Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Next Phase

It took C years to come to terms with his scar and what it meant. When, finally, he told me he wasn't embarrassed about it anymore, that was a huge step. Being willing to take off his shirt at the beach was another huge step, one even noted by his pediatrician.

We have now reached the next phase: using the scar to his advantage.

Soccer season is winding to a close. The coach has given the kids occasional days off from practice (which were every day after school). A couple times he's told the kids no practice, only to decide at the last minute he would hold practice after all.

This happened yesterday. C figured he'd take the bus home and I'd drive him back to school with his stuff for practice (that he assumes that since I am currently unemployed I'm now his chauffeur, at his beck and call at all times is another issue for another time). However, I was at a school meeting and not available for this. We had a text message conversation that I would be there as soon as I could, and if he didn't make it, I'd write a note to the coach.

His response: "That's OK. I can just tell him I got a flu shot. And if he somehow remembers that I already got one, I'll tell him I need two and show him my scar."

I couldn't help but laugh. I feel confident he's already used the scar to garner some attention from the girls..

Friday, October 22, 2010

Oh, the Irony

Today one of my favorite bloggers notes the release of a calendar for 2011 of "Great Conservative American Women." I really want to put a "(sic)" after "Great."

What is making me cringe the most is the ad copy that introduces a theme for each month, including, "Fight Feminism in March" (And, admittedly, I don't know who the March person is!)

Um, excuse me, but were it not for feminism, the majority of the women on this calendar would not be able to do what they do today. Do you really think the female politicians and pundits would be allowed, even encouraged to do what they do today were it not for the trailblazing of the liberal feminists of the 60s and 70s whom they so deride? Not a chance. Were it not for the inner fight and determination of the people these women fight against, they would all be June's representative - and have no other choice in the matter.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

What are you going to do?

There's been a rash of head injuries in our town recently. Just yesterday, at a soccer game in a neighboring town, two of our town's soccer players received head injuries due to hard, intentional fouls by the other team. One also cracked five ribs, and for the other, it was his 3rd head injury in 18 months. No more contact sports for that kid, period. (And, of course, the ref, contracted by the other team, "didn't see" the fouls. Convenient, that.)

It got me thinking about another friend of C's who had a bad concussion last winter in a hockey game. This nice, nice kid had issues with short term memory, headaches, and all the other classic signs. Several weeks after the initial injury, and after a couple CT scans, he was still having headaches and other symptoms.

Around that time, this boy invited C and a few others to go out to the movies. After dropping off C at the theater, I ran into the mom in the parking lot and we got to chatting. I asked about the boy's recovery and the mom told me that it was up and down. Then she told me that the doctor had said the boy should not watch a lot of TV, read any more than necessary, and basically try to avoid much visual stimulation. I was kinda floored as she'd just dropped him at a movie theater, and then she added, "But what are you going to do?"


She said she got tired of the boy's complaints and caved. I know I shouldn't sit in judgment until I've actually lived her life, but I wanted to scream right there, "What are you going to do? You are going to go get him from that movie theater and take him home and put him in a dark room with soothing music or books on tape for as long as it takes!" But I didn't.

I guess I feel entitled to say this given the experience I have had parenting a critically ill child, but I would absolutely follow doctors orders. It might be hard - on both of us - but, sheesh! As the parent you sometimes have to do the hard thing.

I hope we never have to deal with the head injury issue. Please oh please let us have had our fill of crisis! But should it happen, I know what I am going to do.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

How much has she been drinking?

A couple of days ago I was trying to write something about women in the workplace and how we've come so far - and yet haven't. My husband's aunt faced a similar work situation 32 years ago: she'd been working happily part time, a new manager came in, decided part-time didn't work and pushed her out of her job. Deja vu! At any rate, what I was writing wasn't coming together. It remains in fragments.

This evening comes word that the wife of a fairly notorious Supreme Court Justice has contacted a woman who testified at that Justice's confirmation - and asked her for an apology. (Read the comments - some are really funny in that sick humor sort of way. And all the ones that note the grammatical error.)

When I saw the news come up on my screen, I told my husband about it and his first response was, "How much has she (the wife) been drinking?" I thought that summed it up pretty well. But there are, obviously, deeper issues.

This wife has been in the news recently anyway. She has become active in some lobbying efforts and questions have been raised about the ethics of her activities. The recipient of the call has led a mostly quiet life since those confirmation hearings years ago. She's now a law professor.

