Going It Alone

Last week my daughter found out the authors of a book she was interested in were going to be at Town Hall here in the city, giving a talk about their book. She realized this the morning of the event, bought a ticket and attended the show.  Completely by herself. No friends, no me…just herself.

At 16, there was no way I would ever attend an event by myself.  My first thought would be “What kind of loser will people think I am because I’m at this alone?” I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the event.  I would have sat home.

But that sort of summed up my childhood…sitting home alone, too afraid to try anything.  Too afraid of how people would perceive me. I cared so much about what others thought of me.

I guess you know that’s changed.

Nowadays- I really don’t care what others think of me.  I speak my mind, wear what I want, do what I want. And I can’t help but wonder if this is why my daughter has the courage to try- to go out of her comfort zone. Maybe there is something to this actions speak louder than words….

See, when I was growing up my Mom was great at the “You can do anything” speech. Except when it was something my sister or I wanted to do. Then she would say “Why do you want to do that?” My Mother had conceived notions as to what was acceptable behavior, and what were acceptable pastimes. She had very strict codes of conduct that we were supposed to follow.

But my Mother is also the Queen of actually not doing anything.  My Mother has two hobbies: shopping and “discussing” politics. She actually DVR’s home shopping network.  And to say she discusses anything, let alone politics, would be an injustice to the definition of discuss.

My Mother has also never gone out of her comfort zone.  Ever.  I am 78% scaredy cat because my Mother’s innate fear of everything is so ingrained in me and I don’t think I can afford to spend that much money on therapy. So I grew up with my Mother telling me exactly what I should and should not do- what I was allowed to do, and what I was not allowed to do.

And it took me a long time to get out of my comfort zone.

When I finally had a child, I knew I did not want her to grow up with a sense of fear that was part of my DNA.  I knew I had to tell her she could do anything. But I also had to show her that I was willing to go out of my comfort zone. (well- a little, because we all know I hyperventilated climbing the steps of a lighthouse) I had to show her that I am willing to speak my mind about anything, take intellectual risks, go places alone if I am interested in something that no one else is.

Maybe it worked.

I will not take all the credit for her confidence. I actually don’t know what you’re born with and what you take on. (for the record I’m not getting into the nature/nurture today) But I do know that my daughter has a confidence that I just don’t have. My Husband, her Father- well, he doesn’t have it either.

I took the risk of having a child. I took the risk of choosing a way to raise her. I took the risk of believing in the path that was in front of me. I was confident in my choices.

I guess my daughter was watching.

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Psych….

I mentioned that my daughter is a humanities girl.  So, after four long years of hard sciences, she is finally able to take a  science class without labs.  Enter psychology- soft science.  Have any of your kids taken psych? Yeah…good times.

After about two weeks of psychology my daughter had already obtained a few theories.  We sat at dinner one evening, and I asked her about her day.  She went through her classes, so far so good in Calculus, AP Comp Gov was really interesting as they talked about the Singapore economy and she’s just read the Crazy Rich trilogy, etc.  Then she got to psychology.  “Hmmm. I don’t know if I should say this.” She said.  Now, the minute someone says a statement like that, I have to know what the statement is.  I will not sleep if I don’t know what the next thought is.  So I pestered her.  Finally, she relented.

“Well” she began, the look of concentration evident in her expression, “You know what you’re biggest failing as a parent is?”

My first thought was, I don’t have any failings as a parent.  I’m perfect.  But to be fair I asked, “No.  What is my biggest failing as a parent?”

“You’re too nurturing.”

I see.  My biggest flaw as a parent is that I’m too nurturing.

I let that sink in for a minute.  I am not known for being warm and cuddly.  When something goes wrong my favorite phrase is “Suck it up Buttercup.” When daughter was in sixth grade she played soccer.  During one game she took a particularly hard hit, went flying and really scraped her face up.  Instead of running onto the field to hug her I gave her a big smile and a thumbs up from the bleachers. When the game was over I took to making sure everything was clean and bought ointment. Practical.  Not overly nurturing.

“How am I too nurturing?” I asked.

“Well” she started.  “If I tell you this, you might stop.”

I just looked at her.

“Ok.  You make my breakfast every morning.  If I’m running late you make my bed for me.  Really, I should be doing these things for myself”

I looked at her again.  “You know, I can stop doing these things for you…I mean, if it’s damaging you as a person and all…”

She looked exasperated.  “See.  That’s why I didn’t want to say anything.  I knew you would get all ‘I’ll stop taking care of you’ and I don’t want that.  I like when you take care of me.”

I smirked. “But is it going to damage you forever?”

“Well” she began “It might eventually effect my relationships.  I might have expectations that my future partner will nurture me and that might not be realistic” and she went off on exactly the things you expect a teenager to say after they’ve had twelve high school level periods in psychology.

So Parents…  We can’t win. No matter what we do, our kids are going to find faults.  They are going to pick apart all our actions and reactions towards them. We will always be too much, or not enough.

Here’s my parenting advice.  There’s nothing we can do or see or read that will make us perfect parents.  Just use your best judgement and try your hardest.  And try not to overanalyze.  They’re going to find something wrong no matter what we do.

