Learning How To Love…Again

Okay, no one died or got divorced, but at 50 I find myself once again a student of love. I am trying to relearn how to mother and love my three adolescent boys who at 18, 16, and 14 are surprisingly different creatures than the smiling toddlers I swirled and twirled around the room.

I can’t carry them anymore, literally or figuratively. A Goldfish cracker doesn’t elicit the rapture and love that they once did. I am not always in charge. Their new activities are fascinating, driving, girlfriends, enigmatic computer games, but none of those things require my participation. The world may not be flat, but our solar system has changed. I am not the thing they rotate around anymore.

And that’s good. But it’s hard. As an involved (hopefully not Tiger, or Helicopter) parent I still love these boys. In fact, I love them even more than when they came out of the womb bald and bawling. But how do I express myself to these three children who are finding their independence as they get older?

I’m learning. I listen a lot. No one seems to care if I know a better way to do something or how hard to study for their SATs or what girl to take to prom or what clothes to wear. 

I sneak kisses and hugs wherever I can find them. And I try to tell them that I love them everyday. 

I inquire a lot more because I am no longer the director of their days.

I try to support them verbally as they make good choices. And I try hard to let them have some independence.

It’s hard. But it’s worth it, they are never going to be babies again, but I will always be their mother. And so I will always be on the look out for the best way to love them.  

 

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Reading Can Be A Kiss

Even with the new technology bringing us blogs and books faster than our eyeballs can travel, reading is still a somewhat antiquated mystery. There is just something magical that happens when a reader is hooked by a book.

I have always loved to read, and there are many reasons to read, but often, my very favorite reason, is to live vicariously through characters who are doing battle with some lofty adversary (whether that is themselves or something external). From the confines of my soft couch, I can be a warrior or someone who can change the world.

But when reading is most cherished, it is when I have identified with the human condition. When I can see the elements that shape a character and really understand what shapes their motivations. Sometimes these insights let me see my own downfallings or triumphs. Sometimes they just make me inspired to be a better person.  That’s when reading is really awesome for me. It’s recognizing a two dimensional character shaped with black and white characters and having the author make them real. They become people who teaches us something about ourselves or the world. I love that.

So today I wanted to recommend just a few books with my own annotated blurbs of what you and your couch can expect.

 

1. Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed. This is essentially a condensed, totally hip, utterly brilliant contemporary Dear Abby column for the 21st century. What makes Sugar different than Abby, is that you don’t have the sense you’re reading answers from a middle class white woman, you feel like you’re listening to the wind, to the inner workings of the earth, the smartest, brassiest mother you could ever imagine. We all sometimes need advice. Sugar, the columnist doesn’t back down, she takes your hand and says “…let’s walk into this crazy, broken world together.” (quote is mine, but I can almost hear her say it.

2.The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. Who knew flowers had a language? Just for that I love it. But the real reason it’s on my make me more human recommendation list is that the protagonist had a miserable childhood and this makes her adult choices so hard. Who among us doesn’t have something in the closet that still makes us close when we should be opening.

The Professor and the Housekeeper by Yoko Ogawa. Who knew that there is a love story about math? The gentleness of this book and it’s characters is so heart warming that I felt kissed on both cheeks when I read it.

I would love to hear anything about why you read or what is close to your heart! We are only a screen away, both of us looking for richness and meaning in a confusing world.

 

 

Why Math Phobia Doesn’t Add Up

I feel like I only half finished my blog yesterday. Like things got lost in the crevices of a big internet accordion folder, but of course that wasn’t true, I just couldn’t convey all the things I learned about math through motherhood in one little blog.

How could one little word, math, cause so much trouble for people? How could one of those little people be under my own roof.

We made a lot of mistakes trying to “help” during the elementary years. 

“I’m not good at it,” little person.

“You’re not even trying?” (well meaning but frustrated, make it worse big person)

And then I got it, who want to try at something they suck at? Isn’t it better to spend your valuable childhood looking out the window imagining that math would sail away to the island of unfair things done to children?

So what is mathphobia? I’m not that interested in a research definition. I’m telling you what it was for us. It was a shut down. We had like a ten second space to try to make something make sense and then, like our labrador retrievers, my little person would develop that nasty third eye that covers his lens and he’d been gone even though he was still answering questions and  moving the pencil.

It went that way for a while. It didn’t go well. Then I finally got it. It was as if someone put a bunch of Chinese characters in front of me and showed me how they made a word, and then told me that I was fluent in Chinese.  It would make me feel bad about myself, embarrassed to be in the room, shut down. 

There is probably lots of research on math phobia. Bad teachers, bad text books, but I don’t buy that completely. Yes there are horrible, lazy teachers that don’t want to teach the problem when they can simple demonstrate the problem on the board, but math is math and the texts books, even bad ones have explanations and then there’s awesome web sides like Kahn to give free examples.

Here’s what helped us.

