Tag Archives | raising kids

An Open Letter to the Woman in the Pink Shirt at the Craft Store

Dear Woman in the Pink Shirt at the Craft Store,

Forgive me, but I don’t know your name.  I don’t know anything about you, in fact, except that you and I happened to be in the same Michael’s store at the same time today, that you witnessed me speak sharply to my twelve-year-old daughter, and that you felt compelled to pull up behind me in the parking lot while I was buckling my four-year-old in, roll your window down, and tell me what a shit mother I am.

You don’t know me, either.  And that’s the thing: you don’t know a thing about me.  You don’t know what I’m dealing with, what preceded my admonishing my daughter, what my relationship with my kids is, what our family dynamics are, what sort of kid my daughter is, what kind of behavior challenges we may deal with, what kind of support we may or may not have – nothing.  You don’t know how many times I’ve asked her to stop doing certain things (like find her amusement in antagonizing her little sister, which is exactly what she did in the store by scaring her with a fake spider – you must have heard the blood-curdling screams coming from my four-year-old while you were lurking a few yards away in the store), and why it sometimes comes down to me raising my voice to her.

Let’s be clear, Woman in Pink: I didn’t scream at her, I didn’t curse at her, I didn’t threaten her, I didn’t call her names.  I heatedly told her again to stop antagonizing her little sister.  And she argued the point with me.  My mistake was probably in engaging in the argument with her.  Have your kids never pissed you off?  Utterly frustrated you?  Have you never yelled at your kids?  Or maybe just not in public?  I think there are a lot of people who yell at their kids in private and then just pretend that they never yell at their kids because it gives them a false sense of superiority.  Is that you?  Or maybe you don’t even have kids.  Which would mean you really have no idea.

I would like to know, Woman in Pink, when yelling at one’s kids became taboo.  I don’t hit my kids, I don’t berate or insult or demean them.  For the most part, I champion them.  But sometimes kids act like obnoxious little buttholes, and parents lose their patience with that nonsense.  But we seem to exist in a culture nowadays in which any attempt to keep one’s kids in line, any words spoken to them in anything other than a soft, gentle voice is viewed as bad parenting.  As if there is one, right way to raise kids.  And so continues the perpetuation of unrealistic parenting (mainly mothering) standards and judgment passed out like Halloween candy.  I’m sorry I didn’t live up to your standards, Woman in Pink.  I fear I never will.

Listen, Woman in Pink: I was the product of abusive parenting.  And I can tell you as sure as I’m sitting here that it wasn’t the yelling that damaged me.  It was the smacking and beating, the belittling, the mocking, the name-calling, and so much more.

Parenting is a hard enough undertaking without people like you, all full of self-righteous indignation, making snap judgments about complete strangers based on a brief snapshot.  And do you know what, Woman in Pink?  You pretty much ruined my day.  You shamed me and made me feel like shit.  Because of course I often harbor doubts about whether I’m a good mother.  Most mothers do.  I’m sure you do, too (assuming you are a mother).  So, kudos to you, Woman in Pink.  Mission accomplished.  You might like to know, though, that my twelve-year-old daughter is just fine.  She carried on with her day as full of laughter and mischief as usual.

Sincerely,

Woman Who Yelled At Her Daughter

 

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#solongsocal

Well, it’s been a little over a year since Michael and I started talking about it, and now it’s really happening: we are moving to Oregon this week.  The movers are coming on Tuesday to load up all of our stuff, and we will hit the road on Wednesday, arriving in Portland next Saturday.

We talked about moving away from California several years ago, but it just seemed too daunting – and we had fewer kids then!  It turns out that it is an extremely daunting undertaking after all, and sometimes I can’t believe we’re doing it.  YOLO, and all that.

It’s been quite an emotional roller coaster. Sifting through over a decade worth of accumulated stuff, deciding what to part with and what to pack, has been physically and mentally exhausting.  Figuring out all the logistics of uprooting our big bad family, watching the kids struggle with their emotions, and saying goodbye to the people and places that we love and are so familiar has been so bittersweet.  Sometimes I have moments of panic when I think, “What the fuck are we doing?  Are we doing the right thing, uprooting everyone and leaving all of this behind?”  It’s exciting and scary as hell.

