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Getting Old While Staying Young

I saw a meme on facebook the other day that said “One of the weirder things about being an adult is having a favorite stovetop burner, yet nobody talks about it.” I laughed way too hard at this, because I too have one (back left, because with kids back is safer and left has the bigger burner). I notice other little changes about getting older, many which are stereotypical. I go to bed earlier, I wake up easier in the morning. A night curled up in bed sometimes beats the idea of a night at the bar. I also realized this weekend that driving long distances has become a lot more difficult. When I was younger, we moved to Virginia, and I often drove up and down the I95 corridor on the weekends in the blink of an eye. Drove down Friday afternoon, back Sunday. I did this often consecutive weeks, for consecutive months. This past weekend, the kids and I drove down to visit my dad. Good Lord O’mighty, 7 hours in the car felt like time eternal! We arrived at 10PM and I couldn’t WAIT to go crawl into a nice comfy bed and relax!

The moment my little old ladyhood jump started into full effect was Sunday night. First, some backstory. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before on here but when I was a kid, my mom had her wedding china. It was a beautiful set with roses on it, very British. I loved it. I loved the print, even as a kid, but I also loved the fact it symbolized the three of us were having a special meal (usually Christmas or Thanksgiving. I unfortunately grew up 3000 miles away from all of my extended family. My dad traveled a LOT for work. My poor mom never really got enough credit from me for all she did, because she handled EVERYTHING. On holidays though, the special dishes came out, and I remember looking down at them and just feeling….happy. Well, my mom said I could have them after she died, only there was some confusion, and they accidentally got sold in the estate sale. I mourned those dishes, and was CRUSHED. Fast forward 12 years, and my husband got me a set of 4 settings for Christmas. I was thrilled to pieces, and he said he would over time help me get some more so I had at least settings for 8. Well, last week, I had just downloaded the Nextdoor app, and saw something pop up about THOSE VERY DISHES. Unused, settings for 4, for a steal. I messaged immediately, but someone had beat me to it. The seller told me someone was picking them up, but would let me know if they were a no show. I checked that damned phone every 15 minutes for the rest of the day, hoping by some miracle the original poster might not show. I never heard back, and consoled myself by saying perhaps those dishes just weren’t meant to be mine (I was full of shit. I wanted those dishes like I want to snarf down a box of girl scout frozen thin mints after a hard day). Still, I tried to keep positive, and said I’d get a set one day. Then I laughed at the fact I am still relatively young, but such a mental old lady that china dishes were such a big topic with me.

Well, a week went by, and suddenly during dinner Sunday, I see a message. It’s from the seller, saying she had waited a whole week, but the buyer never showed. Would I still want the dishes?

Would I like perky books and a rounder butt? YES GIRL, AND I WANT THOSE DISHES TOO!

I told the seller I absolutely did, and I would be home Tuesday, could I come then? So today, I am picking up my coveted dishes, in all my little old lady glory!!!

My dad was chuckling at my old lady dish desires. I explained the significance, and he understood then. The simple fact is that I am highly sentimental about things, where as he has almost no attachment to stuff or items at all. This explains my house, cluttered and chaotic, and his immaculate environment. I tried to explain why I am sentimental about such things, and told him about another Christmas gift this year from my husband. When I was a kid, I had rain shiny wellies (rainboots for the Americans in the audience). I LOVED those boots. They were probably my first pair of shoes I truly adored. I loved how red they were, how shiny, and how I could run in mud and simply rinse them off to their shiny glory. They were perfect and versatile. After I grew out of them, I don’t think it ever occurred to me to ask for another pair. It’s silly really, because I never asked for some but holy shit, I wanted some. This past Christmas, my husband got me a pair of red shiny wellies. I am joyous. My dad was so perplexed why A. I loved them so, B. why I never just simply asked for another pair once I outgrew mine if I loved them so much, and C why I have such a sentimental attachment to stuff. I explained he should be happy, really….because I had such a great childhood that things that remind me of that childhood make me extremely happy. Those dishes? I was beaming on Christmas eating off them. The boots? Joy when I slide them on. I may be a little old lady mentally, but those things bring me back in time to a carefree moment of running in fields, or eating my favorite foods with my two favorite people. They are tradition.

This morning, after a 6 hour drive last night, I feel old as hell. That drive I did so carefree and without much thought at 18 is a lot harder now. My back aches, my brain is tired from concentrating on the road for so long. I am content to be home though. This is a busy week, filled with the little getting braces, training a new coworker, a comedy show and date night, a trip to NY, my birthday (little old lady getting OLDER, y’all. I’ll be in a housecoat and yelling for people to get off my lawn in NO time!) and all the other business that family is. It’s a week of excitement.

