Saturday, November 19, 2011

Adam Sandler Can Suck It

Tonight we blew off two local parades (I even had tickets for seating at one of them) to go see Jack and Jill at the movies instead.


I don't know. I just didn't feel like being outside and braving crowds tonight. And the kids wanted to see Jack and Jill. And I wanted to eat popcorn.

That's 91 minutes of my life I'll never get back again.

The popcorn was good and fresh though thanks to all the Twilight fans.

My daughter said the movie was better than she thought it would be. She's getting old enough to get some of the jokes that used to go over her head.

But my son hated it.

I looked over at him at one point and he was crying. Crying! At an Adam Sandler movie!

He said he didn't like it because the brother and sister's relationship was so terrible. He said, "It was heartbreaking!"

As we were leaving the theater he put his hand on his sister's back and asked her, "We'll never be like that, will we?"

Holy crap. Leave it to my kid to be the only person in the world to walk out of an Adam Sandler movie having learned some deep moral lesson.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

On Failing and Jealousy

Lately I find myself feeling kind of jealous of other parents.

Okay, that's kind of a lie. In truth, I go through phases of feeling superior to other parents (patting myself on the back for the awesome kids I've raised) and being completely jealous of the normal, happy families and kids that seem to be everywhere (when my kids are going through yet another thing).

Sometimes, I want to go up to parents whose kids are doing something normal like riding bikes and say, "Um, hello. Do you realize how completely freaking lucky you are to have a kid who can ride a bike?" My kid couldn't and wouldn't learn how to ride a bike until he was 9 1/2.

I know it probably isn't rational but I am jealous of people with normal kids who seem to have normal problems and often don't appreciate how good they have it.

My kids are great in a lot of ways. They are extremely polite, they get along with each other better than any siblings I've ever met, they are bright and engaging, and they are well behaved at school. And I know that there are people who are probably jealous of ME for having kids with those qualities.

But I feel like they have the "buts".

It is parent/teacher conference time for most and my friends are posting on Facebook about their conferences.

It feels like everyone is saying, "We had such a great meeting with Timmy's teacher!"

Or, "We're so proud of Brittany. She got all A's on her report card. Her teacher says she is the best in her class!"

And I want to throw eggs at my laptop. Oh, poo. It must be nice to be you.

What I get to hear every year is, "He is so wonderful and polite. And funny! And bright and creative. BUT now lets talk about his speech problems and his spelling problems and..."

Or I get to hear, "She is so sweet and well-behaved, BUT she doesn't participate in class and she is overly sensitive and she has melt downs and she is so disorganized it affects her grades and..."

Basically it always comes down to, "Your kids are so great! But..."

I know I am an extremely intense person when it comes to something I believe in. And I believe in teaching my children values and respect. And that is not easy. So I feel like I am constantly correcting and admonishing and teaching and not spending enough time celebrating and laughing.

So, for example, I can't just ignore that my daughter lied to me again and take her shopping. But I am jealous of parents who can!

My husband thinks I am completely nuts. (Probably rightfully so.)

He tells me that every kid has their problems. But most parents choose not to see most of them because they don't want to see them. They hear what they want to hear. And besides, they would be posting, "Our little Johnny is so awesome!" even if he was failing every subject and spending most of his time in detention.

He's probably right but there is a part of me that wishes I could be like that too.

I don't want to be critical of my kids. (My biggest fear in life is turning into my father!) But I am the only one here to teach them the millions of important lessons of life and I can't just shake one off because I don't feel like dealing with it.

But, man. I just wanted one freaking parent/teacher conference without a giant BUT.

And I finally got it.

Woo hoo!

My son's teacher has been teaching fourth grade boys at our school for 45 years. At first she annoyed me a little bit because she isn't quite as tech savvy as most (AND SHE USES ALL CAPS TOO MUCH) but I have come to really love her. She's hysterical. And she loves my kid which of course makes me love her back.

But I walked into this parent/teacher conference not knowing what to expect. Of course I knew his grades but I didn't know how they matched up to the rest of his class. And I'm so used to getting BUTS thrown at me that I brace myself for them days ahead.

So after she told me how great he is doing and gave me his great report card we spent the rest of the time just talking and exchanging stories.

To brag for a minute (Don't hate me!) she said that my son's sense of humor is absolutely legendary among all the teachers and staff. Even the headmaster has shared stories of things my son has said that crack him up. "The teacher next door practically has a crush on him!" she told me. Too funny.

