Confidence

My child amazes me.  His confidence in himself and his abilities is, for the most part, extraordinary.  Where he gets it is beyond me.  Confidence has never been my forte.  As a middle child, I am an assimilator.  I have never fought for attention, I just meld in.  I tend to not stand out.  I am not a strong communicator.  I despise small talk and do not normally remember names or even faces unless the person is in my life a lot.  On the other hand, B is all of this.

It struck me most recently when I was walking with him the other day.  I meet him on his way home from school to cross him across a pretty busy street.  While we were there, another parent with two children walked past him.  As she walked past, I kind of did what I always do – ducked my head and nodded.  In stark contrast, B looked the adult in the eyes and said, “Sorry, ma’am, I’ll move my bike; I was just giving my mom my backpack.”  The mom smiled and told him it was no problem.  As she crossed the two little girls, one of them fell in the road.  Ben (after crossing safely) went to the mom and asked, “Is she all right?  Can I help?”  All was well, but then as we enter gymnastics, this mom and little girl were there.  B immediately recognized them and made small talk.  It was the little girl’s first time at the gym, so B took it upon himself to show her the ropes.  I am in the background, silent.  I nod to mom and go sit down and read my book and watch my chid with the other gym moms – most of them chit chatting with each other.

Chid psychologist, Meghan Leahy, reflected on confidence in children when she wrote in a Washington Post parenting advice column, “Confidence, for children, is a result of feeling accepted and safe. Think about that for a moment. Confidence, or that ‘venture forth’ chutzpah we see in many children, comes from a deep place that can be cultivated . . . Confidence can be inspired by caring adults, and it can be recognized and grown — but it cannot be given. The ability to feel confident can differ from child to child and temperament to temperament.”

It can also differ from place to place.

My child exudes confidence in nearly all places.  There are two places where he is shy and awkward and unsure of himself.  There are only two places that he stumbles over his words and his actions and that his lack of confidence is so deep it interferes with his performance.  After reading this article, it caused me pause because the difference in his confidence has bothered me for some time and I could not figure out why B is so incredibly confident in all places but these two.

One place he only visits once or twice a year, so that is mostly caused by being unfamiliar with the place and the people and the circumstance, I am sure.

But the other is a place that he is in a number of times a week.  No matter how successful he is there; no matter how much praise he gets; it does not feel safe for him.

Last night, he had a meltdown and said pretty boldly, “I feel like crap when I am there.  I can’t do anything right.”

So the question becomes, what do I do?  Will it boost his confidence by gutting it out and staying and getting some success?  Or am I killing his confidence by telling him he should stick it out?  It is a never-ending conflict.  As a child, the answer from my parents was always, if you do not like something, quit.  I have a lot of regrets that I walked away from some pretty cool things the first time it got a little difficult.  I do not want this for him.  But I also do not want him to hate something because he stayed too long.

I wish I had the confidence that B does in most places to know what to do and go with it.

Easy Friendships

IMG_2303My son has been inseparable from his best friend since they were introduced (maybe assigned is the best term) to each other in preschool.  For the past 5-6 years, B&E have fallen into an easy friendship.

They complement each other incredibly well.  E is shy until he gets around B and then he just transforms.  B is braver when he is with E.  He will try things and do things that he would not do alone.  They are better together.

They go weeks without seeing each other, and sometimes months.  They do not go to school together.  They are not in the same sports.  E likes team sports and B is more into individual sports.  They are so opposite, yet so similar.  They fill in each other’s gaps and lift each other higher than they would achieve on their own.

When they are together, they are difficult to separate.  This past weekend, B had a surprisingly empty schedule and asked to spend his days with E.  I listened to them giggling while watching Weird Al videos.  Pondering while watching Dan TDM videos.  Engaging each other while playing Minecraft and Terraria.  This is where this thought I had about easy friendships.

B&E were sitting on the edge of B’s loft bed, side-by-side, and having the calmest discussion about  hurt feelings.  While it seems trivial, their communication with each other about how they were feelings was poignant, especially for boys.  B had killed E somehow (I truly do not understand the Minecraft thing completely) and E was upset.  E very calmly said to B, “It makes me mad when you kill my guy.  I didn’t kill yours and I could have.”  B responds, “I’m so sorry, dude.  I won’t do it again.  I don’t know why I did it.  It was really mean.”  That was it.  All was well.

I was so proud of the two of them for identifying their feelings and then expressing them in a really healthy conversation.  There were no lingering feelings of betrayal or hurt.  There was no tension in the air when it was over.  It was so matter-of-fact, yet completely genuine.

