Parents of Teenagers: You need a hug

(an edited version of this essay now appears on http://www.grownandflown.com)

About 14 years ago, I sat in a church service with my husband and tiny  daughter.

My mind settled on the family in front of us.  Two parents and three teenagers. I have thought about this family so many times over the years and even more often recently.  It was the early service.The teenagers were awake but looked rumpled. Two boys and a girl.  And I looked at them with envy.  That woman, the mother, she had done it.  She survived (it appeared) 17 years of raising children at least.  I had just barely begun.  And she got three teenagers at church sitting with their parents on time.  One of them had their head on her shoulder!  She did something right.  They looked like the perfect family. How did she do it?

Now I am moving into that stage.  I have two teenagers and an eight year old.  (Yes, we do teach family planning courses for couples who enjoy weird challenges and intricate school schedules and carpool planning that would make your head spin. Contact me for details)

Let me tell you something.  I had no idea about the teen years.  None.  This is some PhD level crap to deal with and I have a 4th grade level of preparation.  I am stunned and overwhelmed by the twists and turns of parenting teenagers.  This is hard work.  DIFFICULT.  Mental Jedi level parenting.  Nearly all of the stereotypes have really become true to one extent or another and I just didn’t want to believe it. All of that was surely not going to happen in this family. Pfffft.

They are moody. The moods.  Wow.  It feels like hugging some cacti over here. Lately I feel the need to announce that I might hug them.  It goes like this. Hey, it will be ok.  I’m going to move toward you now.  I’m going to hug you.  It’s happening.  I’m your mother and since I birthed you I feel you owe me this much.  Feel free to stand there woodenly and hold your breath until it’s over.  But make no mistake.  I am going to hug you…3,2,1.  

It’s hard not to take things personally when they are so crabby.  It’s a combination of their random malaise and my lack of sympathy that causes the rift.  I mean, sometimes their day- to-day lives are akin to what I associate with the afterlife.  Pick ME up in sub zero temps in a warm car within 34 seconds of my activity ending.  Hand me a cocoa.  Heaven.  Force ME to go to bed at a reasonable hour in fresh sheets in a clean room.  Heaven. Wash my clothes. Invite my friends over. Make me breakfast. Make my friends breakfast.  Leave me alone when I’m on a Netflix binge. Give me cash from time to time.  Ask me how my day was and soothe me when it wasn’t a good one. Heaven, heaven, heaven. And yet, I sometimes still get the large moods all up in my face.

They are self-focused.  They stand at the epicenter of their very own universe.  If I had a dollar for every time “It’s not all about YOU” was uttered in this house (by us parents) I’d have enough to actually visit the epicenter of the universe and fly first class.   The narcissism works against them.  I try to point out that literally nobody else notices their hair/skin/scowl/braces/pants/test grade/shoes/mistake/social gaffe because all THOSE people are self-obsessed too.  They don’t believe me.

They do stupid things.  Their friends do stupid things. They all are doing stupid things together.  (I’ll choose not to elaborate…wherever your mind is running off to right now-it likely happening with my kids, your kids and/or the kids they know or it will or it already has)  And they think nobody will know about some of these bad choices and parents will never find out which is just so painfully naive.  Newsflash: Everyone will know (faster and wider spread with the assistance of social media) and all parents find out everything eventually.  Whether we find out within minutes of the event or on our deathbed…we find out.  We parents are just one generation older who already did all the stupid things or were with other people while they did them.  Hellooooo. We invented and perfected stupid just like our parents did before us. Duh.

They think I am yelling if I ask them something or tell them something.   Example:  Could you please bring these dirty clothes to the basement so I can wash them?  This is met with large sighs, hunchback body language, eye rolls, a chorus of “I KNOW!!!!” and this…”You don’t have to yell at me!”  Um-what?  I wasn’t yelling.  Why would I add to the din of this house with yelling?  When I yell, you will know.  I could blow the roof off with the yelling. Do not test me.  You know not what I am capable of with yelling.


They act like typical teenagers.  They play their music.  Loudly. Early in the morning.  I  have some negative feelings toward Lil Uzi Vert at the moment.  Will he be the Prince of their generation? Nope. No he will not. And yet I suffer through him now.  They watch tv. Some of it is absolute crap. They know things about the Kardashians. Makes me want to cry. My son recently answered a geography bee test question correctly.  He learned the answer by watching 324 episodes of Modern Family.  I’m so proud.  They leave water bottles everywhere.  They argue with me for sport. They leave food wrappers on the floor of their rooms.  They fling their shoes in every corner-and sometimes they reek. They embarrass me sometimes.  I embarrass them sometimes.  We are in a cycle of mutual inadvertent embarrassment.  They get mad when I take their photo.  (see above) They eat all day.  A meal schedule means nothing to them.  A sleep schedule means nothing to them.  I’m awake when they are asleep.  They are awake when I am asleep.  They change their minds on a whim.  Their phones are an appendage.  They move chargers around the house and then lie about not moving the chargers.  They wear earbuds around and then act surprised when they can’t hear us.  They glom onto a ‘catch phrase’ and can’t stop.  If my son doesn’t stop saying the word ‘savage’ soon…I’m going to attack him ferociously.

