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Monday, 10 December 2018 14:28

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I’m just not a big fan of the holiday blog posts. I generally cannot relate to the happiness quotient.

They irk me as much as those holiday letters that reflect an entire year of only perfect moments in someone's else's less-than-perfect-but-shhhhhhh-don't-tell-anyone life.

I get the magic of the holidays – but only if I pause long enough to stare into the eyes of my now-young-adult-but-not-so-long-ago-much-younger daughters.

But, I have to say that even they are very tired of the muss and fuss; of the retail season that is thrust upon everyone one of us months in advance; of the "take down this decor to put up that" – only to repeat it again in a few weeks but in reverse.

My girls are wanting less to-do time so that we can have more together-time. It took decades, but they figured out the magic of the season.

Thus, our family traditions are being reinvented to minimize what had turned into “routine chaos”.


Routine chaos usually begins with any holiday that means that your kids have a longer break than you do. Everyone’s schedule changes. And it’s not always for the better or the saner.

Kids get time-and-a-half off for their supposed good behavior at their job (read: school). And for that, you get to rush around trying to:

  • spend quality time with those barely-recognizable children who spend more hours in school and extracurricular activities than they do with you. (“Put away the tech!!! Let’s do something together! You pick. And, no, not a video game.”);
  • sqeeeeeeeze and appease all the relatives who will be slighted beyond the usual “hrumph” if you don’t make as much time for them as you do for other relatives – and yes, they have a score sheet;
  • spend time with caring friends who are decidedly not using spreadsheets to compare your time with them vs anyone else because, hell, they are having the exact same issues you are and they are just grateful you are NOT keeping track;
  • see every doctor, dentist, orthodontist, allergist, and every other specialist (including the vet) when everyone "has off" so you DON'T have to figure out how your child can make up the exam that they missed because of your not-so-excellent school-year scheduling karma AND it doesn’t require that you take an increasingly-scarce sick day. (Wait: You’re allowed sick days?)

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Routine Chaos: It’s predictable. It’s the holiday season. Spring break. Summer vacation. Fall break.

Year after year. You know it’s coming. You plan it – often in minute detail. You look forward to it. (Well, some of you do.)

There are always attempts to reconfigure it for the next round to include more relaxation.

But that never works.

Expect chaos, and you will achieve a much more zen time with family, friends, and, even, relatives.

And, by the way, for those people keeping track of your overly-scheduled time (a combination of artistic prowess and project management skills), you may give yourself permission to free up someone else's scoreboard and claim that time for YOU instead.

Highly recommended. Not easy, but highly recommended.

And every therapist in the world will congratulate and hug you for your courage and honesty (even if you have to tell a white lie to get out of seeing that yet-another-required-person to free up you-space).

One more thing regarding together time: when you turn the tech off, have a pre-planned agreement of what you will all do in order to avoid the sheer unplugged panic.

Board games don’t have to be played on the screen, for instance, and you can still buy them – even the original retro ones without the plastic bits and eye-grating revamped design!

Ditto card games on that no-screen-necessary concept.

Ditto anything involving the great outdoors and a ball or bike or tent in the yard; or, depending on your weather, a snowmen family or treehouse or Little Free Library construction project.

Ditto family movie night that ends in a popcorn food fight followed by a treasure hunt of who can find the most pieces and ending with hugs before your teens even know you hugged 'em.

Be creative. Be crazy. Let your kids and family know that any idea is up for a majority agreement and if it’s not unanimous, then oh gee, you’ll have to spend even more time together with Plans B, C, and D. 

Finally, remember to this: Be decidedly un-adult. That is: let your guard down and find your inner child again. That’s a gift for everyone including yourself! A little mess. A lotta laughter. And a lot of utter silliness.

**

Routine Chaos. I can’t say I recommend it. I can’t say I enjoy the anticipation of all the changes in schedules and moods. But I can say that when I let go of my “have-to’s” and encourage more “want-to’s” for myself and for others, it’s a helluva lot more fun.

And I love those moments.

With the people I love.

Memory makers. Our way. Routine chaos becomes a family tradition of laughter and letting go.


Kat is CEO and Creative Director of TiffinTalk, a company that creates cards focused on different themes for different uses (therapy, parenting, coupling, and “senioring”); cards that are meant to be personalized, to engage in real time, face-to-face conversations. When we shift schedules, we often finder it harder to talk; our usual "How was your day?" falls even flatter – especially if you were a significant part of an awkwardly silent day. Whether you are interested in bettering conversations at home, with students at school, with clients in therapy, with your own parents, or with your colleagues, TiffinTalk has got you covered. In an age where we unlearned how to talk face-to-face, TiffinTalk to the rescue. Less chaos. More moments. Email Kat (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) to talk about talk.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018 23:18

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There is a ball pit of empty water jugs in my daughter’s bedroom.

You see, she went to college and took her service dog with her. So I’m filling her room at home with her dog’s favorite toys. Lots of them. The floor is covered.

Maybe it’s my coping mechanism.

**

Four years ago, my oldest daughter's college president had welcomed anxious parents with anxious freshmen with these words: “Your children will miss the family dog – their pets – more than they will miss you.” I have honestly forgotten anything else that man said. I think I immediately tuned out exactly at that point. Because I just looked at my daughter on her move-out / move-in day and I wondered how many minutes the cats would take to adjust to her absence. I really didn’t think it would be a mutual missing and I certainly wasn’t going to tell her that right then.

Her president, as it turns out, was mostly right: my daughter missed the cats (marginally) more than she missed me. But that’s because we talked as often as she wanted / needed to. The cats, on the other hand, mostly walked across the keyboard and butt-faced her as she spoke fluent Meow with them and they haughtily pretended not to listen. I’m not sure that they helped as much as I tried to in all of her moments of indecision or crises but, yes, they were around. And, yes, she missed them.

The thing that this college president didn’t mention – and that I had no way to foresee – is the situation in pseudo reverse. Imagine him saying: “Parents, you will miss your child’s service dog more than you will miss your child.”

And holy crap, he would have been right on that count. I still have 3 cats for company and upkeep. But I no longer have a zoomie doggo that flops over for cuddles when she is unvested.

Granted: The cats are not likely to swipe my glasses and play rugby with them on a tennis court.

And these cats are bored by mice, especially dead ones that have likely eaten rat poison left by the landlord (whilst in between tenants) and if they ate one, they would not projectile vomit in quantities un-feline-like all over the back of the front seat of my car, the front of the back seat of my car –– basically the entirety of my car.

And yes, these cats usually don’t consume human food that is not fitting for them and so avocados and chocolate are safe on the edge of countertops once again.

Still, the cats, while comforting and phenomenal bed-warmers, do not look at me with a goofy face and a tail that may wag off their butt. They remain calm, amusing, comforting, and often worthy of their own YouTube channel but they are just not . . . well . . . just not the same as the doggo. Who knew I'd come to love that pupper when she first arrived 2 years ago for her training and lifelong job?