These two are my definition of #FriendshipGoals.  I could not love a duo more!

Creating Space — QuietAsI’mKept

My son is quickly growing older and our conversations are quickly moving into areas that are difficult. Often when I try to talk to him about certain topics, he clams up, blushes, and exasperatedly sighs, “Moo-oom!!” B and I have always had a strong relationship. We have always been close. I want that to remain […]

via Creating Space — QuietAsI’mKept

Creating Space

My son is quickly growing older and our conversations are quickly moving into areas that are difficult.  Often when I try to talk to him about certain topics, he clams up, blushes, and exasperatedly sighs, “Moo-oom!!”

B and I have always had a strong relationship.  We have always been close.  I want that to remain especially through this next phase of puberty and hormones and tweenage.  I need him to have a safe place to ask questions that keep him safe.

I have bought him books to help him answer questions about his body and situations that he will find himself in that I have little knowledge of having the distinct problem of lacking a phallus.  But there are issues that we need to flesh out.  Issues that I need him to discuss with me.  In order to make that happen, we have found two safe places for these deep discussions:  the moments before he falls to sleep in the dark and long car rides.

B is an amazing child (I understand my bias, but this belief has been reinforced by everyone who has met him).  He understands issues far beyond his years and is fiercely loyal to the concept of doing the right thing.  I never want him to lose this.  But the concept of Doing the Right Thing continues to get more convoluted as he grows up.  The line between right and wrong is blurry.

At 8 the right thing is defending your friend.  At 9 and 10, what if your friend is doing something really wrong.  For example, he has a friend who has a crush on a little girl in class.  But this friend is using some rather alarming ways of displaying this affection.  He follows her around and takes notes on what she says and wears and how she wears her hair.  B found out about this and said, “MOM! That is so weird and _______ is scared of him!”  Yes, baby doll, that is a really frightening way to show someone your affection and I am so glad he recognized this.  But it cannot end there.  That conversation needs to extend.  Which friend does he defend?  How does he do this without hurting the other one’s feelings?  Does it even matter if he hurts the other one’s feelings? What is a better way his friend could share his feelings?  How do you make the women and girls in your life feel safe?  What can he do to show his friend who is a girl that while she may not need his protection, he is there if she does?  How will this same situation look as he gets older?  How can he recognize this in the people he is around?  This was our conversation last night.

Interestingly, I read an article earlier in the day by Glennon Doyle Melton about the conversation that you need to be having with your tweens and teens and shared it saying that these conversations cannot start too early.  B is in a class with very few kids and that number will continue to shrink as they move up and some kids or their parents elect to move into different/easier/more aligned to the child’s learning classes.  These are the children that he will likely have in his class into and through high school.  he needs to know how to deal with this in a way that he can communicate to his friend who is a boy that this behavior is not acceptable and to communicate to his friend who is a girl that he is aware and does not agree with his friend who is a boy and will be there to help her feel safe should she need it.

I do make sure that B knows his role in different group situations.  He has two children who are in one of his sports with him who are just starting at his school this year as third graders.  We discussed how they might feel and I asked him ways that he can help make them feel more comfortable.  He is not particularly close to these children, but he knows them and they are teammates and he wants to be sure that they feel welcome and that they have friends to sit with and play with during the most frightening times of the day for new kids – lunch and recess.

Growing older only brings on more situations that he needs to hash out with someone who can help give him perspective; someone who can help him work through his feelings; and someone who can help him to figure out HOW to get through situations in the best possible way.  I give him these spaces to bring me those deepest, most frightening conversations that are too difficult face-to-face and in the light.  I hope that he will always find solace there or at least understand that no topic is off limits.  This is the entire meaning of, “Quiet as it’s kept . . . ”  It is a place of conversation that remains where it lies – in the dark, in the backseat, eyes not needing to meet because our hearts are always there.

 

 

The Root of All Evil?

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Money has always been kind of a mystery to me.  My parents did not discuss it.  For a long time they preached about not having a credit card and then out of nowhere a mysterious fireproof box appeared with MANY credit cards.  My mom would rifle through them and then choose one for us to get whatever it was we were needing/asking for.  No one ever explained to me how they worked.

Fast forward to college and no one had spoken to me about how to pay for it.  No one.  Not even when the tuition bill came.  My friends all had college funds and were not truly concerned about it either.  I assumed that was the case for me as well.  It was not.  My mom had filled out my FAFSA and never spoken to me about any of it.  When I was approved for the student loans (still was not spoken to), my mom signed for them and when the refund check came, it went straight to my mother.  I never saw a dime.  I worked and was paying for my schooling, so I thought, but that money was really going to help my parents pay on credit cards and other things.  Again, no one said a word.

