Why You Need To Do The Tough Stuff

4872724453_748c1912b0_z
Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

I was having a conversation with Noodge 2 the other night. She told me about a friend of hers, let’s call her Carolann, who has a bad habit of sucking face in the hallways at school. Carolann can’t seem to control herself when she’s with her boyfriend. Others aren’t pleased with her. I can’t same I blame them. I’m not a big fan of tongues, spit, and slurping sounds while I’m present. (Unless I’m the one doing it, with the Coffee King, in a very private place, and preferably in the dark.)

More importantly, no one is telling Carolann to knock it off. At least to knock it off in public. Do what you want behind closed doors. (Not that I’m condoning fifteen-year-olds make a habit of sucking face.) When I suggested someone take Carolann aside, and in a nice way say “Yo, keep your tongue in your mouth for crying out loud.” Noodge’s response was, “easier said than done.” Yes, true.

But nothing changes if you don’t make yourself uncomfortable once in a while. How can you expect to grow and learn about life if you always take the easy way out? You don’t want to be the person who watches life go by because you couldn’t stretch yourself out of your comfort zone. I’m not just talking about speaking your mind here.

Easier said than done sounds a little like a cop-out. Like there’s no point in really trying since whatever is easier said can’t be done without effort. “Well, since it’s easier to say I should quit smoking than actually doing it, I don’t really have to.”

 

Writing novels isn’t an easy thing to do, though there are plenty of people who think it is. They are wrong. Trust me. Those that sit down to write an entire novel and complete it will feel uncomfortable a lot. Writers can feel so badly while writing that suddenly cleaning the concrete of your sidewalk with toothpaste and an eyebrow pencil becomes appealing.

As writers, we are told to make our characters sweat. That’s what I tell my creative writing classes. The more uncomfortable your character is, the better. In fact, give your protagonist two choices neither of them with perfect outcomes and force her to choose. You bet your character is going to feel uncomfortable. In fact, the writer should feel the same way putting the words on the paper.

I’m working on the first drafts of book two in my Heritage River series, (book one, A Second Chance House, is in edits) and my heroine has a choice to make. She doesn’t like her choices and wishes she didn’t have to make one, but if she doesn’t hurry up and decide, fate will decide for her. I feel badly for her. I’d like her to have it all, and since I’m kind of in control of her world I’m going to attempt to give her what she really wants. I don’t know if I can, though. Neither choice has a good outcome.

Nothing happens in a story if the characters take an “easier said than done” approach. Sure, make-believe people aren’t the same as real life fifteen-year-olds trying to navigate through life. I understand why a teen would rather say nothing to the friend who’s tongue performs acrobatics during study hall. Who likes confrontation? Well, except me, maybe. But characters on the page, even teenage characters, shouldn’t get the same pass. Not if you want the reader to keep turning pages.

It’s interesting to me how people shy away from confrontation in real life and how authors shy away from confrontation for their characters. When I edit, I often find myself saying, don’t let them out of it so fast!

You can’t grow as a person if you don’t do the tough stuff. Someday you will have to say the words, “please stop.” You’re also going to have to say, “I’m the most qualified, the best choice.” You can’t grow if you don’t ever ask, “what could I have done better?” Even my character has to come to terms with the fact she was too afraid to tell the truth. Speaking up is always easier said than done. But it’s well worth it.

 

Why It Pays To Be a Helicopter Parent

160226620_e96c77740c_b
Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

If you Google “are helicopter parents bad” a huge list of articles from places like Forbes, Psychology Today, and the Huffington Post (Not a fan of everything coming out of HP) saying being a helicopter parent is the worst possible thing you can do for your child. I’m about to tell you why it isn’t so bad.

Some people may describe me one of those parents who do too much for their children. I drive them to the bus stop even though they’re both in high school now. (In my defense, the bus stop is not near our house, we don’t have sidewalks or street lights and the majority of the school year the bus arrives in the dark.) I do their laundry, make their lunches, I’ve been known to bring things to school when they’ve forgotten something. I have also been involved at school; Class parent, library volunteer, Girl Scout leader, PTA volunteer, Band Parent volunteer, and probably other things I’ve long forgotten. Oh, chaperone for class trips! And I wouldn’t let Noodge 1 fly with the marching band on his first band trip at the age of 14.

Am I ruining my children’s lives? Well,the verdict is still out on that. Ask them in twenty years.

