Bridging Divides


    My son has a girlfriend. And I like her.

    
Which is probably okay with Michael. More likely, my input on his love life falls to the apathy pit of his emotion with regard to anything parent-related. An actual objection from him would indicate that he cared. Or noticed.

    
Way too much effort.

    
What he may not be as comfortable with, though, is that she seems to like me, too.




    And I can’t imagine that notion fits well into a world where the parent-child divide spans like the width of Grand Canyon.

    
Ah, the Grand Canyon. 

    
The family vacation which my husband still refers to as the time I tried to kill him. (He’s not much of an adventurer.)



    And which I call the trip-of-a-lifetime.

    
Because it was.

    
Not only for the photo-stop memories that set three generations against a backdrop unlike any other on the planet.

    
But also for that slice of nine-year-old boy that seems such a juxtaposition against the 17-year-old near-man with whom we now live.

    
Hard to believe that Michael is the same boy who mom and dad protectively shuffled to the boat’s rear as we settled in. Showed how much we knew about whitewater rafting and inflatable boats –we had positioned him most decidedly at the craft’s bow, the best place to enjoy the ride. And also to be swallowed whole by the mammoth rapids we would encounter. Go figure.

    
And then again, warned of an impending day of wet, wild, and frosty rapids coming our way, we wrapped Michael in a blue rubber suit that would have fitted better if he were first mate to Captain Ahab. Sure, the water was cold, but temperatures hit 116 degrees that day. The poor kid was at the mercy of his parents’ pitiful effort at protection.




    And, to some extent, he still is.
 
    
Unfortunately, today there are no guides creeping alongside the rapid-riding youngster to assure his safety from plummeting conditions. And we’ve got no trusted adult giving Michael a parental reprieve and lessons on the right way to get up close to a rattlesnake (Dad still maintains there is no right way).

    
One of my students refers to me as her life coach. Apparently, calling myself that actually would require some sort of education and certification. What I am, more likely, is a sort of bridge between her generation and my own. I get to “coach” her not by benefit of school degree, but rather by life degree. And span the chasm that could separate us by offering up a rope of knowledge without placing too much expectation upon her. Or judgment. 

    
As parents, we expect, and too often –we judge.  To some extent, that’s exactly what we’re supposed to do. After all, we’re the ones who brought them into this world. And we will be judged by what impact they make upon it. But we should, perhaps, let the judgments fall away.  Our own, but more importantly, our concern for others’, as well.
 
    
Our kids would certainly appreciate that.




    Because they’re judged enough by their peers. 

    
In Michael’s case, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Despite his ill-fit to the world-at-large, he seems a good fit to most of his friends. His girlfriend seems to like him. More importantly, she thinks he’s a good person. And with a maturity that contradicts her age, she says she understands my own frustration at the path he’s been heading down recently. She maintains, though, that he will find his way to the other side. I could lay off her faith in Michael on the love-is-blind foundation of young relationships or simple naiveté. Or I could attribute it to optimism, as yet unjaded by time.

    
But instead, I want to trust that this girl has insight, which I may have lost, into the young man I am still trying to raise. I also want to believe that for every guide in Michael’s life now who is introducing him to rattlesnakes, there are others still showing him how to keep a proper grip on life so he doesn’t fall too far off balance.

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Ch-ch-ch-changes


    Michael didn’t transition terribly well as a child. Little things, like leaving my arms to go to another’s, getting in the tub, getting out of the tub –took actual planning . When we visited Disney with him as a toddler, he decided, pretty adamantly, that seeing Mickey simply wasn’t worth the price of not sleeping in his own bed. He staged an escape from the hotel room sometime after midnight.

    
Alex, on the other hand, slipped from day-to-day, calamity-to-calamity with little pause. With regard to travel, I may have set the stage for a bit of that non-drama because in an effort to shield her from the what-ifs of a canceled trip, I rarely informed her of plans until they were set in motion. On more than one occasion, my little girl woke in the morning with no notion that by evening she’d be airplane-delivered to a new destination. In hindsight, that bit of parental protection had its own cost. We rarely enjoyed together the fun of planning a trip. There was no anticipation –only action. But then again, that may have well-suited my always-ready-to-go kid. Transitions were no problem for Alexandra.

    
Until now.

    
Are you looking forward to graduation? is the new question with which Alex is greeted by most every adult she encounters these days. To which she gives an honest reply: no.

    
And she’s not kidding. In fact, the simple word understates the passion it belies.




    Her no is pretty resounding. It speaks to her honesty (see previous post) and contradicts her resilience (see previous post). 

