Our Family Is Under Construction.
I’m always telling other people I “complain” to about my children that I’m only venting. I’ve learned from experience that kids at almost any age cycle through stages and phases so quickly that there’s never reason to fret for long about any one thing. You always figure it out (more or less), and by the time that you do, there’s something new going on to shift your focus anyway. “When I bitch,” I tell them, “take it all with a grain of salt. I know we’ll be fine.”
Recently, all of my children’s most difficult behavioral challenges to date have lined up on my ass like a solar eclipse. To compound matters on an epic scale I never prepared for, Spencer and I aren’t at our strongest. We’re gradually learning to live with the hard reality that the damage done to the frontal lobe of his brain - the part of the mind that controls certain aspects of personality - in the accident, left an impression on him that doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere. Compared to what we could have been dealing with today as a result of the accident in September, this (a permanent change in his personality and demeanor) sounded like a piece of cake I didn’t mind taking on at all. But it’s proving to be a challenge on the both of us. We’re putting in double-time the effort lately, not just in what we put into the kids, but in the one thing we’ve never had to before -- us.
Just when I was starting to think that things couldn’t get any more difficult, they did. And although I won’t go into detail about it on here, I’m perfectly willing to admit that it’s something I feel in over my head dealing with a little. (Okay. Maybe a lot, but it’s getting better.) The thing itself was big. But the more important problem that it opened my eyes to was colossal. For one punch-gut moment, everything else was put into perspective -- but not the refreshing kind of perspective, where mountains turn into tiny, suddenly manageable grains of sand. No, this was the kind of perspective that made me see with effervescent clarity that every mountain in front of me is even more worth the climb than I thought it was before. And it was about to get harder.
Mary needs to put more effort into the direction her life is going, I agreed with Spencer, but more importantly, WE need to put more effort into it. If we don’t go out of our way to show that we give a shit -I MEAN- crap, then we can’t expect her to. She isn’t an adult. She needs this stuff spelled out for her in all capital letters. YOU ARE WORTH THIS TO US.
Our biggest issue is that spending time with the other two kids is almost impossible not to do. But I still go the extra mile to make sure that the time I have with them is time spent somehow contributing to the enrichment of their lives. The only television Matthew watches are the movies we watch together (something we usually plan a full day in advance, at that). I ask people to buy my son books in place of more toys on his birthdays and my son is quick to remind me, even in the presence of company if we forgot to hold hands and bow our heads to say “morning” or “lunch-time” prayers. I see to it that Scarlett gets to stretch her legs and breathe in fresh air, even in the dead of winter, because (even though I hate the cold, myself, like you wouldn’t believe) I believe these are things that are good for the soul, and even at sixteen months old, her soul is worth the moon and the stars to me. I raise my kids a little differently than other people I know, and I’m sure than even the people who love me dearly roll their eyes at some of the cornier, over-the-top ideals I hold onto in regard to my little ones, but quite frankly, my kids mean more to me than they do so I don’t care.
But, really, what do we do for Mary? I mean, what do we really go out of our way to enthusiastically do for her, just to enrich her life? When I thought about it, the truth is, I had a hard time coming up with anything I was truly proud of.
I’ve made a million excuses for it over the course of the past year, too. I mean, she’s never around, first of all. She sleeps in until noon on the weekends (which - even though I’m not particularly fond of, I realize that not everyone is going to like waking up at the crack of dawn like I do, and I try to give her room to be her own person… at least that’s what I told myself I was doing). And on the weekdays she goes to school, and stays after for band one day a week. By the time she gets home and finishes her homework (or wakes up), she has chores that she just tries to blow through as fast as she can so that she has time to spend with her friends. And spending time outside of the house is important. She needs fresh air and exercise and healthy socialization. And Lord knows the kid is grounded so often that even I relish the opportunities she has to enjoy a little freedom.
But it’s not like we neglected her either … I mean, we started limiting the amount of time she slept-over away from the house on the weekends so that we could spend more time with her ourselves… we wouldn’t let her have a cell phone or a face book account and she wasn’t allowed to wear make-up to school… and last week when she had a day off from school I even had my mom watch Scarlett so that I could take her and Matthew out for a nice, sit-down lunch date! I thought I was really on top of things… at least as much as I had reason to be.
But I realize now that Mary’s not as well-adjusted as I thought that she was. Although it doesn’t necessarily come without effort to her, she usually ends every school year on the Honor Roll. But her grades are in the toilet right now, and getting worse. To the unsuspecting outsider, Mary looks like she farts self-esteem in her sleep. Her self-assuredness is what I’ve always esteemed her for, but I realize now - after the “thing” that went down earlier this week, in a domino effect that led to a long, hard series of recognitions - that self-esteem doesn’t mean to her what it should. To her it means being better than her friends are at pretending they’re all something they aren’t. Tough and Stupid.