I had a savings account that I had been putting one-third of my paychecks in since I started working at 15, so I had some money . . . . I thought.  I did not.  When I went to check my savings balance, there was nothing there.  Nothing.  I had worked A LOT.  I was given managerial responsibilities at 16.  I worked a night shift and put in 40 hours a week while I was going to school.  Nothing was there.  My mom had co-signed for the savings account at her credit union.  When she was short on money, she “borrowed” it.  Never said a word.  Never had the money to pay it back.

Fast forward to college graduation.  I am DONE!! Graduated and ready to start my new life!  I had always had beater cars and now that I had completed college and was moving to another state with a contract signed, I was going to get a new-to-me car!  I went to the used car lot that my family always went to.  The man that had been working with our family for years was less-than-happy to see me.  I had no idea why.  Before he even walked me through the lot, he said, let’s run a credit check.  He came back with a STACK of papers and said, “this is all your debt.”  I was flabbergasted and, frankly, scared.  I had no idea.  I knew I had a couple of store credit cards, but I had been really great about always paying on them, more than the minimum due and when I balanced my checkbook, I always rounded the change up, so I had more in my account than I thought.  Cushion.  I was doing great, right?  Nope.  By the time I graduated with my Bachelor’s I was nearly $100,000 in debt with college loans.  I had no idea what to do.  I had followed my parents guidance and just did what I was told.

Fast forward to husband.  I married a guy that seemed to have it all together.  When I met him, he had his own business and his parents had discussed with him credit and how to keep it good and what he needed to do.  He was responsible and reliable.  When I got the news that my parents had lost their house, I panicked.  I had been steadily cleaning up my credit and paying on all my bills.  My students loans were in forbearance, so I had a little grace.  When I heard about my parents’ situation, I turned over my finances to my husband.  I was scared that I would do the same thing that my mom had done and did not want to mess anything up.  I was never taught and he was, so this was the smart thing, right? Nope.

Fast forward to move south.  My husband and I had moved to a new state and were living in a very cheap apartment.  Both making a decent salary as teachers and did not have any extravagances other than cable TV.  We had gotten a small Saturn SL2 used prior to moving and that was really the only major payment, other than rent that we had.  I went on a road trip with my friend and I was trying to get some food in Mississippi and my card was declined.  I called my husband and he told me we had no money.  I mean none.  There was no savings.  There was no stocks.  There was nothing.  Plus, the car had been reassessed.  I am in Mississippi.  No money.  Nothing.I was again flabbergasted and scared.  I had no idea what to do.  I could not turn to my parents for help.  They were in their own money hell.  I could not understand how this could happen.  When I got home, we laid out all of our bills next to our income and we had WAY MORE than enough to get by and to create a nice cushion.  It was at this time that my husband tells me that his depression is worsening and his therapist told him that he is not paying the bills to get attention.  I had no idea how to respond.  I was afraid to react too much as this was someone who had threatened suicide many times and I did not want to push him over the edge.  I asked him if he wanted me to take over the finances and he responded angrily, “What?!?! You don’t think I can even do that right?!?!” I wanted to say, “no, I don’t.  You obviously cannot!” But I didn’t.  I said, “of course, I believe in you. If you want to keep doing it, then I will trust you.”  DUMB ASS.  This is one of the moments that I wish I could rewind to.

Fast forward to baby.  I am pregnant.  I get pulled over for a taillight or something trivial.  I hand the officer my insurance.  He says, “Ma’am, this is expired.”  I get a massive ticket and have to appear in court to show that I am, in fact, insured.  I miss work to do this.  I miss my first day ever to do this when I am going to have to use all of my vacation time for maternity leave.   I ask my husband and it seems he has been printing out fake insurance cards to fool me and there is no insurance. I am pissed. I feel like my husband has just put me and the baby in danger.  I am not sure how, but this is how I felt.  This is the first time I bring up leaving him.  He blows up and I see his rage for the first time.  I lock myself in the bedroom with my dog and my baby and I cry and I try to figure out what I should do.  I have no money to leave.  I have nowhere to go.

Fast forward to toddler and new rental home because we were evicted from the last rental home that was owned by my (was then) friend.  My husband is making a McDonald’s run because we had a late night and I did not have a chance to cook.  He is pissy when I ask him for this and I do not understand why.  I go to change and I find him in my toddler son’s room stealing his money.  Money I had set aside from birthdays, holidays, selling back toys and clothes, and change that I gathered and was setting aside for him to learn about money, the way I had not.  This is the moment I needed to see.  I ha been squirreling away money and hiding it in my things since the insurance incident, but this kicks it into high gear.  I open a secret savings account.  I ask for my summer job to not do direct deposit.  I pick up those checks and deposit them straight to my savings, no matter how much we need them.  Phones cut off, lights are off for periods of time, so is water, but I do not budge. Any spare change, cash, tutoring jobs, holiday money, I put in there.  I do this for three years.