Kevin moved out a week ago.  For the time being, he is right up the street, and he’s been stopping by every day to hang out for a while, which has been so nice, and he texts me every day – sometimes we have these great texting conversations at night after he gets off work.  So I’m very grateful for that connection with him.  When we leave in a couple of days and end up 1,000 miles away from him, I think it will really hit me then, and I don’t guess it will be easy.  He is going to try to get some time off work and go up and spend Thanksgiving with us.

We signed a lease on a house outside of Portland, so we’ll be there until we decide where we want to settle permanently and buy a house.  I’m lusting after some space; it would be heavenly to have an acre or two – not out in the sticks, but I’m tired of being so close to my neighbors that I can hear them fart.

It’s surreal to walk through this house, with its rooms half empty and boxes stacked ten deep and halfway to the ceiling in the living room.  I’ve never lived anywhere as long as I’ve lived in this house, and it’s so full of memories.  When we moved into this house, Kevin had just turned 8, Joey was 2, the twins were 6 months old, and I thought this would be our forever home.  Three of my kids were born right here in the house, and all of them have spent all or most of their childhoods here, and one of them reached adulthood.  We lived through Michael having cancer in this house, lots of marital ups and downs, having a child with a disability, more birthdays and Christmases and Halloween costumes than I can count.  So much that has shaped us in ways we probably don’t even realize.

I’ll take my memories with me.

Here’s to new adventures.

2

In Pursuit of Educational Utopia

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I’m still trying to figure out the best approach to homeschooling for our family.  I’ve only begun to realize that for most homeschooling families it’s an ever-evolving undertaking.  Very few, if any, jump into homeschooling and immediately figure out a path that works well for them and suits their particular goals, philosophies, and lifestyle for the long-term.  There are always tweaks and adjustments to be made, new approaches to try.  It can be unsettling to feel like you never quite have it all figured out, that you never get to feel 100% certain that the way you’re doing it is the best way to do it, but that really is the beauty of homeschooling: the flexibility to make changes.

So, I’ve been feeling more and more unsettled lately about how I’m approaching homeschooling.  The girls are learning the stuff I’m making them learn, but that’s just the thing: there is still a sense of coercion which we all feel and dislike.  Probably the girls’ favorite subject right now is history, because it’s very relaxed.  We sit in the living room and read from A Young People’s History of the United States: Columbus to the War on Terror (I am determined not to peddle a sanitized or white washed version of history to my kids) – which has led us on detours to a separate book about slavery, and now a book about the Mayflower and its passengers.  Sometimes the girls take turns reading, but mostly I read, and while I’m reading, they draw or doodle or play with clay or something.  So it’s very laid back.  And we have these great discussions about what it must have been like way back when, and how the past impacts today’s social issues, and sometimes something we read will prompt us to look something up in the World Atlas.  It’s probably my favorite subject, too, not only because it’s interesting and engaging, but because the girls all participate willingly and seem to genuinely enjoy it.

I want more of that, and I think the girls do, too.

Which is why I’m thinking more and more about unschooling.

Unless you’re actually familiar with unschooling (which I’m only starting to be), most of what you think about it is probably wrong.  I’ve had the same skepticism that most people have about it.  I think the “un” in “unschooling” can be misleading in that it sounds like “not educating.”  But that’s not what it is.  Unschooling is a sort of radical departure from conventional schooling and teaching.  It’s also known as “child-led learning,” and it means putting the kids in the driver’s seat of their own education.  So it’s not about textbooks and worksheets and prescribed reading and projects.  It’s not about presenting material in a sequential manner and expecting kids to learn in a sequential manner.  It’s not about scoring or grading or ranking or comparing.  It means making available to kids plenty of opportunities to explore things and subjects that interest them, and trusting that, if allowed to pursue what is relevant and meaningful to them, they will learn what they need to learn along the way in order to live a meaningful, self-directed and self-sufficient life.

It appeals to me because it’s very much in line with my belief for Finn in “life as therapy.”  Way back when he was two years old, after much agonizing, we ditched all the usual therapies that parents of kids with Ds are expected to buy into because it seemed largely pointless, intrusive, in some ways counterproductive (in that it involved constantly assessing, evaluating, and comparing him, with an eye towards improving him), and yes, even coercive.  I fully believe that just about everything Finn has learned has come from living life and from being included (to the extent he has been included) – not from therapy.

So, unschooling, in a nutshell, is “life as school.”

Still, it’s a HUGE leap of faith.  And it’s not one that I’m sure I can make all at once, with both feet.

