Advice

“The Long And Winding Road” (Sometimes We Let Our Kids ‘Yearn’ The Hard Way)

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I just hung up from a phone conversation with with my daughter, the college co-ed. She needed a little pep talk. She’s upset because we are poor. Well, WE aren’t actually poor. My husband and I do just fine.  SHE’s the one that’s poor.

The poor struggling college student. It’s a rite of passage and a tad cliche, but to some extent we orchestrated it and we kind of like it.

Now, I know what you might be thinking. We are mean, heartless and cruel parents. And by today’s standards, I guess maybe we are. But lest you judge us too harshly, let me explain…

Our daughter has absolutely everything and even more than she needs. We are paying her tuition, her rent is covered by us and she has a vehicle (albeit nothing flashy) that starts right up when she turns the key.

The problem, as I see it, is entirely relative. Like most people, our daughter’s plumb-line for normal is derived from her peers. Through no real fault of their own, some of her peers are the uber-indulged offspring of my generation; the generation that was hell-bent-for-leather to give our children more than our parents gave us.

I’m not sure why one-upping our parents was the calling card for so many of us as we waltzed into our own parenting roles, but it often was.

And, my how we succeeded.

By and large, we’ve raised a new generation that is accustomed to fine dining, has traveled the world over, swipes credit cards with reckless abandon, drives luxury cars and views many privileges, such as higher education, as absolute entitlements.

If I had a dollar for every time I heard a peer of mine sigh and lament, “I just want my kids to have more than I had growing up…” I could’ve spoiled my kids even more than I already did.

And there’s no doubt I would’ve indulged mine way more, but my rather determined husband got in my way. From the very first sonogram, he was a man on a mission, “We aren’t going to spoil these kids, they need to grow up feeling-the-yearn, like we did. It creates motivation, and builds character and self-sufficiency.”

Despite our eventual joint resolve, we still managed to spoil the little buggers more than we intended. But, not as thoroughly as we might have if we hadn’t committed to a ongoing system of checks and balances.

So what do I say to my kids when I dust off my “I’m So Sorry I’m Not Sorry You’re Poor” speech? I tell them how glad I am that we’ve left so much for them to anticipate and savor in their adult years. I say I’m happy the best is yet to come and they have so much to look forward to in life. I tell them I’m delighted that they haven’t already experienced, “the best years of their lives” courtesy of their Mom and Dad.

Granted, there’s always so much to thank one’s parents for. Mine gave me life, my faith, my value system, my education. We had fabulous birthday parties, glorious Christmas mornings, many awesome memories on our boat and long lazy weekends camping at the lake. It was grand.

Grand times on my Dad's boat - I'm the kid with my arms in the air

Grand times on my Dad’s boat – I’m the kid with my arms in the air (it’s hard to believe, surrounded by all that luxury, I longed for more in life…)

But, the first time I ever clambered onto a ski lift and witnessed the panorama of majestic mountain peaks, I was already an adult. I was married and with my husband the first time I ever stepped foot on a beach in Hawaii or boarded a cruise ship. We bought our very first brand new car together and then sat in it all afternoon getting high on that intoxicating new car smell mingled with self-satisfaction and pride.

Don’t get me wrong here — I’m not saying you’ll ruin your kids’ lives inexorably if you take them snow skiing or, God forbid on a Disney Cruise.   I’m merely suggesting that, moving forward, future generations might be wise to re-examine a few of our #Parenting Goals and rein it in a bit. There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting more for our kids; let’s just trust and inspire them to go get some of it for themselves.

Productive, happy and well-adjusted young adults are working towards their own established goals and ambitions. The common denominator seems to be that they have something to strive for.

As that Great American Philosopher, Jane Fonda, taught us in the 1980s, you’ve got to “Feel the yearn!” Never mind, that was, “Feel the burn!”  Oh well – you get the gist.

Maybe I’ll drive over to College Town, take my girl out to a chic restaurant and tell her just how lucky she is.

My treat, of course.

“Take The Long Way Home” – Complimentary ‘Parent Therapy’ Is a Must After a Set-back…

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There are 34 equally lovely contestants backstage. The Emcee is about to call the names of the lucky 20 girls who made the NBA dance team my daughter is trying out for.

She made it all the way to the final leg of this journey. We could not be prouder, even though my heart is visibly thumping out of my chest and my hands are shaking my program so badly it looks like I’m fanning myself, but I’m not.

A few have told us, “It’s in the bag!” and “She’s got this!” But as parents we can’t help but let our thoughts drift to a potentially long car ride home and the ensuing months of “parent therapy” (the only kind we can afford) if things don’t go our way. If she doesn’t make it, it will take “all the Kings horses and all the Kings men,” to put our little egg back together again.

One of the most difficult decisions you’ll ever face as a parent is just how much to “put your kid out there.” ie: what, if anything, should you encourage them to try out for.

These decisions seem fairly benign when your children are young, but the effects on our children’s long term psyche and overall sense of well-being magnify as our kids mature and develop. Simply put, the stakes get higher. As a protective parent, there are times you can’t help but think – if they don’t try, they can’t fail…

When my kids were small, they’d jump in the car with hand-outs about Brownie Troops, Boy Scouts, basketball and soccer teams; perhaps even band. It was standard to allow/encourage their participation, as participation simply meant signing up.

The process didn’t get tricky until down the road a bit, when our kids started wanting to join teams that involved try-outs, judges, coaches and the dreaded C-word “cuts!”

This is a whole different ballgame. Now you’re competing against other wannabes and their impressive entourage of parental backing. Everyone is saying the right thing, touting the party line, “We don’t care about the outcome either way, we’re just excited that ‘Junior’ likes this activity and does his best and has fun trying!”

