Responsibility & Love. What’s a mother to do?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYesterday, I got into a row with my older daughter, the 11- almost 12-year old.  It left me feeling torn between teaching a child to take responsibility and helping her be happy and successful. I realized that I might not be doing a good job of taking care of her heart.

~~~~~~~~~~~

She had a school band concert last night, for which she must wear the requisite performance clothing. That is, black and white. My daughter does not like to wear anything remotely “dressy”, and so, over the years we’ve worked out a quirky combination of “performance clothes” that she can live with — black culottes, white flowy blouse that’s too big, white camisole (stretchy), and then black knee-high socks and black shoes.

Since this is the second band concert of the year, I didn’t worry about the wardrobe, because we’d worked all that out for the first concert. And since she never wears any of those clothes at any other time, I didn’t even have it in my mind that there would be a problem.

Yesterday, I was tired. I took a 20-minute nap sitting up in a chair after the kids came home from school. I did this, knowing that when I woke up I’d have to whip up a quick dinner for my saxophone player, make myself presentable, and then dash off with younger daughter to swimming lessons.  During this nap and before, she was busy playing on her ipod.

About 20  minutes before departure  time, Olivia remembers she has to dress for the concert.

Total panic ensues.  Her first instinct is to ask me where her clothes are.

But I am fixing dinner now, and I have seen the state of affairs in her closet, which means, the burden should be on her to find them.  Which I suggest as calmly as possible.  This sets off the atti-tude.  She marches upstairs and returns 2 minutes later declaring they are “not there. I don’t know where any of it is”.  I ask what she is looking for.  She replies “I don’t even know what I wore last time!” And so we go a round on trying to remember what that was.  I suggest she look again, that I’m pretty sure I’ve seen the blouse in the closet.  She returns. No, not there.  “you must have put it in your closet”.  Ahh, the ole “it’s not my problem” tone.

At this point, I’m getting a little peeved that she is not really trying.

This is not new. I suspect it is classic 11-year old stuff. I hope it is. It is definitely classic for my eldest.   I have this mantra I repeat to her whenever she gets into the “I can’t find it” panic. Which is surprisingly often.  The mantra is,

“You have to believe, first”

because then you have a reason to keep looking.  It has rung true every single time.  Other examples: looking in the refrigerator for the ____; looking in the hockey bag for the missing ____; looking in the laundry basket for the favorite pair of pants I know I just washed; etc.  If you believe what you are looking for, then you will keep looking and find it.

So, I peddled out “you know what I’m going to say…”you have to believe it is there”.  But we’re tight on time. So, I snippily add, “I will go look for it, but if I find it, there will be a consequence…I will take something away!”

The ipod, and she knows it.

I march upstairs and find without much effort, buried in her pants drawer, the black culottes. Next up was the blouse. It took a bit more work, but it was hanging in her closet. There were only FOUR other items hanging in the closet, but the blouse was hung on a hangar with another shirt she never wears.  I’m 2-2! Feeling rather victorious!

Next, she says, through a red blotchy face, “What about socks? I don’t know where any socks are!”

Oh, my.  That one did me in.  The back story here, is that she never puts her socks away. I find them all over the house. Next to the couch, under the bathroom cabinet, below the breakfast bar, in the basement, scattered about the floor. The pairs are often separated.  I have a large sock ‘orphanage’ where I keep socks missing their mates until they come through the laundry. 90% of the socks in there belong to my oldest.

At this point, I completely lose it. I tell her, “I had things-to-do-before-leaving-myself-that-I-am-not-getting-done-because-you-have-waited-until-the-last-minute-and-if-you-gave-a-rat’s-ass-about-your-socks-you-would-do-a-better-job-putting-them-in-the-laundry-basket-every-day-I-just-washed-a-black-pair-of-yours-had-you-put-your-clean-clothes-away-properly-you-could-find-them-right-now”  I did say “rat’s ass”, darn-it-all.

I pull out a pair of mine for her.

And for the final say, I add “and what about your hair? Now we don’t have time to fix your braids!”

She goes downstairs, sheepishly, and comes back to tell me that she turned off the burner on the quesadillas for me, and that they’re not too-too-burned.

I mutter a “thank you”.

And then I left to take my younger daughter to swimming lessons.

I was ticked.

I was ticked that she waited until the last minute.

But I was also ticked at myself for forgetting to anticipate this likely scenario.

I do hate that she leaves her socks all over the house. It drives me crazy that her clothes are all over her bedroom, clean and dirty alike. I try not to micromanage that stuff, but when push comes to shove, it really gets under my skin.

The look on her face, after the crisis had been averted, was one of shame and disappointment. I believe she felt like she had disappointed her mother. Again.

I know that look. I wore it often growing up.  I fought the feeling of disappointing my mother throughout my teens and young-adulthood.  I could never-ever do enough to please my mother.  I heard my mother’s disapproving voice in my head long after living on my own in my 20’s.

I so don’t want to do that to my daughter.

She is my eldest.  I have high standards. I want her to try hard. To do her best. To be herself. To be happy. To be polite. To be comfortable to be herself. To make mistakes and be able to learn from them.  To be free to laugh. To be able to laugh at herself.  I want this for both daughters, to be clear, but I think it’s hardest on the oldest.

