Parenting

  • Uncluttering a Life

    By Jacqueline Dooley

    Last month my neighbor (I’ll call him “Dave”) lost his house. A deputy showed up at the house and stood on the curb while two men moved Dave’s belongings onto his front lawn. Dave had been in foreclosure for over a year. I only learned about it in May when a man knocked on my door to see if Dave was still living in the house.

    “Yes, of course,” I’d told the man. “I just spoke with him on, um…”

    I’d paused, trying to recall the last time I’d spoken to Dave. Had it been two weeks? Three? Had it been longer? I looked at Dave’s overgrown yard, at the abandoned car in the carport (it had been there for years), at the sagging awning cluttered with leaves and had felt like the world’s worst neighbor.

    We weren’t good friends–Dave and I–but we were friendly. I knew the code to his house. I’d fed his cat when he’d been away. He had a key to my house and had likewise fed my animals when I’d been away. Our daughters had been best friends when they were younger. Now, Dave’s daughter was eighteen. My daughter would’ve been seventeen, if she hadn’t died from cancer last March.

    I tried texting Dave, but the number didn’t work. I got his new number from a mutual friend, so I was able let him know about the man. I urged him to come back and take what he could because at some point—likely very soon—the bank would send people to reclaim the house, locking him out. A few weeks later, that’s exactly what happened.

    “The sheriff is here,” I texted Dave. “They’re putting your things on the lawn. You have twenty-four hours to come get what you want before they haul it away.”

    “I have what I want,” he’d responded.

    “I’m glad,” I texted, a lump in my throat.

    After my initial text, Dave had come home one last time with some friends. They’d filled cars and pickups with whatever they could carry. It hadn’t been much.

    The remainder of Dave’s things sat on the lawn for over a week—a fully decorated Christmas tree, oversized stuffed animals, his kitchen table (the chairs encircling it like an altar), two dozen black garbage bags stuffed with clothes, books and toys, a wicker side table (broken and covered with dust).

    After a few days, neighbors began dropping by—curious at first, then greedy. They picked through the pile and dumped out the bags. They walked away with armloads of his memories.

    The cleanup crew eventually came—a few guys with trucks—and spent an afternoon clearing out the yard. They were supposed to have it done in a day, but it turned out that the stuff on the lawn was only a tiny fraction of what was piled up inside Dave’s home. One of the workers saw me retrieving my mail and, eyes haunted, he said, “Do you have kids?”

    “Yes,” I said. “Why?”

    “Don’t leave this kind of mess for them to clean up when you die.”

    It was a terrible thing to say to a bereaved parent, but I only nodded.

    Of course, he hadn’t known that my daughter died a little over a year ago and that I’d agonized about what to do with her meager possessions—what to keep, what to throw away, and what to give away. I’d bought her most of her things—her clothes, her furniture, the candles and tumbled stones she’d loved. And, while these things reminded me of her, going through each item—with love and sadness–taught me a surprising lesson.

    We are not our things.

    I tried to remember this as I watched the workers fill the fourth, fifth and sixth truckloads with beer cans, framed photos, the scarlet curtains that decorated Dave’s windows for over a decade, an old piano, the refrigerator full of rotting food (duct-taped shut), mattresses, empty liquor bottles, and bags of junk excavated from the attic and basement.

    There was so much of it, so many things left untouched for years. I wondered if it was for the best that other people were tasked with disposing of it. When the men left, nothing remained, not even the old car that had been parked in the same spot since the day it wouldn’t start seven or eight years ago. They’d mowed the battered lawn and put padlocks on the doors. The house was empty and ready for a new beginning.

    I wondered what it had been like for Dave being surrounded by so much clutter—the remnants of a family that no longer existed. But what did I know? He’d barely lived in the house over the past year. It had become a weight around his neck filled with meaningless things.

    It’s tempting to romanticize someone else’s story—the failed dreams of a broken marriage, childhood toys discarded in a heap, loneliness and loss. But we can’t really understand anyone else’s life—not even when everything they own is piled up on their front lawn.

    I knew Dave had been in a new relationship for the last several years. He had a new job and a new place to live. He’d taken what he needed. Just like his empty house, he was ready for a new beginning.

    Dave’s things told me more about myself than about him. They reminded me of my own grief, how it tends to immobilize me, making even the simplest tasks seem impossible.

    Sometimes there are days when I can only sit, weep, and remember my sweet girl. But when those days turn into weeks, everything in my life becomes stagnant. My daughter wouldn’t have wanted that.

    It’s easy to picture my house never changing, filled with the debris from my past, easy to let my stuff back me into a cluttered corner forever, easy to imagine rotting alongside the things that once gave me joy.

    After the workers took the final truckload of Dave’s belongings away, I walked through every room in my house and tried to imagine strangers putting my things into black garbage bags and tossing the furniture out the windows. I picture the neighbors picking through it, finding treasure amidst my old pain. But maybe that’s not so bad. Do I really need all this stuff?