So I can talk to my youngest daughter. And we do. And she catches me up on all things college and all things disability and all the ways she advocates for herself (and, unintentionally for others).

The thing is when I try to talk to the pupper in the background, the dog occasionally looks toward the camera with great boredom and I feel a sense of depression that screams: “At least BARK at me! What about a slo-mo tail wag? Let me know that you miss me a quarter as much as I miss you!!”

Is it possible she has forgotten me? (More likely it is because dogs have a limited ability to clearly see video and she is probably confused by where my voice is coming from, not to mention why it is distorted. My best guess is that she has politely decided that it is best to ignore me versus looking embarrassingly dog-confused.)

Meanwhile, I am distraught. And I look downright miserable as I talk to her in my high-pitched, just-for-doggo voice. Ridiculous. I know.

Without an ability to keep in better touch, the best I can do to feel close to her is to keep hydrating and saving her favorite toy: an empty water jug.

In a rental home where the water potability is dubious, we buy the jugs. And we recycle every single one of them – AFTER the dog has had her chance to play tug of war, chase  her prize catch after tossing it around and pouncing on it and nudging it across floors. Finally ending with a display of her extraordinary skills at compacting.

Each jug has my love in it: from fully "inflated" to the flat-chewed-plastic-toy-thing.

My daughter’s room – well, their room – as I noted, is full of gifts now and that "love a la jugs" has overflowed into the bathtub. So, they'd better come visit soon.

**

Oh joyous dog. I miss you. And when you get home, I’ve got the world’s best treats for you.

Plus . . . lots of cuddles.

Oh! And . . . a hug for my daughter. I miss her, too.

picture of a service dog pushing a door opening button

Wednesday, 26 September 2018 16:29

woman walking down a dark corridor

Warning:
My writing Don’t Tell. No, Tell was unexpected.
The content of this blog speaks frankly to abuse and may be triggering.

 

Let’s have at it. If it didn’t happen to you, it did happen to someones you know. And yes, that is plural – more than one someone.

Likely it happened in your teens. But also likely that you were a preteen. Or younger. Or older.

And highly likely you never told anyone about the assault. Maybe you didn’t want to call it an assault. You didn’t want to call it anything. Safer that way: if you didn’t name it, it didn’t
happen . . .

Also likely, you were assaulted more than once and possibly by more than one assailant. Victims who don’t seek help often find themselves in the same similar, horrible situations. Déjà vu: familiar storyline, different characters.

Whether you shut it out of your memory for years or decades and found yourself triggered by a recent event – the news, your own child turning “that age”, a colleague or friend deciding to unexpectedly “confide” in you; or whether you have lived with the silence, the fear, the shame, the guilt, the confusion and you hoped never to speak of it. Ever. No matter your “whether”, it haunts you in inexplicable ways.

Maybe you wondered who would believe you. Maybe you questioned whether you were just as much to blame – or more so. Maybe you believed that “nothing” really happened because everyone gets bullied, felt up, yelled at, punched, touched in inappropriate ways. Maybe you were threatened.

I know all that. Personally. I was sure that I was to blame. That I did something to make it happen. That I did something to make it NOT stop happening. That my not telling anyone was a sign of my fear of my assailant who claimed he would inflict harm on those I loved; but also that my silence was a sign of my weakness and my manipulated thinking that I actually liked or deserved the abuse. Such assaults involve a cleverly planned redesign of facts and truths that amount to total control by one and total fear by the other. And assailants are infamous for their mastery of these mind games.

I was at the top of my class in school and I was failing life. And no one knew. I was that good at keeping silent; he was that good at making sure the rules were clear. There was no class in combating the mind games of an assailant.

And then I discovered that he was torturing other girls . . .

Only then did I escape my own torture – this time. I tried to save one other girl but she refused in fear; she was in too deep. And I never told anyone else. I couldn’t speak it – there would be consequences for her.

I have lived with the shame of what happened to me. And I have lived with the shame of not telling anyone then, since, and now. And I have lived with the shame of what that silence has undoubtedly meant to so many others he was abusing then and those he would go on to abuse.

Those of us who live with a history of abuse often choose to stay silent. That kind of fear and shame does not suddenly find a voice of strength and courage against the masses of support and love that the perpetrator has created for their public persona. We know who we’re up against. We know it will be “I said vs they said”. There is rarely evidence. Not months, years, decades later.

Some victims suicide. (I considered it often.)

Others experience a lifetime of depression and/or PTSD. (I know.)

Some choose addictions or self-harm for reasons they may know but will never divulge in order to numb what happened. (I understand.)

Decades-old death threats (even in the face of today’s logic) do not simply dissipate into a shrug of “how could I have ever believed that I – or the people I loved – would ever be harmed?” Sometimes, there was blatant proof of what the assailant would and could do. But rarely does a victim need proof. The threat is enough.

**

I needed to check my reality recently. There has been so much news that I can’t seem to escape and so much internal confusion to keep the past from being my present. I asked a friend if it was any different for him having been severely and repeatedly bullied decades ago from grade school through high school. He told nobody then because he knew of no one to tell who wouldn’t make his situation worse. His silence to this day remains his shame. And his voice today drops to a hissed, angry whisper when he speaks of the time that perhaps now explains his lack of self-esteem as well as the other demons he battles. He is an abused man, wounded decades ago and still bandaging those same wounds today but there is not enough antiseptic to cleanse the shame.

I listened to his low growl and realized that I hadn’t understood how far-reaching “assault” can be defined and how, no matter the method, the repercussions remain the same. In fact, I once dared use that 4-letter R-word (I have difficulty saying and writing it) and someone asked me to explain what I meant in detail – insinuating that I may have misunderstood the meaning, that I didn’t know. I suddenly realized that they didn’t know.

If I reported my assailants today – because yes, I was one who fell into the pattern that confused a lack of self worth with deserving more abuse –, it would be simple for each of them to find hundreds of people to stand up for them, to confirm their outstanding characters.

I am certain that every recently accused priest would also have a crowd of at least 65 parishioners who would attest to their good name – 65 being today’s magical number, at least for Brett Kavanaugh.

Serial assailants live in a world where they are often revered. And they prey on those whose silence they can easily coerce. Whether it was a single event or years of continued abuse, they can bank on their victim’s inability to speak even as the assailant’s “other” community surrounds them with adoration. Their status means they can abuse with impunity, because nobody wants to think that they are capable of horrible things.

** 

A recent article on NPR focused on how to talk to our teens about the Brett Kavanaugh news.

I blanched. As if far too many kids couldn’t already explain it to us.

Are parents ready – will they know what to say – when their teen tells them about the abuser in their lives? Are parents ready to believe and not challenge? Are they prepared to get help so that their child will not continue the silence and shame that may haunt them for decades until the truth becomes that much more impossible to “prove”? Are they prepared to hear that someone they like and have always trusted is a person whom no one should like and no one should trust?

