Tag Archives: children

The Importance of Being Kind

Hubby came to me this morning to ask if Kate was OK. She’s not.

She hasn’t been herself for a while now. She seems to be managing the loss of her best friend, Big Sister, over some childish disagreements that occurred last fall. At least, she was managing just fine until the prom pictures hit FB and comments were made. Not that anyone said anything even remotely negative about Kate. She and Little Sister went to prom with several other friends. Before they left, I took pictures of the two of them together. Little’s dress was very elegant and refined and a bit vintage 40’s. Her mom and I agreed that they looked like they had just stepped off some ocean liner from the days before cruise ships, as first-class passengers, of course.

On the surface, Big and Little have patched things up. They used to be very close, just like Kate and Big were, but Kate and Big had been friends for so many more years. And the reconciliation between Big and Little is superficial at best: their relationship is certainly not what it ever was. Back at the FB photos, Big decided to comment on how beautiful Little looked; she made the comment on one of my pictures of Little and Kate.

If you know anything about teenage girls, and just how cruel they can be to each other, then you probably recognize the insult Big laid on Kate by excluding her from the accolades given to Little. Common courtesy dictates that you be polite and not exclude people from conversation, even people you don’t know very well or are currently having relationship issues with. Had the situation been reversed, had someone left a compliment of a photo of Big and a friend, and Big was not included in the compliment, she would pout about it. More likely, she’d throw a hissy fit about it. (Hissy fit: above the Mason-Dixon, that would be ‘temper tantrum’.) I can hear it now, because I’ve heard it before: “Everyone is so mean to me! They deliberately left me out! They could have said ‘You’re BOTH beautiful’ instead of ‘You, Big Sister’s friend, are beautiful, (and you, Big Sister, aren’t worth commenting on.)'”

Kate noticed the comment right away, but said nothing about it until Sunday afternoon. But when she finally decided to talk about it, the floodgates opened, the tears poured, and ten years of suppressed emotion came flowing out: the difficulties of being Big’s friend; enduring her temper tantrums; wondering what she’d done to cause Big to completely ignore her for weeks at a time, incidents so insignificant as to be ridiculous. Here’s one: In middle school, Big wanted Kate to sit next to her on the bus but there was no room in the seat. Kate sat behind her, or in front of her, doesn’t matter. Big did not speak to Kate for 4 weeks after that, until her dad reminded her that she was being petty and needed to remember who her friends, her one real friend, was and always had been. She called Kate and things were resolved. Big has asked for my advice many times. She’s come to me, in tears, usually upset over something her step-mom had said or done. And I held her in my arms like she was my own daughter, let her cry it out, and then talk her through it. I’ve been her mother when she needed one.

Now I am evil. I’ve never been there for her. As a matter of fact, no one in our family has ever really cared about her for as long as we’ve known her–10 years. She used to call Hubby “dad”; she called my mom “Grandma”. Now, Kate is “NOT her friend.” (her words and her emphasis)

So, back to this morning. Hubby is wondering what’s wrong with Kate. Looks to me like she’s working her way through two of the stages of grief. I think she completely skipped “denial” and “bargaining” and is currently working on “anger” and “depression”. “Acceptance” was the only stage Kate didn’t have any qualms about; she immediately accepted the fact that Big was gone from her life. But she’s still grieving. There is a hole in Kate’s heart, ten years big, and it won’t fill itself back up overnight. And Kate’s not the only one working through this. I am currently mired in “anger”. I tried reconciliation between Big and me, to no avail. Big has no intention of reconciling.

Sunday afternoon Kate poured her heart out, about how hard she’d tried over the years to help Big, to be there for her when she needed a friend, about how her efforts were ignored or insulted. Big has had a rough go of it: emotional and physical abuse by her step-mom; her dad works long hours and has little time for her. The list is long and some of it is downright ugly. Looking back on their relationship, I see an emotionally scarred girl, Big Sister, who always needed someone she could put a leash on and control.  She learned that negative attention is better than no attention at all. She learned how to take, but not how to give back. She learned to manipulate other people, but not how to help them. Kate has been the one on the leash, and we’ve all been recipients of Big Sister’s behavior. We’re all hurting. Maybe Big Sister is hurting too. Maybe she’s realizing her destructive behavior has consequences. Maybe she’s ready to address the real issues.