The other day I sat all three girls down around the dining room table for a little conference.  I wanted to hear from each of them how they’re feeling about homeschooling: what they like about it, what they don’t like, any concerns or worries they might have, and what changes they’d like to make to how we do things.  They all cited “less stress,” “less pressure to keep up,” “being able to work at our own pace,” “no homework,” and “more free time” as things they like about homeschooling.  They all said they dislike math (this isn’t news; math is the subject that elicits the most whining, nagging, and tears).  They all want “more fun stuff” and “more field trips.”

After we talked for a while, I asked them each to come up with their ideal weekly schedule, and I encouraged them to collaborate.  Then we sat down again and talked about what they had come up with, and agreed on a new weekly schedule that we’ll try out.  We agreed to sit down again in a couple of weeks and talk about how it’s going.

We agreed to do more history, and more reading literature together.  We’re ditching the writing/grammar program I’ve been using with the twins because they just aren’t engaging with it.  They rush through the assignments just to get them out of the way, not because they particularly care about them.  The twins have agreed to keep writing on their own – anything: essays, short stories, letters, journal entries – and to sit down with me once in a while and talk about writing.  (I’m going to keep doing the Barton system with Lilah, because I feel like she needs the tools in order for her dyslexia to not continue to be a barrier for her.)  We’re also ditching the science program we’ve been using, as it’s textbook based, and like the writing, the girls aren’t particularly engaged with the prescribed material presented.  All three of them would rather study animals and so forth on their own.  They all take an art class across town once a week, which we’ll continue for now, but I’m thinking probably not for the long-term, as it’s expensive, and I suspect the girls are going to get bored with it.

Math, though.  I’m really struggling with what to do about math (and from what I understand, it’s the subject that a lot of unschoolers stress over).  For now we’ve agreed to cut it down to three times a week instead of five, but they still dislike it, and it still feels like I’m the taskmaster, cajoling them to do lessons they resent and don’t care about.  Just this morning, as Lilah cried over yet another worksheet, I stood there thinking, “What is she really even getting out of this?”  I’m having a very, very hard time letting go of the conditioning I’ve received all my life, though, that math (formally taught in a sequential manner, with lots of practice drills) is necessary, and they need to do it for their own good.

I don’t know where we will ultimately land in our homeschooling journey.  Although I am cozying up to the idea of unschooling more and more, I think it’s going to take some time for me to become completely comfortable with it.  In the meantime, baby steps.  I’m trying to let go of the conventions I’ve had hammered into me all my life, and let the girls have more say in their own education.

I have another post brewing about democratic education; stay tuned.

***

Edited to add this link for anyone who might be interested.  Looks like a great resource, and offers a nice explanation of homeschooling: unschool

 

14

Education and Life

My views about education continue to evolve.  The more I read – and experience through my kids – the more repelled I become by conventional school.  I seriously believe that it’s causing great harm to kids, and in turn, to society.  Our narrow views of what success looks like, and how that feeds into how we educate our kids – it’s very disheartening.  Although I have only two kids enrolled in conventional public school at this point, it’s getting harder and harder to feel good about sending them.  I don’t think that the system serves kids.  I think it chews them up and spits them out.  Yes, some kids thrive, but I think those that do thrive do so despite the stifling, ableist, inhumane system that school is, not because the education system is conducive to thriving.

Two conversations yesterday struck me:

First –

Yesterday on the drive home from school, Joey said to me, “So, I had a science test today, and I’m pretty sure I aced it.  I should be getting a really good grade in that class.”

What struck me about his remark was that there was no mention of what he’s actually learned or been exposed to in that class, or whether he’s enjoyed it or found it interesting or not.  It’s all about the grade.  And that’s not my doing, as I don’t put a lot of emphasis on grades.

For the record, Michael and I are not in complete agreement as to how much emphasis should be put on the kids’ grades.  I only want them to do their own personal best in all of their endeavors, in school and outside of school.  I think grades, to a great extent, are arbitrary, and certainly don’t tell much about how well a kid understands or cares about the content (they might just be good test-takers, or poor test-takers), and as Joey is proving, grades often serve as nothing more than an abstract gold star to earn, after which the content can be, and usually is, forgotten.  Michael believes that having an expectation for kids to get good grades gives them something concrete to shoot for.

