Monthly Archives: February 2016

Me Second!

Some of you might remember an old commercial for the US Army. “We do more before 9 a.m. than some people do all day.”

I know a woman like this. I met her back in the eigth grade at an all-star cheerleading event the Diocese of Pittsburgh used to do for Catholic schools. Later, we went to high school together. But we never really loafed together, as my mom would say. 

Today, this woman and I are Facebook friends. And she is high on my list of mommy idols. 

My friend has eight children. Yes, eight. Ranging from twenty-something to elementary school age. From what I understand, from people other than her, they are some pretty amazing kids. Involved in helping others through their Church, serving at Mass and so on.

My friend is not divorced, an addict or irresponsible. These kids have a stable, if financially tight, home. She is a true Mama Bear – every ounce of energy, every waking moment, every cent in her pocket goes to raising those eight. Don’t try leaving one of them out, bullying one of them or mocking their situation. You’ll regret it. 

In the sense we often hear in scripture, or our priests discuss at Mass, she has died to self as Jesus did, and lives her life for others.

That’s what inspires me. If anything has challenged me as a parent, it’s the need to step away from my own desires and live my life for my family. I know that’s an old fashioned if not out dated idea to some. But I’m pretty sure it’s how you raise quality people. 

This belief, founded in my faith in God, is much at odds with the person I once was. Even now that I’m striving for this ideal, my personal selfishness often raises its ugly head in my parenting. I was a career woman once – ambitious, driven and some say talented in my field. I left my career because it didn’t want my girls along for the ride. I miss it sometimes, and more than once I’ve had to catch myself in moments of frustration from asking my girls if they actually realize what I sacrificed for them.

Not exactly an attitude of dying to self and allowing God to guide me so I can guide them.

Added to the general loneliness that comes with being a stay-at-home mom and kid taxi driver, I’m miles away from being the parent my friend is. Maybe she can’t give them all the stuff I can give, but she has truly given them herself. I push myself to that ideal, but there are times when I pull myself back from my family, and I want them to acknowledge what I do so that I can feel some type of achievement that I felt when my opinion was sought out and my work defined me.

And then I think of my friend – a true angel on Earth for her children. Not with wings and a halo, but as a protector and provider of love. Up at the crack of dawn getting her kids to various schools (all Catholic by the way), toiling at fundraisers, driving her youngest to weekly appointments for Lupus treatments and finding new ways to sustain their family. 

That’s when I realize I need a smack in the head for not being more present with my own family. For ignoring them sometimes when I don’t want to deal with their crises or would rather watch the X-Files than Supergirl. Or whenever I choose myself over them. My friend, who could use some downtime, likely does little of that. She doesn’t have time. Yet what she does is so much more important and rewarding than my career ever was.

She makes me want to get up early to watch cartoons, cook breakfast and play video games. To be there for every moment until I can’t be anymore. Like God has been wanting me to.

Girl Power-Up

For a little while now, I’ve been reliving some of the worst memories of my adolescence.  I suppose it’s my way of living vicariously through my daughters, both now tweens. 

Like all mothers, I pray they will grow into level-headed, self-loving, decent young women. In my generation, many of us instead grew into neurotic, self-doubting, low-self esteem bundles of emotion. Sadly, and many women won’t admit this, we developed this way at the hands of other women – bullies, social climbers, gossips, etc. In my day, women were their own worst enemies. And I think very well may still be.

We give a lot of lip service these days to raising strong, independent, self-actualized young ladies. We encourage them to do whatever they dream, to be who they are, and see themselves as powerful. We remind them they’re capable of math and science. We have them playing football and hockey. We change the body type of Barbie so they don’t see themselves as sexual objects. And yet somehow, that cattiness is still alive and well in females everywhere, and at even younger ages.

I have been working for the last 11 years now at raising my own strong little ladies. I don’t sugar coat the lesser amenities of life for them – we all need to be responsible and productive. Even with my own very pronounced short comings (depression, diabetes, heart disease) I’m dedicated to providing them with the tools they will need to take care of themselves with confidence as they become adults in a very cruel world. 

Yesterday, for the first time, I began to wonder if I’m doing it wrong. 

My oldest daughter asked me if she could go to a different school. I was surprised…somewhat. She has had a hiccup or two in her emotional development, and is regularly referred to by people at our school as “sensitive.” That means she’s known to cry at school when she feels put down, alone, overlooked, overwhelmed or teased. She shows her hurt. That makes some kids think she’s not cool, and some teachers that she’s less intelligent. 

Nothing could be further from the truth. She’s quite smart, a wonderful cartoonist, dedicated musician and overall good-hearted person. Her academic test scores are well above average. And she’s very likable. Similar to other girls her age, she’s also a bit awkward and confused. Like others, she’s gained a little weight, struggles with athletics, is stymied sometimes by her developing body and feels left out of almost everything. She seeks affirmation.

She’s had a few “best friends,” but all in all, it seems when she finds one, that girl finds someone else who doesn’t want her around. It appears she’s been labeled uncool, and is regularly alone in a sea of little girls, who, unlike her, do not appreciate country music, trombone, Disney animation, black jelly beans and Minecraft. 

I was like this growing up. Like her, I lived a bit farther away from the others in my class, didn’t play with those kids often after school, and my activities were considered weird. I went through that awkward phase where I got a little overweight and couldn’t get my hair to lay just right. I was an early bloomer. I was teased and bullied regularly by kids who today don’t remember doing it. But I remember – and that treatment stayed with me my whole life. I still doubt my worthiness and abilities today.

I had hoped in this new age of the Strong Girl, my daughters would not experience this catty competitiveness that should have died off by now, allowing young women to support one another while appreciating their differences. Yet it now seems to start more strongly at younger ages. (For my youngest in first grade.)

What are we doing as mothers, teachers, role models that tells girls it’s ok to ostracize other girls on the basis of what society tells us is cool or not cool? Is it right not to invite one girl out of a class to a party because she doesn’t get an A on every test, or because she doesn’t have the coordination to play basketball? What about if she’s chubby, or tells silly jokes or repeats herself when she talks?

All girls, little ones, tweens, teens, even adults, want a friend or two to share life experiences with. As adults, as a society, are we subtlety telling our daughters that some girls don’t deserve friendship or an ally in the battle of growing up? 

It seems so. We can do all we can to encourage them to be who they are as their parents. But there’s little we can do when their peers deconstruct that confidence daily simply because who they are isn’t in style. When push comes to shove, they believe other girls over parents “who have to tell them nice things.”

As women, likely all of whom have experienced this type of abandonment by friends, shouldn’t we be encouraging our daughters to embrace differences and build support for and among all girls facing the perils of young adulthood?  Let’s find ways to kill the spectre of “popularity” among kids before we create more girls who are afraid to engage their gifts.