What to tell your daughter on graduation night

Graduation is looming. Again. My daughter, the baby of the family, will be graduating college. It sounds so cliche, but I honestly don’t know how four years could go by so quickly. I wrote this during her celebration of graduating from high school. I still believe in the message from four years ago. 
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Today my little girl graduates high school. What a joy she has been to raise, teach and hang out with. I remember her kindergarten interview where she had to be tested for one of the coveted spots at St. Theresa’s. She had fun buns on her head and ankle high “Britney Boots,” marketed for little girls dreaming of becoming Britney Spears. She boldly entered the kindergarten class and announced to the world that she was “Robert’s little sister.”

IMG_4888Today, I have a tall, wise-cracking young lady with a big smile and sparkle in her eye. If I could tell my daughter three things she needs to know for her next adventure called college, what would it be? 

katpromharryFirst…

“To thine own self be true.” Don’t worry about what other people think. Do what you know is right. This famous quote is from Polonius to his son Laertes, before Laertes boards a boat to Paris in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Even though it’s pretty old, it still resonates today.

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Happiness is not having a boyfriend or being thin. My mom would tell me the worst things when I was my daughter’s age — mainly focused on the need to “have a man” — or that “a man would make me happy.” This must be a throwback to my mother’s generation, where a woman’s identity and self-worth were wrapped up in a spouse. Instead, I will tell my daughter that happiness is found within yourself — by doing something that you love. Once you find happiness in yourself, only then can you share it with others.

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Don’t worry about what your career or major will be. You will figure it out. Don’t feel pressure about it. Most people going into college that have a major, change their minds anyway. Get your basic requirements out of the way and then after taking different classes you will discover what you don’t like and what you do like.katandrobert

 

And most importantly, not even on the list — I love you.

 

Utah Swimming and Dive  Kat WickhamWhat three things would you tell your daughter on graduation night?

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Another good dog saves the day

 

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The kids celebrating a birthday with our good dog Natasha.

 

I read a heartwarming story Sunday morning about a missing three-year-old girl who wandered away from home–and yes, it has a happy ending. The location was Australia and when you think of how many missing children stories end badly, this was a relief—thanks to a loyal old blue heeler named Max.

In “Loyal blue heeler stays with three-year-old lost in bush overnight” by Gail Burke and Matt Eaton, they describe how the little girl Aurora wandered away, spent the night in the cold and rain in treacherous terrain, but had Max by her side:

“An old blue heeler named Max remained by the side of a three-year-old girl and led searchers to her after she spent more than 15 hours lost in rugged bushland on Queensland’s Southern Downs overnight.

Aurora was reported missing about 3:00pm on Friday after she wandered off on her own, but a search of woodlands and hills on the rural property in wet weather on Friday night found no trace of her.

On Saturday morning, more than 100 State Emergency Service (SES) volunteers, police and members of the public resumed the search and found the girl safe and well with Max the dog at 8:00am.

For his good work in keeping the little girl safe, Max has now been declared an honorary police dog.

Kelly Benston, the partner of Leisa Bennett, who is Aurora’s grandmother, said Ms Bennett and other searchers heard the little girl faintly from the top of a mountain on Saturday morning.

“She found the dog first. Max led her to Aurora,” Mr Benston said.

“Max is 17 years old, deaf and partially blind.”

SES area controller Ian Phipps confirmed a family member spotted Aurora and Max about two kilometres from the house, still on the family property at Cherry Gulley, 30 kilometres south of Warwick.

“The area around the house is quite mountainous and is very inhospitable terrain to go walking in, so she’d travelled quite a distance with her dog that was quite loyal to her,” he said.

Screen Shot 2018-04-22 at 11.16.36 AMI didn’t know what a blue heeler was, so I looked it up and found a description on Dogster.com:

“Blue Heeler History
Mixing native Dingoes with Collies and other herding dogs, Australian George Elliott developed the Blue Heeler in 1840. Australian cattlemen and ranchers loved the breed’s toughness and work ethic, and the dogs quickly became popular as cattle herders. They are also called Australian Heelers, Queensland Heelers and Australian Cattle Dogs.”

I enjoy a good dog story. Dogs are amazing. I told my husband about Max and Aurora and he said, “See I told you we didn’t need to worry about Robert when he was with Natasha!” Natasha was our first dog, a Rottie.

