12 Life Lessons

Apparently this blog is getting into heavy thinking. I was thinking about the life lessons I want to impart on my kids. There’s more than 12, but these are my current top 12.

Disclaimer: I only  have girls, so this is somewhat tailored to them (if you have only boys or a mixture, #8 needs to be rephrased).  If you have only 1, #8 is likely irrelevant.

1. It is your body, you can do what you want to (to paraphrase Miley Cyrus)

That doesn’t mean you can do anything you want to it. You have a responsibility to it to feed it right, move it right, make sure it stays healthy and so on. Feel free to do as you want to your hair. It grows back. Tattoos? You can, but remember, some people don’t like them, and those same some people may not hire you. And, in a few years, you may not like it anymore. Clothes? Well sure, you need to dress your body, but remember that you will perceived by the clothes you choose.  Be assured, no matter how you dress, no one has the right to harm you!!! But again, they may not hire you, either. Same could be said for hair too, I get that.

It also means you have the responsibility to be your body’s best advocate. No one else can. You have every right to question every doctor, specialist, etc, until you are comfortable. You aren’t stupid for asking questions. I know a very smart woman who is also a doctor, who missed a question, and may pay for that with her life. It’s okay to ask. And if you didn’t understand the answer, it’s okay to ask again and again. And go find someone else if you aren’t feeling respected.

And no one, but no one, has the right to put their hands on you in any way you don’t want. They don’t get to hit you. They don’t get to smack you “just this once”. Yes, it will be just this once, because you must be strong enough to walk away. See #3 and #12.

2. Life isn’t fair.

It’s not. At some point in your life, you will work hard and play your cards right, and do the right things, and bad things will happen or someone else will get rewarded. To be trite, what matters isn’t that life wasn’t fair, it’s what you do next. If you sit and gripe about how you should have gotten that award, or that trip, or that job, or that college, you still won’t have it, and people will walk away. At some point, people quit caring that it wasn’t fair, and you will be talking to yourself.

If however, you write that college, and explain why you should have been admitted, maybe they’ll hear you, and maybe they won’t, but you did the best you could. If you email that employer asking them to keep you on the list next time, maybe they will. (It’s happened, believe me!) Again, the point is what you do with that disappointment. There will be times when you think your sister’s life is easier. Or friend’s. Or teammate’s. Comparing yourself to someone else merely sets you up to be lose. Don’t go there. Live the life you were given.

3. Real love grows, it never divides, but it also takes work.

If you really love someone, your love for someone else shouldn’t be diminished. There’s always room in your heart for more love. If he really loves you, he won’t care that you also really love your mom, or your dad or your sisters or your friends (regardless of the gender of said friend). When/if you choose to join another family through marriage (or a long term relationship, but I prefer marriage for you), remember, love doesn’t divide. There’s enough love in your heart for his parents, siblings, and friends. You don’t always have to like them, but remember they helped shape the person you love, so there’s something there.

Love, while able to grow, also takes work. You want that friendship, make sure you call, text, email, etc. Let them see the good times and bad. Be there for the good times and bad. Make time. Find activities together that let both of you grow. (works for both friends and lovers). You want your sisters to like you and love you and respect you? Put the time in now when everyone is in the same house. Soon, you will all go separate ways and Mom and Dad won’t be the glue for you anymore.

When your heart hurts, and it will sometimes, it’s okay to cry. I know, I know. I often say “suck it up” or “get tough”, but when your heart truly hearts… crying helps. Don’t know why it’s so cathartic, but it is. However, crying for too long or too many times might be a symptom of a pity party ~ keep an eye out for those. Once you get invited to a pity party, getting out can be hard.

By the way – unconditional love doesn’t mean that I love every decision you made. I don’t. When you make a boneheaded decision – I always love you, but the decision is still boneheaded.

4.  To err is human, to learn from that error will make you a much better person, but some mistakes just can’t be made better.

Seriously, we all make mistakes. Sometimes they are silly like forgetting the past tense of tell is told, not telled. Sometimes, it’s bigger like making a choice to hurt someone. Either way, own up. Step up, pull on your big person shorts, admit the wrong and move on. You needn’t dwell on it for many times, and one apology suffices. (If someone wants multiple apologies, they are just trying to manipulate you.) The next time, don’t make that same mistake. Put procedures into your world that help prevent a repeat.

Sometimes, however, sorry isn’t enough. When you are continually careless, or it’s a super big mistake, sorry doesn’t cut it. For example, you know better than to text (or drink) and drive. You do it, and someone dies, saying sorry won’t make it better. EVER! You must still own up, but know that you may not be forgiven, and you may never forgive yourself.

