Tough Parenting

As a parent, I’m constantly asking myself if I’m doing the right things, if I’m making the right decisions for my children, if I’m helping them to eventually do those right things and make those right decisions for themselves. That’s the thin line, isn’t it, doing just enough to guide them in the right ways so that they’ll continue to go in those ways when they come of age? Sometimes I just don’t know. I hope, and I pray, and I act on what I feel is best.

Isn’t that all we can do, really?

Before I had kids I was constantly judging my mother for the sheltered life I lived as a kid, growing up with such stringent rules and restrictions. I thought she didn’t need to rule with such an iron fist, that I knew what was best for me. I was a kid, and then a young adult, who needed just that type of guidance, but I rebelled against it. I felt I knew what was best, and only when I came of age and made a series of mistakes did I start to realize just how much my mother had been trying to mold me and help me be better equipped to handle those things she knew were coming.

Now, I’m not saying to shelter your kids. Far from it. I think kids need to know what’s out there, that they need to be prepared for what they’re going to encounter, so that they’re better equipped to handle them in appropriate ways. It’s one thing I wish my parents had done more to prepare me for, but my mother did what she felt was best, my father was pretty much a specter, and I learned from those mistakes. I told myself when I grew up, when I had kids, I would be different, and in many ways I am. Fundamentally, though, I’m the same kind of parent my mother was to me, which is a good thing.

Yes Mom, I just said that.

Seriously, though, she was doing the same thing I’m doing now, trying her best to teach me to be a better human being, and to make my own decisions. When I was the age that Alexa is now she was fighting to make sure that, as a single parent, she gave me what I needed as a boy. I know that was tough, as I try to deal with Alexa and her issues now. There’s something to be said for having a partner who can deal with the “feminine” problems and feelings, and for that I am so grateful to my wife for everything she does to prepare our daughters for life. But my mom didn’t have that. I’m sure raising a boy by herself wasn’t a picnic.

I wasn’t easy. Kids rarely ever are. I was highly sarcastic (still am), a dedicated introvert (that sure changed), and a writer in the making. It didn’t help that my relationship with my sister wasn’t the best either, and having a largely nonexistent dad who was generally out of town (and out of the picture) just made things worse. But my mom taught me to be independent, to learn from my mistakes, that love doesn’t always win out in the end, and that being the bigger person is very important. She gave me all these tools I didn’t even realize I had until I needed them myself and they were there to help me.

My children have issues. Right now, in fact, Alexa is in her room screaming like a banshee because she doesn’t feel she’s being treated fairly, because she has the idea that this world is black and white when I’m doing my best to try to show her all its varied shades of gray. That was what I always loved about my mom. She didn’t sugarcoat things. If she wanted us to learn a lesson she talked to us about it. Nothing snuck up on us because we weren’t prepared for it. She didn’t let us wallow in our misery and perceived slights. She talked it out with us, even if we were still mad. It’s what I’m trying to do for my children as well.

But being a parent is tricky. Think about the number of kids who grow up to hate their parents. Think about the legion of kids who say their parents were never there for them. And while I do feel that way about my father, I have to say that my mother was as solid a foundation I could hope to find in this life. I hope I’m the same kind of solid foundation for my own children.


My Two Moms

4b598646d73001cee9ff6ca8d93e9a5aThere was a show in the 1980s, called My Two Dads, about a 12-year-old girl who somehow came to live with two guys she happened to call “Dad.” These two fellows couldn’t have been more different from each other, with the one a sensitive artist and the other a staunch businessman. But neither knew who her “real” father was, and it didn’t even matter, because both were there for her when she needed it, both loved her more than life itself, and they both put away their differences to raise her together. It was a beautiful show.

I remember watching the show and being amazed that this girl was being raised without a mother, and how well adjusted she seemed for the most part (she was a pre-teen and teenaged girl, after all). I could never have imagined living life without a mother, because I never had to, but it made me think about all the people out there who don’t have that nurturing spirit to help guide them. The show didn’t make me sad, though, because it showed that not all families need to be defined as mother, father, and kids to be a successful and nurturing family.