My son and I were talking in the car on our long drive home. We have some of our best chats in the car. He is excited for our birthdays, he says. He means he is excited for HIS birthday, because he is turning 13 in a couple of weeks. I can’t even. How have 13 years gone by so fast? He asked me if I am sad I am getting older. I said I am not sad I am getting older. While getting older is a little scary, as you start to see more time behind you and less in front of you, and time seems to go by much faster now, I am grateful for a birthday. Some of my friends and loved ones no longer have that luxury. They don’t get another birthday, another year, like I do. So I am grateful for that birthday. I am grateful for my little life, filled with good people. I am grateful to be a little old lady at heart, with her favorite stove burner, a joy of a quiet night in, pretty dishes, and rain boots that shine bright and red. I enjoy it all (minus the back aches and pains) but I find joy in reminding myself of all the happy moments of being a kid.

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The Collector

Old Friends. They really can be the very best, can’t they? Friendship is something that really morphs and flexes over time, and I am a firm believer that the most cherished of friends should often be the ones that stayed in it to win it for the long haul.

As a kid, we focus on how many friends we have. We collect them like pebbles at the beach or pennies, and it often feels like the more we have, the better. As we aged through to high school, some friends faded away, and a few stuck around. College brings new friends to add to the mix, and new experiences to share with those friends. Post college life, when marriage and kids often happen, is when we see who remains when life gets so darned BUSY. After a while, we look around and see a hodgepodge of friends from various times in our lives, and then we start to pay even closer attention. Slowly we start to weed through those friends, seeing who is a true friend, and who is there to witness our failures without lifting us back up.

When I look at my friends now, I have folks who are somewhat newer friends, but most are those I have known for very large chunks of my life. My deepest gratitude goes to the long haulers, who have been by my side through the best of times, the very worst of times, and the times when I didn’t know I could make it through. My first best friend and I are still facebook friends. We’ve known each other since second grade, and stayed good friends all the way through high school. I moved away, she left for school, and we lost touch for a long time, but have since reconnected and stay in touch. While it’s been a while, I still feel to this day I could call her and say “I NEED you” and she would come, just as I would for her. She holds such a special place in my heart, because she knew the youngest me, the dreamer, the girl who wanted to be a dolphin trainer. She knew the fun me, before the world handed me hardship and responsibility. She’s known me as a wife, a mother, and a grown up with a career. She’s seen the progression of where I came from, as the girl who would wail the “fish heads” song while watching Elvira play music videos late into the night, and the girl who had a search party called out for her when she went missing (I really should document some of our escapades), to a fairly responsible mom of two. She knew my parents, WELL, and I knew hers. We spent endless nights at each other’s houses, went to camp together, and caused general mayhem. A lot of the reason my childhood was so memorable was because of her.

Another one of my closest friends I met in high school. We both liked the same boy, and it so happened he asked me out. We hadn’t know each other before that, but soon a silly argument happened. We ended up becoming fast friends, and soon figured out the boy was a jerk not worthy of a moment of our time. We’ve been besties ever since. She taught me to drive (like a maniac, as she did), she took me to her college classes with her (she’s a couple of years older than I). We cried over boys who broke our hearts and cheered when we each met “the one”. I actually introduced her to her husband. We have laughed a lifetime of laughter together, and the very best part is that I still see many more laughs in our future as we grow old. She was my roomate for years, which created some hysterical stories of chaos and mayhem as we navigated our 20’s as two single women. The week I had the stomach ebola she had gone up to the Yankee Candle flagship store and knocked on my door with a huge tray full of full size candles in various fall scents. She knows I love the fall, and she sent an email the next day saying she appreciates all I do for her and wanted to treat me to something. When I have to put up with crazy people, I call her and we collapse with laughter at the situation. I wouldn’t trade her for anything.

Some of my other friends live down south. I have a small group I know from the 10 years I spent down there. We are a small group of 4 who have stayed connected over the years. There have been some rough times. One of us became and addict, one had her fiance take off with someone else, one’s wife cheated and abandoned the family. One of us ended up on life support and almost died. That was a tough one….I remember getting that call and driving 5 hours each way to spend the day in hospital by her bedside, and then driving to John’s Hopkins a few weeks later and commuting 3 hours each way from there to visit her. At the end of the day, none of us speak often, but when I am down that way, we reconvene for a night out and catching up. All of us have kids around the same age, with three of the group being single parents. We appreciate the luxury of a night out, and often sit up until late in the night chatting and playing catchup with each other. We are a family of sorts, and when the need is there, we show up to support each other.