1.Doing the dreaded homework with us. My poor math phobic but hard working kid would spend hours on errors he’d repeat the whole night long. Stopping him from hours of failure was key. What’s that reader? You’re bad a math? Sister get yourself together, where do you think the bad attitude is being fed from. We need a can do spirit. If the math is truly beyond you, ask for a tutor. Our HS has free National Merit Scholars that can tutor and then there’s the paid kind too. 

2. Make the child say the kind of problem it is out loud, even if it’s just one plus one. “That’s addition,” he says. “Yay,” I say that’s right. You have to recognize what you are doing if you are going to have success. Especially when more than one concept is being taught. 

3. Congratulate the process. “You showed your work!” “Your numbers are so nice,” “I know you can do it.” Now in the cases where a child can’t do it, I’d still reward the process and get that child into a more appropriate class where his success would be more likely if number one and two don’t bring success.

Ending thoughts, or the summary if you will. Our math phobic kid decided in 9th grade because of a teacher he didn’t love that he was going to responsible for his learning math. That’s all it took. Now he doesn’t love math, but he’s not afraid of it either. I like to think he got tired of running into trees! (yesterday’s blog!)

Why Math Is Important, Or Look Out For That Tree!

Yes. I am a certain age that requires reading glasses not only to read, but to pluck coarse black evil looking hairs from my chin. Yes it is true that my daily need for calculus may be slightly diminished like a favorite picture collecting dust on your mantle. I don’t remember higher math, but I do remember being one of the nerdier girls who look great pleasure in figuring out a proof, a derivative, remembering all the small pieces hiding the the elegance of a singular   equation.

I think it was the infinite rightness of the answers that drove my patience and let me hover over problems for hours. Yes, I like to write. Yes writing was a perfectly decorated cupcakes while math was checking the basement furnace, cluncky, darker, harder to talk about, harder to share. But I liked them both. For me, one inspired a group of answers from my soul (english) and the other demanded just a difficult discipline of my mind. That there was something soothing in a room where proofs worked, doing something correctly mattered, a right answer was always just slow ardent moments away. Doing math problems was the closest I ever was to being in a sorority, which would have been called the Patient Curious Sorority of Fairly Ugly Footwear, but I loved being in it that way I loved chocolate, sprinkles a sunset and all the other things that make the world seem magic.

So imagine my surprise when I gave birth to a math phobic son. As a mother, as a friend, wife, any close contact, we want to share our love for the mysteries of the world.He was an articulate kid. His first “word” was an order to pull off the road and give him a bottle which he had been patiently waiting during the miles we were driving in a new town trying to get our bearings.

So one day in sixth grade, this same orator of orators, AP bolstered humanities, presented to me a well thought out bullet proof example why long math was a redundant waste of his time. “If I know how to divide the first four times, and add and subtract, what if I make a stupid error at the end? The whole problem is wrong.

I listened. I wish I could tell you I was amazed at the reason and eloquence of his arguments. But my silence wasn’t colored with the rosy sheen of pride, it was a messy sticky loop of spider webs that I couldn’t get off my fingers.

Math not interesting? Math not important? Half of a math problem was good enough? I was silent which they took as success. but….

No.

No.

No.

We were in my van. He had an audience. Two younger brothers looking up through my rear view mirror with the delightful knowledge that I had been bested. Looking at the oldest as if he was superman and now they wouldn’t suffer the mean time soaking elements of math. They were already changing schedules to play more gun games and other video games.

But silence does always not confirm consent.

I drove off the road and stopped the car. Three unblemished foreheads puckered with concern. This was unusual even more me. There wasn’t a sound except the cars rushing past us.
“Well…” said the oldest, only slightly rattled that he had missed something in his perfect argument….

“Well,” I said in my neutral of tones, You just ran into a  tree. Math teaches forced attentiveness. Hidden math problems exist throughout our life. Patience, correctness, little steps matter…. I could go on.

And like anything, it’s not the answer but how you got it. How hard are you working? Can you overcome your fear?

Math is one of the few things even a helicoper mother can’t do, unless she does the homework. We do live in a world that is sometimes unfair (10 digit problems), and difficult,

but if we spend the time and avoid the trees, we get to our goals not only safely but better for our effort.

When A Tail Stops Wagging

This week we had to euthanize my 11 year old labrador Roux. The house is so quiet without his manly steps, the floor’s are a little drier without his exuberant drool, and the air is a little fresher without his…well you know.

I loved that dog.

And he loved me. I have children, a husband, parents, and friends, but none of them followed me around the house as if I deserved my own Secret Service Detail, none wagged their tail when they see me (some of them don’t seem happy to see me at all) and none trust me so much that they would roll on their back and show me their most vulnerable selves. 

These are things I learned from Roux, may you rest in peace, I would say chasing tennis balls in dog heaven, but you never retrieved anything but socks. 

1. Love is showing up. Not just meaning well, not sending a card, but actually showing physically up.  

2. Walking is a gift from God. So many smells, so many people, rain, sun, dark, bright, the world is a place of miracles just waiting to be uncovered.

