are today’s parents selfless or selfish? (or, why are so many parents taking kids to adult venues these days?)

Who could avoid the story all over the news a few months back of prominent parents buying their kids’ entrances into elite universities, some going as far as bribing school officials, having others take their kids’ standardized exams, and lying on applications by superimposing images of their children’s faces on student athletes’ bodies? Society felt they were part of a trend of helicopter parents risking their own careers and lifestyles to get the very best of everything for their children. Some called them selfless.

But another trend in parenting is also prominent these days: taking kids along to rock concerts, brewpubs, tony restaurants, and R-rated movies, to name a few,  for no other reason than because Mom and Dad want to go. Several theater chains, including AMC, have implemented a “no 6 after 6” policy, meaning no children under age six will be admitted to R-rated movies after 6 p.m. even when accompanied by an adult. Regal enforces the same rule but without a time limit. Is it because six- and seven-year-olds are so  much more mature than kids five and younger? Oh, no. It’s not that. The rule was instituted to make the movie-going experience better for the adults in the theater, presumably to keep them buying tickets. kids in theater

So, don’t worry, Mom. As long as they’re at least in the first grade, Kaedan and Jaelyn can sit right there next to you when Bruce Willis’s guns are blazing, scar-faced Chucky is tormenting children, and that hunky actor drops his drawers.

And if you want to take your three-month-old to a concert or next Sunday’s 49ers game, you’re in luck! Baby Banz makes noise-cancelling headphones for every tot.

My husband and I were at a brewery last night, meeting up with friends who knew one of the band members performing in the live show. The music was pretty tame, mostly ’80s tunes, and the concert was outdoors, so the noise wasn’t deafening. Still, it was nighttime and beer was flowing. My friend, looking at the three-, four-, and five-year-olds playing on the ground nearby, turned to me and said, “Did you ever bring your kids with you to a place like this?”

I told her, “Nope, just like you, I never left the house from the time I had baby number one until the last one was about in middle school. Plus, the kids wouldn’t be welcome. It’s a different world these days.”

And indeed it is. The only socializing we did with other adults occurred while cheering on our kids from the sidelines of soccer games and swim meets. We would hash out our lives since the week before while ripping into Frito-Lay snacks and cut-up oranges and cracking open an ice-cold Aquafina.

If a team banquet happened to be at a restaurant, we might have a margarita or a Blue Moon with our meal, but that wasn’t until our kids were well into high school and the younger littles were left at home (supervised, of course).

So what’s changed? Families are smaller, for one. Taking a kid or two to Ruth’s Chris in the Prius is about as expensive as it was herding the family of six into the minivan and off to the Ponderosa. And with the constant exposure to the world’s events and pop culture through social media these days, our kids are growing up sooner. Nowadays, the f-word can be heard and adult behavior can be witnessed on the TV screen any time of day. Add to that the fact that current culture has become less childcentric, it is no surprise to see kids digging into a lobster tail and a juicy steak, swaying to tunes at an Elton John concert, or staring at Keanu at John Wick: Chapter 3

As long as the kids are well-loved, supervised, and taken home at a reasonable hour, their being at the brewpub or the restaurant shouldn’t matter to other people. Toting a toddler to Lambeau Field, even with headphones, isn’t the worst thing a parent could do (unless it’s minus-twenty degrees).

Who knows? Maybe parents have it right these days in not sacrificing their lifestyles for their children. Still, the maxim of kids being seen and not heard has taken on a whole new meaning these days.

 

when an adult child moves in, it’s rough on everyone

My son in his mid-twenties is moving home today. He had been living with three other guys in a house within walking distance to the beach. The lease is up on the house, and the landlord can make more money with other tenants. So, on his way home my son comes. move back home 1

And the move will affect us all.

It’s not the first time we’ve had an adult child return to the nest. Our second born and her roommate had to move out of their home when it was invaded by pests. Since they couldn’t scrape up the dough just yet to move into another apartment, they each went back to their respective parents’ homes.

Our daughter wasn’t any trouble. She worked full-time and hung out with friends while she saved up for her next place, so she wasn’t around that much. She was home for nine months or so, which although a relatively short period of time, still entailed giving up the freedom she had had in her own place. She’d become accustomed to sharing a two-bedroom, one-bath cottage with just one friend before moving back into a house where four other people, three of whom were adults, already resided. And she was stuck in a small bedroom again.

