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Backing Out: A Parent’s Confession of ‘Helicopter Parenting’

You want to protect your kids from being hurt. Check each blind turn and corner.

Even though my eldest daughter is about to turn 10, in my own mind, she’s already driving a car. You’ve seen those TV commercials where babies or small children are driving cars, using a cell phone, or making a financial trade.

Yep, in my mind, she’s about to be handed the car keys.

Each time I back out of an especially tricky parking spot, I just can’t help but think that she’ll be doing the same dangerous maneuver someday. She’ll be plagued with blind spots – points where she won’t be able to see a speeding car or passerby.

37aI remember my dad instructing me in how to back out of my first parking spot.

“Go nice and slow, real slow, Kristal. Take your time,” he said in his deep voice. “Now, look through the window of the car next to you so that you can get a better view. Use the reflection,” he guided.

Continuing to back out slowly, I glanced in the side and rear view mirrors. Suddenly, I heard a honking horn from an oncoming car. I slammed on the brake and my head bounced off the headrest. I could feel my heart beat out of my chest and fingertips tingle.

“What did I say, Kristal?” my Dad scolded, while slapping his hands on his lap. “Look both ways again and again, go real slow and use the reflection and windows. Even though you can’t see, use what you have to make the best decision at the time. Okay, let’s try it again,” he said.

In the coming years, both my daughters will need to back out of parking spots alone with blind spots.

And, I’m petrified.

Helicopter Parenting
I had a conversation with a friend about the topic of helicopter parenting the other day. We pondered: Are we harming our children to a certain extent by being so involved?

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term helicopter parenting it is a “parent who pays extremely close attention to a child’s or children’s experiences and problems, particularly at educational institutions. Helicopter parents are so named because, like helicopters they hover overhead.”

Guilty as charged.

So how do I work on not being that overinvolved, overprotective parent? Instinctively, I want to fix and protect my sweet children from the harsh big bad world. What’s wrong with that?

Well, lots could be wrong with that.

Studies find that helicopter parenting may weaken your child’s ability to problem solve, creates a disconnect with natural consequences, fosters dependence rather than independence and so on…

Nearly 10 years ago when I became a parent for the first time, and was stressed and exhausted because my newborn would not sleep, my mom gave me some a simple, yet powerful piece of advice that I never forgot: “With five kids and three jobs, I just couldn’t get too involved in micromanaging you kids.”

I’m not saying, we shouldn’t not engage and communicate with our children. What I’m saying is that we (I) need to listen more and advise and fix less. (Hard swallow)

I know my girls will not only face blind spots, but they’ll be sideswiped more than once in life. The best I can do is to teach them to use those external and internal reflections to make decisions.

I just hope they hit the brakes in time.

How did your parents raise you when it comes to micro- or macro parenting? Do you have characteristics of being a helicopter parent with your own children?

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Breaking Free: A Story of Generational Freedom

Editor’s Note: I’ve taken a bit of a respite from writing on Clearly Kristal. Well, I’m back. I’m ready to write. To share in honesty and truth. As Writer Anne Lamott wrote in her book “Bird by Bird: “You string words together like beads to tell a smeonswingtory. You are desperate to communicate, to edify or entertain, to preserve moments of grace or joy or transcendence, to make real or imagined events come alive. But you cannot will this to happen. It is a matter of persistence and faith and hard work. So you might as well just go ahead and get started.”

So let’s get started…

“Well, do you want the place?” my mom asked.

I ran my hand along the kitchen counter and strolled towards the living room.

The internal dialogue and imagery in my head as an 18-year-old about to land her first place went something like this:

This place could be all mine! I envisioned the lights dimmed in the small living room. The music jumped, lights flashed, friends danced. The crowd was pumpin.

“So, what do you think, Kristal?” my mom prompted.


Snapping out of my daydream, I whipped, “Uh, ya, I’ll take it.”

She nodded her head, and then pointed to the window, and offered to sew paisley patterned curtains to match my futon. As we walked around the old vacated house, I sensed my mom’s underlying sadness.

I then imagined her dialogue:

I’ve lost her. She’s moving out. My baby.

The Swimming Pool House
This first place, though, was no regular house. This house was full of deep family history. It was owned by my mother’s father (my grandfather), who moved his family to California from New Mexico around 1955.

My grandfather had kept the house as a rental property. Over the years, the house was split into two separate living spaces with a tenant in each space. The inside of the house was simple with its thick carmel brown shag carpet and pasty white walls. In the living room was a wall and floor heater that made a loud ticking sound when blazing. The tiny kitchen had an old broken down dishwasher, but was equipped with a highly used microwave. Next to the kitchen leading to an outdoor patio was a double decker washer and dryer. I think you could fit five pieces of clothing in it total.

The hallway that connected to the living room led to the first bedroom on the left with a tiny closet and a big window. Continuing down the hallway on the right was a bathroom with pink and black checkered tile that had a lingering musty smell.

The outside of the house was something special. My grandfather had painted it fluorescent green during the 1980s. Hence the name “the swimming pool house” fit perfectly. Even though the color was awful and neighbors detested it, my grandfather loved the color. He was never one to follow the rules, but made his own rules up in life. Which is all the more reason I too loved this swimming pool-colored house.

