Random equations in the mathematics of life

Around and Around

3652748184_4993cb315a_bA few years ago, I planned a trip for the family.

It was a crappy time in our lives. The Scientist and I had just barely come off of a 6 month legal separation. My father died after 4 months of being in and out of the hospital. The Ambassador was dealing with the disintegration of his relationship with a cousin whom he used to worship, who had now turned into a bully. His physical bruises were numerous, but the emotional ones took a lot longer to heal. The Professor and the Artist were navigating the treacherous waters of teenagers. All in all, it was a mess.

So I planned a trip.

I told the kids I’d chosen a spot with “something for all of us”. We were going to Idaho. At first, they were shocked, incredulous, and even protesting. Then they figured out I was outright lying, but couldn’t figure out the real destination. I explained that they’d need passports in case we crossed over into the Canadian Rockies. Those beautiful dress clothes? Well, they’re for the formal barbecue and hayride, of course. All throughout the spring, I would expound on the beauty of Idaho, and all the cool stuff we would see there. The kids would roll their eyes, and wonder out loud where we were really going.

The week before we left, I gave the kids a puzzle with about two dozen questions on it. The answers fit into numbered spaces, and all were about, you guessed it, Idaho. They hunted down the answers, and kept the papers until the day we left, salivating over the final clue they’d unscramble.

We packed the car, got in, started driving, and stopped for breakfast. I handed them the last piece of paper – the holy grail containing our true destination, simply by placing numbered letters into the spaces.


Remember Ralphie, from A Christmas Story, and his secret decoder ring? Yeeeah. Theirs said, “Be sure to drink your Ovaltine” too!  I found this hilarious. The kids? Not so much. The Ambassador didn’t speak to me for half an hour!

We got back in the car, and I handed over my laptop. On it was a Power Point, set to music (Two Tickets to Paradise and Guitars and Tiki Bars), detailing our cruise ship, along with each port and what we’d be doing there. The kids freaked out. They forgave me incredibly fast, amazingly enough, and the fun began.

That trip was really good for us. We spent time together, away from the outside world, reassuring each other that no matter what else, we would always be a family. But there were tensions. The Scientist and I were in a really bad place, and though we covered pretty well, we both felt it just the same. I was fine being on the trip with him, but would’ve preferred not to share a cabin with him. We do pretty well when we travel together, but even the Caribbean couldn’t erase the problems in our relationship. Our friendship was crumbling around us, and that had always been the foundation for the rest of the family. We were in danger of losing everything.

2 months after that trip, I asked for a divorce. We separated once again, starting the one year clock required by our state before a divorce would be granted. A month after that, we started therapy, not to rebuild a lost marriage, but to at least attempt to sew back together the shredded fabric of a long standing friendship. Quite honestly, I thought it was a lost cause. While I would never speak against their father, I was done, and simply wanted to move on to parent the kids and try to pick up the pieces of my life.

Now, 4 ½ years later, we are headed back to Idaho. We’re going to a different area, but Idaho just the same. This time, our friendship is in a really good place. Our relationship has changed in so, so many ways, but we are still best friends, and now we’re both much better parents to our kids.

This year, like 2009, has also been tough. The Scientist lost his father after almost the same amount of time as my own father. We’ve lost some friends in sudden, tragic ways. The stresses have slowly eroded us, but we know the island sunshine, and the bond we have as a family will help us put each other back together.

We’ll miss our friends while we’re off the grid for a few days, but it’s a much needed break. There are times in which social media is great, and times when it gets in the way. This week, it would get in the way of the rest and reconnection we so desperately need.

Hopefully, everyone will find the peace they seek this holiday season. There is no perfect world, but maybe, just for a little slice of time, we can find our own version.

A Remainder of One

4604500425_0d3b924ab6_oThis week kinda sucked. My headspace went straight to hell about a week ago for some inexplicable reason. I realize this is not statistically significant – it happens to everyone on occasion, and I’m no different.

The only problem with this particular time for me was the fact that it’s careening headlong into the holiday season, which can exacerbate pretty much any emotional state that’s left of center for me. The holidays bring Golden Boy back into the neighborhood, along with my mother’s manipulative attempts to guilt me into doing whatever whim she’s focused on at the time. Last time she lied to both me and my sister, in an attempt to get me to attend the “family” gathering. My sister approached me a few years ago about not doing them anymore – I agreed, as our kids have grown apart, and everyone felt a bit forced. This was fine, but I should’ve seen her suggestion for what it really was, because now, the rest of my bio family gets together except for my crew. I’m sure I should feel upset and betrayed by that, but really? I actually find it funny.

