theorangeinkblot

Looking at life through orange colored glasses…

Archive for the category “Parenting”

The End of An Era…

When I dropped off my daughter at school this morning I let out a breath I didn’t realize I had been holding.  Today is her last day of Middle School.  I feel like I should bake her a “you survived middle school” cake.   My daughter had a very mixed middle school experience which (like many others) included mean kids who said mean things sprinkled with an abundance of early teen drama.  But when I look at the kid who entered seventh grade compared to the one who is today finishing eighth I can tell you, she’s come a long way.

Even though I’m frustrated about some of the more negative aspects of her middle school experience, today, I primarily find myself feeling grateful. Education happens as much out of the classroom as it happens inside of it.  Part of the benefit of having forty minutes twice a day in the car with my daughter is that we have had a lot of time to talk.

Here are some of the important lessons my daughter has learned in middle school.

When you set a goal of learning how to “deal with difficult people” (as my daughter did this year) the universe sends you a lot of “difficult” people to practice on.  She is still practicing.  However, she is learning that sometimes it is important to call people out on their words and behaviors and other times it makes more sense to let it go and walk away. She has learned that sometimes people are “difficult” because they are hurting and others are just mean. She has learned that her choices go beyond making friends or enemies.  It is okay to have neutral relationships.

She has learned that sometimes when you tell the truth people will try to quiet you.  Tell the truth anyway.  My daughter was criticized quite a bit in middle school for her “radical honesty.” When I pressed the administration for more information they said that she wasn’t being mean or saying anything that was untrue but expressing honest thoughts that were making other people feel uncomfortable. One example of her radical honesty turned out to be telling visiting students the truth about her experience at the small private school which meant she had perhaps become a bit of a marketing problem. My daughter has learned that she has no obligation to make herself smaller or to lie to make others feel more comfortable.  She has some pretty important things to say.  Good luck trying to stop her.

 

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Going out in style on the last day of Middle School.

Finally, she has learned, when you have a group of loyal friends who have your back, you can survive almost anything that middle school will throw at you. I am so grateful that my daughter found a group of friends who have really stood by her.  They have shut down gossip about her on days she was absent and they have stood up for each other, particularly when some of the boys have made mean or inappropriate comments.

My favorite story she has come home with is this one:

One of the boys in my daughter’s class told her friend that her bra strap was showing and it was “distracting” him. The four girls, in unison, said, “So, don’t look.” So, the boy tried to explain: this girl was more attractive, more developed than the other girls in the class and so he felt it was beyond his control to not look and therefore he was “distracted.” My daughter, in all of her radically honesty, called the boy out.  “Is it more or less distracting” she asked, “then when you and the other boys stick your hands down your pants during class to shift your private parts?” (Drops mic, walks away.)

I used to worry about my daughter.  I mean, she’s my daughter so I’ll always worry about her to some extent.  But I don’t worry about her the way I used to. She is gaining self-confidence, finding her voice, and figuring out how to put herself out in the world in a way that is authentic to her.  She has learned that she can endure but that she can also set her own boundaries. She is learning that she has the same right to exist as everybody else and she won’t apologize for taking up her space on this planet.

If you ask my daughter about her middle school experience, she will probably focus on some of the more negative experiences she has had.  I am writing this so when she looks back later I can remind her of how much she grew as a person during these tumultuous two years and because I have never been so proud of all she has accomplished.

 

 

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Please Stop Expressing your Condolences that I have a Teenage Daughter.

I met a new neighbor yesterday.  Upon hearing that I have a teenage daughter, she replied, “I’m sorry.”

This happens quite frequently.  Someone asks me how old my children are and when I mention my teenage daughter the response is often, “My condolences,” or “I’m sorry,” or “Can I get you a glass of wine?”

I’m writing this today to ask of you: please stop expressing your condolences that I have a teenage daughter. I’m not the least bit sorry or upset about it.

Yes, she sometimes rolls her eyes or uses “that tone.” Occasionally, when I ask her to help me to unload the dishwasher she replies, “No thanks, I’m good.” My daughter some times does these things, but these things do not define her. Look past the occasional eye rolls, dramatic interludes, and the ear buds that seem to have taken up permanent residence in her ears and you will see that my teenage daughter is not someone who needs apologizing for.  She is, in fact, nothing short of amazing.

