Sunday, May 15, 2011

Hey! I have some questions here!

So, ever since this whole "Mom dropped a kidney" incident, I think she's been a little out of sorts. See, my mom isn't normal, you know, for someone her age. (Just between you and me, I think she sometimes looks age in the mirror and gives it the finger.) As I said in a previous post, she and my dad are both quite active, and always have been. Biking, hiking, traveling, working out, volunteering... yeah, uh, that's more than I do.

So this whole "recovery from major surgery" thing has really thrown her for a loop. She still goes for walks, but hiking, biking, working out... that's on the backburner for awhile. Oh, sure, she can still volunteer, but as the backbone of Peoria's Habitat for Humanity ReStore, she moved around and staged furniture all day into eye-catching and aesthetically pleasing displays instead of the guys just dumping them in a big room like some overgrown flea market. She can't do that for awhile, either.

But what my mom can do is write. Yep, that's where I got it from. Actually, it goes further back than that. Her mother was the editor of the Shell Oil newsletter back in the day. You know, back when there were very few "career women". My grandma had the gift, and she passed it on to my mom, and so on...

So the other day I said to her, "Now that you have some down time, why don't you write?" "Well," she said, "it's so hard to get started. Then once I start I don't want to stop!" (I'm still searching to find the problem here...) And I said, "What about writing about your travels? You've been to so many countries and done so many things that even I can't remember all the places you've been." Then I said, "What about just writing about all the things you've done in general since you retired? Kind of like a 'guide for empty-nesters'?" If there's anyone that's kept busy since we all flew the coop (even though we still return occasionally to this day), it's my mom.

She said she'd think about it.

That got ME thinking. I have a lot of questions for her. There's rarely a week that goes by that I don't think, "I wonder if my mom went through this, and if so, what did she do?" Of course, I can call her up and ask her, and I do, but still...it'd be nice to have a handy dandy reference I can flip through sometimes. Kind of like a "Mom's FAQs".

So I thought I'd formulate a little list of questions to get her going. And I want you to add your two cents. Not what you want to know about MY mom, of course, but what you want to know about yours. Or your dad. Doesn't matter. But I'm sure most of you who are my age (mid 40's) and have kids have thought more than once, "Did my parents go through this?" So. Mom. Here's what I wanna know.

OK, so at 40, my body basically said, "See ya!" My metabolism came to a screeching halt and anything I ate over 200 calories became tattooed on my thighs. I see pictures of you in your 40's - you're stunning and incredibly in shape. You had four kids. HOW did you do that?

I know we were all thorns in your side at some point in time (and no, we don't have to revisit the times it was ME.) What did you do during those times? Besides pray to the Virgin Mary and drink wine like any good Catholic? Did you call YOUR mom for advice? Did you huddle in little mom groups swapping helpful hints and information and thanking God that you didn't have the son/daughter that Mary Jo has? Or did you pick up the latest "Mom Self-Help" book ala Dr. Spock?

How did you teach us to be independent? Did you worry that we weren't going to make it on our own? Did you wonder how we'd handle money? Paying bills? Getting to work on time? Making our own decisions?

What worried you most about us when we were teenagers?

Did you like our friends? Did you trust us when we went out or did you worry?

How did you feel when we left the house for good? (Yes, some of us took a bit longer than others, but not too long).

Did you ever feel resentful toward us - like you had done all this great parenting and we didn't acknowledge or appreciate it (until we had kids)?

Did you ever feel as if you were "in transition" between being that stay-at-home-mom and whoever else you wanted to be? How did you work through that?

When you went back to work, you still had two kids at home. Did you have a hard time balancing work and parenting and did you ever feel guilty about either one?

Even though you'll never be done mothering, when did you feel that you could take a deep breath and relax a little - do your own thing - travel for weeks at a time?

What advice can you give to a 44-year old working mother who wants to have it all?

There ya go, Mom. Now get started. I need some answers. And I bet there's a lot more moms out there who need them, too. If you're one of them, post your question below. I'll see that she gets it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

25 Manners Every Kid Should Know by Age 9

I just saw this posted on Yahoo - it originally appeared in the March, 2011 issue of Parents Magazine.

As I read them, I thought that while it is a rather comprehensive list of manners that kids should know by the age of nine, it's also a very good refresher for we adults.

Here they are. How many of them do you practice each day?

Manner #1
When asking for something, say "Please."

Manner #2
When receiving something, say "Thank you."

Manner #3
Do not interrupt grown-ups who are speaking with each other unless there is an emergency. They will notice you and respond when they are finished talking.

Manner #4
If you do need to get somebody's attention right away, the phrase "excuse me" is the most polite way for you to enter the conversation.

Manner #5
When you have any doubt about doing something, ask permission first. It can save you from many hours of grief later.

Manner #6
The world is not interested in what you dislike. Keep negative opinions to yourself, or between you and your friends, and out of earshot of adults.

