If these children are our future-I hope I go deaf soon.

This post was created with the full consent of my daughter. Names have been omitted to protect the guilty but I know who you are and I forget nothing.

I needed to apologize to my teenage daughter the other day. It was a really nice moment. For her.

So…it’s nice when you recognize something about your child that is also like you. When it’s positive and fun. She likes to sing loudly to pop music and enjoys sparkly nail polish and has some good one-liners.  ME TOO.  Yay us.

When it isn’t so great a quality…maybe not so flattering-it’s humbling and it can cause alarm bells and you can take it on as a campaign to root it out of them.  My girl. My happy, joyful, animated, teenagery girl can get really irritated sometimes.  Sometimes, when people cross a line with her or cross her, she will get mad.  And when she is mad at you, she can go into a little dark place in her mind to process things and if you are on the receiving end of this-it’s quiet time for you. Crickets.

I wonder where oh where in the world she learned this strategy?   Oh.  Me.

Now.  In her defense, she is a much milder person than I am.  Truly.  She is kinder, gentler, and more forgiving than her mother before her.  Always has been.  In fact, I am bookended by a mother and daughter who give second and third and fourth chances.  They are olive branch extenders. I am inspired by them but alas, I’m not them.  I’m more a “one and done” type of personality.  Show me who you are and I believe you.  Cross the line? Cross me?  I’ll prune the branch.  Snip.

My girl, she might take a cool tone with you.  I will ice you out for 50 years without another thought.  Sometimes it’s because I don’t want to say something I will regret.  Contrary to popular belief, I’m deliberate about what I say and calculated about who I am close with.  It’s not my fault.  My mother thinks I’m missing some standard issue ‘woman  gene’ that causes them to say yes to things, experience guilt and exude diplomacy. Apparently, I have been like this since birth. There is no known cure.

I don’t want her to be like me in this way.  I want better for her.  She is better.  She cuts people a break and is a more tolerant being.  The world needs this so desperately.  I want her to retain her sweetness and her extroversion and her true love of and interest in people.  I don’t want her to shut down and cut people off.  So I have been trying very hard (for years) to encourage her to work things out…with everyone.  This is both time consuming and frustrating but it’s well worth it to sort through the easy hurts and I have learned (baby steps) to do better myself.

But then…there is this issue.

I am absolutely horrified by how teenagers speak to one another.  It disgusts me.  It scares me. The language.  The name calling. The rudeness. The insults. The ridiculous comments on social media.  The ridiculous retorts to the comments on social media. The need to verbalize everything that passes through their minds to one another.   In the last few months, some people have said in person and texted some things to my daughter that are not great.    People she has just met. Some minor things.  A little crude.  But then…a couple of vicious things.  Vitriol.  Profane.  Bizarre.  They have said things that I have yet to unleash on anyone, for any reason.  But why?   Is it necessary to tell someone to “F-off” because they weren’t invited over for pizza?

Is it her? It’s not just her.  I’ve seen dozens of screen shots from her and her friends of these messages.  Group threads. Instagram.  Twitter.  It happens a lot.  The drama that begins in the virtual world is plentiful and relentless.  She assures me this is just ‘normal’.  She tells me people at school swear at each other.  Boys and girls alike call each other derogatory names. Girls call other girls terrible, deplorable names.  It’s the new status quo. Everything is out in the open now.

Someone asked her this year (IN PERSON) if she does extra squats at home to get that booty so she can ‘get more guys’.  Seriously?  First of all-No.  Wait. What???  Who asks that?  Who walks up to someone they barely know and opens a conversation with that?  Plus-would that work?  I should start doing squats. That’s not the point.  Sorry.

I have to ask myself why?  Why does this seem more intense than 25 years ago?

Some theories…

  1. Kids are lonely?  Alone.  On their own in their houses for hours on end with only their phone to entertain them and connect them to the world.  Bored.  They reach out into cyberspace but have developed zero true social skills?
  2. Kids have been trained to be bold through social media and anonymity and this is transferring to in person interactions?
  3. Kids have been raised worshipping people like The Kardashians and other ‘celebrated’ role models and think that it is cool and normal to speak to other humans like wild animals?
  4. Kids think there are no long term consequences?
  5. Kids have underdeveloped pre-frontal cortexes and just have bad judgment?
  6. Kids are broken, hurting, damaged?  Lashing out is the only answer?