Diagnosed with an anxiety disorder in first grade, my now 14-year-old is one of the bravest and strongest people I know.  Every morning, she gets out of bed knowing that at some point during the day she will need to battle an inner demon and she knows there is a chance she won’t win.  Yet, every morning, she gathers her courage, puts on her emotional armor, and goes to school.  Do you remember middle school? Not exactly a nurturing haven of emotional safety nets (even at her tiny private school there is a fair amount of middle school drama and kids who say mean things).  Nevertheless, she persists.

My teenage daughter is fierce.  She is a self-proclaimed feminist and social justice warrior who is forging her own path in the world.  She has relevant and informed opinions about issues impacting our town, our country, and our planet. She will stand up for people if she thinks they are being treated unfairly – even if they are someone my daughter considers to be, in her words, “a butt.”

My teenage daughter is developing a strong sense of self. She has no interest in wearing something because someone else is wearing it and, so far, she thinks peer pressure is “stupid.” She is authentic and real and won’t apologize for being an independent thinker or outspoken young lady.  She is unapologetically her own person and we encourage her to be just that.

My teenage daughter is interesting.  She reads books and asks questions and is curious about the world.  And yes, occasionally, halfway through my answer to a question she has just posed to me she will completely stop listening. She is, after all, still a teenager.  She is still learning.  But I’m an adult and I’m still learning too.  Sometimes, I roll my eyes and use “that tone,” and overreact to a frustrating but inconsequential situation.  Where do you suppose they learn that behavior to begin with?

It seems to me that women already apologize far more than necessary, sometimes, merely for existing.  Do we really need to exacerbate that problem by apologizing for teenage girls even being a thing? Again, I can’t speak for anybody else’s teenage daughter but I suspect that if you look past the eye rolls, and the obnoxious tone of voice and the drama that sometimes accompanies them you will find that there is a lot of complex, beautiful, and amazing stuff going on right under the surface.

So, if I mention that I have a teenage daughter, ask me how she’s doing or what she’s involved with or what her opinion is on a $15 minimum wage (she does actually have an opinion on that) but please, do not apologize.

 

It’s Not About You

To my daughter’s teacher,

I was very upset after our meeting yesterday.  I tried not to show it because I don’t want to undermine your authority in front of my daughter, but I was, and remain, very upset.  This is the third time I have come to you this year sharing with you that my eleven year old daughter, who struggles with anxiety and depression, is not getting the emotional support she needs in your classroom.  It is the third time I have come to you and it is the third time I have been met with defensiveness, excuses, and what feels like a complete lack of empathy on your part.

When I say my daughter needs more emotional support it means I need you to provide an environment that is nurturing and safe.  An environment in which she does not feel judged or punished for behavior that is often outside of her control.  My daughter has an emotional disability.  She will sometimes have outbursts, tantrums, or cry when she is feeling frustrated.  She may stamp her feet or exhibit other behaviors that seem inappropriate for a sixth grader.  Yesterday, at our meeting I watched you firmly point your finger into the table and tell her that stamping her feet in your classroom is not okay.  That her behavior is not appropriate for a sixth grader.  Your response did not feel safe or nurturing. It felt punitive.

My daughter is not a typical sixth grader.  Her brain works differently than that of a typical sixth grader.  Why do you think it is realistic to to expect her to act like a typical sixth grader.  My daughter is bright and capable but often lacks the emotional maturity to take a step back from her anxiety and frustration to choose an appropriate behavior to deal with those feelings.  Perhaps, in your role as teacher, instead of slamming your finger into the table and telling her how inappropriate her behavior is, you could instead validate that she is feeling anxious and frustrated and help guide her to a more appropriate response.  You say that my daughter knows the resources that are available to her and only has to ask to be able to use them.  I am telling you that she sometimes lacks the capacity to ask and needs additional support and help to find her way.

I feel like we would not be having this conversation if my child had a physical disability like the student you had last year who was visually impaired.  I’m sure you had to make some adjustments to the way you taught and presented material to compensate for the student not being able to see.  I’m sure you didn’t call that student up to the front of the class and ask her to point out the blue line indicating the Mississippi River on a U.S. map.  I’m guessing you made adjustments to your expectations and had no problems modifying assignments for that student so that her disability could be accommodated.  I am guessing that if her parents came to you frustrated about something that had happened during their daughter’s school day that you didn’t tell them that you have 22 other kids in your class to worry about like you repeatedly told me at our meeting yesterday.