Their friends are everything. This I remember well. It’s hard to shine a light on the fact that some of these friendships will be lifelong.  They might have a friend now that would walk through fire for them.  They will see them through good and bad and they will have their back and it will be unfathomable how life could continue without one another. Other friendships are all drama and destructive and exhausting and an avalanche of negative bull$h*t and when they finally figure it out and walk away, it will be like removing an anvil from their neck.  And sometimes as a teenager, you can’t figure out which friend fits into which category and it might take years to gather enough evidence to sort it out.

They think I “just don’t understand.”  And I don’t.  I don’t understand all of their experience and I really wouldn’t want to.  I remember the teen years but it this ain’t your mother’s teen years. I think it is worse.

My 15 year old often puts in 16 hour days.  She isn’t running a Fortune 500 Company…just going to high school.  On December 15th she was at school by 7:30am.  She had something before school during ‘zero hour’.  She had 6 classes (complete with tests/lecture/notes/presentations) and then went straight to dance team prep for a jazz meet.  She danced her time slot at 7:10.  Then she ran down the hall, changed into her orchestra dress and jumped into her spot in the concert orchestra (rocking some serious eye shadow and fake lashes) to play the violin at 7:43.  (We are now at 12+ hours spent in that building) Then she ran back and changed back into her warm ups to cheer on her team in their dances and be present for awards.  Then she hauled 50 pounds of cookie dough (music fundraiser), dance team bag, costumes, school backpack, etc. into the car to head home.  Home at 10pm.  Then she ripped out her bun form and hairnet and peeled off her false eyelashes at the kitchen table and ate something and finally sat down to start START on a few hours of homework.


OH MY GOD.  Who can live like this?  The teenagers.  They live like this.  A lot of them.

I’ll tell you, the modern teenager has full days but sometimes I wonder how much living they are doing.  They are on some sort of high speed treadmill and it’s nearly impossible to step off of it. The intensity level of school, activities, friends is relentless.  When they say “I don’t have time” they actually mean it.  They run out of hours in their day-often.  In some ways, it’s no wonder they shut down and lose civility once they get home.  This is the last bastion of relaxation.  Home.  Where people love you but then nag you about picking up your wet towel.

Needless to say, I have had to adjust my expectations.  A lot.  It is not my carefree adolescence of the 80’s.  They can’t just complete their homework on the bus or skip it all together (like I did).  They don’t have 45 minutes daily to devote to outfit selection and hair prep (like I did).  They can’t bomb 3 tests and make up the points with cute extra credit or daily work (like I did). The pressure they feel is product heavy and process light.  Achieve, achieve, achieve.  There are posters at our local high school boasting that it has been ranked “One of the most challenging high schools in America.”  Maybe that inspires?  It only depresses me and I don’t even have to go to school there.  Teenagers are under a lot of stress.  I had stress in high school…92% of it was self-inflicted.  I wasn’t bombarded by a competitive results focused message from my parents, my friends, my extra curricular,  my school district, my phone.  The pressure is taking a toll on their mental health.  How could it not?  It has somehow become my job to be the counterweight to ALL OF THAT and foster a “do enough” approach.  I never thought that would be my role.  I never thought I would want them to achieve less and work on cultivating more joy.  I thought I would be cracking the whip.  But the world is already set on whipping them.  They need encouragement.  They need a freaking break.

And this stage isn’t all bad.  They are fun.  So much fun.  And funny. Oh my God…funny! I enjoy their stories and they read better than any screenplay or novel.  I can’t even tell the stories here or they’ll never speak to me again. (I asked)  I should get a Finsta.  I could tell all my secrets there.  But I wouldn’t.  All that can be screenshot and saved-and it is.  I can talk to them now about the big things and be straightforward and they get it.  In some ways, I can be more myself than I could when they were little.  Occasionally they do their own laundry and cook their own food.  I love watching them learn.  Sometimes minor miracles happen and they load the dishwasher or help a neighbor or play with their little brother or make a positive but tough choice without input or without a death threat from me.  And sometimes they show glimmers of the adults they will soon become and it gives me great hope and energizes me to last through the day.

I think about that family in church.  Maybe one of the kids had to be dragged out of bed to make it on time.  Maybe one had been grounded for a week and slept in the clothes they were wearing. Maybe one was there of his own free will but was about to pick an epic fight on the ride home. Maybe all three of them had headphones in the entire ride to and from.   Maybe that mother was just sitting there for one quiet hour like I do now and think…

-Well (*sigh)…at least we are here.