But here’s what happened. Noodge 1 forgot his marching band uniform on the bus on Friday and didn’t realize he left it on the bus until 6 pm Friday night. He needed that uniform for a performance on Sunday. A performance, if missed, that takes seven points of his grade. Yes, they get a grade and credit for being in the marching band. This isn’t your average extra-curricular activity.

I could’ve let my son sink. In fact, many of you and all those articles say let him sink. It’s how he learns. Let me tell you what, you need to know your kid before you make that decision.

Because I’m involved in my kids’ activities I’ve had the great fortune to get to know people. Nice people. Moms like me. (And a few moms nothing like me.) So I sent a text. And we were able to get him another uniform. Mom to the rescue.

I rescued him because something bigger was going on. A more important learning lesson for both of us. Just the idea of losing seven points was enough of a consequence for him. You see, he’s my rule follower. Always has been. I keep waiting for that to change. Especially as he entered the teen years. It hasn’t. Most likely it won’t. Sometimes I wish he would, but he is and always has been an old soul.

His reaction to the idea of losing seven points worried me. Leaving a uniform on the bus wasn’t the end of the world and a very fixable problem since I knew the right person to ask for help. He didn’t see it that way. He had a committed an unthinkable act being so irresponsible. And he didn’t know how to handle how he felt.

Now we were dealing with the lesson; how to handle stress. Much more important in my book. Especially since I come from a long line of Italian people swimming in stress. What can I say? We’re hot-blooded passionate people.

Allowing him to blow a simple thing out of proportion, and punish himself over it, (the rule follower thing) without the tools to change that thinking process wasn’t worth my taking a stand not to help him so he could learn a lesson. He learned it. All by himself. I just saved him extra anguish he would’ve piled on over nothing.

Mistakes happen and what I think childhood often is a time when we’re taught mistakes are bad. “Don’t forget your gym clothes or you’ll get in trouble.” We all forget things. More importantly, we need to learn not to sweat the small stuff. Do we need to learn to follow rules? Yes. Should we make kids learn to fear making a mistake? No way.

Now, if you have a kid who could care less about making mistakes, doesn’t worry about the consequences, I don’t have answers for you because I’m not an expert. I know my kids. I try my best to be the best parent I can and pray everyday I don’t screw up too badly.

I may be a helicopter parent at times, but there have been enough times I wasn’t. My kids know I’m not an open threat. That’s good enough for me. I won’t let them go down for making an honest, harmless, fixable mistake.

What I hope I showed him was be nice to people, give of your time, be helpful because someday you might be the one asking for help. Show your appreciation for their kindness. (We gave our savior a big bag of truffles.) Don’t sweat the small stuff.

And mom is always near by flying her helicopter.

 

I Told You So.

finger pointing
Courtesy of Flicr Creative Commons

I told you so!” 

Don’t you just want to say nah, nah, na, booby when someone says that to you? Of course you do. I do. So, you must too. It’s that awful moment when you know you’ve made a mistake and some other person thinks they’re smarter or better than you and is about to point out that ugly truth. Go ahead and say nah, nah, na, booby to me. Go ahead. ‘Cause I’m about to say, “I TOLD YOU SO” to you.

Well, not all of you. Just a few (what few? Tons) of you who told me to let Noodge 2 die her hair blue. Do you remember that conversation? If not, or if you missed our discussion, you can check it out here and get up to speed.

About a week or two ago I was in the car with the kids driving them to one of the hundreds of places they need to go to during the week. I don’t even remember what brought the conversation up, but Noodge 2 sat in the back flipping through her phone. Noodge 1 sat in the front probably knee deep in some music playing through those earbuds that are now a permanent extension of his ears. (Which you can see now because he cut his long hair.) When Noodge 2 says, “Mom, you were right. I’m glad you didn’t let me die my hair blue. That would have been awful.”

Yes, you read that correctly.

I thought the heavens had opened up and angels were singing. I was right??? Of course, I was right. She would’ve looked ridiculous with blue hair and I didn’t care that hair grows back and what’s the big deal? She has beautiful very dark brown hair that would’ve been ruined if she tried to die it blue not to mention in four weeks time she would’ve had dark brown roots. And looked more ridiculous.

There are plenty of times when I don’t know the answer to a request one of my children makes. I’m constantly weighing the choices. How much freedom do you give without giving too much too soon? I struggle daily with my role of mother and trying to do the right thing without screwing up too much. But sometimes, I’m certain and no blue hair was one of those times. So, thank you for your input, but I told you so!