Fast forward to nearly kindergarten.  The landlord stops me and asks me for my phone number.  I give it to her and she says, “I have been trying to reach you, but _______  gave me a different number.” I tell her that I am not sure, but this is the only number I have had for years.  Rent is due and it is behind by 3 months.  What?  I am again flabbergasted and scared.  I have a child.  My mother has since passed away.  My dad is living in a retirement home near me.  I have no one to turn to.  I am done.  I confront my husband.  Yes, it’s true AND he has taken out title loans on BOTH the cars.  And we are months behind in all bills.  I tell him he has to leave.  I plan a small weekend getaway with my dad and son and I tell my dad.  I ask my dad if he would mind moving in with me until I can get things taken care of and get back on my feet.  My dad does not hesitate.  He moves in.  both my dad and me are pretty miserable.  My dad loved where he was staying.  I now have a 5-year-old and a grown adult to care for.  I am at the end of my rope.

I am at the beginning of my rope.  I tie a know and start over.

With the advice of my sister and her husband, I start gaining ground.  I pay off bills that were in both my estranged husband’s and my name.  I pay off accounts he opened in my name.  I put a freeze on my son’s credit.  I put alerts on mine.  When I create the divorce agreement (with TONS of input and assistance from my brother-in-law), i pay particular attention to the financial obligations area and fight for every last bill to be covered by him that he created (I was awarded this, but he did not follow through and instead of knocking down my credit more, I decided to start dealing with it). Piece by piece I start cleaning things up.  I still am saddled with tremendous student loan debt, but I file for an Income Based Repayment (IBR) Plan and receive it, so it is manageable, still massive burden, but manageable).

Fast forward to car breakdown.  I am driving my ex-grandmother-in-law’s 1999 Buick Century (I call her Zeus – yes, HER!).  My son is in two travel sports and starting a third.  We travel a lot.  Zeus is rocking and rolling, until she is not.  Rear gasket valve or something is shot.  I need to replace it to the tune of $1000.  I am flabbergasted and scared, BUT I have savings.  I get it done and the alternator goes to the tune of $120.  I still have savings, so I am good.  It feels so good to be able to say that!  Now, Zeus is 17 years old and has nearly 200,000 miles on her.  She is an old girl and it is time for her to be with someone who is not so demanding, so I start car hunting (this is a post unto it’s own!).  I speak with my credit union, the one that I took my secret account out with years ago.  The man on the other end says, “You have really great credit!”  I literally cried.  My credit is now considered better than most people.  Far better.

I got a new car.  She is gorgeous and her name is Athena.  My son insisted that she have a “boy name” as well, so Aries when I am mad at her :).  She has a sun roof 🙂

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I have to say, I have no idea what i would have done had a not had a professional job.  My heart aches for people who are trapped in relationships that are unhealthy and, sometimes, dangerous because they have no answer about how to survive.  I have a professional career.  I have the intelligence and the capacity to know where to seek help and I was stuck.  I was trapped for years.

I am not now.  Now I have everything to look forward to and I do not have to worry about where anything is coming from.  There is no mystery and there will not be for my son.  He has a savings account and he has an after school job.  He is required to put ⅓ in savings and the rest he spends on Pokemon, though I speak with him often about spending wisely.  We talk about affording college and his activities and what needs to be sacrificed for other things.  We have a vacation money jar that we are always sneaking money into.  He knows that credit cards is money borrowed and that you pay extra for having borrowed it.  He will be financially literate.  He will not be stuck in a trap like I was.  He will not have to claw out.  He will have to sacrifice, but that is a part of life.  He will know why he is sacrificing and he will understand that there are things we save for and there are times we have to borrow, but when that happens, we pay it off as quickly as possible!!

Counter-Productive

This week elementary and middle school students in South Carolina are doing their first round of end-of-year testing (they have another round next month when high school students will be doing End-of-Course testing).

Before I begin this, let me say, I have no animosity towards the teachers here.  I know of no teacher (and being one, I know many) who is excited about testing.  I know no teacher who believes that testing is a true assessment of his/her students.  I know no teacher who wishes for this moronic testing craze to continue.  Teachers are forced to carry out this counter-intuitive, counter-productive initiative at the behest of imbecilic legislators who know nothing of best practices, child psychology, education, adolescent learning, EQs, formative assessments, or planning for multiple learning styles and needs.Teachers are made to put students in environments that are not conducive to what they know is nest suited for their students.

