Things I want to keep in mind.

The vanishing

It is hard to remember what she used to be like.  She has faded, physically and mentally, to a mere shadow of her former self. It takes effort to retrieve a memory from prior to this era of vanishing.

The hospice nurse recommended the use of a wheelchair to help prevent falls and because she no longer uses the walker, she is getting more frail by the minute.  It is rare to hear her talk.  I haven’t seen her smile in a very long time – although, others have told me that she still does.  Her only reaction/response is to eating – her last pleasure?  Or is it just animal instinct to satisfy a basic need – hunger.

It continues to be painful to visit her, to watch this decline.  You have to muster up your courage before you go and then decompress when you leave.  You sit in your car and you feel helpless and sad.  Your heart literally aches.  One thought plays over and over in your mind.  She would hate this if she knew.

Yesterday was the anniversary of my dad’s death.  It has been 16 years.  While it was awful to lose him so suddenly – watching my mother go like this is so much worse.


Tips and tricks – part two

***Part two of lessons I’ve learned…I’m not a professional but I have learned some stuff.

Lesson 5 – Labor and Delivery is also different for everyone and different with each child.  All four of my kids were born on Saturday.  The first three started in the early morning with my water “seeping” and they were born in the afternoon.  The fourth, started in the early evening and he was born just 5 hours later. The doctor had to break my water.  Some people have very LONG labors with lots of pushing.  Some have short labors and barely make it to the hospital.  Some women describe their labors as “excruciatingly painful”.  Others forget most of the pain and only remember having the baby placed on their stomach.  For me, I had pain but it was tolerable and I was lucky not to have any complications – none that I remember anyway.  If you’re lucky, your body/mind helps to minimize pain in those memories – until you have your next child, then you remember.

Lesson 6 – Nursing your baby.  This is such a complicated process that they actually have lactation specialists who help you figure it out.  There is some science behind it and it helps to have a little instruction. BUT always remember, this is a natural process that women have been doing for centuries.  Trust your instincts.  As labor is different for everyone – so is nursing.  Some moms are lucky, their milk comes in within a day or so and baby latches on with no problem.  (Latching is when the baby gets the full nipple in their mouth and squeeze on the milk ducts with their suckling/chewing motion.  If they get just the tip of the nipple, they don’t press the ducts and get the milk flowing properly.  It causes mom pain in the nipple and baby can’t get any milk!)   Some babies don’t latch correctly and get discouraged (as do moms).  Lots of crying ensues, on both parts.  With time and practice, baby/mom can figure it out.   Other moms (like me) baby latches on fine but the milk doesn’t come in for a week!  Baby gets colostrum – low in fat but high in carbohydrates, protein and antibodies – until the milk flow begins.  It is not very filling and baby is always hungry.  The only way to incite milk production is by stimulating the breast through nursing.  Some mothers don’t have good milk production, through no choice (or fault) of their own.  Some babies never learn to latch. At some point in the process, baby needs nourishment and will be given formula. This means nothing in terms of womanhood or mother status.   It is disappointing but there are many facets at play, most of which are beyond your control.  And if you simply prefer not to nurse, that’s okay too.  Truly a mom’s prerogative.

Lesson 7 – Raising children is hard.  Oh sure, they are cute and cuddly, they say funny things, you love them beyond measure – but raising them is a lot of work and responsibility.  Most of us don’t have an example to draw from OR the example we have is something we use so as NOT to repeat the same mistakes.  The ONE lesson that I’ve learned – take it or leave it – kids need parents to be parents.  They don’t need any more friends.  They don’t need you to carry them through life, do their homework, make excuses for them, or to make their life as easy as possible.  They have a lot of lessons to learn – self-reliance, kindness, strength, empathy, love.  They learn two ways: A) by your example; and B) by living their lessons.  Don’t give them everything they want.  Give them the tools they need to get what they want OR to deal with not getting everything they desire.  Teach them the difference between want and need, earned and given, confidence and arrogance, strong and dominant, humble and docile.  BUT raising children is hard.  As you are trying to impart these lessons, you are learning lessons of your own.  The most difficult part of parenting is maintaining focus. There are so damn many balls in the air at the same time. Frankly, it is exhausting.   Best tip?  Do the best you can, as often as you can.

