Nature /Nurture

I am fascinated by the topic of nature vs nurture- more so since I saw the documentary “Three Identical Strangers”.  What is it that determines how people will turn out?   Is someone’s destiny predetermined at birth. or does upbringing help?

I have a friend who adopted a child.  The birth mother was a drug abuser and had other assorted issues.  The adoptive family were/are loving and supportive.  They provided the child with a nurturing and loving environment, exposed the child to art and culture and sports and whatever else the dream childhood consists of. They were involved in the child’s life in every aspect, and supportive of whatever path the child chose.

The child was quite intelligent and grasped onto concepts fairly quickly.    Child had a gift for language and writing.  But, the child was a behavior problem both in and out of school.  Respect was not one of the things this child exceeded at.  Child, who we will call Z, was regularly in trouble at school, little league, whatever.

When Z was in third grade, one parent passed away- cancer.  It was quick and brutal.

After the death, Z really started to go off the rails- the transgressions got larger. The actions of the child were starting to get dangerous.  Middle school saw Z stop working at all- work so poor that the decision was made to send Z to a special school.   And then another special school.  Because the problems kept multiplying. And drugs.  and alcohol.

Ninth grade would need to be repeated because Z was unable to maintain anything close to a good average- obviously, this highly intelligent child failed everything.

I recently found out Z is now in rehab.  Z is the same age as my daughter- they played together in pre-k.  And now Z is in rehab. This talented amazing child.  16 and lost.

So there you go.

Did the death of a parent throw Z right off the rails?  Or was Z destined to make questionable choices and become a substance abuser?

So what do you all think?

Nature?

Or nurture?

Both?

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Straw into Gold

I always jot down blog ideas by putting them in my planner.  Most of the time I see my note and I know immediately the direction I want to take: I have a clear cut path.  Today is not one of those days.  Today I looked at my note and went “hmmm- what was I thinking when I jotted this idea down?” So, we’re going to see if I can turn straw into gold.  Or if not gold, at least something of worth.

My daughter just finished Junior year of high school.  She did well- this is not a complaint about her academic achievements.  She has an impressive three year GPA, she did well enough on her SAT that if it wasn’t that she needed to do the optional essay, she would not be taking it again. (In NYC, all students take the SAT courtesy of the city- the only catch is, it is given without the optional essay.  My daughter is applying to at least 5 schools that require the essay)

Here’s the thing when people see someone with high grades- they somehow assume that those that have high grades do not study.  They think these grades just happen.  And maybe, for some kids this is true.  But my kid is not always one of them.  My kid studies. And some classes are more of a struggle than others.

History is not one of those classes.  For some reason she has an almost eidetic memory for history- she has an uncanny grasp of dates and concepts.  When they played US History Jeopardy, her team won 7000-300 because if her teacher started a question “In 1887…” she would ring in and say “Dawes Act”- and then give the description.  She got a 99 on the Regents Exam (NY State test for high school) and thought about asking to see her answer sheet because she couldn’t figure out what she got wrong. But, to be clear, she still reads the books and does the homework.  It just settles in her brain the right way.

Physics.  Well physics was a bit of a challenge.  She spent more time studying physics this year than every other class combined. She was at every review session.  She signed up for a physics video website thing.  She bought about a thousand physics study guides.  She worked her tail off, and she was rewarded with a good grade.  But she worked hard.

Some people don’t seem to realize that success comes with hard work and sacrifice.  When my family was over on Father’s Day, my daughter excused herself to study physics, because she had the exam a few days after.  My FIL said “Why is she studying?  She’s smart. She doesn’t need to study.”

So here’s the thing: just because you are smart, or athletic or funny doesn’t mean that you are automatically get all A’s, or play in the major league or be a late night talk show host.  Just because you have raw talent doesn’t mean you don’t have to work at something.  To be good at anything you must consistently work towards that goal.  You must consistently put in time and effort.  Study, practice, whatever- you must work.  No one is entitled to grades or recording contracts or pro careers.  No one succeeds by putting in minimal effort.  No one is that lucky.