Raking it all in…

Not sure if you heard-but there was recently an election here in the U.S. If you haven’t heard, I am completely jealous of you and your lifestyle and could I please come visit ?  I bet you are a really serene, happy American or live abroad and are a serene and happy person there.

My candidate didn’t win. I’m disappointed (which is putting it mildly) but I’m not moving out of the country. You’d have to drag me out of Minnesota let alone the U.S.  I am also very surprised at the outcome but I blame my own denial about the America I thought I lived in.  I.had.no.clue.  I also hope and pray I am dead wrong about the President elect.  If the ship goes down…we are all on the same ship and I won’t root for that.  Ever.

I have considered that the true travesty of this election could be that marijuana wasn’t legalized everywhere in this great nation because I sense growing bipartisan support for a deep collective inhale followed by a super long stretch of “Let us all calm the hell down.” Maybe that’s just me.

My mind has been in a tailspin.  I really am interested in talking to people (50% of Americans estimates say) who didn’t vote and hear their opinions on why they didn’t participate in voting and their views on the outcome.  But I need a break from the talking.  I need a break from social media, media, and talking to people about the election.

This one, it’s over.

I have been trying to sort out what I should do, if anything. There are many options but many of them just aren’t resonating with me. So I had chosen to do nothing until I found the right thing. Media coverage offers numerous examples of possible action.  Sign a petition. Wear a safety pin. Attend a protest. Write to local legislatures.  Wear a t-shirt. Donate to a cause. Donate to a cause that the other side opposes. Get involved in local elections. Join a like-minded group.

And then, I figured something out. I made a tiny shift in my own headspace.  I figured it out at a Boy Scouts event. Yeah. This is very ironic, since I find Boy Scouts to be an avalanche of red tape and paperwork with a patriarchal 1950’s attitude about a lot of things. It’s not my deal. Sometimes wisdom develops in the unlikeliest of places.

The Boy Scouts had a raking event at a house in the area. The homeowner had recently undergone surgery and the boys (who need service hours) were going to rake and bag leaves from a substantial yard for a few hours. I stayed to help and oversee (with 2 other parents) because with that many boys ages 11-15, it felt it would be further pain and suffering for the homeowner to manage that whole circus. Boys that age can be absolute squirrels. They raked. They bagged. They wrestled. They pretended the trailer needed leaf crushing (which consisted of them jumping in and smashing them down over and over again). They took breaks and leaned on their rakes. They fought over the leaf blower. They asked if they were done. They weren’t. They raked more. They picked up sticks. They stole each others hats and flung them into the trees. They cleaned out the gutter. They worked together and pulled heavy tarps from the backyard to the front yard over and over again. And so did I.

Three hours later and the job was finished.  The yard was not perfect but it was better.  The needs of the homeowner were met. The result exceeded his expectations. I daresay, the boys had some fun.

And it hit me. I want my country to be the best it can be for my children and children in general. I am only here for a blink of an eye and it won’t be perfect in my lifetime or otherwise.  America is imperfect as it is composed of imperfect humans.  There will never be a candidate that I agree with 100%.  Sometimes I disagree with myself.  Sometimes I change my mind.  I had thought it was important that my children see me fight for what I believe in. I thought it was important to have my kids fight for what is right.  I thought we were fighting for good.  But…I don’t want to fight for it. I want to work for it.

I want to work for good.

I want them to see me work for good.

I want them to work for good.

Fighting feels like getting a huge group of like minded people together to convince another group of like minded people that they are wrong.  Fighting is also easy.  I can quickly gather a group of middle-aged white women in MN with Master’s degrees and two car garages and fight for or against something.  Trust me.  We could take somebody down and still be home in time for lunch.

My children can’t feel me donate or sign a petition or write my legislature. They might not get it if I walk in a protest or attend some meetings or post political articles.  It’s the old “Don’t worry that your kids aren’t listening, worry that they are watching.”   My children are watching. All the children are watching. I am committed to setting a good example.  They can watch me serve. Serve neighbors, friends, family. I can work with other people of all different race, class, religion and creed and they need to see it. They can and do and will serve alongside me.  They can watch me exercise restraint in my words yet still employ miniumum standards of behavior for others in my life as well. I expect them to do the same.  They can watch me work out plans to include and empower and stand up for others that doesn’t involve ire. They can help. Let our service spread good and love like a wildfire.

Some of my best work so far is them. No election and certainly no singular individual in Washington could ever cause me to give up working for their good or the greater good.

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She’ll always have Paris

This post isn’t about Paris.  It’s about my mother and time.  Most importantly it’s about the invaluable life lesson my mother has taught me about time.  Paris is just a very pretty metaphor here.

My mother is fancy.  Like-she is super fancy.  She knows a ridiculous number of designer names.  She can identify specific designer clothing articles from 100 feet away.  She knows the appropriate and innapropriate attire for every particular event. I had a friend who wore combat boots to my wedding 21 years ago.  My mother has not forgotten.  Combat boots worn to a May wedding are not appropriate.  Noted.