    My daughter grew up in this house. She died in this house. If I threw everything out, the walls would remind me of her. If every room was suddenly empty, the space around me would be filled with her. If I move to the other side of the world with only the clothes on my back, I’d take her memory with me. What else is there, really?

    I started my own process of uncluttering from an imagined center of open space.

    It’s slow and cathartic—going through each room and uncollecting its contents, letting them fall from my life until I’m all that remains. When I’m done, the house will be much emptier, but it will hold many more open spaces. There will be room for my grief to expand when it needs to and room to display the things that truly matter—artwork, photos, and little else.

    Someday I’ll leave even these things behind and I like to imagine that whoever hauls it away will wonder how I managed to get by with so little.

     

    Jacqueline Dooley is a writer and self-employed digital marketing consultant located in New York’s Mid-Hudson Valley. Her essays on parenting a child with cancer and parental grief have appeared in The Washington Post, Modern Loss, Longreads.com, Pulse Voices, The Wisdom Daily, HuffPost.com and others. Ms. Dooley blogs about parental grief at http://www.thehalfwaypath.com and has published three fantasy novels – all of them feature a child with cancer. 

     

     

  • Teaching My Son That Great Men Let Tears Fall

     by Angela Anagnost-Repke

     

    okay to cry

    “Will I cry, Mommy?”

    My son’s voice trembled before getting his three-year-old immunization shots. We sat in the cramped room of the pediatrician’s office—my son, my one-year-old daughter, and me. My son crumpled the paper on the patient bed while I sat in a chair with my daughter in my lap. I prepped him before the well-visit, but knowing that he needed three shots, I was realistic that there would be crying. He had endured numerous check-ups and remembered that they didn’t only include the doctor asking Mommy questions, but also the female aide who pushed the needles into his skin.

    Pressing my pointer finger and thumb together, I said, “It will just feel like a quick pinch. And you’ll be tough.”

    Standing, the male doctor asked all of the typical check-up questions. Near the end, he asked if I had any for him. I did have questions about my son’s speech, but forgot as I brawled with my daughter who pulled down the blinds over and over again. Apparently, she couldn’t read the photocopied sign, “DON’T TOUCH THE BLINDS,” taped to the wall.

    So instead of talking about my son’s speech, I nodded to the doctor, smiled, and whispered “I’m sorry,” every time her chubby fingers dove for the blinds. “That’s okay,” he said. “You’re doing a great job with the kids.”

    “Good enough,” I joked. After the doctor concluded all was well in the well-visit, it was time for the doctor to exit and the aide to enter as a waitress—balancing the small silver tray full of needles with her rubber-gloved hands.

    My son tensed at the sight of the needles. I pretended to be calm—but was dreading the pain he would feel. I stood next to him, my daughter on my hip, with my palm on his back while he sat upright. I didn’t need to hold his hands down. He was ready.
    “Okay, honey. Look up at your mommy,” the aid directed my son.

    He didn’t listen. He steadied his eyes on the needles.

    We watched three rifling rounds plunge into his still-chubby thigh. He clenched his eyes and squeezed his lids shut. After the shots were done, he inhaled a colossal breath and opened his almost-black eyes. His long lashes were dry. Both his body and mine deflated with ease.

     “I’m so proud of you honey,” I said. “You didn’t even cry.”

    And to celebrate my son’s toughness, I took him out for ice cream. He didn’t need to know about his mother’s own need to choke down tears, especially when life seems relentless—piercing shots into your spirit instead of your skin.

    On our drive to the ice cream shop, pride fired out of my pores, ricocheting off all of the car seats. With my right hand at eleven o’clock, I smiled, a truly victorious mother.  Look at me, I thought. I am raising a tough boy—one who doesn’t cry. My son will be just as strong as his uncles, my three brothers. Maybe stronger. Those idiots used to fart into my dad’s old plastic cigar containers and throw “fart bombs” into my bedroom to make me cry. Then one day, the disgusting act stopped making me cry. God, I love them. They never treated me differently as the only girl, making me tough, too—maybe tougher.

    We walked into the ice cream shop holding hands as the sugar perfumed our noses. My kids stood below the counter, their hands smudging the glass while staring at the buckets of ice cream. Oreo, chocolate, vanilla, Superman, Moose Tracks, strawberry, and more. My son was deciding which flavor to choose and whether he wanted a cone or a cup. Tugging at my shirt, he begged, “Stwa-baweeeey! Cone too, Mommy?”

    “Sure, honey,” I said.

    The girl scooping the ice cream was probably twenty and home from college. I couldn’t hold my pride in any longer. “We’re getting ice cream because this boy just had three shots. And he didn’t even cry.”

    “Well,” the ice cream girl replied, “maybe I’ll give this big guy an extra scoop.”