So here’s the thing: don’t spend your time buying lottery tickets in hopes of changing your life.  Figure out your passion and work towards a goal.  Take your straw and weave it into gold.

 

 

The Intern

My daughter started her internship yesterday.

Ok- so that’s the lead- but what’s the rest of the story?

She applied to a few different internship programs, because as you know, internships are difficult to get, especially if you have few connections.  Many firms are cutting back on these types of opportunities, so for a High School student, finding an internship can be daunting.  Though she interviewed for many, there were not a plethora of offers.  But, she did secure a good spot which more importantly fit her time frame.  (TBH, she needs to look at colleges this summer, and she has a TON of summer homework, plus she takes her second SAT in late August, and oh yeah, because she plays a fall sport, tennis practice begins halfway through August- three weeks before school starts.

Of course- my daughter had delusions of grandeur:  in her mind she was going to sashay into the office and start running things.  I kind of put in perspective that she would probably have a lot of busy work.  As it turns out, we were both sort of right and sort of wrong: though yesterday she did a bunch of folding and envelope stuffing, tomorrow she actually begins a project that is tedious by the sound of it, yet important.  Like anything- tedious but necessary.

Sunday night she had a little attack of nerves.  She said to me “What if I make a mistake?  What if I screw up?  This isn’t school, where I might not like a bad grade, but I know I will survive.  What if I do something wrong?”  I reminded her that she wasn’t performing brain surgery.  She wasn’t defending someone of death row.  And that everyone makes mistakes.  Everyone.  Just because it’s a job and people are supposed to be adults doesn’t make them infallible.  I doled out the Mom playbook and I told her to listen to what she’s being told, take notes, write lists, and ask questions.  Just like she has done since she was four years old and went to Kindergarten.  I reminded her that the qualities that make her a successful student will be the same qualities that make her a successful person in the work force.  I don’t know how convinced she was, but she nodded her head.

I went back down memory lane as I helped her get dressed yesterday morning: I took her suit and blouse out of the closet, secured her necklace clasp, smoothed her hair down under the rarely used headband.  As I stepped back to look at her, all I could think was “How did this happen?  How is my kid old enough to be heading to an office for a “real” job?  Wasn’t she just starting nursery school?” For a second, I had a little attack of nerves.

Yes- I had one of those Mom moments.  I busied myself with making sure she had tissues and her metrocard.  Made sure she knew where the closest deli to the office was.  Straightened her suit one more time. Kissed her cheek as she went out the door….

No.  I didn’t cry.  I didn’t even get weepy.  Because even though this is a new stage for her, I know I have given her as many tools as possible to survive in the real world.  I know I have spent the past 16 1/2 years preparing her to walk out the door and survive in any setting.  I have prepared her to not need me.  And that felt good.  She knows I’m in her corner, but she also knows she can tackle anything she sets her mind to.

I’ve parented her to the best of my abilities.  She will always be my baby, and I will always be her Mommy.  But I know she’s ready to get on with her life.  And I’m ready to get on with mine.

Pride and Not so Prejudice

My daughter recently read “Pride and Prejudice.”  As many of you know, this is my favorite book.  I aspire to be Lizzie Bennett.  Well, a modern day version because I’m rather fond of indoor plumbing.

There’s a little backstory to my daughter reading this novel.  For AP Lang, they were required to read the first three chapters of a book from a time period they had trouble with, which is the 19th century for her.  And she was not loving the book when she began to read it, and couldn’t understand why I loved it so, but she chose to keep reading it.

Proud moment.  My daughter chose to voluntarily read this book. (and it’s a requirement for college English next year so she’s a bit ahead of the game)

And we began discussing the book, my daughters perspective that Lizzie was a boy hungry gossip, and my perspective was that my daughter was nuts.  But for arguments sake I tried to pretend that she might have a point in certain respects.  A very small point, but there’s nothing like a good debate.