    
But it really isn’t that hard to understand.




    She’s happy. Happy where she is, with what she’s doing, and most importantly with who she is.

    
Alexa (her choice of name-change, not mine) is a beautiful 21-year-old college senior. She has a good group of friends, a couple of part-time jobs, a family who loves and supports her. 

    
Life is good.




    But it hasn’t always been.




    For big reasons and little ones, Alexa has suffered her share of life’s disappointments. But she’s reached the other side of a whole lot of them, now. And the view from this end of the tunnel is pretty good. 

    
What’s damn scary, though, is what comes next.




    Mostly because she doesn’t know what that is.




    And it’s the not knowing that’s pulling her through the stages of grief she recently posted as her Facebook status. Not knowing is scary. But by now, there’s a whole lot of stuff she should know.

    
Someone should tell her.




    Oh God, that someone’s probably me.




    Sweetie, you should know, and more importantly believe, what I’ve always told you: that every day you do something that makes me proud.
 
    
You should know that, although she’s still inside you, you are not the third-grader who had to suffer the torment of other girls. You no longer have to temper your exuberance to the expectations of others; you’re not bound by their constraints. The women in your life now seem to get you and I think, love you in part, because of the very spirit that you’ve sometimes tried to hide.




    I am so glad that you believe your sisters have your back. But long before they came into your life, you had a HUGE family who would do anything for you. You got that free, had it from the get-go. 

    
All the other stuff, you earned –big time.

    
You deserve the diploma, but also a whole lot of accolades that go along with it. Not only because of who you are, but also because of who you have become.




    You are an amazing young woman. You are savvy and sure and resilient, but also warm and passionate and caring. You have a depth of emotions, and you shouldn’t fear the weight of their pull. You’re strong enough now to weather the tide and the turbulence. Literally, from the day you were born, you were fighting a battle. But you’ve always won. And you always will.




    That I believe this should count for something. I still think I know you better than anyone. That I believe in you should count for more.




    Trust me.




    Or better still, trust yourself.



Fairytales


    I’d like to believe that even the most hardened cynic took pause at yesterday’s nuptials across the pond. Yes, it might have been unavoidable; the event was EVERYWHERE. But I think also that there was an appealing draw to it all. Perhaps the collective aura that makes us human wants to believe in princesses and fairytales, in true beginnings-in true love.

    
I know I do.

    
I also want to believe in the anything’s-possible premise that is embodied when a girl from simple beginnings turns from commoner to royalty before a wanting world. 

    
Kate was one of us. Or one of our children, at least. Off to college –the first in her family- with the hopes of having an even better life than the one her parents were able to provide for her. That she met and saw William as classmate first, that they became friends, only offers us further foundation to believe. Maybe this is real. And maybe fairytales do come true. Even to common folk.

    
Peppered among the dignitaries and dynasty-born wedding guests were regular people who might well fit with the likes of us anti-aristocracy Americans. Kate invited her friends and family, but also her butcher, her postman. The barkeep at the local pub.

    
That makes sense to me.

    
Not just the invite to the bartender. Although I’ve always been of the mind that you’d never neglect the guy pouring the drinks. But also the notion of extending invitations to people who matter in your life, even if they might not quite fit into your new one. 

    
I don’t think you judge someone by the size of his wallet or his house. Or where he might have gone to school. Or who his parents are. 

    
I may be naïve, here.




    My husband has a bizarre assortment of acquaintances. He counts among his friends men with big names and big degrees. But also men who can’t read or write. One of his friends is into his seventies and still laboring. Another generally lands in the top 20 list of wealthiest Americans. 

    
He considers them all friends and he talks to them with the same level of deference.

    
I get that, too.




    My own net of friendship isn’t as wide, but I follow a similar conversational route.




    In a recent visit with my nephew, we were talking about brushing elbows with famous people. I explained that in the few instances I’ve found myself in the company of some sort of celebrity, I’ve been pretty unfazed. This coming from someone who can’t speak before large groups, no matter how well I know them. But one-on-one, I’m fine. Even if it’s a pretty big ONE.




    It works the other way for me, as well.




    At the college where I work, the president is frequently onsite. When I see him, I say hey, nod. The same way I do to the man from Physical Plant who I now refer to as Mr. President. He’s always tapping furiously into his blackberry as if he’s awaiting a message from the Pentagon –he must be the president-as he walks the halls and empties my trash.




    I know that this egalitarian bent doesn’t always fit to real world politics or life.
 
