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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Making Choices

All through our lives were are confronted with making choices. When our kids were little they made small choices about what to wear, what to eat or which bedtime story they wanted. As they are growing older their choices impact more and more who they are ~ from the friends they choose to the sports they play.

The boys are coming into a time when these choices will have a big impact on their futures. Right now, Zach wants to go to West Point and play hockey for them when he graduates from high school. His choices in academics, sports and leadership will play a huge role in whether or not he is accepted. Lucas has big dreams of playing hockey in the NHL and to get there he wants to go to Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Lucas' choices in next several years will impact his dreams. Both boys have very defined dreams. They are focused on hockey with a smattering of lacrosse filling in the blanks.

Claire is a little less singularly focused in her dreams and she will have some big choices in the road ahead of her. She knows it and it is causing her some anxiety right now. I tell her and tell her she doesn't have to worry about her choices yet ~ her time for worrying will come later. I want her to enjoy her present day life. Right now, she loves to dance. Her feet are constantly moving. She taps all day long and loves learning new steps in class. She comes home and practices her steps more. Her recitals are fun and full of energy. I love seeing her walk out on stage ready to perform for the audience. Right now, she also loves to swim and she is REALLY good at it. She is a beautiful, powerful swimmer and I love to watch her take on the water. She is so confident when she steps on the blocks and dives in. It is amazing to watch her transformation from pacing nervously behind the blocks to confidently stepping up onto the blocks. She loves both of these sports with an intensity that is hard to find.


Claire knows when sixth grade hits she will have to make some choices. With the tough academic schedule she will have, she won't be able to do both competitive dance and competitive swim. There won't be enough hours in the day. So she will have to give up a little of both to make things work and this is causing her to rethink everything. She and her friend, Emma, spend lots of time trying to decide the best way to make both swim and dance work in sixth grade. They both swim together in the same group and they dance together in the same studio so they have each other to bounce ideas off of. Emma's idea is to drop all but one dance class and keep all of her swim practices. Claire's idea is to drop both swim and dance and take up something new, like basketball or volleyball. The only problem there is Claire doesn't like sports with balls involved. I doubt Stan and I will let her give up both of her passions, it would be too big of a blow to her to leave both sports behind but she will have some tough choices in the years to come. When I was 10 the biggest choice I had to worry about was which friend I wanted to play with for the day. I feel for Claire and her choices. Her choices will have a big impact on her in the years to come.

All of our kids are faced with much tougher choices much earlier than we were. Part of me thinks it is a shame to put so much pressure on our kids so early but the other part of me thinks it is a good thing to have a path to follow and a goal to attain. Making tough choices is all a part of growing up now, I guess.

Oh, for the love of my children...

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Warm Car

Today was cold, rainy and dreary. When I sent the kids off to school it was with the prediction practices, for Jan and Lucas, would be cancelled. I got the text from Jan around 2 letting me know his tennis practice was, indeed, cancelled. I kept checking the lacrosse website for Lucas. There was no announcement of a practice cancelled. The practice looked like it was a go even in the cold and rainy conditions.

Lucas and I loaded up into the car. Lucas had a hang-dog look to his face. He was not happy to be going to lacrosse practice. He got it in his head practice would be cancelled. It was my fault. I put the thought in his head and he hung onto it with all his might. I pull up to the practice field and see a smattering of kids circling around their cars. Lucas has a glimmer of hope. Lucas' hope was maybe Coach called off practice from the warmth of his car. We pull up beside Coach's car, with Lucas' expectant grin on his face...expecting to stay put in the warm car.

Lucas' hopes were dashed when Coach said their practice would be shorter but they would still practice. I felt, more than heard, the inward groan Lucas gave. He didn't want to leave the warm car. I didn't want him to leave the warm car. I wanted him to stay dry, warm and healthy but Stan said "If you want to play in the games, you have to go to the practice." I know he has to go to practice but the Mama in me wanted to keep him comfortable and not let him experience the discomfort of being cold and miserable. I told him I loved him and nudged him out of the warmth of the car and into the cold rain.

I went back to pick him up after practice and Lucas was as I expected. He was cold and wet. The hair on his arms stood straight up and his hands were like icicles. He stripped off his gear and sunk down in the warmth of the seat heater and the 85 degree temperature inside the car. I decided to set the car temperature on "incubating chicken" so it was balmy in the car. I was so happy to pick Lucas up and get him warm. The mama in me doesn't like cold, wet miserable kids.

I know kids have to experience some discomfort in life but it doesn't mean I have to like it. The car will stay warm and dry so they can find some comfort after being out in the real world. Mamas aren't supposed to be the real world. We are supposed to be the warmth and comfort in life. Oh for the love of my children....

Laundry

Monday's are supposed to be laundry day. Monday came and went without a hint of laundry going through the washing machine. This week I have put off the inevitable. I have at least six loads that need to be run through, not counting towels. I got started today but there is no way I will finish it. I have found other things this week I would rather do because I have this love/hate relationship with laundry.

I absolutely loathe sorting clothes so to solve that problem I have a three basket laundry sorter. Whites, mediums and darks are all have their own bin. Seems pretty straightforward to me, darks in one bin, mediums in the next and whites in the next but having the laundry actually make it into the proper bins seems to be a bit out of reach for everyone in my family. I don't know why, but every laundry day I find darks in the whites bin...not so good when you find a red t-shirt has been run through a load of whites. Every Monday I have to sort through each bin to take out what doesn't belong. Doesn't sound like a big deal, but it drives me batty because I am supposed to have a built in laundry sorter.

Socks are the death of me. I can not stand matching socks. Can't stand it, can't stand it, can't stand it! So, to solve this little problem I bought everyone a lingerie bag to put their socks in when they are dirty. On laundry day the sock bags are supposed to be zipped up and put in the (proper) laundry bin. One kid can't find their bag so they just throw all of their socks right in the hamper, scattering matches all through the laundry. Another of the kids didn't zip their bag shut so their socks go skittering, willy-nilly through the washing machine. After the load has been run through I open the door to transfer everything to dryer when lo and behold socks come FLYING out of the washing machine landing everywhere but in the dryer. Don't even get me started on how the socks attack after going through the dryer! I hate sorting socks so much when they come out of the dryer on the outside of their sock bag and are all unmatched they get uncerimoniously dumped in a laundry basket. It is where they stay until the kids need a pair of socks and have to go digging for them because I refuse to match the socks together. I hate socks.

The one thing I love about laundry is folding it. When one load finishes drying I take each piece out of the dryer, snap it to get the wrinkles out and then I lay each piece of laundry on the counter beside the washing machine. I make a nice flat pile of laundry and then when I have four loads or so laying flat I will take it all upstairs to our room, turn on "It's Me or the Dog," or "Animal Cops" and fold laundry. It is a little piece of "downtime" when I am actually accomplishing something. Folding laundry is just so mindless.

Love it or hate it, laundry is a fact of life when you have kids. Ah, for the love of my children...

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Exchanging - Part 2

I think takes a very brave soul to be an exchange student. These very young adults come from all over the world, leaving behind everything they know. They come into a stranger's home, speaking a foreign language, knowing no one and full of hope for great things from their stay with their host families. I can't imagine the fear they have to overcome to leave their homes and families behind. These students are brave beyond their years.

Most of the students never have to realize how brave they are. They are reeled into their host family, hook, line and sinker. A small minority, though, has to tap a reserve of strength I am not sure they even knew they had. A small minority of exchange students are kept on the outside of their families looking in. They are not embraced from the beginning. They are left to find their own way in the United States, with no safety net. Their bravery is put to the test.

When we volunteered to be a host family for a year, we volunteered to be Jan's parents for the year. To me, volunteering to be his host mom meant treating Jan like one of my own kiddos. All of us in this program volunteered to be host families and host parents ~ VOLUNTEERED. Not one signle family was forced to host their exchange student. Yet there are host students in our area who are suffering through the year with families who make them feel they are a burden to the family. These are families who count every mile they drive their student. They count every penny they spend feeding their student. I don't count every mile or every penny with my own kids, (I would go insane!) why would I do it with Jan? There are host students who suffer through the year in host families filled personality conflicts which are left unresolved. These are families who who leave their students on the outside of their family looking in. The students who are treated as a burden and who are left on their own because the parents don't want to work through conflicts break my heart. These kids come into a host family's home looking for an opportunity of a lifetime, instead they are treated to a crash course in bravery and courage. These students may not be our own flesh and blood kids but they are still just kids. They deserved to be treated with as much love, tolerance and respect as we treat our own kids.

I am not saying Stan and I are perfect or we have done everything right this year. It has been hard work and sometimes I screwed up. Sometimes I was cranky and irritable at the thought of having to drive one more kid one more place, having to sign one more set of papers or do one more load of laundry. There were times I snapped at all of the kids because chores weren't done, homework was put off until the last minute or they were running so far behind in the morning it caused them to miss the bus. I certainly haven't been perfect, but in every one of these situations I tried to put myself on the other side. What if one of my kids wanted to be an exchange student? How would I want my child to be treated in another family? Would I want my child to be treated like a burden or would I want my child to be treated with love and respect? I will continue to screw up and get irritated, I am sure, but I will also try very hard to continue to work as a family to solve any conflicts. It is what families do, they work together to solve problems.