Not so proud that she found this book to be the first recorded chick lit novel.

One morning I got a text from her when she was on the M101 on her way to school.

DAUGHTER: OMG Char marries Mr. Collins???

Proud moment.  My daughter texting me about a plot point in the book.

It’s amazing that my daughter reading my favorite novel could bring me so much joy.  It was wonderful to see the novel though her eyes, to discuss certain plot points and reasons why Austen chose to portray certain things in certain ways.  We analyzed the book as scholars, referred to it as a historical point of reference, and bonded as mother and daughter.

Bonding.  That was the best part.  Sitting at the table, or walking down the street, we were able to communicate with one another on a different level than just Mother/Daughter.  As my kid is smarter than me, and often more astute, we were able to discuss this novel as equals. Our relationship had just reached a new level.  I began to really see my daughter as the woman she will soon become.

Pride.

I am proud of the child she was, and I am proud of the woman she is becoming.  There are times, especially during middle school or teething, when a parent feels like they are failing at parenting.  They feel like they are the worst parent in the world, and things will never get better.  And then you hit a moment….and you exhale.  You realize that though not perfect, you did some things right.  You realize that you’ve raised a decent human being who you are now able to have an actual relationship with.

Proud.

When you hit one of these moments, savor it.  Because you know there are still going to be bumps ahead.  But take advantage of this small victory- this moment when you see your kid in a new light.

Allow yourself to spend a moment being proud.  You deserve it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Say “Yes” to the…

In February, A Utah elementary school told its students that they were not allowed to say “No” to anyone asking them to the Valentine’s Dance.

The school later overturned this decision due to parental complaints.

Ya think?

Telling girls and boys that they must say “YES” to a someone because the asker might feel bad if declined?

Seriously?

Let me let you in on a secret. You don’t have to like everyone just because everything in our society includes a like button. (FYI- you still must like my posts, because I exist outside of these boundaries)

Think back to my post yesterday. I discussed how some parents try to pave the way for their child so that the child has no set backs or disappointments.  This dance thing- this is what happens when you try to clear the path: ridiculous rules meant to save a child from suffering.

Does anyone really think this is the right path?

The problem is, we’re focusing on the wrong issues.  Yes, we want our children to feel good about themselves, but there are better ways to do that.  Think about the ramifications that a “must say yes” mentality has?  Besides the fact that it is not realistic at all.

Instead of making children “like” one another, why don’t we focus on being kind to one another.  Kind.  That’s a concept that our children should be taught.  Be a kind person.

How about respect.  Teach your child to be respectful to those around them, whether they are teachers, or students or anyone.  Tell them to respect the ideas of others whether or not you agree with them.  Tell them to stop the shaming, and the eye rolling and the trolling.

We have a generation of children raised on everyone gets a trophy, and everyone must be invited to everything.

How’s that working out?

Instead of worrying that someone might not feel confident if they are told no, let’s work in building self esteem the proper way.  Work hard, do the best you can, finish a task once it’s started.

Let’s work on teaching children to be kind to others.  This doesn’t mean they have to like everyone.  It just means that they treat them with dignity.  Let’s teach our kids to be respectful of others.  Again, not like, but accept.

And remember the most important thing: learn to like yourself.  Teach your children to like their quirks, their strengths and their weaknesses.  Because that ‘s the person to like: yourself.

 

Don’t Hurt Their Feelings

Last week I talked about naysayers: people who tell you why bother to try something new or go for your dreams.  We all agreed (ok- I decided we all agreed) that these people were toxic and we should ditch them.

But there’s another type of person that persuades others to not go for something and to stay in the neutral zone: overprotective parents.

Yup.  Parents.

The worst part about this scenario is that the parents truly have the child’s best interest at heart.  They really want what is best for their child.  Alas, they are operating under the misguided notion that their child remaining unscathed is the best course of action, that never getting hurt is the best way to make a child happy.

Bad move.

