theorangeinkblot

Looking at life through orange colored glasses…

Archive for the tag “growing up”

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.

 

 

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.

Dream a Little Dream, then Wonder What it Means…

A couple of nights ago I dreamed of chocolate.  Chocolate brownies, chocolate syrup, chocolate truffles, everything chocolate.  When I woke up and went into the kitchen the dream made sense.  On the counter were the nine boxes of Girl Scout cookies we had ordered, and two boxes of chocolate cake mix and containers of frosting for my daughter’s birthday cake.  Couple that with my decision to give up chocolate and the dream is not so strange.

Other dreams that I have had are not so easy to explain.  I have one recurring dream that seems easy enough to interpret on the surface.  I am back in college and it is the end of the semester.  There is a literature class I have never attended, but I never got around to dropping.  Now, I have 24 hours to read four William Faulkner novels to prepare for the final.  To make matters worse, I have no idea where the final is taking place and I don’t know how to find out.

Classic anxiety dream, right?  But it’s an anxiety dream that I should not be having.  I spent from 1996 to 2006 studying and working in the area of higher education, six of those years I spent as an academic adviser where part of my job was advising students on university policy pertaining to adding and dropping classes.  If there is anyone who knows how to appeal to the Dean of a college for an exception to policy (i.e. drop a class past the due date) it is me.  No matter how many times I have this dream, it never occurs to me to go to my adviser for help.  I find this fascinating.  The other part that makes little sense is this.  In all my years attending and working at schools, I have never seen an undergraduate professor count a final for more than 40% of the final grade.  If I had not attended class or turned in an assignment all semester, even getting an ‘A’ on this dream induced final exam will not let me pass the class.  So why am I even trying to prepare?

There is one dream from my childhood, though, that to this day I cannot explain but I remember it clear as day.  My family is dressed in bathing suits and we are all in a large hot tub inside our house.  We are making small talk when all of a sudden out the window we see King Kong making his way down our street.  King Kong is looking to eat anyone not eating a bathrobe, so we jump out of the hot tub throw on our robes and run up and down the streets warning our neighbors with shouts of “Don your bathrobes!!”  At the same time there is a cable car suspended from our telephone wires making its way down the street.  Those folks cannot get to a bathrobe in time, so King Kong eats them.

This banana is fine but what I'm really craving is a person not wearing a bathrobe.

Back off ape face! I have a hair dryer and I'm not afraid to use it!!

Anyone care to take a crack at that one??  What’s the strangest dream you’ve ever had?

Part 2B: How I ended up following in my parents footsteps and pursuing a career in education, despite having a fool proof plan to go to law school and blah blah blah

This entry is a continuation of two other entries.  If you have not read the other entries, you can find them here:

http://wp.me/p1ZHOE-1O

http://wp.me/p1ZHOE-2P

Stepping Outside the Box

To say that I had stepped outside my comfort zone upon my arrival to the small college in Southeast Kentucky that would be my home for four months would be a gross understatement.  I had come from an urban campus of 5,000 undergraduates- 25% of whom were Jewish and many of whom were from Long Island.  I now found myself on a rural campus of about 800 undergraduates, presumably the only Jew for 200 miles.

My home campus had co-ed dorms and some co-ed bathrooms, 24 hour visitation, and while technically a dry campus, there was plenty of drinking going on behind closed doors.  The college at which the Appalachian Semester Program was based was located in a dry county, with an all female and an all male dorm.  There were strict visitation hours and if someone of the opposite sex was in your room, the door had to remain open and a 60 watt light bulb had to be turned on at all time.  (Under those conditions, I think the only thing turned on was the light bulb, which was probably the point.)

There were 12 of us participating in the Appalachian Semester Program (ASP) that semester from schools throughout the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Mid-West.  Some of us felt more at home than others.  Despite feeling like a fish out of water, I did the best I could to gain as much as I could from this semester long, once in a formal education experience.

And what an experience it was.  Under the tutelage of our trusty professor who doubled as our tour guide, we explored Appalachia (in a 12 passenger van) from corner to corner.  We traveled North to Cincinnati for a conference on Urban Appalachia.  We ventured South to Knoxville, TN and visited the Highlander Center, Great Smokey Mountain National Park, and the TVA Dam.

