The “Family Bed” Remembered

For years our family slept together in the Master bedroom- pets and all
For years our family slept together in the Master bedroom- pets and all

Just going through some old photos this morning and found this gem and HAD to write a quick blog post.  This is 2008, our daughter Isa was 9 and her brother, Mario was 7.  Those were our pets, Tango the boxer and Boris the cat.  We lived in a beautiful 5,000-sq ft home on 34 acres.  At bedtime we might as well have had a studio apartment!  For at least 2 years, this is what the “family bed” looked like.  Mike (my husband) would sigh when the lights went out and quietly say, “There are ALOT of beating hearts in this room.”  I loved it!

As Dad got “grumblier” about the situation, Isa would type “contracts” for him to sign designating a specific future date when the “family bed” situation would cease – but she always “filed” for an extension!

Fast forward to 2015:  both children are normal (okay, that’s debatable!) and sleeping in their own beds.  But they have memories of many nights in our “shared sleeping quarters” watching movies, talking, laughing, playing with the pets. Some people think this is nuts and I do sort of get their point.  But I am SO GLAD we did it.  It gave the children comfort when they needed it and we have lots of fun memories to look back on….especially after they flee the nest, which I am dreading, of course.

So, my advice to parents of young children struggling with the bedtime routine:  give up!  Enjoy being together now.  I know there are all sorts of studies now encouraging “the family bed” but I don’t know where they are or what they are saying about the benefits.  I know my 1950’s-era parents thought I was the WORST POSSIBLE type of wishy-washy parent while this was going on.  The 7 of us were sent marching up the stairs at bedtime with 1 “regulation size” cup of water and ordered to SHUT UP AND GO TO SLEEP!  Anyone who dared get out of bed and tiptoe downstairs again had better be ready for the WRATH of my DAD!!!

At one point, tired of the “charade” of pretending to resist my children’s nightly pleas to sleep on my floor, I just gave in and bought 2 air mattresses at Wal-Mart for the Master Bedroom floor.  In my opinion, this was one of the best investments I ever made.

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Their World Was Better

When the last of my parents’ generation is gone, there will be a huge void in the world.  The last known Americans raised by parents that endured The Great Depression and World War II.  People who put manners before self-gratification.  People who taught their children that respect and character are worthwhile and noble values.

Their word was their anchor to a life dedicated to honesty and commitment to whatever their choices and fate set before them.

Dad out on the town with St. Louis University buddies, 1950
Dad out on the town with St. Louis University buddies, 1950

My parents and grandparents were not perfect.  Just genuine.  And a lot less needy and dissatisfied than the generations that followed.  They were better at accepting what is than the rest of us.

I know these reflections make me sound like a sentimental old person.  I just hope that, somehow, there is a glimmer of the beauty and truth of my parents and their generation’s approach to life that passes through me to my children….so that Dick (my Dad) and Rhetta (my Mom)  will never be gone forever.

Mom serving tea with her best friend at Maryville College, St. Louis, MO.  1950
Mom serving tea with her best friend at Maryville College, St. Louis, MO. 1950

Moving Beyond Your Own Parental Dream

There have been so many days I have wanted to blog about our recent experience with our adolescent son and his struggle with anxiety, depression, isolation and, we suspect, peer bullying.  Every time I would be thinking about it, I felt like I would be violating our family’s privacy – but we have so much to share that could help others.  In fact, one day late last Spring, at exactly the same time our family was dealing with the exact same issue, I was standing in the front office of my daughter’s High School when a tearful Mom approached the front desk.  She softly requested, “I need to have my son’s transcripts.  He is flunking every single class and has missed over 4 weeks of school.  I don’t know what else to do.”  Instead of rushing over to her and reassuring this Mom in her desperation, I quietly stood alone, stunned, dismayed, angry, and frightened – for her, for her son, and for our future.

Something is going on with adolescent boys that neither my husband nor I expected.  This is not the case for every boy, of course, but it certainly was for ours – and countless others we have discovered, since we began talking openly about it.

The peer pressure and social isolation that girls feel in middle school can be doubly hard for boys – especially boys with a reputation for being “tough.”