My daughter’s disability is not that different from a physical disability.  Her disability sometimes requires that you provide additional support, flexibility, and modification of assignments or a change in your teaching or disciplinary style to meet her needs.  She is not trying to be difficult or get away with not doing work.  She is easily overwhelmed and has trouble asking for what she needs so while she learns how to do that I’m asking you to meet her part way and proactively provide her with a little more structure and support even when it’s not obvious to you that she’s struggling because sometimes her disability is invisible.

You said it’s hard for you to not take it personally when my daughter announces as she approaches the classroom in the morning that she does not want to shake your hand, as you ask each student to do each day.  I’m asking you to try to not take it personally.  It’s not about you.  It is about what my daughter needs to do to feel like she has some control over her day.

I watched you argue back and forth with my daughter yesterday about how many feet she was from your classroom door when she said she didn’t want to shake your hand.  Why does it matter?  Is it so important for you to be right? What I am trying to help you understand is that my child is trying to advocate for herself and tell you that she is uncomfortable shaking your hand.  She is still learning the most appropriate way to do that and you have an opportunity to help her with that goal.  Arguing with her about whether or not she yelled it from ten feet down the hallway or at the classroom door does not move her forward in that area.

I keep coming back to my daughter needing to feel more emotionally supported in your classroom.  Here’s what she really needs from you.  She needs for you to wake up tomorrow morning and imagine what it would feel like to start your day feeling completely terrified that something awful is going to happen to your wife and baby while you are at work.  Imagine that you believed in your heart of hearts that in order for them to be safe you had to stay home but because you have to provide for your family, staying home is not an option.  Imagine that it takes so much energy and courage every morning just to get in your car and drive to work that by the time you get there you are completely exhausted on top of still being terrified.  Now imagine that you go to one of your colleagues and confide in them how you are feeling and your colleague tells you that you are not acting like a teacher should act and that you need to just pull it together which makes you feel even worse.  Imagine that at some point during the day you sneak a minute to call your wife because you need to feel reassured that she is okay.  Imagine that people tell you that if you just tried harder you could stop these behaviors. Imagine that you just don’t know how you will make it through another minute of feeling this way.  Imagine that this is only a small part of the anxiety you feel every day.

Now imagine you have to handle all of this emotional turmoil as an eleven year old who does not have the emotional maturity to deal with all of these feelings, even on medication.  How would you want your teacher to talk to you if you were my daughter?  Would you want your teacher to pound his finger into the table and tell you that you are not acting like a normal eleven year old?  My daughter is not a “normal” eleven year old and that’s what we need  you to understand.  She needs you to be empathetic and kind and to help provide the structure and guidance she needs on the days that she simply cannot get there herself.

I know your job is hard.  I know you have 23 students who all require your attention.  I know that you cannot stop everything and only focus on my child.  I am not asking you to do that.  I am asking you to think about the words you use when you speak to her because she is using those words to judge whether or not you are a safe person for her.  I am asking you to put yourself in her shoes and imagine how you would want your teacher to respond to you.  I am asking you to put your ego aside, let your defenses down and consider how you can best support my child.  It’s not about you.

Defining Success when it Comes to our Children

Kids around the country are headed back to school and it won’t be long before they bring home their first graded assignment or progress report.  As a parent, it is difficult to not to set expectations or benchmarks for our children to reach in school.  We all want our kids to do well, work hard, and be successful.   Sometimes though, I worry about the things that parents say to their children when they don’t meet the goals or expectations we have set for them.

This past June, the mom of a 5th grader at my daughters’ school told me she was disappointed in her daughter for receiving a “low” math grade.  On a grading scale from 1 to 4 with 4 being the highest, her daughter had received a 3.  I asked the mom why she was disappointed and she answered that because math was her daughter’s best subject she expected her to get 4’s.  On top of that, upon seeing the report card, she said to her daughter, “I’m not mad at you, but I am disappointed in you.”

This is not the first parent I have heard say this to their child and it makes me cringe every time.   Sometimes it is about grades, sometimes it is about sports or something else that their child is involved with.  The comment might take the form of, “if my child had just put a little more effort into what they were doing, they could have made varsity.”  I want to ask these parents, how exactly has your child disappointed you?  Is it because it was enough for your child to be having fun and enjoying the experience of playing on a team without feeling the need to be the best?  By not immediately understanding the material that was presented to them in class?  By not putting 100% of their effort into everything they do every single day?   Because they are not perfect?