~~~~~

Scenes like this one last night tell me I might be doing something wrong. Where is that line between teaching a child to take responsibility and giving them that responsibility? She seemed too young to not help out.  Truth is, I wished I had just gotten everything ready for her because she would really have appreciated it.  Should I have set out her clothes? Would I have done that if her room wasn’t such a mess? I do not like going in her room because it makes me unhappy. I wish she were neater. Or do I wish I required her to be neater?

More than anything, I want her to feel loved.  Not pushed.

But I want her to take responsibility.

Must they be mutually exclusive?

The Happiness of Having Enough

toothpaste

In “The Happiness Project” which I read a few weeks ago, one of the concepts that most resonated with me was the concept of “underbuying”.  That is, not buying enough of something at one time. I am not a minimalist, but I have always under bought.  I have begun to see the many ways this makes my life harder and more frustrating and ultimately feeds my unhappiness and discontent.

I can remember being a young adult — probably 23 — and finding a pair of shoes I really liked and thought were comfortable (I have struggled with finding the right shoes pretty much my whole life — but that’s another entry) and my mother was around and she remarked, “why don’t you buy several pairs of them if you like them so much”.  That concept was foreign to me. It still is.  Why would I have EXTRA of something?

I never do.  I usually have just run out of something. That is my m.o.

As a newly married woman, I remember my husband noticing that I was always needing to run to the bank machine and he would go once a week.  I would get $20.00 from the bank machine; He would get $200.  It honestly NEVER crossed my mind before then to get even $50 at once, let alone $100.  Now, as a wife, mother and two children and the person almost exclusively responsible for the purchase of everything in the house, I still only get $100 from the bank machine, and that is usually every two weeks or so.  My husband kindly asks me in between, “how much money can I give you today”.  I don’t want him to give me money; its all the same money anyway.  Hard as I try, I still rarely get alot of cash from the bank machine.  When I do have it, I don’t spend more, but I do feel better reaching into my wallet and not stressing that I might have to use my credit card for the $3 in cookies I needed for the hockey carpool.  And no, I don’t use a debit card. I’m old fashioned in that way.  Or masochistic.  Definitely masochistic.

So, I under-bank.

I also underbuy at the grocery store.  I make a menu plan and a grocery list to support it every Monday. I go to the grocery store and buy what I need for M-F usually; the weekends are often so mixed up I don’t bother. Plus, I loathe this task, and I secretly hope my husband will rescue me from the daily dinner grind on Sat-Sun; he usually does, but not without some price to be paid for his “creativity” in the kitchen.  I’ve actually been pretty proud of my organized method.  I buy what I need for the week and that’s it. I don’t spend more money than necessary. Pretty practical stuff, eh?

But that leaves me little wiggle room for change and unexpected events.  What about the fact that my children are very active and sometimes very hungry?  My 9-year old swimmer likes to eat a snack after school, then a little mini dinner before swimming and a mini-dinner after school.  My 11-year old hockey player, is ravenous after practice.  What if the weather is just right and we all head out for an afteroon of skiing? My organized “meal plan” doesn’t well account for this.  My “snack” supplies are gone before Thursday and the options up to then are paltry.

Recently, on a crazy whim, I purchased a box of 72 bagel-bites from Costco.  Yes, the underbuyer shops at Costco. Kind of confounding, no?  I remember hesitating about buying 72 bagel bites at one time. “I don’t buy them often…what if the kids don’t really like them…they’ll take up alot of freezer space…maybe for a long time”…but I did it.  They were gone in a week!  My kids loved having them, and they loved being able to say to their visiting friends, “hey, we have bagel bites, do you want them?!”  I liked having something other than the proceeds of the typical cupboard scrounge to offer.  I felt happy to be able to be generous.

