Blame

There are some things that my children do that bother me more than others, like when my daughter doesn’t put away the clothes I’ve painstakingly folded, or when my son brings each and every toy he owns into my bedroom but is then “too tired” to clean them up afterward. As annoying as these things are, they are still somehow bearable. Then there are those things that I have a hard time tolerating, like when my kids choose to blame anyone—but themselves—for things that have gone wrong. They even like to assign blame when none is needed, and more often than not, I am the focus of this negative attention.

A perfect example of this would be when my daughter is running late for school because she can’t find clean socks to wear, she blames me for not washing them. Is it really my job to go through her disastrous room in order to find her dirty socks? Or, when I ask my son to get dressed and he yells at me that I didn’t give him his clothes yet. I mean, he’s seven, isn’t he capable of picking out his own clothes? It seems that the list of things I get blamed for is endless.

Of course, as a mother, I already place this blame on myself—I just call it “guilt.” I believe that it’s a parent’s curse to feel guilty about everything, even when we shouldn’t. So, as I sit here and feel guilty about ignoring my blog once again, I’ve decided to take a page from my children’s playbook and cast blame on everyone and everything that has prevented me from publishing a single word.

  1. My Childrens Rooms In order to write, I need the space around me to be neat, not perfect, but free of excess clutter. Although I don’t actually write in either of their rooms, every time I walk past them, I feel overwhelmed by the incredible mess I see.  That being said, I don’t actually feel compelled to clean them, but I do include them on my mental list of all the things I need to do before I can sit down to write.
  2. Work I’ve worked for the same company for the last twelve years, and although I am lucky enough to work from home, I still have a job that owns my time for 8 hours each day. If only I didn’t have to worry about feeding and clothing my children, putting gas in my car, or paying any bills, I would have plenty of time to write.
  3. Spring Break Because I’ve had a lot going on with work recently, we decided to not to do anything special for spring break this year. When it finally arrived, I felt tremendously guilty about my decision. To alleviate this guilt, I overcompensated. From the moment I finished work each day, I was at the mercy of my children’s whims—from taking my daughter shopping at the mall, to hunting down a new Skylander for my son at Toys R Us—all in the hopes of making their break a little more memorable. Each night, when all of the running around was finally done, I was too exhausted to even turn on the computer.
  4. Alcohol With all of the endless running around, who could blame me for needing a glass of wine—or two—at the end of a long day. And, although wine may be good for creativity when tweeting, I don’t find it incredibly motivating when trying to write.
  5. The Internet Why is it that on the nights when I actually had the energy to turn on the computer, there was always something interesting to distract me: posts from fellow bloggers, Google alerts in my inbox, emails from friends, status updates on Facebook? It was as if the Internet was mocking my desire to capture my advice for my daughter, by tempting me with this or that—and I gave in each and every time.
  6. Shades of Grey Trilogy Five days of my life were lost within the pages of these books—that’s all I’m going to say about that.
  7. Photobooks by MyPublisher Once every six months or so, MyPublisher sends out a coupon code for a photobook with unlimited pages for only $35 dollars. Unfortunately, they only give you about a day and a half to create and submit it—so as soon as the email arrived, I had to get started. In the end, my “2011” photobook was 70 pages in length, and without the coupon it would have cost me $90.00. Who can blame me for thinking about nothing else during that time other than editing, cropping, and sorting images in order to take advantage of such an incredible offer?
  8. DragonVale I hesitate to include this on my list, as I don’t want anyone out there to be tempted to actually play this game—it is a huge time suck. At first, it was something for my son and I to do together—breed some dragons, collect some coins, compete in the colliseum—but then it turned into something more. Suddenly, every time I went to use the iPad for writing, I found myself checking on the dragons. I completely blame the creators of this game for preventing me from writing—wouldn’t you?
  9. Roku I cancelled cable recently in the hopes of saving some money and to attempt to watch less TV. I then purchased a device called “Roku” so that we could still watch TV via the Internet. What I didn’t know was that by subscribing to Netflix and HuluPlus, I was just opening myself up to a world of TV that I hadn’t known was out there—which leads me to #10.
  10. Friday Night Lights This is not a show that I was remotely interested in when it was on TV, as it focuses on three things I can’t exactly relate to—High School, Football, and Texas. For some unknown reason, when I saw the complete series on Netflix, I decided to give it a try. By the end of the first episode, I was completely hooked. Now, a few weeks and 70 episodes later, I am dreading the day—probably in the very near future—that the series will come to an end. Although this was probably the one thing that I blame the most for my not writing, I still think it was so worth it.

