How to make a 14 year old girl very, very happy

(Well, at least MY 14 year old girl. I can’t vouch for yours.)

1. Encourage her to begin living out her “I want to be a fashion designer when I grow up” dream a little early by designing her own junior high grad dress.

2. Offer to sew it with her.

3. Don’t change your mind, even when she shows you a sketch of a dress with about a thousand individual petals on the skirt.

4. Encourage her to make bigger petals that will have less chance of leaving your hands irreversibly crippled and your shoulders permanently hunched.

5. Take her shopping for fabric and STILL don’t change your mind even when she picks satin (every sewer’s worst nightmare).

6. Spend endless hours cutting, stitching, ironing, cutting, stitching, ironing… about a hundred petals.

7. Take her shopping again for the accent around the waist and STILL don’t change your mind even when she chooses glitter that you have to stitch in place.

 8. Spend a few more endless hours stitching, seam-ripping, cursing, stitching, seam-ripping, cursing the blasted zipper that just won’t go in properly, especially by the sequined waistband.

9. Rue the day you thought an invisible zipper was a wise choice.

10. Finally emerge victorious having conquered the myriad of enemies that took the seemingly innocuous shapes of pink satin, flower petals, silver sequins, “boning” (to keep the top rigid), and an invisible zipper.

11. Dance around the living room with her when she puts it on and both she and the dress look stunning!

12. Take her shopping again and let her pick her shoes.

13. Cringe a little, but smile and pay the bill when she picks the most impossibly high-heeled shoes this side of Sex and the City. Brace yourself (and her) for her father’s less-than-pleased reaction. Justify the purchase by saying “at least it’s only shoes she’s obsessed with and not drugs!”

14. Buy her some fancy jewellery as a surprise, just because you can’t resist helping her complete the picture. (And admit to yourself that this has been more fun for you than you expected.)

15. Keep your promise not to share any photos of The Dress online until after she’s had the Big Reveal to her friends at grad, even though you’re bursting with pride and desperately want to show off all over Twitter, Facebook, and maybe even some random street corner.

16. Consider googling “fashion design competitions for teenagers” because you’re convinced your daughter would SMOKE the competition.

17. Beam with pride all evening at the grad dinner and then the next morning at the school ceremony as you watch her postively glowing when her friends, teachers, friends’ parents, and maybe a few random people on the street ooh and aah over her dress.

It brings out the Mama Bear in me

When we birth our children, we also birth a protective instinct that bubbles up in us and can nearly consume us in those dark times when our children may be in danger. It’s the Mama (or Papa) Bear gene. Mostly it lays dormant until the tiny seed of a child begins to grow in us.

I remember a time early in my pregnancy with my first daughter. I was about to dart across the street, dodging traffic, when I stopped myself short. I couldn’t budge. The Mama Bear instinct forced me to stand on the sidewalk waiting for a more safe opportunity. It caught me by surprise to realize that I couldn’t do it quite as carelessly as I once did. Suddenly I was responsible for someone other than myself and that felt serious.

As the children get older, it becomes more and more clear that we cannot protect them from everything. They will get hurt, they will fall down and skin their knees, they will be betrayed, they’ll have their hearts broken – and all we can do is offer them a safe place to land. It tears your heart out when you watch it happen.  Sometimes, in fact, it feels like the pain is deeper than if you were the one getting hurt or betrayed.

This week, we found out that the soccer coach that was supposed to be coaching our daughter’s team was arrested for child molestation and child porn. He allegedly took advantage of one of the girls on the soccer team – quite possibly someone we know. We are all heart sick about this.

At the beginning of the season, when we went to the meeting to be introduced to the coaches and team members, this particular coach took the parents aside and said “if you’re ever in a pinch and need someone to give your daughter a ride to a game or practice, give me a call and I’d be happy to help out. Especially if you’re a single parent and you just can’t juggle everyone’s schedule – I know what it’s like to go through a divorce. I’m there for you and your daughters.” At the time I remember thinking “he’s either a really nice guy or he’s a little creepy – I’m not really sure which.”