One of my assailants was the popular guy at school; he was a leader. Teachers liked him. Other students voted for him. My mother asked about him often.

If only I had been on that side of the playing field where the adoring fans sat and not trapped beneath the bleachers, locked in the prop closet, or held captive in a rarely used bathroom with a hand over my mouth and a whisper of what would happen if . . .

I can barely find my voice and I shake while I type this, but I’d like to say:

To Professor Blasey Ford: I believe you.

To those reading this and remembering a past they continue to hide: I believe you.

To those who are supporting someones: Believe them.

To the parents whose children may be brave enough to speak: Believe now; don’t encourage – don’t allow – decades of debilitating silence.

To the me who wrote this: I have always believed you.

I am sorry that I couldn’t speak up sooner.

**

#FindingMyVoice #Believe #MeToo

The next blog will be cheerful. Promise.
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Kat is CEO and Creative Director of TiffinTalk, a company that creates cards focused on different themes for different uses (therapy, parenting, coupling, and “senioring”); cards that are meant to be personalized, to engage in real time, face-to-face conversations. TiffinTalk’s FindingYourVoice line was perhaps Kat’s first attempt to find her own voice by creating cards for mental health professionals to use with with their client centering around specific themes. She understands the impact of a card that is addressed and personalized and how that simple act often has a profound impact in helping clients to find their own voices versus continuing to build walls of silence with mortar of shame. Professionals in private practices, in schools and universities, in larger organizations with inpatient and outpatient populations who want to ease into conversations around abuse might consider the following sets: Death of an Abuser, PTSD, or Trauma. But, they will also realize the importance of Self-Harm, Eating Disorders, Self-Confidence, and others. For parents, Kat recommends that you build face-to-face conversations via her Child & Teen line. When you are talking with your children about fun topics, oftentimes our kids let down their guard. Then call a professional! But keep on talking and use the cards to help guide you into conversations that elicit responses longer than a monosyllable. Talk is so incredibly important. Please see look through TiffinTalk's site or contact Kat directly - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Sunday, 16 September 2018 12:02

“You Can’t Save Them All” and Other Words of Advice I Can’t Stand to Hear

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Recently, I lost a teen to the world of her unwell mother. The presiding courts were in a different country and a different culture and will not rely on the expertise of mental health professionals – yet. It is changing, but those changes will be too late for this young woman as well as her brother. For them, the damage will be done.

I cry and I rage. Present tense. Still.

Friends and family have cried and raged with me. But occasionally, I would hear “You can’t save them all."

ARGH.

Sometimes I’d find myself in a controlled state of frustration trying to explain that I wasn’t trying to save the world; I was trying desperately to help this one young girl and her brother. Only 2 kids. Tops. It’s all I had room for. In my heart. In my family. In my simple home. Just these 2 kids.

And looking at the shock on the faces of those who thought they were being kind, I’d remind myself that I can’t simply explain this scenario to anyone and everyone and expect the perfect response when they can’t possibly know all that brought us to this point. I need to pick and choose the recipients of the stories of my freshly broken heart.

**

Don't get me wrong: I know that I have been guilty of the “meant-well reply” myself. But more and more lately, I try to shut up and ask internally “What would I need to hear?”.

Or better yet, ask the person before me, “What can I say to help?”

Or, better still, ask, “What shouldn’t I say to you right now?” Now, there's a question with a twist! And it has created room for breathe-able conversations!

With that question, I now watch and listen as people seem so relieved to rant about the painful and occasionally ridiculous remarks that others have made – and I have just saved myself from being one of those “others”. By asking what not to say, I’ve almost unintentionally given this person a safe place to have a mini tirade and then to laugh and live the moments that they need to live as they describe how life has been – or hasn’t been.

We are all guilty of making those offbeat remarks and they usually are in response to a loss – a moment of grief and grieving, whether it has just happened, is happening, or even if it happened days / weeks / months / years ago. The list of possible well-meaning slips is endless and you will recognize them and cringe (having said one yourself or having had it said to you):

  • One day they will come back to you. They will be grateful for all that you have done for them.
  • Thankfully you knew them as long as you did.
  • There must be a reason you lost this one now.
  • Luckily you can try again.
  • You can always remarry.
  • You should start dating.
  • You can always get another dog / cat / bird / gerbil / <pet> .
  • It was only a dog / cat / bird / hamster / goldfish / <pet> (Somehow the reptile and small mammal family are more easily dismissed.)

Grief is an amazing process. Going through the sadness and fury and the despair and moments of laughter is insanity. At times, I live in a roller coaster inside a washing machine. Often, and without warning, I drop from a high altitude and am speeding into a corkscrew and then am awash in every feeling from tormented sadness to extraordinary anger and even an inexplicable fear before being wrung out. By the end of this ride-cycle, I am  nauseous.

Mostly, I think I’ve got this all worked out and then I see something (food? pet? billboard?) or hear something (pop song? music from broadway musical? YouTuber laughing and ranting at the same time?) and I’m exhausted by sadness.

Sometimes, it's simply a smell or even the feel of something. Whatever it is, I start to cry. Sometimes sob.

If an event reminder pops up on the calendar or mail just keeps arriving anyway, I stare, I get flustered. I go blank and lose my place in time.

And this grieving process now triggers other losses from my past – different scenarios altogether, but losses nonetheless.

I also find that I compare my grief to someone else’s and try to quash my feelings, believing I have no right to feel x or y or z when compared to So-and-So and his loss, or My Good Friend and her loss, or a stranger in a war-torn country and their losses. Then I know I need to regroup: Would I ever accept someone else trying to ignore their grief by agonizing how it compares on a “Global Grief Scale”? No. Certainly not.

Still I feel like I can’t trust myself. How can I ever know who will stay? Anyone may go at any time. Others are taken. Still others are lost to a system that won’t help them out.

I haunt myself with what more I could have done and should have said. That, I know, is part of the process. Perhaps the spin cycle.

Circumstances be damned.

I can’t see the future well enough to trust it. I know the present. And I know I that I feel that I have failed.

Right now, though, if you take my hand and look me in the eye and tell me, “You did everything you could”, I would be grateful. 

Such a kind reply. And just what I need to hear.

Thank you.


Kat Rowan, CEO and Creative Director of TiffinTalk, recommends talk. TiffinTalk’s different cards lines inspire face-to-face communications that may help us help others grieve. Loss is challenging. Talk at such times can be even harder. TiffinTalk’s FindingYourVoice line for mental health professionals and their clients can help break through fortresses of silence, to help with those topics that get “talked around” instead of “through”. Talking Across Generations specifically helps adult children share stories of past and present and crosses into discussions of loss and planning for loss. And the Child & Teen line reminds us all that talking with our children about the silly theme for the week can help them to talk about the harder topics such as bullying and grief that just don’t surface at the moment we are ready to hear them. TiffinTalk: Tech Off. Talk On.

