Addressing the “State of the Marriage”

During the holidays, most communication in our home went something like this:

“Can you pick up Mike from the airport?”

“Matt is driving home sometime today; is his car going to make it?”

“Mom, there’s no food”

“Mike needs a car to get to a job. Can you drive the kids to school and I’ll pick them up?”

“WHERE ARE THE CAR KEYS????”

“There’s a choir concert on Tuesday night. Abby needs to go to the doctor for a sinus infection and Peter lost his dress shoes.”

“Mom, the zipper broke on my dress and I need to leave in five minutes”

“Mom, there’s no food”

“Dad, my car is making a really weird noise”

“Can the guys come over tonight?”

“Mom, there’s no food.”

“Can Katie and I make Christmas cookies? Do we have any baking stuff?”

“Who made this mess???”

“Why does he have to leave his gross boxers in the bathroom?”

“Mom, there’s no food.”

“Her gross stuff is all over the bathroom and it’s covered in hairspray”

“Why is the dog in the neighbor’s yard?”

“Mom, there’s no food.”

For the last 24 years, my husband and I have been feeding kids, clothing kids, cleaning up after kids, shuttling kids around, watching kids perform, helping kids with insane school assignments, feeding kids, clothing kids, cleaning up after….

In the crush of years and kid-directed activity, I occasionally catch a glimpse of my husband/college sweetheart and think,

“Who is this guy?”

The School of Raising Children transformed two crazy-in-love kids into unrecognizable working drones, living in the same dorm.

This year, my dashing husband took charge. Instead of spending the last week of the year wallowing on the couch in a pile of Christmas cookies and wrapping paper, he booked a hotel room in the city. We packed our bags, donned some stylish clothes and abandoned the whole sorry mess.  With this act alone, he earned a hero’s cape, but he wasn’t finished.  As we sipped trendy cocktails in a restaurant devoid of college and high school kids, he whipped out a list of very purposeful questions.  They were as follows:

What is going well for us?

What three things can WE do better?

What three things can I do better?

What would we like to see happen for the kids in 2013?

How do we go about participating in this?

Where do we see God leading us in 2013?

And that folks, is why I married this guy. We spent the next two days evaluating, planning and talking. We also laughed, tried new restaurants and enjoyed each other’s company.  Instead of starting this year with tired resolutions, we have a written plan of action for 2013.  We will take some time in the summer and evaluate our progress.

The annual “State of the Marriage” address is our new holiday tradition.

champagne flutes touching

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Five Times My Kids Made Me Cry…Incident #2

Syringe 5 with drops.

This one’s a doozy.

One morning, I returned home after a PRAYER MEETING (this fact gains significance after you hear what my kid did) to find my ten year-old daughter sitting on the couch.

“Where’s your brother?” I ask

“He’s out riding his scooter” she replies

I think this a bit strange as it was 40 degrees out and not the best scooter riding weather, but whatever… he’s a kid right?  So I go into the kitchen to do a little cleaning.  As I am taking out the trash, I see the scooter leaning against the wall in the garage.  Hmm.  I go back to the couch-sitting daughter.

“When did you last see your brother?” I ask

“I don’t know.”

Detective Mom springs into action. Let’s see, I left for my meeting at 8:30am, it was now 10:30am. That means he had been MIA for 2 hours.  I started to feel a little nervous and called the neighbors to see if he was there.  Nope.  I rode my bike around the neighborhood calling his name.  Nothing.  I called Hubby at the office.  After some heated deliberation, (my crying, him saying “he’ll turn up”) we decided to call the sheriff.

The deputy took a full description and requested a recent picture of our son. They instructed me to stay at home by the phone.  My neighbors and their kids took to their bikes scouring the neighborhood and nearby library.  My husband, dressed in his suit, walked the small paths in the woods as the police cruiser drove up through fields and open areas.

I sat on our front step, praying, trying not to imagine the worst.  In 1989, Jacob Wetterling was abducted while riding his bike in a town just north of us.  He was never found.  Jacob was eleven, our son had just turned twelve.  I felt a rising panic.  I didn’t want to become a news story.  After an agonizing two hours, the sheriff called.  They had spotted our son walking along the highway near our neighborhood.  He was on his way home. I cried with relief as the police car pulled into our driveway with our son in the back seat.

The story he gave us was that he had decided to go for a hike.  He planned ahead and packed his school back-pack full of water bottles. Hydration is important, right? After a stern lecture from the cop, yelling from Mom and Dad, laughter from the neighbors, and sneering from his sister, we resumed our daily life.

I returned to the kitchen and noticed my calendar, open on the counter. A large SHOTS with the perp’s initials was clearly written in for 1:00pm.  It was now 12:45pm and we could just make it.  As I mentioned this fact, the perp went ballistic.

