Today I provide the guest writing prompt at storyaday.org. This site is considered by Writer’s Digest to be one of the “101 Best Websites for Writers” so take a look at https://storyaday.org/ to learn how you can mine your memories for writing gold.
This is the “love altar” I created as a centerpiece for my son’s recent wedding. A number of women special in their lives were invited to make a table decoration that reflected the love they feel in their lives and particularly as it relates to either the bride or the groom. Each table had a different creation but all had a crystal as the centerpiece. After the wedding the bride and groom took home the crystals and now have a centerpiece there, of crystals, to take into their future that are charged with the love of family and friends.
My card reads, “The authentic bird’s nest here represents the happy home that the bride and groom have created that will serve as the foundation for their love going forward. Mom’s love, the groom’s love for his bride, and her love for him, are sometimes expressed through baking, thus the spatula. Worn but faithful, Spot, is present at this wedding as a reminder of the security found among old friends. They joy, laughter and sense of extended family is tied up in one Wise and Otherwise playing card. The wooden photo frame made by and depicting the groom’s great-great-grandfather hints at the groom’s own creativity, a source of solution should trouble arise. And the idea, no matter how lame, of the groom’s parents as Brazilian dancers, suggests you do not have to be great at what you do together, you just have to mean it.”
Last Saturday at the college rugby game we went to see, one boy broke his nose and another broke his leg. Not among those tending to their bleeding children, I had time to pose on the sidelines with my son and husband for this selfie.
I’m learning a lot about selfies. Turns out they are not just about self-absorption as I thought, but instead according to my daughter’s research paper (tipped by a generous cousin at UGA) I learned that they have much to do with communication and self-awareness.
If I’d been my son taking this picture I’d have been full of pride at the idea I’d inspired both my parents to travel two hours south from their home to see me play with my team. I’d have felt pride in being part of a team, in being fit, in being alive on a spring morning. No idea what was actually in his mind when he snapped this but he was eager to share it, texting it to me moments after he took it. I, in turn was eager to text it to each my two other kids.
For me the unspoken message here may seem obvious to some, and some may take it for granted that this is how families behave. But for me the idea that we travel to see our kids, that we have fun together and take such spontaneous candid happy moments as evidence of that, is the grateful message in my texts. I want to encourage our family to stay together and have fun together and texting selfies is a way to do that. I communicate my joy of being with my son and the implied joy of being with any of my children, and I report my awareness of this happy time by sending it to my kids.
It is hard to have kids leave home and spend their time away, so meeting them and enjoying their company whenever we can is top on my mind, and funny, my son’s selfie helps me appreciate that and share that and hopefully create more of that for the future.
I went to visit my aunt a few days ago. I haven’t seen her in thirty-five years because she divorced the family way back when for some reason I was not much a part of. It had something to do with her parents, my grandparents, not doing right by her. I think the complaint had to do with how they raised her.
Don’t we all fail our children one way or another? Who gets perfect parents?
So she lives in NYC in the same studio apartment she was in when I used to visit her as a kid. My father would take us into town for business and then leave us to find her and spend time there while he was off on an errand. She was great! I loved visiting her! So standing at her door in her hi-rise apartment building was not so unfamiliar. But the idea that my heart would be pounding as I pounded on her door was. You see, I have tried to convince her that visiting might be nice. She sends a Christmas card every year and we’ve spoken on the occasion of each of my parent’s deaths, and her sister’s death, when I called to inform her of these calamities. She was not too interested in those events and even less so in seeing me. So defying her wishes that I stay on my side of her line seemed bold.
I felt it was time to just go there and say hello, though. Time is marching on and the opportunity to get together dwindling. So I stood there, heart pounding, pounding on her door, expecting her to answer. I’d say, hi, it’s me from long ago, want to catch up?
But no one answered and I stood outside the door a long time wondering if she’d show up before I had to go. She didn’t.
I spent the walk to the restaurant where I’d meet my son slowing down to consider the face of every pedestrian I passed just in case it was hers.
So for my birthday I granted myself a night out, last night, telling silly stories instead of packing for the family trip today.
Crazy thing listening to yourself. That is, following an intuition to just go do it. I just went out to the West Chester Story Slam last night, signed the releases allowing a YouTube presentation of my story, took the microphone, and went ahead and told it. Don’t get me wrong, I have many stories to tell, but last night’s has been on my mind a while. I’ve told it plenty before, but never for the express purpose of entertaining. So it was a little like being a stand-up comic where you carefully pace and time and reveal your truths and then watch people laugh.