Back in 2001 or so, I met a coworker I clicked with. She ended up leaving the company shortly after I started, but I always liked her blunt honesty and no bullshit attitude. Imagine my surprise when it turned out we’re neighbors. She lives around the corner from me, and we have become tight friends. We house sit for each other, and each one is the other’s go-to for emergency help. We often sit around the table and laugh at what life throws us. When crazy happens, I tell her all the chaos and the two of us end up in stitches with laughter. I now count her as one of my closest friends.

Another former coworker and I clicked immediately and have been fast friends ever since. People always said we looked a little similar (my husband admitted one day he came to the office and went to playfully spank my butt, only to realize it was her and not me right before the hand connected. Luckily he was able to pull back!) She and I share so many of the same viewpoints, both suffered the loss of a parent, and we shared similar childhoods. She GETS me. While our career paths went in totally opposite directions, our lives are quite different, she is still someone I consider one of my closest friends because I know I can call her for an opinion and it will always be right and well thought out. She knows I am there if she needs me.

There are others, too, who are close to my heart. The common thread with all my friends is brutal honesty and laughter. I know I can call on any of these friends I mentioned above and I will get the cold hard truth. I know each and every one of these folks will call me out on my own bullshit, will tell me if I am out of line or if I am in the right. There is no sugar coating. There is no fluff. There is no guessing where I stand. It’s BEAUTIFUL and AMAZING. Having the freedom to be yourself and have people love you for it, with no pretense and no BS is the very best feeling. These friends have known me before I took on a role as a wife and mother. They knew me from various stages of my life…when I was a dreamer, when I was angsty and messy, when I was anxious and stressed, when I was a little crazy, a lot crazy, and when I settled down into my current life. They support me. They cheer me on, they have my back if I need them. I never question their loyalties to me. Oh, and the laughter. If I you asked me to list some of the things I have done right in my life, on the top of my list would be that I have surrounded myself with laughter. Prime example: When I worked with one of my friends, a coworker, who was in her 60’s, showed up to work in clear, light up stripper shoes, y’all. CLEAR, LIGHT UP STRIPPER HEELS….TO A BANK JOB, BY A 60+ YEAR OLD WOMAN. Now look, a big part of me now is like…go ahead girl, you do you, boo. At the same time though, this was a bank we were working at, and I had to question her thought process on how these shoes were appropriate. I mentioned this to my friend and the two of us had a great time giggling about some of the choices that were made that day. Now, 365 days later, my mother died. I was in the darkest, saddest place of my whole life, stuck in a car in traffic trying to make it down to say goodbye to her, before getting a call she had died. I was in shock. But then, a text came in. The text from my friend…letting me know she loved me, knew I was in a dark place…and that perhaps she could shed some light on my darkness by letting me know that 365 days later, those light up shoes had reappeared on the coworker’s feet that day in the office. I HOWLED with laughter. I had tears pouring down my face, for a moment not in sadness, but in glee that my friend had seen those shoes, on those toes, and had KNOWN I would want to know because it would make my day, at least for a moment, less painful. That’s friendship.

My daughter bemoaned the fact that many of her friends moved out of the school when they redistricted us. She went from loads of school friends to just one or two. I had a conversation with her the other day about quality vs quantity. I explained that having just a couple of true, honest and solid friends is so much more important than having lots of fair weather friends. We discussed how friends should be, and how sometimes, you need to clean your friendship closet, because not everyone is a good friend. I hope when she grows up, she will see that while I may not see all of my friends as often as I would like (lives get so busy at this age with work, relationships, kids, pets, commitments, etc) that true friends will always be there when you need them.

True friends we collect through our lifetime are those we can count on, and who trust in us enough to count on us. They may be old friends, newer friends, or family who became friends (or vice versa!). They are the ones who tell us how it really is. There is no fear of offense. There is no fear of being taken the wrong way. There is honesty, loyalty, trust, and most of all, lots and lots of laughter.

The Itch

It doesn’t take long for that itch to appear. You know the one, the travel bug bites and you get such an itch you just can’t wait to head somewhere different. Our trip to England in November was amazing. While I loved visiting family and being in the place that was my original home, I also got joy out of sharing that experience with my husband and kids. Seeing them have new experiences was probably one of my favorite parts of the trip.

Aside from our visit to Chatsworth, the trip itself didn’t have any “outstanding” locations to visit. Instead, our trip was spent primarily with family members, visiting simple yet inspiring locations, and taking long treks through fields and trails. We spent more time in nature than usual, and the experience was relaxing and cathartic.

Coming home, heading back to the daily grind, has left me happy for the comfort of routine, yet desiring to recreate that feeling of more time in nature, less nonsense, and the urge to see new things.

I’m also itching to travel again.