My mother raised me and my sister from the start by herself. Yes, my dad was there at the beginning, and I do have some positive memories with him, but he was gone a lot. An awful lot. Most of my concrete memories, both positive and negative, originate with my mother because she was there. Living a sheltered life meant that I spent a lot more time with my mother probably than a lot of other young kids who were my age. Of course I wanted to explore, to get out more, but I realize now that having that solid force in my life helped to sustain and focus me even then.

When I think of mothers, my mind can’t help but go back to the early ’80s when I fell down my Nana’s steps and scraped my knee up pretty badly. I was drowning in tears and my mother told me it served me right, that I shouldn’t have been fooling around. Then she put on antibiotic and patched me up nicely and neatly and gave me a big hug. See, that was what my mom always provided, what you might call “tough love” today. She knew that just coddling me wouldn’t make me a responsible man, someone who could deal with all life had to throw my way.

My mother also supported everything I was interested in. She knew I was a voracious reader, so she would take me to the library as often as she could, and I would get dozens of books out at a time and devour them. She knew I loved to sing so she would take me to all kinds of church concerts, and later on I helped out by being the 9th caller so many times I lost count on the local Christian radio station. She still has one of the mugs I won from that station. She also knew how much writing meant to me, and she always fostered that love, helping me hone my writing skills.

I’ll admit now that I often took my mother for granted. She was always there and I had no doubt she always would be, but I think back on it, and so many moms weren’t there for their children. They would sit them in front of the television while they did god knew what with god knew who, or they would just let their kids play in the street oblivious to what might happen to them out there in the ghetto. I was blessed, and I didn’t truly appreciate it then. I do now.

The other mother who comes to mind when I think of mothers is a woman who wasn’t a mother when I met her. In fact, being with me, there was no guarantee she ever would be, but she had that spark. You know the one, that spark that says she will fight for what she wants, and she wanted to have children with me. So she went through some horrendous experiences, some devastating disappointments, and some frustrating times, but in the end she got what she wanted, and so did I. Eight years ago, at long last, she became a mother, and I honestly wouldn’t want anyone else to be the mother of our children.

10300038_10203758032816430_9218708593281471047_nShe’ll tell you she’s not patient enough, that she’s not prepared enough, that she doesn’t measure up, but that’s only because she’s always been hardest on herself. She holds herself to an improbably standard, but that’s fine because that makes her an even better mother. She is patient when she needs to be, she does wonderful research, and you could have no better advocate for our children than she is and always has been. I love her perseverance, her attention to detail, and the light in her eyes every single time she sees our daughters. She was born to be a mother, and it shows.

Then, when our second daughter was born with Down syndrome, we were both caught unaware and had no clue until after her birth. But when others were falling apart, my wife was already making calls, doing her research, and preparing herself for a different type of life than the one we had anticipated. She had already switched gears and was making sure even then that our child would have every possible assistance, from the moment we brought her home. That’s just the kind of women, the kind of mother, she is, the kind she always has been, and the kind she always will be.

The two women I call “Mom” are radically different, but they both have given me so much more than I could have ever asked for from them. They take the calling seriously, and yes, being a mother is a calling. They have gone above and beyond every expectation, and they’ve done it without even thinking about it. They are both so incredibly humble for doing so much, and I love them beyond words.

The key, though, is to remember and praise all that they do every day, not just on one day. And I vow to make sure they know how I feel always.


Labor Day Present

My mother is a great grandmother too.

My mother’s mother was in labor on Labor Day, an ironic coincidence if I’ve ever seen one. I never met my mother’s mother, but I hear she was a fascinating woman. It’s rare, of course, that my mother’s birthday actually falls on a Labor Day, since it’s one of those shifting holidays, but it’s still interesting to note. I remember trotting out the “in labor on Labor Day” joke nearly every time my mother’s birthday would come around, and everyone sighing because they’d all heard it one time too many. That, of course, didn’t matter to me, so I would regale them several more times with it until they stopped coming around. I’m sure that was one big coincidence too.

When I was little, the idea that my mother had her own actual birth day was incomprehensible to my puny brain. I didn’t even try to wrap my mind around it because to me it existed in the same realm as actors on my favorite television programs. I knew they were real people, but I still believed firmly in only the characters because they were the only ones I came in contact with. So, the idea was a far-fetched one because I only came in contact with my mother as my mother, not as somebody else’s child. It would take me a long time to reconcile that she could be both at the same time, and that there was a time when she only existed as a dream, and nothing before that.