The news did get me thinking about that whole event. The confirmation hearing, the testimony, the controversy - and the arguments I had over it with my dad.

It really doesn't matter to me where you come down on that whole issue. I will tell you now that I believed the professor. Surprise, surprise, my father believed the judge.

I mostly think that my father's belief had to do with his stubborn loyalty to the Republican party - though that wavered just slightly in following years when he realized that his beloved GOP wouldn't support the research that might slow his Parkinson's disease (typical scenario, yes, of believing in something until it actually affects you personally) - and his inherent optimism and belief that people are good and will always do the right thing. The later was both an endearing and infuriating quality. You'd think his years on the bench and what he saw during that tenure would have changed that, but no.

At any rate, we argued over this. I remember one conversation in particular. He was sure that in several of the testified incidents that the good judge was just joking, and the young woman (now professor) was just too sensitive and misunderstood. No harm done!

Well. At the time of these confirmation hearings, sexual harassment in the workplace was pretty well entrenched. I was "checked out," as it were, on numerous job interviews, and regularly at this one job. I was adept at dressing work-appropriate but not slimey-VP-attractive for that job. My college classmates regularly went to interviews where young male associates of whatever firm "interviewed" them, but rarely seriously considered them. Then they received letters saying things like, "Successful applicants to Goldman Sachs will be able to type 80 words per minute..." I'm not joking.

Just because it was entrenched - and, yes, likely improving over what it had been - doesn't mean it was right. It was certain of that, and told my father so. It's not about joking, I told him, but about feeling like an sexual object when I was supposedly hired for my mind. I then informed him of the ways in which I had been sexually harassed in the workplace and discriminated against because of my gender. I offered several specific examples from my then short work experience. I offered that every woman I knew had been harassed in some way, including his other daughter, his ex-wife, his girlfriends, and so on (this was before the step-bitch arrived on the scene). I didn't need to know the details, I just knew they had been. We all had been.

I think he was pretty shocked by what I told him. It's different when it's your daughter being treated in that way. I think it opened his mind a little to what some of the bigger issues were for women watching those confirmation hearings, though it did not change his view that the judge should be confirmed (which he was). It was another one of those topics about which we never spoke again.

But it ties back, in some ways, to what I was trying to write about a couple days ago. How we've come so far in the work force - yet, not. Two women get pushed out of jobs in very similar scenarios 32 years apart. Sexual harassment and discrimination still happens at an alarming rate. I'd even say it's on the rise right now as employers take advantage of anxious workers in a down economy. Women - including moms like me - still have to do battle to stay employed. We are paid less, diminished, and all that...and yet some of the most amazing, smartest, innovative, hardest working people I know are women and moms. The business world is losing out on so much of that. Why? What are they afraid of?

And now, in this climate Ginny Thomas wants Anita Hill to apologize.


Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Adventures in Parenting a Teenager

I recently wrote a short piece on transitioning a child into a new preschool for another project. It talked about acknowledging your child's different experience base, and gave some ideas for making the transition, among other things. By the time we've transitioned our kids into preschool, then kindergarten, then 1st grade, and on through the lower elementary years, we're transitioned out. We know, on some level, that whatever transition is going to be okay in the end - and so as the kids get older we tend to think of transition issues, as such, less and less.

Especially if, for example, you teenager's transition to high school means walking across the street to a different building he already knows and interacting with pretty much the same kids he's been interacting with for the last 9 years. No biggie, right?

Well, wrong, actually.

Turns out the transition to high school - even if it is across the street and with the same kids - can be a challenge. There is more work, more pressure, and mentally, it's a shift.

C is a smart boy. I'm not just saying that because he's my kid. His standardized test scores are high. His grades are good - very good, really. He has a certain awareness of his own mortality and the world that other kids his age tend not to have, probably because of his illness. But that awareness doesn't always translate into maturity.

Here's what happened:

We had to pull C from the freshman boys soccer team this week. We hope it's just for a few days, that things can come back together and he can go back. His coach was totally supportive of this decision and says he is welcome back when he is ready.

I'd been sensing something the last couple of weeks. Nothing I could absolutely put my finger on, but something. Then, last week, C didn't take the dog out or give her water for a full 24 hours, then lied about it. We pulled back on privileges and took the iPod. After that, progress reports came home, and his grades in a couple classes were lower than they could/should have been due to missing homework. The work and tests that were turned it were great - but there was stuff plain missing. We talked about it and formed a plan to address such issues. But when he called me from school asking me to bring his soccer uniform because he forgot there was a game, and I found that uniform in smelly pile partially hidden in the study, somehow it all clicked. This is off, I thought, and he needs help managing this transition. Not just the school work or the dog or other soccer laundry, but all of it.