Monday, 27 August 2018 18:47

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You know how you “win some; you lose some”? Well, two years ago my youngest lost some.

Her plan went south; which meant, incidentally, that my plan also went south.

At first, it veered. Then it tumbled. And then it plummeted.

Her plan? Go to college. Her reality? Her health. And that translated to: staying home another 2 years and training a service dog.

So that then she could go to college.

And, for me, that translated to: so much for empty nest and downsizing and missing my daughters and re-thinking my life, what I could do, where I could go . . . And ended with how does one get a service dog? And holy cow! How does one afford a service dog?!

It actually meant that we both rethought our lives. And our plans.

To be honest, I took many deep breaths. In our family, when things don’t go as planned, the entire home almost runs out of air because each of us is taking so many deep breaths. We stress. We cry. We rant. We hyperventilate.

Then we get on with it. Don’t get me wrong: we still stress. But we begin to shift. To see opportunities. To create a new plan.

My daughter’s new plan? To work with a professional to train her black lab puppy to be her literal lifesaver so that she could live and work independently. It became her 24/7 job and it was hard work and then some. Her plan depended now on a dog that would go beyond house training, to polite dog training, to disability training. Sometimes a phenomenal dog may just balk at any stage along the way and then becomes a phenomenal pet and you must start again with a new plan. My daughter was – literally and figuratively – banking on this puppy.

Plus, my already mature young adult took on more responsibilities for her health; her life depended on it. She learned to advocate. She learned to navigate systems that most of us hang up on. She learned to read the fine print before signing. She learned to ask questions – and repeat answers for clarity. She learned to ask for names of anyone and everyone she spoke with. She learned to make copies and file every note, test result, medical and legal document. When she became tired of doctors doubting her vague but painful symptoms, she journaled in great detail. She became an insanely organized, medical maniac who could answer every question about her health – to the date, time, meal, weather, etc. OCD? Not so much. More like: “My life matters, thank you very much.”

My new plan? To help my daughter by getting out of her way. To continue to be available as her taxi because she’ll never drive and, with her dog still in training, public transport wouldn't be an option. To be her biggest supporter. To listen to her. To shove her into new, socially awkward (read: any and every social) moments. (Remember that her peer group had moved on. Being "stuck at home" with mom and a growing puppy is . . . well . . . isolating, no matter how cool a mom I try to be.) And ultimately to be grateful for unexpectedly getting 2 more years with her.

During this time, she taught me everything I still needed to know about parenting.

**

As with every moment of my daughters’ lives, they have always let me know when they were ready – from sleeping in their own bed to piercing ears to driving (or not). It’s not an age in our home; it’s a stage. And I have trusted them to clue me in.

Well, my youngest just clued me in. Her dog just passed all of her tests. The pupper-now-doggo is officially her service dog. And the two of them leave for college. Together. That’s the plan.

Perhaps it was the plan all along. Sometimes, we don’t see a plan coming because we are so engrossed in what we assume the plan is supposed to be.

She is soooooooo ready now. Scared and terrified, but ready.

I am sooooooooo ready for her. Note: for her; but not so much for me. I’m scared; yet, in many ways, I’m ready. I have to be.

We'll both walk tall.

One of us will have her service dog at her side, always worried how others will perceive her and always worried that her well-trained dog will show her best side at all times – lest anyone doubt either of them. She will always need to understand that, thankfully, neither of them is perfect. She will have the memories of how far she has come, of the additional steps she has taken to change plans and begin anew.

And one of us will have the memories of the 2 additional years she gave me as she taught me strength and a determination to succeed against the odds.

To hell with the plan. And to hell with the odds.

Sometimes you win some. And then sometimes you win some more.

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Kat is CEO and Creative Director of TiffinTalk, a company that creates cards focused on different themes for different uses (therapy, parenting, coupling, and “senioring”); cards that are meant to be personalized, to engage in real time, face-to-face conversations. The original line, Child & Teen (formerly called Parent – Child & Teen) was written over 16 years: daily lunch notes on construction paper for her daughters. She and her daughters never missed an opportunity to talk and together remembering to breathe while creating new plans.

Thursday, 21 December 2017 22:15

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Just last week I saw Santa in Trader Joe’s. As in my Trader Joe’s in my small town. It almost makes him my Santa.

Almost.

You’ve probably seen him, too. He’s been in malls, on street corners, in parades. Maybe he’s visited your town, too. Your  Santa.

But, how fun it was to see him shopping. With a cart. And – in teen speak – like, everything. He wasn’t in his usual Santa sitting position, greeting and waving. I am sure he was the real deal. I mean the real Santa would need to shop, right? So it’s sort of like seeing your teacher (or your kid’s teacher) or your dentist in the supermarket.

Whoa.

Santa just shopped and ho-ho-ho-ed and talked to everyone while pushing his cart. Kids stopped him. Heck, even adults politely asked if he could answer questions – and oddly, they were real questions. Thankfully, Santa is a respected source. No one taunted him. How cool it was to watch this. How cool he was to offer his jolly self to others. And to give such thoughtful replies.

Talk about giving.

We’ve just exited Thanksgiving here in the United States and we enter a season of holidays that speak to the beauty of what is often referred to as the Season of Giving. And all the while this time of year also vies for major receiving as its end goal. This is entirely confusing for kids, not to mention the adults who are out there shopping with predetermined limits that few can actually stick to.

Meanwhile, many kids are wondering: which is their holiday? And why can’t they have all of them? They all seem so good and kinda cool. And then can they just get everything – something for every holiday?

And globally, there are many, many more holidays that are still not seen here – celebrated more privately and not (thankfully) commercialized. Those who observe those holidays might feel lucky that the grand marketing machines haven’t been paying much attention.

I have learned to accept that people will say “Merry Christmas” with the translation of “Happy Whatever Holiday You Celebrate”. I understand that their intention is to wish good will and joy and that their greeting is not in any way a wish or an act of religious conversion.

I understand that this season is a season where many of us try to find ways to give – even as our children expect to receive. And as parents, we grapple with the balance of how much to give and what that giving should actually be – not just look like – but be.

As adults, we struggle to keep up with our kids’ requests, with our neighbors’ decorations, with the commercials of happy families, and with the holiday letters and Facebook posts that leave us bruised as we compare and contrast our realities to the “truths” presented. And we are fearful of letting our kids down, of not giving them enough. And then, in the next breath, what if we are giving too much?

And we wrestle with this because we KNOW with certainty that the best gifts of all are not necessarily boxed and wrapped.

The best gifts involve our time, our intention, as much as our attention. Sure, kids want something they can point to, show off to others. But what if we can help them to point at us? What if we could be their BEST gift just as our kids are (almost?!) always our BEST gifts – every day.