But the impending tension does set me on edge. So when I wind up in a conversation with the Quilter on Sunday about the fact that I don’t have the capability to be “in love” with anyone, it took a slide and shoved it into a spiral. It wouldn’t have been a huge deal, but that conversation was then followed by a related one the following night with the Professor and the Scientist at dinner. Follow that up with the 6 month mark of the Moore, OK tornado that took Sydney, mix in a horrifically stressful week at work, and I’m pretty well done.

Feeling broken is something with which I’m quite familiar. I’ve written about it before. It’s still hard to explain though, to someone who thinks that the inability to be in love is a choice. This isn’t something that I’ve chosen; I am not denying myself some level of bliss by design. Instead, I stagger through my world, seeing people falling in love, having that light bulb turn on, and resent the fact that I can’t comprehend it. There was an internet essay about how a special needs child is like planning a trip to Paris and winding up in Holland. Different, but beautiful. For me, this is more about wanting desperately to plan a trip overseas, but being ineligible for a passport.

I’m not going to bore you by rehashing why I suck at marriage. You can always go read it if you want.

But seeing my kid struggle to comprehend why her mother isn’t in love with her father, and hates the concept of marriage, but has chosen to stay in it anyhow, really broke my heart. She worships her dad, as well she should, and she knows that it hurts him. I didn’t have the words to explain it to her any more than I could explain myself to the Quilter. All of my talents at “translating” information, which make me an amazing teacher, failed me.  There are things in my past that my kids will never know. No one knows some of the things in my past except the people who were there, and that’s the way it needs to stay. However, the Scientist will tell anyone who asks that I’m a “fabulous wife”, which amuses me to no end. It’s true that I try to be good to him. He is a truly wonderful man, as a father, as a person, and as the best friend I’ve ever had. I live with the guilt every single day, knowing the selfish choice I made and why I made it, but he has decided that this life with me is better than the alternative. I still feel, and will always feel, that he deserves better than me. People have tried to reason me out of that, and guess what? It hasn’t worked yet, and it won’t work. So save us both the hassle and the boredom, and don’t bother.

As much as I deplore a particular coke-headed neurologist who tried to pass his psychotic ramblings off as scientific fact, I do agree that we learn a basic sense of trust versus mistrust from day one. Your very first intimate relationships are with your caregivers and family, and when those relationships are destructive, that foundation is too damaged to hold up anything else. And like any other permanent structure, once it’s built, you can’t go back and fix the base. Laws of physics and all that.

Having this mess swirling in my head all week has definitely been a double edged sword. The one side of the blade is that it reinforced the fact that I am, by nature, a loner. I spent a lot of time in my head, ear-buds firmly tucked in, music blaring. However the other side of blade reminds me that, on occasion, as soothing as my solitude is, it can also be a lonely place. Despite the fact that I am almost never alone during the week (with the obvious exception of my hour-long commute to and from work), I felt little shards of loneliness slip in here and there. Such an odd feeling, as it’s quite rare!

As the week wound down, my headspace started to settle at least a little bit. Being swamped at work helped that, as I didn’t have time to brood about my messed up head. Some creativity this weekend is a priority, as that will help more than anything else.

At some point, I hope I can learn to realize that even though I’m broken, I’m functional – maybe even more so than some others!

Way back when I was a kid in the 70s, there were some pretty common techniques seen in parenting, sports, and other social interactions.

“Stop crying. You’ll never be a man, boo-hooing like a little girl.”

“C’mon, pnssy. You’re not hurt that bad. Buck up and do your job!”

“Don’t eat that. Do you want to gain weight? No guy wants a fat girl.”

If anyone had dared call another person out on the fact that condescension, shaming, and belittling were damaging, there would’ve been more incredulity than a soccer player with the “WHAT?!” hands.

“I’m not being mean! I’m just encouraging her (him). How else is she (he) going to be an adult?”

I really thought we’d come a long way since then. And to be fair, there are times in which I’ve felt we’ve gone a little too far over to the other side.

But there is a growing trend on Facebook and other social media sites – a simple phrase attached to any number of accomplishments – designed to prove that the poster is oh-so-much better than you are. But it doesn’t end there. Because any reason you have for not being as good as they are is simply not worthy of consideration.

“What’s your excuse?”

Perhaps the most popular firestorm over this phrase came from here. This mom who has 3 kids under 3, overcame an eating disorder, now works out every single day without fail, and wants you to know that if you don’t the same thing, you suck. But if you do decide to emulate her every move, you too, can be awesome!  And you do want to be awesome, don’t you? Because you don’t have reasons or circumstances not to. You simply have excuses.

