Why Good Parenting Calls For Cheap Scare Tactics

Becky Blades, a Grown and Flown friend, writes: “Dirty clothes shouldn’t be scary,” said a person who has not opened the door to a 17-year-old’s bedroom room or shared a car with an open gym bag. Or a person who has not sent a laundry-challenged 18-year-old out into the world.

Becky Blades, Laundry or Die

Releasing my daughter into society without being sure she would actually do her laundry was a terrifying moment in my empty nesting transition, and I met it the way I meet most scary parenting encounters – with frantic, jerking shrieks of foreboding and emotional threats: “Your life will be out of control! No one will live with you! No one will love you!…Did I not make myself clear? No wire hangars!”

Being afraid my daughter did not know how to take care of herself and her things turned me into Mommy Dearest; I displaced aggression and spent way too much time passing judgment on her closet. But in the end, though it wasn’t pretty, sending her to college was therapeutic for me. It was the crescendo of a decade and a half of using fear as a parenting tool, and it was the leg of my mom journey that sent me into serious self-analysis.

One morning sitting at my journal, I wondered to myself if my two daughters, then 17 and 15, knew the difference between a mother’s warnings and real risk. Like generations of mothers before me, I had used predictions and exaggerations to make points, I had inflated and fabricated scenarios and lorded threats just to make sure I was heard. I always felt these tactics were cop-outs, that a better mom than I would not need to resort to such things.

As I journaled for days, through years of memories, I realized that stirring up a little fear was a big part of my job description. I remembered, for example, that my children had grown up in a much safer neighborhood than I had. They didn’t need to be afraid to walk to school, or to hang out at the neighborhood shopping center. But living in that safe, shiny “bubble” we had worked so hard to create for them had created its own risks. They were dangerously trusting, and truth be told, they didn’t know what door locks were actually for.

“Don’t talk to strangers” were not serious words in suburban la la land.  In fact, the phrase “stranger danger” would set our humor-seeking household doubling over in laughter when properly placed in a conversation.

That’s the funny thing about fear. It’s funny. Until it’s not.

And it’s a parent’s job to clarify the difference. It was my job to make sure my eight-year-old got to enjoy life with enough security to laugh at paranoid clichés like “stranger danger” and also to assure those same words will send a chill down her spine at age 18 when a middle-aged man gets a little too friendly on a deserted subway platform.

That’s why my daughter’s last year at home was so frightful for me. I scrutinized my work and wondered if I’d covered the right material. She was terrified of making a low SAT score but undaunted by the prospect of running out of clean underwear. She did not know that having a laundry routine would save her from the free-floating overwhelm that would endanger her very peace of mind and turn already busy days into frantic clothing searches.

After a year of self-inflicted note making, I bid adieu to my daughter with an e-mail. Subject line: Do your laundry or you’ll die alone. Attached were 200+ tidbits of laundry advice, financial lectures and life lessons that I was afraid she might not know.

It got her attention. She read it all. Not because she was afraid of dying alone, but because she was afraid of the parental financial repercussions if she ignored me. (Those threats have not been veiled in the least.)

Come to find out, the things I’m afraid of for my daughter are things she is afraid of, too. As she got to know other young women at college, she reported that I am by no means the most dramatic or fear-wielding mom alive. Other moms fret and stalk and agonize and warn their daughters with much more flair than I.

I should have remembered this comforting fact from my own coming of age: as we step out on our own, women parent one another with the lessons they learned at home. The ones that make it through the noise are the lessons that are most repeated in mom’s most intense voice.

So . . . sorry, not sorry.

If my two daughters aren’t a little bit afraid of the sound of my ring tone between the ages of 15 and 18, shame on me. If my 18-year-old isn’t wary walking through campus after dark, I didn’t do my job. If my 21-year-old isn’t a little freaked out when a guy on a second date won’t take her home when she asks, I’ve missed a conversation.

Parents of sons likely have an entirely different list of fears and parenting imperatives. I hope that in addition to worrying about their sons’ safety, they are terrified of their sons being cavalier with girls’ hearts and bodies. I can think of no stronger deterrent for a well-raised young man than the look on his mother’s face when she learns of her son’s shoddy behavior.

