Someone Might Color Again

crayons on tableI can’t remember the very first box, although in hindsight I think simply the purchase of it must have made me giddy.

Crayons. He’s old enough for crayons.

In all of my enthusiasm for this super-exciting “next step” my son had graduated to, I am certain I purchased the 64-count box.

And we would have talked about the names of each of the colors, compared the light blue with the navy, lined them up in color groupings and counted them one-by-one. Maybe we chose our favorite colors, or talked about how the sun is usually colored yellow but looks white.

I’m pretty sure we could kill an hour or more with a simple 64-count box of crayons.

Because we had time to do that kind of thing back then. Back when time stood still it seemed — or at least on those long no-nap afternoons when Daddy traveled and Mommy was left to dinnertime chatter with someone who only talked about the garbage man. Back when the time it took to simply get out the door to preschool or the grocery store seemed to fill a morning.

The crayons, they multiplied.

Go out to your favorite chain restaurant for dinner? Come home with a tiny box of crayons, named with colors like “mac and cheese.” Crayons make great stocking stuffers, car-trip sanity savers, Easter basket fillers and birthday party favors.

One 64-count box of perfectly shaped crayons soon gives way to several plastic bins full of a jumble of odd colors and sizes that don’t quite go together. Favorites are worn down to nubs, while some never quite feel right and never even touch tip to paper.

This fall I started (again) to organize and rearrange what used to be our playroom and now is more of a game room.

It sounds cooler to teens if you call it that.

One plastic bin full of crayons remains.

Some are worn down, others broken in half and discarded… never to be used. There are multiple brands intermixed, some never used at all.

Like a jumble of things my kids tried. Things that either didn’t fit, felt wrong or left them wanting something more.

I wish that parenting them now was as simple as that brand-new 64-count box of crayons was. That I could once again offer them something that was full of possibilities and open to whatever their heart — and little fingers — could create.

Now? There’s no going back to that original box. I wouldn’t even be able to create a haphazard collection of the original colors from the remnants of childhood remaining in this plastic bin. In some odd way, this box of messed-up crayons has come to symbolize the trials and errors of my parenting. Some things worked beautifully, while others didn’t take.

I just can’t bring myself to throw them out.

You never know when someone might want to color again.

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This piece originally appeared on Moonfrye

 

 

 

A Plea for my Teens

The Medicine Abuse Project- The  Partnership at Drugfree org Logo**************************************

We are one of the lucky families who haven’t had to face addiction with their teens, but I believe that all families need to have an open dialogue about the issues. I wrote this essay as something I would say directly to either one of my teens.

**************************************

I thought we had covered all the bases.

From that first moment I snuggled you in the delivery room, we started teaching you about being safe and feeling loved.

When you cried, we comforted you… and when you smiled, we smiled back. We were absolutely pulled into your orbit and held there waiting breathless for your next move.

As your body grew stronger and you started roaming the halls of our home, we protected you from the obvious dangers: stairs, sharp corners on tables, cleaning solutions under the kitchen sink. Small choking hazards were stowed on high shelves, baby foods introduced in the exact order recommended by the pediatrician.

We immunized, sanitized, baby-proofed, read labels, researched crazy symptoms and rashes. We would keep you safe, no matter what the danger.

As you grew older, new dangers seemed to exist around every corner. We frantically had to switch gears, to add in these new warnings to our lessons about being safe.

Look both ways, hold my hand, don’t talk to strangers, wear your helmet, buckle up, don’t tell people where you live.

More warnings, more dangers.

Your teenage years crept in quickly, until your 13th birthday arrived and keeping you safe was no longer simply buckling your car seat or protecting your head from the sharp corners of the coffee table.

Dangers at this age became bigger, more insidious, more difficult to teach.

Drive safely, don’t DRINK at all, don’t smoke, don’t take any pills that anyone gives you.

NEVER.

You were no longer holding my hand, and I was no longer holding your rapt attention.

Warnings began to sound more frantic, as the potential dangers for teens seem to lurk just outside the front door.

And buried in these discussions of what NOT to do I think we missed a key point.

The underlying threat goes way beyond the immediate dangers.

Addiction.