Lesson 8 – Choosing a partner.  Often, we don’t necessarily CHOOSE a partner.  If we are lucky, things will fall into place naturally, organically (the new buzz word).  Truth is – you just don’t know.  You have to pay attention.  The problems arise when we KNOW all the red flags, we SEE the red flags, but we IGNORE the red flags because of all the outside influences circling the drain in our head.

Things like:

  • Said subject is cute; a good kisser; funny; good in bed
  • “        “        is nice; has a job/makes good money.
  • “        “       says they loves kids and can’t wait to have one of their own.
  • “        “       is pretty good with their dog.
  • “        “       says they REALLY LOVE ME (more than they’ve ever loved anyone)
  • Everyone keeps asking if you’re married or have kids yet.
  • You are getting close to 30 and are ready to settle down.
  • You are ready to have kids and you are not getting any younger…
  • You want to have a partner to share holidays and special occasions with (a.k.a. you’re tired of being alone).

BUT if you think that those red flags aren’t a big deal…if you think you can either change him/her OR that you can tolerate those red flags – you really need to take a reality check.  It doesn’t work that way.  What happens is that YOU have to change.  YOU have to revise your thinking and forfeit your sense of self.  You may think you can – I know I did.  Eventually, your soul rebels and you realize it isn’t worth sacrificing yourself.  Even for your kids.  They deserve the BEST you, always.

So, here are red flags.  You know them, you’ve seen them – but just for posterity, I’ll list them anyway:

If that special someone:

  • Tries to tell you what to wear, eat, drink or buy.
  • Tries to tell you how to be “more”: skinny, healthy, fit, smart, friendly, professional, etc. etc.
  • Wants to go shopping with you to “help” you or just to “be together” (groceries, clothes or anything) – once in a while is great but ALL THE TIME?
  • When shopping, contends that you buy what they want/choose because it is “better”.
  • Wants to control the money/finances.
  • Starts criticizing your friends and wants to make NEW friends as a couple.
  • Wants to do everything together.
  • Talks about raising kids a little too exuberantly with plans of what kind of parent they will be, wanting to share ALL duties (even though other household duties are not currently “shared”).
  • Conveniently has an explanation as to why duties are not shared (maybe they work longer hours, bring home more income, or something equally lame).
  • Describes all previous partners as “crazy”, “possessive” or some other manifestation of lunacy.

How are you treated?  What happens when you are sick?  What happens when they are sick?  Is there an adequate and equitable measure of care and concern?  Is there a pattern of obliviousness to your feelings, goals and desires – almost to the point where you are being told how you SHOULD feel?  How do they treat other people?  Your friends?  Your family?  Are they friendly in their presence but then hyper-critical in private?  Do they avoid activities with your family/friends?  What do your family and friends think of them?  BonusTip: if more than 2 friends or family members express concern don’t pass it off as jealousy or cynicism – step back and take a good hard look.

In every relationship, there is give and take.  That is as it should be.  Sometimes – often times – things are not 50/50.  BUT it is a dance the partners share.  Being together is a lifelong negotiation with many outside influences: difficult jobs, illness, children issues, extended family issues, money difficulties, a house full of waxing and waning emotions.  Keeping it together requires awareness, flexibility, humor and strength.  If we’re lucky, we find someone with the capacity for those things and together we build a relationship.  Side tip: it won’t be perfect and it won’t always be enjoyable – that’s how love works.  Despite moments of anger, annoyance or intolerance; things will circle back around.  Over and over again.

More later…

New year?

2018.  What will happen in the coming year?  I will turn 60.  Yikes.  My husband will turn 70.  Yikes, again.  With the passing of another year, it is inevitable to think of how time passes, yes?   New Year has a different meaning as you age…

I remember when I was in high school and we read the book, “1984” in Freshman English.  It seemed so far into the future, I found myself hoping I was still alive by then.  Of course, I was alive.  I had my second child that year.   I was 26 years old.

I remember hearing my dad talk about all the changes he had witnessed in his lifetime; the incorporation of televisions, cars, tractors, running water, indoor plumbing; the “modernization” of his world.  I find myself ticking off a list of my own.

Remember the microwave oven?  I don’t remember the year, or the first one I owned but I remember thinking how remarkable it was…like magic.  You were really lucky to own one and they were huge.  Now, you can get them in all sizes and colors – with lots of additional features.  Every home has one.