That’s right. An excuse. She is in the position to judge, and to condemn, when you don’t measure up to her standards. Just like the other people you see on Facebook.

Haven’t run a 5K yet? What’s your excuse?
Haven’t gotten 100% out of debt, with a fluffy 401K waiting? What’s your excuse?
Haven’t reached 8% body fat, wearing sample size clothing? What’s your excuse?
Haven’t gotten your PhD yet? What’s your excuse?

The narcissistic imbeciles who perpetuate this phenomenon champion their caterwauling by calling it “motivation”. They’re not being mean! They’d neeeeeever judge you, nooooo. They’re just trying to show you that they, with all of their obstacles to be overcome, were able to accomplish this amazing feat. And if you just try like they did, you could do it, too! Using the judgmental query, “What’s your excuse?” is simply a metaphor for your own pathetic lack of effort in managing your life.

And of course, anyone who can’t see the fact that they’re simply trying to be your own personal cheerleader, the Zig Ziglar in your back pocket, the Stephen Covey to your Tony Little, well, that’s simply your own self-defeating attitude.

So it got me thinking about fitness, as that’s the most common use of the question in question.  What is my excuse for not being a size 6, running 5Ks, with minimal body fat?

(And yes, these are merely excuses, since clearly, none of them can be considered legitimate.)

1. a permanent disability that renders me unable to walk without the support of a brace and crutches

2. a neurological condition involving compression of my spinal cord that prevents me from doing a lot of normal exercises

3. a medication regimen to deal with both of those that includes 5 different drugs with sedating effects

4. a full time job that is easily over 40 hours per week, along with an hour commute in each direction plus a part time job that takes up another 20 hours per week or so

5. a love of creative projects such as photography and quilting, neither of which provide aerobic benefits

6. a love for cooking and baking, and yes, eating, which I choose not to relinquish

OK. There is my Excuse List. Could I make changes in my life to fit more into the ideal body image of the “What’s Your Excuse” crew? Absolutely. I could curb my sweet tooth. I could trade my down time for more workouts. I could grow a money tree in my yard in order to have gym fees so I could swim on the nights when I don’t teach. I won’t see The Scientist, kids, or friends, but hey, that’s simply another excuse! Spending next weekend with The Quilter wouldn’t happen – after all, where’s the benefit of sewing fun projects and talking with a beloved friend for 3 days?

But then I realized that there was one component to the whole equation that I’d overlooked. I’d forgotten the fact that I don’t need to justify my life to anyone, much less someone who needs to be “better than you” in order to feel good about themselves. Those who demand to know my “excuse” for not living up to their expectations are projecting their own inadequacies onto their peers. I would almost feel bad for them for the fact that they can’t find their own peace within themselves without comparing their lives to those of other people, but I don’t have much patience for adults who act like schoolyard children.

So, in answer to your question, I do not have a real excuse. I simply don’t care enough to compare myself to you, and I simply don’t care enough to feed your own pitiful ego so you can feel that much better about whatever you’ve decided to do in your life.

Instead, I’ll focus on my own adage, “Manage your disability or it will manage you.” I’ll focus on the fact that I love the strength I’ve build in my upper body through the use of a wheelchair, crutches, and yes, even weight lifting. I’ll remind myself that even with an inability to do almost all aerobic exercises currently available, I have lost about 50 pounds. I’ll remember that the people in my life whose opinions truly matter to me find me beautiful inside as well as outside. And most of all, I’ll live with the certainty that the only person whose approval I truly need is me.

The better side

635607354_0d420e46f6_bOnce upon a time, there was a girl. Or, as she was called back then, a tomboy. There were lots of other things she was called back then, too. Among the nicer ones were, “wild child”, “spaz”, and “fortheloveofGODwillyousitstill”. There really wasn’t a name for it back in the 70s, but the tomboy child, aka me, had AD/HD. It’s one of the rare occasions in which I have been ahead of the trends. An AD/HD hipster, that’s me. “I was AD/HD before it was fashionable.”

Back then, the brain scans that show the dopamine deficiency in the pre-frontal lobe of the brain weren’t done. And at the time, kids really weren’t medicated. No, treatment for AD/HD was geared toward a much more holistic approach. My parents were told to spank/smack me more often, reduce my sugar intake, put me in sports, and have me skip a grade. Being dedicated parents, they did all of this. Oddly enough, despite such sound advice, my AD/HD didn’t abate. I was intelligent and bored, and the teeny little Catholic school had no idea what to do with me. So I went from being well liked in my class to being bullied by my new class. I was a “baby”, being a year younger and was seen as an invader. My new classmates were pretty clever, not getting caught as they tripped me, hid my books, stole my pens and pencils, and generally made sure that I was in trouble for being unprepared on a regular basis. Not surprisingly, I didn’t react to this with any sort of maturity. I learned to fight.