A few beers with friends or the handful of pills your roommate hands you to “help” you study for finals? You may feel the potential window for danger closes when the sun rises the next day and everything is fine.

But the true danger is addiction. When the small handful of pills doesn’t cut it anymore, and you need MORE.

More pills, more booze, more weed just to get you to that point where your body and mind let go and the drug takes over.

And the scary part is that you won’t see it coming.

Addiction will burn your dreams at the end of that glass pipe. Addiction will take your future and twist it into a never-ending cycle of highs and lows. When addiction pulls you in quietly it promises fun, relaxation, a momentary respite from your worries and obligations. The pills your friends shares seem safe — why would the doctor prescribe them if they aren’t?

But they are NOT safe.

And by the time you understand that addiction is real and horrible and life-altering it will have already wound you up in its tight grasp, ready to fling you out at the world in search of your next high.

Like crossing the street without looking both ways.

Stay safe, my sweet baby. Hold onto your dreams and don’t let addiction derail them.

I’ve done my part… it’s your turn now.

****************************************************************

This post is sponsored by The Partnership at Drugfree.org as part of a blog tour with listentoyourmothershow.com in an effort to #EndMedicineAbuse

I am proud to be a part of this blog tour, which follows a live-streaming event we did on September 10. You can watch the videos here:

Please read about this event on the Listen to Your Mother blog, then visit some of the other amazing and talented writers I am honored to have shared this important event with…

Brandi Jeter from mamaknowsitall.com reading Smoothing Wrinkles
Ellie Schoenberger
from onecraftymother.com reading The Power of Story
Heather King
from extraordinary-ordinary.net reading How Will Our Kids Fill That Need?
Alexandra Rosas
from gooddayregularpeople.com reading End Medicine Abuse
Janelle Hanchett
from renegademothering.com reading I Could Tell You My Story
Judy Miller
from judymiller.com reading Teen Prescription Drug Use and Abuse
Melisa Wells
from suburbanscrawl.com reading LTYM & The Partnership at Drugfree.org Blog Tour
Lyz Lenz
from lyzlenz.com reading Dear Little Boy, You Will Never Be Ruined
Zak Watson
from raisingcolorado.com reading Raising Awareness to End Medicine Abuse
Lisa Page Rosenberg
from smacksy.com reading The Inside World

Help End Medicine Abuse

The Medicine Abuse Project

Addiction.

An ugly word that conjures images of a messy drunk passed out in the alley behind the bar, or possibly a young person so completely caught in the grasp of methamphetamine abuse that she can’t remember a life before.

But there is another side to the horrible face of addiction, and it’s no farther away than your bathroom medicine cabinet.

Medicine abuse is often overlooked, tucked away and ignored… because after all, someone NEEDED these medicines in the first place, right? What you don’t always realize is that the abuse of prescription (Rx) and over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicines is dangerous and deadly.

When we talk to our children and teens about drugs and alcohol, we need to talk to them about medicine abuse as well. But are we really doing enough?

This is where The Partnership at Drugfree.org comes in. I am honored to have been chosen for a special live-streaming event to kick off a blog tour featuring 12 writers each reading a personal essay about substance use/abuse and what we want our children to know.

I hope you will join me on Tuesday night September 10 to help #EndMedicineAbuse with The Partnership at Drugfree.org and LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER.

You can watch the live-streaming event September 10 starting at 9 pm EST at the link below:

http://www.youtube.com/user/LTYMShow/live

Then, on September 12 these writers will share their essays on their own blogs.

We hope you will join us in the fight to #EndMedicineAbuse.

 

Kindergarten Rules

crayonsIt seems these past few weeks that everywhere on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter the kids are heading back to school. Small people, medium-sized middle-schoolers and even a few college kids.

Which means about half of the mommy population is giddy and crowding the local Starbucks; the other half left weeping in the school parking lot.

New backpacks are loaded with supplies, pants that are just a bit too long are rolled up and everyone has freshly trimmed hair.

It’s go time.

And that first day of kindergarten?

Huge.

When you are a new-to-elementary-school parent, you aren’t quite sure what to expect. There is this strange pull somewhere inside you to make sure the teacher knows what an unusually smart and adorable child you are entrusting her with.

