October 23, 2012

Just Say No.

Posted in Life Lessons, Parenthood tagged , , , , , , , , at 11:36 pm by openendedcomment

Being a parent is hard.  Being a parent to teens is harder.  Being a parent to teens in this digital mass communication instant knowledge and self publishing world we live is insane.  I am sure that when I was a teenager my parents felt the same thing, but no matter how difficult 1989 was for my Mother and Father (the year I was 13) it is nothing compared to 2012.

I speak to my children constantly about the dangers of over-sharing online, that even though I have a face book account and a blog, I am also 36 years old and understand why and how privacy settings work.  I get that the internet is forever and delete doesn’t always mean “gone.”  I am able to take criticism and occasional snide comments and deal with them.  I don’t face bullying and memes and forwards of pictures that should never have been taken.  If I did, I would be able to handle it.  They can’t.  They may think they are old enough and they may tell me they can take it and that they understand, but really, they don’t and no amount of privacy settings or firewalls of Mom-Security is going to protect them from the cruelty of other kids online.  Going even further, I will not allow them the opportunity to be sucked into the cruelty that takes place intentionally or passively towards others in these forums. My unwillingness to allow for this has earned me the title of “the meanest Mom of all their friends.”  There are times it bothers me; times I question my rigid stance on these issues and there are times like now I’m reminded that (the mean Mom) is exactly who I ought to be.

My sixteen year old son suffers my vigilant self far better than my thirteen year old daughter.  He too requires some monitoring, but he doesn’t really care.  He doesn’t want to be so visible and “involved”…for her, it’s an entirely different story.

Last week there was an incident at my daughter’s middle school.  Hundreds of kids in sixth through eighth grade were on sites of “Memes” created about and at other students at their school.  They got the idea from the high school page.  Middle schoolers want to be like high schoolers.  That much, at least,  remains the same through the decades.  What also remains the same is the ability of high school students to recognize and self-police (to a point) abject cruelty.  They were still (in my opinion) rather idiotic in their postings, but not to the point of bullying and intentional pain the younger set brought it to.   The school got involved.  A girl was pushed to a breakdown, another came close.  Dozens were called out publicly as “nerds” “sluts”  “bastards” and “geeks.”  Secrets were exposed and lives were irretrievably altered. The kids got spooked, but they did not stop.  They took down one site to put up another.  Again and again they did this.  People I know have children who were on these…children “liking” and “following”  and some even commenting on this sad display of unchecked freedom not fit or designed for such emotionally immature beings.  I did not call these parents, the ones I knew, though I was tempted.  The school did send a letter (not at my urging but I was glad to see it) and I hope that it was read.  I hope those parents actually did what they were asked to do by the administrators and looked at what their children were and are doing.  I hope that now that they know, they set those accounts to feed back to their own to keep tabs if not  take them down entirely, as I wish more would do.

It’s tempting and it is so easy.  So simple to think that “everyone” is doing it and “all” the other kids their age have smart phones and face book and twitter and instagram and e-mail…so easy to tell yourself as a parent that you’re “invading their privacy” by reading the text messages and IMs and scanning the accounts…so damn time-consuming to even attempt to keep up with the constant barrage of communication from and to your kids on top of your own.  I know.  I get it, I’ve been there and I’ve failed, too.

But we have to stop.  We have to start.  We have got to pay attention.  My children don’t have Facebook.  My daughter has tried a few times and I’ve always caught it.  I have friends who think I should let her and just monitor it.  Well, I don’t agree.  Each child is different and my child isn’t ready for this step.  It was proven again less than a week ago.  It is a big deal and a big risk and I’m not willing to risk her.  Not yet.  I do know that I can’t avoid it forever and that it is a part of our new reality so I do make some concessions.  She does have email, and it copies to me as does instagram.  One violation and it’s gone.  My kids can’t use a computer unless they sign in and I do have tracking software.  Computers are not used behind closed doors in our home.  My kids know I read their text messages.  On my account, so deleting is pointless.  If they write or send things that aren’t within our family value set, they lose the phone.   I’m not perfect in this and I do occasionally let my guard down.  Tonight I was reminded again why I can not do that.

After the news there was a story on Dateline, a show I don’t normally watch.  It was a story of a girl bullied so badly online that she took her own life.  It was a story we’ve heard too many times.  These are fragile years we are entering, my daughter and me.  I know too well the intensity of emotion that comes with the journey from child to woman.  The tears and the agony; the love and the heartache.  The way your emotions at such a fleeting and ever-ending onslaught of new experiences and discoveries of and in yourself can lead to utter ignorance of consequences and danger…and I know that for so many I love and loved it was a time that tested their souls.  Some did not make it through.  I know that it was hard enough when there was a moment to get away, a safe place where alone existed…and I know that for her and for all of them now, in this time, that alone is a theory…a nice idea, but not something they truly understand.  Everyone is a swipe and a face time away.  A ping of a new message and a flash of a comment made.  That in this so very egocentric time that is the teen years the pictures and the moments shared are not always to be thought through and considered…and it is that which makes me, this mean, mean Mother denying her what “everyone” else has who will continue to be vigilant in protecting her from herself.  As all parents do to one degree or another.  We all keep our children from adult situations and dangerous things as much as we are able for as long as we are capable.  This is no different.