When our 190-pound middle linebacker son started coming home from 8th grade last Winter and crying himself to sleep because he was “fat,” we became very concerned.  It developed into an obsession and led to daily, irrational regimens of “clean” eating (absolutely no fat, sugar or carbs) followed by running 6 miles at a time on the treadmill- sometimes twice a day.  He started losing weight quickly but that did not seem to make him happy.  He became sullen and withdrawn and started avoiding going to school.  Within weeks, he refused to go to school altogether – he would wake up crying and tell us, “You have no idea what I go through.”  No, we didn’t.  But he would not tell us.

A mad search for psychological help began, including seriously considering hospitalization at several points.  Meanwhile, school work was stacking up and his friends were noticing his absences.  But our son could not muster the will to care.  We felt desperate and alone, just like the woman I witnessed asking for her son’s transcript.  While our friends were focused on preparing their sons for high school sports and planning their Freshman academic year, we were either driving our son to different specialists seeking help and answers or huddled with him on his bed in his dark room – his “safe place” – and reassuring him that he would feel better soon.  “It has been so long since I have felt well,” he would reply.

Skipping ahead a few months, once we found the right medication and had given it time to reach a therapeutic level, our son started to emerge from his fog.  50 pounds lighter, this was clearly a different kid.  He began riding his bicycle with a good buddy – a “non-tough guy” friend.  By the end of summer, it was not unusual for our son to spend many hours on his bike, sometimes alone, but clearly a much happier person.  When he did start Freshman year, (fingers crossed), we did not have to push him to go to school.  He seems to like it.  And, instead of football, he announced he was joining Art Club.   He brought this home to me the other night:

My beautiful handmade heart from my son
My beautiful handmade heart from my son

As frightening as it is to go through a deep, dark depression with one of your children, something beautiful emerges on the other side:  a new person with a different perspective on who they are and where they want to go in life.  We, as parents, definitely had dreams that our hard-core football player would continue to love the game (and give us something to do with our free time on Friday nights and beyond!).  But it is okay – no, it is a MIRACLE – that this child we watched literally transform before our eyes is happy again and firm-footed in his own journey.  We all learned that goodness can follow a sense of hopelessness. We are closer as a family now – I have my heart to prove it!

Learning to “Hold Place” for Myself in My Recovery Journey

I can reach for the support and encouragement I need at any time.
I can reach for the support and encouragement I need at any time.

I have 38 days of sobriety.  This is very encouraging and exciting!  I am not frightened or fidgety, in need of a drink.  But I am tired – bone tired.  I have discovered a wonderful author, Heather Plett, and her writing about self-care gives me encouragement as my steps toward whomever I am meant to be at the end of this journey feel more like impossible efforts against a rushing tide of water.

Captivating and Dangerous
Captivating and Dangerous

But Heather’s work reminds me of something very important:  it is my job to take care of myself first.  She recounts a recent lesson she learned from a jewelry maker about this:

http://heatherplett.com/2015/07/a-steady-mind-before-a-steady-heart-what-i-learned-from-a-jewelry-maker/

She chose a beautiful wooden image of a tree that has taken root in an unstable place as her reminder that she is capable of caring for herself, as long as she does that first.

Youngest of 7, my sister closest in age to me, Susanna, helps me out in a muddy situation.
Youngest of 7, my sister closest in age to me, Susanna, helps me out in a muddy situation.

But what if, like me, you have lived 49 years of “making messes” and surrounding yourself with people who clean them up?  My only choice is to forgive and love myself or I won’t be able to maintain my sobriety or fully love the children my husband and I brought into this world.

Isa, my older child, is extremely strong - inside and out!
Isa, my older child, is extremely strong – inside and out!
Mario, the younger child, shares his conquest with pride then sets it free (like a good boy!).
Mario, the younger child, shares his conquest with pride then sets it free (like a good boy!).

You’ll notice a lot of water in my post today.  Throughout my life, during times of intense change and uncertainty, I have always dreamed of rushing water.  It carries me to the place I am meant to be – my destination.  Although I am terrified daily of losing myself, losing my family, losing my way – I know these fears are irrational.  Learning to quickly access my “quiet place” deep inside – my source of strength – helps reassure me (sometimes hundreds of times a day) that all is as it should be.