Anyway, Joey’s comment about his science test is far from unusual.  When he talks about his classes at school, it’s usually in those terms.  It’s rarely a discussion about what he’s actually learning, how engaged he is with what he’s learning, whether any interesting discussions took place in class, what questions the content might have sparked for him, how what he’s learning might relate to life outside of school – none of that.  It’s almost always about how well he’s doing (or not) – about the grade.

It just really, really saddens me.  This is what passes for educating our kids?  How can anyone feel good about this?

Second –

Late last night when Kevin got home from work, I was in bed reading, and he came in to chat with me for a few minutes before going to bed (I am so grateful that he still wants to chat with his mom!).  He said, “So, I think I’ve decided where I want to go with school and everything.”

“Yeah?” I asked, happy to hear that he’s thinking about it and figuring out what he wants to do.

“Yeah.  I think I want to take cosmetology, and eventually transfer to an art school and specialize in makeup.  You know, for special effects and stuff, like for movies.”

Okay, let me just say that, no, a career in cosmetology or makeup is definitely not anything I ever imagined my son being interested in or pursuing.  Who dreams of their son someday growing up and becoming a makeup artist?  I totally realize how, in moments like this, my own gender biases, and my own narrow views of what “success” is supposed to look like stand out in glaring relief.  I like to believe that I am an open-minded, liberal, accepting person – but shit like this knocks me down a peg or two, that’s for sure.

Anyway.  Kevin has been interested in art for years.  As an adolescent, he went through a period of a few years where he painstakingly created these pretty elaborate stop action movies using clay, Legos, etc.  For a while he was interested in animation, and then he got more interested in drawing and painting.  What he said last night was that most art forms are going (or have gone) digital, and he’s not interested in digital arts, and makeup – specifically for movie-making – is one of the few art forms left that is still manual and hands-on.

What struck me about all of this (aside from my own hangups which are clearly still a work in progress) was this thought: “How sad.”  And what I mean by that is how sad that he had to go through the misery of conventional school – mainly high school, which was a very, very dark and difficult time for him.  I mean, if he does indeed pursue a career in art, how much of his conventional schooling will turn out to have been unnecessary?  I know, I know – you’re probably thinking, “Well, but don’t we owe it to kids to expose them to all of what school forces on kids has to offer just in case they need it someday?”  Just in case.  It’s the go-to argument when discussions about what’s really necessary and/or appropriate in education arise.  Just in case.

I just can’t buy it anymore.  I used to believe it, too.  You have to make kids learn chemistry and trigonometry just in case they ever need it.  To not make them learn those things would be to cheat them.

Bah.

Sometimes I wonder how much happier Kevin’s teen years would have been if I had sought some sort of alternative schooling for him – whether a different sort of school, or homeschooling.  I wonder how much more content he might have been if he had just been allowed and encouraged to really pursue the things that interested him, in an environment that empowered him and nurtured him emotionally, instead of one that expected him to conform to certain standards and to perform a certain way, and achieve certain things – all of which did not take him into consideration as a unique individual.  Sometimes I wonder.

All of this plays into my current struggle with finding the right approach to homeschooling.  I’ll get to that hopefully tomorrow.

 

18

0 to Adult In the Blink of an Eye

I remember when I brought him home from the hospital, I could hardly believe that they let me take him.  I was to be trusted to care for this tiny human being, no questions asked?  Not that I didn’t think I could do it, but all the same, it was kind of mind-blowing.  I had wanted him for so long, and now that he was here, now that I was really a mother – well, it kind of took my breath away.

When you first have a baby, you really can hardly imagine them ever growing up.  You of course have hopes and dreams for them, and a vague idea of the person you hope they will be, but it all seems so, so far off in the future that it may as well be an eternity away.  But the days, weeks, months, and years march by, and you find yourself stopping to catch your breath and wondering how it could be that so much time has flown by while you’ve been busy raising that tiny little human being.  Before you know it, they’re all grown up, and it’s maybe the most bittersweet thing you’ve ever felt – a gladness and an ache in your heart.

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All of the things he has experienced so far have shaped him in some way – losing a father, gaining a father, having so many siblings, and the list goes on and on.  I don’t even know all the ways in which his life has shaped him, and in many ways, though I’ve known him since before he was born, he’s a mystery to me.  I have so many memories, regrets, triumphs, fears, and hopes for him.

The end of a chapter of sorts, and the beginning of another.