It’s sickening now to think that he was setting us up to trust him with our daughters. He seemed sincere at the time and though I found his offer a little odd, there was nothing that screamed “child molester” about him. (He left the team shortly after that meeting, so that was the only time I encountered him.)

Every day we have to make decisions and help our children make decisions – is this person trustworthy? Is this activity safe? Mostly, I tend to lean toward trust rather than fear. I don’t think it does anyone any good to be forever living in fear of everyone we meet. But there are those times when trust is the wrong choice, and for that girl, who was (allegedly – I have to remember “innocent until proven guilty”) molested when her dad had to leave the soccer field early and she’d gotten rides home from the coach, trust may never feel like an option again.

And even for my daughters, who are very aware of what’s going on, trusting adults in positions of authority has become less of an automatic assumption.

Oh, sometimes I wish the world were a simpler place.

Stories of the generations

I’d forgotten about this photo until I unearthed it the other day. I am absolutely IN LOVE with it in a way that I don’t remember being when I first saw it. There were other photos from that day (like the one in my banner) that grabbed me more at the time. (Video here.)

It tells such a great story of the generations of women I’m embedded between. My mother, my daughter (Julie) and me.

I had just jumped out of a plane. Look how incredibly joyous I am! What a moment of pure, intoxicating adrenalin! I finally knew what the sky tasted like!

When I landed, my mom and Julie were the only people to come running across the field to greet me. (My husband followed later with the camera.)

Mom, carrying my chute, supporting me, content to pick up the rear. Proud of me. And not one bit afraid to watch her daughter do something as crazy as jump out of a perfectly good plane. In her heart I know she was a little bit (maybe even a LOT) envious. If there’s one thing I inherited from my mom it is my “adventure junkie” tendencies.

Julie, wearing my helmet, leading me forward, grinning with pride, and also… a whole LOT jealous of me. Of my three daughters, she’s the one voted “most likely to follow her mom’s footsteps and go skydiving some day”. She developed a new dream that day – work at the skydiving place so she could skydive as often as possible. If there’s one thing she inherited from HER mom it is her “adventure junkie” tendencies. (If you watch the video, you’ll hear her eager voice wanting to come rushing to me before the plane landed.)

It just makes me smile to see the story of women as it passes from generation to generation – through my mother to me, and through me to my daughter.

What about you? Why don’t you play along? Show me a picture that tells a story of your generations. Or write about it in the comments.

This is what fourteen looks like…

The naysayers won’t hesitate to tell you how tough life can be with a teenager (or two) in the house, how they talk back and have little doubt that they’re smarter than you, how their attitudes quickly outgrow your ability to be patient, how they turn dark and moody over the slightest provocation, how they would rather hang with their friends than families… BUT… they never seem to tell you how much fun it can be to have them around.

She turned 14 today, and I am still head-over-heels in love. She makes me laugh almost every day. She’s got a sense of style that puts Tyra Banks to shame. When she’s feeling confident (which she often is these days), she glows with beauty and self-awareness. She is fiercely loyal to her friends, but she still likes to hang out with her mom. She’s got a mind for history and she’ll spout off random historical facts about people as diverse as Marilyn Munroe or Ghandi. She’s become almost obsessed with keeping the house clean and picks up after her younger sisters more often than I do (how lucky am I!). She hates handing in anything late, so she’s never had to be told to do her homework. Seriously – not once! She’s never met a mirror she doesn’t like. She loves to run and there are few things more beautiful than watching her do it. She is fiercely competitive in sports and will stare an opponent down even if they’re much bigger than her. She’s got amazing focus when something is important to her and more self-discipline than I will ever have. Despite how hard it’s been, she’s shown remarkable grace and resilience this year while she’s had to wait for her knee to heel before she can return to her beloved soccer. She’s the cooperative kid in the class that every teacher likes and we’ve never had to sit through uncomfortable parent-teacher meetings with her. She makes me marvel every single day that I am lucky enough to be her mom.