But she ended up telling me how the other parents are always making excuses for their kids. And doing the work for their kids. And blaming everybody and anybody for their kids' failures.

Then she told me that she can tell we are wonderful parents because of the way our son knows himself. She used phrases like self sufficient, comfortable with who he is, responsible for himself, and independent.

And, boy, did I need to hear that.

Letting my kids fail is something that I know I need to do. And I do it. I do. I secretly blame myself and am in agony over every one of their failures. And I certainly don't just let them not care that they failed. But it is the hardest thing I do as a parent.

It makes it seem like my kids are mediocre at everything they do. Because other kids are succeeding because of their parents or they are half assing it and their parents are praising them so much it seems like they are better than my kids.

I hate it!

My daughter and I were sitting together when I felt the need to read the following part of the article out loud to her.

"We’re so afraid our kids won’t measure up that we drive them crazy with overbooked schedules and expectations, and then create a sense of entitlement by assigning blame elsewhere when their performance is lackluster. Sideline parents who challenge coaches, teachers and umpires on behalf of their children are a relatively new development that can’t be considered positive. When I wrote recently about the failure of colleges to teach core curricula that engender critical thinking skills, dozens of professors wrote to complain of students who aren’t willing to work hard yet still expect good grades. Even in college, they said, parents pester professors for better marks for their little darlings."

Then I asked her, "Who do I blame when you fail?"

And she replied, "Us."

"Yup. See?" I told her. "You might hate it but I'm just being a good mom. Aren't you lucky?"

It is kind of sad that I needed that kind of reinforcement but I did. Frankly, things have been kind of hard around here lately. And I needed that little pat on the back and reinforcement of what I'm struggling to do.

Of course what my daughter doesn't know is that I may be telling them to take responsibility for their failures, but secretly I'm blaming myself and judging myself more harshly than she could ever imagine.

And I'm still jealous of normal parents of normal kids.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


So, let's talk a little bit about my parents.

I have gotten to an age when many of my contemporaries are losing their parents. I hear them and see them mourning their parent and I can see how life changing an event it can be.

So, I try to be appreciative. My parents are still alive and together. That makes me lucky, right?

They love my kids. They love my husband more and more each passing year.

I swear on everything that is good in my life that I try to have a positive attitude about my parents. The last thing I ever want to do is complain about some asshole comment my father has made and then have a friend say, "You're lucky you still have a father. Stop being an immature, whiny brat."

But that puts more pressure on me to accept all of my parents' shit than I probably deserve.

When the kids were babies I used to look forward to my parents' visits. It was a break for me. With my husband gone so much, my mother was really the only person in the world I truly trusted to take care of my kids so that I could have a break. (My father doesn't babysit, even his own grandbabies.)

But in the last, well, maybe 5 or 6, or even 8 years, their visits bring nothing but stress and anxiety.

My father is a very selfish person. My mother waits on him hand and foot. (Quite literally, she ties his shoes and everything.) He is as self-centered as it is possible for a person to be. So my mother, who could be a very nice person to be around if left to her own devices, is a complete wreck. She is afraid of him. She treats everyone else in the family like we're going to criticize her constantly the way my father does. She is always apologizing and qualifying.

It is very annoying.

But his criticizing is the crux of the problem for me, his daughter.

I always knew he criticized a lot, but I don't think I truly realized how much until I was an adult with a family of my own. He'd criticize my parenting and I'd say, "But aren't they the best kids in the world? I must be doing something right."

And he'd say, "Yeah, but..." And continue to criticize me even more.

I put up with this behavior my entire life because, 1) I know he loves me. 2) I'm supposed to appreciate even having a father. And 3) because he is my kids' grandfather and they need family associations in their lives.

But, well, my husband has been deployed a long time. He was gone a long time, came back and left again for a long time. And I'm doing the fucking best I can here, with no help from my parents or anyone else. When they visited a couple of weeks ago, I'd had enough.

My mother says I am the only person who stands up to my father. But the truth is that deep down I am just as afraid of him now as I was as a kid. I don't really know why. What's he going to do? Hit me? I doubt it, but what he will do is throw a fit and make everyone's lives miserable. A fear born in childhood can linger a long time.

So, I tried to joke it out into the open.