In my opinion, we send our kids a very dangerous message when we tell them that by not meeting our expectations of them that they have disappointed us.  We may think that we are motivating them to do better or pushing them to reach their “full” potential.  I fear that instead we are telling them that our being NOT disappointed in them is dependent on them reaching expectations that are fully unrealistic.  That their worth is dependent on us being able to brag to our neighbor at the bus stop that our child received the highest of grades.  That our love for them is in any way conditional.  I don’t want my children to feel that just because they are good at something it means that they have to be perfect at it.

Through these comments we also teach them that it is not enough to learn for learning’s sake-  That playing just because it is fun is not reason enough.  

I think that as parents we need to ask ourselves-  What kind of child am I trying to raise?  Is it my goal to raise a child who always gets A’s in the subject areas she is strongest in?  A child who makes the travel soccer team?   A child who needs to be constantly striving for perfection?  A child who is doing things only to please her parents?

This summer, my daughter signed up for a drawing class.  By the third class in she had decided that she really wasn’t enjoying it.  At all.  There were only three classes remaining.  I thought about telling her that she had to stick it out because she shouldn’t be a quitter, that she should finish what she started, that she had made a commitment and she should always honor her commitments.  I felt disappointed that the class hadn’t worked out because I had hoped it would be a really positive experience for her.  But on the car ride home, when she asked me if I was mad at her or disappointed in her that she had dropped out of the class I told her no.  I told her I was proud of her.  I was proud of her for trying something new and then recognizing that it was not a good fit.  I was proud of her for vocalizing that she wanted to remove herself from an environment that was not positive for her.  This was not a failed art class.  This was a successful setting of boundaries- of not being willing to be unhappy simply for the sake of feeling like she had to do her best.

How many of us stick with things that make us miserable because we feel like we have a responsibility to do so.  How many of us stay at jobs that we hate longer than we should; in relationships that are unhealthy because we made a commitment.  How many of us wish that we had the courage to just walk away from things in our life that our making us unhappy.  

There are plenty of things that we have no control over.  Obviously, my kids have to go to school.  I want them to do well.  But more than I want them to do well, I want them to be happy.  I want them to not spend time worrying about whether or not they are disappointing me but to take notice of the things they are really interested in so they can discover what they feel passionate about.  It’s entirely possible that what they like the best will not be what they get the highest grades in and I don’t want them to believe for one second that they cannot pursue passions because they have not met certain standards or that they have to excel in an area simply because it comes easily to them.  

I want my children to set their own goals and choose their own definition of success.  My goal for them is only that they be happy and well adjusted.  I want them to feel loved unconditionally and to know that the grades they receive on a test or a report card are in no way a definition of who they are as a person.  I want them to be proud of themselves based on the expectations and goals that they set for themselves- not because they have met a standard I have set for them.

The World According to Rachel, Part 3: Wide Awake

The following is a reprint from a short-lived blog I started when my youngest daughter was about 18 months old.  It is written from what I imagined her point of view would be.  If you missed Part 1 and Part 2, you can check it out at: http://wp.me/p1ZHOE-8W or check my recent posts…

Usually, I am a pretty good sleeper. But one night last week I woke up while it was still dark out and I wasn’t even tired. I was feeling a little lonely, so I decided to call for mommy, because she is my favorite one to play with. I called, “mommy” really loud and drawn out and then I waited. I didn’t hear any footsteps, so I called again, “mommy” as loud as I could. Still nothing. Since I am a stubborn little bugger (this is what mommy calls me sometimes) I decided to keep trying. I stood up in my crib and started shaking the side as hard as I could- RATTLE, RATTLE, RATTLE. I thought this would work for sure because mommy had just read an article about a crib recall where the sliding crib wall could separate from the crib and smush the innocent little baby, but mommy STILL didn’t come. Talk about stubborn. Then I had a great idea, so I started yelling, “I’m stuck, I’m stuck!!” I don’t know if mommy believed me, but right after that I heard footsteps and I knew that she was on her way.

Unfortunately, when mommy came into the room, she did not look happy to see me. She said in a very soft but serious voice- “Rachel, it is 3:30 in the morning.”

Oh good, I thought. It is morning!!

Mommy kept talking, “It is not play time, it is sleep time. I will sit with you in your chair and help you fall back to sleep, but we are NOT going into the living room and we are NOT playing. Got it?”