I’ve always felt there is no better learning experience than to travel and be around folks different from yourself. Diversity, new viewpoints, new experiences make for a very different education, one you can’t learn in schools. I want my children to see new places, meet new people, and learn about viewpoints outside of what they see in their day to day. It will serve them well in the future.

While I always want to head back to England, as my family is there and I love the tightrope walk between the familiar and the different, I also want to see some new places. We’re kicking the idea around of spending time on a ranch this summer (new experience), seeing a football game (not new, but always fun) and maybe taking some local road trips for the occasional weekend away. Even a few towns over can be a new experience.

One of my goals this year was to keep moving. Not only in the exercise sense, mind you, but in the physical sense of traveling and soaking up whatever experiences I can. Time to keep that goal moving forward! The excitement is planning the new places we shall go.

Mommin’ ain’t easy

Some days, mommin’ ain’t easy. We’ve had a few of those this week. Yesterday was a prime example. I awoke to the sound of a wounded animal outside my bedroom door. It was a primal call of fear. I immediately ripped my earplugs out (key to a happy marriage), and quickly searched for the strange yet familiar noise. It was the boy child doing his sound of panic as he realized he had missed the bus. I told him to get ready, and I would drive him. I raced him to school, raced home, and picked up the girl child. As we pulled into her school’s driveway, she announced “mama? My ear hurts.” and headed off to class.

45 minutes later, I get a call from the nurse. Little one is in her office, sobbing with ear pain. I ask if she has Tylenol, which she does (but isn’t really supposed to give her) but I beg her to dole some out to get the pain under control, call the dr, and ask the husband if he can get her and run her to the doctor. Thankfully, he agrees, and I jump on my conference call appointment. Soon after, they arrive home, announcing an ear infection, and let me know I will need to go get her antibiotics. I work, take a quick lunch break, and try to frantically wrap a few gifts in private. The gorgeous gold glittery paper I purchased is stunning….and tape won’t stick to it, rendering it UTTERLY USELESS. I try different tape, I try patience. I consider glue and realize that’s far more effort than I am willing to exert. I punt kick it across the room in frustration.

As soon as work is done, little one and I run to grab her medicine. She also reminds me it’s dress down day at school (they normally wear uniforms) and she needs a holiday themed shirt. I sigh. I COULD run her home and drop her to her brother, making my shopping trip faster, easier, and without hearing “ooh, I want to add this and this to my Christmas list!” just a few days before Christmas arrives. I mull over my options. It’s getting late, I still need to cook, so I bite the bullet and we race to the mall. The store I planned on going to has no holiday stuff left aside from Pj’s, so I hit the holy grail, Target, where my daughter finds a Santa dress. I bump into my sister in law, who joins in the coercive effort of trying to convince my daughter to abandon the Santa dress and go with something she can wear more than once. She leaves, and I fail to do the job. We leave with the damned Santa dress while I question my choices and lack of will power.

We race home, I cook, and we do the orthodontic key turning. There are tears. I clean the guinea pig cage. I give kisses and hugs. I plan to do more gifts. Instead, I collapse on the couch to watch A Million Things (A Million Little Things?). I head up to bed, puffy faced and red from sniffling at a sad story line that come a bit too close to home. Sleep is welcome.

Today involved shuttling kids (we had flash flooding so I ended up driving all the neighborhood kids home from school, which required some deep coordination). I had to call to sort out a gift for the kids from my dad. One involved getting a GC, but the woman told me I had to use it within 4 weeks. It seemed really strange, and it wasn’t until I chatted with someone who told me the place was sold and closing that I realized why. Luckily it’s a cash only place so I was supposed to drive there tomorrow to pay for it and pick up the certificate. Instead I found another place (that plans on staying in business!) and can get one from there instead. Why would you not tell someone you are going out of business? Incredibly shady to say the least. I worked, almost got mowed down by a gymnastics mom who wasn’t paying attention in the parking lot, and got the boy a haircut on my break. My treat to myself for Christmas arrived from England, and it’s too big, meaning a return is in order, which will likely be a complicated nightmare. Soon, I will be racing to get the little one and dropping both kids off for a sleepover with the Aunt and Uncle. Then I need to do wrapping of presents and cleaning for Christmas.

You know what though? It’s crazy. It’s chaotic, and it’s not easy, but it’s my life, which is a hell of a good one.

Parents, at least a good chunk of them…they bust their asses on the regular. They do what they can to raise the best kids they can. It’s REALLY hard some days. Some days, it’s the best feeling in the world to see things fall into place and see your kids succeeding at being happy people. At the end of the day, we all want our kids to be HAPPY. Happy kids, in my mind, are successful kids. I don’t much care where they work, who they love, as long as they are happy. When you have kids, the older folks will tell you “cherish every moment, it goes by so fast!” They aren’t lying. As the kids grow up, it goes by even faster. You start to find yourself wishing you could slow things down, keep them littler longer, and keep all the memories locked in a safe place. The days whiz by, with the mom or dad taxi running place to place. Activities, school, work, cooking, cleaning, hugging, loving, managing, planning, keeping all the balls in the air while you juggle life at full speed.