As parents, we don't get to choose who our children are. We don't get to choose their eye color, hair color or personality. As parents, though, we do get shape our kids and help mold them into who they are. We may not always like what they do but we love who they are and we love them ~ most of the time. When we signed up to be a host family, we got to choose a little bit. We were able to read Jan's profile and talk with him on Skype but we didn't KNOW him. We weren't the ones who shaped and help mold him so we knew there could be times where we wouldn't like what he did or how he behaved, just like one of our own kids, but we made the choice to bring him into our home. We made the choice to treat him like one of our own kids. We chose, from the very beginning, to work through any issues in our year with Jan ~ that is what you do in a family. You make it work and you work it out. As parents, we chose to bring our kids into the world and we chose to bring Jan into our home so we love them ~ most of the time.

Oh, for the love of our very brave exchange student...

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Exchanging - Part 1

As I have talked about in blogs past our family has had the honor of hosting an exchange student for this school year. Jan (pronounced Yahn) is a terrific young man from the Czech Republic and we are truly blessed to have him, and his family, as new additions to our family. This year has provided our family with a rich and rewarding experience. I think Jan feels the same way.

This past week we recieved and email from our local area exchange coordinator for the exchange program Jan used. Becky wrote all of the families who are hosting exchange students in our area thanking us for opening our hearts and homes to our students. The letter served as reminder to me our time with Jan is quickly coming to an end. Becky included reminders about making travel plans and finishing up the year on a wonderful note. As I read her letter I felt a lump in my throat and my eyes fill with tears. I can not believe this year has gone so quickly. Jan is here until July but if the previous part of the year is any indicator his departure will be here in the blink of an eye. When he leaves, Jan will cease to be an exchange student and will go back to his life in the Czech Republic. He will head home to his family and friends but he will always be part of our family.

Reading Becky's email made me reflect a little on how we became involved with hosting an exchange student. Jan's profile was given to me by Becky and she asked me to post it on the boys' hockey website. She was looking for a home for Jan for the year. He was a kid who enjoyed hockey so Becky felt good about trying to put him with a family from our hockey community. I read and reread his profile. He seemed like a great kid who wanted to experience life in the United States. I thought about long and hard about what kind of an impact hosting an exchange student would have on our already busy lives. We have three busy, busy kids. How on earth would we fit in one more? At this point, the odds were against hosting an student but the idea was something I needed to explore with the rest of the family.

We never sat down ahead of time and talked about hosting an exchange student but when the opportunity presented itself it seemed to be a natural fit, although, I did have concerns. One of my biggest concerns was I didn't think Claire would go for it ~ add another brother? She is already outnumbered and outsized. Claire was the first one I asked and her response was the most enthusiastic yes. She was excited at the thought of bringing in someone from another country and learning about another culture. She was not the least bit concerned about adding another brother. My next stop was Zach. He can be a bit fussy and particular. He likes being top dog. How would he react to having his top dog status being usurped? His initial answer was no so I let it go. I didn't ask Stan or Lucas. I couldn't have one person against the idea. We all had to in favor of hosting an exchange student or it wouldn't work. I asked him to think about it but I didn't hold out much hope. He came to me later that night and asked if I talked to Lucas or Dad. I told him I let it go because of his reservations. He changed his mind, he said. He thought it would be cool. Stan was on board from the minute it was brought up and I knew Lucas, with his easy going manner, would be excited as well. My only remaining concern was the thought of adding another kiddo to our house but we would make it work.

I called Becky and told her I wouldn't be putting Jan's profile on the website. We wanted to host him, I told her. We started the application process. It was lengthy and detailed. We had to write a letter introducing ourselves and explaining why we wanted to be a host family. I put much time and consideration into what I wrote in that letter because I wanted Jan's family to know he would be treated like one of our own kids the moment he came into our lives. It must be an extremely disconcerting feeling to send your teenage child off to another country to live with another family and not have much control over where your child is placed. I wanted to reassure his family. I knew what I would want for my kids if our roles were reversed. I would want and need reassurance which is why I worked so hard on our application letter. Finally, our application was done, submitted and approved. The process moved quickly. It was official, Jan was coming to live with us in August and he would stay for the 2010-2011 school year.

I felt like an expectant parent. August 12 was the "due" date for Jan's arrival. We made all the necessary preparations. His room stood empty and ready. We were all excited. Finally, his arrival day was here with one small glitch. His flight from JFK to Richmond was cancelled. I checked and rechecked the arrival time of his flight. Everything seemed to running smoothly until my last check and I saw the word "CANCELLED" next to his flight number. My heart skipped a beat not only for me but for Jan and his parents as well. I had no idea what to do. Jan's cell phone from the Czech Republic died on one of his voyages in New York and I had no way of contacting him. Jan was 17 years old, alone in New York City with no way to contact us or his parents. His flight is cancelled. It was not a good situation. Jan's parents had to be worried sick. I know I would have been. I called Becky to find out what to do and then my phone rang. It was the Czech Republic calling here. Jan's dad was on the phone as concerned as I knew he would be but all was well. By this time we already knew Jan was being rerouted through Atlanta and would be arriving at midnight. We all loaded into the car at 11:30 and went to pick up Jan. He was here and he was part of our family from the minute he walked into the hugs waiting for him as he came off of the plane.

Hosting Jan has been one of the best decisions we made as a family. Our lives are much richer and more complete having gone through this experience together. I can't imagine not having Jan in our lives. We had a great experience having him here. There have been ups and downs, as should be expected but the overall experience is one to treasure. I don't know what our house will be like when Jan goes home but I can't think about it right now. I have to focus on the present so our time doesn't slip away. Oh, for the love of all of our children...

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Peter's Mom

We went to Lucas' lacrosse game this morning and I was treated to cold temperatures, wind, and Peter's Mom. Top it all off with an over time loss and it turned into a not so good morning in my book. Spring sports are interesting, in and of themselves, because of the fickleness of the weather. Throw in whack-job parents and it wratchets it up to a whole new level.

I am all for cheering on your kid and the team but no one should ever be subjected to Peter's mom (or grandma for that matter). Stan and I were sitting down in our chairs minding our own business, watching the game. Peter's mom was standing directly behind us. Her voice was loud, shrieky and shrill. "GOOOOO Peter! GET INNNNNNN THERE PETER!! GET - THE - BALL PETER!!!! GOOOOOOOOOOO PETER!! RUN PETER!!!" Every time she yelled it sent jolts of electricity rippling through every nerve ending in my body. It was like fingernails on a chalkboard. Her mom's (Peter's grandma's) voice was even worse. Her mom was right beside her and yelled just as loud but her voice had the added "benefit" of being raspy on top of being loud, shrieky and shrill. At one point the grandma said to the mom "You are SO loud. You get that from your father." It took everything I had in me not to whip around and say "BOTH of you are obnoxiously loud." Claire whispered to me at one point during the game "Mom, I thought you were loud at hockey games. She is SO much louder than you!" I love to cheer for the kids' teams but I stick to "GO ROYALS, GO WARRIORS or GO WILDCATS!"

I don't think I should know about one kid on the opposing team, especially one who wasn't a particularly good player. I have to wonder if the mom's excessive cheering was compensation for his lack of skills. The sad thing is Peter probably gets a lot of grief from his team mates not because of his lack of skills but because of his mom.

I do love to cheer and yell and get loud but I prefer to cheer on the entire team. I cheer on everyone for a few reasons. The first reason is because I believe it is better sportsmanship to cheer for everyone rather than single out one player (Unless they just scored a goal or made some other amazing play ~ then you have every reason and right to yell for that kid.) It is a team effort, not just the effort of one individual out there, to win or lose a game. All kids deserve to hear their team being cheered for and cheered on. The second reason is because my kids screw up and when they screw up they don't need to have their names dragged through the mud by me. When Peter screwed up I noticed it much more than I would had his mom not been shrieking shrilly throughout the game. Maybe his mom's shriek made me think he was a worse player than he was. Another reason I prefer to cheer the whole team on is because the kids can't hear me cheering for them why waste my breath screaming their names? I would rather waste my breath on the entire team.

I left the cold, windy field quickly after the game ended. I was freezing. My eyes were battered from the wind and I had a massive headache from listening to Peter's mom scream in my ear the whole game. I wanted to shake the crap out Peter's mom as I left the field. I wanted to put my hands on her shoulders and just shake her until her teeth rattled but I didn't do it for the love of my children...

