Monday, January 27, 2014

Look at Me

I'm going to try and write this without sounding holier-than-thou, preachy, or a like complete bitch.

I'm worried about our kids.

This morning, I read the horrifying story of the high school student who tried to light himself on fire in a suicide attempt at high school here in the Denver area.  I don't know this student.  I don't know this family.  There is a good chance that there is a mother who is sitting in the waiting room of a hospital for news of her son's condition, in utter disbelief that something like this has happened because she thought she had been doing everything possible to help with his issues.

There is the possibility that she knew this might happen and felt powerless to stop it.

And there is the possibility that she has been completely blindsided by this because her kid either hid his issues from her so well that she didn't know about them OR that she may not have been paying attention.

Again, I don't live in their home.  So I don't know.

I'll tell you what I do know and that is what I see surrounding my children at school.  My kids ages go from early elementary to pre-teen so I see a variety of situations that make me stop and go, "Huh?"  And let me tell you...I am one of those people who like to believe the best in everyone so when I see children being treated the way they sometimes are....

It shocks the hell out of me.

Here is the bottom line:  You don't have to physically hit a child to be an abusive parent.  When I see a child walk out the door to go to school in -18 degree weather in a t-shirt and shoes with no socks...that's abuse to me.  When my daughter comes home and tells me that some of her friends don't eat all day long because their divorced parents are fighting over who should put money in their lunch account...that is abuse to me.  When you have no idea where your 8-year-old ends up after school every day because you can't be bothered to set up childcare for him or her and they're wandering the street alone looking for some place to're damn lucky you still have a kid.

I read these articles about school shootings, suicide attempts, and other things I just can't wrap my brain around and I wonder what happened.  I would honestly like to think that there are parents out there who are completely heartbroken because they have done everything they can to help a child who couldn't be saved.  But the truth is that I look around at some of the situations surrounding my kids' friends and I wonder if one of them could be next.

Just because no one was paying attention.

I'm not a perfect mom.  Far from it.  No one is.  My house is a wreck, I have four loads of laundry that need to be folded, and we had take-out three times this weekend.  I have made mistakes and I will make more.  I guess there are some ways I probably coddle my kids too much (I don't think I'm a total helicopter parent, but who knows?  I may be to some people).  I'm a single mom who is outnumbered and, yes, there are times when I fall short.  While I would like to think that I will never be a parent sitting in a hospital, stunned with the knowledge that one of my children has purposely done something to harm themselves or another person...I'm not stupid enough to think I am completely immune. 

But there is something I think I do pretty damn well as a parent.

I listen.

Even though I am outnumbered, I look each one of my kids in the eye and ask how their day was.  If there is an issue, we talk about whether they want me to step in or whether they'd like to try and handle something on their own.  They tell me about their friends who are having a hard time and we discuss what we can possibly do to help.  They express frustration about specific teachers they have and we talk about what should be done about it.  I have told them many times that if they have a problem they don't always have to talk to me about it - there are other adults surrounding us that I am completely comfortable with my kids confiding in.

Will there ever come a day when they feel like they're pinned in with so many problems and no outlet?  I hope not.  I hope that they always know that I'm here - I am their constant - for anything they might need.  Because I watch these other young kids who are sad, confused, and behaving in a way that just says one thing.

Look at me.

When I see these kids, these friends of my children, I hug them and they hug back.  Their faces look pale and tired and they always seem a little on edge - like they're fearful of what might come at them next.  I lay awake at night wondering if I should be the one to step in in any way or if it's even my business.

And then I wonder...if I don' I just as at fault as the parents?

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Famous for Nothing

As I was making my kids' breakfast this morning, I had the Today Show on, which I sometimes do, so that I could hear Al Roker say, "And here's what's happening in your neck-of-the-woods" and get my weather report.  Again, as I sometimes do, I listened with one ear to some of the issues and stories they were reporting and I am embarrassed to admit this, but I stopped what I was doing to watch the story on Kate Gosselin.

Don't get me wrong.  It's not because I like her or have ever been a fan of her former show, Kate Plus Eight.  It's because that in last few years, her attempt to get back into the media has been like a train wreck that I can't stop watching.

As a mom, I watched in horror as she brought her two 13-year-olds on the show so that they could talk about how completely "fine" they were after a childhood spent in front of the camera.  And I shifted uncomfortably in my seat as the two girls remained silent on either side of their mother, who continued to insist how much they love the exposure.  Kate said how she feels like she has to defend them against what people in the media say and clear up all of the misconceptions.

Kate.  I've got news for you.  If you'd stop going on all of these shows, appearing in magazines, and get a real job...I don't think people would remember you for five more minutes and, therefore, wouldn't talk smack about your family.

But you probably know that, don't you?

Of course, at the end of the interview, Savannah Guthrie asked if they would want to do another reality TV show, and both girls replied with an enthusiastic "yes," adding that they'd like to do the same thing, only more "fabulous."

And that's when I really wanted to reach through my screen and thump old Kate on the head.

I'm just going to say it.  I'm appalled with some of the kids belonging to the same generation as my own.  Their desire to be famous for absolutely nothing just astounds me.  Gone are the days of children saying they want a gymnasium named after them because they flew on the space shuttle or that they have dreams of headlines screaming their names because they cured cancer.

They don't want to do anything.  And they want everyone to know it.

It's my generation's fault.  I mean, we're the ones who have shown this is possible.  All of these reality TV shows that make people famous because they procreated or - gasp - went out on a date (or twenty-seven within two days) are what our kids think they have to look forward to.  Why go to college or do something to inspire others when all it takes is a carefully leaked sex tape to put you on the map?

I actually had a conversation with someone not too long ago whose daughter is going to graduate from high school this year.  I asked the mother what the girl's plans were - job? college?  maybe a trade school? - and she she sighed and said, "I don't know.  She really just wants to be famous.  But she really doesn't know how to do anything." 

I think I missed that option on my list of majors in college.  I wonder if it still would have required all of those gym credits? 

This is actually a topic I'm somewhat sensitive to right now.  While I don't think that my family is about to be thrust into the spotlight, I did just write and release a memoir about the death of my husband.  Because my children are a huge part of my life, there are stories in there about them.

And this may have been a mistake on my part, but...I didn't ask them their permission.

A little Kate-like?  Maybe. 

My guilt about this grew two weeks ago when I was trying to figure out a passage to read at my first book signing.  I pulled my son aside and asked him if I could read a section that included a story about him when he was four.

"That's in your book?" he said, his face turning red.

"Yes, it is," I tried to explain.  "But don't you see how important it is?  Can't you see how telling it might help someone else?"

"Whatever," he replied.  "But you cannot read that if I'm there."


On the flip side, I feel like I did something that other moms may not have done.  I listened to my kid.  I chose to write this book and, therefore, I'm choosing to take the credit and the heat for it.  Some kids might revel in the spotlight...mine don't.  The idea of being famous, frankly, appalls my kids.  They've got bigger, better fish to fry.  I know this because right after I had this conversation with my son he asked me, "Mom?  Did you know there is such a thing as a LEGO Engineer?"

I smiled and said, "Go for it."