#1000 Speak: Bullies on the Bus

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When Lorelei was very little, she’d get mad at her big brothers and yell, “Shub up!  Beeg bully!” With four older siblings, it’s not surprising she’d heard the phrase “shut up,” but I’m not sure how she already knew what a bully was:  someone bigger, stronger, more powerful, higher in the pecking order, who uses their position to pick on someone else.
Of course, older siblings tease younger ones.  Lorelei was never subjected to the systematic bullying that devastates so many childhoods.  My own experience with bullying took place on the school bus.
I was an extremely precocious child, and in my earliest memories of riding the bus, when I was a first grader, the big kids (8th graders who appear as adults in my memory) made a big fuss over me, calling me to the back of the bus and having me read passages from their science books aloud.
But what was cute one year was bullying fodder a few years later.  I think I was in the third grade when some of the middle school girls on the bus began picking on me.  I remember some nasty name calling, and once being smacked.  I remember some of the girls who were involved (kids from good families whose parents would probably have been shocked by their behavior), and not much else, except dreading the bus ride home.  I told my mother everything, and I’m sure she talked to the principal, and I think I ended up not riding the bus for awhile.  I know that I was lucky:  people listened, and eventually the bullying stopped.
I never bullied anyone myself (except my little sister, as she loves to remind me), but I often regret that I didn’t try harder to befriend the kids in almost every class who were bullied.  I do remember trying to talk to some of them, and in my memory they often repelled friendly overtures.  Perhaps they distrusted me, or maybe that was part of their self-defense mechanism, or maybe it was their own difficulties with social interaction that made them bully magnets.  I don’t know.
As parents, we are proud of our children for taking a stance against the bullying of some of their classmates.  Our kids aren’t perfect, but they are kind. I wrote here about how William dealt with a boy who was bullying (or perhaps constantly annoying) him.
While my sister and I both laugh at her stories of how I picked on her, but I also feel bad.  And I think sometimes about the girls who bullied me.  Because I went to a small Catholic school, and still live in the town where I grew up, I don’t have to wonder what happened to them–they are still around.  And they grew up to be nice people.  Do they even remember the incidents on the bus?  Was it was the big deal to them that it was to me, or was it just an amusement and quickly forgotten?  Do they ever think about it when they teach their own kids how to treat others?
Being bullied led me to be kinder to others and to teach my kids to do the same.  I hope that the reformed bullies from my past DO remember and model kindness for their kids.

For more entries in #1000Speak: Building from Bullying, click here.

Dear Mom in the Pew

Dear Mom in the Pew in Front of Me, the One with the Rowdy Kids:

No, I am not going to write about how much your kids disturb me during Mass.  I’m not going to suggest that you take them to the nursery (we don’t have one anyway!) or sit with them in the cry room or tag-team with your husband so that you don’t have to bring them at all.  I’m not going to criticize your parenting or tell you to feed that baby with a bottle when you are at church.  And I’m not thinking those things either.  Nor are most of the parents in this congregation.

It doesn’t bother me when your kids make noise.  They are just kids and an hour is a long time to be quiet and sit still.  When your three-year-old escapes you and runs up onto the altar, I’m just glad it’s not MY kid–because it just as well could have been.

What I want to tell you is Thank You.  Thank you for bringing your kids to church–both for them and for the rest of us.    Thank you for being open to having a large family.  Thank you for nursing that baby when she needs to be nursed; and you really don’t need to worry so much about that blanket–if I am staring, it’s only because of fond memories, not judgment.

If kids are not welcome in a Catholic church, there is something wrong with that church.  Jesus loves the little children.  That’s not just a song; it’s in the Bible too–and if you look up, right over your head, you’ll see that scene in a picture on the ceiling.  “Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not.”  That’s what He said, and what all of us should be saying.  So thank you you for your little visual reminders, these “least of these” that Jesus wants us to love as He did.

If during Easter Mass some cranky submarine Catholic turns around and tells you that your babbling toddler is “ruining it for everyone else,” (and yes, this once happened to me) I want you to know that if he thinks that he doesn’t know what “it” is and he is the one who is ruining things.  I’d rather be like the woman who after a Mass during which my children were even rowdier than usual turned around and patted my arm and said, “It gets better.”