It was May 1996, when our three-year-old son wandered away from home. I had taken “the baby”—which was what I called our four-month-old daughter–with me to help set up a database and create a roster for a charity I was involved with. Of course, one hour turned into several, and when I returned home, well something was wrong. My husband was supposed to be in charge of our son.

First, our garage door was wide open as was the archway gate to our backyard. The kitchen door was open, the French doors to the backyard were open, too.

I had “the baby” in an over-the-shoulder-baby-holder as I walked into the house wondering what was going on. My husband was in his chair, remote control in hand. I asked, “Where’s Robert?” I went from the living room to his bedroom. No Robert. Into the baby’s room, guest room, our bedroom. A sense of panic was rising from deep down in my stomach to my throat. Pretty soon I think I was screaming for him.

I spotted a pile of his clothes by the pool—by the open gate to the pool. With dread, I searched the bottom of the pool with my eyes. With relief, there was nothing but few small wet footprints on the patio next to his clothes.

We ran out into the street yelling and calling for our son. My husband found him across the street and empty lot on Indian Canyon, walking the dog, stark naked.

My husband said at the time, and reminded me today, “You see, he was safe because he had a Rottweiler with him. Nobody was going to touch him.”

“I just sat down for a minute,” is the other thing my husband said. Right. Just long enough for our son to open up doors, gates, get undressed and go for a swim and walk the dog a block away—naked!

At least we had a good ending to another child wandering away from home story–thanks to a good dog.

 

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My kids with Natasha. She was a good dog.

Have your kids ever wandered away? Do you have any good dog stories to share?

 

 

Too much stuff and too much help makes adulting tough for our kids

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Back when I was young with my big brother.

 

I found an interesting article on a website called Moneyish, which by the way is filled with interesting articles by a group of writers who happen to be women with backgrounds writing for the Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones Media Group and other major publications like the New York Daily News and Seventeen magazine. The article I read today was called, “Overindulging kids makes their adulthoods harder, research shows” by Erica Pearson. She interviewed an overindulgence expert, Jean Illsley Clarke, age 93, who grew up as a “Post World War II Depression Kid” and had a very different childhood than kids today.

Here’s are a few excerpts and I think it’s worth reading the whole article here:

Overindulgence expert Jean Illsley Clarke tells Moneyish how teaching kids to fend for themselves makes them successful adults.

Too much stuff, too much help, too little structure — it’s a trap that leads well-intentioned parents into making life as a grownup hard for their kids.

Jean Illsley Clarke, the country’s foremost expert on childhood overindulgence — and its pitfalls — has a fresh, vested interest in helping millennial parents rein things in as they start families of their own: a brand new great-grandson, the first great-grandbaby in her family.

“I haven’t intruded anything yet. But I will!” she admitted, sitting down to talk to Moneyish in her mid-century modern Minnesota home a few weeks before her 93rd birthday.

Millennials, known for their overscheduled childhoods overseen by helicopter parents, may be the most overindulged generation yet — but there’s still hope that they won’t repeat their parents’ mistakes, Clarke believes.

“When people finally get it, how damaging this is, they’ll take action,” she said.

Her research shows that being overindulged as a kid has been linked to an inability to delay gratification, a lack of gratitude and self-control, and an increase in materialistic values as an adult. “Too many things results in lack of respect for things and people. Doing things for our children that they should be doing themselves results in helplessness and lack of competence. Lack of structure results in irresponsibility,” she said. “What we found in our big study was that nobody said ‘thank you’ to their parents, but the word ‘resent’ came up often.”

Clarke still thinks about a woman who told her that she didn’t do chores as a child and had never done laundry when she got to college. “She went to her roommates and said, ‘Which is the washer, and which is the dryer’? And they ridiculed her. And she made a very unfortunate decision. She decided she would never ask for help again. So her college years were not happy ones,” she said.

A self-described “World War II, Depression kid,” Clarke felt that she didn’t know much about overindulgence, just that it hadn’t been her own experience. She couldn’t find any research studies that adequately tackled the subject, so teamed up with fellow parenting expert Connie Dawson and David Bredehoft, a now-retired Concordia University professor, to study it on their own.

Eventually, parents started coming up to her during workshops to ask, “I want to know if I’m doing it.”

Through their research, Clarke and her collaborators discovered that overindulgence of some sort was happening at all income levels, and that it has serious consequences — serious enough that she grew to consider it a form of neglect.

They also found that “spoiling” is about much more than just stuff — while too many clothes or toys isn’t a good thing, it isn’t as damaging as doing too many things for kids that they should be doing for themselves.