It is a thought as you purchase new technology for them and then decide on how you want to set the ground rules for its use and then stick to those rules or that contract that you both sign. (For help on this, I refer you to a most excellent contract drafted by Avron Welgemoed who expects you to revise and personalize it.)

It is a thought as you might use this time of year as the excuse to restructure, redesign, or simply write how you’d like tech usage to change in the new year.

It is a thought as you take the time to talk. To be in the moments. To wrap yourself up and put your tech on silent mode (or better yet, turn it off!). To challenge your family to get off of social media (even for a little while). To stop posting pics and instead choose to create memories for your own home that are private, personal, and yours alone because you can print them and snail mail them in frames (remember those!?!) to only people you truly know and care about. At the risk of lecturing: no company should own your family and your time together. Not ever.

**

My young adults? They still believe in Santa because they believe in me. They believe in the other holidays that we observe and the ones that we have come to know from their travels and learning about other cultures and religions. So very many traditions. They believe in giving and yes, of course, they like receiving.

Don’t get me wrong. We wrap presents. But we are looking more at each other and asking “what of myself can I give to you?” It’s way cool. This giving. This receiving.

Imagine if we all – the world around – redefined giving. If it involved more intention. More attention. More time. Fewer dollars. Fewer worries about whether we were getting the right gizmo. More selves.

Red bow optional.

(Oh, and that big empty refrigerator box is a bonus. Because, let’s face it, we all love those boxes and the forts that we can make together so that we can fight the pirates in between reading books with flashlights. Now, there is a gift – for every age!)

**

And to my  Santa: Thank you for giving in such a subtle and beautiful way. I hope you got all the things on your (shopping) list!

Sunday, 03 December 2017 18:05

33980210 m

Elisabeth Stitt, parenting coach and owner of Joyful Parenting, ended a blog post with a powerful all-capped question: WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU GROW UP?

While the post was about helping our children with that question, I think her blog was secretly written for parents often silently asking that question of ourselves. Thank you, Elizabeth, for asking grown-ups what they want to be because I rethink and reevaluate this for myself frequently.

With respect to our kids, what I do know is this: Often we need to remind them that their answer is allowed to change many times over. We are allowed to pursue one dream and then exchange it for another that may or may not be remotely related — as so many of us have discovered several times over. And I know this: We need to be more honest with our kids AND with our selves.

future career young boy 01

Our kids think that even as 7th graders and certainly as 12th graders and then for sure as college seniors that they should know; they MUST know. They must have that career precisely defined. Not just a business owner – but a developer of a new app (that will make gazillions of dollars as they market it to the entire world). Not just a cook – but a Thai fusion chef with a touch of Southern Brazil. Not just a doctor – but a right big-toe surgeon and only for children ages 7 through 15. It has to be exact. They can dream but they need to dream big and they need to dream in exacting detail.

And yet from preschool through college, they are still children/young adults. They are still exploring a world of job titles and possibilities that they cannot possibly even know yet to explore. If it’s not a strange job title in a movie credit or something they’d read about in a book or see in a TV series, then they likely don’t know a bazillionth of the possibilities out there. Even at my age (ancient per my teens), I still meet people with jobs I never knew existed and I am fascinated – truly fascinated – by how that person found their (current) life’s work. And as you know, it might, but rarely involves a college degree in the major that led to that particular job that they are still doing years or decades later. In fact, there couldn’t possibly be a major just for that “weird position” and yet someone clearly needs to be them and to do just what they do. But how in the world did they get there?

**

So maybe what we want for our kids is to help them at every turn to widen – not narrow – their focus. To encourage their passions by connecting them with people AND with dreams. By giving them every opportunity to meet “experts” and help them to listen and then to ask “So if someone was interested in almost what you do, but . . . not exactly, what else would be close?” To let them quit playing doctor as a toddler or soccer as a preteen or being treasurer of their club in high school so that can play or be something entirely different for a while.

Let them explore. Let them be right about their current passions. Let them be “almost right”. Let them be grateful to discover that they were so incredibly wrong. That, ewww, they’d hate being a “Door Knob Salesperson” because they never realized how many doors they’d have to knock on to make the business work. Or how lonely it would be. Or where they’d need to live. Or . . . or . . . or . . . So many “ors”! (And I am not knocking door knob salespeople!)

We are experts at encouraging our little ones to explore, to go on the most amazing treasure hunts in and around the house. No fear. Just discovery and joy. And then, just as they are starting to explore the adult world of life and meaning, we tell them to stop. To find something and stick to it. And as they get older, it’s less "find" and more "stick".

We need to encourage new treasure hunts for our growing kids. Perhaps the one path that we thought improbable might actually lead somewhere else because we simply supported them on their journey and gave them options along the way — not “outs”, but options that could help that journey or allow them to veer left into something totally unexpected – a new passion. Isn’t now the right age to discover without the fear of “failure” (which, by the way, may indeed lead to the “AHA!” of success)? If we at all encourage that sense of being allowed to fail (or "dread") now, to realize they got the dream “wrong”, imagine how it translates when a job doesn’t work out later. (Actually, you might not have to imagine.) They might already feel empowered to mourn a loss briefly but then be ready to try something else. 

We also need to give them the freedom to do something less grand and more prosaic than the fantastic dreams of childhood. We must not allow our children to feel less than wonderful because they thought we were counting on them to pursue the big dream, to be the star player . . . let them discover and define “grand” in the years to come. (The show cannot go on without the entire cast; the surgery cannot be performed without the team; etc. I recently met a young man  pursuing his dream to research soil around the world. Talk about grand on so many levels and yet … dirt?? He’s going to study dirt? Yes. And, at least for now and hopefully for years to come, he has an incredible passion to do so. Turns out our ecosystem may be grateful for his passion.)

**

Maybe career paths are like color choices.

My younger daughter loved every color – in turn. She started with pink. All pink. Then it was definitely red. It shifted to yellow and sky blue and then purple. I could not keep up. I gave up. I had to ask, almost daily. As she pushed through her career dreams in high school, it was the same rainbow, but this time of ideas. Until she landed on something totally unexpected and then she was one determined teen. So determined that when I enrolled her in a class just for that, she balked. Scared. No way. It was a dark and stormy fight as we drove to that first night of class. Afterwards, she asked to go back and took that class for 5 more semesters. Turns out that she discovered a variant in the class that she loved even more. Turns out that she discovered that she had previously unknown and quite impressive talents. Turns out that she is ready to explore college and careers from a few new angles. And since training her service dog, she has even more ideas on how to combine passions. She’s not stopping. She has not dug in her heels so firmly that she can fail. She’s loved the rainbow of possibilities.