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Driving Like Squirrels

The other day, as we were out and about doing a multitude of dump kids at one practice and run to the next one, Jan made an observation about roadkill ~ specifically squirrels. I think we must have seen at least three squirrels squashed in the road. It was not a pretty sight. Jan felt pity for the little critters. I told him it's spring and squirrels go a little crazy in the spring. It's the height of mating season and they are running around like a squirrel on speed. They are crazy squirrels.

On all of my daily journeys lately I have noticed it is not only squirrels who are taking crazy risks and acting like maniacs, people are too. There must be some crazy pheromone in the air causing not only squirrels to act like idiots but people too.

Squirrels amuse me. They dart forward, backward and side to side. Their little tails flick around as they fly around the ground and then up a tree, across a branch and back down another tree. Squirrels seem to flit everywhere, including when they are trying to cross the street. They start to cross the street only to feel the rumble of a car coming around the corner and they stop dead in their tracks. They start to flit back to the side of the road, change their minds and turn around to flit the other way. The tail twitches and the direction is changed again. ~ no wonder they are road kill, poor decision making skills. A squirrel who is trying to cross the street seems to have little regard for the danger lurking, unfortunately, because they are cute little buggers who amuse me to no end.

People driving like squirrels does not amuse me. Being around people who drive like squirrels sets my teeth on edge and makes my nerves raw. I think I might need new brakes after yesterday (and maybe some type of anti-anxiety meds). In two different instances yesterday the car in front of me slammed on their brakes causing me to do the same. Reactions were swift, brakes applied, tissue boxes flew and foul language shot out of my mouth. It was not a good scene, but luckily the TRVLN ZU and I escaped unscathed. Not five minutes later, I was driving 55 (the speed limit) on a four lane "highway" when a car pulls out right in front of me, again causing me to slam on the brakes. The woman behind the wheel of the car was on her cell phone, chatting away and not paying a bit of attention to the flow of traffic or what was going on around her. She had no idea of the danger lurking. Dumb squirrel!

Drivers are so bad right now I am dreaming about them. Last night I had a dream I was driving and the person in front of me slammed on their brakes, hard. I quickly glanced into my rearview mirror, saw a tiny opening in traffic to my left and "shot the hole" narrowly missing hitting the car who slammed on their brakes. My blood was pumping, adrenaline was flowing through my veins in my sleep and I woke up with a jolt. Dreams like these aren't good for a restful sleep. I felt like Mario Andretti. I am using these bad drivers as teaching points for the kids...minus my foul language, of course. Point one, be attentive to your surroundings. Point two, no texting and driving. Point three, drive defensively, not aggressively. Point four, don't drive like a squirrel.

I wish people would stop driving like squirrels for the love of everyone...

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Season's Change...

The season is changing outside. The ground is thawing. Trees are budding. Flowers are blooming and it is gorgeous. I love the changeover from winter to spring but I hate the changeover of sporting seasons. Everything is topsy turvy right now. Up 'til now the evening's schedule was set. I had everything under control. I knew exactly who had to be where and at what time. Now, I have to hand write a new schedule every day. Now, the schedule is in flux and the changes may be the end of me.

I am a very schedule oriented person. I love having a schedule and I don't like the schedule to change. When the kids were little, their lives revolved around their schedule and it didn't vary from day to day. They woke up at the same time, had breakfast, lunch and dinner at the same time, and went to bed at the same time every day. They did well on their schedules and when it varied there was hell to pay. I kept them locked in their schedules, even during the summer. They went to be at 7:30 every night. I think Zach was 10 before he saw a firefly...pretty pathetic, I know. Our friends were shocked our kids were in bed when it was still light out but I had to keep them to the schedule. On those rare occasions where they were allowed to stay up late they would still get up at 6 o'clock and then they were beyond grumpy all day so it just wasn't worth it. It was easier to stick with the schedule. I still like to stick with my schedule.

I need to be more flexible, especially right now when the kids' sporting activities all revolve around weather. Jan, Zach and Lucas all require rain-free conditions to get their matches or games played. God love Mother Nature during the spring sporting season. She wreaks havoc on my schedule. I would love to have a nice little chat with Mother Nature sometime and ask her to ease up a bit when there are games to be played. Think she would go for it if I ask her nicely? Maybe a better answer would be for me to lighten up a little bit on needing a ridgid schedule.

I know all of these scheduling conflicts will all be a thing of the past much sooner than I want and this time in my life will be a precious memory. I blinked once and the kids all grew out of babyhood and toddlerhood. They graduated into little kids, then big kids and now bigger kids. I love the ages of my kids right now. Spending my days being grumpy becasue my schedule is out of whack would be a waste precious time with my kids so I will work harder to be more flexible and make sure to enjoy the season's change for the love of my children...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Big Green Egg Experience

Stan's birthday was a couple of weeks ago and he is FINALLY getting his present. Yesterday we went to a restaurant supply store which looked like it had been there since the beginning of time. Eccentric and eclectic are the words I would use to describe the store. In the front window of the store were two very old, very heavy cast iron stoves, relics of an era gone by. Merchandise was strewn over every available surface, with no seeming rhyme or reason. From the outside, I had the impression of complete chaos. As I walked the first thing I noticed was the stench of stale cigarette smoke and the next thing I noticed were the people. The people gave the store an ambiance of lived in comfort. One small Asian man was darting from place to place in the store finding what he needed with seeming ease. There was the restaurant booth full of the regulars. One man sat smoking a cigarrette ~ the source of the stench of stale smoke. (I thought smoking inside buildings was banned in Virginia but evidently there are loopholes.) There were the old timers, the ones who looked like they had been there since the beginning of the store, many moons ago. They all gave the air of being at complete ease among the chaos of the store. They knew the workings of the store. They all looked like they had stories to tell but we weren't there to listen to stories. We were there to get Stan's present.

At the back of the store behind racks and racks of disorganized merchandise stood The Big Green Egg and it is what brought us to this store. It is part smoker, part grill and part baker. It looks like a big green egg. It is cast iron coated with ceramic, I think. I really have no idea what it is. I just know Stan has been admiring it for a while and he asked for it for his birthday. Today The Big Green Egg comes home.

Tonight we are going to break it in with some grilled chicken and shrimp. I will top them with a pancetta and chimichurri sauce I saw Giada make the other day on Food TV. We will make a big salad and maybe some quinoa. I am looking forward to dinner and seeing Stan cook on his Big Green Egg. Both Stan and I love, love, love to cook good food. Stan loves to cook meat over fire. The kids love, love, love to eat good food and meat cooked over fire so this should be perfect.

The kids are almost as excited as Stan. Zach went through the catalog last night looking at other accessories to add. In our house family dinners are prized. Sitting down together over a fabulous meal is a treat we all enjoy. It is a time when we get to sit back and enjoy some much needed nourishment, not just food but nourishment of each other by talking, listening and sharing our stories. The Big Green Egg is coming home. We will put it to good use for the love of our children...

By the way~dinner was FABULOUS!!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Grades

I am not sure there anything more frustrating than seeing your kids grades at times. What drives me crazy is the inconsistency. I look down rows and rows of grades and see great grades and then BOOM two or three homework assignments not turned in! I understand when they struggle with concepts. I understand bad grades when they have studied hard but the material was too far out of reach. I understand when they TRY! But when I see carelessness, lack of effort and forgetting to hand in assignments it drives me crazy. I was not always the most conscientious of students which is what drives me to push my kids a little harder. I want my kids to be conscientious. I want them to care. I want to be less frustrated.

Like parents everywhere I am learning this as I go. I see similarities in how Lucas is handling 6th grade and how Zach handled 6th grade. When Zach just started 7th grade I paid a visit to his school counselor and asked her if he was just a 13 year old boy or was it something more. He was so scattered and forgetful. It drove me crazy. Lucas is doing the exact same things Zach did when he was in 6th grade. He is so stinking scattered and forgetful but now I know it is just 13 year old boy. Zach and Lucas are both in transition years this year so I am hit with a double whammy. Going from elementary school to middle school and middle school to high school has been quite a year. Stan and I recently had a conference with Zach's English teacher, Mrs. Skinner, and she assured us Zach is a typical freshman boy. He wants to be too cool for all of his friends so the he goofs around a little too much in English class and when he gets a C he and his buddies compare which one got the lowest C. I figured that was the case since this seems to be a repeat of his transition year from 5th to 6th grade but it's nice to hear it from the experts. Mrs. Skinner aslo told us a light build seems to go off in these goofy boys toward the end of 9th grade. Thankfully, it is happening now. It took a lot longer for the lightbulb to go off for Zach in middle school and I see the similarties in Lucas. These will be different issues when Claire gets to middle school but I am learning as I go. Luckily, I feel a bit more armed with knowledge and a bit more patient in my approach.

I will continue to be driven crazy by two goofy boys. I will stay on top of them when they screw up and encourage them to get extra help when the don't grasp a concept. I will be here for them, pushing them just a little harder each day to keep the grades up by turning in homework and studying for tests. I am happy to be their study partner when they need a little extra study session. I will be frustrated at times and exhilarated at others. I will keep learning as I go for the love of my children...