2

The Annual Family Picture, and Losing My Shit Again

Every year we do a family picture around the holidays – for posterity and to use for our holiday card.  Every year it’s an ordeal.  As you might imagine, wrangling this many kids for a photo is not the easiest thing in the world.  Most years we do the picture ourselves.  Usually on Thanksgiving Day (because most people are enjoying the holiday with their families, it’s a good day to find a nice, deserted location for a photo shoot) we pick a place, dress everyone up, and go, using our good camera on its timer and a tripod.  It usually takes at least an hour, at least a couple hundred shots, plus plenty of coaxing, bribing, and threatening.  By the time we’re done, every one of us is a sweaty, exhausted, cranky mess – and then we go home and gather around the table and eat turkey and grudgingly talk about how great it is to all be together.

This year I wanted to make it a little easier by getting someone else to take the pictures for us – and I figured that if we could get it out of the way before Thanksgiving, then hey!  We could have a stress-free Thanksgiving, right?  So I got in touch with a friend who is a dandy with a camera and she agreed to meet us at the beach yesterday afternoon to photograph our family.

I was out all morning and into the afternoon getting my hair done (I’m gradually going lighter).  As I walked up our front walk to the door, I could hear Michael yelling inside.  I hesitated for several long moments before talking myself into opening the door.  Inside, he was mopping up some mess on the floor, Lilah was crying, and there was a water color paint set scattered all over the dining room table, which the kids have repeatedly been told not to get out without asking.  Apparently they had gotten it out without asking (again), and the predictable spillage and mess occurred, and Michael was yelling because Lilah was refusing to help clean up the mess that she had helped create (not at all an uncommon occurrence).

There was also a torn up piece of painted paper on the front porch, which I asked the girls to go retrieve and put in the trash.

The next hour and a half were spent trying to get myself and Finn and Scarlett dressed and ready for the pictures, as well as hustling the kids along to get themselves ready.  All the while they, of course, are grumbling and bitching.  When I’m finally dressed, I look at the clock and realize it’s 3:40 and we’re supposed to be at the beach at 4:00, and it’s going to take 40 minutes to get there.  Only now does Michael say that he’s going to put his contacts in.  Great!  I think.  Of course you’re going to do that now, when we’re already running late!  (I bit my tongue, though, and only said this in my head.)  I text my friend and tell her we’re running late, and she says no worries, she’s already at the beach.  Great!  I think.  Now she’s sitting around waiting for us!

By the time we finally get out the door (and don’t forget, we have to take two cars!), I’m completely frazzled.  As I’m running kids and sippy cups and shit out to the truck, I see that the piece of paper is still lying on the porch.  I call to the nearest kid, as my hands are full, “Daisy, grab this paper and throw it in the trash!  I asked you guys to do that a while ago.”

A couple more trips back and forth between the house and the truck.  The paper is still lying there.  “Daisy, pick it up,” I say.  This has seriously been like the eighth time I’ve said something about it.

“I didn’t put it there,” she says.

And there it is.  The moment I lose my shit.

“I DON’T GIVE A SHIT IF YOU PUT IT THERE OR NOT!  I’M TELLING YOU TO PICK IT UP!!  RIGHT NOW!!  JUST TO BE HELPFUL!!”

I’m conscious that any neighbors in the vicinity can probably hear this.  I don’t particularly care.

“I’M SICK AND TIRED OF TELLING YOU GUYS OVER AND OVER TO DO SOMETHING!  AND I’M SICK AND TIRED OF ALL OF YOU BEING SO UNWILLING TO LIFT A FINGER AROUND HERE TO HELP OUT!!  I’VE HAD IT!!  PICK UP THE PAPER RIGHT NOW.  AND.  THROW.  IT.  A.  WAY.  NOWWWWWWWW!!!!”

She glared at me, picked the paper up and stomped into the house with it in that special way kids have that says “fuck you” without actually mouthing the words “fuck you.”

She stomped back out to the truck a minute later, got in and sat with her arms crossed, glaring daggers at the back of my head (I could totally feel it), and I turned around from the front seat and glared right back at her and hissed, “Lose the attitude.”

Great!  I’m thinking.  Hooray for family pictures!  This is going to be so much awesome fun now that everyone’s in a terrific mood!