Moving West
My grandfather had moved his family west for a better life in the mid 1950s. His youngest son was born with severe mental and physical “handicaps.” In the small New Mexico town with at least a thirty-minute drive to the nearest hospital, my grandparents consulted with world-renowned specialists to assess their “handicap” son. Their son’s prognosis was bleak at best. At the time, California provided the best state care for special needs individuals.

Around age 14, my mother was uprooted from her little southwestern desert town for sunny, hopeful California. After a few years of living in California, her mother, who had always been a rather bitter, uptight woman, began experiencing terrible headaches. They soon learned she had a brain tumor.

My mother lost her mother to the Lord during brain surgery at age 17. My grandmother was only 36 years old. By age 18, my mother broke away to marry her high school sweetheart. She packed her own boxes of memories from this very house. It wasn’t until years later, my mother admitted that she felt guilty for leaving her widowed father alone.

But she needed to break free.

Generational Freedom
Now more than 30 years later, we walked the same rooms. “I can still smell my mom’s gardenia perfume,” she said, taking a breath as we entered the bedroom. I inspected the closet with its thick wooden sliding doors. I tried to busy my mind with where my roommate, and I would put our twin beds and matching black lacquer nightstands.

Just before starting my freshman year of college, I packed 18 years of memories into boxes and carted them five miles away to the swimming pool house.

Yet, underneath all the excitement, I felt a sense of abandonment of my family. As the eldest sister to my two younger sisters, I was the leader and organizer. I kept as much as I could “together” when my dad was checked out on a drinking binge, and my mother was doing her best to keep up family appearances while working multiple jobs.

Like my mom, I was ready to carve out the world and make it my own. I needed to break free.

Now as a mom, I’m several short years away from my first child wanting to break free. Sometimes when tucking my two girls in to bed in the darkness of their rooms, I hold a long, close-up gaze. I want to freeze that moment in time. I make a mental note to hold that moment close to my heart before the tour of rentals and packing of memories begins.

Because I know someday they’ll daydream about the day they break free.

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Blogging-a-Book Series: Her Everything

The crackling sounds of the stove filled the kitchen. The wooden rocking chair kept a slow, melodic rhythm. Opening the door to stoke the wood, a soft orange glow cascaded the darkened room.

meonswingI sat on my mom’s soft, doughy lap. I traced the carved outline of the rocking chair with my tiny fingers. This was the place my mom held me during countless sleepless nights as a baby.

I felt safest here.

Next to the stove in a brown paper bag sat nuts from our walnut tree. I remember my mom showing me how to shell each nut with metal nutcrackers. Shattered shells landing along the floor, I longed for a bite of the tasty nutmeat. To this day, a whiff of walnuts reminds me of this fond window of time.

“This is the last time we’ll sit here in this kitchen,” my mom said.

At that moment an emotion I had never felt washed over me: uncertainty.

The idea of leaving my farm home that was overflowing with nature and free love during the 1970s in exchange for a cold, concrete jungle rental house in the “city” made my six-year-old stomach turn.

This was the only home I knew.

Here, the hills that nestled my farm were friends. The newborn bunnies I found snuggling in the hay during the early morning were my first glimpses of birthing life. My hand-built wooden playhouse was my home. My purple and white swing set was my amusement park. The natural waterfall and swimming hole was my aquatic oasis. The soft, worn hardwood floors were my perfect ice skating rink in socks.

Now, I had arrived in a new place: fear of the unknown.

That was more than 35 years ago.

However, this same feeling returned nearly ten years ago when we uprooted our family. I recall when my husband and I bought our first house and we moved our daughter from the only home she had known. Like a rookie first-time mom, I promptly consulted with the pediatrician about how to smoothly transition our child to a new home environment.

The pediatrician crinkled her forehead when I asked the question.

“All she needs is you,” she spat, matter-of-factly.

“Me?” I asked, feeling suddenly like the simple minded TV character Gomer Pyle. I might as well of said, “Well, gollllyyyy.”

“You are connected to her. You are her everything. You represent consistency and safety,” she explained.

My mind rang with those words….everything, everything.

I looked at the sweet round face of my 16-month-old daughter and her curious almond brown eyes as she sat on my lap. I flashed to my mother and the rocking chair by the wood burning stove.

I would always be my mom’s everything.

Just like my children are now my everything.

You have just read an excerpt from my manuscript…more to come in publication.

Have you ever experienced being uprooted from your home as a child? How did it go? What were some of those “wood burning stove” memories? Have you had to relocate your family as an adult? If so, how did the transition go? Smooth? Rough waters?

To read previous Summer Blogging-a-Book Series:
For Dad: We Are Not Alone
Dead Wrong
Dreamy White Cadillac
Guests of Another Kind


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A Love Letter to My Niece

My Dearest 18-year-old Niece,

I have been meaning to write you this letter. Here it goes…

I love you. Truly. Since the day you came into this world, I knew that I would love you forever. You were my first daughter – even though I was technically your aunt. I was there for so many firsts. Your first breath. Your first movie. Your first time in the pool. Your first steps. Your first words. Your first temper tantrum.