Being bullied made me hate most of my peers, and made me not trust the rest of them. I had a few friends, mostly boys, as I acted more like them than I did the girls. I related better to people who liked to play, roughhouse, engage in sports, and be genuine than the prissy little China dolls that were in my class. And really, if a boy bullied me and I decked him, he respected that I fought back. Girls, not so much.

My teachers vacillated between loving me because I was a superior student academically to gritting their teeth in frustration at the fact that I was in constant motion, a chatterbox, and bored stupid. But skipping me another grade wasn’t an option; I didn’t have the maturity.

As an adult, I majored in psychology in school. My adviser was a leading researcher in the field of AD/HD, and I sought his counsel on some behavioral techniques I could use in managing it. I have never been medicated beyond the use of caffeine when I had a paper or project or exam, but I also know the pitfalls of Adult AD/HD if it is unmanaged. And now, as an adult, I hear other educators, parents, and even some psychology professionals discussing AD/HD as a cross to bear, a huge burden to be handled, and the bane of the person’s existence. Is it a disorder? A deficiency of a vital neurotransmitter in the brain? Yup. But kids, and even adults, who have AD/HD may as well have their own scarlet letters on their foreheads.

Quite frankly, this pisses me off.

There are aspects of AD/HD that can inhibit my life. I do not dispute these in the least. But AD/HD is not a curse. It is not a horrible affliction in my life, and in actuality, it has some really amazing benefits.

My job requires me to be able to manage multiple projects at once, shifting gears among them several times a day. I am able to do this with ease. I can be reading an article in order to write test items to it, stop to answer the phone, check my email, answer a question from a coworker, and go right back on the page to the word where I left off, without having to reread any of it. The flow of information keeps right on going. I do use organizational strategies such as lists and calendars to keep deadlines straight, and for my home life, it helps me remember dates and important events. But being able to manage the lives of 5 people (when the Kellions were younger)? No problem.

Another beautiful thing about AD/HD is creative thinking. Most kids with this prefer not just to think outside the box, but to live outside the box, and then use the box for a completely unique purpose. This is something that employers can utilize, teachers can encourage, and family members can enjoy. We have the mental capabilities to see new solutions to problems, approach issues with innovative ideas, and create new methods of doing things from the scraps of others’ failures. This, my friends, is not just good; it’s amazing.

AD/HD is comorbid with depression in approximately 85% of those who have it. That, to me, is unacceptable. While depression is largely genetic, there is absolutely an environmental component here that doesn’t need to be. Perhaps if society, especially parents and teachers, learned to rethink their own paradigms about AD/HD, and work with it instead of simply trying to squash it with drugs, those numbers would drop. Children see themselves through the eyes of the adults around them. If those adults are constantly complaining about them, and moaning about having to “deal with” their AD/HD, why wouldn’t they become depressed? They start to see themselves as their disorder. They are no longer a kid who has this unique aspect to their brain, but as a disease, something insidious to treat and hide, since we cannot cure.

It’s long past time that we look beyond the old ways of equating AD/HD to some horrific curse, and start to see it for what it can be. Teach children behavioral accountability, coping strategies, and be their support system. If meds are needed for success, provide them. But remember that first and foremost, behavior strategies and often therapy are absolutely integral to their lives. Encourage the creativity and brain power these kids have, and the results will be far better than what we see today.

syd(Photo courtesy of Heather Tupin Photography)

It’s been a really crappy few weeks. No way around it.  I’ve wanted to blog about so many things, and yet the words wouldn’t come. My fingers would be poised over my keyboard, ready to help my head and my heart process recent events. And nothing flowed. I’d force myself to type, then shake my head and erase. Why couldn’t I find the right things to say?

My trials and tribulations were nothing out of the ordinary: some family drama, some health stuff, some more family drama, some work stuff. Regular life, regular stress. I took some time this past weekend, and went to visit the Trainer, reveling in laughter, friendship, Labrador slobber, and photography. Definitely a healing few days.