Or it could be that she’s hurting because she keeps burning bridges behind her as she sweeps the people who truly cared for her out of her life like so much trash from the floor? She’s not very adept at building new bridges, and the ones she does build are all one-way. Accidents, some of the fatal, are bound to happen.

I’m proud of Kate’s decision to finally remove the leash. The scars under the collar that bound Kate to Big are still healing and that will take time.


In the meantime, this came from Little Sister yesterday:

“Today, I saw two men. They were on the side of the street. One had a cast and crutches and struggled to walk… The other was strong and generous. He grabbed the guy and slung him on his shoulder. He carried the man down the side walk as we walked by. I have not witnessed such kindness as this until now. If it wasn’t a sign, what was it.”

Well, look at that: a teachable moment.

Dear Kate and Little,

What you witnessed today was an act of kindness. It was someone reaching outside himself, maybe going out of his comfort zone, to help a fellow human being. It’s not hard to do, but it can be scary when you do cross the line that marks the edge of your comfort zone for the first time. Try it. The opportunities are everywhere. You just need to learn to recognize them. If you’re standing in line somewhere, talk to the people around you. You know how many homeless people there are in our little neck of the woods. Next time you and Kate go out for a snack, get an extra one and a bottle of water, and give them to the guy standing at the intersection. Offer to take the shopping cart back to the corral for the young mom with a baby in her arms and a toddler at her side. Say ‘Hello’ to someone who looks like they could use a kind word. Being kind can make you vulnerable to hurt, but it can also make you feel better about the world. It might be the first time anyone has spoken to that person on that day, maybe even longer. If you’re really lucky, you might wind up with a life-long friend like I did. Not everyone is a user. Not everyone is a taker. Not everyone is out to manipulate you to do their bidding. Trust yourself, and do what you know is right.

Love, Mom

Thanks to the human heart by which we live,

Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears.

To me the meanest flower that blows can give

Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.

-William Wordsworth


it isn’t supposed to be like this

As if no one knows, I am 50 years old. I’ve been doing this math problem in my head since January, and it’s easier to do with a number that ends in ‘0’. Here’s the calculation: When my mom was x years old, I was y years old. Then this whole list of things starts popping into my head, things that were happening in my life when I was y and my mother was 50.

OK, that sounds really confusing. Here’s an example: when my mom was 50, I had a 2 year old son and was working full time (plus some) as a systems analyst. I was also singing the the church choir, finding out that I had fibromyalgia and wondering what life was going to look like on the other side of that realization. Stuff like that.

So now that I’m 50, I start thinking about where my kids could have been by now, if I’d had them at the same age mom was when she had me. I could be a grandmother. There’s a mind-blower. I could be experiencing the empty nest that everyone talks so glowingly about. We could be finished with (at least) one iteration of  one of the kids (who would be adults) having changed careers.

I have two cousins that are a bit younger than me. One has three children, a sophomore in high school, a senior in high school, and a 21-year-old who can’t figure out who she is or what she wants out of life. She tried college; she tried Parris Island (lasted about 4 weeks), and now she is back home, working and studying automobile maintenance at the local community college, only girl in the program. Sounds like fun.

The other cousin has three children too. One is 22, in Iraq.The second one is 20, in the Navy, stationed in Hawaii. The third just had a baby, so my cousin is a grandmother.

These are all concepts that are kinda hard for me to grasp my sad little brain around.

Here’s another one: one of my children has been booted from the family domicile. Never, ever thought I’d be here, at this time in my life, dealing with this kind of problem.

Surprise! Woody Allen said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” So true. Now there are all of these pieces of things that I thought would be one way, scattered around the edges of my life. And his life, too.

Tough love is hard, damned hard. We’ll get through this, and the result of the putting of pieces back together won’t look like it did before the glass was broken. I don’t like the not knowing part.

Too bad. It’s here and I have to deal with it.

But, as Scarlett O’Hara said: “I can’t think about that right now. If I do, I’ll go crazy. I’ll think about that tomorrow.”

