Number One Advisor

We have had an adventurous summer and now things are coming together for a memorable fall. As a parent of many I am always amazed at the different levels of maturing a child goes through until the day he/she leaves the nest. Some mature early and then put the brakes on for the leaving. Others we pray for constantly and then suddenly they leave and soar with the best of them. Some are middle of the road with the maturing process and with the leaving process. It is all a unique blend of ready, not ready, conquer the world, move back home, “I am Sparta,” and “I’m not sure I am ready.”

Today, my number six will leave the nest. She has been talking about this day since graduation in May. On Monday she watched Netflix and assured me that she would be ready on Friday. On Tuesday, she looked at her “to do” list and watched more Netflix. On Wednesday she washed and packed and cleaned her room and bathroom then stayed up all night fidgety and watching Netflix. On Thursday she made plans, repacked a few things and watched more Netflix.

We had a tiff a few weeks ago, about getting things done and on time. I told her that the first thing I was going to do when she left was change the Netflix password so she could concentrate on her classes and meeting new friends. I had to revive her with smelling salts. And then, when I thought it through, I realized that she would just use someone else’s login and password once she got to school so like a good mother I reversed my proclamation. Now, I am back to worried again.

We all worry when they first leave the nest. Perhaps I worry because I have taught freshmen in college for so many years. I have watched them come in all bright eyed and bushytailed and then drag in three weeks later exhausted and crying from too much excess in several areas. And I have tried my best to get that information across to my number six. I am sure she will be much relieved to have a roommate her age rather than a mother face her each morning.

I don’t believe that the roommate will wake her up early with admonitions to “Drink more water, treat school like a full time job, don’t eat so much sugar, watch your money, and get some sleep.” I am absolutely certain that her new roommate will not say, “Get off Netflix and get your work done!” She will probably watch with her! And so, I will not change the Netflix password on Saturday because I don’t believe it will make a difference.

What I believe will make a difference is all the times I took her to band and tennis and church camp and allowed her to be on her own. All the times I took her to missionary training and tennis and work and allowed her to learn her own lessons. And all the times I listened to her cry over a breakup or a bad grade. I believe the difference will come from the times I handed her my debit card and expected her to run to the store to pick up things for me or to fill my car with gas and go on to the school to pick up the other kids. I believe all the times I let her make her own mistakes and own up to the consequences will make a difference in her college life and in her after college life.

Whether they are going off to college or just leaving the nest, we parents have to believe we did the best we could. No, I couldn’t buy all the things she wanted along the way. And I certainly did not back off every time she thought I should. I was probably too pushy in some areas and not tough enough in others. But no matter what, this little number six knows that I love her dearly and that I woke up each morning and did the best that I could for her and the rest of the herd.

Maybe that is enough. Maybe it is not.

As I told my quilting friends last week, “On Friday I am taking her to college. On Saturday I am going to be bawling my eyes out.” 

 

And I will cry some, but some of the tears will be for joy and thankfulness that I had 18 years getting to teach this beautiful child how to make wise decisions and be kind and give grace where necessary. The rest is up to her.

Sounds so easy.

BUT we all know I will be anxiously waiting for that first call home. She may have left the nest but I am maintaining my Number One Advisor position until further notice.

 

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Lessons From MY Hood

Almost two years ago we moved into a neighborhood. We have always resided in the country or almost in the country, with a few acres for my chickens, cats, and gardens. From the first child down to this last child they have always thought that they wanted to live in a neighborhood amongst other children. So, at last we made the move into town – sort of. We are on the edge and still have an acre for my chickens and cats and all of dad’s trailers BUT there are also neighbors.

The bus for school stops right in front of our house so we thought he could meet all the neighbors whilst standing in line for the bus. Not so. He rides and now and then another girl rides in the mornings. Could be because it is still middle of the night when the bus pulls up but after he gets on and they go around to the next street he reports that there are about ten kids who ride in the mornings.

In the afternoons the parents line up in their cars around our house to get their kids from the bus. Sometimes they venture into our yard to pet the kittens but usually they bolt to the cars and head off into town for some kind of practice or another. We won’t see or hear a peep from them until the next afternoon.