Well, there you have it, all the things that have prevented me from writing these last three weeks. And, although I still don’t like it when my kids blame me for things that I don’t deserve—nor would I advise them to cast blame in the future—I do feel better.

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My Daughter, The Parent

When my daughter was four, she begged and pleaded for us to give her a brother. We weren’t planning on having another child, we were even toying with the idea that maybe one child would be enough. My husband had just started his own business, and I was due to be promoted within the next few months making me one of the lead editors on a new program. On top of all that, we were finally seeing the light at the end of the very long tunnel known as “paying for others to watch our child”—just over a year left until kindergarten. Although it was sweet that she wanted a brother [NOTE:  She did not want a sister. She had informed us that we already had one of those and we didn’t need another one], it was not in our plan. So, when we found out a few months later that we were indeed pregnant, we jokingly told her that she had wished him into existence.

Nearly seven years later, I believe she loves her brother as much today as she did when she wished for him as a small child. There are times that I also believe she may even think he owes his existence to her—and should therefore do everything she says. Most of the time, what she tells him to do, in fact, comes from a place of worry and love for him.

Not unlike a parent.

She yells at him if she thinks he’ll get hurt when we are crossing the street. She corrects him when he mistakenly uses the wrong word in a sentence, and she teaches him the correct pronunciation of words he finds difficult to pronounce. She yells at him when he does taekwondo kicks while walking down the street, in part because she is embarrassed, but also for fear that people may think that he’s odd. And at times, she is my echo, repeating every “no” or “stop it” I tell him, chiming in to somehow strengthen my point of view.

The problem with this is that my son does not want two mothers.

Each correction, raised voice, accusation to “stop it” or “don’t do that,” causes him to react with complete and total outrage—screaming, yelling, and threatening her with bodily harm. As their mother, it often feels like I am living in the middle of a war zone and I am meant to be the peacekeeper. In the end, at a loss for how to stop the fighting, I dole out punishments—somewhat arbitrarily—as I am unwilling to listen to the who-did-what-to-who’s.

I had always prided myself for trying to see life through my daughter’s eyes, especially when I struggled to understand her behavior or attitude. Up until last year, I don’t think I ever truly did this with my son. Depending on how their arguments started, I would often tell him to 1) ignore her; 2) not take everything she says so seriously; 3) understand that she loves him and that she’s just trying to help him. He would reject all of my rational justifications for her behavior, and his anger would turn into tears, while stating the unthinkable words “I hate her!” These words—words that were banned in our home—would sting like a slap in the face. No matter how I much I tried to nurture their relationship, I was failing.

Then one day—after a particularly terrible fight between the two of them—I suddenly found myself remembering what it was to be a child with an older sister. Unlike my children who are nearly five years apart, my sister is only 15 months older than me. When I was young, I remember looking to her as if she were the keeper of all the answers to my every question. As I grew, I remember wanting to be like her—and even more than that—I remember wanting her to love me, to like me, to think she was lucky to have me as her sister. But as children, this was not meant to be. Her every word or opinion about me—the music I listened to, the friends I had, the clothes I wore—left me feeling that I somehow wasn’t good enough. There were times I even felt ashamed to be myself in front of her for fear that I would be ridiculed for it. It would take us many years to mend the relationship that was so damaged when we were children. More than anything, I want to prevent my children from hurting one another so deeply that their relationship may be fractured as adults.

Looking back, it’s possible that my sister’s only intention was to help me find my way in the world—just as I know my daughter is trying to do for her brother. More importantly, I now know that this isn’t her job. My advice to my daughter is this: in order for her brother to grow up to be a confident young man, he needs his sister to show him the way through her actions—not her words. No matter her intentions, he needs to feel that she sees him—and loves him—for who he is, mispronunciations and all. My advice to my son is to know—even when his sister inevitably corrects him or gives him unwanted advice—that she loves him more than anyone else in her life. And, he should always remember that it was she who wished for him, and that she has always been thankful that he has come into her life.