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Marathoning Continued

Blown Away! That is how I felt last night. I can not imagine how the kids who participated in the Marathon Dance felt. Last night at 7 I went back for my second round of "chaperoning." The kids were all contained in the gym so I was told to go enjoy myself and I did just that. The kids were on their second, third or fourth wind and they were energized! It was incredible to watch these young men and women finish out 27 hours of dancing with such enthusiasm and to hear their reaction as the total amount raised was announced at the end of the evening. We were all BLOWN AWAY!

Before the totals were announced the community was treated to many different acts which made me roar with laughter. The first act who performed was called "All the Single Ladies" and it was three seniors who danced to Beyonce's hit by the same name. It was a dead on parody of the original video, only performed by some very gutsy guys. God love 'em for performing, I know I did! The second act was the "Bieber Experience" and they were just as entertaining as the first group of guys. I loved the energy they exuded ~ especially after 26 hours of being at the dance. The whole gym then came alive for "Strut Your Stuff" and somehow I managed to find Zach during this. He was brimming with energy and danced his heart out. I loved watching every single kid out there. It was beyond anything I ever expected and the grin on my face stayed from ear to ear, watching these kids.

After most of the festivities came the stories from those who applied for, and were granted, portions of the money raised at the Marathon Dance. The kids sat, transfixed, as three of the charities told their stories. The young adults on the Marathon Dance committee did a fabulous job selecting these charities. We heard from a young woman who was paralyzed from the waist down in between her freshman and sophomore year in a jet ski accident. She is was working with the Gary Bertier foundation. He was the young man whose story was part of the movie "Remember the Titans" who was paralyzed in a car accident. His name is now linked with a spinal cord injury foundation and this young lady has benefitted from the funds raised through his foundation. There was the story of a brother and sister who have CF and were both graduates of our high school. They told how much the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation has benefitted them and many others in our community. This story touched me very deeply because on of my most favorite hockey families has a son with CF and finding a cure has been their passion since their son was diagnosed. The charities who were recipients were so grateful to be chosen to receive funds through the Marathon Dance.

The students who raised funds have every reason to be incredibly proud and blown away by their achievements. The 650 students who danced raised over $160,000!!! Way to go, WILDCATS! You exemplify philanthropy through your hard work and dedication to the dance! I couldn't be more proud to be associated with such a phenomenal group of young men and women! You all truly stepped up to the task presented to you and not only surpassed your last year's total you blew it out of the water. Congratulations on a job well done. I hope you slept well. You deserved a long rest after showing our community your compassion and love of others ~ it was evident in the enthusiasm and energy that carried you through 27 hours of Marathoning.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Marathoning

I dropped Zach off last night at his school's Marathon Dance. The dance last for 27 hours and is the brain child of one of the teacher's at Deep Run, Kathleen Kern. She and her husband work tirelessly with a committee of 40 kids to make this event go off without a hitch. Each of the dancers has to raise at least $100 to go toward local charities with most kids raising above the $100 minimum. This morning I had the pleasure of chaperoning 650 high school kids. I say pleasure with the utmost seriousness. The kids were tired but in good spirits. They were delightful, even Zach who was beyond exhausted but still able to communicate somewhat pleasantly with me.

These young adults amazed me this morning. They have been pushed and challenged more in the last 24 hours than most have probably ever known. I don't know about your kiddos but mine lead a pretty cush life. They are fortunate and they know it. They express appreciation often and we talk about those who are less fortunate but they have never been held to a physical challenge of this magnitude. I remember when my kids were little, I would go tuck them in at night and my heart would ache for those kids who didn't have a bed to sleep in or parents to read them bedtime stories and tuck them in. Lucas was admitted to the hospital when he was four for toxic synovitis (a scary sounding name of a rather mild virus in the synovial fluids) and I remember being in the children's hospital thinking about the other children whose diseases were not so mild. Kids who have diseases with treatment after treatment after treatment, or the kids who have no cure. These are the kids who are physically challenged from a young age. The kids who entered the dance became young adults in my eyes this morning. The money they are raising through their physical challenge is being put toward those charities aimed at helping people who won't be escaping their challenges when they walk out the doors of their school after finishing the Marathon Dance. I am proud of what these kids, turned young adults, are working toward. Last year they raised over $137,000. This year, after five years of Marathon Dancing, they will have raised over $500,000 for charities in our community. I am amazed.

I couldn't be happier Zach decided to participate in this event. I hope he continues to practice philanthropy. I hope he stays involved in the Marathon Dance for years to come. I hope each and every one of the young adults who danced for 27 hours to benefit others are completely blown away tonight when the fundraising total is announced. They deserve to be blown away. I am totally in awe of their chipper attitudes this morning. They have earned my respect and their compassion is evident. They are dancing ~ for the love of others...

Friday, March 18, 2011

Lucas the Generous

You know how down through history some people have gotten some pretty rotten words and iamges associated with their names, like Vlad the Impaler and Attila the Hun? Well, I'm hoping the words and images asscoiated with Lucas' name stick. He is the middle child so he already has the "peacemaker" title attached to his name. He is the one who will give up his choice of seat in the car to maintain peace. He is the one who will sacrifice a little to ensure there is not World War III in our house. Now, he earned a new title. Lucas has pulled two of the most generous acts out of his hat in the past week and I bursting with happiness.

Zach has been trying to raise money for his school marathon dance this upcoming weekend. The kids who are participating in the dance are each supposed to raise at least $100 to help fund various charities in our area. Zach is rather shy when it comes to soliciting people for money or goods so he sat on this task until it was time to put up or bow out of the dance ~ Lucas to the rescue. Lucas is not shy in almost any capacity so he went with him door to door in our neighborhood to help him feel a little more at ease and it worked because Zach came back feeling pretty good. After they got home, Lucas pulls out his last $6 and hands it to Zach. Lucas wanted to contribute money to Zach's efforts to raise money for the dance. I don't know why Lucas' actions affected me like it did, it was only $6, but I was blown away by his very simple act of generousity.

In the last couple of days Jan has been DYING to get his hands on the iPad 2 and has been stalking the Apple Store to find out when the next shipment will be in. He persistence paid off and he was finally successful in his quest. The kids didn't have school on Wednesday so the plan was to drop Jan off at the mall early to make sure he got a good spot in line. Lucas decided he wanted to go with Jan. I dropped both boys off. While they were standing in line they were approached by man who wanted to buy three iPads (the limit was two per person). He offered to pay Lucas $50 to "buy" the third iPad for him. To Lucas the offer was something out of a dream and he was beyond excited. He agreed to help this man out and pocketed $60 (the man didn't have any change so he gave Lucas three $20's). Lucas and Jan walked around the mall, with the money burning a hole in Lucas' pocket. They went to Game Stop and spent $3 on a game and then they went to the tea store, Teavana. Lucas knows how much I love tea so he parted with some of his winnings to buy me some of the world's most expensive tea. I almost keeled over when I found out how much he spent on tea for me but that is beside the point ~ he was a complete sweetheart! He made out like a bandit at the Apple Store, to be sure, but to think of me and my love of tea makes him a pretty cool kid in my book!

I will have to teach to Lucas to be careful of those who want to take advantage of his generosity but I will have to tread lightly. I don't want to crush his generous spirit. I want to make him aware ~ a little. I hope he keeps this title attached to his name. He deserves it. I hope I can teach him well. I HAVE to teach him well because of my love for Lucas the Generous...

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Saying No...

...and why we don't. I don't mean saying no to our kids. I know for a fact I say NO about 200 times a day. I mean why we don't say no to taking on so much. As I was dropping Lucas off at his hockey practice one of my dad friends was talking about how he took on a responsibility he really wasn't expecting. Another dad friend said "That's because you can't say no." (I learned tonight that not being able to say no is not limited to mamas. Some dads, evidently, have a hard time saying no too.) This little exchange got me to thinking more and more about why we don't say no.

As a parent today I realize the need for other parents. I feel when I say no I run the risk of alienating others. I don't keep a running tally in my head of who did what for whom but I definitely remember those who help me out. I had a friend many years back who would always ask me to do watch her kids but would never reciprocate. It got to the point where I didn't want to help her out because I felt used. I had three little kids who went everywhere with me. I can take my kids everywhere, I thought, why can't she? I had a very hard time asking for help when the kids were little. I think some of my fear of asking for help was because of my friend who always asked for help. Now, things are much different. I couldn't survive a night without some kind of helping hand. I try hard to say yes as much as possible to my friends because I know it won't be long before I will have to ask for some help. When we as mamas and dads say yes to a friend's request it is like the Visa commerical where everyone is skipping joyfully through the line conveniently paying with their card. When the person with cash comes through everything comes to a screeching halt and chaos ensues. It's a similar scene in the parenting world. When we ask for a favor, return a favor and have another favor granted the world is good and life goes along smoothly. When we ask a favor and it is denied chaos can erupt because it interrupts the favor giving cycle. I can't run the risk of alienating anyone or my kids would be out of their sports and activities.

