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Throw Back Thursday #TBT: Learning Pretend

Editor’s Note: Yesterday I stumbled upon an old piece of writing. I mean way old. Like, mid-1980s. Yes, I said the 80s – the dark ages for many of you. I read this deep, poignant piece that was full of innocence, idealism and insecurities.  Written around age of 15, I had only small tastes of the cruelness of the world, and yet most of my thoughts are full of such truth and wisdom. Now at age 43, I feel as though I meander in and out of the “game of pretend.” How about you?

 

TBTDarkness.

A conglomeration of stars and a mysterious black scope.

All awaiting me, the eyes and mind of a fourth-grade girl.

My teacher, Mr. Latzer, stood before the class in his shy blue shirt messily tucked into his polyester pants. To me, it was a regular, dull school day.

But then something happened.

“Today class, we are going to travel somewhere,” he explained. “Somewhere called imagination.”

He then held up a flimsy poster with large, hand-sized planets, which were set on a pitch-dark background. Tiny clusters of stars twinkled.

He explained our assignment was to write using our imagination. In fourth grade, this was my first creative writing assignment.

I thought the only stories are read or wrote were: “Dick and Sally play ball. Watch Dick and Sally run.”

He continued, “Explore, pretend you are going into space and into another galaxy. Describe what you see on paper.”

I got out a fresh piece of paper and gripped my fat red pencil. I didn’t know what to write. Insecurities began to surface.

“What would kids say if they thought my story was stupid? I wonder if they would laugh and tease me?” I thought to myself.

I stared at the dark, mysterious poster for a while. Raising my brow, I noticed the other kids writing.

“How are they doing it?” I wondered.

I tried to concentrate on what Mr. Latzer had said earlier, “Explore, pretend…”

So, I pretended.

In this life you must pretend. Pretending is part of the game of life. Even as a nine-year-old, I learned to fake it.

If one is afraid to give a speech what does one give advise, “Oh, pretend their not there.”

And yet, I’m still scared. I think we’re all scared so let’s all pretend.

In class when I want to raise my hand, or make a comment, I am scared. I try to pretend. Pretend that I don’t care what others think, and I try to bottle up those lurking insecurities.

In this life we try too much to pretend.

Or, do we pretend in order to keep going? To keep surviving?

We are all scared of failure. We are just people vs. people. But people can hurt and kill each other. So if we all pretend, everything will be okay, right? The politicians, the government, churches, advertisers…they all pretend and so do we.

The lies, the contradictions.

We pretend other countries aren’t there, and we are the only ones on the planet. I think some of it has to do with selfishness. “Well, if I succeed (even though I didn’t win fairly), I still won.” That’s all that counts.

That is the American ideal.

In early life we are taught that only the ones with the “gold medals” are the real “winners.”

But I do not agree with that statement.

Try to be yourself. Don’t be afraid to raise your hand, or give a speech.

But that human instinct creeps, and screams, “No! They might laugh. You will be hurt!”

Even in the fourth grade I realized this truth. Deep down inside I knew one must “explore and pretend.” That human instinct is locked up inside of me; maybe you could see it on my face and maybe you still can. But I looked up at the planets and stars, and knew I wasn’t the only one pretending.

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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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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.

Love,

Aunt Kristal

You and I cheek-to-cheek.

You and I cheek-to-cheek.

 

 

 

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Far From Normal: A Parent’s Sleepover Dilemma

Editor’s Note: Like most of my posts, this story is personal and real. One personal note about my childhood/family dyanmic is that this specific incident is not reflective of my every day life. As an update, for the last 10-plus years my father claims to be a recovering alcoholic. My mother continues to stay by his side.

I heard shrills of her voice from the kitchen. I ran from the living room. It was going to be one of those nights.

“No, not tonight…of all nights,” I thought to myself.

Through the yellow bar stools, I could see him coming towards her. “Stop! Stop! Please!” she yelled. I could feel my friend’s heavy, hot breath on the back of my neck as she stood behind me.