It ain’t easy.

I wouldn’t change a thing though.

Letting Kids Fly, But Not By Helicopter

Helicopter-Parenting-300x300

Ahh, vacation.  It’s my first day back from a weekend trip to visit family, and I already need another vacation.  Not because of the family, we had a fantastic time, but because I came back from a Saturday and Sunday away to a shitstorm of work to do.  I digrmyess, however.  Every year, my step mother’s sister throws an annual weekend up at her house.  Since my dad married into the family, they also include me, my husband and kids.  The weekend is filled with laughter, days spent at the lake, and lots of food and beer.  It’s always a fun weekend.  This year, I think we had 16 or more.

Saturday, while lounging at the lake, watching the kids play in the swimming areas and in the sand, I got into a conversation with my…let me see if I get this right….step cousin’s wife.  We were talking about our kids, and how they are growing up so fast, the usual.  She lives in Brooklyn NY, and she overheard her son tell me how excited he was for school this year because at his school, the kids are allowed to leave the school and go out for lunch unattended.  I was completely fascinated by this revelation, and his mom (I’ll refer to her as E) filled me me.  Apparently, starting in 4th grade, the kids are allowed to leave the school building and can go for lunch.  Completely unattended.  In Brooklyn.  I was a bit amazed that the school, never mind the parents, would ever go for such an idea.  I live in relatively small town suburbia, and parents here are CRAZY intense.  Helicopter parenting is mostly the norm, if not encouraged.  Parents direct every aspect of their children’s lives, friends, interests and activities.  Kids are placed into a LOT of activities because the general thought is that they must be active ALL the time.  They must be kept busy.  I have friends who have their kids in about 6 activities a week.  It looks exhausting, not only for the kids, but for the parents who have to drive to (and most attend) as well.  The idea that this school in NY would allow kids as young as 10 to just leave the building mid day and roam to a local restaurant unattended was something I struggled to fathom, but I was intrigued.

For those of you who follow my blog, you may remember I wrote a while back about how I was trying to let me kids have more freedoms, more independence, and promote a sense of self responsibility and good decision making skills.  It went swimmingly, until we had a falter when my daughter forgot to communicate she was going to a friend’s a few houses down and I couldn’t find her.  After that we had to place new rules and explain the communication process.  Things have been going really well, except that it got so hot the kids haven’t really wanted to venture outside too much, never mind riding bikes etc.  Hopefully, we will work on things more in the fall.

As we talked, E explained that the school allows the kids to leave, unattended for lunch, mostly due to a problem with overcrowding in the school.  There really isn’t enough room in the cafeteria.  She said the kids have a radius that they can go to, about 2-3 blocks, and their are crossing guards at the intersections (and to make sure the kids don’t go outside of the “zone”.  On those blocks, there are a bunch of restaurants the kids can choose from, they bring their own money, and buy lunch.  I thought about how this would fly where I live and giggled, because it never would.  After hearing the layout of their school’s plan, it seemed like quite a good one.  The kids have choice, are given responsibility, there are crossing guards to keep them in the general vicinity, and frankly, it was a great way to keep local businesses afloat.  E explained also that the principal is a very strong leader, explains the process to the kids very clearly, and they are fully aware that one misstep means they lose the privilege.  They haven’t had any issues, because the kids take the privilege so seriously, they don’t want to lose it.  Also, with the volume of people in the area, parents feel that the kids are far safer than wandering in the suburbs.

I explained to her my realization earlier in the year that there were so many things I knew how to do at a young age that my children have never learned, simply because they have never had to learn it.  Road safety, because I am always there to walk them across the road, for example.  All those little things, that really are big things, because I am always there to do it for them.  She said she had had the exact same realization, and it really bothered her.  The interesting thing was that with one of us living in the city, and one in the suburbs, we each had a different set of skills we realized we had never taught our kids because we’d always been there to do it for them. Also, the kids needed different skills based on their location.  For my kids, bike riding was more important, but for her kids, there wasn’t much of a good place for her kids to ride.  For her kids, navigating their neighborhood during rush hour was more important than for my kids, who don’t see a lot of traffic in our area.