I will continue to push myself to not say no. I am sure I will cross the line and take on way too much in order to ensure the favor giving cycle continues uninterrupted. I will do it for the love of my children...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Ahhhhh, Teenagers

I guess I was one at one time. I am sure I was just as much of a pain in the ah, rear as my own teenager is. I know I shouldn't complain. He is, for the most part, a great kid. He doesn't give us too much trouble, is generally respectful and polite and he is a total sweetheart. Thank goodness for all of those attributes because he can be maddening sometimes!

Zach has lacrosse practice everyday after school. Yesterday he called me before practice and told me practice was going to end at 5:30 instead of 6:30. He asked if he could go to Cheeburger, Cheeburger after practice. I told him it was fine. He asked if I could bring him money... In between all of my daily racing from one practice to another I found time to stop by his practice, find his gear and stuff $20 in his pocket. I then put the pedal to metal and raced off to another kid pickup. I got dinner in the oven for the rest of the family and sent Stan off to pick up Lucas. At 6:30 I text Zach to let him know I am on my way to pick him up. I figure an hour to eat at Cheeburger, Cheeburger is MORE than sufficient. Zach texts me back after 10 minutes and as I am on my way to pick him up. "We just sat down," he says. REALLY? He couldn't call or text to let me know? As the story comes out, via text, Zach tells me practice ended at its normal time of 6:30. So instead of calling to let me know he was an hour later than what he originally told me, he and his buddies walked to the restaurant.

No phone call, no text telling me of the time or plan change, just a secure knowledge I will be at his beck and call and I was. Stan told me I should have said "Too bad, let's go!" I am the weaker parent. I let Zach stay and have dinner but I gave him an earful when he got in the car. The teenage mind is ALWAYS thinking, working, plotting and planning ~ this became extremely evident last night. "I FORGOT to call. I'm sorry," he says. This is what he said but what he REALLY meant was "I knew if I didn't call and tell you the time change I would still get to go out to dinner with my friends." What a devious little mind you have, Zach. I am on to your game! It won't happen again. I assure you...

Luckily for me (and Zach) he really is a great kid, most of the time, otherwise one of us would be at Fork Union Military Academy and I'll give you a hint, it wouldn't be me! I will continue to love the heck out of my teenager but I think I will have to change the rules of his little games. I will do it for the love of my teenager...

Ahhhhh, Teenagers

I guess I was one at one time. I am sure I was just as much of a pain in the ah, rear as my own teenager is. I know I shouldn't complain. He is, for the most part, a great kid. He doesn't give us too much trouble, is generally respectful and polite and he is a total sweetheart. Thank goodness for all of those attributes because he can be maddening sometimes!

Zach has lacrosse practice everyday after school. Yesterday he called me before practice and told me practice was going to end at 5:30 instead of 6:30. He asked if he could go to Cheeburger, Cheeburger after practice. I told him it was fine. He asked if I could bring him money... In between all of my daily racing from one practice to another I found time to stop by his practice, find his gear and stuff $20 in his pocket. I then put the pedal to metal and raced off to another kid pickup. I got dinner in the oven for the rest of the family and sent Stan off to pick up Lucas. At 6:30 I text Zach to let him know I am on my way to pick him up. I figure an hour to eat at Cheeburger, Cheeburger is MORE than sufficient. Zach texts me back after 10 minutes and as I am on my way to pick him up. "We just sat down," he says. REALLY? He couldn't call or text to let me know? As the story comes out, via text, Zach tells me practice ended at its normal time of 6:30. So they walked to the restaurant at 6:30.

No phone call, no text telling me of the time or plan change, just a secure knowledge I will be at his beck and call and I was. Stan told me I should have said "Too bad, let's go!" I am the weak parent. I let Zach stay and have dinner but I gave him an earful when he got in the car. The teenage mind is ALWAYS thinking, working, plotting and planning ~ this became extremely evident last night. "I FORGOT to call. I'm sorry," he says. This is what he said but what he REALLY meant was "I knew if I didn't call and tell you the time change I would still get to go out to dinner with my friends." What a devious little mind you have, Zach. I am on to your game! It won't happen again. I assure you...

Luckily for me (and Zach) he really is a great kid, most of the time, otherwise one of us would be at Fork Union Military Academy and I'll give you a hint, it wouldn't be me! I will continue to love the heck out of my teenager but I think I will have to change the rules of his little games. I will do it for the love of my teenager...

Monday, March 14, 2011

Loneliness

I was at Lucas' middle school today and I saw a couple I haven't seen in a while. They moved to Richmond about three years ago and when they first moved in I was excited for them and for us. They have two boys who are the same ages as my boys and they have an adopted daughter. I was looking forward to getting to know the family. I thought I saw a lot of similarities between us. My feelings changed as I saw the behavior of the son who is Lucas' age ~ I will call him "Kevin". "Kevin's" behavior from the beginning was a little off and it soon alienated the family from the rest of the neighborhood.

Lucas tried hard to befriend "Kevin" but it was an impossible task. He is an emotionally imbalanced child. The last time Lucas was at his house "Kevin" whipped his brother with a cord to the X-Box because he wanted to play with it and his brother wouldn't let him. The parents stepped in to stop his behavior and sent Lucas home. As Lucas was trying to leave "Kevin" took Lucas' bike and threw it into his mom's car. He was in a rage. Lucas came home, wide eyed and terrified. He had never witnessed behavior like that before. I grilled him to make sure he didn't do anything to provoke this behavior. He swore he hadn't. I believed Lucas because I have seen this child act out at our neighborhood parties. His nickname in our house was "Crazy Kevin" before this happened, afterward the nickname ceased to be a nickname and became how we felt about him. He is disturbed and, I think, a little crazy. That was the last time Lucas tried to be friends with "Kevin."

"Kevin" finished out elementary school in and out of the principal's office. He was kicked off of the bus and his behavior was talked about extensively between the kids, parents and teachers. "Kevin" is uncontrollable. The last time Lucas left "Kevin's" house he had the courage to ask "Kevin's" parents why he acts this way. The parents told Lucas "Kevin's" medication makes him act crazy. Lucas, with all of the innocence of a child asked, "If it makes him crazy why would you give him that medicine?" I am not sure there is any right answer for Lucas' question. I have never walked a mile in their shoes so I have no idea what demons they are battling with "Kevin" and his medication but the demons must be pretty large because I believe "Kevin" has gone on to inflict the middle school with the same behavior he exhibited in elementary school.

The parents were sitting, waiting in the office as I was dropping a pie off for Lucas at school today. The mom didn't want me to see her sitting there. She put her head down and put her hair in front of her face. I have thought many times in the past years how horrible it must be to raise a child no one wants to befriend and is completely out of control. But today when I saw her put her hair over her face to hide from me, my heart ached for her a little. I can not imagine the extreme loneliness she must feel. They moved to Richmond and her son's behavior cut her off from any hope of finding friends in our neighborhood. My feelings are conflicted. I know she must be in her own private Hell but at the same time I feel I need to protect my children. The behavior "Kevin" exhibits is beyond all comprehension. So what do you do when you know in your heart someone is lonely and hurting but also know the risks associated with that person? How do you reconcile those feelings? Compassion versuses protection. Seeing them in the office made me realize I am at a complete loss.

I don't know what the answer is. I don't know if there is a good answer. Lucas and I talk about "Kevin" and how his behavior is out of the realm of normalcy but we also talk about making sure to never be cruel to him. I tell him to stay away and that is where Lucas wants to be ~ away. But is that cruel, to teach your children to stay away from those who present risks? Again, I don't know what the answer is. I will keep their family in my prayers, always, but the love of my children leads me to protect them.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Lucas and the Catholics

God love Lucas. He is a trip, that kid! As we were doing some errands today Lucas and I got to talking about religion, of all things. He told me he looks like a Catholic boy. I said "What exactly does a Cathoic boy look like?" He said a Catholic boy looks like him, of course, DUH! I never really thought about Lucas looking like a Catholic boy.

Before I could stop myself I went for the Catholic jugular. "How exactly can you look like a Catholic boy? You eat meat on Ash Wednesday and Friday. You haven't given up a thing for lent. How exactly does that work, you thinking you look like a Catholic but not participating in Lent?" I asked. Oooooof, gotcha! He had no real answer, just a weak, little "Oh, yeah." Going back to the Catholic guilt, baby ~ I think I just sloughed some off on him. He says he will TRY not to eat meat on Fridays. The good old college try, I can accept that. He also says he will give up cussing for Lent. I didn't really think Lucas cussed but if he thinks "fricking" is a cuss word I am A-OK with that! With Lucas, it's baby steps to get where he needs to be. These are baby steps on the road to full blown Catholic guilt!

I will continue on my quest to instill some Catholic guilt, especially in my little blond boy who thinks he looks like a Catholic boy. I will do it for the love of Lucas and the Catholics...