5. You have to live with your reputation and choices

When you were 3, I’d joke with your dad that even if you picked out your clothes, and looked like a tye-dye, striped, polka-dotted, pink, blue, green, yellow mess, that no one would think I dressed you. Guess what – as you get older, it’s still not on me. It’s on you. Every time you leave the house, put something on email/facebook/twitter/new-fangled-social media thing, it’s your reputation.

At some point, you have to live in this world, on your merits. Please, please think about that now. It’s very easy to sully your reputation, but very very hard to change people’s minds in a positive way. Get it right from the start. Life will be much easier that way. That means, be on time, respect others (even when they may not have earned it), watch your mouth, work hard, be the friend you should be, don’t ever cheat (on tests, on people, or on yourself), walk away from people when their (rightly) earned reputation isn’t right for you.

Be your own person. Don’t be afraid to try something new, you won’t regret it nearly as much as you will regret not trying it. (Assuming it lives up to the rest of the lessons. Sky dive? Go for it at least once? Live abroad? If you can and want to. Drugs? Best to walk away from that choice.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was “perception is reality”. If people perceive you to be a snob, you are one. If people perceive you as kind and thoughtful, you are. The people looking in on you get decide what your reputation is. Give them reasons to think you are worthy.

All of this is not to say that you should live your world pleasing others, and worrying about popularity contests. No, you still need to be yourself, just make sure you know what others’ perception of you is. If it’s not what you want, see if you own why that’s true.

A pretty easy way to tell if you shouldn’t do something? If you don’t want to tell your mom or dad you did the activity, don’t do it. If you are going to be embarrassed to tell me, perhaps it’s not a good idea.

6.  Privileges aren’t rights, just as wants aren’t needs.  

Know the difference. You have the right to breathe, dream, live, speak, vote. You may someday have the privilege to drive and you will have the privilege to drink. You do not however, have the right to drink and drive. Why? Because you can harm yourself, and/or someone else. The minute your actions put someone else in danger, is the minute you no longer have that right. You have the right to protest. You may even have the responsibility to protest. You do not have the right to protest in such a way (violently) that innocent bystanders can get hurt.

You need to eat, sleep, be housed, be clothed. You do not need to a steak meal, a million dollar house or the like. Be aware of the difference, and don’t get caught up in the hype.

7. Hit back harder than they hit you – or someone else starts a fight – you end it.

Peace, turn the other cheek, walk away? Sometimes that doesn’t work.

One of you came home from school once and said “so and so said he was going to hit me.” I told you then, and I’m telling you now, someone hits you, you hit back harder. You have every right to defend yourself. Yes, you can go tell the teacher or school bus driver, or parent, but sometimes that’s not possible. And when it’s not, make sure you can handle yourself. Someone picks a fight with you, make sure you are standing strong at the end. I will always be okay with “you should see how the other guy looks” as long as YOU didn’t start it.

There are some people who can only settle disputes physically. To those people, make sure you are strong enough to handle yourself. It’s always up to you how to handle a situation, when you’ve been attacked. Don’t cower. You will be attacked again. Return fire of equal or slightly more power such that you are no longer a target.

8. Your job as a sister is to be there forever and always for your sisters.

What? You didn’t pick having sisters (and you really didn’t pick having 3), I get that. Trust me. However, sometimes we have jobs that we didn’t sign up for. Think of this as the “other duties as assigned” part of being in a family. This does not mean you have to agree with them, like their decisions, etc, but it sure as heck means you support them when their back is to the wall. Take your internal squabbles home and go to town, but outside these walls, you present a united front. Assume that if someone picks on a sibling and you defend them, I will have your back, Jack. And just the same, assume that if you don’t defend them, I will own you for a while.

And, if you are the one with your back against the wall, find a sister. They may not know you are in trouble, but once they do, they’d better bring the full cavalry.

In the midst of real life, and living at home and trying to make your way in the world today, your sisters are your constant. Don’t have to like it. Just have to accept it. When you go through middle school, high school, college, families, traveling, and jobs, your sisters are there. Don’t forget them.

9. Stick up for those who can’t.

We live in a world where lots of people don’t have a safe place to live, grow, learn, or flourish. Be that safe place for those people, as often as you can.

By virtue of being part of this world, you have a duty to stand up for those who can’t. People making fun of someone weaker than them, you are responsible to help make that better. You may not be able to step in (5 on 1 isn’t good odds), but you have other tools at your disposal. Use them. Sometimes it means donating to charity. Sometimes it means volunteering for a cause that means something to you. Sometimes it means getting down and dirty or helping someone afterwards. You all have strong moral compasses (or your dad and I will die trying to get you one), so use it. You know right from wrong, and you know good from bad. If you aren’t sure, get help.