I had been using her room as my office, the first time in forever that I had a room of my own. So, I had to move my desk, computer, files, and office mess to my bedroom. She slept on the folded-up IKEA pull-out bed already in the room instead of setting up her own bed, which we stored in the garage.

Today, I moved that same pull-out bed back into my office to make room for my son’s full-size bed. Since my daughter had come back home, my mother-in-law had passed away and in the garage are now stored some of her possessions, including furniture. There’s not enough space for my son’s full-size bed.

So by myself, I played musical furniture. I removed two mattresses from the base of the pull-out bed, plus a 2.5-inch memory foam topper. I folded the bed frame back into a seat and inched it into the room next door. I squeezed the foam topper into a vacuum-sealed bag (not as easy as it looks on TV, folks) and did the same for two of the pillows and the down comforter. I also had to move the wicker settee from my office back into our bedroom, which had gone into my office so my husband could put his desk into our bedroom. He had been using my son’s old room as an office. move back home 2

Needless to say, I’m very achy. One of the mattresses belongs on the IKEA piece, but the other does not. I had to do the best I could to roll it up and keep it in a semi-rolled state with Dollar Tree bungee cords. The closet in that bedroom is now packed with all these extra items. And my husband and I had made it so nice when our son left.

These are the easy things to do when an adult kid moves back in, though. What will be hard with the move will be a bruised ego to our son, who is still looking for fulfilling work after graduating college. It’s also an adjustment for his younger brother, who became used to being a fourth-born “only child,” and to my husband and me, who will have to accommodate one more person’s mess, noise, and presence.

Moving is never fun, but it’s especially not so when it involves emotions.

 

dear anna . . . a letter to a friend who has passed away

the heavens

 

Dear Anna,

I can only guess at how things are where you are–either  a heavenly paradise or a deep void or something else entirely that our small, living, human brains cannot even conjure up. I hope from wherever you are and whatever your reality now is that you can see what goes on in the life you left behind—well, the good things, anyway. But if you can’t (and, yes, I think you can), let me fill you in.

Your two daughters have grown into amazing young women. When you left them, they were just fifteen and a day shy of fourteen years old. They were at the beginning of high school, a time no parent should miss, a time in which no daughter should be without her mother, but left you did by no fault of your own. No matter how hard you clawed at this world, grasping at branches that turned into rootless twigs, reaching for crevices in boulders that crumbled at your fingertips, you could not stay here. A bigger mission, I’d like to think, awaited you on the other side, something so amazing that we could never quite understand the why of it, but it needed to happen even if it meant separating you from the only loves you knew.

I keep in touch with your girls by text or email. Brian and I see them several times a year, to celebrate their birthdays and during Thanksgiving, Christmas, and spring break times. Your older girl is now in college. And a good one at that! She is a freshman at California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo (or Cal Poly SLO, as we call it), in that school’s top-rated engineering program. She lives near campus (yep, she is no longer at home full-time) and has made a bunch of friends. She plans to become a civil engineer, like her dad, and she has worked hard to do just what you expected of her: get into a good school and work hard toward a great career.

Your younger, more social and daring child, will be graduating high school in June already. She has high hopes of becoming a doctor, in part (but mostly) because of you. She felt helpless not understanding what you were going through. Studying your illness gave her strength and opened her eyes to how difficult an end you endured. Her grades are excellent. She got into every single UC school, and she should be on her way toward her career in a few short months.

Your husband is plugging away at work, missing you terribly, and looking forward to the day when the pain won’t be so bad. As hard as he fought to keep you here, he is trying at least that hard to forge a new life without you.

And the rest of us? I, for one, don’t go a single day without thinking of you. You were such a huge part of my life, and you continue to fill my thoughts. I think of the good times we had, like shooting the breeze while cracking crab legs at a buffet, and the difficult ones too, seeing you endure another demoralizing chemo treatment, listening to you describe how you could literally feel your life slipping away from you, “like my energy is leaving my body,” you’d say. And I knew just what you meant.

I think of you when the good times roll, like when the family and I are on vacation, or I am out with your girls celebrating a birthday lunch, and when life is not so spectacular. You actually help me get through the crappy stuff, you’ll be happy to know, because I always think, “Gosh, what Anna wouldn’t do to have to pay for a huge car repair or to have a migraine if it meant being here with her family one more day.” The small stuff is just that. But what you went through, my, that’s the big event we all fear.