I called my hubby and he agreed that pulling him from soccer for a bit was the right thing to do. Get the priorities back on track, then add the extra back in if we can. But I was nervous. I knew C would feel embarrassed, so I knew I had to do this quickly, minimizing the impact in front of his peers.

I went to the soccer field, talked to his coach. The coach was great, agreed with me, we called C over, and told him. To C's credit, he did not show any dramatics at the field. He just picked up his stuff and came with me. There was no adolescent tantrum in the car, no telling me how unfair it was, no arguing. I think, in fact, he was kind of relieved. He apologized, and said he knew he needed to take responsibility for these things.

Later than night, C and I talked again about the situation and why I made the decision I did. C agreed that he needed to get a better system under control for meeting his basic obligations, and hoped to go back to the soccer team soon. We talked about stress and how high school feels much more stressful, like the teachers don't really care whether you succeed or fail. I tried to reassure him that while that is not exactly true, that what definitely is different is the push by teachers to have the kids take more personal responsibility for their work. We talked a little more about talking to us when he feels overwhelmed so we can help him prioritize and strategize.

When I think about how much stress is put on teenagers today, it's no wonder some crack! They are just kids - often very little kids in very big bodies - but the pressures and the expectation are high. I think this transition for C is something we'll have to keep a real finger on, make sure it's working, so that he doesn't crack. As I said, he's a smart kid. I feel confident that he can do all of this - the school work and the soccer and the band and home responsibilities - but he needs the right support. Figuring that appropriate level of support is going to fall to me. I hope I get it right.

(As an aside, after pulling C from the team, I talked to my friend the school committee member - the one whom I helped get elected. She has a 10th grader going through some drama right now, we we've been comparing some notes. When I told her what had transpired she said, "You're probably the first parent in the history of this town to do that. I bet the coach was shocked." I chuckled. She continued, "No, really. Kids get benched for bad grades all the time and parents complain and moan and blame the school, but you are the first parent I have ever heard of who has taken their kid off a team for academic-related issues. I think you did the right thing." I was flattered to hear that last part, but was sort of taken aback to hear that I was the only parent she had known to do this. I don't know what that says about the parents in this town - but if it says what I think is says, what I probably already know from previous school-related dealings, God help us. As another friend once remarked, "This isn't the 'Age of Enlightenment,' it's the 'Age of Entitlement.'")

Monday, October 04, 2010

I Suppose I Should Tell You What Happened With My Sister

(Hold on, this is a long one)

So. The trip out west. And the sister blowout after which she is not speaking to me.

It really starts years and years ago. Don't all such situations start well in advance of the actual "event?" But I don't know exactly when it started.

It could have been when C was a baby and she came out for a few days to "help" - which consisted of her spending the morning criticizing my new parenting, then taking the T into the city for a few ours, coming back mid evening drunk, reeking of cigarette smoke, telling us about the cute sailor she met at a bar and then wanting to hold the baby. Um, no.

Maybe it started when DH and I got married and she pitched a fit because I didn't want to get acrylic nails. I've never been much of a manicure person and there was really no time in the day before. No matter. It pissed her off so much that, instead of driving to the B&B where I was staying and hosting breakfast, as agreed, so I had a ride to the church, as agreed, she had her husband drop her and my dad off. When asked where the car was, she gave me a shit-eating grin and said, "It's not here and (her husband) is not coming back."

Maybe it started when C was a baby and we went out to visit, spent most of the time cleaning out a storage space of my dad's that she had been asked for MONTHS to clean out, and then she demanded a cut of the couple furniture items we had sold. On that same trip, we went to dinner with her and two of her sons (11 and 4 at the time), and learned much about how not to parent. The boys started acting out immediately upon arrival at the restaurant, and my sister started trying to get them to stop by saying, "If you don't stop, we're leaving." Did they stop? No. Did she make them all leave? Of course not. After a little while, it turned to, "If you stop I'll pay you a dollar." They never did stop.

Maybe it started after my sister bit me.

Maybe it was the way my sister stopped speaking to me after C was sick. You know, because I was so insensitive to how worried she was. As if I didn't have a few other challenges right in my face.