 

 

 

What’s More Important

You all know that my daughter is in the process of applying to college. And some of you may know that college marketing is huge.  Many colleges hold recruiting events in NYC and the immediate suburbs, and my daughter has been attending them when she is interested.

Recently, my Daughter received an invite to a school that is high on her list.  The event was scheduled for a Monday at 630 in midtown Manhattan.  My daughter had a tennis match that same day, which ended at 6pm.  Her tennis match was in another borough, and quite possibly as far from midtown Manhattan as possible.

My daughter doesn’t miss anything.  She hasn’t had a sick day from school since 3rd grade. She is also never late to anything. She asked me- “Should I miss the tennis match? Or should I be late to the event?” I told her that her first responsibility was to the team.  She is both a starter and Co Captain.

She listened to me, won her match, and made it to the event about 15 minutes late.  She was there for the lion share of the presentation and got to chat with alumnae.

Fine.

When I related this story to someone else, they said she should have blown off the match, because the college thing was more important. They thought of it as a make or break moment for the college admission process.  I thought that if they don’t want my daughter because she’s 15 minutes late for a dog and pony show because she was honoring her commitment to her team, then it probably wasn’t the right school for her.

So I ask of you today, how do you assess a priority?  If you have two things at the same time, what factors go into your decision making process? How do you determine what is more important?

One of my Momism’s is “90% of success is showing up.” I have always stressed the importance of not letting people down, that when you sign up for something, you commit.  But are there times when it’s OK to bail?

So, what are your thoughts? How do handle the double/triple commitment thing?

 

 

The Last First Day of School

Yesterday was the first day of school.  The last first day of school that I will be with my daughter. Sigh.  The day started out the same as always.  I went to the corner store to get my daughter her traditional egg and cheese sandwich.  I fastened her necklace after she put on her new and carefully chosen outfit, I took her picture in front of my building, I shed a tear.  It was the picture that did it: I’ve taken her picture in the same spot in front of my building since she was in nursery school.  After I hugged her good bye and watched all walk towards the subway, I entered my building and looked at my doorman.  He just nodded his head: he’s seen me take this picture every year.  He knows the significance as much as I do.

Wow.

Where did the time go?

I was recently chatting with Shalini and Jo, and I regaled the fact that I have become the crazy woman in the market who tells parents with small children in tow to not blink, because before you know it, your kids will be all grown up.  I know from experience: I blinked.  So don’t blink…

What do I mean by this?  Make time for memories.  Make time to do things that are just for fun.  Have traditions.  Take pictures. Build a relationship with your child.

I realize I an the most structured person in the world: I have a schedule and a procedure for everything. I’m a stickler for homework and completing what you started and being a good team player.  I taught her rules and responsibilities.    But I also let my daughter jump in puddles just to see her smile as the water splashed up.  I let her use play doh in the living room, and dealt with the mess.  We built lego forts in the middle of the living room, sang really badly, had game tournaments and Mommy/Daughter outings.  We lived and experienced and enjoyed. And because I have a head full of memories, I am reasonably OK about the future.  (I say reasonably because there is a 33% chance that I will follow her to college and move across the street and stick a GPS chip in her arm while she’s asleep) I truly believe I am going to let her move out…

Remember that the job of a parent is to raise a self sufficient adult.  We’ve done our job if they are able to join the world and leave us behind.  Our job is to push them out of the nest. So when you shed a tear as you watch their back walk away, remember that this is good, that this is what is supposed to happen.  And know that they love you even if they’re looking at you through the rear view mirror.  They see you- they’re still looking- they know you have their back if things go south. They know how much you love them.

Remember the good times.  Laugh about the bad (you can laugh- it’s in the past) Wave good bye for now.  It’s OK.  They’re in your head and in your heart.  And you will always be in theirs.

 

What would you do?

Once I pick a topic to blog about, I don’t look back- I just figure out a way to write and just write it.  This topic is a little different-I’ve actually pushed this idea off a few times- I know there’s a point I’m trying to make, but I’m not sure what it is.

But- because I never give up, and once I get an idea in my head I have to keep pushing through.  Passionate?  Stubborn?  I’ll let you decide which…

A few months ago I went to the gym.  As one does, when I came back I was hot and sweaty and my muscles were a bit fatigued.  I walked into the air conditioned lobby of my building and drank my water as I waited for the elevator. A mother and daughter (about two) stood beside me waiting for the elevator.  When the doors opened, the mother and daughter got on the elevator.  When I tried to enter, the little girl screamed no and actually tried to push me off the elevator, hitting me. She continued to throw a tantrum screaming no no no.

The Mother was embarrassed and did all the mother things we do when our offspring behave in an inappropriate way. She apologized to me, tried to get the child to apologize. the whole deal.

The whole thing left me a little uneasy.  I’ve seen kids misbehave.  All kids misbehave.  All kids do things we wish they didn’t.  I understand testing limits- it’s what kids are supposed to do.

But- this didn’t seem quite like that.  This seemed different. This seemed more troubling.

So- my question is: how do we know what is acceptable bad behavior, and how do we know when bad behavior is hiding something bigger? Was this an appropriate two year old tantrum, or is something going on in this kids life/mind that is should be evaluated?

As parents, as bystanders…how do we know?

What do we do?

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?

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.