Okay, true, but when you’re not looking, they are hiring private shooting coaches, private batting coaches and buying protein bars that cost $5 a bite. They are hiring personal trainers, purchasing world class equipment, while renting private studio space for their daughter to pirouette in.

Don’t believe them when they say their daughter is a “Tom-Boy Natural Beauty!”  Just like your girl, she’s been in your city’s finest salon all morning getting coiffed, spray tannned, her lashes extended, every stray hair plucked.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of this, per se. You just have to be realistic, eyes wide open about what you’re getting yourselves and your kids into.  The other parents and you (yes, You) probably care more than you think.

If your child makes the team or squad, it’s a high like no other. I’ve never done drugs, but I imagine that’s what they must feel like. Conversely, if your child doesn’t make the cut, it will be the worst few days or weeks of your tenure as a parent and part-time Therapist. (The length of the recovery is a complicated formula involving the age of your child, multiplied by how long they prepared for this try-out, divided by your clever ability to distract them by dangling a new dream in front of them…)

If your kid is cut, you may very well ask yourself why y’all even bothered taking the risk. You may even find yourself wishing you did do drugs, but don’t, because you’re about to need all of your wits about you, to get your child through this.

As the young ladies names were called, we held our collective breath and listened to name after name, doing the quick math calculation to see how many spots were still left for our girl to fill. Her number was 3; twice the announcer called 33 and 13 and my heart leapt hopefully.

When they called the final squad member it wasn’t our beautiful girl. Our hearts sank into our stomachs. Several caring strangers seated around us reached over to clamp our shoulders in disbelief and astonishment. “She was amazing! “We thought she had it!

Like all good mothers, I immediately blamed myself. Maybe when you believe in your kid too much and encourage them to “go for their dreams,” you also subconsciously set them up to endure this type of enormous let down. Secretly, I’m wishing we had just skipped all this “reaching for the stars” and enjoyed the rest of the summer just lying back and gazing at them instead.

It was going to be a long drive home for sure. Good thing I packed necessary provisions:
-tissues (for me, my girl isn’t much for crying)
-a few verses (Jeremiah 29-11, “For I know the plans I have for you declared The Lord)
-my therapist schtick
-the tiny cheerleader that lives inside me, always
-an ice cream sundae (I didn’t pack it because I knew it would melt, but there’s plenty of places we can stop along the way and get one)

We are going to take the long way home…

“Heard It In A Love Song” – You Can Change Someone if You Live With Them Long Enough…

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Just keep dancing to his song…

I’m always wary of people who say, “you can’t change your spouse…”  How preposterous. Why of course you can change your spouse!  In fact, If you’ve played house with the same person for 20 years or more and haven’t managed to change them – you might not be doing it right. You might even be considered a slacker.

Take a look at my marriage for example.  My family-of-origin is very LOUD. Simply put, we love the sound of ourselves. So naturally  (per the the time honored principle of pairing with opposites) I married a quiet man. But over the course of 30+ years, I’ve unintentionally converted him into a veritable noise-machine.

Recently I was watching a home video with our kids from way back when they were babies (circa 1996). About 45 minutes into the video, the younger version of my hubby deigns to utter a brief comment and the camera quickly pans over to him. But he was done. That quiet remark was all he had.  Shocked, my children inquired if their dad had been in the room the entire time…

…The chance of being in the vacinity of my spouse these days for more than a minute and not be fully aware of him is highly unlikely.  He is the force that we reckon with.

It’s really apparent if he gets a song stuck in his head.  When that happens,  it’s going to be YOUR song for the entire day, as well.  I’m not talking about a subtle Vulcan Mind-Meld, like from Star Trek. I’m talking about something far more insidious, a full-on bombardment of the senses.

Yesterday’s song du jour was Bruce Springsteen’s, “Born To Run.” That tune and it’s metaphorical message of desperation, rebellion and youthful empowerment assaulted my psyche for the better part of 24 hours.

He. sang. it. all. day. long.

He claims he’s only “into” the instrumental part of the music  and I’m way too caught up in the meaning behind lyrics. But that didn’t cut down on the number of times throughout the day that I was cordially invited to strap myself round his engines.  Maybe he’s right, and I am overly-invested in lyrics, but by mid-day I had my fill of analyzing my husband’s runaway American dreams.

When he wasn’t singing it, he was whistling it.  Piercingly proud. Whistling is his jam – he could win a Grammy for it.  This particular song inspires a truly ferocious whistle riff – it’s low, it’s high, it dips and crescendos. It’s the ideal melody for showcasing one’s remarkably vast whistling range.

And then, just to keep things flex, he switches over to the “neer-neer-neer.” This is the savage sound a male human-being makes when he’s amping up his air guitar.

1-2-3-4!
NEER…. (pause) neer,neer,neer,neer (pause) NEER, NEER!

Truthfully, it didn’t really annoy me all that much yesterday. After all, when one’s spouse is singing, whistling or neer-neer-neering, they’re happy right? And who doesn’t want their very own spouse to be happy?

But early this morning, he entered the room to ask me if I needed anything from Lowes – when I said, “No thanks!” he belted out “tramps like us!” Like it was our official Couple Anthem.  It was just so overwhelmingly yesterday.

I know it’s entirely my fault that my husband is so in-your-facey now. Obviously, I rubbed off on him through the years and have no one but myself to blame. But still…this tramp was thinking, ‘different day – different song. ‘ I’m even willing to return to last weekend when, for an unrelenting 24 hours, he wore me out by latching on to a twangy rendition of a Marshall Tucker Band favorite.

I ain’t never been with a woman long enough for my songs to get old…”   You’re almost there Big Guy.  You are almost there.