The day I moved away for one of my first jobs out of college was the hardest of all in our relationship at age 24. At only two-years-old, you sensed I was leaving. With my bags packed, I walked toward my car. I closed my eyes and clenched my teeth through your painstaking cries. I finally turned to see you pressing your chunky cheeks against the patio window. You cried and pleaded: “Don’t go! Don’t go! Noooo!” Your mom eventually pulled you away from the glass. I ran to my car.

My heart broke at that moment. I sat and cried.

Now, more than 16 years later, you are beautiful – both inside and out. You have grown from a teetering and tottering child to a mature, capable young woman. You are smart and caring. Your love for people and animals continues to inspire me. And, your strength in battling a chronic, life-threatening disease amazes me.

And you are experiencing another ‘first.’ You are in love with a young man. That sounded very aunt-ish, I know. I know how you feel because I, too, was in love at the same point in my life.

I was 19 and attending junior college and living in a small town like you. I already knew that I had met the man I wanted to marry. I had dreams of our life together. I could see him as my great partner in life.

Though I was in the euphoria of love, I knew not to put my hopes and dreams on hold for someone else. I had to remind myself to keep my own dreams alive…to not lose myself. Heck, I didn’t even know who ‘I’ was yet. I was still defining what type of person I wanted to be in this life.

I considered those girls who lived in small towns across America who were “babies having babies.” They had married young, but had little to no education and skill set. I thought of Grammy, who married in high school only to find herself divorced and alone with two kids – and no real skill set or education. I did not want to be one of those girls. I wanted to be smart and strong. I wanted to know that I could make it on my own with the support of God and family.

The day I received my letter of acceptance into a four-year-university was bittersweet. I knew it was the start of my future. I had finally made it into a state university. The girl from a blue collar, working class family who shed blood, sweat and tears into putting herself though junior college had made it to the big time. I was college bound. Unfortunately, I would leave heartbroken. I was starting a new life without the love of my life.

I packed my tiny, brown 1981 hatchback with all my belongings.  Naturally, it was a dark, gloomy day when I kissed my true, first love goodbye.

I bid farewell to the nestled mountains of my small hometown. With tears falling, I slipped in the cassette of a favorite reggae artist Gregory Isaacs. The slow melodic song “Weeping Willow” filled my car. Through my tears, I sang these lyrics…

“No more now, no more, no more now They say that once the tear has fallen, the willow cries eternally cries out for we, my willow tree don’t shed your tears eternally cause I have found the love I’ve searched for I need your tears no more (no more), no more So tell be where, my weeping willow and we’ll could never be the saying cry not for we, my willow tree don’t shed your tears eternally cause I have found a love I’ve searched for I need your tears no more (no more), no more No more, no more now…”

In between sobs, I prayed to God for eight hours in the now pouring rain. I held on tightly to those prayers over the next nine years until our wedding day.

Yes, nine years. It took more than nine years for me to marry the same man I left on that fateful day.

So, as the child who is much like my firstborn daughter, I ask you to hold true to yourself. Love yourself by allowing time to find out ‘who’ you are and experience life before taking on the huge responsibility of marriage and children.

Please know that I am excited for all your ‘firsts’ to come. Remember, God had a plan for me –  just like He has a plan for you.


Aunt Kristal

You and I cheek-to-cheek.

You and I cheek-to-cheek.




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Motherhood: Rituals of Love (Repost)

Editor’s Note: When I launched this blog on May 21, 2012, my first post was full of gratitude and humility towards the heroic efforts of motherhood. I re-read the post this morning. Nearly two years later, I feel an even deeper sense of gratitude.

My daughters are becoming more independent and the days of hand-holding and hair brushing are numbered. My mother’s time on earth is also slipping away as she grows older and wiser (wink) with each passing day. And then as my daughter told me in the darkness at bedtime a few months ago: “Mom, I realized that you are getting older, which means you are getting closer to going to Heaven.” Startled by her deep thought, I answered with tears in my eyes: “Yes, but I will always be in your heart – wherever you go.”

I feel so blessed.

Going back in time are three generations of mother and daughter snapshots. Time and events never change love. Love is all-powerful, all-conquering. Especially the love of a mother.

So, once again, I offer a repost “Motherhood: Rituals of Love.” Tell your mom wherever she is today how much you love her.

You will always be in my heart. I love you, mom. 


My mother as a newborn with my Grandmother Carter. My mother lost her mother to a brain tumor at age 16.

Smiles. Here, my mother as a newborn with my grandmother. Even though my mother lost her mother to a brain tumor when she was only 16 years old, the sweet smile of your child is all the reward a mother needs.

My mom and I on a beautiful day at the park for a tea party.

My mom and I on a beautiful day at a garden tea party in the early 1980s.

My beautiful, sweet girls. The biggest gift of all.

Me as a mom. The best job on earth. My beautiful, sweet girls are the biggest gifts of all.

“I remember my mother’s prayers and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all my life.”

– Abraham Lincoln

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