The only thing we have to fear is NOT fear itself – it is losing fear as a parenting tool. But I’m not afraid. I’m betting that just like the laundry, creatively applied scare tactics will always be part of the job that never ends.

Do Your Laundry, Becky Blades

About Becky Blades

Becky Blades is author and illustrator of Do Your Laundry or You’ll Die Alone: Advice Your Mom Would Give if She Thought You Were Listening, a wise, witty collection of counsel for women of all ages.

She lives in Kansas City with her husband of 30 years and her Maytag front load washing machine.

Check out Becky’s web site, LaundryorDie, and her blog, startistry. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest at: LaundryorDie.com

 



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Mother-Daughter Shopping with Graduation on the Horizon

Our daughter will soon turn in final papers and tests, which will wind down another year of school. This spring feels like no other because she is a senior and this is her season of lasts. During these final few weeks she will join her friends at the Prom, Awards Day, and finally Graduation to mark much more than just the end of the term. So in our daughter’s closet are the new dresses, shoes and accessories she will wear for these truly special occasions. For parents of girls, in particular, senior spring is also a season of shopping!graduation

Fortunately, she often includes me (and my American Express card) on her quest to find the “perfect” outfits and, according to The Wall Street Journal, we are not alone.

The mother-daughter shopping trip is expanding into new territory. Moms and their girls follow the same retailers on social media, trade photos of clothes and create joint pin boards of looks they plan to shop for, whether online or in a traditional trip to the mall. 

In a recent survey of 12- to 19-year-old girls, 74% said their parents were “very involved” or “involved” in shopping with them. According to the Futures Company, a consulting firm; 78% said they respected older family members’ opinions. Mothers, meanwhile, are adopting youthful looks retailers say. The result is women’s and girls styles are converging.

Shopping together has given me a front row seat to watch our daughter evolve from “little girl cute” to a young woman who has her own unique, slightly-preppy sense of style. During the hours we have wandered in stores and shopped on-line, she has learned basics of consumer economics – she gravitates toward the sale racks and pays attention to return policies. She reads the fine print about fabric care (avoid costly “dry clean only”) and watches for the purchase threshold for free shipping.

My newest lesson for her comes courtesy of the Amex card I have had for decades. I recently added Amex Offers to my card which, frankly, couldn’t have arrived at a better time. Here are the features that I love:

1. Personalized Offers

Offers are curated for me based on where I have shopped in the past. That makes this a highly personalized program.

2. Simple to Connect

AmexOffers.com is simple to navigate. Just click on “Save” to add any Offer you choose. I downloaded the app onto my smartphone. I look up rewards in any location, while I’m on the go. You can also connect your card to social networks and add the Offers to your Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, or TripAdvisor accounts.

3. No coupons!

There are no codes to complicate the process or coupons to forget on the kitchen counter. Thank you for this, Amex, truly.

4. Savings are Significant

Substantial savings await. Currently more than $15 Million in savings for card members are available for the taking. Discounts I have nabbed range from $5 for iTunes to $75 at Elie Tahari – there is a wide range and variety so take a look to see what works for you! In addition to the retailers where I have taken advantage of offers this spring I have Amex gift cards in mind for the other grads on my list.

Delighted that Amex Offers are helping me and my daughter as Graduation looms ever larger on the horizon.

I received compensation in exchange for writing this review.  Although this post is sponsored, all opinions are my own.

Sweepstakes

BlogHer will randomly pick a commenter on this post to receive a $100.00 AmericanExpress® GiftCard at the end of the sweepstakes period (May 31, 2014.) All you have to do to enter is comment below with the answer to this question: What do you like most about Amex Offers?

 

Sweepstakes Rules:
No duplicate comments.
You may receive (2) total entries by selecting from the following entry methods:

  1. Leave a comment in response to the sweepstakes prompt on this post
  2. Tweet (public message) about this promotion; including exactly the following unique term in your tweet message: “#AmexOffers” and “#SweepstakesEntry”; and leave the URL to that tweet in a comment on this post
  3. Blog about this promotion, including a disclosure that you are receiving a sweepstakes entry in exchange for writing the blog post, and leave the URL to that post in a comment on this post
  4. For those with no Twitter or blog, read the official rules to learn about an alternate form of entry.