He edged closer. His voice raised above her pleas. He had cornered her in the tiny kitchen. As he pushed closer, she walked backwards and sideways. She screamed in pain. Her shins had rammed into the open dishwasher.

Me at around age 11 at the kitchen of our new house in the early 1980s.

Me at around age 11 at the kitchen of our new house in the early 1980s.

I grabbed my friend’s arm. “Let’s go to my room,” I said. Nervously, I cranked my humongous 1980s silver stereo to drown out the background and did my best to pretend nothing was wrong. This was my normal.

But I knew that my alcoholic Dad physically and emotionally abusing my Mom wasn’t normal. Which made me feel not normal. I now know that all families have their secrets, dysfunctional history – and there is no “normal.” However, as a pre-teen girl, all you want to do is fit in.

You want to be like everyone else. You want to be normal.

Clearly, this was the reason I didn’t jump for joy at inviting friends over for a sleep over.

New School, No Life
Yet, what made this night different was that we had just moved to the area. This was the first time I invited a friend from my new school to stay the night. And this would be her first impression of my family.

My mind raced.

Would the news of the night spread around the school? I envisioned myself sitting alone at lunch and recess. The stares and sneers would pierce my heart. As an insecure, puberty-infused 11-year-old girl, I felt that any possible social life was at risk. My life would be over. I would be an outcast, a reject, a nobody. Thankfully, none of this happened.

It took many years to even consider inviting a friend to stay the night. You might be thinking why rehash this painful memory? Good question…

Know the Family
Well, a few days ago my older daughter asked to sleep over with a new family we don’t know that well. I did my best to explain that we don’t know this family that well as they are relatively new to the school, and we are not fully clear of their values, family dynamic, etc. My daughter continued to debate the issue. How can I make my point so she’ll have a better understanding?

Then, suddenly while driving in the car, images of that night long ago flashed like a bad movie. My stomach turned.

No time like the present for using a real life example, I thought. So, here goes my raw life truth to my daughter about why she can’t just up and stay the night with another family…

As I told the tale, I could see the seriousness in her eyes from the rear view mirror. I could also sense her sadness about the story. It was not my intention to make her feel sad. By sharing this glimpse back in time, I wanted to make a point that it is important to know the family.

I explained further: “When you stay the night at another family’s home, we place a huge amount of trust in the parents of that family. We entrust those parents with your life. The same goes when a friend stays at our house.”

Perhaps, I’m taking the ‘sleep over’ thing to an extreme due to my own past. But I don’t think so. I swore the “norm” of my own adult family would not resemble the dark side of my childhood. Through the grace of God, my husband and I work together to create a healthy family environment. Though are family is not perfect, we strive to live a life based on love, respect and trust.

I believe that we also have the parental right to feel a certain level of comfort with another family before committing to a sleep over. It is also our duty to conduct due diligence in knowing the family. This is not fullproof in protecting our children, but there will be a much higher level of comfort in knowing we did everything in our power to allow our child independence while keeping the reigns of parental control in check.

Eventually, I will need to trust that my daughter knows the healthy norm based on her life experience. One day she’ll understand that we’re all far from normal.

This is a bittersweet life lesson I know all too well.

Feel free to share any thoughts about your “normal” family life growing up. As a parent, what is the ideal age to allow your child to sleep over at a friend’s house? Do you need to do a background check on the other family, or just a general meet and greet? What are your requirements for a sleep over for your child (if any)?

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Love Defense: Coping With My Daugher’s Puberty

I leaned over the side of the couch. I could feel my emotions boiling, my body heat rising. The front door ajar, I saw her walking to the car. And that was it. I lost it.

“I hate you, mom! I hate you! I hate you!” I yelled out the door with tears running down my face.

When my mother finally returned, you could see the look of hurt and pain on her face.

What had I done?

I had hurt the person who loves me most in the world. My mother. The one who has sacrificed the most for me. The person who would give her life for mine in an instant.