The neighbors directly across the street ran over our mailbox the first day we moved in. The woman hopped out of her Jeep, took a look at hubby and said, “It looks fine to me.” She hopped back into her jeep and drove off. Our mail box now resembles the Leaning Tower of Pisa and they have neither waved nor spoken to us since.

So, after nearly two years of living on a busy corner we still do not know our neighbors, parties on the deck are just a dream, and having neighbor kids come over to swim or throw the football is non-existent. It makes me sad for my kids because they had so hoped for a neighborhood like the fake ones they see on television. And it is not like I am shy and didn’t try to meet our neighbors. Everyone is just busy on their own personal devices. Being an individual and personal.

I lived in a great neighborhood growing up and to this day I keep in touch with those chums on my social media platforms. We were not individual and personal. We were a small community within a larger community. We lived on a busy street not far from the school. Actually one had to cross the cotton field to get to the school but it wasn’t far. 

We lived on a street with many boys. My sisters loved it because some of them were pretty cute. I loved it because they allowed me to play with them and be the tomboy that I was. Phillip Lemmons threw the football to me, in the street, at least a million times. I spent hours running around with John and Joel James. We all played baseball with Kenny and Harlan Hickey – even my sisters. We were a small community. We were back and forth and in and out of houses. Andy and Nancy Woods lived just down by the Lemmons and the Hickeys were right behind us and the Hinds were on the block over.

We grew up together and our parents knew each other. Sure there were fights and eventually we all grew up. Kenny got a motorcycle and drove across country. Some moved sooner than others but we all played baseball together in the empty lots between houses. We rode skateboards along the road by the cotton field. My sister’s boyfriend worked on cars in our backyard. We had a community.

Today, our neighbor will sit in front of his garage while the door opens, drive in quickly, sit in the car until the door closes and I can only suppose that they get out of their car and go in. Their kids are in the same schools as my kids. On the days they ride the bus, they stand apart from us with their backs turned. And yet in school, the little girl will always choose my youngest to be in her group. He says they have a lot of fun in school but she is not allowed to come over to our house.

I find it very strange and yet no one is on the streets in the afternoons throwing the football or gathering up a bunch to play baseball. Today’s kids are busy being carted off to professional lessons or keeping current on their social media sites. Perhaps it is because our society has evolved into a society of fear. Parents are afraid that their child will get dirty or hurt or have some kind of accident. Parents are afraid that their child will get their feelings hurt or come in last or be bullied.

And they will get dirty and get their feelings hurt and maybe get hurt. But that is how we learned to live. Full out. Scratched, dirty, upset, broken fingers, busted ankles, ripped shirts, and a resolve to be stronger the next time. I am so thankful for my old childhood chums. Yes, I knocked out Harlan Hickey’s front tooth with a baseball bat, but it was an accident. Promise. His parents did not sue. We were from the same neighborhood.

I am so thankful for my old childhood chums. I am thankful for the lessons I learned whether I wanted to or not. I am thankful that there were no such things as cell phones, iPads, iAnything and only 3 major channels back then because our community was outside with real people who continue to be part of my life.

Real people – not just a symbol on a phone.

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Braids, Bras, and Brats!

Like many of you, my life has revolved around school in the fall for most of my life. I was an eager student. I loved school and couldn’t wait to begin. When the sister right above me in age left for school, I would stand by the front window just waiting for her to get home. Upon her arrival home she would sit me down in our shared bedroom and teach me everything she had learned that day. To this day I love books and learning.

Seems like yesterday I was walking to school with two of my big sisters. The oldest one was in Jr High and walked a different direction or she would have been there to boss us. My tiny fist grasped my small coin purse with my lunch money tucked in it. We didn’t have that far to walk, only about a mile. We would set out early and laugh and giggle along the way. My older sisters would help me get dressed and then momma fixed our hair.

Momma liked the tight, tight braids with our bangs pulled back into them. We could hardly blink at times. There were days she would cover our heads with polyester scarves to keep the wind out of our ears. I had long, thick hair and the scarf came off about the time we turned the first corner. I wasn’t brave enough to pull out the braids but the scarf did not often accompany me into the school yard. My sister, next in age to me, would keep her scarf on and snivel all the way to school.