10. There is NO substitute for hard work.

Sometimes you will get by on luck, brains, or accidental athletic ability. You want to take it to the next level, you need to work hard. There’s an adage that is dang infuriating because it’s true… “You appreciate more what you worked harder for”. Do I appreciate my college degree? Absolutely! Did I work hard for it? Yes. Could I probably have worked harder? Oh yah. Do I appreciate my grad degree? So much more. Why? Because I had to work harder for it. Don’t believe me? That’s okay. Some day, you might. Meanwhile… Did you appreciate the medal you got just for showing up? Maybe. How much more are you appreciating the crack of the bat after working hard all season to get that hit? How much are you appreciating that you turned that C to a B by buckling down and working harder?

I won’t lie and say you are the smartest, most athletic, best dancer, singer, student, player I’ve ever seen. You aren’t. There is always someone just a bit better. But you sure have a choice to be the hardest working one. At some point, the luck and innate skill aren’t enough. Hard work and perseverance almost always are.

Although I won’t advocate that you should or should not set yearly resolutions, I will advocate that you should set goals to get better on a consistent and regular basis. Don’t care if you are working on a goal to speak more kindly to those around you, or to run a race faster, or to learn poetry on your time. Always be looking to improve yourself.

11. You don’t always have to be right.

No one likes Sheldon when he’s right all the time, do they? It’s funny on a TV show, but it sucks to have that friend. The one who’s always got to be right, even when it doesn’t matter. Trust me. (I’ve been that friend, and I’ve lost friends over it.) Sometimes the argument matters, I get that. Sometimes the argument doesn’t (then, for the love of god, quit arguing… even if it means the other person still thinks they are right.)

When the argument matters, you have to decide two things: 1) Will I change this person’s mind? And 2) do I have a moral obligation to continue. If you can’t answer at least one of those with yes, walk away… Take heart that you were right, even if you have to accept defeat in the conversation.

12. No matter what you do, you are my child and I love you. For ever, for always, no matter what.

Parents never stop loving their children. No matter how many times we hurt each other, no matter how careless we can be, I will always love you. I know there are times you won’t believe it (see life isn’t fair when you think your sisters got something you should have), or when you may not love me. But, if you are down on your luck, I’m right here. I’ll help you in the manner in which (I think) you need.

That doesn’t mean I won’t turn your butt in to the cops or someone else if need be. Let’s be clear. Loving you doesn’t mean protecting you from consequences of YOUR actions. It may mean that I’m right next to you with your consequences, but you’ll serve them.

Every day, you and your sisters bring me joy. (Sometimes it’s tempered with frustration, anger, fatigue or other things, but you bring me joy.) I have great pride in you. Each of you have some strengths that I admire and wish to copy.

You can never say “I love you” enough. Just make sure you mean it

.          I love you. I love you. I love you.

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First Kid

When you become a parent, people tell you about the mistakes you will make about your first kid… It’s even a running joke in just about every parenting circle. You go to the doctor/urgent care/ER for everything with the first; by the fourth, you wait till the doctor is open, and try to consult over the phone. With the first, you worry about their friends, influences, sleeping habits, eating habits, etc etc etc. By the fourth, you figure they’ll figure it out and just try to provide a bit of a cushion when they need one.

Unfortunately for my “first” kid – she’s also my step-kid, which means I had her ½ time and was quite able to mess up just fine in that time, on top of a longer learning curve. On Saturday, we said “see you later” to Kiddok, as she and her mom are off to look at colleges on the West Coast. On the cusp of her going off to college, I’m dedicating this post to her, and some of the lessons she’s given me.

1. Lesson 1 – pushing her too hard when she’s not loving what she’s doing.
She played softball, and mostly liked it. Kiddok was even quite good at it, when she wanted to be. But as it got more competitive, it wasn’t the environment she wanted. (Why don’t they have the equivalent of work leagues for kids in high school as much?… not for varsity teams, but just to play – but that’s another day’s blog). When I thought she wasn’t performing her best that day, I’d get frustrated that she’d just blow off the learning. In reality, she was blowing me off because I forgot my role as (step) parent. Easy role – hard to remember. Freaking support her. Cheer her on. Encourage without demanding or coaching (unless you are the coach). Remember she’s doing her best that day, so just back off.

Now that she’s found drama (In this case, I mean the drama club/atmosphere, not girl drama) – everyone is happier. The thrill of opening day is evident on her face! She loves her independent music and concerts, and really just enjoys music.

