apparel. To the relief of Extraordinarily Generous Mom, the prices were beyond reasonable. Becca looked at the dresses and decided there was nothing there. In desperation, Extraordinarily Generous Mom went up to one of the women who worked there, who turned out to be the general manager. The general manager’s name was Janey, and she also had a 14-year-old. Janey was sympathetic and optimistic. Bring the dress in, she said, and we’ll see what we can do.

Becca put on her dress and Janey proclaimed that it would be easy to dress up and accessorize. Extraordinarily Generous Mom snuck away to look at cute little turtle necklaces and dream of the day she could spend money on herself. In the meantime, Janey treated Becca like a fashion model, bringing a selection of belts, necklaces, shoes and earrings. Other employees made suggestions, including a jeweled belt that accentuated Becca’s waist and added flair to the dress.

For the next hour or so, Janey worked with Becca, giving her advice on creating a new look that complemented the dress without overwhelming it. She scoured the store for shoes. She brought out an assortment of jeweled headbands. The tear-provoking dress was now a winner. Extraordinarily Generous Mom bought everything – shoes, belt, necklace, earrings and headband – for a mere $54 and decided Charming Charlie was the best store in the world.

The story doesn’t end here. Extraordinarily Generous Mom knows there will be other episodes throughout adolescence, where her daughter can’t see the beautiful person in the mirror. But thanks to a little luck and Janey’s magic, Becca will smile tonight when she puts on her outfit.

And the Extraordinarily Generous Mom can go to bed dreaming of the day when she goes to Charming Charlie and asks Janey to transform her from frumpy middle aged soccer mom to Extraordinarily Generous and Cool Mom. But that’s another story.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Parental truths

Remember when our children were never sick?

Sure, most of us can recall nights with fussy toddlers and days of doing multiple loads of laundry to try to wash the germs out of the environment. But, when children are babies, parents like to believe their children are rarely sick, and they credit that robust health to something they did:

Mom 1: I exclusively breastfed for 16 months, and my baby is rarely sick.

Mom 2: I think my children are healthy because I stay home and don't expose them to daycare germs

Mom 3: Actually, my doctor says that daycare germs are good for children, because it helps them strengthen their immune system. My kids may have been sick as babies, but they've been the healthiest kids in their elementary school.

New parents are pretty intent on having perfect children. I imagine this has something to do with the belief that we have the power to control our children. We're bombarded with messages about how to make our children smarter! healthier! less prone to obesity, diabetes, nearsightedness, attention deficit disorder, fussy eating and learning disabilities! We invest our time in these articles, and we spend our money on organic veggies or simple wooden toys that cost four times what we'd pay for a plastic toy at Target. Surely, this investment is worthwhile, and we reassure ourselves by pointing out our child's strengths and giving ourselves credit for each one.

By the time the kids are 'tweens, parents start to realize that we're maybe not as on top of the parenting game as we thought we were. Maybe the stuff they teach in the book doesn't work, or maybe we've decided to ditch the book in favor of cutting parental corners on occasion. Sure, the book says kids need a consistent bedtime. But our kids balk at going to bed on Friday nights, and we tell them to turn off the lights when they come to bed, because we can't stay up as long as they can, at least not on a Friday. Still, parents don't yet want to admit their parental gaps. Instead, we learn to redirect before the conversation turns to our little dears.

Mom 1: Did we hear about Susan? I ran into her at the grocery store, and she says her 12-year-old is a holy terror. She's talking back, refusing to do homework and texting boys. (Note: Mom 1 does not want to discuss the fact that her own 'tween broke her bedroom door last week slamming it during a tantrum. Instead, she will focus on poor Susan's troubles.)

Mom 2: Why does she put up with that? If she were my child, she'd be grounded for six years. I refuse to let my children act like that. (Note: Mom 2 hopes nobody saw her own 'tween standing on the sidewalk last week, screaming that she was going to run away, and if she wants to fail all her classes, she can!)