This giveaway is open to US Residents age 18 or older. Winners will be selected via random draw, and will be notified by e-mail. The notification email will come directly from BlogHer via the sweeps@blogher email address. You will have 72 hours to respond; otherwise a new winner will be selected.

The Official Rules are available here.

This sweepstakes runs from 5/5-5/31

Be sure to visit the Amex Offers brand page on BlogHer.com where you can read other bloggers’ posts!



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Parenting: It Is Not My Job

Lisa writes: It is not my job.

Being a parent is a really tough job. Many argue that it is the toughest job. Yet, speaking only for myself, I made parenthood far harder than it needed to be by taking on jobs that were not mine. My job is to love and care for my kids, to make them feel safe and teach them to navigate the world into which they will venture. My job is to teach my sons the set of values, rightly or wrongly, that their father and I hold dear. My job is to launch educated, good, responsible men.

girl in snow

That is a tall order without adding a whole list of other parenting challenges, that frankly I am not certain can be achieved.

It is not my job to find my child’s “passion.” Passion by its very nature is deeply personal and individualistic. One person simply cannot find it for another. If my kids want one, they will have to find their own Not everyone has a passion and the notion that everyone does is a middle class artifice of the late 20th century. I promise, many people have lived and died having wonderful lives without beholding a “passion.” I do not have a passion, and honestly, I am okay.

It is not my job to build my kid’s self-esteem, but rather to give them the tools to earn it for themselves. Self esteem results from setting challenging goals for ourselves and then accomplishing them. Sure, the recognition of others helps, but only if we know it to be genuine (and kids can see through this at a shockingly early age.) So I can encourage my kids to set themselves goals and to stick with them, but I cannot bestow self-esteem upon them, that they will have to earn it for themselves.

It is not my job to be my kid’s companion. I love being with my kids, and since they entered adolescence, I suspect I love being with them a whole lot more than they love being with me. When they were small they would demand my attention  and I felt that I failed them when I didn’t keep them company or play with them as they wished. In doing that, I took on a job that was not mine. Kids need their parents for love, comfort and guidance…playmate on demand is simply not in the job description. It helps to remember that the happiest people are those content with their own company.

It is not my job to make my kids happy. I am pretty sure if I could have figured out the key to happiness, I would have sold it and funded their tuition. My notion of happiness is not static and it has evolved over my life. I know that getting what you think you want does not always lead to happiness. I know that money can buy peace of mind, a sense of security and freedom from certain hardships, but it cannot touch happiness. I know that true happiness is looking at the world through your own lens, not the one handed to you by others, even your parents. And as the mom of three I know that happiness is so different for each child that even if I had the power to bestow it, which I certainly do not, it would consume my every waking minute repackaging it three times over. Finding happiness has been a lifelong, and not always successful journey; I really don’t have the runway to find it for four people. So my kids are going to have to do what I and every other person did, and find it on their own.

My job was to model and teach impulse control and deferred gratification. None of us can always get what we want. The Stones taught me that, and it is my job to pass this along to my kids.

My job was to give my sons relationships that would last a lifetime, people who they could turn to in need. That is what family and close friends are for. But far more than teaching that people will always be there for them, I hope I have taught them to be there for those they love. 

My job was to teach them right from wrong in a world that may well contradict my message.

My job was to make sure that my kids launched into the world as well-educated and well prepared as they could be.

My job was to make them flexible and unencumbered by the past, prepared for a world I have not seen.

My job was to teach them that quitting is sometimes, but rarely, the answer. We do not learn persistence (and grit) by doing what we love. We learn persistence by doing what we don’t love.