Mommy sounded sort of grouchy, so I just said, “got it, mommy.” Then she picked me up out of my crib and put me on her lap in the rocking chair. She still looked grouchy and I wanted her to smile, so after we had rocked for a minute or two I looked up at mommy and said, “nice to meet you, mommy!” And it worked! Mommy smiled and said, “nice to meet you too Rachel, now go to sleep.”

Mommy started singing to me all my bed time songs, such as: Never Surrender, Faithfully, and Wind Beneath My Wings. Just as I started to doze off, that dumb dog who lives next door started barking. At least, I think his name is “that dumb dog.” That’s what my daddy usually calls him. But I think he must have a few different names because daddy also calls him “that little yappy dog,” “the furry rat,” and some other names that a two year old is not supposed to repeat. So, I opened my eyes and said, “woof-woof” and started to laugh.

This time, mommy didn’t laugh. Instead, she started saying something I didn’t understand about “God granting her the serenity to accept the things she cannot change”… so I just closed my eyes and tried to fall back to sleep. I guess I did because when I woke up, I was back in my crib and it was light out and when I called for mommy she came right away. It’s nice when mommy keeps me company at night, but she is much more smiley during the day. Maybe next time, I’ll call for daddy and see how that goes.Image

The World According to Rachel, Part 2: Hide and Seek

The following is a reprint from a short-lived blog I started when my youngest daughter was about 18 months old.  It is written from what I imagined her point of view would be.  If you missed Part 1, you can check it out at: http://wp.me/p1ZHOE-8W

Hide and Seek is a very fun game. The best part is you can hide anything! Last week, I decided to play Hide and Seek with my shoes. My timing was perfect! Right after I hid them, mommy came into the living room and said, “Rachel, let’s find your shoes- it is time to go in the car to get your sister from after school art class.” I thought, “yay, mommy is IT- she has to find my shoes all by herself.”

Mommy said, “Where are your shoes, they were just here ten minutes ago?”

I said, “I don’t know.” (When you are playing hide and seek you are not supposed to tell the seeker where the hider is.)

First mommy looked under the couch (lots of stuff likes to hide under the couch). Then, mommy looked under the TV cabinet. Then she started walking around the house very fast looking everywhere for my shoes. I am SO good at Hide and Seek. Then mommy said that we were going to be late so I would have to wear different shoes and she brought over some strappy sandals that give my feet ouchies. I was very mad because I wanted to keep playing Hide and Seek so I laid down on the floor and started screaming. Then, while I was laying there, my sneaky mommy stuck those ouchy sandals on my feet and picked me up right off the floor. Next time, I have to remember to hide those ouchy sandals.

When we got to the school we had to sit in the car for a little while because there were no more parking spaces. I thought mommy might want to talk to pass the time so I kept shouting things like- “NO CAR,” “OUT, OUT, OUT,” and “ALL DONE..” Mommy didn’t listen. She just said something I didn’t understand about how I should quiet down because there were faraway kids in refugee camps that would trade places with me in a second. Finally, we picked up my sister and went back home but mommy did not want to play hide and seek anymore.

You will be happy to know that mommy did find my shoes two days later by accident when she opened up a cabinet while looking for her keys (please don’t tell mommy that it was me playing hide and seek with her keys). And now, I think my toys are playing Hide and Seek with me. I can’t find that Play Doh anywhere!!! I’ll have to remember to ask mommy about that tonight in the middle of the night when I wake her up. Then, I’ll write again and tell you all about it.

The World According to Rachel: Play Doh (reprint)

My summer schedule is kicking my butt and writing has taken a back seat to other things.  So, I’m cheating this time and reprinting something I wrote about 3 years ago when my youngest daughter was about to turn 2.  Anyone with a 2 year old knows what a challenging time it can be.  As I rode the terrible 2 roller coaster, I tried to imagine what my daughter might write if she could keep a diary/blog.  This is what I came up with… If you like it, then maybe I’ll cheat again next week ;).

The World According To Rachel
(also called: Why mommy will at some point go back to working outside the home.)

Play Doh

Today, mommy showed me a new toy called Play Doh. I loved it. Play Doh is squishy and can be shaped into anything. I asked mommy to make me Ming-Ming, Tuck, and Linny from my favorite TV show, ‘The Wonder Pets.’ Mommy made Ming-Ming look just like a duck, and Tuck looked pretty much like a turtle, but Linny did not look like a guinea pig at all so I asked her to do it again. Linny still did not look like a guinea pig but I didn’t want to hurt mommy’s feelings so I just pretended that it looked good. Mommy showed me how to make a snake, and also a pancake. We were having so much fun and laughing a lot. She didn’t even freak out when I tasted it (play doh does not taste very good in case you were wondering).