Mom 3: That's nothing. Have you seen Marsha's daughter? I saw her at the park last week, and she looks like a 20-year-old. Her face was caked with makeup, and her clothes looked two sizes too small. I can't believe Marsha lets her out of the house looking like that. (Note: Mom 3's daughter is obsessed with her "boyfriend," and Mom 3 caught them alone in the daughter's bedroom last week when they were supposed to be studying in the family room.)

Twelve years after the cute and cuddly stage, parents aren't ready to admit that this parenting gig isn't quite what we signed up for. We don't want to relinquish control to these little humans who are flexing their independence muscles, trying to assert their individuality by refusing our advice. We go out and buy more self-help books, and sign up for more classes, and hang onto the hope that we still have some influence on our children. And according to the experts, we do. They're still listening. Our words and actions may still influence their actions. But we're also starting to realize that we aren't perfect parents, and we cannot control our children's every action.

If we still don't believe that, here come the teen years. The teen-age years serve to humble the proudest parents. Even good teens defy rational thinking at times, and the more challenging teens make us wonder what business we ever had getting into this parenting gig. We struggle, yet we're afraid to tell other parents about it. After all, the other parents all seem to have such perfect children. They're all perfect parents. We're the parental failures.

And finally, someone 'fesses up. The kid is driving her crazy.

Mom 1: Last night, we received a call from the school. Apparently our daughter was caught making out in the janitor's closet. That's not how we raised her.

Cue the confessions. Mom 2's daughter is failing gym and refuses to go to summer school, potentially sacrificing her high school diploma. Mom 3's daughter is in therapy, because she's convinced she's ugly and fat, and last month she made some threatening remarks in a school diary that resulted in professional intervention. Or maybe the kids are just mouthing off. Every. Single. Evening. Mom 1 cautiously admits that her daughter called her a bad name, and she called her one right back. Mom 2 laughs and says if she's lasted this long without losing her temper with her teen-aged daughter, she's behind the curve. Mom 3 admits that the best part about putting her daughter in inpatient treatment was getting a slight break from the daily battle.

It takes a decade and a few years, but eventually the truth comes out. Our kids aren't perfect. We aren't perfect. Don't walk by our houses between 6:50 and 7:10 a.m. on a school day unless you want to hear nagging and screaming with a dash of sarcasm and eye rolls. This wasn't in our plan. When they were cute and cuddly, we imagined we'd beat the odds and raise respectful, talented, happy academic overachievers. We held them as babies. Read to them as toddlers. Volunteered in the classroom. Bought them the cool clothes. Helped them with homework, at least until they knew more than we did. What happened to the perfect children?

Heck if I know.

I do know, however, that I have come to cherish parents of adult children. Remember them? They were the ones who laughed when we produced a funky looking pacifier, claiming it was going to reduce the need for braces in the future. They smiled knowingly when we sent out the emails proclaiming that our darlings won the classroom spelling bee or scored the most points in a game. They withheld their comments when the public bragging came to a screaming stop. And more importantly, they shared their successes.

"It gets worse," one friend warns me. "It gets worse, but then it gets better."

"We went through high school knowing that he could do better, but his grades were horrible," another tells me. "Then in college, he suddenly decided to turn it around."

These veteran parents do more than calm us down. They give us hope, as we look at their well-adjusted, adult children who are successful citizens even if they didn't go to Harvard or make the World Cup team. They reassure us that the journey is worth it, although we may need to readjust our expectations. Perhaps most importantly, they reinforce the notion that we eventually have to let go of our own dreams and help our children discover their own passions, even the passions we never imagined.

So parents, speak up. This isn't a competition. It's a journey we're taking together. We need to be honest, so we can support each other. Nobody's child is perfect. Some are better than others, but I don't think any parent gets out of this without occasionally wanting to assume a new identity and move to a small town in Montana.

Let's hope that someday we'll be the ones telling new parents to hang in there, because it was all worth it.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Life lessons

It's official. I am 45 years old. Halfway to 90, if I should be so lucky.