We’ve all seen these parents.  At certain points, many of us have been this type of parent.  They hover.  They hand out hand sanitizer and masks when you want to go near their child.  When a child trips in the playground they exacerbate the situation by racing over, scooping the kid in their arms and checking for concussion and broken femurs.  The crying is usually a direct result of the parent interference as opposed to the boo boo.  They begin to do their child’s homework in first grade because they don’t want the child to receive a bad mark, because you know, a wrong answer could permanently damage a child’s self esteem.  They are the parent buying 10 year olds participation trophies, because everybody wins….(please don’t let me get started on participation trophies given to children after kindergarten)  They have birthday parties of sixty kids because someone might get sad if they are left out, yet they conveniently forget about said child when they are actually at the birthday party and are sitting in a corner because they are either anti-social or being ostracized- because I guess it’s better to be ignored at a party instead of not being invited at all.

And as the child gets older, though the situations change, the parental pattern of behavior remains the same.  Don’t try out for that, you may not get picked and then you’ll be sad.  Don’t apply to that school, because you may not get in, and then you will be sad.  I could keep going, but I think you get the idea…

Here’s the bottom line: your kids are going to be sad and hurt and disappointed no matter what you do as a parent, because sad and disappointed and hurt are a part of life.

Yes.  I said it.  Bad stuff happens.  Every minute of every day.  And instead of shielding your children, hiding the reality of from them, you should be explaining things to them, teaching them how to recover from disappointment, showing them how to navigate the crap that makes up life.

Think I’m wrong?

Is your life completely perfect?

Does everything in your life align properly so that you have no worries or stress?

If the answer to the above is YES, please send me the link to your book, workshop or blog, because I would love to know the secret.

Allow your child to have the opportunity to fail at something.  Teach them how to recover.  It’s that simple.

 

 

Don’t Worry – It will Happen

Sorry.  This is going to be a bit of a rant, but something irked me and I have to complain write about it.

A few weeks ago, Husband and I were at dinner with friends.  My daughter was coming home from her tennis match (the parent who drove parks his car near the restaurant) and she saw us through the window, so she came in to say “Hi”.  As this was about 7pm on a Saturday, our couple friends asked what she was doing that night, to which she responded “homework”.

To make this clear, my kid is an avid studier and not so avid partier.  That’s just who she is.  Grades and extracurricular are much more important to her, and she has surrounded herself with friends who feel the same way.

Well, S asked her where the boyfriend was. (I think you all remember my blog about this particular topic) And she said that a significant other isn’t even a thought in her mind, that she’s just not interested.

When she left, he said to me.  “Don’t worry.  One day she’s going to wake up and meet a boy.”

What?

He continued.  “It will happen.  A boy will walk in and she’ll fall in love and won’t be alone anymore.”

I changed the subject.  (also- to be clear- this is my husband’s friend) In my mind though, I was sort of pissed off.  OK- not sort of.  Really annoyed.

  1. What’s wrong with a kid who is a serious student?
  2. What’s wrong with a kid who doesn’t want to date?
  3. Why are you looking with me with pity in your eyes that my 16 year old doesn’t have a boyfriend and it’s a tragedy?
  4. Why are you consoling me with one day a prince will come mentality?
  5. Maybe I think his kids being under 30 and all married is the wrong choice….( I know- not a question, but emphatic point that I thought should be included here_)

I know.  I’ve written this before, but today is blog as therapy day, and I have to put my frustration and anger on the page.  But the real question is:  why does it bother me so much?  Am I really subconsciously worried about why my daughter doesn’t choose to date?

So I thought about this.

And I thought.

And I over thought.

And I’ve decided that no, I really don’t care whether or not my daughter dates.  I’m actually pretty happy with the way she is.  She’s confident and hard working.  She’s a good person who isn’t mean and treats people with respect and dignity.  She has self worth. She has friends who treat her with respect and dignity.  She is a pretty happy kid, especially for a teenager growing up today.  And maybe she is all these things because she has focused on herself instead of focusing on popularity or pairing off.