    I paid the girl and we marched outside to sit on the wooden picnic table on a mild Michigan June day. There, my son sat with his pink ice cream cone. His little sister and I shared a chocolate cup. The sun warmed our faces, but didn’t melt our ice cream too fast. My son grinned with a perfect pink ring around his lips. He was happy.

    And at three years old, my son learned that to be strong means that you better not cry. Tough boys get things in life. They get ice cream.

    —-

    Growing up, my Greek alpha-male brothers and I all fought to be the Spartan King—or Queen. There’s never been a clear winner, even today in our thirties and forties. Yet, we were full of love for each other—loud and boisterous. We were there for one another. But the tears, those were scarce.

    When we were younger, our family of six would cram into our 1990 Astro Mini Van and drive south to Myrtle Beach. One day, when I was about eleven, I swam in the ocean alone. The waves’ hands were motioning to me, challenging me saying, “Bring it on, little one.” I accepted.

    My feet planted into the wet sand and the broken shells scratched my feet. As I stepped out deeper, a couple waves smashed over my head, gushing water into my nose. The sting of what felt like Worcestershire sauce in my nostrils burned, but I got back up.

    A monstrous wave came. I turned my back against it, but that wave pulled me under—hard. My right knee slammed into what felt like broken glass. When the wave was done with me, I was able to stand and breathe. I looked down and my knee was gashed—bloody with grains of sand mixed in. But, my eyes were dry.

    I stood proud. And instead of running to my mother crying, I strutted to my brothers. I wanted them to see that as a girl, I could create a bullet-proof vest, too. Like my brothers, no one would ever suspect my vulnerabilities.

    As an adult, I’ve watched my father endure a near life-ending sepsis attack and my mother almost become another number to cancer’s merciless hands. I’ve been with friends and family through tragedies, never crying in their presence. My car served as my personal cry room, only I allowed no one to hush me.

    It wasn’t until recently, months after my son’s immunization shots, that I took off my bullet-proof vest in front of my husband. My mother’s cancer was ravaging her body. And picturing the day I’d call her and she wouldn’t pick up was finally more than I could handle alone.

     My husband turned on the cartoons for the kids. We climbed into our unmade bed, and I finally let someone else’s arms support me. At first, I didn’t know how to do it—to let him see me vulnerable. It felt like trying to parallel park for the first time—seeming impossible and awkward.

     I sunk into my husband, stiff at first. His arms swaddled me and his chest was my pillow. As his fingers stroked my hair, my body softened, and I cried. This was the first time in my life that at five-feet-tall, I felt small. I exhaled relief. Relief that my tense body would not break if it turns gentle. Relief that I didn’t have to endure my mother’s cancer alone. Relief that after eight years of marriage and fifteen years of love, I finally gave all of myself to my husband.

    About a year after my son earned his ice cream trophy and my husband coached me how to cry, a couple of my brothers flew in to celebrate my kids’ fourth and second birthdays. My son and daughter were taking turns jumping off our wooden coffee table onto a giant beanbag in the center of the family room. They love showing off in front of their uncles. My son missed, hitting his knee on a wooden block we failed to pick up. His mouth turned into an upside-down horseshoe, shuddering.

    One of my brothers looked, but sat cemented in his chair. His eyes said, “If you ever want to be a man, you better not cry.”

    My son’s lower eyelids were buckets—heavy with water wanting to spill over the brims. I looked at his eyes and said, “It’s okay to cry.”

    He did.

    Our bodies softened. I went to him, hugging him.

    As I had done hundreds of times as his mother, I cradled him. My brother’s face relaxed and he crawled off of the chair to the floor. With his knees edged into the carpet, he patted my son on the back and said, “You’ll be okay, buddy.”

    In return, my brother looked at me in agreement. Like my husband taught me, I will coach my son that all emotions are okay and crying is necessary. I didn’t have to tell my brother about losing my bullet-proof vest. He understood.

    I want my son to know that it’s okay to cry. In fact, I hope he does.

    The ability to gulp down tears does not make you a man. Being able to express a wide gamut of emotions does.

    I’ll help my son foster these skills. Maybe, with my husband’s continued help, of course, we can encourage our son to express all of his feelings—without shame. He won’t need to follow Spartan Family Code, or society’s Boy Code. Big emotions in men won’t be taboo—not in our house.

    I regret that it took me so many years to exhibit vulnerability to my deserving husband. And honestly, there are times I want to pick my armor up off the floor, but my husband always reminds me to leave it there. So, I hope my son does cry and lets people see it. Being tough isn’t important, but being real is. And to let someone in, to truly let them in, you have to cry.

    That night we celebrated the kids’ birthdays with cake and ice cream. My son spooned the Oreo ice cream into his mouth. He smiled with his uncles—loving him despite the tears.

    Because they too, will help my husband and I teach my son that great men let tears fall. 