In preparation for the big day, I challenged myself to come up with 45 things I've learned so far. I'd like to say I've learned all of the important things, but many of the lessons elude me. However, I've compiled a list of things I've learned over the years, in hopes of reminding myself that age does bring a measure of wisdom, with plenty of room left for more.

Lessons from life – chapter 45:

  1. When you find a swimsuit that fits, buy it in at least two colors.
  2. Dogs make life better.
  3. If you date someone you don't want to introduce to your closest friends and family, re-evaluate the relationship.
  4. Being a parent is much harder than it looks when other people are doing it.
  5. Be honest if you want something from someone else. Dropping hints rarely works.
  6. When you said you'd love "for better or worse," that included the things about your beloved that drive you absolutely bonkers.
  7. Don't buy the least expensive item. Pay a little more for quality.
  8. Life doesn't always seem fair. There are always people who are prettier, smarter, richer and more successful. Yet life seems to even out. Focus on what you are, not what you aren't.
  9. Keep in touch with important people in your life.
  10. Sometimes if you pretend you know what you're doing, people will believe in you. And sometimes they'll see right through your little ruse.
  11. It's better to be a little overdressed than a little underdressed. It's better to bring a little more than not enough.
  12. For $3 and some change, you can buy a carry-out order of chips and fresh salsa from Cancun's Restaurant. Really, there's no reason to buy salsa at the grocery store ever again.
  13. It's never too late to say thank you.
  14. Don't move to a retirement community when you're single and in your 20s. It's not fun.
  15. Hate wastes valuable energy.
  16. The English language has more than 200,000 words, so you can rid your speech of the words that hurt: retard, faggot, stupid.
  17. Do not forward a mass email until you have checked it out with Snopes.
  18. Everyone should have at least one friend who can make you laugh until you cry.
  19. There's a fine line between healthy competition and unhealthy obsession. If you're not enjoying the journey because you're focused on the finish line, you're probably taking things too seriously.
  20. Everyone is good at something.
  21. Listen to the little voice. When your gut is telling you something isn't right, it probably isn't right.
  22. When someone your age dies, you realize that getting older is not the worst thing that can happen.
  23. Your dreams for your children may not come true. Sometimes our kids don't want the gifts we want to give them.
  24. Your child's accomplishment is not yours. Go ahead and be proud, but you don't own the accomplishment.
  25. "They" won't have a cure for everything by the time you get older. Turn down the music and wear sunscreen.
  26. Your perception of beauty will change over the years. So will your perception of "old."
  27. Cats always like to walk over the keyboard when you're trying to use the computer.
  28. It's great to have the heart of a child, but sometimes you need to be the adult.
  29. Occasionally you have to let go of your skepticism and just believe. I believe there's a lot I will never understand about this world and beyond, and that's OK.
  30. Sing out loud in your car. People can assume you're using a hands free device.
  31. If you really hate your new haircut or color, give it a week. If you still hate it, go back and ask for a fix.
  32. Things that annoy the heck out of you now may not seem like such a big deal in 24 hours.
  33. You will need math skills again one day when your child needs help with her math homework.
  34. Exercise is a lot more fun when it's over.
  35. Everyone should visit Hawaii at least once.
  36. We will make mistakes. We are wonderfully human. Don't get so hung up on mistakes that you forget to move on.
  37. You don't have to convince everyone to agree with you. You may even be wrong.
  38. It is possible to gain three or four pounds overnight if you indulge a bit too much in the evening. It is impossible to lose three or four pounds overnight, unless you have a horrible stomach ailment.
  39. Some of the worst times in life really are the precursors to something better.
  40. Bring an Ipod to your child's sports games. Listen to your favorite music and resist being pulled into any sideline drama.
  41. Throw away any underwear you wouldn't be willing to wear to a doctor's appointment.
  42. I should never wear the home team jersey on game day, unless I want to jinx them.
  43. A jalapeno plant produces lots of peppers.
  44. Success is a combination of hard work and luck. Work hard, but give luck credit where it's due.
  45. Love is so worth it.