I am not alone on my journey, thank God!  My partner and husband, Michael, is with me every step.
I am not alone on my journey, thank God! My partner and husband, Michael, is with me every step.

So, for one more day, I believe I can continue this journey – as exhausting as it can be.  My family and friends that know me and love me understand I may not be the “Queen of Perky” for awhile…..but she will be back and when I find her LOOK OUT!!!!!

5 Things I Want My Children To Know About Summer

Dear Isa and Mario,

Before parents and institutions made summer about either catching up or advancing skills, summer was once a glorious time of slowing down and enjoying life.  Children were not only free to follow their imaginations wherever they could take them while spending time with family – they were expected to.  There were no “summer nannies” that were temporarily in charge of a rigorous weekly schedule of commitments.  Only grandparents and siblings with the means to help keep younger children happily occupied.

Harvesting sweet honey from a flower on the honeysuckle bush took great skill and patience.
Harvesting sweet honey from a flower on the honeysuckle bush took great skill and patience.

I keep hearing and reading about “Tips for Having a 70s Summer” as if there were a magical, secret formula – when it is really the simplest thing in the world to do!

A tire swing in a yard is a beautiful thing, giving you a bird's eye view of the sky and, even better if it leads to a lake or river.
A tire swing in a yard is a beautiful thing, giving you a bird’s eye view of the sky and, even better if it leads to a lake or river.

Growing up, summer at my house was about 5 things, not in any particular order – and it required no training or money.  Just the desire to float along carefree……

1.  Family  Since my 6 older brothers and sisters went to boarding school for High School, summer was the epitome of action at my house.  Suddenly, our house was flooded with teenagers each summer, and I relished spending time with each one as much as they may have resented it (and some did!!!).  After awhile, if I had been a very good girl, Mim, my Grandmother, would invite me to her house for an overnight stay!

Mim's refrigerator stocked with Orange Crush was by her back door, which played an enchanting little tune when she opened it to greet you warmly.
Mim’s refrigerator stocked with Orange Crush was by her back door, which played an enchanting little tune when she opened it to greet you warmly.

I got to drink Orange Crush (one only, so I would not wet the bed) at Mim’s house and then raid the “secret drawer” (which, of course, she knew was not a secret) in my Dad’s old bedroom for sticks of Doublemint gum.  Mim had a sweet laugh and everything about her seemed so ladylike to me – the smell of her skin, the touch of her perfectly manicured hands on mine – I was always on my best behavior on those special summer overnight

2.  Music

Your Uncle JD had a garage band.  They played cool Rolling Stones songs like “Jumping Jack Flash” and the band members, Louie and Bobby, let me stand on a chair and pretend to be playing tambourine.  No wonder I married your Dad,”Mike Tamburini”!!!

There were 2 teenaged albums I was especially curious about – the one with the 2 white guys and their wives – but one of them had an African American wife (Seals & Crofts).

An average of 2,400 hours per summer was spent playing albums in my sisters' room - "Teenage Albums"!
An average of 2,400 hours per summer was spent playing albums in my sisters’ room – “Teenage Albums”!
Aunt Kit's Senior Song was by these guys, "We May Never Pass This Way Again" - you should look it up on your "device"!
Aunt Kit’s Senior Song was by these guys, “We May Never Pass This Way Again” – you should look it up on your “device”!

The other album was in Uncle Jeff and Uncle JD’s room, and I was forbidden from ever playing it.  Oh, yeah?

"Look like dog shit?  Yah!  Smell like dog shit?  Sniff....Yah!"
“Look like dog shit? Yah! Smell like dog shit? Sniff….Yah!”

3.  The Outdoors

 It was not a punishment to play in the yard growing up – in fact, I actually had to be called inside for supper.

The smell of line-dried linens still makes me homesick.
The smell of line-dried linens still makes me homesick.

Always a huge fan of Grandma Rhetta, I tried to be right by her side when she was taking the freshly dried sheets off the laundry line.  Here’s some great advice, too, kids:  It is fun to put a clothespin on your nose and talk!

Homemade ice cream was always churning outside, especially on Sundays.  Pulling the ladle out and swiping fresh ice cream from the metal churner was divine!
Homemade ice cream was often churning outside, especially on Sundays. Pulling the ladle out and swiping fresh ice cream from the metal churner was divine!