Bullies

Our brilliant, beautiful, talented daughter has become the victim of bullying. She is extremely tall and her height is what the bullies targeted. Usually, bullying is girl to girl or boy to boy. This instance crossed the gender line. Two boys picked on Claire. I could have cheerfully wrung their necks while I sat here with Claire sobbing into my shoulder. It is the dread of most parents, bullying.

Luckily, for me, Claire was able to talk to me about it. I am thankful she came to me. She and I were able to work through her feelings a little. I gave her the words to defend herself. I told her to use "I" statements. "I don't like it when you call me that." "I want you to stop." Claire was going to have to find the courage to be able to say the words but she never had to because Mama Bear in me came out and I went to school. The day after Claire told me she was being bullied the school called me and said Claire was in the clinic with a stomachache. This Mama Bear thought the worst. I thought she was faking a stomachache because she was upset. So I went to school. I talked to the school nurse who was upset to think Claire didn't tell her about the bullying. I talked to the counselor and I talked to Claire's teacher. Have I told you how much I love Elemetary School lately? Because I do. I love her school. I love all of the fabulous people who refuse to allow bullying in their school. They have to know about it in order to stop it, when they know about - WATCH OUT! It will end and it will end immediately! Claire's teacher has ZERO tolerance for bullying. It will stop and I will stay on top of it to make sure it is stopped.

As I was talking to my friend, Julie, about all of this she told me about the Dateline Special last week dealing with bullying. It was called "My Kid Would Never Bully." I started watching it alone but soon got Lucas and Claire together with me to watch it. It was exactly what I needed! It was perfect. If you haven't watched it, you should. It showed how kids react in situations where there is bullying; what they did to stop it and what they didn't do. The experts on the show gave great advice on how to handle bullying and told the kids it just takes one kid to step in. I watched in amazement as one kid stepped in to help stop the bullying and others followed. One kid, just one, can help stop bullying. Claire was able to hear to the exact words I gave her put to use. This was extremely timely for Lucas as well because he just finished a video project on bullying. He and two of his friends shot a video at school. In the video, one of the boys walked up to the other boy and knocked the papers he was carrying out of his hands. Lucas steps out, picks up the papers, hands them back to the boy. He then walks toward the camera and says "Courage." It takes a lot of courage to stand up to bullies.

Hopefully, some of what the kids watched stays with them as they go through the bullying years. Hopefully, they will continue to come to me when bullying occurs. Hopefully, if they see bullying they will step in and help. Hopefully, they are never the bully themselves. I will continue to give them the tools to deal with bullying as it comes their way. I will do it for the love of my children.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Catholic Guilt

My kids don't have any...well, not much anyway. This became abundantly clear to me yesterday. It was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the most solemn time in the Catholic church. It is supposed to be a day of fasting, abstinence and spiritual reflection. There was not too much of any of those things going on in this house. Of all three kids, Zach has the most Catholic guilt ~ probably from the three years he spent in Catholic school. He was not very happy with himself yesterday after he ate meat ON Ash Wednesday. Claire has a little too. She at least feels giving something up for lent is the right and proper thing to do so she is giving up meat. We'll see how it goes. Lucas has zero Catholic guilt and I do mean ZERO. He ate meat yesterday, didn't feel remotely remorseful and he's not thinking about giving anything up for Lent. I guess Stan and I aren't teaching them very well. He and have boatloads of Catholic guilt we have failed to pass on.

I really can't believe, of all of the things we have passed on to our kids, Catholic guilt isn't one. It doesn't even register on their guilt-o-meters! Like I said, I have boatloads of it. Whenever I do something really wrong, the good ol' Catholic guilt pops into my head and I KNOW I am going to Hell! I know if stray off the path just a little I will pay the next day. I think to myself, "God is punishing me for...(whatever the infraction was)" Repent! Repent! Repent! It's like having a nuclear reactor warning system in my head. I apologize to God like crazy, "PLEASE, forgive me!" I beg. I guess Catholic guilt is kinda like Karma only scarier to me. Venial sins, Mortal sins those terms equal SCARY! At least we have gotten away from carrying scapulars, which, I guess, were believed to have privileges and indulgences attached to them. Thank heavens for small favors but I think my kids do NEED a little Catholic guilt to keep them on the straight and narrow. The question becomes how the heck to I impart this guilt into my kids?

Yesterday as my friend, Julie, and I were sitting in Mass at the Ash Wednesday service we were talking about what our kids were going to give up. Her daughter, Emma, is a trip. She and Claire were riding home from swim practice talking about what they were going to give up for Lent. Emma said she was going to give up homework. I told her I didn't think it would work, her parents wouldn't go for it. According to Julie, Emma went on to tell the family at dinner she was going to give up vegetables for lent, she doesn't like them, she reasoned, so she'll give them up. Julie, God love her, gave Emma and earful AND passed on some Catholic guilt in the process! She asked Emma how she thinks Jesus felt carrying the cross and getting nailed to it for us. Did Emma think Jesus liked that? Why then, Julie asked, would Emma think it is OK to give up something she doesn't like when Lent is supposed to be about sacrificing a little in honor of Jesus who sacrificed himself for us. Emma's six year old brother said "Wow, Mom. That was harsh!" I LOVE it...passing on the Catholic guilt. What is it there for, if not to pass on?

Well, I'm off to figure out how to slough off some of my guilt onto my kids. After all, it's only fair. My parents did it to me, their parents did it to them and their parents before them. Gotta keep these family traditions passing down from generation to generation. Gotta do it for the love of my kids...

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Scary Times Ahead?

Last night I went to a substance abuse and alcohol awareness meeting sponsored by the PTA at the boys' high school. It was an eye opening meeting in more ways than just pushing the issue of substance and alcohol abuse to the forefront. The meeting was part lecture, and part wake up call fueled by an emotional stories of teenagers who made some stupid, stupid mistakes.

Until last night, I was a naive parent. I admit it. Like I said yesterday, I didn't smoke, drink or run around with the wrong crowd when I was in high school. I needed this meeting, not because I think Zach is going to go off and run amok but because I need to pull my head out of the sand and realize drug and alcohol abuse is out there smacking our kids in the faces. Zach is my oldest. Zach is the one who will lead his brother and sister through the teenage years. What Zach does in these next vital years will determine his future as well as his siblings' futures. He has already had a brush with peer pressure and drinking. He and his friend were offered an alcoholic drink at a girl's house when they were in 7th grade. Her parents were out and she invited a couple of kids over, Zach being one of them, and she offered them a drink. I am proud to say that Zach and his friend both looked at their watches and said "It's time for us to go home," and they left. I naivley hoped this was an isolated incident but the stories from last night made me wake up and see drugs and alcohol are in high school communities all across our nation. Will Zach always be able to walk away from the temptation? I doubt it but admitting my kids might not go through high school like I did is the best way I know to become less naive.

The stories told by the two young adults were enough to make any parent want to bury their heads in the sand but the importance of standing up and being the parent was hit home time and time again last night. The first speaker told the story of her best friend who lost his life over this past Valentine's day weekend. He drank four Four Lokos (the caffeinated, alcohol drink which has been pulled off of the market), went to bed and never woke up. His parents, family and friends are dealing with the grief of losing a son, brother and friend because he made a huge mistake. The other story was told by a young woman who is a recovering addict. She is 21 years old and has been sober for over two years. Yes, she has been a recovering addict since before she could legally drink. She is a graduate of the school where Zach goes and her story is heartbreaking for any parent to hear. She started high school with dreams of going to an Ivy League school. In the end she barely graduated and was rejected from VCU here in Richmond. She started off smoking pot and went down the slippery slope from there. She skipped school. She drank. She got arrested for things related to drugs and alcohol. She lied, she cheated and she stole all to get high. Her drug of choice was alcohol, she said. It was a wake up call to me, making realize I need to pull my head out of the sand and see how easy it is to slide down that slippery slope. Maybe, just maybe by having my head out of the sand I can be at the top of that slippery slope and stop my kids before they start sliding.

I do feel pretty good in my relationship with my kids when it comes to talking to them about drugs, alcohol and (egads) sex. I can talk to them and they will talk to me. Zach and I had a great conversation on the way home form the meeting. I asked him what he thought of the stories. He said he thought the recovering addict was a "freak." When I asked him why, he said getting arrested once should be traumatic enough to scare the pants off of anyone. She was arrested six times. To him, once would have been more than enough. He said he thinks his dad would tear him limb from limb if he ever were arrested ~ he is probably right. We talked about making sure to keep his goals front and center. He knows what he wants to do and where he wants to go. We will be here to help him keep those goals right in front of him. He's a level headed kid but I know he will screw up sometimes that is why it was important for me to show him through my actions I am not afraid to be the parent; I am not afraid to discuss scary issues with all of them and I am here for them, always.