Why would I treat her so badly? The answer: puberty

As they say, payback is a … well… you know.

Puberty Payback
A few weeks ago, I accompanied my nine-year-old daughter on an overnight school field trip. I had visions of us sharing in this beautiful mother/daughter bonding experience. We would sit next to each other on the bus and discuss the amazing scenery. At night, we’d snuggle and giggle while watching a movie at the hotel. I couldn’t wait to have this time together with my first-born child.

A glimmer of a sweet moment with my daughter a recent overnight class field trip.

A glimmer of a sweet moment with my daughter and I during a recent overnight class field trip.

Just like the scratching of a needle across a record, my expectations were shattered. Not only did my daughter not want to walk or even sit with me, she wanted nothing to do with me until it was time to go to the gift shop.

As I sat on the bus during the second day of the trip, I stared out the window. I thought to myself, “This is how my mom felt that day.” I felt her pain.

I was hurt. I am still hurt.

Love Defense Strategy
A friend with grown children advised me recently that teenage girls are the most stressful on parents compared to boys. She must have seen my face turn a shade of white because she then reassuringly said, “But then they come back.”

I considered the entire ‘coming back’ scenario. I decided on a strategy: a love defense. I would do my best as a parent to cover her with so much love that she could not, would not leave willingly. I would still keep her as my sweet, close first-born daughter. I would do everything in my power to not let her evolve into a distant, angry, rebellious teen who tries to sneak out the window only to drink cheap beer and smoke cigarettes.

Mentally, I formulated my strategy: I vowed to remain a parent, but would be honest and raw. I would not talk at her, but talk with her. I would listen and do my best to not try and fix everything. I would be her confidant when she wanted to talk. I would do my best to be patient and loving. I would ask her if she would still hold my hand even if only at bedtime. I would never judge her, but always love her. Then, she’d never leave me.

Right?

You’re wondering, how’s my strategy playing out so far? My answer is that we have good days and bad days.

Puber-Tea Moment
To feel more comfortable and have a better understanding of puberty, my daughter and I attended an educational “Puber-Tea” by the Birds and Bees Connection about this somewhat taboo topic. I sat side-by-side with my daughter as the health educator discussed puberty, its causes, effects – and all the gory details.

The educator explained the release of hormones entitled the “Emotional Roller Coaster.” These hormones cause the emotional and physical changes during puberty. I could see other moms shaking their heads in agreement as the instructor discussed the joyous “puberty coaster ride.” However, even though I am an educated and informed adult, the reiteration of this information gave me some sense of hope.

I then remembered my own days as a teenager. I would cry for no reason. Slam my bedroom door. Put my back to my mother while she drove. Switch the radio station back and forth in the car. I would pretend to be Holden Caulfield. Roll my eyes. Hand on the hips. Interrupt my parents. Looking back, these were mostly hormone-induced behaviors.

And now, it’s become all to clear why my mother kept a bottle of Valium in our kitchen cabinet. SHE HAD FOUR DAUGHTERS. FOUR.

Besides all the information for both daughters and mothers, one moment stood out to me as the most important of the evening. During the beginning icebreaker, we introduced ourselves and stated something we loved about our daughters and vice versa. When it came to my daughter stating something she loved about me, she said, “I love it that I can talk to my mom about anything and she’ll listen.”

So, the answer is: it was a good day. Perhaps my love defense is working. I do know this: I will never let her go.

After all, I love her the most.

As a parent, do you have a tween or teenage daugther who is displaying this hormone-induced roller coaster behavior? If so, how have you been handling it? Do you have a strategy? How about as a teenager, do you remember those days of crying, flying off the handle, or being downright bratty? Is there anything that stands out in your mind that you’d like to share or reflect? I’d love to hear!

Note: This post was not sponsored. However, Birds and Bees Connection did provide at their discretion a complimentary ticket for my daughter and I to attend the Puber-Tea.

 

 

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