In Southeastern KY, our group visited a coal mine, a snake handling church, community organizations, farms, schools, and local festivals.  We even crashed (sort of) a family reunion and were welcomed with open arms by our hosts.  I learned to quilt, weave, and log roll.  I even took a clog dancing class.  I could write an entire book covering all of the amazing places we saw, and the fascinating people we met.  It was the ultimate in experiential education.

The experience that had the greatest impact on me was my internship.  We had the choice of several internship sites.  My roommate (a social work major at her regular school) interned with the local social services office and got to accompany social workers on home visits.  Another in my cohort shadowed a mid-wife as she provided prenatal care, and performed home deliveries back in “the hollers.”

The internship that caught my interest (much to my own surprise) was being a classroom helper in a 2-3 grade combined classroom at the local, public elementary school.  We had visited the school one day to hear the father of a girl in that classroom talk about his experience as a coal miner.  In addition to describing his job, he talked about the difference between the unionized and non-unionized coal mines; the importance of health insurance (since so many coal miners have respiratory issues at some point); and getting caught in a mine collapse that he was lucky to be rescued from.  He talked about his hopes for his daughter’s future – that he wanted her to have the choice to go to college and be able to make her own decisions about what she wanted to be when she grew up.

We also spent some time that day interacting with the kids, some of whom came from extremely poor and underprivileged families.  They were a curious, energetic bunch, and couldn’t get enough of the attention that we were dishing out.  Maybe it was their hopeful, innocent faces.  Maybe it was their need for extra resources and hands in the classroom.  I’m not sure what it was, precisely.  All I knew was that despite not really feeling all that drawn to children in the past, and despite having no interest in pursuing a career in education those kids had stolen my heart.  I was where I needed to be.

I still think about those kids (who must now be in their early to mid twenties).  I think about Joe, the little boy who I tutored in math, who was just so grateful for the one on one time.  I think about Heather, one of five siblings who were living in separate foster homes.  A couple in Oklahoma had agreed to adopt all five kids and then, for reasons I am unaware of, backed out at the list minute leaving Heather and her siblings devastated.

I remember one little girl who got sick during the school day and had to lay on a cot in the back of the room because her house had no phone and there was no way to let her parents know she was ill.  I remember a couple of the 2nd and 3rd grade girls becoming Aunts that year, because their 14-year-old sisters had just had babies.  I remember Hannah, the daughter of the coal miner, who wrote me a letter after I’d gone, telling me she had named her puppy after me.

Mostly, I remember their teacher, Linda, who was doing an amazing job (with limited resources) of giving these kids a chance to choose their own destinies.  She told me that many of the kids would never leave the state, or possibly even the county and she wanted them to understand that “Kentucky is not the center of the universe.”  She wanted them to be proud of where they were from, but also be aware of the wonders that the world had to offer.  Linda’s classroom was filled with books that provided her students a window to the world.  She felt strongly that for a child to have a chance to change their circumstances, they needed to see that other options existed.

Linda taught me as much as she taught those kids.  I learned that if Kentucky was not the center of the universe, than neither was New York or DC or even the United States as a whole.  I was also learning that a career in education and a career in justice were more closely linked than I had ever thought- that how a system of education is implemented has the ability to level the playing field, propel kids ahead, or leave them in the dust.

Through the ASP, I was witnessing an America that I had only read about in the newspaper and text books.  I was seeing the impact of poverty on education and geographical access to various kind of resources in Kentucky, but knew that these are issues that are prevalent throughout the U.S.  I was learning that book learning is helpful, but there is no substitute for learning through experience.  I had come into this “domestic study program” after three years of college thinking I had at least some answers but found I really had no answers at all, only questions.

This left me wiser in some ways, but I was in no way closer to deciding what I wanted to do with my life.  I still didn’t want to be a teacher.  Honestly, after spending so much time with those kids, I didn’t think my heart could take the emotional toll of getting so attached to so many children.  But I do understand better now why so many of my friends have become teachers, and have come to truly respect the impact they have on so many young lives.

Before I left Kentucky, I went to talk to the Career Services director at the school I was visiting.  She helped me to isolate the values that I wanted to focus on in my career.  I was originally attracted to a career in the field of justice because I have always felt that people should be held accountable for their actions and behaviors.  What I loved best about my Resident Assistant position back at AU was the one on one counseling I got to do, and planning programs that introduced students to new ideas or made them think outside the box.  And I knew that taking myself out of my own comfort zone had raised my level of awareness, and consciousness about the world around me, even if I had sometimes felt a little uncomfortable in the process.