Then I arrived home. I unpacked, chatted with the kids, and decided to play a bit on Facebook before heading to ponder dinner. A year or two ago, the Photographer and I created a closed group of like minded women, referred to as the Sisterhood, and I noticed a post from her. It asked everyone to pray hard and fast, as one of our own had been hit by a vicious tornado sweeping through Moore, OK. The Photographer and the Nurse had lived across the street from each other in Moore for the better part of five years. Their youngest kids grew up together as best friends, and the Nurse had been a perfect addition to our Sisterhood crew. The Photographer was on her way down to Moore, and I spoke with her as she drove. All of us worried together until we heard that the Nurse was safe, her husband was safe, and two of their three kids were safe with them. The third, Sydney, was in Plaza Towers Elementary School, where the Photographer’s own kid had attended years before. However, they received word that the kids had been evacuated to a few local churches, and that everyone would be reunited shortly.

The entire Sisterhood breathed a collective sigh of relief, while still feeling the slivers of panic that Syd wasn’t visible yet. Most of us are parents, and the mere idea of being separated from one of our kids at a time like that is chilling. But we clung to the fact that Syd was fine and we all went to bed with heavy hearts for the myriad of emotions that the people in Moore were feeling.

However, the next morning brought a chilling message. Syd was missing. She was not at any of the churches or shelters. The Sisterhood mobilized immediately, taking photos of Sydney and posting them with urgent requests to spread the word, share the photo. Somewhere, some first responder, some hospital worker, some law enforcement officer, had to see it and recognize her, right? For me, I broke my own personal rules. I do not send mass emails to friends, much less to people at work. Yet, I did both. I begged for help in making Syd’s photo go viral. Facebook, Twitter, whatever it took. We asked for retweets of her photo from celebrities. We emailed, we posted, we spammed. Anything to find this little girl.

Shortly after lunch, my phone showed a new text from the Photographer. Sydney’s body had been recovered from Plaza Towers, and her parents had positively identified her. My heart shattered in pieces, and I sobbed openly at my desk. Coworkers offered comfort, but I could barely speak. I re-sent those spam emails, this time with the news that the search was over. My numb fingers tapped out words that I couldn’t see through tears. The photo was taken down, the requests for assistance rescinded. The only thing that was left was grief and gratitude.

The grief is so sharp, so deep, and so enduring that it really needs no space dedicated to it. Sydney’s family will never be the same, no matter how much healing occurs. Her 11 year old sister and her 18 year old brother have lost a piece of themselves. Her parents will never hold their baby again. That can’t change.

What I really want to discuss is the gratitude. For what, you ask? How can I be thankful in a situation like this? In the face of grief so gripping, how can I be grateful?

But I am. I am grateful to coworkers, some of whom barely know me, who immediately posted Sydney’s photo and asked their own social media communities to spread it around. Those same people offered messages of sorrow when my second message was sent.

I am grateful to the strangers on Twitter, who retweeted Sydney’s photo without hesitation, widening the net of hope.

I am grateful to family and friends who have offered condolences not just through me, but to me. Syd wasn’t my child, and I didn’t know her personally. But as a friend of the Nurse and of the Photographer, as a parent, as a member of the Sisterhood, my own grief was palpable, too.

I am grateful to the Sisterhood. We have become even closer, pulling together to not just support the Nurse and the Photographer as they mourn, but also each other as well.

I am grateful to Erika Napoletano, of Redhead Writing. Her own personal generosity and immediate offer to share Sydney’s story on her own community has meant more donations to the family. She doesn’t know me, and she didn’t know Sydney, but it didn’t matter. Erika is the epitome of integrity and professionalism, and she has the kindest heart I’ve ever seen.

I am grateful to Kerry Vincent, who may be a stranger to most, but is well known to anyone who likes Food Network and baking. She and her husband have offered the use of their plane to fly people who cannot afford to buy tickets into OK for family funerals.

I am grateful to people who donated money to the Red Cross and also to Syd’s own family. Because it isn’t just people with ties to Moore, or to the families; it’s strangers who have never heard of Sydney, or even of Moore, OK before this week. I am grateful to the people bringing trucks full of supplies, of food and water, and of volunteers into this ravaged town. Their generosity will be what rebuilds this community.

I am grateful to the various companies and corporations who have offered supplies and services for free. Funeral homes, building supply stores, cleaning services, they’re all stepping up and showing that sometimes, it’s simply not about making a profit.


I am grateful to musicians who have shared themselves through benefit performances, fundraising, or even just a granted request for a sob-inducing song at a show. Some you may not know, such as TD, or Tylan, and some you may, such as those who participated in Healing in the Heartland, a country music benefit for the United Way. These artists work so hard to bring music to their fans, but they still remember people as individuals. From the rising stars such as TD and Tylan, to the mega-stars, such as Toby Keith and Usher, they all took the time to care.

In the coming weeks, months, even years, as the healing progresses and the outward signs of destruction fade, I truly hope that the sense of fellowship and community that appears during a tragedy can become more of a norm than an exception. It might be a naive wish, but right now, I’m going to keep it.