So here’s the lesson.  Be yourself first.  Figure out who you are, what you like, what you don’t like.  Smile when someone gives you a look of pity, because you’ll probably have the last laugh.

Just like me.  Rant over.  Whew- aren’t you glad?

 

 

Mother/Daughter

My Sister was in town recently, which as I’ve told you, means I saw a bit of my Mother.  She usually has something to say about our parenting skills (again, you know how much I like people talking about my parenting)  My sister and I have always been open about talking to our daughters about sex (age appropriate).  The conversation went something like this:

Mother: I don’t know why you have to talk to the girls about sex

Me: Well, it’s a natural thing.  I want daughter to learn the right things and not have hang-ups.

Sister: Yeah.  I don’t want my kid to feel shame when thinking/talking about sex

Me: Totally.  The way you taught us left me filled with shame.

Mother: No it didn’t.  I was very good about teaching you those things.

Sister: No you weren’t.  I felt shame too.

Mother: No you didn’t.  I did it the right way.

Me: Mom, if we’re both saying the same thing, you have to at least consider that what we’re saying is correct.  You tried, but we’re telling you that your method didn’t work.

Mother: Yes it did.

I know parents make mistakes.  I’m sure my daughter has a list that she’s waiting to spring on me.  But I HOPE that I can acknowledge when I made a mistake, when I did something wrong, especially if my daughter tells me.

My Mother is a know it all (seriously- she makes me look like an amateur) Whenever someone says anything, she knows better.  My daughter mentioned that she wanted to look at a certain college.  My Mother immediately said, “That’s in a bad neighborhood.”  I asked, “When were you there?”  My Mother said “40 years ago.”  Now I realize that some things stay the same.  But guess what?  Some things change.  My Mother had no basis for her statement, but she will say it loud and repeatedly.

I really know that my Mother has my best interests at heart.  I know she says things in order to help me out.  But here’s the problem:  her statements are not always logical, factual or realistic.  She will read one article on something and declare it the absolute law, because it backs up her beliefs.  She will not even consider another opinion on pretty much anything:  there’s her way or no way.  And she has opinions on everything.  My daughter wanted a certain type of make-up brush for Christmas, which I bought her.  As soon as my Mother saw it she said “You don’t want to use that.  It’s horrible.”  Had my Mother ever used this item?  No.  Does she know anyone personally that used this item? No.  She just didn’t like the idea of it.  I told her that sometimes people need to try things out themselves- learn from experience.  She just shook her head at me.

See, that’s another issue with my Mother’s parenting skills.  She gave us a road map as to what we should and should not do.  She told us exactly how to proceed through life without teaching us how to make a good decision.  She never taught us to think about our actions.  We all know this is bad.  We need to make mistakes.  We need to get hurt.  We need to get dirty.  I know my Mother did these things out of love because she didn’t want us to feel pain or hurt.  But guess what, you still feel pain and hurt, because those things are unavoidable.

My Mother gave us the facts that she thought were important, not the facts that we needed.  And I have accepted that she didn’t know any better.  I have no issue with the fact that she made mistakes.  My issue is that she refuses to accept that she made mistakes.  In her mind, she did everything right and would not have changed her parenting choices at all.  This is why it is difficult to have an adult relationship with her.  She still tells me all the things I am doing wrong with regards to everything, and still tries to give me directions on how to live my life.

Yes, today is blog as journal day.  Today I randomly write down things that annoy me about my Mother, because it is somewhat cathartic to write the words down.  When I write it down, it releases a little something in me.  I feel a little bit better.

And as always, I often wonder why I am so screwed up, and then I spend some time with my Mother, and I wonder how am I so normal.

They Were Better

I’ve talked about my daughter before, but I’m going to give you a few relevant facts so that everyone is up to speed.