Another example: Once, years ago, I called her to tell me what to wear to something (I cannot even remember where I was going but it was a conundrum)

Her: “Well, surely you must have something.  You must. Do you have a nice gabardine pant?  Yes, a gabardine pant would be good…something in a winter white?”

Me: “Uh…I doubt I have that.

Her: “Are you sure?”

Me: “Yeah, I’m sure. I’m sure because it doesn’t seem like Old Navy would sell winter white gabardine.”

She knows what look best on her.  She knows what looks best on me. She knows what looks best on you.   You can ask her and she will tell you.  One of her fashion absolutes is “All that matters is the fit.  If it is a trend and it doesn’t fit you, it’s not for you.”  She has assisted complete strangers in dressing rooms much to their delight and the chagrin of the store sales associate.  When I was kid, she always looked put together.  Always. She even looked good when we went camping.  Her bandana matched her Dr. Scholls.  My mother-she invented  ‘glamping’.

So-the fanciness just didn’t quite make it to me.  I kept waiting for it to happen to me and develop over time like needing reading glasses or progressive premature grey.  It never did.  I like jeans and sensible shoes and while I follow Dior on Instagram, you aren’t likely to see me wear it.  I am pleased to announce that the fancy, it has skipped a generation.  So I am bookended by two women who know fashion and as a result I am unlikely to ever be selected for a tv makeover. They both keep me current and honest.

My mother also loves and knows fine art.  For her 50th birthday, we went to Chicago to see the Monet exhibit.  She declined the guided tour and the audio tour.  We were fine.  She knew more about Monet than any reasonable non-art historian should.  Also-she walked me to the point of pain that day.  I had to sit down on a bench next to people with oxygen tanks.  Keep in mind, I was 24 at the time.  We have also been to New York to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Another solid 9 hours on foot. I need no tour guide.  She knows and loves art.  (side note: She and my daughter (9 at the time) made me walk 6 miles back to the hotel AFTER we went to the Met. They just wanted to ‘look around’. I had muscle spasms.  I was 39 that time.)

As you can imagine, fancy fashion artsy people should go to Paris.  My mom has wanted to go to  Paris for-well, a very, very long time.  The fact that my mom has not seen Paris is just plain wrong.  She is 71.  My dad had planned on bringing her to Paris.  He called a travel agent the year he got sick and wrote down all of the details about a Christmas trip to France.  He said if the doctors said the news was good they would go to celebrate.  He said if the news was bad-they would still go.  But they didn’t go.  Couldn’t go.  A year of being terminally ill can feel horrifically long and yet painfully short all at the same time. He simply ran out of time.


My stepdad also planned on taking my mom to Paris.  Theirs was an unexpected and lucky match later in life. They got married when my mom was 59.  They traveled quite a bit and had many wonderful trips and made many good memories.  My stepdad was a meticulous person and trip planning was no different for him.  He had done the research, he had looked at banked points and the logistics and the possibilities for itineraries for a variety of cities in Europe.  He was ill for a year and a half.  They never made it to France. He simply ran out of time.

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I am going with my mom to France.  Now, it’s not like a burden to go or that she needs assistance or anything.  Let me clear, nobody is suffering here.  It’s France.  I plan on eating my weight in croissants.  But I find myself in a very unexpected role of being the one to go with her.  It’s just something we didn’t plan on and I just didn’t see it coming but it’s very important to me that we go. She must see Paris. Right now.

I had a mini pre-trip panic attack when I looked at the cities we will visit and the list of things to do and see and experience.  It’s endless and overwhelming.  I’m worried that we won’t see it all because I know we cannot see it all.  I called my mom and told her that I was worrying because I just don’t want her to be disappointed.  I can’t bear it if she is disappointed after waiting this long to go.  And her response is why I love her so…she said, “Oh, I couldn’t possibly be disappointed Jen.  Don’t worry honey. Whatever we see, we see! It’s Paris!   And maybe I’ll be lucky, and I’ll have a chance to go back again.”

And this is how she teaches me about life and time and moving forward.  Life is so beautiful but time can be cruel.  Time can be a real bitch.  Time can speed up and slow down and it races and drags in all the wrong spots sometimes. She has shown me how to move forward and just ‘see whatever you can see’.  No matter what happens to you, how the plans change, what losses you sustain, the twists and bends in the straight path you have carefully plotted out, moving forward is the only option.

No better place in the world than Paris to both appreciate the beauty of the past and the thrill of the future.  So I’m here with her standing in for my dad and my stepdad who both had the best of intentions to be here themselves.   I feel like I’m here partially for them, finishing their plans and I’m so lucky to be the one to see her see Paris for the very first time.

They would both be so thrilled, the view is just magic.

