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Posts Tagged ‘Parenting’

A long embrace and a quick murmured, “Love you. Take care of yourself,” and he was gone. My firstborn, who has always marched to his own drumbeat, is moving on with his life. Although I am extremely grateful for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that awaits him in New York City and for the fact that he is not moving out of the country, I allow myself to experience the bittersweet feelings that stir within.

With less than four adrenaline-fueled days to adjust to the idea of him leaving and to tie up loose ends here, I didn’t have time to sit, feel, and acknowledge the rumblings of my heart and brain until now. My brain confirms all the positive aspects of this transition, but my heart stubbornly refuses to let go of that last bit of apron string tied to him. I remind myself that he is following his dream, something that I endlessly supported. But in this mother’s mind, at this moment in time, I can’t help but think that this wonderful opportunity is carrying him far away from home and family. His hard work and perseverance paid off. He held fast to his dream even when his life didn’t go according to plan – when life’s zigs and zags carried him their unpredictable ways. How could I not be happy for him now?

In reality, he’s not lived at home for a while, but he’s always lived in the same state as the rest of the family. As he heads to the opposite coast, I take comfort in the marvel of today’s technology, which will help to appease my motherly worries. I worry about this son of mine because he has a different approach to life than my other children and because things seem to happen to him that don’t happen to the others.

His decision to drive across the country with his girlfriend rather than fly, a decision that baffled many, did not surprise me. I asked him why he wanted to drive for five days and arrive at his new job road-weary and tired. I asked him why he wanted to drive a car that already has 150,000 miles on it and risk it breaking down in the middle of nowhere. I asked him why he was making things so complicated. He told me calmly, “It’s only complicated to you, Mom.” And then he added, “In my line of work, you draw on life’s experiences for ideas.” I understood what he was telling me. It’s my fault, I thought to myself. Throughout the years I reminded my children about “life being a journey and not a destination.” It’s no wonder that they yearn to do more, see more, and experience more.

For three decades my identity has been wrapped up with my children. It’s inevitable that as they transition, so must I. With one child moving away and another getting married in a few months, the focus of my life must shift away from them. It is only natural. My time is coming again. My children’s growth and good fortune affords me the time and energy to fulfill more of my life’s dreams. It is now abundantly clear to me, that my children are not the only ones moving on.

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Forrest Gump’s mama always said, “Life is like a box of chocolates,” but the older I become, the more this mom views life as a series of never-ending staircases, much like those drawn by M.C. Escher. At particular phases in life, we climb metaphoric stairs and reach the top, only to find that another level exists and another staircase awaits. We learn the rules of the game during each ascent, but discover the game changes at every level.

Parenting is a good example of my analogy: you start with a sweet, little baby, but no sooner do you get a grip on exhausting infant-ways, then your baby walks, talks, and throws tantrums. Mastering potty-training raises cheers and exultations, but creates a degree of independence, which allows your child to leave the safe haven of your arms to go to school. After years of navigating through playground dramas and class projects, you warily enter the hormonally-charged world of adolescence. By the time you regain some balance after the “driving” years, your child moves on to college applications. And before you can decipher the FAFSA form, your child graduates from college and finds a job.

Recently, my youngest child and her friends reached a new level by graduating from college. With high hopes they look to the future with new sets of goals and new sets of stairs to climb. For some of them, their staircases are straight forward – graduate school. For others, the staircases are long and narrow – medical school. But for many of them, their staircases rise, twist, and turn – the path of uncertainty. In the past, a college degree usually led to a job. Not so anymore. For those looking for jobs, the ascent is made more difficult by an extraordinarily bad job market.

For example, a recent ad my daughter looked at quickly excited her, but ultimately discouraged her. It read:

Looking for an energetic, detail-oriented person. Check!
Must be organized and able to multi-task. Check!
Must be a self-starter and be willing to work long hours. Check!
Must be proficient in Word, Excel, and Power Point. Check!
Must have the ability to work quickly under tight deadlines. Check!
Must have a 4-year college degree. Check!
Must have nonprofit experience. Check!
Must have at least five years of work experience. No!

