Is letting go the same as losing control?

Four boy swimmers hanging on the lane line
My son with his best swim buddies.

I wrote this when my son graduated college and was starting in his adult career. I realized I had lost control over his life choices and it was time for me to let go.

As an empty nester, there are times I wish I had more control over my kids’ lives. I don’t have much anymore. I remember the days when they’d actually do what I asked them. They believed the same way I did about everything including religion, politics and what books to read.

They watched the movies I’d check out from the library, and because I picked them out, they loved them. One day my son asked, “Mom, do they make movies without singing and dancing?” Yikes. I guess I was a little too into the classic musicals. I am happy, though, that my kids got to share that part of Americana. Many millennials never learned the words to On the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe from “The Harvey Girls.” My aunt was surprised while visiting us when my son invited her to watch a movie. She was expecting Disney or Barney. She was thrilled to watch “Meet Me in St. Louis” with him.

happy kids playing in the sand.
Back when I got to pick out the movies.

Somewhere along the line of those perfect days, I lost control. Today, my kids have their own opinions about religion, politics, and life in general that aren’t exactly the same as mine. For example, I want to tell my son to pursue a career in business or law. My husband and I send him job openings in the Bay area, where he’s currently living. (FYI, We don’t want him to live that far away. We don’t like how expensive it is. It’s all wrong to us.)

Does he listen? He’s polite. Every time I text an employment opportunity, he thanks me and says, “that’s a good idea.” Then he goes and applies to one of the worst school districts where the standardized test scores are 2 in math and 7 in English. He decides to teach instead of what I want him to do—and in one of the most difficult situations possible. He thinks it will be a challenge.

my son's valedictorian speech
High school graduation speech.

I can’t stop him. He’ll have to live his own life and learn his own life lessons. There’s absolutely nothing I can do about it. So, I guess I need to learn to let go since I’ve lost control anyway. I am proud that he’s an adult with his own dreams and goals.

moms and kids at laguna beach
The gang at Laguna Beach.

UPDATE: The teaching career ended and our son went into business jobs. He’s loving the job and company he’s working for and also wants to pursue a masters degree in data science. We’ve tried to stay out of his decisions and only offer advice when he asks. He’s making a great life without us telling him what to do! Imagine that?

What is your reaction when your kids make choices you disagree with?

Speaking of parenting advice…

black and white photo from 1960s of siblings
Me and my big brother in the 1960s.

I ran across a fascinating article today filled with more than 20 parenting tips from the 19th century. I’m researching what daily life was like for women in the late 1800s and early 1900s for my great-grandmother Nellie’s cookbook project and I ran across 24 Puzzling Parenting Tips From the 1800s by Ellen Gutoskey on Mental Floss.

From lancing gums to hanging babies in cages out the window, there were many bizarre parenting tips. Their idea of what was safe wouldn’t fly today. Many of their kitchen cures included alcohol and opium laced concoctions to soothe stomachaches and crankiness. Also, the article references many parenting books, so they were a thing back then as they are now.

Here’s an excerpt:

A lot has changed between the 19th century and today, but one thing that hasn’t is the plethora of available parenting advice—though the following tips would likely make today’s parents scratch their chins. From giving a single slice of bread as a snack to lancing gums, here are a few puzzling parenting tips from the 1800s, adapted from an episode of The List Show on YouTube.

1. Put babies in cages hanging outside of windows to get them fresh air. In his 1894 book The Care and Feeding of Children, Dr. Luther Emmett Holt introduced the concept of “airing,” or exposing infants to cold temperatures in order to improve their immune systems and overall health. Though Holt didn’t necessarily tell people to attach cages to their windows, products like the Boggins’ Window Crib soon cropped up for city-dwellers who were short on yard space (although it should be noted that a 1916 ad for the Window-Crib appealed to city-folk and country-dwellers alike, even claiming that the grandchild of President Woodrow Wilson was a happy window baby). The cages were especially popular in smoggy London, and they didn’t fall out of fashion until well into the 20th century.

2. Instill obedience by never giving kids what they want.

Many parenting books from the 1800s held that obedience was the first and most important quality to instill in young children. People thought it was the best way to ensure that kids didn’t grow up to be greedy, capricious, or self-absorbed adults

To teach obedience, Cassell’s Household Guide from 1869 outright forbade parents from giving children—babies included—what they wanted. Ever. According to the guide, “It is commonly believed that no harm can come of letting a child have its own way, so long as it is a mere babe. But this is a serious delusion.”