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What I did on my summer vacation

This summer kicked ass.  Not like…”Dude, this summer was so kick ass.”  More like…”Wow. This summer really kicked me in the ass.”   If I were returning to school tomorrow and had to write the 80’s classic “What I did on my summer vacation” essay, it could be easily summed up with eight simple words:

I spent my summer vacation in my car. 

In this particular season of parenting, with a 15, 12 and 7 year old, our family finds itself wanting to go in 5 different directions and apparently four of us expect I’m going to drive everyone to and from.  I was just not home very much this summer and when I was, it was for a 92 minute interval to drop off groceries, drop off a kid, drop off the dog, start a load of laundry and pick up the next round of riders to get them off to their next marvelous event. I’m like an über cab that also provides you with petty cash and a ‘making good choices’ lecture.  Summer was full. Very, very full. (I loathe people who say they are busy.  Who isn’t busy? So I try to say full to convey gratitude, weight and still troll for sympathy)

In the best moments of the summer, I really felt like my kids were able to experience things that they will remember for a lifetime.  The school year is such a grind and I really want their summers to be for exploration and recreation and rest and earning some money (when possible).  We spent an unbelievable amount of money on camps this summer between all 3 kids.  I do know the exact amount but I’m not going to publish it.  I’m neither proud nor do I want it carefully documented.   The actual cost needs to fade from memory because it was a necessary evil. It meant they could try things without a giant time and/or financial commitment during the school year and see their friends and try something different and get out of each others hair (this is critical to my summer survival).  There was sailing camp (1 week Pram, 1 week Hartley rec, 2 weeks Opti learn to race!), scouts camp, dance camp (twice), vacation bible school, basketball camp, ninja warrior camp (no-I’m not kidding), YMCA day camp and old school church camp (which my son rated an 11 out of 10). There was some serious fun that was had.

In the worst moments of the summer, I felt like I was running a tiny Make-A-Wish chapter in my own family, yet none of the participants were terminally ill and they all had complaints to file.

Summer as always is far too short and fleeting so I am going to choose to remember the good and forget the rest.  This is what I am choosing to remember about the summer of 2016.

This is the summer my two eldest children passed me up in height. I went from the second tallest to the second shortest in our house just in the last 10 weeks.

This is the summer that each of the big kids took the little one on bike rides and walks with “NO parents”.  He found this quite adventurous.

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This is the summer I read The Boxcar Children and Pippi Longstocking to the youngest and he loved them as much as I wanted him to love them.

This is the summer that it was both a royal pain in the butt to drive my daughter and her cadre of friends everywhere and it was special because I know next summer she will be driving herself and I will miss her even more.

This is the summer that my older son and his friends biked (so adorable…shhhhh…) with fishing rods and bait in tow to fish under the bridge, off the dock, at the beach.

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This is the summer that I sat on the front step with my daughter until nearly midnight talking about all of the important things while the only other sound was the cacophony of frogs.

This is the summer that it rained so much that we grew accidental large strange powdery mushrooms in the backyard and my husband spent hours (days really) trying to eradicate the local vole population.

This is the summer the 7 year old requested that his stuffed animal Bunsers come and watch him play soccer.

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This is the summer that my two eldest starting getting along better. Neither of them take things as personally anymore.  They had some really nice moments that I witnessed.  Some inside jokes.  Some genuine give and take ‘asking for your opinion’ exchanges.  Some bonding over music.  It was like watching 2 caterpillars morph into 2 butterflies.  Butterflies that get along. It was strangely breathtaking.

This is the summer that we went to Madeline Island for the very first time and the little one went on a paddleboard by himself for the very first time. Also-I can’t explain his biceps in this photo.  I guess if you run everywhere and you have 0 percent body fat you are blessed with those.

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This is the summer that my 12 year old turned to me and said, “You are a pretty baller mom.” I’m quite flattered.

This is the summer that our 9 year old goldfish died, the front porch got redone, we had 3 monarch butterflies in the front garden, we were out on the lake frequently, the kids lost one fishing rod and broke another, our next door neighbor got 2 tiny daschund puppies, the boys obsessed over Pokémon go, we put up the new tree swing, Grandma moved just 3 miles away, we spent 8 hours in a row at the beach several times, my daughter and I did yoga on stand up paddle boards, I baked pies and sourdough bread, the youngest wore a swimsuit sans underwear to church, we went to 2 wedding receptions, we played cards and Ticket to Ride together, we went on bike rides, we drove long distances to try new doughnuts, we took naps in the middle of the day.

My 3 kids are not so little anymore.  It seems that each day is packed with activity without many long pauses…This is the new normal and I’m not entirely sure I like it all the time but I think they would say it was a very good summer.  And if the summer I envisioned had more long walks, quiet contemplation and unplanned stretches of time…

 

My summer starts tomorrow.

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Groversary

We have officially been dog owners for 12 months. Here are 12 things I have learned so far about owning a dog.

