Don’t be so pushy, he’s just shy

Here he is on top of Half Dome in Yosemite

Really?

I have a kid who was born with a natural inclination to hide.  I first noticed this trait when he was eight months old. A friend entered our apartment and Michael planted his baby face in the rug. When I peeled him off the carpet he clamped his hands firmly over his eyes and let out a howl.   As he grew, my little guy struggled to enter groups, either clinging to me or hanging in the back. For a while, he kept a hat on his head, low over his eyes so he didn’t have to look at anyone.  The opposite was true at home.  With us, he was delightful and out-going. Always imaginative and intelligent, he led his siblings in their games.  When we were away from the safety of our home, he seemed miserable.  He refused to do simple tasks that other children were doing willingly.  When I expressed concern, well-meaning parents said, “Oh, he’s just shy” and “Don’t worry, he’ll grow out of it.”  I remained unconvinced.   To me, Michael seemed to be a kid trapped inside himself by his fear of new people and situations.

One day at a park, I noticed him hanging back and watching the other kids going down a medium-sized slide.  His little brother was gleefully climbing up the ladder and sliding down.  I could tell he wanted to go down the slide, because he kept putting one foot on the ladder and then backing away. I don’t know what possessed me, but I went over and said “Come on Son, were going down”  I dragged him screaming and clawing up the five foot ladder, plopped him at the top and gave him a little push. As the other mothers glared, I waited at the top to see what he would do.  At the bottom of the slide, he leaped up, turned around, and yelled “That was FUN!” His face beamed as he dashed around and bounded up the ladder.  That moment was my epiphany – this kid needed a push.

Pushy parents have gotten some bad press lately and rightfully so.  We should never live out desires for stardom, athletic prowess or beauty through our children. With five kids who are either two or three sport athletes and involved in a multitude of artistic pursuits, I’ve attended A LOT of youth sporting  and performance events.  Sadly, I’ve seen some really out-of-control parents bringing shame on their families.   I have personally experienced a parent celebrating over my son’s injury, because his son stood a better chance of getting some playing time.  We’ve all seen Toddlers and Tiaras – where pathetic, and I believe abusive parents are displayed to the world. (I hope those people are not making any money for being on that show, but they probably are)  But when you see that your child is so afraid and/or stubborn that he or she refuses to learn a skill or participate in a worthwhile activity,  your child’s behavior has moved from a temperament issue to a behavioral issue.  To develop a positive character trait in our son, we decided to gently and firmly help him overcome his fears and behave correctly in situations where he is afraid.  Pushing a kid to be the BEST HE CAN BE – not necessarily THE BEST, is an act of love.  With that in mind, I guess you can call me pushy.

Here's my sweety kicking some butt in boxing for CAL

We decided not to accept that our son was a fearful person with a natural lack of social skills. We refused to give him the label of “shy”.  As Michael grew, we insisted that he look people in the eye and give appropriate responses.  In the car, before we entered any social situation, I coached him on different scenarios, saying things like  “If Mr. Smith says ‘Hi’ to you, what are you going to say?” It was embarrassing at times, but we kept at it. There were times when other parents talked behind our backs and even openly scolded us.  That was hard.  But my job was to raise our son, not to be popular with the Mommy and Me playgroup, so we persisted.   We signed him up for a lot of different activities and required him to fully participate. At one point, I even paid him $50 to be in the choir. Bribery has it place, people!

Here he is timidly jumping onto an ice flow

You may be wondering if all that pushing and prodding damaged my son’s tender soul. It took a while, but by the time he was 13, he started to shine.  In eighth grade, he acted in a community theater production and received fan mail.  In high school, he joined many clubs and sports teams. He mastered public speaking and for four years, spoke to elementary school groups about the danger of drug and alcohol abuse. He performed in musicals, MC’d events and was the lead singer in a rock band.  As a Senior, he was elected student body president and selected as homecoming royalty. A four year choir member, he sang the national anthem with a quartet and was elected choir president.  He was a National Honor Society officer, captain of the cross country team and the recipient of numerous scholarships for his community involvement and leadership. Though he was popular and had a close group of friends, each day at lunch, he found a student eating alone and sat with them.  He was voted by his senior class to be “Everyone’s Friend”.  He delivered the commencement address at his senior graduation and now attends one of the top schools in the nation, the University of California, Berkeley.