3. Eating is fun. Paper, dog food, socks… you name it. Eating is a reason to celebrate.

4. Listening is really important. I don’t know what that dog understood, but he listened to me recite everything from periodic tables to angst of my darkest problems and he barely blinked he found it so riveting. He didn’t need to say a word (beside the fact that he couldn’t) his eyes and their intense love said it all for him. 

5. Pain is relative. If you have a family, a water bowl and food, nothing is a big deal until you literally can’t bear your own weight. Life and love are much more powerful than a little osteosarcoma. 

6. Touching is really important. Hugs, rubs, scratches, bellies… how many ways to say I love you.

7. It’s wonderful to live in a pack/be with a pack. Community is important, the smelly guy, the rich perfumed woman, they’re all interesting if you go close enough to give them a good smell. 

8. Life is a gift. So love as hard as you can until you literally take your last breathe. Image

 

Are There Ever Solutions to the Strongest Kinds of Sorrow?

A few weeks ago, I learned that a beautiful seventeen year old boy, an acquaintance of mine, was struck dead on his bike.

The news of it cut my breath as cleanly as a knife. For a moment I felt unbalanced and then I started to drown in the sorrow of it. He’s an only child. HIs mother is divorced. He was such, such a great kid about to embark on an exciting college/bicycle racing career.

I took a dive into those not so unfamiliar waters of disbelief, doubt, fear, sadness and married my own heavy salty tears to the streams of water already passing by my face.

Although I was primarily sad, I have to admit, senseless tragedies like this awaken my fears of the universe, they undermine my fanciful beliefs that if I can only be a good enough mother that my three little angels will stay protected.

I came to the surface of those waters and I started to swim. I felt like I drowning. New Town, War, Hunger, how many ways do we kill each other on this planet that looks so powerfully beautiful from an orbiting space ship. Is gravity the only force holding us together?

Sometimes it is. Sometimes we come sputtering up from the waters of our misery and the only thing we can count on are things like gravity.

But humans are a resourceful lot. And those horrible salty waters of pain can be swam through after all.

We all have a choice no matter what we believe, we can let our broken hearts see that the universe is still a beautiful place, and our job was never to control it, as much as we were to act like honored guests.

I guess the best remedy, or at least one small remedy, against senseless death, unexpected pain, misfortune, natural disasters, is to live as intentionally as we can with the purpose of finding love in the world and sharing it with others.

We will miss you Justin and our hearts are with you Martina.

Would Scooby Doo Make a Good Parent? Do Kids Need Detectives? Yes and No

Today I am starting this blog with the sincerest hope that you are having a good day.

Wow!  Intentionality is powerful! I started my New Year with the intention of being as sincerely positive as I can.

But that requires making an effort. Happiness is sometimes a turtle walking slowly toward us and sometimes a wave crashing over us so fast we almost miss the emotion. But either way, the problem is that if we wait for the turtle or the wave, happiness may come but not as fast as if we herald it.

So what does this have to do with kids? Everything. It is my observation that as our children become older, we forget to really “watch” them. We are so relieved to not change diapers, wake up at two am, or stop the car because our newly potty trained kid needs to go to the bathroom, again.

Sometimes I feel this exodus from parenting teenagers so strongly that I half expect Moses to appear to help the fleeing parents part a body of water for their faster escape.

And that’s a shame because beginnings of autonomy is not independence, and as much as they resemble adults they are not. Teens still need parents but what happens frequently in this transitional period is that the only communication between kids and their parents is filled with conflict.

Parent laments: “They don’t talk.” “They don’t want to be with us.” “I don’t understand them.”

And it’s true, most adolescents have not learned the life long skill of excellent communication, and most of them have NO ability to facilitate relationships with non teens. And they shouldn’t. Adults are the teachers and parents in their world. So sadly, much of what I observe is that the only communication that happens between teens and their parents is when something needs to be corrected, when a parent is disappointed, when an infraction has happened. We don’t mean it, but we have become people no one would voluntarily talk to.

And that’s where intentions and Scooby come in. Parents HAVE to pay attention to their teens, even though it’s frustrating, many times unrewarding, and confusing. We have to monitor their safety, discuss morality, and hopefully guide them to being their best selves.

Which is a long way to say that we have to have the intention of catching them at some good stuff in between the yuck. I’m not talking about achievements, I’m talking about a moment when they smiled instead of putting their bothersome brother in the microwave. A turtle moment, something that could be missed because it’s expected, and didn’t need correction.

Surprise yourself. Pay attention and quietly tell your kids that you’re proud that they did their homework last night, or that you are really relieved that they drive to school safely everyday.

You’ll be surprised. You both will. And this isn’t just something we can do for our children, we can do it for each other. Being nice is as much environmental as it is genetic. It just requires choice.

Thank you for reading my blog, I am touched that you take important minutes out of your day to share my thoughts and hopes for our children. I think you are amazing.