     

    angela repkeAngela Anagnost-Repke is a flawed mother who turns to writing to help in both her daily blunders and rediscovering herself outside of motherhood. She has been published in Good Morning America, ABC News, Scary MommyThe Good Men ProjectMSN LifestyleMothers Always Write, and othersAngela also has an essay in an anthology by Belt Publishing, “Red States, Blue States.” She is passionate about the comradery of motherhood and is an advocate of a moms’ night out. She is at work on a cross-generational memoir, Mothers Lie.

  • Why Don’t My Kids Understand How Cool I Am?

    By Meredith Bland
    meredith bland

    It took us ten years to get here, but it has finally happened: my kids no longer think I’m cool. In fact, they think I am really, truly, mind-numbingly uncool.

    It became official this morning while my daughter was looking at her iPad. “Oh, no,” she cried, “Gabe the Dog died!”

    “Gabe the Dog?” I asked, “What’s that?”

    “You know, the dog from YouTube? The one who barks songs?”

    “He did what, now? What songs? Like, popular songs?”

    Sigh. “Never mind, Mom.”

    And you know exactly how that “Never mind, Mom” sounded. This wasn’t a “Never mind, Mom,” as in “Never mind, Mom. I realize that a dog whose barks are edited the to the tunes of current hit songs doesn’t even make the top one thousand things you think about on a daily basis.” It was more of a “Never mind, Mom. I won’t trouble you with this because I know you need to focus all of your attention on making sure you can breathe with your mouth closed.”

    How did this happen? It seems like just the other day my kids were telling me they wanted to live with me forever, an idea that, yes, horrified me but also touched my heart. Now, all of a sudden, they don’t even want to go shopping with me for fear that I will do something humiliating like hold up a plain white tee-shirt and ask if they like it. Are they embarrassed because their mother, who has an appreciation for fashion’s classic, basic pieces, has foolishly offered them a suggestion? Or is it because I occasionally ask these questions using cool, old-school nicknames like “Benny Bear” and “Meggy Poo”? I think we can all agree that there’s no way of knowing.

    I could almost empathize with them if I was, in fact, doing something embarrassing. At some point, most children become humiliated by the fact that their parents live and walk amongst us.

    I certainly remember feeling that way about my mom when I was a kid. The difference is that my mother used to dance in the grocery store when they played songs like “The Twist” and “All Shook Up,” whereas when I dance in the grocery store, it’s to “Oops…I Did It Again” and “Billie Jean.” It’s completely different.

    I always assumed that if or when my kids did eventually become embarrassed of me, it would be because they were too young to understand what makes me such a rad mom. I figured that they just wouldn’t get how awesome it is to have a mom how swears not just out of anger, but as a necessary seasoning for everyday language. Instead, it seems that they understand exactly who I am and have still decided that I am a full-bore nerd, which is unbelievable because I just used “rad” in a sentence. Those kids see me out there living my best life, and they would still prefer that I not speak to other people in their presence.

    It doesn’t make any ding dang sense.

    It’s especially hard to accept all of this when you consider the journey I took to become such a cool mom. The fact is, I wasn’t particularly cool growing up. I wasn’t part of the popular crowd and I wore turtlenecks long past their shelf-date. (I even wore a turtleneck “dickie” for a while. Google them. They’re appalling.)

    But once I grew up and got out of college I did some really cool stuff: I self-consciously bounced around to Lauryn Hill and The Roots in concert. I rode on the roof of a car, holding on for dear life to the wrist of a boy who was using his hand to hold on to my more attractive friend. I told a Frenchman to go f**k himself, in French, in Paris, on New Year’s Eve, after he hit on my more attractive friend. I turned down cocaine, once, dammit!

    And therein lies the problem: I am so cool that I can’t tell my children all the reasons why I’m cool until they are grown and/or I am on my deathbed. Sure, I can drop hints about my coolness with comments like, “Oh yeah, I’ve had alcohol before.” But can I tell them about the time I drank so much strawberry-flavored alcohol that I threw up in a college shower after putting strawberry-scented shampoo in my hair the next morning? No, I cannot. And that story is awesome.

    Yes, I’ve done things these kids wouldn’t believe, because they’re 10-years-old and don’t know what a “hastily aborted threesome” is yet. No, I have to bide my time, wearing ripped jeans, calling them “dude,” and singing every word of “Rapper’s Delight” in the carpool lane till they are old enough for me to whisper in their ears, “Psst…while you’re getting my walker, I want to make sure you know that you should never get a tattoo in Ireland from an old man with bad vision and his drawing arm in a sling. Ask me how I know.”

    The high-fives are coming. They might not arrive for another ten years, but they are coming and they will be heartfelt and plentiful. And then these kids, these kids who say, “Mom, could you not do that” on an almost-daily basis, then they’ll be sorry.