He overcame his fear of heights

Children come with all sorts of temperaments, strengths and weaknesses.  Our job, as parents, is to do what it takes for our individual children so that they will grow to be well-rounded, hard working, healthy adults. With adulthood as the goal, some kids, like our Michael, need a little prodding for them to share themselves with the world.  Some kids need more boundaries so that they will share less of themselves with the world. (I have one of those, too – more on him later) My son, Michael, is exceptional by anyone’s standard but I am convinced that if we had let him be “shy” he wouldn’t be the person he is today.

I KNOW it’s Cherry Blossom Fesitval

Cherry Blossoms & Washington Monument

Cherry Blossoms & Washington Monument

Our Nation’s Capitol  – The Finale

At a gas station outside of Gettysburg, PA, I got out my map to estimate the drive time to Stafford, VA where Grandpa had booked us a hotel.  He got a new GPS for Christmas and had used it to find a town close to Washington DC, where we could catch the Metrorail subway system into the city.  I know that everyone has a GPS now days and people love them; more accurate; so convenient; blah blah blah. I am well aware that this statement makes me a dinosaur and older than my father, but I like old-fashioned, paper maps.  I like to pull over to the side of the road and unfold them across the dashboard, absorbing the grand scope of the U.S.A.  I like to see all the cities along my route at once and not just a small screen showing the next ten miles down the highway.   By using the space between the knuckles on my index finger, I like estimating my drive times.   I even know how to fold up the maps after I use them.  So, according to my knuckle test, there was no way on God’s green earth we were going to mobilize 9 people every morning in time to drive from Stafford, VA to the nearest Metro station, where we would then ride a train into Washington DC to arrive in time to take all the 9:00am tours that I had set up SIX MONTHS IN ADVANCE!! (notice the growing hysteria?).

Hyperventilating, I dug out my trusty AAA  guidebook and started systematically calling every hotel in the Washington DC area.  I got the same response “Sorry Ma’am, It’s Cherry Blossom Festival, we’re booked.” In desperation, I called the front desk at the Stafford, VA Comfort Inn & Suites to see if it was just my imagination that they were as far as I thought they were from Washington DC.   I found out that not only were they that far, but with commute traffic, it was more like 2 hours to a Metro station that would eventually take us into the city.  And that was when I lost it – I blubbered out my whole story to this guy; the drive; the grandparents; the kids; Gettysburg – poor guy, I think he was scared.

He said, ” Ma’am, can I put you on hold?”

“Sure, why not?” I responded.

My head pressed to the steering wheel, I listened to the numbing elevator music as the usual pandemonium clamored around me – kids sliding back and forth over the seats in the car; kids dodging around in the parking lot throwing things at each other; kids schmoozing Nana for candy money, etc.  Grandpa felt bad and was trying to find a new town on his GPS.

Then, my therapist/front desk attendant got back on the line to say some of the most beautiful words I have ever heard. I still consider this a minor miracle. It would be perfectly appropriate to add heavenly choir music as a backdrop to:

“Ma’am, I’ve got something for you.  There is a new Country Inn close to Washington DC and within walking distance of a Metro station.  They just opened up yesterday and are completely empty – do you want me to transfer you to their front desk?”

So, our vacation was saved by God and a guy named Nick. We got three rooms in a brand new hotel, with easy access to the Metrorail system in Washington DC, during the National Cherry Blossom Festival! Our week was amazing.  We did it all; the museums, the tours; the monuments.  Grandpa proved to be a wizard at getting us on and off the Metro trains and we wrapped up the week with a drive to Charlottesville, VA to tour Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello.

After lunch, we kissed Nana, Grandpa and cousin Megan goodbye and I again donned my long-haul trucker hat to begin what became a 25 hour trip home to Minnesota. Which brings us full circle to “Mom’s gonna kill you.”  We all agreed that it would be great to make it home in time to celebrate Easter dinner with Dad. Unfortunately, because of weather, mountain roads and traffic, it took us 16 hours to make our goal of Louisville, KY on Saturday night.  I don’t recommend driving 16 hours in one day, in fact, it’s not even legal for truckers.  After dozing briefly at a hotel, we got up @ 4:00am, shared a classy sunrise Easter breakfast at a roadside Waffle House, and hit the highway.