2. Lesson 2 – Honoring the introvert
I am the opposite of an introvert. I love talking to people, being around them, and so on (except when they are idiots, but another blog). Kiddok is an introvert. Being around people wears her out, even when she loves them. (Her sisters might be prime examples of this, and they can wear out extroverts, so God Bless Kiddok for still dealing with them). I often have no idea how people can wear you down. I don’t get it, so working to honor that is hard for me.

We work to find that happy medium with Kiddok when we have lots of people over. How long can she be in her room vs. how long she’s out with folks? Does it change when it’s family? How about when her sisters are loud? How about when it’s not lots of people just her abundantly noisy sisters?

It’s possible to hide behind the introvert-ness to get out doing stuff that’s less than fun. We all know that… So finding that happy medium, it’s a never ending cycle.

3. Lesson 3 – Compassion comes from all corners
If you asked me to describe Kiddok – compassion would be in the top 5 attributes. Kiddok embodies the definition of compassion in ways that lots of Christians, adults, elderly, priests, and others miss. I think this compassion comes from her love of all things worldly. No – not that worldly. Not the kind where she collects crap just to have it, but where she insists on understanding the existing atmosphere we all live in. Want to understand the Ukraine crises, ask her. Israel? She’s got it covered. What’s happening in the political world – go ask her.
Where was I? Right – her compassion. Because she can see and understand the world, she sees the injustices and cares deeply about fixing them. For Father’s Day, she was trying to donate to a charity on behalf of her dad. She named some I’d never heard of, and settled on one closer to his heart.
I’ve seen her cry for other’s hurting. I’ve seen her laugh for other’s joy. She’s my reminder every day that I’ve a long way to go to match her heart. I hope the other 3 glean some of that from her.

4. Lesson 4 – Educating yourself is not done solely in school
As seen above, Kiddok is constantly educating herself. Her nose is in a book or an online news forum or in front of MSNBC (sometimes simultaneously). She’s not afraid to ask questions, even now, she’ll ask me what a word means, or ask her dad about a stat in sports. Her spongy-mind is constantly taking in the world around her, processing it, and going forward. This education is definitely a leading factor in her compassion in the world. I’m interested and excited to see which causes she champions as she moves forward in life, but something tells me it will involve education, women, equal rights. (Just a guess, of course!)

5. Lesson 5 – Our family is incomplete without her
Kiddok is our first born (even if she’s not my first born biologically speaking). She’s the oldest that the littles just adore. Even when the 3 littles are driving her nuts (sometimes intentionally, other times by just being 7, 3, and 1), they adore her. Every time Bits sees her for the first time in a few hours or days, she will take off running at her for a hug (God help the person or baby gate who gets between them!). Peanut loves when Kiddok can come to her sporting or other events. Bug loves “her Kiddok”. All of the girls learned her name shortly behind (or in the case of Bits) in front of Momma.
Just because Kiddok is 1/6th of our family, and not ½ or 1/3, it still leaves a gaping hole in our family when she’s gone.

As she’s off deciding where to take her next steps, I’m ever so grateful we live in this age of technology. We can Skype or FaceTime with her wherever she goes off to school. If she gets to study in Europe (current plan) for a semester or year abroad, we can still see her. She can watch her sisters get bigger. They can email or text her, and hopefully she’ll email and text us back regularly. We’re hopeful her best attributes can still be shared with the littles as they grow into not so littles.

I don’t think my Kiddok is perfect, but I don’t think there’s anything to gain by calling our her imperfections in public. (and her list of mine could be longer than I’d like to see). I do think there’s plenty to gain by learning from our kids, and calling out in public their good points. Kiddok – we have our differences, but you are an amazing, wonderful, compassionate kid who we love, even when you don’t feel it.

All pictures by Megan Stans of Digitialbean Photography LLC.

Bits loves her Kiddok.

Bits loves her Kiddok.

No denying their paternal lineage.

No denying their paternal lineage.

Some days that's the best they can say about each other.

Some days that’s the best they can say about each other.

Teeter-Totter

For her birthday, Bug got a miniature teeter-totter that also spins… Oh, the excitement. It finally got warm enough after this winter, so Mike set it up. Bug loves it and enjoys anyone who will teeter with her. Bits likes to do it, too, so she’s usually running across the lawn to get to it with her sister. However, her attention span isn’t the same as Bug’s so she usually gets off after a few ups and downs.