Kevin’s in the front seat next to me copping his own attitude.  I just clenched my jaws and looked straight ahead at the road, trying not to cry.  I’m the only one who cares about this, I thought.  It hit me then that every year, I’m the only one who gives a shit about taking a family picture.  And I thought, if all you other people (meaning the kids and even Michael) could just for a minute think about how it must feel for me to be the only person who gives a shit about doing this and getting so little cooperation …

You know?

And that’s the thing.  Why does it matter so little to everyone else just because it only matters so much to me?  Why does it have to be such an ordeal every year?  Because you know what?  (I told them all this in my head as I was driving) I’m really doing this for you!  That’s right, for you ungrateful people.  You, the ones who are so put out  by the whole family picture thing every year – some day you’ll look back on all those pictures and you’ll be wiping a tear from your eye, remembering the good old days when you were growing up.  And let me tell you something else!  If I died tomorrow, you’d be sobbing over my casket and praising Jesus that I made you all take the damn family pictures every year!

Anyway.  So, we got to the beach, and  … well, we’ll see how the photos turned out.  My friend was a super good sport and very patient, and if none of the shots came out good, it won’t have been because of a lack of effort or talent on her part.But seriously.

9

Fame, Fortune, and Glory Are Mine. Soon I Will Rule the World.

Okay, not really.

But!

Recently, I was invited to be part of a podcast called One Bad Mother.  The hosts of the show had seen Motherhood: the Big, Fat Fuck You on Scary Mommy.  I was very flattered, and pretty nervous and ambivalent about doing a podcast.  It’s one thing to write, and another thing altogether to speak.  And I definitely think I do one far better than the other.

We recorded the show this last Monday via phone.  It was really not a big deal.  After getting over my initial jitters, it really was just like having a phone conversation with a couple of chicks.  The podcast ran yesterday, and you can listen to it here if you care to (I come on around 36.52, and they talk to me for a little over 20 minutes).

That Scary Mommy piece I wrote all those ages ago has certainly brought me some attention.  It now has close to 1.5 MILLION Facebook shares and over a year after it originally ran, it still gets passed around.

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I never dreamed that when I sad down at my laptop and mentally vomited that it would reach so far out into the cyber galaxy.  Good or bad, it has certainly struck a nerve.

There have been plenty of outbursts since that morning over a year and a half ago that I chased Annabelle into her room.  I am still committed to writing honestly and authentically, but some of the nastiness directed my way in response to that post have made me a little more wary about what I cop to online – and I fucking hate that.  I hate that I let it get to me, when I know deep down that we all struggle, we all fail sometimes, all of our kids behave like little shits sometimes, and sometimes the pressure just gets to be too much.  Maybe everyone’s breaking points aren’t the same, and probably everyone’s outbursts don’t look the same, but we all have them.

Anyway, here’s to motherhood and the Internets!

 

7

Liar, Liar

Joey was busted last night.

We discovered that he had created an Instagram account for himself behind our backs, despite specifically being told that he’s not allowed to have an Instagram account at this point in time.  Not only that, he used his dad’s iTunes account to do it, without permission.

I know that in the grand configuration of life, this isn’t the biggest crime a kid could commit.  But it was still extremely disconcerting to discover that my 11-year old son was deliberately sneaky and deceitful, and that he – well, to put it bluntly – disobeyed a direct order.

I want to take a minute to talk about kids and social media and electronic communication – because I’m aware that I’m in the minority among parents with regard to my feelings and approach pertaining to those things.  When Kevin first got an email account several years ago, I monitored it heavily – as in, I had his password, and I had his account linked to my phone so that all incoming and outgoing emails from his account were accessible to me.  I took a lot of grief for that – not from Kevin, but from my own peers.  People talked about his right to privacy, about how I should trust him until he proved untrustworthy, how they would never do that to their kids.  As far as I’m concerned, my kids don’t have any right to privacy as long as they’re kids, and my feeling is that trust and privileges are earned as a kid shows they are trustworthy – not the other way around.  I have no regrets about monitoring Kevin’s email, or about the heavy restrictions we placed on his ability to text and communicate with his friends when we got him a cell phone in junior high school.  As time has gone on, and Kevin has demonstrated trustworthiness and maturity, the restrictions and monitoring have gradually been lifted.  And so it will be with the other kids.