“Just take it off. Momma won’t know,” I would counsel.

She would cry harder, “Momma will find out.” I thought she was silly but it was part of learning to be responsible for ourselves. I finally talked her into at least loosening the braids so that her head didn’t hurt. The scarf could be lost if one was willing.

I didn’t have any trouble following my own counsel through school. Some things just didn’t need to happen. Of course, momma had different opinions, especially if she was informed. Along about Jr High, momma decided I had to wear a brassiere to school. I disagreed with that silly notion. I did not need one! As soon as we got to school I would slip it off and hang it in my locker. I thought I was so smooth that no one noticed but one night at supper, momma asked me about what was hanging in my locker.

I gave her my best deer in the headlights look. I could see my just older sister trying to hold in a giggle so I knew she had told on me. Of all things! I didn’t care if she wanted to take off her dratted scarf all those years back so why should she care if I decided I wasn’t ready for a bra? Looking back I can see my mother’s point but my first days of Jr. High were a misery trying to acclimate myself to a new grown up version. None the less, after momma found out I never hung my bra in the locker again.

And now, it seems that kids are being encouraged to be mini adults in their dress but perpetual two-year olds in their behavior. I might have fussed over braids or personal clothing choices but when I went to school, I went to school to learn. If I misbehaved it was ALWAYS my fault. The teacher was never at fault. In fact my teachers and my parents were in cahoots to make me a better person. If I failed to behave in school I had many consequences. First, one of my sisters would tell momma. Second, my teacher would tell momma, and Third daddy would somehow get involved. Then I got in trouble.

I was responsible for my behavior. I was responsible for my homework being completed, hauled to school, and turned in. I was responsible for the way I treated others and I was responsible for my lunch money. If I lost it on the way I didn’t get to eat lunch. My momma and daddy were there to support me right after they supported my teacher.

Yesterday I listened to a young man tell someone else that he was getting a new job because he no longer wanted to be in the classroom teaching. They asked what was wrong and he did not fuss about education in general or the lack of salary or that he had to buy his own supplies. He did not mention that kids were just harder to teach these days. The reason he quit teaching was because of the parents. He stated, “I am tired of fighting the parents. A kid can fail the class and the parent will threaten to sue if the grade is not changed.”

Is it any wonder this new generation does not feel any responsibility for their behavior?

Maybe education does not begin with braids or bras, but the education of our children definitely begins with the parents.

A big shout out to the teachers who have realized that July is almost over and they WILL be called back from the beaches soon.

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Variiiiiwhaaattt???

 

I suppose as a sign of myself getting older I find that some things are just incomprehensible. I have seen many changes in our country, our culture, families, education systems, and medical systems over the years. Raising eight kids has kept me pretty much in the loop with change and the importance of change. Some things I totally agree with and some things I totally disagree with but in the last few weeks I have come across two very specific issues that I do not understand.

I totally disagree with them but at the same time I have lost all of my ability to be understanding of the situation. One is a cultural issue and another is the issue of family and the education system. I am an educator and have taught in Jr. High (Currently called Middle School), High School, Community colleges, 4 year colleges, University systems and at Sunday school.

We did run into this problem getting into Church Camp so I included Sunday school. As I write this I am reflecting and have changed my mind about this being an education problem. Rather, it might be a medical problem or a cultural problem. Heck, it could be viewed as a systems problem. As in – All of Our Systems are so messed up there are problems which transcend all of them at one time.

I didn’t mean to lose you in my train of thought but I find it difficult to pinpoint where the problem lies. I thought the school systems but quickly realized that the school systems are reacting to the pressures from the medical systems which are likely reacting to the cultural systems and decided that I don’t know where the problem originates but I do know that it bugs the dog out of me and so I am presenting today.

The problem I am talking about is shot records. Or lack of shot records. Specifically, Varicella records. Varicella is an immunization that helps prevent Chickenpox. For years I have given the dates that my children actually had the disease and that was good enough. Within the last three weeks I have two different children trying to get into colleges in different states and one registering for church camp. All three entities have denied the statement “I have had the chickenpox” and said that the word of the parent is no longer accepted as part of the shot record.