Last time, as soon as she started to look bored, Bug would ask her Peanut to come over and teeter totter with her. Immediately Bits would get right back on. She’d teeter for a minute, start to get off, Bug would ask for her big sister, and we’d start all over. Finally Bug figured out to wait until Bits was all the way off and walking away before she asked. Didn’t matter. Bits came running back over and threw an amazing fit… Peanut said “I’m off. This is so not worth it.

”  June 2014 618 June 2014 619

How dare you get on after I get off.

How dare you get on after I get off.

 

Juxtapositions of parenting

I’ve been thinking about the juxtapositions of parenting. The little things that make you wonder what we’re thinking.

1. You spend all your waking time trying to teach your baby to move, grab things, and walk. Shortly after they figure this out, you start trying to make them sit still, leave things alone, and just quit moving. Taking them to a movie is an exercise in patience as they wriggle, wiggle, dance, shake their booties, and fidget more than someone with ADHD on caffeine.

And the best part of this is that you don’t learn after child 1. Somehow with 2 and 3, you still do this… What’s the definition of insanity again?

2. Teaching your child to talk… Same thing. How much time do we work with our children to say words, sing songs, “use their words”? And how often have we thought “Oh, for the love of Pete, please, give me 5 minutes of quiet. Please, I beg you!”

I can’t tell you how often I’ve wished that somehow being in the car would render my kids comatose. I swear, that all 3 of them can start in and scream, yell and cry, and hey, we’re barreling down the highway with no end in sight. It’s just me, the three kids and all their lung power. There’s no radio loud enough or ear plugs good enough for this. Particularly when one of them loses her pacifier.

And – to be clear (and this is math folks) – 1 kid will make amount of noise. 2 kids do not make 2n; they make closer to squared. And don’t, just don’t get me started on how much 3 make.

3. Questions – I want my kids to ask questions. How do I help them learn, and being girls, how do I make sure their teachers are listening, except to teach them to ask questions. But oh, when the word “why” is uttered 5 times in a row, I want to beg them to stop. I want to take the word “why” out of the English language. When they ask all these questions, I want to cry in frustration. Turns out that whole philosophy of “turn it around, and ask them why” just doesn’t work. Cuz – see #2. They’ll talk just to hear themselves talk. Oh – and hey – making up answers won’t help. It will come back to bite you (see #4).

Things that should seem so obvious, they don’t need a question. Nope – that doesn’t exist. Just yesterday Bug had to go to the bathroom. Off we go. Peanut decided to join us and took Stall 1. Bug bypassed Stall 2 and took Stall 3. Shortly after I sit her down, another unsuspecting innocent bystander walks into Stall 2. Bug says in her oh so quiet voice – “Mommy why are other people going potty?” “Because they have to, too.” “Why mommy?” Because everyone has to go honey”. But “why”… at which point I realize unsuspecting bystander is no longer innocent as she’s laughing her head off!

4. Openness and honesty – We teach our kids to not tell lies, to tell the truth, and to not be ashamed. But somewhere, oh somewhere, we want them just a bit quieter about the truth… And, why do they wait to a very public location to ask or point things out? Turns out Peanut told her 1st grade teacher that “Mommy can’t cook, so when it’s Mommy’s night to cook, we go to Turtles”.

When I first had Peanut, she went to a wonderful daycare. When she was learning to talk, they said to me once “We only believe about 1/2 or less of what she tells us about what happens at home, we’d appreciate the same.” That’s something I take to heart in most conversations with kids. While they tell the truth, the nugget that’s surrounded by so much fool’s gold is so hard to find! (this is a humor piece, so please don’t get upset, as I’m not talking about listening to kids over child abuse). 

4. Aging/phases – We don’t want our kids to grow up. I’m not sure if that’s because it’s a sign of us aging, or if we really just love them and want them to stay kids as long as possible because we’re adults for so long.

But there are some stages I hate. I hate the “feeding themselves” stage. Somehow feeding themselves turns into food on every surface in the kitchen including under the stove. I hate the “potty training” stage and having to go inside every bathroom, and touch way more than I would if I went by myself. I hate the “I throw it, you pick it up or I scream” stage. The “I’m smarter than you stage” can just take the “eye roll and disgusted look” stage with it. Oh – and the “that’s not how my teacher does it” stage… Oy, enough to make me wish we home-schooled (right until I look at the other phases that make me nuts!)

I really, really don’t want my kids all grown up. I dread the day my house is actually quiet. (will that happen?)  But perhaps one day I will be one of those people who tells that frazzled mom to “enjoy these days, they go by so fast” because the romantic nostalgia has set in.

And for the parents who a) have perfect children or b) can’t see the humor in this blog, the greatest paradox is that I still love my children with everything I am, have, and will be, but I still wonder what I was thinking (particularly this many into it!).