And does it matter?  Does anyone care that I can’t stand it?  It doesn’t bother her nearly as much as it bothers me and that bothers me.  I’m sickened to think we are now in a world where F-You is tossed out casually with people you don’t even know.  Name calling might not seem like a big deal.  I guess. But can’t it be the seed of evil that flourishes into bullying?  Kids have taken their own LIVES because of what other kids said about them.  True things and untrue things.  Is it funny now for a girl to call another girl a bitch or a slut on Instagram with 1000 people to witness it?  It’s not a big deal?

Will we look back and think it was just part of growing up and the shortsightedness of youth?  We all say and do things as teenagers that we regret later.  Maybe.

Or… Is this the new normal?  Is this going to be a new generation that tolerates any and all rudeness?  Is the world just one giant comment section? Is there no room for simple disagreements?   Do we not care about civility because that gets in the way of our stalwart adherence to free speech?  Because we can say anything we should say everything?  I’m worried.

Are these kids going to be verbally abusive to their spouses, to their kids, to their friends and neighbors and employees?  Are these kids going to be the teachers and coaches and politicians and clergy who use verbal threats and rage and coercion to garner compliance?  Is this the beginning of how they will relate to the world as adults?

A couple of days ago things hit a high intensity level with this kid over text message.     My girl looked at me and shrugged and said….”Well. I’m just sending him the snowflake.”  I said, “What do you mean?  What does that do?”  She said.  “That’s my thing.  Like, I give up. So-you get a snowflake. I have nothing left to say.”  So she fired off a snowflake to him and then did her homework.

I had to laugh.  That’s my girl.  I mean, that is a strategy but not one that I would have come up with.  It’s a way to take a break from the tension in a thoroughly modern way.  And I felt urged to apologize. I told her she absolutely has the right to shut down sometimes.  Block people out. Ignore what they say. Walk away.  There absolutely still has to be a minimum standard of behavior.  She can’t take it all in and sort it all out.  It’s too much these days.  It’s on tv, on their phone, on 6 sources of social media, and even in person.  So-send up your big fat snowflake as many times as you need my love.  I am sorry.  I really had no idea how it was…It is a relentless siege of unwelcome and unwarranted opinion.  I am wrong and she is right and it doesn’t have to be either extreme of complete absorption or complete isolation.

Good luck world.  I can’t take it.  There is a growing list of kids that will never, ever be welcome in this home.  My line in the sand begins at my driveway.  My girl will likely forgive all of them eventually. That’s just her way.  And I’m grateful.

She is already handling the brave new world better than I am.

❄️❄️❄️❄️❄️❄️❄️❄️❄️❄️❄️❄️❄️❄️

 

 

All I Don’t Want For Christmas

 

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This post is about Christmas.  If this offends you, I can’t help you…it said it IN the title.

This time of year…it’s full of joy. Joy and insanity.  One of my friends says, “Ah-the holidays. That time of year when nobody gets their way.”  She gets it.  It feels like there are a thousand extra things to do and the goal is to bring yourself to the brink of lunacy emotionally, financially, spiritually, mentally and physically. There are demands on how to execute the holidays, where they should be held, who should be included, who should be excluded,  when it should be done, what should be served, appropriate gifts to be given, events to attend, and what type of cheerful elf-inspired mood we should all be in. Except many of us aren’t.

Well I’m not doing everything this year and I’m typically crazy for Christmas. I’m in love with Christmas but sometimes I’m giving way more in this relationship than I am getting. (Don’t email me people: I know Jesus is the reason for the season) What I mean is-I can end up missing the whole thing in my efforts to do it all. I’m learning my lessons from the ghosts of Christmas past.