Being a parent calls on every physical, intellectual and emotional resource we have. It is a long complex process and I, for one, made it a whole lot harder than it needed to be. As parents, we pondered how our own parents had it so much easier, how life was simpler and they found raising us far less challenging. We hear this question often and assume it was because we were raised in simpler times that demanded far less of parents. But maybe it is otherwise. Maybe our parents had a better sense of what was possible for parents to achieve. Maybe they knew what was their job and what, as children, was ours.

girl playing in snow



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Do Your Laundry Or You’ll Die Alone: The Wit and Wisdom of Becky Blades

Lisa writes: Mary Dell and I have read Becky Blades’ beautiful volume, Do Your Laundry or You’ll Die Alone,  and we love it. We don’t just love it because we have high school (and college!) graduates this year. We love it because it is the perfect gift of wit and wisdom for any girl/young woman, age 15-25, and because of the messages of empowerment, understanding and optimism Becky conveys.  It is a little manual for life, and who doesn’t need that?

Do Your Laundry or You'll Die Alone

But Becky’s book is even better with some of the back story. Her slender and beautifully illustrated volume is very much a “mom story” that so many of us can relate to, and we had the pleasure of interviewing her to hear  firsthand.

Interview With Author Becky Blades

Lisa: You say in the book that you wrote this as a reminder to oldest daughter before she headed off to Harvard? Why did she need reminding and why didn’t you just tell her what you had to say?

Becky: My firstborn, Taylor Kay, was a driven child, and busy, busy, busy. Every minute seemed so intense – with few of those hang-around-and-chat moments where topics just come up. When we WERE in the same room, I shared her attention with the crowd of people who were texting or Facebooking on her phone. Since she was working so hard, and I didn’t want every conversation to be an argument, I gave her a pass on that, and other things – like doing her laundry.

[Read more...]



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Four Most Dreaded Words for a Stay-at-Home-Mom

What comes to mind when you hear that an educated woman, a woman who once had a burgeoning career, has stepped down to become a stay-at-home-mom?  Really, what do you think?  That she is a great mom?  That she wasn’t really all that successful and found the hidden trap door in the floor?  That she couldn’t hack the pressure of the dual lives that most parents lead?  That she found the best solution for her family?  That somebody’s husband must be doing well or that somebody cannot afford childcare? That you pity her or want to be her?

Today, at The Atlantic, Lisa discusses the question she dreads most of all, “What do you do?” (Photo credit: John Schultz/flickr)

Stay at Home Mom, The Atlantic story on stay at home mom

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BTDT* Moms Talk Best Parenting Practices

Lisa writes: It is easy for us, as moms, to get down on ourselves about our parental transgressions.  All too often we remember the days when we shrieked at our kids for, truly, little more than being kids.  Focusing on our missteps as moms and dads has become almost a national pastime, as we berate ourselves for not being the perfect parent.

While I am happy to leap onto the bandwagon of self-indictment, and admit to more than my share of errors in judgment and practice, I am going to search out the glass half-full here. I have asked a few experienced moms to jump in and, without crowing, just reflect on what went right. Here are eight of their best parenting practices that we can all consider.  After all, as we like to say, parenting never ends.

mom and baby at zoo, a family visits the zoo, elephants at the zoo

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Stay-at-Home Mom With Rebuttals and Regrets

Lisa writes: After pondering for 17 years my decision to be a stay-at-home mom, I put my thoughts on paper.  At no point did it occur to me that I would not work outside our home or that one decade or even nearly two would pass before I returned to the workplace.  But days turned into months, months into years and suddenly nursery school applications became college applications and I would be hard pressed to say where the time went.

I was asked if this post was hard to write.  It was hard to face, but easy to write.

HuffPost Parents put up “I Regret Being a Stay-at-Home Mom” and the Today show and Fox and Friends asked me to come speak about it.  The thrilling part was the hundreds, now thousands, of comments that have been generated by readers reflecting on their own experiences.

Today SHow, Stay-at-Home Mom, Regrets staying at home

Since posting my confession, women, and a few men, have told us how much it has meant to them to hear these thoughts laid out publicly. Then, and this has to be the very best part of the internet, they have shared their stories and their lives with us.

We have heard from women on maternity leave and women nearing retirement. Some have been mothers reflecting, as I have done, but many have been young moms with infants and toddlers who have the question of returning to work still swirling in their minds. Below we share their voices.

Readers wrote articulate, thoughtful rebuttal posts, and we have gathered them here or they can be found above under the tab “Discussion: Stay-at-Home Mom.