    
Even though the college touts its diversity, it’s not. The haves outnumber the have-nots. And although I don’t know how the kids treat one another in class, I know it’s pretty hard to hang together when not everyone can afford the same hang-outs.

    
Money is often a separator. To some extent, it always will be. But while it may divide, it need not define.




    One of my students doesn’t like when someone assumes he knows her just because of what she has. The you-shouldn’t-care-what-people-think speech I offered fell hollow. But she shouldn’t. Self-worth is a way better measuring stick than one that considers dollars as destiny.

    
Kate’s measure of monetary worth might not have reached the benchmark of many of her classmates. Reports say that she left one school as a girl because she was bullied. As parent to a daughter who suffered her share of unsisterly salvos, I cringed at that info.




    But then I thought –to the bullies –your once-victim will someday be your queen. How’s that for wanna be?



Unabbreviated Content


    OMG, LMFAO

    
Using the brevity of acronyms within the hyper speed world of text messaging and Facebook posts makes a lot of sense. It’s quick, to the point, and for the generation which is text typing most of the letters and numbers, it turns their otherwise easily observable messages into secret code: PR911, 4Q, 420, GNOC, PAW. 

    
Secret, that is, until the codes become so universally accepted that even parents are privy to the hidden language. A teen’s worst nightmare, I am sure.

    
The thing is, those teens are not nearly as clever as they think they are. First off, I’d posit that we of another generation may have chiseled out the beginnings to the whole acronym anonymity.  At the close of all those notes being tossed on desks, and handed off in hallways and homerooms long ago, was invariably a script of innocuous letters. Seemingly meaningless, except to the author, and hopefully, the recipient.

    
In my own writing, I was always hesitant to join in on the big-message sentiment of those little letters. AFA –really how did I know if I was going to be their friend ALWAYS? For that matter, what exactly did they mean by friend? 

    
It’s the likes of these memories that make me wonder -did I really over think every uttered syllable and written word? 

    
Probably, yes. 

    
A friend –yes, the real kind- told me not long ago that I was disgustingly deep as a kid. Yeech! Who would want that kind of moniker? But then she assured me, that since she considered herself its opposite back-in-the-day, the tag wasn’t meant as insult, just observation.

    
Of course, I know that it wasn’t merely my literal interpretation of life that left my pen reluctant to scribe. The truth lay more in a self-defense hewn from a risk adverse beginning. It wasn’t that I wouldn’t take chances; I did all the time. I played too much, drove too fast, back-packed solo through Europe, took hang gliding lessons. I often took chances on myself. But rarely on others.

    
I’m better now.

    
Not much.

    
That’s probably why I don’t understand how kids can share so much with so many. On some level, I wish I could. But on another, I wonder if they’re not building themselves up for disappointment that may turn them cynical long before they’re meant to be.

    
How many times, after all, can they put themselves out there unsuccessfully before writing off whole swaths of human interaction? Maybe their walls need not be made of brick, but the structures so many of them have built leave them fully open to elements they may not be prepared to handle. And texting in code is unlikely to prevent overexposure. 

    
Problem is -gauging the measure of risk against reward isn’t easy. People don’t often come with guarantees. Those that claim to are often the ones who come up most sorely lacking. And it’s never a good feeling to be on the other end of an unanswered text with a laid bare message, regardless of the effort to conceal it in code.

    
Me, I’ll take actions over words any day. Weird philosophy for a writer.

    
The people in my own life accept the lack of the BFF and HAK at the bottom of my emails –warm and fuzzy, I’m not. And they’ve probably learned to read a bit into what I don’t say. I don’t say a lot. But at this point in my life, I also don’t make a whole lot of apologies.

    
I have a friend who ends most of our conversations now with I love you, to which I reply in turn. Because I get it. And she gets to remind me with the simple, but powerful sentiment, of what I already know. That in an instant the opportunity to say it can be taken away and that reminding someone you love him isn’t a bad way to say goodbye. Just in case, it’s the last time you can.

    

Friend Me


    I think Hallmark may have hyped the notion of friendship a bit too much.

    
Inflated the premise and oversold its availability to the masses.

    
Or maybe it was those afterschool specials and sappy sitcoms.




    Or the mean girl movies in which good prevailed and true friends stood solid.

    
Something has given our kids a misguided view of where they’ll find real friends and just what they’ll look like.

    
Perhaps the culprit is Facebook –so much else is blamed on the social networking site.




    Eight hundred and eighty-three friends -Seriously?

    
I used to cringe when my husband came home from a business meeting referring to his friends in attendance.




    Those aren’t friends- they’re business associates,
I would practically shout every time.