I loved it. And I was even one of the winners!
Now I am automatically entered into the Grand Slam in November where each month’s winners compete for the title of Best Story Teller in Chester County.
So what was my story about? Some say it’s about how sex education differs by generations, but I say it’s about showing respect to your kids even when you must embarrass yourself. It’s about sacrificing for kids because you’re a parent.
Click on the link above to see a video of me telling my story on the story slam website.
As I travel around during the holidays, visiting friends and attending gatherings, I am cashing in on a decision from five years ago. Everywhere I go I see pieces of my past, and of my family and of my home back in Arden.
When we cleaned out the old homestead, the house I grew up in and in which my parents lived for fifty years, I brought home lots sentimental objects no one wanted. I am talking about statuettes and tea kettles, vases, and trays, lamps and pictures, and all manner of things Mom and Dad collected. They were Depression-era folks, and my mother was an orphan thrown on the street at one point in her youth, so things held a great place in her heart. She collected stuff like no one I know. She had rows of decorative tin cans in her kitchen, and pitchers and glasses and silverware to arm ten houses. She made afgans year round forever, and saved games, books, puzzles and everything in between in volume.
So in bringing home a carload of such stuff from the old homestead that I didn’t personally want, I needed a place to put it all. So, I spread it out in my dining room like a store and invited my friends to select whatever they wanted for themselves. It was genius because now, I am delighted to find these objects, filled with history and memory for me, everywhere I go.
Recently I saw an antique glass oil lamp among a collection my friend has on her mantle that had been in my brother’s room years ago, was served tea at a wreathing party from Mom’s holiday teapot, and last night saw a beautiful serving tray at a Christmas party that once had been in Mom’s china cabinet.
Without a lot of contact with my family of origin I sometimes need these reminders to help me know I really came from somewhere. That I have connections to somebody. So seeing Mom and Dad’s things spread around my friends’ homes, incorporated into my life today, does somehow add to my feeling of family at the holidays.
Call me crazy, but that’s how it is.
It poured all day yesterday and it poured all night. The school marching band was scheduled to perform in the Christmas parade and so our daughter put on warm layers under her uniform and we dropped her off in time to ride the school bus down to the parade.
Instead of our usual footrace through town to follow the band as they played, we sat in a delightful restaurant with friends, warm and dry. Occasionally we glanced across the room to look out the small rain-streaked windows, through the dark, straining to see the tops of slow moving cars and the bounce of marchers going by. Given all the obstacles and the typical 90 minutes to consider, we knew there would be no way for us to catch our daughter as she went by.
But I glanced up once, stood up in my chair and thought I saw the familiar colors of our band. My husband and I dashed to the front of the restaurant to see if it was our school. It was, and our girl had just stepped by! We ran up the street, bobbing between people and dodging the umbrellas, through the dreary rain. Just as the band stopped to play their Christmas tune we saw friends who’d been braving the elements all evening to see their own son march, and they welcomed us under their extra-large umbrellas.
There she was, right in front of us. We called out,”Go, Nellie!”, clapped when they were done and started marching on, said our thanks to the folks with the umbrella, and headed back to the warmth of the Italian place where our other friends held our seats for us.
The first words out of our girl’s mouth when she got in the car at the end of the evening, after marching in the pouring rain on a nasty December night, carrying an instrument, and wearing no rain gear at all, were whether we’d seen her, and if we’d called out her name! We had! Yes, we saw you and we loved it and yes we were there!
This is what kids want. They want to know that you have shared their life with them, and that you know who they are and what they have done. It was a small thing she wanted to know. Besides marching by playing an instrument in the rain, she really wanted to know if we’d witnessed her grit, and her poise under pressure,and anything else about her that you can only see if you take in the circumstances. It’s one thing to march in a parade, and quite another to do so under the conditions of last night. Kids would have stories to tell about the night they marched in a downpour that might have been snow, because the show must go in. To her, it mattered a lot. She isn’t aware of it probably, but this is how kid’s get to know themselves. With our help as witnesses to their lives.
Thanks to all my friends who made it possible for me to stand in the rain for just a moment to see my kid march by. Because of you we got off easy and got to take the credit for doing the hard thing for our girl.
When my kids were little we called it a ‘proper hello’. We also had a ‘proper goodbye’. They had parts. Like looking the person right in the eye and deliberately addressing them. It was not formal, but it was deliberate. It showed intention. We insisted on it so our kids got in the habit of requiring themselves to acknowledge other people.