I underbuy toiletries.  How many times am I squeezing out the last of the toothpaste desperately before bedtime.  Or scrounging the bathroom cabinets for the dentist provided trial size that I don’t really like but I saved for just this occasion?  Or how many times have my children come to me, “we’re out of conditioner, mom” and I show them how to eek out the last bit by adding water to it and hoping that the watered down goo will spread over their head?  How often do I end up skipping conditioner myself because I’m out and I’ve been out.  I think I learned this kind of super-economy from my mother.  She taught me the water-it-down trick. I use it often for dish soap and kitchen cleaners, too.

For the record, I’m a big believer in eeking out the last bit of a product from its container. It feels different to do that because you’re being thrifty as opposed to eeking out the last bit desperately because you don’t have any more of it.

Actually, two trips ago to Costco, I purchased a large shampoo & conditioner that I thought my kids and I could both like.  We did.  And then every time they showered, they trucked into my bathroom to “borrow” the shampoo & conditioner and every time I showered I trucked on in to their bathroom to “borrow it back”.  I did this for three weeks.  And then, while reading The Happiness Project, I thought, “Aha! I could buy another bottle each of Shampoo & Conditioner and then they could have their own set and I could have mine.  Amazing!  A simple purchase of $12 solved an annoying nightly/morning ritual for three people.

I do live in a retail-challenged area. There is no “Target” in the entire state of Vermont.  I refuse to shop at Wal-Mart.  I do shop  Costco and the grocery store, and then sometimes Bed Bath & Beyond and CVS, but these are in four different towns.  It’s a pain in the ass to hit them all in one day.  One would think that this would be motivation enough to buy an abundant supply when I do go.   There’s that masochism again.

I am also an Amazon Prime shopper — you know, I paid $79 for free shipping on almost everything I want to buy. I shop this site, and others, put things in my shopping cart, and then abandon it.  Because…well, lots of reasons, usually that I don’t want to buy something I don’t need.  Or buy something I might have to ship back at my own expense if it doesn’t work out.  I offer this up as further evidence that I don’t like shopping, even online.

I’m not a shopper. I am an underbuyer.  How nice it would be to have enough of things in the house.  Enough food for the ability to whip up cookies or scones for the school PTO event, the new neighbors who moved in, for the children and their friends after school, for those apres-ski/ride Sundays when everyone is too tired to think about dinner, let alone buy it.   How nice would it be to have plenty of shampoo and conditioner and razors and toothpaste. It’s not like we’re never going to need any of those things?!

So, as with most things, awareness is step one.  I need to work on decluttering the freezer — to make room for more food, and decluttering the linen closet to make room for more toiletries.  I have access to Costco and the cash flow to buy extras of things we use.  It’s not natural, but now I have a new reason to fight the underbuying tendancy:

the happiness of having enough of what we need, and to be generous and to feel like I have fulfilled my family’s needs!

 

 

The Unexpected Conversations

I’ve been obsessed for a week solid and think blogging might help.

I’ve written about my oldest daughter before.  She really is a gem (ok, they both are, but this one deals with her.).  In the past 10 days, she and I have learned that her best (new) friend has anorexia.  It’s had me pretty shaken since I learned of it.  Yes, I’m immediately thankful it’s not my daughter.   I am atwitter because it’s so close.  And because they are so young. And because this young lady is the first real friend my Olivia connected to who is a girl. She has lots of friends. Her longest, oldest friends are boys.  This young lady is the first girl she could identify with — she is athletic, she hates dresses, her parents have pretty tight rules, she’s book-smart.

Over the past few weeks her mother had mentioned to me that their daughter seemed to be obsessed with food. Wondered if Olivia was too.  She and her husband worried about her losing muscle mass.  At the time, I was still thinking she was a bit health-over-conscious.

