My youngest boy just had a birthday. It’s always a time for reflection as they hit this yearly milestone. It causes you to look back and also to look ahead. This was his 9th birthday. He’s my baby. And, I suppose many moms tend to look at the baby of the family and keep them younger in their minds than they truly are.
I also think because he is small in size, I’ve also had this false sense of him being younger that he really is. Sometimes I look at him and still see a 6-year-old. Honestly, he’s so much on the small size that he’s still been wearing size 6 and 7 clothes, so it really tricks me into thinking that he’s still a little boy.
However, when he hit birthday #9, it hit me that this is the final year that I will have a child with an age in the single-digits. He’s still very much a kid, but it seems that once kids hit that magic age of 10, they cross-over into that pre-teen territory where the gray area is washed away. At 9, they can still dabble in both worlds - start to act the role of being older and taking on more responsibility, yet still play with toys and still wear superhero underwear. At 10, they no longer want to be associated with childish things and aim more to emulate older role models. It definitely varies from child to child, but once they hit double digits, there’s no looking back.
I was reading some posts on a Facebook group today and someone mentioned a blog post they'd written about a former teacher. I've written columns in the past praising a lot of former teachers for the lessons they helped instill in me or skills they helped me hone. Everyone can probably look back and point out a couple extraordinary teachers they are grateful for and who influenced them.
For some reason as I was reading that post I thought of a teacher who had never really stuck out in the past as being particularly influential in my life, but who played an important role. In fact, I'd seen his name come up recently on Facebook threads for a page in my hometown of Dolton where a lot of the memories kids had of his class were of his short temper, his impatience and his strict personality. One person referred to him as a "hard ass."
I have to admit I remember on occasion him yelling at students like a military drill instructor in front of the whole class. We're talking the early 1980's. It wasn't the days of teachers smacking kids with rulers, but a tirade directed toward an unruly and sarcastic kid who deserved some consequences wasn't really out of the ordinary either. Today, its a different world and a different kind of classroom and a teacher would surely get some backlash for it today. But, at that time it wasn't unacceptable and he never did it to any of the girls, only to the boys -- and only to the bad boys with bad attitudes and who were cocky enough to talk back to him (think Bender in "The Breakfast Club.")
Kids hit milestones as they grow that leave us a little taken back and sad. They are joyful, yet at the same time they are a hint that they are moving on in the world and will one day be on their own.
They learn to walk and you’re thrilled to see them thrive, but its a reminder that the baby stage is over and they’re heading into toddler territory. They start preschool and we are excited about what they’ll learn, but hesitant to put them in someone else’s care. Such feelings don’t disappear after those younger years. I’m finding myself there once again with one of my teenagers.
I have one son now in high school. I also have one in middle school. And two in elementary school. My mornings have been kind of exhausting these days with making trips to three different schools at three different times. I’m not loading them all in the car for drop offs at different points. I’m heading out with one. Coming home for 15 minutes. Then heading out with another one. Then back home for 25 minutes and then out again.
Just when you think we are making strides and heading the right direction as a country, BAM! We're reminded through social media of what a crazy world we live in. Anyone who thinks the Super Bowl is just a football game might think differently if they looked at the comments on Twitter and Facebook this week. I'm not talking about the slaughter by the Seahawks. And I'm not talking about comments regarding the half-time show. That seemed to be the least eventful part. I'm just taken back by the vitriol regarding the commercials that were shown during the game.
Most years, the commercials are highly anticipated. There are always hysterical ones that we're talking about for days. There are always ones that involve celebrities. You can always count on big companies like Chevy and beer companies to shell out big bucks for elaborate ads. This year I saw a few in advance that were causing some buzz - the puppy/horse friendship one by Budweiser and the Greek Yogurt one starring the cast of Full House. Cute. Funny. But there were two commercials that have stirred up some strong feelings. And here we are in 2014 being reminded by a bowl of Cherrios and a bottle of Coca-Cola how far we still have to go when it comes to acceptance.
There was a lot of grumbling about the bi-racial couple in the Cheerios commercial. Apparently, this couple has appeared in a commercial for the cereal once before and it did stir up a big controversy at the time, which I guess I missed. The second commercial was a Coca-Cola commercial with "America the Beautiful" being played, but with the lyrics sang in several different languages and people of several different cultures shown in the commercial.
For several years now, there’s been this misconception that modern moms have the opportunity to have it all in a balancing act that involves working and parenting and maintaining a good marriage and keeping a house in top notch shape and doing all the other things life requires of us. “Balance” has been the buzzword and it implies that all facets of life can be given equal weight and importance and all done at a satisfactory level, if not higher.
It’s true that women in this era have more opportunities than any other in history. Women today can do so many things that were restricted of previous generations. It applies to education, to being in the workforce, to parenting. And while some women can be admired for taking on a lot in every area, it’s likely that not everything is going perfect in every part of the equation. And that’s not due to these moms being incapable of handling it all or doing it improperly. When it comes down to it, it’s nothing more than the mere 24 hours allotted in a day and the fact that there’s simply not time to do it all to perfection.
In reality, there’s no balancing everything in our lives and giving it 100% simultaneously. It is more accurately a seesaw or a teeter-totter, where from time to time one area gets more attention than another. When things are hectic in the work world, it might require additional hours or make us preoccupied at home. When a child has a birthday coming up or a science project due, more time and attention is directed there. Sometimes it means taking it one day at a time and accepting that at different times different areas of our lives might require a little more of us than at other times. These days it is also more than parenting, work, marriage and home. There are often other things thrown in. Volunteering. Kids’ extracurricular activities. Elderly parents who might need help. Chauffeuring kids around. There may be illness in the family. Maybe there isn’t a marriage to tend to, but the added difficulties of navigating as a single parent. Today’s parents have a lot on their plates.