I remember in the early 80’s when VCR’s were the big thing – you rented a VCR and videos!  You had to haul that big thing home, connect all the appropriate wires.  Of course, people began buying their own VCR’s and just renting the videos.  Every Friday night involved a trip to the video store to rent movies for the weekends entertainment.  Then came satellite television (for those of us “country dwellers” who couldn’t get cable).  Now, you can get a multitude of movie channels, sports channels, kids TV, Nature channels, history channels – all from the comfort of your own couch.  Of course, you pay for it but it seems like it is free…..  In addition to that, there are “smart” TV’s that practically turn themselves on!  I happen to know that my TV is much smarter than I am!

My first cell phone was a big heavy thing, with a huge battery and an antenna.  It was only used in an emergency.  Now?  Phones are a mainstay for most people.  A lifeline — for music, movies, the internet, texting, stapchatting, instagramming…we are CONSTANTLY on the hook to our phones.  What would we do without them? We have blue tooth, speaker, hands free in the car….we can talk at any point and with unlimited restrictions (other than a signal and enough battery).

The actual use of a phone has changed tremendously.  Back in the day,  most households had a phone.  It was usually centrally located in the house and if you were lucky, it had a long enough cord so you could move around a bit while talking.  When I was younger, we still had party lines — multiple houses on a single phone line —  so if someone was using the phone you could pick up the receiver and hear their conversation.  It must have been in the late 60’s early 70’s when our valley finally got private lines for everyone.   Amazing.

Billing for the phone was a base rate plus additional charges for every long distance call.  Long distance calls were frivolous ventures and only to be used as necessary; long distance charges were carefully monitored.  While people may have chatted extensively on the phone with local calls, long distance calls were carefully scrutinized.  You stated your business then were done.

When I went to college, because of the concern about the cost of long distance calls,  a call home was a rarity – once a week at most.  We wrote letters instead.  We even had a code when we needed to let our parents know we arrived somewhere safely, we would call home “collect” and our parents would refuse to accept the charges and they would know that we arrived at our destination without costing a cent!  In this day and age, collect calls are a rarity, unless it is from someone in jail!


If you needed to tell someone something, you had to wait until you got to a phone.  If you wanted to see your grandchild in the next state, you had to wait for a photo in the mail.  Now, you can have moment to moment contact with Skype or Facetime.  Job interviews, banking, scheduling are done over the phone.  You don’t hustle door to door to get a job, you go on line and submit an electronic application.  An APP sorts through the applications and eliminates those who are unqualified.  You get a text or email thanking you for your interest, but no thanks.  What a world, what a world.

Most young people probably don’t even remember pay phones.  Its hard to find one these days!  They used to be on every corner and we all used to carry a dime, just in case.  Of course, the last time I used a payphone (in the 80’s?), it was up to a quarter per call.  I don’t even know how much the charge is now!  You probably have to use a credit card.

The first home I remember living in was an old granary that my dad and grandpa converted into living space.  It was a three room shed with no insulation other than tar paper wrapping to block the wind.  There was a small bedroom, a kitchen and a living room.  I think there was a pump for water in the kitchen, but no water heater. Water was heated on the stove.  Mom and dad slept in the bedroom and had a curtain for a door.  My two siblings and I slept in the living room on the couch and an old twin bed.  We had a wood stove for heat and another for cooking.  Our bathroom was an old outhouse just up the path from the house.  I don’t remember a lot about that house other than from photos I’ve seen and stories I’ve heard — I’m not even sure how long we lived there.  What I do know, is that we’ve come a long way from there!  What changes will 2018 hold?

Tips and tricks – part one

I have been alive for 59 years and 4 months.  Hard to believe.  It has been a long road of learning, changing and updating.  Here is a golden review:

Lesson 1 – life is transition.  Nothing remains the same, no matter how hard you try to squeeze it into the little plastic box.  People enter and exit your life on their own timetable and at their whim.  Not much you can control about that – other than how you deal with your gain and loss.  There’s always a chance they will cycle back through at some later point, but there is also the chance that they won’t.  Be open for both possibilities.