  1. When the kids lie to your face and say they will “help with the dog” and you know in your heart that it will be all your responsibility but they look so earnest and sweet and you want to believe them. Trust your gut.  Those sweet cherubs are completely full of crap and yet you will be in charge of picking up ALL of the crap.
  2. Rescue dogs can be fearful.  They can be afraid of expected things like thunder and fireworks and car alarms.  Also, they can be fearful of unexpected things like falling acorns and boys and wind and a weird sound 20 miles away and 1000 other things yet to be discovered.
  3. Our dog came with a file and a given name.  Grover.  We were very high and mighty and let him ‘keep his original name’ because we didn’t have the deep need to name him something we chose.  Because we are mature that way.  Also-there is no way the five of us could agree on a name.  So now we call him Grover and Groves and Grovey and Grove Town Brown and Groveydoodle and G-Money. And Boodler. And the Boodle Boy. And occasionally Mr. Fluffnuts. He responds to all equally.
  4. You CAN teach an old dog new tricks.  Grover was 7 when he arrived.  But when I pick up my keys he races to the door and plants himself in front of the garage door.  If he refuses to eat but I say, “Grover…do you want a treat?”  He peeks his head around the corner. After the years in a mill in seemingly terrible conditions, at our house Grover changes position based on the sun.  He loves a good sunbeam.  He is learning.
  5. I thought the kids would be disappointed.  Grover doesn’t run up to greet us.  He runs upstairs if the kids have friends over and it gets loud.  He freaks out if you are male and try to pick him up.  He only will ‘play’ late at night and only if he is in the mood. He almost never barks.  He is just himself.  Quirky.  The kids are not disappointed.  They talk about how hard life must have been for Grover in the puppy mill.  They are patient with him.  They pontificate on what might have happened to him.  They want to make up for it.  They worry about him when the weather gets bad and anticipate his fear.  They celebrate the tiniest of successes. They have grown in empathy.
  6. You tell yourself you will not spoil the dog and you just spoil the dog in ridiculous ways including but not limited to: (sprinkling favorite treats over his food, pointing a space heater at him after a bath so he doesn’t get cold, bringing him on errands so he isn’t lonely, turning on white noise during a storm to help calm him, buying him 46 different treats to try to find what he likes best, leaving blankets in ALL his favorite corners so he is cozy, getting a teeny tiny dog life jacket in case he ends up on a watercraft?, leaving the television on when you are gone but choosing Paw Patrol and Mutt & Stuff and other shows you think he will like based on his vast experience with television, etc.)
  7. Owning a dog has set off a Yorkie themed episode of Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon.  As in, now that we have one we notice everyone on the planet who has a Yorkie, has a rescue dog, photos of Yorkies, people carrying Yorkie’s through the airport in leather boho bags, Yorkie greeting cards, people who have mixed breeds with a Yorkie and speculating on the Yorkie side personality traits.  Yorkies.  They are everywhere now.
  8. I decided one year ago to save every receipt for “Grover related expenses” to see what the actual cost of dog ownership is.  Mistake.  It turns out I don’t want to know.
  9. It is JUST as thrilling to take the dog in for a haircut as it is to get one yourself.  Also-it costs the same and yet he smells far better for far longer.
  10. You will look into the eyes of your dog and you will sense on a cellular level that he is thirsty and you will buy a $6 artisanal spring water at Whole Foods since that is where you are. Later you will realize that if it were your own children, you would have told them to “just calm down and wait until we get home.”
  11. Other people who have rescue dogs are right.  It does get better.  They make great strides. Maybe we make great strides.  They do become ‘an entirely different dog’ after a year.   We have often found ourselves catching Grover ‘acting exactly like a dog’ and calling everyone else in the family over to witness it.  We shriek- “HE’S DRINKING WATER!” It’s very exciting.
  12. I am still officially not a dog person.  I’m not snuggling up with other dogs. I’m not excited to meet a new dog and have it jump around and lick my hand.   I’m not planning my next 4 dog breeds to own.  However, I have become a Grover person.  I so love Grover.  I have no regrets.

testing testing 123…456,789

I have test anxiety.

The testing of my children and presumably all children seems to be spinning out of control.  It’s ridiculous.  Not only time consuming and anxiety provoking-I’m growing concerned that we are raising a generation of robots.  Test taking robots.  And if this next generation of children turn into robots…well-any good sci-fi movie can show you how that turns out.  Spoiler alert: They take over and kill us.

Is it near impossible for teachers to have any time to teach?  Has it become impossible to give students adequate time to learn?  Do we have any time left in the schedule for thinking? Pondering? Questioning?  Do teachers have flexibility within the curriculum to do things in their own way in their own time?  Is the Socratic method still alive and well out there? Or is almost all of the time devoted to preparing for and taking the next test?

I think it might be.  I give that an F.