I believe that every family should have traditions. I had several growing up. I try to also create traditions for my children that will produce lasting memories.
I remember the traditional family back yard barbecues we’d have when I was a child. My dad had built a little pond and we’d hang out in the back yard and sip iced tea and eat hamburgers around it.
On Saturday nights, we’d pull out the sofa sleeper and our warm quilts and watch the Love Boat and Fantasy Island together with my mom, while my dad, who worked a second job delivering pizzas on weekends, would deliver a hot pizza for us and hang around to have a few slices. It always had sausage, green pepper and mushrooms on it and Dad had a special knock to signal that he had arrived.
Just keep swimming. It was the mantra in the movie Finding Nemo. I find it is often a suitable mantra for mothers. It can be interpreted in many ways. It can mean “Hey you’re swimming and you’re doing a fine job at it. Keep it up.” It can mean, “Swimming isn’t easy, but keep at it and you’ll get it right.” Or it could mean, “Swimming is easy for fish. It means you’re breezing along. Life is good. Things are great. Nothing’s going to knock you down.” Or it can mean “If you’re trying to keep swimming, you’re basically drowning and that sucks. No one wants to struggle to breathe.”
Lately it seems I find a lot of situations to tell myself to just keep swimming. Sometimes it’s encouraging, sometimes it is a last resort, hang-in-there kinda thing. Maybe I’m hitting one of these mid-life crises I’m always hearing about. I did turn 41 this year. I lost someone close to me with cancer. I’ve seen others I know lose children or parents. I’ve had family move away. My kids are moving on to different points in their lives. It’s been a lot of changes. As I’m typing I am looking down at my hands and for the first time realizing that they are starting to look old. The years spent at a keyboard and cracking knuckles are showing.
I’ve also had kind of a revelation this year that I’ve discovered that it is okay to speak up and say what’s on your mind. It’s not wrong to express when you think something is wrong. Maybe that new Katy Perry song is getting to me because I can tell I’ve been “roaring” when I feel something needs to be said. No one is spared – relatives, friends in social clubs, other volunteers, parenting peers, my son’s girlfriend. I always used to keep quiet and not speak up and if I did, I always replayed the conversation in my head 100 times, regretting what was said. Now I’m kind of just saying it and not regretting it. Just putting it out there and dealing with it, which is so not my style – or hasn’t been.
Some of my fondest memories growing up were when my older brothers and sister had moved out of the house, but would return on Friday or Saturday nights and the gang would play games. This wasn’t your smoking, whiskey drinking, rock n’ roll, gambling, card-playing crowd. We’d eat pizza or popcorn and drink iced tea with classical music like Mozart, Strauss or Bach playing in the background as we played rounds of Scrabble, Boggle, Racko or Password. Sometimes it was following an episode of the Carol Burnett show or something similar. There was always lots of laughter and nothing made me happier than when I got old enough to take part in the games. When it came to Boggle, words had to be at least four letters. But when I got to be 6 years old or so, they let me join in and they bent the rules for me. I got to find three letter words and it was a big ego boost when I could blow past my older siblings in points on my three-letter words.
I’ve always wished that we did more game nights with my kids. Once in a while we play board games, but it’s not nearly as often as I’d like. Recently, one of the boys played Monopoly at a friend’s house and came home begging me to go buy it (we’d had it in the past, but the kids would dig into the box to play with the money and eventually there were too many pieces missing to play a game.)
Before I had the chance to buy it, he came home from his friend’s house with the game. His friend had a duplicate and since my son enjoyed it so much, he gave him his extra game – such a sweet gesture! My boys have taken a liking to it, but it’s a game that can go on forever and they rarely get too far into it before getting bored or distracted or having to go to bed.
Tonight I attended an open house at the junior high school one of my boys attend. I've been to a lot of school open houses being a mom of 5. It's always fun to see the kids' classrooms, meet the teachers and other parents, explore the desks and their learning environment and see the work they've been doing that hangs on bulletin boards. There was much of that going on. But, there was one part of the evening I didn't expect.
The open house opened in the gym with the principal at a podium and all the teachers, staff and district administration. After brief introductions, the principal went on to talk about what a great job the kids are doing starting off the year by following the rules, behaving in a respectful manner and getting into the routines. Parents appeared to be beaming with that praise. He mentioned one behavioral incident since the school started and expressed displeasure that the school often gets a bad rap. He let us know that we, as parents, could change that by spreading the good news about what happens there. Suddenly, we were the ones getting the assignment. And it didn't stop there.
He said that we might not like hearing the next part. Then he sailed in on us. He told us that the adult behavior in the parking lot was "a joke." He told us that our kids were modeling that behavior that they see. That behavior - these are my words, not his - involves a lack of patience and consideration and even sometimes is elevated to profanity and yelling and on the verge of physical altercations.
Dear moms at the pool today for swimming lessons: although I was sitting far back in the shade, if you happened to witness my smiles or snickers, please know that I wasn’t laughing at your kids or laughing at you. I was laughing with you. You just don’t know it yet. It’s just that you don’t realize that it’s funny. One day you will.
I’ve been a mother for 19 years now. I’m finally at the point where I can take my kids to the pool and I don’t have to stand in the shallowest part hovering over a wobbly toddler. For years, I was there and I was in your shoes.
Holding my breath each time my kids would hold their breath and go under the water. Nervously standing behind a little one about to fall back on his bottom with a splash (and praying that he had an empty swim diaper and that nothing would surprisingly ooze out as his bottom hit the bottom of the pool.) Worrying about my child bolting on the hot cement and ending up with road rash. Wondering if my kid would be the one wandering off during a swim lesson, refusing to participate.