Hard to believe that fourteen years ago, she made me a mom. Happy birthday, my beautiful Nicole.

There are so many reasons why I don’t call myself a “mommy blogger”

About ten years ago, when I was the exhausted and overwhelmed (oh – I could add a LONG list of descriptors to that) mother of two very different toddlers (who knew kids would come with different personalities?), I remember asking a mother in my acquaintance, who had teenagers at the time, if she would consider being a motherhood mentor of sorts, or starting a support group for young moms like me to whom parenting felt like traveling in a foreign country without a guide. She looked at me with a terrified look in her eyes and said something like “that would suggest that I actually think I know what the heck I’m doing! Oh no – I don’t feel capable of doing that AT ALL!”

I didn’t understand what that was about until years later when I’d been a parent for almost as long as she had. Oh my gosh! She’s right! It doesn’t get much clearer, does it? Here I am, with nearly 14 years of experience at this, and I still mostly feel like I’m floundering in a dark cave without a flashlight!

So… when Darrah asked me some interview questions about parenting (because she’s newly married and dreams of filling her home with the sounds of children some day), I had a similar reaction to the one I received.  What the heck? You actually think I have a CLUE what it takes to be a good parent? Gulp.

It took me a long time to answer these questions, but here I go… trying to hold out a tiny dim flashlight for other mothers coming after me…

1. How has being a parent changed you?
Hmmm… well, for starters, it whalloped me with a great big dose of self-doubt. Seriously. I was a fairly self-confident person up until then, but suddenly I felt like I didn’t have a CLUE what I was doing and mostly I assumed I was probably doing it wrong. I’ve chilled out a lot since then (because, surprisingly, my kids aren’t turning out half bad!), but I still feel lost a lot of the time.  What if I don’t make them eat everything on their plates – will they die of scurvy? What if I DO make them eat it all – will they develop eating disorders? What if I don’t make them go to bed before 10:00 – will they fail at school? Oh my gosh… the worry and fear and… well, you get the picture.

But there are also all those other things they tell you in the parenting books… Like the fact that you suddenly find yourself lost in a love so deep it feels like there’s no bottom. Like the instantaneous realization that you are no different from a mother bear and you have little doubt that you could kill someone who threatens your child. Like the fact that the world feels bigger than you could ever have imagined it feeling. And then there are the moments when you’re sitting around a campfire laughing with your partner and children and suddenly find yourself thinking “could there be any greater joy than this?”

And the funny thing is, as much as parenting contributed to my self-doubt, in a strange way it also made me a more confident person. It’s hard to explain how it feels to have little people in your life who need you and believe in you in a deeper way than anyone ever has.

2. What have you learned from your children?
Oh my – it’s hard to imagine all the things I’ve learned from them. For one thing, I became a leader shortly after becoming a parent, and I realized that I was a better leader because I’d learned some of my skills through parenting. For another thing, I learned just how different people can be. Each of my daughters is so unique that I’ve had to learn to relate to each of them (and discipline them) in very different ways.  Interestingly enough, I started to learn things about my own personality and my husband’s when I started to see things that showed up in my kids. For example, I read a book about “raising your spirited child” (because I desperately needed it for my first, and then could have thrown it out when it came to my second) and there was something in there about “negative first response” that the oldest was doing that I also suddenly recognized in my dear husband. I was almost always ready to rush into new things, and here I was living with two people who made me stop and evaluate things first. It changed the way I approached things – made me slow down and learn to wait. AND I also came to realize that a tendency toward overstimulation was probably something that was inherited from me. I hadn’t recognized it before I saw it in my daughter.