What if your 2-year-old pleads for a few measly grapes between breakfast and lunch, you ask? According to Cassell and company, the answer is a resounding “Absolutely not!” Giving snacks to a hungry child still counts as giving in, and it encourages them to expect food at “unsuitable times.”

To the authors’ credit, they do say that “No harsh words, no impatient gestures, need be added to enforce the rule,” but it’s still probably a stricter snack time policy than most parents would enforce today.

A lot has changed since the late 1800s and early 1900s. When I young in the 60s and 70s, it was acceptable to spank children. Teachers had paddles hung up threateningly above their desks. I remember the great show one teacher would have of paddling a rowdy boy in front of the entire class. Can you imagine that happening today?

Our eating has changed, too. My mom, who was a home-ec major mind you, believed that canned foods like Chef Boyardee or fruits and vegetables were just as healthy as fresh foods. She said they tested the vitamin levels and there was no difference.

We rode our bikes without helmets, rode buses on our own throughout downtown Seattle, and walked to school alone beginning in kindergarten. Yes, the world has changed.

Parents didn’t believe in praising children when I was a kid. That would lead to big heads.

BW photo of toddlers in the 1960s

What parenting practices do you remember from your childhood that are now out-dated?

Do we all despise unsolicited parenting advice?

brother and sister playing at the beach
My kids when they liked to eat chicken fingers.

When my kids were young, I’d often get unsolicited advice from well-meaning friends and family members — and even complete strangers. I read with interest this article by Meghan Moravcik Walbert called Keep Every Single Parenting Opinion to Yourself for a website called Lifehacker.com: 

We’re living in a particularly divided country right now, but we are lucky to still have one great rage-inducing unifier among parents: We do not want your unsolicited opinions about our parenting. This is especially true if you do not have children of your own. (Dogs don’t count.)

I have to believe author Jill Filipovic simply wanted to argue about something unrelated to the literal end of our democracy when she tweeted this sparkling gem of an opinion recently:Jill Filipovic@JillFilipovicI know the thing parents hate most is when non-parents assert what they will do as parents which is inevitably smug and incorrect, but I am 100% sure I will never assent to a “kid’s menu” or the concept of “kid food.”9:29 PM · Sep 24, 2020

In a follow-up tweet, she rhetorically ponders, “Do you think children in most of the world order off of a ‘kids menu’ and survive primarily off of chicken fingers and plain pasta?”

It seems her argument is that kids should have more variety in their diets, ignoring that kids’ menus exist to offer smaller, significantly cheaper portions of food for children to make it affordable and less wasteful when families go out to eat. But see, this is why parenting opinions from non-parents is so universally grating: They’re blind to fundamental aspects of parenting that are obvious to those of us who have actually done it.

Yes, you’re very smart, and you’ll introduce your kids to lots of flavors, and they’ll always eat exactly what you eat because there’s no way you’ll cook one meal for you and a separate meal for them. If you become a parent, what’s more likely is that we can look forward to hearing you say, “No, honey, you have to buy the dinosaur-shaped nuggets; he doesn’t like the regular ones.”

I have one dear friend, well more than one, who constantly criticized the bland
“kid food” I served my children. We would go to a friends home and stay for a long weekend and I’d bring food for my kids to eat — things I knew they’d like. Yes, my groceries included chicken fingers. My friend didn’t understand why my kids wouldn’t eat her kale with quinoa or homemade chile rellenos. She’d point out another friend of hers who had kids who loved to eat all her veggies and her adult flavored dishes. My kids liked carrots, snap peas and the like — especially dipped in ranch dressing. At a young age, their taste buds were more sensitive to spice. It wasn’t long before they grew into more adult diets and indulged in sushi, spicy Mexican and Indian food. As adults they love to eat vegetables and they cook healthy and interesting meals. No, they are not living off of chicken fingers.

The point is that I’d get criticized by friends and family members who didn’t have kids, or had children who were infants or teenagers. They weren’t dealing with kids three to seven years old and they either hadn’t been through those experiences yet or their kids were 10 years older and they forgot about those glorious days.

I used to ask my kids what they wanted to eat. My daughter always said chicken. Once I made pan-fried sole for dinner. She said, “Now this is the chicken I like!” That was eye-opening to me, because I didn’t realize that she was calling most foods “chicken!”