Lest this look like a love fest, a few comments were venomous, as readers suggested I should not have had kids.  A few were a bit touchy, suggesting I just needed to grow up.  And many vehemently disagreed with me, with one particularly astute writer (mom of five, physician, and thought leader) offering up what she felt were more important family issues that should focused upon.  I have tried to reflect their voices as well.

Rather than describing what some incredibly articulate women have said, I offer up their heartfelt insights…

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Nine Reasons I Regret Being a Stay at Home Mom

 

Lisa writes: The most expensive decision of my life I made alone.  There was no realtor, no car dealer and no travel agent when I chose to leave the paid workforce and become a stay at home mom.  There was just me looking at my husband, my children (those inside and outside the womb) and the chaos that was our lives. At no point did I calculate the lifetime impact of diminished earnings and prospects.  I looked at the year we were in and the following year, and I bolted.  No part of my brain sat itself down and thought, what is the price both in both this year’s dollars and my lifetime earnings, to leaving the workforce and is it a decision that a decade or two from now I might regret?  At no point did I examine the non-monetary cost which would loom just as large. At the time it seemed forgone, two demanding careers, two small children and another on the way, two adult lives hopelessly out of control.

One day I was working on the massive trading floor of a London bank, the next I was on the floor of my children’s playroom.  And while it meant I would forgo a paycheck, not once did I think, at age 33, of what the job market would look like for me in years hence and therein lies my most expensive mistake.

youngest-child-1024x683

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Motherhood and the Empty Nest

Lisa writes: This morning, The New York Times posted a wonderful article, “After the Children have Grown,” about motherhood and the transition to the empty nest.  The author, noted psychologist Madeline Levine, confirms what Anna Quindlen has often said, that the real empty nest begins the day our youngest child graduates from college.  Yet Levine takes a different look at our children’s separation as not a single moment but rather one more step on a long path of pain and happiness that is parenting.  She explains,

Motherhood inextricably weaves growth and loss together from the moment of physical separation at birth to every milestone passed.

Yet she finds that, in some ways, parents are unprepared for this transition despite the fact that we should have seen it coming.

motherhood, empty nest, mothers and sons, after the children have grown

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Mothers and Daughters, the Teenage Years

Mary Dell writes: Teenage girls travel in packs, migrating between friends’ houses. Over time, mothers and daughters from each family get to know one another well. When it is our turn to host a Friday night sleepover I am delighted. On Saturday morning, while serving pancakes, I pull up a chair with my daughter and her friends and join them for a chat.  Learning how to be welcomed (momentarily) into my daughter’s group, yet heeding the cue to disappear, are lessons I learned from my mother when she was the one wielding the spatula.

I recently asked my oldest girlfriends about their memories of those long ago school days. Here are some of the things they remember:

mother and daughter, teenage girl and mom in the 1970's

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Mom Bloggers Would Have Made Me a Better Mother

Lisa writes: “Is that normal?”  was the first, second and probably third question I asked my pediatrician every time I walked into his office.  Normal.  Young moms are looking for normal but, in truth, we don’t know what it looks like.  Enter the internet and Mom bloggers.  My kids were born in the 1990s and my access to online information was limited in their early years.  Had I been able to consult this tribe of supporters, I would have learned that “normal” looks like a lot of different things and that my kids were fine.

I would have loved to have been part of a global group of young mom bloggers sharing information, trying to make sense of the changes in their lives and bringing humor to the process.  I could have used all three, perhaps humor the most.

Mom bloggers would have made me a better mother and here is why:
Mommy Bloggers

Mom bloggers would have told me that the exhaustion I felt with three kids, age four and under, was not only normal, but inevitable.  A quick consult with moms further along the parenting curve would have allowed me to see the light when stuck midway through a couple of dark tunnels.

When I lost the plot with my children, I might have believed that I was not a bad mother or a bad person and that there was even some value to my kids in learning what happens when you push someone too far.

Experienced mom bloggers would have pulled back the curtain and shown me that other mothers were not perfect, they just looked that way from the outside.  Ditto, their kids.

We are all unavoidably products of our upbringing and reading widely (not just from the few bestsellers around at the time) about different parenting experiences would have loosened my enslavement to my own past.