Manner #7
Do not comment on other people's physical characteristics unless, of course, it's to compliment them, which is always welcome.

Manner #8
When people ask you how you are, tell them and then ask them how they are.

Manner #9
When you have spent time at your friend's house, remember to thank his or her parents for having you over and for the good time you had.

Manner #10
Knock on closed doors -- and wait to see if there's a response -- before entering.

Manner #11
When you make a phone call, introduce yourself first and then ask if you can speak with the person you are calling.

Manner #12
Be appreciative and say "thank you" for any gift you receive. In the age of e-mail, a handwritten thank-you note can have a powerful effect.

Manner #13
Never use foul language in front of adults. Grown-ups already know all those words, and they find them boring and unpleasant.

Manner #14
Don't call people mean names.

Manner #15
Do not make fun of anyone for any reason. Teasing shows others you are weak, and ganging up on someone else is cruel.

Manner #16
Even if a play or an assembly is boring, sit through it quietly and pretend that you are interested. The performers and presenters are doing their best.

Manner #17
If you bump into somebody, immediately say "Excuse me."

Manner #18
Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, and don't pick your nose in public.

Manner #19
As you walk through a door, look to see if you can hold it open for someone else.

Manner #20
If you come across a parent, a teacher, or a neighbor working on something, ask if you can help. If they say "yes," do so -- you may learn something new.

Manner #21
When an adult asks you for a favor, do it without grumbling and with a smile.

Manner #22
When someone helps you, say "thank you." That person will likely want to help you again. This is especially true with teachers!

Manner #23
Use eating utensils properly. If you are unsure how to do so, ask your parents to teach you or watch what adults do.

Manner #24
Keep a napkin on your lap; use it to wipe your mouth when necessary.

Manner #25
Don't reach for things at the table; ask to have them passed.

Food for thought. We as adults, are the best teachers when we lead by example.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Inquiring young minds want to know...

My younger son has had quite the inquisitive mind lately. And once again, I'm fumbling like Colin Firth in "The President's Speech".

A few weeks before Osama bin Laden was killed, he became suddenly very interested in 9/11. He was only two months old when that tragedy of all tragedies occurred, and I had saved all the papers, Time Magazines and other "memorabilia". He was earning some money by packing up some papers in the office and came upon my 9/11 stash. The questions came forth like a geyser - "How many people died? Why did that guy make those other guys commit suicide? Because they were dead when they drove that plane into the buildings, right? Why did they pick the Twin Towers? What did they want to prove? Did they believe in God?"

Wow. All good questions. Especially that last one. I remembered some good advice I was once given about explaining tough subjects to kids - answer simply, and wait for the next question. If it comes, answer it. If it doesn't, they've received enough information for now.

After bin Laden was killed, the questions continued. "Why is everyone cheering because we killed him? How did the guy that shot him feel? Are the people who liked him going to get mad and attack America again?" I'm floored, Son. Because I wonder the same things. He even asked my parents to save the paper from that now-infamous day, I'm assuming to add to the "collection".

Then there's my impending wedding. My kids really like my fiance, so I'm thankful for that. But sitting there one night, the questions started again. "Why did you and Dad get divorced again? But you're still friends, right? Why couldn't you be friends and be married? You and Chris aren't going to get a divorce are you?" And the best part, "You know, Mom, people fight. You and Chris are going to fight. But you just have to remember that just because you do, you don't have to get a divorce."

Wise words from a young child. And a little look into his fears and concerns about me embarking on a second marriage. Point taken.

Finally, there was this. Last Sunday, during my older son's Confirmation, the Pastor delivered a riveting speech on the testing of faith, and how we are constantly asking why God lets bad things happen. I'm never sure if my son is listening or not, as he sits there eating Gummies and fiddling with his shoelaces. But the other night he said, "So, why does God make bad things happen?" to which I replied, "He doesn't 'make' the bad things happen, necessarily, but he does test us sometimes to make sure that we believe in Him." To which he replied, "But why did he give Grandma cancer?" Sigh. I fumbled to explain, secretly hoping the questions would stop because I had no real answers. Finally he said, "When I think about Grandma having cancer it makes tears happen in my eyes." What can you say to that? (She is now cancer-free, thank you, God.)

Keep asking those questions, Son. You keep me on my toes. You never cease to amaze me with what goes on in your brain. Someday, you'll do great things. You already are.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The two most important words my son needs to remember

Yesterday, my oldest son, my firstborn, was confirmed in the Lutheran Church.

Having been raised Catholic, it was kind of a big day for me – even moreso than my own Confirmation way back in 1979. I was on board – completely immersed in the Catholic religion – following without questioning, eager to experience yet another of the seven Sacraments. It was a rite of passage - it was “what we Catholics do”.

For my son I think it was a different story. In the Lutheran Church, the Confirmation process is two years in the making. So my son, who does not have the daily religious upbringing that I had, has been “plugging away”, if you will, at weekly Confirmation classes and Sunday Schools since the beginning of 7th grade.

