Monday, September 23, 2013

Advice to young moms from an old one

Never in my life have I felt so challenged than when my kids were young. The tantrums. The crying. The sleep schedules. The picky eating. 

That is, until they were teenagers.

The parenting is harder. The issues are bigger.  And the kids are taller. Which leads me to say what I was told when my kids were young and what I tell young parents now that I am old: “Just wait until they’re teenagers.” 

Looking back, I wish I had done a few things differently.  Like everyone else, I had no manual. I truly think I tried my best, but there were times when I just got tired. Had I known the end product of my parental slacking off, I would have put on my big-girl panties and dug in for the long haul. 

That said, I offer you younger moms some advice from someone who has been in the trenches of toddlerhood and is now living the turmoil of teenagedom. As with any self-help book, take what you want and leave the rest. What worked (or didn’t work) for me may not work (or work) for you.

Don’t be their buddy.
It’s tempting. You want to give them everything and do fun stuff and be cool and show them how much you love them. But really, they don’t need the first three things – they just need the last one. And maybe a little of the second one. But remember – you don’t birth your friends. You don’t tend to your friends’ personal hygiene, or burp them, or drive them around in the back seat of your car (normally). These are little people whom you are raising to survive in the big, bad world. They’ll make their own friends, and until they’re adults, you shouldn’t be one of them.  

Teach them responsibility.
Overall, my kids are responsible, but I did screw up in a few areas. It became easier to pick up after them than to yell at them repeatedly to pick up after themselves. I was so concerned with what they ate that I never let them loose in the kitchen (read: I fixed all their meals so now they pretty much don’t know how to make squat.) I taught them how to earn and save money, but not necessarily how to budget it. I was so uber-responsible myself (and a bit controlling) that I took it all on my shoulders and gave them none. Why? I’m not sure. Maybe because it’s hard. It’s time consuming. It takes patience and it takes letting your children make mistakes. For some reason, I couldn’t do that very well, and now I’m paying the price – and they will, too.

Let them fail.
Better do it now when it’s the little stuff than later when it’s the big stuff. Don’t do what I did and be the one always trying to calm the waters – let them have a hand in it. It may mean getting a zero on their homework because they forgot their book, versus driving back up to school to pick it up. It may mean letting them talk to the teacher about trouble they’re having in class versus you setting up a meeting. It may even mean them failing a class because they didn’t take the steps necessary to get help versus micro-managing their homework page every night. Or not getting to play on the team because they refused to practice at home, rather than mom bartering with the coach to put them in. Saving your kids from every disappointment now is NOT going to do them any good when you can’t save them later, like when that girl breaks his heart, or he doesn't get that job, or when he can't get into that college. It’s called life and they need to learn to deal with both the good and the bad, and as much as you want to, you can’t and shouldn’t bail them out of everything.

Look for signs
When my kids were little, the pediatrician told me that they were more likely to act up right before they learned a new skill. The frustration of trying to figure out a new task like talking or walking or writing was enough to shift their personality into the red zone.  I believe that holds true even as they get older. If your adolescent is suddenly jumping down your throat, or spending a lot of time alone, or acting down for an unknown reason, he’s probably a teenager. Just kidding. He may be a teenager but don’t always hang your hat on that. It’s a tough world we live in today, so do a little investigating. Check in with him to see if everything’s OK with school, work or friends. Pay attention to what he or she is doing and saying. Ask a couple of low-key questions. Talk to teachers, moms and other kids if you need to. Get outside help if you need to. Really, it’s OK. 

They’re not the greatest things since sliced bread, but they’re no slouches, either.
It’s tough to walk this fine line. When they were little, I kept hearing about “wounding a child’s spirit”, so everything they did, from finger painting to ball throwing to pooping in the potty was the greatest thing I had ever seen in my life. As my challenging son got older and I started riding him about grades, his hair, his friends and his lack of motivation, I’m sure he thought he could do nothing right. Catch yourself before you overly-praise – it loses its punch after awhile. On the other hand, constant criticism can screw with their already-fragile self-esteem when what they really want is to find their own way yet still make you proud of them. 

Be their biggest fan
This is different than the above. This means letting them know that they are loved no matter what. This is loving them enough to discipline them, letting “I hate you!” roll off your back and not respond in kind, to advocate for them when you really need to, to let go with love and to learn how to stay out of sight yet off in the wings “just in case.” It’s making decisions that make you cry, losing sleep because you don’t know what to do, and cherishing when they let you hug them or kiss them on top of their heads. It’s letting them know sometimes without saying it that you’re there for them if they really need you. Because they do need you – even if they think they don’t. But in that same breath, they need you to help them grow into self-sustaining adults, and that means breaking out that tough love sooner rather than later.