My father wasn't here five minutes when he started to criticize me. First off, it was my car. I told him, "You know, I am going to keep a list of every time you criticize me while you're here and then send it to (my husband) so he can see what I have to deal with while he's deployed."

He kind of laughed and purposefully added a few more criticisms for me to pass along.

This went on and on during their visit. I'm too hard on the kids. I'm not hard enough on the kids. I'm fat. My kids are fat. My door doesn't work right. I don't clean my car windshield the right way. On and on and on. And every single criticism big or small has a story and a justification to go along with it.

Well, on the last day he was here he was criticizing my husband for something he had done eleven years ago. Eleven years! Our daughter was crawling and headed toward some bricks she wasn't supposed to be on and my husband said "no" to her in too harsh a tone for my father's liking. Though if he had let her crawl on the bricks, we would have heard about that too.

"He yelled at her like a dog!" my father said.

Eleven years ago.

"You know," I told him, "Has it ever occurred to you that he was just trying too hard because he knew you were watching and you are so absolutely critical?"

Well, that did it. I crossed a line. I got yelled at. A lot.

Later that day, my father said to me, "You don't need to be so sensitive. I'm just trying to help. It takes a village to raise a child."

And it occurred to me right then and there that my father has missed one key element of my life that makes me me.

I left the village.

I chose to leave the village because the village sucked. My husband and I both chose to leave the village because we didn't want to have our kids subjected to the same things we were.

I just shook my head at my father that day. I'm done. Done.

My mother always justifies his behavior (and it is much worse than I have stated here. Some things are not for public consumption) by saying that he doesn't drink or beat her (apparently the occasional hitting doesn't count) and somehow her mindset found its way into me. But is that any way to judge a person?

Personally I think the long term damage that man has done to my mother's self esteem by his constant emotional abuse and control is just as bad. (My mother isn't allowed to go into a doctor's exam on her own. Ever. I just found that out. How horrible is that.)

I want to take complete responsibility for who I am. I really do. But the older I get I notice more and more these weird little things that I do because of the way I was treated by my parents.

And so I sit here and berate myself for every similar thing I've done to my own kids.

There is a time to cut people out of your life. I've always believed that. You can only try so much with some people. If they hurt you, even after you've made it clear to them that they are hurting you, then they need to go.

But cutting your father out of you life? That's a tough one.

I really don't know what to do. The "ignore him!" stance I've been trying to use for the last 16 years really isn't working so well.

But when he is gone, I'll be picking up the pieces of my mother. I know it.

And that sucks.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Stealing the Show

Things have been a little craptastic here on the parenting front lately. My choice today was either to fold myself into a ball of despair and cry quietly on the side of the highway (raising 12-year-olds will do that to you) or try to find some damn positive.

So I'm on the lookout for anything even slightly positive with these offspring of mine.

Big time.

My son's play was last Friday night. And although he has made me cry in public at least twice recently because he is killing me by slow degrees, his performance in the play did make me laugh. I thought he did a great job.

But he must have done an even better job in the performance they did during the school day on Friday afternoon for the kids. Because every time I turn around, a teacher or student is grabbing me or him to tell us how awesome he was.

His music teacher even told me, "He really has a future as an actor, I mean, if his violin thing doesn't work out for some reason."

He has been eating up all the attention he's been getting for the play. "My classmates treated me like a star at lunch," he told me, beaming ear to ear. "I had a small role but people loved me the most!" (People always love the comic relief.)

This morning he went to the orthodontist before school to get his braces off. (Holy heck, he looks like my husband even more now.) He ended up being just a minute or two late for school. But he is never usually late.

So when he walked in the classroom his teacher exclaimed, "There you are! I was just going to call Hollywood to see if they had stolen you away from us to go be a big time movie star."

He loved it. Loved it!

I asked him how he replied and he said he just laughed because it made him so happy.

How sweet is that?

His teacher has been teaching fourth grade boys at our school for forty-five years. And, man, I can see why. She has a way of making them feel so good about their unique talents.

Maybe I need a fourth grade teacher to come in and lift my spirits like that.

My parents visited recently and it was just an awful time. My father shot down my daughter's interest in being a music education major. Right in front of her. And he lectured me about discouraging my son's unrealistic dream to be an actor.

Which pretty much only makes me want to do everything in my power to make my baby boy's dream come true.

It's going to be interesting to see how long this dream of being an actor sticks around. I think I'm going to love getting to be in the audience for every minute of the journey. No matter how it turns out.