Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Our Last First Day of Middle School

I originally wrote this letter to my oldest daughter in August 2013 as she was about to begin middle school. At the time, it was brand new territory for all of us and we were both a little scared. 

Two years later, I shared it with my middle daughter as she embarked on her middle school journey.

Today, my youngest starts 5th grade, considered middle school at the school they attend. That means, it's our LAST FIRST day of middle school. Of course, I knew this was coming last spring as she finished up elementary school. I attended my last class party, possibly my last field trip as a parent chaperone, and did my last run in the elementary school carpool drop off line. Admittedly, part of me wanted to turn cartwheels and jump for joy. Another part of me, though, cried silent tears for the innocence and simplicity of childhood that has, somehow, slipped away in the blink of an eye. 

This is one of many, though - many last firsts - because there is a last time for everything, right? 

So, today, I share these words one more time - one last time. I still believe in them and hope they will continue to carry ALL my girls through the good times and the bad ones. 
Dear Emily,

Today, you start middle school. Since you are the youngest, I've been down this road before with your sisters, but that doesn't make it any easier for me to swallow and, probably, doesn't make you any less nervous than they were. Right now, I know you are excited about meeting new people, having new experiences, and gaining more independence. I am excited, too. I know that you are also a little scared, though, and I want you to know that I am, too.

I have heard lots of stories about kids - tweens and teens- making bad decisions, succumbing to peer pressure, using social media for inappropriate purposes, and trying to do grown up things like sexting and drugs far too soon. I read plenty accounts of means girls and heard plenty stories about adolescent drama  I'm sure you have heard some of these stories, too. Part of me wants to think my daughters are too smart and too good to fall into those traps. However, there is another part of me that refuses to be a naive parent who is blind to the truth.

We are currently standing at the bottom of a mountain - a mountain called adolescence and puberty and middle school and high school. We are preparing for the climb that will lead us to a peak with the most wonderful views and a fantastic sense of accomplishment. On our way there, though, as we climb to the top, we will certainly stumble on occasion. When the going gets tough (and even when it's easy), I want you to remember these pieces of advice.  I will do all that I can to remember them as well.

  1. Work hard.  Remember that school work comes first and everything else is secondary.  That includes sports and friends and other hobbies. I don't expect you to be perfect, but I do expect you to try your hardest every time. If you do, I will be proud, but you will be prouder.
  2. Be brave.  You are going to have so many new experiences. Some will be good.  Some will not. When you face these challenges, have courage. Stand up for what you believe even if it makes you "uncool." That will fade, but your courage will make a lasting impression.
  3. Be yourself.  You are unique and wonderful and just the way God intended you to be.  Don't ever change in an effort to "fit in." If others cannot see how fantastic and remarkable you are, that is their loss - not yours.
  4. Do what you know is right.  When others are pressuring you to do something and your gut tells you not to - LISTEN! We have tried our best to teach you what is right and what is wrong. You will know it in your heart. You just have to follow your instincts.
  5. Get organized.  School and life are only going to get harder, busier, and more complicated from here on out. Get organized now. Learn how to manage your time. Don't procrastinate. These are habits that will help you in middle school, in high school, in whatever career you choose, and in life for a long time to come.
  6. Be kind.  Adolescence can be tough and awkward and uncomfortable.  Remember that everyone is struggling with something. Do unto others as you would have done unto yourself. Even when it's not popular, be compassionate and courteous.
  7. Be confident.  You are awesome. Don't ever forget that. You can do anything you set your mind to. You will change the world - I'm sure of it.
  8. Surround yourself with the right kind of people. There is an old saying (that I heard many times from Memaw and Paw) that says something like "you are no better than the company you keep." If others are mean or deceitful or immoral or if they try to change you, then they are not the kind of people with whom you should spend your time. Rise above them.  
  9. Remember that we will always love you.  Daddy and I are here for you anytime you need us and there is nothing you can say or do that will make us stop loving you. If you have questions, we will find answers. If you are unsure how to handle a situation, we will gladly give you guidance. If your heart is breaking, we will dry your tears. If you have made a mistake, we will help you amend it. If you are about to explode with joy, we will share your happiness. All you have to do is come to us. We are NEVER too busy for you and your "problems" are NEVER too small or too big. All you have to do is talk. We will listen. I promise. 
  10. Have fun.  You are on the brink of learning so much and experiencing so much. It won't all be easy going - there will be bumps in the road. But, despite the bumps, there will also be lots to enjoy. Smile. Laugh. Make new friends. Soak it in. Enjoy this stage in your life. Believe me, it will go by faster than you can believe!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Greatest Parenting Fears