4.  Food  Of course, Mom was a great cook and produced “3 squares” for all of us plus our friends every single day.  But on many occasions, our family would drive to the river and take the barge across to the great state of Tennessee for fried catfish and hushpuppies.

We'd park our station wagon on the barge and all get out of the car and watch the Mighty Mississippi move us toward  the other side.  It smelled earthy and dank and felt like home.
We’d park our station wagon on the barge and all get out of the car and watch the Mighty Mississippi move us toward the other side. It smelled earthy and dank and felt like home.

5.  Reading  I never had to be told to go to my room and read.  I rode my bicycle to town several times a week and checked out great books on my own.  My friend, Julie, and I would compete to see who could read the most.  These were my 2 favorites:

She was the most clever girl I had ever known.
She was the most clever girl I had ever known.
She was kind and hard-working and was rewarded with fresh berries from her very own patch.
She was kind and hard-working and was rewarded with fresh berries from her very own patch.

When summer was coming to an end, the farmers would drive by my house with trailers full of freshly picked cotton on their way to the Killion-Rone-Wilson Cotton Gin – you know, the stuff your clothes are made of?  Oh, and do you recognize your Grandpa’s last name somewhere in that lineup?

One time I got to ride in the back of one of those cloud-filled trailers with my friends Annie, Jimmy and Michael – I paid for it the next day with my sneezing, but it was one of the most memorable rides to town I ever experienced.

This doesn't happen anymore - the new technology makes cotton into bales right there in the field as soon as it is picked.
This doesn’t happen anymore – the new technology makes cotton into bales right there in the field as soon as it is picked.

So, my darling children, I have tried to give you summers that are less about “achievement” and more about “experience,” but it is not so easy as it once was.  I have enjoyed every minute of our summers together, it will always be a magical time for me as your Mom.  Just thought you should know some of the reasons why our family isn’t as busy as other families – and happily so!!!!

Love,

Mom

An Apple Crisp for Suri

Kitchen-Parade-2009-Apple-Crisp-400-776195 Last year, I decided to do several things to “educate” myself in hopes it might lead me to my next “thing” in life.  I enrolled in Community College – but it didn’t take long for me to realize what a dumb idea that was.  I’d been away from the rigors of school too long.  THAT’S the “big lesson” I learned from that.  But earlier in the year I committed to volunteering a few days each month at a local Food Pantry.  Starting to get the sense that this is where my “big learning” took place? For months, I was too shy to work directly with the visitors to the pantry – I would smile and greet them while packing away food items in the back.  It took a lot of courage for me to be ready to face them one-on-one and feel that I could answer questions with confidence and sufficient cheer.  You see, I am a bit of a crybaby!  When I see suffering, sometimes I cry.  And I certainly did not want to repeat that horrific scene from 25 years ago when I broke down in tears in front of a Cancer Survivors group as their guest speaker!  I was not expecting their faces to be so young – I panicked and suddenly the room closed in on me and I got hot and then the tears started rolling down my cheeks in spite of my wish to appear “professional.”  It happens.  Vulnerability.  Compassion.  It catches us by surprise throughout life.  Well, it was never going to catch me by surprise again.  So I remained in the back of the Food Pantry dutifully stuffing bags for people to take home. Until the day Margaret told me she needed me at the front counter.  She was too busy to do her ordinary job at the Pantry that day and I had been there more than long enough to be able to check id’s and cross off names.  I heaved a big sigh and headed over towards the counter.  I tried not to let Margaret see the enormous panic I was feeling as the line outside the door began to grow.  One by one, our visitors politely stepped inside our Food Pantry and graciously accepted whatever we had to offer that morning.

Things were going really well.  Until the thing that caught me off guard happened.  Until the opposite of my “image” of what a Food Pantry patron ought to look like stepped up to my counter.