Somewhere in Wisconsin, about 4 hours from home, I desperately needed a nap.  The road was long and straight and I figured my spectacle-less son could handle an hour behind the wheel so I could get some sleep.  I gassed up, switched over to the passenger side and closed my eyes.  That’s when, in the back seat, my son Peter decided to conduct a science experiment with some diet coke and mentos candy in his mouth.  For those of you who don’t know the outcome of this chemical reaction – try it…outside.

So the moral of my story?  Road trips are worth it.  They are grueling, grimy and sometimes embarrassing.  But, your family will bond together in ways that you just can’t accomplish on a 3 hour plane flight. Our road trips are some of our best memories; my grown kids love recalling our many adventures.   If you are parenting alone, or your spouse can’t go with you for whatever reason – be brave and go anyway.  The trade-off for lost sleep, nation-wide embarrassment and hair-loss is a stronger character, life-long memories and a closer family.

Shock and Awe in Gettysburg

Monument to the 1st Minnesota Infantry at Gett...

Monument to the 1st Minnesota Infantry at Gettysburg

Our Nation’s Capitol   Part 2

I have loved Civil War History since I was a girl.  Every summer, as soon as school let out, I read Gone with the Wind.  Nerd you say?  Perhaps.  But, Scarlett and Rhett are the best and I will be the first in line should hoop skirts be brought back in fashion – just sayin’.  As an adult, I am awed by the terrible brutality of the Civil War and the way it shaped our nation.

I am particularly intrigued by the National Civil War Battlefields. Standing on the place where so many men fought and died is very humbling and it’s something I wanted my children to understand.  So, now that I’m in charge, I drag them through as many of these famous sites as I want. The kids roll their eyes as I mull over the museums, watch the films in the interpretive center and buy souvenirs.  They don’t put up much of a fight because I have the car keys.  Gettysburg was at the top of my list.

We arrived at the visitor center and decided to buy the guided auto tour CD.  As the desk volunteer scribbled a few arrows on a map, she explained how easy it was to follow and pointed us toward the door.  Nana and Grandpa said they would bring up the rear but got a late start out of the parking lot and we lost them on the first turn.  We circled back, came up behind him and tried to pass amid honks and glares from other auto tour patrons.  We got our vehicles back in line and made it to the first stop, which happened to be the only stop we followed in the order of the CD all day.

We were not the only vehicles having trouble navigating the tour.  On every street, cars driven by wide-eyed tourists were creeping along, driving on curbs, making abrupt stops and blocking traffic with three-point turns. People leaned and squinted out windows trying to read street signs. Most of Gettysburg’s homes had huge signs in their yards reading PRIVATE PROPERTY – NO TRESPASSING; definitely a wise move.

After listening to dramatized reenactments at the wrong sites, we eventually gave up on the CD and started pulling over wherever we saw groups of cars.  After questioning the other drivers about what they were looking at, we got back into our cars and listened to the corresponding audio track.  On a few stops we overheard tidbits from guided tours. That’s how we unintentionally found out that we were standing on the place where Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address – kinda cool; the kids were impressed.

We happened upon an observation deck, about 2 stories tall. I thought maybe from up there, we could figure out our map.  Nana doesn’t like heights so she and Grandpa stayed in the car.  The kids and I clambered up the stairway and joined a group of onlookers. Surveying the land, I was swept up in my grand love of Civil War history and forgot that I was traveling with 4 teenagers and an eleven-year old.  At the rail, I started saying something profound about the pivotal importance of the Battle of Gettysburg in the Civil War, when I heard my 13-year old gearing up to hawk a loogy off the deck.   In one of those moments that seemed to move to slow-motion, I heard myself saying “Nooooo Peterrrrrr….”   Too late – he launched the monster of all loogies.  This thing was huge and had a life of its own.  We watched in horror as it sailed out, was caught by a stiff back wind and returned, undulating and twisting, in our direction.  His older brothers ducked as it sailed over their heads for a direct hit on the shirt of the guy behind them. A stunned silence settled over the observation deck.  A woman awkwardly fumbled in her purse for a tissue. I broke the spell by lunging for the ear of the offender as the other kids sneaked toward the stairs.  I dragged the culprit over to make a shame-faced apology.  To glares and shaking heads, I backed my way off the deck nudging the spitter behind me.  We joined the other kids in their full-out sprint to the car, signaling Grandpa to start ‘er up. For once in their lives, my family entered a vehicle without a fight and we squealed away. The Loogy Guy wasn’t at our next stop – our disordered touring method turned out to be our salvation.

