Archive for the ‘parenting’ Category

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What Do You Say When You Can’t Say Anything And There’s Too Much Left To Say?

March 31, 2011


I want to say something important to you, but all I can think of is, “Arthur, take a piece of toast.” • Mother (Marsha Hunt) to son (Brandon De Wilde) as he takes off after his pregnant girlfriend in 1959’s Blue Denim, a movie I recently watched again. I never resonated with this line during previous viewings, but this time, I understood.

The last time I saw my mother, I knew her death was close. I knew that we would never again go anywhere together, not to Disneyland nor to a movie nor on the bus to downtown Los Angeles to visit Clifton’s, Olvera Street, and Union Station. I knew that we wouldn’t share another order of onion rings or split a combination plate—the cheese enchilada for her, the chile relleno for me. We weren’t going to sit companionably and watch an old movie. I wasn’t going to hear her play the piano or sing my favorite songs. I would never again get her phone calls wishing me happy birthday or happy anniversary or brightening my Saturday morning with her mother’s interest in my life.

As I knelt beside her bed the last time I saw her, countless never-agains swirled around me and I groped for meaningful words to hurl into the forever that would soon separate us. I couldn’t find them. They were hidden behind the façade of normalcy we’d complicitly erected in the months leading us to this moment.

My mother was hopeful throughout her illness. Her faith sustained her, and infused her life with a possibility that made it impossible to talk about the other what if, the unvoiced possibility of her death. This silence overshadowed our last good-bye as it had our conversations in the months preceding it. In those final months, hope seemed the least that I could give her, the most that we could share. I said good-bye the last time I saw her, of course, but it was little different from any other parting we’d had. I’d be back in a week, I said and I would see her again, I pretended, hiding my tears and smiling widely. And I hoped I was telling the truth. But I lied. She died while I was on the way back to see her, still hoping we’d have a chance to say those truly final words.

In our last minutes together, I told her I loved her, that she was a good mother, that I knew she did her best, that I was sorry for all the things I did or didn’t do that might have given her pain. I told her I delighted in all the fun we had. I told her that I’d stored up hundreds of sweet memories. But I wanted more. More said. More heard. She was too tired to talk by then—perhaps too tired to mother me through the emotional labor of her impending death. She labored to bring me into the world and I felt compelled to ease her exit from it more than I wanted something more.

And still, this failure haunts me. But how can you speak when love stills your tongue?

What failures haunt your life? What might help ease their pain?

Odd how much it hurts when a friend moves away—and leaves behind only silence. • Pam Brown

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Finally Finishing the Desperately Optimistic L.I.F.E. Stuff

April 2, 2010

Each happiness of yesterday is a memory for tomorrow.
• George W.Douglas

Probably the most important piece of advice I have for any adult returning to school—or anyone, for that matter, who has children—is that adults are memory makers in the lives of children. As for the E of the D.O. L.I.F.E., there’s not much that I haven’t already said somewhere sometime. The rituals and celebrations I instituted as an undergraduate still serve me well now that my children are grown and I’m no longer in school. My friends might find it hard to believe, but I do take my nose off the grindstone and have fun. It’s just that sometimes it has to be spontaneous fun and that’s harder to make plans for.

I find it easier to just stop what I’m doing and take a walk or go to a movie or fiddle about in my studio than I do to make plans to be at a particular place at a particular time. I am often in the zone of work or creation when that time comes and dragging myself away is a drag.

This is related to an additional piece of E advice:

• Learn something about learning and share what you discover with your family. Talk about learning and life preferences and processes. Encourage your family to think about how they learn, how they prefer to interact with other people, and all kinds of things that are related to accomplishing just about any kind of task.

I was talking recently with colleagues at work and realized that a key issue when working with others is whether they are last minute folks or percolators like me. If I have a project to work on, I begin it months ahead. I am, for example, almost done with my summer syllabi. I have to be. I want to begin gathering materials, creating activities and opportunities, and allowing my teacher’s eye to look about for new possibilities. Some years ago I team taught with someone who liked to let things emerge and didn’t want to write our syllabus until the class met for the first time. I can understand this approach intellectually, but it doesn’t work for me. It sucks the fun out of the anticipatory creative processes of teaching.