One year I cried (while drinking a Manhattan) while I assembled a wretched Playmobil Zoo until 2:00am so that my son would be overcome with Christmas cheer and fall down bawling with surprise and feverish gratitude and love for his mother.  The next morning when I waited for his delight, he strolled by and patted the tiny miniature seal and then sat on the floor to eat Hershey kisses for 2 hours.

One year I wore myself down so much, I got the stomach flu the day after Christmas and was confined to my room for 4 days and watched the kids ice skate from my sick bed.

There was the year Jack tripped and gave himself a seriously black eye Christmas Eve morning. While serving food, I rotated bags of peas on his face.

There was the year Isabelle had strep and we were at the clinic on Christmas Eve.

The year(s) people said they would show up and they didn’t and also a year they showed up when they said they weren’t going to. Yeah.

The years I’m pinned in the kitchen and can’t even see what people are opening after spending hours upon hours searching, purchasing, hiding, and wrapping.

So here is what I am not doing this year:

I’m not over-decorating. I’m not going to put up every single blasted thing I have collected for Christmas. It’s too much. I have my things, things I’ve inherited, things I’ve been gifted, heirlooms, things the kids have made. Things I can’t get rid of for a variety of reasons.  If I display everything it looks like Christmas puked and it makes me go pattern blind for it is WAY too much to look at and WAY too much to put away.  See favorite decoration below.  I smile every time I see it.

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I’m not letting the kids help me with everything. I know. Bad Mommy. I don’t care. I want to put things where I want them. I want to handle some of them gingerly so that they remain in one piece. Last year an ornament was broken that had been in my family for 40 years because it was tossed like a baseball.

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Also-please don’t help me with all the baking. No help necessary. I like to bake for the holidays and I love to have the kids help me with some of the baking. We usually make a gingerbread house.  It’s so fun and almost always involves a glue gun and a long discussion about the merits of cedar shake shingles (cinnamon toast crunch).  But I really don’t want their help with all of it. I get distracted and then things aren’t right and don’t turn out and taste like crap AND I really don’t need help from one certain helper elf that occasionally LICKS his hands. Gross. Nobody needs saliva in their baked goods.  He can busy himself opening and shutting the 25 doors on the advent calendar. And he does.  It’s like a cardio workout the way he handles that thing.

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I’m not going to fixate on loved ones that aren’t here. Now-touchy subject.  This is one of many, many reasons that this time of year throws people into a complete tailspin. Too many reminders. So much grief. The empty spot at the table. All of these loved ones will be on my mind. I will miss them. But this year I’m not going to obsess to the point that I miss out on all the people that are here including myself.   I’m going to focus on this year and this experience and this time that I have and try to not let it slip by as I rush through to January. It doesn’t serve anyone else well in my family if I curl up in the fetal position under the tree.

I’m not spending weeks dealing with the holiday card.  For real. I usually do.  I can’t even explain it.  But this time I had to let a few things go.  We had a lot of nice photos taken, I had an idea of what I wanted it to look like but concessions were made.  Actually, here is what happened this year.  I’m just going to say it out loud.  There is a penis on my Christmas card.  Yep.  A penis. Nothing says “celebrating the birth of Christ” like full frontal nudity. Jesus was nude in the manger right?

Ok-it’s the dog.  But still.

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I’m not going to see the Nutcracker Fantasy. I LOVE the Nutcracker. (maybe I should not have had this paragraph immediately following the penis one) Anyway, it’s as big a part of my holiday memories as anything else but this year I’m going to skip it. I just have to. I went last year to the big anniversary hullaballoo but trying to cram it in this year doesn’t look likely and I’ve nearly made my peace with it.