    
And I was often surprised at the reaction of those newly moved to town who were disappointed by the no-entry cliques that were too reminiscent of high school for my liking. I was never really sure why the newbies wanted in to the select town circles. Did they really think those people jockeying to get their own kids on the best soccer teams were going to pull another’s kid along?

    
One of my students was recently disappointed by her so-called friends. After what she saw as a betrayal, she said she was now going to trust no one.

    
Ouch.




    In talking her off the ledge, I assured her that this new philosophy was extreme.




    And then I delved a bit into just what her expectations of her friends were. But before I reached that bar, I had to ask –who she considered to be her friends? How many did she have? And the question which spoke more to my own philosophy than hers –how many exactly did she think she deserved?

    
I brokered my own response before she had a chance to answer. If you can count your close friends on a single hand, consider yourself lucky, I told her.

    
She is lucky. And she knows this. And she also acknowledges that she was perhaps misguided to label every acquaintance on even a small college campus as friend. Because not every project partner or kindred classmate is a friend. Tight living quarters don’t make tight friendships. And slurpy sentiments proffered at local bars are often forgotten before the sticky floors have been mopped dry.  

    
My daughter’s been tricked too many times by the illusion of friendship. At 21, I think she’s finally getting a sense of what she needs from the people in her life. And just how much she’s willing to give in return. Her foundation of friendship rests, in part, on membership in a sorority. When she first considered joining, I have to admit I wasn’t entirely on board. It wasn’t just the what-would-I-do voice in my head; it was that other, much louder voice of parental caution. She’d been hurt before –by girls- and the thought of such a large assemblage of them struck me as that many more chances for pain.




    I was wrong.

    
Theta Phi Alpha has given Alex the friends she missed out on in high school. And I think they may be true friends. But it doesn’t really matter what I think. It’s what she believes that counts here. Time will tell. Alex has always been quick to jump into new friendships, but quick also to abandon them when they didn’t measure up. In Theta Phi, loyalty is a requirement of membership. 

    
My student is under no such contractual obligation to give her own friends a second chance.




    But she will.




    Or at least she will to those who now fit her narrower construction of the word.




    She doesn’t know it yet, but that definition is likely to grow narrower still.




    Because I’m that old, I’ve had friendships as old as my student. And I can vouch for the genuineness of them because they’ve stood the test of time. I could teach her much about what constitutes a true friend.

    
But I won’t.




    She’ll figure it out -she’s smart. Although it isn’t often one’s intellect that speaks most loudly where matters of the heart are concerned. And a true friendship is indeed its own sort of love affair. In fact, most friendships last longer than love affairs; many outlast marriages.  

    
So while I’ll pass on giving advice on the girls in my student’s life, I will tell her that when she’s choosing a boy to try seeing first if he measures up as a friend. Because not only is that a great place to start, it’s also not a bad place to end.

Unrivaled Siblings


    But then they’re supposed to be circling wagons of their own.




    I missed the lead-up to my nephews coming near blows with one another. And I wasn’t in the kitchen when my daughter fell to “ratting out” her brother via text.




    But something’s atilt.




    In the Us vs. Them ideal that set off this blog in the first place, our kids are supposed to stay the “them.” And when they cross over enemy lines, even if only for reconnaissance, something’s not right with the world.




    An editor friend who follows the blog and knew of Michael’s ironic help in its development, suggested I offer him his own forum. A rebuttal of sorts, for him and his kind.




    When I threw out the idea, I received a shoulder shrug to the notion of work.




    C’mon, I urged, it could be your very own parents-suck-dot-net.




    But that pretty much says it all,
he assured.




    And, of course, that was the appropriate response.




    What isn’t is silence between brothers or tattles from sisters.




    I could leap to the obvious and pull from the song   –you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone- but that too-far-off concept is likely as lost on them as it would have been on me.




    I was in college when I first got a clear picture that my family might be different from those of my peers. Not in the solidarity they had among their own siblings but rather in the harbinger of their future in the form of their extended families. Everyone back then assumed I had a huge family. I didn’t. But while they had cousins they sort of knew, mine were like siblings. Second and third cousins along were still included in our family gatherings. Bonds that were long ago formed in my family had apparently been set in concrete. On the contrary, their families seemed small –they weren’t- because aunts weren’t talking to aunts and uncles had forsaken their brothers.




    Huh?




    I still don’t get that.




    Family comes first. Those weren’t just words my father said. They were condition and creed. Fact. As sure as the sun. Family before god, before country, before anything else. Always.