My 9-year-old 3rd grader began testing yesterday; testing that will last for three straight days.  For the past number of weeks, his class has been schooled about what will happen.  They have been threatened with “the authorities” if they violate the rules.  They have been shoveled information in order to achieve better scores.

Yesterday, he sat in one seat for FIVE straight hours with no breaks.  They could not even leave their desks for lunch.  No recess.  No snacks. No water trips.  ONE bathroom break (which has to be documented by the teacher – time left and time returned for EVERY student AND they must be escorted individually to the bathroom).  I would ask for EVERY politician to perform under these circumstances.  I would ask that they practice what they preach.  I would ask that their children be subjected to the same testing (most are not as they send their children to private schools that are exempt from this testing structure that they insist is necessary even though public school teachers are, by-and-large, more often certified, educated at higher levels, and better-informed on best practices than private and charter school teachers).

In many states, parents are rising up and standing up to state- and federal-mandated standardized tests, as research has shown them completely ineffectual for assessing students (Here is a great article explaining it and you can find MANY more that say the same thing: Why Standardized Tests Don’t Measure Educational Quality.  Here is another: Here’s Why We Don’t Need Standardized Tests).   In South Carolina, I am not allowed to opt my child out of standardized testing, even though it is in his best interest to not be subjected to this.  Now, my son is in Gifted and Talented and a very good student.  He does well on tests and they do not lower his self esteem.  In South Carolina, ALL students are required to take standardized tests (This is the link to the instructions for the test the middle and elementary schools are currently taking:  South Carolina College-and Career-Ready Assessments (SC READY).  ALL students.  Students who are in second language programs.  Students who have physical and cognitive abilities that do not allow them to process this information.  Students who already feel beaten down by a school system.  This is the complaint of the teacher in the article that I read this morning:  SC teacher confronts school officials over ‘inhumane’ standardized tests.  In short she says:  “I object to forcing children to sit through hours of bubble tests when they don’t even understand what they are doing and why they are doing it,” Happel wrote. “This is inhumane. . .I object to children who are just learning to speak, read, and write in English being forced to take standardized tests using English academic language and culturally biased language,” she continued. “I object to forcing children with special needs to take standardized grade level tests when they have already proven to be 1 ½ to 2 years behind typical peers via a formal evaluation using standardized tests. . .I respectfully request that my students not be required to take the SC PASS and SC READY, which goes against my professional conscious,” Happel wrote.

It is interesting to note that Happel comes from a state that has strong teachers’ unions, whereas South Carolina is a “Right to Work” state and our “representation” is weak at best and normally we are simply at the whim of whoever our principal happens to be.  This serves as a stark distinction.  Most teachers who have taught for their entire careers here are tentative to speak out so blatantly to legislators who are so anti-public education, as we know what the consequences can be.

Testing began in education as a way for teachers and school districts to measure whether curriculum was effective – not whether teacher or students were effective.  It was simply a way to assess whether schools wanted to move to a different curriculum or publisher.  It was never meant to be this.  It is what it is because we (those NOT in education, as we have fought hard against this with little to no support from the general public) have allowed publishers to be the ones to choose the path of education.  Publishers who, like legislators, are not trained educators.  We allow presidents and governors to appoint business-persons and those not trained in education to be state superintendents and secretaries of education.  This is insane.  We would never allow someone who has no law background to be the Attorney General, or someone with no military background to be the Secretary of Defense.  Yet, for some reason, America refuses to see teaching as a profession.  While we require an advanced degree plus state certification to teach in public schools, we are still almost completely ignored when it comes to policy.  We are still some of the worst paid, especially given out level of education and specialty.  Our national board certification is almost universally ignored though it is also some of the most rigorous and effective measures of assessing a profession.

These standardized tests, which are the least effective ways of measuring our children, are given precedence over every other day of teaching and learning.  I did not receive a phone call reminding me to feed my child, bring him to school on time, and not sign him out early on any day, except testing day.  This is the result of the pressure that we place on the teachers and the schools to perform on this over anything else.  This is one of the few measurements of a “successful” school.  I have spent the majority of my career at “challenging” schools.  Yet, I have seen the best teaching and learning take place here.  Students do not always test well for SOOOO many reasons and to lay the success and funding for a school on a few days of testing is asinine.