One of my friends had a son a couple years younger than my kids. We were at a family-friendly restaurant and her toddler son kept jumping out of the high chair. She said, “I really owe you an apology. All of those things I criticized or tried to give you advice about — I had no idea!”

There’s more great examples in the article about unsolicited advice and how parents think they would NEVER raise their voice at their children (who aren’t born yet). Read the entire article for yourself here. It’s an entertaining read.

Here’s another article I’ve written about unsolicited advice. Read it here.

children climbing on me at the beach
Life at the beach with two young kids.

What’s the worst unsolicited advice you’ve been given?

My son wrote about his “crazy mom” for his senior project

252950_178347325554945_2205981_n

My son is visiting us soon to see our new home for the first time. I can’t believe we went through such a rocky time as we did during his senior year of high school. Thankfully, our relationship is so much better than this memory….

“I had no idea your life was so difficult and that your mom was so ‘crazy.’ Your senior project made me cry.”

I found these words scrawled in a handmade card to my 18-year-old, valedictorian son, wedged next to the front seat of my car.

I couldn’t breathe. Then I howled. My beautiful first born. The little pee wee with the stocking cap and button nose who stared at me with huge eyes the day he was born. The toddler with white blond curls who called me “Sweetheart.”

images

This stranger living in my house made his senior project about me? The horrors of living with me? After everything I had done for him? Years filled with volunteering as a room-mom, midnight trips to the ER for his asthma, driving to the Getty for field trips, opening our house for movies nights and spaghetti feeds. Me?

A friend with older kids warned me that the senior year “can be kind of tough.”

No kidding! I never dreamed how hard. I found myself at odds with this person, who used to be my best friend. I alternated between yelling, cajoling and pleading with him to finish college applications, meet countless deadlines and study for exams. No wonder he called me crazy.

The stress of applying for college proved to be filled with potholes, no, make that sinkholes — the kind that swallow entire houses and families. What to declare as a major, where to live, what to write for a personal statement are enough to stress out the calmest kid.

So what else makes applying to college so awful?  Try these numbers on for size:

• More than 3,000,000 high school seniors apply to college in the US — never mind the ones throughout the world trying to get into our top schools!

• The number of students who apply to seven or more colleges has grown from 9% in 1992 to 29% in 2011. 

• Yale’s applications doubled from 2002 to this year, topping 30,000.  Yale accepted roughly 2,000 in 2013.

• Harvard has nearly 35,000 applicants, 2029 admitted in 2013.

• Number of applicants for University of California Santa Barbara in 2013 was 62,413, They had 4,550 in the freshman class last year.

• UCLA is one of the most applied to schools in the country, with nearly 100,000 applicants, and they admit 15,000.

Between December and graduation, my son received eight out of nine college rejections –further making him love me, hate me, turn to me in need, and then reject me again. I could do nothing to help his torment. In the end, he accepted admission to his one school.

386218_2819987102620_2110173964_n

Hang in there moms of juniors and seniors. When it seems like there is nothing you can do to help, take a deep breath.  Be there for support and offer advice if they ask for it. Love them, even if they are undeniably rude. Forgive yourself if you lose your temper.

I believe our kids take out their fears and frustrations on those they love most.

I am happy to report that two years later, the stranger living in my son’s skin has disappeared. I have a son who calls me the moment he finishes a final that he knows he’s crushed. He calls to ask how to cook chicken stir fry.  And he calls to say he loves me.

Photos: (top) My son during graduation. (second) a beautiful baby, (above) my son when he was at the age when he thought my name was “Sweetheart,” and (below) a view of my son’s university. Not too shabby, after all.

ucsb

It’s a special Wednesday

pug face
This is Waffles snuggling my daughter.

Today is Wednesday. I’ve been waiting patiently for today to arrive for several weeks. My daughter is coming to visit. She is driving from the Bay Area and should be here within the hour. This is the first time anyone from our family will see our new home. We moved in December.

When we announced to our kids that we were selling our home, they were furious. They were so angry with us that we’d consider selling the only home they ever knew. All the memories of their lifetimes were wrapped up in our 1930’s old Spanish home. Birthday parties, sleepovers, hanging out with friends between swim practices. Christmas, Easter egg hunts, spaghetti feeds for the team. Playdates at the neighborhood park. They were born in the hospital a few blocks away.

old spanish style house
Our home of 28 years.

