Tag Archives: Parent

This is a Simple Story About Love

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All a mother wants, above and beyond anything else in life, is for her child to be happy. It’s a subliminal inclination fueled by emotion, like the echo of a throb…a primal instinct driven by that first, curious flutter in the womb.

And it never goes away.

My grandmother is no different from any other mother in this respect, even though her youngest was born with an umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. Unable to breathe, my Aunt Micki was rushed to a nurse instead of Grandmother’s open arms while doctors worked to change Micki’s color from a pallid shade of blue to something that looked a little more like life.

Micki survived only to suffer her first seizure when she was nine months old. It was the earliest of many signs that something about her seemed different. Abnormal. Uncommon. Not right.

As months turned into years, “different” transitioned to “retarded,” a term loaded with so much meaning that it overflowed, creating a non-navigable chasm between Micki and other kids her age. Words can be transformative in both good ways and bad, and “retarded” became a life-size label that would shade just about everything she did, starting with the length of the bus she boarded for school.

Both Grandmother and Micki learned to move under a cloak of filtered light that could only throw shadows on the stolen glances and downcast eyes of the world at large. Yet in those everyday moments where growth can’t really be measured, the bond between mother and daughter grew.

Given enough time, life will teach you that the only thing you can count on is change. Yet Micki’s role never has. She is and always will be my grandmother’s constant companion. Not her retarded companion, just a loving daughter and friend.

When my mom left home for college, Micki stayed. When my uncle took the same path seven years later, Micki stayed. When my grandfather died of a heart attack at the age of fifty-one, Micki stayed.

We don’t use the word “retarded” anymore, or at least, we don’t admit it when we do. From my grandmother’s perspective, that word has always misrepresented her youngest child. If you ask, she’ll say Micki came into the world just the way she was supposed to be.

Today, at almost ninety-three, the time-honored light in Grandmother’s eyes is fading. She’s more feeble now than even a few years ago, and bones that used to bend under the weight of life now break. Yet she pauses and lingers longer than most because her remaining purpose sits beside her, quietly holding her hand. Theirs is silent proof that under the right conditions, the narrative of a love story can last forever.

My grandmother will tell you that she’s here today because of youngest child. Not her abnormal, uncommon, retarded child, but her sweet, loving, beautiful daughter.

She’s not a surgeon, or a star, or even that girl from high school you wish you still knew. Yet if you ask Micki if she’s happy, she’ll nod her head and reply, “Yes. Yes I am.”

You don’t have to ask Grandmother the same question. The answer is obvious in the way she looks at her daughter, without bias or pity or doubt. To a mother, a child is simply a child and love is just love. Micki is her life’s greatest gift. We should all be so lucky.

On October 5, 2010, President Obama signed legislation requiring the federal government to replace the term “mental retardation” with “intellectual disability” in many areas of government. This measure, known as Rosa’s Law, strips the terms “mental retardation” and “mentally retarded” from federal health, education, and labor policy. According to the World Health Organization, about 15 percent of the world’s population — or 785 million people — has a significant physical or mental disability. 

For anyone accustomed to my attempts at more humorous, light-hearted posts, I’ll be back next week to talk about either what I found in my neighbor’s trash, or the time I spent in my version of prison, or both. These topics aren’t remotely related, but probably should be.

Never Ignore The Little Voice Inside Your Head.

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When I was thirty-two years old, I was mugged.

With ten years of city life in Chicago under my belt, a genetic disposition toward calculated risk (a ticker tape of pros and cons runs in a continuous loop through my head), and a fairly acceptable amount of caffeine flowing through my veins, I raced out the door one muggy summer morning to power walk a few short blocks and sign my son up for baseball. This was during the Mesozoic Era, or pre-electronic enrollment, and I knew I had about a twenty-minute window to make the line before all spots would be taken, thereby denying my son the necessary foundation to learn to hit a ball off a tee, which was an absolute must if he was ever going to claim his rightful spot in the Cubs starting lineup.

That’s the inside of my brain. Image via addamsfamily.com

Apparently, everyone else in my neighborhood had older kids, no kids and were therefore hung over, or happened to be White Sox fans, because on that particular morning, the street was deserted.

Well, almost deserted.

A couple of blocks deep into my line of sight, I noticed someone walking toward me: brisk pace, slumped shoulders, hoodie half-covering his head. He kind of resembled one of my favorite guest stars from 21 Jump Street, but not one of the good guys. More than any fictional character, though, he looked like someone who didn’t want to be seen.

Image via nydailynews.com

Having intentionally exposed myself to a ridiculous amount of 80s trivia-caliber crime shows growing up, I was immediately on guard. But I also had time to think, which, as fate would have it, ended up being a big mistake.

As the sketchy figure approached, I debated the voice inside my head that, at this point, had busted through my ticker tape and was jumping up and down against the inside of my cranium, screaming at me to cross the street.

This is my sixth sense busting through my internal ticker tape of logic. Image, via fandomania.com, not to scale.