I recently finished reading What She Knew by Gilly MacMillan which was on my list of Summer reads. Basic synopsis is that, Rachel, a recently divorced mom, lets her son, Ben, run ahead of her in a park. She does this in an attempt to foster his independence, but he disappears. Subsequent chapters detail the investigation into his disappearance. I won't tell you how it ends, but I will tell you that this sort of scenario is one of a parent's greatest fears. 

While parenting is full of joy and laughter, it is also weighted down with responsibility, doubt, and worry. While I was reading about Rachel's fictional experience, I started thinking about my own fears in parenting and, I'm betting, other parents share many of these same anxieties.
  • Of course, the first one on the list is the one that triggered this whole post - the fear of losing a child. When my oldest was in first grade, I accompanied her class on a field trip to the zoo and took my middle child, then three, along for the fun. We were at the polar bear exhibit, the children pressed against the glass thrilling at the bear as he dove and flipped under the water. I was chatting with another mom less than 6 feet away from the kids when another, large group of kids came into the area. Before I knew it, I had lost sight of my three year old. Only another parent can understand the sense of panic that gripped me. I was frantic, calling out her name like deranged animal. She quickly emerged from the crowd perfectly safe. She had been there the whole time and only realized she was "lost" when she heard the fear in my voice. The entire thing probably lasted about 30 seconds, but I still feel the hysteria when I recall it. I cannot even imagine the horror of not knowing where my child is for days at a time; not knowing of their well-being; not knowing if I will ever hold them in my arms again. My heart races just typing the words. Even worse, the death of a child due to accident, illness, or other circumstances is completely unfathomable to me. My heart and prayers go out to any parent who has ever had to experience such pain.
  • We also have great fear of permanently screwing up our kids! I honestly believe it's why we argue so much about parenting strategies and why we are so judgmental of others. Breast vs. bottle; co-sleeping vs. sleep training; helicopter parenting vs. free range style; all organic vs. please just eat something - it all boils dow to FEAR! We don't want to be the reason our kids' physical, mental, or emotional health is irrevocably damaged and that fear leaves us feeling stressed, judged, and judgmental. The thing that makes this one extra scary is that we won't know if we "got it right" until we see the finished product and, by then, it will be way too late to modify our decisions!! YIKES!!
  • I think we also fear that we are not giving our kids enough - enough experiences, enough quality time, enough nutrition, enough stuff, enough guidance, enough freedom, and the list goes on and on. We seem to think that raising kids is like mixing up the perfect recipe - just the right amount of this and exactly the right measure of that. However, I am convinced that parenting is NOT an exact science, but without having a precise answer, it is difficult to measure our progress toward success. 
  • As a parent of tweens and teens, I have a huge fear of social media. I recently saw a video online in which young girls are easily talked into meeting a guy in person even though they really have no idea who he is. Of course, the parents are certain their daughters would not be so gullible and, when they learn otherwise, they are shocked, angry, and terrified. Here, see for yourself . . . .
    I consider myself to be pretty social media savvy - but, I am also savvy enough to know that my kids have far more knowledge than I ever will. We have rules about their devices and social media accounts. We check them regularly, too. However, if they wanted to hide something from me I'm certain they could. Personally, I think admitting that "out loud" is a step in the right direction, but also makes it even more alarming.
  • Last on my list is our fear of things we cannot control. The harsh reality is that we live in a world where there are natural disasters, germs and sickness, and evil people. Even if we do somehow mange to get this parenting thing 100% right 100% of the time, there are things that are simply beyond our control. Sometimes, we wish we could put our kids in a bubble or at least be with them every second to protect them, but we know that is just not possible. So, the best we can do is teach them, love them, say lots of prayers, and hope that we have given them strong enough roots to keep them grounded when they spared their wings.