Lesson 2 – Motherhood is not easy.  Babies are adorable, cuddly, soft and warm.  They will love you forever.  That is not in dispute.  BUT they are also a lifelong commitment of pooping, puking, crying, keeping you up at night, making you worry from dawn till dusk.  There will be illnesses, trips to the principal’s office, fighting, injuries with trips to the ER, an endless array of financial needs (shoes, clothes, costumes, science fair projects, sports uniforms, dancing shoes, pianos, band instruments, braces, winter coats, summer gear, vacations, school trips), as a mom you are “on” 24/7.  It’s easier with a partner who can (and will) tag in when you are spent.  Someone who is there for the long haul and will learn how to anticipate the needs of said infant/child as well as you do or a close facsimile.  **See lesson 3 part 2

Lesson 3 – Partnership in a relationship is never 50/50.  Each person brings their own skillset to the relationship.  In the household, there will be a division of labor that works for each couple.  This division is constantly under revision, depending on the situation, and both partners must be flexible, vigilant and mindful.  Small examples:  If you make a mess, clean up after yourself.  Simple lesson for children AND adults.  This includes dribbles on the toilet seat.  Dads, teach your little boys (by example) to look before they flush and wipe up after themselves.  Hair in the sink or the shower drain?  Clean it out BEFORE you leave the bathroom.  Cooking meals – what works?  Who comes home first?  If one cooks, the other cleans up.  Cooking together can be fun too.  Yard work – what works?   Every “job” requires effort and elbow-grease BUT also provides opportunity for togetherness.  The key point is that both parties are fully aware that this is a partnership – the desire to play an active role is important.

Lesson 3, part 2 – Partnership in a relationship changes drastically when offspring are born.  It is unavoidable.  Mom becomes a guernsey cow (or it can feel that way) feeding and in total focus on the new family member.  Dad may feel neglected.  It’s up to both of you to modify how you view your relationship, and how you contribute to maintaining your relationship.  The partnership is now a UNIT.  There will be diapers to change, books to read, extra laundry and cleanup.  If you thought your life was in constant motion before, welcome to the hurricane.   The dance has changed but it is possible to continue building your relationship/family.  Again, flexibility is paramount.  Dad’s need to participate in the care of the child – a father’s bond is as important as the mother’s.  The best bonding mechanism is when dads have an active role; feeding, changing, bathing, rocking, reading.  Moms need to let dad “in” – he will do things differently than you do.  That’s the way it works, and works best.   Child-rearing is difficult.  Work hard to find the middle road, always.  And it doesn’t stop with infancy and toddlerhood – dads need to continue feeding, reading, transporting (pickup or drop-off at daycare, school, sport/dance practices, etc. etc.), cooking, shopping, cutting hair, learning to braid hair, etc. etc.  Remember: The division of labor is constantly under revision.

Lesson 4 – Pregnancy is a crapshoot.  Some people can get pregnant on a wink and a smile.  Others require IVF or other fertility assistance.   Every pregnancy is different.  Some women claim they never felt better than when they were pregnant.  Some women have just the cutest little basketball belly and from the back, you can’t even tell they are pregnant.  That was not me.  I felt like shit for the first trimester and into the second.  Constantly nauseated and looking for something to eat that would settle my stomach and make me feel better.  I gained far too much weight!  The last thing I ever felt like eating was salad or vegetables.  Bread, pasta and potatoes were my only saving grace.  I was a huge pregnant woman – big everywhere.  Toward the end, I had a huge round face and swollen ankles.  From the back, I looked like Sasquatch.   In regards to my heavy weight gain, my obstetrician (a man) said, “Well, you’re the one who has to lose it”.   And he was right…

To be continued….more lessons ahead.

Breaking the circle of idiocy

As a society, we complain far too much. As a person, I complain far too much. Why do we expect perfection out of an ordinary day?

It’s always something (as Roseanne Roseannadanna used to say). If it snows, it is either too much or too little. If it’s cold, its too cold. We take a trip and complain that we have to wait too long for our flight, or cab, or train. We stay in a hotel and it isn’t clean enough, the staff isn’t friendly enough, the room isn’t big enough. Our own house is never clean enough, big enough or pretty enough. Our car isn’t new enough, clean enough or big enough. (Notice how many times things are never BIG enough? We aim for BIG, better, BEST – that is the end goal; having the biggest and best of everything – and if we don’t…well, we complain about it.)

Complaining is a habit. One that we can break but it takes an effort. I’ve become aware of my complaining habit a number of times and have thought of ways to change it but it is so easy to revert back to complaining. Old habits die hard, right? This is what I call the circle of idiocy. We know we should change, we make a plan for change but through our oblivious nature, we slip right back into our comfort zone, what we know best.

THIS time around, I am trying to look at things the way my grandsons do. If you want to know how to stop complaining, look at how a toddler views the world. A car is just a car – it can go fast or slow. A house is warm and cozy. Christmas trees are beautiful because of the lights. The snow is fantastic! Mud is even better! It is fun to get wet in the rain.