I still work from home in my editing career, but now that I don’t have any minor children here needing me daily for rides or moral support, I took a job in a library, where I can be around some of the inanimate things I most love: books. I don’t see my old gang of friends much at all any more. Also free of young children, they’ve gotten on with their lives and have taken jobs that have shrunk their free time but have given them a sense of purpose that had been on hold. I wonder what you would be doing now, without having to devote so much time to the kids.

Time certainly moves, on and I have made some new friends at work. There are so many nice people at the library, and I’ve become quite close to a few of them, close enough, in fact, that I’ve told them about you. I just wish the story I tell of you had a different ending. I still am too busy for my own good and would love to see things settle down  so I can just get to stuff I want to do instead of stuff I think I have to do. I’m bringing in a little more money (and I stress the “little”), but because I’m home less often, some of the household projects that we talked about my wanting to get to years ago, go unaccomplished even now. I still can’t seem to get the nerve to hire someone to come in and do some of the stuff I don’t have time to get to. Some things never change, I suppose—like the ratty living room furniture that I spend money on covering with slipcovers but should just replace.

So, as you can see, dear Anna, life goes on pretty much as it was but in bigger and bolder ways. Life is pretty good for all of us, with one thing lacking. And I’m pretty sure you know what that is.

Love,

Rose 

 

if you don’t see yourself in lady bird, you never were an american teenager…or her parent

lady bird and marion

                                  Lady Bird  (Saoirse Ronan) and Marion (Laurie Metcalf) 
Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson is impetuous, impressed by popularity, self-absorbed, and at times mean-spirited. In other words, she’s a typical modern-day American teen. If you don’t see yourself in Lady Bird, the nominal character in the Greta Gerwig-written and -directed movie, you may see yourself in her good-girl best friend Julie, or in mean-girl and popular Jenna, or pessimistic but privileged Kyle, or secretly gay Danny,  or as her parents…or all of the above. Because what Lady Girl doesn’t do is  people. What it does do–and wonderfully so–is take a pretty ordinary girl and view her struggles in her world and her family’s world and her school and give an accurate encapsulation of what life is like in these United States, circa the early 2000s, though it could be anytime in America.

When I was in school, I wasn’t a Lady Bird. I was a Julie, the nice girl, who’s a good student, well-behaved and shy, and not at all worldly. I was the sidekick. If Lady Bird characterized herself as living “on the wrong side of the tracks,” Julie lived even farther from the tracks as her friend and, unlike Lady Bird, who felt the world owed her something, Julie chose to accept the world, as unfair as it can be at times, and live within the boundaries set by it. Julie was a much better student than Lady Bird, but Julie ends up at the local community college, while Lady Bird sets her sights on an upper-scale East Coast liberal arts school.

As much as I can relate to Julie, the character I see myself as today, however, isn’t either of the two girls; it’s Lady Bird’s mother, Marion McPherson. I am not sure there’s been a character in any movie I’ve ever seen who doesn’t resemble me more because she resembles many moms. And what’s really interesting is that my elder daughter, who was coming of age at about the same time as Lady Bird is in the movie, told me that she saw herself in Lady Bird and, equally so, me in Marion, whose name, by the way, I had to look up on IMDb because in the movie it’s rarely, if ever, spoken. Why? Presumably because Marion is above all else “Mom.”

Marion is the hardworking, loyal, and at-times angry and put-upon Everymom, handling double shifts to pick up the slack while her husband loses his job and the family struggles financially. She lives in a basic, boring, circa 1970s-furnished house, but has a hobby of checking out open houses just to ooh and aah at the beautiful homes that are within driving distance but still way out of reach for her. Teens, including Lady Bird, sometimes feel (maybe oftentimes feel?) as though their parents’ world–where they live, what they drive–is what it is because that’s who they are, that’s how they want it to be, that’s what they made it, not realizing that dreams become deferred and desires are put on hold when raising a family. Think back to your teenage-hood and tell me you didn’t feel that way about your parents, that they just didn’t get it. Now come into the modern world and tell me everything is exactly as you always wanted it to be. See? This movie hits a cord.