Kids are so much more than numbers and scores. We, as teachers, deserve to be allowed to teach your students in the best way possible – and we have been trained to decide this.  Kids deserve to learn in the way that is best for them.  We all deserve a better educational system, but that does NOT begin or end with this.  This is the antithesis of good education.  As parents, as educators, as citizens, it is our responsibility to stand up and voice this.  The only way this will stop is if we insist that it does.  If we vote out people who are anti-public school, people who are pro-testing, people who are anti-teachers, people who insist that some kids have to be held to standards that other kids are not.

Family? Family!

I have two families.  I have my older sister and her husband.  I also have my younger sister and older brother and their spouses.  These two families no longer intersect.  These two are completely separate.  We all lived in the same house and yet we were all raised by drastically different parents.

We do not have a huge difference in age – there is a 7 year gap between the oldest and the youngest.  We were all just treated so very differently and not taught to appreciate each other.  In fact, we were taught to compete against each other for my mother’s love, affection, and gifts.  If we did not please her, we would receive none and be the butt of jokes with the other kids.  This was most true for the girls in the family.  My brother never felt this.  He always could depend on her to love him and support him – How a parent should be, but often in ways that enabled behavior it should not have.  Interestingly, her dynamic with him was like how us girls were treated by her – we feared losing her acceptance; she feared losing our brother’s acceptance.

As adults, it has been difficult.  We all left the home after high school and never looked back.  My sisters and I went to college, graduated and moved away.  My brother went to college, then the military, and moved away.  None of us returned home regularly.  My youngest sister was and is the only to remain in Michigan, so she was the best at visiting, but still, it was not like other families.  My mom died suddenly in 2009.  Apparently, she had been quite ill for a bit, but refused to go to the doctor (a lifelong mantra by my mom), and so my dad just tried what he could.  It did not work and she had a heart attack and died in her chair, probably the way that we all remember her.

In our family, my oldest sister has always been treated like the black sheep.  I cannot remember a time when she and my mom were not fighting.  I have two very vivd memories of this (astounding as I remember almost nothing from my childhood).  The first was when my brother and sister got into a fistfight in our living room (probably over the bathroom, as I remember this being a running theme).  My mom, me, and (I believe) my little sister sat on the couch while my mom cheered on my brother and told him where to hit my sister and what to do.  It was one of the first times that I realized that we were not all equal.  The second, I did not witness, but saw the aftermath.  Somehow my sister’s hand ended up getting cut by glass and my mom claimed that my sister had tried to kill her with it. By this time, I had seen my mom lie about my sister and the rest of us so much that I did not believe her and my sister was the one with the injury.  My dad came home, whipped out his belt, chased my sister out of her room, knocking her down our (uncarpeted) stairs and threw her into the bushes in the front yard telling her to not come back.

I desperately wanted and needed an older sister in my life, but mine was barred from me.  Had I aligned with her, I would have been my mother’s enemy.  Not aligning with her cost me a huge part of my childhood. I vowed to be a good big sister to my younger sister.  This did not work out as planned.  When my oldest sister left for college, the pattern repeated with me being the outcast.  My little sister could not align with me.  She cast me out, and I understand it.  I tried writing my oldest sister while she was in college.  I desperately tried reaching out to her.  Until my mom’s death, I believed that my sister had received those letters and chose not to respond.  That she could not forgive me for not aligning with her as a child.  My sister never received a single letter.  They were all confiscated by my mom before they could make it to her.

The events that followed paved the way for my two families.  My oldest sister took charge.  The pain from the past crept into our responses.  It was not pretty and got even worse when my dad died in 2014.  I am currently the only one speaking to everyone in my family. This is hard and I hate it.  I do not agree with everything anyone in my family has done or said, but there is nothing done or said that is worth me losing them.

My oldest sister and her husband have been my rock since my mom died.  I have turned to them for advice and level thinking over and over and over again.  My sister just helped me with my taxes – again!  She never asks for anything in return and I can never thank her enough.  My son ADORES them both.  They are an ever-present source of support for him. My sister has no children and she relishes her role as fun and crazy aunt.

My brother and little sister and I try to plan a trip to get our children together each summer.  It does not always work out, but when it does, it is the highlight of the summer.  The cousins are all close in age (except for my oldest nephew) and they LOVE hanging out together.  Growing up, we were not allowed to hang out with our cousins and so this is important to all of us.  But, my oldest sister is not invited.  This is heartbreaking for me.  She has never let her feelings for my siblings extend to their kids and I know that this hurts her to be excluded.  I wish I could find a way to bridge the gap, but I think there has just been too much hurt that started long before we had any control.