A Relationship With My Sister

This past weekend was an unusual one—my brother, two sisters, and I got to spend the evening together—along with our combined children, cousins, and spouses. Like many families, the four of us don’t live near one another: two of us are in New Jersey, one in Virginia, and the other lives in Istanbul. When we are together, we are reminded of our shared youth. We laugh as we recount stories from our childhood, each of us filling in the gaps in our combined memories. Even the things that once pained us about ourselves—our insecurities, the mistakes that we made in our youth—now make us laugh as we recount them with one another.

I realized this weekend that, although each one of us has a unique—and somewhat different—perspective on our childhoods, the truth is that each of us has had a direct impact on making each other the people we are today. It is this impact that I want to understand better, to see how each of my siblings has helped make me the woman I am—the wife, the mother, the friend.

I will begin with my sister—the youngest.

There is a three-year age difference between my sister and I, but growing up, it may as well have been a lifetime. When I was getting ready for school dances, she was playing Kick-the-Can with neighborhood kids. When she was graduating from high school, I was in England studying Shakespeare. When she was at college learning about being in the military, I was falling in love in Istanbul. And when she was in the Army stationed in Germany, I was back home learning to be a mother.

I didn’t really know my sister—not the music she loved, the friends she had, nor the heartbreaks she had experienced in her life. If it weren’t for a chance meeting we had when she was seventeen and I was twenty, this may have always been the case.

Our parents divorced while she was a junior in high school. She was the one who witnessed first-hand the devastation that occurred the day our father walked out. In the days and months that followed, she was the one who stood by my mother. And I believe that, in truth, my sister was the reason our mother got up each morning. I was not there for my sister during this time. I dreaded coming home, so I stayed away as much as possible, even going as far as moving to England the following year—the year she was graduating high school.

Our father should have been the one to take her to Ireland as a graduation present—a tradition in our family—but their relationship had been almost irreparably damaged. Instead, I took a week off from my studies in England to travel with her. It was during this trip that I think I truly saw her for the first time. I remember putting make-up on her and being surprised by how different her features were from mine—I had always thought she looked like me—but her lashes were so long they almost touched her eyebrows, and her lips were smaller and more delicate than my own. It was as if by seeing these differences, I suddenly wanted to learn more about who she truly was, not the person I had always thought her to be. We spent the week getting to know one another, and for the first time, we connected not as sisters, but as friends.

One of my fondest memories occurred just a few years after this trip to Ireland. My sister, after attending a military university and joining the Army, became stationed in Germany. She had only been there a couple of months when my daughter was born. Although we hadn’t lived near one another prior to her leaving, just knowing that she couldn’t come home to meet her niece took away some of the joy of her birth. My sister, being the incredibly loving and selfless person that she is, came up with a plan: she would fly home for Memorial Day weekend to see the baby and surprise my mother. It was an elaborate plan that involved my brother (who picked her up at the airport), my older sister (who provided a place to rest prior to getting on a bus to Atlantic City), along with my mother’s best-friend (who picked her up and drove her to Cape May) and her daughter (who videotaped the arrival). It worked perfectly, and because it was being filmed, I am able to watch—over and over again—my sister meeting her niece for the very first time.

In so many ways, my sister—with her selfless approach to life—has made me want to be a better person. Through her, I have learned how to be strong while still being compassionate. As I think now about the advice I have for my daughter, I can only think of one thing: to see my sister as I do, and to know how fortunate she is to have such an incredible woman in her life.

Get Dressed!

On the news this week, there was a story about a French clothing company that had created lingerie for children as young as four years old. If the concept weren’t disturbing enough, the magazine advertisements had young girls being depicted in poses that made them look like young women—not children. Being the parent of a daughter, the sexualization of young girls is something that has always disturbed me, and has therefore been something I have tried to prevent. This has included not putting her in bikinis—even as a toddler—or letting her wear super short shorts at the age of eleven. I know that most parents find themselves in some battle at one time or another with their children over their appearance—this has been mine.