He was in is early 40’s, very physically capable looking and quite handsome.  And his smile and cheerful attitude would have made you think he was shopping somewhere really special.  I realized I had a few misguided preconceptions about pride before this moment, too.  As naturally as if we were longtime friends, he initiated the conversation, “Oh, my goodness!   You have fresh apples today!  I have already picked up my oats and my flour.  Is that butter I see behind the apples, also,” he pointed toward the back of the table I was managing but that thing was starting to happen to me when I am caught off guard by big emotions – I could not see anything around me and I was getting hot!!!!  Margaret noticed right away I was not myself and, fearing I might be afraid of this man, she answered very nonchalantly, “Yes, we have lots of free butter for you today!”.  That helped, I had a moment to take a breath.  The man smiled an even bigger grin and let out a robust laugh then said, “Suri is going to be so happy when she gets home from school today!”. Before I could ask, he started to tell me, “Suri’s my girl – it’s just the two of us.  She’s five and she loves school.  And more than that, she LOVES a fresh apple crisp!.”  I began placing fresh apples and butter in a bag for the gentleman and my thoughts immediately went to my own children when I heard his words.  I love baking for my kids, too – and I especially love surprising them with their favorite treats after a long day at school.  We’re not so awfully different, then, from our Food Pantry patrons, are we?

After Suri’s Dad was long gone and we were preparing to close the Pantry for the weekend, I noticed a slip of paper that someone had dropped in the hallway.  When I looked at it, I recognized Suri’s Dad’s name and the date was the same day.  Before coming to the Food Pantry, Suri’s Dad did something I’ll bet he hated – so he’d have weekend cash for his little girl.  He had been to a Pawn Shop and left some dvd’s – and in exchange, he was paid $10.00 plus 423% interest due when he retrieved his belongings!  But precious Suri would have her apple crisp and her Dad will have provided for his child – and experienced the joy we all do as parents when we are able to give our children special treats.  He just had to pay a much bigger price than most of us to do it. This lesson is sticking with me.  It makes me profoundly humble for all the abundance in my life.  It makes me appreciate that unique feeling that not all parents can enjoy all the time – of being able to provide for my children. For to give really is much better than to receive!!!

3 Things I Learned Over Breakfast With My Son

Mario Saddle Bag 0124151041 0124151034 0124151026 Pre Bowl Game RallyLately, my husband and I have become concerned that our 14-year-old son could be “lost.”  The things he used to care about haven’t seemed to matter anymore.  When we try to talk to him, we HOPE for a monosyllabic answer but only get caveman grunts.  Other parents have told us this is not unusual.  But for our vibrant Mario, it is.  We’ve tried patience and kindness – no changes.  So now we are trying tough love – there is a tiny glimmer of hope.  But today, I tried something brilliant:  Breakfast OUT, just the 2 of us!

01241510410124151034

As long as it does not conflict with Mario’s sleeping or Jayhawks Basketball schedule, he can usually be talked into sharing a good meal – especially breakfast.  I seized my opportunity this morning while hubby is away performing “Dance Dad” duties with our daughter.

“Mario how about a quick, greasy, grubby breakfast this morning at one of Mom’s favorite divey restaurants, ” I beckon.  He rubs his eyes and hangs his enormous apelike arm around my shoulder and grunts.  This is more or less acquiescence. Before the mood changes, I quickly throw the first sweatshirt on from my closet and off we go to Dagwood’s.

0124151026He is pretty quiet at first, but when breakfast is served, suddenly we are BOTH 14-year-old LINEBACKERS.  “Jesus, Mom!” Mario laughs as I greedily hover over my food and pick my French Toast smothered in powdered sugar up with my hands, fold it and inhale in one gulp.  “Calm down!”.  I become Chris Farley from the SNL scene with David Spade and Adam Sandler, “BACK OFF!  I’M STARVED!”.  We begin laughing hysterically and fortunately, because it is Dagwood’s and we don’t see any snoots from Johnson County, nobody cares.

Mario starts talking.  Immediately, he goes to football and his most recent season with his beloved Coach Pat.  “We killed every team in the league,” he reminisces – but not in a braggy way.  “The Johnson County Moms would be clapping politely for their sons,” he recalls with a smile, “and the Missouri players’ Moms were like, ‘Come on, D’Anthony!  Get your head in the game!”.  He was always afraid his loud Mom would go to a game and get into a “Mom Fight”!  I draw a deep, happily reassured breath and tell him, “Mario, do you have any idea how cocky I am going to be when you play D1 football?”.  He doesn’t even flinch.  “It’s not that hard, Mom – no big deal.”  But there is a flicker in my son’s eye – I see that he wants something and he cares.