I know there are scary times ahead but with a little knowledge, a lot of conversation and tons of boundaries it might be just a little less scary. I went to the meeting with Zach's friends' parents and they showed me I am not alone, parenting in the teenage years. Zach has a great group of friends and knowing the parents makes the thought of parenting through these years (and all of the issues that come with these years) a little bit easier. I am thankful to know there are parents out there who are just as committed to keeping their heads out of the sand and keeping their kids on the right path. We will parent together through these scary times for the love of our children...

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

What I Want For My Daughter

I want Claire to be one of the "Cool Girls." I want her to be comfortable in her own skin, be comfortable around boys and be athletic enough to kick some guy's ass if need be. I want her to love sports and be able to hold her own with anyone. I don't want her to be a "Queen Bee" or a "Wanna Be." I don't want her to be a prissy girl. I want her to want the absolute opposite of that.

I wasn't a "queen bee" or a "wanna be," being one of those girls wasn't on the top of my list. But I certainly wasn't one of the cool girls. I was about as straight-laced as they come. I didn't drink, didn't smoke or hang out with all the wrong guys. I was a goody-two shoes. I was prissy. I was also fairly shy around those who didn't know me and extremely awkward around boys. What I really wanted was to be a "Cool Girl" where I could look like I felt totally at ease with the guys. I was always far too concerned about my hair and make-up being perfect to ever let myself go enough to be at ease around boys. I tried to maintain an aura of perfection but what really wanted to be was a cool girl.

I look at Claire and I have hope for her to be one of the cool girls. She goes to school in t-shirts and sweat pants, running a brush through her hair just enough to get the big tangles out and throw it in a ponytail. She doesn't fuss about her appearance and I try hard to lay off so she doesn't turn out like me. She goes to her brothers' hockey games and cheers louder than any of the other fans (except me...I have perfected the obnoxious, hockey mom voice). Her "Let's Go Royals" and "Go Pokey" echo through the rink. Claire knows the game of hockey. She can talk hockey with the best of them. I think that puts her in the "Cool Girl" category. I love that she knows so much about her brothers' sports. I love that she knows so much about her own sport and her brothers can talk to her about how much time she has dropped from meet to meet. I think she'll want to be one of the "Cool Girls." I want her to want to stay away from the "Queen Bee" and her entourage. There is too much pressure with that group of girls. I am sure there is pressure with the "Cool Girls" too but in my mind the pressure from being a cool girl is to always push yourself just a little harder each day to get better and better at your sport and your academics.

I will try hard to lead Claire away from the prissy path and onto a path where she can be herself without too much pressure to be someone she's not. That's a tall order but I am up to the task for the love of my daughter....

Monday, March 7, 2011

What Do Kids Know?

It's a question I think every parent wonders. I wonder often and then I find myself amazed at what they do know. They are a fountain of knowledge, teaching me things I either forgot or never learned. Kids are taught a lot more at a much younger age than I remember from my own youth. I watch in quiet wonderment the workings of my kids' brains. It is an amazing piece of machinery, a kid's brain -what knowledge can be packed in there!

One area where I think kids lack knowledge, though, is about their parents. I don't think my kids know too much about me. Some of that is necessary. Our kids don't need to know all of the gory details of our lives. They are our kids not our friends, not yet at least - not while we are still in the throes of raising them. I think kids need to know, though, parents are people. I want my kids to know that I am human. I make mistakes. I screw up. I apologize. I get sad. I cry. I have dreams for myself, still. I have passions, things I want to do, places I want to go, life I want to live to the fullest. I want my kids to know this about me. I don't want them to just think of me as someone who puts food on the table and yells at them when they don't do something right. I want them to know me as a person, not just a mom.

I think back on my youth and I don't remember seeing my mom or my dad cry, ever. I remember a lot of laughter during our many parties, frustration when we screwed up and anger when we misbehaved. I don't remember any sadness. It wasn't because of a lack of sadness. I am sure there was sadness, in life there is always sadness and despair. I just don't remember my parents ever showing it in front of me. I don't remember my parents talking about things they wanted to do, dreams they had. I didn't know my parents as people, just mom and dad. Maybe it was because of the drudgery of everyday life or maybe it was just how it was "way back in the day" but I think parents deserve more than just being thought of as mom and dad. Mom and dad are great titles and I am proud to be a mom but I am also proud to be Jenni and I want my kids to know me. I am getting to know my parents' histories and stories now that I am a semi-grown up but I think how much richer life would be for everyone if kids got to know some of their parents' histories and stories while they are happening.

My kids have seen all sorts of sides of me, the happy, the wacky, the sad, the angry, the pensive and the tired. I want them to know Stan and me as people. I want them to understand that beneath the titles of mom and dad beats the hearts of Jenni and Stan. I think they understand it, a little. I will keep telling my story and letting them learn about me so when they grow up they can think back on their childhood and have some history to pass on to their own children. Then they can do everything for the love of their children...

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Lost Season

Well, it's official. Hockey is over. It came to a screeching halt this weekend. Zach's team lost their bid at Nationals. I have to say, I feel a little lost. Usually, at this time of year I am ready to shed the Uggs and heavy coats. I am, usually, ready to say good-bye to hockey. This year? Hmmmm...I just feel lost, now that the season is over.

I thought I was doing OK with the thought of the end of hockey season until this weekend. This weekend was spent with some of our favorite hockey families. With both boys breaking bones, the season was cut short for us. I didn't get to hang out with these families like in seasons past. I feel a little jipped. We missed out on weekends away with our hockey families. At this time of year the running joke is "What will I do with all of my free time now that hockey is over?" I had that feeling all season long.

This is the season I will look back on as "the lost season of hockey." The boys didn't have the winning-est of seasons and they were both out for a good chunk of time. The season was kind of lost. I should be glad to be moving on but I am just a little sad. Zach was the trailblazer who got us involved in this crazy world of travel hockey. His team is the group of parents I connected with first so with the end of Zach's hockey season I feel disconnected. Usually it's not this bad, it's just this season.

Ah well, on to lacrosse, tennis and finishing up dance and swim season! There are families galore waiting to hang out on weekends. We will meet new families, hang out with old friends and move on to the next sport season. We will do it all for the love of our children...

Defending Democracy

Stan and I were watching a program the other night on our ongoing war in Afghanistan. Stan, with his military background, is still keenly interested in military tactics, strategies and operations. This program was a documentary on one of the units stationed in the mountains of Afghanistan and what lengths they go through to fight the Taliban. I don't remember the name of the program, what unit it was nor the names of any of the soldiers. What I do remember is how struck I was by the loyalty of our soldiers and their belief in what they were trying to accomplish. This blog is in no way a political piece. I am not endorsing our invovlment in any war. What I want to accomplish through this blog today is to humbly thank all of those men and women who stand in harms way, defending democracy.

Stan went to West Point and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army upon graduation. He spent nine years serving our country. It was not an easy job, a high paying job or a job where rewards are freely given. But it was a job in which Stan took tremendous pride. His job was to support and defend the constitution of the United States of America. He took an oath when he was commissioned and he took the words of that oath to heart. He took his job seriously. I couldn't be more proud we were associated with such a stellar group of people. To this day, Stan and I miss our time in the Military.

The documentary we watched the other night made me realize how very fortunate we are in the United States, especially our daughters. Watching our service men in the mountains of Afghanistan hit home how much our service members sacrifice to keep us safe. I am so very thankful my daughter is an American girl. Her rights are defended by men who have never met her and probably never will. The women of Afghanistan will probably never, in this lifetime, experience the freedoms our daughters have. Thankfully, for American women and girls or rights are defended. The Taliban will, hopefully, be kept very far away from this great Nation of ours.

There is no good answer to war. As long as there are bad men in the world there will be war. I say bad men because women rarely start wars. Women give birth to the children who become our soldiers and are sent off to war. Most women wouldn't want to start a war, sending our children off to fight. This is becoming increasingly apparent to me as Zach is getting older and becoming interested in going to West Point. I have zero desire to see my child march off to war but the pride I have in him for wanting to serve our nation is unbelievable. The pride I have in our service men and women is just as unbelievable. They are a special group of people whose services we can never repay but whose services we, unfortunately, need. This is a special group of people who ask for very little. All I have to give them is my thanks. War sucks...there just is no good answer to war.

As long as there are wars and bad men we need to defend our nation and our children. I am thankful we have such a tremendous fighting force on our side. I am very thankful to the families who support their soldiers. I am thankful and proud to be an American. I will continue to offer my thanks to our military men and women. My children are safe in this great nation because of them. I will teach our children to honor those who give so much to defend us.

Thank you to all who give so much to keep our nation free. Your sacrifice gives all of us the freedoms we take for granted. Your sacrifice allows us to remain safe. So thank you for defending democracy.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Birthdays Are Best

...when you are a kid. This is according to Stan. Today is Stan's birthday and the day started for him much like any other day. He got up, made his coffee (I didn't have a chance to make it for him) and he left to go to Charlottesville. He spent his day working, just like any other day...except he did get a ton of birthday wishes! When you are a kid, at least in our house, your day is filled with everything about you. You get to have your favorite meal, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Everything revolves around you. Stan does get to choose his favorite meal. He chose a great one...filet mignon, baked potato, salad and homemade cheesecake. I think it's a pretty fabulous way to celebrate!