Then, I discovered that you can take two lumps of play doh and squish them together. To make it more fun, I said “squish, squish, squish” while I pushed the blue play doh into the pink play doh. Mommy said, “lets not mix all the colors” ( sometimes mommy can be really anal about that stuff- I think I heard her say it’s because she’s a Myers-Brigg  ‘J’). I mixed the colors anyway because it was so much fun. Then, mommy walked away from the table for a minute (she should really know better). When she came back, I had ripped up all the play doh into little pieces and thrown them on the floor- and then, because it made such a good noise, I threw all the play doh toys on the floor too. CRASH!!

Mommy gave a big sigh and got down on the floor. She was muttering something real low, but I couldn’t quite hear what it was. It had something to do with not giving up her career so she could stay home and pick cat hair and cheerio crumbs out of little lumps of play doh. I wish she had told me we could add things to the play doh!! Then mommy said it was time to clean up and she started putting the play doh away. That made me very sad and I started to cry. Mommy said “sorry kiddo, but you made a huge mess and it’s time to clean up.” That made me angry so I threw myself down on the floor and screamed a little. When I looked up, mommy wasn’t even in the room anymore.

I found her in my room getting things ready for my nap. You know what? I was a little tired. How does she know these things? Mommy and I have so much fun together. Next time, I will tell you about how I played hide and seek with my shoes and we were almost late to pick Sarah up from art class.

The Year of Meryl

I am slowly losing my mind.  As I sat down to type this, I thought to myself- I know I am at home with one of my children and that my husband has brought my other child to an activity.  But for the life of me, I cannot remember which child is sitting in the living room watching TV and which child is with my husband, or which activity they are at.  Is the older one at pottery class? Is the younger one at gymnastics?  Is it Saturday or Sunday?

This is not the first time this has happened.  Two years ago, I hired a babysitter to watch my then two year old so I could go to the dentist, only to forget to go to the dentist once the babysitter arrived.  (I’m completely serious.  I blanked on the appointment and went shopping instead.)  Sometimes, within five minutes of dropping my daughter off at preschool I check my rear view mirror to see if she is still in her booster seat.  For a second, I can’t remember if I’ve actually dropped her off or not (as if I would actually drive through the drop off line and not stop to drop her off).  These increasingly frequent moments of ‘momnesia’ are disturbing.

Admittedly, we are an over scheduled family.  Between the four of us we are participating in dance classes (ballet and jazz), karate, pottery, gymnastics, Girl Scouts, and various volunteer activities.  I spend about 15 hours a week driving the kids and myself back and forth to various schools, meetings, and extra-curricular activities.  There is something about all that driving that numbs my brain and causes me to forget (at least momentarily) exactly who is in the back seat and where I am supposed to be taking them.

Despite having a calendar on the wall, a date book in my purse, and a smart phone that syncs a calendar with my iPad, I still feel like I am only one momnesia moment away from a complete schedule malfunction.  At the end of each day, if everyone has gotten where they were supposed to be (despite being a few minutes late b/c I have initially gone to the wrong destination) I consider the day to be a success.

If I think about this as my definition of success for any length of time it bums me out.  There was a time (even after my first child was born) that success meant something completely different.  I was working full time as an Academic Advisor working with college students.  In addition to helping students with the more straight-forward agenda items of choosing a major and navigating university policy, I presented at professional conferences, created a peer mentor program, and served on various university committees.  I was confident in my professional abilities and respected by my peers.  I looked forward to going to work each morning.  My job was meaningful to me.  I felt a sense of connection and purpose.  I felt successful.

Like most parents, I went into parenthood with no idea of what to expect.  Maternity leave, to me, felt like pledging a very bizarre sorority.  Plagued with insecurity I always felt like there was information that I was not privy too. I just had to trust the process in order to gain access into the secret and exclusive society of competent mother hood.  I knew that I had pledge sisters out there somewhere, but I had no idea how to find them.  I was grateful to have sixteen weeks off from work (twelve of them paid) to bond with my newborn.  But at the end of those sixteen weeks, it was not overly difficult to hand my first born over to her carefully selected daycare provider and return to the place where I felt way more confident.