Because 18 years ago–yesterday–I was sitting in that pew with three rowdy children aged four and under (actually not in THAT pew–you are already smarter than I am by choosing to sit up front where the kids can see instead of in the back so that you can make a quicker getaway!).  I have been here almost every Sunday for over 22 years, and for years on end I couldn’t listen to the homily, couldn’t even pray.  This six foot muscly fellow next to me, the one who read the first reading today–he was the babbling toddler who was ruining things for everyone else.  These two younger ones weren’t even a twinkle in anyone’s eye, and now the youngest will make her First Communion next week.  They sit quietly.  They make the responses.  Some of them even sing.  And I listen and pray.  It goes so fast.  You think people are just making conversation when they say that until IT GOES SO FAST.

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Emily, Jake, and Teddy – Easter 1995

So ten years from now–tomorrow–there will be big quiet kids in your pew and you will be able to pray again.  No one will be staring at you except to admire your lovely family.  You will be the one smiling indulgently at the cute toddler playing peek-a-boo with you over the back of the pew.

Until then, remember, you are doing a wonderful job.

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This post was originally part of the Dear Mom Meme hosted by The Mom PledgeIts goal was to help spread positive mom-to-mom messages across the web!

I’m resharing this post today as part of #WorthRevisit Wednesday.  Check out the hosts’ blogs here and here for more great posts that are worth a second look!

THINGS I KNOW: Raising Teenagers

In an uncertain world, there’s a certain appeal in believing that there is anything we are sure about, and pride in celebrating and sharing lessons learned and wisdom gained.  And I do know a lot of things, some of them instinctively and others through hard life experiences.  This week I am telling you what I know–or think I know, anyway–about teenagers.

Let’s be honest from the start: teenagers are going to rebel. They are going to do things they shouldn’t and if they don’t actually get into trouble it’s only because they didn’t get caught. If your teenager always conforms exactly to your wishes, either you don’t know what she is really up to or her wishes are currently the same as yours. At some point when her wishes diverge from yours too much, your child will choose to do what she wants to do and not what you want her to do. The day will come sooner or later and it’s a normal part of growing up.

Teddy and Jake at 17 and 18

You cannot take the blame or the credit for how your teenager has turned out.  There are two reasons for this.  One is that–as my own teenager once told me–kids are a product of genetics and environment and you are not morally responsible for the genes you passed on and the inherent temperament with which your kid was born.  But much more important is a revelation I had last week. Your teenagers HAVE NOT TURNED OUT YET.  They are nowhere near done and you cannot judge the finished product right now any more than you could judge a cake by eating half-cooked batter.

Think about your own teenage days, and if you were a perfect teenager like I was then think about some of your classmates. Chances are you are friends with them on Facebook now, and they have homes and significant others and steady jobs and more money than you do. They have teenagers of their own whom they love and worry about. And you thought they would never amount to anything, didn’t you? Well you were wrong and if you are worrying about the future of your own teenagers think about that. The vast majority of them turn out fine if they make it through their teens.

And that’s no laughing matter, is it? Because what with teen drivers and drinking and drug use and stupid teenage tricks and feeling invulnerable, there are some teenagers who don’t get to grow up and their parents never see how they would have turned out. That leads me to more Things I Know about teenagers: the two most important tasks in parenting teens.

The first one is keep them alive.  That sounds melodramatic but what it really means is that the truly important rules, the nonnegotiable things, the things you should really be worrying about, are those that impact your teenager’s safety.  Because a bad grade may seem like it will have a dire effect on his future. But it’s really not nearly as big of a deal as ensuring that he HAS a future.  Spend less time worrying about homework and grades and more finding out who your kids’ friends are and where they are going and what they are doing once they get there.

The second task? Preserve your relationship with them. Are you prepared to say my way or the highway and mean it?  Do you really want to go there? Is maintaining compete control worth foregoing a relationship with your grandchildren and your adult child down the road? Because that happens to a lot of parents who are too critical and punitive and authoritarian.  Their kids break free one day and don’t come back.  Or when they do it’s just a matter of politeness and that distance is never bridged.  Do you want that to be you? If not, then let love guide your relationship at every turn, not pride.  Don’t let maintaining control–which you are going to lose anyway–which you are SUPPOSED to lose anyway–guide your actions when you have a problem with your child.