Both of us have decided a change is in order, and we are working to give our kids more flexibility, responsibility, and more LIFE skills they can do without us.  While the skill sets may be different based on where we live and the needs that arrive from that, the mentality is the same. Our parents let us learn the hard way, on our own quite a bit, and it taught us good, solid lessons.  We weren’t hovered over and coddled.  We were treated as little people who had to learn to live in a complicated world.  I see moms on social media claiming their kids are never out of their sight, that they do EVERYTHING for their kids, and that they keep their kids in activities and busy every minute of the day.  Know what that tells me?  Those kids likely won’t be able to entertain themselves if someone isn’t telling them how.  Those kids will miss many an important life lesson.  Independence and self discovery is important!  If someone does everything for you, how do you learn to do it yourself?

I recalled the conversation I had with the police officer who came that day my daughter left for her friend’s without telling me where she was going.  I was honestly really, really frightened and questioned my decision to let her do more on her own. (And trust, there were the people who had to make nasty comments about what happened, but you know what? 0 craps given.)  The officer told me that I was doing a GOOD thing.  That kids should be outside playing.  He also said that one thing he runs into all the time are kids of helicopter parents.  He said these parents hover over their child’s every move, thinking they are doing the right thing.  He said that he sees the end result of that, where if a parent goes to the store and runs 10 minutes late back, the kids (old enough to stay home themselves) the kids freak out because they don’t know how to cope for a few moments outside of expectation when the parents aren’t there.  He sees a lot of kids without some basic life skills, because they have never been taught them or had to learn them.  When I recounted this to E she thought it was really interesting, and we discussed how true this probably is.

Statistically, we are at a time of lower crime, but more ways to communicate it.  Our kids in some ways are probably safer than we were when we were younger.  Yet parents are more protective and are helicoptering.  I have seen parents call their grown children out of work.  I have seen parents doing laundry for grown children.  How did we get here, where we are so focused on our children that we have stifled them?

One of the greatest feelings I had as a kid was the feeling of being trusted with responsibility.  I felt so grown up, and appreciative of any new independence, that I worked hard to keep the privilege.  As a kid, I flew overseas by myself!  I traveled 3000+ miles myself, with some oversite from the airline.  I arrived, got my bags, and found my ride.  I navigated airports like a pro.  When I traveled with my parents, they had me tell them where to go, what our next steps were, etc.  In time, I learned my way around our frequented airports, knew how to travel responsibly, and became comfortable that I could manage travelling on my own.  If I got separated from my parents, I knew I had a plan to stay safe and find help.  I knew road safety on my bike. I knew how to speak to adults, how to navigate my corner of the world, and even another area of the world.  I walked comfortably across town at 12 years old in a town overseas.  It saddens me that after being pushed to hover over my kids, I have neglected to teach them some life skills, not for not wanting to, but for not thinking of them.  Why? Because I handled everything for them.  The more I talk to people, the more I notice parents having the same revelations.  This year, I am going to teach my kids the process of navigating an airport and how to travel safely.  Time to let them fly, just not by helicopter parenting.

She Can Do It All, Until She Can’t

wonder

I grew up the daughter of parents who never made me feel I couldn’t do something just because I was a girl.  I was taught I was equal to men, could hold my own, and to be fiercely independent.  I lived in a two parent household, and my parents stayed happily married until my mother died.  Of course, there were some stereotypical roles that fell into place.  My mother was a stay at home mom, and my dad worked to support the family.  My mother cleaned the house to spotless perfection and looked after me, dinner was on the table each night at 6, and she was the arranger of all the plans.  My mom was the glue that seemed to hold us all together.  My father traveled extensively for work, sometimes even for weeks at a time, and my mother was always the figure in the home who held down the fort.

With that being said, my mother always made it clear that she had been the primary breadwinner before we moved to the US.  I knew she stopped working to look after me, and also because it made more sense financially.  She always told me to make sure I was ok on my own if I ever needed to be, and to make sure I always had my name on the house, cars, and other assets as well as my husband.  She’d had friends who had gotten divorced and ended up screwed because they hadn’t looked out for themselves as well.  In other words, while my parents lived in many ways an old fashioned set up, I was always taught to be a modern, independent woman who could look after herself, and why that was so important. I also learned that I could be a good wife, a good mom, and that there wasn’t anything I couldn’t do just because I was a girl.  Women in today’s society are told we can have it all, the career, the family, the home, and all that comes with us.

We can.  Many women do.  But sometimes, it’s really hard.  Like, really, really hard.

I hesitated to write this, because it’s hard to be vulnerable.  Usually when I admit a vulnerability, it gets thrown back at me.  That being said, I am who I am, and unapologetically so.  I own my mistakes, I own who I am, both on my best and worst days.  The other week someone tried a jab at my parenting when I “lost” my daughter.  (More on that in a future blog). Yet still, I owned it. At the end of the day, I am bluntly, without apology, or explanation, myself.  With me, you know what you are getting.  My filter isn’t very good, and my face will say my thoughts anyway.