 

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My mom and dad grew up with one of these to wring out clothes.

 

I think about the childhood my parents had compared to mine, and then again versus our kids’ generation. My parents began life before every household had a washing machine and dryer, or refrigerators. Mom told me about the ice man who delivered ice for the “icebox.” Clothing was washed on a washing board, and then there was some strange contraption that you’d run through the clothes to wring them out before they were hung out on the lines to dry. Mind you, these aren’t my memories, but my mother’s. Because nothing was automated like it is today, their lives as kids involved a whole lot more work around the house.

I do remember we would hang the wash out in the backyard, too. We had a pole in a cement circle that had arms extending with lines going around in a circle like a big spider web. I remember the wooden clothes pins I’d play with while my mom spun the clothesline around to hang up our laundry. We did have a washer and dryer, but she preferred to hang clothes outside in the spring and summer. 

 

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This is what the clothesline looked like in our backyard.

In comparison to my kids’ generation, I had less homework than they did in middle school and high school. Also, I had a ton of chores, which my kids didn’t have.  My mom was a firm believer that busy kids stayed out of trouble. But if the chores were done, most of my time away from school was unstructured. I had a lot of hours to read, sit outside and watch the clouds pass by. My childhood was very different than my kids, who grew up on a competitive swim team with practices six days a week, and hours and hours of homework each night. I didn’t burden them with chores and perhaps I should have.

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At the time, I thought my kids were too busy with swimming and homework to have many chores.

What do you think of the advice from “overindulgence expert” Jean Illsley Clarke? Is doing too much for our kids just as bad as giving them too much?

With Our Kids’ Activities, When Is Enough, Enough?

 

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My young swimmers.

 

One of the many struggles of raising kids has to do with their extracurricular activities. What should we sign them up for and how much should they do?

The first thing we signed our kids up for was swimming. In fact, we started with a “mommy and me” class at our city pool when they were six months old. From there we went on to private swim lessons. The reason for our focus on the pool was water safety. We live in an area where most homes and all apartments and condos have pools, including our home. Young children die every year where we live and I was doing all I could to make sure my kids would not be included in those numbers.

While at the pool, we noticed older kids swimming laps with the Piranha Swim Team. We were impressed with their technique and the exciting energy of the team when they were on deck. We asked our children’s instructor if she thought our kids could ever make the team. When our son was six or seven years old, our instructor said he was ready. By that time we were taking him to piano lessons once a week, Boy Scouts, Karate, Tennis and had already dropped Tee Ball. Doesn’t that sound like a ridiculous amount of activities for one wee kid?

I remember racing from school to one activity followed by another. Realizing I forgot something, I erratically made a U-turn and hit a curb. I was shaking as I called Triple A to change my flat tire. Something had to change. This was not a healthy way to live.

We let go of Boy Scouts and Karate. We stuck with piano lessons and swimming. My son continued with tennis for a few years and in middle school tried basketball at his school, plus school plays.

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My daughter in royal blue.

 

I enrolled my daughter in ballet because that was my passion. Piano too, because it is supposed to do so much for mathematics and the brain. She wanted to swim, not be a ballerina. And she hated piano with a passion. She throws it out from time to time, how I forced her to take piano years beyond what was reasonable. It took both her ballet and piano teacher to suggest that enough was enough!

I wrote a story this week for SwimSwam.com with five tips for when your child wants to miss practice. There are so many things I’ve learned through the years. I wish I could go back and let my son know that he didn’t have to go to swim meets or practice and his love of music was just as important. I’d ask him if he wanted to quit, but he’d always say, “No, I love swimming.” He did, but he had interests that he was more passionate about and he didn’t want to disappoint us, because we’d invested so much of our family time around the pool and team. He wanted to be in Junior Statesmen of America. Plus, he started a band was writing music and performing around the area. We tried to make room for everything, but it was a struggle. Also, if I could get a redo, I’d have let my daughter quit piano early on. Why go through daily battles of practice and dragging your kids to an activity they don’t enjoy?

My advice looking back is to expose them to a number of activities and let them find their passion. Then support them wholeheartedly in whatever they choose. Also, don’t overschedule them. Allow them downtime to dream, reflect, play and be kids.

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A duet at the annual piano recital.

 

What advice do you have when choosing activities for your kids?

 

Is it okay to choose our kids’ journey?

 

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Back when I thought I had some “say so.”