3. What do you wish you had known before you had kids, but learned the hard way?
That when you are a parent, you will have to answer approximately TEN MILLION questions a day and you will have to make approximately TWELVE MILLION decisions. The moment you walk in the door, expect to hear some age-appropriate version of the following: “Can I invite Jessica over for a play date? Do you know where my new mitts are? Can you buy me a pair of mitts, ’cause I can’t find mine. Can we have chocolate ice cream for dessert? What time can Jessica come over? MOM – you PROMISED me you’d buy me some new pants, and NOW I have to wear the ones with the holes in them! Can I stay up late tonight, because there’s a show I really want to watch. When are you going to help me with my school project? If we can’t have chocolate ice cream, will you take me to the store for a Slurpee?” This can go on all night.

And your personal space – you know that space you used to guard so preciously, especially when you were tired or overstimulated?  Yeah, give it up, ’cause it will be invaded about as many times as you have to make a decision.  OH. MY. GOSH! I was not prepared for this.  The constant demands for answers and touch and decisions! Some days, I’ve threatened to put up a sign that says “Mommy is on strike until further notice. No more decisions will be made today. Don’t even THINK about asking me if you can have another cookie!”

4. How do you juggle a career and THREE kids? It sounds super-human to me.
Oh yeah, I’m super-human, alright! Ha! Darrah, you’re a peach for saying so, but I am SO not super-human and most days I feel like I’m not doing any good at either motherhood OR the career-thing.  And housework? THAT went out the window YEARS ago! You should see my laundry room or my refrigerator! You would very quickly retract that “super-human” comment!

The truth is, I couldn’t do this without a great co-parent. Marcel and I really are partners in this, and often (especially when I’m traveling) he ends up carrying a lot of the load. It helps when you have a partner who balances off your weaknesses. For example, if it were only up to me, the kids would miss half of their soccer practices, music lessons, etc., because he’s much more aware of what’s on the family calendar and who has to be where at what time than I am.

Just for fun, here are a few of the things I’ve learned (and keep learning) that have helped me cope…
a.) You’ve gotta pick your battles. If you’re exhausted and it just makes your life easier to say yes to that extra cookie, DO IT. The world will not come to an end. And your children will not become hardened criminals.
b.) Don’t sweat the small stuff AND don’t blame yourself for everything that goes wrong. If they happen to wear their clothes to bed instead of pajamas (because they can’t find them or because they’re too lazy) – it really doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent. At least they’re sleeping at YOUR house and not a juvenile detention centre.
c.) Sometimes you’ve got to change your definition
of success. If your kids are interesting, decent citizens who have respect for the adults in their lives and they have moments of genuine kindness now and then, does it REALLY matter if their bedrooms resemble pig-pens?
d.) That super-mom crap that the media shoves down your throat? Give it up, ’cause it will only lead to failure and stress. If you don’t have time for home-baked goodies for the class party, the kids will be equally happy (maybe even more so) with Oreo cookies.
e.) Your kids will be better off in the long run if (within reason, of course) you don’t set aside everything you hold dear in order to cater to their every need. Do at least some of the things that give you joy, and learn to ignore the whining (which is mostly manipulation on their part) when they act like they should be getting ALL of your attention. As much as I sometimes feel guilty about it, I don’t think my kids have suffered from me doing the traveling I do. I think they’ve learned to be more self-sufficient and they’ve learned that it’s okay to follow your dream/calling.
f.) Be there for the tough emotional stuff they have to deal with, but don’t do everything for them. There’s no reason they can’t learn to pack their own lunches by the third grade or work through some of their sibling rivalry without you trying to keep the peace. Sometimes there’s a tendency to get overly involved in every little minutiae of your child’s life – avoid it. In the long run, everyone’s better off if you do.