Take my word for it. You’re welcome.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Brain games

It's funny how life has changed over the past six months. How my family has changed. How I have changed.

The "issues" and "problems" that seemed soooo important back then seem so insignificant now. I'm almost embarrassed that I shed tears to a friend about how lonely I felt after a breakup with a guy that was long overdue. How utterly silly now. How easily I gossiped about others not knowing their full situations or what might be going on in their lives. How petty was I. What made me feel then and what makes me feel now are worlds apart. And I'm still sorting them out in my own brain.

Sometimes, I feel sadness. Profound, helpless sadness as I help my mom do things that up until two months ago she could do for herself. Things I never thought I'd help her do - like eat and walk and go to the bathroom and remember names of people and what day it is and where she is. Sadness as I look around the common room of the skilled care facility where she now resides and see all the elderly people around her and think, "Why is MY mom here? She's the youngest one of the whole bunch!"

I see these people scoot around in their wheelchairs, bumping into walls or grabbing on to each other. Some cry for help or try to get up, only to have their seat monitors blare and aides come rushing. That happens all the time to my mom. In fact, she tries to get out of bed every night. She falls every night. The monitor goes off every night. Every night my dad gets a call that she fell out of bed. She thinks she has somewhere to go. She doesn't. She has nowhere to go but here.

Sometimes, I feel anger. That comes in waves. Dark, heated waves. Mostly, lately, I'm angry at the neurosurgeon who performed her surgery. Should I be? Probably not. After all, according to him, he saved her life. He repaired her ruptured aneurysm that he said was "paper thin" and would have eventually completely ruptured and surely caused death. The aneurysm was in a tough place, so he had to sacrifice an artery and rebuild a wall. He "wasn't sure" the effect it would have on what areas of the brain, or if the other arteries would compensate. He said we'd know better in three to four days.

I never saw him again. That's what makes me so angry. I know it's not his job to come back. I get that. He did what he was paid to do and that's it. But I want to go to him and ask him, "Did you know this was going to happen? Did you know that this COULD happen? Because you never said anything about this. You never SAID she might not be able to walk on her own again. You never SAID she would lose control of her bowels. You never SAID her memory would be so compromised she wouldn't know where she was or what year it is or what exactly the names of my children are. You never SAID she could potentially end up in a nursing home. You just said, "Time will tell."

WELL TIME ISN'T TELLING. You saved her life and that's what you do. But if you knew my mom, you'd know that she's the poster child for quality of life. Ask anyone she knows. Ask her oncologist who when she told him she was thinking of not doing another round of chemo said, 'I know you value quality of life. And when I feel that quality of life will be compromised, I'll tell you when it's time to stop fighting. It's not yet time.' Did you know this about her as you went into her brain and altered her whole life to save her life?"

Sometimes I feel utterly helpless. Helpless to help her. To think of things to stimulate her brain. Helpless in wishing I was smarter so I could know what parts of her brain were misfiring and what I could do to trigger them back in line. Helpless to get her to stay in bed because I don't want her to fall and end up back in the hospital. Helpless to watch my dad because I know he hates this even more than me because this is his wife. This is his life. And I cannot ever do enough or take away his sorrow or pain or frustration at this whole crazy ordeal.

And sometimes, every once in awhile, I feel happy. When I let go of my anger and sadness and helplessness and focus on right this minute and things are going well, I feel happy. Like the other night when I went to visit Mom. It was just the two of us. I had been reading up on the power of music and brain trauma patients and decided to put in the music from one of her favorite Broadway plays, Les Mis. It was as if she was transported somewhere - I could see it in her eyes. She REMEMBERED. She tapped along to some of the songs. She LISTENED. We talked about seeing the movie together and how she cried. SHE REMEMBERED.

In between songs we chatted - I listened to her nonsensical stories about people long gone doing things they never did and instead of correcting her just listened to her. We perused one of her puzzle books and took a walk. We talked about what color we would paint the room and then we straightened all the items on her bulletin board. We joked when she tried to pawn of her nightly meds on me and when she tried to get out of her chair I made her laugh and sit back down. I left that night feeling happy. But it didn't last long.

I miss my mom. I know there are many people who have lost their moms to death and the void is unfillable and I kind of get that. I'm just not sure how to deal with missing her so much when she's still physically here. She's not getting better. We don't know if she is going to get better. No one can tell us if she's going to get better. And I just want her better. Home and better. I think of the holidays coming up - Thanksgiving and Christmas - and I can't even face them. Those two holidays have been my mom's thing my entire life, and now I don't even think she'll be cognizant of the day. It's times when I think of these things that I want to bury my head under a pillow and make it all go away.