So today, I get to see my daughter. It took several months for our kids to get over their sadness. They were never coming to Arizona to see us, they told us. But now we get the first visit.

It’s been a tough year for a lot of us. The shut down for two weeks to flatten the curve turned into a long year with people suffering from lost jobs, lost wages, isolation, depression and anxiety. My daughter lost her job due to COVID around 10 or 11 months ago. We told her she’d be fine with the enhanced unemployment. But the state of California couldn’t get that right. She was one of approximately 1.13 million people who are in unemployment limbo.

She got a few checks and then they stopped. They owe her thousands of dollars from summer through today. Nobody answers the phone. She calls and calls. When she was lucky to get through after weeks of calling, the person on the other end of the line said they couldn’t see anything wrong with her file. Finally, after writing to her Assemblywoman and Congressmen, she got through a second time. She was told she was going to receive all her back unemployment. She was thrilled. A week later she was told she’s back on hold and they were investigating her account for fraud. She was crushed. And she continues on in limbo.

Here’s an excerpt of an article that explains the ongoing problems with California unemployment:

With an added emphasis on fraud, the EDD spent the remainder of December locating unemployment benefit cases that were ‘potentially fraudulent’, eventually find around 3.5 million cases that fit that description by late December. Two million of the cases were immediately disqualified, such as those sent to inmates and some registered to deceased people, leaving 1.4 million to be suspended in January while the EDD takes a closer look at them.

The suspension of the accounts led over a million unemployed Californians to learn of the situation in the last week. Many found out from communication with the EDD, being told that “Your claim is suspended because it may be tied to fraudulent activity.” Others received notices in the mail reading “You have been receiving unemployment benefits, but we have temporarily suspended your claim because it may be tied to fraudulent activity. You will receive further instruction from EDD on how to verify your identity beginning Jan. 6, 2021.”

While initially silent, the furor of unemployment beneficiaries, who rely on the money to tide them over during the pandemic while they find another job or wait until their business reopens, led the EDD to make a statement during the weekend, days before the full number of beneficiaries in limbo was known.

“As part of ongoing efforts to fight fraud, EDD has suspended payment on claims considered high risk and is informing those affected that their identity will need to be verified starting this week before payments can resume,” tweeted the EDD. “More details on the EDD website in the days ahead.”

What a nightmare! It’s hard enough to lose your job. But then California can’t do what it’s promised to do to help. It’s been hard for her to stay positive. She’s been locked down in a tiny apartment for months on end and is suffering from depression. The Bay Area has some of the strictest restrictions of the state. Good news is on the way with vaccines. We’ve all had shots. Now that businesses are beginning to open she has found a job and starts next week. She decided to make the trip to see us before her life gets back to normal. I’m so thankful I get to see her!

selfie in front of the Public Market sign downtown Seattle
This was two years ago in Seattle on a mother-daughter trip.

Parenting tip: When to keep your mouth shut

freestyle stroke in pool
My daughter swimming on her own during vacation.

I read a great article, “The first rule of sports (and all) parenting: Don’t speak,” in the Washington Post by Nancy Star:

Your child doesn’t have to play in the Super Bowl for you to know the feeling. Their team was supposed to win and then they didn’t. What do you do? Being the mother of two girls who played soccer and ran track, I thought I knew the answer: Talk it through. Tell them you love them. Say it’s just a game. Remind them there’s always a next time. Isn’t that what good parenting is all about? Keeping channels of communication open even in tough moments?

Turns out the answer is no. I learned this when I had a “don’t speak” moment.

I understand this all too well. After my kids would have a disappointing swim, I’d try to reassure them. I wanted to take away their hurt and make them feel better. Most often after I’d say, “That wasn’t so bad,” or “You have another swim ahead.” I’d be met with negativity and a statement like “I sucked!”

I’d get a barrage of negativity that would take me by surprise. I never figured out that by trying to protect them from their upset feelings, I wasn’t making it better for my kids, but was making them feel worse. They weren’t ready to talk about a bad swim with me and “hash and rehash,” as my daughter would say. I read in a David Benzel sports parenting book, “From Chump to Champ,” that we should wait for our kids to talk to us. We need to be there and listen. But, if we start the conversation first, even with the best intentions, they’ll probably pull away and stay quiet. They want to please us so much and may take any little thing we say personally, as though they’ve let us down. It’s best to be quiet and listen. They may surprise us and open up more than ever if we let them take the lead.

