Saturday, June 26, 2010

A Moment

My 13yo son and I had "a moment" last night. He came to me upset about something that's been bothering him a lot recently, and he just wanted to talk. To me. His mother. He didn't want me to fix the problem, so I didn't try. I just listened while he got it all off his chest. And then I said, "I'm sorry you're feeling like this." He sighed. We watched a half hour of TV together. And then he went to bed laughing about something one of us had said.

I feel like I'm faking this whole "mom" thing more often than not. I feel like someone is going to show up at my door any minute and say, "Uh... you're not doing this right. The trial period is up." They'll ask me to turn in my credentials and when they see I don't have any, they'll make me vow to never again try to impersonate a parent.

My husband has been out of town for two long weeks, made longer by the fact that he's not just out of town but out of the country. The time difference really matters, because I can't just call him on his cell when I'm feeling stressed or frustrated. I have to figure it all out on my own--something single parents do all the time.

So my coping mechanisms have been:

1. virtually no cooking (this means lots of oatmeal or popcorn for dinner)
2. paying the kids to do chores
3. paying the older kids to put the younger ones to bed when I need to breathe
4. paying the younger kids to stay in bed
5. taking all of the kids to the movies mid-way through the two weeks

We saw "Toy Story 3" and I bought popcorn (again, it's all about coping). Andy's heading off to college in this sequel, and the toys all end up (by mistake) at a daycare run by a dictator bear. There are lots of sweet moments, sad ones, funny ones--your typical Pixar film. But I didn't actually tear up until the last few minutes, while Andy was playing with his toys one last time before driving off to school.

My 13yo was sitting next to me, so I couldn't cry, of course. I imagine fewer things are more embarrassing to a teenager than having your mother cry about you getting older--except perhaps having her dance in front of your friends.

When he turned five, we had a Toy Story-themed party for him. I made a cookie cake with Bullseye on it. He loved it.

When he turned thirteen, he skipped the party. In fact, he hasn't had one in three years now. They're just not his "thing" anymore, so I don't push him. He's growing up. I can't stop it from happening.

I'm not naive enough to believe our relationship will continue as it has as he goes through 8th grade and then through high school. He'll clam up any second now and won't open up again until . . . until who knows?

But I realized something last night that I'll have to remind myself of time and again as my kids all grow up: Parenting is much more about restraint than I ever thought it would be. It's about not crying in front of them about how much you hate that they'll be leaving home one day. It's about not throwing your arms around them the first time they really talk to you and saying, "You love me! You really love me!" It's about not fixing their problems. It's about not hovering and smothering and hand-holding. It's about not making a seven-course meal when a bowl of Cheerios will suffice.

This morning, my son said, "Thanks for talking to me last night, Mom."

I didn't talk. But if he thinks I did--and if he thinks whatever I said helped--then that's as perfect a moment as I've had in a long time.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

But no swearing!

I was watching "The Today Show" this morning, and Meredith Vieira was interviewing a 13-year-old girl named Josie who is being charged as an accessory to attempted murder in the brutal beating of her best friend.

The story itself was horrible. Of course, it was. When we watch the news, we, as humans, are generally most disturbed by those stories that seem like they could happen to us. Watch the local news on any given evening, and you'll see one of my biggest pet peeves: ". . . the local connection to [the latest terrible thing to happen in the world]." I always think, Really? It takes us knowing a fisherman personally to be upset about the oil spill's devastation? It takes us having visited Haiti to be heartbroken over an earthquake? It takes us having children to be sickened by stories of abuse or neglect or text messaging gone wrong? We can't simply care because someone else--someone we don't know, never will know, and with whom we have absolutely nothing in common--because they are hurting?

What struck me in the interview this morning was something little that others might not have paid any attention to at all. Meredith had asked the girl which of the text messages she had read that her friend supposedly sent to this boy. Josie said, "I read the one where she called him a rapist, and the one where he called her a bitch."

I'd say excuse my language, but I don't know which language here disturbs you. But the language that disturbed the censors was "bitch." And it's the wrong word that anyone listening to the story should have been disturbed by.