With so many bright, intelligent, and experienced competitors for so few positions, employers have a gourmet assortment to choose from. If all employers hire experienced workers, who will give the inexperienced the experience they need? I will never forget the dentist who hired an energetic, young dental hygienist fresh out of school. I am eternally grateful to him for believing in me enough to take a chance on me. Hopefully, there are other employers out there who can remember what it was like to get their first job and their first vote of confidence, and who are willing to consider vitality and eagerness over experience. My daughter, her friends, and other recent college graduates will need patience and this kind of help to get to the next level. Landing that first job, of course, puts them at the bottom all over again!

“After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.”
Nelson Mandela

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“Is this my blanket?” my daughter asks as she curiously eyes a large colorfully-wrapped box that has the words CELEBRATE plastered all over it. Sitting in a hotel room, my family watches expectantly as she opens up her graduation present. There’s a moment of anticlimactic silence as she removes the lid of the box. Each of us, even my daughter, knows what’s inside.

Several years ago, I first struggled with the problem of what to give to my children when they graduated from college. Giving them money, jewelry, or big, fancy gifts were okay, but I longed to give them something that they wouldn’t forget – something, that perhaps, could be a symbol of love. That’s when I thought about making each of them a blanket.

In concept this was a good idea, but in reality, not so great. Although I am a creative person and I attempt to do many things – just who was I kidding when I thought I could crochet? As I bought the pattern and yarn for my oldest son’s blanket, I thought back to the baby hat that I’d once crocheted. It turned out almost perfect, except for one minor detail – the size was way off. The cute, crocheted hat turned out to be too large for any infant’s head, including an alien’s!

With crochet hook in hand and skeins of yarn all about, I determinedly began the first blanket. I envisioned myself to be like my grandmother, a woman who could crochet furiously while watching television. The directions to the Mile-A-Minute blanket seemed easy enough and after crocheting all the strips, I carefully lined them up on the floor side-by-side. Noticing that each strip was a different length, I was crestfallen. How in the world was I going to join these strips together when some were inches shorter than others? Figuring I had two choices – either I alternate the long and short strips or I configure them from shortest to longest – I frantically worked to salvage the project. Although it’s been years since I made it and I cannot remember exactly how I put it together, I do remember the look on my oldest son’s face as he graciously accepted his trapezoidal-shaped blanket. Sometimes there are disadvantages to being first-born!

Like parenting, the second time around was easier. Being wiser, I vowed not to repeat my mistakes and made every effort to avoid the pitfalls of crocheting. Again, I lovingly crocheted a Mile-A-Minute blanket for my second son and was most pleased when his blanket turned out “almost” rectangular. Diligence and experience had paid off. When I asked him a few weeks ago what I gave him for his graduation, he immediately replied “A blanket!” Good answer! There are some advantages to being the second child!

Now, as I watch my daughter take her blanket out of the box, I notice that she’s studying the straight rows of crochet stitches and the nice, even border. It’s evident that I did not make her blanket. I explain that her blanket was made by my grandmother and was given to me on my twenty-first birthday. That my daughter is twenty-one-years-old and that she’s graduating from college, the pretty, pink and white blanket seemed destined to be hers. Sometimes the third child is just lucky!

No matter the story behind each blanket, the accompanying note always included this sentiment:  You are the lucky recipient of a “Crocheted Masterpiece.” At this point in your life there’s not much more Dad and I can give to you other than our continued, unconditional love. Think of our love as being wrapped up in this blanket. Take it with you wherever you go in life and may you always feel the warmth of our love whenever you wrap yourself in it.

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Cleaning and scrubbing

can wait till tomorrow . . .

for babies grow up

we’ve learned to

our sorrow . . .

So quiet down cobwebs . . .

dust go to sleep . . .

I’m rocking my baby

and

Babies don’t keep!!

Over thirty years ago, when my eyesight was keener and my fingers more nimble, I meticulously stitched those words into a wall hanging for my sister who was awaiting the birth of her first child. A few years passed and I had children of my own. And even though I didn’t have a little wall hanging to remind me of the sentiment, I never forgot the message behind those few simple words.

As each of my children entered the world and grew up in what seems like a nanosecond, I experienced first hand how “babies don’t keep.” Being mindful of the words I once stitched, I set my priorities early on and quit my job to care for my children. My goal was to raise bright, responsible, and caring individuals in the relatively short amount of time I had them at home. Moments, like watching their first wobbly steps, saying goodbye to them at the kindergarten gate, feigning calm during their frightening driving lessons, and dropping them off at college, etc., were bittersweet ones. Recognizing fully that each milestone reached was just another step towards my goal, I also acknowledged that it was another step towards their independence. I knew we would never pass this way again and nothing was more important to me than them.