My older daughter has always loved blue. Just blue. Always blue. But blue with a caveat – because blue has many different hues. There were so many “duh, mom” moments when I picked out a shirt or a paint color or even a notebook with a blue cover and yikes, I was way off. “Not thaaaaaat blue!”, she’d cry out at me with eyes rolling. (And yes, “thaaaaaat” has far more than the one legitimate Oxford Dictionary syllable and spelling.) She has kept to her 2 majors and 2 minors solidly through college and then over this last year – her SENIOR  year! – at some point, she discovered a seemingly completely different passion – but not really; just not exactly her majors . . . or her minors. College wasted? No way! Lessons learned. And a slight left turn. My gut is that she will stumble across something that combines all (most?) of her passions. That she will move toward that something with yet a slightly different shade. All I can do is encourage her not to fear the pressure of getting the “right job”. And to listen to my grad school message to her: “If you don’t know, don’t go." <pause> "Yet.” To allow herself to explore and not expect the perfect job but to find one that fascinates her, that leads her to . . . well, does she need to know exactly where yet? So many blues . . .

**

When I was their age? I thought I wanted to be a classical musician. But the truth was I was too chicken to try. I thought I wanted to be a writer. I thought I wanted to be a teacher. Later, I truly wanted to be a psychologist. Who knew that I could and would find different combinations of those careers and today be an entrepreneur? Was that my dream then? It’s my dream now.

My girls have been lucky enough to witness the growing up of their mother, to watch her not always smoothly (?) move and shift as I faced seemingly insurmountable personal and professional challenges. They know, I sincerely hope, that their professional life will most likely be a journey – sometimes amazing, sometimes not. Perspective in the moment is not entirely clear.

My message has always been: Be yourself. You will never fail at that. And you will find what it is you want to do even as you may re-decide it many times over.

future career older boy 02

Wednesday, 23 August 2017 01:04

blog departing college student 25285927

If your summer goes by the college academic year and not by the traditional calendar, then it will come as no surprise that summer is coming to an end regardless of the actual dates.

And life as you finally got used to it, at least for these past few months, is also coming to an end (again).

The chaotic schedule that you just got used to dancing around? Done.

The arguments over bathroom use (and cleanliness)? Done.

The frustrations over whether chores were done, or rather, not done. Also done.

My daughter is packing up. She’s got a spreadsheet for what she needs for the coming year. She’s making the last of her doctor appointments; is scheduling her before-classes-start-again haircut; and is trying to sync our schedules for shopping trips in whatever minutes still exist for whatever items require my opinion until we get there and I am told that my opinion is even better if I don’t voice it. I am about to really like everything she likes. (And mostly I will.)

She’s ready to go.

The weird thing is: I’m ready for her to go.

No, I’m not.

Wait: yes, I am.

Except when I’m not.

<sigh>

**

That’s the thing about this parenting gig. It’s confusing as hell.

You raise your kids from tantrum to tantrum (which by the way just shifts in style but continues at every age) to become independent. You wait for them to be independent adult tantrum-ers (did you honestly believe that adults don’t tantrum?).

And then they have the nerve to actually grow up. Mostly exactly as planned. Many go to college, come home, go back, come home again, go back again. For four or more years. Back and forth. And they grow up in these tiny-but-tremendous ways when you aren’t actually watching as you used to because you aren't actually there.

They confuse the hell out of you as they get older and demand (rightfully so) more freedom and the prerogative to be able to make more adult decisions even as they are not 25 (that magical age where the decision-making part of their brain actually matures).

They challenge your personal growth as a parent so that you must learn to parent the young adult (who sometimes returns home with their young adult very close friend who will sleep where?? . . . ) and then let them return to college only to grow up more and get even older and ever closer to that mid-twenty mark. You need to let them grow their way into it and not arrive either totally unprepared or totally over-prepared. There is some weird speed limit that parenting police can’t figure out how to monitor. It’s an under-the-radar kind of thing, I suspect. It may involve a TARDIS. I think my kids know.

They aren’t telling.

**

My home faces another 9 months of readjusted peace paired with the odd grief as we miss the daughter and the sibling and the friend. Litter pans and early cat feedings are all on those of us left behind again.

Retrieving mail? Us.

Arguing over what movie to watch? Less eventful.

Someone to hang with after work? We are one down. 

And on our own again. My daughter is either oblivious or just thinks we can make it without her. We can. We will.

And she can, too. Make it through, that is. Without us.

In fact, when we see her again, we will all have grown up a little bit more.

**

Oh, yeah, and here are those 4 (+1) Exit / End of Summer Rules for her:

  1. Call home. Don’t just text. Call. And video conference. It matters.
  2. Clean. Chores turn out to be a good year-round thing to do even if your mom isn’t checking up on you. (Trust me: when your bathroom isn’t hairy and truly disgusting, your date might actually actually ask you out again . . . oh wait, did I just write that?!)
  3. Find good people. Professors. Friends. And hang out occasionally. (And define “occasionally” with maturity that equals your current age.)
  4. Work. In class. And outside of class. And sometimes for pay; sometimes not. Balance with fun and random moments of attending on-campus events that you may never have an opportunity to go to again. Maybe a ukelele-cello duet concert will actually turn into an unexpectedly fun evening. Just sayin'.

And the “+1”:

  1. Come home. Because we love you and we will miss you. So even as you continue to move away and grow up in the process, always know that you can come home.

**

Now it’s just the small matter of how to pack the car. 

Oh, and making hotel reservations for graduation. (Who knew I had to do that 4 years ago?!) 

Definitely not ready for summer to end.

Wednesday, 06 September 2017 21:52

parenting lies signs about truth 11

In a previous life, I was a teen.

It’s hard to admit. But it’s the truth.

I’ve told my daughters this. Me being a teen and all. Just like them.

And typical teens that they are? . . .

They refuse to believe me. As if I am lying.

“When have I ever lied to you?” I ask.

Then I quickly shut up, because the ice under my feet is feeling mighty thin and I definitely just heard it cracking.

Does a willful act of fictional omission count as a lie – even with the best of parenting intentions? What if that book / movie / video is just not appropriate – yet?

Does intentional exaggeration count? Is it a lie to make something sound more gorgeous, funny, outrageous, and awesome just to get your teens to come along or watch or listen – to be part of the family?

Does pain count? Is it a lie to tell them how I can’t possibly weed, clean, do the litter pans, or any of their usual chores because my back hurts (when it does) even if I (think I) could put up with more pain and do it all myself to save my sanity (if not my back)?

What about generational comparisons (e.g. “When I was your age . . . ”) that aren't really lies? I mean . . . do I really always have to acknowledge that times have changed – a lot?

Does biding my time count? Is it a lie to (temporarily) avoid sharing certain family truths or global terrors when I know that they are not yet ready to understand or cope with the reality of the moment? (Especially if I’m still trying to understand that reality myself.)

Parenting, my girls (un?)intentionally remind me, is full of lies – not alternative facts (they are not that gullible) – just outright lies with a variety of styles, reasons, and excuses.

For examples . . .