The Career Services Director told me about her graduate degree in College Student Personnel Services.  She liked working with college students because they were old enough to be able to articulate what they wanted or believed, but they also flexible enough to consider new ideas.  College students are learning about being accountable for their decisions and behavior, and many of them find themselves outside of their comfort zone when they leave home for the first time to pursue their degree. She thought it would be a good fit for me too and encouraged me to look into some programs.

I started my own research and the following fall found myself enrolled in the Higher Education Administration Masters program at Michigan State University, which led to my first professional job as a Residence Hall Director (I could write a book about that experience too), and then six great years as an Academic Adviser.  So I ended up working in education after all – higher education.  I even taught a couple of college classes, though teaching is definitely not my passion.  Ironically, the ultimate teaching job, parenthood, has taken me out of the work force for a little while, but I hope, that once I return I can jump back in to my career in higher education.

My time in Appalachia combined with my Graduate School studies helped me to define the values and belief system by which I choose to live my life. For the three of you out there that want to hear about that belief system, you are in luck!  In Part 3 (the final installment of this blog topic, I promise) find out why we are really not all that different from each other,  why we are all a little like those little Russian nesting dolls, and why grown ups should play more truth and dare.

Part 2A: How I ended up following in my parents footsteps and pursuing a career in education despite my foolproof plan to go to law school and eventually become a judge.

 

 

In sitting down to write Part 2 of ‘The Story of how I WAS NOT going to follow in my parents footsteps by pursuing a career in education, and instead go to law school to eventually become a judge’ I realized that this is a longer story than I had originally anticipated.  So, I have divided Part 2 into two parts.  If you have not read Part 1, I would recommend reading that first. http://wp.me/p1ZHOE-1O

Part 2A- The Journey Begins…

I didn’t last very long at the job at the law library.  The would-be ‘moon colonizer’ turned into a bit of a stalker and I ended up calling a friend or a Public Safety officer to walk me home on more than one occasion.  I had also become a little self-conscious about my “good for carrying babies” hips.  Surely, I had better things to do with my Friday nights.

For example, I had a whole new career path to map out (Okay, so maybe I wasn’t doing that on Friday nights, per say.).  I had come to American University to major in American Studies, in order to pursue a career in the American legal system.  (Just call me your all American girl.)  Now I was second guessing at least one part of that equation.  What to do?

You may not believe me but employers are not fighting over American Studies graduates.  Most of the folks that I know who majored in American Studies became teachers or went on to graduate school (most often law school).  Despite this, I did not want to change my major.  Perhaps to make up for the poor job prospects after graduation, American Studies majors got to take really cool classes.  While my friends were taking Microeconomics, World Politics, and Statistics, I was taking:

  • Contemporary American Culture – Television (my final paper was about ‘The Animaniacs.’)
  • Food & Culture (In this class we sampled everything from bagels and lox to kimchi)
  • American Decades- The 1980’s (One of our assignments was to visit two shopping malls- one geared towards higher income shoppers and one geared towards lower income shoppers and compare and contrast.)

I also took a class called “Southern Traditions”.  We spent part of the class talking about Appalachia (particularly Kentucky, Tennessee, and Western North Carolina) – a region for which I had no first-hand knowledge.  I had never even been to “the South” (I was pretty sure that vacations to Disney World did not count.)  It occurred to me while taking this class that I actually had very little first-hand knowledge of any U.S. region outside the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic where I had grown up.

Between my fairly liberal NY upbringing, and my AU student experience, I thought I had seen just about everything.  My residence hall had a co-ed bathroom on our all girls floor as to not inconvenience overnight guests of the opposite sex , on its best day our “dry” campus was pretty damp, and my constitutional law professor walked into class one day and opened his lecture by saying, “While I was driving into campus today, I was thinking about pornography.”  (He was thinking about it as it relates to freedom of speech, but still.)