That’s not to say, though, that I never lost perspective. There were times that I turned into an occasional, PMS-possessed, crazed mom! When the weariness of refereeing between bickering kids and when the endless washing, cleaning, cooking and driving devoured my life, I was hard-pressed to remember the words of the poem. But somehow these words would gradually float back into my consciousness and help me adjust my perspective.

The kids are all out of the house now and, thankfully, they still call to chat and ask for recipes. They’re off doing their own things, but I still think about the “Babies Don’t Keep” poem. I’ve taken that poem and transformed it into a message that applies to something broader – life. Life is all about choices and priorities, right? For me, my family and friends are high priorities, but my house, not so much. I’ll never be a tidy housekeeper like my mom or some of my friends, because having a clean house just isn’t important to me. My house isn’t filthy, by any means, but there’s huge room for improvement! But because I’ve learned that kids grow up fast and, more importantly, I’ve learned that life passes by much too quickly, I do the things I want to do and not have to do!

So beware, be prepared, and take caution when you enter my home! But most of all remember these words:

Cleaning and scrubbing

can wait till tomorrow . . .

for dreams disappear

I’ve learned to

my sorrow . . .

so let there be cobwebs . . .

dust bunnies mate . . .

I’m living life fully

’cause

life doesn’t wait!

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The boy is not yet five-years-old, but he is already developing a terrible and serious affliction. That it’s a life-altering affliction is sad, but that his family is most likely passing it on to him is frightening. His symptoms? Displaying a hardening of the categories. The diagnosis? Developing prejudice. The prognosis? Due to the early onset of symptoms, intervention is critical. Only time will tell the true severity of his affliction.

The back-story: A few days after Christmas my son was in a sporting goods store trying on ski goggles. Looking down while adjusting the fit, he heard a child’s voice address him with these words, “I HATE Asians!” Without even looking at my son’s face and without losing a step in his stride, this child stopped my adult son in his tracks with those ugly words. My son wondered how someone so young could already hate an entire group of people and how this little boy had the nerve to walk up to a stranger and spew hatred. There’s no doubt that this little boy did not develop a hatred of Asians, and who knows what else, all by himself. Like the lyrics from the Rogers and Hammerstein song “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught” point out, this child had to be taught to hate. The words from this song seem more pertinent than ever:

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

After hearing my son tell me of his experience in the store, I remembered a scolding I once received from my dad when I was a child. I must have said something in passing to my parents about hating something, because I distinctly recall my dad gently pulling me aside and telling me to be very careful about using the word “hate.” He explained to me that hate was a very powerful emotion and that the word “hate” should never be used casually. “You can dislike someone or something, but don’t ever hate,” he said. I’m proud that my dad, an immigrant, and my parents, both of an ethnic minority, rose above the hurt of prejudice in their lives to teach their children to be more accepting and tolerant of the differences in people.

We need to be more aware of our behavior as we go about our everyday lives. The result of our insignificant actions may have great impact. Often times generalizations are made as a result of a single encounter. In particular, as adults we need to be more careful of what we say or do in front of children and young adults. Soon the future of our world will be in their hands. Prejudice is adopted by children like a bad habit and this cycle needs to be broken.  If we have any hope for world peace, we need to teach by example, on a daily basis, the power of acceptance and tolerance. Let us not define ourselves or others by color, race, age, religion, political beliefs, gender, disability, social class, ethnicity, etc. Let our legacy be based in the hearts and thoughts that bind us together and not in the classifications that we let divide us.

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“What happened to your house?” the little boy said as he quietly stood at my front door. I eyed him with a puzzled look and replied, “What do you mean?” But just as soon as I said those words, it dawned on me – I knew exactly what he meant. I squatted down to his level and said apologetically, “I’m so sorry. My boys grew up.” This little boy, dressed up as a devil, had come trick-or-treating at my home with the anticipation of finding my traditionally scary-looking house, but instead he found only a few fake spider webs strewn across some bushes. As I closed the door behind him, I felt the weight of his question and thought about what had happened to my house.

