Real Advice for Graduates

It’s graduation time. High schoolers across the land are crossing that stage and saying goodbye to the bondage of living at home with mom and dad (for the most part.) As I find myself writing in graduation cards for these new-to-the-real-world young people (wow, “young people?” that makes me sound really old) I am trying not to write the same thing they’re going to read in all the other cards they receive. And, side note, do we think they really read the cards, or at 18 are they just opening them and dumping them – looking for cash, checks or gift cards?

I find myself starting the message with the standard, “I’m so proud of you.” But, are graduation cards meant to celebrate what’s already been done – or to prepare a graduate for their future? I feel references to a brave new world coming on…

Here’s what I really want to say:

This is when it counts. College is the stuff you’ll be talking about for years – the friends you’ll make – the bad, bad decisions you’ll try to dig yourself out of. College is late nights and early mornings. It’s studying when your friends are partying. It’s partying when you should be studying. It’s feeling alone on a campus with thousands of other people who seem like they’re having the times of their lives. It’s spending your first birthday away from home without your family. College is learning to be you – without the restraint of a curfew. It’s taking off the leash and learning that sometimes it might have been good for you to be constrained. It’s learning how far you can go without one. It’s a long, steady push toward, “adulthood” and when you get there – it’s the terrifying realization that you’re supposed to know something by now. College is the first step toward realizing your parents are people, actual people, who know things and feel things, outside of you and chances are, it’s going to take until after those four years to figure that out. It’s meeting boys you might think are “the one.” It’s getting your heart broken and having nothing but your cold dorm room to comfort you. It’s getting sick and not having someone to take care of you. It’s making plans for Spring Break and saving up your weekly beer/pizza money to pay for it.  It’s all these experiences combined into one long stretch of four years that whirs by in a blur. It’s over before it started. My only advice is keep your eyes open, be safe, watch out for each other, treat each other with respect, have fun, learn lots, write home (with an actual pen and paper!), write home without asking for a care package or money,  take pictures (and don’t post all of them online!), make friends, be a friend and don’t get a credit card – no matter how cool the T-shirt is that they offer you.

Happy Graduation!

 

It Takes a Village

A former high school teacher of mine retired this weekend. Hundreds turned out to wish him well and listen to him give a few words. Of all the things this wonderful man taught me in my impressionable teenage years – one thing stands out the most: the 7Ps. Now, before I explain what that is – let me tell you about this man. He is a retired Marine who helped teach the NJROTC program at the high school. His students were a mix of the eager wanna be soldiers, kids needing to fill a credit hour, lost souls sent by their school counselors (or their parents) to be straightened out, book worms, stoners, football players, cheerleaders, the average Joes and Janes, and students looking to flesh out a good college application. It truly was a good mix. No matter who you were going in – it didn’t take long to see who you’d be coming out: a member of a family.

During his retirement celebration, speaker after speaker stood up to share how he’d changed their lives. They called him a God-fearing father figure. An inspiration. A moral compass. He was/is all those things and more. When it was his turn to speak, he talked about what it was like to be the father figure to thousands of students over his two decades of teaching. He said, “it truly takes a village. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.” It is so very true. While many of us were lucky to have parents who loved us, it was also such a blessing to have a family at school to watch your back and put you back in line, when you needed it the most. He was always good at putting us back in line.

Now, that brings me to what I said stood out the most from my time in his classroom: the 7Ps. “Proper prior planning prevents piss poor performance.” This old military adage stayed with me from studying for my finals before high school graduation, to studying in college, to my years in news rooms and in my own household as a parent. Think about it. If you’d just plan it ahead of time – you’d get a much better result. Of course, there have been times I’ve forgotten (or neglected) to remember the 7Ps. It has never ended well.

I pray that we all have a teacher in our lives who can influence us in a way this man has. That we all find a life lesson that shapes us as individuals. That we can be that person to not only our own children – but to our friends’ kids. To the stoners, the book worms or those just needing that extra support and the knowledge that there is someone who cares about them. Who wants them in their family. Because it truly does take a village.