Dressing my daughter stopped being easy when she learned how to talk. Before that time, I could put her in any clothes I chose—delicate dresses, bright solid tops, hats of all colors and styles. When she turned two, this all changed. Each morning she would find a way to assert her own opinion about what she wanted to wear. More often than not, this would lead to me straddling her on the floor, trying to pull her shirt on over her head, as she did everything she could to fight against me. When I would leave the room—completely disheveled—to go finish getting myself ready for work, I would come back to find her sitting once again in her diaper. The yelling that would ensue would turn our house into a war zone, usually with my husband in the middle yelling at both of us to stop our fighting.

When I was finally at my wit’s end, I had a sudden moment of clarity. I finally understood that my daughter wanted to be the one in control—it wasn’t about the purple plaid shirt I chose, or the corduroy pants I wanted her to put on—it was about the fact that I was the one telling her what to wear. Of course, I couldn’t trust a two year-old to pick out her own clothes, so I would pick out two outfits for her to choose from—which she would happily do. From that moment on, I was amazed to see the difference in our morning routine—life was peaceful once again.

Each of the subsequent years presented new challenges with my daughter and clothes. As much as I wished that I could just buy her something and she might actually wear it, this was never the case. I soon found that she would reject any article of clothing that I purchased without her consent. This progressed to not even being able to point out clothes while shopping with her. In the end, I had to establish some basic guidelines:

  • It must be on sale, or at least reasonably priced.
  • It can’t be too short.
  • It should be age-appropriate.
  • I have final say to spend the money, or not.

There have been moments while shopping with her that she has asked to buy shorts that are just a little too short, or to get something else that I just didn’t feel comfortable with. She knows how I feel, and usually asks with a slight hesitation in her voice. The expression on my face is enough for her to decide to move on to something else.

As much as I wish it were still possible to control every aspect of my daughter’s appearance—as I could when she was a baby—I have finally accepted that this will never again happen. I believe that in order to nurture her sense of independence and self-confidence, I had to give up this right to make her look a certain way—the way that I chose. The times I have found myself making comments about her appearance—when she looks like she hasn’t bothered to brush her hair, or she has chosen to wear sweatpants and a t-shirt out to dinner—I unintentially end up hurting her feelings, weakening our relationship, and in the end counteracting all of the other things I do to build her up. Something so simple as asking, “Are you really going to wear that?” could ultimately undo all of my efforts to make her feel good about herself. She is the one who has to find a way to navigate her world, and she doesn’t need me in her head causing her to have doubts about the way she looks.

It is a difficult balancing act between allowing my daughter to express her individuality, and worrying about how others may perceive her. Ultimately, I know that the confidence that she exudes will overshadow some of her slightly more eccentric choices. Just this week, we were at a Colonial village where my daughter saw a bonnet that she just had to have. It was only $6.00, and was made by local artisans, so I couldn’t see why I shouldn’t get it for her. I did, however, have a momentary vision of her wearing it to school or walking around town, and I was no longer certain of if it being a wise choice. In the end, I did know that even if she did wear it out, she would do it with such a joyful self-confidence that only she could pull off.

My advice for my daughter is to forgive me when I make a comment about how she looks that she finds critical—I am her mom, and I won’t always be able to control myself. My advice to myself is to remember that changing one’s appearance is a form of self-expression. It is also one of the few areas that a teenager may actually feel a level of control. As each new year passes, a new phase will begin and end—I just need to remember to look past the surface to see and appreciate the wonderful young women standing before me.

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I’m Not Your Friend

I have told my daughter on more than one occasion that I am not her friend. She doesn’t need to think that I’m cool. We don’t have to like the same movies, music, or celebrities. I am not afraid to risk embarrassing her by singing along to Wham! in public. I don’t need her to agree with how I wear my hair, even if I do love it when she gives me a compliment.

The problem is, I spend more time with her than I do anyone else. When we go on road trips, we sing along to the music on the radio—I can’t help that I know the lyrics to every pop song we hear, the same ones are played constantly. She’s the one who gets me sucked into bad reality television, adding it to our list of things we must watch together. I know about all of the kids in her grade, both the ones that are her friends and those that are not. She constantly asks me questions about my life—from details about my friends growing up to why I decided to travel to Turkey—anything she finds herself suddenly wondering about. I don’t answer all of them, some I do with the abridged version, others I give so many details that I catch her zoning out midway through my answer.