The conversation went something like this:

Sixth Sense: “Hey. Are you, like, awake or what? There’s only one other person in the entire city of Chicago who’s outside right now, and he happens to be walking toward you. He doesn’t appear to be stumbling home from a walk of shame and he’s not dressed in a suit carrying a bible. In fact, he looks kind of scary.”

Conscience: “I see him.”

Sixth Sense: “O.K., great. What are you gonna do?”

Conscience: “Nothing.”

Sixth Sense: “Right. Perfect answer, because he’s now about a block away, has yet to look up so you can see his face, and appears to be roughly twice your size.”

Conscience: “I realize that, but you don’t know what he’s about any more than I do.”

Sixth Sense: “I don’t need to know. I can feel who he is, and on a scale of 1 – 100, I’d guess somewhere in the “absolute certainty” range that he isn’t someone who wants to be your friend.”

Conscience: “You’re just projecting fear.”

Sixth Sense: “Exactly.”

Conscience: “Listen, I’m not jaded like you. In case you haven’t noticed, ever since 9/11 there’s been a lot of misguided profiling in this country, and I don’t buy into false labels. I’m standing my ground.”

Sixth Sense: “You’re asking for it.”

Conscience: “You’re stereotyping.”

Sixth Sense: “You’re smarter than this.”

Conscience: “You’re better than this.”

Sixth Sense: “You’re an idiot.”

Conscience: “You’re an ass.”

At this point in my two-sided internal monologue, the partially hooded man walked quickly by, only lightly brushing my shoulder as he passed.

“See?” I said to myself, smug and satisfied as the stranger circled back, and with a rapid-sequence series of moves that could only be the work of a Ninja or a professional thief, attempted to rip my arm off from behind. Because it was attached to my purse.

None of these ninjas mugged me. Image via travelblog.org

Now, since I’d already done such a fantastic job of following the logical, subconscious direction dictated by a vocal minority of my brain, I proved to be equally awesome at thinking on my feet. I did exactly what every cop, teacher, and after-school special tells you not to.

As he grabbed, I flexed. When he pulled, I hung on, pitting us in a five-second tug-of-war that felt more like the time it would take to tread water through a football field of quicksand in a pair of Christian Louboutins.

Image via shoeblog.com.

Finally, my strap broke, he grabbed my purse, and sprinted away. I ran in the opposite direction, but not before stopping to pick up my wallet, which had fallen to the sidewalk during our fight.

In the end he stole a 37” Samsonite Comfort Travel umbrella, a list of people who had sent gifts to my newborn daughter, and some thank you cards. I have no idea who was on that list, but now, ten years later, if you sent a present and didn’t hear from me? I’m truly sorry, but it wasn’t my fault, so please stop ignoring my friend requests.

Image via mnandp.files.wordpress.com

Although I’m attempting to highlight the humor as I tell this story, my experience was the exact opposite. It was horrendous. I suffered from insomnia for months, pacing the floor in my bedroom as I played, replayed, and overplayed the virtual Rubik’s Cube combination of decisions I could have made that day but didn’t, not to mention the potential outcomes. I know there are countless people who’ve been in similar situations with worse results. In the end, I was lucky.

Getting mugged isn’t exclusive to my gender. I have male friends who’ve been robbed (and thankfully not shot) at gunpoint, which has to be a harrowing experience. But when a man enters a woman’s personal space, uninvited and intending harm, it’s a violation that’s difficult to shake, with a magnitude of future influence that’s even harder to define. The physical odds are beyond unevenly stacked when it comes to defense, and the moral implication behind the intent has the potential to be, and often is, life-changing.

And that’s why I think women have developed a 6th sense. Because we need it.

Women often try to be everything to everyone else, paying little attention to our own inner voices. We’re a nurturing gender, and want to believe, sometimes contrary to the preponderance of evidence presented, in the power of good.

In those few moments when I talked myself out of doing what was right and inevitably made decisions that were completely wrong, my intent was honest even if my execution poor. I didn’t want to label someone. I wanted to be nice. I didn’t want to judge. I wanted to walk by that man and feel justified in the knowledge that I hadn’t bought into stereotypes. I didn’t want to run. I wanted to be fair.

I made a big mistake.

A couple of hours after I was mugged, the police officer showed up to file a report, and told me there was a series of shootings that morning about ten blocks from my house. They happened earlier, and all involved robbery. Was it the same guy? I’ll never know. They didn’t catch him. But I’ll always wonder.

When your 6th sense tells you to do something, listen. I didn’t, and I was fortunate to get the chance to try again.

Are Our Children at the Core of the Next Entitlement Demographic?

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There’s nothing that tugs at a parent’s heart like the hollow face of a hungry child. On the other hand, there’s nothing that makes a parent’s eyeballs distend, roll backwards, and practically dislocate themselves, like witnessing the antics of a child who feels a little hungry, complains about it, and expects a custom-made meal to be delivered on the spot.

The child, in this example, is mine.