Halloween was always a fun time around our home. “What should I be for Halloween, Mommy?” was a question I anticipated every October 15th. Costumes were either purchased at a store or made by me – sometimes in advance, but most often at the last minute. And selecting which treats to pass out was always a dilemma. Being a dental hygienist, I didn’t like to pass out sugary sweets, but every year I relented when my kids pleaded that it wasn’t cool to pass out toothbrushes or dental floss. Other Halloween memories involved delivering secret “BOO” treats to neighbors. We would do reconnaissance by driving around the neighborhood to see which family did not have a BOO sign on their front door and later when it was dark, we’d sneak off and place a bag of treats on the doorstep, ring the doorbell, and then run like the dickens!

The most fun Halloween memories, though, are always centered around decorating the house. After my children were born, I started collecting little whimsical pieces of decorations, but as the children grew older they wanted to be more involved in the decorating. My sons, in particular, had their own ideas about how to transform our house for Halloween. With their help our Halloween decorations got more elaborate and progressively creepier. One year a skeleton hung from an oak tree in front of our house, but the next year bloody-looking, fake body parts joined it. Eventually, shrieks, screams, and bone-chilling music drifted out of a window and floated down the driveway. Playing the eerie music on our karaoke machine led to an unusual use of it – the boys discovered that by using the karaoke’s microphone, they could scream into it and scare unsuspecting trick-or-treaters. One son would man the microphone while the other peeked out the front window. If they knew the trick-or-treater’s name, they would personalize their ghostly greeting like this, “KYLE!!! . . . What are you doing heeeere? . . . I wouldn’t come any clooooser if I were yooouu . . . !” Add some swirling fog and orange-colored spotlights to the mix and our house evolved into one scary destination.

Then it happened. First one son went away to college and then the second one followed him. Although my daughter was still home, she was not into the gore of Halloween or into decorating the house. I enjoyed the “feminine” side of Halloween as my daughter grew up, but it just wasn’t the same without the boys’ antics.

Since the kids left, Halloween has always stirred up feelings of empty nesting in me; I miss my kids most around this time of the year. But with feelings of empty nesting come feelings of renewal and revival. I look forward now to going over to my son’s new home to see what gross and eerie scenes he’ll create with a bin of slightly used body parts and the old karaoke and fog machines of his youth! So to all the kids in his new neighborhood . . . BEWARE!

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“How long are you going to stay?” I asked my oldest son who was home for a visit. Sitting on the family room sofa with his eyes glued to his laptop computer and his fingers rapidly moving across the keyboard, he nonchalantly said, “Only a couple of days. I have to get home.” For a split second I wanted to say, “Wait . . . this is your home . . . ” but I caught myself and calmly replied, “Okay.” Intellectually, I knew what he said was true – he hadn’t lived here for some time – but emotionally it was hard for me to digest. For some reason I hadn’t seen it coming; I hadn’t prepared myself for the day when my children would no longer consider this family home their home. That particular conversation took place several years ago and now I find those same emotions beginning to resurface.

A rubber skeleton, four years worth of high school prom photos, a pair of gold sneakers with wings, ceramic projects, a blue rope light, stacks of college books and papers, and a closet full of clothes no longer worn are all that’s left in my second son’s room. As I searched his room for things that I could pack and take over to his newly purchased home, reality hit me again. His room, this once messy boy’s room, is no longer just that and this home, this once chaotic, busy home, is no longer his home.

Again, it’s not like he’s lived at home for a while now, so I should be used to him being gone. For the last eight years, he’s lived in dormitories, apartments, and condos, but because those residences were deemed temporary, his home was always our family home, at least in my mind. Now he has a new house, a new place to call his home.

Purchasing your first home is a huge milestone. Who doesn’t remember the excitement of owning your first place? I’m ecstatic for him and his girlfriend of nine years, because I know big plans lie ahead and good things are coming their way. And having one of my children settling down not too far from our family home is this parent’s dream and consolation for the momentary sense of loss I feel.

Another positive way of looking at things is that by his buying a house, I’m not losing another child from my home, but I’m gaining another room! I’ve always wanted a workroom that I could spread out and create in and now that can become a reality. The family room wet bar, once my craft area, can now go back to its original purpose. My husband, too, is regaining valuable real estate by taking two bikes and a rusty lawn mower out of our garage and over to our son’s garage.

At some point in time all my children will be happily ensconced in their own homes. These rites of passage will be excitedly met by them and joyfully accepted by me and my husband. Time marches on and things constantly change, but don’t mind me, if I occasionally slip back in time and remember the way we were.

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