At the Doc in a Box, place where we went to get TB tests, they were upset that the younger kids did not have the shots. I said, “They had Chickenpox when they were little.” The nurse told me that they needed shots. I argued and refused to get the shots. I refused for two reasons: One, I don’t think they need the shot if they have had the disease and Two, it irritates me to no end that a parent’s word is no longer acceptable. I am the mother and I even know the dates they had the pox. Not good enough, I am to obtain a piece of paper which is to be believed. I tried some rhetoric on them and said that a paper was not as reliable as a parent’s word. Either way, I was marked deficient in some way.

In a different scenario my 28 year old texted and needed to know the exact dates he had chickenpox because it is not on his shot record. I said, “I know. It was not invented back then so you had the pox instead of a shot.” He sighed and said, “Mom, they need some kind of record.”

I was upset so I looked it up. The varicella vaccine was not commercially available until 1984 and NOT available in the US until 1995. So, all five of my first pups should not have to have any kind of proof other than their MOTHER’S word because the vaccine was not even available. The next three did have one dose each and then number six came home from school with the pox and gave it to numbers seven and eight in short order. Hence, this THINKING mother did not obtain a second varicella shot for these last three pups! They had the POX!

Now, NOW, they are saying that they should have had the shots and I have to produce a record or they will not be accepted into college or church camp! This does not make sense to me. All of my children have pages – that’s right pages – of dates with immunizations but because they had the pox they are out of compliance with the rules.

Here is my beef. If my word was good enough all of those years for them to attend public schools, why has it suddenly changed? Why tell my 28 year old (born in ‘89) that if he was not born before 1980 that having the pox does not count when it was not available in the US until 1995 (Wikipedia)? For 12 public school years, my word was good enough. Why make the mother’s feel as if they haven’t done all they can to keep their kids safe? AND what about all the kids we let into the school system these days who have absolutely NO shot records because their parents protest all immunizations? How do they get into college and church camp?

I say this nearly every article and I will say it again: What has happened to common sense?

The second incomprehensible thing that has happened is that while shopping at Walmart last week I passed a man with a small child in his buggy, in the produce section. When I wheeled over to the condiments row I saw him there as well, talking to his child. He picked up a jar of pickles, popped the sealed lid open, reached in and pulled one out. He popped the whole pickle into his mouth, licked his fingers, and screwed the lid back on. I thought – as you are thinking – that he would put it into his basket but he did NOT. He opened another jar, tasted, licked, and sat it back on the shelf. As the third jar popped open I left the row and went to find a Walmart employee. Nothing happened. No one was concerned.

I just wonder if that man had had his Varicella shots or are we all exposed?

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Do Your Part

Fourth of July is next week. Some of my kids are coming to visit. The oldest son has declared that he will be buying the fireworks this year. He is going to have a great fireworks show! He is going to buy the biggest, loudest fireworks they make and “light up the backyard!” I believe he is part pyromaniac. In his early teen years he decided to see how many matches it would take to melt a green plastic army man. His room smelled awful for days afterwards but the worst part is that when the little army man gave way from the oval base on which he stood, he fell on son’s arm leaving a nice puckered scar as a reminder that indeed green, plastic army men do melt. 

I am not sure exactly how many matches were used in the experiment but we all survived and now he is coming for a visit to show the younger kids how a real fireworks show is done. Our number five is coming as well and I am praying that the house is standing at the end of the night. Number seven can’t wait for them to get here so they can blow things up!

Number six has invited her boyfriend and the “men” in her family are going to show him what a “real” fireworks show looks like while they give him the once over. At first the boyfriend was eager, but as the stories grow he is not as certain that he needs to meet two United States Marines who love to set things on fire and blow things up.

It should be a fun week with our house full of our kids and their friends as we celebrate our great country. I am eternally thankful that we can get together at will and celebrate. I am thankful that I can go to the grocery store and pick up loads of food to feed everyone. I am thankful that I live in the United States of America.

Sure we have some problems, and right now it seems as if our problems are bigger than our blessings but I would argue that they are not. There are still good, sane folks living in America who will help their neighbors or strangers. I know people who volunteer at the soup kitchens and I know people who volunteer at the homeless shelters. I know people who donate their time and money to send young men and women on missionary trips here and in other countries. I know people who serve at their churches, at the children’s homes, at kids’ camps, and at hospitals.