I have so little time.  Four and a half short years and she will be on her way.  For that time and for these months I will make her crazy, but I will keep her safe.  I will, as the years move forward, release my grip and allow her more space, more privleges…but I will never turn a blind eye.   I can’t.  No matter the title at the bottom of any e-mail I send, this is my job.  The pain in that Mother’s eyes tonight on my television screen, describing what her daughter read each and every day…I can’t help but wonder how many more Mothers and Fathers and Daughters and Sons are feeling that now…at this moment…how much could be helped if not stopped by more parents demanding a password and reading what is there for the rest of the world to see?  It may not save a life to read your child’s phone tonight and it may not make the world better to know who they are following or what they commented on today, but if it could, would you?  I promise you I will.

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October 19, 2012

Full Circle.

Posted in Life Lessons, My Five tagged , , , , , , , , at 12:50 pm by openendedcomment

So many say that the advent of social media is leading to the breakdown of communication as we know it.  I know many people whom I consider friends that flat-out refuse to participate for various reasons.  Some state that they don’t want their personal life available for view, others that they don’t feel the need to know everything everyone is doing and still others, my husband among them, because they feel that everyone they want to speak to or know about they already do.  I can understand all of these things, but I do not agree.

Social Media, Face Book, Blogs and even the simplicity of email and text have enriched my life in ways I could not have foreseen and will be ever grateful for.  Of course there are the posts that drive me nuts and the ones I wonder at…but then I know I do the same to others and all is well.  We are grown ups and grown ups (should be) able to understand that not everything is to be taken literally.  Hence the reason I feel these things are mostly adult(ish) forums, but I digress.  The bit about who should/should not participate in these social networks is a post for another day.  As I enter the back-end of my thirties my life has become almost unsustainably busy.  I have a full-time career.  I am a Mother of four active and very wonderful children with whom I am extremely involved.  I have a husband, parents, siblings and friends.  In order to keep up with all of these people and all of these things, this wonderful age of technology and communication is not only easier but essential.  Without it I would never know of or be able to keep tabs on what the people I care about are doing in and with their lives.  I would not be connected to family members, aunts, uncles and cousins scattered throughout the country.  I use it less for gossip and more for lovely things like friendship, family, humor and information.  Sure, I could call…but in reality, I don’t have the time and neither do they.  I suppose writing a letter is possible and some would say more thoughtful, but again, that requires getting to the post office and waiting for a response and though it may seem lazy to admit, I know myself better than to think I would have the time to do that.  I mean, I have dry cleaning that hasn’t been claimed in six months…speaking of which…I must do that today. We don’t have a “main street” or “corner cafe” at which we have breakfast or see friends known from childhood.  The world just isn’t like that anymore.

It goes further than light conversation or keeping tabs.  It goes to the basic human need to be connected and the joy of rediscovering people I would not know today that were so essential in my life at one time.  Friends I had in high school and even junior high school with whom I lost touch these past decades.  People who were dear to me and lost to me are found again on my own little digital home-town.  There are so many who fit this criteria of people I am glad to know again but for this post and because of this day it’s about two women I once knew and again know.

As an eighth grader, one of my dearest friends was a girl named C.  We hung out at each other’s homes constantly.  We even made a band.  A band of two…but there were signs.  In high school we grew apart and after that we saw each other only once, at a ten-year reunion, at which we really didn’t speak.  Through social media I “found” her again and we “speak” semi-regularly now.  No, we aren’t “best friends” but each time we write I am reminded of why we became friends in the first place all those years ago.  She is smart.  She is kind and she is hilarious.  She and I also lead somewhat similar lives today as step-mothers and wives and women.  I am invested in her blog because through it I found my friend and some sound advice combined wth many laughs.  We’ve been trying to set up a lunch and not shockingly, can’t find the time.  But we will and as I write even this I am wondering how her weekend is set and who is home with her children over MEA and if a certain plan she has in the works is working out the way she hopes (if you read this I’m referring to the twofer plan…fingers crossed!)  Again and happily so,  she is someone I care for and someone I want to see have everything in life.

There are poignant moments, too.  Just today a girl, now a mother of three, with whom I was very close my junior and senior year of high school and again, someone I haven’t seen since, wrote something very personal.  She is going through a difficult time and I wish I could do more for her to ease her pain.  I found myself crying at my desk remembering being in her home at sixteen.  Remembering her family and the talks she and I shared over saltines in her basement and lunch tables at 6th hour.  Wondering at the strange and long road I’ve been on these last twenty years and feeling as though I had been a  terrible friend for letting something that was once so important to me go with such ease.  She and I also communicate now and from what I can tell, she is exactly who I had always thought she would be, an amazing Mother, Wife, Woman and Friend.  She and I had the same English teacher Senior year.  He had us write ourselves a letter, which was to be mailed to our 27-28 year old selves to review.  In mine, I had spelled out a vision of a life for myself I do not lead.  I wanted such different things back then…and today, reading her post, something became clear.  What was most important to me then is what is most important to me now.  The rest may have changed, and most for the better, but these women were spelled out by name to remind me to know.  Her name was in it.  Hers, along with a woman in San Fransisco, another in a Northern Suburb, one now in Iowa, one who had her second son only weeks ago a few miles from where we went to pre-school together, and a woman who today celebrates her birthday.  I told myself that I would always know them.  Some I never lost touch with, others I did, and thanks to this world we live in, all I now know again.