So here's this news story about a girl who was beaten nearly to death by a 15-year-old boy who stomped on her head repeatedly with steel-toed boots because she might have said something ("might" because the authorities think Josie is the one who sent the message)about his dead brother. She's now brain damaged and is learning everything all over again. The video footage of her in recovery was sad--whether you know a 15-year-old girl or someone with brain damage or ANY other human being besides yourself or not. And beyond the video footage, we're listening to a piece about absolute violence and brutality and kids who are lost and completely destroyed for life.

But the censors said, "Wait. All of that is okay to talk about, but we need to delete that word. And, Meredith, be sure you tell her not to talk like that anymore."

I'm not saying that story shouldn't have been reported. It should have been. I'm saying that when we can listen to a story like that--and be interrupted by a reminder not to use 'the b-word'--we're forgetting our own humanity, aren't we? We're allowing ourselves to be emotionally disconnected from what's going on around us.

Am I the only one that felt that way? And who was sadder because of that one line--"Josie, we have to watch for censors"--than maybe by the story itself?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Discouraging blowouts . . . really?

For someone who doesn't follow sports or even care that much about them, I'm surprising myself by having a third post in a row about sports. But Come. On. People.

I read this article this morning. It's short, go read it if you're interested, and I'll be here when you get back. Otherwise, the gist of the story is this: The Ottawa children's soccer league has introduced a new rule (which it claims is merely a reinforcement of an old rule) that is intended to discourage blowouts. Any team that wins by more than five goals loses. Then any team that loses all of its games wins the championship.

I get that people don't want to see their kids lose a game 0-16. I don't want to see that either. But, hey, that's how life goes. Sometimes you kick butt. Sometimes you get yours kicked. And it hurts. And you suck it up and move on. It's a lesson better learned at 10 than at 20. At least your parents are there to hug you and cheer you on when you're still living at home. If you're 20 and you realize, "Holy cow, I just got creamed on that exam. I had no idea the professor wouldn't grade on a curve. My soccer league did!" . . . then guess who might be moving back home for that hug?

Does losing take the fun out of the game? A little. And getting pummeled takes out even more of that fun. But is losing 0-5 really that much better than losing 0-16, especially if you know the other team could have added 11 more points to its score if the rules had allowed for it?

I read a number of years back that teachers are now being advised to stop using red pens to correct student papers. Red is scary. It hurts the kids' feelings. But apparently we're to understand that getting a bad grade in blue or green or some other "soothing" shade is less hurtful: "I know I failed the test, Dad, but look! . . . I failed it in PURPLE. So it's all right. Now let's go play some soccer, but you have to play blindfolded and with your left leg tied behind you so I can win, okay? Otherwise, you might damage my psyche."

And in other breaking news: Up is down. Front is back. And wrong is right. Yay for the power to change our perception of the world even if we've given up on changing the world itself.

Here's what I'm trying to teach my kids, and I bet most of you are, too: It's okay to lose. It's okay to be wrong. And then it's really okay to learn from the losses and mistakes. It's how we get better. It's how our kids get better.

Stop trying to take the right to grow away from them. Just . . . stop.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Why parenting needs instant replay even more than baseball

I don't follow baseball. It's too slow for me, and I lived too long in Pittsburgh to be able to be a fan.

But I feel for Armando Galarraga, and I think he handled the umpire's bad call with a lot more grace than most professional sports players can come up with over the entire course of their careers. I also think the umpire handled the situation well. It was a close call, he messed up, he apologized. Profusely. I hope he can let it go. I hope they both can. Because (see my last post), it's a game.

Maybe baseball would benefit from instant replay. The technology is there, so use it, right? But, as I already said (and as you already know), it's a slow game. Do you really want to add another hour or two by reviewing the tapes?

I think my own life could benefit from some instant replay technology though, especially since I've become a mother of children with recall . . . because I'm not so convinced their recall is correct. I think if I could review the tapes, show them where they misinterpreted something I said, I could save them a lot of therapy.

Let me tell you a brief story. It's about Mr. Fluffy, my pet rabbit.