I know that there are A LOT of kids on Instagram, Facebook, and other social media.  A lot of kids.  Young kids.  Kids who are still in grade school.  Personally, I’m not at all comfortable with it, for a variety of reasons.  First of all, even if I trust my kid to behave appropriately online, I have no control over what he may be exposed to via other people on social media.  I don’t think an 11-year old boy needs to be looking at 11-year old girls posting pictures of themselves in kittenish, come-hither poses (and frankly, if it was my 11-year old daughter posting pictures of herself in some of the sexyish poses I’ve seen?  Yeah, I would have a HUGE problem with that).  First and foremost, though?  Kids this age are still learning how to successfully navigate real-life relationships!  Why in the hell would anyone think that preteens are ready to navigate the complicated terrain of social media?  How many people do you know who have felt the need to take a break from social media?  To go on a Facebook fast?  Social media is complicated, and it tends to breed angst and strife.  I myself have a love-hate relationship with Facebook.  I love being able to easily stay connected with people I might not otherwise be connected with, and yet . . . Facebook often has a way of leaving me feeling crappy.  All I’m saying is, adults have trouble with social media, so why is it we think kids can deal with it?

Look, I’m not slamming anyone.  You may very well feel perfectly fine about your kid being on social media.  My point is that I don’t, and it’s not just because I’m a mean mom.

Joey and I had this whole discussion a while back, about why I won’t let him have an Instagram account.  So he decided to take matters into his own hands, and he got busted.  When I confronted him last night, it was seriously like a deer caught in headlights.  And then the tears.  He cried his eyes out, he was so upset.  Shame?  Guilt?  Fear?  Probably some of each.  I let him cry.  He needs to feel bad about this.  I told him I am deleting his Instagram account post-haste, and that we will be talking about other consequences.  I asked him why in the world he would do that – reminding him that he needs to bear in mind that if he decides to be sneaky, he will get caught – and he said, “All of my friends are on Instagram!  It’s embarrassing that I’m not.”

So now I am left to contemplate a kid who seems to be more susceptible to peer pressure than Kevin ever was, and a kid who can be deceitful.

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Ready For Real Life

Not quite a month after I turned 17, I ran away from home.  It wasn’t a childish whim; it was something carefully thought out and planned for months.  I could no longer live with my psychopathic mother.  Any childish innocence I may have had at one time was long gone; it was time for me to go out into the world and make my own life.  My boyfriend at the time (who would later become my first husband) planted the idea in my head, and the idea that someone would do that for me – leave everything behind and start a life far away – blew my mind.  I saved everything I could from my job at a pizza place, and he saved what he could from his job with an exterminating company.  Everything was planned very carefully – right down to my taking a bus while he drove to our destination in Utah (of all places) because he was 19 and we knew that it would be a federal offense for him to take me, a minor, over state lines.  On the day we chose to leave, I feigned illness, and when my mother and step-father had both left for work, and my brothers had left for school, Kelly came over with a small U-Haul trailer and we packed up what we could of mine, and then we went to the apartment he shared with his brother and packed up his stuff.  Afterwards, he drove me to the bus station, and I boarded a gigantic Trailways bus.  When the bus pulled out of the station on that sunny October afternoon, I watched the familiar landscape recede through the window with tears in my eyes and knots in my stomach.  “I’m really doing this,” I thought, almost in disbelief.

I remember little about the bus ride except that it was long.  Kelly followed in his car, pulling the U-Haul trailer crammed with our things.  Hours and hours later, in the middle of the night, when we crossed over the Utah border, the bus let me off at the side of the road.  Kelly’s car was nowhere to be seen.  I waited, with a duffel bag at my feet, in the shivering dark, filled with panic.  Eventually, he showed up, and filled with relief, I climbed into the passenger seat, and we drove.  Not long after, the car broke down on a long stretch of road in the middle of nowhere.  We hitchhiked to a payphone to call a tow truck.  Two guys in a pickup truck picked us up, and we rode in the open back, freezing, worried that they might be serial killers.  They dropped us at a payphone in a nearby town that consisted of not much more than that payphone, and we called a tow truck, and then waited.  After a while, the tow truck arrived and drove us back to the broken down car, and then towed it, U-Haul and all, to town.  We spent the rest of the night in a motel, and the next day had to shell out a couple hundred dollars to have the car fixed.  Already, the money was slipping through our fingers.