Anyway, it all came to a head on the weekend of Olivia’s 11th birthday. Yes, these girls are E.L.E.V.E.N years old.  Her friend came over for Olivia’s birthday and watched me cook dinner. She was interested. Admired my carrots. I offered her an apple for a snack. She asked if my refried beans were the no-fat kind her parents buy. I lied and said “yes”.  She called her mom before dinner because she had a headache and wanted to go home. Unsuccessfully. I knew it was because the prospect of eating dinner with her classmates was too much on top of a long day at school where she had to skip the chocolate covered strawberries Olivia brought in to share with her class for her birthday, and lunch, where she routinely skipped most of her home-packed lunch.

While Olivia and two other classmates tore through three made-to-order tacos each, Olivia’s startlingly skinny friend ate a dollop of refried beans and some lettuce. No milk. No brownie. Then she talked about how much she likes english muffins — the whole wheat kind. She tried to engage her friends on the subject of beans and brown rice as the perfect protein. The others acknowledged her, but over a “please pass the cheese” and a reach.

The friend would not play soccer as she usually does. She stood in the middle of the back yard while the others played and laughed and kicked.  And this is HER sport.

The next day, while watching sports on television with Olivia, the commentator spoke of how the figure skater was competing again after two years off battling Anorexia. Then Olivia said “That’s what ___ has”.

I tried not to panic.

I played it cool.

I asked a few questions, but not too many.

But now we have a regular dialog on the subject. Fortunately, the friend is getting counseling with her family.  Unfortunately, she does not seem to be on the upswing yet, and yesterday missed a soccer game because of the family’s rule that she must meet the doctor’s weight target or no soccer. So yesterday was the first – of what I suspect will be many – missed soccers.

But now I am hypervigilant.

And Olivia is getting frustrated.

She said she wishes she could talk to her friend’s brain. To tell her to eat.

I know my girl. She is strong. She is healthy. She is courageous.  She will want to help “fix” her friend and she will get frustrated when the efforts fail.

But she is also intensely loyal, and so I think she will want to stick by her friend and do what she can.

Meanwhile, I have tried to find a fiction book that involves a friendship between girls when one of them gets an eating disorder.  But I can’t find one that doesn’t deal with the grisly details of bulimia, or imply something tragic that has happened at home — death of a parent, incest, or involves older teen topics of sexuality, attracting boys, etc.

Remember, my daughter is 11. She is in the fifth grade. She is a sports girl.  Boys are still her friends. I don’t want to frighten her with topics that are not age appropriate.

And so, perhaps for the best, we just talk. We talk about anorexia. We talk about being friends. About not being able to fix her friend. About how this can take a long time to change.  About staying healthy herself. About showing her you can drink milk, eat a peanut butter sandwich, a kiwi and a brownie and still be a great, healthy, happy kid.

As the subject seems to come up daily now, we’re working up to “why” this happens.

I realize as I have this precious time with my newly 11-year old, how special my kid is.  I am trying to protect her from the pain of watching a friend withdraw, as she might, and to help my daughter to remain the strong, wise, courageous and loyal friend that she is. So that she might emerge from this unexpected education even stronger.

Truthfully, I am scared. Scared for my daughter — for having to face these trials so young in life. Scared for her friend. Scared for my friends, her parents.  Trying not to show it, I do want to hug Olivia just a little bit longer and a little bit tighter. To protect her just a little bit better.

The Best Day of Summer

Yesterday was the best day of summer vacation. I realize it’s only day four, but I think it might be as good as it’s gonna get.  For me as a parent, that is.

There was no swimming. No picnic. No sunshine. No flip-flops involved. I shoe-shopped with my children, I took them out to lunch, we grocery-shopped. I divided our grocery list into three categories (dairy, produce, other) and we each took a basket and met back at check-out lane two to see how we fared; it was fun and a brilliant parenting moment!

And then, after we got home, I suggested they help me with my photo project from the basement.  And seriously, they were SO into it. I took photos from the past twenty years in six bins and put them on the dining room table with about six empty albums and basically let them do their own thing.  They each took a photo album and put pictures of themselves in it; some w/Mom or Dad or Grandpa or Grandmother. Katie even suggested that when she’s older she might like to see herself as a “bink”.  The hours went by. They were busy. They were helping me and not realizing it. No obnoxious meddling in each others space.

By the end of the evening, they had amassed the evidence which unequivocally points to them being loved by their parents.  They felt all warm and fuzzy.

Brilliant x 2.

It can, and will, all go to shit from here. But yesterday was a great day.

Simple Pleasures

As I hoped, the birthday seemed to happen happily.  I am forever grateful for a child who appreciates the simple things in life.