In the spring of 2006, for various personal reasons, I made the decision to leave full time work and be a stay at home mom.  I thought I might take a year or two off, but then my second daughter was born in late 2007 and being in a different place than I was in after the birth of my first child, I could never bring myself to put her in day care and return to the working world.  It is a decision that I have never regretted, but being a stay at home mom has changed me- usually I think for the better but sometimes I am not 100% sure.

There are women I know who seem to be at their most comfortable and most confident in their role as mother.  It doesn’t mean that they never need a break, or get frustrated, or that they always make perfect parenting decisions.  But whether they have two kids or five, they get a sense of satisfaction out of being a mother that gives their lives a feeling of being complete.   Whatever their individual situations their children seem to be at the center of their lives and their hearts.  They draw their energy and inspiration from their children. They identify first with being a mom.  I have a complete sense of respect and admiration for these women.  I am not one of these women.

I have been away from professional work for six years.  I didn’t realize until recently how much of my perceived value was tied to my professional identity.  Working fulfilled my social, intellectual, and self esteem needs.  As a stay at home mom I had to find new ways to do that and it was harder than I imagined it would be.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love my children and I would give my life for them.  I wake up every morning feeling completely blessed.  I know how lucky I am to have two healthy kids, and I know how lucky I am to be able to choose to stay home with them.  I chose motherhood-twice.  I revel in the joys and struggle through the challenges that come with the territory.  I love being a mom.  I am good at it.  But I don’t believe staying home with my kids to be my purpose in life.  It’s not why I was put on this earth.   I want more.  I need more.

This September, for the first time ever, both of my kids will be on the same schedule.  They will get on the same bus at the same time and go to the same school.  I can sign them up for after school activities on the same days and pick them up together.  I will have a block of seven hours each day to schedule as I see fit.  Obviously there are things I will have to get done (chores, errands, etc.) but I won’t have to use the leftover minutes in between the activities of my family members.  I can give up being a time thief- stealing five minutes here and five minutes there, taking half a day to complete an activity that should take half an hour.

I am calling the 2012-2013 school year, “The Year of Meryl.”   I am not sure exactly what my year will look like.  So far I’ve decided this:

I am going to limit my volunteer activities to those things that are meaningful to me- no more volunteering to do something just because my kids are going to be there anyway.

I am going to set some goals with my writing and create plans to work towards meeting those goals.

I am going to drink beverages at any time of the day I please- without having to worry about needing to pee halfway through the 30 minute drive to my daughter’s preschool.

Going back to work is inevitable but I am looking forward to taking a little bit of time to figure out what I want to do next.  What is my purpose?  How do I create meaning in my life?  What contribution do I want to make?  Going forward, how will I define success?

If there are any parents out there who have had to re-evaluate their goals after a long stint as a stay at home parent, I’d love to hear from you.  What questions did you ask yourself?  How did you decide what to do next?

My Friday Night (Sing to the tune of ‘Last Friday Night’ by Katy Perry)

My Friday Night

There are legos in my bed.

Children’s music in my head.

Toys are all over the room,

Dolls that talk, Cars that go vroom.

I just found a fruit snacks pouch

buried deep within the couch.

I stepped on the Barbie shoes

that my children always lose.

Reading status updates to help keep me amused-

a must.

Have to do something or I’m gonna blow a fuse.

That’s right.

My Friday night-

watched a movie from Red Box,

drank some Bailey’s on the rocks,

sorted thirty pairs of socks.

My Friday night-

never got out of my sweats,

we just sat and cooled our jets,

in front of the TV set.

My Friday night-

separated darks from lights,

the excitement reached new heights,

but I guess that’s just our plight.

My Friday night-

There was a time when I could rock

until after ten o’clock

Oh-Oh-Oh-Ohhhh.

Next Friday night-

Do it all again.

There is crayon on the walls,

it goes halfway down the hall.

There are stickers on the floor,

on the ceiling and the door.

One’s got syrup in her hair,

the other’s in her underwear,

they both do more than their share,

of complaining, “it’s not fair.”

Only fifteen years till they’re both away at school.

Oh well.

Have to do something so I do not lose my cool.

That’s right.

My Friday night-

watched a movie from Red Box,

drank some Bailey’s on the rocks,

sorted thirty pairs of socks.