For women this is essential.  We need our friendships.  My circle is small in part because I prefer it that way and in part as I have been remiss in keeping ties bound.  I have Glitter and I have Cielo and I have my Mother, too.  But aside from them and sometimes even including them, I am terrible about keeping in touch to the level I mean to and want to.  We are all connected again and in so I am enriched and blessed.  We’ve come full circle these women and me.  We started out fast friends, took different paths, changed our ways, changed our minds, became new people, found our homes, built our families and learned who we are.  And in the end, at least for a few, found that the core of who we were is more of who we are than we had ever imagined and as such rediscovered that those girls we knew we liked are women we know we need.

February 29, 2012

That which we do not speak of.

Posted in Life Lessons tagged , , , , , , , , at 1:23 am by openendedcomment

Today the Father of a co-worker is ending his battle with cancer.

I have never witnessed such grace as that which she has shown in the past weeks leading to this very difficult moment.  She has humbled me with her ability to cope, process and to be a peace. She is unshakeable.

And now I know why.

There is nothing left unsaid.

A few weeks ago my DH and I were watching “Oprah’s Next Chapter”.  Me because I love Oprah and he because the subject of that episode was Governor Chris Christie (and I had the remote).  During it, Oprah asked Governor Christie about the day his Mother passed.  He said she had told him to go to work.  He was stunned and told her it could wait.  Her response? “There’s nothing left unsaid between us.”

How wonderful.  How amazing.  How very, very difficult to accomplish.

Now, I’m close to my parents, all three of them.  There are no major riffs and no issues (at least not that I’m aware of.)  BUT…if, God forbid, they were to leave, can I really say that there is nothing left to speak of?   What about my friends and family?  My husband?  My children?  There is so very, very much left unsaid that I’m afraid I would need a year just to get it all out…if I were to find the courage…which I doubt very much I would.  It dawned on me though, as I sit here wondering what that kind of total acceptance of a life lived must feel like…that I ought to at least try.

I want that.  I think I may even need it.

You see, I have pissed people off my life.  Shocked?  You must not know me.  Welcome.  I assure you, it is very true…Its sort of  a bad habit, like biting your nails, but with more problematic consequences.

The issue isn’t that I’m an inherently controversial person; I’m actually quite the opposite.  I really do try to avoid conflict/fights/issues…unfortunately, when faced with them (as is inevitable in anyone’s life) I tend to not back away from speaking my mind.  Again, shocking, I know.

I can’t stand watching someone I care for suffer and doing nothing about it.  As there are many people I care for, I tend to find myself “doing something about it” more often than perhaps I ought to.  I am also Irish.  And a red-head.  A typical one.  This means I use my words (I remember that being a good thing at one point in my life) and in doing so make my point.  Loudly.  Occasionally with venom.

In my family (5 red-heads and a blonde with a red beard), this is how we solved problems.  We spit it all out, worked it all out and then moved on with a  better understanding of where everyone was at.  In the rest of the world, this appears to be how problems get worse.  Who knew?

Me.  That’s who.  I’ve learned.  I have quite the trail of things left unsaid…the apologies I really do need to make (some I’ve made that went unanswered, others I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my pride to utter…untill now.  I think.  I hope.)  I have things to say to friends.  I have things to say to family.  I have things to say to myself.

I have good things and great things to say.  I have questions I need to answer and some I need to ask.  I have tears to shed and pride to swallow.  I have laughs to be shared and lessons to be imparted both on and to…I have other things as well.

I have things I do not speak of.  I have secrets buried deep and hurts which have been ignored.  Despite the bravado I so often portray…I am not a very open person.  There are so many things I do not mention…so much I don’t let be heard.  I married a man much like me…he is like me but better than me…and he too has much that goes unsaid.  I suppose we all do, in some way and on some subjects…to some people…we all have that which we do not wish to address…that which we are afraid of hurting from or causing hurt as a result of.

So much left unsaid.

In the world of blogs, Facebook, twitter, text, email…in the world we live in where communication has never been more abundant, in this world so filled with the noise of chatter and information from every direction…in this world at this moment the things we not speak of are deafening in their silence.

Perhaps, just maybe…just this once, I could make a wee bit of real noise…just one call…one note.  One message that needs to be received could finally be heard.  My co-worker, this woman I am blessed to know, she is not a loud woman. But her courage to be known is heard above the din.