There were all kinds of policies governing student behavior on the books at AU, but for the most part, I would say that students preferred to govern themselves (or let anarchy prevail).  Through my RA job I gained insight into the hidden talents of my fellow classmates such as closet “gardening”, chemical explosives, reptile care, misappropriation of University funds, and home improvement (i.e. how to remove ceiling tiles in order to hide various (prohibited) items in the ceiling.).

So while I was not leading a totally sheltered life, I did realize, through my class work, that I had not seen as much as I thought I had.  Some of my friends were studying abroad  as part of their International Studies major.  What I needed was a domestic study program that would let me go beyond the text books and class lectures and really experience another part of America.  But did such a thing exist?

With help from my faculty advisor, I discovered ‘The Appalachian Semester Program’- a domestic study program at a small college in Southeastern Kentucky.  Program participants lived on campus and took classes in sociology, economics, and political science all pertaining to the Appalachian region.  Each student also participated in a local internship, and chose a research topic to pursue while there.  I got permission to use the Appalachian Semester program credits toward graduation and made plans to spend the first semester of my senior year away from everything and everyone I knew.

So what happens when a nice Jewish girl from Long Island, NY finds herself in rural, conservative, Southeastern Kentucky?  Stay tuned for Part 2B and find out how The Appalachian Semester program raised my level of consciousness, expanded my world view,  and (finally) led me to follow in my parents footsteps and pursue a career in the field of education (not to mention learn to quilt, weave, clog dance, and log roll).

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.

Plant Parenthood or When Two Plants Love Each Other Very Much…

In the fourth grade, my teacher asked our class to write down what our parents did for a living. Easy, I thought- my dad taught PE and my mom worked for ‘Plant’ Parenthood. My teacher got quite a chuckle out of this, after all, my mother worked for Planned Parenthood, not some lab that cross-bred orchids or a nursery that adopted ferns out to doddering old ladies.

Looking back, her working at Planned Parenthood (as a community educator and women’s health advocate among other roles), made a lot more sense. My mother first tried to explain the facts of life to me when she was pregnant with my brother. I was not yet three years old and most of what she was trying to tell me went way over my head. By the time she was done explaining, I was convinced she had an eggplant growing inside of her. She must have tried again a few years later. In first grade, I was pulling my classmates under my teachers desk to try to explain the birds and the bees to them (complete with the correct names of all anatomical parts).

Having a mom who worked at Planned Parenthood definitely had its moments. In sixth grade, I made a new friend- I’ll call her Annie. Annie and I had been friends for a few months when we excitedly scheduled our first sleepover at my house. It was your run of the mill sleepover – magazine quizzes, makeovers, and junk food- until my mom knocked on the door and asked if we wanted to watch a movie. This might seem like an innocent enough question, but knowing my mother I immediately went into panic mode. It was too late- Annie wanted to watch a movie. We went into the living room where we spent thirty (long) minutes being guinea pigs watching a film strip called, “Am I Normal” while mom inquired, “so do you think this is appropriate for kids your age?”

Annie sat quietly- probably in a state of shock, until the end of the film, after which we resumed our sleepover activities and never spoke of the “movie” again. (The first rule of puberty films is that you never talk about puberty films.) I recently asked Annie what she remembered about this incident and she has conveniently blocked it from her memory.

In high school, I was so (over) educated about the dangers of unprotected sex that I avoided dating all together. While other kids were getting hot and heavy in the back seats of their parents cars, I was snug in my bed with visions of herpes dancing in my head. My friends would even sometimes take me as a chaperone on their dates as if my wealth of knowledge alone could protect them from unintended consequences.

There were some also some upsides to my mom’s job. While other kids were working at fast food restaurants, or babysitting, I was trained as a Peer Educator. I got paid to teach classes on teen health, birth control, decision making, and peer pressure at my own and other local high schools. I went on lobbying trips to my state capitol and got to meet my state and U.S. Senators. I was living proof that giving kids accurate information about sex and birth control does not make them more likely to be promiscuous.

What I have written so far only scratches the surface of a childhood filled with both awkward and enlightening conversations, questions that made me want to be swallowed up by the earth, and far too many TMI moments. (I really didn’t need to know about the condoms my mom put in my cousins graduation cards.) Yet, it could have been worse. I can only imagine what the conversations would have included if my mom had truly been able to fulfill her occupational goals. What she really wanted to be was a sex therapist. Thank goodness for small favors.

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