My first grader has 44 assessments that are entered into his report card.  This doesn’t include general assessments under”work habits/social development”, or any special classes like physical education, art or music.  This also does not include twice annual standardized testing in reading and math which is also scored, entered and analyzed.  44 assessments in 174 school days.   He is 7 years old. His teacher has 23 students. The one I contribute to her daily burden counts as twins so I’m sure it feels like 24.  My point is that his teacher distributes, scores and enters about 1500 items each year not including the standardized test data.

My sixth grader has twice annual standardized testing compared to national norms.  (last year he also had state testing in 3 subject areas)  He is graded on a 70/30 system.  70% is “academic achievement” which primarily means tests.  30% of his grade is “academic practice”-homework, small quizzes,written reflection, etc.  If you are middle aged this is what we called “daily work”.

My freshman.  God bless her.  It has been quite the school year.  She is on an 85/15 system.  85% of her grades are based on tests.  15% is the rest.  It’s suffocating.  I wouldn’t survive in this atmosphere because when I was a student, my daily work propped up any less than stellar test scores.  Example: If I did poorly on a synonym test, I could turn in a nice little worksheet or essay or extra credit or large project something to balance out the score.  In this new world, you MUST do well on the tests or your grades are screwed.  Synonyms for screwed include: hopeless, ruined, broken.

I fear my children aren’t learning as much as they could be.  Learning is different from studying.  They are studying. They spend hours studying.  And I have one that would be an excellent Jeopardy contestant.  Steel trap memory.  Great test taker.  But I’m beginning to wonder about long term outcomes for their brains because it appears that there is little practice of critical thinking skills in school.

Most recently, the middle school instituted a modified “lock down” for grades not performing standardized tests.  They sat in the same room for a couple of hours (with no access to wi-fi or the bathroom)  quietly reading or watching movies so that the other grades could take their tests in relative silence.  My son watched Shaun the Sheep. Huh?     I mention no wi-fi because now that they have been issued iPads, their homework and reading material and school life is all on the device.  So-during this testing time for other grades they couldn’t have any academic instruction themselves and likely developed some bladder infections too.

The high school has juniors sit for the ACT all on the same floor of the building.  Seniors have that day off. Sophomores take a practice exam that day. Freshman have regular classes in different classrooms than the norm (since juniors are all on one floor) and an early release.  All of them reminded to maintain the utmost quiet for the ‘test takers.’

Really?  Will an atmosphere of absolute quiet make that much of a difference in the score?   These kids are going to be our future electricians and doctors and police officers and architects and researchers and salespeople and NBA players (I threw that in for the delusional basketball parents…ha ha ha)   These jobs don’t offer quiet.  Don’t firefighters make important decisions amidst chaos?  Don’t teachers?  Don’t we all?  Surgeons make critical decisions every day.  I don’t know about you but I don’t want any surgeon working on me who might be rattled by ambient noise.

Clearly, the militant enforcement of an atmosphere of quiet amps up the drama of the importance of testing.  Performance. Achievement.  Data points.  Is it any wonder we have a large and growing population of kids on anti-anxiety medication?  It may not be a direct cause and effect.  But it isn’t helping.

The poor teachers.  We have shackled them to testing schedules and pigeon holed them into narrow curriculums.  We are squelching their creativity so they can in turn squelch it in their students.  They have so many kids all along the continuum to shepherd (shove) into performing well on tests or their jobs are on the line. When does teaching just disintegrate into rote ‘training’ for the exam?

The kids eventually end up learning how to play the game.  They turn in a couple assignments and spend the rest of the precious time studying for tests.  Sometimes they retake one to get a better score.  This causes extra anxiety as the new and old tests start to stack up.   They read the SparkNotes instead of reading the book.  This causes me sadness and rage.  I love to read so skipping the book to skim through Spark Notes just seems tragic.  Plus, in time will they think about that book the way I do?  No-because they won’t have a life experience that reminds them of the SparkNotes.  They missed the experience.  The rage?  If I have to be honest, there isn’t time to really read the book sometimes.  They don’t write many papers.  A few.  They do take tests about the book and the answers to the test are in the SparkNotes. Putting down 150 pages of a novel on top of everything else just isn’t practical every time.  I get it.  We are training them to cheat themselves out of an education.

There are 16.5 school days left before summer.  I can’t wait.  My kids can step back into being children and step out of being students.

Maybe they will read books. Maybe they will think long, slow, winding thoughts and draw their own conclusions.

Maybe they will learn something new.

Throwback Thursday: 21 years

 

 

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So I have this weird thing I do.  (many weird things but I’m only sharing this one today) Sometimes I think about people who have died when I catch myself watching a sunrise or staring at a beautiful tree or looking at a bird in the yard and I think…How can they have missed this?  They should see this bird, this incredible bird.  If they had just lasted 7 more years, they could be staring at this yellow bird right now.  How did they not see this particular sunrise?  I know they saw sunrises…but not this one.  They didn’t make it long enough to see that tree! Two more years and they could have stood right beneath the canopy of this tree.  And how lucky am I to see this tree? Why am I the lucky one?