What are your greatest parenting fears and how do you cope with them?

Linking up with Finish the Sentence Friday and Kristi at Finding Ninee.

Friday, August 11, 2017

August and Feeling Nostalgic

It's August, and, as usual l when this month rolls around, I am feeling rather nostalgic. You see, my husband, my oldest daughter, and my youngest daughter all have birthdays early this month. Top that off with back to school season which means moving up grades, and, well, I get a little sentimental.

It starts with the hubby's birthday. Now, as we get older, at least around here, birthdays get a little less momentous, so there was not a big celebration as his birthday came and went this year. In fact, it was a rather ordinary day. That doesn't mean, though, that it didn't have significance. Celebrating my husband's birthday makes me grateful for two things: 1) That he will always be older than me, so he can never ever tease me about my age, and 2) All that we have been through together. When I first met him, I wasn't even 20 yet and we got married long before either of us was 30! I see people that age now and think, "Gosh! They're such babies!" (And, I mean that in a sweet, affectionate way - not an insulting manner). But, we were babies, too - we jsut didn't realize it then. We thought we knew it all and had everything figured out. Since then, there have been job changes, moves, kids, financial ups and downs, lots of laughter, oodles of joy, and plenty of times we didn't quite see eye to eye. Birthdays and anniversaries are markers to measure the time we've spent together,how we've grown as individuals and as a couple, and to think about what the future might hold. 
Next, just three days later to be exact, comes my oldest daughter's birthday. This year she turned 15!! Kids' birthdays make me cross-eyed as I try to look forward and backward simultaneously. I thought back to the day she was born in 2002 - the labor pains, the joy, the fear. I looked forward to the next birthday when she'll get her driver's license, and a couple more after that when she will be a legal adult at 18. In only 5 years, she'll be 20. TWENTY!!! As the song says, "Don't Blink!" It feels like that day she was born was eons ago and only just yesterday all at the same time. When she was a baby and I was a new mom, there were days when it felt like we would never possibly be where we are today - for better and for worse. I love the amazing, independent, confident, tenacious young lady she has become (and is still becoming), but I would be lying if I said that part of me doesn't sometimes miss the curly haired, ruffle wearing, Elmo loving toddler she used to be. 
After that, I get exactly 24 hours of respite from the wistfulness, and, then, it's my youngest daughter's birthday. This year, her day is extra special because she turns 10! That means everyone in my house will be in double digits. Again, it's milestones like these that send me into a whirlwind of memories from the past and visions of the future. I think about she when she was born, surprising us all by weighing in at just over 10 pounds. I think about the first few weeks with her at home. She was born exactly two weeks before the oldest started kindergarten and their two year old sister was in the middle. Those days are a blur in my rearview because I spent most of them in an exhausted, overwhelmed fog. Fortunately, she was a pretty easy baby who, like most third kids, had no choice but to adjust to the schedules already dictated by her older sisters. To make her birthdays even more heart wrenching, she has always been my most sentimental kid who often daydreams about going back to "being little" or to "when we used to have special Mommy and E days." Sigh . . . . .She often doesn't want to grow up and I often wish that my "baby" was still a baby so I could savor it a little bit more than I did (or could) back then. However, she is growing up into one of the sweetest, most compassionate kids I've ever known that that is something pretty special to experience, too.

OK . . . deep breath here. I need a minute to let all that emotion settle down.

Now, then . . . 