Olivia’s birthday celebration started at breakfast Thursday morning. She had expressed a desire to open one gift in the morning, rather than having to wait A-L-L day and until AFTER Dad came home and until AFTER dinner.  So, yes, this made sense. I selected the gift to start with.

She was OVER-THE-MOON with her gift. Continue reading

Sugar = Energy!?

 

breakfast of champions

breakfast of champions

 

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the fourth grade hike as chaperone. There were many of us and I was assigned three girls: my daughter, a slow one, and a speedy one.

The field trip was part history walk part hike up Ricker Mountain near Waterbury. It is a fabulous “wike” and I hope to return with my own family or in snowshoes this winter. It wasn’t very hard. Three hours was PLENTY of time.

The kids arrived by bus and the parents by cars. After meeting up with my trio of charges, the slow one quickly sidled up to me while the other two charged ahead. She had lots to talk about. She asked to hold my hand to help her up the train. She was slow. She lacked confidence.

But she was sweet. Not a behavior problem (thank goodness!). Twenty minutes into the hike she asked if she could have snack yet. I suggested we catch up with the other two and eat after that. I delayed the inevitable, as it was still only about 9:30. I asked if she had breakfast that morning. She cheerfully replied, “oh yes! I had a poptart. Actually I had two, because I knew I’d need energy”. Later on the walk, she shared that she ate a lollipop on the bus, “because sugar gives me energy”.

Finally, I relented on snack. The girls sat down. My daughter had an apple. The faster one ate some apple slices, and the slow one? She had a sticky bun (whole wheat, as provided by the school district food service).

No sooner had she finished and we resumed walking did my slow one remark, “I am more tired than before snack!” No kidding. The poor thing was subsisting on sugar, some added vitamins & enriched flours.

I felt sorry for her. I figured her parent/guardian might not have gotten that message quite right about sugar providing energy; he/she might be working multiple jobs and can’t get around to preparing food.

I thought about how her diet was such a disservice to her — not just on this hike, but likely on the NECAP statewide assessments administered earlier in the same week. I thought about how all the teaching of healthy food choices in health classes cannot overcome the influence of available choices presented to her from home; that the modeling of adults in her life have probably left her thinking that a sticky bun and two pop-tarts are appropriate fuel for a day’s hike.

This is the kind of thing that makes me want to get a nutrition/education degree to help children & families.

The Agenda: My Big Year

This was to be My Big Year. The year both children are finally in school all day every day. The year I am finally free to be me.  Or so I imagined a year ago.

As last summer drew to a close, I spoke proudly that I would not over-commit, I would take time for me, that I would keep my calendar open for a few months to take stock in myself and see what direction emerged from my self-imposed quiet period.  And I was pretty sure I’d find a job, because I would no doubt have figured out where I was going from here.

As it turned out, my existing volunteer commitments became bigger.  My co-coordinator took a job in September and I was left as the solo coordinator for the school’s parent-led nature education program.  I took on two classes to lead as well as the program.  I wrote a grant application. Not because I had to, but because I wanted to. The school needed it.  I felt I could do it.  Sigh.

The neighbhorhood leadership position I have I wanted to resign from but couldn’t leave MY co-president in the lurch, so I hung on for another year. A year that has proven to be full of challenges for my skills and patience.

I took on the family budget. I applied the discipline we needed. I organized our investments. More work to do there, but I have a plan. That’s huge.

There are just five and one-half days of school left.  Yes, I am counting the days. It is a double edged sword.  It is when I must close out my own agenda and start up the summer agenda.  They are very different. They are mutually exclusive.

As it turns out, this has been My Big Year.  No, I didn’t jump into my next job. I didn’t lose 10 pounds. I didn’t quit things that bum me out.  But I DID figure out a lot more about what makes me tick.

I’ve worked through many emotional issues about work, friendship, and self-worth. THOSE are the biggies.  I believe I’ve been able to remove many barriers to my own happiness and much of it has just fallen away in the past months.

I’m no longer driven to find a new job. I realize I don’t need a job to make me whole.  I have that with my family right now.  If I want to work for money, cool, but I’m leaving the baggage behind!  And of course, now that I don’t see work as critical for my self-worth, I am free to enjoy my family and myself.

School’s out in 5.5 days.  I’m not panicked.  I’m looking forward to enjoying a summer of exploring with and being with my kids.  No agenda.