We made it to our final destination, Salt Lake City, the next day.  We pulled into a KOA campground and spent the next few days sleeping in the car there, scouring newspapers for affordable apartments and Help Wanted ads.  It was October, and snow came early that year.  We found an apartment – an old rundown house converted into three apartments that we had the owner’s permission by phone to break into to gain access since he was currently out of town and we were desperate.  Over the next couple of weeks, we set up housekeeping, buying beat-up second-hand furniture, dishes, and other necessaries at thrift stores.  We got jobs.  I lied about my age.  A couple of months later, Kelly left town for a week, on a “road trip” for his job selling framed posters to offices.  I was 17 and alone, with no friends yet, hundreds of miles away from my old life, no phone, and terrified.  I look back and still can’t believe he just left me.  I slept with a butcher knife under my pillow every night that week.

Not long after, the car broke down again, and we couldn’t afford to have it fixed.  So we walked or took the bus wherever we had to go for months.

***

Kevin turned 17 last week.  I am filled with trepidation about his future.  I wonder all the time lately if we’ve prepared him for real life.  I mean, I know he’s still only 17, but he’s 17!  A year away from legal adulthood.  He is so very, very different from what I was at 17 – in large part, no doubt, because we’ve given him a very, very different life than the one I had.  His childhood has not been plagued by instability or physical and emotional abuse, or the burden of having responsibilities beyond his coping skills laid on him.  I’m glad about all of that.  I may suck as a mother in some ways, but by god, my kids never go bed wondering if they are loved and valued and safe.

But I am beginning to doubt Kevin’s readiness for real life.  He is a good, good kid.  He is decent and kind (not that he doesn’t give us the usual teenage lip), he’s never gotten into any kind of trouble at school or elsewhere.  But he lacks goals and direction, and it worries me.  We had to push him for months to get a job, and he finally did – and I thought that having a job might widen his horizons a bit, but he still just holes up in his room if he’s not at school, at work, or with his girlfriend.  He’s not passionate about anything.  He doesn’t seem to have any dreams.  For his birthday, we presented him with evidence that we’ve enrolled him in and paid for driving lessons (which isn’t cheap, by the way!), and a week later, he’s still taken no initiative to get started.  He gives up too easily and always has a ready excuse.

Where I was resourceful and determined at his age, he seems downright apathetic.  And I wonder if it’s our fault.  Have we not pushed him hard enough?   To discover and pursue a passion?  To take chances?  Have we sheltered him too much?  Have we made a grave mistake, and are we making that same mistake with all of our kids?  I don’t know, I really don’t.  It’s hard to imagine Kevin as a bona fide adult in a year, it really is.

21

Too Many Kids

Do I have too many kids?  Huh.  I’m thinking maybe I do, because there are certainly people who have been kind enough to do me the favor of alerting me to the fact that I have too many kids – people who, I guess, have this vested interest in my uterus and its accomplishments.  So I must, right?  I must have too many kids.  Fuck.  What to do about it, though?  Unload a few of them?  But which ones?  Any takers?

Let me ask you something: WHAT IS THE RIGHT NUMBER OF KIDS TO HAVE?  Because, you know what?  I really want to know.

See, here’s the thing:  parenting is hard, no matter how many kids you have.  I know, my friends, because at one time I had only one kid (for five and a half years, actually), and then only two kids, and then – okay, so we jumped from two to four kids – and so on.  I’ve experienced having fewer kids than I have now, and I know for a fact that raising kids isn’t a constant walk in the park no matter how few or many you have.

It’s true that I complain about how tough it is.  I’m an open book.  I write and say a lot of things that other people think but won’t say out loud.  Everyone I know who has fewer kids than I do – they still complain about how tough it is sometimes – about what a drag it can be, about how the whining drives them up the wall, about how privacy is a thing of the past.  I get frustrated, I lose my temper on occasion, and, yeah, they confound me sometimes.  Oh, you never experience any of that with your kids?  Liar.  Total liar.

It’s true that a few (okay, about half) of my kids were unplanned.  It’s true that we have a record of being rather . . . lackadaisical about birth control.  I’ve been open about how our bigger than average family came to be.  All of my kids have been wanted though – every last one of them.  They are all well-loved, and they know they are.  None of my kids wants for anything.  We support them and care for them without outside assistance.  We sit down every night at the table and eat dinner together as a family.  We have important talks, and we laugh a lot.

Yeah, things might be easier with fewer kids.  That’s debatable, and it still doesn’t answer the question of What is the Right Number of Kids to Have.

I guess the Right Number is different for everyone, huh?

 

 

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