    Meredith BlandMeredith Bland is a freelance writer whose work has appeared at Scary Mommy; Cosmo.comTime.com; Brain, Mother; and The Rumpus, among others. She lives in Seattle with her husband and two kids.
  • Learning a New Script

    Parenting a special needs child can be challenging, with its own joys and triumphs. It can also be lonely. Unfortunately, parents of special needs children often find that their own friends, colleagues, and acquaintances can lack empathy or basic kindness in all sorts of situations. In this guest post, Alexis Calabrese writes about how she learned a “new script” for how to find her own network of support.

     

    Alexis Calabrese

    By Alexis Calabrese

    It’s airless in the gym which is odd because it’s a huge space, high ceilings and glossy wood floors recently shined to glow like a mirror. A door opens and sunlight streams in along with a faint breeze and the smell of fresh cut grass.

    “Thought you could use a refill.” Karen smiles as she hands me a large plastic cup, dripping wet and brimming with iced coffee. I slug down a third before coming up for air.

    “Thank you. I mean, seriously, this is saving my life right now.”

    She nods and takes a sip off her own cup. Within minutes the room fills with moms and a random dad or two. Loud, buzzed on caffeine, shorts and sneakers mixed with yoga pants and flip flops. It’s Tuesday at 10:05 a.m. and we move like a swarm around tables and clipboards. I yell out some orders, hand out a floor layout and the swarm parts.

    “Hey VP!” It’s Michelle, my neighbor. “Are we still going with the green bunting or did we decide gold streamers?”

    “Gold!” I yell back, checking my list. Sweat trickles down my back, and my t-shirt goes all damp and clingy. We work down the hour, tossing around memories as we arrange chairs, memories of the past six years, pushing our kids into and now out of grammar school. I see the President of the PTA make her way through the crowd.

    “Go! Get out of here. I’ve got this.” Kimberly’s toned yoga arm waves me off and I shout over my shoulder that I’ll see her tomorrow for our final event, the 4th grade end of year celebration and the last day of school. She high-fives me, holds my hand for a beat and mouths the words thank you.

    The hallway is cool and soft compared to the loud heat of the gym. I shake my hair out of a pony tail and catch a glimpse of a class coming out of the music room. It’s my son Owen’s class and I wait to watch him pass. He’s in deep conversation with Jackson, one of his best friends. They’re talking about a video game, I can tell by the hand motions. He bends to scratch his leg, and I see that he’s adjusting his leg brace, a stiff plastic orthotic that runs just up to his knee. I tamp down the impulse to help him and dig at my cuticles instead. He quickly tightens the Velcro strap and keeps moving with the line of kids, his gait awkward but steady. No one stares. It wasn’t always this way. He’s worked hard to become one of them. He explains his diagnosis with patience, holding up his wrist brace and ankle-foot orthotic as props in the story.

    “Babies can have strokes you know,” he’ll say defiantly. “I know because I had a stroke when I was a baby. And now I have a disability called hemiplegia.”

    It’s a prepared script we’ve worked on together so that he isn’t stumped every time someone asks him questions. Hemiplegia is easier to say than cerebral palsy.

    Owen disappears down the hall and I make my way out of the building toward an afternoon of endless conference calls and a prickly meeting with my boss. I should be prepping for the meeting but all I can think about is Owen’s smile, the comfortable back and forth with Jackson, the baseball hat worn backwards. I breathe in the sweet smell of lilac in the June air and wave to the landscapers trimming back bushes, yet another committee at work.

    Later that day, I’m in the kitchen, high heels kicked into the corner, when I get the call. It’s Karen. She’s in a rush but blurts out an invite. She’s hosting an “end of year” party with a few other moms tomorrow. It will be held at a local pool club, the one on the far side of town. Boys only but moms can stay if they want. The cost is five bucks for pizza and a juice. I swallow hard, holding back my excitement as best I can. I tell Karen how thrilled I am to get the call, how thankful and sweet they are to think of him.

    “Of course!” She responds. “We were just talking and I said, ‘Hey, let’s include Owen!’”

    “Oh?”

    “Well, the Evite went out over a month ago so we weren’t sure if you had other plans.”

    “Oh.”

    “We would have invited him sooner but well you know, this time of year is so crazy and…”

    I let her sit in the silence of that uncomfortable moment.

    “I’ll have to get back to you,” I finally say. “It’s a little last minute.”

    “OK,” she says. “I think we’ve got like 50 boys coming so we hired extra lifeguards. I hope the weather holds out, I think it will…”

    She continues to talk, nervously and too fast, but it doesn’t matter. I stop listening.

    50 boys. There are 103 kids in Owen’s class. I know because that number is imprinted into my brain from every single PTA activity I’d been planning for the past months.

    If it wasn’t all the boys in the grade, then it was close. Too close.

    I call my husband.

    “Let O make the decision,” he says calmly. “If he wants to go, we should let him.”