Recently, Noodge 1 asked if he could spend the weekend with a new friend at this friend’s lake house. My answer? After I was done laughing? Absolutely not. I had met this friend only once. The young man barely muttered two words. Common for some teenage boys. Noodge didn’t know where the lake house was located or what they would be doing while staying there. And the boy’s father would be the only parent present. You do know that 95% of pedophiles around the world are men, right?

Here’s my source:

• Nearly all the offenders in sexual assaults reported to law enforcement were male (96%).
Sexual Assault of Young Children as Reported to Law Enforcement, 7/00, NCJ 182990, U.S. Department of Justice

That decision was an easy one. Not going. End of story. Oh, and did I mention, no adult had discussed this idea with me or the Coffee King? For all I know, the friend’s dad didn’t even know about the invitation. Either way, the answer was still no. I don’t care how old Noodge is. When he lives on his own he can do what he wants. While we’re footing the bill, he answers to us. And he wasn’t going away with total strangers for a weekend.

When the kids were little I used to think things would get easier as they grew, but nothing gets easier. It just changes. The challenges are different. Instead of trying to find the best way to potty train or learn to ride a bike, I’m dodging questions about blue hair, Victoria Secret underwear, and weekend getaways with Jeffrey Dahmer. Okay, kidding, it’s probably not that bad. Having an over active imagination doesn’t help them any. I’ll tell you that.

And some day I’ll look back and miss this craziness. Then it will be your turn to tell me “I told you so.”

 

 

Adventures in Motherhood: At The Movies

I took Noodge 2 to see the Disney Pixar film Inside Out the other day. She asked if I’d go with her and when your thirteen year-old daughter wants to do something with you, you drop everything and go.

When I asked Noodge 2 if she liked the movie, she replied with a shrug of her shoulder and a wrinkle of her nose. “I guess. It was a one and done for me.” I think she was trying to be nice for my sake.

You see, I loved it.

Here is the synopsis from Fandango.com: Emotions run wild in the mind of a little girl who is uprooted from her peaceful life in the Midwest and forced to move to San Francisco in this Pixar adventure from director Pete Docter (Up, Monsters Inc.). Young Riley was perfectly content with her life when her father landed a new job in San Francisco, and the family moved across the country. Now, as Riley prepares to navigate a new city and attend a new school, her emotional headquarters becomes a hot bed of activity. As Joy (voice of Amy Poehler) attempts to keep Riley feeling happy and positive about the move, other emotions like Fear (voice of Bill Hader), Anger (voice of Lewis Black), Disgust (voice of Mindy Kaling) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith) make the transition a bit more complicated. ~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi

Lately, my emotions have been running wild too. I have teenagers and having teenagers sends your emotions on a roller coaster ride. We all know I don’t like rides. Don’t get me wrong, having teenagers is a wonderful thing. They can dress and feed themselves, most of the time, you can have real conversations with them, as long as you don’t give advice or embarrass them in any way, you can leave them home alone and not worry about the house burning down, well, you can leave them for short periods of time, anyway.

Sometimes, though, it’s frustrating having teenagers. They want to sleep late. They think you were born yesterday and at the same time you’re old. They’re messy. We all know how I handle that.

But other times having a teenager is bitter sweet. You’re baby is growing up at the speed of light and you can’t slow it down and yet, you know you aren’t supposed to. The things that once made them laugh only get eye rolls and grunts now. You are no longer their hero, but their nemesis. They don’t want to bake with you, make crafts with you, play trains with you. In fact, their favorite thing to do is either sit in their room with the door closed or sit on the computer with headphones in so they can’t hear you calling them.

And yet, it wasn’t so long ago I was holding them in my arms reading them stories and tickling their bellies. They have forgotten the memories I still hold dear. Many times Noodge 2 clucks at pictures when she was a toddler embarrassed by her hair or her pose. I tell her to be quiet. Those pictures are for me. They are the reminders of my little girl who used to climb into my lap with stories and adventure of her Little People. Sometimes, I miss that.

Let’s get back to, Joy. In the movie, Joy tries to keep Riley happy by using her memories. Every one of Riley’s pleasant memories made me think of a time with my Noodges. Those memories no longer worked for Riley and it occurred to me sitting in the movie theater next to my teenager, those memories no longer work for her or her brother either.

That’s when I began to cry. Yup, I’m a crier. It’s awful. I cry at commercials, movies, stupid cards, songs, and the memories of my children when they were little. (I also cried the other day when Noodge 2 performed at her voice recital. So, their ages really have nothing to do with it. I’m pitiful.)