Sorry, Darrah, if I’ve scared you out of child-rearing. 🙂 It definitely comes with its challenges, but in the end, I wouldn’t change it for the world. I could never have imagined just how much fun it can be to hang out with your own children. (Of course, I couldn’t have imagined how much emotional stress it will cause you either, but this was supposed to end on a positive note! 🙂

The War of Art – words of wisdom from Steven Pressfield

“Remember our rule of thumb: The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.” – Steven Pressfield, The War of Art
It’s a pretty good sign that you’ve got a great book in your hands when you can’t stand reading it without a pen close by.  The War of Art is one of those books. It’s a quick read with lots of wisdom packed into its pages.
Steven Pressfield has been reaching out to bloggers, and I got a chance to lob a few questions his way…

1. I’ve only read part of the book so far, but in the part I’ve read, you approach the idea of “life’s work” and “resistance” from the perspective of someone who knows his life’s work is to write. What about those people who have a lot of creative talents and they’re not sure what to focus on for their life’s work? What suggestions do you have for them?

Remember that old Lovin’ Spoonful song, Heather?

Did you ever have to make up your mind?
To say yes to one and leave the other behind?
It’s not often easy, not often kind.
Did you ever have to make up your mind?
It’s really hard when one is multi-talented and pulled in multiple directions.  It was easier for me because I can’t do much of anything except write.  What I would say is this:

If we find that we’re pulled in multiple creative directions–start a business, write a screenplay, move to India and work for the Mother Teresa Foundation–the key question to ask ourselves is, “Which one am I most afraid of?”  Put another way: “Which one elicits the most powerful Resistance?”

I say in The War of Art that Resistance can help us in a weird way in that it can tell us what we have to do.  If Resistance is our enemy (and it is) and if it wants us NOT to tackle Project X, then… 

2. What advice do you have for parents trying to foster creativity in their children? Can we do things to help them grow into adults who give in to resistance less? 

That’s a great question.  I’m not a parent so I can only answer theoretically.  One thing I heard once that made a lot of sense to me was on a disk called “An Interview with the Coach,” which was an interview of Dan Sullivan of Strategic Coach by Joe Polish of the Genius Network Interview series.  It’s worth tracking down, this disk, by logging onto “Strategic Coach” or “Genius Network.”

What Dan Sullivan was saying was that our schools don’t teach the entrepreneurial mind-set.  And they should.  Instead our schools regiment our children.  They prepare them to be cogs in a machine, to work for organizations, etc.  Nobody teaches us the skills of self-motivation, self-discipline, self-validation that are necessary to succeed as an artist or an entrepreneur or anybody who follows his or her own heart and who values the work for its own sake and for the joy it brings us, rather than just chasing a paycheck.

I think a parent should identify in her own mind the virtues that she’d like to teach her children and then teach them just like she would anything else–i.e., reward them when they appear spontaneously, reinforce them in all ways, talk equal-to-equal to the child about the reasons why these qualities are virtues and why they’ll pay off.  And be alert to counter-conditioning, to nip it in the bud or to amplify it in the proper way.  For instance, if your kid is on the football team and the coach is hammering him to work hard, be tough, fight till the bitter end (all good things, in my opinion), amplify this by highlighting for your child the difference between externally-enforced motivation (what the coach is doing) and internally-enforced motivation (what the child will need when he goes out on his own.)
What virtues and what skills am I talking about?  They’re the virtues of self-reliance (see the famous essay by Emerson): patience, kindness to oneself, self-motivation, self-discipline, self-validation, generosity toward others, ability to endure hardship, delayed gratification, the talent of listening to one’s own heart and trusting one’s own intuition. 
3. Do you think the proliferation of blogs and social media networks is fostering more creativity in our culture or less? (ie. Do you think this is offering more writers and artists the opportunity to try out their craft or is it just giving us more opportunity for resistance?) 
Great question, Heather!  To me, the qualities of mind that produce really good work (and also, in my opinion, produce happiness) are focus, concentration, the ability to go deep, and perseverance over time.  Things like Facebook and Twitter promote the exact opposites–shallowness, distractability, short attention spans, etc.
That being said, the one person in ten thousand who starts a blog and really goes deep with it may take the skills that she develops from this pursuit and use them at the next level–starting a business or non-profit, writing a novel, getting a Ph.D.

Note: I’ve got an extra copy of The War of Art, so if you’re interested in it, leave a comment by Monday, Nov. 30 and I’ll pick a winner.

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