Sydney Marie Angle

4.15.04 — 5.20.13

(a + b) = (b + a)

The vast majority of parenting blogs deal with kids who are teenagers or younger. I’m late to the game, which is no shock whatsoever, but my kids are beyond diapers and elementary school drama. I find myself looking around for parenting blogs that I can relate to, ones written by parents struggling with the same issues I face.  So for now, I stagger through the chaos alone, hoping I’m not screwing them up too badly.

Some of the major issues that parents of teenagers face are those that surround sexuality and sexual activity.And the sad fact is that it’s becoming an issue for younger and younger kids.

In our family, sexuality is actually more of a non-issue. We’ve never cared one way or another about our kids’ gender orientation. Nearly every other parent we knew, when confronted with the question of, “What would you do if your child told you he or she was gay?”, reacted with a horrified expression and a very terse, “My kid is not gay.” For a lot of parents, this might have been true. But for a good percentage, their reality check was just about to come back with insufficient funds. But when the Scientist or I was asked that, we simply said, “There’d be nothing to do except to reassure our kid that we loved the person he/she is just as is.”

Sexual activity is a whole ‘nother ball of stress. Everything from STDs to pregnancy, sexting to pornography. How do we help our kids navigate through a near immersion of sexual misinformation and judgment to become healthy, responsible adults who are confident in their choices? It’s been proven time and again that teaching abstinence to the exclusion of reality fails miserably. Simply saying, “Don’t do it!” is not only disrespectful to your kids, but it also shows them a gross unwillingness to communicate about difficult subjects. If you react with cringing and a refusal to answer queries, or can’t bring your mouth to form the words “penis” and “vagina”, how do you honestly expect your kids to trust you enough to bring you other tough subjects? As parents, we need to put on the Big Kids Pants and be adults.

Basic anatomy is a must for any child. Everyone should know the basics of their body so that if something is wrong, it can be articulated to a parent and, if necessary, a physician. Hearing college girls snickering about boyfriends who didn’t know that “girls have three holes down there” admittedly made me laugh as I shook my head, but it also made me roll my eyes that our society has super-glued sexuality and shame. Hushed whispers of “privates” and “down there” are great for afternoon cotillion, but they’re pointless and even detrimental to the real world. Teaching every child respect for his or her own body paves the way to respect for each others.

Later on, when they swan dive into the sulfuric swamp of the dating world, the simple fact is that no matter what you may have told your kids, the possibility exists that they will still decide to have sex. Teens need to be armed with their own gauge to use when that option appears. Because in that instant, you cannot be there to say “no” or “yes” for them. Their own decision making processes will supersede any decisions made for them by other people.

I know people who determined what books their kids were allowed to read in their home library by using a simple, “If you can reach it, you can read it”. The more adult books were placed on high shelves, and so on. It was a physical representation of, “When you’re ready”. When my kids noticed that Pop-pop had guns, I told them very clearly their criteria for handling them. News story after news story has shown that even experienced enthusiasts have accidents. Lives have been lost by accidental incidents; we read about it every week.  So I told them flat out, “When you’re emotionally prepared to take a life, you can handle a gun. Until then, leave them alone.” I am not saying that they would ever take a life deliberately, any more than a normal gun user would do so. But accidents happen, and you need to be prepared for the consequences if they do. So goes with sex. No one intends to contract an STD. And no teenager intends to get pregnant, either. But ya know what? If you think it doesn’t happen every day, you really should leave a comment letting us know what color the sky is in your world.

No matter what your religious beliefs, each woman who gets pregnant has three options. Doesn’t matter if you’re ecstatic about the pregnancy or in despair, the same three options are there. Each of those brings with it both emotional and physical ramifications, some positive, some negative. No matter what the situation, pregnancy has a huge impact on a woman’s psyche and her body.

In order to convey the weight of their decision, I explained each option and each physical and emotional consequence, in basic, but clear detail. For my son, I also added that, while his situation wasn’t exactly the same, he would be financially responsible for the kid if his partner chose to keep it, he’d need to pay for half the clinic fees if she didn’t, and he would have his own emotional consequences with any of the choices. So, simply put, I told them, “Consider all of the implications of pregnancy. If you are ready to accept the consequences, then you’re ready for sex. If not, don’t mess with it.” (And yes, the STD conversation also happened in there as well.)

My other admonition with sexual activity was that of honesty. Nearly every kid lies to their parents at one time or another. It’s just a fact of life. And yes, even my amazing kids have lied to me, although it’s somewhat amusing that they think I don’t find out or just know when they do it.