As if all that birthday sentimentality wasn't enough this month, August also brings the back to school season, of course, which is just another arrow taking target practice on my heart. My oldest has already started back to school - 10th grade, which means, by the end of this year, she will be half way finished with high school and about a billion steps closer to leaving for college. My middle daughter starts 7th grade which means this is her last year with no really major milestones - which actually IS kind of a milestone. Next year will be filled with high school choices, "make the most of the moment" moments, and last times. I have to remind myself not to get so caught up in what's coming next year that I miss this one. Finally, the youngest starts 5th grade. At their school, 5th is considered part of the middle school, so I officially no longer have any elementary school kids. No more class holiday parties (Yay! I think) and she won't think it's cool to have her mom chaperone the field trips anymore - maybe. I suppose that, with every school year, there are always firsts and lasts. It's par for the course, but when it comes on the heels of so much birthday reminiscence, it's just a little bit harder to swallow. 

Yep. It's August and another round of flashbacks and forecasts has me reeling. I can't believe my babies are growing up so much and so fast. I suppose all parents feel that way, though - especially when birthdays come around. I just trying to treasure the memories and delight in the future without forgetting to savor the moments that are right in front of me. 

This post is linked up with Finish the Sentence Friday hosted by Kristi at Finding Ninee. This week's sentence was "It's August and I can't believe . . . ."

Monday, August 7, 2017

Thoughts I Have While Shopping with my Daughters

I have three daughters who are currently ages 10, 12, and 15. With back to school right around the corner (or already happening for my oldest), the task of back to school shopping has become unavoidable. But, gone are the days of strolling through seas of pink and ruffles; gone are the days when I alone decided what my children would wear; and, gone are the days when the clothes I purchased qualified as "adorable" or "precious." Nowadays, I'm just trying to find clothes that cover the essential body parts, that my daughters actually like, and that will not make me want to eject my own eyeballs as I watch my girls walk out the door each day. 
I am well aware that there have been plenty of articles and blog posts about the discrepancies between boys' and girls' clothing and the lamentations of frustrated parents. (Like this one or this one or this one.) Well, I'm jumping on that bandwagon in order to get a few things off my chest about it. This blog post, however, will not be filled with research statistics or photographs comparing clothes. Instead, I am simply sharing a few of the things that run through my mind (and, occasionally spill out of my mouth) while I am walking through stores with my daughters. Ultimately, I just hope that, someday, designers and retailers will get a clue, understand how frustrating it is for parents and kids, and maybe start providing more appropriate clothing options.
  • You could just go swimming in your underwear. It would cover up more than that bathing suit does and probably be a lot less expensive.
  • Cute shirt. Where is the rest of it? 
  • Cute shorts - if you were 4 years old.
  • Won't those give you a perpetual wedgie??
  • Why would you even make a size 00?? Just go back to the girl's department if you're that small.
  • Aw, I miss the little girls' department with all those cute little dresses and bloomers! 
  • I know you wore a size 3 in those other shorts, but these are a different brand so you have to try them on. (Because, obviously, it would be way too much trouble for manufacturers to come up with some standardized sizing system so that you could wear the same size in all brands!!!!!😡)
  • OMG!! Why would they put THAT saying on a shirt for KIDS!?!?!
  • Does {Insert store/brand} not realize how much money they could make if they just made clothes that were not so ridiculous?? Seriously! They could make a freakin' fortune on shorts that were a couple inches longer. 
  • What is that color called -"puke?"
  • I wonder if the the people who make these clothes actually have any daughters? Would they let their kids wear this crap!?!?!?
  • If one of your teachers calls me to school because these shorts are not "fingertip length," I swear I'm going to make them take you shopping! 
  • If your grandmother was here she would tell you that they wore jeans with holes in them because they couldn't always afford to buy new ones when the old ones got torn and she would roll over in her grave if I paid good money for pre-ripped ones!! 😱
  • Good grief! When did I turn into my mother?!?! and grandmother?!?! 
  • What kind of nut job thought it was a good idea to make shorts so short that the pockets hang out the bottom???
  • I know I'm old and totally not cool, but I was always taught that your clothes were supposed to COVER your underwear, not make it a feature.
  • You actually LIKE that?!? Are you kidding??
  • God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change . . . . .
  • And, of course . . . .

What do you think about today's fashions for young girls??
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