So many people have the kid thing backwards.  They want newborn babies to sleep through the night in a separate room so that they can “get their lives back”–whatever that means–but they hover over these same kids when they are teens, waiting up for them at night, monitoring their homework, telling them what colleges to go to.

No. The teen years are a time for letting go, for allowing more and more independence, for encouraging your kids to make good decisions, for trusting them to be the architects of their own lives.  Remember you cannot tell anyone anything.  There are very few mistakes that cannot be fixed down the road, and they are not going to learn from the ones YOU made, no matter how much you wish they could.  They have to make their own.  So let them.

This post originally appeared in Singular Insanity’s Things I Know Linkup.

Drowning in a Sea of Responsibilities

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by life?  Have you ever had one of those days–or weeks, or months–where you just couldn’t get on top of everything you needed to do?  Have you ever felt like you were drowning, or being crushed by the weight of your responsiblities?
Of course you have.  That’s modern life, isn’t it?
I’m having one of those weeks, and since this is my space, I get to vent about it here.  Will it help, or should I spend this time doing the work instead of writing about it?  I’m going with writing about it. 🙂
Where to begin . . . a few weeks ago I thought I would try to get organized by making lists of “the next right thing” to do in various areas of my life.  Only what do you do when your “next right things” occupy about 15 pages of a yellow legal pad?
I’ve had Emily calling me multiple times each day to remind me that the FAFSA was due today.  But to do the FAFSA I had to at least take a stab at the taxes.  We are self-employed and I’m trying to do this myself with the help of H & R Block At Home.  Not easy.  Not fun.  The records all burned in the fire.  I guess that’s a plus if they audit us.
Two days this week were completely consumed by a client matter I had to help with.  Spent most of yesterday going to court with John.  Most of the day before that writing pleadings and making copies.  I have a stack of time to enter that’s about a foot high.  A stack of new files to set up.  A two-foot high stack of files to write closing letters on.  At least two cases to bill.  To-dos that I have fallen behind on.

Two out of three cars were in the shop this week.  The cat had to be spayed.  William’s birthday is coming up.  Income fluctuates when you are self-employed, and things are tight right now.
The house is a disaster area.  After doing so well for so long at keeping it neat, I’ve really let it go the past couple of weeks.  There’s just not time for more than cooking, dishes, laundry, and the occasional sweeping right now.

John had blood work done last week.  It came back positive for diabetes.  I haven’t even had time to process this.  They just want him to take more pills.  I have a sneaking suspicion that there are other things he could or should do as well–like change his diet.  I now need to become a diabetes expert.  I’ll pencil that in for this weekend maybe.
I have some ungodly amount of grants I am supposed to be preparing proposals for this month.
I am trying to “grow” my blog which really requires attention to social media.  I have about 20 windows on three browsers open at all times so I can keep up (or try) with that, plus all my work stuff.  I’m supposed to blog every day during Lent and I missed two days this week because I had to be gone during my morning blogging time.
I don’t have time to clean the house, order gifts, make a cake, or plan a party, so poor William has to wait until after his birthday to celebrate it.
I’m worrying about William.  He needs to go to school next year.  He has some specific learning issues I want to see about having him tested for.  I need to continue investigating schools for him.  I’ve been trying to give him some assessment tests this week, and he is very resistant to that.  I need to make appointments to visit some of the schools.  I need to make calls.  I did buy him shoes last night, so I can cross that off his “right things” list.
I’m worrying about Jake, who thinks he’s grown up but has a few important things he needs to do before he REALLY is, like graduate from high school, learn to drive. and get a job.
I’m spending hours each day in my car.  Every time I have to leave the house it fractures my concentration and makes it difficult to get back to work.
It seems to be more or less springtime now and thank God I at least have a window.  What I’d really like to do is go dig a garden.

There are 1082 messages in my email inbox.
You know, this is not nearly all of it.  Not nearly.  But I am going to stop because it’s actually not helping.  I think I’d better just keep plowing through it instead of trying to analyze it.
Thank God I at least gave up Farmville for Lent.