After conducting Loogy Guy surveillance, we hit a few more stops.  It happened to be Living History Day and we were treated with a blast from a real cannon, along with some amazing stories about the bravery of the 1st Minnesota Infantry. We sat on the top of Little Big Top and gazed down at the the Devils Den, listening to a tour guide describe the horror of the battle.  The kids were properly awed and I slowly recovered a few shreds of dignity.  With no further Loogy Guy sightings, we wrapped up a great day and set off for Washington D.C.  He’s probably written a blog about how some lousy kid ruined his day at Gettysburg.

Next up – “It’s Cherry Blossom Festival???”

“Mom’s gonna kill you” Our Nation’s Capital Part 1

Those are not welcome words while trying to take a nap in the car on a cross-country road trip. Especially when followed by “Don’t do it!”, “You better not…” and “STOP, STOP!!”

After 40 road hours of driving four children for 10 days across 9 states, I needed a short nap. But before I get into that, I’ll back up a few months, to the planning stages of our family’s trek to Washington D.C.

School had just started in September and as I was reveling in my quiet house.  I had mucked out the kitchen from breakfast and shoved their exploding messes back into their rooms, and was enjoying a second cup of coffee.  The quiet was a glorious thing, but then my mind wandered to upcoming vacations and the return of the horde.  Thanksgiving and Christmas were not a problem as there are lots to do, but spring break lurked beyond the holidays.  Because Spring doesn’t arrive in Minnesota until May, spring break can be torturous. Christmas is over, everyone is sick of snow and the airlines jack up their rates to capitalize on our desperation.  The temptation to head south, south-west, south-east, or basically to any latitude below our own is irresistible.  So, being a forward thinker, I began plotting my escape six months in advance.

I have always wanted the kids to see Washington DC.  I love all the museums, monuments and government pomp and circumstance.  And best of all, most of the sites are free.  This particular year, finances were tight and I knew my husband would not want to leave work for a week or spend all that money.  Throwing out ideas for spring break excursions would really stress him out.  To skirt this potential road block, I proposed that I use my grocery money and any other funds I could manage to skim off the household budget and “give” him a week of peace and quiet.  He was skeptical but agreed not to stand in my way. My first victory was secured.

My next strategic maneuver was to invite my parents, who live in California, to join us on our trip.  I suggested that in lieu of Christmas gifts, they could help with the hotel rooms in Washington D.C.  They were thrilled and so were we, as we don’t get to see them as often as we would like.  My dad is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to traveling. Because of his work, he has been to Washington D.C. many times and enjoys acting as tour guide.  Everyone loves Nana and Grandpa and best of all, the kids are on their best behavior with them around.  Since my college daughter couldn’t come, I invited my niece, Megan, who also lives in California, to fill the female void for my 11-year-old daughter. Adding one more teenager to the mix is not that big of a deal for me, plus she would help to balance out the testosterone/estrogen levels.

Instead of flying ($$$) and renting a car large enough to hold all of us ($$$$), I decided to drive our own large vehicle and share the driving duties with my 17-year-old son. The total drive time from our home in Minnesota to Washington D.C. is 20 hours and 52 minutes.  I planned to have the car packed the night before and pick up the kids from school on Thursday,  arrive in South Bend, Indiana 9.5 hours later, and then on to Gettysburg, PA the next day.  My parents and niece would fly in from California to Washington D.C., rent a car and meet us at a predetermined hotel in Gettysburg, PA on Friday evening.  We planned on touring the Civil War battlefield all day on Saturday and then make the 2 hour drive into the city where we would see the sights and go on various tours for 5 days.  We would drive to Monticello, VA for a day at the home of Thomas Jefferson and then part ways, they to the airport and we back to Minnesota.  Simple, right?