Even if you didn’t think you were that kind of parent.

Because deep inside?

We all are.

Trust me.

On my son’s first day of kindergarten all of the proud camera-toting parents were allowed to crowd into the back of the classroom and turn paparazzi as the shiny new kindergartners sat on the ABC rug and introduced themselves one-by-one.

I haven’t seen a prouder group of adults gathered anywhere since.

Cameras flashing, mothers waving, proud dads ignoring the cell phones for just a bit.

Each one of us convinced that our child would be the best-in-show.

After each child had gone to the front of the class, met the teacher, and introduced themselves to everyone they all sat back down on the ABC rug.

And that’s when it happened.

“Turn around and wave good-bye to your parents!” the perky young teacher said to her 20 new captives.

What?

We leave now?

Awkward glances shot around the room as we started to file out. Still waving, of course, but now with pinched lips and a forced smile.

Then the worry set in.

Did I pack the right snack? Will he be able to undo the snap on his jeans when he has to use the big boy potty? Will he find a friend/remember to raise his hand/have fun at recess? Can he open the small milk carton? Reach the soap dispenser? Pump on the swing? Remember that W and X are two different letters, not strung together like they are in the ABC song?

That first day? Tough.

For me, anyway.

My son was just fine.

And as the kindergarten year progressed I started to realize that these things I thought were so very important before starting kindergarten, truly didn’t seem to matter as much as the basics.

Being kind, waiting your turn, sitting still for a bit and listening to the teacher…these were the things that were truly important.

They were just a group of 20 random little kids, all sizes and abilities, thrown together in one room with one common goal.

To get to First Grade.

And they all did it in their own way, whether they wrote their name perfectly on that very first day or struggled with the pencil until late May. Milk cartons were opened with help if they needed it. Teachers helped with stubborn snaps and zippers. Colors and shapes and alphabet letters all learned by the end. Tears were shed, smiles were shared and 20 little people managed their way through it all to the end.

This initial group of 20 kindergartners have all graduated from high school now, and are finding their way in a world we all spent 18 years preparing them for. Some made it with extra help along the way; others needed extra challenges. But they are all reading, writing and can recite their colors if asked.

And most of them can snap their pants and tie their shoes.

Proud parents with cameras will once again crowd around taking pictures in dorm rooms and forcing a smile when it’s time to leave.

And the kids? They’ll be doing a happy dance, because they’ve made it all this way.

Lessons learned on the playground and in the classroom all the way back to kindergarten helping them along the way.

Be kind. Wait your turn. Sit still for a bit. Listen to the teacher.

They’ll all do fine.

But we’re the ones that have to adjust sometimes.

 

This piece originally ran on Things I Can’t Say, where the talented and super-sweet Shell shares her stories.

50 Stages of Motherhood

There is a progression of motherhood…a timeline we all follow. Some of us go through kicking and screaming, while others cheer louder with each smidge of progress towards the finish line.

Our children inch closer to adulthood, while we apparently inch closer to the floor.

I have lost 3/4 of an inch in height since my son left for college.

And with each new stage, each startling new trick or terrifying new skill we adjust our mothering to suit it.

  • He climbs trees? We add the Urgent Care Center to our speed dial.
  • Projectile vomiting? Nothing a Swiffer, rubber gloves and a few paper towels can’t handle.
  • He wants to dress himself? We buy all red, white and blue clothing so that he will always look patriotic even when he isn’t quite matching.
  • He wants to get his Driver’s License? We increase our blood pressure meds and buy a set of rosary beads.
  • He wants to live off-campus? We write rent checks and hope he has a decent meal now and then.

I have been through so many stages of motherhood with my college kid, I have lost count. There are days when I can barely remember those first few stages, the why-isn’t-he-sleeping-through-the-night stage or the just-stop-teething-already stage.

Some were particularly ugly.

But woven together, stacked one on top of the other year after year these stages make up the mother I am today. It’s too late to change any of the things we went through. No do-overs, no returns, no refunds and no time machine travel.

Would I have done anything differently? I’m not sure I even know that answer.

I am faced with the dilemma that I am not done mothering, not quite yet.

But there are days when I want to be done.

See, the problem with mothering is that you are never really finished. It’s not that I didn’t know this… I just didn’t understand.