I know that philanthropy does not only happen in America but the important fact is that it is STILL going on here in America. We try to look outward and help others in less fortunate situations. Maybe we don’t always do it correctly but we still try. When there is a hurricane or other natural disaster, thousands give of their time and their resources to help those suffering. There are hundreds of non-profit organizations created every year to help different groups.

True, not every American will serve or help others, but I feel that most would and do. America is not perfect and not filled with perfect people but most of us try. Many of our systems are broken, but we, the people, do not have to be broken. I am not a system. I am a person and I can make a difference. I can still get up every morning with the goal of helping someone else. I can make someone smile. I can carry things or open doors or share what we have. I can encourage and hug and listen.

I can celebrate the birth of my country with my family. I can clap and scream as the fireworks burst overhead. I can be thankful for all of the men and women who have served so that we can pray at dinner and pray at the end of the night when the house is still standing.

I can’t do it all, but I can do my part and I am starting with a family get together on July 4th to celebrate our country and our family.

I hope you get to do the same.

Happy Fourth of July!

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Fencing Problems

When I go out each morning to feed my new chicks they are all gathered in a huddle by the fence. Some are stretching their necks straight up and others have their faces tucked under their wing but all are waiting for that single opportunity when I open the door for a millisecond. Some rush straight at me and others give a little hop and try to fly past. None make it. Ever.

In the evenings they often go back and forth frantically, peeking first out one side of their pen and then rushing across to peek out the other side of their pen. I don’t know what they see but what I see is one quirky little dog who sniffs around the perimeter at least a million times a day looking for an opening. I also see three or four fat cats just waiting on chicken hors d’oeuvres.

What the chicks can’t see is that if I let them out they will be chomped up in a moment. Because I see the bigger picture I keep them penned in. If they were teenagers they would be wearing out their little scaly fingers texting to others about having to be penned in and how unfair it is to be penned when the dog and cats are obviously out doing whatever they want. Since they are not teenagers they peck at me now and then and give me that sideways eyeball if the door is ever open.

Our little quirky dog is in the same boat that the chickens are in but they just don’t get it.  His pen is simply bigger than theirs. For a while, each time we came home he would be lying in the middle of the street so pleased with his cleverness in getting out of the fence. So we spent months filling in holes or placing bricks in any opening we saw. He got out, we covered the opening. Finally, we strung chicken wire all around the inside of the fence to keep him in.

What he didn’t realize was that outside of the fence, the bigger dogs would go crazy over him and the cars couldn’t even see him in the road. The neighbors would call animal control or he could become the latest roadkill. It was all bad news for him outside of his fence. In perspective, his fence is much bigger than the chickens’ fence, but they can’t see that. All they see is that he has more freedom. And all he sees is that the cats seemingly do whatever they want to do.

Granted, most cats choose to lie on the porch or deck 23 out of 24 hours, but after a good yawn and stretch they will saunter off and jump the fence. Cats are not really fenced. They are a bit like goats in that area. If water can get through it so can a cat or a goat. But their reality is that once outside of the protection of the yard, they can get picked up, run over, or chomped on by a coyote. The chickens will see them come and go, and the dog does a crazy dance when they blithely jump over the very fence he has been fighting but their reality is that often they just disappear or the other cats will hold a conference and run one off. No explanation. Just gone.

And that is what has happened to common sense these days. Gone. No explanation. Just gone. So many want to be allowed to do anything and everything they want, no matter how bizarre, unethical, immoral, or just plain weird. No fences, no boundaries, no expectations, just unadulterated freedom. And yet, it is not working. All of this freedom is not making a greater place to live. All of this freedom is not ensuring that every child is loved and protected. All of this freedom is not really helping women be better women or men be better men.

We tolerate everything and yet we have even more children in foster care, the homeless population is growing, hate is rampant, education is low on the totem pole, and I could get blasted just for writing the words totem pole because someone will get offended.