It turns out, for instance, that The Sound of Music didn’t end with the kids singing “Good Night” in front of that magnificent stairwell. The truth was my little girls weren’t ready for a war movie until they were older. Waiting meant less internalized fears that they could never find words for and that the discussions that then followed involved deeper contemplation because they were ready, more mature. We waited out a lot of movies. Meaning? I monitored their eye candy – their books, their movies, their video games. Mean moms do that because we love our children enough to know when they are ready to consume material without being traumatized. That was – that is – my job. I shield them from the ugly until they are ready to handle the un-niceties and truths of life. And then we talk. And talk. All questions accepted. Did I call other parents to ask what movies they’d be watching? Yes, yes, I did. And every single parent expressed sincere gratitude as if I may have given them courage to do the same, as if I was starting a Parents Who Care What Their Kids See movement.

Do I always get it right? No, of course not. But, I figure explaining the few misses is still better than my girls being inundated with images and language and realities and fantasies beyond their years, and sometimes, frankly, beyond mine.

Those were the lies of intentional temporary fictional omission. They didn’t miss it entirely. They just waited.

And my girls actually thanked me later.

For lying.

**

Recently my older daughter was studying abroad. She sent me this text: “Thank you for all those years you made us look out the window on long drives. The US medians were not beautiful, Mom. But, I get it now. Because I am now traveling through the Swiss Alps and I’m the only one in my class looking out the window and not continuously down at a tech screen. You rock, Mom.” (So as not to further divert her eyes, my reply was short: “I love you, too. ENJOY!”)

All those lies I told about how beautiful the scenery was or how interesting it might be were intended to keep them aware of and involved in their surroundings. We played the Alphabet Game with billboards. (Not, by the way, recommended for new readers in cities where billboards can advertise more . . . um . . . adult material.) We played the License Game, the Count the Animals Game . . . And, we listened to audio books, cracked up together, and waiting in driveways and parking lots just to finish a chapter.

No one was allowed to solo plug in. No one had their own devices. We didn’t have a van with a DVD player. Instead we had windows to movies happening if we made up the stories about the people we saw. The buildings. The fields. The animals – alive and roadkill. And yes, sometimes my kids got bored. And, sometimes they would push each other’s buttons and that, of course, then pushed mine.

I was that mean mom who lied about how there is more to see – when I had no idea what we would see next and maybe it would look like nothing. To this day, I still strongly believe that nothing is rarely really nothing. When the girls poked and pestered each other, I had the “If-You-Have-Nothing-Nice-to-Say-Then-Say-Nothing-At-All” rule. Ah, silence is a beautiful sound. So is the sound of tired children sleeping.

But the best part of my daughter’s incoming quick text was the, “You rock, Mom” just as she was looking at rocks and mountains and parts of a country that she would never experience except in those very moments with her eyes looking up and out.

I admit here that I told the lies of intentional exaggeration as we creatively filled time and space without relying on apps and movies.

And they thanked me later.

For lying.

In fact, I “rock”. (Hey, did you know that you can see some really cool rocks embedded in a cliff face on US 80 in Northwestern Pennsylvania? Keep your eyes open; you’ll see. Where else?)

**

Some lies are about the intensity of pain or are generational – handed down so many times in so many variations. These are the coaxing lies to get our kids to cook, learn the “rules” of laundry, clean (better), take responsibility for a sibling or a pet or . . .  themselves. Sometimes, these are the truths that sound like lies of all the chores we had growing up versus what they have now.

And sometimes they are just the situational family facts. Like being a single mom. Like being a mom who had serious lengthy illnesses and numerous injuries. But it was not entirely true that I could not manage to do more of their chores. I just knew I had to pull that ace card. For their sake as well as mine, I had to say “No, this job is yours and the consequences for not doing it are yours as well.”

They registered a lot of complaints. Hell, I was Head of the damn Complaint Department. And they had their share of consequences which we negotiated even as I was Head of the damn Consequences Department as well.

But the end result was I’m healthier.

And this recent note: “Thanks, Mom. I’m traveling again and I am the only one in my group who knows how to go food shopping (and can compare prices properly). I can do my laundry, get money from a bank, understand how to keep it balanced, read maps, cook and eat on my own (or with others IF I want), AND actually – as in really – clean up after myself. You wouldn’t believe what kids don’t know, Mom.”

"Why, yes, yes, I would," I say only to myself. "I’m thrilled you are independent and yet still call home. I am tickled that you ask for recipes. I am so excited that you don’t like the smell of dirty litter pans anymore and will react of your own free will and that you understand the impact of a vacuum and enjoy the satisfaction of a scrubbed tub. Perhaps I prodded you toward your becoming independent? I'm okay with that."

And, I think, "I am proud that you see that by me being me, you are an amazing you."

A few painful lies along the way and we all made it.

**

There came a time, of course, when family gossip and tragedies and world realities were in our faces. There could be no lying. BUT, for the time that they didn’t need to know it, I didn’t speak of it. I was biding my time. I waited for my own clarity and, depending on how far-reaching the news was, I waited for the right time for them.

Define “right time”? Hell if I know; it can be minutes, hours, days. It can be one-on-one or family-time. I go as much by gut in these moments as my own emotional strength. I listen to a few inside voices asking me, "Do they need to know this right now? Can it wait until I'm more centered?" And I go from there. Centered or not.

But then we talked. I listened for their questions and answered just those. Then I always asked what more they wanted to know and what more they needed to know. The trick is in not over-answering, in knowing your child’s age and stage and needs and abilities and weighing all that against what else they might want/need to know (and who else they might hear it from). It’s dodgy, sticky, messy. Truth in the moment counts. How much to tell also counts. What moment counts.

Most importantly, every few days for several weeks, I’d check back with them (likely in the car where there is less pressure). I simply did not trust them to remember to ask; and I did not trust their other sources of information (namely other kids); and I did not trust where their own imaginations and silent night terrors might take them. So I gave them lots of chances to cover the reality again. Kids have an uncanny knack of knowing how much and what to know. And that was how and when we talked.

The truth is that I chose to wait on some truths about family peace and world peace until I felt that they could make peace with unpleasant truths and process how relationships, like friendships, shift and grow and die in inexplicable ways. I couldn’t explain everything and I learned to explain that. I never lied about what I didn’t know. I left those truths to joint internet research, other adult role models, and good counselors.

**

I may have omitted some truths, waited on others, stretched a few along the way, overstated more than I should have, but these lies never damaged our trust. In fact, as they grew up, we came to trust each other more.

And to be clear, I never lied about anything else. When they asked, I answered. And I gave them other trustworthy sources to fact-check.

The truth: I never lied about my being a teen. I was there. And (unfortunately?) I recall it. (I’m pretty sure my girls were just teasing me because their active imaginations had created those scary mom-as-teen images – that were probably pretty damn close to the truth – truth be told!)