Lots of kids today are not held to any such standard. I used to say hello to a little boy I saw every morning, but his mom never insisted he say hello back. She rolled her eyes and said, “Kids,” but she did not insist. This boy’s parents did not seem to have high expectations of him in that regard, and I’ll guess in any regard as it turns out. He was allowed to let his fears drive his behavior. It’s hard to say hello to grown-ups.
He’s a teenager now and he’s failing school, not interested in much of anything. He’s soft and slow and unengaged. Nothing much matters to him, it seems.
I cannot help but wonder if being expected to say hello figures in. Shouldn’t he hold himself to some kind of standard in life? Maybe not being required to say hello is indicative of a life of not being required to rise to enough challenges. To face down enough fears. If we don’t hold our children to higher standards, they will not hold themselves to higher standards either.
Who knows? Whenever I see children allowed to disobey their parent’s requests to be polite and their parents allow them to indulge those fears, I wonder if we aren’t creating the kind of loneliness and lack of connection, the apathy, that seems to be growing in our culture.
My 28-year old nephew could really use a parent right now. He was robbed of the typical young adult parental input by the early death of his mom, my sister, when he was 21, and the remarrying of his dad who then headed off in another direction. He could use a parent right now to help him figure out which way to go next, and I am glad to stand in for a while. After all, he’s strong and can take my cabinets or the wall-mounted microwave down with barely any effort and who else am I going to get to do that?
I told him when he first came that I’d expect him to sit with me every day and talk about life, and then research ideas on the internet, and have him read books, and that we’d require physical labor of him. He said okay, so here he is. My main job as his temporary parent is to reflect back to him his own thoughts. It isn’t hard because he’s a smart guy. But in telling him what he has just told me I am playing a critical role in validating him. He is old enough to have plenty of dreams and ideas about what to do with himself, so in reflecting back those ideas to him I am offering support. I toss in my own thoughts or point out concerns by asking questions, but invariably our conversations lead him to take steps towards discerning his future without a lot of direction from me. I do not want to be responsible for deciding his future, or insisting on anything in particular about which direction he should head, except that he be true to himself. How can he be happy doing anything but what his heart tells him to do?
All of this seems like one of the most basic and valuable roles a parent can take no matter how old a child we are talking about.
I like getting up on a soapbox about helping kids figure out who they are. I feel it is a parent’s job to help their children get to know themselves and learn to love that person. If you fail to accept your children for who they are, that is, flaws and all, they may end up like the folks on one of my favorite television shows.
Catfish is a reality show about identity, about admitting who you are, even if it means admitting you are an unattractive, lonely, person saddled with life problems you cannot escape. Yes, these things can happen to our children even if we love them.
The show’s premise is that an individual is involved in an online relationship they value, but their online confidante is resistant to meeting in person thus raising a red flag about their identity. The show’s host, Nev, helps people track down the person on the other end of the relationship, and usually it is determined that person are hiding behind a false identity. Then the two people finally meet. One or both parties have lied about their looks, their life situation, their occupation, their health, or something equally critical, all using such handy tools as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. But interestingly, almost every one of these relationships is a legitimately emotional one wherein the people involved share true fears and joys. They have truly supported one another in meaningful ways that make it hard to bear the thought of ending the relationship just because one of them turns out to be fat or married, or some other thing they have lied about. The deception itself ruins the relationships, not the truth of who the individual is.
Some of these people think that having a fake identity and then sharing real feelings is a fair compromise and often defend their decision to deceive the other person. Many of these relationships end just because of that. But some persist once both parties admit to who they really are and they have actual remorse for thinking that lying about their looks or other critical details can work in an otherwise honest relationship.
I love this show because it is about our relationship with ourselves as much as anything. Having to be truthful about every part of who we are and also expect to be taken seriously and treated fairly is not always easy. That is why it is important for parents to know that they have the opportunity and the power to teach children to love themselves. We can celebrate what our children do that is special to them, that makes them who they are. I am not talking about everything they do, just the things that make them special, like the way they can make up a rhyme, or how fast they can run, or how well they remember things, or how they can ride their tricycle up hills. Whatever it is that makes them them.
We all deserve to be treated seriously and loved regardless of our shortcomings. In my mind, all of this gives power to the idea that our most important relationship is with ourselves. One must love himself first and our parents are our first hope for learning that lesson.