Freedom is good. Freedom comes with responsibilities. Who is going to count the cost of total freedom? Who is going to pay the consequences? What about all the children dumped into foster care or grandparent care? They might wish their biological parents might have stayed within the fence just a little bit. Count the cost of having a child before using your freedom to have unprotected sex. What about the meth head’s parents? Do we stop to think that with just a little fencing their family might still be intact?

Fencing is not bad, but we are being convinced that any and all fencing is bad. We are made to feel ancient and archaic if we don’t agree to total freedoms.

I disagree and I think my chickens are smart enough to disagree as well. Don’t you know that the moment a dog’s teeth clamp down on a chicken’s neck, she starts thinking about how nice it was clucking around the water cooler INSIDE the fence.

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Contentment Cabinet

Last week I read an article on FaceBook about a “mediocre life.” The author suggested that a mediocre life is better than the fast track, busy, busy, ever climbing life of trying to keep up with, and control, others. He stated that it was better to just “Be.” And I totally agree with him except that if you manage to find a way to contentment then I find that to be a superior life. This was discussed on fb some but it set me to thinking about the contented life.

A contented life should not be labeled as mediocre or superior because that is a comparison to others and the contented life is one which lives without comparison to others. One saying is that comparison robs us of our joy. And it does. Contentment infers that we are not labeling nor or we comparing. We are just busy enjoying what we enjoy and don’t have to look to others for that.

I find comparisons tedious and cumbersome. Often the kids have come home and said, “so and so said this about us (me) today.” My standard answer to that kind of kid cruelty is to ask my child, “Do you think this about yourself?” Usually they say “No.” I then tell them not to worry about what others say and next time look them in the eye and say, “Thank you” and walk off.

I don’t know if this is the way to contentment or not but I do know that comparisons are definitely the road to dis-contentment. As I thought through the fb article and the responses I tried to think about the different things/circumstances that could be cobbled together for a content life. Of course, everyone is unique so every person will have a different idea of what contentment is.

Here are a few things that I hold dear in my contentment cabinet.

Everyone needs at least one good quilt. Hopefully, it is from someone who loves you or your family. Quilts hold memories of earlier times in one’s life. One of my favorite quilts is an old double knit quilt my mom, sister, and I made when I went off to college. It is not fancy and the fabric is totally from another generation. But when I look at it, I remember my oldest sister teaching me how to tie the bright yellow yarn into double knots along rows and my mom insisting that we make my roommate one to match. I can still pick out many of the pieces and know exactly which outfit was made from that fabric. I still have that old quilt and we still use it. Maybe we need to rethink polyester knit fabrics for quilting purposes!

Everyone needs at least one good friend. Someone you can call up on a Saturday afternoon and talk for 3 hours and 58 minutes and feel as if it has only been a half hour. One good friend to share joys and troubles. One good friend who “gets” you without explanation. If you have two or three really good friends then you are truly blessed because one is all it takes.

Everyone needs at least one good passion. A passion for something. A passion that allows you to serve others. A passion that enriches your life and gives your life meaning. It might be your work. It might be a hobby. It might be church related. It might be outdoors or it might be indoors behind a sewing machine cranking out quilts. Whatever it is, go for it, invest in it, allow yourself to be passionate and exciting.

Everyone needs to believe in themselves. We need to quit listening to others’ innuendos and smirks. We need to quit comparing to others and take note of the many times a day we make someone smile. Remember when you helped your neighbor by mowing and when you volunteered to let all of the teens from church ride in your large vehicle. Remember that you shape and mold other lives even if you do laundry for most of the day. Yes, we all mess up but not 24/7. Believe that you make a difference. One kindness is all it takes.

We all need family. Yes, they are complex and irritating and sometimes downright embarrassing, but we all need family. From the moment we are born, family is our connection to the world. We need those connections to others who remember us as we were, who cheered us on as we struggled, and who validate us now. Birth families or chosen families – it doesn’t matter – we need families. We need to know how to love and respect others and it all begins with family.

I apologize to all the dog lovers out there, but I think we all need a cat to be content. Cats are independent and great hunters. They are so chill and don’t dig in the garden except to fertilize it. They are soft and they puuuurrrrrr. 

As I age I find that contentment is so much easier than trying to control everything. I may be “mediocre” but I am loving every minute of it.

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