On the surface, it may look like my daughter and I are friends. However, we are not. I am her mother. My job is to love her, to help guide her, to teach her, and to give her the tools to navigate her life. I am not obligated to tell her everything that goes on in my life, nor would I want to burden her with the worries that sometimes keep me up at night.

I know that a time will come when she’ll no longer want to hear my opinion on anything, she will be mortified at the thought of singing along with me in the car, and she will prefer to watch television alone in her room rather than with me.

As much as this rejection will hurt me, I will never be hurt so badly that I give up on her.

I will continue to share my opinions with her. I will be interested in all of the things she cares about—the subjects she is interested in, the music she listens to, the movies she loves, the friends that have stood by her and those that have not. I will share with her my hopes for her future, and I will never judge her if she chooses a path that is different than the one I envisioned her walking. I will remind her of the strong, independent person she is when she begins to doubt her own abilities. I will give her strength when she needs it.

I will talk to her.

I will be her mother.

When the teen years pass, I hope to find that we have come out on the other side stronger for having gone through them. For now, however, I will enjoy the time I have with her while she is still eleven.

I wish my advice to my daughter could be to always ask me questions, to never keep me in the dark about her worries and fears—to stay exactly how she is now. Of course, I know that can never be. My advice, instead, is for her to once-in-a-while look back on these words I used to describe my job as her mother, and to know that I will always be her biggest supporter—and I look forward to the day that she does become my friend.

Looking for “Home” (Part 2)

In my quest to find the meaning of the word “home,” I’ve been thinking about the home in which I spent my teen years. There were many good times spent in that house, and yet every time I see it, I find myself thinking “What if . . .” This house—with it’s big backyard, it’s bedrooms for each of us, it’s kitchen large enough for a family of six—still holds the pain of the dissolution of our family.

We moved to this house when I was eleven—I was so excited for the new adventure that awaited us there. I was no longer going to have to share a room with my brother—or with anyone for that matter. Both the walls and the carpet were a beautiful light blue, and my parents even let me pick out my own light fixture. For the next 10 years this would be my room—a place to be by myself, to talk on the phone, to listen to music, to do homework, to get ready for dances, to hang out with friends—it was mine, and the thought that some day it would no longer be, never entered my mind.

I live just a few miles away from the town I grew up in, and as much as I love to drive past my first childhood home, I don’t often go out of my way to see this one. There are moments, however, when I find myself getting nearer, and I feel an overwhelming urge to just look at the house once more. I never stop the car, I just slow down long enough to really look at it, at the windows of the rooms that still hold the memories of my family. The number of good memories far outweigh the bad, and yet all I can think of when I see this house are the painful ones—the ones that came at the end.

The “What ifs” that flood my mind are not “What if my parents hadn’t gotten divorced?” because that would be like wondering “What if a different man were my father?” These are two impossible questions that are futile in their nature and not worth pondering. Instead, the “What ifs” are more for my mother. I think of all the questions she must ask herself about the life she lived for more than twenty-five years, a life that ended when her husband walked out one fall day. This home is the one she had to give up, the one she had to leave behind.

There was a moment during the divorce that my mother could have decided to stay in this house—she was given a choice: to stay in the home of our childhood or to move to one a few hours away, free from the reminders of her former life. In the end, it wasn’t really a choice at all. My mother recently reminded me of a conversation we had prior to deciding where to live. She had asked me my opinion on what she should do, and my words to her were  “Home is wherever you are.”

When I ask myself the meaning of “home,” I realize now that it has a meaning that hadn’t occurred to me before. I knew that seeing a former home could bring you back to a time in your life that you otherwise wouldn’t think of—and with that can come the happiness or nostalgia for your former self. However, I now know that a house can also hold the ghosts of your past—ghosts that are sometimes better left forgotten—and by leaving these memories where you found them, you are able to move on with your life.

Sixteen years after packing up each of these rooms for the last time, our lives are settled and going well. We—my mother, siblings, and I—no longer feel the pain we did during that time. In fact, in many ways, that part of our lives has been forgotten, or at least replaced by the new memories that can be found in the homes we have since created. My advice for my daughter, as she continues to wonder what it would be like to move to a new home, is to know that life is filled with both painful and wonderful experiences—and sometimes it is possible—and necessary—to move to a new place in order to leave the painful ones behind.