Another truth: I am not ashamed of my lies. Nor do I believe I set a double standard when my girls reached their own whopper-lie stage. It is essential to role model proper lying and to explain the subtle differences. That’s the truth. And it’s not an alternate truth.

Lies. Truths. Both can hurt. Both have times and places and yes, sometimes, we get it wrong.

Still, my truth is that I lied. Some times. For some reasons.

And my kids are thanking me.

I rock.

No lie.

parenting lies signs about truth 03

 

***

Looking for creative ways to talk with your kids? See TiffinTalk's conversation cards for Parents - Children & Teens.  Talking with (not to) your kids can be fun. No lie!

Wednesday, 31 May 2017 15:26

blog returning college student 25285927

Enter, stage front and center*, the child-now-young adult home from college for summer break with a carload of “schtuff” to be unloaded and then repacked (with even more absolutely necessary "schtuff") in just 3 months. Oh joy.

Tis the return of the prodigal son/daughter/brother/sister. Possibly in plural form.

You can’t wait. No. Hold on a second . . . Yes. Yes, you can.

Others – including pets – can’t wait either. Actually, they can, too.

Everyone is feeling the return with growing anticipation and with rising confusion. Excitement or fear? Happiness or frustration? It’ll be a shift. An adjustment. There will be more people to laugh with, argue with, cry with, share with. The house will be full-er . . . again.

Not to be overlooked, of course, is the returning I-am-all-grown-up-now family member who also can’t wait.

But can. But can’t.

Still, it’s time to come home. (Even as they soon discover that they would like to leave again. 2 hours is great. 24 turns out to be insanely long. And there are days, weeks, and months to follow. Whose idea was this?)

**

Not long after the hugs, after checking to see who has “borrowed” what from their old room or if they even have their old room, the returning college kid is physically or visually touching everything in the house. Their trusted normal is now decidedly not their normal – no matter how hard you tried to keep things in their place or how much you decidedly moved things around. Their dependable is still dependable but … not quite to the same degree. They left that normal behind 9 months ago and, not counting short holiday breaks, they come back to what amounts to a strange degree of chaos.

Mostly internal. Mostly for them.

And that is very normal.

There is a great relief to be home. And a bewilderment. How do they fit in? Where? What’s their role? And hey! What’s this about summer chores AND a summer job?

They had more free time at college. And more friends. And a helluva lot more freedom. And, by the way, there were no litter pans or dog poop or babysitting duty or . . . any inane family rules at college. Just sayin’.

And if they’ve been studying abroad, there’s culture shock at an age that would make anyone push deep inside to debate global peace right alongside internal peace and family peace. As in: “What the heck is going on?” alongside of “How did I arrive back here? And to these politics?” and followed by “What happened to that warm, comfortable place that I remember, the one that sustained me while I was abroad and not admitting to anyone that I was homesick? Where the heck did that happy place go? How did reality screw with my memory?”

**

As parents, we are left with trying to redefine rules that everyone can abide by and reinforcing the silly ones – like “Don’t pick on your sister.” (Does that rule ever just get deleted with age? Apparently not.) Assuming we can eliminate the need to reiterate rules regarding what to put up your nose (Answer: Only your elbow and no, bendy straws and elbow macaroni are not elbows . . . ) or when to brush your teeth (Answer: More often than whatever you do … ), we are left with: 

4 Old Rules to Hang on to (Plus 1 More to CMA):

  1. Yes, you still have chores. We all live here. We all help. Your list is negotiable – to a point. Don’t push the point. And don’t take advantage. Surprise me with maturity that doesn’t compare your chores to anyone else’s.
  2. Yes, you still have a curfew. It’s somewhat negotiable, but it still exists. And yes, there are still consequences for broken rules. Being older does not equate to adult status. And, by the way, most adults live with a self-imposed curfew – sometimes career-defined, often child-defined, but defined nonetheless. Define one that makes sense and is responsible, and you are more likely to get my immediate buy-in.
  3. Yes, you still have to treat everyone with respect. We can always have differences of opinion but everyone is allowed a reasonable, measured, and even passionate voice as long as they listen at least as much as they talk. Remember that talking louder and/or screaming doesn’t equate to being right or well-thought-of.
  4. Yes, you must still listen to your parents. Chances are we will get it right more than wrong. Questions are allowed and encouraged. (See #3 above.)
  5. The Plus One: Whatever rule I’ve forgotten, I have a right to remember at any time and put it back into play. I’m getting old and senile – as you like to remind me (or think silently). And a part of that is indeed true: like you, I am older. I will always reserve the right to discuss a new rule or revamp an old one. And I pass that right on to you as well. You’ve earned that much in your old age.

To my own recently-returned, college daughter (who has by now read this post and added her 2¢ worth which is equivalent to 2 gazillion parental points): You are still my child. It’s a lifelong affliction for us both and to which there is no cure. Until age 25, the decision-making parts of your brain are not fully developed. It sucks, because you feel perfectly capable now of making every decision that comes your way. Or, you feel you should be able to make every decision. Perfectly. Trust me, you’ll never be perfect on that front. (Or any other.) Two more things: 1) Please don’t give every decision of every day of your life the same weight. You’ll sink in your own quicksand. And 2) Ask for help. Don’t assume you are alone and need to be grown up and make every decision going forward. Smart grown-ups ask for help. Don’t forget how smart you are.

**

My daughter says/mumbles/screams, “Being home is hard and I don’t know why.”

Here’s the ultimate truth that I share with her: For all the angst – yours, mine, your sister’s, the cats’, and the dog’s – I am glad to have you home. I always am. For every week. For the entire summer. And for all the days of every year that you return.

It will be bumpy. But we have bumped through every age and stage, you and I together. In cuteness and obnoxiousness, in sickness and in health, in playdates and in prom dates, and in all those other crazy times from birth through high school and now beyond.

Really. We can do this one, too. We’ve got it covered. It’s not ever been easy-peasy. But it’s always been worth it.

Just do one thing: Talk to me. I’m listening. Always have been. Always will be.

And remember: when you enter center stage in that way that you just magically appear with all eyes and ears on you, I’m on that same stage with you – waiting for curtains, lights, and anticipating action. The actors are still the same. They just continue to grow into their parts whether you are here or not. That’s what makes the story amazing and utterly worth being part of in all of our changing roles and more noticeable chaos.

So . . .  

Welcome home.
Missed you.
Love you.
Always.

Chaos and all.

____

* A nod to my editors: ½ of my editors [equivalent to 1 daughter] say that it is impossible to enter a stage from the center; the other ½ agree with me that the writer is taking liberties using a combination of “front and center” as in “attention-getting” with “enter from stage …” which, in this case, is center because kids coming home from college have a way of suddenly appearing center stage ala Dr. Who or Harry Potter on Platform 9 ¾. Editor #2 won this round. And yes, it’s good to have editors/daughters who don’t always agree. Makes for great long talks which, by the way, makes this entirely the point.

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