I truly believe that my parents did the best they knew how to do.  I still have a lot of mixed feelings about my childhood that I have not come to terms with.  I try to raise my son by taking the best of what they had and mixing it with the best of what I have read and seen in others.  I do A LOT of research.  I do not want my son to look back at his time with me and struggle like I have.  I want him to have close and healthy relationships with his cousins, aunts, and uncles.  I want him to have peace and happy memories.  I work hard to try to make this happen

You Must Do the Thing You Think You Cannot Do

Eleanor Roosevelt has long been one of my heroes and my title is one of her favorite quotes.  It is also my motto.  My whole life has been this even when I fought it.  Most of mine, and anyone else’s lives is not a series of choices between right and wrong.  Nothing is clear cut.  Nothing is obvious.  It is a choice between hard and slightly easier.  Between bad and worse.  Between frightening and safe.  There have been so many of these “choices” that it is hard to choose one to discuss.

As a child, you are put in situations where you often do not even understand your choices.  This is especially true if no one explains to you that you do have choices and what they are.  I find myself discussing this often with my son.  Because I felt so helpless most of the time and backed into a corner as a child, this is important to me.  We discuss his choices and the impending consequences often.  I try not to dictate as I do not see how that allows him to develop the ability to make his own choices (however, there are times that I do dictate).

As a young adult, choices were overwhelming.  Without a strong sense of self, some of those choices were less than responsible.  Some of them I still ponder and wonder what would have been.

The one thing that I struggled with more than anything else was walking away from my marriage.  By the time I put my foot down and meant it, I was miserable.  I hated coming home after work knowing he was there.  I dreaded having to conjure up conversation.  Had I not had my son, I wonder if I would have left earlier.  However, having my son made it necessary for me to leave.  I witnessed a miserable marriage and it warped my view of what relationships and marriage should be.  It affected me in ways that I did not realize until I was in the middle of my own.  I knew I had to walk away, but I did not know how.  People liked my ex.  They saw him as a great dad and husband.  He put on a great show.  Do not get me wrong, he was not physically or even mentally abusive.  Financially abusive – yes, but that is another story.  I did not know who to turn to.  I did not know how to leave with no access to finances.  I had to get sneaky.  I had to do the thing I thought I could not do.  It took me years.  Years of scrapping and saving and secretly selling and stashing.  It took a few soul-prodding events for me to just cut off all emotions and know that the best and only option for me and my son to have a life free from this strain was to cut off the dead weight and that, sadly, was my ex.

While he is still dead weight often times, he is dead weight 800 miles away and that is (mostly) something I can deal with.

This choice; this thing I did not think I could do has led me and my son to so much happiness.  I know it is also very hard for my son, but I honestly do not think  it would be less hard had I stayed.  I know it would be worse.  More tension.  More strain.  More lies.  I lived like that when I had no choice.  Getting control my my life and my choices was the scariest thing I ever chose, but it was the best.

I do not feel the same regret that I see so many other divorced women feel and it is most likely because my divorce put me in a better place – financially, emotionally, psychologically.  This is not the case for so many women.  I am grateful to myself for the choices that I made previously that has allowed me to make the choices I am able to make now.  I am grateful to those who have supported me; who made me feel that they would be there when, and if, I fell.  Some of them have been.  Some were for awhile, but have made their own choices to not be around any more, or their circumstances have changed, or (and this is what happens most often) many feel that support is needed for awhile, but tire of it and think single parents should be “used to it,” but when you are the sole human responsible for your child, there is no end to the assistance you need or the support you depend on.  But in the end, I have done the thing I never thought I could do – I am standing on my own and raising a damn good kid who lights up my heart.

Elf on the Shelf: My Love Letter to My Son

I know, I know.  I have seen all the anti-Elf posts and some of them are hilarious.  There are times that I curse out our elf and loathe coming up with new and crazy ideas for him to participate in.  Waking up in the middle of the night, going to bed late, or getting up early to be sure he has moved and has written my son a letter can be exhausting.  But when it comes down to it, my relationship with our Elf is a month-long love letter to my son and his childhood.

I do not ever really remember believing in Santa.  I had two older siblings and, as it often goes, once they figured it all out, they were eager to spread their knowledge to their siblings.  So that bit of magic was lost for me.  I never really regretted it, and I do not feel like I am damaged because of it; it is just how it was and another reason that I am determined to have my son believe for as long as possible.

The other night, my son had the stomach flu.  He does not get sick often, so it hits him kind of hard when he does.  Our Elf (and his cronies, as he has collected friends to help him with his shenanigans- Grinch, Santa, Lizzie the Lizard, Fred a touchable elf, and Wolfie the Wolf) made him a care package of hot cocoa, Alka Seltzer, acetaminophen, and tissues.  Like I mentioned earlier, he also wrote him a letter asking him to get better soon.  My son was so moved by the kind gesture that it literally brought him to tears.  Right then, I said to myself, “THIS.  This is why I do this.”