I love birthdays. I don't care if Stan thinks they are best when you are a kid. I do understand his point, though. As adults we still have to get up, make the day happen and be responsible. Maybe they are best when you are kid but birthdays are still awesome! It is a day where YOU and your birth are celebrated. I love celebrating birthdays. My mom always made my birthday the best. She arranged all sorts of surprises and little gifts. I want to pass that on to my kids. I want my kids to cherish birthdays - their own and others. I want my kids to love celebrating birthdays.

It is time for us to begin the celebration for Stan. Steaks need to be cooked, potatoes to be baked and salad to be tossed. The cheesecake is chilling. What more can you ask for? We are celebrating the birth of one of the most fantastic people to walk the earth and we are celebrating it as a family. We are blessed. I will try to instill in the kids some sense of childish abandon when it comes to birthdays so they will always think birthdays are the best. I will do it for the love of my children...

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Drama and Daughters

Girls are different than boys. Did you know that? I know, I know, it's crazy - but true. The older my kids get the more pronounced the differences are. Zach and Lucas went through 4th and 5th grade with relative ease. There was very little drama, at least that I knew about. There was the one time Zach bit one of his classmates in 4th grade. The kid was kicking him under the table and Zach had enough. He snapped and bit the kid. He didn't break skin or really even touch his skin, he just bit what he could get a hold of with his teeth. Zach and this kid went on to be good friends after that...nothing like a good bite to get a friendship rolling I always say! Claire has never bitten anyone with her teeth but her words are a different story. Whew, the things girls say to one another can be, frankly, quite mean and bitchy.

Claire and her group of friends are learning to navigate the waters of girlfriend-ships. They are having some growing pains and Claire is trying hard to figure things out. She will tell me a story of something gone wrong at school and I can see the wheels turning in her head. She is thinking, "What do I need to do or say to make things better?" She talks through her problems. My hope for her is by the time she is in high school she will know how to vent properly and not hold a grudge. She will be able to tell her friends when they hurt her feelings, why they hurt her feelings and how they can work to make it better for both of them. I think when girls/women bottle up their emotions they become like a pressure cooker. The more we pack those feelings down the more pressure builds up until we explode. That is where the term "raging bitch" comes into play, according to a friend of mine. Girls need to be taught it OK to let others know how they feel and why they feel that way. Girls need to know it is OK to be mad. They need to be taught how to deal with anger appropriately. I think when girls are empowered to know how to deal with negative emotions they are able to navigate the treacherous waters of girlfriend-ships without running aground. When girls can successfully manage emotions they can easily manage friendships. When girls can easily manage friendships they are more likely to build each other up and support each other rather than tear each other down.

Boys, generally, don't talk through their problems. They fight, tell each other off, maybe throw some punches (or not), go "lick their wounds" and come out ready for more. The problem is over and they move on. Sometimes I like this approach much better. Sometimes I don't. It cuts down on the drama, that's for certain! In living life this way, though, boys growing into men don't learn the skills needed to navigate life with women. I know this. I lived this. Stan was raised with three brothers, no sisters. He had NO idea to how to handle drama. He had to be taught. He learned and is much better now. He handled Claire like a champ last night when she had a meltdown during our study session. She told me I was screaming at her and broke down in tears. Stan was able to keep a straight face, not roll his eyes and give her a hug to make her feel better. He validated her and her feelings. He doesn't do that with the boys. They don't expect it from him.

I am very thankful my kids will each have the experience of living life with the opposite gender. I think it will help them later in life when they go on to share their life with a husband or wife. They will each understand that boys and girls are different from the ground up. Girls are programed differently than boys. And vice versa. They will, hopefully, learn there is nothing wrong with the differences each gender has and learn how to work through the challenges those differences present.

I will continue to help Claire learn to navigate the drama of her girlfriend-ships and I will be here when my boys need to lick their wounds. I will do it for the love of my children...

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Technology and Today

Stan went to a meeting at the boys' high school the other night. It was run by the high school athletic director. During this meeting the AD explained how he expects parents and players to resolve problems with coaches, each other or the athletic director himself. If you have a beef with someone, he said, don't text or send an email, talk to them face to face or make a phone call. Texts and emails, the AD said, have a funny way of sounding "off" or being taken the wrong way. Talking face to face or on the phone prevents many ways things can be misconstrued. When you have personal contact with another person you can read their signals and their body language. Something said in an email may come across as snarky or mean but face to face it is humorous. In a text or email you are also able to hide a bit and it shows a little cowardice, according to the athletic director. Losing the face to face contact is having consequences in our society. The meeting at the high school highlights how we have grounds to be a bit disconcerted.

I am seeing consequences of a texting generation here at home. And it is disconcerting. Lucas has a girlfriend now. He texted her to find out if she liked him. YES, texted! When she said "yes" via text he responded with yet another text and another and another until they were "boyfriend" and "girlfriend." Call me crazy, but I think texting to get a girlfriend is INSANE! Here is where I am going to sound like my mother---in MY day a boy called a girl or talked to her at school to find out if she liked him. There were the little notes passed back and forth. Which is kind of like a text, I guess, but the note was passed to a REAL person and then handed to another REAL person! Girls were giggling. Boys were smiling. You saw the object of your affection. Sometimes the notes were intercepted by the teacher or an unintended recipient but for the most part it was a good way to figure things out. The notes were simple and charming "Do you like me? Check yes or no." They were a keepsake. You could hold onto them. You can't hold on to text messages. Don't get me wrong, I love my technology and texting is an easy fix for when you only have a quick second and don't want to get into a 20 minute conversation but need to know if someone can pick up your son or daughter. Texts shouldn't be meant to take the place of true conversation just speed it up - SOMETIMES! But not for the big stuff---asking someone out should be done in person, face to face or on the phone, sweaty palms, pounding heart and all! The consequences of substituting texts for human contact are here.

From what I understand the adult dating world has gone the way of texting as well. So it's not just Lucas who is trolling for girlfriends via text message. I wouldn't do well in the dating scene. I can't imagine having a fight via text message or email. I like a good ol' fashioned, face to face resolution when we have a disagreement. Making up is so much better when you say "I'm sorry" face to face. I also can't imagine sending my undying love thoughts through a text message. It's out there in cyberworld not whispered sweetly in my love's ear. How unromantic and uncharming! It would not be a good scene for me.

We do have the power to change the consequences though. I am glad the Athletic Director took a stand and told parents and players alike exactly how to communicate. I need to do the same with Lucas. I need to teach all of my kids that nothing beats personal contact, nothing takes the place of hearing the voice of someone special and nothing is better than seeing the sweet smile of someone you love. I will teach them and teach them and teach them so they will always know to pick up the phone when they want to be reminded of my love for them...

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Stepping Up and Stepping Down

Life is full of ups and downs, the good ups, the bad downs, the stepping up to volunteer and the stepping down when your time is done. As of next month, I am stepping down as the secretary of the board for the boys' hockey club. I have done my job for the past two years and now it is time to let someone else take over the reigns. I enjoyed my time on the board - for the most part. It was a necessary evolution or evil, however you want to phrase it. I stepped up, did my job. I had some ups and some downs during my tenure on the board and now it is time to step down.

I have volunteered my time for my kids in many capacities over the past years. It all started in preschool, volunteering to drive the kids on their field trips. It continued on in elementary school with chairing various committees, volunteering in the classroom or chaperoning field trips. It continues on now with me stepping up where I am needed or asked to be. My volunteering for the kids will continue on until it is not a necessity anymore. For me, volunteering has been my way of being involved in my kids' schooling and activities. I enjoy being in the thick of their life and activities.

The hockey board was a natural evolution because the boys are so passionate about their sport. How could I not be passionate too? I think I may have driven some of the other board members crazy with my passion but I did whatever I did in the best interest of all of the kids in our hockey organization. Now, it is time to let the board evolve again. I will still be in the thick of things volunteering to do what is needed. I will step up when necessary but for right now I am glad to be stepping down.

Sometimes we, as mamas, get too involved and become over taxed. Those are the times when you say "WHAT have I gotten myself into?" I think we have all done it. I was there a couple of years ago. I didn't know how to say "No." I have shed many of my hats and have learned how to say "No." It is a liberating feeling, saying "No." Mamas need to stay involved and active in our kids' lives but getting over taxed and over stretched does no good for anyone. This applies to dads as well but I think men are better at saying no. They don't feel the guilt mamas feel. They say "No" and move on. Mamas, on the other hand, fret about saying "No." Then they don't say "No." Then when the mama becomes completely overburdened she snaps. I know. I have done it.

I will continue doing what is necessary to be actively involved in whatever passion the kids have. I will continue to volunteer at school. I will try not to let myself get overly sucked in. I will step up when needed, step down when my time is done and I will do it for the love of my children...