    “I’ve worked with these people every day for months, planning a million different events for their kids, for our kids and there’s no way, no way they forgot about him. They just didn’t invite him, they left him out on purpose!”

    “Just because you have coffee with them and joke about laundry doesn’t mean they’re not assholes.”

    He’s right, of course. But it’s more than that.

    These are my friends. For years I’ve walked next to them down the wooded path to school, listened to stories about family, carpooled and raised a glass or two during a mom’s night out. Our boys hung out in different circles. Sure, our struggles were different, but we were all in it together, weren’t we?

    After dinner, we tell Owen about the party. He tells us, while slurping up the last of an ice cream cone, that he has another invite.

    “Jackson asked me to come to his house for a swim party,” he says. “His mom is gonna text you.”

    And sure enough, there’s the text from Jackson’s mom lighting up my phone. It should have made me feel better knowing there was at least one other kid that hadn’t been invited to the big party. But it didn’t. Jackson has Down Syndrome and was one of the four boys in Owen’s inclusion program who, I found out later, didn’t make the cut.

    I wish I could say I circled back to Karen and the other moms to ask them about their decision, to try to understand why they chose to leave these boys, my boy, out. But I already knew the answer.

    I’d been in the trenches for so long, consumed with how much my son had overcome, I was blinded by how far he’d grown apart from his typical peers. His world wasn’t made up of lacrosse practices and STEM camps but EEG tests for a newly diagnosed seizure disorder and road trips to see yet another orthopedic specialist.

    If I thought about it, I couldn’t remember the last time I shared any of the details of Owen’s medical issues with these moms, these women I called friends. A space had settled between us and I had a hand in creating that gap, ignoring their lack of interest and concern by glossing over the difficulties of our day to day.

    I watched as the gap grew, as the calls for playdates dwindled and the kids who once teetered with Owen on training wheels, now veered around corners on muddied bikes, the sound of laughter trailing behind them. I had lost sight of those connections, or perhaps I just shut my eyes. Either way, whatever we had back in those early days, was long gone.

    Now, I don’t give my time to the PTA but instead help out with the SEPAG, the district’s parent group for kids with disabilities. I listen to other parents whose kids struggle to make friends, to stay socially afloat and learn from them. We attend workshops and team up with advocates to help improve the social ties between kids with disabilities and those considered typical. I try not to let the past haunt me. But I do want it to guide me, to help me find my voice, so that when the next situation comes along, I’ll have my own script ready to go.

    alexis calabreseAlexis is a native New Yorker now living in New Jersey where she works as a Creative Director/Copywriter. Finding the time to write is her biggest challenge, so she has reluctantly become a morning person and one of those ridiculous people who tap out stories on a phone. She believes the right concealer is everything, can spend hours lost in a Twitter hole and believes in big magic–the bigger the better.

  • Conscious Unhovering

    unconscious hovering

     

     

    By Lizbeth Meredith

    “Don’t ever do this again, Mom,” came the angry text from my youngest daughter. “It’s so inappropriate. . . I don’t need your help.”

    Home for a college break, she was texting from her post at a coffee shop, waiting for the blind date I’d set her up with. And getting more anxious by the minute.

    She rarely meets young men on her own. Of course she needed my help. True, my only marriage ended in divorce and my publication of a misery memoir, but I’ve got good instincts about my kids.

    “Where did you meet him?” my daughter had asked when I first gave her my pitch. I spared no details in the retelling.

    Our eyes had locked from across the room. I was on a date, but as soon as I saw him, this tall, dimpled, olive-skinned young man, I knew he was the one. For my daughter, that is. I left my bewildered date in the dust, practically lunging to meet this young man. I introduced myself, hoping I wasn’t being too obvious. He told me he was from New York. He was Jewish, something I’ve long equated as synonymous for higher intelligence. And he was here in Alaska, volunteering in a theater camp.

    So perfect, I thought. My youngest daughter loves volunteering.

    I wasted no time asking about his dating status.

    When it comes to my own dating life, I’d sooner jump out of a moving car than to be that forward. But there was something exhilarating about the potential of presenting my daughter with her soul mate.

    “Are you single?” I asked without shame, quickly adding, “You seem around my daughter’s age. Maybe she could show you around town if you’d like.” I interpreted his stunned silence to be a green light to proceed.

    “She loves volunteering. She’s home on a college break, too. She likes hiking and biking and animals.”

    And before I knew it, I was pulling up my daughter’s Facebook account on my iPhone, thumbing through picture after picture, and singing her praises.

    I could see by the slow smile that spread across his face as he looked at her pictures that he was warming to the idea, so I kept talking.

    “She paddle- boards with the sea lions and tent camps among the buffalo in Kodiak. And she loves kids.”

    The last part was a lie, but I wanted it to be true. My daughter babysat once as a teen, and asked if insurance would cover a tubal ligation shortly afterward. But I wrote it off to her youth.