I’m not going to make up Christmasy excuses that I’m too busy to fit in a few things that I really want to do. I really wanted to host a holiday breakfast for a few friends. NO.BIG.DEAL. I have 35 people on Christmas Day so 8 women is practically a vacation.  Except it is one more thing to do and one more thing to ask of them just to show up. But I am going to make it happen and not talk myself out of spending 2 little hours with people I really enjoy. I also had a few things that I wanted to make myself to give as gifts. I’m not going to let myself pretend that it cannot possibly get done.  I’m going to carve out a little time and have some fun making my funny homemade gifts. (I’ve already said too much. :))

I’m not going to cut down our Christmas tree this year. We have gone for years now to cut down the tree together as a family. We ride on the wagon, trudge through the snow, bring the saw, I take dozens of photos. (below) Here is the thing though…If I wait for the perfect 6 hour window…the tree will be here January 5th. So we are going to the tree lot. 20 minutes. Easy peasy. We still will all be together.  We will have a place to hang the ornaments.

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I’m not going to beat myself up if I don’t find the perfect thing for every person. I know there is a lot of “remember the reason for the season” platitudes. It’s not about the gifts. But to me, the giving has always been central to the very spirit of Christmas.  It is a symbol of the celebration and the care in which I choose gifts has always been important to me.  It should not be careless.  I like people to feel well loved. I show love through thoughtfulness.  But I’m cutting myself 3% slack this year.  Sometimes the exact thing I’ve conjured up simply does not exist. I will have to give a few people an extra hug.

Oh- And I’m not going to get sick. Do you hear me God???   I am NOT going to get sick.

I don’t want to miss the forest for the tree.  (hee hee) The truth is that there is a pressure to keep up ALL the traditions. And then the family gets larger and there is more to keep up. And then everyone has their own set of expectations and it grows to a level that would drive even the most grounded person to run and drown themselves in the punch bowl. And really, every year is different. Every single year. The decorations, the traditions, the events, the people gathered around the table are a changing cast of characters each time.

And that is ok.

So Santa, if you are reading this: This Is All I Don’t Want For Christmas

 

2015 Back to School Speech: Please please please don’t be a Jackhole

It’s back to school time.  My kids start next week.  Fresh pencils, shiny non-marking soles on clean shoes, class schedules, haircuts all around, locker combinations and the fresh hope of a new school year with possibilities of making a new friend.  A clean slate.

We have done our ‘meet the teachers’ and walked the halls to find classrooms. We went to the orientations. We have signed slips and sent money for the lunch accounts. Everyone has a backpack. It’s time for the annual back to school lecture.

I usually have a talk this time of year with each of them as my kids face their excitement/anxiety/anticipation about the up and coming year and I’ve given all 3 of them some pointed lectures as they transition to high school, transition to middle school and transition to first grade respectively.  3 different schools. 3 different start and stop times.  Big changes are underway.

In fact, everyone around them keeps commenting, “WOW. Big transitions. How do you feel? Are you excited? Are you nervous?”  Over and over and over and over.  I say it too. To other kids.  Isn’t that what we do as adults?  Promote excitement laced with hints of our own anxiety?

My back to school lecture series usually are cheerful pep talks about having a great year and not sweating the small stuff.  Big transitions are happening for me too.  I’m hitting them hard this year.  I’m getting deliberate with my message and I have needed to spell.it.out.

My theme-Don’t be a jackhole.  You are better than that.  The world is filled with jackholes and you are NOT to be one of them. Ok.  I haven’t used that exact phrase (I do NOT need the first grader to have that in his repertoire) but basically I expect better from them because they have no excuses. None.  They have it easy.  This year should be about making it a great school year-for someone else. 

School can be wonderful.  School can be terrifying.  While I appreciate the vast efforts on the part of the school as a whole, wonderful teachers and support staff to encourage kids, help build bonds between students, teach respect, fight bullying, create a tight knit community, it ultimately falls to the kids to build a positive culture.  The atmosphere created in any group is largely dependent on the participants. I want my kids to be an active, purposeful part of building a positive and welcoming atmosphere because they can.  They have all the tools.  And if they are either mere bystanders or pulling in a negative direction-I’ll…I’ll…I’ll..well-they will regret it sorely. Kids are the real foot soldiers in the war against school misery.

They can do better. Do more. It costs them nothing but means everything.