When I was about seven, my family lived on a nice piece of property on the outskirts of the city. We had a huge garden, a nice patch of woods, a giant backyard, some apple trees, and a hen house. It was heaven to a kid my age, especially since I was such a tomboy. Back then--in the good old days--parents sent their kids out to play in the morning and then called them back in at dinner time. It was during this time that I remember my mom telling me, "Only boring people are bored." And it's become one of my mantras of parenting and of life in general. I believe it with all my heart.

I loved collecting the eggs those chickens laid. Yes, they pecked the crud out of my hands, but to feel the warmth of that egg and to even smell that barnyard scent that makes some people crave city life? Aahhhh. Heat, humidity, flypaper, straw: man, oh, man the great memories I have based on that little hen house.

But the hens weren't terribly productive, and the black snakes kept busy, and my mom didn't love those chickens nearly as much as I did. So she sold them all for 50 cents a piece.

Then we got rabbits. And I fell in love with a big white one, Mr. Fluffy. Did I play with him? No, I wasn't allowed to take him out of his hutch. In fact, I don't know why I loved him at all. In fact, I don't know whether I even had a name for him until my brother strung him up and skinned him.

Didn't see that coming, did you? Well, neither did I. I was SEVEN. I had no idea that we had those rabbits in order to fatten them up and eat them. I thought they were pets.

But what you think and what you know as a child often have very little to do with reality. See, in my memory, I'm sitting on the hill overlooking one of our apple trees, and my brother Danny is getting Mr. Fluffy ready for dinner--our dinner.

But in that same memory, he's also holding me so I have to watch him.

For years (and I mean until I was in college), I believed that memory. I was so sure Danny had forced me to watch him kill and skin MY pet rabbit. But he couldn't have. Did another sibling hold me? Or was it Danny holding me and Terryl down by that tree? And was someone holding my eyes open? Really? Did I HAVE to watch? Was it Clockwork Orange and a box of toothpicks?

Or was I just curious? And then I got upset and blamed Danny?

Regardless, we had Mr. Fluffy for dinner that night. And, honestly, he tasted pretty good--yep, just like chicken.

Not such a brief story, huh? Instant replay does that to a bad call.

Another story:

I loved drawing as a kid and thought I was pretty good at it. My sister Sandy gave me an art kit--or maybe it was Ginny. See? Even the good memories get messed up. And one day, with that art kit, I spent hours (or what seemed like hours) drawing a duck pond. I took it to show my mother afterward, and she said, "It's good. Not as good as Ginny's art, but it's good."

I gave up drawing. I never took an art class in junior high or high school. I thought for sure I was talentless and would remain so. I thought Ginny would always be better. And I thought my mother crushed my dreams. Does Mom remember it that way? Of course not. She doesn't remember the event at all. But I was 11, and I remember it perfectly. Or not.

Last night, my thirteen-year-old told me that he remembers me offering him $100 when he was eight to hit a home run. He claims that he asked me after the season (during which he had no home runs) why I offered him so much money. He claims I told him, "Because I knew you wouldn't hit one." He went on to say that I offered him $100 to score two goals in a soccer game for the same reason.

The Defense calls me:

1. I remember offering him the money for the soccer game. Only it wasn't $100: it was $50. And I offered it to him not because I thought he wouldn't score two goals but because I thought it would be an incentive for him to play more aggressively. He was a good soccer player and still is. But when he was eight or nine, he just didn't fight for that ball.

2. I NEVER would have told him I offered him $100 for a home run because I thought he wouldn't hit one. NEVER.

But he believes it--with all of his heart, he believes it.

I've tried explaining false memories to him. I've tried telling him about Mr. Fluffy and my failed career as an artist. But he's not listening. And he'll be telling his baseball story to his friends, his wife, and his children. My descendants will view me as a cold and cruel mother who liked to mock her children, enjoyed crushing their dreams, and laughed while they cried.

And there's not a darn thing I can do about it, because parenting doesn't have instant replay. I can't point to the tapes and say, "Look! See? You TOTALLY misheard me!"

Then again, sometimes the calls they miss are the ones I want them to miss. And there's no guarantee they'll handle those calls with the kind of dignity and sportsmanship Armando Gallaraga did. And I probably wouldn't blame them.

Maybe if I paid him that $100, he'd let it go. . . . maybe?