I am different now. I see things differently now. I feel things differently now. What mattered six months ago is wildly different than what matters now. Emotionally, I am exhausted. My whole family is emotionally exhausted. But we do this for her, because she deserves it. We do this for her, because she earned the right to be cared for and listened to and not given up on. We do this because we love her and she loves us and if the tables were turned she would be doing the same thing. So when I feel sad, or angry, or helpless, or even happy, I try to think of what my mom would do. What my mom would tell me. And she'd probably tell me to just deal with it.

So I do. I do it for her.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Can anyone answer these questions?

I haven’t had a lot of time to think lately. That’s probably best, because once I start thinking, I start questioning. And when I question, two things happen. A) I feel stupid for not knowing the answer and 2) I drive myself crazy trying to figure out the answer because I’m too self-conscious to ask it for fear that I’ll feel stupid for not knowing the answer.

Case in point? Syria. OK, obviously the majority of Americans think this is a bad idea, but for some reason Obama is either privy to some super secret information that he hasn’t shared with the rest of us or he’s just trying to be a butthead about it all. 

But my question here is twofold: 1) Why exactly do we want to get involved in this and what benefit would it have to the American people and B) Why are we broadcasting all over the news the exact dates and methods of this planned attack? I mean, call me crazy, but doesn’t Syria have a television?  Or is it one of those manipulative things that super-smart people do to make you THINK they’re doing one thing when they’re really doing another? Kind of like a narcissistic psychopathic serial killer? 

And what’s the deal with this Affordable Health Care Act thing? Is it in fact going to be affordable? And why is it that no one seems to know the deets? So, if I work for a company that doesn’t offer me health insurance and I’m all like, “Hey! Come January 2014 I’m gonna have insurance – YAY! I’ll just go talk to my boss about it now” and he’s like, “Uhhhhhhhhhhh….” isn’t that kind of a problem that maybe should be resolved? And my second part to that question is: If the premium for said health insurance is going to be sky high, then am I better off paying the penalty for NOT having health insurance? 
Disclaimer: I currently have health insurance, but in my head I ask these questions because I’m the kind of person who thinks of all the possible scenarios that could happen at any point in my life, this being potentially one of them, plus I want to have the answer in case someone posts this similar question on Facebook so I can be all, “I totally know that answer.”

When I’m not acting all smartypants about national and world events (which is 99.99% of the time), I have other important questions running through my brain. Questions like:

Why does that mom who shows up to pick up her kid from football look so awesomely put together in her pencil skirt, designer blouse and four inch heels as I sit in my broken folding chair wearing a stained Great Dane Brewing Company t-shirt and too-tight running shorts with a sweat-stained baseball cap on my head? I’m assuming we both went to work today, right???

Why do I not seem to have the time to make these “quick and delicious” recipes that all my busy mom friends post that their kids “just love” and do they really take less time than it takes for me to run through the Little Ceasar’s drive-thru window? I never, ever post pictures of what I feed my kids for fear that I’ll get a call from some sort of child welfare organization or, worse yet, a nutritionist. 

When is my 16 year old going to realize that I did not bring him into this world to make his life a living hell? That every word that comes out of my mouth is not stupid, asinine or lame? When is he going to see this cool, funny, well-organized and slightly anal-retentive mom who has only his best interests at heart? And since when was reminding him to perform basic human functions like “get up,” “please shower” and “don’t forget your backpack” considered nagging?

How is it that I made it through school and got decent grades when my parents didn’t nag me about it? I was just SUPPOSED to get good grades and I knew it. Because I wanted to drive. Because I needed to go to college. Because my friends all got good grades so why would I want to be any different? How has this logic and herd mentality somehow become convoluted in translation to my own children? 

When am I going to do something amazing? All my friends are doing it. They’re hard core training for marathons despite having two torn meniscus, starting their own businesses with capital they earned from selling their own plasma, losing a ton of weight by some method that takes a ridiculous amount of discipline and commitment, raising crazy amounts of money for a worthy cause benefiting some rare disorder they’ve overcome, or redoing their family room with a safari theme complete with live jungle animals that they’ve raised from infancy (OK, maybe I’m exaggerating on that last one.) Am I that much of a slug that I can’t a) run long distances b) barely keep my 40 hour a week job, c) lose any weight at all, d) pay my own bills or e) vacuum a room in my house, let alone redo one?

Other questions that require less explanation:

How is it that Honey Boo-Boo’s mom can get married and I can’t even get a date?

Do the two cars in front of me – in two separate lanes – going 10 miles under the speed limit – KNOW I’m late???

And speaking of cars, whose lame-brained idea was it to have the backup lights remain ON after you exit your vehicle? Because I look like an idiot waiting for said car to back out when in fact there’s no on IN said car.

And finally, why is it that my son can remember a gazillion complicated football plays using only numbers and letters for reference but still not recall that he has homework to do? 

So many questions. So few answers. My brain is full of them. If you can shed any light on any of these, feel free to let me know.