I would have learned that I was not the only mother who sometimes found days with very young children to be dull and repetitive.  And I might have realized that it was not forever. Over the course of my sons’ childhoods I have worked outside our home full-time, at home full-time and at home part-time.  If I had known that life was going to have so many different stages I would not have panicked when I found myself in the wrong one.

I would have learned much earlier that the mess is worth the memories and you can get a new carpet but you can never rewind the tape.

Mom bloggers would have been able to help cover up some of my failings as a parent.  With access to a myriad of mom and kid sites, my children might not have discovered that I am useless at baking or any other creative pursuit.  I could have covered my tracks with brilliant ideas that I stole from clever mommy blogger.

I could have used advice on chicken pox, sibling fights, tween curfews and the best way to tour a college campus. But the good news is that I am pretty sure that someday I will be looking for advice on being the mother of the groom and, hopefully, on becoming a grandmother (starting with Grandma’s Briefs).

Even as my kids and I bid farewell to their childhood, I have found that the community of loving, caring moms and dads, reflecting deeply on how to be better parents, will travel right alongside me on this journey.



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In Training for the Empty Nest

Mary Dell writes: Sitting on the sidelines, I have long been jealous of my husband. He coached our son in baseball and football, sports into which they both poured their high school energies. Our 16-year-old daughter is now in training for preseason soccer and I am finally sharing a sport – running – with my child. Since she will be off to college in two years, and we will have an empty nest, I am savoring these mother-daughter moments.

running with kids, training with your children, pre-season
Several times a week we drive to our high school track. After a little jogging and stretching, we sip from water bottles, our warm up now complete. I fumble with the earphones on my iPod while she races off, motivated by twin goals of a sub-seven minute mile and a spot on the varsity team. Waddling down the track, I admire my daughter’s athleticism and discipline. I can’t imagine what superhero capabilities the teenagers who compete at the Olympics are born with and perfect through their years of hard training.

The track is built around a football field and at times I can watch her running across from me, 100 yards of green space separating us. I follow her as she rounds a curve and disappears from my line of sight. She sometimes gives me a half wave as she speeds by. After she passes, I notice the rhythmic way her braided pony tail fans her back.

I go with her not only to get some exercise myself but also to act as guardian since it’s summertime and the track is usually deserted. While I never feared for my six-foot tall son when he worked out alone, I am reluctant to send her off, solo. Truth be told, I am a little reluctant to send her off at all. She is the baby of the family and when she leaves for college, my husband and I will remain at home in a house that will be so very quiet.

For now, I am in training with her as a runner. That is the official reason for our trips to the high school. My secret, unofficial reason is that I am training myself to accept how very grown up she is. We share the track and occasionally run alongside each other but I am neither pushing nor pulling her as I might have when she was a little girl, shy about joining the town soccer program. We are running our own, very independent, yet connected races. The training is good.



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Unexpected Pleasures of Parenting

Lisa writes: One of life’s great pleasures is having our expectations exceeded. And of all the unexpected pleasures life gives us, perhaps none is greater than becoming a parent. For no matter how much we know we will love our children, the actual experience of loving them is almost beyond words. With a heady cocktail of inexperience and overconfidence I thought I knew what parenthood beheld. I thought I had my mind wrapped around parenting and had realistic expectations of what was to come. Of course, I had no idea. girls, girls in park The surprises:

Front Row Seat of Another’s Life

Being a parent is having a front row seat in the theatre of someone else’s life. It is a chance to witness the entire arc of that life from the first breath, to that first awkward day of middle school, to the moment we hit the replay button and our children have children. For me it has been an unmatched and unprecedented opportunity to reflect deeply and in living color on my own life.

Return to Childhood

Being a parent has allowed me to be a child again. My childhood was simple and middle class, the stuff the 1960s and 70s were made of. My husband’s was much more austere in a country and family with far less. Yet I will be eternally grateful to our sons for allowing us to experience childhood all over again with them. From the first time they laughed at Pat the Bunny to the day they stood in front of It’s a Small World jumping up and down and begging to go on the ride for a third time, to the afternoon they drove away with their brand new drivers licenses, I have felt immersed in every step of their childhood. We identify with our children, critics say we over identify, but for me this has meant reliving childhood, but better.