“We must let our children choose their own journey,” says writer Susan Steen in the Murfreesboro Post, Rutherford County’s Local Newspaper. (I looked it up and it’s in Tennessee. I had no clue.)

In her article, Steen has an interesting anecdote I can relate to, plus four tips that are really, really helpful—regardless the age of your children.

“Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you. You must travel it by yourself.” ~Walt Whitman.

It was a chilly afternoon, and my older son had pulled in the driveway after a vocal performance test. Eager to hear how he thought he had done, I raced outside without a sweater. “I nailed it,” he said. As I began to warm in the sunshine, he followed quickly with “and then I changed my major.” Shivering, I scrambled to find the right words and the right reaction to the unexpected news. Eyes full of tears, I replied, “I want you to be happy,” and I meant it. Having watched children cry because they were forced to remain in a sport they hated, a dance class they loathed, or later in life a job that suffocated them, I know that no matter what I want for my children, they are on a road they must travel for themselves. I cannot travel it for them.

When our son went off to college, we preferred he pick a STEM major. If I can brag for a minute, unlike myself or many other people, he’s got both sides of his brain working. His initial major was Theoretical Mathematics with a minor in Music. I think he added Music to keep himself happy and Math to keep his dad and me satisfied. However, after a couple years, Math became a real drag. He said it was so hard that he couldn’t have a life, a girlfriend or anything besides studying. Looking back, how hard was it for him to announce that he’d dropped Math in favor of a major in Literature? “Yikes,” we thought. “What is he going to do for a career?” He had spent his life with his nose literally buried in books–if we’d looked at it objectively. Literature is and always has been his passion.

Here are four tips Steen shares in the article that I think are worth sharing:

1. Don’t assume that what makes you happy or makes you feel successful will be the same for your children. In fact, don’t assume those things for anyone other than yourself. Marketing people work hard to tell you what they believe should define success and happiness, but don’t let them. Decide that for yourself and encourage your children to do the same. In fact, take the opportunity to have a conversation about what those things look like.

2. Allow them to make mistakes, allow them to fail. Maybe it is as simple as failing to pick up favorite toys that will be taken away as a consequence or as uncomfortable as missing the field trip because of a forgotten permission slip, or a costlier consequence of receiving a ticket because a driver’s license wasn’t renewed — there are times to rescue, but there are many times to allow a child (and adults) to experience the sting of failing.

3. Never say never. Just before you utter the words, My child would never ______, I would never make my child do ____, I’ll never let my child ____, You’ll never _____, or I’ll never _______, stop. One of two things is going to happen, either you’ll make another person’s life miserable because you are going to not back down when you really should, or you’ll make a liar of yourself. Neither is a great choice. Think before you speak.

4. Say I’m sorry and Forgive. There is nothing more meaningful than genuinely apologizing and nothing more powerful to offer another person than your forgiveness with no strings attached.

We can’t live our kids’ lives. I think if they acquiesce to our desires they may live to regret it. They may think they’ve been cheated from following their own path. It may be tough as a parent to let go, but seriously for the health and happiness of our kids, we should.

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My son at Pike’s Place Market.

 

What are your thoughts about directing your kids to what you feel is best for them, versus letting them choose their own way?

5 Must-See Movies for Easter

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I posted this Easter week in 2014. Are there any new movies that have come out since then that you’d add to the list? Or maybe some classics that I missed?

When I was a kid, the major three TV networks aired Holiday Specials. My mom would make popcorn in a big pot on the stove, or if we were lucky, my brother and I’d get to shake the aluminum-foil bursting “Jiffy Pop” right on the electric burner. We’d gather on the sofa or in chairs to watch — get this — as a family – the “Holiday Special.”

Around Halloween, it was Wizard of Oz and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Christmas had a bunch of great ones. My favorite was Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, but we also watched A Charlie Brown Christmas, and my Mom and Dad’s favorite — It’s a Wonderful Life.

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This Easter, I’d love to rekindle the tradition of sitting down with family to watch holiday movies together. Unfortunately, my son’s having a riotous good time at UCSB and my daughter will be off to see Lorde, Lana Del Rey, Beck and Arcade Fire. Yes, she’s going to Coachella!

imgres-13If I can convince my husband, or maybe alone, I’m going to check out Netflix, Apple TV, or Google Movies to watch my list of must-see Easter movies:

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1. The Robe. Starring Richard Burton, Jean Simmons,  and Victor Mature. 1953. Won 2 Oscars.imgres-10
2. The Ten Commandments.  Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner, Anne Baxter. 1956.  Won 1 Oscar.imgres-14
3. Ben Hur.  Charlton Heston. 1959.  Won 11 oscars.imgres-12
4. Passion of the Christ.  Mel Gibson director. 2004. Not for the faint of heart!imgres-15
and at theaters:

5. God Is Not Dead.  I’m going to see this sometime this week. It’s made my list based on a friend’s recommendation.images-9

Do you have other movies to add to my top five picks? Have you seen all five of these movies?