Of course, the difference is that toddlers don’t have to worry about driving in inclement weather, or shoveling snow, or getting sopping wet before work, or buying Christmas gifts. They have all of their needs met by someone else. Still, the innocence, joy and nonjudgmental way of a toddler’s life view can be emulated, at least in part – there can be a happy medium. While we all have obligations and daily drudgery, we can try to avoid allowing the discontent to rule the day.

Here’s a mantra: “What Would A Toddler Say?”

Adult: Oh, I’m so fat, I can’t fit anything. Uhhhhh.
Toddler: I love blue, I’ll wear blue.

Adult: Shit, it snowed AGAIN!
Toddler: Oh, it’s so pretty. Can I play?

Adult: I have so much to do today, I just want to sleep in.
Toddler: I love breakfast. I think I’ll have eggs.

Okay…that’s over-simplified but in reality most of the negative things that we ruminate over are brought on by ourselves so we have the power to minimize their hold over us. I’m going to try…

Side-bar: if you don’t know a toddler to use as an example, think of your dog or cat. What would they do? Do they complain about anything?


It is just two weeks until Christmas.  The month of December is always filled with parties and gatherings.  It seems as though every day is booked.  As a retiree, it is much less so but there are still Christmas-y things to do and attend.  There are gifts to buy, cookies to bake, friends to greet and grandkids to play with – it is a very FULL season!  It is a season filled with rituals.

I remember the days of Christmas programs, “Santa” parties Iwhere Santa arrives and hands out gifts!) and family parties.  Christmas shopping was daunting, always trying to find great and desired gifts (in equal numbers) and trying to get that dollar to stretch…  Nowadays, my immediate family draws names for our gift exchange and I am so grateful.  It is so much easier! You can buy one NICE gift for just ONE person.  There isn’t the usual pressure of finding multiple gifts, for multiple people and staying within your budget.  Of course, as a mom, I can’t bear not to get my kids SOMETHING but it is usually something small; socks, a serving bowl, a gift card, a screwdriver.  And the main staple for the stocking – a new toothbrush!  The gift shopping ritual and the toothbrush in the stocking ritual…

In my larger, extended family, we have a white elephant gift exchange.  Some people make gifts, some buy real gifts, some buy gag gifts and during the exchange, you can steal a gift.  It is a fun way to give and receive and there is no pressure to find the perfect gift for that difficult person who has everything!  The gift giving ritual…

When we first started gathering for this annual Christmas party, the rule was that your gift MUST be hand-made.  This was difficult for those who don’t build, sew, knit/crochet, or have some special artistic talent.  (Most of us do, but we just don’t feel that confident in our skills or have the time to come up with an idea and then throw it together on time!)  Eventually, the party evolved to being able to BUY something that was hand-made.  Currently, it is free-flowing: build it or buy it, whatever works for you!  The roll with the flow ritual…

There are those in the family who are extremely creative and talented.  Each year, those are the coveted gifts and you can easily identify them because they are wrapped in newspaper and bailing twine and they are LARGE and an odd shape.  My cousin, Charlie, builds something new and different every year.  Could be a bench, or a hall tree, or a basket made of rope and antlers.  Beautiful.  My uncle, Dib, is a welder and he will make some brave, new creation also.  Both usually incorporate horseshoes – a family trademark.  The creative artists’ ritual…

According to the rules of stealing, each gift can only be stolen twice so everyone has to strategically plan how they will steal a gift and actually be able to win possession of it.  There is some serious plotting between couples or in families.  We draw numbers to determine the order of opening gifts so that is an added obstacle in tactics and maneuvering as everyone gets into position to snag the gifts on the final steal.  The thief’s ritual… 

Each year, I make an afghan.  I start it in the spring and work on it throughout the year.  I am usually crocheting the last few rows the week of the party.  In a normal year, I will also crochet other afghans depending on how many babies are born into our family that year.  Crocheting is the one thing I can do. The crocheting ritual…

An afghan is a silly little thing.  It can be used on chilly nights – a lap blanket while watching TV or an extra cover on a bed.  With the advent of soft, furry, warm throw blankets, the crocheted afghan is becoming an “old” thing, fast approaching extinction. As I crochet each blanket, I am aware that it is something that will likely be tossed aside, used for a dog bed, put away in a storage box, or given to goodwill at some future time.  I will never know one way or the other.  However, I do take pleasure choosing the yarn and trying new patterns.  Of course, when I see the finished product, I see all of the little mistakes that no one else would notice.  I don’t view it as something beautiful or wonderful – but as something I “finished”.  Aren’t we always hypercritical of our own work?  The worrying ritual…