Listening to my son talk to his elf and tell the elf about his Christmas wishes and desires and laughing at the antics of the elf fill the holiday season with such joy.  My son pops out of bed each morning to see his elf.  The other day, my son realized that his time with his elf was drawing to a close and, again, it made him cry.  He thinks of his elf as a friend and confidant.  My son is eight.  This may be his last year that he so wholly and completely believes in this magic of the season.  This time thinking of silly and fun ways to make my son giggle and believe is time well-spent, in my opinion.

So this year, and hopefully next, I will mov our elf and hang him from ceiling fans, and create wanted posters, and allow him to poop peppermints and fish in our turtle tank if it means that I can bring a smile to my son’s face and allow him to keep this magical memory one day, one month, one year longer.

To All the Single Parents on the Holidays

Being a single mom is lonely.  I can imagine that being a single dad is just as lonely, if not moreso, but I am not one, so my point of view will be of that from a single mom.  Even with friends and family surrounding you, it is lonely.  The holidays bring a special kind of loneliness and sometimes, terror and anxiety

On a day-to-day basis, I am all there is.  When I am sick, like I have been for the past few days with a killer stomach virus, I feel particularly helpless.  I have no one to call for help.  There is no one in the next room who can step in and take over.  There is no one else to make the lunches and dinners and get my son to practice.  No one else to wake him up.  No one else to tuck him in.  This is normally something that I am not only fine with, but enjoy.  On days when I am not fully functioning, it is overwhelming.  Yes, I have friends who will help me get him to practice and school, but tuck him in? Wake him up? There is no one.    I do not have family within even a surrounding state and his father is not in the state and has chosen not to see him in the past year.  So it is him and me.

Friends get sick of me cancelling on them because I do not have a baby-sitter and do not want to spend my money on them or call in yet another favor to go out when oftentimes, I would rather be home hanging out with my sidekick. So they stop inviting me.  Some have become openly hostile and do not understand why I will not just leave my son with any 12-year-old and just go out.  Why sometimes after being everything to that one little man, I am just exhausted and do not have a desire to do anything but relax or clean (which I really should be doing now instead of writing this as my house is a complete shit hole).  So the loneliness intensifies.

People say, “take care of yourself first.” That is a nice sentiment, but it is not realistic.  I cannot tag someone is so that I can drop my son off at practice and someone can pick him up so I can run to the store or go work out.  “Take care of myself” means that at the end of the day, after he is safely in bed, I can rest easy that I have done everything to make his world safe and full of love and life so that he does not come to think that he was raised by a “single mom,” but that he was raised by his mom and his mom was enough.  My hobby is him.  My past-times are his practices and helping him memorize the regions in the state and conjuring up Elf on the Shelf schemes. So the loneliness intensifies.

Friends who are single parents, but who have family or whose ex plays an active role in their child’s life do not even understand the depths of the loneliness.  They can make plans at least once a month and not have to worry about baby-sitters.  While I feel incredibly lucky for the time that I have with my son and that I do not have to split it and deal with what many of my friends have to deal with (kids coming home and comparing what they can do at mom’s or dad’s house but cannot do at their home; wanting to go to a party, but not being able to because it is their weekend with the other parent; etc), sometimes I just want and need some help.  Help that will never come. So the loneliness intensifies.

The loneliness reaches its climax at the holidays.  Every Christmas since I have been separated, i have allowed my ex to have my son and then I take the second half of break.  I sacrifice this precious holiday and all its many traditions because it is the best thing for my son.  But it is intensely lonely.  It is a lonely that no one and nothing can fill.  The feeling of waking up on Christmas Day to nothing when you have a young child out there is a void that cannot be filled.  It is even worse when your ex does not have your child call to say, “Merry Christmas.”  That lonely is one that so many parents are feeling throughout the holiday season – not just this, but all holidays and much of the summer as well.

The loneliness of single parenting is a deep chasm.  It is lonely when you are up at night looking over a sick child.  It is lonely when you are unable to give your best.  It is lonely when you cannot provide financially, emotionally, physically, or psychologically.  It is lonely when you are in a room of a thousand people or with your five closest friends.  So, single parents, i want you to know that while you are lonely, you are not alone.  While you feel like you are adrift in a world where no one understands or sees your struggle; we are there alongside you.  We see you and we understand and if any of us had the time or the ability, we would form a club, but no one would show up because we are too busy parenting :).