Have You Ever Considered Homeschooling?

 

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More time for swimming.

In an article I read this morning, “PARENTING: Consider the benefits of homeschooling” by Jenni Stahlmann and Jody Hagaman in the Herald Tribune of Florida, it lists a number of benefits to homeschooling, from learning at an individual pace to not being bound by a school calendar.

Here are the first few paragraphs:

Have you thought about homeschooling your kids? Most people can easily make a list of reasons not to homeschool. That was Jody’s story when her oldest child asked to be homeschooled at the start of seventh grade. 

“I’m not a teacher,” she thought. “I have no idea how to homeschool and really no desire.” But her son was serious and, after great consideration, she and her husband chose to honor his heartfelt request.

Very soon, Jody realized that children are not containers that we can pour information into. They are more like hunter/gatherers of knowledge and understanding, picking and choosing from the world around them, learning at their own pace and in their own way.

Jody’s son did not return to school until college. He’s now approaching his 30th birthday. He and his wife are both attorneys in New England.

We often tell parents that if their intention is to simply bring school into their homes, they may want to reconsider. In many cases, school does it better. But if they are looking for something unique, if they want to give their child a different experience, a more customized and pervasive education, homeschooling can be a great choice.

For starters, it gives families the time to focus on teaching important life skills and grooming character traits that will help kids become successful adults who offer strong contributions to their communities.

Jenni Stahlmann and Jody Hagaman are mothers with nine children between them, from an attorney to a pre-schooler, and one on the autism spectrum. Together they host a nationally syndicated radio show, “POP Parenting.” They are also freelance writers and international speakers. Get more information on their website, jenniandjody.com.

I found this interesting because my oldest child, my son begged to be homeschooled and I didn’t have the confidence to do it. By the time he went to high school and our daughter was beginning the middle school years, I decided to homeschool my daughter. I knew several families on our swim team that homeschooled their children and they were exceptionally personable, smart, and the kids I enjoyed the most.

My daughter and I went to the Irvine Spectrum, an outdoor shopping mall, to meet with a person from Springs Charter School, which offers an academy and home school programs in So Cal, to get more information about their homeschooling program. We signed up that day and the next thing I did was research curriculum. I took my son, who had made it through middle school already to help me pick out materials at a CHEA convention in Long Beach, CA. I was shocked to see hundreds of vendors from Rosetta Stone to small book dealers. It was fun and overwhelming, but my son steered me through it–making sure the curriculum we selected was as rigorous as the one he had—or better. One my favorites was Beautiful Feet Books, history through literature.

What I discovered with Springs Charter school was that we were required to meet with credentialed education specialist each month, and had to turn in all work. She made sure we kept on track and we weren’t slacking. They also administered the same standardized tests as the public schools at a nearby University classroom. We went on several of the 75 field trips offered each year like whale watching in San Diego, a trip to Medieval Times and SeaWorld. I was shocked that SeaWorld and Medieval Times were filled up to capacity— completely by homeschoolers.

 

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We got to experience New Orleans complete with several trips to Cafe De Monde.

The benefits we experienced: my daughter and I grew closer together. I was able to teach her basic life skills like banking, auto care, cooking, etc. We got to travel with my husband on business trips—New Orleans was our favorite. She got to learn at her own pace and in her own way—history lessons out by the pool or reading in the tub! She met her swim coach at the high school track in the early am when there wasn’t swim practice and ran with her. She had more time to hang out with friends. She loved crafts and had time to explore mosaics and quilting. She could work on swimming without being too tired for schoolwork or falling asleep in class.

Another huge benefit was getting to visit any place in Southern California during the week and avoiding the big crowds and lines you find on weekends. After our three years homeschooling for middle school, I went to work with my husband and my daughter entered our local high school. Although we loved the three years, it was time for both of us to move on.

 

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Sailing in Santa Barbara during the homeschool years.

Have you ever considered homeschooling? What were your reasons for homeschooling or not homeschooling?