My Friday night-

never got out of my sweats,

we just sat and cooled our jets,

in front of the TV set.

My Friday night-

separated darks from lights,

the excitement reached new heights,

but I guess that’s just our plight.

My Friday night-

There was a time when I could rock

until after ten o’clock

Oh-Oh-Oh-Ohhhh.

Next Friday night- do it all again.

I am already an embarrassment to my 8 year old daughter. Do I get extra points for that?

My 8 year old came home from school recently complaining that I had embarrassed her by putting a box of raisins in her lunch box. “Now” she fretted, “everyone will know that I like raisins.” Apparently, this was top secret information and unbeknownst to me (among 3rd graders) liking raisins ranks pretty low on the cool scale.

The raisin incident is already old news, but my daughter is going to need to toughen up some if she expects to survive parental embarrassment into her teenage years. As you may recall (see the Plant Parenthood blog entry), I was trained by the master. What my daughter really needs is a little perspective, so the next time I embarrass her by putting her sandwich on whole wheat bread, or some other disaster, I will tell her this story:

When I was in high school, there was a local discount store called ‘Cheap Johns’. With it’s garage sale pricing and the ambiance of a warehouse store, Cheap Johns could have been the love child between The Dollar Store and Costco. The merchandise (if you could call it that) was piled in giant bins and lacked any kind of presentation.

As my parents liked to remind me, that while we were rich with love, we were not rich with anything you could actually spend at a store. When it came time to shop for school supplies, they were not going to cough up the five dollars it cost to buy a highly coveted Trapper Keeper (plus more for matching folders and notebooks) when they could buy a 3-ring binder, plus a notebook, and a folder, some pens, pencils, and a pencil case for that cost at Cheap Johns. The cheap version may have served the same purpose as the stylish looking Trapper Keeper, but it did not have the same visual appeal.

Each Cheap John’s binder, notebook, and folder was proudly embossed with a picture of the illustrious Cheap John mascot, Mr. Cheap John, himself. With his bulbous nose, and his bushy mustache, I always thought the Cheap John logo bore an insulting resemblance to Albert Einstein (See comparison photos below).

:

I felt especially bad for the Cheap John logo (as if he had feelings) that those of us with cheap budget minded parents started off each year by filling in the logo of each notebook and folder with black sharpie marker. Having school supplies from Cheap Johns, was definitely not cool (way less cool than bringing raisins for lunch). Worse than being seen using Cheap Johns school supplies, though, was being seen shopping at Cheap Johns.

One September evening, I begrudgingly accompanied my mother to Cheap Johns with my list of required school supplies. I immediately recognized that the only cashier was a student in my graduating class. (Working at Cheap John’s was acceptable as jobs for teenagers in our small town were hard to come by.) I made a mental note to be as invisible as possible, to minimize any damage to my already fragile reputation (what comes beneath nerd in the high school social order?). I should have known better than to have asked my mom to be invisible too.

As we shopped, my mom sang (in her loud off-key voice) and danced (shimmying and all) up and down each aisle. Mortified, and convinced that everyone (all five shoppers) in the store was staring at us I (quite stupidly) asked my mother to stop singing, dancing, and, well, embarrassing me. My mother was taken aback- “I’m embarrassing you?” she asked. I insisted again that she please stop drawing attention herself (and, by association, me).

My mom didn’t even miss a beat. She simply told me, “I’ll show you embarrassing” and then marched to the middle of the store. She then proceeded to shout, “I am Meryl Orange’s mother, she is a student at SWR High School, and she is right over there!!” I immediately dropped to the floor and crawled (because that’s not embarrassing) under one of the giant bins where I fervently wished I could disappear. Eventually, I got up and followed my gloating mother through the check out line (complete with my classmate cashier who now had real story to tell at school).

My mom gave me a great gift that day- perspective. Having learned what it really felt like to be embarrassed, I have rarely felt that way again. I also learned that in most situations, my peers really weren’t paying all that close attention to what I was doing- it was just my own insecurity that was rearing it’s ugly head.

I will tell my daughter this story for two reasons. First, I think my little drama queen could benefit from a healthy dose of perspective. In the grand scheme of things, is it such a big deal if people know she likes raisins? (As an aside, she is obsessed with beef jerky which makes frequent appearances in her lunch box and she is not embarrassed about that.)

Second, I think it’s important that my daughter understand early that I have tools at my disposal and I will not hesitate to use them if necessary.

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