ADVICE: An important question to ask anyone you’re working with on a project when you’re in school is how they like to approach the task. Make sure everyone’s being honest and not just saying what someone else wants to hear. Get clarity on what will be done when and by whom.

• In addition to being part of study groups related to specific courses/majors and to getting involved in school activities, create a support group for yourself comprised of people who face similar challenges and stresses. If you’re a parent, for example, and none of your friends/study buddies have children, it can be difficult. While I don’t recommend wallowing in misery, it’s healthy to have a place to commiserate.

If you were asked to provide advice for adult students, what’s the first thing you would tell them?

The important thing is not to stop questioning.
•Albert Einstein

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E Stands for Many Things, Including the Quickly Approaching End of My Desperately Optimistic L.I.F.E. Advice

March 30, 2010

Elephants, eggplant, egregious exaggerations, elemental enjoyment, epiphany, endlessly entertaining earthworms, eclecticism, earmuffs—the e list is practically endless, but alas, none of these things is the focus of today’s post. The e word I’m thinking of is—ta dah!—education.

If you are a student and a parent or grandparent or uncle or aunt or just a good friend to school-age children, this is one of the few times in your life when you and the children in your life will be going through the same kinds of experiences. If you aren’t a parent but plan to be one some day, you’re finally old enough to approach school mindfully and develop a few success hints of your own.

Here are some things you can do:

• Model the value of learning for its own sake; share your enthusiasm, the joy of doing a quality job, how to study, how to prioritize and organize, and other study skills. Be deliberate and vocal about your choices.

• Share your own experiences and struggles, framing them in a positive way so that younger folks with whom you share them will see your resiliency and learn about effective and proactive studenting. I learned this the hard way when I heard my own “_______ (fill in the subject here) sucks” comment that I shared privately—I thought—with my husband repeated by my son. I’m not recommending that you be inauthentic, but just that you remember that your passing comment may mean more to a younger listener that it did to you.

• Practice being proactive in your interactions with teachers and staff. Role play problem-solving. It was my oldest son who suggested that I “surrender” to a professor, complete with waving white flag, after he refused to take a TYPED (not word processed) paper with a cover sheet. I’d forgotten that he wanted NO cover sheets and that all pertinent information needed to be on the first page of the paper. These extra mandatory five lines of type would have thrown off the paper’s requisite top and bottom margins and required me to retype close to thirty pages. The surrender worked. He laughed and took the paper, cover page and all.

• Solicit the input of family and friends when you have a problem—perhaps even seek faculty advice too (she suggests a bit snarkily). Beware of awfulizing or blaming. Model clear and productive thinking. You don’t have to take advice just because you get it, so be nice too—no mockery or sarcasm or that-won’t-workery. Too much of this and you’ll lose all your allies.

Tomorrow, the end of D.O.L.I.F.E., but not the end of my advice since I have an almost Endless supply!

What are three insights you’ve had about being successful in school that you would share with someone younger than you to help guide their success?

And an E for Effort quotation: There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.
• Beverly Sills

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Things that Don’t Work in the Desperately Optimistic L.I.F.E.

March 29, 2010

The final part of the F of L.I.F.E. focuses on things not to do related to family and friends. Actually, these things that don’t work apply at any point in life since it’s all too easy to get overinvolved in just about anything from community theatre to sports to video games to internet surfing to volunteer activities to a job to whatever it is that consumes your time if you let it.

• Don’t put your life on hold when you’re in school and don’t expect your family or friends to do so either. If you’re a parent, this includes expecting your children to make few demands on your time and to understand that your goals will ultimately mean more for them (more you and perhaps more money). It isn’t likely that even teenagers will be developmentally ready to understand, and even if they were, it isn’t good for you or for them if you don’t maintain strong connections despite your busy life.

• Don’t expect your spouse or partner or friends to ask for little for themselves while continuing to be supportive of your goals. Anticipate that others may feel neglected or hurt by your unavailability (physically, emotionally, and in other ways). Understand that your fatigue is likely to affect your relationships too.