Yesterday, my husband, son, and I hooked up to play a late afternoon front nine (keep in mind that I didn’t know what “front nine” meant until I was about thirty years old) on our neighborhood course (also keep in mind that, growing up, the closest thing our family had to a neighborhood course was, well…nothing). As we repeatedly made our way from the rough to the fairway, into a sand trap, and over the green, my twelve year-old son, Taylor, began to shank his drives. The more balls he shanked, the testier he got, the testier he got, the more he shanked. Why the male gender has failed to acknowledge the symbiotic relationship between these two variables is beyond me. But he’s young and I digress.

Even though his facial expression is familiar, that’s not my son. Image via sportsillustrated.com

Exhausted by a transition from summer to middle school that pushes him out the door every day by 6:45 a.m., frustrated, and possibly a bit disinterested, he stood on the green ignoring a view that could have inspired the creation of the earth itself and asked a simple question.

This is the view my son couldn’t see. Image via ccatcastlepines.com

“Where’s the beverage cart?”

“I don’t know. It’s late in the day, but I’m sure it’ll be around soon,” I said.

“I can’t believe it isn’t here. This is ridiculous,” he replied, grabbing his ball from the fairway and storming toward the next hole (keep in mind that if I had pulled a move like that on my mother, she would have coldcocked me before I had the chance to take a step…by the time I staggered up from my face plant into a bunker, stunned and babbling course etiquette backwards, she would have finished the hole and moved on, with or without me).

That’s not my mom. That’s a vampire. Image via http://www.reasonforchange.com

At the time, my reaction to his mini-outburst was much less measured than I’d like to admit, but I can say in retrospect that he was having a moment. We all have them. Even Oprah. In fact, I have about a dozen an hour on that fateful day each month when standing anywhere within my peripheral vision holds the equivalent danger as juggling molten-hot machetes on a tightrope (keep in mind that if you mess with me on the Tuesday before the Thursday, you’re taking a risk that’s not worth the reward). As the saying goes, the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Image via mszigzag.typepad.com

In hindsight, Taylor was as within his rights to complain as any kid invited to walk a beautiful golf course with his parents could be, which is to say, not at all.

And that’s where I have a problem.

My problem rests on the premise that even though he knew it wasn’t right to lose his temper, he didn’t know that the reason he lost it, contextually, was wrong.

The math breaks down like this: every time we play golf, we walk the course. Every time we walk the course, the beverage cart comes around at about hole five or six. Every time the beverage cart rolls up, Taylor gets a snack, often something more spectacular than anything he could ever pull from our pantry. Every time he gets a snack, we sign the bill.

My husband likes the beverage cart too. Image via golfdigest.com

We do this because we want him to experience things that we didn’t as kids. All parents hope their children have more than they did growing up. By popular definition, “success” is another way of saying “Congratulations, you’ve achieved the American Dream.” The words are practically interchangeable in our culture, even if they sometimes sound hollow.

But I’m finding that for a generation of children being raised today, “have more” doesn’t necessarily mean “do more”, and that’s not good (keep in mind, that our kids will most likely need to “do” a lot more than we did to get ahead when they’re adults).

What did Taylor do to earn a one-on-one trip to the golf course with Mom and Dad? Nothing. Yesterday, that’s pretty much how he treated it. Like nothing. The instant gratification he derives from getting a snack-on-demand wasn’t there, and because of that, he lost sight of the things around him that are much more important.

In many respects, our children are growing up in a world that we never knew existed when we were kids, because it didn’t. Where we played with blocks, our toddlers manipulate touch screens. Remember the days when your Dad schlepped you to the library so you could spend an hour deciphering the Dewey Decimal system to look through an ancient card catalogue and find the one book in the entire city on yellow-bellied marmots for a report? Taylor doesn’t, but he can pull up more images of that nasty rodent than you’d ever want to scroll through on his phone. Do you channel the Von Trapp family and sing songs with your children in the car? Me neither, because my kids’ headphones are shoved so far into their ear canals that they automatically de-wax themselves pushing them in and back out.

The Dewey Decimal System is almost as old as Joan Rivers. Almost. Image via http://www.afterelton.com

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. With the best of intentions, we damage our children. Keeping that thought in mind, I can’t help but wonder if parents who are willing to give their kids anything also take away something critical that means everything. Do I fall into that category? Sometimes. There are things I do well when it comes to raising my children to become responsible adults, but today I’m focusing on what I do wrong.

As the debate around our nation’s entitlement state roars down a bloated, bipartisan road toward a November 6 collision with itself, perhaps, instead of simply targeting the entitlements already being given, we should also focus on how we ensure that our children avoid this path. Does the current road need repair? Yes, but future generations can get a better start if they walk down a street that begins with chores and ends with education. Or begins with education and ends with validation. Or begins with validation and ends with communication. Or maybe our kids should just take out the trash.

If life’s about the journey, our children had better develop strong calves. Image via media.knownew.com

As humans, we’re a complicated mixture of nature and nurture, and it’s the combination of the two that makes us who we are to become. Yesterday? Taylor wasn’t the kid I wanted him to be, but most of the time, he is. He now understands (more fully than he’d like) that a trip to the golf course is earned, not given. I’m not writing this to embarrass him, rather, I’m putting this out there to call attention to myself, with the hope that through my children’s eyes, I learn the exact lessons I’m supposed to teach.