  1. Very hard working and strong work ethic
  2. Wants to be a lawyer
  3. Co-Captain of her high school law team
  4. Very competetive

In the winter/spring, the law team competes in mock trial.  The teams are assigned a case, and the students research the case and act as lawyers and witnesses and compete against other teams.  There is a great deal of work involved in being on a team such as this: she probably puts in a minimum of 20 hours a week when they are prepping. (on top of the other responsibilities she has) So this is a fairly large commitment.

So, a few weeks ago they competed.  And while their defense team won, their prosecution lost.  I knew how much she wanted to win, so I told her that I was sorry that they lost.  And her response was simple:  “It’s Ok.  They were just better than us.”

She didn’t blame her teammates.  She didn’t say the judge was biased.  She didn’t complain about their mentor law firm (who really did let the team down- but that’s a whole other story) She just said that the other team was better.  She said that her team was well prepared, that everyone really performed above expectations, that they gave it their all.  They just weren’t good enough.  She said it didn’t reflect badly on her teammates because they left nothing on the table, but sometimes in life you can do all the right things and still lose.

Now, I’m going to go with nurture again, because I’ll take all the credit because I’m ultra competitive.  So seriously, I don’t take losing lightly- how did I end up with a child so mature about losing?

Here’s the thing:  I have some rules in the house.

  1. If she wanted to join something or take lessons, she must finish out stated commitment- go to all lessons, go to all games and practices
  2. These commitments come first- she wasn’t allowed to not go to something, especially in a team situation, because I stressed that it is a team, and teammates show up
  3. You always give 100% of your effort.  The end result doesn’t matter, but the effort and work do
  4. I made it very clear that sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose, and that’s life
  5. Life is not fair
  6. You can’t win something if you don’t try it (this isn’t really a rule, more of a saying, but I preached it a lot, so I’m including it)

My daughter has a room full of trophies and plaques and certificates.  She has had her fair share of wins.  But she has also had losses.  She has been losing things since she was young.  But I have shown her that if you lose, you get to be sad, or mad or whatever emotion you want.  But then you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get on with it.  Because sulking is not a lifestyle choice that winners have.  Winners keep going- even when they lose.  Winners are always in the game.

So what’s the lesson?  I’m the greatest parent in the world?  Not even close.  But you need to think about the lessons you’re teaching your kids.  Someday they are going to make all their own decisions: they need to be prepared for that.  Make sure you’re stressing the important things.

 

The Water Bottle

I love my water bottle.  I mean, I really love it.

  1. It holds 32 ounces of water
  2. It’s curved like an hour glass, so it’s easy to hold
  3. It’s narrow enough at the bottom so it fits comfortably in cup holders at the gym and most movie theaters (this is actually rare for a bottle that holds 32 ounces)
  4. The cover is pink!
  5. The cover is a screw top, which means that unless I don’t close it properly, it is leak-proof, so I can throw it in my bag without worry

In short, it is my perfect water bottle.

Now here’s the story:  A few weeks ago I was at the movie theater.  I left my treasured water bottle at the movie theater.  I realized it when I was about halfway home.  The movie theater is about a 30 minute walk from my house, and it’s also not a convenient mass transit ride. (I live on the east side, the theater is on the west- it’s basically a Manhattan nightmare).  I was very bummed.

When my daughter got home she asked about my day.  I told her my tale of woe.  She sympathized.  She knew what that water bottle meant to me.  So she put her coat back on and made the trek to the theater and retrieved my water bottle for me.

My daughter did the hour round trip to get me my water bottle.  She simply said, “I know you would do this for me.  I know you have done this for me.”  There are no words for how I felt.

Now, this is one of those moments that I am going to say it’s nurture.  My daughter was nice to me because I have been an awesome Mom and raised her to be an amazing person.  Don’t you dare tell me it’s nature…

So, is it silly to be enamored with a water bottle?  Yes.  Was it necessary for my daughter to spend an hour retrieving the water bottle?  No.  Do either of those things matter?  Probably not.  My daughter did something sweet for me that didn’t cost any money, and she did it without expecting anything in return.  That’s pretty much the only gift I will ever need.