Random equations in the mathematics of life

Posts tagged ‘parenting’

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.

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(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 effects of subtracting one

My kids tell me that I brag about them too much.  I’m sure my friends would probably agree.  Know what?  They are absolutely right.  I do brag about my kids.  I’d like to tell you why, and encourage you to do it, too.

Consider, if you will, this website, which is all about Empowering Parents.  Wonderful!  Let’s teach the people who already hold the power cards how to handle the brats they were dealt!  Or maybe this one who thinks we should teach kids to “avoid negative thoughts”.  All of them?  How are kids supposed to learn to handle adversity, to persevere when their life gets tough?  How can we expect kids to “grow up and act like adults” if we don’t give them the tools to do so?

Teenagers are barraged on all sides with negativity.  The media, the stresses of school, work, family dynamics, peer pressure, it all adds up.  Society has drilled it into our heads that teenagers are a pain in the ass – does it not stand to reason that teenagers hear it, too?  Why shouldn’t they fulfill what “everybody” knows to be true? That one blog I referenced above even goes so far as to call their page “My Problem Child”. Maybe it should’ve been, “My Problem Parenting”.

Like anyone else, if we hear something enough times, it becomes the Truth.  (Yes, I meant to capitalize that.)  I grew up with my father telling me that I was a mistake, a regret, and a few other things I won’t repeat in public.  When he died, I did attend the funeral and the burial, out of respect for my mother.  However, I have no clue where the cemetery is now.  I know what town it’s in, and I know a vague direction within the town.  Other than that?  Nada.  I couldn’t find the place without a gps if my life depended on it.  Are you really surprised?

But what if it didn’t have to be that way? What if there was a way around the misery?

If our teenagers hear their parents tell other people how lucky they are, how proud we are, how happy we are that these teens are in our lives, they believe they have worth.  And they do!  Teenagers, if you just stop bitching about them for a second, have amazing insights.  They observe their world from such a perceptive place; the information saturating their minds.  So many different perspectives are thrown at them: political views conflict with religious upbringing, people they meet are different from what they’ve been told.  How can they possibly make sense of it all?  The overwhelming input leaves them dazed and confused.

You are the adult, right?  You are the older, supposedly wiser person in the relationship.  So use your superior cognitive skills and reshape your own words.  Does your child dress “weird”?  Why not value her sense of individuality and style, and be proud of her ability to go against what everyone else is wearing?  Is she opinionated?  Be proud that she can stand for what she believes in.  Instead of barking, try asking.  You want politeness?  Say “please” and “thank you”.  Respect your child, speak to him like a person; it’s amazing what you’ll get back.

I promised to tell you why I brag about my kids, and I know I haven’t yet.  The answer is really quite simple.  I want my kids to know for sure, every second of every day, they are valued and prized by me.  I do not want them to ever doubt my love for them, my pride in the person that each is becoming.  Because every day that I am so blessed to have my children in my life, another mother is grieving, wishing with all of her being for one more day with her own.

I’ve attended two funerals inside of two weeks for teenagers.  One died of an overdose, and one from a brain tumor.  The anguish and grief in the mothers’ faces tore my heart out.  I have cried more in these two weeks than I have in years.  It isn’t that I was close to either child; I wasn’t.  But I am grieving for the heart wrenching loss that my son is feeling.  I am grieving for those two mothers who will never again see their children smile, hear their children laugh, or hold their children in their arms.

If for no other reason, consider this: if you knew that the teenager in your life (and I know there’s one somewhere, or you wouldn’t be reading this!) was going to die next week, would you want that teenager to die knowing in his heart that he is a “pain in the ass” or would you want his last thoughts be to know that he is loved, valued, and respected as a person?

The next time you speak to or about a teenager, stop and think first.  What is your goal, here?  Change your own paradigm and you can change a teenager’s world.

A “thank you” to the Christian parents from my kids’ schools

This post is an open letter to all of the Christian parents from my kids’ schools, who helped me become a better mother.

Dear Christian Parents Whose Kids Were Around Mine,

Teenagers, while shaped by their parents, make their own decisions and have their own opinions about life as they age.  But younger kids are almost parrot-like in their behavior.  They see their parents act, they hear the words they speak, and before you can “Mini Me” the parent can see themselves without a mirror.  This is apparently especially true for Christian parents, and I was able to reap the benefits from it.  Allow me to explain.

When one of your darlings put a drawing of my son (very neatly labeled, even!), lying on the ground, battered, and being stabbed through the eyes with a pitchfork by The Devil (also neatly labeled!) in his cubby, the accompanying message of, “If you don’t love Jesus, The Devil will stab you with his pitchfork and drag you to hell forever!” was almost unnecessary.  This gave me the chance to explain to my son that, despite being a work of literary fiction, the bible never portrayed Jesus as getting pissed off enough to hire a Mob contractor to haul his enemies off to hell.  The culprit claimed that he wanted to “save” the Ambassador, and that this was the best way he knew.  This added to my conversation with the Ambassador, in explaining that some people’s idea of “saving” other people was to commit unspeakable acts of abuse on them, all in the name of religion.  I did tell him that while he was free to research the Inquisition, the Crusades, and the Witch Trials, it was best to wait til he was older and could handle the nightmares better.

When my daughter was called “Devil’s Whorespawn” and a few other creatively created phrases, it offered me the opportunity to teach the Professor about patience with people who were not as intelligent as she was.  She learned that when someone cannot manage calm, reasonable discourse, that mud-slinging and pejorative phrases were their only resources.  She gained an understanding of just how threatened a person can be by someone who is “different,” despite the differences having no effect whatsoever on the instigator’s life. The Professor learned to have a sense of humor about people who fail to separate facts from lies, history from fables, who listen to outrageous rumors instead of merely speaking to the person involved.  These people can be dangerous, for sure, but at the end of the day, they’re really just kind of pathetic and amusing.