So with all the things.  The work, the parenting, the house, the jobs, the peopling, the endless obligations that have stacked up….it’s gotten to be a bit much to manage on my own. My husband is always supportive of me in everything I do, but he works long hours and our schedules are opposite, so much of the stuff around the house and scheduling the kids falls to me.  I am trying to hold all the pieces together of the life puzzle and I ran out of hands.  I’m left tired and drained.  They always say on a plane to put your oxygen mask on first so you can help others.  I have been doing the reverse and I ran out of air. The more I couldn’t focus on a few things, the more everything started to spiral where it got to be just a bit more to manage.

This week I hit a wall.  I’ve only had it happen a few times in my life, but this week was one of them.  This week something snapped.  The year of yes came to a crashing end and I just wanted to say no. I looked around and for all I was doing, it just wasn’t amounting to what it should.

And I stopped.

I cried a little, I’ll admit it.

And then I did what I hate doing the most.

I asked for help.

I hate asking for help. I always think it’s an imposition.  It feels like I am failing at something, and I sort of hate that.  The funny thing is, I always encourage others to ask for help, and always am willing to help others.  I suppose we are always hardest on ourselves, right?

I’ve suffered from depression since I was a teen.  I went through some very bad times with it, went on medication, until I finally got it under control.  The fact is, I will likely always have it, but for the most part I rarely suffer these days.  I haven’t been on meds for it for years, but I do stay very mindful of when it feels that it’s starting up.  Yesterday I realized I need to stop and breath.  I looked around, and realized I needed to ask for help to ease the burden of things for a little while.  I called my dad and said I wanted to come visit and have a mini vacation.

I had an honest chat with my family and the response was amazing. I said I am overwhelmed, and they stepped up to ask how in turn they could each help. That’s family. Even the little things stack up to help.  This morning, my husband offered to run the kids to camp and returned home with a coffee for me.  He called from work to check in, just to make sure I am ok.  He knows that usually, I keep it all together, but when I am struggling, he is there to check in…just to make sure I am hanging in there and to see if I need anything.  The reminder that he is there to back me up and lift me up if I fall is a great source of comfort.

The next week or so is going to be busy.  Much to plan, to do, and to coordinate.  That being said, I will be pausing to breathe more, saying no when I get overwhelmed, and asking for help if I need it.  I will try me best to take care of me a bit better than I have been.  Maybe I’ll even use that gift certificate for a massage my aunt sent me.  Seems like a perfect time to use it.  Rest and recharge amongst the chaos, so I can minimize the chaos.

Yesterday, when I felt my worst, I looked around at ALL the THINGS that needed doing, and I felt like a failure.  My mom had always made things seem so effortless.  I look back and realize how much I took for granted.  I realize I looked at her and she made it all seem so darned easy.  I came home from school to find my laundry done, the house clean, a meal on the table, and I never really comprehended the amount of work that went into making all of that happen.  I also realized she would have told me that while she was a stay at home mom, I work full time.  I have less time for some of the things than she had. I know she would have reminded me of the times when she seemed short with me or stressed that she too struggled with getting it all done.  She would also remind me that sometimes, you just have to go and take a nap and figure it out later.

When you grow up and you watch your mom do it all, you think you can too.  There is a big push on social media and the media in general to be the mom who can be perfect.  Everyone portrays themselves to be super moms.  They post and pin and they present the perfect outside image.  Their immaculate houses, their vacations, their endless smiles.  The fact is, I’m sure there’s a lot of women who feel they too need to pause, take a deep breath, and escape from it all for a few.  To not have ALL the THINGS in their heads and to do lists every moment.  So I’m waving to those ladies, from my yard that needs weeding, my house that needs cleaning, surrounded by all the jobs I need to do but have no time to do them in because there’s only so many hours in a day. I hear you. I see you. I’m one of you too.

 

Let Them Be Chickens

freerange

So, it’s official.  I am officially on the PTSA board of our school as of today.  I am still wondering if I have done the right thing, and also just what I have gotten myself into. My default is to jump in with both feet, and have already been brainstorming some fundraising ideas.  I was told to relax, hold back, and take a “let’s see” approach.  That’s not really my style.  On one hand, I am chaos personified.  I’m the mom screeching into the parking lot at the last minute, but I get there.  I am the mom who gets it done, even if it doesn’t look pretty.  There is some method to my madness, and I usually need at least a baseline plan in place to keep the stress levels down.  I’m not very structured, but I need a basic idea of a plan to get started.  At the moment, I’m floundering and I feel dazed.  I’m not a fan. I will therefore sit back, and try very hard not to think too much about things.  It just won’t be easy.  I’m more of a doer than a not think about it type of gal.