The Toughest Job is Parenthood

By having a child I learned what kind of stuff I was made of. I thought I had faced challenges with a tough school, a tough job, life overseas…child’s play, so to speak. The toughest job, bar none, is parenthood. Children push us to the emotional edge, in good ways and bad and sometimes to the physical edge as well. The closest I came was at 4:00 am one morning when I had been up for twenty-one hours and was holding my infant son who would not sleep. I screamed at him at the top of my lungs, “You know what? Yes. You! You are going to be an only child. You behave like this and you are getting no brothers or sisters. An only child, do you hear me!” It was the worst threat my deranged mind could think of and my husband, who had long since made his way to the couch, had the good sense to switch places with me. My next son was born ten months later.

Our Children Show Us the World

Parenthood begins with showing our children the world, but it is not long before they return the favor. I knew I would be a teacher. I never imagined how quickly I would become a student. I have learned about glassblowing, pre-World War II aircraft and every professional sport. I am up on current music and the standings in the English Premier Soccer League. But I am a visitor to these worlds, and inhabit them because my children are there and when their interests and lives move on, so will mine, all the wiser for it. Later still our children literally take us places, as we move them into summer camp cabins or college dorm rooms, their first apartments or back into our homes. We take them places for a few years, they take us places for the rest of our lives and at every step we learn something. parenting, children, family

The Lessons Can Be Painful

Some of this learning will not be good. When they get sick we will study everything about their ailment. When they have trouble learning we master everything about their difficulty and when they get caught speeding, drinking or lying we must search for the fine line that runs between how much to help and how much to punish. We will be wiser, but sometimes painfully wiser.

I Love Being a Parent with My Husband

I knew that my husband and I would love being parents. We are both eldest children and had long shifts of caring for younger siblings, but I could never have fathomed how much we would love sharing this experience. We had the same career, we could talk for hours about our friends and our work and our aspirations. We could talk about books and our upbringing, about things we hoped to learn and things we hoped to forget, but nothing has or ever will come close to the shared passion for our children. He is the one person on the planet that I cannot bore with constant talk of how wonderful I think my kids are, there is no level of minutiae  that I can sink to in discussing our offspring that will lose his interest.

We are Thrilled with Their Triumph

There is a feeling of exhilaration as they accomplish something that we know for all the world is not within our grasp. It is the thrill of seeing them swim faster than we know we ever could, master a technological challenge or face an unfamiliar social setting with poise and confidence that we can only dream about. It is the moment when they appear in their prom dress or tux and we can feel ourselves so young and beautiful again, if only for a second. They are not us, but we will never so enjoy another’s triumph nor feel it so keenly.

My Child Made Me an Adult

I was pretending to be an adult until the moment my eldest was born and I knew it was time to stop pretending. My husband and I may have had careers, a car and an apartment but as we were beholden to no one, at times our early marriage felt like an extension of a long luxurious adolescence that no one was in a hurry to push us out of. One of the truly unexpected joys was realizing that, as the nurses at the hospital waved goodbye and I carried my newborn out to the car, I was an adult, a mother and that we would be alright. I have my children to thank for that.



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Long Distance Love

Mary Dell writes: After I married and had children I became a little jealous of my friends who lived near their parents.  In those families, grandparents held the tiny hands of grandchildren as they grew and grew.  Fortunately, I learned from my far-away mother how to be close regardless of living sixteen hundred miles apart. She helped me understand long distance love.

water lilly

Now eighty-five, Mom still travels to see us once or twice a year, refusing to let her slightly weak knee call the shots.

While in her younger years she played with the kids up in the treehouse or down in the basement, these days they hang out together on the ground floor, playmates still.

My mother has one more strategic method for growing connective tissue with her children and grandchildren: “care packages.” She pours imagination and love into a box of  treasures, each individually wrapped with notes personally addressed.  Even the Labradors are sometimes lucky recipients of a few canine treats.

Packages arrive for Valentine’s Day, Easter, Fourth of July, and, especially, birthdays. With great anticipation, our children have torn open her boxes and ripped apart tissue paper to reveal thematically chosen stuffed animals, jewelry, books, candy, decorations – whatever bit of whimsy caught her eye in her favorite shops – be they overstuffed dollar stores or tiny boutiques. Her boxes have even found their way to the mailroom at our son’s dorm and the cabin at our daughter’s camp with roommates and bunkmates in mind.