I’ve lost track of the number of afghans I’ve made but I’m proud of them just the same.  I suppose it is the same for any hand-made gift.  People don’t save things as they used to – myself included.  But I do have the afghans that my grandmother made for me.  Perhaps it isn’t so silly after all.  Years from now, I will be gone and someone will be saying, “oh yes, Bobaloo made that back in the day…”  The memory ritual…

Kids are the best teachers

I am a lucky mom.  My kids have been a treasure.  We grew up together.

I had my first child when I was 23.  It was November and I was living about five hours from my family and friends.  I was petrified to bring her home as I had no idea how to care for an infant.  She wasn’t an easy baby, not at first.  She cried every night for about an hour until she was six weeks old.  After that, she was a peach;  happy, smart, adorable and very loving.  We spent every waking moment together and she was my world.

My second child was born when I was 25.  He was a very large baby and very peaceful, rarely cried and quite pleasant.  He had these huge cheeks, wispy blond hair, dark brown eyes and was always happy.  I was much more confident bringing him home but then, at that time, we were living near family.  His sister was not thrilled at his presence.  Oh sure, she thought he was cute, but he took a little bit too much attention…  For six months of his life, we were a fun little trio.  Then, I had to go to work and things got a whole lot more complicated.

I had my third child when I was 30.  In the interim between child 2 and child 3, I had divorced, remarried, and had 2 miscarriages.  She was our little miracle girl.  The smallest baby thus far, she was like a little china doll with fair skin and light brown hair. We were all thrilled at her arrival.  Such a pretty, smart and dainty girl, she was all smiles and giggles.  She adored her siblings and they adored her.

My fourth child was a surprise package I delivered the very next year when I was 31.  He was born a little bigger than child 3 but he looked smaller because he was so thin.  His hair and skin were dark and his eyes were almost black, at first.  The first two months of his life, if he wasn’t sleeping, he was eating.  He eventually filled out very nicely.  Child 3 dubbed him “boy” and that is what we called him for the first few years of his life.  By now, I was an old hat at bringing babies home from the hospital.  I had lots of help and he was an easy baby, very happy, handsome and laidback.

As I look back now, I enjoyed motherhood.  Although at the time, it was very labor intensive and I was constantly filled with self doubt.  I had divorced when child 1 and 2 were very small and I worried about them constantly.  They didn’t see there dad very often and visitation was hard on them.  Also having to deal with a “step” family was an adjustment for them as well.  I was also working full-time and had to shuffle between shift work, babysitters and school.  It was exhausting and my time was spread very thin. Above all, I wanted all four of them to know they were loved but to grow into good citizens, caring people, loving parents.

I often felt inept as a mother and had to learn as they grew.  Lots of mistakes were made and some were corrected on subsequent children.  If I knew then what I know now – wouldn’t it have been better?  If wishes were fishes.

What I do know is that I am very proud of my children.  So much of what they are today has more to do with their own personalities and growth as adults than my abilities as a mother.  They are intelligent and caring people; loving to their partners; great parents – loving to their children but also intent on teaching them to be good people; they have good friends; they are good to each other as siblings.  I am go grateful to have grown up with them.  They taught me so much.

Who really knows?

Parenting is hard.  Not everyone should do it.  There are lots of “manuals” in the form of “self-help” books, thousands of them.  Every theory, every strategy, every study, every child-rearing notion known to man available in print.  Oh, and blogs galore!  Present company included.

I can honestly say that, as a parent, I read my fair share of books.  I also observed other parents and their children to help me decide what was the better plan of attack.  Raising children is like planning a war – preparing for battle each day – and you will all get plenty of battle scars, parent and child alike.  If you are a parent, you know exactly what I mean.  (They don’t want to wear that, they want to wear that.  Put it on and they don’t want to wear that either.  They don’t want to eat that not even one single bite.  They don’t want to read OR to take a nap OR to pee!)  It is exhausting!