And cousin Melanie: “Whatever happens, I’ll love you just as I do now until I die.”

doing it anyway

…..getting on an Amtrak train at 3:16 tomorrow morning and going to DC with a group of students from Baby Girl’s school. Don’t know who, or how many, or anything.

And we won’t mention why I probably shouldn’t be doing this just yet, but if you really know me then you know.

And it’s supposed to be insanely hot in DC for the foreseeable future, as if it’s not ever insanely hot in DC in the summer. I know, I’ve been there before in July and August.

But, this is a school-sanctioned, I guess you could say, trip. The coordinator is a guidance counselor, and the focus of the trip is American History, so of course when Baby Girl was invited to go she said yes and ‘mom, can you go as a chaperone?’ How weird is that, when your kid WANTS you to chaperone  their trips? Anyway, I was supposed to go to Cielo in June, but had to reschedule due to a surgical procedure that was supposed to happen that week, only it didn’t. And I am hell-bound (literally) and determined to keep this promise to her.

Funny, but true: today we were out running errands and talking about the trip and stuff. We’re supposed to tour the Capitol, and I said that Congress was in session. She asked what they were doing, and I said: “Trying to figure out that you can’t spend money you don’t have.”

And, SHE said, “Shouldn’t they already know that? Haven’t the seen the debt clock?” She’s 17.

Then Hubby comes home and says something about a compromise bill with 1 trillion in cuts, 1 trillion in new taxes, and an increase to the debt ceiling.

I swear, I used to be really good at mathematics. For heaven’s sake, I took engineering calculus in college for FUN, and aced it.

But, this just don’t add up.

I digress.

If you’re the praying type, please pray for us. For safety, for good health for everyone….and that someone, somewhere in Washington will grow a set.

facing reality

They say that the traits that annoy you the most in others are the ones you posses within yourself. The trick is to recognize and deal with them.

A friend acknowledged a couple of things about herself recently that, I have to admit, hit home in a couple of different  ways. First, I had been on the receiving end of  what she had confessed about herself, and at the time did not confront or question her actions or my response to them. A couple of years back I wrote something called “The Invisible Woman”. I wrote for a couple of reasons. One was because I was in Cielo, where women are considered to be the lowest of the low, except for Haitian ex-patriots living in the area. The other was because, for most of my life, I have felt invisible in many ways. So when I didn’t say anything at that time I was able to justify it to myself by internalizing: “Hey, I’m invisible. I’m used to not being listened to or actively engaged in conversation.” And life went on, as it usually does.

The thing is, when I read what she had said about herself, the reality hit home for me: I do the same thing to other people, especially Wubby. He’s been screaming at me for months, “You don’t really listen when I talk to you.” and he was right. So, with a great deal of tears and apprehension, I apologized to him for being the person he had been trying to tell me I was. He talked, and I listened. I talked, and he listened.

The timing could not have been better, something I like to call a “God Thing”. Because 36 hours later Wubby’s world was rocked to the core, and we were able to talk about it, really talk, and Wubby and I both will come out of this as better people. The mama grizzly in me does want to seek out and destroy that which has so completely devastated him, but that wouldn’t help anyone. There’s enough pain to go around already.

Good grief but growing up is a damned hard thing to do, and it takes a lifetime.

the horse who could fly

In the ancient days, when the world was new and fresh, and the animals could converse with their masters, a horse was born. His name was Marius. He appeared to all, his dam and sire, his aunts and uncles and cousins, and the horses of all the neighboring pastures, a plain and simple beast. His dam coaxed him onto his wobbly new legs, and he stood, straight and proud as horses do. He took a step forward, slowly at first, but quickly he found that he could run and play. Marius was a very happy horse indeed.

One day as Marius and his friends gathered in the pasture for an afternoon of leaping and chasing, he decided that he could jump higher than any of his friends, even though he’d never really tried. He just knew. He pulled himself up, took three quick strides, and leaped into the air. And he was right! He could jump higher than any other horse he knew. He thought about this, and as he thought, it didn’t occur to him to look down to prepare for his landing, for he was enjoying the feel of the air flowing through his mane and tail. After a time, he realized that he had not begun his descent back down to the ground, but was instead, flying. He was amazed by his ability and reveled in it. As he looked around, he wondered where the other flying horses were, for surely he was not the only one. But he saw no other horses with him, and he became frightened. His fear caught up and surpassed his joy at being able to fly, he panicked, and fell to the ground.