Or the other times she's stopped talking to me for God knows why.

Maybe it started a lot of times. Who the hell knows.

And now has "Annoying My Sister" listed on her "Interests" in Facebook. No, really. I have screen shot of it. I'll have to dig it out. (I mention that level of maturity here and here.)

It probably most directly started two years ago. My sister's youngest son, my nephew, CS, requested that for his 16th birthday, my C be allowed to fly out there for a week to spend time with them over the summer. Sounds so benign. But in addition to scheduling challenges (we weren't out of school until late June, they start school mid August, C's sailing schedule, their extensive vacation schedule), there were these considerations:

1. C, at that point, had successfully spent the night away from home exactly once. He's a homebody. To send him 3000 miles away for a full week didn't seem realistic.

2. My sister's complete lack of appropriate home environment. My sister stays up to 3 or 4 in the morning most nights, playing Euchre with her ex-boyfriend's wife and other odd characters, maintaining no consistency of routine for her kids. Well, just the one kid left. She and her husband regularly play that kid off one another.

3. CS, the nephew, is mostly a good kid deep down, or will be. But right now he's a snarky, entitled brat. A couple of friends have had encounters with him on Facebook and can vouch for this.

4. I know other things that have gone on in that house. The value system - the affairs, for example - don't sit well for me.

5. You can't count on her in a big or little. (One of many examples: In 1999, Hurricaine Floyd was about to hit North Carolina, where we lived at the time. I was pregnant with M. I spent two days looking for batteries - we needed some backup D batteries for flashlights. I'd been beaten to them at every store. I finally called my sister as a last resort. I begged her to overnight some D batteries. Begged her. She said okay. I caller her later than day to make sure she'd put them in the mail. She hesitantly said yes. I should have known. The batteries never arrived the next day. I called her. She said, oops, she'd accidentally overnight-ed them to herself. Uh huh.)

This wasn't exactly a situation that felt comfortable to me. I said no.

My sister sent me a letter telling me how selfish I was and how much I hurt her and CS by not letting my son go. And how rude I was for giving him an actual gift late. My oldest nephew (CW), got into it, too. Yeah, a 23 year old started telling me how to parent. (A couple summers ago, when CW was interning for the summer out here, we'd let C spend a bit of time with CW. At 21 I finally felt he's gained a little maturity. Even so, consistently, for two days after spending time with CW, my C would have a nasty, snarky attitude toward the rest of us)

(I should also mention that that summer with CW, and the previous summer when CW went to an internship in anther city, my sister threw a scene each night before he left, threatening to kill herself, and all sort of other dramatics. Each time, CW almost missed flights. But I suppose that was her point in the end. And she wonders why her two oldest don't want to spend time at home.)

Anyway. This trip.

We got out there on a Friday. CW and CS came over to the hotel that afternoon to swim, and we were all to meet at a pizza place that night (one for which I had to make reservations a month in advance). CW asked for my C to spend the night. I said no. My reasoning on this was simple: we had been up since 2AM local time, C was tired, and their house would not be an environment in which he'd get to sleep at a reasonable time - and he can be a real bear to deal with when he's that tired. At any rate, we go to dinner. My sister and her husband show up late and fighting. CW is stressed. CS is a teenager, and not in a good way.

I might have considered letting C spend the night the next night, but it wasn't offered. That afternoon we went to a cool Mexican restaurant, and back to my sister's house for some dessert. CS does not join us - busy with friends. But we do finally see the other nephew, CL who had been at work. He's heading back to college the next day.

The vacation week continues. We see my brother and his kids, my mom, we go to California and have a great time.

Meanwhile my sister posts this passive-aggressive Facebook update about how "wonderful" it is to see all of us. Her friends totally catch on, and the comments are, "Like Texas?" (where her in-laws live and where she complains about going *all the time*) and "(snicker)."

Back in town the next weekend, we see my sister and her husband on Friday night, and make plans for Saturday. (No CS - I note that because there were plenty of time for CS to spend time with C, and maybe even build up some trust with me, and those chances weren't taken.)