After getting voted in, I was chatting with a mom friend about the changes, about summer, after school care next year for her daughter, and she asked how I manage to work from home when the kids are home.  She was surprised by my answer.

“Well, the older one will play video games or read and entertain himself pretty quietly, and the younger one plays outside or with the neighbor kids.  I’m trying this whole “free range parenting” thing out.”

She looked stunned.  The video game comment gave her pause and a raised eyebrow.  The free range parenting comment made her appear quite surprised.

The fact is, my son is an old soul.  He is extremely smart (way smarter that me, to be honest).  He’s responsible, a rule follower, and very mature.  (Not like me).  He gets great grades and is respectful and kind.  That, along with some chores, is his “job”.  As long as he is doing his job, and his grades are good, I don’t sweat the small stuff.  I let him play video games with his friends after school.  Sure, I keep the time down to a decent amount, but I let him play.  It’s a form of socialization, and he enjoys it.  It’s also sparked an interest in coding, which could be good for him.  He accompanied me to the apple store and jumped into a coding class there.  The instructor was very impressed with his knowledge and demeanor.  I may take him for more.  Currently, my son and his bike have disappeared down to the school to go hang out on the field/playground with his friends.  He has his sister’s ipod which has wifi, so he can text me if he needs me.  I’m only a few minute drive away.

The little one looks most forward to racing outside each day.  I can see her from my home office window.  I can call to her.  We have a system, and it works.  She never leaves the front of the house without telling me where she is going.  There are also a group of great kids in the neighborhood that she plays with.  The parents know each other, watch out for the kids, and text each other when kids are on route from one house to another.  It’s working.  I now have a happier child, who enjoys being outdoors and playing with friends.

For years, I have struggled with balance.  Work vs home, fairness  with the kids, and a constant battle of how their childhood is vs mine was.  When my son got older, my daughter was still 4 years younger, so it was easier to keep them both inside.  With my work schedule, there wasn’t any time to just hang with the neighbor kids.  Growing up, I raced home, did homework, and jumped on my bike.  I rode the back roads about a mile from my house to my best friends, and we would go back and forth between our houses, playing, riding, laughing, and making memories.  I did this when I was about 8 or nine.  My parents trusted me to do right, to call when I arrived, and to do be responsible.  And you know what?  I WAS.  I DID.  I called, and I was responsible.  I knew quite clearly that bad behavior, or not doing as I should would eliminate my freedoms.  Looking back, I believe my mom would drive the neighborhood to make sure I was safe and keep an eye on what I was up to.  I fell off my bike once and she was there in minutes, without a phone call.  (no cell phones when I was a kid, folks!).  Nowadays kids have technology at their fingertips.  Luckily they have ipods and the neighborhood is a wifi hotspot, so they can text me if they need me.  That’s more than I had as a kid.

playborhood.jpg

The fact is, kids were kids, but in many ways, we were more grown up than today’s kids.  We had more freedoms and we learned to handle those freedoms appropriately.  We learned responsibility.  We had street sense.  The small freedoms I received made me feel more grown up, and I behaved better.  Why? Because I didn’t want to lose the privileges I had been given!  Cause and effect is an important learning tool.

It occurred to me one day my kids might not really know how to cross the street safely.  As in, which lane cars drive in, where to look, how to listen for cars, how to double check.  I was horrified.  The fact was though I was always with them and guided them. I started teaching them more street sense.  How to manage if I wasn’t there.  How to be safe, and to help their friends be safe. I started taking them on bike rides, to learn the layout of the neighborhood, where cross walks are, and how to read the traffic signals.  It’s an ongoing lesson, but an important one.  I keep an eye on them, but I am allowing more freedom and choices their way as they get older.

I notice other parents doing the same more than before.  Maybe I’m just more in tune with it because giving the kids so much freedom is a bit daunting at first. The fact is, I am raising future adults.  I have to balance teaching them a healthy dose of reality (ie. stranger danger, car safety, etc) vs teaching them to be independent and responsible.  I need to teach them that outside is where magic happens.  Healthy habits, spending time in nature is good not only for the body, but for the soul.  Not to mention, they sleep AMAZINGLY now.

I’ll still be nervous.  I’ll still keep an eye on them when they don’t know I am watching.  At the end of the day though, this free range parenting, allowing the kids more freedom and responsibility has thus far been a good thing.  The better they do, the better I will do. There are parents allowing their kids to navigate the city by themselves, take the subways, etc.  I’m not there yet.  We’re keeping with the neighborhood and going from there.