While he was not injured by the fall, he was indeed very frightened, and even though he had never experienced such joy as he had when he flew, Marius did not try again. When he and his playmates gathered now, he would trot with them, but he would not do anything else. His playmates began to canter in the pastures, and to jump over small trees that had fallen during the stormy days. He would watch them in silence from the back of the pasture, his joy now gone.

As the days passed he grew taller, his legs became stronger, but still he would not jump. When enough time had passed, the horse master decided it was time for all of the new horses to begin their training so that they could contribute to the well-being of the herd. The master called all the young horses together and began to teach them to respond to voice commands. If the master said, “Horses, walk!”, all of the horses would fall into line and walk together. Then the master taught them to trot, and when he commanded, they would all trot.

Then the day came when the master said, “Horses, canter!” Marius thought back to that day long ago, when he flew, and realized that those three steps he had taken before he leaped into the air had, in fact, been a canter. As all the other horses took their places in line, Marius stayed back. One by one, each horse cantered as the master commanded, until Marius was the only horse left in the back of the pasture. The master looked kindly at Marius and spoke to him with a very calm, loving voice, saying “Marius, it’s your turn to canter. I know you can do this. I know that you’re scared, but I will not let you fall. Please, Marius, canter to me.”  Marius pushed aside his fear as he began to trot toward the master. When he saw the master smile, Marius broke into a swift canter and came to the master’s side. “Good job, Marius!”, said the master, and he gave Marius a tasty treat from the garden.

The training continued, with the master issuing commands and the horses responding, until all of the horses could walk, trot, canter, and even gallop. Marius was once again a happy horse.

Early one morning, before daybreak, the master called the horses into the pasture for training. “Today,” he said, “we are going to learn to jump properly. I have placed a very small fence in the center of the pasture. I know you can not see the fence because it is dark, but you don’t need to see the fence. Here, instead, is what you must do: listen to my voice. I will tell you when to trot, when to canter, and when to jump. When you hear me say, ‘Jump!’, then you will jump. Do not anticipate my command, but wait for it. And when I command, do not hesitate, but jump. I know you are afraid of what you can not see, but if you trust me, I will not let you trip over the fence.” The horses were gathered at the back of the pasture, discussing the master’s new commands. “I’m afraid,” said one horse. “It’s too dark!”, said another. “But the master has trained us well,” said a third. “He will not let us get hurt, for he is a good master indeed. I will go first.”

The first brave horse began to walk across the dark pasture. “Trot!”, said the master. The horse began to trot. “Canter!”, said the master, and once again the horse obeyed. “JUMP!” shouted the master. The horse jumped over the fence and landed solidly on the other side. When he realized what he had accomplished, he kicked his heels high into the air and shouted back to the other horses, “Do what the master says, and come over to this side of the fence. It is very exciting!” Each horse, in turn, listened to the master’s commands, and leaped over the fence. Until Marius was the only horse left in the back pasture.

“It’s your turn, Marius,” said the master. “Listen to my voice and you will be safe.” Marius thought to himself about the time he flew. He remembered the freedom, the joy, the excitement of flying through the air. But he also remembered falling, and he allowed fear to grip him once again. “No!” he shouted. “I will not jump a fence that I can not see.” The master asked Marius, “Do you not trust me? Have I allowed anything bad to happen to you since we began your training?” “No,” Marius replied, “but you let me fall to the ground the day I flew.”

“I did not allow you to fall to the ground,” said the master. “I was not even aware that you were flying, for you did that on your own, using only the strength you have inside. You had no training, only your natural, raw abilities. And you were superb, until you doubted yourself. That is why you fell. Now you have training and experience to go with your natural abilities. You should be able to jump the highest fence I put before you, because you can fly!”