• Don’t expect everyone to understand why you can’t plan ahead for leisure time. Or to understand why you don’t have time for the details of daily life that you may be trying to let go of. Expect and allow for grousing from time to time. Try a whine-a-ton when it seems like everyone’s on edge. Hold a pity party complete with cake and ice cream and bemoan the rotten state of things.

Finally, a do. Do laugh with those you care about. Laughter matters and shared laughter unites people.

What consumes your time and how do you make time for other things that matter too?

More men are killed by overwork than the importance of the world justifies.
• Rudyard Kipling

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More F Stuff from Living the Desperately Optimistic L.I.F.E.

March 28, 2010

Live and work but do not forget to play to have fun in life and really enjoy it.
• Eileen Caddy

I’m sure that you can come up with plenty of ways to stay involved with family and friends while you’re in school. I’m also certain that you can figure out how to have fun. I’m just reminding you of things you already know and giving you official permission to do them.

• If you want to keep others in your life, Llsten. Pay attention. Apologize when it’s necessary.

• Looking for fun? Consider a flip-a-coin adventure drive on a free day. Get into the car and flip a coin to decide which direction to head in. Continue doing this at every sensible opportunity (seriously, do use a bit of common sense here and don’t plunge into a forest on a dirt road). You never know what you’ll see or where you’ll end up—even when you’re being sensible—so you also have to be prepared and be prepared to be happy whatever the results. Take some snacks and water along in case your adventuring takes you away from civilization or nothing is open.

• Visits to the grocery store or the dollar store can be fun if everyone is charged with getting something that all the others will enjoy.

• Treat your family and close friends with consideration. Be kind. Be gentle. Don’t expect them to be superhuman. Don’t expect them to plan their lives around your availability and the demands of school. Treat them as individuals and make time for them individually.

• When you’re ready to veg out, consider using the time to connect with someone. Do things that involve others actively rather than passively.

• If you have children, have fun with them and make it their kind of fun, whatever their age. Swing. Jump into puddles. Play music really loud. Sing along. Dance. Fingerpaint with chocolate pudding. Cook together. Have water balloon fights. Play hide ‘n’ seek. Ask them what they’d like to do. Come to think of it, these things are fun for grownups too.

Tomorrow: a few don’ts.

When you’re activating your childlike spirit, what do you like to do?

I cannot even imagine where I would be today were it not for that handful of friends who have given me a heart full of joy. Let’s face it, friends make life a lot more fun
• Charles R.Swindoll

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More F from the D.O.L.I.F.E.: No Matter How Tempting It Is to Use Newly-Acquired Vocabulary with Your Family and Friends, Curb Your Cursing

March 27, 2010

The foolish and wicked practice of profane cursing and swearing is a vice so mean and low that every person of sense and character detests and despises it.
• George Washington

A digression: When I first went to college and was still living at home with my parents and four younger siblings, I was grounded for a month for saying the word “damn.” I was a clean-mouthed girl, trained by my Grandma Wilkins who believed in washing her grandchildrens’ mouths out with soap. I learned pretty quickly not to say the swear words I learned from grandpa and his friends. Other kinds of verbal infractions were punished by adhesive tape over the mouth. That wasn’t nearly as bad as holding a bar of soap in my mouth while grandma lectured.

When I went back to school to become a teacher, I was an adult who still didn’t swear—a good example for my children. Then I began working in middle and high schools. It was f-in’ this and f-in’ that and the all-purpose use of the f-word for just about every part of speech. I quickly became inured to the sound. I got so comfortable that I adopted it myself, not really noticing until my oldest son said rather wistfully, “Mom, you sure do say f@#$ a lot.”

He was right, and I tried to stop. I still haven’t been completely successful in eradicating it, but here’s my advice if you’re a student: Practice watching your language now since the workplace operates by a different set of verbal rules. It can be very difficult to retrain yourself once you’ve opened the mouth’s floodgates and let yourself go.