Here’s more from the Washington Post article with the mom watching her daughter’s varsity soccer team lose their final meet. She received advice from a dad, Peter, who had more experience with soccer parenting and she followed it.

“Their lead slipped to a tie toward the end of the second half. In the last minute of play there was a stumble, scrambling and a goal for the other team.

Parents supplied transportation for home games, so we waited while our daughters gave sullen high-fives to the winners and then huddled with their coach, listening as he shared his disappointment. When he was done they separated and, backpacks slung over shoulders, trudged across the field toward where we stood.

Watching their grim faces approach I wished a meteorologist were present to confirm my suspicion that 22 high school girls who’ve just lost a chance at a state title can change the atmosphere, collectively sucking the light out of the sky. Their fury was frightening.

But Peter had been through this before. “Don’t speak,” he said. As I started to turn my head he added, “Don’t look. Just walk. Go to your car. She’ll find you.”

I tried not to move my lips as I objected. “All I want to say is I’m sorry.”

“Don’t,” he advised. “Don’t speak. Not until she talks to you.”

Because he had been through this before, I listened and walked to my car alone. I felt her before I saw her, walking silently beside me. Reassuring phrases immediately formed in my brain but, channeling Peter, I said nothing.

A moment later I noticed her teammates walking with their parents, mothers mostly, who offered words of consolation. “Are you okay?” and “You played well,” and “There’s always next time.” To me the words sounded gentle and kind.

The girls did not agree. “No,” they snapped, and “I sucked,” and “There won’t be a next time.”

By the time we reached the car, every daughter except mine was crying and the moms were, understandably, annoyed and lashing back. “Why are you yelling at me?” and “Being upset is no excuse for being rude.”

We were silent on the ride home, silent as I turned on to our street. It was when I pulled into the driveway that my daughter finally spoke. “That was such a bad game.”

I nodded.”

How do you handle your children’s athletic or academic disappointment?

PAC 12 swimmers cheering on teammates
My daughter on the blocks cheering with teammates.

After Dr. Suess, who’s next?

This was the first children’s book published by Dr. Seuss,  Theodor Seuss Geisel

As a baby shower gift, we received a large compilation of Dr. Seuss books in one heavy volume. My husband loved Mulberry Street and read that nightly to our son. I think the attraction to the story was a young boy with a vivid imagination coming up with a story to tell his dad. It was a father son story.

Today I learned the book will no longer be published and Dr. Seuss is banned from many schools altogether. This cancel culture is taking the joy out of simple pleasures. The banning is because of racial overtones or is it undertones? I can’t keep up.

I long ago sent that volume of Seuss books to our local thrift shot benefitting Angel View Crippled Children’s Homes. I regret it. I’d like to read the books again and see what’s so offensive. I don’t remember anything except little squiggly hairs on creatures that weren’t quite human or animals.

I remember the first books I read. “One Fish, Two Fish,” and “Green Eggs and Ham” and “Cat in the Hat.” I was so proud to be able to read on my own.

I went on Amazon this morning and there was one copy of Mulberry Street left. For a hefty price of over $20. I then clicked onto ebay and found the book being sold for as much as $140! Oh well.

I’ve read that Gone With the Wind and To Kill a Mockingbird have been banned from schools. I googled book banning and learned of lists of books that have been banned for decades from people from all sorts of points of views. My opinion is strongly against any and all book banning — by anyone for any reason. At least I can’t think of a reason why I’d support banning books. Here’s a list of banned books through the years along with the reasons.

 

And To Think I saw it on Mulberry Street

by Dr. Seuss

When I leave home to walk to school,

Dad always says to me,

“Marco, keep your eyelids up

And see what you can see.”

But when I tell him where I’ve been

And what I think I’ve seen,

He looks at me and sternly says,

“Your eyesight’s much too keen.”

“Stop telling such outlandish tales.

Stop turning minnows into whales.”

Now, what can I say

when I get home today?

All the long way to school

And all the way back,

I’ve looked and I’ve looked

And I’ve kept careful track.

But all that I’ve noticed, Except my own feet

Was a horse and a wagon on Mulberry Street.

That’s nothing to tell of,

That won’t do, of course….

Just a broken-down wagon

That’s drawn by a horse.

That can’t be my story. That’s only a start.

I’ll say that a ZEBRA was pulling that cart!

And that is a story that no one can beat,

When I say that I saw it on Mulberry Street.

The beginning of “And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street” by Dr. Seuss