    My brothers and I fought as kids, didn’t always see eye-to-eye on our way to adulthood, but there are no take-backsies with family. You get what you get –and you stand by it. No matter what. For my brothers and me, we knew the drill like we knew our name. Family first.




    So when our kids are fighting, although I know that they’ll land where we did, I still take pause. Because I look to the too many others with whom they’re surrounded. Girls who don’t talk to their sisters; boys who can’t stomach their brothers. And I look to the adults in my own life who’ve left behind siblings like neighbors from first neighborhoods. For reasons espoused, laid well and sure. Someone wronged, slighted or slurred. It’s money or rivalry or challenges or lack of support.




    And I hear. Really, I do. There are so many shades of gray that can splinter a family.



But in spite of the rainbow that acts as my Facebook photo, there are areas where gray isn’t my favorite color. Black and white are the only shades I understand when it comes to family. You stand by them, no matter what.



    And whether it’s in mimicry of Joan Baez or Counting Crows or the next generation of singer who follows the mantra, I’ll reiterate the line: you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone….

Fade to Grey

    Black and white is easy. 

    
I come from black and white. I don’t live there anymore, but it is where I started.




    Growing up, I had an ironclad vision of the expectations that were placed upon me. Black and white. Wrong and right. Not a whole lot of in-between.




    I’m sure at the time I probably didn’t view it all that favorably.




    Now I do.




    But it isn’t just nostalgia.




    Parenting in today’s 3D Digital world can be deeply disorienting at times.



    It makes me long for an era when the rules were simple and clear. And laid out by somebody else. Sometimes I think that the only thing scarier than the fact that my friends and I are in charge is the thought that someday our children will be.




    Yikes!




    And what tools have we given them to handle that responsibility?




    On off days, I think –not nearly enough.




    But then I look to the black and white world my parents gave me and wonder how grey became my favorite color.




    Like my parents, and theirs before them, I’ve tried to add to what they built.  My own structure may look different and feel unsettlingly unstable at times, but the foundation of it was long ago set. I started from the same premise they did –to give to my kids more than I had. Just a little bit more. And in some ways, I have. I’m just not sure I’ve always chosen the right ways.




    Our literal house is bigger and our town smaller. We have more land and less worries about it. We’ve taken more vacations. I’ve spent more time on fields, in parks and on playgrounds. More time in my kids’ classrooms. I’ve had memberships to the library, the PTO, the museum. My children have had a lot of lessons, and teams and coaches. My daughter orders her clothes online as if it’s a part time job. My son thinks Zildjian cymbals are the only kind worth having and so he has them. My kids have had access to a whole lot of stuff. Material things –lots of them.




    But they often don’t make their beds. And have to be reminded that dishes go in dishwashers. And clothes go on hangers that hang in closets. Their rooms are messy and they don’t share them with anyone else. They’ve never had paper routes or shoveled snow or washed cars to make a buck. My daughter forgets to make those birthday thank-you phone calls. My son goes to bed without saying goodnight.
 



    Something’s off-kilter. How is it that they do less, and get more?  How is it that I –and I don’t think I’m alone- have allowed this to happen?




    It’s different.




    Sounds like a cop out, huh? But isn’t it different? I want to say that times are different; were different. But then, that phrase sounds too reminiscent of my parents: Those were the days. You don’t know how lucky you have it. You have it easy. It sounds too much like my parents sounding like theirs. And I don’t want to lay blame on a past that’s faded by hues of nostalgia.




    Instead, I place the blame on myself. And I don’t think our parents did that. They might have known guilt, but not doubt. At least not when it came to raising their children. Black and white. Simple.




    I often think that my muted tones don’t measure up.




    But then I look to my own beginnings and realize that my parents laid some solid ground work. And I have built upon it. And in spite of the shaky ground on which it sometimes seems to stand, I’ve got to believe that it can withstand even the seismic activities of late.




    Because its pillars are made of some pretty powerful stuff.




    Pillars of strength -and love. Trust and belief. Respect and encouragement. Kindness and warmth. Family. And food. . .




    A few weeks ago, my daughter texted me a rainbow. There’s a story behind it, but that’s not important. What is is that she knew that sending it to me would make my day. I kid often about how we’ve all lowered the bar with regard to the expectations we place on our children. But the rainbow wasn’t low. It was pretty high, actually. She looked up to the sky, appreciating a specter which many do. Then, she snapped a photo from her phone, and forwarded it along. To Me. Because she knows me. In a way that I may not have known my mother.




    So I’ve been thinking. If I had settled upon only the black and white I knew, I probably would have missed a whole lot of rainbows.