Marius listened to the master, and he thought about the words and their meaning. He wanted desperately to jump, to come to the master waiting for him on the other side of the fence. He knew the master had a treat waiting for him. But he also knew that, if he jumped this fence, then the master would ask him to jump another, higher fence. And eventually the master would ask him to fly. He had to make a decision: jump the fence, in the dark, or forever remain in the back pasture, watching the other horses go on without him.

He heard the master say. “Marius, trot!” He slowly began to trot toward the master’s voice. “Marius, canter!” He hesitated, then began to canter. Finally the command came. “Marius, JUMP!” As he began to raise up on his back legs to jump, he hesitated.  Then he jerked his head to the side and pulled away from the fence, galloping to the back of the pasture. “I can not do this,” Marius said to the master. “Yes, you can,” the master replied. “You are more than capable of jumping this fence. You must decide for yourself. I have trained you well. You have natural abilities that the other horses lack. You are the most capable horse in this pasture. But if you refuse to jump, I can not help you any more. The others are waiting for me to continue with their training. They are excited because they jumped their first fence. I can only wait for you a short time. Then I must move on with the others.”

“You must decide,” said the master. “The other horses and I will be on the other side of the fence continuing our work, and when we have finished, we will all go into the barn and rest. You can join us, or you can remain in the back pasture. I can tell you that there are many wonderful things waiting for you on this side of the fence, but until you jump you will never know what they are.”

“Choose wisely.” said the master.

And he waited.

(Editor’s note: I have heard this song performed live exactly one time, by this singer, in 1989, the week I found out that I was pregnant with our first child.)

things I found

Here I am, waiting for the bus to bring my baby home from her first day in high school. It’s been, um, different around here since Wubby went to college. I’m not sure I like it. It took a week to get his room cleaned up, and there’s still a small shelf in there I need to dust. There was quite a bit of trash in that room, as well as some amusements, and some treasures. I found

  • 10 black Sharpies – Wubby draws, in black ink. For the past four years I would buy a Sharpie, use it one time, and it would vanish. Now I know what happened to them!
  • Hokey-Pokey Elmo – A gag Christmas gift. Since hubby and I are both Virginia Tech Hokies, we have a fondness for the Hokie-pokey. Wubby despises Elmo, but had to admit that this one was pretty funny.
  • 2 air mattresses – Used on a trip Wub and I took to Gulfport MS to work construction the summer after Katrina.
  • Dominican Pesos, assorted game tokens and $35 in change. (He found most of the change before he left, but he didn’t get it all.)
  • A Japanese phrase book from WWII – It belonged to my father-in-law.
  • 8 packages of guitar strings – Assorted types for acoustic, electric, jazz etc. Not one complete set in the bunch.
  • A bluebird house – He made it years ago, with my dad, I THINK.
  • 227 pencils, pens, erasers, markers – Various colors and stages of usefulness.
  • My dad’s tuxedo.
  • Crash Bandicoot 2 – The first Playstation game he ever got, a Christmas present from maybe 10 years ago. I love CB2!
  • A bible – It belongs to the girl next door, who was his girlfriend for about a week. She knew she left it somewhere, but had no clue it was in Wub’s room. She was happy to get it back.
  • Chickens – Little plastic chickens. A chicken alarm clock. A glass chicken. A garden decoration chicken. Wub LOVES chickens. I don’t know why, except that he was fascinated by the chickens that run free in Cielo (Dominican Republic community.) Personally, I think that chicken-clucking sounds should be included on those things that generate white noise or ocean waves or breezes, you know, that are supposed to help you sleep. Chickens clucking is the most soothing sound.
  • Wubbies – Hoodies, actually. When hooded sweatshirts made their fashion appearance a few years ago, Wub adopted them as some kind of uniform. “Wubby” came from the movie “Mr. Mom”, I think. It was a special blanket that the baby had to have at all times. Wubby has to be wearing a hoodie at all times, regardless of outside temperature or destination. Mall – Hoodie. Church – Hoodie. Date at fancy restaurant – Hoodie.