The morning of our trip, I wrote the kids notes for early dismissal, planning to scoop them up 2:00pm, an hour before school was dismissed, to avoid the bus/minivan traffic. The kids were excited to get out of school and start their spring break before their friends and were all waiting eagerly at the curb. Entering a vehicle is never peaceful for my children, but the jostling for position and slap-fighting pretty much died down by the time we crossed the river into Wisconsin. I was excited about this awesome opportunity. Like the All-American family, we decided to play the license plate game with the goal of logging all 50 states before our return home in 10 days.  The mood was high and we were calling out states as we saw them and writing them in our little notebook.  I noticed that my 17-year-old co-captain was yelling out Illinois for Indiana and Iowa for Ohio. Knowing he was capable of reading, I suggested that he put on his glasses. He sighed, rolled his eyes and explained to me that after completing his mid-term exams, he really needed a break so he decided to leave his glasses in his locker at school. Apparently, his “break” also included freedom from seeing clearly enough to help Mom drive the 18 road hours to Gettysburg PA.  After a brief freak-out moment and  a few desperate evaluations of my Mario-playing 14 year-old as a potential back-up driver, I regained my senses, took a deep, resigning breath and embraced my new role as a long haul trucker.  Only 17 more hours to go.  We made it through the toll roads of Chicago and arrived unscathed to our hotel South Bend, Indiana.

I spent some time before our trip educating the kids about the Civil War and the Battle of Gettysburg.  We learned that before the famous battle, a common expression was “All roads lead to Gettysburg.”  Well, our road from Indiana lead us to Gettysburg, but I think we could’ve done without some of our new education.   I really like to use Google maps, but sometimes the most direct route is not the best route.  Our “road to Gettysburg” may have been the shortest, according to Google maps, but it lead us off the interstate and to a winding, two-lane highway with a little town every couple of miles.  There were no traffic lights in these towns, so to get travelers to slow down and spend their money, these good Pennsylvania mountain-folk decided to lower their speed limit to 40 mph and invest in lots, and I mean LOTS of entertainment diversions.  I have never seen so many “gentleman’s clubs”, retail stores with various paraphernalia to support “gentleman” activity accompanied by hundreds of lighted billboards making sure that travelers would be well-informed of their “gentlemanly” options.  After two hours of  “Hey, Mom, what’s an adult toy store?”,  “Did you see that ‘real live girl’ on that sign??” and “Mom, I’m a gentleman!” I forbid them to look out the windows leading to a car riot of monumental proportions.  I screamed, yelled and swatted my way into Gettysburg, PA and collapsed into the arms of my waiting parents.  The hotel had a pool so I dumped the scoundrels in for some therapeutic splashing and went to eat the candy in the lobby and to chat with the desk clerk.  As I whined to this unsuspecting girl about the length of time it took to get here, she informed me that no one takes that road and they all stay on the interstate and double back on the highway.   Locals are an excellent source of information. Someone needs to tell Google maps.

Next up –  Shock and Awe at the Battlefield   Our Nation’s Capital  Part 2,

Take a shower and other motherly advice

I’ve often been asked to write down my experiences while raising my five children. One of the best compliments I ever received was from a high school friend who commented to another friend that my family likes to be together.  That comment brings tears to my eyes because I have fought long and hard, striving for that goal.

I made a lot of choices that are not typical starting with homeschooling the children for their elementary years.  Before you start calling me a saint or any other glowing term, I want to dispel any illusions that I am in anyway more patient, kind or sympathetic than the average woman.  I’m not. I’m also not organic; I don’t wear jumpers (add silent scream here) and I don’t bake bread.  Even though I live in the Midwest, I was raised in California, and I don’t have an accent.  I like fashion, laying in the sun, and eating in restaurants.  My children’s pants cover their ankles.

I wanted my children to see, learn and experience life first hand so that they would be well-rounded, open-minded, clear-thinking, interesting adults.  I also get bored easily so I’ve done a lot of things and gone a lot of places with my children in tow. The kids are mostly grown now.  I have a college graduate, a college senior, a college sophomore and two high school students.  People seem to like them at least that’s what they tell me.

“Take a shower” will be a series of life experiences and lessons I learned while nurturing/molding/prodding/dragging my often kicking and screaming little people into adulthood.  Why “Take a Shower” you ask?  If you ask my kids what is my first response for almost any problem they will say, “Take a shower!”  I still think it’s excellent advice. Think about it – a shower makes almost anything better. It gives you a new perspective; time to think; it clears your sinuses; cleans your wounds; removes unwanted debris…so many things with such a simple act.

So my first series will be the “Our Nation’s Capital” Fasten your seat belts…