Sexual activity is something that should only be reserved for adults. It requires reasoning and emotional maturity that teens simply don’t have. Kids know full well they’re doing something wrong, which is why they lie about it. Duh. So my last measuring point for the, “Am I ready for sex?” question is this: If you cannot look me in the fact and tell me that you had sex, that you used adequate protection, but that  you have considered the possible consequences and feel emotionally and physically and financially ready to accept them, then you aren’t ready to have sex. Of course, there are always those people who gasp and say that they could never tell their mother they were having sex, even after having a few kids. Those people are the reason why we have such a stupid rate of teen pregnancy and a society that still refers to the sexual organs as “down there.” Pathetic.

Parents have a responsibility to their kids to teach them about moral, physical and emotional pitfalls along the course of their life.  Sexuality is one of the toughest ones, but we have to put our Big Kid Pants on before we can expect them to do the same.

43 – 17 = I was wrong

As anyone who knows me can attest, I am very protective of my kids. No, I am not a helicopter parent. I’m not that insane, thanks. (No, really, my shrink agreed!) That being said, I’m well aware  things are different now, and that kids face perils that we didn’t necessarily have at their age.

So. Let me toss this one out to you, and without cheating by skimming further, be honest with yourself about your own first reaction. Deal?

You have a 17 year old son. He’s outgoing, intelligent, charismatic, hilarious, and a total goof. At times he is more mature than the 25 year old grad students you know, and at times he’s about as “teenage boy” as they come. He is extremely empathetic to people who are sad or lonely, and if he could, he’d save the world from that particular plight. That 17 year old suddenly starts hanging out socially with a 43 year old Judo coach, including going to out of town tournaments and classes, and even spending the night at his house, since they leave really early in the morning for these.

Be honest. If not here, with me, then with yourself. I’m going to hazard a guess and surmise that your response was somewhere between, “Are you fucking kidding me?” and “Oh HELL no!”

Mine too.

Especially when, just a few months ago, I read this article about Kayla Harrison, the Olympic Judo champion who was sexually abused by her coach for years. Now, before you get your hackles up, I did not automatically assume that the Ambassador’s Sensei was a child molester. Come on, people, go back to the top of the post if you need to, and reread where I asserted that I’m not quite that bad. But while I did not assume that my son was in imminent physical or psychological danger, my antennae went up. Coming from a history of sexual abuse myself, and having my own child be abused by a babysitter (she has no memory of it), and having been made mind-and-heart-weary by way too many news stories, it was just . . . bugging me.

But again, let’s be crystal clear here. At no time did I feel that the Ambassador was in danger. At no time did I have any indication that something was wrong. All I had was history, too many stories in the media, and a nagging question.

Why would a 43 year old want to hang out with a 17 year old?

Good question.

Instead of risking turning into one of those parents, I decided to trust humanity, and simply observe.

The Sensei has now been to our house for meals, video game sessions, and yes, he has spent the night in our guest bed as well. He is a quiet, well spoken, intelligent man with a great smile. Yes, I will be honest with you all – the fact that he passed a state background check helped as well. (He is a long-term substitute teacher in our county school system.) The Ambassador has given me a lot of insight into his Sensei, and the puzzle pieces definitely started to fall into place. At 18, the Sensei had two younger brothers, ages 16 and 13. A family beach trip was planned, but the Sensei had to stay behind for reasons that are unknown, but also unimportant. What is important is that on this trip, Sensei’s younger brothers drowned. To lose your siblings like that would be a grief that would consume most people. When I think of my own crew, and how incredibly close they are, I cannot imagine the despair and depression that the remaining child would face, day after day. So in this friendship, my son finds a mentor, and his mentor finds a younger brother. They are bound by a love for their own siblings, a passion for the beauty and discipline of martial arts, and the fun of anime and gaming. While an unlikely pair, their friendship makes sense in a way that my admittedly guarded mind didn’t think possible. Of course, I’m glad that I was wrong, but not just for the obvious reasons. The Ambassador has struggled mightily in the past several months, with the immaturity and absurdity of the behavior of some of his peers. He has lost friendships that he trusted, and his discouragement was palpable. In this new friendship, he bonds with someone who is more mature than he is, with whom he can just be himself without judgment.

At the end of every day, a parent has got to trust his or her instincts. They will never fail. But at the same time, I’m truly grateful that I was able to stop the knee-jerk suspicion long enough to stop and think rationally, first. Maybe it saved two people from being lonely, which is the worst feeling of all.