More F advice:

• Food. Do eat breakfast and make sure your family does too. Let go of the idea of what’s proper breakfast food. If you like it or your family does and it’s healthy, it really doesn’t matter what it is. Tuna sandwiches, pizza, yogurt and fruit sundaes, toasted cheese sandwiches, soup, and lots of other things were regular breakfasts for us. Set the table the night before if you won’t be home and leave some encouraging words for your family to read as they eat.

• Frolic. Create end-of-the-term or paper/project’s done or other kinds of celebrations for you and your family and friends. Have rituals. I’ve mentioned these mirthdays and sillybrations before. My youngest son’s best memories from my college days were going to the grocery store on a Friday or Saturday night for a Popsicle® or Dove Bar®. I’m probably a rotten mom for letting him stay up keeping me company and fixing me tea, but these were special times for both of us. (My husband was an early a.m. radio announcer at the time—in bed by 8 p.m.)

• Fun. Save for common goals related to having fun together. It’s surprising what you’ll have at the end of a term if you pass up having a latte or soft drink or occasional bagel or candy bar. Enlist family in saving too and put the money into a savings jar. We used this money for cheap mini-vacations, but one year, we saved all year and went to Disneyland. Sad to say, this was in the good old days when a summer night passport went for $40.00 apiece. Alas, those days are finito.

Tomorrow, more F.

What do you—could you—do for fun with those you care about?

Live life fully while you’re here. Experience everything. Take care of yourself and your friends. Have fun, be crazy, be weird.
• Anthony Robbins

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Fun, Family, and Friends: The F of a Desperately Optimistic L.I.F.E.

March 26, 2010

Little children disturb your sleep; big ones, your life.
• Yiddish saying

Creating and maintaining a support system is an important aspect of student success. While it’s true that you’re the one doing the work, it’s also true that everyone else in your life, from your family to your co-workers to your friends, is also involved. The way you treat them and your acknowledgement of their importance to your success matters.

• Childhood slips away. Whomever the children in your life are—your own, nieces and nephews, grandchildren, even the children of your friends who have become your friends too—they will change swiftly. When you don’t see adult relatives or friends for six months, you may feel that little has changed when you get together. When you don’t see a child or adolescent for six months, a whole new person may appear. If you’re a parent, it’s particularly important to stay involved with your family, but even friendships need nurturing.

• Big kids may seem self-sufficient, but they still need love and attention. Ditto for spouses, partners, and other relationships.

• Make a household action plan that includes everything that everyone needs to do: your homework, others’ homework, shopping, paying bills, staying in touch with grandparents, walking the dog, etc., etc., etc. Don’t forget the minutiae when you are making the list. Parcel out the work, assigning and rotating duties whenever possible, especially if they’re things no one wants to do. Don’t entrust anyone with something at which they’ve been proven to be incompetent. You know in your heart who needs to balance the checkbook and no amount of wishful thinking is likely to change things. Accept and appreciate people in your life for what they can do and avoid expending energy wishing they were different.

• Create bedtime rituals if you have children and be there for bedtime as often as you can. Rituals smooth things out so that when everyone is finally down you aren’t so frazzled you can’t concentrate. Get everything ready for the next day and settle kids into bed gently. Night classes? Leave a pillow note. Record a book so they can hear your voice. Gone for an early morning class? Put a Post-It® greet-the-day message on the bathroom mirror.

• Develop morning routines that begin the night before. We used crates by the door—each person got one and everything that needed to go back to school the next day was put into that person’s crate the night before along with reminders of things like permission slips and money for field trips.

• Get clothing for the next day ready the night before for everyone. I still do this. I get everything I’ll be wearing the next week ready on Sunday evening. It gives me an extra five or ten minutes to read in bed in the morning and ease my way into the day. Sometimes my children wanted to wear the same thing endlessly. I quit caring about the lack of variety and taught them to wash their own clothes. This is when dryer ironing evolved too.

• Make time to have fun. Take a walk. Go to the movies. Sit on the porch. Even a ten-minute break can connect you with someone and will send you back to your studies refreshed.

More F tomorrow.

How do you stay connected to your family and friends?

To us, family means putting your arms around each other and being there.
• Barbara Bush