I thought to myself, “My teenager who has been on a hormone-induced journey away from us is on his way back.”

I change the subject back to food, since my understanding of football is extremely limited.  Like the Food Critic from the movie Ratatouille, just the sight of French Toast transforms me into a happy child again.  I tell my son, “Mario, in the summertime growing up, Grandma Rhetta made stacks of French Toast a mile high, “(he has heard this story many times and does not comment that I grossly exaggerate the height of the French Toast stack every time).  “We would grab pieces of it, shake a bunch of powdered sugar on it, fold it, and stuff it in our mouths!  Then we would go play in the pool all day while Grandma Rhetta made homemade ice cream.” I am sharing with my son and he is listening.  He is definitely not lost.

So 2 miraculous things have occurred between myself and my son over this simple greasy-spoon breakfast:  he has shared what he cares about, I have shared what I care about – and for a few cherished moments, we are One.

Mario Saddle BagThen in the car on the way home, Mario shares the most shocking evidence that he is far from lost – he is HOME and he is FINE.  He tells me, “I remember the day Dad stuffed me into that bag on his Harley.  How old was I?”.  Uh- barely 1, Mario!  He is telling me he feels connected to our family and he has shown me, in one simple Saturday morning outing, that everything is going to be okay.  This has been my 3rd sign today.

Even though he is back in his dark, musty “teenaged boy cave” just upstairs – and we are worlds apart again – I know I have my son back.  And yes, I WILL be the LOUDEST, most OBNOXIOUS college football Mom on the planet – he can count on that!  I am looking forward to more breakfasts.

Redemption Slushies and the New Year

1222141156Lately my new part-time job has me pondering my parenting style and life in general.  I sell high-end fashion to women of all ages and, like the trusty “potty training” and “chore charts” often used to train toddlers and youngsters to do the right things consistently, my new employer recognizes achievement in denim sales on a weekly chart that I see every time I go into the break room for more lipstick or a sip of Diet Coke!

As you can tell, my sales are D-O-W-N!!!  I haven’t mastered the art of romancing a customer from the front of the store to the dressing room filled with clothes I have personally selected for her body type.  It remains to be seen whether I ever will.

But this much I do know:  I make every single person I interact with feel good and want to come back!!!

How does this translate to my parenting style?

I guess it goes back to the old “punishment-reward” theory that caused me so much consternation as a parent of lively toddlers.  I never could manage to completely punish bad behavior but rather relished in the opportunity to praise and reward good behavior.  Many other parents along the way criticized my form of “discipline.”  (I don’t even like that word!).  However, I could not help noticing that the children my children played with who were consistently punished for the same erroneous behavior never seemed to be motivated to change through punishment alone.  Hence, my Cosmically Cool invention of the “REDEMPTION SLUSHIE” behavioral modification system.

One very long, hot, windy summer on the Kansas Plains I endeavored to enforce a daily routine upon my children – both to punctuate the endlessly long days and also to provide a sense of “accomplishing” something during the summer as so many of their peers seemed to be able to do.  It never went very well.  My kids know me inside and out.  By the end of the summer, the only routine I had managed to successfully imprint into their bright minds was the afternoon slushie break – many times, an offering of forgiveness for previously bad behavior and a covenant for better behavior in the future.

At the end of the day, I decided I did not care whether the children were “getting” a larger lesson in discipline.  What mattered to me was that they understood they could be forgiven – and that they had the power to forgive others and establish new terms for playing together more harmoniously in the future.

Thus, the “Redemption Slushie” both metaphorically and in actuality has become a mantra to me in my attempt to help form my children’s character as well as my own professional performance.  What it feels like in practice is something like this:  “I promise to push you as far as I can push you in pursuit of living a life of kindness and purpose – and when we falter, as surely we will – we shall re-negotiate the meaning of what is good and share  Redemption Slushies.”

It is my parenting version of breaking bread together.  The relationship model I want with my children fits in a circle of love and trust – not on a hierarchical chart with ugly black dots.  Ultimately, this is what I strive for in all my relationships, so if I ever invite you to share a slush with me know that this request comes from my Source of love – not just my appetite!

Happy New Year and I raise my Slushie to You!!!