There were drawings, paintings, clothes, games, toys, boxes, bags, electronics. You name it, it was in there. Everything’s all cleaned up now. I can see the carpet. The dresser drawers are empty, as is the TV cabinet and the CD shelf. I put a new quilt on the bed, and a new lamp on the dresser. I can use the room as a guest room now. All of the things I found in there have been sorted and stored, except one:

My little boy, all grown up.

He’s still in there, and no matter how far he goes he’ll always be there, in his room.

about house and Home

Housework is not my thing. At all. It was sooooo nice to be in the mountains, in someone else’s sparsely furnished house. No messes, no clutter. My house is a disaster. It should have yellow hazard tape around it. Really.

Remember the contractor that was going to redo the windows and siding on our house, oh, about 6 weeks ago? Well, they came Tuesday and did the windows. It rained on Wednesday so they didn’t come back until Thursday to start on the siding, which was totally OK because Wednesday was move in day at college for Wubby. He packed up the car and the van and off we went like it was nothing. Only we forgot to pack the sheets (twin XL, specifically for college dorm rooms) so by lunch time he was back home to get the sheets and eat. Then he was gone again.

It’s probably a good thing that he’s only twenty miles away because I’m not sure who misses who the most. I know his little sister misses him something terrible. And after all the mommy-ing and fussing and prodding….I miss him something terrible myself. He called from the dorm the first night and said things were ok but he was homesick. Twenty miles away and he’s homesick. And four years from now when it’s his sister’s turm, I’m not sure she’ll be able to leave the driveway. She was homesick when we were in Arizona, and we were all there together! She’s definitely a home girl.

I look at my kids and wonder how it could be that they are, for all practical purposes, grown. And how they could be such home-bodies. Then I remember growing up, moving a lot, and home wasn’t really a place. Home was where Mama and Daddy were.

My energy level has been non-existent this week, partly because we found Elk Knob last Friday and hiked to the top and back. It’s a beautiful place. From the summit you can see up into Virginia–White Top and Mount Rogers; Roan Mountain (I think) in Tennessee; Grandfather Mountain, Beech, Mount Mitchell, and tons more North Carolina mountains. The hike will, one day, be very pleasant. It’s a new state park and the trail is under construction. The first little bit is very easy. Then the trail just ends and you’re left with an old logging road that goes straight up to the top. One mile and 1000 feet in elevation, straight up. It’s a difficult trek. Even the kids, who went lickety-split all the way up said later that it was a hard walk. I stopped several times, thinking I just couldn’t go another step. Then I’d muster up some courage or stupidity or something and go some more. Hubby kept encouraging me, feeding me blackberries. A few yards shy of the summit I sat down on a rock and just cried, saying “I can’t do this anymore. Let the fibromyalgia win. I quit.” (Actually I usually say “Let the Wookie win.” Our family lexicon would be frightenly dull without movie quotes!)

But it wasn’t the hike that I couldn’t do any more. I think I realized, for the first time, just how close we were to watching the first fledgling leave the nest. What I was really grieving was not the limitations of my stupid fibro. I was the end of my son’s childhood, and maybe the end of my “young” adulthood. He’s out there now, in the world, learning to make it on his own. Yes, we’re helping and we’re always here for him, like tomorrow after church when he’ll be here looking at the outside of our house and shaking his head, and then packing up more stuff from his room before he goes back to school. I guess you don’t really grasp how monumental the task of parenting is until you let the first one go. At least I didn’t.

So, about home. It has always bugged me to hear someone say something like “Look at the beautiful home.” It’s a house, definitely. It might be a home. Then again, it might not. A house is shelter. A home is relationship.

If you’re about my age and you grew up in this part of the country, then you might remember that Beech Mountain used to have a theme park at the top called “Land of Oz.” It’s gone now, but the gazebo is still there. Back in the day there was a sculpture of Dorothy and Toto in the center of the gazebo, with the quote from the movie:

if I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with!

For me, in terms of place, home is the mountains, even though I don’t live there now. But home is really where my family is. Home. It’s the messy house where I sit pecking away on my computer, listening to the TV as my little girl sits on the couch, gnawing on beef jerky. And where my husband is currently crashed in the bedroom after spending the day painting gutters. And it’s the house across the way where my mom lives now.

And, in spite of the messiness, it’s where I wanna be.