My husband and I were very strict with our children.  We had very rigid rules:

  • No screaming unless you are bleeding or dying.
  • You must clean your plate – if you take it, you eat it.  (And you must try everything – at least a small portion)
  • Good manners are important.  No talking with your mouth full.  Say “please” and “thank you”.
  • No fighting!
  • Saturday was chore day – everyone must clean their room (older children had to help younger children)
  • Mom & Dad were in charge and there was NO ARGUING and you should never have to be told something twice.
  • If you are out playing and you hear my whistle – stop what you are doing and come to me. (this still works to this day and they are adults!)
  • If you make a mess, clean up after yourself.

I’m sure there were plenty of others (my kids could probably add to the list) but those are the major rules that I remember.  Of course, in hindsight, I do realize that in some cases we were far too rigid.  Meal times were often very stressful because my husband was adamant that everyone learn those good manners.  We both regret it now — although, they DO have good manners and could make a good showing at a meal with foreign dignitaries – but mealtimes should be a time of sharing and relaxation.

I do know that, as a mother, I needed to have these rules in order to keep my household moving forward.  When I was in my thirties, my friend told me about John Rosemond, an author on parenting.  I bought his book, The Six Point Plan for Raising Happy, Healthy Children.  It helped me immensely!  That was back in 1994 or so — but so many of his ideas remain true (to my mind anyway).

Life has changed.  There is so much technology and lives move much faster.  With divorces, same sex marriages, single parents – the core family looks very different.  There have been many new studies and there are new theories on how to raise children, as a species we continue to evolve in that regard.  But I am old fashioned, I still believe that the parent has to be in charge and while you can be less rigid than we may have been – you still have to call the ball.  You make the rules and you enforce them.  Children need to know that you are watching over them – they may not like it sometimes, but they know where they stand in the grand scheme.

BUT.  Parenting is hard.  Sometimes, you are co-parenting with someone who has no parenting skills.  You spend much of your time doing damage control.  Sometimes, you work a full-time job and are exhausted before you arrive home to your second job – parenting.  Who wants to continue the battle – 24/7?  Take it from me – rules do help.  In this day and age of loving the child and trying not to hinder their spirit – things do get muddled.  Before I understood what my true role as a “mother” was – I wore myself out trying to reason and argue and yell – basically, begging my children to behave.  Rosemond’s book helped me to realize that I was expending all of my energy and they were learning how to ignore me.  I wanted them to behave but I didn’t expect them to do so.

“Tolerant parents repeat themselves, threaten, bluster and otherwise work themselves into a state of frustration that eventually expresses itself in yelling. Intolerant parents do none of that. They are mean. A parent who qualifies as mean does not yell. Said parent is virtually unflappable, which is to say cool, calm, and collected.

From a child’s perspective, a parent (or teacher) is mean if the child discovers that the parent says precisely what he means and means precisely what he says. No means no. It does not mean maybe. “I (parent) want you (child) to do thus and so” means the child is going to do it. It does not mean anything short of that.”  John Rosemond

Once I finally understood this and began to implement this attitude., I was truly amazed at the difference for my stress level.  The kids didn’t like it and it took a while for them to adjust but eventually they knew that the dance had changed.   I would love to say that I was a calm and stern mother for the rest of their young lives – that would be an exaggeration.  I still had moments of doubting myself and falling back into feeling like I needed to let them have their way because I did so love them.  There is a magnitude of outside influences for all of us.  Each one of us has our own road to travel and struggles to endure.  No two children are alike but they can accept (and need) guidelines and boundaries.  They need to know what to expect and what is expected of them.

Even with the manuals, self-help books and advice from scads of sources — parenting is hard.  We do the best we can and when we know better, we do better.  It’s all in the knowing…and who really knows?

Like holy water…

“When the well is dry, we know the worth of water” Benjamin Franklin

I can attest to that.  On Saturday afternoon, our water stopped working.  We didn’t know if it was the pump in the well or if the well had gone dry.  A frightening proposition – since digging a new well would be very expensive and not very convenient – at all.  Replacing a pump could be expensive as well but wouldn’t involve excavation of our yard and trying to find water!

I am very lucky. My husband is a fix-it-guy.  He knows a thing or two about a thing or two.  And if he doesn’t know, he can figure it out.  He exhausted every avenue he could think of to get the water back on.  Time to call in the big guns.  Just up the hill from my home lives my uncle, the plumber/fix it guy.  If you call him, you don’t have to wait hours for his arrival.  Within minutes, he cheerfully arrives at my door.  He goes through the same steps my husband did and determines it is probably the pump.  Also, luckily, we know a family of excavators – they installed the first pump – they are moments away as well.  We were not placed on a waiting list, we didn’t have to make an appointment.  They arrived on Monday morning and two hours later, we had a new pump and water running freely!