I love Marion. I am Marion, the martyr Marion who comes home from a double shift in the morning and slaves away to make her family a decent breakfast only to be told the eggs are too runny; the frank Marion who is honest with her daughter, letting her know that of course she deserves to have her (selfish) dreams, but at the same time should be more aware of her family’s circumstances; the victimized Marion who sends her daughter to a pricey Catholic school because the local public school is unsafe only to have her daughter pull a stunt that gets her expelled for a few days; the misunderstood Marion who has a good heart (we see it many times) but comes off as the bad guy and in a constant struggle to keep the family afloat.

This movie is not heavy-handed at all and it doesn’t dumb down. There aren’t good guys versus bad guys because there’s a little good and bad in all of us.

 

a son not going to prom brings back icky high school memories

Prom is this weekend, but my son isn’t going. prom

He’ll be the first of my four kids to not go to the annual senior dance that is somewhat of a rite of passage. He’s never been to a high school dance either, so it’s not like he’s had his fill of them, and I think he wants to go, but none of his friends is going and thinks it would be awkward if he went. His not going is bringing up feelings I had thirtysomething years ago when I too didn’t go to prom. And it’s unsettling.

I had wanted to go to prom. I grew up back East and moved out West with my family before the start of my junior year. It took me quite some time to get accustomed to the differences on the left coast, but by the end of senior year, I had made some friends, not many, but a few, including two guys I hung out with in Honors English. I was hoping at least one of them would ask me to the senior prom. But no, the invitation never came. In those days, only couples could go to the prom, no singles and no groups of friends. It was a male and a female couple. I’m guessing the rules do not hold up today, nor should they.

My other kids all went. My first daughter was asked by a handsome, popular young man. My second daughter went with a male friend who was actually a grade behind but was taking extra classes to finish out his senior year as a junior. My older son, the athlete, went with the cute cheerleading captain, and they then started dating. But my youngest, whom I’d always pictured as going, being that he’s well-liked and, having sisters, is pretty comfortable aroundthe opposite sex, is not. My husband and I as well as his brother and sisters have encouraged him to go, but here it is, four days away, and it’s become pretty evident that he’s not going.

I hope it’s not something he regrets, as I do. Difference is, as a senior, going was out of my control. I had to be asked. He, however, could have asked a girl or just gone with friends, but I guess it doesn’t mean that much to him. Fortunately, my kids aren’t ones to need to be with a member of the opposite sex to feel validated. Of the four kids, three of whom are adults,, only one is dating someone right now.

Come next week, I’m sure seniors will be buzzing and Ben will hear stories of how great prom was. I would guess he’ll feel a little let down that he didn’t go. And I know I will be. In fact, I started talking about prom to him and my friend’s daughter way back when they were in the second grade, joking that they would be going together one day. Trouble is, by senior year she had had a boyfriend, and it wasn’t my Ben. But he is OK with the way things are. He will find something fun to do, and I will reward him with some sort of treat, considering the great amount of money he’s saved me by not going. For a seventeen-year-old, he’s pretty mature. I wish I could say the same for myself.

parenting: two steps forward, only one step back today

lunch bag.jpgMy son reached a milestone, and it only took thirteen years in public school to do so: He made his own lunch. Well, it wasn’t the first  time, but it was the first time this school year, and he will be doing it for the rest of the term, he says. Trouble is, he left the lunch home before driving off to school.

I discovered it sitting there on the counter where he’d prepared it and phoned him. I drove up to where he had just parked the twenty-one-year-old Camry in the pouring rain and handed it off. Sure, I could have left it at home, not phoned him, and let him learn lesson number two, number one being making his own lunch and number two, taking it with him. But I felt he’d done so well to pack the turkey and Havarti cheese on a croissant, baked potato chips, rose-red apple slices, and Goldfish crackers, plus half of his breakfast muffin, that I didn’t have the heart to have him go hungry.

So I drove it up to him. The parenting dance: two steps forward, one step back. But sometimes you’ve got to take whatever progress you can get.

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This week’s three gratitudes:

  1. Rain, precious rain, to fill our low reservoirs and to nourish our parched earth.
  2. A dry place to live and a roof over my head that hopefully won’t let the precious rain in. (It’s twenty-five years old.)
  3. A family to care for and to be cared for in return.

 

 

 

taking a walk down memory lane can trip you up

pic-of-letters-in-mailI have been trying to discard some of my old things I have no use for. While looking through a box of old letters (I used to be a prolific letter-writer, and hung on to those written to me in return by family and friends), I was taken way back in time. Funny how we call them “the good ol’ days,” but in actuality they weren’t so good at all.