Grown-up kids need parents too.

And in time, years from now, in those last stages of motherhood, I will need my kids more than they will need me.

They will finally be living their own lives as adults, possibly raising families of their own. And I will be able to relax and know that I did the very best job I could have done. I passed the final exam, graduated. Finished the last stage.

But I am pretty sure I will still find a way to keep on worrying.

 

This post originally ran on Moonfrye

May Memories

jasmine flowerThey say that a scent has the ability to trigger a memory, to take you back to a time in the past, no matter how distant. A friend claims the mere scent of a pot of tomato sauce simmering on the stove reminds her of her Italian grandmother’s house. The logical part of my brain argues that this is silly, that these people are making these connections, but the scent couldn’t possibly be contributing.

I didn’t believe them until I smelled the jasmine.

I was at that point in pregnancy when the doctor wanted to see me every week. Same time, same day… just checking, weighing, measuring and waiting. I was already on maternity leave, spending my time lunching with friends and getting everything ready for my first baby.

The walkway from the parking lot to my doctor’s office was planted heavily with jasmine, and the soft, sweet scent became a favorite.

And that time in my life was magical. I had no idea what motherhood would bring, what challenges we would face or how incredible the joy would be. I didn’t even know if the baby I was carrying was a boy or a girl.

I just knew everything would be OK. I had this serene, calm feeling each time I walked past the jasmine, my hand resting on my stomach out of habit. Baby kicks, reminding me that he was there.

And that everything would be OK.

And now each May, when the calendar has barely folded over from April, I catch slight whiffs of it as I walk through shopping areas or past a neighbor’s house. I immediately think of my son — of the happy, freckle-faced boy who has morphed into a tall young man with a scruffy face and a morning coffee habit.

And I have realized that nineteen years later, I still have no idea what motherhood will bring in the future, much like when I wandered each week into the doctor’s office, past the jasmine. One of the cruelest facts about motherhood is that you are never truly done with the mothering, no matter how well you handled the terrible-twos or potty-training. Your services are always needed, and usually in a way you hadn’t anticipated.

Yesterday I caught it as I walked out of the store, rushing between errands and eager to get back home.

The scent of jasmine.

No baby kicks this time.

But I think everything will be OK.

On My Watch

The flag was the first thing I noticed. Half-staff and limp on this windless morning.

Mourning as we all were, refusing to wave or stand tall.

Driving into the staff parking lot, this familiar drive I have done countless times, my heart was in my throat.

The kids were pouring into school, running to catch their friends or sneak some playground time before the 8:30 bell. Moms and dads walked along behind them, the familiar march I see most weekdays. A bit more somber than usual, I sensed.

This school is home to me. I started here as a rookie kindergarten parent back in 1999, when my son was 5 years old and school seemed the safest place next to my arms.

Years passed, and both of my kids moved up the ranks from the kindergarten crowd to the upper grades.

I snagged an amazing job working with at-risk kids in small groups, teaching social skills and being someone they could count on to talk about their worries or help them deal with rough times at home.

I love these little ones. So fragile, so trusting and so amazingly resilient.

How will I face them today, when that same fragility that endears them to me now makes them seem so very vulnerable?

As I walk the campus after the bell, I feel like I’m on my watch. Every little thing that seems off is questioned. Doors are locked, gates secured and parents gathered in whispering groups, their eyes full of fear. One of them stops me for a tearful hug, thanking me for what we do.

It reminds me of September 11, when the nation’s eyes were glued to the television and our whole world changed. Our feeling of safety stripped from us as if we were no longer entitled to it. I still sent my kids to school that morning. Many did not, but I felt the intense need to move forward, to make it right.

To make my children believe that there is good and fairness and safety in our world.

How do we do that now?

I pick up my first little group — three adorable, full-of-life little kindergarten girls — and we laugh, we sing, we compare shoes and we learn about taking turns.

They are blissfully unaware that their parents had to make a choice this day. A choice to send them to school and to let them live without fear or worry. To trust that the adults in charge are doing everything they can to keep them safe. A choice to keep their lives normal during all of this chaos.

And the choice to just let kids be kids.

And on my watch, that is just what they will be.