CS wants my C to go off with he and his friends. They say they are going to do a slip-n-slide at some park. Um. Slip-n-slide at some park? With what water? This is Arizona? Everyone needs to bring a gallon of water. With what kids? Just friends. My sister can't give me names. She doesn't know. CS is 2 1/2 years older than C, and it's enough of a difference that I'm uncomfortable about judgment and exposure. And that no one can tell me who these kids are - that I'm just supposed to trust a nephew (just because he's a nephew) who has declined to spend much time with us and is really snarky in general. It doesn't feel right to me, and we have plans with my mom (whom my sister treats *terribly*) to go to the art museum anyway.

Yes, I am the mean mom and I say no. I use the excuse of one of my favorite local laws about teen drivers: For the first year of driving, teens here cannot drive groups of friends. I like that law. I go with it.

There are plans to go to my sister's house for dinner, however, and they include my mom. We pick up cupcakes from Sprinkles. We go.

We get there, everything seems fine. Well, as fine as it gets with my sister. CS comes home and my sister claims ignorance that my C wasn't with him. (I'm doubting more and more that she didn't know - I think, really, we were set up).

Then my sister says, "Okay, I'm going to say this and then we're not going to talk about it anymore. I am so hurt that you didn't let C go with CS. We are your family, too, and you should let C spend time with us."

It went on from there. She kept saying that she was just going to say it but we weren't going to talk about it. What the fuck? Why not? Well, aside from the fact that I could totally destroy her marriage with reasons why I wasn't comfortable with the situation. She is so committed to being the victim, the wounded party. It was all about how hurt she was, and what the right situation was for my C was beside the point.

I stood up and said, "I think we should go." My husband heard me, and said, "You think we should go? Okay."

Whoa! Big warning sign there. My husband, such an even keeled peacemaker kind of guy, wants to go. Turns out my sister's husband had been making snide comments about the situation in front of all the kids and DH in the next room.

Now there's a healthy house dynamic, don't you think.

A few more minutes of arguing - with me NOT saying the big things - ensued and we left.

My kids were upset and we had some long talks with them about what had happened and why we felt it necessary to leave. We didn't say we'd done the right thing (still don't know if we did, really), but expressed compassion for my sister and her family while reiterating that their physical and mental health and safety came first for us.

I called my sister-in-law and told her what happened. She totally agreed with me and understood. (My brother doesn't, but then he and my sister have always played the two of them against me. They are closer in age and their early experiences with our mom and dad are more similar, which may have something to do with it.)

We left town the next morning. No contact since. I don't know what happens next, if anything.

I don't know if I did the right thing by leaving that night. I felt like no matter what, that evening was shot, there would be comments and glares and all sorts of mature behavior on my sister's part. I just felt like we had to go, for our own sanity.

And there you have it.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Kindred Spirits

I went to the grocery store this afternoon. The parking lot was pretty full. I ended parking to the left of a late model Lexus SUV. As I got out of my car (a Honda SUV, admittedly, but aging at this point), I noticed a bumper sticker on that car next to me. It was portraits of Adams, Washington and Franklin, a la Shepard Fairey. with "Faith, Hope, and Charity" written underneath. It amused me because, well, our founding fathers were deists, not faithful "Christians" as we think of today (though Adams was a Puritan).

Anyway. I took a couple steps further and saw the bumper sticker on other side of the car. It was a bumper sticker for Glen Beck's "Restoring Honor" propaganda presentation, er, rally in late August. At first my eyes widened a bit, and then I just rolled them. I rolled them big. What else can you do?

About this time a woman was pushing her cart to her car on other side of the driving aisle. There's was a cute little girl in the front.

Our eyes met briefly, but enough for her to catch my attention when she spoke.

"I had the exact same reaction," she said.

We both chuckled, that knowing, oh, God, what idiots are among us chuckle. And went on our ways.

It was reassuring to know there are others around who share my views on this kind of thing. My town can be so infuriatingly conservative. For example, letters to the editor promoting a right side of the aisle incumbent candidate solely on party affiliation, not ackowledging the many problems with that candidate (4th worst attendance record for votes, not attending meetings directly affecting our district, taking travel per diems on days he did not travel to the state house, leaving his wife of several decades and now shacking up with his campaign manager, and so on), or claiming this same candidate is awesome because of his opinion on illegal immigration - not that there have been any votes on the topic here, and, hello, haven't you noticed where we live? It's not exactly the top issue facing us in these parts. And then there is all the stuff going on in my home state out west. Headless bodies in the desert? What? And someone who makes such ridiculous claims actually leading in the polls even though it was completely disproved? I don't get it!

And so, I take these moments where I can.

But I'm very nervous for November 2.