We spent exactly 44 hours (and a few minutes) without water.  Until you are “waterless”, you have no idea how much you rely on it.  You can drink bottled water – a lot of people do – but there is washing dishes, clothes, your hands, brushing your teeth, taking a shower and most importantly: flushing the toilet!  FLUSHING THE TOILET!  You can do without a lot of things…but you really do need to flush that toilet.

Countless times, you walk to the sink and turn on the water – nothing.  Then you remember.  You also begin to monitor, very carefully, how much fluid you consume and how often you will be vacating your bladder.  Things you, normally, wouldn’t give a second thought.  (And we won’t even talk about vacating anything else!)  And since you don’t “flush” with each use (saving on water use), the bathroom takes on an unpleasant urinary type odor.  Too much information? Sorry – wanted to give you the full effect.

I am also very fortunate in that I live across the field from my sister.  As soon as we knew we would be without water for awhile, my husband loaded up our truck with every receptacle we owned and filled them at her house.  We had jugs available in each bathroom for “flushing”.   On day 2, I was able to shower in her lovely new and very warm bathroom.  If we had been without water for any length of time, they would graciously have opened their home and bathroom to us for as long as we needed.

My husband and I were elated to have our water back on.  We looked at the water with renewed adoration.  I sang a happy tune as I did a load of laundry.  He took a nice long hot shower and washed twice!  We are so grateful for our water.   Even more grateful for our wonderful neighbors!!!  THAT is why we live here.

Versions of family

Each of us has our own version of the truth based on what we saw, what we wanted to see and what we choose to remember seeing.  Several people can witness an event but each person would report a different account with differing details.

I’ve always believed that I came from a close-knit family.  I’ve always wanted us to remain close throughout our lives.  I’ve wanted the storybook fantasy of a family — spending all holidays together with big family meals and seeing each other weekly, talking on the phone regularly and knowing every detail about each other.  Isn’t that the way it is supposed to be?

I know that is what my dad wanted for his family.  He talked about it all the time.  He had lost contact with his own family because of his marriage to my mom.  His family did not like her and she didn’t really like them either.  For years, he missed family gatherings because of the disparity.  He tried very hard to bring everyone back together again – but there were many obstacles; hurt feelings and lots of blame and grudges.  He spoke endlessly about the importance of family.

It was only after my dad passed away that I realized my own core family was not as close as I believed.  We held it together for his sake.  Once he was gone, the interest in being close waned.   We don’t talk regularly – only when we happen to see each other or if there is some kind of news we need to share.  But then, we didn’t necessarily talk regularly when he was alive.  He was the one who maintained regular contact and kept us apprised of what was going on with each of our families.  He was the hub of the wheel and without him we seem to have collapsed.

Oh, we love each other and when we see each other, we are genuinely pleasant and loving.  But we don’t have big dinners together except at Christmas or some other big event — like a wedding or funeral.  We all live on the same road all within a half mile of each other but we don’t “do” anything together.

I’ve realized that my thoughts and dreams of being close — like we were in our late teens and early twenties — were just that.  Dreams.  Being young and naive, I didn’t take into consideration that we would all marry different types of people; work in different fields; have children and be busy raising them and attending all of their different activities; we would develop different interests and have other friends from every avenue of our lives.  I used to feel like I had to do everything my siblings did, follow in their path right behind them.  I didn’t allow myself to make my own plans or try to do something that was my own.  For years, I was afraid I would be cast aside if I didn’t stay within the boundaries my family role.

In the years since my dad’s death, I’ve realized that I was hanging on, with a strangle-hold, to my need for that “dream” of what our family should be.  Each time I was faced with the reality of what it really was, it made me sad and woeful.  Over time, I’ve realized that we are our own version of family.  We don’t spend a lot of time together but we’re still whole.  I don’t know every detail of every family member’s life, nor do they know mine.  Each of us has moved into a circle of our own but those circles touch each other like bubbles in dishwater – sometimes gathering as a group on one edge of the sink, sometimes joining as one large bubble in the middle.  We come together when we are needed – sometimes it is deliberate; sometimes it is happenstance.

We all have different versions of what we want and need from each other – our own truth.  It all depends on what we see and what we choose to remember seeing.