Nowhere to hide

There are times when you just need a second. The times when you want maybe a millisecond to yourself. When you sneak away quietly, thinking no one will notice you are gone. You are wrong.

When you are a mom – they always know.

I thought Mother’s Day would be different. I was wrong.

I snuck away midmorning to use the restroom by myself. With the door shut. Rookie mistake.

As if they knew I was gone without even looking – they sensed the absence of my presence. And then they were on the hunt. My youngest found me within about 30 seconds.

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I have a series of photos like this. It’s very reminiscent of that scene in the movie “Signs” – where the alien sticks its fingers out from under the kitchen door and Mel Gibson’s character cuts them off. Of course, I would never do that to my child! But, a flashback to that creepy scene always seems to happen in moments like that. I was coming right out of the bathroom – I swear!

Where’s the weirdest place you’ve ever tried to take in a moment of peace and been caught by your children?

 

Late for Work: Kids versus no Kids

Remember those days before you had kids, when you’d show up late for work? Some days, you’d stroll in, bloodshot eyes, hair smelling vaguely of cigarette smoke and dirty bar. The smell of coffee walked the line between the scent of salvation and the rank of what might lead you to expose last night’s menu in your cubicle trash can. Other days, you were late solely because you were changing outfits 40 times, or putting the final touch on your hair or makeup. Or, and most likely, because you hit the snooze button a few too many times.

Flash forward – you have kids now. Yes, you still have an inappropriate relationship with your alarm clock. And the smell of coffee remains – your only hope for the long day ahead. When you show up late for work, your eyes may still be bloodshot, but your hair likely smells like spit up, or the urine that splashed upon you as you attempted to change your preschooler’s wet sheets, while not waking his big brother in the top bunk.

Indeed, I was late for work this morning because my four-year old had peed his bed in the middle of the night and I was there, changing his sheets at 6am. If it was just this, I could have made it in time. But, no. Despite the fact that I did laundry ALL weekend and last night, this same child had NO underwear. I’m not kidding. I went through his entire underwear drawer. Nada. Where does the underwear go? My first grader just had the same issue with pants. We did laundry and yet – nothing. Are the children wearing multiple pairs of pants and underwear out of the house and depositing them across the city? Or, are there evil laundry trolls sneaking into my house in the middle of the night and stealing all the clean laundry? Again – another no-kids versus kids problem. When you don’t have kids, chances are you’re not searching for size 4 Batman underwear to save the day. But, I digress.

When you stroll in, late for work as a single person, you’re sometimes met with smirks and the, “mmm hmmm” kind of look. When you stroll in, late for work as a mom, those looks and comments change to, “Oh, I remember once when my son… (insert parenting horror story here.)” That is, if your coworkers are parents. If not, see the prior reaction for single people being late.

Either way, there’s grace in knowing that some day – years from now – my kids will be late to work, thanks to their kids. That is, after their years of outfit changes and alarm clock issues. (Okay, fine. The alarm clock issue never does go away.) Until then, there’s always coffee.

No “Thank You?”

Have you ever had that moment of realization as a mom? That moment when you realize, without a doubt, what a dick you were to your parents as a kid? The first time I encountered this was when I was about 23 and had this moment of clarity that my parents might actually know something that I don’t. That wasn’t so much me feeling like a jerk, as much as a second of wonder and awe that I’d never caught on to their intelligence until then.

My most recent, jaw-dropping realization hit me more like a ton of bricks: I was an ungrateful beast!

This discovery came after an evening out with my daughter. I’d taken her and a friend for a real (expensive) treat: getting a pedicure (which somehow turned into a manicure, as well, without my prior permission.) By the end of it, I was out a chunk of change, but it felt worth it to do something extra special on a girls night. They were thrilled – with smiles from ear to ear. Then, we got in the car and they immediately started asking me what was next. “Are we going out for dinner?” “Lets go get ice cream.” “How about Starbucks?” Um, how about some gratitude?!

I understand, being a parent is a thankless job for the most part. But it really shouldn’t be! It’s our jobs to teach our children manners, respect and thankfulness and obviously I’m not doing the best job at that.