Once I had made peace with my mother being born on a certain day I realized perhaps I should do something to commemorate the occasion. The problem was figuring out what I would do. I had no money of my own, and I didn’t feel it would be appropriate to ask my mother for money to buy her a gift, for whatever reason. So, I did what I felt was the next best thing; I went through the melange of items that lay¬† haphazardly all around my bedroom, and I found the best thing I felt I owned, wrapped it in Christmas paper, and gave it to her. Luckily I was seven years old, and she thought my re-gifting of my broken camera was cute, or I would have been in serious trouble.

Later on, I got a lot more creative, and having some money from various odd jobs helped too. More recently I bought my mother an iPod for her birthday, a rather thoughtful gift that got me a free $15 Target gift card for being that thoughtful. She was so touched that she almost cried… before making me hook it up and get her signed into iTunes so she could get some music to fill it. But somewhere between the broken camera and the iPod, I learned the true value that my mother placed on her birthday. It had absolutely nothing to do with getting those material things. It was about the thought, that we, her children, cared to honor her entry into this world. And that’s amazing for me to think about.

Now, as we once again approach the anniversary of my mother’s birth, I want to pay her homage for being a wonderful mother, a good friend, and the best Labor Day present ever. Happy birthday, Mom! (in a few days, when it actually is your birthday. Read this then. Thanks).



“Finish what you start.” My mother would always tell us kids that when we were growing up, and it went for everything, from eating all of our peas, to completing every question on a test, to reading until the end of a book, to not bailing on a job when it gets difficult. It is still her mantra, actually, and it can be a very good one for those types of situations, but when is sticktoitiveness just failing to admit something won’t happen and that we’re wasting our time plodding through, trying to finish it? I mean, what if I wanted to be President of the United States? I could probably, even now, get elected to some local position and begin a quest, but what are the odds it will happen for me? And what if I decided I wanted to be a professional singer? It takes some real talent for that, and some honest-to-goodness breaks, so is that truly a quest I should try my hardest to tackle? I’m actually asking you, because I don’t know. Maybe sticktoitiveness should be followed all the time, no matter how high the mountain is that you’re trying to climb.

“I was so excited about finding out all the amazing marketing tips… until I actually sat through one class.”

During my first year of college, I took a marketing class. I was so excited about finding out all the amazing marketing tips that were available out there… until I actually sat through one class. It was nothing like what I had expected. Instead, the class was really all about the history of marketing, not the mechanics of it at all. After day one, I knew it wasn’t going to be the class for me, and I had a very limited amount of time to switch to a different course. I made the decision and it was an easy one. I wasn’t sticking with marketing. It just wasn’t for me. That didn’t mean I wouldn’t try another marketing class in the future (and indeed, I did). It just meant that particular one wasn’t cut out for me, and rather than wasting an entire semester being bored to death, I was able to take another course that really did appeal to me.

And then there’s books. I remember when I was young, and I would start reading a book for whatever reason. I would get it out of the library, take it home, open it up and prepare to immerse myself in a whole other world. Except sometimes it was a world I didn’t want to even visit, but I felt like I had to finish, and indeed I did. Until the age of 18, any book I started I also finished, regardless of whether or not I was enjoying it. There are scores of books I finished, but I couldn’t stand them from the first page until the end, all because I felt like it was wrong to just put it down. Finally, I just asked myself, “How many hours a year are you willing to waste on crappy books?” The answer came back a resounding “None!” so I stopped approaching my reading that way anymore. That’s when I started to read the first chapters, and if I wasn’t hooked I gave it up.

So, does this mean my mom was wrong or is it just a case by case thing? I tend to favor the latter, because there have been too many instances where it truly helped to finish what I started, especially now that I have a family of my own and I see my children getting easily bored with things. And that made me realize it’s way too easy these days not to stick with things. Our world is now made for immediacy, and if it’s not quick enough for you, something else will be. If it’s not exciting enough for you, something else is exciting enough, and it’s just an app away! It’s become so crazy, so sometime it’s nice just to think back to the good ol’ days when Mom was telling me to finish what I started. It’s still sound advice in most areas, and I’m thankful.


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