Recently my mother has begun to simplify her life by culling through her possessions. She now curates boxes with family photographs or vintage keepsakes from my childhood. She has even begun taking bigger steps by packing shipping cartons and tagging select pieces of furniture with which she is beginning to part. Mom has always conveyed her long-distance love for us with every package she dispatches.  Each card or satiny box of chocolates is an expression of her generosity and affection. When the moving van arrives from her house to ours, a nearly empty nest, I know that her devotion to us will be packed with each item she has chosen to share.

To honor her care package tradition, I am preparing our own carton of treasures for her this Mother’s Day.  As I wrap each gift and sign my card I, too, am sending love and gratitude. I realize that we have missed much by being so far away from her but I truly believe that geographic proximity is no guarantee for closeness and distance does not doom love.

wrapped gifts, presents, wrapping paper, care package, gifts for grandchildren

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A Memory of Love

Gabby, a Grown and Flown friend writes: One of the most interesting things about teaching non-English language learners is that often my students “enlighten me” about life in America.  It most frequently happens when I try to cover some aspect of American culture and their pointed observations and questions offer a fresh perspective worth deeper consideration. My memory of past classes is full of these moments.

memory, Dominican Republic, tropical flower, red hibiscus

 

One year, when I was trying to explain the American traditions surrounding Valentine’s Day, a student asked “Is Valentine’s Day such a big deal here because Americans are just too busy to tell or show the people that they love how they feel and so there is a holiday to remind you?”  For at least a month after that, I tried to remember to reach out to the important people in my life more regularly. Every year my students explain that in their culture they have a Valentine’s Day but that it focuses primarily on the romantic love between a man and a women.  Then we all have a laugh about American Valentine’s Day being a favorite Hallmark-florist-restaurant holiday.  I try to explain that I buy a sweet gushy Valentine card for my elderly Auntie, funny ones for my husband and send little Valentine’s candies to my kids and my nieces and nephews who are probably a little embarrassed at this point when they open their college mailboxes.

Despite the humor, I view the typical American “over the top” response with a kinder eye. For starters my first and very fondest memories of Valentine’s begin with my own mother who was exceptional in taking time to both tell and show the people in her life that she loved them.  Every year she baked a delicious heart-shaped cake from scratch that filled the house with smells of love.  Even more vivid is a memory that only just surfaced after this classroom discussion.

I was about nine years old and I had never been so proud of anything as I was of the Valentine creation I had made in art class.  Having a very artistic sister, I never imagined myself being crafty but for some reason that year the combination of crepe paper, lace hearts and shiny stickers produced something I was bursting to share with my mother.  I sat on the bus ride home guarding it with intensity until my bus reached its destination and I raced home in an unexpected rain shower.  When I arrived, much to my dismay, the Valentine was wet,  the vivid colors of red and the messages of love had bled.   I recall feeling embarrassed by how old I was and how much I cared about this card for my mother; nevertheless I burst into tears.  My mother, who always knew what to do,  immediately patted the Valentine dry while effusing about its beauty and how the smeared effect only added it it’s creativity.

Maybe it makes sense that the memory of my most beautiful Valentine was for my mother, not my sweetheart, and so I thought about what it means to be a mother myself.  When it comes to the real deal, we all know love can’t and never will be captured in those Hallmark messages.  Now after being a mother for over twenty-two years, I am in awe of what I’ve learned. I believe, ultimately the best thing you can give to your children is to teach them “how to love”.

So the measure of my  success in the most important job I have ever had  is how much my children embrace the world and beyond and share the limitless gift of love.  On Valentine’s day this year I emailed my college-aged daughter and said how much I missed her. She responded “Today was the best day EVER student teaching…I’m wearing the red sweater you gave me and the kids are bouncing off the walls with excitement about activities planned for the day”.  Wistfully in a moment of nostalgia, I told her I missed the homemade Valentine’s my three children used to make me.  She immediately responded “Oh Mom, I have a whole basket full I’m taking home”.

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