As I was sitting here, feeling sorry for myself about how ungrateful my kids were (especially after I made them banana splits and instead of saying “thank you,” they told me I’d gotten their order wrong…) I realized I had never truly thanked my parents. They raised me with proper manners, so I know I’d said the obligatory, “thank you” in the past. But, had I really meant it? 

At this point, I texted my mom. Yes, texted. Because had I called her, I probably would have been a complete mess, sobbing into the phone in such a way that only your mother can comprehend what you are saying. So yes, I texted her. I started with the “I’m sorry” and then moved into the “thank you” for everything I could think of all these years later: feeding me, clothing me, cleaning up my barf, comforting me after I’d barfed, etc. And she laughed. You see, she’d come to this same realization about her own mother years before. Apparently, it’s all very cyclical in nature: Daughter is a jerk to mom until years later her daughter is a jerk to her and she apologizes to her mother. And repeat.

So, 25 years. I guess that’s when I can expect my “thank you.” Until then, I’ll teach them all the manners and the times they should say it and pray that at some point they’ll really feel it and be truly thankful for those around them. And not just me. 

One last thing: my daughter did hug me and tell me, “thank you for today,” which was the sweetest thing I could have asked for. And, for the record, they do say it, just not all the time…

Two Times Two Equals Four

Four years old is an interesting age. It’s funny, scary, adorable, innocent, silly, frustrating, loving…. need I go on?

My four-year old has had a tumultuous last two 24 hours. He had his belated four-year old check up – which led to some interesting results. The two things he remembered most from that appointment?

“They gave me shots and it hurt and there was lots of blood!” (There really was. I’ve never seen an injection site bleed like that!!!)

AND

“Don’t look at ladies’ boobs. The doctor said they don’t like that.”

Yes, indeed. His pediatrician mentioned – to me – how I should stress to my son that he shouldn’t be checking out the lady parts (which he is prone to). I guess if the doctor says it, it must be true. He’s been pretty good about it today, although he did get sent home from school this morning. Not for cat calling… His legs hurt from all those shots!

You have to love the point-blank nature of the four-year old. My eight year old commented on this the other day – after his little brother was sent to his room, mid-tantrum. He said to me, “Why do they call them ‘Terrible Twos?’ Four is much worse! It’s two times two!” How true is that? I’m thinking of making up T-shirts…

What age have you found to be the most challenging  for kids?

 

 

 

Desperate Choices and Soap Flavored Discipline

My daughter has been reading this book in school about Nazis in Copenhagen. Before that it was a book about post-slavery times in the South. Yeah – it’s a whole load of fun in fifth grade…

Anyway, the book talks about a Jewish family that leaves their 10-year-old daughter with her best friend so she can be hidden safely from the Nazis. After reading that specific chapter last night, I asked my daughter if she understood what the situation was. We talked about Nazis and why certain people hated other people. Then, I explained the choice this character’s parents had to have made: run with their daughter, or hide her. I asked her to imagine Christians being persecuted and our family having to decide if we should take our kids and run away and face us all being murdered, or hide our children with friends to try to save them. She started to cry. It really hit her then. She asked if that really happened, like they said in the book. We talked about why some people think they are better than other people and the dangers of that kind of thinking. Then we talked about the importance of helping each other in this life – and spreading positivity and good will. Spreading God’s love.

After she went to bed, I started really thinking about the choice those parents made – as did so many others during those desperate times. I cannot imagine what that must have been like. Is it better to stay together as a family – no matter the consequence – or hide some members to try to save them? I’m not qualified to even pretend to know the answer to that one.

In order to not suffer from nightmares on this very topic all night long (which was too late because I had the WORST dreams about my kids after that) – I tried to focus on the brighter moments of my day. You know, like when my four-year old couldn’t get something to work and started stomping his foot and screaming, “Damn it!” Said – while smiling, of course. I took his hand and walked him to the bathroom, grabbed the soap and put the bar in his mouth. He did nothing. No reaction. Wait, I take that back. He smiled. Didn’t gag. Smiled. So.. yeah… we’re going to need to work on other ideas for foul-mouthed babes.

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