    “She’s beautiful,” he said, confirming my suspicions about his intellectual superiority. “I think I’m in love with your daughter.” Ha! I knew it! Matchmaking is in my genes. I may be a failure at love in the matter of romantic love myself, but I like to think I’m a carrier.

    As he entered his contact information into my phone, I couldn’t help but notice that his large head, his curls, and his prominent nose matched my daughter’s gorgeous Greek features. My grandchild might get stuck in the birth canal, but nothing a C-section couldn’t cure.

    My daughter’s initial reaction was less enthusiastic.

    “Mom, that’s weird,” she told me. “It’s creepy that you pulled up my Facebook page. Don’t do that again.”

    But her stance softened once I pulled up his Facebook page. And how could it not? With a deep dimple and sparkling eyes, he was positively adorable. Anyone could see that.

    “His name is Ian, just like the Greek girl’s love interest on My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” I told her, “It’s a sign, don’t you think? And he’s Jewish. You can raise our family’s stock with him since you’re from hillbillies on both sides of the family.”

    My family roots are from rural Kentucky. Her dad’s side are from a tiny map dot in Greece. With this winning swirl, I worry my future grandkids won’t find value education or a full set of teeth. I was only half-joking. She still wasn’t laughing. After more stony silence, she issued her verdict.

    “I’ll go to coffee with him this one time,” she told me. “You’ll have to pay me. But it’s still inappropriate.”

    There was that word again.

    Who decides what’s appropriate when parenting adult children? How did I miss that lesson?

    Here’s the thing: When our children are young, we parents are expected to manage every detail of our kids’ lives, even before they’re born. How are we supposed to flip that switch, just because the kids are grown?

    When it came to my own daughters, I nursed them, pushing past my need for personal space and giving up every tasty food I’d previously enjoyed so they wouldn’t be gassy. As they grew older, I blended their foods rather than buying baby food in jars. I was a single mom by the time they were both in diapers, and did the heavy lifting for choosing their schools, registering them for sports, weighing in on their choices of friends. All the stuff parents do.

    Back then, my friends described me as being active. Involved. Engaged. All glowing terms. But after the girls were 18, I was suddenly considered anxious. Inappropriate. Controlling. Or worst of all, enabling.

    Ugly words, if you ask me.

    Why is it that all the things that make a parent good as our child grows up are suddenly considered terrible after the child turns 18? And why isn’t there as step-down plan or some other curriculum for parents when their kids are nearing adulthood?

    Like maybe we could stop “helping” with their science homework by eleventh grade and let them select their own clothes for school by twelfth. Baby steps to get us parents ready for the hearbreaking journey ahead.   

    I’ve tried giving fewer opinions and less advice. But after so many years of offering it freely, the gems crop up in unexpected places like the little bits of blubber that pop up when I put on Spanx. When my mechanic mentioned he was filming a commercial for his business, I insisted he cut his hair. I spent a half hour lecturing my favorite barista on the importance of college, oblivious to the mile-long line behind me. I admonished my boss for not taking her mother on that once-in-a-lifetime cruise to Iceland that her mom had been wanting. I can’t help myself. This unspent input is just too great not to share.

    I’m working on finding that happy medium. And I’m open to advice.

    I’m also cutting down on the time I Facebook stalk Ian. Sure, I’ll admit to enjoying the videos he posts, and I’m warming to his girlfriend of the last three years. She seems nice.  Her comments under his pictures are always witty and kind. But of course, she can’t measure up to my daughter.

    It’s been eight years since Ian and my daughter had their one and only coffee date. I wish it had been more successful, but I’m not ready to throw in the towel just yet. Both he and my daughter, though in long relationships, remain unmarried.

    I figure I’ll unfriend whichever of them marries the wrong person first. And my next book will be called Conscious Unhovering: Transitioning Appropriately for the Everyday Parent. Once I learn how to do it.

    Surely somebody out there will find my advice useful.

    Lizbeth MeredithLizbeth Meredith is a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska.
    Her memoir Pieces of Me: Rescuing My Kidnapped Daughters is a 2017 silver medalist at the IPPY Awards. Her work has appeared in Sunlight Press and on Jane Friedman’s blog. You can find her at lameredith.com, on Twitter @LizbethMeredith, and on Facebook.
  • My Parents Raised Me To Be Fearless. Then Why Am I So Scared?

    Many in our generation have found that our own Gen X parenting feels and looks a lot different than what they remember from their own childhoods. In today’s essay, Gina Rich reflects on her own struggles with balancing fear and freedom in her parenting. 
    gina rich guest post

    Growing up, I was lucky enough to have a girl my age living right across the street from me. In middle school, we’d hop on our bikes and travel a few blocks down a busy road to a place we nicknamed the Fun House. To the rest of the world, the Fun House was a drab, multi-level parking lot that served an apartment complex. But in our eyes, it was a hallowed and exciting place, our own secret training ground on which to perfect our bicycling skills. We’d spend hours coasting up and down the concrete slopes, dodging columns and parked cars, as our tires traced the sharp angles of each corner.