The Unsolvable Equation

I’ve realized in the past few weeks that I am, in all honesty, an unbelievable failure as a parent. But then I realized something even more disturbing; I never even had a fighting chance.

From Day One of being parents, we have raised our children to value acceptance. No, not “tolerance”. I hate that word. Acceptance. Race. religion, orientation, none of that means anything when forming opinions. Who you are, how you treat others, that’s how we decide whether we want to include you in our circle. We wanted our kids to understand that the basis of our world ultimately being successful is peace.

We also taught them to be true to themselves. Their hearts and souls are beautiful, worthy of respect, and the only thing they’ve got that’s truly theirs. Value that spirit, and let it guide you; you won’t ever be led astray.

Success: no matter how you define it in your own mind, the way to get there is to work hard. Your work ethic reflects your integrity, and both should remain clear.

So why, then, is the world smacking my kids in the face?

I tell my kids that only through acceptance of others can we truly find peace in our time. They see a Supreme Court Justice making remarks like these.

I tell my kids that violence is only appropriate in defense of one’s self or another. They see a baby murdered in cold blood for no reason.

I tell my kids they can change the world. They see students in a peaceful demonstration pepper sprayed by a man in combat gear.

I tell my kids they can achieve anything they want to with dedication and integrity. They see billion dollar bank bail-outs while entrepreneurs file for bankruptcy.

I tell my kids that the world respects a woman with confidence in herself. They see a leading university prepared to expel a rape survivor for speaking about her ordeal, choosing to ignore the criminal act of rape, and treat is as an “honor” violation instead.

My question becomes, “What the hell have I done?”

If I urge my kids to get a degree, so they can have the financial stability that their father and I never had in the early years, am I undoing what I’ve tried to do all this time? What if my kids aren’t cut out for a corporate, 9 to 5 kind of life? Are they failures? Of course not. But how can I ever be assured that they will be able to pay their bills, save for their own futures, care for their own families, and do the things they want to do? I don’t ever want my kids to face the financial struggles that even now, their father and I handle.  I feel like if I try to encourage them to seek that stability, that I’m also telling them to sell out their hopes, their dreams, their choices, for someone else’s idea of reality.

I don’t want my kids to lose sight of their path.

I tend to be pretty optimistic most of the time. But when I read the news  and then look into the accusing eyes of my disillusioned children, I’m just not sure what to tell them.

Exponential explosions

This morning, around 5:45am, I experienced every mother’s worst fear.

I was afraid for my child’s life.

No joke, no exaggeration, no lie. I was petrified like I have never been before.

I was in a dead sleep, as any other normal person would be at 5:45am. I heard a scream that snapped my head up so fast my neck hurt. I’ve never heard my child scream like that. My blood ran cold, and all I could thing was that someone was stabbing my baby in her bed. I staggered out of bed and grabbed one of my crutches, ready to beat the life out of whomever I encountered. The Scientist was half a step ahead of me as our daughter flew out of her room, wide eyed, but conspicuously not covered in blood.

The Professor had a nightmare. About spiders. No idea what the details were, but some massive ass spider woke her up howling like a banshee.

Is it possible to be grateful, exasperated, and amused all at the same time?

I took me almost an hour to get back to sleep.


So the other day was Pi Day. 3-14. A day to make your favorite crust-filled baked goodies, riffing on the math gods.

Me? I celebrate Pi Day in a much different way.

Pi Day is the birthday of my oldest kid. This year? She turned 21. The Professor has gone and made me freakin’ OLD.

Not only is the Professor the quintessential replica of Pi: amazing, celebrated, confusing, irrational, and intricately beautiful, but she is also a mathematical Goddess in her own right. She showed mathematical aptitude from a very early age, and it certainly didn’t hurt that I was deeply offended by an article that I read purporting women to be worse at math and science than their male counterparts. Ha. Not MY girls.

The Professor went through school with consistent As in her math classes. But she wasn’t satisfied with just knowing the math. She wanted to understand why formulas worked, why equations that were just ‘accepted’ by most people actually worked. In 8th grade, she drove her algebra teacher crazy until she fully explained parabolas and how they were actually formed. When she looked for a class in college that she could take as a filler, but without the stress of a “real” class, she went for Calc 4. I explained to her that most normal people didn’t take “Calc 4” for a fluff class. But she loved it!

Grad school has proved to be a perfect foil for her mathematical genius. And now? she’s 21. She’s an “adult”, whatever the hell that means. And when she heads off to Scotland next year? I have no doubt that she’ll take the country by storm just like she does everything else.

I know a lot of parenting blogs focus on little kids, but this one celebrates the amazing adults that come from those little kids.

Happy Birthday, Professor!

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