Starting two days ago, I told each member of my family that we’re raising the bar. Among the new house rules are a few set aside specifically for Mary:
Until her grades improve, Mary has an hour and a half to gallivant with her friends outside of the house after school. (Provided she’s done nothing to have that privilege taken away.) And no more than that.
The fact is, Mary goes to school everyday with kids who are being brought up to behave like scum. Point Blank. When eleven-year-old girls text message each other about how awesome it is to smoke weed and think that it’s fun to pass notes about how people in school think that they’re “pregnit” with their “ex’s” baby -- something in their lives, somewhere has gone horribly awry, and unfortunately, right now, these are the breed of children my daughter socializes with seven hours out of everyday. But at home, her friends are awesome. Especially her best friend, who she hangs out with everyday after school, and whom I don’t even mind her working on homework with together. In fact, I have a hard time grounding Mary from Kait altogether because I think she’s such a positive influence, among so much other negativity. But right now, we’re losing our kid to her friends at an intolerable age, and she needs us in her life often enough to compete.
2.) The T.V., my phone, the computer, and that IPOD? That thing she can’t begin a text-messaging conversation with, without use of the word “bitch?” It’s mine. (I’m stoked.) The rest? Gone. For how long? Count on it being indefinitely, I told her. Because they’ll be collecting dust in the storage room until I can think of any good reasons for her to have each one, individually.
2.) Make-up is trashed. All of it. Period.
For the record, I think make-up is awesome, and I buy it for her myself. She’s at an age where she should be able to have fun experimenting with it at slumber parties or even wearing a little bit out to the occasional school dance. It is not for sneaking off into the bathroom at school to let her friends (the same class of friend who steal cigarettes from their parents and text people pictures labeled, “wanna see a pic of this guy I fucking made out with last night??”) paint her face, as if her mothers not going to notice those ridiculous raccoon eyes, smudged with sweaty mascara the second she walks in the door. I told her bluntly the day we packed it all up, even what she got for Christmas, “I’m not doing you any favors allowing you to believe that you look even remotely attractive walking the halls of sixth grade painted up like a hooker whose been crying because you don’t know how to apply it. It just looks sad. And gross.” When I feel like she’s learned to fully appreciate the freedom and beauty of a fresh, clean face first, (which is totally on me to make happen) then I’ll be happy to teach her myself.
3.) Mary and her dad will go out to dinner, just the two of them, at least once a month. More if we have the extra cash lying around, but at least that often.
4.) Mary and I will spend 30 minutes a day reading a book together (her choice, she had dozens..) just like we used to when she was younger and such a thing was mandatory for school. It was something we both used to really enjoy and there’s no reason it can’t be enjoyed now too. We stopped doing this when she turned nine because it just felt a little over-the-top to keep making her coming in early so that we could take turns reading aloud to one another. But I think what Mary needs in her life right now is a little over-the-top corny -- so that’s exactly where we’re going.
5.) Mary will be in the house to help cook and serve dinner with me every night.
She’s been wanting to learn how to cook and I’ve been wanting to teach her, but we rarely seem to both feel like it at the same time. Besides, I could use the help, she could use the sense of purpose, and we could BOTH use the quality time.
6.) Compass Learning.
Her teachers and I signed her up for a tutoring program that’s designed like a game, and tailored to each student-in-need’s specific problem areas within a given subject. (Hers is math. She dropped 60 points on the State Test from the beginning of the year - when the whole idea is to go up. Less because she truly struggles with the subject and more because she’s admitted to spending the majority of that class in particular passing notes to her friends -- when she isn’t caught up in the distraction of fighting with them. But she has some major catching-up to do.) She’s coming out of clarinet (which is something she’s wanted to do for a while anyway) to work on the program at school over that period, and she’ll do it for twenty minutes after she comes in for the night at home, too.
If she passes notes in school, she better hide it like hell from me. I took a look through her drawers one day, trying to find her brother’s medicated chap stick and in the biggest of all her vanity drawers, upward of like sixty notes, all folded into little squares just spilled out onto the floor as soon as I rolled it out. Never mind what she’s talking to her friends about, and that the language she’s using is deplorable -- with all of her time spent writing and responding to asinine notes about how to say the phrase, “suck my dick” in Spanish, it’s no wonder she’s not learning anything! For every single note I find from here on out, I get to pick a piece of clothing from her closet to donate. And you better believe I’ll be going straight for the American Eagle tops and skinny jeans first.
I don’t normally use this space to write about Mary. It’s a blog about our younger kids, mostly, because I’ve always felt like at her age, Mary deserved more privacy than that. Besides the fact that I’m questioning her right to the amount of privacy we’ve allowed her to have up until this point -- We’ve been instilling these new set of rules for three days now, and so far, every part of it has been incredible. Not just because I feel like it’s making a different for her, but because she’s enjoyed it. We all needed this. We really did. And I know that this shift in focus for us is going to lead to more good things I’m going to really want to remember.
I’d love to hear some input. How have you gone (or do you plan to go) the extra mile to instill family values into your own children. Any constructive advice? Believe me, I am all ears.