    Then one afternoon, my friend took a curve too fast, and her handlebars collided with an oncoming vehicle. My friend’s fingers were badly bruised, and she needed a splint for a few days. Our parents were not pleased, and the injury effectively ended our visits to the Fun House.

    I now have two school-aged daughters of my own, and the probability of them biking unsupervised around a parking lot is definitively zero. Such a scenario would be completely alien in my motherhood universe, a place where vigilance governs my decisions, play dates with friends receive advance approval, and I’m much more likely to tell my kids to be careful than to have fun.

    Like many of my Gen-X peers with young children, I’ve noticed that my parenting style stands in stark contrast to the way I was raised. My mother and father were quintessential members of the Dr. Spock era – practical, self-assured, and generally unflappable.

    A popular pediatrician and author, Dr. Benjamin Spock kept his counsel to new parents simple: “Trust yourself,” he advised, and my parents did.

    I never got the sense that they were overwhelmed by the emotional rollercoaster of raising three children.

    My father approached parenting in a rational, thoughtful manner, befitting his academic training as an engineer. “Be logical!” was one of his favorite sayings.

    Every sibling squabble, every commute to school, and every dinnertime conversation was an opportunity to teach us something about life. While we didn’t always listen intently to our dad’s lectures, we did glean that he believed us to be capable and clever enough to solve any problem, if only we applied our skills and persistence to the challenge.

    My mother, warm and vibrant, rolled easily with the chaos of our household, as if the noise and mess of three kids and our collection of furry, feathered, and scaly pets had a soothing effect on her psyche. If one of us was having an emotional meltdown, my mother was sympathetic but avoided indulging our angst for too long, often telling us to “just laugh it off!”

    When I experienced bouts of test anxiety in elementary school, claiming I was too sick to go to class, my mother cheerfully applied a measured dose of tough love and sent me on my way. She even informed the principal that, if should I find my way to the office under the guise of being too ill to continue, I should be told a joke and then be promptly escorted back to the testing room.

    Though my parents made it look effortless, I haven’t been able to replicate their laid-back approach when it comes to raising my own kids. Ironically, multiple studies of data like vehicle crashes and child abductions suggest that kids today are much safer than their 1970s and 1980s counterparts.

    Compared to my parents, I should feel more confident, more secure, and more willing to let my kids navigate the world and all of its beautiful curiosities as they see fit. But I don’t.

    Instead, I feel bombarded and rattled – by an endless stream of social media, by newscasts predicting gloom and doom, by political divisiveness, and expressions of anger and hatred near and far.

    Dr. Spock passed away in 1998, and his guidance has been largely replaced by that of currently popular pediatricians, including Dr. William Sears, who promotes attachment parenting, co-sleeping, and babywearing, and eschews most forms of sleep training.

    In a culture where smart phones are ubiquitous, we no longer page through baby books for advice; we turn to “Dr. Google.” But the information we find on the Internet is often more alarmist than helpful. “7 Bad Coughs to Worry About” reads one well-known parenting web site. “9 Seemingly Harmless Kids’ Products That Can Be Super Dangerous” is the headline for another.

    To be fair, I can’t blame the Internet and our 24/7 news cycle entirely. I’ve always lived on the anxious side of the personality spectrum. Even though I long to be a fun parent, raising so-called free-range kids, my need to maintain some semblance of control has always trumped these ambitions. For a mind that spins and spins, control is a comforting illusion that I’m not ready to part with just yet. It’s far easier for me to choreograph play dates, keep close tabs on my kids when they’re playing outside, and ramp up my involvement in their schools and extracurricular activities than it is to step back, breathe, and trust that things will be okay.

    But my kids are growing up, and lately they have started to chip away at my well-intentioned strategy. Each day, they show me they’re ready and eager to explore their world at greater length, whether it’s learning to swim, practicing cutting their strawberries with (gasp!) real knives, or heading to an overnight camp for the first time. In my kids, I see flashes of the carefree, idyllic childhood I enjoyed. Their enthusiasm reminds me that I cannot allow fear to restrict their opportunities for growth and independence.

    I think again of Dr. Spock, remembering that he advised not only “Trust yourself,” but also “Trust your child.” I may not ever be a fearless parent, but I can trust my kids and show them I believe in them, just as my parents did for me. Perhaps it’s trust, not control, that is the most fitting response to an uncertain world.

     

    Gina RichGina Rich is a writer and mother of two daughters. She has written for Scary Mommy, Ravishly, Mamalode, and Notre Dame Magazine, among other publications. She lives in the Midwest and shares caffeinated ramblings at http://www.lovehopeandcoffee.com.