“NO, NO!!! I DON’T WANT SHOTS!!! NOOOOOOOO”

Ah, now it all made sense.  He had hatched this diabolical, yet poorly executed plan to avoid getting his shots. Well, not on my watch, Mister.

I hauled his sorry little butt to the car and turned up the radio to drown out his cries. I dragged him through the lobby of the clinic and into the exam room, ignoring the wide-eyed stares of the other mothers.  I sat, reading a magazine, as he quivered and pleaded for mercy. Innocently, I asked if they had a few more shots they could give him.  Unfortunately, the perp was up to date.  Too bad.

This incident inspired me to form a new calendar code system.  Now, no one knows what’s about to happen but me.  It’s better this way.

Color Blind

I grew up playing with kids whose skin was a different color from mine. My kids grew up playing with kids whose skins were of different colors from theirs.  Some were adopted into their families, some came to their families by birth.

While explaining the concept of adoption to my young son, I referenced his playmate, a little girl who is very dark-skinned, adopted by two very white parents.

My son’s response:

“Ellie’s ADOPTED?”

Parents – it starts with us.

So, Why Do You Want To Date My Daughter?

Dream Boat or Dud?

My husband leveled this question to an anxious young man as he shifted in his seat at our dinner table. He gave the pat answer; he was interested in her mind, liked her personality, yadda yadda yadda.  Yeah, right. I remember teenage boys and my husband was one. We knew what this kid liked about our daughter and her mind wasn’t at the top of his list.

We got the idea to interview our daughters’ dates from a radio show, Family Life Today. The host, Dennis Rainey, was compelling.  He had a successful ministry to families and had raised six decent kids. Since we were totally clueless about this stuff, we decided we might as well do what he said. We were all for protecting our precious little girl from lecherous boys.  Our wispy blonde-haired baby would one day blossom into a beauty and we intended to be ready.  No “knuckle-dragging Neanderthal” (direct quote from my Dad) was going to put his paws on our girl.  Additionally, I never met a teenage boy who couldn’t benefit from a healthy dose of DAD.  We set our resolve and began our campaign early

We enlightened her to the fact that she was too precious for us to just hand over to any guy with a car and a movie ticket. We prepped her for the embarrassing fact that before she could go out alone with any boy, the young man had to ask DAD for permission. Then, DAD was going to ask him a series of questions and inform him of our expectations. She accepted this readily at the age of eleven, as boys were still really gross.  When she got her braces off and entered high school, the sharks began to circle. We were very glad for our firmly established dating conditions. What we couldn’t know then was how this practice was going to pay off in the lives of all our children; sons and daughters alike.

Our simple requirement caused the children to evaluate whether a dating relationship was worth pursuing. It weeded out the riff-raff.  The prospect of “alone time” with DAD scared off a few candidates.  Awe… too bad.   This was not a crushing blow to our daughter, since she never actually spent enough time with these boys to become attached. We got the golden opportunity to point out the qualities she really should admire in a young man; honesty, forthrightness, courage, respect, etc.

Since we are equal opportunity parents, we required our sons to ask permission from the father of any girl they wanted to date, even if the he didn’t require it. When our boys were small, we taught them to respect their sisters and me by holding doors, waiting to eat until we were served, opening car doors, etc.  Their Huckleberry Finn lives, filled with frog catching and fort building, would soon end.  Girls might be boring and weird now, but that would soon change.  If our sons were going to respect and value women, a glaringly absent character trait in today’s young men, we had to teach them to “man-up” and be OK with being different. A girl has to be pretty special for them to risk the encounter with an unknown DAD.  Our policy was a success.  To illustrate this point, one of our guys was completely enamored with a lovely young lady from their high school.  We reminded him that he needed to ask her father for permission to date his daughter.  He said, “I know, I’m going to…soon.”  Time went on and we stopped hearing so much about this girl. When I asked my son about her he said, “She wasn’t the girl I thought she was.” Interesting.

Just so there are no grand illusions, interviewing your daughter’s date is pretty awkward for all involved; sweaty palms, shuffling feet and stilted conversations abound.  But, we think that our kids are worth the chagrin.  A young man pursuing one of our daughters will never doubt her value to her parents.  He is less likely to treat her with disrespect when he knows that DAD expects him to be a gentleman. As an added bonus, I have had mothers profusely thank me for raising such polite sons. One prom date told her mother, “Mom, he held every door for me, EVERY DOOR.” That’s what I want to hear.  There won’t be some angry DAD coming after one of my boys with a shot-gun. (another quote from my Dad) One young man, actually passed the DAD test and won the heart of our oldest daughter; she will be married in a few months.  We have no doubt he will be an excellent husband and father. Our daughter has very high standards.

Old-fashioned?  Perhaps.  But with the rising statistics of teen pregnancies, drug and alcohol abuse, and a culture where parents are “throwing up their hands” wondering what went wrong, we prefer to view ourselves as cutting edge.

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.