Although I had a college degree and had started (just barely) working in my career, I married young, especially by today’s standards. When my husband decided his history degree wouldn’t put bread on the table, we moved a year and a half after getting married so he could go to graduate school. By then, however, we already had had our first child. A second was born when we were away in a new city, with no friends or family and no one to help with the kids. We went an entire year, when our firstborn was a baby, without any income. We lived off of student loans and the savings we had accumulated, which of course wasn’t much. We had no help from our parents–nor should we have, really. After all, we were adults, making big-boy and big-girl decisions.

When my husband was away at class all day (he took a train into San Francisco, while I stayed in our apartment on the Peninsula) or working at the school library to make a few bucks during his second and third years, I was raising two babies by myself basically. That included taking the girls and myself to doctor’s visits (since I had no one at all to watch them, they came with me everywhere I went); handling all the feedings; doing all the housework, the grocery shopping, the cooking, the cleaning, the bill paying, the banking, the car repair visits;  and working at a job from home, at which I called subscribers of the two big daily newspapers to ask about their service. A lot of that job was performed while feeding, rocking, and holding my infant or during her naptime (no, I never could take the wise advice given to new moms about resting when the baby naps–and that may be why I cannot, for the love of God, force myself to nap to this day). I was beaten down, exhausted, stressed out, and, above all, lonely. Good ol’ days? Hah!

We were stone-cold broke and I recorded each and every expense so as not to go over our budget. We had only so much in student loans to live on until the next year’s allotment. So every month’s rent, every power bill, every newspaper we purchased, and every McDonald’s cheeseburger we bought on the handful of days we treated ourselves to a meal out over the three years was written down in a notebook. I never was able to afford cute little clothes or toys for the girls or anything I wished I could give them. My older daughter’s favorite item of clothing was a skirt I’d found for two dollars on the clearance rack at Target (it was a splurge, believe me). But it was too chilly where we lived and she was back to her KMart pull-on corduroy pants until she outgrew them, reserving the skirt for our drives back home to Southern California.

We made weekly trips to the public library, and I’d stock up on books for them and for me. This was a big part of our lives. I taught the older one her letters, numbers, and colors and eventually how to read. We had the most basic cable service imaginable because we couldn’t pick up TV reception from San Francisco. We were, however, able to get two fuzzy San Jose stations that were almost impossible to watch when the fog rolled in. The basic cable only allowed us the local stations, including PBS, and a few cable stations, like CNN, MTV, and VH-1. Nickelodeon and other children’s programming networks were additional, so the only show my daughter could watch was Sesame Street, first on an old color TV that had been a wedding gift from my brother and then a 12-inch black-and-white when the color one gave out.

We didn’t socialize at all, being that most of my husband’s classmates were single city dwellers and we were a married couple with kids living on the tightest budget possible. And we resided outside the city in a more affordable suburb. Our entertainment, if you can call it that, was watching the occasional NFL game on TV or direct-to-TV movies and series, and reading all those library books. I felt really cut off from the rest of the world–the world I had barely gotten a foot into before having kids. Since we couldn’t afford long-distance phone calls, our friends and family would call us, and only between certain hours on Sundays, when rates were lower. So getting a letter from a friend of mine or maybe my mom or sister was a big deal to me. A letter was often my only connection to that other world and it made me feel as though people cared.

Finding and reading those letters today didn’t quite give me the morale boost I would get when I opened them for the first time. Instead, I became melancholy and sad for the young woman I was and the woman I never got to become. I don’t know if I felt trapped, because it was a life I willingly walked into. Maybe enmeshed is a better word. I was enmeshed in a world I had wanted but was too naïve to understand all the ramifications of. I was mature enough to realize, though, that it was a temporary life and it would improve.

And yes, my life has changed for the better since then, but some things remain the same. I still work from home and I’ve been a stay-at-home mom my entire thirty-plus years of parenting (now with four kids, the youngest of whom is in high school). Life has gotten so much better, though. To all the struggling young moms out there, I am living proof it turns out OK, but it was rough in the eighties and nineties. At least the moms of today have online forums in which to share feelings and Facebook pages and Instagram accounts to keep them in touch with long-distance friends. I didn’t have that, but I did have all those letters to keep me sane. They represent a tough time in my life, but also, they were my lifeline. I think I’ll hang on to them.