The writers at Disney Pixar hit it on the head. The character Joy wasn’t only Riley’s emotion, she represented the emotion of every mother on the planet. (Okay, not every mother.) Joy held Riley’s memories with love. Joy longed for the time when Riley was little and giggling with her parents, playing with her friend, or winning a hockey game. I can’t hold a memory in my hand, but I have photos and videos of a time when life was simpler and the time when my children would leave me was way out in front of us. Untouchable. Like a cloud. Yeah, well, now we’re smack in the middle of that cloud and it’s turbulence all around.

So, what’s the point of all this besides the fact I’m a crier? Live in the moment, maybe. Hug your kids every chance you get. And hug them tightly. Inhale their smell. Tell them you love them. Cherish the memories because they make you who you are even if those memories have faded for your kids. Maybe those memories make your kids who they are too.

So, my faithful reader, I challenge you. Go see Inside Out. Bring your kids or bring the friend you aren’t afraid to shed a tear in front of. I promise it will be a joyful memory.

 

What Does Your Hair Say About You?

Now, if you're a Disney princess I get the blue hair thing.
Now, if you’re a Disney princess I get the blue hair thing.

The other day, Noodge 2 asks if she can dye her hair blue. “Blue?” I say. “Yes,” she replies. “You mean, streaks of blue in your hair?” I’ve seen this look. “No, totally blue.”

My knee jerk response is, “You’re out of your mind if you think I’m going to allow you to dye your hair blue.” But I didn’t say that. What I did say was, “You can’t dye your hair blue. I’ll think about the streaks but not your whole head.”

Which was met with a series of unpleasant sounds. Part of me is worried how will the world view her with blue hair? I know of a woman in the writing world who dyes her cropped mop blue. Some people may think this is cool and trendy and edgy. To me, she looks like an Easter egg. And I’ve often wondered if she’s exhausted at the end of each day trying so hard. See? I look at this person with eyes filled with judgement. I don’t think she’s cool or hip. Am I forcing my opinions on my daughter’s head?egg_blueTrad

Maybe it’s not a big deal that she dyes her head blue. Maybe other people will look at her and admire her independence and her fearlessness. Maybe I’m just afraid for her and we shouldn’t let fear drive our choices. Not ever.

But, as a professional speaker for the past twenty-some years, I know we make judgments of others in the first 30 seconds we see them. Thirty seconds!! What are you going to think of when a thirteen year-old girl shows up with blue hair? You’re going to think her parents checked out. That’s what. So, maybe my fears are actually about my inability to be a good parent.

I will say, I do believe this philosophy wholeheartedly: Do whatever you want to yourself, when you’re an adult. Ink yourself up, pierce the heck out of your face, dye your hair the rainbow, but don’t think for one second others aren’t reacting to that image. Why do you think Ted Bundy was so successful? Because he was an educated white male in a suit and those poor women never saw him coming. Now, if he had made his face look a pin cushion and tattoos all around his head and his pants hanging to his knees I bet some of those women would’ve ran in the other direction. And I’m sorry if I just offended all of you who look that way, but if I’ve got nothing to go on, but the image you place in front of me how do I make a decision if I only have seconds to make a life saving choice? Not that I’m talking about life saving choices with the Noodge. I was referring to the Ted Bundy scenario.

Listen, I have a friend who grew his hair past his shoulders, pierced his eyebrows and his lip and God knows what else. Wore army jackets hanging to his knees. He got pulled over a lot for traffic infractions. Was he getting picked on? Probably. Is he a bad guy? Far from it. He’s a sweetheart we’ve been friends since we were five, but his image said, trouble. Noodge 1 has long, wild hair and it’s fine for a 14 year-old boy, but if he truly follows a path into the field of law he’ll have to cut that hair because no law firm is going to hire him looking the way he does. Right now, he fits the roll of rocker and when he’s behind his drum set even I think he looks cool, but the real world is another story.

So, am I being an unreasonable, out of touch mother who won’t let her daughter dye her hair blue? Should I look at this as there are so many other things she could be into, what’s the big deal? She can always dye it back. And I haven’t even brought up the cost involved which I will not contribute to. And what about the upkeep? I mean, what in the world will she look like when her roots start growing in?

Or should I just take a deep breath and relax? Who cares what other people think of you. You’re still the same person on the inside regardless of the color of your hair.

What does your hair say about you, but what does this dilemma say about me?