The high schooler got the “You can get over yourself.  You can. You might feel apprehensive in situations A,B,C…but suck it up.  Step out of your own mind for a minute…There are likely 50 girls around you who would give their LEFT leg to live your reality.  Find those girls.  Say hello to them. Walk with them to science. They need you. Find those people who have an actual problem.  A poor shoe choice that leads to a blister is not an actual problem. (that happened here recently-we had to have a discomfort versus pain conversation)  Look for the girl who just lost a parent.  Look for the boy who failed 3 classes last year and now is paralyzed with fear that he can’t cut it in high school.  The childhood friend who feels like they have been left out or left behind.  The kid you have known for years that didn’t get enough for breakfast and never does.  The transfer student who literally doesn’t know anyone.  The friend of a friend who looks ‘perfect’ but a lot of not perfect is going on and she is suffering. For real. Some of these kids are in disguise.  They are in real trouble but they have Uggs and Vineyard Vines and play competitive softball and get good grades. Outward appearances can be very misleading.  High school is full of kids facing adult problems.

The middle schooler got the, “I know it is all new for you too but it is PAINFUL for some of the kids…a new school, a much bigger system, it can be overwhelming and isolating.”  He didn’t get it.  He needed a specific example.  I asked him about a classmate he has known for years.  It went like this:

“Who is so and so friends with?”

“Oh-he hangs out with such and such.  Mainly just him. They are close friends.”

“Ok.  What if they get different lunches this year?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean if they DON’T have the same lunch…who will he sit with?”

Shrugs. “I dunno.”  Me waiting silently.  Watching to see if any synapses fire.  Waiting.  Engage deep breathing while waiting.  I can’t take it.  “In the lunchroom…where will he go…if his bestie isn’t there…he is kind of shy. Maybe he has trouble joining in.”  More waiting.

“Oh.  Mom, seriously.  What do you want me to do?  Find him? Track him? Watch for him at the door?” (synapses did fire)

“Yes.  That is what I want you to do. Watch for him.  Watch for others that you have gone to school with for SIX years.  Invite them over to sit with you if they look lost. Ask the girls you know to sit with you if they don’t have a spot.  They need a spot.  It is so hard when you feel like you don’t fit in and it feels good to be asked. It can be brutal for the girls.  Just cut them a break. It could change their whole day or week!  How would you feel if it were you? It just takes so little on your part.”

OKAY. Sheesh.”

We also then covered this diagram.  Not kidding. The school has tables that have fixed spots in groups of six.  If you have a group of 4 but then a group of 3 walks up there is an odd person out which inevitably leads to trauma and/or drama.  This led to the tutorial, “Then see with an odd number you could offer to go with the single person and start a new table.”  Honestly.  It should be simple.  But it isn’t.  It looks like a complicated football play.


The first grader got a modified speech (attention span of a fruit fly), “Be a kind friend to everyone because everyone needs a friendly face in first grade.  On the playground. Or on the bus. If other kids act up and get sassy or tease another friend, I expect you to act like a gentleman.  Other kids will follow your lead.   I know you can do this.  Let’s use all your charm for good.”

They might not get it.  I’m thankful I can’t be a fly on the wall.  They are coping with their own insecurities and stresses during the school day.  They might not be able to do it.  They might not be strong enough. They might think they are on the outside of the inner circle.  I keep reminding them “There really is no inner circle.  It’s an illusion.  You can just draw your own circle.”

But I hope they will try.  I hope they look around and are vigilant and spend just a minute thinking about someone else.  I hope they include someone who needs to be included.   I hope they say hello and use the other persons name.  I hope they occasionally notice what is going on with somebody else instead of focusing on themselves. I hope they make FREAKING EYE CONTACT to acknowledge they saw another classmate in the hallway. They are in this together even if it doesn’t feel that way to them.

I believe these 3 could do it.   They have nothing but their own self-consciousness standing in their way.  Self consciousness may be a developmental hurdle but not a real roadblock. And if they do, if they can get out of their own way and if these three can just bring in 3 others into the fold with circles they draw themselves I will be satisfied.   If they make even infinitesimal progress toward making school a calmer, safer, more tolerable haven for everyone this year, I will stop lecturing on this topic.

Until 2016.