And I feel such gratitude for such luck. (stay with me…)

I’m 21 years into my marriage today.  To the same human.  How?  21!? But I’m only 30 years old! Time has just tumbled forward snowballing faster and faster. I’ve been told it goes by even more quickly with every passing year.  I was 23 when I got married.  Were my daughter to follow in our footsteps, she would make a lifelong commitment to someone just 9 years from now.

But.I.won’t.let.THAT.happen.  ha ha ha. Seriously, though she isn’t allowed.

There are many articles, studies, books all devoted to what makes for a lasting marriage.  Statistics have been compiled.  Algorithms laid out. Theories have been developed. Therapies have been formed.  I believed in all that as a newly married person.  I could easily cite why we were married, why it made sense and why it would all work for the long haul. If you ask people what the ‘secret’ is they have many simple explanations.   People often say God brought them together,they have similar values, they are opposites and opposites attract, they “grew up together” (a case for marrying early), they “knew who they were” before they got married (a case for marrying later), they work hard at their marriage, they put their relationship first, they are just the perfect compliment to one another, and on and on and on.

I wanted to believe it was simple and formulaic but I don’t believe that at all.

  1. God brought us together.  God likely only gets partial credit for some things and is harshly criticized for others and people make it pretty convenient to involve God in the argument if it suits them.  If you meet someone at an Atheist Convention in Vegas and you are 9 cocktails in and end up getting married that night, God planned that out just for you?   Mmm-I’m not so sure.  Seems like the bright lights and adrenaline and Johnnie Walker Black may have set that up for you.  And if God brings all these people together does he bring over 50% apart?  God makes the matches but then it’s all free will when people split up?  Nah. Plus,  I don’t believe in the one person for one person myth.  There are probably other men I could have contentedly married and we could have lasted 21 years.  There are also probably several nice, docile, pleasant, lovely women out there who enjoy bass fishing, Cheetos, tank tops and sub-zero house temps that my husband could be happily married to right now.  Stay away from him you bombshell fishing floozies-we’ve already put in 21 years renovating each other.
  2. Similar values or opposites attract.  Yeah.  Sounds good.  Until a city mouse wants to be a country mouse. Or the person who always wanted children suddenly feels it at the very core of their being that they do not. The frugal saver spends lavishly on a whim for the first time in their life. What if one with the ever stable job walks away to ‘find themselves’?  What if the opposite thing that was so alluring is now the very thing that you can’t tolerate? People do change.  Similar values in 1995 may not mean similar values in 2005. In our case, some of our most sweeping changes were the very scaffolding to hold us together.
  3. Timing.  The exact right age to get married. Once, in college, my friend Erika’s dad told us this at dinner-(I’m paraphrasing) ‘There are no soul mates.  You don’t find the right person and marry them.  You get to an age where you are ready to marry and end up with whomever is in front of you at the time’  Needless to say-we were disturbed and insisted he was wrong.  He wasn’t wrong.  Wise words from George.  If you ‘grow up together’ you have the challenges of getting on the same maturity trajectory.  If you already ‘know who you are’ you have challenges compromising because you have your own ways of dealing with life independently.
  4. Working hard at marriage.  Sheesh.  Is there any other way?  Two humans that live together?  It’s a lot of work to just get up every day and be yourself.  To consider another person and their needs/wants/dreams/hopes on an ongoing basis is…is…is.. A LOT.  And I like him and love him and it’s still a lot. Rewarding. Joyful. Instructive. Humbling.  I think people who stay together work at it and I still think people who end their marriages worked at it too.  Regular date night is not a guarantee of anything except a decent meal-usually.
  5. The appearance of happy.  We look happy a lot of the time. We are generally happy. We have loved each other truly, madly, deeply over 21 years. HOWEVER, it is not a stretch to say that at one point or another (I’ll just speak for both of us here) we have fantasized, albeit briefly, about the other person falling into a well.  Not a huge well. Not a super far fall. Nothing life threatening…but a fall into a well nonetheless.  We were at many weddings where we watched in awe what an ‘ideal’ match was about to take place.  Oh-some of those couples just made it look effortless.  I would have bet a kidney they would be together until death doth them part.  Alternately, we were at a few weddings where I clenched my teeth and waited in vain for someone, anyone (please) to stand up and OBJECT when the opportunity arose.  I would have bet a kidney those marriages would last a year, if that.  I’ve been to a lot of weddings and had I placed bets…I would be out two kidneys right now.

I have my own theory on marriage.  I think we have made it to this Thursday due to gritty determination and luck.   We have been very determined but mostly so, so, so lucky.

I’m grateful to see this, specific Thursday view of this lovely lake and I’m glad we made it these 21 years so I can be here with him. ❤️