I will definitely admit to having a bit more of a challenge when the Ambassador was shoved against lockers, or knocked down on the playground, with threats to “kill the Devil inside” of him.  The Professor and the Artist can snark as well as any big sister can, but when their brother is threatened, hell hath no fury like my daughters.  So when they flew into a rage of vengeance at “those stupid Christians,” declaring their outright hatred for the same, I am ashamed to admit I was tempted.  I was tempted to allow myself, and through me, my children, to sink to the same despicable level as your children, and through them, you.  Because at that moment, in that second in time, I allowed myself the luxury of hate.  But that isn’t me, and that is not the way I chose to raise my kids.  Instead, I stopped them.  I told them that hatred was never acceptable, and neither was physical retribution.  I asked them if they thought it fair that blanket statements be made about non-Christians based on the actions of a few, and they said, “No.”  So I pointed out that that was exactly what they were doing, and it was wrong.  I further explained that there are Christians out there who walk the walk, and in later months, I tried desperately to seek some out so that my kids would have some decent personal examples to prove my words.  I found some, thankfully, and I’m grateful for their influence.  Through them, my children learned that just because the kids at their school, and the parents who were raising them, were a waste of blood and bone, doesn’t mean that all Christians were worthless.

Looking back, I am so glad that you helped me to become the mother I wanted to be.  Through your hatred, your violence, your bigotry, you helped me to raise children who think for themselves, who explore and consider other sides of situations, who celebrate the differences that make us unique.  You reminded me not to let myself slip into the temptation to retaliate, as that would make me no better than you were then, and most likely are now.

And now?  I have seen some of your children recently.  A few are dabbling in drugs, one had criminal charges for shoplifting, one (possibly two?) were pregnant.  My kids?  My amazing, Devil’s Whorespawn kids?  Mine all started college at 16, after graduating high school with honors.  They have paths that they have chosen to follow, and are making all the right choices to make it happen.  All three have chosen careers that serve and help others, albeit in very different ways.  They are strong, mature, confident, intelligent young adults who are a delight to their father and me every single day.  They make us proud just by being themselves.

So for every time your wouldn’t allow your kids to play with mine, I thank you.  For every time you chose not to discipline your kids for being cruel bullies, I thank you.  For every time your kids stole my kids’ homework, threw their textbooks in the trash, started another rumor, physically abused one of my kids, I thank you.  For all the hate filled words that you said that came out of the mouths of your children, I thank you.  I thank you for showing me exactly what I did not want for myself or for my kids, and for giving me the impetus to raise the amazing family I have.

Tug-of-war

Some days I feel like a 7 year old, struggling with the frustrations of AD/HD.  Other times, I step back and think that maybe it’s just that my expectations are simply too high for the time that I have.  I have friends who look at my life and are tired just hearing about a normal day that I have, but I have others who do just as much, if not more than I do.  And yet, no matter how much I accomplish during the day, I can sit here from my bed, at nearly 10pm, and see several things that are not just undone, but haven’t gotten done in way too long.

When it comes down to it, I am very cognizant of the fact that what I give my kids every day of their lives is so important.  I know that when they are adults, they will not remember the fact that sometimes my bedroom was a mess, or that the wood floors went two weeks without being mopped.  What they will remember is that I was at almost -every- sports event, that their Halloween costumes were always handmade by me, that they got to experience things like ziplining and road trips to the mountains for apple picking and cutting down our own Christmas trees.  They’ll remember day trips to the beach for no other reason than to spend time together.  They’ll remember learning to cook with me, and having me teach them to body surf on the body boards.  They’ll remember me spending an hour in Home Depot while they chose paint colors for their rooms when we moved, and then seeing the pride in their faces when they painted those rooms themselves.  They’ll remember the times when they needed to talk, and knew that no matter the topic, they could seek my counsel, and that they did so.

That was the kind of parent I wanted to be.  I wanted the closeness and the bond that I didn’t have growing up, but still treading that fine line of not being their “friend” instead of their “parent.”  They’re not spoiled or ill-behaved.  They’ve been raised well by both of their parents to be caring, conscientious, respectful, decent human beings.  They celebrate diversity naturally, without having to make an effort, and have always been encouraged to explore further on their own.

I wish I could’ve been a perfect parent, but that isn’t any more feasible than being a perfect spouse was.  I always thought that if I strove to be that perfect spouse, maybe I could keep the illusion intact that everything was fine.  Of course everything is perfect between us!  Why would you think otherwise?  No, no, there’s no disintegrating disaster here.  We’re not spiraling away from each other!  Of course not!  But it doesn’t work that way, does it?  So sure, our kids have had issues.  They screw up, they made occasional bad decisions, but that’s just as normal as anything else.

But I have to admit, at the end of the day, there are times when I look around and wish that I had the time to still be the parent I want to be, and then also have the time to clean all the stupid crap that I want to get done.  I’d finish the unfinished projects, I’d organize all the stuff I need to organize, and get my house to look the way I want it to look.  Not for anyone else, mind you.  If someone comes over and judges my house?  They can suck it.  Not for anyone else other than me.  (Hell, most of the stuff I need to get done is in my own room and design space!)

Sometimes I think I just need a clone.  But for now, since I can’t have one, I’ll have to make the choice between “getting stuff done” and “being the mom I want to be for my kids.”

Guess which one wins?  =D

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