Now to me, this is no great sacrifice. But I was brought up a bit differently. As I’ve said in previous blogs, I was raised in a fairly strict Catholic household, and left the Church in my early 20’s. After I had children, I yearned for a place for them to go where they could feel comfortable and accepted, worship God, and be a contributing, willing member of a Church family.

I did find that church, but often think I failed in our involvement. I really wanted to be one of those people that everyone knew – that headed up a Sunday School class, volunteered for Vacation Bible School, and jumped on any and every committee that there was. You know who I’m talking about, right? Yeah, that wasn’t me. Life, single parenting, work, lack of work – I had all the excuses. Plus I wasn’t a Lutheran “lifer” – so I think I always felt a bit “out of the loop”. So in that, I feel as if I somewhat failed my son.

So, back to him. He’s smart, talented, thoughtful, helpful, good-hearted and humorous. He’s also challenging, stubborn, opinionated, argumentative and exasperating. That whole, “I’m going to raise my kids to love going to church” fell on deaf ears with him. Although I think he actually enjoyed the Confirmation classes, I think he felt a little like me – an outsider.

Although I understood my own insecurities, I wasn’t entirely sure why he felt that way until I attended the Confirmation banquet, where each Confirmand stood on a small stage with his parent(s) and Confirmation mentor, and the pastor and youth director would say something nice about the Confirmand and read the Bible verse they had selected especially for him or her. As I saw all the moms and dads stand up there with their coiffed, nicely dressed (shirt tucked in) upstanding children and heard the Pastor and youth director say things like, “You are truly a gift from God,” or, “You light up the room every time you walk into it,” or, “We are so blessed that you came into our lives,” I wondered what they would say when my mop-headed, concert t-shirt-wearing kid with an attitude took the stage. And I wondered what they’d think of me, standing there without a sidekick parent.

Really, they did the best they could with this kid that kind of broke their mold. They commented on how “cool” he was, with his long hair and his “musical” (heavy metal guitar and bass) abilities. Then they made note of the fact that he had experienced “challenges” in his life. This gave me pause – I suppose he has had challenges, but I really never thought they were any more significant than most 13-year olds. And they noted the changes he was going to experience soon (move, blending families, new school). Agreed – he’s going to be hit pretty hard in the next year, so I appreciated the shoutout of prayers to his future.

What I appreciated the most, though, was how they acknowledged the fact that, as I was back in my 20’s, he wasn’t completely on board - not as sure as his Lutheran-raised peers. He had questions and doubts, and for all intents and purposes was just “going with the flow” as far as this whole Confirmation thing was concerned. But these folks GOT that, and I’ll never forget what Pastor told him, and that was to BELIEVE that God is there. TRUST that God is there. Believe enough to fall back into His arms and trust that He will catch you.

As much as what people say to any 13-year old goes in one ear and out the other, I think that hearing those words, coupled with standing in front of 22 of his peers and their families who (seemed to) wholeheartedly believe and trust already, maybe made him think, “Hmmmm. Maybe there is something to this.”

A part of me was sad. A part of me wanted him to “get it” right now, to be like those other kids who knew all the words to the hymns and volunteered in the nursery and loved Jesus so very much. Then a man in the congregation that I’ve known since I was pregnant with my son came up to me and said, “Look up Corinthians 3:11. He’s going to be OK.” To which I burst into tears.

And the props don’t stop there. My son’s Confirmation mentor, selected for him to guide him through the Confirmation process, had to have been assigned to him by the Big Man himself. Not only did he accept my son for who he was, he listened to him, acknowledged his sometimes “know-it-all” approach to theology, and somehow managed to teach and inspire him while still maintaining that ultimate “coolness” factor. This man, who already has a full plate and a family of his own, took the time to not only mentor my child, but to befriend him, understand him, and respect him for the person that he is. And he mentored me as well, as he did yesterday morning when he said to me, “He’s a good kid. You may roll your eyes, but what he does in front of you, he does for effect. He’s a good kid with a good heart.”

I feel bad that I need others to remind me how amazing my son is. Deep down, I know he is. I think I just want him to realize that he’s not always going to be able to do it on his own. As I’ve told him countless times before, “You need God because someday, you’re not going to know where to turn. And when that happens, you’ll know to turn to Him.” He’s going to need to put his faith in a higher power to get him through his life. He’s going to need to BELIEVE. He’s going to need to TRUST. Not only in God, but in himself. And that’s HARD – and at 13, he just doesn’t want to do it. But I hope someday he will. And if I can continue to strive to surround him with amazing people like his Pastor and his mentor, I think that belief and trust will come, with time.

Congratulations on your Confirmation, son. I love you so very much. I know you BELIEVE that, and I know you TRUST me. Please do the same with yourself, and with God. Believe it or not, He loves you even more than I do.